17 December 2009


17th December 2009

Tomorrow morning I take off for 6 days of camping on Kangaroo Island, a small island to the south of Adelaide.
We get back late on Christmas Eve. Then after two days of family Christmas catch ups, I have set aside one whole week for a silent retreat: yoga, meditation, and complete solitude...

11 December 2009

Yoga Sutras

12th December 2009

Ex-hardcore Ashtangi now enjoying Supta Baddha Konasana laying over a bolster.
Sad but true.

The pattern for yoga practice lately has been one or two half Primary series practices each week (usually the full practice up to Janu Sirsasana then a short cut to the finishing sequence) which takes me about 90 minutes including Savasana. then I'm doing two ‘other’ practices of the same length but much more Iyengar/Yin/Hatha style: S L O W. And my yoga practices tend to be mostly after work now.
Mornings start with half an hour of stretches and core work simply to mobilize the lumbar/hip stiffness out of my body so I can feel more like 30 years old instead of a 70 (in reality I’m about half way between).

But the new focus of my yoga practice right now is daily sutra study.

I’ve read various translations and commentaries over the years. My bookshelf has copies of Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutras, the Gregor Miele’s Ashtanga book which devotes Part 1 to the Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary series and Part 2 to the sutras, and I have a user friendly translation and commentary by Swami Satchidananda which I love.
Not to mention the numerous internet sites I’ve accessed lately.

A few weeks ago I decided to make my study of the sutras more methodical and more pragmatic. Take my time…chew them over slowly…one by one…draw out their juice and mix it with mine.

As Shri K Pattabhi Jois so famously said, yoga should be 99% practice and 1% theory.

Reading is not enough. You can read Patajali's Yoga Sutras for years but we read the newspapers every day and ultimately its just a stream of facts...the yoga sutras are a map for a road journey. I’ve always loved the analogy of sitting in an armchair reading the road maps and knowing how to get all over the country but never actually getting on your bike and experiencing the changing landscape of the countryside and the journey itself.

You have to get on your bike and follow the Yoga Sutra travel guide, which means actually committing to a daily yoga practice and/or sitting for long hours in meditation to observe what happens when the thought processes subside. Practice has a cumulative effect on the body, the psyche and the spirit, only if we do it.

So the question was….what REAL exercises can I do in my daily life to sink the sutra knowledge into my psyche. I wanted a plan.
The sutras can be grouped a few at a time for studying. For instance sutras 1:1 – 1:4 sit together nicely as an overview of what yoga is, then sutras 1:5 – 1:11 look at the various kinds of thoughts we have. It seemed to me a good plan to take on a few sutras each week, read them daily, study them over morning coffee and my lunch break and invent some exercises to investigate their meaning and cement them into the psyche.
Just the creative act of inventing a practical exercise reinforces the commitment to bring the sutras to the forefront of my busy life. It helps to lessen the grip of unconsciousness that I fall into when trying to cope with the barrage of work and family commitments.

So with all this bubbling away, last weekend I did my favourite walk up at Horsenell Gully, winding my way up the foot track cut into the sides of the mountains - its about 40 minutes uphill to the spot where I turn to come down again. Pausing at the top I resolved that on the walk back down I’d count every breath until I reached the starting point in the gully where my car was parked. Exercise number one.
The purpose: to notice how often I lost the breath as thoughts distracted me from the count.

I actually didn’t think I’d be able to keep count all the way. I was sure I’d lose the thread of the count and my thoughts would spin me off into my usual day dreaming fantasy world.
But surprise, surprise, I didn’t miss a beat. The downhill track took me 35 minutes and exactly 480 breaths.
During the times when I was FULLY mindful of each breath count, it naturally lengthened into a lovely, rhythmic, Ujjiya breath.
At other times I noticed one layer of my mind counting the breath with each exhalation while another layer of my mind was following some stray thoughts – I was mentally multitasking. Only once, about half way down, did I momentarily lose the breath count – I noticed I was still counting but the count was not connected to the actual breath – very sneaky. I caught this quickly and welded the breath and the count back together again.

During one of those double layered parts where I was walking downhill and counting the exhalations while following a simultaneous internal dialogue, I noticed my self complaining that by focusing on the breath I was missing out of the experience of the walk, I was not being FULLY PRESENT to the birds, the smells, the darting wildlife, the changing cloud patterns etc. I was walking through this beautiful bushland, OBLIVIOUS to everything around me, because I was fully focused on my breath and my INTERNAL environment.
I chastised my self for doing this silly experiment and for wasting a precious nature walk, and then I chastised my self for trying to find an excuse to bail out on the whole exercise of breath counting.
These are the chitta vrittis at work and at play.

So plunging headlong into the sutras, and trying to design my own study plan with a practicum to go with it, I was overjoyed to find this website which is dense with very insightful, relevant commentary and practical suggestions for incorporating the sutras into daily life/yoga practice.

To be continued...

19 November 2009

Inspired by the storm

Thursday 19 November 2009

After practice tonight I had a quick dinner, then the dog and I sat on our big front verandah and watched the approaching thunderstorm.
In far off skies, the thunder and lightning gods were playing out a spectacular legendary battle. The battle moved closer and closer. Then the wind came, thrashing the storm seeds around – trees swayed wildly in an ecstatic gypsy dance, excited at the impending violence. Natural fireworks lit up the dark, blushing twilight skies, thunder crashed, everything came alive.
I watched in anticipation and awe, eyes darting to catch the split second lightning forks as they electrocuted the sky.

Electrical storms like this don’t occur very often here – maybe once or twice a year. Nature unleashes her pent up energy, thrilling us with a dramatic heavenly spectacle. But unlike tornadoes, cyclones and earthquakes, we can enjoy the thrill of her power without fear of death and destruction.

I’m glad to have no TV – comfortable couch potatoes would have missed the excitement of the real thing in favour of a dull weather report on the 9 o’clock news.

I rang my partner and got him out of the office and on to his roof. Over the phone we watched the skies together for 10 minutes then he returned to work.

I rang my daughter “Take Lily outside now!” She wouldn’t – not interested, too preoccupied with domestic dramas, dinner, dishes, cleaning up. The call of the wild storm fell onto deaf ears.

I rang my son “Go outside and look to the north sky” – the lightning strikes were flashing every minute now. “Which way is north?” he asked before he hung up. He would have ventured out reluctantly, watched for a few minutes, then gone back to the computer or the movie.

One day we will wake up OLD and regret all those times when we missed the thunder and lightning, the wind and the rain, the wildness, and all the delicious, magical, scary things that fill our landscape and surroundings. We must ignite all our senses to appreciate Nature’s extraordinary beauty, now.
Sometimes I like to close my eyes so I can enter my surroundings in a different way: listen to the sounds...smell...feel...drink in the vibrations through the pores of my skin.

Storms are a wild reminder that we too are wild creatures at heart, at home in the pulsing ocean waves or under the silvery light of the mystical moon.

Open your heart to the call of the storm. Elope and choose to live amongst the wild things.

“To change the landscape around you, change your eyes.”

13 November 2009

Sweet solitude

Saturday 14 November 2009

It has now been three weeks since I officially quit morning Ashtanga yoga practices with Renate.

This is not a minor decision - we’ve been supporting each other as morning yoga buddies for 7 years now. After 2 months away in France and India she came back to find her rock solid yoga buddy had grown away from morning yoga (though I think she knew it was coming).
We did our 6am Tuesday and Thursday practice for 2 weeks after she got back, until I finally acknowledged the truth to myself that a shared morning yoga practice feels like a shoe that doesn't fit any more.
Being true to that, I’ve also turned down Kosta’s invitations to practice with him on Saturday mornings again.

Which leaves me blissfully all alone to do my own practices, in my own space, in my own time.

There’s a beautiful elegance in this yoga solitude. I am free of all yoga commitments and constraints now, not practising with friends, not going to classes, not being tied to one particular sequence or style - I have discovered a new freedom in which to enjoy my practice in private. Finally all those years of teaching and practising yoga have come to fruition in this beautiful ending. Strange to feel like I’ve jumped off a cliff and am now soaring with the warm currents of life.

The pre-summer heatwave here has rekindled fond memories of mid-summer yoga workshops with Glenn Ceresoli (I must have done about 5 workshops with Glenn over the years), consecutive days of early morning and evening sessions in the big breezy Iyengar studio: slow yoga, long holds, supported opening poses, deep internal focus, lots of inversions, the deliciously warm open bodies, the whir of ceiling fans cooling our skin, the release of my body and mind into Glenn’s voice and hands.
Very different to Ashtanga.

Last week I printed out some of the notes I took from Glenn's workshops (the blog came in very handy) – my 2005 notes are here and the 2007 notes are here.

So I've been doing a similar yoga practice: short morning sessions with some sun salutes, standing poses, core work and inversions. After walking home from work, I’ve been going straight to my mat for some supported, long, slow, deep, cooling yoga, supta this, supta that, lots of inversions, handstand, Pincha Mayurasana, backbends over chairs, Supta Padangusthasana and Bharadvajasana to the wall, long shoulderstands with every variation I know.

My back has loved the Ardha Halasana variation (left) where you press the feet into the wall, lift up through the spine and hold the pose with legs parallel to the floor. It's a good variation for people with short hamstrings as the feet don't go all the way to the floor, but I do it to work the deep abdominals that support my spine. Instead of letting the lower back round you have to lift up out of the lumbar to straighten the lower back while pressing the feet firmly into the wall, legs rotating inwards, press the hands into the back - which is NOT being done properly by the girls in the picture by the way - so the upper spine and breastbone come towards the chin (Jalandhara Bandha) and hold the pose for 3-5 minutes.

Half of my bedroom looks like a messy Iyengar studio: 3 mats, 5 blankets, 2 purple blocks, straps, a folded blanket on top of a chair. In the corner another yoga blanket is folded beneath my meditation cushions and covered with more blankets that are not needed in this heat.

For now I’m blissfully happy playing alone here in my yoga sandpit.

30 October 2009

Morning practice notes

Thursday 22nd October 2009

Yoga practice wasn’t a dance this morning – it was a slow moving steam train.

Renate and I were both lethargic for different reasons. Renate had a very physically demanding day yesterday, and my day had been overloaded with work challenges.
Recently I’ve been waking up intermittently at night having just dreamt about work – it’s invaded all my mental space again.
An overactive mind uses a lot of energy and the mental energy drain is very obvious during a yoga practice. The mind has to be retrained over and over to be present and not obsess about the past or the future. That is yoga practice.

So I worked hard at this kind of yoga practice this morning, watching the obsessive thoughts invading my mental space, observing the physical drain, and trying over and over to bring my mind back to what I was doing in the moment – asana.

My first battle to fight was to get to practice: resistance is strong. I’m as bright as a bubble at 5.15am but my motivation to do a 2 hour yoga practice has been eroded by nagging doubts that manifest as the big question “What’s it all for?”
I ask this about everything now, and that’s not bad.
For now I ignore the narrative and just get up, get ready and go.
I don’t question the benefit of yoga practice as much as the 6am start. It feels like a commitment I could do without, especially as the urge to simplify my life is forcing the issue.

