The Hippy Twist: Becoming an Agent for Change


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“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”
– Aldous Huxley

The only thing we can be sure of is change, yet most of us spend our lives gripping onto the railing, terrified of what that change will entail, and how soon it will come.

Fear and anxiety tend to be held primarily in the gut, the location of the solar plexus. From a eastern philosophical view, the solar plexus is the location of the Manipura Chakra, the jewel in the city, or the place of resplendence. Along with governing digestion and metabolism, this is also the home of the ego, and associated with self-esteem and “warrior” energy; it also holds the key to our power for transformation.

Behind the digestive organs lies the spine, which is the engine for all movement. When the Manipura chakra is healthy and spirited, and balanced with the rest of the body and their associated chakras, taking risks, asserting oneself and being responsible for ones choices in life is natural and easy. The relationship of self and other is in check, and acting our of goodwill and service comes naturally because the sense of ego-self is in tune with the universal self, or conscious collective.

When the Manipura chakra is out of balance, however, it is associated with fear, anxiety, insecurity (that may present as an inflation of ego or self-worth), poor digestion or even chronic illness. It can also be associated with a stiff or misaligned spine. The Solar plexus is intricately linked to diet, as the diet supports, or hinders how our digestive track functions, as well as our self-image and ultimately, our self-worth.

It is no coincidence that in the sixties, a time of drastic and needed change, a number of songs were penned about the inevitability of change, such as The Times They Are A Changin’, by Bob Dylan, and A Change Is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke. An equal number of songs were written about twisting and turning, which are the very moves that accelerate and encourage change in the body, from a digestive and movement perspective.

In the yoga asana practice, postural twists are excellent for bringing about a cleansing of the gut, as well as challenging our sense of self and all of our attachments. If we are aware and wanting to look deeply into our mental patterns and attachments, twists can challenge the questions such as who is ‘I’ and what is ‘mine’? What are the various labels we place on ourselves that we get attached to? The more we understand that the labels aren’t real, but rather, the makings of the ego, even the thoughts we have about ourselves in the world are not real, the more we can begin to accept change, whether it be a relationship-based, dietary, environmental, or professional. The fact is, everything is changing in the world all the time, and we have less control of what is ‘newer and dear’ to us than we think. When we take responsibility for the choices we make with intentions that stretch beyond our limited, ego-driven self, then we can rest assured that we have done the best we can, and the fear and anxiety dissipates.

When we embrace change and feel good about what we consume, including the food we eat and the media we read and hear, we become change agents rather than fighting change as if it were quicksand. What we feel good about eating is personal, of course, but starting from a place of not-harming any other being is essential if one is practicing yoga with the goal of sustained happiness and peace within. Healing foods packed with nutrients are generally also non-harming foods, making things like organic vegetables and fruits a great place to start.

For more on the relationship of food and diet to feeling great, check out Sharon Gannon’s book, Simple Recipes for Joy. It is so much more than a vegan cookbook; it is a recipe for creating magic and positive change in the world, starting with yourself.

For more on twisting, the Manipura chakra and the asana practice, I will be leading a workshop on Sunday, October 5 about the torso and Central Column in the Architecture of Asana Series at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, from 1:30-4:30pm. Please come!

From the Ground Up


originally posted on Movement for Modern Life

imageYS. 2.46 sthira sukham asanam

May the relationship (connection with the earth) be steady and joy filled.

Our relationship with the earth may be the most important connection we have in our lives; afterall, we come from the earth, and some day our bodies will eventually, but inevitably return there. What is more, the gravitational pull to the earth’s centre may be the single most prevalent physical force we will ever know. We are a mere 3959 miles from the earth’s core, whereas the the closest moon, star or planet is almost one hundred times that distance. Despite this, we spend the large majority of the time looking outward, being “star struck”, and in awe of what’s out there and how it might affect us rather than increasing our knowledge and compassion towards what is just under our feet; that which is also our greatest support and biggest resource. Ironically, this mirrors the relationship many of us have between ourself and other beings; there is a great propensity to look outside of ourselves for strength and happiness rather than finding the answers within.

Yoga has long been documented as a journey inward, a practice that stabilitises and balances the mind and body, so it would make sense to begin with a good foundation to the earth, the element that connects us to our roots and to all other beings. In reality, however, we are sensorial-based creatures, and our greatest sense, our sense of sight, leads us to a fascination with the things that we can see. What is more, the ego thrives on affirmation, and as such, seeks measurable results based on analysis. It is easy to understand then, how the desire for mastering advanced asanas has superseded the joy and discovery of fully understanding the subtleties and challenges hidden in ‘basic’ standing postures. As a culture we celebrate the idea of ‘onward and upward’ rather than valuing our ability to root and reflect. One of my favourite quotes comes from Richard Freeman who has revealingly said “advanced asana is for those who don’t get the basics.”

