Yoga off the mat

yoga off the mat

Until a few years ago, I always used a yoga mat to practice. The more travelling I do and the more outdoor practice I do, the less I like the feel of a synthetic layer between me and the ground (not to mention the lugging around of a heavy roll) and the more I enjoy the texture and simplicity of connecting directly with grass, sand, rock, wood or even concrete as the foundation for my movement.

It’s taken me many years (more than twenty) to develop enough understanding, alignment, bravery and strength for this to be possible. The benefits of this simpler and more natural process have been huge for me.

Firstly, the constant reminder that yoga is like breathing: always there, always accessible, infinitely changing but constant, wherever I find myself. Relinquishing the accoutrements that so often describe a western yogi has freed the spirit of my practice and helped me drop other beliefs and attitudes that I thought I needed and helped expand my capabilities both physically and mentally. However you view the stereotypical coconut-water-swigging, lycra-clad, mat-toting yoga girl, it cannot be denied that yogis come in all forms – like the Buddha – and the more quickly we recognise all of them, from wild and worldly through to quiet and clean-living and all in between, the less we contribute to the contrived view that we must achieve a certain status, appearance or measure in order to qualify as a worthy human being.

The purpose of yoga as described in the Vedas all those thousands of years ago, is the alleviation of suffering which is innate in the human condition. Purposeful awareness of mind and body along with intention allows the divine spirit, consciousness, to express itself through us as clearly as possible in whatever way it wants to – the ultimate freedom. The scope of this expression is as limitless as the universe itself and as such, defies judgement or comparison, in much the same way as you cannot compare a waterfall with a tree or a star with a kitten. We are each unique beings, home to every polarity that exists. Loving all of it/us/them/everyone is a direct (and by no means easy) path to self-acceptance, compassion and empathy.

One of the main pillars of my own practice and a principle I espouse passionately is that when we feel good, we do good. There is no merit in martyrdom and in fact, the only way to power sustainable efforts of good is by prioritising and supporting our own health of mind body and inner spirit. When we act from this place of fullness, our contributions are far-reaching and goodness ripples outwards in ever-increasing circles.

Lara Senegupta, the Founder of Cork Yogis has collaborated with Destiny – a charity in India that rescues young girls and women from forced prostitution. Every mat and mat bag purchased provides education for these women so they can support themselves. She is a yogi and she’s just 25 years old.

Cork Yogis sent me a mat to try in exchange for writing a few words about it and as I’ve said, I’m a fairly hard sell as I’ve tried PVC, TPE and rubber mats, none of which I prefer to carpet or grass but I was intrigued by the natural fibre and definitely wanted to support their mission, so I did.

The cork mat

It’s heavy. Not really built for travelling but the way it effortlessly rolls out and completely flattens itself to the ground with its beautifully curved edges is a joy to behold. I’ve just returned from a retreat in Ibiza where I taught each day on thistle-infested, stony, course grass and had to use my travel mat for fear of ending up a human pin-cushion. Sadly and a little painfully, said thistles poked right through the thin mat at several points (instigating dramatic shrieks) and the wind also flipped the corners of the mat until it was almost in half at times. Had I used the Cork Yogis mat I’ve no doubt its weight and thickness would have prevented these amusing and irritating distractions.

The surface is dry and warm, similar to those retro cork tiles that used to stylishly grace bathroom floors years ago. This is lovely. I often practice with little clothing on and there’s something rather jarring about laying a hot back or front on a cold, sticky mat. As for sweaty skin on unvacuumed carpet…I will say no more. The cork absorbs any moisture beautifully and somehow makes hands and feet grip even more firmly the more dampness is involved.  For this reason, Cork Yogis supply a water spray with the mat. Spray where the hands and feet want to go and you’ll be firmly rooted with no slipping.

I’d liken the loveliness of asana practice on this mat to that of being on a sun-warmed lawn, springy, comforting and firm. It’s as cushioned as some of the super-thick mats I’ve tried but without the squishiness that sees fingers and toes sink and slip.

