Losing myself to find myself – a confessional

back on the mat - a leave of absense

Dear wordpress…I have a confession….it’s been 75 days since my last post….

Wow, how did that happen? I haven’t sat down and written a blog post in forever. I didn’t necessarily not have the time, I believe you can always find time for the things you love…it’s just I didn’t feel motivated to, I had literally nothing to say!

I lost myself for a while back there, and I’m only just finding my way back now. Those of you who know me, or follow the blog, will know that I have returned to the UK to try to stay grounded and rooted to one place for a while. I love love love the travelling yogi life, but I felt like I wanted to be home, spend time with friends and family and feel connected again. I forgot HOW HARD it is to live in this country! Props to those of you who have been doing it forever…

I’ve been trying to work out just why, is it the cost of living? Is it the depressing unstable weather? Is it the work life balance? Or is it that as Brits we just like to grumble???

I know that for me it was finding a work/life balance that was the struggle, I landed back in the UK and immediately got a job, which although I enjoyed, had super long hours and I just felt too tired to do ANYTHING, yes, even my practice, at any time I wasn’t working. I lost my diet (being too tired to cook after work), my practice of yoga and meditation declined (I literally had to force myself onto the mat 3/4 times a week rather than my steady 6 day a week practice)

I felt inclined to write about this as I wonder how many people live like this all the time? Just working to pay the bills – or working so hard you’ve got no time to enjoy your hard-earned cash?

So, my answer to this was to cut my hours and start teaching, and practicing again. Yes, I’m going to be broke, but each day I will remind myself that being rich isn’t material anyway. I have already made plans to catch up with friends and family, do some classes and workshops and also start to build my own classes back up.

On a positive note, my body has fully healed now from its injuries, and so I am now able to practice full primary series again, and will be making time to meditate everyday so I don’t lose myself again. I’ve realised just how important that the practice of mediation has become to me as I have made some questionable, erratic, decisions in this time of transition!

So, by way of confessional I bash out this post with haste – and hope that, for those of you who follow or subscribe it acts as an apology for my leave of absence!

I’m hopefully back now to spread the love and light of positive thinking and other inane banter with you all – if you’ll have me!

Everything becomes equal

Equaminity, yoga, ashtanga. practice, equal

“You should not be practicing to have a ‘good’ practice, but instead to keep steadiness within yourself. Practice happily regardless of whether it is ‘good’ or not. Sometimes some postures will not be possible, but when you accept the good and the bad and everything becomes equal for you, that is yoga.” – Sharath Jois, 2017

 

So I’ve had to really embrace these sage words over the last month. I’m injured in two places and practice has been tough. As a yoga teacher I felt an immense pressure to be able to ‘perform’ in front of a class, and certainly don’t want them to think that (Ashtanga) yoga is dangerous and will lead to injury. It doesn’t just my own stupidity and pushing myself too far that did that!

I’ve also had the busiest week of my life for a few years – I moved house and started a new job (because in the UK it’s tough to survive just as a yoga teacher) and worked 7 days straight with barely any sleep.

I didn’t practice for 4 days, then had 1 short practice then nothing again for 2 days. And I felt terrible. Not only did my body really miss the physical side but my head was buzzing and not feeling very equanimous. But why on earth did I feel so bad? Why am I my own worst competitor?

 

Samashiti, Tadasana, Mat, Yoga, Ashtanga, Lifeforme, Equal, Practice

 

Let’s re-read Sharath’s quote – ‘Sometimes some postures will not be possible, but when you accept the good and the bad and everything becomes equal for you, that is yoga’……so this has to become my mantra for now. Accepting the good AND the bad. Accepting where you are right now, and being content with it.

– It always leads back to this!

Whilst on the mat yesterday, doing my first practice after a few days I suddenly had yet another ‘epiphany’ of just how what happens on the mat is a reflection of life.

I felt bad, guilty, and disappointed in myself for being injured when I felt I was really beginning to see progress in my asana. But I have to accept that I need some time to step back, slow down and quash the ego once again.

