Monday, 30 March 2015


On the recent Rajasthan retreat we talked about banning the words SHOULD, MUST and CANT and this applies as much to teaching as to practising yoga. 

EXPECTATIONS. When we first get on the mat these'll likely be about our own bodies, not doing as we believe they should/ what our neighbour's can do; frustration as to why today's practise isn't as 'good' as yesterday's; wondering why we feel angry, agitated etc when we 'should be' zen personified like the serene teacher sitting in front of us...

Then, as teachers we continue to have, and maybe grow some new, expectations about ourselves. We will of course expect class to pan out just as we planned it and torment ourselves when we didn't stick to the painstakingly crafted plan (although it could that our students loved us for that spontaneous sequence which felt it had been just made for them!). To expect ourselves to be as funny/ popular/ experienced as the next teacher on the schedule. To know all the answers, otherwise be exposed as a yogi fraud! And maybe to feel like we should be perfectly at peace with ourselves (not not having these expectations) now that we've ticked the box of YTT. We are work in progress and old patterns may come up again in this new form. 

But perhaps also towards our students. Do we expect they should show a certain level of commitment, body awareness or behaviour off the mat? Might the fact we feel drained or disappointed by our students 'lack' on any of these points be more about the security of our teacher ego? Teaching is a wonderful practise in offering up the fruits of our actions, karma yoga in action. Krishna would say we just do our duty and leave the results to god; the role we play might not always match up with our expectations of who we are or how we are perceived, but may be what's necessary in the wider scheme of life. 

That's not to say we become push overs or lazy teachers who roll out the same class with minimal effort as 'they can't be bothered anyway'. Or stop encouraging, inspiring and challenging our groups. But find the balance of doing our best and offering it up. 

And of course students will have expectations of us. Oh yes! For us to make them as happy as their last class/ favourite teacher/ other style of yoga did; for us to behave flawlessly off the mat. We are a work in progress as are they, we will grow as teachers as they grow as practitioners. Can and should we communicate this - for example acknowledge that the 'serene' teacher that now sits in front of them is sometimes shaking inside? I don't think there is one right answer, except to have awareness of where this is coming from and speaking to - if we are looking to have an outlet for our personal stuff there are more suitable ears; if we are seeking approval, why? But if we can soften students expectations of themselves by sharing a little of our own vulnerability, we may all grow in the process. 

Continuing, or starting, to cultivate authenticity, non-attachment and discernment through our own sadhana will help us navigate this path and turn expectations into teachers themselves.m

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

One conscious bite at a time...

Many of you will have come across mindful eating on yoga retreats or mindfulness courses - probably based on the John Kabat-Zinn raisin exercise. It often reveals our deep emotional connections with food – from memories of mum's christmas cake to 'I wish the teacher would just shut up and let me eat it!' (depending on what the edible object is/ how we are feeling). But it can also be terrifying, baffling etc.

It is one thing to eat consciously with soothing guidance in a relaxed environment (as it is to breath beautifully into parasympathetic resonance on our yoga mats) but how do we apply these learnings on the wider scale, to benefiting our everyday lives?

In our recent 8 week course tailoring yoga towards recovery from disordered eating, we set a home practise: to take one mindful bite of each meal, or conscious sip of one drink, once per day. So I'm following it myself for a week. The task is to slowly explore with the senses: smelling, touching, watching, listening to and finally tasting. But not just like v dislike ('yep that piece of toast smells good' as we shovel it in); really observing how the smell fades and develops; feeling around the different textures, noticing the temperature; putting an ear to the crackling of muesli... and so on.

For most of us not every meal can be this slow and mindful. There are situations where we would feel extremely odd gazing intently at our dinner. Say dinner with our new work colleagues for example!

But can the scheduled practise seep into the day to day, so that every meal becomes a little bit more conscious? From the two extremes we can move towards balance and integration - this is what yoga is all about right?

On day one its more like my third sip of morning tea which is at all mindful. The first thing I notice, before even the smells, texture etc is berating myself for forgetting! High expectations and judgement can be a pattern itself (it probably already is a pattern in many areas - playing out on the plate or the yoga mat). The exercise isn't about being perfect – in this case perfectly mindful all the time, just a little more conscious.

Day two I choose my morning yoga snack, a couple of dates and nuts. I think about how sugary dates are as well as how amazing they are to squish and realise that I wake up looking forward to this sugar in the morning when its particularly cold on the boat. And that I don't judge myself for this, whereas in the past I would have felt bad about admitting to having sugar cravings. I feel pleased with myself for this step... then judge myself for my lack of equanimity!

Day three I start to notice my posture as I eat, it seems quite protective and cramped – I would never sit for yoga practise this way. I examine all the textures of my bircher muesli and banana, just as it is. I am also aware of how much easier it is for me to be mindful with cold foods/drinks than hot ones, which I cant bear to go cold – interesting!

Day four I am trying out dinner and I realise I'm thinking about an intelligent thing to write about the experience. I laugh at myself for being unconscious in a whole new way.

Day five, you may be getting bored now, but I am curious about how different meals or foods are more emotive and difficult. Sometimes we bolt our lunch because we just have to eat in a hurry or because the pace of our lives has us habitually rushing. And to judge ourselves for that can be counter productive. But at other times are we rushing as we subconsciously know that if we did slow down we would go through a less elaborate version of conscious eating – and realise that what we are eating isn't the best thing for our health right now?

Day six, I'm eating with family and thinking about how hard it is to be both attentive to conversation and keep my senses on the plate. Of course eating together can be joyful, as it is in this case, but there can also be lots of triggers and challenges to staying conscious with food, perhaps versus using food to escape or deal with am emotional situation.

Last day, dinner, I make a legendary raw salad of red cabbage, carrot, tahini, olive oil, sunflower seeds and goji berries. I realise that what I'm doing is shifting things around in my routine for the opportunity to eat opposed to fitting in eating/the practise when I can. I pause after shutting my laptop down before going to the kitchen. Switch the engine off and pause before serving up.

If you are interested in how yoga can help with disordered eating please contact us about the next 8 week course. Om shanti 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

chai & chat with...Tracy Karkut-Law Homeopathy

A friend recently chided me for writing so infrequently on my blog. Sometimes it is hard to find the right balance of 'I' and potentially useful information (perhaps other yogis would resonate with this!). I also recently realised how surrounded I am with inspiring people, an extended sangha that includes yogis and many other holistic practitioners. So I decided to let them do the talking about what they do, where, how etc. 

First up is Tracy Karkut-Law, super-homeopath, DJ, nature lover and mum of 2 from Bethnal Green...Tracy has been helping me with a cold aching in my upper back so I can attest to her nurturing approach. 

What got you into Homeopathy and how long have you been practising?

I first tried homeopathy when a friend suggested it for my recurring sinus infections, as an alternative to my frequent antibiotics. I had a really positive response to my first prescription and never looked back!

I’ve been qualified for almost eight years, but feel I have been practicing a lot longer than that as I was giving remedies to friends and family even before I started my training. 

What's involved and what are the benefits?

Homeopathy is a holistic system of medicine that can be used to resolve all types of acute and chronic health issues. A homeopathy appointment is surprisingly detailed, and includes personal and family medical history, as well as general information such as whether you are warm or chilly, and what types of food you prefer. 

Most people find that after a first appointment, they start to feel more well in themselves, they are sleeping better and have more positive energy. In addition they will notice a general improvement in their symptoms. Sometimes, and not always at the beginning of treatment, there can be a short-term worsening of symptoms as part of the natural healing process. Sometimes old symptoms may  reappear in order to be healed. Overall, homeopathy helps us to be stronger and more resilient. There are excellent benefits from ‘preventative’ or ‘maintenance’ treatment as well as treatment for actual illness.  

What are some of the common conditions you treat?

I frequently treat illness related to allergies. I have developed a Homeopathic Hayfever Prevention programme that I’ve been using for many years, that is very popular as it works well. Two appointments during the winter and one during the summer are usually all that are needed. I use a combination of desensitisation strategies along with liver support and constitutional treatment.

I work with issues around immunity, especially in cases of recurring infections - sinus, chest, throat, glandular issues, urine infections all respond beautifully to homeopathy. I include antibiotic detoxification as part of the treatment, which I find is very helpful.

….And some of the more unusual/ unexpected ones? 

To be honest, I never know what I will be treating from one day to the next. Everyone is welcome! This last year I’ve worked with many long-term chronic illnesses such as HIV+ and Parkinson’s, both with good results.

What role does intention have to play in the treatment?

I like to explain my strategies and reasoning behind remedies. I also talk about the remedy itself - what it is made from and why it is appropriate. I strive for a balance between being non-judgmental but also honest and open. I feel that this is the only authentic way to practise.

How has homeopathy, or perhaps the acceptance of homeopathy evolved since you began practising?

Homeopathy is better known nowadays, partly due to the influence of the internet. There are many sceptics and detractors out there, however, so as professionals, we need to maintain a very clear and positive online presence. 

Homeopathy has well-established and traditional philosophy and principles that have served us well for almost 200 years. However, we have additional tools and strategies in our tool-kit that are relatively recent, but well proved and effective. These include ‘sarcodes’ (remedies made from healthy organs and tissues) used to stimulate repair and normal function of different body parts and organs that are not working well. Another example is ‘tautopathy’ (remedies made from a substance that may have caused harm, such as a vaccination) used to detox where certain substances are seen as ‘causes’.

What are the best preventative 'medicines' for modern living?

The best preventative medicines for modern living are, in my opinion, sleep and activity. We live lives that are too full, and too sedentary on too little sleep. 

Which plant best represents you and why? 

The plant that represents me best is perhaps the geranium. Long-lasting, energising and yet relaxing. :)

Who/ what have been your most important teachers? 

My most important teachers? This is such a great question! I have learned so much from many homeopaths - I can’t choose between my tutors at homeopathy college. Gordon Sambidge, Marcus Fernandez, Susi Deller, Hilery Dorrian, Robert Bridge, Tony Hurley, Colin Griffiths, Mike Bridger and Tricia Allen. I have to add Caroline Gaskin, a tutor from a different college. My first two homeopaths, Angelika Koch and Lesley Murphy. I learned so much from Miranda Castro’s Homeopathy for Mother and Baby book. Robin Murphy and Ian Watson have written many words of wisdom for homeopaths that I have read and reread many times over.

How do you stay balanced while living in London?!

Balance is never easy, but I this is what I aim for. 

Be outside - parks and canals are a great way to be in nature.
If you can manage it - have a dog or a cat. 
Be active - walk, cycle everywhere in a 3 mile radius.
Keep one day (for me it is Sunday) free to relax.

Give us 5 top tips for holistic living in London

Shop local, and go to the amazing markets - Globe Town, Broadway, Columbia Road, Brick Lane, Spitalfields.
Buy locally baked bread - Pavilion and E5 are my favourites.
Take classes - dance, yoga, pilates, anything! There is so much on offer. Try new things until you find something you love.
Find a therapy that resonates and use it regularly - massage, acupuncture, homeopathy or something else.
Look for opportunities to be creative. Take photos, join a choir, or anything that inspires you. 

As a practitioner, how do you balance our increasing reliance technology with the need to connect with nature? 

