We’re all Toxic, We’re all Divine

I notice a common tendency in ‘spiritual’ circles for people to label themselves in ways that imply a great deal of spiritual attainment, and others in ways that imply a low level of spiritual attainment. So, I might call myself ‘evolved’, for example, or ‘conscious’. If I were female, I might describe myself as a ‘goddess’. People who I clash with, on the other hand, I might consider ‘toxic’, and adhere to the mantra that I must ‘clear toxic people out of my life’.

The problem with this is that no human being is composed exclusively of either light or dark. While I’m committed to practices that build self-awareness, such as practicing yoga asanas, sitting for meditation, and journalling, calling myself ‘conscious’ or ‘evolved’ would suggest that I had reached a destination, which is quite contrary to my experience: in fact, the more I practice, the more I realise how much more I have to learn. It would also separate me from those people who, for whatever reason, I deemed ‘unconscious’ or ‘unevolved’. This seems to me antithetical to a practice whose very name means ‘union’.

He just wants to be loved [photo credit: Nathan Rupert]

He just wants to be loved [photo credit: Nathan Rupert]

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It Takes Courage to be Frightened

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ~ Mark Twain

At the time of writing, I’m just over a week from leaving the UK for Thailand to take up a yoga teaching position. It’s a move that offers the promise of ‘living the dream’, and finally translating my eleven and a half years of yoga experience into a full-time livelihood. It also feels like a kind of death, a change so profound that I’m unsure who I’ll be once the plane lands and I step blinking into the Bangkok sunshine. Some days, I’m excited at the prospect of the undoubted adventures that await me. Others, I’m flat-out terrified, distraught to think of the beloved friends, family, and artisan cheeses I’m about to leave behind.

Cake: terrifying [photo credit: Anne]

Cake: terrifying [photo credit: Anne]

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The Surprising Profundity of Crowdfunding

I hadn’t realised how nervous I’d feel.

I’d seen other people put together crowdfunding campaigns and thought, in the back of my mind, that if there was ever something I wanted badly enough I would be prepared to create one myself. Soon after I secured a yoga teaching position in Thailand in June and July, I realised this was that thing. I was confident I could sustain myself once I was teaching regularly, but – alone – I couldn’t cover the costs of flights, visas, insurance, and other essentials.

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What I wasn’t prepared for was the intensity of the experience, and the anxieties it brought to the surface. The internal judgements telling me that asking other people for money made me lazy and shiftless. The burning sensation of shame as I imagined friends secretly harbouring those judgements. Continue reading

How to Improve your Home Practice

This is the first piece I’ve had published over at MindBodyGreen. For a taster, please see below. To read the full article, follow one of the links above and below. Thanks!

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There are plenty of advantages to practicing in a class. We walk into a space dedicated to yoga (or, at least, physical activity), where, for a set period of time, we’re surrounded by like-minded folk while someone who knows a lot about yoga tells us what to do.

But there are some downsides: Classes take place when the studio decides, rather than when we wish them to. They contain students of varying experience, whose abilities may or may not match our own. Good teachers adapt their teachings, of course, but often the range of experience requires some level of compromise. Inevitably, we see a yogic Goldilocks effect: some students will find the level of challenge too hot, some will find it too cold, and some will find it just right.

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To read the rest of this piece, please click here.

Want to Build a Better World? Grieve.

At first glance, it might seem a little strange for a yoga teacher to be advocating grief. Aren’t we supposed to be a little more, y’know … peppy?

That’s arguably the case. Personally, however, I find that while my asana practice certainly does enliven me, it also brings me ever more intimacy with an increasingly broad and vivid range of emotional experience. The term ‘yoga’, after all, is generally understood to refer to the yoking, or union, of mind and body. For that union to be meaningful, it seems to me that it must by necessity encompass the darker spheres of existence as well as the lighter ones. Continue reading

Sex and the Samasthiti: Navigating the Ethical Minefield between Classroom and Bedroom

As you may have noticed, there’s a battle being fought in the yoga community. It started when Rebelle Society published this incendiary piece by Cameron Shayne, in which he acknowledges that he’s had sex with some of his students.

The post sparked a furious response, with various commentators, notably Chris Courtney and Carol Horton at Yoganonymous and 90 Monkeys respectively, disagreeing vehemently with his perspective. Now, Shayne has responded with a follow-up article of his own, which promises to be part one of a three-part series. This looks like rumbling on and on. Continue reading

Why Asana Matters

This post was originally published at Elephant Journal.

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Sometimes I think the modern-day yoga community is completely obsessed with body image.

On one hand there’s the Church of the Latter-day Yogi, where practitioners worship at the altar of the celebrity teacher and pay homage to the holy trinity of hundred-dollar yoga pants, smug self-satisfaction, and the sacred yoga booty. On the other, there’s the backlash against this kind of blasphemy, the crusade for ‘realness’, whose advocates rail gleefully against such false idols and decry the vanity of the popular yoga scene.

A friend of mine posted recently on Facebook that her teacher had told her that asana was “the lowest form of yoga”, as though there were something base and faintly disreputable about working with the physical form.

In my view, both of these are inescapably partial perspectives. Sure, it’s true that a regular asana practice has undeniable positive effects on the physique, and I’m yet to meet someone who has taken up yoga because they desperately want to be less attractive. But that hot yoga bitch abusing some hapless sales clerk is actually nothing more than a hot bitch. If our yoga practice doesn’t permeate our behaviour off the mat, what’s the point?

That said, I don’t buy the opposing viewpoint, that asana-based yoga practice is a mere superficiality, an assignment that can be readily skipped. We reside in our bodies. Just as it’s hard to function optimally in a messy, run-down home or office, it’s hard to give fully and generously of ourselves when we’re constantly distracted by a nagging tightness in the shoulders or hampered by a bad back.

As Kino MacGregor puts it: “One of the things that I love about the physical practice of yoga is that the body does not lie. It cannot fake things or cover them up in the same way as the mind.” Asana is the Tapas, the discipline (not the Spanish finger-food) of yoga. It exists for a reason, the reason being that emotional anxieties, frustrations, and traumas generally have a physical counterpart. Perhaps my congested hips reflect a congestion in my emotional life. Maybe my misaligned spine speaks of a misalignment in my finances.

And, in all likelihood, my mind has twisted up the signals my body’s sending and made them mean something else entirely. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stepped onto the mat preoccupied with some persistent mental script and stepped off it a couple of hours later having resolved a more pertinent underlying issue that I hadn’t even known was bothering me.

That is why asana matters. Not ‘cause it’s gonna make you the hottest cookie on the block (although it might). Because the body’s sending regular messages that we’d be wise to listen to, and asana is a great way of tuning in. Because it’s one thing to go all Patanjali and claim that ‘yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’, and it’s quite another to take real, tangible steps towards bringing that about.