Sunday, 16 August 2015

(Yin) yoga is all about stopping frettin’ - David Williams

I have flirted with many.  I have dipped my toe in, and tested them for size.  But this weekend, I met my match.

I have, I think, found a style of yoga that really speaks to me.  And, even better, I have found my tribe.  I spent this weekend, surrounded by others who speak my language:  Ours is the language of xi, fascia, meridians and Sanskrit.  

Yin prioritises function over aesthetics.  It is about the HOW rather than the WHAT.  And this is why I have fallen in love.  

I am never going to be super bendy.  I have plenty of strength, and whilst I will, if I continue to practice regularly, develop greater flexibility I need to acknowledge my mechanical limitations.  These are non-negotiable.  They are, after all, part of my genetic inheritance:  I was not born to bendy folk.  

But within those limitations, I can still achieve a perfect practice.  For this is where the subtle but all important difference is made.  Yin focuses on the intention with which we step onto the mat.

It is our intention that shapes our attitude.  And its our attitude that determines the results.  I practice yoga not for physical flexibility but for the psychospiritual benefits I derive from encountering myself through the asanas.

By getting caught up in the nuances of precise alignment, there is a great risk that we lose the point of yoga which was not, until very recently, ever conceived of as a physical workout.  Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.  And, when we place this as the explicit aim of our practice there is far more room to celebrate each person's and each body's unique beauty and potential.  Us not-ever-going-to-be-bendys included.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Sitting still to figure it all out

I am a meditator.  My meditation practice grows with me.  My meditation today will not be the same as my meditation yesterday.  And tomorrow it will be different, again.

As long as we live, we should keep learning how to live.  So said Seneca.  I'm inclined to agree.  

It is the greatest privilege of being human to truly meet ourselves.  It is also probably the greatest challenge.  It is, I believe, the journey of a lifetime.

We all of us face the same questions:  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What's all this about?

Some of us ponder these more consciously than others.  But, when we slow down and stop, this is what comes to stare all of us in the face, sooner or later...

And this is where it gets tricky.  This is what it is to be human.  To be fragile.  To be vulnerable.  To be unclear.  To be unsure.

We do not do well in uncertainty.  And yet we live in the deepest uncertainty all of the time.  So, anything we can do to assist ourselves to live more comfortably with the discomfort is surely a good thing.

The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it.  When the mind is still, the beauty of the self is reflected.
BKS Iyengar

And this is why I meditate.  For, through my practice, the answer becomes a tad more tangible.  If only for a moment, or perhaps (if I'm lucky with a following wind) a brief series of moments... I can get a modicum of clarity.  And this is the insight that comforts me more than anything I can eat, drink or buy.

Cutting through the busyness of the mind is the challenge I meet each and every day.  I have learnt that the busier my mind, the more elusive that peace and wellbeing.  For no amount of remembering what has happened, or planning what might, will in fact bring me the contentment I crave.  For that, I must drop into stillness, and model with my body the conditions that I wish to prevail in the landscape of my mind.

It takes patience and persistence.  And this is why it's called  a practice.  

All that we are is the result of what we have thought.  
The mind is everything.  
What we think, we become.  

Friday, 7 August 2015

Amy's silent scream that may now deafen us

I had wanted to see it since I learnt that Asif Kapadia's documentary was in production.  The sad story of a life cut tragically short and a voice that the world was to be blessed with for only a fraction of the time it could, and possibly should have been.

And what a voice it was.  Amy Winehouse's talent was undeniable.   With just two albums to her name, the girl with a petite frame made a huge mark on British music history.

Her story was told beautifully.  Silently.  The footage spoke for itself and needed.  She needed no introduction.  And a narrator was not needed for the tragedy that unfolded before our eyes.  

The question that loomed for me as I watched as the few chapters into which her life might be divided was, did she ever really stand a chance?  She died of heart failure.  She died, I came to understand, of the broken heart she'd been writing about her whole career.

To watch a film such as this, one comes to occupy something of a voyeuristic position:  it is a dubious privilege to bear witness to the inevitable fate of someone you never actually knew but with whom the media gave you a false acquaintance.  

The film highlights that desperate tipping point.  The moment at which it all went so wrong.  For Amy, there came a point where she got so big that no one could hear the small voice screaming for help.  It really was a case of 'get me out of here', but no one paid attention.  She was earning them all too much money and the tour was going to go ahead regardless.  The awkwardness around the cinema auditorium was palpable.  I can only hazard a guess as to what it might have felt like to observe her staggering around on stage forgetting her lyrics in 2008 culminating in the disastrous Belgrade non-performance.

Ms. Winehouse was truly a genius.  She was an icon who faded before she'd glowed and shone as brightly as the older, wiser stars whose praise and respect she earned were unanimously certain she would.

Underneath the makeup and hairdo, was a sensitive little girl who was clueless as to her own talent and scared of the real world she wasn't yet ready to occupy.  

Before she knew it, she was thrust into the limelight and suddenly lacked the greatest gift any addict in need of recovery:  anonymity.  Everyone knew who she was.  Everyone fell in love with her voice.  Everyone demanded more. And more.  And more.  