Practice starts slowly. Knowing I have the option to stop and sit in meditation at any point is a healthy bribe.
After one hour, Renate opts for meditation. I fill out the entire two hours with a pot-pourri of poses that my body asks for: after the obligatory sequence of standing poses, I go to the wall for one long handstand, lead weight heavy, all the accumulated rajastic body energy draining downwards into my wrists and hands. My 48kg body suddenly weighs a ton.
Two seated forward bends, two supported backbends over a block and then I lifted my spine up and off the block into Urdhva Dhanurasana, twice. Upavista Konasana then a twisted forward bend over each extended leg. I came to centre then hung out for a while over the wide open space between my legs, trying to relax and allow my hips to open passively rather than actively engaging the leg muscles to lift me up, out and down to the floor. Passive got boring. I nearly fell asleep. Is this Yin Yoga? I tried the same passive approach in Baddha Konasana, an emotionally challenging pose now, only because a year ago I could extend forward and down and eventually rest my nose on the floor. Now, post injury, I can barely move past upright. So I sit slightly forward of upright, breath light and love into my lower back and hips, waiting, secretly hoping for a miracle opening. It doesn’t happen
Tired of being stuck upright I move on to a few core exercises, including laying on my back, legs raised to 90 degrees and curling my head and shoulders off the floor, working incrementally through the spine, moving up and back with the breath.
Shoulderstand, Halasana and Pindasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana before Matsyasana, then a long Headstand and the finishing Padmasana poses.
There…two hours…done.

Renate and I part. I change into my work clothes and wander out of the Gallery and down to the café for half an hour of journaling and an espresso shot.
Walking back to work I realise that the stress induced obsessive work thoughts must have subsided some time during practice. My mind is now calm, clear and receptive. Only a few stray yoga thoughts waft through my mental field like warm gentle, summer breezes.

22 October 2009


"Somewhere in every one of us, no matter how deep it may be hidden, is a latent germ of beauty...we dance because this germ of beauty demands such expresion, and the more we give it outlet, the more we encourage our own instinct for graceful forms. It is by the steady elimination of everything which is ugly - thoughts and words no less than tangible oblects - and by the substitution of things of true and lasting beauty that the whole progress of humanity proceeds."
Anna Pavlova

20 October 2009

Ballet Exercises

Wednesday 21st October 2009

"I dance til I am empty. I dance til I am full. My dance is my prayer"
To dance is to feel the breath of life flowing through the soul and creating harmony with the music. Once the torment and ecstasy come together: dance - magic - is created onstage or in the studio.
Oh the glory of ballet! What is it about ballet that sets it apart from all other forms of movement? Is it the music, the costumes, the line and fluidity of the dancers, or is it the purity and elegance of the art itself?
It is all of these and something more. Without the glitter, sans costumes, even on a barren stage, even in rehearsal clothes, ballet remains the most enchanting form of dance ever created.
I watched Mao’s Last Dancer on the weekend, the inspiring true story about ballet dancer Li Cunxin.
Having done ballet many years ago, dance is a part of my body, which is one of the reasons why I settled on the flowing Ashtanga yoga practice instead of the slower, more interrupted styles.
Since I stopped going to yoga classes, my yoga practice has become much more expressive – naturally. Ashtanga vinyasa yoga encourages a dancelike grace. Prana juices flow through my body, my limbs extend, my fingers tingle, grace, beauty and love overflow through my movements.
Our bodies and limbs are extensions of our selves, and our selves are creative instruments, expressions of the Divine source. When movement is performed with devotion, it enters the realm of poetry.
PeaceLoveYoga recenty posted a link to a lovely contemporary dance interpretation of Surya Namaskar which you can view here.

I was 16 years old when I discovered classical ballet, too late to take it up seriously, but I was smitten. I joined a class of beginners – 8 year olds – and felt completely out of place amongst those tiny bodies, bit it didn’t matter. I did one class a week for about 3 years until my life changed. Not until my early 30’s did I take it up again and I immediately fell in love with ballet all over again. I went to an adult classical beginners class religiously for years until yoga overtook my life and sadly I couldn’t afford to do them both.

If it wasn’t for my fragile hips and lower back I’d be tempted to go back to ballet class again, but it’s much too dangerous for me to follow instructions and risk doing more damage.
But I’m thinking a little routine of barre exercises, plies, pas de chats and arabesques in the safety of my bedroom will help quench my body’s thirst for some creative movement.

I borrowed an exercises DVD put out by the The New York City Ballet from our local library last week which I’m dying to watch and try out. It’s times like this I wish I had a TV and DVD player (momentarily anyway). I’ll have to invade someone’s house to be able to watch it before it has to be returned to the library.
The promotional line on the back cover of the DVD made me laugh out loud – it went something like:
“Kylie does it, and so does Madonna. So practice that plie.
After all, the lotus position is SO last year...”

13 October 2009

Morning yoga trip

Tuesday 12th October 2009

My yoga friend Renate just returned home after a 2 month trip to France and India with her husband. We resumed our longstanding (has it really been 5 years?) Tuesday and Thursday 6am practice schedule this morning, then caught up on the last 2 months over coffee afterwards.
Getting up at 5.20am was disarmingly easy. I slipped into yoga clothes, drove to the Gallery, lit incense and set up mats and blankets, quite enjoying retracing my steps over this well worn routine.

But practice wasn’t so easy; after 2 months of evening yoga, I’d forgotten about the stiff early morning body resistance that requires so much more patience and humility.
My mind was willing, even eager, my vitality was strong, but my lumbar, sacrum and hip joints had solidified in cement overnight and weren’t budging. Forward bends were stopped short by a piercing knife lodged in my sacrum.
I got to Marichyasana B without compromising, but the accumulated forward bends took their toll on my persistence.

I took the short cut route to the backbends, visiting a few more poses on my way there: Garbha Pindasana, Baddha Konasana, Upavista Konasana and Supta Padangusthasana.
Arriving in backbend territoryI went through the preps: Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, Setu Bandhasana, then hit the pinnacle Urdhva Dhanurasana. It stretched open every tissue down the front of my morning body, painfully slowly. If I’d been smart I would have done a good shoulder opener first, because it took a couple of breaths before they opened enough to straighten my arms through the elbows. I held a reasonable backbend courageously for 10 breaths , then sunk back to the floor, satisfied.

Meandering through the finishing pose sequence was sweet, like a walk in a perfumed garden. Instead of counting the breaths in Headstand, I counted the length of each breath – 5 counts inhale, 5 counts exhale, then watched as the count gradually and naturally lengthened without any interference on my part. Quiet pauses began to appear at the beginning and end of each breath, then THEY gradually lengthened.
Pranayama in Sirsasana.

All up a surprisingly pleasant return to early morning practice.
No need to travel to India when I can travel through yoga.

5 October 2009

Walking, no talking

Monday 5th October

Just for the record:
Yesterday I did
- 100 breaths in Shoulderstand (8 minutes) and
- 100 breaths in Headstand (10 minutes)
at the end of my practice.

My brother and I went for our first walk together up in the mountains yesterday. I hadn’t seen him since Christmas. He’s a walker too. Tagging along were his two girls and his giant puppy of a dog. The girls are in their early twenties and couldn’t keep up with us!

This morning, I headed for the mountains again, this time alone. Being a public holiday today, the city was bathed in a leisurely atmosphere. Nobody shopping. Lots of bike riders and hardly any cars on the roads. Still it was good to get out of the city.
I turned off my phone for the whole day so I could spend it in silence with no interruptions.
Tonight, another walk, this one with my dog along the river (Torrens Linear Park) a much easier but longer walk.

Lots of walking going on…not much talking.

Tomorrow is the first official day of my one week of holidays so I’ll walk up the mountain again in the morning. The rest of the week I’ll be babysitting little Lily and I'm not sure what that will be like. could be great fun or really hard work (she's five years old).

No access to a computer for the next week.
Happily offline now...

2 October 2009

Nature and Mist

Saturday 3rd October 2009

Saturday morning arrives like a fresh breeze. I take off early for a walk in the hills before work. I’m halfway up the first mountain path when the mist creeps in.
Mist is mystical.
A long forgotten book I read many years ago emerged from my inner archives: ‘The Mists of Avalon’ by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Its a mythical tale about the Knights of the Round Table, Glastonbury, Sir Lancelot, Queen Guinevere etc… but a tale told through the eyes of a woman. When the veil of mist came, Priestess Morgaine would pierce it and pass through to the mystical Avalon.
'There was a time when a traveller, if he had the will and knew only a few of the secrets, could send his barge out into the Summer Sea and arrive not at Glastonbury of the monks, but at the Holy Isle of Avalon; for at that time the gates between worlds drifted within the mists, and were open, one to another, as the traveller thought and willed."

I’m halfway up the first mountain looking down over the valley shrouded in mist. It’s beautiful, another world lies beyond, a world I can’t quite see, a veil I can’t quite pierce.

Surrounded and immersed in Nature I feel whole again. The mountains and valleys, the bush, the forest, the wilderness, the ocean, the wind, the wildlife roaming free, all inspire me with new life and creativity and a glowing serenity.

I shall hereby confess: at night I sleep with my dog, an animal companion next to my body. She curls up into my belly instinctively as if we were the only two creatures left on earth, sheltering and protecting each other from danger. Civilized people would frown on me, a dog in the bed is considered unclean, but I love nothing more than debunking civilized thinking and flying in the face of convention if it is based on unnatural perception.
(A quick google search brought up only how bad this habit is - something to do with establishing hierarchy)
Deep down we are all as wild and as beautiful as our fellow pack animals who co-habit this planet.

Last night, snuggled up with the dog, I began reading about the life and philosophy of Henry Thoreau, a name I recognised from some famous quotes I’d kept, but a name that had no meaning or person or context attached to it – that is until I read Waldon recently.
Thoreau is fast becoming my soul mate, speaking to me through the misty veils of time.
He was a quiet anarchist, a writer, a Nature lover, a transcendentalist, a man who meditated and practiced what he preached.

The book is a collection of critical essays about Thoreau the man and his writings. It contains some real literary gems and insights. Here are a couple that I have bookmarked so far:

“(he) looked with the aloofness of an immortal upon the world out of which he had grown like a resinous and vibrant little hemlock, solitary and disdainful among the ephemeridae of an April meadow. For Thoreau, whose imagination never compassed the gelatinous mass of human kind, society meant nothing but the infringement of the individual.”
(my hero)

“…the book (Walden) is essentially dynamic rather than static, a movement FROM something TO something, rather than simply reporting of an experience.”
(I’d like to think of my blog in this new light)

Thoreau’s style of writing is painted viscerally in this description (by Stanley Edgar Hyman in the essay entitled “Henry Thoreau in Our Time”):
“…demanding sentences that are concentrated and nutty, that suggest far more than they say, that are kinked and knotted into something hard and significant, to be swallowed like a diamond with out digesting. Sentences which are expensive, towards which so many volumes, so much life, went; which lie like boulders on the page, up and down or across; which contain the seed of other sentences, not mere repetition, but creation; which man might sell his grounds and castles to build.”
Only a writer could describe writing like that!

I shall read further tonight (after my yoga practice). The next essay awaits to transport me telepathically to my twin soul. And I'll be scouring the libraries next week for more of Thoreau's actual writings.

Meanwhile some of his 'concentrated and nutty' quotes are published here.

