Namaste Yogis & Yoginis,
It's rare I share something so personal about my inner journey, but this month I feel called to tell you a little of my story in the hope that there may be something useful in there to use.
When I was younger (late teens to 30's) I was one of those people who would fly sky-high emotionally, with excitement and emotions... Super sky-high. And it was great in many ways – it was exciting, I had a lot of energy, everything was fantastic, amazing and wonderful. But there was a downside, of course. There would inevitably be a fall from that dizzying height into a deep darkness and depression. I cried a lot. I was incapacitated, and I couldn't move either emotionally, or sometimes physically, not leaving my bed or house for days. I fell into a seemingly endless abyss of grief and self-loathing. I couldn't connect to life, or the feeling that life was worth living.
Although I found Eastern traditions and Yoga at an early stage, it took me years for these teachings to truly sink in and allow me to start exploring the way out of my polarised state. Initially, I felt I could handle it – that I could bring myself down calmly... But it didn't really work as I wasn't ready to give up the high. It was hard to give that up – I loved that state, feeling so invincible and free and high on life. I loved all the laughing and high energy, and charisma I felt I had when I was in that state. It took me a long time to truly own that the higher I went, the further down I would fall and the heavier the down would be.
My turning point came when I was running events for the Centre. I would be on such a high on the night, greeting everyone, dancing, organising, talking, and feeling sky high being the “hostess with the mostest”! But then after we cleaned up and everyone had gone, I'd usually fall into 2-3 days of deep, deep depression before I recovered from that event.
As Yoga teaches us to be self-aware (swadhyaya which leads to being Self-aware) it became evident that these two states were clearly linked, and I began to understand I was living in extremes, where Yoga teaches us to live in a Sattvic state (balanced, integrated, harmonised) away from the extremes, where we then can work on raising our consciousness – the same in principle as the teachings of Middle Way in the Buddhist traditions.
At first, I tried working on lifting the down state, but it was just so heavy and immovable, I couldn't think clearly – my mind was so dull, and it also changed so quickly from the high I couldn't catch it (plus when in a high state I wasn't always thinking rationally enough to prepare myself for the coming low). So I realised my only chance was to start to reduce the highs, where I had energy, to quell those excited emotions (citta vritti nirodah) so that I wouldn't crash down so far. I would catch myself as my emotions were rising, and calm myself down, and just try to enjoy the event or evening in a calm way.
I even coined the term “calm excitement”. And it seemed to work for a really long time. Focusing on coming back to Sattva and calming myself down, detaching from excitement. I was able to shave the tops off the highs more and more over time, and I didn't plunge so low. Life began to feel a little more balanced. I missed the “highs” for a while, things felt a little bland (like when you take salt out of your diet and the “big” flavours are gone), but after a time, I began to really appreciate and enjoy the more balanced state – mostly because I was actually there – I was present enough to truly connect with people, not flitting like a manic butterfly (or blowfly?) from one to the other and not connecting.
I found that true connection and being truly present to the moment had its own reward which was deeper, and more sustaining – and I began to enjoy that more than the high/low phenomenon. Life continued sweetly for a while but as you know, most methods, no matter what they are, reach an end point. I forgot this. So I kept quelling the excitement, and quelling the excitement and quelling the excitement – so much that I went past the point of balance and began quelling not just my excitement, but my enthusiasm.
I didn't go down too far in the lows, but my nice content state of being had started to feel stale, as I had quelled everything too much and ended up in a mild depression for some time. This was hard to recognise, and therefore recover from. It even masqueraded as a positive, such as staying calm when presented with a challenging situation. Some of that was real – keeping my centre, but some of it was just being switched off.
So recently, my work has been to try and feel again. I've had some good breakthroughs, and feelings are coming back. But one day, I was talking to a young student and heard myself giving the same old cautionary advice when they were feeling excited about something, reminding them of “calm excitement”. I caught myself doing this and said “you know what, don't be too contained, it's okay to enjoy things”. Then it came to me, that the best antidote to excitement is not always to calm it down, but to substitute the word “excitement” for “gratitude”.
Rather than “I'm excited...” try “I'm grateful...”.
The power of gratitude doesn't make you choose either high or low – it's Sattvic – so it integrates the joy of the situation but helps you stay grounded and present at the same time. It doesn't kill your enthusiasm, it just doesn't let you go into a state where you become detached from yourself. It's incredibly powerful and works in any situation:
“I'm grateful for the opportunity to travel”
“I'm grateful to have good friends in my life to spend time with”
“I'm grateful for the chance to share my knowledge”.
It also helps to calm nervous excitement like at a job interview or first date:
“I'm grateful for the possibility of new work”
“I'm grateful for the chance to put my studies into practice”
“I'm grateful for the chance to get to know someone new”
“I'm grateful to have the chance with someone who inspires me”.
You can turn pretty much any situation into gratitude. I'm still exploring this, but I can already feel the change within – a lifting of the austerity of quelling and a feeling of connecting to Sattva again – gratitude is a medicine that works quickly, it truly is a superpower!
Like anything, there are side-effects... Once you start to feel again, you feel all kinds of things – and some that you didn't expect! But to my gratitude, I have been able to witness these feelings more skilfully and either respond rather than react, observe, or turn them around quickly – so all of that work hasn't been wasted, there has been benefit in it. It's created a place for me to be able to look at those feelings. The trick is not to get caught back up in them again, not get caught up in any emotion that takes you out of your centre.
The bottom line is that we're looking for things that keep us in that integrated state; being able to receive all emotions, with wisdom, presence and love. I'd love to know how you go with this new way of using gratitude... Drop me a line if you have something to share, or want to know more.
Have you checked out the GCYC shop recently?
**Organic Cotton Bolsters - If you love to use a bolster as a supportive prop, then check out our shipment of bolsters now in the shop available in a variety of colours and prints.
**Eye Pillows - Back in stock! We have two varieties to choose from - vintage prints from Lotusflower Designs, or soft Handmade with Love by Brooke.
Students, as the warmer weather returns, please REMEMBER:
1. Bring your towel and place over blankets before using them, if sweaty;
2. Wipe down your mat after practice using the bucket/cloths provided;
3. Allow mat to DRY before rolling up again to avoid bacteria and odour.
Gong Sound Meditation with Leith James
Saturday 2nd November - SOLD OUT
Saturday 30th November - 1pm to 2.15pm - tickets $35
Summer Music Night - Community Get Together
December 2019 - Date & time To Be Advised
This year, we will move our annual Teacher Demo to the GCYC Anniversary in May and instead have a relaxed get-together to enjoy some music and spend time as a community before the end of the year. Details to be announced soon!
Summer Ashtanga Yoga Intensive
Monday 6th January to Friday 10th January 2020
Tyalgum Ridge Summer Yoga Retreat
Friday 14th February to Sunday 16th February 2020
PRACTICE TIP - Lengthening Hamstrings
One of the great things about having longer hamstrings (aside from making some of the poses easier) is the dramatic reduction of strain on your lower back. Essentially, the pelvis is the driver for the spine, and if the muscles supporting the pelvis are tight/restricted, so will the movement of the spine be limited.
When hamstrings are tight, and you try to bend forward (for any reason – picking things up, yoga, sitting in a certain position) the lower back muscles end up being in competition with the hamstrings as you ask your body to move in a way your muscles are not ready for. Lower back wants to extend forward, hamstrings are pulling back – and unfortunately, being more fibrous, dense and tough – the hamstrings usually win. This is what people often call a “pulled or strained back”. Persist in trying to move with these two competing forces and you can bring about a more serious disc injury or muscle tear.
In yoga asana, this is easily seen in Uttanasana – ironically one of the poses people often use to try and lengthen hamstrings. If the hamstrings are tight, and you simply try to reach down with your upper body (head to floor/touch toes) not only do you end up with aggravation between the muscle groups as per previous paragraph, but you also do absolutely NOTHING to lengthen the hamstrings.
The hamstrings are actually a collection of muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris long & short head) colloquially known as the hamstrings or the “hammys”. Although the actual physiology is more complex, for the purpose of this TIP, we observe the hamstrings have their insertion points on the “sitting bone” (ischial tuberosity) and behind the knee. The distance between these two points is where we can observe if the hamstrings are “long” or “short”.
Trying to lengthen the upper body down while keeping legs straight does nothing to lengthen hamstrings – especially if they are tight. You are more likely to irritate them (and tighten them further) and potentially weaken the back; and you may notice you don't actually feel much in the hamstrings.
Getting longer hamstrings is a little bit counter-intuitive. You actually need to bring your head and torso up, and soften your legs until you are able to anteriorly and posteriorly tilt your pelvis (tiger and cat movements). You can place your elbows on a waist high bench, wall or on the back of a chair; put your hands on a chair seat, or on a bolster or just come up to fingertips – whatever you need to do to raise yourself high enough to be able to move your pelvis.
Once you feel you are able to do this, tuck your pelvis under just to feel the movement of curling and activating the core; then keeping legs a little soft tilt your pelvis, turning sitting bones/tailbone upwards towards the ceiling. You should feel a sensation in your hamstrings. Don't overdo it – if too strong, release, bring your body higher and begin again. If not enough sensation, lower your body and begin again.
Once in the tilt, and aware of sensation in your hamstrings, stay there and breathe calmly and completely (ujjayi) for about a minute. Release the pose before bending the legs and uncurling up to a standing position again. (you may need to bend legs and walk in before coming up if using elbows to bench).
Doing this daily will create a more natural release in the hamstrings than trying to force them. They don't like being forced, and due to a little mechanism called contract-reflex, they may even shorten. As the sensation becomes milder, you can lower the upper body/head until you are hanging forward in full Uttanasana. You should still turn the sitting bones upwards, and ideally the hips are above the ankles, the backs of the legs have naturally straightened and the weight is distributed centrally in your feet (there is often the tendency to sway your hips back past your heels and put weight in the heels to avoid hamstring sensation).
This principle can be applied to pretty much any pose requiring hamstring length – simply extend the distance from sitting bone to back of knee by rolling sitting bone away from the back of the knee, and activating heels.
An advanced tip – press the heels into the ground (and as if you are trying to widen them, but don't let them widen), turn the sitting bones up, and roll your hips forward. When you feel you are going to tip forward, increase the action of the heels/sitting bones even more.
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
Hope to see you on the mat or at one of our events!
Love and blessings <3 <3 Suzanne