(musings and ramblings)

Panchakarma first-timer. 

“As within, so without. As without, so within.”

23 January 2023

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.” 

Dhammapada (“The Path of Dharma”), Buddha

I am eight days in to a fortnight-long Panchakarma in Kerala, not only God’s Own Country, but also the land of Ayurveda – India’s first and favoured medicine.

Panchakarma is the Ayurvedic process used to cleanse the body from toxins (ama) and increase digestive fire (agni). The literal meaning “five actions”, speaks to the Panchakarma healing techniques using the five basic activities that control the body: vamana (medical vomiting), virechana (purgation), vasti (enema therapy), nasya (trans-nasal medication) and leech therapy. 

I haven’t yet had the benefit of all five, but so far, I’ve been pummelled, heated, powdered in healing herbs, and bathed in warming oils (also known as the royal treatment), from my crown chakra to the tips of my toes. And I feel as though I’ve been through every emotion under the warm South Indian sun. This, I am told, is down to the purification process, and the ever-changing Vata dosha (constitution) that I am, as it seems, we Vata-types are the lucky ones, especially prone to emotional releases as well as physical.

The process starts with 6am wake up calls from the in-house Ayurvedic Doctor. Given I’m still in the throes of jet lag, this is effectively waking up at 12.30am (UK time). Dr Nishanth arrives looking considerably more awake than me, an enticing glass of warm medicinal ghee in hand. I tentatively sniff it. Big mistake. It’s foul. And the Doctor is now rooted to the spot, aware that after this fatal whiff, I’m less inclined to drink it. The oily beverage discreetly doubles and trebles in quantity each day. After three days of ghee drinking, comes the purification drink. In comparison, this is a walk in the park; a dark green, purply-coloured liquid tasting strongly of ginger, which I suspect is a key ingredient to disguise what’s really doing the purifying. 

And for me this is where things start to shift down a notch – physically yes, but mostly mentally and emotionally. Confined to my room, not strictly, but recommended, in order to rest (and for close proximity to the bathroom), cabin fever sets in, quickly followed by tears. A lot of them. A lovely email from a yogi back in England makes me cry, a comment at the permitted lunch from an unwitting fellow guest, a poorly interpreted message from a friend, I even start to wonder what on Earth I’m doing in India – one week in to a 6-week sojourn. I start to question everything.

As my internal environment starts to fall apart, my external environment quickly follows suit and as it does, the frustration arrives, followed by irritation, and then just plain old anger. The more things don’t seem to be working to plan or my keen expectations, the more angry I become. I long for a glimmer of universal flow, or just an ability to accept.

Suspecting I am starting to affect others, I hide in my cabin, lie on my bed and repeatedly chant: “Accept, allow, release. Accept, allow, release.” More tears flow, now for the loneliness. 

That was day 4. 

Day 5 brings more of the same, I try a cycle ride and a beach walk. Neither shifts these emotions. I visit the Doctor who reassures me this is normal – somewhat helpful but it doesn’t clear the heaviness in me. As lunch and the social hour looms, I decide enough is enough. I know the only way to pull myself out of this watery and mournful slump is meditation. I force myself into a sitting position I can sustain for 20 minutes and stick with it, no matter what thought stream joins me. The afternoon is a little lighter and come sunset, I am venturing out towards people again. Thankfully, they are still happy to talk to me. A child enjoying the beach in wonder and pure, innocent joy reminds me how to smile. I meditate again before bed and sleep a little lighter.

Day 6 is a Sunday and some of the staff are out (on leave), but the paranoia arrives and I feel as though I’ve chased them away with my clipped responses and obvious irritation. How can I be so awful? Is this really me? I start to recognise that perhaps these emotions – the anger, the frustration, the irritation, the stagnancy and weariness, they were all long-term residents of a rather distressed liver, and this intense detox and purification wasn’t just a physical one. I was finally beginning to hear what the Doctor had told me yesterday. 

This marks a shift in me. Instead of irritation at my body, in my mind and with my surroundings, I begin to feel a well of compassion for my liver. For all I must have put it through and put into it – to have caused such a violent outburst in detoxing. I begin to come out of my shell a little more, fake a return to the old me, until she reappears fully. I can tell by the faces of the staff and Dr Nishanth, they are aware, they understand, they’ve seen it all before.

