In 2015 we started running a Teacher Training Course for yoga teachers and are the proud trainers of over 30 new teachers, spread far and wide, as far as Birmingham, Manchester, London, Exeter and Cambridge. Many of them stayed in the neighbourhood and are now teaching classes in the adjacent villages and towns. Our Teacher Training course has just started for this year, with another 10 happy yogis who want to spread the science of wellbeing to their communities. If this is something you are considering, please get in touch for the 2019 intake.
A few years ago, we were lucky enough to call Dunkerton Hall our own, and make it our special yogi zenden, keeping our equipment there and having all our classes in one place. Now we have grown beyond the boundaries and our teachers are reaching out far and wide. Becky Brooks runs a very successful set of classes in Weston, Radstock, Emma Farrell also runs classes at Victoria Hall in Radstock, Becky Abhaya who has grown with the organisation since it started has now started some successful classes in Frome.
The founders of the Sivananda organisation, to which we are affiliated, had the insight that people who do yoga are ”warriors of peace”, because they embody and share how to reduce stress and anxiety in their lives and those of their families. What could be more important in today’s speedy world?
Swami Vishnu-Devananda, an Army man from southern India, and one of our teachers, expressed yoga in five principles:
When we exercise in such a way that our body becomes flexible and strong, it serves us better through life and is less likely to become sick. When we can breathe deeply and completely, we tend to relax the mind and the body effectively. When we eat simple, healthy foods, we minimise our risk of deadly diseases such as cancer, obesity, high blood pressure and so on as well as caring for our planet. When we learn how to relax completely, we teach our body to come into homeostasis, where we can engage our parasympathetic nervous system to boost our immunity and nourish every level of ourselves. When these things are in place we tend to think more positively and are able to learn how to meditate, how to take some chill time and become more zen in our lives.
We want to celebrate this with you this year and explain more about yoga, so please come along to our classes on…. And look out for a very special event in the Spring!
Weekly classes at Universal Yoga – all held at Dunkerton Parish Hall:
As our third set of graduates go out into the world to share yoga, I marvel while I watch my student teacher share her yoga with my first student in her front room.
In a small village in the middle of the English countryside, among pubs, cider, fields of sheep and cows, women are sharing peace and serenity with other women. Four women walked out of my graduates house today experiencing bliss, contentment, satisfaction and fulfilment. Temporarily detached from dissatisfaction, they stride out spreading peace to their families and colleagues and the rest of the village.
Like beacons of light, they will meet adversity with courage and pain with compassion, disturbance with the oil of calm and conflict with peace. They will co-regulate the village and their far flung families today with this gift.
Yoga is embodied peace. We learn how to steer our minds away from harmful thoughts or reactions, we learn how to keep our bodies functioning well and we learn how to be of service to others.
Why would you not want this? Be a force for good – practise yoga!
This weekend a handful of yoga enthusiasts became beacons of peace. They graduated to become yoga teachers. Through their own dedicated and disciplined practise, they transformed their passion into a profession. When we become yoga teachers, we vow to dedicate our life to embodying peace, transmitting light and hope to those around us.
The process is one of self-care to empathy, discipline to integrity, trusting in the flow of life.
The positivity that comes from practising yoga is rooted in the experience that I can shift my own physical and mental and spiritual state from lethargy and darkness into light by a series of specific introspective techniques, weeding out the nonsense and focussing on helpful, supportive thought patterns.
We need to be subtly aware most of the time because a thought becomes a habit, which becomes a character which becomes a destiny.
There were 3 builders on a construction site
A woman comes up and asks – what are you doing?
The first builder replies:
I am building a church to earn enough to eat
The second replies
I am building a church to feed my family
The third replies
I am building a church to honour the Divine in each of us.
We all get up and do our daily chores, but what is our focus, what is our intention with our actions? The intention behind our actions determines how we feel and how others perceive us and ultimately the satisfaction we feel with our own life.
As yoga teachers, our intention is to be world leaders, leaders in peace
“Feel your feet firmly on the ground as you lift through the heart….”
Beautiful words, but sometimes hard to achieve.. how can we ground ourselves?
Since June 2014 my students and community and I have been on an Ayurvedic diet, to reduce Vata, bringing the air element in my body down and eliminating more effectively. Every Ayurvedic Doctor (including Vasant Lad and Robert Svoboda) that I have come across, always starts by saying we need to cleanse the GI tract. We need to let go, digest and release the old shit! When we don’t, imbalances occur, these are expressed as anxiety, depression and other mental pathologies as well as of course, physical pathologies.
Yoga is always clear in its understanding that mind and body are one and so when we treat our digestive tract, there will be some effect on the mind. I have noticed, as my students and I have undergone dietary changes (less sugar,, no coffee, alcohol, meat, fish) and more according to our specific constitution, age and time of year, that we have all become less edgy, less anxious and more content.
This is not only a wonderful homage to Ayurveda, but also an experience of the impact of diet on mental health.
Asana and pranayama also play their part. Grounding ourselves, mean finding calm, getting past our upsets and emotions to a place of stability. In asana, we are digesting trauma and emotional upset every time we move our body. I found this idea hard to grasp until I experienced it. That was at a time when I frequently experienced a heaviness in my body after an upsetting quarrel, where I would lie in savasana and sob and make some small movements, then I would do gentle asana and I would unwind myself from the trauma until my body felt light and free again. (for more on this subject, pls read Swami Rama’s Yoga and Psychotherapy)
I have read a hundred essays by TeenYoga students now of how they suffered abuse or trauma in childhood and how talking therapy took them to a place of understanding and maybe a resolution but that it was the yoga that released them and took them on to another life of freedom and light.
Our mind is constantly changing, from one emotion to another -anxious, calm, excited, to depressed, lonely. Our body is not. Our body is changing to some degree, but it is a solid experience. When we bring our breath and our awareness back to our body through eating, through asana, through breathing, we are grounding ourselves. When we ground ourselves, we are reconnecting to our inner truth, The sometimes inconvenient truth of who we really are, then we can change and transform and meet with challenges with sanguine clarity of mind.
So, asana and pranayama and a good Ayurvedic diet are important. Here, if you are interested, I would like to share my top tips for grounding yourself. I will talk about some of them in future posts (though I may keep number 5 to myself!):
I believe these simple practises can help our mental health and may even help us avoid panic attacks, anxiety and depression. Grounding seems to constitute an important stepping stone towards positive mental health.
When we find out dharma, life flows. It doesn’t always flow, so its nice when we fall into our dharma. Dharma in yoga means the path you are meant to walk, the one you find easy and fulfilling, the effortless path which gives so many people joy.
Recently, running the Universal Yoga Teacher Training Course, it has occurred that the 16 years of yoga practise is ripe for giving… for sharing.. all the tormented questions, then resolved, now shared. The teachings pour through us and towards the students in a steady flow of gratitude to what has been, the pain, the teachings, the teachers. Coming away from the weekend, I feel full and empty and the same time. Full of Love, awe and gratitude for the students’ willingness to listen and learn and finally, for a moment, empty of any needs or desires.
Our guru Swami Sivananda, had many mottos, one was – Serve, love, give.
The apple tree drops all of its fruit when it’s time comes, the well needs to give its water in order to refill itself, and knowledge needs to be shared, effortlessly. To love and to give is our very nature and it is such a pleasure to let the energy flow through and towards the source again.
How often do we do something inside that we are ashamed of on the outside. A thought, a private action? What if all these thoughts and actions were visible? How quickly would we shift then? How relaxing would it be to be completely congruent, transparent. It strikes me that our karma would play out quicker if we stopped believing we were in control. This little ego who gets things out of proportion. Is it possible to let it go and surrender to the greater unfolding of this life?
Our addiction to the physical plane is a hallmark of our lives. I think it exhausts us. Every Friday, when I fast, I notice how pleasurable it is to get a greater perspective. To notice how the body and the mind benefit from taking a break for a day. Otherwise, it is only when we sleep, do we get a break from the identification with this body and this mind. When we start to practise yoga, we are able to step away from the dictatorship of the intellect and the body and recognise the greater movement of life through us. It is relaxing to me to realise that our logic, our reason, our body are not sovereign over our lives but rather life itself, the greater force of joy, love and magnificence that pours through us and flows, to delight us with surprising experiences again and again.
The wheel of fortune in the Tarot cards is a reminder that the wheel can be appearing to be turning upwards when you look at it from one side but it is turning down from the other. Last week we were told to leave our yoga centre within a week. It was a shock, my whole world seem to turn upside down.
I was faced with the prospect of selling my family home, my long term relationship having broken down and my work taken away from me.. my world falls apart!
Then, as so many times before, the world-wheel turns around, a new centre heralds a new beginning, a new love burgeoning on the horizon with promises of all dreams fulfilled and more, answers to questions not yet asked. Abundant intelligent solutions. Support and love from all corners appear.
Allowing the letting go without resistance, allowing the breaking down, the powerless falling away of long held hopes and dreams, the tight fist of old dreams noticing the last grains of sand exiting effortlessly, leaving nothing to grasp onto. The hand is empty yet again and is forced to open in the beggars way.. nothing left to hold on to.
And so…with open palms, treasure by grace is poured in and heralds yet another Spring!
Last week I went home.
It was a place I had no memory of, where everyone and everything was different from anything I have ever known, but it was home. In many ways.
300,000 years ago people lived here. When the UK was under ice. The cradle of civilisation, in the heart of Africa, was where I was born.
Being a child with roots in two countries I have often reflected on how it feels to belong and how it feels to be slightly separate, dissonant, without roots, ill at ease.
It strikes me if your ancestors have lived off the same land as you for 300,000 years, there must be a deep sense of belonging, of wisdom and of peace.
Walking around the noisy, dusty, scorching streets of Kitwe Zambia, I felt deeply at home, I felt I belonged. What does that feel like? It feels safe, it feels like you could fall asleep right there, knowing that the world around you will take care of you.
I was blessed to spend time with a Zambian family, and discovered that sense of common responsibility, of interdependency and of complete trust that someone will be there for you. We walked around Mukuni village, a village whose ways has not changed for thousands of years, a village independent of money and outside influences, completely able to care for all its inhabitants easily, without strife or difficulty. The ground is fertile, the water clean, the kids happy.
I know many anthropologists and travellers would argue that I have a romantic view and surely people want cars, money, modern flats? Of course, there is that. The legacy of the white man. The other legacy, apart from the introduction of money, is the introduction of expensive drugs.. We were shown tree bark that helps with diarrhoea, herbs that help with common ailments, now shunned for expensive drugs from the West. This is the legacy of the white man.
But the main desire among the people I spoke to is to go back to the village as you get older, to go home. Isnt that what we all want, to go home, to peace, to where we belong, to the smells, the sounds and the sensations familiar and comfortable?
You guessed it, this to me is yoga, coming home to oneself, to the deep rest and peace within your very bones, the place that demands nothing, that asks for nothing except your very existence, where you have full permission to exist in all your majesty.
Welcome to yoga, welcome home!
Karma – well, laughing at “My Name is Earl” and the crossing off of his list, with my son, makes me realise that these ideas are percolating through to very popular culture.
Life somehow becomes much, much easier, when you start to see it through the eyes of karma.
There is something about looking at the intention of the action rather than actually what happened. Think about it, “its the thought that counts!”. If things turned out pear shaped and your intention was good, then what is the karma of the action?
In Yoga the concept of karma drives your actions and ultimately even your thinking.
The ultimate goal, is to act with no desire for an outcome. Hm tricky!? Well, maybe most actions we do are because we want something? A bunch of flowers, because we want to be forgiven? A present because we want to be loved? Cleaning the house because we want to impress someone?
For example, I remember when I first went in to work as a “karma yogi” at the London Yoga Centre, and someone broke a glass on the floor, I was quick to tell one of the Swamis who lived there ” so-and-so broke the glass and its there on the floor” Swami took a look at me and patiently said “In yoga, there is no blame, there is just a broken glass, the fact that you saw it, means it is your job to clean it up” My colleague had given me an opportunity to serve. What a turn around!
A beautiful shift of thought, an expansion takes place with this thought.
It was enticing to think that there is no blame, so no shame, therefore no guilt, and maybe no merry go round of passive aggression following guilt and shame? wow! This new idea made me feel light and free. If something presents itself to me, then it is my opportunity to clear my karmic debt. Excellent, jump at it!
Now, I am going to ask you to expand your mind even further.. not only is there no blame or agency, imagine if life were just a series of lessons for you. Every time something occurs, it is an opportunity for you to serve, to send out loving intention, to somehow neutralise everything bad (or in yoga we would say ignorant) that you have ever done. (“Forgive them, for they know not what they have done”) If the same thing keeps presenting to you, the same disappointment, the same let down, what is the lesson here? How can you relate to this scenario differently? How have you been acting in this way towards others, without even noticing it?
You know for sure, that if you bounce a ball off a wall, it will come right back at you? Well in the same way, any intention you send out, any action you take, will reverberate back to you in some way. Imagine everything you did was for the “greater good”, imagine gifting stuff, for the sake of it, not because you want something back, just because it feels good to give?
There are whole communities that work in this way, and have done for thousands of years. Our village works like this in many ways, without even realising it. It is the original way of communities. Can we get back there? Finding what the Gods are asking of me in this situation? and What have I got to learn from this scenario or this relationship? How can I serve here?
Maybe this is the “new” consciousness that is dawning, this understanding that with taking responsibility only for our own actions, and acting with pure intention of service, love and mercy, we will live in a beautiful world.
It is not easy, we are entrenched in an “owe you” or “sorry” society. But maybe just maybe, you could try for a day to just give, without any wish for any return, just give, because it is good for you. This is Karma Yoga.
Last week, I experienced what may well be many business’ ultimate nightmare, I was told that the council would shut me down imminently because of the traffic coming and going from our Yoga Centre.
Now, with a few breaths and a bit of meditation, it became clear that this may not be as dramatic or as “bad” as it seems.
Maybe it is time to do something else, maybe its time to move on, maybe this is the Universe telling me not to value effort and the past as some lasting thing, everything passes.. be flexible, see the good… having extended myself over four years and spent thousands of pounds on lawyer fees, several refused planning applications and other advice, trying to build the business up and to find resolutions to the parking issue, maybe it was time to give up the fight?
The doubt was there, one last effort, I will tell the students and let them decide, was this worth saving? I will contact the local MP, will he help? I hand it over to Grace, God, the Universe……. my effort is spent.
The response was miraculous! with over 100 responses, on facebook and email, tender and heart opening messages of love and community, email after email, tears ran down my cheeks as people’s experiences were laid bare….how yoga had carried them through tough times, through bereavement, through cancer, through loss and pain.. the heartfelt plea sent from people living several hundred miles away who had been here on retreat…our MP must have been very busy in the last few days opening emails from our students!
With renewed vigour, I realised yet again, it is not I or we who offer yoga, yoga offers itself to suffering and heals suffering on so many levels. This is not about doership, about who is the doer, who is the receiver, it is about fulfilling dharma in this lifetime of providing a space for people to heal whether it is profitable or not, whether it is easy or not, whether it suits me or not… it is my dharma and the dharma of all the yoga teachers, to offer what we know for the peace of the individual and like threads of cotton, each individual is turned into a thread of silk, to weave the most beautiful silken cloth, which is our community, a community of peace.
Om Tat Sat