‘Yogas Chitta Vrittis Nirodha’ - simply translated as 'yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind'
In yoga we are working towards quietening the chatter of the mind; this can be challenging when we first start to practice. If we are not able to cease the chatter just yet we can work on recognising that the mind is constantly chatting and that we are not our mind. We can work towards not identifying with or getting carried away with the chatter of the mind. To help us to accomplish this we can turn to the SIFT model of the mind.
The SIFT model was developed by Dr Dan Siegel. It's a simple way of understanding and bringing awareness to the workings of the mind so that we can find peace of mind.
SIFT explains that the mind is a neutral space and that it is what we fill it with that matters and that we fill it with Sensations, Information, Feelings and Thoughts. We are also taught this through the yoga sutras.
If we can develop a trait of bringing awareness to our state of mind and then examining the source of that state we can work towards sitting with or processing that, to work towards peace.
The SIFT Process
What are we sensing with our bodies?
What is the information coming in?
What are we feeling, emotionally?
What are we thinking?
Bringing awareness to these elements helps us understand ourselves and develop insight, so that we can live more skilfully, deciding what we need to do from a place of clarity.
When asked when do we know that we are doing a yoga posture correctly Patthabi Jois responded "When the mind is quiet, the asana is correct."
The yoga sutras tell us that 'sthira sukham asanam' translated as 'yoga asana should be steady and comfortable', or more literally that 'asana should be grounded and with good space'. This sums up the aim of yoga, we are seeking a state of BODY and MIND that is steady and comfortable, with a sense of 'good space'.
When we are steady in body and breath, the mind becomes steady, of course a non-steady mind can send the body off balance - and our challenge is then to bring our mind back to where we are or could be physically rooted and let go of the wandering of the mind. This steadiness is what we mean by Sthiri, and from here we can find Sukha - the comfort or good space.
When body and mind are steady and comfortable, even when the body is challenged, we are in a state of asana. When the mind gets distracted by senses or the body starts to struggle because of sensations of discomfort, we should back off until we find the steadiness.
In the asana we should be enquiring 'do we feel rooted and from there where can I find the good space?'.
This is really rather different from simply stretching, or striving towards more length, a bigger stretch. Space without grounding isn't yoga, and grounding without space isn't yoga either. Space from a point of stable grounding is where we find peace in asana and life. I think we can all relate to how disconcerting it is to feel flighty, ungrounded and also how we cause ourselves problems by acting with fixed stubbornness.
Approaching asana with this focus on steadiness and ease, or good space, is aligned with a law of nature, known as the Principle of Minimal Action.
In asana if we add too much movement we lose our sense of confident stable grounding, our body and mind becomes unfocused, the mind becomes restless and we can become physically exhausted! It's a little like when we try hard to stay on the surface of the water, we sink but when we relax and give up we float.
When practicing each asana by easing into it without wasting energy through unnecessary movements we are aligned with our own nature and the flow of nature that we are part of.
When I enter asana I do so with the minimal movement possible, with no faffing. By keeping the movements throughout the practice minimal and focused the practice really is a flowing meditation perfectly balanced between grounding and space. This is why I tend to workshop asana one by one rather than lots of asana in one class, so that we can maintain the moving meditation.
When we practice with minimal movement the body is in a restful and regenerative mode, even during the Ashtanga yoga practice which to the observer seems high energy, the practice is restful and regenerative when we are moving with a balance of grounding and space, without unnecessary movements.
Enquiry into the Asana
In the state of the asana we want to remain steady and comfortable, we might enquire as follows:-
Are we feeling grounded? If we are not we will want to work on that before we start to reach out from that state.
Is the breath steady? If not we will want to bring the asana back until it is..
Are we emotionally balanced? Is the mind steady?
Are we finding good space, or are we over-reaching compromising strength and grounding?
Is the mind accepting of where we are, or is it frustrated?
Are we aware of the whole body, or striving with one part? Is the effort even?
Are we adding unnecessary movements and why? Are we striving, that's another thought process!
Winter Solstice greetings to our beautiful community
The leaves have fallen and the period of quiet, gentle growth begins.
This is unseen growth deep down, the un-showy growth at the roots, the strength of which enable the flexibility to bend with the changing winds.
The softer light perhaps invites us to look within.
To acknowledge the growth going on deep within.
The gentleness of the light perhaps inviting us to be especially gentle with ourselves and others.
The light is on its slow return, no need to rush it; growth requires a great deal of energy, enjoy being right here right now.
Wishing you balancing, grounding and a gentleness as we work to stay centred and gentle in these uncertain times
When we truly practice yoga we change.
The asana are a route into the psychology of the practice. We practice this psychology through our bodies because we experience life through our bodies and what we embody we are more likely to understand. So we practice ahimsha (non-harming) on our mats, reflect on how else we can practice non harming of our bodies and then our minds and the bodies and minds of others.
We practice asteya (non-stealing) on the mat, not stealing from or compromising one part of the body or quality of the breath to express an asana. We might then think about parts of our life out of balance, where might we be stealing from? What might we be stealing in our relationships?
We start to see through the illusion of separation and understand that we only ever see part of a story and that not everything is about us and that we almost always have a choice.
All of this helps us to grow and change. This is why we come to the mat even (especially) when life is hardest, because we know that the mat is a place of reflection, strength, flexibility and growth.
|Listening Truthfully to Understand |
The importance of satya & the illusion of separation are two key yoga teachings that are very relevant right now.
In recent years it seems increasingly there’s a very strong illusion of separation created by lack of quietly and truthfully paying attention. Instead of paying attention and seeking truth we are witnessing a lot of people shouting and very few people listening.
We are witnessing people entrenched in their views, convinced they are right and others are wrong, desperate to prove to others their own rightness, convinced that the 'other' wants to cause harm to community, fellow humans and the planet.
This is all experienced as noisy conflict and division - yet we know that yoga teaches us that separation is an illusion.
So how can we see through this illusion and find our interconnectedness?
How can we heal and work together?
What does our yoga teach us?
Yoga teaches us that we are not our ego, teaches us discernment so that we are able to step outside the 'I-ness" the ego. Once we are aware of this we can strengthen our resolve to listen to learn and not to protect the ego by being 'right'.
Next we can look at 'Satya' - truthfulness, are we being honest with our beliefs about others?
Satya is a yama and therefore often presented as restraint: about slowing down, filtering, carefully considering, not jumping to our own stories.
How about we ask if WE TRUTHFULLY KNOW that our perceptions of those we disagree with are really true?
How about we ask if WE TRUTHFULLY KNOW whether there really are so many people who actively want to cause harm to others?
How about we slow down, have open eyes, ears, hearts and minds
Pay attention to what we truthfully see and hear
Pay attention to our bias, assumptions and our motives
Pay attention to seeking to learn and understand
To especially seek to understand those who may hold views and have experiences different from our own
When we combine this with the knowledge that we are all interdependent, inseparable from the nature we are part of, we can see that perhaps people who hold views different from our own also want happy, healthy, fair communities and a planet that is healthy and can sustain all life.
If we truthfully listen from a place of love, a place of knowing that separation is an illusion and that human motivations are based on fear or love we can perhaps start to realise that perhaps those with different views have different information? Or different experiences? Or different understandings?
If we listen from a place of understanding that we all want a happier, healthier world and we only differ in how we think we can best achieve that, then we can start to work together to heal, to build a more compassionate future.
How do we do this? Yoga teaches us to pay attention to it all, to pause, be quiet, to watch our own expectations, assumptions, bias and to come from a place of love
Be open to what we don’t expect.
In Ashtanga Yoga classes this week we’ve been introducing Ahimsha (non-harming/non-violence) and why we start with ahimsha when studying the yamas of the yoga sutras.
Ahimsha is the first of the Yamas, the yamas are the first limb of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. The yamas are a code of ethics, they aren't doctrine, they are guiding principles that each practitioner interprets for themselves to help them to live a life of yoga, a life in which we are seeking to live with more flexibility and ease and less effort. The yamas are based on the principle of karma, which is that our actions ripple out and have an effect on our own experience of life.
Starting with really establishing a practice of ahimsha enables us to be honestly fully present with what we are doing with incoming sensory data without falling into harmful thoughts - when we catch ourselves experiencing / thinking these thoughts we can reframe them as something focused on love, kindness and growth.
We practice this by noticing intention - what is our intention when dwelling on attempts that didn’t go as planned? Is it to cause ourselves harm? If we want to practice ahimsha it can’t be to do harm, so how about to learn what we can do differently? If it’s to learn for the future then the previous attempt can be reframed as a positive learning experience
So, next time you catch yourself ruminating remind yourself of ahimsha and ask yourself how you can reframe your thoughts in a non-harmful way.
Emma, Studio Director & Ashtanga Yoga Teacher
Our bodies are designed to move - and I believe that every body should have the opportunity to move in a way that feels good for them.
When we move it's not just muscles, bones, heart & lungs that benefit. Digestion, hormone balance, sleep and mood also benefit, reducing anxiety and depression and improving confidence.
Our bodies can move in the most wonderful and surprising ways! Yoga and Groove explore movement of all limbs, in all directions to build and maintain whole-body-mind health.
At Mandala we encourage curiosity about how your unique body moves and what it needs in order to feel good. We've all lived in our bodies differently, we are all unique and how fascinating is that!
At Mandala we don't ask you to be flexible, strong, well co-ordinated or have balance - but we do help you to be curious about your body, to pay it attention, to give it what it needs and we support you in building flexibility, strength, balance and coordination in your body in a way that feels good for you ❤
That's why we have such a wide range of classes - so you can move in a way that feels good for you. Hopefully welcome you soon. Emma xxx
In Yoga for Anxiety class I often talk about the therapeutic benefits of looking for the moon each evening. Indeed, a key pillar of yoga is active awareness. Looking for the moon each evening reminds us that:-
- The only constant is change - so there is always hope
- We are always in motion, with opportunities in each moment to change and grow
- Because we can only see things from limited perspectives we never see the whole and we make false assumptions
- We are part of nature, affected by and affecting the other parts of nature
- We are incredibly fortunate to be existing on a planet the perfect distance from our sun & moon
- We are rhythmic beings and it feels good to flow or dance with rhythm
- Our planet is beautiful and there is always something available to bring us some joy in every moment
There's an enormous body of evidence that when we engage in seeking out the beauty in nature, be that looking at the sky, listening for birds, actively noticing scent and the quality of the light and shadows, or noticing the temperature of the air and the force of the breeze on our skin - results in a more positive outlook, greater calm and reduced anxiety. It helps us to gain and maintain perspective.
And the moon last night was incredibly beautiful, I hope you managed to see her rise in pink.
Stillness - one of the pillars of yin yoga
In a yin yoga practice, I like to think about stillness as an absence of fidgeting while you’re holding a yin pose rather than a complete absence of movement. This is because some movements may be inevitable, desirable or even necessary, like gently shifting if your body opens up or changing your position or shape in response to a painful sensation. The difference between these types of movements and fidgeting is that they’re completely mindful; there’s an intention behind them and once you’ve moved, you can resolve to become still once again.
The pillar of stillness doesn’t just relate to your physical body. As your body becomes still in a yin pose, you’ll find that your breath can become calmer and quieter, less laboured and more gentle. The energy from your breathing isn’t needed to help move your body so it can become slower and deeper, but most of all it’s unforced and unhurried.
As your body and breath become still, there’s more space to observe your mind. Thoughts come and go, like clouds in the sky or waves crashing onto the shore and then receding. Over time, you might notice the clouds becoming lighter and the waves less dramatic as these more dominant thoughts begin to quieten. This can allow thoughts that don’t usually have the opportunity to rise to the surface to reveal themselves; thoughts that might be more creative or help you to solve problems. Eventually, and with commitment and dedication, as you become completely enveloped by stillness the sky emerges from behind the clouds and there’s space between the ebb and flow of the waves, even if it’s just for the briefest of moments. It’s here that deep awareness is possible.
If you can commit to becoming still, you let yourself open up to some of the many benefits that a yin yoga practice has to offer.
“Stillness is a place. You can find it in the desert or in the mountains. You can find it when you’re alone in the midst of people. You can find stillness wherever you are, whatever you’re going through.
Stillness is a place within you. Slow down. Breathe deeply. Get quiet. Become familiar with stillness. Take time to learn its power.”
Join Alison every Monday 6-7:15 for yin yoga and relaxation.
The Contagious Bliss of Mandala-Time
Taking time out to look after your body, mind and soul is an act of love for yourself and your relationships. When we walk out of Mandala feeling amazing we go out into the world with a smile and a full heart, with patience - and we spread that bliss, love and joy.
When we feel safe, valued, cared for and joyful we think and act with more patience and trust because our nervous system tells our brain that all is well and we don't need to be on our guard. The opposite is also true.
So the next time you think your housemates or family would rather you do the ironing or fix the lightbulbs than come along to spend time with your Mandala community, think again. They want you joyful, feeling safe, feeling cared for and feeling valued - because you will return home to spread that love.
Many of my yoga class will have heard the story of when I walked out of a meditation class to find I had a parking fine. I really didn't mind, because my mindset was that I was safe, that a parking fine would not mean that I had to panic about not affording to eat (I know this isn't true for all people and that just made me feel even more gratitude for my circumstance) and I knew that the parking officer had nothing against me personally, I had daftly parked where I should not at that time and so - lesson learnt.
If we think about the times we have reacted in an entirely unhelpful way, in a way that others thought we were overreacting - and the chances are we felt fearful, undervalued, angry - the chances are that in some way we felt under threat. So the more time we can spend in a safe and nurturing place where we know we are valued and where we are encouraged to value ourselves - the calmer and more joyful we can be.
I can't wait for that time when we can reopen our doors and we can all walk out of yoga or Groove class and spread our bliss, love and joy We miss you all and can't wait to welcome you back soon xxx