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Equanimity Archives - Peacock Tree Yoga

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A week of #peacocktreelent

Well done everyone and thank you SO much for getting involved with #peacocktreelent. You’ve amazed, inspired and amused us with the things you chose to give up – from coleslaw (yes, really!) to your car, technology, the daily mail on-line (ha!), packets of haribo . . . to name but a few – WE SALUTE YOU! Here’s a look back on some of your Facebook and Instagram posts – click on the images to read the comments that accompanied them.

DAY 1 – Letting go

DAY 2 – Motivation

DAY 3 – Alternatives

DAY 4 – Temptation

DAY 5 – Support

DAY 6 – Benefits

DAY 7 – Insights

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!

Working with the Autumn equinox

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As the children fall back into their academic rhythm, as you pack away your shorts and vests for another 6 months or so, and as the last roses of Summer drop their petals in response to the dip in temperature and the lessening of light, we reach the Autumn equinox – that moment in the year when light and dark are of equal measure, and when we find ourselves on the precipice of change.

Pranayama for the Autumn Equinox

Pranayama for the Autumn Equinox

It’s a time that can be very exciting – who doesn’t enjoy the prospect of a nice new pair of tights, a crackling fire, or a stomp through crunchy leaves?! But it can also be unsettling – after the heat and romance of Summer, a cold, dark winter isn’t always such a cheery prospect. But we can overcome this feeling – and indeed, capitalise on the time of the year – by mimicking nature, by finding the same balance of light and dark in ourselves.

Finding balance through yoga

Yogis love balance, whether it comes in the form of a stable posture, an even breathing pattern (anuloma viloma is particularly helpful for establishing balance), or the avoidance of excess – the ability to make choices that serve the Self, and not the ego. Yoga teaches us to find a balance between effort and rest, elimination and assimilation, yang and yin. And in this way, yoga gives us tools for maintaining energetic and emotional balance in our lives.

As the days shorten, it’s common to find our energy levels dipping. When this happens, it’s easy to reach for seemingly easy solutions – we might simply increase our coffee consumption, for example. But that only chafes against nature’s cycles. We know, really, that we’d benefit a lot more by taking a nap or going to bed an hour earlier. And we know this because it’s what our inner wisdom tells us. Our job, then, is to listen to the wisdom inside – to hear her when she tells us to slow down, speed up, resist, or pursue.

How to hear…

recogniding the light within with anjali mudra

Anjali (‘salutation’) Mudra

According to Hindu tradition, along with many other cultures, that innate wisdom comes from the heart – and each sun salutation we do is a reminder of this. The sun is a symbol of consciousness and self-illumination, and by putting our hands in prayer position front of our hearts (anjali mudra) at the beginning and end of each sun salutation, we acknowledge that the sun, or the light, resides in all of us.

Each time we practise yoga, we have an opportunity to connect with our inner light and receive its wisdom; our bodies, our minds and our choices become further refined in the laboratory that is our yoga mat. With asana, we can nourish or strengthen weary limbs. With pranayama, we can soothe an aggravated nervous system. And with the awareness of our needs that comes with these physical practices, we can learn how to meet the pressures of life – and the Autumn equinox – with equanimity.

Want to walk the path together? Join us for our next Yoga Ninja workshop on September 24th!

Finding balance with the Spring equinox

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The wisdom of the Spring Equinox…

There are few things in life one can be sure of, but we find constancy in the celestial bodies; every year, we move through periods of time when the days are longer than the nights and vice versa, and every year, we arrive at two points in the calendar when there is an equal amount of light and dark. We are currently standing at one of these points: the Spring equinox.

spring equinox

Tolasana – scale pose

The Spring equinox, or Vernal equinox as it is also known, marks the moment when the plane of the Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the sun.

Nature has a habit of establishing balance – a habit our yoga practice can help us to emulate. Indeed, if we break down the word hatha, as in hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga, which prepares the mind and body for the practice of meditation), we get the Sanskrit words ‘ha’ and ‘tha’, which can be translated as ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ (or light and dark).

3 good reasons why humans need balance

  1. Enlightenment!

We find a very encouraging answer to this question in one of the most well-known contemporary texts on yoga, ‘Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha’ (written by Swami Satyananda Saraswati and published by the Bihar School in India):

“The main object of hatha yoga is to create balance between the interacting activities and processes of the pranic [energetic] and mental forces. Once this has been achieved, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to sushumna nadi, the central pathway in the spine, through which the kundalini shakti rises to sahasrara chakra, thereby illumining the higher centres of human consciousness.”  (pg 11, 1996 edition)

Wow!

  1. Physical wellbeing

spring equinox

Inhale and open…

Even without the promise of higher consciousness, yoga gives us reason to mirror the state of balance that comes with the Spring equinox. In a passage we can perhaps relate more easily to our day-to-day lives, the same text explains that the balancing practices of yoga (postures and breathwork) can help us maintain a healthy body and avoid fluctuations in our energy levels.

The sun salutations alone show us how yoga is fundamentally a practice of balance. We inhale and lift the arms, opening the body in the process. And then we exhale and fold forward, closing ourselves up again. We inhale as we step back with one leg and lift (open) the chest, and exhale as we step into plank and lower ourselves towards the ground. We open and we close, expand and reduce, inhale and exhale…

Anuloma Viloma, also known as Nadi Shondana pranayama, is a particularly helpful breathing technique for promoting evenness in both the mind and body. It can also provide a wonderfully cooling counterbalance to an asana practice which is designed to increase heat and strength in the body. Click here for full instructions on how to perform Anuloma Viloma.

  1. Mental stability

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer us further motivation to align ourselves with the Spring equinox, with the concept of Brahmacharya (the fourth of the five Yamas), which is widely understood to mean ‘moderation of the senses’. By learning to manage the way we respond to our sensory desires and aversions – by gaining control over them, by consciously choosing to indulge them or not– we are able to maintain a state of equanimity.

This is useful on a practical level because in life, there are ups and downs, some more pronounced than others. We can’t control all of these events, but by practising Brahmacharya, we develop the ability to choose how we respond to them. By becoming aware of our habits and tendencies, we can also see where our excesses are causing energetic and emotional imbalance – and alter our actions and habits accordingly.

One particularly effective exercise is to try giving up something with which you associate your happiness (eg. coffee, chocolate, Facebook, buying clothes, watching telly) – a challenge we set our yoga students every year, to coincide with Lent (you can read more about this in the previous Peacock Tree Yoga blog.

Vastu-samye citta-bhedat tayor vibhaktah panthah

I received a wonderful teaching at a Jiva Mukti class recently, which offers us yet another way of understanding objects and the way we see and feel about them. The chant written above tells us that each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it.

Everything in moderation (even moderation itself!)

As anyone who’s tried it will know, giving up any of the pleasures of the sensory world, even if only for one week, is no mean feat – it’s easy to fall off the moderation wagon. This is all part of the exercise, since the experience serves to heighten our awareness of how we relate to things (“That chocolate bar will make me happy…”) and how our choices regarding them affect our mental and physical wellbeing (“…but now that pleasurable sugary moment has passed, I feel nothing but a dip in my energy levels”).

As long as we remain mindful of our choices – of how we respond to the objects and events that are happening around us – we can be ‘masterly’ in our behaviour.  And if we can master the art of equanimity – a state of being that’s given definition in Rudyard Kipling’s wonderful poem, If – we can stay calm and remain peaceful, come light or dark.