Category: Yoga Practice

Effective and ineffective application of yoga

Yoga Practice

Yoga, like any other tool, can be used effectively or ineffectively. I observe that a large percentage of people drawn to practise yoga are control freaks, and I include myself in that. Yoga’s precision, accuracy and self-control waft a fake world of safety and sense of ‘I’m in total control’, and this lures control-seekers in. But we are only human; we are not in total control of what happens in our lives or in the world. We do have the power to choose and respond, but we do not control what may come or how our responses may be received. I don’t even believe we can control how we feel about something. I am constantly taken by surprise by my emotional responses to life. We are mysterious creatures, living in a mysterious world.

As a species, we really like to be able to understand that things ‘happened because of this’. When we cannot account for something in this way, we fall away at the seams, especially when it personally affects us. Like when something unfair happens; a young, innocent child dies tragically before its parents. Or when someone has a tragic accident and is left paralysed from the neck down and has their quality of life stripped from them. Or when a woman gets breast cancer despite a lifelong dedication to being healthy, conscious, active and loving. In these scenarios we touch the edges of despair and are shaken to the core because it’s unfair and unaccountable. No one can give a good enough answer as to why it happened. Even the knowledge that ‘life isn’t fair’ doesn’t satisfy us. Yoga can be used ineffectively when its veneer of safety and control attracts the weak part of us all that is unable to handle the mystery and insecurity of life. This veneer leads us to believe we can master our bodies, minds, hearts, health and spirits and thus live harmoniously in a constant state of peace, undisturbed by the daily wobbles of life. This is not true! It’s pseudo yoga appealing to the scared part of us that can’t bear change or vulnerability. For some people change may actually be structure and regularity.

We all have comfortable and uncomfortable stations. I see a lot of people using the tool of yoga as a way to steer away from the uncomfortable and prohibit change. And I think to myself, ‘you’re missing the gold’. The ability to calm, ground, direct, focus, create space and clarity is a tool to assist you in facing and dancing with the uncomfortable. It is not a rug to slide over the mess or a concealer to hide the spot. The pleasant effects of yoga practice can seduce us into stagnation and repetition. I wonder, as a teacher, when I see my students use the yoga axe as a saw, what can I do to assist them? How can I encourage them to effectively engage with this powerful practice to transform and live all that they are?

Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

Back Bends

Yoga Practice

Many people are scared of back bends. In classes, I often see people with “no, not back bends” written all over their faces. This aversion is not because the human body doesn’t enjoy moving the chest and spine in a backwards bend. Rather it’s because most of us hold our bodies in the opposite position all week. Slumped, concaved and depressed. This forward-slumped computer/mobile phone stance is so strong in our current generations and is appearing in the bodies of younger and younger people. Yoga shows us that our bodies are not separate from the mind-heart-spirit. The body is basically a map of our internal and external worlds. Marking, logging and habituating itself to mirror how we are, bridging our inner and outer worlds. So, what could our slumped 21st century stance and aversion to bending back be trying to communicate to us? That we hold our heart back from the world, that we are not proud to stand tall, that we are scared to open ourselves and be seen for all that we are? That we are depressed? In grief, closed, introverted? That we have fallen into the myth of separation and believe we are alone and disconnected from those around us? As you read this now, you may have begun to mark how you are holding your body, the position of your spine, neck, chest, shoulders. Have a little play at slumping forwards, collapsing around your chest and letting your head slide forwards as you read this screen. Now ask yourself, how does this make me feel? Are there any emotions this provokes, any thoughts? Is this a common feeling for me? Now shift, bring awareness to the back of your spine, and let it lengthen. Now a more in-depth check for your alignment – take this slowly, step by step and play around with how these adjustments suit your body. Gently find the home of your chin where the front of the throat and back of the neck are equally long, let your head float up like a balloon and your tail bone root down to the earth to lengthen your lower back. Now slide the front bones of your shoulders a tiny amount back, let the shoulder blades rest flush onto the back, allow the collarbone to broaden and make space at the base of your neck. And then tilt your breastbone ever so slightly up to the sun as your lower floating ribs slide in towards your spine. Now ask, how does this make me feel? Are there any emotions this provokes, any thoughts? Is this a common feeling for me? Cultivating an open-hearted stance is so important for all levels of our being.

Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

How stress can benefit your life

Yoga Practice

To attain yoga – a union with self and life – we must first at least learn to listen and respond to the needs of our body. Too often we ignore our bodies. I understand this ignorance as a result of being told from a young age that going without and denying our body its requests is a good and rightly thing to do, somehow believing that our bodies’ needs are sinful temptations that should not be succumbed to. Some old texts of yoga could even be interpreted in such a way as to promote this belief. So we push and work and strive onwards, regardless of the headaches, IBS, back pain, menstrual cramps, indigestion, impotence and breathlessness, because that’s the done thing. Most people exist in a high level of stress and believe that it’s a healthy norm.

We have somehow been led to believe that giving in to what our bodies need (essentially what ‘we’ need) and desire is bad, selfish and indulgent. Sayings like “don’t smile too much, you’ll break it”, “can’t it wait?”, “who do you think you are, the queen?” and “don’t be a wuss” are clear examples of this.
It’s as if culturally, we believe that when we are struggling, stressed, anxious and tirelessly striving and fighting to be perfect (perfect meaning without needs), then we are good and life is as it should be.
But, it is impossible to be without needs; in trying to be without needs what we actually do is starve ourselves, we malnourish ourselves. And this creates a circle of yet more stress. Daily, we deny our bodies’ needs to eat organically, to sleep enough, to receive touch, to rest, to move, to fulfil dreams, to orgasm, to dance, to sing, to express, to be angry, to cry and many more, because “there isn’t time”, or “I can’t”, or even “I shouldn’t”. In denying our bodies’ needs we actually confuse our body-mind relationship. Eventually, this cutting-off from our body, the seat of our intuition, instinct and emotional intelligence, will lead to ill-health.
I often observe in friends, students and myself that when we ignore our bodies’ signals, the body will only go on to give us bigger and bigger signals. What began as a small one-off panic attack when Jean rushed between work and the shops, after months of being ignored-repeated-ignored, became a three-week migraine and long-lasting depression. This one-off panic attack went on to become a chronic problem, as adequate attention and lifestyle changes were not made to better suit her real needs. We all have examples of this scenario in our own lives. And yet, we still often continue to ignore-repeat-ignore. This is mostly because we’ve been taught that we are too busy and that other stuff is far more important and immediate than these horrid feelings! So we’ll just push them aside with all the others that we or our parents have previously pushed aside and make an empty promise to deal with them later.
I can see in the older generations of my own family that the ‘later’ keeps being pushed further and further back until eventually dementia or cancer set in and an overspill of everything that was not given attention pours out from the back storage, flooding the present. Because of this backlog that you may already have when you first start listening to your body and gut, it may not be one hundred per cent clear what it is that your body is telling you. This is because there may be a lot of stuff in the ‘queue’ and because you have thus far been ignoring it or telling your body that it’s wrong or weak. But with time and ongoing attention, you will create a clear and trusting inner dialogue. The practice of yoga quickens this process of coming in touch with the self. Yoga works from many angles at once – mind, body, breath, voice, heart and spirit, which accelerates your process of self-knowing. It’s sort of like cleaning an extremely dirty surface, if you just go at it with a sponge and some water you will do it eventually. But if you take a scourer, a brush, cloth, liquid soap, lemon and a friend or two then you will get there a lot quicker.

To become aware of this inner guidance system we first need to begin to trust our feelings. Our gut is the home of our feelings, emotions, instincts and intuition. Stress and anxiety manifest here also. This area is the part of our body that developed first within the womb. This ‘brain’, also known as the second, abdominal brain or enteric nervous system, operates independently from the brain in our head and ninety-five per cent of the body’s serotonin is made here in the gastrointestinal tract. Modern science is now telling us how important this area is for our whole health and intelligence. When we feel stressed or anxious it’s a natural, healthy signal that is trying to help us realise what does and does not benefit us. So, instead of thinking of it as a weakness revealing your unhealthy inner mutiny, try taking time to feel and listen to the signals your gut sends you when arranging that next meeting, or trip, or date or visit. And let it guide you. It is surprisingly accurate. I see in your gut a barometer that lies dormant waiting for you to find it. A barometer is a scientific instrument used to measure atmospheric pressure; it can forecast short-term changes in the weather. Your gut can measure pressure too – emotional, environmental and relational pressure – and forecast what may or may not be a beneficial action for you to take or situation for you to be in. If you then choose to respond to that information with aligned action, your life will become fuller, easier, more peaceful and less stressful. Your body and emotions will guide you out of painful and unhelpful situations to ones that truly support and fulfil you.

A few tips to begin listening.

Mostly trust that the body is responding with an emotional and/or physical reaction because it has your best interests at heart. And then follow its lead. Listen and respond to the basic needs of the body:

  1. When you are tired, rest. If you feel tightness or tension, stretch and move. If you’re hungry, eat, if you are thirsty, drink, if you’re in panic, breathe deeper and if you need the toilet, go.
  2. If you have a symptom of illness, listen to it and give it your attention. If you are sick, take rest and support from a holistically-minded doctor, nutritionist or therapist.
  3. Express your mood. When you are feeling joyous and excited, allow yourself to express it. Do the same if you are angry or frustrated.
  4. Honesty in relationships. If you need to put somebody straight and speak your truth, then find a way to do it.
  5. Observing patterns and honouring them as guides – if you feel sick every time you go to work and always come home feeling exhausted, maybe that job’s not the right one for you.
  6. Take action – make and take positive baby steps to improve a situation that is not serving you. Adjust your working schedule. Set boundaries with your loved ones so you have more space for you. Explore other career options. Tell your partner you want to have children. Start a yoga class every Monday night. And so on.



Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

The Psoas and playfulness

Yoga Practice

During the last few years of my Yoga sharing’s, I came across an interesting observation. It seemed apparent that people who had very open hips and lower back tended to be naturally more playful, creatively free, and some what calmer/more trusting about life. So I wondered what muscle is mostly involved in the spine to hip connection. The main culprit would be our Psoas muscle. This is the deepest muscle of the human body. On beginning my research I already new that the psoas affects; mobility, structure, flexibility, strength, and even our organs. What I didn’t know was the emotional hold it can also have over us.

The Psoas initiates at both sides of the spine, and spans from the 12th thoracic vertebrae down to both of the 5th lumbar vertebrae. From there it travels through the abdominal core, to the pelvis, where it attaches to the top of the thighbone.

It is the only muscle to connect the spine to the legs.  Without it we would not walk or stand upright. A healthy psoas creates stable ground to hold our vital organs located in the abdominal core. When the Psoas is tight or constricted the freedom and ease of movement in our spine to hip connection is seriously prohibited. A tight unhealthy Psoas is the breeding ground for low back pain, sciatica, hip problems, knee pain, disc problems, menstruation pain, infertility, and even digestive problems like IBS to name a few.

A free mobile healthy Psoas seems to not only give the benefits of mobility and physical comfort but it also supports a free, more playful and calmer way of being. I got to wonder, well, why is that?

I discovered that the psoas also connects to the diaphragm through connective tissue or fascia which affects our breath and our capacity to feel fear. Both the psoas and the facia can hold tensions that effect not only the muscle and its movements, but also our emotional balance and calmness. Our psoas is the connector between the pelvis and the brain it guides that connection and supports it. You could see the spoas as ‘a bridge’ between your rational and instinctual capacities.

Most importantly I found out that the psoas is connected to what we call your abdominal brain. Your abdominal brain is also known as your Enteric Nervous System, named by John Newport Langley. It can be simply described as the emotional centre of your body. It is in control of Digestion and emotions arise from this place. It is made up of a huge network of nerves; It has the same density of nerves as the spinal cord and the same amount of neuro transmitters as the brain. And it works independently of the top brain. It can actually survive if the head brain dies. Where as if your abdominal brain dies then the brain in your head will also die as the essential functions of the body cannot be carried out.

It’s nice to imagine that you have your head brain at the top of the spinal column and your gut brain at the bottom. Which is exactly what yoga works with in the chakra system which top and tails the shusumna nadi/central spinal column.

What this also means is that emotions are connected in with the psoas through the fascia and nerves. When you feel fear or guilt in your abdominal brain that e-motion. Energy-in-motion travels through the nerves in the psoas to the spinal column and then to the brain. Your psoas in this exchange is acting like a courier from the abdominal brain to the central nerves system sending the emotional-information to your brain. Now if your spoas is healthy and free and the nadis are open and spacious and full of prana/vitality, then, the information transmitted to your brain will be accurate and have clarity. If however your psoas is unhealthy, tight and cramped then the information will be unclear and you will most likely feel emotional discomfort in the process of couriering this information from down to up.

So when you have very open hips and lower back (psoas) you are more easily playful, creatively free, and even somewhat calmer or more trusting about life. Because the emotions that appear in your abdominal brain due to everyday living are transmitted freely with clarity and ease through your oh so healthy psoas to your brain. Without incurring pain or discomfort and subsequently more fear. Fear is the emotion that stops us from playing with the unkown, from being creatively free. Fear is the feeling that prohibits a calm life. And stops us from learning new things. Most young children have very little fear, and you know if you have ever spent time watching a young child play that she/he has something to really teach you about joy and fascination with the world in and out.

I believe the common diagnosis of IBS could be better understood as; ‘trapped or pushed down emotional energy held within the psoas and abdominal brain.’ If we had the courage and patience to breath down into this tight area, then to let the emotions flow up as we exhale so as to experience them. We could release them into wisdom and part of our integrated being. Our psoas would be more relaxed and out emotional clarity would be increased. Luckily for us yoga works both ways. So dealing with the emotional stuff on a feeling level is too much to begin with we could also practice a range of, back-to-hip opening asana for gentle release of this physical tension.

I feel when stretching the psoas in asana more than ever Soma is needed. Soma is defined as “the body experienced from within.” When we practice asana in this internally attentive way it is a powerful and effective process that admits the natural intelligence of the body to facilitate healing and transformation. Liz Knoch puts it well “to work with the psoas is not to try to control the muscle, but to cultivate the awareness necessary for sensing its messages. This involves making a conscious choice to become somatically aware. L. Koch”

Often all our ailments want is – Our Attention, so they can heal. Attention is like the sunlight on a plant encouraging it to grow into its fullest form. For me yoga is 99.9% ATTENTION. Attention is where the medicine lives. So go practice now and attend to your psoas, tend to yourself.





Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

The right answer

Yoga Practice

People tend to feel very happy when there is a clear right and wrong. A clearly-marked boundary holds safe ground on which we humans can relax. We love knowing ‘I do my trikonasana like this and its right, I do my trikonasana like this and it’s wrong’.

As a yoga teacher, you want to offer the right/wrong safety advice to your students and most students are expecting to learn what is correct and incorrect from you. But how can you know what is right and wrong for a unique human being? You can’t know.

For sure, there are basic human similarities, and a good understanding of the asana, pranayama and meditation are wise tools for any yoga teacher. Every student who walks through your classroom door is utterly unique and it will take a lifetime for them, let alone you, to really understand who they are. Perhaps, as a teacher, your job is not to tell them what is correct, rather it is to encourage them to feel comfortable with not knowing, and through that, help them to explore, find and tune their own inner knowing, so that they can really see their bodies and selves.

A teacher can begin this style of exchange by saying “I don’t know” more often. In doing this, you hand the responsibility for finding the answer back to the student. This is not an easy thing to do since you, as the teacher, are supposed to be the one with the answers.

I know myself the fear of saying “I don’t know” in front of students when asked a straightforward question. It’s hard, it used to leave me feeling small, impotent and bad at my job.
But once I made a conscious choice to celebrate saying “I don’t know”, it encouraged students to feel comfortable not knowing how to do something themselves. When previously a student would be resistant or feel unable when they were not ‘good’ at something, they can instead feel joy in being on the precipice of expanding.

I originally trained as an actor and it was enlightening to watch others, and to experience myself, battling with the unknown every time I stepped up to share my work in front of the company or director. My petrified superego would clutch at straws hoping for a clear answer to whether what I did was good or bad. If my offering was received as good, my superego would then try to create a formula for future repetition and safety.
Who is really to say whether what an actor or artist offers is good or bad? There are many reviewers and critics who try to do exactly this but in the end, it is totally subjective and unquantifiable. This unordinary, irregular, unquantifiable quality is – Human Nature – and it’s precious. The bravery of someone who embraces total abandon to share themselves entirely, despite the deep fear of getting it wrong or not being accepted, is potent. The ‘I do it anyway’ leaves an audience in awe, a student inspired, a loved one’s heart melted. We humans are incredible. And generalised correct/incorrect rules for the personal process of sadhana (spiritual path/practice) is not conducive to growing out our unique self.

If the focus of a yoga class was on what was accurate for each individual, could the teacher let go of the correct/incorrect status stick? Not knowing if something is right leaves us in the unknown, a scary place in which we have the chance to develop. But often teachers are not willing, practised or able to go there, so progress halts. Why are we so resistant to not knowing?

Our culture holds not knowing as a weakness and a sign of low status. “Don’t you know?” or “I can’t believe you didn’t know that” are common phrases. Not trying to have an answer leaves us totally open to the present moment. Naivety and not knowing are strong gifts, they enable us to see, receive and experience the whole of something without a habituated response or defence getting in the way. Similarly, when we stop trying and forcing in our asana or pranayama practice and rather feel, slow down and enquire more, it is then that the big realisations happen. The penny dropping ‘Ah-ha!’ falls in on our heads because we stepped out of our linguistic cognitive intelligence and into our sensorial body wisdom.

Happy not knowing!

Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015

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

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

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