This blog summarises the wonderful book ‘Wisdom Rising: Journey into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine’ by Lama Tsultrim Allione. So all credit is due to this inspirational woman. I write this blog for my students who have been practicing the Five Dakini meditations with me over the last few weeks. If I were to take out one key essence, it would be to understand how we don’t get rid of what we consider to be ‘negative’; we transform that energy. This shift of the en-ergy associated with our emotional wounds is what helps us to avoid the spiritual bypass and to not seek feel good vibes at the expense of what is occurring inside.
History of the female in Buddhism:
Before the female Buddha Tara came into being, she was a princess named Wis-dom Moon. She was devoted to the Buddha’s teachings and on the cusp of attain-ing enlightenment, but she was told it was not possible since she was in a body of a woman. She replied that ‘there is no man; there is no woman, no self, no person, and no consciousness. Labeling “male” or “female” is hollow”. And, on she went to reach enlightenment. Many female models of strength have been largely lost, repressed or hidden from view throughout history.
We’ve had the #metoo movement, so perhaps it’s easier to talk about abuse now, but I am still surprised especially by how many women I hear denying its existence. ‘But, they seem so nice …’ This shouldn’t be the time to silence one another, but to allow each other to speak our truth. Our intentions are key. There is no good or bad person, no right or wrong way, but an intention to be authentic, and to not live behind a lie.
I’ve been motivated to write this blog because of recent experiences in my life that have led to me to feel that I am back in the 1970s, prejudices and all.
Figure 1. Sexist Advert from the 1970s
Since having trained for the CU Fitter Award in the Applied Delivery of Cancer Exercise, I have been creating a holistic course that addresses the different levels of a person, not just their body. We have all been to yoga classes where the practitioner is only interested in unlocking our bodies, but what about the psychotherapeutic aspects of body work. I do not claim to have psychotherapy qualifications, nor counselling, but I am interested in the whole person, and encouraging clients to listen to their body-minds, at their own pace. It is in the listening to our bodily sensations that John Stirk (2015) claims can allow our ‘deeper expression’ to come through.
I have been trained in how exercise can help cancer survivors, that is anyone diagnosed with cancer at any stage of their journey, but my interest here is looking at yoga, in particular.
I recently trained in how to deliver yoga to people with cancer with CU FITTER. The overwhelming evidence is that exercise is beneficial in reducing the likelihood of developing a recurrence of cancer and improving your quality of life throughout. Just as with all the studies on exercise and heart conditions, it is a no-brainer- get moving.
So, why is yoga different from exercise?
Well, yoga is a form of exercise, and some. I have just been to the Teenyoga conference in London, and it was very inspirational. Shirely Telles cited one of her studies in which a group of children aged 10-12 years old did either 45 minutes of yoga or exercise daily for three months. Both groups improved academic performance, cognitive flexibility and their behaviour, but only the yogic group improved self-esteem and wellbeing.
In another of her studies, yoga is shown to decrease cortisol levels by 35% after practicing for just once a week for three months. Stress is one of the biggest causes of disease.
Why is it that we need a certain date to start things afresh? Whatever the reason, the new year can be a time full of promise over what to start and what to ditch. How can we be better people and feel better about ourselves?
In the West, we generally think of time as a metaphorically linear road that we move along. We are conscious of a present, but look back at a past, well or not well lived, and anticipate a future that may or not change this scenario. The future lies ahead, and the past is behind us. However, we keep the past alive in our memories. Some can feel very present to us, and we modify ourselves in the present accordingly, for better or for worse.
Of course, this is just a concept of time. What would happen if time were cyclical: a constant birth, rebirth process in which everything regenerates? This is how our bodies work: from the lining of our stomachs regenerating every 2-9 days to our muscle cells every 15 years and our fat cells every 25 years, but our eyes remain the same from birth to death.
We all live in our own worlds with our own narratives to some extent. Our narratives may coincide with others, at times, whilst, at others, it may not. we are each forging a path narrating where we are at, where we have been and where we think we might be. We are biologically programmed to do this according to Antonio Damasio.
Damasio (2000) talks about two different types of consciousness: core and extended. Core consciousness is a continually re-created pulse of present awareness that lasts a fraction of a second. It is tied into our physical sense of our selves, an ever-changing biological map of what is happening in our bodies at any given time (in the hypothalamus, brain stem and insular cortex). More specifically, it is how we transfer the brain maps of our perceptions of the world onto the maps of this changing bodily state, and the feeling or awareness that arises as a consequence. How does this particular sight change my body etc.? The sense of self is, therefore, created anew every fraction of second in this feeling of knowing.
I read a great blog a while back by Callum who works at the Dragon Acupuncture Clinic ironically exploring the ‘e’ word. We have all used it- don’t deny it! But, what is it we are talking about? We’ve all heard talk about people with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ energy, right? As if we can break complex personas down into either/or polarities. Perhaps, we talk about in the treatments we give or receive: ‘I felt a lot of energy’- but what does it even mean?
What I think is important as a yoga practitioner or any kind for that matter, especially when giving one-to-ones, is to be aware of your feelings and stories behind them, those of the person you are working with, and the dialogue and story you are creating between the two of you. If we are not aware of our dark, repressed sides, this can affect our clients in unconscious ways.
We only experience trauma in relation to another. This tells us a lot about the importance of how we relate, and the effects of this upon on us. We learn our first way of being in the world through our interactions with our significant caregiver. This bond is foundational and becomes what John Bradshaw (2005, p. 10) calls ‘the interpersonal bridge’. If this bridge is destroyed, as it so often can be, the child’s root to healthy development is impeded, and we can experience unhealthy forms of shame.
Shame is a naturally occurring secondary emotion, according to Antonio Damasio (2000). For Bradshaw (2005, p. 7), it lets us know our limitations: ‘not one of us has, or can ever have, unlimited power’. Problems arise when we we refuse to accept these limitations. This can be on account of a traumatic attachment to our caregivers and a development of unhealthy shame. If our parents or caregivers have hidden secrets, the child can also carry this disowned shame. Hence with these burdens, rather than see our possible mistakes in life as fleeting, it becomes a reflection of our whole being: ‘I am a mistake’ (Bradshaw, 2005, p. 21).
The new year, 2017, has begun … if the ‘start as you mean to go along’ philosophy is anything to go by- my New Year was a little debauched! Is that OK for a ‘yoga teacher’ to say that? Not be perfect? And, be OK with that?
My interest is in embodiment and that doesn’t mean having a perfect body or being perfect in any way; it’s about what it’s truly like to be in our bodies as we weave our way through life. And, what does that even mean…?
I have just watched Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. Bjork’s simple-minded, gentle character is an innocence to behold. Someone whose life is so full of pains, she drifts off into day dreams of musicals and Hollywood banality (see link to movie at the bottom).
As we are mid Christmas season about to embark on a few days of absolute indulgence, let’s enjoy the space to have time out from our normal routines. It is often in the time out that we can see things a little differently: when we are kicked out of our ‘busyness’.