Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Physiology and Pathology with Peter Blackaby

Last weekend we travelled to Ranby, Notts for a Physiology and Pathology course led by Peter Blackaby. Unfortunately Dr Christine Roberts who was to have co-led the course was unable to attend but we were fortunate that Peter is extremely knowledgeable and was more than able to teach the whole course by himself.

Peter's approach is that "yoga is to do with human integration, and the way we approach yoga is with this intention in mind. So, to the best of our understanding all the posture work and breathwork should work with the needs of the body thereby reducing somatic conflict."

Peter argues strongly for an inclusive approach to yoga classes wherever possible rather than the creation of classes for conditions (he does acknowledge that this is not always possible e.g. where someone is extremely limited in movement). The emphasis of the work is that we look at the individual and not the condition. Over the weekend we examined how when we work with awareness and attend to how well we perform the movement rather than trying to make a particular shape it is possible to include multiple conditions in a general class environment.

"The intention is to be as inclusive as possible; we should not try to separate people by illness anymore than we should by race or religion; someone with a heart condition still needs to move in all the ways a healthy person does, to breathe as effectively as possible. If we find easier ways to make people move, it will help whatever the condition they have." Peter Blackaby & Dr Christine Roberts

On Saturday we looked at the musculo-skeletal system. We started by lying in the semi-supine position and letting go of tension. We then moved on to some simple movements focusing on maintaining awareness and not introducing unnecessary muscular effort or tension as we performed them. At this stage we were not considering various pathologies but looking at how we might work to bring our students to normal functioning of the musculo-skeletal system and restore homeostasis by encouraging wholesome movements so that the student does not move into pain or tension. If a student cannot do a particular movement at all without tension or pain then we need to back off to something that they can do to work towards the function or movement involved. For example if someone is unable to weight bear then they could perform the same function is a sitting or even lying position. In the afternoon we looked at pathologies of the musculo-skeletal system and considered how, with everyone working in the above way, most pathologies can be included in regular classes. We need to look at the whole person and not the condition.

On Sunday morning Peter answered questions that we had about Saturday's material. He then wrapped up the musculo-skeletal system before leading us in a short asana session. After lunch we looked at the nervous system and some of it's pathologies including migraine, M.S., Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, stroke, and Alzheimer's. We learnt that yoga can be very helpful and that people with these conditions do not have to be excluded from general classes. Look at the whole person, work intelligently and do not have a fixed idea about the shape that the person should be in.

We also spent some time discussing the training of neural pathways. Students often think that they are not strong enough to perform a certain movement but usually it is the muscular co-ordination rather than strength that is lacking. By training our neural pathways we use our muscles more efficiently and strength becomes less of an issue.

Thanks to Pete for an interesting, informative and stimulating weekend and thanks to Christine and Dave Clarke of The Jasmine Trust for organising the weekend and providing a lovely lunch each day.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Dilbert & Yoga

I remembered some Dilbert cartoon strips that came out when I was working at the bank. A quick trawl on the web and voila here they are. Click on the strip to go to to see the whole thing:
The second cartoon has been animated. View on Babelgum.

Here is a more recent Dilbert cartoon which mentions yoga. It seems pertinent in the current ecomomic climate!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Autumn Equinox

At the equinox day and night are of equal length. The Autumn Equinox is a time of abundance and celebration for the harvest.
In the autumn we are busy in our gardens clearing out the old and generally tidying up. Glennie Kindred suggests that we have a personal clear out of all that is no longer helpful in our lives, not just the physical things but also outworn modes of behaviour, old patterns and habits. Glennie and other authors suggest that this is a time to mend quarrels, to seek to bring harmony to the world and look to our relationships.
There is a well know phrase -
Be the change you wish to see
But to effect change we must understand the problem. Otherwise we are just trying to impose some ideal which is no more than wishful thinking and which ultimately must fail.
We need to see that we are the world and look at our own relationships because the society we live in is a reflection of these relationships.
“The relationship between man and man has created this, which we call society. Man is violent, man is self-centred, man is seeking pleasure, frightened, insecure, in himself he is corrupt and in his relationship whether it be intimate or not, this way of relationship has created this so-called society. That is clear, obviously. But we always try to change society, not change man who creates the society in which he lives. Please, this is logic, simple, clear. And the socialist, communist, capitalist and so on and so on have always tried to change this amorphous, abstract thing called society. But never tackled the problem of relationship between man and man. Right? Now can that be changed? That is the whole point.”  Krishnamurti On Relationship Page 142
When we understand ourselves and our relationships we will have created a new society. The dark time of the year is a good time for introspection and to look at our relationships. Not in a judgemental way or looking for a solution to problems but rather to understand our relationships and our problems. For help to do this I recommend that you read Krishnamurti “On Relationship”.
“We all want to change society… and you cannot possibly change it unless our relationship with each other is completely and radically changed. That is very obvious. But we always want to change the outer without changing the inner structure of the human mind.” Krishnamurti On Relationship page 153
“Suppose I have a problem. How do I look at it, how do I examine it, what is my response to it? So the problem is not important but how you approach it. Is that clear? Am I afraid of the problem? Or do I want to run away from it, or suppress it, or rationalize it? Or do I have a motive that I must find an answer to it? So I approach the problem with all my confusion, my uncertainty, my fear. We have to find out what your approach is, how you come to it. What is your motive? Your motive is to resolve it, if you are aware of that problem at all. You want to resolve it because it is painful. ” Krishnamurti On Relationship page 154
“Suppose I am selfish and I say I must not be selfish. That is, thought has brought about selfishness. It has structured selfishness. Then thought says, “I must not be selfish,” so there is a conflict between the fact and what thought wants it to be… So conflict arises between “what is” and “what should be”. The “What is” is fact, the “what should be” is non-factual. So can we drop the non-factual, the ideal, the “what should be” and only be concerned with “what is”.” Krishnamurti On Relationship page 156

