Connecting. Creating. Directing.

I’ve not been able to write here for a while. Simply because there has been so much happening in my life that work, teaching and other writing commitments have gotten in the way.
Also because I’ve not really had the clarity to write anything I feel is in alignment with the theme of this blog…until now.

I recently posted a badly-recorded cover of ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries, translated into Gaeilge (the Irish language), and uploaded as a way to pay tribute to an inspirational female Irish artist who died this week, Dolores O’Riordan.
Also this week, I gave my first private yoga and meditation classes, alongside my regular public classes and retreat coordination in the stunning bamboo yoga shala in Sanur, Bali, that I now call my ‘office’.  Any spare time I have is spent also practicing yoga, meditating, writing – anything from poetry to short stories to songs to whatever random thought pops into my head at the time – listening to Blindboy’s amazingly insightful podcast, learning Bahasa, planning classes, and reading….and overall really just tapping in to this overwhelming sense of connection and flow I’ve managed to access since being here.

Connecting vs Creating

CREATING. I’ve realised it’s all really just about connecting things. Having the awareness to connect certain aspects of life to another. Whether it’s the resemblance an old tree stump holds with the face of a vaguely familiar famous sportsperson, or something a bit deeper – it doesn’t matter. Formulating these connections into words, thoughts, artistic expression, photographs, drawings….however you do it. Whatever way occurs to you and presents itself in that moment. It’s all creating. Drawing something new from what your reality already presents you with. No matter how small it might seem.
What I feel that people find in following famous and inspirational artists such as O’Riordan is the feeling of connection they get on hearing the artist’s interpretation of things. After all, we live in the same world, have experienced and heard about the same events such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland to which ‘Zombie” refers. But it’s in hearing someone else’s well-crafted interpretation and connection of various elements of these occurrences that a way for us to feel connected to something a little bit bigger is presented to us, and ironically also allows us to see that deep down underneath it all, be it artist or soldier or victim or onlooker – we are all the same.

The important part is to GRASP this connection when it happens. When a thought occurs, a situation presents itself, an idea forms or inspiration suddenly hits – the necessity of acknowledging it for what it is is key to being able to solidify it into something tangible. Yoga and meditation have helped me to cultivate and expand on this awareness, just meaning that it happens a little more often now than it did before.

‘Trust the Process”

A huge aspect of this acknowledgment is self-belief. If we believe ourselves capable, trust in our own creative instincts and push forward with the vague idea that what we’re connecting is something of worth – even if you’ve no set plan for it whatsoever – then you will see beautiful things happen. Yoga has also helped me see that the end goal or product is not the point. The point is the process.

The creative process. The buzz I get from making these connections – in the form of jigsawing words together to express thoughts or feelings or ideas, or jigsawing notes into chords to fit those words and a tune to vocalise them musically – THAT’S the point of it. Not the response something gets. Not how many views, or likes, or clicks, nods of the head or generated web traffic.
Yes, it’s nice to teach a full studio of yogis there to take your class, or sing to a full room of people who want to hear you, or write for an audience I know will be larger than just my own mother (hi, Mum!). But sometimes that’s just not the case, and the creativity comes, regardless.
What happens then?

Directing Energy

I used to let this excess of ideas and creative energy flow into negative places. I used to let it fuel the opposite beliefs of the ones where I send it now. What I’ve realised from becoming proficient enough with yoga and meditation to call myself a ‘yogi’ (for want of a better word) and cultivating this awareness is that if I’m honest, it TERRIFIES me how powerful our thoughts are.  How capable we are of creating whatever reality we send energy towards. It scares me because there are as many negative outlets for my energy as there are positive ones, and it’s a constant battle to remain on top of it and ensure it doesn’t stray down old pathways and habits again.

If there’s one thing I’d advise anyone who is struggling to master negative cycles of thoughts or habits, it would simply be first to find a creative outlet.

Write things down. Scribble a shitty picture of what the inside of your head looks like. Sing a poorly formulated song about your commute or take some half-arsed pictures of your kitchen floor. There are connections to be drawn from even the most banal-seeming aspects of your life, and the truth of the matter is that human beings thrive on connection, in whatever form that takes – be it creatively, socially, or otherwise.
Thriving means to be connected to these areas, to be aware of them, and to use both positive and negative sensations or emotions or experiences to propel you forwards. To go the only way that it’s possible for us to go.
The only ‘you’ that exists is the ‘you’ that is reading this right now. There is no ‘used to be’, or ‘aiming to be’. Use what you have right now, to create something and gradually to draw some contentment into the present moment as you live it.

After all, it’s all we’re ever going to have!

Aforementioned cover is here

Exploring Our Potential To Take Action

Exploring our Potential to Take Action

 – Young activists growing up in Bali are proving that age should not and does not limit our potential to take action – in fact, it should work as an incentive to achieve and maintain change for a better future.

