I don't take many pictures of myself. I am not of the selfie generation where its not adequate to take just one picture, but maybe 10 or 20 in a day. All posing, looking pretty, interesting, , successful, fabulous darling. Perhaps if I was younger, prettier, thinner then maybe I would. Or maybe not. I totally accept that a certain amount of pictures of oneself is necessary in this vacuum of marketing on social media. In fact I am always amazed at how many people actually want to see other people's faces and bodies and that this has become quite normal in the yoga world. Not only do people want to see your face, but the next yoga pose - you know the really tricky one that took you years to attempt and then to complete but not necessarily master. They want to see you looking buff in your yoga leggings; sweatless in your arm balance; perfectly poised in your inversions and achingly gorgeous in your backbends. Because yoga has become another extension of the fitness and wellness industry where everyone has a goal to reach and body to aspire to. Yoga asana is and has always been a great way to maintain a healthy body, but we know that this is not what yoga is about. Well we should know this. It is, of course, responsible for bringing back the body to its natural level of well-ness but most practitioners who are prepared to go beyond the surface layer of yoga realise that yoga has so many more layers than the external and really the maintenance of the flesh and bones of this body is just preparation for much more important work. And we could say that this work includes the dropping of the ego.
So this leads me on to my next point. I have a love hate relationship with social media. I post a fair bit of content. Being my own boss of my own yoga business means this is necessary, but not only that, I have also got caught up in the slight addiction to nosing round other people's businesses through the lens of their camera phones like modern day curtain twitchers looking in on their neighbours lives through net curtains. This, I admit, is not healthy. In looking into other people's worlds we believe what it is they want to show us. We take a picture at face value even though we know that often if we take a picture of ourselves it may have gone through several edits, deletes and filters before we present it to the world to view. Long ago in the age of analogue and camera film we would take a picture and have absolutely no idea how it turned out until we got the prints back from the developers. Then we would go through each one laughing at the stupid imperfections and poses we awkwardly took knowing that we had no idea what an idiot we looked like - and really also not caring, because we were caught in a moment of fun and joy - the present moment was key. The future development of that picture was a curiosity but not serious (professional photographers aside). In this digital era of impermanence whatever picture we take can be sent to the delete folder of doom, or tweaked within and inch of its original edition to look presentable enough to be shown to and judged by others under the spotlight of the 'gram. And then move on to the next post to view, judge, delete. I am all for impermanence per se. We are, after all such temporary beings on this planet. We are born, we live, we die. The only real certainty in life is inevitable death. But showing our superficial physical selves to a forever scrolling market of non - friends seems a little shallow and a lot futile. Because what are we showing (or showing off) in the end? A glimpse into a concocted life? A gateway into somebody's dreams but not reality? A shiny, happy image that people can assume you are having a beautiful life? Is it real? Is anything other than the present moment real for any of us? I think not. Yet we get caught up in the algorhythms of must haves and must be's created by data eating corporations whose aim is ultimately make money from us. Let's not be fooled that any of this is our own creation for our own good.
I digress. It was not my aim to curve off into a political statement about the corporate world and what we are fed to believe. My aim was to write about my own failings and fallings of being a 50 something yoga teacher in the world of beauty and perceived perfection. I write this because of observing my own reaction to 2 very different yoga teachers both of whom I know. My first encounter was with a wonderful teacher who has been teaching for many years, living on Ibiza for much of her teaching. We discussed how her business of being a teacher trainer had dwindled to very little and how she needed to be invited to teach or offer her teachings on mantra and massage in order to attract any business to her these days. She barely uses social media and finds only very conscious and curious yogis were seeking her out her wealth of knowledge (my words, not hers). I felt I could relate to so much of what she was saying - that feeling of almost being left behind on the very path we chose to tread. My second encounter was not physical but digital. On scrolling though Instagram I saw a person's name whom I know and who another person had been telling me she goes to her classes. I purposely don't follow this person because I have found myself to feel irritated by her posts. But there I was and she popped up so I took a sneaky peak at her feed. And of course, I felt instantly irritated again! She is young and thin and has thousands of followers and a kickass yoga practice. She has many people going to her classes and is invited to co-teach teacher trainings all over the place despite teaching yoga for relatively short period of time. She talks A LOT and is ultra friendly and always has people around her. So why does she irritate me? Because I find myself comparing myself to her and coming up short. We are not alike in any way. I have no need to compare myself. Our life experiences are vastly different. But I guess I feel this tiny twinge of jealousy when I see how popular she is and how many people want to receive what she is giving in contrast to my clientele. I end up feeling not worthless but less worthy when I cast my eye over her digital world and what she is achieving and I feel like I am failing. This is absolutely not her fault. This is my ego reacting to her ego in a rather skewed way. I don't have to like or agree with how she runs her yoga business and what perfect pictures of her in perfect yoga poses half naked with her perfect body she posts on Instagram. I don't need to read her reams of text explaining on each post how much she is in tune with herself, with nature and understands explicitly what her followers needs and wants are. Its really none of my business and clearly she is giving many people just what they want and need. The responsibility I have is to not look at the things that make me feel like I am lesser, like the not so popular girl in school again. My work is to not judge another because its not how I would be. She is she and I is me.
might continue to feel a little frustrated that the way yoga is going feels very much dependent on visual stimulation and is beginning to bow down to a fast click industry of good looking youth performing good looking poses in good looking places. Everything perfectly placed to look natural. The irony of that statement is not lost on me. It appears this is what many people want. My only answer to that is to continue to provide genuine, authentic yoga to genuine authentic searchers of their genuine authentic selves. And that often does not feel perfect. Often that feels messy and hard and even ugly and scarred and sad and awkward and a little bit lost. As long as there are people (like me) so very imperfect and not apologising for it but willing to try to make their lives a little better through a very old technique of observing and correcting and listening and feeling and being honest with what hurts and what works, then I am here. Teaching what I know to those that want to know it. You are all welcome.
