Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Spirit of Halloween Yoga

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Peacock Tree Yoga students are always encouraged (nay, forced!) to don a cape, some fangs or a pair of pointy ears for classes that fall on Halloween, and this year is no exception. But more than anything, we want our students to try on a few asana ‘costumes’, at home and in our classes – with the intention to experience the stories, the symbols and the qualities associated with each.

A Halloween yoga practice

Peacock Tree teachers leading by example!

Peacock Tree teachers leading by example!

If you aren’t sure what qualities are associated with different poses, you can go with intuition, your experience, and your imagination. What does a boat pose mean to you – the ability to go on new journeys, and greet change and with an adventurous heart? The ability to stay afloat during difficult times? What does plank pose mean to you – the qualities of a strong foundation: steadiness, the ability to withstand pressure, the readiness to be used in the service of a great plan?

We can take the theme of Halloween to the very end of our yoga practice. In Savasana (which, aptly, translates as corpse pose), take a moment to focus on people from the past who you admire – it can renew your sense of purpose in life and give your motivation a tremendous boost. This, after all, is what Halloween started out as.

In memory of…

pumpkin with om symbol


Traditionally, the eve before All Saints Day – an active one in the Spirit Realm – involved dressing up in period clothes of ancestors whose admirable characteristics remained in their descendants’ memories, long after their physical bodies dissolved into the earth.

The ancient Celts believed the border between this world and the spirit world became thin on Samhain, allowing ‘ghosts’ (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family’s ancestors were honoured and invited home, while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks celebrating the lives of the more favourable ones.

Good or bad, it’s up to you

halloween yoga costume

Trick or treat?

By using the theme of Halloween to steer our yoga practice, we are able to retain a sense of what Halloween was traditionally about. By all means, go to a party, drink ‘blood’ punch and do the Time Warp (again). But make time, too, to bring the special quality of this time of year, and its inherent traditions, to your mat.

It is true that the celebrations of All Hallows Eve, or as we call it now, Halloween, has become quite different from its origins and can be the subject of debate and controversy. But by applying the teachings of yoga – to strive to reach a place in our minds and our hearts that causes us to radiate peace, happiness, and every kind of positive energy – the traditions of Halloween can help bring about good physical and emotional health, which affects everyone and everything around us.

Imagination in life is our most powerful tool.


Halloween waits . . . (a poem about Halloween by Lilley Harvey)

The night before November 5th, I spied a wretched Halloween,

Half fall, half flight, her step was swift

Her time was echoes, thin as wind

then midnight chimed

and brilliant, vermillion, Fire grinned.

“I waited,” she smiled.

They kissed with lips aflame and then she died.

Finding my Yoga Kula

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When Peacock Tree Yoga teacher and student, Rob Milner, took up yoga in March 2012, he couldn’t have anticipated the world it would open up for him – the yoga kula, or community, he was about to enter. In this guest blog, written after his second trip to an Austrian Sivananda Yoga ashram, he recalls how it all began…

PTY rob yoga kula blog photo 6

The Peacock Tree Yoga kula, where my world opened up…

Yoga was something I’d been curious about for a while, but I hadn’t really looked for a class. In fact, it was my mum who found the advert and suggested we both give it a try.

From the moment I started it just felt like the right place to be. I remember distinctly how Lilley had set up the environment, with incense, the right kind of music and a well-balanced class, and it was a spiritual experience. I wasn’t familiar with spirituality that much at the time, but looking back, that sense of connection to the peace within appealed to me on some level. Yoga was the thing I was looking for, though I didn’t even know I was looking for it. You can say it was fate, or the universal order, or just luck, but the yoga found me when it was the right time.

chloe mckay and rob milner

Who knew yogis love to party?!

I started with the beginners’ class, once a week. Initially I couldn’t even touch my toes, but yoga allows you to steadily improve your flexibility, focus and strength. Sometimes the results are quick, sometimes they are more gradual, but you can see your progress, and that’s wonderful motivation.

After finishing the beginners’ course I moved into the intermediates: giving the body and mind the extra level of challenge allows it to rise and adapt to the situation. It’s important to build up to it though, always finding that relaxation within the postures, where the breath can be even and steady. A lot of the practice is in the mind and it’s the meditative aspect that really connects us with the true practice of yoga.


