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

Dealing with your stuff

kd-quoteRecently I have been really inspired by how a friend has dealt with the unexpected shock of his brother taking his own life (read his excellent blog here). He has found his own method to process the emotions through cycling. As he says on his blog part of this has been allowing there to be a level of unconscious processing, or creating space from an intense situation like this. But also in the act of dedicating /offering up a part of his life that is sacred to him, in memory of his brother.

Yesterday I attended a Bhakti yoga workshop with Rajesh David entitled ‘through love to the self’. He described how heart based practices must give us more than just temporary distraction to our difficulties, practices should help us really deal with the root of the problem. Distractions and diversions will only ever satisfy for a short time, like too many sugary sweets that seem nice to begin with, before quickly turning into a sick feeling.

In the yoga community sometimes there is an impression that everything is about light, rainbows and smells of roses. I often see on social media dogmatic positive intentions, that just don’t ring true for me. I think this is exactly the same thing, when we use our yoga practice to distract and paper over the cracks, it will never really satisfy us.

I have attended many yoga class that has made me cry, to the outsider there may be no apparent reason for the tears. Max storm writes and talks about the close connection between our emotions, breath, and physical tension in the body. So yoga can be a powerful tool for helping us deal with our stuff, assuming we’re not denying the existence of it, or frantically avoiding our problems.

This may be precisely why it can feel really hard to get on the mat somedays. For me when I’m more anxious I find myself subtly finding excuses to myself not to practice meditation. In meditation there are (hopefully) none of the external distractions of daily life. We see the fluctuations of the mind at work, and every now and again, there is that rare pause between thoughts. A moment of space. Yogis believe this is a return to our true nature.

I get up from practice and my problems are still there. But that little bit of space can make a huge difference to my perspective or how it feels in my body. There is no one way of dealing with our stuff. For other people cycling, surfing, painting, playing music or countless other activities will be how they create that space and process what’s going on in their lives. Yoga can provide a highly effective toolkit but only when we are real, and we have the bravery to turn towards our challenges, rather than trying to hide away from them.

Shifting autumn practice

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In this week’s class we looked at elongation of the spine. Finding space to open up, a little bit more, and to find a feeling of expansiveness. I think this can be really useful as we head into autumn, with the cold and the dark sneaking back in bit by bit.

It can feel tempting to shrink back into ourselves, to hide ourselves into a ball. Maybe its an old animal instinct to hibernate.  I don’t think this is wrong per say and certainly adjusting and moving with the natural cycles of the seasons is useful. But that creep of inertia or slowing down, can feel unhelpful if you’re someone who struggles with the increasing dark/cold and has a modern life that still has demands sending you here there and everywhere.

Next week we will progress from that sense of length through the spine and openness in the body, by incorporating more twists into the sequences. Twists are a beautiful way to see the contract between squeezing and releasing. Drop me a line to book on.

Finally I read this beautiful poem by Danna Faulds when we paused at the end of the class for relaxation. I share it again here for anyone who didn’t make the class.

Just For Now

Just for now, without asking how, let yourself sink into stillness.

Just for now, lay down the
weight you so patiently
bear upon your shoulders.
Feel the earth receive
you, and the infinite
expanse of sky grow even
wider as your awareness
reaches up to meet it.

Just for now, allow a wave of breath to enliven your experience.

Breathe out
whatever blocks you from
the truth. Just for now, be
boundless, free, awakened
energy tingling in your
hands and feet. Drink in
the possibility of being
who and what you really are
so fully alive that when you
open your eyes the world
looks different, newly born
and vibrant, just for now.

New class: Roath Park Primary School

Here are the details of my new class Monday nights

 

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 difficult 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.

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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?

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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.