Monthly InSpirations by Fiona
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InSpire - October/November 2017

The Grateful Flow

What do we do with so called “negative” emotions that rise up in us at any moment in our day, or even at night?
Can we step back, take a deep breath, pause and soften to small “things”, moments and/or people we can be grateful for?

It has been proven that by writing down 5 things that you are grateful for can boost your happiness up to 25%, in any given moment. It’s impossible to be in a state of gratitude and in a state of misery at the same time - that is a motivating thought. This is definitely worth applying if it can be so simple to take small steps to help ourselves.

This also demands of us a choice - a choice to choose something different to staying connected to this state of overwhelm, depression, sadness, fear, anger….whatever challenging emotion is arising in the moment.

Where does gratitude reside in the body? For me, the heart space. For you?
I notice that by breathing into the heart space with gratitude, it intensifies this feeling. Breathe in gratitude for myself or whatever I am pausing into, and breathe out gratitude for all beings.

Can we translate this Grateful flow into our yoga practice?
In the next two months I invite you into a heart-centred practice, where we not only focus on the heart centre, but also on the Hara, so as to drop down from the head into the connection between the heart and then deeper to the root.

In our practice, we will use a focused breath practice to soften and pause, so as to increase the coalescence of energy or prana in specific sites in the body. As we do this, we will use the placement of our hands to increase our awareness of these areas.
Whenever you rest your hands on your abdomen and heart centre, it is an opportunity to bring your attention down and in. Shifting from a more head-centred preoccupation to a more intuitive-centered relaxation.

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Image above: Pelargonium cordifolium - Valentine Heart Leaved Pelargonium. Copyright Jürgen Weiland. Find out more about Jürgen’s plant photography: www.pflanzenportraits.com

InSpire - August/September 2017

I am a fan of Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Notes (optimize.me), and recently he wrote about “celebratory love”, a term coined by Barbara Frederickson, who refers to celebratory love as “gratitudes generous cousin”.

In my InSpire for the next 6 weeks, let's find out more about this fabulous term and how we can integrate it as a habit into our lives, if it is not already there, or enhance its use, if it is there…

How Brian Johnson describes it…

First, quick backstory: Barbara is one of the world’s leading researchers studying well-being. She wrote a book called Love 2.0 where she tells us that, from a scientific perspective, love is really all about “micro-moments of positivity”--moments in our everyday lives in which we connect with someone over a shared positive emotion.

She describes two different types of love: compassionate love and celebratory love. Compassionate love is when our hearts open up to feel someone’s pain and we wish them a sense of well-being. Celebratory love is, as the name implies, when we see the awesomeness in someone else and CELEBRATE it with them.

We appreciate SOMEONE ELSE’S good fortune when we practice (yes, it’s a practice!) celebratory love.

We can do this all day every day. See someone with a spring in their step and a smile on their face? Take a moment to celebrate their apparent happiness.
Barbara silently says to herself, “May your happiness and good fortune continue!”

And, perhaps most importantly, when a loved one (or friend or colleague or anyone) shares a story about their success with you, CELEBRATE IT!!

Barbara tells us that most counselling focuses on helping couples and families deal with the challenges in their relationships. But, she tells us, it’s actually WAY more important to get REALLY good at celebrating the POSITIVE stuff!!

Let’s move from theory to practice.




Spend a moment thinking of three people you love very much. Who are they?

1. ___________________________
2. ___________________________
3. ___________________________

Wonderful.

Now, what’s one thing you can appreciate about each of them?

Name Awesomeness
1. ___________________________ ___________________________
2. ___________________________ ___________________________
3. ___________________________ ___________________________

Fantastic.

I celebrate you and your awesomeness.

Now, let’s make that a habit!

As we bring positive clear energy into our own lives, we are affecting the global picture as well.
Let's dedicate our practice for our own growth and deeper understanding, as well as extending it out to our families, friends and the wider community.

Namaste




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Image: Alpstein, Switzerland 2017. Copyright Jürgen Weiland.

InSpire - May/June 2017

Spring is all around us! The colors of the leaves on the trees are illuminous, the spring bulbs are radiant in their colour diversity, warmth is creeping into the sunshine, the birds are singing their songs loudly from early in the morning, and there is a softness and lightness that starts to show itself on people's faces and in their manner of being, as well as a sense of relief of moving into the warmer months. Mother Nature is so profound in her ability to return renewed each spring, with power, beauty and lightness, as if immediately forgiving the harsh winter. Then there are those days when the cold and wet returns, and it is harder to stay light.

How can we adapt to change whether "good" or "bad"? How can we embody this forgiving quality of nature in our own way of being?
Perhaps through embracing Equanimity into our daily lives? Being a part of everything that arises in our daily lives, without being disturbed by it, and without judging it. We are always practicing and accomplishing simultaneously, regardless of what we are doing or not doing.

