108 Lockdown days -what have we done?

If my calculation is correct today – 8th July 2020 – marks 108 days of lockdown. That’s 9 days in March, 30 days in April, 31 in May, 30 in June and 8 in July. So, what have I done with the time?

Only one word on the lockdown list
Only one word on the lockdown list. Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

Lockdown lists

Initially I planned to be productive within lockdown constrictions. I never imagined we would have over 108 lockdown days. Admittedly there has been an easing over the last week and everything is beginning to open up. At first I saw lockdown as an opportunity to make a list of tasks undone.

Finish that course I started a year ago. Catch up with friends and relatives. Read all the books piling up by the side of the bed. Try out that new vegan recipe. Practise more challenging yoga postures.

I would write a book. Start a new hobby. Go on a diet. Get rid of all the things that don’t bring me joy. Clear out loft and cellar. Blog … for goodness sake get on with the blog.

Never make to-do lists in a crisis.

Days went by. The list of things-to-do settled under a pile of papers. Few items ticked off. The first two weeks were spent glued to screens broadcasting coronavirus updates only punctuated by meals, cups of tea and bedtime.

Time slowed down. Life got simple. To do lists became uncool.

Quiet warped Eden

The world went very quiet. Time warped both disturbingly and deliciously depending on mood.

No cars, no buses, no planes, no trains. Just shanks’s pony for transport. But hey, no pollution for goodness sake! Nowhere to go except food shopping and an hour of outside exercise. All in the clean air and under blue skies. What a revelation!

Blue skies abounded and the sun beamed. The daily weather forecast was light relief after the grim Covid statistics. April and May were unseasonably hot with a a couple of record-breaking days. In the garden we found a new Eden where the grim reaper didn’t stalk. We could grow veggies. Get back to the Good Life. Seeds, seedlings, rain and sunshine became our new vocabulary. More immediate practical dilemmas became our raison d’être. Should we order non-essential seed packets and compost? Should we be buying seed trays, vermiculite and seaweed fertiliser or more toilet roll? After much soul-searching we decided it was ok. Self-sufficiency was ok. Growing veggies was ok. Growing toilet rolls not ok – alas.

Lockdown gardening - Grow your own veg and toilet rolls
Lockdown gardening – Grow your own veg and toilet rolls! Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

A ZOOMING good time

If I was to teach or participate in a group social event during lockdown then to ZOOM or not was the big question. To my dismay I discovered many of my students are technophobes. So my creative plans for my business bombed. Obviously I had targeted the wrong generation. Despite this disappointment I became friends with ZOOM for my own social sanity. For instance I ZOOMED into people’s living rooms and sheds all around the globe dancing with tiny gyrating figures in rectangles. Well, it was weird especially when dancing face-to-face in a breakout room to break the ice! In order to get social solace I joined a ZOOM workshop about online yoga. Yet again not much social interaction just a few terse conversations in the chat box! Further to this experience I ZOOMED-out in an online yoga retreat. Result! All in all a zooming good time!

Zooming out during an online yoga retreat
Zooming out during an online Yoga Retreat. Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Lockdown neighbours – friend and foe

We became more neighbourly. Skills were swapped – yoga lesson for a recipe; garden advice for home-made wine. We raised glasses to drown our sorrows and … boredom. Hopes and fears and Covid news stories shared. Thursday evening we jointly applauded the nation’s heroes. However, it was the rats – our common enemy – that made us really pull together with wartime gusto. Rallying together our first attack was with peppermint oil and chopped onions. As a result a calm descended. No more rats’ tails in broad daylight. But the daring foe was hungry and regrouping. Our second assault with rat cages proved more effective. But alas, the pests persisted. Trips to the local wood to release ratty became our daily exercise and numbers were ratcheting up [sic]. Time for the professionals. The war cabinet took time to agree strategy. By the time a decision happened the rats were back at the re-opened restaurant bins.

Lockdown rat
Photo by DSD on Pexels.com

It’s all in the response

Despite all the frustrations resulting from lockdown, there are many positives that have come out of restriction. Perhaps the most important plus is what happens within you. In other words how you respond to the situation emotionally and how that brings about change.

