Learning to Soften

“Knowing that enough is enough

   Is always

      Enough.”

Tao Te Ching - Lao-tzu

In a world where harder and faster is usually seen to be better, it can be very difficult to take a step back and slow down. Our minds are in constant overdrive, if we aren’t thinking about work, we’re thinking about what we’re doing after, if we get a moment to ourselves it is more often than not used to seek some kind of stimulation, whether that be using the phone, on social media, searching the internet etc. It is rare that our spare time is used to seek true space. Time for us to simply experience the moment – nothing more, nothing less.

We live in a society that is addicted to stimulation and unfortunately this stimulation isn’t sustainable to us. When we seek stimulation, as soon as we find it in whatever form, it soon comes to an end, we are then left to start off where we began, in seeking mode once again. This can be an endless cycle which creates habitual patterns of behaviour, even when we don’t want to conform to this behaviour, it is very difficult to break free from.  Here, tension  forms in the mind and body and the disconnection between the two deepens. We start to judge ourselves and compare ourselves to others, drawing imaginary boundaries around us. In a strange way, it becomes us against the world – lost and lonely we continue in the seemingly never ending cycle – never seeking true satisfaction.

It seems that the advice given to us in the West, if we want to achieve anything, is to go faster, go harder and be better. And to be better we have to go faster and work harder. There is only so long that this can last, as like a fast car, we have to stop at some point. Only the question is, how will we come to a stop. If we are lucky it will be with a realisation that we cannot keep on the way we are, if we are unlucky it will be with the body or mind screaming at us to stop and eventually crashing. The reality is you cannot have light without dark, yin without yang. We cannot have hard without soft, fast without slow. We have to give ourselves space to regenerate, we have to soften in the mind and body to help release any tension accumulated through our busy lives. We have to allow ourselves to be slow and steady and find balance. But how? We humans form patterns of behaviour very easily and can get stuck in them in a moments flash. If we are on overdrive most of the days we live, then how can we just stop and listen? It takes time and practice… at first when we stop we feel like we have to be doing something, we feel agitated and our minds cannot rest. After a while, it becomes easier, but it is a forever practice, one that will fluctuate depending on what is going on in our lives, but once you have it – you’ve got it with you forever. A forever friend, ready to help at any time.

When we move our awareness inward we start to find a different kind of stimulation. Instead of focusing on the external world we enter our internal world – here lies a magnitude of self-discovery, we begin the journey back to finding the connection between body and mind, shifting our focus to become more aware of our internal landscape. With this awareness we can better decipher how we are feeling, without judgement or expectation, we can move into the body and find a sense of space and stillness. Giving the mind space from thoughts, and allowing the mind and body to connect. Here is where softening comes in…

When we think about softness we maybe see it as some kind of weakness, something to avoid, something to mask. However, softening and softness hold so much power. When we come to our physical yoga practice, the practice of asana (postures) can be quite difficult, even if we are practicing yang (energetic) or yin (passive) yoga, at some point we will come across a posture which is uncomfortable for the mind and body, or this may be the feeling we have in every posture from start to finish. This is truly where our practice starts, as here we are presented with a choice. We can either block out the discomfort, allow our awareness to leave the body and go off into any other thought to try and get away from it, or we can enter it, we can go into the discomfort, we can feel and get to know it. When we allow ourselves to be, without changing anything, we find a softness. Once we allow the softening of the mind we are able to soften in the body, using breath and awareness, we can get to know the area of discomfort, we can go into it, explore and actually feel from the body instead of allowing the intellect of the mind to tell us about our experience. We can put thoughts to one side and simply feel. This softening may only last a few seconds before we start tensing up again but the more we practice, the easier it becomes to make the choice to soften.

Another way we can introduce softening in our practice is to welcome the practice of Ahimsa (non-violence, non-harm). When we move through our practice with kindness, we are more likely to observe from a place of non-judgement, being open to whatever we are feeling in that moment. With kindness we release expectation – with this we automatically soften, with nothing to have to live up to we can relax and go at our own pace. It is so very important not to push ourselves to our limit, always leaving space to breath into the posture instead of trying to go deeper, allowing thoughts to come and go as and when they do and not putting ourselves under any pressure to change anything. This allows our mind and body to soften, eventually we find we have the space then to melt into the posture, tension slowly releases as our awareness expands. When we come into the posture or move through our practice at 100%, then we aren’t leaving the body or the mind any room for exploration and discovery, we are at our limit and this usually means holding further tension, here the muscles and the mind tighten and it becomes ever harder for us to stay present. We need to pull back, be gentle and release. A practice which is alien to most, but can be the most rewarding and rich experience. When we show kindness to ourselves, we create more space to show genuine kindness to others, we are able to move through life at life’s pace taking each moment as it comes. We start to come into balance, living from a place of nourishment from within… sustainable, freeing, enriching.

Once we start to practice softening on our mats it is easier to take it into daily life. We have the space to take a step back and observe before getting fully involved in whatever it is we are about to experience. We become more aware of what is beneficial to us and what isn’t – using the space to help us decipher which thoughts and actions are going to heal or hinder. Being human means that our practice is never perfect, it also means that we are given the opportunity to learn from all of our experiences, we can then take forth all of our experience and learn from them when we are ready to. So, the next time you are practicing physical yoga, or if you wish you can practice from this very moment - simply move with kindness. Move through your day and/or practice with a softness, be gentle in thought and action and see what this beautifully infinite practice opens up for you.

