The Hippy Twist: Becoming an Agent for Change


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“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”
– Aldous Huxley

The only thing we can be sure of is change, yet most of us spend our lives gripping onto the railing, terrified of what that change will entail, and how soon it will come.

Fear and anxiety tend to be held primarily in the gut, the location of the solar plexus. From a eastern philosophical view, the solar plexus is the location of the Manipura Chakra, the jewel in the city, or the place of resplendence. Along with governing digestion and metabolism, this is also the home of the ego, and associated with self-esteem and “warrior” energy; it also holds the key to our power for transformation.

Behind the digestive organs lies the spine, which is the engine for all movement. When the Manipura chakra is healthy and spirited, and balanced with the rest of the body and their associated chakras, taking risks, asserting oneself and being responsible for ones choices in life is natural and easy. The relationship of self and other is in check, and acting our of goodwill and service comes naturally because the sense of ego-self is in tune with the universal self, or conscious collective.

When the Manipura chakra is out of balance, however, it is associated with fear, anxiety, insecurity (that may present as an inflation of ego or self-worth), poor digestion or even chronic illness. It can also be associated with a stiff or misaligned spine. The Solar plexus is intricately linked to diet, as the diet supports, or hinders how our digestive track functions, as well as our self-image and ultimately, our self-worth.

It is no coincidence that in the sixties, a time of drastic and needed change, a number of songs were penned about the inevitability of change, such as The Times They Are A Changin’, by Bob Dylan, and A Change Is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke. An equal number of songs were written about twisting and turning, which are the very moves that accelerate and encourage change in the body, from a digestive and movement perspective.

In the yoga asana practice, postural twists are excellent for bringing about a cleansing of the gut, as well as challenging our sense of self and all of our attachments. If we are aware and wanting to look deeply into our mental patterns and attachments, twists can challenge the questions such as who is ‘I’ and what is ‘mine’? What are the various labels we place on ourselves that we get attached to? The more we understand that the labels aren’t real, but rather, the makings of the ego, even the thoughts we have about ourselves in the world are not real, the more we can begin to accept change, whether it be a relationship-based, dietary, environmental, or professional. The fact is, everything is changing in the world all the time, and we have less control of what is ‘newer and dear’ to us than we think. When we take responsibility for the choices we make with intentions that stretch beyond our limited, ego-driven self, then we can rest assured that we have done the best we can, and the fear and anxiety dissipates.

When we embrace change and feel good about what we consume, including the food we eat and the media we read and hear, we become change agents rather than fighting change as if it were quicksand. What we feel good about eating is personal, of course, but starting from a place of not-harming any other being is essential if one is practicing yoga with the goal of sustained happiness and peace within. Healing foods packed with nutrients are generally also non-harming foods, making things like organic vegetables and fruits a great place to start.

For more on the relationship of food and diet to feeling great, check out Sharon Gannon’s book, Simple Recipes for Joy. It is so much more than a vegan cookbook; it is a recipe for creating magic and positive change in the world, starting with yourself.

For more on twisting, the Manipura chakra and the asana practice, I will be leading a workshop on Sunday, October 5 about the torso and Central Column in the Architecture of Asana Series at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, from 1:30-4:30pm. Please come!

Jivamukti Focus of the Month: September 2014, The Magic of Cooking, by Sharon Gannon


Brahmarpanam Brahma-Havir / Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam /Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam / Brahma-Karma-Samadhina
See God everywhere: God is the ladle; God also is the food; God is the fire; God is the preparer; and God is the eater of the food. God is the reason for eating and God is the goal to be reached. Bhagavad Gita 4.24

I asked my first spiritual teacher, the alchemist Randy Hall, “How do I become enlightened?,” and he responded, “First, learn how to cook, clean, and garden.” I was incredulous at his response; it disappointed me, and at the time I wasn’t able to embrace his advice seriously as it didn’t seem “spiritual enough” for me. Cooking? I was an impatient, skinny girl who found disdain in eating and was trying to reduce her food to a minimum and eventually live on air: how did he think that I could get into cooking? What could possibly be the point? I felt similarly about cleaning and gardening.