For an introvert this period of social restriction has probably been a gift. On the other hand for an extrovert lockdown may have proved to be hell. However hard or easy 108 days of lockdown has been what is most certain is that the majority of people will have found themselves reflecting on their individual lives. What’s more, people will almost certainly be thinking how normal life might change.

Indeed, we have already seen ‘new normals’ created. But are these changes those we welcome? If not, then we have a responsibility to ensure that in the future we have more of a say in what becomes normal.

The status quo is crumbling. Crisis often creates opportunity to build a better world. Look within at your responses during these 108 days. What changes would you like to be a reality in the future? Certainly a rat-free one!

Hridaya akasha in yoga

Hridaya akasha: gift of compassion- Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Hridaya akasha is the Sanskrit term for the psychic space of the heart centre. The word hridaya means heart and akasha signifies space. The hridaya akasha refers not to the physical heart space but to the heart of the subtle body. In Yoga the heart space is the home of the Self where we hold the secret treasures of our inner life. The Chandogya Upanishad describes the heart space as follows:

As great as the infinite space beyond is the space within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars. Whether we know it in this world or know it not, everything is contained in that inner space.

Chandogya Upanishad VIII 1.3 [The Upanishads translated by Eknath Easwaran (1987, 2007)]

All yoga practice ultimately aims to bring the practitioner into contact with the vastness of his/her inner Self. This Self is our inner knowing or divine intuition. In other words the Self is our inner guru (guru simply means teacher, or one who reveals the light). The inner Self is vaster than we will ever know and within it exists the whole of humanity and more.

Gift of Covid-19 crisis

It is to the heart space that we turn our attention in order to connect with the oneness of our humanity. During the Covid-19 crisis we have had time to pause and reflect during lockdown. For many this turning inwards can be very uncomfortable especially when much of the time people tend towards extroversion. The opportunity to go within, to be introverted, is rare in our fast-paced modern world. Perhaps the gift of the Covid-19 crisis is the enforced slowing down of our everyday life and the resulting awareness of what is happening around us and within us. There is no doubt that this experience will have brought change into many a heart.

Hridaya akasha and compassion

Personally I found the lockdown time quite fruitful once I had recovered from the shock of finding routines turned upside down. The time of reflection and introversion has been very welcome. As I watched the drama unfold on the news I became more aware of my own heart space as it resonated with the human stories unfolding on screen and in print. During my daily asana practice it helped to listen to the chanting of mantras (mainly Tibetan Buddhist chanting) to maintain concentration in the heart space. Asana practice has never been quite so fulfilling and the ensuing meditation time quite so compassion-based.

This A-Z series of blogs focuses on unpacking the Sanskrit terms used in yoga.

Return of the Blogger

Blogger’s block is now broken by circumstance and through the cracks a new creativity cautiously creeps. 2020, I resolved in January would be the year my blog leapt into life. The first quarter yielded diddly-squat (no that isn’t a modern yoga posture). Then Covid-19 crept into our consciousness and life as we had known it was transformed within a few weeks. Without much warning I suddenly find myself with more time on my hands as my yoga business drys up and I twiddle my thumbs wondering what to do.

Initially there was a numbness – a common symptom of shock – and a sense of unreality as though I was just in a nightmare that I could wake up from. As each day passed the reality of the situation leaked into my bones. This situation was real and though it will pass eventually (ever hopeful), it was going to take some time.  The first emotion that gripped me was a fear for the safety of family, friends and acquaintances and this extended to everyone everywhere whoever they were. And of course this fear was the inevitable fear we all have of the likelihood of death.

To feel alive my yoga practice has become ever more important.  Spending two hours a day on my yoga practice with emphasis on sun salutations and strong energetic postures got through the first week of lockdown. I felt strong, vital, energised and ready to tackle anything.  The second week (has it really been that long) my practice still has the vinyasa element but added to it is the need to refine and tune back into the classic yoga postures such as the headstand and the shoulder stand with more diligence.  And of course there is the relaxation,  meditation and the chanting.  There is something soothing about chanting mantras.

Along with renewed enthusiasm about my own yoga practice I am also ready to blog again. The character of this blog will change from its original incarnation which ground to a finite halt.  From now on the posts will be more about my personal interest in living life gracefully in order to enhance longevity. Out of every crisis and challenge, creativity comes.  New life is breathed into fusty ways of living, fusty habits, fusty institutions.  Welcoming the New …cropped-DSC01602-1.jpg

 

 

Kathmandu trip 1990s

Central Kathmandu 1990 Photo © Sanandi-jacq
Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal Photo © Sanandi-jacq
Kathmandu Photo © Sanandi-jacq

In the 1990s I travelled to Nepal for two weeks to explore Kathmandu. I stayed with family who were working there at the time. During this trip I met Robina Courtin – a Western Tibetan Buddhist nun who inspired me to enquire into Buddhism. Whilst on the trip I experienced for the first time the burning ghats. It is without doubt that this experience of witnessing bodies burning by the river acted as a memento mori of the inevitability of death. As a result of this trip the reality of the impermanence of life struck home. Following the experience I became a keen reader of eastern philosophy.

G is for Garudasana

Garudasana means Eagle pose. Garuda = eagle. Asana = posture.

It is one of many standing balance poses in yoga. The balance postures help to balance the nervous system and ease stress and anxiety. Concentrating on an unmoving spot/point in front of you whilst in the asana can aid in keeping balance for longer because the mind has to calm down in order to stay focused on the point.

Garudasana is described as an asymmetrical standing balance pose. This means that the practitioner focuses on one side of the body then the other experiencing the condition of their muscles on each side separately.

Garudasana has many benefits but the main ones are as follows:

  • strengthens the muscles of the legs and arms
  • tones the nerves of the legs and arms
  • loosens the joints of the legs and arms
  • enhances the ability to balance
  • trains the individual to focus on a fixed point or drishti thus enhancing balance and reinforces the concept of ekagrata or one-pointed concentration

This is one of my favourite balancing asanas. By imagining oneself as an eagle about to fly off from a perching point one feels the inner energy being conserved in the still posture. The arms and legs wrap around each other conserving the energy within. In the forward bending posture there is also a sense of containment of the energy between the bandhas moola bandha and jalandhara bandha. Then if you allow the imagination to let you become the eagle as you release the arms and legs it feels as though one is the actual eagle with powerful wings lifting off into flight. For me ‘quality’ in asana is all about sensing the potency of the pose not only its physical benefits but its mental and spiritual benefits.

Pastel painting of Garudasana / eagle pose by Sanand-Jacq

This A-Z series of blogs focuses on unpacking the Sanskrit terms used in yoga.

E is for Ekagrata

EKĀGRATĀ

Eka means ONE. Grata means pointedness. The full word – ekāgratā – means one-pointedness. This is essentially another term for concentration. The yogi is ever trying to cultivate single-mindedness in his/her practice whether that is within the asana (physical postures) or during dharana practices (concentration practices). One-pointedness can be likened to the idea of flow¹ both at the physical and mental levels.

In our daily life we are constantly distracted on the mental level. In Patanjali’s yoga sutras 1:30 he states the following disturbances keep us from the mental peace of ekāgratā.

Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained – these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.

Satchidananda (1987)⁴

We also tend to be distracted at the physical level and this is where the postures of yoga come to our aid in preparing the firm ground for gaining mental peace.

All yogic postures are an effort to unify or simplify our somatic existence. They are as it were one-pointedness (ekāgratā) at the level of the body. Ordinarily we are as distracted on the physical level as we are on the mental level.

Feuerstein³ (2003)

Concentration on a single point in asana can involve focusing on an aspect of the body such as the space between the eyebrows, the tip of the nose, the big toe, the thumb. These points are known as drishti.

In Dharana activities the single object can be a candle flame (tratak) or any object from nature, or an image of a spiritual master. The object can also be mental e.g. a thought, a word, mantra or prayer. It could be a visualisation of a spiritual person.

