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 Www.sriramanaashram.org. 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.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Yoga therapy?

Isn't all yoga therapy? Several of my friends and students asked me before leaving for Kerala... I have to agree: in my own experience yoga has been a constant support in the toughest times,  transformed my behaviour patterns and removed much negativity - all from the inside. And at the same time, my body is at its healthiest on the outside. So why come all the way to India for training? 

Our guru Saji, founder of Vashista yoga research foundation, has a wealth of experience practising yoga therapy at the likes of SVYASA university, another vivekenanda inspired project which has pioneered programmes for the likes of asthma and diabetes and continues to produce credible research (which we teachers can use to convince the sceptics of the efficacy of yoga interventions). 

The foundation of Saji's teaching is the pancha Koshas - the 5 interrelated layers of our being, according to the upanishadic wisdom. What we do on a physical level affects the mind and vice versa. In fact yoga states that 90% of disease is psychosomatic. This approach seems to be best understood in a land where the goddess of knowledge (Gayatri) has 5 faces and many people still turn to nature before medicine for healing. 

The annamaya kosha is our outermost layer, created from the 5 elements in accordance with our karma and shaped by the food we eat.
Diet then is of supreme importance in balancing the body, and while the general yogic diet (fresh, seasonal, varied, vegetarian - high in prana, low in toxins) can suit pretty much all bodies (if not tastes, at first!), Ayurveda has a lot to teach us about the finer points of eating in line with our dosha (ie constitution - not to be confused with the lovely South Indian dosa).

As food can heal us, it can slowly poison us and yoga offers a series of techniques to remove the traces of a less healthy past. No YTT course in India would be complete without the anticipation of Shatkarma day. I've already written about neti and Shankaprakshalana and this time the stand out kriya for me was Vastra dhauti, the swallowing of 1m of fine cloth in order to remove mucous and toxins from the oesophagus and stomach.

The experience reinforced how much our heads rule our bodies. Saji soothingly tells me to "enjoy, enjoy" as I swallow down 1/2 a metre and watch all sorts of emotions coming out of the pit of my stomach - anger, competitiveness...so healing from the inside out and the outside in, that is the basis of yoga therapy. 

Staying in India brings us back to simplicity, which is a great lesson for any yogi - asanas that might be considered easy or beginner level in our studios back home can provide profound relief to those in need. And I am appreciating all the more the health of my own body to be able to twist and turn... and my teachers for reminding me that it need not be the ego that moves it. 

Sometimes asana is not enough, sometimes too much asana is the problem! Pranayama holds a special place in healing; the Pranamaya kosha being the link, often damaged or unconscious, between body and mind. Even if we cannot move we can breathe ourselves into a state of better health. Learning to breath correctly is the starting point and pranayama is a step further - not just controlling the breath but guiding and expanding the flow of the 5 pranas, the vital life force within the breath. 

According to Patanjali "yogas chitta vritti nirodah" - yoga is controlling the fluctuations of the mind.  To heal we need to purify the mind stuff and, to live in fullness, identify less with the thoughts that it is composed of. Yoga defines stress as "speed of mind" and deals with its effects as well as the very perception of stress: we can't avoid life but we can choose how to act and think in each situation (whether at work, home or mid-kriya). 

The thoughts are the realm of the mental body, manomaya kosha and 
this layer is where much of the trouble begins, often unnoticed for years. Stress has a cumulative effect on the body and we can go on coping, and thinking we are coping, for years until the organs and immunity collapse under its load. And even then we can convince ourselves that patching things up will do. 

Modern western science is now reflecting the view that working with the mind - through meditation - into the roots of disease is the most effective way to heal many conditions.

Again from the Yog sutras: "if you feel that you are bound you are bound, if you feel that you are liberated you are liberated". If I believe I am ill I will become more ill. Or if I can find positivity and be identified with my bliss body as opposed to my body of suffering, I can live life with acceptance and fullness. This of course is easier said than done; yoga therapy works with resolve and affirmations.

Yoga has many streams and sometimes we need to turn to Bhakti (devotion) jnana (knowledge) or karma (selfless service) as much as the more familiar yogas of mind and body. This is another big learning we can take away from India - everywhere these principles spill over into every day life.

A cluttered and over-active mental body clouds our wisdom (vijnanamaya kosha) and bliss (ananadamaya kosha). In whatever form, yoga reminds us that we are the microcosm of the macrocosm and that separation is where the problems start. Applied as therapy we weave together a unique programme for each individual expression of the one. 

So yes all yoga is therapy, even before we realise we need it - not only easing the speed of mind but building immunity, bringing circulation of blood and prana, for keeping joints in motion, for digesting our thoughts and food. Strengthening all the bodies against stress and externally caused disease (the remaining 10%). So keep going to class everyone!...

In the past 4 weeks we delved (lonnng days) into yoga for conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, anxiety and depression, back pain cancer and menstrual disorders; the ancient science of yoga being applied to diseases which are very much symptomatic of the modern age and the effects of our increasing pace. Back in patanjalis day many of these conditions would not have been known, but in today's world, yoga applied in a holistic way can bring relief and, in some cases, cure.

Many conditions, so many techniques - and here is the importance of a teacher. Saji sets the perfect example to us - without the context of compassion, unconditional love and faith, techniques are just that, techniques. 

And as teachers, knowledge is a wonderful thing, but without our own sadhana, tapping into the universal source of energy, it lacks power. Yoga is to experience first hand. After a month of teaching or being guinea pig for other students, I can attest to the power of mind sound resonance, pranic energisation and Tantric Gayatri healing. With meditations galore - in motion, with mudras, bijas and, of course, on AUM - I have many more amazing yoga tools to share soon... but much self practise to do first.

I have to say a few words about the setting of this course, the Chinmaya foundation kerala; birthplace of the great saint Adi Shankaracharya. Doing japa every day in the very room where he was born, practising asana in the house where his family lived and taking lectures in the shrine to Vedanta master swami Chinmayanda help to reinforce Saji's point - that we are blessed and supported by the great yoga tradition before us and only a channel for the sharing of its energy to heal. 

And finally about the inspiration I've received from my juice family as well as new yoga family. Mary and Jojo in the village store have supplied me with various combinations of chickoo, banana, papaya, carrot and watermelon over the weeks. And reminded me that we also have to look up from the books and the mat - because yoga therapy in whatever form is about true connections with people - and all it takes is a few words of malyallam (mostly fruit names) and open hearts. 

Taking a breather on allepey beach before pondicherry. Hari om and love to all. 

For details of sajis training check out www.vashistayoga.org

Thursday, 6 February 2014

South India part one....2014

Hello Kerala, land of the coconut, and Tamil Nadu, equally lush and green, with a sense of ancient wildness. In both states, some of the friendliest (and most laid back) people to be found in this, the friendliest nation. And featuring the hungriest of the hungry Mosquitos! 

India is so often described as a feast for the senses. In my first few days I've been tuning into its soundscape as much as the more obvious colours and flavours. Drifting in and out of sleep in my lovely fort Kochin homestay, the crows are making a right din, surrendering near sunrise to the swirling call to prayer which provides the backdrop to my yoga practise on the roof-top. As day breaks the rickshaw peeps come to the fore again. New environments are an amazing way to remember the freshness of our sensory awareness which can otherwise subside into routine and familiarity. 

I attend a morning meditation at the city's Kathakali centre where we sit or lie on a darkened wooden stage intricately carved with Keralan motifs. The musicians sit amongst us and start with a beautiful chant of 'lokah samasta sukinuh bhanvantu' before playing morning ragas. The tabla is immense, the flute haunting; my consciousness drifting between the two and somewhere way beyond. Afterwards the musicians explain that raga has a unique energy pattern which activates the chakra and 108 marma points throughout the body (same as the Sanskrit letters of a mantra would), producing specific psycho/ Physio-logical states. There are ragas (more than 6000) for morning, evening, sad times and everything in between. I'd never thought of classical Indian music as a sound bath but like gong it has that ability to tame the wandering mind in a more comfortable realm, that of sound rather than silence. 

Kochin and the Malabar coast is spice heaven: walking down the streets you catch chilli, pepper and cardamon in the back of the throat, just as I remember Salman Rushdie describing in "the moors last sigh", a family epic based in the city. My last visit here was a flying one, for a friend of a friends wedding, and we never really explored the eclectic Fort and Mattancherry areas, although one of my night wanders winds up in the same local Durga temple as 4 years ago. 

Today I ate probably the tastiest masala dosa yet, on the train to Kanyakumari - loaded with green chilli and bathed in squash sambar. Railway food I have learned is often surprisingly good: unlike trains back home there are no prana starved pre-packed sandwiches and depressing trolleys loaded with corporate sugar; as discovered while nosing around the carriages on a long long haul from Delhi to Goa, it is often cooked here on the train by sweating cooks stirring giant pots. The other surprise, today, was a juicy fly wrapped in the delicious pancake. But I found it, so happy to still be vegan, if not the low salt/ sugar/ garlic/ onion version of days back home! 

Kanyakumari is the southern most tip of India where the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea converge. Legend has it that parashakti, incarnating as the virgin Devi Kumari, destroyed the mighty demon Banasuri here, saving the world but at the same time missing out on a promised reunion with Shiva...Her final footprint is enshrined on Vivekenanda rock, a dramatic temple and visitor centre reached by ferry (never been asked to wear a life jacket in India before - which tells you how wild this meeting of seas can be!). 

The 'wandering monk' came to meditate here, realising his life's purpose and also prior to his great speech to the congress of nations in Chicago, 1892. I have read elsewhere that he wasn't fluent in English at the time but channeled his spiritual message to the world, which resonated amongst the broad spectrum of cultures and religions represented. Vivekenanda mixed the Santanam dharma with social thinking, hoping to unite India as an example to the world. His legacy and policies continue in education, health, worship and farming in Tamil Nadu today.

The monument, and the neighbouring mega statue to local poet Thiravullar, are kind of hectic so the vivekenanda meditation hall is a welcome respite. Inside a glowing om symbol decorates the front wall and it's mantra plays on loop as we sit on straw mats in the cool and minimal marble room. After a short while the gathered families, locals and tourists begin to breathe and softly chant along, together. It reminds me that we can make meditation reflect our lives - over complicated and busy (contradictory) - and that sound can bring us back, simply, to that deep and collective connection that simply is. 

The vivekenanda Kendram, is a community which lives by his philosophy, created by his great disciple eknathji (who also built the monument despite many odds and obstacles). This is the kind of place I have often imagined that the uk could do with, where yogic practise meets life and reaches out into wider society both as an example and in practical ways eg here they offer training in sustainable agriculture and traditional Tamil medicine and affordable yoga immersions. 

Here worship is filled with vibrant sound and I called time on Kanyakumari with a bell ringing puja as the sun set over the Muruga temple. Inspiring and unpredictable as ever, mother India, less than one week in - tonight I hit the road for Mysore. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

always learning & teaching

I think many of us entertain the idea of teaching because we are 'good' at yoga i.e. very flexible/ strong practise. Or because we want to make something we love into something we do. And, for most, because yoga has changed our lives in many amazing ways and we want to share this with EVERYONE who might benefit!

I am often asked how long should I have been practising for, to enrol on a YTT? There is no set rule and, more importantly, there is never a point at which we've practised enough and become teachers instead. Teaching is a whole new layer to our existing and ever evolving learning. One of my first teachers said 'to teach we must keep some ego' and I didn't quite understand that at the time. I thought: aha maybe its ok to maintain a bit of my over-confident PR girl persona after all (of course that screen of false confidence crumbled under the gentle weight of practise over the proceeding years anyway!).

But now I understand it as being able to take a step back from the blissful union that we feel in a deep backbend or the melting into pranayama, where the yoga technique has gone fully into the yoga experience. To point others towards that place, we have to re-remember step by step how we got there – to think like a beginner or someone with a very different body/ mind set to ourselves. I resisted this at first, being so in love with (/attached to) the experiences of my practise.

Then I began to wonder (like, WOW) at re-learning something I thought I already knew inside out. To turn awareness to all the little ways my body works and breathes before it reaches the centre of a practise. Asana for example is not just striking pose but how we get there and how we come out of it.

Now I'm embarking on teaching teacher training: a new challenge and a most amazing opportunity. Recently in my meditations I was getting the voicemail: that the gifts of yoga are ours to share not to keep in a little box for our own gratification. It is a step back again to think how do I explain this posture to my class? How do I explain to someone else how to explain to others...a form of self enquiry in the same way that our practise takes deeper layers of witnessing, going in and coming out.

A beautiful teacher friend recently handed down a tale about a civilization going up a mountain, how each group in this mythical world took the responsibility to come back down and tell other climbers what to expect up above. This is teaching - passing on stories that will inspire and reaching out a hand to share the view from the top.

If I've gathered anything in the way of handy hints in the last few years here they are, and I hope that some of you may join us in June (details below)...

Getting over THE FEAR...

I was telling some students recently how I regularly feel like I might run out of the room/ pee my funky leggings. Perhaps it doesn't show but I've gradually accepted that nerves are just what's happening and if I indulge them I will only confirm my suspicions that I am a rubbish teacher by checking out of my responsibility to the class. This is all ego as much as if believing myself to be the best thing since Vishvaji!

Teaching yoga, like learning yoga, is an opportunity to face fear. While busy worrying that everyone hates us or that we can't remember what's next after trikonasana, or which foot was leading the sun salutation, we are perhaps missing the subtle energy of the room and how we might re-shape our plan for the class to address an issue that's been raised. And making it all about us, rather than the yoga.

But what a fantastic opportunity! Perhaps having finally come out of our heads in our practise we are suddenly right back there again in our teaching, looking back at a room full of expectant faces and having to breathe, ground, become present. To practise until the teaching flows through and merge the sense of me the teacher into just teaching.

Constant practise...

Practise what you teach and teach what you practise – I'm not saying throw that amazing arm balance - inversion sequence you love at a group of beginners (definitely not!), but find your voice and speak with integrity on and off the mat. There is a balance between knowing your stuff – running through a workshop and considering some modifications and what props might be need – and being flexible enough to throw the plan out the window and teach spontaneously.

Maintain and deepen your own self practise (I. e. not just the necessary run-throughs) - facilitate the flexibility and calm of mind that fosters spontaneity...not freaking out. To be sensitive and tuned in enough to the energy of a group/ student. Meditation is a great means to open up to this wisdom. I maintain a kriya practise that I do not teach and it is like a refuge when, on my mat, my mind is over-analysing every movement and my hand is itching to make a note of that clever cue that just popped into my head.

Feed yourself

We do not stop learning after teacher training, in fact I often feel I only really started once I had been through the transformational experience which is a YTT. So make the effort to go to other teachers classes, to visit your own teachers, to take workshops that challenge you and of course to learn from your students – the best and broadest walking talking textbook out there.

Community is also our food. Connect with other teachers and well-being practitioners, kirtans, satsangs etc.

Cultivate satya (honesty)

Not knowing is an opportunity to know, or know more. Another of my yoga family wrote the other day about leaning on her teaching for self esteem and I thought: wow, that thats exactly the kind of human-ness I would value in my teacher.

Svadyaha (self study)

Revisit the classic texts (and your own notes) again and again – connect with the roots of this ancient practise - there is always a deeper understanding to be had and like little seeds we need to plant year after year and give them time to grow.

Back to the questions...Is it enough to love yoga to want to teach it? What if I do the course and decide I don't want to teach? What if I'm not good enough? There are many questions that cross our minds about teaching. My best advise is to set aside these, and other, expectations as we are constantly evolving through the whole process – our bodies, energy, beliefs, thoughts – let it all be and enjoy the hugely exciting, rewarding, dynamic process that it is!!

With total gratitude to all my teachers along the way. OM. 

For more info about Akhanda training in the UK, starting June 2014, organised by Yoga Sundari, visit her website

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Akhanda Yoga Teacher Training UK

More details on this from Yog Sundari...
I am delighted to share with you, Sundari Yoga will be facilitating Akhanda Yoga 200 hour Teacher Training 2014 – 2105 at Greenwich University, Greenwich, London
The dates are as follows, the course will be held on a Saturday 10am - 17:30pm and Sunday 9:30am - 16:00pm
June 7 & 8  2014
July 5 & 6 2014
July 26 & 27 2014
Sept 6 & 7 2014
Sept 27 & 28 2014
Oct 18 & 19 2014
Nov 8 & 9 2014
Dec 6 & 7 2014
Jan 10 & 11 2015
Jan 31 & Feb 1 2015
Feb 28 & Mar 1 2015
April 11 & 12 2015 Yogi Vishva's Workshop London
April 18 & 19 2015
It will conveniently run over 12 weekends, with an additional workshop weekend with Yogrishi Visvketu, this is included in the total course price.
Direct from the Foothills of the Himalayas, why not take this opportunity to immerse yourself in the authenticity of yoga? This unique holistic teacher training programme is designed for aspiring yoga teachers and devoted students who wish to have a greater understanding of yoga and to deepen their practice and yogic knowledge.
Akhanda means whole or indivisible, this will be the essence of these traditionally rich teachings. You will be provided with the foundation to eloquently teach with clarity, compassion, authenticity and integrity while honouring your unique style of deliverance. This course will be recognised by the International Yoga Alliance. The course is designed to meet the precise needs of the group and that each person will receive individual attention and continued mentoring and support.
Investment ~ Akhanda Yoga 200 hour Teacher Training ~ £2,995
Deposit to secure your place £300
Payments can be made by instalments or as a standing order.
There is an ‘early-bird’ offer of £2,750 if the course is paid in full by January 2014.
The teacher training will include diverse aspects of the yogic repertoire:
  • Asana, Pranayama & Meditation  
  • Yogic Philosophy     
  • Teaching Methodology, Techniques & Assisting       
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Subtle Yogic Anatomy & Chakras   
  • Introduction to Ayurveda    
  • Ethics & Yogic Lifestyle
  • Transformational Experiences
  • Teaching Skills & Conscious Communication
  • Business & Yoga
For more information and to register your interest please email me atjulia@onestopholistichealing.co.uk or call 07919 143 194
You may like to visit the website of Yogrishi Vishvketu, the founder of the World Conscious Yoga Family www.akhandayoga.com for a greater understanding of our all encompassing approach to teaching.
Akhanda Yoga Teacher Training UK believes that it is important to draw on the services of teachers who are expert and passionate about the subjects, offering you a variety of styles and perspectives. On this training you will experience the teachings of Yogrishi Vishvketu ~ Founder of Akhanda Yoga, Yog Sundari, Anandi ~ Philosophy and Piriamvada ~ Techniques.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Yoga social - Gayatri x 108

Join us at for a special Saturday evening in at gogoyoga on 7th Dec: movement & breath-work, chanting, nourishing food and great company. 

I'll be leading a shakti-freeing yoga class then the chanting of Gayatri mantra 108 times. One of the most powerful and beautiful sanskrit mantras, central to the yoga tradition, its meaning is to be experienced as much as learned. We look to goddess Gayatri (mother of the vedas) and ask for illumination. 

In traditional 'call and response' style, accompanied by harmonium, we chant as a group and absorb the healing vibrations of the mantra - i.e. you don't need to have any singing 'skills'! I am certainly not a 'signer' so I really urge people to come and give chanting a try as the effect of even sitting quietly among the group energy is quite profound. 

We start at 6pm with tea and snacks and finish with a chance to chat and share over a bowl of gogo owner Annie's amazing dahl and locally baked bread (finishing by 9pm so still time to go out for you party devis, and an early night for us hermits :)).

All levels of yoga experience are welcome - yoga equipment provided. 

gogoyoga, 59 Columbia Road, E2. www.gogoyoga.co.uk
£18 early booking or £20 OTD. To book, message me with your details and we will call you to take card payment. OM x

Ali Piriamvada Gunning - I teach Akhanda and Kundalini Yoga in East London. Me and my narrow boat Bokissa are floating around near Homerton. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

boats, bravery, blogging etc

This blog started as a mix of canal and yoga tales but recently barely a mention of the waterways (sorry Bokissa!). I suppose that boat life influences so much of my practise and teaching that its always in the background for me.

Anyway, I was prompted to write something a bit more boaty by several people commenting 'you are so brave!' as I negotiated my home through the lock gates or pushed their heavy doors single handedly shut: for being a lone female living a physical and slightly off-grid lifestyle.

I was reading Dervla Murphy's story about cycling from Ireland to India in the 70's and empathised with the way she shrugged off the awe and wonder at this journey. It was what she had chosen to do and sunburn, near starvation and broken bones were just part of it - so no need for praise or admiration. Her story is way more exciting than mine (and I highly recommend it – 'Full Tilt') but I get where she is coming from. This is just the way I live and thrive, its not about bravery, or proving a point or making a statement.

So, why?

The first question I'm asked about living on a boat (apart from: do you have a shower? A TV? etc) is 'is it cheap' or more like 'ahh, its cheaper isn't it'. Yes there are definitely cost savings to moving onto the water but this is part of a more complex situation for most boaters - more about a philosophy on living. Its as if the only way our world can evaluate something is to put a £ sign against it. Cost creates comfort and its not for everyone to generate their own power, chop their own fuel or face the contents of their toilet every few weeks.

Many people, myself included, chose not (or not anymore) to work a 60 hour week to keep up with massive mortgages and finding stuff to fill those massive rooms with. Fulfilment is different for everyone and its easy to judge by one's own standards. For me, I am fulfilled by simplicity; by having time to sip tea and listen; in having days of silence and solitude, by having a go at mending things.

The space issue. Well that depends how much stuff you have and how good you are at walking side-ways. My home may be 62 x 6.6ft but you should see the backyard! I love that I know (after many blue-fingered mornings and way too many packets of fire lighters) which type of wood will burn well and which won't. And that I have more tools than heels.

When you live a few mm's of steel away from water you become highly attuned to the seasons. I think this is a rare and precious thing in a city, to feel the changes and feel them intensely. Yes it is bloody cold in winter and we do spend a lot of time talking about fires and insulation and clothing strategies, but this is what winter is actually like. Is it normal or healthy to move from heated space to dry and heated space via heated vehicle? In the same way we learn to exist in air conditioned vacuums in the extreme heat.

Can this fear of being with things the way they really are apply to more than weather - emotions, truth – thus losing the awareness and beauty of contrasts. (I will revisit this paragraph in December and may eat my words - in fact I may be eating nearly constantly to keep snug).

The seasons are the dance of nature and she provides for us in abundance, we just don't notice because we have processed her beyond recognition and cocooned it in plastic. Foraging has become kind of cool, but is pretty standard here. I enjoy superfoods as much as anyone else but sometimes its like we always looking outside, lured by the shiny new things, when its all right here under our noses (sorry, I'm off on the yoga again). By growing or finding food, knowing which mushrooms are poison versus pot ready we are connected to the ground we walk on. It is much easier to act without love and responsibility when disconnected from the earth.

For me the solitude is a major draw, not a drawback - a choice not a consequence. Silence and proper darkness are only a pootle up the river away when needed. But equally important is community. 

When your walls are not fixed in one place for long they don't become barriers. There are elements of the tow-path that remind me of an ashram – plus dogs, chainsaws and beer - (or maybe more of a festival), like the way people give without expectation of anything in return. A helping hand, a meal, whatever is needed. Understanding that 'what goes around...', but not acting/ helping for that reason. It is nice after 3 years to be able to stand over an engine, hand on hip and hazard a guess at what might have made it blow up, having been the panic-stricken newbie many a time. 

The people who met me then and the people I've just met look out for me in equal measure. Lately boats have become easy targets for crime and I know that they are worrying over my 'positive brings positive' attitude to not being pushed out of my favourite neighbourhoods - because freedom for me also means living without fear. As I walk down my dark 'street', a variety of window shapes twinkling with fairy lights and candle glow (saving power BTW, not all about the romance), I can feel the shared and comforting energy of our unique family, even if there are many names I still don't know.

We have to move every two weeks - like it or not these are the current rules. We can see this as a pain in the ass or a lesson in detachment. I get comfortable...my classes are so nearby, I love that local shop. Then its time to shift. Someone In India once said to me 'the yogi cannot stand still, like water which stagnates'. Life is always fresh, don't resist it.

Back to those heavy lock gates. Personally I think the world needs more of them. It is pretty much impossible to rush anywhere at 4mph anyway and against the sheer might of water, no chance. There is no way to speed up a lock, absolutely no short cut. You just have to wait. And being aggressive does. not. help! At first, clever me, I used it as an opportunity to check my emails. Then I just surrendered. Now I don't actually get that many emails. Time slows down on the water and you can accept this and let life follow.

As I write I am aware this is my own shiny perspective and like Dervla I can afford to make this about my freedom, to embrace this as 'simplicity'. Life is not perfect on the river/ canal. I have the benefit of a family address to help me get around the lack of understanding of banks, hospitals, doctors, dentists, councils, job centres and employers, to name but a few not 'getting' our nomadic status.

For that and for all of this I have gratitude. This is not the only way, but maybe it is a little bit brave to seek out ways to be your self, to be accepted and to accept. OM Shanti x

my home
my veggies on the move
the neighbours

Ali Piriamvada Gunning - I teach Akhanda and Kundalini Yoga in East London. Me and my narrow boat Bokissa are at the filter beds, clapton