Fundamentals – dive deeper into your yoga

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So those students that started out in January have now been practicing 10 weeks of yoga in the new space – Parkminster United Reform Church. Great work sticking with new years resolutions! But also there are a few spots left for new students to join us next term.

The next block starts on 19th March same time and place – Parkminster Church Sunday 5.30-7pm. This block will be a 5 week one (with a break for Easter Sunday). I am doing this as £30 for 5 weeks or standard £8.50 drop in rate. I’m really excited about the next theme – we are diving deeper to explore yoga fundamentals. That means re-examining what we think we know and looking at movement, breath and relaxation from fresh new angles.

The class will be perfect for those new to yoga but also those wanting to re-invigorate their practice. Also due to requests we will be trialling a longer session once a month with an additional 45 minutes of chanting meditation at the end for anyone interested in trying this- keep an eye out for more information on this.

The class is run from a beautiful intimate setting – so you will need to book on to guarantee your space (and get the significantly reduced cost of block booking). Please contact me on ktbergson@gmail.com to confirm.   

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Bhakti project: interview Raquel Alves

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In the second post in this series of interviews on Bhakti I talked with Raquel Alves, sometimes referred to as ‘a teacher’s teacher’ due to her role supporting the development of student yoga teachers through British Wheel of Yoga, Yoga Campus in London and mentoring from her home in Surrey. We talked late into the night but I have pulled out a sprinkling of excerpts here.

 

Bhakti and asana

We tend to think of bhakti as linked to specific practices such as chanting but Raquel started by discussing how bhakti influences physical practice: “ With asana practice i always feel quite devotional, but that might be my personality. Sometimes I forget to keep the duty of devotion and the special essence of that practice. I find it more challenging if I’m doing somebody else’s class. But if I can get out of the head of being a teacher and just do the class… even bikram yoga can be extremely devotional. I’m looking to feel the infinite or spaciousness. When Pantanjali talks about experience the infinite – that’s the bhakti that happens in asana classes. It can be a little bit more challenging in a fast vinyasa class.”     

Kirtan

We also talked singing and kirtan: “I think there is embarrassment to sing, perhaps difficulty pronouncing the words. But the biggest resistance, is to being heard. I think it is cultural, if we were in Spain perhaps it would be different. It brings up a lot of fear – to be in tune, to do it right. To open your mouth and start making sounds is scary. In our traditions it is more structured and formal in choirs, so someone saying open up and it doesn’t matter if you stay in tune is quite strange for most people.

When I went to a native american reservation years ago, they were playing music of a traditional chant being sung by this woman and it’s very emotional. Kirtan is like this, people are not prepared for that emotional element.”

Attraction and aversion

We talked about what the obstacles to practice and the attraction to it were: “Once I had a woman who covered her ears when there was chanting. It was clearly creating a response but it was unclear why she did this. I often remind people that they may not like it, they have permission to feel that way. But it is still good for them. It’s like when people say ‘i hate this pose’ – why? where does that come from? what has the pose done to you? You literally get people who are like I can’t stand that [chanting].  

People don’t seem to hang around after asana class, but they do after chanting. It does seem to slow people down. Life has so many distractions. So it’s not because people don’t want to connect, they are hungry for the sangha. But there are too many distractions.”

Mantra and kirtan

There are different traditions of using music and reciting the names of god in yoga. “There is mantra and there is kirtan. They are two different things. Mantra is never said out loud, unless you are teaching it. I have never sung Gayatri or Mrityunjai as part of kirtan. It has a different effect.”

Faith

Finally as part of my research I am exploring the term Shraddha which is often translated as faith. “My practice is my life. For me shraddha is a knowing. That there is something driving the Leela**. Even when things are not going the way I want them to go. There is a constant awareness of that something bigger than myself. Shraddha is inside yourself.

Sometimes we have a faith that things will go wrong, as that is our faith. That’s a strong faith if you look at it.  

I have had moments of very strong faith. I go through phases when that faith is very much inside me and other times it is expressed externally through ritual. Like when we light a candle.”

Find out more about the chanting groups, retreats and yoga classes Raquel runs on her website here. My final interview is planned with the wonderful teacher Swami Gyandharma and I plan to publish some supporting bhakti practices from my project over the coming months – so keep an eye out for those treats.

* – Transcendental meditation

** – Leela is a sanskrit term that is often translated as the inherent playfulness of life.

Louise on kirtan

louise-2At the end of last year I was fortunate enough to have a long chat with Swansea based yoga teacher Louise Thorndycraft. This blog has excerpts from that interview, which is part of a bigger research project on bhakti yoga. This is the yoga of the heart and devotion which includes kirtan.

 

I started by asking Louise about her early experiences of kirtan. “I didn’t really connect with the devotional aspect of chanting straight away. Kirtan just immediately felt like coming home for me. The feeling of being in a room full of people, with my eyes closed, just singing – it felt such a natural way to be with people. That’s what hooked me in – that sense of sangha.

There was a bhakti gathering about six years ago – a long weekend festival, which was like an immersion. The friends I went with were really into kirtan too, but I literally couldn’t drag myself away from the chanting. We were all hanging out together as well, but I was pretty much chanting the whole time. My friends were saying, ‘you’ve been in there all day’! surprised at how deeply I dived in. There was a real sense of belonging and being at one with myself. That was probably the turning point when I realised Bhakti had to be a bigger part of my life.”

When we chant often it is directed towards different gods and goddess – this can be a challenge when people first try chanting. They may feel uncertain about what the chants mean or how they feel participating in devotional music. Louise described how she felt drawn to the music and the practice before the idea of devotion.  

I suppose, for me, the feeling of love and devotion is as much for the music, the joy of chanting and singing, as it is for guru or deity. What has grown out of my initial love of the process of chanting is a deep connection with goddess Kali, as a representation of mother earth’s never-ending cycle of birth, growth, destruction and rebirth. Kali is the one who has grabbed hold of me because it feels that, in these days, we really need to deepen our connection with the divine feminine. This connection was unexpected for me though, because I wasn’t in it for the devotional aspect originally. Devotion just naturally grew out of my love of the mantras and the practice.”

Often when students approach yoga they have a particular aspiration in mind – to become more flexible, work with back pain or reduce stress levels. Perhaps the same can be said for kirtan. “I don’t chant to achieve anything. I chant just for the sake of chanting – I enjoy the simple process of repeating mantras. Having said that, I always feel better after chanting than I do before. I generally feel more relaxed and open and more energised, so I can certainly feel the positive impacts of kirtan, but that’s not the reason why I do it.”

We discussed the emotional element of the practice – that often people can experience a bubbling up of unexpected emotions during the practice be that tears and sadness or joy. “It happens a lot during my public kirtans and I like to encourage that – the moving through and processing of emotions. I think it’s important to remind people that it’s okay to feel sad and angry – any one of the whole range of human emotions. That’s why I don’t like to emphasis the bliss aspect of Bhakti, because that might not be your experience. It’s more important for us to be with what IS than it is to conform to what we think is expected of us in a given situation.”

I asked Louise about the emotions and how it feels when she is leading the practice. “There is that question of surrender then, the feeling that I am surrendering to this practice, whatever happens. On the other hand, I’m aware that taking off can be another subtle form of dissociation. Particularly now I’ve completed some trauma sensitive yoga training, I realise that a lot of people have some level of emotional trauma and some people dissociate on a regular basis. Aware of my own history, I don’t want to lead kirtan in a dissociated state. I want to make sure I’m in my body: grounded and centred, because I feel a sense of responsibility when leading.”

We also discussed the UK bhakti scene and whether there is growing interest in this form of yoga. Louise suggested that there is a great community who are regularly putting on workshops, events and training which is supporting people to access kirtan – http://www.ukbhakti.org is a great resource for events around the country.

“The interesting thing about bhakti is a lot of people don’t realise that it’s yoga. So I’ve had people come to kirtan a few times, who have then asked me ‘oh is chanting yoga?’. They know they enjoy it and they come and take part without really analyzing what they are doing, which is great. In the west, yoga equals asana in most people’s eyes. The public perception of yoga is that it’s about touching your toes, so I can see why people are confused. I want to be part of the movement that reverses this misunderstanding – to spread awareness that yoga is about much more than just physical postures.”

Louise runs fortnightly kirtan in Swansea and regularly travels to events around the UK to lead Kirtan. Last year she released her first album of kirtan music – find out more on her website here. I will be posting more on kirtan and some of the other elements of bhakti yoga over the next few months.

Upcoming courses

I hope you are enjoying renewed energy and enthusiasm at the start of the year, rather than battling with the cold darkness of this season. After a hectic end to 2016 I’m really enjoying being back teaching yoga in Cardiff.

The new class at Parkminster Church Roath is going really well – it’s a fantastic group of students exploring together breath, movement and mind patterns. These sessions have an increased emphasis on breath work (pranayama) and relaxation/meditation and are therefore particularly well suited for those looking to get stress relief or focus on mental wellbeing in their yoga practice.

With the current block half way through already – I’m pleased to announce the class will continue with the next course running for 6 weeks from the start of February (05/02/17). This is now open for bookings.

Space is limited so if you know you want to sign up let me know ASAP. I am allowing drop in for this course but priority will be given to those booking for the whole term and to honour those committing to that regular practice there is more than a £10 discount over the 6 weeks – with the course costing £40 or £8.50 per session for drop in students.

See you on the mat xx

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January Roath Yoga

Happy new year – may you start 2017 with energy and connection.

I am look forward to starting a new yoga class in a beautiful space in Roath, Cardiff. I offer the initial mini course of four sessions in January at a reduced rate of £25 for the set. To book on please contact me for bank details or alternative book and pay via the Meet up group here.

In addition to the new regular classes there will also be a special one off nourishing yoga workshop on Thursday 12th January at the new studio – Yoga Boat (formerly Yoga Fever). Information and booking for that can be found here.

See you on the mat!

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From the heart

In my last blog I talked about being real and dealing with your stuff, so you may raise an eyebrow at the title of this blog. This is perilous territory for someone who has written and talked about my dislike of gushing sentiment and smolchy false declarations. But I shall attempt to walk the razors edge and risk talking of love.

It’s an evocative word which in used with flippant ease in our culture. A quick pursue of the magazine stands whilst waiting for my train the other day, found headlines of royal relationships and endless advice column for those (mostly pity-able female) members of society without a betrothed.

Rather than get into the messy business of individual romantic relationships, in this post I’m going to attempt to explore some of the yoga ideas about love and the heart in a wider context. Think more like Bob Marley’s one love, than the Beatles I want to hold your hand. I am currently researching and writing on this subject for my final project of a Mandala Ashram yoga course. So expect to see more on this over the next few months.

Let’s start by looking at definitions. What do we mean by the heart in yoga? Well yoga teachers may refer to the physical beating organ that is central to our ability to survive. Or perhaps they are speaking of an attitude (in yoga this is called bhava). To do something with a courageous heart of a lion. To open ourselves and our heart to something new. Or to hold our practice with tender compassion, to look after ourselves. These are all different emotional aspects of the heart.

A third alternative is that they are speaking of the energetic heart centre, in the chakra system. Anahata is usually thought of to be chest height in the region of the physical heart. But I also enjoy how Tara Judelle describe your arms down to your finger tips as being tentacles of the heart. Which gives us a sense of the ‘ocean of the heart’ being far broader and deeper than the limitations of the physical organ of the heart. So there are certainly different levels.

For me working with the space of the heart is about reconnecting with something deeply nurturing.  Switching the attention away from the busy mind space and moving to an intuitive sense of ourselves. There is no hierarchy between mind and heart. But personally I can see that for myself the mind can dominate, leading to the heart being somewhat ignored in my busy life. As a result of that emotions can surprise me, catching me off guard. Leaping up with fear, sadness, anxiety or indeed joy seemingly from no where.

Swarmi nishchalanda writes in The Edge of Infinity about how Anahata literally means unstruck because it’s vibrations are so subtle that it almost appears still. Sometimes when I try to identify with the space of the heart it’s hard to find. Rather it appears to be an empty void or a crackle of static that fails to produce what we as yoga students, or those instructing us, expect to find there. When this is the case it can be frustrating or worrying. But the act of noticing this very nothingness is useful. Interestingly in Buddhism we often see the heart or love linked to emptiness (shunyata), as in the beautiful text of the heart sutra.

Over the coming months I will be posting little excerpts of my research. I intend to interview bhakti practitioners and perhaps share practices that I have found helpful for finding that deep intuitive space of the heart, or for working with the nothingness when that shows up.

I’d love to hear other peoples thoughts. Get in touch with your ideas, thoughts and feelings. What helps you feel connected to love or the heart space?

Next week

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It’s almost november and as the clocks change this weekend we take a big step towards winter. All the more reasons to get in some practice.

Roath park primary school class returns on monday 6.30pm, after half term break. We will be exploring moving away from and returning to our centre in side bends. As well as creative play with garuda or eagle pose.

Then friday 4th november cardiff kirtan crew returns. You need to book your place for this as we have sold out our small intimate space every month so far.

I look forward to sharing with you all next week. With metta -the buddhist term for loving kindness or the warmest regard, katy xx