Thursday, 4 February 2016

Mantras for precarious times, peace & everything in between

I was recently describing in class how much I enjoy the 'door-mouse' effect of living near to nature. Winter always invites me to hibernate - and while I chant on a daily basis, I often intensify my 'japa' during the colder months. 

Japa is the practise of using a 'mala' (beads) to count out a specific number of repetitions of a mantra. The action of touching and moving around the beads (like a rosary) adds an extra 'anchor' to quiet the mind. It wasn't a requirement of my sadhana to reel off 108s, but had become a spontaneous transition day to night, night to day. 

Particular mantras are recommended for particular situations we face, employing words which are a wake up the soul, of it's own remembrance, as Russil Paul describes in the fabulous book 'The Yoga of Sound' (which 'appeared' for me around this time via my ever-inspiring colleague Yog Sundari!)Or the bija (seed) mantras - which are powerful keys to unlock our inner energy and potential. For example you may choose the 'Maha Mritunjaya' mantra to break through fear and embrace transformation. Or the mantra 'Om Yam' to invoke the qualities of the heart.

For me right now its the Shanti mantra (below). With the exact, beautiful intonation of my teacher Saji) it came whispering to me one evening as I drifted towards sleep. This mantra I realised was the first I ever led, as a terrified trainee in Kerala several years back. What had changed? 

At that time it was all about the fear of my voice, how did the mantra sound to others, was I getting it right, what the hell did these words in this strange language mean? While now I was tuning in to the vibration and forgetting about the words themselves. 

Despite the different 'flavours', any mantra can take us beyond the confines of the ego into connection with the highest self which is unconditional peace, wellbeing, transformation, love and anything else we invoke. In times of turmoil and disharmony, the turmoil within is the one we can start with. 'As above, so below.'

Centuries ago yogis and yoginis found that sound has different layers, from the loud 'external' sound to a whispered mantra, a silent thinking and a spontaneous repetition. And used mantra as a vehicle of intention; re-creating with our tongue, lips, mouth and vocal chords its particular vibratory pattern allows us to manifest the form or result which that pattern represents. The rishis ('seers') worked with both mandala (form) and mantra (vibration) and today there is renewed interest in this, as 'cymatics'. Check out mandalas created in sand or this amazing video of the gayatri mantra made visible in water (thank you Lisa for this, I could just watch it for hours!)

Like a song we hear constantly on the radio, when we repeat a thought it sticks in our subconscious. When we listen to or repeat a mantra we make space between the thoughts - and fill that space with harmonious messages - which serve not only ourselves but others. If you wish to meditate and have a chattering mind (who doesn't right?) japa is for you. Even when the mind becomes quiet the world is chattering at you - others opinions, media messages, technology. So mantra clears the clutter and replaces it with vibrations that re-align us with our original/ desired state of resonance. 

Even without a translation - in fact sometimes because of this, as we are not busy analysing - sanskrit mantras have transformative power setting off waves of vibration through our watery organs, cells, bones, energy pathways etc. 

The act of chanting exercises our lungs and lowers our heart rate. It activates the glandular system, balancing hormonal secretions such as melatonin (sleep cycles). At the same time we are expanding outwards - the 'like attracts like' effect invites a response from that which we are calling to/ for. If that sounds less verifiable, just try it and see what happens and what others observe in you. 

Chanting alone - awesome. Chanting together - even better. We sync into the same breath pattern, the same pitch, the same vibration. We might let slip the armour we build up of who and how different we are and start to feel truly in tune, never minding how in tune our voices are. And isn't that what we are looking for in this practise of union (yoga)? 

We are starting a new chanting circle at The Well Garden on Friday 12th Feb at 6pm. It's FREE and requires no prior experience of chanting or even to make a sound (just come, listen, lay down before the 6.30pm class if you like). 




Monday, 4 January 2016

New year, reconnecting with path and purpose

As one year rolls into the next there is a pressure to blaze into Jan with big decisions, big resolutions; to delete and re-invent. I am sitting waiting for the inspirational words to come, trying to gather together into that expected new year blog post the random thoughts that have been gathering in a reflective few weeks. I almost missed the sound of the rain drops on the steel roof of the boat for the last half hour. I listen and I re-connect. And this is the key, where the inspiration always comes from; turning within, not turning a page on the calendar.

The yoga sutra we are most familiar with is probably 1.2 yogas chitta vritti nirodah'. This is the state or purpose of yoga, the stilling of the fluctuations of consciousness. The attention becoming absorbed in the rain drops rather than the to do's and 'I am's'. But flicking onto sutra 2.1, here, clearly outlined, is the practise or path of yoga – 'tapah svadhyaya-isvara-prindindanani kriya-yogah'. This is the how of it – the three prongs of dedicated effort, self study and devotion to the divine which will support the cycle of our practise throughout the years.

