Guided Meditations for Svadhistana and Manipura Chakras

In the second class of the Chakra balancing series we’re currently doing at the studio, we focused on Svadhistana and Manipura chakras (2nd and 3rd). On Saturday past, my printer had run out of toner so I wasn’t able to print hand-outs as I would have liked, and I promised to post the guided meditation scripts that I used on the blog. Here you are: with special thanks to Wanderlust for these gorgeous words.

WATER

Svadhistana: A SWEET OCEAN MEDITATION

While you are earth, you are – quite surely – also water. Everything ebbs and flows, drips, drops, pours, splatters, trickles, ripples, soaks, splashes… everything is nurtured and nourished by water.

Sit on the edge of a cushion, pillow or blanket. Weave your fingers together, touch the tips of your thumbs and rest your hands in your lap. Close your eyes. Connect to the rise and fall of your breathe.

Imagine you are sitting in a small boat, a canoe perhaps. With each inhale that arrives, feel the sensation that you are floating on top of the water. With each exhale, you are drifting further and further from shore. Feel the vastness of the ocean below you. The possibility of the sky above.

Now, imagine that a wave rolls underneath you and rocks your boat. And then another. And another. Feel them come and go, come and go, holding within them life’s ever-changing nature.

Think of the many waves of your life. Some have lulled you with their gentleness, their consistency and comfort, while others have been giant, drag-down tsunamis that you nearly drowned in. All have integrated into the great big ocean that makes up the tapestry of you. You are each wave, but you are also the entire ocean. Honor all that has brought you here.

Ask yourself: Do I give myself permission to feel the fullness of all of my feelings in any given moment? Think of what you have stuffed inside or shoved away… What part of your emotional landscape in waiting to be acknowledged? On the other hand, ask yourself: What parts of the past am I clinging to? What am I ready to let go of?

Roll onto your back into Baddha Konasana with the soles of your feet together and your knees wide. If you need some support, prop blocks or pillows underneath your legs. Place your hands on your lower belly. Feel the vulnerability of this position, your body’s expression of total openness and receptivity. Ask yourself: Do I allow for pleasure in my life? And feel the space to listen…

Dance, swim, DTR, take a warm bath with essential oils of cardamom and sweet orange, eat sweet potatoes, sprinkle cinnamon on everything. Do/wear the things that make you feel sexy. Express your sensuality through movement-based practices. This part of you needs tending always. Look for the sweetness in life. Stop and smell the roses, as they say. And then walk on.

May you feel each of your feelings fully, and then surrender them to the flow.

FIRE

Manipura Chakra: A FIRE MEDITATION

In the same way that fire turns matter into heat and light, this is where you take what you’ve been given and make the best of it. And then some.

Without a strong third chakra, we remain stuck in the sameness and drudgery of a passive life. Manipura is action, doing, going through the eye of the needle, breaking inertia.

Note: Light a candle, or better yet, complete this meditation in the middle of a circle of lighted candles.

Sit on the edge of a cushion, pillow or blanket. Cup your left hand and make a fist with your right hand, extending your right thumb up. Place your right fist in your left open palm, and draw your hands in front of your solar plexus (located just below the sternum and above the navel). Close your eyes. Connect to the rise and fall of your breathe.

Imagine that your right thumb is a flame, flickering at the center of your being. With each inhale that you take, watch the yellow flame grow just a little bit brighter. Imagine a warmth spreading from this area of your body and filling you from the inside out…

Now, imagine that you have gathered a little stack of sticks. On each stick, write a word or phrase representing something in your life that is no longer serving you, something that you are in the process of letting go of, or need to be. Remember that some things must be let go of hundreds of times before we are free from them, maybe thousands. Forgive yourself this process, for letting go is one of the hardest things to engage with…

Now, place each stick into your flame. Watch it catch fire. And burn. And as each stick is completely burned, imagine that a gust of wind travels into your hands and carries the ash away from you, far far away.

Ask yourself: Do you have the energy to do the things you want to do? Do you have the confidence to do the things you want to do? What gets in the way? Oftentimes our energy is drained in one area of our life, and we are left lifeless before the mountain of wonderful, enriching experience that could be…

Stand up, with your feet a little wider than hips distance. Reach your arms overhead, weave your fingers together, and extend your pointer fingers. As you inhale reach up high, and with your exhale sweep your arms through your legs while shouting, “HA!” Inhale your arms back into the sky, exhale shoot your arms through your legs, “HA!” Do this ten times, and then pause, hands in prayer at your heart. Feel what has been stirred…

Boil sliced ginger for a tea, build a campfire, eat a spicy curry, take a heated yoga class, go for a run, massage some sandalwood into your sternum, make a plan, and execute.

Fire teaches us that power results from combining and integrating, rather than fighting and dominating. Remember, there is ease and grace in true power. And you are powerful beyond measure.

You can change.

Self-study vs Therapy

IMG_3720As established in my previous post, there are many similarities between the yogic practice of svadhyaya and the Western practice of therapy. 

However there are a couple significant aspects which set them apart. The Yogis realized there are essentially two major challenges to therapy, the first being the fact that causality is an “infinite regress” – that is, if we get overly concerned with trying to determine where our patterns come from, we can unconsciously get lost in what is essentially a bottomless process.

For this reason, the Yogis realized it is essential to keep our focus largely on perceiving patterns themselves rather than excessive focus on where they come from, which can easily shift from awareness to affixing blame.

The second major challenge with therapy is, the deeper we go into our challenges and issues, the easier it is to unconsciously trigger old patterns or even “re-wound” ourselves – that is, instead of stepping beyond our past, we can unwittingly get caught up in it. 

For these reasons combined, the Yogis realized, in order for self-study to be effective, we need two additional processes to compliment and support it: the first is checking our personal experiences with the wisdom of those who have gone before us, a process the Yogis referred to as “scriptural study,” and the second is cultivating awareness of our thoughts so we can see we are unconsciously falling into old patterns, a skill achieved through meditation. 

One of the major challenges with self-analysis is the tendency to unconsciously shift from observation to “dwelling” or ruminating – obviously processes that not only don’t contribute to stepping out of our patterns but in fact tend to deepen them.

Therapists who work with those suffering from trauma are especially aware of this issue, supporting their clients in staying mindful and in knowing it is always okay to “step back” when we fall into re-wounding or the dissociation that can take place when diving too deeply into past suffering.

Through our practice of yoga, including self-study, we are building awareness of the constant dialogue of our minds. The more we develop this skill and tendency, the better we get at seeing when we move from objective reflection on the past into brooding or lamenting or blaming. We are building our capacity to redirect our minds – again, during meditation or asana practice simply toward our given focus (towards Muladhara chakra for example) but over time this skill translates to the ability throughout our days to pull our minds away from unhealthy focus toward more constructive ones. 

 In the case of self-study, this gives us greater power not only to see when we fall into critical thoughts (of ourselves or others) but to purposefully redirect our minds toward thoughts that are more healthful, shifting for example from blame or shame to compassion and commitment to forward movement. 

Your thoughts? Comments? I love to hear what you are thinking and experiencing. 

Source 

On Using a 6-year Old as a Meditation Aid

Danny and me

Danny and me

Since returning from India, I have vowed to become more disciplined in my meditation practice.

Hmmm.

The idea is to sit every morning for 20 minutes before I start with my official day. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Not just am I experiencing the most fascinating level of resistance to getting out of bed – despite having had ample sleep (another post on this very topic of resisting meditation is under way and soon to be posted) – but my children have inexplicably started waking up half an hour earlier than usual. I set my alarm for 6am and the theory is that by 6.30pm I will have finished my pranayama, meditation and be feeling that wonderful sense of quiet calm that comes as a result, and that it will carry me through the chaos of breakfast and getting the kids to school, and into my working day.

In the 3 weeks since returning from my trip, I have probably achieved that five times maximum.

I set up my spot the night before I go to bed – lay my mat out in front of the beautiful old sash window and wide windowsill that I use as my make-shift altar in my bedroom, and put out my beautiful scented candle and the very special bronze Buddha statue that is inlaid with turquoise and agate. My meditation shawl is folded on the mat and all I need to do is roll out of bed when my alarm goes off.

This morning, I was feeling sparkly and alert after three rounds of Kapalabhati and was settling into my meditation with something bordering on anticipation and exhilaration – “Here I am! Finally! I am going to get this right, even just this morning”. Brought my attention to the breath after mindfully scanning through my body. So, this is me, sitting, on my mat, breathing. Breathing in. Breathing out. And then I heard the slight creaking of the wooden floorboards in the passage leading to my bedroom and I knew that one of the kids was up. Back to the breath. Just breathe. A gentle tap on the shoulder and a whispered “Good morning Mummy”. Ah, Daniel. Maybe if I ignore him he will crawl into bed besides my sleeping husband – he knows not to disturb me when I’m meditating. Just breathe. In. Breathe. Out. “Mummy? Mum? (pause) Mummy, you look very beautiful when you meditate”.

And right there any attempt at ignoring this perfect little human being became futile. So I looked at him and smiled, and he gave me the most beautific grin and crawled onto my lap. He is only-just small enough still to be able to fit comfortably into my cross-legged position, with his legs dangling off the one side and his head lolling off the other, but he did it, and I tucked the shawl around him and we both took a deep breath and then I settled back into my meditation, but this time instead of focusing on the sensations of my own body I became aware of his: this perfectly formed human being lying on my lap. The curve of his spine pressing against my belly, the smooth warm skin of his face against my leg, the tousled curls of his head pressing against my arm. The slow and steady breath, about double the rhythm of my own, and the almost imperceptible beating of his heart, as we just breathed together and were peaceful. Soon enough my thoughts started flying as they so often do when it comes to my children: Is he happy? Does he seem to be balanced? Will he remain healthy? Am I a good enough mother? Is he doing enough extra-mural activities? Did I pack his swimming clothes into his backpack? Do I read enough to him? Are his tantrums normal? Am I setting a good enough example for him and his sister?

And then, as if reading my thoughts, he looked up at me and said “You’re the best mummy, you know”.

And then, “This is nice, isn’t it, Mummy?”

And I said, “Yes, my beautiful boy, this is very nice indeed”. And watched as all the thoughts drifted away and came back to the sensation of his small, warm body on my lap, the sound of our breaths, the sensation of our heartbeats, the weight of his head resting on my arm, the curvature of his delicate spine pressing against my belly, the flickering of the candle and the slow and easy peace of my home in the early morning.

 

My beautiful Buddha from Rishikesh, India

My beautiful Buddha from Rishikesh, India

**Photo of me and Danny taken by Shantelle Visser of Shantelle Visser Photography – highly recommended **

Using Yoga To Get You Through The Festive Season

Arniston arniston3 arniston2I wouldn’t say I’m a Grinch but I’m certainly not one of those people who whole-heartedly embraces Christmas and the whole festive season and feels sad and deflated when it’s over. On the contrary, I have to work hard with myself to stop getting stressed at how much waste the whole season involves –  waste of money, waste of energy, waste of paper and food… and I admit to breathing a long sigh of relief once the 25th is over and everyone and everything seems to start settling down.

I appreciate that the holiday season can be joyful, a time to share what we have with family and friends. However, there’s no doubt that it can also be a stressful time if we allow hectic schedules and commercial pressures to drive us. Which is why this year I persuaded my husband that our family needed to spend 2 weeks at the beach. I found a beautiful house in Arniston and after just a few days we have already settled into a gloriously easy rhythm of breakfast, beach, snooze, pool, more beach, braaing, reading, playing, and of course my precious yoga practice. The main bedroom happens to be huge with a deck overlooking Kassiesbaai and I have practiced under the rising full moon as well as the rising sun. And I have found that my practice has never felt sweeter. I’m sure it’s a combination of the sea air, the turquoise water, the easy routine and especially the fact that there is no shopping mall in sight and certainly no queues, no piped carols being played over a sound system in a mall, no gaudy decorations and no pressure to buy or acquire anything other than the odd piece of snoek or new set of beach bats once the old ones gave up the ghost after a particularly competitive volley between the husband and I (yes, I’m still working on losing my competitive streak).

