Sitting on the beach - on what could be the last day of the British summer (4 whole days of it!), I needed to put my book down and close my eyes for a moment. The profundity of the content, the awe inspiring elegance of the neuroscience behind how our brains develop from infancy through childhood, was filling me with emotion.
I am reading Steven Biddulph's "Raising Girls" (amongst several other titles. I had to laugh when I hung out with my parents a few months ago and noticed that my Dad had about 7 tomes on the go!) Anyway, personally, I would highly recommend the book if you are a parent or guardian of a female child. (The author also has a similar title for parents of boys).
As those of you who know me or read this blog will be aware, I am a Godparent. The oldest 'Godchild' of mine is now a fully grown adult and is no doubt making his way in the world. After a certain point (past 21) it is appropriate to allow a young adult to choose the level of engagement they feel is right. So this young man is no longer 'under my wing' in any way, or even next to it. But somehow I know that the many years I spent helping to nurture and care for him; from babyhood, through his childhood, and early adolescence, will help him now-in his adult life. At least a few of the messages he learned about life will be the positive ones that I taught him.
My three Goddaughters - "my girls", however, are a different story. Though they are growing up fast and not always in my physical vicinity, they are still small enough that I could in theory (well, maybe just about!) still fit them altogether; in my lap and my embrace. In fact just the other day, the 9 year old said to me, "I might be a bit heavy," as she clambered into my lap, as we three - Mum, little one and me, cosied up in the parked car for a chat, before saying our goodbyes - as we had done a million times before. So familiar, yet such moments can be profound, as I clearly recall my Goddaughter; nine years ago in her pure white babygro, in the baby car seat behind me (passenger side), Mum driving. "You're never too heavy." I reassured her. (Don't even get me started on girls this age worrying about their size and weight! Our Western culture has a lot to answer for).
The mother of one of my girls sent me an email this morning, saying that my attentiveness towards her daughter had surpassed anything she could have imagined when she'd asked me if I would take on the role of Godmother. I almost cried on reading this...I have a spiritual connection to all my Goddaughters, perhaps most especially this one - now a young, (incredibly beautiful) teen. Each one of my Goddaughters is exquisitely beautiful, unusually bright and gifted in one or more areas. They never cease to amaze me.
For me, in so many ways, being a Godmother is a profound privilege; to be chosen as a guardian, by the woman who holds in trust the preciousness of a child’s life as highly (if not more so) as her own - well, it doesn't get much bigger than that. I remember once, one of my girls trying to work out the logistics of the arrangements, if the worst happened and her parents were not around: (it might sound slightly morose but I swear it was hilarious!)
"Would you come and get me or would I come to you?" She pondered.
"I would come and get you, straight away." I replied.
So, I enjoy reading books like “Raising Girls”, on several levels.
As a counsellor, naturally, I encounter clients who were not given the opportunity or loving support necessary to progress unimpeded through the maturation process - though the book is non academic in style, such expertly researched work only adds to my knowledge about psychology and the neuroscience of human development; allowing me to make even greater sense of the path that may have brought such clients to me.
In many ways, I can't get enough of learning about the science of the mind. Those pre-med studies are paying dividends now too. Perhaps a little like parenthood, for teachers and therapists, the learning never ends. Certainly it will continue for me for the foreseeable future-as I complete my Advanced Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy this summer, and then work towards accreditation over the next few years. Then, who knows...Masters, Doctorates, you can go on learning forever in this field. This perfectly suits my inquisitive intellect and indefatigable drive for excellence, as a student and as a professional. Learning helps keep one humble.
At a certain point in life-with the help of our early caregivers, on our own, or with the help of a therapist, we learn how to parent ourselves with love; slowly figuring out how to honour and celebrate our unique beauty and the gifts we have to enjoy and share with the world. By the time we are adults, most of us have at least a rough idea of how to live, work and take care of the basics. But learning how to lovingly take care of ourselves and helping the children, who are ours to care for, learn the same are two of the most important and far reaching tasks that we have to work out how to do, during our lifetimes.
That is what I am calling my latest smoothie creation (seen above)! With the warmer weather, it gets easier for me to add in more raw yumminess. And this is the perfect nourishment after teaching (yoga) for four hours straight. So, how to make?
Well when you start to really get into raw food, it can seem a bit of a faff, BUT with a little forward planning, it is possible to enjoy at least some simple and delicious recipes like this-with minimum faffing.
I used about 150 g of raw cashews - soaked for two days, because I didn't have time to make after a day had lapsed! (which would have been plenty of time for soaking cashews for "milk" - they soften up in no time).
Place the soaked nuts in blender and pour over mineral water to about half the capacity of the blender jug-(or less if you'd like a creamier consistency). Add Agave nectar
- (no it is not perfect but easier on my system than straight sugar). Use a good 'splodge'. ;) Add a few 'switches' of sea salt from the shaker. Add a couple of drops of vanilla essence. Then whizz the whole lot at the highest speed.
Have a glass jug and some muslin to hand. Now strain the cashew nut milk, through the muslin-into the glass jug. (Rinse the blender jug to get rid of any 'nut bits' - This is all very technical, as you can tell - NOT!)
Now place the strained milk back into the blender jug - add in a whole, ripe banana and as much mango as you have (most of mine had gone too mushy to use). Mango adds a great sweetness and fibre-blend well with ice cubes, if you have them, to minimise any stringiness from the mango. The ice-cubes just help the whole thing stay cool, otherwise the heat of the blades slightly warms up your smoothie. (Lukewarm is easier on your stomach, but will also reduce the activity of the health boosting enzymes too).
Drink immediately and enjoy!
If you are thinking of becoming a vegetarian or vegan this smoothie would give you a ton of nutrients and is also rich in healthy proteins and fats. It feels like the goodness just sinks into your bones...deeelish!
(For extra superfood wow factor add in some Maca
Those who know me as a yoga teacher, or “The Yoga Lady” as I have become known in this part of East Devon :) probably cannot imagine me doing anything else. In my capacity as a counsellor, body worker and healer-some clients will only have seen me in one particular light.
On the other hand, I was actually stopped in the street recently by someone I know only in passing, imploring me to start running more again – as he missed the sight! “You must be the fittest person in town!” He swooned. It was so sweet and it was an interesting message to receive from the Universe at that moment. Readers of this blog will be aware that I have had some knee niggles, so I have had to reduce my mileage significantly, or else there is a risk I would not be able to continue with my full teaching schedule. Serious runners need quite a bit of rest - so, as much as I love running and some might consider that I have a talent for it-it is not at the top of the list, in the hierarchy of my duties.
Those who know me as a singer
cannot fathom why I am not singing professionally or even much at all these days. My eldest Goddaughter once heard me sing and told me that I must audition for X-Factor! My middle Goddaughter once said listening to me sing was just like listening to music on the radio. Now nine, I would sing this little one to sleep when she was a newborn and many times during her babyhood - so it could just be the comfort of familiarity! The Parish Priest says I am “hiding my light under a bushel” (Biblical language inspired by: Luke 11:33).
It is difficult for some to understand that there are worldly paths and there are other paths. That is not to say that spiritual paths and worldly paths do not sometimes collide; they do-but if so, there is usually a good reason for this. Yoga practitioners rarely choose to stay in the limelight for long, unless fame is part of their destiny. If so, it would probably also have a higher purpose.
That being said, the energy seems to be shifting more towards me using my voice a little more, again. There was a time when that is all I ever wanted to do. Now I don’t mind either way if I sing on stage or not. I always sing in private. I have been privileged to sing for my Teacher and spiritual brothers and sisters, quite a few times - which means more to me than singing professionally ever could.
After I spent some time living in Los Angeles, (before
meeting my Guruji) working with Rihanna’s vocal coach – the amazing, Lis Lewis
, I was at one point, close to getting a record deal. Later, after meeting my True Spiritual Yoga Master Teacher, Guruji, I sought his blessing to follow the path of a recording artist. At that time, though I have been a healer since childhood (perhaps because
I have been) - it wasn't always clear that being a healer is my truest dharma. Ultimately, there is no real conflict - because voice, sound and vibration can also be powerful channels for healing.
So it is interesting that it may be at Kennaway House, where I teach yoga, that the invitation for me to perform could arise. (Watch this space). There are many events which take place at the house, including Jazz nights.
What is very clear to me when I consider my Teacher’s students is that in many cases, they are an incredibly multi-talented and creative bunch. One, whom I know well, is an amazing cartoonist. One or two that I know of, are famous for their creative talents. But that does not mean that these abilities will always
be given public exposure. The path of a Kriyaban is different. “Everything is reverse” – Guruji has said before. “There is always loss.”
And it is also true that when yoga practitioners get the balance right, life flows as it should and what is meant to happen, happens...About giving the Kriya Yoga method, Guruji once said:
“I am giving you everything.”
For a dedicated and devoted practitioner, the words of genuine Spiritual Masters resound with one harmonious truth, a bit like the voice of a singer who moves you.
So for a Yoga practitioner, it makes sense that it is written in scripture:
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”.
- Matthew 6:33
In simpler language, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois once said:
“Do your practice and all is coming.”
This has been a week of heavy lifting and joy!
After years of living with a mattress past its best, I finally received delivery of a new one this morning. Last night, the kindly driver did his utmost to reach me, to gain access for delivery to my home (which is actually quite difficult). However I was teaching when he first tried, so I happily ignored his insistent calls whilst teaching my beginner class yesterday evening. (With no clock in our yoga space - I use my iPhone to keep time during classes. Most people know not to ring me on Thursday evenings).
Once my last, sweet, yoga student had floated out after Yoga Nidra practice, I rang the driver back and learned that – having missed me, the poor guy was getting ready to camp out somewhere nearby, in his truck - as he had already clocked up the legal limit of his driving hours. He promised to return first thing-I would be the first delivery of perhaps a long day. “ I'll be there at 7.” He signed off cheerily. I did a familiar, quick calculation to work out hours sleep, taking away time to get home, Kriya, shower, maybe eat...(I rarely finish my classes on time – teaching yoga is not something to be rushed. Plus I absolutely love speaking with my students about yoga, after classes – again, this is not something I like to rush, if at all possible). Oops, I thought - plus I needed to get some groceries which would mean later practice, so later supper. Then in the morning, in theory, as usual I would practice Ashtanga, then Kriya – all in time for his 7am arrival.
My Guruji shown with photos (above) of the Masters in the Kriya Yoga lineage.
