The third Edinburgh Yoga Festival is happening in May. It raises money for Edinburgh Community Yoga because teachers donate their time and their venues. It begins with a full weekend of events mostly at the wonderfully named Serenity Cafe, then over the week to May 20th various yoga teachers around Edinburgh are donating the money from a session or two. You can see the whole programme on the website www.edyogafest.co.uk
My contribution is called
Celebrating the vital layer of our being - Sunday May 13th 2018, 1.30 - 3 pm at the Serenity Cafe Edinburgh.
The pranamaya kosha or energy sheath is the “energy department” of our system, the link between body, mind/emotions and spirit. Prana is life; and pranayama is the control and expansion of prana. Following the two popular 4-seminar programmes “Progressive Pranayama” I facilitated in 2017, in this 90-minute session we will begin to look at how we can use asana practice not only for its structural benefits but also in the service of pranayama. The breath work in asanas can bring us to a deeper, more inwardly focused place to facilitate pranayama practice; and pranayama can lead us to mantra and ultimately to meditation. This journey is likely to be the central theme of “Progressive Pranayama 2”.
If you're interested, you can book now via this link
The rest of the programme looks fabulous - I'm booked for the Yin Yoga session after mine!
It already seems the the festive season is well behind us and we're all back at our regular classes and home practice, New Year resolutions to the fore (perhaps a better name for yoga practitioners is the Sankalpa). It’s a great idea to have a goal for our practice, whether the starting point be primarily physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual, from which will flow an intention to practice to help us reach that goal. Whatever your goal, the yoga tool-kit of practices has so much to offer. But perhaps in this new year, we can start to realise that our practice isn’t confined to the yoga mat or the time of formal practice; it can and does include all aspects of life. All spiritual traditions share this, of course.
My svadhyaya (self-study/ study of texts) for this year is the fabulous Tantric text that says precisely that. Tantra and Yoga are considered to be one and the same. Yoga is "union" and tantra is "expansion" through that state of union. The text is called the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, (VBT for short) framed as a conversation between Bhairavi (Shakti or Cosmic Energy) and Bhairava (Consciousness, also called Shiva), in which Bhairavi asks the questions. The text describes many different ways to focus and hold our own awareness so that inner illumination (Awareness ) can arise. According to tantra, Consciousness is the fundamental "substance" of the universe; it has always existed and it always will. It can't be described or defined: I found this awe-inspiring quotation from the Tao Te Ching that refers to it:
Something there is, whose veiled creation was
Before the earth or sky begin to be;
So silent, so aloof and so alone,
It changes not, nor fails, but touches all;
Conceive it as the mother of the world.
I do not know its name.....
I participated in an introduction to the meditation practices (the 112 dharanas) during a retreat at Mandala Yoga Ashram a couple of years ago but I'm planning to build on that beginning. I have a lot to study and practice! Translations vary; I have 3 translations to look at: here’s an extract from one translation of verses 1-2:
I have been listening to the hymns of creation
Enchanted by the verses
Yet still I am curious
What is this delight-filled universe, into which we find ourselves born?
What is this mysterious awareness, shimmering everywhere within it?
At least a delight-filled universe sounds good in the dark days of January. Perhaps it's possible through practice of these dharanas to develop the experience of openness and inner spaciousness that will allow us to be available moment to moment in life, rather then tangled up in constant (stressful) mental activity.
Hari Om all
I hope you've all enjoyed the summer and are now looking out your yoga mats and yoga clothes! This is a summary of the classes I'll be teaching, starting back in September.
- MONDAYS - Gate 55 Sighthill – 16.30 -18.15. Class recommences Monday 4 September. This is a mixed class, adapted to suit all levels of experience (I hope) and with modifications suggested as necessary. It's quite a large hall so plenty of space. Phone or email me to book a place. Bring a mat if you have one and a light cover for the yoga nidra.
