Injuries, a burden or a gift?

Yoga Practice

Recently after an emotional conversation I fell asleep in a tiny curled up position. During sleep I managed to pop a rib head out of its snug home by my spine. Unbeknown to me I woke up and felt that my breastbone was quite tight and uncomfortable. I wanted to open my chest so I stretched out into a gentle back bend and CRACK! A huge noise, followed by a surge of pain on my heart and a sudden inability to breathe took me. I lay on my back for one hour or so, feeling very sore and scared. I breathed gently and reminded myself that ‘I was held by the ground and everything would be fine’. In time I relaxed and was able to move. To cut a long story short I went to an amazing osteopath who popped the rib head back into place. And explained to me that due to the way the rib bends around making the rib cage, when it dislodged at the back it twisted the whole bone around and pressed heavily on my breastbone. When I did my little back bend I cracked a little the cartilage attaching the rib bone at the front to the breast pate. Resulting in a lot of pain.
This injury became physically and more so symbolically of great interest to me. As like most things the symptom is not the root cause of the issue. In this case I felt my breastbone but it was the back head of my rib that was the out of place.
In classes of often highlight to students that we are more aware of our front body and the space in front of us. Yet we lack awareness of our back body and the space behind us. Much like our inner world we see what is comfortably in focus but huge amounts of our being lie hidden in the unconscious out of sight. The more we practice the more we become aware of that which is hidden. The more sight we have of how we are, then the more we have choice of how we want to be. As C.G Jung puts it “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Through this injury over the following months I had to be very careful, I had to listen 150% to what was ok and what was not ok to do in every simple task. No short cuts, no laziness, no cheating if I put one movement a hairline wrong, I was back off the mat and in the pain of my body. This was at times so frustrating. I was initially unable to do 80% of my usual range of movements and asana practice. I had to modify my practice so drastically to not create more pain and problems; I started to think I shouldn’t practice at all, because it was damaging me. So I stopped my asana and well for me life without my practice is like a car without a steering wheel. So I dropped momentarily into the insane, manic and stressed part of my oh so human self.
Somehow in my chaos I found the breath and was able to step back. I remembered the words of a great teacher Susannah Darling khan “use what you have and it, will, grow!” So out rolled my mat and down I lay on my back making tiny sensitive movements, with deep breaths and lots of acceptance. Over the following weeks this practice grew and with a whole new strength of its own. I really grew out of the ground, rooted deeply in the support it offers. And as my practice came back to its full power I noticed that now I moved with greater integrity. My quality of presence in the asana practice leaped forward touching on pure states of focused attention (deep meditation).

It seemed so clear that my physical body was a responsive map of my emotional body, my psyche and my environment. In the 1st instance when I fell asleep after that emotional conversation my body responded by erupting at the back of my heart. I had refused to deal with this unconscious, unexamined emotional baggage one to many times and my body kindly decided ‘not again, the time is now, you deal with this’ It stopped me in my tracks and screamed for me to look at my load. I moved through pain, to denial back to pain and to frustration. Then finally I found the courage to Stop, Look and See myself. My weak upper body, my cracked breast bone, my sore heart, my emotional fragility, my anger and grief. Then and only then could I move into acceptance. From acceptance I could choose. I chose active repetition, which in this case for me was gentle asana and mantra. I transformed that which was pain and rubbished into an integrated power and strength.

I share this story because I know that often injury can inhibit us and put us off things. It can shrink our world, because of the fear it brings up in us. For me this injury had the possibility to really make me blame my yoga practice. Stories like ‘yoga has made me to flexible or put to much strain on my upper body resulting in this pain’. I could have repeated this story and stopped practicing. However I choose to accept the challenge with out giving up. Then my injury, my pain, my burden became the greatest yoga teacher I could ever wished for. It has been the best gift of 2013 so far. And it’s led me to a more expansive world on and off the mat.

Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

Just Stay

Yoga Practice

Often i see students enter a posture and experience aversion, discomfort, intensity.  My personal practice demonstrates this too me as well. Especially when the body is tight or entering a deep posture. Its Natural that we feel this intensity and want to run away, or give up, or blast through it. The nervous systems programmed responses are for fight or flight. To push or to give up.

We might flight in Paschimottanasana by distracting ourselves with thoughts, by looking around the room, by exiting the posture with a huff, by complaining that its not a good idea.

We might fight in Paschimottanasana by tightening our grip, telling our mind off for not being empty, by berating ourselves for our stiff hamstrings and bad posture, by ignoring the bodies discomfort and shoving the legs into the shape we want them to be in irrelevant of there needs.

these 2 options fight or flight. Are so much easier than to simply accept and stay. Partly because it is not s built in automatic response so we have to actively choose this response.  This requires awareness and will.

The capacity to Just Stay is what the Yoga Asana and self awareness practice invites of us. Yoga invites us not to fight and battle our nature. Not tell off or discipline our mind, body, heart, subconscious, attentiveness. Not to give up each time an obstacle arises and change to an easier practice. Not to simply scream mantras internally so loud that they block everything else out. No. Yoga says Don’t fight, Don’t Flee. Just Stay, HERE, in each passing moment, with each passing feeling and thought and sensation. It’s and invitation to sit and face our-self. To see our-self. In all our beauty and all our challenge.

This modern Tosh about always being Happy is ridiculous. And its is an unexamined assumption that puts an undue strain of expectation on us. Making it a bigger failure when we are not Happy all the time. We are not here on earth to simply feel all the good, happy and pleasurable things. And anyone brave enough to face life and them-self knows, that, at times, life is a hard struggle. Inside and out. Individually and with all our relations.

And like a healthy long lasting relationship with another, our relationship to our-self is fraught with hard times. If in your intimate relationship, every time the going gets tough you decided to either fight or flee the relationship would fall apart. I can call on many moments in my beautiful relationship with my partner where i have been at the end of the cliff, emotional, confused and feeling the weight of all our stuff. And in that moment, like in a difficult Asana or Self realisation I say to my self

“it’s Hard, I’m Struggling And I’m Staying”

Doing this is an act of accepting, allowing and committing. And it is what the Yoga Path asks of us. How ever we are, what ever we bring, is our opportunity, our invitation for creation. If we can Accept it as it is, Allow ourselves to feel this acceptance, and commit to staying with it.

So when the going get tough on and off the mat. Try this for yourself:

“Don’t Fight, Don’t Run, Just Stay”

“It’s hard, I’m struggling, I’m staying”


Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015


Teaching Yoga

Release and acceptance are vital for change to happen, In our modern society we are utterly fixated by the need for growth and expansion. So obsessed that we have forgotten the other half of life’s perfect circle. Autumn, the fall were everything is released and that energy goes back to the earth to re-energise and fertilise ready for the next spring to come.

Release is so important in yoga and life. It is to surrender, to stop trying, to allow, to receive, to let go, to give freedom to what is imprisoned, to set free, and to return.

It is here in deep states of release that we receive true inspiration, and it is this inspiration that feeds our ambition to change.


Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

Perfect yoga body

Womens HealthYoga Practice

I’m regularly aware of the possibility that the yoga practice could become yet another fascist reinforcing method for perfection with disregard for the natural beauty of that which is.
Our practice could teach us to love and accept ourselves, but often we accidentally fall into a practice on and off the mat that beats and whips our fat, ugly, stiff, not-good-enough bodies into the model shape we need to be of value to ourselves and to society.
I did a yoga photo shoot last week and it brought up so much emotion, conflict and thought for me on this topic.

26-year-old, 8.4 stone, healthy, athletic, beautiful young woman. And the night before the shoot I nearly cancelled in fear that I was not thin, worthy, able, good, beautiful, or skilled enough to do it. Without the support of my partner Gabriel and my own compulsion to face anything that scares me, I would not have managed to keep it together and show up.
That night, my mind threw up a whole catalogue of fears:
What do I wear, I’m not fashionable enough, which posture should I do, I’m not strong enough, I’m not flexible enough, how should I do my hair, should I shave my wild underarms, should I eat breakfast, will I be perfect enough, will Yoga GPS like it, use it, why am I even a part of this, they’ve asked the wrong person, I’m an impostor?
All these fears boiled down to = my lack of self-value.

My own inner critic that is not yet fully integrated as an ally is still the destroyer in my life. This is a deep, old inner story “that I am not enough, that I am not welcome, that I am lacking”. This is a personal story and it is a wide cultural disease. We are sold this global story constantly so as to create the need for consumption. It is the most damaging limb of the modern mind. And it is a bugger to re-write. Our yoga practice should provide a nurturing space to help us re-write this, not reinforce it. But when we are surrounded by hot, sexy yoga and constant images of the perfect photo-shopped yoga posture, how can we not bully ourselves to be something better?

I long for a yoga idol that is as integrally-flawed as we all are. Someone who is bare and courageous enough to own their imperfections as a mark of wholeness and union. I hope if one appears, I can accept them as wonderful and not reject their authenticity as failure. I hope that I can be this for myself and for all my relations too. And I intend to create a practice for myself and for those students of yoga who come to me that is about whole acceptance and integration of the self.

My baby step towards this aim is that this week, in all my classes and my own self practices, I am going to bring awareness to the pleasure of being in a human body, and the bliss of movement and breath. The simple joy of exploring different physical shapes and a huge serving of gratitude for the beautiful gift of the body I have and that every human has.

Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

Trust and yoga

Yoga Practice

If you do not trust your own heart and your own true self (purusha) then how will you ever trust another. People are made of many parts. And I wonder if you ever trust someone wholly, in all aspects. Sometimes I even wonder if it is wise to trust someone wholly.

More often than not we trust only an aspect of a person. For example ‘I trust Dr.Wilson’s opinion on my blood pressure but She knows nothing about relationships’ or ‘Tim is trustworthy and I tell him all my secrets but I wouldn’t leave my dog with him over the weekend’ or  ‘I trust my meditation teacher to help me find inner quietness, I wouldn’t trust their help of choosing a school/education for my child’ ‘I trust my husband, except when he is in that mood’ and so on.

In this case we trust a person to the extent we feel our critical mind and our little ‘I’ can protect us from falling victim of another’s weakness, misconception (avidya) or flaw. Where is the space then, to open our heart up to another human being.

At times we are all aware of our own flaws, weaknesses and confusions. Our own Ignorance or Avidya. Because we know this in ourselves we can see it in each other. And this creates a lack of trust in the other because we know they are human just like us and capable of doing wrong, or doing harm.

Because we see weakness in ourselves. We see weakness in others. These weaknesses create distrust. Using this analogy one could say we distrust others because 1st we distrust ourselves. So how do we build a self trust?

Yoga suggests that to come into union with yourself 5 obstacles stand in your way. The 5 Kleshas are obstacles, or afflictions of the mind, that hold us back from seeing the true nature of our being. They are:

  1. Avidya – Ignorance of the truth of what we are.
  2. Asmita – the ego – an identification with the small ‘i’ or me. Creating an innate Fear of change.
  3. Raga – the habituated desire for pleasure or pleasant experiences.
  4. Dwesha – the habituated aversion to pain or unpleasantness.
  5. Abhinivesha – the fear of death; attached desire for life to continue as it is.

Yoga suggests that liberation from Avidya (Ignorance) is the result of the disassociation or separation of the seer and the seen. To become aware of what is true and discriminate what is not true in each passing moment. By true I mean that which is constant and unchanging like the energy of life that moves through everything always. This constant source is the unchanging truth or life. The many colours and forms and cycles it takes are just passing expressions of it. As in a human the constancy of life is there in breath and consciousness and heart of the person. Like someone you know really well, you see into them no matter what front they put on and you see their core, their truth. The many emotions, and ideas, relationships, masked performances are just passing expressions of the source.

Here Yoga teaches that the continuous practice of discrimination is a means of attaining liberation. To find a strong clear yang energy within yourself, that can discriminate what is beneficial to all life and what is not. The proposed result is: changes of thought, speech and action that manifest in our individual and collective Life. Yoga does not suggest this level of clarity and positive discrimination is easy to attain. Rather it will most likely be a long and challenging road. A steady wisdom will manifest in time if a continuo’s practice of the 8 limbs of yoga are applied. And this light of lived knowledge will in time reveal the faculty of discrimination.

The limbs of Union are: applied self-restraint in actions, fixed observance, physical practice of postures, connection and co-creation of life energy/breath/prana, sensory awareness and mind-control, concentration, meditation, and enlightenment.

The systemtised practice of yoga as shown from above is a tool, to guide you closer to yourself. Yoga often begins with the body, then the breath, then the sense organs and then the mind. Under the guidance of a honest teacher you will go far in this method of self development.  And learn to trust yourself, to see life beyond the shallow surface of its illusion and live awake to all life’s colours, smells, flavours and more!

Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

Who is my Guru?

Yoga Practice

In London, where the yoga world is so strongly-branded and style seems to be as important as fashion brands, this can make a teacher feel like an impostor if they don’t clearly identify with one school or guru. Someone asks “what do you teach?” If the teacher responds with “ashtanga” or “kundalini” or “iyengar”, this clarity of style holds a status above the teacher responding with “I really follow my own experience and I don’t feel I really adhere to one particular style”.  The latter response holds less weight at first assessment but if I’m honest, some of the best teachers I know are following their own instincts and experiences and making yoga personal to them and their lives.

Is it important to follow a guru or style of yoga?
A guru (in the modern day, well-known teachers or schools of yoga also hold the place of the guru) is said to be the “bringer of light”, a guide who leads you to your own transformation. For one reason or another, I and many teachers of yoga have chosen not to go down this singular path.

For me to be brave enough to follow my own heart, gut, instincts and feelings brings about a great sense of honesty, truth and sincerity in my work as opposed to following another’s journey or way (which admittedly does have its own merits). The mind stuff and the critical inner voice can be a tough barrier along the way to trusting that you’re doing the right thing at the right time and that what you offer is of value even though it doesn’t have a specific qualification attached to it. I know I have had and probably will continue to have many days of “what do you teach?”, “is this really yoga?”, “I should re-train and improve”, “I’m lost”, “are my boundaries too hard or too frail?”, “am I tricking everyone into thinking I’m really good at this?”, “am I pretending to be a therapist or just giving a fine quality of attention to people?”, and so on. This inner critic can at first seem to be a self-defeating or sabotaging attacker, but actually, when I can be less defensive or fearful, she’s asking really helpful questions for self-enquiry. I believe that if you’re having these big self-undoing questions and engaging proactively with them, it’s a huge sign that you care and you are aiming for your best. And through that you are developing in a firm yoga that is of huge value to yourself and others.

Listening to our feelings and intuition is the strongest teacher or guru I think anyone could possibly have. As a child I was very in touch with my feelings, emotions and dreams, like all children are. Then growing up, I started to lose faith in myself for one reason or another, I began to think my analytical/critical head was queen of my kingdom and my feeling intelligence was not as valid a faculty to follow.
Permission to follow your own feeling intelligence is not an easy thing to give, why?

  1. Our culture likes certificates given by authorities other than ourselves to prove the value of something we have, hold or do.
  2. Doubting or denying our truth and true selves is apparently something we humans have done for centuries. The first of the five kleshas reveals this as it describes avidya (ignorance of the truth of what we are). We deny the truth of our feeling intelligence, we ignore facts and live in ignorance. This quashes the truth not only of our self (who, how, what our condition is) and what is good and right for us in a given moment, but it also clouds and misjudges external situations, schools of thought and other beings. This ignorance can easily be brought about by not questioning a lineage or guru when your inner intelligence says mmmmmmm, that does not fit or feel right for me but you decide oh, they must know better, they are my teacher. Then you deny your own truth and you deny the world of yoga it too.
  3. A big obstacle to following your purusha (feeling intelligence/inner knowing) is the ego (asmita). The problem with the ego is not that we have one, it is good and vital for the acts of daily life, rather the issue is that the ego is integrally fearful and attached to ‘the known, the safe’. It is attached to habits, regardless of whether these habits are sustainable and beneficial to the life of our individual and global existence. This fear not only prevents us from following our soul but it actually belittles the very fabric of our inner knowing as being unruly and ridiculous!

When we come closer to ourself and our own truth, we very clearly see our challenges, our weaknesses and our areas for improvement. This seeing is an invaluable gift and it is also at times very hard to drink in. Our assumptions and concepts of what we think we are, what we think yoga is and who we expect our guru to be will be challenged, and as these become less solid, we will no doubt experience resistance and discomfort. We may have spent so long investing in and upholding our ignorance, or our guru and their lineage may have spent lifetimes upholding an ignorance that, naturally, to accept and release, will demand time and energy. For example, outdated religious views are changing but the resistance to accepting “we got it wrong and we need to change” for those who have followed and believed and invested in a way of being for their whole lives and maybe the lives of their ancestors way back is massive! It is inevitably met with enormous resistance. It’s the same for us. If we believe for ten or more years of teaching that it ‘should’ be done like this, once that ‘should’ is questioned and seen, its ignorance can be challenged, overcome and removed to then most likely be replaced by new challenges. ‘C’est la vie.’ Each challenge is accepted from a higher state of awareness and each overcoming lifts us to a higher state of living and a closer state of being with self and life.

I see in teachers who have spent a lifetime looking in and out at themselves, their students, their work and the world with a clear critical eye, the yoga they share ripples out with such sweet medicine that you only have to enter the room to feel relief and clarity in your being. This is a far cry from those who have simply been handed a manual and unquestioningly taken it on to teach. I don’t believe all guru-led work is like this. I do feel teachers not adhering to a style or a specific way should be acknowledged with respect for the warriar/warrior journey they are taking towards their highest truth.

Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

Yoga – uncovering the essential joy of life!

Yoga Practice

Practice of Yoga – The practice of Union – uncovers the joy that is the essence of life!


by coming close to the breath – you come close to yourself.

you let go of all your baggage and clutter and receive yourself.


Time and time again in life we feel lost, out of touch with ourselves. i think this is one of the scariest feeling we experience in life, loosing sense of self or Purusha.

Through my practice of yoga I connect to the body in movement and awareness, I come in touch with the breath and bring my attention to the present moment. Here in the present Magic literally occurs. I feel whole. I feel connected. I feel found.

I realise Yoga is a rooting down. a deep connection to the earth. In Savasana or Supta Baddha Konasana we feel the earth, we notice we are not separate from the earth, we are not separate from anything. Rather we a supported, connected, and held by all of life. Regularly remembering that we are connected and experiencing this connection is vital for our individual and collective sanity.
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