This week, there is no space for messing around and getting swept away in the changing energies all around us, because here we arrive today with a New Moon, Venus in Retrograde and October has begun - Autumn is here, the nights have drawn in and the days have become shorter, the leaves are falling from the trees and demonstrating, very clearly, ‘letting go’.
I had this epic awakening that occurred to me over the weekend and it startled me and continues to, as I asked myself ‘Why do I practice yoga anymore?’.
I had no answer. I also had a list of reasons why. But, I had no direct response. What occurred to me clearly, was that if i’d asked myself that question 18 years ago, when I began practicing, I would have said very different things. What also dawned on me was that over the years, it has served me in very different ways. That over the years, I have had periods of very regular and strong asana and pranayama practices, devotion and discipline and then other times of putting every klesha in the way. But where am I at now? As a teacher, as a student, as a mother, as a single woman, as a friend, as a hardworking entrepreneur :), as a daughter, as a neighbour… why do I continue to practice????????????
It was both saddening and elating to think of all the past reasons why, because I could see that some of them I have had to surrender to letting go of, they no longer exist. From attending a yoga class and candle gazing in a swimming pool centre hall and walking out thinking… “What was that?! I loved it! I’ve no idea how I feel so incredible, yet totally spun out at the same time. Kind of peacefully vacant and very switched on.” To being a teenager at the time of Sting and Madonnna bringing yoga to the mainstream and having a mother who followed trends and bought a DVD, that for months remained unopened, my curious nature provocted me to open it and play it one day and that same DVD I used morning, noon and night, til I was 22! It was Barbara Curries Yoga DVD and inside it had a little guide of how to be a yogi, talking about ethics, diet and regular practice. It became my religion. I changed my entire lifestyle, as for me, finally all the ways of being, that I innately felt to bring forth in myself, could come through in this practice of Yoga. I had this artistic, much younger, Uncle whom was living in London, was a vegetarian, was a designer working in Nottinghill and jet setting off to Ibiza every summer to dance and DJ. I wanted to be like him, to exit the life I had always known in rural Somerset and to flee the nest and find another way of life. BUT… The beauty was that I became very self aware through my yoga and I took it with me, allowing me to not become immersed in the ‘student life’ as I moved to London and studied Fashion, Illustration and Promotion, but to stay very ‘awake’ through all my experiences. I quite literally became a modern day practicing Yogi.
I have always been very driven and head strong and am someone of total application to all that I do, so in fact, the pros also had cons. I was burning myself out and the subtleties of Yoga supporting me were less obvious and what was happening on a physical and mental level was ‘control’. I probably didn’t eat enough to sustain the busy, elaborate and always on the move, lifestyle I was living. My BMI (body mass index) got very low and I kept my life in ‘order’. It was a very yogic life in many ways, prioritising practice, rest, community and work, but I was quite a retreatist. What i mean by that, is someone that retreated back to my cave of home and practice space and kept my head down. I was also very open and sociable, but it was all very ‘managed’. I think I became obsessive to a degree of keeping my body strong and able and everything just right. This, looking back, played out in my relationships and very conscious periods of having none. I know that I have an enormous capacity to give and do give to the point of exhaustion, when I am not boundaried in my giving. What is left for yourself? to control everything gives us a sense of knowing, yet a total unknowing if we control too much! Where is the balance?
I am sharing this as a way that you may also reflect on the years since yoga came to you and the changes that have occurred since. This has been a bit of a realisation for me and I observe the ‘changed’ me now today.
Since those days mentioned above, I moved in to London, lived a part of shared housing, warehouse artists communities, worked in Fashion and Music, experimented with mind altering practices. I have helped manage Yoga Studios, practiced with a variety of teachers and abandoned that to practice in tiny Buddhist Centres with monks and less ego driven, older yogis. I have had a strong home practice and then none at all. I have met a partner, now an ex partner, and over the last 11 years survived living alongside dependancy and addiction. I have had two children, I have moved cities, I have travelled (not enough) and I have managed big events and Creative Productions, worked in shops, museums and made veg boxes. I have studied over 5 years to ‘teach’ yoga and yet the more you know, the less you know. I’ve friends that I have had for 34 years and I have built a community that I have lived blissfully alongside for the past 5.
All the while, I have practiced yoga. But why?
This summer, I retreated again. I managed another ‘massive’ production event for the creative arts industry, with great success and then I stopped. I went in to the fields with my children and I spent time off of social media, off of emails, out of the city and I took each and every moment to moment to just be in nature, among others doing the same, to reconnect to my practice, myself, my children, a community, some supportive teachings, and to be free to reignite something. This was a necessity off the back of allowing myself to become a part of another destructive relationship for far too long, that depleted me of energy and taught me the same lessons again, that I was yet to learn the first time around. This time it was a case of being ‘controlled’ in a sense and totally out of control. Again, where was the balance? This realisation is no reflection upon any of the others in the two way relationship, but an awakening to my participation in it, how we control, surrender and let go, or not.
Back in the city, I find myself drawn back to the fast pace, the expectation to keep up, the digital ways of communicating that we all seem to so much rely on and the change that I observe occurring in me, again and again, as I get swept away in the challenges and responsibilities that are not present when we retreat.
I am currently reading a parenting book on ‘A path for Parents and what Buddhism can offer’ by Sara Burns and within it one past night, she talks about the retreatist, it isn’t just the yogis that do this, we need it to reassess all.
What i find challenging is staying very present with it all. It is very easy to get swept away and not have a strategy to manage that. This is where when I reflect back on those times, when I was much younger, disciplined and ‘controlled’ in my life, I can see where and how that created a sense of peace for me, as within that structure that I created, I was free to pause more often and allow for the flux to unaffect me as much. I knew where I was within it all and I was making a very disciplined choice to live in this well refined way. It served me fully.
Now, quite literally the opportunity to be this discipled in mach harder. As I write that, I feel already like I am ‘making excuses’. I am. But quite frankly, what this requires is to find a way of not separating our practice from our actuality of life. And… to find the simple answer to the questions ‘why do you practice?’.
As by knowing that answer, you provide yourself with the motivation to get on the mat everyday. What you may find, is the answer you get back isn’t one that you want to believe. It could be because you only practice for vanity. It could be that you have to practice to maintain a level sense of mental health. It could be that you practice because you are addicted to the practice. t could be that you have no idea!
So ask yourself the question.
In fact, what occurs is how sometimes we are in a point of our lives in what serves us the most, is not to control, but to surrender and let go!
I have a duty now to maintain my practice and to offer ‘new’ offerings to my students every week. That can become a pressure and a complete disconnect when in your own practice, sometimes that fleshy, raw and newness aint there. Then I reflected on that and I thought, who is telling you this? And actually, what is the role of a yoga teacher?
The answer is always, it depends and actually we don’t have a duty to you, as students, other than to provide a safe space. The practice comes from you and your intention, your awareness, you making connections for yourself. Those that look to others for advice, without having mastered or at least attempting to look from within to find the instinctual answers to all things, will live a life of codependance.
I once said to my teacher that it was time to study and do another training and to get much better at the areas in my practice that I felt weaker in and I asked her for her advice and to tell me which way to go? And she just replied, ‘you can learn it all yourself, with intention and applying a commitment to learn but no amount of studying will be better than getting on your mat and putting in to action a practice from your deeper heart, the depths of us that show us the way. That the knowledge comes from being able to see, feel, demonstrate and connect. If you aren’t doing that in the self, you won’t learn, you can only try to do as you are told. we learn from our own experience’
Authenticity and courage are the two things that are being applied this week, as we think about creating strategies and boundaries that allow us to stay connected and in our foundation and then to let life happen all around us, knowing we are safe. What I, as a teacher, offer you in the yoga room, is just what you can offer yourself as you step out in to this world, in your own bodies, in your own experiences.
I wrote this blog over several days with various intervals reflecting and getting on my mat, having wild dreams, challenging life situations and caring for my children. I still couldn’t quite find the language to articulate where all this exploration, sharing and awakening was coming from and trying to tell me, tell you. Then it came to me just now. It’s the deconstruction of yoga very much in action. It is the process that I have been within for a while. The becoming a mother brought in ‘surrender’ and ‘love’ in very potent ways, it eradicated ‘control’ and now, now, is the very hard and juicy part of ‘letting go’!
I have to say ‘letting go’ is a phrase that I am not comfortable with. It is so overused and I think i may have even shared that aversion on this blog previously and yet this is it. As I did some Kriya practice this morning, I felt it in my body. The total resistance to let go. I felt it arise as nausea. I found my breath to be shallow and I found my heart rate to be very rapid. To soften, to let go currently, is my biggest challenge. It is a challenge because living this urban lifestyle requires us to be on the move, alert and hyper alive, in a way that retreating to a quiet rural idle does not. I am in constant survival mode and that does not allow for letting go easily. What this practice of yoga does is expose all. It is so easy to deny what is happening to us on a mental and physical level. When we look at the koshas of our body, we can see quite literally where we fall down. Where we close off. How we relate. What is the breath doing then? The breath is our life force. It plays out all the time for me in my practice, as this week I became determined to advance in some more masculine transitions and was finding it frustrating to not be physically able to do as I was wishing for myself. I was becoming up against the softer me, that was saying ‘hey, i want to be sensual in my movements, I want you to be kind around your cycle and I wish for you to slow it all down and listen.’ But do we have the capacity to know what we need? Do we have the deep awareness to admit what is being asked of us, when we are ‘surviving’, ‘striving’, meeting challenges in our lives that push us emotionally and force us to enter our masculine, to be assertive when maybe that doesn’t come naturally. How much of this has been trained in to our systems, based on our experiences so far, how much of this comes directly from our ancestral patterning and how much of it is just innate????
These questions are of constant exploration to me. I just totally seek the answers to where we come from. This is why i love to indulge in the Upanishads, story telling and ritual to come outside of the self and the small self and enter in to the possibilities and expansion of self. It is then that we stop clinging and we can aid ourselves in being able to ‘let go’ of everything as we know it and give that control and power to the higher self, the universe, the divine, god.
The poem at the start of this blog summarises all of this for me. Oriah is a spiritual counselor and story teller, among other things. This poem offers an invitation to every single one of us to "show up" in the universe. She reminds us that we do not serve the universe by being small. Rather, we serve the universe by making the most out of our lives.
This week, we are going to work with loving kindness mediation from a Buddhist practice, we will explore some pranayama with retention, and observe what comes when we hold the breath in and then soften, move through our asana with deep awareness around when we need the control for posture work and when we can let go and then as we enter deep relaxation, observe the shifts from simply bringing our awareness to our practice. Fine tuning our connection with the self and our relationship to it that is also to others all around us. The oneness that is alive.
A good way to explore the experience is to develop curiousity towards your thoughts and feelings.
When we expand our conscious awareness, it plays out in our dreams, in our way of seeing and in the way we visualise things. To have challenges is so important for us, so that we are able to motivate change. Being told what to do or not do doesn't do that. Life itself and hitting a brick wall is what is required to force us to climb up it, to see what’s on the other side or keep the view the same.
I notice it so clearly in the children. For my eldest, she finds it so challenging to express what she needs and often plays that out and plays up in the contrasting way that she intends, making it so challenging for others to meet her needs. Whereas my youngest is so direct, telling you everything, exactly how it is, very matter of fact. That much more assertive and direct knowing breeds lightness, space and relief. The contrasting muddy controlling and misunderstood behaviours, switches on the synthetic nervous system overload and creates so much cloudiness. It is so hard and to actually know that both have the same root, the need for love, connection, to be seen, heard, and accepted.
Having come out of controlled relationships and from years of being in control, I find that at times I have to be very sensitive to that structure around my practice. I very much like being in control and yet as it has served to not always benefit me and especially observing the resistance to control over kids. It becomes a major discussion around what ‘control’ actually means and how and when it can be affective.
To love and let go, to hold and let go, to surrender and let go, to control and let go, whatever words you use, is a practice that we need to live innumerable times and understand only through our own experience. It is a reality with awareness.
The Dali Lama said “My religion is kindness.” I believe in this, to love and be kind is my invitation to you this week, as you enter this challenging practice and season. Essentially, we are in relationship with ourselves that is not separate from the rest of the world all around us… as one mother once said…
“Maybe as close relationship can be used either as a place to hide or a practice ground for engaging more deeply, more undefended, with what appears to be outside. Maybe what we are seeking is a deep, open, intimate, and mutually supportive relationship with every aspect of life. Maybe we could start with moving towards one another in this way.” - Sara Burns interview.
Maybe I practice yoga as a journey to become kinder everyday, developing wisdom, perspective and calm and the desire to be kinder, sustains my motivation. Loving and letting go is the fundamental aspect of all our relationships.
As Yoga i-D asks us to look and observe what is around us, I finish by sharing with you the words of the wonderful astrologer Kari Samuels…
Get ready for the rising of the Divine Feminine!
Libra is a relationship-oriented sign. That said, it lends itself toward pleasing others, and being too accommodating at times.
You might think of Libra as the sign of balance, yet it can be one of the easiest to be thrown off balance, due to its tendency to want to make everyone else happy.
This Libra New Moon wants to change all that.
Venus, which is Libra's ruling sign, is currently retrograde in Scorpio. This is not a comfortable placement, and you might be feeling some of the intensity.
Scorpio is the domain of all things hidden, previously taboo. You can see on the world stage how issues of sex, power struggles, and secrets are being brought to light.
During this transit (which lasts until November 16th), you're going to take a deep look at all your relationships - with other people, your money, and all things you value, to discern whether they are benefitting you or not. This is not a time for sentimentality. You might find yourself letting go of who and what you once held dear.
This New Moon is square Pluto - one of Scorpio's ruling planets.
Pluto, you might remember from mythology, is the Lord of the Underworld.
The domain of Pluto and Scorpio are not Libra's typically luxurious realms.
It's time to come to terms with all you've kept in the shadows, so you can live in accordance with your values and live the life you love. You can only do this when you are being true to yourself.
If you find yourself making excuses for someone or something you're doing, when you know deep in your heart it's time to change, pay close attention.
The Universe is asking you to step up and come out of the shadows. Make a change. Be yourself. Live your truth.
Happy New Moon blessings!
Namaste everyone, see you in class! x
TUES PM 19:30-21:00 Matterwholefoods, BS5
WED AM 10:00-11:30 Yogasara, BS6
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YOGA TRAIL IS ON THIS SATURDAY IN BRISTOL - Catch me teaching the Hatha Fusion class at Yogasara at 13.30-14:30