Category Archives: Teachings

Moving Mountains in the Year of the Earth Dog

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Happy New Year! Yes, yes, it’s all a distant memory for those of us who organise our lives according to the Gregorian calendar. But in countries where the traditional ‘lunisolar’ Chinese calendar is used, millions of people in red attire are celebrating the start of the Year of the Earth Dog. And the rest of us can benefit from doing the same, because – like the science of yoga – the Chinese New Year gives us tools for becoming masterly in our lives.

The look of luck!

Chinese New Year (also known as the “Spring Festival” in mainland China) always begins with a new moon, somewhere between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. This year (2018), it starts on Friday 16th February, when we move into the Year of the Earth Dog – and celebrations will continue for the following fortnight, ending with a ‘lantern festival’ on Friday 2nd March.

Chinese New Year and the Zodiac

The Chinese associate each new year with one of twelve animals and one of the five elements of Chinese astrology, namely: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water (which are then further divided into Yin and Yang categories). This means that the years run in 60-year cycles; the last time we were in a Yang Earth Dog year, for example, was 1958, and before that, in 1898.

According to tradition, this information can help us both anticipate the events of the coming year and understand the personalities, relationships and destinies of the people born during each year.

Who let the (earth) dogs out?!

We’re just emerging from a Fire Rooster year – a period of focus and application, of getting the ‘farmyard’ in order, and of investing time and effort without expecting immediate gratification, according to Chinese astrology. This Mystic Mamma blog urged us to “see beyond the current situation and keep your eye on whatever it is that you value in the long run; just keep chipping away without wavering. Apply yourself.” Anyone involved with the current swell of support for Women’s Rights will no doubt find those words very poignant.

With the arrival of the Earth Dog, it looks like we’re now ready for some action – whether that’s in the realm of global politics, or in the realm of our own homes. According to one Chinese horoscope, “Planning, postponing and negligence are words you will need to remove from your vocabulary during this year… The Dog will accelerate the initiation of all things, but this will bring, in the same time, pressure and stress in the everyday life.”

But even with this momentum carrying us forward, we should still expect to face challenges. The Yang Earth Dog is represented by an image of two mountains, which apparently means, “something is blocking our view or our path. So we need to find a flat road around the mountains to find our way… We need to use our wisdom to find the better way to conquer the mountains.”

What’s your Chinese horoscope sign?

It’s both fun and useful to know your own Chinese zodiac sign. Whether or not you believe in the Chinese system of astrology – or indeed, any kind of astrology – doesn’t matter. Such things offer us a colourful way of contemplating our own lives, and they spark the imagination. We’re naturally interested in stories – watching the telly is just a modern version of sitting around a fire telling stories. With knowledge of where our birthdays fall, according to Chinese astrology, we can look at our lives and our behaviour from a fresh perspective.

Find out your Chinese zodiac sign

In our classes this week…

Chinese New Year celebrations

Get your dragon flow on!

Wear red! As good old Wikipedia explains on its page about the Chinese New Year, “Clothing mainly featuring the color red or bright colors is commonly worn throughout the Chinese New Year because it was once believed that red could scare away evil spirits and bad fortune… Red is a color of good luck.”

As well as wearing red for protection from negative energies, the Chinese perform dragon and lion dances throughout their New Year celebrations, which have as their soundtrack loud drum beats and ear-shattering clashes of cymbals. Although we’ll be leaving the noisier elements of the Chinese New Year out of our classes, be prepared to get your dragon flow on!

If you dream it…

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It’s all over. The celebrations, the January sales, the resolutions. We’re into the second month of a brand new year and, even with a Wintry bite still in the air, there’s a distinct sense that Spring is on its way. So what about all those good intentions you had for 2018? If you feel like you’re on the back foot, here’s the good news; you haven’t missed the deadline! In fact, there’s still plenty of time. Right now, the best thing you can do is hunker down with a pen and paper, and create your ‘dream list’…

Making your dream list

Dreamy beach in Sri Lanka

Make your list, open some doors…

Although there’s no harm in setting goals or making resolutions at the start of the year, there’s no need to rush ahead and attempt to make good on them immediately (find out why, here). Instead, we recommend using nature’s ‘down time’ to make a dream list. Think about what you’d like to experience this coming year – the places you’d like to go, the artwork you’d like to see, the languages you’d like to speak, the new tricks you’d like to learn. Share your dreams, and listen to other people’s.

Creating the right setting for making your dream list

It might sound simple enough, jotting a few ideas down on a piece of paper, but there’s more to making a list than that – it requires a little bit of planning:

  • Identify the people you’d like to do this with, unless you’d prefer to do it alone.
  • Schedule some time – set a reminder on your phone, put it on the family calendar, write it in your diary. However you do it, be sure to allocate yourself this time.
  • When that time comes, switch off your computer and your phone – filter out the distractions, and give your mind the freedom to explore the topic in hand.
  • Arm yourself with a pen and a notebook (good excuse to treat yourself to a lovely new journal!).

What to put on your dream list

Think big and think small, but think always about YOU. So often, we have lists that are mostly to do with nurturing and supporting those around us – as is evident in the responses given to the artist, Alice Instone, who gathered “prominent and inspiring women’s to-do lists and made a number of art works from her own lists”, for an exhibition, entitled The Pram in the Hall. But this is a time to top yourself up with what you need. Besides, the better you feel, the better you’ll be able to continue to serve those around you.

We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list ~ Michelle Obama

 

These are some of the things on my list for 2018:

Daydreaming by the fire

PJs, a fire, time to dream…

As you may be aware, we’ve got our hands full at the Harvey household, with a new family member to nurture, a long list of fiddly jobs to finish in our recently renovated house, a yoga school to run, and all the other demands of daily life! But these aren’t reasons to NOT have a dream list; quite the opposite – these are reasons to HAVE one! This is what I’ve got on mine:

      1. Print and frame 10 family photos and put them on the wall
      2. Connect with three old friends
      3. Log 50 hours of Tai Chi lectures and practice
      4. Schedule monthly morning / breakfast dates with Daniel

Put some dates on your dream list

Visualise the year ahead, see its nature – the growth of Spring, the colour of Summer, the harvest of Autumn, and the deep rest of Winter. Some of the things on your list will naturally fall into these categories – for example, you might paint your allotment shed in Spring, go to
a lively festival in the Summer, make a photo album of your holiday snaps in Autumn, and book a Yin Yoga retreat for Winter.

Other things will be suited to any given time of the year. But nature’s rhythms can still help, particularly when it comes to actually identifying what it is that you want to put on your dream list.

      • Illustration of a girl having a dream

        Visualise the year ahead…

        Spring prompts us to ask ourselves what we want to grow

      • Summer invites us visualise how it will look when it’s flourishing
      • Autumn asks us what we will gain from it, what we will reap
      • And Winter wants to know if it’ll let us settle

Hold on to your dreams

Whether you transfer your list to your mobile phone notes, keep it on a scrap of paper in your purse, or learn it by heart, keep your dream list close. Check in with it whenever you get a moment. Seek out and create those moments. Then stop and really feel the joy of manifesting
your own dreams, however ‘big’ or ‘small’ they may be.

“Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.” ~ John Updike

By the light of the….Super Blood Blue Moon!

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Something big and special is in our midst, according to the world’s astronomers and astrologers. You might even have seen one of the many online articles about it – ‘it’ being the January 2018 Super Blood Blue Moon. This full moon, we’re told, is a rare one – nothing like it has been seen since 1866!  

For Ashtanga yoga practitioners (hello, Monday night students!), a full moon will always be worth observing – New moons, too. Ashtangis consider moon days as holidays, or days when they need to reduce the intensity of their practice, because it is said that when the earth, sun and moon are all in a straight line in space, universal energy is much stronger, and the possibility of injury is greater – hence, asana practice should be avoided.

Curious to know what phase of the moon you were born in?

