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.

 

 

Ajna Chakra – About, Asana & Suggested Journaling Questions 

As promised, here are the notes on Ajna (brow or 3rd eye) chakra which we focused on this morning. 

Did anyone else notice how resonant and calm the integrated “AUM” sounds were at the end of the class? Or how steady your standing balances were? Beautiful. Thank you. 

Next post: more about Sahasrara (crown) chakra which we started working with this morning. Next week we pull everything together in the closing chakra integration class. 

The sixth chakra is located between the eyebrows – the so-called 3rd eye. It governs our thoughts, honesty, inner and outer sight, our visions and our dreams, intuition and awareness. 

This chakra is associated with light and the colour indigo and as you work with it, it can be helpful to see the third eye as access to a cosmic vision, illuminating everything as it is without the filter of your past, your expectations or your judgment and allowing you to start seeing things as they really are, without the colour and projection of the ego.

The development of this chakra is vital for personal and spiritual growth because it helps us awaken from the illusions in life that we unconsciously accept as real … until our third eye opens, and we start looking beyond dualism

Most people are content to accept the commonly-held views of reality as presented and reinforced by popular media (TV news programs, movies, social media and books). Our early schooling teaches a simple or childlike view of the world that often extends, unexamined, into adulthood. It will take third eye chakra development in order to see past what we are told is true, and to make our own evaluation.

It means examining self-limiting ideas and developing wisdom that comes from a perspective that transcends the duality of good or bad, black or white. It means seeing and helping others to see the deeper meanings of the situations in their lives.

The sixth chakra is holistic in nature so when fully activated, both hemispheres of the brain function in synchronicity. The right hemisphere’s creativity and synthetic thinking is integrated and balanced with left hemisphere’s logical and analytical thinking. Nadi Sodona using Nasgra mudra is a wonderful breathing exercise for Ajna for this reason, but we simply didn’t have time for it in this morning’s practice. 

The third eye is not only the seat of wisdom, but also a seat of conscience. This is where you not only see what is going on, but you also know what it means. When your third eye is open, you not only see but you also understand.

Third Eye Chakra Affirmations

I am in touch with my inner guidance.

I listen to my deepest wisdom.

I seek to understand and to learn from my life experiences.

I am wise, intuitive, and connected with my inner guide.

Asana for Ajna Chakra

Any posture that you feel most able to connect with your inner self is a good place to start, including Child’s pose with the brow resting gently on the mat.

Eye cupping or eye exercises are a wonderful way of focusing on the gaze and sight, and any postures that see you crossing the midline of the body are powerful for integration of left and right sides of the brain (Garudasana – Eagle pose – is one of these). In addition, any postures that bring focus to the brow serve to harmonise the consciousness by balancing the lunar and solar energies within ajna chakra, increasing alertness and intelligence, and making the spirit feel aroused, enterprising and vivid.

Nasgra mudra is a hand position one which gentle but firm pressure is applied to the brow chakra, and can be used with any asana for the purposes of stimulating the third eye.

Click here for a beautiful guided meditation for Ajna chakra.

Journaling Questions for Ajna: 

Do I trust my intuition?

What behavior and thought patterns can I identify in my life?

What inspires me?

What beliefs do I have that cause me to judge another person negatively?

What would I like to know more about?

If you had one question to ask a psychic, what would you ask?

Name a time when you listened to your intuition and it worked, and name a time you didn’t follow your intuition and the results were unfavorable.

To tune into your sixth chakra: Take a break from watching the news and perusing your friends’ newsfeeds. Take ownership over what you consume; what you read and watch. Bust out the old magazines, and make a vision board. Write your vision down, and hang it somewhere you look every day. Read a book. Look at the sea. See the beauty everywhere, even when it’s the hardest thing to do.

Namaste.

Benefits of Balanced Chakras 


What are the benefits of balanced chakras?

First of all you just feel good. You feel balanced, relaxed, whole and healthy. You feel everything in your life is going well for you. All or most of your projects are flowing the way you like.
Tomorrow 8am is the first session of the 5 week chakra balancing course that I am offering. See flyer for more details. Remember to book.

Here are some more answers to frequently asked questions:

How do you know if your chakras are out of balance?

If you are out of balance, you will know it immediately! Your clues will be that you feel awful, depressed, or even that something is not right. What makes it sad is that most people don’t know why they feel this way. It can start with an empty feeling, sometimes it start in the heart or the stomach and if the “emptiness” is not addressed, the “emptiness” spreads throughout the body. There may be days you feel like you can’t get out of bed. After a long time of not knowing what it is, in some cases, health illness can develop.

What is going on?

You may be voicing your concerns to anyone who is willing to listen to you, your body, your biggest advocate has probably has been telling you for a long time what is not right. Most people don’t pick up on their own clues. In fact, most people ignore what their bodies are telling them. By continuing to ignore your body, your body decides to catch your attention by developing health issues. In many of cases, health issues start in the gastrointestinal, respiratory or in the jaw. Now the discomfort forces you to stop and look for help! You thoughts may turn to calling your doctor, a specialist or even a holistic practitioner.

What’s happening to your chakras?

They are getting blocked with negative energies! How does the blockage begin? It usually starts with how aware you are of your life style. Are you living a balanced life? Are you stressed out of your mind? Are you over-scheduled? Do you take time to breathe? What do you do you do for yourself? Are your worries overwhelming you?

Blocked Chakras – When a chakra becomes blocked, damaged, or muddied with residual energy, then our physical and emotional health is usually affected. Another way to know when your chakras are blocked, your mood announces your energy level. Are you in a bad mood often? Are the people closes to you now hiding from you or not returning your calls?

What does a balanced chakra feel like?

Calm, peaceful, less or no anxiety and balanced. Chances are good that you can handle stressful situations pretty well. If your energy is positive, the energy will flow evenly from the top of your head to your feet with ease.

Who can achieve balanced chakras? Everyone with practice, awareness and education.

How Do We Open Chakras?

If our chakras are opened and moving, energy runs from the top or our heads to our sacral chakra and up again (in a circle). If one of the chakras becomes blocked, this energy cannot move through it and all other chakras become affected and deprived. In time, with lack of energy, the chakra becomes weaker and eventually illness and disease can set in. When we start to feel “off,” the first thing we must do is to check in with ourselves and feel our body. We must start to be conscious of how we feel and what our body is saying to us. Time on your yoga mat is one of the best ways to listen.

For original article, click here.

About The Chakras: A Bit More Detail 

  In my previous post, we looked at a very basic overview of what the chakras are and what their significance is in our lives and yoga practice. With those issues hopefully answered, here is some more detail on the chakras and their influence on our energetic balance. 

The chakras are formed at the junction of three connected energy shafts that ascend the spine, one on each side of the central channel, the Shushumna. The two lesser channels of energy — the Pingala on the right and Ida on the left — run parallel to the spinal cord. Chakras both take up and collect prana (life force energy) and transform and pass on energy. Our material bodies could not exist without them for they serve as gateways for the flow of energy and life into our physical bodies.

Each chakra is associated with a certain part of the body and a certain organ which it provides with the energy it needs to function. Additionally, just as every organ in the human body has its equivalent on the mental and spiritual level, so too every chakra corresponds to a specific aspect of human behavior and development. 

Our circular spirals of energy differ in size and activity from person to person. They vibrate at different levels relative to the awareness of the individual and their ability to integrate the characteristics of each into their life. 

The lower chakras are associated with fundamental emotions and needs, for the energy here vibrates at a lower frequency and is therefore denser in nature. The finer energies of the upper chakras corresponds to our higher mental and spiritual aspirations and faculties.

The openness and flow of energy through our chakras determines our state of health and balance. Knowledge of our more subtle energy system empowers us to maintain balance and harmony on the physical, mental and spiritual level. All meditation and yoga systems seek to balance out the energy of the chakras by purifying the lower energies and guiding them upwards. Through the use of grounding, creating “internal space,” and living consciously with an awareness of how we acquire and spend our energy we become capable of balancing our life force with our mental, physical and spiritual selves.

My next post will look at the primary qualities of each chakra, its corresponding location in the body, colour and mantra, physical and emotional realms of influence, and its greater significance in our practice. 

Questions? Opinions? I’d love to hear from you. 

Chakras 101

  

In anticipation of the 5 class series on chakra alignment that I’m offering in November, my next few posts will be about the sometimes mysterious chakras: what they are, why they are important, how to bring them into alignment, and more specifially to answer any questions that you may have about them.

The ancient yogis understood that in order to experience a more satisfying life—one that feels more stable, more sublime, and more connected to others—we have to effect change from within. And one of the key ways to alter the inner reality is working with the chakras, the body’s energetic centers.

Chakra literally means “spinning wheel.” According to the yogic view, chakras are a convergence of energy, thoughts/feelings, and the physical body. Our consciousness (mind) gets projected through these wheels, and this largely determines how we experience reality from our emotional reactions, our desires or aversions, our level of confidence or fear, even the manifestation of physical symptoms.

By working with these centers in yoga practice, we can begin to unravel any blocks that may prevent the unfolding into our highest potential. 

That’s all you need to know for now if you are just wanting a basic explanation. If you want to take your understanding a bit deeper, please come back for tomorrow’s post which will get a little more technical. 

Any questions? Any thoughts? 

Chakra Balancing Series

You’re invited: A 5 Week Class Series to Balance The Chakras

Yoga With Nicci Chakra Series

Starting on Saturday 7th November, I will be offering a five week series focused on bringing the chakras into alignment.

Classes will be repeated on Monday evenings during my 6pm class slot. They can be attended as stand-alone classes but you will experience maximum benefit from attending all five in sequence.

Regular rates apply unless you book for the series in which case you pay 10% less. Full details on the pic. Excited!

How I Escaped My iPhone For 3 Whole Days

By accident, that’s how. I left my wall charger in Hermanus on a recent weekend away and then The Band took my car charger with him to Afrikaburn. And it has been the most wonderful accident, learning experience and eye-opener.

Day one was just a huge adjustment – it felt as if I was walking around without my knickers on. It was half fun and half filled with anxiety – I kept having these happy moments when I realised that I hadn’t checked my phone for hours, followed by a sense of ‘what if I’m missing out on Stuff and don’t even know about it’ anxiety.

Day two was my chance to go out and buy a charger – I got to the fabulous Buro store in Stellenbosch (go there if you ever want amazing, personalized service – they never cease to impress me) and it was closed, since it was Workers’ Day, which I had forgotten about. I was surprised that I felt really relieved to see the doors locked and the sign telling me to return the following day. It felt like someone had just given me an extra day’s holiday. And by now I was really relishing the silence and the fact that I was solely responsible for what information I was consuming – and when. I had completely lost that feeling that perhaps someone was trying to reach me and getting offended that I wasn’t responding. My dearest friends know that I sometimes need to go underground and that it’s nothing personal. And since I had both my kids with me all the time and The Band was without signal of his own in the desert, I realised that there was no need for me to feel any obligation or need to be available at all.

Late afternoon on day three saw me returning to Buro and purchasing a charger. I arrived as they were locking up for the day but being the awesome people that they are, they ushered me in and allowed me to make a quick purchase. I plugged in as soon as I got home and have just switched on my phone to find the following waiting to be consumed by unsuspecting old me, either on Twitter, Facebook or by email:

  • The One Thing You Should Be Doing For A Bloat-Free Belly
  • 6 Reasons To Start Using Coconut Oil As Toothpaste
  • Drinking enough water is vital to good health & when you do is just as NB
  • The 6 Mental Steps I Took to Manifest A 6-Figure Salary
  • 3 Ancient Ayurvedic Rituals To Rock Your Mornings
  • Here’s what gluten really does to your food
  • 10 Ways Moms Can Balance Home and Family
  • Seven tips for purposeful parenting
  • 5 Prenatal Yoga Moves Every Mama-To-Be Should Try
  • How to Overcome Anxiety and Depression Without Medications

It’s pretty clear from the headings what sort of newsletter I subscribe to, what pages I like and who I follow on Twitter: things that are supposed to uplift, inform and empower me; things that are specifically designed to help me reach my full potential – as a working mother, a yogi, a woman, someone who has to continually watch myself to make sure that my emotions are in check (more about that in another post) so that I can maintain my balance… as a human being on this planet. And when I saw all these things waiting for me, instead of feeling supported, I felt a cold, small but vice-like hand of panic tightening around my heart. I felt my breath becoming instantly sharper and shallower, and I realised why I have been feeling so relaxed the past few days: I have been in control of my thoughts and my feelings. I have been entirely able to dictate what information I consume, when. I have not had to second-guess what I have been doing, thinking, eating, wearing, cooking, or how I’ve been disciplining or what I’ve been feeding my children, not for one second. I had eaten my morning oats with gusto and no concern about the ghastliness of gluten; I have let my kids have what we call ‘piggy night’ last night because I just did not feel like going through the rigmarole and soap opera that is bathtime can be at times; I have used normal toothpaste and I have washed my bath out with Handy Andy (gasp) because I ran out of my natural cleaning products and just did not feel like driving to the shops to buy more. I have read actual books – fiction, not self-help – and I have been a total rebel and slept for 11 hours one night and for 7 the next because I was excited about clearing out my linen cupboard and didn’t want to go to bed until it was done.

And I have felt happy about it!

It has been interesting for me to see the amount of pressure I allow these sites to exert on me. How sensitive and suggestible I am in terms of feeling that I could / should be doing (everything) better. How I really am a work in progress when it comes to being more gentle on myself and not doubting myself. How you really don’t miss out on anything unmissable if you are out of radio silence for a while.

Moving forward: I am going to unsubscribe from a bunch of these newsletters; I am going to unfollow a whole flock of tweeters and I am going to unlike a horde of Facebook pages so that I have fewer sources of unsolicited advice waiting to ambush me every time I log in / on. And I am officially banning my phone from my bedroom in the evenings. It is going to charge in the kitchen while I sleep and I am going to use my old-fashioned alarm clock to wake me up.

So my love-hate affair with my phone continues, but I look forward to this continued awareness and taking control of its dominance in my life. Give it a try – switch yours off for a weekend and see how you feel, and let me know!

“How do I know when I’m getting better at yoga?”

This is something that I am asked fairly regularly by people that come to my little Stellenbosch yoga studio. Another question is: ‘How often should I practice ideally, in order to get the maximum benefits?’

There is no one or simple answer to either of those questions, and they are both worth asking. At the risk of being one of those annoying people who doesn’t give a straight answer but rather launches into a long-winded anecdote, allow me to tell you a quick little story…

I took a few days off work (my day job, not teaching) this week so I could go with my family to the gorgeous coastal town of Hermanus for a short break. It was such a treat to give my kids the undivided attention that they deserve and thrive upon, and I specifically didn’t take my laptop with me because I felt I needed to switch off and relax and recharge after a couple of pressurised weeks in the office . I was introduced to a lovely little studio in Hermanus called Yoga Heart by my dear friend and fellow teacher Leli Hoch a few years back and whenever I am nearby, I make a point of dropping in for a class. So, I was extremely excited about fitting in a ‘still’ class yesterday morning, at 10.30am on Wednesday. I elected to walk along the magical cliff path, my favourite thing about the town, rather than drive, and ended up hopelessly underestimating how long it would take me to get to the studio – I would have been almost half an hour late.

And this is where the answer to the above question started becoming clear: although I was initially annoyed with myself – really pissed off actually – at having got my planning so badly wrong, swiftly followed by a real sense of disappointment at the fact that I was going to miss my class that I had looked forward to for a while, both those feelings were gently wiped away by a real, deep-seated sense of ‘oh well, that clearly wasn’t meant to be; I guess that means I’m supposed to be doing something else then’. And to cut a long story short, I ended up finding a lovely secluded bench along the path where I rolled out my mat and did some fabulous breath work and meditation instead.

It was one of those really lovely moments where I really, genuinely felt that I have made progress in my yoga practice. At a time that I’ve been pulled away from my mat a lot, what with work pressures and family commitments, and through which I’ve been aware of a little voice in the back of my mind nattering on about how long it’s been since I tried out a new arm balance, for example, or why I haven’t taught a workshop for a while, or why I’m not meditating for as long as I would like to each day, it was almost a relief that find that I actually have come to a place – after all these years of practicing yoga – where I am finding a growing flexibility. And I’m referring to a flexibility in my mind and heart, rather than my body.

I am a bit of a control freak. I like things to work out, especially when I have taken time to plan well. I have often felt that people who say ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ are subtly making excuses for not having got out of bed early enough or who are just sugar-coating real disappointments because that’s what they think that they should do or say. And sometimes I need to think carefully when I find myself saying yogic cliches, like ‘everything happens for a reason’ (I say that a lot) as to whether I really think that or if it’s just another platitude. So, it was a wonderful, liberating, uplifting and reassuring feeling to find that I really didn’t mind missing the class after all. And that I didn’t beat myself up about not making the class. And that I really, genuinely, felt in my heart of hearts that I was supposed to be on the cliff path on my own rather than in a studio with a bunch of other people.

So, I guess the short answer to the question is you know you’re getting better at yoga when not just your body but your mind starts showing distinct signs of increased flexibility. The ability to go with the flow. When you find that you are having a real shift away from the negative ways and thoughts and habits that hold you back and keep you trapped. They can be big or small. They can change. I’ve been practicing yoga for almost twenty years and this is the first time I’ve really felt this particular shift. Made the entire trip to Hermanus worthwhile.

As for the question about the ideal amount that one should practice, I’ve always said that it’s whatever you can manage. Some folk say you should aim for at least 2 classes a week… I say that there’s no point in stressing yourself about getting to a class if it’s not working in your life. Do as much as you can, but by that I don’t mean as many classes a week as you can: just do whatever you can – even 5 minutes a day is good (my go-to home pose is Cat Cow) so that it’s a pleasure in your life and not a chore. If it works for you, you will probably find that you start gravitating towards making more time for yoga in your life. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t force it – but that’s probably a good indicator that there’s something that you may want to have a little look at, to figure out why there is resistance towards getting on your mat. We all have it sometimes. Nothing to freak out about, just a little flag that pokes up and says ‘hey, you may want take a deeper look at this’…

More about that in my next post!

Life Lessons Learned from Riding a Bike

I’m busy going through the wonderful, if harrowing, rite of passage of starting to teach my 4 year-old how to ride a proper bicycle. Harrowing for me, that is – he is as fearless and plucky as can be. I have it on good advice from my sister (mum of 4 and, along with my BFF Cath – another mum of 4 – my go-to person in most questions in the child-rearing department) that the 2 or so years he’s spent on his ‘balance bike’ (otherwise known as a JD Bug, or a ‘Lady Bike’ as my Danny fondly and misguidedly refers to it) will ensure a smooth and painless transition to a proper bike, and that the stabilisers / training wheels supplied with the bike are wholly unnecessary and will in fact have the undesired effect of making him question his balance and start to rely on them instead. We’re both willing to try this theory out and so far so good, in that I’m spending long afternoons running up and down the driveway and path outside our house, hanging onto the saddle while I push him along, his little legs pumping up and down like pistons but not doing very much in terms of actually propelling him forward. I’m getting fit, he’s having a ball, and I’m confident that it’s just a matter of time before he gets the hang of it.

This whole experience has made me think about some very simple similarities between riding a bike and living a happy life. Indulge me, if you will, this is hardly rocket science.

You need to have a good idea about where you’re going, and you need to keep your eyes on the road, but at the same time you’ve got to expect, and be prepared for, obstacles to crop up when you least expect, want or need them to.

When they do, inevitably, occur, it seems that there are two ways of dealing with them. One is to tighten your grip on the handlebars, squeeze your face into a tight ball, hold your breath, speed up and try to blast through whatever is in your way. You may get through to the other side but you may well get hurt, and it’s not going to be much fun. The other is to loosen your grip slightly, slow down, take a few deep breaths, and have a good look for detours or ways around the blockage. Maybe even stop and take stock for a while. Perhaps put your bike down, lie back against a tree and listen to the birds for a while. Maybe go back to where you came from and try again from a slightly different angle. But go easy and go gentle.

I guess it’s all about not being too hell-bent on staying on a chosen course, but being prepared for things to change along the way, and finding a way to adapt so that you still get to your destination. Or choosing a new destination altogether.

Balance is an obvious one that is hugely beneficial. Not going too far one way or the other, but finding a middle ground that works for you. Or even if you’re not a middle ground kind of person, at least knowing where it is so you can get back to it if you need to.

The ability to recover, to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle if you hit a tree. As many times as necessary. Although if it’s the same tree you keep hitting, maybe it’s time to take a good long look at the path you’ve chosen and trying to figure out why you keep making the same mistake over and over.

It all makes me realise how this parenting thing is just so much more complex than going through the motions of getting the kids to eat, drink, brush teeth, bath, ride a bike, walk, talk etc but that ultimately you are their role model for much more important lessons. It simultaneously terrifies me and thrills me. The pressure! – especially when I am still learning so many lessons myself each day and have a semi-infinite number more to learn. And then I remind myself to loosen my grip slightly, show a little more flexibility, and instead of focusing solely on the destination, to live in the moment and enjoy the beautiful ride.

My Highlight of 2012: a 5 day Silent Retreat at Bodhi Khaya

I was fortunate enough to secure a last-minute space on the long-weekend silent retreat that Sue Cooper facilitated at the beautiful Bodhi Khaya in the run-up to Christmas, and it has got to rank up there as my number one experience of last year.

2012 was a year of huge change and upheaval for me, on many different levels, what with moving house twice, the loss of my very precious Granny, and a number of other personal challenges. So when I read about this retreat, entitled ‘Finding Balance in the Midst of Change’, I leapt at the opportunity to attend – even though it was just a week before it was due to run. Sue very gently let me know that it had been booked out for months already, but assured me that she’d get in touch if there was a cancellation. I can’t recall the last time I put as much energy into willing something to happen as I did that week, and with just days to go, I got the beautiful phone call to tell me that there had indeed been a cancellation, and I’d better pack my bags.

I’ve attended a semi-silent retreat before, with Cheryl Lancellas of SA Yoga Safaris at the Blue Butterfly Resort in Tulbagh (with my yoga besties, Nicole Shea and Leli Hoch) but never anything as intense as this promised to be, so there was an element of apprehension as the time drew closer, however this was replaced by a huge sense of relief, gratitude and curiosity as the day dawned. As I took the turn-off to Bodhi Khaya, between Gansbaai and Stanford, it struck me that this was exactly the road on which our very special family friends, the Harrods, used to own a farm called Grootbos (next door to what is now a game reserve by the same name), and as I drove into the actual gates of Bodhi Khaya, I realised that this was, indeed, the farm that the Harrods had owned a number of years back. It was an emotional realisation and led to an overwhelming feeling of coming home, of belonging, of being safe, and of being exactly where I was supposed to be. The last time I’d been on the farm was around 1998 or 1999, just before I left to go to London, and yet it felt like yesterday. At the time, I was in the process of getting over a very painful breakup, and I remember how the peace, quiet and beauty of the farm and its surrounds were like a balm to my raw emotions. And here I was again, feeling decidedly delicate, and once again almost felt that my breath was taken away by the natural beauty of the place.

The retreat was the most amazing, uplifting, healing and enlightening experience that I have ever had. The silence was simultaneously challenging and beautiful, and I honestly have never been in a place that appealed to my senses on so many levels and in such an intense manner. The crisp white bed linen, the green of the trees, the flavours and textures of the exquisite food that we were presented with each day, the blue of the sky, the silky feeling of the water in the two mountain ponds, the pinks of the water lilies, the breeze on my skin as we did Chi Kung under the swaying trees, the smell of the incense as we sat down to each of the many meditation sessions that took place each day, the sensation of the grass crunching underfoot as I walked to the horses’ paddock and the roughness of the path as I walked the labyrinth, the feeling of my yoga mat underfoot as I practiced every day, the sound of the chickens clucking as I lay on my back looking up at the clouds in the day and the sound of the night jars as I lay on my back looking up at the stars at night.. perhaps it was the silence that seemed to enhance everything about the long weekend. Whatever the reason, it was a tonic and a privilege to experience.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course – being alone with one’s self for such an extended period of time, and without all the usual distractions, means that you have no choice but to sit down with all the different emotions and issues that may arise, look them squarely in the eye, and figure out how it is that you are going to move forward embracing these things rather than trying to push them out of the way or pretend that they don’t exist. It was a safe and nurturing environment in which to do this, and I came away from it with a deep sense of peace and acceptance, as well as forgiveness – for others that I may have been harbouring anger and resentment towards for a long time, but specifically forgiveness for myself, for all the ‘wrong’ decisions and actions that I may have made and done in the past, and that I’m no doubt still going to make and do in the future. The theme may have been ‘finding balance in the midst of change’ but one of the biggest things that I got out of it was a rediscovery of what it feels like to be kind and compassionate towards myself. Sue, wonderful Sue, refers to ‘holding oneself in an embrace of compassionate awareness’, and this is something that I have carried with me every day since I got back.

On the last day, when we were permitted to talk again, I found that I just wasn’t ready for it. The chat seemed so noisy, so superficial, so intrusive. It took me a number of hours before I felt that I was ready to re-enter the ‘normal’ world, and to leave the magical playground of Bodhi Khaya / Grootbos behind, but of course life doesn’t stop – even though it did feel like a period of suspended reality – and now the on-going challenge is to attempt to maintain the same level of awareness, consciousness and mindfulness as I walk through my regular life. I have already signed up to go to Sue’s next silent retreat in the run-up to Christmas this year, and I cannot wait!