Your January newsletter is here! Read. Share. Enjoy.
I always love to hear how yoga helps people in their daily life. So when my student and friend Cila Warncke got in touch to ask if she could share how yoga helped her write a novel, I couldn’t wait to hear her story. This Q&A explains it all…
How long have you been practicing yoga?
CW: I started doing Bikram yoga when I returned to London in 2012 after living in Ibiza for several years. At first, it was just a way to keep warm; then it became a lifeline.
What about writing?
I’ve been a professional writer of one sort or another since graduating from university. I first moved to Ibiza to write for a music website. Years later, those experiences formed a basis for my novel, Ibiza Noir.
What is the novel about?
It’s about three people who are looking for the things we all need — love, understanding, a place to call home — and what happens when they look in the wrong places. Played out against a backdrop of sex, drugs, and thumping techno 😉
How did yoga help you write your novel?
I never thought I could write a novel. Too tedious, too hard, too complicated. Doing Bikram five or six days a week showed me I can do something that seems impossible!
I began the novel in 2013. The first draft was a lot like my first months of yoga: show up, do the work, don’t worry about the result. To tell you the truth, Paul, I heard your voice in my head a lot: “Always try the right way! Never give up!”
When I was editing the novel, I drew on the discipline of yoga. I must have read the novel a dozen times, line by line, studying every word, letter, punctuation mark. It requires serious concentration and patience. I couldn’t have done it without yoga.
What about the physical practice?
It was vital. I wrote the novel in a succession of rental flats, mostly at kitchen tables. None of my work spaces would have won any ergonomic awards. Doing yoga worked the kinks out and I’m convinced it saved me from repetitive strain injuries.
Can you sum up yoga’s importance to your writing in a single sentence?
It taught me to chase perfection while being profoundly content with reality.
Cila’s novel Ibiza Noir is available on Amazon.
Has yoga helped your creative work? Share in the comments!
If you’re looking for ways to detox your life, one thing to consider is what you wear. Our skin is our largest organ, so it makes sense to pay attention to what we put on it. Lots of us choose organic health and beauty products, so why not organic clothes?
There are many reasons why organic clothing is a kinder option, for us and for the environment. Here are three reasons to consider upgrading your wardrobe — especially your yoga clothing — to organic.
Conventional cotton uses tonnes of chemicals. I’m not an environmental expert, but a quick glance at the internet gives you an idea. According to EcoChoices, the some 15-25% of all insecticides used worldwide are used on conventional cotton. This is a massive impact on the immediate environment, workers, plants and animals.
There is no way to know what or how many chemicals are used on a particular piece of conventional clothing, nor how your body will react. Many people can wear ordinary clothing in perfect comfort their whole life. Others may suffer unexplained irritation, unexplained rashes, itching, or skin problems. Given the amount of chemicals in our environment it is probably impossible to pinpoint what exactly to blame on clothing, but switching to organic eliminates one major potential source of irritation.
Choosing organic requires a commitment to doing things differently, which means many companies that make organic clothing are also dedicated to other forms of sustainability. This can take the form of fairer wages, better working conditions, transparent sourcing, and more. When you upgrade to organic, you have a chance to put your money towards a product that has been created in an fair, positive way.
One great example of this is Gossypium, an organic yoga clothing company based in Newhaven, East Sussex, that makes all its clothes by hand. They have some stunning, stylish gear and it is handcrafted to order. And it’s cheaper than LuluLemon! Well worth checking out if you’re ready for some new yoga threads.
Know a great organic yoga clothing company? Share in the comments!
Transcendent art takes us to another place. I was delighted to lose myself for hours at the Basquiat: Boom for Real exhibition at Barbican (until 28 Jan). It was brilliant.
The exhibition includes an extensive collection of his poetry, performance, music, film and video arranged over two floors. As the Barbican site puts it:
More than any other exhibition to date, Basquiat: Boom for Real focuses on the artist’s relationship to music, writing, performance, film and television, placing him within the wider cultural context of the time. Paintings, drawings, notebooks and objects are presented alongside rare film, photography, music and archival material, capturing the range and dynamism of Basquiat’s practice over the years.
Words don’t do justice to how captivating, colourful and inspiring his work made me feel. Though he is long gone, Basquiat’s energy and fearlessness reverberates in his work. He was a complicated, vibrant, daring creator who looked everywhere for inspiration.
Experiencing his work was both a benediction and a challenge. Like, “Okay, now you go create!” A must see, for real. This is the last week of its run. Book and go see.
Seen a great exhibition lately? Share in the comments!
The long cold days of January can be among the most stressful of the year. Whether recovering from the financial or emotional strain of a draining holiday season, or battling the blues after months of winter, this is a time where we need all the help we can get to stay calm and relaxed.
One of the key places we hold tension in our body is the jaw. Gritting or grinding our teeth is an instinctive reaction to stress. Yoga is here to help us release jaw tension, easing the potential for headaches, and reducing our overall feeling of anxiety.
Here are three poses to keep you smiling.
This is a fantastic pose to relax your jaw and face. Start kneeling with your bum resting on your heels. Stretch your spine up, lengthening through your head. Your arms should be straight, palms over knees. Now spread your fingers wide, like claws, open wide, stick out your tongue and exhale with a strong, audible “haaaa” sound, allowing the energy to lift your body naturally. When you have fully exhaled, relax your hands and sink back to your heels. Repeat this five to ten times.
This is another great stretch that can really release tension in your neck, face and jaw. Kneel with your knees about six inches apart, or slightly wider for a deeper stretch. Put your hands in your “back pockets” and release your spine backwards. Press your hips forward as you go back, then drop your hands and bring your palm to your heels, thumbs on the outside, fingers on the inside. Keep your mouth closed and tongue at rest.
Use fish pose to get a fantastic stretch for the jaw, throat, chest and intercostal muscles between your ribs. To begin, lie on your back, arms palm down alongside your body. Bend your knees so the soles of your feet are on the floor then raise your hips to slide your hands beneath your bum. On the inhale, press your elbows and shoulders into the floor to lift your chest. Either the back or top of your head should rest on the floor, depending on the depth of your back bend. To release, press your elbows into the floor, raise your head then relax to a prone position.
Questions? Tips? Share in the comments!
If you’re in need of something hot and delicious to get you through January, try this spicy ramen recipe courtesy of Umami Girl. Ramen is one of my favourite dishes because you can mix and match vegetables and toppings, depending on what you’re in the mood for or have to hand.
This recipe calls for a soft-boiled egg, for example, but you could easily make it vegan by leaving off the egg and adding extra mushrooms or tofu for more protein. Grab the ingredients below then visit UmamiGirl.com for the full instructions.
Click here for instructions
What’s your favourite winter warmer dish? Share in the comments!
There is a great website called the Daily Stoic that has all kinds of mindfulness exercises and inspiration based on the teachings of Stoic philosophy. A lot of it runs parallel to yogic philosophy, especially the focus on self-awareness and daily practice.
They sent out an email with 12 words to live by in 2018. It’s a list worth reading, pondering, maybe even printing out and sticking next to the mirror!
Clarity — Remember, the most important task is to separate the things that are in your control from those that are not in your control. To get real clarity about what to focus on in life. As Seneca put it, “It’s not activity that disrupts people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad.”
Equanimity — To the Stoics, the passions were the source of suffering. “A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent,” Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, “and such a person has strength, courage and endurance—unlike the angry and the complaining.” Calmness is strength.
Awareness — Accurate self-assessment is essential. Know thyself, was the dictum from the Oracle at Delphi. Knowing your strengths is just as important as knowledge of your weakness, and ignorance of either is ego. As Zeno put it, “nothing is more hostile to a firm grasp on knowledge than self-deception.”
Unbiased Thought — “Objective judgement, now at this very moment,” was Marcus’s command to himself. Our life is colored by our thoughts, the Stoics said, and so to be driven by this bias or that bias—this delusion or that false impression—is to send your whole existence off-kilter.
Right Action — It’s not just about clear thoughts, but clear thoughts that lead to clear and right action. “First, tell yourself what kind of person you want to be,” Epictetus said, “then do what you have to do.” Emphasis on the do. Remember Marcus: “Don’t talk about what a good man is like. Be one.” This philosophy is for life, not for the ethereal world.
Problem Solving — Are you vexed by daily obstacles or do you throw yourself into solving them? “This is what we’re here for,” Seneca said. No one said life was easy. No one said it would be fair. Let’s make progress where we can.
Duty — “Whatever anyone does or says,” Marcus wrote, “I’m bound to the good…Whatever anyone does or says, I must be what I am and show my true colors.” He was talking about duty. Duty to his country, to his family, to humankind, to his talents, to the philosophy he had learned. Are you doing yours?
