Come home to yourself this Spring .

Spring is here and the sun is teasing us. My body’s emerging sluggish and stiff from a hectic and indulgent winter. With the promise of summer kissing the clouds, bursts of vitality can be dampened by unpredictable weather and impatience. The unexpected recent loss of my much-loved pet rabbit Timmy has left me feeling bruised and scattered. In tandem with Spring optimism I’ve been tending to my sense of ‘home’.

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Unsurprisingly, fresh energy awakened by Spring can make it easy for anyone to burn out, so it’s important not to lose your footing in amongst the excitement. This is especially important for those of us experiencing trauma, loss, or feeling stuck. This blog is about grounding in to the self, and is a note to myself and a memoir to Timmy as much as anyone else. 

Yoga literally means to ‘yoke’ – to unite, or make whole. For me, grounding is the essence of yoga. Modern working culture and lifestyles prioritise development of the higher chakras at the expense of the lower chakras. Chakras are the emotional energy centres of the body. Higher chakras – found in the throat, eyebrow centre, and crown are associated with intellect, planning, communication, ideas, action, and creativity. Neglected lower chakras at the abdomen and root of the spine are associated with safety, security, trust, manifestation of desires, foundations, healthy boundaries, and a sense of ‘home’. This imbalance in our emotional psyche can lead to excessive detachment from the present moment, fear, anxiety and left unchecked – burn out. 

I’m a classic case in point. A sense of ‘home’ is something I’ve struggled with. Most of my twenties involved moving house and running away from something – jobs, courses, situations, relationships. Frequent beginnings and endings. Between the age of 18-30 I called over twenty different places ‘home’. Grounding was not a concept I understood! Eventually I developed severe depression and social anxiety. Eager to disguise it, I stored it in my guts and the pain consumed me. Yoga gradually helped me practice grounding, release, balance and acceptance. It taught me to try life in the slow lane, accept myself, re-learn how to breathe, stop running, grow some roots, and come home. 

To lose our connection to the body is to become spiritually homeless. Without an anchor we float aimlessly, battered by the winds and waves of life.” – Anodea Judith

In many ways, my pet rabbit Timmy was more than just a pet and companion to me. He was a loving anchor. His loss has triggered old feelings of flightiness. The only silver lining is that he’s helping me re-visit my relationship with the transience of life, and my sense of home.

How does practicing yoga bring us home?

One of the most empowering milestones in any yoga practice comes when we realise yoga is not a work out. Yoga is work in. In yogic philosophy the true self (or soul) has sheaths – or cloaks – called Koshas, surrounding it like layers of an onion. Anandamaya kosh – or the bliss body – lies at the core, underneath all the unresolved tensions of our physical, mental and emotional bodies. It is a permanent state of long lasting eternal bliss. This bliss is the true bliss of the soul – the Atman. The regular practice of yoga, meditation or pranayama, helps to resolve and release each layer so we remain closer to the Atman, whatever life throws at us. 

How can it possibly do this? Firstly, the physical practice of yoga allows us to sweat out toxins, release muscle tension, and realign. Secondly, by focusing soft attention on the breath and our bodies, we stay energetically and mentally embodied in the present moment, aware of our internal dialogue, and increasingly able to cleanse it and support ourselves with positive affirmations. Finally, the emotional side of the practice can be an act of surrender, release, acceptance, or working with postures that allow for stimulation or nourishment of the chakras – such as the heart space, root of the spine, or the creative energy locked up in the throat. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve cried on the yoga mat, as deeply held nervous energy has been stimulated. Gently inviting these energies to release is a deeply grounding and therapeutic experience. 

It was when I stopped searching for home within others and lifted the foundations of home within myself I found there were no roots more intimate than those between a mind and body that have decided to be whole.” – Rupi Kaur 

So often our concept of home is bound up in attachments to our immediate environment and loving interactions. Acceptance at the loss of a loved one, pet, relationship, health, career, house, or any significant chapter in your life, can be one of the hardest and most vulnerable things to work with. Yet its lessons ultimately lead to courage, strength, gratitude and a reminder to keep nurturing your own sense of ‘whole’.

Top tips for grounding and feeling more ‘whole’

Below are my top ten suggestions to cultivate a little patience as you come home to yourself this Spring.

