Maslow’s hierarchy of chakras

chakras pic
Source: montereybayholistic

You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny. – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which he proposed in 1943 is still a popular theory today for explaining human motivation, especially in management. At a first glance, it seems quite similar to the ancient Hindu Chakra system, especially when some of Maslow’s pyramid diagrams are colour coded using the rainbow, rather like the above picture. The chakras were first proposed in the sacred Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, which were orally transmitted since, what seems like, the beginning of time, and were first written down around 1900BC.

Maslow’s theory came from studying people he described as exemplary, or inspirational – people such as Albert Einstein or Eleanor Roosevelt. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also studied exemplary people and found that these people regularly engage in activities in which they lose themselves to bring about a state of flow, or in meditation terms, they lose themselves in the gap which is where our unbounded consciousness – the space between our thoughts and ego – lie. The gap is the place where we find our pure potential and infinite possibility.

Connecting to Shakti

The chakras are seven energy centres which run from the base of our spines to the top of our heads in our bodies. They are gateways connecting us to the world we live in and beyond to the universal life force known as Shakti, the most magnificent expression of flow, a place of infinite possibility.

We awaken Shakti energy and activate our chakras through meditation. Indeed, the ancient texts have described masters of Shakti being able to meditate during a storm, control nature, and command supernatural powers.

If this sounds rather far fetched, research in neuroscience has shown that meditation can help rewire the neural networks in our brain which in turn reduces the amygdala or lizard brain – the prehistoric part of our brain – where we register emotions such as fear, anger and anxiety, thus the end result makes us feel more at peace and at one with ourselves and the world around us – powerful stuff. We can calm our inner storm and be still when all is not.

And even less esoterically speaking, the chakras are where our nerve endings collect and our blood vessels are concentrated, which affect our hormones, our immune functions, and our vital energy. Focusing in on the chakras and awakening Shakti through meditation can make us feel emotionally balanced or even enlightened. The word enlightenment has many meanings, but one lovely definition from the Buddhist tradition is we become enlightened by knowing ourselves.

Who am I?

When we feel more self-aware and less emotionally agitated, when we sit quietly with ourselves and breathe deeply, it is easier to answer the question: Who am I? A difficult question to answer, perhaps. But, once we tolerate, love, and have compassion for our own dear selves, it is easier to extend tolerance, love, and compassion to others.

Inversely, when we are intolerant of ourselves, we are intolerant of others. Jesus knew this when he said: Love your neighbour as yourself. You cannot love someone if you do not know how to love yourself. You cannot give someone something you do not have, whether this is food and shelter, or love and compassion.

Maslow’s pyramid echoes a similar journey. At the most basic level, our needs are physiological – we need food and shelter, for without them we cannot function and their lack makes us fearful and anxious. Maslow called all four of the bottom needs deficiency needs. Along with food and shelter, we need safety, love, recognition and esteem from others, otherwise we feel deficient, and this makes us strive to find our place in the world. It is only when we are satisfied, and feeling fulfilled can we self-actualise and share that by deed or word.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

No striving only surrender

The main difference between Maslow’s theory and the Chakra system is that Maslow looks outside of us to satisfy needs, to work for our food and shelter, to work for our community and love, to strive. In contrast, the chakras encourage us to look inside to connect to Shakti or flow to meet our needs. There is no striving, only surrender.

When we are at one with all things, we respond and interact. When we are separate, we tend to react and contract. Mahatma Gandhi was aware of this when he said, Be the change you want to see in the world. You can literally change the vibration of your life and what and who goes on around you when you behave differently.

