Are you feeling it, too? A sense of knowing that there’s more; a deeper experience of this very moment;
more everyday aliveness; an even richer expression that could be felt, touched and tasted through your life?
Cherish this feeling – it is the beginning of expansion!
Yoga is a science of the mind. We may treat our experiences in the world, as well as the perceptions of experience itself, like objects and equipment in our mental laboratory. Some of the objects help us thrive as humans. Many others are unhelpful coping mechanisms, remnant from old hurts that still, unconsciously, drive our behaviour day to day. As caretakers of our internal environment we have the power to do something about this. We can learn to deeply see and understand these objects of mind, through honest discrimination and through direct experience of something different. We can learn to either transform or transcend these objects – actually, we can even learn to transform or transcend the equipment!
To begin, then, yoga asks us to do sincere, honest inquiry into all our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Just a little at a time – with so many thought patterns to choose from, and with our tendency to fall right back into old habit, it’s no wonder that this work usually takes time…! (Thankfully; we don’t actually have to work with all of our mind patterns. Eventually we make a habit of understanding and of transforming or transcending unhelpful beliefs; and the struggle increasingly resides all by itself.)
We learn to observe our thought patterns through witnessing our thinking processes, words and actions, repeatedly in meditation and in daily life, with attentive mindfulness. Then, we may learn to detach from overly identifying with any one pattern, gradually seeing that we are at the same time all and none of these identity patterns.
A parallel, and at least as potent practice of mindfulness is to observe how recurring triggers in life evoke recurring emotional patterns within us. We can then use that awareness to go deeper into the unconscious to illuminate, understand and release trauma from earlier unresolved emotional experiences. The emotional charge from a trigger is in fact one of our greatest teachers in and of life.
Only sincere, deep acceptance helps transform the pain we have suppressed from something we suffered to something that empowers us. Only with full acceptance can we begin to find equanimity in the totality of our being, all parts included, beyond the conditioning of ‘good’ to ‘bad’. This is the process of integration.
When we begin to truly, deeply move past inherited concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, that’s where the magic of true compassion begins to unfold. We are releasing personal over-identification with both the objects of experiment and the experimental equipment itself. It may sound like we are losing ourselves – but in truth, we are coming to a place of freedom, where we can choose what identities we feel are most aligned to us; what we truly wish to embody in this life. Unbound by conditioning, we are free to make fully conscious choices about how we want to express through our words and actions in the world. Only from this radical place of self-awareness and self-acceptance can we truly live in present moment awareness, rather than from habit, every day.
Yoga offers us frameworks for this internal science – general principles of self-inquiry with which we can sort out who we are and what we are not. Today, traditional yoga is often divided into many branches. Each branch offers a more specific framework that may suit some better than others. Yoga emphasises that there is no one way to do this inner journey, but every one of us needs to find what helps us personally to move inward. As the tools for this are many – and may change over time as we change internally – I tend to focus on general principles/foundations in addition to specific tools in my teaching.
It is important to remember that the only person who can judge which framework is most helpful to you, is you. Learning discernment and mindfulness can be especially advantageous here. Together, these two key skills can help us access the internal wisdom we need to know what actually works for us, what doesn’t, and what used to work but no longer does… Because we also need to remember that no matter how much we’ve learnt, we should always be prepared to let go of old truths, tools or habits as we outgrow them, leaving space for going even deeper.
Yoga finally cautions us of letting authority be a determining factor for whatever we believe in. As far as possible, we’re encouraged to experience our own internal science within ourselves (within our daily lives also) rather than just believing other people’s claims (although these may serve as a useful starting points for internal investigation). Thus, yoga is 100% non-dogmatic – every journey is evidently unique, and every perspective on the inner journey is valid for the person who is experiencing their journey. Living this truth; of everyone needing their own path – eventually builds acceptance for all of our journeys without limit.
My passion is to encourage the direct experience of Yoga. This will inevitably mean something different to everyone. My focus is on integration of the different aspects of oneself, which creates the stable foundation needed to experience deeper, embodied, present-moment awareness.
I lean on the framework of traditional yoga as well as modern tools related to mind-body-energy health, to enable deeper and wider self-understanding, self-acceptance and self-love.
Many tools: As we struggle with different things at different times, depending on the situation I might temporarily emphasise mindfulness and discrimination, joy and playfulness, safety and stability, effort and focus, pleasure and body freedom, inner and outer courage, self-compassion, self-trust, contemplation/understanding (mind) and clarity/inner wisdom (Self), emotional, mind, energy or body based healing etc., to directly experience the power of the mind. All of these concepts can be seen as tools to understand our own being on different levels. The better we understand ourselves, the better we can meet our deep unmet needs, which directly improves our day to day experience. And the better our needs are met, the easier it is for our natural positive qualities such as love and joy to shine through – and for us to share these qualities with others.
I am a trauma informed yoga teacher certified (RYT-260) in the Akhanda Shakti method. Akhanda, founded by Yogrishi Vishvketu, refers to ‘all of yoga’ – traditional yoga as outlined above. Shakti here refers to the addition of my direct teacher Adi Shakti; in brief, this part is about seeing, understanding, honoring and experiencing the creative power of the Universe, also as it exists within ourselves. My personal practice has an emphasis on devotion and service (also called Bhakti yoga), Kundalini philosophy and experience, and Jnana yoga.
In physical classes I teach either in the Akhanda Shakti method, including traditional sun salutations and other asana prevalent in modern classes, as well as breath work and mantra; or alternatively, free Vinyasa flows inspired by modern Ashtanga; or also calming gentle classes. I also have a very special affection for Yoga Nidra and similar deep-working meditative experiences. Whatever the form, I emphasise the importance of starting where you are. Being able to do asanas is not the point – it’s so much more interesting when we learn to use yoga as a tool to understand ourselves better. That said, my teaching always aims to be in tune with my students – and honestly, sometimes a plain physical class does the trick.
Yoga came into my life just when it was needed the most. I was living abroad, isolated, buried in endless work and beginning to question the meaning of life. Feeling a life transition luring around the corner – and desperately needing it – I was too afraid to let go of the old. The major obstacle and the key to overcoming it both hid within my strong identification with my situation at the time. A life in physics had long been my purpose and great passion, and I couldn’t reconcile that this path, that I’d constructed my entire life around and sacrificed so much for, could actually lose its magic to me. But it was never about what I was doing, day-to-day. It was about how I define my identity altogether.
Not listening to that inner voice, I spiralled into a ‘dark night of the soul’ until I experienced a complete loss of identity. This identity loss was not an experience of bliss, but of chaos. I lacked the foundations to stand in the loss. At my worst I had very little memory recollection of my life thus far, and couldn’t even recall “my” personality traits. I lacked an internal anchor in life to “tell me who I was” and how to show up in the world.
At that rock bottom, yoga and meditation found their way to me. Slowly, through sometimes painful self-honesty and much confusion, these practices helped me build myself up, from the feet to the crown; from nothingness to a more deeply aligned version of myself. I can now look back with immense gratitude for having experienced no-identity; for having let it destroy my overly strong attachment to a few identities in order to rebuild myself with a fuller integration of all of my parts. I am grateful for having chosen to let these life lessons open my heart instead of hardening it – and for continually opening up to what I can offer others through the wisdom of my own experiences. This is the gift inherent in any experience, whether painful or pleasurable – the possibility for it to deepen our self-awareness, self-honesty, self-compassion, self-trust and wisdom, if we let it.
I have now considered myself a yogi for over a decade, and I’ve found the cliché true for me thus far: the journey never ends. Layer by layer, there is more to peel off; richer experiences to be had; subtler insights; more personal power to be released, more diversity to be explored in the artwork of our lives, and more wholeness and bliss to be felt as we let go of our limiting beliefs. I believe in enlightenment as an unfolding journey, revealing ever deeper experiences of present-moment awareness and unconditional love. And I believe that we are here to embody that expansive state of awareness in and through our physical bodies, constantly tuning into what feels most authentic and loving, and allowing that to guide the full expression of who we are.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I would be honored to listen to yours, and to explore this unfolding journey together for a while. Namaste.