This is exactly what is happening in my life right now, I’ve come back, not stepped back necessarily, but I’ve had to start over, new job, house, car etc. This is not a negative, in fact I feel that just like when I left a high paying sales job to teach dance for a pittance – I am taking a few back steps so that I can LEAP forward.

And that is why I have an arrow tattooed on my arm:

 

 

– An arrow can only be shot forward once it has been pulled backwards.

Oh, yoga, you’ve done it again. I bloody love you.

 

 

Aparigraha – let that shit go…..

aparigraha, yamas, niyamas, eight limbs, patanjali, ashtanga, yoga

Yep, last and by no means least of the Yama’s (First Limb of Yoga) is Aparigraha, or non-attachment. The art of letting shit go!

 

*I am not condoning just walking into the sea and leaving it all behind!!

 

The sutras state that:

‘When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.
(aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah)’

 

STUFF. We want stuff, all the stuff. But stuff is just stuff. It’s definitely not the important stuff.

We don’t ‘own’ anything, yet our western culture and society insists that the more you have of ‘it’ (it being that stuff again) the better/happier/more successful you are.

WRONG

None of the stuff is going to make you happy long term, like a sugar fix it only gives you a temporary high, and then your crashing again and searching for the next fix.

Aparigraha teaches us not only do we not need so many material possessions but that we need to practice non-attachment from the things that we perceive we have…it’s about letting go and not holding on to things that we act possessive towards or hoard (erm, hello my trainer/yoga pants/bikini collections). Try living out of a backpack/suitcase for a couple of months, you’ll see just how much you actually need.

What about the non material? We should be letting go of all the negative parts of our past – we can’t do anything about that, it’s been and gone, so let that shit go.

How about social status? Ever feel the need to ‘keep up with the Joneses’? or thought to yourself ‘my life should look like this right now’ – seriously, let that shit go RIGHT NOW. You will be your happiest and most content when you don’t compare or judge yourself.

How about toxic friends/family, you know your ‘frenemies’ yep…they can go too – no need to have people in your life who bring you down (by the way it’s YOU who are allowing them to do so). So surround yourself with people who love you for you – let all the others go.

Take stock! Have a look around you and just imagine how much simpler and carefree life would be if you JUST LET ALL THAT SHIT GO. The physical, non physical, mental and material. Let it go and feel at peace.

In Buddhism, more specifically in buddhist meditation, the art of detachment (from all things) is the path to self realisation. It’s a method I learnt in my Vippasana training (more on that here) nothing is permanent, so don’t attach yourself to anything as it won’t last, everything is constantly changing.

The Dalai Lama says:

‘Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering’

More on this kind of philosophy can be found in the books by Ekhart Tolle ‘The Power of Now‘ and ‘Start Where You Are‘ by Pema Chodron

I urge you to begin to practice this Yama, along with all the other Yama’s and you will start to feel a lighter version of yourself. A more content and happy person. And who doesn’t want that?

Let that shit go – a useful mantra for your mala meditation!!!!!

 

 

 

Brahmacarya – self restraint

Brahmacharya, eight limbs, yamas, niyamas, ashtanga, yoga

Brahmacarya is often described as celibacy – that by being celibate the practitioner is saving their prana (energy) or ‘virya’ (strength, power). The sutras do explain it as this, but also that sex should be moderate, in a ‘marital’ relationship, with only one partner. In Hinduism it is said that this is the first stage of life, that a person should spend the first 25 years of their life in celibacy so that they can focus on their studies…yep, remember how you were doing so well in school and then ‘boys’ happened?

However, Brahmacarya can also be practiced by controlling or restricting all our desires, not just sexual, but what about other kinds of desires? You desire an extra slice of cake/glass of wine/new pair of shoes…practicing everything in moderation can also be a good use of bramacharya, and one that is probably more relevant to our western lives.

That extra slice of cake/glass of wine/retail purchase is stimulating whilst it lasts, but doesn’t give us a lasting feeling of joy – no matter how much you think it does, I promise you the joy will fade and you will be looking to satisfy your desires again. It’s like eating sugar or taking drugs – a quick high followed by a lull and then the desire to have more. By controlling the ‘urge to splurge’ we are using our will power (or self restraint) – and this is a strong use of conserving energy and placing into something more fruitful.

