Terminology Tuesday: Tratak

A candle flame is often the choice for tratak

Tratak is the practice of steadily gazing on one point. In our yoga classes in Kreuzberg, we practice Tratak on a candle flame, but virtually anything can be used as the object of concentration.

The term tratak from Sanskrit means means “to look” or “to gaze”.

 

It is one of six Hatha Yoga methods to remove toxins and sluggishness from the body’s organs.  This practice is said to relieve eye ailments, making the eyes clear and bright. It also said to improve a whole range of physiological and mental functions. Used in the treatment of insomnia, depression and anxiety, Tratak can improve the memory and concentration.

Through this practice, you learn that concentration involves no strain or effort, but that it is a relaxed state in which your attention remains easily fixed on an inner or outer object of your choice.

 

Here is a quick guide from this Yogapedia article:

  1. Light a candle and sit at least one meter away from it with the flame at eye level.
  2. Focus the gaze on the flame and keep it there without blinking for as long as possible.
  3. As thoughts arise, acknowledge them then return to focus on the flame.
  4. When the eyes start to water and tears flow, close the eyes and focus on the after-glow of the flame, bringing awareness to the third eye point.
  5. Meditate here until ready to come out of the practice.

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

Accepting positive feelings

I love the idea of meditating on positive feelings too – have you ever thought about it? It’s about honouring those precious moments and learn from them.

RAIN meditation

Tara Brach’s RAIN

I have learned about “the RAIN of Self-Compassion” from an English Yoga Berlin class in Kreuzberg.  It’s a particular mindfulness practice that helps us to work through difficult emotions.  It is a Buddhist meditation that was later on tweaked by Tara Brach.  Read more about it here, where you can explore a wealth of resources made available by Tara’s website.

Being present to our feelings

I wanted to share how differently it landed for me one particular evening.  I connected that kind of meditation to difficult feelings only.  But that day in particular, I was feeling so blessed and grateful (for everything in my life) and I was trying to skip those feelings, not allowing them to be, felt awkward – with a thought like life needs to be hard to be meaningful and to make a difference, something like that.  Then I got anxious.

When the meditation found me in the evening, laying in Savasana, I was able to apply acceptance, understanding and nurturing to positive feelings too.  I was able to welcome them and be present to what they were telling me.

When I reflected upon it later, I realised that maybe positive feelings is not necessarily the right word.  We are talking about feelings that are challenging in other ways.  The excitement of anticipation can be tiring or distracting.  The feeling you want to explode from love or tenderness can be overwhelming.  They are all feelings that have that sensation that the cup of emotion being very full and is about to overflow… in a positive way.. but overflow.

Finding out that RAIN works for them too was very comforting. It’s as if the feeling is not out of control and overflowing, but I can sit with it in a steady glowing way. I think it reminds me of a fire. It can be consumed real quick and glamorously fast, or it can burn steady and for a while giving heat for a longer time.

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

Anahata Chakra – a personal experience

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Anahata is the emotional powerhouse of your self.  In this chakra we process emotion and feel love, forgiveness and compassion.

 

Here, we learn that the most powerful energy we have inside of us is love.  Alas, this chakra gets strongly affected by trapped anger and the experience of grief and loss.
Anahatha in every day life
I have been struggling with anger, grief and loss for a long time.  I observed that when the teacher asked us to focus on the heart centre, I could not really feel the heart centre like the other centres, by will, by sending focus there.  And yet, spontaneously, especially after a good yoga session, I would feel a clear sensation in the middle of my chest.  It is a similar sensation like when the stomach is empty.  It feels like a call: “hey, I am hungry!”

