Embracing The Longest Night

Embracing The Longest Night

Visoka va jyotismati – Sutra 1.36

Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year.

This year the Solstice also coincides the end of the Mayan calendar (cue a slew of gags about the end of the world – like this one…) I like to think that what this really signifies is a move into a new, more conscious age.
The Winter Solstice is a time that provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months and set intentions for the coming year.

When I think about where I was this time last year so much has happened. 2012 has had its high points but I know that for many of us it has been a tumultuous year with its fair share of darkness. One of my lessons this year has been around learning to embrace those times, to understand that darkness itself isn’t bad or a thing to fight against. As a place where lots of good things emerge from, it’s necessary. Things are ever changing, but when we’re in the midst of those darker times it can feel as though we’re trapped. And it can be easy to forget the light within – the light each of us possesses.

Visoka va Jyotismati

Visoka – blissful
va – or
jyotismati – the supreme light

I’ve been thinking about this sutra recently and it feels very apt at this time of year. It speaks about the light that resides within each of us – within the heart centre – and reminds us to concentrate on that inner light which is beyond all fear and worry.

On this shortest day, why not take a little time to acknowledge where you’ve been this year, looking upon yourself with compassion? If you decide you’d like to set an intention for the next twelve months then this is a great time to look inward and ask yourself what it is you really want. And beyond today, as we move through the Christmas season – possibly being confronted with the odd bit of seasonal stress here and there – you could try this simple meditation. In the spirit of sutra 1.36, I’ve started doing this in the run up to Christmas and have found it helpful (especially on packed rush hour tube trains!). Maybe you will too. Give this a try whenever you feel stressed, anxious or unsettled:

– Take your awareness to your heart centre. Visualise a light there, glowing radiantly.

– Stay here, focusing on this inner light for as long as you can, even if it’s just a minute. Feel that light expanding, radiating throughout your body, until you are filled up with this light. Then feel your light expanding further, outwards into the space around you.

– Don’t be surprised to notice that your breathing has become slower and more steady – a good sign!

And, if by chance the short winter days are still getting you down, then take heart that after today we’ll start to notice the days gradually getting longer again. So, there are brighter days ahead – in more ways than one!

Namaste x

Yoga Teacher Training

In a few days I fly off for two weeks to begin yoga teacher training with my yoga home.

It’s not something I’ve taken lightly.  I’ve thought about it so much.  I first started looking at teacher training courses roughly two years ago. And each time I would dismiss the idea pretty quickly.  For a long while I had a lot of excuses as to why I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it:

  • I can’t afford it
  • I can’t do every posture perfectly
  • I’m nowhere even near getting into headstand or handstand or toe stand or….
  • I get shy in big groups and don’t do public speaking, so HOW would I stand up in front of a class
  • I don’t know about yoga philosophy
  • I was rubbish at biology at school – there’s no way I could get my head round the anatomy

That’s not an exhaustive list, but you probably get the idea.

Once I’d started practising regularly at Yogahaven I saw the course that they offered and my desire to do teacher training was reignited. How I would love to do that course, if only I could afford it.

For a long time, “I can’t afford it” was my biggest excuse. Then I got laid off from my job and got some redundancy pay.  So I couldn’t exactly use the money excuse anymore.  It’s not that I am rolling in money – it’s scary seeing my bank balance going down so rapidly, with no indication of when or if I will be paid for the freelance work I have done so far.  But I instinctively know that now is the time, so I purposefully put some of that redundancy money into teacher training.

But then once the money excuse – my biggest excuse – was off the table, there was still something stopping me.  What was it…?  I was slapped in the face with the realisation that the money excuse was not my biggest excuse after all.  My biggest excuse was:

I don’t look the way a yoga teacher is ‘supposed’ to look.

I felt genuinely shocked and rather disappointed (in myself) at this realisation.   As a student I actually don’t expect teachers to look like they could grace the cover of Yoga Journal because in my view and experience what a teacher looks like has nothing at all to do with whether they are a good teacher or not.  But I have overheard enough conversations in female changing rooms (not at my yoga home, I hasten to add) to know that some people do think very differently indeed.  As dumb as it might sound it really made me doubt myself and question what ‘right’ I had to want to do teacher training.  Yoga really is for everybody, but that’s not how it always appears. I’ve noticed that in the last several years especially, yoga has increasingly become more fashionable.  And tied up in that I see certain images presented and certain expectations of how yoga practitioners are ‘meant’ to look.  I was faced with this myself when someone I met was surprised to learn I practise yoga and actually told me I didn’t look like I had a ‘yoga body’. I thought about that conversation and wondered what the reaction would have been if I had said I was a yoga teacher.

All this concern about what other people might think made me seriously consider not pursuing teacher training at all.  I confided in one of my lovely teachers about wanting to do the course and she was kind enough to give me some advice and really encouraged me.  But still, I worked myself into such a state about asking Allie, who is the course director, about whether I could apply.  In the end I just thought:

Woman Up!

When did I start letting what I imagined other people might think stop me from doing something I really want to do?  I thought I’d got past that a long time ago.

I’m so glad I got over myself and decided not to let my insecurity get the better of me.  I know why I am doing this.  And I know that I do want to teach and share the wonderful gift of yoga with others.  But Allie gave us teacher trainees some really valuable advice – to see the course as a journey of discovery and not to get addicted to the destination of being a yoga teacher.

I’ve been putting quite a lot of pressure on myself and have become increasingly nervous as the start of the course draws nearer.  Over the past week especially I’ve wound myself up into a bit of a panic about it – I don’t feel as ready as the old perfectionist side of me expects me to be.  But when I feel myself getting overwhelmed I remind myself of Allie’s advice.  I remind myself of the kind words of encouragement and support I have received from all my teachers – such goodwill which I appreciate hugely. I remind myself of how very lucky I am that I get to do this and how exciting it is.

This has been a pretty significant year of change so far.  This is the next step in that journey.  Yes, I do still have some butterflies about what lies ahead as I embark on teacher training, but now I can’t wait.

P is for Psoas…(?)

I was in Flow class the other day when just as we were moving into half-pigeon our teacher uttered the words, ”…working into the Psoas”.  My eyebrows shot up.

The wha -?

While I’ve become more familiar with terms like Mula Bandha (Root Lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock), for instance (though I’m still not sure I’m always applying either when I’m supposed to be or doing so correctly…), the ‘Psoas’ was a completely new one on me. So, after class I took the opportunity to ask our teacher what is the Psoas (sounds like ‘so-as’) and where is it?   The answer I got was really helpful but I don’t feel sufficiently able to do it justice here.   This Yoga Journal article explains it far better and in much greater depth than I ever could. Suffice to say, it’s a deeply buried muscle that is more important to our asanas than I realised.   It’s quite difficult to get to and I have a feeling I may not have found mine yet…

I had another anatomy-lightbulb moment last week in Pulse Yoga class when Allie on touched hip rotation, explaining to us about the knees not being able to go where the hips won’t let them.  When she said that it clicked as to why I was less open on my irksome left side.

I’ve been becoming increasingly curious about anatomy in relation to yoga, not least because of how having a regular practice has affected by body.  I no longer suffer from the back pain that made most days a misery and it’s seriously alleviated on ongoing sciatic issue.

Thanks to a recommendation from my yoga home I have seen a fantastic osteopath about my sciatic pain.  My worry had been that she would tell me not to practice yoga but in fact the opposite was the case – she simply advised me to do as I have been – listen to my body and don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right.  Having osteopathy treatment has been a revelation because now my leg is fine most of the time, but every day is different and there are still times when it flares up and, frustratingly, really impairs my mobility in class.

Anyhow, all of this has made me want to try and gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on with my body in the yoga postures.  My osteopath has kindly and patiently answered my questions when I have quizzed her on the spine, the pelvis, parasympathetic nervous system, the foot…. I have taken in bits of information but there have also been a lot of moments where her mouth was moving and what I was hearing may have been easier for me to understand if she was speaking in an obscure Guatemalan dialect. And I am pretty sure she was giving me the idiot’s guide.

Yet still, I do want to try and learn. But where to begin?  After a bit of impromptu headstand practice after class the other day with Zara (thanks Zara!), I asked her advice.  Why hadn’t I done the most obvious thing of asking my teachers in the first place?!

I’m really touched that Zara has so kindly lent me her Yoga Anatomy book to help me get started. And very luckily for me, it doesn’t appear to be written in an obscure Guatemalan language. 

I just might start to get my head round a little of this anatomy stuff after all.