What to read

Ever since embarking upon my journey of personal development, Yoga and spirituality, I have been determined to approach life with a “beginners mind-set”. This mind-set gives me the determination I need to read, research and educate myself everyday, with no attachment to an end result, (that being becoming an expert), but instead being in a constant state of learning.

As a result I was recently advised by my Mother dearest to read "The Divine Matrix – Bridging time, space, miracles and belief", by Gregg Braden. It has blown me away, so much so that I wanted to share a few words about it to encourage those who are as weird as me, to have a read of it too. I am certainly not an expert on the book, and can't quite get my tongue around exactly how to explain it, but I'd like to share what I can explain in the hope that it tickles the pickle of some of my friends and followers.

The author Braden, presents to his audience a series of scientific experiments and laws of physics to help reveal evidence of a “web of energy” that connects everything in our world. Braden suggests that everything in this Universe is made up of a pure energy — a 'Quantum Field' — that has not yet been defined, but is neither air nor ether. He implies this field is where everything begins, or began (together as one) and that we are still all linked via this “quantum field” despite not being physically connected.

Braden states that “once something is joined, it is always connected, whether it remains physically linked or not” (2007, p.208). He states “we live during a time in history when it’s so easy to think of the world in terms of “them” and us” and wonder how bad things can happen to good people. If there is in fact a single field of energy that connects everything in our world, and if the Divine Matrix works the way the evidence suggests, then there can be no them and us, only we” (2001, p.63). How differently would we all act if what we directed to others also reflected back onto us, nothing would be separate, nothing would be excluded. 

In order to take advantage of the force of this “matrix” or “web of energy” Braden teaches his audience how it works and how to speak in a language that it recognises. Through the language of emotion, Braden suggests that we have the ability to make changes to the force that links all of creation. For example, Braden explores how modern science has discovered that "through each emotion we experience in our bodies, we also undergo chemical changes of things such as pH levels and hormones that mirror our feelings" (Bradden, 2007, p.xvi). Which makes me super excited! He states, "through our emotions be they positive or negative we each possess the power to affirm or deny our existence every moment of our lives" (Braden, 2007, p.xvi). This book uses recent scientific discoveries and dramatic evidence to not necessarily PROVE but to offer forward the theory that “The Divine Matrix” may well be the missing link in our understanding of our universe.The book teaches us to learn how to engage with it to achieve your goals whether they are personal, business related or even on a global scale.

Without sounding too cray-cray, I think what I love most about this book is that Braden bridges the gap between the “woo-woo” ancient spiritual beliefs and science and physics.

If this stuff gets you excited, then have a read.

End text references:


Braden, G. (2007). The Divine Matrix – Bridging time, space, miracles and belief. Hay House Inc. USA.

Meditation

I believe it is a relevant time to speak to the theme of Meditation. Many of us are dealing with stressful situations in the lead up to Christmas and this amplification of anxiety may be due to an increase in buying presents and a deficit in giving “presence”! 

One of my favourite Yoga instructors and mentors, Les Leventhal said casually in one of his workshops; “some of you may be really stressed today because you’ve gone to visit family…Some of you may be really relaxed and happy today because you’ve gone to visit family!”  The point is we are all different. Different stimulus shakes and rattles us in different ways; we all have our own story. But I make a broad assumption when I say that it may be possible that we all would love to be a little more relaxed this Christmas and a little more "present". So my aim is to explore the techniques of meditation in this blog to help offer a solution to quietening the mind in this busy time and ideally help you derive a sense of well-being.

What is meditation?

Meditation is “an advanced state of concentration in which one single object of concentration flows without interruption” (Tigunait, 2014), in other words you concentrate on one thing, usually the breath.

Meditation is not a process or technique but in fact the result of many steps or processes.  According to Ashtanga philosophy, in order to enter the state of Meditation (Dhyana) we must first, withdraw from the senses (material senses/Pratyahara) and anchor our mind to one single thought (Dharana/concentration), this is usually the breath (Pranayama/regulation of the breath).

It’s not easy, this is why it is called a “practice” but I have collated a couple of techniques that may help in controlling of the mind.

Setting the scene:

The environment:

  • Set yourself up in a calm and quiet place with as little distractions as possible, preferably inside away from bugs and insects.

  • Candles and incense may help you to relax and feel calm.

Time:

  • You can meditate anytime throughout the day.

  • However, the Yoga Sutras suggest just the best times to Meditate are sunrise and sunset.

  • Before sunrise is recommended, as you haven’t experienced any stressful situations as yet. At this time the mind has not yet had a chance to be shaken.

  • Don’t check Instagram or Facebook before or some time after, try to keep it a technology free environment.

Your body/posture:

  • Not all meditations require you to be seated, but it is worth practicing a good-seated posture when you can.

  • You may choose to meditate lying down in Savasana.

  • Or standing, if you are a VAMPIRE…(reminder to watch “what we do in the Shadows”, if this lame joke made you chuckle).

Meditation techniques:

Guided meditation or Yoga Nidra:

What is Yoga:

‘Yoga’ means ‘union’, coming together, an awakening to or an awareness of our true self. According to Patanjali, Ashtanga Yoga provides us with eight steps, the eighth and final step or ‘limb’ of yoga is delineated as ‘samadhi’ or ‘enlightenment’.  Yoga therefore is a journey of awakening to our true self or enlightenment, (Davis, 2014).

What is Nidra:

The word ‘nidra’ means ‘sleep’.  Therefore, Yoga Nidra can be directly translated as meaning ‘awake-sleep’. This involves guiding the body into a deeply relaxed, sleep-like state, yet at the same time keeping the mind quietly alert. “According to Swami Satyananda, in Yoga Nidra we foster a state of mind that is in between wakefulness and dream” (Davis, 2014).