All the pleasing aesthetics aside, I’m taken with Lara’s mission – her yoga if you like – of positive connection across cultures and the strange butterfly effect that has been cleverly created here. Western privilege plus awareness alchemised into life-changing aid empowering women in Yoga’s country of origin. The practice of yoga brings freedom on every level. This functional structure of business meets charity is no exception.

Creating positive transformation is an integral reason for and product of any spiritual practice and while it is often most directly experienced by the practitioner themselves and their immediate circle, it is rarer to be aware of exactly how our self development activities are having a beneficial impact on humans far across the world. In the same way, the work you devote yourself to can become your practice. Both paths – all paths – when walked with awareness and intention, allow us to see the divine spirit in every one of us, our humanness just a shell that seems to differentiate one from another when we are instead, different parts of the same one.

yoga off the mat

 

to dream impossible things

to dream impossible things

To stay in this flow of speaking truthfully, confidently, passionately, feeling powerful, laughing, not caring, unattached and full of possibility.

To feel brave, to do things I’ve never done, to dream impossible things, to go where desire leads, to be wide open to incredible goodness from all angles, from places and people I could never have imagined.

To know that my response is a form of love, it touches others, just my being this – touches others, I am kind and I am free. Yes.

Fuelled by practice, strong, directing my resources I venture out into open water, I sail the bigger seas.

04.10.15

Express Yourself

Express Yourself
The time for commentary has drawn to a close.
Expression must be recorded in order that it enter reality and not ferment in the musty recesses of mind, only to turn vinegary and sharp, unaired and hidden. It is different to the presentation of a collection of past happenings. Expression is the "es muss sein"* of now. Being witnessed is its heartbeat for without the audience, expression is lifeless. Expression is the rush of blood to the face, the breathless laughter, the unleashed sob - it is unedited. Expression is naked. Expression will not be organized into flowing sentences of choice words that are painstakingly structured to create an exact representation of the feeling, the thought, the sensation - in hope of birthing a better understanding than the one that currently torments. No. Expression is blunt and choiceless, it is not the means to a manufactured end. It is the coursing river, the bloody knee, the strike of palm on cheek, the slam of the door, the sound of your voice before it reaches my ear and the imperceptible impulse that triggers my synapse to fire in response to your inflection. It is the taste of living not the menu. It is the theatre in progress not tomorrow morning's review. It is a conversation not a meticulously prepared retort. It is unready. Expression is an unfolding that is unprepared.
Instances and happenings that are loud enough, starkly contrasting and thickly outlined enough against the scenery of daily existence, demand to be countered. A mathematical equation that requires balancing. Life jutting out its chin at you and beckoning insolently with four fingers of one hand - come on then, show me what you've got. Is this a fight? Is it a dance? Insolence invites irreverence, neurotic panic will be transformed by adopting the attitude of willful cheek in place of fear. It is a dance, this expression is a dance - a ferocious, rough tango, full of fierce lust and hot breath, of go-away-don't-leave-me, of rage and love, of perfection and fucked-up-ness, of intelligent beauty, of cell-drenching energy, of not-nearly-ready, of too-much-too-late, of pleading and bullying and eventually, of surrender. It is the question you must answer because your life depends on it. Expression. The fullness that will not be contained. The sweet overwhelm. The exhalation. The orgasm. The beginning.

{Live your fucking art.}

*From The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The dance

the dance

The dance we do with other people, the relating we take part in, has potential to be the most elegant and beautiful rendition of yoga in real life that exists; away from the solitary practice and into real-time, sixth-sensing, intuitively listening and responding.

Despite and in some cases because of, the fetters of self-doubt and unclaimed, long-abandoned emotional baggage still collecting dust in the psychic lockers, we bump gently and then roughly into each other, tripping into interactions that are rich in untidy communication, scribbly, sour, sweet and deep – the raw, the silky, the gentle, the humorous. Intensity calls us to be immersed in nowness. There is magic and power here. Shhhh to the thinking mind that constantly demands explanation, plans, excuses, delivers commentary, rhetoric – shhh. Quiet and feel.

