Autumn sessions

As many of you know I’m heading off for a two week retreat soon. So there will be no Roath Sunday night classes for the next 3 weeks. Here are dates for your diary – drop me an email (ktbergson@gmail.com) to book on or if you want to know more about any of these sessions.

  • Tuesday 3rd October – classes at The Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay, 6pm and 7.15pm. £8
  • Friday 6th October – Kirtan returns at Gaia in Roath. Come join together with us to sing and lift the spirits. 7-9pm, £5
  • 29th October – return of sunday night sessions at Parkminster Church, Roath £8.50 or reduced rate for 5 class pass (£34).
  • Saturday 11th November – special one off event with my teacher Swami Gyandharma in Gaia roath. This is a great opportunity to meet and attend satsung with a very experienced and lovely teacher. Suggested donation £5 to cover venue and any profit to go to local charity Yoga Mobility
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Kirtan at All Roots Festival Pembs

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Top 4 tips for starting meditation

Whether you practice big expressive asana and kirtan or focus on subtle internal kriya, pranayama or meditation, all yoga has points of coming into stillness. Sometimes that stillness is a welcome friend, and other times it feels like a challenge.

I have a mixed relationship with practices of stillness . I understand on a mental level their benefits. More importantly I have seen and felt these wonderful experiences first hand. But I still often resist coming to stillness – giving myself permission to rest in savasana, yoga nidra or putting the time into a daily meditation sit. Sometimes it is a daily battle. Other times I find a rhythm to fit it in to busy life.

As I start to teach simple meditation within my weekly yoga classes here are my top four tips to help you start to explore meditation:

  1. Comfort and posture. Take time to set yourself up well. This is not about trying to find a set position you think is ‘right’ such as lotus pose but rather finding stability in the body so it can act as the container for that inner experience of stillness. Basic adjustments you might think about are with tight hips adding height under sit bones (cushions, blocks, stools) so the lower back can retain a natural curve and the spine feel like it can lift. Also support under the knees or for the back may sometimes be necessary. There is an idea that we have to be rigid and still throughout practice. When we start out this can be difficult. Ultimately we need to discern between restlessness leading to movement of the body, and real pain and discomfort which is not useful to struggle and suffer through. Experiment with props including using a chair – this is about inner experience. Outer posture is ultimately just facilitating that. Be patient and let the practice of stillness come in time.
  2. Timing.  In an ideal world it is good to sit when you first get up in the morning – framing the day with that stillness. In reality sometimes you may have to squeeze it in later in the day. I find it helpful not to be too rigid but there is a need for discipline to keep up a regular practice. When you’re starting out sitting for 5-10 minutes is great. As you practice more sitting between 10-20 minutes a day feels more satisfying as there is time to really settle into the stillness.  Ultimately there are not set rules but consistency will help us develop our skill.
  3. Intention and attention. Sometimes I charge into practice trying to get it done and get on with my day but if I can slow down that entry into practice – taking time to settle mind, body, breath before trying any formal techniques it is usually a better quality sit. It is sometimes compared to tuning a stringed instrument – we don’t want to make it so tight trying to will a specific purpose from sitting but also we don’t want the string to be so lax we have drifted off into some daydream. As the buddha advocated – we need to find the middle way. Having a little attention and an intention for the practice can help keep us on track.
  4. Simplicity. There are countless techniques in mindfulness and meditation. I have certainly got lost trying to perfect complex techniques or fell into the trap of trying out  lots of different techniques without sticking to one for any period of time. Keeping it simple is vital in the beginning and will help develop your meditation and exploration of stillness.

So here is a brief practice for you to try out for yourself at home – let me know how you get on.

 

 

Different strokes

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All rights reserved @Florian Richter 

As the old saying goes different strokes, for different folks. Yoga is a fantastically useful toolbox of options that suit people at different points in their lives, with a variety of health conditions, different body shapes and types, and different intentions for practice.

Its frustrating that many people say to me they’ve never tried yoga because they feel like they can’t touch their toes. That statement represents the most tiny marginalised, and largely insignificant part of what yoga is. Yes we can use it to increase flexibility in our body, but also to improve flexibility of our mind. Or to work with our energy levels, emotions, mental clarity and focus. At the beginning of the summer I taught the Cardiff BWY summer school focused on connection because for me yoga is about both connecting inwards to yourself and connecting outwards to everything that is bigger than the ‘little world of me’.

As a beginner it can be confusing to find the right form or practice that suits what you want so its useful to get out there and sample the different wares on offer. I try to run holistic classes that give you a taster of lots of those elements. In September I’m pleased to say i’ll be starting to include simple meditations regularly.

Below I have run through a few elements you might see in my workshops, classes or teachings:

Asana / movement

This is what most people fundamentally think of as yoga. It has huge value – we tend to spend most of our time focused on the thoughts running through our mind – planning, worrying, dreaming, reminiscing, figuring out, thinking through etc. Sometimes we forget the demands placed on the body with posture, habits, carrying things. That is until we received a jolt of a reminder not to ignore the body, when it complains and we experience pain. In movement practice we focus on body sensation, moving through the body’s range of movement to help keep that healthy functional movement that allows us to go about our daily activities.

Pranayama / breath practice

Breath is life. Without it there is no life. It is often thought of as a doorway to working with emotions. But it can also be useful for increasing energy when sluggish or calming the nervous system when agitated. There is a huge plethora of breathing techniques but simplicity can be the key here – simply keeping the attention on the breath can have a powerful impact.

Relaxation

This comes in many different shapes and sizes too. Generally speaking this is the part at the end of the class where you are invited to lay down and come to rest. Sometimes its just coming into stillness and silence for a few moments. Other times you may be guided into a more systematic form of relaxation such as Yoga Nidra – a powerful technique for calming the body and helping us to work with intentions.

Meditation

Meditation is the process of noticing the mind and working with what we find there. It is not about having no thoughts – that would be either deep sleep or being knocked unconscious. It’s about making a little bit of space so we are not completely controlled by the constant stream of thoughts rushing through the mind or even starting to change habits governed by the sub conscious. It takes time and work – but can be a powerful tool.

Mantra and kirtan

These parts of yoga often use sanskrit (the ancient indian language) phrases repeated over and over to yourself and/or sound to help tune the busy mind onto something specific. Sometimes it can feel uncomfortable to work with mantra and kirtan because it is so unfamiliar. We want to dissect it, understand what it means, what its for before trying it. But actually like someone trying to describe the taste of a food you have never experienced, it will always be so much better to taste it for yourself. If you can relax enough to try it yourself – these can also be radical and beautiful practices.

I am really excited for this autumn term of classes – come join me from 3rd September at Parkminster United Reform Church Roath 6-7.30pm. The five week block costs £34 or drop in rate is £8.50. Or you can catch me before then in Roath Pleasure Gardens pop up park yoga and teaching at All Roots Yoga Festival, Pembrokeshire. 

Roath yoga classes return

Lookbook

It’s been a busy summer – I have completed my yoga diploma with British Wheel of Yoga and Mandala Yoga Ashram, enjoyed teaching a few park yoga classes and am very much looking forward to offering kirtan and meditation at the fabulous All Roots Yoga Festival at Stackpole estate, Pembrokeshire in September (still a few day and weekend tickets on sale for this).

Perhaps like me your thoughts are beginning to turn to Autumn. Even if you’re not in academia or have children there is a natural sense of change, new habits and new beginnings, and preparing for the months ahead. It’s a great time to start practicing again, especially if you haven’t had the chance to attend yoga classes over the summer.

I will be running Sunday evening classes at Parkminster United Reform Church, Roath again. The classes will introduce a range of practices including movement (asana), pranayama (breath work), mudra (gestures), deep relaxation and new for this next block exploring the basics of short accessible meditation techniques. Sessions will be accessible to a range of abilities / experience levels and focus very much on relaxation of body and mind. Let me know if you plan to come so I have an idea of numbers. Space is limited to a maximum of 14 per class.

Park yoga will also continue for the next few weeks as weather allows Wednesday nights in Roath pleasure Gardens – come join us for a more movement based practice exploring the elements out in nature.

Relaxing Sunday sessions

Dates: 5 week block Sunday 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th September and 1st October

Times: 6.00- 7.30pm

Cost: £8.50 drop in rate or pay for block and get one lesson free – total payment £34.

Park yoga

If you’ve never practiced with me and want to see what classes are about join these shorter park sessions focusing on movement. These are a great opportunity to dip your toe into practice again or try it for the first time – open to all levels of experience and body types.

Dates: 30th August and 6th September – possibly beyond weather allowing.

Time: 6.00-7.00pm

Cost: £4

Any questions or to book on drop me an email ktbergson@gmail.com

Yoga in the park

Some of you may have come to my series of pop up yoga in the park classes back in 2014. I’m pleased to say they are returning for this month – August 2017. The plan is to run them Wednesday evenings 6-7pm in Roath Pleasure Gardens, next to the tennis courts, north of the river. If the weather is unkind they will be postponed or cancelled on the day – please check my facebook group, twitter feed or contact me if unsure.

The sessions will be accessible to all levels of yoga experience and I welcome beginners as well as more experienced students. The sessions will cost £4. Please bring a mat and warm clothes for the relaxation at the end of class.

In addition to these sessions you will also find me at Norwegian Church (Tuesday 15th August 6pm and 7.15pm), and Cardiff International Pool (Monday 21st August 7.30pm).

Finally quick shout out about the excellent All Roots yoga festival in pembs coming up on the first weekend in September – we’ll be hosting daily kirtan sessions. Tickets available for single days or even better join us for the whole weekend!

Karma, Dharma and Seva

We tend to think of yoga as a physical movement practice. The reality is that description doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Yoga is a whole philosophy and way of life. This can work both ways. Judith Hanson Lasater says: “what i bring to my yoga mat is really my whole life at this moment- mood, thoughts, beliefs are as much a part of yoga practice as your body is.” So yoga practices can include a real sense of our whole being and lives – but also our lives can be enriched with a sense of yoga throughout them. So let me start this blog from that place of seeing yoga in its wondrously big and broadest sense.

I’ve been writing a lot about Bhakti yoga over the last year but this blog links more to Karma yoga. Karma tends to be a misunderstood and rather loaded term in the West – we imagine something coming back to bite us in the bum minutes after doing something bad. Actually it is more nuanced and karma really translates as action. So Karma yoga is the yoga of everyday life, trying to cultivate right actions and doing things with the best intention with zero expectation of reward, or even what the outcome may be.

Whenever I visit Mandala Yoga Ashram I undertake karma yoga. Sometimes i’m chopping veg, sometimes i’m weeding the gravel drive, sometimes i’m cleaning the toilets. It’s an interesting practice – can i do all of these assigned duties with ease, with the same care and attention or do my thoughts and feelings tell me about how much i like or dislike my given task? Do i slip into moaning about the task? Do i pay it just as much care and attention as my meditation or chanting practices? It’s interesting because Karma yoga perhaps has the tools to really change how we see and act in our lives off the mat. These are questions I can easily ask myself in the rest of my life too – am i giving my all to this task (be it work, cleaning or admin) or am i asleep at the wheel of life. 

Swami Nischalanda said this weekend karma and dharma not only sound similar but are really linked ideas. Karma means action, and dharma means to take action that leads us towards liberation. Another similar term is Seva which is selfless service – giving to help an individual or society without expectation.

We build and develop our community through this selfless service. So I’m delighted to be teaching the charity yoga class at Yoga Boat this Sunday raising money for the Welsh Refugee Council. Come join us for some movement, maybe a little mental stretch and a cuppa with cake afterwards. Please book on at Yogaboat.co.uk 

 

A conversation with Swami Gyandharma…

This is the final interview in the series I have been doing connected to my research on bhakti yoga. It was great to spend time with Swami Gyandharma and if you haven’t come across him, i highly highly recommend the courses he runs at Mandala Yoga Ashram a few times a year. These courses are rare gems of simplicity and wisdom.

Definition

I started the conversation asking what Swami Gyandharma’s definition of bhakti is:

“Surrender. That is how i would define it. It means trusting. Trusting that everything is exactly the way it is meant to be. Knowing that is always the case, regardless of how difficult the situation or the circumstances are. It has little to do with any formal kind of approach. That is just decoration but it is not essentially the item.

Bhakti is an expression of love. We all know love from our human love affairs, it is the same thing on a bigger scale. The attraction you feel towards the object, and the belief in the perfection of the object and the goodness of the object. Bhakti yoga is the same but on a bigger scale. In one way or another you begin to relate to all of life that way. We are not worshipping something abstract you understand that god is the decider of everything that happens in your life so you accept it.”