PS (Pic of my not so perfect body plus wobbly bits)
I am aware I haven't written a blog for some time and I am currently asking myself why that is? I cannot give myself the excuse of not having time, because I do. But maybe its about not feeling I have anything valid to say and finding myself to be a quieter person these days.
I had a birthday recently and, as birthdays often do, it gave me a reason to reflect on the past year, but also to muse over the past few years and the changes that have been evident in my life. I don't really like to label thoughts and feelings and physical changes too much as we tend to attach a story around those labels and indeed live ourselves into the story. However, for the purposes of this blog I can explain the past few years of awkward interruptions to what was my normal existence as being perimenopausal.
Where did I go?
For the world to see, Wendy, yoga teacher living in Ibiza, cat collector and retreat organiser, is very much still here. But in many ways who I was when I set out on the task of running a yoga retreat business and living in Ibiza is no longer here. We all change. Its inevitable, its vital to existence that on a cellular level, whatever is created, dies and then something new is born in its place in order to maintain a healthy system. And so it continues with the reproduction of cells gently slowing down as we get older.
The ageing process is a bewildering thing. The lines on the face increase regularly and with more fervour and the once natural hair colour (other than the self imposed dyes we forced on it) start to be replaced by gangs of grey. The pert parts we laughingly took for granted begin to develop a desire to return to earth and the once smooth thighs get poured into just a bit more stretched lycra - thank god for yoga pants! The maintenance of the vessel holding us has to step up a gear to keep it ticking over, whilst the desire to do the maintenance diminishes into days of procrastination.
And then to add to this development "hello menopause". Why on earth women have been given such a task through life to deal with so many acute changes from puberty to periods to motherhood (for some) to menopause, can only be attributed to the vast capacity of we warriors to be able to cope with shit! And then cope with more shit. Because we can and we have to and we discover we are hugely powerful (even when we just want to fall apart - we don't). So the menopause its just the next stage of development. Some may call it undevelopment, but however you see it, stuff is changing chica! For me the physical changes are a a bit simpler in comparison to the mental and emotional rollercoaster ride I find myself to be on. I didn't pay for the ticket, but somebody in their great wisdom decided to chuck me on it and now I can't get off until its over.
I am sure this is not news for many women my age but I will list some of the physical surprises this time of my life gave me:
Help is at hand
Is there help for any of us in this situation? I know I am not alone - that knowledge in itself is a great help. But being a yoga teacher and practitioner I also know I have a huge tool box of amazing things that I can use to help me navigate what is probably going to be going on for the next few years at least.
I don't believe in halting the passing of time and diving into a pausing of menopausal proceedings (excuse the pun) with chemicals from doctors. This change in women is inevitable and normal and (as uncomfortable as it can be) totally natural.
But I do know there are things that can help us navigate the choppy waters. Bear with me through the nutritional stuff - I am still experimenting with some good advice from other pausees.
Magnesium - is needed for so many things. Bone health, good nerve function, to keep your mood up, for good muscle function and to keep your heart healthy. It’s needed to keep your thyroid balanced, to regulate calcium in the body, which again is really important for your bones. It’s needed for your hormones. Very important in the menopause. It’s needed for sleep. It’s needed to keep your blood pressure level and to give you healthy hair and nails. And it’s also known to help to keep you young - no face lifts are NOT the answer. In menopause magnesium levels plummet and we need around 270mg per day to feel healthy. You can get this in foods like avocado, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, brown rice and hurrah dark chocolate (not the full bar ladies). I eat pretty much all of those things but noticed my sleeping habits and muscle cramps lessening when I took supplements.
Vitamin B12 - As you age, your body loses some of its ability to absorb vitamin B-12 and your risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency increases. The symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency I noticed were: fatigue, balance problems, low mood and confusion. Unfortunately a vegan diet is not great to provide a natural source of B12, but some of the plant based milks and nuts and seed do help. I take a supplement to be sure. I definitely notice the difference in energy levels if I don't have it.
Vitamin C - needed for growth and repair, collagen productions, healthy teeth and gums and helps prevent itchy skin. So many lovely fruits and veggies contain this so a vegan diet is no reason not to consume. But, again, I take a supplement and this helps ward away the higher histamine levels.
Nettle Tea and Green Tea - both are great for urinary tract health and I am very aware of the need to keep my fluids up - yes that does mean more peeing....it never ends. But it also means fewer UTI's.
Yoga - Of course yoga! We all know that yoga is wellbeing for all ages, genders, body types; everyone. It's been my go to medicine for the last 20 years. I don't always want to practice yoga, but I do know I usually feel better when I do. There are occasions when all it seems I do is roll around on the mat, stretching this bit and that bit - but I believe in giving the body what it needs. Sometimes it needs a restorative practice of just lolling around for a while and sometimes it needs a good boot up the bum to crack open some stella moves like those you see on Instagram. But yoga also teaches us to listen and be aware of even the tiniest, some might feel insignificant, parts to the body and adjust and release into and breath around and engage in whatever pose we happen to be in. We learn to feel the intricacies of our energetic body in such a way that we become very sensitive to changes. WIth my practice over the years I have witnessed huge changes and I have allowed yoga to help me over each hurdle with the understanding that my practice is not for just when I feel well and healthy and fit. But my practice is for when I feel ill or old or low (especially that). The benefits to the body by just tuning into it and letting it tell me the story of that day - only that day - are clearly valuable. But the benefits to my mental and my emotional bodies (the vijnanamaya kosha and the manomaya kosha) are truly lifesaving.
The mood swings I have experienced over the last couple of years have been a huge surprise. Not the monthly pre menstrual slump that I and many women experience. But more of a heightened sensitivity that responds as much to videos of cute puppies as it does to frustrations around not being able unblock my drains. All of this can be quite overwhelming. Anger and despair visit me frequently often in surges. But all of these fluctuations (vritti in the yoga sutras) can be addressed with a distracting session of yoga. Once I have finished a practice, however I felt before and during, I feel released from body tension and my nervous system is calmed and I might have a good cry or I might just expel a deep sigh. Its a gift. Yoga has always been a gift.
