The power of equanimity

November 4, 2016
Equanimity_yogalustco

Equanimity. It’s a word I think about more and more these days, which in itself is interesting given that it’s not something that I would associate with the vast majority of my life to date. I’m (correction: I was) that person who got pulled from pillar to post by both her own feelings and those of the people around her. Who rode a rollercoaster of emotions every day – extreme highs and extreme lows all bundled in together. And who was probably a bit unpredictable to be around – my Dad once described me as lighting up a room, you just were never sure what colour that light was going to be…

But now…equanimity. Or for sure a growing amount of it.

Equawhat?

Simply defined (thanks Google!) equanimity is “calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation”. There’s more to it than this though – you just have to dig a bit deeper.

Because this definition implies that it’s a transient state – something admirable to achieve in the face of a challenge, for example: ‘it was impressive to see that she remained equanimous in the face of such disastrous results’. But in Buddhism however, equanimity (upekkha) is described as one of four sublime states of mind (the other three being loving-kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy), not a passing thought or emotion but rather a “steady conscious realisation of reality’s transience”.

We try our hardest to grasp onto things and not let them go but – whether it’s happiness or hurt we’re so desperately trying to cling on to – the reality is that at the moment you reach for it, it’s already gone.

And if that sounds somewhat dry and boring, think again. There’s immense power (see my previous post on samtosa) in realising and accepting that the world around us, the reality we live in, is constantly changing – not just from day to day but second to second. Reaching for things that no longer exist encourages longing, makes us feel lost and engenders a belief that our lives are somehow lacking.

It causes us pain.

Living life with an understanding of the bigger picture however,  with full knowledge of its inevitable transience and change, provides us with space within which to not react to such things as pleasure and pain, success and failure etc. It allows us to develop a centred approach to life, from which we become less embroiled in events and emotions, and from which we can develop an inner strength and balance – that equanimous approach.

Freedom

Aware that our personal sense of well-being is entirely of our own making then, ultimately equanimity delivers us freedom.

Imagine that – finding a freedom to just be in the moment, without expectation. A freedom to experience, and be experienced just as we are right now. A freedom from all of our stories.

Sounds good to me…I’ll be continuing to cultivate this one (and introducing it to class too!).

All change!

September 11, 2016
All change!

Well. What a month it’s been!

I’ve been uber busy in work, uber busy with yoga, ramping up the running and trying my hand at being a website developer. It’s been a bit full-on if I’m honest, and, yes (not news to anyone who knows me), I’m a little bit exhausted.

But….it’s here! The new yogalustco website is live and I really hope you like it. It’s early stages yet and there’s plenty more to do, not least getting a new timetable and booking engine up and running. But for now a breather.

I’m (yay!) off paddle boarding this afternoon – a well-needed break – and then it’s back to work.

Thanks for being with me on the journey all.

With much love
Lisa

I loved you

June 18, 2016

I loved you.
You hushed me.

I loved you.
You stifled me.

I loved you.
You squashed me.

I loved you.
You mocked me.

I loved you.
You belittled me.

I loved you.
You shamed me.

I loved you.
You disrespected me.

I loved you.
You ignored me.

I loved you.
You denied me.

I loved you.
You abandoned me.

I loved you.
You broke me.

I left.
You blamed me.

Lessons from lessons

June 12, 2016

As is pretty normal in my world (being INFJ and all), I was busy running hundreds of disparate thoughts around my mind as I walked to work one morning this week, when a number of them converged to form the basis of this blog post:

  • An instagram challenge – #invertalert – that I’ve been participating in this month (where I attempt an inversion a day and post a corresponding picture)
  • A blog post I read about taking responsibility for the way you view the world (credit where credit’s due – shared with me by the other half)
  • The lessons I’ve been learning from teaching over the past couple of months

think it all started with the Instagram challenge but in truth it was likely overlaid with the worldview blog post too. But I guess the roots of it aren’t really what’s important…

Because whether you want to call them Instagrammer yogis or yogi Instagrammers – people who post yoga selfies on Instagram get a pretty bad rap. And it only takes a quick Google of the term “yoga selfies” to prove it. The general argument? It’s not ‘yogic’. To quote this article, it “inspires lust and desire” and results in us “trivializing yoga” while in this one they’re simply classed as both “creepy and hypocritical”.