Over half of the bones in the body are found in the feet, and the soft tissue, including fascia and muscle, span as an interconnected matrix from the toes all the way up the torso to the cranium. Our designer knew how important our foundation would be to survival. While the ability to ground and take off stems through the feet, the propulsion comes via the legs, hips, spine, shoulder girdle, arms, neck and head. The whole body “gotta get down to get up” (James Brown).

In today’s world where sitting in a chair has replaced squatting, where driving a car has replaced walking and running, and where yoga practices tend to be more about learning to fly rather than learning to stand with ease and grace, let us remember the joy in finding the subtle connections of the body to enable a deeper rooting to the earth.

Yoga is an integrative practice; we practice reconditioning our mind and body to be more interconnected in the world. Sometimes, however, the ego takes over, and the practice stays in the mundane realm of ‘physical fitness’. We forget the intention behind the practice, the goal of connecting to the earth and all beings. The moment we acknowledge that we have slipped back into the mundane is a beautiful moment: it is the chance we have to reset our intention in the practice, it is a moment to find a steady, joyful place to begin the breath anew. When we find ourself ‘competing’ in some way in the practice, when we don’t listen to physical pain in pursuit of attaining a posture, when we ‘cheat’ to get into an asana and put our body at risk of injury, these are moments to be celebrated. After all, on a macro-level, the yoga practice is about increasing our awareness, so when we start to observe and recognize habit patterns we can begin to change. This is the beginning of transformation. When our foundation is strong, steady, filled with ease and grace our potential to fly becomes a permanent state of mind rather than a temporary physical feat. In yoga, we build consciously in body and mind, from the ground, up.

Please join me on Sunday, September 7, for the first of three workshops on the topic of the architecture of asana, exploring the various regions of the body in relationship to an integrated yoga practice at Indaba Yoga Studio. Follow the link below to book in:

https://www.facebook.com/events/290000161173856/

Convergence


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YS II.46 stira sukam asanam
the connection with the earth should be steady and joyful

YS II.47 prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam
the means of perfecting the connection (posture/seat) is that of relaxing or loosening of effort and allowing attention to merge with endlessness, or the infinite

YS II.48 tatah dvandva anabhighata
from the attainment of perfected connection (posture/seat), there arises an unimpeded freedom from suffering due to the pairs of opposites (such as likes and dislikes, or pain and pleasure)

All of life, it seems, can be boiled down to moments of coming together, and separating apart. Things all around us are in a constant state of fluidity and change, and this can be very destabilising, especially if the body and mind are busy processing all this change; especially if we perceive the transience all around us as important, as real.

When I look back over my own life, I have been moved to a place of instability, disconnection and loneliness at the time I have felt insecure in myself. The insecurities have come from what boils down to a longing for togetherness, a longing to belong. What I did not realize (and still sometimes forget), is that I never didn’t belong. We all belong, we have a reason and a purpose to exist. We are all complete just as we are, and our completeness comes from our connection. When we recognise this, the points of divergence, the things that limit and separate us disappear. Each one of us has the potential to do beyond-human things. Each one of us has the potential for magic. When we perceive reality as the things around us that are constantly changing, however, we forget how to simply be, and instead end up longing. The magic comes in shifting our perception of what is real, of what is important. We are so much more than the body and the mind and the events that shake our foundation. When we realise our connection and points of similarity with all other beings, we cease to see other beings. We see ourselves in everything, we realize we are, in fact, united. This is when we can stop trying to Belong, and simply Be. This is when we have perfected our asana.

When we are able to fine a place of ease in our body and mind and let go of the entwinement of the daily happenings around us, the moments in our life that once defined us become but a thread in our rich life’s journey that we create together; and together, we are more than the sum of our parts, we are limitless.

When we come to the mat to practice asana, we aim to create a connection that is steady and joy-filled by way of making shapes that resemble beings with diverse physical forms: the tree, the crow, the mountain. The more we see beyond the shapes we assume with our body into the very nature of each form, the more we have the potential to merge with the form. This is when we cease trying to create a ‘pose’ and simply inhabit the connection, the asana. We can relax into the asana, we can relax in our life, we can stop identifying with all the things that lead to separation and longing. This is convergence, this the state of yoga.

Creating (and sustaining) a Self-Practice


Join the Building a Self-Practice Workshop on July 6th at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, from 1:30-4:30pm. 

lizzieMy self-practice began when I moved to Kosovo in 2006. Prior to that time, I had yoga classes readily available to me, and despite attending classes for almost ten years, the idea of unrolling my mat in my home seemed daunting and untenable. Then, I moved to Kosovo.

Equipped with nothing but my yoga mat, a belt and a couple of blocks, my self-practice commenced. Left on my own without a teacher’s guidance, a couple of things struck me within the first couple of weeks. First, I knew more than I thought I did. When left to move freely, my body could inform itself of what to do. My muscles and tissues had a memory after all, and may have been more present in those thousands of prior yoga classes than my mind! Second, I could move to my unique breath count, which was a big revelation to me, and very freeing at the time. Third, I realized that my mind was more attached to practicing certain asanas than others, for a specific period of time and in a given environment than I would have liked to admit.