Meditation - over the time since I began meditating I have dedicated sometimes many long hours. and other times I have spent only 5 - 10 minutes in silence. Either way, just the acknowledgement of sitting and being still and observing is invaluable to any menopause symptoms. Sometimes just being watchful is all we can ever do right? I never beat myself up for not sitting longer. But I do try to focus, even for a short time and tap into my nervous system to dispel any negative thought patterns that have emerged over the day - or sometimes during the night.
Pranayama - simple ujjayi breathing - the basis of most pranayama practices - has brought many scatty-brained reactions to a situation into clear focus and by tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system, this breath alone can calm the beast inside. Its also really useful before meditating and after yoga asana. Regularly I also use "nadi sodhana" (alternate nostril breathing) as a mind calming technique or "sama vritti" as a great pre-meditation tool. All breath is valid. All breath is sacred.
As life changes and life situations change me I know and understand that my yoga practice is and has always been the most effective healer. Once we have dipped our toes into the yogic pool, we know that this vast intelligence - which is n fact our own inner voice - can and should travel with us through life. Remembering that during periods of stress, low mood, physical inefficiencies and tricky situations that arise is the hardest part. The most challenging aspect to yoga is actually just getting on the mat/ meditation cushion. Do that and everything else will follow in pure presence and with peace.
In these times of me me me we can see how self-obsessed many people have become with our selfie generation, people aspiring to be seen in the most glamourous clothes and the coolest places. People actually idolising and wanting the lifestyle of celebrities who appear to have no other notoriety than being famous. A superficiality has become almost normal driven by a lack in many people's lives.
The good news is, once we embark on a path of yoga - whether that is simply a couple of classes a week to get a bit bendier, or a more intense period of study designed to challenge your lifestyle and beliefs - the "me" turns to "we". Even though we did not know this would happen when we started, we have become part of a community.
Once we become more conscious of a collective - and we can feel this very simply in just attending a regular yoga class - we find we can no longer deny a wider sense of belonging. Our efforts turn to thinking and doing things that will help more people or beings because we want those souls to also enjoy a feeling of oneness with all. Its a snowball effect. We begin to feel a sense of being part of something bigger, and feeling an ease with our selves that perhaps had been missing. Consequently we feel the need to (for want of a better expression) spread the love.
Yoga focuses so much on bringing us back to ourselves, but through the work to move more inward and to understand what makes us tick, we begin to acknowledge non-duality. In fact that is this realisation that gives us one of those "ah-ha" moments. Through looking in and working though all the myriad physical stickyness, emotional limitations and habits we have formed over the years that we thought we needed to survive this worldly realm, without even knowing how we got there, we come to a deeper understanding. That understanding is purely, simply and beautifully that we are not separate. Its a relief to be honest. It is a joyous truth that insists on shining out of us and touching all of those around us near and far. It is there in our group interactions, in our alone times and especially in our times of communicating with nature. In fact these moments are indeed the most sacred and satisfying. Because the realisation of not being separate extends not just to sentient beings but to all that is vibrant and alive and pulsates out of every rock, plant, tree, body of water, animal, insect, everything. Every Thing!
Once we emit this truth we start to transmit a vibration that is in line with nature and with aliveness. This actually cannot help but burst out from us. Those of us who have been practising yoga (or other disciplines of a connective nature) might find that some people feel awkward around us. Even blinded by an undeniable light. It sounds a little over dramatic but, honestly, the people who are not ready to change and move towards a lighter brighter, more knowledgeable self, may even have to shrink back from you. Or you may yourself feel a need to move away from dark, negative though patterns and people that, albeit unknowingly, desire to cast shade over your light.
So to get back to the title of this piece. Is it selfish to work on yourself and to take time out from a busy working, family existence to be with yourself and others who want to continue this journey to self? No. Of course not. By separating ourselves from a day to day existence from time to time, whether that is with an afternoon workshop or a yoga holiday, and being around a group of people, a community of sadhakas (seekers after truth) you are, in fact being incredibly non-selfish. Through these small acts of self-development and self-empowerment the collective spreads. You may find yourself moving away from some people and habits, but equally you will find how so many people will be drawn towards you. Drawn towards a person who is suddenly at ease. The person that seems to be a little lighter. The person who despite the swirling dervish of chaos that surrounds us all in our day-to-day existence, seems to be anchored in peace. You owe it to yourself to be that person. To find that peace. To spread the light.
If you feel so inclined to find a little bit of time out, then do join me in Ibiza, the whitest and lightest of islands, for a personal journey to the self. www.lotuspadyoga.com
Hello. Its been a while since I accessed this section of my website. So giving it a bit of a dust off with my next blog.
So this one has been playing on my mind for a while. Its about feelings I have had over the last few months and the effects those sentiments have had on my body and mind.
I have to admit to feeling disappointment in my body. I have experienced a few things of late that have caused this disappointment: aching ankles, a hacking cough, a bout of cystitis and often headaches. Not all at once, I might add. However, it seemed to me that just I I got over one ailment, another cropped up to bite me and I have felt like I am constantly dealing with some symptom or another and trying to find solutions in aromatherapy, chiropractics, herbal medicine and energy work. Some of these experiences are ongoing and I have noticed myself complaining and feeling the weight of having to deal with things when this is not, in my mind, my normal state of being.
I have prided myself over the past 18 years or so of having a relatively healthy lifestyle with a constant yoga, pranayama and meditation practice. vegetarian and often vegan diet and minimal abuse on the body in the form of alcohol and any other substances for that matter. I reaped the rewards of early nights and keeping toxins and toxic people to a minimum and have been a pretty fit and healthy person. To a point that I have almost taken that for granted. In my yoga classes over the years and in different places teaching regular classes and retreats I have seen the walking wounded arrive and noted with some piety, the effects of lifestyle on many people's physicality and psyche. And in that time I could wholeheartedly advice and direct students to an alternative way of being through the path of yoga and all the accompaniments that run alongside this practice. I am not wrong. I know that yoga and "right living" can have such a positive effect on the individual. Not only do we feel better physically through realignment of body, re- discovery of breath and release of mind chatter, but we find that the our mindset becomes clearer and our intentions sharper and we discover we are able to attract to our lives all we wished for because we are striving to reach our highest potential. So no big surprise to anyone ready this, this yoga shit works.
