Aparigraha, compassion, the year turns to darkness

We need the darkness to appreciate the light. As I write this, it’s shortly before 7am and it’s dark. I’ve avoided the electric light and am using candles- candlelight is beautiful, which is why I’ve chosen it, but I’m not sure how useful it is for writing on paper and so here I am, despite the contradiction, resorting to the laptop so that I can see what I’ve written!

Autumn is a beautiful time of year, no doubt about it, but it does bring with it the short days and long nights. The clocks will go back on Saturday night, and then we are into darkness at 4:30- fine if you get the chance to snatch some daylight at lunchtime, but less fine if you’re busy in your indoor job and you often arrive at work in the dark and leave in the dark, only seeing daylight on your days off. It makes it more important than ever to take the opportunities offered to see the sun and appreciate the light- while also understanding and accepting the different opportunities that the long evenings might offer, to turn inwards, to cherish your home, to meditate, to read, to settle in on the sofa with someone you love…

Meanwhile, autumn also brings the chance to examine and work with the Yama of aparigraha, sometimes described as letting go or non-clinging. As the trees shed their leaves, it can be a good time for us to let go of what no longer serves us. That might be clothes that we’ll never wear again (no matter how much we think we’ll get back into those 28″ waist jeans one day) or thoughts, or attitudes- perhaps that same thought about the jeans: instead, embracing our bodies as they are, rather than as we might wish they were (and why?). Or a job, or a relationship. It could be as simple as taking a different spot in your yoga class. It’s always a question worth asking- what am I clinging on to? Why am I? What does it bring me, and does holding onto the old thing mean I miss out on something new?

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction.” Krishna is suggesting that we try and stay focused on what we are doing, rather than the anticipated result of what we’re doing: enjoying the process, not worrying about the outcome. In the physical practice of yoga, this might look like concentrating completely on the practice we are doing, instead of comparing ourselves to the person on the next mat, or pushing ourselves into that tricky posture just to indulge our ego. Rather, by focusing on the immediacy of the practice, enjoying what it brings in and of itself, we develop the ability bit by bit to access those more challenging asanas- and we gain the immediate benefits of being present in the moment, without feeling dissatisfied about what we’re not doing.

Compassion can help here. We are often very compassionate towards others, but not to ourselves- for a myriad of reasons, including feeling that it might be self-indulgent, or that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others. However, compassion isn’t pity, and compassion towards yourself isn’t self pity or self indulgence. Rather, we might think of it as parenting oneself, or being the adult- seeing the bigger picture, giving permission or advice, and allowing kindness. For example, if you are exhausted after a long week, compassion might be allowing yourself to have a takeaway, or fishfingers for dinner instead of cooking something from scratch. On the other hand, if you have had a week of wine and takeaways on the sofa, the compassionate thing might be to go for a long hike up some hills and then make a healthy meal to nourish your body properly. It’s about being honest, recognising needs, and allowing ourselves to meet those needs- or to ask others to help us to do so.

Happy Halloween, happy Diwali, happy Samhain, happy All Saints. However you like to do it, bring the light into your home.

Autumn’s here

Class news, and news from the boat
We’re a month into the new school year, and three weeks into our yoga term. Classes are going well- numbers are up in each class, for which I’m really grateful and I hope they stay up! It’s been lovely to see everyone again after the summer break.
The Boat Child has started secondary school and is settling in well, adjusting to new routines and habits, homework and so on. The dogs are being walked by Lisa of Petals and Paws, the GTS has an interesting opportunity to teach a bit of wood turning, and as autumn arrived on Friday I have had a chance to use my new Wonderbag to make a venison casserole, yum! We also caved into the damp and chill and lit the first fire of the season.

Things coming up
I’m beginning to plan a workshop for early spring/late winter. I’m thinking yoga, meditation, and journalling, with some massage as well. Let me know of any tips or wishes you would like to see!
I’m considering another go at running a yin/restorative class. It’s such a nourishing, worthwhile practice that I really want to do it and make it work!! I’m keeping eyes open for a suitable time and venue; third time lucky!

As well, I’m excited to announce that I have a place on the Diploma course in Yoga Therapy at the Minded Institute, starting in May 2023! As preparation, I’m studying a beginners’ course in counselling- partly to get into the habit of studying, partly to support my own therapy journey, partly for interest, and partly to deepen my knowledge and inform my teaching.


Injury, oh no!

Last week I was coming back from yoga with Julia Frearson, took my shoes off and went to climb down the ladder/steps into the boat, just in my socks. I slipped, my left foot shot forward and my right foot stayed where it was on the top step. As my weight went left, the right knee came with the rest of me, ending up twisting in a sideways movement which tore my medial collateral ligament. I was super-lucky that I was holding the edge of the hatch opening, which meant I was supporting a lot of my weight already and so I didn’t tumble all the way down the steps.

I’ve seen Katy Stephens from Bouncing Back Injury Clinic and fortunately, ligaments can actually heal on their own (I thought they couldn’t so am delighted by this news). Katy was great- really thorough and offered clear, precise explanations for what she was doing and why. I’m so grateful for her skills and reassurance.

The knee is supported by a ligament on each side- the lateral is on the outer side, the medial is on the inner side. These ligaments help to stabilise the knee, and injuries like mine are commonly caused by forces pushing the knee sideways (as in a rugby or football tackle, or indeed slipping and falling down stairs). I’m lucky really because these outer ligaments are easier to heal than the cruciate ligaments and the meniscus which are inside the knee’s bony structure. I’ll be wearing a knee support for a few weeks or months, and have to be patient- I’m not great at patience, but it’s a reminder to let go of attachments and expectations around the body (Aparigraha) and to be disciplined about practising the rehab exercises (tapas). It will also help me to be more mindful about my movements and to experiment with different modifications- if it doesn’t hurt, I can do it, so I need to find ways of doing it without pain.

It’s the end of the holidays again…

There seems to be a theme, this blog is written at the end of holidays! I always over-plan and under-produce on Jobs during the holidays, because as well as Jobs it’s important to relax and spend quality time with the child and the animals, and the GTS.

This month (August) I have also spent a lot of time rediscovering my own yoga and meditation practices, and am feeling the benefits. It’s so easy, when you’re busy with work and family and domestic routines, to neglect the physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing side of life in favour of an extra few minutes in bed; but this is a short-term benefit and over the longer term, I know it’s always worth getting up and getting on the mat.

The GTS gets up for work at 5:20, and this was the view from my bed as I drank the coffee he brought me!
Yoga and meditation practice

I’ve been to Ashtanga yoga with Julia Frearson at The Warehouse, Ashtanga yoga with Jo Patrick and a couple of restorative flows with Jodie Stinchcombe at Quay Yoga Studio in Gloucester, and to SUP Yoga (with Julia again, and Discover Paddling). It was my first time on a SUP board and much harder than it looks!! Awesome fun though (despite my serious face) and I really can’t wait for next year to do lots more.

When I need some help with meditation, I like to use apps to choose either a guided meditation or a yoga nidra practice. I generally use Calm and Insight Timer which both have lots to choose from, arranged around themes or levels.

Class news

Classes start again on Monday 12th September: Gentle/beginners’ yoga on Mondays at 6pm in Slimbridge Village Hall; Vinyasa Flow yoga on Wednesdays at 6:30 in Stinchcombe Village Hall; and Vinyasa Flow yoga (donations based) on Sundays at 10am in Frampton Village Hall. Classes have space for drop-ins or do call me, message on Facebook, or email if you have any questions in advance of coming along.

Holidays again :)

It’s my last day of being on holiday, and when I woke up the clocks had gone back and it was raining A LOT, so me and the puppy snuggled up with coffee and yesterday’s rugby on the laptop. It’s a real treat to spend a Sunday morning in such a relaxed* and decadent way.

*Only relaxed once the game had finished, of course.

The child, the GTS and I went to stay in a friend’s caravan at Hillend on the Gower for a few days this week. It was such a blessing to spend chilled, relaxed time together. We played Scrabble, walked the dogs on the beach, drew, ate, drank, and even watched a bit of telly!! Compete bliss. The child and I even managed a bit of a surf, and she’s now completely obsessed and wanting to do LOTS MORE surfing- something I’m always up for, even if it means putting a cold, damp swimsuit onto my bed-warmed body on a morning!! We popped into PJ’s surf shop in Llangennith and saw the man himself- I remember going in there for my very first surfboard when the shop was still in a shed further down the road through the village. Legend then, legend now and a lovely bloke.

To be fair I didn’t take this particular photo on this trip. I didn’t take any photos this time! I tried hard to ignore the phone, had a bit of a social media detox, though only a bit… but anyway, this is from last autumn when we were there. Gorgeous.

Tomorrow I’m back to work and yoga classes re-start with Gentle/Beginners’ Yoga at Slimbridge Village Hall at 6pm. We missed the one before half term because the child was invited to an open evening for a high school that she wants to go to, so we went there instead (today is the last day for secondary school applications, so we needed to visit it before the holiday). I’m really looking forward to seeing the Slimbridge group again and will be planning a nice gentle flow today, with not too much up and down but a good range of mobility-enhancing postures and movements. On Wednesday it’s Vinyasa Flow in Stinchcombe, and next Sunday morning it’s Vinyasa Flow for Everyone in Frampton- check out the classes and about pages for more information.

