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Launching into Lent with Peacock Tree Yoga (#peacocktreelent)

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Lent is traditionally about giving something up (more on non-attachment in a moment…), and we definitely think that’s a good idea. But this year, we’re asking you to commit to doing something too: We’d like you to keep us all up to date with how it’s going, and help create a supportive and encouraging community, by using #peacocktreelent on your social media posts.

PTY rob yoga kula blog photo 6

Let’s support each other OFF the mat, too!

As practising Christians will know, giving up something we enjoy, but which is not necessary for our survival, is a central part of Lent. In recognition of the 40 days and nights Jesus is said to have spent fasting in the desert, believers go without for the same length of time – ending their ‘penance’ just before Easter Sunday.

Lent and non-attachment

Going without something we like but don’t need is a familiar concept within the world of yoga too. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, ‘aparigraha’ (not being possessive – over objects or people, for example) is listed as one of the codes for living known as the Yamas. The Yamas, which focus on matters of the self (small ‘s’) and what we should avoid doing, sit alongside five Niyamas, which are more about our behaviour in the world and how we should behave.

Find out what happened when Steve gave up technology for a month

As yogis, we can use Lent to practice not wanting things we don’t need, thereby removing our attachment to them – as discussed in our blog, Spring clean your mind for Lent. It doesn’t really matter what we choose to give up – only that it is something that has the ability to cause us distress if it is taken away – something our minds have become ‘sticky’ towards.

Marking Lent with Peacock Tree Yoga (#peacocktreelent)

Giving something up isn’t easy. But it can be made easier by having a supportive network around you. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve with our social media campaign. We want to build the same vibrant, friendly community online as we have in our classes!

We’ll share our experiences – our frustrations and revelations, the highs the lows – in the form of images on Facebook and Instagram, and we’ll group our photos by tagging them with #peacocktreelent (please do this – it makes it a lot easier for us to find your photos and videos!)

Of course, you’re welcome to get started as soon as you like – we know many people will want to begin on Wednesday 1st March, when Lent officially begins – but we’ll be online, sharing our own Lent pictures as well as daily ‘prompts’, from Monday 6th – Sunday 12th March.

Get creative!

Tulsi drinking a babychino before the start of #peacocktreelent

Tea? Coffee? Babychinos? What’s your weakness?

Throughout that week, we’ll include ‘prompts’ in our own posts, to help give a focus to the images you post. So on the first day, for example, the prompt will be ‘What I’m giving up for Lent’. You might simply post a picture of a bag of coffee. Or, you might choose to post a picture of an empty cup, a coffee cup stain on a table, or a selfie in which you’re holding your favourite (empty) coffee mug.

The comment you add to your photo, should you choose to, might also give us some insight into your experience of Lent – so on the first day, for example, you might tell us what you’re giving up for Lent and why, or explain how reliant you’ve become on that thing. Whether you include a comment or not, please remember to use the tag #peacocktreelent!

Get ahead…

For those of you who might want to plan ahead (apparently this is a thing on Instagram), or at least have an idea of the sorts of moments you could capture and tag with #peaocktreelent on Instagram or Facebook, we’ve listed the prompts below. You don’t have to use them in chronological order, or at all, however – other moments might come up that reflect your experiences better, after all.

  • Mon 6th: Letting go (what you’re giving up – a habit, a behaviour, a type of food… More ideas here
  • Tue 7th: Motivation (what’s motivating you to do this?)
  • Wed 8th: Alternatives (how you’re filling the gap)
  • Thur 9th: Temptation (moments when you’ve been close to falling off the wagon)
  • Fri 10th: Support (friends, family, clubs and groups that are helping you stick to your Lent goals)
  • Sat 11th: Benefits (examples of how sticking to your Lent goals is benefiting you)
  • Sun 12th: Insights (what your Lent goals have taught you)

Any other business

Below are a few other important bits of information about our week of social media Lent support. If you have any other questions, please do send them to us (email is best) and then we can add the information to the page and everyone can benefit from your inquisitive nature!

  • You can carry on using #peacocktreelent for the entire 40 days of lent, if you like! – we’ll continue to be inspired by you!
  • You can use other #s alongside ours if you’ve committed to another challenge, such as the Trussell Trust’s #40in40 challenge.
  • There’s no limit on the number of posts you tag with #peacocktreelent.
  • Oh, and if you’re giving up social media for Lent, print this blog / take a screenshot ASAP, capture your experience on camera throughout the week commencing Monday 6th March, and send your photos to us at info@peacocktreeyoga.com !

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!

Turn on, tune in, drop out?

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Could you give up communication technology for a month? No late night phone calls with your lover, no scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed on the bus, no emails to open while you have your first coffee of the day. On the face of it, it sounds impossible – we live in an age where these things are the norm – but when Peacock Tree Yoga student and teacher, Steve Poile, traveled to a remote ashram in India, he was determined to leave the electronic world behind… 

Sivananda ashram, Himalayas

An ashram by the Ganges. Perfect.

