Summer Yoga in the City!

London is a mega city and in all the hustle and bustle the lovely (but sometimes brief) summer time can quickly escape us, especially if we forget to make time to be outside. I’ve been taking every opportunity to practice and teach outside. Without a garden of my own, I feel so lucky to have so many public green spaces in London to practice and teach in.

Whether you have time to actually attend some outdoor yoga classes or even just sit under a tree, have a cup of tea outside, connect with your breath and find some stillness in the great outdoors, every little helps! Being in nature is proven to help us relax and cope with stress. The wonderful thing is that you don’t even need to be in a national park or deep in the wilderness… a little urban green works wonders and can be incredibly healing!

Sometimes I find myself dashing around, always busy, trying to work things out in my head, filling my days and my mind unintentionally. I have to set aside time to stop, breath, meditate, practice asana and just be… Creating this ‘space’ can be easier said than done, but a little taste of the natural world can help you invite space more easily. Step outside, put yourself next to a tree or on the grass, notice the light from the sky and how it plays upon the leaves, watch the clouds, appreciate the beauty found in the little things and be present. To start with just for a couple of breaths, then when you have more time build this up to longer periods, follow the breath… Build noise from the traffic or people around you into your practice. Notice sounds, loud, soft, subtle, constant and acknowledge them, without analysing or judging just let the sounds be a backdrop of your present moment.

I often come back to this, one of my favourite quotes from the Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

“But isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t? It seems fairly obvious to some of us that a lot of scholars need to go outside and sniff around – walk through the grass, talk to the animals. That sort of thing.”

Here is a little of what I’ve been up to over the summer in London. I hope you also manage to enjoy the outdoors even in little snapshots!

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become quite a buzz word and has made it into the mainstream spotlight. Now it is being hailed as an antidote to our full and busy information rich lives. It is practiced by politicians, company CEOs, athletes, in it is Silcon Valley it is being hailed as “the new caffeine” for it’s effectiveness in fuelling creativity and productivity, it is being used now by the NHS and is being taught in many schools. There is a list of benefits that are seemingly endless. Sometimes all the media hype around it just seems to build on this idea that we do mindfulness or meditation to become something more. To quote Radiohead “Fitter, happier, more productive”…. to be better at something, to be more creative, to be more able to carry on rather than just to be, another extension of a society driven by goals. This is not necessarily wrong, perhaps by practicing mindfulness we discover more rather than become more? Does it matter if this is a goal as the benefits we will encounter will be more profound than simply allowing us to have more stamina so we can work and achieve more. This article written by Madeleine Bunting is very thought provoking. I’m still deciding!

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/06/mindfulness-hospitals-schools
I am one of those teaching mindfulness in schools both to students and staff and there is often opportunity for debate around why we do it. I have been teaching it in school for almost 4 years now and find watching the effect is has on others deeply rewarding.
Mindfulness or Meditation
People often ask what is the difference between mindfulness and meditation.

My understanding is mindfulness leads to mediation, but then I’m coming at this from the dicipline of yoga, so perhaps the subtlety is in the translation.
To me, the word mindfulness encapsulates a combination of the 5th and 6th limbs of yoga Pratyahara (turning inward) and Dharana (concentration). Although the other limbs also prepare us for mindfulness and meditation. Meditation is the 7th limb of yoga- Dhyana.
Pratyahara

In pratyahara we turn our attention inward, withdrawing our senses from the external world. This is like taking a step back, observing our inner selves physically, mentally and emotionally more clearly without external distractions.

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Dharana

Now that we have let go of the outside chatter we can start to reign in the internal chatter- the mind. We can do this by focusing on a single thing, be it the breath, a mantra or a physical object. The key is to be kind to ourselves, if the mind wanders (which it will do) gently draw it back to the object of focus, such as the breath. By practicing this eventually we will eventually be led into meditation or “Dhyana” the 7th limb of yoga.
Yoga Journal gives a comprehensive explanation of this-
” We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.”

http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158
Dhyana

Here we are in a state of heightened awareness, the mind is still and has moved on from the single point of focus. The thoughts have stopped and no longer interrupt our state on consciousness. This stage takes much practice of Dharana and may take a long time, but this practice in itself is hugely beneficial.