Yoga and Spirituality

BookYogaRetreats.com shared this interesting survey they conducted on Yoga and Spirituality with me this week. The results are really interesting, while nearly 70% describe the practice of yoga as something that connects body, mind and soul, and 80% feel more connected to a higher power/nature/universe/god, only 8% describe yoga as a spiritual practice.

One great thing about yoga is that anyone can access it on whatever level they’re ready for, be it purely physical or deeply spiritual, in the same class at the same time. Spirituality has become taboo for a lot of people these days, but remember that yoga is a spiritual practice and NOT a religion – at all! Yoga gives us a neutral space and structured practice to get in touch with our deeper experience whatever religious or non religious background we have without any dogma or rigid belief systems. For many people this is what has alienated them from their spirituality. So maybe it’s time to open up to yoga and the beautiful sense of spiritual connection it can cultivate in us all!

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Grounding Through the Feet

How do you decharge? This came up last night in the pub for my friend Megan’s birthday last night (funny enough) and got me thinking. We live in very, very stimulating times. All day everyday we’re bombarded with information and if you work in highly charged interpersonal situations on top of that it can be overwhelming. For a lot of us it’s a smoke or a coffee (me) or food (also me) or phones (also, also me) that we use as a tool to get back to ourselves and calm in the course of a hectic day. But actually what that’s replacing is connection to ourselves, our bodies, our breath, the world around us.

When I was really bet down with this problem a friend gave me a tip that anyone can use, take your shoes off and go stand on a natural surface and just feel your feet on the surface, once a week, once a day, whenever you get the chance. It will calm you, decharge negative feelings from yourself and others and even take static out of your hair. It’s referred to as Earthing or Grounding and you can read about how it works from various different sources. Without going into a big explanation electrical charges and energy, I can say I have experienced it working for myself and know lots of people who do it too. When I was working full time in RTE I used to be so frazzled my hair was standing up off my head, I was dehydrated all the time and I couldn’t sleep even with my yoga practice, I was physically and emotionally overstimulated. So… I’d get in to the sea up to my knees after work every day and as mad as I seemed (in November…) it honestly worked! The dehydration passed, my body and sleeping patterns recouped noticeably and my yoga and meditation practice were able to do their work again.

. “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh.

I recommend trying it for 10 days and seeing if you notice a difference!

Another amazing thing you can do for yourself on this theme is walking meditation, in the style of the great Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. You can read some beautiful words here to bring into your daily walk to work, around the office or out in nature. But really it boils down to walking slow enough to feel each step and light enough to show love and respect to the support of the ground beneath you.

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Yoga and Mantra

This quarter I have an article in Yoga Therapy Ireland’s magazine which has a special focus on Japa Yoga and Mantra. I was really delighted to be asked to contribute to this issue.

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For the last 18 months I’ve been practicing Japa meditation alongside my hatha yoga practice. The result can only be described as transformative. When I began my teacher training with Yoga Therapy Ireland my life was very demanding, at the end of each day there was very little energy left for me. I was employing the tools of yoga to keep myself going, but I was getting to a point where it felt like I was spinning plates. Another yoga teacher recommended I take up Japa meditation. Even though I understood Japa was a yoga practice, it seemed mad that I would take up another class and daily disciple, but I trusted her advice and went to my local centre.

After the first few classes it felt like I was awake again after sleep walking. My peace of mind and level of awareness were raised so I started seeing how I could make things better for myself and the people around me. The best way I can describe it to anyone who’s practiced and loved hatha yoga, is to imagine how you feel on your mat, when your practice is in flow. What keeps people coming back to that sheet of foamed plastic is, as Iyengar so beautifully described, a sense of wholeness where you are no longer trying to fit broken pieces together. What Japa and Hatha together have given me is the capability to carry that feeling beyond the mat, beyond myself and beyond situations I feel comfortable in. The more I progress in my practices the more I feel I can internalise the union yoga brings about. It’s taken a lot of dedication, and with the support of my teachers I’ve had to knock down a lot of those spinning plates, but Japa and Mantra have been the missing piece of the puzzle up til now.

