Sound Advice

600394_421617931239046_1475004198_nOn October 11 and October 18th there will be LIVE MUSIC in class, provided by Luc Acke and Javier Rodríguez Huertas at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, 10-11:30am. Please come!

Tasya vachakah pranavah
Always chant OM; God is OM, supreme music

Living and working in London means that all around, there is sound. Police sirens, bus horns, jack hammers and cars whizzing past provide a colorful if not distracting backdrop. Sometimes moving beyond the chaos of the cataclysmic sound waves can be challenging.

The practices of yoga provide a framework of moving from the gross (large) elements to the subtle. We work from the outside, in, so to speak. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali outlines and eight-limed path (ashtanga) the provides steps for transformation; transformation from our belief about being rooted in our belief about who we are as a physical form, to being something more subtle, something timeless. The eight-limbed path consists of the yamas (restraints), niyamas (self-restraints), asana (seat/connection), pratyahara (looking inward), dharana (concentration), dyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment).  Throughout these practices, we learn to cultivate our listening skills, ultimately arriving at the ability to hear even the unstruck sound, the soundless sound of Om.

In the sanskrit dictionary, there is a word nadam, which translates loosely to sound. Nada Yoga is the yoga of deep inner listening. The related word nadi means river or stream. Nadis are the channels in the subtle body through which consciousness flows.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that samadhi (enlightenment) is achieved when the anahata (unstruck) nadam can be heard. The ultimate goal of Hatha Yoga is to hear this soundless sound which is Om, the dissolution of all sound and the music of the spheres. To do this the yogi must first perfect the ability to listen.

Sound is the essence of all energy. The first vibration, the Nadam, was “unstruck,” meaning that it occurred at a time when there were no things to strike against each other to make a sound. This first very subtle vibration is still resonating through each and every vibration that has arisen since the beginning of time.

To begin the practice of Nada Yoga, the yogi first practices pratyahara, shutting off as many external sights and sounds as possible and drawing inward. The first stage of pratyahara is to become still and quiet, and allow an inner tranquility to permeate the senses.

This is not easy to do, so a prerequisite might be to refine the ability to really listen. One way to do this is by appreciating good music. Be selective; it is helpful to choose music that induces an inner state of well-being. Practice listening to your own voice and to those around you. See if in walking through a busy city you can look for the sound of Om, even in the jackhammer, even in the car’s horn.

Once external listening is refined, we can cultivate the ability to listen inward. Yoga practices provide techniques for tuning our instrument, for transforming an ordinary body into an extraordinary instrument for Divine Will; for love. Through the practices of Nada Yoga, the yogi’s mind becomes absorbed in the inner sound of Om.

Day Fourteen, Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge: Transformational Breathing with Rebecca Dennis

I feel as if I may have cheated a little bit on my “yoga” challenge yesterday as I decided to use my Transformational Breath session with Rebecca as my daily ‘class’, but after all, a large part of practicing yoga is about the breath, and I’m still supposed to be ‘taking it easy’. After my liver transplant, as a part of my recovery Rebecca Dennis offered her services to help me find and deepen my breath, which was severely limited as a result of the surgery. I was very grateful, and took her up on the offer as soon as it was possible.

My third session with Rebecca was yesterday at Indaba Yoga Studio, and I arrived feeling tired after a full day of work. The room was dimly lit with a few candles, and a cushioned area on the floor invited me to lie down. As with the first two times, the breath that Rebecca asks for the clients to breath takes a bit of work. It is an open mouthed inhale and exhale, with no lapse in between the in and out. While the breath gets going, she invited my breath into my pelvis and chest with an acupressure touch, and also worked on other areas of the body as I continued to breath such as my legs, shoulders, back and jaw. Several times she asked for me to make sounds on a long exhale, and as the other two times, the breath became somewhat easier towards the end of the session and the time went very quickly. By the end I felt deeply relaxed and calm, like I could have gone on breathing just lying there for hours. The mind really turns off during the session and a quiet place deep within is easily accessible; at least, this has been my experience.

Rebecca is highly gifted at holding a therapeutic space, and she has the right mix of being an encouraging practitioner and an excellent listener. She is honest, yet compassionate with feedback, as impressions come up for her while giving the session. There is no doubt that my breath has become deeper and more balanced as a result of her work and I’m looking forward to seeing her again when I’m a little bit further on with my physical recovery. It was a welcome treat for me yesterday at the end of a busy work day, and prepared me for today’s practice.

