Friday, December 27, 2013

Knocking on 2014's door.

It has been a while since I last posted anything here, I have had a bit of bumpy ride in 2013 with some definite highs and some real lows.... I enjoyed the highs and learned a lot from the lows  so this bumpy ride has helped me to grow as an individual.

And now we have 2014 knocking on the door. I am not a fan of New Year resolutions, so I am not planning on making any. I will just take life as it comes and go with the flow.....

I'm still getting back in touch with yoga after my shoulder injury - the good news is, I am totally shoulder pain free. I went on a yoga weekend beginning of October and thought that that would have been the kick start of doing yoga a few times per week again.... Well,  it wasn't. If I have negative stuff going on in my life, I just can not bring myself to the mat. I did keep up the cardio training as the thirty minutes of sweating, listening to modern beats does free my head and helps to keep me.a bit in shape. 

But now I feel that I am back in a state of mind to pick up yoga again. I will see how it goes....

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The joy of cardio

It has been a while- seriously. I don't even want to know when my last post was.

My excuse - actually, I don't need an excuse but in case you are wondering - I've been injured and been too busy at work!

But over time, things change. My injury is going in the right direction - I've been able to do some pain free downward dogs which really made me happy.
At work, a lot changed and created some free time. And now it is holiday season and I have even more time on my hands.... it was now or never for starting up physical exercises.

Two weeks ago, I started working out on my cross trainer - no impact, but a good cardio training.
I used to hate that machine - in most cases started with setting myself the goal of doing 15- 20 mins of training and that's it. But now, I have entered the world of the Ipod. I bought some good "beat" songs online (ITunes store is great) and made my own 'work out' playlist.

The good thing is - it easily keeps me going for 30+ minutes. There is always that difficult part between 1 and 3 minutes to get over, but then.... keep it coming. Great songs, great energy, great workout.....

And working out made me want to do yoga again as well... slowly but surely, I'm getting on my mat more often. It feels good.... if I can stay away from getting injured again, I hope to be able to bring yoga back into my daily/weekly routine.


Monday, April 22, 2013

The die is cast - back to the original plan!

The die is cast - after some serious thought, I've taken a decision with regards to the teacher training I was following.

I've decided to continue the training, but only to gain more insight in yoga (back to the original plan) and will no longer do the "teaching stuff".


There are a number of reasons
  1.  I never  had the ambition to become a yoga teacher. I've started this teacher training as a yoga rookie and somehow got caught in the moment and happily joined the teaching part as well. Who was I kidding - there is no way that I could be a credible yoga teacher just by following this training course. A credible teacher needs to be knowledgeable on the asana's but also on the other limbs of yoga. I'm not even convinced that I like the other limbs of yoga .... well, I always said I was in it for the physical part, the asana's and would have a look into the rest.
  2. The majority of my fellow students really want to become a yoga teacher - I don't want to take away training/practice time from them "just for the fun of it". The more time they can spend in teaching the group, the better they will get and that will benefit a number of aspiring yogi in the future for sure.
  3. I'm still struggling with a shoulder injury - no more sun salutations, no more downward dogs, .... so no more time to really deep dive into the asana's. I've discussed the injury with my doctor and he explained which muscle most likely has suffered some muscle tears. He also told me that it can take a long time for the muscle to heal..... no good news...
  4. And recently, I just have difficulties in finding the time and the motivation to practice. Forget the 40 day challenge and then it is incorporated into your life, you can not do without yoga anymore. I think I need to write that magazine a letter that that was crap. Motivation, time and a healthy body, that's what you need to keep daily yoga going if you ask me - if one of these 3 is compromised (or in my case, all 3 of them), forget it.

Anyway - I feel good about my decision - I do feel sorry that now the whole string of asana's needs to be rescheduled because I have decided not to do my part....  but better to take the decision now than to wait for the last minute....

Saturday, March 23, 2013

To pee or not to pee

What's up with morning pee?

I've been confronted with the claimed benefits of morning urine a number of times in the past weeks, so I start to wonder how morning pee got promoted from bodily waste to "fluid with benefits"....

I've been reading a book - yoga bitch by Suzanne Morrison . It's a book about her yoga experiences in Bali, and one of the topics she frequently addresses is the fact that yogi drink their morning urine as some sort of ritual. Although she's convinced that she will never do that, severe diarrhea changes everything and out of desparation, she joins the - what she calls - pee-drinkers by taking a sip of her morning urine. Apparently her sickness improved after that.... (coincidence?.... I certainly hope so).