 

It’s been scientifically proven that we humans use only 10-20% of our potential brain capacity on a daily basis. That’s 10-20% spent thinking about and processing daily events, chores, activities, interactions and relationships, analysing, solving problems, and dealing with whatever life throws at us. I think it’s safe to say that we manage all of that pretty well, considering such a low percentage of our potential energy barely gets used in the process, don’t you?

Imagine what that other 80-90% could do. Imagine where we could go as human beings, as intelligent creatures with the ability to take action, to change, do, build, move and create.
Potential. Initiative.
That’s what these kids are using. Exploring their potential within the world to make a difference and change things they noticed were not quite right. Intelligent businesses with solutions that not only aim to fix problems, but spread awareness of them too.

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Dali & Finn Schoenfolder, co-founders of NALU (pic: www.B1G1.com)

The instigators of Bye Bye Plastic Bags, Nalu, and Kids Cut Conflict Palm Oil, all below the ripe old age of 16, are taking action as children to create a better future for themselves and their fellow young people. They’ve chosen to take action and change the way things are unfolding, environmentally, socially, and educationally. What has inspired them to do so? How have they achieved such levels of success?

 

Teamwork, Support, and Clear Goals

Dali Schonfelder, co-founder of Nalu, described the importance of teamwork and firm foundations in order to take action, asserting that “the team you build around you is so important”. Together with her younger brother Finn and consistent support from their father, she has instigated and maintained clothing brand Nalu’s success, with a policy of ‘Get one give one” in order to provide school uniforms for under-privileged children in India. These are realisations, actions and words of wisdom that are inspiring to hear from someone at such a young age, and a drive to make a difference that surpasses many older business owners of her kind.

The young siblings’ recent 4-month trip in promotion of the brand has taken them already to India, New York, Amsterdam, and London. Nalu’s aim, to ‘break the poverty cycle through education’ has allowed them to access and experience societies beyond those of the normal day-to-day routine, providing valuable insights for themselves, their peers, and for the children they are helping into realising the value of accessing potential, and taking action in the face of adversity. The exciting thing about Nalu is that this is just the beginning. Since co-founding the company, Dali has begun to explore and utilise her passion for fashion to promote the brand further, even securing a meeting with Donna Karan (of DKNY) in New York a few months ago, to tell their story.

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Students in India wearing uniforms donated by Nalu (Pic: www.greenschools.org)

Passion, Patience, and Presentation

The importance of being passionate about the work you set out ahead of you is part of Dali’s motivation, knowing that a clear aim and drive to succeed is vital to achieving any kind of goal. She describes how “Nalu started off so slow. It grew really organically, which I feel is so important to this kind of business. You can’t force it.”

The significance of not forcing ideologies on people, rather presenting them with alternative and more effective methods of achieving things is crucial if we are to evolve the way we interact with our environment and fellow human beings. Having the patience and initiative to try these new methods and appreciate the gradual changes as they occur, instead of forcing or expecting immediate change. Many of the issues we face in today’s world stem from years and generations of negative ideologies, habits and practices, therefore it makes sense that a generation may need to pass before we see any pertinent changes. That is why these young people’s actions and success is so exciting.

Goodbye Plastic, Hello Action

In a similar story, Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Bye Bye Plastic Bags began a campaign 3 years ago to raise awareness about the worsening issue of pollution and plastic misuse in Bali. They set a goal to eliminate the use of all plastic bags on the island by 2018, and to date have achieved an astonishing success rate, given a TED talk at TED Global in London, travelled around the globe and enlisted the support of thousands in an online petition.

Humble Beginnings and Problem-Solving

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An idea that started out as a humble Facebook page gradually grew and garnered attention from their peers and older generations alike, the girls described how all of a sudden ‘there was no going back’ – Bye Bye Plastic Bags was happening.
When asked if the success of the organization has changed the way the girls approach problem-solving, their response was unanimous – ‘ Of course it has….we have learned a lot….nothing is impossible for us”. This self-belief and confidence is just one of the many attributes of successful businesses and campaigns – it’s an attribute that lessens the risk of failure for any action taken.
The foresight and clear goals of these young people is truly inspiring and would encourage people of any age hesitant to pursue their own ideals to do so. Regardless of age, these young Balinese activists have a clear perception of their place and purpose in the world – something many adults still struggle with today. Taking action at such a young age is an exciting and admirable trait which leaves us with a hopeful impression for the future. As Melati and Isabel have stated;  “
Kids are only 25% of the population, but we are 100% of the future”.

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Locals and visitors alike helping a Bye Bye Plastic Bags clean up on Bali’s beaches (pic: www.surftotal.com)

Using Resources Wisely

Kids Cut Conflict Palm Oil is yet another group of enthusiastic young activists living in Bali who have taken initiative to act upon an issue they felt passionately about. The pollution from farmers employed by palm oil companies illegally burning their waste has led to smog and a wealth of issues involving the destruction of rainforests and natural habitats. Another group of youngsters who have studied with initiatives such as Green School Bali, these kids have been provided with the tools necessary to explore their potential, to generate a desire to take action, and the ideas with which to do so in a modern way their fellow young people can resonate with.
Kids Cut Conflict Palm Oil uses online platforms to spread awareness of products which contain conflict palm oil, and encourages kids to share their findings with one another both online and in the community. Through their online campaigns they’ve successfully promoted awareness of the damage of using conflict palm oil not just amongst their peers, but also older generations.