Over the years I’ve come to see the extraordinary wisdom of this advice. Preparing and cooking food is a magical act, a potent, alchemical process, through which one form is transformed into another form: varied ingredients are deftly combined and subjected to the elements of water, fire and air in just the right proportions, with just the right timing and with appropriate spells—consisting of good mental intentions, with no gossip or small talk in the kitchen—to manifest a delicious meal that satisfies both body and soul. A cookbook can be seen as a book of formulas for this magical process, complete with how-to instructions, suggestions, and advice, which, if followed with a cheerful heart and sense of adventure, could result in the most delightful culinary experiences manifesting on the dinner table. Food prepared in this way can even produce a shift in perception of oneself and others, yielding hope and encouragement to move forward through life.

To make this magic happen most effectively, it is essential to bring consciousness to what we eat and how we prepare it. When we eat meat, eggs and dairy products, we are buying into a cultural conditioning that has disconnected us from the natural intelligence of our bodies for the purpose of generating profits for the animal-user industries, we are destroying the health of our bodies and our environment, and we are participating in horrific enslavement, exploitation and slaughter of other animals, which will eventually, but inevitably, come back to us. When we adopt a vegan lifestyle, we bring kindness into our lives—kindness to our bodies and to our relationships with others. Yoga teaches that whatever we want in life we can have if we are willing to provide it for others. If we want to be free, then depriving others of freedom and utilizing so many resources that others are left impoverished, cannot lead us to our goal. Making kind choices when it comes to the food we eat is one of the most basic ways to begin to ensure our own happiness and freedom.

Our state of mind when we cook is also important to the outcome. If we are in a bad mood, it is best to stay out of the kitchen. To cultivate the highest intention and clear any negativity we may feel, we can pray or chant a mantra before we start to cook, while cooking, and before we eat. To pray is to set a high intention, to implore the Divine forces to come to our aid for a good and selfless end. As we approach the cooking process and then the eating of the food we have cooked, we make sure that our minds and hearts are centered in an elevated intentional mood. This purifies the whole experience, ridding the kitchen of toxins, both subtle (like anger and impatience) and gross (like dirt and bacteria). See the kitchen as part of God’s abode, as sacred space, as a doorway to enlightenment. The kitchen is a temple, and all the pots, pans, spices, grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as the stove, spoons, knives, bowls, and plates, are all Divine objects, full of consciousness, waiting to become part of the Divine, alchemical process of creating a meal. Allow the fire of your soul to become part of the heating element that cooks your food.

The most courageous act any of us can do at this time is to dare to care about others—other animals, the Earth, and all beings. To be more other-centered than self-centered is the first step to happiness. Choosing vegan ingredients and cooking them yourself with a pure intention will not only help you create tasty meals but will help you start your own radical movement of peaceful, joyful coexistence with all of life.

—Sharon Gannon, adapted from the book, Simple Recipes for Joy, September 2014

From the Ground Up


originally posted on Movement for Modern Life

imageYS. 2.46 sthira sukham asanam

May the relationship (connection with the earth) be steady and joy filled.

Our relationship with the earth may be the most important connection we have in our lives; afterall, we come from the earth, and some day our bodies will eventually, but inevitably return there. What is more, the gravitational pull to the earth’s centre may be the single most prevalent physical force we will ever know. We are a mere 3959 miles from the earth’s core, whereas the the closest moon, star or planet is almost one hundred times that distance. Despite this, we spend the large majority of the time looking outward, being “star struck”, and in awe of what’s out there and how it might affect us rather than increasing our knowledge and compassion towards what is just under our feet; that which is also our greatest support and biggest resource. Ironically, this mirrors the relationship many of us have between ourself and other beings; there is a great propensity to look outside of ourselves for strength and happiness rather than finding the answers within.

Yoga has long been documented as a journey inward, a practice that stabilitises and balances the mind and body, so it would make sense to begin with a good foundation to the earth, the element that connects us to our roots and to all other beings. In reality, however, we are sensorial-based creatures, and our greatest sense, our sense of sight, leads us to a fascination with the things that we can see. What is more, the ego thrives on affirmation, and as such, seeks measurable results based on analysis. It is easy to understand then, how the desire for mastering advanced asanas has superseded the joy and discovery of fully understanding the subtleties and challenges hidden in ‘basic’ standing postures. As a culture we celebrate the idea of ‘onward and upward’ rather than valuing our ability to root and reflect. One of my favourite quotes comes from Richard Freeman who has revealingly said “advanced asana is for those who don’t get the basics.”

Over half of the bones in the body are found in the feet, and the soft tissue, including fascia and muscle, span as an interconnected matrix from the toes all the way up the torso to the cranium. Our designer knew how important our foundation would be to survival. While the ability to ground and take off stems through the feet, the propulsion comes via the legs, hips, spine, shoulder girdle, arms, neck and head. The whole body “gotta get down to get up” (James Brown).

