Yoga for Healing

I am passionate about using yoga as a tool for healing. Unlike our minds, our bodies are incapable of lying. We can suppress the truth for so long but, eventually, it leaks out in our bodies, through injury, tension, disease, chronic poor health and pain etc. So, if we choose to, we can work consciously with our bodies in conjunction with conscious breathing, to uncover the truths that the body is trying to reveal to us and, in collaboration with body and breath, we can begin to heal what is crying out to be healed.

Our bodies store unprocessed emotions and trauma, experienced at every scale, whether accumulated during this lifetime or inherited through our ancestry or picked up through pressures from societal conditioning. Often this trauma stays buried for a long time, and indeed we may never come to face it in this life. But, usually, the body refuses to keep it hidden forever because the body wants to heal and, to heal, it needs to release everything that is blocking the free-flow of energy.

On one level, everything can be seen as energy – emotions are energy, thoughts are energy… And energy intrinsically wants to move and flow. If we are unable to process intense emotions and psychological or physical trauma at the time of experiencing them, the energy that wants to flow through and out of us becomes stuck in the body. This stuckness then blocks the free-flow of other energy trying to move through the body, and the blockage only increases, like an energy backlog. Eventually, if not addressed, it manifests physically in the body as tension or pain. If we still ignore it we might then move onto experiencing an injury or an illness, often in the same area of the body. Basically, the body will keep giving us bigger and bigger signs that something needs addressing, until we can no longer ignore it, such is the body’s urge to be in balance and its wisdom in knowing what needs to be addressed for this to occur.

So, we can use our yoga practice firstly to introspect and come into dialogue with our bodies. Instead of ignoring its feedback, we learn to listen to what it is telling us and respect and act upon its wisdom. This process becomes more and more subtle and, eventually, we may be able to discern how energy is flowing through us and where it is blocked, therefore finding ourselves able to dissolve the blockage before it manifests physically. And, for those things we’ve ignored so long that they are physically apparent in the body, we can use our practice to address them, release what needs to be released, strengthen what has become weak and return to balance and wholeness.

If you’ve ever found yourself experiencing inexplicably strong emotions during a yoga class you are probably releasing old emotions that you couldn’t handle at the time. If you are able to breathe consciously and calmly through whatever arises – tears, grief, terror, anger etc – and stay present with yourself in a loving, gentle way throughout, then this can be incredibly healing. Similarly, if you come across postures that seem to stimulate deeply uncomfortable feelings in the body such as nausea, severe irritability and restlessness, acute anxiety, ticklishness etc, or that trigger disturbing memories that you may have suppressed – these are all signs that you are hitting upon some kind of buried trauma that is aching to be released yet there is naturally huge mind-fear within you about going into this trauma. Go very gently and steadily into these postures, probing oh-so-sensitively into the sensations with conscious breathing and a loving, nurturing attitude. Never force yourself to go into sensations that you are not yet ready to fully experience. However, working with a sensitive, experienced teacher and knowing what is happening to you can both help you to begin to unpick and heal old trauma, by holding yourself steady and breathing calmly as you gently allow yourself to touch into hitherto unknown parts of yourself.

Finally, if an energy blockage has got to the stage where you are expressing illness or injury then of course you need to modify your yoga practice accordingly – by listening carefully to the body you will know what is OK and what isn’t. You may have to be much more gentle in your practice for a while, until you rebuild your energy levels, as illness indicates energy depletion.

I don’t claim to be an expert on trauma release, and I speak only from my own experience with this, as I’ve gradually begun to appreciate the healing power of yoga, and also from working with students in the moment, when releases have spontaneously happened in class.

The combination of an embodiment/movement practice with conscious breathing and the application of the mind to contemplate what is being revealed, in the context of a wider, spiritual perspective on a human life, have all helped me heal and, more and more, avoid various energy blockages within me. Yet now, as I write this, I am facing illness in my body for the first time in a long time. So I know there is something I haven’t yet been able to look at that is crying out for my attention. A recent physically and psychologically traumatic experience was the trigger, but the source is older than that, I can feel it. This energy blockage feels ancient, bigger than just that. This area of my body where the tension and, now, illness is manifesting has always felt extremely ticklish to me, to the point that I couldn’t let others touch it. What is this guarding pattern hiding, I wonder? So, I take a deep breath, put my faith in spirit and in myself, open up to heeding the wisdom of my body, commit to feeling what I’ve not yet been able to feel, and own up to what I’ve not been able to accept about myself, but always at the pace I can deal with. Unconditional self-love, forgiveness and complete acceptance are vital when we move into ourselves in this way.

