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Archive for the ‘Inspirations and Musings’ Category

from Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac

Monday, December 30th, 2013

It costs a lot to become a great man. The works of genius are watered with its tears. Talent is a living organism whose infancy, like that of all creatures, is liable to malady. Society rejects defective talent as Nature sweeps away weak or misshapen creatures. Whoever wishes to rise above the common level must be prepared for a great struggle and recoil before no obstacle. A great writer is just simply a martyr whom the stake cannot kill…If at heart you have not the willpower and the seraphic patience needed; if, while the caprice of destiny keeps you still far from your goal, you do not continue on your path towards the infinite, as a tortoise in any country follows the path leading it back to its beloved ocean, give up this very day.

Hello, Vata

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

As I sit in meditation these days, I am struck by the feeling of the wind and the cold as it passes outside my window. This is vata season, a time when we can feel ungrounded, destabilized, and scattered. Carole Pearson, one of my students currently doing the 300 hr. ISHTA yoga training, who is also an ayurvedic practitioner, shared with our group a wonderful explanation of what vata is, how it can affect you, and what you can do to balance it out. Carole has been kind enough to let me pass this information on to you.

AUTUMN HEALTH by Carole Pearson

Autumn is seen as the time of year when vata, the dosha which regulates the nervous system, is easily aggravated and can lead to stress. As autumn approaches, with the change of season we can sometimes feel a change in our mental health. The children are back at school the nights begin to draw in, the clocks go back, and the cooler, sometimes, erratic climate can all affect our health, particularly our stress levels. By following some simple lifestyle recommendations and taking some natural treatments we can help to manage our health through this transitional time.

The autumn season is a time when the Air element is predominant. It brings with it more lightness, dryness and coolness. It is a time when ‘the winds of change’ can blow more erratically. In nature, these qualities have a tendency to aggravate vata which is the dosha that is primarily associated with our nervous systems. It also regulates moisture levels in our bodies and is responsible for how relaxed we feel and how well we digest our food.

Hence this time of year is naturally a time for balancing vata and reducing any symptoms of wind, dryness and erratic behaviour. We can do this by implementing some of the suggestions listed below:-

- Massage yourself with warm sesame oil to offset the seasonal tendency to dryness, joint cracking and stiff muscle pain. Wash off in a warm shower. Apply a drop of oil in your nostrils and ears to offset the effects of the element.
- Apply grounding essential oil on the eyebrow centre and throat.
- Have a regular full body massage using ayurvedic massage oils specifically for vata. (Try Pukka Relax Vata oil.)
- Make sure your autumnal diet consists of warm cooked foods that are mildly spiced, sour and salty. These flavours are nourishing and grounding. They also increase moisture.
- Start your day with a bowl of porridge of oats, rice or quinoa, flavoured with maple syrup and cinnamon.
- A daily teaspoon of organic Chywanaprash in the morning will help keep your energy and immunity intact. It is a good remedy for reducing vata and maintaining your inner strength.
- Avoid raw vegetables, a lot of salad, cold drinks, ice, beans, fermented foods and yeast as they cause gas and may upset your digestion.
- Before going to bed try making yourself a cup of organic milk simmered with a pinch of nutmeg and cardamom (you can add a little honey if you wish) and settle in for a good night’s sleep.
- If you find you are waking during the night, oil your feet with sesame oil and put on some cotton socks before going to bed.

AUTO ABHYANGA

Abhyanga is applying oil to the body. Often medicated and usually warm, the oil is applied to the entire body before bathing or showering. For thousands of years people have used abhyanga to maintain health, improve sleep patterns and increase longevity. It has also been used as a medicine for certain disorders. Abhyanga can be incorporated into a routine appropriate for almost anyone.

The Sanskrit word sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love”. It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. Sneha is subtle; this allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.

