Archive for the 'teaching' Category

It doesn’t have to be this way…

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In my little world right now I have people close to me who are suffering the unimaginable – stuff we can’t even dream up.  Worlds being turned so upside down that the simple act of breathing becomes impossible.  Heartbreaking, excruciating stuff.  The life is not fair kind of stuff.  The cry for three days and still not catch your breath kind of stuff.

They are not doing this to themselves.  It is forced upon them by the universe for whatever lesson it is they have come to learn in this lifetime.  It is out of their control but it is also out of everyone’s control.  It is just the way it is.  The universe’s plan.  It’s unbearable, but it is the universe’s plan so we catch our breath and move forward as best we can.  It is not in anyones’ control so we breathe and move.  Step by step. Day by day.  Knowing we are doing our best.  All of us doing our best in every moment.

Also in my little world I have other people close to me who are suffering due to the choices of those around them. I have been in that place.  I know how it feels.  I know every single desperate inch of how it feels.  It’s equally heartbreaking….but it’s different.  It’s different because it doesn’t have to be.  It’s the ‘choice’ of the other person.  It can be fixed.  It may take courage but it can be fixed.

Do something once and it is an accident.  Do it again and it’s a choice.  Didn’t have to happen.  Didn’t have to go down that road.  Didn’t have to hurt the people around you.  Didn’t have to do that.

Do it again and it becomes selfish.  It becomes weak.  It lacks integrity and soul.  It becomes pathetic. It becomes deliberate.  The deliberate cause of suffering to others.

Addictions are a disease they say.  Perhaps.

Choice is not a disease.

Addictions are selfish and destructive.  They are harmful and hurtful.  They cause pain wherever they go….and they go everywhere.  They are everywhere.  They are all around me causing immense suffering to people that I love dearly and so many people I don’t even know.  People I have yet to meet.  Addictions are selfish and they are a choice!  I am astonished at the prevalence of them.  I am astonished at the quiet whispering voices as they tell me their stories.  Their stories of breaking hearts and loss of hope.  Stories of broken families and suffering children.  Stories.  So many stories.  I am over whelmed by them.

I do not understand despite a lifetime of being in this place.  I do not understand someone making that choice.  I do not understand the destructive selfishness of it all.

I watched my father destroy his family unit. Destroy his job, his friendships and eventually destroy himself.  Done and dusted and pushing up the daisies by the time he was my age.  He knew what he was doing.  As a child I knew he had chosen his addiction over me.  His selfish destruction of everything around him was more important than I was.

And then I watched it again….

It was a choice.  It was not a disease it was a choice.

It simply didn’t have to be that way.

It never does.

 

 

I’m so out of my comfort zone I can’t breath.

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That quote, you know the one that goes like this…..  ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’.  Well does it? Does the magic really happen when you are pushed to your edge? Does life really begin when the proverbial rug is pulled out from beneath you?  Does it really begin when you have to start again.  When you have to do it all over but you are tired and afraid.

I’m waiting life.  I am waiting for you to show me.

It seems I have spent the last two years being terrified.  Two years of grappling to find comfort in the unfamiliar. Searching for the path back to comfort.  Back to that comfort zone where life felt safe and I had a plan.

I continue to have my daily conversations with my mother, as I have done for the last fifty one years.  She no longer answers.  There is no comforting reply.  No sound advice from the email address that was once hers.  No Sunday Skype and reassuring smile.  No ‘I can come if you need me’.  I need you.

I tell her that nothing is the same.  I tell her that I wander around this ‘edge’ in search of home but I have yet to find it.  I tell her that a blind man does not use his cane to see where he can go but rather where he can’t.  I tell her that I have lost my cane.  That I don’t know where it’s safe to tread and I have no one to tell me.  I tell her that I can’t see the road ahead.  That it is all blurry and misty where I am.  That there are no white lines or cats eyes showing me where to go.   I tell her of opportunities that come my way but that I don’t know if I should.  That I need her  to tell me that I should.   I tell her that I have no place to call home anymore.  Either here or there.  That I have lost my secret place where I could hide from my fears and from the world when it all got too much.  I tell her I do not know how I will survive this.