But it’s not just in the Ashtanga yoga world, where we find respect for the phase of the moon, and encouragement to slow down and adapt our practice. Hatha yoga, which we can consider as the umbrella term for all forms of physical yoga practice, including Ashtanga, is all about balancing heightened and subdued energy – whether these are brought about by the phase of the moon, or the time of the year.

What goes up…

Subtle energetic body

Subtle energy in motion

According to Satyananda Saraswati, author of the popular contemporary text on Hatha yoga, ‘Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha’, during the full moon cycle, pranic energy (prana vayu) is dominant. This pranic energy is upward moving – through the spine and towards the head. When this happens, we tend to experience an increase of internal fluid, physical energy and mental activity.

During the new Moon cycle, apranic energy (apana vayu) is said to be dominant. Apranic energy is downward moving – towards the base of the spine – making this period one of elimination and reduction. People will often notice a loss of internal fluid, dry, stiff muscles and joints, decreased physical and mental energy, and a sense of lethargy and moodiness.

The ebb and flow of nature

Western science is pretty much on board with the idea that the phase of the moon can affect our energy levels. We know that our bodies are made of 70% water, and that this makes us vulnerable to the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, much like our oceans and seas. The science doesn’t end there, either, with yogic notions of energy and the movement of energy corresponding with Western medicine’s understanding of the nervous system.

The energetic body

PTY full moon blog anuloma viloma

Anuloma Viloma balances energy

In yoga, we have the concept of nadis, which are believed to carry this life force known as ‘prana’ (in Sanskrit) or ‘qi’ in Chinese-based systems. We can think of nadis as invisible veins running throughout the body. The most important ‘vein’ is the shushumna nadi, which corresponds with the spine and is the vessel for awakened Kundalini energy – energy which rises and leads to enlightenment!

Two other significant nadis are the Ida and Pingala nadis – and these are often compared to the two hemispheres of the brain; Ida reflecting the left side, and Pingala the right. Prana (active energy) circulates inside Pingala, while apana (passive energy) flows through Ida. For optimum health and spiritual wellbeing, Hatha yoga tells us we must ensure that these energies work in harmony with each other.

The physical body

The autonomic nervous system (which we can sum up as ‘all the things our bodies do without our conscious involvement’ – a beating heart or a perspiring forehead, for example), is comprised of two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system prepares the body for ‘fight or flight’ during stressful situations, by raising the heart rate, releasing adrenalin and firing up the muscles. The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, operates during normal situations and is there for responsible for things like digestion and the conservation of energy.

If we’re constantly stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, be it with activity, stressful situations, or a full moon, we’re at risk of activating the parasympathetic nervous system so much so, that it becomes the norm. And as a result, so too does high blood pressure, inability to sleep, and a damaging expenditure of energy. Conversely, if we’re only ever in a state of rest, we will never get anything done! And so it is that we must find a balance between the two.

Yoga for a full moon

In Ashtanga yoga, many practitioners will gladly take a day off during a full moon – and understandably so, since they do generally commit themselves to six early morning practices a week! Many others will adapt their practice, often taking their lead from a ‘chandra krama’, or moon sequence, devised by world-renowned Ashtangi, Matthew Sweeney (see video, below).

In our classes this week, we will observe the Supermoon and bring about energetic balance by focusing on twists, and along with postures which give us a sense of being grounded – tethered and resistant to the unbalancing, upward pull of the full moon. We’ll also utilise Anuloma Viloma and spend time in Tratak meditation – a way of focusing the mind, whilst honouring the light in our Selves and the light of the sun, reflected on the surface of the full moon.

Dancing with the Daffodils

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I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

~ Daffodils, by William Wordsworth

Living in England, we understand the importance of daffodils, what they represent. Here in York, these ostentatious flowers turn the city’s ancient walls into a halo of orange and yellow – giving us a sure sign that Spring has arrived. Even as early as February, it’s not difficult to find one or two enthusiastic daffodils, not-so-patiently waiting to shed their protective layers and reveal their undergarments. We’re a bit like that too, being as keen as we are to spot them, to get proof that Spring is definitely coming…

After the lull of Winter, we – like the daffodils – are ready to burst into Spring! Or, to put it in terms of Chinese medicine, we’re ready to move from water into wood.