Religion

We discussed if it is important to have any kind of religious framework to work with bhakti and Swami Gyandharma explained “I grew up completely without it, in an atheist family. I never went to church and i was never talked to about god. But i grew up in an environment that had strong human values and morality. But not in an overdone way. The basics of be good, do good, be polite and friendly. In my early twenties, one Sunday afternoon i started praying to god out of absolutely nothing. It was completely spontaneous and I was very surprised but it felt like the right things to do. It is quite inexplicable even if i think about it today.”

He clarifies:  “Bhakti yoga is a path where there is a destruction of the little you, but it is done voluntarily. It is an urge to unite with something to become vaster. It comes out of a realisation of this restricted life of littleness and the pain that accompanies that littleness. It is a search for a bigger version of yourself. But in bhakti yoga you just give up the little self, and the result is the bigger self.”

Being present

Swami Gyandharma describes bhakti as being a very mindful almost taoist practice: “What you’re looking for, the object you want to merge with, whatever you call that, is always there right in front of you. It is not some other place or time. It is always right there; even if right there is totally empty, or totally full, or totally silent or totally noisy. So your practice is always right there. Practice is not something very specific for a bhakti yogi. Every time you reject something you are rejecting your loved one. Love and hate are just two of its faces. That is the difficulty with bhakti yoga it is not confined to one thing but it means embracing everything, totally. It is a complete rejection of rejection. Where you accept everything is a gift, from the divine, everything- including your worst moment, including the most painful moments.”

Kirtan practice

We talked about personal practices of chanting/ kirtan. He said: “I sing hanuman chalisa every morning but i would not describe myself as a hanuman devotee. It moves people, even when people don’t know it and can’t sing it, it still moves people. I have chanted it thousands of times and i have seen that. It is about loyalty, surrender, courage, devotion and trust. It’s all hanuman, captured in that sound or that chant. You don’t need to discriminate too much, anything that makes you feel like sitting down every day and chanting it then you should do that. With any sort of practice, the important thing is doing it.”

Ecstatic States

I asked about the dangers of different states that may be created through chanting. Swami Gyandharma responded: “It is a very matter of fact path in some ways. There is the expression of love and the need to experience of union, or to step out of the limitations of littleness. But it also deals with the realities of life. It is not an imaginary thing: it is not about sitting there thinking you love god. Be present, bhakti yoga without awareness will get you nowhere.

It requires great level headedness. But if you express yourself in an ecstatic way for a moment that’s not a bad thing but it’s not essentially what you’re trying to do. You are trying to meet life with both eyes open and acceptance. You are not trying to forget yourself, to drift off on some pleasant cloud into some blissful dimension. It is not somewhere else… but right here. You have to find it here, in the realities of day to day life. You have to find it in everything, in everybody and every situation, otherwise you still remain separate.”

Emotions and chanting

A big area of interest for me is the how chanting can affect our emotions: “We live in society and situation that are very restrictive emotionally and we are not allowed to express ourselves emotionally. Through song emotional expression is possible, without causing any offence to anyone. People sing out their sadness or they sing out their happiness. It is an expression of something that needs to be aired or recognised in yourself or being ok with who you are. The social restrictions around us, makes it not ok to be a lot of things; you can’t be depressed, you can’t be angry, you can’t be jealous. When we sing we can be all those things and it is perfectly ok, everyone accepts it”

Trust

Finally I asked Swami Gyandharma to say a few words about trust. “Shraddha has got to do with the external world and your relationship to it. It is the belief that you will find a way through the darkness of your life. That is faith. Knowing that you will find the way through your own darkness. That darkness is always reflected in the world outside and so that is where we meet it. Thats where we learn to let go. We can get depressed and that’s a dark time or we can get sad or grief. But it also has to do with the world outside. It’s like how we relate to that outside world.

Faith is something that arises when we accept that the outside world is not something different to us. Most people live their lives thinking it is. Faith means you stop complaining about things, stop blaming others, stop reacting. You know you’re responsible and you accept that. It’s very empowering that way because it puts the solution to all this in your own hands.”