What do you feel in the area of the heart? Have you ever observed how emotions feel physically in this area?
Anahatha in meditation
In meditation, I visualised the heart: I was following the instructions to bring forth the details of what I could visualize, what I could imagine.  I saw a beautiful yet hard armour around my heart. Then the teacher suggested “what are you not allowing yourself to feel?”.  I knew this was an important question.  I was struggling to keep focused, mind wandering.  The parent voice inside me said She just said ‘what are you not allowing yourself to feel’.  Some kind of energy was rising up, and with it resistance.  I got a glimpse at the energy contained in this powerful chakra centre.
What is your relationship to powerful emotions like rage or wild joy? Where do you feel them in your body?
To explore this part of my body through physical observation has helped me greatly. By grounding in the body sensations, I accepted my difficult feelings and allowed them to be.  It’s as if cracks started to appear in the wall that I felt was insurmountable for so long.  I felt hope for healing, as if I were a plant that is finally getting watered!

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen

 

Clelia is an Erasmus entrepreneur working as an intern in learning how to set up a small yoga business such as English Yoga Berlin. We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, private classes for pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes for people struggling with chronic pain.

Terminology Tuesday: Rotation of Consciousness

rotation of consciousness

photo by Fern

Today we are focusing on a term that we use in every class, during Yoga Nidra: rotation of consciousness.

The rotation of consciousness involves taking the practitioner’s awareness to different parts of the body. Wherever we focus our attention becomes the place where we also centre our energy. Bringing one’s awareness to each part of the body increases the energy in that part and allows the participant to identify and relax tensions there.

By using this practice we invite ourselves to experience total relaxation while being awake.  Nidra, here, means literally sleepYoga Nidra, therefore means the yoga of sleep.  It is about being aware while the body sleeps; the rotation of consciousness is one of the techniques that makes this possible.  It brings heightened awareness to the whole body, piece by piece. It grounds us with connecting to the sensations present there.

Important Tip

If you, like me, end up falling asleep during Yoga Nidra, first of all know that it is natural and common.  But, like me, you might regret having missed the visualization that follows, and really would like to stay awake.  Try and repeat the teacher’s words as they reach you, while feeling or visualizing the body part – it worked for me!

Clelia is an Erasmus entrepreneur working as an intern.  Her placement involved learning how to set up a small yoga business such as English Yoga Berlin. We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes for people struggling with chronic pain.

My Healing Journey at English Yoga Berlin

Healing at English yoga Berlin

It was such a pleasure to meet you all!

My Erasmus placement/internship at English Yoga Berlin is coming to an end, (read here if you missed my blog back in May) and I wanted to take a minute to share what a healing journey it has been for me, it’s only the beginning, but many say the beginning is half the battle’!

 

When I got to Berlin on April the 15th, I was really excited to be starting a placement with a small organisation that shared the values I aspire to.  It meant so much to me that both Erasmus and English Yoga Berlin thought that their time and money would be worth my ideas, life experience and skills.

Parallel to that, I was experiencing a rapid deterioration of my degenerative arthritis to the left hip, and growing symptoms for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).   I was hoping that this journey was going to be the opening I needed to understand and transform.  I was also apprehensive that PTSD could interfere with me giving and making the most of this opportunity.

Relaxing as more space to just be

From the first Yoga Nidra session at Pinelopi’s class, I experienced a loosening of the layers that were wrapped up tight to ‘hold me’ together.  By layers I mean thought patterns, defensive and self-critical in many places, focusing on a sense of powerlessness about how things are.  Pinelopi helped me to recognize them as repetitive, random and cyclical.  This went hand in hand with my physical pain, as the muscle layers stiffened up – are you familiar with this?  Observing mind activity this way creates space, to see more clearly.  I felt an overwhelming set of emotions, including of course relief and joy. Yes, my joy was trapped underneath all that.  This is one aspect that English Yoga Berlin taught me about yoga.  Relaxing is about getting more space to be and to become – and for me it was really powerful.

Becoming aware and conscious

Pinelopi would ask questions like “Where is your pain?  Where does it begin?  Where does it end?”  I realized that with my physical pain I had learned to have a ‘generalized’ experience about it.  One loses the perspective and dimensions of it.  “In general, I have pain”.  It became like white noise, after you hear it for a while you learn to screen it out.  Have you ever realized how noisy your fridge is only when it stops buzzing?  Like that.

