On yoga, on life: a review

Have you got Netflix? If you have, I highly recommend a film on there called ‘On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace’. It’s about a bloke called Michael O’Neill who used to photograph Hollywood stars. In a nutshell: he got injured, was told he’d never use his arm again, found yoga and meditation, his arm recovered.

As a result, he decided to devote his time photographing yogis. The film features interviews with teachers talking about yoga philosophy. They are wonderful. The kundalini teacher Gurmukh talking about fear of death, Eddie Stern on community and peace. Swamis explaining how we are not our body and how yoga is every minute of the day. I particularly remember one teacher saying that we’ll only be happy when we let go of desire. It’s the wanting that makes us unhappy.

Not so great are the clips of him taking photos of young yogis doing extreme poses in front of beautiful scenery – silhouetted against a sunset, a grafitti’d wall, the New York skyline. Skimpy clothes. Why do it? Why conform to a yoga stereotype? If these teachers are saying yoga is so much more than the physical body, why bring it back to that?

Kumbh Mela, 2010

Anyway, it was good to watch. He visited the Kumbh Mela – the massive Hindu pilgrimage that takes place at different locations along sacred rivers. I had the honour of being part of the Kumbh on Ma Ganga in Haridwar, India, in 2010 – something I’ll never forget.

I finished the film and took a moment to consider my current life with a one-year old baby and how my life has changed since I took my dip in the Ganga eight years ago. I felt that I had drifted away from yoga somewhat. I’m struggling to get on my mat and there are a lot of pooey nappies.

But then I thought a little more: this is my yoga at the moment. It’s not the beautiful asanas but it’s the day-to-day grittiness of life. One Swami in the film explained Bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion. I’d also say it’s Karma yoga – giving without any expectation of reward. I am devoting myself to my son and my family.

Can I care for him in a way that is kind and caring? We do our gratitude practice while he has his bedtime milk. We chant along to Swami Vishnudevananda in the car on the way to the local soft play centre.

And while I haven’t managed an unaided headstand for over a year now, it’ll come back at some point. I’m happy if I manage a few sun salutations and standing poses.

So if you have Netflix, watch it. But please pay more attention to the words of wisdom than the cliched contortions…

Have you seen it? What are you thoughts?

(Thank you to my Berkhamsted buddy Laura for suggesting I look it up.)

Yoga reaches dizzy new heights (or lows?)

“Look at this,” said a male non-yogi friend of mine, thrusting his iPhone screen towards my face. “You can do yoga up The Shard!”

I looked at the screen. There was an image on an email: slender, young, women in tight yoga gear, opening out in warrior two whilst taking in the vibrant lights of London far below.

He continued, “This is what you should be teaching. How cool would that be!”

I looked up at him scrunching my nose. “Nah, I’ll pass thanks. If you did yoga up there, you’d spend the whole time looking out at the view whereas yoga’s about looking within.”

He replied, “Oh I wouldn’t want to do any of that looking in stuff. That would be well scary. I don’t want to go there. But The Shard… that might tempt me to try yoga.”

I liked this conversation. It made me smile. Here was a bloke – a hardcore Arsenal fan (not that I’m stereotyping, of course) – considering yoga because of the cool location. The very location may be so distracting, that he misses the whole point of yoga. But if it gets him on a yoga mat for the first time, then what’s the harm?

Swami Sivananda sitting by the mighty Ganga - not the Thames.
Swami Sivananda sitting by the mighty Ganga – not the Thames.

I heard the other day about yoga classes being offered in a brewery in London. You do a class, then have a beer afterwards. My first teacher training was with the Sivananda school of yoga where even eating garlic is considered a huge no-no. Yoga in a brewery? Swami Sivananda would be turning in his grave if he hadn’t been reincarnated.

I was in Thailand before Christmas and I practiced overlooking some stunning scenery – the incredible beach with the white sand and the glassy sea in the early morning golden light. But those practices were some of the most unfocused practices I’ve ever had. I was so overwhelmed by my surroundings that I was wobbling all over the place.