Our early days of yoga (or maybe of each year) might mainly reflect the first element, of tapas: lots of intensive asana practise, a sudden desire for strict routine, grand renunciations and shifts in attitude. Then swadhyaya sneaks into play, perhaps we wonder what is behind this steam roller of transformation and begin to read into the sutras or other texts. But we also begin studying who or what is this 'me' reading, moving or breathing. Perhaps our dedicated practise shifts into a new contemplative depth, whether its content changes or not, whether it still looks the same from the outisde.

Swadhyaya offers an opportunity for yoga to spill off the mat, for 'Who am I' is not only an enquiry for deepest meditation but in our lives, moment to moment, and in any situation as we begin to re-appraise what draws us towards our happiness or stillness, and what increases the feeling of separateness. The pauses in thought we find on the mat (nirodah) can be applied to any choice such as 'might this comment I'm making on facebook cause anguish'; 'does this relationship nourish me' or 'can this food help me feel more present or more anxious'?

The more this enquiry draw us within, the closer we come to the divine, whether or not we have a devotional practise or an idea of what the divine looks like. For in yoga the two are only separated by false perception - ishwara and purusha or brahman and atman. Devotion or surrender indicate allowing a softness to creep into practise, as we move from separateness towards union. Perhaps we move from times of necessary purification to a desire to reach out to the divine in others. Or life, family and health circumstances change and surrender allows us to see that not even our glorious early yogi-self is permenant. We move through the ebbs and flows of the years with grace rather than struggling against the tide.

Of course this path is never linear and as ever deeper layers are revealed, sometimes we have to retrace our steps. And here is why swadyaha stands at the centre of the path. Where am I and what do I need right now?

Here at the beginning of a new cycle can we look honestly at how our bodies and minds feel after a festive break. Whether students or teachers, likely we need to re-apply some discipline to get back on track. But before kicking ourselves: for indulgences and arguments; todays wobbles in a previously steadfast dancing shiva pose; clunky cueing in that first class back...seeing this as an opportunity to be grateful for the awareness of how some of our choices have made us feel this time round; for the patterns we can only see more clearly through testing interactions.

Swadhyaya is the key to checking in with our own purpose and our own path. No previous effort has been wasted. Rather than how little have I achieved in the year goneby - how much have I learned? To making realistic intentions instead of those that peers or magazines condition us to desire. Or setting extreme targets that we are set to fail and falling into guilt and shame which divide us more deeply that the 'failure'. I remember a beautiful saying by Swami Lakshmanjoo: 'he who knows he has fallen has not really fallen.'

Happy New Year. Embrace this time of transition and all that you are : )  







Saturday, 19 December 2015

Still adrift, but putting down roots

5 winters (the river measure of time and hardiness) ago I returned from India broke and in pieces, and moved into a cold and unfamiliar world. 

Making a shaky start (broken gear boxes, chimneys lost under low bridges) and frozen in at Hertford I soon toughened up, scooping snow off the roof to boil for tea (and sneaking round to my best mates for washing and warmth). Then it was off to london to join the world of continuous cruising; whereby nomadic boaters move every two weeks, a 'reasonable' distance, sporadically policed by the questionable authority of canal and river trust. A sign of the times is that since then the liveaboard community on the canals has increased by 70-80 percent. Most people will claim crazy rents and inability to buy in london have fuelled this change but I like to see the wish to get outside the machine in some way as just as much a factor. That's certainly why I and many of my friends did it; craving a more sustainable lifestyle in all ways, not just monetary. 

In deciding to buy a boat I ummed and awwed for weeks about the philosophy of it - pretending to 'own' something and buying into the need for security. A wise owl (that same Hertford rock of a friend) said to me - this will be the beginnings of good things for you, and besides your home moves and you have no address it's hardly 'settling down'! She was, as often, right. 

The healing power of water had drawn me: water which signifies the life giving essence expressing in different forms; the emotions; acceptance and flow. Having this floating 'cave' and being able to step away from the popularity contest of london life, I began to expand anew. Savouring aloneness, I began to attract new friends and collaborators. 

It has been with the support of amazing family and friends that I've slowly transformed my boat into a simple but joyful home, reflecting my inner journey. Re painting and re naming her after the celtic goddess of horses this autumn I realise the subconscious power of symbolism. A friend asked me 'did you go for trad colours or does she reflect your personality?' I let the pictures speak to that : ) 

And now I move into the second stage of settling, with lesser resistance. Making a full circle back to Hertfordshire, we've moved onto a mooring on the beautiful river stort. It manifested almost instantly after stating with surprise to the universe what I would like in my life now: grounding. Nourished by water and ready for the steady base of earth. What once would have implied stuck-ness and distance from spirit now feels it's very container. Both earth in which to plant sunflowers, broccoli and herbs - and roots from which to welcome the wonderful opportunities opening up to teach and play sound. I am finding new community, including bunnies and squirrels, and soon there'll be a yoga space to invite you to. Of course, again, I can move anytime but there isn't a need to know that. 






