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There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

I used to think that this was a quotation by Leonard Cohen, and now I’m not so sure – he may have borrowed it.  And I don’t mind whether Cohen wrote it or someone else.  I think it’s a great concept, which reminds us to avoid clinging on to perfection.

And I learned about Kintsugi, which is an Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with gold, silver or platinum.  It shows the repaired pot as a part of the history of the pot, rather than something to disguise.  The beauty of the pot combines the skill of the original maker with that of the repairer, making something new; embracing and celebrating the imperfect; and showing us even a broken pot can be something beautiful, useful and something to treasure.

So what have these to do with Focusing or Yoga?

I have heard so many people say, ‘I can’t do Yoga because I’m not flexible enough‘, or ‘I can’t even touch my toes, so why should I try Yoga?’, and many other reasons for not trying Yoga, Meditation (‘I can’t sit still‘, or ‘My mind is too cluttered‘ are the the reasons here), or any other activity or pursuit that is unfamiliar to them.

I’ve used similar reasons myself. ‘I can’t paint because I’m not artistic‘, has been one of my excuses.

I would never want to persuade someone to do something that they have an aversion to, but it’s good to recognise that none of us is perfect.  We all have shortcomings, some of which are visible to others and some are not.

And it is in our differences that we shine.

Like the golden cracks in Kintsugi pots.

And Nature celebrates the individuality of each plant.

So please don’t ignore fulfilling practices such as Yoga, Pilates, walking, art, Focusing, sailing, trampolining, writing, embroidery, acting or any of those other activities that may have tempted you – even just a tiny bit – because you think you’re not good enough, or because someone will see the cracks in your facade.

These are all part of our histories – what makes us how we are today.

Honour and celebrate your differences.  Please.

And let the light get in to you, and shine out of you.

 

 

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Is your body feeling stiff?

Is your body stiff?

I am interested in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, and in his book Embodied Wisdom, he writes:

A general improvement in the way we use our skeleton allows us to enjoy the full range of movements of the joints and intervertebral discs.  All too often, the bodily limitations that we believe are due to not being limber are, instead, caused by a habitual contraction and shortening of our muscles of which we are not conscious.  Unwittingly, our postures become distorted, and the joints of our bodies suffer unequal pressures.

“Degeneration of the joint surfaces imposes, in its turn, a further restriction of muscular activity so as to avoid pain and discomfort in movement.  Thus a vicious cycle is established, which gradually distorts the skeleton, the spine, and the intervertebral discs, resulting in an elderly body whose range of movements is reduced long before we have become old.  Actually, age has little to do with this sad event.  On the contrary, it is quite possible to restore the body’s ability to perform every movement of which the skeleton is capable.

“Up until sixty years of age, anyone of good health who is not suffering serious illness can attain this optimal ability with little more than an hour of retraining for each year of one’s life.  It is possible to attain this condition even beyond sixty years – depending on the person’s intelligence and will to live.”

Elsewhere in the same book he says:

Old age, for instance, begins with the self-imposed restriction on forming new body patterns.  First one selects attitudes and postures to fit an assumed dignity and so rejects certain actions, such as sitting on the floor or jumping, which then soon become impossible to perform.  The resumption and reintegration of even these simple actions has a marked rejuvenating effect not only on the mechanics of the body but also on the personality as a whole.”

Yoga is very good at achieving all that Feldenkrais advocates.

Well, that’s good news isn’t it!  

And I agree.  I have seen people in my Yoga classes who have denied that they would ever stand on one leg, said it would be impossible for them to touch the floor with straight legs in Uttanasana* (standing forward bend), would never be able to hold the Vasisthasana / Side Plank pose*.

And I have seen them come to accomplish these, as well as many other Yoga postures.

Students in their middle years have grown in height as their spinal columns realign, the intervertabral discs find more space to do what they’re supposed to do, and all the rest of the body takes its cue and breathes a sigh of relief as it begins to move more freely and with more ease.

I am amazed at how many Yoga students seem to avoid many of the age-related illnesses of middle and older life: for example, diabetes, heart problems, lung disease.  Or if they do get them they don’t seem to be so severe.

This isn’t to say that we practise Yoga or Feldenkrais technique for ‘accomplishments’ such as these, but it is rather wonderful when people find they can do things they thought they never would.  And I also believe that training our bodies in these ways makes us feel more alive, and as a good friend told me:

You are not stiff because you’re old.  You are old because you are stiff.

This good friend is nearer 80 than 70, and her Yoga practice and teaching ensure that she is energetic, strong, flexible and still able to practise the very strong postures such as “Wild thing”*, which many much younger people find difficult.

So my message to you is to commit to your practice – whether it’s Yoga, Feldenkrais technique, or another that ensures flexibility and strength.  Once a week is good, but as Feldenkrais says, you get better results if you can practise more frequently.

I can’t guarantee you a long life, but I think you’ll find that you’ll enjoy it a lot more without the stiffness, aches and pains that might otherwise hold you back.

(*I am sorry that my drawing skills are not up to posting pictures of these posture on-line – please look them up!)

Carolann Samuels
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We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world

Carolann Samuels

Carolann Samuels

I’ve read a few quotations by Helen Keller which have inspired me, and especially this one which is new to me.  If you haven’t heard of her, there is an article about her on Wikipedia here.  I remember hearing a lot about her when I was young as she was the first deaf-blind person in the US to attain a BA degree, and went on to be a vocal and respected campaigner for human rights.  It is worth reading how she overcame huge difficulties with communication – not learning to speak until she was around six years old.

And it’s so true, isn’t it?  If we did not know difficulties, hardship and struggle, how can we ever learn bravery and patience.  All of us can reflect on aspects of our lives which have proved difficult, or even monumentally impossible.  Tackling these, and sometimes overcoming them, brings us new strength.  

So how does this relate to Yoga and Focusing?

When we first practise Yoga, some of the postures we see others tackling can seem difficult, or even impossible.  I remember a new student in my class, who said, I’m here to learn Yoga, but you’ll never catch me standing on one leg.  Well, of course one day she did.  With no fanfare, no cajoling, no special encouragement, she found it quite natural to lift one leg off the ground while she balanced with comparative ease on the other.  In just a few weeks more, she was embracing Ardha Chandrasana – the half-moon pose.  And it was a joy to see.  Bravery and patience are both within her.

For each of us, the posture may be different.  Going to a Yoga class (or anything new) requires bravery for some of us – stepping into the unknown with people who may already be familiar with what is to come.  For some of us it is turning up-side-down; for others it is stretching our arms and legs wide and holding them there; for some it is remaining silent, unmoving for five to ten minutes in Savasana (the corpse pose) at the end of the class.  I have known Yoga students with all of these difficulties, and facing them in Yoga, helps all of us to face problems in our everyday lives.

My body is naturally flexible, which makes some of the stronger postures a challenge to me.  Navasana (the boat pose) is always difficult.  And as I practise it, I reflect on where in life I need to be stronger, hold my own, not always be too flexible.  I find Yoga so helpful, in how my body and mind respond to the posture work. 

In Focusing, we can enjoy the ease, clarity and aliveness that come.  Usually we have to be patient, and sometimes brave, to step through what comes first – but not always!

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Truth is an unfolding process that deepens as your wisdom increases

Taken by Carolann Samuels

Taken by Carolann Samuels

This quotation (from Kathy Tyler and Joy Drake) continues: “Live in a way that fosters your enduring and direct encounter with life”.

We each need to find this way for ourselves.  For many people, Yoga leads us on this way.  By our direct encounter with our bodies, how our body responds to the postures we ask it to take up as we practise, and how our mind responds to these requests.

It doesn’t matter to me whether or not you can ‘perform’ a shoulder-stand, or a head-stand, or whether you can sit quietly, with a straight back for five minutes, or any of the other postures in the Yoga book.  I don’t want it to matter to you either.

As we practise, we become more familiar with how our bodies respond, and we can be alert to our own present moment experience.  I believe that this is part of what Tyler and Drake are referring to in their quotation above.  Each time we practise, our bodily response changes – sometimes subtly, sometimes even dramatically.  So what matters more is that we pay attention to these responses, stay with them and maybe we can learn from them.

Focusing is another way of accessing this unfolding, this being with ourselves, our experiences and our emotions.

I hope that you can find a way to find your own unfolding process, and wisdom.