When things overwhelm

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The usually rosy start to a new year has been tarnished with the reports of the Australian fires and political crises. Here in NZ we can no longer pretend climate change is not happening when we are reminded by the smoky haze and surreal sunrises and sunsets caused by the inferno from Over the Ditch. This post is not about all that – you can read as much as you like about the sad state of the world online, on the telly and on the radio.

Instead this post is a reminder of what you can do when all looks pretty bleak. I reminded myself of this when I found myself groaning with sorrow over yet another harrowing story. It is easy to be overwhelmed but it is also easy to switch that mind channel to still feel the sadness and yet still do something proactive. This is how I stay relatively Pollyannish in a World Gone Mad.

Firstly be informed from sound news resources and limit your reading to 30mins a day. It is all too easy to spend all day dipping in and out of various articles of dubious quality on social media. Instead listen to one news bulletin and read one in depth article that will keep you informed. Too many just stick their head in the sand when feeling overwhelmed. You need to know in order to be part of the solution.

Secondly take action. We can do diddly squat about Trump’s shenanigans in diplomacy but we can all do something about climate change. Yes WE ALL are part of the problem currently affecting Australia. We can all reduce our driving on unnecessary trips, flights, shopping etc. We can join groups to encourage our local and central government to put climate change straight to the top of their agenda. We can dust off the bike, hop on the bus or walk. We can write emails to MP’s. (This might be why mine resigned last year… “not her again”. Take action daily in some way. Just dedicate 15 mins daily to action in some way and you no longer feel helpless. Some people choose to make donations but try to make change rather than mop up the problems.

Thirdly meditate. This might seem like a weird solution – how can sitting on a cushion change the world? Changing the world starts with you. Only you can change you. If you dedicate a small portion of each day to meditation your outlook, your interactions and your compassion flows out into the world. In yoga philosophy all our millions of daily thoughts are part of chitta, the Universal Mind or collective consciousness. Everything we think feeds into this. By clearing some of our own baggage through meditation, our inputs to the chitta become more compassionate, more proactive and for the greater good of all beings. You might not feel like you are doing much at all for world peace but loving kindness starts with being able to feel kindness for yourself and others. If you can like yourself and get on with your neighbours then you are well on the way to making this a better planet. If you are instead wallowing in doom and gloom and feeling helpless then this just creates more helplessness in those around us.

Be the change. Be the lighthouse. Or as said in the latest Star Wars movie, Be With Me.

2020 vision – living from the heart

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If you have ever wanted 2020 vision then now is the time to prepare….

Letting go of eye health ( we can cover that another day!) the New Moon in Scorpio today, 28th October at 16.48pm marks the two month lead in to the Summer Eclipse Season which starts on Boxing Day. (For further information on eclipse seasons and yoga read here.) The following meditation will help to ease into the energies surrounding not only Christmas Hellidays but also the Eclipse themes addressing our goals and how we can bring our work and home-life into balance.

These themes ask the questions we will all be exploring throughout 2020. How do I spend my time? Does this align with my heart? Does my job align with my purpose and direction in life? Am I pushing myself beyond my limits to get to my goals? Can I be more realistic about what I can achieve so that I don’t burn out? Am I enjoying life in the midst of getting stuff done? Am I actually spending quality time with my loved ones or is everything just a big to-do list? Can I break my old habits to see a new way of living, breathing and doing so that I can serve this planet better? Just some little questions then that will open the New Year and carry us into the next round of eclipses in June.

This soothing meditation uses a calming breath practice ( pranayama) that relieves anxiety and promotes calmness and mental clarity. It also brings some insight into your relationship with yourself and others. You might like to sit with this meditation before you make any rash decisions. It helps us to access, open and live from our heart centre and encourages us to act from the space of the Neutral Mind. This is the Vision for 2020 – to live from the space of the heart.

On a physical level, this meditation strengthens the lungs and heart. If you want to improve your lung capacity this is a good place to start.

Meditation for a Calm Heart

Posture: Sit in an Easy Pose, with a light jalandhar bandh (neck lock). Place the left hand on the center of the chest at the Heart Center. The palm is flat against the chest, and the fingers are parallel to the ground, pointing to the right.

Make Gyan Mudra with the right hand (touch the tip of the index [Jupiter] finger with the tip of the thumb). Raise the right hand up to the right side as if giving a pledge. The palm faces forward, the three fingers not in Gyan Mudra point up like an antennae.

The elbow is relaxed near the side with the forearm perpendicular to the ground.

Eyes: Either close the eyes or look straight ahead with the eyes 1/10th open.