Technology is a wonderful thing but it can also be a massive time-suck. This is what works for me:

I try to do most things from my phone - on the go, and keep it brief. 
I use a notebook and a diary. If I write something I remember it better.
I sit down with a laptop two or three times a week to take care of longer tasks. 
I take a couple of whole days per month to work on bigger projects.
I unsubscribe ruthlessly from emails.
I aim for my inbox to be zero but use folders to file things I need to action.
Evernote is a great place to capture ideas and anything I might want to work on, but keeps it out of my inbox.
I get out in nature every day, once or twice. Walking and taking long-cuts through the park are great.
I try to see a sunset or a sunrise at least once a week.
I always have a vase of flowers in my home.
I have a dog and a cat. They are wonderful companions and my dog is a great excuse to get outside.
Go to bed early and wake earlier for a walk or a run.

Tracy practises at the well garden and the plane tree in hackney. Schedule/ find out more here

More about homeopathy 

Homeopathy is a gentle, effective and non-toxic form of medicine that has been in use for over 200 years. The basic homeopathic principle of 'like cures like' was established by Hippocrates 2,500 years ago, but homeopathy as we know it today, was developed by a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann. He began his career as a doctor, but gave up his practice because he felt that his medicines and their side effects were doing more harm than good. He went on to experiment with giving reduced doses of potentially toxic medicine, and discovered that minute dilutions of a substance would cure his patients of the symptoms that a larger dose would cause.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Rajasthan... coming up

Looking back at some old India photos with my travel companion Sarah, over curry of course, was a timely reminder of how amazing and unique Rajasthan is! 

Here are a few reasons to love it: wonderful local arts, crafts and costume (very distinct to the rest of India); vibrant markets; pink, blue and white cities rising out of the desert; majestic palaces floating on lakes, roaming around grand old forts and gazing across the desert from atop a camel! 

I'll never forget my experience of camel safari with my two cousins; brand new to India I loved to watch the awe on their faces, remembering how it felt myself to step of the plane and be immersed in colours, smells, sunshine, cars beeping and all the wonderful madness of Northern India. 

Of cooking lessons and hanging out in cafes in Pushkar. And the contrast of fresh air, green space and ornate Jain temples as we headed up into the hill station of Mount Abu. 

I'm hosting an affordable and magical retreat with yoga on a shoestring at Castle Bijapur this March. The details are here on my retreats page - a few pics below to whet your appetite! 

Om shanti 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Next 8 week course - yoga for disordered eating - STARTS 27TH JAN (AMENDED DATE)

New year is full of pressure to make food or body related resolutions: after the encouragement from family, supermarkets, cooking programmes etc to indulge as much as we humanly can, suddenly gyms and magazines are shouting at us to lose the christmas pounds, the beach body being just a few issues around the corner; and, of course, there are celebs everywhere showing us how easily it can be done (easy with the help of an airbrush or 5). 

We can't avoid the pressures we face around food and body image. But we can strengthen our own emotional resilience to the impressions they leave on our minds. And deepen our connection with what the body actually needs or what the bodies signals might be telling us about our deeper emotional needs. Because its not just about the food. One of the discoveries of modern science is that people with stronger 'interoception' (awareness of body sensations) are more able to understand their minds. 'Well obviously' the yogis would have said - the body and mind are mere expressions of the same thing and cannot be squashed into separate boxes. 

Eating disorders affect our body, our mind and our self therefore many people find that just talking is not enough or perhaps exercise helps a little but there is something more... As an integral body mind self practise, more and more of us are finding that yoga can really help in recovery from an eating disorder.

Healthy body, balanced mind, happy eating starts 27th Jan
An 8 week yoga program designed for those who wish to develop a healthier relationship between their self, body and eating. 

Who’s this course for?

Perhaps you are currently experiencing an eating disorder, perhaps you have had issues in the past, or perhaps you just recognise that your eating patterns vary with your emotions, and you wish to understand this better…

What does it entail?

The course incorporates body-mind-self practises - bringing together ancient yogic wisdom, mindfulness and modern scientific research. Each session includes movement, breath-work, guided relaxation, meditation and chanting; followed by discussion and supported by home practise materials.