It’s not all peachy. My in-laws are out visiting from Northern Ireland for 6 weeks. 6 WEEKS. Which is one of the main reasons I begged my husband for us to go away – I love them dearly and am very lucky to have them, but I am a fiercely private person who needs her own space and I figured that if we were in a neutral environment where I wasn’t having to be hostess the entire time, I would also be able to have a bit of a break and have a better chance of remaining marginally pleasant for a longer period of time. Well, that remains to be seen, but at least I’m getting a tan while I’m losing my ability to make small talk.

I’ve been pondering a lot what this time of year means to me. Whilst I consider myself a deeply spiritual person, I am not religious and don’t believe in Jesus Christ which is why I suppose I don’t feel a deep resonance with the whole ‘birth of Christ’ side of things. Sometimes I actually feel like a bit of a fraud that I’m piggy-backing on the Christmas theme even though I haven’t been to church in pretty-much all my life, other than funerals, christenings and weddings. I do, however, feel a huge amount of empathy for my fellow man at this time of year, especially because a number of my nearest and dearest have lost very special loved ones recently and it seems that a lot of folk are battling their own demons at the moment. It’s well documented that depression is one of the most commonly reported and treated illnesses at this time of the year, with people acutely aware of the sense of loneliness and alienation that can be felt when you think that everyone else is having a big family fun time.

I find that at this time of year I really do need to protect my yoga practice. The commercial pressure, holiday shopping, family visits, the logistics of planning and traveling, managing food and alcohol consumption, getting enough exercise and down-time whilst remaining a good mum, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, friend, employee at the same time… it can all get a bit much. And then I get onto my mat and start to breathe and then start moving through (typically) a slow, sweet and gentle practice, and everything falls into perspective again. As corny as it sounds, it’s true!

So I find that the holiday season is a golden opportunity to practice yoga outside of the classroom, actually applying all the skills we have been honing over the year. As Dr. Swami Shankardev says, managing the holiday season is like the exam, the real test of how much we have learned and embodied over the year.

How do we maintain a calm centre in the storm of the holidays?  The first thing to do is to dedicate some quiet time for contemplation and meditation. Just sit still wherever you are, breathing quietly to practice any calming, grounding process. Once you have settled in, why not contemplate what a particular holiday means to you, maybe asking yourself what you really want to get out of this period, and what will best support you and others.As you develop a sense of that meaning, perhaps focus on disentangling commercial pressures from the essence of the holidays. This may be able to help you plan strategies that will make this period meaningful and fulfilling.

It sounds paradoxical but stress can be the biggest issue for a lot of people during the holidays. Stresses come in many forms and it can be helpful to contemplate what yours is likely to be. For me, it’s the fact that there is always someone is my house, in my kitchen, in my garden, just in my space. The fact that there is a lot of chit-chat and I am not very good at that. I need to dig deep to remain calm, adult and hospitable when the revolting teenager in me is jumping up and down and shouting ‘JUST GIVE ME SOME &***%% SPACE!!!!’

During my early morning meditation, I find it helpful to playfully visualize what may lie ahead on any given day. I have also looked back at past holidays and considered what I’d like to do differently – which is why we are having Christmas at the beach this year. To give myself the best possible chance of remaining calm, focused, grounded and friendly, I actually have to contemplate strategies that I can actually apply outside of the practice space. This meditation, then, is mental rehearsal for the actual event. So far, so good.

I have to continuously remind myself that yoga is more than technique; it is a way of being. Breath is the best tool we have to remain conscious and calm; any time is a good time to practice moving and breathing more slowly and consciously. It’s my way of keeping that sulky teenager that lurks within me under control, especially when my children are bickering about who’s got the biggest glass of milk or whose turn it is to pull the plug out of the bath. I’ve taught them to breathe deeply too when they get overwhelmed, so if ever there’s a stressful moment in our house, you’re likely to find me (40), Isla (3) and Daniel (5) all lying on the ground and taking deep, slow breaths as we calm each other and ourselves down. It works, even though it looks funny and my in-laws think I’m a hippy-freak.

If you do plan to keep your practice up whilst you’re away from your usual studio, it’s probably worthwhile being realistic about what’s actually going to be achievable in terms of getting on your mat. When we first got to the coast, I had planned to be up at 6am every morning for 45 minutes asana practice and at least 15 minutes meditation. As it turned out, the first day my kids woke up at 5.30am (at home I have to drag them out of bed at 7.30am or even 8am – but here the excitement was too much) so there went my practice. The second day I just felt too pooped to get out of bed and instead had a glorious lie-in as the sun rose gently over the sea. The third day I got on my mat at 7am and all I did was balasana and halasana, and breathed and let go and allowed myself to just relax. Yes, I did fit in my practice later in the day but it was so lovely to just let go of any plan or goal and to rather do what I always encourage my students to do: listen to your body and your mind, and tune into what you really need from your practice. This morning my practice took place in the comfort of my bed, and it consisted of legs up in the air, the full yogic breath, and then supta baddha konasana as I drifted off to sleep again. Perfect.

I find that my real and ongoing challenge is keeping yoga in my life and mind when I’m off the mat: practicing empathy, non-judgement, equanimity, forgiveness, losing my ego, letting go of any semblance of control and surrendering to what is, without losing the essence of who I am. I also find it helpful to remember that asana, pranayama and meditation practices are not ends in themselves, but means to an end. That end is to develop a greater inner resilience and a more stable mind that can handle the difficulties of life with greater calm and poise.

Even if you don’t practice at all over the next few weeks before our Stellenbosch yoga studio re-opens, don’t feel guilty! Take some time out, do something totally different, have a break! And then when you come back to your yoga practice I’m sure you’ll get back into formal practice with renewed enthusiasm and a clearer direction of what you need to work toward in the New Year.

Higher Yoga (with thanks to Dr. Swami Shankardev)
If you wish to practice some form of higher yoga to nourish your spirit during the holiday season, you may wish to focus on how you can support others less fortunate than yourself. It is an excellent time to practice selfless service and giving. It is a time when we can learn from and support others, especially those going through difficult times.

Here are a few tips for practicing higher yoga so that you can fill your life with peace and joy:

1. Honour yourself, your relations, and the planet by choosing a noble and virtuous intention for the New Year. Practice ahimsa, a yama of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, which means nonviolence toward yourself and others.

2. Follow your own heart. Learn to listen to yourself, your own higher intuitive inner voice, through meditation practice.

3. Practice contentment (samtosha), which is one of the niyamas of Patanjali. Contemplate just how much you already have and what you really need. Is there some

thing that you think you need in your life to make you happy, and/or do you already have plenty? Cultivate gratitude for all the things you have.

4. Before you indulge, bring consciousness into the moment. For example, before eating, be aware of what you are going to eat and perhaps say a simple prayer or thanks. Prepare to really enjoy what you are about to eat, to take it deep into your tissues so as to fully nourish yourself.

5. Be flexible in body, mind, and spirit. Learn not be constrained by plans but to go more with the flow. There is an old Indian saying: “Man proposes; God disposes.”

With great thanks to Dr. Swami Shankardev for the backbone of this post. Dr. Swami is a yogacharya, medical doctor, psychotherapist, author, and lecturer. He lived and studied with his guru, Swami Satyananda, for ten years in India (1974-1985). He lectures all over the world. Contact him at www.bigshakti.com.

The Death / Celebration of a Precious Child: Chanting ‘Om’ for Baby Sam I Am

Chanting ‘Om’ for Baby Sam I Am

Last Friday I had the incredible privilege of being a part of a memorial service for an 18 month super-hero who left this world too soon. He was the son of a school friend, and although I was never fortunate enough to meet little Sam, by all accounts he was an absolute legend. Judging from the turn out at the memorial service and the way in which people reacted on the day, this little dude really was something very special indeed.

As a mother of a 4 year old and a 2 year old, this whole tragedy was painfully close to my heart, and I confess that I spend the entire weekend that I heard about the accident in floods of tears, and spent more time at my meditation bench, with a candle lit for my friend and her husband and two remaining sons, than I recall doing in recent times. I cried when I woke up, I cried when I went to sleep, and the only thing I could do to start to make sense of this senseless situation was to meditate and to try to send love, light and acceptance to the bereaved family.

I wasn’t the only one  – as the news spread, friends kept contacting me, asking if it was true and whether I knew any further details. We all were grieving, not just for the family and the deadening loss of this vibrant child, but for every single parent that ever has to experience this despicable turn of the natural order – no sweet quotes can ever make up for a parent having to bury their child.

The memorial service was simultaneously the most moving, emotional, harrowing and uplifting experience I have had in my life. As I arrived, the late afternoon sunshine was twinkling diagonally across the field in front of the graceful old Cape Dutch house, the oak trees were dancing in the wind, and there was the sound of a piper on the breeze – anyone who has heard this before will know what a haunting and emotive sound this is. Upon seeing the beautiful shrine set up in front of the natural marquis, with framed pictures of the precious little Sam, the white candles, wind chimes and bouquets decorating the oak trees around the tent, it was immediately apparent that this was going to be something to be remembered. The parents had asked for people to bring a plant to remember Sam in a memorial garden, and the beautifully delineated garden was literally bursting at the seams with all the offerings. I love to think how that garden is going to thrive as the years go by.

The service started with the most beautiful song, ‘Precious Child’ by Karen Taylor Good, and it was at this point that I gave up trying to stem the flow of tears, and instead allowed them to stream down my face as everyone ached along with the incredibly brave parents.  We were all united through our floods of tears and an astronomical amount of respect for the family for how bravely they are handling this tragedy and what incredible support they are managing to provide to each other, even through their own personal pain.

The eulogy read by the mother – the beautiful, brave mother- brought everyone to their knees:

Our baby boy, our source of joy

Our brother and our friend.

We loved you then, we love you now

And this is not the end.

Your freckled nose, your cheeky grin

Your big blue eyes shone from within

Your joyous shouts of “gotta go!”

This world for you was just too slow

The way you lived, the way you loved

Was so intense and pure

And we hope that you felt treasured here,

Because, by God, you truly were

An old soul is what we called you

And that is what you are

We feel your love around us now

To help us heal these scars

You may not be here on this earth

But in our hearts you are alive

We are today, we’ll ALWAYS be

A family of five.

Love you always, Mommy, Daddy, Jack and Alex

We cried, we wept, we admired everyone who made a beautiful speech, and we applauded the farm labourers who showed their love for the baby himself, as well as a deep love and sense of respect for the parents. When hundreds of balloons – white (to symbolise all the spaces that will be left behind by this beautiful baby) and blue (to symbolise all the tears we will all shed that will be sent up to heaven rather than falling to the ground) – were released, we all watched them rise high into the sky and then drift off with the wind over the Overberg and into the great unknown. This was possibly the most heartrendingly beautiful part of the whole ceremony.

I have nothing to offer to the mother and father of this precious child, gone too soon. I am not religious, but my sense of spirituality deepens with each passing year, and especially with each passing person. So many people have written such beautiful things, and I can’t compete. So, simply, a few words:

When my precious granny passed away on 2 August 2012, I feel that I was fast-forwarded into the realm of pondering what’s beyond the here and now. My granny, Patricia Brink Langley, was not only the most stylish babe one could ever meet but the most wise, humorous and calm person you can imagine. She practiced yoga from her early days in then-Rhodesia, and she is most definitely the reason that I fell in love with the practice myself. For months since she died, I have felt that every time I ended a class and led the class in chanting ‘Om’, it was all about Patrish – that’s who I hold in my mind’s eye, and I as I bow my head down as the class ends, I see her face and can almost hear her saying in her gentle voice ‘Hello darling’. But now, every single time I prepare to get up off my yoga mat, she shares that precious moment with Sam, who is also front of mind when I turn my attention to the beautiful universe and trust that all is happening as it should.

I can’t imagine how you would ever make sense of the loss of this little/huge person. I see Sam everywhere. I keep you in my mind all the time, J and P, and that’s all I can do. See below for why Sam is ever-present in my yoga classes xxx

Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and/or end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe.

Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.

Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.Image/

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!

The 10 Things You’ll Do Once You Start Yoga (that have nothing to do with yoga)

I so enjoyed this article by Lee Anne Finfinger (see http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/10/the-10-things-youll-do-once-you-start-yoga-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-yoga-lee-anne-finfinger/) that I simply have to re-post it on my blog. It made me laugh out loud at myself and I am sure that all of you that are in any way involved in yoga may also find it amusing. It is such a breath of fresh air to find someone who is clearly passionate about yoga (and especially how it has transformed her life), yet able to do without the worthiness and seriousness that can so often accompany any musings about the subject.

In the same vein, I am currently reading a book by Claire Dederer called ‘Poser’, which I am thoroughly enjoying, even though I am only a few chapters in. I confess: the sole reason I bought the book is because of the photo on the cover: a woman in lotus with a glass of wine in her one hand and a baby’s juice bottle in the other. Finding myself constantly challenged in the daily balancing act of my many ‘jobs’ (frequently grumpy and stressed-out mother of two children under the age of four, not-very-good wife, yoga instructor, to name but a few), this resonated with me enormously. Dederer,  a highly self-aware, smart book critic who has contributed to The New York Times Book Review,  makes some extremely powerful social commentary about the challenges of being a mother, a wife, a woman in our current society whilst being very honest (and incredibly witty) about how yoga helped her to fight her own demons. I have just put my own two children down for a nap and so I am keeping this blog post short so that I can dash off and get back to reading!

So, to finish off this post, enjoy Lee Anne’s ten points about what you’ll do once you start yoga…

1. At least once, you will force yourself to try to be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten-free (insert any over-zealous diet here)/ drink Kombucha/ buy bottled water before class and pour it into your sustainable water bottle before the teacher/students/Whole Foods cashier next to you sees.  (If you’re craving meat, just eat it!  On your deathbed, will you really be glad that you didn’t have that steak on your 30th Birthday?)

2. Your iPod will now include a heavy serving of Kirtan music that you will listen to on your very long commute to your yoga studio (It’s cool; if you want to listen to Kirtan occasionally, go for it!  When you start listening to it while driving and falling asleep — time to go back to your old playlists. Do NOT switch over to NPR!)

3. You will pretend not to notice that your ass now fits in a size 6 instead of an 8, but you’re secretly thrilled.  (When you get down to a 4 though, watch it.  People will talk.)

4. You will go back to your natural hair color/ remove your hair extensions/ cut your hair short in an attempt to stop paying so much attention to your vanity.  (Try not to cut it too short — the growing out process is a bitch and then you’ll just need more hair extensions. I did.)

5. You’ll attempt to read the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Upanishads while your stack of fashion magazines calls to you from the next room.  (Really, why can’t I like Rachel Zoe and yoga?  Now that I’m thin enough to actually wear her clothes, why should I pretend I don’t want to?) (See #3.)

6. You will take a retreat.  Hello, Kripalu!  (It’s ok — those other people probably are weirdos.  So are you.  Eat your breakfast and shut up.  No really, shut the fuck up – it’s a silent breakfast.)

7. You’ll start taking photos of yourself in yoga poses. Often.  And you’ll think that other people care.  It’s like the modern-day version of the vacation slideshow.  No one gives a shit, but they’ll pretend like they do so that you do the same when they whip out their own photos.

8. You will at some point wear mala beads, which will break all over the floor of your 6:15am class.  (Basically, it’ll end about as well as when I wore my Grandmother’s rosary beads to dinner at age 6. Silver Lining: The company was kind enough to re-string them for free, and now I just wear them like a really cool wrap bracelet.  It’s very hippie chic. Thank you September Vogue.) (See #5)

9. You will become a cheap date.  Remember, you just dropped two sizes and you continue to spend at least an hour a day sweating and twisting and breathing.  You’ll be buzzed from one drink!

10. You’ll get over yourself.  If you teach yoga, you’ll hope that people show up because they like taking class from who you really are.  If you practice yoga, you’ll keep showing up and you’ll realize that the other shit doesn’t matter.