Monthly Archives: May 2011

BKS Iyengar Interview

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…

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

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

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.

Allie and Leon Climbing Kili!

Allie and Leon Climbing Kili!

Good Luck to my teachers Allie and Leon who are setting off on an incredible adventure to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, raising funds for the Village Education Project.  This is a wonderful charity working in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania to improve education and reduce rural poverty.

Sending you both positive vibes all the way! xx

P is for Psoas…(?)

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.

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No. 4…

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No. 4…

That it would teach me about Listening…

I recently went to see a friend’s Mum in hospital who has been very poorly.  I have known her practically all my life and despite numerous health troubles over the years she has remained one of the most kind-hearted, positive and brilliantly witty people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.  I view her as a being a bit like a second Mum.   Having found out she’d been admitted to hospital I knew I wanted to pop in and see her.  I had in mind that I would probably only be there for about half an hour or so (and it was a weekend and I had stuff to do etc etc…).  As it turned out I didn’t leave until nearly two hours later, just as my friend (her daughter) arrived.

To explain, on top of her other health issues my friend’s Mum has been hard of hearing for a number of years so conversations can be less than straightforward not to mention, at times, amusing in the nicest possible way.  Anyhow, I was sitting by her bed and she was having more difficulty hearing me than usual.  So in the end I stopped talking and just listened. 

Then I really Listened.

And the more she talked, I noticed something which I think is pretty significant.  The way that she was communicating changed.   And she went from sounding incredibly down to laughing and joking and being more like the person I’ve always known.  Even her facial expressions completely changed.  And in that couple of hours I had barely said a word.  In fact, I hadn’t even noticed the time passing.

When I got home I thought about this.  What had happened?  What had changed way the she was communicating so dramatically?  I think it might be because she could feel that she was actually being Listened to.  It reminded me of something I heard from an interviewee via The Dialogue Project.  This interviewee had expressed that he wasn’t very articulate but when the interviewer commented that ‘articulate’ was exactly what he was being, the interviewee paused for while then responded:

“I’m being articulate in a way that I couldn’t be if I wasn’t really being listened to.”

What does all this have to do with yoga?  Well, for me this is about Being Present. This experience with my friend’s Mum showed me that Being Present is the difference between listening and Listening.

Not fully Being Present when someone is talking to me – looking over their shoulder, my mind racing ahead to something I need to later – is something that I know I am all too often guilty of.  I also know that I am not alone in this because when someone gives me their full attention and is truly Listening to me I really notice this generous act.  I’m a pretty quiet person and I’ve always tended to think of myself as not being much of a talker, not that articulate – but that’s not entirely true.  Like my friend’s Mum and the man from The Dialogue Project, the way I communicate seems to change when I can feel that I am being Listened to.  It seems so obvious yet it’s something that has only just dawned on me and I feel this is something that has come to me via my yoga practice.

This theme of Listening seems to be coming up in front of me a lot lately.  Just today I read article in OM Yoga Magazine where Sheila Steptoe writes that truly Listening is:

“…one of the most beautiful gifts you can give to others and to your self.” 

Sheila also writes:

“Children need to be heard especially if they have worries, but too often the moment passes us by.  Are you really always too busy doing other things?  What other things are really that important?

Adults too are often affected when no one will truly listen to them.  It can take a huge amount of courage sometimes for people to share something important if they want your advice or even just to pass comment on something that may have happened to them.”

That all makes sense to me because on some level, isn’t that what we all want?  To be Listened to.  To be acknowledged. To be Heard. 

At the next available opportunity I went back to the hospital and I Listened some more.  I’m so very glad that I did.

Pulse Yoga

Pulse Yoga

I’ve done weights before, but not like this!

Yesterday evening I tried Pulse Yoga for the first time at my yoga home.

As someone with several lapsed gym memberships to my name it’s fair to say that though I’ve done weights before, I have never loved the gym.  Yoga, I love.  Yet, I understand the benefits of resistance work with weights so for a while I’ve had this feeling that it might be a good thing for my body to try and find a way of incorporating weights into my routine in a way that didn’t bore me rigid.  So, when I first heard about Pulse Yoga the idea of combining free weights with yoga was instantly intriguing and appealing.

Before we began, Allie explained to us that this style of yoga originated in Colorado created by yoga instructor, Argie Tang after she was told by her doctor that she had developed osteopenia (almost osteoporosis but not quite).  As this Evening Standard article adds:

Tang, who was in her fifties at the time was shocked to hear that, despite practising yoga for so long, she needed to build bone density with weight training.  Not keen to reduce the little time she had for yoga, or to join a gym, Tang decided to create a new type of yoga that suited her needs.

Then the music came on and off we went.  It was amazing what a difference it made trying to do certain postures with weights thrown into the mix.  For some postures I thought, “Yep, this is cool – I can do this”, but others I found really challenged my balance at times.  It’s easy to see how this can help with your core stability as well as strength.  We didn’t use weights for all the postures though – for some of our more familiar poses we would hold our position and pulse.  For instance, in downward dog, pulsing our legs alternately meant we were using our muscles in a different way (really felt that one in the glutes!)

I have to admit, my very childish side did have a chuckle when we started pulsing our hips in bridge posture and doing some of the pelvic tilts with bicep curls – for a few brief moments that Eric Prydz video came to mind.  Allie mentioned to us that during a recent Pulse Yoga tutorial in the park they drew some attention from passers-by – I can see how that might happen!  

For me, it was great moving bits of my body in a different way from the usual classes I go to.  And we had a laugh too.  I think I might have finally found a fun way of doing weights – I’ve already booked my next class.  If you fancy something new I’d recommend giving Pulse Yoga a try.  It feels good to mix things up a little!

Leela Time

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.”


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’!