Sunday, December 24, 2006

I love yoga!

I have had a bit more time the last few days, so I have done some really long yoga practices. It's like a giant splash of water in the desert. When I am busy and physically exhausted, sometimes it feels like a chore to come to the mat, but right now, I am being reminded of just why yoga has held my interest for so long, and why I feel compelled to share its joys with as many people as possible.

For the last two days, I have dedicated my practice to releasing anger and family healing, and I find myself looking forward to the coming festivities with an open heart. It's funny how talking about our issues tends not to make us feel much better about the situation, while actively doing something (like dedicating your yoga practice to a solution) does. Same with meditating - endless self-analysis falls far short of just sitting and listening to the small quiet voice within.

Although I am still working with that hamstring injury, there are so many ways to experience a full practice and I am grateful for the learning that always comes with injury. I have found a new 'sun salute' sequence that doesn't involve the deep lunging or forward bends that are currently out of the question, and I come off the mat feeling refreshed and open.

Hope you all enoy the benefits of your practice, Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A little bit of festive giving

I spent a very miserable two hours at the mall yesterday. It couldn't be helped. I had to finish my Christmas shopping. This happens every year - I get excited about the fun family activites and then remember that mostly, this holiday is all about stuff.

Even if you are a practising Christian, celebrating the birth of Christ is secondary to trying to show people you love them with extravagant gifts you probably can't afford. I am afraid the whole phenomenon brings out the Scrooge in me. Last year I even tried to forbid people to give me Xmas or birthday presents (my birthday is five days after....) I failed. There was too much rich food, which caused stomach upsets and the occasional inference from extended family that perhaps I visit the toilet a little too often. There was maudlin drunkenness (not on my part, but hey, I visit the loo too often.) There were kids high on sugar and toys, throwing tantrums. All in all a regular Christmas.

My thoughts always turn to what this celebration should be, rather than what it is, and I scrabble desperately to hold on to that spirit. Christmas, although ostensibly celebrating only the birth of Jesus, also incorporates other, older festivals like Yule and Saturnalia. Many of the traditions we observe have their origin in these earlier celebrations. Both were observed at or around midwinter, celebrating the turn of the seasons once again toward spring, and new life. I think that midwinter celebrations, although they tended to be more macabre than those of spring or summer, were a way for ancient communities to pull together and survive the colder, harder months, the ones where food may have run short. It is also interesting that most of these celebrations involved light or fires too - once again symbolically staving off the hardships at the dead of winter.

Of course, in the southern hemisphere, many of these traditions make no sense - it is the hottest, most fertile time of year for us, and the food, fires and mulled wine are completely out of place. Be that as it may, we all face similar challenges around fuss-free family togetherness. This year, both my husband's family and my own have agreed to give token gifts, so we can enjoy giving and receiving without the accompanying stress. I'll let you know how that worked out. So far better than any year before. We are also making many of our gifts - foodie things - which are usually welcome, and can be stashed until all the big eating is over.

Apart from being with family and actually enjoying it, my ideal Christmas also involves helping those less fortunate. You all know how many South Africans are in that situation. The nicest idea I have encountered came from a friend of mine, who makes sandwiches on Christmas morning, packages them up with a R20 note, then drives around with her husband distributing them to those homeless people unfortunate enough to still be on the streets.

My three tiny suggestions, which really won't add more stress to an already stressful season, are:

  1. Meditate on peace, or perhaps do a lovingkindess meditation. This will keep your stress levels down, and the calmer you are, the calmer those around you will be. South Africa really really needs this....
  2. Change search engines - use Goodsearch. You can download it to your browser, and select the charity you want to benefit from your searches - every click sends a cent or two their way. Most are American but many are active in Africa so you may want to choose one of those.
  3. Throw a party for charity - we have to throw them anyway so it may as well be for a good cause. I saw a great idea at Hip Tranquil Chick for a Signature Charitea Soiree. SO cute! You can download a complete toolkit, including invites and recipes for the snacks. I am definitely going to do this one in the New Year. Planning the fun gift bags is keeping me interested in the current hoo-ha.

Hope you all find a way to celebrate calmy, peacefully, safely.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More postures - kneeling sequence

So now you have done some Sun Salutes, and maybe a few of your favourite postures, and you want to cool down. Or perhaps you want to stretch out your back, shoulders and hips, but don't want anything too strenous - then do the following sequence.

You can build it up by adding postures as you see fit - you can just go to child pose, or keep going to up dog, or anything in between - you choose!

Sit on your heels, feet and knees together (vajrasana)

Inhale, raise the arms and rise to kneeling

Exhale, fold forward for child pose (vajrasana forward bend)
Cat on mat optional - mine just likes to supervise!

Inhale for cat pose (cakravakasana)

Now either go back the way you came or:

Exhale for down dog (adho mukha svanasana)
Inhale for up dog (urdvha mukha svanasana)

Then go back the way you came:
Exhale for down dog
Inhale for cat pose
Exhale, fold forward for child pose
Inhale, raise the arms and rise to kneeling
Sit on your heels, feet and knees together

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Problem with Pain

The thing about pain, is, well, it just doesn't go away. Unless you fix what caused it, of course. I am currently working with an old hamstring injury, caused in the bad old overstretching days and exacerbated by too much teaching - demonstrating yoga poses is really not yoga, since I am generally speaking rather than breathing while doing the poses.

So I have a tender hamstring, and currently have to do forward bends with bent legs and a great deal of awareness. Yes, this is how I should always be practicing. And injury is a great reminder of that, and also a reminder to bring the principles of yoga into everything - including and especially teaching yoga. Funny how we go off the rails from time to time.

As many of you know, I have just cut back dramatically on my class load, so that I can spend some time 'refilling the tank'. This too is a practice of yoga - listening to what you need and acting on that information. If your inner knowledge tells you something, try to listen - the cues usually start off subtly - in my case a fatigue I just couldn't shake, then they become more insistent - recurrence of injury, two days in bed sick.....

So now I have listened - better late than never. If you find your body or soul are sending you insistent messages about a change that needs to be made, now is the perfect time - an old year is drawing to its close and a new one's about to blossom. Make the changes. It's really not as scary as it seems - just like yoga.

Yoga Classes

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You might need one or many of the following:
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Friday, December 01, 2006

On Morality

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”