If you would like to discuss your practice or share your experience please get in touch at info@chandrayogastudio.com

I hope you enjoy finding the beauty in inviting softness into your life. 

Sarah x

“Thus what I have called death of the ego transpires in the moment when it is discovered and admitted that these ultimate feelings are irresistible. They are ultimate in two senses: one, that they sometimes have to do with very fundamental and cataclysmic events, and, two, that they are sometimes our deepest, most radical feelings with respect to a given situation – such as the basic frustration provoked by a conflict between sorrow and shame. The point is that these ultimate feelings are as wise as all the rest, and their wisdom emerges when we give up resisting them – through the realisation that we are simply unable to do so. When, for example, life compels us at last to give in, to surrender to the full play of what is ordinarily called the terror of the unknown, the supressed feeling suddenly shoots upward as a fountain of the purest joy. What was formerly felt as horror of our inevitable mortality becomes transformed by an inner alchemy into an almost ecstatic sense of freedom from the bonds of individuality. But ordinarily we do not discover the wisdom of our inner feelings because we do not let them complete their work; we try to supress them or discharge them in premature action, not realizing that they are a process of creation which, like birth, begins as a pain and turns into a child.”

The Paradox of Self-denial – Alan Watts

Beauty in Practice

Recognize beauty and ugliness is born.
Recognize good and evil is born.

Ku yu wu hsiang sheng
Is and Isn’t produce each other.

Hard depends on easy,
Long is tested by short,
High is determined by low,
Sound is harmonized by voice,
After is followed by before.

Therefore the Sage is devoted to non-action,
Moves without teaching,
Creates ten thousand things without instruction,
Lives but does not own,
Acts but does not presume,
Accomplishes without taking credit.

When no credit is taken,
Accomplishment endures.
— Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu

There are many levels of beauty in the practice of yoga, layers much deeper than that which is obvious to the visible eye. There is no doubt that asanas (postures) practiced to their full expression, with ease and grace, is a form of art in itself, however, if yoga is being practiced authentically the journey to the full expression of asana brings about a deep connection between the mind and body. We learn how to soften and let go, mentally and physically, bringing about a deeper sense of awareness and a new quality of  beauty.

When the mind softens, so does the body. The mind has more space to connect within therefore, we are less likely to hold tension in the body, as we grow more and more aware we can feel when we do hold tension and what situations, thoughts, events in our lives make us tighten up, and with this awareness and understanding we can finally start to release and let go.

Beauty has some delicate connotations in our society and its easy to get caught up in only the visual sense of the word. Unfortunately, it is hard to simply just appreciate visual beauty without some kind of insecurity forming, then rears the ugly head of comparison, jealousy, competition, constantly striving to be better in a pressurised way. We scrutinise and judge ourselves and others whilst trying to live up to a somewhat unattainable standard of beauty. It is unattainable because most of the time this kind of standard isn’t natural to us, not to mention these standards intentionally demand the constant purchase of clothes, products and objects to stay in line with the current trend. This never bringing about true satisfaction; we are left feeling empty and wanting more.

This cycle occurs in every industry, and it is definitely prominent in the yoga industry. There are countless brands that seem to be promoted everywhere by beautiful people performing beautiful postures in the most beautiful places on earth. It is important to know that this isn’t yoga. They are promoting all things related to yoga and the people may genuinely practice yoga away from it all, but in reality, you don’t need a mat, fashionable clothing, yoga accessories and props, in order to practice yoga at all. All you really need is your breath.

Once you start to work with your breath you start to unravel many, many layers of discovery. Connecting the mind and the body, feeling into the body and allowing ourselves to really feel is something that we as a society are disconnected from. We are always in our minds, running from one thing to the next, hardly ever stopping for breath. When we stop and actually focus on our breath, we start to create space, when we have space we are free to create whatever it is that comes naturally to us. We start to pave our own way in life and do so with a sense of clarity and with joy.

In our physical yoga practice we use the breath to move into postures, when we are in the posture we use the breath to soften tension in the body. Usually this takes a softening in the mind first. A lot of postures look strange or hard, unattainable even,  we may be faced with fear, all kinds of blockages can occur and it can be confusing to feel parts of our body that may have been dormant for a long while, but once we let go of expectation and come into the present moment by focusing on the breath, then we are able to feel what it is like to actually accept, soften and let go.

 It takes a lot of mental strength to release in the body, and this is where we find the beauty in practice. When we relax, we come into acceptance and begin to open up. Eventually the practice starts to manifest in daily life, not only in the physical practice, we start to notice beauty everywhere, moments that we would usually ignore that actually make our lives easier to live. We start to make choices that allow us to live life to the full, not extravagantly but simply. The beauty is in how simple it is. It is the most natural thing for us to breath, so natural that we do it without having to think about it, it’s a constant in all of our living lives. There’s power in it. It keeps us safe. It speaks to us. It’s so very simple.

Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t need to look good, it doesn’t need anything. Everything is already in you, it’s just about learning to find it, breath by breath, practice by practice, lesson by lesson.

“Yoga has precise definitions of mind and consciousness, and the English words we use do not always correspond well to the Sanskrit. I will explain them as I go along, but suffice to say that normal English usage often uses mind and consciousness synonymously. In the precision of the Sanskrit, mind is described as an aspect or part of consciousness. The mind forms the outer layer of consciousness (citta) in the same way as the skeletal and muscular body is the outer sheath that contains the inner body of vital organs and circulatory and respiratory systems. Consciousness means our capacity to be aware, both externally as well as internally, which we call self-awareness. One good image for consciousness is a lake. The pure waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it (external), and one can also see right through the clear water to the bottom (internal). Similarly a pure mind can reflect the beauty in the world around it, and when the mind is still, the beauty of the Self, or soul, is seen reflected in it. But we all know what stagnation and pollution do to a lake. As one has to keep the water of a lake clean, so it is yoga’s job to clean and calm the thought waves that disturb our awareness.”

BKS Iyengar, Light on Life.

The Power of Breath

“The lungs are placed in a recess so sacred and hidden that nature would seem to have specifically withdrawn this part both from the eyes and from the intellect: for, beyond the wish, it has not yet been granted to any one to fit a window to the breast and redeem from darkness the profound secrets of nature. For all of the parts of the body, the lungs alone, as if shrinking from observation, cease from their movement and collapse at once on the first entrance of light and self-revelation. Hense such an ignorance of Respiration and a sort of holy wonder.”

 John Mayow – Tractatus Quinque (1964) quoted from Anatomy of Hatha Yoga – H. David Coulter

 

If you have been to any yoga class you will probably have found that the breath plays a massive part in the practice. If you are focused on your breath only, you are practicing yoga. The breath helps us in many ways, it helps us keep focus and concentration, it helps us to soften and relax mentally and physically, and it helps us to access inner space and knowledge. With breath we also connect the inner environment with the outer environment and vice versa. We merge, we connect, it makes us whole. We have never known life without breathing and have become so used to it being second nature we hardly ever recognise it. Only if we are short of breath or if we take a big sigh do we probably give it some thought, which is quite incredible seen as it is the reason we are here, it is literally our life force (Prana in Sanskrit) and it’s obvious where we would be without it! … Certainly not in this physical world anyway. So, if breath gives us life, it is pretty powerful already, therefore, if we actually give it some focus and listen to it, surely it can tell us quite a lot.

If we think about times where we have been angry, or have been in a situation where suddenly we feel anxious, then we probably realise that in those moments the breath shortens and becomes fast, and along with that the heart starts to beat faster, and this surge makes us feel out of control. It then takes our perception to shift to allow us to start to calm down, we start to take longer breaths, usually in through the nose and out through the mouth, to help us come back into balance, but as soon as that thought arises again, we feel ourselves spiralling out of control. 

Here the mind and thought, in the memory of the situation, have made it so we associate that awful feeling with the memory of the situation. Even though as soon as the moment has passed where we have experienced it, we remember it differently to what it actually was. All of our memories are distorted, not true to the actual reality of what happened. As soon as we experience, we perceive it in our own way therefore one person’s view of a situation can be completely different from another – how do we know who is right? We can go over and over again and again which carries us even further away from the truth, we end up feeling lost and out of control, or we become unable to acknowledge that we may actually be wrong, making it hard for us to let go and move on.

Here the mind has taken over and it is easy for us to run away in thought with what has happened, we make up our own stories and overanalyse every detail, we place blame, feel guilt, ask why me?! – we become completely disconnected from the present moment and make it hard for ourselves to heal and let go of whatever it is that has happened because we keep thinking about it and giving it weight. If it is something that is extremely sad and hurtful we may even bury it away, deep deep down, and reject any feelings that come up when we think about it, making us feel cold and empty and ultimately very sad.

When we practice working with the breath we start to become clear.  Little by little, breath by breath, we start to release. Not only can breath purify the body but it can also purify the mind, creating the space we need to decipher which thoughts have meaning and benefit and which ones don’t. When we simply focus on our breath, we are bringing our mind into the body, the mind and body become one force. Mind has space to be free from thought, connecting inwardly and becoming aware of experience in the moment. When we start this practice it is so easy to be distracted, all of a sudden we are off in thought on a beach somewhere drinking from a coconut, but as we continue it becomes easier.

“By watching our thoughts carefully, we can learn to directly experience each thought or concept as it arises. By gently and skilfully staying with each thought, we can experience the different patterns and tones. This is what is meant by going to the inner experience or by actually becoming the experience” Openness Mind - Tarthang Tulku

When a thought or a distraction arises, we have the moment of awareness, the space to realise whether that thought or distraction serves us or not, so we can choose to go back inward and focus again on the breath or experience within the body. When we start to refine our awareness it becomes easier to catch the thoughts and then allow them to pass. We choose to stay in our inner experience rather then get carried away in thoughts and daydreams.

When moving through life the practice differs,  the more difficult life is the harder the practice can become but this is when it is essential. It can really help gain some clarity and space. It helps to bring some focus and keep us grounded. No matter what the whirlwind may be, if there is stillness within then we are better equipped to deal with it. We will still feel pain and sadness – but ultimately strength shines through.

