Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sankalpa - Recipe of the month

This article was first published in the Yoga Spirit Studios newsletter "On the Mat" in December 2013

At this time of year you might be feeling that you have had enough food to last awhile. So, this month I am stretching the definition of "recipe", and the Sanskrit word "Sankalpa" meaning "intent or resolution" - taking Sankalpa to be a recipe for successful living. 

 When we make a New Year's resolution, it tends to be something that identifies a perceived shortcoming in ourselves resolving to do better in the coming year.

If I say "I will lose weight", "I will exercise more", "I will give up smoking" I am really saying "I am inadequate and there is something I need to do to be more deserving".

The Sankalpa of our yoga practice is a little different to the New Year's resolution.

"You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny."
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5 tr Eknath Eswaran

The Sankalpa may take some meditation to discover, but once you bring it to the surface, and repeat it often, it will inform your will and thereby your actions. By identifying it, it becomes your reality.

That is why we always phrase the Sankalpa as if it is our present reality, affirmation style, and we identify how it feels in our body when it is our present Truth, thus affirming not just in words but with our whole body and mind.

So the Sankalpa is a deeper resolution than the typical New Year's Resolution. How to find it?

It will reveal itself to you as you practice the niyama (personal observances of the Yoga Sutras), Svadhyaya, which means "self-study or "self-inquiry". One way is to not stop at "I hate myself because I am over-weight, so my New Year's Resolution is to lose weight - again", but to inquire of yourself, what lies beneath all of this and what is the real deep, driving desire that may be manifesting in the conditions that cause your body to be at greater than optimal weight, and your aversion that makes you wish your body to be other than it is.

Let yourself become really quiet to allow this self-inquiry to unfold.

Underlying the New Year's Resolution statements there may be additional layers, such as "when I am overweight (unfit, smoking) I do not feel whole and healthy", so the real intention could be rephrased as "I will be more whole and healthy". So perhaps your Sankalpa might become "I am whole, healthy and perfect just as I am".

Strictly speaking a Sankalpa would remain unchanged until it is fully realised, when a new one might be set. But as it might take some inquiry to really discover your Sankalpa, you might take the one that immediately arises as the working model, but it may yet change as you also continue your self-inquiry.

Affirm your Sankalpa at the beginning of your day, your yoga practice, your meditation, but also invite your Sankalpa to re-emerge at the end of the day or practice. Listen carefully to the way in which your Sankalpa presents itself when you are in deep meditation or relaxation. As it bubbles up from the depths it will have Truth and power; it may present a little differently, and it is good practice to take careful note of that and adjust your Sankalpa accordingly.

So why not this new year, start working with Sankalpa as an alternative to a New Year's Resolution.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Restorative Yoga - why it is an essential part of yoga practice

Article first published in the Yoga Spirit Studios newsletter on 1 March 2012

Our modern life is full of stresses, and our mind and spirit steadily become more wound up. I have noticed a trend these days towards a market place demand for more and more power yoga - yoga done fast and furious, working up a sweat, as if yoga were just another aerobic exercise regime.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a regular aerobic workout to get the heart pumping and to build fitness. In fact it is highly recommended for most people. However, to me the practice of yoga is so much more; it offers an opportunity to move out of the stress response and into a more wholesome relationship with myself and the world. It also opens and stretches the body, but for that the practice needs to slow down a bit.

Restorative yoga really comes into its own in this regard. Practiced with the assistance of props to allow the body to slowly open in a long held position, restorative yoga switches the autonomic nervous system on to the parasympathetic - that aspect where we relax and de-stress.

At least one session of restorative practice is recommended per week in your yoga regime. More good news is that it is so wonderfully yummy that it is easy to love, and it can be practised by beginners as easily as more advanced students.

It is also a very good idea to become familiar with restorative practice so that at times of stress or ill health in our lives, we have the tools to turn to for powerful help and healing.

Having blankets, bolsters and other props at home so that you can practise there is a very good idea, but to learn the art of restorative practice it is advised to join a master teacher in restorative work. At Yoga Spirit Studios we are blessed at Yoga Spirit to have Vanessa teaching this beautiful healing yoga every Wednesday evening at 7.30 pm in the studio room. If you haven't tried it yet, please treat yourself to a regular class with her and learn how to really take care of yourself. And once a quarter you can join a longer, two hour practice at our Big Relax.

Favourite Yoga Music: Monsoon Point

Monsoon Point is always a favourite. It is the work of Al Gromer Khan and Amelia Cuni. Recorded as one smooth and dreamy, the Dhrupad singing of Cuni blends and dances with the instrumental, with a trance like quality. This album is not only fantastic for a deep asana practice, conducive to deep exploration, but is great to play on a long, hot summer evening, to lie back in a favourite chair with a long cold drink, and allow the evening shadows to slowly gather around you.

5 stars.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What to do when you arrive for yoga

First published in the Yoga Spirit Studios newsletter "On the Mat"

I don't know about you but my heart always lifts as I enter the yoga spaces we are so blessed to have a Yoga Spirit Studios. 

There is the sense of sacred space, which we honour by removing our shoes and never walking through it with shoes on. I love to attend class as just another student, coming into the space with reverence, preparing my space, quietly stretching a little and then lying down to relax and let go of the outside world in preparation for the practice.

This is an important aspect of the practice, this letting go of the rest of the busy life and preparing for the inward journey. Others around us are also making their preparations and we also need to honour their time to prepare.

  • Make sure your phone is off. Even a phone on silent will vibrate and the sound can be heard in the quietude of relaxation.
  • Perhaps if you have been knocking about the city in flip-flops or sandals, check if your feet are very dirty and freshen them up with a wipe beforehand. Great for you and helps keep the equipment hygenic for us all too.
  • Greet friends quietly, with a smile and only a whispered greeting - this is the time to prepare for the practice, arrange extra time for a coffee afterwards for the catch up and news.
  • Take your gear from the stacks, and arrange it neatly around your mat, keeping your space compact so others have room and the teacher will not trip over your stuff while walking around the room.
  • You may feel a need to stretch a little first or do some spinal rolls or somatic movements to release the body.
  • Before the class starts lie down in a comfortable position, maybe an opening restorative such as salamba-supta-baddha-kon-asana (supported reclined bound angle pose) and start to notice your breath, bringing your mind to noticing the breath carefully, perhaps counting it, so as to arrive fully to the practice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


First published in "On the Mat" September 2011

Namaste - though it literally translates as "I bow to you", some say it signifies "the Divine in me salutes the Divine in you".

First day of September was Ganesh Chaturthi this year. How apt! Lord Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, is propitiated for all new beginnings, and spring is a great new beginning. It followed closely upon the birthday of Lord Krishna, Krishna Jamnasthami, on 22 August. 9 September is Onam, a harvest festival in the southern state of Kerala. Soon arising on the Hindu calendar are Navaraatri, the nine nights of celebration of the Goddess in her many forms, commencing 28 September, and Diwali, the festival of lights, on 26 October.

Always comfortable with paradox, Hinduism has many deities, yet still acknowledges just one Divine Presence. Whether we focus on the Divine Mother, powerful Shakti, the Remover of Obstacles or the Divine cowherd, all are aspects of the one, and the One is everywhere, including in ourselves.

When we salute the Divine in other people and in other life forms, and treasure it in ourselves, we have the foundation of Ahimsa, non-violence and compassion, first of the Yamas which comprise the first of the eight limbs of Patanjali's Yoga. To acknowledge the Divine flowing through us all, how could we not be compassionate.