Christmas Archives - Peacock Tree Yoga

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!


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!

We are Six – and it’s brilliant!

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Take your mind back for a moment and try to recapture how it was to be six years old. Do you remember  doing  cartwheels and handstands against the wall with your best friend? Can you recall the way in which a normal day could be transformed into one of magic, secret tunnels and other worlds?

As Peacock Tree Yoga turns six, we are reminded to reconnect with our child selves. Young minds are so clean, so unpolluted – free of the ideas society has about the way we should look or behave. When we are six, the veil has not yet been drawn over our pure awareness of being, of living in the moment. As six year olds, we’re more curious about, and impressed with, the world around us – things many of us strive for as adults.

Peacock Tree Yoga friends

Peacock Tree friends enjoying a post-workshop natter and munch!

Playful Peacocks

At Peacock Tree Yoga, we’re proud to encourage these ‘childlike’ qualities, with our fun and inspiring classes. Enjoying the feeling of being back in our body again. We aim to ensure that every student feels connected and appreciated, and is able to escape the grown up world of demands and expectations.

Visit our Facebook page to see more photos of us in action!

The best part is, our students play along – and this is what makes our school so special, a fact noted by a visiting  teacher at last weekend’s powerful Yin Yang workshop, Jude Claybourne. Our yoga community mightily impressed Jude, who told me afterwards that she’s never encountered one like ours, where people who have become true friends share stories about their practice and development in a loving, gentle, kind and happy atmosphere. We all hang out after workshops drinking herbal tea and fabulous cakes and raw food treats.

This is the stuff of a six-year old yoga school’s dreams, and we can’t thank our students enough for the part they play in making it such a success. Here’s to the next twenty six years of growing and playing together!

Happy 6th birthday, everyone!

Peacock Tree Yoga in York - Scorpion pose