And then healing becomes a possibility. We are healing miracles, every one of us… 🙂

Flower Power

Today is the summer solstice, the day when the solar power is at its peak. I think of the sun, burning fiercely, and muse that, yes, this is an undeniable symbol of power. Nothing could withstand the intense heat of the sun; it would burn all who came close. But then I look at a gently nodding daisy, still wet from this morning’s rain, and I muse that this is as much a symbol of solar power as the sun itself, as it is created from transforming the sun’s light to matter – now that is some kind of mysterious power! And there seems to me a great power in the gentle beauty and fragility of this flower. It exists before me, seemingly with no other purpose than to create beauty and lift my spirits. Yet we rely on the plant kingdom to sustain us – we couldn’t exist without their photosynthesis creating life-forms that other life-forms eat, which themselves create food sources for other life-forms, and so on. And we need their process of evapotranspiration to balance the composition of the air that we breathe and the global water cycle. Plants are a true power-house, yet they don’t necessarily make us think of power when we look at them. I remember walking through Christchurch in New Zealand, about a year after the great earthquake there. The thing that struck me most was the power of plants. They were thrusting and bursting through every crack and fissure in the concrete with a clear zest for new life and taking over all the deserted land with incredible speed. 

I suppose I muse on this today, because I feel I am learning about the more hidden, subtle side of power at the moment. There is a time for overt shows of strength and fierceness, but I’m not sure these always represent true power. To me, true power empowers others – we are all lifted up, just like the flowers demonstrate for us. Their very existence empowers and, literally, enlivens all of us. Conversely, If we use so-called ‘power’ to dominate another or if our use of power leaves others feeling disempowered in any way, then I’m not sure this is true power. So, going back to the flowers… We have a clear show of immense power, and it is revealed to us in the most gentle, beautiful, inclusive way imaginable. This, to me, is true power. Plants don’t try to be anything other than they are – they just turn up and ooze their own personal essence for the amount of time they have on the planet, then fade without complaint or drama. The only drama in plants is in the unashamed showiness of some particularly bold and bright flowers. Otherwise, they are unassuming in their endless giving, offered without discrimination, and with untold beauty.

Let us muse on the gentle power of plants and how we can reflect this in ourselves, for example through personal authenticity, connection with all and humble service, on today’s summer solstice… 🙂 

Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga

A very long time ago (think thousands of years), a mysterious, wise and ridiculously brainy being called Patanjali wrote an inordinate amount of detailed material relating to yoga and other contemporary disciplines including ayuverda, the sister science of yoga, and Sanskrit grammar. No one knows much about him, or indeed if it was one person (likely to be male, given the historical context but by no means certain) or a group of contributors, and some even believe he might not have been human at all… Basically, we don’t know much about Patanjali at all, but what we do know is that ‘he’ left us with a precious text of what is possibly the most detailed and comprehensive description of the yoga path that we have; The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

The scale of this work is mind-blowing and I never get bored of delving into the sutras – at every stage of my yoga journey there has always been great treasure to be found there, and as my understanding of myself and yoga deepens, so does my understanding of the sutras – it’s a text that just keeps giving!

In chapter two of the sutras, after a very heady and heavy first chapter that can get overwhelmingly deep and complex, Patanjali cuts us some slack and breaks down the yoga path into more ‘layman’s terms’ that most people can understand (seriously, chapter one is not for the faint-hearted!). As such, he breaks down the yoga path into 8 ‘limbs’. It’s important to note that, although there seems to be a linear trajectory through the limbs, it is not in truth like this. The yoga path is, inherently, non-linear – we continuously spiral through the layers of our own delusions and illusions, moving closer and closer to the truth of our souls, and so we continue to meet all the limbs in sharp relief at various points on our journey and, certainly, we need all of them to progress. None is more important than any other; mastery of each is required. That said, it is true that, with the first two limbs as an overarching exception (in many ways, the ethical code outlined within limbs 1 and 2 provide the bedrock for the whole system), there is a general journey through the remaining six limbs from the more ‘gross’, tangible physical practices, to the more subtle, intangible practices.

So, here are the 8 limbs, broken down:

  1. The yamas – the first part of the ethical code of yoga. Five negative traits that we should restrain ourselves from indulging in our lives: ahimsa, non-harming; asteya, non-stealing; aparigraha, non-possessiveness/greed; satya, truth (or, non-lying); and brahmacharya, moderation of the sense (or, non-excess).
  2. The niyamas – the second part of the ethical code of yoga. Five positive traits that we should cultivate in our lives: saucha, cleanliness; santosha, contentment; tapas, fiery determination and dedication; svadhyaya, self-study; and isvara pranidhana, humility, reverence, connection to something bigger than us.
  3. Asana – the physical postures that we do to purify and strengthen the body and tame the ego, preparing us to meet the more subtle limbs.
  4. Pranayama – learning to cultivate and harness prana (life force energy) through conscious breathing and visualisation techniques.
  5. Pratyahara – sense withdrawal. We use various techniques such as mudra, mantra, visualisations to bring our awareness away from our external sensory world and into our inner world.
  6. Dhyana – concentration. Learning to focus and still the mind using various single focus techniques.
  7. Dharana – meditation. When we drop into meditative states, merging with the object of concentration.
  8. Samadhi – merging with the oneness, union with the divine. The ‘beyond words’ experiential stuff!