- TUESDAYS - NEW CLASS- Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs course (YHLB) 12 weeks - commences Tuesday 5th September - venue ChooseYOU Yoga and wellness centre, Carmondean Centre Road, Livingston EH54 8PT. A proven yoga programme, 30% better than “usual care”, for self-management of pain-relief, healing and long-term improvement of your back health. Gentle, effective, enjoyable. Small group classes; specific; individualized. Phone or email me to book a place.
- Currie Community High School - 19.15-21.15 a general hatha yoga class for more experienced students. Includes mantra chanting, asanas, pranayama, mudras & bandhas, relaxation and meditation. Term begins on September 26th. Booking is via Edinburgh Leisure www.joininedinburgh.org/currie
- WEDNESDAYS - West Lothian - classes begin September 6th. All places booked by phoning or emailing me.
- Ability Centre Livingston - 13.15 - 14.30 - modified practices for wheelchair/chair users, including mantras, asanas, breathing practices and meditation
- St Mary's Hall, Livery Street, Bathgate EH48 4HS 16.45 - 18.15 - Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs course - 12 weeks, as above
- ChooseYOU Yoga and Wellness Centre 19.00 - 20.30 - general all-levels class with option to follow on into meditation group 20.35 - 21.15
- SUNDAY EVENINGS - monthly - discussion (satsang) and meditation practice in my home yoga room. By invitation only as the room is small.
COURSE - Introduction to Ayurveda, the Yogic System of Medicine - 5 weekends September 2017 - February 2018 - St Margaret's House, London Road Edinburgh. Starts very soon, September 9th and 10th. My input is teaching yoga as it interweaves, supports and is supported by good physical health from Ayurvedic living. Places available - contact Elizabeth Roberts on firstname.lastname@example.org
VISITING TEACHER our beloved Swami Pragyamurti Saraswati returns to Dundee for a weekend seminar, 10 am - 4 pm each day, September 16th /17th. She will continue her theme from last year of Yoga and Tantric practices. Enquiries /book a place to Vedavanam on email@example.com
Hope to see you at class!
Hari OM all
"Therapeutic yoga" may well be a bit of a misnomer - surely all yoga has healing properties, in the sense of bringing together body, mind and spirit. There is certainly an amazing amount of scientific evidence building up, confirming what the ancient Rishis have always taught.
Drawing towards the end of my teaching year, I've been reflecting on the role yoga has played and continues to play in my own life. If events get in the way of my morning practice, so that I have to shorten it or (aargh) miss it out, the day doesn't feel right. it's not only or even primarily because I need a daily practice to be able to teach. Yoga - including the daily mantras, asanas, pranayama and meditation - is what I call my life-support system for body, mind and spirit. Recently I read in a blog post from the ever-interesting Yoga for Healthy Aging team that "it’s sounding more and more like BKS Iyengar had it right when he said:
"Where does the body end and the mind begin? Where does the mind end and the spirit begin? They cannot be divided as they are inter-related and but different aspects of the same all-pervading divine consciousness."
Now that I'm in my seventies I depend even more on asana practice to maintain flexibility, keep enough bodily strength and work on maintaining the best balance I can after the depredations of foot surgery. As yoga is an amazing holistic system it's the whole tool-kit that counts, but if I had a favourite part it would be Pranayama. Breathing practices bring energy, emotional settling and resilience, leading to meditation practice for that inner sense of peace and wholeness. During the events of the day I can use my mantra silently and no-one can tell. And even a short evening practice - such as candle-gazing while reflecting on the day, and then chanting the beautiful Shanti Path - helps to bring better sleep.
So - back to what I mean by using the expression "therapeutic" yoga. I feel privileged to teach all my classes but especially the ones modified for people with a variety of health conditions. It's been estimated that around 40% of the UK population has at least one longer term health condition, and many may have a complex mixture. I try to work with class members to find versions of each asana, or sequence of asanas, that remain true to the essence of the pose, using variations in the poses, chairs, blocks and sometimes belts, to provide support and make sure everyone in the class has something they can be working on. Breathing practices and pranayama are very valuable, as are Yoga Nidra and short meditations.
