Looking After Your Hip Joints

Samo Konasana TurkeyThe hips are a large bony part of our skeleton that is responsible for supporting the spinal column and our legs. Not only do they give support but also provide a stable location to house our limbs responsible for our ability to move around. If our hip joints are not healthy then our ability to function freely is greatly impaired and if severe damage occurs either through injury or health problems they can be very difficult to repair and put right.

Like most of the joints they do not have a blood supply and so nutrients and lubrication happens by way of synovial fluid that serves to lubricate the joint surfaces and carry away any accumulated debris. If the joint lacks mobility then the health giving synovial fluid has a hard job flowing over the joint surfaces and where it cannot access sufficiently then determination of those joint surfaces is likely to occur.

But it isn’t just about extending the joints to their maximum because if this is done too violently then this straining aspect also creates an unhealthy joint area and then problems occur later on in life as is witnessed in those who have led active lives, and then in later years suffer joint problems caused through overuse and strain.

So in our yoga practice always be mindful of unhealthy pain that signals possible injury and the kind of discomfort experienced from merely doing our practice. Some discomfort is part of doing yoga but we don’t want to take this into an injury phase. Work thoroughly whilst in postures but remember to include that very important element of softness and relaxedness during your practice. Keep the joints free and mobile. Keep them healthy.

Doing Your Laundry

Solitary VajrasattvaHow does washing out your clothes at the laundry and Purification tie into yoga practice. Well it’s pretty easy to make this analogy. As we strive to keep our bodily garments free from pollution so must we make effort to keep our minds free from the pollution of unwholesome thoughts and to try and eradicate them when we find them in our consciousness. If we notice dwelling on thoughts of malice or other kinds of thoughts that we know in our hearts are not profitable then we need to divert our attention towards that which is wholesome and beneficial. Easier said than done eh?
Well practice is just like going to the launderette. When we stand on our mat for yoga practice or sit on our cushion for meditation this is going to the mind laundry. By continually associating ourselves with this meditative environment, the mind begins to prefer it’s clarity to the environment of greyness, dullness and over excitement. It’s just a matter of acclimatisation. And it may take some time. But if you can make the resolve to practice your yoga on a daily basis eventually you can tip the scales in your favor and turn your mental state around..
Without this tending towards virtue, there can be no yoga. Remember the phrase INAPPROPRIATE ATTENTION. It’s a very good friend.

The image to the right is of  Buddha Vajrasattva, the Buddha of Purification.
And now back to pick up my clean laundry….

How I Came to Yoga

Head Shot for How I Came to YogaA spiritual journey of discovery and how this practice has changed my life into one of continual investigation into the meaning of life, its purpose, and understanding the nature of things.

by Granville Cousins

My first experience with Yoga was at school at the age of sixteen. I remember one of my classmates trying to place the palms of his hands together in between his shoulder blades in the posture of Namaste. He was the only person who could do it and I wondered where he learned something like that. “Yoga” he said. And I never gave it another thought. Coming from an athletic and Catholic background, I was looking for a form of exercise that would stay with me for the whole of my life that also encompassed a spiritual element. In my late teens I again came into the field of yoga when I saw a television program called “Yoga for Health” introduced by Richard Hittleman and assisted by such a notable yoga practitioner as Lynne Marshall. The postures were challenging for me as I felt I possessed no natural flexibility. However my appetite had been whetted so I then pursued my quest on the path of Yoga.

The first major breakthrough came when I practiced from a book called “Yoga and Health” by Selvarajan Yesudian and Elizabeth Haich. I remember the bliss and the ecstasy of my first sessions. One eye on the book while trying to execute the postures and breathing exercises. This made me keener to learn, so I was glad when I came across “Light on Yoga” by Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar. His excellent performance of the postures and in-depth detail contained in the text were very inspiring for me. I used to practice for 3 – 4 hours daily using the tables provided at the back of the book. However after 6 months of this intense practice, I guess I just felt overwhelmed with it all, and went on to investigate Tai Chi, a gentle form of Martial Arts that incorporates meditation in movement. I Stayed with Martial Arts for about 10 years, during which time I achieved a 1st dan (Black – Belt) in Kung Fu and then later studied Aikido.

