Keep Calm and Travel on


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I have come to acknowledge after many years of vagabond voyages, that travel can be stressful. Especially transatlantic air travel.

Granted, I’m not in my twenties, or even thirties anymore, but the uncomfortable seats, the queues, the airborne germs trapped in that ever-so-snug cabin just don’t seem to do it for me like it used to. And then, something extra-ordinary happens to remind me just how unsophisticated the human face of travel can be.

A few days ago I was due to travel from Baltimore to London, when just before take off, the plane fully boarded with passengers, discovered a fault in the cooling system. For four hours we sat on the plane at the terminal while the crew tried to identify and fix the problem. They served us snacks, cocktails and even dinner. Then, amoung the single serving entrees served without any turbulence due to the fact we were at the airport on the ground, they announced we would, in fact, not be travelling that evening. Half eaten meals, tray tables and drinks exploded through the aisles as people scurried to get off the plane as quickly as their sardined-in bodies could move.

Once we disembarked, the terminal was mayhem. Passengers wanted answers and no one on the ground staff know what to do. The good citizens of India on the other end of the 1-800-airways number, there to solve all our travelling needs, had not been informed of the glitch. All parties pointed fingers in any direction other than themselves to try to put an order to the chaos. Peggy, with her BA badge on upside down, told us all about how much better it used to be when the airlines actually cared about their customers. Dan, also of BA acclaim, complained that all the flights had already been oversold and if the people in the call centre couldn’t help, no one could. On and on it went while customers and passengers alike locked horns without solutions. Everyone, except the captain of the plane.

There he stood in his captain’s hat, behind the checkout counter addressing each passenger with kindness, respect and patience. While he hadn’t done anything personally to contribute to the fault, he took responsibility and worked quickly to start finding new flight assignments. He delegated the hotel management to another staff member who took names with pen and paper. Peggy was reassigned from whinge-master to taxi-voucher-lady, and within two hours, we were all on our way somewhere.

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I arrived back at my mothers house eleven hours after being dropped off at the airport. The next morning as I proceeded to rebook my flight I reflected on what had occurred the previous evening. Despite the pushing, finger pointing, frustration and anger of some passengers, we all arrived, more or less, in the same situation, with a place to stay and a re-booked flight. How we each arrived into our circumstance, was different.

One of the big questions I used to ask when starting out with my yoga practice was, how much do we let go, and how much do we take control? If we have faith in God, does that mean that we leave it all up to Him or Her, sit back and do nothing to propel change? One of my doctors once said it best when he confided in me ” most of the time, we are doing the best we can to make the best choices at any given moment with the information available at hand”. One way to see it is, it’s God who gives us the time and the choices, and it is up to us to make the choices. If we can let go of the ego and our selfish reasons behind our choices, then it’s also God in each of us who is the decision maker, rather than our small self, the one who often makes decisions for the wrong reasons.

In the end, I chose to sit back and assess the situation at the airport. I chose to ask questions about my options when it was my turn in the queue, and based on that I chose to ring up British Airways and to ensure I had a seat assignment before showing up at an airport in a different city the next day. Even though I was just as upset as the next passenger, I admired and aspired to be like the pilot; I chose to keep calm and travel on.

Twist and Shout


 

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Twisting plays a vital role in maintaining the health of our bodies and minds. The twisting motion is important because it incorporates so many central points of the body, and encourages movement in the spine as well as the organs. Yoga twists require the work of the abdominal muscles, oblique muscles, spine, neck, shoulders and pelvis. Each twist improves the strength and flexibility in all of these areas, resulting in two distinct and essential benefits:

The Relief of Back Pain and Pressure
The lower back region bears a considerable amount of weight when you are standing or sitting throughout the day. This can put pressure on the lower vertebrae and restrict circulation. Yoga twists can reverse the daily damage to your lower back by restoring circulation, increasing flexibility and correcting posture. These positions rejuvenate the spinal column and improve range of motion. This makes daily yoga twists an excellent way to relieve back pain.

Cleansing and Detoxifying Body Tissues
Performing yoga twists massages inner muscles and organs, essentially wringing out toxins while bringing in a rush of fresh oxygen and nutrients. This flushes impurities from inner tissues and helps organs perform their functions properly. Among other benefits, this is an effective method for improving sluggish digestion.

