“perhaps just get more kind to yourself and those around you”
— apt words from my June horoscope
Once in a while I’ll stumble upon a horoscope, article, instagram and marvel at how perfectly these small happenings are timed to lessons and themes I am currently working on. For instance, the last few months have been really focused on the concept of kindness and softness. They’re NOT easy! It has taken so long for me to break down my need to never show softness and never backdown to really embrace how being soft can be a different kind of strength. Life isn’t just about how good a smackdown you can give or how feisty you can be. It’s terrifying and exhilarating to find that within all that being gentle, deep down there is a reservoir of true strength to withstand all outside forces as well as all the inner crazy. The best defence may be a good offence in sports but in life the best defence is inner strength.
Continuously working on the ability to stay perfectly gracefully still despite everything going on will build up your strength reserves mentally as well as physically. You’ll only get stronger this way and you’ll always feel centered, because your center is strong! Today’s drill is the perfect physical illustration of that wonderful kooky circular logic. You’re staying as still as you can, whilst working on strengthening your core and you won’t need to do a single crunch, hurray! It works for me and I hope it will for you too. Try it and let me know!
Enough chit-chat from me, let’s do this.
THE STAY STILL [Working title I’m sticking with this – besides aren’t we over ‘labels’ already?]
Repeat this exercise 3 to 5 times, several times a week and you’ll definitely feel stronger physically and hopefully get closer to experiencing grace under pressure, even if it’s merely during the course of a yoga class. It will be worth it – eventually that grace will translate to beyond your physical class!
Start in a kneeling position
Place your hands either side of your knees
Lean your weight into your hands and press strongly into the ground as you exhale
Breathe your belly button in and up towards your spine
On your next exhalation squeeze your knees towards your chest
Hold as you breathe in and out for 5 rounds of breathing (something like the picture above)
Inhale and squeeze your knees in a little more then
Lower down on your next exhalation. (Finally!)
Advance this by squeezing one heel off the floor and hold.
Super advance this by squeezing both heels off the floor. You’re basically ready to levitate.
If it feels horrible for the front of your feet then you can start off kneeling with your toes tucked under. As you press up you will come high up onto your toes. When you’re stronger you can try again with your feet flat.
Your back will naturally round — go with that instinct.
Use your midsection to pull your knees into the curve of your body. Squeezing your inner thighs together will help activate your core just that extra more. As much of your weight is off the floor, not just dangling into the fronts of your feet.
Even though your back is rounded, don’t hunch your shoulders into your ears! And don’t scrunch your face! All the work is deep, deep down in your core. The rest of you is to resemble the surface of still water.
What it do?
I’m glad you asked. This will work your entire core as well as your ability to maintain your straight-arm strength. With your knees sucked in as close to your body as you can you’ll notice how hard your belly is working to keep that knees to chest connection going. The back gets a great stretch too.
Alternatives for wrist issues
Just do the same thing but laying on your back and imagine your pressing your hands into the ceiling and pushing it away. You’ll still get all the benefits and you’ll have a great time curling your body away from the floor. NOT EASY. You’ll know you’re doing it right because you’ll just know.
You can build up as you get stronger by doing the alternative in addition. Make the two versions part of your regular strength exercise.
B and I started a 40 day practice this month. Usually we have our own activities we like to do in order to feel good: mine would be yoga, Pilates, watching old TV shows, and his would be basketball (REAL and XBOX). This month we decided that the New Moon would be the perfect time to start a shared daily practice for 40 days to boost our energy and spirit levels.
We are STILL doing our favourite activities, naturally!
Everyday we practice a set sequence of yoga postures, followed by mantra meditation and we drink a green drink that I labelled our ‘Elixir’. This last part is major because B has never been on board with drinking anything green although I feel like that’s being very picky since he is slightly colour blind anyway? For all he knows it could be pink? SUDDENLY he can tell it’s green. I mean.
The mantra we chant is personal to each of us but I’ll share mine with you below. We chant out loud and with confidence, 11 times and then we sit quietly and let things marinate.
Somedays we do our practice in the evening like last night when we came home from a wedding party. We showered, changed and stepped on our mats. Then we had our green drink. We slept like babies even with both of us recovering from the flu.
It feels wonderful!
To go along with our 40 day practice we also cut out coffee. I typically drink a lot of coffee, alarming amounts even, but I’ve never had any issue with stopping. I never even get headaches if I go without coffee but it’s that comfort factor that I like. I love comfort! So when I want a warm drink I’ll make myself a Coconut Maca drink. I’m having one righttttttt now.
I’m very lucky I’ve never enjoyed soft drinks and I drink a lot of room temperature water. Even warm water in a mug can be comforting. I make a ritual out of heating the water up, choosing a favourite mug (B and I both like to hog the same mugs) and then enjoying the steam puff up. It’s all about the ritual and process! Aren’t humans funny?
We started out as a very small community of just two, but in just over a week a few of our friends have started to join in. One of my girlfriends asked for a shopping list so she could run out and grab all the ingredients for the ‘elixir’ the very next morning.
Which is great! The more the merrier, and slowly little by little we generate more good vibes. If you would like to join us (we’d love to have you!) feel free to come up with your own mantra, or use mine:
Sorry, I’m a little deaf these days, there’s constant hammering away in the apartment above my head since we last chatted. They’re doing it to drive me crazy renovating.
Hence why, I still haven’t uploaded that video I have been promising! I need to construct a sound proof room first which reminds me of the old music room at my school. I would go there every lunchtime for piano lessons. The entire room was wall-papered with egg cartons and painted blue to accord with the school colour. The effect was, uh, very crafty and three-dimensional. But aside from being quite visually effective the egg cartons really didn’t work very well.
Which brings me back to where I am seated right now. It sounds like the people upstairs are diligently tinkering away with teeny tiny hammers and chisels at the ceiling above my head. Which makes me imagine they are either chiseling a statue or they are trying to tunnel their way into my apartment.
Am I annoyed? Sort of, I guess I’m half laughing at the imagery and half wishing the noise would stop. I am distracted by the incessant tunnelling hammering. That’s what is getting me, that I am allowing myself to be distracted and affected by this external activity. It is beyond my environment so why is it having such a huge impact on me?
It is just like in yoga classes, if you have had the fortune to experience, when a person, perhaps on a mat next to you is a REALLY LOUD BREATHER. Really, really, really loud. There is silence all around, except a sort of hum of coordinated movements and breathing… then this fantastically pervasive rasping sound emanating from the person next to you. Has that ever bothered you?
Or how about if the lady next to you in her struggle to do any postures is blustering and swearing away. “Oh geez. Oh !@#$%^&*#@#@***” on and on and on she goes for the entire ninety minutes. She hangs in there for the full class. She has paid her entry fee and by *&$#@ is she gonna get every last #$@&* minute out of that @#$%^&* session.
What about the self-appointed class joker (hey, why did you look at me for?) on the other side of the room, who takes it upon himself, everytime the teacher claims says “One more breath here” to do a countdown “Five, four, three, two aaaaaaaaaand ONEEEEEEEEEE!!!”
EVERY. TIME. No one laughs after the first time. But he persists.
Or what about the person who is just too sweaty? Or the showoff? Or the two ladies who won’t stop talking in the back? Or the person who doesn’t smell nice? Or the person who is wearing hardly anything and you can see right up their bandha?
The list could go on and on ad nauseum.
Well? Do you recognise these people? Do you think to yourself, “What classes do you attend, and why haven’t these people been thrown out?!”
Well, these people don’t just go to yoga classes. They also show up in your life. They’re in the supermarket, at your workplace, at uni, they’re on the bus with you, the train. Yep, sometimes they’re in the guise of your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, best friend, mum, dad, or child or brother, whatever.
And they’re doing something and it just bothers the bejeezers out of you.
What is a ‘bejeezer’? You don’t even know. You’re just so annoyed right now you’re creating new words. Oxford Dictionary look out, coming soon your way, get ready to take notes.
Oh, and of course you’re not being nitpicky. It’s them. Right? It’s always them.
Do they have to do that? And in that way?*
YES THEY HAVE TO. And the more that it bothers you, the more they have to do that.
If you have ever experienced this then my suggestion is below. It seems to snap me out of my egg-cartoned mindset quick-smart. What works for me, might work for you. If you have never experienced this, well done, I guess you can carry on reading for entertainment?
Here’s the solution: Change your mind. Leave the world alone. Your world will evolve with time to fit the shape of your mind. You can make it as easy or as hard as you like, as I like to tell my students about our yoga practice. The choice is yours. You can struggle, or you can float. You do get to choose. You always have a choice.
Take a good look at these supposed ‘challengers’ and be glad they exist. They’re your true teachers. You will learn more from them than a workshop with a ‘celebrity’ yoga instructor. These are the teachers that teach you how to live. And they do it so effortlessly.
all your fellow
humans and name
– Erich Schiffman
I have met all sorts of teachers in yoga classes and I have to say over the years I still catch myself feeling exasperated and yes, distracted! It happens less and less but it still happens sometimes! Sometimes it’s the small, seemingly insignificant things that trip me up the hardest. I forget and think, “I am beyond that point. I love life. I love everyone. I’m fine.”
And then bang! I totally walk on my floaty cloud feelings into that trap my mind has set for me. I’m no longer practising yoga when that happens. I’m in somethingsomething-asana but it’s just a shape my body happens to be in. Because at that point, I have chosen to be more important than anyone else, more deserving to be there than anyone else and have decided that my comfort is more important than the comfort of anyone else, there in that class room. How egotistical does that sound when said out loud?
Instead of saying, “Oh, they’re so ANNOYING” but instead to phrase that as “I’m more important than they are.”
Yeesh! No, we have left yoga at that point. We’re just sweating and bending and stretching.
No yoga there. Just ego.
Oh, beware the ego trap! It is there all day everyday. There will never be a day when you reach nirvana and the trap is no longer set for you. You need to be on alert at all times. Be present in the moment. Live mindfully and completely in each moment. Question yourself.
And so, this is what I mean by
YOGA ALL DAY.
You do have to shout that a little at yourself, to get it through, past that ego trap. It has egg cartons painted in a hideous colour to distract you to the point of rage from realising that you have fallen deep inside. You can hear the sounds of life around you, but all you can see are those cartons. You are blind to the lesson in front of you.
There is far more to yoga than just yoga as I say. Our ability to do the splits, to touch our toes with our legs straight, or to stick one leg behind our head or stand on our head will not insulate us from the lessons of life. The ability to do any of those things are just acrobatic.
The goal of yoga is to cultivate an attitude of equanimity and one of compassion.
We’re all in this together, some of us swearing away, some of us panting loudly, some of us excitedly talking, some of us silently and we’re all chiseling away at this unshaped rock to make sense of our life purpose and find our way. When we look to our left and right and see we’re all trying in our different ways to do the same thing, live our lives any which way we can, the scales fall from our eyes, and the sounds and activities of life become what they always have been. Just a soundtrack of life.
Don’t get distracted by the soundtrack to your life.
Breathe. Practice your yoga all day. Know your fellow humans by name. Thank your teachers.
And between you and me, I don’t know what it is, maybe the renovations have finished upstairs, but I can’t hear any noise anymore. It is perfectly silent. All I can hear is the sound of my breathing and the sound of my fingers tapping on the keyboard.
Thank you thank you thank you. x
*Sometimes we are those very same people. We may not think it, but someone somewhere may be looking at us with disdain and think, “Oh go somewhere else, will ya?” How hurt would we feel if someone said to us that what we were doing was supremely irritating to them? Did we even aim our actions at them? Nope! We were just doing our own thing, right? Funny, that. Hmm.
Alright, alright, I hear you. Time to talk about yoga.
Let’s start from the top and talk about the REQUIREMENTS. Whaddya need and whaddya need to do.
You need your body. Check.
And just enough space to swing your arms around you. Check.
That’s it! You’re golden. Good to go.
There are no true requirements or criteria. Anyone can do it. You, me, Dupree, anyone.
People who learn that I teach yoga will usually say one of two things.
One: “Can you teach me? I’ve always wanted to learn yoga.”
Two: “Oh… I have always wanted to learn yoga. But you know, I’m just not flexible enough,” sometimes with an added “and now it’s too late.”
Somewhere along the line, as yoga has become more known, this criteria of possessing existing flexibility has fluttered into existence. But is there such a requirement?
No, of course not!
You won’t be turned away at the doorsteps of a yoga class if you can’t bend over and touch your toes with your legs kept straight. There’s no secret handshake to gain entry. There is no audition to become a student of yoga. A teacher won’t ever say to you, “I’m sorry. There’s just nothing we can do here.”
Over time with practice, one will start to see improvement in flexibility. But one does not need to be anything in particular to begin with. One just has to want to.
I remember when I was in primary school and failing miserably at a fitness test. Alright, timeout for a bit so everyone can have a good laugh. But no, seriously, I was really terrible at this test.
One component was the flexibility measure, and you had to plant your feet flat against a wall, and reach your hands along the floor towards feet whilst keeping your legs straight. I was truly a sorry sight. I will never forget it. I could not get my fingertips beyond my knees. I had the P.E. teacher trying to help me along, just about climbing onto my back to sort of wedge me closer to my feet. No one had ever seen anyone so hopeless. I mystified the entire staff. So young. So stiff. How is this possible? What does this mean? She is CLEARLY not trying.
Thinking about it now has me laughing so hard. The look on the teachers faces.
Some of us are born naturally flexible. I was not one of those. I have a reasonably bendy back but I still have those days when I reach for my toes and I feel like I have a metre extra of leg length that I could really have used in my torso area. So if we’re talking about candidates for yoga, I would not be what the general populace would consider ‘yoga material’. Have heart, friend.
Have you ever seen that cartoon of Batman and Robin? It pops up from time to time on social media. The one where Robin starts to say, “But I’m not flexible enough…” and before he completes his sentence Batman has slapped Robin so hard across the face his head must be spinning, yelling, “That’s why you do yoga!” It’s obviously a joke and completely not appropriate for any of us to walk around town responding to people Batman-style. We’ll talk about yoga and the practice of non-violence another time. Baby steps, hey.
I think it is great to encourage people to find what is good for their bodies but one needs to walk the line and not transform into a vigilante in the process. Health vigilantes can be especially tiresome. Especially when they have just made the transition into health-lover. Probably because they have all that extra newfound energy. Quite often, a person who has just discovered how incredible they feel after modifying their lifestyle to include working out, eating well, yoga-ing and so on, will then start to hound everyone in their circle to do the same. No one is safe. NO ONE. Everyone will be forced to listen to the benefits of spinning and kale smoothies.
If I had a dollar for everytime a pal of mine would bemoan their partner constantly nagging them to do whatever life-changing activity they have discovered, I’d have a quite a bit of money.
“He loses 5 kg and now all day long he keeps telling me I should start running. UGH.”
“If she mentions the gym one more time…” (voice fades to ominous silence)
“He just isn’t listening to me! I don’t want to!”
That last one is especially telling. It’s about choice.
I learnt a long time ago that people will do what they will do when they want to and when they are ready to. And not a single microsecond before that. I’ve been blessed to have some incredible students, all of whom have heard some variation of the “You can’t make people do what they don’t want to do, no matter how good it is for them” speech. But it’s hard, I know, in the aftermath of a practice session, all those lovely endorphins and whatnot floating around. Sometimes one just can’t help wanting to share this little secret under the tip of their nose.
“If only they knew!” I can just about read the thought bubble over their head.
That’s usually when I find myself wedged in that awkward conversational space between two people, one of whom is a student of mine, feeling glorious after Savasana (it’s the one where you lie down and look like you’re asleep) and the other, a friend of theirs and not a student of mine. Student will pipe up, apropos of nothing, “You should learn yoga from Dom!”
By the way, my name is Dominique. Hi.
Non-student will look extremely apologetic and say,”Oh…. I would. I really would. But I’m not flexible enough.”
Before I can open my mouth to express understanding and try to turn the conversation to some other topic, Student will exclaim, “That’s why you should do yoga!” Student then turns to me for confirmation. “Am I right? Right?!”
I can just about see the Batman light glowing in the distant skyline. We just need a cape, and a poor disguise and we’re there.
(Who is Batman even kidding by the way? I’ll just cover my eyebrows, and wear this pointy eared thing and I will look totally different. Him and Superman with the glasses. We are not fooled. We are just being polite and going with it.)
Where was I? Awkwardland, yes. Gah.
What my student heard was, “I have been given to understand that one must be flexible to practice yoga. I am not flexible enough, therefore, I cannot do yoga. Such is my life.”
What I heard was, “I don’t want to. I’m trying to be polite and not offend anyone. Here is a reason so we can all move on. Away from yoga. Please. Let me live my life.”
That’s what I heard. Should I take what the person has said at face-value? Possibly. But what I have learnt is that a person who has been wanting to do yoga, but felt they were not flexible enough, would have immediately turned to me and asked for themselves, “Can you still teach me? I’m not flexible.”
If that question had been posed to me, then I would say this:
You do not need to be young, flexible or physically able. It is fine if you do not have a background in gymnastics or ballet. Perfectly ok.
It doesn’t even matter what shape or size you come in either. An acquaintance of B’s once turned to him, after meeting me, and exclaimed with relief, “I’m so glad she isn’t thin! I thought I was too fat to do yoga.”
So if you were thinking something similar, I hope that answers that.
You don’t even need to be fit. There is really only one requirement:
You must not, absolutely cannot, be lazy.
You just can’t.
” Every one can do yoga, young, old or sick people. Only lazy people cannot do yoga.” R. Sharath Jois
And, as long as you aren’t lazy, you can do yoga.
We can even break the idea of laziness down to choice. A person who wants to and chooses to do yoga will never ever be too lazy to do something about it.
It is not so much can you or can’t you, or may you, but will you or won’t you. Do you want to?
If you read this, and thank you by the way, but if you read this, chances are very high that you want to do yoga. Chances are extremely high that you are not lazy. Therefore, you can do yoga. Please never let yourself worry about the need to be flexible enough anymore.
Are you still worried about the flexibility thing? Or the not fit thing?
Have no fear, I’m editing, hopefully in time for the weekend, a video of a short yoga practice you can do no matter how inflexible you are.
If I can get the spinning rainbow wheel to stop turning, that is. Talk about will it or won’t it.
For starters, here is what you can do. Hop up and walk to your mirror. Look into your reflection and say the following:
“I am clever and capable of doing anything I want to. I want to do yoga.”
By the way, the above works for anything. Not just yoga. You are never not enough for anything. You are just the right amount of you to do whatever it is you want to do.