What I hadn't banked on after such a long period of health, was the possibility of ill-health. What a surprise. I am not saying I have not experienced any ill-health in the last 20 years or so. But it feels to me, very little to be concerned with and very easily conquered. The niggling little things that have been working their ways into my psyche for the last few months or so have had such an effect on me that I admitted to Abi my (NSA) chiropractor "I am just so disappointed in my body!". I was admonished immediately for this confession and she proceeded to work on my energetic body to address the situation. Without going too deeply into this Abi works on a little know form of body work called Neuro Spinal Analysis which in my understanding works with the body physically but also with the spine in particular as a diagnosis tool for many ailments we may encounter.
It was almost a shock to hear myself admit to disappointment. I was actually disappointed in being disappointed if it could get any worse. But after the reaction of Abi I realised I needed to have a deeper look at this feeling and turned to yoga of course to give me answers. What have I let go of? What was I not looking at properly? What could I do to address my health concerns and also my reactions to them.
I looked towards the Yamas and Nyamas first. These are ethical disciplines in which to lead your life by - the Yamas being the "don't do's" of life and the Niyamas are more the "do this" side to things. They work alongside each other complementing each other. If you adhere to the Niyamas then the Yamas should be easier and vice versa. The very first Yama is Ahimsa which means "non-violence" and of course refers to many things like not harming others, not harming animals (hence vegetarianism is important in yoga) and also not harming yourself. So this is something I needed to look at. By being disappointed in my body and what has been ailing it, I was harming myself. We have one body. We are born with this amazing, incredible machine that runs and runs and works for us our whole lives until the clock stops eventually. It houses our soul and works 24/7. We owe it to ourselves to respect that devotion and in return devote some love and attention to it also. The more we look after it, the better it treats us. What a blessing. So when mine is not running as smoothly as I would like, I should not be unkind to it. But instead to show it more affection and gratitude for what it can do and find the best possible solutions to helping it be the best it can be. Lesson - be kind to my body.
The next Yama I looked at was Aparigraha - non-covetousness, non-greed or craving. Within this we cover attachment (to things or outcomes) and disappointment. With the practice of letting go of an expectation to something we remove at one stroke fear, attachment, disappointment, anxiety, jealousy, anger, lust and depression. I had expected that my body would perform perfectly for as long as I lived. I practice my yoga asanas, work on my breath and mind and therefore developed an expectation that this would sustain me always/. But because of this attachment I caused myself to be disappointed when the machine was not running as well as I would like. I hadn't factored in many aspects like age, work and responsibilities and the effects they might have on my body also. No matter how much you practice, sometimes life just happens and has to be dealt with. We have an amount of control over our life yes, but also so much we cannot foresee or direct. In this way the lesson to learn was not to expect anything and let go a little of what will be.
The final ethical code I needed to look at was the Niyama, Santosha - contentment. Tricky that one. To be content - easier said then done. But I think ultimately its the work towards this that is important and ongoing. Santosha cuts at the root of all desires. It bestows peace, one-pointedness of mind, serenity and satisfaction. It brings success in the practice of yamas. Contentment does not mean satisfaction, but willingness to accept things as they are and to make the best of them. So it works again very closely with Ahimsa and Aparigraha in helping to bring acceptance and drop expectation. We may not always like a situation but we can cause ourselves less harm by accepting it before moving to change it if necessary. Lesson - accept it is how it is.
This life and this yoga practice changes and develops over time. As soon as we become settled into our bodies and lives heading in one direction, we can guarantee the winds will change and our course changes with it. Its inevitable. Its unquestionable. What it most satisfying is the knowledge that these teachings have been studied and passed on over centuries. None of this stuff is new. What is rather wonderful to me is the understanding that no matter how long I have been learning, reading, studying and also passing on this information to those that are willing to listen, there is real value in going back to basics. Looking again at what I learnt and seeing how that applies to my life now. Looking again at those precious teachings and realising I am still a novice and that I will return again to the beginning from time to time and remind myself what is valuable and what is truth. Understanding that my body and my life changes over time and knowing that the words remain the same but the meaning might change with me. What a comfort and a blessing.
Remember when you were a kid and you went on a journey in the back of the car with the family and almost the instance you left you asked "are we nearly there yet?" I have memories of rolling around on the back seat (no seat belts required back in the day), arguing with my sisters, sunshine glaring though the window, games of "eye spy" and dad having to stop the car when my sister was choking on a boiled sweet to fling her upside down and shake it out.
Do you have a feeling that all through life you are still "not quite there"? Perhaps its an impatient nature that insists there is always further to go, more to do and harder to strive. Certainly impatience has played a major starring role in my life. That feeling of nothing being quite complete. That niggling voice that insists, we are not quite enough and if we just keep on keeping on then one day, honestly one day, we might just get somewhere. But where? And when? And how? And there we go with the questions and needing some kind of time limit imposed on being somewhere and having achieved something.
In work we have deadlines to meet - time precious dates somewhere in the future that all work must be complete and be perfect by, Heavens, what would happen if not? Certainly when working for a boss we know how work (whatever work it is) can be judged and monitored and appraised into some ideal and if we do not meet that deadline, that ideal, those guidelines then we are left in no doubt that we must be lacking. Those guidelines can make us feel very narrow. We feel constricted, forced into an expected set of behaviour of cause and effects. And the fear of failure can give cause for anxiety and so begins a stressful existence. We could do better. We should do better. What a shame. If you are someone self-employed this can be even more tangible. As we are often our own worst critics - I mean how many people walk around with a big fat smile on the face thinking "I am bloody great!". Not many of us. Congratulations if your ego has expanded into that particular individual. As someone running my own business, there is always an inner feeling of doubt, or that question - did I do enough? Working for myself is absolutely the best thing for me and I have never worked harder for anyone other than me. My income, reputation, life and self-esteem (aka ego) depend on me (mostly). But I can be quite a cruel boss. Have I performed as well as I could as a teacher? Did I manage to market that retreat well enough to get people in? Is my place the best sort of environment to bring guests? Is the food good enough? (I can answer that one as generally this is out of my control and in the hands of my partner - so I think it is.) Are the rooms comfortable? Is the bathroom clean enough? Tricky that one. AM I GOOD ENOUGH???? Usually the answer is - must try harder.
So the constant striving to be something else, in a better place, as a better person is always set somewhere ahead of us. Reaching out with child-like hands to grasp at the balloon that is floating away. And the judgement of oneself to be not at that place already comes from conditioning from the past. We are almost there, but not quite. If we could only....
What if I suggest to you as many spiritual leader, or guide has insisted, that we are already there? Sri Ramana Maharshi said that we do not need to do anything to be enlightened, to be happy. We already have everything within us. We simply just need to know that. Many gurus and guides have talked about the same. Osho quoted "The search is not going to help you to reach the goal, because the goal has never been lost. The search is only going to help to drop the greed, fear, possessiveness, jealousy, hatred, anger. The search is only going to help you drop the hindrances, and once the hindrances are not there, suddenly one becomes aware: I have always been here, I have never gone anywhere else." Of course Eckhart Tolle also teaches about the removal of time to understand that we have already everything we need. "Time is the horizontal dimension of life, the surface layer of reality. Then there is the vertical dimension of depth, accessible to you only through the portal of the present moment. So instead of adding time to yourself, remove time. The elimination of time from your consciousness is the elimination of ego. It is the only true spiritual practice."
What all these, and many more, great teachers are explaining to us, is that it is us ourselves that get in our own way. How ironic, that if we could just move that mountainous blockage of the ego (the bundle of self-doubting, judgemental neurotic, critical voices that also become part of our identity) out of our view, we would see vistas of iridescent green valleys, perfect still oceans of great depth and unending hues, timeless forests of unswaying, unquestioning trees reaching open branches into the heavens. If we could just summon up the strength to accept that everything is as it should be right now and that we are already there. And there, here, now, is perfect.
One yoga teacher told me that the reason why childbirth is so incredibly powerful (and for those few souls lucky enough to feel this - joyful) is because it forces you into the present moment. I have never given birth, so thankfully the other tool for this can be a yoga and/or meditation practice. In the time we are moving our body into shapes that release latent energy with breath and focus as our tools or when we are sitting in stillness with awareness, we are present. We sense a oneness. And in that moment - sometimes a fleeting one - we accept ourselves fully that it is all "just so" and right and as it is. We are not "nearly there" because we are "always there".
Now there's a cheery subject matter. Actually it may not be cheery to contemplate death, but I do think its necessary and indeed can be comforting or even liberating. As ever, I can only ever give my thoughts and perspectives on situations that are or have been relevant to myself.
Where do we start? The Buddhists have been teaching us the necessity of understanding impermanence since Buddhism began. Thich Naht Hanh tells us "It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not." It is the attachment to people, things or outcomes that really mess us up as human beings. Once we actually get the realisation of this then we can begin to work our way through to understanding non-attachment, seeing it not as a cold approach to life and people, but as a true way to enjoy the present moment. Whatever it holds. So how do we explore this and change the way we live?
As humans many of us develop habits of cravings and aversions, never actually putting ourselves in a situation of allowing whatever is happening to just happen. Here's a few examples. We go on holiday to a great place. The sun is shining, the food is great, the people we meet are charming. We are relaxed and happy because we let ourselves live that moment without the stresses and strains of normal life getting in the way. We are allowed to have this holiday and we deserve it and enjoy it incredibly. The problem comes when we leave the holiday. We go home, there's been a leak in the water pipes, the weather is dreadful, there is no food in the fridge and you are starving and you have to go to work in the morning. Hmmm. What a change. We went from experiencing the bliss of the present moment on a beach somewhere without a care in the world, to experiencing this present moment of flooded house, no food, bad weather and deadlines to meet at work. Where is the joy in that? We spend the next few weeks at working wishing we were back on the beach, on permanent holiday of course with all the finances in place to secure that. We spend the next several months at work, getting annoyed with people, hating the rain, waiting for payday so we can pay all our bills and maybe have enough left to go out with friends at the end of it. Doesn't seem fair right?
What happened was we developed a craving for the holiday experience. We saw ourselves in that shining moment and liked what we were. It was fabulous. We want more of it. We NEED more of it. We are then miserable because the actual present moment looks nothing like that so we suffer. We hate our boss, we despise the rain, the rent is too high in the apartment we share with annoying people and we don't have enough time to get to our favorite yoga class. So then all of that in turn creates an aversion. Everything we don't want and that we are experiencing now we want to AVOID and so leads to suffering.
Cravings and aversions, in Buddhism, are the very acts that lead to suffering. The only way out of this suffering is to be and continue to be in the present moment. There is, of course nowhere else we can be. We are neither future nor past in reality and whatever IS right NOW is all there is. Again, the suffering comes when we are unable to accept that on an intellectual level. Our bodies, emotions and psyche are able to digest this, our minds have a tendency to over-think any present moment insisting we move forward towards something or sit in the past in a place that felt comfortable for us or even uncomfortable. This in turn leads once more to a craving or aversion. An example. You are sitting in meditation. Your mind begins to drift to a point in time just before the meditation when you had an argument with your boyfriend. You stew over this point in your mind for several minutes, creating sentences in your head of all you should have said when he said that thing, and experiencing a feeling of gathering annoyance at how unjustified that point he made was etc etc. Before you know it you spent the whole time sitting and stewing over a time that had already past and was no longer relevant to your life as it is NOW. You missed your chance to observe the present moment by sitting in the past with an aversion. The peace you wished to create is lost. Another time in meditation, your mind wanders towards your stomach. You feel a rumbling in the belly and your mind begins to conjure up pictures of this tasty sandwich and that delicious pudding you will devour the moment you have finished your meditation. You have craved a future situation so much that once again you missed the present.