On the morning of day 7, I make my way down to the yoga shala, hoping a new day will bring fresh perspective. There seems to be a deep incompatibility within me to be feeling this way in such heavenly surroundings. As though I am conscious of the beauty of morning, the golden skies paling as the sun rises, the cawing crows, the lush green palms, and yet I am unable to see or feel the magic. And it frustrates me. I want to be myself again. I want to enjoy this time. I want to be joyful. 

At the end of the practice, I stay behind to do my Kriya and as I do, I ask for help – that this day will be different. I ask for the grey to clear, for an incessant, inexplicable weight that has followed me around to leave, essentially, a return to love. I lie back in savasana and close my eyes.

After a few minutes, maybe more, I start to become aware that I’m lying on the floor. I start to notice my surroundings. There’s a shade of difference. The sun is brighter, there is a lightness in and around me, and I feel good to be here. This quickly morphs into an overwhelming sense of love for this place, which is then rapidly redirected to the people. I think of all the staff who work here, one by one, and I feel a sense of love for each of them too – even those I was frustrated with just a few days before. Remembering this, I feel sorry. I want to get up and go and hug them, apologise, explain. Explain what, I have no idea. I’m only aware that I’m coming back from what felt like a strangling, stifling place. I thought of the doctors, the other guests, all of them, I loved them all. 

A powerful Kriya. 

As the day unfolds, the Universe offers up little gifts in the form of flow. A dragonfly hovers around me, a fisherman waves hello down on the beach – the very same beach I had walked along unseen until now. Crows entertain me standing right by the water’s edge, hopping up as the tide comes in, just as children do, again and again without tiring. The yoga teacher takes me kurta shopping and I find some beautiful silk pieces at next to nothing prices. I return to catch the motley crew of stray beach dogs joyfully racing each other at sunset, as though part of an organised greyhound meet. I find kindred spirited souls in my fellow Panchakarmies. 

The staff are all back, and despite my detox doldrums, they greet me with big Keralan smiles on bright, shining faces, full of patience and care, love and acceptance for all they have witnessed. 

The magic continues and grows into day 8 (at the time of writing). I feel a return to myself, with bountiful supplements of even greater joy, delight and wonder, and a huge amount gratitude for this accepting, non-judgemental and compassionate gathering, or family (as they call themselves), of humans, who seem more loving than ever. 

I have witnessed more than ever before, a rather challenging example of how one’s internal environment creates the external reality, something I have spoken about with yogis and friends, but never actually fully understood through my own experience in the way that I just have. 

I now recognise that as the toxins were surfacing to be released from my body, I was also experiencing them. I had a choice to witness this, simply as part of the purification process, instead I (unconsciously) chose to fully meet them, to live them again. While it felt ugly to go through it, I am grateful for the experience and the gentle and deeply nurturing environment in which it happened, because it’s given me a valuable teaching I wouldn’t have had otherwise. 

Such a lesson, such a learning. And to think I was only planning a little detox.

I stayed at Veda5 Wellness Retreat in Kerala under the care of Dr Nishanth and his team, and Retreat Manager Datchu and team.

The Tapestry we weave 

2 May 2021

I have recently started to see life and the many encounters, relationships and even challenges we go through, not as single events that happen just to us, but threads, stitches and sometimes beautiful everlasting knots, that are all part of the tapestry of life we weave. And I see us as all part of the same, amazing and universal tapestry. 

Not one of these threads is wasted, no matter how brief or insignificant it may appear to be. A lone thread (occurrence, experience, encounter), might not seem to add to the overall picture we call our life, and in fact, we may see it or feel it as a great hardship or hindrance to our progression, at least on a physical level. 

But what if all threads – the perceived ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were actually essential to the whole tapestry of the collective; and the experiences and relationships that leave us with a bitter taste or heavy heart, are there not only to help us evolve in our own lives, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, but to help others too, or in the words of Rod Stryker, “We are each a single cell in the greater body of this world, with a unique role to play in the service of sustaining and advancing the whole of which we are a part.”

What if we were to see our own life, as really just a beautiful part of the bigger tapestry of life, transcending time and space? And that the experiences we go through, are there not only to weave our part in the tapestry, but to help us tie up loose threads we have been hanging onto for many lifetimes, at a soul level, or to help others do the same, also known as clearing karma. 