So I’m thinking about all this in relation to this Instagram challenge and wondering if I’m doing a bad thing by participating in it… Am I a hypocrite? Am I somehow bringing shame to the practice? Am I indeed less of a yogi for it?

And then (so perhaps the Instagram thought did come first!) I transitioned to Benjamin Hardy’s worldview article – remembering not only how I’d agreed with his statement that “Whether you’d like to admit it or not, you’ve chosen your beliefs.” but how its closing lines had included the statement “What will you believe?”

So what did I believe? What did I choose to believe?

I needed to answer the question of why I was participating in the challenge – why I was posting all of these selfies online. And I’ll tell you what I realised – it’s got nothing to do with showing off! Just as in no way is it about trivialising yoga. Rather it’s about growing my own practice, developing my focus, building a fitness and strength that enhances and deepens my (very personal) asana practice and that, in turn, enables me to make better inroads towards a consistent and beneficial meditation practice.

And am I alone in this? Not at all. Because if you take a proper look at what’s going on with yoga selfies on Instagram what you’ll see is this enormous, global, community of people working and learning together. Practising together. And teaching…together.

Which does not (in my opinion!) deserve a bad rap.

These people, in general, aren’t pretending to be perfect but being open and honest about their fallibility and the challenges faced in both achieving their poses and completing the prep work required to get there

Which took me to my teaching and the lessons I’m learning from my lessons…

Because I teach from a place of absolute honesty – where I’m just as fallible as my students, and where we work together to achieve things. Which means that when I’m teaching them something that I find difficult I’ll say so – chaturanga (or as one of my students calls it, “no”) being just one of a number of examples. And when someone in class is strong at a particular pose we’ll examine why – so that we can all learn something along the way.

And I’m learning that this is the only way I want to teach. Inclusively. Accessibly. Authentically.

I’m teaching not because I want to help people look great. Or become more bendy. Or feel like they’re a cool yogi type who can wear fancy leggings. I’m not even teaching to make money! Instead I’m teaching because I want to help positively affect people’s lives – my students directly by improving their wellbeing and mental health, and then others in the world by bringing more yogis into being. And if that sounds a bit sucky then I’m sorry, but that’s just the way things are.

As is the fact that I’ll be continuing with #invertalert (with some less than perfect yoga selfies below to prove it!).

#pianomanmax

June 2, 2016

Funny how it takes only the simplest of things to take you away from your day and back into your self…

This guy, just playing away as I popped out to get lunch, was amazing. Thanks Max 💗

A girl has no name

May 31, 2016

So it’s been a while…
…27 days to be precise.

Because, after a prolific couple of months, it’s fair to say my blogging activity has taken a bit of a nosedive. Which you might assume is due to being ‘blogged out’…but in actual fact boils down to what you might call a crisis of identity. A face-off, if you will, between an autopilot that seems to have been running the show for some time and an authentic self that is straining to find her voice.

As you may already know from earlier posts this last couple of years has been a period of significant change for me. Change that, with hindsight, was likely driven by a rebelling of this authentic self, but change that, in reality, has been pretty organic – led by my gut rather than any rational thought.

From leaving my marriage to re-engaging with yoga to enrolling on YTT, it’s all been instinctive. Almost non-negotiable too if I’m honest – things I’ve simply had to do, whether I understood the reasons or not.

But nowadays there seems to be a maturing of this authentic self (I like to call her the ‘me’ me – or mimi, for the fun!) as she realises that to effect long lasting change she’s going to have to take a more active role in life.

But the thing is, the autopilot is strong – significantly older than mimi, quite shouty and very deeply entrenched. And pretty much whenever I’m in doing mode (as opposed to being, the simplest explanation of which I found here) this is what takes over.

Which means that though mimi (me in my heart of hearts, in my very soul) no longer wants to accept being pushed to one side – benched in favour of the familiar – she’s not really sure how to go about changing things. Because even though the old (autopilot) patterns of behaviour have been falling away for some time now, no proven replacements yet exist.