Breath: To start… Inhale slowly and deeply through both nostrils for 3 to 5 counts. Then suspend the breath in and raise the chest. Retain it for 3 to 5 counts. Then exhale smoothly, gradually, and completely for 3 to 5 counts. 

After several rounds of this, the breath will feel deeper and calmer. You can move to the full breathing for this meditation. Inhale slowly and deeply through both nostrils. Then suspend the breath in and raise the chest. Retain it as long as possible. Then exhale smoothly, gradually, and completely. When the breath is totally out, lock the breath out for as long as possible. (Those with high blood pressure should only hold the inhalation in for a brief moment. A held exhalation is ok to try though.)

Concentrate on the flow of the breath. Regulate each bit of the breath consciously. When you hold the breath in or out for “as long as possible,” you should not gasp or be under strain when you let the breath move again.

To End: Inhale and hold briefly and then exhale. Repeat twice more. Relax.

The home of the subtle force of prana is in the lungs and heart. The left palm is placed at the natural home of prana and creates a deep stillness at that point. The right hand that brings you to action and analysis, is placed in a receptive, relaxed mudra in the position of peace. This posture induces the feeling of calmness. It creates a still point for the prana at the Heart Center.

Try it for 3 minutes. If you have more time, try it for three periods of 3 minutes each, with one minute rest between them, for a total of 11 minutes. For an advanced practice of concentration and rejuvenation, build the meditation up to 31 minutes. This is the meditation that I will be adding to my daily Sadhana throughout the next 3 months. If you want to join in and share your experiences, I would love to hear how it goes for you.

The alchemy of plants

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Each Autumn I crank out the cauldron and fill up my natural dye pot. Natural dyes do not impact the environment ( or us!) like chemical dyes do and every batch is completely unique. A few years ago I thought it might be nicer for myself and those attending classes to be surrounded by natural fibres and yoga props coloured in a holistic and sustainable way. I travelled briefly through Morocco years ago and the sight of the vast chemical dye factories has stayed with me ever since. Yes the colours were GLORIOUS but the workers looked sickly and the surrounding land rather toxic. If I could dye my own textiles I could prevent a way of contributing to that mess.

This year I made dye with rosemary and pressed oak and liquid amber leaves into the fabric.  I have a triffid rosemary that always needs hacking back and the oak leaves fall off the trees so foraging was easy. I rather fancied the idea of the healing properties of Rosemary ( clarity, memory, immune boosting) and Oak ( strength and fortitude) imbuing the fabric even though of course the cooking would pretty much eradicate any herbal benefits. Rusty nails in a jar provided the mordant, though you can buy iron powder ( which is poisonous to ingest – be careful!!!!)

Choose 100% cotton, linen or silk fabric and gently heat it a large dye pot with washing soda ( natural scouring agent). This removes any stains from up-cycled fabrics or starches from new fabric. Rinse and keep damp.

I normally pick about half a big dye pot full of rosemary and add water. Bring to a low boil and simmer for about 40 mins or longer if you want deep colours. While this is bubbling away you can get creative with your oak leaves. Unroll your damp fabric and scatter or arrange the leaves. The roll up the fabric and tie up with string or metal clamps. The imprint of the leaves and the string will all make patterns in the fabric. You can only experiment to see what happens!!! If you want a flat basic colour then don’t scrunch up or use leaves. Once you are happy with the fabric and the dye bath, then scoop out the rosemary and put it  in your compost.

If you are using iron powder as a mordant then add about 2 teaspoons ( wear a dust mask) or if you have prepped a rusty nail solution then pour that in. The water will change to a dark colour. Add the fabric to the dye bath and simmer on low for about 40 mins.

Turn off the heat and leave the fabric to cool. I sometimes leave it overnight. Wash the fabric with neutral soap or liquid and rinse thoroughly. I squeeze it our by hand rather than putting it in the washing machine. Dry on the line out of direct sun. Once dry it will need ironing for all the crinkles.

If you want more ideas on natural dyes then read Eco Colour by India Flint or Natural Colour by Sasha Duerr. Both are excellent and inspiring.

Over Winter I have been sewing these up into eyepillows and sandbags. The sandbags are particularly useful for reducing anxiety and encouraging deep belly breathing. They can also be used for draping over shoulders to ease pain. Sandbags are $25 each and eyepillows are $10. Sing out if you want some and I can bring them to class.

Prepping for the Eclipse Season

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I am no astrologer but there are three things that I have fathomed over the years purely from observation.

1. Yes the moon does seem to affect us

2. Eclipses are always highly significant as a tool for self-inquiry

3. I should never have a love relationship with a Virgo man.

With regard to the first point, if you have attended my classes over the last 19 years then you have been an unwitting guinea pig in my experiments with yoga that follows the lunar cycle. I shall be writing about my findings over the coming winter months.

In regard to the third point, I deeply apologise if you are a Virgo man, it is nothing personal. Besides I am happily married.

However this post is about eclipses or rather eclipse seasons. A solar eclipse is when the moon is in direct alignment between the sun and the earth. This always happens at the time of the new moon but not every new moon. A lunar eclipse is when the earth is in direct alignment between the sun and the moon. This happens only at a full moon but not every full moon. There are roughly 2 eclipse seasons each year.

In Kundalini Yoga these eclipses are sensed as affecting the electromagnetic field surrounding the earth and therefore us. I have no idea if The Gods of Science back this up. My opinion is that of course we are affected. If the moon affects our tides, fertility in plants and animals then why not planets cruising about in their orbit closer to us? The pathway of planets in relation to the eclipse gives a different flavour to each eclipse season. You don’t need to “believe” in astrology to find this useful. I merely use this framework to address an area of my life that probably needs attention. The astrological nature of the eclipse performs as an archetype for me to explore what is happening and reflect. Life is pretty much about embracing change, daily kerfuffles and keep shuffling onwards but in an eclipse season we are given a focus so we can break free of old patterns and change direction if we choose. Change will be happening, but can we steer the outcome with a bit of grace?

The solar eclipse sets the tone or direction of change and the lunar eclipse helps us to process our emotional response to that change. So while nothing may seemingly happen on the actual eclipse day the whole pressure and process can be felt over a three month period. This usually starts 2 months before the eclipse on the new moon and until the new moon after the eclipse. (I use Harsha Rigney’s excellent Moon Calendar to get exact times, days and eclipse themes.)

For this reason I usually start a health/yoga/meditation practice to explore the theme of the eclipse and frame my personal practice around this. Kickoff for this coming eclipse season begins this New Moon Sunday May 5th at 10.45am. The areas I am looking into this time are concerning home life and feeling nourished and supported by loved ones. This is also about parenting – perhaps your kids, your parents, or maybe you are a parent in your job. We are all being asked to examine our roles, duties, obligation and living situations. Can we shake it up a bit to suit everyone better? Can you break old traditions and stereotypes that do not work and find a new way? This might be gender roles around housework, child/parent care. Ultimately I think this asks us to question how we parent ourselves. Can we nourish, nurture and love ourselves?

My response to these questions is both practical and and intuitive. I will be sitting down with a list of household tasks and making sure we all feel comfy about who does what. I will be creating space for more yoga nidra and getting more real sleep. My meditation focus will be upon the heart centre with simple mantras I can do in the shower and while gardening. Over the next three months I will feel – does this work, or that? Who do I play a Mummy role with? Does it need to stay that way? What nourishes me? And hopefully responding accordingly. What will you do?

Actual eclipse times in NZ. Solar Eclipse July 3rd 7.22am and Lunar Eclipse July 17th 9.31am.

Let our feet bless the earth

yoga massage reflexology at Odette Rowe Wairarapa yoga workshop

At Womad recently a band invited us all to dance, reminding us that moving our feet was a way of blessing the earth. This comment came at a very poignant moment when all in NZ felt that the rug had been pulled out from beneath our feet. A gentle reminder to move, to feel the stability of the ground was a loving way to feel “earthed” again.

The Autumn Equinox is when I reboot my Breathwalking practice which slackens off during the heat of summer and the toils of the harvest season. The cooler air and the seasonal focus upon the lungs and large intestines make this a good time to get a walking habit established before the chill of Winter arrives.  Breathwalking is part of the Kundalini Yoga tradition and it combines breath segmentation, mindful movement and meditation. Plus you get fit at the same time!

Breath segmentation is a valuable tool to learn as the diverse breathing patterns alter the way the brain functions. The different muscles and nerves you use to chop and change your breath alert your glands to work better and tone your immune system. It also helps the nervous system to cope better when under stress.  Going for a walk helps to alleviate stress, going for a Breathwalk takes this to a whole new level. As I set off each day I think of each step as a blessing for the earth beneath me.

This week our Monday Meditation class on April 1st at 5.30pm is a sampler to testdrive this method. We will meet at the Snug as usual for foot awakeners and then stride out rain, hail or shine. Bring some shoes that are comfy for you to walk in, wet weather gear if needed or a warm layer if it feels cool. Our meditation specifically focuses on anxiety so bring any friends or family who need help in this regard. Please book in to bagsie your spot and don’t be late as we might stride off without you! You might like to bring a bag to pick up any rubbish as we go.