I tell her that I am having to do things differently and I’m not sure that I am doing it right.  That there were people I believed in, totally believed in that let me down.  That there were new people I thought were honest and kind but they were not.  That I told them my stories and now I realised I should not have.

I tell her too of all the beautiful friends I do have that listen endlessly to my why’s, what if’s and how’s.  I tell her that all the little gifts she gave me over the years are my new familiar.  That I can see her everywhere because of those things.  I tell her that it is from her that I learnt the real meaning of unconditional love.  That her exceptional friendship is what I hope to emulate with my own girls.  I tell her I’m trying.

I tell her of the days that are magical and happy and of the dark days when I can’t even remember how to breathe.

I tell her that it is all down to me now.

I tell her I am scared that I am doing it all wrong.

I tell her I am alone but never lonely.  That she taught me that art of being alone.  I am eternally grateful for that.

I tell her I am so out of my comfort zone I can’t breathe.

Does life really begin in the unfamiliar?  Does it begin with a new front door of a home that is not mine? Does it begin with the loss of friends there were supposed to be there for a lifetime ? Does it begin in the space of starting again.  Does it begin in the not knowing of how this is supposed to work?

I do not know. I think by now I am supposed to know but I do not.

Life will break you..but..

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In all my work I am incredibly privileged.  I get to meet and spend time with an amazing variety of people.   With my camera in hand I meet newborn babies and happy people.  I get to photograph people doing what they love with the people they love.  There is often laughter,  there is often joy and I get to capture it and give it back to them so that they can look at it forever.  Life however is not just filled with happy smiling moments.

There is laughter in my yoga classes too.  Lots of it.  There is laughter and joy but there are also tears.  There are tears and great moments of fear.  There is anxiety and anger and for some reason yoga brings it all out.  People come to class for all sorts of reasons.  The come in search of something, often not knowing what that thing is.  They come thinking they want to do a few asanas, touch their toes and sit in relaxation.  This happens, oh yes this happens, but shit happens too.  Last week a student touched her toes for the first time in her life and along with that moment came floods of tears.  Tears of joy.  Tears of release. Tears of achievement.  In that same class a student who could not find her balance instead found floods of tears in savasana (relaxation).  I held her head as her body shook with the weight of it all.  I watch as people release deep sighs in meditation.  I get to be part of their process of peeling back the layers of themselves.  I get to witness their ahh-aha moments.  I get to be part of their journey and it’s beautiful.

A while back I was asked if I would spend some time doing relaxation and meditation with a lady who was terminally ill.  The sweet, kind, beautiful person was understandably very anxious about the road that lay ahead of her. Once a week I would go to her apartment and for an hour we would talk and then we would sit in quiet meditation with me guiding her to find just a few moments of complete peace.  We would talk of life and death, of fear and trying to really live in the few moments she had left.  I witnessed her sorrow and pain.  I held her hand when she cried and helped her breathe through moments of unease.  I was witness to her most intimate fears.  I heard her stories and sat with her when she needed to find space in those stories and it was a beautiful thing.

Life will break you.  We come into the world devoid of fear or judgement, but life will break you.  Along our journey we bump headfirst into heartache and pain.  We suffer intolerable sickness.  We loose people we love and are brought to our knees by uncertainty.  We fix ourselves with pretend plasters and glue.  We hold it all together with imaginary layers that we think will keep out all the pain….but it won’t.  Life will break you.

I had the incredibly privilege of getting to know a person intimately in the last months of her life.  During our hours together I got to ask about living.  I got to ask her where her breaks had been and where she had built her walls.  I got to see where she had put her plasters and glue and I got to see her layers peel away.

At the end of the day all those layers of ours will come undone.  In the last days of your life each and everyone of those plasters will come unstuck and the glue will melt.  We put them there because we don’t want anyone else to see our pain.  We don’t want to be vulnerable.  We want others to only see the happy pretty parts of ourselves.  What people don’t realise is that underneath all the pretend fixing is where all the real beauty is.

When I see the layers fall and the personal first aid fail I smile.  When I watch in class as the quiet person in the corner finally lets go, I smile.  I smile because the real beauty of a person is in their vulnerability.  The real beauty of the human race is in our connection and when we are vulnerable we connect deeply.  Our beauty is in the layers of who we are.  It’s in our stories and not just the good ones.

