Yoga Retreat At Mittersill, Austria

Boy did I need a vacation!

You don’t realise how much until you go on one. You think you know, but once you actually unwind, then you realise just how twisted up you actually were.

sonnberghof mittersill

I went on a wee yoga vacation with the Sivananda people, at the Sonnberghof Hotel in Mittersill, Austria. It was brilliant. I mean, for a start, just look at the view!

alpine views

And that’s just one direction. There were gorgeous views all over the place.

Normally my Austrian yoga vacations happen in Reith, but a couple of times a year the bio-hotel there closes down for holidays of their own, so some of the yogis decamp to Mittersill to run their retreats from there.

They have a nice yoga room,

yoga room at mittersill

and a nice wee meditation hall,

meditation room

for sadhana and satsang respectively. And in between the bouts of spiritual enlightenment the hotel has an outdoor pool,

outdoor pool

as well as a selection of sauna/steam rooms you can enjoy, with a nice lounge area for you to relax in.

spa lounge
 
swing chairs

The routine was the usual Sivananda one of satsang at 6:30am, yoga at 8:30am. Then lunch, followed by free time. Then yoga at 4pm, lunch at 6pm, and evening satsang at 7:30pm.

The luxury of being able to do yoga twice a day is always welcome. You really do feel the benefits of your practise that much quicker when you can dedicate your time wholly to it. Of course it helps if someone else is cooking the food and cleaning up after you.

The food was very good. The kitchen staff at the hotel seem to have really got their heads around cooking sattvic food. I had to limit myself. The tempation to eat way too much was quite high.

The teaching was awesome too. They do offer tailored yoga programs at Mittersill, but I was just there for a vacation. I learnt a lot as we did our sadhana, including some new exercises to incorporate into my yoga, and some new ways to correct people when I’m teaching too. All in all a very profitable vacation.

I even made a new friend while I was there…

making friends 2

If you’re looking for a yoga holiday I can recommend Mittersill. The combination of yoga and spa is an excellent one. I felt incredibly relaxed by the end of my stay, and of course I wish I could have stayed more.

Instead I flew back, drove to the Lake District, and did an epic hike to the top of Helvellyn, lol.

Helvellyn Headstand, Helvellyn, Cumbria, UK

Kind of undid some of my good work, but got another shot for my headstand series so, siwng and roundabouts, eh?

Back in London now, trying to keep on with my daily practise, see if I can’t keep the flexibility I earned in Austria. I also need to prepare myself for the Sadhana Intensive in August. It’s pretty full on by all accounts, and I need to be at the top of my game if I’m going to get the best out of it.

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Being Sattvic

I’ve signed up for the two week Sadhana Intensive course at the Sivananda ashram in Orleans in France this August. It is, by all accounts, quite intense (so much so that everyone I mention it to feels the need to tell me that).

You have to have a well established yoga practise to be allowed to do the course. And even if you do have a well established practise, there are a number of things you have to do in the lead up to it to prepare yourself for the course, so that you can get the full benefits of the exercises you will be doing.

Most of it I do already. No meat, no booze, no drugs, etc. That part’s easy. They also want you to do fifteen to twenty rounds of anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) every day. Ok, not a problem, provided I remember to do it that is. Where it gets tricky is the sattvic diet.

Trying to follow a sattvic diet, sometimes called the yoga diet, is hard because of the way most ready-made food is made (even the good stuff). To follow the sattvic diet you need to be vegetarian, but also cut out things like garlic, onion (including spring onion, shallots, leek, etc.), caffeine, and a few other things I didn’t even know about.

an unsattvic shopping bag

This is the bag of shopping I bought before going to teach last night. Now I’d been good in not buying veggie sausages. Pretty much all of them contain some form of garlic and onion. In fact most pre-prepared veggie foods have garlic and onion in, mostly because they’re cheap and they add a lot of flavour. But garlic and onion unsettle the mind and make meditation more difficult, so we need to cut them out apparently.

So I avoided the sausages, but what I didn’t think about was the ketchup and baked beans. They don’t have garlic and onion on their ingredients lists, but I’d be surprised if the catch-all term ‘spices’ didn’t include garlic and onion somewhere along the line. So, no ketchup and baked beans for me.