Benefits of Abhyanga (applying oil to the body)
- Produces softness, strength and colour to the body.
- Decreases the effects of aging.
- Bestows good vision
- Nourishes the body
- Increases longevity
- Benefits sleep patterns
- Strengthens the body’s tolerance
- Imparts a firmness to the limbs
- Imparts tone and vigour to the tissues of the body
- Stimulates the internal organs of the body, including circulation
- Pacifies Vata and Pitta and harmonises Kapha

Benefits of applying oil to the scalp.
- Makes hair grow luxuriantly, thick, soft and glossy
- Soothes and invigorates the sense organs
- Removes facial wrinkles

Benefits of applying oil to the ears
- Benefits disorders in the ear which are due to increased vata
- Benefits stiff neck
- Benefits stiffness in the jaw

Benefits of applying oil to the feet
- Coarseness, stiffness, roughness, fatigue and numbness of the feet are alleviated.
- Strength and firmness of the feet is attained
- Vision is enhanced
- Vata is pacified
- Sciatica is benefited
- Local veins and ligaments are benefited.

Vata pacifying Abhyanga
The primary qualities of vata are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile. Most of these qualities are opposite to those of oil. This is why warm oil is especially good for pacifying vata. If your vata is high, either in your Prakriti or Vikriti, doing abhyanga daily can be highly beneficial even life changing. For pacifying vata use organic cold pressed sesame oil.

Abhyanga routine
The actual amount of oil you use will depend on you as an individual.

- Place the oil in a bottle or small dish and stand it in hot water until pleasantly warm.
- Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room, on a towel. Make sure you are protected from any drafts.
- Apply the oil to your whole body, beginning with circular movements around the navel. Then apply oil with long strokes from your feet right up your legs towards the navel. Then up the arms to the shoulders. From here work down the front of the chest to the navel, then down the back of the body from the back of the shoulders to the navel and then apply on the lower back around to the navel. Finish with circular movements again around the navel.
- Optional extra – apply oil to the crown of the head and work slowly out from there in circular strokes. Oil applied to the head should be warm not hot.
- Put a couple of drops of oil on your little finger (or cotton bud) and apply in the opening of the ear canal. (If there is any current or chronic discomfort in the ears, don’t do this without the recommendation of your health care practitioner). A little oil can also be placed inside the nostrils – this is very beneficial if you suffer from airborne allergies and is also very good prior to pranayama practice.
- Leave the oil on for about 20 mins and then have a hot shower or bath. This will push the oil deeper into the tissues.
- When you get out of the shower, towel dry. Keep a special towel for drying off because it can eventually get ruined due to accumulation of oil.

If you do not have time for a full body abhyanga just apply oil to your feet and legs in the same way. This can be done in the evening prior to going to bed. The oil can be left on and you can wear socks in bed to protect the sheets. This is especially good for insomnia.

“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”. Charaka Samhita Vol. 1. V: 88-89

Carole Pearson can be reached via email at carolepearson@fsmail.net

The Season to Come

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

“The only way to inspire others is to be inspired yourself.”

This quote, from the ISHTA Yoga 200-hour Training Manual, has been my personal theme this summer. Through travels to NYC, Calgary, the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver, Stockholm, and the coast of Denmark, I have been able find new personal inspiration and refill my well, and I am very excited to get back to teaching in London in the fall.

These travels have given me pause to consider the role of the teacher, and also the role of the student. Returning to NYC to visit my teacher, Alan, I went back to my spiritual home and the headquarters of ISHTA Yoga. In ISHTA, we follow closely Sutra II. 44 (svadhyayad ista devata samprayogah), emphasising the importance of self-study as the way of determining one’s individualised path to Enlightenment. Yet no matter how much you study and know yourself, there is nothing like having a guru to help lead you from darkness to light.

And just as I have been able to connect with myself on a deeper level through my teacher, I have also had the good fortune to learn from wise and insightful students. My time in Sweden teaching the ISHTA 200-hour training has been transformative, showing me so much about myself, and about the kind of life that I want to create around work and family (answer: Do less; “be” more). This is my seventh training in Stockholm, but this one felt different because I allowed myself time and space around my teaching to do my daily practice, connect with my Swedish friends and students, and enjoy roaming around the city. I was able to balance days of teaching with leisurely trips to the Fotografiska museum, the Moderna Museet—and rather too much food and retail therapy.

I am so thankful to have the amazing practice of yoga in my life and look forward to sharing more of the ISHTA teachings that continue to inspire me.