A therapist I recently visited said she recognises this tearing up of old patterns as a distinct stage in a transformation journey that usually happens about two years in (interesting that it’s two and a half years now since I left my old life). A friend of mine though put it in plainer terms – likening it to untying yourself from the harbour only to realise you’re at sea without a map!

IMG_1503

So I have a strong sense at the moment of her reaching to assert her authority but coming up empty-handed as she tries to find the tools (something this therapist is going to try and help with). Which of course helps explain why I’ve been feeling a bit voiceless these past couple of months (well the true me anyway). And why I probably seem a bit more withdrawn, and harder to get hold of, than might be usual.

It’s not that I’m ignoring anyone. Or even that I’m in a bad place. It’s just that I don’t quite know how to be this new me – and if I don’t give her the space and time she needs to consider what, how, or where she might contribute I’ll be back to that autopilot all over again.

 

[I wrote previously that, as part of our YTT course, we’ve been asked to study an area of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and report back to the group. I decided on an experiment in living his yamas and niyamas (abstinences and observances – the building blocks of his yoga) and so here I am, taking on one of each every five days from the end of March to the beginning of May.]

So we’re five weeks down the line now, which means it’s time to finish up this exercise and give you the final (and somehow shortest!) post in the series. Thank you for joining me on the journey – it’s been an illuminating and sometimes overwhelming experience but ultimately I’ve enjoyed it immensely, and learnt an awful lot to boot.

With which said, off we go…

Aparigraha – “When non-greed is confirmed, a thorough illumination of the how and why of one’s birth comes.” 

Reading through the various interpretations of this yama, the translation ‘non-greed’ doesn’t really seem to cut it for me, as it’s actually a multi-faceted statement about a) not coveting what you don’t have, b) not being possessive and c) not taking advantage, whether of people or situations.

And yes perhaps you could argue that, if all of these things (coveting ‘stuff’, being possessive and taking advantage of things) are about getting more out of a given situation than one should, then they absolutely are about greed. It’s just I don’t think translating it in this way makes it particularly easy to understand – which is why I’ve moved forward this week with it firmly positioned in my mind as having the three dimensions I describe.

First things first then – not coveting what you don’t have (yet another biblical parallel…).

Of course there’s a direct relation between this and one of the niyamas – that of samtosa (aka contentment). Because, really, not coveting things is contentment isn’t it? Being satisfied with what you have, and not looking outside for happiness?

It’s an idea that I wrote a lot about in the earlier post on the subject, and that I’ve been continuing to practise ever since. This week it’s manifested itself in the quelling of unnecessary insecurity about where I live (and what others might think of it) and resulted in the non-purchase of a variety of different things that I simply don’t need (but in times gone by might have convinced myself I needed!).  Ultimately it remains hugely comforting to me and provides much-needed perspective when the world becomes just a little too much.

And so onto the second strand of this yama – not being possessive. Which, again, directs us back to another of the previous principles, this time that of asteya (aka non-stealing).

Swami Satchidananda himself describes aparigraha as a “form of stealing”, and you can see the link quite clearly – particularly if you reflect on the parts of asteya related to ‘not imprisoning possessions’, and going about the appropriate living of our lives with no expectation of reward.

Interestingly on this point I have been teaching lots of free classes in the past months, both to get some experience under my belt but also to spread the word of yoga. And just last week I was able to put the final pieces together for one additional free class, for various members of CDF Runners – the club that I run with on a weekly basis. Literally all I’ve ever asked for in return has been honest feedback, but then come Saturday morning something magical happened.

I was up getting ready to go to class at mandayoga when I received a message asking if I could sub instead, my teacher having been ill overnight. After a bit of panic, I said yes – but just to help out. I had zero expectation of any return.

It was terrifying to teach a ‘real’ class but ultimately it went really, really well. And you know what? Since doing it I’ve been offered some more cover work in May, a course of my own come September (to run through to the end of the year – hopefully beyond) and perhaps an additional class per week too. Which is CRAZY. And beyond my wildest expectations. So maybe, just maybe, Patanjali was right when he said “to one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes”.

Which brings us to the third strand of aparigraha – not taking advantage. Or in other words, only taking what has been rightly earned, not engaging in bribery and not accepting gifts if they’re given with the expectation of getting something back (or indeed if we ourselves associate receiving such a gift with an obligation to deliver something in return).

All pretty clear cut. Though unfortunately I don’t have any examples of it from this week!

In sum then this yama has been, all in all, a great success – keeping me grounded, (mostly) free of desire and true to my Self (see how it always comes back to this Self…). Which makes it’s time now to turn to the very last niyama on the list, the biggest mouthful to date – Isvarapranidhana.

Isvarapranidhana – “By total surrender to God, samadhi is attained.”

[Samadhi meaning a meditative consciousness or, in Swami Satchidananda’s words, a “tranquility of mind”]

Desikachar explains Isvarapranidhana as “to lay all your actions at the feet of God”, telling us that if we commit to doing only our best in life we can leave the rest to a higher power.

God though is a troublesome concept for many of us and thankfully Swami Satchidananda uses his interpretation of this niyama to tell us that God can also be read as humanity, and explains that “when we dedicate our lives to the benefit of humanity, we have dedicated ourselves to God”. All of which helps…a lot!

Except in this last week I’ve been thinking a bit more about the idea of God and, if I’m honest on some level it’s beginning to feel more accessible. Which is exceptionally confusing to someone who’s never believed. Though perhaps it’s not ‘God’ as such that I’m thinking of, but a greater Consciousness or Connectedness such as we’ve discussed before. Either way there’s something going on with this right now, that I don’t yet understand.

Putting that to one side for now though (it’ll resolve itself when it will), what does total surrender to God/humanity mean for our behaviour?

It seems to me like a putting into action of all of the yamas and niyamas we’ve looked at in this series, all at the same time. In other words, a dedication to living life with one eye on how this impacts the wider world and/or benefits the greater good. Which therefore means, though these posts are now complete, I’ll be continuing to live their principles for some time to come…

This is the final post in the ‘An experiment in yoga’ series – thank you for joining me! Other posts are available as follows, or you can access them all in one go via the related tag #yamasandniyamas:

#1 – ahimsa and sauca
#2 – satya and samtosa
#3 – asteya and tapas
#4 – brahmacarya and svadhyaya

Tim…

April 30, 2016

…I’ve had this post written in my mind for a while. Because, whatever you may think, my feelings for you are still largely love, patience and compassion.

First things first, let me say happy birthday – 33 today! Believe it or not, I do still wish you happiness and I hope you’re being well looked after by those around you, today of all days.

I’ve sent you a message of course – I always do – but no doubt it will fall on deaf ears which is why, unfortunately, I no longer send cards or gifts (this goes for your daughter, my niece, too). Because there’s only so long that you can keep doing something and be ignored.

Which means that this year I’ve instead decided to write you a blog post – something honest, transparent and hopeful. And yes, perhaps you won’t read it but at least it’ll be here in the future for you – when you’re finally ready.

It’s been over two years now – almost as many months as you have in years – since our relationship broke down to nothing at all, and even longer since it first hit the rocks. We don’t have other siblings – it’s just me and you. And we don’t have another family – so it’s this (in all its craziness) or nothing. But even knowing this you’d rather cut me out, which makes me more sad than words can say.

How the hell did we get here? Why is it still going on? If past conversations are anything to go by you’ll no doubt say it’s my fault but I can’t believe that you really think that – not in your heart of hearts.

Its roots are in that time just after June 2010 – when I’d come back from honeymoon and when you were splitting up with R. We talked (remember we used to talk?) and it turned out that you were attracted to someone else and had decided it was time to move on. R was a part of our lives though (she’d been with you for what, 7 years?) and you made it clear that you wanted everyone to move on peacefully, with all of us staying friends.

The whole split, and new relationship, was tumultuous to say the least. But we continued to talk – often for hours – as you looked to me to help you navigate your way through.