So, if we look at Brahmacarya as how we use our energy and how we control our desires, it is said that in this way we can move deeper into knowing our divine selfs (which, if you remember, is the whole purpose of yoga!)

So, look at this yama as self-restraint and/or will power, rather than celibacy, and apply that to any part of your behaviour you feel you need to.

Focus on using your energy in a better way, cultivating more meaningful and lasting relationships maybe rather than one night stand’s. Spending time with loved ones rather than wasting time online. Spending less on material things and more time on self-development and inner contentment.

 

lotus, meditation, yoga, selfies, instagram, yoga body, fitness industry

 

Satya – is being truthful

Satya, Yamas and Niyamas, Eighfold Path, Ashtanga, Yoga

The second YAMA from the eight limbs of yoga is Satya – truthfulness

When we were growing up our parents taught us Satya, to be truthful and not to lie, or deceive. So why do we deceive? When we know it’s fundamentally wrong why do we do it? Being truthful is just a polite way to live our lives in harmony with each other. But truthfulness can also mean being realistic, true to ourselves and others.

Have you ever said you liked something when you didn’t really so you didn’t hurt someone’s feelings – I can guarantee we have all done this. From time to time we might meet someone who is so brutally honest that they offend, we often call this ‘having no filter’ but are they the ones who are truly observing Satya, and being honest above all else?

 

 

I think it’s a fine line. By speaking the truth that is harmful to others we are not practicing Ahimsa, non harming….so each word must be carefully weighed before it is uttered. Finding a way to speak your truth without harming others. Ahimsa is the most important Yama, and we must follow this above all the others.

Being true to yourself is another matter – what does this mean? Some might call it ‘going with your gut’ I perceive this to be that deep down you know what is right for you and what is not. Removing things from your life that ‘no longer serve you’ be that people, jobs, feelings, emotions or attachments.

We have to be honest with ourselves so that we can be honest with others. Only when we live with complete transparency can we really truly feel true to ourselves, and on the path to ‘Santosha’ or contentment and inner peace.

So – embrace yourself for who you are, don’t change yourself to please others, at the same time show respect to yourself and you will gain respect from others. And remember, always think about what you say and do before you say and do it as harming others through your words and actions goes against the first and most important Yama, Ahimsa.

Om Shanti!

 

Ahimsa – a what’s a?

Ahimsa, Yama, Niyama, Eight Limbs, yoga, Ashtanga, relax, chill, be kind

Ahimsa – or ‘non violence’ is the first of the Yamas, the moral guidelines that are part of the first limb of the eightfold path.

Non – violence is obvious, we don’t want to lead our lives being violent, or using violence as a way to get what we want.

As set out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Ahimsa (2.35) states ‘As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility’
(ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah)

 

offerings of peace and prosperity at a Shiva temple, Chamundi Hill Steps, Mysore, India
offerings of peace and prosperity at a Shiva temple, Chamundi Hill Steps, Mysore, India

 

For me, Ahimsa means something more than just the obvious not using violence to others but to not be violent to ourselves, and by this I mean during practice and in other areas of your life. On the mat I constantly remind people to practice Ahimsa, be patient, be kind, the body will achieve great things when you are kind to it. If your hips are tight, don’t attempt lotus! If your hamstrings are tight, don’t worry about reaching your big toe – use a strap! Yoga is not a race to achieve but a vehicle for the journey to understanding your true self…there is no time limit and you won’t reach samadhi when you achieve a certain difficult or challenging posture, so just chill and let it happen!

On a more subtle level using Ahimsa in daily life can mean just being kinder to yourself. We don’t have to be these multi-tasking super heroes that modern society wants us to believe we should be!

Go easy on yourself, as I have written before, quieten the ego and let life unfold naturally. No one, at the very least yourself, will benefit from burn out, so take it easy and practice ahimsa on yourself, I think we used to call this some ‘me’ time.