The Masters in my Guruji’s lineage, and Guruji himself, all worked (Guruji still works) and had families. Known as “Householder Yogis” – this is the ultimate challenge. There’s no running away to the mountains or ashrams, for us Kriyabans. (As much as we might like to sometimes). We must be IN the world – (but not of it, as Jesus once said). An advanced Yoga practitioner will ultimately “conquer sleep” altogether. But it takes a very long time to reach that level. In the beginning it would be utterly impossible and foolish to attempt. Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (Bare Baba – respectful name - shown centre, above Guruji) recommended at least 6-7 hours of sleep, for the regular practitioner. (And even that would be far too little for most beginners). However, ultimately, Kriya Yoga actually gives a practitioner a huge amount of energy. And just as well. For a Master, particularly in India -the demands on their time can be enormous – in India, students consult their Guru about almost everything. (In some cases, day and night. It can be relentless for the Teacher and is often inappropriate. But a Yoga Master is full of love and rarely turns anyone away.) At one time, my own Guruji would practice Kriya Yoga up to 18 hours a day, go to work and still take care of his family and Yoga students.
I mention this to put my own 'moans' (they're not really - I love my life) into perspective! After my evening Kriya practice and supper, the pace of moving from the high energy that comes from teaching, straight into practice (more high energy) means that I couldn't help but read some (psychotherapy) work related non-fiction - after a late, light supper. This helps me to wind down. But engrossed in my reading, before I knew it, it was 2am! I set my alarm for 5.45 and hoped for the best. (I woke up feeling very refreshed and happy, before my alarm).
Earlier in the week, I found a wooden storage cupboard in a friend’s shop, that perfectly suited my pressing need for additional, lockable, storage space. Thanks to the Grace of divine timing, a very new acquaintance crossed my path at precisely the right moment, as I stood in front of the thing I’d paid for-wondering how on earth I’d get it up the stairs. And generously, amazingly, he agreed to help on the spot – helping me lift the cumbersome, heavy cupboard, up the five (or six?) flights of stairs to my apartment. The mattress delivery guy was similarly gracious. (It was meant to be a doorstep delivery only). Naturally, I was humbled by the kindness of these virtual strangers and thanked my new friend with a gift and the driver with a tip. Gratitude is very important.
I have been helped very much this week - by the fact that there has been some beautiful energy around, due to the full moon (which for yoga practitioners is a blessing) and an “auspicious date” – the birthday of an ancient Yoga Master, named Maha Veer. For yoga practitioners on a particular path – connected with the Masters who walked it before them – there is an almost heavenly, energetic boost at these times (that is what it feels like anyway for dedicated practitioners – it’s like star dust sprinkled over life for a time, bringing incredible “coincidences” and effortlessness). Whether we know about an auspicious date or not – for those sensitive ones, there is a shift in energy, an increase in Grace and “synchronicity”.
Another example of such a “coincidence” happened for me this week. I had an important decision to make that was time sensitive and highly confidential – I really wanted my Guruji’s blessing about going ahead with my idea. I sensed that I already had it, but wanted reassurance. I have his home telephone number in Australia and I am “friends” with his exquisite wife – my “other Mum”, on FB (both of which are extraordinary privileges). But I basically never use the number and dislike intensely contacting “Guruma”, unless it is for a chat just between us, rather than as a way to reach my Teacher. Letter writing is the traditional and respectful way to reach one’s Yoga Master. Maybe I would phone - if there was ever a “life or death” situation. But I doubt it. The reason being is that all the answers I could ever seek are inside – available to me if I practice my Kriya Yoga, properly and with care. And with greater intensity - if some trouble persists. (“More pranayama is needed” is always the answer for a yoga practitioner!) I am no longer a complete embryo on my path – even though I sometimes profess to be and sometimes jest similarly with to my Teacher: “I’m only six years old!” (The length of time I have practiced Kriya Yoga). But it’s not quite so straightforward for yoga practitioners, because we don’t generally see life as only a one-time thing. So, many-I would say, most in fact, who are blessed to receive and practice, genuine Kriya Yoga (which is very rare), are not doing so for the first time. Not by a long way.
Anyway, I received the blessing I was looking for. In the form of a gorgeous little laughing “Hotei” Buddha figure - ‘mysteriously’ left in my letter box. I found it the very next day, after I had been praying inwardly for answers. (The giver had actually left it the very same day I had been praying, but I didn’t notice it there at first). Actually, it wasn’t such a mystery about the Buddha figure - I figured out where he had come from – but it was still a complete surprise. And even more so-that the person who gave it to me had chosen that moment to do so. She said later that she had given it, almost on a whim. She said that the Buddha had come into her hands and she immediately wanted to give it to me. She somehow knew that she needed to. So she left it in my letter box, not realising that she had carried out the work of one of “God’s messengers”. Indeed this week has shown me in such beautiful ways, that we can all be Angels for each other. Om shanti.
I heard something interesting from another yoga teacher recently, reminding me of an essential truth - she was talking about the importance of being aware of all eight limbs of yoga, for students who really wish to progress. I am not fond of the term “serious students” – the “serious students” should be and often are, the most playful!
In order to make any real progress in yoga practice, it is important to remember that ‘asana’ is only one of eight limbs. Her analogy seemed about right to me; that if you went to work every day and only did an eighth of your job description, at some point you would run into trouble. I agree with this.
