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Nature Archives - Peacock Tree Yoga

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.

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

Guest blog: Gratitude Crumble

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Some people eat humble pie. Katy Wright recommends Gratitude Crumble…

I’ve developed a new morning ritual and I can’t recommend it highly enough. But you do need to live near some brambles, which – luckily for me – I do. In fact, where I live in France, it’s pretty rural, and I have immediate access to all the delights Mother Earth is currently serving up. But even if there’s more concrete than grass where you live, you can still go out on weekend ‘shopping’ trips.

Katy looking at blackberries

Behold the plump berries!

So, my ‘harvest bowl’. Every day it gets filled with blackberries, apples, hazelnuts and, soon, walnuts!! And the act of filling it has become my daily reminder to be grateful. Grateful for the abundance of food growing just metres away from the kitchen in which it will be prepared, and grateful for the abundance in my own life.

But having a lot of fresh produce is a bit like having a lot of money – it comes with responsibility. You can’t just pick blackberries willy nilly and let them go soggy in the fridge. Or watch your apples develop that weird, waxy skin texture that signals impending decay. (The nuts, granted, do have to be left to their own devices – and when they’re ready, I have to practise moderation in the face of delirious greed!).

I’ve found the best way to be responsible with, and respectful towards, my harvest is to make sure it gets eaten and appreciated – by me and anyone else I encounter. And I do that by making the delicious things listed below. There’s something for everyone – unless you’re both vegan and gluten intolerant, in which case, I suggest eating your fruits, berries and nuts in all their unadulterated glory!

Happy foraging!

Katy x


 

How to eat your Autumn harvest

 

Pancakes and blackberriesFlourless Banana Pancakes

These are quick and easy to make, tasty, filling, good for using up ageing bananas, and good for sharing. And they can be made better still by putting blackberries and cinnamon on top! They’re also classed as ‘Paleo‘, so if you eat like a caveman, you’ll like these!

 

apple tree for gratitude blogGratitude Crumble

That’s just my playful name for what is actually a recipe by Paul Hollywood. The only things I do differently are leaving out the seaweed (that’s not a joke – he really does use the stuff in his crumble!) and using salted butter. Oh, and I like it served with crème fraiche. Naturellement.


peach and blackberry bircherAutumn Porridge / Bircher 

No-one can claim to have invented porridge, apart from the oats themselves. And yes, Bircher was invented by a Swiss doctor, but it is basically just a cold version of porridge. So I’m going to lay claim to these variations. You can invent your own versions, too. The ‘Bircher’ on the left contains peach.

 

  • Porridge: Make as usual and then stir in a teaspoon of turmeric, if you’re daring. Put it in a bowl, and add half an apple (chopped into small pieces) and a handful of blackberries. Top it off with some chopped nuts. You can also add cinnamon or, even better, cinnamon pumpkin seeds (for 3 or 4 servings, fry 40g of seeds in ½ tspn of coconut oil along with as much cinnamon as you desire)
  • Bircher: Soak the oats overnight, in half the amount of water/milk you would use if you were cooking it in a pan – so, roughly 1:1. In the morning, stir in some plain yoghurt (it’s up to you how much – depends on your feelings about gloopiness), grate an apple on top, add your blackberries, and top with nuts and pumpkin seeds, either plain or made as described above.

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!

Everybody loves the sunshine…

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Have you ever considered why it is that we wait with such eager anticipation for the Summer sun to arrive? Why you find yourself checking the long-range forecast, in the hope of finding evidence that Britain will actually be bathed in sunshine at some point?

everybody loves the sunshine

The fire element inspires play…

The sun feels nice, we can wear our lightest clothes (or nothing at all!), feel free and easy… We can eat outside, even if it’s late in the evening. The light has a magical quality. And when the threat of rain doesn’t loom, we’re more inclined to play – by ourselves, with our families and friends, and even strangers.

These are all good reasons for anticipating the arrival of summer, but there’s another reason, too; Summer, and the element of fire it brings, plays an important part in our spiritual wellbeing and evolution…

Everybody needs the sunshine…

“The Fire element expresses itself as joy and manifests within us as love, laughter, and enthusiasm. During summer, the season of maximum expansion, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest.” – Neil Gumenick

According to Chinese medicine, Summer delivers the promises of Spring. It’s the time when the plans and intentions we set in Spring blossom fully, giving us the opportunity and power to present our truest and most impressive selves to the world. And because we are part of nature, this is a natural thing for us to do each year. So much so, that when we lack fire at this time of year, everything just feels wrong – or, as Neil Gumenick puts it in one of his articles on the Five Elements , “we can feel isolated and spiritually cut off, uninspired, fearful, empty, and disconnected from life”.

