The 30 Day Hip Opening Challenge

“If you always do what you’ve always done,

you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

∼ Mark Twain

 
You’ve got to challenge yourself in life. And sometimes, other people have to do the challenging for you, just to keep you on your toes.

My girlfriend challenged me to try for thirty days the hip opening exercises she’s been doing recently to see what effect, if any, they might have on me. After all, I’m already pretty flexible in the hips when my knees are out to the side – years of sitting cross legged on my bed because I didn’t have a chair have seen to that – but other than that my range of motion in the hip joint could certainly be improved.

She gave me two exercises to do, thirty seconds on each side, so just over two minutes extra work each day. Doesn’t sound like much, but even then I had trouble squeezing it in sometimes!

Here’s what I got up to…

Exercise 1 – Gomukhasana: Shoe Lace Pose, yin variation

Kneel, sitting on your heels, then sit off to one side and swing the upper leg over the lower until your knees are above one another. If you can’t manage this, and not everyone can to begin with, just get as close as you can. As long as both buttocks are comfortably on the ground you’re doing fine.

hip opening exercise - 1a

Inhale, then exhale forward and hold for thirty seconds.

hip opening exercise - 1b

With each exhalation see if you can go a little further forward, remembering not to strain or force while doing so. Relax the muscles around your hips to help deepen the stretch.

hip opening exercise - 1c

After thirty seconds release and do the same again on the other side.

Exercise 2 – Agnistambhasana: Fire Log Pose, yin variation

Sit with your lower legs one on top of the other, both buttocks comfortably on the floor. You’re aiming to have feet and knees above each other, but just do the best you can. And if it means laying your legs one in front of the other on the floor in front of you, so be it. Use cushions or blankets to support your knees if necessary.

hip opening exercise - 2a

If you find there is a gap between your upper knee and your lower foot place a blanket or cushion there so that your knee can rest comfortably.

hip opening exercise - 2b

Inhale, and then exhale forward. Hold for thirty seconds.

hip opening exercise - 2c

Place your hands on the floor in front of you for support. With each exhalation see if you can go deeper into the posture, again without strain or force. Remember to relax your hip muscles.

hip opening exercise - 2d

After thirty seconds release and do the same again, changing over which leg is on top.

If you can sit comfortably without the blanket for support you should do so, and feel free to go as low as possible without risking injury. Always support yourself with your hands.

hip opening exercise - 2e

Personally I prefer doing both exercises with a straight back when I go forward, as I find it more beneficial, but you can also do them with a curved, relaxed back for a more ‘yin’ experience.

You may also find in both exercises that one side is easier or more flexible than the other. This is perfectly natural, and may also change day to day. Only do what is comfortable for you on the day, and if it is ever too much for you then stop immediately.

The Result

To begin with I was a little stiff (to say the least!). My knees in the first exercise were nowhere near being above each other, and my top knee in the second exercise was way up in the air. But, you can only start from where you are, so I just went with it. What the hell, it was just for thirty days!

On the days where I did a full yoga session it was easy to integrate them into my practice. On the days when I had to go to work it was tolerable, but still ok. On the days when I was all over the place and only just remembered to do them before bed it was… interesting. And on the days where I forgot I just forgot, lol.

Slowly I became happier in what I was doing, and I found myself able to go deeper into the exercises, eventually able to do them ‘properly’ (as it were), and without any support even (in the case of the second exercise).

On the days where I just did the exercises and nothing else (usually right before bed) I found them to be very freeing after a long day of sitting at work, and just those few minutes brought a lot of relief to my hip area which I quite enjoyed.

As you can see from the final picture above, there was a noticeable effect after just thirty days. I found myself able to go much deeper than I had in the beginning, and I was comfortable holding the posture for longer also.

I found the exercises to be quite beneficial, and I’ve since incorporated them into my daily routine (time permitting – mornings can be quite a rush when you have to be out the house at 7am!). I can recommend giving them a try, and if you do please let me know in the comments below how you get on.

I’m on a new mission now: The three minute daily Plough. I want to get back to where I was by the end of the Teacher Training Course in 2012, and this is the way to do it I reckon. I’ll let you know in a few weeks how things work out, and how long it takes for me to get my tootsies on the floor once more.