This was my second TTC – the first in Mysore at The Mystic School last year, was in the centre of the city with meals and access to the outside world a short walk from the classroom. Whilst it was a great Indian experience, it lacked the peace and tranquility I was seeking. I wanted a place where I’d be able to develop a deeper spiritual practice, create closer ties with the Sivananda path, develop my readiness to teach, and withdraw from the outside world in order to be able to focus on my own yoga practice.

After a lot of research, I decided to register with the Sivananda Kutir, Uttarkashi, an ashram next to the Ganges, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It offered everything I was looking for, in particular, a core focus on Sivananda yoga, remoteness in the mountains, and an absence of any outside distractions due to the (supposed) unavailability of wifi and mobile phone signals.

Leaving it all behind

Departing from York, it took over 40 hours travelling time to reach the Ashram, the last leg of the journey being a seven-hour car journey from Rishikesh (the spiritual home of Swami Sivananda) through mountain passes and past beautiful scenery to the little collection of buildings by the Ganges that was to be home for the next month.

After just one day to recover from the trip, the ashram experience began, with a daily schedule as reliable as the sounds that formed our soundtrack; the rushing water of the Ganges, the melodic calls of exotic birds, and the rhythms of the local bugs:

  • 5am – get up
    meal time at the ashram

    Even meal times were a meditation of sorts.

  • 6am – Satsang (meditation and chanting)
  • 8am – asana practice
  • 10am – brunch
  • 10.30am – karma yoga (performing helpful tasks around the ashram)
  • 12 noon – lectures
  • 4pm – asana practice (yes, another one)
  • 6pm – dinner
  • 7pm – Satsang
  • 9.30pm – lights out

The Ashram ‘rules’

All activities are compulsory at the ashram, there are no exceptions. All food is sattvic lacto-vegetarian, consisting of one veg curry or dahl and rice (sometimes substituted by a dosa, noodles or roti), and a piece of fruit – all very basic but delicious. Everything – Satsang, meals, lectures – is undertaken sitting cross-legged on the floor. Daily Vedanta and asana homework must be crammed into the few moments of spare time since there’s no room for falling behind – hand-in is required the following day.

I was expecting all of this. However, there was one ‘rule’ which no longer applied. The relentless march of technology meant that the local area had recently obtained a 3G mobile phone signal! Giving up communication technology was no longer an externally imposed withdrawal from the external world, but a choice I would have to make. Did I switch on my phone and have access to the outside world or did I keep it switched off and maintain the remoteness and withdrawal? I chose the latter, since this was an opportunity to experience a different pace of life and be liberated from the demands of modern technology.

Read about Rob Milner’s yoga studies in Austria

Tuning out and tuning in

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A moment of pure stillness

Every day as I awoke, I no longer felt the desire to reach for the phone and see the latest news, emails, and Facebook posts. Instead, I focused on my own wellbeing, prepared for the day and quietly walked to the Satsang hall free from thoughts generated by this and that in the world beyond the ashram walls. As the month progressed, my mind became quieter and more peaceful. I didn’t once feel the need to switch on my phone. I felt liberated, able to sit by the Ganges, my spine tingling as I felt only love radiating out, and a blissful nothing coming in.

The modern world, with its demands on your time and resources is, you begin to understand, a self-made constraint imposed by the self on the self. I can choose to allow social media, email, mobile phone and so on to make constant demands, or I can choose to ignore these demands. The more I ignore them the quieter they become, and in turn the quieter and calmer my mind becomes.

Bringin’ it all back home…

When I returned to the UK I asked people what of importance had happened whilst I was away. My question was met with quizzical responses….nobody could really recall anything of importance that was worth a mention. I hadn’t missed a thing – and that’s partly why I have chosen to maintain a lower level of reliance on technology now I’m back on home soil. I leave the phone at home and don’t reach for it in the morning, and in doing so, I’ve managed to retain a quiet mind and a sense of calmness. It feels strange at times since I was used to having a mind full of thoughts.

So did I achieve the objectives I set out at the start of my trip? The answer is as loud and noticeable as the sound of insects scurrying along the stone floor of the quiet ashram: Yes! The regularity and simplicity of ashram life, combined with a voluntary withdrawal from technology, allowed me to delve deep into my yoga studies, and tune into an inner peace and tranquility that I’ve been able to hold on to – even when my phone lights up.

 

By the light of the silvery 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 November 2016 Supermoon. This full moon, we’re told, will be one of the best for a long time to come due to its proximity to the earth.

For Ashtanga yoga practitioners, a full moon will always be worth observing. New moons, too. Ashtangis practising in the traditional way (as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois) consider moon days as holidays. Guruji, as the tradition’s founding father was affectionately known by his students, told his students 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.

The Jois family has a strong background in Vedic astrology, which should be taken into consideration when we speak about the importance of the phase of the moon to Ashtanga yoga. It’s worth noting, too, that Guruji himself was born on a full moon, giving him the ability to “bring consciousness to bear on the hidden dimensions of life”, according to one astrology website. Why not find out what phase of the moon you were born in?

Subtle energetic body

Subtle energy in motion

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 vinyasa, 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…

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

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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, such as the one on November 14th – 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 ‘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.