Before we begin our daily yoga practice, we start by opening our day, to offer gratitude and compassion and to ask for guidance. We have been doing this for almost four years now, a simple yet powerful practice that was shared with us by our teacher Paul Dallaghan (and which we have slightly adapted), when we first visited his retreat centre in Thailand in 2010.
As the year draws to a close, and our ‘blog’ page sits empty and hungry for content, we felt it was time to share some of our thoughts and reflections.
As the darkness starts to lift and dawn begins to break, we are overcome with gratitude for the beauty of the day; the blue of the sky, the sunlight catching the soft pastel tones of the buildings around us, the bright colours of our garden and the birdsong which has replaced the imam's chant – each day giving rise to new possibilities.
Some of you will remember the Shala when we first started teaching in our living room, shifting the furniture before each class depending on how many people turned up. The last year has seen the transformation of this space into the Shala we have today, a dedicated space in our home to practice yoga. This would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of dear friends and family and the countless students we have met. Each of you has given us the opportunity to share our knowledge, yet simultaneously, you have been our teachers and we are blessed to have learned from each of you.
It may seem strange at first, but we are also learning to offer gratitude for feelings of uncertainty, challenge and fear, and what they can teach us. Take for example our chaotic first kids yoga class, which found us way outside our comfort zone – apart from several eager students hissing on the floor in cobra position, distractions were a-plenty, in particular our Tibetan singing bowl, an instrument we had been assured would act as the ultimate way to retain the kids' attention. Initial fear of how to deal with our little yogis was then replaced with sadness as we waved goodbye, after a couple of months of yogic frogs, dogs and flying tortoises had softened our hearts to them. Well, nearly all of them. Gratitude for the power of transformation!
As the day continues to break, and the sun continues to rise, we wonder: where is the love? Isn't that what makes the world go round? Or maybe it’s just gravity or the moon or something science-y.
Either way, it is one thing to try to cultivate love and compassion whilst we sit calmly in our quiet space in the early morning, with our thoughts our only distraction and sweet birdsong as our soundtrack. It is another thing entirely to be compassionate, to see yourself in another, in the 'real world' of complicated human interactions, whether hustling through the London underground with other grey-faced commuters or debating taxi fares in Dakar’s midday heat.
Imagine warm, glowing love emanating from your heart, and flowing outwards not just to your cute pet dog or your best friend but also to that person who somehow winds you up just by opening their mouth, or that person on the train you have just taken an inexplicable dislike to. Perhaps it would help if they weren’t sniffling away without a tissue, or shouting into their phone. It’s hard, isn’t it? The best intentions with which we start our day may not last. But it is worth a try.
Being compassionate doesn’t just mean directing this energy outwards; it’s just as important to send it inwards. Too often we are our own harshest critic and our yoga mat is a place where we come face to face with ourselves. We don't always like what we see but we have a choice as to how to respond. Do we judge or do we accept? Do we harden or do we soften? Do we love or do we hate? Can we offer compassion to ourselves, and thereby increase our ability to offer it to others? Who would have thought all this could be practiced on your mat as you're doing Trikonasana :)
At this point in the morning, a little millipede ambles slowly across our field of vision. Ever since we moved into our Dakar apartment, the millipede is without fail the most regular visitor during our morning practice. One of our closest friends in Dakar consults a mystical animal almanac, and advises us that the millipede encourages patience, yet with its many legs symbolises the ability to travel great distances. Sounds promising.
As we ask for guidance each day, we are reminded of the lessons the millipede can teach us. Patience. Trust. Effort. Surrender. So often we just want to know what life has in store for us; we are in a hurry to get there, even though we are not sure where 'there' is. Here we are invited to find a balance between putting in effort towards directing our path of life and letting go and finding ease with the uncertainties that life throws at us.
Life is, of course, not all blissful downward dogs and sweet smelling incense. There are those we know who have not had such a peaceful and joyous year, so we take time to ask that guidance and strength is extended to them. But who are we asking this of? Who is listening to us in the early hours of the morning? Maybe it just doesn't matter. If you have any ideas, please let us know – we're asking these questions ourselves!
We certainly find it to be an anchor for our entire day, and take it with us wherever we go. Don't be surprised if you spot us cross-legged, eyes-closed in an airport near you.
We wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year! If you can, keep up your practice with a teacher or at home. We look forward to practising with you in 2014.
Love from Catherine & Ewan
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti-i