In the meantime have a lovely Halloween Sunday!

Overwhelm and restorative practices

Autumn is a beautiful time of year, one which I really love. However, for anyone with children at school, or who works in education, it can be such a busy time that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. We’re going into week six on Monday, with another two weeks until half term, and for many people it’s a routine of early starts, scrambles from one activity to the next, and lots of work. Although we’re having a really mild, sunny weekend right now, the nights are definitely drawing in, the damp is creeping, and it can all get rather much.

While having a yang yoga practice is great (I love a strong flow), and getting out running, cycling, boxing or any other sport where we work the muscles, including the heart; it’s also good to balance that with a yin practice, or restorative.

I’ve posted before about yin and restorative- they’re a very different way of working to most people’s ideas about a physical asana practice. My own preference is to make the poses really snuggly and comforting, allowing gravity to work, and giving myself permission to let go of thoughts which circulate and persist in my mind. Even if it’s just for an hour, even twenty minutes, it can be a wonderful way of taking a proper, soul-soothing rest. Combined with a practice of yoga nidra as well, it becomes beautifully refreshing and relaxing.

My yin, restorative, and nidra class takes place by candlelight. I invite people to bring as many pillows, cushions, and blankets as they can carry, and come in for an hour or 90 minutes of just letting go. Why not give it a try? It’s an excellent way of banishing that Sunday-night feeling of dread or tension at the week ahead!

Yin and Restorative Yoga at Frampton Village Hall

Balance

It’s all about balance, isn’t it? You want to follow your chosen path, so you work at that, but you also need to pay the bills, so while you’re learning, or building, you need to earn money in some other way, and then you find yourself dashing about between jobs, activities, commitments and tasks. When do you find the time to unwind? Do you sacrifice sleep for relaxation? Can you even sleep if you don’t relax?

The new school year started two weeks ago, and my new classes started at the same time. I am really enjoying teaching yoga- it doesn’t feel like work at all. Classes are showing signs of picking up, and I am starting to feel that there is a demand and I’m able to share this wonderful practice with people who are seeing just how amazing and beneficial it is. It is the first time in nearly eleven years that I’ve worked anything like full time- although to be fair it’s not all work, it’s college and yoga, as well as my three jobs for other people, but it is commitments on six days of the week- and I’m aware that my stress levels are quite high at the moment juggling all the balls.

Taking a moment to find stillness, but then “needing” to capture it for social media 😬

I’m trying to put the Yamas and Niyamas into action at the same time, which looks a bit like this:
Ahimsa, do no harm. Making sure I eat well and sleep enough and limit my alcohol days. I took two weeks off alcohol recently- nearly three in the end, because the new rules mean one bottle of wine a week, so after the official fortnight ended I was dry until that Thursday- and was a bit dismayed to notice quite such a difference in my energy levels and how I feel generally. After the last twenty months or so (lockdown and my mother’s illness and passing), almost daily alcohol became quite normalised, so having that break was a really useful tool for me, breaking the links between downtime, tiredness, celebration, relaxation, and alcohol.
Satya, truthfulness. Really seeing what is going on in my head, really noticing if I can’t cope or am masking anxiety or depression, or if fear of anxiety and depression is leading me to project and exacerbate my stress. Recognising what I need, practising what I preach, asking for help, being honest and maintaining my boundaries- saying no when I need to, rather than saying yes and then resenting it, or withdrawing it and letting someone down.
Asteya, non-stealing. Sharing the practice of yoga (which doesn’t belong to me) as openly and widely as possible. Being aware of the needs of others- giving the dog plenty of walks and cuddles. Playing with Violet, reading her stories, taking an interest in her life, making sure I’m not too busy or too wrapped up in my own stuff to be there for her. Reaching out to friends and letting them know they’re in my thoughts. Giving the GTS* plenty of love and respecting his boundaries around his time and energy.
Brahmacharya, not being obsessed with sensual pleasures. In practice this might mean being selective in choices of reading material, for example- so for me, maybe staying off social media, or being more mindful while eating chocolate so that I enjoy each square, rather than polishing off a whole bar and barely noticing that I am.
Aparigraha, non-grasping, letting go of that which doesn’t serve me or which isn’t necessary. Cobwebs- do I really need to clear them today? They can stay (for now). The boat doesn’t need to look perfect. Food shopping- can I do a quick little shop? Do I need a stash of twelve tins of tomatoes? Probably not, Brexit or no Brexit. Pushing my body into the strongest variations of the asana- do I really need to do that? Isn’t it better to accept that today I need a bit more nurturing or rest, in order to be strong for tomorrow?

These five ‘rules’ or guidelines can really help when life is very busy. Keeping an eye on them can certainly help to make things more manageable.

*Gorgeous Tree Surgeon

Busy, busy, busy

School started yesterday. I worked in the health food shop, and the child had a boxing class after school. Then I re-launched a beginners yoga class. It was a really nice day, but there was a lot of rushing about in between the different activities. And then at 4:15 this morning there I was with my head buzzing with Things To Do.

It’s a common issue but one I haven’t suffered with for quite a while- a benefit of lockdown! It’s one of those things that I now fear and the fear of sleeplessness can itself prevent sleep… so a vicious circle is established. This time I put on a yoga nidra and that helped me drift off- somewhat perversely, I seem to need the ‘permission’ offered by the teacher to let go and relax. I’ve found that before with stressful times and taking a restorative class, or even allowing tears to come, I can’t do it on my own but need someone else to say ‘yes, it’s ok’. Is this something that resonates with you? I certainly hope I can bring that ‘permission’ and create a space where people feel able to let go once my Yin & Restorative class starts on 19th September.

I’m feeling the fear also of being overwhelmed by Things To Do- again, in itself a likely cause of my stress and anxiety levels rising. I’m meditating on the balance between pushing too hard and giving up too soon; possibly like someone who damaged ligaments and is wary of repeating the injury, I’m wary of pushing my mental health too far.

Hopefully with plenty of breath work and bedtime Nidra practice all will be well. And also hopefully, I will get sufficient income from my classes to be able to reduce the hours I work PAYE. But it’s a balancing act. What’s your tightrope?

Back to school

I’ve been planning a relaunch of two classes- one in a new evening slot- and a brand-new one. It’s really exciting to plan for gorgeous yin and restorative yoga, sorting out battery candles (real ones aren’t allowed in the venue), write a nidra script…

There’s definitely an autumnal feel to the evenings and the early mornings just now. We’re all getting ready to go back to school, in a way- the swallows are gathering on the phone wires, the politicians are gathering in Westminster, and anyone involved with education is preparing to start the new term, whether teaching, attending, or on the school run. It’s a time of change and transition, a time of new beginnings just as the natural world looks as if it’s starting to shut down.

Resolutions can be made in September, it’s a kind of new year after all, and for me the autumn has always been the time to make new starts. I’m rested after the holidays, ready to get back to being productive, and often inspired by the hours of dreaming in the warm sunshine. (It doesn’t feel like we have had very much warm sunshine, but with a couple of trips in the van I have had plenty of time to dream anyway.) So this autumn, I’m looking forward to getting back into college, to starting new yoga classes, and to resetting my own routines and habits- shedding (or trimming, at least) the bad, and making more of the good.

Santosha can be loosely described as contentment. I’m in a good place at the moment and am finding santosha in much of my life. I feel more and more that I am working within my dharma, fighting less to fit into a mould that doesn’t suit me. My resolution this autumn is to stay on this path, to make it more and more viable, and to enjoy and appreciate the journey. What’s yours?

Yoga in the park, yoga nidra, and the effects of a meditation practice

With the beautiful warm weather we’ve been having, I’ve been lucky enough to have people join me to practise in a local park. The sessions have been fairly mellow the last couple of times as it’s been so hot, and we had to miss most of May because of the rain, but practising in the fresh air is such a lovely experience. Feeling the breeze and the warm sun on your skin, smelling the scent of freshly-cut grass, hearing the birds… Fi also has been coming along with her hula hoops teaching us some moves after the yoga (although some people [me] have been very slow at learning how to do them- apparently yoga needs far less coordination than hula hooping!!)…

My yoga nidra course was really interesting too. I learned a lot about the brain, I got to experience some wonderful nidra states, and I’m even more full of enthusiasm for it than I was before- to the point of being slightly evangelical, oh dear!!

Some lovely yogis accepted my invitation on Tuesday for me to try out my new skills on them, and they seemed quite happy by the end of the practice. I intend to record some out in nature, and then share them on this site- another new challenge for my IT skills!

On that subject, increasing my yoga nidra practice and meditation practice has had a noticeable effect on my moods and also the cravings I sometimes get for comfort foods, like chocolate, crisps, and wine. I feel better regulated and am able to make healthier choices more easily. I’ll let you know how that goes. I’ve always started practice with some breathwork, usually breathing for heart rate variability, but after the nidra course I’ve introduced nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing) both in class and for myself, and it is also having quite the effect on me. It helps with grounding and reducing stress, and like the counting breath practice, it takes concentration so you have to be mindful and in the moment.