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Yoga Archives - Peacock Tree Yoga

By the light of the….Super Blood Blue 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 January 2018 Super Blood Blue Moon. This full moon, we’re told, is a rare one – nothing like it has been seen since 1866!  

For Ashtanga yoga practitioners (hello, Monday night students!), a full moon will always be worth observing – New moons, too. Ashtangis consider moon days as holidays, or days when they need to reduce the intensity of their practice, because it is said 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.

Curious to know what phase of the moon you were born in?

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, 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…

Subtle energetic body

Subtle energy in motion

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

PTY full moon blog anuloma viloma

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 – 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 ‘chandra krama’, or 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.

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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

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

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!

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

PTY full moon blog anuloma viloma

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.

The cool winds of vata…

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If you’ve noticed an increasing sense of unease lately, and have been feeling scattered, exhausted and anxious, then you’re probably wondering why – and worrying if it will ever end.  The good news is, it will, but maybe not until Spring – unless you choose to make some adjustments now. And how do you do that? Well, as Bob Dylan so memorably put it, the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

bob dylan album cover for PTY vata blog

Bob knows all about vata

It’s typical at this time of the year – when the Autumn winds are shaking down the trees and Winter’s long fingers begin to give us an icy poke, as though warning us of an impending deep freeze – for our bodies to respond. We can feel stiff and fragile, we might experience difficulty sleeping, and develop dry skin – as though the wind and cool temperatures are shaking us down, too. And when our bodies feel under assault, so do our minds.

According to the ancient science of Ayurveda (a system for maintaining physical and mental wellbeing, which developed alongside yoga and is considered its sister science), when we experience these changes, it’s due to an excess of ‘vata’.  The cooler months of the year are renowned for creating this effect.

What is vata?

Vata is one of the three doshas, or types of energy, which Ayurvedic science tells us each person is made up of (the others are ‘kapha’ and ‘pitta’). None of us are the same, according to this theory; we’re all composed of different amounts of each dosha – and it’s a matter of maintaining our individual constitution in order to maintain optimum health. If you’re curious to know your dosha type, you can find out very easily and for free on the Chopra Center website (in return for your email address).

For our purposes, the point is this: whether vata plays a dominant role in your make-up or not, Autumn and Winter still have plenty of potential for creating excessive amounts of this fast and flighty kind of energy – an energy which, when in balance fuels our creativity and vitality, makes us quick and bright, joyful and active, but causes fear and anxiety when in excess – as well as countless other symptoms, as listed in this article from Svastha Ayurveda, a holistic healthcare practice based in Colorado.

‘That which moves things’

Windmills and vata

Vata in balance brings joy, not stress

So, what to do with all this ‘vata’ swirling around in the November air, moving through us and within us? Well one thing we can do is play vata at her own game. If we translate the word ‘vata’ from Sanskrit to English, we get ‘that which moves things’ – and therein lies the answer: we move – mindfully. In doing so, we soothe the nervous system whilst generating lubricating and nourishing heat in the body.

A fluid, yet grounding yoga asana practice, such as the one we’ll be working on in our classes this week, offers us the perfect way to raise the temperature and focus the mind. But it’s not only the healing effects of asana that yoga brings to the Ayurvedic table. Pranayama, meditation and relaxation also help to stop our swirling thoughts, our fluttery stomachs, our shortness of breath. In short, yoga can help us remain calm, joyful, warm and secure, in even the strongest of winds.

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the yoga student adjusts the sails” ~ William Arthur Ward (paraphrased!)

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

P’ommmm’pkin

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

lilley-harvey-yoga-teacher

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.