Go for a walk, read a book, meditate, and don’t use violence against yourself to push yourself to be anything other than who you are….close the door to your family/friends/children/work colleagues from time to time and allow yourself to jut RELAX

 

Ahimsa, Hammock, Eight limbs, ashtanga, yoga
Ahimsa, be kind to yourself and relax!

 

At the same time, what many of us believe to be the way to treat ourselves is to drink, eat or shop! So be mindful that those things can also harm us, and this in return is not practicing ahimsa, neither is pushing yourself to hard and denying yourself of food, drink, or material possessions, remember its all about balance.

What can you do to practice Ahimsa? I’d love for comments and dialogue with these Yama and Niyama posts so please, let’s start a conversation!

with love and light, always.

 

yoga, lotus, meditation, yoga teacher, ashtanga

Yin-licious

Yin class with Claire Yates, Yin Yoga, Yoga Teacher

Breathe In, Breathe Out, and Let it All Go

All the rushing around we do in our busy lives (why ARE our lives so busy?) all the vinyasas, chattarangas, arm balances or eka padas we do in our ‘yang’ physically active yoga classes, isn’t it nice just to let yourself relax and slow down a little? Just breathe and let the body open up and surrender?

 

Yin class with Claire Yates, Yin Yoga, Yoga Teacher

 

That’s what getting Yin-licious is all about. Surrendering the body and mind and letting yourself relax and unwind. Give yourself time to open up and SLOW DOWN.

The essence of yin yoga is to gently ease us into long held postures and just breathe. We typically hold postures for 3-5 minutes minimum.

It’s a time to unwind, chill out and just simply be present in your body with the breath. Not ujjayi breath, or any other type of pranayama, but deep, natural belly breathing.

 

Yin class with Claire Yates, Yin Yoga, Yoga Teacher

 

Created in the 80’s by Paul Grilley, Yin focuses on the fascia, the connective tissue that lies over the top of the muscles. Paul says – ‘a yin approach works to promote flexibility in areas often perceived as nonmalleable, especially the hips, pelvis, and lower spine’ Most other types of yoga being ‘Yang’ meaning that they work on the large muscle groups and joints, are energising and flow with the breath.

Yin forces us to slow down, take stock and tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, the ‘rest and digest’ system, promoting healing and nourishment.

 

Yin class with Claire Yates, Yin Yoga, Yoga Teacher

 

Tightness in fascia can restrict blood flow (ever experienced your leg going numb whilst sitting in meditation? That’s due to restricted blood flow in the fascia/connective tissue, particularly in the outer hips) so we need to keep it (fascia) hydrated and ‘springy’ to avoid injuries.

In particular as a support for Ashtanga Yoga it can help with tightness in hamstrings, and the tensor fascia latae, which connects to the IT band, causing tightness in external rotation of the hips, two of the key focuses of the Primary Series.

This video clip can be particularly useful for understanding how and why these tissues need to be stretched. (Warning cadavers are used in this video)

 

 

So that’s a little science behind the method, But working not just on physical level, Yin yoga takes us away from the over stimulated world we now live in. A chance to shut out the constant mind chatter and just be. Focusing on the breath and be present with the here and now.

Feeling grounded and revitalised. That’s not to say that in all postures you will feel cool, calm and collected! Some postures will challenge you physically and not be so comfortable, but learning to sit and breath through this discomfort can be a skill that you can use in your life off of the mat.

As with all yoga styles the end result is to prepare the body for sitting in meditation. With Yin yoga you can focus on breath, as in meditation and let it all go, feeling present and connected with the body and mind.

I’m teaching Yin at Akasha Wellness Retreat in Romania alongside our Ashtanga Program, but you can find classes at most yoga studios these days or go along with a guided youtube one, and get all Yin-licious on yourself!

with love and light, Claire

 

 

The Eightfold Path – what Ashtanga yoga is REALLY about

Pattabhi Jois said:

“Ashtanga is a breathing practice, the rest is just bending”

Every day my understanding of Yoga, specifically Ashtanga Yoga, deepens. Every day I realise that the physical asana mean less than the spiritual path, but you can’t have one without the other!