Water to wood

PTY tulsi and cousin for daffodils blog

Into the woods…

As was noted in our New Year blog about hunkering down instead of revving ourselves up and attempting great feats of resolution, Winter is down time. Or, as Neil Gumenick from California’s Institute of Classical Five-Element Acupuncture so perfectly puts it; “Winter is for us, as it is for all of nature, a time for internal work: meditation, containment, concentration, and the storing of our energy. We use this season for rest and the filling and maintenance of our reserves, gathering strength for the year ahead.”

During the cooler months, we need to allow ourselves “to simply be still and quiet… to stand in the energy of the Water element”. And if we do? If we do as nature asks and use that time to take rest and spend time with our Selves? Then we continue to mirror nature as we move into Spring; we find ourselves as keen to burst into the next season as those prematurely sprouting daffs – like Ethel Merman singing ‘There’s no business like show business’!

What’s more, if we’ve truly spent the downtime of Winter nourishing ourselves, and using that deep connection with our inner Selves to understand what we need from the year ahead (something we encouraged in our Making Your Dream List blog), then we not only have the energy to match Spring, but its sense of growth and purpose, too.

Moving into Spring

We find joy (and Tulsi!) in daffodils

“Wood is the energy of youth and growth.”

“The Wood, which has been at rest, storing and concentrating its energy under a winter blanket, now bursts forth with new buds, new life piercing Earth’s crust… Wood is the energy of youth and growth: a new beginning, a vision of a whole new cycle. The Wood energy of spring is an expression of life at its strongest.” ~ Neil Gumenick

Let’s enjoy the energy of Spring, yogis! Feel it coursing through us. Utilise it. Capitalise on it. Know that we are investing this powerful energy in positive growth and change. But let’s also stop to re-focus every now and then; take stock, check that we’re pouring our energy into the right things. And then carry on – happy in the knowledge that come next Winter, when we dive back into the pool of our Selves, we’ll be able to think fondly and proudly of how we used these heady Spring days…

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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When we think about Valentine’s Day, we tend to think about the love we give to and receive from others. Tradition has it that you buy or, if you have the time, make a card and maybe a gift, and give it to your romantic partner – or someone who you’d like to fill that position. But we can use Valentine’s Day in another way; as a reminder to send love to ourselves.

PTY bath drawing for valentine's day rebel blog

Take a bath, fill your cup…

Of course, it’s easy to think of plenty of reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t be loving towards ourselves, from needing to prioritise others, to not ‘deserving’ it somehow. We often place compassion towards others above self-compassion. But we need to fill our cup in order to pour from it. As the former president of France, Charles de Gaulle, so delicately put it;

‘The graveyards are full of indispensable people.’

When we take time to tend to our mental, physical and spiritual health and wellbeing, when we show ourselves love and compassion, we’re better equipped for sharing our love with others, we can give them more! We radiate a happier vibration, and we see the world through loving and compassionate eyes.

Saint Valentine the Compassionate

Valentine’s Day was never really about romantic love anyway. As with Saint Nicholas (whose compassionate nature saw him transformed into the gift-bearing character our children now eagerly await in the lead-up to Christmas), the story of the saint behind Valentine’s Day has been distorted over the years. Saint Valentine never said anything about hearts or roses or snogging.

Saint Valentine of Rome – whose story is one of the most popular among the several stories of saintly martyrdom that were traditionally honoured on February 14th – promoted compassion. He was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who weren’t allowed to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. He’s even said to have healed the daughter of his jailer.

Be the love you want to see…

PTY breakfast in bed for valentine's day rebel blog

Rest, relax, restore…

This Valentine’s Day, take a leaf out of the eponymous saint’s book. Be a rebel. Love the forbidden, the forgotten. And by that, we mean love yourself. After all, being selfish is an essential part of preserving and sustaining ourselves – and, in turn, others.