Recently, I've had a discussion on colds and runny noses with some yogis, and the use of a neti to rinse your nose with 10% salty water came up in the discussion. That was topped with a statement that rinsing your nose with morning pee is even better than rinsing with salty water..... please let this one sink in for a while, I needed to do that as well.

And then, even non yogis confronted me with benefits of morning urine. I've got told that people that used to work in the coal mine washed their hands with morning pee as a cure for skin fissures.

Now I am wondering what the mechanism behind all these "strange" usages of urine is. I was hoping to get some insights today in yoga class, but have a shoulder injury so have to skip the teacher training today. Not fun, but the question stays on my list of things to ask next time (end of April).

So if anybody has any good explanation, feel free to comment. I will get back with the explanation I get as soon as I get it....

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Next challenge please...

So I'm just starting to feel better after 5 days of fighting a viral bronchitis.... it was the second time since I started writing this yoga blog that I've been down for a few days because of some little creatures messing up my system. I thought yoga was supposed to make me more resistent to all these thing - playing the devil's advocate here - guess an attempt on being a Western yogi is not enought to be granted immunity ;-)

Anyway - I'm still preparing myself for the next class, in a few weeks, where the complete flow will be taught by the students for the first time. So I have to focus on teaching my 2 asana's, but also have to prepare the asana's of the person before and after me, in case they get sick.....

I've decided to let the sanskrit name of the asana for what it is now - I will be teaching the 'extended hand-to-big-toe pose' and the 'tree pose' instead of the 'Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana' and 'Vrikshasana' -- I probably would be okay with the vrikhasana, but I think they should be named in the same language, and I'm not there yet for my first pose....

I'm using the Audio CD to get the instructions memorized properly -- we have an audio CD where our teacher goes through the entire flow with his instructions - so it helps me in doing a weekly entire flow practice (since I can not attend live lessons during the week) and it also helps me to focus specifically on my poses. I don't want to repeat exactly what is on the CD, but it guides me through the different points to focus on when teaching a pose.

For me, the teaching bit is already a challenge - especially as a yoga rookie with no ambition to become a yoga teacher. Nevertheless, I am looking for another challenge for myself.
I've completed my 40-day-challenge successfully and for some reason, setting myself a challenge gives me more of a drive.

I'm now thinking about 'trying to complete 108 sun salutations' or 'a vegetarian week'. And for me, a vegetarian week is also a massive challenge.

Once I have made a final call.... I'll be sure to post it here.

Meanwhile, I will work on getting my poses better - I'm already improving on arm balance poses but still have a long way to go (the journey is very exciting).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pop quiz - what do you do....?

I would like to bring up what to me seems like a yoga dilemma... perhaps because I'm still a yoga rookie...

Ahimsa, one of the Yama's, tells us to have compassion for all living things. To me, this sounds like do no harm to other living creatures so if your actions cause harm to other... not doing a good job at ahimsa.

But, I consider myself also as a living thing.... so I should not harm myself either, right?

So here's the pop quiz question (sorry for stealing your line Keanu Reeves)...

Pop quiz - your point of view in a certain situation, is hurting another person. But letting go of your point of view and adapting the other person's point of view, is hurting you - what do you do?

Do you have to give in (and probably by calling it like that, it already sounds very un-yogi) and look for a yogi way to accept the other person's point of view? Sounds a lot easier than it is - how much can a person "give in", or go against what feels natural, before you actually are no longer yourself? Or is it all part of an evolution that you should go through when deep diving into yoga? What if you are actually happy with who you are, and you don't want to adopt an other view or evolve into a different person - is that haughty or are you then just not getting the point of yoga.

Maybe I should have stuck to being a Western yogi and stuck to the asana's and let the rest of the yoga limbs be... but somehow, the other limbs are fascinating and trigger me to think and question a lot of things....

So, my ultimate question.... what do you do?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Yoga sins - me bad yogi :-(

I was reading in yoga magazine and bumped into this poll: what are your yoga-sins?

