Showing posts with label pranayama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pranayama. Show all posts

Thursday, 16 June 2016

What I learned from my students today...

Your teachers will tell you how to put poses together, what they do for the mind body; but your students will show you what it means to their lives. It is a privilege to teach and be reminded of many things that as practitioners we may have begun to take for granted. 

Leaving everything behind 

When we step into our yoga space...I'm not saying 'mat' as yoga can be done sitting on a chair or the bus; it's more about carving out a mental space (and of course coming into a dimly lit room away from the world facilitates this more easily)... When we step into our bodies and breath within that space we can make a choice to leave behind the family arguments, the feelings of low self worth, the work expectations etc. That 'leaving behind' might walk a wavering line, but with practise it will become more concrete. And every time we re affirm that choice, by reconnecting with the breath, a chakra, the music in the room, a smile, or whatever...our ability to make a choice becomes stronger. Of course we have to go back to our home/ desk/ lives - but we go back a little different. For many people, weekly yoga class is the only time they take have that's not for someone else. The funny thing is that it ends up being for everyone, if it benefits us. 

Battling less with life 

In our first twists we tend to use brute force to get somewhere; to triumph over our bodies; to mirror or better where someone else is at. Over time we understand that kindness and breath produce openness in our spines. And before long our eyes are closed and we are the only one in this twist, playing with looping edges of acceptance/ frustration/ surrender. So off the mat do we learn flexibility. That trying to force life/ family/ friends/ colleagues into doing it our way doesn't work and only leaves us frustrated and wondering why other people have it better. 

A breath changes everything 

Breath is transformation on a cellular level. Not just an automatic function of the lungs but the thread that connects the everyday with the highest self. Whatever physical shape we are in, the breath unites us. What use is the most complex pranayama unless we remember to breathe? In the most challenging postures, through the breath, we learn that relaxation is not just lying around being lazy; but a highly effective mind body state. Class by class the breath starts to vie with our to do list or self beliefs as the chosen dwelling place of our mind. Back in the everyday, awareness of just one breath rises us above the battle and allows us to negotiate some inner space, to see and respond more clearly. 

Community heals 


Yoga is both being together and being entirely in our Self. Sometimes the community we need is the shared silence of shavasana, the brief absence of words in a noisy world; sometimes it's a chat after class, discovering common issues and sharing experiences. My experience is that our highest self guides us to the people we need and the work we are meant to do in each moment; the only thing that's required of us is to stay open to it; that of course is the whole practise! As teachers we simply facilitate the opportunities for communion and community, and let go of attachment to the results. 



I am grateful to offer yoga for positive mood and positive living courses as part of the Wellbeing network for mental health recovery, run by City & Hackney MIND. 

Monday, 4 January 2016

New year, reconnecting with path and purpose

As one year rolls into the next there is a pressure to blaze into Jan with big decisions, big resolutions; to delete and re-invent. I am sitting waiting for the inspirational words to come, trying to gather together into that expected new year blog post the random thoughts that have been gathering in a reflective few weeks. I almost missed the sound of the rain drops on the steel roof of the boat for the last half hour. I listen and I re-connect. And this is the key, where the inspiration always comes from; turning within, not turning a page on the calendar.

The yoga sutra we are most familiar with is probably 1.2 yogas chitta vritti nirodah'. This is the state or purpose of yoga, the stilling of the fluctuations of consciousness. The attention becoming absorbed in the rain drops rather than the to do's and 'I am's'. But flicking onto sutra 2.1, here, clearly outlined, is the practise or path of yoga – 'tapah svadhyaya-isvara-prindindanani kriya-yogah'. This is the how of it – the three prongs of dedicated effort, self study and devotion to the divine which will support the cycle of our practise throughout the years.

Our early days of yoga (or maybe of each year) might mainly reflect the first element, of tapas: lots of intensive asana practise, a sudden desire for strict routine, grand renunciations and shifts in attitude. Then swadhyaya sneaks into play, perhaps we wonder what is behind this steam roller of transformation and begin to read into the sutras or other texts. But we also begin studying who or what is this 'me' reading, moving or breathing. Perhaps our dedicated practise shifts into a new contemplative depth, whether its content changes or not, whether it still looks the same from the outisde.

Swadhyaya offers an opportunity for yoga to spill off the mat, for 'Who am I' is not only an enquiry for deepest meditation but in our lives, moment to moment, and in any situation as we begin to re-appraise what draws us towards our happiness or stillness, and what increases the feeling of separateness. The pauses in thought we find on the mat (nirodah) can be applied to any choice such as 'might this comment I'm making on facebook cause anguish'; 'does this relationship nourish me' or 'can this food help me feel more present or more anxious'?

The more this enquiry draw us within, the closer we come to the divine, whether or not we have a devotional practise or an idea of what the divine looks like. For in yoga the two are only separated by false perception - ishwara and purusha or brahman and atman. Devotion or surrender indicate allowing a softness to creep into practise, as we move from separateness towards union. Perhaps we move from times of necessary purification to a desire to reach out to the divine in others. Or life, family and health circumstances change and surrender allows us to see that not even our glorious early yogi-self is permenant. We move through the ebbs and flows of the years with grace rather than struggling against the tide.

Of course this path is never linear and as ever deeper layers are revealed, sometimes we have to retrace our steps. And here is why swadyaha stands at the centre of the path. Where am I and what do I need right now?

Here at the beginning of a new cycle can we look honestly at how our bodies and minds feel after a festive break. Whether students or teachers, likely we need to re-apply some discipline to get back on track. But before kicking ourselves: for indulgences and arguments; todays wobbles in a previously steadfast dancing shiva pose; clunky cueing in that first class back...seeing this as an opportunity to be grateful for the awareness of how some of our choices have made us feel this time round; for the patterns we can only see more clearly through testing interactions.

Swadhyaya is the key to checking in with our own purpose and our own path. No previous effort has been wasted. Rather than how little have I achieved in the year goneby - how much have I learned? To making realistic intentions instead of those that peers or magazines condition us to desire. Or setting extreme targets that we are set to fail and falling into guilt and shame which divide us more deeply that the 'failure'. I remember a beautiful saying by Swami Lakshmanjoo: 'he who knows he has fallen has not really fallen.'

Happy New Year. Embrace this time of transition and all that you are : )  







Thursday, 29 October 2015

Renewed faith


Patanjali's sutras state that the spiritual aspirant needs 'provisional faith' as well as mindfulness and energy to step onto this path. What about those already on the path for many years, how can our faith continue to be strengthened? In cultivating our connection with our highest self on a daily basis, but also through seeing the emergence of the highest self in others.

I've just finished a month of teaching YTT in Rishikesh. I thank firstly my teacher Yogrishi Vishvektu for his faith in me, even at times when my own conviction falters. But also the 25 Akhanda teachers emerging fully cooked from the 'oven' (as he describes it) of an intensive month at Ananda Prakash ashram. Living, breathing and being 'yoga' together as a community is about much more than becoming a teacher of others, but building faith in our own divine nature.

And reaching out a hand to guide this process offers the same benefit. We see after a certain time (and effort) the transformational power of yoga in our wider lives as well as bodies and minds, but mindfulness is strengthened through seeing the new blossoming of Self in others. This year's group inspired me with their bravery, devotion and will to overcome whatever obstacles appeared. And to embrace not only the practise of yoga on the mat, but in every moment. I go home full of renewed energy to share this practise, on a physical level and as a path to divine living.

My meet and greet card on day one was 'embrace the negative as well as positive experiences' and this is where our faith is truly tested. I borrow a quotation from several students, via the words of Osho: 'I am the centre of the cyclone, so whatever happens around me makes no difference to me. It may be turmoil or it may be the beautiful sound of running water; I am just a witness to both, and the witnessing remains the same.'

When we have faith the right teachers arrive in our lives at the right time to awaken our witness. And from this place our fears - not being good/ smart/ beautiful/ whatever enough - are exposed to be transformed. I'm learning to thank these fears too! For showing me the strength of my faith! Faith does not mean a storm free journey, but does hold our hand and guide us back to the centre.

Love, congratulations and thanks to all. Hari OM. 





Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Taking your practise to the next level...but not too seriously

Wow, as spring in London truly arrives, 9 new yoga teachers blossom out from the first ever Akhanda Yoga YTT to be held in the UK! Which leaves me reflecting on this tradition of Akhanda Yoga...and why some of you might be tempted to sign up for the next one... and join the family!

Here in London for a workshop and graduation, Yogrishi Vishvketu re-told the story of founding Akhanda yoga - when he came to the west to teach, people kept asking 'what's this type of yoga called..' - 'yoga, just yoga' he would reply. After some time he realised that we like to brand our yoga as much as our leggings or phones. So a name had to be chosen, and that name was Akhanda - meaning indivisible, unbroken tradition (a bit like yoga - so we are essentially saying "yoga yoga"!). 

What makes Akhanda yoga so special? 

It's a great story but there are reasons why Guruji was asked so often what this type of yoga is - at first it feels different - very 'whole ' - though we might be at a loss to pinpoint why. 


In Akhanda we honour the original streams of yoga - Bhakti, raja, jnana and karma - as well as Hatha yoga. That means our practise includes a diverse range of techniques from cleansing kriyas to fire puja, chanting, meditation and study of the scriptures as well as service in our lives. 

Personally I'm bored of saying or hearing the words 'but yoga is not just asana' and I want to be positive about everything yoga is, rather than debate what it's not. That's why Akhanda appealed to me so much. 

There are hundreds of yoga techniques because we are complex and unique beings. According to yogic theory we are comprised of 5 layers - the koshas - which we become familiar with experientially in practise. And different techniques balance or purify each subtler layer. So when we chant we filter the monkey mind, when we do pranayama we expand our energy in preparation for meditation, and so on. 

When it comes to asana, the stilling and purifying of the physical body, we consider not only a balance of the movements of the spine and different station of postures, like inversions and sitting, but our individual constitution (via the Ayurvedic doshas) and the influence of the vayus (subdivisions of the pranic life force which govern different functions of the body).

Yoga is a path of balance or equanimity - of bringing ourselves from the extremes to the centre. As the Gita says: 
'Yoga is skillfullness in action'; not over-feasting or over-fasting, a balance of practise and right understanding. 


Akhanda yoga considers the balancing of opposites - the yin and the yang, the sun and the moon, the rajas and tamas, shiva and shakti, creativity and consciousness, expansion and grounding, effort and allowing, Self and all...for whole-ness. 