It means that – (assuming one has decided that they really want to understand more about yoga) - if we ever find ourselves ‘stuck’ in practice, and progress seems non-existent or agonisingly slow, (especially if our practice is months, rather than several years old) - it might be an idea to look at the other limbs to see if there is something in our way of life that could be improved, tweaked, removed, or added.
There are some excellent books written about the eight limbs, or branches, of yoga – a ‘recommended read’ which is on my own Yoga Master’s website, is: "Patanjali Yoga Sutras", by Swami Prabhavananda. The Yoga Sutras are a guide for all “serious/playful” yoga students. Patanjali’s Sutras (especially when elucidated by Yoga Masters) are like a balm and detail all the obstacles that a yoga student will meet along the way as they practice. Especially as they start to do more practice and want to do more. This is important if we think of that saying, “know thy enemy”. As I said to some of my students in class last week, laziness – which is one of the most formidable obstacles for a yoga practitioner, can stop many dead in their tracks, rendering any progress, impossible. We have to learn which obstacles are the most pressing for us - for some it is laziness to practice, for others, inability to control eating or drinking habits. It's different for everyone. Then, as my own Guruji once said; “Decide, if you want your energy to go up, or down.”
One gentle word of caution about books and texts on yoga. There are some great books on yoga, that will actually only read like gobbledegook for those who do not have some proximity to their own yoga teacher of Master – whether spiritually, physically and/or through practice. However, sincerity creates Grace – for those who truly are interested, rather than cynical and arrogant, for those who genuinely want to learn more - have no fear, everything shall be revealed and the right books, teachers, etc will appear and you will recognise the precious gem you have in your hand when it arrives, and make good use of it. This is also a special kind of Grace that relates to whatever store of good karma we may have.
The fact that I have to consciously think
about a book to recommend on this subject, also echoes the point above; that for those rare, few students who will find themselves interested to learn more holistically about yoga, proximity to their teacher, (physically or not) yields an interesting Grace in their understanding that enhances and then surpasses knowledge that can be found in books. So, those who are extraordinarily blessed to have found a true Yoga Master, or Guru who has accepted them, in their lifetime, often have understanding and wisdom about yoga, that has seemed to come from nowhere.
By the way, there is also nothing "wrong" about going to yoga class once a week then forgetting all about practice the rest of the time. Although virtually no significant progress is likely to be made
, (and if you come to my yoga classes, and do nothing more for the rest of the week, you may get frustrated as the class could move on without you being able to remain a part of the natural progression). However, this is also a natural stage and presents the beginner with a choice: Leave it, or
try to overcome any challenges and delve deeper. I am always overjoyed when my yoga students come to me with questions about how and what they can be practicing-(or their difficulties in practice - we struggle when we are trying for something! So that is good!).
In this life, I have been aware of being on a yoga path, since I was a teenager. And even before I understood words such as “yama” or “niyama” (see below), I was naturally becoming interested in purifying the physical body through eating healthily, being kind to others and then later, giving up eating animals– Although as a teen, my reasons for doing so were superficial. Later, the motivation to be a vegetarian sprang more from a place of compassion and a love of beings, such as cows, pigs and fish. And now, that is certainly the case. I adore animals. What I try to remain aware of is not reacting to insects as per the conditioned response of old - that is, immediately swat the thing away. One way I get way around that is to personify all creatures "him" or "her" - immediately I call them "friends". This takes away from that primal fear say of noticing a spider above the bed or whatever.
One important point should be noted - that all the ideals given below, are only attainable absolutely
(that is, without going back to old patterns), through reaching the highest goal of yoga practice - Samadhi. For example, yoga practitioners sometimes say things like: "Oh I am celibate. I practice Brahmacharya" (see below for brief overview) or something similar. But in fact, the true practice of Brahmacharya or to say, I am Brahmacharya - means that one's focus is fixed at the highest chakra, (Sahasrara) or energy centre, in the body. (And the energy stays fixed in this high place with that constant internal focus - though such a high stage yogi, still goes about life, looking/acting normal). It means that the thoughts are not wandering into the activities of lower chakras or centres in the body. It basically means you are in a very Godly state! So simply abstaining from sexual activity, does not make one a Brahmacharya. So, I am still just a practitioner, trying to do her best. I love to be a student - one of the things I miss about not being physically closer to my amazing Yoga Master Teacher
is being around very advanced yoga practitioners and being the "beginner"! Even when my own Yoga Master refers to me as anything but a little child, a student, I feel slightly nervous because ego can feed on any such praise. So, I try not to kill flies but I still wear leather, for example. When gardening, I ask the Angels to warn the insects and get them out of harms way. It is interesting to observe improvements in my ability to show tender love to ALL living creatures, not just humans and animals. I gently escorted a large bug from my room whilst on holiday - locking myself out in the process! (In the past, I simply would have swatted the creature to death). And I did not receive one single mosquito bite while away. At first, I thought there must be none around, because in some resorts they spray strong chemicals at night. But some of my fellow travellers received many bites. I didn't go as far as to offer myself to the mozzies, but I did thank them, my Teachers and my Kriya Yoga practice, which significantly helps to reduce negative karmas (the consequences of past actions both good and not so good), with twice daily practice.
Anyway, it also bears saying that one does not
have to be a vegetarian to practice yoga, or achieve success in it. However, advanced yoga practitioners tend to become so sensitive, that the very idea of eating another sentient being is more than they can bear. (It might be considered as strange as the idea of eating one’s own hand!) At this point, it is not a matter of trying to seem special, different or to lose weight (as it was for me in my teens). To make a comparison, asking a yogi to eat meat, would be like asking a normal person to eat their own faeces or someone else’s – quite simply, disgusting and impossible.
I love raw food but can only maintain this way of eating long term - in warm climates. Here is a gazpacho about to be made from cherry toms, mango (bottom) red pepper, dried red chilies (not shown), onion, sea salt and black pepper. Try it, it's lush!
Of course, woman cannot live by soup alone! And I do not :) But 'eating raw', certainly feels very virtuous and nourishing
So, being vegetarian chimes with the idea of ahimsa or nonviolence (see below). But what are the complete eight limbs (eight
(ashta)-limb (anga) practice) or branches of yoga? Well, I will give my own ideas, for an extremely brief overview and encourage those who are interested, to search out other resources, ideally, written by Yoga Master’s, to learn more about them. (Or listen/talk to a Yoga Master or teacher to discuss and learn more).
First there are the five yamas
(Ethical and moral restraints)
Ahimsa – non violence and non harming to any living creature – in thought, word or deed.
Satya – Truthfulness in thoughts, words and actions.
Asteya – Non stealing, to be without possessiveness and envy.
Brahmacharya: having control of one’s sexuality and the practice of moderation in all things.
Aparigraha: Not being greedy, living simply and modestly.
The five niyamas
(These create inner integrity)
Saucha: purity and cleanliness of mind, body and dwelling places.
Santosha: The cultivation of contentment, in all
conditions (not just when life is going our way). Taking responsibility for our own happiness. An acceptance of the natural laws; life and death is also implied in this niyama. It reminds me of the Great Yoga Masters in my Guruji's lineage - who neither fell apart, nor denied the profundity of lost wives or children, or when facing other calamities. To me, that is santosha. (So manageable by those who are advanced practitioners - it is NOT about pretending to be fine all the time! That is called, Codependency
Tapas: I think of this as an inner fire which aids in living, and practicing yoga with discipline and determination, as opposed to aimlessness and lethargy (in life or practice). According to my own Yoga Master, Tapas is the discipline to sit and practice one’s meditation with regularity, such as Kriya Yoga. When I was training to become a professional dancer, one ferocious and formidable, American teacher, used to growl at us, that she wanted to see more “Pitbullism”! The style of dance she was teaching us, of which she was an expert, and in fact previously one of Martha Graham’s very own special students - (click for an example of) Graham technique
, most definitely demands high levels of “Pitbullism” or what I think of as a kind of Tapas.
Svadhyaya: Developing self knowledge and study in all forms.
Isvara-pranidhana: Dedication and devotion to finding that Light within. Honouring the divine within oneself and others through, spiritual/yoga practice.
Then we come to Asana
– which means “seat” or posture. This is the third limb
. These create a strong healthy body and mind, which is free from fickleness. Instead regular practitioners become full of vigour and physical strength. These positive qualities and attributes gained through practice, then show up positively, in every part of life. Pranayama
– the fourth limb
I have shared my thoughts on breath control at greater length on the pages about yoga – so feel welcome to read more by clicking here
. Yogis become the absolute masters of their breath, and in so doing become the masters of their own life and death.5. Pratyahara
– (Sensory withdrawal)
Being able to start truly experiencing the drawing in of the mind and becoming content to do so, discovering the phenomenal world within. Disneyland has nothing on “Yogiland”! (lol) But at this stage of yoga practice, when this level is first being tasted, it is not usually possible to stay long in "Yogiland". So those who attend my yoga classes and practice Yoga Nidra, rather than fall asleep (It is very difficult at first not to fall asleep!) psychic experiences in practice, relate to being able to somewhat maintain awareness at this level.
It is worth noting here, a very
important point - (again for those "serious/playful" students) Psychic manifestations, colours or other "amazing experiences" in practice, must be viewed with a sense of detachment. Another huge
obstacle for advanced yoga practitioners is becoming seduced by psychic phenomena and especially "siddhis" (not discussed here). (The experiences we can enjoy in Yoga Nidra are only very basic compared to those at higher levels!) So, it's best to start as you mean to go on - enjoy them, then forget about them. Generally it is best not to talk about them to anyone except to your yoga teacher, in private. If you wish to progress in your practice - don't get attached to always "having experiences" or expect them to happen every time! Or as some Yoga Masters intimate: "Don't be content with God's toys if you want the real thing." Consider yourself warned! 6. Dharana
This level is attained when one can place one’s mind on the focus of meditation absolutely without any
distraction of the mind. Not even a flicker. 3.5 minutes (minimum) of absolute, unbroken concentration means that this level has likely been attained. It is a very difficult level to attain and usually takes a few (million) lifetimes. The ones naturally very
close to their Guru or teacher are often the ones who can attain this level more easily. 7. Dhyana
Beyond concentration, a merging with the infinite nature of the universe might be one definition of true meditation. And if Dharana is very difficult to attain, then Dhyana is extraordinarily difficult. 8. Samadhi
– (Enlightenment and bliss)
This is the level where everything is “One” – there is no, “you” and “me” anymore, only oneness with everything. There are several different levels of Samadhi. In a way, when a practitioner starts to approach this level, it is like being a beginner all over again, as there are so many levels and steps to transcend. It is not one big event (for most, anyway). Finally there is ultimate and absolute freedom. Where it makes no sense even to say “I am alive” or “I am dead.” As there is no life or death...If one is everything
, how can there be any differentiation of one thing, or another? If you are scratching your head, no worries - another feature of Samadhi is that it's impossible to define in words. In fact, I would say that is in some ways true of all the higher branches (from 4 - 8) of yoga.
The last two points I might add, is that although the higher branches may appear at first glance to be esoteric and other-worldly, in other words – completely unattainable! That is not true. There are scientifically measurable changes that take place within a human being who has evolved through yoga practice. In fact, many of these changes defy all assumed scientific “truths” about humans. For example, a Yoga Master can stop his or her own pulse and yet remain alive, conscious and talking normally. Stopping the breath is also quite natural for an advanced practitioner and starts to happen spontaneously and blissfully at a certain point. Some of these matters are touched on rather beautifully, in the book “Footsteps to Freedom” by Heidi Wyder
. It is available on Amazon, or you can purchase it from me (cheaper than online), if you are a student of mine.
Finally, to be respectful towards yoga teachers and Yoga Masters (and indeed your own fellow practitioners too), one must NEVER ask things like "What level are you at?" or "Have you had X experience?". Guruji once compared this kind of thing, (Asking a Master: "Are you enlightened?") to making the request to another - to strip down to nakedness on the spot! So, don't make that massive faux pas! What I can say as a disciple of (one I consider) a truly Great Yoga Master, is that if you are respectful and come to understand your yoga teacher or Yoga Master, and through practice you understand what it means to be "close" to them - If you ever come to understand what I even mean, by saying, being "close" to one's teacher - then all sorts of amazing truths will be revealed. There will be no need to ask. By the way, even if a person has the good fortune of living in the same town or country as their Yoga Master - "closeness" has nothing at all to do with anything physical. The simplest way I could describe this in laymans terms, (well - the mothers will get this) - the "closeness" I refer to, regarding the Yoga teacher-student connection, is a bit like when you sometimes just know what is going on with your child - whether they are near or far. It is a something a little bit like that. But often much, much grander!
So, it seems clear that there is much
more to yoga, than just the postures. And for real progress to be made, it is necessary to have some awareness of all the eight limbs. But far more important than “book knowledge” is simply, to practice, practice, practice! Without practice, nothing
can be achieved. With practice, everything starts to become possible and there is no doubt - one day - you will be perfect.
I sometimes wonder who picks who, when it comes to the yoga student/teacher relationship. Master's often spot "their own" a mile off. But if we are all one - (which we are) - one Soul/Light/God/whatever name you want, in many bodies, then it doesn't seem so clear cut. My Teacher, (Sri Yogi Prakash Shankar Vyas) Guruji, recognised one of his most important disciples long before she had a clue about the significance his presence would turn out to be in her life. You can find out more about this story, the story about the amazing Yoga Master's in the lineage of which I am an infinitesimal speck - in the book "Footsteps to Freedom"
(The book is also available to buy directly from me). The author's name is Heidi Wyder. Read an extract by clicking the title above. Sometimes, I definitely feel a strong spiritual link between myself and certain yoga students. But what I find most lovely, is that there is this wonderful affection and respect between myself and ALL my regular yoga and Pilates students. One of my yoga students said the other day that the class really feels
the love that I have for them. That was so wonderful to know!
I often reflect that we are blessed to have such wonderful groups. (Like attracts like hey..). In particular in my yoga classes, I always hoped to create a sense of emotional safety in class where each could explore the practice of yoga with my guidance, without feeling any competitiveness or anything like that. In fact, competitiveness is unheard of, in any of my classes. Instead there is a sense of inclusiveness and warmth. This is one of the reasons why most of my classes, are not open classes. Over the weeks and months we get to know each other as a group. I believe that the consistency of knowing your fellow students is one factor that contributes to the practice being of higher quality. For new students, I always encourage them to delve into this website and learn more about me and my approach - before
signing up to a term of classes. If someone feels that I am the right teacher for them (rather than just wanting "any old yoga class") - it will be easy to enjoy that energy of warmth and inclusiveness straight away - and the lovely energy of acceptance and peacefulness will only increase.Pilates classes
are quite different to yoga - for one thing, without ujjayi breathing (a method of breathing in yoga) there are plenty of giggles! Pilates is a completely different discipline, with no significant spiritual underpinning; so it is natural that the class has quite a different feel to it. It's a sort of: "work hard, play hard" thing in our Pilates class! I was watching in amazement during our final class before the Easter holidays - at how strong my students were looking during the exercises. That is a great feeling as a teacher; to observe how much progress has taken place through the reciprocal relationship we have, through the weekly efforts of my students - their ability to apply themselves. There is a lot of love in that class too.
So I am a little protective of the wonderful balance we seem to have achieved in my classes - though this doesn't make good business sense! A money minded teacher is interested in getting as many people through the door as possible. I am only interested in reaching and teaching, "the ones who are meant for me". The ones who feel that I am right for them and who really want to be there.
So, Happy Easter to ALL my wonderful students! Past, present and future! We will be back in class in a few weeks time. Click here for dates. x
Saint Francis’ prayer
Lord make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy;
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to
understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are
pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The words in this famous prayer are words that in many ways, I strive to live by. However, this is obviously, not always easy. St. Francis was a highly evolved Spiritual Master. Born into a wealthy family, he renounced his wealth to become an ascetic, or monk.
The beautiful church where his remains are held; in Assisi, Italy - is a truly spectacular place for yoga practitioners....the energy is out of this world! It is very easy to slip into a tranquil, meditative state in that energy.
In the everyday world though, when we feel disappointed by the thoughtlessness of others, when promises are broken – that is the true test as to whether or not we can live up to such noble ideals as captured in his prayer.
A few of my students know a little about why my recent travel plans changed and I no longer required the original extended time away. (A good rule of thumb with yoga teachers is to accept what personal information is offered, treat this as privileged and leave the rest). I realised that in talking about the whys and wherefores, I would be moving away from the ideal captured in lines six and seven.
My own Yoga Master Teacher, "Guruji" has offered me many examples, (most of which are not widely known) of times where he has willingly taken the option of what I might consider, “looking foolish” – rather than explaining himself and being understood. He has nothing to prove, no ego, no need to save face. It is almost impossible for a normal person to understand this. But those on a dedicated yoga path start to have glimpses of those moments that life offers, where we can make someone else look ‘bad’ or choose to remain silent and risk looking foolish ourselves. This is always especially interesting for me to consider, having been raised in a Christian religion. Even my understanding of that word (Christian) is now much broader than it was when I was a child.
Jesus was beaten horrifically, mocked and utterly humiliated before and during his crucifixion. Here was a Great Master who had healed the sick and even brought the dead back to life, but he did not save himself from a barbaric end. He did not lash out at those who had betrayed him, rejected him and worse-(in some cases these were the people closest to him; his students).
It is, almost understandable that the ignorant masses would have mocked him-On the surface, it would have made no sense. But he was not interested in ‘saving face’, explaining himself, being consoled or being understood by the people. Though his actions were on behalf of many; a huge example for the entire world-few understood then and few understand now.
Another Yoga Master called Swami Vishnu Devananda put it this way:
“Bear insult, bear injury, that’s the highest yoga, the highest sadhana.” (sadhana means practice). Whatever the weather– whether being praised or insulted, to the tranquil mind, everything is the same – this is the ultimate goal of yoga practice. To achieve such a balanced mind, that nothing disturbs.
The Masters in my Guruji’s lineage often suffered great hardships and many severe losses, yet they simply continued on their path; continued working, calmly and clearly-even when close loved ones died. It is not that a Yogi doesn’t feel-on the contrary, yoga exponentially increases our sensitivity-in every sense. Even some of my relative beginner students can observe how quiet the mind can become, after Yoga Nidra practice. To the point that it becomes obvious that maintaining the everyday, frenetic (often somewhat mindless) chatter, becomes almost too much to bear. So we can only begin to imagine what Great Masters such as those mentioned had the capacity to feel and experience. So it is not about not feeling, but about being in a state of equanimity, where the usual fluctuations of the mind are no longer present. However, occasionally, even Great Masters will show emotion. Sometimes, this is to make themselves more accessible to their students, or because a spontaneous feeling is somehow still expressed, even alongside their high state of Grace.
I can understand the experience of knowing one thing and yet still feeling moved by apparent loss or empathising with another. Buddha told his students not to get too attached to his body; that is, to his human form. Yet this is very challenging. When we feel close to our teacher, it is quite human to feel an attachment to them. We wonder what we will do without them-even temporarily. I have not seen (the physical form of) my Teacher for four years (apart from one Skype meeting last year), so the challenge is to remember his teachings and to strive to live by them. This is made easier through consistent practice; even without the comfort of his physical presence. Luckily for me, I have a good memory most of the time-or at least, when it comes to what my teacher has taught me.
However, it is important to feel whatever feelings we may have – for example, of loss or sadness. But it is also crucial to remember that for a yoga practitioner, (if we are striving to be a yogi) in truth there is no separation. There is no death.
Soul, or God – whatever we call it, is all pervading, unborn, undying.
A true teacher will always encourage us to be independent. So, as difficult as it may seem, we should not cling too tightly to our yoga teachers, because their greatest wish for us is that we fly free.
As one progresses on a spiritual journey, the lessons often start to get more challenging. So one may be learning about an elementary principle- fundamental to becoming more spiritually mature, but at a deeper and more complex level (complex for example, because the lesson might, perhaps demand making choices and decisions which require a more sophisticated level of discernment).
My knee injury feels a little like a case in point. Of course-depending on one's point of view, such a matter might be considered, simply "bad luck", carelessness, "old age!", "bad karma". While I feel that certain previous lessons that have come to me, might have been a result of one or all those ideas combined (okay maybe not old age!), this one feels to me, like a perfect Soul opportunity to practice patience, compassion, humility and surrender. These qualities could almost be considered 'Graces' -so essential are they for making true progress on any yoga or spiritual path. They are required in abundance, especially for a very physically active yoga teacher/practitioner and runner. This physical body the Soul wears, is very important - especially for certain work and play. The work of practicing and teaching yoga and running could be the 'play', part.
Of course, life will use whatever circumstances are at hand to teach such lessons as needed- as any householder yoga practitioner with children, would attest!
The most challenging part of an injury of this nature is that the physical body needs to be free to take as long as it needs, to do it's repair work. My background and experience give me access to all the tools, resources and healing hands needed, to facilitate an excellent recovery. However, the fact of the matter is, that although body cells are constantly dying and being made-this is labour intensive and time consuming work. Patience is required. Yet, how grateful I am, that this body is doing such an excellent job of recovering without surgery. And all this, whilst the body is still teaching, demonstrating, practicing as is necessary. That being said - my teaching schedule is a cakewalk compared to what my own Yoga Master teacher used to face when he was probably about my age and younger- up to 8 hours teaching, everyday! Even most weekends; with incessant demands on his time and energy both day and night from those requesting his healing help in-between. I marvel at how he ever managed this, but my Teacher never ever complained. Always fulfilling his duties to his wife and family. And meditating for up to 18 hours a day. Now Guruji
teaches Hatha Yoga classes about four times a week just outside of Melbourne. Though his primary role is as Kriya Yoga Master, initiating those who are ready to receive the practice.
Visualisation can be an important part of healing and I've been dreaming of running another marathon, perhaps in 2014. But the truth is, there are no guarantees in this life that even the people, things and activities we love the most will not be taken from us. On a true yoga path-this is even more so the case. Ultimately, the yoga practitioners' life may become a perfectly streamlined dance of only the most essential elements; 'distractions' are often 'removed' or 'disappear' from the paths of those who are dedicated...this may be subtle or swift. Or sometimes even seemingly, quite harsh. But always for the highest, greatest good of those concerned. Even if, like the child who's had his 'family sized bag' of sweets confiscated-we can't always understand why. This is why I often say, the path of a Kriyaban is not for the faint of heart. Or as my Guruji says:
"You have to make yourself strong, like a warrior."
Another favourite phrase of mine is: "let us see.." and that definitely applies to my dear knee. Both my knees have carried this body through much! Long years of grueling dance training, followed by a (short but exquisitely sweet) dance career. Years of Ashtanga, running and swimming, teaching yoga and acquiescing to my innate devotional nature which necessitated first kneeling in prayer as a child, and now practicing a meditation technique which favours a cross legged, seated position.
There may still a long way to go before I will be giving up either the teaching or practice of yoga-so if you pray yourself, (and certainly if you are one of my students - you might want to! ha ha!) feel welcome to offer one up to heaven, for my knees! For your knees! For ALL the hardworking knees in the world! Om shanti...peace.
It’s not often that you hear someone marvel at how easy life has been for them. But a few months ago, a friend of mine – in fact a spiritual sister was sharing precisely this. She was facing a health challenge, her first ever from what I could make out. And she was a little bit nervous about what might happen during a scheduled operation.
I was truly overjoyed to hear that this beautiful, pure, spiritual sister of mine, with a gorgeous family - felt that she had been blessed with quite a smooth lifetime. She deserved it! And it was gratifying for me to hear about it, because my life up until about the age of about 30 (when I received Kriya Yoga
) was pretty much the opposite. And for those of us who don’t quite feel that we’ve had an ‘easy life’, I think we sometimes wonder, ‘where are
the people who actually don’t struggle?’ And I don’t mean people born into wealth and privilege, or who have won the lottery. I suppose I mean spiritual, loving, hardworking people with good hearts, who deserve (in terms of ‘reaping what one sows’) to have a happy, easy life. It’s good to know, that I know at least one of these people!
We both knew deep down that the operation would be fine, but just for extra comfort, I sent many Angels to support her at every step. I sent healing too, which she was very happy to receive. Of course, in the end everything went very well. She had a charming and brilliant surgeon.
But of course it doesn't always work out so simply does it? We probably all know of ‘good, spiritual people’ who have had nothing but strife and ‘bad luck’. And why is it, when we hear about a murder or some tragedy in the news, the people involved always seem to be remembered as being quite wonderful. Like, they are the last people on earth who could possibly ‘deserve’ such an awful end. I mean, of course in death they say we all become angels. Even if those folks we hear about on the news were meanies, I guess no one would ever say that – it would of course be deeply disrespectful and quite outrageous. I actually think in most cases that it’s true – those people who meet untimely ends– were
angelic and wonderful.
For yoga practitioners, this is where we might say that karma comes into it. (Note - I use the word here as it is commonly used, to refer to fruits of past actions - there is a greater and precise meaning to the word which you can find my Teacher
(Guruji) discuss, by referring to The Buddha in The Garden blog here
) If we understand that we have lived hundreds of thousands of lifetimes, (certainly if we find ourselves practicing yoga with any kind of sincerity – it means we’ve likely had at least
that many) but along the way we might not always have been so angelic. Maybe we were far from it
, for many lifetimes. We can never know this until we become highly advanced on the yoga path. And it’s utterly pointless to ruminate about it.
My sister bought me ‘The Lord of The Rings’
trilogy DVD set as part of my (December) birthday present. It’s weird because, someone else had promised it to me a while back – but been unable to keep their word in the end. And part of me had been looking forward to watching the films again.
Eventually, because the further we walk on a genuine Soul journey, the more we get to the Truth-that there is only One, Soul finds a way to give what is due. If not from “one” then from “another” – There is only One! (Don’t worry if this makes no sense to you now, one day it will).
My teacher refers to the idea in the book about himself and the masters of the Kriya Yoga lineage; that receiving Kriya is receiving everything
. The further I walk along the path, the more this makes sense to me. The book I refer to is entitled; ‘Footsteps to Freedom’ by Heidi Wyder.