I had so much fun in Summer, doing yoga with an angled roof. It changed the way I practiced. Initially I bumped into it and felt the constriction of space, through the couple of weeks I was in Cornwall I grew to love it and found so many ways to play. These videos show how I used the space, so if youre lucky enough to be doing yoga in a a roof space you can make the most of it.
Salicylic Acid Scrub Soap
This is a lovely soap Im using at the moment. This is a nicely packaged, healthy soap. The exfoliating grit is just the right amount for me and I like to use it on my legs particularly. I like it’s low toxic qualities, it’s gentle enough to use all over and yet strong enough to clean well. A perfect healthy soap to keep your skin in good condition. Its on deal at the moment too!
Lions Mane Mushroom Supplement
First of all I love the packaging. Lion’s mane has some pretty impressive potential benefits and increasing research behind it. There are no known side effects, but benefits range from increased cognitive functioning and digestive functioning to decreasing anxiety – what’s not to like? A friend suggested I taste the contents of the caplet to see the quality – it tastes great – like slightly savory cinnamon sugar, really lovely. All in all, I really like this product and will keep taking it in times of stress…. I feel it is definitely of benefit.
I was speaking to a friend, giving them a lovely compliment that they took the wrong way. They said no they weren’t fantastic, they were shitty and awful, and if I thought they were wonderful then equally I’d dislike something they did soon. I laughed gently and explained I thought embracing both was a better idea. To be light and dark is important. To be selfish and giving. To be awful and great.
In life, there is darkness, profound darkness and pain, and there is also light and bliss. If we deny our darkness we can’t find the light, we just evade our darkness. To know light we need to know dark. Yin Yang, Up down, sad happy.
Going up to go down
This really is yoga. Let me explain why. Yoga is primarily about union and balance. In yoga we work with stability, finding the floor and at the same time finding edges, balance and aliveness. Our bodies need to be soft to go with it, to adapt, to feel and yet strong in terms of muscles and alignment that supports us. We need to be active and yet passive. Using muscles and yet not overusing.
On a yoga mat when you come into a pose you are also almost contradictorily moving in the opposite direction. So in dancer pose I might think of my chest moving forwards and down, but to do this I need also to be moving upwards, this ensures my downward movement is alive and not a collapse. So chest is moving forwards and down, the lifted foot is moving upwards and back. It is this fluctuating balance that keeps it real.
But the perfect ones don’t have any dark
Yoga is often considered for the pure and light, the perfect ones. Indeed there can be some pressure from the yoga community to portray a perfect ideal, sell transformation and aspirations…. and to deny realness. Problematically I may play into this idea. A yoga teacher friend of mine Orla Beaton liked one of my yoga videos saying I was always cheerful. That really surprised me, as its not my perception of myself. It also made me think Id better address it. We talked about it together and I laughed saying it took a lot of crying to get this happy. That’s why I’m also writing it here. My experience is that you’re going to have to cry bucket loads. I’m not done crying, not nearly, I’ve only just begun. So when you see me laughing and playing remember where it comes from – from sitting with my darkness. I don’t mean some hypothetical darkness that I can do for an hour and then file as done, I wish. It’s a much harder darkness, it’s an ongoing process, never complete, never ‘done’, and refusing to be tidy.
Single sighted yoga
In yoga this doesn’t work on the mat. You can’t do tree pose and decide to ignore your knee or our hip or your back or your breath. When we forget a part of ourselves we ultimately hurt ourselves. We can damage ourselves or get a chronic condition. You can’t physically ignore one part of your body, just like you cant just put to one side a part of your emotional world. We can evade, ignore, shut down – it is possible. But it doesn’t lead well and in the long term, it damages. The body and soul can become pulled around so that you feel like you don’t know your body or mind. Meeting the contradictions is the path.
Embracing contradictions in yoga
In dog pose you need to meet the floor well, you need to find comfort in your hands and arms, your hamstrings. You need to drop down into the floor with your feet and the pads of your palm, and at the same time you need to lift up through the hips. Heavy soft in the hands and feet, light in the sacrum. It’s all contradictions, and what’s more they keep changing. Sliding back into dog pose there is heaviness in the pelvis, lightness in the arms and hands, work in the hips, ease in the shoulders. If you come straight up there is more work in the legs, and the interplay comes more into the feet, down into the feet, up through the legs and belly. When we’re in dog pose we can slide back into the heels, feel the earth connection down through the back of the legs or we can stay more forwards feel the earthing more into our hands and arms. We might do neither and play with the spine, look for its flow is space, its undulations.