Although I can see how ‘generalizing pain’ in my body was a way of coping, in the long run it creates a disconnection with the body.  The body is the source of a lot of important information.  A big part of my healing journey with English Yoga Berlin happened by attending all the classes, and nourishing through repetition and practice.  It’s like learning to play an instrument or to speak a language.  Setting an intention at the beginning of a class, like with Juli every Sunday at her Vinyasa Flow sessions, is a powerful action that connects a physical practice with a mindset, with the mind.

Limitations are our teachers

The  gentle questioning, either through actual questions offered by the teacher, or, specifically in Hatha Yoga, through the enquiry of how different poses, asanas, feel, led me through reflection:

 

where are our limits?

can we accept them, respect them?

can working within a limit be the real challenge?

 

Healing needs a safer space

I would have so much more to share about this yoga class in Kreuzberg: from breathing techniques to the feeling of belonging in a group committed to respect for our and each other’s bodies.

This has allowed me to nurture a priceless experience of the every day, every thought, every step of healing, the healing that never concludes – because healing is ultimately our powerful input in life.

English Yoga Berlin is a safer space

English Yoga Berlin is a safer space

Terminology Tuesday: Niyamas

In our previous post we explored the concepts presented by the Yamas.  Today, for our Terminology Tuesday post we bring you the second part of Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas.

Hanging the laundry can be an exercise in Tapas

 

The Niyamas (the second limb) are the attitudes and behaviours that yogis can work towards to cultivate happiness and to improve their lives and environments. There are five niyamas as there are five yamas. Below is an introduction to three of them.

Tapas
“Tapas” is an attitude of passion and commitment. Some people think of it as discipline, or austerity. The word actually comes from the Sanskrit verb ”to burn”-so Tapas is all about fiery consistency. I think that we often get this mixed up with difficulty and striving. I prefer to think of it more as a gentle flame that inspires us to keep going, even when the tasks at hand seem very, very mundane!

Svadhyaya
Svadhyaya means active self-reflection, or study of the self. This doesn’t mean egotistical navel gazing. Rather, it’s about learning enough about yourself to see that you are part of something much, much bigger. Asana practice brings the body and mind to a place of quiet, so that we can experience our union with everything.

Isvara Pranidahna
The last Niyama is Isvara Pranidahna, which means ‘surrender’ or ‘faith’.  Isvara Pranidahna means that you do your best, in the moment, with the tools you have, and then you release your attachment to the outcome.

 

For a more in-depth exploration of the Niyamas, read here.  If you wish to learn more about how these values influence your own life, then we invite you to our 2.5 workshop on Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas coming up this Sunday. In this workshop we will use 10 guided mini self explorations to make the yamas an niyamas something applicable to our own personal 21st century lives.

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

New Year’s Wish for 2019

May we experience peace, joy, solidarity and lots of laughter.

snow and stillness

Peaceful wishes

May our  eyes be open to all the small, and not so small, acts of care and love everyday.  May we notice the love in our friends’ quirky jokes, relentless listening, shared farts and smiles from strangers on a bus.   Random acts of love are the network that sustain us in our lives.  They are the juice that fuels our healing, our hope, and our connection.

May our eyes be open to both our own and the world’s suffering. Open like a mother’s embrace, awake like a vigil at midnight.  May solidarity warm our bones and give us strength to do the work that needs to be done.

May 2019 provide a place for change, healing, deep understanding and sustainability for the whole world.

With love,

English Yoga Berlin

Sit up straight

 

“Sit up straight” is a phrase we often use as yoga teachers. The very premise of the asanas in Hatha yoga is to create a body that is comfortable enough to sit still, with a straight back in order to meditate. That is why we practice asanas: to reduce the dis-ease in our body, so that our minds can quiet, and that we can experience Existence beyond our body and mind.