These were the results of the online voting:
  • Smoking 6%
  • Drinking alcohol 16%
  • Eating meat 18%
  • Drinking coffee 19%
  • Abreact on others 10%
  • Judging quickly/gossipping 10%
  • Killing insects 10%
  • Being discontent quickly 9%
  • All of the above 2%
It  made me start to think and check how many of these yoga sins I am guilty of.

Smoking as a sin (Niyama - sauca), I get that. It is unhealthy and devastating to your body -- I don't smoke so good for me!

Drinking alcohol -- Alcohol can be viewed as toxic to your body, yet there are plenty of studies on the benefits of red wine (1 glass a day). Too much of anything is bad for your health -- why do they consider drinking alcohol as a yoga sin? I still enjoy my red wine from time to time, and am not planning on giving that up.

Eating meat -- the meat on your plate is the result of harm done to animals (yama - ahimsa). Defenitely a yoga sin and guilty as charged.... but considering a vegetarian week in the short future.

Drinking coffee -- same as with wine, why is that considered a yoga sin? Studies have shown benefits in drinking coffee. I have noticed that I have had periods that I don't want to drink any coffee and switch to tea or water. Still I do enjoy the occassional latte.

Abreact on others (yama - ahimsa) -- I can see where that comes from and it would make this world a better place if everybody would work on this -- no easy, but a good yoga practice in self control.

Judging quickly/gossipping -- same territory as the previous sin, but less "in your face". I guess it is kinda natural for people to judge and judging is based on your personal reference plate. Can't say I am free of charge (is there anybody who is?), but working on it for sure.

Killing insects (yama - ahimsa) -- I don't kill insects for fun, but a mosquito falls in a different category -- if I want to sleep and you keep bugging me by buzzing in my ear, you've had it coming.

Being discontent quickly (Niyama - santosa) - it is one of the basics of the second limb of yoga. With regards to happiness, it is better not to compare to others as comparison might compromise happiness. But comparisson might open your eyes when looking at your own situation and looking at all the struggle that is going on in the world. It might help you being more content.

So that is my view on these yoga sins -- I don't agree with all of them, that's for sure. I'm guilty of most of them - does that make me a bad yogi?

What is your view?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Teaching a balance pose

Yesterdays teacher training was good, and challenging.

We started with "teaching" one pose each - it resulted in a shortened but complete flow.

And I have to tell you, it is not easy to stay in a balance pose (standing hand to big toe pose) and teach at the same time. You want to talk slowly and clearly, but you still need to focus to keep your balance, and then, you have to give all the hints and tips to create a good alignment for your 'students'.
I need to focus on giving the different options while training - a beginner might feel more confident staying in the pose where you bend you knee and just hold your leg up instead of trying to get a hold of their big toe and stretch their leg completely. And I need name the pose at the start - but Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is not really something that rolls out of your mouth easily - I'll stick to the Flemish for the time being.

Overall it was OK, not good, but OK. Next class is in 6 weeks time - by then, we all need to be able to teach a piece of the flow in order to create the complete flow. I have 2 balancing poses to teach - the standing hand to big toe pose and the tree pose. I will need to practice a lot, not only to be able to stay in the pose comfortably, but also to keep my head clear so I can focus on what to say and say it in a calm way.

Although it is not my ambition to become a yoga teacher I kinda like the challenge to teach. Before I would ever start teaching, I will need to practice yoga for a few years myself, to really get comfortable with the poses and know by heart what to do to get in alignment.

We continued class with deep diving in a number of poses and focussing on how to correct others. And then concluded with the entire flow.

So that is my yoga challenge for me for the next coming weeks, what's yours?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Yipee ki-yay namaste -- 40-day challenge completed!

Yipee ki-yay namaste -- 40-day challenge completed!

When I started my routine of daily asana's on December 25th 2012, I was really curious if I would make it and what it would do to me.

So here's the recap:

  • I enjoyed the daily "moment for myself" on the mat -- the me-time, even if it was just 20 minutes was great. It freed my mind and generally left me with a good feeling after practice.
  • Daily practice improved my alignment and my postures in general. I've spent more time deep diving in the sensations of the postures - where do I feel what, and is that good or is that my body saying "You're doing it wrong buddy!". Still, I have a long way to go when it comes to flexibility -- need to improve on loosening my hips and keeping my back straight. The road ahead might be long, but the first steps have been set.
  • Integrating daily asana's into your life is achievable - you need to agree with yourself that it doesn't have to be a full hours of practice but a balanced routine of 20 minutes is OK as well. There are 24 hours in a day and you need to choose wisely where you want to spend them on. 20 minutes a day never was a problem for me, in a lot of cases I easily practiced 30 - 40 minutes.
  • Being well equiped certainly helps -- comfy clothing that makes you feel yogi-like is step one. Having a good mat is a defenite benefit. Keeping the mat open on the floor all day is an invitation to step on it and start practising - simple as that.
  • The first 2 days of a Saturday of practising 5 hours are really really hard -- All my muscles were sore so I kept it very light and relaxing. I don't know what I will do next time when I have the "5-hours-Saturday", I'll just listen to my body and let it decide over the mind.
  • Mentally, you go through an amazing change..... who am I kidding..... never expect that 40 days of doing some daily asana's will change your life instantly --  What it did is have me think more about life, about yoga values, about yoga in general as a way of living. At this stage, I'm glad to have integrated daily asana's in my life. As for the first 2 limbs of yoga, I don't see any changes in myself versus the start of my 40-D-C, not even since the start of my teacher training. And to be honest, that was not the purpose for me either - I'm quite happy with myself, not saying that there is no room for change (I don't want to call it improvement, as that would mean it's not good now, so that would leave me dissatisfied with myself....) but if change will happen it will happen gradually and slowly. Evolution over revolution....
I'm glad that I managed to incorporate daily yoga practise into my life, and that I am reading more about it in general. The reason why I started this challenge, is because of an article in a yoga magazine -- according to that article, this daily practising should now be integrated into my life..... let's wait and see if they were right.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Slippery when hydrated

My back muscles are a bit sore now - yesterday was another teacher training day - 5 hours of yoga!

We started yesterday's class with some energetic exercises - to show the strength of the human mind and what you can accomplish by visualizing energy flow through the body. I had done similar exercises 25 years ago when I was still practising jiu-jitsu - but it still is amazing what the human mind is capable of.

We continued with a bit of Q&A on poses we had questions about - always very helpfull to get a more in depth knowledge on poses.

Then, out of the blue, we had to teach - we had to put our mats in a big circle, all facing inwards and than the first in line started teaching a sun salutation, with all the variants that are possible. After 2 minutes, the next one took over and continued the flow where the first one had stopped..... with 12 people in the group (and the teacher), that resulted in 26 minutes of non-stop sun salutation. It was a great experience, having to teach although not being prepared for it - but OMG,  26 minutes non-stop sun salutations really gets you sweating like a horse.

After that we took a deeper dive in the alignment of a number of poses - extended hand-to-big-toe pose, tree pose, warrior pose, staff pose and seated forward bend. It is good to be corrected in a position and feel the diffference, before you actually have to start correcting others.

To finish the day we did the entire prana yoga flow 1.....

There is one more thing I want to share with aspiring yogi's -- never hydrate your hands just before starting your asana's -- a downward facing dog easily becomes a dog with his face on the floor pose then. I've experienced it once, having to re-position my hands all the time because they were sliding. Now, I always wash my hands before starting asana's -- that's my free tip for you ;-)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Which type of yogi are you?

Today I completed one month of daily yoga (asana's) - I'm actually quite proud of myself.

The past month, I've not only practised asana's every day, I also read a lot of blogposts from different yogi bloggers.
What I'm about to share is just my observation - no criticism whatsoever.
Yogi bloggers are just people.... people like you and me. And I think I would divide them into 2 groups -- the serious ones and the less serious ones - oh what the heck, the fun ones.

The serious ones - they really take yoga and its life style very seriously - they want to write serious posts that trigger people to think and reflect. They want to inspire.... talk about all the limbs of yoga. If you ask me, they are so deep into the Ahimsa part of Yama, that they feel uncomfortable being funny or provacative as it might hurt people's feelings. Yeah, I did my thinking as well ;-) I don't know what their motivation is - maybe they just aren't that funny.I like to read about yoga, but it doesn't have to be all that serious all the time. You shouldn't take life too seriously anyway, in the end everybody dies..... and maybe that is where my view differs from them as they might believe in the after life. Which kinda reminds me of the lyrics of "Let's go crazy" from Prince aka TAFKAP aka symbol aka Prince - again. He talks about - the after world - a world of never ending happiness, you can always see the sun, day or night.... . He must have been on the North Pole in June or something....

Anyway, moving back to my original thinking. I'm just happy that there are yogi bloggers that like a more humorous approach, a bit more lighthearted, a bit less serious. I believe that these people make yoga much more approachable for newbies.

So that is my observation - there's serious yogi and there's fun yogi....but, where do the "laughter yoga" people fit in? They laugh for no apparent reason, but the one I did a session with in 2007 was very serious about it.... talking about all the benefits of laughter, even if it is fake, and adding on some breathing exercises.

Final conclusion: there are serious yogi people, fun yogi people and laughter yogi people..... and of course a whole lot of people that are not into yoga ;-)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happiness reflection....

Time for a bit of reflection.

I've been doing daily yoga since December 25th now, so that's 25 days in a row of 10 - 40 minutes of yoga.

One of the reasons I started doing yoga was to see if it would bring me happiness (see my second post on this blog).

There are lots of (obvious) things that can bring happiness - marriage, birth of a child, victory in a sports game,.... the list is long.

Personnaly, there are two less obvious things that spontaneously generated happiness for me: the first one - eating a fresh, still warm rice tartlet. The taste is so comforting to me, it instantly makes me happy - don't know why, don't wanna know why.... it just does.
The second one I discovered last year during a trip to the coast - kiting. I had bought this small kite and tried to get it up into the air. And when it was there, hanging on the strings that I was holding in my hands, I felt instant joy.....again, don't know why, don't wanna know why.... it just happened.

For some reason, all these happiness contributors seem to be bring almost instant happiness, that is not lasting that long. It is difficult to maintain the momentum. I don't think that eating my 5th rice tartlet in a row would still bring me the happiness of the first one, a stomach ache perhaps, but that would not make me happy.

During all my yoga practice of the last 25days, I have not felt this kind of happiness to be honest. I felt a bit happy when I could maintain the shoulder pressure pose for 5 full breaths. But not like my kite or tartlet happiness.

So here's my theory:
yoga happiness is not the overwhelming kind that just strickes you by surprise, it is more of a gradually built happiness that will last longer over time - not with extreme highs and lows, but more evened out. At least, that is what I am hoping for....

So what do you think? Does my theory make any sense? What brings you happiness?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A small victory

Day 17 of the online challenge - day 23 of my own 40-day challenge.

Fact: I'm feeling great about daily yoga, and although only half way my challenge, I feel the urge to get on the mat and start doing asana's.

Fact: I've seen my routine growing over time. The first few days, I always did 3 variants of sun salutation (A, A1- with mini vanyasa and B) and the first 4 - 5 asana's of the complete Prana Yoga Flow. Took me about 10 - 15 minutes - but I know from the past that starting something new to vigorously always backfired at some point. I've seen it happen when I picked up running - skipped the first weeks of the start to run program and got injured quite quickly as my muscles just weren't used to the exercise. I also noticed it this summer when on holiday -- there was daily beach volley and although I have only played volleybal at school, I thought it would be a good idea to join all the youngsters for an hour every day. My wife always warns me that I only seem to have two settings when it comes to sports, full on or off - and I agree, if I participate in sports, I always give it 110% - no guts, no glory - no fear - but alas, my body is not always aligned with my mindset. I had to stop playing beach volley after 5 days as I was no longer able to completely stretch my right arm and my elbow was getting quite swollen. Still, it wasn't as bad as 5 years ago when I joined football instead of volleyball during the holiday week, and ended up in the emergency room with 2 swollen elbows and a bruised shin. Guess I'll never learn.

Back to the subject - and the fact that I have learned from the past - good for me. So I gradually moved from the 10 - 15 minute daily routine to a 20 minute routine, as described in the prana yoga flow book that I have. 3 sun salutations and 12 asana's -- good thing is that this mini flow is more complete as it has everything: twists, back bends, forward bends,.... it is all in there.

And now the last few days I do a 40 minute flow - not every day, but when I can make the time - 4 sun salutations and 21 asana's. It gets me a bit more sweaty, but I never want to skip any asana's 'just to get it over with'.

I practice in my living room - in front of a big window that actually works a bit like a mirror when it is getting dark and the shutters are closed. The "mirror" really helps me to correct my poses which is a good thing for a rookie like me.

