Movement for Modern Life and I have just launch a 30 Day Yoga Transformation Series exploring Yoga Psychology and Philosophy. Using the daily themes, breath-centric movement and accessible practices, we hope that this connects you to a current of consciousness in which you bloom from within and grow. To join head to www.movementformodernlife.com
Over the years I have collected many words of wisdom pointing me to the Known Absolute Truth of what is animating this amazing human complexity and condition. I have recently been asked by a number of students for my recommended reading list as a trainee yoga teacher, a yoga-enthusist and an eternal seekers. Here is what I have come up with. Enjoy and let me know of your favourite books so I can add to the collection. Blessings in reading, seeking and being inspired.
Set in the beautiful mountains, lakes and fields at the very heart of the Andalucian countryside, in Southern Spain, sits Suryalila: an oasis to escape and recharge on a relaxing and scenic yoga retreat.
With a programme encouraging twice daily yoga practice and a location bathed in sunshine and offering sweeping vistas of the surroundings; there are few better places for yoga holidays in Europe.
The foundations of Yoga are rooted in constantly observing and working with polar energies, hence Yoga meaning union. The union of two being one; sun and moon, consciousness and form, male and female. This intimate relationship and union is what we seek to discover in ourselves internally, through inspiration in our practice and meditation and experiencing externally, by how we act and react in our environment. Through the union of polar energies we use the experience to seek and to discover truth. Recently for me, the union of the polarities have played out both internally and externally and this experience has been an astonishing awakening I will not soon forget.
Throughout history Yoga has been a practice of observing and experiencing truth explained and passed on through stories of the deities. From those stories different methods of Yoga have been created. For example; Hatha Yoga translated from the ancient scriptures, means forceful yoga, the yoga of bringing together two of the Hindu Gods: Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is the male aspect of consciousness and awareness and Shakti is the female aspect of the creative potential of form and matter. They are represented in those stories through many different names and embodiments. When the two meet, they spark creation of everything in the manifested world, not only for it to exist and to create the natural cause of things, but for us as sentient beings to experience this divine play. These stories are for each of us an internal and external map to the ultimate goal of Yoga – to be re-awakened to the known absolute truth.
Shakti and Shiva are not easy concepts to grasp for non-Yogis. In Hinduism, Shiva and Shakti exist as a God and Goddess respectively, yet take all forms and names of the masculine and feminine to explain the energies rooted in their existence. However at the most basic level they are energies that exist in the body and spirit of all of us. Physically they exist, Shakti, in your pelvic floor and Shiva, at the crown of your head. When they meet (through Yoga practice and meditation) in your heart, the Union occurs, the magic happens and capturing that moment is just about every Yogi’s life-long goal.
Performing Yoga, Pranayama and Kriya techniques to balance these two energies alights a practitioner to the middle path and the feminine and masculine have an equal part to play. As the awakened Shakti moves from her dormant state in the base of the subtle body at the pelvic floor (Muladhara Chakra) and ascends up the central channel to her beloved Shiva at the crown of the head (Sahasrara), this is where/when the sparks fly. It is there that they unite in the sacred partnership, the intrinsic oneness is revealed, the manifestation and dance that tell the stories of creation as illuminated bliss within one’s own heart, plays out. Its pretty powerful.
I have been internally identifying with multiple aspects of Shakti in my own personal experience for years. However, more recently, I have related with three very well known and well documented forms of Shakti: Kali, Parvati and Lalita Tripura Sundari in both the internal and external which is the exciting bit of awakening. These three-forms of the goddess have arisen to my consciousness for their respective qualitative reasons as my path has taken its own ups and downs. For those of you familiar with those three portrayals of the feminine, you can understand the rollercoaster of cognisance I have been on, following the “Right Hand Path” (Vedic Tantra). My practice of asana, pranayama and mantra have become peppered with influence from these three passionate, devoted and divinely led forms of Shakti. The three-forms are within me internally and have resonated in my meditation. As I meditate, Shakti and Shiva spontaneously take on their characters and I am guided to my ultimate goal; to find the stillness where the tradition of yoga can be taught. As this transpires and internally I find the illuminated bliss, I am in awe for as soon as my eyes have opened I realise there is even more of a union. I have been brought to a deeper state of Yoga as this internal play has also found it’s manifestation externally and for once in my life I have connected with the feminine both spiritually and physically.
