Saturday, February 28, 2009



"avoid making noise"

By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach.  ~Winston Churchill

What do all these sentences have in common?:

1."What a nice dress you are wearing!"

2. "I  would never put my child to bed after 9.00"

3. "I'd love to come but I can't I have already arranged to meet friends."

4. "He's tight with money."

5. I'm so glad I went on the saturday - it wouldn't have been the same the day after.

6. I got my degree at Bocconi University.

Well....."translated" the meaning behind the facade of words, (may) indicate something different to what the apparently innocent exclamation is communicating. For example and in order - the meaning behind the above phrases  could be;

1. I would look great in your dress!!!

2. I am a better mother than she is. 

3.I don't want to meet up with you.

4.I'm a generous person, I want you to like me. 

5. I am always right. I always make the right decisions.

6. I'm clever and important and probably smarter than you are. 

Your homework this week is to observe yourself speaking. This in itself is quite some task. You have to consciously introduce a nanosecond of time (before, during or even after)  which will give you enough "space" in which to take note. Once you have managed to take a step back and observe what actually comes out of your mouth, try to find the "hidden" meaning behind what you are saying. What is it exactly that you are trying to communicate? Why are you giving that person a compliment? (do you need approval?) why are you gossiping about your colleague? (are you hoping that by putting him in a bad light, you will shine brighter?). Once you find that there are certain "manipulative" verbal mechanisms you use  try to think if there is a way of re-phrasing the statement so that what you are  communicating is true (but not hurtful)  - ie. "I'm sorry but I'd prefer not to come out tonight" - rather than a "Look-Good Lie".  If the phrase is possibly hurtful (gossiping) think if the phrase is "disposable". Can you do without it? What will happen if you refrain from speaking badly about your colleague? (Well... for one people will start to trust you). How much of what you say during the day is a "silence filler"? How much of what you say is a way of gleaning praise or sympathy from someone? Focus your attention on the "hidden message" behind your speech and your tone of voice.

Don't speak unless you can improve on the silence.  ~Spanish Proverb

One of the most wonderful memories I have of doing a summer yoga course in Tuscany with my yoga instructor Beatrice Calcagano  was when we did a day of silence. Once you stay close to people in complete silence your realize how often speaking is used as a support, a kind of verbal security blanket.  Take it away and at first it's a bit scary but then if feels calming, surprisingly  natural and for me at least, incredibly liberating. At least for 24 hours it did!

The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.  ~Dorothy Nevill

For a week you could try to use the following as a rule for how you speak;

“If you know anything that is hurtful or untrue, do not say it.

If you know anything that is helpful but untrue, do not say it.                                                          If you know anything that is hurtful but true, do not say it.                                                              If you know anything that is helpful and true, find the right time to say it.”  Buddha 

In yogic terms this homework subject coincides with one of the ten "yoga commandments" -which include five "yama" (Do's) and five Niyama ("don'ts) according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (A foundational text of yoga, a work of indian philosophy and practice written in the 2nd century BCE) . One of the five "Yama" is called "Satya" which means "truth in word and thought" or "truthfulness". The above "homework" invites you to experiment with "satya". 

In Buddhist terms this homework corresponds  with one of the eight precepts " right speech" - refraining from hurtful or false speech. However it is not necessary to be sympathetic neither to Buddhism nor yogic philosophy to benefit from implementing, or trying to, the above.

I have just broken this "precept" and publically appologize to Nick.

Keep your words soft and tender because tomorrow you may have to eat them.  ~Author unknown

Monday, February 23, 2009


“Vivendo in un tempo come il nostro, in cui gli inviti all’antistress proliferano in modo vertiginoso ed anche indiscriminato, orientarsi nella miriade di proposte che garantiscono relax, risveglio interiore, autoconoscenza, può diventare sempre più difficile, ma anche, paradossalmente, stressante, non sapendo cosa scegliere né come scegliere. C’è una specie di supermercato di “religioni usa e getta” per tutte le taglie e per tutte le stagioni. Che sia Zen, New Age, Yoga, poco importa, il criterio in questo caso è solo quello dell’offerta speciale. Ma il rischio è quello del disimpegno. Per di più a complicare la situazione c’è la pubblicità che, veicolando le informazioni in modo distorto, sviluppa situazioni di confusione. Ed allora nasce il solito scetticismo o il qualunquismo del pot-pourri disposto ad accogliere indiscriminatamente. Comunque non si può disconoscere che alla base di tutto questo c’è l’affermarsi di un certo bisogno di ricerca che manifesta i sintomi di una fame che la civiltà dell’abbondanza non ha saputo sfamare. Ed allora che fare? Come scegliere? In questo caso l’alternativa nuova potrebbe essere…non scegliere e maturare invece le condizioni necessarie per essere scelti. Questo non significa assumere un atteggiamento di deresponsabilizzazione e non-scelta, ma semplicemente mettersi in una situazione di estrema semplicità ed umiltà: rinunciare a plasmare per essere plasmati, perdere il ruolo attivo del vasaio, per accogliere quello passivo del vaso. Ovvero sedersi al margine della giungla ed attendere.” 