And finally, I succeeded yesterday for the first time to maintain the shoulder pressure pose for a full 5 breaths -- a small victory (I here Faith No More in my head now.....)!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

20 down - 20 to go

Day 20 of my 40-day challenge -- that is 20 days of daily yoga. At the start of my challenge I never had thought I would get here - but the daily routine is getting addictive.

Most days, I do about 25 minutes of Prana Yoga Flow. 3 - 4 sun salutations followed by a series of asana's, including some breathing exercises and a rest in the corpse pose at the end.

A few things have helped me to continue on this challenge:
1) my new mat - it's just really inviting to get on and start doing yoga. I also keep it open all the time, in an area where the kids can play in the living room -- it makes it easier to just get on it and do a first sun salutation ... and start a session.
2) the yoga challenge on -- the challenge is to do yoga every day for the first month of 2013 -- over 2300 people from all over the world joined the challenge and going there every day to post if you did yoga or not, or post some pics, it really creates a sense of community. It's great to read other people's experience and see their pics -- most of their poses are far more advanced than what I can do, but that is OK.
3) my youngest son (10) and youngest daughter (4) have both joined me spontaneously during my yoga sessions - in most cases just for the sun salutations. But it is a great training in teaching, as I need to explain to them what they need to do, while doing it myself. And for the little one, poses get different names like 'the cobra' becomes 'the banana'.

So my challenge is going great - 20 down, another 20 to go!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Aarti bye-bye-ji

The Ayervedic lunch was really  nice - it tasted good and it made me feel really healthy.

After the lunch, we had to go to our rooms and sleep for 2 hours. Swami Mario said that this was to break up the normal day routine that people always follow - breaking the day in 2 with some sleep could result in new insights bla bla bla -- I had made up a number of excuses in my life to pursuade my kids to take a rest in the early afternoon, especially when I wanted a break for myself.... but I would have never thought of this reason. Oh well...

Sleeping for 2 hours in the middle of the day, in an uncomfortable and too short bed, with a few kids yelling and screaming outside.... no need to say it did not work out like it should.

Two hours later, the group rejoined in the central room. We sat in a big circle, and I was hoping that swami Mario would have asked the others what they thought of the weekend so far, similar to the discussions he had had with both my wife and I.  Unfortunately he didn't... I felt it was a missed opportunity. And I know it is wrong to judge, but he disappointed me in not listening to people's frustrations. Maybe he could only handle one on one confrontations, and not with an entire group.

Luckely, we started the first actual yoga session - Sivananda yoga for 1.5 hrs. This was what I had come for.... and it was really good. We ended the yoga session with a mindfulness exercise - a complete bodyscan.

I was so happy about those 2 hours - until one of the monks came into the room to tell us we were going to be late for the 'aarti babaji'....

This was my cue - I called swami Mario into our room, and thanked him for the past 2 hours of yoga and mindfulness, but told him that the time had come for my wife and I to end the weekend. He was surprised .... I explained that by leaving now, I could leave with a 'good' feeling - that feeling would quickly go away if I had to attend another 'aarti babaji' or attend one of his karma yoga sessions.

And while the rest of the group were in the 'aarti babaji', it was aarti bye-bye-ji for us as we took our bags and left for home.

One thing was clear, if we would ever consider a yoga weekend again, we would check and double check the program to be completely sure what we would end up in.....;

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Digging in the dirt

Karma yoga....

If I remember correctly from the description of the program of the weekend, it said something about doing light tasks like helping in the kitchen. I thought that we might learn how to cook Ayervedic food by preparing our own meals.... unfortunately, I was wrong. The only thing we were allowed to do in the kitchen, was the dishes...

After our breakfast, we went into the central room where we did the breathing exercises in the morning. Swami Mario gave us the introduction to karma yoga, or "yoga of selfless service".
Basicly it means you do thing for others or a community without expecting something in return. He told us how he had worked for days in the summer to help build one of the buildings of the ashram and how good he felt doing that.

Since there was 10 of us, he had decided to let us do karma yoga in smaller groups. My wife was put together with 2 other women. They had to vacuum the ashram. Another group of women was told to clean the toilets and showers. As for me, I was put in a group with the other guy and his wife.... and we had to work in the garden. The 'monks' had the idea to move part of the garden to another spot - so we had to remove the fence that was around that part, dig out all the plants they wanted to keep and then spade the entire area so it would look clean. And we were asked to do this mindfully.

I was lost for words (and then again I wasn't). So we had to do all the unpleasant taks in the ashram, while the 'monks' would walk around "peacefully" and basically do nothing? Without even having had a first decent exercise in how you should do these kind of things mindfully?

The grass and weed in the garden was so high, I could hardly see the plants that we were supposed to move, let alone the fence we were supposed to remove. I was really annoyed but glad to see that my 2 team members shared the same feeling. We started venting our frustrations and were aligned as a group - this was unbelievable.

I'm sure swami Mario noticed my frustration when he asked if everything was OK. I told him that we would need some tools like a hand mower before we could even start the karma yoga. He asked me to go with him to the shed in the back to look for the tools I needed. I sensed that he just wanted to seperate me from the team... and I was right.

"How do you like it so far" he asked while walking to the shed - "I don't, not at all" was my spontaneous reply. So in the shed, instead of looking for tools, we had a long discussion - on how the program he communicated was unclear and how the rest of the group was sharing my feelings and were not getting what they had expected (but did not speak up for some reason). It was a good discussion and he insisted on ending it with a hug.... ok, what-ever.

My wife had finished her tasks and called me on my way back to the garden. She wanted to have a private discussion with me. I had promised her to behave, guess I just had crossed the line by going into discussion with 'swami' instead of doing the karma yoga.
"If things continue here like they have done so far", she said, "I want to leave this evening and not stay for the Sunday".....
I was soooo happy - she had had a similar discussion with swami Mario and now we were both on the same page.... this type of karma yoga and the aarti babaji - not our cup of tea.

Time for Ayurvedic lunch....

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I am not alone....

just a quick in-between post before I continue to share my first yoga weekend experience.

I found a website -  - where people can create challenges and invite others to participate / join them.

Guess what, there was a yoga challenge to practise yoga every day for the first month of 2013!

Suddenly I am one of over 2250 people who decided to do daily yoga in January 2013 - fits nicely with my 40-day challenge (so I am actually 7 days ahead of the rest, but will need to continue for 3 more days in February to reach my own challenge).

Sharing it is an extra motivation - knowing others are walking the same path makes it easier to persevere.... Game on!

PS. Today, 25 minutes of Prana Yoga Flow!

Monday, January 7, 2013

We will, we will .... worship you?

After the offering ceremony, we were allowed a quick drink before we would start the "aarti babaji".

When booking the weekend, I had googled "aarti babaji" just to know what it was and what to expect. Apparently, google doesn't know everything, so I left it to be a surprise for the weekend - but since it was scheduled 3 times, I hoped it was some sort of asana's or mindfulness exercises.

On Friday, we were already told that the ashram was build to honour a guru called Babaji. If I would have known that babaji was a person's name, I would have probably googled the "aarti" part alone, only to find out it was a religious ritual of worship (wikipedia's words). Before I knew it, we were sitting in a church-like setting, women on the left, men on the right, and were handed a little booklet in Sanskrit (with Dutch subtitles). There was a monk playing the harmonium and then the chanting began - and we were off....

I started reading the Dutch translation of the Sanskrit texts and got a flashback to my youth. I went to a Catholic school and we had to go to church quite often. The mass was what we called a singing mass - the priest would sing most of the hymns which resulted in them getting stuck in my mind forever. This was exactly the same thing to me, but replacing Jesus with Babaji....

For myself, I had struggled long enough wheather or not to believe in a supreme being, and I was at a point where I had had it with all sorts of worship.....  "aarti babaji" was too much for me to comprehend. The worship of another human being was not my cup of tea.... sure, I was a big fan of Freddie Mercury and loved the way he could play a crowd, but I consider that admiration. Maybe Babaji was a Freddie Mercury for these monks... who knows.

I was glad the whole thing was over (another hour well spent - not)  - finally we could have some breakfast.

The good thing about breakfast was that I could get a sense of what the others were thinking of the whole experience so far. Maybe I needed to open up even more to the experience. Surprisingly enough, the majority was not getting what they expected ... and most of them were not really happy about it either.

Anyway - the next item on the agenda was the Karma yoga - finally something that already was called yoga .... I was really looking forward to it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The rice, the rice, the rice is on fire....

Let me tell you about my first ever "yoga" weekend.

It was a few years ago - the yoga magazine I always bought displayed these mouth watering yoga retreats - one week, warm climate, wonderful scenery, yoga classes.....yep, my wife and I defenitely wanted to try that.
As yoga rookies, we wanted to be sure it would be our cup of tea, so we decided to look for a yoga weekend closer to home (risk reduction, just in case - I'm still a rational person).

One day, my wife found something on the internet - a "yoga and mindfulness" weekend in the north of Holland. Not exactly the warm climate we had hoped for, but driving distance and at a local ashram in a wooded area. The program was not 100% clear to us - welcome and introduction on Friday,  on Saturday it said something about offering in the morning followed by 'aarti babaji' (thanks Google for not clarifying), ayurvedic breakfast, karma yoga (which was described as helping in the kitchen - so maybe we could learn how to cook ayurvedic food),  ayurvedic lunch, relax time, yoga followed again by 'aarti babaji' and ayurvedic dinner......and the same thing on Sunday (except for the dinner). With an open mind, it sounded OK and since we had no other programs to compare to, we decided to give it a try.

We arrived on Friday evening, just to get to know the group of people we would spend the weekend with. I was one of 2 men in a group of 12. No worries. The group was diverse but everybody seemed to be looking for something..... I introduced myself as a rational person, looking for a yoga experience and starting the weekend with an open mind to see where it would bring me.

Saturday had an early start - 5.30 AM wake up to take a shower - you needed to enter the little temple for the offering ceremony clean - no shower, no ceremony. At 6.00 AM we were on our yoga mats doing breathing exercises - it was the first time I did breathing exercises ; alternating nostril breathing, ujjayi breathing ... it made me feel good and made up for the early wake up call.

With clean lungs we had to put on a wrap and head for the temple. The door opened and there was a open fire in the middle of the room - the upper half of the room was filled with smoke - goodbye clean lungs, why did I do those breathing exercises? Why did we need to shower to come here when we were going to leave smoked anyway? I started repeating to myself - keep an open mind, keep an open mind.... it is all about the experience.....

We had to sit one after the other (like children pretend to be on a train) - the smoke was now above our heads like grey clouds packed with snow. We all got a bowl with approx. 1 kg of rice brokens and then we were ready to go.

Three 'monks' would lead the ceremony - we just had to sit and listen to mantras in Sanskrit and when we heard 'svaha', we had to repeat 'svaha' and throw some of the rice out of our bowl into the fire, always with our right hand and little bits each time. 'Svaha' is similar to 'Hail', in case you were wondering. This lasted for almost an hour, and while we were all throwing our rice, the monks themselves threw in flowers, apples, bananas, a coconut.....

As a food engineer I couldn't stop thinking - what a waste of food.....  1 kg of rice equals 16 portions - times 12 people equals 192 portions and then all the seemed to me that this rice could have been used better at a local shelter.

One thing was clear - this whole offering was not my cup of tea..... so after an hour, it was on to the next chapter of the weekend, on with an open mind to 'aarti babaji'.....

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Order long yoga mat: check!

Hooray, hooray - I just ordered my longer yoga mat - I found it on a website that was advertised on Facebook (of all places) -- . Good thing is, they have a European website (and judging on the telephone number, their EU offices are in Antwerp).

Just have a look at their description of the mat:

The Manduka eKO mat is the only choice for those who want a high-performance, durable yoga mat and are passionate about protecting our planet. The top surface is an innovative, proprietary closed-cell natural rubber. The sea-grass texture finish and superior cushioning are kind to your body and the environment. This natural rubber mat uses a toxic-free softening process and is completely free of foaming agents and plasticizers found in other mats. The eKO represents a bright future for eco-friendly yoga mats - it leaves behind no footprint in landfills, but will definitely make a lasting impression in the studio.

Just reading it makes me feel professional and sustainable at the same time - like a real yogi....

Most important thing for me however is that I will finally be able to fit both my heels and my head on the mat when in corpse pose (with 10cm spare!!)

Today is also my 10th consecutive day of asana practice - that's day 10 of the 40-day challenge. I must say that daily asana's are already getting under my skin - if I can not practise in the morning, I'm already thinking when I will be able to fit in at least 20 minutes of practise later that day. And you know what - it feels good, I'm always happy that I made time to do my asana's. In the end, that was one of the things I was aiming for in the first place - happiness.

Got to go - my yoga mat is calling!