The Tibetan verb drupa, is commonly translated as "to practice", and also means "to accomplish". When a contemplative is practicing meditation, he/she is also accomplishing mindfulness. Practice and achievement are one and the same.

Whether you are meditating, resting, walking, dancing, listening to music, sharing with others....it can all be good for the heart, the body and the mind. Even challenging situations which we know help us to evolve, contribute to all of life's experiences becoming suffused with spiritual practice.
Tapping into this inner source of genuine well-being, can dissipate any sense of loneliness, depression, or mental unease...at any time. We choose it. What are you choosing in this moment?
Pause. Soften. Ask yourself....

"The cultivation of equanimity means learning to regard everyone with impartiality. No one is a stranger...This is a capacity we can all unveil." Alan Wallace

Meditation on Equanimity (by Alan Wallace)
Find a comfortable position, keeping your spine straight. Settle your body in its grounded rest state, imbued with the three qualities of relaxation, stillness, and vigilance (if possible, keep your eyes softly open). Attend to your breath for a few moments...

Bring to mind a person you know well, whose background and living circumstances are familiar to yours but who is neither a friend nor an enemy. Attend to this person. This person, like yourself, is striving for happiness and freedom from pain, fear, and insecurity. Focus on this person and shift your awareness to view the world from her eyes. From this point of view, look back on yourself. Regardless of the distinct defects or excellent qualities this person might have, her yearning for happiness and wish to be free from pain and grief are identical to your own. Even though she is not close to the center of your personal universe, her well-being is no less significant than that of a dear loved one whom you may regard as crucial to your happiness.

Now bring to mind a person you feel is crucial to your well-being, a person for whom you have both affection and attachment. Attend closely to this loved one, and shift your awareness to the viewpoint of that person so that you perceive him as a human being like yourself, with both defects and excellent qualities. From this viewpoint, realize that although you are loved by some people, a great number of people feel indifferently toward you, and there also may be some people who don't like you. This person for whom you feel affection and attachment feels her own desires, hopes, and fears. Now step back and attend to this person from the outside. This person is not a true source of your happiness, security, or joy, which can only arise from your own heart and mind.

Next bring to mind a person who may be intent on bringing your harm or depriving you of happiness, a person with whom you feel conflict. As before, imagine stepping into this person's perspective, being this person from the inside, and experiencing her hopes and fears. Fundamentally, this person, like yourself, wishes to find happiness and freedom from suffering. Now, step back and attend to her from outside with the realization that she is not the source of your distress or anxiety. If you feel uneasy or angry in relationship to this person, the source is in your own heart, not in the other person.

Realize that there is nothing inherent in the stranger, in the loved one, nor in the foe that makes the other person fall into one category or another. Circumstances change, relationships change, and it is the flux of circumstances that gives rise to the thoughts "this is my enemy" or "this is my loved one".
Expand the field of awareness to embrace everyone in your immediate environment, their hopes, fears, aspirations, and yearnings. Each person is as important as all others. Shifting circumstances bring us together and also cause us to part.
Expand your field of awareness out over the whole community, reaching out in all directions, including everyone. Recognize that each person is fundamentally like yourself, and virtually everyone feels himself to be the center of his world.

Imagine the pure depths of your own awareness, unsullied by the obscurations of self-centered attachment and aversion, as an orb of radiant white light at your heart. With each exhalation, let this light spread out evenly in all directions to all persons with the yearning, "May each one, including myself, find happiness. May everyone, including myself, be free of suffering and the causes of suffering." Imagine a flood of light going out in all directions, soothing those who are distressed and bringing healing, happiness, and a sense of well-being to everyone. With each inhalation, draw in the distress and causes of unhappiness and pain of each sentient being. Imagine this as a dark cloud that dissolves into the light at your heart, and imagine all beings free of suffering and its causes.

Before you bring this session to a close, rest for a moment without bringing anything to mind. Settle your awareness in its own nature, with no object and with no subject. This is the even-mindedness that is a fertile foundation for all spiritual practices.


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Image: Night Sky @ Weenen Game Reserve, KwaZulu Natal South Africa. Copyright Jürgen Weiland.

InSpire - March/April 2017

The Magic in the Ordinary



“Impermanent are all component things,
They arise and cease, that is their nature:
They come into being and pass away,
Release from them is bliss supreme.”

“Anicca vata a”nkhaaraa — uppaada vaya dhammino
Uppajjitvaa nirujjhanti — test.m vuupasamo sukho.”


From the Mahaa-Parinibbaana Sutta (DN 16) (1)

According to the teachings of Buddha, all existence has three characteristics, and one of the main ones, Annica, or impermanence, indicates that everything has a beginning and an ending.
Change, or impermanence, is the essential characteristic of all phenomenal existence. Nothing is lasting. All is fleeting. This may seem a bit pessimistic and miserable, however, when we are honest with ourselves, we know this is true. We cannot hold on to any experience, anyone, any object - they will all come to pass.