Bette; from Yoga beyond the Mat, says the act of explaining Yoga Nidra to someone who has never done this practice is like “explaining the scent of a flower to someone that has not experienced it. Yoga Nidra is a practice that needs to be experienced in order to comprehend its many benefits. Still, a deeper understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of this classical practice can enhance our experience when we are ready to taste the flower’s nectar” (Yoga beyond the mat, 2014).

  • Yoga Nidra asks that you focus your attention on different parts of the body, inviting each body part to relax, one at a time. It begins with an awareness of your practice and preparing the mind and the body for what’s to come.

  • Yoga Nidra then moves the participant through a rotation of consciousness; where you bring your awareness to different parts of the body, letting the mind jump freely from one part to the next, (the right side, the left side, the front and the back).

  • From there Yoga Nidra will guide you through creative visualisations and soothing images.

To practice Yoga Nidra you need someone to talk and guide you through. There are many CD’s that you can buy to assist you, however I suggest contacting, Bette at Yoga Beyond the Mat for their latest Yoga Nidra CD.

http://www.yogabeyondthemat.org/

Japa Meditation – Using a mantra:

Reciting a Mantra is called Japa Meditation (Sanscrit) or muttering.

Japa can be practiced aloud, by whispering, or mentally.

You may choose a mantra (word) of your choice, which can be composed of:

  • A single syllable for example “om” 

  • A string of sounds or

  • A sentence.  

You will continue to repeat the chosen sound/s without stopping for the desired amount of time you’ve allocated for meditation.

For countless generations, Japa meditation has been practiced with the aid of rosaries (Christianity) or “Mala beads”.

A Mala usually consists of 108 beads, and is held in the right hand with the beads draped over the middle finger, or the ring finger, with the palm facing upwards to the sky and the thumb is used to count the bead and drag to the next bead.

To begin, recite your chosen Mantra starting at the bead right next to the GURU bead (the one that stands out with the tassel leading out of it).

Every recitation of the Mantra means you drag the thumb along to the next Mala bead, making your way down the entire length until the Guru bead is reached again. At this point Yoga practitioners should turn the beads around, again moving forward along the Mala in the opposite direction.

Examples of a Mantra:

  • Om (the sound of the universe)

  • “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”

  • You may even have your own mantra or intention that you are focussing on this week that you’d like to repeat such as “I open my heart to the loving energy of the universe, I open my heart to love, I am loved”.

Mindfulness and focus on the breath:

Practicing Mindfulness is to focus your attention on the present moment. In doing so you are aware of your surroundings but you are not giving them your full attention.

Instead bringing your awareness back to an anchor, such as the breath.

This way you can use your breath to control the mind.

There are a few techniques you can use to focus the mind these include:

  • Focus on your breath and repeat (to yourself) “breathing in, breathing out, 100. Breathing in, breathing out 99”.

  • Counting backwards from 100.

  • When you lose your place, begin again from 100.

  • Focus on your breath and repeat (to yourself) “breathing in, breathing out, 1. Breathing in, breathing out 3. Counting in 3’s”.

You can always just count 1-100 but the point is to make it tricky enough that you MUST concentrate on the numbers and the breath, if the anchor is too easy, other thoughts will slip into your mind.

The point of mindfulness meditation is to not become disheartened if your mind wanders. If you are distracted by a sound acknowledge the distraction but do not dwell on it. Just allow yourself to come back to your breathing and start the counting again.

Tigunait, (2014) states “it is the nature of the mind to think. Therefore if the mind starts wandering during meditation, do not criticize it or force it to focus on your mantra. Simply remind yourself gently that you have put aside this particular period of time for meditation and bring your mind back to your mantra. Keep your mind engaged with the business at hand—the object of your meditation—and it will have no reason to attend to any other business”.

Candlelight Meditation:

Another technique is focussing on the flame of a candle.

Take a seated position and set the candle in front of you, ensuring that you are not in a windy place as the flame should be still and tall.

Take some time to stare at the candle and focus your mind only on the flame (perhaps 100 breaths).

Then take some time to close the eyes and meditate bringing the focus to the third eye and the colours and shapes that appear.

Repeat this process 2-3 times.

The benefits of meditation:

  • To allow the body and mind to rest and recover. It is said that Yoga Nidra (an hour practice), is said to be as beneficial as 4 hours sleep.

  • Meditation reduces stress levels, and helps you better manage stressful situations.

  • As Tigunait (2014) states, “at the initial stage, the senses and mind are withdrawn and made one-pointed. That one-pointed mind flows constantly toward one object without being distracted by petty emotions, thoughts, memories, and anxieties” (p.1).

  • Combined with Asana (yoga postures) practice, Meditation is a great tool to manage the mind at this stressful period of time.

  • Improved concentration.

  • Meditation helps establish a greater connection with yourselves rather than being distracted the outside world, materials, anxieties and emotions.

I hope this blog provides an easy go to guide for your meditation practice. I hope you find the time to try of the techniques once or twice this week and I would love to hear any feedback that you have from your practice!

End text references:

Davis, A. (2014). Yoga’s Sweetest Nectar: Yoga Nidra.  (http://www.byronyoga.com/yoga-s-sweetest-nectar-yoga-nidra)

Tigunait, P. (2014). What is Meditation. Retrieved from:

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/what-is-meditation

Yoga beyond the mat, (2014) retrieved from: http://www.yogabeyondthemat.org/about-betty-kahlert/

YOGA and PILATES - The great debate...

Many people have asked me what the difference is between Yoga and Pilates and which one is the better of the two. This blog is an attempt to enlighten my readers and myself on the similarities and differences between the modern day variations of Yoga and Pilates.  I will also go one step further and connect you (my readers) with some of my favourite Pilates and Yoga instructors in Perth, so you can trial both and I can rest at ease, knowing you are in good hands.

I shall begin with a few notes about common misconceptions to totally wipe the slate clean before we begin:

  • One does not have to be flexible to do Yoga. Gaining flexibility is one physical benefit of practicing the Yoga Asanas, but you most certainly don’t have to be uber stretchy to practice or begin Yoga.

