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.

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?

Between Pushing and Letting Go

benita yoga barking and dagenham east london

‘Yoga is a dance between control and surrender – between pushing and letting go – and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being.’

Joel Kramer

Do you feel that you’ve tried everything and it’s still not working?

I feel like this in my yoga practice sometimes. I know the technique, I prepare properly but the pose is still not available to me.
And then I say to myself: ok, maybe not yet, maybe my body is not ready. I take the step back and stop pushing.

When I give my body time to digest all the work it’s done in preparation for the pose then my mind is not so fixed on the pose anymore.
Only letting go of expectations allows me to go deeper in my yoga practice. And this works every time I’m stuck.
Pushing and trying creates more tension in the body, frustration and self-doubt in the head. There’s no space, no energy, no subtlety and we’re so exhausted with trying.

If we can let go and our mind is not in charge anymore then things start happening in more natural rhythm and life becomes an enjoyable experience.
In the world where everything needs to be improved to perfection, where we’re expected to be constantly better and achieve more, instead of finding space and freedom we may get ourselves into uncomfortable and tight place where it’s hard to breathe and move with ease.

So think about it for a moment and see where you need to push and where you can let go.
When the time is right whatever you’ve been preparing yourself for, will come.
And if it will not……well….. then apparently it wasn’t meant to be… just let go ?

To stay inspired and keep practising

Hi Friends,

Since I started discovering yoga I’ve been constantly looking for guidance and some inspiration to keep me motivated and on track.
I’ve noticed certain benefits of yoga after few weeks or months of practice, such as less pain in my lower back, deeper breathing and calmer mind. It was the best motivation to keep going.
But at some point your mind may get bored with your body doing the same over and over again. And you may think your body will never be able to do this or that pose. It may be true, may be not.

Some of the yoga poses will feel easier in your body than others, some of them really challenging and some absolutely out of reach… at least this’s what we may be telling ourselves. For me if the pose required more upper body strength or being upside down I’d do anything to avoid even trying it ?
One side of me was so inspired by hundreds of photos of advanced yoga poses on social media and the other was saying: you’re gonna break your neck if you try this.

Over time I started training my mind to stop criticizing all the time and training my body to be steady, mobile and ready for more advanced poses.
Taking small steps and repeating until you feel your body gets stronger, lighter and ready to go further is the key to go deeper into your yoga practice. Persistence and patience does pay off.

Sometimes I’m recording my own yoga practice, mainly to see what I’m doing, how I’m moving my body. And I put this video together as a reminder that sometimes things don’t look perfect, sometimes we may be disappointed with our body, with what it looks like, with what it can or cannot do. It’s important to remember that sometimes it takes more than one try for things to work. And it takes some determination and patience.

So don’t give up on your body. It’s a wonderful vehicle that should carry you through this life with joy and courage.

Be brave,
Stay with your practice,
Keep consciously moving your body with the breath,
Look for inspirations,
Ask questions,
Experience,
Help your body reach beyond the point your mind thinks is the limit,
And remember you’re good the way you are ?
See you on the mat ?

Something about relationships

Tt’s been 18 years last weekend since my first date with my life companion ?
to celebrate this impressive number we spend a long weekend in nature, camping, enjoying the Sun, picturesque mountains, cold rivers… which is what we both love…
I feel privileged to have this long relationship experience, I feel lucky to see us change so much over these years and at the same time being the same us, to see our relationship going through thick and thin, troubles and joys and each single experience making the relationship only richer and stronger,
it made me also think how very often we take things for granted and only on occasions like this we stop and appreciate things we have and experience,
I practise yoga to be grateful for and appreciate every moment of my life, every relationship with other people… yes, even the difficult one ?
because every experience, every relation with the family or friends is a lesson, it’s meant to teach us something…
so….
pay attention when you’re with other people,
really be with them,
enjoy their happiness,
accept their decisions, even if you don’t agree with them,
see that nobody is trying to hurt you, everyone is trying to find their own way to be happy and it’s just that some people may not know how to find peace within themselves,
forgive,
love,
and enjoy every moment of being together

namaste ?

Stop the glorification of busy

One of the things that hits you when you come to live in Western society is that saying ‘I’m busy’ is something people expect you to say if you’re a working professional. It almost raises your social status.

Some of you know my work experience and that I’ve been in a corporate financial world for some time. Just like a lot of others coming to London I wanted to find a good job somewhere, where I can use my experience and skills, learn something new, improve my English and get a decent payment for my work. I can’t actually say I found my first job in the City, because I guess I’ve been always lucky to get a job without looking for it. Opportunities were always coming to me and I was just saying ‘yes’ each time. And so I got the job in Investment Banking sector. I’m old enough to remember reality from the other side of the Iron Curtain so I appreciate the easiness of living in West. With a job like this I felt like a queen ? For a while…..