It’s hard though.  Taking off the plasters is hard and it hurts.  Something happens though when we do.  When we show another person our pain we free them up to do the same.  When we gut vulnerable we let them get vulnerable too.

Here is the best part of it all.  Like a baby or a person in their last hours where there is a serenity and grace that is breathtaking, a person without all their plasters and glue is the most beautiful thing.

 

 

Traits of conscious living

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I recently saw an article in which were words written by the actor Keanu Reeves. Keanu had written about how he did not like living in a world where people did not seem to value either themselves or each other. I agree.  The fact that millions are obsessed with the inane daily existence of a family that seem to pride themselves on the size of their butts rather than the depth in their hearts breaks my own into a million pieces.   Where is our deep commitment to the human race, our planet and everything that resides in our environment?  Why the desire to hurt and why the ludicrous obsession with things that have no meaning or depth.

His article reminded me of notes I had written in the back of an old journal and so I rummaged around until I located those tired scribbles. There in my tatty moleskin I found the list I had made some time ago on what I believe are the traits of people who live a conscious life.

They are dedicated to personal growth. 

By this I mean that they put effort into being a better person that they were yesterday.  The seek to expand their minds and are open to constant learning.  They understand that there is always room for improvement and are willing to work on the space between who they are and who they want to be.

They understand that they are more than a physical body.

Our physical body is home for our soul.  Perhaps we will never understand just what our soul is but we do get that it is vital to who we are.  Both our body and our soul are energy.  Our body vibrating atoms of energy and soul the deep conscious energy that makes us who we are.  They understand this about themselves and equally of others.  They are prepared to meet others on both levels and are respectful of another’s journey here on our planet.

They take care of themselves

Living a conscious life means taking care of the home their soul resides in. Attending to all the physical needs of the body.  Making time for exercise, drinking lots of water, eating quality food and avoiding the perils of sugar, alcohol and drugs. It means taking care of your own emotional needs and stepping out into the world knowing that if you take good care of yourself you have more to offer others.

Embracing their beauty

This really boils down to being comfortable in their own skin.   Taking the time to love themselves, who they are and what they offer to the world.  This is no mean feat. Even liking ourselves seems impossibly difficult in a world that tells us we are not enough.  Conscious people tune out from the media perception of beauty, physical or otherwise and embrace all that they are.

Care for others

Conscious people understand that we are all connected.  That we are all part of this universe and that we are all made up of the same energy at a deep cellular level. This understanding guides them to treat others as they would treat themselves.

Care for the earth

It is pretty obvious isn’t it that if you have conscience at all you are driven to treat this plant with the utmost care.  Reducing your consumption and lowering your carbon footprint are just the tip of the iceberg.  Care for the earth means caring for our environment and everything in it.

Emotionally mature

This doesn’t come easy to some but it starts out by engaging in personal growth.  All the work done there provides the basis for emotional stability and maturity.  This has nothing to do with physical age.  I know young people who’s emotional maturity knocks the socks of people twice their age.

Lives with integrity and doesn’t settle

A conscious person approaches all that they do with grace.  They are true to their word and uphold their own code ethics and morals.  They know their boundaries and expect others to treat them with the same honour as they themselves treat others.

Opens even when it hurts

It is not easy to stay soft and open in a society that wants to beat you with it’s own brand of harshness but this one is essential.  Staying open means not closing down ones heart.  It means understand that the energy of love really is what gives meaning to our lives. It means being tender even in the moments when it is hardest to do so.

Receives elegantly

I struggle with this.  I find myself very uncomfortable with the process of receiving gifts but to not receive with grace denies the other person all the joy of giving.  Of course it is not always a gift from another person.  Receiving also means accepting and loving your talents and anything else that makes you special.  It is understanding that you are deserving of this and being brave enough to go out into the world with that knowledge.

Is brave and courageous.

In the words of Gandhi ‘Be truthful, gentle and fearless’.  Being brave and courages does not denote being hard.  It means be courageous enough to be gentle and be brave enough to stay open.  Stand sweetly in your own power and respect that others do the same.  Move fearlessly out of your comfort zone when required and help others in their quest for growth.  There is a beautiful sanskrit word ‘Shraddha’.  It means learning to rest in complete uncertainty without moving into fear.  For me that just sums up beautiful the ability to be brave and courageous.

I truly believe that we all have the ability to be highly conscious people.  That every single person on this planet has the depth and character to do the work required, and just imagine if they all did.  What a wonderful world it would be.

On love….

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I find that themes seem to run through the weeks of our lives.  I overhear one person talk on a topic, then another will mention that same thing in class, then yet another will approach me for advice….and so it goes.  Commonality between us.  Shared energy that bounces from one to another invoking all sorts of stories within us.  A collective energy that brings issues to the surface alerting us to the fact that we are not alone in dealing with them.

It seems that the shops are filled with red.  Red hearts and cute white bunnies with red heart shaped ears.  Red negligees that are made from whispers of material and heart shaped chocolates that wink at you as you walk past.  Desperate reminders of love.  All these commercial trinkets, pretty as they are, remind us only to love others.  They sell us the story that we will be complete once we have a person to love.  That we will be whole when we can fill our shopping basket with all things red and sweet waiting to be passed on to another.  The flaw in all this is that we have forgotten to love ourselves.  Somewhere along the path of our lives we stop loving who we are.  I am not sure where and when it happens but I do know that we do not come into this world full of self criticism.  We are not born thinking our legs are too fat or our hair the wrong colour.  We do not stand as children in front of the mirror and inhale deep breaths of self loathing.

So here we find our common theme.  I can no longer count the number of times a client has told me that they do not like themselves but over the past few weeks this issue has risen to the surface like bubbles in a pot of porridge.  One after the other I hear their words and feel their anger.  A vast number of them living in a state of perpetual self disappointment.   Awash with self loathing they pour their love into others and hide their inner neglect behind layers of denial.  I hear the words echo around the studio.  I can’t…. I will never be able…. I am no good at…. I am no good… I am too short… I am too tall…. I am to weak….I don’t like myself.  Oh so many ‘I don’t like myselfs’.  I see the ‘help me’ in their eyes and I feel the ache of sadness in their hearts.  At the end of class I ask them to think of things they are grateful for and then I ask question ‘did you put yourself on the list’?

I see it when they stand before my lens.  I look terrible in photos they say…. I am so ugly… I hate my hair…. I am so fat… I hear an endless diatribe of I am not good enough, I’m not pretty enough, I am just plain not enough utterances.  Kilos of criticism and hearts heavy with the weight of it all.

Stop being so hard on yourself.  Just stop.  You are all beautiful.  Every single last one of you is beautiful.  How do you expect anyone else to love you if you do not love yourself.  Stop hating your arms that you believe are imperfect.  If they can hold and hug then they are good enough.  Stop hating your legs that you believe are not long enough or thin enough. They carry you where you want to go…thank them and be grateful for them.  So when people ask me how to stop hating themselves I say this.  Stop standing in front of that mirror and criticising everything you see.  Start by liking one thing.  Be thankful for that, whatever it may be and how ever insignificant you think it is.  Then tomorrow find another thing. If you can’t find something to like then just find something to be grateful for.  You may not love your eyes but you can be grateful that they enable you to see.  You may not love your feet but you can be grateful that they carry you where you want to go.  Keep doing this and one day the dislikes will turn into likes and the you will slowly start to see all the beauty that others find so endearing.

I am not suggesting for one moment that we don’t all have room for growth and improvement.  Without doubt we all have areas we need to work on be it in the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual planes of our lives.  There is always work to be done but you can start by being kinder to yourselves.  Get over that initial hurdle and then start working on the things you can change and gradually accepting the things you can’t.  Go back to being that kid in front of the mirror.  The one who believes in his reflection. The one who believes he is invincible and strong and just perfect the way he is.

Loving someone else will never make up for not loving ourselves.

 

 

 

The space between what was and what will be

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There are those days, those weeks and moments in life when the universe comes along and lays its hand on you with such force you feel that you are shattered into a thousand pieces.  Your heart lies somewhere in you broken.  Pieces of it in your chest and others resting in the pit of your stomach.  Your head rests in your shaking hands and tears pour from your eyes relentlessly.  The words, when they spill forth from your mouth, are jumbled and tumble about in an incomprehensible dance.

