International Yoga Day and Why it Matters for Everyone

Today I am glad to celebrate International Yoga Day. More than a day for millions of people to be grateful for what yoga has offered them, today is a day for us all to connect and be reminded of what matters for everyone. So why does yoga mater?

Whether you choose to see it or not, we live in a world of crisis. Social inequality and environmental exploitation mixed with economic instability calls on the aid of non profit organisations across health and education, arts and culture, humanitarian relief, and environmental conservation to rally support from the masses. But individuals are in crisis, too, because you see, this ‘reality’ we have created is not conducive to human flourishing. Perhaps it is this disillusionment which drives us either to the brink of insanity or compels us to act. But what can we do when we are working in a system that has got itself tangled in one big mess? How do we balance what we want with what we can have, and assess what we need with what is available?

More than a set of physical exercises, Yoga is a path of harmony and grace that shows us not only what we need but how to find it. The trouble for most of us is we are so confused by our own existence that we don’t know where to start looking on our quest for understanding ourselves and the world around us. We think we have to chase material success for security, comfort and social acceptance. We deal with what we want now, but lack presence with ourselves and the people around us. We think we or someone else will deal with the consequences of our actions today if and when it becomes a problem tomorrow. But what we lack is a true understanding of where we are now in relation to everything that exists around us and how to navigate our way through the complexity of a system that we have built up around ourselves.

Whatever makes the world go round, it’s not money. I’d say it’s love, but it might be something different for you. But whatever it is, it’s not money. It’s not greed. It’s not hate. It’s people, it’s relationships, it’s this desire to connect, to serve a purpose and reach our highest potential. We just got confused somewhere. If you take money away, people will still find a way to share their gifts with one another, because we desire to connect and support one another to flourish for our own survival. We are not an independent species. We are a social species. We survive together, or we don’t survive at all. Think, if you were the only person left on this planet, what would you stay for? No man’s an island.

So you see, if we can learn to sync with what we need right now, we’ll realise we have everything we need, either within or around us. We see that the most important thing is to act in love to support one another, rather than grabbing what we can get for ourselves. When we start to see and understand how everything is connected, we have a stronger desire to protect the people and the world around us. Even though we know we have the capability to destroy, we choose to create and sustain, because we think before we act, and we act responsibly for ourselves and others.

This is yoga. Harmony, clarity, connection, and love. Yoga means understanding our place in the world, and connecting with the divine source of creation within each and everyone of us that beckons to be set free. It means putting aside our selfish desires and learning to serve our planet with humility. Yoga. Forgetting and remembering who we are, to rediscover what it means to be with ourselves and the world in an effortless dance that takes away the floor and leaves us waltzing in the clouds.

And why this day is just as important for you as it is for me. Because today you might come across someone who by their own light inspires your own to ignite. To connect, to journey within and find what you need to make the world a better place.

Why I Decided to Leave my Job in England and Move to France

It was a good life. I’d been out of uni for 18 months and in that time I had completed my yoga teacher training, worked as a fitness instructor, and gained 12 months sales experience with a company I really love. I was earning decent money and enjoying Leeds where I could pretty much do anything I wanted in my free time – I don’t ask for much apart from good friends, yoga and food! If I’d waited a couple of months, it wasn’t long before I might have moved into a different role with the company in London, where many of my good friends are also living. Everything was running pretty smoothly and I was on a good track.

But I was restless, and the job I was doing wasn’t stimulating enough for me to bear another few months when I had more exciting ventures to pursue. Daydreaming in the office, my mind would wander to the yoga classes I wanted to teach, the projects I wanted to run, and the places I wanted to go. At some point I had to ask myself when I would stop daydreaming and actually go out and make it happen, so when I realised that what I really wanted to do was to travel, immerse myself in yoga, and write, that’s what I did. I booked my flights to India, and set off for 12 weeks, where I had the most amazing and profound experience learning not just from great teachers, but from life in the country itself, the people I met, and the challenges we faced together.

I thought I would be ready to get back to ‘normal life’ when I returned to England, but I’d got out, and I didn’t want to get stuck again when there were other places I knew I wanted to be. I don’t know why but I’ve always wanted to live in France, so again I asked myself, “if not now, when?” The time is always ripe to live your life the way you want it to be, so here I am.

The plan is to work in hospitality/teaching English while I build my yoga profile, but every day that passes still with no job security, I have to ask myself if I’m knocking on the right doors, and if I’m not, where should I be knocking? I would launch myself into teaching yoga full time if I wanted to make a business out of it, but I don’t; I’m not going to start chasing money from yoga at a time when making money actually is my priority. The truth is though, I am confident that I’m where I’m supposed to be right now. Montpellier doesn’t feel like somewhere I have chosen to be as much it feels somewhere I have been led to, as if life is waiting here for me.

So I will keep waltzing patiently, faithful that the clues are in the dance itself. So long as I stay present, so long as I surrender to the dance, so long as I feel for the gentle push and pull of the one who leads me, I will always be where I am supposed to be.

Time

Time. We see it running away from us sometimes when we feel stuck where we are. We try to claw onto time, because there’s somewhere we want to be, or something we want to achieve, and we always seem to want to get there as quickly as possible. When I meet people who are running their own businesses for example, I always want to know how old they are so I have some sort of landmark as to what I might be able to achieve by the time I reach the same age. But actually, time is a pest, like that person who keeps reminding you of your next deadline when you’ve still got TIME. You know something needs to be done, and you’re doing it, but come on, can I just do it in my own time, please?

The reality is though that we are in fact bound by time. I made the move to France 11 days ago, because it felt right at the time. 11 days isn’t long, and I don’t like to rush because it stresses me out, but I do have to find a job pronto as I currently have just £300 to live off until I am paid, presuming I get something before my THIRD lot of rent is due on the 1st July. The pressure of time puts me in a situation where I might not find my ideal job, and yet they say that ‘destiny is what you create for yourself, and fate is when you fail to create your own destiny.’ So, will I create my destiny, or do I fall victim to fate?

Honestly, I don’t think it matters. The fact is that both destiny and fate are two sides of the same coin. At whatever point you find yourself in life, it is the result of both things that have happened to you, and things you have made happen. Neither our destiny nor our fate escapes us. We do have to be aware though of when is the right time to create our destiny, and when is the right time to let fate take its course. Overall, I know the destiny I want to create, but right now I need to find a way to live in France. I do believe the opportunity that presents itself to me will be my fate, and I choose to accept it. I mean, what could be so bad? After all, wherever we arrive, we are always free to fly again.

The magic is in the movement. If you set yourself in motion towards the direction of your goals, you will at some point definitely arrive. But the true beauty is in the journey, and living the story of it all fully; without haste, reading carefully word by word, in complete acceptance of where you are now, and excited to see where you will be when you turn the page.

My Teacher, My Guru, My Self

I’ve been in Rishikesh for almost two weeks now, and having attended just one yoga class in the whole time I’ve been here, I feel a reflective blog post is due. Rishikesh is without doubt a very special place. It welcomes in yoga practitioners and soul seekers from all corners of the world, hosting more teacher training courses than you could begin to imagine within these hills that rise above the sacred River Ganges. Magnificent temples line the banks around the areas of Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula, and another array of ashrams are scattered in the appropriately named Swarg Ashram.

In it’s raw beauty, the spiritual essence of this place is powerful. I’ve had a daily yoga practice for the past four years, but my meditation is only just starting to develop, which has been greatly supported by the whole atmosphere here. Though the streets are loud and crowded with tourists from India and beyond, slip away down a quiet side alley and you’ll find yourself on the water’s edge with the mountains rising above you and the noise dropping off behind. It’s here where I find myself resting peacefully in silence and alive with divine inspiration.

I haven’t been actively searching out yoga classes in Rishikesh, partly because finding the few that work for me would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Undoubtedly, there are many great yoga teachers here, but I’m only around for a short time and what I’ve come to realise is that actually finding a teacher in India probably isn’t going to serve my practice all that well in the long run. When I came out here, I thought I might find someone who I would continue to practice with for years to come, but after two months of intensive study with a handful of inspiring teachers, what I feel I need now is to digest everything I have learned so far as I continue my own practice in pursuit of an ever more intimate awareness and connection with my own being.

Initially, finding a teacher who can truly guide your enquiry in yoga might prove difficult, but there is one person who you can always learn from, and that’s yourself. The yogic lifestyle is important because it cultivates a healthy body and mind through which we can work towards a higher state of positive being, but no one call tell you exactly what you need to do to realise it. You see, no one knows you better than you know yourself, and yoga is but a journey of self discovery. Every individual and their journey is unique and we all have different paths to take, but if we create space in our lives to sit silently for a while, we create space to observe where we are on the road, from where it began and to where it leads.

The clues to guide us on our journey are always there, suspended in the mind and body oceans which encompass our existence. A yoga teacher can provide a ship for your adventure and teach you how to sail, but it is the wisdom of the soul within that will reveal these lessons to us at the right point along the way. We must simply be present and still where we are to see them as the ship passes through.

The Problem of Choice

How much time and energy do you think you waste thinking over the same issue again and again? For me, it’s a lot. Anyone whose ever had the unfortunate experience of shopping with me will know how awful I am at making decisions. If I’m scouting for shoes, I will spend an hour trying on 10 pairs and walk out the shop with none. If it’s food shopping, even if I write a list beforehand, I will go around the store 10 times until I’m sure I have everything I need/want. The problem is, I get so distracted by all the choices that I start to question if the option right in front of me is what I really want, or if there is something better available that I should perhaps consider.

I call this the problem of choice. If we analyse decision making behaviour, any individual will fall into one of two categories. Either you are a satisficer or a maximiser. The satisficer will opt for ‘good enough’, whereas the maximiser will try to assess the outcome of every possibility to rationalise which option will produce the best results. In this day and age, you might think maximising tendencies are preferable, because we always strive for the ‘best’, right? But let me tell you, I have always been a maximiser and it’s really quite unhelpful. The reality is that our minds cannot possibly pre-empt the outcome of every possibility because our knowledge is limited. So where a maximiser will battle with more intense feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) in the decision making process, satisficers are blessed with greater feelings of contentment and are less likely to kick themselves when they realise they could have made a better choice.

So, when faced with making an important decision, remind yourself what you really need/want from the outcome. Maybe there are three key aspects to consider. For example, I’ve decided to move to France this summer, but honestly I was going round and round in my mind trying to decide which exact spot to choose until my mind was silenced by an intense back bending practice this morning and I realised it doesn’t actually matter where I live as long as it has the main things I am looking for, i.e. is there a good community of down-to-earth young people? Is it an attractive place? And is it close to nature? Once you have found an option that meets your key requirements, go for it and don’t look back. This way, you’ll experience less anxiety in the decision making process and will be more open to making the most of wherever you end up without regret.

Afterall, what can you do with all your thoughts anyway? When did thinking about something for days on end ever actually get you anywhere? So save your mental energy and spend more time enjoying the moment you are in. Whatever happens, it will all work out for the best in the end. Your story is already written. You just have to live it.

Welcome Chaos

After deciding not to embark on another teacher training course in Varkala, it became clear to me that it was time to move on. I had a great three weeks on this little cliff where I met some wonderful people and I think grew a lot through some interesting ‘spiritual’ encounters that I won’t discuss here for fear of giving you a fright. Let’s just say the intensity was sometimes uncomfortable and chaotic. But the ocean is a powerful source of inspiration. I knew there was one lesson the waves were trying to teach me but I couldn’t fully grasp it until I arrived in Mysore a few days ago. This is where the inspiration for this humble piece of poetry came from. Take from it what you will. My personal reflections are below.

Oh sweet wave of chaos,

I feel you rising.

I take a breath and dive straight through.

You fall and break above yourself.

Diving Deeper

Try to picture yourself in the ocean. The waves are pretty big and keep sending you under in consecutive strikes time and time again. Even if you see it coming, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and can’t escape this next bashing. But after a couple of blows, you come to see from where the wave starts to rise, and you know where it will crash. You position yourself at the wave’s entrance so you can glide through it’s smooth surface as it rises above you, and when you come through on the other side, you see it crash in all its glory.

From behind the wave, everything is so much clearer. You see, sometimes we don’t even realise we’re living in chaos until we take a step back from it. So, when you observe the wave from the peace of the ocean that lies behind it, you see it for what it is. Then it becomes obvious why everything felt so heavy before. You might even feel grateful for the lessons the chaos came to share with you.

You think you want life to be easy, but it doesn’t work that way. You have to learn to swim in the ocean and embrace the waves. And then you can decide what you want your experience to be. If you want to really feel it, hold your breath and let it shake you up a bit. When it settles, you will arrive on the shore. If you want to be free from it, you have to dive through and watch the waves rise and fall from behind. No way is right or wrong. So long as you know your place in the ocean, you will always be safe in the mist of welcome chaos.

Live the Life You Love

I changed my mind again, surprise, surprise! About this time last week, I had said I was going to do another 200 hour month intensive teacher training course to delve deeper into my yoga practice, but two days before the course was due to start, I started to get itchy feet. What I realised was that it’s not really what I came out here for, and by going through the course there would be other elements of my trip I would have to compromise.

If we’re lucky and we know where our core values and interests lie, we can find ourselves saying yes to everything that aligns to our personal mission. The danger here though is in being distracted by what we may feel other people ask of us, instead of doing what we really feel called in our heart to do. We only have a certain amount of time and energy, so from time to time, it is important to take stock to remember where our motivations lie and let that guide us towards the activities we undertake.

For me, the idea of committing to 10 hours of yoga a day was too much as I reminded myself that I came out here to give myself time and space to prepare a portfolio of teaching materials while growing my personal practice. As for my personal practice, it is a natural and effortless occurrence that needs not be forced or intensified. You see, the journey of personal transformation is not one aided by the driver who speeds along the highway because it is a continuous voyage, so it’s important to take in every moment and enjoy the ride. On the other hand, my trip here in India is short, so I do have to make the most of the opportunity to get things sorted in order that I am prepared to continue with my mission when I return.

So my plan for the next couple of months is to spend my time enjoying India and all the wonderful yoga it has to offer, while focussing on designing and creating the yoga programme that has been at the forefront of my mind for over two years. No more waiting. It’s time to wake up and listen to my heart’s call. It’s time to to manifest ideas into reality for the world to enjoy.

If you ever find yourself in a similar position, getting side tracked by what you feel other people are asking of you instead of doing what you really want to be doing, try to focus in on what your heart is calling you to do right now by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What would I rather be doing?
  • What do I feel the world needs more of?
  • What does it look like to make that change?
  • What skills and attributes do I have that put me up to the task?
  • Am I ready?

Maybe you don’t have time. Make time. Change what needs to change. Learn what you need to learn. Be brave. Be bold. Go for it and don’t look back.

Diamonds in the Rough

It’s difficult to summarise in a few words or even a few pages what yoga really is. There is a saying in the ancient text on yoga that ‘yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self’. But what does that even mean?

To steal an analogy from Brandon Bays’ guide on healing and liberation, we are all born as bright, shining diamonds. As we go through life, a load of rubbish gets dumped on us, and then we cover it up with a shiny varnish to make ourselves look more presentable. At some point in our lives, we will have a mild awakening where we start to see through the cracks and get a glimpse of something far more beautiful that lies deep down beneath the surface. But you know the task of clearing the rubbish is no easy feat. So, you can either keep covering the cracks with more varnish, or you can start to chip away in determination of being reunited with the brilliance that you were born into.

This is the journey of yoga. It’s a continuous process of transformation which can be beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time. We all have emotional blockages that we have to work through to be released from the tight ropes that hold the rubbish in place, and often it is can be a difficult and painful voyage to embark on. But you keep going because every time you remove a heavy load a little bit more light shines through, inspiring the strength and motivation you need to carry on.

Over the past two weeks here in Varkala, a knot that was bound fast around me has been untied. An intense physical yoga practice opens up the body to free the mind like ferocious waves that transform hard rock to a blissful bay of sand. So, as I tumbled beneath the waves in a strong turbulence of emotion, I saw another glimpse of light above the surface. I saw that my heart is heavy because it so greatly wants to love, but its fire has been dampened by the doors which shut it out in the cold. I was angry, because I don’t want to live in a world where people have forgotten how to love. I don’t want to live in a world where my neighbour is quicker to hide his own rubbish than to help the community build a garden. I want to live in a world of open hearts that welcome strangers in to warm up by the fire.

So here I set the intention to open myself up to love, in giving and receiving. To dig deep and free the diamond to shine bright among us. I surrender myself to the divine heart that beckons from within, to the one that waits to welcome us home. Because I am that what I seek, and only in trust of something greater than myself will my heart be free to serve.

A Decision Has Been Made

After 2 weeks in the Sivananda Ashram, it was time to move on, so I packed my bags and headed for Varkala. I had been recommended a number of yoga teachers’ classes to try, so having become slightly bored of the daily routine at the Sivananda Centre, I was excited to explore a new place and shake things up a bit. Varkala is the kind of place travellers visit and end up staying for way longer than they expect. With an array of cafes, bars and restaurants enjoying beautiful views across the Arabian Sea and not short on choice for lovely places to stay, here you can retreat from the loud and vibrant India that lies beyond.

The first class I had here was exceptionally led by a man called Joseph who has been teaching for more than 30 years. It was a strong hatha class that challenged my body into positions I didn’t know it was capable of. I would have gone back had I not been directed towards Kamaraj’s vinyasa class the following afternoon. It’s happened a few times before, that feeling of complete inspiration and awakening when you arise from savasana, but this was on another level.

Kamaraj is one of those magic people who really knows what it means to heal; how to work through the body to release the mind and set a person free from whatever is holding them back. And you really feel that behind his teaching is an inspiration to give with total love and kindness. So after that class, I really didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else. Because when you find a teacher who understands you and is willing and competent to guide you to a higher place, you have to surrender and trust them completely.

The teacher is running a 200hr month intensive teacher training course in Hatha, Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga that starts on Monday 5th March and has been gently persuading me to join. I tried to resist, but of course he had to ask ‘Why?’ I answered I was afraid it would be too much. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone, and I thought two classes a day would be enough to work through some stuff. The full programme will be 5.30am-late, and I was scared of becoming too tired and emotional. But at the same time it kind of feels like something I want, or maybe even need, to go through, to discover a higher potential that lies within. It scares me but I know it’s the right thing for me to do now. Surrender and let go.

So, tomorrow I will move in to my teacher’s home with 8 other students and learn the traditional way – through the master, learning what I need to address my own wounds before attempting to carry my fellow warriors off the battlefield to be returned safely home.