I suggest embracing opposites as a part of the whole, and taking the rough with the smooth. It’s a common phrase and it starts with ‘taking the rough…’, the idea being we tend to avoid the rough. I often meet people who find it hard to accept their light, to take the smooth with the rough.
Take the smooth with the rough
Mary Williams says it nicely:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world.”
Celebrate the good stuff – go for it, relish it. Mourn the losses, the pain, the mess – go down with it. Feel the joy in a flaky croissant, a beautiful stone, and kind touch. Feel the love, feel the pain. Try not to diminish either. Try to let your losses be huge and your joys to be huge. Be real with it, thoroughly real…. and try to, if someone gives you a compliment, to feel it for what it is – a nice thing. They might say they like your jumper, and tell you that you did a good job. You might be tempted to value judge the compliment to rebuff it – outright refusing to hear it. You might make it smaller, less meaningful: ‘yeah it’s lovely isn’t it, I got it from a charity shop’ (one of my favourites). They might say something deep or inane, but don’t get hung up on the words. I’m tempting you to embrace the compliment as a lovely moment in life where someone wants to share something they appreciate about you.
Yoga, flux and onwards
This is yoga, up and down, light and dark, strong and weak, bitter and sweet, soft and hard. A continual balance of opposites that leads us into harmony, again and again, and again. Not once, not twice, but continually into the dynamic flux of life. It can be yoga in a pose, or the yoga of a tiny interaction.
Find and live your darkness, find and live your light. They are interconnected. In short, take the smooth with the rough… and for those who rebuff compliments take it from me: you’re fantastic. Tomorrow you can be awful, and that’s still ok.
The other week I found myself doing yoga on a horse. Yes. Me standing on a horse on a Saturday afternoon! How did that happen? Obviously I love yoga, and do a fair amount every week, but on a horse with the gymnastic vaulters? I used to horse ride as a kid, loved it, but in adulthood, it just hasn’t worked out. Maybe I have not met the right horse! I visited an in-laws horse with eager anticipation, to meet the most arrogant and aggressive horse in my life. The wild rangy power of this horse and maybe more significantly the relationship to the owner really shook me. I’d never disliked or wanted to get away from a horse in my life. But there it was. I went to a riding stable but the poor souls were just beasts of burden. I gave up.
Then the local vaulting team asked me to get involved to help them develop their vaulting through yoga. I was of course very curious – what is vaulting? Why do they want my help? At first, I was excited and then rapidly became concerned about the horses and whether I would be able to be involved. How the horses experience it? And the vaulters? How do they treat their animals? Maybe they would be whipped? Downtrodden? Enslaved?
What is vaulting?
Vaulting is a highly competitive sport where people do creative gymnastic sequences on a moving horse. The horse is on a leash and canters at a steady pace. The vaulters perform a sequence of dance like gymnastics to music and attain points for their skill, poses shown, interpretation and creativity.
So why do they want a yoga teacher?
They are stronger than I am, more flexible than I am and they know horses better too. They want a yoga teacher to bring a new angle to their practice. There are basic commonalities: strength and flexibility. There are some other things that are personal yoga loves of mine – the way I practice yoga is freer and more soft than many. With vaulting this is extremely important. To stand on a moving horse you can’t be hard, tight and rigid, you have to have fluidity. If you do an Ashtanga triangle you’ll be off in a second. It’s just too rigid. You need softness in the knees and hips to meet the movement of a cantering horse beneath your feet. You need flexibility, but the flexibility needs to be changeable, highly dynamic – not just stick person up, down, left, right – it needs to be 360 degrees of awareness and possible aliveness.
And how did you end up doing yoga on a horse’s back?
So back to my worry about the horses. This was my non-negotiable. The horses certainly work but I needn’t have worried. I met their stud, healing after an injury. A soul with deep warm eyes, some pain, but such a loving horse. Then I went to the training ground to see the practice session. The kids were on task, running in step with the horses, jumping on, showing their routines. I loved watching their spines move, the rhythm, the interaction. I watched a beautiful limber vaulter jump, slide and twirl over her horses back.
And then they asked if I’d like a go. My sensible me would say ‘maybe next time’, but sensible me was not to be seen, so ‘yes’ it was. I was nervy, wondering how the horse would react to me, what would he feel? We, the horse and I, had a chat before I got up. He was such a steady, rock-solid dependable boy, and so tender, I fell in love immediately. I got up and of course found myself way higher up than I’d imagined and vertigo threatened to set in, but I found my feet and I began to trust him. All fours, tadasana, forward bend, squat. The most phenomenal was tadasana, because as he walked his pelvis rocked profoundly. Under me wasn’t on a sticky mat, not the floor, not undulating sand, not even a flightly surfboard but a glorious stallion. One who is alive, moving, breathing, who although utterly reliable is ‘human’ just like me. He might stumble, start. It could go wrong. It didn’t. I felt such gratitude to him, for supporting me. I loved his movement, and my movement, and the way we had to work together. At one point I startled and caused him to startle too – just an ear prick, but in that proximity, we shared each other’s experience. We had to work together and trust was vital. I could hurt him if I slipped or fell, he could hurt me if he was unpredictable.
Of course, you can reread the above paragraph and apply it to other relationships, how we are with others, when and how we blindside them, shock them, how we react when someone else does the same and ultimately how we choose to be with others, how far can we go. But let’s come back to traditional yoga.
How can we learn to trust our bodies?
When you start to do yoga you can hear so many stories, or such stories of pain and inflexibility that it can make you want to run away. People sometimes come to class and feel so much remorse for what their body is now compared to what it was and could do. Other days it’s an injury that is overwhelming their experience, and sometimes it’s the anxiety of living. A pose can turn into a stream of self-deprecating thoughts. We meet our stuff when we come to yoga. We meet it, and in time we learn to meet it kindly. We learn to trust that our bodies have a wisdom and that if we listen kindly we can get on really well together.
Mind, body and spirit
In the Bhagavad Gita there is an analogy. A god directing a chariot. The horses are the senses, what we observe, the reins is the mind, the charioteer as the intellect. The horses can distract, the reins try to control, the charioteer sometimes off course. I’ve decided to make my analogy simpler.
Often people have a separation between their mind and body. Their mind decides what they want to do, can do and their body is told to complete the action. The body can be treated like a slave – ‘Just do it. Just do it or I will resent you and punish you’. This is normal, and insidious if left unchecked. We age, time passes and things we could blast through are no longer possible. The increasing circles start to decrease and with it, a sense of loss can occur. I took one woman into a headstand at a workshop. She was terribly nervous as shed not done one in 20 years. Afterwards she was crying happily, as she had re-found a part of herself that she thought was gone. She found her mental constrictions and went beyond them. She learned that she could trust her body to be more than she had imagined, safely.
If you hear yourself castigating your body or you know this pattern in yourself try to think of your body a horse, a stunning, strong and beautiful horse. I can hear your thoughts, about your body is going to be an old gnarly nag, or a broken dilapidated one. A workhorse ready for the dump and other over-dramatic stories. Nope. See your body as a wonderful healthy horse, but one who you must work rather carefully with. As much as you trust them they are separate from you and need a massive amount of respect, care and observing. Watch the horse’s shoulder shudder, the flick of his tail, the twitch of his ear, the slight movement of his head. When doing pigeon pose listen to your knee joint, the inside of your hip joint, the spine and sensations of energy, feel your breath, notice its flow. Listen really carefully. Not like you’re sitting on a horse, strapped in, saddled, helmet on, horse on a leash. Listen like your standing on a horse bareback, no helmet, no safety net What is happening behind your eyes? To their focus? How is your mind moving now? Now? And this moment? Listen so carefully.
If you and your body are very much in unison and you find the above paragraph confusing: celebrate it. You still need to listen, but maybe the attention to what is happening in your body has become easier. If so, start to notice just beyond your body, the energy space around you. If you practice with too much intention what happens to your energy field? If you lose focus what happens to the space around you?
When you practice yoga or hop onto a horse, listen and listen well. Open out to what is possible whilst coming back to being safe: mind, body, and spirit. Every moment is precious and every moment offers the possibility for transformation. So that is how I ended up doing yoga on the back of a horse. Doing yoga on horseback was some of the most exhilarating yoga I’ve done in my life. I can’t wait to go back! But until I do, I will listen carefully and focus on this moment, now this moment, now this moment.