There is a space on the floor between my bed and the wall where I sit when things get too bad.  From here, in this little space, where I sit all curled up, I have made  all the terrible calls I have had to make in this past week.  It is here in this little space that I have cried my biggest tears and placed my head in my hands to hold it when it all feels like it is too much.  I am not alone.  There are people all over the world dealing with unimaginable things and journeying through inconceivable grief.  There are broken hearts and tears all over this planet.  I am surely not alone.

Last Tuesday I put my mother on a plane to return home to her English autumn.  To the apples waiting on her tree and the last of the pretty flowers in her garden.  Her suitcase full of little things she had found that would remind her of me and the crisp golden leaves waiting to fall at her feet.  We were exceptionally close.  We always had been and she had been my friend for all of my fifty years.    The fact that she lived in England and I in Africa did not loosen our bond.  We Skyped and emailed and knew daily details of each others lives.  She would get on a plane and come at a moments notice whenever I needed her.  Sometimes she would just sense that I needed her and be here before I even had to ask.

While she was here we talked of her childhood in post war England and the things she still wanted to do.  Of her parents and grandparents.  Of  life with my father and life without him.  She told me of a train trip through the bluebell woods that she so loved and how she would book it when she got back.  We walked daily on the wide golden beach near my house that you see above and dipped our toes in the warm Indian Ocean.

She never got home to her beautiful garden and pretty blue house.  She never saw the flowers waiting with their bowed heads or tasted those golden apples. Somewhere, just about half way between the hot dusty air of Africa and the sweet damp air of England she had a heart attack.  A jumbo jet full of weary passengers was diverted to Abuja in Nigeria to offload my sick mother and continue its journey to where she was supposed to be.   A kind man with a foreign accent on the end of a feint line tells me things I do not want to hear.  I sit down in that space between the bed and the wall weeping huge gulping buckets of tears.

Through my constant flow of salty wet tears and breaking heart I look at how to get to this far away place in the middle of a war torn part of Africa.  I am told it is not safe to go and yet I am asked by the doctor to please rush as she is all alone there. That she has opened her eyes and held his hand for just a moment before drifting back into her unconsciousness.  Was she looking for me?  I research again how to get to this far away place but my children beg me not to go.  It’s not safe they say.  I am stuck as half way between going and not as she is between her two homes.  I sit between what was and what will be.  It’s a terrible place to be.  I wait knowing it is only a matter of time until that inevitable call to tell me that very place of waiting is no longer there.  I hide again in the space between the bed and the wall.  It feels like home now.  I think she knew.  I think she came to say goodbye.

The universe delivered me an unbelievable blow in the most absurd way possible in what has already been a exceptionally difficult year.  I envy generations past that were allowed a certain time to grieve.  They sat in their parlours and drank tea and received occasionally visitors for months on end, slowly coming to terms with the new space they found themselves in.  Life today is different.  I now face the complicated journey of getting her body out of Nigeria and home to her beloved England. I face endless red tape and a long lonely flight to meet her there where the leaves are crisp and her apples wait.

Death is the natural order of things and yet it is never welcomed by those left on earth.  My mother died in Abuja.  A city I never knew existed and yet now means so much to me.  I hope one day I can go. This is all part of my journey here on earth. These are my lessons and I must trust that the universe knows that I am not yet broken and that I have got this.

Practicing non attachment

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A confidence crisis is not confined to an artist.  However, anyone who practices any kind of art will at some point or another face some sort of wobble in their confidence at some point during their creative life.  Probably several actually, and if they are anything like me then they will have them on a regular basis.  They will doubt their technical knowledge.  They will wonder if their creative pool has dried up and they might even want to sell all their kit convinced their last ever piece of create work has long since been produced.

Recently whilst standing before a class of eager and expectant faces I wondered what it is that gives us confidence.  What gives me the confidence to go before people and teach despite the fact that I still have so much to learn? What gives me the confidence to write these words that may will be shunned with hefty giggles and dismissive vocabulary? How do we take confidence into our hearts and lives.

For me confidence simply comes from non attachment to the outcome.  When I first stood on my mat before my very first yoga class I had to overcome a moment of anxiety.  Could I teach? Would they like me? Would they come back?  I reminded myself that every person there that day would have a different opinion of me.  Some would like me and some would not.  Some would eagerly return for the next class and some would go on a search for another teacher who resonated more with them. I let go of the outcome.  I reminded myself that it did not matter what each of their individual opinions were and that it was more important to teach in a way that resonated fully with me.

I believe our education system has to take a great deal of the blame for the collective confidence of the human race.  Imagine, if you will, the young child who stands before her parents and siblings in full confidence singing out a tuneless nursery rhyme.  She has no attachment to the outcome and is glorious in her unadulterated joy.  Fast forward a few years and put her in front of her class where she now has to recite a poem or speak on some inane subject she has no interest in.  Now she is told very clearly there will be a rating attached to her performance.  She simply has to be attached to the outcome.  She is taught to be attached to the outcome.  Each and every day, in everything she does she is learning attachment to the outcome.  In the words of Buddha ‘the root of suffering is attachment’.  She spends twelve years in education being taught to be attached to the outcome of everything she does. She is doomed until she has spent an enormous amount of time working on herself and unlearning this very thing.

There are seven billion of us on this madly spinning planet.  Each and every one of us has a different perception and reality.  If you are creating something every single person that views that work will have a different reality of it and if you attach yourself to the outcome of each of those realities you will end up at the very root of suffering.  Create what resonates with you.  Detach yourself from the outcome.  Write the words that sit pretty on the page before you.  Take the photograph that is breathtaking in your eyes alone.  Paint on that canvas in the way that feels exquisitely beautiful to you.  Run the way that you want to run.  Move the way you want to move.  Sing the way you want to sing.  Detaching your self from the outcome allows you to do and say things that you otherwise might be reluctant to do or say. It frees you from your comfort zone and somewhere out of your comfort zone is where all the good stuff lies.

Try it for a day.  Detach yourself from the outcome of every single thing in your day and see how it feels.  Learning to detach yourself from the outcome is an incredibly liberating thing.  It frees you up to be your true self in all your magnificent glory.  It gives you incredible confidence.  It brings you back to yourself and in that place is all the joy and happiness you could ever want.

 

 

All the lovely lulls in life

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I was recently reading something I had written long ago in which I had said that yoga was about getting the inside right while working on the outside.  I was glad to have gone back and read this as I have been feeling, over the past few weeks, that my own personal yoga practice had hit a plateau.  I have been watching the students in my classes make leaps and bounds and taking much delight in their individual journeys.  It is in enormous privilege to be part of this.  To watch them blossom and expand.  To see them face their fears and overcome anxieties.   To engage with them as they make space in their bodies and lives.

Within my own practice I have become frustrated with seemingly little progress over the last month.  I have felt tightness in my hips and this has resulted in not finding the depth in my flexibility that I desire.  I have found that I have not mastered a new challenging pose for a while.  Watch my ego talking here.  Ego ego ego.

So upon re-reading my own words I am reminded that plateaus are okay.  That they are an inevitable and necessary part of life.  More than that though, I was reminded that reaching a lull in my physical practice does not mean that work is not being done.  Everyday when I roll out my mat and use that 6 x 2 space to twist and bend my body into unimaginable poses I am wringing out my stresses and engaging my heart.  I am making space in my body and mind. When I go upside down I am listening to my breath and finding stillness. I am pausing.  I am reminded that, with all things in life, we need these lulls and plateaus.  We cannot be seeking, growing and expanding every day.  That there will be times when we go forward in great leaps and bounds and then time when we pause and reflect.

It is during these pauses and reflections that we do most of our internal work.  Imagine for a moment it is a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.  You decide to tackle a moderate mountain or hill climb.  During the climb you concentrate only on putting one foot in front of the other.  You are engaged with supplying your muscles with oxygen and with the process of moving your muscles.  Then finally, after much effort you reach the top.  The plateau.  Here you pause.  You inhale, expand and your heart fills with joy and pride.  You stand for a moment or two just taking in the beauty of this exquisite planet we call home.  Deep breath after deep breath you fill yourself up.  You smile.  Perhaps you sit for a while in quiet thought and contemplation.  You made it and now you are full of pride and happiness.  As your breath becomes calm you lose yourself in all that is.  You think about how you have just challenged yourself.  How you did not think you would make it but you did.  You begin to think about the meaning of life.  Your mind wanders to some of the challenges in your own life.  Somewhere there on top of that mountain you find answers.  So you begin the slow gently climb down.  It seems easy compared to the climb.  Your heart is happy and your soul content.  Your mind is quiet and you feel a new sense of peace.

