When A Stranger Blows Your Mind | A Book Review of ‘The Magic Mat’

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When on silent retreat, it is typical to find all sorts of things to do other than simply sit with oneself – walking, yoga, swimming, reading (although it’s advised to rather read the ‘journal of ones heart’) and, if there is a shop of sorts at the venue, to spend semi-infinite amounts of money on things one doesn’t really need. I am very good at this. I have any number of shawls, meditation cushions, incense, prayer flags, mustard baths, insect repellent, cook books and so on that I have purchased whilst on retreat. It’s usually my last ditch attempt to not look within, although of course sooner or later you are just left with yourself and that’s why we go on these retreats after all.

Sometimes, in my wonderings and wanderings, I stumble across a real gem of a book, and last month at Bodhi Khaya (where I was fortunate enough to be teaching yoga on one of Sue Cooper’s nurturing retreats) exactly this happened. This particular find is called ‘The Magic Mat’ by Carmen Clews and it is a book and DVD set aimed at introducing yoga to 5-12 year old children. Of the myriad books on children’s yoga that I have read over the years, this one is quite honestly in another class. I bought it almost instantly and read it cover to cover a number of times, getting more and more excited at just how beautifully and creatively it is written and illustrated.

Incidentally, please note that I was very aware of, and present in, my conscious action of distracting myself from myself through my absorption in this book, so surely that gives me some spiritual brownie points?

Having a six- and eight- year old of my own, I could immediately tell that the way that the lessons are presented would appeal hugely to their age group, and that for a yoga teacher such as myself, it is laid out in a way that is just so accessible and easy to present and interpret to the little ones.

I’ve long wanted to teach yoga for children at my little yoga studio in Stellenbosch but one of the main things that’s stopped me is that I’ve not felt that I’ve found exactly the right style that I wanted to present – I covered some teaching yoga to children in my advanced teachers training at Ananda Sangha a few years back, but it just hasn’t gelled for me – until this wonderful book ended up in my hands. I wouldn’t change a thing about how Carmen has presented it, and so I felt compelled to write her an email, expressing my delight in finding the book and to humbly request her permission to offer a pop-up children’s yoga workshop at my studio, using her book as the inspiration.

It’s possibly quite a cheeky request, and I was fully prepared for either a ‘yes but you’ll have to pay me’ or a straight ‘no’ response, but I do believe in just asking – just putting it out there, because increasingly my experience is that there is a whole lot of love in the world and a whole lot of willingness to help and to share knowledge and resources – it all comes back to us in the end. Even so, to receive Carmen’s completely delightful and overwhelmingly positive and generous response just a few hours later was an utter delight. I had what my children call ‘happy tears’ in my eyes as I read her lovely reply and blessing to use this valuable resource at my studio, with no strings attached. I am so grateful, and I am so excited, and I cannot WAIT to share her beautiful teachings with the kids that will be joining me on Monday.

Her approach is so playful but yet so profound – using animals to embody certain qualities such as a wise owl, a flexible cobra, a duck that shakes things off its back… taking children through some lovely simple asana whilst weaving a beautiful story throughout, and leaving them with a reminder that the magic on the mat is actually within them and is accessible at any time they need or want to tap into it.

The book and the DVD themselves are fabulous, and Carmen’s genuine and heartfelt wish that they go some way towards making yoga more accessible to as many children as possible was a huge and refreshing breath of fresh air. I strongly recommend that anyone with children, or with friends with children, or who is thinking about one day having children, or those who have grandchildren, or teachers (at schools or yoga teachers), basically anyone who has involvement with children and believes in the transformational power of yoga, gets at least one copy of the book. You can find all the details and order the book / DVD and optional mat at her website – I am sure you will be as delighted as I was and still am.

And if you are a parent living in or near Stellenbosch, there are still a few spots left in my pop-up children’s yoga workshop taking place on Monday morning between 10 and 12 – you can see the details on my Facebook page. Bookings essential and spaces limited.

Thanks again, Carmen. You rock.

Short & Sweet

To my horror, I realised yesterday that this year I have posted a grand total of exactly TWO blog posts! I am not sure how that happened, and I am also not sure who pressed the fast-forward button on my life, but it means we are suddenly less than a month away from Christmas and (even more alarmingly, if that’s possible) less than a week away from my in-laws arriving for their annual visit.

