New class: Roath Park Primary School

Here are the details of my new class that starts this monday (3rd October).

Day: Mondays

Time: 6.30-7.45pm – please arrive by 6.20 for prompt start.

Location: Roath Park Primary School main hall (Pen-y-wain Road, CF24 4BB)

Term Dates: 9 weeks with a break for 1/2term (3rd, 10th, 17th October / 31st October, 7th, 14th November/ 21st, 28th November and 5th December)

Price: £8 drop in or £22 for 3 class passes.

What to expect: I’m really excited to be starting this new holistic class which will see the group explore breath practice, traditional movement and a variety of guided relaxations over the Autumn 9 week term between now and Christmas. The classes will be designed for a range of levels and abilities.

Get in touch to book on before the first day. Students will need to be there 10 minutes before the start time to get set up. Please bring a mat or contact me before hand to arrange borrowing a mat. The class will be ideal for beginners or those who want to learn traditional practices which are not always offered in modern yoga classes. Over the weeks students will develop strength, flexibility, relaxation and greater focus, whilst learning the classical techniques.

Students are encouraged to attend all nine weeks to get the most out of course. There will be a discount rate for those who sign up for three class passes but I understand some people will find this possible so there is also an option to drop in for classes.

Contact me to book on – Katy 07840 008659 or ktbergson@gmail.com  

 

School hall is accessible through blue gates shown in this picture nearest to Donald Street/ Hendy street.

roath-park-primary-school

Coming soon…

Hello all,

I hope all the Cardiff yogis reading this are enjoying the beautiful summer sunshine here! This is a brief update post for any former students or interested potential students to give you an update on my classes at the moment.

As many of you know, I have stopped teaching hatha class over the summer and plan to return to them in the autumn – more information on that as soon as the venue is confirmed.

In the meantime if you fancy trying something a bit different I am part of the Cardiff Kirtan crew organising monthly yoga singing events. They are a really different experience to physical yoga classes but can equally help you feel mentally calmer and/or more energised.

It is worth trying out if you’ve never experienced them before. Here is a recent article from Evening Standard about the growth of chanting in London: chanting_26_june evening standard mag.

Our first two sessions have been fully booked – so if you are interested in joining us in September do let us know sooner rather than later! You can also join our facebook group for it here.

See you on the cushion or mat soon!

Cardiff Kirtan poster

Is singing part of yoga?

copyright tempo de florescer kirtan

Copyright Tempo de florescer- kirtan  (creative common licence)

 

As I take a step away from teaching again, I allow a bit more space to practice and explore yoga. A pause is always a useful space to look back on what has happened and perhaps start to imagine some different possibilities for the future.

 

In my personal practice, my idea of yoga has broadened over the last nine months or so. I am currently studying a course at Mandala ashram in Carmarthen. Every weekend spent there involves physical yoga poses, the bread and butter of what most people think of as modern yoga. But there is also time spent working on meditation, philosophy, karma yoga (selfless service) and chanting. Chanting has become a really cherished part of my daily practice, so I thought I’d offer a few words about this for those less familiar with it.

What is it all about?

Mantra is the singing of sacred chants passed down through generations and typically, but not exclusively, sung in Sanskrit. Often it involve repeating the same short phrase over and over. Sometimes a mala is used to count out 108 repetitions of a verse. Other times groups come together for kirtan and chants can increase in speed raising to a crescendo, before dropping back into a slow rhythm again. Have you ever lost yourself singing, perhaps in your car when you think no-one is watching, or at a gig lost amongst the swelling energy of the crowd singing? When we chant we harness that feeling and embed in it the energy sacred phrases which are designed to do things like promote peace.

Meaning

When we’re new to chanting there is a difficulty as some want to fully know and understand the meaning of the chants before singing them. It is possible to track down translations for many of the chants but Sanskrit is a unique language that often has many levels of meaning within a single word so it can be difficult to truly express those subtleties in translations. Ideally chanting is done without intellectualising. For me I find when I become absorbed in it, my mind almost turns off and it’s much more a process of working from my heart sense of feeling the chant, rather than knowing it. We can also get caught worrying about mispronouncing the sounds that are unfamiliar to our western minds and tongues – but Krishna Das describes in this article how intention is more vital than precision in kirtan.

Religious beliefs

Many chants are directed towards traditional Hindu gods and goddesses. So you might feel  it is irrelevant to you if you don’t hold these religious beliefs. But many esoteric thinkers argue that we can work with these ideas as archetypes of characteristics we would like to embody. Such as the power to remove obstacles or grow through our challenges (Ganesh), playful energy (Krishna) or fierce protective energy of the ultimate mother (Kali). I thoroughly recommend Sally kemptom book ‘Awakening Shakti’ for an exploration of the characteristics of some of the goddesses in Hindu mythology.

Fear

Chanting can bring up a lot of fear and anticipation. I vividly remember the first teacher who ever introduced it to me and feeling this huge contraction, it felt like as I looked around the room other students had the same sense of mild panic and desire to slip out post haste. I wonder if some of that is a cultural thing. British people certainly have a reputation for being a bit repressed. Excuse the generalisation, but in my experience we don’t always like to express ourselves. Chanting isn’t just a whisper either, it is singing with gusto and intense passion, which some may feel uncomfortable with, particularly when you are new to it. Perhaps many of us feel we don’t have the best voice to sing and fear is about imperfection or embarrassing ourselves. Lastly I have found that chanting can be incredibly powerful and often brings up emotions, which may be another reason why they can make people fearful.

Where to start

If you’re intrigued by chanting and mantra -it’s good to start practicing with a good teacher and we are fortunate in the UK to have some brilliant kirtan leaders. You may find your regular teacher uses Om and/or other simple mantra, this is a good place to start.

In South Wales Louise Thorndycraft runs fortnightly kirtan and regular workshops. She has also just released a really beautiful album which I can’t stop listening to! In Cardiff there is the option to go to the Hare Krishna cafe on Friday evenings. A little further afield  Nikki Slade, Tabla Tom, Bhavana all appear to run regular workshops. Just across the bridge, you’ll also find Tim Chalice running regular events in Bristol and Bath. There is also a course coming up at Mandala Ashram in November from sound to silence, with the wonderful Swarmi GyanDharma.

But if you’re not feeling brave enough to go along and sing just yet you can always start by listening to Krishna Das, perhaps the best known kirtan singer in the world. As well as variety of music available online, he also posts regular podcasts discussing chanting.

Right now I’m off to take my own advice, pick up my neglected guitar and literally sing until my hearts content.

 

 

Not flexible enough?

copy right owned by @las initially Lori semprevio

copy right owned by @las initially Lori semprevio

I have lost count of the number of time I’ve had conversations with people where they state I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible enough and/or can’t touch my toes. I try not to be evangelical about yoga- so I don’t necessarily think it’s the answer to everyone’s problems all the time. But I do still find it depressing that so many people are closed to the idea of trying yoga because of their perceived lack of ability and the tightness of their hamstrings.

Perhaps more strange than the conversation described above, is the other common conversation I have with people that do practice yoga that goes along the lines of “i should be able to …” or “I used to be able to …” do that pose. As a yoga teacher I’m not worried about shoulda/ woulda/ couldas – I’d rather focus on what is happening now. Even day to day your practice can change so much – you wake up stiff, you injure yourself, your emotions show up in the body or even the cold wet weather makes everything feel different.  

The problem with the shoulda/woulda/coulda mentality is it places the biggest value in yoga on achieving the “perfect pose”. I’m not sure I have ever seen this mythical perfect pose to be honest. If you’re in downward facing dog and your heels touch the floor what does that really give you – a nice stretch? smugness that you’re “good” at yoga? instant enlightenment? Just in case you’re wondering I’ve never seen the last one on this list happen. Sri Pattabhi Jois, founder of the vinyasa/astanga style which dominates modern western yoga practices famously said: “yoga is an internal practice. The rest is a circus”.

But even when we know this on an intellectual level, the thoughts often sneaks into our practice, whether beginner or experienced yogi. There is a striving, pushing, demanding part of us that wants this perfection. When we don’t have it we can feel frustrated, disappointed or like giving up / tuning out of our practice.

But actually there is so much power in recognising this force and seeing if we can soften to it. In the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text written by Patanjali, the opening line can be translated as something like “yoga is now” (sutra I.1 atha yogā ‘nuśāsanaṃ). It’s not for some distant point in time when the hamstrings (or other body part) opens up. It’s not only paying attention when we find a satisfying level of perfection. It’s now. Whatever that is for us today – tightness, stiffness, immobility and all.

I have been inspired by many great yoga teachers who practice these lessons. Tara Judelle, a US Anusara teacher often says there is no better, no worse, just yoga. Whilst Alexandra Crow and Brian Aganad recently discussed this very topic on a podcast (available here).

Ultimately we need to consider how flexible do we really need to be? Leslie Kaminoff puts it well in this video you need the amount of flexibility required to support you in your life. For many of us, we probably already have the right level of flexibility for our functional needs. Actually Leslie argues that counter intuitively overly flexible people really need to work harder to maintain safety and avoid injury when they practice yoga.

I also really like this account by Kathryn Ashworth who in her article confessions of a reluctant asana practitioner, describes the moment in a bowling alley where she stops taking herself seriously and engages with a sense of play in the postures. So next time you catch your mind starting down a track of woulda/coulda/shoulda see if you can soften a little bit to an acceptance of how your yoga is right now.    

Is that pose swan or a child pose?

copyright reserved jack dorsey

copyright reserved jack dorsey

In yoga classes there is a lot going on: breathing, moving, relaxing, as well as taking on board a whole range of names- dogs, cats and cobras galore. It takes time to gets to grip with it… and even after years sometimes a yoga teacher will throw something totally new in the mix. Point in case my lovely friend and ex-yoga student text me the other day to say, that when she finished chuckling to herself, she’d very much enjoyed a new pose ‘cosmic egg’ that appeared in a class she was in. I tried to get more info on what this could be but Google and my trusty textbooks have drawn a blank so I can only assume it is a new adaption by her creative yoga teacher.

 

The question of names also cropped up when i attended a class from someone who teaches in a different tradition to me recently- what I refer to as child pose, was called swan pose. These changes can be very confusing, particularly if you’re relatively new to practicing. So which is right? Typically for a yogi I’m going to sit on the fence – by saying that both are right.

 

Let me explain. Some of these differences are due to the simple translation differences from the original sanskrit terms such as uttanasana, ardha mukha svanasana and bhujangasana. But there are also other reasons for these differences. It is said that in yin practice deliberately has different names to asana that might appear to be very similar to asana that appear in other more dynamic styles of yoga. This is partially because the emphasis and approach to the practice is totally different so masters of Yin such as Paul Grilley encourage students to approach these new poses (with their new names) in new ways.   

  

This also links into the question of which is the ‘right’ way to practice yoga. There are many traditions often depending on the lineage or the origin of the yoga school: from dynamic practices of vinyasa and astanga which are linked to Pattabhi Jois, to other traditional forms of practice such Viniyoga which is linked to T.K.V. Desikachar. These are just a few strands, if I started to describe all the traditions and many variations of yoga we might be here all day (I’ll spare you!).

 

At my old studio Yoga Fever there is no one form of yoga taught in the studio by the regular and visiting teachers- you can encounter teachers taught in Astanga, Power, Viniyoga and other traditional Hatha schools. So the teachers encourage students to experiment and try new things. If you’re interested in understanding the history and underlying philosophy of yoga to start to gain a deeper understanding of these different traditions there are some great foundation courses and workshops around (take a look at BWY Wales). 

 

So for me I guess the moral of the tale is to try not to be too rigid and dogmatic in yoga about rights and wrongs. Instead as students we have to keep a careful ear out for the teacher’s instructions and if the asana names are different to what you’re expecting give a little raise of the eyebrows and then dive right into it, enjoying the pose irrespective of whether it’s a child or hare or a swan or even good old balasana.

 

Facing change

copyright B Gilmor

As much as I profess to love new experiences and challenges, the reality is that often I am a creature of habit. We all have our set routines, and our little ways of doing things that suit us. So when change sweeps in and demands we adapt sometimes like a stubborn toddler we dig our heals in and resist. Alternatively when we accept the change sometime we can feel unrooted and unsettled by the shift.

Change can take us by surprise with a shock that is total out of our control or at other times it’s a big decision we do have the control to make, but feels equally difficult as we know it may lead us down a radically different path in our life. Often it’s a million little things that shift bit by bit each day. For me I got thinking about change as I face a relatively small change of shifting my weekly yoga class to Sundays (rather than Thursdays) and a bigger change of starting a new placement as part of my university course. Both means meeting new people, changing habits and possibly encountering some unknown challenges.

Perhaps the thing that makes change difficult is fear and the unknown. There is an interesting theory called the End of History illusion, by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert. Which essentially suggests that people find it much easier to remember the past than to imagine the future. It’s tiring to try to think through the possibilities of how a change may alter our future. So we try to avoid thinking about it, or avoid the changes altogether.

So what has all this got to do with yoga? Well in the yamas and niyamas, a kind of yoga code of conduct written in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we find Aparigraha (non-possesiveness or non-grasping) and Santosha (contentment and acceptance). These are interesting ideas to explore in our lives – for more information on this check out the brilliant blog by Helen at Yoga Bright and the book How Yoga Works to see the Yoga Sutras guidance put into examples in story form.

Secondly our approach to change can mirror our approach to the physical practices in yoga: we are always looking for a balance between ease and effort (sthira and sukha). We need to find the sweet spot in the middle between wilfully forcing our way through change, and being like a piece of seaweed tossed and turned at the ocean’s whim. In my practice I find that requires attention and care to constantly negotiate that fine balance. Every time we get on the mat there are changes in our bodies, in our feelings and our practice. It’s important to be aware and open to these changes rather than slip into the mantra of ‘i should … be able to touch my toes’ or ‘i could… do this pose last week’ patterns.

Finally whenever I start to notice change in my life I return to practices that emphases grounding in yoga. The simplest way to feel this is to take note of your foundations – really feel the feet in standing poses, sitting bones in poses like dandasana or even the whole body touching the ground in savasana. For me this is effective because it shifts the awareness from your individual view of a change and how it affects you, back to a connection to the ground and maybe even a bigger sense of the earth that supports us daily.

Is yoga including everyone?

Help Others

I am interested in what happens when people look at either an image or video of a yogi ‘performing’ an impressive pose (like here). Clearly we can only understand the physicality of that moment how the body contorts or holds the person strongly. Usually we can only guess at that person’s internal level of calm and how their breath flows in that moment. I don’t wish to say that the yogis in these snapshots are anything less than zen. But we can’t really perceive it. There is an interesting debate about whether these things make yoga aspirational or potentially alienate people who feel that they can never live up to such ideals. Even those of us that possibly who have been studied well the ins and outs of yoga, and understand its not all about flexibility, may end up feeling inadequate as teachers like Charity Poole and Sarah Erzin describes in their blogs .

There is no denying that the backlash against the ‘typical yoga’ image has given rise to some great projects showing and practicing yoga diversity. But they are still only the small minority. The majority of media is still a depressingly narrow view of yogis as young, lithe, highly flexible predominately white and mostly female. These characteristics are not negative in themselves but they certainly don’t fully represent me or the students in my classes very well.

Arguably it also feeds into wider debates over whether yoga and meditation is elitist in western society. For me some of the most interesting projects happening at the moment are working with much more diverse students. In prisons like Prison Phoenix Trust, with homeless people and those suffering from addictions (see this TED talk) and with those who can’t access mainstream yoga classes (see local charity Yoga Mobility and Matthew Sanford a disabled USA teacher).

So I’m really pleased to be supporting the upcoming #yogaforwallich event. Firstly this will be a great opportunity to get to practice yoga with some of the most experienced teachers in Cardiff; Tori Lang, Ray Hussian and Sharon Davies to name just a few! Then you’ll also get the opportunity to raise money through taking on the challenge of 108 sun salutations.  So not only are you likely to have a great day but you’ll also get the warm glow of helping to raise money for a brilliant charity. The event demonstrates that yogis can live their values by caring for those around them, even the hidden parts of society.

Yoga students know the huge benefits of the practice on their body, mind, and wellbeing. But it’s worth bearing in mind that some people, possibly those who could most benefit from yoga, either think it excludes them or for practical reasons are not able to access it. The two issues need different approaches to find suitable solutions.

I think all yogis have a responsibility for promoting diversity if someone says I can’t come to class because I’ll be the only man, overweight, older or less flexible person challenge them to try it. Then support them when they do attend. Attitudes are slow to change but they will shift eventually. Teachers also have a responsibility to promote diversity. Yoga teachers must also be mindful of how these poses are taught and their use of language. Teachers, students and media share responsibility for strongly advocating that yoga is truly for everybody.

The second part of providing access to those with more physical barriers may not be as easy for everyone to support. But we can encourage projects and groups that facilitate this (see links at end of the article). Everyone can also campaign for a greater number of classes and facilities that gives wider access. I’m not naive enough to suggest it’s an easy process but if western yoga wants to evolve beyond the accusation of too much individualistic, or self-serving focus then we must continually push for that equality of access and diversity which is what makes yoga truly strong and powerful.

Some of my favourite projects and organisations if you are interested in finding out more:

Yoga for Wallich – takes place 10th May in Cardiff County Hall.
Off the mat – a US project encouraging yogis to engage in activism
Prison Phoenix trust – supporting prisoner to access yoga and meditation
Yoga mobility – Cardiff charity supporting greater access to yoga
Special yoga – London based charitable business supporting children with additional needs and training teachers to help create more of these classes.