Standing Poses

Friday 2nd October 2009

Another one hour practice tonight. It started energetically, pure Ashtanga, flowing and moving in perfect unison with the breath, following the Primary sequence without compromise, 5 breaths in each pose, vinyasas inbetween.
Up to Janu Sirsasana B.
Then without warning I stopped.
Instantaneous and unexpected.
Just like that, I ran out of fuel!
Oh well. I was enjoying myself so I continued on…did some nice quiet twists: Ardha Matsyendrasana, some seated Padmasana twisting, a long cross legged seated forward bend, and Upavista Konasana twisting and folding forward over each leg (wow, full fold and chin to knee on the left side but not even a third of the way forward on the right side – right THERE is where I come face to face with the lumbar/hip injury).
Grabbed my orange bolster for a few minutes in Supta Baddha Konasana then set it up for Viparitta Karani up the wall.
One hour all up.

I’m quite enjoying the shorter evening practices. Since I stopped beating myself up about not doing a regular 2 hour morning practice, I’m getting to the mat more often, almost daily, and the regular yoga is starting to reinvigorate my body and soul.
Inspiration and new energy are flowing into my life.

Walking home from work today I noticed how strong my legs felt, due, no doubt to a few days of standing poses. I’m a beginner again, feeling the effects of yoga - well maybe not a beginner, perhaps a born again yogi.
And I’m in love with yoga all over again.

That feeling of strength and power in the legs surreptitiously works its way into the psyche. That’s what I love about yoga…it transcends the physical and permeates all our other koshas, transforming us holistically in the alchemical process.

A strong physical base gives me a feeling of being grounded in reality, invokes a sense of integrity, solidity. I am more practical and ‘down-to-earth in my outlook, more resolute in following my ideals and more intent on making them real. The standing poses are empowering in an earthy way. They ground and earth our energy, connect us to our roots, firm our physical and psychological foundations.
I see the earth as an enormous ball that we walk over. It’s dense, solid, compact and we can take advantage of those qualities and hook into them when we do the standing poses.
But the earth isn’t just a solid ball, it contains liquid, heat and gases, just like us.
We are of the earth.
(which reminds me of a lovely saying: “Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.”)

When learning yoga in my early years I was taught to consciously press my feet firmly into the ground in all the standing poses. Later on (possibly in workshops with Glenn Ceresoli) I learned how to draw the muscular energy upwards through the legs, so I had a sense of both pressing down and drawing up at the same time.
Sometimes I play with pressing down through a different part of the foot - the ball of the foot, the outer heel, the outer blade, the centre of the heel – and its interesting to observe the subtle changes in my body and mind as I do this.
My first (Iyengar) yoga teacher emphasised the ball of the big toe. My last (Ashtanga) teacher was obsessed with the outer heel. There’s no right way to do these poses as long as we remain fully present and sensitive to what’s happening on all levels as we play within them, that is the essence of yoga practice.

My favourite standing pose is Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana – it has been for a long time – but it just keeps getting lovelier. I look forward to it. I do it with love: the precarious forward bend over the front leg that demands a strong abdominal lift, the precarious transition from A to B taking the lifted leg from the front to the side and maintaining the height of the leg all the way, the precarious turn of the head in the opposite direction to the side lifted leg that destabilises your balance unless you’ve got the entire inner core grounded.

I relish the challenge of this pose, of simultaneously grounding, balancing and lifting, pressing down through the floor while moving energy (prana) up and around the body: up through the standing leg, the hips, the pelvis and the central channel, outwards through the arm and lifted leg, yet drawing in from the periphery to the core. There’s so much going on in in this pose - and every other pose.

I should stop writing now, and go home, and practice ...

1 October 2009

Backbend Hunger

Tuesday 29th September 2009

We all recognise the BIG messages sent from our body to our brain - like hunger and thirst, cold etc…they’re strong physiological messages urging us to take action to restore balance and homeostasis.
They become urgent if our survival is at stake.
We can also recognise LITTLE body messages...like an itch. The speed that these messages are transmitted to the brain and acted on is amazing…and we’re usually unconscious of our auto responses for corrective action...like a scratch!

I’ve had a few days where my body has been crying out for some backbending...an itch that had to be scratched. Sensing this need has had me wondering just how the body communicates such things to the brain. I figure it’s a rational physiological process that involves the relaying of information from the body to the brain through the nerve channels. We all tune into this message system with varying degrees of sensitivity and I’m certain that both yoga and meditation practice enhance this ability.

So after REALLY itching for a backbend practice, tonight I got the time to scratch the itch.

I stepped onto my mat at 6pm: surya namaskars, standing poses that dug deep into my joints and crevices, then straight into a sequence of backbends:Supta Virasana, Ustrasana, Salabhasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana, a reclining backbend with a block under my thoracic spine (simulating a straight legged, passive Matsyasana), three deeply disturbing (but fantastic) Urdhva Dhanurasanas, then Viparitta Dandasana.
It was wonderfully satisfying.
A big smile spread from shoulder blade to shoulder blade.

After deep backbends the supporting muscles around my fragile lumbar go limp and play dead leaving my spine very vulnerable to injury, so easing my body very carefully out of the backbends is critical… laying on my back and drawing each knee alternately to my chest while curling up and reaching chin to knee is the best release, followed by the very unAshtanga reclining twist with double bent knees, then Janu Sirsasana to finish.
No inversions (menstruating), no Padmasana finishing poses (no excuse). Just a short Savasana to take practice time to just over one hour.

But the unmistakable urge for backbends that followed me around for a few days has got me curious. I want to investigate this phenomenon further.
Back to my questions…
What is the process through which my body tells me it needs backbends?
What is that little itchy feeling that something’s amiss or out of balance in the body and is in need of attention?
And here’s an interesting one…is it my body or my mind that is out of balance – with hunger or thirst it’s definitely the body, but backbends???? Has my loving heart closed off??
How do those subtle messages from the body reach my conscious mind?
Have scientists worked this one out yet?

Tonight I’m going to consult my body bible: Tortora’s Anatomy and Physiology, to see if it can give me at least some of the answers, but there’s a lot that goes on in the body/mind system that western science doesn’t acknowledge, even though other great civilizations have (Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for example)
But I won’t get started on how limited our western science of medicine is or I’ll never stop.

29 September 2009

A day in the life

Tuesday 22nd September 2009

To appease both my conscience and my self-critic I stepped onto the yoga mat as soon as I got home from work today, a routine that is starting to work for me.

I emerged from deep yoga space two and a half hours later.

Practice was the Ashtanga sequence, but not the Ashtanga practice.
To explain: I did all the primary series poses in order (missing only Marichy D and Bhuja through to the Garbha Pindasana rolls), but I spent 8 good, slow breaths in all the other poses so it was a more internalised, thoughtful, connected practice, not an aerodynamic flight upon the breath.

One of the distinguishing features of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is the vinyasas between the poses. There's an intelligent reasoning behind this because each vinyasa neutralises the effect of the previous pose.
Take the forward bends and twists for example: after doing one of these poses (or any asymmetrical pose) on one side, rising into the Upward Dog back bend opens the front and both sides of the body evenly bringing the energy on the left and right sides of the body back into balance, then the perfectly neutral Downward Dog counters the Upward Dog back bend: the whole combination setting up a clean slate on which to enter the next pose.

But today, still low on energy from the flu and with a tender back, I had to forego all the vinyasas. Instead of connecting all the seated poses with a vinyasa jump back/jump through, I did a mini seated backbend, a kind of turbo charged Dandasana with fingertips propped on the floor behind me to press a rippling arch up into my thoracic spine. As I stretched up and looked up, the lumbar tension that grips and protects my lower back in the seated forward bends gave way with a sigh of relief.

I spent 5 minutes in Shoulderstand (60 breaths) and 5 minutes in Headstand (40 breaths).
Doing some elementary maths, that means I breathe much slower in Headstand - its an easier balance to hold, almost effortless once I’ve fine tuned the balance. Shoulderstand takes more effort, energy and focus to hold vertical without slacking off.

A typical day in my Monday to Friday routine:

6.30am: My morning starts (I do miss those 5.30am Ashtanga practices, but a full morning yoga practice doesn’t work for me right now)
Walk Buffy
Do a few stretches on the mat followed by a 5 minute Headstand - the few stretches can often grow into a 30-45 minute yoga practice
Walk to work, stopping off at the café for an espresso on the way (this is breakfast, by the way) and to drop off a batch of muffins.

9am – 5pm work
(Lunch is usually a big apple, with a handful of walnuts and fresh dates)

Do the half hour walk home from work.
6pm: Yoga practice (could be anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours)
7.30 - 8pm Dinner: Carrot juice with a shot of fresh beetroot and fresh orange in it
Big bowl of fresh salad stuff with sunflower sprouts and balsamic dressing – often with some fetta cheese and olives thrown in, and sometimes with a side serve of my favourite lentil salad or some German rye bread
Walk Buffy again
8.30 – 9ish: Bake muffins for the local café and the art school students.
10pm: Sit for half an hour – sit is a better description than meditate for what occurs on the cushion at this time of night
Climb into bed some time between 10-11pm with an interesting book to read until my eyes fuzz over, sometimes with a cup of weak tea and a sweet friande.

This is a typical kind of day in my working week, and it's like this maybe three out of the five days.
It's nice. It's quiet. It's solitary. I've dreamed of this kind of life for half of my adult, child rearing years.
Some evenings are different of course: I might get caught up at work meetings that go into the evening, or I have to work night shift until 7.30pm, or I might visit my son, cook his dinner and do his shopping, or visit my daughter on a Friday night etc...etc... but mostly I keep it simple and orderly.
Weekends are unpredicatable, each a new page in the daily journal of a nobody...

18 September 2009

Return to Nature

“When life is simple, pretences fall away; our essential nature shines through.
By not wanting, there is calm, and the world will straighten itself.
When there is silence, one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself.”

Living The Wisdom Of The Tao
The Complete Tao Te Ching and Affirmations
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

I am retreating more and more from the society I am supposed to be part of.
In one way it is a conscious choice based on my observation of the accelerated momentum towards things artificial and unnatural, but in another way I almost have NO choice: everything about western society makes me sick.

For most of my life, I’ve lived on the fringe of this society, one foot in and one foot out, but now I can barely participate in it or even pretend anymore.
Unfortunately working full time has been, and still is, necessary to pay bills, survive and support my son, so I can’t escape completely, not right now anyway.
The best I can do is pretend I’m one of THEM during work hours and outside of those hours, return to the simplicity of a natural life: no computers, no Internet, no TV, pure and natural food, fresh air and Nature, open spaces, slow motion, a spiritual focus, simplicity and solitude.

Eustace Conway hits the nail right on the head when he compares the circular motions that flow through a natural life and the square, box-like structures that surround and confine us in this artificial society:

“I live in nature, where everything is connected, circular. The seasons are circular. The planet is circular, and so is its passage around the sun. The course of water over the earth is circular, coming down from the sky and circulating through the world to spread life and then evaporating up again. I live in a circular tepee and I build my fire in a circle, and when my loved ones visit me, we sit in a circle and talk. The life cycles of plants and animals are circular. I live outside where I can see this. The ancient people understood that our world is a circle, but we modern people have lost sight of that. I don’t live inside buildings, because buildings are dead places where nothing grows, where water doesn’t flow, and where life stops. I don’t want to live in a dead place. People say that I don’t live in the real world, but its modern Americans who live in a fake world, because they’ve stepped outside the natural circle of life.

Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes.

They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house box and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they live their lives in a box! Does that sound like anybody you know?