Queste poche righe tratte da un articolo apparso tempo fa sulla rivista “Appunti di viaggio” riassume perfettamente quanto detto nel primo incontro di meditazione avvenuto presso Lotus Pocus il giorno 16 febbraio u.s. Abbiamo inoltre detto che lo scopo della meditazione è la ricerca della pace interiore e il primo passo è quello di unificare il corpo e la mente e lo si può fare nel silenzio e nell’immobilità del corpo, perché quando il corpo è immobile anche la mente è più tranquilla ed in pace. Ma per poter meditare bene bisogna fare un lavoro preciso, lungo, di pazienza e spesso noioso e che ci pare spesso infruttuoso, anche se in realtà non lo è mai, perché la nostra mente è abituata a vagare e divagare mentre noi dobbiamo cercare di mantenerla ferma. E’ come quando si inizia uno sport: ci vuole metodo, disciplina e costanza. E quindi non solo la pratica guidata, ma anche una pratica quotidiana, ogni giorno alla stessa ora, pratica che all’inizio potrà essere di soli 15 minuti che poi, man mano che ci si esercita, potranno aumentare. L’importante è che si sia costanti, senza saltare una pratica, altrimenti ci si ritrova sempre allo stesso punto iniziale, mentre un po’ alla volta, man mano che si pratica ci si accorge che la nostra mente diventa più silenziosa, meno distratta. All’inizio sarà solo per qualche attimo, ma poi le facoltà discorsive e chiacchierone della nostra mente si metteranno più tranquille ed in silenzio.  Allenandosi, tra alti e bassi la mente si dischiude ad un nuovo atteggiamento di vita che lo accompagnerà  in ogni realtà della nostra vita.

Avete domande? Coraggio!!

Lia vi aspetta.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


If you ask practitioners why they do yoga, the predominant answer tends to be "because it makes me feel  good". does a vodka and lime, lying in the sun and sipping on a hot chocolate on a cold  winter's day. But what is so DIFFERENT about yoga? What is it that yoga gives you that having a quick jog around the park or an "aperitivo"simply doesn't? 

It's a question that I've been pondering for quite some time now and a certain Jill Bolte Taylor has helped me confirm or consolidate (if not prove) what I suspected. 

Who is Jill Bolte Taylor? An amazing woman, brain scientist and researcher who one day woke up as her own patient. She got out of bed one morning feeling a little strange, and it wasn't until a few hours and a paralyzed arm later that she realized she was having a stroke; a blood vessel had exploded in the left side of her brain. 

This lead her standing at death's door, to brain surgery, eight years of recovery, and to incredible insight into humanity. 

The right and left side of the brain

The right hemisphere of the brain concentrates on the present moment in time, as Jill says it thinks in pictures and learns kinesthetically through the movement of our body. Information in the form of energy streams in through all the senses of our body:  smell, touch, visual clues, sounds are brought in together creating a completed  jigsaw of what this present moment  IS to us. 

The left hemisphere on the other hand,  thinks linearly, methodically of the  past and of the  future. It takes all details of the present  moment , categorizes this information, links it to what has happened in the past in order to calculate how this information may be useful in future scenarios. It thinks linguistically -  it's the part of me that says "it's time to; get the kids ready for school, do the shopping, phone my mum, prepare my class etc. etc." It's calculating intelligence (whereas I wonder if the right side of the brain could be translated into "emotive sensorial intelligence"). The left side as Jill points out, states   "I AM ! ". And in declaring "I AM" you are underlining the fact that "I am a separate being from YOU and from everyone else". It's the cerebral "I'm Alright Jack". It's egocentric, it's independent, it's fighting for individuality.   

Well, this little section of the brain that separates one from the rest of humanity is what Jill Bolte Taylor lost on the day of her hemorrhage.

Jill's experience

The verbal dictator (ie. left hemisphere) in her head that morning all of a sudden kept cutting out. One minute she'd be thinking; "oh my god - I'm having a stroke!!!" (being  a neuroscientist she had a pretty good idea about what was happening) to the next minute when she would be catapulted into complete SILENCE. She said it was BEAUTIFUL. Dreamlike. She felt huge, expansive, light, "a whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria". 

