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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again, Carmen. You rock.

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Christine

  
 Allow us to introduce you! 

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

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

Your least fave asana?

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

How did you get into yoga? 

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

What does your practice mean to you?

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

What floats your boat about our studio? 

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

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

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

Any final thoughts? 

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

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

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Barbara

  
Please tell us who you are?

Hi, my name is Barbara Seele, I grew up on a beautiful farm in the Natal Midlands, and am now doing my masters in conservation ecology here in Stellenbosch.

Favourite asana? 

It was a tough call between trikonasana (one of my all-time favourites), and doing an acroyoga bow pose (dhanurasana)! I love playing around and challenging myself, all whilst feeling that I’m flying. Thanks to Hannes for being a stable and steady base (in the photo). 

Any asana we’re unlikely to see you in voluntarily? 

Hmmm, probably a hip opener, I find those really challenging (and really good for me). Especially the wide angled seated forward bend (upavistha konasana).

How did you get into yoga? 

I first started doing yoga when I was 18, I found it fascinating, and really liked how I felt at the end of shavasana. I slowly got into it more deeply, and in 2011 I completed by teacher training course in Bali – an amazing experience. After a bit of a break I am now feeling drawn in to deepening my yoga practise again.   

Why is yoga important in your life? 

Yoga allows me the time and the space, and the breath, to really focus on myself. I like how it makes me feel – stronger, more calm and more grounded. And it allows my often anxiety riddled thoughts to become clear and light. 

Your thoughts on the studio? 

To share a yoga space with others is an intimate and special experience. I feel safe in Nicci’s studio, I love the incense, the plants outside and the beautiful, warm energy that is held inside the four (now green) walls. Both Nicci and Victoria (the teachers whose classes I have been to) are intuitive, supportive guides, and I deeply appreciate their classes. 

Anything you’re working on adding to your practice at the moment? 

I’ve been trying for a long time to do a headstand on a horse…with no success yet. Maybe I should rather start by trying the crow 🙂

Thanks for your answers, Barbara. Let us know when you get that equine crow right! We love having your petite self in our studio space and look forward to when we see you teaching in the future 😊

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Cara

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Tell us a bit about yourself, Cara. 

I’m Cara Mia Delport, I live in Stellenbosch and I am a seamstress at Artscape’s wardrobe department. And I am also doing my Advanced Diploma in Costume Design part time at Elizabeth Galloway Academy of Fashion Design.

Favourite asana?

Warrior! Makes me feel like a pirate warrior and reminds me of ancients tribes doing rituals to connect with the sky.

Least favourite?

Plank…just not fancy enough for my liking and it’s quite hard.

Tell us about how you got into yoga? 

I wanted to start some sort of exercise that’s not too hectic. So my fiancé and I started to do yoga as something we could do together. And seeing as I have depression and suffer from anxiety, doing yoga helps me to focus and releases internal frustrations. It makes me feel happy and clean on the inside.

What do you like about our yoga studio?

I love the studio! And from the moment you step through the gate you feel calmness and acceptance, which I love and appreciate ❤

Tell us something about you that not many people know

I used to do ballroom and Latin dancing for 5 years in which I competed in World Champs and received 5 first places. And I am getting married in March 2016.

Namaste, Cara – we love having you in the studio!

 

 

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Alesha

 

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Hello, and who are you? 

My name is Alésha Bredell and I’m a 24 year old MA Art philosophy student at Stellenbosch University.

What’s your favourite pose? 

Definitely Goddess pose (utkata kon asana). It makes me recognize and appreciate feminine strength.

Most dreaded pose? 

Side plank (Vasisthasana) – Just no!

Your yoga journey?

I started yoga when I was about 14. I did not enjoy sports much and after being at the Art school the entire afternoon, yoga in the evenings became one of my favourite physical activities. I remember being inspired by some of the older women at the studio I attended, standing on their heads. I still can’t do that today, but I am working my way up, slowly.

What do you love most about your practice? 

Yoga allows me the time to be with myself without over-thinking things too much, as I often do. Seeing that yoga has been part of my life for a few years now, it is always something I return to through many phases of my life where I learn and explore new depths every time.

Anything particular you like about practicing at Yoga With Nicci?

At Nicci’s yoga studio I have found a space where I feel welcome and at ease to ask questions and make mistakes. I have also recently become more confident in my practice and realized that every body is a yoga body.

Tell us something that not many people know about you. 

If I did not study art I would have wanted to become an archaeologist 🙂

Anything else that you’ve found through your practice?

Realizing and exerting physical strength, especially as a woman, is extremely important as such a realization and ability translates into many facets of ones life.

Namaste, Alesha, and thanks for participating! We’re happy you found out studio and hope to see lots more of you moving forward. 

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.

Winner of the Sentiens mat from our Spring Challenge

I announced a while back that the winner of our Spring challenge is Skye Van Der Walt, and tonight I was thrilled to – very belatedly – present him with his well-deserved prize. He chose the ‘Wanderer in Skyline’ design which is wonderfully fitting given his name! 

Skye, me and his wonderful mum, Meryl

It’s been an absolute joy to watch Skye’s practice blossom over the past year. He has always inspired me with his commitment to his practice and the way in which he has discovered and embraced the benefits of this ancient practice at a relatively young age (Skye is currently writing his matric exams at Bridgehouse) and it’s as if over the last number of months, he’s just crossed a threshold of some sort and has taken his practice to a whole new level – popping up into arm balances, and accessing a whole world of asana that weren’t in his practice a year ago. 

We hope that your stunning mat serves as inspiration in your practice moving forward and that your exams go extremely well! There’s no doubt that the self discipline, breath control and mindfulness you’ve developed on your mat will see you through. 

Namaste, Skye. 

(With a special mention to mum Meryl who leads by example and has passed her love for the practice on to her son. The gift that will keep on giving for a lifetime. Respect, Meryl)