Wish me luck! :)

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

Guess what? I’ve discovered this amazing new way to get really good at yoga! All you have to do is just lie around all day binge watching Britain’s Got Talent on youTube. That’s what I did last night, and I want to get really good at yoga, so it stands to reason that it must be true, right?

undoing all the good work

It’s my long standing lament. “I should do more yoga!” Say what you like, but it’s the only way you get good. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, of course. But how much practice should you do? Well, that all depends on what you want to get out of it.

If your aim is to get really stretchy really fast, you’re probably talking a couple of full sessions a day (maybe 3-4 hours in total). That’s how much I was doing during my Teacher Training Course, and after a month of that I was finally able to do a proper, legs-straight Plough for once (now a long and distant memory). Now I’m not in any rush to get bendy, but I would like to do a proper, head-to-knees, sitting forward bend once before I die.

om by the pool

But yoga isn’t all about the gymnastic contortions, is it? It’s also about Realising The Self (what the Buddhists would call Enlightenment). The original purpose of the asanas was to allow you to be able to sit and meditate for longer, without getting all stiff or sloppy in your lotus pose.

So how long should you practice if self realisation is the goal? Oh, about twenty fours hours a day, three hundred and sixty four days a year (you can have Christmas off, lol). Because practicing Mindfulness – the path to self realisation and the purpose of meditation – is never ending. It’s not just about the exercises. Mindfulness should be in everything you say, think, feel, do and are.

salabhasana - the locust

Ok ok, I hear you say, so how much to be able to sit and meditate properly? Or to just stay healthy? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I like to do a full session a day when I can. I’m talking an hour to an hour and a half every day. That usually keeps me in a flexible mood. But unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

If I’m working (twelve hour shifts!) I do what I call the bare minimum: Pranayama (breathing exercises), Sun Salutations, a few extra asanas if I have time, and at least five minutes Final Relaxation (the most important part of any practice). Then on my days off I do a full session. I find this is enough to keep me on an even keel, though sadly not enough to make any advances asana-wise.

mayurasana - the peacock

At the end of the day, who’s to say how much you should be doing? As I said at the start, it all depends on what you want to get out of it. The only thing I can say for certain is, only you know if you’re doing enough or not, and if you feel you should be doing more, then chances are you probably should.

I know I should, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it too much. Little and often, that’s the key. And for now, with all the work and traveling that I do, as long as I can do a little something every day I’m going to count it as a win (clip binges and cake notwithstanding, lol).

On Making Assumptions

Many moons ago I didn’t live in Wimbledon. I couldn’t afford it. But I used to get the tube to Southfields, which is on the way to Wimbledon, so I could kid myself I was going up in the world even though, after a ten minute walk, I was a lot nearer Wandsworth town centre than anything else.
 
My point is, though it felt a bit posh on the way home, you could just as easily see three guys trying to nick someone’s bicycle as you could a family on their way to the school fayre (and indeed, I actually did once).
 
One day, waiting to cross the road, a bus pulled up in front of me. It was mostly empty, save for a young lad of about twelve or thirteen on the back seat. He had a sullen look and a shaven head, and I don’t think it unfair to say he was the kind of kid you might feel justified in keeping an eye on if you saw him hanging around near your car. Not that he might nick it or anything, but he might think it funny to smear kebab juice on your door handles just for a laugh.
 
The kid was looking at me, stoney faced, and I returned his gaze, equally as impassive. Then slowly he raised one hand, and gave me a tiny wave. My eyes narrowed. Was he taking the p*ss? If I smiled, or nodded, or waved, would he then grin and give me the finger? Probably, I thought. Maybe I should get in there first? Give him the finger. That’d teach him for taking the p*ss out of me!
 
I almost did it. Really I did. But at the last moment I chose not to. It didn’t matter what he did, it mattered what I did. So instead of giving him the finger I just waved back at him instead (the two of us still pretty much stoney faced). His waving hand turned. Here it comes I thought. Here comes the finger. Inwardly I sighed.
 
But it wasn’t a middle finger I received, it was a thumb. He gave me a thumbs up! No smile from him still, but the unexpected surprise gave me cause to smirk. I nodded, he nodded, and the bus moved on.
 
I think about that moment now and then. I don’t know if he intended to trick me and then changed his mind at the last moment, possibly seeing the turmoil on my face. Or if he was just having a bad day and looking for a grain of human kindness in the world. I just know that I’m glad I didn’t give in to the cynicism. And I hope that I brightened his day a little, just as he brightened mine.

You’ve Just Got To Let It Go

It’s the kind of advice people hate the most, myself included, but often it’s also the only thing we can do in any given situation. When we find ourselves confounded by life, whatever idea, notion, belief or concept it is that’s holding us back, the best thing you can do about it is to just let it go.

And that’s not easy (just ask Sheldon). Human beings like to solve things. It’s what we do. It’s how we’ve ended up the most dominant species on the planet. And we have a hard time coming to terms with the idea that some problems cannot be solved, and the only real solution is for us to change our way of thinking.

But what happens if we stick to our guns, and insist that we’re right and everyone else is wrong? Well, without a viable solution, and unable to let go of whatever problem/past/preconception that plagues us, we end up like the greedy monkey, our clenched fist down a metaphysical hole clutching our personal ‘banana’, desperately trying to escape but ultimately going nowhere. We become more and more frustrated, unable to understand why the hand that went down the hole is unable to come back out again.

feeling lazy

Until we free our minds, open up, and just let go, we’ll never move on from whatever it is that’s holding us back. For me that’s one of the greatest challenges, to just let go of my ideas and to accept that maybe I’m wrong (God forbid!), and maybe there’s another way.

The world is full of ideas, and it’s up to us to decide which are of use, which are a distraction, and (worst of all) which are ‘monkey traps‘, only there to confuse and frustrate us but actually contributing nothing to our liberation.

**NB: Please do click the links embedded above. They really help clarify what I’m waffling on about. :) **

Play Through The Pain

It’s something you often see (in film and TV at any rate), young athletes being told by their coaches to “Play through the pain”, “Walk it off”, or even to “Push through the pain barrier!”

It’s a very Western idea, to be in conflict with your body. To push it ‘beyond it’s limits’ to gain some greater skill or higher ability, but is such an idea any use to a Western yogi?

ice skating!

I dunno about you, but I often find that just as I’m making some real progress in my asanas I suddenly get ill, and my progress is halted whilst I recover. It happened when I did the meditation course in November 2011: After a week of twice a day, legs wide, sitting forward bends, I found myself able to sit on my ‘sit bones’ properly for the first time ever. Then I got the flu and was unable to practice.

It happened after I did the TTC Refresher course last year (blog review yet to come): By the end of another intense week I was able to do the Twisted Triangle properly for the first time in my life. Then I came back and was laid up with the flu again, but this time for three weeks!

And now it’s happening again. Just as I find myself able to make a bit of space in my life for regular sadhana I’ve developed a shoulder injury. The question is though, what to do about it?

I’ve always thought you should recover. Take some time and let your body heal itself. Pushing yourself when you have an injury can only lead to further injury, right? But then I remember a staff member at the London Sivananda Centre who, whilst making some pesto for the evening meal with a hand blender, contrived to almost slice the end of her finger off when she tried to clean around the blades while it was still plugged in!

**I’ll pause for a moment so everyone can grit their teeth and wince!**

That to me would be the perfect excuse to lay off for a little while, but not for this devout yogi! Even with her hand all bandaged up she still did her sadhana, modifying it just a little to make allowances for her injury. And just a week later she was back doing headstands, something that blew my mind when she told me about it!

I personally would have taken full advantage of the excuse to get some rest, which kind of makes me think I use illness as an excuse to practice a bit of ‘yoga avoision‘, something of which I am eternally guilty.

But it’s tough, trying to balance rest and recovery with pushing your boundaries. As yogis we deliberately put ourselves in uncomfortable positions to learn to calm our minds (and stretch our bodies), putting aside thoughts of discomfort as something to be overcome. But if we ignore the signals too much we can easily go too far and end up injuring ourselves. Don’t do enough and you won’t advance in your asanas as much as you could. How can you know how much is too much and how much is too little?

Personally, I’m still trying to figure that one out. I guess just going as far as is comfortable, and then going that little bit further, is the best idea for now. By doing that I should, if I’m lucky, avoid injury while at the same time advancing in my yoga practice a little bit at a time.

I guess you just have to play it by ear. Decide is it a real injury that requires a proper period of rest and recuperation, or is it just something minor ailment which you’re going to use as an excuse to skip your sadhana? And naturally, if in doubt, seek professional medical advice!

As for my shoulder, I went to the osteopath to get it sorted out, and he gave me a bunch of exercises to do. I’ve done them religiously and it’s worked, for the most part. Now I’m back doing my sadhana, and hopefully the last little niggles will take care of themselves as I take care of myself.

Thinking About Thinking

The other day I left work for lunch. I was heading down the high street to the shops, about a ten minute walk, when suddenly… I was there! I was at the shops. And I couldn’t for the life of me remember getting there.

It was like the intervening ten minutes had just disappeared, vanished into thin air. I could remember setting off, then my mind wandered, and then I arrived.

I realised that, whilst my mind had been busy thinking about things, my sub-conscious had been in charge of the rather important task of getting my body from A to B. And that worried me a little because, mine though it is, I don’t think my sub-conscious always has my best interests at heart.

It dawned on me that, for that ten minutes, I had not been practicing my Mindfulness. I had been locked in a Thought Pattern, and much like the landing pattern of an airplane on a cloudy day, rather than coming in to land my thoughts had just been going round and round and round and ultimately getting me nowhere.

**It should be noted that I wasn’t even having a useful thought. As I recall I was lost in some fantasy discussion about something in work that was never going to happen (and indeed never did).**

please be mindful

I’ve tried over the past few years to cut down on such occurrences, as they are not helpful and can even cause us problems in our daily lives. Think about it: Ever gotten in your car and driven in the wrong direction? Or gone shopping and come back with almost none of the things you went out for in the first place? Ever found yourself in the middle of an argument and wondered why you were arguing so vehemently about the ‘proper’ way to make a cup of tea? All can be attributed to a lack of Mindfulness.

To practice Mindfulness is to keep your attention in the here and now. To be aware of what you are doing as you are doing it, and to not get lost in thoughts of the past, future, or a now that isn’t real. And such practice starts with meditation.

**For a detailed explanation on Mindfulness check out this blog post by the Buddhist monk Wayne Ren-Cheng.**

You have to sit and practice observing your thoughts when there are no distractions, so that when you do go out into the world with all it’s hustle and bustle and clamor and noise, you’re better able to catch yourself becoming lost in a pointless Thought Pattern, and to bring yourself back to the reality of daily life before you step out into the road and get run over by the Number 37 bus (be that literally, or metaphorically speaking).

I’ll certainly be trying to practice a bit more Mindfulness from now on. At least by doing that I’ll be the master of my own fate (as much as any man can be, lol) and not just casually handing over the reigns to the careless, back-seat driver that is my sub-conscious self.

So What’s The Score With Yin Yoga?

You think Yin Yoga is going to be easy. I mean, it’s just lying there, right? How hard can that be? Well…

I’ve only had a few experiences of yin yoga, first off at the top of the Sydney Eye Tower at 7am,

morning views

then at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali,

the yoga barn

but my first real experience of yin yoga (ie: a non-touristy experience) was in London with my friend and fellow yogi Clare.

keith and clare

Clare teaches at the Yoga Hall in St Albans, among other places in and around the north London area, and it was while I was traveling around from hostel to hostel last year that I was fortunate enough to find myself within striking distance of one of her classes. So, after a short drive round the M25 (and a long argument with my sat-nav), I arrived just in time for her Thursday night class.

the yoga hall, st albans

main room, the yoga hall, st albans

Clare and I met at the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Putney, where she was a student and occasional teacher when I was there starting my studies. I was lucky enough to have had some Hatha Yoga classes with her there, so I was confident of a good lesson, but I hadn’t seen her since we both went off round the world to further our yoga experience, so I didn’t really know what to expect going in.