A seed takes root…

PTY rob blog swiss chalet

Sivananda Yoga Ashram, Austria

Once I’d done intermediates for a while I needed to get deeper into the yoga, so I started going several times per week. I gradually invested more time in it and improved my practice. I did some yoga at home too and started assisting with some of the classes. One evening after class, Lilley mentioned the Teacher Training Course to me and this piqued my interest. It was the next step that I was seeking on my yoga journey.

With a year to go before doing the teacher training, I began preparing and started counting the days. The training itself was a month-long intensive in a Sivananda ashram in the Austrian Tyrol, among the forests and mountains and provided a true retreat experience.

PTY rob blog shrine

Diving deeper in Austria…

A major revelation I had when doing the course was that there was so much more to yoga than I had been aware of. I’d been practising the postures (asanas) and the breathing (pranayama), but had really only scratched the surface. I was introduced to Vedanta, which is the philosophical backbone of yoga and started practising meditation twice a day.

The schedule was intensive and not always easy, but yoga is also about applying the calm, peaceful state of mind to more stressful situations, so that we don’t get so emotionally involved in every little thing, but learn to approach all of life’s events with a balanced outlook. Good things happen and bad things happen. Everything can be a lesson for us, and sometimes it’s important to go through bad things in order to develop our character and grow stronger and wiser.

Connecting with my yoga kula

Acro Yoga Kula

Our Acro Yoga Kula in York!

A very important aspect of my teacher training, and one of the main reasons I practise in a class, is that you get to meet and connect with a lot of really wonderful people. I’ve made some really deep connections with people I’ve met through yoga and they will always be special to me and remain my lifelong friends.

Maybe it’s the type of people who are drawn to yoga, but I find yogis to have an inspiring attitude, looking for self-improvement and a more peaceful existence, sitting a level above the stresses and strains of everyday life.

I love the fact that yoga is open to everyone, it’s never too late to practise and you will always gain some benefit. There are so many variations that all bodies can find the yoga, you don’t have to be super fit, but just have a little discipline and go to a class.

Catching up with fellow TT's Anju and Elizabeth at London's Sivananda Centre

Catching up with fellow TT’s Anju and Alice in London

Through yoga I’ve made friends all over the world, and love to visit them and reconnect with them. It’s great catching up with my fellow TTCs (what we call the people who did the Teacher Training Course) and seeing how they’re getting on. Some are teaching, some are practising, but they have a deeper understanding of yoga from doing the course, as do I. It was a pivotal point for me, and I think of my life before and life after the TTC as two different things, almost a rebirth.

Wherever I lay my mat, that’s my home

I recently returned to the ashram in Austria for a yoga vacation, with my mum, and I really enjoyed connecting to a new group of people. I specifically chose to return when the teacher training course was on this year as I love the energy that all the extra people create.

Yoga is a path we can walk with others

Yoga is a path I like walking with others

But one thing I also realised is that though the environment is lovely (it’s really a detox to be in the mountains, away from the busy stimulation of daily life) it’s not necessary to go anywhere to experience the bliss of yoga. The important part is the people you practise with.

Next time you’re in your class, try to become aware of the beautiful people that surround you and the amazing community and sense of connection that’s there. Talk to people, smile at people, be happy with people and look for opportunities. Follow your intuition and say yes to things. You never know where you may end up. I feel so lucky to have had so many opportunities since returning from my course, but they were always there, I just wasn’t aware of them.

Life is beautiful, the world is beautiful, and people are beautiful. Yoga is a way to connect to the blissful self within, but also a way to create unification with those around us too. All you need to do is commit to a practice and give yourself to the yoga, and you might find that it leads you to the place you want to be.

Rob sounds brilliant! Where can we find him?!