Here she is post transformation - thank you so much to Ben Smith 'Mr Blue' boat painter. 

Monday, 9 November 2015

Thanks to 'wabi-sabi'...a new workshop format...


I was reminded recently of a concept from Japan - where the 'imperfections' of an object like a tea cup are highlighted, in fact painted gold, to celebrate its history as part of a real and whole beauty; rather than spending endless energy trying to be 'perfect'. Something to bear in mind perhaps, amongst the pressures of the festive season! 

As you know we offer 8 week yoga for eating disorder programmes...but we also appreciate that not everyone can commit this time...so we are super excited to have come up with this new half day workshop format...

Exploring the body-mind-eating connection through yoga & mindfulness - a special half day workshop @ The Well Garden.


Do you wish to better understand your patterns around emotions, eating habits and body image? To develop greater self acceptance and learn practical tools for dealing with triggering situations in everyday life? 

Join Dr Sam Bottrill and Ali Gunning for a tailored afternoon of yoga and mindfulness practice plus discussion and gong meditation. We run 8 week courses, professional trainings and workshops exploring the link between body image, eating issues and emotions. This workshop will incorporate recent theories and neuroscience research around self-acceptance, body awareness and eating difficulties with ancient yogic understanding of the body-mind-spirit connection. There will be practical exercises for you to take-home; integrating yoga and mindfulness into the everyday challenges around eating, particularly at this time of year. 
The day will begin with an introductory talk, followed by a tailored group yoga session, mindful tea drinking ceremony, soothing gong (sound) bath and group discussion. 
Clinical psychologist, yoga therapist and mindfulness lecturer Sam works in the NHS and privately, specialising in eating disorder recovery. Ali teaches yoga and yoga therapy for mental health and addiction recovery and is the Well Garden's resident gong practitioner. Together we share a passion for promoting healthy bodies, balanced minds and happy eating. 
Cost £40 per person
Booking/ queries: to Ali, piriamvadayogaetc@gmail.com/ 07855402837 

5th Dec 2015
Timings 2-6pm
At The Well Garden, Hackney Downs Studios, Amhurst Terrace, Hackney E82BT 

All yoga equipment, mats, blankets etc provided 

Yoga suitable all levels of experience - please inform us of specific health conditions in advance

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Renewed faith


Patanjali's sutras state that the spiritual aspirant needs 'provisional faith' as well as mindfulness and energy to step onto this path. What about those already on the path for many years, how can our faith continue to be strengthened? In cultivating our connection with our highest self on a daily basis, but also through seeing the emergence of the highest self in others.

I've just finished a month of teaching YTT in Rishikesh. I thank firstly my teacher Yogrishi Vishvektu for his faith in me, even at times when my own conviction falters. But also the 25 Akhanda teachers emerging fully cooked from the 'oven' (as he describes it) of an intensive month at Ananda Prakash ashram. Living, breathing and being 'yoga' together as a community is about much more than becoming a teacher of others, but building faith in our own divine nature.

And reaching out a hand to guide this process offers the same benefit. We see after a certain time (and effort) the transformational power of yoga in our wider lives as well as bodies and minds, but mindfulness is strengthened through seeing the new blossoming of Self in others. This year's group inspired me with their bravery, devotion and will to overcome whatever obstacles appeared. And to embrace not only the practise of yoga on the mat, but in every moment. I go home full of renewed energy to share this practise, on a physical level and as a path to divine living.

My meet and greet card on day one was 'embrace the negative as well as positive experiences' and this is where our faith is truly tested. I borrow a quotation from several students, via the words of Osho: 'I am the centre of the cyclone, so whatever happens around me makes no difference to me. It may be turmoil or it may be the beautiful sound of running water; I am just a witness to both, and the witnessing remains the same.'

When we have faith the right teachers arrive in our lives at the right time to awaken our witness. And from this place our fears - not being good/ smart/ beautiful/ whatever enough - are exposed to be transformed. I'm learning to thank these fears too! For showing me the strength of my faith! Faith does not mean a storm free journey, but does hold our hand and guide us back to the centre.

Love, congratulations and thanks to all. Hari OM. 





Saturday, 29 August 2015

Gong, gong and yet more gong @the well garden


It seems Hackney can't get enough of gong, so we've upped our offering at The Well Garden to Monday, Tuesday and Friday evening, plus a 'mini gong' for little un's and their parents every Friday at 11.15am. 