How to fire up your summer (with or without the sun!)

"During summer, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest."

“During summer, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest.”

If you do happen to encounter some sun at some point during the Summer, capitalise on it! Get outside, socialise, live your passions! Dance naked on the beach! Swim naked in the sea – even for 5 minutes, it takes a decade off you!  And tap into the self-sustaining power of the sun by taking your yoga practice outside, into nature, each time our biggest star extends even a finger of light from the sky.

And on those days (or during those weeks!) when the sun doesn’t seem to shine at all, when you don’t feel warmed to the core, and just generally seem to have lost your mojo?

Light your own fire!

Chinese Medicine suggests working on the heart meridian, to “re-establish our connection to the Divine and … awaken us to the security provided by the current of love that permeates existence.” What we’re being told, in a nutshell, is that focusing on the heart can help us to really feel universal love – great big flames of the stuff! We can find our own blistering Summer – right there inside us. And, happily for us yoga folk, our practice can aid us in doing so…

Firing up your yoga practice

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be working on the anahata, or heart chakra, in Peacock Tree Yoga’s classes – exploring backbends and other postures which assist us on our path to an open heart. You can begin at home simply by focusing on love and the unity of all things, as you move through your sun salutations. Even if the sun doesn’t light up the room as a result, the fire in your heart and soul most definitely will.

The video below was filmed during our recent holiday in Turkey. A deep backbend just seemed like the right thing to do in all that sun – and it felt lovely, even if I couldn’t see much with my cap covering my eyes!

Connecting with nature

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A natural communion

One of my favourite things to do is to go walking with friends and a few days off teaching over Easter afforded me the opportunity to do just that. Friends are so important, each providing in their individual ways, a combination of support, company, advice and fun – as well as a reflection of certain aspects of our own personality. And we, of course, reciprocate with our own offerings.

Friends do the same job as nature: they confirm who we are – which is a very reassuring and enjoyable thing!

Tulsi enjoying communion with her friend, Harvey (before wihpping off her clothes and enjoying her connection with nature!

Tulsi enjoying communion with her friend, Harvey (before whipping off her clothes and enjoying her connection with nature!)

But whilst we tend to learn about our ego selves through our relationships with others, nature gets right down to the core of the matter: it shows us our true self – it shows us that we are One. And as my companion and I strode along the beach in Scarborough, our young children within sight, revelling in their surroundings, this fact was wonderfully apparent.

We are all made of stars* (and water, fire and space)

That day, I observed how each wave leaves a mark on the shore, and how I, too, find myself being changed by nature – by the longer days and the freshness of Spring. I felt the space opening up in my heart and mind, mirroring the vast sky above my head. The sandy earth beneath my feet gave me the feeling of being grounded and confident – great solace in a world of permanent change.

Nature gently put its hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye and confirmed what many of us know, but often forget to notice: everything is connected. You, me and the elements – everything in and on this planet. My daughter, Tulsi, is undoubtedly tuned into this fact; as is so often the case, she was the only naked child on the beach – for that girl, a beach signals ‘bare bottom’…whatever the temperature!

Connecting with nature through yoga

I thank yoga for the ability to see how everything is connected. Our practice gives us time to connect to our deepest selves – that essential aspect of ourselves that’s so often buried under our thoughts, learnt behaviours, frantic day-to-day lives and dramas. Yoga shines a light on the light within, so that when we give ourselves time amongst nature, we’re able to see how we’re not all that different to the elements; indeed, we ARE the elements!

“Yoga shines a light on the light within”

Connecting with nature is a wonderfully enlightening experience and I strongly recommend taking the time to do it. Whether it’s an afternoon in the garden or allotment, a trip to the park, a roam around the Bar Walls, or a grand escapade in God’s own county, along the coast or across the dales and moors – plan it, write it on the calendar, make it happen!

It’s elementary, dear yogis…

Take the time, too, to experience this sense of oneness with the elements during your yoga asana practice. Pay attention to:

  • the earthy weight of your skeleton
  • the wind of your breath moving in, out, and through you
  • the warm fire of your digestive organs
  • the moisture in your mouth and eyes
  • and finally, when you become quiet enough, the vastness of space within and around you

*We really are, read this!