Aligning Maslow’s chakras

Maslow and the chakras contain many similarities, but we need to look inside ourselves, not outside to others to make us feel or be different:

  • Physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter which make humans think of little else are found in the Chakra system at the Root chakra represented as ruby red and the earth,  it is our foundation, it’s mantra is I am;  and the Sacral chakra which is orange and water, it is nourishment, purity, and protection, it’s mantra is I create.
  • Safety needs either personal or job security are found at the Solar plexus chakras represented as yellow and fire. It is our power centre where our emotional and physical fires burn bright with transformation, intention and desire, it’s mantra is I do.
  • Social needs such as belonging to a club or a family, to give and receive love are found in the Heart chakra which is green and air,  it is innocence and pure, a  connection to the infinite, the divine, it’s mantra is  I love.
  • Esteem needs to respect ourselves and have others respect them are at the Throat chakra which is blue and space, it is connection and communication, it’s mantra is I express.
  • Self-actualisation needs are when humans want to do realise their potential, and feel fulfilled, this is seen in the Third eye, or Brow chakra, it is purple and light, it represents clarity and judgment, it’s mantra is I see.
  • Transcendance needs were added by Maslow later on, and aren’t shown in the pyramid above. However, they correspond to the Crown chakra at the top of head, otherwise known as the thousand petal lotus, it is ultraviolet or white,  it is about connecting to source, to feel unity with the great consciousness, it’s mantra is I understand.

The secret of eternal youth

People who have awakened or connected to Shakti tend to be constantly evolving and expanding. They are energetic and are often described as young or youthful. It is easy to lose this expansion and delight with life, as we grow older and, I think this is why we are culturally obsessed with youth. Our young constantly evolve and expand, they are full of potential and promise, unlike the older members of our society who have had responsibility and routine creep in, making their potential and promise options seem fewer.

However, it is not too late. It is possible to reclaim that promise if we surrender to the flow, to that divine Shakti energy, and remember our desires,  which we are told in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad can lead to our destiny.

 You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from scratch once again. – Bikram Choudhury

Let’s dive deep and reconnect to our driving desires.

Yoga Lessons: A year in front of Bikram’s mirrors

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. – Lao Tzu

When I first turned up to Bikram, I couldn’t believe that I would have to look at myself in a mirror for 90 minutes whilst I got hot, sweaty, and contorted myself into various positions.

I have always preferred my yoga super quiet with the lights down low because that is the only way I thought I would be able to concentrate on me. However, nearly a year on, from when I first committed to doing Bikram yoga, I now see that having mirrors in the yoga studio is genius.

Acceptance

To stand in front of a mirror and to truly accept myself exactly as I am and not cringe, not feel embarrassed and not want to change anything about my own dear self, is the first step, and could well be the only step, to inner peace.

I have a lot of grey hair which I have been covering up for years, but six months into my practice I stood on my mat one day and looked at my hair and asked myself why. Why am I pretending my hair isn’t grey? I am not 20 years old – well I had grey hair then too (but that’s another story). Why do I need to look the way I did when I was 20?

Then, a couple of months ago I swapped my t-shirt for a yoga bra which allowed me to gaze upon my midriff in an act of unbelievable not me-ness, because I have always thought of myself and my midriff as an Egyptian scribe.

In Egyptian times, only scribes could write and were well paid for their services, consequently they had prosperous rolls which would be on display in the market place as they sat doing their job. Nowadays we tend not to admire prosperous rolls so much, which is one thing, so to get them out in public and look at them without judgement, well that is another thing altogether.

It has also been a good way of seeing whether I really am following the script’s command of suck in that stomach which one teacher then followed up with basically forever, which makes me laugh even now. And, I have learnt to take that off the mat and do it wherever I go. It is a way of standing up taller and taking up the space that I am entitled to, which us women sometimes are unable to do (and is a whole blog in itself, coming soon). Of course, now that I have engaged with that part of my body, admired my prosperous roles, sucked it in (or mula bandha-ed it), my core is stronger, which makes me admire that strength and that part of my body in a way I never did before.

Letting go

At certain points in class the teacher might advise me, and everyone else, to let go of the mirrors, because sometimes I need to bend right back and trust my body. Also, sometimes when I am trying to attain a position, I am striking a pose instead of feeling what is going on in my body. And, some of the 26 poses especially in the standing series are very cool and very dramatic, and getting into them and doing them well is pretty fantastic. However, it is not about the glory of the pose, as one fabulous teacher puts it, it is about the shift taking place inside and it is about going to my edge – the area just outside my comfort zone – these things are not reflected in the mirror at all, so I have to let go of the mirrors to look inside.

Sometimes, a teacher might tell us to just let go, which is all powerful, all encompassing. I might have done a great pose, or I might have not quite managed it, but either way it is over now. I have to let it go to give myself the mental space and energy to do the next thing. In the same way off the mat, I have to let go of the thing I wish I had said, or hadn’t said, or the kindness or unkindness I did or didn’t do. That moment has gone. I have to let it all go. I am in a brand new moment which is the only moment I have. I only have the now.

Only what you are not giving can be lacking in any situation – A course in miracles

One day I was doing my usual thing of what I now call mental bartering, which sounds like this: If I do this pose, then I can have a rest, and miss the next one out, and do the one after and then I will a lie down and I will look like I am trying. It was a long monologue in my mind mainly about how hot, how tired, and how I wished I was anywhere else but in the studio. Then the teacher said: Pick up your foot, which I am guessing no one did, who knows for sure, I was busy talking to myself. And then she said: Just pick it up. Don’t think about it, just pick it up, and, she made us practice picking up the foot. It was a revelation. I became free. I had not been giving my full attention to the script and that was what was missing, I was busy mentally hoarding my energy, but by giving it up – the energy, the thoughts, the bartering – and giving my all to that moment, instead of spending all my energy, the act of giving up seemed to free up infinite energy. I picked up my foot in that moment, and every moment afterwards and I was and I remain gloriously free. When I am spent and have nothing else to give, I lean in, and trust that the momentum of picking up my foot will carry me further and create anything I desire.

I picked up my foot: Dandayamana Janushirasana (Standing Head to Knee)

Taking this off the mat, in the moments when I feel afraid, when it feels, for example, like someone not giving me what I need, instead of getting angry and aggressive, I can lean in, and listen to that person, or to myself and ask: What is missing? It is not easy, and I am not always successful. However, this is what I have learnt: If I am looking to someone else for something, it is that I believe that I will feel better in the having of the something that someone has to offer. But that is just not be true. I have everything I need. I don’t need anyone else to make anything better for me. No one else is in charge of my happiness.

No one else can pick up my foot. No one else can stop the monologue in my head. No one else can listen to the script for me.  It’s me who needs to give that which is missing, either to the situation, to the other person, or to myself, and then let the momentum of the giving create the very thing I desire.

To stand in someone else’s shoes you have to stand in your own shoes first – Pema Chödrön

Bikram’s mirrors are like life itself, it mirrors me. I am embodied so I see and interpret the world in terms of myself and my past experiences. I thought I needed silence and the lights down low to do yoga to concentrate on myself, because that was how I had learnt to do yoga, and where I got the best results. However, I have since learnt that there is nowhere better than when the heat is on and the lights are bright to connect with myself. To look at myself openly and honestly, with compassion and acceptance, and to take that off the mat and into my daily life, well that has been the greatest gift that practising Bikram yoga has given me, and I know, I have only scratched the surface.

Namaste!

Yoga lessons: More Bikram wisdom

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

I sometimes wonder if, when someone found Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras after it had fallen into obscurity, did they think: What on earth is he on about? Which is what I have often thought when I am in the studio following the script in Bikram yoga, until I listen with focus and make an adjustment and then I think: Ah, that’s what it means. Consequently, I am beginning to think that Bikram Choudhury is a genius.

Here are my latest Bikram observations which I am taking off the mat to make positive changes one day at a time.

Practice, practice, practice

If you want to get good at something, you practice everyday. If you learn the piano you systematically practice scales in order to get them right. And, it is the same with Bikram, each day I practice the same sequence of asanas and each day I get better at them. Some days I learn something new about being in that pose and I feel different. Some days I don’t feel that I have learnt anything at all, and that is fine too. Overall though, I am achieving results. I am getting stronger legs and a stronger core. I sleep better. I feel better and my anxiety levels are going down.

On top of this practising, when I come out of Bikram, I tend to choose healthier food, I drink less alcohol and caffeine because my body doesn’t always want them. I am happily surprising myself with my choices.

Where else though could I practice more consistently to see the results I feel would improve my life?

I have everything I need

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.~ Rumi

I have tight hips and so I thought that I needed to practice extra hip-openers to get more open hips. However, practising has made me realise that there are enough hip-openers in the Bikram sequence – Vrksasana (Tree pose) and Trikanasana (Triangle pose) spring to mind. But, all standing poses, twists and backbends are hip openers. So, each day because I was thinking I had to do extras I wasn’t paying attention to what the poses were doing for me. I am doing enough. The sequence gives me everything I need.

In the studio, I have space on my mat, and someone guiding me through 90 minutes of asanas reciting the script with a group of like-minded people are around me inspiring and doing the same as me. Sometimes, I might think I need more space, or more light, or might heat, or less chatter. But I don’t really. I just need to let go of what I think I need and focus on what I have.

And, this is the same outside the studio, often I think I need to buy one more book or listen to one more lecture, or do one more course to achieve what it is I want. However, when I focus on what I have already done, or what I have already listened to or read, perhaps I already have everything I need to achieve what I want, I just haven’t understood that yet.

Being present

One of the teachers said to me that the script was a mantra which is really an amazing way of looking at it. She is so right. I thought a mantra was a short phrase like Om,  which it can be. But, a mantra is also a sacred thing. It is an instrument of thought to focus the mind.

So, the script as a mantra helps me to focus my mind. Sometimes when I let go of the focus my mind wanders and when I look up I find that I am holding the wrong pose or drinking water and I am not in synch with the rest of the class. This is nothing to feel bad or wrong about. It just means that I am not getting as much as could out of the present moment because I am elsewhere.

So, when I return my mind back to the script, I am doing what I came to do. I am relaxing my body and mind by engaging in the present and working hard.  Also, when I am focused, I don’t need anything to be any different.  I don’t need anyone to behave any differently, or for it to be hotter or colder or less humid. It just is. I am working with this present moment and I am in the flow: The place where we find happiness and where we feel most alive.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I want to change myself. ~ Rumi

I have blogged before about staying on my mat and not wishing for things to be different. It occurred to me the other day that when I get annoyed on the mat or off the mat with people – it is always a reflection of myself- and then I read this Iyanla Vanzant’s post on Facebook:

We all have somebody in our lives who has the uncanny ability to push our buttons. We think it is the other person. Surprise, surprise! The problem doesn’t lie in the other person, it lies in us! No one can push our buttons unless the buttons are connected. Detach whatever fear, guilt, shame, or anger we have attached to the issue and people will be unable to push us.

Iyanla Vanzant, Facebook post 23/4/16

And, after thinking about the above, I got chatting to a yoga friend who was telling me that she doesn’t try to do the poses which she might fall out of in case she disturbs someone else. And, then another yogi said that she gets annoyed when people don’t attempt poses properly near her because it puts her off doing her poses properly.

Often we look to others to change their behaviour so that we can change ourselves. But, as Iyanla said, other people are a mirror of ourselves, and so if someone is or isn’t doing something which affects us then it is really us who are affecting ourselves. We have handed over that power to someone else instead of digging deep and owning our own abilities. We need to be the change we want to see.

And, this is the same in life: Our suffering doesn’t help anyone who is suffering. Our shame, guilt, fear, self-consciousness does not free anyone else least of all ourselves. Only empathy and love can do that. However, we can only give love and empathy to others if we first give love and empathy to ourselves. Instead of us mirroring others, let us be the change we want see too, and then the mirror of others will give us what we want to see.

Refilling the cup

emptyfull

I used to think that I couldn’t take 90 minutes out of my day to take care of my body. I had so much to do. It was such a false economy. I have so much more time and energy to live my life after a yoga session. I am fitter and healthier and happier.

Bikram yoga might look like a bendy, sweaty carry on in a mirrored room far removed from mystical yogic meditation, but it is one and the same. It is a moving meditation which exercises mind and body in a way I am sure even Pantajali would appreciate if he was around today.

I am so grateful I found it when I did. Namaste.

Yoga Lessons: Bikram wisdom

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from scratch once again.

– Bikram Choudhury

I am entering my third month of regularly practising Bikram Yoga, and am thrilled with the changes which are occurring in my body and my mind. With these changes, each time I practice Bikram, I feel I understand better why it is designed in such a way.

Inner Heat

Two weeks ago the studio where I practice Bikram had problems with its heating for about a week, which was a complete revelation.

I thought that it was the heat of Bikram Yoga which made me feel good, and that I get hot and sweaty since I am in a hot room. Without the heat, I learnt that I work my body really hard, and still get hot and sweaty, just not as much as if the heating was on at full capacity, and without it, my muscles ache the next day. Bikram creates an inner heat, the heat yogis talk about a lot, which I’d never noticed before because of the hotness of the room, which really does help my body work out without injury.

One size does fit all

As the above Bikram quote says above, this series is suitable for everyone. Bikram says in his book, Bikram Yoga, that he put together the 26 asanas of the basic series in this specific sequence so that every part of the body, internal organs, veins, ligaments and muscles are systematically worked.

As, part of my British Wheel of Yoga training, we talked a lot about planning sessions, But, the thing is, the teachers don’t necessarily know who is coming, or what their students’ strengths and weaknesses are, so Bikram has been quite smart and planned a sequence to systematically extend and contract every muscle in the body regardless of the individual.

Sivananda has a basic series too which I have always used and loved – headstand, shoulderstand, plough are some of my favourites. However, Bikram is more energetic, and has made it easier for me to get a stronger core and legs with the standing poses, which has helped my legs and mind, and then the core strengthening ones like locust pose or salabhasana. Sivananda has locust too but if I am by myself practising, sometimes I skip it because it is hard and because I don’t do it well, which is just a mental thought pattern I am learning to break. The other day when I couldn’t get to class, I performed salabhasana in my home practice and was very glad I did.

Like a flower petal blooming

I said before, that the script drove me bonkers. Now, it has become my friend. Sometimes, I have no idea what it is on about but I hang on its every word and as I follow what it says, I find that yes I am rolling up like a Japanese ham sandwich, or I lean back, fall back, go back, way back, more back. And, I love the opening words of pranayama guidance: Concentrate, meditate. It puts me in the right frame of mind with my happy smiling face, and I lock the knee, lock the knee, lock the knee.

I have stopped wishing for the script to be anything but what it is. I enjoy it now, which is a great lesson. I have learnt a non-attachment but mindful attention to it and from that positive frame of mind, I listen without judgement and appreciate everything it has to teach me.

Staying on my mat

I don’t exactly enjoy it when people on the mat next to me blow their noses and leave their tissue scraps all over the floor between our mats. However, I am learning that in these situations, I need to relax. It is awful having a cold and runny nose. They are not doing it on purpose, and they are not doing it on my mat. I really don’t have to focus on their snot rags nor have an opinion about it.

I am learning a little bit, as Byron Katie says, to welcome the thoughts I have about these situations so that I can demonstrate to myself that I don’t need to be up in someone else’s colds, yoga practice, life. Where I should be, and need to be, is on my mat, doing my yoga, for my health, and my sanity. I stay on my mat and I get right on up in my practice, life, and health.