The great thing about life is we don’t always need to understand the context or our karma (from past lives), we just need to live the experience in this lifetime, all the while trying not to judge it or ourselves.


30 March 2021

Not so long ago, the actress Emma Watson wrote about being ‘self-partnered’, a term she used during an interview, when asked about her marital status.

When I read this, I knew that self-partnered didn’t resonate for me – it’s too long-winded for a start. And perhaps it’s the self that I don’t like – a legacy of our society, albeit rapidly changing as we become increasingly aware of the importance of self-care, and that self-care is not selfish, but in fact leads us towards being quite the opposite. 

As an alternative, single doesn’t work for me either. It sounds very much like we are lacking something, or in this conversation, someone.

And yet none of us are lacking, no matter our status: single, married, divorced, partnered, self-partnered or even multi-partnered.

We are all completely whole.

So when I heard the term self-partnered, I self-corrected it. Instead of single, I see whole. And surely that’s the best foundation for a partnership anyway. 

Samskara (impressions)

Hurting or helping?

30 March 2021

More often than not, we lash out at and blame the people who hurt us, but in time, when the heartbreak or mind(break), however we perceive it, has had the time it needs to exist and then to fade or melt away, we may be blessed with the perception of what really played out. And it is in those moments of light and truth that we can see that the very people who we think hurt us the most, actually helped us the most. 

Samskara, (a Sanskrit word), refers to the impressions left from memories we have, that still carry an energetic charge within us. These imprints, may come from a memory or an experience in this lifetime; usually childhood, when we process an event or experience in a different way to how we might interpret it or understand it as an adult. Or Samskara may be carried over from a past life, for the very purpose of healing and clearing it in this lifetime.

Sometimes, not always, those who hurt us, may actually be serving as a helpful little signpost to that Samskara we need to heal. It takes time to see that, especially if we are still in the pain, but when we do, we have the opportunity to find the root of our reactions, which very well may not be the person or people who directed us to it. Once we recognise it, we can then heal and clear it completely, and from there live unbound by that Samskara

Finding peace

(originally posted 18 Dec 2018)

I have just read a friend’s article here and been inspired to write.

I think I’m in my cocoon. Not quite home, but recognising that a feeling of home is one day possible for me, something I was beginning to think I’d never want to have. I’ve watched friends settle down, start families and decorate homes and I’ve truly felt so much joy watching this happen, delighted in new additions to their families, new lives and new worlds. I’ve genuinely loved experiencing their happiness, but I’ve never felt the desire to do that myself. I think I needed to find peace within first.

It used to be, that being on the move; on the road, in a car, on a bus, on a plane, was where I found peace. The more bizarre the journey, the more far-flung the destination, the deeper the peace. The more I was lost, the more I thought I’d found myself.

When I travelled regularly for work, despite knowing I was taken care of from airport check-in to hotel check-in, I used to imagine I wasn’t; that I wasn’t really travelling for the corporate safety net I relied on for so long to survive, but alone, out there, in the vast wide world. And when my 25 days of holiday came around, I’d do the travelling for real and enjoy it all the more.

That feeling of stepping onto a plane from somewhere safe and familiar, knowing you don’t know how it will be on arrival; that feeling of not knowing was known to me and I loved it. I found peace within it. The lack of routine was my routine. Even when I lived in other countries, I never imagined it would be forever. That would be far too permanent. Impermanence was my freedom and freedom was my joy.

It was peaceful just being on a plane, 35,000 ft in the air, nobody to talk to, no phone to mindlessly swipe through, just my thoughts, my dreams and my heart. Full of hope that this new place I was flying to would bring peace and maybe a new temporary home, or cocoon as I now like to call it. Little did I know I’d meet a strange but familiar soul on one of these trips who filled my heart with such love.

The more different the culture (from my own), the more strange the land, the more peace I felt within. I pushed myself to go alone, speak with people who didn’t speak my language and get lost. And I loved it.

Skip to August this year, and an experience somewhere in the outskirts of Ottawa.

Not that Ottawa, indeed Canadian culture, is that far removed from my own, but it was here – in such a random spot, that I experienced such a moment of peace.

