Last weekend I had the pleasure and the privilege of hosting my second ½ day Yoga Workshop with the lovely Sharon. This time we focused on the Power of the Sun and the Elements within and around us.
Yoga is about unity, about connection, about literally stopping and smelling the roses. One way in which we explore connection in Yoga is by stripping it all down (not literally, well, not in my classes) and focusing on what we truly are. So, for example, have you ever considered that our bodies represent the five elements?
- Earth – our bones, muscles, and connective tissue;
- Water – our blood, our lymph. Our bodies are 75% water. We are held and born from water in our Mother’s womb;
- Fire – our spirit, our digestive system which transforms our food and our emotions within us;
- Air – our breath;
- Ether – the space between our cells and our internal organs.
In Akhanda yoga (traditional Hatha Yoga), we focus on connecting postures and movement to the breath. And when we slow down and do that, we realise that all of us have the same tidal flow of the breath within us, and that each and every living being (human or animal) does too. Fundamentally, we also all share the same aim – to find permanent happiness. It’s why my dog likes to be walked and cuddled. It’s why I like to be walked and cuddled. It’s why people work themselves into the ground (or the Doctor’s surgery) as they try to better themselves or improve things for their families, striving for more and more. It’s why I became a lawyer, it’s why I put up with bad behaviour from poor managers, it’s why I ran half marathons and it’s why I began to suffer.
Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may have seen my slightly emotional post after the Workshop (and after a half pint – seriously my tolerance is poor these days!) but I was truly touched by the wonderful people who came to share their time and interest in Yoga with Sharon and I. On Sunday evening I went to bed exhausted and overjoyed. That positive feeling I had, and which I shared with others on Sunday is just one example of the connection which Yoga can bring within us and between us.
I also experienced a personal yoga highlight during the Workshop as not only did I get a room full of people to chant OM in my Akhanda Yoga class, they also indulged in chanting the Gayatri Mantra (the mantra of the Sun) as part of a guided meditation seminar! It was a total delight to hear the unashamed voices singing loudly and proudly and it took me back to India, to the home of my heart and soul.
As I explained to the group on Sunday, chanting is one of the most derided and undervalued aspects of a balanced Yoga practice. Sadly, I have even seen other teachers dismissing it on social media which only helps to compound the negativity surrounding chanting and the true traditional practice of Yoga.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it seems weird. There were moments in the Ashram in India where I laughed out loud to myself about how people at home would look on in horror (and possibly concern) as I danced around and chanted ‘Hare Krishna’ and ‘Shiva, Shiva, Shamboa’ at the top of my lungs – not just because I’m not the most tuneful of singer! (My mum recalls that when she came to a school Christmas show she heard me singing from the bottom of my boots before she even saw me!).
I know that it feels odd and uncomfortable to sit in a room full of strangers and chant OM, never mind a whole verse of the Gayatri mantra. And I also know that most people come to Yoga for Savasana – the lie down at the end! I was one of those people. So the fact that I now sit in front of a room full of people every day and chant OM does quite frankly astound me. (Sometimes students do literally laugh in my face!) And then to have a room full of people singing the Gayatri mantra on my cueing, on a Sunday, in Southport, a small seaside town in the North of England! Well, it rendered me speechless and proud. It took guts for me to sit on a stage and sing the Gayatri mantra, and it took guts for those sitting before me to sing back. I had a plan B should it all go wrong but those brilliant people on Sunday truly made my day.
I believe that Yoga is inclusive and that my ‘job’ is to offer a variety of Yoga tools for people to try, not have forced down their throat. So it is for that reason that I do not encourage my students to chant more than OM at the start and end of my regular weekly classes. A 4 hour Yoga Workshop however, is the perfect opportunity to explore Yoga more deeply and try out some of the less used, less known and less comfortable practices.
Chanting is just like singing, but without the need to hit the high note, or the drama of finding your inner Adele or Mariah. It releases endorphins so it will boost your mood and the vibrations from chanting help to balance the energy within the body. Chanting OM in a room full of strangers helps you take the stick out of your own arse, it helps you connect to the present moment, and connect your body and mind to the sound of the mantra. (You can read more about OM and how chanting has helped me change in The Power of OM.) And that’s the start of any transformation, letting go of your ego, the worry of what other people think and just giving something a go.
So how do you find permanent happiness? From my experience so far, the answer appears to lie in slowing down, and finding a connection to my body, finding a connection to life and that came to me through Yoga and Meditation. I had to break first though, and I had to want to change, to surrender all that I had in my life (the good and the bad) and accept that it wasn’t working for me. The hardest part so far has been leaving behind my friends in London, my life in London and accepting that I had to if I wanted to feel happier in myself. Change is scary. It’s hard. But so far, I can tell you it’s definitely worth it.
Om Shanti… Shanti… Shanteeeeeeeee….(Go on, just try it).
See our latest reviews of Sunday’s Yoga Workshop here!