When this truth is not grounded in our being, we grasp at things and at life, attempting to cling to life and hold on to our experiences and people. Buddha teaches, that this creates suffering in us. “We wish for stability and permanence, and this is forever denied us, irrespective of whether we are talking about pain or pleasure. It is something we want but can never get.” Rigzin Shikpo

How can we contemplate and embody this meaning into our lives, while living life to its fullest with joy?
“With the quality of openness, a kind of lightness creeps into the situation. This is the beginning of a new way of looking at the world” Rigzin Shikpo

Seeing the magic in the ordinary - we could be open and gentle to our life process as it is unfolding moment by moment, day by day…and especially to our remarkable thoughts that come and go continuously. “There is a powerful yet gentle magic about the fact that thoughts arise at all. Ordinary things are totally magical, but it takes a while to see that. Things don’t seem magical when we are used to them…The fact that thoughts and feelings appear at all - and what they are in themselves - is amazing.” Rigzin Shikpo

Notice the magic of your thoughts an feelings, then return to the breath, without clinging to the realisation of the magic in the ordinary.

I would like to repeat a story I “told” in 2013, an invite you to contemplate in a simple way….

The Broom Master
(Taken from: Kindness, A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for children and parents.
Collected and adapted by Sarah Conover)


Long ago, during the time of Buddha, lived a boy named Chundaka. Chunda - as he was fondly called - was a happy and good youngster, but was unable to learn to read and write. In comparison, Chunda’s older brother became quite knowledgeable, with a keen interest in Buddhism. When the older brother decided to lead a monk’s life, Chunda followed a long. He sought to live near his brother, but secretly, he also hoped to work alongside the monks and learn about Buddhism.
“Why don’t you ask the Buddha if you can become a monk too?” his brother encouraged. But Chunda had no confidence.
“Brother, how can I?” Chunda sadly replied. “I can’t memorize, and I can’t read or write. I have no knowledge of scriptures, and I won’t be able to learn them. A monk must be able to teach others many things.”
But his brother assured him that both riches and knowledge were meaningless to the Buddha. “He values only the compassion we have for another and the ways to help all creatures suffer less. No one is as gentle and kind as he is. I know he will not disappoint you, Chunda. Go and hear for yourself,” prodded his brother hopefully.

So Chunda mustered all his courage. He bathed and purified himself. When he was certain he was quite ready, he approached the Buddha. The Buddha observed that this humble young man had an earnest and pure heart. He could see that Chunda would try his very best. The Buddha welcomed him as the newest monk in the community.
The next morning, Ananda, head of all the monks, gave Chunda a small scripture to memorize, just 6 lines long. It was the first of hundreds that each monk was expected to learn by heart. But a week later, having tried his hardest, poor Chunda could still not recite it from beginning to end. Completely disheartened, he went back to the Buddha and admitted his failure.
But the Buddha was not greatly disappointed; he had total faith in Chunda’s good intentions. The Buddha and Chunda sat thoughtfully together in silence. An idea suddenly occurred to the Buddha. “Chunda, are you a hard worker?” asked the Buddha. “Do you think you can sweep the temple and keep it spotlessly clean?”
“Oh yes, teacher. I’m a good worker, and I’m very good at sweeping. I just cannot seem to learn scripture.”
So the Buddha gave Chunda the task of keeping the temple perfectly clean. He was to hold no other job but temple sweeper. The Buddha then requested that Chunda speak two lines while sweeping: remove all dust, remove all dirt.
Bur as soon as poor Chunda attempted his task, the words completely vanished from his mind. Luckily, Ananda overheard the Buddha’s instructions and could help Chunda remember them over and over again.

At last, a month later, Chunda had it learned by heart. “Remove all dust,” the monks heard Chunda whisper with the sweep of the broom. “Remove all dirt,” he murmured with the return sweep. Behind Chunda’s back, the other monks snickered at his memory problem. More than a few took some pride in the extent of their learning. Day and night Chunda poured his heart into his work, repeating those six words again and again. Eventually, however, over time every monk couldn’t help but admire Chunda’s perseverance. They had never witnessed such single-minded determination.
In time, the few words that the Buddha had given him to memorize became more and more meaningful to Chunda. His chores became a meditation upon the words. Chunda’s curiosity deepened, and he suspected that the Buddha knew all along that these words were not as simple as they first appeared. “Did my teacher want me to sweep outer dust and dirt or inner dust and dirt?” he wondered. “What is inner dirt? How would one go about cleaning inner dirt?” he asked himself many times.

Some months later, Chunda found the answers to these questions himself. While he worked, insight nudged its way into his heart. Once in awhile now, the monks saw Chunda thoughtfully pausing from his endless task, leaning against his broom and looking at the far-off horizon.