You don’t have to live like this because people tell you it’s the only way. You’re not handcuffed to your culture! This is NOT the way humanity lived for thousands and thousands of years, and it’s NOT the only way you can live today!”

(Excerpt from 'The Last American Man' by Elizabeth Gilbert)

The seductive promises of escalating technology, fancy new gadgets, fast food and fast information have lured us away from Nature and hypnotised us into believing we are separate from and superior to Nature.
An affluent, super-intelligent society? I don’t think so.
Our spirits are starving.
What I see around me is mass somnambulism and mindless consumerism; even yoga has become tarted up and packaged as an attractive consumer item.
And most people I know are either over-stimulated or medicated with TVs and iPods and spending sprees and a continuous barrage of information that's irrelevant to their daily life.
Not to mention the advertising that is continuously drip fed direct into our bloodstreams.

Why don’t people see this?

Wake up everybody.

Open your inner eyes and look at everything you’re doing, why you’re doing it, how much and what you're buying, the culture that you’re perpetuating and supporting.

Pierce and penetrate with your laser vision into the centre of everything in your life.
Because everything we do and every small occurrence has meaning and significance and is shaping our rapidly evolving life in a whirlwind of changes; the final form we evolve into from this process will be evident only at the point of death…it will exist for one fleeting moment…then be extinguished with our last breath.

Wake up to what is REAL and ALIVE in your life right now, because it is truly beautiful, and every moment we spend unaware of this is a moment we’ve lost forever.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Swine Flu?

It takes an occasional crisis to rip me out of a pathological mindset and fling me into the bright clear space of unknowing and renewal.
The word crisis actually means decision or turning-point.
So to me a crisis is not a negative event but a wonderful opportunity for change, a natural part of a cycle of death and rebirth.

My recent crisis wasn’t life-threatening, just a bout of flu (possibly swine-flu, but I wasn’t about to see any western doctor to get it diagnosed).
It hit me like a bus on Tuesday 1st September. I spent 4 days unable to move out of bed, then a few more days recuperating. I lost 3 kgs and detoxed all the caffeine and negativity out of my system.

I’d attempted to do a yoga practice that morning, not knowing that I was about to succumb to the flu. My journal entry describes the yoga practice as “a gentle and painful attempt to open up my body.” My muscles were achy and my joints so stiff that I felt 90 years old. My lungs and throat felt windy, my head heavy. The first sign of illness is a stiffening of the joints; I think it’s the body’s method of enforcing rest and shut-down so that maximum energy can be put to the immune system’s internal battle.

The most interesting observation of the flu week was my fluctuating lower back pain. For the first 2 days in bed the pain was excruciatingly agonising (I screamed every time I had to turn over in bed until I worked out how to override the urge).
Then it happened...at 2am on Day 3 I woke up to a wave of nausea and got out of bed to head for the toilet . Some time later I woke up again to find my head planted heavily on the floor. I’d passed out unconscious a few metres from the bed.
Later that morning I realised all my back pain had disappeared. “Praise the Lord…a healing miracle has occurred” (or so I thought at the time).
Although still very sick with the flu that day, my back was completely pain-free and super-mobile for the first time in 3 years.
Something had changed.

Four days spent gravely ill and confined to bed was as effective as a detox retreat.

This is what I wrote in my journal the following Tuesday, one week after the onset of flu:
“What a wonderful opportunity to start over with a clean slate. My body feels light and clean, apart from the respiratory infection that has clogged my upper plumbing.
After the first 2 days in bed my mind was still spinning work-stuff around in my head as fast as the final spin cycle in teh washing machine. Eventually my mind spun itself dry and stopped regurgitating the same old stuff. Day 3 was a revelation...I’d completely forgotten what a clear mind was like.
I really have to be vigilant to keep my head clean from now on.
Before the bout of flu I’d regularly try to meditate for half an hour before bed and end up giddy from the spinning whirl of thoughts. It was crazy in there, no space or opportunity to calm the mind at all – too out of control.
How did it get like that?
My mind has finally been purged of those obsessive thoughts about work that were playing over and over, compulsively, monotonously.
So I am grateful for the flu; this physical and mental spring clean was way overdue."

Apart from a residual thickness in my respiratory system, I’ve mostly recovered from the flu now but returning to a daily office environment has brought with it the return of lower back pain and stiffness - not half as bad as before the illness, but still it is a clear indication of where and how my body stores the accumulated poison of dis-ease.

27 August 2009

The Evening Begins

Friday 28th August 2009

The walk home from work takes half an hour, a welcome incline as I head towards the foothills.
I breathe out the day.
The dull early-evening air has been polluted by exhaust fumes and the accumulated etheric waste from a million human beings: CO2 and stress, exhaled into the atmosphere, toxic by-products of natural processes and unnatural lives.

Morning air, on my morning walk, is filled with birdsong and clarity.

In the half hour to and from work my continual mental chatter muffles into every footstep; the obsessive compulsive mind torturing itself, resisting the day ahead or ruminating over the work day events just gone. I notice twinges of self-pity and urges to escape into solitude and oblivion. How easily I elope with these entrenched thought patterns...they carry me away from the present; how easily the comic-tragedy of daily worklife catches my unguarded mind in its sticky web of drama and ingrigue.

I forget to notice the birds, the scent of flowers overhanging a fence, the lofty trees, the hint of incoming weather on the breeze, the undulations of the path under my feet.

Arriving home around 6pm, I feed Buffy, change my clothes and step onto the yoga mat. Hanging forward in Uttanasana like a soft rag doll, my body sighs as it begins to release; my spine opens, my neck lengthens, and my muscles let go of tension as the reversal of gravity waterfalls through them.
I WILL my legs to life, activating the muscle groups out of auto-pilot and into old-fashioned manual.

I stop thinking.

And I begin to feel my body.

Hanging in Uttanasana, legs slightly parted, the weight of my torso falling down through my elbows, I feel the workday tension dissolving away as my mind lets go of its ruminations.
I step back into Dog Pose, breathing slowly, deliberately. Little areas begin to adjust themselves though the pose, stretching, lengthening, aligning, waking up.
Thoughts about work creep in like silent, stealthy intruders. I catch them and banish them immediately. BE GONE. Get out, out, out of my Dog Pose house.
I come back to the breath and my body – my home –the elusive ground of the present.
Stray thoughts and whispers keep luring me away. My mind escapes with them, the habit is strong.
Bringing it back over and over, I return to the present, each time, gratefully, to an INCREASED AWARENESS of the present. Awareness seems to grow stronger each time I exercise my will over my mind.
Finding myself still in Dog Pose I breathe deeply….I step forward…
Practice begins…

More Sprouts

Thursday 27th August 2009

On the subject of sprouts, I snapped this photo of my gorgeous little sunflower sprouts this morning. They were planted about 4 days ago so in another 2-3 days they should be about 4 inches high and ready to snip off and eat.

Sprouts are nutritional powerhouses and there’s a huge variety to choose from – mung bean and alfalfa sprouts are the most popular but you can sprout almost any seed. Sunflower sprouts are my favourite. They have a sweet, nutty flavour, not unlike cashew nuts, and a lovely nutty texture too. I throw a big handful into my raw salad dinner most nights with lettuce, rocket, avocado, cucumber, capsicum, olives, a balsamic vinaigrette and sometimes some grated parmesan or fetta and cooked green beans….super healthy AND sooo delicious.

It must be nearly time to pack up work, walk home, do some yoga and eat dinner…

Yes, life is good, and I am most humbly grateful for all the wonderful (and delicious) things I have.

26 August 2009


Wednesday 26th August 2009

It wasn’t that long ago that I set myself some weekly goals….walking to work three times a week, an additional yoga practice each week (to make at least 4), regular meditation, and daily journaling…
Like little seedlings, they were carefully watered for a few weeks, they faltered for a while, then somehow I forgot about them. This week, while walking to work, I suddenly remembered them and realised that they’ve all taken root and become firmly established routines in my life.
- I love walking to work each day and do it most days now (weather permitting);
- Yoga practice has changed from an occasional morning struggle to a regular evening practice which is much more achievable
- daily journaling justifies my morning coffee habit so the day starts with reflection, not just caffeine
- and meditation serves as a regular debrief before bed.

Life’s not so bad.

21 August 2009


Pre menopause…that’s the only explanation I can come up with for my moodiness over the last few months. We humans (especially we women) are at the mercy of our pesky hormonal chemicals. They have a mind all of their own and bombard our systems at will wreaking havoc on our moods and behaviour.
I’m thinking it’s peri-menopausal because
a) I’m 49 years old
b) My menstrual periods have been coming every two weeks for the past three months
c) The ups and downs FEEL hormonal and out of my control.

My heavy frown, my lack of motivation, my depressed state of mind, are all completely out of character. There’s no sense of Divine communion anywhere, no disciplined spiritual practice, no altruistic ideals, no love and compassion for all beings.
Just generally feeling very self-centred and demoralised.

As with all things I know this shall pass, but if it is peri-menopausal it won’t be passing quickly so I’ll need some new strategies other than the panic stricken, beat-myself-up ones that haven’t been helping me at all.

Yoga practice has waned to almost no yoga practice, especially with my yoga buddy Renate overseas for two months – an occasional evening restorative practice has been the yoga highlight of my week. What happened to the athletic 40-something who used to thrive on a daily, sweaty Ashtanga practice? I pondered whether lack of yoga is actually causing my blue state of mind (which led to the thought that feeling good each day may have been completely dependent on a morning Ashtanga yoga practice hit), but quite possibly the reverse is closer to the truth because a depressed mood destroys all motivation and a hormonal imbalance can drastically alter my physical/mental/emotional state.

Hmmm…what comes first, the chicken or the egg?
And can the mood and lack of motivation be overcome by WILL?

I don’t know if one kind of hormone is being overproduced or if another one drying up. Whatever it is = no motivation = no yoga = leave me alone.

The last good 2 hour practice I did was last Saturday, exactly one week ago, but I’ve done a couple of shorter evening practices since them.

Here are my notes from last Saturday:

It was a blissful Saturday morning because I had a day off – no work, no commitments to anyone, my precious time was my very own. I felt strong enough, and present enough to attempt a few moves that have dropped off my practice routine because they aggravate my sacroiliac injury, like the lift-up-jump-back move from seated position.Although I haven’t been able to ever do this properly, engaging the muscles to start it helps strengthen my core and, well, you gotta start somewhere…again.

Paschimottanasana, (the seated forward bend) for me starts the second third of the sequence. I tend to divide the whole sequence into three sections: standing, seated and inverted poses. Paschimottanasana is a fairly accurate barometer of my determination on the day – the gauge being how well my heels lift off the ground. If my mind is disengaged or resistant, my heels won’t be off the ground and it becomes a resting pose instead of an active one and the practice will slowly disintegrate from there.
Today I was right in this pose, actively grounding the thighbones, working the leg muscles enough to keep my heels off the ground and engaging mulabandha. Concaving my pubic abdomen (ie. drawing the top of the pubic bone inwards slightly) in all forward bends is something I learned from Glenn Ceresoli and that little adjustment causes wonderful things to happen in my sacroiliac joint and pelvic floor.
From Janu C I digressed to backbending: Supta Virasana to stretch the front of my thighs, Salabhasana to strengthen my spinal muscles, Dhanurasana to develop the upper back arch, Ustrasana to deepen it even further, then some repetitions of Urdhva Dhanurasana focussing on my new obsession with alignment. Add together sacroiliac injury, uneven leg lengths and lop-sided pelvis and you’ll understand why my body needs some serious retraining.