It’s funny how far ‘yoga’ has come. It’s hip and everyone wants a piece of the action. In London, it feels like yoga’s being offered anywhere and everywhere just to get people through the door.

Give me a scruffy, sweaty, beaten-up old room any day. Just my body, my breath and my mat. That’s what works for me. And who knows – some of those brewery yogis may find that they enjoy the practice in that room with me.

YouTube yoga schmoga

hqdefaultNow don’t take this the wrong way but I’m bored.

This week I’ve seen a YouTube film shared on Facebook by a number of people and it just hasn’t inspired me. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about:

Young, fit, athletic, woman in skimpy clothing doing advanced asana in a stunning location accompanied by suitably calm yet inspiring music.


There’s no end of debate about the commercialisation of yoga, the sexualisation of yoga and a focus on beauty and the aestheticism of the practice.

“Wow, isn’t she amazing. I wish I had a practice like that. I wish I had a body like that. I like her top…” These films may be viewed by some as inspirational – or indeed aspirational – but I feel they take us away from accepting what is. What is possible in this body today?

Yes, the woman in the film has a stunning practice and it’s obviously taken her many years of dedication and hard work to reach this point. I’m sure she’s faced many hurdles along the way too. And I’ll put my hands up – I’m no stranger to watching yoga porn on YouTube. But give me something I This Girl Canhaven’t seen before. I’m getting so bored.

Give me guys in prison learning how yoga can help them find peace. Give me African kids giving Bikram a run for his money. Give me yoga for people with cancer.

For this reason, the thing I’m choosing to share is This Girl Can: an amazing government advert showing how, in a nutshell, this girl can. It’s honest, refreshing and shows what the average woman looks like when she exercises.

Watch This Girl Can and then watch the YouTube clip I’ve seen on Facebook this week. Then tell me which one makes you feel better.

Alternatively, you could come along to February’s yin yang workshop at All Saints Studios this Saturday. The theme for this month is celebrating imperfection. Visit the workshops page for more details.


Yoga and money: an emotive subject

It’s been so wonderful to spend almost two weeks at The Sanctuary but all good things must come to an end. As I jumped into a boat to take me back to Had Rin, my new found friends waved me off from the shallows on the beach. What a farewell. I’m now writing this waiting for a 50-minute ferry to Koh Samui where I’ll start a five-week 500 hour yoga training course with Absolute Yoga.

When I mentioned this course to people at The Sanctuary, it was very devisive. Some were intrigued and had heard good things about their training, others hadn’t heard of them, and some were very opinionated indeed.

Just by looking at the Absolute website, it’s clear to see that they’re very commercial. They have studios all over Thailand. The fact that I’ll be doing a module on ‘The Business of Yoga’ makes it as clear as day. I mentioned this to one of the yoga teachers at The Sanctuary and she went off on one about how she learnt to teach from an Indian Swami who refused to take any money from her. She thinks it’s terrible that a company in Germany now calls itself a ‘yoga company’ because it offers staff a class at lunchtime (I saw where she was coming from). It is certainly an emotive subject in yoga circles.

Now I wouldn’t say that I’m very commercially-minded and I have written about this before. I know the basics having working in marketing but I completed my first teacher training at an ashram in the Himalayas. I know a bit about where it all comes from and the intention behind it – I love it all and I try to be a bit yogic in my approach to life.

I don’t know if I’ll teach full time on my return to the UK but what I do know is that I’d rather not be out of pocket having taught a class to eager, stressed Londoners. If I pick up a few tips from that particular module then that’s great.

I’m also really looking forward to Carlos Pomeda’s module on yoga philosophy, having taken a workshop with him in London a few years ago. He is a totally inspiring and engaging speaker.

Right, well the ferry’s leaving in an hour and I fancy a pad thai. I’ll keep you posted about the course.

What do you guys think about making money from yoga? Is it a possible job or would you rather not rely on it to pay your bills?