Friday, 23 December 2016

Taking it nice and slow

Hello dear yogis,

I hope this week has treated you well. I know that at this time of year there's a lot of excitement in the air, and also a fair bit of anxiety floating around -- there's a wonderful quote by the American teacher Ram Das which is, "If you think you're enlightened, go spend a week with your family." Even the most zen among us can find ourselves getting overwhelmed or unexpectedly triggered spending lots of intense time with family or getting in a pickle over Christmas dinner. So in that spirit, I've recorded a guided meditation for you (and for me -- I certainly use these techniques when I need them!). It's designed to help you feel grounded and calm, and reconnect with your own inner light and warmth. 

You can find the meditation in the post below, or go to my new Soundcloud page here. I'll be putting more meditations on this page in the new year, along with some of my favorite chants.  

My biggest tip for any time in life when there's lots going on is to slow everything down. We've worked a lot together in our yoga classes with slowing down our movement, so that it's careful and considered. I find that when I slow down my physical practice, I really notice the beauty and grace of what's happening. The same can be true in everyday life -- very often we get more flavor from the moment when we slow down a little; it's like the difference between absent-mindedly scoffing a piece of toast compared to actually sniffing the lovely smell of it when it's just out of the toaster with butter melting (and then scoffing it, of course). 

I recently interviewed the founder of Copenhagen's Institute of Happiness about the idea of hygge, the Danish word for coziness (he's written a book about it). What was interesting is that besides the superficial tips for creating hygge -- good soft lighting, lots of natural fabrics and so on -- he really emphasized taking time to enjoy simple things. So, cooking slowly, savoring a cup of hot chocolate, really listening when we're having a conversation. Less rush. Often we have a lot of expectations around big events like Christmas, and generally what life decides to serve up can be pretty different! When we let go of rushing or trying to make things "perfect", it has this beautiful effect of creating space around a moment. And where there's space, there's also possibility -- the possibility for the moment to be something unique and unexpected, and maybe even wonderful.

I wish you all a really sweet and special Christmas and new year. xx

Coming Home Meditation

Monday, 19 December 2016

Take your seat

Today I remembered a post I wrote for Conscious 2 last year, on the importance of finding one's seat – in yoga class and in everyday life. Now that we're approaching Christmas and the holidays, it seems a good time to share it again! I hope you enjoy it.

Take your seat

More than likely in a yoga class you will have heard the word 
asana—which is generally translated from the Sanskrit to mean “pose”. So, balasana; child’s pose. Halasana; plow pose. Trikonasana; triangle pose.

And it can also be understood as "seat". I love this translation and find it very helpful both in my physical practice on the mat and in my efforts to live well in the world at large. Here is why.

Most of us bring a lot of stuff to our physical practice. When you find Virabadrasana 1—Warrior 1 pose—there's a lot going on. You’re standing there on your mat, maybe first checking your feet are aligned okay and wishing yourmat was less slippy; maybe squaring your hips and letting your tailbone sink towards the ground and noticing how that affects your calves; lifting the chest, bringing your shoulderblades together on your back as you spin your upper arm bones outwards; then you’re refining, softening the gaze, dropping the shoulders… and then you factor in whatever internal narrative happens to be going on—it’s a lot!

And within that, how do we find the balance between effort and ease, readiness and relaxation? For me, often, it's about finding my seat.

We usually begin a class in sukhasana, easy seat (sukha, easy, asanaseat). We are sitting quietly and comfortably, if we're supported properly, and in such a way that breathing comes easily. Like this, we naturally begin to contact a more subtle awareness, simply noticing whatever is going on in the mind and body.

A good teacher will help you find your seat here with careful, calm instructions. A favorite of mine comes from meditation teacher and author Susan Piver. She suggests that while sitting and rooting down, you imagine that a very kind person has their palm held just above the crown of your head and you want to bring your head up to touch it; very likely your spine will elongate beautifully and your attention will brighten.

The yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar offers wonderful direction on how to relax into awareness in his book, Light on Life. “In every pose, there should be repose,” he says. “If you keep the back skin of the neck passive and the tongue soft, there is no tension in the brain.” Maybe you’d like to try that now, just closing your eyes and letting your throat and tongue and jaw be really soft. How does that affect how your mind feels? As Mr. Iyengar notes, “The brain can learn only when it begins to relax.”

So, we sit quietly, upright, shoulders relaxed, and there's a certain quiet dignity here.

When I'm caught up in emotions or storylines or simply hard work in a pose later in the class, I find it helpful to come back to this point. “Ah, here we are. In my seat.” Remembering this same sense of peace and rootedness can transform any pose, and take a lot of the drama out of challenging or seemingly fancy postures; can you find your seat in a handstand? It’s certainly interesting to try!

