Yin yang yoga with Simon Low – A week at Huzur Vadisi

I heard about the yoga retreat with Simon Low four days before it began.

Moments later I was on Skyscanner, fingers crossed in the hope that the scanner of the sky would see fit for me to fly to Turkey in just four days time.

Taking flight - leaving Newcastle for Turkey

Taking flight – leaving Newcastle for Turkey

Although I wasn’t necessarily looking for a yoga holiday, I was looking to practice with a high-level teacher. Simon’s name had reached my eyes and ears enough times – with enough positive commentary attached – to feel it was time to experience his teaching first hand.

The fact that this involved a holiday in Turkey was a welcome bonus. CFS symptoms had started to creep back into my daily life and it was once again becoming a condition to manage rather than a thing of the past. It was time to reconnect. [click to continue…]

Remind me why I practise yoga?!

yoga on the beach in goa

Yoga in Goa

People practise yoga for their own reasons and there are many. At the start of a yoga course or retreat, the teacher normally asks you what your reasons are – what you hope to gain, what would make a difference to you in your life.

For some people the aim is ‘the truth’, ‘enlightenment’, for some people the aim is ‘a nice butt’. For most the motivation is a mix of reasons somewhere between those two extremes and the reasons are ever-changing, ever-growing. But in a whole world of yoga, it can be easy to lose yourself to what other people are selling, rather than staying true to what you want out of your practice.

Yoga for me has never been about sculpting my body (although of course I would graciously accept a butt lift as a side effect of my practice, let’s not be churlish here) but at times I have lost focus as to what yoga really means to me and why I am doing it at all.

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Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 3: the course

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Deconstructing a downward dog – teacher training with Surinder Singh

Looking for Surinder’s contact details? Now he can be found at www.swastiyoga.com

Missed part 1 or 2? read them here:
Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 1: Rishikesh
Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 2: Opening ceremony

Morning practice

We began each day at 6am. Sleepily entering the yoga hall, unrolling our mats and slowly stretching awake – or stealing a few more moments sleep under a blanket in a pretend shavasana.

Surinder would enter, prepare and pray as we came to sit, ready to begin the class. The morning class was for our own practice. It was one of my favourite times of day, knowing you wouldn’t be called upon to demonstrate a pose or to have the magic of the silence broken with a lengthy discussion on the finer points of a pose. It was a time to go deeper into the practice and learn alignment from the inside out.

It was 2 hours of yoga and pranayama, challenging but not exhausting. We’d work through a few rounds of sun salutations, going quite slowly, holding poses long enough for Surinder to check our alignment and give individual adjustments. He’d achieve this task at miracle speed, his experience and sharp eye meaning he could quickly hone in on what we most needed.

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Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 2: Opening ceremony

yoga-teacher-training-puja

Preparing for the fire ceremony

Missed part 1? read it here:

Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 1: Rishikesh

We were sitting on our mats in the yoga hall, a little apprehensive, not knowing what was going to happen.

We needed to get used to this whole not knowing thing. The schedule was a mythical document for the first few days and we discovered what was going to be happening right before it happened. I think in part this was to help wean our Western minds off the obsessive need to know / schedule / plan / control what was going to be happening in every moment… but it was also probably partly because Surinder himself didn’t know yet.

I looked round the spartan room at the people I’d be spending the next month with. I was feeling a bit nervous, listening to conversations breaking out here and there, expectation in the air. [click to continue…]

Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part I: Rishikesh

Yoga by the Ganges, Rishikesh

Yoga by the Ganges, Rishikesh

Booking yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh was the first challenge.

I was aware that organisation and email communication were not his strong points. Although he is an ex-engineer, when it comes to planning and organisation, he is more cave yogi than yogipreneur.

Booking yoga teacher training is no small thing and I was anxious to make sure I had a place. Over the course of a couple of weeks I bombarded him to no avail.

It turned out he’d been away teaching in Russia and couldn’t respond until he was back in India. His response to my request to study with him was a simple: ‘You’re most welcome ji’.

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Back to school with the Dalai Lama

monks-mcleod-ganj

…we’re off to see the Dalai Lama, the wonderful Dalai Lama of Tibet

Our Dalai Lama experience started with waiting in a queue for three hours. Because of the policy of letting Tibetans and monks go first, the queue grew in the middle and not the end and we ended up being further and further away from the front. After an hour of waiting it seemed that we had longer to wait than when we arrived.

Luckily we discovered that there was a special office for queue-weary foreigners and we found our way into the inner sanctum of His Holiness’ Security and Passport office. That makes it sound secretive and luxurious but it was neither of those things. The room was full of dusty files and little else. Foreigners were baying at the stereotypically inefficient officials behind the desk, thrusting their passports forward, hoping to get seen next. Even the queue-loving English had become incapable of queuing by this stage.

A framed photo of the Dalai Lama with the advice to ‘Never Give Up’ was hanging on the wall. I suspect he probably didn’t have our plight in his office in mind but of course we had no intention of giving up. Studying Buddhism, learning about Tibet, interacting with Tibetan refugees and learning about the Dalai Lama’s work had made my interest in and respect for him even stronger. Besides, having been in Buddhist parts of India for a couple of months that smiling man’s face had been a constant companion, in every cafe, guesthouse, restaurant and office, and everyone seems to have a Dalai Lama story to tell.

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Getting sane at Tushita Buddhist Meditation Centre

 

Meditation cushion carnage

Meditation cushion carnage, about as tidy as our minds

Walking along the path to Tushita Meditation Centre, I walked past the ‘silence please’ sign feeling the usual first-day-at-school nerves. This wasn’t my first silent retreat but you never quite know what to expect when entering the murky depths of your own mind. A touch of trepidation is probably wise.

An introductory course had started the day before and a girl with a desperate look in her eyes sidled up to me. Her eyes scanned the courtyard furtively whilst she whispered to ask if she could use my phone to message her mum. She’d forgotten to tell her she’d be out of contact for ten days.

Moments later I was joined on a bench overlooking the beautiful pine forest by a good-looking guy with a cheeky grin. He sat unusually close and reached into his bag for pen and paper. Here we go, I thought. He scrawled the words ‘do you have toilet paper?’ and raised his eyebrows in hope.

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Surinder Singh – Yoga in Rishikesh

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Surinder Singh’s yoga class in peak season

I first found my way into Surinder Singh’s class in 2012 at the Rajdeep Hotel in Rishikesh, India. Somehow I had ended up at the front of the class and he was directly in front of me as we started the sun salutations.

Lifting my arms up over my head on the inhale, I was aware of him smiling at me. His eyes were kind with a cheeky twinkle of amusement. I wasn’t sure what was so funny at the time but I can guess that my eyes were wide with a ‘I probably shouldn’t be here’ expression.

It was a tough first class. Really tough. I still had CFS fatigue. I was weak. My arms shook in downward facing dog. My heart thumped throughout the sun salutations. I struggled to balance. I struggled to breathe. Sweat was on free flow and I was surrounded by sickeningly proficient yogis, victoriously flowing through their practice. [click to continue…]

Yoga that restores – lessons from Iyengar & Matthew Sanford

Rooftop Kathmandu

Rooftop Kathmandu

My first experience with Iyengar yoga was in a restorative class in Kathmandu. The city, with its constant rush and swirl of activity, calls for a restorative class from time to time.

The teacher instructed us to move into child’s pose, balasana. It was a moment of complete relaxation, a chance to let my shoulders roll blissfully forward, stretching out my back and neck from any of the tension that had built up there. My stomach was gently compressed and I could feel the breath in my back in a gentle releasing massage. I could have slept quite happily there, rolling peacefully in the waves of my breath. I moved further into the sensation, my mind slowly waking up to my body. [click to continue…]