This term we have been reflecting in class ‘what is underneath us’. Learning to accept ourselves for who we are and forgive and love all our little foibles goes a long way to enable our enjoyment of life and to see the good in all those around us too. This poem is a lovely bringing together of these ideas.
Here is my past–
what I’ve been proud of,
and what I’ve pushed away.
Today I see how each piece
was needed, not a single
step wasted on the way.
Like a stone wall,
every rock resting
on what came before-
no stone can be
suspended in mid-air.
Foundation laid by every
act and omission,
each decision, even
those the mind would
label “big mistake”.
These things I thought
were sins, these are as
necessary as successes,
each one resting on the
surface of the last, stone
upon stone, the fit
the rough, uneven
face of these rocks
in the sunlight.
pg. 26, Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga
A professor stood before his philosophy class with a few items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large, empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into the spaces between the golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
Next the professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked again if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes’.
The professor then produced two bottles of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar – effectively filling the space between the sand. The students laughed…
‘Now’, said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognise that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favourite passions – and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else – all the small stuff.’
‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for your life.’
‘If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.’
‘Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.’
‘Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit your grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.’
‘Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked that – the beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.’
Do you get anxious or angry when things don’t go just as you want them to? Do you feel you have to take charge of ‘everything’ or nothing would get done?
Feelings such as these really do cloud our enjoyment of life. They are often termed as ‘control issues’. Sometimes the simplest things make you irritated – say going for a coffee with a friend and the service being a bit slow or on a walk with a loved one and the moment being spoilt by a one-sided diatribe of complaining. These experiences feel like they are so far from the ‘perfect’ idea that you had in mind. But this is life.
Sometimes things don’t go as we planned – but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. I’ve been learning ballroom dancing over the past couple of years – and it is the most fun when we learn something new and make a few mistakes in the process.
When we complain and are dis-satisfied about ‘inferiority’ or ‘mediocrity’ then we are only letting ourselves down and allowing our perception to cloak a situation in a pessimistic way.
Isn’t every aspect of our lives a matter of perspective? “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ANNE FRANK, Diary of a Young Girl
We can alter our perspective on situations if we want to –
Don’t think MESSY – think LIVED IN/RELAXED
Don’t think SLOW SERVICE – think CAREFUL LOVING PREPARATION
I read Pollyanna (Eleanor H. Porter) recently – if you haven’t read it, well worth a look – and that has the thread of finding something positive about every situation you face. In fact Pollyanna makes it into a game – which is sometimes fun and often a challenge. Why not give it a go next time you feel like moaning?
LETTING GO OF CONTROL – A MEDITATION PRACTICE
1 Write about 3 recent occasions where you felt anxiety and wanted to take control of a situation or someone else’s behaviour.
2 Now come to a meditation space – seated on a cushion or in a chair. Take a moment to be still and watch the breath for about 5 minutes.
3 Chose one of the situations that you listed. Recall it in detail – especially the feelings. Perhaps a family member moved some cushions and didn’t replace them exactly as you wanted (small things can really get our goat) – what were your feelings?
4 Ask yourself why having things the way you want them is so important… Are you afraid of something? Do you feel that if you lose control you may become powerless? Alone? Abandoned?
There is no right answer – explore the feelings, even if you feel a bit silly now looking at them like this.
5 Let those thoughts go and commit to yourself to ‘letting go’ just a little bit at a time. See that by relaxing your grip (usually) nothing terrible happens. Look for a positive outcome when things are different from your expectations. Be kind and patient with yourself. Most people will have these thoughts at one time or another – you are not alone.
One final thought…
“All that we are is a result of what we have thought.” Buddha
I recently read a compelling tale about Alfred Nobel – he of the Nobel Peace Prize. The story touched me so much that I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. The story goes (and I can’t say how much of it is absolutely true) that Alfred Nobel was born in poverty but became very rich as an inventor, chemist and engineer. He created dynamite and had many factories making ammunitions thus amassing a great fortune during his lifetime. Sadly his brother died in 1888 and the media at the time got things a little confused and thought it was Alfred who had died. The obituaries in the papers were brutal ‘The merchant of death is dead’ and similar headlines appeared. Despite many other inventions and his vast wealth creation, the main thing Alfred was remembered for was the dynamite and the destruction it caused. This is said to have incentivised Alfred to set up the Nobel Peace Prize. He left his whole fortune to be invested and each year prizes given to those who contribute the most to society.
What does it all mean?
The ancient Sages suggested that to live a happy and fulfilled life it’s important to have a purpose and to consider what you might be remembered most for…
– great abs?
– fast car?
– amazing teeth?
In our increasingly time-deprived lives we can get caught up in minutia and drowned in emails missing the big picture of what we are actually doing here. Spending weeks, months and years doing stuff that makes us miserable and just wishing we were some place else.
Perhaps there’s another way? To take time to think about…
– what makes us tick?
– what do we care deeply about?
– what do we want people to remember about us?
Though the answers may change from time to time, our life on this planet is short – so we should make it count. I doubt anyone’s last words were ‘I wish I could have spent more time at the office’.
In our 90 minute yoga classes, the April/May half term will continue with the theme of opposites. We will be thinking of our yoga postures from the inside and the outside. After learning several asana (postures) and sequencing them we will begin to add in the appropriate Chakra focus… Why do this? It can help us to bring into balance the mind, energy and physical body. IN other words we are trying to get our mind, body and soul ‘singing off the same hymn sheet’. This is how we can reduce stress and enhance healing within ourselves.
Inside/Outside has been a topic of interest and exploration for artists and philosophers throughout time. The artist Henry Moore worked with historic armour and build a whole collection entitled Helmet Heads in which he places 2 separate sculptures together – an inner person or mind within a protective helmet/skull/shield.
From the yogic perspective, for the least suffering in this life, we are advised to align our inner and outer worlds so that we can feel happy in our own skin and simply be who we are. It takes real guts to be honest and through our practice we can build a strong body and mind to enable this.
Perhaps you can think of some other famous examples from art, history or philosophy? Have a think as I wold love to hear them.
Chakras are energy centers… ancient yogis developed a concept of energy pathways running all around the body – rather than our energy just radomly ‘fuzzing’ about inside us. This is similar to the system of meridians used in Chinese medicine, reflexology and acupuncture.
One of the main energy pathways (nadis) is along the spine. Where pathways cross the spine, the energy is said to become greater and move in a circular motion hence the name ‘Chakra’, which means wheel in Sanskrit.
You can find more out about the Chakras on the following websites
Do you find it almost impossible to relax because you feel guilty when you’re not busy?
We increasingly live under constant pressure to be productive – doing something every moment of the day; multi-tasking; maximising every second.
The increase of mobile phones means we have messages coming at us 24/7 – there is never a quiet moment! And when there is we seem to worry – is the phone working? No one wants me – and the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ on anything our friends are doing.
The stress that we are continually putting ourselves under will eventually cause a problem. According to statistics from the Government’s Health and Safety Executive 85% of serious illnesses are caused by stress. It costs our country £7 billion per year in lost work days and NHS services.
We all know the signs – heart rate goes up, sweaty palms, breathing increases and so on. This is due to hormonal changes within our bodies described as the ‘fight or flight’ response. The body reacts by instinctively preparing to run away or face down the problem. Internally this means that our oxygen and blood supply are totally diverted to get the muscles ready to run or fight. Our pupils also enlarge to take in as much information as possible and other unnecessary bodily activities shut down – digestion, metabolism, sex drive.
Does this ring any bells with you?
When we take time out to relax all the functions described above reverse. Our heart rate reduces, the oxygen in our blood is regulated, the muscles relax, and digestion, metabolism and sex drive are all improved.
Yoga offers a great way to relax and unwind the body and mind. A typical class will offer 1/3rd of the time in relaxation practices. A guided relaxation can take many forms – seated in a chair or laying on the back of the body. A teacher will use a variety of methods to help you to relax your body and mind. Visualisations, muscle tense and release, breathing exercises, meditation and music are some methods I use.
The benefit of a regular class means that you learn techniques and tips to stop you from doing your mental ‘to do’ list and allow you to simply be and relax. Giving yourself permission to relax is the most important and difficult thing to do. But given the benefits, don’t you think it’s your job to get busy relaxing?
If you feel rather sluggish now that the Easter Holidays (and chocolate) have left the building and landed on your waist – why not try a few yoga moves to give you some energy and elongate your muscles? Stand with feet in the correct alignment – knees under hips and ankles under knees. Interlock the fingers and take the arms up overhead turning the palms to face the ceiling. At the same time lift your heels and raise up onto your tip toes. All this happens in tandem with a nice long in breath and on the out breath return the arms and heals back to the starting point. Watch out if you have any shoulder problems – try it without the fingers locked. And if you find the raises give you too much wobbling issue just do the arms bit and try raising the heels when you have a stronger core. This move is called ‘Tadasana’ or sometimes ‘Tadasana with breath’.
The benefits include –
develops your balance
stretches the whole length of the spine
loosens shoulder joints
stretches the stomach area and the abdominal muscles
improves the ankle joint and calf muscle
improves lung capacity
Do 5 – 10 repetitions daily and you’ll soon feel the benefits!
Would you like to share a lift to your yoga class? I would like to introduce ‘lift sharing’ as an option for students because we live in a rural environment and we always seem to have to get the car out just about everywhere we need to go! Is it time to think of the environment and try to share a lift to yoga with someone who lives near to you?
The benefits of lift sharing are – cost saving on fuel/wear and tear of your car, not having to drive after the relaxation at the end of the class every week, an extra bit of push to get to class every time.
The costs of lift sharing are – picking someone up you may not know well, going a little out of your way and thus taking a few minutes more, letting someone know if you can’t make the class.
It has been statistically proven that having a ‘buddy’ with any sport is very helpful in motivation. More people stick at their sport and attain their goals when they have a ‘buddy’ to help and support them. With this idea of lift sharing you are getting both a buddy and a driver – surely it must be worth a go?
If you are interested in participating in this scheme please email me here with your location and I will try to pair you up with another willing participant. There is no obligation to carry on if you give it a go and it doesn’t work – you can tell me and I will sort it out. But you never know it could be the start of something good!