This same sense of coming back to one’s seat can apply to daily life—this is why it makes sense to me that yoga is referred to as a practice. We practice, practice, practice on the mat and maybe, maybe, maybe we notice little shifts and thinking gaps and opportunities to grow and wriggle out of habits and re-center ourselves in our day-to-day. I try to keep returning to my seat—when I'm in conversation, making decisions, tackling the subway—really anytime where I feel my anchor becoming a bit detached.

So I offer this suggestion anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed or caught up in something, to just take a moment, slow down and reconnect with your body. In finding our foundation we establish connection with the earth, and in relaxing and opening, we’re filled with light. Mr. Iyengar offers this beautiful encouragement: “Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing.” he says. “Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time.”

Take your seat. And take it from there.

Monday, 12 December 2016

On desire

"There's no prayer like desire."
–Tom Waits

This statue from the 14th century is my favorite piece in the whole Rubin Museum, and I come back to it whenever I'm here. I love the vitality and gorgeousness of their embrace; and the idea in the Tantric tradition that we're seeing wisdom (the masculine aspect) and compassion (the feminine aspect) in ecstatic union. It is so beautiful, and I love that it's deemed important enough to be cast in gleaming copper and celebrated in this celestial way.

Desire can feel like such a complicated part of our spiritual practice to navigate. I certainly find it tricky. There's often a sense, a misunderstanding, that we're supposed to be writing off our desires, that all desire leads to suffering. But dismissing any part of our natural selves can make life so painful and stifling.

I'm currently reading a wonderful book by a Buddhist psychotherapist called Mark Epstein called Open To Desire, which talks about the third way with desire -- which is neither grasping (as we often find ourselves doing) or denying, but holding our desire lightly. Hard to do, certainly, but what a way to find freedom.

He cites the Tibetan yogi Padmasambhava who said, "Look into the nature of desire and there is boundless light."

When I look at this statue at the Rubin, that light -- that utter joy and freedom -- is so clear, and so lovely.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Love for your head

Today my yoga teacher friend Seth Lieberman showed me this lovely way to soothe a headache. Try winding an Iyengar-style Pune headwrap across your forehead and around your head to create some gentle pressure (wrap three times) then wind the bandage lightly over your eyes and ears a couple of times to quiet the senses. Then you might like to take Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) pose or just elevate your legs using a bolster. Take ten minutes here if you can, and then sit quietly for a bit before unwinding the wrap and making a peaceful reentry into your day. 💛

Amma's visit

The past few years I've gotten into the habit of taking a little selfie when I've got home from seeing my teacher Amma at her all-night Devi Bhava programme, and I'm about to go to bed in the middle of the day having had no sleep. I take them as a little way of catching just a bit of that feeling of, "Oh! We can feel like this! It feels good!" Like writing my name in the sand on a good day at the beach. So, here's this year's, and one more photo from the morning – right after we came out of Alexandra Palace into the beautiful soft rain. How lucky we are to be alive and loved. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Autumn Seasonal Attunements Newsletter

Welcome to Autumn! What a beautiful and special season it is. Autumn whispers its arrival softly at first with the cooling temperatures and first few leaves on the ground, and by the end of the season, we’re hopefully fully snuggled in and ready for the winter. The changing of seasons can be a little bumpy, however, as we move from the buoyant, outwards yang energy of spring and summer towards the quieter, more reflective yin energy of autumn and winter. The good news is that you can make the ride easier and sweeter by making some really simple tweaks in your lifestyle: what you’re eating, the kind of exercise you’re taking, and the way you’re resting and looking after yourself. Yoga, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are here to help us attune to the seasons and make the most of them.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Like a bee

Last of the sweet summer days. A song from the garden.

A note on Late Summer

It's the first few days of Autumn here in England, and that's A-okay with me. But I wanted to write a few words about late summer to any of you in the States, where it is still balmy and fine outside. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a fifth season: late summer. This special secret season is thought of in TCM as the interchange of all seasons; associated with the earth element, late summer is the point where we move from summer (fire element) to fall (metal element). It reveals itself in the last month of summer, which is the middle of the Chinese year. You'll find a beautiful description of late summer in Paul Pitchford's Healing With Whole Foods:

"It is the point of transition from yang to yin, between the expansive growth phases of spring and summer and the inward, cooler, more mysterious fall and winter seasons. 
A pleasant, tranquil and flourishing season, it is as if time stops here and activity becomes effortless, dreamlike. Unity, harmony and the middle way are summoned between the extremes. 
To attune with late summer, one may listen to its subtle currents, as if living at the instant where the pendulum reverses its swing. Find the rhythms and cycles that make life simple and harmonious." 