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(pic: www.wildlifeasia.org.au)

Bali’s Young Active Community

It’s curious that these new ideologies and stories of children achieving goals many Western adults have only dreamed of all stem from the same tiny island in Indonesia. Bali’s notoriety has been afforded further credibility with each success story, all of these young activists currently attending school here and growing up surrounded by initiatives dedicated to the preservation of the environment and promotion of health, wellbeing, and more rounded, authentic lifestyles. It’s enough to make any of us Western blow-ins green with envy at having not been exposed to such valuable life lessons at such a young age. Most of us who are now aware of this potential have had to go in search of it.

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Typical classroom scene at Bali’s Green School near Ubud (pic: www.greenbyjohn.com)

Progressive Problem-Solving

Imagine what these young people will be doing in ten years time? Imagine the kids they will have and inspire to continue their work, investing time in ideas that start out small, and nurturing them to grow into something beautiful. This is how Bali has proven such a successful fertilizing ground for ventures such as these. We need people who are open to trying new things, exploring innovative ways of problem-solving to address issues that have been plaguing society for generations, and that will continue to shape our world and our future if we fail to address them. Taking action in today’s world is vital if we are to create a better future to live in, and it’s inspiring to see these children taking matters into their own hands, instead of waiting for someone else to solve the problems.

If these young activists have proven anything, it’s that age is but a number, and it’s never too late or too early to start taking action and making a difference.Image result for taking action

Claiming Authentic Power – How Yoga Helps Us To Harness the Power Within

Claiming Authentic Power – How Yoga Helps Us To Harness the Power Within

“To the degree that we do not fully claim our own power to transform, we are more likely to be possessed by this energy in it’s shadow form” – Carol S. Pearson

I have not resonated with a quote on such an intense level for quite a while.
I’m also a firm believer that each one of us has the power to direct and redirect our energy in order for it to manifest itself wherever we desire in our lives – whether we realise it or not.
If we think about our energy in terms of both a negative and a positive force, the positive stream functioning as a catalyst for growth and progression, and the negative as a hindering and damaging force, we can begin to see how the expansion and contraction of the channels down which this power flows results in certain manifestations of said energies. While this is constantly occurring on both a conscious and subconscious level, there are certain things which can help us harness the power necessary to direct the energy where we want it to go, instead of letting it flail around excitedly from brainwave to brainfart.
Yoga encourages the expansion of these channels (or nadis, in the yogic tradition) in the right direction, opening up and creating space for the positive to flourish, while attempting to block the negative.
And so in simple terms, yoga gives us the awareness to pursue, direct and encourage the good power to succeed over the bad. With me so far?

Negative Cycles

When I first started doing yoga consistently, I was, for want of a better phrase, ‘in a bad place in my life’. To keep the anecdotal personal sob-story short, I was living at home, had no job, no clear direction where I wanted my life to go, weighed a hollowing and bone-shatteringly cold 6 stone and lacked the energy and concentration necessary to complete even the most basic of tasks, let alone care about them. I would wake with spasms of fright and anxiety at 3am. I would get brief bouts of inspiration mixed with terrifying insight that my worsening situation needed to change…and then the difficulty of doing so would ultimately prove too extensive and straight away I’d be lost again to the numbing blanket of fuzzy and fatigued negative thoughts, so ingrained as they were in my mind that any feeble form of resistance against them was immediately silenced with disturbing ease and logic;
“You’re full of shit. It’s not worth it. Don’t bother.”
In short, things were dark.

Wasting Energy

The energy required to process all of these thoughts and worries at such a startling speed and damaging ferocity was ultimately leaving me both mentally and physically drained, not to mention the preoccupation with ensuring I adhered to strict ‘rules’ which I wasn’t permitted to break – just in case a sandwich or fleeting social interaction would spark off another ricocheting thought-firework and disable me from leaving the house for the rest of the day. I was, as the above quote describes, possessed by my own energy ‘in it’s shadow form’. It was being directed towards the wrong things, and to be honest it’s exhausting just writing about it.

No Alternative

When we’re deep in the grips of a negative cycle, be it a habit, a thought pattern, or simply a way of being or conducting ourselves that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to, it can seem like the most alien thing in the world to even consider existing any other way.
The power which is being permitted to flow full-force towards supporting the negative spirals is just too overwhelming to be redirected elsewhere. It takes extraordinary force of will and repetitive, conscious, and ongoing effort to haul our minds (and bodies) out of the downward-flow of this toxic power, a fact made lighter only by the knowledge that this force is contained within us at all times, its incessant nature meaning it simply can’t sit still and watch the world go by
– it has to go somewhere.