So I approached Urdhva Dhanurasana with a slightly different intention today. I slid to the top end of the mat, made sure my feet were placed parallel and in a straight from mid-heel to middle toe. The side edges of the mat provided the frame in which I positioned my feet – they had to be an even distance from each side. Once in place I cemented them there, determined not to move them even one millimetre for the duration of the 3 backbends. This was a fascinating mental exercise because I was confronted with every little habit that my feet wanted to revert to, to make the lift up into the backbend easier - like slightly lifting a heel or turning one foot in more than the other. Catching the little urge to move the foot just before the foot responds to the urge gives a fascinating insight into how unconscious and prevalent are our habit patterns.
After pushing up into the first stiff backbend with feet cemented into the earth like tree trunks, I then had to adjust my hands to line them up as perfectly as my feet – each one had to be the same distance from the side edge of the mat, and as I’d placed myself at the end of the mat I could also place the tips of my middle fingers at the leading edge of the mat. Once my feet and hands were perfectly lined up both horizontally and vertically, the unevenness of my arched body was magnified to gigantic proportions in the full backbend. My pelvis felt crooked and I had to work hard to stretch up through the left side of my torso (this is my shorter side, as my left leg is 1.5cm shorter than the right). Need someone to spot me objectively…
So today it was Urdhva Dhanurasana that provided the context within which I could explore the extent of my body’s misalignment.
As my body ages, and as I become increasingly sensitised to the subtleties of my body and its habits, the imbalances built up over a lifetime are emerging in tandem with the imbalances of my peri-menopausal mindstates.

Lovely, lovely Headstand....12 minutes in Headstand: 100 breaths, it topped off a thorough practice. Counting to 100 provides a realistic but challenging goal and keeps me right there in the pose, watching how my body and mind change as the seconds tick away.

29 July 2009


Thursday 27th July 2009

A heady mixture of extremes over the last few weeks: practice/no practice, running/no running, healthy minimal food/a ton of chocolate, relationship mood swings. For someone so involved in spiritual and psychological development, my inconsistency still perplexes me.
But no-one would ever consider me inconsistent. I’m considered to be serene, stable, dependable and disciplined. Only as one digs deeper into the samskaric layers do the gaps and blips appear. And I’m a compulsive digger, so I see them, I feel them, I tease them out of their hiding spots to analyse and work with them. That’s the practice, digging into those deeper layers to flush out the impurities.

Yoga Practice (and pain)
This week I’ve done three consecutive morning yoga practices, working gently with a body that has stiffened in a survival response to lower-back trauma. I’m convinced (again) that I've seriously injured my sacro-iliac joint, not surprising considering my legs are different lengths causing my pelvis to be crooked, and I've been doing daily yoga practice lopsided for over 10 years.
During the initial acute phase of the injury last December, I visited a Sports Med doctor; after briefly touching this area he said it wasn’t sacro-iliac related. Funny that even after x-rays, he still couldn’t diagnose the cause of my agonising pain. And this was SERIOUS pain - not a tweak or a pulled muscle, or ‘arthrosis’.
Eight months later, the pain is still acute, my entire lower back still tender.
The pain varies day-by-day, week-by-week and I know it varies according to my mental state. Over the last week it seems to have regressed back to acute pain throughout the sacro-iliac area.
So I’ve had to dumb down my yoga practice this week: some core warm-ups, the 10 sun salutes, the evergreen sequence of standing poses, some seated twists and backbends, then lapping up all the extra time in the inversions and seated meditation to fill out my 2 hour practice.

Running hasn’t happened at all this week, not because of my back, but because my tiny window of opportunity to run at night has been filled in with drizzly rain. Dedicated runners go out in the rain but I'm still a reluctant neophyte runner.
Maybe I’ll go tonight.
Or maybe it will rain.

Bhagavad Gita
I’m coming to the end of the Bhagavad Gita. Reading the Gita is uplifting (especially all those descriptive qualities of a saintly person). I'd like to get my hands on a different translation though. Some of the phrases in this one (by Shri Purohit Swami) are a bit archaic and clumsy and do little to convey the delicate complexity of meaning hidden within the Sanskrit words.

24 July 2009

Kid's Yoga Dice

A friend of mine has created a range of giant dice for children to play with as part of his line of educational toys.
He asked me for some ideas on yoga poses for children, I made some suggestions, did some stick drawings and he came up with the first prototype for a yoga dice which is now ready for production.

Here is my granddaughter Lily with the first one last weekend.



Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

And here's a YouTube video of the yoga dice being tested out at a kindergarten last week.
If you want more information on the yoga dice have a look at this website:

And finally: Me, Lily and Buffy.

Ebony and Lily

Ebony and Lily, my Divine daughter and grand daughter.

The Spirit of Fitness

Saturday 25th July 2009

I started running a couple of weeks ago. I cruise through the streets at night, running for a couple of blocks then walking a little. There’s no desire to get fit, no goals, I’m just enjoying the process, the feeling of freedom and the revitalisation of lost youthfulness.
The solitude of running is intoxicating…there’s just me, the streets, the night, the rhythmic pounding of my steps and my heart, all merging into the quieter pulse of night.
I’m loving it.

Fitness Magazine, quite coincidentally, sent me an email through this blog last week about their current feature on yoga (my apologies to the editors but I’ve never read or even heard of your magazine). I reprint it here without alteration:

Dear Nobhodi,

My name is Nathan and I work with the publisher of Fitness Magazine. You have some very interesting things to say about yoga and life in general.
I thought you might like to know, and might like to let your readers know, that FitnessMagazine.com is currently featuring a complete guide to yoga, including workout videos, photos of many yoga positions, answers to common yoga questions and more.

Have a look at:

The AcroYoga extreme yoga poses, a unique new practice that cultivates trust, connection, and playfulness to bring individuals into a state of union with themselves, each other, and the divine.

The complete yoga video workout, a video by Cyndi Lee, founder of Om Yoga in New York City .

The yoga for better sleep poses, an 8-minute workout of five yoga poses that can be done in bed.

Yoga for back pain, a video showing yoga poses that release tension from the back.

To thank you for helping us promote this information, the FitnessMagazine.com blog will link back to your blog.

I am attaching a couple photos, if you want to include them in your posting. I also have videos I can send if you want to include them.

Let me know if you would like other photos or want any additional information.

Many thanks in advance,

Nathan Groom
For FitnessMagazine.com

Running is a fitness activity– no question about that, but yoga for fitness?

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is probably the most aerobic of all the physical yoga practices but it is an intensely purifying practice for all layers of our physical/mental/emotional/ spiritual being, not just an exotic fitness regime for the consumer muscle market.

So promotions such as the above for AcroYoga that promise how it can “bring individuals into a state of union with themselves, each other, and the divine” do not go down well with me (again, my apologies to the editors of Fitness Magazine).
A state of union with themselves????? Who wrote that?

As human beings with bodies we are meant to be active, hunting and gathering, running, playing, roaming through the natural landscape in search of food and shelter. Contrast this to our stagnant western lifestyles where hours/days/weeks/years are spent in front of computers and televisions. Many of us have forgotten how wonderful it feels to be physically active out in Nature, to have the life force and endorphins flooding through us, overflowing with natural childlike joy.
For me, running and yoga are not in opposition, but rather they complement each other, combining to elevate the spirit. And if we can live permanently from a higher consciousness, we can be like a lamp unto others, uplifting the energy of those around us and serving a higher divine purpose. Christian Larson describes this as “living in the upper storey”.

Better to be physically fit and active than not.
Better to run/ride/lift weights/hit the gym than do nothing.

But how much better it is to enliven the spirit as well as the body.

Bhagavad Gita
I’ve picked up the Bhagavad Gita a few times over the years but never read it through seriously.
This time round it’s different. I'm enthralled with every sentence.
The words are like sharp arrows armed with wisdom; the target is the centre of my heart.

From Chapter 6: Meditation and Self-Control:
“Let the student of spirituality try unceasingly to concentrate his mind, let him live in seclusion, absolutely alone, with mind and personality controlled, free from desire, and without possessions.” (6.10)
“The wise man who has conquered his mind and is absorbed in the Self is as a lamp which does not flicker, since it stands sheltered from every wind.” (6.19)
“This inner severance form the affliction of misery is spirituality. It should be practiced with determination, and with a heart which refuses to be depressed.” (6.23)

18 July 2009

The Silence and Beauty of Solitude

Saturday 18th July 2009

“To live wisely and intelligently requires a deep, meditative re-examination of priorities.”
Light on Enlightenment - Christopher Titmus

It’s Saturday morning - I’m surrounded by people in a noisy café, smack bang in the middle of a shopping mall, twittering, chattering humans pausing momentarily in between bouts of compulsive spending, some reading newspapers, others stuffing kids with yet more consumer products, lives bulging with shopping bags. There’s an endless undercurrent of busyness, it hums like the fridge we don’t notice til it stops. Shopping malls…hundreds of egos projecting themselves out into the world, bouncing off each other, colliding, repelling, then turning in on themselves, exchanging useless information and regurgitating it to pump up self-images. A million useless, frenetic conversations with no genuine communication.

Tons and tons of wasted human energy.

The hectic buzz of a Saturday morning café.

The flavour of espresso bites…then lingers deliciously on my tongue. I feel the buzzy vibration on my inner energy field.
Personal velocity.

It’s Saturday afternoon – I’m surrounded by windswept canopies of trees and birds; water trickles somewhere in a creek closeby; there’s a kiss of sunshine through crisp wintery air. I inhale the fresh purity of green life, oxygen, the gift of photosynthesis.
No-one’s up here at Horsenell Gully today…just me…such a small me in the vast beauty of nature, there’s room to relax and expand into the spaces between the threads that weave our world together.

I bathe in the silence and solitude, soaking it up to recharge my people-depleted energy.
More and more I’m making choices that enhance this quietness, living a simple life with simple pleasures. As the activities and people drop naturally away, new shoots appear in the undergrowth of my life. A new kind of life energy is arising that is pure and powerful; it’s the energy of a focussed life, channelled through the purifying lens of clarity and one-pointedness. Debris and clutter and disappearing, my life is being washed clean by the illuminative power of simplicity, silence and solitude.

26 May 2009

Discipline or Sensitivity

Saturday 23rd May

A quieter non-Ashtanga practice today. Pre-menstrual aches distracted me and sapped my energy a bit.
5As and only 3Bs, standing poses to Utkatasana then I HAD to do a Headstand, the physical urge to invert was strong, a complete reversal of gravity the only remedy available to counter attack the standing pose drain.
Headstand 60 breaths: 8 minutes, then I followed intuitive promptings through a labyrinth of poses.

Which brings up an often pondered issue: when to stick with the sequence and when to deviate…maintain discipline or allow sensitivity?

Ashtanga has a set sequence that is followed without variation (in theory). It is ra elatively rigid and disciplined practice requiring dedication, faith and tenacity. One develops a depth of engagement and intimacy by following the same sequence daily, sometimes for years, and only dedicated Ashtangis get to experience this – nobody else can possibly understand. The practice becomes richer and deeper with time. The backdrop of the sequence forms an expansive arena for endless discoveries.
The Iyengar system is more flexible. Outside of the class sequences directed by a teacher, one practices poses that the body asks for.
Menstruating? Do these pelvic opening poses to bring ease to the organs.
Tired? Do these restorative and inverted poses.
Stressed? Do forward bends to calm the mind.
Depressed? Do a backbend sequence to stimulate the adrenals.
There’s a sequence for every mood and a pose for every ailment. Mix and match according to your body and mind’s needs…all designed to restore balance.

So why do I prefer the intense and fiery Ashtanga system? Because it humbles the ego, and that’s what all authentic spiritual practice should be training us to do – humble the ego and show up its false dominance in our lives.
The ego sits upon a throne and rules our lives, but not with the authority of a true leader. We must expose it as a weak tyrant, humiliate it out of office so the noble and gentle king (our heart) can resume its rightful position and guide our lives in the direction of Truth.
Yes, that’s why I prefer Ashtanga. It demands submission and devotion but through the heat of tapas it purifies the mind and heart.

Still...on those days when my body is not able to comply, I submit to my limitations.
Then I am grateful to have the Iyengar methodology to draw on. I abandon the Ashtanga sequence for the day, release all expectations and choose from the vast smorgasbord of poses in my ‘other repertoire’.
It’s all yoga.

For the final half hour of my 2 hour practice, I sat in meditation today, not something I’d normally do in a Saturday practice at Kosta’s studio.
The sitting re-centred me in my heart and power. Scattered thoughts subside, energy is freed up and channelled into the epicentre, I reconnect with the Divine.
The vibrational charge suffusing my body, though weak, is immediate and I'm glad my body has been prepared for it.

22 May 2009

Practice Log

This will end up being a long post, which I’ll add to in increments, to record my current Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga practice. After the damage done to my back over the last couple of years I’ve almost had to rebuild my entire physical yoga practice from scratch, but this has been a beautiful and humbling experience and a journey rich with learning. Poses that came easily a year ago (like Marichy D, Bhujangasana and Garbha Pindasana) I can’t even get close to now.
But with time, patience and compassion, they will return.
This post is just a very personal record of where my physical practice is right now so in a year or so I’ll be able to refer to it for comparison.

Blessings to dear Guruji, Sri K. Patthabi Jois, who passed away on 21st May 2009, for teaching the Ashtanga method to my teachers David and Simi Roche, and to them both for what they have passed on to me. And blessings to all my other wonderful teachers in the yoga and Buddhist traditions (and to my son, my greatest teacher).

Surya Namaskars – 5 As: I step through the first 2 or 3 until I get the breath going and Mula Bandha supporting my back, then I begin to jump all the vinyasas. Starting slow, I pick up speed and intensity as I travel through them. Still not easy to float forward like I used to, as I jump the weight of my airborne legs pulls through my hips and as yet my back hasn’t mended enough to support this weight.
Surya Namaskars – 5 Bs: good to be feel strong enough to be doing 5 again instead of 3 and I’m keeping the back heel grounded as I step forward now. My starting squat is actually quite deep and my arms extend forward (parallel to the floor) before they rise and lead me into Utkatasana. It’s graceful and feels like I’m raising my hands and heart in a prayer to the sky.
Padangusthasana and Pada Hastasana – remembering to widen my elbows and draw my shoulderblades in like flat plates. Simi once watched me working in this pose (a few years ago), smiled sweetly and said, “soft but strong”. I’ve never forgotten that.
Trikonasana – to the right I can still only get my hand to my ankle on a good day because of the restriction in my right hip. Left side is a toe grab. Such a complex pose with so many little parts that can be adjusted.
Parivritta Trikonasana - a good, strong pose, hand to floor, spine straight and hips aligned (I think). It soothes rather than aggravates my hips and lumbar. This is the first standing pose where I fully engage and feel the energetic effects of drawing up the inner legs, an instruction that has a subtle but powerful energetic effect that stimulates mula bandha. Such visualisations prove that we can move energy (prana) with our thoughts.
Parsvakonasana - still troublesome – after bending my right leg I can’t always lean my body weight to the right without supporting the descent. The muscles supporting my right hip must still be in a very weak state. Some days I can only do the modification, supporting my weight with the elbow on the knee; other days are better and I get to the full pose and can gradually work strength into that hip by pressing the right heel firmly into the ground. Left side no problems.
Parivritta Parsvakonasana is also a challenge. I used to love doing this deliciously twisted spinal pose to it’s fullest. Now the modified version (opposite elbow to knee and hands together in prayer) is where I start while I sus out my body’s current state of elasticity (which changes daily). On a good day I can assume a rather weak version of the full pose with the top arm extended and my back heel grounded.
Prasaritta Padottanasana A, B, C and D - all good, crown of head to floor, another pose that comes alive when I draw the inner leg energy up into my pelvic floor. With almost all of the forward bends, both standing and seated, the strong forward tilt of the pelvis (variously instructed by teachers as "lift and pull back the sitting bones", "draw the pubis back between the legs", etc) is enhanced enormously by a little counter movement - drawing the top of the pubic bone slightly INWARDS toward the tailbone.
Parsvottanasana – another favourite (I have many), a very workable pose, it feels almost perfect if there is such a thing as a perfect pose. Nose is close to shin and hips are square (I think). I love the challenge of coming up from this pose in a perfect line from tailbone through crown with a deep core strength in teh lower abdomen. I work my feet strongly into the ground to build leg strength and focus on pulling up quads to safely and fully stretch the hamstrings in preparation for UHP.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana – another favourite that always tests my focus. I can hardly believe how well I do this one at the moment, I rarely topple or teeter. Foot is as high as my eyeline to the front and a little lower to the side. On good days the final unsupported hold to the front isn’t drooping with the 5 breaths.
Ardha Baddha Padma Parsvottanasana – this pose gave me a lot of grief during the chronic back injury period but I've got it back again. Although I never really lost the pose on either side, for a couple of months I couldn’t come up from the first side as my right hip wouldn’t support the weight of the movement. I had to unfold my Padmasana leg and put it down before coming up from the forward bend. But this has slowly changed in the last couple of months and it now feels safe to come up correctly…even keeping hold of my big toe until I’m fully up to standing. I love working the “pull up the inner legs” instruction in this pose, especially applying it to the Padmasana leg – little things adjust that take great sensitivity to notice but when my mind watches the subtle internal dynamics that occur within a pose my internal awareness deepens.

19 May 2009

Spiritual Vitality

Saturday 16th May 2009

“Spiritualia videri non possunt nisi quis vacet a terrenis.”
trans: Spiritual things cannot be seen, unless one is emptied of worldly things.

“Contemplation will be denied to a man in proportion as he belongs to the world.” St Thomas Aquinas

“A man must withdraw his desires form all the ambitions, the external satisfactions and the temporal interest this world has to offer, for spiritual things cannot be appreciated or understood by the mind that is occupied with superficial and merely external satisfactions.”
Thomas Merton

5 weeks have passed since the self-directed retreat. From past experience I know that the more permanent psychological/spiritual changes that result from a retreat cannot be seen, felt or understood until at least a couple of months after.
Initial feelings of peace, wellbeing and commitment to practice often wear off within a few weeks while deep within the unconscious mind the more permanent changes are being established.

My intensified yoga practice is the most visible outcome of the retreat, but it is simply an external manifestation of an accelerated inner practice. The subtle psychological changes that continue to evolve and shape my inner life since the retreat are difficult to articulate but their effect on my yoga practice is evident.
The retreat must have removed some samskaras and obstacles; it has unleashed an intense wave of desire for liberation.

Most noticeable since the retreat is a profound sincerity and commitment to the spiritual path and an infusion of spiritual vitality, an abundance of energy and joy that is manifesting in this strong desire to practice – not just yoga, but meditation, contemplation, anything that will intensify this presence of God. My eyes and heart are steadfastly fixated on the inner gaze that penetrates Reality.

Every moment of every day is now experienced through a penetrating lens. I am seeing through the thickly encrusted layers and into the heart of everything.

It is scary and beautiful to be this close to the Divine…my own heart and Truth.
There is no compromising, nothing is negotiable. It's all or nothing.
The fire that has been lit in my heart is growing stronger every day, burning away anything irrelevant in my life, anything that doesn’t align with my deepest Truth. I cannot take part in petty conversations with false personas. I want to rip people open and expose their hearts so they can touch the divine source of their being. Only then can we really communicate.
My heart beats faster as it expands, the air is charged with impending contact, transformation, fusion.

I practice yoga almost daily now:
today: Saturday 7am practice with Kosta - over 2 hours
yesterday : Friday 6am Ashtanga Primary practice with Renate in the Gallery - 2 hours
Monday/Tuesday/Thursday: a variety of solo practices both Ashtanga and Iyengar.
Traumatic restrictions in my lower back and hips are loosening, allowing enthusiasm and joy to replace the subconscious resistance to practice that has stifled me for over 2 years.
I have now broken the 2 year habit of hitting the snooze button and sleeping in every morning. My heart is pouring into my practice.
And most evenings I am religiously making the time to sit in meditation/contemplation before bed.

I WANT to get up early and practice daily, I am burning with the desire to practice; the Beloved Creator is drawing me into his centre and the way in is through the elevated mindstate created within practice.

16 April 2009

A Self Directed Retreat

Friday 17th April 2009

Image: my front windows

It will take a few days (or possibly weeks) to write up my retreat notes so I’ll just keep adding them to this one post, bit by bit rather than posting them all as separate entries.
The notes got more interesting as the days progressed...


My suspicions have been confirmed, this retreat is an extraordinary turning point in my life – the affirmation I needed that my spiritual practice is passionate and alive.

The original schedule that I’d mapped out was revised to incorporate a minimum of 6 hours of meditation and 3 hours of asana each day as well as a 1 hour walk along the river with my dog. As the first day progressed the original timing of these was changed (and this was revised again on DAY 3 as I settled into a more natural retreat mode and found myself engrossed in 4 hours of asana each day).

Sitting for 3 hours this morning was easy in one way, difficult in another: easy because I had no resistance, no pain, no boredom and the 3 hours passed quickly; the difficulty was keeping my mind present on my breath (as usual).
My solution was to set a reminder beep on my mobile phone that went off every 10 minutes, just a little beep. My reverie was caught at 10 minute intervals reminding me to return to my breath.

On Vipassana retreats we are given meditation instructions at the start of each sitting session, then left to work with that instruction uninterrupted for hours on end. If the mind catches a flight to fantasy island it may not return for hours. It's not until the bell rings to end the session that you realise you’ve been somewhere else all that time and have wasted another session.
On the other hand, when I used to go to 1 hour sits at Buddha House (the Tibetan tradition) we'd be expertly led into the meditation and then every now and then during the hour, the meditation leader would quietly drop in the reminder “bring your mind back to your breath”. That was all it took, and was incredibly helpful.

So my 10 minute beep was my wake up reminder, a little assistance until a stable meditation mindstate established itself.

Late afternoon I took a lovely walk along the river with Buffy (my dog) before warming up a tiny dinner portion of aromatic curry and rice.

Evening yoga practice started out with no plan, but as I felt my way in, it sculpted its own shape.
A few standard warm up poses: long Dog Pose, long Uttanasana, long Parsvottanasana with hands on the floor, and a long Prasaritte Padottanasana with hands in reverse namaste. From there I followed the whispers of intuitive guidance into some long, quiet standing balances: Vrksasana, Garudasana (which I hadn’t done for years), Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana and from there moving into a pose I don’t know the name of: standing with one leg in half lotus, you bend the supporting leg and lower your buttocks down until they rest on the back of the supporting foot, then you lift the spine up to vertical and balance on one foot with hands in prayer. Handstand and Pincha Mayurasana at the wall, Supta Virasana to prepare for floor poses, then a series of forward bends and twists. After that I set up a bolster for supported Setu Bandha before moving into a 10 minute Shoulderstand and a 9 minute Headstand.
It resembled one of Darrin’s Iyengar classes and was deeply nourishing so I felt quite grateful to him for instilling in me this method of practicing.

During the asana practice I found myself returning to Samastithi (Tadasana) with hands in prayer between the early standing poses. It was a spontaneous and natural gesture, a sacred pause where my heart relaxed and opened in gratitude, perhaps an unconscious expression of thanks to the universe for bringing together all the right conditions that have led to this retreat. It is the answer to my prayers.
Bringing the hands together in front of the heart both creates and emanates a powerful energy that contains gratitude, equanimity, hope and love, and how much more powerful it felt when my hands came together with the clear and pure intention that was filling me now.

End of DAY 1, my mind is relaxed and settled.
I feel at peace with everything in my life.


Image: my kitchen windows

Two days devoted purely to yoga asana, meditation and reflection and I realise I am truly a yogi, living in the middle of a consumer society gone mad. What joy, what relief to remove myself from the rat race and redirect my focus to the things of the heart and spirit.
Devotion and discipline, those two qualities that arise naturally in a heart longing for the Truth, were there all the time. I needn’t have imposed regulations on my daily schedules to try and develop them.
Everyday life, with its responsibilities and commitments to work and family, affords little time for their development and expression. They are quashed into a corner, into a few weekly yoga practices. The poor things wither up and die when they’re not nourished by sadhana.

“The constant practice of all petals of yoga will eventually repair all flaws inherent within the human system. The power we generate through yoga practice must become a coherent and indissoluble whole. Yoga sadhana is meant to knit the fibres to the skin and skin to the fibres so that they coil and interweave the outer kosa into the atma kosa. Only then can the Oneness of the power we create within ourselves be integrated with the universal power that surrounds us.”
BKS Iyengar, Light On Life

I practice yoga asana and I sit in meditation, observing the mindstuff, stilling the waves of my conscious mind...the impurities separate from the mix, rise to the surface and leave me in a sea of calm.

Morning asana practices on DAY 1 and DAY 2 were a little disappointing. The plan was to do a morning Ashtanga practice and an evening restorative Iyengar practice, but the Ashtanga sessions have fizzled out halfway through the standing pose sequence.
My conclusion…that Ashtanga, with its fiery heat-building ujjiya pranayama and sun salutes just doesn’t gel with the delicate mental states sustained in long hours of meditation.
Ashtanga raises my energy and sharpens my mind ready for action; it heats the mind and body, burns impurities and leaves me fired up for the day – very useful when I have to go into the working day battlefield. Not so conducive for meditation.
Likewise my meditative mind/body state is unable to cope with the energy generated by Ashtanga…hence early burn out during standing poses.

So the morning Ashtanga/evening Iyengar plan will be revised. Tomorrow morning I’ll try a different approach to my asana practice.

Evening practices have been strong. Mr Iyengar's classic Light on Yoga provided the basic sequence tonight (Course 2, 31st-35th week) though I reshuffled the sequence a little. Instead of starting with Headstand + variations and Shoulderstand + variations, I moved them to the end of the practice and started with some warm ups (Dog Pose, Uttanasana etc) then Jatara Parivartanasana and Supta Padangusthasana following the sequence only swapping Ustrasana and Paryankasana in order.
My body felt unusually heavy in Headstand as if I’d put on 5 kilos in the last 24 hours – so I only stayed for 20 breaths. The heaviness is probably from the long hours of sitting in meditation.
After practice my spine felt strong and alive, the base was hot, the top was tingly. I wonder if this is how people feel after chiropractic treatment.


Image: Buffy at my front door

Morning yoga session – 3 hours – that must be a record for me, where did the time go? Instead of working the internal and energetic dynamics of Headstand I played with correcting the external structure: pressing down the inner wrists, lifting the upper arms and shoulders, drawing in the lower ribcage etc. etc. The additional physical effort shortened my stay in the pose.
Savasana was more active than usual - not content just to lie and rest, I actively swept through my body from toes to head, led by the internal dialogue of my teaching voice telling me to relax each part and tune into the circulating energies. Lightning bolts shot through my lumbar, nerve impulses and electrical sparkles darted like fireflies.

"Savasana is about shedding. We have many skins, sheaths, thoughts, prejudices, preconceptions, ideas, memories and projects for the future. Savasana is a shedding of all these skins, to see how glossy and gorgeous, serene and aware is the beautiful rainbow-coloured snake who lies within."
BKS Iyengar

3 hours of asana was followed with 3 hours of sitting. DAY 3 and immersion in my practice is deepening. Lunch break was short today –eager to get back to the cushion. Lunch was fresh orange juice, vegetable curry and rice again and some thick sweet Greek yoghurt for dessert, all tiny amounts.

I noticed my mind staying with the breath for much longer periods today. What is it that notices and watches the mind…must be pure consciousness…a different faculty to the mind.
As I dropped further into the fully conscious meditation state, I played with letting go of the breath as my anchor.
The trainer wheels drop away and I glide, unsupported in full flight; I am sitting in pure and vibrant awareness, full presence, alert and still.
A voice interrupts: “Why am I doing this, what is the desire that burns such a hole in my heart?”
Pulling back from the edge and catching the in and out breath again, the same voice replied “I want to know God”.
My heart swelled until the vibration of love filled every cell. Recognising the enhanced landscape I thought “This is it”, which of course immediately separated me from the experience and broke the spell.
Over and over I repeated “We are That which we seek”, drinking in the Truth of the statement til my body and mind were soaked in it, the first stage of merging. I have known and experienced this, so WHY DO I FORGET? Why is my daily life lived in such forgetfulness?

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” said Wordsworth.

We practice to help us wake up.

Which reminds me of a favourite line in a Jackson Browne song… ”to open my eyes and wake up alive in the world…”

“The whole practice of yoga is concerned with exploring the relationship between Prakrti and Purusa, between Nature and Soul. It is about learning to live between the earth and the sky. That is the human predicament, our joy and our woe, our salvation or our downfall. Nature and Soul are mingled together. Some would say they are married. It is through the correct practice of asana and pranayama and the other petals of yoga that the practitioner (sadhaka) experiences the communication and connection between them. To an average person it might seem that the marriage of Nature and Soul is one of strife and mutual incomprehension. But by communing with them both, they come closer to each other for the purpose of a blessed union. That union removes the veil of ignorance that covers our intelligence. To achieve this union, the sadhaka has to look both within as well as looking out to the frame of the soul, the body. He has to grasp an underlying law or else he will remain in Nature’s thrall and Soul will remain merely a concept.”
BKS Iyengar “Light on Life”

Buffy and I walked along the river from 5.30 – 6.30, later than previous evenings. After a warm day the chill of an autumn evening was stirring. As we walked I felt the touch of the air, warm and cool whispery breaths simultaneously dancing upon my skin.

It’s 7pm and I decide to sit for an hour before the evening asana session.

It’s Saturday night. My mind wanders a little. I wonder what my boyfriend is doing, is he alone and forced to watch TV out of boredom and loneliness, or is he wondering what I’m doing. Thoughts coming and going, feelings of guilt for indulging in 5 days of practice, and a sliver of doubt – what am I doing it for…all mixed up and lurking in the shadowy corners. Now and then I enter the clear space of conscious awareness, watching the nuances of the breath, watching the thoughts and feelings arise and pass away.

My back is tender from two strong forward bending sessions, my energy low tonight.
I chose to do a passive, restorative asana session…Supta Everything: bolsters, blocks, straps and chairs – bring them all on.
I laid around in all the restorative, stress-reducing poses I could remember from my years of teaching.
The session finished with Ardha Halasana on the chair then Viparitta Karani (legs up the wall) with my lumbar lifted and supported on a bolster and rolled up blanket. These last two poses did the most to ease my achy back.
I finished at 9.30 then retired early for the night.

After this experimental retreat, I may not do another 10 day Vipassana retreat (Goenka tradition). The need to practice meditation in a group and to someone else’s schedule has been replaced by a need to direct my own.
Vipassana retreats inducted me into the rigorous and austere tradition of authentic meditation practice and gave me a delicious taste of deep Samadhi. That taste lingers forever in my memory.
But in the last two retreats I noticed my concentration slacking off, my motivation had worn thin. With those long hours of sitting, I often procrastinated, not applying my will to follow the meditation instructions until it was too late. Little excuses such as: “Tomorrow will be better when I’m fresher” or “I’ve got plenty of time” etc etc encouraged my lazy mental attitude.
But this self-directed retreat is only 4 days and a sense of urgency has prevailed. I can’t afford to waste a moment of my allocated sitting time and that has helped me to apply my will to the practice, to overcome the laissez-faire attitude, to invigorate it and give it a razor edge.
I am much more alert to the daydreams, the tendency to drift off into imagined conversations and situations, and more strict with myself.
The reward comes in the depth of my meditation, as rapture and bliss subside into deep tranquillity. These states leave permanent imprints on our minds and hearts. Once experienced, our hard wiring is altered. Deep peace becomes an intimate companion, always present in the back cupboard of the mind and becoming more accessible each time we call it forth through meditation.

“There is a great difference between just practicing and sadhana. Sadhana is the way of accomplishing something. That something is – by effective performance and correct execution – the achievement of the real. What is real must be true and so lead us toward purity and emancipation. This is yoga sadhana and not the mechanical repetition merely of yoga practice or yogabhyasa. The end of yoga sadhana is wisdom. You might translate yoga sadhana here as “the yoga pilgrimage” as it is a journey that leads somewhere, not the mere treadmill of thoughtless practice.”
BKS Iyengar – Light on Life.

This is the simple schedule that I settled on from DAY 3:
7.30 – 9.00 breakfast, walk dog, shower, chores
9.00 – 11.00 yoga asana
11.00 – 2.00 meditation
2.00 – 2.30 lunch
2.30 – 5.30 meditation
5.30 – 6.00 cup of tea break
6.00 – 7.30 long walk along river with dog
7.30 – 9.30 yoga asana
9.30 – 10.30 meditation/writing


Image: My bedroom window

Three accumulative days of meditation have calmed my mind. It feels cleaner in there, as if the windows through which I see the world have been polished and I can see clearly and objectively what is both inside and outside.