And don’t feel the need to limit your self-compassionate moments to just one day a year. We recommend a weekly or, if possible, daily ritual of self-love – be it a long bath, a body-love meditation, a yoga class, or any of these fabulous Valentine’s Day ideas to fall in love with yourself. In fact, why not add ‘establish regular self-love practice’ to your 2018 dream list and start sending love to yourself right away!

Happy Valentine’s Day! x

Chinese New Year (and why yogis should embrace it!)

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Happy New Year! Yes, yes, it’s all a distant memory for those of us who organise our lives according to the Gregorian calendar. But in countries where the traditional ‘lunisolar’ Chinese calendar is used, millions of people in red attire are celebrating the start of the Year of the Fire Rooster. And the rest of us can benefit from doing the same, because – like the science of yoga – the Chinese New Year gives us tools for becoming masterly in our lives.

PTY chinese new year blog - tulsi bird costume

Welcome to the Year of the Fire Rooster!

Chinese New Year (also known as the “Spring Festival” in mainland China) always begins with a new moon, somewhere between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. This year (2017), it started on Saturday 28th January, when we moved into the Year of the Fire Rooster – and celebrations will continue for the following fortnight, ending with a ‘lantern festival’ on Saturday 11th February.

Chinese New Year and the Zodiac

The Chinese associate each new year with one of twelve animals and one of the five elements of Chinese astrology, namely: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water (which are then further divided into Yin and Yang categories). This means that the years run in 60-year cycles; the last time we were in a Yin Fire Rooster year as we are now, for example, was 1957, and before that, in 1897.

According to tradition, this information can help us both anticipate the events of the coming year and understand the personalities, relationships and destinies of the people born during each year.

No more monkeying around

We’ve just emerged from a Fire Monkey year – an intense and chaotic period, according to Chinese astrology. You don’t have to cast your mind back too far, to see that this description fits very neatly indeed. As noted in this Mystic Mamma blog, “Last year’s current schooled us all in crisis management as the Fire Monkey’s erratic impulsiveness and dramatic flare produced an unprecedented bit of theater in American politics.”

If 2016 was a year when everything was taken apart, when the ground was laid for new and radical ideas, 2017 is the collective prompt to get up and get on! The year of the Fire Rooster is about putting everything in place again. People who are born during a Fire Rooster year are said to be “rather impatient in life, always feeling that there is something missing if they don’t get things done.” So don’t be surprised if you suddenly start feeling the urge to start crossing off the things you put on your 2017 dream list, too!

What’s your Chinese horoscope sign?

It’s both fun and useful to know your own Chinese zodiac sign. Whether or not you believe in the Chinese system of astrology – or indeed, any kind of astrology – doesn’t matter. Such things offer us a colourful way of contemplating our own lives, and they spark the imagination. We’re naturally interested in stories – watching the telly is just a modern version of sitting around a fire telling stories. With knowledge of where our birthdays fall, according to Chinese astrology, we can look at our lives and our behaviour from a fresh perspective.

Find out your Chinese zodiac sign

In our classes this week…

Chinese New Year celebrations

Get your dragon flow on!

Wear red! As good old Wikipedia explains on its page about the Chinese New Year, “Clothing mainly featuring the color red or bright colors is commonly worn throughout the Chinese New Year because it was once believed that red could scare away evil spirits and bad fortune… Red is a color of good luck.”

As well as wearing red for protection from negative energies, the Chinese perform dragon and lion dances throughout their New Year celebrations, which have as their soundtrack loud drum beats and ear-shattering clashes of cymbals. Although we’ll be leaving the noisier elements of the Chinese New Year out of our classes, be prepared to get your dragon flow on!

Making your dream list

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In the last Peacock Tree Yoga blog, we urged you to put your New Year resolutions to one side, hunker down in front of a fire and eat bean stew with your loved ones. We were promoting ‘hygge’ over ‘harrrrgh’ as the way to begin the year. And we still are, but remember the bit about that cosy and intimate setting being perfect for discussing your plans and dreams, thoughts and schemes for the coming year? We’re going to expand on that in this blog.