Holding space for two beings, for a shared experience, true interaction – is dependent on trust. The intensity of sensation we trigger in each other relies on it. Internal gates are opened, flaws exposed, electrical circuits made live with charge – and the clarity – such clarity – if you can only stand the glare.

The interplay of two shows us where we get stuck: who stumbles, who falters, who is forceful and pushes too hard, who is rough and who retreats, who turns away and who is weak. We are witnessed at every step, twirling madly into dizziness – not only our own consciousness being illuminated but the sense of being observed and felt. The fear of being judged looms. As we are seen, we also see. As we feel we are also felt. To remember this…would that we could, but the realisation slips from our grasp like sand through an hourglass. Impossible to catch.

Can we stay?  Be here, without distraction, free – all the while present to the other and flowing towards and away from in time? As we do, so they do too. The dance. Flow.

Can we hold our balance, our centre and really meet the other? Can we be met, still, steady, equanimous?  Too soft and yielding and we are pushed around arbitrarily – lost, uneasy; too hard and resistant and we are banished from the exchange altogether, remaining alone, singular, with only the faintest sense of other at the periphery. Unchanged.

What is the meaning of our exchange without love, without prospect of loss? Where is the preciousness without these things? To open hearts, to summon courage to be changed, to understand and be understood. The rhythm of our steps, the echo of our movement, the exhilaration of such aliveness.  Why would we ever deny the exquisite vitality of earnest connection – this intimacy? What colourless world do we wish upon ourselves when we refuse to engage willingly and fully?

There are some things that cannot be done only halfway.

Don’t wait. Say it.

The beauty of two beings in flow – a visual metaphor.

 

Forgetting and Remembering Again

Forgetting and Remembering AgainI am young and I am old all at once.

Driving my small, sporty, old car through single track country lanes, the sunshine pours over my legs, hands and chest through the glass. I feel my eyeballs get hot, my tongue begins to feel thick, the dry surface of my lips puffs up and then tears begin to unravel in a disorganized, watery trail down my warm face like raindrops scuttling down a window pane.

I am driving.

It is easy, it is fast and I love it.

My head feels numb and blank, a sphere full of air and I cannot ascertain the thought or even a word, that prompted this. I am only aware of a mild ache in my lower, right belly and the spreading heat from my shoulder blades as I sit back in my seat. I keep my attention on sensation.

My arms feel strong and solid, stretched towards the wheel, my shoulders broad and capable, I am compact and small but heavy as I sit, my legs broad, bottom planted. I breathe in the Spring air that would feel like summer were it not for the faintest of chills that catches the back of my throat as I breathe in through the wide open window.

There are moments of breath and driving. There are moments that are only crying. Not knowing why is strange and disconcerting and time passes with the long road, the trees and the view. Entranced.

I park. I struggle to gather my things off the passenger seat; folders, diary, bag, leftover cake, water bottle – I stop and say out loud to no-one “Well, this is metaphorical.” Clarity peeks in as I attempt to manage and carry large amounts on my own without dropping anything. A question. What do I need? What do I need? No answer.

Back in the house I unload everything onto the kitchen side and floor, keys clatter, stone tiles – coldly comforting – are dependable under my bare feet. Upstairs, I climb, fully clothed, into the big, white bed and sink into squashy pillows, gathering the duvet around me. I lie in a ball, foetal, quiet, weary, capitulated. Minutes pass and I know this is not it. I am neither comforted nor appeased, just a bit cross. Sighing, throwing off the covers, I get up and go back downstairs. I fill a litre bottle with cold water and drink. Maybe I am dehydrated. Drinking while standing at the kitchen sink appears to send water directly from the mouth to leak out of my eyes. I give in to crying.

I open the drawer where I know I left a 3 month old packet of Marlboro Lights I bought in Spain when I was feeling sultry, Mediterranean and free. I light one and go sit outside on the stone steps, sun hot on the back of my neck, alternately drinking water, smoking and crying quietly. As a rare and bloody-minded gesture, I very occasionally smoke to make myself feel worse – a throwback from 20 years ago that I am au fait with by now. There’s a weird, inverse gratitude that arises from it when I realize I actually have the power to make matters worse, hence the conclusion is drawn that things could not be as bad as they previously appeared to be.