But quite suddenly everything shifted. And everything I did or touched became wrong. I can pinpoint the exact moment things changed – your new girlfriend was moving in, you’d had a huge argument and again you and I had talked things through. I was obviously concerned that you were ok but when I checked in with you the next day, there was nothing but silence. And after that, we were done – our relationship was quite simply no more.

Yes we spoke in the years following but it was always underlined by tension. And a sense that I somehow didn’t measure up for you any longer. Where we had once spoken regularly we now barely spoke at all. And where we’d have once happily spent fun weekends together, it became that we rarely even saw each other – and when we did the time generally maxed out at an hour.

For probably around four years we existed in what I can only refer to as a twilight zone, and then came January 2014. When my birthday gift for your daughter arrived late, my whole life fell apart (and yes, if you think for a second, maybe you’ll draw a line between the two) and you cut me out of your life.

I don’t think there’ll ever be a time to voice all the pain and hurt of these last 6 years, though there’ll always be time to talk about the joy of the previous 27.

We have a long, involved, sometimes complicated and at times frustrating history Tim but I will always love you, and I will always be here for you. I just hope that, as well as the history, we also have a future.

With love
Lisa

[I wrote previously that, as part of our YTT course, we’ve been asked to study an area of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and report back to the group. I decided on an experiment in living his yamas and niyamas (abstinences and observances – the building blocks of his yoga) and so here I am, taking on one of each every five days from the end of March to the beginning of May.]

So here we are, 80% of the way through! Let’s get to it and dive straight in…

Brahmacarya – “By one established in continence, vigor is gained.”

I mentioned in last week’s instalment that brahmacarya meant celibacy and it’s true that if you Google it that’ll likely be the most popular definition you find. But (you guessed it!) as with all of these yamas, it’s rarely the case that they’re so one-dimensional.

We can’t gloss over the fact that this is the original recommendation though – the rationale behind it being that in remaining celibate you conserve the energy (or life force) for better things. Spirituality yes, but also (by my book’s example) the power to change the world! That said, there is also an acknowledgment that within a healthy relationship, and within healthy bounds, being moderate rather than entirely celibate is perfectly ok.

So, if not celibacy, my goal for this week has been what?

In short – continence of body, speech and mind. Or, in even simpler terms, practising self-restraint in the use of what physical and mental energy I possess.

My Yoga Sutras says that as yoga teachers we “must impart a life force – a little current – into others” and it’s true that you might have experienced this in a great yoga class – leaving at the end feeling that somehow life has become slightly richer or brighter than it was when you arrived. But in truth isn’t this statement reflective of non-yoga teachers too? Indeed of everyone?

Because I think in all of our most valued interactions in life there’s a exchange such as this. A connection that could quite easily be understand as current, or a giving/receiving of life force. It’s there in the ‘day-making’, feelgood chat that you might have buying your coffee in the morning, the long overdue catch up with a distant friend, the cwtch from a pet who just senses your need for them in that moment, and without question, the giving of people all over the world in aid of someone they’ve never even met.

But there can only be this giving if somehow there’s a recharging too. Because after all, if we give too much we’ll simply have nothing left. Which is where continence, self-restraint, becomes key.

Most interestingly, as I was focusing on my yama this week a blogger I follow published this post, with one part in particular standing out: “It took a long time until I understood that you can only give energy if there’s some left for you in the end. I understood this about money (you can only spend what you have) but not about energy and other non-material ‘things’.” 

Not only was it an interesting read but it gave me the focus I needed for this post too. Because, though I like to think that I’ve understood only being able to give if you keep something back for yourself, the reality is that it’s something I continue to struggle with.

As the other half reminded me this morning I am about as much of an all or nothing person as you get – so if I’m in I’m in, 110%. Couple that with the fact that as an INFJ personality type I have this compulsion to take care of others (often to the detriment of myself) and you can see how, even though I know full well all of this is capable of taking me past my breaking point, I so often end up broken.

Which is almost where I’m at this week – as work, homework, teaching, domestic life and my choice to continually look out for others piles up and up on top of me. Except that now I have this growing awareness of what’s going on. And a growing ability to reach out to others for support – to take as well as give…and to rest as well as do.

