When the moment of stress takes hold, the mind is at flight. I have come to measure and understand my level of stress in relation to my ability to sustain conscious awareness. Stress, for me is defined by a sense that I have lost a measured observance of my thoughts and how time passes. I often find that bad habit patterns that I may have under control - for the most part anyway - resurface in times of stress. I act by impulse. I act out of fear and I act unknowingly. Here is a podcast for you to listen to in moments of stress. I hope its useful.
In the past few weeks I have poured my time and energy into launching a new business, YOGICOMM. This is a start-up venture I am funding and running entirely on my own. The business model is simple and limited, as are my technical capabilities, and this allows me to remain highly flexible and responsive whilst I observe and learn with acute interest how the service is used and enjoyed. It is thrilling, but it is also demanding and comes with weighted responsibility; every ounce of work is my own and if I don’t show up, nothing happens.
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.
On average we are supposed to spend a third of our lives asleep, and yet, sleep and dream states remain insufficiently understood. Sleep is clouded in mystery and a source of rich ongoing research for scientists and philosophers. Most significantly, we can’t seem to bend it to our will. Any insomniac or light sleeper knows that ghastly and hollow feeling of desperation when trying to fall asleep. This desperation is made worse if your partner or a close family is snoring peacefully nearby. How is it that one person can flick off the switch and slide into a dreamworld, whilst another cannot? I am a periodic insomniac and I have asked myself this far too many times to count. Its a mercurial thing, sleep - perhaps like desire - the more you try to obtain it, the further it slips from your grasp.
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.
"You can be more mindful of how addicted you are, but unless you impose behaviors on yourself, it’s like heroin. It’s not like you can live without technology — I own an iPhone. But you can’t live with it unless you find some kind of way to not lose yourself in digital reality to the point where you forget that your body is analog."
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.
This is an impressive feat of design. If you create something that only a handful of people can understand or relate to, thats great, but the power of this expression is weak in comparison to that which anyone can readily comprehend. How you ‘interpret’ something is a distinct matter, not in the control of the designer, and an endless process of renewal. Design can, however, reach towards the lofty heights of perfection. In its most simple form, the infinity symbol presents something complete. Finished. A truth.
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.
In the interests of maintaining and building on the fantastic health benefits gained over the week, I have filmed and uploaded a detox yoga sequence for everyone to follow in their own time and in their own homes. This sequence is great as part of a detox regime, but can also be used on a regular basis to fire up your digestive system and assist the liver and kidneys in their natural detox functionality. Check out the video here!
Most of us go through stages in our lives where we place unsustainable pressure on our liver detoxification capacity. This can be a time of revelry and over-indulgence, but it could also be a time of stress and tension. When we push ourselves beyond fatigue, work crazy hours, or get into situations where we are dealing with any number of life crises, our liver tends to be in the firing-line, our first, and most precious wall for coping and defence.
The stress of modern day life, the poor diet habits we have, and the toxic, polluted nature of our atmosphere and living environments are just some of the reasons why our bodies are labouring more than ever to complete their natural detoxification processes. So we really need to 'fuel the fire' and support the gut functionality. This endeavour is linked to taking care over your liver functionality - I will speak to liver health and detoxification specifically in the next post.
The more I have progressed along the path of my yoga journey, the more I have come to value rest as an essential component in my regular yoga practice. This value is constantly negotiated in relation to a range of other important factors.