The mind really likes to label things, it is so quick to place everything and everyone in boxes and for some reason, in our society, it seems mind steers towards negative more so than positive. In physical yoga this usually manifests in thoughts such as “I can’t” or “that person is better than me” or “that’s way more than five breaths.” Which is okay, we all have them, this is just the mind trying to distract. These thoughts are the very things taking us out of our experience, meaning that we aren’t getting all we can from it. What transforms the practice is the focus on the breath, learning to concentrate, learning to let those thoughts pass when they do come, and take the awareness back inward. Creating the space we need to go deeper physically and mentally. When we bring focus to the breath we learn how to control the mind, we see when mind is playing tricks, we become aware of ego and learn to overcome it. We have choice and we have created the space to choose wisely.

When we focus on the breath either in meditation or in our physical asana practice or just in day to day life, we are becoming more in tune with our true selves. Instead of joining the mind in thoughts and distractions we align ourselves within and we start to come into balance. This takes a lot of practice and patience, emotions and feeling of all kinds will start to come up, and it is here where we have to catch ourselves labelling and asking why, we need to try to learn to allow ourselves to just feel, without labelling, without judgments, just feel wholly and allow whatever experience is there to come forth. Once the experience (feeling, emotion, or whatever it is for you) presents itself to you then that is your chance to either hold on and keep it in, or allow and release. When we focus on the breath we relax and when we relax we open up space. It is with this space where we can choose if it still holds value and meaning or if you are ready to let it go. We gain inner knowledge, we learn to use it wisely, and we learn to trust our inner voice.

This is all from the simple practice of becoming aware of the breath.

With our breath we come into the present moment, and in the present moment we are able to see clearly. We are able to ease and release physical and emotional pain.

So when you are next in your practice and you are having difficulty concentrating, or if you are just sat at your desk getting lost in thought, or taking a walk, try to connect with your breath. See how long you can focus on your inhales and exhales, when a thought comes in try to catch it, acknowledge it and accept it, and then direct the awareness back to the breath.

It’s quite incredible how difficult it is at first, but once you breakthrough the initial barrier of the mind, there is so much to learn and experience. A whole world of magic that awaits. 

“As we develop our meditation, gradually our awareness increases. The mind naturally clears of confusions and dissatisfactions, and we touch upon a meditative clarity, an awareness which is there no matter where out thoughts go, no matter what occurs. Once we open to this awareness, we find strength and true confidence in ourselves: not an arrogant confidence, but a positive feeling that is truly integrated and balanced. All our decisions come effortlessly; all our actions arise naturally from this deep and nurturing awareness” Openness Mind - Tarthang Tulku

If you want to discuss anything that we have touched upon in this post please email me! I would love to hear your thoughts/experiences.

Sarah x

Happiness

 xxx 

(the kisses are an addition to this post from my one year old niece Neve, a little one who truly looks on life with an abundance of love, joy and compassion - it’s too much of a fitting coincidence to delete).

As Christmas rolls around, nights lit up by magical lights, houses decorated with a cosy glow, the roads get busier and people bustle through the streets searching anxiously for their next purchase. Yet we are so ready to slow down and enjoy the time of year which is very much associated with love, compassion and happiness. If this is so, if we are so ready to slow down, why do so many of us approach Christmas with a manic air, not really ready to enjoy the joy that this time of year is open to bring? It seems a very good time to reflect upon Happiness, and what Happiness truly is.

The truth of reflection is that it isn’t easy. It’s not easy to look at ourselves truthfully and be honest about what we see. Usually, when we look within what we find is so much different to the image of ourselves that we send out to others, for whatever reason, many of us now seem to think that projecting a somewhat perfect image of our lives is more important than actually living our lives in a way that will bring true satisfaction. When we come to the end of the year there is so much talk about New Years resolutions and wonder about what the next year will bring. 

The unknown also brings an element of fear, and when we are fearful we aren’t open to life and what it has to offer. We close off and try to control things that cannot be controlled, often leaving us feeling more empty, confused and lost. For the big money makers and corporations, Christmas is the perfect time to play on our insecurities, distract us with gifts a plenty to purchase, always wanting something bigger and better, making lists in our heads of what we want…but the reality is, what we want, isn’t what we truly need. What we usually need at this time of year, is to actually slow down, make time for introspection and reflection, and be positive about the many lessons we have learnt over the year, whether the lessons were difficult to learn or not.

When I look back on my childhood and memories of Christmas, the less I received, in the form of gifts and toys, the genuinely happier I was. As long as I had my family around me and I was surrounded with the light of love, I was happy. I was content. I didn’t want or need for anything more. The older I got and the more confused I became about what Christmas was about, hearing that Father Christmas wasn’t real and becoming wiser to the stress that surrounded buying presents (something that can be beautiful and meaningful when done without pressure), when I opened my gifts, I didn’t feel happy. The more I got, the more manic I would become, opening presents and not reading who they were from, it became about me and what I could get out of it, and from a young age, it just didn’t feel right.

When I reflect upon happiness and it’s true meaning, it’s depth and it’s beauty is that it is so simple. It’s the distractions that take us away from pure happiness. It’s our minds being absorbed by adverts and sale items and offers, thinking that we can purchase happiness, that we can give happiness in the form of a material gift. However, if we take the time to look within, to find space and stillness, then it will soon become clear to us what happiness is. 

We live in a magical world, filled with magnificent creatures, we are life and we have the opportunity to live life to the fullest. The reality is that life isn’t as easy for some as it is for others. We all know that. We can chose to ignore it or do things to help. Instead off running around aimlessly we can give time for ourselves to heal and then we are able to give our time freely to others. We can chose to be conscious about our planet and all of it’s beings by the actions we take. Or, of course, we can chose to be distracted by nonsense, buying into things which really don’t hold any meaning at all, and which ultimately cause destruction, for our planet and our own state of being.

The greatest gift of all is love. If we all give and receive love for Christmas and for the rest of our days, then the world would be a pretty perfect place to live. We would live with an abundance of joy, approaching the tough times with a higher knowledge that love conquers all. In my mind, it couldn’t get any more simpler than that. The difficulty arises in honest reflection. But once we are honest, it doesn’t seem as bad as we thought, we feel lighter and are able to move beyond it and grow. It doesn’t have to be serious; relax, have a laugh or plenty, let the tension melt away, and move into the New Year a little lighter and with more space for love.

Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year… with time for gentle reflection, space, and opportunity for growth.

 

“Sometimes when I meet old friends, it reminds me how quickly time passes. And it makes me wonder if we've utilized our time properly or not. Proper utilization of time is so important. While we have this body, and especially this amazing human brain, I think every minute is something precious. Our day-to-day existence is very much alive with hope, although there is no guarantee of our future. There is no guarantee that tomorrow at this time we will be here. But we are working for that purely on the basis of hope. So, we need to make the best use of our time. I believe that the proper utilization of time is this: if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy.

So, let us reflect what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren't born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities—warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful—happier.” 

The Art of Happiness

Dalai Lama (the 14th)

 

Awareness in Asana

“Asanas have been evolved over the centuries so as to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. They secure a fine physique, which is strong and elastic without being muscle-bound and they keep the body free from disease. They reduce fatigue and soothe the nerves. But their real importance lies in the way they train and discipline the mind.”

BKS Iyengar The Illustrated Light on Yoga

What most of us expect when we first go to a yoga class is to practise physical postures, what we may not expect is actually how much awareness it takes and how difficult it is to focus the mind. The sanskrit term for posture is Asana, which is the third limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga (see previous posts for a brief introduction to the first two, the Yamas and Niyamas). In this blog post we are going to discuss awareness in Asana.

One of the definitions of Yoga is to Unite - unite the mind, body and soul. One of the hardest parts of the physical asana yoga practise is to keep the mind steady. We are constantly judging, watching other peoples practise and comparing ourselves to those who are more flexible or strong. We take ourselves away from the fact that Yoga is for absolutely everyone and everyone’s practice is their own. It doesn’t matter what the person next to us is doing - that’s their Yoga, not ours. That is the beauty of it. Everyone is completely different, and everyone’s practise is unique. Once we take our mind into our own body and accept exactly where we are at in our practise, we truly feel that beauty, and each moment is a lesson, a realisation, a true gift.

So how do we do this, how do we keep our awareness in our own practise and stop our mind from wandering into others or thinking about what we’re gonna have for tea. Well my yogi friends, one of the ways we can improve our awareness is to connect to the magical life force that runs through us day in and day out, the Breath. 

Each time we start a class, we begin with Pranayama practises, which are breathing techniques. We bring our awareness to the breath, allowing the mind to settle and get the Prana (life force/energy) moving in the body preparing us for our practice. The breathing exercises help us to expel any stale oxygen from the lungs and invite fresh oxygen into the body, creating space within, cleansing the body, making it easier for us to practise. 

When we allow our awareness to settle with the breath, we bring the mind into the body. Getting used to the breath is enough for beginners, but as we continue to practise and become used to the breath, we unveil a whole new aspect to our practise. We find space, space to explore, space to feel where we are at, feel for alignment, feel our body - something that we aren’t very good at. Most of us live in our heads, and the connection between the mind and body is lost. We can find this connection again - but its takes practise, discipline and dedication. 

“If asana is practised, then bodily and sensory diseases will be destroyed. If pranayama, conducive to concentrating the mind, strengthening the sense organs, and enabling the mind to be stilled without becoming unstable, is practised, then diseases present in the body, sense organs, and mind will be cured, allowing the mind to achieve concentration and perceive the Inner Self.” 

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Yoga Mala

When we first start to practise, the thoughts and distractions that constantly run through our minds can take us away from our experience. Thoughts and distractions will always come, we need to learn to catch the thoughts, observe them, and chose whether we involve ourselves in the stories we make up in our heads. Ask yourself “does this thought have meaning right now or can it wait?” Most of the time the answer is - it can wait. Then, we have space, even if it is only for a second, the space is there, this is the space we want to achieve.  We can practise this in day to day life by light-heartedly observing our thoughts, decipher which ones have purpose and which don’t. After time and with dedication and practise, we can stay in the space we create for longer periods of time, we know that it is always within and can bring our awareness into that space instead of drifting off into thoughts. This is the art of refining our awareness.

