Jonathan Thompson is an Ashtangi, YogaLondon 200-hour teacher trainer, and a deeply sensitive and emotionally intuitive person. Here he talks to us about the impact of his father’s early death, the mutually supportive relationship he has with his mother and how, for him, yoga, coaching, and psychology are all different sides of the same coin. Oh, and he definitely believes in ghosts.
Well, 2020 has been quite the year, but one thing that we haven’t had to complain about this year is the weather. We probably tried – we’re British after all – but it would have been unfounded because the sun has shone and shone and shone and shone.
But the forecast this week says that the golden, late-summer warmth is set to be replaced with a distinctly chillier temperature. And the pandemic forecast is similarly gloomy, with case numbers rising and restrictions tightening.
So, how can we prepare for Autumn and make sure that we look after ourselves as we head into what looks like a second wave?
Kevin Flee is the founder of @diaryofachubbyyogi a warts-and-all, often hilarious, Instagram account charting his yoga practice. This YogaLondon graduate is also a yoga philosophy junkie, rock and roll musician and loves to diffuse the tension in a yoga class by talking about bums and bits – it works every time.
This year has been tough. We have all been impacted in some way or another by the Covid-19 pandemic.
You might have caught the virus, and are still recovering. You might have lost someone you love. You will almost certainly have lost business, or been furloughed, had to change the way you work or lost your job completely.
We have all experienced fear, anxiety, uncertainty, sadness and anger. On the other hand, for some this time has been a quiet blessing in disguise. With our busy lives cancelled, we have stayed at home and learnt to appreciate the simple pleasures that brings.
This is an example of emotional resilience. Understanding that times are tough, but also that no experience, however painful, is ever all bad.
What is Emotional Resilience?
Resilience is a muscle.
Flex it enough and it will take less effort
to get over the emotional punches each time.
Alecia Moore aka P!nk
This great quote from pop star P!nk sums up emotional resilience. Resilience is a measure of how we can bounce back from what life throws at us – pandemics, loss, change, abuse – and so on.
There are three main elements or dimensions to emotional resilience.
The Physical Aspect – In order to build a healthy capacity for emotional resilience, we need to have physical strength, good energy levels, overall good health, and vitality – a zest for life.
The Mental Aspect – This involves being adaptable, having a good attention span and the ability to focus. It also involves self-esteem and self-confidence. It is also crucial to work on your emotional awareness so that you can manage your emotions as they arise. In addition, we need clear self-expression and reasoning abilities.
The Social Aspect – Emotional resilience means that we are able to manage interpersonal relationships, in our personal, professional and social lives. To understand how to function as part of a group, including the ability to communicate, be liked and to co-operate.
How Yoga Can Help with the Physical Aspect
This one is easy! Of course yoga helps us build up our physical strength. Through regular practice, the body is strengthened, muscles are lengthened, and joints are oiled. Once we learn to appreciate how good it feels to have a strong body, it encourages us to eat healthily too and to become more attuned to what’s good (and not so good) for us.
Yoga is also a great teacher when we have an injury. We learn to adapt to the injury, to work through and around it, and then put in the work to come back from it.
Pranayama, control of the breath, is about harnessing the prana (life force) to increase our energy levels and even extend our lifespan.
How Yoga Can Help with the Mental Aspect
This one is easy too! Built into the fabric of our yoga practice is the need to be adaptable. We have to adapt our bodies to the postures. This takes perseverance, effort, courage and patience.
We learn to focus on the minutiae of the body – the little toe, the skin on the breastbone. This improves our focus, or one-pointed attention – Dharana – the sixth limb of yoga.
The physical practice of yoga is also a great stress-buster, as the poses open up our chests, release pent up tension from hunched shoulders and soften the muscles of the face.
Restorative yoga and Yin yoga both help us become aware of our emotions. These types of yoga are less about doing and more about being, meaning that we have time to sit with ourselves without the distractions that buzz constantly around us.
How Yoga Can Help with the Social Aspect
Yoga is about coming together – as we all know, yoga literally means ‘union’. And although we have not been able to physically come together for classes for the last four months, community is often an important part of why we attend the same yoga classes with the same yoga teacher. These become important relationships in our lives, a kind of yoga ‘family’, where we feel accepted for who we are. And if you’ve been attending online classes you’ll know that even though it’s not the same, there is still a great amount of support that comes from feeling that we’re practicing all together.
If you’re a yoga teacher, there are plenty of opportunities to practice emotional resilience. The training itself is intense, as we cast off our old selves in the fire of teacher training and are re-born as yoga teachers. It is as painful as it sounds.
Then there are the knocks that come with setting up as a yoga teacher, gaining students, losing students, and learning the hard way that although it’s a brilliant job, it’s not easy!
Why Yoga is actually ALL about Emotional resilience
The yoga practice itself teaches us so much about resilience. As B. K. S. Iyengar says in his book, Light on Life:
Asana practice is an opportunity to look at obstacles in practice and life,
and discover how we can cope with them.
Unfortunately, it is guaranteed that however fortunate someone’s life is, at some point they will have to deal with sorrow and adversity. Yoga gives us the yamas and niyamas, including svadhyaya (self study), tapas (intense effort) and ishvara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power).
These things, together with the physical practice, will see us through the hard times that we will all, at some point, have to face.
We’re launching a new specialist course this summer around Yoga & Emotional Resilience. Check out our workshops page for details🙏
On July the 4th 2020 a great day was proclaimed in England – the pubs re-opened after almost three months! All joking aside, this is a huge day for those businesses in the hospitality industry who were allowed to re-open – as long as they adhere to the government’s Covid-19 guidelines.
Although widespread drunk and disorderliness were predicted, the general public was generally well-behaved, but were you?
In actual fact, sales of alcohol have soared during lockdown, which suggests that people have just moved their drinking habits from the pub to the back garden.
Have we learnt to rely on sugar and alcohol more than we used to during this period? Perhaps it’s time we re-balanced our bodies through yoga, and yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda.
The Six Kriyas
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the 15th-century practical guide to yoga, the six kriyas, or cleansing techniques are mentioned. The purpose of these practices is to make the body light and remove built-up residual matter (also known as ‘amma’ in Ayurvedic medicine) from the body.
These practices are deeply interwoven with yoga in India, as discussed in an interview with Deepti Sastry, YogaLondon’s Philosophy expert. As a child, the focus of her childhood yoga practice at boarding school were these immune-boosting cleansing practices.
These link into Ayurveda, and the three doshas, or qualities of the body: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. If these qualities are out of balance, then this will lead to dis-ease (disharmony) of the body.
What are the Six Kriyas?
In the HYP, Chapter 2, v 21 – 37, the six kriyas are prescribed rather bluntly:
One who is overweight and has excess phlegm, should first (before the practice of pranayama) practice the six acts (cleansing techniques or kriyas). Others [who do not have these issues] should not practice them, because the three dosas (vata, pitta and kapha) are balanced in them.
The six acts (cleansing techniques or kriyas) are dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka, nauli, and kapalabhati.
These six acts, which purify the body and produce special benefits, were kept secret for many hundreds of years and were only practiced by traditional yogis.
- Dhauti is the rather extreme (to us) method of cleaning the alimentary canal through slowly swallowing a long (8 foot long) piece of wet cloth, soaked in salty water. This is kept in for around 20 minutes and then drawn out, bringing with it any impurities.
- Vasti is essentially colonic irrigation – the cleansing of the lower gut through inserting water through a tube inserted into the anus. In the HYP a hollow piece of bamboo is recommended.
- Neti is described thus: Insert a smooth thread [about nine inches long] through the nasal passage and draw it out through the mouth. These days there are slightly less extreme ways to do the neti cleansing, including the use of a neti pot, through which you draw water into the nasal passages to wash away impurities.
- Trataka is the purification of the eyes and thankfully doesn’t involve any insertion – phew. In this practice, the gaze is focused on a small point, without blinking, until the eyes begin to water.
- Nauli kriya can also be linked to Uddiyhana bandha and involves massaging the internal abdominal organs through the use of the external muscles. When done properly the movement resembles undulating waves moving across the abdomen.
- Kapalabhati is a cleansing breathing technique. In the HYP it is described as ‘Inhaling and exhaling rapidly like the bellows of a blacksmith’. Kapalabhati literally means light skull, and the effects are to activate the digestive organs, drain the sinuses, and create a feeling of exhilaration.
According to the HYP, once these six cleansing techniques are practiced then pranayama can be commenced. However, some teachers debate that the kriyas need to practiced at all, as they say that pranayama alone will cleanse the body of all impurities.
In the Western world, almost all of these techniques are not something to just have a go at. However, the principles of cleansing the body of impurities are worth adhering to. The niyama (yogic moral guidelines) of saucha, or cleanliness, is also incorporated into this ideal of cleansing the physical body and ridding it of impurities in order to practice the asanas with a pure body.
What to Try Instead
The first thing in the morning is a good time to establish a few cleansing habits. Before you head to the kitchen, use a copper tongue scraper to clean the tongue, and then brush your teeth. This gets rid of the build-up of toxins that form on your tongue overnight. Then try drinking hot water with a slice of lemon to wash out your digestive system, or some detox tea.
Try doing a yoga practice or pranayama session before breakfast as this helps to purge the body of toxins too.
And, rather obviously, give your body a break from alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and highly fatty foods. Stick to homemade, colorful, fresh food, and feel your energy levels start to increase and your sleeping patterns improve.
How to Detox through Yoga
Yoga can help improve the gut – which is linked to improved mental health too. Poses that help to detox the body are those that are ‘pitta’ (or fire) inducing, such as sirsasana, or headstand. Backbends stimulate the liver – which is why they can make you feel nauseous if you’ve overindulged the night before. The twists massage the organs of the gut and help cleanse the kidneys and liver by wringing them out. And Supta Virasana, (Supine Hero pose) can be done at any time, even after a heavy meal (or heavy night) to aid digestion and stretch out the gut.