Ok, that’s fine. But where else did I go wrong? Well, mushrooms it seems are a bit of a no-no. I don’t know why? Perhaps it’s something to do with the cleansing quality they are considered to have in Chinese medicine, so much so that you’re meant to avoid them when ill, as they will rob your body of vital nutrients. Or perhaps it’s that they can be ‘gas inducing’, as I just read somewhere. Not what you need if you’re going to be doing lung cleansing exercises.

NB: Just so you know, I’m not saying I believe all or even any of this. This is just what people say.

So that’s half my shopping bag out. But what about the rest? Well, the chocolate pudding is no good because of the caffeine. And depending on who you ask I should probably be avoiding the bell peppers as well, because they’re a bit spicy. Which leaves me with the bread rolls. As far as I know, no one has a problem with bread, yet (though I’m sure someone would have something to say about yeast!).

Anyway…

For my purposes, a sattvic diet means vegetarian food, no garlic, no onion, no mushrooms, no caffeine. Fine. But what about the rest of your diet? What about what your mind consumes?

Swami Krishnadevananda used to tell a story about when he was at the Paris centre. He would spend all week meditating and trying to be sattvic, then on his day off he would go see all kinds of stuff at the movies. Not that he used to go see stuff that was deliberately violent or anything, I just think he wasn’t being too discerning in what he went to see. He eventually realised the pointlessness of doing all this hard work during the week, only to undo some of it on his day off. That’s why he quit going to the cinema.

That’s not to say moives can’t be sattvic. It’s just that the sattvic ones are few and far between. And often not good. When I was staff at the ashram in Austria we used to have movie nights. The films they chose to show that I can recall are Peaceful Warrior, some borderline TV movie with Nick Nolte as a zen master/warrior mechanic type thing, Stardust, a modern fairytale which has more famous faces in it than it deserves, and The Mahabarata, a six hour epic adaption of a nine hour stage play of which the less said about it the better.

Now while these films weren’t exactly bad (with the exception of The Mahabarata which was boring in the extreme!) they weren’t exactly good either. Take away the things that cause the biggest reactions in people – guns, violence, sex, etc. – and you’ve got to be pretty skillful in writing to come up with something that is both interesting and which moves people; in the same way that you’ve got to be a good cook to make nice food when some of the biggest flavours are taken away from you.

So what are good sattvic movies? Well, I’ve been wracking my brains, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Now it might seem a little obvious showing a film set in India to a bunch of yogis, but set that aside and what you have is a brilliant film about people being people, trying to come to terms with their own lives in the best way they know how. It’s a great film, and if you haven’t seen it I strongly recommend you give it a try.

I know it’s a kids movie but Pixar are the masters when it comes to making films the whole family can enjoy. And Finding Nemo is one of their absolute best. It’s surprisingly moving, and funny, and well worth your time. In fact I’d say pretty much anything by Pixar comes under the ‘Sattvic and worth seeing’ catagory, they’re just that good.

So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, being sattvic in todays world can be tough. They put garlic and onion in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to add flavour. They put sex and violence in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to get a reaction with. To be sattvic we need to be discerning about what we consume. We have to check the list of ingredients very carefully. And most important of all, if we’re not sure, we have to be strong enough to just put it down and walk away, and go find something more beneficial for us to enjoy.

The good stuff is out there people, it really is. You just have to but a bit more effort in to seek it out. But when you do, hopefully you’ll find that the effort has been worth your while.

It isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. As the Stoics say

“Easy decisions, hard life. Hard decisions, easy life.”

I can give up garlic and onion. I can give up mushroom. I can even give up chocolate, though that’s going to be tough. But giving up tea, oh man! Now there’s a challenge and no mistake.

caffeine delivery system

Wish me luck! 😀

Oh, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall off the wagon every now and then. Even the best of us trip up on occasion. 😉

Let’s Talk About “Stupid”

I have friends who won’t use the word ‘stupid’. They see it as too negative, and so unhelpful in their spiritual growth.

They get upset if you describe something as stupid, they get very upset if you jokingly say something they have done is stupid, even if it is (some people don’t see a distinction between having a laugh with someone and making fun of them, which is exhausting); and, bizarrely, they even have a go at you if you describe yourself or something you have done as stupid (because it’s not ok for you to judge yourself negatively but it is ok for them to patronise you for some reason).