  • Pilates is not boring, easy and for older women; depending on what class you go to you may feel relaxed, stretched and lightly strengthened. However, on the flip-side, I have many strong, athletic males who attend my Pilates classes and we end up shhweating like Mike Tyson in a spelling bee.

  • You don’t have to look like a super-model to practice Yoga. What I mean by this is Yoga in 2014; is too focused on the aesthetics for example, the perfect six-pack, the ab-alicious photos in a bikini doing a show-off-asana and the work-out get-up. This is a modern interpretation of what Yoga is/looks like and it strays far from the origin of Yoga. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad, it just means we’ve evolved and so has Yoga…What I wish for people to understand is that we don’t do Yoga to LOOK a certain way; we practice Yoga to FEEL a certain way. It is less focused on the external results and more on the internal journey to inner peace and union. If my Lululemon wunder-unders are purely a totally sick added benefit to my practice and looking joy in them is NOT the objective of my practice THEN, that's the shit!!! 

For my theatrically orientated readers, Rodgers & Hammerstein's cinematic treasure, "The Sound of Music” will guide our journey as we “start from the very beginning, a very good place to start”... 

ORIGIN PILATES:

Joseph Pilates states,

“Pilates was enamored of the classical Greek ideal of a man who is balanced equally in body, mind, and spirit. His experiences taught him to believe that the modern lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor health. His answer to these problems was to design a unique series of life-enhancing physical exercises that help to correct muscular imbalances and improve posture, coordination, balance, strength and flexibility, as well as to increase breathing capacity and organ function” (CPM Education, 2009).

Pilates is a much younger practice than Yoga, beginning in the mid-20th century. Joseph Pilates introduced Pilates to help injured athletes and dancers safely return to exercise and maintain their fitness. Since then, Pilates has been adapted, altered and modified to suit our modern society. What remains differs between Pilates studios, but is often a group of exercises focused on core strength and stability geared towards strengthening the small, stabilising muscles, assisting in rehabilitation of joint injuries and prevention of injuries (Eilser, 2014).

Jae Edwards – Pilates Instructor.

“I believe that Pilates is about making you supple and graceful like a cat so that every muscles moves in unison. Complimenting the body by fixing postural abnormalities”

ORIGIN YOGA:

The practice of Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and has evolved over the centuries into many different types of yoga including Ashtanga, Kripalu, Hatha, Bikram and Vinyasa (Eilser, 2014).

The word Yoga, according to B.K.S Iyengar (1918)

“originates from the Sanskrit ‘root yuk’ meaning to bind, join, attach and to concentrate one’s attention on” (p.19). It is the method by which, “the restless mind is calmed and the energy is directed into constructive channels” (Iyengar, 1918, p.20).

Kathopanishad describes Yoga as,

“When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not – then, say the wise, has reached the highest stage” (Iyengar, 1918, p.20). The highest stage is Samadhi and to achieve this one must follow the eight limbs of Yoga helping them on their quest to the soul.

Being able to nail certain acrobatic poses and balances does not mean I am practicing Yoga; I am attempting the Asanas (the physical practice of Yoga), but Yoga is much more than just the postures. Only when my breath is even, and my mind is still and my senses are withdrawn in each Asana; am I doing Yoga.

Phoebe Jones – Yoga Instructor – Humming Puppy Sydney

“My experience of Pilates has been a purely physical practice… It focuses on re-patterning movement, isolating muscles with very specific exercises. It is great for rehabilitating physical injury and building strength and awareness around specific points in the body. Yoga on the other-hand, is a spiritual practice, whether we are conscious of it or not. With a rich philosophy that applies to our lives, our conscious thought and being connected to the very essence of ourselves. The physical part of yoga, one tiny aspect of the practice, is part of a routine to cleanse the systems and create strong and supple vehicles to house the soul. Both have their place and are incredible practices- though I’m a little biased!!!”

THE DIFFERENCE SO FAR:

We can assume then that Yoga is a path to spiritual enlightenment it focuses on the physical and mental practice; but also offers spiritual, ethical and moral guidance for its students; whereas Pilates purely focuses on the physical practice.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS YOGA:

The physical practice of Yoga is called Asana and loosely translated means “to find a comfortable seat”. Its’ original aim was to allow someone to sit comfortably, cross-legged, for enough time that they could meditate. The modern Asana practice should move every muscle; bone and joint across all planes of motion equally, with each posture being accompanied by a counter-posture to ensure you create balance in your body.

The postures move energy or prana around the body benefitting the muscles, joints, skin, glands, nerves, internal organs, bones, respiration and the brain. A full yoga session should exercise every part of your body and should include Pranayama (breath regulation/control), relaxation/concentration on an anchor to focus the mind and meditation.

JUST GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT – YOGA – PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

  • Improves cardiovascular fitness and circulation

  • Helps to normalise blood pressure

  • Massaging of muscles surrounding internal organs helps to speed up digestion

  • Joints are moved through their full range of motion, across every plane of movement, which encourages mobility and eases pressure

  • Stretching releases muscle and joint tension, and increases flexibility.

  • Builds strength and endurance

  • Weight-bearing Asanas help prevent osteoporosis

  • Long-term benefits include reduced back pain and improved posture

  • Improved blood circulation

  • The concentration or focus of the mind on the breath soothes the nervous system.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS PILATES:

Pilates has been shown to improve upper body strength, buns off steal strength, core muscle endurance and flexibility. Studies suggest that individuals can “improve their muscular endurance and flexibility using relatively low-intensity Pilates exercises that do not require equipment or a high degree of skill and are easy to master and use within a personal fitness routine” (Kloubec, 2012, p.1).

Pilates classes offer a total body workout focusing on aligning the spine and strengthening the core. The exercises almost always involve regimented movements to gain core and spine strength. Some classes and one-on-one sessions use machines to gain strength, while others keep you on the mat and use your body's resistance to build results (Eilser, 2014).