At last a day came when Chunda felt ready to discuss his thought with the Buddha. “Venerable sir,” said Chundaka enthusiastically, “I think I finally understand the real meaning of the words your gave me.”
“Please tell me what you understand,” encouraged the Buddha.
“I believe that inner dust and dirt is a grasping,” said Chunda. “If we don’t like something in our lives, we grasp for a different situation. But if we really like something that we have, then we also grasp because we don’t want it to change.” Chunda continued, “To look at life clearly, we must always see through this. We must sweep the dust and dirt away and keep our inner temple clean.” The Buddha smiled warmly at Chunda’s thoughtful words.

And so, as the years passed, Chunda swept and meditated and thought deeply. He found he did not have to memorize scriptures as the other monks did, for teachings seemed to arise from within. After a time, he became known as one of the wise and gentle teachers of Buddhism, affectionately called “Chundaka, the Broom Master.” He lived a long and happy life. And for many years people journeyed to the monastery from distant places, not just to hear from the learned monks, but to listen especially to Chundaka, the Broom Master. He was their favorite, loved for his very simple, yet very wise sayings.

flexibleImage above: The perishing tulips, Copyright Jürgen Weiland



InSpire - January/February 2017

As we welcome in the new year, I would like to invite you to practice a Shamata mindfulness practice, not just in the space of the formal yoga class, but also at home.
Be inspired by the teachings of Alan Wallace…

Mindfulness of breathing involves letting the breath flow in and out with as little interference as possible. We have to start by assuming the body knows how to breathe better than the mind does. Trust your body.

The Practice: Mindfulness of breathing with relaxation



Our minds are bound up with our bodies, so we need to incorporate our bodies into meditative practice. In each session we will do this by first settling the body in its natural state, while imbued with three qualities: relaxation, stillness, and vigilance.

The Posture


It is generally preferable to practice mediation sitting on a cushion with your legs crossed, but if that is uncomfortable, you may either sit on a chair or lie down in the supine position, your head resting on a pillow. Whatever position you assume, let your back be straight, and settle your body with a sense of relaxation and ease. Your eyes may be closed, partially closed, or open, as you wish…If you are sitting, you may rest your hands on your knees or in your lap. Your head may be slightly inclined or directed straight ahead, and your tongue may rest lightly on your palate.

Now bring your awareness to the tactile sensations throughout your body, from the soles of your feet up to the crown of your head. Note the sensations in your shoulders and neck, and if you notice any tightness there, soften. Likewise, be aware of the muscles of your face - your jaw, temples, and forehead, as well as your eyes - soften any area that feels constricted. Let your face relax like that of a sleeping baby, and set your entire body at ease.
Throughout this session, keep as physically still as you can. Avoid all unnecessary movement, such as scratching and fidgeting. You will find that the stillness of the body helps to settle the mind.

If you are sitting, assume a “posture of vigilance”: Slightly raise your sternum so that when you inhale, you feel the sensations of the respiration naturally go to your belly, which expands during the in-breath and retracts during the out-breath. During meditation sessions, breathe as if you were pouring water into a pot, filling it from the bottom up. When the breath is shallow, only the belly will expand. In the course of a deeper inhalation, first the abdomen, then the diaphragm will then expand, and when you inhale yet more deeply, the chest will finally expand after the belly and diaphragm have done so.
If you are meditating in the supine position, position yourself so that you can mentally draw a straight line from the point between your heels, to your navel, and to your chin. Let your feet fall to the outside, and stretch your arms out to the sides of your torso, with your palms facing up. Vigilance in the supine position is mostly psychological, an attitude that regards this position as a formal meditation posture, and not simply as rest.

The Practice


Be at ease. Be still. Be vigilant. These three qualities of the body are to be maintained throughout all meditation sessions. Once you have settled your body with these three qualities, take three slow, gentle, deep breaths, breathing in and out through the nostrils. Let your awareness permeate your entire body as you do so, noting any sensations that arise in relation to the respiration. Luxuriate in these breaths, as if you were receiving a gentle massage from within. Open your awareness to the entire field of sensations throughout the body. The emphasis here is on mental and physical relaxation (there is no difference between mental and physical agitation and relaxation, according to Gert van Leeuwen). By settling your awareness in the body, you diffuse the knots in the body and mind. Tightness unravels of its own accord, and this soothes the network of the body.

Now settle your breathing in its natural flow. Continue breathing through your nostrils, noting the sensations of the respiration wherever they arise within your body. Observe the entire course of each in- and out-breath, noting whether it is long or short, deep or shallow, slow or fast. Don’t impose any rhythm on your breathing. Attend closely to the respiration, but without wilfully influencing it in any way. Don’t even prefer one kind of a breath over another, and don’t assume that rhythmic breathing is necessarily better than irregular breathing. Let the body breathe as if you were fast asleep, but mindfully vigilant.

Thoughts are bound to arise involuntarily, and your attention may also be pulled away by noises and other small stimuli from your environment. When you note that you become distracted, instead of tightening up and forcing your attention back to your breath, simply let go of those thoughts and distractions. Especially with each exhale, relax your body, release extraneous thoughts, and happily let your attention settle back into the body. When you see that your mind has wandered, be grateful that you have noticed the distraction, and gently return to the breath.
Again and again, counteract the agitation and turbulence of the mind by relaxing more deeply, not by contracting your body and/or mind. If any tension builds up in your shoulders, face, or eyes, release it. With each exhalation, release involuntary thoughts as if they were dry leaves blown away by a soft breeze. Relax deeply through the entire course of the exhalation, and continue to relax as the next breath flows in effortlessly like the tide. Breathe so effortlessly that you feel as if your body were being breathed by your environment.
Continue practicing, building your time of sitting slowly up, then mindfully emerge from meditation and reengage with the world around you.


(An extract from The Attention Revolution, Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind, by Alan Wallace)



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InSpire - November/December 2016

"The Family Dharma Path"
I wanted to address this theme as the year slowly draws to a close. There is such a strong focus on family as we near Christmas and the closure of the year, whether it be your immediate family, and/or extended family. How can we stay in a kind, loving space with ourselves and others?

Many of us have chosen to have children, and if we have, we are all aware of how our lives take on a multi-facetted role as we attempt to find a balance between some kind of spiritual practice and daily life activities. This can also be appropriate for those without children, and who commit fully to their work commitments and/or extended family. "Family" has many definitions, and we are all part of a family in some form or other.

Whatever your story, how can we follow the Family Dharma Path, so we can avoid too many limiting moments of frustration, and arrive in a practice of being in the moment and of opening the heart, wherever we are?

Some tips from an amazing book I read, called Cave in the Snow by Vicki Mackenzie...
1. Use your daily life obstacles as your teachers - be grateful for the lessons.
Pause, Soften, Breathe...

2. There is no better place to practice generosity, patience and ethics, as in daily life.

3. Just so you know you are not the only one suffering, a quote from Yvonne Rand's Kitchen Sink Path, where she states the pitfalls of the Family Dharma Path -
"There are two main ones - confusion with priorities, and an unwillingness to give things up so that you become overwhelmed trying to do it all."
Perhaps you recognize these words in yourself? Notice them, let go of guilt, and enjoy your path, even when there does not seem to be the time for everything that you think needs to be done.

4. Constancy - be clear about your motivations in any given moment. Whatever you do, commit to it. "Determine, for this action I will really be there. It's all habit. At the moment we've got the habit of being unaware. We have to develop the habit of being present. Once we start to be present in the moment everything opens up. When we are mindful there is no commentary - it's a very naked experience, wakeful, vivid." Tensin Palmo

5. Am I concentrated or aware? "Mindfulness can be interpreted in two ways...concentration, which is narrow and laser-like, or awareness, which is more panoramic. One could take as an example listening to music. If one is really listening to music it is as if one is absorbed into the music. As the poet, T.S. Elliot put it, 'Music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts'. That is concentration. But to know one is absorbed in the music is awareness. Do you see the difference? When we are aware, we are mindful not only of what we are doing but the feelings, the emotions that are arising, and what's happening around us as well."
Soften your eyes, as if you are smiling softly to yourself.

6. It is so simple, we can miss it!

7. The meaning of "mindfulness" or "Smriti" in Sanskrit, means "to remember"...it is a process of remembering..."If mindfulness is synonymous with 'remembering' it follows that the enemy of awareness is forgetfulness. We can be aware for a few moments and then we forget."
When we are shifting in and out of remembering, we are not seeing situations clearly for what they are in that moment of the experience, but through the blur of past experiences, our thoughts, judgements and preconceptions. We have to bring everything into sharp focus, and to see things as they are as if we are looking at them for the first time. "If we can learn to do that, without doing anything else, it will transform a situation automatically."

8. The analogy of the surfer...
"Awareness is like a surfboard. If you are a surfer you don't want a quiet lake, you want the big wave. The bigger the wave, the more the fun, right?

9. Love vs Hatred - "Anger is simply anger, we use it to justify our own negative states. We all have a huge reservoir of anger in us and whatever we direct it to only adds oil to the fire. If we approach something with an angry mind, what happens is that it leads to antagonism and defensiveness in the other side. The Buddha said hatred is not overcome by hatred, but only by love" -
How can we help ourselves? Practice being present.

10. The Half Smile by Yvonne Rand...slightly lift the corners of your mouth and hold it for three breaths. Practice it six or more times a day, and notice the difference in the body and mind within three days.

Be true to your "spiritual" path (or whatever you like to call it), no matter what the story you are living out looks like. Find your practice within your life, be light and humorous, and smile a lot. Know what your motivation is - keep checking in with this.
Be kind to yourself and others.
Take time for meditation and stillness. It can be while you are cooking a meal, washing dishes, making beds, waiting for the bus, appreciating being with your child/partner, being at work.
Just Be There where you are in that moment.
Nourish your inner and outer life.