My intention is to offer a series of immersive courses that will explore these eight limbs and how they play out in our own unique yoga journeys. We begin with ‘Exploring the Yamas’ 4-week immersive course, starting on 7th May for four consecutive Thursdays, 7-9pm UK time. Please get in touch via beckymay283@gmail.com if you would like more information or to book on.

Mula Bandha Magic

As I prepare to run my first ‘Introduction to the Bandhas’ course online, I thought I’d share a little memorable moment from my own journey with the bandhas. Bandha means ‘energy lock’ in sanskrit, and developing bandha awareness is a sure way to come into intimate relationship with our innermost being.

My own journey with the bandhas has been ongoing for around twenty years now. I followed the ashtanga form of yoga for many years, which cites bandhas as one of the core tenets of the practice, along with drishti (gaze point) and ujayi breathing (a powerful, detoxifying breath technique, translating to ‘victorious breath’). These three aspects of the asana practice really are the holy trinity of ashtanga yoga. So, when I spent time in Mysore, south India, the home of ashtanga yoga, it was natural that, as part of my time there, I decided to delve deep into my own explorations of the bandhas.

At the time, I was practising at the Ashtanga Institute with Sharath Jois, the current lineage-bearer for ashtanga. Every morning I would go to the Institute at 5am for my morning practice, with additional chanting classes twice a week and a Sunday ‘conference’ of questions and answers. Apart from those commitments, I had nothing else on, so I had plenty of time to explore the more subtle aspects of the practice in my own time and, as such, spent many hours sitting in meditation and practising pranayama (breathing techniques).

I found myself one day in a bookshop, happily browsing the shelves. A small book caught my eye: ‘Mula bandha: The Master Key’. I had a quick flick through and was intrigued, so I purchased the book and took it home with me. Every day I read a little and followed the practices that it offered, which aimed to help you to first find, activate and then develop a relationship with mula bandha, the root lock. I found myself feeling deeply relaxed after each session, and very grounded and calm indeed. If I started a session with the mula bandha practices I found I could easily sit in meditation for a long time, something which had hitherto been very difficult for me.

I am sure it wasn’t just the mula bandha practices that were taking me into this calm space; I think it was the culmination of all the yoga I had been doing in Mysore for nearly five months. It had been a very turbulent time for me, one where I had really met my ego and questioned everything about yoga and why I did it. I had been injured, emotionally unstable and ready to throw in the yoga towel. However, in these last few weeks on my own, it was as though all the frenetic, discordant cogs in my being began to entrain and align and so much clarity, insight and calm spread through me. Many things began to make sense and the need to make sense of things began to drop away simultaneously. Such peace, which had been so elusive to me before…

Then, on my last day in India, before I was due to fly home, for the first time in my meditation practice my third eye opened. Until then I had never really seen or experienced anything during meditation, except these increasing feelings of peace and calm. But, on that day, I remember it so well, I started to see spiralling wheels of light, in different colours, but mostly purple and blue. It was so unbelievably beautiful, and then it became like a lava lamp of different colours, rising and falling in graceful shapes like smoke. I was moved to tears by the beauty of it, and by the fact it was happening unsummoned by my mind, just through spontaneous arising.

I know we shouldn’t get hung up on these ‘breakthroughs’ in our yoga journey (and, I have to admit, I massively did in this case – desperately trying to recreate the experience to no avail in the following months!) but, still, I feel these moments are worthy of celebration, gifts to be enjoyed, although ideally without attachment (yep, easier said than done!). In this endless unfolding of ego dissolution and consciousness expansion, every step is as important and beautiful as the next, but you can’t deny that some steps are more psychedelic, enjoyable and memorable than others… 😉

I invite you to begin or further develop your own relationship with the bandhas and see what they bring to you…

If you’d like to join me on my online four week ‘Introduction to the Bandhas’ course this November/December 2020 then get in touch via beckymay283@gmail.com.

Yoga nidra – ‘the sleep of the yogis’

I have recently started offering monthly yoga nidra classes, timed with the new moon. So I thought it was timely to write a piece about what exactly this practice entails and what its benefits are. It strikes me that ‘magical’ healing and transformative practices like yoga nidra are much needed in the world at the moment, where we are really ‘at the wall’ as a species in many ways, and being called upon to up our game, heal our wounds and raise our consciousness out of this mess we’ve created for ourselves and our beautiful planet.

I deliberately chose to hold yoga nidra classes with the new moon, as the new moon energy tends to be cited as a potent time for planting new seeds of growth that can be nurtured through the lunar cycle. For me, teaching with nature’s cycles is an obvious way to help us come back to a deeper, wiser connection with the natural system of our planet and universe, which is so needed for our evolution at this time. At the very least, my hope is that more people might start to notice the monthly journey of the moon, and perhaps begin to track how it affects their psyche too, and ultimately how we can harness this for maximum benefit.

So what is yoga nidra? Nidra means ‘sleep’ in sanskrit, so it’s often called ‘sleep of the yogis’. However, really this is a strange misnomer as we very much don’t want to fall asleep in the practice! Essentially, in a yoga nidra practice the teacher reads out loud a written script, in a deliberately soft and even voice that helps to calm the nervous system of the listeners and guide them into a relaxed state. The script is, to begin with, a giuded deep relaxation for the body. However, it also includes within it many instructions that the listeners have to follow. Amongst other things, these instructions usually involve taking the awareness to different parts of the body in quick succession, counting breaths, visualising different scenes in quick succession, cultivating different sensory feelings such as light/heavy/hot/cold. The purpose of combining a deep guided relaxation with constant mental stimulation through following these different instructions is that we enter a different state of consciousness, often called the ‘hypnagogic state’. In this state of consciousness, which is likened to the place between wakefulness and sleep, the body is so relaxed that it actually thinks it’s asleep, but the mind is utterly alert and active. You might occasionally experience this before nodding off. It’s a well-documented ‘threshold’ state of consciousness, where interesting things can occur such as lucid dreaming, sudden insight and revelation, and in yoga nidra we proactively harness this potential and use it for personal transformation.

The reason why the hypnagogic state, which we enter through yoga nidra, is a potent one for proactively creating positive change in your life is because we are able to access the sub-conscious and unconscious parts of our being in a way that is usually impossible; we can literally re-program ourselves. You may or may not be aware that, for most of us, our reactions, emotions and behaviour are largely governed by the sub-conscious and unconscious parts of our psyche. The conscious part of our mind constitutes the tiniest tip of the ice-berg. So, we may think we are choosing to consciously respond to situations, but how often do we regret our behaviour, or not feel good in ourselves, or experience unhelpful emotions and thought patterns? The thing is, until we start a journey of becoming more and more conscious beings (through practising yoga or any other self-reflective modality for example), we’re not even conscious of the fact that we’re not acting in full consciousness! But, we all certainly start to become aware of certain aspects of our personality that we would wish to change, as we go through our lives. And, through yoga nidra, we can start to transform some of these unhelpful aspects, in the most easy and relaxing way you can imagine.

So now we come onto the ‘magic’ part of the practice. When we arrive in this hypnagogic state of consciousness, we deliberately plant a positive resolve or intention, which in yoga nidra is called a ‘sankalpa’. This is a short, positive affirmation of something you would like to do or be, said in the present tense as if it were already the case. The wording is important, as the subconscious and unconscious follow instructions literally. So, for example, if you wish to be less jealous, you wouldn’t say to yourself ‘I want to be less jealous’. This implies to the sub-conscious that you think you are jealous, so that is the ‘instruction’ that it follows and you continue to act from this unconscious belief that you are a jealous person. So, instead you would make your sankalpa something like, ‘I am always happy for others’ good fortune’. Of course, like anything, seeds need watering but, over time and through constant practice of yoga nidra, amazing changes can occur in your life. The proof, as always, is in the pudding, so the best thing to do is to practise regularly and observe shifts in your life.

I know it sounds too good to be true but really this is how we’ve always created ourselves as the people we are and created the lives we lead and the experiences we have; through programming the unconscious and sub-conscious with a particular collection of much-repeated mental statements, most of which we are likely to be completely unaware. The difference here is that we start to consciously do the same thing, by choosing the instructions that the programme of our unconscious follows. So it really is that easy. But, like anything, it requires practice and dedication – our behaviour and personality are a result of many years of following the same groove of largely unconscious and subconscious beliefs, so it’s going to take time for the new consciously planted beliefs to take seed and grow and, like all seeds, they need to be nurtured. So, it’s not just a matter of planting a seed in yoga nidra and nothing more. Really, the work is in the waking life that follows. We remember the sankalpa we made during yoga nidra, and we observe the situations that life presents to us and how we respond with much more mental acuity. Usually, when we challenge and work to transform an unhelpful belief pattern, things can get a little rocky in our life for a while, as we struggle to adjust to a new way of behaving. Often, those around us resist the change, because if one person changes their default behaviour in any relationship dynamic then the other person has to change, or has to leave the dynamic – it’s as simple as that. So this transition can often feel very uncomfortable indeed, but you just have to keep the faith that the new way of being will ultimately serve you and all others better than the existing pattern that you’ve observed as being unhelpful. Change is never easy.

So, yoga nidra plants the seed and, with regular practice, helps us to attune ourself to a much more conscious way of living. So, it’s not just that you can do this practice and nothing else, but it really is an amazingly powerful tool to use alongside the other tools you use, for example all the other amazing aspects of yoga and other holistic healing and transformation modalities, all of which are designed to make us more and more conscious beings. The great thing about yoga nidra is that it goes straight to the root of the issue, and can save us a lot of time; it has a ‘less is more’ wisdom and efficiency to it, which can be a great balance to the disciplined endeavours that we employ in our waking life. Yoga is, ultimately, a science of mastering the mind, and of bringing the totality of our being into balance so we are no longer at the mercy of the unconscious and sub-conscious mind, and yoga nidra can be a very helpful part of this journey.

So, if you’re curious, get in touch and join my monthly online yoga nidra class, offered by donation via Zoom platform on the Wednesday nearest to the new moon, 7:30-8:30pm UK time.

Exploring the Five Koshas (body sheaths)

In yoga philosophy, we are definitely more than our physical body. In fact, our being is broken down into five separate ‘koshas’ or sheaths, nested within each other like Russian dolls. Right at the centre, at the heart of our five koshas, rests Atman, our true nature or our soul, sometimes described as pure consciousness or oneness – the stuff that’s beyond words basically!

Anyhow, looking at our being through the lens of the five koshas can be a useful way to explore the totality of our beings, and shift our perception beyond the limitations of the purely tangible and visible. Much of the practice of yoga is designed to shift and expand our perception in this way. I like to use the five koshas as a practical way to explore our holistic self-care too – it’s kind of like a useful check-list, to make sure we’re not neglecting a part of our being. And, really, the more you explore, the more you realise that all the layers are of course interconnected; really it’s impossible to look at any single one in isolation. And, as with every interconnected system, if just one part is out of balance, then the whole is affected, so it’s really just another pointer towards the wisdom of taking a holistic approach towards our self-care. Over time, working with the koshas helps us gain a more comprehensive sense of ourselves, which gives us more empowerment to make good decisions for ourselves.

So, here’s a brief look at the five koshas, with some ideas about how you can investigate and tend to them in your own life. If you’re interested to learn more and dive deeply into an experiential day all about the koshas, then join me on my up-coming, ‘Journey Through the Koshas’ yoga day retreat in Warwickshire, central England on February 22nd 2020… 🙂

1. Annamayakosha – the ‘food’ body or physical body.

Annamaya kosha is the outermost layer of our being, the most ‘gross’ (as opposed to subtle), in that it’s fully perceptible by our five senses. We can see it, touch it, feel it, smell it, taste it (?!) and hear it. The phrase ‘we are what we eat’ sums up how we can best tend to this layer of our body. Our bodies manifest visibly for us the sum total of our treatment of it through our lives, as well of course showing us our hereditary traits. For example, if we have eaten a diet of daily pizza for the last ten years and mostly sat on the sofa, then our food body will show this very clearly. Conversely, if we’ve adopted a healthy diet and partake in regular physical exercise then the food body will look much more balanced. The yoga asanas are designed in large part to purify and balance the annamaya kosha. We first begin to work at this ‘gross’ level in our yoga practice in order to eventually access the more subtle layers. For example, until we’re able to sit still relatively comfortably for a sustained amount of time, meditative practices remain pretty challenging for us.

2. Pranamayakosh – the ‘prana’ (life force/energetic) body.

Now we are accessing the next most subtle layer of our being, our life force energy, which animates all of our actions. One way of looking at this is through the lens of the breath although, in truth, it’s not this straightforward. It’s really about the fact we are energetic beings and, separate from the state of our physical bodies, our energy levels can fluctuate a lot, depending on a variety of factors, not least our interaction with other energies in our external environment, such as other people or places. Life force energy or prana animates everything, not just humans, and we are all interconnected on some level. So, practices that help you become more sensitive to your experience of your own energetic being, and how and why this shifts, become a natural part of the yoga journey, and becoming aware of how you use your own energy and allow yourself to be affected by external energies becomes more and more important, the more your sensitivity and awareness of this layer of your being increases. Personally, I spend just as much time on energetic self-care as I do on physical self-care these days. I have to, to remain balanced and happy. As a good starting point, pranayama techniques begin to help us focus on our inner world and, along with intentional-based meditation practices, we can improve our ability to consciously move prana around the body, for health and healing, and strengthen our pranamaya kosha.

3. Manomayakosha – the mental body.

Well, I think we are all VERY aware of this sheath in the modern, western world! This is the layer that comprises the mind and how it processes the information that we gain from the five senses. Basically, the mind is always receiving sensory information, comparing this to previous experiences and putting out a decision of the experience as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on this, with associated instructions in how we need to behave. It is useful for survival in certain situations but, as we are pretty stuck in this layer compared to our other koshas, it can also be a hindrance to the health and happiness of our total being. If any of the five koshas becomes dominant, the others will become proportionately suppressed and, as previously discussed, the interconnected whole suffers. So, one of the best practices we can do here is watch our thoughts. There are hundreds of different mindfulness-based meditation practices that can help us do this but, in truth, over time we can become better at doing it in every aspect of our life – life has the potential to be a moving meditation eventually. Through disciplining ourselves to regularly watch our thoughts, we soon see the utter madness of our mind when it is overused, as it is in current modern society. It jumps around, contradicts itself frequently and often tells us complete nonsense (especially when we talk to ourselves about ourselves – have you noticed this?). Over time, through continued observation, we are held less in the thrall of the mind, finding ourselves able to change habitual and unhelpful thought patterns and associated repeated behaviour (called samskaras in yoga philosophy). Then we are free to connect more with the truth and wisdom held in other layers of our being, to counteract and balance out the mind-dominance. And we of course feel better as a whole as a result.

4. Vijnanamaya kosha – the wisdom or awareness body.

I love exploring this kosha alongside manomaya kosha – the two are so interwoven. Exploring vijnanamaya kosha involves dropping into a more subtle layer of our body still, which is sometimes called the inner observer. In order to watch our thoughts, we have to connect with vijnanamaya kosha. It is a wiser part of our being, able to discern right action aside from the reactive mental reasoning that we do as a default in every situation. I feel it as a non-judgemental and very loving, wise being that cares about me and sits somewhere deep within me, offering gentle guidance whenever I take time to listen. This layer is also the realm of insight and intuition – that inner knowing that is always within us, and those glorious ‘aha’ moments of genius that we sometimes experience. Through committing to regular quiet time for meditative inner listening, over time we find it easier to tune into this quiet, wise part of us, above the noise of the mental chatter, and we learn to trust it more and more. And, again, we come back to balance. I also like exploring how this kosha is so interwoven with the more ‘gross’ layers of the physical body and pranic body, both of which contain deep, deep wisdom that we can tap into through connection to our wisdom body.

5. Anandamaya kosha – the bliss body.

Aaah, how nice it would be to be here more often! Anandamaya kosha is the seat of bliss in the body. It is always a part of us but, as you can see from the drawing, it’s the closest to our centre and usually depicted as the smallest layer and so you can understand that, for the average human being, it’s the most difficult layer to access and have direct experience of. Most of us have to do a lot of work to balance and nourish the outer four layers before we can rest in our bliss body with ease. But, all of us will experience it at certain times of our life – perhaps during a sublime moment in nature, or an intimate moment with a partner, or at the birth of a new child. Through commitment to regular self-care, healing and consciousness expansion through holistic practices such as yoga, most dedicated practitioners will eventually find increasing experiences of the bliss body, often felt as the heart seemingly exploding with love for everyone and everything around you, and sometimes in a more subtle way of simply feeling deeply connected to the calm, happy truth of who you really are. Savasana, at the end of a yoga practice, is often a space where people can drop into the bliss body, even for a moment. That’s why it’s so important to take these still moments of integration whenever we consciously work to balance the totality of our beings. It is in these moments of stillness and quiet that we are most likely to drop to the centre of our beings. And, who knows, maybe one day we even have an experience of Atman – but I will have to leave you to your own explorations here, as it truly is beyond words I guess; beyond all polarity, duality, beyond everything…

Happy exploring!

Ikigai – what is your reason for being?

At this time of my life I feel I’m moving into a new chapter of service, and so I am really taking time to ask myself lots of seemingly old questions in a new way, wanting to crystallise who it is that I want to be in the world, and what it is that I want to share with the world. These are good questions for all of us to ask ourselves at certain transitional times of our life – kind of like a ‘life review’, a check-in that we feel we’re on the right path, that we are consciously choosing the life we wish to lead rather than finding ourselves floating along passively.

A friend recently shared with me a concept that comes from an ancient Japanese culture, which focuses on the concept of ‘ikigai’, which translates roughly as ‘reason for being’, which has been a helpful tool for me to understand where I wish to place my professional energies. I see this concept as similar to the yogic concept of ‘dharma’ and the Chinese daoist concept of ‘ming’. All of these terms kind of mean the same thing – the mysterious pull on our soul, that keeps us on the right path when we are attentive, and leads us to the activities that bring us the most peace, fulfilment and happiness. Another idea I like is that we all came here with some kind of soul plan, an intention for the evolution of our soul in this incarnation. When we are aligned with this we feel good, and when we move away from it we feel restless, unfulfilled, a strange sense that something is wrong or missing.

Whichever concept you choose to apply to your own questionings, I encourage you to contemplate the ikigai venn diagram below, as it provides a comprehensive framework for such a self-analysis process. The concept is refreshingly practical and complete, providing a useful tool for analysing where you’re at on your path, and where you wish to go.

The diagram breaks down ikigai into its different components: your mission in the world, your profession, your vocation and your passion. It is fairly self-explanatory. When we are right in the middle, satisfactorily meeting all the different elements, we are living with Ikigai, our reason for being (or ‘raison d’etre’ as the French say). When we miss even one element, there will be some kind of missing piece, and the diagram describes the various flavours that this can take beautifully, depending on which piece is missing.

So, rather than me attempt to explain more here, just have a go at applying this structure to your own professional life, and let me know how you get on – follow your intuition and enjoy the process… 🙂

Healing from the heart

I am currently delving into my work as a Thai massage therapist in a much deeper way than ever before, having found an inspirational teacher, and I am really enjoying this journey. It has caused me to reflect on why I am finding giving the massages so much more enjoyable than in the past – time flies, I feel super-energised and upbeat afterwards and my body feels great, whereas in the past I could sometimes find myself clock-watching, my body often complained afterwards, and my energy felt depleted.

I have come to the conclusion that, like everything it seems, it all comes down to self-love! I have been on such a journey this year – diving back down into depression, feeling utterly hopeless and bleak about life, but then re-emerging feeling like a butterfly ready to spread its wings and fly happily into the next chapter. The depression was just my resistance to letting go of the last chapter. Change always come with loss, and loss always comes with grief.

But, I know very well by now that, when we move through a dark period of our life with even an iota of consciousness about the ‘bigger picture’ that this period represents (i.e. the death of a part of ourselves so that something new can emerge) there follows a joyful period of light, ease and flow. I’m in that period right now, and I’ve noticed how a big hallmark of this is how much I am feeling the love for myself! It almost seems like a taboo in this strange world we live in to admit to this kind of self-love. We are usually quite OK with bemoaning our various perceived flaws and issues to each other, and putting ourselves down left, right and centre but, when it comes to celebrating ourselves, this can often feel difficult. Well, at least this has been my experience.

But, my self-love is so present at the moment that, actually, it’s irrepressible; it’s just bubbling up at gloriously frequent moments during the day – I feel so grateful to the wisdom of my soul for getting me this far, for my body for carrying me through my days with so much grace, to the beauty of nature and to all the amazing people and opportunities I have in my life. After the long low, life feels like such a gift again, and I know this is my natural state of gratitude and celebration. In fact, I believe it’s the natural state of all of us, beneath all the energy blocks and wounds we carry – I feel we are truly here to thrive, celebrate and enjoy this life, but it seems that most of us have to dig deep to return to this natural state, or it comes in brief moments – well, again, this has been my personal experience.

Anyhow, it is this self-love that has caused me to revisit my Thai massage training in a new, deeper way. I was always aware, from my first amazing teachers, of the sacred nature of this massage modality, and indeed any bodywork, which requires us to come into intimate relationship with another based on trust and respect. The Thai massage tradition is very much based on ‘metta’, which translates as ‘loving-kindness’. But, I am so aware now that loving-kindness has to begin with ourselves. I just didn’t love myself enough until now to truly connect to this fundamental aspect of the practice. Of course, we fake it until we make it, and my motivation for learning to give massages originally came from a sincere desire to help others and contribute to their healing, but I see now that actually I was still relatively early-on in my own journey to help, love and heal myself, and although the will was there, the love just wasn’t bubbling up in the way it is now.

So, with all this love flowing, I had a real sense that I wanted my massage treatments to really come from the heart now, so I can share this love I’m feeling with others. Love breeds love to infinity, it has no limits, it doesn’t need to be rationed – the more you feel, the more you share and the more you receive back – it’s a beautiful thing! And, of course, the perfect teacher stepped into my life at that moment – someone so full of his own self-love and self-honouring that this just spills over into his interactions with those around him. He told me that, when I’m enjoying the massage, the receiver is sure to be enjoying it too. So, really the massage treatment becomes another exercise of self-love – I do it because I love it, and I can rest in the knowledge that the receiver is loving it too! It’s a change of focus, and one that really resonates with me now. When we deflect from our own self-care, self-love, self-honouring, then the authenticity of how we offer this to others is compromised.

So, I see now that with each treatment I give, as I dive deeper into this heart-space of genuine metta, in truth I am healing and loving myself and, in so doing, spreading this healing love vibration to another, trusting the magic of this will unfold in the way it’s meant to. Less mind, more heart – and it feels amazing! It’s a reminder of the oneness that we all are underneath the superficial separation. We heal ourselves to heal the world. It is a sacred practice indeed.

We Are Not Forsaken

Great mother writhes and moans on her sickbed,
Hoping her discomfiture will jog us awake.
Wildlife waits in the wings,
Wondering if we will answer the call.
The wind gives the trees their voice,
Remember yourselves, remember yourselves…”
The buzzard screeches down from above,
It’s not too late, humans!”
The world holds its breath, watching our every move.

Then…

We lift our heads, deer-bright eyes lock in wonder,
Our hearts entrain with an urgent pulse,
A critical mass of knowing is reached.
Great mother roars, the world sighs as one,
And, in a tsunamic surge of grace,
We are born anew, awash with wildness.
We gaze out from innocent eyes, that have seen it all before.

Thank you, mother,
Thank you.

Warrior of Love Post-script (AKA It’s OK to be Face Down in the Dirt…)

Although the last piece of journal writing that I shared felt like a truth that wanted to emerge, it’s been niggling me somewhat. I didn’t quite tell the whole story. I’m always trying to integrate my ‘spiritual’ seeking, questing, oh-so-virtuous side with my earthy, flawed human side. Both are beautiful, both are equally worthy of being loved and honoured, but so often I skirt around or brush over the messy human-ness that is a huge part of who I am, why I’m here in fact. It’s crazy – spiritual by-passing at its finest! My mantra these days is, ‘own it all’, so to honour that, here’s the missing part from my last post, Warrior of Love

Yes, a warrior of love will get swiped down by a sword to the heart many times during the battle that this human life can feel like sometimes. And, what happens between the blow to the heart and the picking yourself up again to rejoin the fray, heart wide open? Well, many things can happen, and most of them aren’t that pretty. The first is that, as you face-plant into the soil, you’re likely to get some kind of ‘spiritual concussion’ and forget that you’re a warrior of love at all. In this place, you’re more likely to feel like a fragile, vulnerable human being, scared and alone in the dark, writhing in the mud to avoid the trampling boots and hooves of those still battling it out above you. All kinds of paralysing emotions swirl through you – shame, fear, anger, frustration, disappointment, guilt, blame, rage, sadness, depression, jealousy, self-loathing… The wound to the heart is bleeding copiously, you’re not sure if you’re going to make it. Perhaps hopelessness takes hold, and maybe even an eventual surrender to what seems like the inevitable end.

But then… what usually happens is something occurs that reminds you of the warrior of love that you also are, alongside this vulnerable human being. This occurrence could take many forms, for example the glint of sunshine from above the fray enters your eye and you remember the sun, you remember there’s something beyond the battle. Or a fellow warrior of love reaches their hand down to touch your head or heart, or you hear a distant battle-cry of ‘Remember love!’ from across the battlefield. Something changes… A remembering stirs. “Why was I here in the battle in the first place?“, you might whisper to yourself. Then the answer emerges like a leaf softly landing on your tired mind, “to learn about love, to grow the love in my heart...”

You do a bit of a body check and realise you’re still alive and well, your heart is still beating, your lungs are still breathing. A fellow warrior of love will probably notice you stirring at that point and reach down to help you up. You remember that there have always been hands to help you, you start seeing them all again and it’s like slaking the thirst of your startled eyes and bruised heart.

To be sure, it’s an effort to stand again. You will need those helping hands, and you will be unsteady for a while. But stand again you do, eventually on your own two feet, unsupported but knowing your tribe are close by, should you stumble. It might take time to feel ready to re-enter the battle, you might just stand on the side and watch for a while. But eventually the lure to open the heart again is too strong to ignore. And in you go, sword of love blazing, heart wide open once more.

We are all warriors of love and we are all vulnerable human beings face down in the dirt. It’s a never-ending cycle through this gift of earthly life. And no part of the cycle is more or less important than any other. It does me good to remember this. I salute those in the mud right now. I’ve only just got back on my feet myself, with the help of many fellow warriors of love, and so soon did I forget that time in the mud. But it was a precious time, a vital time, a time that cranked my heart right open, and now I am the one running into the heart of the battle again, shouting at the top of my voice, ‘Remember love!‘, and hoping that someone face down in the dirt will hear me, and will begin to remember again at that point why they are here…