While the Yoga teacher in me has been seeking and practicing for that particular experience for years, now, what is surprising is, I never thought the stories of Shiva and Shakti would play out so strongly in my relationship between myself and my partner. Bear with me as this won’t get too explicit, but I am amazed at how unexpected this timeless story of the two energies has found me and expressed very clearly to me the “Left Hand Path” (path of the Vama Marga). This is the path that can really only be found through practice with a partner. Oooo la la, do read on.
Let me take it down a notch…I went through a dark time in my last relationship; addiction, separation, illness and death brought a very melancholy period, very quickly, to my otherwise normal, young, motherhood existence. However, what worked to undermine my faith in relationships, love and consistency actually strengthened my practice and commitment to what gave me faith, connection and kept me compassionate. Seeking the guidance from my teachers, I worked with understanding myself, human nature and how to heal. All the while shit was hitting the fan, I was able to be of service to my family, community and to my understanding of the Divine within me, as me, sensing it working through me as this play of Shakti and Shiva. I asked for guidance, sought to know it more and looked to see it in everything in my life. The desire of Kama was strong in me to heal and move forward towards my fulfilment of life, letting go of any mis-identification to what happened to me or attachment to the story and resistance to accepting it.
The story of Parvati is a bit of a parallel to my time during my melancholy period. Parvati is one of the representations of the Shakti and in Hinduism she is the Goddess of fertility, love and devotion. She was shamelessly and tirelessly devoted to Shiva, practicing Yoga patiently without attachment for hundreds of years while her beloved Shiva meditated without the slightest sense of her being. She, however, knew that Shiva the Lord of Yoga would be her husband. She would stand in a stream of water, eyes closed, diligently practicing with full faith that she was the consort to Shiva and that one day they would meet and marry. When her creative will to her committed practice finally awoke Shiva, her loyal devoutness and love for him moved him to marry and teach her the secret path of Tantra Yoga. The culmination of knowledge and Yogic power (siddhis) fuelled their union. Her devotion to her practice, devout and unattached aspiration to be nothing else than a student and partner of Lord Shiva created the foundation for her to find the union both externally and internally. The sacred marriage to bring Shiva out of the un-manifested meditation into the masculine embodiment of domestic bliss will go down as one of the great love stories of all time.
Very soon after my late husband passed away, I had my Parvati experience, as if Divinely lead, awakening a new relationship that was unexpected in my life. Christian is a man I have know since I was very young. The boy next door (figuratively) I knew growing up, trusted and loved, serendipitously came back into my life as an adult. He was kind, intelligent and worldly. How our paths crossed was the timing of fate. Perfect timing. As if my eyes had been closed, not seeing, but knowing the man I would fall in love with was someone who was very close and familiar. I was devoted to my practice as it had served me well to keep me connected to the living, the kind and the compassionate. I was drawn to him by his noble qualities and honourable ways. He was drawn to me by my integrity through the loss of my late husband, devotion to living, laughing and thriving as well as being a mother to our two girls. I devoted myself, in my melancholy, to my practice. I had faith that my consort was not only my Yoga but that I would again find a partner who was the embodiment of the masculine qualities I yearned for. I found that in him and he is now my husband.
As I continue my studies, practices and devotion to my yogic path my husband has become one of my great teachers. We joke as I contort myself in all sorts of poses, play with my alternate nostril breathing, chant mantra, whittle away with mala beads and still I am amazed that Christian, without any yogic training, displays the most yogic manner, mental state and understanding. It’s infuriating sometimes. He reconnects me to the practical importance of why we are here being partners, parents and spiritual beings. I get lost easily, I feel afflicted by the human disease of forgetfulness and I am really pulled by the physiological attachments that being a human female has on us hence, I have a structured practice to keep boundaries and to be accountable for my actions. I find myself with great pride looking at my husband and the qualities he shares with the archetype of Shiva and I have known since I fell in love with him, he will be my life partner. We will study this life we share and skilfully master how to navigate it together. We are a mirror for each other.
Parvati Mantra: OM NAMAH SHIVAYA I humbly invoke my beloved Shiva, blessing my prayers, my act of devoted love, grace, truth and practice of Yoga.
Another story I get to live out with great resistance however, is learning to embrace the wild, untameable and fierce goddess Kali and her union with benevolent Shiva. The images of her are that of a black skinned, naked, terrifying and powerful force one faces to bring radical change in one’s life, ultimately dissolving oneself into the void and opening to the truth of the source of all knowledge known. She carries a garland of 108 skulls, freed souls from their ego bonds and ignorance of the universal truth. She represents that female stepping into her power, unashamedly expressing herself in a driven and determined way to liberate all. Shiva, taken over by her power, prostrates himself under her, creating the ground in which to serve her on her journey.
Yet again I feel I am living this story. My husband, not fearing my success, my knowledge, my power and in-fact encouraging me to continually step into this role as teacher, mentor, leader, warrior and mother may not literally lie down and become my foundation but he celebrates me and supports me just the same. I am blessed to have a man not threatened by a strong woman and who sacrifices himself to support me. In our family he is the cook, feeding us, nurturing us. He creates the structure, chores for the kids, the rituals of family night in which the family feels the boundaries and security. He gives me space and time to practice, study and teach. Holds space and grounds me while I battle with my own demons always using this fire as a sacred shedding of the old false beliefs. Using Kali is a radical way to re-birth myself into self awareness, giving me the dynamic power to create positive change physically and internally to align myself to serve my path, so I can thrive. I honour Kali and the relationship she has with Lord Shiva. It reminds us that it is necessary for us to keep bravely facing the heat of transformative change and burn away the things that no longer serve us in our approach to the absolute truth.
Kali Mantra: OM AIM HRIM KLIM CHAMUDAYAI VICCHE SVAHA Let the primordial sound of the creative seed of wisdom, manifest from my transformative fire practices that cut the bondage of our ignorance and ego misidentification, freeing us from this duality.
The last aspect of Shakti I have been identifying with might be a bit too intimate to go into too many details but recently the story of Lalita Tripura Sundari and Shiva entered my consciousness. Lalita is the Goddess of erotic spirituality and of the physical, subtle and causal worlds. She creates the radical power of attraction igniting the fire of life to be awakened. She personifies desire in all forms, creation and feminine powers. So much so of the latter that in one story she sexually arouses Shiva out of the most profound Yoga Nidra impelling him to welcome her onto his lap in which they embark in the dance of manifestation creating the world in unified bliss.
I never thought after all these years studying stories, techniques and looking at other couples I knew who had great sex and partnership that I would be able to experience this myself. I am now with a partner who loves women, the feminine, who honours me, who looks at me as the Goddess Lalita Tripura Sundari. I am surprised at how deeply attracted I am to my husband. I find myself prowling, always sensually groping and verbally lusting after him. My behaviour towards my husband has a wonderful side-effect which I have never allowed nor ever experienced before. For the first time I am exploring this pleasurable feeling that is juicy and intoxicating, it’s me embodying this erotic spirituality, not a performance, but a sacred sexuality brought on by finding my beloved. He sees it in the little fire in my eye when I’m feeling playful. “Stop objectifying me!” is his common response. This makes me laugh. As for the first time in my life I am the one objectifying or sexualising another being. This serves to awaken me in my own erotic sensation of being a woman. To explore this inner and outer play of Shakti and Shiva within me and in my partner is the most amazing application, generating passionate creativity, enhancing my practice through sensual desire and devotion and experiencing life filled with the pleasures of being given these bodies to have spiritual awakenings and intimate relationships.
Lalita Tripura Sundari:
OM TRIPURADEVYAI VIDMAHE
KAMESHWARYAI CHA DHIMAHI
TANNAH LINNA PRACHODAYAT
OM, may we come to know the Goddess of the three realms
May we meditate on the Goddess of Desire
May her softness impel me on my path.
It has taken a lot of self-reflection and self-study to form the words written here. It is exciting and I feel fortunate to have gone down the path I have, now learning from it and welcoming it’s blessings. It is not easy to embrace or even recognise the teachings of Yoga and welcome the Union of polarity in our lives but I think we can all acknowledge some of the aspects of Shiva and Shakti personally. As Yoga students we focus on the internal lessons to seek truth but as students of Life it is a great gift to be able to acknowledge the Union externally and live that truth.
Please check out these references for further exploration: