Two minute yoga for self confidence

This soothing mudra is called Vajrapradama. Think of it as a hug for the heart, restoring faith and self confidence.

Yoga for self confidence with Heidi - Yoga Shiatsu Scotland

Too snowed under to make it to a class today? Here’s something short and sweet you can do right now. It feels amazing.

So stop what you are doing for two minutes. Put a timer on your phone.

Sit comfortably. Now interlace your hands and press them over your heart. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Relax your jaw and tongue. Breathe in and out through the nose. Listen very carefully to the rhythms of your breath.

Imagine you’re David Attenborough – watching a rare species with awe.

Shine the light of awareness on your heart. Observe all the sensations there – temperature, pressure, vibration. Is there emotion? Can you name it?

Rest here for two minutes. ENJOY this time.

Modern neuroscience tells us that slowing down the breath while body sensing calms the mind – and actually improves focus and productivity when you return to work.

Try setting aside two minute breaks throughout your day to do this simple exercise. It will stop you feeling snowed under.

Saturday Sun

Sunshine after the gloomiest week ever. I take a stroll along the sands at Tentsmuir – everything glows.

People laugh and hold hands. Faces look up. There are lots of men in lurid bobble hats carrying babies in slings – a new breed. And fluffy puppy dogs seem to know me.

It’s sooooo good walking back through the forest – in the afternoon light.

There are new shades of beautiful when the light dies – the subtle colour of leaves melting into moss.

Exploitation and Yoga

THE ROW over the cultural appropriation of yoga by Western practitioners rages on. It is part of a rising tide of righteous anger at injustices and abuses, inflamed by the Black Lives Matters and Me Too movements.

My heart sinks when I read about a yoga teacher banned from teaching free university classes in Canada following complaints her sessions were unacceptable cultural appropriation of a non-Western practice.

Suddenly teaching and even practising yoga as a white woman is under scrutiny.

As a Western Yoga teacher I am grieved by the ‘vulgarization and distortion of yoga’. This happens when people become so intent on making money they lose sight of the basic principles – non stealing, non violence, non grasping, truthfulness.

A few years I was approached by the proprietors of a local yoga studio who promised me a number of things in return for teaching a schedule of 20 classes while they went on holiday. Bit by bit they withdrew everything promised, leaving me penniless and without thanks or acknowledgement for the hours I devoted to their business.

It was an experience I’d expect in sweatshop not a yoga studio. I was deeply hurt by this treatment. As a result I share many of the misgivings about the misappropriation of yoga.

On the other hand I am dismayed by arguments that practising or teaching yoga as a white woman is wrong. Some dismiss this as ‘politically correct madness’. Can the ancient text of yoga shed light on the rights and wrongs of this debate.

Where better to go than to the horse’s mouth – The Bhagavad Gita which dates back to 500 BCE and sets out basic principles of yoga. I arm myself with a Penguin edition translated by Mascaro and a recent series of lectures by Swami Sarvipriyanada, a monk of more than 25 years in the Ramakrishna Order – an institution dedicated to teaching yoga philosophy.

The Gita is no stranger to disagreement. It is set on a battlefield in a civil war – where members of one large family prepare to slaughter one another to seize control of the kingdom.

The warring factions of the yoga family have not yet declared murderous intent – but there is pent up resentment about the way yoga has become elitist, exclusive and expensive in the West.

And just as the warrior Arjuna throws away his bow and arrow in the Gita, there are yoga teachers who have given up teaching in fear of reprisals.

But Gita is a philosophy of action – not of withdrawal. “Fall not into degrading weakness, for this becomes not a man who is a man…..arise like a fire that burns all before it.” Chapter 2:3

It’s not by giving up that we come closer to authentic state of yoga, says Sarvipriyanda. “Inaction is also being trapped in action.”

Yoga is a practice – and as with all practice we will inevitably blunder. Undoubtedly Western practitioners are guilty of transgressions.

But let’s not forget the staggering number of accusations against Indian practitioners too. With an entire wikipedia page dedicated to sexual abuse by yoga gurus – yoga is fast becoming as sleazy in India as the Catholic Church is in Rome.

The notorious Calcutta born Bikram Choudary has been subject of civil law suits alleging sexual assault and discrimination against racial and sexual minorities. He also attempted to steal yoga – with failed attempts to copyright poses to stop other practitioners using them.

Elsewhere, Pattahbi Jois, founder of hugely popular Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, has been accused of systematic sexual abuse while Asaram Bapu who established 400 ashrams in India is serving a life sentence for rape. And this is the tip of the iceberg.

With all of the above considered – it’s hard to know who can be trusted to impart yoga knowledge. These days I’m less and less inclined to put my faith in anyone presenting as a ‘guru’.

Sarvipriyanda says the philosophy of Gita can be summed up in the following sentence

“Thou art that” or “Tat Tvam Asi “.

This deceptively simple statement melts away notions of separateness, the belief in self and other and the polarities of right and wrong, good and evil. It suggests we are One.

This philosophy instructs us to redirect trust and responsibility within. “We must have faith in ourselves. Believe we can change our life for the better. One who does not believe in himself is an atheist,” says Sarvipriyanda.

Thou art that. When we absorb this basic yoga principle – it becomes harder to point a finger of blame at the so called wrong doer. It’s equally hard to slavishly abandon ourselves to a guru – because great foolishness and great learnedness are part of the same delusion.

Reading the Bhagavad Gita

Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now – echoes of Arjuna’s
horror on the battle field in Gita.

During these dark days of January when the the world is in lockdown and there is no sense of an ending, I throw myself into The Bhagavad Gita.

Perhaps this sacred Hindu text can illuminate the current state of affairs – as a global pandemic, Brexit and climate change send us crashing into a new world order of unending chaos and death.

The Gita, which dates from 500 BCE, addresses the question of what to do when life is bewildering, pointless and pushing us to despair.

Chapter one thrusts us into a battle field on the eve of civil war. The ‘rumbling of war drums’ fills the sky with ‘fearful thunder’ as two opposing armies prepare to slaughter their cousins, teachers, grandparents and old school friends.

The warrior hero Arjuna is traumatised by the prospect of murdering the family and former neighbours rallied against him. Martin Sheen’s haunted eyes in Francis Ford Coppola’s psychological war film Apocalypse Now – give modern expression to this horror. But we can only guess Sheen’s inner experience, whereas Arjuna confesses intimate details of his interiority across centuries

“Life goes from my limbs and they sink, my mouth is sear and dry; a trembling overcomes my body and my hair shudders in horror.”

Despite the dramatic opening, The Gita is not an adventure yarn or a treatise on war. Arjuna throws down his bow and arrow, and refuses to fight. With imagination, conscience and a tender heart, he asks Why? Why? Why?

In the remaining 17 chapters Lord Krishna, who is driving Arjuna’s chariot, delivers philosophy of action. He urges Arjuna to ‘carry on thy fight’ engaging with the battlefield of life, a metaphor for life.

But he also points to a deeper reality beyond ‘the world of the senses’, ‘pleasure and pain’ and endless cycles of life and death. He lifts Arjuna from despair by conjuring vastness and eternity, a ‘Spirit beyond destruction’.

In the philosophy of the battlefield we are unequal, different and divided.

The philosophy of Gita is democratic and wholesome. Gandhi called it the ‘eternal mother’. Its Spirit is ‘interwoven in all creation’ – permeating each body equally.

The Oneness is untouchable by sword and fire. And the sense of separateness that rips apart families and destroys kingdoms is fleeting illusion or Maya.

Gita’s message is fight – take up arms on the battlefield of life – but keep one eye on the unchanging reality the ‘is-ness’ beyond the surface of things.

Adventure babes

An afternoon with the adventure babes is always a joy – scrambling over rocks, poking things with sticks, slithering on the ice.

We lost count of how many times Billy fell over – more than 25. His bum was stained brown. It’s better than having a brown nose, I joked. We all laughed very loudly at that. Maisie, who is six, also looked puzzled.

Successful New Year Resolutions – with help from the yogis

The New Year Year usually brings resolutions. Focusing the mind and setting goals is important for success in the world. In yoga the word for this is Sankalpa it means a solemn vow to focus on a particular goal. Ideally a Sankalpa should harmonise body and mind – and give purpose and meaning to your life. We state this intention at the beginning and end of practice.

Admittedly it can be hard to chose that goal. Some say it simply bubbles up into consciousness, inspired by the soul.

Swami Vivekananda said the difference between an ordinary person and a great person lies in the degree of concentration. And the psychologists tend to agree that the quality of your life depends on how much you concentrate and what you concentrate on.

All things considered it’s clear that setting goals is important. it’s important to state these goals in positive terms. And to keep coming back to it again and again.

Here are some insights gleaned from Swami Sarvapriyananda in setting goals

Balance challenge and skill. Too much challenge leads to anxiety. If the challenge is below your skills , leads to boredom. If you want focus and flow, increase challenge to meet your abilities.

Unselfish mind is a relaxed mind – focus that comes out of selfishness is a narrow band focus. Self interest scatters the mind, always creates tension and a narrow focus, open to anxiety and fear and frustration.

Love leads to focus -what I love, my mind is automatically drawn to. Devotion leads to practice

No Mind – when you realise you are that you are that consciousness, bliss. mind remains calm and steady, unflickering flame.

Introducing Yoga Woollies – innovations from The Shed –

In the bleak midwinter – here’s some colourful yoga kit to keep you cosy. It’s a welcome change from soulless over priced synthetic gear. These hand knitted creations can go over leggings, giving extra warmth during the icy Scottish winter.

Wool is hand spun and coloured with natural dye from organically reared sheep on Logie Hill, Fife.

Designs by Jenny Elliott include Apres Yoga Pants, Queen Pants with themed Leg Warmers and Dandy Shorts. They are breathable and allow free movement.

Jenny is multi-talented, a sensitive yogi and poet. Her designs are a labour of love more than a dragon-style business venture. She is involved in all stages of production, from tending the sheep to spinning and dreaming up ideas.

Other creations include fantastic, luxurious sheepskins and snug slippers.

For more info about The Shed Yoga Woollies contact: heidi.dore@gmail.com

Yoga Vision

Optic flow, softening the gaze, why we need to spend more time enjoying the panorama

We instinctively know that beholding a beautiful view, a vista of mountains or a shimmering sunset gives food to the soul. A room with a view is a precious commodity that people will pay a premium for. And yet it can feel like folly to gaze dreamily at vistas, when we’re crushed by a back log of day to day chores or racing to meet a deadline. 

Now science tells us we should spend more time gazing at horizons.  It may even be madness not to do it. We ignore the panorama at our peril.

Dilating the gaze even for a few moments allows a ‘micro recovery for the body and mind according to Dr Andrew Huberman, a researcher in neurobiology from Stanford University. Study shows shifting focus into panoramic vision –  allows the mind to reset its focus, and enables it to work more broadly.

Most of understand the need for regular breaks to give the eye muscles recovery time after long stretches of reading or staring at a screen.  The benefit of this impacts much more than vision.

“Dilating your gaze between tasks or meetings saves energy and builds energy,” says Huberman.

The sympathetic nervous system responsible for fight or flight response to stress – powerfully impacts our vision. The effect is to bring one thing into sharp relief and make everything else go blurry – comparable to portrait mode on a smart phone.

This intense narrowing of focus activates the nervous system – creating the fight flight response needed to gets things done. Stress makes us move forward, by creating urgency. 

“The eyes are designed to control our level of arousal,” explains Huberman. “We need to get past the idea of mindsets. The body leads the mind. When we compress our visual focus, our ability to focus on one thing is better. Visual focus brings cognitive focus.”

In contrast, when the gaze switches to panoramic vision, our perception of time broadens and we feel we have more time and can rest and relax. We need this down time to be more productive.

High performers are good at switching between the two equally important states of visual and cognitive focus. The average person pours disproportionate energy into the stringent high focus regime for the brain. We also need to develop our ability to move into the rest phase. Dilating the gaze in panoramic vision is the way to reset the brain while awake.

Self generated optic flow – the constant shifting focus that occurs when we move – is another important way eye behaviour impacts on the brain. This occurs when we walk, run, cycle or follow a yoga flow – not when we are stationary.

The lateral eye movements that arise when we move through space quietens the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for threat detection. The eye movement stops brain stress so we can better observe and negotiate our environment.

Learning to harness these simple innate tools enable us to compress and expand our focus – quieten and activate our brain at will.

Prescribing – Margaret Rutherford

If you are struggling with the January Blues, a dose of Margaret Rutherford’s comic genius is the perfect pick me up.

With swashbuckling vigour, she transforms cautious Miss Marple into a bold adventurer in Agatha Christie’s Murder She Said. The film celebrates its 60th anniversary this year – and is funnier than ever.

Watching Rutherford scramble over railway tracks and leg it out of windows and down fire escapes it’s hard to believe she was nearly 70 when she took on the role.

Despite the quaint costumes and vintage vehicles, this black and white movie feels modern because it challenges ageism and sexism head on in a way rarely seen on film.

The cinema of our ‘woke’ generation lacks the eloquence and defiance of Rutherford as she mocks the obnoxious, garrulous chauvinism of Mr Ackenthorpe. She wins his grudging admiration and an offer of marriage but turns him down in favour of another suitor. For once he is speechless.

Rutherford won admiration on and off screen, while flaunting all the conventions about feminine conduct and beauty. She won an Oscar and a Golden Globe and was appointed OBE and later a Dame.

She was figure of fun and a tower of strength, the rare kind of woman who defied the rules and remained uncompromisingly herself, even choosing her own clothes for the set, including a Zorro-style avenger cloak.

The VIPS, the 1963 film which won her an Oscar, foretells how she might have have reacted if she she had lived through the current pandemic.

Hard to imagine her buckling under stress. When asked to produce a vaccination certificate before flying to America, she replies: “I once came through a blackwater fever in Uganda and hadn’t been inoculated or anything.

“I’m really not afraid of a little small pox.”

Meditation for commitment phobes

meditation on the delicate lashes of a bull’s eye

I pledged to meditate every day in 2021 – it’s only January 2nd and I already have had a surprising discovery.

My mind refuses to submit to guided or structured meditation. “Don’t bother doing this now, do it later if you really want,” an inner voice coaxes sweetly.

I imagined lack of mental focus might be the problem – it turns out it is lack of commitment.

This is about safety.

Deep inside, a watchful part of me warns against investing too heavily in the present moment. My consciousness wants to be fragmented. Call it the ‘don’t put your eggs in one basket’ mindset. Or the ‘feet on the ground and head in the clouds’ approach.

And yet there is a whole industry of mindfulness banging on relentlessly about The Power of Now. To be honest it bothers me there is so little dissenting opinion about ‘being present’. Is the mindfulness craze actually cluelessness? Or perhaps it is the 21st century version of brainwashing.

Let’s get a grip on reality here – we need linear time to save ourselves from the present because many terrible, painful things happen in the present.

Our minds have developed the ability to take flight from the present – and we should thank god that they can.

From time to time, it’s wonderful to be present in yoga, in meditation, on a country walk or cuddling on the sofa.

Yesterday I came face to face with a giant bull, close enough to notice his exquisitely fine eyelashes.

Instead of legging it up the hill and leaping over the fence, I had the luxurious experience of lingering in the loveliness of the present.

But this was only possible because there was a hefty barrier between us. If it had not been there this would have been madness – not mindfulness. Very often there is a fine line between the two.

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