Resilient – in the snow!

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2018.

My year to celebrate life.

To breath love, to feed the flame inside. To give.

These photos were taken in November 2017 when I gave my first workshop. The beautiful yellow leaves were dropped for me by the golden Ginkgo tree that I am hugging in the inner courtyard of Yyoga. This tree is found in fossils dating back 270 million years (knows Wikipedia). Pretty resilient. So, the theme of my workshop was Resilience. How to find the tools to bounce back from the bigger or smaller surprises that life offers. Resilience is the quality of adaptation, through internal resources, in a context that shakes our equilibrium. The tools are based on mindfulness, the practice of training the mind to be fully awake, yet detached.

For the past six months resilience has been my best inner friend in the survival state that I have entertained at my office work. Management changes, new tasks, travel. Then Christmas. Warm and joyful gathering of family and friends. Love and laughter. Quiet new year. Still so tired. And then back to work. I started losing faith even in the practice. My body was giving severe signs of stress and exhaustion, not a great start to a new year.

Then the magic. The total disconnection on our Yyoga Magical Winter Retreat to Lapland, Finland, at the end of January. This was the second time we headed up north with a small group of devoted adventurers, yogis and other. Truly a magical experience. On the five day retreat we had a daily schedule of a morning flow yoga of 90 minutes at KuruYoga, with themes of the five elements: earth, fire, water, air, space. Could not have been more suitable in the midst  of that beautiful, healing nature! Then after a free afternoon of snow activities we gathered again for meditation: on the ice of the lake for  walking meditation (and snow angels!), around the fire place for a fire ritual of letting go, in the wooden hut by the walking trail for gratitude meditation, and also in the chapel of the village (skiing directly down from the slopes to the church – Levi village is so compact!). The evenings offered relaxation together enjoying delicious vegetarian dinners prepared by a friend, a fellow yogi and a beautiful chef that joined us – her inspiring blog here. And sauna. Of course sauna, every evening – total bliss state. Heaven. No sleeping problems!

The nature’s energy gathered up north will carry me, support my practice of resilience and help me stay healthy and happy as the light increases and spring is approaching.

On Valentine’s Day tomorrow, and beyond, may we all cultivate the capability to connect.

That is love.

 

Yin & Sound

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yinandsound2017

painting by Sanna Koskimäki

Creativity is our birth right. And yet most of us don’t feel creative. We loose belief in our inherent lovability and creativity when somebody, even one person tells us otherwise, that something we have produced is not really good or beautiful or up to the standards… Or when the caretakers and educators say nothing at all and give rise to the self perception that we are not… lovable and creative and beautiful. I remember only once in junior high school, when the whole self esteem and teen identity was on the line, that the arts teacher said that my green water colour painting (of a jungle!) was nice. Nice. Once.

My life turned out so that I always felt I better get a decent office job as I am not cut out to be an actor or a writer, even though I loved both acting and writing when I was a child. I still write, but dropped the stage appearances long ago. Until a few weeks ago! There is a little stage under the roof windows in the big Sun Room in Yyoga, the studio that has become my second home on the weekends. One Saturday early June we turned the mats to face the stage, hung up the gongs, set the crystal bowls down – and gave the most creative class of my yoga life!

Teaching yin yoga with a dear friend producing captivating sounds with the crystal bowls and helping the students to relax and surrender in each long and luxurious hold, gave me a powerful sensation  that there is something in me, in us collectively, a force that is something more than anybody can see or judge, something that we are not even fully aware of ourselves. The class ended with a 30 minute sound-bath with the gongs. Beautiful. I could just sit and admire the creativity of my teaching partner. What a wonderful thing to share an experience like that. To offer something new and help the curious participants to open up and become receptive.

An offering turns into a blessing through receptivity.

Creativity. It is emerging from within me without much pre warning as I move slowly through my wounds that are really my growth edges. The path is unfolding on its own pace.

My practice is to stay awake in every moment, and tune into every sound.

 

IYI Training – London 5-9 April 2017

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To the great delight of us who live only a train ride away from London, Sarah Powers seems to spend more and more time in this capital teaching yin yoga, mindfulness and all the wonderful inner methods that add so much into the asana practice.

Sarah’s Insight Yoga Institute (IYI) offers training on three levels this year. The five days in London at Triyoga Camden constituted Level II: mindfulness and inner practices in Yin yoga. Beautiful dharma talks and eye opening practices on deeper mental levels and the subtle energy body. We were around 70 participants and yet it was cozy (!). The audience was fully captivated and curious, as usual, by Sarah’s dharma talks. Like a true leader and teacher she invites and guides any size of a crouwd into the mysterious garden of the wisdom teachings. The room was beautiful with natural light flowing in through the windows. A warm gathering of spiritual friends, old and new.