But what exactly does “sitting up straight” mean.  In my ten years as yoga teacher, I have seen that this instruction is up for a myriad of interpretations. Everyone tries to do what their perception of straight is. However, the perception is created from deeply ingrained patterns and beliefs and does not always end up bringing you to a more balanced posture. Many interpret “sit up straight” to mean that you should concave your back and look like a ballerina. Others interpret it as pushing your hips forward and lean back, like swaying in the wind. Often people use a lot of muscular energy to try and hold their perception of straight.

Now, the fact that this instruction can be interpreted so widely constitutes an actual problem for asanas. Sitting up straight is the pose that all other poses stem from. One could interpret it as the mother pose that gives birth to all other poses. So when we are confused with what this means, and see our students use immense amounts of energy to execute it, it distorts the rest of the practice. There is an important link missing in our teaching.

But unfortunately, most yoga teacher trainings do not prepare you for this kind of analysis. Mine included.

This is where the Alexander Technique can help immensely in modern day yoga.

Last July, I had the pleasure to host David Moore and Rossella Buono, in a six hour workshop at our studio in English Yoga Berlin. They brought the Alexander Technique into yoga and into my life. They provided me with the “missing link” I was needing in order to take my yoga teaching to the next level. I understood that certain students were getting stuck in yoga poses because they were losing sight of the overall process of coordination. The “missing link” was in understanding and coordinating the basic posture from which all other poses rise…. or in other words, understanding what “sit up straight” really means.

In a merely six hour workshop, I learned so much as a yoga teacher! I was so inspired by this workshop that I immediately starting applying my new knowledge to my every day yoga classes, seeing a real difference in students. Since then, I have been working on getting David and Rossella back to teach Berlin yoga teachers more about how these two practices can work together. I am delighted that in July 2018, practitioners and yoga teachers from all over the world will come to attend a six day workshop doing just that!

 For more information about the workshop please click here.

 

Pinelopi specializes in Hatha Yoga. Her yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. She offers Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes for people struggling with chronic pain. In mid-September she will be offering her first English speaking yoga and mindfulness retreat dedicated to presence.

Is there such a thing as Accessible Yoga?

What is NOT accessible yoga?

accessible yoga

Do we all have to look the same?

You know the story. You’ve hurt your back and a friend says “you should do yoga!” And then you go with your friend to their favourite weekly yoga flow class. You put down 20€ and hope for the best. It’s fast, sweaty, the music’s hip, everyone’s dressed in the latest yoga fashion trend and almost everyone looks like a ‘yoga journal’ or ‘sein’ cover model. You find yourself struggling to keep up. You try your best, but somehow your body just won’t let you contort itself into those poses. The next day, your back hurts more than it did before, along with your wrists. And you swear you’re never trying yoga again.

Okay, it’s perhaps an exaggerated stereotype of what an accessible yoga class is NOT. But it does represent a rather broad view of what contemporary westernized capitalized yoga is all about. One of the problems is that most western people (both lovers and haters of yoga) believe that yoga is only that which is written above. I am not the first to say #notallyoga. But like all #notall hashtags, it tries to absolve the writer of responsibility that we should all be taking. Yoga is a 5000 year old practice stemming from South Asia. By believing that yoga is only that one thing that has been exploited by sporty opportunistic Californians erases its history and invisibilizes the decolonial work done by contemporary yogis such as nisha ahuja and Be Scofield. As yoga practitioners in a western world, we should all be working towards decolonizing our practice, promoting the diversity of yoga styles (eg; restorative) and practices (yoga nidra, pranayama, bhakti, etc.), and making yoga more accessible to everyone. Cultural appropriation does not make yoga classes at all comfortable or accessible to people who experience racism. Nor do expensive fees to lower-income folks, body-image and ‘healthy-living’ marketing campaigns to people who look different than what the mainstream expects healthy yogis to look like, nor to those with dis/abilities (physical or mental). Yes, I say “we,” but it means “I” and perhaps you too. What can I do as a non-South Asian yoga practitioner who teaches classes?

What IS accessible yoga?

I don’t have all the answers to this. But I have some ideas and would be happy to hear from you about what you feel that means. At English Yoga Berlin, we strive to offer accessible yoga classes. But we recognize that there are many things we cannot offer as well, and our studio is not accessible to just ‘everyone.’ Our Kreuzberg yoga studio is up one flight of stairs – this does not allow those who cannot take the stairs to even attend our classes. We also do not provide sign-language interpretation or any other language that we ourselves do not know (Greek, Spanish, German and English). We run our small back house yoga studio in a city with people from all over the world, with many different languages, and with a lower-income average than most bigger European cities. Our regular rates are significantly lower than bigger studios in Berlin, and we offer our classes in simple English, making it more economically and linguistically-accessible to newcomers. Pinelopi‘s injury conscious and gentle Hatha Yoga classes are especially suitable for participants who suffer from chronic pain. Juli‘s community yoga classes have at their focus the creation of an intentional space for people who feel marginalized or excluded in mainstream yoga classes, eg. queer and trans* folks, abundant bodied, bpoc. As well as an additional sliding-scale reduction for lower- / no-income folks who make Berlin their home (this reduction is not for tourists). Both of us include a 15-20 minute guided relaxation, based on yoga nidra techniques, at the end of all of our classes. Yoga Nidra is a proven method to help reduce stress, insomnia and anxiety. These are just some of the ways that I try to counter the dominant culture’s exploitation of yoga. But it’s a continual learning process and there are many more strategies that I continue to learn about and adopt through reading articles and discussing with others. There are other yoga practitioners who I’ve met in my Berlin community and in other places, who are also exploring various strategies. This movement is growing. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on it, and appreciate links to articles and other yoga spaces! Thank you.

 

Spiritual Sunglasses

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

There is no doubt to me that 2016 was a bad year for the world. The Syrian war, Brexit, Trump, 34000 people forced daily from their homes as a result of conflict or persecution, thousands of children at risk of starvation in Nigeria are only SOME of the things last year had in store for us.

It is hard to really feel the pain of this world. So we don’t. We turn away. We try to focus on our smaller scaled- seemingly more controllable lives. And understandably so… who could allow themselves to feel it? What if our heart simply breaks? We do our yoga. We visualize light around us and in us. And, often as a result, we distance ourselves more and more from the reality of this world.

But was that the point of yoga?

Does forming a spiritual understanding of the world -one where Light and souls exist- mean distancing ourselves from suffering?

When I asked my teacher this during my training, he said that we must learn to wear spiritual sunglasses. I liked the metaphor in that. He said that we have to be able to see a spiritual world where souls walk this Earth and Light is in everything AND to be able to put the sunglasses on and see the world that is in front of us, to feel the suffering and the reality that comes through. One would be a deeper reality and another would be a manifestation of reality. Both equally important to be able to see and feel as a yoga practitioner.  We are to practice putting the glasses on and off.

Tara Brach talks about the Tonglen meditation from the Tibetan Tradition. This meditation is about listening to the cries of the world and responding to it. As you breathe in, you feel the pain of this world, as you breathe out you respond with love and care for it.

Now many would rightfully wonder what good would breathing in and out do to the suffering of the world? When seen as just a breathing in and out, I would say that this will do no good at all. But, as mentioned above, feeling the world’s suffering can be so overwhelming for most of us, that we shelter ourselves from it and become more self-centered and apathetic. So being able to feel and connect with both the suffering of other people and the love you have for this world, I believe can do a lot. We first must be able to connect with our reality, feel the pain and love in our hearts before we can respond by taking action.

We must know how to put these spiritual sunglasses on and off many times a day, keeping both realities close to heart, caring for both our human condition as our spiritual one.

 

 Pinelopi specializes in Hatha Yoga. Her yoga Berlin Kreuzberg classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. She is a sivananda yoga teacher that also offers Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes for people struggling with chronic pain. All her yoga classes end in deep relaxation using yoga Nidra techniques.  In her Berlin Chakra course, she uses the chakras as a base line to self-explore concepts such as forgiveness, group thought, letting go, and becoming self-aware of limiting beliefs.