Journaling, Self-study & How They Helped Me Break The Chains of Addiction

  My children, dog and husband don’t often listen to my suggestions, so I am delighted to hear that some of the yogis that joined yesterday’s chakra realignment class have started journaling! Not just because it’s quite a novel and pleasant feeling to have someone pay attention but because it indicates a willingness on your part to take this journey of self discovery to a deeper level. 

As I mentioned, you will get wonderful benefits from simply attending the classes or starting a home practice of chakra balancing, as my beautiful friend and co-teacher Victoria suggests over on her blog. However by journaling, you are consciously investing yourself more in the process of svadhyaya, or self study: the fourth niyama in the 8 limbs of yoga

In Sanskrit, sva means “self’ and adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies. I should know about this one: as someone in long term recovery from substance abuse, I am wired to sniff out dangerous territory. More about that later. 

The better we know ourselves, the better we are able to choose circumstances that are most harmonious and productive for us, including lifestyle, social interactions, ways of learning and growing. Ultimately, this allows us to not only experience more joy but also to find ways of contributing to the world that fit our disposition and therefore are more powerful and beneficial to all.

In addition, greater self-knowledge also helps us be more aware of our “less-than-ideal” patterns, whether part of our inherent nature or from past conditioning. The more aware we are of our challenges and issues, the more mindful we can be when they arise, allowing us to guide them in healthful directions rather than falling into unconscious patterns, such as fear and anger, which tend to prevent us from thinking clearly. 

Here’s a personal story: svadhyaya (and professional help, ultimately) helped me to recognise a very dangerous pattern of self-medicating with alcohol when I found that I was feeling unsafe emotionally. It was a coping mechanism that had gone haywire – serving me (to a point) when I was a teenager, struggling to come to terms with being raped, refusing to go to therapy and unable to make sense of anything in my world. 

What started as a desperate clutching at anything to numb the pain ended up as a full-blown addiction. That’s a story for another day, but the practice of yoga and svadhyaya shone a light on all these patterns and is one of the main reasons I am where I am today, free from the terrifying chains of addiction.

Understood this way, what might at first seem a “self-centered” practice, ultimately becomes a bridge, not only to ourselves but also to others – that is, through greater awareness of our own issues, we can reduce the likelihood of falling into them during our interactions while also increasing our compassion, realizing even those who have very different issues are at heart wrestling with the same basic challenging process of self-awareness. 

At this point, you are probably noticing many parallels between self-study and therapy, and there are many. However, there are a few significant aspects which set them apart. 

I will be exploring these in my next post, so for now would love to hear any comments on how you are finding this process of self-study, any comments or thoughts. 

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.

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!

#SpeakOut this 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women

This is a cause that is extremely close to my heart. I am a rape survivor and even though I was one of the lucky ones who had the full support of my family, the opportunity to get counselling if I wanted, excellent medical attention, access to all the necessary information and resources that my heart desired to help me come to terms with what had happened to me – and for years and years genuinely thought that I had got away from the attack with little to no real damage – it’s only now at the age of 40+ that I’m realising how it bruised me to the very core. Body, mind and soul. I was 13 when it happened. And I thought I was so fine that I hardly even knew to make use of all these aforementioned resources to help me get better. So, I feel incredibly passionate about all those women with zero support from their community and family – whose rapists are very often those in their social circles – and who can only dream of getting access to the support that was so readily available to me. I am signed up to get involved with Rape Crisis CT next year and this is just a small way of getting that ball rollling in the meantime. Please show your support of this fantastic cause and the incredible and vital work they do. Read on to find out more…

Rape Crisis Cape Town Blog

Rape is prevalent in the Western Cape and in South Africa but it is also under reported because communities have no faith in a system that lacks the capacity to address their needs and allows rapists to go unpunished.  The resulting culture of impunity drives the number of rape incidents upwards which means that women’s right to live free from violence is compromised.

Rape leads to high levels of psychological trauma and when this goes untreated the social fabric, in other words the bonds between people in a community, which determine how well the community can function, is eroded. The trauma of rape can have physical, psychological and behavioural effects on the rape survivor including injury, pregnancy, HIV or other sexual transmitted infections, shock, depression, nightmares, thoughts of suicide, isolation from other people and feelings of anger, extreme anxiety and shame. Sometimes survivors turn to substance abuse as a way…

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Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll. Kind of.

Okay, not quite. But ‘rape, wine and guitar lessons’ doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as glibly.

Anyone who takes their interest in yoga beyond the mat and into the texts written on the subject will come across Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra which refers to the ‘eightfold path’, also known as ‘ashtanga‘ which literally means ‘eight limbs’ (ashta = eight, anga = limb in Sanskrit). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life: ‘they serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health and help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature’ (I quote shamelessly from Yoga Journal’s http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158).

The limbs make sense to me in a way that a lot of other ‘moral truths’ or ‘rules’ don’t. Not every limb or even every part of every limb resonates entirely with me but as a whole I find them a very helpful guide to living a ‘good’ life.  They work for me on many levels.  The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Stick with me if your eyes are starting to glaze over – I’m getting to the point).

Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice. Incidentally, I don’t say grace but I do give thanks to all sentient beings who were involved in preparing the food that I am about to consume. It blows my mind every time I do it. 

Breaking it down further: the five yamas are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non-covetousness) and the five niyamas are saucha (cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (heat/spiritual austerities), svadhyaya (study of the sacred scriptures and of the self) and isvara pranidhana (surrender to God or a higher being as you know it).

Now svadyaya is where the rape, wine and guitar lessons fit in. Svadhyaya or self-inquiry ‘encompasses all learning, reflection and experience which is said to result in a greater understanding of our own fundamental nature. Self-study is perhaps the most crucial of the niyamas because at some point we must all reconcile to the fact that although higher consciousness is within everyone’s grasp, no guru, priest or other person can do the work for us’. Or, in  my case, no psychologist, marriage therapist, trauma counsellor, friend, parent, sibling or social worker.

I’ve never kept it a secret that I was raped when I was 14. Ten days after my 14th birthday, to be precise, in my own bed, in  my own house with my parents and sister sleeping soundly in their own rooms. It goes without saying that it was a terrifying and traumatic event in my life and affected each and every one of us in all sorts of ways. We all went through our own processes of dealing with it and the fall-0ut that ensued, and as I found myself heading towards my mid-thirties, I remember feeling quite good about how well I’d handled it and assimilated the experience into the rich tapestry of my life. Ha! How I smile fondly at my younger self when I think back on that now. As it turns out, it took me having my own two children and deepening my 20-odd years of precious yoga practice before I really started seeing things the way they actually were, and that what I thought was me finally coming out of the wilderness was actually me just starting to enter a dark and very convoluted path through a very dense forest with lots of scary beasts lurking around every ominous corner.

They say that the teacher appears when the student is ready. I give thanks on a daily basis – (literally, every night when I write in my gratitude journal) – that a kick-butt band of phenomenal teachers appeared at the very moment that my walls truly started crumbling and my eyes started opening to what a catastrophe my emotional life had actually become.

The last number of years have been a massive, massive growth curve for me. With the help of these incredible people and the svadhyaya that I speak of above, I came to see how what had been a coping mechanism for years (drinking wine to make the bad times bearable and the good times better) had gone completely haywire and was starting to badly affect not just me but some of the people closest to me. I came to admit for the first time how utterly horrific, sad, heartbreakingly awful the rape was. How it had affected our whole family. How a mask that I had learnt to put on as a confused and hormonal teenager became a permanent feature that eventually I didn’t even realise that I could take it off if I wanted to. I had no idea how to.

The Yoga Sutra says that as we progress on our path of self-study ‘we develop a connection to the universal Divine laws and the spiritual masters who revealed them. It is not only meant for those dedicated to matters of the spirit however but has great practical meaning for anyone who recognize there is room for improvement in our lives’ – and frankly, who doesn’t! ‘Svadhyaya represents an ongoing process through which we can assess where we are at a given moment. It is like attuning our inner navigator and finding meaningful answers to questions: Where am I now, and where am I going? What is my direction, and what are my aspirations? What are my responsibilities? What are my priorities?’

We often find ourselves on cruise control, acting habitually and being so swept up in the momentum of our daily lives that we don’t take the time to check where we are or where we are headed. It’s  not been painless to stop and take stock of all that I was doing that was entirely automatic and unintentional and downright destructive at times, but it’s been worth it and it can surely only continue to be worth any discomfort or work. I’m told that that uncomfortable space is exactly where transformation happens. The mantras and textual studies offered by the classical tradition function as references from which we can measure where we are. To take the forest analogy a bit further (bear with me, I know it’s tenuous): I am not out of it yet but it’s no longer a tunnel at the end of the light that I see, rather the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s hard to look away from that gorgeous light because it’s finally straight ahead rather than winking at me from around yet another corner. I feel like I’m walking into the light. It’s warm, it’s safe, it’s beautiful and it’s so welcome in my life.

Oh, the guitar lessons (aka rock ‘n roll): in the process of embracing the bruised 14 year old who is and always will be very much a part of me, I’ve dusted off my old guitar and started to take lessons again – after almost 30 years, at the ripe old age of 40. My teacher is an uber-cool musical whizz-kid who is young enough to be my child, but we seem to get on well and share a love for all things jazz and blues so it’s surely a matter of time before I’m carving out a career as a rock chick.

On second thoughts, I’ll stick to teaching yoga.

For more about the eightfold path and to see where a lot of this post stems from, visit http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. -Maria Robinson

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. -Maria Robinson

After a lengthy hiatus, I am back. I’ve been on a roller coaster ride the past three months which I am going to be slowly and respectfully blogging about. It’s a big deal for me, and I’m still not sure if this platform or the actual act of disclosure is the best place for this but let’s see how it goes. Basically, it’s all about starting again and using yoga to help me on my path, and to working towards making a new ending. Watch this space.

I am looking forward to teaching again tomorrow at my beautiful yoga studio in Stellenbosch. It’s been my happy place for so long now. Every single time I set foot in there, I feel a sense of calm descending upon me. I breathe deeper. I smile slightly. I inhale the lingering scent of incense. I love every single thing about that space and I am constantly stunned by how fortune has smiled on me so kindly by making this dream come true: the dream of teaching yoga at my own house in my own home town.

 

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.