Elise Ntoumenopoulos – MVMT Society

“I believe Pilates teaches a total body awareness. With consistent practice, your body will learn to recognize and achieve optimal body alignment and control, produce efficient movement effortlessly and apply it functionally in and out of the studio. To be able to sculpt, lengthen and tone your entire body, so that it functions better than it ever has before. It’s not a short term fix, it’s a long term solution”.

JUST GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT – PILATES – PHYSICAL BENEFITS:

  • Improved flexibility

  • Increased muscle strength and tone

  • Strengthen in particular abdominal muscles, lower and upper back, arms and the butt

  • Improved stabilisation of the spine

  • Improved posture

  • Rehabilitation or prevention of injuries (mostly related to imbalances in the muscles)

  • A safe rehabilitation exercise for joint and spinal injuries.

BENEFITS OF THE MIND YOGA:

Yoga’s proven to be especially effective for mental and emotional rehabilitation, while Pilates is used more often for physical rehabilitation. The long-term benefits of practicing Yoga include reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue, better concentration and energy levels, and increased feelings of calm, connectedness to our inner selves and enhanced wellbeing. Yoga can help to improve mental and emotional health by calming the sympathetic nervous system (which controls stress levels) and the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis (which regulates hormone levels) (Shulman, 2013).

There is a far more powerful dimension to Yoga that is often overlooked. The physical postures condition the body and combined with the breath (Pranayama) the practice aids in calming the mind. Yoga participants learn to stay calm and control their breathing while holding challenging physical postures and when these principles of Yoga are incorporated into your lifestyle, they lead to an overall awareness of your body and a tool to quieten the mind, to allow silence and healing from everyday stress and help to achieve inner and outer balance. (Shulman, 2013).

Alyce Williams – Yoga instructor – Arnava Yoga -

“Yoga isn't just about getting on your mat and doing exercises to tone and strengthen your body physically, but to strengthen and heal you mentally and emotionally through the use of breath with movement through each Asana pose.”

“You are truly healthy when you are not just physically fit but also mentally and emotionally balanced. Lots of people are unaware that there are 8 Limbs of Yoga, Asana practice is just one of these Limbs!”

The remaining 7 limbs… “Are wonderful tools you can work on every day to enable you to live a happier, healthier life.  You can practice Yoga both on and off the mat!! I believe that since I found Yoga, my life has become brighter and lighter. I do Yoga because it centre’s me. It brings me back to who I am, and whom I’m working on becoming…Since practicing Yoga and learning about the Yamas and Niyamas it has completely opened up my mind, and those minor silly things that use to get me down no longer bother me. It has given me a completely different outlook on life, and what truly matters.  My yoga practice has allowed my mind to become quieter and calmer, giving me the strength to grow daily. Yoga can make the world a better place - one person at a time!”

BENEFITS OF THE MIND PILATES:

  • Improved concentration

  • Increased body awareness

  • Stress management and relaxation – time out from your day to focus on yourself.

BENEFITS OF THE BREATH PILATES:

The breath is a great cleanser of the body and in both Yoga and Pilates practices. In Pilates one is encouraged to develop conscious breathing, using a deep full breath to enhance the depth and movement of the exercise.

  • Deep breathing, lateral breathing, and coordinating breath with movement are the primary breathing practices

  • Increased lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing

  • Helps to manage the quantity of oxygen coming into the body, and travelling to the muscles to help them become more relaxed.

BENEFITS OF THE BREATH YOGA:

Pranayama is the fourth limb of Yoga and as Fenton (2014) states “in theory, the breath is used to create particular effects on the energy body and thus on the mind or mental state” (p.20). The yoga sutras of Patanjali (which are often referenced as the ultimate Yoga text) state that in Yoga “there are three parts to the breath; inhalation, exhalation and suspension of the breath. There are various ways of changing the breath using various ratios of these three parts for different periods of time” (Fenton, 2014, p.21). 

Prana refers to the life force or the force that animates and heals us. In our Yoga practice whether we are aware of it or not, our breath is designed to have an effect on raising the level of and balancing our Prana (life force energy). The Asanas (the postures/movements) and Pranayama (the regulation of Prana/the breath) are; like all of the eight limbs of Yoga, intricately and subtly connected. The body should be comfortable and steady in the Asanas; the mind should maintain an awareness of the breath; and the breath should be long and subtle. Prana energy keeps us vital and strong, and it is having a higher level of and more balanced Prana that often makes yoga practitioners look and feel younger and keeps them strong and healthy.

  • Control or restraint of the breath, which is by nature unsteady.

  • According to Svatmarama, "When the breath wanders the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still."

  • Pranayama flushes away the toxins and rectifies disturbances of wind (brilliant), bile and phlegm

  • When the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine and genito-excretory systems are cleansed through Asanas, Prana moves unobstructed to the remotest cells and feeds them with a copious supply of energy.

  • Thus rejuvenated and revitalised, the body--the instrument of the Self--moves towards the goal of Self-realisation (Svatmarama, 2007).

I'd like to leave you with a quote that I feel summarises this blog beautifully. When explaining what I found after the research I did for this blog, I mentioned to my friend Steph that I felt I was biased towards Yoga as I feel it can be applied to my entire life not just my physical body, Steph replied with...

Steph Johnson - Yoga Instructor.

"It's all good as long as it's all done with the best intentions and mindfulness" 

End text reference:

Better Health Channel. (2014). Pilates and yoga - health benefits. Retrieved from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Pilates_and_yoga_the_health_benefits?open

CPM Education. (2009). Retrieved from: www.contrology-pilates.method.com

Eisler, M. (2014). Yoga Versus Pilates: Which One's Right for You? Retrieved from: http://www.active.com/fitness/articles/yoga-versus-pilates-which-one-s-right-for-you

Fenton, F. (2014). Yoga Life. Issue 44. P20-23.

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1918). Light on Yoga. Schoken Books: New York.

Kloubec, J. (2010). Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. 24(3).661-7. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c277a6.

L, Shulman. (2014). Yoga or Pilates?How to choose between these two popular forms of physical activity. Retrieved from the Canadian Living website:

http://www.canadianliving.com/health/fitness/yoga_or_pilates.php

Swami, Svatmarama. (2007). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Retrieved from the Yoga Age website: http://www.yoga-age.com/pradipika/part1.html

IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT THE ASANAS PART II

Following on from my previous blog, I aim to explore the modern application of the Niyamas (the second, of the eight limbs of Yoga). The Niyamas are five spiritual principles that if followed, allow us to better live with ourselves. This blog will act as a "how to" guide for incorporating these guidelines into your life. I will draw from my own practice, how I apply them in my classroom/studio environment and in the wider community.

The first of the Niyamas is Saucha, this is the principle of purity and cleanliness. In the most literal sense, I apply the principle of Saucha into my life with basic hygiene habits. This is not a challenge, as I am already very hygienic and must adhere to this principle as I am in Lululemon lycra and swimwear everyday. Showering every morning and brushing my teeth is a non-negotiable, not just for my own cleanliness but also for the sake of my students. No one wants to smell morning breath as the teacher hovers over your face for a Savasana head massage. I can thank my Dad, Yannis for this. He is a Dentist and has helped me form impeccable teeth brushing habits. Yannis also taught me the saying “I’m going to shower, shit and shave”…brilliant. I feel as if this sums up Saucha to a T! But apart from the obvious practices mentioned above there are other ways to purify the body and the mind.

The principle of Saucha (cleanliness and purity) is achieved through my own personal Yoga practice. The Asanas (postures) tone my body and release toxins and impurities, Pranayama (regulation of breath) cleanses my lungs, draws in fresh oxygen and releases carbon dioxide and lastly Dhyana (meditation) cleanses my mind of disturbing thoughts and helps me to focus. I ensure that I “do a little bit, a lot” (Kirsten, 2015) to purify and cleanse my body regularly but still practicing Ahimsa (non-violence) and not over doing it, a lesson it has taken me a very long time to learn.

Saucha can also be applied in my personal practice by regulating what I consume or ingest. Mum and I try to cook up a mostly vegetarian diet and now having learnt a little more about the traditional Indian natural health system, Ayurveda we are keen to eat a bit more consciously. B.K.S Iyengar (1918) states “food should be taken to promote health, strength, energy and life, it should be simple, nourishing, juicy and soothing. Avoid foods which are sour, bitter, salty, pungent, burning, stale, tasteless, heavy and unclean” (p.37)… so FML it says “burning” in there, we all know this means Chilli… and I’d go through all the ring sting in the world to keep eating Chilli, but I guess if that’s the worst thing I put into my body then I’m doing ok.

What I found most interesting and life changing was regulating what I injest intellectually, and purifying my mind. In my own practice this refers to what I watch on TV, what I listen to and what books and magazines I read. I know my brother Ntouma would kill me if he knew I was watching “Georgie Shore” or “Keeping up with the Kardashians” I love them, they’re hilarious and who wouldn’t want to watch a program where the girls confess that “all of a sudden ‘is finger’s were in me fanny” but I must admit I do always feel guilty afterwards. I have now made a conscious effort to not consume any “junk” of this kind. I don’t read fashion magazines or gossip magazines unless they are at the Dentist…I shall have a word to my Father about the Junk he is feeding his patients (intellectually).

If I do watch TV, it is only ever the Lifestyle channel or the Food Channel. They fuel my creative fire and give me idea’s for cooking and building my dream of fully self-sustainable farm and wellness retreat down the south west of WA. For those interested in where I draw my inspiration from here is a list of my favourites:

  • Portrait artist of the Year - http://www.lifestyle.com.au/tv/portrait-artist-of-the-year/)

  • The Cook and the Chef with Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant - http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/tv/the-cook-and-the-chef/

  • River Cottage - http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/tv/river-cottage-autumn/

  • George Clark’s Amazing spaces - http://www.channel4.com/programmes/george-clarkes-amazing-spaces

  • Rick Stein - http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/tv/rick-steins-food-heroes-xmas/

  • Jamie Oliver - http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/tv/jamie-at-home-christmas/

On the road to reducing the junk that I consume, I made it a personal goal of mine to not listen to any commercial radio stations as of Decemebr 2013, the music is in my belief nonsense and the advertisements are infuriating. Now a year down the track I have stuck to my goal and am now a huge Triple J fan and haven’t looked back since. I often look forward to Thursday mornings with Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki; I listen to “hack” in the afternoons and very much look forward to “like a version” on Friday mornings.

The principle of Sauca can be applied in my classroom by providing my students with a clean and clear space that helps them feel at ease and calm. Cleaning the floors, stacking equipment and making sure shoes and bags are left outside the studio ensures the space is safe and clean. In terms of applying Sauca to the larger community, I would lead by example and walk the talk. I have made it my intention to pick up any rubbish I see on the street.  By doing my bit to clean up our wider community, hopefully this catches on. In saying that, I saw a used Bandaid on the grass at Cottesloe beach today and couldn’t pick up…working progress.

The second of the Niyamas is Santosha and I believe this one to be the most challenging. It refers to inner contentment, where one no longer feels anything lacking in their life; they have no wants or desires. In my own practice I use this discipline to help me accept where I am right now and not wishing to be somewhere else. I feel like I am on a huge spiritual journey to find my Dharma (passion in life/calling), however I constantly feel hamstrung. For example, I am half way through my University degree in Secondary Education and Drama studies. I find myself in a state of impatience as I constantly wish for it to be complete so I that I can start to live and breathe it NOW. When I voiced this with Mumsy earlier this week she said to me that my impatience has always been an issue, and was the main reason for dummy spits when I was younger…“But I want an Oomper Loomper NOW DADDY” (Dahl, 1964). So for me, I can practice Santosha by setting my intention every morning to “be content with where I am, for I believe that I am in exactly the right place at the right time, and I will open my heart up to the loving energy of the universe to guide me where I need to go, when I need to go there”. And funnily enough, this settles my anxieties.

I recently had a session with our Philosophy teacher Swami Pujan at Byron Yoga Centre. We focused on the principle of Santosha and my hamstring injury. I have so much anger towards my injury, “I hate it” when really I should love my body and show it compassion. I also should be grateful for it. It is my body telling me to slow down, so thank you body I know and I am trying! It also means I now know everything there is to know about sciatica, the sciatic nerve, tendinopathy and tendonitis, every adjustment and contraindication for every pose that stretches or works the hamstrings. So, in my class I can show empathy to students who have an injury in the hamstring. A more positive application of Santosha would be showing gratitude for every other part of my body that is working brilliantly. My beautiful strong legs still get me from A to B, and if a ferocious Lion came running down the street right at me, I’d still be able to run away, so I am bloody grateful for THAT!

The principle of Santosha can be applied in my classroom environment when I communicate to students that they need not look at what others are achieving in the class and wanting or longing for that strength or flexibility. Allowing my students to be content with their own practice, their own levels and where they are. Santosha refers to self-love and being authentically content with exactly where you are now.

Applying the principle of Santosha to the community would be living by example, showing self-love and compassion to myself hopefully will encourage others to do the same. I’m not sure if this is the right space to put this in but I am going to go for it anyway, boys read carefully, you’ll LOVE this. I recently learnt about Menstruation and Yoga, and why in certain poses they contraindicate for women menstruating. Many of us I am sure are confused as to why, what will happen to me if I do? Of course it makes sense that if you are menstruating you don’t want to tip upside down incase your uterus falls out…obviously??? HAH! But seriously, from what I understood, standing on your head, inverting, twisting and working the abdominals from a scientific level won’t cause any disruption to your body or your menstrual cycle. BUT, many of us will agree that when we are on our “moon cycle” (we shall call it today) we don’t feel like doing a dynamic class, tipping upside down or working our core. When we are menstruating “Relaxin” is released into our bodies which literally gives us a back ache, we feel weak, we’re emotional and it’s the perfect time for us to practice Santosha by listening to your body and honouring the downward flow of energy (Apana). Empowering yourself to make your own choices about how you practice at that time is an example of practicing Santosha. If women have around 350 periods in our whole lifetime would you rather feel self-loved, content and empowered or let it be the bane of your existence? Disclaimer alert: There is the exception for those of us who have extremely painful periods or endometriosis, this of course is a different story and I am blown away by your strength.

The third of the Niyamas is Tapas, this is a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. In Greek culture we call it “Mezze”, they may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (meatballs, or fried seafood). Tapas however in Yogic philosophy relates to a burning desire to achieve a definite goal in life. In my personal practice I can apply Tapas quite easily as I have a huge drive to get out of bed and “GET SHIT DONE”. However, there are often times when I go into sloth-mode and want to re-watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone all the way through to The Deathly Hollows Part II and I mean, even to achieve that requires some serious Tapas. Alas, this is not what the principle is encouraging.

For me to generate Tapas in my personal life I require a “to do list”, short term and long-term goals and time to write my intentions. I have set a personal goal to get up at 4.30am every morning, have a shower and make a cup of warm water and lemon, meditate and practice Pranayama (regulation of the breath/vital life force energy) and then do a small amount of necessary Asanas to begin my day. That is already at play, I spent some time in Manly over the weekend to see an old friend and this made me realize that there are times when this practice is inappropriate and darn right anti-social. I am now back in Perth and I am going to “Tapas the shit out of that intention”.

In my classroom I can apply the principle of Tapas by showing gratitude to those who didn’t press the snooze button and got onto their mat for a 6am class. Another way of incorporating Tapas into my class would be to allow my students time to set an intention before their practice, and then when they are moving through their practice talk to that intention. The principle of Tapas must be balanced with Ahimsa (non-violence), you may have an intention and a passionate drive to achieve something amazing, but you must not harm the body or others to achieve it. On the flip side, you may have a driving desire to show self-love, and that in it self is Ahimsa, and awe find the two working in unison.

In the wider community I feel any large group coming together to GET SHIT DONE is an example of Tapas. I have a driving desire to bring the community together to do Yoga (all aspects of it) for charity and interweaving the Philosophy in there with a special guest that Phoebe (@to_yoke) and myself are hoping to bring over. So if you are interested in something like that then let me know and let’s make a big tapas tasting plate of all aspects of Yoga for the community to enjoy!

The fourth of the Niyamas is Svadhyaya, which refers to study of all kinds but in particular, self-study. In terms of my own personal practice I interpret the principle of Svadhyaya as always having a beginners mind, and always being the student. No one has learnt everything, and if you think you have, then you have much to learn! The principle of Svadhyaya resonates with me strongly as I am always enrolling myself into something new. I have completed a degree in Marketing and Public relations, then travelled to London where I completed my Certificate III in Fitness, then back to Perth to complete my Studio Pilates training and Les Mills Body balance training, then enrolled in another 4 year degree in Drama Studies and Secondary Education, and more recently completing my 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training at Byron Yoga Centre, and it won’t stop there.

My mentor once told me;

“In the course of your lifetime you will be tempted to hold on to what is, when in fact what is, is only a temporary phase, that evolves immediately into what was. So we have to bend and flex around each new circumstance; as rigidity robs us of the opportunity to see new possibilities”.

In order to truly embrace our roles as students of life we have to cultivate the ability to move easily from knowingness to not knowingness, which in turn moves us from master to student again and again. Yogaworx in Perth really embody this mentality of a “beginners mind” or “student mindset”. They apply the principle of Svadhyaya to the classroom and the wider community by bringing Yoga instructors from all over the globe to teach at their studio. It creates a space where we are all learning together.