Perhaps it was the proximity to the airport – a haven of peace for me (so ironic, given how noisy airports are). I was sitting in the rear car park of the Hilton Garden Inn, perched in the only patch of lasting sun. Despite the name, there was no garden, or rather I was in the garden, along with the illicit-smoking caterers and a few delivery vans.

I had wet hair from a luxuriously long hot shower, choosing the sun’s rays over the hairdryer, and was scrawling furiously in a notebook. I probably looked not unlike a wandering vagabond planning her next move and how she’d scramble the money together to make it there.

But in fact I was totally at peace. I was safe and happy, with every possible requirement for survival taken care of by Air Canada; my flight, hotel room, food and transport. In fact, by way of apology for not putting me on my scheduled flight, a handsome sum had covered my entire trip. 

It hadn’t been a wholly wonderful visit to Canada this time. While I had enjoyed a few days with a good friend, covered a yoga festival and explored a new city, I had also met and known heartbreak, finally realising that I had to let go, and still so reluctant to. And yet, it was precisely the moment I started to let go, that life started to take care of me.

And the feeling of peace? It came from the recognition of that. And, for a brief moment in time, feeling completely anonymous. Because for that short time, no one in the world knew where I was, and I cherished it, safe in the knowledge that the moment I did tell someone of my whereabouts, they would care.

So what is peace for me I wonder. It’s clearly not a location or a destination. It was once the not knowing, the impermanence and freedom. But all of these factors brought peace precisely because I had the known, the permanence and the lack of freedom back at home. Which is why I fled, or rather travelled. The grass is always greener, you always want what you can’t have.

Until now.

Now, I still don’t have a home in the conventional sense, but I do feel at peace more often than not, and I believe I can find it in far simpler places than far-flung destinations (or outskirts of Ottawa). I find peace sitting on the floor of my room, lighting a candle and setting my sankalpa (an intention). Listening to music, meditating, through pranayama or asana practice on the mat. I find peace with my family; laughing with my Mother and playing with my nephews. I’ve found peace in my work; perfecting a sentence, or seeing peace reflected on the faces of those with whom I share yoga. In nature, and walking in the fields around the farm, enjoying a good meal I’ve just prepared.

So I’m not yet at home, perhaps far from it. But in the words of my good friend Jean-Manuel, I’m in a cocoon, from which I will transform. 

I might still be on the road to finding peace, but I feel a lot further along it than I was this time last year.

Who’s driving?

(originally posted 28 Sept 2018)

As I plan to exchange my much-loved Jeep, for a far more economical car, to suit my new, more modest lifestyle, I am reminded of something a wise person once said. I don’t think I understood or agreed at the time, but now I see more clearly what he meant.

The wise words (below) reminded me, that while I may be behind the wheel of this car, I am not really in charge of the wheel of my life – hence the many surprising changes that have steered me off into a whole new direction over the last six months; a path I didn’t see on the horizon or really choose. It just started to become harder to resist and easier to go with the flow. The flow was this path – the path of yoga.

He said: “I suspect you’re keen to drive your own life, but we are all at the mercy of the missed bus, the unexpected phone call or a letter from the bank. I’ve long believed that we are seldom at the steering wheel of our own lives.”

The key, in my opinion, albeit a recently formed one admittedly, is accepting that. The sooner we can accept that we are not at the steering wheel of our own life, and welcome the real driver – the universe, our destiny, our path or purpose – the better. The road is a lot less bumpy if we do and probably far more enjoyable.

Not part of the plan

(originally posted 9 May 2018)

“One does not go by oneself in India,
You are led softly by the hand,
By whom you don’t know,
No words to ask.” 

(Tears of Bliss: A Guru-Disciple Mystery, Narvada Puri, 2009)

I found that in the book written by the German woman who left her homeland in search of a bearded Indian Guru she had seen in a dream, and together they created the ashram I am staying in. It was the late 60s when Narvada Puri first came to India, and yet how true that statement remains to this day.

As India is leading you softly by the hand, she may also be shifting your best-laid plans. In fact, the more defined your plans, the more they will be adjusted. It’s usually a change for the better, so if you’re not willing to change your plans, there’s a good chance you will miss out. I might even go so far as to say, that after seven visits here, I think India is a country to buy a one-way ticket to, or if possible, at least a fully flexible one. I should have learnt my lesson from my last trip to India, when I encountered an alternative plan in the most beautiful way (a tale for another time).