Personally I think all words were invented for a reason, and they all have their place. Yes, finding a positive way to look at things is a good thing to do, but sometimes no matter how hard we try we end up doing something stupid, and there’s no getting away from that.

my view of the satsang

A couple of weeks ago I was offered the chance to go to India for a month to help out on a Teacher’s Training Course. I said no.

I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in…

I’m guessing most of you reading this would have jumped at the chance for what I believe would have been an expenses paid yoga ‘holiday’ in India. I know I’m starting to think I might have made a boo-boo.

So why did I say no?

For one thing, that was my knee-jerk reaction. Being asked to help out with the TTC was interesting. But then it turned out they wanted me to go to India, to do the technical side of things – sound mixing, lighting, etc. – and it was in a month’s time. Each new bit of information made it sound like a less and less attractive prospect. But why?

Taking each point as mentioned:

There’s an assumption that is you do yoga you have been to, or want to go to, India. I personally have very little interest in doing that. It’s just not on my radar. I have a big list of places I do want to go, and India isn’t one of them. If I’m going to spend my money it’ll be going places I want to go.

Though I do a technical job, I hate it. I just do. I mean, I know a lot of technical stuff, and I’m actually pretty good at it, but when it comes to what I like doing I err on the side of the creative. I like thinking, and making, and doing. Plugging in wires and adjusting sound levels is just boring.

I can do stuff at short notice, but going away for a month in a month’s time is a daunting prospect. I mean I have a flat, and work, and all kinds of stuff I want to be doing over here. To just up and leave so quickly is a bit mind-blowing.

And that’s another thing – money! Even if the flights, food and accommodation was taken care of, it still would have cost me £1000-1200. What with rent, bills, etc., plus the fact I wouldn’t be earning any money while I was away, I’d certainly be out of pocket by the end of it all.

But would it have been worth it?

As is natural, I started to second guess myself. Had I been too hasty? Perhaps I could have gone after all. I mean, it would have been an interesting experience. Most would give their right arm for such a chance. And I could certainly do with the holiday/sadhana time.

It’s hard to turn down what, on paper, is a good opportunity.

I started leaning towards the idea of going. I started persuading myself.

A few days later I contacted the swami to get some more details, but it turned out I was too late. They’d already found someone else. I wasn’t sure how I felt?

So I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Was I stupid to turn down such an opportunity? Should I have said yes straight away? Should I at least have thought about it for a while before saying no? The fact of the matter is, I don’t think so.

Sure, maybe I should have gotten some more info and then sat with it for a while, see how it felt, but my initial reaction was to say no, and if I wasn’t excited from the offset about going, if I had to persuade myself into saying yes, then I’m not the one for the job. It’s something for someone else to enjoy.

So, was I stupid in saying no? I was not. I didn’t really want to go, and besides, there’s a lot here I want to be doing instead. Stupid would be to not learn from the experience. To spend the next month doing nothing, instead of writing, or teaching, or getting on with one of the many other things I keep saying I want to do. To sit on my fat behind eating pizza and playing video games. Now that really would be stupid!

Yoga In The Media

There are as many reasons to come to yoga as there are ways to shuffle a pack of cards (that’s 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636, 856,403,766,975,289,505,440, 883,277,824,000,000,000,000 in case you were wondering), but I often wonder just how many people are missing out because of the way yoga is portrayed in the media?

Unless you’re really into yoga, and are doing some specific research, chances are when you come across yoga photos online it’s going to be some celebrity on a sun soaked beach performing asanas as the sun goes down, all bronzed and gorgeous and serene as hell.

yoga google screen grab

Or if not, then it’s an article on some new weird type of yoga that, let’s be honest, was probably written for people to have a good chuckle at the hippy weirdos.

You rarely get articles on the normal, average, day-to-day yoga that most of us do, the yoga that happens in a church hall in Croyden on a wet Wednesday afternoon. But in a world of click-bait headlines, with so many things vying for our attention, is that really a surprise?

Yoga
image © distelfliege, via Flickr

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve suggested yoga to people only for them to tell me “But I can’t even touch my toes!” With so many pictures out there of experienced practitioners doing advanced asanas really well people just think “Well I’ll never be able to do that, so why even bother trying?” With all the emphasis on the physical benefits of yoga that happen further down the line, people miss out on the positive mental benefits they can experience right away.

