BKS Iyengar Interview

I recently heard about the ‘Take Back Yoga’ movement started by the Hindu American Foundation, so I was really interested to read what BKS Iyengar had to say on the issue:

“Yoga is an Indian heritage, not a Hindu property.  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, which forms the basis of the system, addresses all humanity not just Hindus.  Just because yogis did not travel as widely as they do today does not imply that the practice belonged to one community or place.  Patanjali calls yoga sarva bhauma, a universal culture. And yoga is an individual’s evolutionary journey as a sadhaka (seeker) from the body to the self.  Where is the room for doubt here?”

You can read the full interview from the Times of India here.  Thanks to Cora Wen (@CoraYoga) for sharing.

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No.5…

That attempting to practise selflessly would lead me towards forgiveness…


In the classes at my yoga home our teachers often talk about Selfless Practice. 

I always set an intention for each class and practising for someone else can feel like the best thing to do in situations where you want to help but don’t know how.  I’ve practised for people close to me, for people I’ve never met but who I know are going through a challenging time… One thing I never imagined I’d be doing is practising for people who have hurt me. 

But I have.  And I do.

That might sound strange or suggest I’m a bit of a Pollyanna (not that I think there’s anything wrong with Pollyanna, actually). While I’ll admit that I’d rather be optimistic and I do want to see the best in people I am most certainly not perfect or ‘Yogier than Thou’. 

Here’s how attempting to practise selflessly unexpectedly led me towards forgiveness…

I’ve been told I am too nice on numerous occasions, (particularly in my career where I was told I would never get ahead if I didn’t change, yet I feel I’ve done okay so far). I don’t know that this is true at all because I don’t feel that I’m any more or less ‘nice’ than the average person.   But, whatever the truth may be, I’ve learned that I can’t be anything but myself.

Anyhow, my alleged ‘niceness’ led to a particular experience with someone last year which felt like such a betrayal that I found it baffling and deeply upsetting at the time.  It was one of those experiences where everyone else witnessing the situation got very angry on my behalf, with one person exclaiming that it was,”…like watching Bambi get run over by a tank!” And I was angry, which is about as rare as a rain-free Wimbledon tournament.  As it became apparent that this person’s actions were borne out of insecurity, that made me even more furious. “SO WHAT if he’s insecure?!” I ranted. “What’s he got to be insecure about exactly?!  I haven’t even done anything to him so why is that my problem?!  What the hell gives him the right to….”

Blah. Blah. Blah.

I don’t like drama, but boy did I get caught up in the whole thing.  I carried on with all the ‘woe is me’ stuff until I got all the ranting and swearing out of my system. 

Then I realised I hadn’t got it all out of my system, so I swore some more. 

All that was left afterwards was a dull, sad feeling.  I was completely bemused by the idea that someone I’d held in such high regard could possibly feel threatened by me.  By that point, this person wouldn’t speak to me directly either, so there seemed to be no way to resolve things.  I didn’t know what else to do.

Shortly after, I was rolling out my mat for class one day, trying not to think about what had been happening when a surprising thought popped into my head:

I could offer this practice – the next ninety minutes up to this person. 

I have no idea where that thought came from, but in that moment it felt like the right thing to do.  So, that’s exactly what I did.   The unexpected consequence of this is that I started to feel differently about the situation.  It’s not that I suddenly thought what had happened was okay – it absolutely wasn’t.  It was more that I couldn’t be angry at this person anymore.  I found myself hoping that in time they’d recognise there was no need for them to lash out at others with their insecurity (I subsequently learned that I wasn’t the first to be on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour…).   If only they could see just what they have.  How brilliant they are. 

I think… I forgave him. 

Where on earth did that come from?  For the girl who held a grudge for five years against the kid who chucked her favourite Kinder Surprise toy down the drain at school, this was something of a development. 

I hadn’t expected that in attempting to practise for someone else – someone who had upset me so much – it would help me in this way.  I have no idea if this kind of thing is a common experience to come out of one’s yoga practice or if it’s pretty random.  Either way it really surprised me because I hadn’t been doing it in order to get something back. 

Once again, yoga has shown me something new.  Another thing I am grateful for.

Eating Animals… Or Not

“There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little…”

                                                                                                                                                        –         The Bhagavad Gita

I’ve been on a bit of a journey with the way I eat over the past few years.  My body has become much clearer about what it does and doesn’t like being put into it. And this seems to have occurred in tandem with developing a regular yoga practice. Sometimes I rebel (for instance, my meals for the duration of the Royal Wedding weekend featured way too much of my beloved cake) but I usually end up suffering for it because my body tells me afterwards loud and clear that it is not happy.

As a child of immigrant parents I am an NBC (Natural Born Carnivore) or so I have always believed.  When I was growing up, meat was the most important (and expensive) bit of the meal and, consequently, we were expected to eat ALL of it.  So why do I increasingly feel less inclined to eat meat? 

This isn’t a sudden development at all – it’s actually been roughly a couple of years in the making – a ‘leaning-in’ process that I can’t claim was conscious in the beginning.      