India: the Ashram experience

(originally posted 4 May 2018)

Where to start.

Moments earlier I had been dancing off the water from my bare feet, hopping between an entirely wet bathroom and dry bedroom, wondering what neatly pressed item from my suitcase could best be sacrificed for use as a bathmat, when everything suddenly went black. A power cut. The ceiling fans, so necessary in this near 40-degree heat (not to mention my now fully wet bathroom), are also out. The entire ashram, and probably village, is out and all I can see from my mosquito-netted windows, are palm trees stencilled onto the dusky sky, blowing ferociously in the wind. The rain is bucketing down and it sounds like I have a river running past my door. My windows are flung wide open, but thanks to a wide-slanted roof that extends beyond my room, barely a breeze comes in. It’s very surreal.

First we had lightning, lots of it. Then great, long rolls of thunder. It went on for a long time, thunder, lightning, thunder, lightning. The ashram owners, clearly aware of what was to come, started collecting clothes off the washing line, while I was still casually filling up my water bottle, half-expecting the storm to pass overhead given its protracted build-up. Arriving at my room, I briefly contemplated the ashram-etiquette of leaving shoes outside, and opted to bring them in, at least for tonight. I headed in to take a shower, which in hindsight was not really necessary. I could have remained outside even for a second.

All of a sudden the storm burst into life. Great bolts of lightning hit the electricity lines, which lit up Back to the Future-style, fences were blowing around and outdoor chairs had long since gone. I hope no one’s out there, I remember thinking. It was hard to imagine anything left standing after this. 

I am about six hours in to a six-week long ashram retreat in India, although right now, the word ‘retreat’ feels somewhat inappropriate. Location-wise, I am close to the foothills of the Himalayas, about 20km south-west of Rishikesh and quite, quite lost, geographically, emotionally and spiritually. 

A recommendation from a former colleague, this ashram was sold to me as “the most peaceful place close to the Himalayas”. I am imagining her visit was a different time of year.  

The ashram does come with an interesting backstory however. Shri Santosh Puri Ashram was originally the home of an Indian Guru and his German wife, an extremely courageous and determined woman (some might say mad), who at the age of 23 left her home and family in Germany and travelled to India in search of a bearded man she had seen in a dream. After a year of travelling across India by foot, in search of the man of her dreams, she finally found her Guru sitting cross-legged on an island in Haridwar (not far from the ashram’s present location), and sat down to join him. Ten years on and they were still sitting there. She lived with him and his herd of cows, managing to survive, despite the many physical and emotional challenges she faced and various illnesses she overcame. Finally, the Guru, ‘Baba-ji’ accepted her as his wife, they had three children and with the financial aid of her Mother, they all moved into what is now the Santosh Puri Ashram – ‘santosh’ meaning contentment.

Both Baba-ji and Mata-ji have since passed away, but the three children continue to run the property as an ashram – welcoming visitors into their home, offering yoga, meditation and pranayama practice, as well as an invitation to join their dawn and dusk ‘aarti’ (religious) ceremonies – chanting sanskrit and giving thanks and blessings to their parents, the Gurus and founders of the ashram.

When I arrive, two of the siblings are absent on a Himalayan retreat, which given the heat, seems a sensible idea. The one remaining dutiful daughter, Gangutri, is in charge. Her introduction is warm but lacking any ashram protocol, perhaps because it is her home. I later find out she is an Ayurvedic doctor and not usually left in sole charge of the administrative-type duties. However for an ashram first-timer like me, it would have been helpful. For the first 24 hours I am pretty much in the dark and not just literally, although I do wonder if that’s all part of the ashram experience. The need for visitors to observe (or move about blindly), mostly guessing about a lot of things, until eventually we learn to trust our inner guru – our intuition.

The four or five other guests are hard to find. I wonder if they even exist. I head to the library and choose some interesting books, return to my room and then find the ashram rules pinned to the back of my door, so immediately return all but one of the books, signing it out, as per ashram regulation.