I remember when I jumped on this crazy train, I thought I could handle everything. I saw how different environment it was to what I was used to, but at the same time I knew that I’m not like most people around me. I wasn’t partying, drinking, socialising, even eating out, as I’ve been always trying to prepare my own meals. Weird, right? I was doing fine being me in this new environment and simply working hard.
The funny thing is that being aware of something doesn’t mean it won’t affect you. It will… maybe not straight away, but little by little, step by step. An example? What strikes you first when you’re in the City in rush hours is the pace people move in. After some time you get used to it and then some time later you start running just like others. It’s not a choice, not happening from one day to another, it’s a process that happens almost somewhere in the background of what you’re busy doing.
So things that were strange to you originally, start slowly sinking in, all the busyness, necessity of being busy, necessity to rush (you don’t want to be a looser and left behind, do you?), the amount of work that’s never ending no matter how many hours you’d spend in the office, omnipresent stress keeping everyone in the rhythm of work and finally after the credit crunch in 2008 the fear of loosing our jobs.

When I encourage my students in the yoga class to try re-connecting with our body, tuning into it and really learning to listen to it, it is because we tend to ignore what our body is telling us. Even the pain is not stopping us, we just take the painkiller and….. continue being busy. I definitely wasn’t fully connected with my body and only medical test results and visits in the hospital made me stop, analyse my situation and realise what was happening. My body was telling me that I wasn’t coping with the situation very well. But most importantly what it was showing me is that the life I had wasn’t making me happy, it was a comfortable life, but at some point lost its taste, colours and intensity. And it wasn’t making me a better person. Two main emotions that took over were fear and anger, skilfully hidden so nothing was showing outside.
I’m not trying to demonize the places I’ve been working at or people I’ve been working with. We are all trying to live a happy life as best as we can, each in our own, very individual way. When I look back now I appreciate my experience because I know that if it wasn’t for this experience, my first yoga classes probably wouldn’t have such a profound effect on me. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I guess I needed to try to realise this is not how I want to live.

So I changed my life. But it didn’t change overnight, at least not in my mind…. it wasn’t the end of the story with being busy. When everyone left early in the morning to go to work, I stayed at home and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was so used to the fast pace, fixed rhythm and ‘doing as much as you can’, that I felt guilty being un-busy! In our modern world it’s almost equal to being unproductive. Luckily I have yoga and time to observe and learn, self-study and tune into myself again. And I’m so grateful for this wisdom. I don’t feel guilty any more, I feel privileged to be able to practise yoga and share my experience and yoga knowledge with other people. We all so, so need to relax and start listening to our inner self, our true self.
Of course you may relate to my experience, you may not. But I think we all get into the dark place at some point in our lives and by simply more conscious breathing and being in our body we can help ourselves. Isn’t it great?

I’m still going through a detox time, but I already feel I can breathe more freely, have more space and strength in my body and most importantly learn everyday how to calm and control my busy mind.
And maybe one day I’ll start dreaming of flying again ?

Don’t let anyone convince you that you have to be busy to be successful in your life. The successful life is a happy life. If you need a break and feel you’re loosing control, stop and allow yourself to relax and let go of anything that’s simply not serving you.

Something about the smile

They say that summer is over. And I guess they’re right since I found few spiders looking for a nice, quiet spot in my flat. These little creatures remind me of the end of summer every year. And I don’t mind really (the end of summer I mean, not the spiders ;). I like autumn with everything changing and maturing, warm colours, plums, walnuts, mushrooms and chestnuts and I’m always looking forward to these nice autumn sunny days in the park or countryside with slightly sharper sunset light and fresher air.

But it’s a pity that people may stop smiling at each other. Yes, I do mean smiling at strangers, here in London, where most don’t even look at each other.

Since I started my fascinating yoga journey I focus more on my emotions, on my mind and its fluctuations, on my body and its aches and pains. And I’m also trying to pay more attention to other people as teaching yoga means serving others and sharing the knowledge of yoga with others. It was a big shift for me from self-centred corporate worker, having a tensed, always ‘ready to fight’ body, including a tension in my face and particularly my jaw to having relaxed, more aware and calm body and mind today. No grinding teeth, no jaw tension any more. When at some point I was able to relax my face and notice other people around me, some of them started smiling at me. First I just thought it was the weather, the Sun making people happy. It is probably true, but only partially. Because what I realised after few weeks (yes, it took me some time to figure it out) is that my face when relaxed and happy in the present moment is simply smiling. So probably some of these strangers were just smiling back at me. But what it also means is that it’s natural to smile when we feel good. It’s natural and we can smile unintentionally. Not when we are watching a comedy, listening to a friend’s joke, reading a funny story or watching something on youtube. Completely natural smile at the Sun, present moment, where we are in our lives, what we have and what we don’t have.

Let’s try appreciating what we have a bit more, catching the last summer sunny moments and let’s try not loosing a smile on your faces when the winter comes ?

Big smile to everyone!!!!

Photo taken by ShamackPhotography.co.uk