Hari Om everyone - Summing up 2020 -21
The summer is rolling by and the Pentland Hills near my home are beginning to display their purple heather robes. Here we are again at the end of a over a year of online teaching - three weekly classes, including the Accessible class and two general classes. I also completed a monthly series of Zoominars previously held at Dechmont in West Lothian, focusing on developing a personal sadhana (dedicated practice). Who knew we could practice yoga via Zoom until in March 2020 we found we had to!
Thank you to those of you who stuck it out as I grappled with the mysteries of how to set it all up, being far from a tech wizard: microphones, recording, lighting and finally having a Wi-Fi extender installed to try to improve the stability of the signal. I don't think I could even have written "improving the stability of the signal" 6 months ago. That was in place for only a couple of weeks of classes before the break but (fingers crossed) it seemed to help.
There have been some unexpected but lovely benefits to Zooming, including people able to join from a greater distance. That didn’t quite make up for the number of people who felt they were unable or didn’t want to Zoom, but at least the weekly groups and the monthly seminars kept going and it was great to see you all.
Talking of Zooming from a distance, I’ve gone slightly overboard myself, taking in classes and courses from The Minded Institute in London; Swami GyanDharma’s course on the meditation practice Ajapa Japa; Swami Nishchalananda’s courses on a favourite classic Tantric text of his (and mine), the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra; my teacher Swami Vedantananda from Portugal; and even a 3-day conference on Wellness after Covid beamed from New York. I’ve also benefited from membership of the Subtle Yoga Resilience Society formed by yoga teacher Kristine Kaoverii Weber, who specialises in neuroplasticity and slow, interoceptive yoga. The phrase “the pause is as important as the pose” that some of you became familiar with comes directly from Kristine.
Over the past year the overall theme of my teaching in the general classes has been the Subtle Body, i.e. the pranic system including chakras. I've taught on chakras in the past but each time I find new insights myself. I started with the five elements this time, because the first five chakras are each linked with an element. If you include Mind as an element for Ajna chakra that’s the full picture. Gave us lots to consider and practice!
Guru Poornima and the purpose of yoga practice
In yogic traditions, Guru Poornima is celebrated every year on the full moon day in July. This year it fell on Saturday 24th July. We didn't have an actual gathering because of the pandemic but the auspicious day gives us an opportunity to pay our respects and offer our heartfelt gratitude to all spiritual masters, past and present. The guru (giver of light or spiritual teacher) may be embodied in a living person or may be the principle that exists dormant in all of us – the inner guru. Listening to and honouring our own inner voice is part of our practice.
The day gives an opportunity for a spiritual stocktaking, a chance to renew and strengthen the goals of our practice and rededicate ourselves to it. We don’t need to wait a whole year before renewing our dedication to practice, of course. I find it’s best to go one day at a time!
What are the goals of yoga and how can we express them to help us move forward? The practices of yoga – asanas, pranayama, yoga nidra, meditation and many others such as chanting or writing mantras, journaling and so on, are the tools we use on our journey. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, writes that "Yoga is the science of right living and, as such, is intended to be incorporated in daily life." It includes of course far more than the physical practices so enthusiastically taken up by Western practitioners. I feel sad when someone says to me "I can't practice yoga because I'm not flexible" , as if that's all there is to it. I'm not particularly flexible either, nor do I have a body that can easily fit into what passes for yoga clothing on Instagram. Yoga practices bring tangible benefits at all levels - physical, psychological and spiritual, helping us to integrate and become whole, whatever that signifies for us.
The autumn programme
I’m currently on a break and weekly classes will resume at the end of August/ beginning of September. I’ll send an email round to everyone with the details.
Live classes are about to resume! From Tuesday September 7th the Accessible class will again be at the Carmondean Centre, the venue in Livingston we were using when the first lockdown began. I’m also devising a programme of live monthly seminars at Dechmont Memorial Hall, dates from September to December to be confirmed once I hear from the manager, so look out for these in your inbox if you’re interested. At the time of writing, Gate 55, the venue for the Monday afternoon class, is still a vaccination centre so we’ll continue via Zoom from Monday August 30th unless the situation changes. The Tuesday evening class will also continue via Zoom, beginning on August 31st, largely because that’s what the group prefers.
Take care and stay safe.
With love and OMMMs, Bijam
Hari OM everyone
Greetings on the inspiring day of the winter solstice, when the sun "stands still" before beginning the turn that brings us back towards longer days and shorter nights. The winter solstice lasts only for a moment in time; but the day on which it occurs is also known as Midwinter. After the sun has “stood still” it begins to reverse its path and the days get gradually longer, until we reach the summer solstice and the cycle starts again.
This year will apparently be a rare occurrence - the conjunction of the two large planets Jupiter and Saturn. It happens every 20 years, but being as close as they will be this year last happened in the 17th century. I've been out to have a look, and thought I saw something that looked like a double star, but maybe that was wishful thinking upon a star!
The solstices have been the occasion of celebrations in all ages and cultures. December 25th was the midwinter day in the Roman calendar before it was changed. On the longest night and shortest day, perhaps we may go within to find gratitude for the stillness of the long winter nights. We can also reflect on moving from darkness to light. Maybe that's particularly striking as we rather sadly prepare to enter another period of lockdown. Let's not forget however that there are still reasons to remain hopeful and the celebrate the good things that have happened. Starting with myself, I'm very grateful to people who supported me by coming to my Zoom classes, even (or perhaps particularly) when initially feeling challenged by technology. As I said in the August blog, it was a challenge for me too so thank you for kindly putting up with my mistakes. And think about the kindness and neighbourliness that developed during the pandemic - long may it continue.
I hope everyone finds yoga practices to help them stay as well as possible, soothing the natural anxieties of this strange and turbulent time.
Class and seminar schedule update
Classes on Zoom will continue at the same times from Tuesday 5th January 2021. The first Monday class will be on January 11th.
A reminder - the seminars previously known as Dechmont seminars resumed online on Saturday December 12th. The current theme is Yoga Sadhana as part of living a yogic lifestyle. The next one is on Saturday January 9th 2021.
You can book in to my classes simply by emailing or phoning/texting me. Payment is preferably by BACS transfer although cheques are OK.
I have an idea about running a short online course on yoga for people (like myself!) living with the bone-thinning disorder osteoporosis. We will look at some of the anatomy and physiology of the bones and then some modifications and ways of practising safely. It will include practices for strengthening the bones as well, so suitable for anyone who is interested in this increasingly common problem. More details in the new year.
My contact details
Email: email@example.com Phone: 07966 573 804
I hope everyone has an enjoyable, peaceful and above all safe and healthy festive season despite the current restrictions. I'm already looking forward to classes starting again.
With love and OMMMMs
Hari OM everyone
I hope you're all as well as you can be during this challenging time, and enjoying the benefits of your yoga practice and the essential contact with fresh air and green spaces.
My last real-life class was in March 2020. It took me a couple of weeks to gather my scattered wits and find out how to Zoom, but classes restarted online at the end of April. I set myself up in my small yoga room, laptop precariously balanced on 3 yoga blocks to get it to the right height, and began. A few weeks later I learned how to record classes and tried to master sending them out, but I admit that's hit-and-miss at present. Onwards and ever upwards. It's a real shame that quite a few people can't access Zoom for various reasons.
Currently I'm running three classes a week and the most recent theme has been the five Elements or Tattwas in Sanskrit. It is said that everything we do and think is under the influence of these 5 elements - earth, water, fire, air and space. They are not the kind of thing we think about as "earth", "fire" etc but created by different energy or pranic vibrations. In balancing them we can balance ourselves. I plan to continue this theme into next year by including chakras, as all the chakras except ajna have an associated element.
The Dechmont seminars
These monthly seminars have sadly been interrupted, the last one being on March 14th, but at least we managed to complete the "Prana, Pranayama and Neuroscience" course.
So what now? Zoom to the rescue I hope.
The current pandemic has prompted me to think about wellness-or perhaps better, well-being, both of individuals, society and our precious planet Earth. Addressing this topic I'm aware of the overwhelming amount of information readily available from books, the media, podcasts, apps and so on, but thought I'd give it a go anyway, and perhaps offer it as a topic for the next series of monthly Saturday seminars at Dechmont (now on Zoom of course).
The concept of well-being is by no means new but we do seem to struggle to find a definition precise enough to be acceptable to everyone and able to be researched to find out ways of having the best well-being we can, perhaps without indulging in unproven and expensive interventions by celebrities.
Whatever the definitions, having Covid definitely isn't conducive to well-being! Individual physical and psychological health and indeed the important aspect of society's and Earth's well-being are all at risk, not only from the virus but also by the responses of our various governments. In the end who can tell whether the different styles and types of lock-down, whilst awaiting the creation of an effective vaccine, are managing a difficult pandemic well or badly; or possibly even creating more harm than good? A problem for far greater minds than mine to solve.
I have, as many of you know, an abiding interest in the mental health side of well-being, from my previous profession, and cherish yoga's contribution to that. Recently I read, linked from a newsletter by Laurence Demarco (Laurence@senscot.net) a paper by a New Zealand psychologist, Tim Lomas PhD, describing something called the Global Wellbeing Initiative, set up in 2019 in collaboration with the Wellbeing for Planet Earth Foundation: what a beautiful name.
Most research into physical and mental health, an important component of well-being, has been done from a Western perspective, both the researchers and the people studied. I chuckled at the acronym, new to me, describing the subjects of such research - WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic). Most of the world's population of course doesn't come into this category.
There is recognition that Western societies may value "Feeling good" as meaning high arousal, excitement etc; whereas in Eastern society greater value is placed on low arousal forms of feeling good such as peace and tranquillity, balance and harmony, meaning in life, relationship with nature and resilience - yoga, anyone?
I think I may have found a rich seam to tap for future "Dechmont" online seminars. Great to see Eastern thinking being respected by Western researchers!
You'll find details of my Zoom classes on the Classes and Courses page - same times, just on Zoom. If you haven't already installed it, you can download the free zoom.us app from the App store for Apple users and Google Playstore for Android users. I send out a reminder by email each week and it's pretty simple to log in - just click on the underlined link I put in the email. This brings you to a "Waiting room" and I let you in a few moments before the class starts. One of the features I'm using is the ability (if you have time) to stay on afterwards, un-mute your microphone, and enjoy a chat.
If you're not already participating in one of my Zoom classes, just send an email and I'll add you to the list.
We are currently inundated with information about what is being described as the almost wartime challenge presented to us by Coronavirus and I'm not about to add to it. Initially there was no requirement or suggestion to cancel small gatherings such as a yoga class but the advice has now changed.
As a result, with regret but unhesitatingly in the circumstances, I have suspended all my classes and seminars and the home meditation group from 17th March 2020. I hope to resume when it is safe to do so. I will send out by email suggested practice plans to the various student groups. And perhaps (only perhaps) I'll be able to overcome my technophobia and find ways of teaching online.
Stay well everyone; remember yoga practice begins with kindness to ourselves and generates outwards from there.
Here's a copy of the great healing mantra the Mahamitrunjaya - maybe you'd like to chant or say it on a daily basis for healing, power, transformation, immunity and strength:
Begin by chanting the mantra AUM 3 times then
AUM TRYAMBAKAṂ YAJĀAMAHE
URVĀA RUKAMIVA BANDHANĀA(T)
MṚITYOR MUKṢHĪYA MĀAMṚITĀT
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI (at the end of however many rounds you're reciting)
We pay homage to the universal consciousness which nourishes all beings. May we be liberated from ignorance through knowledge of our immortal essence, just as the cucumber is severed from the bondage of the vine.
Translation by Swami Niranjanananda
Another year almost over, as we approach the Winter Solstice on Sunday 22 December; of course Christmas on Wednesday 25th and the beginning not just of a new year the following week but a new decade. And not forgetting that 2020 is a Leap Year so we have an extra day to fill!
Weekly classes have finished for now but will start again week beginning 6th January 2020.
For me, as most of you know, it's been quite a momentous year from a health point of view. Apart from a break after the brain surgery in May I have been able to continue teaching, albeit having to reduce the number of weekly classes. I was lucky (and grateful) to have most of my weekly classes covered by colleagues until I could start teaching again in July. I'm sure much of my progress was due to a very simple and gentle home practice, especially pranayama, and a fabulous healing meditation, shared with me by Swami GyanDharma, from his Prana Vidya course.
In August I was able to keep to a commitment to take a programme on Prana and Pranayama, developed for the EUY Annual Congress in Zinal in 2018, to Finland, hosted by the Finnish Yoga Association at their stunning Yoga Centre near Saarijarvi, deep in the forested heart of the country. I had my first ever smoke sauna in the traditional style, including bathing in the chilly waters of the nearby lake Saarijarvi (pictured). Wim Hof (aka The Iceman) may not have been impressed if he'd been there - the water was definitely not icy cold and I didn't stay in long - but it was a beautiful heart-full experience: sharing the sauna space, chatting, even singing a traditional song taught to one participant by her grandfather, to get his sixteen grandchildren into and out of the sauna.
In September I started a programme of Saturday morning seminars on Prana, Pranayama and Neuroscience at Dechmont in West Lothian - great fun for me to revise and update my prior knowledge. Turns out it was a tad unrealistic to think I could complete the topic in 4 sessions (12 hours) (see previous newsletter, August 2019) - at a guess we're only about halfway through so the programme will continue in 2020. More on that later but Dechmont fans please save the dates - second Saturday each month, commencing Saturday February 8th. There has been some interest in my running the first part of the course again, in a different venue, if time and other considerations including my own health permit. I’m still exploring that – suggestions have ranged from somewhere in Edinburgh to possibly Galashiels.
In November I completed a three-day training programme on Accessible Yoga, led by Jivana Heyman, and qualified as an Accessible Yoga Ambassador. Here's part of his inspiring statement about the philosophy behind the movement:
"Accessible Yoga is dedicated to sharing the benefits of yoga with anyone who currently does not have access to these practices, and with communities that have been excluded or under-served. All people, regardless of ability or background, deserve equal access to the ancient practices of yoga, which offer individual empowerment and spiritual awakening."
I've been teaching a weekly specialist class in West Lothian for people with limited physical mobility for the best part of a decade now, recently with the invaluable help of a colleague, Elaine, who trained with Yoga Scotland. The challenge implicit in Jivana's philosophy is that all classes should be as inclusive as possible, rather than having specialist themes. I hope to be able to rise to this challenge next year...but I need to have my driving licence restored first!
I hope you all have a peaceful joy-filled Festive Season and that we'll continue working and learning together when classes start again in January.
With love and OMMMs