Once we begin this practise eventually we find it easier to settle into the Asana, instead of drifting off we keep our awareness in every part of the movement and move with our breath. Everything starts to come together, we have the space to be more aware of our alignment, bandhas (locks) and drishti (focus/gaze), our mind and body work as a team and we open up to our experience, arriving at home in our own body. 

It’s important to note that this is practise for a lifetime and maybe lifetimes to come! Our body changes every day, each time we practise there is so much to learn, so much space to be found and so many realisations to be had - all of this comes in time and everyone’s pace is different. No one’s journey is the same and everyone’s is a personal experience. Stay on your path, this is your journey and it is magical.

So, next time you are on the mat try to stay with your experience. Keep your awareness with the breath, accept where you are at, keep it light and playful and show yourself love. You’ll be amazed at how your mind and body will respond.

Keep practising Yogi Bear’s and enjoy it <3

A Very Brief Intro to the Philosophy of Yoga Part II

Hey readers,

If you are new to this blog, there is a post that precedes this one that will help put what we are talking about here into perspective.

In our first blog post we talked about the YAMAS - limb one of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga..let’s recap;

THE YAMAS

Your social code - relationship with the external world - social and ethical disciplines which consist of five stages in itself;

NON-VIOLENCE - SANSKRIT: AHIMSA

TRUTHFULNESS - SANSKRIT: SATYA

HONESTY OR NON-STEALING - SANSKRIT: ASTEYA

SEXUAL CONTROL OR ABSTINENCE - SANSKRIT: BRAHMACHARYA 

NON-POSSESSIVENESS - SANSKRIT: APARIGRAHA

In this post we are moving on to limb two the NIYAMAS - moving from the universal disciplines we hold to individual disciplines - our ‘personal code.’ The whole point of the Yamas and the Niyamas is to balance our relationship with the world and our inner self, bringing us into a sense of harmony and peace, allowing us to make better choices and stay true to ourselves.

Patanjali explains in Four Chapters of Freedom:

 “There is a two way relationship: the mind stimulates external actions and external actions stimulate the mind. If the external actions are not harmonious, then the mind will be disturbed. Conversely, a disturbed mind will tend to produce dis-harmonious acts. It is a vicious cycle, where inner turmoil leads to outer turmoil and where, in turn, external turmoil leads to further inner turmoil. The yamas and the niyamas aim to break this vicious cycle and thereby calm the mind by sensible actions and sensible attitudes towards oneself, towards ones life and towards ones surroundings.

Nobody says it better than the man himself.

So, what are the Niyamas? Here goes - again consisting of five stages which are purity/cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self study and surrender to the cosmic will.

PURITY/CLEANLINESS - SANSKRIT: SAUCHA

Cleanliness of the body and cleansing internal impurities of the body and mind. When we cleanse the body we are keeping it safe from infection and disease, when we remove impurities from the mind we help keep disturbing emotions at bay. The cleansing of the two interplay - it’s like when we have had a shower or a bath, for most of us there is a sense of relief and calm, we are ready to start the day or about to enjoy a good sleep, and if we don’t start the day with a nice long shower then something is wrong, we feel uncomfortable and the mind cannot settle until one feels fresh again. When the mind is disturbed the body suffers, we make unconscious decisions on the food we eat or opt out of our exercise routine, can’t be bothered to do anything physical and fill our bodies with toxins such as alcohol, drugs or junk food - then we feel horrible and are caught in a negative cycle, finding it harder and harder to get the mental strength to make change and break the habit. When we are pure and clean we are clear, we find it easier to concentrate, we go beyond ourselves and our body becomes a well oiled vessel ready for whatever life has to bring. It is here where we become at ease with oneself, and when we are at ease in our own skin we find it easier to break attachment to others. Yoga gives us the tools to cleanse - we practice the asanas (physical postures) to strengthen the body and remove toxins, pranayama (breathing exercises) to cleanse internal organs, oxygenate the lungs and help get rid of any stale oxygen in the body, these techniques also calm the mind and bring the mind into body, so mind and body become one, and the practice of meditation helps us to cultivate awareness, allowing us to create inner space and slowly but surely let go of impure and disturbing thoughts and emotions.

CONTENTMENT - SANSKRIT: SANTOSA

In today's world it seems contentment is becoming harder and harder to cultivate. There's always something we've got our eye on to buy, a new upgrade to have, endless amounts of products to try out, and with the dangerous obsession with social media and the unattainable 'perfect' images of people we see constantly, we are more likely to buy into these things that are advertised in a way that makes us think they will make us happier. In reality, these materials and possessions will only make us feel more and more empty, and we end up on a frenzied quest to find something new to obsess over. It’s nice to have a routine which makes us feel good, however, the healthy balance is a fine line and usually we end up spending our money on something that we think will be the absolute ONE to make us happy, only to find once again that it doesn’t. The beauty industry makes zillions of pounds playing on our insecurities and we buy into it time after time. Beauty truly does lie within, and once we realise that, believe and show ourselves love instead of putting ourselves down, then we glow from the inside out. There are too many examples of discontentment to mention, but with anything, when we look inwards for the answers, find space and give ourselves the genuine love and patience we need, then it will all become clear. When we are content we find truth and our connection to the divine - our relationship with ourselves and the world becomes a positive interaction and we begin to flourish.

AUSTERITY - SANSKRIT: TAPAS

“A burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definitive goal in life. This involves purification, self-discipline and austerity.” Once we are content and grounded in ourselves we know that we have the power to achieve. In order for us to achieve usually means introducing some kind of discipline into our lives. Some people look on discipline as something that is going to imprison us and take away our choice, however, when we have discipline in our lives, whether it be a physical practice, meditation practice, or any kind of personal practice doing the things we love, and we find balance, then it actually gives us more freedom. We train our minds and bodies to be strong, choose the positive, be free from constraints and alleviate internal suffering - then we are truly free. Free from negative thoughts. Free to achieve our goals. Free to live. Free to just be.

SELF STUDY - SANSKRIT: SWADHYAYA

The only way to self-realisation is self-study. Self education. The practice of the yamas and the niyamas takes a whole lot self study, and self study isn't easy. Being aware of our actions, thoughts, patterns and choosing positivity over negative ways of being all takes deepening of awareness and being truly honest with ourselves. Studying the Ego, being aware of when it is leading your actions and being truthful about it is one of the hardest practices, but self-study and self education - getting to know your true self - is when we draw out the best in us and it’s where life opens up, opportunities arise and things become clear. We see the world in a different light, overcoming ignorance and bringing about pure joy and happiness.

AND SURRENDER TO THE COSMIC WILL - SANSKRIT: ISHWARA PRANIDHANA

The belief in something bigger than us - something too big to touch upon on a blog post however, we will leave you with this… “In bhakti or true love there is no place for ‘I’ and ‘Mine’. When the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ disappears, the individual soul has reached full growth… The moon is full when it faces the sun…Actions mirror a mans personality better than his words. The yogi has learnt the art of dedicating all his actions to the Lord and so they reflect the divinity within him. - BKS Iyengar - The Illustrated Light on Yoga.

So there we have it! A brief intro to the first two limbs - enough practice to last eons and lightyears to come… If you have found any interest in any of the Yamas or Niyamas, if one sticks out to you more than the others then it might be worth digging deeper and doing some research, there’s loads out there to assist in the practice of the Eight Limbs, as long as the source is true to the tradition and linage then it will bring endless knowledge and means to explore.

The philosophy of Yoga is deeply rooted in the running of and practices at Chandra - grounding ourselves in the philosophy means we forever have a guide in times of difficulty - which is invaluable.

We hope you have enjoyed the Yamas and the Niyamas! If you wish to discuss anything we have touched upon we would love to hear from you

 

A Very Brief Intro to the Philosophy of Yoga

Hey guys!

Not long now till the opening of Chandra, so we thought we would share with you some of our values and beliefs to give you an introduction to the space.

Chandra is an intimate space with deep traditional and philosophical values. Yoga is a beautiful way to show love to your mind and body, to take time for yourself and tune in and connect with your inner true self. Once we do this we find we give more freely to others, give and receive love more openly, we live in the present moment and open up to the many wonders that life has to offer. 

One of the biggest misunderstandings of Yoga is that it can only be practised on the mat, with physical postures and meditation, and with the massive (and positive) hype that physical yoga has created, the tradition and philosophical magic has kind of been pushed to the background. 

So, we would like to share just a drop of the magic of the Philosophy of Yoga with anyone who would like listen, starting with a brief introduction to the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga is a philosophy brought to us by an incredible man, the great sage Patanjali. At short, Patanjali completely embodied Yoga, and brought to us Eight Stages in which we can begin to practice the art of refining awareness, harmonising the mind and bringing balance to the mind and body. 

Before we even reach the third limb, which is the physical practice of Asana (postures) - the most popular way of practicing yoga in the Western world today, we have two limbs - the Yamas and Niyamas.

In this post, we are going to give focus to number 1. The YAMAS. There are not enough blog posts that could ever cover the teachings of the Yamas, and what is incredible about all of the teachings of Yoga is that they are constantly practised and refined throughout your whole life and possibly lifetimes to come. But here we are - trying to give you a brief and subtle introduction to this seemingly simple yet extremely complex practice.

Here goes!

The YAMAS

Your social code - relationship with the external world - social and ethical disciplines which consist of five stages in itself;

Satya meaning Truthfulness

Ahimsa meaning Non-Violence to all things - humans and animals, big or small, the Earth and all it inhabits.

Asteya meaning Honesty or Non-Stealing

Brahmacharya which is sexual control or abstinence

Aparigraha meaning Non-Possessiveness

So, for the purpose of keeping things simple, let’s take away the Sanskrit terms, we have the practice of Truthfulness, Non-Violence, Honesty/Non-Stealing, Sexual Control or Abstinence, Non-Possessiveness. The practise of the Yamas is “designed to harmonise one’s social interactions.” If we become more aware of the application of the Yamas in our daily lives, we will bring balance to our relationships with others and the Earth, turning our internal practice into an external positive, and when we emanate positivity, it spreads. 

When we read the translations of the five Yamas it all seems so simple. Ahhh yes, I know truthfulness, I know about not being violent and sure, always being honest, not stealing from anyone. But when we look further, when we get out our imaginary telescope, do we actually know? Can we Honestly say we practise all of these things all of the time. Unless you are an ‘Enlightened’ or a highly realised being, and if we are being truly honest, the answer is probably a straight off no.

And that’s okay. We are all human beings faced with the ups and downs of life. Practising together in this beautifully crazy whirlwind we have been thrown into. The only thing we can do is cultivate awareness, being aware allows us to make the changes, when we notice that little white lie cropping up again - catching it before it comes out, or making sure we recycle properly, feeding the cat on time when he or she needs to be fed - obviously these are small things in the enormity of life’s issues - but these are all things we can practise becoming more aware of, and then that awareness grows and we flourish as human beings, helping each other and the planet as we go. 

To dissect further:

Non-Violence - Sanskrit: Ahimsa

Non-violence seems self explanatory, be kind to people we interact with, show compassion, don’t physically or mentally hurt others. However, in a world of production and materialism, we aren’t always aware of what violence we are unknowingly supporting and inflicting upon others and the Earth. For example, do we know where our food has come from, how our clothes have been made, what process has it gone through to be on the shelves in the shops. Unfortunately, it isn’t on the labels whether or not a child has been exploited in another country in order for us to buy a £10 top. Products usually have a Cruelty Free leaping bunny sign if they haven’t tested on animals but how many of those products in Boots have this stamp (not many), and how many people look out for it. We have to do our own research; we have to know what companies, processes, and morals we are supporting by purchasing. If we knew, if we were really truthful about it, most of us wouldn’t buy it. When we practice Non-Violence we cultivate compassion, and from compassion we learn how to love completely.

Truthfulness - Sanskrit: Satya

Being wholly truthful allows us to connect with our divine. We see things as they are, not allowing our ego to blur the truth, to give us false hope. When we are truthful with others we are true to ourselves and vice versa. The mind becomes clear and when Truthfulness is fully established the master is able to “acquire the result from his (her) Karma according to his (her) wish” the commentary from Swami Satyananda Saraswati’s Four Chapters on Freedom goes on to explain “Usually the result of Karma is independent of our wishes but it is not so with a person who has perfected truthfulness” - ahhh Karma - absolute whole other realm in which we will explore in future posts. Note, Truthfulness follows Non-Violence, we must also be mindful of speaking truths if it causes harm to another - a gift some people have yet it is very difficult to acquire. It takes patience and awareness, and of course life experience.

Honesty or Non-Stealing - Sanskrit: Asteya

Respecting others and not taking anything that isn’t given freely. Having universal honesty, not taking peoples possessions, time, ideas. This takes awareness of the Ego, living honestly, making sure your way of life doesn’t allow for or inflict discomfort or harm to others- no matter what might be in it for you (and what might be in it is never genuine, and can never bring true happiness). This relates to Non-Violence, being aware and honest about what process the materials you acquire have gone through, has anyone’s time been taken unfairly, have people or animals been badly treated and been put in a position against their will etc. In the Four Chapters on Freedom the commentary on Asteya states “When the mirror is clean, you can see your face clearly in it. The virtue of asteya or honesty brings about a kind of awareness by which you become aware of hidden wealth” and in the words of Patanjali “all gems present themselves.”

Sexual control or Abstinence - Sanskrit: Brahmacharya 

By bringing control and balance to impulses of excess, we can build a sense of stability in moderation, overcoming greed and making choices that can help us become stronger and wiser in our actions. In the practice of sexual control it is said that we learn how to break addictions and preserve physical energy - feeling brighter and more genuinely fulfilled.

Non-Possessiveness - Sanskrit: Aparigraha

When we are obsessed with possessions we are distracting ourselves from our true inner self. Accumulating objects and even trying to possess other people usually signals a deep dissatisfaction with oneself. In reality, everything that we need is within, and everything in materialist society doesn’t really exist – it has no meaning. When we learn to curb our want for external possessions we become less selfish, instead of being greedy with objects or people and their time, we give more, and usually find that time becomes endless. Those things we thought we could never possibly fit in become easy, and you wonder why you ever thought you didn’t have the time in the first place. Ridding ourselves of unnecessary distractions, gives us the space to grow, to grow freely, and become the person that we truly are – not one that society tells us to be. 

It means giving up the tendency to accumulate objects of utility and enjoyment. The aspirant keeps only those objects that are essential for living. This keeps the mind unoccupied and also he does not have to worry about anything because there is nothing there to be protected.”

Ultimate goals!

We hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to the Yamas! As you can see, there are many layers to each thread, and each time we approach the teaching we see it in a completely new light. New layers always reveal themselves, as they do when you look inward on your spiritual journey, and that is why the teachings and philosophy are so important to Chandra in our practice. You can practice all of the time, with each moment, each interaction, which is truly beautiful.

Chandra is a supportive environment for spiritual exploration. To anyone who comes to our classes, we hope you have a wholesome experience and leave feeling rejuvenated and with a little more space within for further discovery of your true self and the magic of life.