Monday, 21 September 2009

Mastering the Power of Now

A few weeks ago an ad appeared on Google. It was for a free course entitled "Mastering the Power of Now"
in which "Seven world-famous spiritual teachers reveal powerful information and practical steps you can take right now to experience the spiritual awakening described by Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth, The Power of Now, and his online lessons with Oprah."
Intrigued, I signed up for it. The course has been put together by Bill Harris who is director of the Centerpointe Research Institute and it consists of six conversations between Bill and spiritual teachers from a variety of traditions who have gone through similar awakenings to Eckhart Tolle and who dwell in what Tolle describes as 'The Now'. One talk is made available each week and a transcript of the talk is also available. Each session lasts around 1 hour 15 mins.

So far I have listened to the first two of these talks. These were with Genpo Roshi, a Zen master, and Ken Wilbur, the author, philosopher and spiritual teacher. I would say that they are certainly worthwhile listening to. As you might expect there is a certain amount of plugging of the participants various programs but this is not too obtrusive and I think acceptable as they are giving the talks for free! Future sessions are with Diane Hamilton, spiritual teacher, Saniel Bonder and Linda Groves-Bonder, awakened teachers, Sally Kempton, student of Swami Muktananda and author, and Byron Katie, awakened teacher and author. You can sign up for the course at
From the course I learnt that Eckhart Tolle did a series of webcasts with Oprah. These are available on Oprah's website This series consisted of 10 classes going through Tolle's book 'A New Earth' one chapter at a time. I have yet to view any of these but my intention is to re-read 'A New Earth' and view the associated class at the end of each chapter.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Krishnamurti Quote of the Day

If you're at all interested in Krishnamurti's teachings you can sign up to receive a quote each day. Click on the subscribe button which is bottom right on the home page of J. Krishnamurti online. Here is today's quote:
Observe for yourself how the brain operates. It is the storehouse of memory, of the past. This memory is responding all the time, as like and dislike, justifying, condemning and so on; it is responding according to its conditioning, according to the culture, religion, education, which it has stored. That storehouse of memory, from which thought arises, guides most of our life. It is directing and shaping our lives every minute of every day, consciously or unconsciously; it is generating thought, the "me", which is the very essence of thought and words.The Impossible Question, p 71

On Relationship

I have been reading “On Relationship” by J. Krishnamurti. It is a collection of extracts from talks and dialogues with Krishnamurti between 1940 and 1981 on the theme of relationship.

Krishnamurti was adamant that people should go to the source of teachings and find out for themselves rather than take notice of the interpretations and commentaries of others so I am not going to try and summarise the contents of this book.

"The teachings are important in themselves and interpreters and commentators only distort them. It is advisable to go directly to the source, the teachings themselves, and not through any authority." Krishnamurti

I do recommend that you read it for yourself. I have an Indian edition that I picked up a few years ago in Watkins in London but you can get a copy from the Krishnamurti Foundation Trust online shop or you can get a second hand copy from Amazon
Here is an extract from a talk at in September 1979 which I feel summarises the enquiry we embark upon when reading these teachings.

“So what is relationship, out of which we have made such a tremendous problem? Relationship means to be related to another, to one or to many or to the whole of mankind. Oh, you don’t see it! Why is there not in this relationship peace, a depth of understanding of each other that brings about love? Why isn’t there? The sexual relationship between two people, a man and woman, is called love. Right? For God’s sake don’t let us be hypocrites, let’s face these things! It is called love. Is it love? Or is it the demand for sensory satisfaction, the demand for companionship, the demand that is born out of loneliness, the demand that says, “I cannot be alone. I cannot stand this immense solitude in myself, therefore I must have somebody on whom I can depend psychologically.”

For me everything really came together in a large extract from a talk given in Bombay in January 1981 (25th according to the book, 24th according to The full transcript is available online. The book contains the final passage starting “Society is an abstraction…”

Here are a few more quotes from this talk:
“The relationship between man and man has created this, which we call society. Man is violent, man is self-centred, man is seeking pleasure, frightened, insecure, in himself he is corrupt and in his relationship whether it be intimate or not, this way of relationship has created this so-called society. That is clear, obviously. But we always try to change society, not change man who creates the society in which he lives. Please, this is logic, simple, clear. And the socialist, communist, capitalist and so on and so on have always tried to change this amorphous, abstract thing called society. But never tackled the problem of relationship between man and man. Right? Now can that be changed? That is the whole point.”

“So come to the point: why do human beings never change? This is an important question.”

“You listen to all this, does this listening bring about an abstraction called an idea, or in the very act of listening you see the truth of it? Which is actually going on in your brain? Seeing the actual truth or listening and making an abstraction of it into an idea and therefore the idea becomes all important and not the fact, which is what is going on.”

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Website updated

My website has been updated. The only significant change has been the removal of the Reading List page, which held a list of recommended reading material, and the addition of a link to Anne's Bookshop with Amazon. Anne's Bookshop has books that I recommend and the books that were previously listed on the Reading List page have been included in it. More will be added in due course and blurby bits when the muse visits me! The links to online articles that were on the Reading List page have been transferred to the Links page

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Yoga without a label

When we visited The Krishnamurti Centre they gave us a copy of the latest issue of The Link. According to its editor, Javier Gomez Rodriguez 'The Link is a literary contribution to the global dialogue around K's teachings and a source of general information on many of the related organisations and their activities. It is an open and international forum for the expression of diverse approaches to the teachings, some more experiential and others more philosophical, including current discussions on consciousness and education. It aims at maintaining a high quality with an eye to the authenticity and insightful nature of the pieces published and always includes excerpts of original K material.' You can read The Link online.

In a letter to The Link Lionel Claris, a former student at Brockwood Park School, differentiates between K's teachings and living the teachings. He argues that while the name of Krishnamurti can be linked with the teachings to link the name with the work of living the teachings is a form of propaganda and could lead to corruption of the teachings.

When I read his letter I thought of Vanda Scaravelli, author of 'Awakening the Spine', and what has come to be known as Scaravelli Yoga. Vanda was a great friend of Krishnamurti for nearly 50 years, from before her marriage until K's death in 1986 and K's teachings are very evident in her work. Diane Long, who has helped me greatly in my practice, studied with Vanda for over 23 years. Diane says that Vanda did not want to create and give her name to a style of yoga and that she was simply interested in the work itself. None of Vanda's students say they do 'Scaravelli Yoga' and neither do any of their students as most are aware that this is not what Vanda would have wanted.
"the mind should not be rigid or tied to traditions or patterns, but open and supple, even ready to change directions."
"BE CAREFUL, VERY CAREFUL about organizations. Yoga cannot be organized, must not be organised. Organizations kill work."
Vanda Scaravelli in 'Awakening the Spine'
However there is a tendency, and I've done it myself, to use such phrases as 'inspired by Vanda Scaravelli' and 'in the Scaravelli Tradition' to describe the way that we work and teach. What I hadn't understood was that it's not just about Vanda not wanting to create a style of yoga, which would fossilise it and turn it into something habitual and mechanical, but it's also about me. While I may not use the term 'Scaravelli Yoga' if I use her name I am still associating myself with her whatever the words I use. By associating myself with someone bigger, better, more famous etc. I feel more important, comfortable and secure. But it separates me from others who are not in this 'club' and leads to feelings of superiority. By associating myself with Vanda's name not only am I corrupting her teachings but, as yoga is interpreted as union, I am not even doing Yoga.
"When you are seeking status in function, then to you status is far more important than function, and hence in that there is conflict inwardly as well as outwardly." Krishnamurti in 'On Relationship'

Lionel says that when he left Brockwood Park his intention was to recreate the quality of being that he had found - without its label. He has managed to practice his understanding of K's teachings without using the name Krishnamurti much.(Read Lionel's full letter on page 14 of issue 28 of The Link ) So the challenge for me and for all of us who study Vanda's teachings is to do the work without name dropping.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


Folding the knee and rotating the leg causes a pain in the inner knee when sitting. This has been going on for some months now. There was no obvious injury and anyway it happens on both sides. The pain is intensified if there is any forward flexion with the leg in this position.

I have been patient hoping that this would give any injury a chance to heal but there has been no improvement. The problem isn't going away so I must look at the problem and understand it.

In the prone pigeon I find that moving the body weight towards the folded knee changes the relationship between the upper and lower leg taking away the discomfort (while intensifying the stretch in the hip!). Noting the tendency for the weight to go over the straight leg when I fold a leg into janu sirsasana I try the same action. Shifting the weight back to a more even distribution between right and left relieves the pain somewhat but not entirely. I play with pressing the foot of the bent leg into the opposite thigh and find relief.

The problem is not so great in cross-legged sukhasana. The weight is fairly even in this position. Any discomfort is felt in the knee with the most acute angle (the inner leg) and can be eased by pressing the feet away.

Half lotus is the ultimate test! This pose is a big challenge for me especially the left leg. Even here shifting the weight and pressing out through the foot of the bent leg makes a big difference.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Website updated

I have updated my website with the new term dates and prices.