Taking an Akhanda YTT 

Training with the World Conscious Yoga Family (in Akhanda yoga) includes philosophy, techniques, anatomy (yogic and physical), transformational experiences, teaching methodology and ethics, practical teaching experience, yoga and business, discussion about Ayurveda and yogic diet...


A lot of learning and a lot of unlearning. 

At the weekend Guruji reminded us of some words by the great yogi Goreknath:
'Hasiba Kheliba kariba Dhyanam' - your meditation should be playful.


Akhanda is learned and taught in a spirit of fun. At times you may wonder, why I am elephant walking rather than poring over some scripture, what will I learn? But the point is what we open to by dropping our guard, freeing our thoughts and embracing the child-like spirit. This is as important to teaching as knowing our Sanskrit. 

Of course YTT is challenging! Being ready depends not on x number of years practise, doing whatever advanced techniques or even being sure that you want to teach. But knowing that unshakable pull to explore more and more deeply the effects of this magical thing called yoga. We work on ourselves while learning to share with others. In many ways completing the training is just the start. 


Traditionally you have two choices - intensive study of Akhanda yoga at its rishikesh hq, versus training in your home country, paced over 9 months or a year. And whats right will depend upon your circumstances and ultimately what your heart gravitates towards... 


However this year I think Yog Sundari has created the perfect balance for uk trainees - a flexible programme of 8 weekends at breeze in london and a 10 day intensive workshop in India (experiencing guruji's teaching and graduation on the rooftop with the Himalayan foothills in the background!). 

I will also be teaching on the programme and you can join us from sept - but hurry we have just 4 places left! Details here



Class of 2015 


Me and Guruji 



Monday, 6 April 2015

'Dig a hole for your pond without waiting for the moon. When the pond is finished the moon will come by itself'...

These words by Dogen Kenji just sum up the practise of yin yoga for me. Recently I was lucky enough to take a yin yoga training with Gayatri Gayle Poapst a Canadian anatomy and yoga teacher who trained with Sarah Powers, one of yin's pioneers.

Yin, also known as Taoist yoga, is all about resistance and surrender. We surrender the to the pose, we surrender the mind's resistance into breath or mantra, we surrender (rather than resist) what is right now. We wait. This might sound unpalatable, especially for us pitta types! Yet, as is often the case, what we 'dislike' can often be just what we need - a welcome release in a world of striving and flitting.

The environment many of us live, work and play in is YANG. To keep up with it we eat, move, think in a very yang way. And why not? No one wants to be seen to slow down, step back, ' lose their edge' - right (including, perhaps, on the mat)? As nature around us plays out as a balance of yin and yang, so do we require both the 'sunny and shady sides of the mountain' to be healthy and whole. Yin and yang exist together, within one another, within each of us.

Coming home from the first day of training, via the buzz and tension of the tube, I cycled down the river feeling the shivers of chi in my body. I looked at the reflection of the full moon in the water and thought: this is what yin yoga brings to the mat (and this is what london needs more of!).

Why yin?

Yin and the physical body

When we move in and out of asana in dynamic or 'yang' practise we rarely hold a pose longer than 1 minute and even where we do we are engaging, activating and generally working against gravity, which both stretches muscles and strengthens them. This is great and totally necessary, but doesn't scratch the surface of the structures which connect bones, joints and muscles. It takes over 3 mins to stretch out these ligaments, tendons and fascia - with a like-attracts-like approach, ie holding for a long time in a relaxed way...a yin approach to yin tissues.

Lines of fascia connect the body from head to toe and spiralling within, for example from the psoas through the diaphragm to the tongue. The body is interconnected by its web and wherever we tense or tug a strand we affect seemingly unconnected regions. A microcosm of the universe itself. Imagine how as we spend hours at the laptop, forehead tensed, this ripples through the body.

As for the joints, as we age they become drier, more vata - yin practise keeps them lubricated and infused with prana.

Yin in balance

Fascia gives us our shape and sometimes even yoga practise doesn't seem to be shifting that whole body stiffness we come up against at certain times of life or circumstance. So try yin... But don't give up your yang practise just yet! The two balance each other. Yin may make our yang praise more open and flexible but yang does a vital job of strengthening and stabilising our joints to complement their openness.

As someone drawn to contemplative practise I absolutely savour yin but with high mobility I recognize the absolute need to keep on strengthening. Actually it's an interesting practise for 'bendy ones' as we can often flop easily into a (physically) deep expression of a pose without much to challenge our awareness - as yin focuses on sensation we may have to step back to find it, and focus even deeper to be sure we are safe.

Yin versus restorative

Although both may use multiple props, restorative yoga is more designed to release the body into support and comfort, ideal for recovery from illness or injury, with yin more aligned to exploring our edges of comfort and going beyond the body into the deeper Koshas.

If anyone tells you either style of yoga is the 'easy option' I invite them to spend 10 minutes in dragon!!

Yin and the energy body

Many of us groan at the idea of hip openers as we know that not only our stiffness is highlighted. The hips, land of the swadisthana chakra, stir up emotions and here in yin we are holding them for an, at first, excruciating 3/5/10 or more minutes (yes, each side!). Fascia it seems is the gateway to the meridians or Nadis and the chakras and provides access to stored emotions and tendencies.