The key to really attuning with your inner and outer landscape in late summer is to let everything be easy. Lay down in the grass, feel your toes in the sand, read whatever trashy book you'd like to read. Reconnect to the earth. Try not to rush yourself, and avoid extremes. This is a golden opportunity for calming down from the fire and flourish of summer and moving towards the reflective coolness of autumn.

I like to keep my yoga practice really slow, sweet and steady in late summer. Try really focussing on your breathing in meditation, and finding that exquisite "pendulum point" in the movement of your breath.

Above all, enjoy. Enjoy. Much love. x

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Silver medals

And so the Olympic Games 2016 has come to an end. Seeing the happy faces of its champions is something that makes most of us feel pretty darn good. And at the same time, when I watch the winners and runners-up getting their medals, I am reminded  of what I think of as “silver medal syndrome” – the way the human mind tends to respond to coming in what we see as second place.

I first became aware of this after hearing a talk at the Rubin Museum in NYC, where a scientist talked about research which had been carried out on the size of athletes’ smiles in accordance to their medal status. Logic might say that the athlete who wins the gold should have the biggest smile, followed by the silver-size smile, and the bronze-size smile. But it is not so. Findings show that yes, the gold smile is indeed the broadest: the gold winner has come first, achieved their goal, triumphed. And the bronze winner is pretty beamy, too, they’ve squeaked into the medals by a whisker and are relieved to get one at all. But the silver winner is often found to have a hint of anguish in their smile (and in fact, sometimes they’re not actually smiling at all); these are athletes who so nearly got the gold medal, and they just missed out on it.

The research has been written about in depth in the Scientific American and in the Guardian. From a yogic point of view, this is a great example of the clever ways our minds find to cheat ourselves of happiness. Most of us silver-medal ourselves all the time. We tend to think that success in life is a knowable thing, and assume that we know what something “working out” actually looks like – whether that’s a relationship, a job promotion, getting the apartment we were chasing, and so on. As if we can tell the future: “This is what would be best for me!” Even despite our repeated Phews through life! (“Thank goodness I got laid off / didn’t marry so-and-so / the ice-cream van ran out of soft-serve before I got to the counter” etc).

In the Olympic Games, the context is, of course, competitive and hierarchical – there is a clearly defined winner who receives a prize that everyone agrees is the best prize. And oh, it is tempting to think that success in our own life experience is similarly measurable. As I get closer and closer to the end of my 30s, the part of my goal-driven, whip-cracking mind keeps presenting me with opportunities to have not won the gold medal: “I am nearly 40 and I don’t have the regular gold medal things, like a spouse, kids or my own house”. But then the quiet, knowing part of me shrugs and smiles and says, “Well Sophie, how about traveling around the world, loving with all your heart and being loved, laughing so much that you’ve fallen off the sofa, finding peace on the top of a mountain? How do you feel about that?” 

Then I find that not only do my feelings on these achievements run pretty fluid, the very idea of success itself – of triumphing – begins to get hazy. What is winning? Does any of us really want more than happiness, whatever that looks like?

This is the part of my knowing that I trust. Through my years of practicing yoga and meditation, I recognize it as coming from a wide and wordless knowing, rather than a pre-programmed cycle of mind-yapping. It feels like a friend, when it shows up.

I’m sharing this with you because I’m pretty sure that if I have lived with silver-medalling myself, you probably do, too. I find it really helpful to come across obvious, almost cartoonish examples of subtle human behaviors in the outer world – like the medal ceremonies where silver medal winners are grimacing not grinning.

When we fixate on a rigid goal, we run the risk of blocking out all the zillion other potential sources of joy that are happening all around us. When we start releasing our mind’s gripping, we make room to be grateful, for very simple things (like birdsong, or, hey, breathing!).

This is not to say, don’t try to achieve a heartfelt goal. By all means, go for it! But staying open to other outcomes being equally good is also a highway to happiness. It’s one of the basic messages of the Bhaghavad Gita – to do one’s dharma and take action without being attached to the fruit of that action. Ooh, it’s hard! But staying spacious creates a whole big room in the home of your heart for a wonderful, totally unexpected party to happen.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Blossoming Yoga Summer Newsletter

Harmonizing with the season: SUMMER

Here’s how to get attuned to summer’s energy and feel your physical best

The abundance of summer can be really breathtaking: flowers everywhere, leaves blowing in the breeze, warm sunshine and summer showers. It's like a perfect invitation to get into healthy habits for body and mind. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the summer is a yang season, meaning it has an expansive, outwards energy. Most of us naturally feel more sociable and buzzy in summer.  To make the most of it, it’s important to find a balance between being outgoing and joyful with keeping cool and calm. There are plenty of ways we can do this; from eating certain foods to working with yoga poses and essential oils.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Happy teachers' day!

Today is a special day in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain calendar  – it's Guru Purnima, a special day where we celebrate our teachers. What a lovely thing to do! I wrote a little more about it last year, right here. I send many blessings and lots of love to all of you, celebrating the people who have shed light on your path. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit and yoga: A response

Is there anyone in the country who isn’t still in some degree of shock following Friday’s early morning news that the UK had voted to leave the European Union? A wake-up call, if ever there was one. The nation is split in two, each side convinced it is right, and each of us is implicated in the struggle – one which is a division specifically relating to a union.

The tension here is palpable, and already incidences of verbal xenophobic abuse are being reported in the streets (as per my own experience and on Worrying Signs). There is a sense of societal unravelling – of honor codes being undone, and of hysteria. I find myself horrified by this, and full of sorrow for the unhappiness which triggered the movement and which continues to be its result.

Yoga, translated from the ancient Sanskrit, means union; to yoke together. In this spiritual system, it is one’s awakening to the understanding that there really is no separation; that the same spark of universal love permeates everything – there is no “them and us”. In my experience as a yoga practitioner, there is a great softening that happens in one’s outlook and relationship to life and people, even when one is just starting out on the journey (as I feel I am). As we develop more compassion for our struggling, anxious selves, we develop more compassion for everyone else. We see their struggle and recognize their pain; we get it.

The yogic state is one of freedom and peace. And indeed, the organization that grew into the European Union was founded as a way of supporting freedom and peace following World War Two. Among its many functions, it allows free movement between EU countries, encouraging cross-cultural exchange and communication. A human body does these things, too; in our optimal state, our various systems (nervous, musculo-skeletal, lymbic etc) talk to each other and support each other.

Yoga emphasizes the importance of compassion, and specifically its unlimited nature. We may feel deeply for people fleeing from war-torn countries, for those suffering abuse and discrimination. And we may also have a lot of trouble finding that same empathy and wellspring of warmth for those whom we regard as racists or as selfish; for the frightened and the angry. For those whose aggression might obscure their position as suffering, deprived and victims of discrimination. I certainly find it hard, and I think that’s where a lot of the work of yoga comes in.

Yoga is often hard work. We’re sold an image of a serene young woman, usually caucasian, meditating by the sea, to convey what yoga is. But the practice of yoga is challenging on every level; it’s challenging on the mat, however seasoned a practitioner you are, and it’s challenging in everyday life, as is so clear right now.

I don’t ever remember living through a time of such social uncertainty, and I find it deeply disquieting – as indeed do my friends and family. I have found myself reading article after article, searching for some kind of answer or reassurance; I've noticed I've been delaying going to bed, nervous of being with the reality of the situation and my thoughts about it. It has felt at times like a relationship breakup, and also has echoes for me of the confusion I felt as a child when my parents were divorcing. 

Yoga has a great deal to teach us about uncertainty. We may have done thousands of downward-facing dogs, but no one expression of this pose will have felt the same. The conditions are different every time, in every moment, from the temperature and feel of the air to the fact that our bodies are changing and aging constantly. Some days our balance is great, some days we wobble and fall. We learn to observe the fluctuations of the mind and body without reacting immediately. We learn to sit with discomfort, and this is so very helpful at times like these, wherein we have, collectively, found ourselves in a period of profound unknowing. 

The Bhagavad Gita tells us that yoga is about action, karma, and purpose, dharma. Again, it is not about the serene lady on a beach in nice leggings; the Bhagavad Gita is an ancient war epic which takes place on a battlefield. It is a poetic examination of the nature of life and death, a treatise on taking action without being attached to the results.

To behave with integrity we must put our practices into loving action, even when (especially when) that is hard. And it is hard, now. We find ourselves in a difficult, sad situation, whichever “side” we consider ourselves to be on. So we must center ourselves and crucially, find some space. We can't listen when we are in a contracted state.

You have, I’m sure, experienced the sweet, amazing feeling of finding more space in your body after a yoga class. Creases are ironed out, muscles are elongated, tension and gripping are released. It feels like there’s more space in the mind, too. When the mind becomes more still, it becomes less interested in anxiety, and it gives less power to its thoughts. There is also a profound expansion in the heart. You may feel good will flowing, as if through invisible arteries, towards your own self and out into the world.

When we are spacious, we make room for the actual present. We are able to notice the moment and what is actually going on, because the present is not being squeezed out by our passing emotions or mental chit-chat. We are able to make room for others.