Getting to Know It

As an alternative to other forms of physical or mental exercise which may encourage thoughts and awareness away from this authentic energy which resides within each of us – literally doing what we Irish people have done for years and just not talking about it – yoga requires us to sit with this energy and examine it in all its beauty and terrifying power. We learn how to move with it, allowing it to channel through the positive streams and manifest itself in actions, talents, skills, character, originality, and most importantly; authenticity. Our yoga practice requires us to listen to our bodies and the energies which reside within. After a while we realise that most, if not all of our negative tendencies and habits result from a subconscious lapse or disregard for the direction of the positive energy, allowing the negative to swoop in and take over.
They say that everyone’s struggle is different. This means that every individual’s ‘flourishing’ will appear slightly different too. This is why it is so important to know ourselves.

Harnessing Power

Each and every one of us possess the power within us to manifest our ideas – to create, to bring to the world something new; a new view or perspective; a new manifestation of human energy which has been harnessed to reflect the intellect alongside which it resides. Learning how to harness it is much easier said than done however, and while some people naturally excel with the self-awareness and realization necessary to project it into the world, the vast majority of us just don’t.
It’s through practices such as yoga and meditation that I have been able to finally access some of that authentic potential, allowing for the transformation of my energy down a more fruitful and fulfilling path than the one which worries how many crackers I’ve eaten or about a passing remark made by a colleague two weeks ago. Brief and miniscule slices of this potential have managed to slip through over the years, manifesting as specific achievements or the success of artistic endeavours, but it was only when I began to consistently engage with yoga and meditation that I finally felt the sensation of actually having some sort of understanding of and power over my capacity to engage with it.

Imbalances

Misunderstanding or neglecting the force of our authentic power can so easily result in dangerous imbalances of energies, along with distorted visions and versions of ourselves; our intellect, our talent, our potential. It can so easily get lost. I feel one of the great tragedies of our time is simply wasted potential.

This has led me to conclude that by helping us to carefully observe our energy’s expenditure, origins, and direction, yoga can help us gain a dimension of insight into our own potential, allowing us to live and cultivate a more empowered life rather than shying away from it.
We all have this power, and are entitled to exercise and manifest it into the world.
We just need to learn how to use it.

The Samskaras in Yoga

(originally written for Zuna Yoga)

 

The Samskaras in Yoga

The relationship between the mind, energy, and actions has always been an area of particular interest for me, and to learn about it in the context of samskaras in yoga has proven a fascinating way to relate them to one another. As it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly how or why the practice of yoga is beneficial to us – ask any new yogi, it sometimes takes a while to figure out just why it makes us feel so good (and it’s different for everyone!) – the description of samskaras and our neurological tendencies in T.K.V. Desikachar’s ‘The Heart of Yoga’, succeeded in explaining a sensation which for so long I had failed to correctly define.

What are Samskaras?

The Sanskrit term refers to the conditioning of the mind to act or direct itself in a certain way on a regular basis. It also refers to those paths or patterns along which these thoughts or behaviours travel. It’s similar in concept to the neuroscientific model of how our thoughts and behaviours, whether positive or negative, become more deeply engrained in neural pathways in our brain with each repetition. The meaning of samskara is reflected in the very word itself, with “sam” meaning “well thought out” or “to accomplish” while “kara” means “the action undertaken.”

But how do Samskaras work?

We must first practice awareness and understanding of self. By understanding our individual habitual expenditure of energy, recognising our tendencies and bringing awareness to those behaviours that are undesired or against our greatest good, we can slowly and gradually learn to redirect our prana, our life force, to where it needs to go. This process is a lot easier said than done, however, and awareness is the first step towards achieving this balance.

Purusha and Energy Flow

Encouraging new behavioural patterns and discarding old ones enlists the use of purusha, the all-seeing force of energy within us; a higher consciousness which witnesses our actions from a distance and observes possibilities and potential directions without engaging. Purusha’s powers of observation are best when the mind is clear, and as such it’s vital that we obtain clarity before attempting to redirect or encourage samskaras along an alternate route. It’s through our practice of yoga that we cultivate and maintain the mental ability and clarity with which to do this.

Why Yoga?

Yoga and meditation aid with the reconditioning of the mind to continually and repeatedly redirect itself away from harmful patterns to which it has become accustomed. Yoga helps encourage the positive flow of energy away from any limiting or restrictive tendencies. This is why we find our practice to be so effective in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. It literally helps us create the space necessary to form pathways out of these negative cycles.

Our beliefs and lifestyles, even when we engage in them unconsciously—especially when we engage in them unconsciously!—can result in imbalances and undesired manifestations of our energy. We must remain attentive and aware as we determine which route we take. The goal is to consciously redirect our prana towards positive and fulfilling actions until it becomes habitual.
“Where the mind goes, energy follows”, and so when this is done continually and repetitively and with conviction, we call it a samskara. And that is when we avoid further suffering.

The 5 Pranas – Apana, Udana, and Prana

The 5 Pranas

-Apana, Udana, Prana

As discussed in the previous post on Samana and Vyana, the 5 Pranas or energies are an important aspect of both yogic science and ayurvedic medicine, which as a discipline also aims to achieve and maintain balance between said energies within the mind and body.
Having already come to understand Samana as an energetic movement stemming from the periphery of the body moving inwards and focused in the area of the naval, and Vyana as a circulatory movement to aid with the transportation of energy around the entire physical body, it follows that Apana, Udana, and Prana each travel along their own individual paths too.

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Elimination

Apana can be understood literally as ‘the air that moves away’, therefore signifying the downward and outward energetic pathway which it follows. Apana is associated with the elimination of toxins from the body, and is sometimes considered the definition of our pranic or energetic immune system. Again, this can be understood in terms of physical waste and stools, sweat, carbon dioxide and urine, but also in terms of negative sensory, emotional and mental experiences which prove unpleasant or unsuited to our composition. Centralised in the lower abdomen, Apana not only governs elimination, but also reproduction, providing an instinctual self-sufficiency and replenishing sense of continuity when functioning at the height of it’s potential.

Support

Udana on the other hand is an uplifting force of energy, literally translated as ‘upward moving air’, and is primarily associated with the progression, growth and transformation of the body and mind as they evolve continuously throughout our lives. Physically, Udana aids with balance, growth, and our ability to stand and carry out actions. It also governs speech and is said to stem from an area in the throat, supporting the head and organs associated with our mentality balanced upon the spine. This force of energy being continuously drawn upwards is easily blocked, resulting in stunted growth and stagnancy within our actions and thoughts. Yoga and Ayurveda are used as ways to reopen these pathways and aid the correct flow of Udana throughout the body, unblocking both mental and physical pathways and habits which have hindered our growth and expansion into the world.

Guidance

Prana in it’s own right serves as the energy of ‘forward moving air’, and although Samana constitutes inward moving energy from the external and its assimilation to the internal,  Prana as a whole deals with the reception of all sensory engagement and its propulsion around the body. Not only does it provide the energy which is necessary for all other pranas to function, but it guides them from its seat in the region of the third eye.

While all 5 Pranas on a physical level have many inherent effects on our body’s reactions and chemical processes, the “receptivity to mental sources of nourishment” (D. Frawley) that can be achieved by incorporating pranayama techniques successfully into one’s yoga practice is an invisible yet exceptional way to achieve and maintain a better mind/body balance and ensure the healthy functioning of the channels through which the pranas travel (nadis). These channels will be discussed  further in another post.

The 5 Pranas – Samana and Vyana

The 5 Pranas
1. Samana and Vyana

Having consumed and digested a certain amount of knowledge on the 5 pranas during my teacher training with Zuna Yoga and also from reading the likes of David Frawley’s ‘Yoga and Ayurveda’, I was inspired to delve deeper and discover more about the subtle differences which exist between them.
‘Prana’ is taken in its most basic form to mean ‘energy’, and we as humans use the five forms of this energy effectively as a means to connect with the universal experiences that are the physicality and consciousness of being. Frawley outlines how the one dominant force of prana within us divides into five separate types which can be categorized according to their movement and direction, and in this blog series we will delve into each pranas individual role and effects within the body in context to the whole.

Prana, Apana, Udana, Samana, and Vyana serve as a means to help us digest and assimilate with all elements of our environment. It’s interesting to consider these actions in terms of elements outside of food and water, something which I had never ever considered before I began to glean an understanding of the pranas.
Outside of the breath, oxygen or air, prana refers to the overall life force which sustains both mind and body and has the power to maintain equilibrium between them.  While food and sustenance are included in the ‘balancing air’ of Samana, which works predominantly in the gastrointestinal tract digesting food,  it also refers to other areas which deal with digestion – namely the digestion of oxygen through the lungs, and the digestion of experiences in the mind. Whether emotional, mental or physical, the correct and balanced functioning of this particular prana is vital to achieving and maintaining a balanced lifestyle.


Ingestion

Moving towards the midline of the body from the periphery inwards, one can imagine the digestive actions of Samana in terms of inhaling and exhaling, in terms of ingesting food, and also in terms of other sensory experiences – sight, sound, smell and touch. These actions all require the assimilation of an external sensation with the internal body as it currently exists, and as such the inward flowing direction of Samana means that it is the primary prana, or energy, required to do so.

Continuity

A similarly fascinating combination of movements and energy can be observed in Vyana, which aids in circulation and continuation of energy throughout the body. Having established that movement is key to living and maintaining a steady balance, it follows that one of the main pranas must deal with this continuity of motion throughout the body – be it food and water moving through the digestive process, oxygen moving through the lungs, or thoughts and emotions through the mind. This is Vyana’s role.

Cogs and Wheels

The subtle differences between these two pranic energies (Samana and Vyana) is important to be aware of when attempting to understand the power of prana, the combined functioning of which must be broken down to ensure achievement of optimum expression and balance within the body. When Samana’s role ceases after the ingestion of sensory experience, Vyana kickstarts the movement of this externally sourced energy around the internal body. In a way it’s kind of like the cogs in a machine coming into action as their individual role becomes necessary to ensure correct functioning of the whole task. Similarly, for just one of these cogs to be even slightly off or imbalanced in its alignment, the machine does not function to the best of it’s capability.

Having experienced in the past what I have now come to understand as severe imbalances of these energies, manifesting itself within my tiny and self-absorbed world at the time as varying degrees of depression and anxiety, it follows that my fascination with this particular aspect of yoga and energy consumption is ongoing and ever-expanding.

The other 3 prana, Apana, Udana, and Prana itself are similarly linked and we will continue the discussion of them in the next post.

The Meaning of ‘Om’

Originally posted here for Zuna Yoga

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“For it to have its effect, the sound of AUM is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.28).

“Om,” in the yogic tradition, is chanted at the beginning and end of class or practice. It’s one of those things that’s often assumed as universally understood yet it’s rarely explained properly, if at all, by yoga instructors.

Om is an ancient sound used by various Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduisim, Sikhism, Jainism, to denote the beginning and end of sacred scriptures, texts, and prayers. Many of the world’s religions indicate that creation began with sound, the vibrations of which are said to be contained within om. Each time we chant om, we connect with the eternal vibration of being that has been in existence since the beginning of all things and is the creative source of energy behind all existence.
The Om symbol consists of 3 curves, a semicircle, and a dot. The curves represent mind, body, and soul, and the semicircle at the top is maya, understood as an obstacle to achieving the highest form of enlightenment. Om is sometimes spelled “aum,” a more accurate phonetic spelling which divides the chant into its three individual sounds of a-u-m. “Aum” encompasses all possible combinations of sounds and lies at the root of all potential or pre-existing sounds. In linguistics, all sound is said to be produced between the root of the tongue and the entrance of the lips, the throat sound being “a,” the lip sound being “m,” and “u” representing the rolling forwards of all sounds until they stop at the lips. Like the letters of the alphabet, which in all possible combinations give rise to every word ever spoken, the sounds of a-u-m pass through every formation in the mouth necessary for vocalising language, making it a magnificently meaningful sound.

Om allows us to tap into the existing energy which always surrounds us but which modern distractions and lifestyles have shifted from our immediate awareness. For millennia, various names and personifications have been used by religions to represent a single all-powerful being. This placement of belief in a deity instead of in our immediate environment ignores the connection between the individual and that which surrounds us. We chant om to not only honor the beginning of all things but to appreciate all of creation that still surrounds us. The Upanishads refer to this state of collective consciousness and universal awareness as ishvara. Om is our key to accessing it.


We do not create om simply by chanting it. Instead, om serves as a medium through which we connect to these vibrations. Physically, chanting om creates a pranava or humming sound, as Patanjali describes, which stimulates the body into a meditational state, increases relaxation, and is said to stimulate the body to remove toxins and increase our capacity for self healing. Mentally, speaking om allows us to focus, shifting our attention outwards, away from internal struggles and helping us tune in to that which can provide us harmony in mind, body, and soul.
It’s common to hear the word “shanti” included after a final expression of om. Shanti means “peace” in Sanskrit and is intended as a parting wish for peace and happiness within the universe at large and within everything around us. Shanti is commonly used throughout India to express a light-hearted and peaceful state of being in casual conversation and descriptions of everyday occurrences, while om is reserved for more spiritual practices such as yoga practice or religious ceremony.
Om shanti.

On Finding Calm in the Chaos – How Yoga Can Help in Managing Anxiety

 

A sweeping, dangerously powerful wind.
Big waves in the sea so strong they steal the sunglasses from your head.
Very loud, thumping music.
Crowded Saturday-streets, and flashing lights everywhere as night falls and you suddenly find yourself alone in your head; alone with your thoughts.

 Quick! Run! The bar! The fridge! The gym! ANYWHERE to escape spending time with this egotistical and self-centered, ugly body I’ve found myself inhabiting.

 Hold it right there. Breathe.
Look around.
Sure, it’s chaotic. The outside; everyone rushing to be here or there, meet so and so for dinner or drinks to discuss where they went for dinner and drinks with him or her or what’s the latest on THAT guy and how’s your mother doing and what about those politicians, eh? Sorry I have to dash I’m not too drunk I just can’t be around all these people and all the thoughts in my head at the same time because I end up spinning around before we even start to dance and then I look in the mirror and remember what I should have worn instead and also have to do tomorrow and where the hell is my purse and what is that guy staring at my hair must be a mess and dear GOD please just get me out of here.

So leave.
It’s ok to leave. It’s ok to stay. It’s ok to think these things, and feel that way.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation – I’ve been the one to leave and run away from my problems, finding other ways to forget about and ignore them, and, more recently, I’ve been the one to stay and push through. To remain where I am, and work through the unbalancing extremes of thoughts and emotions that send my head reeling and wobbling on a regular basis.

In yoga, what do you do if a pose makes you wobble?

You do your best to straighten the hell back up, is what you do. You push down through your feet, and certify your stance; your position; your space in the world.
Because it is yours.
It’s about the only thing we don’t have to pay for in this world – our bodies. It’s an involuntary, but rent-free location, that we somehow have to figure out how to stand up straight in, and learn to navigate through whatever environment we find ourselves.
It’s not an easy task. Don’t listen to anyone who pretends it is, or who pretends they’ve never struggled. Because every single person does.

 The asanas in yoga are merely a physical manifestation of our mental state – I know if I’ve had a particularly off-day or feel unusually anxious about something, my yoga practice is weaker than normal and I tend to wobble and lean and shake quite a bit more than usual. Because I have succumbed to the external chaos. I have assimilated it into my body, a place that has been created and cultivated for singular, simpler, and more straightforward thoughts, with no consideration for the external chaos that may or may not happen on any given day. I’ve let it in.

When we consider how many things in life are uncontrollable by our own bodies and minds – the weather, the financial state of the country, the popularity of a bar or restaurant or public place from which we suddenly want to hide, to list but a few, it’s remarkable how blurred the lines can become when we start thinking we have influence over more than just ourselves.

In taking control of our own inner situation, we are taking responsibility for the little space we inhabit on earth. Sure, we may not have asked for it, but we are here now regardless, and may as well make the most of it.

 My yoga mat has travelled with me, and shown me that it doesn’t matter where I find myself; chaotic, over-populated, noise-polluted city, or tranquil, isolated and balmy beach miles from anywhere – I am always, always within myself, and returning there is the only way to truly find this ‘peace of mind’ or satisfaction we so often seek in all the wrong places. Yoga serves as a reminder of this. A healthy, lighthearted little poke in the back that injects a sense of calmness into even the most uncontrollable and chaotic situations.

 Things don’t have to be so complicated.
Breathe. Just breathe. And Be. Even just that is more than anybody has ever asked of you.

Yoga For Creativity & Connection, and Why I Want to Teach

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The Yogabarn, Ubud, Bali

CONNECTION and communication lie at the heart of all our experiences and have profound influence on the way we live our lives.
Humans are sociable creatures – we THRIVE on interaction with others. Yet because of this we often lose touch and suffer miscommunication with the one most important relationship any of us have – our relationship with ourselves.
By helping others to see this and to subsequently address the way they treat themselves and put it into practice, we contribute to their overall wellbeing and as such (in the long term), to society as a whole. This is why I want to be a yoga teacher.

I love to talk, to explore new ideas and places, and most of all, I love to connect. I see connection and interaction as the single most important means of attaining fulfillment, of enjoyment and progressing forwards, and of existing within our ever-evolving and increasingly isolating society.

I have passion. I have buckets of this undirected enthusiasm, dedication, and drive that is waiting to be deposited somewhere relevant; somewhere it can be made matter. I have so much potential to contribute to something amazing – and I am aware that I have the ability to do so. Yoga has provided me with the tools to believe this, and to direct this energy correctly; to channel it effectively in order for me to succeed in my creative pursuits, thus rendering my ‘passions’ (which have always existed) somehow more relevant. It has allowed me to glean an in-depth understanding into the way my own mind and body works, and instead of frantically trying to escape or change this – to sit with, appreciate, and respect it for what it is; knotty hair and dry skin included. For within the external imperfections there lies a potential that is just waiting to grab the next wave of opportunity when I’m feeling inspired or enthusiastic or energised. It’s always there, just lying low until I tap into it through my yoga practice.

I am also aware that many others like me possess this potential, and seek direction and guidance for which to do so too. This is another reason I wish to teach. The overwhelming tragedy of ideas and inspiration and unrealised potential being wasted on anxiety and circumstantial or locational misery is honestly very saddening to me, and I wish to aid this creativity and potential, however small, however ‘irrelevant’ or trivial it may seem, to come into being. Everything deserves to be given a chance. So do you.

In channeling my creativity through the energy and focus I achieve from practicing yoga, I have been able to increase my dedication, output, and potential for further exploration of these ideas. It’s not all going to come at once, but I’ve come far enough now to notice the difference between what I achieve on a day when I’ve done my yoga practice and a day when I haven’t.

Connection strengthens us all, and when you’ve included and taken into account your own self within that mainframe of responsibilities and polite interaction, the potential created becomes endless.

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The unpictured side of yogaclass in Ubud…shoes everywhere!

On the Importance of Roots…

On The Importance of Roots… (and not the hair kind!)

 I recently had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend who moved away when we were both very young. Our families remained in contact, and as a result so did we through the years, seeing each other at staggered and unpredictable intervals every six or seven months when our parents decided it was time for a catch-up. Even though our lives naturally took different routes and twists that nobody could have anticipated, we remained solid friends, the advent of the likes of e-mail, Bebo and MSN in our early teens enabling us to stay in more regular and consistent contact, albeit rarely face-to-face. As such we now have the privilege of being able to introduce one another with the title of ‘one of my oldest friends’; a phrase I had previously never used, having thought it a cheesy and overly-emotive phrase reserved for American TV shows and chick flicks.

This time, however, after an absence of over a (fairly turbulent) year with only the odd Facebook or Snapchat message allowing us insight into the others’ busy and ever-changing life, it really hit home for me that this person has known me my entire life. Not only that, but she has stuck with me, an ever-present comfort for me to contact should the need arise, even if that contact consisted purely of a name on a screen. Although we share none of the same friends anymore, and live completely different lives from the days we played knick-knack on the neighbours around the corner, there is something extremely reassuring in the knowledge that there is always someone there to talk to that will give honest and objective opinions about things that are going on in your life, sit down and listen, even if it no longer has anything to do with them.

Going back to your roots and re-connecting with old friends, places, or even family you haven’t seen for a while really can help change the way you look at things. For me, it succeeded in bringing me back and reminding me of how I looked at certain things when I was younger – how easy things seemed, how little panic is actually necessary in dealing with situations I tend to make bigger deals out of than is required. The 5-year-old Jenny did not care how many calories she ate in one sitting. She was just happy to be sitting there eating them. It made no difference to her what she looked like leaving the house – she was just happy to be going somewhere.
In returning to this childlike state of thinking, sinking below the heightened sense of responsibility, anxiety and guilt that comes automatically with being an adult, there was such a freedom and respite that after we said our goodbyes I genuinely felt like I was floating on a sugar-buzz from the bags of sherbert flying-saucers and 10-pennys mixes we used to get in the shop down the road.

 For anyone struggling at the moment to find themselves, or to establish a firm foundation on which to build and take the next step from in your life, I urge you to first take a step backwards and look at where you’ve come from; who you’ve grown from – that little boy or girl who got excited at the mere thought of a trip to the cinema or playground, not needing to think into it or worry about the implications of such actions. Not needing to worry about what people would say if they did or didn’t go to the party that night; not needing to explain and absorb mountains of guilt and apologise for making mistakes.
Because it was natural; the next step forward, and the lead-on from the previous day at school to get up and go again in the morning. We didn’t question it, or dwell too long on the negatives – generally by lunchtime I was happy to see a packet of Iced Gems and carton of Ribena in front of me, and that was that. The simplicity of it astounded me to remember, but moreso the realisation that in reality there is no reason for us to not be able to access that purity again. The only difference is that we now have responsibilities, ‘expections’ to live up to that really have been placed there by ourselves, and a society that questions our purpose with every new acquaintance and shake of the hand enquiring a ‘polite’ “So what is it you do??”
Usually this question is not put out of any genuine interest or agenda whatsoever, and serves as a filler of a line that begs a concrete answer with each new encounter. Heaven forbid you respond with a semi-confident ‘I write’, or ‘I play music’ that has taken you years to get up the courage to undertake as a lifestyle– you’d be lucky to get an awkward nod of the head and an ‘oh, fairplay!’

What I’m trying to say is that meeting up with my old friend and talking as if it hadn’t been almost 2 years since we’d seen each other genuinely felt like the last few years of confusion and uncertainty in the post-college floundering to tread water and establish myself as a human being hadn’t happened. It reminded me that I’ve been me all along. I’ve been that child who ran to the shops to get another 50p bouncy ball from the machine outside Super Valu and chased it around the garden for the rest of the evening – I just stopped enjoying the little things about taking the trip there; the excitement of wondering which one would come out, and the delight when it bounced higher than I’d ever made it go before.
It reminded me that no matter where you go, who you meet, what friend-groups you become a part of, what sector you’re in or division or new team you play for, countries you travel to and time spent alone in strange new places, you will always appreciate that strong base of the first friends, family and experiences that shaped you as a child, where you ground your first roots and started to learn to stand tall by yourself.

It doesn’t matter if things got a little bit lost and mixed up along the way – some trees go years without any noticable growth or change. Each layer is built around the previous one, and is merely a reflection of what is actually contained inside. The reason your true self was so easy to access and embody as a child is because there were less layers to peel back to reach it. As we grow and become more accustomed to the world, people, relationships, habits and experiences around us, these layers become thicker, more complicated, and ultimately harder to see and retreat back through. In knowing now that this inner strength still exists as strong as ever, with all these new layers which I see now are there to protect instead of mask it, there is a potential and energy so exciting that I can barely contain myself.

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