A two and a half hour practice this morning – without forward bends.
Sun salutes meticulously and lovingly performed, then all the standing poses plus Ardha Chandrasana, exploring most of the poses for up to 8 breaths, working the legs, feeling their strength and connecting it to the pelvic floor.
After one and a quarter hours of standing poses I needed to lay in Supta Virasana over a bolster to ease the earthy intensity out of my body. Then to the wall for Handstand and Pincha Mayurasana, my body still feeling heavy but not dull.
There was a version of Pincha Mayurasana that we set up with a chair in a Glenn Ceresoli workshop – I remembered the powerful shoulder opening it provided but after pulling out a chair, I couldn’t recall how to set it up (will have to look that one up in my past blog notes so I can practice it another day).
Janu Sirsasana was the only forward bend for today, a deep and gentle spinal twist.
Then a few repetitions of Salabhasana, Dhanurasana and Parsva Dhanurasana, an oddly fulfilling pose that permits a full bak arch without grounding into the floor through hands or feet. It always feels absurd to flip over onto my side and stretch like a writhing beached whale.
Continuing the backbends I set up a passive one that Kosta had shown me: Place a stool in front of the wall (or a chair side-on), put a bolster on top parallel to the wall, then place a rolled up blanket on top and drape a sticky mat on top of the bolster; lay over the mound with hands into the wall and feet into the floor. Position yourself over the mat so that when you press firmly down into the legs, the traction of the mat under the back body pulls the skin and fascia under the shoulders towards the waist – it’s the traction that makes the preparation worthwhile.
I pushed my heavy body up into one long, deep Urdhva Dhanurasana then settled into the inversions, following the same order of poses as the Ashtanga finishing sequence except that I held a 50 breath (5 minute) Shoulderstand and finished with a 60 breath (8 minute) Headstand – but who’s counting.

How I’m loving my asana practice. It’s simple, strong, connected and deeply nourishing. Physically it’s reconfiguring my body, especially my spine, but it’s also redefining my relationship to my practice. When you take full responsibility and ownership of something, and you love it, you take care of it with all your heart.

I am so grateful to all my past teachers. The methods, techniques and wisdom they have passed on are all coming together in this retreat: Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, Patanjali’s sutras and the Raja Yoga path, Tibetan, Theravadan and Zen Buddhism, the Burmese Vipassana and Anapanasati meditation techniques based on the Sattipathana sutra, the mystical traditions of the Sufis and early Christian mystics…no longer are they a mish-mash of accumulated information competing for my affections – instead they now coalescing into one evolving and coherent body of knowledge and practice that informs and inspires me. They may all represent a different path up the mountain but they all lead towards the liberating experience of our divinity, the realisation that there is ONE primal force of creation and love…and it has been within us all the time.

The retreat has revealed how much I’ve digested and assimilated the essence of all these teachings; they have formed the very bones and flesh in which I live and breathe.
My practice has finally come of age and matured into an intelligent approach to my life.
They no longer conflict with each other because I no longer subscribe to any ONE of them to the exclusion of any other.

What a relief and a revelation.

I’ve come to believe that the old advice not to dig too many holes or you will never find water holds true for the beginner. It is best to explore deeply and thoroughly one system at a time, not mix and match. But after years of exploring deeply and thoroughly many different systems, I’ve come to the conclusion that they can all be used for digging if you know where you’re going.
So at last my practice is my very own. The doubts that undermined my confidence have lost all substance.
I have practiced these last few days with a devotion and JOY that is breathtakingly glorious.

Full time working life is not helpful for the ardent spiritual sadhaka. Hours/days/weeks/months/years can be spent just trying to cope with the barrage of stress inducing situations that keep our crazy lives running on fast and empty. Retreat time is precious.
Removing myself from work and family commitments and reconnecting with the journey of a lifetime has provided a precious opportunity to relocate myself, redefine my priorities, invigorate my dwindling practice, dispel all doubt and place me back on the illuminated path of my heart.
I know that daily life is where we must put our practice into action, where it must manifest to be of any use, but we can’t contribute to uplifting our world when we’ve lost the plot and the higher meaning of it all.
Our ability to see clearly and draw inspiration from the light shining within wears out, and then it’s easy to get completely lost.
A period of retreat provides the physical and mental space to seek out that light once again.

Today I realised that I don’t know ANYONE who is really doing the internal psychological and spiritual transformative work of a true yogi. I know many people who are doing practices that make them feel PHYSICALLY and ENERGETICALLY better, which helps them go out into the world and do good things to make their EGOS feel good (one usually feeds the other). But any activity that strengthens and pampers the ego, or makes us feel ‘special’ is in opposition to the goal of authentic spiritual practice.

“Everyone wants to be special in some way. What if life was fine the way it was. What if there was nothing else?Ego wants some kind of advantage – to be stronger, better than everyone, secure. Ego wants to be protected against death, pain. Yet at the level of Reality, all the differences between us are illusory. You get to see that you’re all right as you are – no problem.Just imagine if, in this moment, who you were right now was all right with you. If everything about you was fine with you – your body, your hair, your personality. What would you do with all the energy that freed up? We devour a tremendous amount of energy being unhappy with how we are in the moment, struggling to be someone else, when we can’t be any other way.”
Lee Lozowick

I am so perfectly content to be just as I am, right now.
To just BE.
Alive in this world.
With whatever is.

Brick Wall
DAY 4 ended on a slightly lower note. Buffy and I explored a new route along the river for our evening walk. We went much further than I’d planned and didn’t get back home until 6.30pm. Physically tired from the walk and 3 days of asana, all my body aches were suddenly magnified. I decided on a trade off: the evening asana session for an hour of sitting. But fifteen minutes into the sitting session, my tired and stubborn mind refused to focus and my will was too weak to overpower it.

If this were a longer retreat, I could have written off the evening, recharged tomorrow, carried on with the rest of the retreat and redeemed myself without too much guilt.
Sadly this was the last night. Skipping the practice resembled a balloon slowly deflating and shrivelling up. ffffffffffffftht.

We can give up on something that’s beyond our capacity and either judge ourselves harshly, beating ourselves up, or we can let it go and cease any further suffering – letting go develops our wisdom and compassion.
So I just let it go.
Yes we must challenge our limitations in order to expand and grow, but we must also acknowledge our fluctuating limitations. There are times when we can rise to meet the challenges presented but there are times when we need to retreat and recharge. Knowing which way to go requires sensitivity and compassion, and by developing these qualities, the heart will grow soft and generous towards all others who are struggling with their own psychological limitations and demons.

I went to bed early, promising myself I’d get up early and use tomorrow morning wisely before finishing the retreat at lunchtime.

DAY 4 of a serious meditation retreat or DAY 4 of a yoga workshop seem to be when many people hit the wall. It’s an inevitable part of the process, a natural reaction to an unrelenting daily practice schedule that we’re not used to.
You hit this mental barrier and block; it’s hiding in a little black spot just after the initial novelty of the first 3 days has subsided but just before the routine of the practice has settled into the body/mind (which tends to kick in around Day 5). In between these two spaces lays DAY 4, and the brick wall.

That was my Sunday night.


Two and a half hours this morning - my final practice of the retreat.
Before starting I chanted the Ashtanga invocation (Vande gurunam caranaravinde…..)
5 As, 1B, Padangusthasana, Pada Hastasana.

I came back to Samastithi and chanted again, this time the Gayatri mantra, 3 times.
The tone of practice changed…my heart opened…practice became a prayer.

Moving in and out of poses, I noticed something different moving through my body. My hands carried and expressed a soft energy, strong but delicate, they opened and closed like flowers, extending out to the tips then returning home to the heart, sealing in the prayer.

I did all the standing poses with great love, and added Ardha Chandrasana again. Parivritta Parsvakonasana finally came together today, a promising sign that perhaps my lower back degeneration is reversing – I couldn’t stay long in the final pose but I held it with great inner core integrity, not just with a superficially flexible body.

Handstand and Pincha Mayurasana, then some seated forward bends and twists.

I’ve discovered Ardha Matsyendrasana, what a great pose, so much to master in this one. I’m nowhere near binding but the journey of discovery presents its own unique gifts – balance of weight, finding a vertical spine, moving attention and prana into the more expanded lung, the stability of mula bandha holding it all together…fun, fun, fun.
(I've been attempting the version where your foot is under the buttocks, not the one where your foot is next to the thigh.)

Then I challenged myself in Shoulderstand – got up to 100 breaths (clocked 10 minutes). I probably could have stayed longer: it got easier after 80 breaths because 100 was in sight and the little crest of excitement carried me there. Hands on bare back was helpful for grip but my belly was uncovered – yuk – I noticed when I lowered into Halasana that my navel was not centred, it was skewed at least one inch to the right - correcting it was interesting - my lumbar protested as I lifted my left sitting bone up and lengthened my left side – it really had been collapsed. How long have I been doing Halasana like this? And how many other poses are equally lopsided?

40 breaths in Headstand (5 minutes).

Noting the time I stay in Shoulderstand and Headstand is of no consequence to me. It’s purely childish entertainment. A little game I play with myself.

After asana practice I sat for an hour, the final sit before resuming ‘normal’ life.
I sat like the Buddha in a state and a place that is familiar to all those who have travelled the road to Samadhi. You feel like you’re sitting at the entrance of an enormous mansion.

To get there I had used a technique that helps gather the mind into a single laser beam of pure focus. It goes like this: after watching the incoming and outgoing breath for a while to concentrate the mind, you begin to notice and catch the very beginning and the very end of each breath, observing that split second, that micro moment where each breath action starts. This sharpens the mind like a razor. Then you observe the little u-turn between the in and out breath, until the pause between the breaths lengthens and you sit with that pause between every breath, suspended in absolute stillness.

From there I let myself enter the realm of God as if the source of all life were present in front of me, around me, inside of me. There was no boundary between my skin and everything else, I had no boundary, I had merged. The mind can not interfere with this for any thoughts create instant separation. I oscillated on the brink, one foot immersed in the rapture that filled my sparkling expanded body, the other foot flicking away the stray thoughts that wanted to describe and make sense of the rapture.
I remembered the jhanas – the 8 levels of absorption documented in Buddhist literature. Rapture comes with the second jhana. One must let go of rapture to descent into a deeper but more subtle mindstate. The next stage is contentment and equanimity (not as exciting as rapture).

I remembered Brother Lawrence: wasn’t his entire practice sitting in the presence of God? Buddhists don’t acknowledge the bhakti of devotion, the intense love that springs from union with the Divine. Rapture dissolved, leaving full awareness, a lucid presence in which there was only breath and a transparent body, no I.
nobodhi home

But as usual, it was short lived.

An automatic mechanism short-circuited the experience.
I’m sure I (or no I) could have sat in that state for much longer, the brush with eternity was short but sweet. Who turned it off?

If nothing else has come of these five sacred days on retreat, I know without doubt that my practice is alive, it is grounded and it is honest.
I don’t expect practice to give me the answers, but it must keep prompting me to ask the questions.

“Samadhi is an experience which is worth struggling to reach. It is transformative and utterly purifying. But what then? Samadhi is a state of being in which you cannot do. You cannot catch a bus when in Samadhi. Samadhi leaves the practitioner changed forever, but he still has to get dressed in the morning, eat breakfast and answer his correspondence. Nature does not simply disappear once and for all. It is simply that the realized yogi is never again unaware of the true relationship between Nature and Cosmic Soul. The yogi is aware that it is the Divine Breath that lives us. And he can see that Divine Breath in others. His insight penetrates at all times beneath the surface of appearances. Essence is more real than expression.
The realized yogi continues to function and act in the world but in a way that is free. It is free from the desires of motivation and free from the desire of the fruit or rewards of action. The yogi is utterly disinterested but paradoxically full of the engagement of compassion. He is IN the world but not OF it.
The challenge for the spiritually free man is to live according to five qualities: courage, vitality, right and useful memory, awareness through living in the present moment, and total absorption in his actions.
He lives form his heart in truth and expresses it in words."

BKS Iyengar – Light on Life

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart”