The first Sunday

July 5th, this Sunday, is the first of the month. The Sivananda Institute has requested that we join a global meditation to nurture the Earth. The time is 1p.m British time, and we are asked to repeat the mantra ‘OM NAMO NARAYANAYA’ out loud for 15 minutes, and then internally for 15 minutes. All the time hold the intention to heal the planet in your heart.

Repetition is an enormous part of yoga practice. As teachers we discover that it is the gentle repetition of instructions that enables people to move into a safe space. Holding the space for your group is a hidden but essential part of offering a yoga practice. This I really miss. I’ve sent out email lesson plans throughout lockdown, and because it is seemingly endless, I’m now embarking on Zoom classes for my students. We must all adapt. I’m still as passionate as ever about getting yoga to where it’s needed, but it’s not the same. You cannot tune into someone’s energies through the computer. We all know that we can send distant healing and love, but nothing will ever replace the exchange of energy that you receive from a loving smile or a loving hug. Music touches and opens us, as do kind words. Nature nourishes us, but a life without that exchange of energy lacks a magical ingredient.

But we keep on keeping on. Let’s do the chant to help to heal the Earth. Let’s stay positive and cheerful. Let’s keep on pulling together to surmount this tricky time. Let’s remember that this too will pass…

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

The garden

What a joy my garden has been for me during this pandemic lockdown. I have really enjoyed getting to know each plant personally. They have become friends. I care for them, nurture them, appreciate them. I have 19 roses and this year they have been utterly stunning. Most of them have been given to me as presents. I have a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ rose which my daughter gave to me. This celebrates my great love of Jane Austen, and is a delicate apricot colour. It’s been set off beautifully in its terracotta pot by a profusion of pansies. We have a Silver Wedding rose, which is sturdy, white and tall, a deep red rose which our kids gave us for our Ruby Wedding Anniversary, a Peace rose which embodies my devotion to yoga. It’s voluptuous, pink and lemon – just spellbinding. We have a Chinatown rose, which reminds me of when I worked in Soho! A particular favourite of mine is Delphine’s rose. It’s abundant, gives and gives, and is the most glorious fuschia pink. Delphine trained to be a yoga teacher with me and then emigrated to Australia. She gave me this rose before she left, and she always wore fuschia pink.

I have a red rose from another student, Stuart, a yellow one from Jeannette, a white one from Jill, and another white one from Rona, which is 20 years old. As I deadhead my roses, I remember these wonderful people who have gladdened my life. People who have touched my heart, people who have connected with my inner essence. We were, for a time, united. And I continue to celebrate that union as I tend these living souvenirs. Lockdown has given me the time to nurture and honour my garden. It has given me time to re-evaluate what is important to me and what no longer works.

I learnt a long time ago that focusing on something very small is really helpful for meditation. There are so many problems in our world and, while some folk are doing a remarkable job of addressing them all, many others are pulling in the opposite direction. I don’t always like people. I don’t like the people who leave litter on the beach. I don’t like the people who terrorise their own children. I don’t like racists. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like selfishness. I love mankind, but I don’t always like people. But I do always like my roses! I can focus on one small bloom and see all the beauty that Mother Earth wants to share with us. As Yogananda says, ‘be beautiful like a rose. Even when crushed, it smells fragrant.’

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti,

Steel magnolias

Along with compassion and endurance, we’re being called to discover our inner strength right now. Yogis are sensitive souls, their first observance is love and non-violence. However, we have need right now of a steel inner core. We’re in the position of having to help others be strong. We need to be an army for good, an army for positivity, an army for change. While some of mankind seem determined to ignore the lessons on offer, and to return to abusing the Earth and the creatures who live on her, we must stand firm. We must create a new and better place. We must take compassion, but also strength of purpose and strong self-belief forward. This is not the time for doubt, this is the time to knuckle down and deliver. Mother Earth needs us. She needs her steel magnolias. Delve deep – find your inner strength and stand up for change, for goodness, for right.

Revolution

There is no revolution without casualties. We’re living in a time of revolution. For most of us, we are observers to the momentous happenings in the world. It is as though we have bought tickets for the theatre without checking what we’re going to see. Some of the happenings in the world are horrendous, sickening, vile. Death is visiting our planet and we watch, like a theatre audience, barely believing what we’re seeing unfold.

‘No man is an island’. What happens to folk in the world is happening to each one of us. Like an audience that is moved and stirred by a play, we are involved in the news; we are involved in the deaths; we are involved in the protests. It is impossible to live through this time of history in the making without being affected.

I have always believed that yoga teachers and committed yogis are the healers and the cleansers of the planet. I did a straw poll on how yoga teachers are sleeping right now. This was amongst a Facebook group of some 150 yoga teachers. We’re all experiencing the same disturbed sleep patterns. We’re being called to help, we’re being used to heal. I play the Gregorian Chant everyday on my landing in an effort to calm down the energies in my home. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility that I carry. Life is so far from the world that I would choose right now – a world where kindness, compassion, love, peace and contentment are experienced by all. We need ease. Ease is the opposite to disease, and right now we don’t just have the disease of Covid 19, we have the disease of murder, racism, domestic abuse, neglect, poverty and injustice.

How people are managing right now without yoga is beyond me. Yoga will help to bring the ease so desperately needed. We need a massive army of yogis to combat the negativity, to bring deep healing, to re-establish balance, to restore mental health.

Will there be a greater body of spiritual people when this is all over? Will people take the lessons learned into the future? Will we be able to surmount the ever-growing chaos? Can we move from being audience members to being centre stage? Can we move all people, stir all people, finally make people realise that whatever happens to one of mankind, happens to us all. ‘No man is an island’.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Clean up your act

In every yoga ashram karma yoga or seva is performed. At a prescribed time, each yogi cleans the communal spaces. This is done not for reward or recognition, but it is an act of selfless service. Finding that spirit of serving for the good of all takes you to a place of love. Sadly, there is a large contingent of mankind who fail to understand the idea of keeping communal spaces clean – places like beaches, parks, beauty spots, countryside. Pictures of the beaches in England this weekend utterly sickened me. It makes me ashamed to be a human being. Many people have spent time in lock-down decorating, gardening, de-cluttering.  They’ve had a desire to cleanse and purify their home environment. Why is it impossible to take that desire out into the communal places on our beautiful planet? As a famous t-shirt slogan proclaims, ‘because there is no planet B’.

And who do they expect to clean up after them? Are they still like surly teenagers who expect their mum to clean their rooms? Isn’t it time that they grew up? Where does this sense of entitlement come from? They have no trouble taking the food for their day-trips – please have no trouble taking the litter home again…

Spiritually this crisis has given us an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important. My biggest concern has been that some will return to there version of normal without learning anything at all. We’ve been given the colossal gift of a second chance. A chance to humbly recognise that we share our beautiful home with all people and all creatures. Until we mature, grow and understand that each life is precious, no matter what colour, shape or form it takes, and that we are all here to learn lessons, no progress will be made. Please, please, please, don’t repeat the same endless mistakes, mankind. Please, please, please don’t return to a normal which is selfish, grabbing, irresponsible and downright nasty. We’ve been given the luxury of a second chance – let’s use that to create a beautiful new normal. Let’s respect our home, this planet, let’s take our place as guests not masters, let’s work with selfless service to keep communal spaces clean, let’s act with love and kindness. And if you really need a selfish reason to do the right thing, bear in mind that if we don’t learn we’ll have to go through it all again. It reminds me of school. The whole class would be given a detention because some two or three nincompoops wanted to cause trouble. When will we learn?

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Touching

I’ve learned a great deal about myself during lock-down. As a body-worker of 44 years, I am very aware of my physical well-being. As a yoga teacher of 44 years, I am very aware of my mental state and spiritual well-being. As a mother of 48 years, a grandmother of 23 years and a pet owner all my life, I am very aware of my emotional state. It is the latter that has most suffered during this period. Physical contact and physically expressed affection is a big part of who I am. I’m reminded of a horrible experiment perpetrated on monkeys some time ago. A baby monkey was removed from his mother by a glass screen. He could see her, he could hear her, but he couldn’t touch her. The baby monkey died. I have developed coping strategies, as we all have, but I’m aware of that emptiness within me and the ache that doesn’t go away. Humans need touch.

We talk about a story being ‘touching’. We say, ‘I was very touched by that gesture’. We reach out to touch someone when they’re upset. We instinctively touch clothing or goods that we’re looking to buy. During lock-down, I’ve noticed that I touch the plants in the garden. I touch the trees as I pass them. The more we are discouraged to touch surfaces in the world, the more we are discouraged to touch our faces while out and about, the more I need to touch the flowers and shrubs in my own garden.

Touch has two sides to it. The wholesome, loving touch with which I am familiar, and the touch that can spread infection. For me it has been a sobering lesson. Touch is essential for my well-being, but touch must be avoided to keep mankind well. My personal needs clash with my desire to help others. Mudras have been enormously helpful as I wrestle with this dilemma. The gentle pressure of the index finger against the thumb in chin mudra enables you to use touch to connect with higher good for all.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

P.S If there are any of my current yoga students who would like a weekly class, please do email me.

Talking about death

There has long been a reluctance in the Western world to talk about death. This pandemic has changed that and I do believe this is a positive step. Each day we have an update on the number of people who have died from Corona virus. We must look that squarely in the face. Death is ever present, grieving is ever present, letting go is part of life. That doesn’t make it any less painful when it’s one of your dear ones who passes to Spirit World, but having faith is helpful. Yogis believe that death is promotion. We have completed the lessons that we were here to learn this time. We move back to Spirit World and we reunite with loved ones who have gone ahead of us.

Shakespeare in Richard the second said it’s time to ‘talk of graves, of worms, of epitaphs’. The virus is with us for a long time and there will be more deaths. Can we accept that and handle it gracefully? Can we think more deeply about our own mortality? Can we love folk over to Spirit World? That would be my personal wish – to be loved at that moment of expiring. To be loved across the bridge…

There is an epitaph on a grave in a cemetery in Washington. It’s from 1913 and it says, ‘Writer. Mentor. Wit. Beloved.’ What more could anyone desire? We live on in our loved ones. We live on people’s memories. V.E.day last week proved just how much we can respect, love and value those people who have lived with courage and dedication. A life well lived…a life filled with compassion, kindness, courtesy. Here is a lesson form this crisis and I’m put in mind of a saying from The Shakers: ‘Live everyday as though it is your last, and as if you will live for one hundred years.’ Wise words…

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Stoicism, mindfulness, positivity…

If you can’t go out, go in. Yogis are super equipped to deal with this isolation situation. I spoke to a fellow yoga teacher yesterday who said that she is treating this time as a long retreat. It’s a wonderful time to meditate more, to spend more nourishing time on the mat, and to fill your home with healing vibrations.

However, even yogis get down days. Even yogis sometimes wake up feeling despondent and weary of it all. And that’s when we need to remember to be kind and patient with ourselves. We need to remember that we’re just as affected, if not more, by the sadness and the trauma around us. Sometimes these weary days are when we are helping the planet most. We’re helping the planet to process, to cleanse, to heal. Even though we are separate from others, we are all in this together…

As we move through today let’s work with three intentions. Let’s cultivate stoicism so that we can withstand the crisis. Let’s be constantly mindful so that we experience each moment as precious. And let’s cultivate positive thoughts and belief that despite the down days, we’ll all come through this together. We can create a better world for EVERY CREATURE to live in…

P.S. Anyone from my weekly classes who would like a class plan, please email me.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Openness

“The openness to Life Itself that we cultivate frees us from a great deal of the conditioning and many inherent, and inherited, assumptions…Life is not about answers. It IS about learning to live in the middle of complete uncertainty, and doing so gracefully. ” SWAMI CHETANANANDA.

This week we stood six feet away from a dog-walking friend while she completely lost it. She railed against isolation. She railed against the government. She railed against the world. She railed against the N.H.S. She declared that she didn’t care about anyone else and that she was sick of hearing about all the heroes. In fact, she had a full-blown two-year-old tantrum!! This is an intelligent woman who normally interacts with society in a reasonable and totally civil way. She was at the end of her tether! At the end of her rant, though, she clearly didn’t feel better. Rather she appeared to feel much worse. I had a strong urge to intone OM, and to call in the spiritual forces, but I recognised that this would only incite her further.

Yoga is such a strong support at times of complete uncertainty. I’m finding myself turning ever more strongly towards it. What an opportunity we have all been given to turn inwards. To have time for meditation. To have time to appreciate nature, even if it’s just in our imagination. To have time to rethink how we’re treating our planet. To make a list of changes that we can make in the future, after the lock down has been lifted, to help Mother Earth.

Instead of railing against the uncertainty of these times, let’s get out the mat. Do some chanting. Watch the breath. And, above all, trust that the Universe has a plan…

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

We all share an inherent need to belong…

“We all share and inherent need to belong.” This is the first line of ‘Home from OM – the last yoga retreat’. Practising social distancing and isolation reminds us just how much we need and appreciate our communities. We miss family, friends and those groups that we’ve cultivated over the years. I miss my yoga family! However, yoga is always with us. ‘If you can’t go out, go in’.

No matter what difficulties you’re facing at this time, take them on to your mat. Work them out on your mat. All you need to return to your centre, to your inner spirit, is you and your mat. Namaste means. ‘the light within me welcomes the light within you’. But when we take that a step further it says, ‘when I am in that place deep within me wherein is my light, and you are in that place deep within you wherein is your light, we are together.’

So remember, if you are feeling alone, (or lonely), yoga is there for you. And through your yoga, you will access your yoga community to which you belong. “We all share an inherent need to belong.”

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti