Monday, 27 October 2014

Santosha and 4 day professional course for ED

As you know I've been working on a programme for yoga and disordered eating. Returning home from India today I was thinking about the fact that in the days of patanjali and the ancient rishis eating disorders would not have existed as one of the afflicted states of mind. Food was probably pretty scarce and in India, even largely today, food is seen as a celebration of life with daily offerings, prasad and feasting making it part of religious and spiritual Life. Ok the Diwali sweets are not exactly the healthiest, but they are consumed in a social and sparing way. 

Coming to India was a big turning point for me in realising it was ok to admit to enjoying food, that it didn't mean I was greedy to tuck into a good old plateful; delighting in the sensory experience of a thali and actually laughing at my Imperfect self dribbling pani puri filling down my chin. I am very lucky to come here and be able to afford to eat well while others do not, and that is a strong reminder to be grateful, with perspective. 

Anyway I wanted to share some of the ways we (dr Sam Bottril and I) have been pairing up patanjalis ancient yogic thinking (the yamas and niyamas) with the modern issue of eating behaviour, through 8 week courses, each week following a theme with home practise tips and discussions...

I'll be supporting Sam and the Minded Institute on a 4 day professional training coming up end nov - this is for anyone interested in incorporating yoga into their therapeutic work with disordered eating or yoga teachers looking to expand their knowledge of the evidence, research, techniques etc out there. Details here 

Santosha – Contentment  

"From contentment comes supreme joy' rishi patanjali 

Each one of us sees life differently, through our own 'veil' of experience and conditioning. The struggle to meet expectations keeps us unhappy; looking to change ourselves, looking for new experiences that will make everything better. Expectations come from both within and outside but often we are the only ones seeking perfection in ourselves. Either way, we are the only one who is responsible for striving toward these expectations. When we step onto the mat we might be full of expectations – to achieve the 'perfect' back-bend today, to move faster than our neighbour through that last sun salutation, for the teacher to gives us the exact class that we crave, never mind the needs of the lesser able students around us.

We may have these same expectations in front of the mirror. Every day our body is different. In a world of homogenised food, harsh media criticism and monotonous jobs this is not what we signed up for. But we do not criticize the moon for its cycle – we watch with fascination at its changing shape and often celebrate its fullness and leave it to do its natural thing for the remaining 27 days. In a world which is constantly evolving why do we, part of nature, expect to freeze ourselves in youth, thin-ness or super-fitness?

Back on the yoga mat... there will be some practices you can do with ease and others that will be a challenge. As in life, we gravitate to those in which we look good or come with feelings of pleasure. Often the postures which make us feel challenged, angry or damned ungainly are the ones we need to be doing! Each obstacle is a teacher. Your neighbour will be going through a whole different set of attachments and aversions. Where would be the incentive to practice if it was all easy? Yes yoga allows us to change the way we look and feel but at the same time it alters our perception of what this should be. I often like to start my practice by banning the very word 'should' and noticing each time a thought begins with it.

Sometimes we get a little peek beyond the veils, that who we are is just fine. The longer or deeply we practice the more often we get a glimpse of santosha. I remember in India looking down at my feet one day and seeing them as just perfect – I mean really loving my feet. My nail polish was chipped, my toes were sandy and just as stringy as ever but I loved them just as they were in that moment. All I'd been doing was my daily practice with dedication: when you let it, supreme joy arises from contentment.

Contentment doesn't mean being ecstatically happy all the time - ups and downs are part of who we are. But as Patanjali outlines, it is the battle against how things really are that keeps us from contentment. Practicing teaches us to observe everything - sadness, happiness, good and bad times...and through all of these to stay with our true self.

If we cannot possibly be content until we look just like the yogi(ni) next to us, we are missing the magical changes that are occurring moment to moment, breath to breath. Even if we achieve his/ her look there will be another goal post to strive for. It is changing the perception (not obtaining a new yoga style/ body/ bag/ relationship/ title) that is transformational.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference”
Serenity prayer. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Healthy body, balanced mind, happy eating starts 9th Sept

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...

In this 8 week course you will:

- Explore the relationship between body, mind and food
- Better understand yourself and 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, eg digestion and breathing
- Balance and boost your energy levels
- Have fun and find support with likeminded people experiencing similar challenges!

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.

How to book:

Please contact Ali on 07855402837 or email
See our website

This is a progressive course, running for 8 weeks with a one week break, finishing 4th Nov. Block booking is required, drop in not available.

£80 (concessions available)
Mats and all equipment are provided. Beginners welcome.

Inspired 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. See their website

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

River bank news...find a balance

In summer living on the canal really comes into its own: watching daily the changes in the under-waterscape, the crazy lettuce-like weeds and frisky dragonflies; picking brambles and, of course, being outdoors every second possible (including teaching yoga!). Above the waterline Hackney Wick and Bow have lately come alive with cafes, arts and new flats.

Through towpath connections I stumbled upon The Riverbank Project, a warehouse space with a permaculture garden, overlooking the Olympics near Old Ford Lock. This diverse space will be used for shoots and launches but on Mondays it dedicates itself to well-being, through a series of yoga classes and workshops called 'Find a balance'. So as well as practising Akhanda with me each week you can learn how to juice for better health, use martial arts for meditation, how to create with keffir and kombucha... and more. Yoga & workshops are just £17 for the introductory month!

We start on 28th July with a free taster yoga class (pre booking only) then on 4th Aug its a whole evening of yoga and gong.

Here's the info on the rest - pre booking essential here

Monday, 21 July 2014

And...Exhale...the festival - Aug 2014

This is going to be so much fun...and affordable - only 300 tickets available so book now. I'll be there with the gongs, plus teaching kundalini and guiding morning meditation. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

First steps into 8 week beginners course

oasis leisure centre (and me) are offering an exciting new 8 week yoga programme open to members and newcomers to the centre. 

Suitable for yoga newcomers who wish to learn the fundamentals in detail, in a small group setting, with one to one attention. 

You will learn various asanas (postures) which correct posture, strengthen the body and increase flexibility. We will focus on correct breathing, linking breath with movement for a lighter and flowing practise and how breathing can boost and balance our energy levels. There will be techniques to still the mind and reduce the impact of stress and discussion on incorporating the benefits of yoga into your everyday life. 

Starts Monday 2nd June
At oasis, endell st covent garden
6.15-7.15pm weekly 
Pre-booking is essential and must be done through the centre

Coming soon...'next steps' course for intermediate level!

Meditate for a better posture

Much is made of the benefits of meditation in terms of improved brain functions like concentration and memory and for achieving positive emotional states, for example being more compassionate and empathetic. Generally it makes us more easy to be and be around.

In the traditional 8 limbs of yoga, physical postures (asana) come third along the path, as opposed to meditation (dhyana)'s second to last spot. It was impossible to get anywhere beyond the mind without stability in the correct sitting position – so asana was the essential ground for meditation: “stirum sukham asanam”.

Because we still need healthy bodies to function (and continue to meditate) in a world where we are exposed to stresses and toxins, most of us don't then forget about asana. But have you considered that meditation can also improve your asana practise?

As we cleverly create gadgets and apps that can tell us everything we need to know about our environment and health, maybe we are blunting our own intuitive knowing. Thousands of years ago, through meditation, the sages understood everything in the universe, their trained minds like scientific instruments. In the Yog Sutras (which map out the 8-fold path or Raja Yoga) Patanjali states that by meditating on the naval one gains complete knowledge of one's constitution. This was a big light bulb moment for me, first getting my head around the aphorisms. 

We can apply a little of their technique and learn to understand the body, our own little microcosm. Then making choices in class, of postures or variations, becomes personal and powerful.

When we can develop visualisation power on an inspiring image we can likewise visualise how the body needs to move to achieve a pose – then, when it comes to trying, already have muscle memory and confidence. So we might inspire ourselves into positions which had seemed impossible, with a whole lot less effort.

Meditation, like that first headstand, changes our perspective. It gradually brings equanimity; a balanced view of life around us and of ourselves, an ability to be with our self in all situations. I have definitely come to strive less on the mat, learning to appreciate when I can effortlessly hold Natarajasana and that nothing changes on the days when I wobble. Making it matter less leaves me free to actually smile and enjoy.

Our sense of ego becomes less, our sense of self expanded. Toppling over in headstand amid our favourite class can be placed into context and perhaps even become the basis for some inner inquiry. What is compassion and empathy if only applied to others and not our own bodies?

Meditation purifies the fluctuations of the mind, the subconscious, bringing to light the grooves which hold us to acting a certain way - making certain choices which the body plays out. It is often said that yoga is a process of undoing: for every knot in the body there is a knot in the mind. Understanding those knots rather than squeezing, pulling and cursing them makes asana about love not war in the ground of the body.

Of course the ability to still the mind probably means that wobbling and toppling happen less. 'Listen to your body, listen to your breath' us yoga teachers are always matter how amazing a multi-tasker we are, if we are listing to our thoughts we are definitely not listening to our body! 

We all know the feeling of beautifully balancing on one leg being interrupted by the mind which tells us we can't, should do better or simply that we have a to do list the size of our mat to accomplish by 5pm. While asana opens space in the body, meditation gives us space amongst the flow and tangle of thoughts. And through applying it's techniques, asana can itself become meditative.

Unaware, our thoughts can take us into cycles of negativity, ill health and injury. From cultivating and focusing the light of awareness we can work with intention to create positive patterns which resonate through the body. What better opportunity to believe in and achieve a healthier body than on the yoga mat where we have time just to explore and a whole tool box of techniques for nourishing certain tissues, joints, glands and organs along the way? OM Shanti, shanti, shanti. 

We have a new guided meditation group at stretch every Sunday morning 9-9.45am (free to members/ £7 drop in).

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Happiness in the mountains - India part 3

3 hours into the bus ride from pondy, passengers are craning pothole-jolted necks for a glimpse of the holy Arunachala - it is said you can feel this mountain before you see her.

India is a place where towns are famed for, or defined by spiritual leaders; monumental human beings as much as ones made of stone and earth. Thiruvanamali is synonymous with the late Bhagavan Sri ramana mahrishi (1879-1950)see He never aligned to one particular philosophy or label but Advocated a path of jnana and Bhakti (no surya namaskar here); of knowledge and going beyond knowledge, wisdom; the practises of satsanga, meditation and self enquiry.

'Thiru' is also a shiva town. Legend has it that brahma and Vishnu were arguing over who was the more superior deity, so shiva turned himself into an endless column of fire and challenged them to reach its source or beginning. Conceding that shiva was in fact the supreme of the supreme trinity, the other gods bowed and shiva turned fire into stone, creating arunachala, an imposing reminder in matter of the underlying divinity of all creation.

Think of something in India and it appears it seems it appears instantly: a Kung fu master/ karma yogi tour guide (I am so sorry not to have his name having lost the card) runs after us in the vast arunachalaswara temple to offer a speed satsanga, shiva he explains is 'CEO of the universe, all others are the executives'.

Here and in the north of India worship of 'shiva' does not only mean the trident toting destroyer (although he, king of yogis and renunciation is obviously the coolest) rather than another god or goddess but the underlying supreme consciousness, or shivam, which can be both in form and formless. All gods are in effect 
representations of whatever you call 'that'. 

The highlight of a stay in Thiru is giripradakshina, the circumambulation of arunachala, 14km on the outer path, mostly main road passing through a few villages and marked by 8 shivalingams, providing a protective, sacred compass. The way is peppered with temples, shrines, trees flapping with wish bags, hundreds of saffron clad sadhus, playful monkeys and friendly stray dogs.

Tradition was set by Bhagavan who walked in the early morning, slowly and bare foot, so I'm following his lead, starting shoe-less before sunrise and finishing before the midday heat kicks in. The walk celebrates the glory of arunachala, symbol of shiva himself and instills in the devotee a deeper connection with the divine within. To walk with reverence by doing japa or devotional singing keeps this as a moving meditation. In case the mind is wandering to the next chai or idly stop, all along the way loudspeakers loop a slow chant of 'aum namah shivaya'. Like a good yoga practise there is a challenge for the ego, for the body and for the mind.

Compared to the hectic tooting and heat of the outer path, the inner path of arunachala is peace and silence itself. Less to see and more to absorb - as you wander up and up guided by om painted rocks and handy arrows, you can visit the various caves where ramana spent most of his years in thiruvanamali, before the building of the current ashram. Racing against sunset to reach the top (in flip flops, no torch) everything else seems a world away.

It is amazing that a man who spent most of his days in silence is so well known, but when words are less used it seems their energy is stronger. The more time I spent in mauna on this trip the more I notice how words are often used to please others, but actually only appease our own ego, uncomfortable in silence; how saying thank you ten times is about our obsession with being seen to be behaving well and that if you actually smile from the heart and bow with reverence all these word are totally unnecessary.

The middle site, virupaksha cave, shaped like an om, was crafted by Ramana himself; he spent 17 years here mainly in Silence while a throng of devotees trecked for satsanga. The cave is alive with the buzz of the pranava and like much of the ashram property there is no need for technique here, just to sit and wait for peace, wisdom and truth to awaken within.

Everywhere at the ashram the spirit of Sri ramana is very much alive, in the atmosphere of the meditation room where he spent his last days, in devotees flocking to circle his samadhi (shrine), in the Seva of feeding 200 sadhus and local homeless every day. In the background peacocks are shrilling while each morning the young Brahmins lead Vedic chanting and puja. Don't miss the singing of arunachala mantras in the evening by ashramites. There are not really words to describe it here, simple and joyful without any drama, I just feel happy. And that is more than enough. 

Ramana never touted for followers or fame, never creating a lineage. Not once are we even asked to honour the donation system to stay in the beautiful guest house facilities, to use the library (which is a treasure chest of ancient and rare books not to be missed by us yoga geeks), or to eat 3 deliciously simple sattvic meals per day, served on hand stitched leaf plates.  It is as if silence is still the more powerful messenger here, trusting that those who can support the continuation of Sriramanas spirit will, and giving all the freedom to feel and taste for ourselves the essence of the teachings.

So that was Thiru - as is my usual trick we arrived at the end of season, just missing maha shivarathri, falling between the celebrations of full moon, when a million devotees take giripradakshina and the new moon shakti puja. Still, if this is arunachala off peak, I'm sold.

As towns are defined by people, so are our travels through them: eshwan owns the travel company who whisked us from Thiru to bangalore tonight. As the bus was running late he called personally to tell us not to leave the ashram just yet, then he met us at the crossroads and welcomed us to wait in his family home at 3am due to another delay. At the start of each trip this kind of kindness always comes as a surprise and by the end I realise, hey this is the way it should be: to treat all as equal is easy when you believe all are one, to trust before doubting. 

Goa and teaching calls - om namah shivaya.