In a nutshell, Japa Yoga is a form of meditation in which mantras are repeated to engage the mind and bring internal peace. Mantras are sacred sounds with high vibrational energy. When we recite mantras, making a sound vibration, our minds and bodies absorb that high vibration. The effect of this practice is that by consistently working with mantras we can protect and improve our way of thinking in such a way that allows us to access our potential. What that looks like for me on a typical day is sitting down for about an hour before I start my day – sometimes that might be 5.30 am! I start with a short trataka and then nadi shodana pranayama then I recite about 5 different mantras, one after the other over 10 rounds of 108 bead mala. After that I’m settled to get into my hatha practice. In many traditional schools of yoga, this is the way yoga would be practiced, but Japa has not enter the mainstream in the West the way Hatha has. At the moment there seems to be a separation between Japa and Hatha yoga here in Ireland, with relatively few practitioners using both methods. Next year I hope to join Japa Meditation Ireland’s teacher training course so I can find a way of combining the two practices and share the experience I’ve had with others. Japa Meditation Ireland have classes all over the country which are open to all. http://www.japameditationireland.ie

My Journey to the Himalayas

This quarter I was featured in Yoga Therapy Ireland’s Winter Magazine with an article on my trip to India! Maureen and her team put great effort into compiling the magazine for the membership of Yoga Therapy Ireland, so I was delighted to be included. My meditation Master, Shashi Dubey helped me compose the article about the trip which was facilitated by Master Shashi and organised by Indus Routes.

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This October I went on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas. India is widely considered the home of spirituality and it had been a dream of mine since childhood to experience the affluence of ashrams, temples and mystics that exist there. I felt the urgency to realise this dream when I started practicing Japa meditation last year. I’ve always had a passion for the spiritual experience of yoga and found Japa deepened this experience profoundly. With a group of 70 practitioners of Japa, I went on a trip organised by Indus Routes (www.indusroutes.com ) and facilitated by Master Shashi Dubey. My fellow travellers came from all walks of life and backgrounds but shared the common trait of deep sincerity and kindness.

As I set forth on the trip of the sacred Himalayan mountains there was a tangible sensation of walking in the footsteps of all the saints and sages that been there before me. Our route was from Delhi, via Ranikhet to Devprayag – where the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers meet to form the Ganges. There was a profound spiritual energy in all of the varied and beautiful temples we visited, magnified beyond anything I had experienced before. I felt uplifted and moved by the blessing of each temple. At each place we visited we recited mantras, made simple, meaningful offerings to God, deities and saints, and paid our respects from the heart.

After leaving Delhi we visited the ashram of Baba Neem Karoli. We prayed at each pristine and carefully adorned shrine in the riverside temple by candlelight. Baba Neem Karoli was a devotee of the deity Hanuman and was a guru to many famous people. Although Baba is no longer there in physical form, many people visit to receive blessings from his spirit which still remains. Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerberg and Julia Roberts have all visited and received blessings.

Our next stop was the temple of Golu Devta, ‘the dispenser of justice’. The entrance almost bursts with beautiful brass bells and letters and petitions from devotees wishing to receive help from the angels of justice. We walked barefoot, ringing bells as we went, arriving at a little shrine where we went one by one, bowed in prayer to be blessed by holy men.

Later we visited Dhari Devi temple. This is a temple of the Goddess Mother Kali. The temple sits on stilts above a river and as we crossed the bridge we were escorted by a host of wild monkeys. When we got inside I felt powerful heat while the whole temple seemed to vibrate with the chanting prayer, bells and ceremony within it. We knelt in front of a shrine with an idol of Dhari Devi while chanting mantras and making offerings, asking for blessings from Kali who destroys obstacles and negative energy.

On the night of the Diwali festival we drove through the Himalayas by bus. I watched through the window as hundreds of houses bedazzled with fairy light of all colours and fireworks of all shapes and sizes, which were dwarfed by the scale of their surroundings, illuminated the mountains. I felt all the troubles and worries I had had before leaving become much smaller as I appreciated how lucky I was to be there.