Making your dream list

Although there’s no harm in setting goals, there’s no need to rush ahead and attempt to meet those goals immediately, as previously discussed. Instead, we recommend using nature’s ‘down time’ to make a dream list. Think about what you’d like to experience this coming year – the places you’d like to go, the artwork you’d like to see, the languages you’d like to speak, the new tricks you’d like to learn. Share your dreams, and listen to other people’s.

Creating the right setting for making your dream list

We’ve already discussed what constitutes ‘hygge’, but for this particular exercise, you should put a few other measures in place, too:

  • Identify and then talk to the people you’d like to do this with, unless you’d prefer to do it alone.
  • Schedule some time – set a reminder on your phone, put it on the family calendar, write it in your diary. However you do it, be sure to allocate yourself this time.
  • When that time comes, switch off your computer and your phone – filter out the distractions, and give your mind the freedom to explore the topic in hand.
  • Arm yourself with a pen and a notebook.

What to put on your dream list

Think big and think small, but think always about YOU. So often, we have lists that are mostly to do with nurturing and supporting those around us – as is evident in the responses given to the artist, Alice Instone, who gathered “prominent and inspiring women’s to-do lists and made a number of art works from her own lists”, for an exhibition, entitled The Pram in the Hall. But this is a time to top yourself up with what you need. Besides, the better you feel, the better you’ll be able to continue to serve those around you.

We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list ~ Michelle Obama

These are some of the things on my list for 2017:

As you all know, we are also renovating our house and having a baby – but as they’re already construction(!) I wanted to include some other things too.

  1. Change my dentist from Huntington to Leeds, so that I get to go to Harvey Nicks for lunch when I have a check-up
  2. Set up another weekly savings account bucket
  3. ‘Time block’ 180mins for additional weekly learning on Tai Chi lectures & practices
  4. Put weekend spa date in diary with Andrea this spring
  5. Set up a ‘clearing out the Acomb cupboard’ date with Miss Kelly and then lunch afterwards

Put some dates on your dream list

Visualise the year ahead, see its nature – the growth of Spring, the colour of Summer, the harvest of Autumn, and the deep rest of Winter. Some of the things on your list will naturally fall into these categories – for example, you might paint your allotment shed in Spring, go to a lively festival in the Summer, make a photo album of your holiday snaps in Autumn, and book a Yin Yoga retreat for Winter.

Other things will be suited to any given time of the year. But nature’s rhythms can still help, particularly when it comes to actually identifying what it is you want to put on your dream list.

  • Spring prompts us to ask ourselves what we want to grow
  • Summer invites us visualise how it will look when it’s flourishing
  • Autumn asks us what we will gain from it, what we will reap
  • And Winter wants to know if it’ll let us settle

Hold on to your dreams

Whether it’s in your mobile phone notes, on a scrap of paper in your purse, or learnt by heart, keep your dream list close. Check in with it whenever you get a moment. Seek out and create those moments. Then stop and really feel the joy of manifesting your own dreams, however ‘big’ or ‘small’ they may be.

“Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.” ~ John Updike

The thing about New Year resolutions…

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The tradition of making New Year resolutions is totally flawed. Of course, the idea of identifying areas of our lives that can be improved is a good one. But doing it in the middle of Winter? Really? That’s not such a good idea.

PTY New Year resolutions blog Sleeping cat

Cats don’t make resolutions

Annual statistics tell us that every year, less than 10% of those who make New Year resolutions claim to have been successful, and under half get beyond six months with whatever it is they’ve promised themselves they’ll do less or more of. There’s a reason for this…

As California’s Institute of Classical five-Element Acupuncture so neatly puts it in this article about ‘The Season of Water’, “Winter is for us, as it is for all of nature, a time for internal work: meditation, containment, concentration, and the storing of our energy. We use this season for rest and the filling and maintenance of our reserves, gathering strength for the year ahead… Like the seed that cannot sprout until it has gathered sufficient strength, our ideas and plans cannot manifest with strength if our energy is dispersed or drained.”