Join me on Sunday, October 5 to learn more about twisting and the relationship of twists and front, back and side bending in the Central Column: Architecture of Asana Series at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, from 1:30-4:30pm. There will be twists aplenty and backbend merryment too. Please come!

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!

Corridors


images3The following post is inspired by a dharma talk by the magnificent David Life at Wild Woodstock.

When I present dinner to my son on a large plate, he often complains that there is too much food and asks me to give him less, on a smaller dish. In doing this, I contain an aspect of his world so that he is able to ingest it without feeling overwhelmed. In this same way, we restrict the nature of many things by placing them into a manageable form, whether it be a spoonful of peas instead of a limitless pot, a river rather than an unending ocean, a tree rather than an impermeable forest. By reining these things into a shape, they obtain individual meaning that we can comprehend.

When a tree stands in the ground from its trunk to its leafy branches, it has a certain value as a whole tree. A coniferous tree, for example, gives shelter through its design of branches and needles in relationship to the ground, and expels sap though it’s bark. If we had only a branch of that tree, or one of its pine cones for that matter, it would have a different value and also a different meaning to us. Nature intended to make the tree in its magnificent form. The tree in its completeness, is bigger than the sum of its parts.

By seeing the tree, however, we see another limited form, for the tree is not simply standing on the ground, but connects into the ground and is continually fed through its roots. It roots draw from the moisture of the recent rainfalls and nearby streams and rivers, that are also dissolving through the boundary lines between the water and the soil. The tree is not separate from the ground, but integrated into the earth and it’s cycle in the greater universe.

It’s is the same with land and it’s uses. The map as we know it, showing its boundaries by state or country and it’s hard lines, is not reality; the earth is organic and curvy and flowing landscapes, one into another. Man has placed those boundary lines on the land for his own purposes in order to strengthen or weaken power of a given individual or group. From another vantage point, these man-made decisions have affected a greater number of lives than probably intended. The natural homes and roaming territory created for the four-legged creatures, water beings and tree beings, is disappearing. Before humans put up fences, knocked down trees and created obstacles, animals had unlimited corridors in which to move. The land for the animals as it is today, is more like individual islands; corrals severing their movement and migration.

We frame our understanding of life with our perspective and motivation in order that we may understand it, relate it in context to something else. Our body is another example of this. Our skin acts as a barrier between us and the world, it defines where ‘we’ end and where other begins, and some people take great comfort in believing this limitation. But are we truly separate? After all, our skin has pores and we are, in reality, breathing the outside-in through these pores, and vice verse, expelling the toxins and moisture out. Rather than a barrier between our insides and the outsides, in actuality, it is more of a meeting point, where we merge into each other. On this note, most of us have felt someone else angry or happy in a room of people, their ‘energy’ seeping into the space, and I have certainly have found myself taking that energy of another being in as my own from time to time. This is no different.

In Rolfing, there is a term called palintonicity: our ability to extend down into the earth, by way of the hips, legs and feet; up, through our torso, upper body and crown; front body, and back body; and even expanding sideways in lateral space. In other words, rather than our feet resting on top of the earth, can we extend downwards through the earth, and likewise, in every other direction. Our physical form is important for so many reasons, but when our context is only diminished, when we absorb ourselves only in the direction inward, it can sometimes feel limiting; isolating. By increasing our awareness of both the limited, framed version of ourself, as well as the greater universal formless form which we can expand from our body, a doorway opens, enabling us to soften our belief system about how we relate ourselves to other. Softening the mind to this understanding is the first step in softening the body out of a fixed point and into something greater.

Yoga asana practice can also be seen as a framing, of sorts. There are different physical postures that have been created as a structure, but the goal of making these shapes is not to hold these postures like a statue, a solid, unmoving mass. A yogi’s interest is in finding the stillness within the structure, even while moving. We understand that the softening body is what dissolves and morphs from one pose to another; what transforms our thinking, cortical mind to our sensory world; what merges the framework of our practice into our life. In other words, while we are not always mobile, we are always motile.

Sometimes the practices of yoga can sound vague if not put into context. Phrases like ‘open your heart’, ‘be one with the universe’ and ‘see yourself in all others’ can be a little overwhelming. Putting a frame on the class, whether it be finding ‘foundation through the feet’, or ‘turning your world upside down’ through inversions, can help us to segment, to separate, so we can reintegrate into something greater. We find corridors in a yoga class, through the Rolfing process, in our life, to connect and transform from one thing to another, while connecting the dots along the way. We are more than the sum of our parts.

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/

Samskaras and Untangling Trauma


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Trauma. It is a loaded word that like everything, manifests in many different ways and for different reasons. Who knows why some people are traumatized by some things and others go unscathed? Psychotherapists such as Freud and Jung believed this has to do with the stable base that you did or didn’t have between pre-birth and aged five. Yogis believe it has to do with karma, that what you have put out into the world in past lives and this life comes back to you, eventually but inevitably. Of course, for most of us life seems more complicated than that, and past lives are not something that register routinely in the memory bank.

Whether it was an early experience, or something more recent that brings up a phantom of the past, no one tells you what the repercussions of trauma may be, and what is more, it is difficult to know what the triggers might be of any one given experience. The dictionary defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience”, and it is safe to assume that the most of us have had one or two a few of those.

In yoga philosophy, there is a term called samskaras, which mean impressions, or grooves, that are left in the subconscious mind. It is as if our mind were a record, and the grooves, or samskaras determine what tune we will play. The samskaras colour our nature and how we act and react in the world.

In a way, we might consider that fascia in the body is a little bit like literal samskaras. Stressful experiences that we have can be stored in the fascia and create tensions and knots which impact how we inhabit our body, how we move, and even how we think and react. When we start to heat the tissue through movements such as yoga, or receiving bodywork like Rolfing, areas of the body that have been deeply held closed for any period of time begin to open, and the original experiences can present in any number of ways, including as anger, anxiety, fear, or grief.

Last year I underwent a rather massive surgery in the form of a liver transplant, and while I was not told I would be left traumatized, the eight weeks spent in the hospital post-operatively were riddled with the potential ‘distressing experiences’, not to mention the few years prior to the transplant in and out of the hospital. The human body is clever, and knows when to cloak and hold on to something for something for survival purposes, and when it is safe to unveil itself so healing can begin. I was in a yoga class the other day when at the beginning of class we were told to make an action with the arms that deeply affected an area that had been the centre of physical trauma during my hospital stay. Within five minutes into the class, I was reduced to a bucket of tears. Given my 56-day stay in the hospital with ongoing cannulation and daily blood tests, I already had an awareness of the tension and tightness in my forearms and have been having various sorts of alternative therapies to address it. Nevertheless, I was surprised at my sudden outburst (and a little embarrassed). It’s like my father used to say, ‘you never know what is going to have an impact on someone, you might say the sky is blue today and that just might be their trigger.’ Years later, I finally really get what he was trying to say.

Given that most of us have experienced some distressing or disturbing experience in life, how can we move through our day causing the least impact on those around us in a sensitive space? Here are a few suggestions:

-Never assume you know what someone else is experiencing. Even when we know a little bit about the circumstance, we never really know.

-Listen more, talk less. Trauma can feel chaotic and overwhelming. Give your friend space to speak, or not. Holding a space is about being present and compassionate with all there is.

-Don’t try to solve the problem or fix your friend. Empathize, instead of sympathize.

I was very fortunate to be in the class with a teacher who knew me and who said exactly the right thing. She told me she didn’t want me to be in any pain, and I should go do something nice for myself. Wise words, Helen Sylianou. Thank you.

A last note. Bodywork can be an amazing source for unleashing emotions and experiences that have been long held in the body and mind, that, when untreated can even lead to chronic pain or worse, disease. For those who have suffered deeply traumatic experiences, I recommend craniosacral therapy as a first stop. Noninvasive and gentle, craniosacral therapy aims to relax the body and fascial tissue into a state where it can begin to unwind itself, at the same time bringing balance and calm to the whole system. Once the body is ready, Rolfing is a more direct intervention into the tissue that can change the whole structure rather dramatically, but can be a more physically intense experience. These are the two methods that have has the most profound and transformative affect on me, and coincidentally, they are also now my two methods of practice.