Thoughts on Yoga and Life

Peter's June Yoga Blog

Zen Dog

A few weeks ago I was browsing supermarket shelves looking for a birthday card. OK lets be truthful, as usual my wife Meg was doing the serious shopping and I was, as usual, searching for quirky cards that took my fancy…. and I found a delightful card by Edward Monkton entitled "Zen Dog", with the cartoon image of a really cool-dude dog, in shades, lying back in a little boat, in the sun, just drifting along on the tide. The caption beneath read:

"He knows not where he's going, for the ocean will decide, it's not the destination……it's the glory of the ride."  (If you want a look at the image, you can find it on www.edwardmonkton.com)

It's an image and a caption that immediately struck a chord with me. The more I've become involved in teaching Yoga and also the older I get, the more I'm drawn to the idea of focussing on making the most of life's journey and not being continually preoccupied with the eventual destination. Zen Dog has become a hero figure for me.

We spend much time looking forward - maybe with anticipation but too often worrying about what might be around the corner. We spend so much time planning for the future, that we miss so many opportunities to enjoy the here and now. We take part in Yoga classes because we are looking to be slimmer, fitter, more relaxed in the future - and too often we don't focus on just enjoying what we are doing. We spend so little time in the here and now - and it is in the here and now that we live our lives, not in the past, not in the future.

And then, there is only so much that we can control in our lives - we plan for the future, but so often things just don't follow our script. There are so often things totally beyond our control that upset our best laid plans. Yes we do need to plan ahead and look to the future - but we need to make sure that we get the balance right between doing things that will meet our long-term goals and doing things that give pleasure in the here and now.

So, in our Yoga practice let's focus a little more on the here and now, making the most of every moment, enjoying the Yoga for the sake of enjoying the Yoga, not because it will move us towards some long term goal.  Let's work on savouring each unique moment in time with all of our senses - focus on enjoying life a little more, moment by moment. Just occasionally, follow Zen Dog's example, lie back in the sun, let the boat drift and enjoy the glory of the ride.

 

Thoughts for July - Limiting Beliefs

 

As a Yoga teacher, people regularly tell me that they can't do this or that because they aren't supple, because they are overweight, because they are poorly co-ordinated or because they just don't have the time to practice regularly. Often they seem content to accept these constraints without challenge. Yes, there are some things about ourselves that we can't change and we need a degree of realism about those, but in my experience we impose far tighter constraints on our ambition than are real.

  

We constrain ourselves by our own beliefs about what we are or are not capable of being or doing. Too often we have a narrow concept of who we are, who we can be, or what we can do - and we limit ourselves within that construct. The construct is based on our past, our upbringing and our experience of life to date. It's a set of beliefs that we have created - and that we can change.

 

So let's try to use our Yoga as a metaphor for life. Take a Yoga posture or exercise where you've convinced yourself that you've gone as far as you can go - and then gradually, gently, over time, just go that little bit further - go beyond your limiting beliefs to a new place. Then apply that approach in life.

  • Develop stretch targets - both physical and mental - try to separate the physical constraints from the constraints in your head
  • Use visualisation to picture yourself doing those things you've not done before
  • Go beyond your limiting beliefs to new places that you've not been to before - create a new set of beliefs which empower you to do more, to do new things 

Try it in your Yoga practice - then try it in life. Move beyond your self-imposed limiting beliefs.

 

Thoughts for October - Slow Down

One of my favourite books of the last decade is Carl Honores' "In Praise of Slowness", in which he challenges the cult of speed, of doing ever more and doing it ever more quickly and explores the merits of slowing things down and focussing on the quality of our lives.

 

The idea behind the slow movement took root around 20 years ago and initially focussed on slow- food, getting back to traditional, quality food, using local produce, eaten in a leisurely way, where good food, a meal with family and friends was a central plank of life. This was at a time when fast-food, big multi-national chains and the gulped down, hurried meal were becoming prevalent.

 

Since that time, the idea of a slower approach to life has gradually developed as an antidote to rushing ever faster and trying to do even more. Slower is about doing fewer things, the most important things, but doing them well.

 

Adopting the slow approach isn't alien to being successful in work or at home. In a work situation, the slow approach is about knowing what is important and doing that well, rather than running around like a headless chicken trying to do everything. It's about prioritising. It's about managing time. We are of no use to ourselves or anyone else if we are burned out and tired. It's about us deciding on the pace at which we function best and being better at prioritisation in order to enable us to work slower and smarter. Saying no is an important skill in the slow approach to life.

 

In family life it's about working on having more time with family and friends, again, maybe doing less, but doing things better. It's about more conversations and less TV. It's about communicating face-to-face more and using the smartphone a little less.

 

I appreciate all this is easier said than done. Carl Honore admits in his book to getting a speeding ticket whilst on his way to interview someone about their perspective on the slow movement whilst in the process of writing his book. I teach Yoga and I have to give myself plenty of time to get to my Yoga classes - there is nothing worse than being a rushed, hurried Yoga teacher. It hardly sets the right tone for the class. One of the messages that I always give to my students is never rush and panic about getting to a Yoga class on time. If you're late you're late, just accept that, you're late - it's OK. In reality the same applies to most things in life. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to be, but there is nothing worse than panicking and rushing to get somewhere - when generally, the world isn't going to come to an end because you are a few minutes late for an appointment.

 

In Yoga it's about being mindful - doing things a little more slowly - exploring the way that the body and the mind feel in each posture. Which postures make us feel good and why? Which postures are we not so keen on and why? Listen to our breathing - stay in the present and each time the mind drifts away elsewhere, bring it back to the practice and back to the breath. Whatever pace everyone else is working at - slow things down to the pace that suits you. Don't be rushed. One thing that I notice frequently in teaching Yoga is that when a particular practice or posture comes to an end and I ask people to move on whatever comes next - some people immediately stop what they're doing and move on. Others are engrossed in their practice they see it through to a conclusion that they are happy with and only then do they move on. I now urge everyone in my classes to adopt the later approach - don't be hurried, take your time finish things off properly in a way that you are satisfied with and then move on - don't be rushed.

 

To me, the relaxation session at the end of the Yoga class, and also meditation are vital in slowing the mind. So often, our minds are in a whirl, so many things to do, so little time to do them. It sometimes feels like a whole number of issues, hurtling toward me at once. Where relaxation and meditation are so useful is in slowing the mind so that you we see issues one at a time. Increasingly I use meditation to calm the mind, to slow the mind and once I have achieved a relaxed, calm state - coping with issues is transformed. I see things more clearly, more rationally and have an improved sense of perspective. In sport at the highest level, where mental preparation is so important, sportsmen talk about being "in the zone", where although the game is taking place at a frantic pace, their mind is so tuned in to what is going on and to their performance, they see things slowly, clearly and perform at the very best of their ability. Using relaxation and meditation, we can achieve that same effect in everyday life, slowing things down so that issues become clearer, simpler and we're able to tackle them better.

 

So maybe have a look at Carl Honore's book, or have a look at websites on the theme of the slow movement, try slowplanet.com. Make the most of your relaxation session at the end of the Yoga class and start to explore meditation - try slowing things down a little more - and reap the benefits in terms of quality of life.

 

 

Starting Over

Peter's January 2012 Yoga Blog

 

The end of January is a good time to review how we've got on with those New Year's resolutions that we set ourselves just a few weeks ago. Have we stuck with them or have we been blown off course? All too often as soon as we've once broken our resolutions about whatever, maybe being more conscientious about our Yoga practice, eating more sensibly or giving up smoking, we give up on our goal. Developing the ability to start over again, is one way that we can maybe keep ourselves on track better.

 

Starting over is all about being able to accept that sometimes, maybe for the best or worst of reasons we don't do what we said we'd do or what we promised ourselves that we'd do. It's about just accepting that fact and starting over again with the same objective in mind.

 

If we break our resolutions or we don't live up to our own expectations, it's so easy to just give up, or alternatively spend much time and energy analysing what went wrong and being judgmental about ourselves. There is much to be said for the ability to put our failures behind us and move on and to be able to say to ourselves, "yes I got that wrong, now I'm going to start again and get it right this time".

 

I'm not discounting the need for analysis of where we went wrong in order to try to improve things next time, but it is so easy to get bogged down trying to work out why things didn't go to plan (paralysis by analysis) and never achieve our objectives. Also, just because we've not achieved something we said we'd do doesn't make us a failure. We shouldn't be too hard on ourselves about these things - just start over again and get it right this time. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist, but the ability to start over".

 

One NLP ruse that I like in relation to starting over is the bag in the bin technique. Very simply it involves taking a paper bag, opening the bag and imagining placing inside it whatever behaviour or belief that you are trying to overcome, then screwing up the bag and throwing it in the waste bin. Metaphorically we are binning the old belief and replacing it with a new one.

 

So, here's to starting over!

 

Some of the ideas for this blog come from an article in Yoga Journal in February 2007 by Phillip Moffitt - thanks for the inspiration.

 

Willows - Yoga Blog April 2012

In Longford Park, near where I live there are Willow trees lining the stream. They're the classic Weeping Willows that you see so often alongside rivers in England - they've been there for as long as I can remember. They are tall, graceful trees and in early spring their leaves are a vivid, bright green.

 

I have a soft spot for these Willows. They are firmly and deeply rooted in the banks of the stream. Their trunks are strong and stable, but I particularly love the ability that the branches and the upper parts of the tree posses to flex and bend whatever the weather throws at them. So many other trees are broken and damaged by the wind, but the Willows flex, bend, move and survive.

 

The Willow provides a metaphor in two ways. Physically, Yoga practice is about developing the combination of strength, flexibility and suppleness that we need to cope with life's physical challenges. We need to be physically strong and well grounded but supple and flexible as well. Psychologically Yoga helps to give us a mind that is calm and focused which in turn helps in developing mental strength to cope with life's challenges. It also teaches us about flexibility and adaptability, qualities which we need in our Yoga practice and in our day-to-day lives.

 

So store away that image of the strong, yet graceful and supple Willow, and remember how our Yoga practice gives us the physical grounding and flexibility and the psychological strength, calmness and adaptability to cope with the challenges that come our way - flexing, bending, never breaking.

 

 Posted @ 11:56:13 on 27 May 2011  back to top


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November 2012 - Supporting the Tibet Relief Fund through my Yoga

I teach Yoga in the hope that others will find its practice as helpful as I do. I need to make enough money from my classes to cover expenses and provide a basic income, but beyond this I don't seek to profit excessively from Yoga. In future I will give 10% of any profit that I make on my Yoga related activities to charity.

 

I've given much thought to the charity that I'd like to support in this way and decided on a small charity that I've supported for some years now, the Tibet Relief Fund. This is a charity that has been helping Tibetans, both inside Tibet and in exile to have a more sustainable future.

 

I know that there are many local charities in desperate need of funds, so why give money to a cause operating many thousands of miles away? My answer is that I have found what I've read of the culture and beliefs of Tibet and the teachings of the Dalai Lama to be influential in my own life. The Dalai Lama is one of the most important spiritual leaders in the world today and one of those who makes the most sense to me. His teachings have had a significant impact on me and the way that I think - so as a very small repayment, my donation in 2012/13 will be going to the Tibet Relief Fund, a charity of which the Dalai Lama is patron.

 

Whilst the Dalai Lama is one of the world's foremost Buddhist leaders and Yoga originates in Hinduism, I find a clear synergy between Yoga and the Dalai Lama's Buddhist teaching. The two are closely aligned in many ways, particularly the importance of meditation in Buddhism and the traditional view that Yoga is essentially about preparing the mind for meditation.

 

For more information about the Tibet Relief Fund, go to www.tibetrelieffund.co.uk

 

If you're not familiar with the teachings of the Dalai Lama, there are many books. I started with "The Art of Happiness", which is still a book I return to often. My copy is now well thumbed and filled with highlighting and underlining. Some key quotes from the book that have influenced me…..

 

"The turning-towards happiness as a valid goal and the conscious decision to seek happiness in a systematic manner can profoundly change the rest of our lives."

 

"happiness is determined more by one's state of mind than by external events"

 

"whether we are feeling happy or unhappy at any given moment often has little to do with our absolute conditions, but rather, it is a function of how we perceive our situation, how satisfied we are with what we have."

 

I'm not a Buddhist and I'm not suggesting that you should be - and Buddhism isn't a religion that seeks to convert others, but take a look. Another favourite quote from the Dalai Lama is, "If you find that the(Buddhist) teachings suit you, apply them to your life as much as you can. If they don't suit you, just leave them be."

August 2013

Meditation in the City

So often the guided meditations that we use to help to quiet the mind are set in tranquil, rural settings, maybe a riverbank, maybe a meadow or a beach. However, most of us live our lives in urban environments; in towns and cities. Whist it is sometimes good to use our imagination to escape to a quieter, more tranquil, rural place. In reality it is important that we are able to relax in any situation, including the heart of  the city.

So, next time, as you relax or prepare for meditation, be aware of the sounds around you. Your room may be quiet, but the sounds of the city, the traffic, the voices, the footsteps are all around us. Accept those sounds as the background track to your relaxation. These are the sounds of our lives, the sounds of people just like us living life in  the city. Accept them, don't let them disturb your relaxation, don't fight them, don't be annoyed or irritated by them. We live our lives in cities, we practice our Yoga in cities - accept the sounds of the city  as the background music to life itself.

 The sounds that we're hearing are as much a part of the city as we ourselves are. They're sounds that provide the context within which our lives are lived. Often people talk about looking to escape city life - maybe we should focus more on accepting, cherishing and enjoying city life a little more.

We tend to equate rural with tranquillity and urban with bustling and busyness - but there is every opportunity be at peace within the city. We work and earn our living in cities, we socialise and enjoy family life in cities. The idea that we need to escape to an idyll of rural tranquillity is surely misguided. We need to be able to control our minds sufficiently in order to be able to relax and be in peace in any situation. This is the challenge of effective relaxation and meditation - to be able to have sufficient control over the mind to be at peace within yourself no matter what is going on around you.

In my late evening city centre Yoga class, initially I ensured that the curtains were drawn to shut out the sights of the city and background music was sufficiently loud to drown out the noise of the city. But now I'm more relaxed about my approach. The curtains stay open and the music is quiet to let the sound of the world in. I want to get across the idea that Yoga is part and parcel of our lives and of city life, not something separate and removed from our everyday lives.

Don't try to use Yoga and meditation to escape from city life - bring your Yoga and meditation to the heart of city life to enrich it

 

Only the Present Exists - May 2014

Mountain Dwelling

Things of the past are already long gone and things to be, distant beyond imagining. The Tao is just this moment, these words:

Plum blossoms fallen, gardenia just opening.

Ch’ing Kung (d 1352)

 

Our conscious mind is a wonderful tool with an ability to shape the way that we live our lives. However, all too often our mind “has a mind of its own” – taking us in directions that we do not wish to go and are not helpful to our wellbeing.

We spend much time looking back at was has happened – that may be with happiness or maybe with sorrow – we can spend endless hours analysing things that have gone on in our lives.

We spend much time looking forward – maybe with anticipation but too often worrying about what might be around the corner.

We spend so little time in the here and now – and it is in the here and now that we live our lives, not in the past, not in the future. In your Yoga practice focus on the here and now – making the most of every moment – savouring the unique moment in time with all of your senses. Only the present exists – the past is past, the future is yet to be.

  • Yes we need to learn from the past
  • Yes we need to plan for the future
  • But we must get the balance right
  • We can only live in the present.

In meditation, to be mindful of the present, of the moment, we can use the breath as a tool. Focus quietly on the breath entering the body and the breath leaving the body – nothing more. Thoughts will come into the mind – acknowledge those thoughts and let them go – don’t try to force them away, just focus again on the breath and return to the present.

In your Yoga practice, focus on the movement of the body and the way that the body feels in whatever posture you hold. Move slowly and in a controlled way, making your movements consciously. Concentrate on the posture and how the body feels in the posture how the body feels as you move, how the mind feels about the posture and the movement.

Being able to control the mind in this way takes practice, but the benefits are so very worthwhile. The practice of mindfulness puts us back in control, rather than the mind ever drifting on the wind. It gives us the ability to control our thoughts rather than our thoughts controlling us. Mindfulness gives us the ability to still the mind and bring a sense of real peace and calmness.

The Sutra of Mindfulness

“When walking, the practitioner must be conscious that he is walking. When sitting, the practitioner must be conscious he is sitting,

When lying the practitioner must be conscious that he is lying ………

No matter what position one’s body is in, the practitioner must be conscious of that position. Practicing thus, the practitioner lives in direct and constant mindfulness of the body”

Doc The – Vietnamese Zen Master

 

 

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