Learning to Listen

maingraphiccranioOne of the benefits of a regular long term yoga or meditation practice is the increased capacity to listen. At first this may be focused on listening to external sounds such as a teacher’s voice or sounds in the surrounding environment, but slowly, over time, the attention shifts to cultivating an internal listening; listening to the breath, to mental formations, to areas of tightness or fluidity in the body. The process of listening, like the practices of yoga and meditation, is multi-dimensional and multi-layered.

In meditation we learn to ‘tune in’ to the sensations of the breath, body and mind. Through observation of thought activity we can practice letting go of the mind stuff that doesn’t serve us in the present moment. As one’s practice is established, the bridge between mental thought and holding patterns in the body is forged. At first this may be simply focusing on the mobility (or immobility) of the large physical structures such as muscle and bone. Over time, however, as the practice deepens to the subtle body, it is possible to foster an awareness of motility, the spontaneous and free movements within the fluid body. (An example of motility is the natural contracting of the stomach in the digestive processing of food, or the heart’s involuntary pumping of blood). In order to invite these involuntary movements to meet the patient listener, it takes a present sensitivity of touch and intention. Understanding that all organs, all tissues and all cells of the body are in a constant state of ebb and flow can be helpful in refining our ability to tune in to this submerged frequency.

Why would one want to gain access and understanding into this internal world of fluid sacs, organs and involuntary, spontaneous movement deep within the body’s core? First off, increased motility promotes a state of wellness throughout the visceral organs. The more stagnant the organs and fluid sacs of the peritoneum, pericardium and plural cavities, the more potential for lowered immunity and disease. Secondly, the yogic practices such as pranayama and the shat karma kriyas take on an increased effectiveness when the practitioner has an heightened awareness of the fluid spaces that are being lifted, massaged and cleansed in the process, aiding in movement and increased energy flow into the subtle body. Third, the more we understand the fluid movements within our core, the more connected, adaptive and whole we become. We literally learn to inhabit the body’s container from the inside, out. After all, in our fetal development the organs were developed prior to skeletal formation, so it makes sense that freeing the movement of organs and their encompassing fluid sacs would aid in realigning the related bony landmarks. With increased consciousness of the soft, inner world comes an expansion and understanding of relationship between the inner and outer world. We can inhabit our body in a fuller, freer, more meaningful way. This in turn expands our capacity to listen and self regulate, regardless of whether we are tuning into the breath, body or mind. In fact, it is through this deep listening that our understanding of boundaries expand and dissolve into fluid unity.

Learn to sit still, to wait until your dust has settled, and your air has become clear. Wait for deep stillness. Then, start.

Develop intuitive perception and understanding for everything. Pay attention to everything, especially to the little things. Changing the little things often brings about the largest improvements.

Treat everyone, and every part of everyone, as equal. Every cell in the body has consciousness. Every minute structure is a hologram.

The more awareness we focus, the more our perception of time slows down…[the more we can be present].

Above all, go slowly. You cannot go too deep, just too fast.

When you don’t know what to do, ask for a cup of tea. Learn how to ask for help. The ancient Greeks believed that not asking for help could get you killed.

Meditate. Live purely, be quiet, and do your work with mastery.

-various quotes from Hugh Milne

My Truth

I’m going to need a new liver.

Some of you may know about my personal history with illness, and if you follow my blog you may have even read posts about my long history with Ulcerative Colitis that I have had since I was three. I was always told that it would be my demise, and doctors projected that by 20 years old I would have colon cancer. Living through my teens and twenties with only minor flair ups of the disease, it was to my great surprise and horror, that at 32 years old (2005) I was told, while living in the Netherlands, that I had a rare biliary disease, and eventually this would take over my liver and lead to transplantation. For a period of time after receiving this news, I was frozen with fear and overtaken with emotion. For while the prognosis was 10-15 years until end-stage liver disease leading to transplantation, I heard, and equated this to death. My life changed seemingly overnight.

During this time, I quit my job as a creative director in Amsterdam and moved to Kosovo where my (now) husband was working for the UN. I had been practicing yoga for nearly 10 years by then, and started teaching it to UN staff and local Kosovar women. From there I went on to complete the Jivamukti teacher training and numerous healing touch therapies, which I continue to study to this day.

