Posts In: Yoga

Taking a break

April 28, 2021
Church Door Cove

On a short trip this week to get my hair cut it occurred to me just how empty I feel.

It’s not that I didn’t already have an inkling – I’d already both described myself as feeling like a chained up dog and a stagnant pond to Jaime this week – but given the space to not concentrate on anything but driving, a more clear understanding of what’s going on began to emerge.

I’ve been teaching and holding space online now since 16th March 2020. For pretty much the same duration I’ve been working from home in an environment where my screen time has gone through the roof, and my ability to let off steam has been diminished. Since late September 2020, I’ve been working an additional job which, while a great opportunity, has added even more screen time – and taken even more free time. In November 2020, I lost my beautiful cat, Rossi. And since then (albeit it’s been on my mind for much longer), I’ve worked hard to understand the possibility of leaving long-term employment and have eventually made the decision to venture out on my own. I’ve (to the best of my ability in the circumstances) partnered, and step-parented, and daughtered and friended. I’ve worried about the environment and our capacity for change. I’ve worried about the pandemic and its effects. I’ve changed plans more times than I care to remember. And at the same time as personally processing all of this, I’ve been holding other people’s processing of it all too.

Now know that this is no pity party, and I’m genuinely not asking for gratitude or indeed anything else in return. But let’s just take a moment to recognise that it’s A LOT. For all of us it’s been a lot. And, for me, there are some clear signs that it’s just not working any more – my heart is tired, and my tank is empty.

With my notice period in employment coming to an end this June, I’ve been thinking about the future – wondering how to build a sustainable business model that will support me and mine as it needs to. I have the sense of great things ahead but no ability to manifest concrete ideas.

As my birthday came and went this year, I’ve cried on receiving people’s kind wishes – a kind of sorrow on remembering what it is to feel cared for. Something similar keeps happening whenever I feel music touch my soul – a realisation of what it is to feel connection.

When it comes to work, I’m managing to keep holding space for others through my teaching – but I’m not doing my best job at being a partner to Jaime, I’m really irritable in my role as stepmum, am not really available to friends and, perhaps obviously, not the best of support to myself either!

I took a look at the time I’ve had off since all this started. In total, three weeks of holiday and a Christmas break which, when I write it down, seems like a lot. And yet the reality is that it barely touches the sides. I need more.

So here’s the plan…

We have 10 days away in May as it is (it was Ibiza, now the Gower). Plus on top of that I’m choosing to take the rest of May out from teaching too. Which will be a key piece of the puzzle in enabling me to (fully) fill my own cup back up so I can come back to the work of helping others do the same.

In some ways of course this kind of a break was always a part of the plan – as Elin reminded me recently, I did write last summer about committing to a full month off in August this year. I guess then what I’m doing is bringing it forward a bit. Because the best-laid plans are meant to be broken? Or something like that in any case…

And why take the time to write it all out like this? In part because I want something to refer people to when they ask about there being no classes next month. But also because I know that many of you reading this won’t be all that different from me – soldiering on because, well, that’s what we do, but feeling exhausted and empty as we do it. Until that is, we see someone else doing differently and that becomes just enough of a spark to set off a process of self-enquiry about what we might do differently too.

[Do note that my different isn’t necessarily your different – it’s just proof that there can be a different if we really want there to be.]

And so that’s me for now – signing out after 13 months of all this STUFF for a proper, give-back-to-myself break. I’m already looking forward to seeing you on the other side – but I’m so excited about the idea of not being here for a while too.

With so much love (and gratitude!) to you all,

Lis x

Download

March 20, 2020

It’s 5:30am. I’m awake and won’t sleep again until I’ve written this down.

I’ve been writing ‘morning pages‘ for a while now – not needing to write what I’ve written and overwriting my words as I go so that eventually it’s just one big garbled mess.

These past days however I’ve found myself scribbling down thoughts that don’t want writing over – that want to stand as they are. To date it’s been a practice of private catharsis but today it’s something else. Today it wants to be seen.

[Morning pages is a practice of offloading garbage thoughts – to clear your mind before starting the day and create space for creativity.]

We are not alone.

Because what I’m feeling this week is far from unique and it strikes me that there’s comfort for all of us in knowing we’re not alone.

This week has been tough. Really tough. And, despite appearances perhaps, I’ve struggled. I’ve not slept well since the weekend – and on Wednesday I wasn’t that far from a panic attack. My sense of wellbeing changes moment to moment. There’s been worry about income, and uncertainty around travel plans. I’ve lost some future work for sure with other work hanging in the balance. My (landmark… shhhh!) birthday celebration has been cancelled. And yet… there’s also been so much community, collaboration, connection. Plus, in our house, laughter and dancing too (you have to check out this coronavirus playlist on Spotify!).

[On the birthday front, I’m pretty sure it means I can stay 39 forever…]

What were streams of messages are now video calls (my raspy voice is testament to the amount I’ve been talking!). And so many beautiful souls have gathered around in SUCH a supportive way.

But there is no getting away from the fact that where we are right now is unprecedented and, quite frankly, bonkers. It’s no wonder we’re struggling.

I’m both built and not built for this.

Jaime and I joke about how it’d be fun to swap brains for a day (in truth I don’t really think he’s all that keen). Day-to-day, where he’s maybe holding onto a handful of thoughts, I’m grappling with what feels like a thousand. And where he can recognise experiencing perhaps a couple of emotions at a time, I could make one very long list. You can start to see why this week has been a challenge.

Some of this, for me, is there to be worked on. It’s important for my mental wellbeing that I ground myself in the moment and I continue to do that through my practices – whether journalling, movement, psychotherapy etc…

And yet what sometimes presents as problematic is also a source of power. Being able to hold all these thoughts and implications in my mind makes me an exceptional problem-solver and I’m pretty damn good in a crisis. Faced with any kind of ‘situation’, I’m already 10 steps down three or four different paths in my head as I decide what to do – meaning I’ve already unblocked many of the challenges that are about to present.

A case in point… Last Sunday, waking up with a sore throat, and realising that I probably shouldn’t be socialising with people, I put classes online for a week. And then, with Boris’s announcement on Monday, the problem-solving ability kicked up a couple of gears. We were online for the foreseeable, student comms were out, a community WhatsApp was up and running and social updates were live. Yay!

[Until Wednesday when I paid the price for all the adrenaline I’d been pumping…]

Another thing about me – I seem hard wired to help people. On Monday night, all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around everyone and hold their confusion, panic and concern. Which is essentially what I was doing – within my own sphere of influence. My first thought was PROVIDE. It comes from being a sensitive soul.

It’s a much-maligned quality however, and many people in my past have requested that I minimise it. That I “not be so sensitive”. Yet it’s also another superpower – I see and feel what others are experiencing (often regardless of whether they want that known) and am therefore able to help.

The flipside of this is that I tend to seriously overlook my own needs – again a contributor to that anxious Wednesday crash.

Rollercoasters.

All day Wednesday I wobbled – shortness of breath, panic, anxiety, tears… And then I turned the skills I’d been directing at everyone else in on myself – I breathed, moved, walked, journalled. And slowly things got better.

[In case you’re a Springsteen fan… I watched Blinded By The Light on Wednesday night – a great bit of light relief]

I felt better, slept better and woke in a markedly different place. And then promptly got into panic mode again when I totally forgot that teaching online required I actually send students a link at which to meet me!

What do we do about X? What if I have to cancel Y? Will Z be ok? I should call persons A, B, C, D…. My thoughts as I head off to sleep Thursday night.

This morning at silly o’clock I’m sat on the sofa writing this.

And then, later this morning, I dropped the marmite on our tiled kitchen floor – obviously it smashed. Jaime came home from a run to find a carrier bag of goopy marmite/glass mix on the counter and wryly asked ‘what did the marmite do to you?’. I became a little hysterical – firstly laughter, then tears then I don’t know – a muddle of it all together. We called it craughter…

In short, it’s SUCH a fricking rollercoaster and I know all of you are feeling this too. I suppose what I’m saying is, I see you. And I am you.

To those of you who seem to have seen all of this and have been reaching out with eerily timed messages, I am exceptionally grateful (I suspect you have some of this same ‘sensitive’ gene I do). If I’m managing to reach people as you’re managing to reach me I’ll be very happy.

Back to today…

Teaching online continues to be a journey. I said it at class last night but, even if I appear to have all this sorted out, I can assure you that I am very much still finding my way – just like everyone else. Sometimes classes will run really smoothly, other times it’ll be a bumpier ride.

It turns out I can’t teach back-to-back sessions – because holding this space online is exhausting, who knew! I need to drink more water, because talking all day is knackering my throat. I have to make more time for myself.

I’m off to take an online class myself now and, as I go, I’m reminded that I am not a superhero, no matter that every now and again it might feel that way. And neither are you.

Be gentle with yourself. Be soft, be forgiving and be patient.

Thank you.

I continue to be deeply grateful to all of you around me for standing by and supporting what I’m doing. And I will continue to support as many of you as I can – while continuing to resource myself deeply too.

Signing off with love,

Lis x

[I think it’s worth noting that though I picked up the laptop to write this directly this morning, the only way it would exit my head and land on the page was by putting pen to paper. As we continue to spend so much stuff online right now, there might be something in that to bear in mind…]

Picking up the pieces…

January 4, 2019
Picking up the pieces...

From the moment it started to form in my mind, the title of this post was set. It seemed apt after a fortnight of not being well – and of not being able to do any of the jobs (let alone fun stuff!) I’d intended, due to a head that felt as though it was wrapped in layers upon layers of fluffy cotton wool.  

[It also seemed apt after what appears to have been more than a year of not blogging. Yeowch.]

I had big plans for the Christmas break this year – not least a review of the year to date and some serious thought around what the coming year would look like. But life had other plans and it all went very much out of the window as my brain got scrambled, all my ‘pieces’ got dropped and I was left with no option but to rest up – day after day after day!

And it’s been rubbish not being well, but in truth I’ve also been dreading the inevitable moment where I got better just in time to return to everything I’d been supposedly taking a break from – and that I’d been hoping to review and reset!

Except… I’m now a day and a bit into feeling more human again and, while all of my pieces are still there patiently awaiting attention, there’s been this beautiful window in between the illness and wellness where I’ve been able to sit with what is and realise a couple of important lessons from my year, perhaps the biggest of which is that I have given FAR too little time to myself.

Sound selfish? It kind of still does to me when I see it written but honestly, no. I have taken far too little time for me. I have put myself on the very bottom of my priority list. I have in no way recognised the enormous changes made in my life. And I have perhaps most importantly definitely not created myself the space within which to deal with it. And yet I have all the tools which with to have done better.

Life huh? But hey, realisation is everything.

As I’ve begun feeling better, I’ve started moving again – albeit keeping things simple and small. And I’ve been journaling too (it’s amazing the insight you can gather from this simple act of emptying your thoughts onto paper – if you don’t already do so, I highly recommend you start). And as I’ve moved and journaled I’ve reminded myself of why I practice, why I write, and by extension what I hope to deliver as I teach…

Space.

Space that’s created by a shedding of armour, and an unravelling of truth.

It really is that simple.

And so as I head into 2019, with a slowly-clearing mind, I intend to make this a year of honouring myself. And then of course of helping you to honour yourself – if you’ll join me on the mat…

The case for slow…

November 18, 2017

Anyone in my classes will tell you that the past few weeks have been pretty slow. Fewer poses, longer holds, more consideration, more time to be.

Classes last week of course were an exploration of yin for many – after the week I spent in training with the fabulous Norman Blair. But even before then, and now since – a very definite movement towards slow. I joked the other day that it was a reflection of the dark outside but I actually think it’s a bit more than this.

Because life for so many of us (and I am very much included) is so, so very fast. Filled with all of the next things that need doing, and the next places that we need to be.

And even now as the days turn darker (there is a link – just not the only link!) we’re pushing ourselves to maintain our spring/summer levels of activity – and as Christmas approaches to perhaps do even more! No matter that at a deeper level we’re naturally programmed to do less.

So my practice, and by extension yours if you’re a student, is slowing.

And for it I feel infinitely better. More grounded, more at ease, more nourished, more able to make the right decisions – in every walk of life. I sincerely hope you feel it too.

Slow, right now, is definitely where it’s at. And if you’re not already trying it, maybe it’s time to give it a go!

All about that mat…

February 19, 2017

**Updated 01/10/19**

It’s a question I got asked a lot before becoming a yoga teacher, but now even more so – that question of course being ‘which yoga mat would you recommend’?

So…in a slight aside from my usual blog post, I thought it worth documenting my thoughts – an easy reference guide for my students, but also handy for anyone else who stumbles along. Note I’ve only referenced mats I have personal experience of so the list is far from exhaustive! There are hundreds of different mats out there, and I don’t have the luxury of knowing them all, so to be clear this isn’t to say all the rest aren’t any good – just that these are the best I know.

Starting at the top then…

Yogamatters Sticky Yoga MatCheap and cheerful but decent quality

The Yogamatters Sticky Yoga Mat is great value but good quality – which is why it’s often the one you’ll find at your local yoga studio. Available in a large range of colours (stock changes fairly frequently so worth an ask if the colour you had your eye on isn’t available) it’s thick enough and has a bit of grip to it too.

Weight: 1.2kg
Price at time of writing: £20

Yoga Mad Studio Pro Mat

Another budget option – and another studio fave

Offering an alternative to the above mat is Yoga Mad’s Studio Pro Mat – just marginally more expensive, and in a different range of colours. Again you’ll find plenty of studios kitted out with this mat so if you’re starting out it’s a safe (and sturdy) choice. Plus, as with the first option it’s machine washable – so easy to clean!

Weight: 1.5kg
Price at time of writing: £29.99

Yoga Mad Evolution MatOne more from Yoga Mad …more cushioned this time

If you’re after a mat that feels more cushioned but are still on a budget, this Yoga Mad Evolution Mat might be a better option. It’s still a 4mm mat but will feel springier due to the different material and, in many ways, is more akin to the Sweaty Betty Eco Yoga Mat listed later on. It comes with a carry string so is easy to transport around too (and if you need more ‘spring’ again there’s always a – more expensive – 6mm version too).

Weight: 1kg
Price at time of writing: £34.99

Sweaty Betty Super Grip Yoga Mat

A super grippy option – probably only if you have a problem with slipping

One of my students recently bought the Sweaty Betty Super Grip Mat and, as you might expect, it is seriously grippy! It’s not something I’d recommend to most students as the level of ‘stick’ will probably be too strong. But, if you find you have a tendency to slip out of your down dog no matter what you try, you might want to give this one a shot. And of course, it looks pretty smart too ;)

Weight: 2kg
Price at time of writing: £65

Yoga Mad Tree MatAnother grippy one – used by my beautiful friend elladoesyoga

The Yoga Mad Tree Mat is comfortable and spongy and, though not nearly as sticky as the previous option, it is very grippy (due to what they call ‘abrasion resistance’). It is a natural rubber mat, so there might be a slight odour to it on first use but I’d expect that to fade quite quickly. One thing you should note though is that the rubber used has the same origins as latex so it’s not for you if you’re allergic!  

Weight: 2kg
Price at time of writing: £57.49

Yogi Bare yoga matsOne I hear good things about – with travel options too 

I see students and teachers alike using Kat Pither’s Yogi Bare mats and while I’ve never used one myself I do hear good things. The original mat is grippy and padded at 4mm thick, and while perhaps on the heavy side at 2.5kg it’ll likely be very comfortable to practice on. There’s also a travel alternative, with a velvety covering. These are much thinner at 2mm, but lighter too – just 1.5kg.   

Weight (standard mat): 2.5kg
Price at time of writing (standard mat): £56.95

Sweaty Betty Eco Yoga MatMy old mat (that I loved!) – springy and cushioned, will last an age

Another Sweaty Betty listing for you. This one, their Eco Yoga Mat, is my old mat and one that I really, really loved. It lasts an age, is super comfy to practise on and has two sides to choose from in terms of grip. It’s pretty light which is a bonus for carrying to class and last time I looked there were two colour variations – what more could you want! Highly recommend this one…

Weight: 1kg
Price at time of writing: £40

Planet Sadhana PS Pro Lite MatAt use in a highly popular London studio – this one’s a trusty option if you have a regular practice

I discovered this Planet Sadhana PS Pro Lite while on a training workshop at Islington’s The Life Centre. Hard-wearing and firm but cushioned too it’s a great option for the list. As with the Mandukas that follow it will get better with use – so the more frequently you practise the better (and more quickly) this mat will work for you.

Weight: 2.2kg
Price at time of writing: £45

Manduka Pro Yoga MatWay too heavy to carry around but the Manduka Pro is my home mat…

If you’re after a mat to carry around I can assure you the Manduka Pro isn’t the one! It’s weighs a tonne (ok more accurately 3.4kg) and is in no way portable. But…it’s my long-tested, trusted and loved home mat so it had to make the list. Firm but comfortable, sticky but cushioned, and slightly larger than your normal mat it’s a lifetime mat and rolling it out each morning is a joy. If you’re after something that you’ll keep at home in a convenient spot I do like this a lot.

Weight: 3.4kg
Price at time of writing: £84

Manduka Pro Lite Yoga MatLast but not least, the lighter version of the Manduka Pro

There is a lighter version of the Manduka Pro – the Manduka Prolite. At 1.4kg it’s a fraction of the weight and most definitely is portable. It’s got all the same characteristics as the heavier version but is slightly smaller (you lose 5cm on the width – back to standard mat size) but if you’re a Manduka fan it’s a good option. I’m not as in love with this version as I am the Pro but I do have two of these at the moment that I use in 121s, and I’ve also seen at least one of my group class students with one too. Just like the Planet Sadhana mat and Manduka Pro it will need wearing in.