When we do all convene for dinner, seated on the cool tiled-floor of the dining hall, no one speaks, as is the etiquette at meal times (thank Baba-ji I found those rules). My fellow ashram-ees chant a mantra before eating which I hum along to, hoping I’ll learn it a few meals along, and then I sit and wait and watch, looking for clues and trying to understand how things are done. The small team who support Gangutri serve the food onto large thali dishes placed at our feet, but don’t speak English. We converse with our eyes and smiles.

The feeling takes me straight back to my first foreign exchange at the age of 12, where everything felt so strange. I remember watching everything so closely, wanting to be able to communicate, to ask questions, tell jokes and make friends, knowing that one day it would all be so easy. The first day, just like today, was hard. And even though I am 25 years older, it doesn’t mean the mute and lost feeling is any less.

As the storm lessens and I am ready for lights out at 9pm, I feel some relief. I was meant to be doing ‘self-guided meditation’ from 8pm to 9pm, but given the Californian next door is still shouting down her mobile (to be honest I’m relieved she exists), I figure no one will mind if I write instead. Perhaps it’s not so strict here after all.

Now let’s just hope I make the 4am wake-up call.

Hotel roommate

(originally posted 13 April 2018)

It’s not always easy to squeeze in a daily yoga session while travelling, let alone find a discreet patch for the mat. The ideal of course is the privacy of your own room, apparently, even when you are sharing with your five-year-old nephew.

A parent & grandparent (in need of a break) has treated our family to a couple of nights away at a beautiful hotel and spa in rural Wiltshire: a post-Easter shindig with a five-year-old and a seven-year-old, their parents, and me the aunt / budding children’s yoga teacher. The only conditions: I am in sole charge of the nephews while their parents enjoy a much-needed spa treatment, I share a room with one of the nephews, and the multitude of chocolate Easter eggs remain in the car for the duration of our stay.

The Easter egg condition was a tough one. My sister knows how much I love them, having succeeded in selling all of hers to me at the high price of all my pocket money in our childhood, but I took it on the chin along with my roommate. I could see melted chocolate wouldn’t work so well in these rooms. The hotel bedlinen was undeniably crisp and white, the wealth of bathroom towels luxuriously fluffy (also white) and the room an elegant shade of Farrow & Ball’s Slipper Satin. This colour palette was not asking for further decoration and especially not in chocolate.

First of all we had to establish who was sharing my room. It was a hard choice, though ultimately, probably not one I would be making.

Five-year-old stays up late but loves a lie in, and Seven-year-old crashes early but also rises early. Very early. Over tea and scones, I was amused to have two boys arguing over who would share my room, then swiftly grasped it would come down to he who was best behaved. What good training on the part of their parents.. a good steer for later life. Good behaviour gets the girl, or rather doesn’t have to stay with the parents.

The compromise was Five-year-old first night, Seven-year-old second night. Very fair all round. On hearing the news, Five-year-old started to move his few travel possessions into my room: pyjamas, toothbrush, toothpaste and slippers. Given he had less to unpack, not to mention no ridiculous adult notion of putting things in their place (for one night only), he had time to spare before we headed down to dinner. He picked up my yoga mat and asked if he could borrow it.

“Of course!” I said, delighted. I helped him roll it out along the small corridor in the room and left him to it.

I turned around to busy myself with the ridiculous notion of putting my things in their place and when I turned back to check on Five-year-old, I was astounded.

This little person had plonked himself down in the middle of the mat, crossed his legs and held his hands slightly aloft of his knees, his fingers in chin mudra and eyes peacefully closed. He looked so calm, so content and so much in his own space, like nothing else around him mattered in that moment. I was in awe. How did he know to do that and to do it so serenely. He was like a little Buddha. A young yogi. 

It made me think. Children act far more intuitively and instinctively than adults. As we grow, we become increasingly aware of others. A good thing on the one hand otherwise we’d all be in utter chaos, but also sometimes a shame, because we can lose our ability to connect with ourselves. As we become more aware, we can act less from a place of intuition and more in accordance with expectations of society, or those around us or worse, imagined expectations, which can be to the detriment of ourselves and our happiness.

If grabbing a mat and plonking yourself down in silence, sukhasana (crossed legs) and chin mudra is what today’s children are seeking out themselves, with no push or encouragement from adults, surely that’s what they know they need. Well we all need.. we’ve just forgotten because of all the noise and occasional ridiculous notions we surround ourselves with.