When the astronaut Tim Peake returned to our planet last week, he said in wonder, “The smells of Earth are just so strong.” He said he was elated. We don’t all have to go into outer space to develop our sense of the astonishing, potent experience of living on Earth (though I’ll admit I’ve always dreamed of space travel). But being present and spacious and kind allows us to make good choices based in the information we have, rather than reactive ones that make us feel panicky and desperate.  

Being present, we find our looking-eyes and listening-ears, and our place in a world that is profoundly free of boundaries. It can be tough, and is certainly a practice-in-progress for us all. But giving ourselves every chance to be loving and generous feels like the best option for both our inner lives and our collective health.

After the rain

Thursday, 9 June 2016


Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam.
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”
–Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:33, translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda

“Through compassion you find that all human beings are just like you.”
–HH The Dalai Lama

At London Bridge station today, during rush hour, there was a diversion at the gates between the Tube and the main railway station. When I realized this, I turned around and nearly bumped into a man who was behind me. He slurred, “Fucking idiot.” Then as we were all syphoned outside, I saw him from the back. Gangly, too-long arms, an unsteadiness about him. And I thought, Oh – you’re lost. Really lost.

He was looking confused about where to go. I said, “It’s this way,” as warmly as I could, and as we walked up the stairs, he said thank you. “I called you a name,” he said, “I’m sorry.” And I said, “It’s okay, it’s such a kerfuffle.”

He told me he was trying to get to Platform 1, so I walked with him. He said he was on his way to visit his dad, who would give him a hundred pounds. He said his wife had died. That he has two sons, one who’s 28, the other 30. “That’s good, isn’t it?” he said. And he said that people make assumptions about you, if you’ve got a drink in your hand… But that he’s always worked as a painter and a decorator. I said, “We’re all just trying to do our best.”

When I see someone who is feeling lost – when I have my eyes open – it touches my heart and sometimes makes me want to cry. It makes me think of the times in my life where I’ve felt truly lost. That’s a hard place to be – lost.

We have choices. We can do things that aren’t part of our day-to-day flowchart. We can do what we’re embarrassed to do, or something we’ve never tried. The teacher David H. Wagner is good at encouraging this (you can watch his talks on his Facebook page if you’re interested). Sometimes supporting others requires a little vulnerability on our part – we don’t know what’s on the other side of the unknown.

When I saw this man in all his vulnerability, I physically felt my heart move. I think we all experience this, from time to time – maybe when we see someone do something lovely in the street, or we see terrible suffering on the news. Pema Chodron talks about this feeling, really powerfully, when she describes boddhichita, here.

And in talking with this man, exchanging kindness, I became aware of my own relatively newfound ability to be kind to myself when things aren’t going so great. To forgive myself when I don’t do something in what I thought was the ideal way. When I’m just doing my best. “It’s okay. You’re fine. We’ll get there.” The way we relate to ourselves can have a huge effect on the way we relate to others; and indeed to our very understanding of "others". Asked how we should treat others, the sage Ramana Maharshi replied, "There are no others".

Karuna means compassion in Sanskrit. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that our physical practice can be strong and sweet at the same time: Sthira sukham asanam. And so it is with the heart.

We went our separate ways, the man and I; the better, I think, for having met.

Friday, 20 May 2016


It is so important to dance when you feel like dancing. 💛

Friday, 29 April 2016

New yoga mat

I got a new yoga mat. It is a Jade mat, which is my favorite kind, and it is saffron yellow, which makes me happy. Getting back on the mat today was really something. It was a joy, and it was awkward in places and it was a relief. A special reunion, because it’s been a while.

In the past year I’ve been to some far-out places. I’ve been in New York, Los Angeles, San Ramon, Portland, Seattle, London, Sydney. I’ve been in a surgery room, and I’ve knelt at my Guru’s feet. I’ve sung in a recording studio, and I’ve been in a movers’ truck, about to send my stuff out to sea.

More recently I injured my back and as a result of this, I found out that my joints are hypermobile -- which means that like a lot of yogis, I can get into a fair few fancy poses, but not necessarily support myself that well in them. So these past few months I’ve been seeing an osteo and a physio and re-learning how to use some of my muscles. Over this time I haven’t been able to really practice physical yoga asana, besides little scraps here and there on my travel mat.

But now I am home, in the city I was born in. The window of possibility is wide open, it is spring, and I’m able to practice asana again.


I’m also feeling that after a period of not writing about yoga, while doing some deep learning in my own body, that can start happening again, too. And then -- core muscles engaged -- a return to my great joy, teaching.

Happy spring, you guys!