Whats it all about?

Grand gong master Don Conreaux coined the phrase 'holistic resonance'. The gong sound represents AUM, the universal sound of creation, and has been described by our students as beautiful, dark, angelic, primal, avante garde, industrial, watery, whale-like and much more. No experience is the same. 

With the widest spectrum of tones and overtones of any instrument we've come across, there is something for us all as the room is enveloped in sound and our relaxed bodies and minds absorb that vibration down to a cellular level. Put more simply, it sounds good and feels even better! 

We are energetic beings - our bodies, thoughts and actions vibrating within a universe of vibration. And sometimes the frenetic pace of life gets us a bit out of balance - disharmony leads to dis-ease. 

The gong is our pied piper to lead us to stillness in a noisy world. Here we can access self healing; re-set ourselves to face the week ahead; perhaps know ourselves a little better away from the distractions of who we have to be on a daily basis. 

In gong we are all equal, laying snugly on the floor, held in a space of love, drifting towards one-ness once again. 

See timetable here.


***

Your turn to play gong! And all night gong bath. 

This Autumn Equinox we have a special treat for those who wish to understand more abut the gong and pick up the mallets for themselves! 

On Sat 19th Sept gong master, author, musician and teacher Sheila Whittaker is hosting a one day intro workshop (10am-5pm) followed by an all night gong 'puja' (10pm Sat - 7am Sunday). A whole day and night of being gonged and gonging! 

Sheila brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in working with sound healing, which she shares with insight, lightness and compassion. Not to be missed if you've been enjoying our gongs baths so far - there are just a few paces remaining. 

Click here for full details or contact me with any queries (piriamvadayogaetc@gmail.com). 




Monday, 10 August 2015

Dancing between spontaneity & discipline

Several years ago a teacher commented on my practise that it was 'all very graceful and dancer-like' but  tightly-held and without spontaneity. At the time I was both pleased and confused; of course I want my asanas to look great and what did he expect me to do - crack out a hand-stand while he was cueing warrior? Actually this particular teacher would probably have delighted in that, so assured he was of his  craft. Now I kind of get it. When stuck-ness or approval seeking are traits of our life we quite probably replicate them on the mat. 

Now in the teachers shoes, I try to offer opportunities for students to honour their own bodies; to make an enquiry and move to its findings, even a simple spinal wiggle as opposed to uniformly cat-cowing with the rest. Like myself then, holding on for dear life in that twist, as students arrive on the mat they often don't know what the body needs or feel what it wants to do.  And no wonder - so many of our choices are guided by other people's opinions; we are assuaged with messages about how we should eat, look, walk, dress; and experience life from the head down. 

Yoga provides us with a structure in which to begin to re-connect with ourselves, our bodies, hearts and wisdom. And a space in which to dis-connect from some of this previous programming. Recently I've been observing myself on the mat for spontaneity - or lack of. Do I do the sequence that way because its safest/ most effective or am I starting to auto pilot here? Getting on the mat at the same time every day, regardless of how little you want to is immensely powerful - a new habit to replace other ideas that don't serve us so well. I state it clearly - it has changed my life. 

But what about when we believe everything will crumble without it? I looked at the four edges of my mat and briefly saw them as walls - were my ideas become rigid and my boundaries tense?  Several times I got the message recently: 'this girl needs to dance!' So with disciplined zeal I searched for where to go and get on with this task asap! Then as plans fell apart, it started to feel more like dancing was a way of being - just as yoga is not just our date with the mat. 

I decided to rebel against my own discipline and see if I still felt as balanced and clear. I slept til I woke naturally, sometimes at 5am as usual and sometimes at 9am after a late night teaching. I ate desert and stayed up late sometimes. I slacked off (ok, in the pitta sense of slacking off) for a week or so, felt better rested and increasingly liberated. Soon I was getting excited to move, shifting my sequences around in a circle - a dancer that arose freely from within. I got back on the roof of my boat and didn't care about the staring. And suddenly I was desiring a specific sadhana - back I've gone to the original meditation programme from my first kriya yoga retreat. Exploring it all again with new eyes, making new discoveries, savouring how far I've come and how much potential is still there. 

Tantra expresses beautifully this dance between discipline and spontaneity - the student must be seriously dedicated, yet also come to realise that the discipline is the means and not the goal. Practise is for the blocked body and messy mind - the true Self needs no practise. Sometimes we have to let go and just check we're still awake. My favourite poetess Lal ded said something like this 'for then we dance without support'. 

My point here is not to say 'oh just practise when you can be bothered'. No no no! But find ways to keep that practise fresh and alive; to get your feet on the grass; to always enquire within, even when you're doing just what the teacher has told you. Because following to the letter is different to following from the heart.