Astanga Yoga London

30th April 2020
30th April 2020

When I first started astanga I never thought it would take off, too much effort was required. Those dozen people I first learnt with never continued. When ever we run beginners courses, and I’d say this for most yoga schools we only get 10% returning. We’ve tried many ways to encourage people to come back and theist way seems to be if they jump in to Mysore class. It’s the effort required to sustain that is hardest. But yoga is very powerful, so you only need to put a wee bit of effort in for it to be magnified. I like to say ‘sew the seed and let the tree grow’. Yoga will do the rest. It will look after you.

Few things that have been going on. Our back garden connects up to a bunch of other back gardens and we all know each other. So we linked up a Spotify playlist and had a socially distanced garden party. Farmer Wise has been growing micro greens, which if you remember being a kid is mustard and cress. Never sure why we grew it as kids, probably to learn something.

I also found some wild garlic in Queens wood. So I made vegan raita and beetroot hummus with it. I’ve been drinking a lot of home made lemon-aide. Sometimes blending in some raspberries. We’ve also been playing Cards against humanity. Which you need an appalling sense of humour for. And watching the sky turn a lovely shade of blue.

Chapter 5 of the Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna is still a bit confused. ‘what is better letting go completely or non attachment to outcome?’ Krishna replies ‘both work but non attachment to outcome is better.’ He then continues with ‘the state obtained by samkhya and yoga are the same but yoga is easier’.

Samkhya is one of six orthodox darshana or out-looks or philosophies of Hinduism. The difficult is that it can just mean mental philosophy or a particular  type of philosophy. And so there is endless debate which I’m sure wasn’t really what those sages wanted or may be they did?? Anyway Samkhya is dualistic. Which is different from western dualism or a whole host of other meanings of dualism. In the west it means mind and body are separate, Descartes being the dude behind that. In Indian dualism the mind and body are all part of Prakriti, or nature and the other principle is Purusha consciousness. Yoga philosophy roughly follows this. However Advaita Vedanta the main philosophy of Indian is non-dual. So often there is confusion in explaining Indian philosophy because it is not one thing and there is much cross over. Many commentators of the Gita have tried to explain their philosophy with the Gita. Everyone is right. Your understanding is your understanding.

In the middle of Chapter 5 there is a quote (5.18) A wise person sees the same in a Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog and even an eater of dogs. I like the sentiment that all are equal. But I struggle with the dog eating. It refers to out-castes. But actually it can be translated in a way that I prefer ‘feeder of dogs’.

But we have to remember that India has some of the poorest people and the biggest slums. To eat is what drives all forms of life. But humans can share…

29th April 2020
29th April 2020

I’m constantly in awe of how yoga and my body work together. I can wake up feeling stiff and tired wondering how the hell I’m going to touch my feet let alone catch my heals backwards. And yet after a few surya namaskar things are looking up.

It took me a few years, maybe 5-7 before I was doing regularly full practice every day. I always go with how my body feels after surya namaskar. I either then take more time or push myself more or go lighter. There is always some surprise there. Some asana feels different or a small movement releases something. May be something as simple as placing your foot at a different angle.

I often get asked which Bhagavad Gita I’d suggest. There are so many translations and each one has it’s own benefits. So here are a few with some comments, obviously they’re all called The Bhagavad Gita, so I’ve just put the auther’s name in:

Jack Hawley. His walk through for westerners does what it says. Ease of reading 4, Pundit precise 2, To the heart 3,

Eknath Eswaran. Classic author who’s done plenty of good reads. Eor 3, Pp 3, Tth 4.

Ranchor Prime. More personal and thoughtful. Eor 4, Pp2, Tth 4

WJ, Johnson. Simple and cheap and good for precision. Eor2, Pp4, Tth3

Nick Sutton. Nick does some online lectures at OCHS. Eor4, Pp4, Tth 3

Zaehner. Only get this if your up your own… Eor 1, Pp5, Tth 3

Debroy. Similar as above but with more interesting insights Eor2, Pp5, Tth 4

Radhakrishnan. All very precise and gives translations of each word but also from the heart. Eor3, Pp5, Tth 4

Roopa Pai. My fave, it’s a kids version but it covers so much and explains it well. She’s also done some youtube stuff. Eor5, Pp2, Tth 5

But even if you know the Gita backwards doesn’t mean you ‘get it’.

Chapter four starts with Krishna declaring he’s had many lives before that he can remember and that the yoga he teaches has been handed down ‘parampara’ meaning teacher to students lineage. Then comes a classic line. (4.7)’ Where ever there is a decline in Dharma I reincarnate’. The idea being when things are not looking good, when humanity has been making too many wrong choices Vishnu will come to earth as an avatar to sort us out.  Vishnu has many avatars, Rama and Krishna being the most famous. Several of his avatars have been animals, don’t know if he reincarnates as a virus?

Krishna continues ‘Whoever you worship, I bless them. I created the varna (caste) system according to aptitude (not by birth).’ Then comes a rather difficult verse. ‘A wise person sees work in no work and no work in work’ Eh? Even when we are doing nothing we are still doing. But unless what you do is directed towards God it’s not doing anything. Then there is a whole bit of ‘be satisfied by what comes your way’. Followed by the variety of sacrifices available, your self, your knowledge, your energy, wealth, practice, prana, food etc. ‘Even if you baddest of the bad, with spiritual knowledge you will over come all sin’. Which seems like a bit of a get out of jail free card to me. Krishna then goes on to say ‘for someone with no faith and only doubts there is no happiness here or after’.

Again it comes down trust and acceptance…

28th April 2020
28th April 2020

Some things seem to have almost been lost forever. I’m not talking about things that fall down the back of sofas or between the cracks in the floorboards or even the cracks in reality. Just things we used to do but don’t do anymore. One of the things I miss most is hitch hiking. Between the ages of 15 and 21 I hitched everywhere. It seemed an easy way to travel, meet interesting people, go places I’d not planned for and in retrospect quite environmentally friendly. It was that thing based on hope, trust and letting go of control. I travelled in all sorts of cars and trucks, made some good friends. Once I got a lift with some people moving home, we got on so well I did the same trip with them three days in a row north Scotland to north England there and back again. I also tried  for the John o’groats to Lands End record which stands at 17hr 8m. I only managed 18hr 10min. My personal thing was cardboard sign saying ‘please’.

Most parts of my body have been through some injury, pain, opening whatever you want to call it. It took me a long time to get used to the reoccurrence of this phenomena. To start with it’s often felt ‘oh I wish I hadn’t done that’ to trying every cure available and worrying you’ll never get your practice back. Now it’s just a phase, a part of yoga, a lesson at least in humility.

Chapter three of the Bhagavad Gita starts with Arjuna still confused. Krishna reassures him telling him in the old days he taught samkhya and yoga. That we have to act, that is what our bodies do and to restrain our bodies/senses without controlling the mind is hypocrisy. He continues with the same theme of ‘perform action without attachment’

One of the most well known verses in the Gita is in Chapter three. (3.35) ‘It’s best to do your dharma even if it seems against you. Rather than doing another persons dharma, even well. A few words that need explaining are shreyan, which we use in the opening prayer, shreyasi. It means the highest good. Svadharma means self dharma and most people wonder what their dharma is. The key is Sva, what ever you do is your dharma, just do it well and do it with love. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.

Arjuna asks ‘what it is that makes us make bad choices?’ Krishna replies ‘it’s lust and anger coming from raja guna that is the enemy’. So raja guna creates many things some good and some bad, it gets you out of bed to start with. The lust and anger are part of six poisons, kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya and mada. Which correspond to lust, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. It’s a bit   reminiscent of the Christian cardinal sins. But lust and anger are the important ones to try to over come. Lust is mediated by remembering the body is just blood and bones and organs etc. Anger is attenuated by stepping away from confrontation, emotionally first at least. Smiling alway helps.

(There used to be a Cardinal of Manila called… Cardinal Sin ; )…

Online conference with Hamish Sunday 03rd May 2020

Hamish will be holding an online conference this Sunday 03rd May at 11.30am. Email Hamish for Zoom link.

Read Hamish’s daily blog here.

27th April 2020
27th April 2020

Yoga Practice is a constant tightening and letting go. A yin and yang practice on the fly. When and where to exert strength, on the inhale, and when to sink into relaxation, on the exhale will change practice by practice. It is your practice. Sometimes fast sometimes slow. There is no ‘right way’. The more awareness you bring to more of your body the better it will be.

Just in case you missed it I’m doing conference Sunday 11.30. Email me for the zoom link.

I along with many other have fantasies about self sufficiency probably stemming from John Seymours book, self sufficiency. In which you could survive on one acre or preferably five. Just so you know one acre is just over 4000sq m. Your average London garden is 40sq m. Supposedly you can survive on spuds for a long time and they give the most calories per square meter.

Anyway I’m not eating spuds every day and I’m pretty crap at gardening anyway.

Ok Chapter two of the Bhagavad Gita. This is often called the synopsis of the Gita. It’s certainly long. 72 shlokas. We use the word shloka to mean a verse. But actually it’s a meter, a way of constructing words. Four lines (padas) of eight syllables. Its very poetic. But the Gita uses another meter occasionally . Trishtubh is the other it has 44 syllables in total. There are other Gitas too in the Mahabharata. But for now Gita here means the Bhagavad Gita.

Chapter two starts with Krishna chiding Arjuna saying ‘man up, don’t be so weak’. Arjuna has another wobble about killing his teachers and relatives. Krishna does most of the talking in the Gita. He says ‘stop moaning, your soul lasts forever it can’t be killed. If you run away everyone will speak bad about you. You have the right to work but not the fruit of work. Be the same in success and failure. Yoga is skill in action. The Arjuna asks ‘what is a person of steady wisdom like? How do they walk, how do they sit, how do they talk?’ Krishna replies ‘a person of steady wisdom has their senses under control. If you are caught up with your senses you generate desire and this can turn to anger (because fortunately you can’t alway get what you want) which can lead to delusion and loss of memory and intelligent perception. Without peace how can  there be happiness.’

A recent mnemonic to remember what Krishna is teaching is N.A.T.O. Not attached to outcome.

 

26th April 2020
26th April 2020

Growing up in a small village linked me in with the passing time of nature. When different plants would flower, when lambs were born and when the moon rose and set. The smell or early morning, of hay and ubiquitous cow shit.

I also grew up with guns, the local farmers would have clay pigeon shoots where us teenagers would pull the clay pigeon traps to fire off a clay pigeon. And at the end of the day they’d hand us a twelve bore and watch us fire and fall over with the kick back. Not sure when health and safety came around. A couple of other times I’ve had dealings with guns. Once when I worked at a homeless shelter and we’d drop all the money at the bank safe drop. But it happened on a regular day at a regular time and even though two of us would take the money 100m up the road we got held up with a sawn off shot gun, obvs we gave him the money and gave Usain Bolt a run for his money too. The other significant encounter with a gun was in Greece where I was practicing outside under a bamboo roof and the local farmer started firing his gun at the crows. A few of the pellets lodged themselves in my left shoulder/chest. I wasn’t significantly hurt.

You know how there’s that thing where you remember where you were when some significant thing happened. May be for yogis it’s what asana where you in. I was in virabhadrasana.

So the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is often seen as a bit boring. It’s part of the back story, it’s a list of warriors and very poetic too. It’s called the yoga of sadness as that is where we all start on our yoga path, a bit sad. Where we have to change asmita, meaning ego into smita, meaning smile. The Bhagavad Gita opens when Dhritarashtra asking what is happening. It’s his only line. What is happening on the field of dharma. In a way all this, our outer life is the field of dharma. How we react to it seals our life. Sanjaya is recounting the Bhagavad Gita to Dhritarashtra. How the armies are lined up who is fighting on which side and how Duryodhana is anxious even though his army is bigger and has so many great warriors.

There is a lot of conch blowing and Arjuna asks Krishna to place him between the two armies. Krishna does this and says ‘see’. Then Arjuna as if he hadn’t really conceptualised who he would be fighting has a panic attack. My limbs are week, my mouth is dry, I’m trembling, my hair stands on end and my bow slips from my hand. I think this is such a good description of fear, I’m sure we have all experience it. Arjuna is worried (and rightly so) that war will not have any good results. There will be adharma and there is quite a lot of concern about mixing of varna/caste. Equality may take a long time. But it’s a blessing everyone is different.

So we leave the first chapter with Arjuna not up for the fight…

 

25th April 2020
25th April 2020

I have always loved early mornings. When I was a kid I used to wake up at five and do my homework, mostly because I hadn’t done it the evening before. One of the interesting things about early mornings apart from everyone being more friendly is the colours.

As you can see from this photo taken by our student Sharron Matarazzo. No I haven’t painted the shala blue, but it does look lovely. It’s more to do with the low light levels and the wavelengths getting through the curve of the atmosphere. But when you find blues and purples are more intense early in the morning this magical effect is caused by our cones which we have few off (compared to rods)and see in red, blue and green only work in bright light are just picking up the first wavelength of blues in low light, reds are very muted. It’s thought that the rods may also contribute to this. 50% of women are thought to have the ability to see more colours. And if you had your lens replaced by an artificial one (old style) then you may be able to see ultra violet.

Anyway I love blue.

So now we come to the rules of war. Society mostly has had wars and there have often been rules and mostly they get broken. Unless you have psychopathic tendencies the only way to kill another human is to see them as other.

The rules in the Mahabharata are as follows. Fighting can only happen between sunrise and sunset. Many warriors can’t attack a single warrior. Warriors must be equally matched by weapons. No killing someone who’s surrendered, unarmed, unconscious, has their back turned. No  killing women, prisoners, non combatants or animals.

In the Mahabharata lots of these rules get broken, and not just by the Kauravas. The Pandavas break the rules and Krishna encourages them to do this.

Before the war starts Yudhishthira goes up to Bhishma and asked for his blessing and forgiveness. Bhishma is distraught that things have come to this. Where he will have to fight people he loves. And remember Bhishma can only die when he chooses. The war lasts for 18 days and each day brings more and more deaths.

Dhritarashtra who obviously doesn’t fight because of his blindness sits at home. His servant/chariot driver/poet has been given devine sight by Krishna so he can relate what is happening to the king.

The armies are lined up oppose the Pandavas facing east the Kauravas west. Bhishma is leading the Kauravas and Draupadi’s brother Dhrishtadyumna is the general for the Pandavas.

Krishna is Arjuna’s chariot driver. And Arjuna asks him. ‘Please take me between the two armies so I may see who I will have to fight’ And so begins the Bhagavad Gita. And just like the war lasting 18 days there are 18 chapters.

We shall start the Bhagavad Gita tomorrow…

24th April 2020
24th April 2020

How do we know if yoga is good or even if it is working? Does your practice kick your ego? Do you feel challenged in so many ways? Then yes it’s working. And because everything has an effect and our ego is part of our problem then yoga is good.

Today as most Fridays seem to be was hard practice. I try to be kind to myself but by the end of the week my body is saying, just give up. Only it isn’t my body it’s my ego, so I completely ignore that. The word yoga has many meanings but on of them is discipline.

It’s said that everything starts from desire, desire to get out of bed and get on your mat. We have to balance our desire for wanting more and more and completely ignoring our desires. Shiva has no desire and all around him are still satisfied. Nandi his bull is never hungry, his wife’s tiger doesn’t eat Nandi and his son’s rat and peacock don’t get into a fight. But he lives on Mount Meru where nothing grows. You need Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga for life to grow.

Before the Mahabharata war starts, the two sides, the Kauravas and the Pandavas gather kings and armies from their friends and relations. Nakula and Sahadeva’s uncle King Shalya signs up to fight for the Kauravas and on his way his army is well looked after, fed and rested. But it’s only later that he realises that the people feeding his troops are on the Kaurava side. And now he has debt. Debt is something that we are asked to avoid. In the Yoga Sutras it’s covered by aparigrah. Which usually gets translated as non greed. But also means non accepting of gifts. Because by doing so you get tied into ‘well I give you this, now you give me that’. Life is obviously full of this in subtle and not so subtle ways. But we should be careful, take a breath before you give or receive. And preferably do  it with love.

Anyway Shalya now feels duty bound to fight against his nephews the Pandavas. But Krishna takes him to one side and says. ‘Don’t worry, Duryodhana will try to humiliate you by making you the chariot driver for Karna. Take the job willingly. And when Karna come to fight keep praising Arjuna. An insecure man is week in battle’

Duryodhana was also insecure. Krishna and his Narayani army hadn’t picked sides yet. So one day while Krishna was resting Duryodhana entered his room and sat by Krishna’s head. A few minutes later Arjuna walked in and sat by Krishna’s feet. When Krishna woke up he saw Arjuna, and smiling said ‘how can I help you’. ‘Hey I was here first’ shouted Duryodhana fearing Krishna would side with the Pandavas. ‘But I saw Arjuna first, he may ask first. You may choose my army to fight for you or me who will not fight’. Immediately Arjuna says ‘I choose you’. And Duryodhana smiles with joy, because now he commands 11 armies and the Pandavas have only 7…

 

23rd April 2020
23rd April 2020

I love languages, I’m not particularly good at them but I love learning a few words from people who I meet from around the world. I like that some  languages don’t have yes or no, some don’t have different words for green and blue and some don’t count beyond five. I guess the language we speak affects the way we think. And take the colour red, is it danger or passion? And we’ve all taken the red pill.

Sanskrit is something I have been learning for many years, not very successfully but enjoyably. Though having more than 100 words for water is a bit taxing. A few good things that help learning are learning the meaning of each asana name, then learning what each word in the opening chant mean. You can learn lots just from  this. Or if you’d like take one sloka from the Bhagavad Gita, learn it by heart in English, in Sanskrit and then practice writing it and breaking down each word to its meaning and the grammar used. Mandam mandam.

So now the twelve years of exile are over and one year in hiding. The Pandavas ask for their kingdom of Indra-prastha back. But Duryodhana is having non of it. ‘Everyone has forgotten you, don’t come back’. Krishna goes to try and get some deal. ‘Just five villages, or even five houses’. But Duryodhana won’t give them the point of a needle of land. ‘How dare you go back on your word, this is adharma, you are not fit to be a king’ says Krishna. ‘How dare you threaten me cowherd.’ replies Duryodhana. ‘Seize him.’ And suddenly Krishna is surrounded by guards. ‘Think carefully before you act’ says Krishna smiling. And with that he grows in to his God like form, his head touching  the sky his feet touching the bottom of the sea, shining like a thousand suns. Even Dhritarashtra, the blind king sees for the only time, God in all splendour.

But after everyone had been awestruck for however long now/eternity everything went back to normal. (A bit like after samadhi, chop wood carry water). War was declared and everyone had somehow forgotten that Krishna was God. Sometimes the lesson has to be relearnt many many times.

But before Krishna leaves he visits Karna. ‘Why are you supporting the Kauravas when you know they are acting adharma? You know Bhishma and Drona despise you too.’ ‘You speak the truth Krishna, but Duryodhana has supported me’. ‘Do you know who your true family are?’ Asks Krishna. Then he reveals to Karna that his true mother is the Pandavas mother Kunti. ‘You are their elder brother you can become king. They will respect you, end this war’. But Karna even though he is shocked and delighted and saddened all at the same time he says. ‘Even though I should fight on the side of dharma, the Pandavas. My mother abandoned me and my personal dharma is to stand by my friend Duryodhana. But I promise there will still be five Pandavas at the end’

And so preparations for the war began, who would fight on who’s side, what were the rules of war. The field of the Kurus was chosen. Kuru-ksetre. Because Kuru the ancestor of the Kauravas and Pandavas had ploughed this field and watered it with his own blood. It became a sacred place that if a warrior died on it they would automatically go to heaven, all sins resolved…

 

 

22nd April 2020
22nd April 2020

This a self portrait of Talia. Becoming a dad has been one of the most amazing things ever. I thought I knew what happiness was until Talia came along. I’d alway imagined having a kid and doing stuff together. It didn’t really hit me till Anna was 8 month pregnant that we were really having a baby. Of course we were prepared as much as one can be. But I was quite nervous about how I’d respond emotionally. It’s not like they do much babies, well, apart shit lots and consume all your attention. We didn’t settle on a name for a few days so she was simply the squeaking beetroot. She has five names and a secret name which I whispered in her ear as soon as she came out.

Her art work is all her hard work and joy. It started with cartoons and her asking me to draw some animal, not that I have any skills but you can learn a lot from books/youtube and so I showed her some basic stuff and we subscribed to The Phoenix comic which inspired her art and reading.

One of my most proudest moments was her first mountain aged six. Ben An, up in the central highlands of Scotland. It’s not a big mountain but it is pointy and has a great view at the top. When we got to the top after a couple of hours and she said she felt very proud. Not half as proud as me.

Anyway pride is an interesting thing because Uttara has said proudly he will guard the kingdom of Virata and now Duryodhana is about at attack. Arjuna in disguise is his chariot driver. But first he takes their chariot to an old tree. ‘what are we doing here, we should go and fight’ says Uttara. ‘bring me that bundle on the tree’ replies Arjuna. Uttara is at first afraid as he thinks it’s a corpse. But when he sees what’s inside. The Gandhiva bow. He realises Brihanalla is really Arjuna. And so Uttara becomes the chariot driver. At first the Kauravas are laughing at Uttara driving a woman into battle. That is until Arjuna shoots four arrows at the Kauravas bringing down the flags of Bhishma, Drona, Duryodhana and Karna. ‘That must be Arjuna’ says Duryodhana delighted. And look his flag staff has a screaming Hanuman on top. ‘We have found him before the year is up’. ‘Don’t be so sure’ says Bhishma ‘It depends on which calendar you follow, the sun or the moon.’ But before they can start fighting  Arjuna dispatches three more arrows. Two land at the feet of Bhishma and Drona, paying his respect. The last is a magical arrow and puts all the Kaurava army to sleep. ‘Quick grab all their clothes so when they awake they will walk home ashamed, knowing we could have killed them’ says Arjuna to Uttara.

And so Uttara goes back to his father a hero, and Arjuna pretends to still be Brihanalla. But soon their secret can be revealed and just like the end of Covid 19 they  have a big party…