And I can’t tell you how much of a reach this is for me, as not only am I an INFJ but a particularly perceptive one at that. So I have what can seem like a sixth sense for things – often knowing there’s something going on before others realise it themselves and therefore being able to step in, console and support without ever needing to be asked. I forget though that not everyone has this overdeveloped sense for situations (and believe me, it’s often not that great a thing!) and that I can’t expect people to return the favour and know when I need help without me reaching out to ask for it first. It can be really confusing in truth, and gets me all hurt and upset about being misunderstood – which of course only makes the whole ‘broken’ situation even worse!

So this week, as with most of this month, I’ve overdone it. I thought I hadn’t but I have. And lying in bed this morning, feeling totally incapable of getting up quite clearly told me that!

I might look ok (the adrenaline of subbing for my teacher this morning might account for that – post to come!) but the truth is there is very little vigor here right now. Again. Which means firstly that brahmacarya hits my list of ‘must work ons’, and that secondly this bank holiday weekend, as much as possible, must become a time for rest, recuperation and self-love. So that as next week rolls around I have enough energy to start giving (within reason) again.

Svadhyaya – “By study of spiritual books comes communion with one’s chosen deity.”

Onto svadhyaya then and, as I write this, I have to admit to a somewhat wry smile on my face. Because if “study of spiritual books” isn’t what I’ve been doing every day since enrolling on YTT I don’t know what is.

It’s ramped up of course in recent months, particularly since beginning this exercise in living Patanjali’s yamas and niyamas, but really it’s been there for some time. Though “communion with one’s chosen deity”? Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not religious, so surely I haven’t suddenly found God? No, not quite. But then ‘God’ isn’t really what’s meant here – rather a spirituality, and understanding of a greater connectedness.

A big Self, as well as the small self, and a big Consciousness, as well as the small consciousness – in essence, a thread of something that connects us all as one, no matter where we’re from or who we are.

Sound a bit confusing? This Yoga International piece presents a nice analogy for it – likening us and the greater connectedness to the waves and the sea:

“…each wave, traveling across the surface of the sea, is likened to an individual being. It is distinguished by its location in space, as well as by other qualities, such as shape and color.

But the substance of every wave is the sea itself. Waves and the substance from which they arise are one and the same…”

It’s an understanding that becomes more and more accessible with the more study that we do, and more and more real with the more understanding that we gain.

But understanding does not come from study alone – not in its traditional form anyway. And Svadhyaya is not just being able to recite verbatim what we’ve read, but rather to put what we learn into practice. In other words, as Swami Satchidananda would say, it’s “studying with the heart”, as well as the mind.

Which let’s be clear, is a type of study that can (and this is something I’ve already found to be true) be deeply unsettling – particularly as we come to the realisation that the small self, (what to date we have known as the real self) is actually very much unreal. That it is unfixed and volatile – swayed by the feelings and happenings of the moment – and somewhat of a distraction in life. A distraction that we must learn to distance ourselves from, in order to find a more peaceful and profitable existence.

And with this distance of course, we’re able to locate and identify the real Self – by contrast steady and stable, fixed and unswayable. This is the truth, if you will, of who we are and what we want. The truth, again if you will, that is shared by us all – making each of us equal to the next.

So yes, I’ve come to recognise in recent times that I am no better, no worse and no different to the next person. Just as I’ve also come to know my truth, hence this journey. But please don’t think for a second it’s been easy – on the contrary, it’s hard work. And it’s led me (is still leading me) to question pretty much everything that I know (or, more accurately, thought I knew!). Plus it’s a job for life – where, every time I come back to study I look at things anew.

Which means, I’m afraid, that it’s really all well and good me telling you all about these principles – Patanjali’s yamas and niyamas – but that you’ll only really come to know them through conducting a similar exercise yourself.

Which brings me to the end, for now, with one more post to go – on the final yama and niyama: aparigraha (non-greed), and isvarapranidhana (worship of/surrender to God).

As ever, the other posts in the series remain available in the meantime via the links below, and I’ll see you all again in a week!

Experiments in yoga:
#1 – ahimsa and sauca
#2 – satya and samtosa
#3 – asteya and tapas
#5 – aparigraha and isvarapranidhana

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