Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dealing with negative thoughts and emotions

When we are in emotional turmoil thoughts can go around and around in our head. They become so persistent that we cannot sleep or concentrate on any other job. The emotions that accompany them threaten to overwhelm us. In the worst times we become quite dysfunctional and mentally unwell.

For example, perhaps we lost a job or broke up with our partner. Beliefs about ourselves that have their origins in childhood may arise, such as "I am not good enough", "there is something wrong with me", "I am stupid", or "I am unlovable". And with each of these beliefs comes wave after wave of emotion, such as sadness, anger, shame and guilt. The emotion reinforces the belief and the belief reinforces the emotion.

Not surprisingly we find these emotions and beliefs uncomfortable and we regard them as negative, and something to get rid of. So we resist them, try to push them away, suppress them. This might work for awhile, until something else happens, and those old beliefs are arising again and along with them come all of those "negative" emotions.

We want to know how can we deal with these negative thoughts and emotions and be rid of them forever?

Properly understood, all experiences are signposts to guide us back to our inherent wholeness. We take such emotions and beliefs to be "negative" only when we misunderstand their role and lack the skills to welcome them and receive their messages. 

When we truly welcome and observe all emotional experiences, all thoughts and beliefs, we cease to mistakenly identify with them and learn to recognise that they truly are just passing through. 

In so much as I am sad in this moment I can also be happy. I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. I can observe my emotions pass through, and I can enquire into them, discover a belief that is accompanying them, explore the belief, discover all the messages they are bringing me. I can also invoke and welcome the opposite belief and emotion, so I know that none of it is permanent.

Be drawn to the practices and wisdom teachings that help you to learn to meet and greet whatever arises. Learn to be curious about the felt sense in the body of any emotion and to watch it pass through. Learn to recognise the temporary nature of all movements of the mind, and how to remain at ease in every situation. Recognise that no thought or emotion is truly a negative experience, they just are, and they all have a valuable message that will show you the way home to your inherent wholeness.

The practices we are given in iRest®, whether as Yoga Nidra or meditation, establish a safe place to practice and develop our skills in meeting all that arises. It nurtures us to be open and welcoming and always at ease in every situation. These are ancient teachings that cross many cultures as the poem by Rumi below attests. But in iRest they are packaged to be accessible to us in our modern world.
Translation by Coleman Barks. Image from www.yearofjoys.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why older women need yoga

The Yoga market place is flooded with images of the young and beautiful smiling their way through impossible yoga poses. So much so that men, older people, and the not so flexible are likely to judge themselves ineligible.

Here are five reasons why women really need yoga from midlife and beyond.

1. Older women are at risk of losing bone mass - osteoporosis. Yoga provides gentle resistance training that helps the bones osteoblasts build stronger bones.
2. As we age our muscles atrophy at a faster rate. Exercise is needed to build them. Yoga is great for building muscles in a relatively risk free manner.
3. Yoga builds body awareness, breath awareness and includes practices that release endorphins. Its better than chocolate because it burns calories rather than adds them. Older women, especially in the peri-menopausal years face mood swings that these endorphins can certainly help.
4. As women age they often report that they do not sleep very well. The relaxation practices of yoga help to compensate for lost sleep and establish the conditions for improved sleep.
5.  Yoga works on core strength, including pelvic floor strength. This is great as it helps to prevent back injuries, relieve existing back soreness and, bonus, helps prevent bladder leakage, a common curse of the older woman.

But you do need to choose your class. Mixing it with those hot bods of the 20 somethings might not be the best option. Practice yoga amongst your peers and with a teacher who is trained to understand your needs, better still if the teacher is also your peer in age.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Practice makes perfect

It is true, that which we practice we get better at. That being true, we need to be careful of what it is we are practising.

Yesterday I got my grumpy pants on.   I am so grateful that this was observed to me, because if I had gone on practising that, I would have achieved the perfect bad mood and soured things for myself and those around me. Today that got me thinking about practice in general, yoga practice in particular (there is no difference actually) and the Yoga Sutras and how we must be careful of what we practise in every area of our life.

In our physical practice of Asana it is important to remain vigilant to discover or uncover any misalignment for if we do not we are just continuing to practise and get better at something that is inherently unsound, perhaps even leading to injury. Sometimes we might have very ingrained movement patterns we are not even aware of. These might be creating imbalance in the body and pain might be the result. With the assistance of our teacher we can start to uncover these and to repattern our movement and eventually perfect something that has much healthier consequences.

It is similar for the non-physical areas of practice.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has given us a manual for the practice of yoga. OK, so it is rather short on what we tend these days to think of as yoga, all those postures! But the postures are not really yoga, not in themselves. Right in the second sutra Sage Patanjali tells us what yoga is.
I.2. Yoga is the stilling of the movement of thought in the indivisible intelligence.
What he sets out in the sutras is a path to attain that state, and these days we can add our posture work to the path. Patanjali's path leads us to the practices of meditation - withdrawing from distractions, concentrating, mindfulness and absorption. This is the path of Raja Yoga, but he very compassionately gives us practices for everyday living to begin with that prepare our minds for what is to come.

So it is that at I.33. Patanjali provides a method of attitude towards our relationships with others.
II.33. Four attitudes to vicissitudes are conducive to peace of mind:
(1) Friendliness towards the joyful
(2) Compassion for the sorrowful
(3) Rejoicing in goodness
(4) Indifference to badness - not being drawn into it nor holding others in contempt for it
When we practice these we are changing our brains, shifting it away from suffering and into joy. And the more we practise, the better we get at them.

The reverse is also true. If we resent the joy we find, we become well-practised at being resentful; if we do not cultivate compassion a sour heart will taint our well-being; if we fail to rejoice in goodness and do not endeavour to surround ourselves with good people, and if we are caught up in badness, badness is what we will perfect.

Later, in Book Two, Patanjali give us more codes for living in the yamas and niyamas. But right here in Book One we have things we can do, attitudes to practice that are most definitely yoga.

Yesterday in my grumpy pants I stepped off the path for a moment.  I am so glad I quickly found my way back on again.

Keep practising, but make sure it is the right thing!

With love