Astanga Yoga London

10th of July 2020
10th July 2020

WE ARE OPENING!!!!!

Saturday 25th of July, count the days. We will open from 6am to 11am (may be later if you are still around). It would be lovely to see you all.  We can’t operate as we used to at the moment. So we won’t be cramming people in. There will be space to stretch out. Please make sure you have read our covid 19 safety page and that we have your contact details. Because we don’t know how many of you are going to be coming in or what times we are just going to keep things fluid for now. We’d rather not have appointments so that students don’t all arrive at once.

From Sunday 26th classes will be back to normal times. 7.30-11am Sun. Mon-Fri 5ish to 11.30am and 5-8pm. If we need to open regularly on a Saturday so that everyone gets time to practice we will do that.

Our online classes will be phased out for a couple of weeks and then we will add a few in sometime in August.

If you have any question please don’t hesitate to email/phone me. We want to make sure you feel safe to come back

Re this blog. I’m going to reduce it the every other day for a while and then weekly. I hope to have some other teachers/friends contribute. So it should get a bit more interesting.

For now we’re back with Patanjali. He introduces the concept of Ishvara, which gets translated as, Lord or God. We’re not sure which God, shiva, Vishnu??? He mentions devotion to Ishvara 4 times in the YS so I guess it’s quite important. It’s also interesting that the YS takes a lot from Buddhism where there is no God and also from Samkhya philosophy which puts Gods as just another ‘life form/stage’. Some have suggested that God becomes a tool to get to Samadhi. Krishnamacharya suggested that the  6 sutras starting with Ishvara pranidhana were śatanga 6 limbed yoga. We also get introduced to Om, which is called Pranava which means before sound. Which suggests that Om existed before there was sound. Which does answer somewhat that age old question of the tree in the wood. And if it falls when no one is around does it make a sound? If you still don’t know the answer it’s no, because sound is only heard in ears. Although if you ever felled a tree you’d know you feel the sound as it hits the ground. But Om was always there before you could hear.

See you on the mat

9th of July 2020
09th July 2020

Today is fun day. We all know that paper airplanes don’t fly well and the pointy bit unfolds. So here is a way to make a good paper airplane. Is it aerodynamic? Paper airplanes are too light for aerodynamics to work. You can’t create a lift with paper. So it’s more about fluid dynamics. To get a paper plane to fly you need weight at the front.

I have folded in half and folded one corner to the midline, but just mark that outer edge of the fold.

Fold the paper up  on a line of the previous mark. Then TURN OVER

Fold both both corners up to the centre, crease sharply. Then TURN OVER

This is a little tricky, fold the bottom edges up to the top of the raw edge. I have drawn a line on the left side where the fold is and completed the right side.

Hold the plane by the point lift the back edge of the raw edge and move it forward as you close the plane

The final step fold down each wing equally from the junction backwards. FLY

Patanjali gives us 5 resources that help us on our path. They are faith, energy, memory, meditation, wisdom. It is rare to have all 5 at the same time equally. Play to your strengths. But each one will strengthen the others. It is your path.

 

8th of July 2020
08th July 2020

Running AYL has been a learning curve for me. The teaching bit is good. Everything else I’ve had to learn on the job, no you tube help. Everything from supplies and deliveries, gas/electricity, repairs, managing staff, taxes, health and safety, DBS checks, staff training, website content etc. Hopefully I haven’t done too badly. We’ve just changed over to paper towel. When we first opened we debated which would be best roller towel, paper towel or hand dryer. The latter we felt would be noisy. Now we have swapped to paper I wish I’d done so first. So much cheaper. Lesson learned.

I also learnt thanks to one of our lovely assistants how being a person of colour every day you have to think ‘will it be safe for me to go there’. That weighs heavy on my heart. I love our community at the shala and that when new people come in you all make an effort to be welcoming. Remembering your own first day and how trepidatious it felt. Thank you.

So yesterday we tried to tackle samadhi, the different types or levels, the experience. As much as we would like you can not think your way into samadhi. It happens, (usually when you’re least expecting it). And when it does you try to grab on to it which is like trying to catch a bee, buzz off.

Book 1 verse 19. Always been a stumbling block for commentators. For those who are bodiless and/or merged in prakriti samadhi happens at birth’.  Err WTF. Beings without bodies or merged into nature? So most commentators go with the idea of gods, as beings without bodies and those merged in nature as somewhere between human and divine. But if we dig deeper and look at each word we can get a better understanding. Videha is the word often translated as without a body. Firstly do not get confused with the place Videha, the ancient Vedic kingdom of Janaki and the birth place of Sita. Though of course it could be that Patanjali was saying these people of Videha were merged in nature. Vi usually means ‘a moving away’ and deha means body. So simply moving away from the body.