Chinese medicine and yogic anatomy overlap in mapping out how our organs, glands and nervous system are supplied with the subtle force which makes them tick. Lines of chi or prana move through water rich channels, governing our state of health. This chi must move (yang practise) but also be replenished (yin).

Of course the breath is the vehicle of prana and the stillness of the poses offers us a real opportunity to study, feel and guide the breath.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness tunes us into how we feel through the messages of sensations - the body whispering, talking and eventually shouting at us for what we need. Yoga practised with a desire for the body to be different and a list of shoulds and musts can reinforce our disconnection.

Once we find our comfortable edge in a yin pose we commit to stillness, breathe and observe. W
e 'dig our pond' and we wait!..becoming the witness. This, of course, is easier said than done, but hugely rewarding (as the tons of mindfulness research that have emerged in recent years reflects) in life off the mat. The poses increase the potential for us to feel our body while coming back to the witness challenges the egos grip on our consciousness as we stay, in stillness, and drop through the body into deeper layers of mind.

Yin and meditation

'Yogas chitta vritti nirodah' yoga is stilling the fluctuations of consciousness (patanjali)

How many of us stay still for more then 5 minutes in the waking day without distracting ourselves in some way - book, iPhone, TV, conversation etc etc?. Amazing how we think 'I just want to be still and quiet yet' when that is offered we will do anything we can to escape it, to wriggle away from the discomfort of what appears in the space or just the space itself - the mind throwing us resistance in the form of itches and excuses - 'I don't need this', 'how boring' etc.

In yin, after establishing ourselves as the witness, we are in a ripe space to face the underlying patterns which everyday life allows us to dodge. Being still and quiet is not about swinging from a rajasic mind to a dull one - we face it's ripples and let them go, often adding the positive vibration of mantra or brahmaree breath (or welcoming in the luscious tones of gong).

Yin is meditation in partial motion itself but if you find the act of sitting tricky it will also give you some much needed openess in the hips to fold into that 'steady comfortable seat'... And all that unfolds from there.

I start a weekly yin class every Thursday 6.30pm at the well garden from April 9th
As yin works along the same meridian lines as gong I invite you to try them both together for some powerful release and rejuvenation...
6.30pm - 8.30pm, £16/18




soma - a one day spring workshop - right here in hackney

Happy spring time! An idea that really resonates with me is Ayurveda's balance between agni and soma, on a deeper, inner level, the forces of sun and moon, purification and rejuvenation. 

So, the seasonal retreat this spring at the well garden is all about the moon-like, blissful nectar of soma. Celebration rather than detoxification! 

Here are the details...

Soma - flowing with the joy of life 

Revive, get in shape, laugh, love, share & learn.

Ready to come out of hibernation and unfurl the body into Spring? As the days lighten we prepare to bring ideas to fruition and embrace personal growth. We continue with a series of one day retreats to inspire you through the transitions and challenges of the seasons.

Water symbolises the flow of life, rejuvenating and adaptable; soma the stream of inner bliss. Harnessing these energies in our yoga practise, we can expand into a more joyful way of being - with our body, self and the world.

Join me, Piriamvada/ Ali, for a day in the life of an ashram retreat right here in Hackney. Workshop includes two yoga asana practises, pranayama, mantra and meditation. Morning yoga, dynamic but nurturing, will get the body and prana flowing. In the afternoon we explore deeper layers of body and mind through the stillness of yin yoga, mantra and breath-work. Guided meditation, time spent in nature and an optional evening kirtan bring us towards blissful harmony.

Lunch will be picnic-style (outdoors if we're lucky!) so please bring a vegetarian/ vegan dish or some bits and pieces to share. Snacks, water and herbal teas will be provided throughout the day.

Saturday 16th May 9.30am-5.30pm
Optional kirtan (guided devotional chanting with acoustic music) 6pm-7pm

The Well Garden, Hackney Downs Studios, 3-17 Amhurst Terrace, Hackney, London E82BT

Cost £60 per person or £50 early bird (book and pay via paypal to alipretc@gmail.com before 2nd April)
Kirtan £8 for retreat attendees, £10 drop in
Please bring a vegetarian/ vegan dish or a few bits to share during lunch

Suitable all levels, all yoga equipment provided
Contact me to pre-book and receive full programme piriamvadayogaetc@gmail.com/ 07855402837



Monday, 30 March 2015

Expectations....

On the recent Rajasthan retreat we talked about banning the words SHOULD, MUST and CANT and this applies as much to teaching as to practising yoga. 

EXPECTATIONS. When we first get on the mat these'll likely be about our own bodies, not doing as we believe they should/ what our neighbour's can do; frustration as to why today's practise isn't as 'good' as yesterday's; wondering why we feel angry, agitated etc when we 'should be' zen personified like the serene teacher sitting in front of us...

Then, as teachers we continue to have, and maybe grow some new, expectations about ourselves. We will of course expect class to pan out just as we planned it and torment ourselves when we didn't stick to the painstakingly crafted plan (although it could that our students loved us for that spontaneous sequence which felt it had been just made for them!). To expect ourselves to be as funny/ popular/ experienced as the next teacher on the schedule. To know all the answers, otherwise be exposed as a yogi fraud! And maybe to feel like we should be perfectly at peace with ourselves (not not having these expectations) now that we've ticked the box of YTT. We are work in progress and old patterns may come up again in this new form. 

