It is becoming increasingly hard to reconcile the 2,500 year old ‘origins’ of yoga with its modern expressions. Many modern styles arise from what can be understood as the second wave of exportation of yoga from the Indian subcontinent to the ‘West’. The first wave occurred in the 1800’s. This early wave was consumed by a minority sub-culture of extremely experimental artists and thinkers in the West. It in no way lead to a mainstream movement. The way yoga was understood then was in line with the highly spiritual and religious origins of the practice - yoga being a manifold system of living that leads to union with god/the divine and a notion of ‘enlightenment’. This system prescribed a lifestyle of which movement/exercise (what we now recognise as the sum-total of ‘yoga’) was only a minute part. It prescribed ideas most people now would be highly suspicious of, including celibacy and patriarchy.
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On a flight back to Amsterdam from a recent trip to Kenya, I stumbled upon a short story by JM Coetzee, titled The Dog. The story focuses on an unnamed female who makes a daily journey on foot to work. En route, she passes a private property guarded by a vicious dog. The story has no particular location, although the language spoken between the characters is French. Work and homeward bound, She is harassed by this dog. It is a terrifying and beastly hound, with sharp teeth, a stinking breath (no doubt) and a keen smell for female blood:
In February 2016 I visited Sri Lanka for 4 weeks or so with my Mother. It was a high point in a period of roughly four months in which I travelled, read novels and soaked up the sun. I had little motivation for each day other than simply not thinking too hard. I handed in my PhD in late November 2015 and needed that chunk of time to drift and let my brain and body recuperate. I see it as an enormously fortunate occurrence that 2 of the 4 weeks we spent in Sri Lanka were anchored at Villa de Zoysa on the south-western coast. There are two layers to this providence
The past two or so months has been a time of flux, new experiences and varied challenges. I moved continent and uprooted my comfortable cottage on scenic farmlands, swopping it for a dinky apartment in a frenzied European city. In many way ways I still yearn for the wildly flung blue skies of African wilderness, and something tells me I will never be rid of this yearning as long as I am absent from my homeland. In spite of this I have tried to immerse myself in the present, taking deep gulps of car-fumed-full air and elbowing my way through crowds of gawking American tourists with jolly gusto.
Just because yoga is commonly perceived to represent universal and transcendent values of peace, non-violence and unity does not mean that it is above or can be consumed in isolation of politics
American writer and poet, Donald Hall, wrote a melancholic, self-reflective essay in The New Yorker late last year titled, “Between Solitude and Loneliness”. He writes about his solitary life on an isolated farm he has inherited from his late grandmother. He is in his late eighties at the time, a widower with little contact to the outside world other than through his craft, and a weekly visit from a housekeeper. He is perfectly content. He looks back on his life in this essay to unearth and then ponder over a succession of circumstances in which he has cherished and sought solitariness.
Pilgrimage may conventionally be considered a religious undertaking, yet it would seem as though in actuality we all - religious and not - make such journeys in a varied ways. Some ancient and formalised - such as the Hajj to Mecca, the mass bathing in the Ganges as part of the Kumbh Mela, and the trek of the Camino de Santiago - and some contemporary and personal - such as a visit to loved one’s grave, an annual retreat, or an endurance race. Some are years long, others may only take a few moments. All of them tend to encompass this dual directionality of moving closer to one’s inner self and leaving the structure of ones everyday world behind.
A recent special issue of the National Geographic, titled Gender Revolution, makes a fascinating study of how youths around the world are increasingly pushing the boundaries of gender and sexuality to mould a sense of self that is more fluid and non-binary. This shift can only happen in the context of generalised growing social acceptance and awareness of the limits stained male/female, girl/boy binaries. A spin off is a progression towards gender equality. Of course, some societies are better at accepting these changes than others.
Central to gagaku is the Japanese concept of ma, meaning “the space between”, or “powerful space”. To the late Takemitsu, ma was the “void that isn’t empty”, a space between things that is full of energy. This concept filters through other pillars of Japanese classical art and philosophy, such as feng shui and specifically garden landscaping. Indeed, Takemitsu, considered his music to be like walking through a garden, where your senses are lifted as you traverse towards greater peace and harmony - a tree rustles in the breeze, a bird takes flight, light falls in a dappled pattern across your path.