Having sat for 2 vipassana meditations what materialises (along with the vast array of mental carnage that appears during the course of 10 days in silence) is the absolute necessity to remain present. The vipassana method was taught to the world by the Buddha as a method to end the suffering of cravings and aversions through the observation of the present moment. What is taught is equanimity through anicca (ah-ni-cha). Anicca is the observation of change by noticing what is happening on a physical level throughout the body during a meditation. It is a long and difficult process, I cannot lie, of 10 days of silence and around 10 hours of meditation each day. It is grueling, confrontational, uncomfortable and bloody exhausting. But what happens over this time is an awareness of change. Without going into the details of the method - you really need to experience it yourself to understand it - you begin to understand that whatever arises passes; whatever is created is destroyed; whatever you perceived as pleasure in one instance can be pain next and vice versa. The key being to sit in the middle of all of that and accept this wonderful impermanence of everything without wishing it were different. Because it IS just as it IS so why try to change that when it will inevitably change anyway. Once you have sat a vipassana meditation you can feel a sense of being reborn into the world with new eyes. Of course it is different for everyone and different every time because of course everything is. On a personal level I felt it to be liberating and gave me the tool of acceptance.
So this nicely (ironically) leads me to death. Another subject that is difficult to deal with because, of course, we have developed an aversion to our own impermanence. What a conundrum. Not only do we have to deal with aversions but to our aversion to impermanence. We humans are born into this world almost with a feeling of invincibility and act in many ways, like life will just go on and on. We know this not to be true, but for the most part, this is not something we wish to dwell on or discuss at length with most people. "Hey Jane, how are you? Have you thought about your funerals recently?" In the same way that accepting impermanence can be liberating, accepting the inevitability of our own death can be a comfort. Not macabre or dark, but actually light and joyful. Of course, if we understand that everything changes, then of course we understand that life itself must change. And through understanding anicca - everything that arises, passes - so then must we. For in the end we are only vibration, materialising as matter (or something too scientific for me to get into). But what I am trying to get to is the joy of knowing that we are not here forever. This can transform us into beings of such presence that we can accept every moment to be just as it is. We do not always have to enjoy that moment, but we must accept it We do not have to enjoy the pain of being at the dentist, but we can accept that this will pass and something else will occur afterwards. As it must.
My recent experience with death was having to have my cat put to sleep. Some might say "she was only a cat" but what I found surprising was the waves of emotions that crashed over me at this time. I experienced incredible sadness, guilt and loss manifesting in tears and grief. I had not expected this to affect me so much, but it did. I did not enjoy it, but neither did I suppress it nor create an aversion to it. I allowed myself to experience it in total until the enormity of it passed and I was left with acceptance. I am still processing thoughts of guilt and loss over this small ball of feisty fur that was her personality and for however long this goes on for I will allow myself to feel whatever I am feeling. But knowing that this passing, this death is an inevitability is a comfort. Knowing and accepting that this will come to everything in my life in some shape or form is not always easy, but I will handle that dis-ease as best I can when I have to. Most of all. seeing the rose bush underneath which I buried the cat, come to life with such an explosion of life in the reddest, fragrant, rosiest flowers has brought me a sense of continuation of life and energy. And a sweetness in remembering.
When I began yoga around 15 years ago, I was not a kid and already felt in some ways like I had left it quite late. Not too late, but later than most. I did, however recognise from my first yoga class that I had almost been doing this weird stuff on some level, all my life. All the bendy, flexible parts seemed to be absorbed by my ultra, hyper-extendable, joints and I could easily fall and slip into many postures effortlessly. I was on a fast track to falling in love with yoga - so much of it seemed easy to me. So many other physical activities left me cold: the bouncy, smiley aerobics classes where we were told us to ‘step it up’; the puce in the face circuit training, the ankle-crushing, foot-pounding ‘nopainnogain’ break through the wall running activities. None of this could entice me further than the first try. All this stuff felt sweaty, uncomfortable, painful and deeply unpleasant to me. And then yoga. Ah what a comfort and joy. What pleasure it was to ease my body into stretches and slowly move into interesting shapes and defy all western world logic, but damn they felt good. How exhilarating it was to finally understand I could use my muscles effectively possibly for the first time since trying to skip all those PE classes in school. And the bonus was that it did not feel stressful or harmful in order to get a result. Instead there came a great satisfaction in directing my attention to muscles I never realised I had and knowing they were being worked in ways I had never known before.
It’s a sly animal this yoga. It catches us, people like me, or people like you. It opens a door so just a sliver of light is let in, just enough to make you curious to want to know what’s on the other side. It presents itself as a mystery, a puzzle, a game of the simplest kind that anyone can play, by introducing us to a set of physical activities that we can relate to almost from childhood. Smilingly yoga says “yes, you can play with me” and shows us more and more what we are able to do. Of course what you are able to do increases the more you do it. So it feels like a gift that keeps on giving and that you are the gift, the giver and the recipient all wrapped up in a great package with a bow on top. But of course those of us who have been playing this game for a while know that this is a very simplistic view of yoga. It’s hilarious how it catches us and then continually moves the boundaries to present yet more goals to reach. As we understand a little every day, a little bit more of the mystery is uncovered and, like the longest ever game of cluedo, we continue on understanding more and yet, not understanding anything as there is always more to know and digest. Genius!
One of the simpler ways yoga catches our attention is through this movement of the body. As humans we are far more likely to understand something on a physical level and this is how we begin to learn. Yet after a while for most of us it’s clear that this is just the introduction. Surprisingly and gradually we realise it starts to deal with our mind, breath, emotions, energy, senses and layers and layers of past life and current life experiences. Sneaky yoga. As we become more and more aware of our outer forms, our physicality, yoga insists we keep penetrating layers and go deeper. Often not a comfortable journey, going inwards, but such a necessary one and really the only true adventure left that is available to everyone. The eternal internal voyage.
