Attitude of Gratitude

“Be present in all things and thankful in all things”      – Maya Angelou

 

It’s interesting how what you focus on can show up, not just once, but again and again. 

In class the other day our teacher talked about the ability to see our challenges as gifts. Earlier that same day I’d been reading Jivamukti Yoga where Sharon Gannon and David Life explain the meaning behind this chant:

“Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshvara, Guru Sakshat, Param Brahma, Tasmai Shri Guruvey Namaha.”

I remember chanting this in my first ever Jivamukti class, call and response.  I mumbled it under my breath with no clue of what it all meant or how to pronounce the words, but it sparked a desire to learn more.  Of Devo Maheshvara (another name for Shiva, the Destroyer) Sharon Gannon and David Life write:

“If you can accept Devo Maheshvara as Guru, then you are a very evolved soul.  It takes spiritual maturity to embrace difficulties and to see within them the potential for enlightenment.  The greatest spiritual growth can come from appreciating difficult times in your life and facing them fully with an open heart.”

This notion is something I seem to have been hearing and reading a lot lately.  I know I find this tough to accept – I am far, far, far from evolved – but I do understand the truth in it.  In my experience, it is the challenges that make you grow.  However, that can be much easier to see in hindsight than when you’re in the eye of the storm and scrabbling for a piece of driftwood to cling to.

As mentioned in previous posts, the past few months turned out to be more challenging than I expected.  Yet, during and since then I’ve noticed that I say ‘Thank You’ a lot more.  And every time I say it I mean it.

I am so especially grateful to my fantastic family and friends and the wonderful folks at my yoga home.  Between them they’ve helped me through this time more than they probably realise.  Somehow, ‘Thank You’ doesn’t seem enough.

I have no idea what the future holds but I do know that a bit of gratitude really puts things into perspective.  It’s as though the more grateful I become the more there is to be grateful for. One door has closed for me but as a result there are other doors and windows opening up.  It’s making me look at the past few months differently – I learned some things about myself and I genuinely see it all as a gift.  The challenge is, when the next set of challenges appear (as they invariably will) can I find the ability to see them as gifts at the time?  Will I be able to honestly embrace the difficulties? I’m pretty certain it will take me some time to get to that point.  But that’s okay.  I can accept that.  And I can keep working on it.  And who knows? Maybe one day I will be able to chant Guru Devo Maheshvara from a place of true appreciation. 

In the meantime, I’m sticking with Gratitude for all the gifts in my life right now.

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.

Leela Time

‘Leela’ means ‘play’ in Sanskrit. I learned this at my yoga home because that’s the name of the style of Hot Yoga which is taught there.  ‘Leela’ is something that Stewart Gilchrist also touched on during his  workshop with us last month.

At the weekend, we had some spontaneous ‘Leela Time’ when one of my fave teachers, Allie led us through some yoga-freestyling in the park.

It was so great to have a play at mixing in some moves we don’t usually do in class with the added bonus of being outside on a sunny afternoon.

When we moved onto headstand practice I found myself feeling a bit scared without the safety of a wall.  But I needn’t have been so worried – Allie guided us through step-by-step.

After having a go with the help of Allie and my partner, I have a few attempts on my own, trying to get to that mid-way point where I can balance with my legs bent.  I manage it for a few seconds and then… I fall out, landing on my back and staring up at the sky.   And actually, it’s kind of… fun (?!)   I then remember being in a Jivamukti class where our teacher, Emma told us that sometimes the most fun bit is falling out.  At the time I was seriously doubtful about that, but now I’d done it I ate my words.  I couldn’t believe it – all this time I’d been holding on to this fear over what would happen if I fell out of a headstand.  It felt like a bit of a breakthrough.  I hold my hands up – Emma was right.

In the park there’s a bit of chatter about what we should do next, then I’m not sure who says it but I hear:

“Let’s do handstands!” 

I’m fairly quiet most of the time but now I go stone cold silent.  I instantly feel tense and I’m thinking, “Handstands?!  Now?!  I really don’t think I feel ready. I mean a few bunny hops in class is one thing but -“

That thought is broken by Allie telling us that Leon (Handstand Guru) is on his way over give us some coaching.

Pants.  We’re really going to do this.

We split into pairs to practice and it’s my turn to have a go.

Leon: “When you kick up, just really go for it!”

Me:    “Erm, okay… Are you going to watch?”  (TRANSLATION: “I really, really, hope you’re not going to watch.”)

Leon: “Yeah.”

Great. 

Then as I take a deep breath, it dawns on me that we’re standing in the middle of a bustling park on a Sunday afternoon, so it suddenly feels like a lot more sets of eyes are possibly watching and about to see me land on my head… 

Except I didn’t. 

It took several attempts, but to my complete shock I got there.  Twice!  My partner spotting me and supporting my feet meant I didn’t instantly collapse into a heap.  For a few moments I saw the world upside down.  And I liked it!

This doesn’t mean I am now instantly ‘cured’ of feeling any trepidation the next time I try a headstand or handstand – even though the fear is gradually diminishing I know myself enough to realise it will take a lot more practice to get anywhere near that stage.  But there is something quite powerful in knowing that you’ve done something once.  It clarifies that it’s not impossible whatever your cynical side might say.  When you’ve done something once it means it is possible to do it again.   Big thanks to Allie and Leon for their guidance!

Afternoon yoga in the park was so much fun – it made me want to play more.  Here’s to more ‘Leela Time’!

Chakra-ising the Asana with Stewart

I think I’ve met a True Yogi.

At the weekend I had the great privilege of attending a workshop led by Stewart Gilchrist at my yoga home. During a two and a half hour class titled ‘Chakra-ise the Asana’  Stewart taught us about the chakras (our wheels or nerve centres of power) in relation to the asanas we ‘lay out’ (Stewart expressed that ‘lay out’ is the correct term, rather than ‘perform’).  He also told us about how it has now been scientifically proven that chakras do exist – it’s not the la-la hippy nonsense that many thought for a long time.

I’d arrived on the mat with some trepidation.  Knowing a little of Stewart’s reputation I already knew this would be no beginner’s class.   Then he actually tells us as much, but adds that anyone can do it as long as they listen, even his Scottish Granny.  With that, I am convinced Stewart’s Granny is a far better woman than me!  I exchange a look with my neighbour and realise I am not the only one feeling a bit fearful of what lies ahead…

“Yoga without devotion is just keep fit”, Stewart tells us.  This I believe.  When I first started yoga I just thought of it as exercise but I now know it is so much more.  For Stewart’s class, I dedicate my practice to someone I know whose Mum passed away earlier in the week.

Then we begin moving.  The pace is quick and then… it gets quicker!  Never before in a class have I been so aware of the importance of remembering to breathe!  During a seemingly endless sequence of vinyasas my triceps burn and I wonder if I’ll be able to go on.  Yet, somehow – thanks to my breath – I do.  As we continue to move through the dynamic practice there is so much information to take in as Stewart works through the chakra system.  I know I won’t remember everything, but if a fraction of it stays with me I’ll be happy.  It’s certainly fuelled my desire to learn more.

Even though the room is packed out, Stewart darts about making adjustments and miraculously it seems as though every single person in the room gets his attention.  Though some of the hands-on adjustments are quite strong, I really like this. I’ve learned this approach particularly works for me through the handful of Jivamukti classes I’ve taken part in so far.  I feel the hands-on adjustments very directly show rather than tell me where I am working towards in an asana.  And I’ve found that combined with verbal instruction really helps me to understand better.

We move onto some even more challenging asanas.  “If you decide you can’t do something, then sure enough you’ll find you can’t,” Stewart tells us. I know this has been an ongoing issue for me, as I’ve written about in previous posts.  Whenever I see a seemingly impossible posture in front of me, my immediate thought tends to be, “There is no way in hell…”  It’s a pertinent reminder that this is something I need to keep working on.  And I am reminded to accept where I am right now when Stewart adds, “You’re perfect.  Where you are is perfect for you.” 

Throughout, Stewart is funny, cheeky, warm and wise.  Our incredibly dynamic practice is balanced by his vast enthusiasm and encouragement.  As we continue, Stewart warns us not to over-extend in our asanas, “…that’s the ego.  Under-extending is your fear.”

Stewart later tells a story that speaks to my ‘sweat neurosis’.  It’s about some Americans practicing yoga in India who ask their teacher what they should do with their sweat.   It turns out the answer is to rub it into your skin (!): “It’s your Prana.  Your life force.”  Well, sweat is something I certainly have a lot of!

I am taken by surprise when we move onto the finishing sequence.  Could we really be nearing the end of the two and half hours already?  I find myself feeling a bit sad that the workshop is almost over – that was a shocker considering how I’d felt during all those vinyasas earlier on.

I float off into the sunny spring evening feeling uplifted and inspired and knowing that I definitely want to practice with Stewart again.  The friends I meet up with later look at me with a mix of awe and bemusement as I explain to them how I spent my afternoon…

The next day I get up for my Sunday morning class.  I start moving around my place to pack my gear and – Oh.  My. Goodness!!!  My hips, my glutes, my trapezius, my triceps… I could go on.  Yet, I was still smiling.  And it turns out that making the decision to still go to practice was the best thing I could have done for my body – all that soreness eased thanks to Leon’s Hot Flow class!

I am so grateful that Stewart came to Yogahaven to teach us.  And everyone else I’ve spoken to who was there had wonderful things to say about Stewart and his workshop too.  So, with any luck, Allie and Krystal will be able to persuade him to return on a regular basis, fingers crossed!

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No.2…

Sweat Neurosis

There was an ad I saw on London Underground years ago for a women’s anti-perspirant with the caption:

”Women don’t sweat, they glow…  I glow buckets”. 

For anyone who may have seen the spoof disaster movie, ‘Airplane’ the easiest way I can describe it is that it’s like Ted Striker – the ex-pilot with a fear of flying who has to land the plane.  While at the controls, the beads of sweat formed on Ted’s brow rapidly escalate to the point where we see him literally dripping with sweat, as though he’s had several buckets of it thrown over him…

That pretty much sums me up during a Hot Yoga class. 

I sweat in Astanga and Jivamukti too, but in any given hot class, the sweat is of epic proportions.  And as much as I hate to admit it, some days this really distresses me.

Now, of course with any form of hot yoga sweat is a given.  How can it not be when you’re practicing in 40 degree heat?  But I assumed that the more I practiced the less profusely I’d sweat during class.  However, it turns out the opposite is true. Why?!

Most days I don’t even need to have started doing any postures for the sweat to appear.  I find that if I’m doing a hot class, no sooner have I’ve stepped into the room to get a mat than I catch my face in the mirror and find it staring back at me, all brown and shiny like a Werther’s Original.  I’m no Halle Berry, but I’ve looked better.

Oddly, I don’t bat an eyelid at other people’s sweat.  I won’t remotely freak if a bit of sweat from the person on the next mat flicks onto me (which reminds me of a story a Bikram teacher once told in class about hearing that after teaching Lady Gaga, her teacher was such a fan that he rolled around in her sweat after she’d gone.  I wouldn’t exactly go that far…).  Yet, I am horrified by my own sweat.  I worry about a teacher touching me to adjust any of my postures – what must they think?!  I just don’t want to inflict my sweat on anyone else.

I don’t understand where this severe case of sweat neurosis comes from.  Is this a common condition, or is it just me?

I’ve got to the stage where I sort of accept it, but on bad days it gets me extremely paranoid.  I get incredibly wound up that no-one else in the room could possibly be sweating as much as I am (and the puddle I find under my non-slip towel at the end of any particularly challenging hot class does little to persuade me otherwise…). 

I know wouldn’t judge anyone else about something like this, yet I judge myself so harshly.   I wonder if this is part of a wider issue I have with acceptance – accepting where I am at the moment.  Or it could just be that I’m a slightly strange woman.

Maybe one day I will learn to truly embrace the sweat…

Or at least, start sweating a bit less.