BLOG

Keeping Yoga Safe for All

Yoni Shakti – the movement

Over the past year yoga teachers and students have been dismayed and disillusioned to discover that their once highly regarded master trainers/gurus and schools have been hiding a history of abuse and corruption. (Trigger warning!) This abuse ranges from shaming, lecherous behaviour, dodgy money management, cult control, physical and sexual violence. It is tragic that a practice that has the ultimate goal to liberate us from suffering should therefore be the cause of much suffering as well.

My journey through yoga has luckily been a largely happy one -with only a few experiences of shaming and coercive teaching from a bloke who wore only flesh coloured Y fronts and liked to mold students into position by draping himself over them. Ick! I only attended one class and wrote that school off my list. I had my creep/weirdy cult radar firmly switched on and thought I was immune to anything in that realm.

2020 dawned and suddenly local teachers I knew were discovering uncomfortable truths about their own trainers. I felt confident about my own school. I had a good relationship with all my teachers and trainers, they were people with impeccable ethics and were always down to earth. The moral code of being a teacher had been drummed into us and they practiced what they preached. In their defense they were part of the European yogic community and knew nothing of what was happening in America.

Then two weeks before starting another round of training (and also going into level 4 lockdown) a bombshell dropped with accounts of terrible abuse from the master teacher in America that had been going on for years. That was bad enough, but the fact that possibly an inner circle had known and chosen to keep quiet in order to protect their positions of authority made me question pretty much everything. Were the teachings valid? Who could I trust? Was I safe to be teaching others? Had I opened up my mind space and soul to some yucky spiritual entity?

Lockdown and my training week was a good opportunity to process, read accounts, join online forums to discuss and untangle what was valid from my training and what was potentially toxic. I knew that I had spent the last 20 years practicing and teaching this method and that the content was sound. It shifted stuff, it cleared my mind and ultimately I had never regarded this master teacher as a guru. I merely respected the teachings. I was so sad that he obviously didn’t follow his teachings himself! The fact that for many years I have lived far away from any Kundalini community means that I had left behind the aspects that did not feel applicable to life in a small rural town. I had already done my own edit and part of that was discovering Yoni Shakti – a yoga bible for women by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli. In this chunky tome lineages are questioned, practices are made women centric and readers are reminded that yoga is ultimately a quest for inner freedom

It was a huge relief to reconnect with Yoni Shakti – the movement to process the abuse across all yoga traditions and learn how to safeguard others from ever experiencing this. I have a folder with all the information to help support and protect survivors, to red flag the 13 warning signals and the 9 calls to action we can all take. If you have ever experienced any uncomfortable situations within a yoga class/training then please do not hesitate to reach out.

My peace of mind through all this has been my practice of tuning in and tuning out with mantra. Ong namo guru dev namo means I bow down to the divine teacher WITHIN. Sat Nam means I live from my deepest truth. When we tune into our own wisdom we keep our senses open to all , there is no place for giving our power away to others who wish us harm. Let’s use this wisdom to support and protect survivors of this abuse of power and bring back yoga as a tool for freedom.

Bursting bubbles and keeping the heart open

 

8f83df10-5ead-4e1d-9c85-39498a9dafa7Today our bubbles burst and we can venture out into the world while still maintaining a physical distance. Some are chomping at the bit to “get back to normal” while others have no normal to get back to. If you have had the luxury of not wondering how to pay your rent or where your next meal is coming from over these last 6 weeks or so then you have probably had some wake up call. How do you really want to live your life, make your living, spend your time and money and who do you want to be with? Have you been able to be with yourself? Wouldn’t it be great to integrate any insights into your new and wider world, rather than rushing back onto the treadmill?

From the woowoo perspective the planets are asking us to do just that with Saturn, Venus and Jupiter all going retrograde this week. Just as Aunty Cindy says it is ok to get back into the thick of it the heavens are saying “hang on, just pause a bit longer”. Listen to your insights from lockdown and when ready bring your treasures back to share with others. We have a 6 week window of Venus in retrograde in which to dwell in the heart and listen deeply. Kundalini yogis love a good 40 day practice and so I am starting mine today with three of my favourites from Guru Rattana’s excellent book “Transition to a heart centred world.” Auntie Cindy has also told us to stay spaced out so I have included a lot of breath of fire to really bring us into the neutral mind!

“Transition to a heart centred world” is available as an ebook. I really recommend buying any of her books. For details on my full 40 day practice look in her book for these: Breath meditation to strengthen the mind and the immune system. The Kriya is Heart connection and the meditation is Praan Adhaar Kriya.

Here I am sharing the instructions for Heart Connection. This is a set I have previously done as a 40 day kriya while living in a new country with a lot of challenging racial disharmony. It helped me to acknowledge the inequality, the sadness I felt, and also to have the courage to speak up in my workplace and community. I hope it helps you too. Any Kundalini yoga set with a lot of navel centre work will help to break down the barriers to the heart centre.

Heart Connection

Tune in with Ong namo guru dev namo x 3

Do our usual warmups and include some low slow lunges to warm up your hip flexors. Take any rest you need throughout the kriya and observe your bodily sensations in rest times.

One – bring your right hand into surya mudra ( thumb to ring finger) and your left hand into buddhi mudra (thumb touching the little finger). Lift both arms so that the elbows are at held up at shoulder height with your palms facing forward. (Please note photo above for position of arms but use the correct mudra!) Start a powerful breath of fire through the mouth, pumping from the navel point so that your cheeks billow in and out like Dizzy Gillespie for 3 and half minutes. To end inhale deeply, hold the breath for 30 seconds and exhale. Repeat this ending twice more.

Two – place both hands over the heart centre and focus your eyes on the tip of the nose with almost closed eyelids. Meditate and feel the goodness of the heart, the oneness and connection with the universe under your hands. 5 mins and 15 seconds.

Three – sitting on your bottom, pull your knees in close to your chest and lock them tightly with your arms. Now try to jump up and down so that your bottom lifts off the floor for 1.5 mins. Good luck with that. I find it helps to imagine I am on a moon hopper.

Four – Lie on your back and extend your arms and legs up to 90 degrees. The toes are pointed and the palms of the hands face one another. Begin a heavy breath of fire to burn out all toxins. This exercise balances the meridians. 3 mins and 15 seconds.

Five – rest in child pose with arms draped behind you. Sleep for 6 minutes

Six – same position as number four but now you move your arms and legs back and forth like a little mechanical dog and with breath of fire for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Seven – seated (or lying if needed) place your hands on your heart and meditate or chant or sing for up to 14 mins. (I love “You are the light in my heart” by Sada Sat Kaur)

Rest for 5 mins. Tune out with Sat Nam x3

As you go about your day observe your interactions with others and your inner dialogue. Do you listen to your heart or your head?

When things overwhelm

IMG_8953

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

meditation for a calm heart 2

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

20190731_152058

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.