"Even though it seems very difficult, world peace can only come about though individual transformation." The Dalai Lama

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Image above: Dimorphotheca pluvialis, white African Daisy @ Western Cape South Africa by Jürgen Weiland www.4photodesign.com

InSpire - September/October 2016

“The exercise is the exercise; the movements in between are life.” Gert van Leeuwen
Where and how is your attention when you are not on your yoga mat?…

I would like to invite this theme into our yoga practice in the next 2 months.
What is your truth, and how are you living it out in your life?
What does your yoga practice bring to you?
Some kind of personal freedom to be more open, receptive, loving, kind, feeling well in your body which affects your state of mind, living with more purpose and truth….the list goes on. What is your truth?

Even when we ask ourselves this question, it is often frustrating and difficult to answer it directly and fully. Could this be because there is no constant in life. Change is always happening. So, how can we adapt to this constant changing process and still feel like we are honouring ourselves and our path?
Let’s start with the physical body, and look at the postures and movements we create and do, that can either enrich our lives and make us more fluid, or become habitual, and narrow our ability to move freely and creatively.

Most people’s skeletons are straight and aligned at birth, and as we get older this changes. Depending on influences from our environment and life around us as well as our predispositions, the body responds to stresses and strains and these get recorded in our system, and imbalances start to occur. These strains start to affect our free balance and movement, and this is not only connected to our physical bodies, but also to the way we think, speak, act in, and see the world.

So, this is where our yoga practice comes in - yoga is one tool that we know we can use to help us regain balance and agility in the body, thus influencing a calmer, quieter, more flexible and present state of mind as well. We look to strengthen the spine, relax stiff muscles, strengthen weak muscles, bring more flexibility into our joint sites, and be more healthy happy beings, who act out from a more truthful place, being in touch with sensation through the body, and not the thinking mind.

“Correct balance leads to freedom of movement and the possibility of deep relaxation during rest. Freedom of movement creates positive feelings in the body: lightness, openness, and sensitivity. Restricted movement leads to poor body consciousness. The body becomes less sensitive to the positive feelings in the body, which is why we rely more on thinking…we experience feeling in our head instead of our body.” Gert van Leeuwen

In the following weeks, we will explore what the power of back bends can offer us…especially looking at feelings of fear and being overwhelmed when it comes to backbends, and how we can embrace these qualities in a mindful way. Relaxing into the “energy of rest” while we perform these poses, and staying connected to the “passage of movement” of the breath within us at all times.


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InSpire - May/June 2016

For our yoga practice for the next 2 months, I would like to delve into present moment awareness. This is a topic that comes up frequently in the yoga and meditation community. Be in the moment! So, how can we actually do this? It is one thing to say it, and to know that it is definitely a good space to be in, but actually being here now is something else!
Why is it that we find it so hard to stay present? What distracts us? What is more important than the present moment that draws us away into the world of our thoughts, feelings and emotional lives?

I would like to invite us all to follow a path of openness and awareness, in the pursuit of truth. To cultivate openness and awareness we need to choose this deliberately, every moment again and again. We cultivate, through our yoga and meditation practice, this natural openness of heart and mind that enables us to look at life, things and people around us, in a fresh, unbiased way.

What tools do we have at our disposal?
Our yoga practice, which we can use to:
Be grounded through the physical body, experiencing ourselves in a direct way.
Be open and non-judgemental to our body as sensations arise.
Be aware of physical, mental, emotional and spacial reactions and/or interventions.
Use the breath as an anchor for reconnecting to the present moment.
Learn to soften to suffering, letting it ride the breath-waves.
Prepare for the sitting/meditative practice.

Our yin and meditation practice, where we can:
Learn to relate to the mind just as it is.
Learn to relate to the body just as it is.
Let go of ambition and ego.
Learn to see the significance of something as it arises in the practice, whatever it is.
Open toward our thoughts and feelings, until there is no separation between ourselves and our emotions, allowing compassion to arise.

“The truth we are seeking lies within ourselves already, waiting to be revealed. It is also to be found all around us. So in some sense the truth comes from without and within at the same time. The truth that seems to swoop down from outside is no different to the truth that wells up within us. They are fundamentally the same.” (Rigzin Shikpo)

As we make “progress” on our path, we also realise how attached we are to the notions of time and space - ego does not let go easily. Recommit, again and again and again.
This is where the yoga practice can help to bring you back to this present moment awareness when you find yourself drifting back to “old patterns” of thinking and behaviour.
Upon realising this more often (creating new neural pathways!), we awaken to the qualities of love, compassion, joy, and a balance of heart and mind needed to see and feel things properly - the awakened heart and mind. We gradually develop an inspiration to give up attachment to self-interest and ambition, and open ourselves to show genuine compassion and love for others, in a way which it arises spontaneously out of us.

“Because we only find genuine peace when we realise truth, the truth is peace.”
(Rigdzin Shikpo, Never turn Away)

Now for an extract from Rick Hanson’s marvellous book, Buddha’s Brain, where he reminds us that even though it is important to live in the present moment, it is equally important to “tend to the causes of a better future”…
“It’s a general moral principle that the more power you have over someone, the greater your duty is to use that power benevolently. Well, who is the one person in the world you have the greatest power over? It’s your future self. You hold that life in your hands, and what it will be depends on how you care for it.”

Plus: “It’s impossible to change the past or the present: you can only accept all that as it is. But you can tend to the causes of a better future. Most of the ways you’ll do this are small and humble... These little actions really add up over time. Everyday, ordinary activities—as well as any personal growth or spiritual practices—contain dozens of opportunities to change your brain from the inside out. You really do have that power, which is a wonderful thing in a world full of forces beyond your control. A single raindrop doesn’t have much effect, but if you have enough raindrops and enough time, you can carve a Grand Canyon.”
This does not mean we should collapse ourselves into obsessing about the future either.
The past is already over (and is only powerful because we feed into the memory of it), the future has not happened yet, so if there is no past or future, then there cannot be a present either? Just the present moment….and it is in this moment that we can be aware of our thoughts, beliefs, words, actions…”these little actions really add up over time”…

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Image: Lesotho shepherds @ Sani Pass South Africa by Jürgen Weiland www.4photodesign.com

InSpire - March/April 2016

For our yoga practice for the next 2 months, I would like to delve into a topic/theme that we can spend a lifetime attending to, Vulnerability and Emotional Transformation. I find the words of Bo Forbes, a yoga teacher, very grounding and inspiring. She is the InSpire this month.
Some supporting thoughts for our practice:
Recognise that movement based on will power prevents us from evolving - exchange will power for investigative attention to your body. Use your breath to be curious, especially about pain, moving from a feeling of relaxation and lightness. Move with an awareness of the space around you, letting the movements and concentration grow from a feeling of Joy.
Your body is the best possible means of experiencing yourself in this moment.

Yoga: Vulnerability and Emotional Transformation (Bo Forbes)
No matter what style of yoga we prefer, our practice helps us feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet my students and clients often lament that yoga’s mood-enhancing benefits don’t last as long as they’d like--as one of my clients recently put it, “no longer than a caffeine high.” On the mat, yoga usually meets our expectations. Yet off the mat, yoga’s limitations can disappoint us. Yoga doesn’t rid us of our anxieties, our sorrows, our stress: at times, it can even seem to magnify them. Why is that, and what can we do about it?
Yoga doesn’t erase our emotions; it brings us in deeper contact with them. When I teach open classes, the most frequent requests I get from practitioners, by a long shot, are for hip-openers and heart-openers. The hips and heart receive the most frustration from yoga practitioners. “My hips are so tight!” people say, or “How do I open my chest--no matter what or how hard I try, it doesn't seem to respond!” Much of our efforts at emotional armoring focus on the heart and pelvic areas; these areas are repositories for painful emotions and memories, as well as creativity and intuition. Sometimes, people tell me, these poses of "opening" have unexpected consequences: an increase in sadness, vulnerability, or even anger. We love to open the hips and heart, yet we’re not always happy about the consequences when we do.

Recently, a yoga therapy client complained to me about her boyfriend, “I like that yoga makes me more open—but why should I have to be open to his inconsiderate behavior?” It’s easy to relate to her dilemma. We may expect yoga to take care of the tough stuff, to open us up to pure, unadulterated bliss. Images in popular media reinforce this expectation. Everywhere we look, it seems, we’re flooded with images of “instant Zen.” A tanned, relaxed woman dressed in white sits effortlessly in lotus position, thumbs and index fingers touching in yoga mudra. A shirtless, muscular guy rests soulfully in Child’s Pose. An attractive young couple strolls hand in hand along a beach as the sun sets. These glossy images transmit the notion that practicing yoga will make our lives just as idyllic.
When we ask for opening, we’ve usually got a clear idea of how that opening will go: only “yogic” interactions with smooth sailing, clear skies, and no difficulty ahead.  Yet true opening occurs not only with respect to enjoyable experiences, but to all direct experience, even the painful. This means embracing our fears (of not being loved, of being abandoned, of failing, even of death). It means welcoming our anger (when someone attacks us, threatens us in some way, or withholds something we want). It means accepting our sadness (when we feel lonely, rejected, or unlovable). And it means allowing ourselves to be truly and deeply vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary; when we’re truly open, we can, and often do, get hurt.

Say, for example, that you’re angry with your significant other; he or she hasn’t given you the validation and support you expect. Sitting with that anger is understandably difficult, so you take the path of least resistance: you tell your best friend about it. You create a story about how imperfect, flawed, withholding, or wrong your partner is. Your friend loves you, so she validates your story. In the meantime, what happened to the underlying anger or sadness you seem to have escaped?
Here’s the thing: Your story isn’t simply an innocent bid for affirmation. It actually activates your stress response, causing you to release cortisol and other stress hormones. Your story also reinforces and activates all the other times you’ve been “dissed” by someone you care about. Your story contributes to your world view that you are never fully seen or validated by others.  
Sitting with difficult feelings and learning to tolerate them is the hardest part of svadhyaya, or self-study. Yet it’s also the most valuable. Cutting-edge research in the neuroscience of emotions indicates that when we avoid a difficult feeling by telling a “story” about it, we’re able to escape that feeling. Yet the escape is temporary, and the emotion tends to linger over time. On the other hand, if we can be present with our anger and sadness and accompany our feelings with awareness and breath, they can lessen and, over time, even transmute into something different. A feeling of being abandoned, for example, can morph into a tolerable awareness of being alone--or simply being with oneself.

This means that no matter how challenging our anxiety, panic, depression, cravings, or difficult emotions may be, telling a story about them reinforces our cycles of anxiety and depression. In contrast, sitting with our emotions can break these cycles. The most powerful way to be present with our feelings, to get the help we need in order to tolerate them, is through the contemplative practices of yoga. These include: meditation, breathwork, and Restorative Yoga. We can use these practices as vessels to metabolize difficult emotional experiences. We can use these practices to help us tolerate these emotions until they transform into something else. In this way, they teach us about what lies at the deep 'heart' of our emotional experience; they become our inner teachers.
A Pose to consider to support this process: Supta Baddha Konasana, a restorative posture that can help you transform challenging emotional experience. Are you in the midst of an emotional “story” or experience? If so, try taking it into the chrysalis of this restorative pose, and giving it the breath—the prana—it needs to transform.

And in the meantime, here’s a poem from the Sufi mystic Rumi, one of my favorite poets, to inspire you in this deep emotional work:
 
The Guest House
 
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
 A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
 Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
 The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
 Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

(Rumi)

flexibleImage: Buddha and the peony by Jürgen Weiland www.4photodesign.com

InSpire - January/February 2016

As we move into the new year, let’s embrace The Mandala Principle….A universe of mandalas in and around us….

“The word mandala literally means “round” or “circular”, but it is sometimes glossed as manda meaning essential essence, and la meaning the periphery. Mandalas work in terms of centre and periphery, or centre and emanation. At the centre is the basic organising principle, which is something active and powerful. Symbolically, the basic principle is often represented by a dot.”
(Taken from Never Turn Away, by Rigdzin Shikpo)

How can we understand and embody this Mandala Principle?
Each being is her own mandala - she is mandalas within mandalas. At the centre of our essential mandala is the active, powerful organising principle - let’s translate this as our Hara. The grounded, rooted aspect of our essential emotional being. Emanating from this centre are the connections, Samayas, connecting our interwoven network of Mandalas throughout our body structure, right out to the boundary of the physical being.

“A living mandala is something dynamic, not a piece of fixed geometry, and it is that life-energy exchange that holds it all together. That energy flows along connections or bonds called samayas.” So, Samayas are not only the life-energy pathways that hold our interwoven personal mandalas together, but also connect us to the world around us - the broader mandala spectrum, the interpersonal bonds we are born into, create and are exposed to throughout this lifetime, and perhaps beyond….

A mandala is dynamic - there is a constant energy exchange between the inside and the outside, and between the different elements in and around us. The mandalas are endless…the human body is a mandala, as is every individual cell from which it is made - a group of cells; a body system; an organ; a connection of systems and organs working together….until we reach the emotional periphery.
Through the yoga practice we can aim for balance, and a healthy exchange between mandalas. This balance on an inner level, affects all levels of the mandala-interconnectedness. This, in tern, affects our interpersonal connections with other mandalas beyond our own personal being. It is important, for harmony, that there is unity between these parts. “The unity of the centre, periphery, and their exchange of life-energy is greater than the sum of its parts.”

“The most obvious example of a mandala is you in your world. You are in the centre of your world. Everything that appertains to you is the energy, or power, of that mandala. All your belongings and attachments make up the central body of the mandala. Outside the boundaries of your mandala are the external things over which you have no control or that you want nothing to do with. The boundary is the emotional area made up of all decisions and dilemmas around which is or isn’t yours.”

How can we relate this principle to our yoga practice?
Firstly, moving with awareness and openness, vigor and persistence. Relaxing into the experience of moving, even when it is challenging on the connections where blockages might be more intense.
Accepting that awareness naturally ebbs and flows, and despite this we can still encourage focused awareness within ourselves, not simply blaming suffering on negative emotions like hatred, greed, desire, and insensitivity toward others and ourselves. As emotions arise, we can simply experience them as they are, without giving them a context to live out through. We then connect to the breath - breathing in from the inner mandala, and breathing out into openness and spaciousness of the external mandalas around us.


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Image: Mandala principle - Copyright Jürgen Weiland www.4photodesign.com
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