Which is why, when I come across a good yoga story that isn’t all about bendy celebrities, I like to highlight it.


image © Lee Ann Olwage, via sevaunite.org

I recently came across this story on the BBC News website, which I found quite inspiring. (NB: If you’re outside of the UK then chances are you won’t be able to view the content. If so then here’s another article on the project that I found on the Guardian website instead.)

In summary, the Prison Freedom Project is about bringing yoga to prisoners in South Africa, allowing them to learn and enjoy the benefits of yoga, and enjoy a feeling of liberation despite their incarceration. It is a voluntary, contribution driven organisation, that has already made a difference to many inmates, and will no doubt help countless more find health and happiness in their lives. To me it embodies the true spirit of yoga, and I like what they’re doing so much I decided to make a donation.

***

I’m not saying we need more ‘positive’ yoga stories out there. There’s plenty of those already. What we need is more ‘average’ yoga stories out there. More stories of normal people incorporating yoga into their everyday lives. I might even go so far as to say we need to stop elevating yoga to unattainable heights, and bring it back down to earth (which, ironically, is where most yoga happens, lol).

It’s understandable people want to show off when they do something well. No one wants to share pictures of themselves being average, or, even worse, doing something badly. But, in the interests of science, and to get the ball rolling, here’s a few pictures of me doing some asanas to the best of my abilities at the moment (with examples of how they look when you get good).

my forward bend

my plough

my pigeon

There are many aspects to yoga, and many benefits to be had, some of which you have to work at, and some of which you experience from day one. Anyone can do yoga (wherever you are in life, mentally or physically, that is where you begin; that is your starting point), and everyone has something to gain, one way or another.

Each practitioner is different, each experience is different, and each benefit is different; but all of it is positive, and worthwhile, and beneficial; and if it’s not, it’s not yoga.

A Month Of Meditation

A wise man once said:

“Sometimes I just sits and thinks,

and sometimes I just sits”

 
Now I don’t think that he was talking about meditation (actually I think he was talking about Winnie The Pooh) but he may as well have been.

For too long I have been at the mercy of my emotions. They rattle through my brain, unfiltered and unchecked, quite often ruining my day. They conjure in the mind such an endless list of past regrets, imagined slights, future fears and general unrealities that I decided it was time to do something about it. So, I set myself a bit of a challenge.

I decided that for the month of November I would sit and meditate thirty minutes every day. Now I know that sounds like a lot to begin with, most would recommend ten to twenty minutes for starters, but I know from experience that I can do up to an hour of sitting if I have to, so I knew I could handle it. The hard part wouldn’t be the sitting, the hard part would be finding the time.

The What, Where, How and When?

A few details about my practice. I opted to do vipassana meditation, as described in the excellent book Mindfulness in Plain English. It’s a straight forward technique where you concentrate your attention on your breathing, focusing on the sensation of your breath around the rim of your nostril. Whenever your mind wanders you just gently bring it back to the sensation, without judgement, and continue until your time is up.

To measure the thirty minutes I used a meditation timer on my phone that gongs when you’re done. Sadly it doesn’t appear to be available on the Google Play Store anymore, but there’s plenty of others on there to choose from if you’re in the market for one. They all pretty much do the same thing. You could also just use the timer on your phone, but I find it’s beeping a little harsh at the end of a session. A gentle gonging is much nicer.

When it comes to where to sit Swami Sivananda recommends having a special space in your house that you just use for meditation. Now most of us can’t do that, we don’t have the room, but I reckon that as long as it’s special to you somehow then it’ll do the trick. For example, this is my meditation space:

meditation space 2
meditation space 1

Now it’s just a bit of floor by my bed, but in my head it’s where I meditate, so it’s special to me, and really that’s all that matters wouldn’t you say?

As for when to sit, that was pretty much dictated by the outside world. It’s best if you have a regular time to sit – some recommend 4am as an auspicious time! – but in reality most of us have work, family commitments, a massive list of Things To Do, so you just have to sit when you can and make the best of it. For example, when I was on a day shift, the earliest I could commit to half an hour free was nine thirty at night, just before I went to bed. Not ideal, but it is what it is.

