Understand prunes and you’ll understand you. Hmm. “What on Earth is Jessica on about?” you’re probably thinking. Good question! Whilst I can often go on tangents, the concept of understanding prunes is a really valid, helpful way of looking at ourselves and in turn, better understanding ourselves. To give some context, I shall share a personal experience.
Personal experience: Whilst training in Mysore, in a hot and humid shala of around 35 degrees with no air flow, I would find myself moving into all sorts of asanas which once upon a time would have likely left me crippled, or not far off. Dropping into back bends, headstands, forward bends, deep twists… I was moving in all directions!! Turns out, with proper sequencing preparing the body well, the body really can reach new heights. So you can imagine my frustration when I would return to class an hour later (after our breakfast break) barely able to sit cross legged as my knees were so stiff and my back had seized. I couldn't understand how my body could so quickly go from insanely flexible to that of a 100+ year old. I honestly wondered if I was accelerating into old age the more I practiced.
One day, I decided to chat with my teacher, Bharath about this. Tired of the vast contrasts I was experiencing every day, I thought it wise to discuss with my Guruji. “Bharath, why is it that I can be so flexible one moment and then stiff as a board the next?” He replied in his usual calm and centered tone which immediately demands stillness and complete presence within oneself. “Jessie, think of your body like a prune..” (You can imagine my face with that response) “When it is outside in the sun, getting nice and warm it is soft and supple. But when you place the prune back in the fridge, it becomes firm and rigid. This is what is happening with your body”.
I was assured that in time and with consistent practice my body would learn to remain supple even when ‘back in the fridge’ so to speak. I cannot emphasise enough the point ‘in time’. We often place so much pressure on our bodies, trying to force them into asanas which the body is not ready for, or we become angry with ourselves as our body isn’t as flexible as it was the day before... and on it goes. (You know what i mean when i say this). The point I’m trying to make is - you too are a prune! The body needs time to warm up, prepare itself for the depth you’re trying to achieve. And sometimes, you may not reach those depths because the body is ever changing - and that’s ok!! Tomorrow you may go deeper than you ever imagined… Possibilities are endless.
Remember, yoga is not about being attached to the end asana - as Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras (non-attachment) - but about the journey there.
Every day, take time to be truly present, to listen to your body and notice what it’s telling you. Sure, you may struggle with your backbend, but tomorrow it could be fine. The important lesson is to never give up, but to work through all the trials and tribulations. You can only learn more of yourself by doing so.
This past week has been a little all over the place for me, both physically and emotionally. Looking firstly at the physical - my left knee has been in a lot of pain, to the point of barely walking. When I’m practicing, and the knee is warmed up, it’s ok. But after sitting crossed legged for a period of time, I can’t get up. I think if I were to stand on the leg it would concave itself and snap in half. That’s what it feels like anyway. Of course I know to expect fluctuations in my body, so I’m not giving this any more attention than it deserves, but I also think the following changes in my life are significant contributors to this: new boots with a slight heel, sitting on normal chairs and driving. When I’m home I sit on the floor - always - to trying and maintain open hips and good posture. Whenever I have an opportunity to be on the floor, I am, as i know this is important, not only for my practice but for overall long term health benefits. Essentially, I’m committed to working through this in order to heal the knee.
The other fluctuation is of course, emotional. I’ve been up and down, sideways and backwards this past week. Some days I can pick what’s going on, other days there is absolutely no reason for the tears or frustrated feelings, but they’re there anyway. I’m truly committed to really controlling my emotional state. To not be a victim in my life. To take time to really notice what’s going on and then choose differently. When my emotions are all over the place like they have been, I think it simply comes down to not taking enough time out for me. Over the years, I’ve worked out how important down time is. There is a lot on my plate at the moment but if I don’t stop and breathe once in a while, this is when it can all get on top of me. I don’t think I’m unique with this either. I guess this is where yoga is / can be such a beautiful addition to a person’s life. By committing to daily practice, this can really help people to attain the sense of calm and control over their emotions, or more importantly, their lives again which can be lost when we’re running a million miles an hour.
By looking inward, and noticing how beneficial this practice is to my emotional and physical state, I’ve realised this is where my passion for the practice lies. My dream is to help others to truly learn how to look inward also. When people can challenge themselves to do so, their journey with yoga will look so vastly different compared with those who are seeking a quick workout. Yes, this week has been a little all over the place for me, but by seeking to understand and notice the ‘shifts’ that are going on within my physical and non-physical body especially, I find acceptance within and tend to be more gentle on myself overall. If we all can learn to be a little more gentle, one can only imagine the powerful impact this could have on a worldwide scale. The possibilities are endless.
So with that, I shall continue to notice, listen and accept my body and everything that’s going on within it. Slowly slowly it shall return to balance.
Breath. It’s somewhat important right? Learning to breathe sounds so simple and yet it’s actually more challenging than many of us realise.
In today’s fast paced society, many of us have forgotten how to breathe. Yes, we breathe automatically, but more often than not this breath is short and shallow. Unfortunately, short and shallow breathing can lead to problems such as increased heart rate and adrenal levels, feelings of dizziness, not to mention the limited amount of fresh oxygen within the body which is necessary for healthy cell reproduction. These additional stressors can wreak havoc in the body, leading to all sorts of illness and disease. Considering the breath is something which can be under our command, should we consciously choose for it to be, then why don’t we bring more attention to it?
The beauty of asana practice is it can teach us to breathe correctly. By learning to steady our breath, drawing long and deep inhalations followed by controlled and steady exhalations, a practitioner will notice they are not only more present in the asana (they are practicing at the time), but the asana becomes more effortless. You feel ‘lighter’ in a sense. By learning to breathe correctly, we are releasing this stress within the body which gives us freedom within ourselves. Self limiting boundaries can be pushed and exceeded. Test it and see. Hold you breath for as long as you can and answer me this, “did you feel relaxed?” The likely answer is “no”. But, notice as you release the breath and steady it how calm you then feel. By controlling your breath you have brought deep relaxation to all internal processes, which can only lead to life giving health benefits as a result.
The benefits of the breath are endless, but to give an example, regular practice of yoga and pranayama (which I will talk about another time but is essentially breath control techniques) encourages healthy cell development, reduces blood pressure, controls adrenal levels and as such will enable you to manage stress far more effectively. Think about how differently your life could look if you could bring stress under control… With patience and commitment to your practice, I assure this is possible to achieve.
Living such crazy busy lifestyles without remembering to stop and just ‘breathe’ means we are, in essence, creating that uncomfortable feeling of holding our breath, all day every day. By taking just five minutes a day to sit with closed eyes and just notice the breath, drawing deep breaths in and releasing them slowly, not only will our bodies thank us for it in the long term, but our overall feeling of health will skyrocket with effects being noticed instantly. The power of the breath is undeniably amazing and something which should not be overlooked.
Where to from here? Find a quiet space in your home - somewhere you feel comfortable which could be in the lounge, the garden, a spare bedroom - and commit just 5 minutes a day to being in that place. Sitting in a position with your spine uplifted, just notice your breath - inhaling and exhaling through your nostrils. Take this time to notice what’s going on within the body and just be present with it. In time, you will notice tension within the body will begin to melt away and your awareness of self will deepen significantly. Also, don’t hesitate to do a few stretches afterward. You don’t need to be in a Yoga Shala to practice yoga. Listen to your body and then move it however feels natural to you.
It would be great to hear about your experiences with the breath - how has deep breathing helped you? Are you someone who tends to forget to take deep breaths? And why do you think that is? Feel free to share your comments below. Together we can support each other to bring energy back into our lives.
Something silly seems to happen when one returns to reality after
having spent months in a yoga bubble - like forgetting to do the things
which one found to be calming and bring stillness into one’s life…
What am i talking about? Well - whilst in India, I realised my daily
blogging was a great way to really collect my thoughts, calm my mind
and truly notice ‘life’. Yet for some reason I’m forgetting to blog
since being back home. Granted, life is different here. There are
different pressures, my routines are changed - or non existent. Life on
the outside of the Mysore bubble is just, in a word, different. As I’m
someone who doesn’t manage stress well, I need to actively work on
remembering to do those things which bring this stillness and calm into
my life. Of course my daily practice is the most beautiful way to start
every day, but there are other strategies I’ve also found which are just
as beneficial, like my blogging.
Anyway, I wont go into it. I
was literally just sitting here, on my laptop here in my new lounge
room, (researching all sorts of unimportant things) and it just occurred
to me that I’ve forgetting to take this time out for myself. So here i
am. No doubt this is the same for many others out there.
think it’s really important to check-in every now and then to make sure
you’re taking time to really debrief from your life. To be mindful of
what’s happening in it. This may not necessarily be done in the form of
blogging like me. It could be singing, walking, dancing… Whatever it
is, make sure you take a moment to do it. It may just be what you’re
As I write this I am listening to the sound of glorious rain. The second time it has rained since being in Mysore. This first was about a month ago for a couple of hours only. Whilst singing my favourite slow, almost sad, evening chant with Bharath’s wife, the thunder began giving hints of what was to come, followed by lighting and then a sudden, almost explosive opening up of the skies. The rain bucketed down for the next half hour. We then sat in the dark, starring at the flame of a candle (for our usual evening Trakata kriya/meditation) all the while listening to the rain pour and the thunder roll. It created such an eerie yet almost magical atmosphere. The streets were dark as power was off all through Mysore. Only those homes and buildings with generators remained lit. One was certainly very careful walking home in the pitch black with crazy Mysorian drivers around. Definitely an evening to remember.
There were so many things which happened today that I wanted to recount. But I shall select only a couple or I could be here all night and I have an exam to study for (it’s tomorrow).
Time for subtitles.
At 4.40am I was standing outside the Shala and ready to prepare myself for our morning meditation then asana practice. With new cotton mat in hand, I was ready to give it a test run. This morning was a little different to normal. Usually the Shala is well lit as we enter, however today it was in complete darkness with only a faint red spotlight shining on the huge Om which is painted on the back wall. The feeling of the room was instantly calm and sacred. I totally forgot we were doing Om meditation this morning so I moved myself to the back of the room with all the others when I noticed everyone back there.
Bharath entered the Shala at 5.00am on the dot and quietly sat behind us all – directly behind me in fact. In complete darkness, we all sat motionless starring at Om and then chanting Om together – over and over and over for half an hour. Ommmmmm, Ommmmmm, Ommmmmm, Ommmmmm…. It’s amazingly calming but I swear I thought I was hallucinating at one stage. The vortex Om is painted in just drew me in. And then there was quite a substantial amount of time where I sat hating the meditation, worried I was going to be chanting Om for the rest of my life, in this agonizing pain my back and hips were in. Knowing Bharath was behind me also meant I didn’t dare move my legs. I was terribly distracted. I went from focused to not focused over and over and over again. Who would have thought sitting perfectly still and chanting Om for half an hour would be such a struggle! We will do this for the rest of our mornings here, and on Saturday, we will do it for 1 hour before our Surya Namaskara Marathon straight after. God help me.
After out mid morning class which takes us through to lunch, a gorgeous (personality and beauty) Iranian woman who is training with us, stopped me outside as she wanted to tell me something. We’ve never spent much time together so I had no idea what she was going to say. She told me she has always admired how much I enjoy everything about my training. She said she watches me all the time – in asana practice, in philosophy, student lectures, chanting etc – and she can see how much I love being there. And even though I find something challenging or struggle to learn something, for example an asana and how to correctly adjust, she has noticed that I still manage to be completely present, smile and still enjoy the process. She said I inspire her to be the same way. That even if she is finding something challenging, to always try and stay positive and enjoy. This completely blew me away. What a lovely thing to say to someone. She may never know how much that meant to me, but it is something I shall carry with me always. I think about my previous life in the corporate world. I never had this same passion. It took from me. But it’s also made me appreciate this new path, these new choices, so much more. Those experiences shaped who I am today and I now feel truly lucky for the path I have been led down.
Contrary to this conversation, unfortunately I ended up eating lunch with some other students who were having a completely oppostie conversation. Long story short, all they were doing was complaining. They don’t like listening to Bharath, they don’t like philosphy classes etc etc. I couldn’t believe how negative they were being. I just kept quiet and ate my lunch rather than getting involved in this crap conversation. It was as though they had listened to nothing about what yoga fundamentally is - the control of the mind, having an open mind, acceptance… I honestly felt/feel sad for them because those attitudes are stopping them from enjoying their time here. It’s all about perception. If you want to enjoy, you will. If you want to experience no pain, you can. If you want to sit chanting Om for 1 hour motionless - it can be done! Our minds are the hardest things to control, but it is within our control still. So choose differently. Choose better. Be open to experiences rather than closed. Then wisdom will come.
My final point - I used my new cotton mat this morning. Turns out I was the most stable I have ever been in Sirsasana - splitting my legs, twisting my body from side to side with heels touching, lowering my legs parallel to the ground - and this is all because my arms weren’t sliding out from under me. Great investment!
As the mat smelt of chemicals, I decided to wash it after class. Then tonight, mid way through class as I was beginning to slip, I rolled it out and it turns out I now have only 70% of the mat I had this morning. Looks like a good 30% shrank in the wash! I officially have the most anorexic cotton yoga mat in the class, and possibly anywhere - but hey, it’s India! Rather than get annoyed, I just laughed. Just another unique thing about this place. Nothing is perfect which is such a great way to be. As long as its wider than my feet, it shall still do the job. Haha.
Ok, time to study. Thanks for reading and remember to keep smiling. It will change your world for sure.
Special moments from my day
He was so proud to have his picture taken with his orange