  1. Balancing postures – practice holding mountain pose and tree pose for a few minutes. Feel your feet firmly rooted in the ground. Visualise roots extending out through your toes and deep in to the earth beneath you. As your legs grow strong, breathe in to the subtle energy of your chest and abdomen, and feel any nervous energy wash down your back in to the floor behind.
  2. Floor postures – practice letting go in child’s pose or one legged pigeon. Nourish yourself in happy baby, or simply lie on your back and hug your knees.
  3. Meditate – find a comfortable place to sit and be with your thoughts. Try to relax any effort. You can’t still a bath tub of turbulent water, you just have to sit and wait. So it is with ripples of thoughts.
  4. Walk barefoot – do this at home if you can, feeling the earth as you press in to your toes.
  5. Take a bath – with a few drops of lavender oil, and soothing music.
  6. Book yourself a nourishing massage – ask your therapist to focus on your head, lower back, feet, legs, and hands.
  7. Eat warm root vegetables – root vegetables in the form of stews and curries balance excess Vata energy – the flighty air element.
  8. Write yourself a letter – tell yourself what truly makes you happy. Then, tell yourself what you keep doing which doesn’t make you happy. This will help focus long term energy on making changes that matter to you.
  9. Take a mindful walk in nature – listen to the birds, smell the flowers, feel the ground supporting you.
  10. Practice affirmations – pick an affirmation to say quietly to yourself regularly. Positive affirmations for the root chakra include – ‘I am safe’, ‘I am whole and complete exactly as I am’, ‘I am perfectly contained in my body’, ‘I relax as everything unfolds exactly as it is supposed to’, ‘I have a right to be here’.

I’ll leave you with the Sanskrit phrase ‘Tat Tvam Asi’, which means ‘you are that’. You are that which you seek. Your true self is within – it simply needs to be revealed. As the artist Michelangelo said, to make a sculpture all he had to do was simply ‘remove all parts of the stone which were not part of the statue’.

Wishing you peace, nourishment and optimism at this time of growth. Spring is here. It’s a good time to plant seeds. 

Namaste.

white tulips

 

You are not a drop in the ocean.

I had the recent fortune of watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean from the west coast of Sri Lanka. The sun was pink and benevolent, the waves crisp and strong; the water a boundless muscle of infinite might.

I felt humbled as I always do at these moments. The power of nature was staring me in the face and reminding me of my own insignificance.

Sometimes in life my insignificance bothers me. I work for an environmental charity and at times my career feels like an uphill battle against the stupidity of human ignorance. Working day after day on issues like tropical deforestation, plummeting biodiversity, diet-related ill health, and the factory farming of sentient beings, can make you feel powerless – like a drop in the ocean. There’s so much sadness in the world that is out of my control. I probably wouldn’t have continued this line of work if it wasn’t for yoga.

In India they have a prayer called the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra. It’s a nourishing mantra which reminds us of our immortality. In the West the notion of immortality is often misunderstood. Although it’s true that one day my body will cease to receive life, the great ocean of consciousness – which I am part of – will remain. Others will receive life from it after me. This mantra is a prayer to Lord Shiva, the creator and destroyer of all things. Its final verse – ‘urvārukam-iva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya amṛtāt’ – asks that Shiva may sever us from our bondage to worldly life, like a cucumber being severed from bondage to its creeper; and thus liberate us from any fear of death, by reminding us of our immortal nature.

It’s a lesson in non-attachment. Sometimes we are so attached to our worldly pursuits that we suffer. We forget the bigger picture. We forget that we’re part of something so much greater than ourselves. The reality is each of us is just a little cucumber through which the creeper of consciousness experiences itself for a while.

To bring this to life I like to think about all the people who have ever lived and died before me. Their efforts and their part in the world we live in now. I allow myself to feel overwhelmed by the gravity of this. Then I stop thinking about that and I think about how I am here now. Right now. Right now each of us are at a pinnacle of the evolution of consciousness. With every new breath we take, we receive a fresh gift of life. Why is it so easy to forget this? The more we tune back in to this magic, and give thanks to each breath, the more we can detach from worldly troubles. Ultimately this is what meditation is all about.

The more time I spent meditating by the river Ganges in 2017, the more I understood. Up in the Himalayas the roaring sound of the Ganges – snaking and slicing its way through towns and villages – is a backdrop to daily life for millions of people. It’s also where I did my yoga teacher training. The sheer volume of water and relentless sound of the beast, as we chanted this mantra, served a constant reminder that I’m nothing but a witness to forces greater than myself. I soon realised my past is nothing but a story, my future unwritten. The thoughts in my head are just a soundtrack to the dance of life. We are infinitely insignificant. Just fireflies blowing in the wind.

The power in this is transformative. If life is nothing but a gift to be experienced, then for your short time on Earth what kind of life do you want to witness? What will be your attitude to the ever changing currents? How will you dance, and what will be your soundtrack?

These days, when I feel like a drop in the ocean, I tune in to my breath and give thanks for my part in the play. I give thanks that I am here to take part, experience life despite its struggles, that I can share love, joy, peace, and insights and see how things unfold in my lifetime. And that’s the best I can ever do.

As I stood there in Sri Lanka, watching the sinking sun become engulfed by the ocean I was reminded of the great Rumi quote: ‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop’. And I smiled.

Outside nearly every Hindu temple in north India you can find a small table where a man or woman sells flowers and cucumbers.

Namaste.

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