It’s been a year of much change and stress, which has resulted in a fair amount of (sometimes reluctant) growth and reflection on this whole thing called Life. More about that another time. For now, I am looking forward, not backward, and as I have recently resigned from my day job at the fabulous Pebbles Project, and am now in the incredibly exciting position of focusing 100% on my yoga offering, one of my short-term goals is to get back to blogging regularly.

The only way I’ll do that is if I ensure that I keep my posts short and sweet. None of these diabolically long-winded posts like the last two or so (what BORING planet was I inhabiting when I wrote those? Was I even awake?) – God help anyone that managed to persevere through either of them… so in that vein, I’ll be signing off now as I head off to my beautiful and beloved bed for another night of restorative sleep and another productive day ahead. Nice to be back!

Yoga Mudras: Who Are We Kidding?

This is how I often sit whilst meditating…

…with my fingers in Gyan Mudra: a powerful mudra (or hand position) practiced by yogis for thousands of years as it’s said to bring peace, calm, and spiritual progress.  It relates (and I quote from Spirit Voyage) “to the planet Jupiter. Artistic depictions of great spiritual masters such as Guru Nanak, Christ, Buddha and Mahavir are all shown regularly with this hand position.  In addition to its many spiritual qualities, Gyan Mudra has wide and varied health benefits, making it one of the most practiced mudras of all”.

Then I look at this short (6 minutes) but mind-blowingly magnificent video about the ‘staggering enormity of the universe” and I think ‘who am I kidding that the way that I hold my fingers whilst sitting on a little rubber mat is going to make any iota of a difference to my life and how it pans out’ – given how completely insignificant we are in the greater scheme of things.*

This is the kind of thing I was thinking about during my morning meditation earlier (that’s the thing about meditation – sometimes it’s very peaceful and focused and disciplined, and other times it’s like going down a rabbit hole – you never know what you’re going to find, and sometimes I actually choose not to return for a few tangents because what lies beneath can be so damn interesting).

I hate labels but it seems (after much research) that if I had to choose one for myself, it would have to be an agnostic atheist (think the two are mutually exclusive? Think again, or maybe have a read of this interesting definition if you want to become even more confused): I can’t claim to believe in a God, or the existence of one, or any, because I just don’t know whether it/He/She/they exist (I remain open to the idea but have yet to be convinced).

I increasingly find myself looking up at the skies – especially on a clear and moonlit night like tonight – and marveling at how completely and beautifully random this entire human experience is. I marvel at how uncertain it all is, and I take comfort and joy from the fact that being here, right now, standing tall and firm on this beautiful blue planet of ours, is enough for me. I don’t need any more than that, right now. This may change – it’s changed in the past – but for now, this is enough.

Sometimes it’s like a big old cosmic joke.

I have a giggle at myself, sitting on my mat with my fingers in a certain position, thinking that this is what is going to take me closer to the answer. Which is why my yoga practice to me (and it’s different for all of us) is a way of finding the peace and acceptance of the here and now, in a staggeringly beautiful and largely unknowable universe that we have no hope of controlling in even the slightest way. Not by chanting, not by praying, not by holding a rabbit foot for luck or not walking under a ladder for the same reason. I don’t mean to offend, but all these things – including my own beloved yoga practice – are simply man-made constructs to help us make sense of the world, and especially to bring us comfort and a sense of security when things go wrong, as so often they can, and do, and to hold us safe and warm and happy and fuzzy and balanced and ‘on the right track’ for the rest of the time. For me it’s a beautiful and ancient philosophy on how to live a meaningful life and how to contribute in a meaningful way to society as a whole as well as to learn to honour and respect ourselves and others. And I DO use mudras, and I do chant, and I am really clear on why I’m doing it – my yoga practice is and has been for over two decades my refuge, my safe place, a nurturing and uplifting practice and habit that keeps my more destructive habits at bay.

Will it get me or us closer to transcending the here and now? To enlightenment? To heaven? I’m not sure. Maybe one day that will be necessary for me to understand better, but for now I’m okay where I am. Sorry if I’m disappointing you. Gotta keep it real.

Don’t think me disrespectful of the great gurus and leaders and saints and learned ones that have gone before me and know infinitely more than I could ever hope to. I am not taking away from any of them and I am not being disrespectful of the practice, or of any faith or belief system. I certainly don’t think I have the answer. Maybe there isn’t one. But I have always loved the following quote attributed to the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama: ‘Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them’.

Maybe that is all we need to know.

What do you think? Do you use yoga mudras when you meditate? Why? What do you get from them? What do you believe in? Agree with me or disagree? Somewhat, slightly or not at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and apologise in advance for any offence I may have caused with this somewhat irreverent post.

More about Gyan Mudra, for those of you that wish to try it out or want to know more about why it’s considered so powerful: “Gyan Mudra does many things.  Stimulating the root chakra, it eases tension and depression.  It relates to expansion and knowledge.  It is extremely calming and brings the practitioner spiritual openness and ease in meditation.  Also known as Vaayu-Vardhak in traditional ayurveda, this mudra boosts the air element (Vaayu), thus stimulating the brain, empowering the mind, nervous system and pituitary gland.  Its many benefits also include stimulating the endrocrine system and through the air element it dries out joints and cartilage which might otherwise be full of fluid, causing pain and joint stiffness” (source: Spirit Voyage)

(*the greater scheme of things being the concept of the universe as described in the video – it resonates with me, and is the basis of my ramblings, but if it’s not something you believe in, I’d love to hear why in the comments section)

Ayurveda & Dosha Types for Beginners

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Malasana / Garland Pose – a beautifully grounding pose for when I am feeling the effects of a Vata overload (South Easter to blame)

I posted recently about how the incessant wind that we’ve been having in Stellenbosch lately tends to make me go stir crazy, and that it’s got to do with Vata overload. Unsurprisingly, I had a few people asking me what that’s all about. So here’s a post as promised.

Ayurveda is a holistic science of health which is focused on maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state. It began about 5,000 – 6,000 years ago when Indian monks were looking for new ways to be healthy. Revering their bodies like temples, the monks believed that preserving their health would help them meditate and develop spiritually. Over thousands of years of observations, they gathered all their conclusions and advice and preserved it for future generations. This collection of knowledge came to be known as the “science or knowledge of life” — Ayurveda.

It differs from modern medicine in that it views every individual as unique, and there is no lifestyle routine or diet that is prescribed for everyone. Aside from that, a major difference is that it focuses largely on prevention, and providing specific advice and guidance on how to maintain your physical and emotional health. Food and lifestyle routines are considered the most important medicine. If you come to an Ayurvedic doctor with a complaint, you are more likely to leave with a recipe than with a prescription for pills.

Ayurveda is based on the principles of three doshas, which are the energies that make up every individual and perform different physiological functions in the body:

The 3 Dosha types:

1. Vata Dosha: Energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and your heartbeat.

  • In balance: There is creativity and vitality.
  • Out of balance: Can produce fear and anxiety.

Characteristics for Vata predominant types: Creative; Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget, Slender; Tall and a fast-walker; Tendency toward cold hands and feet, discomfort in cold climates; Excitable, lively, fun personality; Changeable moods; Irregular daily routine; High energy in short bursts; Tendency to tire easily and to overexert; Full of joy and enthusiasm when in balance; Responds to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety, especially when out of balance; Tendency to act on impulse; Often have racing, disjointed thoughts; Generally have dry skin and dry hair and don’t perspire much.

2. Pitta Dosha: Energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and your body’s temperature.

  • In balance: Leads to contentment and intelligence.
  • Out of balance: Can cause ulcers and anger.

Characteristics for Pitta Predominant Types: Medium physique, strong, well-built; Sharp mind, good concentration powers; Orderly, focused; Assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best; Aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance; Competitive, enjoy challenges; Passionate and romantic; Strong digestion, strong appetite, get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal; When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry; Skin fair or reddish, often with freckles; sunburns easily; Uncomfortable in sun or hot weather, heat makes them very tired; Perspire a lot; Good public speakers; Generally good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian; Subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger; Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, insomnia, dry or burning eyes.

3. Kapha Dosha: Energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system.

  • In balance: Expressed as love and forgiveness.
  • Out of balance: Can lead to insecurity and envy.

Characteristics for Kapha Predominant Types: Easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced; Affectionate and loving; Forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental nature; Stable and reliable; faithful; Physically strong and with a sturdy, heavier build; Have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is steady and enduring; Slow speech, reflecting a deliberate thought process; Slower to learn, but outstanding long-term memory; Soft hair and skin; tendency to have large “soft” eyes and a low, soft voice; Tend toward being overweight; may also suffer from sluggish digestion; Prone to depression; More self-sufficient; Gentle, and essentially undemanding approach to life; Excellent health, good immune system; Very calm; strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings; Not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others; Tend to be possessive and hold on to things. Don’t like cold, damp weather; Physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Each person has all three doshas, but usually one or two dominate. I, for example, am Vata-Pitta. Various dosha proportions determine one’s physiological and personality traits as well as general likes and dislikes. For example Vata types will prefer hot weather to cold and Kapha types are more likely to crave spicy foods than other types.

My reference to the wind making me feel extremely flighty and unsettled has to do with the Vata in me, and the fact that when there is an overload of motion (wind is a classic example), I feel completely overstimulated. Once you know your Dosha make-up, you can work with your diet, your lifestyle, your entire environment to bring yourself into balance. When it’s blowy, I need my practice to be extremely grounding. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, is a classic Kapha, finds the wind absolutely exhilarating and wants to get out and about and do things when the South Easter is pumping.

Whilst I’m making this to sound extremely simplistic, it is actually a very complex science, so feel free to do some more indepth research – you will find a wealth of information on this topic. If you are curious about finding out about your dominant dosha/s, I give a link below to one of many. Most online questionnaires are very similar and will provide similar results. Please keep in mind that shorter questionnaires will give a more generalized and approximate result. Also, your body changes with age, seasons, and life situations so the results will change as well. Taking a few different questionnaires will give you a more definite result for your dosha type.

As with any of these online / DIY quizzes, please take it with a pinch of salt – I believe wholeheartedly in the premises of Ayurveda and the Chopra Centre is a reputable source, however to reap the full rewards of this phenomenal life science, I advise you to make an appointment with a proper practitioner, and am happy to refer you to one if you are interested. Just comment below and I will respond. In the meantime, here is the link for fun and to get you started.

Once you’ve done the quiz, feel free to let me know whether the results resonate with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Click here for the short time-lapse video that I posted on Facebook and Instagram that prompted this post: me attempting Tree pose in a gale-force wind.

I quote extensively from a MindBodyGreen article: for the original post, click here.

 

 

Class Schedule Term 1 of 2016

2016_Term 1 General Schedule

I’m delighted to (finally) have the schedule for Term 1 of this shiny new year ready for you. It’s been an uphill battle against technical gremlins but I have dug deep and have emerged as victorious winner!

Please note that there are a few changes, including a new addition of a regular beginners class and also a regular prenatal yoga / pregnancy yoga offering.

There is also regular kiddies’ yoga, so if you have or know of someone that has children and would like to give them the gift that keeps giving, Nia is the most fabulous teacher of yoga for children. She has a wealth of experience and we are extremely excited to have her adding this very valuable asset to our studio.

So many people have contacted me expressing how overwhelmed they feel at the prospect of starting yoga when it feels like everyone else is doing it, and doing it well – they feel threatened or intimidated by many teaching environments where they feel they are going to stick out like sore thumbs. It is with such compassion and pride that I welcome them to our beautiful studio – I know that the other teachers that I share my space with embody my belief that a yoga studio should be a safe, nurturing environment in which you are able to make yourself vulnerable, to let go of what you look like or what you are doing right or wrong, and to just be yourself without fear of criticism or exclusion.

I promise you, you are not alone if you feel that you need a private space in which to learn all the confusing names and poses so that you can confidently go and practice anywhere you fancy, and not be worried about making a fool of yourself. There are no mirrors on purpose, because it’s got sweet blow-all to do with what you look like, with what you wear, or with who else is there – it’s about you on your mat and THAT IS IT.

Our studio rocks because we are all shapes and sizes, ages, colours, genders, beliefs, stages of life, some of us are vegetarians and some aren’t, some believe in God and some believe in faeries, some like to chat and some don’t… some come to the studio to get a workout / head space / sanctuary / balance/whatever. Your reasons are your own, and there is zero judgement on any of these fronts. What we have in common is a respect for the silence that is held (mostly – we try) in the studio and the fact that we are all different. No right, no wrong (except for not pitching when you have booked – that is wrong. But more about that in another post).

So we look forward to welcoming you to the studio this year, or welcoming you back if you’re already a student at our beautiful little yoga studio in Die Laan. Please share this post and / or the schedule with your friends if the sound of our space resonates with you. And remember to book your spot in any class you wish to attend.

Let’s make this year the best one yet!

Love,

Nicci

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Christine

  
 Allow us to introduce you! 

My name is Christine and I am a 40 year old copywriter from Stellenbosch. 

My favourite asana is the ‘half lord of the fish pose’, specifically when you can grab your toes with your opposite hand. I feel so powerful, when twisted 😉

Your least fave asana?

This must be the downward dog or as I call it the dying dog. I can’t say why, but definitely my struggle pose. I try to do a downward dog once a day at home.

How did you get into yoga? 

I am inquisitive by nature and I was driving down die Laan when I saw Nicci’s notice.

What does your practice mean to you?

Yoga has taught me so much about myself, but mainly it taught me to accept and love myself.

What floats your boat about our studio? 

I love the studio, it is everything I imagined a yoga studio to be, or rather what I wanted it to be. Apart from her wonderful classes, Nicci is not only a yoga instructor to me, but a friend. I love her sense of humour and the honesty that she brings to her classes.

So, between friends, something that not many people know about you? 

I can’t sing. I can guarantee world peace by singing a few lines from a song. Also the reason behind my silent ohms!

Any final thoughts? 

If you haven’t started with yoga yet, my advice is get a mat and join us!

Thanks for these words, Christine. It’s really wonderful to see how committed you are to your practice, how it works for you, and how you embrace it – even the dying dog 😂. Here’s a little picture just for you:  

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Floriane

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Who are you, lovely lady? 

My name is Floriane (Flo), I’m 43 and I come from Paris.

What do you do when you’re not on the mat?

I’m a strategic growth consultant, Africa.

Do you have a favourite asana?

If only I could be in Savasana for my ultimate breath on this planet.. feeling like I don’t fear anything when I’m in savasana, not even death.

Any asana that you particularly dislike? 

I can’t think of any off the top of my head – there is always a positive side, sometimes just the relief to be out of it.. or the balances for instance, I often struggle but I like the “power on my body” feeling they sometimes give. I used to be very uncomfortable in pigeon but I’ve caught myself hoping for it in a recent session.

We’d love to hear a bit more about your yoga journey – how you got into it, how it has evolved and the benefits of having it in your life. 

I discovered yoga shortly after I moved to ZA, particularly when the doctor said I had blood pressure issues and needed to start taking care of myself.

Less than 2 months after I started yoga, I was badly injured in a terrible dog attack. The surgeon said I might never walk normally again. Yoga was the first activity I was allowed to resume after I was out of hospital (when still healing after a muscle and skin graft).

I went back to yoga before I went back to work and started a minimum twice a week routine, and when I was ready for physio, I chose to instead continue with yoga.

What role did your practice play in your recovery? 

It did help me a lot mentally and physically: I remember thinking  “at least I will always have yoga now..”. I felt blessed that I had started practising yoga before the accident.

A few months later I could do everything I used to do before the ordeal, including getting up on a surf board (whereas the surgeon had said I should forget about sports like skiing or surfing). I walked the whale trail with a group of friends. I went back to my life, or the life I was intending to live. I had never ever been as active as I was in this period of my life. I practise less nowadays but will never forget the benefits yoga can bring.

What does your practice mean to you now?

A breath in my busy life, in my busy mind; a feel good exercise; a way to stay fit, supple and comfortable in my body, with my body.

Do you notice any changes when you’ve not been on the mat for a while?

My body misses it when I don’t practise (and my mind as well I’m sure but it is less obvious – to me at least 😉

When I don’t exercise for a while, my leg reminds me that a muscle is missing and needs constant stimulation, so I’m in for a while I think 😉

I have developed this habit of stretching for a minute in my bed before getting up now that I don’t go to yoga as often as I used to.

Are there any things in particular that you like about practicing at our studio?

The sound of the birds; the ease to connect with the weather and the outside world. I also love the explanations given by the teachers and the importance given to slow / meditative aspects of the practice.

Anything you’ve learned about yourself?

I’m a day dreamer, which I now see as an ability to pause.

Namaste, Flo. It was an incredible thing to see how you tackled your recovery and your reintegration into your body and your sense of safety in the world after your ordeal. Your commitment to the practice and the incredible quiet determination that you displayed in taking responsibility for your healing was, and continues to be, truly inspirational. I salute you, warrior princess that you are. Namaste.