The last couple of months have been such an exciting time, both for me personally and here at our little yoga space in Studland. In April I had the huge privilege of practicing at the beautiful Purple Valley in India. It is always so wonderful to be in India and practicing in nearly 40 degrees of heat and humidity was quite something. I got through my fair share of fresh coconut water over the two weeks. We had a wonderful group of over 50 practitioners from all over the world and it was so inspiring to watch as John ‘met’ everyone on their mats, whether familiar faces or new, and guided each one through their practice. There were experienced and advanced practitioners in the group as well as complete beginners to yoga and John had the same energy, enthusiasm and compassion for everyone. I came back feeling huge gratitude for having been able to be there, alongside my friends and teachers Roee and Andy.
Returning home to the stunning Purbeck countryside is pretty special and I was greeted with the sight of the woods by my home filled with blue bells and wild garlic flowers. Spring had most definitely arrived. I love this time of year. It was great to get back to teaching our own little community here too. A week after my return we were also really lucky to have Scott Parson’s teacher, Ajay Kumar, here in Dorset to teach. Thank you to everyone who came and practiced and shared in the weekend. We had a particularly interesting session on the Saturday afternoon exploring Surya Namaskar A. There is always so much to learn and explore with this practice. The sun came out too … perfect for beach picnics at lunchtime.
I was recently reminded by my teacher Lucy that Gratitude is a practice all of it’s own. Over the last few months I feel that I really have come to understand the true depth of this. There are always so many things that we can be grateful for and yet why is it so easy to focus on the things that don’t like about ourselves or our lives, especially when life throws us a few challenges. Maybe there is more drama to be had in the negative. Whatever the reason it is all to easy to create a default pattern of allowing negative thoughts or emotions to dominate. That doesn’t mean to say that we should always be up-beat about everything either, because that wouldn’t be real, but the finding a way to consciously acknowledge the positive in our lives is a hugely powerful way of finding balance.
What is this practice all about anyway if not to bring our awareness to everything. Not just in a superficial way but to be able to actually listen, observe, feel ourselves and everything and everyone in our lives in a deep and profound way. We need to be the seer and the seen, to observe without judgement but with acute awareness. Only then can we be fully effective in whatever we do, fully ‘in relationship’ with others and with ourselves and fully able to realise our creative potential.
So how to we even begin to do that? Where do we start? How about at the beginning … We start our practice with Samasthithi and in fact we return back to Samasthithi over and over again throughout the practice. It’s as if we keep going back to the start again. But I wonder how often we are actually fully present in this posture. It is an asana in its own right. When I first got back on my mat a few months ago, once I’d finally ditched the crutches after a full hip replacement, Samasthithi WAS my practice! Then I really started to understand about gratitude, to wake up to what I was doing each day … what I have been doing each day for years! My teacher John calls Samasthithi ‘practitioner neutral’ and it does exactly that, brings us back to neutral, back to our mid-line, to a place where we are balanced and fully aware. It has taken me nearly 25 years of practice to actually understand the wisdom and difficulty of this posture. If I’m honest I’ve never properly thought about it, other than in a superficial way. I thought I was aware, after all I teach it every day, but it honestly took the experience of my surgery to really teach me what it is to stand on the earth on two feet, fully grounded, with an even foundation. To learn how to stand with strength and lightness and space in the body at the same time but most of all to stand and be FULLY present.
Simply being fully present is the essence of the practice, whether you’re practicing Advanced series or simply Surya Namaskar doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are moving and breathing with awareness. Ajay’s Surya Namaskar workshop was a lovely reflection on this. What really brought this home to me though was a conversation with a young student in class recently. Over the past few months, I have been teaching a little group of young people from one of the Kids Company centres in South London, alongside my great friend and teacher Scott Johnson (of Stillpoint Yoga London). What we have been sharing with them so far has been really simple … breathing and moving in synchronicity and looking at Surya Namaskar and a few standing postures. Most importantly we have been exploring with them how to simply sit and focus on the breath, how to relax and move mindfully. One of the young people, who is particularly insightful, relayed the story to me of how, after one of the sessions, he had been on a bus feeling anxious and worried about something and he remembered to sit and simply focus on his breath, to breath more slowly and fully. He told us how quickly that simple practice made him feel so much calmer and lighter and that he had literally felt like skipping down the street after he got off the bus! I think of all the years that I have been lucky enough to teach this practice, this story is one of the highlights. This practice doesn’t have to be complicating or overly challenging. It can be very simple and very powerful indeed.