When we arrived at Devprayag, our hotel was situated just above Mother Ganga, the Ganges, our entire stay was serenaded by the sound of the rushing current. Each morning I practiced Surya Namaskar and finished the day with Chandra Namaskar in view of Mother Ganga and felt the absolute power of the river in my practice. For two days we performed a Fire Prayer in the mornings to help us cleanse our energy and connect with our intentions for the trip. We sat in prayer and offered nuts, limes and seeds to the fire, the fragrant flames flooded the courtyard of the hotel all day. When this was complete we went to the village and walked to the very point where the Ganges begins. We made offerings of honey, milk, seeds, grain and dough to Mother Ganga and prayed for her blessing. We released letters we had all written with our hopes and intentions into the water and watched the rushing currents pull them. We were close enough to bath our feet in the water and when my turn came I felt mesmerised beyond anything I could have imagined by how beautiful and powerful the river was as I stood in it.

The next day I taught a yoga class for my fellow travellers. Although I knew hardly any of them before the trip, after sharing all those experiences with them I felt as much warmth and affection there as you would imagine in your fantasy family Christmas. Since arriving home I am sure of the blessings I received on my trip as my perspective has changed to appreciate how wonderful it is to be myself and how blessed I am to live my life.

Charity Yoga Success!

Last Saturday I held a yoga class in aid of Hot Food Idomeni hosted by Common Ground. The morning was a great success and we raised nearly €100 euro for the aid workers.

Hot Food Idomeni are working directly with the refugee crisis in Europe, providing hot, nourish food to thousands of people everyday. During Ramadan they provided food specifically tailored to the Muslim refugees religious custom.

Look out for more classes at Common Ground, Bray in the Autumn!

International Yoga Day!

Happy International Yoga Day!

It’s fallen at a very ‘yogic’ time for me as I’ve just completed my first year of training with Yoga Therapy Ireland and passed my teaching assessment ‘Masterclass’. Our classes were based around the shoulders and the spine. It was brilliant to sit in on all the other students’ classes and see all the interesting approaches we brought to the themes as individuals! I celebrated the day that was in it in typical fashion for me, by heading out in search of venues for my classes. Won’t be long now til we’re up and running!13442369_304094833264905_2671497523126527665_n.jpg

 

James Higgins Workshop at Fumbally Stables

On Wednesday evening I attended a vinyasa flow workshop with renowned teacher, James Higgins. I’d heard a lot about James’s special style of practice from a few people but know one could really explain to me what it was in particular that was different. As soon as I arrived at Fumbally and found the last space to roll out a mat was right up front and centre, I was sure I would get the whole experience!

From the beginning of the class it was clear James has a high sensitivity to the communal energy of whatever group he’s teaching. We started with an extended lying down centring that focused on a lot of breath work and guided meditation. After this we launched into a series of warm ups and vinyasa sequences. What seemed unique to me was the way in which James interwove direction to the physical body, emotional body and mind into each instruction. Attention was directed into triggering all the muscles required to enter an asana before engaging in it. The language he used seemed to honour both our physiological understanding of our bodies and the way they feel. Breath work and focus was maintained throughout the class. The practice was strong throughout the class and definitely helped me explore my own strength but this was in no way at the expense of the stability and quality of the practice which was illustrated the entire class achieving a set of very challenging variations on Tree Pose. During the warm down sequence and shavasana James’s particular blend of meditation, spiritual insight and philosophy was really evident.

It’s All Happening

As I’ll be completing my first 250 hours of certified yoga teacher training this month, I’ve decided to get the ball rolling on my teaching practice! I’ll be teaching a small tester class over the next couple of weeks with a view to expanding to a regular, formal class by the end of the summer. Please get in touch if you’re interested in getting started! Guinea pigs welcome and encouraged.
Alice x

Charlotta Martinus Yoga For Teens

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Yoga Therapy Ireland seminar with Charlotta Martinus on Teen Yoga.

It was a wonderful day of discussing how yoga can help people at that stage of life and how to bring it to them in a way that is most accessible and helpful to them. Charlotta is a wonderful teacher who has worked with teenagers for her entire working life. She’s done the study both in practice and in theory and is a font of knowledge and understanding about yoga and the condition of being a teenager in today’s world. Luckily for me, I remember my teen years vividly and I got a lot out of it by being able to get into the head space I was at at that time in my life.

The unfortunate fact is, for a lot of people, being a teenager can be quite a sad experience, full of uncertainty, pressure and frustration. It certainly was for me! Sometimes as adults we look  at teenagers and think how great it is to be young and have no responsibilities, for your biggest worries to be as simple as schoolwork and friends, that youth is wasted on the young bla, bla, bla – but this is so wrong! With the wisdom of experience and the knowlege that our lives worked out fine and those problems we had were not the end of the world, we can look back with rose-tinted glasses. But without that experience it is impossible to see beyond the intensity of teenage years. Everything is new and everything that once was sure is now under question. It’s my experience (from being an unhappy teenager once myself) that no amount of talking, no amount of being told anything can help if you have troubles as a teenager. It’s an outlet, most importantly, a self-initiated physical one that will help.

This is where yoga comes in. Yoga has so much to offer young people – fitness, relaxation, non-medical management of physical problems, self understanding, mindfulness and a connection to something greater than yourself.

Something I found really interesting from the day with Charlotta was that yoga as a bridge between the secular and the religious can be of comfort to young people. What I’ve always found appealing about yoga is the spiritual aspect of it, but it is separate from a prescribed religion and faith system and can be practiced by any and all faiths. My simple understanding is that yoga brings you closer to your personal experience of divinity and life outside yourself. Whether its a God, the universe, karma, nature or science you believe in, when practicing yoga you can get outside of yourself as an individual and understand you are part of a far greater life beyond that. The effect of this is your problems seem smaller, your trust increases and your wonder and appreciation of it all expands.

At the beginning of your teen years a few things take place… Often the change of school means a change in your religious education or your connection to a ritual based practice. As peer interaction becomes more important, spiritual belief is often not part of the dialogue or not accepted at all in the peer group. As independence increases, the connection to the family and parents is strained, rules are questioned, love is measured, small failings become big issues. The icing on the cake is the very body the person lives in begins to change, become alien and come under scrutiny from the self and others. So the typical young person is bereft of contentment in their relation to a spiritual life, a family life and comfort in their own body – how can they possibly feel settled or at peace? Well, what I believe after hearing Charlotta discuss this is; if yoga is practised in a way that acknowledges the deep philosophical tradition it descends from while also being made accessible it can reconnect young people to what they have lost in a new, empowering way.

You can find out more about the amazing work Charlotta is doing and find out about her other Irish courses at http://www.teenyoga.co.uk/

What happens at a yoga class?

There are as many styles of yoga class as there are different teachers! But generally, a certain structure exists that new students will get accustomed to quickly.

Before coming

First and foremost, make sure you are choosing a class that’s right for you and a teacher you like. (If you go and don’t find this, try another one!) Sometimes it’s good to talk to your new teacher on the phone first of all.

Arriving at class

Wear loose fitting, or stretchy clothes to class that allow you a good range of movement and you’re comfortable in. If leggings aren’t your thing, find something else! When arriving at yoga class it’s often suggested you be there a few minutes before hand. This is just to settle in, get your mat rolled out and any blankets or props you or your teacher might like to use. If you have an injury or are feeling unwell in anyway, it’s best to give your teacher the heads up now.

Centering

The first thing that takes place in a yoga class is a short centering. This is a few minutes of class time to clear your head and check out how your breathing is and how your body feels. You may notice niggling pains or stiffness you weren’t conscious of during the day.

Asanas/Postures

Now it’s time for the fun! Your teacher may start with a warm up sequence to get all your joints warmed up and any tension released before you get down to anything tricky. Your teacher will try their best to explain clearly what they are teaching by breaking it down into steps. Often a teacher will offer a variation of harder poses so the pose can be experienced without pain or strain – it’s always valid to do a variation of a pose! Sometimes a teacher might adjust you slightly but this is always done to help you stay comfortable.

Relaxation/Shavasana

Once your class is drawing to a close, it’s time to lie down in whatever way is comfortable and relax. Most people love this part of class but sometimes people find this a bit frustrating. Just think, not doing a relaxation at the end of class is like typing a massive essay and forgetting to hit save! This is your opportunity to let your body and mind absorb all the work its done and enjoy a lovely relaxation just for a few minutes out of your day.