So it is in life and yoga.  There are lulls in everything as there was on top of the mountain and it is here in these lulls that we do our contemplation.  We cannot only be doing the physical work.  We need the lulls and quiet to make sense of it all.  So I am reminded that this lull in my physical practice is similar to that time on top of the mountain.

There are lulls in all areas of our lives.  In our relationships and in our work.  I cannot possibly be constantly creative in my photography.  I need the time of the lulls to retreat back into myself.  To find the quiet contemplation that is the seat of all our creativity.  The lulls and plateaus are when we do our internal work.  It is when we turn inwards and apply what we have learnt.  It is a little like dreaming.  We cannot be awake all the time.  We need to rest and sleep and during our sleep we dream.  During our dreams our minds are sorting and making sense of what we learned during our waking hours.

I think to some degree we fear these lulls.  We fear that we will not move forward again.  That it is not a lull, and that it is perhaps a wall.  This is rarely the case and if it is we simply feel our way along the wall until we find the edges and a new way round.

So remember to engage fully with all the beautiful lulls in your life. Sit in quiet contemplation until such time as it is done.  Do not rush this process for it is here that all the answers will find you.

 

 

How the universe gave me a lesson in humility

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Last week I was taught a big lesson in humility by the universe.  Life lessons are rarely easy and often sent to us with such impeccable timing it is hard not to laugh at the synchronicity of it all.

I arrive at the national gym chain where I teach my yoga class.  I go to the studio to prepare my music  (I like to do yoga to the likes of George Ezra and Phillip Phillips).  I plugged in my iPhone, rolled out my mat and glanced at the clock.  Exactly seven minutes before class is due to start.  I love the number seven and was feeling pretty good about life.

If I have not already managed my own practice that day I like to spend a few minutes before class warming up so that I can at least touch my toes!  I also like to spend that short time thinking about what I will say at the beginning of class.  It is nice to start the lesson with a few words about some aspect of yoga philosophy.  I decided that I would talk about how there is no room for ego in yoga.  How it is about your own particularly journey back to yourself.  That it does not matter what the person on the mat next to you can do.  That you should not compare yourself to them.  I have a deep belief that ego is a very dangerous thing and responsible for so much of our worlds destruction so it is a matter close to my heart.  Now I say this but somewhere in the back of my mind is the awareness that there is a degree of ego attached to teaching.  There you stand in front of people, knowing something they do not and being able to physically do things they can not.  I am acutely aware of this and yet it still sits there in me.  I admit I get a kick out of the fact that I am probably well past my half way mark in life and able to do things with my body that most of the class cannot do despite being decades younger than me.  I hope I use it to inspire but I suspect that at times it feeds my ego.  It is a human thing.

Inhaling deeply I stretched up in Tadasana (mountain pose) and folded forward to Padahastasana reaching to place my hands flat on the mat in front of my feet. Something I do every single day at the start of my practice.  As I did this I felt a sharp and rather excruciating pain in my lower left back.  I collapsed onto my knees and muttered some exceptionally non yogi words under my breath. Actually I think I said them quite loudly! I tried to stand and could hardly straighten up.  I am sure you can imagine some of the very unpleasant things that were being uttered by me at this time.  I stayed on all fours and tried to roll my spine.  This was not good.

Only minutes to go and no time to call in another teacher.  Deep breaths Niki.  Deep breaths.  Keep calm and carry on. The doors open and bright eyed students appear with all the eagerness of the sun making its way into a new day.  Meanwhile my eyes are watering as if I have been peering into that sun for far too long.

I welcome everyone and go with what I had planned for this particular class.  I inhale deeply and talk of ego and how there is no room for it in our lives…and so we begin our practice.  I was able to do forward bends and most of the balances, however there was not even the tiniest hint of hope that my back was going to go past the vertical.