But perhaps also towards our students. Do we expect they should show a certain level of commitment, body awareness or behaviour off the mat? Might the fact we feel drained or disappointed by our students 'lack' on any of these points be more about the security of our teacher ego? Teaching is a wonderful practise in offering up the fruits of our actions, karma yoga in action. Krishna would say we just do our duty and leave the results to god; the role we play might not always match up with our expectations of who we are or how we are perceived, but may be what's necessary in the wider scheme of life. 

That's not to say we become push overs or lazy teachers who roll out the same class with minimal effort as 'they can't be bothered anyway'. Or stop encouraging, inspiring and challenging our groups. But find the balance of doing our best and offering it up. 

And of course students will have expectations of us. Oh yes! For us to make them as happy as their last class/ favourite teacher/ other style of yoga did; for us to behave flawlessly off the mat. We are a work in progress as are they, we will grow as teachers as they grow as practitioners. Can and should we communicate this - for example acknowledge that the 'serene' teacher that now sits in front of them is sometimes shaking inside? I don't think there is one right answer, except to have awareness of where this is coming from and speaking to - if we are looking to have an outlet for our personal stuff there are more suitable ears; if we are seeking approval, why? But if we can soften students expectations of themselves by sharing a little of our own vulnerability, we may all grow in the process. 

Continuing, or starting, to cultivate authenticity, non-attachment and discernment through our own sadhana will help us navigate this path and turn expectations into teachers themselves.m

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Yoga therapy?

Isn't all yoga therapy? Several of my friends and students asked me before leaving for Kerala... I have to agree: in my own experience yoga has been a constant support in the toughest times,  transformed my behaviour patterns and removed much negativity - all from the inside. And at the same time, my body is at its healthiest on the outside. So why come all the way to India for training? 

Our guru Saji, founder of Vashista yoga research foundation, has a wealth of experience practising yoga therapy at the likes of SVYASA university, another vivekenanda inspired project which has pioneered programmes for the likes of asthma and diabetes and continues to produce credible research (which we teachers can use to convince the sceptics of the efficacy of yoga interventions). 

The foundation of Saji's teaching is the pancha Koshas - the 5 interrelated layers of our being, according to the upanishadic wisdom. What we do on a physical level affects the mind and vice versa. In fact yoga states that 90% of disease is psychosomatic. This approach seems to be best understood in a land where the goddess of knowledge (Gayatri) has 5 faces and many people still turn to nature before medicine for healing. 

The annamaya kosha is our outermost layer, created from the 5 elements in accordance with our karma and shaped by the food we eat.
Diet then is of supreme importance in balancing the body, and while the general yogic diet (fresh, seasonal, varied, vegetarian - high in prana, low in toxins) can suit pretty much all bodies (if not tastes, at first!), Ayurveda has a lot to teach us about the finer points of eating in line with our dosha (ie constitution - not to be confused with the lovely South Indian dosa).

As food can heal us, it can slowly poison us and yoga offers a series of techniques to remove the traces of a less healthy past. No YTT course in India would be complete without the anticipation of Shatkarma day. I've already written about neti and Shankaprakshalana and this time the stand out kriya for me was Vastra dhauti, the swallowing of 1m of fine cloth in order to remove mucous and toxins from the oesophagus and stomach.

The experience reinforced how much our heads rule our bodies. Saji soothingly tells me to "enjoy, enjoy" as I swallow down 1/2 a metre and watch all sorts of emotions coming out of the pit of my stomach - anger, competitiveness...so healing from the inside out and the outside in, that is the basis of yoga therapy. 

Staying in India brings us back to simplicity, which is a great lesson for any yogi - asanas that might be considered easy or beginner level in our studios back home can provide profound relief to those in need. And I am appreciating all the more the health of my own body to be able to twist and turn... and my teachers for reminding me that it need not be the ego that moves it. 

Sometimes asana is not enough, sometimes too much asana is the problem! Pranayama holds a special place in healing; the Pranamaya kosha being the link, often damaged or unconscious, between body and mind. Even if we cannot move we can breathe ourselves into a state of better health. Learning to breath correctly is the starting point and pranayama is a step further - not just controlling the breath but guiding and expanding the flow of the 5 pranas, the vital life force within the breath. 

According to Patanjali "yogas chitta vritti nirodah" - yoga is controlling the fluctuations of the mind.  To heal we need to purify the mind stuff and, to live in fullness, identify less with the thoughts that it is composed of. Yoga defines stress as "speed of mind" and deals with its effects as well as the very perception of stress: we can't avoid life but we can choose how to act and think in each situation (whether at work, home or mid-kriya). 

The thoughts are the realm of the mental body, manomaya kosha and 
this layer is where much of the trouble begins, often unnoticed for years. Stress has a cumulative effect on the body and we can go on coping, and thinking we are coping, for years until the organs and immunity collapse under its load. And even then we can convince ourselves that patching things up will do. 

Modern western science is now reflecting the view that working with the mind - through meditation - into the roots of disease is the most effective way to heal many conditions.

Again from the Yog sutras: "if you feel that you are bound you are bound, if you feel that you are liberated you are liberated". If I believe I am ill I will become more ill. Or if I can find positivity and be identified with my bliss body as opposed to my body of suffering, I can live life with acceptance and fullness. This of course is easier said than done; yoga therapy works with resolve and affirmations.

Yoga has many streams and sometimes we need to turn to Bhakti (devotion) jnana (knowledge) or karma (selfless service) as much as the more familiar yogas of mind and body. This is another big learning we can take away from India - everywhere these principles spill over into every day life.

A cluttered and over-active mental body clouds our wisdom (vijnanamaya kosha) and bliss (ananadamaya kosha). In whatever form, yoga reminds us that we are the microcosm of the macrocosm and that separation is where the problems start. Applied as therapy we weave together a unique programme for each individual expression of the one. 

So yes all yoga is therapy, even before we realise we need it - not only easing the speed of mind but building immunity, bringing circulation of blood and prana, for keeping joints in motion, for digesting our thoughts and food. Strengthening all the bodies against stress and externally caused disease (the remaining 10%). So keep going to class everyone!...

In the past 4 weeks we delved (lonnng days) into yoga for conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, anxiety and depression, back pain cancer and menstrual disorders; the ancient science of yoga being applied to diseases which are very much symptomatic of the modern age and the effects of our increasing pace. Back in patanjalis day many of these conditions would not have been known, but in today's world, yoga applied in a holistic way can bring relief and, in some cases, cure.

Many conditions, so many techniques - and here is the importance of a teacher. Saji sets the perfect example to us - without the context of compassion, unconditional love and faith, techniques are just that, techniques. 

And as teachers, knowledge is a wonderful thing, but without our own sadhana, tapping into the universal source of energy, it lacks power. Yoga is to experience first hand. After a month of teaching or being guinea pig for other students, I can attest to the power of mind sound resonance, pranic energisation and Tantric Gayatri healing. With meditations galore - in motion, with mudras, bijas and, of course, on AUM - I have many more amazing yoga tools to share soon... but much self practise to do first.

I have to say a few words about the setting of this course, the Chinmaya foundation kerala; birthplace of the great saint Adi Shankaracharya. Doing japa every day in the very room where he was born, practising asana in the house where his family lived and taking lectures in the shrine to Vedanta master swami Chinmayanda help to reinforce Saji's point - that we are blessed and supported by the great yoga tradition before us and only a channel for the sharing of its energy to heal. 

And finally about the inspiration I've received from my juice family as well as new yoga family. Mary and Jojo in the village store have supplied me with various combinations of chickoo, banana, papaya, carrot and watermelon over the weeks. And reminded me that we also have to look up from the books and the mat - because yoga therapy in whatever form is about true connections with people - and all it takes is a few words of malyallam (mostly fruit names) and open hearts. 

Taking a breather on allepey beach before pondicherry. Hari om and love to all. 

For details of sajis training check out www.vashistayoga.org

Monday, 21 October 2013

In and out of balance

We had a really lovely discussion at the stretch talk last Friday about the delicate balance between the koshas and the juggling act between fulfilling our day to day lifestyle and where we want to go with/ be taken by our yoga practise. Life is full of seemingly opposing situations or influences which pull us back and forth - the calm space of our practise and the frantic pace of London. 

Yoga and a knowledge of the pancha koshas {5 x layers of being - ananamaya (food body), pranamaya (energy body), manomaya (mental body)  vijnanamaya (wisdom body) anandamaya (bliss body)} is a way to achieve balance on every levels. Sometimes theory can feel like adding complexity, but the koshas indicate the interconnectd-ness of everything on a personal and practical level.  

While teaching classes about 'balance' and 'space', I've been reading a fantastic book by Dr Claudia Welch about the Eastern approach to balancing hormones, which considers these powerful messengers as yin/ yang or feminine/ masc. forces. As she explains, the yang nature of our lifestyle and society can create imbalance over the years, leading to stress, and its manifestation as various health issues (she focuses on women in her studies, but it also applies to men).  

It seems when we are surrounded by yang we often want more yang, to help us keep up. Like working at lightning pace, juggling a million things, feeling frazzled but never admitting this is all too much - drinking a ton of coffee in readiness for the next deadline to land on our desk. It becomes a cycle and being busy seems to be both something we moan about and thrive off - maybe subconsciously feeling that if we embraced more yin we wouldn't be able/ want to keep up...and to accept that would mean making some deeper lifestyle changes. 

Welch explains how the hormone equivalent of out of balance living is going on under the surface; stress hormones creating a state of alert which requires more of the same to remain at the same pace. And placing stress on the glands producing the hormones, the organs under their influence and the systems these control like the heart and blood pressure, or reproductive health. (Read her book - excellent - 'Balance your hormones, balance your life'). Not to mention the full circle effect on our mental health.  Flicking back through some ashram notes I discover Vishvaji's words that 'hormones are the thoughts in liquid form'...

What can we do, apart from practise yoga obviously? For a start, practise more yoga of course! There are many ways to regain balance - and I'm not just talking about a particular style of practise but how we practise. 

There are of course the awesome balancing asansas which make us feel focused, invigorated and alive - Garudasana, Natarajasana being two of my all time favourites. As we were discussing in our group, the obvious physical effects of these asansas, like core stability or evening out imbalances in the opposite sides of the body, are supported by a host of other benefits like learning, in motion, how to quiet the thoughts as well as balancing the ida and pingalla flows, which correlate to the body structure and to the constant play of life - sun/ moon, yin/ yang, masculine/ feminine.  What we do on the physical level impacts the subtle. 

Notice trying a balancing posture with an agitated mind as opposed to a calm one - how the latter state can be brought about by putting your awareness into the posture and the breathing which sustains it and how the balance then becomes much easier to maintain. There you go, a virtuous cycle has been created - now where else could you apply this? 

Notice your breath - really notice your breath and its qualities. Are you breathing deeply in postures or are you actually breathing harshly? Try practising at a lesser intensity and observe what the effects might be on how you breath and how you feel. The breath influences the nervous system and bridges the physical and mental bodies, so be sure you are not taking frustration out on your body, which your breath might indicate. You can be in the toughest class or posture in the world and still be finding stillness, if you allow it.

Balancing pranayama - anuloma viloma is the king and queen here, literally. Alternating the flow of breath creates a sattvic state where the energy is in balance and the mind becomes clear and free. Do it before meditation, try it when you are agitated, turn to it when you are feeling slow and sleepy. There is no need to ping from one extreme to the other - here is a practical example of simply following the practise and allowing the body to find its way back to centre. 

Proper relaxation. Shavasana is often the practise we bypass or cut down on in a self practise. This is like bolting your dinner down then running straight out the door or back onto the laptop. Actually in an over-busy life we probably do exactly that. Where is the time for digestion, integration and appreciation? Perhaps being unable to sit or lie still with out distraction, with just ourselves, is a sign that over-stimulation has become a habit. Use this discomfort as a positive - to bring awareness to an issue that your practise is reflecting. 

We might not all have time for technology free days or mauna (silence) but can integrate stillness off the mat - allow 10 mins after yoga class to remain in the place you cultivated - it can be the journey home - a slow and silent cycle or walk just noticing your environment, breath and body. 

Mix dynamic, flowing movements with some stiller postures (check out a yin or restorative yoga book/ class). Echo the balance you wish to restore with your body. 

And balance movement with meditation - give yourself a safe witnessing space in which things can come to the surface and learn to ground amid all the turmoil. Grounding is not dull, it is being connected and present, rather than scattered or high. Akhanda yoga emphasises not only expanding our prana but aligning its inner form with the great or cosmic prana, a force which we can draw upon to bring balance, awaken knowledge and compassion. Mantra or kirtan is another wonderful way to bring ourselves into a wider perspective or higher vibrational alignment. 

Eat well and seasonally to support your yoga practise - food as well as ancestory defines the physical body. Learn about your dosha or constitution, enjoy both healthy food that's high in prana and a healthy attitude towards consuming it. Cultivate gratitude and allowing rather than guilt. I was touched by the practise in Bali of making a small offering at every meal and continue this ritual at home. Even when food comes out of a packet this can be a way to re-connect with where it comes from, saying thank you to mother nature who provides for us. 

Set intentions of balance at the start of your practise - rather than 'I will not think about work/ that stressful situation for the next hour' as that's probably doomed for most of us - more like 'I will dedicate this time to listening to my body' or 'I will honour my current need for more rest.' If the other stuff comes in, take a reminder of your intention - just like you can return to the breath if the mind begins to hit forward planning mode while trying to surrender into childs pose. 

An internal mantra (japa) can balance thoughts and cultivate positive emotions. Patanjali talks about 'pratipaksha bhavana' - the cultivating of opposite qualities (when you are stuck in hate, don't just deny it but actually find means to evoke love). So, adding the breath, you could connect with positive energies, emotions or qualities e.g. drawing in vitality, releasing negativity. As well as what we eat, our thoughts or our mental body shapes the physical layer. Use this knowledge to regain balance. More of this in classes to come : )

Make your practise regular and a part of life - create time for it and it will create space for you. Be aware that yoga is preventative as well as curative. So what you are doing now can protect against going out of balance in the future and bring greater awareness to its early warning signs. OM Shanti x




Ali Piriamvada Gunning - I teach Akhanda and Kundalini Yoga in East London. Me and my narrow boat Bokissa are in MIle End Park.  

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

green space & moving with grace


Do you feel graceful?
It doesn't matter if you are naturally coordinated (or not), have rhythm, learned dance as a kid - with Yoga your entire body can become full of grace.

I have recently remembered all over again my respect for Asana. It started in India, with hearing what my practise looks like from the outside and has continued into the last few weeks out of London in the Lee Valley, discovering new green spaces for sunrise practise and solitude. 

Sometimes we feel as our practise develops that we are leaving things behind; the urge to sit and meditate becomes more important than the urge to twist, invert or stretch. And that would follow the natural progression of our traditional 8 limbs. But like the limbs of a person, the Yoga path is not always linear - you don't master walking and then forget how to use your arms - instead things start to sync together and create an intuitive dance.

Obsessing over the physical body can stop us going into its deeper layers, but loving it is a way of celebrating what we have discovered in/ out there on a more solid level. And sharing this with the world - the sense of connection with 20 other people in a room following Surya Namaskar needs no words. Being a teacher puts me in a lucky position to observe a roomful of people following the same sequence but each expressing it differently, working around their own unique make-up.

