Can you practice Yoga purely as a form of sport, without believing in its system of values?

Yoga is not a belief system, yogi is not a believer, yogi is a seeker. We start our yoga journey at different points and circumstances in our life, very often interested in purely physical results. But this is where the power of yoga is, it is a path of seeking and discovering. When you’re constantly encouraged to listen to your breath, observe your body in every yoga class, sooner or later you will notice that there is more to this ancient science than just stretching and toning the body. I remember my first yoga class, the only reason I went there was my back pain that was getting worse and worse. I didn’t know anything about yoga and my colleague said it might help. I remember confusion, frustration as my body was so out of balance. I cried in savasana hearing words: let go, let go of everything…. what a relief for this stressed corporate worker that I was back then. I didn’t expect that reaction, these emotions. It wasn’t comfortable, nobody else cried, what would they think about me. But there was a part of me that didn’t actually care and wanted to learn more.
And if you told me back then that one day I’d be meditating for 11hours a day, I would think you’re mad. And yet, here I am, over a decade later seeing my own practice and what I want to teach from a very different perspective. We have our own time and pace to experience and understand certain aspects of yoga. And if you want to just stretch and relax, that’s fine. But yoga is more like a marathon, rather than a 100m sprint so you may get bored pretty quickly when focusing on just stretching 😉

From a perspective of a teacher I’ll add that this is our, yoga teachers’ big responsibility to continue communicating all the potential of this practice, as best as we understand and experience it and the students we meet will walk their own path of self discovery and take what resonates with them, what and when they are ready to understand and embrace in their practice. This superficial layer of yoga advertised in the media as exercise with catchy titles like- sixpack in 20min power yoga class, calm mind in 5mins etc will continue to be there but it’s up to us, yoga practitioners, both teachers and students to make sure we do not stupefy yoga. And at the end of the day it’s better to ‘do some yoga’ than not moving at all, right?

Cultural appropriation of Yoga

Can we use the yoga practice here in the west, meaning western, white culture in a way that respects the tradition, the deep meaning and roots of yoga? I guess cultural appropriation is inevitable in today’s world, it times of free and easy travel, free and instant exchange of information. There is so much variety in the world but at the same time not enough time to look deeper into the actual meaning of the symbol, gesture, word or custom. When we’re constantly encouraged to buy more, earn more we may not have time or energy to pause to understand the true meaning and context of what we do or use. But the beauty of the yoga practice is that we do exactly that, we pause and listen. And where do we start our yoga practice? With yamas and niyamas, giving us a guide on how to behave inwardly towards ourselves and outwardly in the world. It’s crucial to know yamas and niyamas, it’s a very concrete place to start to avoid bringing old patterns, beliefs and potentially bad habits onto the mat as much as possible. My yoga practice is teaching me to be humble, there is more and more that I experience and understand, but at the same time the more I learn the more I know how little I know, how much more there is in the tradition of yoga to learn. Constant learning and self-study is so, so important.
But hey…. we’re all on this journey, individually and collectively, so let’s be kind to ourselves and acknowledge that we’re probably all guilty of cultural appropriation whether it applies to yoga or any other aspect, after all we drink Italian coffees, Chinese teas, eat Japanese sushi etc, right? Mixing of cultures is inevitable and it’s beautiful.
I was born in eastern Europe in times of communism and now live in a free western European country. This experience gives a great perspective on nuances and differences between countries, cultures, languages. I’ve seen and experienced many misunderstandings over the years. But I love and deeply appreciate them, I love being exposed to differences as this allows me to understand, become more sensitive and eventually grow. If we look back at let’s say European history, cultures, languages, different customs have been mixing right from the beginning.
I’m very mindful of symbols that I’d use or wear while teaching or promoting yoga. I would do it with the best understanding I can have and only if the symbol or tool really resonates with me. Does it mean that wearing my Ganesh yoga top is a cultural appropriation? If it is offending any Ganesha devotee, I do apologise. But I studied and learned about Ganesha and when wearing it I’m aware of the meaning of this deity.
But there is another side to this. Would applying yoga to our lifestyles and problems, which may require modifications, adaptations, some changes, would it be a cultural appropriation? I feel it’s necessary to modify how we practice yoga in the west. We have different bodies, an average yoga practitioner in the west is 30yrs old woman. We have different lifestyles, an average yoga practitioner in the west is finding squatting a challenge. We sit at the desk a lot, having problems with spine, hips, knees, even wrists nowadays, problems with blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and so on. We definitely need to change the way we move on the mat. When yoga came to the west we took what was created just over 100 years ago by few Indian men for young Indian boys and incorporated it as a practice for western female bodies. And as a result of following fixed rules without deeper connection and understanding, women practising ashtanga yoga since 60s or 70s are having hip replacements now in their 70s and 80s. This is not what yoga is about, it’s misunderstanding of the essence of yoga. There is a term in Sanskrit: Anitya, meaning change, impermanence of everything, one of the basic laws of nature. Yoga has been, is and will be changing.
So coming back to the original question: how do we know we’re appropriating yoga? When we use the tools of yoga without studying and learning what they are, where they come from and how to apply them to our modern western busy lives.

This is a part of the conversation with @ola_dalek. Check her on Instagram for more.

Online Live Yoga Sessions

Current situation is quite unusual and will be affecting more and more of us this way or another.
I truly believe we need to have a practice, rituals that help us to stay sane in times of challenges and uncertainty.
As I continue my own yoga and meditation practice daily, I’m also doing what I can to encourage and support you in practising too, with whatever tools I have available. Practices like yoga and meditation with their calming and balancing effects are needed now more than ever.

Therefore we’re going online with our yoga classes and sound relaxation.
I know that online session are not the same as face to face classes in our lovely studio, also some of us may start worrying about the financial situation therefore I’m reducing the pricing of all the classes.

Reduced prices for online sessions:
– drop-in single class – £8
– block of 6 classes (2 months expiry from purchase date) – £45
– monthly – unlimited access to all classes for a month – £40
*these prices do not apply to special events, like Gong Baths, workshops etc

If you’re interested in joining, please follow these steps:
-please make a payment up to 30 min before the start of the class. This will give me enough time to send you the link to access the class. Classes will shows different payment options, choose the. You can pay via PayPal or credit/debit card. You’ll receive a link 10-15 min before the start
-if you purchase a block of 6, please let me know on the day that you’re joining so I can send you the link to the class you’re interested
-if you’re on a monthly option, you’ll be sent the link automatically to each open class for a month. Monthly members additionally receive the recordings of the sessions so they can practice again on their own.

We meet via ZOOM platform – if you use the desktop/ ZOOM app – on the phone so please make sure you have the app installed on your phone and you’re logged in to start the class. The use of this platform is very simple.

You will need space to move during the session, you may ventilate the room before the session.
You may want to use the yoga mat but please do not panic if you don’t have one. Any cotton rug, blanket or carpet will do ? You may also want to prepare a blanket or cushion to sit on or cover the body in savasana – your final relaxation.

I hope you’ll join me so we continue practising together, stay connected and support each other even if we’re not able to meet at the studio.

Hugs to you all , Benita

How was it in Poland?

benita yoga retreat in poland collage-2019

In May we spend time practising yoga and relaxing in this magical place in the mountains. It was fantastic, wonderful place, great people, lovely weather, delicious food.
But as they say, images speak the thousand words, so I’ll leave you with this video capturing some moments of our stay in Poland.

Also some still images available HERE.

Who’s coming next year???

Who Needs a Retreat?

Walk-in-the-Mountain

I have been wanting to do this for a while. Thinking about how I want it to be, where and when I want it to happen. I didn’t rush the process, I allowed the opportunity and answers to unfold when the time is right. And so the day has come to invite you all to a yoga and gong retreat.

It seems like everyone these days is organising some kind of a retreat, from a weekend mini-retreats in the city to longer 2-3 weeks retreat in some remote parts of the world to meet different needs. What I would like to offer you is based on the yogic and ayurvedic knowledge that I understood, assimilated and experienced in over a decade of regular practice. What have I learned? What have I experienced?

We meet in different studios, do various classes, attend events, workshops and these all can inspire us, teach us, help us to restore health and balance our life. But, there is something else that retreats can give us…. the opportunity to focus on our body, our needs, our experience, our entire self only, without any distractions, anything that could occupy our mind. There is just you, your body, your mind and your breath ? All basic needs are met, everything is provided so you can find space for yourself and connect with yourself in a safe environment. It sounds so simple but is so powerful and so needed these days. We’re living in the world full of opportunities, but also the world full of noise and stimulae for the mind and the senses. Sometimes it’s not so easy to stay with healthy rhythm of the day, healthy eating, physical routine, open and positive attitude towards life and future. Sometimes it’s just too much, sometimes we wish we could just run away for a moment, right? A retreat acts as an escape to some degree, so allow yourself to escape.

What we may notice during a retreat, when we’re ‘away from it all’ is that we can go much deeper into our yoga practice, our breathing, we do it regularly every day without any excuses, distractions or uncertainty whether we’ll be able to make it to the class today or we need to stay late at work. For some of us it may be actually a completely new experience to practise every morning and let me assure you… it feels amazing! It will give you a new perspective and maybe deeper personal insight. I can say from my experience, that one of the most profound healing experiences happened to me when I was away from my daily duties, being completely present and free ?

We may also find it very liberating that we actually have time for doing nothing ? Sky gazing for example or going for a walk in the forest instead of doing something considered as more productive. And these simple ways of spending time relaxing, observing, walking, dreaming, singing, dancing or whatever else you feel like doing will begin to influence and heal our mind and body.

Did you know that one of the most significant factor for personal happiness is relationship with other people. They say we could be as wealthy as a king, yet miserable, if we have no friends. Or we could be as poor as dirt, yet happy, because we’re surrounded and supported by friends. This is so true and yet again in our busy lifes we so often forget how vital connection with another human being is. Our retreat will provide an opportunity to meet people who, like us, want to relax, restore, re-balance, maybe let go of something. And I know it can be a little intimidating sometimes especially if we need space for healing or grief but the fact that there are other people around you with similar fears can really serve you. We will be accompanied by like-minded people, potentially making friends that will last longer.

Having all these wonderful sessions daily, delicious healthy meals, lovely people around, being in vibrant healing nature with beautiful views you may decide to go off line for a couple of days. Wi-Fi is limited and rather slow allowing you to stay in touch but rather discouraging you from staying on facebook all day and check news every five minutes. You may even realise that having your phone on airplane mode is the best part about getting away ?

If I can summarise it all I’d say retreats to me are more than just a holiday, it can be a very powerful step toward personal transformation on both, physical and mental level.

Join me this May in a Spring Yoga & Gong Mountain Retreat.

Acknowledge your emotions

Being a yogi may not mean you’re always blissful. In your life journey there will be dark moments, when old emotions are triggered, let them come. Don’t ignore them as what you resist persists. Acknowledge what is happening, give yourself permission to be vulnerable, to cry or laugh… express your emotions and allow yourself to just sit with this experience. At the same time you don’t want to judge how you feel, you don’t want to comment on your emotions, just let them be.

I heard recently someone saying that we live in emotional dark age, we’re expected to hide emotions so we put a mask and get so used to pretending that after a while we completely disconnect from feeling.

-How are you?
-Good, thank you.
Why do we even bother asking?

Be honest with yourself as much as you can. This is the most intimate relation you have. Your emotions are always there to tell you something, so listen to them, they are like compass in your life ?
So… find space and time to pause and turn your gaze inwards, ask yourself how you feel…. enjoy the conversation, enjoy this space ?

Not to Worry

This is a hard time of year for me, always has been. Christmas fever is over, New Year has started and lots of expectations, plans came with it. It would be perfect if they all came true, wouldn’t it? I’m good in talking about plans but not in bringing them to life. Because what’s coming with all the great plans I have is usually lots of fear and doubts. So at some point I start procrastinating, postponing the actions, finding excuses, distractions for the mind.

BE A WARRIOR NOT A WORRIER….. I read it once printed on a yoga top.

You could say easier said than done. And it’s true, it feels so hard sometimes to be strong, we worry so much about so many things, about our health, our family, our job or about not having it. Mass media feeding us regularly with bad news (who wants to listen to the good news, right?), local or global, economic, political, national or religious conflicts. All this slowly sinking into out mind which is then analysing all the data and creating certain conclusions.

And we are also bombarded with the solutions to our problems, lots of informations about how this medicine or that equipment can help us achieve what we want or help us with a problem we have. Don’t you think it would be wise first to use the tools and techniques that are free and we all have access to? To see if it makes any difference in the quality of our lives, to see if we can learn how to control our fears and insecurities and eventually to live a peaceful life. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be possible, it is possible. But it requires some work from us. So if you have enough of being a worrier give it a go.

It all comes down to controlling our mind to use it the way we want it. Our mind is just one of our tools as a human beings, we want to be able to use it wisely and not letting it control us.

We also have to stop running away from what we think and say, how we act and react to the world around us. Once you start noticing your thinking process, then ( and this is the hard part ? you need to reprogram your mind and stop judging and rating everything. Have you actually noticed that we put labels on everything and everyone? Including ourselves, our looks, our thoughts and actions. If you want a peaceful mind you simply need to stop. So see if you can notice what your mind is doing but not giving it any comment or judgement. There is no right or wrong, it just is and you decide if it’s serving you or not.

Once you have all the above in mind find a spot where you can comfortably sit, in a chair or on a floor, mat or blanket in a cross-legged position. Make sure your lower back is supported and neck and shoulders relaxed, you may need a wall.

If you’re busy it may take as little as 5-10min. But to be honest if you think you don’t have even these 5 min to spend, you probably need more ?

Rest your hands on your knees, gently lengthen the spine up creating a bit more space in your ribcage.

Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Let your breath be as natural as possible, don’t force it, don’t manipulate, just let the air come in and out in the rhythm comfortable for your body.

After one or two breaths your mind may start creating a story or comment or picture. And you may not notice it for a while, letting it take you somewhere as usual. But at some point you will notice and then without any judgement bring your attention back to your breath. Don’t force your mind to do anything, it won’t work. Just acknowledge what your mind is doing and come back to your breath.

Your mind will be wandering many times and every time you realise you’re not fully present bring your attention back to your breath.

This is one of the simplest ways to start meditating. And why am I linking it to being warrior not a worrier you may ask? Well, once you start using this quick technique regularly you will see that your mind is mostly analysing the past or projecting the future. Being constantly in the past is not going to change it, the past is gone. Worrying so much about the future doesn’t make much sense either as nobody knows what will happen, we may predict but we don’t know.

Practising awareness and being in the present moment helps to take all the chatter in the head away. And once there’s no noise in the head, we don’t worry so much and have space to start living the present moment fully. This is the only thing we have… the present moment.

It may be a long way, boring process of repetitions, but I don’t want to be terrorised by my own mind. Do you?

last Beginners Course this year

Hi Everyone,

I probably shouldn’t be saying that Christmas is round the corner yet, but I feel that time runs faster and faster every year.

So before our life gets really hectic in December let’s see if we can do something to prepare for all the stress that sometimes comes with Christmas preparations, shopping, the busyness and overindulgence.
Before we start giving and sharing we need to find the energy and balance within ourselves. We need a strong, happy body and a calm and clear mind.
I think that the beginners course we’ve been running for nearly two years is a perfect way to learn how to stay grounded and enjoy what you love about Christmas the most instead of stressing about it.

Let’s learn how to breathe through it, stay calm and keep our body in a good shape.
Yes…. yoga tools and techniques we learn in this course can help with that ?

And this is going to be our last beginners course this year !!!

More details and booking here.

The course will cover the below sequence of postures called Sun Salutation, the most popular sequence (vinyasa) in any vinyasa yoga class. We learn how to come into the pose, how to hold it and how to move to the next one, which muscles to contract, which parts of the body to relax, where to gaze and how to breathe.
And how to find stillness in the movement ?