I am thrilled to announce that I will be hosting a stress release focused weekend getaway at Granny Mouse Country House in the KZN Midlands from 29 June - 3 July 2017!Granny Mouse Country House is a luxurious and tranquil setting for what will be an enriching weekend of 8 specialised yoga sessions. We will focus on yoga practices as a means to calm the mind and release embodied patterns of stress. Through yoga sequences and techniques accessible to all levels of yoga practice and knowledge, we will be rewiring the neural pathways that programme our minds and bodies into existing in a 'flight or flight' mode of hyper-stress and anxiety.
One of the most luminous and profound commencement addresses I have ever seen was by Parker Palmer. Palmer was being awarded the first ever honorary degree at Naropa University in Colorado in 2015. Naropa was founded in 1974 by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford alumnus Chogyam Trungpa. The university was intended to be an experiment in the synergy of contemporaryWestern scholarship methodologies and timeless tenets of Eastern wisdom. Palmer’s speech draws on a life of experience - he is in his mid-70s - and snatches of what can only be transcendent insight to layout his six pillars of meaningful human existence.
"The high value put on every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy”
These wise and contemporarily relevant words are from Herman Hesse’s 1905 essay titled, “On Little Joys”. The German-born Swiss luminary is widely know for his novels Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. A less widely circulated treasure is My Belief: Essays on Life and Art. Hesse laments how the “aggressive haste” of his time (gosh, what would he say about our time?) has eroded our ability to enjoy leisure. This does not imply that - in the straightforward sense - there is no time for leisure, but rather, his point is more subtle.
There is this hashtag that has gained currency on Instagram: #yogaeverydanmday. I would like to argue that yoga every day is not only unnecessary but bad for you - especially so for women.The same Vedic texts that the modern practice of Hatha yoga (yoga of postures and breathing techniques) are derived from, are quite clear in their advocacy that a woman's cycle is both powerful and fragile. This is a time when you are 'full mooning'. There is incredible energy and heat in the body (the start of creation of life) at this time. In order for this process of creation and then expulsion to happen effectively, a lot of energy needs to be drawn and then coagulated in the pelvic region and lower spine.
How do we harness the power of sharing in an online global community of yoga practitioners without loosing sight of how yoga - in order to be yoga and not just exercise - is principally an internal journey?
The practice of yoga mudra is grounded upon an understanding of the five elements that comprise the universe: space (or ether), air, fire, water, and earth. It is said that each finger corresponds to an element: the thumb represents fire; the first finger represents air; the middle finger is space; and the ring finger is earth and the little finger represents water. As we are grains of sands in the great theatre of the universe we too are made up of these elements. When all five elements are working in harmony the body is balanced, optimally operational and healthy; when any one of the elements becomes too dominant, polluted or weakened, the body shifts out of balance and discomfort, illness and disease develops.
It was the opening night of the year for Brookdale and the start of the Detox yoga retreat. As the yoga instructor for the week, I was fortunate enough to be staying on site. I had planned two classes daily, each on a different and focused theme to best achieve effective detoxification and rejuvenation. I was excited.
Our bodies have a natural capacity to detox. We have the grand detox-mechanism built in. From the liver, kidneys and digestive organs, toxic waste is filtered and packaged so it can be eliminated through urine, sweat, exhalation and solid waste. When we exercise and sweat, this detoxification process is given a super-boost. So whats the problem? We ‘exercise’ - the ‘exercise’ industry is huge - why are we feeling so toxic?
There are these moments.
Ruptures, in the flow of life when you
reveal yourself in naked acceptance.
and a shard of certainty slices through the clotted flesh of doubt.
To observe the unhindered flow of breath within and without my body, is not just to observe the flow of energy at the nexus of being as I experience it, but it is also a moment of vital creativity. Cultivating the ability to be a silent and concentrated witness of my natural flow of breath is to allow the rhythm of life-force to author moments in my everyday life. This letting go in the presence of being is a freeing up of the boundaries and blockages that hinder my expression, my knowing, my reflection. This letting go is a practice of everyday life, when my feet touch the floor in certain silence and I am present, here – grounded within and connected by breath without.