Resolve to get cosy

Harvey family for new year resolutions blog

Get cosy with your favourite people

If you really must make a New Year resolution, then make it this: to get cosy. There’s actually a word for this which has become rather fashionable in the last year or so: Hygge (pronounced hoo-guh). We’ve borrowed it from Scandinavia, where the practice developed in response to the region’s long, dark days and the population’s need to find moments of happiness, warmth and comfort within them. Easy to see why it’s become such a popular concept in England!

Perhaps the most lovely thing about hygge is that it’s best done with others, as this New Yorker article explains: “It’s possible to hygge alone, wrapped in a flannel blanket with a cup of tea, but the true expression of hygge is joining with loved ones in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.” Handily, this is precisely the right setting for gently discussing how we’ll use our energy over the coming year – what our priorities are, what’s important to us, we’d like to achieve.

Cock-a-doodle-DO!

PTY New Year resolution blog Socks and mug

Woolly socks and tea make good hygge!

Although Springtime is nature’s morning, the time when we begin to see blossom on the trees and new lambs in the fields, there are many signs of growth which come as soon as February. And it’s possible that as we approach the end of January, you’ll begin to feel the culmination of your cosy time and be ready to pour your energy into new projects, too – particularly with us stepping into a ‘fire rooster’ year, according to the Chinese calendar.

For now, however, resist putting demands on your energy – top yourself up instead. Do things that leave you with a full heart, not a lack of energy. Get the fire lit, put a pan of hot chocolate or a bean stew on the stove, slip into your longest, woolliest socks, and gather your favourite people for some good hygge. And don’t forget to bring your woolly socks and fleecy blanket to your yoga classes, too!

Peace & Om: A Christmas Survival Guide

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Although much of our yoga practice happens on the mat, the real tests tend to come when we’re going about our usual business – especially around Christmas time. Being adept at handstands is all rather pleasing, but it takes even greater skill to remain genuinely calm and pleasant in the face of a tiresome aunt, an ungrateful child, or a burnt turkey. Take comfort, however, in the fact that you already know two of the most helpful coping strategies…

'Om' is a symbol and a sound.

‘Om’ is a symbol and a sound.

As yogis, we’re all familiar with the word ‘Om’, which is often chanted at the beginning and end of a class, usually with the hands in Anjali mudra (prayer position). These gestures book-end a lot of people’s time on the mat, in class and at home. They ready the mind for what is to come, and ‘seal in’ the peaceful energy coursing through us after a practice. But they both hold so much more meaning and wisdom – the kind that can rescue us from having an unhappy Christmas.

The essence of everything

In Hinduism, a religion wholeheartedly embraces the teachings of yoga, Om is one of the most important spiritual symbols and sounds. Hindus see Om as representing the entirety of existence – an idea which is expressed in the Vedas, the Upanishads and other Hindu texts, which often place the syllable at the beginning and end of chapters – a nod to the word’s all-encompassing nature.

We see the same in Buddhism; for instance, scholars see the first word of the well-known mantra ‘Om Mani Padmi Hum’ – often chanted in yoga classes – as consisting of three parts, A U and M, representing the totality of sound, existence and consciousness. When this ‘bija’ mantra is repeated over and over during meditation, its vibration – the vibration of creation itself – subsumes us; we become the vibration.

See the light in others…

'Om' reminds us that we are all connected.

‘Om’ reminds us that we are all connected.

Aum, according to these traditions, is the beginning the middle and the end of everything. It IS everything! It is the part of us all that is the same, it is the truth, the divine, the supreme spirit. It is the past, the present and the future.

In short, the word Om, or Aum, is a good way of reminding ourselves that we are all the same. When we chant the word together in class, it enhances our sense of community. And when we turn the word over in our minds, it can help us see past those characteristics that divide us. Even that tiresome aunt becomes bearable – she’s just like you, after all. Wayne Dwyer expresses this concept with a wonderful quote, which you should also put in your Christmas survival kit:

“See the light in others and treat them as though that’s all you see”

We are One

Putting our hands in prayer position and/or using the word namasté (in India, simply placing one’s hands in Anjali mudra is seen to be sufficient, since this is a physical representation of the word namasté) is similarly placatory and inspiring. It’s an acknowledgement of the fact that we are one, as the oft-quoted prayer, below, makes clear. And at this time of year, when tensions can run high and duty comes before pleasure, it can be a useful method of ensuring that your Christmas is a triumph of hope over experience!

My soul honours your soul.
I honour the place in you
where the entire universe resides
I honour the light, love, truth,
beauty & peace within you,
because it is also within me.
In sharing these things
we are united, we are the same,
we are one.

yoga etiquette

The light in Tulsi bows to the light in you!

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Mindful Eating for a Happy Christmas

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How do you feel when you think about ‘Christmas food’? Does your mouth water? Do you resign yourself to the fact that you will over-eat and plan to make up for it in the New Year? Do you panic at the thought of there being lots of ‘fattening’ foods to avoid? Then it could be time to start practising ‘mindful eating’…

Tulsi with cake mixer for mindful eating blog

Eating should always be a pleasure!

Eating more than we really need, and eating food that is convenient but not necessarily what our body needs, is an easy thing to do – even more so during the festive season.  Whether it’s the seemingly endless supply of Quality Streets found in offices across the land, the box of mince pies hiding in every kitchen cupboard ‘in case someone comes round’, or those last few roast potatoes that ‘need eating up’, there’s always something available, always something to reach for without thinking.

For some people, the ongoing availability of food – particularly at Christmas – presents a different problem: they feel guilty about eating certain types of food and go out of their way to avoid them. This has as much potential to bring about an unhelpful relationship with food as the tendency to gobble up whatever is being offered – the mind develops thought-patterns which underpin and reinforce negative ideas about body image. In this way, under-eating can become something we do without thinking, too.

Mindful eating for pleasure and good health

One way of exercising our powers of awareness, so that we can make conscious decisions about what we eat – and, importantly, truly enjoy and benefit from the things we consume – is to practice ‘mindful eating’. Before we go on to the ‘how’, here are a couple of definitions of mindful eating:

“Mindful Eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom” ~ The Center for Mindful Eating

“Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention: Eating with the intention of caring for yourself [and] eating with the attention necessary for noticing and enjoying your food and its effects on your body” ~ Am I Hungry?

As these two statements suggest, there are big advantages that come with eating mindfully – the main one being that when we are aware of what we are doing, we can make choices which will have positive effects on our physical and mental health. The person who has a tendency to unthinkingly swallow more than their fair share of chocolates can choose to say ‘No, thank you’ when offered yet another, and the person who has grown to deny themselves the pleasure of eating sweet treats can choose to say ‘Yes, please!’.

Yoga and mindful eating

Have your cake and eat it!

Have your cake and eat it!

This is all good news for those of us who attempt to live our lives according to the principles of yoga, which state that a healthy mind and a healthy body create the optimum conditions for our practice – and, therefore, for reaching the goal of spiritual enlightenment that a consistent and dedicated yoga practice promises.

Not only this, but by training our powers of awareness through the practice of mindful eating, we can pay more attention to everything else we do: the things we think about, the words that leave our lips, and our behaviour in the world. Practising mindful eating works very much like practising yoga postures – we learn to listen to our inner wisdom. Just as we might acknowledge thirst and quench it with a glass of water, we can identify the need to adapt a posture in order to avoid injury, or to deepen the pose.

How to eat mindfully

One very effective exercise for honing your mindful eating skills is given in ‘A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook’, by Stahl & Goldstein. It involves spending time looking at, smelling and considering what you’re about to eat, before gradually taking in more and more sensory details as you put the item in your mouth and chew it.

If you’ve never done this exercise with us in our classes, have a go at home. Try the exercise with a small a handful of raisins, as suggested in this adaptation of Stahl & Goldsteins’ mindful eating exercise, and then see if you can apply the same technique in other situations – like when you’re sitting at the Christmas dinner table!

Read more about how you can gain control over your desires!