I have been writing a manual for the retreat I am currently working at and it has helped me to remember the things I have learnt on my own personal yoga journey.

To begin to understand you must know that ‘Ashtanga’ or ‘Eight Limbs’ is based on the eightfold path set out by Patanjali in the second book of sutras, and that the first two limbs are the all important moral codes, the ‘Yamas’ and ‘Niyamas’

 

lotus, meditation, yoga, selfies, instagram, yoga body, fitness industry

 

I’m going to be writing a lot more about them in future posts, but here is a brief outline:

Yamas

The Moral Restraints:

Ahimsa – Non-Violence – towards yourself and all others

Satya – Truthfulness – always be true to yourself and others

Asteya – Non Stealing – not just possessions but also can refer to time and attention of others.

Bramachara – Self Restraint – everything in moderation!

Aparigraha – Non-Attachment – to all things material and metaphysical

 

Niyamas

Observances of self:

Saucha – Cleanliness – an observance to show respect of yourself and others.

Santosha – Contentment – being happy with what you have

Tapas – Self Discipline – again, links with Bramachara and self-restraint

Svadhyaya – Self Study – both study of the physical and non-physical elements of yoga

Isvara-Pranidaha – Surrender/Devotion – to believe that there is something higher than yourself, even if it is just the divine self.

 

 

We then have the third limb – ASANA – the physical practice of yoga, the moving with BREATH through a series of postures using focus (dhristi) and internal strength (bandhas). Linking the breath with movement (Vinyasa) you start to feel a strong connection with your inner self, you learn a lot about yourself in this way, not just your physical ease or limitations but how you approach them mentally.

The fourth limb, Pranayama, is also a physical practice and concerns breath control ‘exercises’ to help the mind start to settle and be calm.

These two limbs together then start to prepare us for the final four limbs, Pratyahara – Withdrawal of Senses – preparing yourself by drawing the focus inwards to prepare for Dharana – Focus and Concentration – preparing the mind for meditation, Dhyana, and then during much practice of Dhyana (meditation) you reach the final limb, Samadhi, or enlightenment, the ultimate goal of ‘yoga’

meditation, eight limbs, ashtanga

So you see, there is a lot more to it than balancing on our hands upside down. It goes a lot deeper than that. As a teacher my aims and objectives have now changed as I try to make people realise that no matter how ‘flexible’ they are, or are not, Ashtanga is not about the poses, the instalikes, the getting your head behind your neck, but ALL EIGHT LIMBS working together.

Anyone who can BREATH can learn this, the health benefits are an added bonus!

I’ll leave you with another quote from Pattabhi Jois which for me sums it all up:

“Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can
practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can
practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except
lazy people; lazy people can’t practice ashtanga yoga.”

 

Pattabhi Jois, Padmasana, Lotus, Meditation, Ashtanga
photo credit: http://taysp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Jois-1.jpg

Don’t be lazy people, start by making the moral observances, then the physical practice, wherever you are on it,  and start your journey on the eightfold path. Om shanti and don’t forget:

The light in me honours the light in you

Quietening the Ego…..all is coming

Ashtanga, Yoga, Ego, Self reflection, how to quiet the mind

To truly appreciate a yoga practice it is important to quiet the ego, and this is no mean feat. You need to be able to do this to progress and get the most out of your practice.

 

Ego, Small, Practice, Ashtanga, Yoga, Egotistical
we are but small in this big world

 

Firstly, let’s have a look at this word EGO and what it truly means. Most people use the word to talk about someone else’s, or their own, sense of importance, or self-esteem. We talk about someone being ‘egotistical’ in mostly a derogatory fashion.  Originating from the 19th century latin term for ‘I’ it can sometimes be confused with selfishness, or being conceited and arrogant, however in this instance EGO is not to be confused with EGOTISTICAL.

So how can we quiet the ego so we can practice REAL yoga? Remember the it’s the latin word for ‘I’, so start to drop the ‘I want’, ‘I need’, or ‘I can’t’ thoughts from your head. Relish in the journey of yoga, rather than race towards the destination. For example, when you reach a asana that challenges you don’t think ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I need to be able to do this posture’ just bring breath and focus to the posture and slowly, slowly you will move through it and achieve it.

 

Pattabhi Jois, Padmasana, Lotus, Meditation, Ashtanga
Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois – ‘Guruji’ – photo credit: http://taysp.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Jois-1.jpg

The popular, and often quoted phrase ‘all is coming’ or ‘practice and all is coming’ Pattabhi Jois coined is in particular referencing this.

I have such high expectations of myself (on and off the mat) that I have found this sometimes a challenge, far from being egotistical I veer towards a self-deprecating attitude, and this is still the ego controlling you…’I’m not good enough’ etc. My ashtanga journey so far has been both humbling and at times frustrating, but my best practices always – ALWAYS – happen when I let go of the ego and just BREATHE.

Try it next time you step onto your mat. I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.

Practice, quiet the ego, and ALL is coming

Up in the Mountains – Akasha Wellness Retreat

Akasha Wellness Retreat, Transylvania, Romania, Yoga Retreat, Ashtanga, Mountains

So I’m here in the mountains and living and working at the  wonderful Akasha Wellness Retreat, in the heart of Transylvania, deep in the Carpathian Mountains, Romania. It is a stunning venue for a ‘first of it’s kind’ yoga and mediation retreat in Romania.

I’m into my third retreat, this week a ‘Sacred Feminine Yoga Retreat’ which started yesterday on International Womens Day, which is also Mother’s Day in Romania. Each retreat takes on a different theme, but they all include twice a day yoga, meditation and wonderful vegan food.

 

Akasha Wellness Retreat, Transylvania, Romania, Yoga Retreat, Ashtanga, Mountains

 

The kind of yoga we are teaching is an Ashtanga Fundamentals, a modified Primary Series in the mornings and the evening classes are Restorative and Yin Styles. Supporting this are meditation sessions at the end of class and dedicated meditation workshops to explain in more detail some of the techniques we use to help people start or improve a mediation practice.

 

Akasha Wellness Retreat, Transylvania, Romania, Yoga Retreat, Ashtanga, Mountains
Mixed in with that are workshops & activities that are tailored to that week’s theme, for example we’ve had Gong Sound Baths, Tibetan Flag making, Chakra Balancing and Buddhist Meditation workshops and activities like 108 gratitude mandalas or guided walks through the beautiful village and hills that surround us 360 degrees.

 

Akasha Wellness Retreat, Transylvania, Romania, Yoga Retreat, Ashtanga, Mountains

 

The food is carefully curated to give you all the nutrients you need and for some, open their eyes (and mouths!) to a plant-based diet. It is delicious and healthy and will leave you feeling nourished and full. There are lots of organic teas to try plus plenty of lemon, ginger and apple cider to help aid digestion or simply to relax with a good book in the lounge or sit out on the balcony admiring the views.
You can also feel pampered and relaxed with the spa treatments, ranging from an outdoor hot tub and sauna with breathtaking views or choose from Swedish, Shaistu or Cranio Sacral therapy for your massages, or simply have a relaxing bath ritual with your own choice of salts and essential oils.

I can’t believe how lucky I am to have found this place and feel honoured to be teaching here and be part of the Akasha family, which includes the dogs, Tony, Bursuc, Luna and the little puppies we rescued, Phoenix, Shiva and Joy…and not forgetting crazy Beasley the dogcat!

 

Akasha Wellness Retreat, Transylvania, Romania, Yoga Retreat, Ashtanga, Mountains

Akasha Wellness Retreat, Transylvania, Romania, Yoga Retreat, Ashtanga, Mountains

Akasha Wellness Retreat, Transylvania, Romania, Yoga Retreat, Ashtanga, Mountains

For more information on our upcoming retreats check out the website, with flights from London starting as cheap as £20 – WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? See you soon!

https://www.akasharetreat.com/