Once on my mat, I use the sequence to see where I have tightness, for example in my hips, which means that I struggle a little in Tree pose, or Vrkasana.  I can also see where I have advanced, for example, in Standing Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Janushirasana). Previously I only went as far as  just lifting my knee up in my hands and practising my firm foundation and locked knee. The past couple of weeks I have been able to extend my leg and nearly lock that knee too. On the days, I can’t do it well, it really is because I am not focused enough on myself, my knees, my breathing.

The gift of time

Previously, I used to think that Bikram took up so much time, but since adopting a regular practice, it has given me so much time. I have:

  • Time, just for me.
  • Time, without the constant chatter in my head.
  • Time, where no one can contact me.
  • Time, where I learn all about my mind and body.
  • Time, which leaves me feeling very good.

And, I have so much more energy which lets me stay up late and do all the things I used to think I would never have the time to do.

Bikram yoga might take time and energy to do, but it gives me so much more time and energy than I ever remember having. I am so grateful.

Yoga Lessons: Bikram one year on

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

Last year, I discovered the heat of Bikram Yoga. However, once my 30 day introductory pass was over, I didn’t sign up again. Then winter came, and with it, my struggle to keep cheerful once Christmas and New Year was over.

This year, instead of dreading January, I made a plan. I signed up for a Bikram 10 session pass and embraced #dryjanuary: no alcohol for a month.

I limited classes to once or twice a week because last year I couldn’t physically manage Bikram yoga everyday. I would find myself so tired after class that I would nap in the afternoons and lost whole days to Bikram.

This year I decided to go at my own pace and do what was right for me. Fast forward four weeks and I have already used up the 10 sessions and bought a six months unlimited pass, I now look forward to every minute of Bikram and am disappointed if I can’t get to a class.

What has changed? Everything and nothing. But, I have learnt some lessons this past month in Bikram’s Torture Chamber as Bikram Choudhury himself calls it (oh yes, I bought the book too: Bikram Yoga). Here they are:

Change

We all know that the one constant in life is change. We are changing, others change, and circumstances change too. So, the things I didn’t like about Bikram last year, like the script and the amount of time it took out my day, have changed somewhat and things which are the same don’t seem to matter as much.

At the studio I go to, some of the teachers have changed, and they are less rigid and speak the script more freely. They remain faithful to the order and timing of the poses but don’t always use the silly phrases e.g., like a Japanese ham sandwich. And occasionally when they do, I don’t mind. My attitude has changed. I care less about what other people are doing, and more about what I am doing.

Time has changed for me too. I used to begrudge the time it took to do Bikram, but now I find it gives me more energy so I can quite happily stay up until midnight and sleep well and get up at 7am, and have time to do all the things I need to and things that I want to do. It would be a false economy for me to say I don’t have time to do Bikram. It gives me time.

My body has begun to change. It feels stronger and leaner. Abstaining from alcohol has been very easy, and limiting tea and coffee, and drinking lots of water makes me feel much better. I have changed once more into the clean living yogi I always aspired to be.

Commitment

I am no slouch when it comes to achievement: I ran my own business, I have a PhD (which I did to become a lecturer), I am a lecturer (something I aspired to be), my husband and I did 20 months every night of peritoneal dialysis on our daughter at home, and I dragged myself off to chemotherapy when I was so weepy and scared.

However, what Bikram has made me realise about myself is that I don’t ever really commit to anything. I start everything with an attitude of I’ll see how it goes, I can always leave. I have, throughout my life, done everything this way. I have never committed wholeheartedly to anything. I don’t know why. But, I know Bikram will help me find out. And things I have really wanted to do: like write a book, I haven’t ever managed to do successfully, because I lack commitment. I get part way through and give up, or worse, I never get started.

What I have found is that committing to something saves so much mental energy. Like #dryjanuary, whenever I found myself in a restaurant this month, instead of my usual script: Shall I have a drink? I shouldn’t really. What shall I drink? Shall I have another? I shouldn’t, yes I should. Go on then, you deserve it. Oh, I wish I hadn’t drunk so much. Not drinking was such a relief. I didn’t have to go through any of that mindless chatter.

The same thing happens in the studio. Most poses only last a minute. So, for that minute I commit to do the best I can. Instead of I can’t do this, maybe I can’t, I can take it easy, I can always stop. I take a breath and do it, whole heartedly. Then I commit to doing another pose for another minute, over and over for 90 minutes.

Just this week, I took that whole hearted feeling outside the studio and I am committed to writing that book this year.

Inquiry

Last week, I was getting ready for Camel pose or Ustrasana when I thought yet again: I can’t do this and then my mind started the usual argument script, as I call it: Yes you can, course you can, you have done it a million times… Not in this heat, I can’t, I won’t, I don’t want to.

So, I bent over into Child’s pose and cried into my mat. I cried for all the times when I had to do things I just didn’t want to do, and for the things I still have to which I just don’t want to do, and then I got back up and into Camel pose for the second set.

Only by inquiry can you find sometimes the truth behind whatever it is that is bothering you. I took that thought off the mat and am currently applying Martha Beck’s three Bs in order to bin, bag, or barter the things I really don’t want to do.

And this is another thing I have learnt. I don’t like Camel Pose at all, but the benefits of Camel Pose are far greater than any discomfort I may feel. Camel pose is good for the thyroid and nervous system. This realisation is so useful when deciding whether to do something or not. How does this benefit me? If it improves my thyroid and nervous system even if it challenges me, I will do it and feel good. Taking that off the mat, I can ask if this of benefit to me? If it isn’t and it is making me feel cranky, then it’s time to stop it.

Focus

I find that focusing on myself is a great gift. How am I doing? How am I feeling? It is not a selfish approach – which is what I used to believe. It is better for me and for everyone around me. In the studio, I am there to get the most out of the practice. This means looking in the mirror and correcting my poses to feel the most benefit. It is not about anybody else. It is about me.

It also means looking in the mirror and accepting myself right where I am, whatever I look like, and whatever I am capable of doing. It is a hard thing to see myself exactly as I am. But, it is also a fabulous thing. I am developing much more compassion for myself: You look a bit tired today Ruth, how about an early night, my love. Once you see and love yourself for exactly who you are without wishing to change yourself, it is much easier to do the same to others, to meet them exactly where they are with compassion and without wishing them to be any different to how they are.

The same goes for my feelings. When I focus on how I am feeling – say I am feeling a bit irritable and behaving in a snippy manner. I accept that and recognise how I feel. I do not take it out on my children. I don’t need to shout at my kids in order to get them to change their behaviour in order to soothe something inside myself which has nothing to do with them in the first place. Only I can make myself better. And, flipped the other way, only I make myself feel bad. No one else should have that power.

Patience

I have committed to Bikram for the next six months, but have practiced Yin Yoga consistently for the last three years, and before that Sivananda and Iyengar for much, much longer.

What I know for sure is that: Yoga will get you there, as yoga teacher Barbara Currie used to say when she was on TV. It is true. I have seen myself achieve poses I never dreamt I could because I had the patience to practice everyday.

And, that is another thing I am learning once more in Bikram. I have the patience to practice only the first part of Standing Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Janushirasana) with just my knee up, until I have a firm foundation and a locked knee. I am receiving the benefits of that part of the pose – mainly leg strengthening, which was another reason for me signing up for Bikram. I wanted a stronger core, and stronger legs. Once my legs are strong enough I know I will progress to the full pose. I know that I need patience until my body is ready.

Patience is a great thing to be able to take off the mat. I am calmer when I drive and I am calmer when I interact with others. I don’t have to get frustrated. There is nowhere else to be. I am here until I am not. As much as we think we are stuck, we never are, we can change, at the very least, the way we view any situation, in order to gain some relief. If we can learn that discipline, we can make any situation better.

I am beginning to feel that with discipline, there comes freedom and a clarity of mind. Who knew that I would learn that whilst grunting in hot pants in a sweaty mirrored room?

I am so grateful I did.