So whilst my body initially understood this practice with my periphery, through time and effort I was delighted and surprised to know more depth. Which was just as well, as what I discovered on a physical level, over time changed and continues to change. Of course, everything does. My earlier bendy, I can do anything practice has altered into something different. My body has been through some stuff. One or two minor but game altering injuries down partly to my over-flexibility – I was warned by several good yoga teachers that this might happen. My teachers of course also warned that I needed to work on my strength and stamina and not rely solely on my flexibility. Over the years this is exactly what happened, as we know yoga works on whatever aspect we are lacking and reigns in all elements of the self into a more balanced being. So, thankfully I did listen and become a stronger yogi and in the process actually lost some of my flexibility. This meant that I was able to move into postures that required suppleness with more control and the stamina I gained meant I could hold my place in space.
Sometimes an injury or two can teach us incredible things. Certainly as a teacher one is able to have more empathy and understanding of people coming to class who are not as able as others (or indeed yourself) and learn new ways to be a little more creative in getting across knowledge than simple show and tell. But in my own personal practice perhaps the lessons learnt are about gaining something whilst something else is lost. Through being less able in some ways on a physical level, a new awareness and mindfulness has entered into each practice. A slower consideration of what and how to get somewhere – a pose, a thought, a breath – has deepened my yoga immeasurably. Stillness and reflection now play larger parts in my practice and meditation is as important, if not more than, asana. Attentive consideration and knowing when and where to push, but more significantly understanding when not to, have considerably kept my ego in check. What began as an easy, fun and challenging practice, is now one with more awareness and attention. This doesn’t mean I don’t still have fun and pop out a few arm balances or attempt that allusive handstand from time to time. What it means is that now I am aware of how far to go without it adding to another problem to deal with. I am also well aware that as I age, there is still a necessity to keep it all moving, despite added stiffness and sometimes a reluctance to get out of bed. But a few days of no asana brings back the phrase “use it or lose it” and too much rest only leads to less comfort in my body. So the several hours of physical practice I once undertook with glee and sometimes gritted teeth determination, have made way for a balance between action and inaction. My body has changed because of this, but then so has my mind and the glimpses of pure presence found in both movement and stillness will hopefully nourish me into a ripe old age, with grace and gratitude.
Where is the love?
Having been hugely cynical in my former (yoga) life, and one of those sarcastic, defensive and so-called witty people, ready with a quick retort and a sly comment, I changed into someone who could not be around that kind of energy, that darkness. Through my path with yoga and consequently some of the truly transformational and positive people I met, I found a sensitive side to me that had not been encouraged when I was growing up. As the youngest in the family, I had to push forward and speak up and try to be clever; to be heard. Well, that is how I thought it should be. After several years of practicing yoga and then being transported to the other side of the world to study it in depth on my teacher training in Australia, I really had entered into another world. I was with positive speaking people. People who were encouraging and nurturing and would not tolerate "can't do" statements or "I am rubbish" utterings. I had to sign a contract that actually stated we would be asked to leave if we were highly critical or others and of ourselves. It was a new language to learn. Not one that insisted I wasn't quite good enough, but one that insisted I was. I was better than I thought and whatever level I was at, was my level and should not be judged.
Love was all around me. I eventually saw it in the firm teachings from my teacher who gradually broke down my ego until I could accept the teachings she presented to me. I saw it in the hippy, almost throw-back to the 70's community in which I lived whilst training. I saw it in the encouraging new friends I found on the course. I guess what I am saying, is that once I chose to feel love, only then could I feel it and see it. I felt I was around shiny people, who encouraged each other and supported and smiled and laughed and were not serious even though they didn't drink or take drugs or eat meat or do conventional "fun" things. It was a wonderful and life changing experience. One I will always treasure and be grateful for. After this, I found it difficult to return to the UK and my rather staid and lonely life. I had changed and therefore needed to change my circumstances.
Visiting and then moving to Ibiza, it was easy to feel like I could fit in. Bohemian communities sprout up in pockets around the island and I eased myself into teaching work and friendships with some of the people I met. It was easy to feel love in a sunny place, teaching yoga to some enchanting people and hanging out on beaches with other yogis and healers. Everyone seemed so genuine. After a while I did not want to be anywhere else.
Yet there is another part to this island that can tap into my latent cynicism that has been snoozing for a while. The word "Love" is spread around a lot. And this is what I mean. The WORD "love". I hear this spoken by many people to visitors to this island as almost a commodity. In fact, in some places and to some people, it appears that this is what is has become. It can appear to be a selling point rather than a deep emotional state of being. I hear yoga teachers, therapists, writers and dj's and event organisers bandy the word about - telling us we should feel love. We should be love. We should have love. And if you don't have it, that's ok because we can sell you love. Tourists and residents alike can buy 2ft letters spelling L.O.V.E, stickers with love on, songs with love in, t-shirts, bags, jewellery and postcards spell out the word. Come to this dance and dance the word. Come to this casa and chant the word. Come to this fashion show and wear the word. Come to this retreat - you lonely souls - and find it on your yoga mat. Take this therapist and she will take €100 off you to tell you why you don't have it in your life.
You see the problem is not that all of these healers, teachers, speakers and experts aim to provide people with a direct pathway to love. I see no harm in perhaps training someone to be able to feel love who has been closed off in some way, or suffered through life to the point of not being able to access it. I am not that cynical in the end. My problem is that the soul is missing. I can almost see a heart being given to someone, and then behind them their money taken out of their pockets. I hear the word said a lot. But I don't often feel it. I see the € signs pop up in front or their eyes. They may not even be aware of it, but there it is. Perhaps I am missing something. I have been to yoga classes and told to "feel the love" by someone in a floaty outfit prancing around with flapping arms a glazed expression...and then I don't. And I can only imagine how dispirited this can make anyone feel who is already feeling a lack of love. Because of course, if you are being told to feel it and you don't then there must be something wrong with you right?
This is why for me, love is not something you can sell someone. It is not something you can even give someone. It is only something you can remind someone is already there. I see it or experience it in fleeting moments in someone's eyes at the end of a yoga class - not because I told them to feel it, but because for a few seconds in awareness and presence they found it themselves in the silence. I feel it in my meditation in those tiny glimpses when I am not aware of time. Or I witness it in special moments when I see 2 people come together who have a special bond and I see the exchange of love between their eyes. But this is my experience of love. You may feel it differently and at different times and with different people. Its personal and should leave you feeling warm, not bereft and empty and soulless. It should bring a smile to your lips and a tear to your eye. Don't try to buy love, it can't be bought. Don't be sold love, it can't be sold. Maybe sit in silence for a few minutes a day and dive deep into the chasm of your soul once the mind chatter has stopped, and there you will find a small bird perched in your chest singing. Witness that and smile in gratitude. You found it.
What happened to my life, my work, my role as a yoga teacher?
I became a yoga teacher hot off the heels of being a secretary in an attic office in the northeast of England working for a local government organisation. I knew before I got into the office job that it was a temporary state in my life. And witnessing the gentle rot of fellow secretaries - some there for 30 (yes 3 + 0) destined for a sentence in admin before retirement, only spurred my longing to be a free yogi and to take off as soon as I could.
I eventually set myself free of those shackles and launched myself into the scary unknown world of yoga teaching, first part-time and then at last able to leave the country to teach full time work in a retreat centre in Goa. Wow! Was that a big leap? But the freedom of leaving my stuff in storage and taking off with a rather large suitcase, my yoga mat and a whole load of "what if?" questions was precious. It was frightening, exciting, liberating, filled with uncertainty and breathtaking. I never looked back.
Through life's different twists and turns I eventually set foot on the gem of the island in Ibiza. Ibiza is like an emerald shining in the middle of a sea of sapphires. I am getting a little squishy when I say these things. But honestly, it is gorgeous. Coming here was through chance and then working here and living here was down to trust and fate. Within 3 weeks of arriving I had found myself a room to live in, a yoga teaching job and a scooter I named Laxshmi to tootle around the pine tree lined roads to shining secret bays of sand and rock and sea.
After several summer seasons between here and Goa and through the meeting of my partner, Neil, a new adventure and challenge arose to open our own boutique retreat we named The Lotus Pad. Ironically this was a name I had held for some time, believing at one point I would set up a yoga shala in the UK and call it my Lotus Pad. But here seemed more fitting (and lets face it, a bit warmer). We set out promoting our new place whilst working the season in Goa, before I even had the house or even a business to think of. It seemed to come. As I spoke about my Pad to students and potential guests, my Pad was created. The Lotus blossomed as I became enthusiastic about it and people appeared to be genuinely interested. Our first summer was all about building and creating and inviting guests in as we opened up. Our next summer was more established and I invited different teachers to bring their groups to enjoy the space also. This summer is still a work in progress with a combination of mine and others work..I will let you know how that goes.
All through this time my role as a yoga teacher changed. I became not only a teacher - focussed on helping my students to find their own liberation through their bodies and breath, and truly work out ways to heal from within - but also a cleaner, housekeeper, accountant, receptionist, tourist guide, counsellor, marketing and public relations assistant, IT expert, gardener, cook and cat owner. My role has indescribably changed over the last few years and I have shed skin and grown different patterns on my body to adapt to these new challenges. What I was not aware of however, in this age of aquarius, this dawning of a new concious era, was how much time I would have to spend in encouraging, coercing, asking, enticing and generally willing people to come and pay me a visit.
So here's my point. I know it took a while to get there. I now spend more time in using the internet, head down in this inner and outer space, in telling people how good I am! Arghh! I hate the thought of it. I hate the action of it. I hate the ego involved in it. But I notice more and more that I have to promote myself and imply I am good at this stuff for anyone to notice me. I am not comfortable with this. Ask me to promote the wonderful massage therapist Jeanette Guckert who regularly does massage at the Lotus Pad, I can. Ask me to promote my partner Neil Allen's wonderful natural food, I can. Ask me to promote Ibiza and sunshine and yoga as a whole, I can do all of that. But ask me to tell people I can teach them a thing or two about yoga...well this doesn't sit well with me. I am not saying I am under confident or even bad at teaching. I have been told I am good at it. But I am not good at pushing myself forward or trying to get people to come to me as a teacher. I can tell people that The Lotus Pad is a wonderful peaceful place to feel again your balance, to relax and to explore. But it feels a little pushy to imply I have anything to do with it.
I look out on (or into) Facebook - probably a little too much time spent there - and I see the teacher in that amazing pose. I see the U-tube clip of some gorgeous yogini in sparkly pants doing some beautiful lithe thing with her body. I see selfies and please "Like" me's and promotions and offers and retreats and yoga/surf/hiking/dance/gymnastics/pilates holidays. I see shamanic journeys, goddess retreats, tantra, detoxification , meditation, NLP, spinal realignment, acupuncture, acupressure, ayurveda, bach flower, homeopathy, tarot cards, reiki. I see every practice on the planet to bring a client to that person. And why shouldn't they? Its a useful tool this internal-net thing. But I can get a little overwhelmed with how forward, how confident and how sure everyone seems to be in their work and what they offer. And I take part in this circus too. A little uneasily believe it or not. Maybe not quite so confident of my abilities. Still humble enough to accept I am, after 14 years of practice, still a novice at this yoga thing. Not quite sure that that picture of me doesn't show my uddijana bandha not quite on.
So here I am, writing my first blog as was advised to do as another means of getting people to know me. I love to write, so I guess its a natural process to get here in the end after a few mental shoves from myself. I hope its not too long or self-indulgent. I hope if you read it it makes you smile and want to do yoga or something. And I hope you come to Ibiza to visit me at my Lotus Pad. Oh, and please give me a slap for the selfie. But everyone else does it! www.lotuspadyoga.com