Weight: 1.8kg
Price at time of writing: £60

Carrying your mat

Of course now you have a mat, you need an easy way to carry it! The simplest option is a basic two-loop carry strap – like this Yoga Mat Strap from Yogamatters (which at just £4.50 is an absolute bargain) – though if you want to get a bit snazzier you’ve also got something like this Tantra Mat Holder by prAna (currently £18). If you’d rather a bag though there’s a whole range – from Yogamatters again, or any other yoga retailer.

There we are then – my current mat recommendations! If anything changes I’ll come back and update the post but otherwise, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions – or a mat you’d like me to take a look at ;)

Lis

Intentions? Or goals?

Quite regularly at the beginning of class I’ll ask my students to think about their intention for that day’s practice. I often give them examples too – such as moving through the practice with ease, being kind to themselves, or working with a sense of the ground beneath their feet.

I’m conscious though that the idea of an intention is very easily confused with that of a goal, even though the two are vastly different. Sometimes I’ll try and explain this as I open class but other times I decide that there’s quite enough of me blathering on as it is!

Long story short then I decided to write it all down – so I can give people some food for thought before they come to class (and even if they’re not coming to class at all!).

Differentiating intentions from goals

A really simple way of differentiating intentions from goals is to remember that whereas intentions are internally-focused (about how your inner self relates with itself and others) and very much about the present moment, goals are externally-focused and driven by our desires for the future.

Put a different way, if an intention is about how we wish to behave, a goal is about what we want to achieve.

Let’s take an example – the age-old ‘I want to/need to/am going to lose half a stone’. It’s all about the destination (the future), and about how we appear to the outside world. ‘I’m going to make mindful decisions about what I eat’ on the other hand is both about the now (the present) and our internal decision-making processes – our relationship with ourselves.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, a set of (considered) intentions can actually help manifest the goals that we have set in life so it’s true that one may lead to the other (or it may not!) but crucially you can sense that there’s an authenticity, or truth, to the latter that just isn’t present in the former. There’s a kindness too – a more gentle touch.

Intentions guide us in our decision-making – not just once but many times, over and over. So to come back to the example, mindful decision-making about food is around for the long-term, whereas the half a stone weight loss is here and gone – forgotten once it’s achieved, or if never achieved at all providing us with yet another stick with which to beat ourselves.

Why intentions?

We tend to think that happiness is caught up in what we have or how we look – it’s perhaps why we have such goals in the first place. But the reality is that focusing on the external to affect the internal is, frankly put, a road to nowhere. There’s no happiness in this, bar a fleeting rush of adrenaline as the goal is achieved. And what happens next? You just set yourself another, and kick the whole cycle off again.

The reality is that true happiness is borne of living authentic, in touch with ourselves, lives. And one of the ways that we can facilitate this is in setting and living by intentions – because, when they are true and authentic, these intentions have immense power to both change the way that we live and to change our experience of life.

But how?

Now all this is well and good, but how do we go about setting our intentions? Let’s take a look…

We set goals by using the mind to create an apparently desirable picture of the future. So it stands to reason that to generate authentic intentions we have to bypass the mind, and get a bit deeper. Meditation is one way, and asana (the physical practice of yoga) another. Simply allowing oneself to exist in silence for a little while too can work – the common theme being the removal of distraction and tuning in to that subtler, harder to hear, voice within.

When we’re working on setting intentions and something arises say it out loud if you can, or test it quietly in your head if you’d rather. Remember that your intentions are meant to be guides not dictates, so check in with how it makes you feel. Empowered? Or disempowered? If the latter, it’s probably time to start again.

My own intentions

To conclude this entry then, how about a look at my own intentions? I have a number – including a few that I’ve been working with for some time! Here’s a quick peek:

  • I intend to make mindful decisions about what I do with my time (I’m prone to people-pleasing and exhausting myself doing the things I think others want me to do)
  • I intend to be kind to myself, to be my own best friend (I can easily be my own worst critic – and there’s really nothing more miserable and demoralising than listening to yourself give yourself a hard time)
  • I intend to find ease, in even the most difficult of situations
  • I intend to live a life that is authentically mine

What about you?

What are your intentions?

(And if you’re not quite sure perhaps this was the prompt you needed to begin an intention of exploring what it is to live from the inside out, rather than the outside in…)

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

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!).

[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

[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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