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!


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


The Things You Own, End Up Owning You

It’s a line from ‘Fight Club’;

The things you own, end up owning you.”

I could just have easily gone with, “Mo money, mo problems.” Because it amounts to the same thing. The more you have, the more you need to do to maintain it.

living out the boot of your car

My car started acting up last week, so I put it in for a service. Turned out it needed a bit of work doing (which I expected). Bish bash bosh, £400 gone! That’s two extra days work I’ll have to do to pay it off. Or to put it another way, two more days I am unable to dedicate to my sadhana (spiritual practice).

shelf shrine

Swami Vishnudevananda tells a story in (I think) the book Upadesa:
(and I’m paraphrasing massively here as I don’t have the book with me)

“People ask me why it is important for a swami not to have any possessions? Well, just imagine, a student gives me a mug as a gift. It is a nice mug, I like the mug, and it becomes my special mug. No one else is allowed to use it. Then one day I see someone drinking out of my mug. I become angry, and I decide to lock my mug away. So I make a special box to keep my mug in. Now I worry that someone is going to steal my mug. I cannot sleep. My life is full or fear and anguish, all because someone gave me a mug as a gift.”


drying off

Owning things is hard work. Once you have obtained your possessions you have to maintain them, look after them, keep them in good working order. That costs money, so you have to work more. And even if you do everything right, eventually they will wear out, and you’ll have to buy something to replace it anyway.

Sorting out my car – researching garages, making sure I got a good deal, getting it there, getting it back, finding the money to pay for it – was a pain. It’s the price you pay for the convenience of owning a car, but I could have done without it to be honest.

It was so much aggro it made me wonder; If it’s like this owning a car, what must it be like owning a house?!

The things you own, end up owning you. The bigger the things, the bigger the burden. Unburden yourself as much as you can, and walk freely in the world.

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! 🙂 Hates Yoga

That’s the only conclusion I can come to after my recent experience, that have something against yoga.

It was a moment of weakness that led me to them. I’d just had enough of everyone going on about their new relationships, and how brilliant they were. It only underlined for me my very single status at the moment. It’s been a year now since my last relationship and, I’ll be honest, I’ve been feeling the loss. I like having a girlfriend, having someone to share things with and do things with, so late one night (ie: early in the morning) I decided to do something about it.

Everyone was meeting people through online dating, so I thought I’d give that a try. I’d done online dating before years ago, with mixed results, but the game has changed so much since then I wasn’t sure where to start (the site I used – Earth Wise Singles – no longer exists, for example).

I looked at Tinder, but it turns out you need a Facebook account for that. I’ve never had a Facebook account, and I wasn’t about to start one just for online dating, so Tinder was a non-starter for me.

I thought about going specific, like I’d done before, but all the yoga based dating sites I looked at threw up such a mish-mash of wishy-washy profiles – ‘Favourite Book: The Power Of Now!, Favourite Quote: Sieze The Day! – that I was instantly turned off by them.

Either that, or they were so totally inaccessible without registering first that I just moved on without wasting my time. I’m not going to register without first knowing what I’m getting myself into. My details are a commodity, and I’m not going to just hand them over without first seeing what I might get in exchange.

So that left me with the generic Big Boys. I looked at them all, but in the end I gave a go, on the strength of my neighbours recommendation.

Over the course of a couple of days I set up my profile. It took that long because trying to use the site from my mobile’s web browsers proved difficult. Quite a lack of functionality in fact. But anyway…

My problems really started when I tried to upload some photos. They were fine with the generic, smiley, big-face-head-on-to-camera ones, but when it came to my yoga poses they had some issues.

These were the offending photos I posted originally:

36. byron bay headstand

I liked them because not only do I think I look good in them, but because I reckoned the backgrounds made me look like a fun, interesting, well traveled, date-able prospect, lol., however, disagreed.

I received the following e-mail (twice) from them: hates yoga

I was a little frustrated, it seemed a little draconian, but I could see why they had rejected my photos; the first one because I’ve got me nips out, and the second one because you can’t see my face. But I really wanted a yoga pose as part of my profile, it was important to me, so I selected another photo to stick up there instead.

59. ghan/alice springs headstand

I thought this one would be fine. It ticked all my boxes – yoga, interesting, fun, well traveled – and it didn’t contravene any of their rules – no nudity, face on to camera, etc. – but no! Not good enough for apparently. This one was also rejected.

By now I was getting pretty frustrated with I felt like I was having to jump through hoops to be allowed on their site. And that what I was allowed to put up there wasn’t really a fair approximation of who I am.

I was also shocked to discover that it costs £29:99 a month!, something they don’t mention until you’re deep into the process. Yes it’s cheaper per month if you subscribe for longer, but do you need a six month package? How good is their site if it takes six months to meet someone? And do you get your money back if you meet someone in month one?

It was all just too much for me. The aggro of setting up my account (there were a number of other frustrating issues), the cost, the innumerable e-mails they kept sending me that only served to underline my singleness, I’d just had enough. I deleted my profile.

I don’t blame they’ve got a business to run. But I don’t think it’s the way for me right now. I was creating a profile from a negative starting point, and that’s no good. It wasn’t going to bring me what I wanted.

I still want to meet someone, but better maybe to get myself to a positive place and then find someone to share that with. I reckon I’ll have more success that way.

So for now I’m just going to work on myself, make Me happy, and hope that as I go through life someone comes along who likes what they see and wants to be a part of it. 🙂

Yoga And The Fitbit

Got a Fitbit the other day and I’ve got to say, I love it already! Only had it a few days, but already I’m addicted to seeing how many steps I’ve taken, what my heart rate is, how many calories I’ve burned, how I slept, in fact anything my little Charge HR will tell me.

well fit

I got it off Amazon for £90, though the one I bought usually goes for about £100. I chose the Charge HR over the Surge because having GPS isn’t worth the extra £30-40 I reckon. And considering I mainly do yoga what do I need the GPS for anyway?

The three things I like most about it are the heart rate monitor, the sleep tracking, and the way you can set it to record your activities over a set amount of time – starting and stopping it like a stopwatch – so you can see how that activity affected you.

Naturally, I used it to see what was going on inside me during my yoga session, and the results were quite interesting.

yoga and the fitbit

The Fitbit is designed mainly for a more Western style of exercise – running, cycling, weight training, etc. – so the results you get don’t look that impressive. Heart rate slightly elevated, few steps taken, not so many calories burned; but that didn’t bother me so much. I don’t expect my heart rate to sky rocket when I do yoga. In fact I’d be worried if it did. Much better in fact for it to be elevated but steady for a long period of time.

I was surprised by how long I was in the ‘fat burning zone’. Again, twenty one minutes may not seem like much, but my flat-mate went on a run for the same amount of time and she burned less fat (technically speaking) than I did. She was much more in the ‘cardio zone’, which I never even got near. And naturally, she did way more steps than I did.

The Fitbit was pretty comfy to wear too. I had it where they recommend it, snugly round the wrist about one finger width above the wrist bone, and it never got in the way of any of my asanas. In fact I hardly noticed I had it on, except when I stopped to admire how great it looks. I also checked it now and then to see how long I’d been exercising, as the activity recorder really does act like a stopwatch too.

To be honest with you, for yoga I’m not sure you really need a Fitbit. I mean as ,long as you do your asanas and feel good afterwards who cares what your heart rate was half an hour in? But in terms of general activity day to day I think the Fitbit is priceless. I get up and walk about more just to make sure I get my ten thousand steps in. When I got to the train station just as the barriers came down I thought “Great! A change to climb some stairs.” The Fitbit has certainly made me more active in my daily life, and I’m even tempted to do some running, so I can get into the illustrious ‘cardio zone’!

Such a shame it’s not waterproof. Would love to take it swimming some time too.

Inspirational Quotes?

When friends, family, and loved ones are hurt and in pain – physical or emotional – we naturally want to help however we can. But when they are miles away – physically or emotionally – how can we help them then?

It can be tempting to share inspirational quotes, something to raise their mood or offer advice in a round about way. But that can be a mine field. I don’t know about you, but if I’m feeling down and someone sends me “If life gives you lemons make lemonade!” it just makes me want to punch them in the face.

And what about the perennial favourite, “This too shall pass.”? How patronising does that sound?

I used to hate that quote. I just found it so condescending. But that was because I only ever heard it in movies said to characters who were upset to make them think things would get better. They never told the whole story, and once I heard that it brought a whole new meaning to it.

The story goes like this:

A Persian king asked his wise men to create something that would give him hope in times of despair, but also keep him humble in times of triumph. The wise men thought for a while, and then came back to the king with a ring on which was etched the words “This too shall pass”.

You see, its not a quote about everything getting better all the time, it’s about the impermanence of things. How all there is is change, and how our attachment to things can only lead to emotional turmoil.

I find that a much deeper meaning than ‘everything’ll be alright eventually’, because even if things do get better they will also change once more. So much better to prepare ourselves for that, and thereby lessen the impact when it does inevitably happen.

But of course you can’t tell that to someone who is upset. That too can be patronising. In fact any ‘advice’ when someone is properly down can easily be taken the wrong way. Much better to be an ear for listening, a shoulder to cry on, and then one day (when things aren’t so bleak) plant the seed and hope it will grow. The rest is up to them.

And as for “If life gives you lemons…”, just remember:

If life gives you lemons, send that sh*t back and tell life,”Hey! What the hell is this? This isn’t what I ordered!”


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.

“Life Is Pain, Highness.”

“Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. Y’know what it’s like when nothing you try and do works out? That’s what it’s been like for me.

(Y’know what, I’m not going to go into the whole thing now. It’s just a load of blah blah blah, and really, who can be bothered?)

The giveaway is over. The entire time it ran a whopping six people entered. That in itself is a little dis-heartening. Add to that the fact that some of them didn’t even qualify for entry as they liked a post but didn’t follow, or something like that, and it all starts to get you a bit down.

Anyway, the winner is Dr Lucy Pike. She’s the one who suggested the cleanse I did the other week, and she happens to be the only new follower I got out of this whole process, so I’m glad the prize is going to her. Well done Lucy. 🙂

I had thought there was more interest in my blog, but I guess I was wrong. It’s certainly been a clarifying experience for me though. I had been trying to drive interest and build up a readership, but now it just seems like “Why bother?” At least now I can stop worrying about trying to do a post every week and instead get on with other things.

I’m either doing or crossing off for good everything on my perpetual To Do List. I’m not booking a climbing course so why have it on the list? If I do it I’ll do it. Same goes for learning german. If it hasn’t happened yet it probably won’t (and since my ex is seeing someone new now the only reason I was going to learn german in the first place is gone).

I’m just so tired of the muddle, so I’m throwing everything out! The only two things in my life now are teaching yoga and writing my book. Everything else is out the window. It means there’ll be less blogging from me, but it seems that won’t impact many lives, so that’s probably no great loss.

Hopefully greater simplicity will bring me greater happiness. Hopefully looking inward for joy will be more profitable than looking towards the outside world. It’s been a difficult few weeks for me but I’m trying to make the best of it.