In this 8 week course you will:

- Explore the relationship between body, mind and food
- Develop mindfulness of the body, its sensations and needs
- Better understand your patterns of behaviour
- Begin to develop a kinder relationship with your body and self
- Learn yoga techniques that you can apply in everyday life to navigate stressful situations
- Use your yoga practice to support your ongoing wellbeing, e.g. support digestion and calm nervous system
- Balance and boost your energy levels
- Have fun and find support with likeminded people experiencing similar challenges!

Course schedule:

Starts Tues 27th Jan 2015
Runs weekly every Tuesday 7.15-9pm
Final week 17th March


Betty Brunker Hall
Gambier House
Mora Street
Angel/ Old Street tubes, Shoreditch High St/ Hoxton O'ground

How to book:

Pre booking only
Please contact Ali on 07855402837 or email
£100 (concessions available)
Mats and all equipment are provided. Beginners welcome.

The course leaders:

Dr Sam Bottrill is a qualified yoga teacher (Yoga Alliance accredited), Yoga Therapist for Mental Health and Senior Clinical Psychologist specialising in Eating Disorders at the Maudsley Hospital. She lectures and supervises on the Minded Institute professional training and runs Yoga Therapy for the Mind 8-week courses in North and Central London.

Piriamvada (Ali) is an advanced Akhanda yoga teacher, teacher trainer and yogic lifestyle coach who applies ancient yogic wisdom and techniques to the issues of modern living.

Each brings personal experience of yoga as a basis for recovery.

Inspired by and affiliated with Minded Yoga:

Minded Yoga Therapy is inspired by yoga, mindfulness, neuroscientific understanding, and psychotherapeutic principles to effectively blend ancient mind-body practices with modern scientific insight.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Curling within - and a whole day of yogic-loveliness!

Are you feeling the urge to get cosy and curl inwards like nature? Yep, me too, along with a mug of vegan cocoa! This week I've been embracing that feeling. It doesn't mean we don't 'do yoga', but perhaps we feel drawn to altering our practise slightly at this time of year?

We can both honour the need to go within and the pull to get so tamasic we don't make it onto our mats. Chanting and meditation are perfect ways to combine getting under a blanket with self inquiry!

On Sunday Tim and I host our first kirtan at The Well Garden. We'll be celebrating both the masculine and feminine aspects of the divine play of life and our nature, with a mix of Shiva and Shakti chants; which are guided and require no singing expertise (I am no Deva Premal - this practise is about connecting rather than performing)!

Plus, beforehand, local teacher Hui is running a gorgeous workshop in the same space - details below - contact her asap if you wish to join as there are just a few spaces left.

And I'll hope to see you there for a mug of that cocoa and homemade vegan shortbread. Om namah shivaya : ) 

Extended Sunday Practices with Hui

14th December 2014  1:30pm - 4:30pm
11th January 2015     10am - 1pm

These 3 hour Yoga sessions will allow for an in depth look at the range of practices included within the Yoga spectrum, extending beyond just the physical Asana practices:
  • Mantra
  • Asanas (physical postures)
  • Pranayama (working with energy using the breath)
  • Meditation 
  • Yoga Nidra (guided deep relaxation / visualisation)

Cost:  £25 /  £20 if booking more than one session
Venue: The Well Garden, 17 Amhurst Terrace London E8 2BT.

Contact: hui ng

Kirtan with Ali and Tim

Sunday 14th Dec 5-6pm 
Hosted by myself and local musician Tim Stone* we will share a mix of traditional shiva and shakti mantras and acoustic guitar, campfire style. Hot spiced cacao and vegan shortbread on arrival.

The ancient Bhakti practise of Kirtan involves repeated singing of names of the divine to simple, sweet melodies...Don't worry this is done as a group and guided, in 'call and response style'. Kirtan is about vibration rather than voice quality - meditation rather than performance! Supported by the group energy we set side the monkey mind and call out to pure consciousness to reconnect us with its qualities of peace and oneness. Come with an open mind and leave with a happy heart!
*Tim has been playing and making music for too many decades to mention, teaching guitar, writing music for film and the latest of his albums is an atmospheric guitar-led journey through Indian chant. 

£10 pp, come with a friend and pay £8 each 
Open to all
Includes refreshments

Venue: The Well Garden, 17 Amhurst Terrace London E8 2BT.

Contact: Ali 07855402837

Friday, 28 November 2014

gong gone weekly!

Exciting times: the monthly gong meditation is going weekly. We have a new home at The Well Garden, in Hackney Downs Studios, every Friday from 5th Dec, which happens to be the next shiny bright full moon to grace London's skyline. 

So what's the gong experience all about? 

There is nothing to do...except undo with gong. You lie in a snuggly shavasana for an hour enjoying sound "bath" (literally like bathing in an ocean of gong, singing bowls and natural sounds).  

Sometimes sounding like a UFO crashing into the core of the earth; at times industrial; other sounds coming as if from the depth of the ocean, the gong leads us like an AUM-ing pied piper into states of healing and bliss that our everyday rational mind clouds. Many people who 'can't do meditation' get a little window into its world. 

It can be a powerful cleansing experience, washing away physical, energetic and mental stuck-ness. 

I really don't want to say more... expect come and experience it, without any expectations, but maybe a little bit of background is useful. 

The beauty of the gong sound is one thing (gong legend Don Conreaux believes it takes less than a minute to hook ANY listener), but the vibration does the inner work - and for long after the mallets are hung up - shaking through the spaces and watery contents of our body. The brain is also re-patterned - its left side gives up, the right blooms; alpha waves slow and harmonise to states akin to deep sleep or trance. Scientists are even showing the effect of sound work on DNA structure. The possibilities are endless with sound, it seems like we are rediscovering the power of vibration which is so primordial and so essential to our daily sensory lives. 

My first experience of gong was with a sound healer friend and it blew my mind, a few months later he had me playing and the collecting of these mysterious instruments began. Gong originated in Persia over 3500 years ago and has been used in Tibet and China for ceremony and healing for centuries. Like a singing bowl they are crafted from a special alloy of metals - the modern day gong meditation phenomena is largely due to master cymbal maker Paiste who cottoned onto the healing effects of gong and started making ranges based on the planets and elements, plus the orchestral sounding symphonics. 

It can be a mystical and magical experience playing or receiving gong. Or it can bring you a few moments peace in a stressful time. No one experience is better or more special than anothers'. No matter how we look on the outside or feel inside, gong is a leveller - eyes closed, all laying on our backs there is no comparison or competition (which can creep up in even the most practised yogi right?). 

Gong affects us on many levels depending what we need at the time. It is the gong that is the energy channel rather than the player, a fact confirmed by gong teacher and author Sheila Whitaker to me on a training weekend (2 incredible days of either gonging or being gonged). We step aside from ego and it's notions of technique and just play what's needed for the group energy presenting itself. Gong is perhaps the most powerful instrument for sound work as it offers so many different overtones that a broad range people's needs can be accessed in one session. 

Speaking to my own experience, gong connects me to my intuition. It also connects me to simplicity and love, where sometimes I can get carried away with this philosophy and that, to endless wondering and watching my self (this is obviously key but sometimes we just need to say less and hug more people). It makes me feel grounded and expanded all at once, but has also helped me release physical blocks. And sometimes we need tangible proof. It's not like teacher or healer emerges from the gong to provide the answers, simply that following it's merry journey strips back my layers, thoughts and defences so much that I can experience that all are within. 

Gong meditation 
Every Friday 7.30pm
£10 in advance by paypal or BACS (email me for details)/ £12 on the night
The Well Garden 

The Village Green 
Hackney Downs Studios 
17 Amhurst Terrace 

From the beaches of southern portugal, back to hackney this full moon. OM : )