For the coming 2013-14 season, ISHTA is offering several options for deepening your practice:

ISHTA 200-hour and 300-hour Teacher Trainings at evolve in SW7
ISHTA Thursday morning workshop series at the Commander in W2
ISHTA weekly drop-in classes on Mondays at 1 p.m. at the Life Centre in W8

There is also an unmissable opportunity to study for a second year with the founder of ISHTA, Alan Finger, and his wife, Sarah Platt-Finger, who will be hosting and leading a teacher Training Intensive for students and teachers at the Cecil Sharp centre (through Yoga Campus).

Facing January

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Janus is the two-faced god of beginnings and transitions, in whose honour the ancient Romans named the month of January. On coins and sculptures, the faces of Janus point in opposite directions, west and east, suggesting the past and the future. As we enter January, we also look back before looking forward, tallying up our achievements of the past year. How likely is it that we are happy with our efforts? Perhaps we did not complete what we set out to achieve, or, if we did, we do not consider it a success. It is all too easy to enter the New Year dragging the chains of the previous year’s failings behind us, weighing us down with a sense of time squandered. We live in a world where achievement is praised above all else, where a person is judged as much by what she does, how much she is worth, and what her prospects are, as by her character. And it is hardly surprising. This is a technology- and money-driven culture in which everything is quantified, catalogued, and graded. How far are we from a star rating being applied to real people? Probably not as far as we’d like to think. Consider Facebook, which has made a religion out of collecting and cataloguing “friends.” Everything is on show to the entire world, if it cares to look, including our private lives. So we must impress people with our skills, our achievements, our tastes. It is hardly surprising that simply living one’s life is no longer fashionable. The checklist is our personal monitor, and we must always be checking off something. Done, done, and done! On to the next thing. But is it not enough to have lived and loved? To have given and received? To have been gracious and courteous, kind to other people (not forgetting to ourselves)? To have been honest in our dealings, loyal in our affections? To have inspected our actions and found them worthy? Perhaps these questions are irrelevant to the modern mind; they ask too much of us—or perhaps too little. What is clear is that we want to be judged on our achievements, not our behaviour, and that suits us fine because it avoids the need for too much introspection. But we are not just a checklist of experiences, achievements, qualifications, and “friends,” are we? I hope not. In one of his essays, the great French writer, Michel de Montaigne, wrote: “To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquillity in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately.” When we look back on the past year, let us look closely not only at our achievements, but at ourselves.

A Letter to the Most Illustrious the Contessina Allagia Dela Aldobrandeschi, Written Christmas Eve Anno Domini 1513 Fra Giovanni Giocondo (c.1435–1515)

Friday, December 14th, 2012

There is nothing I can give you which you have not got; but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No Heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it to-day. Take Heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see; and to see, we have only to look.

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love, by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the Angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty: believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Our joys, too: be not content with them as joys, they too conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and of purpose, so full of beauty—beneath its covering—that you will find that earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage, then to claim it: that is all! But courage you have; and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you; not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem, and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

Leopards in the Temple

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

There is a street in my neighbourhood too narrow to accommodate a pair of red London buses trying to pass each other in opposite directions, but that does not stop some drivers from trying to do so; the resulting congestion can take a considerable time to disentangle itself. I have been wondering why the local council doesn’t alter one of the routes, or permit residents’ parking on one side only during the daytime. They must have their reasons, I suppose.

This recurring event calls to mind Dr. Freud’s concept of Repetition Compulsion, in which a person is obliged to reconstruct a traumatic event, or to mimic the circumstances of such an event, time and again. The interesting question, to me, is whether a person repeats such an exercise in the hope of changing the outcome, or whether the attraction of the repetition is that the outcome is always the same.

Let us apply this example with the buses to a more personal matter. Have you ever found yourself displaying the same counterproductive, if not downright destructive, behavior, repeatedly? (If you have, then join the club.) There are, I have concluded, three stages to such a cycle: 1) you are doing it without knowing it, 2) you know that you are doing it and want to stop, 3) you find a way to stop—or you continue to do it, knowing that it is bad for you, but deriving some obscure satisfaction or comfort from it.

How tortuously we think. How inscrutable are our motives. When does counterproductive behaviour mutate from an irritating, infrequent interruption to a deep-rooted, compulsive habit? Is there a point at which we can stop it, but fail to, and then must live with it forever?

Or should we be looking at such behaviour in an entirely new way? Consider this remarkable aphorism by that most enigmatic of writers, Franz Kafka:

Leopards in the Temple
Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and becomes a part of the ceremony.

If you read Kafka’s aphorisms, you discover a writer with truly astonishing, mind-bending insights, but also someone who clearly struggled with his own self-destructiveness, and tried to control it, or use it, by writing about it in metaphorical and abstract ways. The “Leopards in the Temple” is a fascinating insight into the rationalization of destructive behaviour.

If the leopards are the traumatic event that continues to return to Kafka and needs some sort of release or expression, then what he is saying, perhaps, is that instead of trying to “kill” the leopards, tame them, or otherwise render them harmless, he prefers to accommodate their mayhem and live alongside them, incorporating them into his writing (the “ceremony”). That is why, I think, the story takes place in a temple, and Kafka, presumably, is the priest, the holy man—the writer.

Kafka did not want to lose the shock—the inspiration—of allowing these beasts into his “temple” (the mind). It was integral to his creativity. If he had somehow subdued the leopards, he would not have been able to create in the way he wanted.

In our culture, self-destructive tendencies are something to be dismissed, eradicated. They are bad for us, so the orthodoxy goes. But the truth is that, for highly creative people, self-destructive tendencies are most often part of the package deal of brilliance. They come, as the saying goes, with the territory. For a genius like Kafka, accommodating his self-destructive tendencies was a very necessary part of the creative process.

People tend to think of genius as an unconditional gift, like winning the lottery, but both come with strings attached. Consider the recent, memorable example of Steve Jobs, the Apple maestro, a man whose personal life was a maelstrom of emotion, and whose management style was, to say the least, unconventional.

So my final question, to myself, and anyone else out there who struggles with so-called self-destructive impulses, is this:

What if those impulses are leading us towards something positive and transformative (instead of towards self-inflicted doom)? Like the leopards in Kafka’s temple, can we use repetition compulsion as a basis to guide us towards a creative, constructive outcome? Instead of fighting our leopards, should we be using their energy and power (and sleekness), and building a system around them, taking advantage of their singular entrance into our lives? It appears that this is what creative artists do.

Who is stronger, happier—or safer: the person who fights her self-destructive habits, conquers them, and becomes another kind of person in so doing, or the person who accepts the elements of self-destructiveness in her life and uses them, like the leopards in Kafka’s temple, to make her life more interesting, more creative, and, following Kafka’s example, more like the life she needs to lead?

Let us give thanks

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

The Thanksgivings
by Harriet Maxwell Converse

Translated from a traditional Iroquois prayer
We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.
We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.
We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products to live on.
We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs for our lands.
We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.
We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming from them for us all.
We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows for our shelter.
We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder and lightning that water the earth.
We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun that works for our good.
We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.
We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank all its trees.
We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.
We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs, the stars.
We give Him thanks for our supporters, who had charge of our harvests.
We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard through the words of Ga-ne-o-di-o.
We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant occasion.
We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit’s music, and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.
We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies on this occasion.

The World of Transformation: September Song

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

…The world of transformation
is real and not real but trusting.
Joanne Kyger, “September”

Every month of the year gives us the opportunity for transformation, but September, summer’s bridge to the autumn, is, to me, the most auspicious. The start of the academic year, a new season of culture, summer’s last fling, and the first leaves falling. Delirious anticipation! There is a curious frisson I always feel at this time of year, which tells me that change is afoot. If change is afoot, then it must imply a foot forward—and if a foot, then why not a mile, why not a revolutionary, evolutionary journey of the self? A complete transformation. How do we bring this about? By doing something positive every day. As the writer Trollope had it, “A small, daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” (Take it from Trollope—he managed to write 47 novels.) Our daily task, then, is to transform ourselves, inside and out. To become the person we were always meant to be. It will not happen in a day, because transformation is a gradual prospect, like the view from the top of a hill. First you must climb the hill, and just when you are beginning to think you will never arrive at the top, you do. What you can see is now transformed. And so are you.

If you are not currently studying yoga, might I make a suggestion? Start now! This very month, the auspicious month of September. If you live in Central London, you could join one of our new ISHTA classes at the Life Centre in Kensington on Mondays and Saturdays, at the Commander in Notting Hill on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or at evolve in South Kensington on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you would like more personal guidance, please contact me for private lessons. ISHTA Yoga is the science of self-transformation. Why not start today?

“The world of transformation is real and not real but trusting.” So the poet says. Trust in the power and possibility of self-transformation, which is to say, trust in yourself.

Imaginary Gardens

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

“…imaginary gardens with real toads in them…”

Marianne Moore, “Poetry”

In the heat and humidity that have recently gripped half the world, even the idea of a garden is a sort of relief, especially if you do not have a real one of your own to enjoy. Let the mind roam where the feet may not. A Japanese Zen garden, solitary and self-contained, with perfectly raked sand and smooth rocks, warm (but not hot) to the touch; a Chinese garden, perhaps, with a pavilion overlooking a rippling lake, a heron standing on one leg in the water, and yonder a thicket of long, leafy bamboo lightly swaying in the wind; or the epitome of an English garden by Capability Brown, with its undulating grassland, extravagant folly, and half-hidden Ha-Ha. But as Hannah in Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play, Arcadia, says: “English landscape was invented by gardeners imitating foreign painters who were evoking classical authors.” The harmonious result of Brown’s excavations and manipulations was very much not what Nature intended, but in that turning point towards modern gardening (and towards modern art itself), we have the throwing off of classical tradition in favour of the modernist idea of taking the old, disassembling it, and remaking it into the new. Brown’s synthesis of influences and imitation is not such a long way from Cubism, which combined African art, photography, and the fragmenting effect of modern life (the clash of industry and psychology).

Marianne Moore, whose poem is quoted from above, never had a garden. A poet of some genius whose star has long since declined (her style too cerebral, too formal, and perhaps too moral), she lived in a little apartment on 12th Street in Manhattan (I used to pass the plaque almost every day when I lived nearby), and wrote her verses in virtual isolation, with few friends, and no spouse. She lived frugally, ate sparingly, died quietly. But when Manhattan sweltered in the midsummer heat, she sat down at her desk and wrote. Her poem, “Poetry,” is a heartfelt plea for verse that is genuine, imaginative, and true. A prescription for a good life, just as much.

If I cannot walk in the leafy shade of my own garden in this sultry summer atmosphere, I will be content to wander in my imaginary garden, honour the real toads in it, and take the rough with the smooth, the high with the low, and the hope with the doubt.

I wish you poetry (and a garden) the summer long.

The Yoga Teacher and the Musician

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

I went to hear a lunchtime concert at Wigmore Hall featuring the pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and works by Debussy and Liszt; the selections were exquisitely played, but it was the histrionic thunder of Liszt’s Grosses Konzertsolo that took my breath away. This piece requires enormous technical skill, and Bavouzet gave a performance of controlled mastery, scarcely betraying the intense effort that such music demands from its performer. The composer Franz Liszt is regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time, but he lived before the advent of recording equipment and we can only know him from contemporary writings. Apparently, when he played before an audience, he delighted in exaggerated gestures and passionate displays. Bavouzet, on the other hand, was content to let the music be the centre of attraction, but his technique seemed all the more impressive for his discretion.

As I watched, I began to think about the similarities between a musician and a yoga teacher. Although I consider teaching yoga an art, it is not “creative” in the sense of making something from nothing, like a painter or writer. A yoga teacher is more like a professional musician or actor: we work in front of an audience; we interpret and perform texts (a musician has a score, an actor a script, a yoga teacher the asana sequences and teachings), and the wilder flights of our id are kept in check by the need to stick to what has been written down before. Nonetheless, there are as many varied interpretations of music, drama, and yoga, as there are professionals who are successful in any one of these fields. The most prominent of today’s yoga teachers all have very different styles of presentation, even though they are teaching, essentially, the same thing. One is very physical, another more cerebral, a third emphasizes the flow, etc.  Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the great yogic teachings are open to infinite interpretation because of their depth, universality, and genius.

My own guru and mentor, Yoga Master Alan Finger, has his own inimitable style that combines profound knowledge with decades of experience, and a way of teaching that is both droll and magisterial. Can I claim to have found my own unique style of teaching yet? I’m working on it. With every class I teach, with every training I lead, I feel I am getting closer. The goal is technical mastery welded and wedded to personal interpretation in the service of yoga. That is my creativity and my freedom.

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