Pragmatism — A Stoic is an idealist…but they are also imminently practical. If the food is bitter, Marcus wrote, toss it out. If there are brambles in the path, go around. Don’t expect perfection. Be ready to be flexible and creative. Life demands it.
Resiliency — Do you want to count on good luck or be prepared for anything that happens? The Stoics had an attitude of “Let come what may” because they had cultivated inner-strength and resilience. Make sure you’ve done your training.
Kindness — Be hard on yourself, and understanding of others. See every person you meet, as Seneca tried to do, as an opportunity for kindness and compassion. Nothing can stop you from being virtuous, from being good. That’s on you.
Amor Fati — Don’t just accept what happens, love it. Because it’s for the best. Because you will make it for the best. A Stoic embraces everything with a smile. Every obstacle is fuel for their fire, to borrow Marcus’s metaphor.
Memento Mori — We’re strong but we’re not invincible. We were born mortal and nothing can change that. So let us, as Seneca said, “prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life.” Let us put nothing off, let us live each moment fully
What are your words to live by for 2018? Share in the comments!
When I visit Belgium, as I did for the holidays, I always go and see a exhibition, usually photography. This time it was the first retrospective in Belgium of French photographer Robert Doisneau. Born in 1912, he was one of the great 20th century photographers.
Known for his humour in his photography, Doisneau clearly loved his work. There is a playfulness and energy in his photos that shines through. His bio from the International Center of Photography says, in part: “During his long career, his poetic approach to street photography recorded French everyday life in often playful and surreal images. Always charmed by his subjects, he enjoyed finding amusing juxtapositions or oddities of human nature.”
This photo of two boys walking on their hands was one of my favourites. It is so full of life and joy. There are some fantastic galleries at Robert-Doisneau.com which are the next best thing to an exhibition!
Photo: Robert Doisneau
Did you see any great exhibitions or shows over the holidays? Share your recommendations in the comments!
A great yoga book can inspire and strengthen your practice. After comparing a number of “best of 2017” books articles I picked out four that appeared on multiple lists and have gotten great reader reviews across the board. Read on!
“This is hands down one of the must-have books for anyone making a deep move into the field of Yoga. This is a contemporary classic by a world-renowned teacher, and beautifully captures the essence of Yoga. It is not just a step to step guide to learn Yoga, but it helps you understand it in the true sense. It outlines a step-by-step sequence to develop a complete practice according to Viniyoga (the type of yoga which adapts to the needs of the Yogi).” for more read the full review here
“If you are looking for a completely definitive guide to Yoga and wish to understand the deeper philosophy behind it as well (and not just the postures), this bible of modern yoga book is just the right pick for you. It has vivid details of all the postures and various breathing exercises (along with complete illustrations) to give you a truly wonderful experience of learning Yoga.” for more read the full review here
“This book is the #1 Best Seller in its genre on Amazon for a reason. As the name suggests in a very interesting way, this book is indeed the Bible of Yoga, if one puts it that way. It is one of the most comprehensive illustrated step-by-step guides available out there on Yoga postured. It has more than 150 different yogic postures for the reader to master along with advice on when to alter postures and which postures to try. It has a little something for everybody, from beginners to experts.” for more read the full review here
“This is the inspirational story of someone who struggled to fit into the classic image of a yoga practitioner but was resilient and determined, so much so that she truly is inspiration in encouraging others to persevere and have a go. The book is part memoir about the author’s experiences and also celebrates some of her achievements, gives background information on the different types of yoga and equipment options but it is also a fun guide to basic yoga poses.
One of the best bits about the poses is that they aren’t demonstrated by the stereotypical skinny, flexible blonde but by all shapes and sizes of people. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, the photos motivating” for more read the full review here
Recommend your favourite yoga book in the comments!
Chances are, you’ve made some resolutions. New Year’s resolutions imply that we need to fix things; that our lives are there to be tidied and perfected.
I suggest before starting on resolutions, however worthwhile, we take the time to think about all the ways life is rich, fulfilling, rewarding and blessed.
Make a list of the amazing things that happened in 2017. Ask yourself
My 2017 held incredible moments, like the Yoga Holiday With Paul retreat and my trip to Bhutan. But highlights don’t have to be big adventures or foreign excursions. Some of my most cherished moments were the joy of seeing students grow in their practice, deepening my bonds with family and friends, simply cycling through London and taking in all this city has to offer.
Take the time to celebrate 2017 and please, share your happy moments in the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul!