Sahasrara

Each cell in your body is individually alive. When you put them all together, the resulting form is also alive. “You” and the sum of all your cells live your life of work, family and friends. Nothing you do is directly what your individual cells do, yet they stay alive and so do you.

If we generalise that thinking, then all the plants and animals on the planet together might also add up to make a much bigger organism. The Earth itself might be alive, literally a planetary life form of its own. It certainly sounds plausible.

Where does the reasoning end? Well, if there’s life on other planets then – perhaps – all life everywhere adds up to a universe which is itself a form of life. What I’m getting to is that it’s at least plausible that a consciousness far greater than the human mind exists. Quite how it came to be…I don’t know. I’ve presented one idea, but that’s just an idea. Anyway, the point at which this greater consciousness (if it’s there at all) connects to its human counterpart is sahasrara.

Here’s another way of thinking about sahasrara. Our senses are limited. I can mistake what I see or hear for something else – we all do that. Well, the premise is that we don’t just mistake things sometimes. In fact, there’s a lot of stuff out there that we can’t see or hear at all. We all understand this – I listen to the radio playing music, but I can’t hear the radio waves that brought the music to the radio player. Fundamental reality – all the stuff we can’t see, or hear, or feel etc has a distinct connection to the reality we humans experience day to day. That connection is also sahasrara.

Our limited reality is like darkness, because it has very little discernible detail compared to the total reality. That total reality is like light, because literally everything can be known.

Yoga process will deliver an individual who is comfortable with his or her own personal reality, and is also aware of the vastness beyond his or her normal experience. By the way, that vastness is present at all times: we just can’t see it, or touch it, or access it any other way with just the five senses.

Guru translates to one who dispels darkness (among other things). Sahasrara is associated with the Guru, because it’s the point where “darkness” (normal experience) is obviously and only ever was “light” for the human practitioner.

In this context, Guru is you as your own teacher, you as a complete representation of the reality beyond your physical senses, you as the practitioner of and the result of your Yoga methods, and you as the best intentions of your own heart in your personal evolution.

Guru is often associated with a person. The person is important only as far as their role as facilitator goes. Someone has to impart ideas and encourage practice; that’s the role, and where importance ends, for the human guru.

What does all that have to do with everyday life? Well, the fact is that we all face struggles. Struggles with ourselves, with situations, and with others. Recognising that there is a bigger picture, in which I am not the most important thing, can help. It’s not going to solve any problems, but it gives the scope to consider them from a different angle. It’s even possible that my struggle with my perceived problem will reframe as just another expression of life in progress.

Vishuddhi chakra

It’s worth starting with a (very paraphrased) Hindu story called the Samudra manthan. I really am paraphrasing here, but in essence, gods and demons collectively wanted to find an elixir of immortality. How a common goal can unite different groups… They combined their power and unearthed it – but in the process, also released a toxin so deadly that it could destroy the whole world. This is beginning to sound more and more like modern economics! They were at a loss what to do with this terrible stuff, until Shiva stepped in. He took the poison, and drank it. He didn’t swallow it, and it remains there suspended in his throat for Vishuddhi chakra to purify and transmute. It’s said to have turned his throat blue, which is why he is often depicted blue and associates the colour blue with Vishuddhi.

Vishuddhi translates to something along the lines of special purity. To me, it’s a reminder that it’s good to be comfortable with truth. Being able to tolerate truth really does purify difficult situations – if all players in the scene really can work with the truth of the matter. To be comfortable with truth would be to be happy giving, receiving and dealing with it – even when it’s something we would rather avoid. Again, the parallels with contemporary world situations are startling.

Truth is about clarity as well. Going after a prize can cause problems – this is one message we could take from the wonderful story we started with. An honest appraisal is needed when we set our eyes on the target: is it worth having, really? Or, are we actually aiming too low? Why – honestly – are we steering or lives as we are?

Clarity in the mind reflects as clarity in the body – or at least it can do, through our physical Yoga and Hot Yoga practice. Clarity in tissue is many things: good flow – of movement, of body processes, and ultimately good flow of life energy. Clarity like this, in mind and body, is a key enabler for living in a complex and changing world.

Ancient Yogis noticed that things tend to come in pairs. Where there’s night, there’s also day. Where there’s happy times, there’s inevitably sad times too etc etc. So, they reasoned, if there is a changing world then there must be its opposite too – a changeless realm: still, serene and full of potential. Surely like everything else, change and changeless must occur together? Well, they really developed this thought, and created practices that realise changelessness in the very fabric of body of mind. Clarity like this enabled them to recognise the potential and serenity in everyone and everything. To live from that place was to be enlightened.

That’s a lofty goal. And since we are talking about honesty when it comes to goals, let’s all think carefully if we want to take our practice that far! But the point is that there really is nowhere to take our practice once clarity arrives. The final – and only – conclusion is that what we seek is already here. When vision clears, the answers appear.

Reflections for Anahata chakra

Anahata means sound produced without touching parts together. An unplayed musical instrument is capable of producing any melody. Anahata is a reference to the pure potential that is the force behind any creative act. Love is seen as the most creative thing of all, because it limits negativity and destruction.

We do creative things out of desire. It’s not always out of love. What’s the difference, and what’s the relationship between love and desire? The difference is that doing something out of love is doing it for the benefit of all. Recognising interdependence is an Anahata experience. For instance, with 7 billion or so people alive now, it’s no longer possible to treat the natural world as a set of resources. It’s becoming essential to participate in the life-support processes of the Earth, instead of just assuming they function regardless of what we do.

But desire is the access point. Through practice, we create the space to be with desires, rather than act them out. We get to understand our motives and the issues (real or imagined) that we’re trying to address. Acting out the desire is just one response: pausing for a moment means we might find a different response, such as a root-cause fix. In other words, we get beneath the wants to the real needs, we get from the mind’s desire to the heart’s desire.

Ultimately, love is usually the heart’s desire, and the actions borne out of love usually lead to the greater good.

People say that love is vulnerable. I tend to feel that love is courageous. It’s even possible that love doesn’t give a damn about anything except love! So, we can’t talk about love without talking about fear. Fear is the opposite of love in a lot of ways, because love includes and embraces, whereas fear excludes and repels.

Again, practice is the key because through practice, we create space to be with fear, and to go into it, rather than just run from it. Fear ends up being the guide, because it shows us where in our lives we’re not experiencing love. Like any seemingly intractable problem, it’s possible to do something about it once the areas of concern are identified.

That’s easy for me to say, of course. People in dangerous situations will be concerned about the outcomes of their actions, especially if they’re looking for a root-cause fix. I’m not denying that. But nobody can see the future, and as much as we are afraid of what might happen, we might also be excited about our new life once the root-cause fix is in place. Perhaps if a person can love themselves, then they can find the strength to go through the changes – again, love is usually the constructive answer, although not necessarily the easy answer.

One last thought. The Anahata response is the love-centred response, but it’s not a partial or biased response. It recognises that there are different forces at work, and charts the most constructive route through the changing tides of all these. It’s not an attempt to uproot or replace anything – although the person who hangs out in Anahata might find themselves more partial to a peaceful life, happy to remember the wild times, and letting go of grudges from the years gone by or even the day before.

Ed, Hot Yoga and Yogafurie

why hot yogaI wanted to write a little about what how Hot Yoga – and of course Yogafurie – has impacted my life. Things have changed so much for me in less than ten years, and if I’m honest, I’m really looking forward to the next ten. If they’re anything like as exciting then I really won’t have time to get old…

Let me start by – really quickly – talking about how I got into Yoga and, more specifically, Hot Yoga. At school, I wanted to become a PE teacher. However, I was blessed with a family at a young age. When it came to Uni, I really thought it would be better to study IT and engineering. I thought I’d have more money that way – anyone that has a family knows that money is quite a pressure.

I enjoyed IT generally. It was technically interesting, and I met some great people. But my heart was never in it. I was interested in movement really, and this came out as a love of martial arts which I studied and taught. But then I took a very nasty knee injury in a Judo class. I could no longer practice: all I could do after that was swim and practise Yoga.

I’d already been going to Yoga classes, principally to improve flexibility for martial practice. Now I was almost forced to take Yoga more seriously, and it certainly helped with rehab. A cascade of changes had begun in my life, but I hadn’t noticed it at that point. I heard about and tried Hot Yoga, and noticed significant improvements in my knee issues. All in all, I was now getting deeply into practice and I decided to train as a teacher. I would later realise that this was the first of the real outward signs of change – there were more to come.

The next sign of change came at work. I’d taken a less technical, but more senior role. It required travel, and I often stayed in St Albans. I would visit the Hot Yoga studio there in the evening, and I remember chatting to the owner, saying how much I would love to have a studio. She very much surprised me by saying, “Well, don’t get a studio. Just get some heaters and see how it goes. That’s what I did”. That got me thinking, but I wasn’t ready to take any action until my employer announced redundancies. I’d worked very hard to make a success of my new role, and I felt aggrieved to find out that I was one of the people who might have to go.

The studio owners’ words kept ringing around in my head. After a few weeks, I knew I wanted to ask for redundancy… and that’s what I did. I had to think very hard about this, and especially about what I’d do if my employer refused. In the end, I was sure: I was going to leave regardless. I told my manager, and a week or so later, he was able to confirm that I would indeed be selected for redundancy.

Looking back, I feel that Yoga and Hot Yoga had allowed me to find some strength. There’d been rounds of redundancies before – pretty much every year in fact. But I’d never turned the tables on it like this before. I bought my first generation of heaters, and the first Yogafurie Hot Yoga class occurred at David Lloyd in Westbury on 7/1/12.

The first year was terribly difficult. I’d had a structured, technical job in a very competitive, male environment all my life. All of a sudden there was no structure, and I was asked to work by using my feelings and creativity. There were hardly any men in my profession, and colleagues weren’t trying to compete with me or outdo me anymore. The portable heaters got me going quickly, but it was hard work carrying them in and out of buildings, setting everything up and packing it down every time. And nobody knew about Yogafurie – there were rarely more than 8 people in a class, usually less. The new strength I had found through practice was helpful, but these changes needed flexibility from me. I had to change my approach completely, and set realistic expectations.

By the end of 2012, I was forced to consider what on earth I would do next. I was running low on money, and the classes were not really taking off. The level of effort was wearing me down, and I really didn’t know where to go with everything. I had always sworn never to use Groupon – but I had a moment of insight and reconsidered. I offered the classes on Groupon.

Groupon was a lot more significant just a few years ago, and to my surprise, the offer sold really well. The room had a capacity of around 25, and frequently all 25 spaces were taken. This was a turning point – and not just for the classes. It was at the end of 2012 that I met Freia, and we have been together since.

Later in 2013, I took a permanent hire in a local play centre where I could install fixed heaters. Yogafurie began to take shape. Between 2013 and 2015, support for classes grew to the point where I could justify the expense of a permanent studio. Freia and I built the studio together, and we also had a lovely little son just a few days before the studio opened.

why hot yogaThere have been even more significant challenges since opening, and one day I’m sure I’ll blog about them. Let’s just say I’ve had some great help, from Sinead and Freia, from our talented Hot Yoga teachers, and from our students who are nothing short of inspirational people. But just what’s been written already is enough to draw out the impact that Hot Yoga has had on my life. When I needed it, I found strength. When I needed it, I found flexibility. And when I needed it, I found insight and inspiration to think in a new way, and try something I previously resisted. Without really thinking about it (and I’m not claiming credit for this… it just happened) I can now re-frame events in my life, and my relationship to these events. I’m still reflexive and impulsive, but I know I’m doing it and I can change my thinking to match events as they are. It’s not perfect – it’s always a work in progress – but I thank practice for lots of positive changes in my approach. When I change, things change, and life can get a little more frictionless.

The only thing that remains is to keep practicing. Movement and breath – these are literally the medicine, the antidote to sticky, long-term life issues in my experience. They might not work for everyone of course, but given the magnitude of what’s happened for me, I’d always say they’re worth a shot.

New Years and all that…. Guest Blog by Gina Hopkins M.Sc

How many of us swear that over the Christmas season we will keep up our exercise regime and then we swear that in the New Year we will throw ourselves into the routine we had before? Did you go to your first session with vigour and then the last of holiday TV and food become an easy excuse to allow yourself to be lax?  Are the decorations still up that you really need to take down instead of going to the gym on a cold, dark night?
It’s okay.
new year

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What to Expect as a Yoga for Cancer Teacher

A Guest Article by Morven Hamilton

When I completed my teacher training as a yoga for cancer teacher in 2011, I had not previously worked with cancer survivors and I had never had a cancer patient in my class. My grandmother had had breast cancer and had overcome it in her 60s, and then again in her 70s, but I was living many hundreds of miles away and was too young to realise the gravity of her illness.

yoga for cancer

So, there I was, in front of my first group feeling very excited about what was about to ensue. Despite my inexperience and naivety I was 100% committed to the practice and absolutely sure that yoga can help anyone to overcome their difficulty and come to terms with their situation. I was on a quest to share the power of yoga with people who were suffering, and that quest had led me to Penny Brohn Cancer Care in Bristol as their resident teacher.

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Why Hot Yoga?

One of the things I really like about Yogafurie Hot Yoga classes is that we often set an intention at the start of class. It’s a few minutes to remember why we showed up, and what we might hope to change in our lives. It puts today’s class into a bigger picture of personal development goals.

We often hit the gym, or the road, every January with good intentions and a fresh determination to see it through this time. But determination gets eroded, and we stop working out or going out for that run. Perhaps that’s because we’re not taking time to remember why we’re going to the trouble.

So why hot yoga?

Hot Yoga offers some surprising benefits to anyone looking to de-stress, lose weight, rehab injuries, or increase suppleness and strength. I want to talk a bit more about all of those, but beforehand, let’s look at the method behind intention-setting in our Yogafurie classes.

why hot yoga

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Hot Yoga for Pain Management – Guest Article from Gina Hopkins M.Sc

Why now?

For those who know me and for those who don’t, I’m the lady who has Dystonia, this means my posture is pretty unusual in my neck and sometime you may notice in my back. This is what you can see. What you can’t see is the prolapsed disc at L5 causing Sciatica, sometimes in both legs, in addition to back pain. Also, you don’t see the severe neuropathy in my feet, both of them, this is extremely debilitating. You might just notice I’m off balance, take easier options and modify when exercising.

I’m not known for being a ‘Yogi’ or a Yoga fanatic, many people will be surprised I even entertain Yoga. Yoga is known for being very gentle and for those who don’t break a sweat, you’re very
wrong! I am known in Bristol for my Grappling, Wrestling, Strongman and generally being a big advocate of sport for disabled. Yoga is hard! You need to be or will get very strong from doing
Yoga!

pain management

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The Flexibly Challenged Yogi

Something that has always bugged me when I try to convince people to come to a yoga class with me is when they say, “I’d be no good at yoga, I’m not very flexible.” To which I’d reply, “neither am I!” I’ve always had short hamstrings (probably not helped by my historic love for outdoor running and lack of enthusiasm for a cool down). I also have tight hips (can’t think of a good reason for this – too much TV watching perhaps?) I also have a slight anterior pelvic tilt which basically means my bum sticks out a bit, probably caused by too much sitting.

flexibly challenged

Ten months ago, I decided to train to become a yoga teacher. I’ve always loved how yoga keeps me physically fit and calms my mind down, so I thought ‘why not?!’ So day one of yoga teacher training arrives: as you can probably imagine, I was bottom of the class in the flexibility ratings. Surrounded by a sea of bendy Wendy’s, I was facing a tough uphill struggle to be able to keep up with the others and do all the poses ‘correctly’. Luckily Ed, our wise trainer, told us, “There is no correct pose. It’s not about touching your toes. That may come with practice, but it’s about staying with your breath and being in the present moment.” Well, this was music to my ears! I didn’t need to look like all those super bendy girls on Instagram; where I got to in each pose was perfect for me (even if it was on top of a mountain of
blocks!) I also learnt that it’s incredibly unhelpful to compare yourself to others. So I stopped worrying and just tried my best.

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The whats, whys and hows of meditation

To meditate on something is to let it fill your mind. All your attention is on that one thing. If there is a thought, it’ll be about that one thing. As proficiency grows, there’ll be fewer and fewer individual thoughts during meditation. It becomes an unbroken flow of attention towards the chosen object of meditation.

meditation

There’s a few implications from this definition. First, attention and thought are treated as different experiences. You can pay attention to something without necessarily thinking about it. Example: driving. During the journey, you pay attention to the road but rarely think about the movements and decisions. Most thought is on the rest of the day, or other things important in life at the time. Here’s another example: say you’re on a course, or in a meeting, and it’s a bit boring. You know you need to pay attention, but your mind keeps wandering onto thoughts of what to do later, or other more interesting stuff. Clearly, attention and thinking really are different.

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