Happy Halloween all! Here is this month’s round-up of the best of the blog, and beyond. Please share, download and enjoy this newsletter 🙂
Happy Halloween all! Here is this month’s round-up of the best of the blog, and beyond. Please share, download and enjoy this newsletter 🙂
To not worry, try living in the past. This might sound strange, but Oliver Burkeman, in a fascinating article on how to cope with anxiety, writes:
We tend to live, it has often been observed, in a constant state of anxious anticipation of the next potentially stressful event. But the usual Buddhism-tinged solution – to be “present in the moment” instead – is notoriously hard to put into practice. It’s easier to look back at previous forthcoming events, and ask if your anxiety proved justified. You could try the exercise I recently undertook, following Cain’s line of thinking, which I trust the Stoics would have endorsed: every morning, make a brief note of what feels like your biggest problem. As the list accumulates, you can start looking back at earlier entries. Guess how many months it took for my former worries to seem laughably overblown? Five days: that’s how many months. Most of what troubles us turns out to be tolerable, or even wonderful, or just never happens at all.
Worrying is easy. We worry about work, money, health, family, what’s going on in the world…. One of the main reasons a lot of people do yoga is to get away from the daily grind of fretting about this and that.
Yoga trains us to tackle worry, to be with our bodies, to stay in the moment. The problem is, we step out of the studio and it all comes rushing back. So much to do, so much to, well, worry about. Instead of getting overwhelmed, why not give Burkeman’s advice a spin and think about all the bad things that didn’t happen in the past. I’m willing to bet it will help put things in perspective and ease the stress!
As he writes:
Next time you worry that something’s going to ruin your life, it’s worth remembering that if you’d ever been right about that before, even once, your life would presently be ruined.
Can looking back can keep you in the present? Share your views in the comments!
Something special to start September: a beautiful rendition of om mani padme hum.
This is a very deep, sacred Buddhist mantra that was an important part of my Buddhist retreat in Bhutan. We would join and chant “om mani padme hum” to all beings.
You can read the Dalai Lama’s explanation of its meaning in this post. He says, in part:
The six syllables, OM MANI PADME HUM, mean that in dependence
on the practice which is in indivisible union of method and wisdom,
you can transform your impure body, speech and mind into the pure
body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.
Chant along or simply listen and let the profound meaning of the mantra infuse your mind and body.
Yoga involves a lot of stretching. So a lot of people think yoga is stretching. Organised stretching, occasionally accompanied by music, or chanting, but still stretching.
This raises the question: why buy a mat, special clothes, and spend time and money getting to a studio for yoga when you could just stretch?
As someone who came to yoga later in life, after a career in dancing, I have done all kinds of stretching and exercises regimes. The difference with yoga, is it is designed to stretched you body and mind. Remember, yoga means “unity”. Yogis practiced the physical postures in order to achieve deeper states of meditation.
Yoga was never just about being able to touch your toes, or do the splits, it was about challenging mind and body to be more open and flexible.
In the West yoga is not as deeply rooted in spirituality. Some styles or teachers focus more on the mind and spirit element; many treat it like an exercise class, so students are not aware of the history and spiritual element of yoga.
Teaching or doing yoga purely for the physical benefits is fine, but it only gives you a part of the whole picture. Yoga is a practice that includes mental, intellectual, spiritual, and physical elements.
When you go to a studio, or roll out your mat at home to do sun salutations, you’re not just stretching your physical body, you are creating space in your heart and mind. The more you do this, the greater the flexibility you’ll find towards all the challenges of life.
If that’s not worth devoting time to, I don’t know what is!
How does yoga stretch you? Share in the comments.
It is always a treat to visit Belgium. In addition to seeing family, yoga, and the lovely weather, I went to a Steve McCurry photography exhibition at the Exchange, the gorgeous old building that used to house the stock exchange in Brussels.
Steve McCurry is an American photographer and photojournalist who has been documenting the world in its rich complexity for more than 35 years.
The exhibition is called The World of Steve McCurry and featured more than 200 large-format photos. Even if you’ve never heard his name, you’ll recognise at least one of McCurry’s photos — the striking portrait of the Afghan girl that has become a cultural icon since it first appeared in National Geographic in 1984.
This portrait is a great example of what is so extraordinary about his work. McCurry steps into his subjects’ lives with a great deal of humility. He captures them as they are, going about daily life, or contemplating, or whatever the action may be.
There is so much beauty in the details of each photo, so much colour, light and texture. Some artists go looking for beauty. McCurry looks for life and captures the beauty that is already there. Visiting the exhibition put me in a meditative mindset. We really aren’t in control of our surroundings but if we’re willing to look at them closely, without judgement, we can encounter something precious.
If you get a chance, go see it! Or treat yourself to one of his stunning books.
Seen a great exhibition lately? Share in the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul
Self-care. Would you believe that in all the years of Yoga With Paul blog, I’ve never written a post with “self-care” in the title.
In a sense, the whole blog is about self-care, so you could say there is no need to spell it out. On the other hand, self-care is something we should be consciously embracing.
Why? Because otherwise self-care can turn from something positive into just another line on the to-do list. What I mean is, when we make a decision to take care of ourselves by going to yoga, eating clean, meditating, or taking time to do an activity we love, it enhances our well-being. We go to yoga with the intention of healing and energising our bodies. We eat choose wholesome food to build us up. And so forth.
If we forget about self-care, yoga becomes another task, eating right is just a duty, hobbies get shoved aside because we’re too busy or too tired.
In other words, intention is everything.
When we approach our life and practice with the intention of self-care we experience the world differently. By being aware and respectful of our own needs, we become more sensitive to the needs of people around us. We learn to slow down and not judge.
What’s your favourite self-care treat? Share in the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul
There is still plenty of time to fatten your holiday reading list, or pick up a brilliant book to whisk you away from your busy city routine. Here are a few wonderful volumes I’ve read recently and would recommend to anyone.
When Another Country appeared in 1962, it caused a literary sensation. James Baldwin’s masterly story of desire, hatred and violence opens with the unforgettable character of Rufus Scott, a scavenging Harlem jazz musician adrift in New York. Self-destructive, bad and brilliant, he draws us into a Bohemian underworld pulsing with heat, music and sex, where desperate and dangerous characters betray, love and test each other to the limit.
Noah is a little boy who knows things he shouldn’t and remembers things he should have forgotten. Because as well as being a four-year-old called Noah, he remembers being a nine-year-old called Tommy.
He remembers his house.
And now he wants to go home.
The heart of the Prajñaparamita Sutra is regarded as the essence of Buddhist teaching, offering subtle and profound teachings on non-duality and the letting go of all preconceived notions, opinions, and attachments, and so becoming open to all the wonders of our life.
The Heart Sutra is recited daily in Mahayana temples and practice centers throughout the world. Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation and commentary are the fruit of the author’s more than sixty years of monastic study and practice. He describes the sutra as “a precious gift to us, the gift of fearlessness.”
I was fortunate to meet His Emenence Gyalwa Dokhampa and be in his presence when he gave a talk to the group who went on the Bhutan retreat.
The restless mind is frightened of silence,
easily bored, and busy, busy, busy.
The restful mind is creative and alert, relaxed and confident.
The step from one to the other is all in the way we think.
His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa has a real understanding of the pressures of modern life and how our crowded minds have left us too little space to stretch and grow.
He shows us new ways to calm body and mind, become more aware, better able to deal with problems and appreciate the moment.
It is with our mind that we create our world. Here’s how to open it up and let the world in.
There are a lot of ways that yoga and meditative practice can help us be calmer and more relaxed in daily life. As we dedicate ourselves to turning up at the studio and giving our best effort, in the moment, we learn to work with the ebb and flow of our bodies and emotions. As we experience these benefits though, we can get a little bit greedy.
It is easy to start thinking that if we do yoga, and/or meditate regularly, we should feel happy and content all the time. And that if we still experience frustration, annoyance or sadness something is “not working”. This can subtly shift into either blaming our practice for not making us feel better, or blaming ourselves for not doing it right. We feel cheated or discouraged, or like failures.
The antidote is not to give up on the practice, or to give up on feeling happy. Yoga teaches us to go beyond binary yes/no, black/white, good/bad ways of thinking. What we can do, if we get caught in this cycle of expectation, is step back and cultivate a sense of humour.
Humour? How does that work?
Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield puts it like this:
There’s a certain sense of humor that is absolutely necessary for our human condition. When we have that sense of humor, things become workable. It’s the part that we put on top of our ordinary human experience—and we all put something on top of it when we started our spiritual search—that creates the problem. You then not only have your own suffering, you have all these ideals and images that you hold up for yourself. That puts a layer of spiritual suffering on top of the basic suffering.
Instead of adding a layer of worry to our existing frustration or depression, we can choose to look at our situation differently. Short of actual tragedy, most of the stuff we worry about is pretty absurd in the scheme of things. Late for a meeting? Shop sold out of the item you wanted? Partner forgot to put out the rubbish? Instead of getting upset, appreciate how mundane and funny life’s potholes can be. Take a deep breath. Put things in context. Look for the lightness in the situation.
Cultivate a sense of humour in the studio, too. When you find a posture difficult, or your hamstrings feel like they’ll never move again, or the person next to you topples onto your mat, relax instead of tensing up. Smile. Breathe. Be happy in the moment.
How do you cultivate a sense of humour in your life? Share in the comments.
One of the many joyous aspects of the annual Yoga Holiday With Paul retreat is the chance to spend time talking and relaxing outside of the studio. It got me thinking about yoga for communication, and how our practice can have a positive impact on how we communicate.
Communication involves two aspects: speaking and listening. Here are four ways yoga can help us communicate better.
Breath: Yoga begins with pranayama — the breath. When we mindfully breathe we are infusing the organs of our body that make speech. Filling our lungs creates more physical space. Oxygen refreshing the blood clears out waste. We revitalise our body and prepare it to speak with confidence and energy.
Meditation: Skillful communication means knowing what to say, and what not to say. We have to think about not just the words, but their significance to the other person, our tone, our energy when we speak. Meditation helps us cultivate positive speaking by making us aware of our own mind and habits. It alerts us when we are tense, upset or confused. Meditation allows us to slow down and sift through the noise in our head to reach the essence of what we want to say.
Asana: Yoga class is a daily opportunity to practice listening. Instead of just turning up and going through the motions, concentrate on the teacher’s instructions. Give your complete focus in order to let your postures flow naturally. As you learn this technique in class you will find it easier to concentrate on what people are saying in conversation, without assumption or distraction.
Body: Being a good listener begins with listening to our bodies. In the daily rush we often ignore hunger, aches, tiredness, or other physical clues to our emotions. In the same way, we enter conversations but ignore non-verbal cues from the person we are talking to. Yoga is a constant exercise in paying attention to our body, its movements, its well-being, its flexibility. We can directly translate those skills to how we interact with other people by being aware and considerate of their physical presence.
Share your communication tips or questions in the comments!
Three weeks until Yoga Holiday with Paul 2017. From 23-30 June we’ll be enjoying a week of uplifting yoga, meditation, music and sunshine in the beautiful Algarve.
That means you have three weeks to prepare to get the most out of your yoga holiday experience. Why is this important? Because our minds and bodies need time to absorb the benefits of our practice.
If you work flat out till the night before you leave, you will arrive stressed, tired, and anxious. This means you will spend the first day or two of your yoga holiday just getting your mind and body back to normal. While it is wonderful to have the opportunity to balance, it means you won’t see as much progress or healing during the retreat.
On the other hand, if you start preparing now you will arrive with your mind and body calm and receptive. You will immediately begin absorbing the benefits of the yoga classes, meditation and clean eating.
Here are 3 prep steps to help you get the most out of Yoga Holiday with Paul.
Making time to meditate when you’re rushing around trying to get everything done before your holiday might seem impossible, but you don’t have to spend half an hour a day in lotus position to get the benefits. Set aside five minutes in the morning or evening (or both, if you can manage) to sit quietly and breath. You don’t have to adopt a particular place or posture, just be still where you are. This will help your mind and body relax, and get you used to switching off from external stress.
Stay grounded by doing a self-practice of sun salutations in the morning. Read the blog post here.
What you eat profoundly affects your body. Eating clean for the three weeks before your holiday will ensure you arrive with a clear head and healthy body. Focus on eating lots of whole foods, especially seasonal fruits and vegetables. Scroll through the Yoga With Paul recipe archive for delicious inspiration for smoothies, soups, salads and more!
Share your yoga holiday prep tips in the comments!