YOGA CLUB BLOG – August 2016
“Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.”
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 1, V1
I started the Yoga Club in January with the idea of offering people “something more” than you get from a conventional yoga class. I wanted to explore the “soul” aspect of Body and Soul Yoga and look at the philosophy and theories which make the practice so much more than just an exercise to keep the body fit.
Raphael’s Café …
Raphael’s Restaurant kindly agreed to host our meetings. The café is just inside Raphael Park close to the Main Road entrance gates with brilliant views of the lake and fountain. It’s usually quiet during term time so there’s plenty of space to spread our books and papers. We even pushed back the chairs for a few standing poses.
In addition to being a fantastic location the café also sells delicious coffee and cakes. I recommend the Baklava (my favourite sweet dish) and Aryan (a salted yoghurt drink which is an acquired taste but I love it!) for something a bit different.
The plan was to look at the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali alongside a very easy to understand fictional story “How Yoga Works” written by Geshe Michael Roach. Although there were only two of us at the first meeting we had a really interesting discussion and explored correct breathing, posture and the best way to sit (the “holy grail” of yoga and the purpose of all those funny twists and turns because "sitting comfortably" is actually very hard to do). As the group grew each person brought a different perspective to our meetings.
A typical meeting involved chatting and finding out about each other, then a few minutes on the story and discussing the quotes. There were also group activities to work through. Usually all this took about 40 minutes and then finished with some chair yoga, breathing and standing postures before coffee, cake and general chit chat!
What are The Yoga Sutras? …
Yoga classes rarely mention the Yoga Sutras but they are required study for teacher training and should underpin lesson plans. The Yoga Sutras are a bit like the Bible’s Book of Proverbs although that doesn’t mean that they are “religious” as such. Sutra means “thread” and the Yoga Sutras are a collection of wise thoughts or “threads” forming the complete wisdom of yoga. Yoga is much more than a series of physical movements (which is just Hatha Yoga) because it covers every aspect of our being. This is what the Yoga Sutras explain. Understanding them isn’t straight forward although commentaries which accompany the modern translations help.
I don’t have time for difficult study ….
This all sounds a bit scary if you’re new to yoga or not very interested in that aspect of the practice. However, the other study book “How Yoga Works” is very easy to follow and relates everything to the physical side of yoga which most people are comfortable with. It’s written in the form of a folk story with just a few, easy to relate to, characters. The print is large and clear, the chapters are short and woven around selected quotes from the Yoga Sutras.
The main two characters are a young girl who has studied yoga and is travelling through India from Tibet on her way to further yoga study and a police captain who runs the jail where the girl is being held, unjustly, on suspicion of stealing her own book. You guessed it! The book is actually The Yoga Sutras. The captain has lots of aches and pains probably many of them stress or work related (sound familiar?) so he asks the girl to help him with yoga. The girl instructs the captain through various yoga poses and slowly he makes the connection with words of wisdom gleaned from her book.
What does the author know? …
Although the story is very readable it takes on deeper meaning when you realise the author, Michael Roach, is a Master of Buddhism (Geshe) and has translated more than 30 ancient texts.
I can’t come to meetings. Can I do the worksheets on my own?
The worksheets are all available for download from the Yoga Club Members page of my website. There’s no need to buy either book, unless you want to, as there’s a short synopsis of the relevant chapters on each worksheet. The questions are there to set you thinking and kick off discussion.
Worksheet 1 includes a wheel with Salute to the Sun – my favourite sequence and which often forms the basis of many yoga classes. We practised a chair version in one of our meetings. You can use the diagram to practice on your own and there are online videos to available on You Tube.
Something more physical …
With each session I introduced more asanas (postures) starting with very basic sitting and standing, moving onto sequences (Salute to the Sun) and Trikonasana (Triangle). Our 1st April meeting seemed right for laughter yoga and then as the weather improved we moved outside (to the green behind the café) for forward folds. Most postures can be adapted in various ways. As you can see on the worksheets Navasana (boat) works well using a chair although usually you it’s performed on the floor.