What else, of course, but a beaming smile and a warm welcome, lol. It’s always a pleasure to see old friends again is it not? Our pre-class reunion was necessarily brief though as I was late (sat-nav 1, me 0!), and so it was straight down to the business of proper relaxation.

For all the yoga I’ve done, when it comes to relaxing into a long stretch I am surprisingly inflexible: Not just physically, but mentally as well! Much as I have learned to just relax and let the postures happen, there’s still a part of me that believes that to do some ‘proper’ work you have to pull and stretch and puff and strain just to ‘get somewhere’.

But yin yoga isn’t about that at all. It’s about letting go, and not trying too hard. Letting the posture deepen by itself, naturally, and only going as far as you need at that time.

Though to say there’s no effort involved would be misleading indeed (NB: for a proper explanation on the subject read this article on yin yoga written by Clare herself). You’re trying to soften the connective tissue in your joints, and to do that you must relax your muscles and let the weight of your body and gravity do the work.

I, like a lot of people I imagine, have a bit of ego when it comes to using bolsters and blocks to support me. For some reason I consider it a bit of a cop out. More than once Clare had to come and add something under my knee, or beneath my head, so that I could properly let go and not be working so hard.

And y’know what, it helps, it really does. Trying to do too much too quickly is a barrier to your progress, and once again I was reminded that if I’d just listened to the instructions when they were given (and looking back after class I could see that the instructions were quite clear indeed, lol) I’d have been a lot better off.

Clare gave an excellent class, with a nice variety of postures properly explained with options and instructions for all levels of student, and by the end of it I felt quite relaxed and somewhat looser. Also, the music before and after class was a nice touch too.

I always say, you know when it’s a good class when you come away with one thing that you’ll always remember. In giving instruction during one of the postures, Clare warned against letting go too much. She recommended maintaining a level of mental activity, concentrating on your posture and what you were doing, rather than just forgetting everything and just letting your mind wander.

This reminded me of something my Tai Chi instructor used to say. He would point at the dots in the Yin Yang symbol and say, “See! Do you see that? You should always have a little yang in your yin, and a little yin within your yang. Never go completely one way or the other.”

Yin Yang - Symbol
Yin Yang Symbol‘ by DonkeyHotey on Flickr

And that to me was what Clare was saying; always keep a little yang within your yin. It’s better for you that way. Like when you do final relaxation: If you go too far, if you let your mind go as well as your body, you end up being nudged awake by the teacher because you’re snoring too loud, lol.

All told it was a great class, and it only served to increase my interest in doing more yin yoga in the future. I’ve got my eye on a yin yoga intensive in London later this year, and there’s even a teacher training course in Canada that’s awfully tempting.

It was great to see Clare again, and get to meet the lovely bunch of yogis she has as regular students (after class there was tea and biscuits!). If you’re in the St Albans area I’d recommend swinging by. She has other classes in the area you can go to too, so there’s many options for the aspiring yin yogi.

old friends headstand

If you’ve never tried yin yoga before you really should. You’ll be surprised at how challenging it can be, but also how rewarding and beneficial it can be as well.

Mission To Berlin

My girlfriend and I love the Lord Of The Rings movies, as you probably noticed by our visit to Hobbiton and the Lord Of The Rings Tour that we did when we were in new Zealand.

We’ve also been enjoying the Hobbit movies, and have been to see them all at the cinema whenever they came out. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to go see the last one when I was over at Christmas, and now that I’m back again Leipzig (where my girlfriend moved to a few months ago) no longer has it showing anywhere in English (you often get original language movies showing in German cinemas). So, what to do, what to do? Why, go to Berlin and see it of course!

That was how we found ourselves on a coach at 10am heading for the capital. The movie wasn’t til 5pm, but we planned on checking out a few sights as well while we were there. The only other time I’ve been to Berlin before was during a DB train strike, when I had to get a coach there and three buses across the city to catch my flight home. I missed out on all (indeed, any) of the sights then, so I felt like I had some catching up to do!

We got there around noon, went to grab the tickets, and then set off in search of something interesting. In fact we’d just got back onto Potsdamer Platz when we came across The Berlin Wall!

the wall at potsdamer platz

Obviously not the original wall, but parts of it set out along the old route of the wall as a sort of exhibition.

where the wall once was

If you look you can see a line on the ground going from the wall section up towards the top left corner behind the orange bin, which denotes where the wall used to go.

There’s even a map showing you where it used to be.

east and west

Strange to think how the Berlin Wall came down because of a bit of a misunderstanding, eh?

We were going to head to Checkpoint Charlie next but found that the Brandenburg Gate was nearer, so we headed there instead.

the brandenburg gate

As ‘gates’ go it’s pretty impressive. It was also the perfect opportunity for me to revive my Landmark Inversions headstand series, which has been a bit lacking of late.

Thankfully I had my trusted camerawoman along with me. Always ready to help out (and freeze her fingers off in the cold weather!). We just did a quick test shot to get the framing right,

headstand test shot

and then up I went for number 74.

74. brandenburg gate headstand

Round the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is the German parliament, the Reichstag.

the reichstag building

It’s quite a building as well, though Lena was far more excited to find some ‘west German’ and ‘east German’ traffic lights right next to each other, so that she could finally show me the difference between the two (east in front, west in back).

stop and go

By now it was getting really cold, so we hit the Underground rather than walk all the way back to go see Checkpoint Charlie.

lost?

There’s actually not lot there when you arrive. Lots of ‘museums’ and ‘experiences’, lots of places called things like ‘Checkpoint Charlie Curry’, as well as places selling Russian and American army hats. But the actual checkpoint itself is just a little nondescript hut in the middle of the road.

checkpoint charlie, looking into 'east' berlin

There’s also a sign warning you you’re “Leaving The American Sector” (as if you wouldn’t notice the armed guards!).

leaving america

Strangely, the other side doesn’t say you are ‘Leaving The Russian Sector’ but ‘Entering The American Sector’. Have a think on that for a moment if you will.

entering america

For me it was time for another headstand photo, and this is the only one where I have explicitly paid to be allowed to take it (I’ve paid to get in places but any photos I’ve taken within have always been free).

75. checkpoint charlie headstand

It’s also the only one where I’ve gotten a small round of applause from the twenty or so people who suddenly gathered there while I was standing on my head, so all in all I don’t begrudge the two euros it cost me.

By now we were getting hungry, so off we went on our burger mission!

I’d found a place on Happy Cow called Sun Day Burgers, which promised a tofu burger with lots of healthy stuff to go with it.

sun day burger

They only sell the tofu burger, smoothies, and raw cakes, so there wasn’t much choice. We both went for the burger with chilli sauce (as I personally didn’t like the sound of the peanut or mango sauces). When it came it looked very tasty.

sun day tofu burger

Sadly the chilli sauce was so hot that after a few bites that’s all you could taste. I tried washing it down with my smoothie, but it had so much ginger in, it was overpowering as well! Perhaps we are both too sensitive to strong flavours these days, since we eat so healthily all the time, but we both found it a bit much.

We had some cake afterwards (which wasn’t cheap!); a raw pineapple cheesecake and a lime and avocado concotion,

raw pineapple and lime cake

but they too were a but heavy on the flavouring as well. All told it was quite an experience!

We like fries with our burgers, and since they didn’t have any at Sun Day Burgers we came away a bit hungry still. Thankfully, just round the corner was salvation!

chips!

Boy did they taste good. :)

happy belly

Our bellies finally full it’s off to the movies we go.

cine star, sony centre, berlin

The Cine Star in the Sony Centre to be precise. One of the last places to be showing…

der hobbit, in english

(“Der Hobbit”, in English)

It’s been out long enough you’ve probably seen it by now, but for the next paragraph I’m saying:

*SPOILER ALERT*

We enjoyed the movie, but it was a little long, and definitely not enough dragon. The whole Smaug bit at the start should have come at the end of the second film. They obviously only tacked it on here to make us go watch this one. Without it it’s just a lot of dwarves, elves and orcs (and humans) going at each other hammer and tongs. I mean, don’t get me wrong, enjoyable enough, but still no justification for stretching one small book into three long movies.

*ALERT OVER*

All in all it was a very successful trip. We saw a lot, did a lot of new things, and got the photos to prove it. Last LOTR movie seen, a new burger tried, and two new headstand pictures created. Fell asleep on the train on the way home, which is always the sign of a good day I reckon.

All told I think it’s safe to say,

Mission To Berlin : Accomplished

Bargain Alert!

This is one for all you yogis based here in the south of England (though to be honest it’s kind of a London thing also).

Saw the other day that the store Tiger is stocking exercise equipment (among other things) for the month of January, including a bunch of yoga equipment.

There’s mats for £15, blocks and straps for £2 each, as well as a bunch of other stuff you might find useful as part of your daily sadhana (fitness ball for £6 anyone?).

I make no guarantee on prices (even their own website has discrepancies), and I’ve no idea if your local store is carrying any or all of the equipment mentioned, I just thought I’d bring it to your attention so that, if you’re interested, you can take advantage of the bargains on offer.

Also, just FYI, I’m not being compensated in any way for this ‘advertisement’. This is just me helping you guys out.

Om Om Everyone. :)

New Thinking For A New Year

The new year is generally a time for resolutions. For people to make promises to themselves to do something different in the year to come. But do they really work?

for yoga

Personally I’m not a fan of the whole new year resolution thing. I think that if you want to change something in your life the time to do it is now, not just January 1st. However, if it helps get some people kick started on the change they need then who am I to argue.

I recently did a four week Positive Thinking course at the London Sivananda Centre, and the Swami there had some interesting things to say about how our minds work and what we can do to change our ways of thinking.

Because that is what is required for most of us to be able give up smoking, stop chewing our nails, eat healthier or do more sadhana (spiritual practice), is a fundamental change in the way we think about things. And that ain’t easy to come by.

Here’s a few of the notes I took on the course, presented in the order in which I took them. Perhaps some of the ideas will strike a chord, and maybe help cement your own resolutions for the coming year.

Thought is an energy you project. Thoughts have a form; thought have weight.

We tend to view thoughts as formless, being electrical impulses in the brain. But sad, angry, depressing thoughts can weight us down and make us feel heavy and lethargic, whereas happy, joyful, uplifting thoughts make us want to skip and dance.

We alone, among all beings, are able to choose our thoughts.

Changing circumstances means nothing if you cannot change the mind.

You can throw out all the chocolate in the house, but until you change how you think about chocolate, you’ll never stop craving it as much.

Changing our minds changes out lives.

Thoughts lead to actions. Repeated actions become habits. We can change our character by changing our habits. Your habits shape your life into the future (your destiny).

Thought → Action → Habit → Character → Destiny

Change your thoughts to change your destiny.

Thought is energy. Thought is alive. All that lives wishes to keep living [longer].

That includes not only all those negative samskaras (mental habits) that we have, but also all the positive ones too. The more we concentrate on the positive, and starve the negative of attention, the sooner the one will replace the other.

Negativity does not build up overnight.

Just as it took time, and repetition, for us to build up these negative mental habits that affect our lives, so it will take time for us to build up the positive ones to replace them.

Prevention means studying the law of cause and effect. Illnesses have a cause. So does being well.

You must recognise when you are unwell, recognise when you need rest, and do something about it. The body and mind deserve to be treated well.

Prevention in yoga means daily practice. It does not have to be much, but do something.

Removing a negative habit requires our choosing not to do something day by day. Adding a positive one involves choosing to do something day by day.

Anything we do to take our life back is considered positive. It inspires us. It allows energy to flow again. In the beginning it is connected to the physical movement of prana.

The mind and body effect each other greatly. When people want to change their lives they don’t always know where to start; so they come to a yoga class, do the exercises, and afterwards feel great both inside and out. Physically moving the prana (energy) helps move it mentally too.

As a man thinks, so he becomes.

Everything we think and do has a result. Therefore we must have discrimination in our actions. Positivity is a decision: So is negativity.

I can’t expect something beautiful from a half-hearted effort. Well-being does not drop from the sky.

You get out of your practice what you put into it. If you don’t try, you don’t get; simple as that.

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Good luck with those new year’s resolutions everybody. I’m sure you’ll do great! :)

Om Namah Shivaya!