The immediate result of ekāgratā, concentration on a single point, is prompt and lucid censorship of all the distractions and automatisms that dominate – or, properly speaking, compose – profane consciousness. … A yogin can obtain discontinuity of consciousness at will … It goes without saying that ekāgratā can be obtained only through the practice of numerous exercises and techniques …

Mircea Eliade (1969)²

So why would we aspire to cultivating such one-pointedness in our lives? What benefit does it have?

One-pointedness certainly helps us experience ‘flow’ in our lives. Read ¹Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1992) for a comprehensive explanation of how flow can be experienced. The main aim of ekāgratā is to calm down the flux of our everyday consciousness thus lessening the effect of fragmentation in the mental and physical spheres. By doing so, we begin to make ourselves whole, reintegrating all the diverse aspects of ourselves and unifying with something larger than ourselves. With ekāgratā we join with or tune into the rhythm of the cosmos. This is the first phase. In the long term yogis are aiming to gain liberation or samādhi. That is a subject for a future blog post.

Through samadhi, the yogin transcends opposites and, in a unique experience, unites emptiness and superabundance, life and death, being and nonbeing. Nor is this all. Like all paradoxical states, samadhi is equivalent to a reintegration of the different modalities of the real in a single modality – the undifferentiated completeness of procreation, the primordial Unity.

Mircea Eliade (1969)²
Mandala detail 2017 – eye of one-pointedness/ekāgratā © Sanandi-jacq

This A-Z series of blogs focuses on unpacking the Sanskrit terms used in yoga.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

¹Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1992) Flow, The Psychology of Happiness, Random Century Group

²Eliade, Mircea (1969) YOGA – Immortality and Freedom, Princeton Bollingen, Chapter 2

³Feuerstein, Georg (2003) The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, Theory and Practice, Shambhala

⁴Satchidanananda, Sri Swami (1987, second edition 1990) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Integral Yoga Publications

Photo-of-the-day: Mandala

The making of the Mandala – symbol of impermanence © Sanandi-jacq

The mandala is created from a base of sand on which a group add powder paint, seeds, flowers, stones and other objects. The mandala is created in a day and at the end of the day the whole structure is dispersed to the four corners of the earth. The Tibetan Buddhists do this practice with great concentration making the most beautiful mandala which after a set period of time is ritually swept away showing the impermanence of life.

The empty mandala made of sand surrounded by rope with an orange rose set in the middle as the starting point for the creation of the full mandala.

D is for dharana and dhyana

DHARANA

Dharana is the sixth limb of yoga. It means concentration. The Sanskrit word dharana has the root dhr which means ‘to fix’ or ‘hold firmly’.

Concentration is holding the mind on one form of object steadily for a long time.

Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, III-I

The classic concentration practice in yoga is tratak. This practice involves sitting and gazing at a candle flame without blinking. Once the eyes become tired the practitioner closes the eyes and continues to view the after image of the candle flame in their mind. When the after image disappears the practitioner opens their eyes and continues focussing on the candle flame in front of them. Ideally the practice should take about 10-20 minutes to be effective. This practice aids concentration.

Your mind can be trained to concentrate on any object for example an apple, a leaf, a flower or any object in nature. The mind can concentrate on sounds or sensations in the body. Or focus on a mandala or yantra. The point of focus is endless and up to the practitioner to decide what suits best. Such concentration can then be brought to bear on daily tasks and life in general.

DHYANA

Dhyana is the seventh limb of yoga and means meditation.

Through regular meditation, the mind becomes clear and pure. The subconscious mind releases hidden knowledge that allows a better understanding of oneself and our relationship to the world.

Swami Vishnu-Devananda¹

There are many forms of meditation available and it is for the practitioner to explore which meditation best suits his/her own being. The simplest one is to sit and focus on the breath though many might find this quite difficult at first.

The benefits of regular meditation are enormous ranging from creating a better link between mind, body and spirit to promoting calmness of mind and inner clarity to transformation of the personality to a closer connection with the divine. The secret is to practise meditation on a regular basis.

This A-Z series of blogs focuses on unpacking the Sanskrit terms used in yoga.

Centre of the Mandala – a point of concentration – Mandala Yoga Ashram © Sanandi-jacq

Bibliography

¹The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, (2003) The Sivananda Book of Meditation, GAIA BOOKS P.7