At one stage when her left hemisphere despot gave up command and the right side stepped in, Jill looked down to see her hands and realized there was no longer a boundary between her body and the ambient around her. The atoms and molecules of her skin were blending in with the atoms and molecules of her surroundings. She felt she were no longer a separate being - she was a part of everything. She felt peaceful, calm and intensely happy. She had found nirvana. 

And this is what is so incredible;  she was able to  a) experience "nirvana" and b) still be alive whilst doing so. This lead her to  realize that if SHE could do it, ANYONE could do it. She wasn't just thinking positively she was proving this to be the case. I would say this is good news for all of us. 

"Left or right? Which do you choose?"

At the end of her very moving talk she invites everyone to make a choice - to choose to "step to the right side of our brain" in order to project peace into this world. 

It's an incredibly inspiring talk (to listen and watch the 18 minute talk/video click the link at the bottom of the post) and experience. I think she has a good point - you can choose to step into the realms of the right hemisphere.... What she doesn't say however, is HOW one can do this. How do you volontarily access the "peace" hemisphere of your brain?  (preferably without having to go through a stroke to do so?). Two things immediately came to my mind, one was through meditation and the other was yoga. Now considering this is a blog about yoga lets just look into that. 

Think about how you feel post-yoga, when you are lying down on your mat in shavasana. Personally I feel like any previous worries and preoccupations have lessened if not disappeared altogether (all be it temporarily), any future plans no longer seem so important nor urgent, the bees in my bonnet have finally come to rest.  My body suddenly feels like it is part of me - not just an appendix to my head. I feel calm, present, peaceful, fully alive. I feel "open". It has always struck me that post-yoga I no longer feel the constant necessity to TALK. Is this because my linguistic left side has been dominated temporarily by the right? This is what I suspect and hope (In fact if you observe the changing room PRE yoga class it's full of happy chatter, yet afterwards there is a thoughtful contented silence broken by the odd murmur. Either because my clients are so exhausted after my class they can't speak, OR because...perhaps for an hour or so the right side of their brain has been given a little time and a  little space in which to make itself heard). However rather than the lack of the need of linguist "company", I think it's what  you feel during and post yoga that indicates the right hemisphere is coming into play; peacfulness, spaciousness, calm and contentment.

So - to go back to my original question;  why do we have a "feel good" sensation with yoga? I think Jill Bolte Taylor has given us a possible answer. 

I think it's interesting to note however that I do know of clients who have been coming to me for years and who never seem to plug into the right side of their brain at all (this is simply an observation NOT a criticism!).  I see they get a lot from yoga in a purely physical way, they feel taller, more flexible,  stronger and the physical exertion  leaves them feeling more relaxed. A little like what a work out at the gym might leave you with. And that's fine - everyone gets from it what they can. 

I invite everyone to watch this amazing woman talk about her experience here;  

and strongly suggest you have a box of tissues at hand. 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

MY TAKE ON: Sanskrit

Padmasana, Paschimottasana Matsyasana......


I know I'm risking being alienated from the rest of the yoga community with this post (I'm joking) , but here it goes;  I don't think sanskrit is particularly useful in the yoga class. When I first came to Italy many years ago, I taught English (I know, that's a bit embarrassing considering my spelling). I found that my students were particularly fond of grammatical terms and would proudly and prolifically name the "present perfect continuous" if and when possible even though often they weren't able to use it.  So I thought - what is the point?! 

When a child starts to learn a language she doesn't know her past perfect from her present continuous, but despite this she learns with no problems what so ever. With this in mind  I took the decision to keep grammatical terminology to a minimum during my lessons. And I think the same logic applies to  sanskrit and yoga. It sounds good (and possibly makes me look good) but does it really help? Is it perhaps not more of a hinderance? I don't particularly care if you know what sarvangasana is (and I think most people in a yoga class DON'T) , what interests me is if you know how to get the most out of the position. How you approach the pose, how you feel whilst doing it, how much attention you are able to focus on what you are doing....these are important. The sanskrit name is superfluous. At least "downward facing dog" for example, is intuitive whereas  "adho mukha svanasana" really is not.  So during my yoga classes I choose to keep sanskrit to a minimum. 

Downward facing dog or "adho mukha svanasana"

Note: HOWEVER, I'd like to add that this is my personal opinion:  it doesn't mean it is the only opinion nor the right one. I respect and understand those instructors and practitioners who prefer its use during the class. And I may well change my mind - I think being "inconsistent" is highly under-rated : it has little to do with being fickle and indecisive and more to do with personal progress. God forbid should we all remain the same; same ideas, opinions, behaviour...Change means progress. Usually :-) Even changing your mind.