PTY rob yoga kula blog photo 4

Rob Milner

Rob has a really strong practice, so you’ll find him teaching some of Peacock Tree Yoga’s more challenging classes, while Lilley is 5000 miles from home:

  • Mon 17th October: Improvers, Acomb, 6.45 – 8.00pm
  • Mon 17th October: Ashtanga, Acomb, 8.00 – 9.30pm
  • Mon 24th October: Improvers, Acomb, 6.45 – 8.00pm
  • Mon 24th October: Ashtanga, Acomb, 8.00 – 9.30pm

5000 miles from home

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Next week, I’m flying 5000 miles to meet someone I’ve never met before – but who has played an important role in my life for over 7 years. He’s my teacher. He’s a martial artist, who lives and works in the American desert. 

Any reference I make to him tends to elicit the question, ‘Lilley, how on earth did you end up with your teacher – an American martial artist? How did that happen?’ Well now seems as good a moment as any to tell you…

It was autumn 2009, Daniel and I had just come back from six months in India and we were living in London (with our friend Timothy Newton Crum, who owned a penthouse around the corner from the British Museum and a tin bath on the roof, but I digress . . .) and in terms of my yoga teaching career I was wondering what to do next.

No such thing as coincidence?

I had been teaching and assisting for Rob Leadley and Hayley Del Harrison for a few years in York but here I was in London starting again. I had a ‘to do’ list which ran to 36 pages of A4, and was experiencing ‘overwhelm freeze.’ So naturally, instead of doing anything constructive, I was messing about on the internet – where I stumbled across a link which said, ‘Don’t open a yoga school before you read this’. Intrigued, I clicked.

Jason - White Crane w flute - high-res copy

Jason Campbell in ‘White Crane’

Several pieces of really good advice followed. I was hooked. I’d never seen information on how to be a good teacher or how to run a strong school. I had had plenty of teachers who were great at the asanas (the yoga postures), but no-one who inspired me to commit and no-one who was putting yogic principles into business and life. Looking around, no-one seemed to know much more than me in terms of how to organise and inspire their students. But this organisation did.

So I did a programme with them – ‘How to be a successful independent practitioner’ – and it was informative, stimulating, logical and strong. I learned an enormous amount very quickly.

Then my world changed again. Daniel had gone back to India and I had gone to live with my (late) sister-in-law, to look after her and my niece and nephew. So the mentoring programme I’d been offered after the initial programme I undertook was shelved as ‘something for the future’.

Be light, be playful, be present – and take care of business!

By 2011, we were back in York, and a year into Peacock Tree, I realised I was ready. I wanted a teacher, I really did. I didn’t want to learn from mistakes, I didn’t want to waste time figuring out how to do it; I just wanted someone to show me, right from the start how to design things well. So I contacted them again.

To say I was keen to study the art of ‘Zen Business’, under the guidance of the man at the helm of this organisation, Jason Campbell, would be an understatement. Jason had already established several retreat centres under the name Zen Wellness and I loved his line, ‘Be light, be playful, be present and take care of business.’ There was just one problem: I couldn’t afford it.

So I wrote him an ambitious email, reminding him who I was and explaining myself: I was ‘creative and European and would work really hard’ – and if he’d just let me have a couple of trial months then I’d be up and running. He found my email entertaining and admired my chutzpah, he then redefined the terms and here we are all these years later. We speak on Skype 2 or 3 times a month, he’s helped shape my business (and me, to some extent!), but we’ve never actually physically met. It’s an extra-ordinary relationship.

The Yoga of Life


Teachers help us refine ourselves

Everything we have ever done has worked. I feel that hiring him to effectively be my teacher, mentor and boss was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. He keeps me bright and accountable.  He offers me great advice on the myriad things that come up when you run a yoga school. He offers wisdom and balance and when I’m off track, he helps me to recognise it and to get back on. He helps me to navigate.

The most important thing he taught me was how to prioritise – something I’ve become so adept at that I now have my own mentoring clients, and my teacher would like me to take on more. Jason has taught me to be aware of how I use my resources – where I spend my time, money and energy.

Why do we need a teacher?

We need teachers to guide us, motivate us, excite us and help us to craft our vision. For me, it was important to have a teacher who was a leader in their field, and who I could emulate. I wanted it for me and also for my school. I wanted someone to teach me how to condition myself to be the best I could be – and to constantly strive for that.

Yoga is a special subject, we’re not selling a product we don’t believe in, what we’re offering is life transformation (in small, do-able chunks). The great thing about a skilled teacher is that they know what you need next without overwhelming you. Just building things, changing things, a little bit at a time.

Teachers never really stop teaching either. Yoga isn’t my job, there’s no separation between work and life. I never plan on retiring. This is my cultivation, we’re all in this life to learn and grow and we need strong teachers to help us do that. And they need strong teachers behind them, to guide them.

An American Adventure

So next week I’m going to Phoenix Arizona to meet my teacher, Jason Campbell, and his students – my contemporaries and colleagues. I’m going to be studying two days of Zen Business with other studio owners from all over the US, and then I’m embarking on a new teacher training course, Medical Chi Gung, which I’ll be doing be studying over the next couple of years. It will give me an additional depth to my teaching, and keep me bright and motivated and learning.

I’ll also be buying a pair of cowboy boots.

Counting your Conkers

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Ahhh, bountiful Autumn. It’s so kind of nature to let go of her abundant creation of the past year, in a grand final display of fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals. And so kind of her, too, to offer us this opportunity to recognise and be grateful for our own ‘harvests’, and make way for the growth and expansion that will lead to next year’s.


Finding time for gratitude

Unfortunately, being grateful on a personal level doesn’t happen as easily as donating some tinned food to the local harvest festival. There’s rarely time to reflect on what we as individuals have completed or produced over the previous year. Finishing things generally means we can simply get on with the next job. But it’s essential that we follow the rhythm of the earth and make time for ‘completion’, for the sake of our self-worth and our peace of mind, as Mark Williams and Danny Penman note:

“If you can practise cultivating a sense of completeness – even a glimmer, right now, in this moment, with the little things in life, there is a chance that you will be better able to cope with those aspects of mind that keep telling you that you are not there yet; and not yet happy, not yet fulfilled. You might learn that you are complete, whole, just as you are.”

~ Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World

Letting go of old leaves…

Autumn’s lessons don’t end with gratitude. As well as encouraging us to acknowledge what we have and have done – our own cycles of creation – nature instructs us to graciously let go of some things, too.

Autumn leaves for harvest blogTrees don’t desperately cling onto their leaves because they might need them next year. Yet us humans have a tendency to defy the cycle and hold onto what we’ve produced or collected – those decayed leaves, that old negativity, those old ideas, those friendships or relationships that don’t serve us… Like plants and trees, we need to return to our essence, value the life lessons, and eliminate what we no longer need in order to blossom and reap our harvest next year.


Your body, the tree

It’s not just the events, objects and relationships in our lives to which we can apply Mother Earth’s lessons in gratitude and letting go. Our bodies need attention too – the right kind of attention, a nourishing and helpful kind of attention.

Daniel Tree RievaulxWe have an odd relationship with our bodies. On the one hand we identify with them strongly. We tend to despair when they become sick, suffer agonies over how others perceive our appearance, take it personally when they show signs of ageing, and sometimes spend large amounts of time and money in order to look our best. On the other hand, we neglect them, fill them with unhealthy foods, and use them in ways that cause them damage.

Being grateful for what our bodies can do results in a tendency to look after ourselves better, and it allows us to grow older and less able gracefully. Why? Because gratitude brings us joy. It’s a deeply healing practice that allows us let go of resentment towards our bodies. Have a go with the exercise below, be flooded with gratitude, let go of old criticisms, and notice how your body is seemingly relieved to be appreciated.

Practising bodily gratitude

  1. Notice each part of the body in turn and say thank you. It’s important to articulate the words clearly in your mind.
  2. Notice any sensations that are arising as you focus on each part of the body in turn. And say thank you.
  3. Feel extra gratitude if the part of the body you’re focusing on tries to help you each day, but struggles with pain or illness.
  4. Notice your body’s functions: the heart breathing, like a faithful old friend; the lungs pumping away, day and night.
  5. Notice your senses. How fortunate you are to have functioning eyes, ears, a sense of taste, smell, touch, balance!
  6. Notice the act of being aware – your ability to think, reflect, and remember. Even the ability to pay attention.
  7. Notice the joy in your heart.