Thoughts start to surface. I sense that I am now at the bottom of a deep well and all I see are the walls around me while everything else is unsubstantial and flat. I finish the cigarette and the water and a shadowy, male part of me watches and nods as if to say “That’s enough now”. The second I notice this, I remember that I am almost an hour late for lunch with a very good friend and then it is as if a tap is turned on and lovely thoughts rush out, all tumbling one on top of the other, beginning with the idea that she is there for me even when I am not there for me. The influx and speed of good thoughts takes me by surprise and I am confused, then relieved.

I leave the house and walking in the hot sunshine soothes me enormously.

Later on, I am talking, laying on the grass and I see clearly the pile-up of thought traffic that resulted in today’s bodily equivalent of an emergency stop. I understand my need, know that I require more time, space, love and gentleness from myself to digest events, emotion, reaction. I feel the residue within me and I consciously let it go with every out breath, feeling it all again as it leaves – happy to be freed. I know this process, I am aware of the intelligence in making space for it, I know its efficacy and still I forget. Many, many times I forget.

Mind chatter becomes physical drama when left unchecked, that grows and silently solidifies until it overshadows the awareness of all that is good and already perfect (which really is everything if we’re in the business of accepting reality as it is). This solid mass of unspent energy must find a way to clear out out by force if no outlet is provided. Our beings are self-cleaning whether we like it or not, balance always wants to resume, the dance of yin and yang is eternal and there is only filling and emptying, in-flow, out-flow. Beginning and ending. Forgetting and Remembering.

Attempting to contain and control begets a sense of smallness, an overwhelming sense of being inconsequential in the face of that which we have no authority over. The mind seeks ways to placate the panic, seeks resolution by searching for more ways to regulate and dominate that which is outside of ourselves. Sooner or later the futility of this strategy becomes clear and maybe fear, self-doubt and paralysis surface before realization happens.

The real command we always have access to is the mastery of our own beings. To focus inwards, to be discerning about what we let linger in our headspace, to make choices that serve us well – this is what results in a strong, healthy and resilient psyche. From this place it is easier to see what is coming before it becomes charged with cortisol and adrenalin, before we invest energy into trying to outrun or fight ourselves. Though frustratingly frequent, this common misdirecting of resources is the long way round to surrender. It’s the kicking, crying, sweaty tantrum of a 1 year old five minutes before they fall peacefully to sleep, sometimes necessary, often not.

Daily practice provides the check-in that enables awareness which in turn brings clarity on what we require to be full, centred and at ease, in any given moment and conversely what we need to drop off and let go of for the same outcome. To observe the congestion of undigested information and emotion is to begin to discover where we get stuck. There is gold here in this mud. Piece by small, manageable piece we clear space in which to receive our experience with equanimity and grace. The practice alters our brain chemistry and physiology in a way that enhances our experience rather than detracts from it.

To begin is the only step we need remember. It does not matter how many times we forget. Always the beginning awaits us. Repetition of this becomes the practice. This is how we learn to remember.

“The best way is to understand yourself and then you will understand everything. So when you try hard to make your own way, you will help others and you will be helped by others. Before you make your own way, you cannot help anyone, and no-one can help you. ” Shunyu Suzuki

Walking and breathing

Sunshine Yoga Blog walking and breathing

There is something rather symbolic about walking alone on a straight and deserted road with no end in sight. I took a 5 mile walk yesterday. I’m not entirely sure why, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

In the early-ish morning quiet on a remote road with only the occasional car, all I could hear was birdsong, my footsteps and the steady rhythm of my breath as I put one foot in front of the other. The repetitive, simple sounds combined with the automatic motion of walking was hypnotic and trance-like; I began to hear myself.

When we give the mind space to settle and be quiet, nothing to figure out or organize, no complex functions to perform or puzzles to complete – it seems that information previously obscured to us begins to surface and with elegant clarity too. The simplicity of walking and breathing in silence becomes a meditation (from Latin: meditatus – to remedy). This is not the same as reflection or rumination either, where the mind wanders and ponders (although one may drop in and out of this) it is a total stillness of being at the deepest level. In this stillness, my consciousness was crystal clear,  where I had previously struggled and fought with conflicting thoughts, I sensed release. In that space, it became obvious that there was no requirement for struggle. Relief then peace.

Some of the more intense interactions, happenings and events that we find ourselves involved in, as either passive bystanders or active participants, deliver so much information to us that although it is absorbed at the time, it can only be assimilated afterwards. This is mainly due to the sturdy, standard installation filters that humans develop as a mechanism to accelerate their learning and reduce the risk of danger or death, but rather like overenthusiastic and somewhat dim-witted bouncers, these filters often lack finesse or discernment and so impede entry unnecessarily, leaving us none the wiser and prone to repeating unsatisfactory behaviours or experiences. BUT…

In quietness, the information we require floats easily to the top of our awareness to be fully digested. Our perceptions shift, our judgements soften and our confusion clears.

The state of dropping back into spacious solitude and peacefulness does not require external quietness either (or 5 mile walks) but can be accessed anywhere and anytime with practice. Whether walking, running, painting, gardening, driving or making love – the activity is irrelevant -when the inner state alters to one of complete receptivity and openness, we are in harmony with what is. Ease results.

This state of being is at the heart of fulfillment, contentment and flow, it is our true nature – where all the wonder of being alive originates, although it often gets lost underneath a long list of distractions.

Because we exist in a body that processes, comprehends and feels every joy and every trauma – is an indelible blueprint of everything that has ever happened to us – we require a (daily, in my opinion) physical practice to access this space of stillness where we begin to know our real selves. Thus our actions become more intuitive and less reactive, we experience more ease and less friction and begin to know Wu Wei (being effortlessly in alignment with what is) like stepping into the current of life rather than fighting to swim upstream.

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
Lao Tzu

Quiet

Sunshine Yoga Blog QuietQuietThe quiet woke me up.

It was as if the world had stopped.

 

I laid still, lifted my eyelids, body static.

Waiting.

Only the rhythmic swish of my breath in and out of my nose.

Silence, like cling film wrapped tightly over my morning experience.

Light was pale grey through the slats of the bedroom blind. My body warm, naked, soft and heavy under the covers, filled with the residue of dreams and a flickering memory of you. Irregular, like a broken neon sign.

Eyelids resigned – closed.

My tiredness all used up, I listened – more acutely now – without the distraction of sight. Where were the birds? There are trees where I live and always birdsong, even at night sometimes, from rooftop to tree branch, a melodic, dotted line trail.

Where is the traffic? There are roads where I live too.

The thick, high pitched throb of too much quiet beat in my ears – is this my own blood? Is it my heart I hear translated in my head as a steady, rolling, whooshing noise? Like the sound of the sea from far away, individual waves not discernible as they crash to shore just the sensation of power and movement, I am.

My life, a sound. All else turned down so that finally, I hear it. I am.

I sense the soundless slowing down of everything outside of me, the slow motion, the stop. The world ending. I am not afraid.

Peaceful curiosity remains.

Impressions of something graceful moving slowly, like a glowing jellyfish in a darkened tank, amorphous, mesmerising, fluid, perfect.

I find myself situated equally in the awareness of my body and the consciousness of my whole being. Thought slowed to the treacly pace of a sleeping heartbeat and suddenly I sense the gaps, feel the spaces in between.

I realise I have been watching the positive shapes fill the emptiness all my life and only now do I see the delicate filigree of negative space.

Like an optical illusion once seen, it becomes obviously, stunningly clear.

I delight in the newness of it and wonder how I could have missed it for all this time.

 

 

You

I hear you like a faint voice in an old house, dusty and ancient, caught in the cracks of creaky floorboards, almost out of earshot, tantalising and silky, ringing in my ears, like a bell – I hear you.
I let my breath go in a rush as cells stick to the inside of my skin in their desperate hurry to get out and join you. My lips press your cheek as spring follows winter – there is no question or answer. Beginning and ending all at once as I see you and you see me.

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