She was, the film showed most clearly, desperately in need of limits.  Her mother acknowledged how few boundaries she'd managed to offer young Amy.  She did not know when to stop.  And even had she known when to stop, she didn't know how.  There was no one to say no when it mattered most.  She was unstoppable when she most needed to stop.  She found herself in a truly terrifying situation.

And one that most of us, and certainly those of us who have by some miracle managed to arrest addiction in its tracks, can appreciate she sought to escape.  During the opening scenes of the film we see her grabbing sleep in the back of a car on her way to an early gig.  Later on, Amy used food as an attempt to self soothe.  And from there, cigarettes, alcohol, sex and drugs soon followed.  Addiction is self medication that goes wrong.  She was simply trying to anaethetise what she felt she could no longer manage.

And for a while, it worked.  But the conveyor belt kept moving.  And she couldn't climb off, less still change its direction.  Her success was to have a life of its own and it swept her up and took her with it, swallowing her whole.

Reading between the lines of the intimate sharings of those who knew Amy well, it's all there:  the unhappiness, the fear, the despair and the isolation.  A full house of the classic trademarks of addiction.  Addiction makes no allowances for those with great talent.  Addiction robs the world of stars who have shone and those who never will.  Amy never found the recovery she needed and deserved.  I pray that the film inspires hope in those who need it for themselves.  

Slow down.
You're too important.
Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.
Tony Bennett on what he would have liked to have said to Amy.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The water's lightness of touch and the physics of swimming

It was a most peculiar sensation. On getting out of the water, exiting the pool using the gently graduated steps, to re occupy my body and meet gravity. The transition was, just for a few moments, unmistakable and impossible to ignore. One moment, my body had felt weightless. The next, I met myself, and my (healthy) weight once more...

Physics was never my strong point. But I've spent enough time in the water, to have gleaned a few nuggets. Whilst the electromagnetic spectrum and I never gotten to be chums, buoyancy is something of a dear friend, and one I try to connect with as much as possible...

What neither myself nor my swimming student could quite believe was the degree of weightlessness we had just been enjoying, without even realising it. 

I recognise now a little better why it is that sometimes when I swim, I feel as though I'm flying:  Buoyancy, or upthrust, is described as the force on a body when displaced in a volume of fluid and is in the opposite direction of gravity; this buoyant force is what gives us the feeling of weightlessness when we’re in the water.

When swimming, we can enjoy and make the most of the upward force exerted by the water that opposes and supports our weight.  But, in order to enjoy this to the max, we have to first acknowledge and understand our own, individual, relationship with buoyancy.  Regardless of swimming technique, some of us have a natural advantage when it comes to floatation.

Buoyancy differs from person to person as various factors affect how a person floats...

The distribution of body tissue causes each individual to float differently.  When adipose tissue is concentrated more in one part of the body (e.g., around the thighs and hips of "pear-shaped" women) the centre of buoyancy moves closer to the centre of gravity, reducing the rotational sinking effect in the lower part of the swimmer.  Such individuals would need to devote less effort to force production to streamline the total shape.  Conversely, swimmers with very little fat below the centre of gravity, but with some above, will sink markedly.  They will need to work harder with kicking to maintain streamline while swimming.

The proportion of fat in an individual's overall physique will govern the tendency to float.  Long distance open water swimmers are benefited by being 'larger', not only because the extra adipose tissue acts as an insulation factor, but because it assists flotation.  Less energy is used for internal body heating, and for maintaining streamline.

The volume of air in the lungs has a pronounced effect. After inhalation, a greater amount of water is displaced without any increase in weight.  Thus, floating is easier when the lungs and chest are expanded but the angle of float will be increased.

As the relative proportions of the major body tissues change with age, so does a person's specific gravity.  Usually, specific gravity is lower in children and aged persons.  Therefore, it is flawed theory to expect a young girl to float with the same proportion and parts of her body above the water as a champion woman swimmer.

Females tend to have a lower specific gravity than males, because they are predisposed to having a higher percentage of body fat.

The degree of tendency to float causes inter-individual variations in floating positions. Synchronized swimmers tend to have low bone density, will often be larger than competitive swimmers, and have good lung volumes. These features facilitate the repertoire of skills and stunts they need to perform. Competitive swimmers are benefited by the same physical tendencies.

Racial differences. Asian Indians tend to be leaner and more prone to sinking, because they have little fat and a high percentage of bone and muscle in their physical make-up.  On the other hand, the Inuit are fatter and rounder, adaptations that minimise heat loss. That combination also makes them float well.  

The density of water also determines how a person floats.  Salt water is denser than fresh water.  A swimmer would float slightly higher in salt water than fresh water. Water can reach a saturation level of saltiness.  The Dead Sea is perhaps the most famous body of water that consists of salt-saturated water.  In it, people have no problem floating, usually horizontally.  

Having recently qualified as a swimming teacher, I realise now how much science is involved in refining technique to ensure proper alignment and maximise efficiency and streamline to support someone to develop effortless, easy, sustainable swimming strokes.

© Lucy Snowe Photography

For more about the Science of Swimming,
please visit 'Explain that Stuff' by following this link