I enjoyed such a slow practice this morning - at home, by myself. Just a candle, some incense burning and my mat. Perfect.
I caught myself during the practice wondering what it was that I was enjoying so much about it. To be truthful, my regular practice is about 90 minutes in Ashtanga yoga. But this morning I felt the need to pull right back and take my time through just 6 rounds of Sun Salutations.
I took the practice so slowly. Every movement and every breath was very intentional. I felt the urge to connect on a deeper level than ever before. I’m not sure what led me to a practice like this today, but it was exactly what I needed. It’s been a busy time as of late, and my practice has been very disrupted, so perhaps this was my body nudging me to return to myself. To care for myself a little more.
With every step, every breath, I felt nourished. I felt connected and truly present. Of course there were many times when my mind wandered off into the distance - wedding planning is front of mind at the moment - but with the steadiness of each pose I was able to quickly bring myself back. To return to my body and pay attention to what I felt physically, emotionally and energetically. In a word, the practice was - peaceful.
There is something to be said for slowing right down. Personally, I find this difficult. As a go go go person, I like to get in and get out. That’s the classic story of my life. And I know many would relate. This is perhaps one of the reasons I’m drawn to Ashtanga yoga. It’s quick, dynamic and powerful - all of which are reasons that force me to focus, which I generally find difficult to do.
But today was different. I’m not sure why, and I guess I really don’t need to. Rather, I just felt into my body and decided to take it slow and enjoy the gentle, but no less powerful, transitions and holds in the Sun Salutation. I also didn’t pressure myself to go too much further into my practice for today. A couple of forward folds, triangle pose, a detoxifying twist and then of course, savasana. It was perfect. A few moments of bliss and self love that was just for me.
This is what yoga is all about. It’s not about feeling pressured to do 60 or 90 minute classes. It’s not about tricky poses or looking awesome in a sports bra. If we make yoga about the asanas, or the ‘achievements’ then we’ve missed the point. Yoga is purely about union. And sometimes you will feel that union, as I did today, and other days you won't - as I often experience also.
The key is not to get frustrated with yourself if you didn’t get on your mat for long. Remember - it is far more meaningful and beneficial to practice one pose with presence then to practice 100 unfocused poses.
Take time to enjoy the moment, one pose, one breath at a time. x
First - let’s get one thing straight. When people are meditating, they’re not floating to a higher place or experiencing supernatural powers (well - not normally anyway). Meditation is - simply put - about presence. What do I mean by presence? It’s about how present we are in the activity we are doing at the time. For some this may be sitting quietly, cross legged in a quiet room noticing the breath. For others they could be practicing Surya Namaskara whilst for someone else it could be climbing a mountain… Whatever the activity is that you’re doing - meditation comes when you are completely present in each moment of that activity. This means noticing how you feel, your surroundings, the sounds - and not being disturbed by them - just simply aware of them.
People often come to me and say they don’t know how to meditate because they can’t keep focused, or they can’t sit still for longer than five minutes etc. Sound familiar? Firstly, to remain focused on any task is a huge challenge, especially in a world full of SOOOO much stimulus - computers, phones, radio… To meditate therefore means learning to bring your awareness back to what you’re trying to focus on e.g. the breath. This may need to happen many times during the 5,10,15 minutes you’re sitting or walking for, but this is where the control of the mind comes in. This is meditation.
For those who want to sit and meditate (recommended as this way you’re trying to eliminate distractions giving you a good head start with your practice), practice sitting quietly for 5 minutes, then 7 minutes, 9, minutes, 15 minutes and so on. This is how you learn to gradually build up your practice without forcing yourself to sit uncomfortably for a long stint up front. If you do this (the long stint sitting), then it’s likely you won’t try again. If, however, you’re gentler on yourself and start gradually, with an acceptance that it will take time to build up a sitting tolerance, then your outlook on meditation will fundamentally transform. It will become a practice you will grow to love, look forward to and become more and more present in.
To kick start your meditation journey - find a space you love (or an activity), a time of day you can commit to and then be sure to use this time for your meditation (again, this could also be a beautiful walk outdoors etc). If one day whilst meditating you realise you were off with the fairies for most of it - don’t beat yourself up. We all do it! Just notice this and try and look a little deeper at what is going on in your life. There must be a disturbance in the force (had to throw that in there) if this is happening - which is called life right!. The opposite is also true - if you realise at the end of your practice you were completely present and absorbed, then again take time to notice and understand why this may be so? What have you changed, done, experienced recently which is helping you to be completely present? This is all knowledge at the end of the day - knowledge about ourselves that we can use to be the best, most beautiful self we can be.
So remember - start slow, be kind to yourself and just notice what’s going on. This is true meditation.
Before I left for India, I was in a cushy job which paid very well. I was lucky to have this sort of financial security behind me and I will always be grateful for the many lessons learned whilst working as a corporate employee. Some good lessons, some not so good, but regardless they were lessons which have helped to shape who I am and where I am today. Over the years, since graduating, I was of the naive belief a secure job (somewhat - government is fickle) would bring joy to my life. It would allow me all sorts of freedoms which, if I were in another situation (say an unemployed entrepreneur), I wouldn’t have. Unfortunately, those beliefs turned out to be very naive after all. You see, the salary was increasing but as it would increase I would find my happiness would equally plummet. Increased salaries often bring with them increased responsibilities. Translation - no life. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with increased responsibilities, but when it’s in a role doing work which is completely uninspiring, one has to look at their life and ask the question “is it worth it?”
It took years for me to have the courage to actually ask this question and then actually act upon it. Years! But I will never feel regretful for not having left this unfulfilling lifestyle sooner, for I may not have been ready for the place I’m in now. It’s through those experiences that I can now truly appreciate the path I’m creating for myself. This path, yoga, is not in my life as a financial security, for if it were, I would be in trouble! Yoga is in my life as it brings me joy. It connects me to myself in a way nothing else ever has. Maybe people can relate to this, and maybe people can’t, but it’s certainly something I want to be completely open and honest to the world about. I hope to inspire others to act upon those desires which bring them joy and offers this same inward connection to self as what yoga brings for me. It doesn’t necessarily need to be yoga. It could be music, art, reading, walking. It could be anything. My point is that money will not necessarily offer this same connection to self. Yes, money is great and I would be lying if I said I don’t want more of it to make life a little more comfortable. But is it everything? No. This is also not to say people who earn alot of money cannot find this same connection. Absolutely not. It’s purely about taking time to stop and find what it is in your life that actually centers you. Chasing money in the hope it will bring happiness is quite possibly the silliest thing I’ve ever done, for there is no amount of cash in the world which can buy my happiness. I had to find this on my own, as does everyone else.
To be clear, I’m not recommending people who hate their jobs suddenly quit in pursuit of happiness. Not at all. This could lead to all sort of problems for you. I’m only hoping people can see, through my journey, that money isn’t everything. That in taking the time to stop and truly listen to what makes our heart sing, such happiness can be found. Possibly only for a moment, because nothing is ever constant, but at the very least you have that moment of pure bliss. And that is priceless.
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