At that moment, my self-practice opened wide up to a limitless sea of opportunity. My practice became as much about letting go of my mind-made constraints as it did about creating strength and flexibility through asana, pranayama and meditation. Engaging with learning tools such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was also a big part of my self-study.

Whether you have 5 minutes or 55 minutes, a daily self-practice is a time to check in and be in your body. Here are 5 tips to help get you started:

1. Drop your Expectations:  So often, our expectations are what prevent us from being present in the moment. 5 minutes of a yoga practice everyday is better than no practice, and actually, your yoga practice can start now! How are you sitting? What is happening with your breath? Are your feet grounded as you read this? What kind of subconscious thoughts are going through your mind?

2. Set your Clock: If you are under time constraints, set an alarm for the time you need to finish by. This will allow your mind to fully be present with your breath and your body, rather than lost in thought, anxious about over running.

3. Follow your Breath: Allow the breath to inform the movement. The more breath is used as a metronome, the more external environments and sounds move into the background and the state of yoga is truly available.

4. Take time to warm up, and cool down: Even if you have ten minutes, give yourself a few minutes to ease into the practice and heat up the spine. As important is a cooling down period leading to rest. My general rule of thumb is 20% of the practice should be in warm up or rest mode. This is when and embodied awareness is cultivated and can be brought into the practice, and also out into our daily life.

5. Fuel your Practice Right: Yoga practice happens in daily life, starting with how we treat other beings, and what we put into our bodies and minds. Eating nourishing whole foods that have the least impact on the planet and animate life is as much a part of the yoga practice as rolling out your mat. When we eat other beings who have suffered, beyond contributing to the cycle of suffering in the world, we ingest the suffering of the animal as well. This contributes to the thought cycle in the mind, which leads to physical and emotional toxicity. A positive intention set before each practice is as important as an organic, vegan smoothie. Speaking of smoothies, Raw Fairies will be at the workshop to talk more about diet and nutrition for fueling a yoga practice, and may even have some smoothies on offer.

For more information on sequencing, self-adjusting and building a rounded practice, hope to see you at the workshop on June 6th.

Teaching Schedule, May and June (+ Workshops and Covers)


Summertime is upon us! And with it, some upcoming changes to the schedule. But first, let us enjoy the glorious spring! Hope to see you on the mat soon.

UPCOMING WORKSHOP SERIES
THE STRUCTURE OF ASANA: A THREE PART SERIES
with Lizzie Reumont at Indaba Yoga Studio

Our bodies were designed by a master architect to house the most precious creation: the soul! Nonetheless, life can be complicated mentally and physically, and too often we end up living without an awareness of what it means to be in the body, without knowing how to use the resources that we have to enrich our day to day existence and to deepen our asana practice. This three – part workshop aims to shine a light on the body’s function and potential so that we may re-integrate the parts in a meaningful way. After all, a yogi is an embodied being: aware, confident and purposeful…integrated and balanced in the world.

Sunday, June 8th, 1.30-4:30pm
Finding Foundation: the feet. The structure of one’s physical architecture is rooted in the feet and connects via the legs to the spine. This 3 hour workshop will explore the anatomical phenomenon of the feet and how it relates to the legs, hips and spine in asana practice. We will look at the ankles, knees and hip joints in particular as they relate to standing postures.

Sunday, July 6th, 1.30-4.30pm
The Centre Column: the viscera and spine. The core body not only has a boney casing of spine on the back and rib cage in the front, but it has top and bottom boney landmarks in the girdles of the shoulders and hips. These hard surfaces offer containment for the vast and oceanic underlying visceral world. In this 3 hour workshop we will explore the dimensionality of the spine in conjunction with opening of the lateral body to create space. Asanas will include side-bending, twisting and back bending (front extensions).

Sunday, September 7th, 1.30-4.30pm
The Cupola: the neck and head. An awareness of the head, jaw and neck in asana practice is crucial to being balanced in body and mind; after all, it houses all of the nerves that help us to function physically and mentally. This three hour workshop will focus on the cranium and neck and their relationship in key asanas and pranayama. We will also explore techniques for releasing tension and emotional holding patterns.

(To book email Indaba Yoga Studio, or book on their website)

Cover Classes:
Monday, May 19th 6pm Indaba
Tuesday, June 3rd 4-5:30pm Indaba
Wednesday, June 4th 6-7:30pm Indaba
Thursday, June 5th 7:45-9:15pm Indaba

Weekly Classes in May 2014:
Mondays 2-3:30pm Indaba

Tuesdays 6:45-8pm The Life Centre, Notting Hill

Wednesdays 10-11:30am Indaba Yoga Studio

Wednesdays 2-3:30PM Triyoga Primrose Hill

Fridays 11:15-12:45pmThe Life Centre, Notting Hill 3 month cover for Molly Harrigan

Saturdays 10-11:30am Indaba Yoga Studio

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