I am therefore very grateful to Five-year-old for reminding me to pause, roll out the mat, plonk myself down and meditate.

Present moment

(originally posted 15 March 2018)

Yesterday evening I went to a yoga class that I tend to go to very regularly and then not at all. It’s usually 60 minutes of Hatha yoga, ending with a short 10 – 15 minute meditation. When I first started going, I used to dread the meditation and more recently, I have noticed, I am starting to enjoy it. Now I wonder if perhaps I go for the meditation, not in spite of it.

The teacher, Mark Hill, started the class on this particular evening by interpreting the word ‘vinyasa‘ – a sanskrit word, and as such, may be explained or translated in a multitude of ways, depending on the translator. Mark chose ‘to place with awareness‘, which I have never heard before. To me (at this time), ‘vinyasa flow‘ translated as a dynamic yoga class that would probably see you break into at least a light sweat. On an imagined scale of physical effort, it fit somewhere in between hatha and ashtanga yoga, and more towards the ashtanga end.

Mark then went on to say something that was completely illuminating to me. In all the years of practising yoga, I have never heard anyone say anything quite so helpful (apart from Ella the 8 year-old yogi perhaps).

He said that his suggestions throughout the class, were exactly that – purely suggestions for the body to take or leave, not instructions or directions.  His suggestions were to help us to be in awareness, in our bodies, in the present moment.

The suggestion to ground a foot, outwardly rotate a thigh or stretch the side body was not just about correcting a posture and certainly not about getting the students to ‘do it right’ – as I have often felt. It was about helping us to bring awareness to that particular body part and thereby help us to be in the present moment, to be in the class, to be in our bodies, to be in that foot, thigh or side and not in our heads. Not in “Where did she get those yoga leggings from?”, “She looks like she does a lot more yoga than me”, “What am I going to have for supper?”, “Shall I text him back now or wait a bit?” etc.

Back to the yoga.

Listening to suggestions (not instructions or directions) with this perspective in mind changes everything. It removes a critical perspective of oneself and changes it to a positive and mindful intention to bring oneself into the present moment. The yoga class is suddenly an enabler to be in the present moment, not a platform for self-criticism, which I am sure is still how so many people feel.

That comment was so simple, yet so illuminating. Because that’s what yoga is really all about. It’s not a sport to bring a healthy sweat, although it can bring that about. It’s not something you do to compare yourself to others, although sometimes that happens too. It’s actually just a means to help us to be in the present moment a little bit more.

First attempt at teaching children
(originally posted 28 Feb 2018)

My sister generously offered up her two sons – George and Thomas, five and seven years old, as guinea pigs for their aunt – a newly qualified children’s yoga and mindfulness teacher. A pre-arranged playdate one rainy Saturday afternoon would be the event, my sister’s front room, the venue.

I was excited at the prospect of finally putting my newfound qualifications to use, and after 10 days of practising with larger children (my fellow trainees), I was looking forward to doing yoga with the real little people.

I arrived at my sister’s house armed with yoga mats, my newly acquired Enchanted Wonder yoga cards, all my training material and a notebook full of ideas – just in time to see my nephews’ lunchtime hyperactivity increase. A great warm-up for a yoga class I thought, as I mentally eliminated some of the more physical games I had planned.

The class began well, with everyone listening to each other and sitting calmly on their mats. As our teachers had said, it was like magic how the children were almost immediately enthralled by an idea or game. Around halfway through however, George, my youngest nephew, started introducing some behaviour that was arguably far more entertaining than any of the yoga and mindfulness games I was offering up – one that involved the removal of clothes. 

I quickly went through all our tricks and tips in training. Ask him or her to help you lead the class, switch up the game and in doing so, the energy, errrthe Shanti Om chanting, the ‘peace chair’? Mmm.. I didn’t think Shanti Om would work on this group, especially George, who was now removing his trousers, plus I hadn’t introduced it at the beginning. Big mistake. Note to self, always start with Shanti Om in case you have to use it later. I tried the first two tactics but by this stage George was pulling off his pants and wanting to show everyone, especially the little girl in the group, that unlike her (he was sure), he had a willy.