In today’s world where sitting in a chair has replaced squatting, where driving a car has replaced walking and running, and where yoga practices tend to be more about learning to fly rather than learning to stand with ease and grace, let us remember the joy in finding the subtle connections of the body to enable a deeper rooting to the earth.

Yoga is an integrative practice; we practice reconditioning our mind and body to be more interconnected in the world. Sometimes, however, the ego takes over, and the practice stays in the mundane realm of ‘physical fitness’. We forget the intention behind the practice, the goal of connecting to the earth and all beings. The moment we acknowledge that we have slipped back into the mundane is a beautiful moment: it is the chance we have to reset our intention in the practice, it is a moment to find a steady, joyful place to begin the breath anew. When we find ourself ‘competing’ in some way in the practice, when we don’t listen to physical pain in pursuit of attaining a posture, when we ‘cheat’ to get into an asana and put our body at risk of injury, these are moments to be celebrated. After all, on a macro-level, the yoga practice is about increasing our awareness, so when we start to observe and recognize habit patterns we can begin to change. This is the beginning of transformation. When our foundation is strong, steady, filled with ease and grace our potential to fly becomes a permanent state of mind rather than a temporary physical feat. In yoga, we build consciously in body and mind, from the ground, up.

Please join me on Sunday, September 7, for the first of three workshops on the topic of the architecture of asana, exploring the various regions of the body in relationship to an integrated yoga practice at Indaba Yoga Studio. Follow the link below to book in:

https://www.facebook.com/events/290000161173856/

Corridors


images3The following post is inspired by a dharma talk by the magnificent David Life at Wild Woodstock.

When I present dinner to my son on a large plate, he often complains that there is too much food and asks me to give him less, on a smaller dish. In doing this, I contain an aspect of his world so that he is able to ingest it without feeling overwhelmed. In this same way, we restrict the nature of many things by placing them into a manageable form, whether it be a spoonful of peas instead of a limitless pot, a river rather than an unending ocean, a tree rather than an impermeable forest. By reining these things into a shape, they obtain individual meaning that we can comprehend.

When a tree stands in the ground from its trunk to its leafy branches, it has a certain value as a whole tree. A coniferous tree, for example, gives shelter through its design of branches and needles in relationship to the ground, and expels sap though it’s bark. If we had only a branch of that tree, or one of its pine cones for that matter, it would have a different value and also a different meaning to us. Nature intended to make the tree in its magnificent form. The tree in its completeness, is bigger than the sum of its parts.

By seeing the tree, however, we see another limited form, for the tree is not simply standing on the ground, but connects into the ground and is continually fed through its roots. It roots draw from the moisture of the recent rainfalls and nearby streams and rivers, that are also dissolving through the boundary lines between the water and the soil. The tree is not separate from the ground, but integrated into the earth and it’s cycle in the greater universe.

It’s is the same with land and it’s uses. The map as we know it, showing its boundaries by state or country and it’s hard lines, is not reality; the earth is organic and curvy and flowing landscapes, one into another. Man has placed those boundary lines on the land for his own purposes in order to strengthen or weaken power of a given individual or group. From another vantage point, these man-made decisions have affected a greater number of lives than probably intended. The natural homes and roaming territory created for the four-legged creatures, water beings and tree beings, is disappearing. Before humans put up fences, knocked down trees and created obstacles, animals had unlimited corridors in which to move. The land for the animals as it is today, is more like individual islands; corrals severing their movement and migration.

We frame our understanding of life with our perspective and motivation in order that we may understand it, relate it in context to something else. Our body is another example of this. Our skin acts as a barrier between us and the world, it defines where ‘we’ end and where other begins, and some people take great comfort in believing this limitation. But are we truly separate? After all, our skin has pores and we are, in reality, breathing the outside-in through these pores, and vice verse, expelling the toxins and moisture out. Rather than a barrier between our insides and the outsides, in actuality, it is more of a meeting point, where we merge into each other. On this note, most of us have felt someone else angry or happy in a room of people, their ‘energy’ seeping into the space, and I have certainly have found myself taking that energy of another being in as my own from time to time. This is no different.

In Rolfing, there is a term called palintonicity: our ability to extend down into the earth, by way of the hips, legs and feet; up, through our torso, upper body and crown; front body, and back body; and even expanding sideways in lateral space. In other words, rather than our feet resting on top of the earth, can we extend downwards through the earth, and likewise, in every other direction. Our physical form is important for so many reasons, but when our context is only diminished, when we absorb ourselves only in the direction inward, it can sometimes feel limiting; isolating. By increasing our awareness of both the limited, framed version of ourself, as well as the greater universal formless form which we can expand from our body, a doorway opens, enabling us to soften our belief system about how we relate ourselves to other. Softening the mind to this understanding is the first step in softening the body out of a fixed point and into something greater.

Yoga asana practice can also be seen as a framing, of sorts. There are different physical postures that have been created as a structure, but the goal of making these shapes is not to hold these postures like a statue, a solid, unmoving mass. A yogi’s interest is in finding the stillness within the structure, even while moving. We understand that the softening body is what dissolves and morphs from one pose to another; what transforms our thinking, cortical mind to our sensory world; what merges the framework of our practice into our life. In other words, while we are not always mobile, we are always motile.

Sometimes the practices of yoga can sound vague if not put into context. Phrases like ‘open your heart’, ‘be one with the universe’ and ‘see yourself in all others’ can be a little overwhelming. Putting a frame on the class, whether it be finding ‘foundation through the feet’, or ‘turning your world upside down’ through inversions, can help us to segment, to separate, so we can reintegrate into something greater. We find corridors in a yoga class, through the Rolfing process, in our life, to connect and transform from one thing to another, while connecting the dots along the way. We are more than the sum of our parts.

Please join me on Sunday, September 7, for the first of three workshops on the topic of the architecture of asana, exploring the various regions of the body in relationship to an integrated yoga practice at Indaba Yoga Studio. Follow the link below to book in:

https://www.facebook.com/events/290000161173856/

Footprints


IMG_0121-0.JPGFrom an early age, well before we are born into our physical body, each of us begins making our mark in the world, our imprint. As we develop, we find our feet and intuitively understand the sensation of movement, and also our relationship with gravity. We learn to fall, and to get up. Sometimes it is easy to regain our balance after a stumble; sometimes it is more challenging. This pattern of falling down and picking ourselves back up remains a thread in the tapestry throughout our physical and also our emotional lives.

Over time, our brain evolves and involves us in numerous and increasingly complex concepts and activities, and falling down and getting up become almost as automatic as a reflex. Most of the time we don’t think about it, unless there is a particular instance that is cause to slow down, evaluate and even change how we approach being in our body, or being in our life.

When we take a tumble, either physically or emotionally, it can sometimes be painful, even traumatic. It can also be seen as a wonderful opportunity to titrate past experiences, to break habit patterns that may not be serving us, and to re-establish a simple, steady foundation and to affirm the path beneath our feet.

The path is important, because beyond the up and downs of our lives, there is also the potential to traverse and transform. The process of bridging, whether it be connecting two physical places or two seemingly disparate moments in our lives, is an powerful aspect of integrating our life’s story. After all, being truly present in a moment, stabile and grounded yet alert and up-lifted, includes not only how we stay in the moment, but also how we span; how we journey through hardship and joy to incorporate an expansive landscape of life as one rich experience.

In today’s world where the motto of moving ‘onwards and upwards’ is celebrated as a mark of success, all too often the obsession with making, meeting and surpassing goals overtakes the importance of simply staying still and finding the joy and the beauty in the sameness, in the quiet of a forest or in the journey we have taken. Reflecting on the past enables us to acknowledge where we have come from and informs where we are now; it can also provide guidance to where we may be headed.

Recently, I have travelled back to a place important to me; a place rich with family history, and a place where I grew up. It had been a few years since my last visit, and during that time I went through a period of life threatening illness resulting in a successful liver transplantation. While I had been excited to return to family and friends, I had no idea how emotional and reflective it would be to be back in a location imbued with such meaning, in the presence of beings whom I love so dearly. At every sign post memories emerged, and I was forced to dive deep into the reflection of who I was from an early age, to who I have become today. The result has felt like both heartbreak and celebration. I have observed past footprints dissolving into deep waters while standing in my present reality, and have given pause to allow a path to unfold for my future.

Like the oceanic tides, we must fall to rise again. All of us will eventually but inevitably witness the passage of time and the transience of all of life. May each of us learn to appreciate each and every moment, for these are the imprints we leave across the diverse landscape of our lives that makes each of us unique and complete.

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