I am working on the assignment paper, so more insights on my personal appreciations and growth to come…

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Snow (re)treat

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This year has started out in a special way! I have moved into a new flat in Brussels. Feels like a new life starting! I moved from a furnished place into a brand new building and naturally an empty place. My living room, with a nice wooden floor, could serve as a yoga studio, only I have not had time to give any private lessons yet.

So January was busy with the move, but also with the first ever yoga retreat that I helped to organize. Also the first retreat of Yyoga Brussels, the lovely studio and family that I belong to, that is now celebrating its third birthday. The retreat in Lapland, Finland, was largely my idea and by Christmas we had eleven enthusiasts that were ready to join us, three teachers, on a trip to the wild north. The retreat took place 26-31 January in Levi, the biggest ski resort of Finland, where also the world’s northernmost hot yoga studio KuruYoga is located.

As always, the magical winter in Lapland overwhelms you with its beauty, large landscapes and freshness. The weather was mild, no extreme cold – but no northern lights (Aurora Borealis) in sight either. Our daily schedule included morning porridge with wild Finnish berries, a yang yoga class at KuruYoga, lunch and free afternoon, a yin yoga class, dinner and sauna together in the evenings. A husky safari and lake side sauna with dipping in the frozen lake were included in the programme.

There were tears and laughter, challenges and fun. The nature is so overwhelming and embracing, your life as you knew it and routine are gone, what is left is survival in these white and cold conditions at the edge of the world. You retreat into yourself. And sometimes it hurts to hold the mirror and look at your life, standing barefeet in the snow at sunrise (activity I advised for energizing and strenghtening the immune system). But that is where the group, your sangha, comes to rescue. There was so much support and caring around that we all pulled through. And then came the laughter, with or without Bob Marley and hot surf yoga (an extra class we got from Kuru’s Mikko)…!

It was a wonderful experience, one that leaves a lasting impression and wish to do more. To share experiences, to communicate with the nature in the nature and with human kindness, with humanness. The nature silences and humbles us, like it is trying to teach what is really important. It was not a silent retreat but the respect for something bigger than you, me, all of us, was very present. Our improvised chant of OM on the frozen Lake Immel (God in Sami language) in the middle of a starry night in hopes of seeing Aurora Borealis, was special. We were calling for Gods to put on the colourful show – but no, Gods had other business that night. So we simply enjoyed the walk to the lake and back after dinner, in the dark, together.

Next year, we’ll do it again.

Start of something new

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Start of something new

It is the last day of 2016. The Christmas holiday has passed quickly with friends and family, laughter and love. I have tried to take some moments of idle time, reading a book in the sunshine on the balcony under a woollen blanket and a big mug of coffee. Or walking in the nearby forest, breathing in the oxygen loaded fresh air and amiring views of Estern Helsinki shore line, like in the attached photo.

In my last post I already noted the importance of learning to say no to some, even fun things in life, in order to avoid stress and feeling of non-accomplishment. Well, I do need to work harder on that. The months running up to Christmas were hectic, too busy and exhausting. There were news about changes at work, and perhaps too many yoga and mindfulness engagements after work and on the weekends. Then, just days before leaving for holiday, I moved to a new home. Just next door and without furniture, but still, on my own it took four days. Moving is positive stress and I was able to congratulate myself for not having aquiered hardly any unneccessary new things over the two years I lived in the previous apartment. Still, running up and down the 62 steps of the old apartment building was draining.

When one starts a holiday exhausted, it takes a few days before true enjoyment and relaxation sets in. First the body has to recover, so lots of sleep is needed. Good food and company help in the process also. Beautiful Christmas tree and candles slowly calm the mind when one admires the beauty of these lovely decorations.

I am pretty sure I am not the only one feeling exhausted. In her highly praised book The Happiness Track, Emma Seppälä gives good science backed advise on building resilience and tapping into the natural reservoirs of energy that we all have. She says: “Being present makes you more productive and happier.” The idea is not to let the mind race ahead with the long, sometimes unavoidable to do -list, but rather SLOW DOWN and concentrate and focus on each task individually. Unlike commonly  believed, when we work and play in the restorative “rest and digest” mode, instead of the stressful “fight or flight”, we are more creative – and successful. Breathing excercises, mindfulness practice and meditation techniques are all helpful tools in achieving this and making it the more natural way of living.

So it is all about being present. “Charisma, simply put, is absolute presence” writes Emma Seppälä. Relationships and health matter, not wealth. This has been known to be true at individual level, but according to a recent study conducted at the London School of Economics this is true also at government level and in societies at large. More effort in wellbeing creation is called for. We can all start with ourselves. So, let’s make 2017 all about PRESENCE.

And remember: the heart is always at peace, it is the mind that wants to fix things. So, why not start living from the heart. And rest. And slow down.

OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI.

Respirando, exhalando…

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Hola! My fast fleeting summer days of August and early September were coloured by Spanish – yes, the language and the country, well, the very south of the country as my travels took me to the Canary Islands. But first I had an intensive Spanish course for three weeks at work.

At the course we had to make a presentation both in writing and orally. Here goes: “Me encanta practicar yoga porque me ayuda a mantenerme sana fisicamente y mentalmente. Es muy relajante y muy fortalecedor al mismo tiempo. Creo que es una practica diversa y divertida. Hay muchos estilos de yoga…” As for the oral presentation, I held a five minute yoga lesson to the group: “Vamos a practicar juntos para empezar el dia!”. How fun can studying a language get!

A week after the course I left for my 10 day holiday and put all the words of Spanish I had learned on my first level course to use. The yoga class I gave on the beach to some yoga enthusiasts of the wedding party the day before my friends’ wedding was held in English though.

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The next few months of 2016 will be full of yoga and mindfulness activities for me. I have started teaching mindful Yin on some Saturdays also on top of my Sunday class at Yyoga. At work me and my two colleagues have increased the mindfulness practice from one lunch time to two lunch times a week, hoping to bring this activity more formally under the umbrella of the fit@work initiative. And in order to deepen my practice and understanding of mindfulness and familiarise myself with the possibly most popular course of mindfulness currently available at least here in Brussels, I have enrolled on the 8 Week Mindfulness Program by the Brussels Minfulness Institute. This will take two hours of my Saturday mornings for eight weeks, plus homework!

Next weekend I will travel to Amsterdam for the Inner Peace Conference that promises two days of workshops by some of the best teachers around on yoga, meditation, music, dharma talks… A yogini friend has kindly invited me over to her place and we can explore the conference together.

I feel the wheel is turning faster and faster and I need to be mindful about saying yes to everything that interests me outside the long office hours. I have noticed that a good way to invite quiet time into my life and stop running from one event, or yoga class/workshop, to another is to order interesting books and allow myself time to stay in and read. My latest Amazon order delivered the new Yin yoga guide by Bernie Clark: “Your Body, Your Yoga”. An important reminder that yoga at its best is functional more than aesthetic. As Bernie says: “There are two main reasons to do a yoga practice: to become healthier or to master postures.” Intention vs. appearance. And his famous line, that I quote every time I teach, is repeated in the new book: “We don’t use the body to get into a pose – we use the pose to get into the body.”

The sun is still shining and summer has not let go of its grip yet. But soon, very soon, the season of darker evenings and candlelight is starting. The light may change from warm blanket of the sun on your skin to a small flame of the candle accompanied by the warmth of the woolen blanket. It is light nevertheless and light, whether internal or external, guides us forward.

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Midsummer holiday…

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Midsummer holiday…

…even from yoga! Went hiking in Oulanka National Park in the wild north of Finland around the mid-summer festivities in June this year. Breathtaking scenery for someone who has been in this part of her home country only in winter on ski holidays. What was even more magical was the light, even at 01:00 am you could read a book outside, it was like day light around the clock. How about some sun salutations at 11:00 in the evening when the sun really was still high up!?

 

Silent retreat II

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Buckland Hall, Brecon Beacons, UK    5-10 May, 2016

We travelled to Wales

My sitting cushion

And I.


Five wonderful days of drinking in the nature’s beauty, listening to dharma talks on the four immeasurables, meditating, practising powerful yoga and writing haiku poems. My reservoirs of loving kindness, compassion and joy are filled up and spilling over: back in the office today I was offering hugs and smiles to the obvious delight of colleagues.

I need to now internalize the teachings and process the effects of the retreat further before offering any deeper thoughts on this transformative experience. Just wanted to share the atmosphere through a few photos, even if they don’t illustrate how the silence was loud and full of life.

One of my many haikus that came to me after a walking meditation, bare foot on the soft wet grass, the tree in question is the one that I could admire also from my room window above:

I lift my gaze

The tree

We stand together, rooted.

22 March 2016

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Two weeks ago on Tuesday morning I was walking to work, enjoying a sunny spring morning, a promise of another nice day in the office. 

During my walk I got a newsflash to my phone, then a message, and another one… Trouble at the airport , are you ok? Sure, I was ok – and too far still from the metro station next to my office building to hear or feel the third explosion. All of a sudden the air was thick with sirens. I made it to the office and those of us there, and not yet on Easter leave, looked at each other in disbelief and shock. Eight o’clock at the airport, nine o’clock in the metro – where next?

 

All morning we walked around the corridors nervously, busy with our phones, messaging with loved ones and staring out the windows at the sad scene of rescue from the metro station. The rescue workers running around was not a good sign. We were told to stay indoors until further notice. By noon all the sirens were gone, a lonely helicopter over head made the only occasional noise. The streets were deserted – except for media, police and army. The scenery was surreal and the sun shone brighter on all this madness than ever before this year. Sunny, silent and sad.

At one o’clock I walked into meeting room 209 for the weekly mindfulness practice. A few people came. We talked. And then we sat in silence. Surely one of the most challenging practices I have had – at the same time one of the most comforting and real. Life was very present in the room. Our lives had been spared.

Towards the end of the practice I offered this time just the first line of the usual three affirmations: “May I be free of fear and harm. May you be free of fear and harm.” The second line did not need to be said out loud: “May I feel genuine happiness. May you feel genuine happiness.” Happiness. Seemed impossible at that moment, yet I am sure we all felt it genuinly and intensly: happiness of life within us, like a thin, sharp and bright light, right in the middle, touching the very essence in all of us, a place deep within. Precious life. At the same time this thin light, and the breath, both felt squeezed and suffocated by a collapsing dark weight on our chests. 

The last line of “May I be at ease with what comes. May you be at ease with what comes.” seemed confusing, harsh and hard. Ease was not the mental state we had, sitting that day, in that meeting room.

At four o’clock in the afternoon we were given permission to leave the building. The terrible developments of the day were still waiting to unfoald fully from the evening news. 

Soften, surrender and smile!

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I have often promoted the three A’s when I talk about or teach mindfulness. Attention, awareness, allowing. The fourth A – Awake – does not count as it is basicly a B – Buddha. As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by words and letters. When I was a child I had discussions with my sister about the colour of letters. E for example is yellow for me. S is blue. I don’t know where these come from, I just see them like that. Anyway, back to the point. Attention, awareness, allowing. Three words I repeat like some sort of a mantra also in my yin classes. “Bring your attention to your breath and let it guide your awareness to the parts of the body where you feel this pose the most. Linger there and allow whatever is unfolding to unfold, aware of the sensations, and breathing into the experience.” A has a white colour to me, like white light. The Buddha nature or the jewel in me would be an A. Definately.

Lately my engagement with A-things has been hijacked by the blue S-words. Surrender especially. I use it often as well. “…and just surrender to this resting pose, savasana” (which by the way is definately a blue & white pose with a hint of green N, like the ocean). Surrender is a big word, a deep blue and red (R) verb, and action, often misunderstood in the context of the spiritual path. What is meant by surrendering to what is?  By living consciously in the present moment and being at ease with what comes, with whatever comes? I know two things: surrender does not mean becoming lethargic and passively accepting everything without a possibility of action or a change. It does not mean letting go of one’s goals and dreams. It simply means the end of resistance and the beginning of the three A’s: attention, awareness and allowing. Living fully in this moment with whatever it offers. 

Eckhart Tolle writes in the “Power of Now”: “Surrender is inner acceptance of what is without any reservations. We are talking about your life – this instant – not the conditions or circumstances of your life, not what I call your life situation.” And he continues: “Surrender does not transform what is, surrender transforms you.” This is obviously at the life level. In my yin class, surrender can be whatever follows a long soft and releasing out-breath in any pose. Or perhaps it is not that different in life as a whole. By the time you take a deep breath in and a deep breath out, a new “now” has arrived and you can start with giving it all your attention, awareness and allowing. Even when things are bad, sad or in another way not going as your mind had projected. Surrender is simply worth trying.

I have started giving Tolle’s book to my friends as gifts. I don’t remember many birthdays, but I just give the book when the occasion arises. I don’t know how I got from colours of letters into a deep reflection of the inner peace and how to get there… But I am definately so curious myself of where this path leads that I wanted to share a little insight. 

Oh, and the other two S: soften and smile, well self-explanatory: without softening there won’t be any white A’s or blue surrender. No inner peace, no smile. Or have you tried smiling with a hardened face? Does not work. And I have also learned that a smile influences the whole of the fascia system, the whole water crystallized shining connective network in our bodies! We don’t need yin yoga, we just need to smile!! 

(Y is gray anyway.)