So I think it really means for those who are able to detach from their body and feel one with nature (as in totally connected to the world and it’s rhythm’ then they are not reborn. Remember escaping rebirth is part of a final samadhi.

Or heaven is not where you have all your desires met, but where you have no desires.

7th of July 2020
07th July 2020

I think I’m in the wrong job. I just discovered Snoop Dogg has what he calls a PBR, a personal blunt roller. Who, get this, gets $50,000 a year and all expenses. Good for him.

People often ask how I started yoga, or why. The why is easy, simply I couldn’t touch my toes and thought at 17 that’s pretty shit, better do something about that. So the how was me going down to the local bookshop and buying:

Yoga and your health by Sonya Richmond. Very 60s. This was shortly followed by Hatha yoga by Theos Bernard. This I would recommend. It’s a good story, and an historical insight into yoga in general.

Paying attention to your breath while practicing is something that comes and goes. Try and be more aware, particularly when your breath becomes rapid. Shoulder stand is a classic one where it usually takes people 10-15 breaths before they realise they can actually slow it down.

Patanjali talks a fair amount about Samadhi, well that is what yoga is all about. The yoga sutras use a lot of language commonly found in Buddhist text, so we can safely assume there was cross over. And the same with Jain texts too, but to a lesser extent. Finding a description of samadhi is impossible simply because to use language we are still in this world. So often it’s termed in ‘well it’s not this or that’ or a meaningless ‘supreme bliss’. Patanjali gives us some clues into different samadhis, and of course we assume some hierarchy. My feeling is that they are different experiences. But let’s try to explain them using Patanjali’s words. Firstly there are two types of Samadhi also called samapatti. Samprajnata and Asamprajnata. This words mean with knowledge and without knowledge, but are often matched with Sabija and Nirbija. With seed and without seed. But Patanjali never uses the word asampranjnata, and simply refers to it as ‘the other’. This other does finally get described in the 4th chapter as Dharma Megha, a cloud of dharma. Which sounds a very odd way to describe samadhi. I’ve never got a satisfying answer from anyone that I’ve asked about this Cloud of Dharma (good name for a band). It’s quite poetic, which is unlike Patanjali. It’s a phrase is occasionally found also in buddhist texts. Where it too is the highest state of Samadhi. As clouds are good things in India that fact changes our perception. For someone who reaches this state they rain good dharma down on others.

But what about other samadhi states. How many are there? Well I guess each persons path is unique. But Patanjali gives a some cartography. There are 6 different states. But for some reason Patanjali doesn’t list them simply in and order. We have Vitarka, (nirvitarka), Vichara, (nirvichara), ananda and asmita. So this will take some explaining, bare with me.

Tarka (not the otter) means reason. So we have Samadhi with reason Vitarka, then there is a samadhi on the side similar but without reason Nirvitarka. Next comes Chara meaning movement, as in movement away to more subtleness. Vichara, then again more samadhi on the side, remember it’s not linear. Samadhi without subtleness. Nirvichara. Then comes ananda, which is bliss. Easy peasy. And just when we thought things would become all chilled again we have Asmita, which means egoism! Hey wait up egoism and samadhi in the same sentence? Particularly as later on asmita is a described as a poison. So I need to explain the concepts of ego and egoism in Indian philosophy.

Ego is called Ahamkara, I maker. It is the outer face of Buddhi, our discerning mind through which all senses flow. Asmita is I ness and is the inner face of Buddhi which reflects Atman, soul. The difficulty is that buddhi thinks the refection is the real deal. So to get the real deal we remove the dust from the mirror. So asmita samadhi is one step away from seeing atman.

And if you’re still confused you need a PBR.

6th of July 2020
06th July 2020

Some sense of normality. Eating in a restaurant (support local business) and lunch at a friends. And we have booked a couple of films at Ally Pally outdoor drive in cinema. Greace anyone?

Hardest of all on our yoga path is inner security. We find our security in money, what we do for work, how others see us, the way we look. And yet all are transitory and we end up with a large amount of fear of loss. That is not to say we should give all these things up. We need money, we need work, we need to look after our body. But they should not be us. Slowly with practice our attachment becomes less. When we focus less on outside and more on what is inside.

Of course the question of God comes up and either you believe, you don’t believe or you don’t know how to believe. Or usually some mix of the above. Our problem is we have been brought up with an idea of God, dude with white beard on cloud.

However if God is everywhere. When you say ‘yea I believe in myself’ or ‘watching a sunset is special’, ‘ being quiet and calm feels good’, ‘giving and receiving love is the best thing I can do’ all that is God.

Patanjali says there are two things that will bring about niroddha, stillness. Practice and detachment. We’re all familiar with the practice part. It’s just the detachment part that is difficult. Because even if we get the idea and subscribe to it there is a part of us that thinks. ‘Yes I will detach from everything except… ‘ or ‘I’ll just keep the keys to the cupboard of attachment in my back pocket in case I get an urge to…’

Forcing ourselves to be detached doesn’t work. It has to happen gradually but you also need to sew the seeds and water them. The first step is catching yourself being attached, slowly you will be able to laugh at this. Then try to control your senses bit by bit. Not I will reward myself with some sensory overload. It’s as the Isha upanishad says. Find your happiness in letting go.

5th of July 2020
05th July 2020

Today is not only Full Moon but also Guru Purnima. Purnima means full moon and each full moon in the Indian calendar has a name. Guru here refers to Jupiter.  Guru has many meanings. Obviously the most familiar is teacher or spiritual guide. It also means heavy as in their words have deep meaning. And also Gu means darkness or ignorance and ru means light or leading away from. But guru also is used in Sanskrit to describe part of a meter of a phrase. So if we looked at the first line in the Bhagavad Gita written in anushtubh/sloka meter we find the following,

Dharma kshetre kuru kshetre.    So we have Dhar-ma  kshe-tre  ku-ru kshe-tre.            This produces:   Guru, laghu(light), guru, laghu, laghu, laghu, guru, laghu.

So thanks to all the Gurus who have brought humanity this far, to all future gurus to your inner guru and mostly to all you who have taught me so much.

I am deeply honoured to have you in my life as friends and students.

Now go party.

 

4th of July 2020
04th July 2020

As you can see we had a little go at working out mats for when we reopen. We measured carefully to comply with the government guidelines. We do want you all to feel safe. Our first week back will be a test run to see how things work out. We’d rather not have appointment times and trust you’ll all just ‘space out’ as normal. We think it would be better than a whole bunch of people all turning up at the same time. But please be patient if we have to iron out any problems. We will need everyones contact details. Wash/sanitise your hands on entry. We have a head thermometer. We can have 10 people at a time practicing. We’ll use the finishing room as a waiting room for 7 people.

Happy Independence day to all our American friends and students.

Next on our list for study of the Yoga sutras is the concept of Vrtti. Which usually gets translated as mode and refers to how the mind is. Vrtti comes from a route verb Vrt meaning to turn or swirl. Which suggests Patanjali thought of the mind as constantly moving in a circular fashion. Which happens when our thoughts go round and round. Patanjali simplifies all our thoughts into five patterns. Which makes it really difficult to place some of our thoughts. Some things we struggle trying to find a place in that five point plan. Right thinking, wrong thinking, imagination, sleep and memory. Also Patanjali splits them all in half again as painful or not painful. So examples of this are as follows.

Right thinking without suffering leads to samadhi, with suffering leads to attachment. Wrong thinking without suffering is when you see an image of Krishna in your toast, with suffering is that piece of toast will protect you from coronavirus. Imagination without suffering is where you imagine a spark of divinity in side you, but with suffering where you’re daydreaming away about someone you saw on zoom. Sleep without suffering brings a rested mind, but with suffering you become forgetful. And memory without suffering is one that reminds you that yoga is awesome. But with suffering is where you stay in bed.

3rd of July 2020
03rd July 2020

So Boris Johnson said gyms will be open in two weeks time. So we have all our fingers crossed that we can open up too. Keep an eye on our website. We’ll be putting up a covid 19 safety page with all the info you need. And if you haven’t figured out how to wash your hands yet, we’re fucked.

A few people have asked if we will still be doing stuff online. I think it has been very beneficial for students who don’t have access to the shala because they live far away. So yes we will retain some online classes. I think this blog will be taking more of an irregular appearance once we open. But helping students learn and inspiring them practice is important to us.

Inspiration will come from many places. Books and videos, nature and people. The thing to do is to keep your eyes open, so that you are open for inspiration. I really like this line from William Blake. To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.

In the YS we come across the word Drashtuh, similar to drishti. Both have the root in ‘to see’. Nouns are slightly more complicated in Sanskrit than English but the point is that drashtuh means the seer. Which at first seems an odd choice of word. Patanjali could have used Purusha or Atman, or even Kshetrajna as in the BG.  And it’s difficult to find any commentary on why he chose that word. So here’s my theory. All the other words are pure nouns, but drashtu comes from a verb root. So I think Patanjali was trying to move away from giving something so intangible a name. By naming it it becomes part of the regular temporal world. And then we think we have found it because we can name it.

We want to name everything, to own it and yet once we accept that is not possible a whole new world opens up to us. One where the sun always shines.

2nd of July 2020
02nd July 2020

I just got totally drenched, well the dog did. But we dried out by the wood burning stove. How lovely is that. A long time ago, a friend an I built a tree house and installed a wood burning stove, made out of an old gas cylinder. Do not try that at home. Because there has to be no gas in the cylinder, any left when you cut the cylinder with an angle grinder will explode. Which would mean a very nasty mess with my head in John’o’groats and my ass in Lands end. So fill the cylinder with water first. Anyway enough guerrilla building skills.

The commentary on the YS we’re looking at is by Vyasa, the same dude who wrote the Mahabharata. How did people find the time?? On the first sutra he equates yoga with samadhi. But his main addition is the five states of mind theory. They are, and translation is somewhat difficult. Disturbed, stupefied, distracted, one pointed and controlled. (kshipta, mudha, vikshipta, ekagra, niruddha) The last being the state of yoga Ni means leading to and ruddha means holding or stoping. TBH I’m not a great fan of categorisation of people or the mind. I feel we are all unique. The benefits are to help others understand us but often they don’t help us understand ourselves. Anyway we all like to find out our personality type. So if you’re interested I’m INFJ in the Myers-briggs personality test.

Anyway obviously we spend most of our time in a distracted state and occasionally slip into one pointed or with lockdown a bit of stupefaction. The more we move towards a satvic way of living the easier it is for our minds to move into a one pointed state. A satvic mind is something that is not forced. There is a lot of discipline needed but you can’t drag the mind kicking and spitting into samadhi. Our mind quite likes sense gratification. We have to learn slowly to follow our needs not our wants. And the medicine that helps us on that path, that makes the path a little smoother, that reduces the anxiety of trying to think your way out of thinking is Yoga

1st of July 2020
01st July 2020

How time flies. I’m hopeful it will fly even quicker to opening too.

What is the difference between yoga and chocolate. When I reflect back one of the saddest things for me is all the people I’ve met, had varying types of relationship with, may be a 10 minute conversation, lived with them or dated them, taught them yoga. And now we’ve lost contact. Partly technology has helped us stay connected but for all those lost contacts what to do? Occasionally I do bump into someone from the past and I realise actually that was the past and we’ve both changed. I guess it’s that feeling of nostalgia we all have. Wanting to recreate something, an experience that brought pleasure. We constantly try to recreate experiences, but the second piece of chocolate never tastes as good as the first.

But then what about yoga? We repeat that, looking for a similar experience and actually the experiences get better and better. So that is the difference between yoga and chocolate. You can have too much chocolate but never enough yoga.

So to continue with this blog we are going to move away from stories. We’ve done all to briefly, my favourite, the Mahabharata with the Bhagavad Gita included and then we looked at the Ramayana and a brief look at the Aditya Hridayam which is part of the Ramayana. Then we looked at the story of Narasimha. There are a lot more stories in the upanishads that Louise is teaching and then there are the Puranas which very few people read and I’ve only read a few so not qualified to cover them.

So now we’ll look at the Yoga Sutras (YS). Which is one of the first books people pick up in regards to yoga philosophy and not surprisingly one of the first books they put down. At only 196 verses long it’s short and pithy. Which is what sutra style is about. There are many other sutra books all with few words and hard to understand without a commentary. Many western scholars have commented on the YS and also you can find many Indian commentaries too. Of extreme importance is Vyasa’s commentary. Some have suggested Vyasa and Patanjali were one and the same. Part of the great difficulty in understanding the YS is that it’s written approximately 2000 years ago in Sanskrit. And as we know Sanskrit words can have many meanings. So the first word of the YS is Atha, which translates as now. But in what way did Patanjali mean now? Was it ‘Oi NOW!’ or was it ‘now we shall move on to the subject of yoga’  or may be ‘Now’ that is the only lesson you’ll need’ or does Atha have other meanings. Quite a few other sutra texts start with atha. So it is something that grabs you attention but also a sound that reverberates in your mind and draws it inwards connecting you to your inner guru. Starting you on the road to focus more than the word ‘now.’ When you  look through the dictionary at atha it comes with similar words like ‘here begins or so then’ Opening words. But also ‘if’ is in there too. And that changes everything. If is a question, yoga is something for you to explore, not just to follow blindly some 2000 year old dead sage with a snake for a body. If opens your eyes as much as Atha focuses your mind. That sliver of a space between question and answer. Because the more we look for an answer the less we will see.