Humility.  I explain to the class that I had hurt my back and how yoga teaches us to be aware of our bodies and surrender to what they cannot do and rejoice in what they can.  I then tuck my ego firmly where it should be and ask a student to demonstrate all the poses that are quite frankly completely inaccessible to me right now.

Believe me when I say this was not easy. I admit I had to dig deep to find that humility.

Those guys upstairs must have been listening to my every thought and delivered that message to me with astonishingly beautiful timing.

What have I learnt from this.  I have learnt to show a certain tenderness to those students that find poses difficult.  I have learnt that I too must surrender to what my body cannot do and love it for what it can.  Most of all I have learnt that lessons will come to you at a time when you least expect them and you might not always like it but you really have no choice but to be as graceful as you can possibly be in that moment.

We are here to learn and grow.  To always try and be a better person tomorrow than we are today and   to try to do that with as much grace and kindness as we can muster.  When we don’t be sure that the universe will come along and give you a big flat slap as a reminder.

 

 

 

 

 

To all the fathers out there.

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I have been mulling this weeks subject in my mind for some time, wondering when to post and even if to post, then I saw this quote “your ideas won’t do a thing to help anybody if they are kept inside you”.  How true is that!  In fact the beginning of that quote says “You have as much ability to change the world, write history and shape the future as any other person”.  Perhaps we all need to remember that from time to time when we feel like we don’t matter.

On the subject of feeling like you don’t matter. Growing up I had a father who I can only describe as indifferent to me.  He was an alcoholic and died aged 55.  I did not speak to him for the last ten years of his life, a choice I made, not without much thought and hesitation, but can honestly say I do not regret.  I was simply not prepared to go on his alcoholic journey with him and needed to distance myself not only from his self destruction but also the deleterious effect that his behaviour had on me.  I have long ago dealt with most of the deeps issues associated with my relationship with him but here is what I have to say to all men out there who have daughters.

A little girl’s relationship with her father shapes all future relationships she has with men.  It is the most important male – female relationship she will ever have.  It sets the standard.  Her father is her benchmark.  She will look to him, even when she is tiny and unaware, to learn the rules of how a man should treat a woman.  Of what to expect from a man.  Of how she should be treated and loved.  So men, I want you to look at your daughters, it does not matter if they are still very young and have far to go before they begin to form bonds with other males, or if they are already teenagers and tentatively exploring their first relationships, or even fully grown.  I want you to think about the sort of man you would want your daughter to marry and if you are not that sort of man yourself you need to step up and make some changes.  You need to set the benchmark and you need to set it really high!

Lets imagine for a moment what sort of man you would want for your daughter.  Get a pen and paper out and list some of his qualities. Go ahead and list all his qualities if you want.  You might start with these.  Faithful, honest, humble, strong, open, full of integrity and kindness, healthy and fit.  I am sure most of these would come into the equation and probably a whole load more.  The list can be as long as you want to make it.  This is your beautiful baby girl so don’t limit it.  You want nothing but the best for her.  Now, take a really good look at yourself.  Be honest.  Really really honest.  Think about how close you come to being that man.  Don’t just flit over it. Think about it really hard.

If you want your daughter to marry a man who opens the door for her, or carries the heavy bags then do that.  Let her see you do that.  If you want your daughter to marry a man who adores her then go ahead and adore her.  If you want your daughter to marry a man who fixes stuff around the house without being asked then please be that man.  If you want your daughter to marry a man who stays fit and strong so that he can always be there for her then go ahead and do the same.  If you want him to be humble and kind then let her see you be humble and kind. If you want her future husband to be emotionally available then you need to do the same. What and who you are is what and who she will marry.  It really is that astonishingly simple.  She is watching you. She is looking at the big picture and all the little details. She is getting her cues from you.  So be sure to be that person all the time and not just to her.

Here is what is going to happen when you rise up and become the man you would want for her.  You are going to set the standard for what she expects.  She won’t settle for less and so not only are you ensuring that she will marry the kind of man she deserves you are setting a benchmark for all the young men out there too.  All those young men out there have no choice but to rise up and be the kind of men you would want for your daughter.

So go ahead and be the benchmark.  Set the bar really high.  It is kind of like a beautiful pay it forward and one day when you walk with her and hand her over to a man, waiting expectantly at the end of an aisle, you will be really grateful you did.

 



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