For the past 8 years, the long term prognosis of PSC has been at bay but at the same time a part of me, somewhere between a distant possibility that may not ever see the light of day, to something underlying my relationship with mortality and how I chose to live. It was never completely out of my mind, as my body shape changed daily depending on the up and down nature of the disease (“it is predictably the most unpredictable disease to man”, said my doctor last week).

During the past eight years I have looked at death in the eye on a few occasions, but I have savoured every sweet moment and feel so blessed to have loved ones and the great blessing of a son even through an emergency liver procedure that brought him into the world 7 weeks early. There have been episodes over the past three years that lead the doctors to believe that I am now approaching the end with my liver, and have urged me to consider transplantation.

Four weeks ago, I was a working yoga teacher passionate about yoga and teaching. I loved to treat people who could benefit with body work, and adored my role as an active mother and person in the community.

Then, out of the blue I endured three days of stabbing abdominal pain and was admitted to the Liver Ward. Having undergone days and days of tests, the doctor concluded that my liver was starting to fail.

Many of you know I’ve been to hospital before for what sound like wierd and wacky things and have always bounced back. Naively, I thought this would be the same story; I thought I would be teaching within a week of the hospital stint and continued to make plans as such. How little we know. Day after day of increasing pain, decreased energy and appetite told me that everything is different this time.

It has been a heartbreaking process, to watch everything I love slipping through my fingers, when all I can do is surrender, but it has already taught me a lot, and I suspect this coming time will be a time of reflection, growth and letting go.

Last week when I returned to the doctor in a worse state than I had left the hospital, the doctor told me I was eligible for a transplant and would likely get on to the waiting list rapidly. I had my first glimmer of hope that I might live. And things are starting to move forward. In a few weeks I will go in for an in patient week where they with run all kinds of tests and decide if and where I am on the list. From there the most difficult time will follow: the wait. Months and months of waiting for the call, could be 6 months, could be 18. When in this much pain, I imagine I will be crossing off the days one by one.

In the short term, I am doing all I can to remain positive. Friends and families have shown up to help out and be by my side, I think often to all the other beings in the world who endure so much more hardship than myself, with no end in sight, with no hope. And I remember how lucky I am, to have a family who love me, to have the mental strength to carry on, to find small amounts of humour where afforded.

So, if you see a shadow of me in the street, walking slowly and yellow, please don’t feel sorry for me, or be scared to say hello. That one hello with a smile could make the rest of my day.

I’m posting this in honesty, because I want to share it with the community, and who knows, someone may be going through the same thing.

In Love.


Lizzie’s Yoga Challenge, Day Eight: Is Rolfing training a practice? A yoga practice?

As I looked over the weekend’s schedule on Thursday evening preparing for the days ahead, I realized the enormity of the training that I have been engaged with over the past year, and acknowledged once again my Yoga Challenge would be in compromised by the upcoming weekend activities.

The Rolfing training is a two and a half year process at minimum, meeting once a month for 4-5 days for intensive days between nine and twelve hours. On top of this there is homework, self study and practice in between these landmark meeting points.

The magical aspect of the training is that the entirely of our days in the classroom are spent on exercises of embodiment (the experience of being in our bodies), lectures and techniques that aid in awareness of embodiment. As with any bodywork training, there is a framework that lays out a path to get to this place, and this is where the ten series of Rolfing comes to play. In each module of phase two, the phase we are currently unpacking, we work step by step through each of the ten sessions.

In many ways, Rolfing is a companion and overlap to the world of yoga. In the yoga practice, often a ‘goal’ is to be present, listen to the breath, develop an awareness of body and mind, and, through the asana practice, develop our physical strength and discipline. The yoga sutras describe the importance of self study and finding a place of ease and stability in our physical seat.

Rolfing encompasses the same goals and brings others into the periphery. Breath potential, palintonicity (the expansion in all directions of the body into maximum potential spatial positions, assisting one’s internal sense to expand and let go), and developing a felt sense are key themes that are carried through the ten sessions and often are key takeaways for those who have been Rolfed who actively seek freedom and ease in their bodies.

Normally I take the opportunity to practice yoga or run before or after these intensive training blocks, but this weekend I am spending some extra time at breaks and lunch to be present, let the events that are unfolding before me move through my system and settle. Let’s see what Day 9 has in store..

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