My appetite for meditation had been whetted from the early times when I was working on the yoga alongside Selvarajan Yesudian’s book when I became acquainted with Buddhism. I attended a 10-day retreat with the Venerable Archarn Sumedho, a monk of immense stature and knowledge in the way of the Buddha. This was very different from what I had been used to, and I felt that this stiff body of mine needed more opening and flexibility if I was going to attend many more of these retreat sessions. I also became involved in Zen Buddhism and by this time I knew that this was more the way that I wanted to go, so after obtaining my 1st dan in Kung Fu I left the Martial arts and in 1982 went up to Throssel Hole Priory, a Zen training monastery, for a 3 month Lay Training Program but was very pleased when they permitted me to stay longer, a total of 6 months in all. This I regard as one of the richest times of my life with regard to training. My role at the monastery was to do with the joinery work, and as that was my trade I put my skills to good use. But monastic training is more about giving yourself to what you are doing in your daily life, which isn’t always what we want to do.

After leaving the monastery I again taken up my trade as a self-employed joiner. I really missed the Yoga Practice though, and I was very glad when a friend of mine introduced me to a yoga teacher in Manchester called Jeanne Maslen, a lady with whom I hold the utmost regard, and from here I felt that I became firmly set on the path of yoga. Whilst in her classes I decided that I wanted to learn more about yoga and to attend an Iyengar Teachers Training Course.

The course was very involved and I obtained my Introductory Level and Intermediate Junior Teacher Training Certificates. I also took up the martial arts again. This time I studied Aikido with Wassel Koleznikov and became one of his assistants in the class. As there were only two assistants we had to show the techniques to the students that had been demonstrated on us by the Sensei (teacher). After four years with Wassel, I again left the martial arts and focused on my Zen training and yoga with a Japanese Zen Master called Hogen. His practice is very inspiring and we used to go running and practice yoga along with the Zazen (seated meditation). This was quite an intense period of my life and on top of all that was going on I started to build my own house. This took about 18 months and after selling it bought Higher Pot Oven Farm, which is where I live now. In 1990 I went with my teacher and other students to Pune in India where we practiced with Mr. Iyengar on a three-week Teachers intensive. This was quite hard going but so rewarding to be in the presence of one of the great Yogis of this modern age. Being in the presence of such a man and in the romantic atmosphere of India made lasting impressions on my life. On my return to England, and having every intention of carrying on with my joinery work, something had changed within me, and the course of my life was to take another turn.

One January morning whilst preparing to get on with my job, after returning back from the Christmas holidays, I was taken aback when I was summoned from within to leave the joinery trade and go and teach yoga. A new direction had been prepared for me, and a new life-style was about to be forged. I went down to the unemployment offices and applied for The Enterprise Allowance Scheme. With their funding, this would allow me to go and teach yoga on a full time basis until I could build up enough classes to make a living. Manchester was where my classes were set up and I had just made inroads into teaching yoga in health clubs. At that time yoga and the leisure industry had opposing views on many aspects of fitness so it was quite something when I was able to set up classes at one of the premier health clubs in the area, ‘Living Well’. After teaching Iyengar Yoga for some years, in 1995 I was introduced to Michael Taylor and Elizabeth Wilson with whom I learnt Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at their house on Sunday Mornings. These were some of the most enjoyable yoga sessions that I have attended. In an upper bedroom with about 5 of 6 other yogis, we sweated our way through the Primary Series.

After a short while I was invited to meet a person with whom the yoga world has much to be grateful. This man was Derek Ireland, and I attended one of his Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga workshops in London. He also accepted my application to teach for him in Crete, at The Practice Place. Together with his partner Radha, I studied with them in the morning sessions and taught Iyengar Yoga in the evenings. Since those early days I have now set up classes teaching mainly Ashtanga Yoga and Posture Classes that are based for the most part around the Primary Series but incorporating my knowledge of the postures gained mainly from my Iyengar Yoga background. My classes are quite thorough, my students tell me, and on my Workshops and Yoga Holidays I introduce meditation practice as part of the daily regime. This is most important, as yoga is very supportive to the discipline of mediation. If we cannot sit still, how can we allow the deeper levels of our consciousness to manifest? I practice the Sound and Light Meditation and my Meditation Master is Suma Ching Hai. The requirements for this path are an Ethical life Style, a Vegetarian diet including no eggs, Abstention from Alcohol and Drugs, and to devote a certain proportion of the day in contemplation of the Holy Sound and Divine Light. “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be filled with Light”.

During these times when the planet needs to be treated with respect, I feel that Ecology and working with the environment are crucial issues. Myself I have an Organic Reed-Bed System installed on my farm, which deals with all my Sewage and grey water. In the Summer when the Reeds are blooming, it is really beautiful and looks just like a garden with 4 foot high Norfolk Reeds occupying a portion of the field. There are no chemicals involved, the whole process relying on the natural elements and bacteria living around to roots of the reeds. My farmhouse has just been refurbished with the aid of a council grant and I hope to continue to improve and incorporate environmentally friendly ways towards completion of the development.

May I take this opportunity to thank all my teachers and students, and let us enjoy together the Bliss of the Divine and the Ecstasy of His Grace.

Daily Practice

Crescent MoonSo what do we mean by Daily Life Practice? Well when we do our meditation in our regular schedule and we experience the benefits of these regular sessions, we may ask ourselves how to continue growing and developing in this way when we are in everyday situations that challenge our composure and good vibes. We may spend many hours in calmness and very happy with our achievement and ability to do this. Of course this is a good place to be in and I’d life runs smoothly then our peace can be maintained quite happily. But is this the way our life is and also it may be good to ask ourselves is meditation just about being calm and peaceful. I think if you ponder on this you may feel that becoming peaceful is only a part of the benefits but not the totality of it. We remain calm and peaceful when the root causes that can trigger our restlessness are eradicated from our consciousness. Ok, if we are not thinking of a particular situation that has previously upset us, then for the moment we can be peaceful. What happens though when something happens in our life, maybe just a thought or an encounter with someone who we take a particular dislike to, then our peace can be disturbed and so here we go again back on the treadmill of frustration and disturbance. All our composure can be lost just like that in an instant.
We could say that our meditation is quieting, our meditation is purifying, our meditation is revealing and it can be all of these and much more. And if we use of medittion sessions as a firm of contemplation then what do we do with the insights that can be revealed to us at these times? If for instance a particular point of view is clarified, if a solution occurs to us in relation to a particular problem, in other if some insight arises during our meditation, Fi we take notice and act on it or do we simply notice it but carry on with our ‘wrong attitude or understanding’ as before? Daily life practice is the ability to live our truth even though it may involve some unvomfortableness in order to effect this. If we do not live our life in this way then conflicting minds are present within us and we become ever more disjointed and alienated from our intuition and sence of following the Heart.
If we experience these conflicting minds then we need to look and measur whether our daily life reflects our meditative experience. In other words we need to ‘walk the talk’.

Yin Yoga

Twisted DragonYin Yoga is becoming more and more popular with each coming year. Is this a new yoga or similar in any way to traditional Hatha Yoga. Something new and different has the elements of attracting new interest but are new methods really new or just rediscoveries of tried an tested systems from ages past? Well I particularly like Yin Yoga and for the following reason, that it concentrates on allowing the body to find it’s own natural range of movement without the extra emphasis on reaching that little bit further that can take one into the realm of strain. This is very important because what I have found is that although it may feel and look more pleasing to the eye to exhibit a ‘flat back’ say in Paschimottanasana, forward bend, does it have to be that way. In fact when we go forward in this pose if we do so with a flat back then we target the lower back muscles which may strain if we push too hard. But if we go forward in a more yielding way and with a more rounded back then the whole of the back comes into play and as we experience the pose becoming more free, we can then lengthen into a more ‘flat back’ position which by then becomes more a movement involving the whole body and a safer method of practice. In fact older pictures of yogis doing this posture do in fact exhibit a more rounded back whilst showing these postures.In fact if we take on a softer approach to our practice than we may find that the way we naturally tend to move into postures can often be safer than learned and drilled ways of practice. What I’m saying is that as yoga has moved and fashioned itself into the modern era, the shape of the postures has also taken on a new appearance. Yin yoga in many ways allows this ‘See how it feels for you’ sense to be active within us and a less rigid approach to our yoga.

Yoga Guru in Cork City, Ireland 4th – 6th November 2011

standing posture in the Sinai DessertWhat a journey from Manchester to Cork via car, train, boat, coach and foot. Now if your not serious about having to be somewhere, to do a job then forget this line of travel. But me, I am serious and it’s just another away day in the life of………..

Out group was 11 people, 2 of them male including myself. I explained the idea behind yogAsana to the group and we worked for 2 hours through the more passive aspects of the practice that lead to a beautiful stillness as a preliminary to a short meditation on the breath.

If someone is not used to staying in postures with relaxation for any length of time, then it can seem a little daunting. But this is very good training for learning to sit still in a formal meditation session. Things happen. We feel sensations, hear sounds and intruding thoughts arise and we wish all this would cease, and we wish none of these things were happening, and it would be so nice to just sit in stillness and peace if even just for a little while. Well our ears are open, our sense of touch is still there and our mind is still present so why should these functions automatically cease just because we have decided to sit for a meditation session. If we can turn this around and remain focused on our chosen object of concentration, then there is really nothing to get annoyed or upset about. It’s because we think that we must have these conditions present and when we notice that things are not quite like we would like, we feel agitated and restless during out meditation period. So how do we deal with these distractions during our practice? Well, I can ask you, “How do you deal with those same distractions when holding a posture in stillness for say 3 -5 minutes in a yogAsana class?” And my answer is to handle the distractions in a very similar way. They are not the object of your practice but only become so when we give then that power to take over our concentration. Just ignore the distractions and keep your mind on the stillness. It’s this continual coming back to the stillness that eventually trains the mind to stay at ease even tin the heat of heavy distractions.

It’s a matter of doing it again and again and again. Does that seem repetitive and where have we come across this same idea before? We need to habituate the mind to the task at hand, and this can only come about with repeated application. That’s the punch line.

So what about Yoga Guru in Cork, Ireland? This weekend is an opportunity to habituate the body and mind in a particular direction for a sustained period of time. If you can find the time, then it’s this kind of input that can propel us from our everyday level of understanding to that of insight, to that of another way at looking at our relative reality and drawing us ever closer to an awareness of how things really are as opposed to the way things appear to be. Never ever stop………………….

Why meditate?

Sitting in Full Lotus

This is very often a question I’m asked and often people who have been practicing yoga for many years do not really understand the potentiality and real purpose of meditation. Well meditation can mean very different things to different people because the very fact that we consider or ponder a course of action is still meditation. But in the yogic sense it means to turn the mind towards those things that lead to liberation or freedom rather than those things that lead to greater entanglement, miss-understanding and eventually lead us to sorrow. So when we look at it in this light then we can see that to turn our attention towards those things that liberate the mind, we need to know what those things are. Those topics are usually the backbone of any traditional religion and can be grouped into 3 categories of :

1. Wisdom

2. Morality

3. Concentration

This may seem very formal but if we break it all down it makes sense because without these 3 categories, which again can be sub-divided into more headings then we start to uncover a way of behaviour that can guide us along in a specific direction. This then is what we call a path and hopefully the path we follow will lead us away from miss-understanding and towards a correct view of the way things really are.

In other words meditation is a science of the Mind. That is what meditation is. But not a cold interpretation of what Mind maybe but a true experience of what the Mind truly is. If we continually identity with those things or mental imaginings that are not truly ourselves then we will be continually disappointed and seek solace from outside ourselves in different ways. When true solace and refuge lie within our own hearts. We just have to realise it.

So why meditate? Because if we don’t consider and ponder our point of view, our way of acting and understanding the world and ourselves then how can we truly know fact from fiction and are we really satisfied with someone else’s understanding of how life is? We need to become a rock and to be a rock we need the foundation of understanding that comes from our own experience and knowledge tried and tested in the furnace of everyday living. And that’s why we meditate.

How to develop a daily practice

forward bending seated wide angle poseNow that’s something to think about. We all come across  this statement and if we are to progress in our yoga practice it really is the only way to come on with any real purpose. If we have the interest in progressing our yoga then we really have to look at HOW TO DEVELOP A DAILY PRACTICE. With anything in life there’s no difference. Remember we become more skillful at anything we undertake if we do it regularly. Remember in the previous article S.E.N.C.L where C stands for CONSISTENCY. Well consistency is another way of spelling Daily Practice. Maybe we have a couple of hours a day for this, which is ideal. But many people have lifestyles that are very varied with other activities and not to forget, making a living, that this ideal 2 hours may be down to 20 of 40 minutes. But it’s good to sit down and access how much time we can devote to developing our yoga practice and having come to some conclusion of this then design a program that makes good use of your allotted time slot. I personally prefer first thing in the morning just after I’ve gotten out of bed and after the cleansing necessities like brushing my teeth etc……..

Try to do postures that flex the body in the 5 directions forwards, sideways, backwards, twisting and inversion.  There are a host of postures to select from and I will make some charts for future reference if you need some guidance with this. It really is up to you how you structure your practice but choose postures you enjoy so in that way you’ll look forward to your daily routine. Also remember that it is important to begin your practice in a gentle way and allow the momentum to build as you warm up to the task.

So good luck with your daily Sadhana and I’ll catch up with you again soon.

How to become more flexible

Seated leg behind head poseTrying to increase our flexibility is one of the reasons why people come along to my yoga classes and want to join with the many people who take up the practice  of yoga. There are many ways to do this and one of those ways is by learning these five principles employed through yoga practice. These are: S.E.N.C.R.

1. Stillness
2. Endurance
3. None-Strain
4. Consistency
5. Relaxation

Well this all sounds well and good but how does this work and how can we put these principles into practice for ourselves? To  explain more fully I would like to take each of these principles in turn.

Stillness

When we take a posture and hold it without moving we allow the muscles of the body to relax and release their tension. This is important as in itself this gives a greater feeling of freedom and prevents the overworking of these muscles as we try to move more deeply into postures. As we maintain this stillness a feeling of well-being  is experienced which is pleasurable and encourages us to want to experience more of this.

Endurance

This is the ability to maintain a certain intensity of effort during out practice. But we must understand that this effort develops increasingly with repetition. As we develop and continue to practice regularly out ability to do so increases over time. We do not really need to force this as it comes along with doing something on a frequent basis.

None-Strain

Wee really need to understand this. If we push too strongly then of course we can make great headway quickly but in the course of practicing in this manner we can incur injury which will not only slow down out progress but also may be troublesome during the course of our life.

Consistency

Is the key to overall success in all thing we undertake in life. We may not make fast progress but if our effort is steady and continuous then progress is certain. Even in the face of difficulties we need to show consistency and a steady application to our task. Of course it is good if we can practice on a daily basis but even if we can only manage with a regularity of say three or four times a week, this will surely bear fruit providing we continue and apply ourselves.

Relaxation

And remember behind all of this is our ability to relax and exhibit a softness in our approach. This is very important because even if we practice like we are just fitting it in between other activities out energy will be curtailed and will not flow properly. Anxiety causes constriction of out energy channels and strangles our experience of freedom.

Happy practice and keep on keeping on…….

Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah