Ahimsa, a concept that on the surface seems relatively simple, NO Violence.
I believe most of us in the yoga world can comfortably say we are non-violent humans (which I might add is awesome!) I have a lot of respect for my friends who are out there fighting for the 'little guy' and doing their best everyday to make a difference, whether it be for animal rights, human equality, or protecting the environment. At times though these battles can be overwhelming and lead to a state of defeat and confusion. While others having this knowledge of Ahimsa can be lead to a false sense of hierarchy, entering them into a 'guru' like state of feeling bigger and more profound than everyone else. Either way the line is thin and for the most part, pretty grey.
As I have started to look at what makes a great yoga teacher, I have been asking myself more and more questions. Trying to unpick this divide that I have seen within teachers and myself. To me it looks like this – the teachers on the side of defeat and overwhelm; and the overinflated self 'guru' teachers. Yet there are teachers who sit right in the centre between both states. This is where I believe the magic happens, a state of deep humility, contentment and integrity.
I started to ponder what happens to humans that send us off either side and how to keep reflecting back to the yoga path to keep us in check, as humble and yet empowered teachers. An example that came to mind made me giggle as it is so obvious, yet when you start out as a teacher you can be relatively unaware of it.
Situation one – 'You have just taught an amazing Yoga class, you were loving it, the students appeared to be having a delightful time, the music was good, the temperature was perfect, you created some magical scent and everything is... dare I say... Perfect! Life feels good, you teach yoga, you feel amazing... class finishes and you move to the entrance to chat and see everyone out. This amazing thing happens.. all these blissed out yogis are floating towards YOU, singing YOUR praises and sharing how amazing YOUR class was, YOU'RE so fantastic, YOU made me feel so great! Wow – 'I love my job', everyone has gone and you lock up and leave with a huge smile on your face.
Here lies our first potential problem - depending on your level of self awareness and 'Santosha' (contentment). It is incredibly easy to ride off the wave that YOU have done this amazing thing by teaching yoga. However, at some point when studying to become a yoga teacher the trainee should understand that they are merely 'the messenger'. The person on the mat is the one doing the work. The yoga itself is what makes them feel amazing (not the teacher).
Certain teachers will always vibe more with certain students, but it is the yoga that is the magic. How a teacher delivers the class will of course play a role in how a student experiences the class. I believe it is important to keep in mind that a big reason a lot of teachers were drawn to yoga was from the experience felt on their own mats and the magic created through self discipline, no matter who the teacher was. External inspiration is one thing, yet the magic comes from an internal discipline. The yoga teacher guides the journey in many ways, yet does not have the power to create the students magic.
Yet all to easily teachers fall into this position of believing they are something else. Statements like; 'awake' or 'higher consciousness' get thrown around and then suddenly the teacher has taken on that 'Guru' complex. You see them around, they will talk all the right words yet something feels a little off centre. It can be hard to put your finger on, classes slowly become filled with lengthy lectures around spiritual concepts, or 'how to be a greater human', 'how to wake up to reality' etc. It can be hard to detect as a student, because yogic philosophy can break down a lot of these ideas, and I have to say, at times I touch on certain topics in my own classes. Yet what is the difference between sharing your love for the yogic traditions, and dictating to your students? How do we know when a teacher is being real and authentic?
How does Ahimsa play a role in balancing this experience for everyone?
Situation two – you have taught a class, right from the get go the class felt terrible, you don't feel grounded, the room is too cold, the students seem agitated and unfocused. You are hungry, tired and watching the clock. The class finally finishes, you fumble over your words to close the class, then sheepishly shuffle to the door to let everyone out. People duck their eyes and sneak out as fast as they can, one student stops to ask you a question about the agitated hip they are experiencing, you have absolutely no idea what is wrong – so you try to find a smile and reassure them to keep going with their practice and 'everything will be fine'. You lock up, leave, looking for a hole to crawl into – feeling defeated and small, you question why on earth you teach yoga.
The reality is, as a yoga teacher you will experience both of these situations numerous times as the years pass by. It is terribly easy to allow yourself to fall into a hole of self destruction (whatever that may be for each individual). This hole can be deep and a teacher can start to question everything.
Both these situations are as violent as each other, they keep the person away from their centre and out of contentment. This is violent behavior towards oneself and does not keep the essence and love for teaching alive. The teacher is then left searching for the high days to ride off and as the bad days role in, continues to fall into these destructive ways. With the easy excuse of 'its not my fault, I had a terrible class and those students didn't like me'. This excuse is not really good enough.
These experiences and emotions can happen no matter what career path you have chosen; its life, but to be honest, its not yoga. Yoga is self awareness, it is tuning in to the experiences we are having and then releasing them with humility and gratitude. I would love to say I have found that level of self awareness, and that I live in the centre - but that would be a huge lie. I swing from side to side, yet what I have discovered is to ALWAYS check in. If you feel those emotions rise toward one end of the scale it is a clear sign something is out of balance. For example - If you see yourself as an island; if you truly believe you are the only person who has something to offer (in your field); or if you feel like you have had a never before idea; then you my dear friend are completely delusional and way out of balance.
This is violent behavior – and what is worse is it affects far beyond just you, especially as a yoga teacher. When a yoga teacher doesn't truly know what they believe and what they stand for this effects the space that is being held teaching yoga. The poses are the poses they will work their magic – the space that is being held will affect the room and students in whole different way. Teachers are messengers who are opening up to what ever is supposed to come through. Sometimes those 'bad' class experiences are a reality check, a message here to bring us back down to earth, and back to the essence of Ahimsa. Therefore the 'good' classes are a divine gift that can be experienced with humility and gratitude. Ultimately all experiences are here to be had; with lightness in our feet and acceptance in our hearts we make our own magic.
Yoga is an incredible practice which allows people to create space in their body and mind – a practice that works towards balance and gets its big ups for the stress and anxiety reducing affects.
One of my favorite quotes refers to discipline being where true freedom is. This was my mantra when I started practicing full time; I may have taken this concept to far at times starting to believe that true freedom only came through struggle. One thing that drifted into the background was that yoga and balance are so natural to being human. That we are here on earth to be creative expressions of human awesomeness. Everyone is awesome, and if we focus on our similarities and strengths we start to experience the joy of living and all the abundance around! Striving for balance is something natural, the more we find contentment and ease in our daily lives the more balance we experience.
For me yoga kept flowing and lessons were learnt.
Through my own perceived challenges and struggles I always managed to get myself wound up in some sense of anxiety and stress. As time moves on, my yoga has moulded and modified to fit what I need. There is a constant cycle of change, discovery, letting go and grieving within my yoga practice, something I never expected to happen when I knew so little about it. As my life is teaching, creating and doing yoga this is a never ending cycle. After realising that I may need to change something for the longevity of my work, I recently started working hard to flip this stress/anxiety response into an upward spiral of joy, contentment and abundance.
This is where my Yoga and Essential oil Journey come together.
In the past I had used essential oils for different reasons but I never really fully committed to them or learnt about everything they had to offer; I guess I saw them as this add on and felt confused at why these tiny bottles were so expensive.
Through magical synchronicity essential oils made their way back to me in a profound manner. This time it has been an instant switch to fully embrace the incredible potency of essential oils. One of the strangest things has been the feeling that I have not added anything extra to my life, but that something had been missing and has now returned home. My long lost friend, Essential oils.
The more I learn about the oils the more I experience how they tap into a wisdom my emotional body already has, as if speaking and understanding another language.
Using Essential oils to support a yoga practice is pure bliss. Yes, oils smell lovely, but this is only the beginning. When using Certified pure therapeutic grade oils you are opening yourself and your students up to the entire experience that Essential oils can offer. Each oil holds its own special potency which can have profound effects through uplifting mood, energizing your body, alleviating anxiety, finding peace, calm and another level of depth in your meditation or yoga practice.
Its great to use simple techniques for a holistic experience while practicing yoga. I love using the oils at the start of my classes by breathing in the aromas deeply – this can open the air ways, lift the mood and bring a deeper sense of focus, and also can help to create a feeling of the room coming together. Having Oils of your choice diffusing can offer an incredible feeling for people to walk into, creating a tone or setting an intention in the space. Supporting yourself and students into their yoga bubble can really help them drop into a deeper sense of relaxation and mindfulness. Different oils can also offer a great support for savasana at the end of the practice, again assisting in the relaxation process. I know from my personal experience and seeing my students - relaxation can be a challenging and vulnerable place to be – Essential oils offer this extra support to feel more ease and content with the reality of right now.
I am thrilled and excited to be on this Journey and grateful I am able to share this experience of Essential oils everyday with people! Open yourself up to the abundance around and let life be lived to its greatest raw potential!
Why did I yell at them?
A guide to transforming YOUR Trauma
I want to share my experience and relationship with trauma, a loaded word that can get thrown around in all kinds of situations. I often heard the word trauma and thought it had to be derived from a horrible experience that ruined someones life. Not something that had happened to me of course...
In my opinion there tends to be a societal stigma around the word trauma. The dictionary defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” (A little dramatic..?). As if it were reserved for people who had terrible lives, and 'we' must feel sorry for them, then look the other way, because for the rest of us... our lives are fine and we need to get on with things. Yet if we were to admit we had experienced some type of trauma ourselves, everyone is waiting for that BIG story... The word traumatised sets a tone that something or someone is wrong, broken, fragile, weak or shameful (the list could go on).
This is not to undermine people who have experienced severe trauma.
I feel inspired by this topic as there is a golden thread which can potentially lead to great inner healing and the experience of contentment and beauty within each one of us. Of course with a topic of this nature there are going to be contradictions and a need for balance, as with anything in the human experience. I have also seen the topic of trauma taken to the other extreme, where everything appears to be a huge process, as if life itself stops (this to me, comes from a lack of understanding and in a lot of cases spiritual ego – the over inflation with ones sense of struggle and self importance where the process takes priority over everything).
What does trauma look like then...? Amongst all that life throws at us, I believe it to be true that we ALL come from dysfunctional families (not matter what). Humans are dysfunctional. With this in mind, us humans are collecting all sorts of crap from the day we are born (or before). There is nothing wrong with collecting this crap (and it is no ones fault.. especially not your family's), yet it does need to be acknowledged and dealt with (which I will explore later). The experience of traumatic situations continue throughout our lives and tend to be especially bad in times of vulnerability such as personal loss, being bullied, wronged, ignored, disrespected, patronized etc. All types of abuse, including self harm, cause trauma which can be experienced either through your physical body, mental body or emotional body. As these scenarios build up over time they turn into trauma trigger points, which are quite conveniently stored in these bodies to be released at any unknown time.
Let me say here – NOone is broken.
In saying that, being human we all experience trauma, in fact more frequently than we may think. Obviously in varying degrees, yet everything adds up and starts to create some interesting and at times frustrating tendencies and reactions in our daily lives. All these little drops of trauma (our crap) start building up in our emotional, mental and physical bodies. The little drops start accumulating when we are children (thank you Freud), they continue to build up throughout our lives, although as we age these drops coagulate and it becomes a lot more challenging to shake them off.
Being a visual person I like to think of this build up as a pile of dirty dishes, and no one else is there to clean them for you. It gets messy, cluttered and well hard to live in. As time goes on the pile gets bigger, the dirt sticks and the motivation to even open the kitchen door starts to completely disappear! Most of us have a reference point to what this feels like in our daily lives – Now, picture this as your internal landscape... what are we taught to do? What tools are we taught by society to clean our internal dishes?
Image credit: http://www.bobobibi.com
As I have mentioned, trauma collects in our mental, emotional and physical bodies. It manifests and expresses itself in more ways than I will ever know. Trauma hurts, it can breed anger, sadness, guilt, shame, a feeling of overall disgust and even mass rejection (the list could go on). What is felt by the individual is then dealt with by that individual using the tools they have acquired over their lifetime of conditioning (by society, family, peers, school, work etc). Whether you had the 'perfect' upbringing or you came from horrible abuse is irrelevant. The felt experience is the same as trauma is a part of the human experience. This does not mean we *sigh* and say – 'thats just life; now get on with it!' What is that teaching us? Who is that helping?
For the sake of clarity I will refer to what I see as the four main emotional groups, which trauma can fall under – Anger, Sadness, Guilt and Shame. You may experience any one of these, or all of them. This can be the major tool to recognise that you are being triggered. Through awareness we find acceptance, through acceptance we have the opportunity to transform the emotion. I will refer to another four main groups here..
Emotion (dis-ease) - TRANSFORMS - Emotion (ease)
Anger – Strength
Sadness – Courage
Guilt – Acceptance
Shame - Love
One of the common threads I have noticed in my work lately is how much personal trauma can destroy the people around us – therefore looping back and ultimately hurting the individual (whether the interaction is big or small / someone we love or a complete stranger). Say for example, 'George' heads to the market to buy his fresh produce. He asks a stall holder how much the organic carrots are as he cant quite see the sign. The stall holder (after a 'stressful' day) snaps 'Are you stupid?! The price is right in front of you!' George retracts into himself for a moment before responding. He feels hurt and guilty for his mistake. His response will be based on his trigger point at that time. (anger, sadness, guilt or shame). The interaction between George and the stall holder is perceivably unpleasant for both parties. With both of them being triggered in one way or another. If the experience of the trigger is not seen or accepted it will resurface. Whether it be instantly, later that day, or next week they are likely to experience a further reaction of either anger, sadness, guilt or shame. George feels a sense of guilt over the interaction, in seeing this as a triggered feeling rather than a rational reaction he is able to release and transform the emotion. This is not to say don't have emotions, it is teaching us to be pure and present in our emotional states. Own the mistakes, the hurt, and work to transform them through the way you are with yourself and others (clean your dishes). Obviously situations will vary depending on circumstance and what triggers each individual.
Without an ounce of awareness to where this behavior may be coming from, being angry or sad for something that seemed so irrelevant or feeling completely guilty and shameful over what you have done (or who you are) can be a very self destructive space to be in and adds to that pile of dishes. Yet here is your opportunity to become aware of the emotion you are experiencing and ask yourself 'Is this who I am?' Or is it time I tend to some of those dishes? Accept there are dishes to be done, take a deep breath and notice the emotions as they pass through, there is always a deeper thread that allows you to see beyond the reaction you have just had.
Being happy is more aligned with contentment than an outward expression of happiness all the time. Being triggered can be an incredibly powerful process, as with acknowledgment you are allowing the emotion (traumatic experience) to in fact leave your body. There are no set tools for everyone and every situation is going to require different tools. Take time to work out what yours are.
Traditional Meditation is NOT for everyone.
Yes meditation is an amazing tool, when you are in a relatively good place yourself. What happens the rest of the time? Tools for managing the ups and downs of daily living will vary (from individual and throughout ones life). For example - high intensity training, deep breathing, ocean swims, screaming into a pillow, plunging your face into an ice bucket, yoga, running, watching Netflix etc. Find something that is the least destructive to your body, mind and soul. (CAUTION here is where 'addiction' can get its wings). Be real with what actually works for you and start there, start anywhere and over time your tools will refine. The most important aspect is having awareness to the reality that what you are feeling is a trigger from past collected trauma and it will pass. We are looking to keep the inner harmony alive and for you to access that deeper feeling of self love, contentment and understanding. Start to find gratitude for the experiences that are being offered, even through a traumatic situation there will be a point where you are able to see the profound teachings of this experience (again this is not to say what happens to you was 'meant to be', it is giving you the opportunity to release the hurt of trauma and come back to your natural state of ease). This is where we start transforming the emotions (re-wiring our mental and emotional bodies).
Transforming perceived negative emotions into positive ones will be a subtle, sensitive and deeply personal process, there are different ways of doing this some that will work for you and others not so much. (To be clear, emotions are not wrong or right and when I refer to positive and negative – it is merely a guide to help bring you from a state of dis-ease to a state of ease). Look at what the emotions create within you and how this can be felt in a different way (there are always two sides to every coin). For example recognise that in a state of pure anger this could be seen as a raw expression of strength. That deep sadness can be flipped into incredible courage, the fighting feeling of guilt could be settled into understanding and acceptance. The lowest feeling of shame could be softened into love and compassion. It takes patience and a desire to understand ones self, this process can be happening at any time, in any activity – look at yourself, your reactions, what upsets you, where you find peace and why. Start to merge, integrate and lead yourself back to a feeling of wholeness.
The reason I believe this can help is because once we recognise the reality of what being human is, we can equip ourselves with the tools to truly be the best versions of ourselves. Life is hard enough, no one is without challenges – understanding we all experience trauma to some degree gives us the freedom to see it and move through it with ease, as well as cultivating compassion in our hearts for the people around us. Bringing awareness into our lives to the past, present and future trauma that may take place, we are able to observe, express and move on with the great honor of living!