I used to feel a bit embarrassed and uneasy about people watching me practise in public spaces - will they think I am showing off – and, in fact, am I a Yoga exhibitionist? But that's only their perception, or my inhibitions talking. It truly feels like singing my happiness at the top of my voice. And when we do either, it might make others wonder.

For me its all about the intention that we bring to the postures; there is a possibility to treat every movement of the body as sacred in the same way as every moment of a puja or a meditation can be. Moving our bodies into shapes inspired by nature, animals or ancient sages can totally transport us from the churning of our minds into a more simple place, that reflects these origins.

The phrase 'my body is a temple' has become a bit of a cliche but, after many years of being deeply unhappy with the way I looked, Asana brought me to this experience, and made me think before punishing it. Its not about how how shiny and perfect are the outer walls of a temple, but what we are in it to do...but we can still admire its beauty and tend to it, with devotion.

Talking of outdoor Yoga, details of a new Hackney weekend class on the grass to follow soon – yippee! 


the cheshunt studio
stansted abbots shala

by Ali Gunning (Piriamvada Yoga) – I teach Akhanda and Classical Kundalini Yoga in East & North London. Home is on the waterways with my narrow boat Bokissa.

A winter sunshine Yoga getaway - Egypt - Nov

I've been fascinated by Egypt since seeing the Tutankhamun exhibition as a kid in Edinburgh. So its always been on my list to visit - though I've never managed to drag myself away from India lately. So, getting the opportunity to host a holiday/ retreat there with Yoga on a Shoestring is a bit of dream come true...and lets face it we all need some winter sun (especially us boat-dwellers!)...

The details:

Our accommodation for the week is at the peaceful and comfortable Coral Coast Hotel - on the dramatic shoreline of the Red Sea and with rooftop Yoga shala.

Aside from our inspiring surroundings, the magic of desert, mountains & water, this will be an amazing opportunity to deepen your practise, to nurture yourself and to meet like minded Yoga folk!


we'll be located on the shore-line of the red sea

the yoga space
headstand in the dessert anyone?!

Each day our exploration of Yoga will be based around a different theme. I'll be teaching a morning session of pranayama & meditation (for the early risers), then 2 Yoga classes: a morning of dynamic, flowing Akhanda style and an evening class which will be stiller and deeper; giving you a daily balance of Shakti & Shiva, moon & sun, yin & yang. There will also be a Classical Kundalini workshop or two, mantras & sound work (just considering how to squeeze a gong into my suitcase!). And there will be the chance to practise with the desert sand between our toes, as part of a day trip with the bedouin.




In the daytime you are free to roam and explore - Mount Sinai and St Catherine's monastery are very close by and the area has tons of activities like camel riding, diving & windsurfing. Or just chill out on the beach. Average temperatures in Nov are 27C, 10 hours of sunshine!

All classes and trips are optional, should you need more time to just relax and recharge. Non Yoga partners/ friends are also welcome - reduced rates available.

Costs are:

From £325 per person including accomm, 6 x days of Yoga tuition and vegi brunch daily...
There is an option to pay in instalments if you'd like to spread the cost.
Flights are around £240 at the moment, there are many flights to Sharm el Sheikh but best to book early to secure a good price.

Please have a good read of full details about the hotel, the area & prices here: http://www.yogaonashoestring.com/YogaholidaysDahab2013-2014.htm



by Ali Gunning (Piriamvada Yoga) – I teach Akhanda and Classical Kundalini Yoga in East & North London. Home is on the waterways with my narrow boat Bokissa.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Pranayama workshop - exploring energy & breath - at stretch

Feels like I've been trying for ages to get together a workshop focusing specifically on Pranayama. It's something I'm really passionate about in my practise and teaching; though often in class we don't have the time to really appreciate the effects, or enough space for meditation to glide onwards from breath-work. Hopefully this workshop will provide the opportunity for both!

So, hurrah....Pranayama workshop - exploring energy & breath - coming up at stretch, London Fields on Sat 8th Sept 4 - 5.30pm.

Please book in advance - piriamvadayogaetc@gmail.com - and let me know if you have any queries. 

About: Unlike many of the body's functions, the breath can be both unconscious and consciously controlled - meaning it is intrinsically linked to the mind. It is also our main means for absorbing Prana, (or Ki or Chi - life force energy). Pranayama - expansion of the various vital airs through breath - has specific physiological benefits, particularly on the nervous system, and can balance mood & emotions. Pranayama creates a bridge between the physical and subtle planes.

This practical workshop will guide you through a range of different Pranayama techniques - heating, cooling, detoxifying, balancing - allowing space to observe the effects. The session will lead into a guided meditation, using the breath.

Not suitable for beginners. Please let us know in advance if you have specific health conditions which may affect your Pranayama practise such as high blood pressure or asthma, or if you are pregnant.

Where: stretch, 206 Netil House, 1 Westgate St, London Fields E8 3RL.

How much: £15 p/p (£12 stretch members) - tea & chat somewhere local afterwards.





by Ali Gunning (Piriamvada) - I teach Kundalini & Akhanda Yoga classes across North & East London. Me & my narrow boat Gorse are on route back to London from pretty Hertford.