So, the ‘meat thing’ is all part of this trying to tune into what my body seems to want.  Or rather, not want. Though I’ve not had meat on my grocery list for the last couple of years I’m not vegetarian – I’ve eaten fish a handful of times this year and there are times when I have eaten meat too.  I’ve recently realised that the only (three) times this has occurred in the past several months have been:

a)  To placate my mother, who can’t get her head around the not eating meat idea.  Her response when I went to visit her and she tried (as usual) to give me some food:

Mum: “Oh.  Well have some of this chicken-stir fry instead.”

Me: “But chicken is meat, Mum.”

Mum:  “It’s not really though, is it…?”

Me: “Hmm.  A bit like Simon Cowell isn’t really a millionaire.”

I’ve struggled with this one as I don’t want her to feel rejected. Like most mothers she is constantly concerned about whether her children are eating (no matter how many years they have been ably feeding themselves). Food is Love after all…

b) To not feel like a nuisance if I’m round at other people’s homes and they have gone to the trouble of kindly cooking for me.  I haven’t even worked this thing out in my head yet, so how do I explain it to someone else? 

With the lack of my former protein staples of meat and fish in my diet I feel like I still haven’t got a proper handle on how to balance my nutrition.  It’s been a lot of trial and error along the way.  I was surprised to learn a while ago that I wasn’t eating enough (though my body has changed a lot over the past couple of years I am not exactly sylphlike…) and then I had a recent issue with iron deficiency so I really want to make sure I am being healthy.  So, when I saw that my yoga home was hosting a workshop on nutrition with a focus on vegetarianism and veganism I knew I wanted to go. 

What followed was a fun, informative two and a half hours mixing asana practice with Sally and discussion on how best to approach a vegetarian or vegan diet with nutritionist / heath and fitness coach, Mark Hughes

For our asana practice there was an emphasis on twists and other postures to help stimulate the digestive system such as apanasana (wind-relieving pose), dhanurasana (bow pose) and paschimotanasana (seated forward bend).  Then came the time to talk about one of my favourite subjects: Food.

We all had questions ranging from what to do about getting enough protein?  What about vitamin B12 and vitamin D?  What about getting enough iron…?  As I listened to Mark I realised that I had been implementing a fair amount of the tips he was giving us over the past couple of years.  Things like cooking with coconut oil, incorporating good fats and taking spirulina, for instance.  I found that reassuring. I now see it’s probably not a coincidence that my stopping taking spirulina was followed by a significant dip in energy levels and a diagnosis of iron deficiency. 

At the end of the two and a half hours (including a relaxation at the end where I was so chilled that I almost fell asleep!) we went off armed with our little nutrition packs from Mark and yoga for digestion handouts from Sally.   And Mark kindly said he would email us all with details of some of the supplements he talked about.

I’m really glad I went along.  It was great to have certain things reinforced as well as learning a few new things along the way.  And it helped me feel a bit more confident about going down the path of nourishing my body without eating animals… no bad thing.  Plus, it seems that even my mother might be coming round. When I went to see her the other week she offered me some lamb and I politely declined.  Then she uttered the words:

“Oh. Well have some of this Quorn stir-fry instead.”

Spreading the Yoga Love

I feel like – scratch that – I know I talk about yoga a LOT.  I will happily talk about it with anyone who will listen (or not, as the glazed-over expressions of some friends and colleagues indicate…).   I even had a conversation about yoga with a stranger at a bus stop the other day.  In London.  Where strangers do not talk to each other.  In fact, like a little yoga-evangelist I’ve scribbled down the web address of my yoga home and pressed it into the palms of numerous folks from the sales assistant at Sweaty Betty who mentioned she was struggling to find a good class in the area to the actor who told me he wasn’t sure if he could do yoga because he wasn’t, in his own words, “bendy”.   (He even got down on the floor in a cross-legged position with his knees up by his ears to prove it.)

“But that’s exactly why you should go!” was my response. 

I’ve even pointed people who simply cannot make the journey to my yoga home to the likes of The Life Centre, Jivamukti London and The Alchemy Centre.  All welcoming, beautiful places in my experience. 

So, you could say I am somewhat enthusiastic about yoga….  I know how much it has, and continues to, benefit me – I just want to share how magical it is with everyone.  For someone who is usually not much of a talker, yoga is one subject I can’t seem to shut up about.  And NONE of my friends are into yoga.  So much so that I am 99.9 percent certain none of them will be reading this. Which technically means I could say whatever I like about them here… 🙂

It’s one of the reasons I started this blog.  To avoid becoming a yoga bore when I’m with my friends and also as a way to somehow process the things I am experiencing internally through my practice.   And, if another yogi or yogini with no yoga pals either happens to stumble across this blog along the way, just maybe some of this will reassure them a teeny bit that they’re not the only one feeling this ‘stuff’.  It’s another way of trying to Spread the Yoga Love, I guess…

Anyhow, I got a bit of a surprise when I received a message the other day from a friend to say she has, “started doing a bit of yoga” (!)  And the best part is that she is already experiencing some of the benefits in the form of stress relief.  I was (and still am) thrilled (THRILLED!) to hear how happy she sounded about this.  I have a feeling that she is going to keep going with it too.   I really hope so.  Her email practically made my week!

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that I can’t shut up about yoga after all.  It makes me want to Spread the Yoga Love even more.