In haste (my second mistake), I decided the best course of action was to re-robe him and mindfully guide him to the peace chair, explaining why I thought this might be a good idea for a short while. I was amazed. The peace chair worked like magic. George zoned out and then quietly rejoined the group a few minutes later. 

A few games on and once again I was clearly failing in George’s eyes, as his clothes were swiftly pulled off and the willy game ensued. He was now attracting followers and I could see other children were tempted to join in. Oh crikey. If any of the parents, my sister included, had walked in at that moment… 

I somehow managed to salvage the class, get everyone’s clothes back on and bring the energy down. We ended up in a guided savasana that they all seemed to love – even George.

Over post-yoga tea and cake, a poll was taken on my teaching ability and the class in general. In a ‘what-goes-on-tour-stays-on-tour’ kind of way, not one of them mentioned the nakedness which I was surprised about and instead they said how much they had loved every bit of it. When asked to pick a favourite part, most of them chose the savasana at the end. How discreet and diplomatic children can be.

George was definitely my best teacher in that class. I learnt a lesson for any future class I lead and for that I am grateful (hopefully only the children’s classes). And it just shows, even though we may have hyperactive children who love to bounce around the room, being playful and loud, even the loud ones are quite possibly just craving the opportunity to be peaceful.

The 8-year-old yogi
(originally posted 27 Feb 2018)

I assisted at a Family yoga class on the weekend in London’s Notting Hill. Yes, I’m a qualified yoga teacher for adults and children; for mindfulness too, but since qualifying I don’t feel I’ve been very mindful about my practice or my teaching. So, right now I have a small opportunity to be the observer, to assist, without leading the class. The children’s yoga teacher, Ayala, had unswerving faith in me and roped me in to help at a Sunday afternoon session. Two days later and what lingers in my mind and practice, is not so much Ayala, nor the other, more experienced assistant, but Ella, the 8-year-old yogi.

Ella chose the perfect moment to walk discreetly up to Ayala’s mat at the front of the class, sitting next to her, causing as little fuss as possible in the process. She whispered something to Ayala, who then announced to the whole class that Ella would like to show us something she had learnt. Ella then calmly led the class through a ‘how to’ on bakasana – the reasonably challenging crow pose, even for a seasoned practitioner.

I was astonished. Never before had it been explained so clearly. Never before had any teacher said to me so sweetly and so assuredly. “It’s very easy, you just have to practise”. Well, quite.

Returning to my flat that evening and rolling out my mat, I had an urge to try crow, a pose I have long struggled with despite extensive, intensive, not to mention expensive yoga retreats in far-flung destinations. That evening, for the first time attempting crow, I had something else. I had a smile on my face, thinking of Ella and how she had briefly led a class of nearly 30 adults and children, holding our attention fully and passing on an innocent and ancient wisdom.

That evening, I witnessed the best crow attempt I have ever done without a warm-up. The next morning I had the urge to try it again, and again I found myself smiling. And just now, this evening, I actually managed to keep both feet up for more than a second.

Ella, you are my new favourite teacher.

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I have recently started to see life and the many encounters, relationships and even challenges we go through, not as single events that happen just to us, but threads, stitches and sometimes beautiful everlasting knots, that are all part of the tapestry of life we weave. And I see us as all part of the same, amazing and universal tapestry. 

Not one of these threads is wasted, no matter how brief or insignificant it may appear to be. A lone thread (occurrence, experience, encounter), might not seem to add to the overall picture we call our life, and in fact, we may see it or feel it as a great hardship or hindrance to our progression, at least on a physical level. 

But what if all threads – the perceived ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were actually essential to the whole tapestry of the collective; and the experiences and relationships that leave us with a bitter taste or heavy heart, are there not only to help us evolve in our own lives, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, but to help others too, or in the words of Rod Stryker, “We are each a single cell in the greater body of this world, with a unique role to play in the service of sustaining and advancing the whole of which we are a part.”

What if we were to see our own life, as really just a beautiful part of the bigger tapestry of life, transcending time and space? And that the experiences we go through, are there not only to weave our part in the tapestry, but to help us tie up loose threads we have been hanging onto for many lifetimes, at a soul level, or to help others do the same, also known as clearing karma. 

The great thing about life is we don’t always need to understand the context or our karma (from past lives), we just need to live the experience in this lifetime, all the while trying not to judge it or ourselves.