My Observations

Now, I’ve managed to meditate properly just once, ages ago, and it only lasted for a few seconds (I was so freaked out by the sudden change in my mind it broke my concentration). The only way I can describe it is; you’re sitting in a room with all the lights off. You think it’s completely silent and completely dark, and then the power goes out! Suddenly there’s no hum from the fridge next door, no illumination from the standby light on the TV. It’s just that much quieter and darker than it was before. That’s what it’s like when your mass of thoughts reduce themselves down to just one; mental quiet.

I can tell you now, I didn’t get anywhere near that in my thirty days. I did however have a few ‘revelations’ that I’d like to share with you now (in the order in which I wrote them).

* Get rid of any distractions. Meditating by the front window when you’re waiting for a package to be delivered is not ideal. Every crunch of gravel will have you looking outside to see if it’s the postman.

* Something is better than nothing. Sleepy, ‘off road’ meditation (where your head bobs around like you’re in a 4×4) is better than no meditation at all.

* Despite your best efforts… sometimes all you do is sit and think. That’s ok. Don’t get down at that. Judging the ‘quality’ of your meditation doesn’t help you.

Also,

* Good and bad depends on your point of view. Loud noises might be a distraction, but they’re also good for waking you up when you start to nod off. So, silver linings. That being said though, trying to meditate on Bonfire Night with all the fireworks going off is challenging at best.

* Don’t make it hard on yourself. Trying to meditate after twelve hours of work is hard enough already. Playing three hours of Assassin’s Creed when you get back first, so that you don’t hit the cushion until 1am, is just making things difficult for yourself.

Likewise…

* Think about the lead up to meditation. Sitting down after you’ve just eaten a load of Pringles is very distracting. All you can think about is ‘More Pringles’!

* Location matters. It’s hard to meditate at work. The seats are hard, the head is sleepy, and you feel really self-conscious.

* Comfort matters. If you sit wrong on your cushion your legs will go numb; fact! But, at the same time, numb legs aren’t as bad as you think. You can sit through them.

* Little victories matter. If I’m concentrating on my breathing when the gong goes, and not making shopping lists in my head, I count that as a win.

* It’s ok to ‘get it out of the way’. Doing it just to do it doesn’t make it worthless, as long as your effort is sincere.

My Conclusions

So what have I learned from my fifteen hours of meditation? Well, first of all, there is time in the day to meditate. Or rather, you can make the time. Turn off the TV, put down the book, put off sleep until later. It’s not as hard to do as you think*, and it is worth the effort.

*That being said, I am single. I can imagine trying to find the time with a bunch of people around would be more difficult. Not impossible, just more difficult.

I can’t say that I’m quantitatively any different now than I was before, any changes have been subtle, but I do feel pretty good mentally at the moment. Yes there’s been some frustrations, some flashes of anger, but I don’t think I’ve lingered on them as much as I would have done. Maybe I’m learning to let go a bit? Maybe I’m being more mindful of my moods, and heading them off before they get out of hand? Who knows? Maybe it’s too soon to tell.

A scientific study of long term meditators has shown that they have physically increased amounts of brain matter in the areas most associated with happiness and dealing with emotions (as seen on ‘Trust Me, I’m A Doctor’, with Michael Moseley). It also showed that for noticeable changes to occur you have to give it a go for a good six to eight weeks. So, on that basis alone, I’m going to keep going, see how I get on.

It’ll be the same kind of practice, just approached from a different mindset. It’ll be about long term goals now, not just completing a challenge. Hopefully it’ll be something that I can keep up in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

And, now that this blog post is done, maybe it’ll be a little easier too (as I can stop writing it in my head, lol).

Make Changes. Make Choices.

This post was going to be about preparedness. I was going to talk about the five day yoga retreat I’ve just been on, and how not going to the osteopath before I went really hindered my ability to do all the asanas and meditation. Also I was going to mention the many ‘hikers’ in t-shirts, shorts, and trainers I saw slogging their way up to the very cold and very windy top of Snowdon afterwards. In fact the post was going to be called “I’ve got sun cream and a penguin!”, something I heard one of them say as I passed their group on my way down. I thought it kind of summed it all up really, the idea of the lack of preparation, and how we don’t do ourselves any favours sometimes.

But then I had something of a personal revelation, so I thought I’d go into that instead. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, so you’ll have to bear with me, but essentially it’s about being happy.

So a couple of weeks ago I realised that I was forty two, single, I had a beard, and I had recently become a member of the National Trust. Needless to say, this is not how the young me had expected his life to unfold, not by a long shot! Something had to be done. Something big. I immediately shaved the beard. It helped, but only a little.

I guess I realised that there was a certain underlying dissatisfaction with how things are, something that I’m sure will be familiar to everyone. I thought going on the retreat would help me gain a little perspective. It did, but not in the way I was expecting.

Being on the retreat was tough for me. Physically I was carrying an injury that made some parts difficult for me, plus I think I was a little run down as I constantly felt like I was coming down with something. But mentally as well, I sometimes found it hard to keep my emotions on a even keel. I’m sure never getting a decent nights sleep while I was there didn’t help either.

There were a lot of people there I didn’t know. People who were new to Sivananda yoga. From taking too much food to talking before satsang, they didn’t all quite enter into the spirit of things, and that was frustrating for me. Of course I know that’s my problem and not theirs, but still, it only served to unsettle an already unsettled mind.

I thought I didn’t get much out of the retreat, but all that sadhana seemed to have crept in somehow. After I left the centre I went to a YHA near Mount Snowdon from where I would do my climb (more broken sleep in a room with other people). I realised I was agitated, restless, keen to ‘move forward’. But I was also more centred, clearer in my thoughts, whatever those thoughts might be.

The simple fact of the matter is, I realised I could be anywhere doing anything, so why be somewhere you don’t want to be doing something you don’t want to do? Everything we do is a matter of choice, and whether we choose to stay or choose to go, we have to own it one hundred percent. If my life wasn’t how I wanted it to be, I had to do something to make it different. And there was no time to lose.

I hiked Snowdon, then the next morning I left the YHA. I still had another night booked, but there was no point being there. I’d just be sitting around twiddling my thumbs. It was Friday. I’d be back to work Sunday, so I only had one full day to start making things happen.

Also, I should mention the catalyst to my mood. Our tenancy agreement is up in a few months, and the landlord wants more money, for the same flat, after just one year! It made me mad. It made me want to take back control. And it really tied in with the ‘Where do you want to be? What do you want to do?’ thing.

This year in London was meant to be about getting published. Making a proper go of writing to see if I really had what it takes? Instead I got waylaid by working and teaching yoga and looking for a new girlfriend and, well, life in general. I may have finished a novel and a short story (rewrites not withstanding) but I feel like I should have done so much more!

So I’m refocusing on what I really want, and putting all the rest of it aside. I will put one full day a week aside for writing. That’s not to say I won’t write in between, but one day a week I will do nothing but! No karma yoga, no teaching, no shopping, no admin. Just me, the keyboard, and my ideas.

I’m still going to teach yoga now and then, and do the odd bit of karma yoga, but only if it’s right for me, not because I feel I ‘must’ or I ‘should’.

I’m going to put more effort into meeting someone too. I liked being in a relationship, so if I want that again I need to make it happen. I have been trying, a bit. There was someone I thought might be interested, but every time we talked about relationships she kept saying she was happy being single, so I never really went for it and told her how I feel. Always the way when you really like someone eh? Well I’m not going to do that anymore. If I want someone special in my life it’s time to do something about it!

I know this all sounds a bit dramatic, but there really is a sense of urgency to me now. I’m tired of the hum-drum, the lack of the control, the acceptance of whatever comes along. I want things to be better, and the only way to do that is to make things better. You’ve got to put the effort in. You’ve got to try. You’ve got to make choices to make changes, and you’ve got to do it now, because there is no tomorrow, and now is all we’ve got!

*phew*

Ok. Let’s take a breath. That got a little intense there towards the end there. To counter balance all that, how about some nice pictures of the view from the top of Snowdon? There were actually a few breaks in the cloud for once and I got one or two decent shots, which came as a nice surprise. Check these babies out:

the peak clears

sunlight on the lakes

summit, with train

snowdon lake

me in front of snowdon

Oh! And here’s the cream scone I had at the top, and the chocolate brownie I had when I came down; just because. 😉

a scone deserved

post snowdon tea and cake

And here’s a sheep! 😛

making friends

You’ve Got To Want It!

That’s what my brother said to me when he saw me off at Perth airport, and I was talking about maybe living in New Zealand:

“You’ve got to want it if you’re gonna make it happen.” (or words to that effect at least, I can’t remember exactly).

Now this struck me because, when it comes to things like yoga and Buddhism, wanting things, having desires, gets in the way of our achieving that which we need (note: ‘need’, not ‘want’).

Certainly in terms of Buddhism, where having desires is considered the root of our unhappiness. I don’t want a Porsche 911 GT California, so it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have one. But if I did, it would! Concentrating on our desires is generally considered as not a constructive thing to do.

And as for yoga, desire leads to frustration which leads to tension which leads to us getting in or own way. Never mind the fact that pulling and straining ourselves into positions that we are unprepared for will almost certainly lead to injury in the end.

But it is generally accepted wisdom that unless you do something about your dreams and desires then there’s very little chance of them manifesting. I mean, you can sit and hope for a Porsche 911, but until you start saving up…

all I want is...

It’s a tricky situation. We all have desires. It’s human nature to want things. I mean I want a nice house in the country, a beautiful wife, a family, a cat, a writing career, and a sitting forward bend that I’m not embarrassed about. The list is absolutely endless, once you get going. And if you concentrate on what you want (what is missing) too much then you ultimately get depressed by it’s absence.

But at the same time, if you ignore your desires and do nothing about them they’re unlikely to come about. So what to do?

For the hardcore yogi or Buddhist practitioner letting go of all desires is the answer. No hopes, no fears, no possessions or ambition; you just accept what is and so be it. But this is a bit much for your average person. You’re talking about becoming a monk or swami ultimately, and that’s a big ask! Too much for this lifetime (for most people at least).

So what do you do about your desires? What do you do about wanting a house, or a girlfriend, or a Porsche 911? How do you get those things without them taking over your life? Oh if only I knew!

The best I can come up with is to hold them gently in the back of your mind. Recognise what it is you want, and then slowly move towards it. Build upon your dreams, bit by bit, until one day they are within your reach. But! be sure that, along the way, you don’t become obsessed. Because ultimately you might never get there. You will change, your dreams will change, and even if they are attained they are unlikely to make you as happy as you think they will.

So enjoy the journey. Be happy now, with or without a nice house, someone to hold, a smart car to drive. Because if you’re happy every day then you already have the greatest desire of all – Joy! 🙂

Notes For New Yoga Teachers

Since I’ve started teaching yoga I’ve learnt a lot about how to teach yoga. Here below are some of the ‘highlights’.

NB: Even though I’ve just started teaching yoga I did study and teach Tai Chi Chuan for thirteen years previously, so these observations are quite well established.

You’ve got to prepare

It doesn’t have to be much, but you should at least know what you’re expected to teach when you first start out.

I thought my first assisting class would just be observing, with maybe a little help correcting. Instead I was thrown in at the deep end, teaching the shoulder stand, plough, bridge, wheel, fish AND bow! I was totally unprepared for all that, panicked a little, went too fast, spoke too softly (and too hesitantly), and in general did quite bad. This really shook my confidence.

Practice with a friend if you can, but if you can’t then at least go through it all mentally before the class begins. It’ll make all the difference.

Be critical of criticisms

After my first class I received some feedback from one of the students that nearly put me off teaching completely. They were trying to be helpful, but they just ended up making me feel stupid and incompetent.

This was in contrast to the feedback I got from the teacher I was assisting which was simple and positive.

I came to the conclusion that you should only take teaching advice from other teachers. That a student (one that has no experience of teaching) can only tell you how to teach them, not other people.

Only a teacher understands the unique challenges of teaching a large group of people. Taking advice on teaching from a student is like taking marriage advice from a single person (ie: great if you want to stay single).

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Students who have been coming to class for a while will assume they know what’s coming next. Now often they are right, but little do they realise how unskillful such assumptions are.

When I did my TTC we had a class where the swami, during the double leg raises, suddenly switched from “both legs up” to “right leg up”. Now this was kind of random, but I just figured he had something different planned, so I stuck my right leg in the air and waited. Then I heard other students complain, him question them, them ‘correct’ him, him laugh off his ‘mistake’, etc. All the while my leg was in the air. I had received no new instructions, so I just waited patiently to be told what to do next. At which point the swami said quietly to me “Good Keshava.”

Assuming you know what’s coming next is a dangerous thing. It means you’re not in the moment, adapting to changing circumstances, but in the future thinking about God knows what. It’s like pressing the button at a pedestrian crossing, then crossing as soon as the light changes. You can assume the cars will stop because they have to, but it’s wiser to wait and make sure they do before proceeding to cross.

If a student does their own thing in class it can feel a bit insulting, but really they’re the ones missing out. They’re missing out on the instruction being given, on the feeling of being part of the group, and on the corrections that will help improve their yoga. Try to bring them back into synch with the others, but if they persist just leave them to it and concentrate on the ones that are listening to you.

Of course, if the whole group is going off in different directions, then you have to put your foot down. But if you do, then do it with love.

Yoga is for ‘adults’

Most people’s experience of learning is limited to when they were at school. Or to put it another way, when they were forced to go somewhere they didn’t want to go, to do things they probably had no interest in. Who among us, age eleven, thought “Ooh, chemistry!” Or maths? Or art? Or geography? Or PE!

Unfortunately this experience influences how they approach any classroom for the rest of their lives (ie: with reluctance).

Now many students, myself included, go to class to be pushed. They want to be made to hold a pose for longer than they would do at home. To go deeper, lift higher, and twist a little further. But there’s a difference between that and the student that gives up without trying.

Injuries aside, it’s up to the student to be responsible for their own practice. A teacher is there to guide them and help them advance as much as they can, not force them to do something they don’t want to do. They have to be adult about their yoga, to push themselves with or without outside influence, otherwise they won’t get the full benefit of the class.

Correct the group to correct one person

Singling people out in front of the group for corrections can be damaging. A student with low confidence can be embarrassed by being told what they’re doing wrong with everyone watching.

Correct individuals quietly, one on one. They are more likely to take on board what you have to say.

Or if you don’t have time (or if more than one person is making the same mistake) correct the group as a whole without reference to an individual. It saves anyone any embarrassment, and it’s likely everyone will benefit from whatever correction is being given anyway.

NB: In the same vein, when you’re in class and you hear the person next to you being corrected, listen and see if what’s being said applies to you. Chances are it might.

Enjoy yourself

Laugh, smile, make the odd joke now and then. It elevates the class to a whole new level.

Recognise the difference between important and serious. Yoga is important, and should be treated as such, but it should never be taken too seriously.

How anyone can you take something where you stick your bum in the air seriously is beyond me anyway.

Win With The Yoga Bum Giveaway!

As you may or way not have noticed, Yoga Bum has been undergoing a slow but steady refresh over the past few weeks. Now that that’s finally done I thought I’d do a wee giveaway to celebrate. 😀

yogabum giveaway

The prize is, as you can see in the picture, a small brass Om to hang on your wall, a Krishna Das CD for you to listen to, and a scented eye pillow to help you relax. All three items will go to one lucky person, and winning them couldn’t be easier.

If you’re new to Yoga Bum all you have to do is become a follower by clicking the button on the right hand side of the page, and then Like a post or leave a Comment (just as a way of saying ‘Hi’ to everyone) to be entered into the draw.

If you’re a regular follower it’s all about the sharing. Share and Like a post, or Share and Comment, to be in with a chance of winning our excellent giveaway prizes. You’ll find buttons at the bottom of every post for things like Facebook and Twitter and that.

And that’s it really. It couldn’t be simpler.

Don’t just restrict yourself to the most recent posts like Be Friends With Yourself either. Check out the 30 Day Hip Opening Challenge, or have a look at my trip to Hobbiton; there’s all kinds of stuff in the archives for you to try. Need more inspiration? Check out the new What Have You Missed? page too.

The competition is open to everyone, and the closing date for entry is Friday the 8th of April 2016. The winner’s name will be drawn out of a hat, and they will be contacted soon after to arrange delivery. Also, unless requested otherwise, the lucky winner will be announced on Yoga Bum the following week. All decisions are final.

Good luck everyone, and thanks for playing. 🙂