A Walk in the Park …
Why waste summer indoors when there’s a whole park to use? We decided to take the sessions outside and a walk around the park seemed like a good idea. The study books are on hold for the duration. Lots of people can’t get to sessions because they’re looking after children or grandchildren, so why not bring them along too? The idea of the walking sessions is to make them even more fun and flexible. Everyone (whatever their age) gets a colouring sheet to take away and Raphael’s Rummage – a quiz you can start on the walk itself although probably you’ll need to come back on your own to find all the answers. Everything you need to see is on our route but some of it takes a bit of looking for. This is all part of the mindfulness – focusing on the moment and the task at hand. How often do we walk and not even notice our surroundings? I promise once you’ve been on a Yoga Walk, a walk in the park will never be the same again.
Meeting and Warm up ….
Every week is a little bit different. We meet Thursday mornings 10.30am by the Main Road entrance gates. You can park opposite in Lodge Farm Park or one of the side streets if you prefer. Colouring and worksheets are all available for download but I always have paper copies of the latest one to give out. I also have colouring pencils and other activities for children to do although they are welcome to join in with the yoga if they want. We usually start on the green behind Raphael’s Café for warm-up yoga and some yogic breathing techniques. This is also an opportunity to introduce the week’s theme along the lines of summer and the great outdoors. One week the theme was bees (see the worksheet to colour the honeybee as it drinks from a beautiful flower) and find out how to do Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breath) brilliant to beat stress and anxiety. It’s also a great hangover cure! Last week the theme was lions (yes, I know you’re not likely to see one of those in the park – but you can imagine you’re at Longleat!) so we did a standing lion breath – fantastic for the throat, communication generally and also the facial muscles.
Breath walk around the bandstand …
We then walk to the bandstand (about 200 yards away) for a Kundalini yoga breathwalk. This involves using a four part breath in time with our steps as we circle the bandstand. The Theatre Garden, where Shakespeare Summer Theatre has performed every year for the past 50, is our next stop. Usually this is where we practise Earth Salutation and last week we also walked over the steps (an opportunity to find the answer to one of the quiz questions at the same time – How many steps in the Summer Theatre Garden?).
Earth and Moon Salutations ….
The Theatre Garden leads to the wooded section and Percy’s place where we sometimes stop for Moon Salutation and chair yoga using the mushroom seats and benches. This week we came across a lovely children’s party in the woodland glade. The Lithuanian mum had made the most fantastic fruit and flower display with cupcakes nestled in the flowers. It was a really magical moment. Somehow the park is a shared experience and yoga flows with the surroundings in a way that never happens in a sterile studio environment.
Sun Salutation …
The teenage benches are just outside the wood within sight of the children’s playground and the outdoor café. Depending on time (we sometimes get sidetracked along the way) this is where we finish with energising postures such as flowing tree or chair (bench???) based sun salutations.
There is a toilet block behind the café if anyone needs it. Raphael Park went through a major maintenance upgrade a few years ago so facilities are excellent with modern toilets at both sides of the park (the other toilets are in Raphael’s Restaurant and open to the public, not just restaurant customers).
Time for coffee or something more …
The average walking time is about 90 minutes and I try to finish by 12 at the latest. During the holidays Raphael Park has a bouncy castle event on Thursday afternoons so families might want to stay for that. Others can join me for coffee, cakes or veggie snacks (occasionally even a Turkish meal) in Raphael’s Restaurant if they want. Sitting on the open terrace gazing across at the fountain it feels like being on holiday.
What next… ?
We’ve only got three more weeks left of the summer holidays with walks planned for the 18th and 25th August. This week we’ll be focusing on lions and tigers with some laughter yoga to finish. I’m hoping to end with a “Bring and Share” party picnic in the woodland glade on the 1st or 2nd September (date to be confirmed). It will also be the final opportunity to submit Raphael’s Rummage Sheets and there will be a Yoga Goody Bag for the best entry.
If the weather’s good we’ll probably continue with the walks for a few more weeks either on Thursdays or Fridays depending on when most people prefer. I will be doing some market research before deciding what form the club will take in the autumn and when and where we’ll be meeting.