Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Enough is Enough

I was chatting to a student the other day, and she was bemoaning the dismal state of her credit card. It has been several years since I have even had a credit card, overdraft, or anything of the sort, and I have come to regards this type of ‘service’ as borderline evil. This conversation was a good reminder of why.

There is nothing better than knowing that the item you just bought was paid for with money you actually have. I think our societal credit frenzy may in part come from losing sight of some of the basics. In yoga the basic principles of how to live in the world are called yamas. Yama is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as restraint, and they are:

  • Ahimsa (non-harming)
  • Satya (honesty)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (responsible sexuality)
  • Aparigraha (greedlessness)

The two that relate most to financial difficulties are asteya and aparigraha. We tend to think of steya (stealing) in its most obvious form: actual thievery. But there are many subtler forms of stealing – from ourselves, from the planet, from others. One way to steal from ourselves is to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need. I did this in my early twenties: the day after I signed the contract for my very first job, I trotted out to buy a car on hire purchase (although I had a functional ‘student’ car) and open a clothing store account. I maxed the clothing store card on that very first day, and then spent the next few years trying to pay off the debt. Then I moved on to an actual credit card. Which I maxed. So I had clothing credit, bank credit and card credit to pay every month, and I always ran out of money before payday, so I had to spend more on my credit card. What a vicious circle. So I was basically stealing from my future prosperity in the interests of instant gratification. The other type of stealing inherent in this behaviour is the stealing from the planet by taking far, far more than you need. It was only once I realised this that I started I get my spending under control.

Taking only what you need is the practice of aparigraha – greedlessness. Basically, to practice aparigraha, you need to feel a sense of gratitude for what you have right now, and know that if you are in a position to be reading this, chances are you have as much as, if not more than, you need to survive comfortably. If you are like I used to be, and you think the perfect pair of shoes will actually make any difference, it may be interesting to examine why you really want the shoes, and whether you need them (really). Everything changes – we age, we gain and lose weight, we have prosperous years and not-so-prosperous years. If we try to base our sense of self-worth or contentment on these external things, we are doomed to failure.

It has been interesting for me, former shopping queen, to choose a simpler life in which clothes are what I wear, not who I am, and the illicit, sickening thrill of overspending no longer holds any appeal. I still like to shop, but these days I buy things I will get long use from, and I live a ‘Compact Lite’ life. The Compact are a group of people who have sworn off buying anything new for a year, except food, toiletries and underwear. I am not quite there yet, but I really admire what they are doing. Some of them are even on their second year – amazing!

If you find the idea of cutting down or changing your lifestyle intimidating, consider the areas that feel wrong – when you spend and you get that sick feeling, for example. Maybe just look at that one area and see if you can make small changes there. As with all things in yoga and life, you just need to become aware, and take baby steps, to start seeing a difference.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Ethics of Teaching Yoga

I have just finished reading Donna Farhi's book, Teaching Yoga. It was a gift from a student, and came at a time when I was struggling with a number of difficult situations that needed to be resolved.

The book helped considerably with the ethical resolution of my issues, and it got me to thinking further. Farhi mentions that she has learnt both from her good teachers and from her very bad ones, and I tend to agree. I have had some excellent yoga teachers, one of whom is still my mentor, but I have unfortunately had more bad ones.

I have been in yoga classes where I was shouted at from across the room, slapped to 'correct my alignment', given vague intructions like 'open up those nadis', and even told that I could do better (very true to the spirit of yoga, that). But the worst of all was the enmeshed relationship I had with a teacher (whom I obviously admired a little too much). This incident has shaped my entire approach to teaching since: I am aware that there may be students who, like I did, think that yoga teachers are somehow special, and that they may lose sight of their boundaries in relation to me. From the teacher who allowed, and possibly even encouraged this with me, I have learnt to make as certain as possible that students understand they feel better because of yoga, not because of me. Also, that it is always, always the responsibility of the teacher to maintain professional distance and correct relations. Always. Just as it is always the responsibility of the therapist or doctor to keep propriety in their relations with clients or patients.

It's a great book for anyone who is already a teacher, or who is considering teaching.

Monday, February 19, 2007

HTC ChariTea Pictures

This was on the 3rd Feb, but I have only got to posting the pictures now.
Thank you to all the lovely friends and family who showed up and contributed to the Mothwa Haven fund!

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I love cupcakes, and this blog just makes me very very happy.
It's like the yoga of cupcakes.

Ooh, and this one is great too.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine Yoga Quickie

This won't be another rant about the crass commercialisation of all our festivals - I already did that with Christmas. It is interesting that, as always seems to be the case, this festival, the festival of the one or several martyred St Valentines, is pre-dated by a history of earlier fertility festivals taking place in February - just as Spring starts to loom on the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere.

It is a festival where people show their love for one another, and if you have time for yoga practice today, you might want to do some heart-opening back bends, opening to giving and receiving love.

How about a quick little sequence like this:

Dynamic Tadasana -
Stand in Tadasana. Become aware of your breath, of your heart beating, of your whole system working in unity.
When you are ready, inhale to raise your arms out to the sides and up, rising on to tiptoes, bring your palms to meet overhead. Exhale to bring hands to your sides and heels to the mat.
Repeat 6 times

Warrior 1/Warrior 2 Vinyasa -
Step your left foot forward, your right foot back, aligning the feet through the midline of the body if you can.
Inhale to come into Virabadrasana 1 (Warrior 1), exhale to straighten the front leg and draw your hands to your heart in namaste.
Then inhale to come into Virabadrasana 2 (Warrior 2), exhale to straighten the front leg and draw your hands to your heart in namaste.
Cycle through this vinyasa 6 times on each side.

Sun Salutes -
As many as you want, spend extra time in your lunges and upward dogs.

Then lie down in a comfortable supported backbend like Supta Baddha Konasana, sometimes known as Reclining Goddess Pose. In this position, let your breath become smooth and even, matching inhale to exhale. When you feel centred, and your breath feels steady and comfortable, imagine that you are sending love to those who need it with every exhalation, and receiving love with every inhalation. Notice who comes to mind when you think of giving love, and who comes to mind when you think of receiving love. Spend as long as you want with this imagery.

When you have finished your practice, think about phoning the people who visited you during your visualisation. I am going to phone my best friend. She is pregnant, and I haven't heard from her for long enough to get me worried.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Teacher as Student

There is a popular chant with which to begin a yoga class:

Saha navavatu
Saha naubhunaktu
Saha viryam karavavahai
Tejasvi navadhitamastu ma vidvisavahai
Om santisantisantih

Let us be protected
Let us enjoy the learning process together, without force or compulsion
Let us work together towards our goal, with energy and enthusiasm
Let there be clarity between us, never enmity or hate
Om peace peace peace

I love this chant because it reminds us yoga teachers that we can, and should, learn as much from our students as they do from us. This has been a huge learning week for me and I would like to thank a few people in particular:

The student who showed up for practice despite her unintentional self-sabotage. Its often hard to do what you know is good for you, when it makes you uncomfortable.

The student who reminded me of the power of yoga when she was moved to tears during class - brave woman for owning her emotions like that.

The student said that nobody is irreplaceable, except a parent or a child. This is good to remember as I leave my classes at Old Eds - soon I won't be missed at all!

And lastly, Pendra, for adding her own beautiful take on the kneeling sequence, and for giving me permission to share it here:

Through Prayer

I Seek Humility

And I Ask For Courage

For Forgiveness

Through Endurance

I Reach Celebration

And So Have Strength

For Acceptance

For This I Offer Gratitude