And lastly, Isvara Pranidhana the fifth of the Niyamas. This is a difficult principle to explain but I interpret it as surrendering to the Divine (whatever, or whoever you believe that to be).  It could be a softening or acknowledging that all creation and all that is, is in the hands of some greater force, but really it is quite personal and depends on your beliefs. In terms of my own personal practice Isvara Pranidhana encourages me to surrender in Savasana after my morning practice. There are so many people I have witnessed that used to leave class before Savasana, I won’t do this anymore, but I also won’t judge those that do. The principle of Isvara Pranidhana can be applied by observing the beauty of nature and realize that there is so much more out there than your little bubble. I find that time when I am under water and most definitely watching a sunset or sunrise. It is those times that I feel most connected to the Divine and realize I am not the centre of this Universe… who would’ve thought!

To apply Isvara Pranidhana to the wider community and into to my classroom I would use a universal language that relates to us all. Instead of speaking about “surrendering to the divine”, which could mean nothing but a bunch of woo woo to a student in your class, we can explore gratitude instead. Everyone has something to be grateful for.

While there are so many applications and interpretations of these spiritual guidelines, this blog is a way of bringing them to fruition in our modern day lives. I would love to hear any feedback or questions that you have with regards to what I have explored, and if anyone would like to collaborate to bring the philosophy back into our society give me a tinkle!

Nama-slay!

References:

Kirsten, M.(2014). Yoga for Grownups. Retrieved from: http://www.yogaforgrownups.com/

Dahl, R. (1964). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Penguin Books: UK.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE ASANAS

I am delighted to see so many people getting off their ass-anas and starting to move their bodies.  I can’t scroll through Instagram without seeing some gorgeous rig in downward dog, and we’re all guilty of posting selfies. I am about to do a photo shoot for my Yoga and Pilates business in a swimsuit courtesy of the amazing P A L M swimwear and trying to get my head around how I can, “lift my sit bones higher” and lift those little half moons of my butt crease that never see the light of day higher. However, other than being a bit of fun, and a project of self-promotion and marketing, the poses that we see splattered on social media are just a fraction of what the Yogic journey is truly all about. The Asanas or the postures are just one of the eight limbs needed on the quest towards union with the divine, and in my blogs I will endeavour to explore them all.

The word Yoga, according to B.K.S Iyengar (1918) “originates from the Sanskrit ‘root yuk’ meaning to bind, join, attach and to concentrate one’s attention on” (p.19). It is the method by which, “the restless mind is calmed and the energy is directed into constructive channels” (Iyengar, 1918, p.20). Kathopanishad describes Yoga as, “when the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not – then, say the wise, has reached the highest stage” (Iyengar, 1918, p.20). The highest stage is Samadhi and to achieve this one must follow the eight limbs of Yoga helping them on their quest to the soul. Being able to put my legs behind my head does not mean I am a perfect Yogi, nor does it mean that I am practicing Yoga; only when my breath is even, and my mind is still and my senses are withdrawn in this asana am I doing Yoga.

Every religion or spirituality has their own guidelines and it’s the same with Yoga. The eight limbs of Yoga are made up of the Yamas and Niyamas (moral and ethical guidelines), Asanans (postures/poses), Pranayama (regulation of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (the means, a feeling of pure consciousness). I will start at the beginning with the Yamas and Niyamas; the moral and ethical guidelines that we can follow to be able to better live with others and with ourselves. They’re not so easily measured which makes it more difficult to see the effect or consequences of sticking to them. But I think you will find that when you become aware of them and start to practice them in your everyday life, you won’t need a measure of general life improvement, you will just know. If there were a happiness radar then it would be gradually lifting from “avo-cado” (average) to “bomb-diggity”.

This week I am focusing only on the Yamas and how I have incorporated these spiritual guidelines into my life to better live with others.

The first of the Yamas is Ahimsa. This is a principle of “non-violence”, or a more positive interpretation is; love for all creation. In my own practice this means not pushing myself too hard. After a year of healing a hamstring tear and tendinopathy, it is important for me to rest in child’s pose when poses that work the hamstrings pop up during class. Before I began to consciously incorporate the principles of Yoga into my life, it certainly wasn’t in my personality to sit back and watch… But funnily enough now it is! In fact, I quite enjoy those moments of down time in the class now.  That’s what Yoga is about. Listening to your body.

The principle of non-violence also applies when teaching the class and offering my students the chance to rest and take a step back if they need it. It’s about taking yourself to the edge of your comfort zone, but no further, and everyone’s comfort zones are different.

Ahimsa can also be applied to the larger community.  Personally, I avoid causing harm to other people around me; either with my words or my physical body. Those of you who know me, are aware that I am a fiery little Wog and it’s most likely going to be my words that have the potential cause damage. So for me it’s about asking myself, “is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?” before the words leave my mouth.

You can exercise Ahimsa in the wider community by putting others’ needs before your own.  I have made a conscious effort to place my friends’, family’s and anyone elses’ needs before mine, whenever I can.  For me this is about appreciating the truth that ALL living beings are equal.  This includes animals, insects, and even spiders!  This was a tough one for me at first… But now with the help of my Mumsy “the spider whisperer” I can escort spiders out of the house, no more Mortein, no more flying thongs.

The second of the Yamas is Satya and refers to truthfulness not only in speech but also in your physical practice.  B.K.S Iyengar (1918) states, “he who has learnt to control his tongue has attained self control in a great measure, and when such a person speaks he will be heard with great respect and attention” (p.34).

In my own practice I use this discipline when the teacher asks, “if you really need to do another back bend come into full wheel Urdhva Dhanurasana now.”  I think to myself, “do I really need another backbend?  Hells no!  Be true to yourself Sophia and sit this one out!”  Another example of truthfulness is my Instagram posts. When I post photos with all the amazing “show off” Yoga Asanas the most important thing for me is to be honest about how long it took me to be comfortable doing that pose. If it was easy for me, then I explain to people that there are many other Yoga Asanas even the most simplest like a forward bend (Uttanasana) that I still constantly struggle with, and while my strength may help me to balance on one arm, my hamstrings at the moment won’t allow me to fold forward, but that’s ok (we’ll come to this in the Niyamas next week with Santosha).

In the wider community with my friends and family what I am striving towards is making my “yes” count, so when I commit to something I am honestly committing. Have you ever met someone who constantly says, “let’s catch up soon, I’ll message you!” but never does… and that’s the end of that chapter? Well I don’t want to be that person. My intention is to only say “yes” if I really mean it, and if I can’t commit to something right now then be honest and tell them the truth that, “I’m sorry, I am teaching 10 classes a day, and am also studying full time and on Wednesday’s I need to go see my Dad and Yaiya for Fasolia for lunch, so can we re-schedule in the Uni holidays?” The important part then for me is to stay true to my word and FOLLOW IT UP!

The third of the Yamas is Asteya, and this principle refers to ‘non-stealing’ or ‘non-envy’. It’s about ridding yourself of the desire to possess or enjoy what another has.  In the yoga class this manifests itself as the common action of looking around and seeing others’ practicing headstands in the middle of the room and wanting, longing or desiring to be able to do that. When I see people in full Hanumanasana (full splits) I have to close my eyes and remind myself, “I am exactly where I need to be right now and I am grateful for what I have achieved.” In the classroom this principle can also refer to ‘stealing’ peoples’ time by starting late, or finishing late. There may be someone in my class who really needs to rush off at 7am and if I run later it means that they’ll most likely miss Savasana, and be in a rush before work; as a result un-doing all the good that has been done in class. This principle extends beyond the classroom as well. Consider how someone can bring others’ down with their negative thoughts. In a sense they are stealing people’s energy, constantly bringing them down.  I’m not referring to people in genuine need, it’s different when someone is sad and actually needs your help as a friend; in this case I show authentic love and compassion. This is a tough one I think.  A friend once said to me that, “she only wants to be around people that help her float and lift her up, and why wouldn’t you want to be that person.” Something to ponder about…

The fourth of the Yamas is Brahmacharya, and this refers to moderation and abstinence.  According to B.K.S Iyengar (1918) it refers to, “celibacy, religious-study and self restraint” (p.34).  I interpret this principle as moderation of all things, not just sexual-activity. Forming sexual relationships with your Yoga students is a big no-no here, but also I think it’s about not favouring a particular gender or type of person in your class. Not just adjusting the gorgeous, athletic, experienced and riggy Cottesloe Lululemon girls in the front row, but including everyone in the practice. Those new comers that have never done Yoga before, that think that you HAVE to be flexible to practice Yoga are probably more important to care for and educate then your regular clients, and it’s important that all types of students feel welcome in my classroom, I think that is moderating favouritism in a sense.

Another example is the work that we do at the Aspire Group (http://www.aspire-group.biz/) with Inclusion WA; working with individuals, and the community to aid social inclusion for people with disabilities and their families, helping them to participate in sports and in Yoga.

And yes, last but not least, moderating indulgences or ‘guilty pleasures’ in all shapes and forms. This can include a range of things like alcohol, greasy foods, caffeine, drugs, sex and late nights. Basically it’s about finding what makes you happy and healthy and eliminating what doesn’t. I know for me I had to work on moderating my alcohol intake. I now know that I can have two glasses of wine with Spaghetti Marinara at Funtastico’s on Saturday night and wake up Sunday morning feeling fresh and able to attend the Sunday “day of Yoga” with Wendy from Yogaworx!  Bliss!  A bottle of Vodka and a bread roll from the Rotto Bakery doesn’t make me happy anymore…  Easy right? Problem solved? Not really, it may not seem like it on my Insta, but believe me, it’s a constant effort to find balance, and it certainly doesn’t happen straight away.  But the first step is becoming aware.  And I am aware, and I am trying.

Lastly we come to Aparigraha.  This principle refers to ‘non-greed’ or in a more positive light; to de-clutter one’s life so that you can enact the principle of ‘generosity’. One’s trash is another’s treasure! I just saw an amazing example of this on Facebook the other day when I was invited to a page where trendy little hotties from the Western Suburbs of Perth sell their clothes, rent their clothes or swap their clothes with friends, a perfect example! Another example that my friends and I have dabbled in heavily is swap meets, and an even better example is give without asking for anything in return and sending off your things to the Good Sammies.

Looking at Aparigraha in the context of my classroom refers to just having the essentials.  It means not trying to fill my studio with the latest gadgets, or trying to fit 50 people in a 20 capacity space. Baloo from the Jungle Book says it perfectly…. 

“Look for the bare necessities

The simple bare necessities

Forget about your worries and your strife

I mean the bare necessities

That's why a bear can rest at ease

With just the bare necessities of life

And don't spend your time lookin' around

For something you want that can't be found

When you find out you can live without it

And go along not thinkin' about it

I'll tell you something true

The bare necessities of life will come to you”

The Yamas offer guidance for individuals to live in harmony with the wider community.  Please don’t feel like you have to do everything at once! It takes time to reflect on your own behaviours and thoughts and practices. Believe me, it has taken me years of conscious practice to get where I am now, and I still have much to learn! So start slow, and be kind to yourself! My next blog will focus on the Niyamas, which help us to better understand and live with ourselves. I’d like to stress that they are guidelines and not set in stone, but just an awareness of them can help you make a change, even if it’s very small to begin with. Baby steps!

Peace and love to you all. Stand tall and proud, remember your roots, go out on a limb, drink plenty of water, be content with your natural beauty, enjoy the VIEW.

References:

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1918). Light on Yoga. Schoken Books: New York.

The Jungle Book. (1967). Walt Disney.