There's no striving to achieve after a particular effect; a famous yogi called Sri Krishnamacharya (teacher of BKS Iyengar) said "Don't adapt yourself to yoga; adapt yoga to yourself". Some years ago I met an experienced yoga practitioner who didn't seem to be moving in any way, when I was teaching a large group in Belfast. She explained that she'd been in hospital and was convalescing, so being very careful. She told me she was doing the advanced practice- visualizing it! I've used that expression many times since then.
Of course it's not just the class content - the group support is a key factor. There's quite a lot of laughter, especially with practices such as chair versions of Roaring Lion and Archer pose, but also some really thoughtful discussions on aspects of yoga philosophy and how we can apply them to our lives. I hope that all these elements blend so that the unique therapeutic system that is yoga can work its magic on the whole person - body, mind and spirit.
Update on classes and courses
The weekly group classes in Edinburgh and West Lothian will finish for the summer on July 31st and start again in the first week in September. You'll find details of the fabulous new West Lothian venue for our Wednesday evening class, the Choose YOU yoga studio in North Livingston, along with information about all the classes, on my website. I'm hoping to run a "Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs" course at Choose You but that will depend on numbers. The studio is proving so popular that it's a challenge to find a slot in which to teach!
I'm looking forward to teaching on the next "Introduction to Ayurveda, the Yogic System of Medicine" which starts in Edinburgh on September 9th. See the flyer below. There are still spaces on the course - contact the principal tutor Elizabeth Roberts on firstname.lastname@example.org
A sorrowful note about one of our Satyananda Swamis - Swami Satyaprakash Saraswati, Director of the Birmingham Satyananda Yoga Centre, which she founded. Some of you may have attended seminars she gave in Scotland - on one memorable occasion over 80 keen yogis attended her seminar in Glasgow! After a relatively short period of illness, Swami Satyaprakash died peacefully on June 29th. This wonderful soul will be much missed by her family, students and friends all over the world, both for her huge contribution to Satyananda Yoga in the UK and worldwide over the past 30 years and her feisty outgoing personality.
I hope you all have a pleasant summer break and I look forward to seeing everyone again in September.
With love and lots of OMMMs
This summary is derived from the class themes from last term, when we looked at and discussed how to practice Sri Patanjali's five Niyamas - guidelines for personal discipline, to help create a tranquil mind prepared for meditation. The Niyamas are, of course, associated with the five Yamas, self-restraints or rules of conduct that help produce fertile ground for meditation practice by regulating our behaviour and emotions.
The word means purity. Saucha is purification on all levels. It involves personal cleanliness, maintaining a tidy and orderly home, eating healthy food and drinking pure water. It is the cleanliness in mind and speech that comes from refraining from emotionally and physically charged obsessions. It is finding the balance in life. The heart and mind are purified of attachments.
“When the body is cleansed, the mind purified and the senses controlled, joyful awareness needed to realise the inner self also comes”
YS 2, 41 (Trans BKS Iyengar)
Think of ways in which you could simplify your life and practice them one by one; perhaps you could use a sankalpa, a resolve, just as in Yoga Nidra. Sankalpa is far too important to be practised only during Yoga Nidra.
The word santosha means contentment. Patanjali says of this one:
“From contentment, the highest happiness is attained”
Swami Satyananda says ”contentment is one of the fixed rules for an aspirant who is serious about the higher aspects of yoga.”
Isn't it great that we can actually practice contentment? But how? Witnessing our response when things go awry is a good place to start. Of course, life most definitely doesn't go to plan and sadness and hardship are part of life; but if we practice contentment - perhaps even calling it acceptance- it may mean that we don't make things worse for ourselves. And when things are going well, pausing for a moment and noticing that we're enjoying something is also "practising" contentment. When we make plans and they go awry, we tend to feel discontented; our inner control freak begins to nag or the guilt button begins to flash - - "I'm going to be late, stress, TRAFFIC!!! - “I should have left 10 minutes ago!” Could we try instead accepting that lateness is inevitable; and remaining calm (at least then we're less likely to crash) because we can’t use a time machine to make us not be late. But of course, remembering next time to leave earlier. And what about the WANT monster, which we feed so it grows all-consuming? Can we witness this happening and decide we're going to stop feeding it, so it starves for lack of attention? Easier said than done, but a valuable practice.
Tapas is both the third niyama and the first in a list of three aspects of what Patanjali calls Kriya Yoga – the path of action which consists of
- Self-discipline/purification/control of the senses (tapas)
- Study/self-observation (svadhyaya)
- Evolving self-awareness (Ishwara pranidhana)
that enables the practitioner to clear the mind and prepare for meditation practice.
The word tapas means heat; self-discipline refers to austerity, will power.
From austerity, on account of the removal of impurities, the perfection of the senses and the body manifests.
Suggestions include controlling the quantity, quality and regularity of one’s food intake, quality of other sensory inputs such as books, TV, what one talks about etc. Lots of food for thought there.
Sometimes referred to as the mystery Niyama, the word literally translates as “study of the Self (sva means one’s own self). This is of course not unique to yoga philosophy - the words of Socrates around 400 years BCE are often quoted. At his trial, he chose death rather than exile as "the unexamined life is not worth living".
How do we practice svadhyaya? By observing ourselves. This is where we can tenaciously and lovingly watch our choices, get curious, and ask ourselves two simple questions: “Where does this habit or pattern show up in my life?” and “How is that working for me?” The practice of svadhyaya helps us notice unconscious patterns and make subtle shifts—often with very little effort—to help align our outward actions and our inner desires. When we do this, we naturally experience more power and peace with all things, exactly as they are. Our desire to change the outside world may diminish once we have adjusted our inner perceptions.
We can also practice svadhyaya by reading texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagvad-Gita or one of the Hatha Yoga texts and reflecting on how to apply the knowledge in our lives. (I'm reading the Gheranda Samhita on that basis at present).
5. Ishvara pranidhana.
This is again often seen as a difficult concept, in our ego-driven control-freakish age. Pranidahana means to surrender, but to what and how? Ishvara is usually translated as unmanifest reality, or the principle of higher consciousness or the supreme being; in some translations Ishvara means God. It is said that when we dedicate our lives to the benefit of others, with an attitude of service, that is Ishvara Pranidhana.
How do we practice? There are two ways of looking at this sutra when taken into daily life; it’s often described as the ‘easiest’ path to peace and realisation, requiring no effort or pain on our part – we simply let go, devote everything to a higher power and completely devote our actions to whatever we consider that higher power to be. In my mind it links to karma yoga, the practice described in the Bhagavad Gita as carrying out our duties without selfish attachment to their "fruit" or outcome.
A few suggestions:
- The idea of ‘surrendering’ can be applied to the intention we set at the beginning of practice; Ishvara Pranidhana can be thought of as ‘offering up the results of one’s actions for the benefit of all beings’. In this way, our asana practice becomes less about what it can do for us, but how we can help ourselves stay healthy enough to help the world around us
- A particular asana – knowing when and how to let go; or surrender to the posture, perhaps staying in it a few breaths longer
- Yoga nidra - ‘creative surrender’, a deliberate and conscious relaxation of the mind and body
To sum up, studying the Yamas and Niyamas reminds us that the purpose of yoga is not only to be strong, flexible and healthy, although asana and pranayama practice can certainly provide that. Yoga is more about managing the mind to develop self-awareness to the point of liberation (from the mind's turmoil.) As Sage Patanjali puts it,
"Yoga is the ability to direct and focus mental activity. When the mind is focused, the inner being establishes itself in all its reality. Otherwise, we identify with the activities of the mind" (Trans. Bernard Bouanchaud)
Swami Satchitananda writes, in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, "when even one virtue becomes our nature, the mind becomes clean and tranquil. Then there is no need to practice meditation; we will automatically be meditating always". Quite a thought!