It’s Blog No.2: Powering on at Power Yoga Company

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Something strange has happened to me. I feel like a door in my brain that has been super-glued shut for the last however long with a giant ‘No Entry’ sign on it has started to creak open. I noticed a difference in myself last Tuesday morning when I opened my eyes with a new feeling, a sort of blurry clarity; something that has felt absent for a lonnng time! Not a hit-you-in-the-face kind, just a subtle shift in perspective. A sense that something had changed inside. I instinctively knew why – I had posted my first blog and it had thrown me a key. Life’s cheeky little game of give and take: ‘give me your fear and you may proceed to the next level’.

I hadn’t written a blog with the intention of writing any more; I wrote it firstly because so many people wanted to know what went down in Thailand on my yoga teacher training course (apologies to anyone expecting a female version of The Hangover II), and secondly just as a memory for myself, really. Taking that leap of faith and hitting ‘publish’, though feeling really bloody scared and vulnerable about opening myself up to whoever was interested enough to read it, has turned out to be a real turning point… And I didn’t die! I don’t feel like a floating panda anymore. I’m a faster-than-average tortoise. There’s movement people.

The urge to write again popped up during a Warrior 2 in a class at the Power Yoga Company in Parsons Green. To jazz up my monotonous Minimum Daily Requirement routine that I’d disciplined myself to practice post-Thailand (consisting of five Surya A’s and B’s, a breathing exercise and fifteen minutes of meditation), I signed up to the ‘£25 for 25 days’ introductory offer –now there’s a bargain if ever there was one! I’m nearly two weeks in now, having gone almost every day, and I’m feeling saturated with knowledge from each of the different teachers. So whilst trying not to think on the mat, I found myself thinking, ‘how am I going to remember all of this?’ I started writing everything down, adding to the tornado of ‘Notes’ on my phone… One thing led to another… And before you know it, there I was in WholeFoods Clapham Junction writing Blog No.2. Hi, I’m Holly, and I’m one of those wifi-hogging hot drink ordering people who sits at their Apple Mac pretending to have a proper job. Winning.

The Power Yoga Company studio itself, set just a five minute walk from Parsons Green tube station, is gorgeous. It feels like an old converted house, it’s light and airy and oh-so toasty in the downstairs ‘Prana’ studio, which is great to begin with but does leave you wondering if you signed up to Bikram at the end. There are candles in the fireplace and it’s all very lovely… Oh and thanks to the fridge opposite the reception desk I’m now a fully-fledged Pollen and Grace cacao products addict. Not eating a bar of Dairy Milk means I’m allowed twenty-seven raw cacao energy balls yeah? Someone help me.

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If you do ever go to PYC, take note, because this is confusing (is it just me?): ‘Level 1’ on the class schedule is an easier class than ‘All Level’, which was confirmed to me not once, but a solid twice, by the lady behind the juice bar. So I was a little huffy and puffy after having booked onto a beginner’s class one Friday evening, until the teacher, a pretty petite blonde, said the following, which came just at the right time:

“Let something go, be it physical or psychological.” – Kim Peacock

Just hearing these words brought my attention to the fact that I was tense, physically and psychologically, and it immediately encouraged me to release. I mentioned in my last blog about how we hold on to things that just don’t serve us. Physically, when we fall, the reason bones break and bruises appear is because we tense up. If we relax and don’t resist we bend and snap back, like elastic bands. A difficult thing to do, because we have been programmed throughout our lives to resist. Psychologically, we’re told that if we push against something, it will go away, when in fact the more you resist and give attention to something you don’t want, the more it expands and hangs around. It’s just a backward way of thinking! I think yoga is a tool which, amongst so many other things, helps us to naturally reprogram our subconscious wires and see that letting go is far more effective and powerful, though it takes a lot of practice.

I found an article online from Donald Altman who puts it really well: ‘Holding onto the breath leads to suffocation. Living requires a constant letting go. This in itself is a powerful lesson in nonattachment. Each breath teaches us that holding on too long to anything creates pain and suffering. Letting go is nature’s way, and this is no small thing.’

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Anyone else not a backbend fan?

“It’s not a backbend, it’s a forward open.” – Christian Coelho

This came from the gorgeous and engaging curly Christian Coelho who helped me to see backbends in a totally new light. I’ve had a problem with my lower back since I was younger when I injured it through dancing (not in Oceana, just in ballet), and I always dread the part in yoga towards the end when we’re given the option to take a full wheel because my attention always goes straight to my back, perhaps as a subconscious way of protecting it. When I focused instead on opening my chest and heart to the sky as suggested by Christian, I felt the pressure in my back release and a real sense of opening through the front – relief! It seems sometimes a shift in perspective is all we need to change a difficult situation… Every situation is in fact the same; it’s the way you perceive it that changes things. Just a little tip I thought I’d share for anyone else who can relate!

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“Don’t be a destination addict. Be happy with where you are.” – Nicole Rowihab

After borrowing this quote from Nicole, the intention I set myself before a class the other day was to ‘be content with where I am right now’. Not to worry about rolling out of a headstand and into the teacher’s ankles. And it turned out to be one of the best classes I’ve ever done! I felt fluid, strong, flexible and just absolutely content inside. It felt like I was being rewarded for allowing myself to just be, without judgment.

So Nicole’s concept really made me think. Whether on or off the mat, us Londoners love a bit of destination addiction don’t we – we’re always trying to get ‘there’, thinking ‘there’ is going to make us happy – be it in a handstand like the person on the mat next to you or getting the next promotion at work. But what happens once you get ‘there’? Where are we actually climbing that ladder to? Then you’re there, but there’s always somewhere else to go! Life is happening right now. NOW. Happiness isn’t a destination; it’s always there inside you, accessible at any time, if you choose it. Letting yourself just be, happy in anticipation of what’s to come, will open the doors.

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It’s not about the aesthetic of the pose, it’s about the activation, and how it feels inside.” – Katarina Rayburn

Now. If you haven’t been to one of Katarina Rayburn’s classes, I would suggest you do so. With immediate effect. I met Katarina for the first time when she covered Marcus Veda’s Rocket class at Yogarise, Peckham, which I was first admittedly a bit gutted about because Marcus’s classes are absolutely epic and I hadn’t found anyone who matched his sky-high standards. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Katarina has an amazing energy, she is eloquent in her knowledge and elegant in her practice, assertive in her adjustments which makes you feel safe and able to progress, she makes time to talk to you… And her six-pack alone I believe deserves a special acknowledgement. Here’s to you, KR’s six-pack. After chatting to her after that class a few months ago, Katarina actually turned out to be the nudge I needed to book my yoga teacher training.

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And she’s right when she says that it’s not about what the pose looks like – it’s all about how it feels to you. Isn’t this true about life – ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’. Simple truths. Be intuitive with your practice – there is no right or wrong way to hold a pose. Get out of the way of yourself and let your body go where it wants to go! Which comes right back to what I said in the beginning about letting go. We’ve gone full circle, which seems like a good place to conclude.

If you haven’t done yoga you won’t know what I’m on about and you will think I am a strange person. Which I will then take as a compliment. But here goes. It sounds crazy, but it feels like yoga is opening all these micro doors in my brain, or maybe they’re channels to truth. Let’s call them Truth Tunnels, I like that. I feel like I’m being let in on the Universe’s secrets, but at the same time knowing that I always had the key. It’s like being whispered these familiar stories that we deep down already know, things that relate to all aspects of life and are all connected to one another. We’re digging for truth using our breath as the spade. But let’s not go too deep now, it’s only Blog No.2.

Namaste x

 

 

 

Turned Upside Down and Inside Out: My Thailand Yoga Teacher Training Experience

 

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I’ve had a lot of people asking me about my yoga teacher training trip to Koh Samui, Thailand, so I thought I’d put it into words for y’all.

Where do I start?! I haven’t written anything longer than my passport ID number since my English degree so I’m not going to try and make this all fancy – one huge thing I learnt out there was to be as close to your authentic self as possible, and not to try and be someone you’re not, because you’ll never end up where you want to be. In the words of Oscar Wild: ‘Be yourself, because everyone else is taken’. Ok too fancy. Sounds obvious, but so often we get wrapped up and wound up in trying to fit some kind of mould, more concerned about what others think than what feels right inside, and sometimes we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. This was me before I left. Daily plaguing questions inc: what shall I tell people I do when they ask me? When is everything going to become clear? What the hell am I actually doing with my life? Post-Thailand questions:

…….

Ahh that’s better.

I’m not saying I have all the answers now; far from it! I’ve just learnt to be absolutely okay, even happy, with not having any. January 2016 has been a life-changing month, and its true effects only crept up on me in the days after I came home. I’m seeing so many things differently now, and it’s all thanks to following my gut, which, as it turns out, is a team player!

I booked the course on a whim, two days before Christmas, staying true to my impulsive nature. The thing that scared me most was the vision of face-planting in the midst of twenty-nine yoga ninja turtles, one of which I definitely was not (I haven’t been practicing very long), and worse than that, yoga ninja turtles who were all swimming strong in the current of life, knowing exactly where they were heading with speed and clarity. This yoga panda right here just seemed to be floating about somewhere with its head bobbing just above the water, staring out to an endless sea without any sense of direction. Or at least that’s how it’s felt for the last God-knows how long. Thankfully it turned out quite a few were in the same boat! A few had even quit their jobs, or were thinking about it, wanting to escape the rat race, with no real plans past the course’s horizon. One thing I’d made sure of before I left though was that I wasn’t going to Thailand to escape myself; I was going there to face myself.

So let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start. At 11am on New Years Day, most likely still a little gin-intoxicated from the night before (I don’t know what part of me decided it would be a good idea to go anywhere near the South Bank when I had to be up at 6am), I was on a flight to Thailand. I felt scared but empowered! It definitely felt right.

There’s nothing like the feeling of getting off the plane in a hot country and breathing in that holiday air. It just smells different. Transitioning from the airport to my basic but cockroach-free hotel was surprisingly smooth; I was half expecting people to come up to me and ask me where my mummy was… But I arrived in one piece, minus a suitcase that was lost in the air somewhere on another plane. I spent some time in Chaweng looking round the shops, walking bare foot in the sea and sitting down to a Pad Thai and a strawberry shake at a beach café. On paper, it sounds perfect! But I felt seriously lonely looking out at that massive fearless expanse of water. One of the struggles I’d been facing over the last few months is knowing that I have so much to be grateful for, and yet still feeling unhappy… It just leaves me with a massive sense of guilt. I’m constantly being told I’m too hard on myself, which I know is true. Those who are close to me know I’ve been having a tough time moving on from a difficult break up back in September, and nearly four months after, here I was, still beating myself up for not bouncing back quickly enough from it. Sadness, once a foreigner, had become a daily resident inside of me, which terrified me. I never considered that it might actually be a necessary stepping-stone in the right direction rather than a setback. I had no idea at this point how much I was about to learn.

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The following day, after treating myself to the most epic lie-in (by this time pretty bored of my own company), I wondered across the road to the Vikasa resort; a little piece of paradise with breath-taking views of the blue-green sea and homemade raw cacao energy balls to die for! The first people I bumped into from the course were Kat, a colourful bubble of energy and Zoe, a gentle sweetheart, both from London. We decided to do a Yin yoga class in a beautiful white shala overlooking the ocean, which increased my happiness tenfold. The class was slow-paced, calming, and focused upon the idea of ‘allowing not making, surrendering not doing’ – of letting go. This is a concept that really spoke to me, in many ways. It’s funny how we hold on to things, beliefs, words, that don’t serve or help us, when in letting them go we release that resistance and just allow life to flow. We need to just get out of the way of ourselves! Easier said that done sometimes, but another thing I’m working on.

The daily schedule looked like this:

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My alarm woke me up at 4:30am every day (why is this not illegal?), and each morning as I made my way across the road in the pitch black, I’d make a point of looking up at the stars that always seem so much brighter on the other side of the world, to say thank you for my life. Gratitude is something I’ve always practiced instinctively since I was young, but I’ve more recently learnt for a fact that being in a state of gratitude means you cannot be in fear, and that it’s most powerful during times when you feel the least grateful. (E.g. when you’re not in bed at 4:30 in the morning.) It opens you up to receiving the things you want. I’d have to use my phone torch to get me down the gazillion fights of stairs alive, but the view at the bottom of the moon reflecting down onto the infinity pool made it a worthwhile journey every time.

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Meditation would begin in a shala by the sea bang on 5:30am, signaled by a chime. Sitting still for half an hour sounds relatively simple, but leg numbness, waves crashing against rocks, racing thoughts vs falling back into sleep all accompanied by the War of the Mosquitoes made meditation a challenge 99% of the time. We would crack up every time when Yo Yo from Hong Kong, one of the most adorable and entertaining people I’ve ever come across, would come in looking like Joseph and the Techni-colour dream coat wearing every item of her clothing including scarf and gloves to protect herself against being bitten. There were the odd wonderful occasions where I was able to shush my thoughts completely and would enter into a state of pure bliss, with energy buzzing up through my entire body. Holding onto that feeling when you are lucky enough to have it is tricky! But there are no shortcuts, just patience and practice. Apparently most people find meditation easier in the morning when their brains are less cluttered with information from the day, but I’m in the minority and prefer it just before I go to bed, which is when I feel most at peace. Either way, it’s good practice to try and do it at the same time each day. I’ve been practicing it for almost a year now and I can feel it changing my life in ways that are difficult to explain – all I can do is strongly suggest introducing it into your life. It might not feel like you’re doing much, but those 15 minutes a day of sitting still and quiet are more powerful than you think. It’s the path to realising you are more than just a body and a mind, and connecting with your true self which is often trampled on by the ego/your mind/those thoughts in your head that you believe are you. They’re not. An example I love is goosebumps. Goosebumps are the real you coming to the surface to say hi. When something gives you goosebumps, pay attention.

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Catching a few more cheeky zzz’s before the 5:30am meditation chime

Meditation would then be followed by a two and a half hour intensive Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga session, covering the full primary series; a series of asanas (poses) designed to heal the body, release toxins, and unite mind, body and soul. As I still considered myself to be fairly new to yoga, I didn’t realise the importance of the breath throughout the practice – how it links to each movement, helps to create heat in the body, moves energy through you and brings you into a state of moving meditation. Powerful stuff. Physically, the practice was challenging – one day, a beautiful soul called Rachel whose face reminded me of the moon (she did actually happen to be a bit of a yoga ninja and a daily inspiration to watch) counted we’d done 400 Chaturganas in total (effectively lowering from a high to low plank)! Every morning we woke up in near-agony, which did become frustrating when you wanted to give it your all. But watching the sunrise over the sea when hanging upside down in a Prasarita made every ache and bruise worthwhile.

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The most popular lectures were on the subject of the chakras (which I am now officially obsessed with): the seven energy points or wheels in your body that align your spine, starting from the root (located at the base) all the way up to the crown (top of the head). Each chakra corresponds to different nerves, major organs and emotional states of being. If one or some of our chakras are blocked, and energy cannot flow, this can manifest into physical illness, or even on an emotional level, into something like feeling stuck in life. We want our chakras to be open. I’m going to talk a little bit here about the third chakra because this one affected me the most. Otherwise known as the Manipura, this chakra (located in your upper abdomen just below your ribs) is linked to ego identity, personal power and assertiveness. You’re familiar with the expressions ‘fire in my belly’, ‘butterflies in my stomach’, ‘gut feeling’, etc? This is the chakra that is responsible for these feelings. After a group meditation that focused on opening the Manipura, I experienced a flashback to when I was younger and was obsessed with learning how to wolf whistle. I would practice and practice it, relentlessly, until I nailed it; this was how I was, with everything. I was hit with a sudden awareness that that determination had been lost somewhere growing up, which led me to speculate that my Manipura chakra must’ve become blocked somewhere along the line, whether that be through social conditioning or a toxic relationship or something else. Where had my self-belief gone? It wasn’t until I was practicing handstands over and over again in my spare time later that afternoon, sweat dripping into my eyes and heart near-exploding out of my chest, that I stopped and realized I’d been reunited with that old fire in my belly. The meditation had awakened something powerful. Enter the chakra obsession.

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I can’t speak highly enough of our teachers, Jamie and Dulce, who met each other through yoga in San Francisco a few years ago, and have shared their wisdom with thousands of students all over the world. It was honestly a pleasure to be around them, to learn so much from them and to absorb their infectious passion for yoga. What was so amazing was that they created an environment where it was acceptable and actually completely normal to have days where you wanted to scream or cry or throw blockies across the room at someone’s head. (No one did this fortunately). There were times when I had to go back to my room to cry into my pillow and return with red eyes, but like I said, I came here to face myself, my internal struggles and past emotions I’d never properly dealt with, and although it hurt, I learnt that it was okay. This was such a big turning point for me – someone who has always needed to be happy and has always rejected any feelings of sadness or anger, labeling them as ‘negative’. Someone very special once told me not to judge anything as positive or negative, and I never really understood what that meant until recently… Now I’ve learned to stare all of my emotions in the face, sit with them, acknowledge them, and embrace them as equals – I’m trying to let go of thinking that one is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another. I believe they’re all necessary for something. Then when you’re ready, it’s easier to release the ones that don’t serve you anymore, and they don’t stay stored inside you waiting to surface unexpectedly. Hello breakthrough!

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Dulce and Jamie

 

The course was hard work, it was intense, and there were as many down days as there were up. But it was exactly what I’d needed, and experiencing it alongside such an amazing bunch of like-minded, lovely people was a massive bonus. I could go on forever about all the things I learnt, but that would take roughly about twenty-five days..! Although I know I’m just at the start of a very special journey, I can already feel the power of yoga and the effects its had on me, and it is my intention to help spread the word with the ethos that there’s no race or competition – we’re all in this together, aiming for Enlightenment whether we know it or not, and Yoga is a vehicle which takes us inside ourselves to connect with the knowing that everything we’re seeking out there is already within us. But there are no shortcuts to anything worthwhile. You can’t become a yoga master overnight; face-plants are a very essential part of the journey. It shouldn’t be about how well you can transition from Eka Pada Koundinyasana into a chin stand, just as life shouldn’t be about the destination – it’s always about the journey. Enjoy every step, embrace every emotion and get up after every fall. If teacher training is something you’ve been thinking of doing, or even just going to your first ever yoga class, I hope you now feel inspired to take that leap of faith on yourself and do it! There will never be the ‘perfect time’ – you just have to follow your instincts. And if you’re scared about the yoga ninja turtles, I discovered that these are a rare breed, because everyone has fears, resistance and doubt… But there’s more to life than sitting in your harbour being a floating ship. A wise fish once said, ‘just keep swimming’, and see where it takes you.

I think my family are relieved that I’m no longer the worrying anxious mess that I have been the last few months. My Mum has noticed the new sense of calm in me, and a few days ago asked ‘do you feel ready to face the world now?’. The answer is still no! But this time it’s because I don’t think there’s any ‘facing’ to do. I reckon the Universe is on my side, and always has been.

Namaste x

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