PE (Psycho-spiritual Education)

Jenny-May speaking at the HGC Teacher Conference

I HATED PE at school. I really loathed it. It was a routine humiliation of nylon knickers and enforced communal showers, of feeling clumsy and inadequate next to the ‘PE girls’, who were usually also the ‘popular girls’; powerful, enviable, desirable. PE, for me, meant shivering on a vast field, waiting for the inevitable hockey stick in the shins or ball in the face. I was usually picked for teams second to last. It was an all-round painful experience and every chance I could, I would bunk off.

Fast-forward 30 years and here I am, delivering a ‘yoga for periods’ lecture-demo at an education conference at the University of Worcester. After the introductions, I realise that the audience is entirely made up of ‘PE girls’, now PE professionals. Granted, there are some guys present, but all of these people are just so into sport! I have nothing against sport. After an unfortunate start I have come to really appreciate its importance and its beauty. But it has nothing to do with my experience- so how did I get here? It’s so ironic that I nearly burst out laughing, then glance around awkwardly, waiting for that ball to the face. And collect myself. These people are amazingly committed. They care deeply about their tribes (their sports, and their teams, their schools), and also about education, about helping young people stay active and healthy, and about closing the gender gap. This is where our interests intersect.

Jenny-May demonstrating Since the inception of Hereford Yoga CIC (Community Interest Company) in 2014, I have worked closely with local statutory and voluntary services whose interest is in increasing activity, especially in girls, who are over 50% more likely to become inactive than boys of the same age. Girls, only 2% of who describe themselves as ‘strong’ as opposed to 49% of boys. This has usually meant collaborating with PE departments.

I practise yoga as an art and a philosophy, so bringing yoga to schools via PE departments has always felt like a strange fit. It’s just been the ‘way in’ due to the widely accepted misconception of yoga as a purely physical activity. And yet, how wonderful that these sporty teachers are identifying the needs of those, like me all those decades ago, for whom traditional PE activities just aren’t resonating. Who care about girls’ experience of the menstrual cycle enough to take a day out of their busy schedules to learn some approaches to opening the conversations and expanding the offers at their schools.

Iyengar yoga, thanks to the lifetime’s work of Geeta S Iyengar and her colleagues, has a wealth of knowledge to offer around staying active throughout the whole menstrual cycle. The idea that a meaningful asana (postural) practice can be adapted to work with (not against), not just menstruation, but all phases of the menstrual cycle and indeed all phases of a woman’s life, was radical when Ms. Iyengar started her research into it. Postural yoga was having its hey-day in the 1970s and 80s, spreading worldwide via students of the guru Krishnamacharya, with each of these (almost exclusively male) students developing his own style and methodology. The physicality was strong and dynamic, evolving as it did out of the Mysore tradition that was designed for active boys and young men. BKS Iyengar’s dedication to making the practice of yoga accessible to all bodies no doubt inspired his daughter Geeta’s mission of bringing the female experience to the forefront of contemporary yoga practices.

Jenny-May teaching at the HGC Teacher Conference2 out of 3 girls are still opting out of PE during their period. But the Iyengars’ method does not stipulate that a girl or woman should stop practising when she is menstruating. On the contrary, the poses and sequences are adapted according to the individual’s needs, with special care taken for rest and release in the abdomen, lower back and head, and towards promoting hormonal balance. Props are used to engender a feeling of being supported. As someone who has suffered chronic menstrual problems, I advocate this as one of the greatest gifts arising from the phenomenon that is transnational postural yoga. I believe that girls should be taught these techniques in schools. It will help them to feel listened to and cared for; to feel equipped and capable; to acknowledge and respect the inherent strength of their own womanhood, rather than perceiving it as a weakness.

We learn through the body and the senses; imagine the impact throughout the rest of the education system, and on the rest of their lives, if in PE lessons kids were routinely given opportunities to improve posture, increase confidence and develop an understanding of body-mind integration. I learned last week that, unlike my experience in the 1990s, this is what many departments are beginning to implement. So I thank the organisers for the invites to the Worcester and Hereford conferences. I salute the teachers who are serious about shifting the culture of PE from primarily or exclusively sports education to a meaningfully inclusive and holistic physical education. And I know that yoga has an important part to play in enabling that evolution.

Images: Gabriella

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Earth Day 2023

Invest in Our Planet - official Earth Day graphicI was hoping to be among many thousands of people marching in London this weekend to demand truth and immediate collective action in response to the climate crisis. I can’t go, in the end, but I wish all who can very well. Perhaps naively, I wish them success.  I live in hope, because it’s not possible to live without it. I have teenaged children one of whom particularly, after a few years of engagement with climate action, has become utterly disengaged and fatalistic about the future of humanity. I don’t blame them. Sometimes, even allowing for adolescent hormones, it seems like the only logical and realistic response as we slide over the precipice and into the catastrophe. And yet, somehow, hope persists. Without hope, action will disintegrate, and vice versa.

I find hope in my practice of yoga. I’m aware of what a cliché that is, and yet it doesn’t make it any less true. I have noticed how publications of environmental organisations now regularly recommend yoga- both as a way of managing anxiety (which is an altogether natural response to the reality of the situation) and of connecting with nature. They are onto something. Yogic practices were originally developed by people and through cultures that were deeply integrated with the natural world. These practices offer a framework for an exploration of our place, not only on this earth but as part of the entire universal complex. Some texts describe the body as a microcosmic reflection of the universe. The experience of ‘prkrti’, ‘nature’, the yogis discovered, is at the very core of being human. We are it, it is us. Logically then, any violation of the natural world is also a self-violation.

This is my very simple experience- that a daily practice of yoga connects me to nature. It reminds me of my humble existence as an organism within an ecosystem upon which I am completely reliant for survival. Every organism is a collection of living cells in symbiotic relationship. By studying this interdependence within the field of our own body-mind-breath, it’s possible to cultivate valuable knowledge and intuition about how we, as a species, exist in relationship to each other, to other species and to our environments. It’s about balance, and it’s about alignment.

Think of vrksasana (tree pose); this is an iconic symbol of balance. It is also a lens through which to dive deeply into an exploration of balance as a practice in general. Balance of the weight of one’s body on one leg requires a careful distribution of resources, of energy versus time, of breath and nutrition and effort and will and poise and concentration. Try it. If one side over-does, draining resources, then the pose will soon be over. For sustainability on any scale we require an informed, practised, I’d venture an embodied, understanding of balance.

Jenny-May adjusting Utthita Trikonasana

It’s the same with alignment. Iyengar yoga is particularly associated, within the field of modern postural yoga, with an almost fanatical preoccupation with alignment. The alignment of the back body in Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose) is a good illustration of this, where one may spend years working on getting the back of the left heal, the tailbone and the back of the head to line up on one plane. Why bother, when the world is burning? It’s a good question. For me, it’s partly because by studying alignment in the particular we are cultivating it as a practice in general. If, for example, policies were developed with alignment at their core there would be an end to the use of fossil fuels and a transition to green tech ensuring the protection of livelihoods, landscapes and biomes.

I was interested to read in a recent open letter from concerned scientists and engineers demanding a pause to the precipitate and dangerous development of AI, a call for measures to ensure that this technology is ‘more accurate, safe, interpretable, transparent, robust, aligned, trustworthy, and loyal’. Alignment matters. We can take our understanding, our embodiment of it, from Utthita Trikonasana, to our personal choices, to the demands we make of our governments and institutions.

For me, practising and teaching yoga is a way of maintaining hope and stability in these very distressing and uncertain times. It is a small act of resistance to the status quo of measuring everything by economic profit.It is a tiny contribution towards greater balance and alignment of people and planet. It is a daily reminder to tread lightly.

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Faeq Biria: Tributes to a Master of Yoga

Faeq with BKS Iyengar

Shricharan Faeq Biria 14th November 1946 – 9th April 2022

Tributes and Memories

To start with, some observations from some of Faeq’s oldest friends in yoga; Pranshant Iyengar and Jawahar Bangera. These are taken from the funeral celebration of April 2022.

Prashant Iyengar

‘He was not only one of the most dedicated and devout students of Guruji but he stands out.

He was like a tree which bore out fruits of dedicated students and devout students so Sricharan Biria gave many dedicated students to Guruji and Yoga.…not only a dedicated student but a tree of dedicated students.

His dedication to Guruji and to Yoga is beyond words. His servitude towards Guruji is beyond words. His contribution was extremely mighty.

I cannot forget his contribution for Guruji’s work which we all know as Astadala Yoga Mala

…whatever Guruji did for the subject of Yoga, it is beyond doubt that Biria was a great assisting factor’.

Jawahar Banghera

‘..and I say this from my heart, after Guruji, Geetaji and Prashantji, Balaji (affectionate nickname for Faeq) was the best Iyengar Yoga teacher in the world. I’m sure there is no disputing that.’


Below are some brief tributes to Faeq from UK based students. We welcome more. If you’d like to contribute, please send your words to

Edgar Stringer

My first experience being taught by Faeq was a workshop in Bath when I was a newly qualified teacher in my mid-twenties. It was Iyengar Yoga as I knew it, but he challenged me to apply myself on another level. Intriguing sequences, which circled back to a particularly difficult asana were punctuated by well-timed anecdotes, partner work or stories from Hindu scriptures. After that I attended many workshops in the UK and a retreat with Faeq and in 2016 I eventually made it to Blacons. His insistent enthusiasm for immersive asana practice was inescapable. He was like a child who kept saying ‘again’ or ‘last one’. The epic surya namaskar cycles felt like climbing a mountain. I accessed the deepest reserves of mental and physical stamina to reach the summit. There was never a moment to even consider giving up. I learned not only to surmount my doubts and limitations but the divine experience of spontaneous surrender as the whole body, mind and senses dissolved in Savasana.

Jenny-May While

Faeq with his mother

It has been a wonderful, abundant privilege to stand a little in the light of Faeq’s wisdom. He loved and guided and taught in a way that at first made his students disinclined to disappoint him and then gradually, skilfully nudged us towards maturity and independence. Accepting error and misjudgement and failings, he expected only that we reapply ourselves on a daily basis to practise with faith, devotion, awareness, discipline, joy and love.

I miss Faeq. I miss his theatrical entrances, so pregnant with possibilities. I miss his stories and his skilful balance of solemnity with light-hearted fun. I miss the sound of his voice that resonated with absolute comfort. Most of all, I miss his touch. Faeq’s touch that was a true homecoming; his firm corrections and endlessly expansive and encompassing embrace. I miss all of those moments of worldly connection, and at the same time know that any sense of separation is an illusion.

Since Faeq’s death, many now face the daunting task of continuing to practise and teach in the absence of our beloved spiritual father. Faeq raised us. He raised our expectations. He raised our confidence, our trust, our faith. He raised our hearts and souls. I do not feel ready and know that I am desperately unprepared to carry forward the teachings of yoga in the way that he would hope and expect. I also know for certain that his guidance will never leave those who he inspired and that, despite all obstacles, his clarity of purpose and generosity will never fail us. I take comfort in knowing that there are people all over the globe engaged daily in the challenging, beautiful practice of improving their minds and opening out their hearts that they might, just a little, resemble Faeq’s.

Shaili Shafai

Faeq was a real scholar. He was involved in politics as a young man and was acquainted with many of the intellectuals, poets and politicians of his era.

As for his love and knowledge of Persian literature and poetry, I don’t know where to begin. In his library he had around 8000 volumes of precious books. Last year he was telling me all sorts of tales about how and where he kept his boxes and boxes of books over the years, about the handmade binding of a set of encyclopaedias that he had loved and the unfortunate story of how they got stolen from him and how he has spent the past 30 years looking for them in antique shops and vintage bookstores. He mentioned that after he is gone, he wishes to donate it all to a university in Paris for their faculty of Eastern Studies.

The volumes and volumes of poems that he knew by heart always blew my mind. Another fascinating thing was that one of his hobbies was to buy different editions of Persian encyclopaedias and read them cover to cover and of course in his case effortlessly memorise all of the information. He did that with dictionaries too! So after more than 40 years of living outside Iran, he could correct your Persian or on the odd chance congratulate you with reference to some ancient scholar, for using the write verb or an uncommon conjugation or out of trend pronunciation.

Finding him a present to take to Blacons, was my yearly mission. I would spend months thinking of ideas and inspiration and the result would almost always include a book. One time, I went to his room (the famous room from where he watched us go by and occasionally shouted to correct our posture or calm us down after the sugar rush of the evening ice cream) and handed him the little bundle of gifts that smelled like home. As soon as he saw there was a book he took it out and opened it at random and his shiny eyes got even more shiny as he smiled and said:

Faeq Biria and Corine Biria


‘Oh I know this poem by heart from when I was in Iran but I have forgotten the last few verses’. So of course he spent a few minutes reading it again, while my mind was just being blown away, and afterwards he put the book in a chest he had in his room and closed the lid saying: ‘If I don’t put it away I will stay up all night reading it all’. And of course in the morning class at 7 am, he passed next to my mat and told me that he couldn’t resist it and had stayed up late reading. And we had a good giggle.

It was really hard to recite a verse of poetry without him giving you the full story around it. And those moments were so precious and sweet.

Craig Duffy

In the early 2000s I had attended some workshops with Faeq in the UK, hosted by Richard Ward.  I really liked his teaching and had heard rumours of an intensive that he ran in France.

I drove down to Blacons, arriving the Sunday before the Monday start.  On reaching the village I went into the bar/cafe asking, in French, ‘Where is the yoga course?’  It was a bit like the scene in a Western when the sheriff turns up in the bad guys’ den.  There was silence, then finally the person behind the bar said – “down there” – pointing to the other end of the village and nobody spoke to me or made eye contact. A bit weird really.

During that week I experienced every kind of pain my mind and body could provide.  One morning I woke up feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland, I could feel my body increasing in length as I lay there.  The course was tough – 7-11 am asanas, then a coffee break, followed by an hour and a half pranayama, then asanas from 4 supposedly to 7, sometimes finishing after 9pm.

Some years later I told Faeq that my memory of that week was like being in a dark labyrinth and the only way out was to follow every one of Faeq’s instructions to the letter.  Faeq looked interested and then said –  “don’t you listen to my instructions any more?”.   “Of course not, I am experienced now”, I replied.  Being Faeq he then related that Guruji used to tell him off for not really listening any more to the instructions.

I must have enjoyed it as I came back for the following 20 years or so.  I remember once, during a strong heat wave Faeq loudly and repeatedly exhorting us to pull our anus towards our heads in a number of poses.  The windows were wide open.  As we staggered out of the room at 9.30pm looking dazed and confused I started to realise the origins of the weird reception at the bar many years ago!


Kirsten Agar-Ward

My first real encounter with Faeq was at a LOYA convention. His teaching was something else; powerful, engaging, in some ways mesmerizing. He taught several times for us at UK conventions and in Bath and memorably dear Corine and Faeq taught me during my pregnancy, very kindly hosting us in their apartment. Faeq was a very hospitable man and good company, he always had wonderful tales to tell of Guruji and more. But what has stayed with me most strongly was his teaching me something of mantra and puja, it was a profound gift for which I am most grateful. With Guruji’s blessing Faeq kindly performed our vedic wedding ceremony and pujas for our yoga centre openings. When he stayed with us it was a special joy to hear the beautiful sound and vibrations of his chanting. He was erudite and perceptive, complex and enigmatic, jovial yet serious. Thank you Faeq for what you did for us and for yoga.

Gavin Tilstone

My first encounter with Faeq was in a 2001 workshop in Bath. His teaching, and the demonstrations by two students accompanying him from France, blew me away. The practice was intense and after that first workshop I was hooked. From 2004 I attended his Iyengar Yoga intensives in Blacons and later in La Chaise Dieu up until 2019.

The Blacons experience was full immersion in Iyengar Yoga and the closest I can imagine to actually living as a disciple of yoga in the ancient yoga shalas of India. Blacons and Chaise Dieu are firmly marked on the road map of International Iyengar yoga practitioners’ yearly calendar. Students from different regions of the globe attended, with some 40+ countries represented. The weeklong intensives were structured into five different levels, each one building on the next towards more advanced asanas mirroring Guruji’s certification syllabus and different asana levels as laid out in Light on Yoga. I understand that Faeq travelled extensively with Guruji during the 1980s to assist with the intensives that he was teaching. Blacons was a living encapsulation of those times that Faeq had moulded, to bring the living experience of Guruji into the hall.

Practice would start at 07:00 a.m. sharp and If you were late, you missed it, as the door was promptly locked. The morning session started with 30 minutes of mantra recital, silent sittings followed by the ‘openings’; asanas to prepare the body for the pranayama. Into this Faeq inter-wove relevant Hindu mythology, stories of Guruji or quotes or sayings from Patanjali sutra’s or the Bhagavad-Gita, plucked from his vast knowledge of these subjects. As we were ‘enjoying the pain’ of the openings, he was prone to cracking jokes which would have the hall in rapturous laughter, which was probably his way of distracting our minds from the intensity of the practice. The pranayama session just before lunch were some of the most profound that I had ever experienced.

Through my job as an Oceanographer I have done voyages to many incredible places including the Arctic and Antarctic and in many of the world’s deepest seas. None have enabled me to journey as deeply as the Blacons experience guided by Faeq, which truly became the pinnacle of my year.

Faeq with BKS Iyengar

Toni Eliot

Faeq’s love and respect for Guruji as well as his generosity, humour and rigorous sharing of wisdom has contributed to my feeling of belonging to the worldwide Iyengar community.

I first met Faeq Biria in the early 2000s at Iyengar Yoga Centre in Paris. My French was fairly poor at that point so attending his classes was a multiple and fabulous challenge. My first workshop with Faeq was a beginners’ three-hour workshop in which I deeply felt the impact of his instructions as well as the pace and rhythm that accompanied each one of the participants in our own personal journey.

I first took part in the Summer intensive retreat in Blaçons in 2007.  I had heard much about them and the experience surpassed my expectations.  Starting with a moving and all-embracing welcome ceremony, Faeq guided us through a week of asana and pranayama that was in turns gruelling, inspiring, surprising and altogether illuminating.  Faeq’s scholarly, thorough, bountiful,

light hearted, sharp-witted teaching led to us sharing the yogic experience both as individuals and as a community. Faeq instilled a unique way of practising asana, a practice of personal search supported by the energy of the group; a practice of compassion and gratitude emanating from this group from a combination of light-heartedness and rigour.

Thank you, dear master Faeq, for knocking down barriers, for opening wide the window to full, rounded yoga practice, like the windows in the yoga room at Blaçons opened to the power of the mountains; thank you for supporting me and so many through our personal yogic journeys.

world map

Some of the 46 countries Faeq taught in

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Innate and Natural Links

‘It’s in childhood that most people have their first spiritual experience; that of an innate and natural link to the sacred. The joy, the clarity of mind and the curiosity that we’ve known can become the starting point of a marvellous rediscovery. If our relationship with our parents is imbued with love and respect, it will serve as a model and a foundation, and all of our other relationships will also be founded on trust and respect.’- Jack Cornfield

Jenny-May spending time with her niece

I love this quote from Jack Cornfield. Those who haven’t had the benefits of a stable start in life of the kind he describes may have different experiences from those who have; but the ‘innate and natural link to the sacred’ is available to everybody. The cultivation of this link develops a particular quality of self-respect which can be used as a foundation for healthy relationships

A few weeks ago I came across some striking research about the effect of shared spirituality on children’s mental health. By spirituality I mean a conscious and deliberate examination of one’s inner life and the cultivation of its connection to and place within universal patterns. It is well documented that maternal mental ill-health puts children at 50% higher risk of depression in their own lives. HOWEVER this robust, peer-reviewed study led by Lisa Miller shows that if a child shares a spiritual life with their primary care-giver, they are 80% LESS likely to develop depression, whether they were high- or low-risk to start with*. This means that parents, whether they suffer with their own mental health or not, are providing a proven antidote to depression in their children just by sharing their experience of a spiritual sensibility. And this can be done in so many ways! Maybe there is a faith tradition that the family belongs to, or perhaps not. It doesn’t matter; this has been factored into the research and has no bearing at all on the outcomes. What does matter is a sense for the child of their inner self being held, loved, and existing as part of a larger community and universal pattern. This can be experienced by, for example, connecting with nature, by appreciating beauty, by talking about priorities and what we base our choices on, by practices that develop empathy, joy and compassion.  

Jenny-May laughing with nieceAs adults we have to accept that we cannot provide a life for our children that is free from pain. What we can do is provide a framework that helps them to build resilience, to be as well prepared as possible for the difficulties they are bound to face. This research has given me heart. It is easy to become disillusioned when faced with suffering, especially of the young, especially of the young people that we love and care for intimately. And there is so much of it about, this suffering, and it’s so unfair. But we have a choice to educate children and young people, at home and, importantly, in schools, about the importance of exercising what starts in infancy as Cornfield’s ‘innate and natural link to the sacred’; the ’being’ part of human. If we can show them lots of ways that this can be done, and if we can continue to learn from them how to stay in touch with our own initial innocent wonder in life, that seems like a good start.


*Miller, Lisa: ‘The Awakened Brain: The Psychology of Spirituality’, Penguin 2022

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Every Body Yoga- why access to yoga should be part of integrated care

Beginners class at Hereford Yoga Centre

Our Beginners Class in action

Nadia Gilani’s opinion piece on yoga is an important contribution to this January’s ‘get-well’ fetish.

As the NHS crumbles and health inequalities widen, universal access to high-quality yoga services should become a priority for all local authorities interested in creating high-functioning integrated care systems. Because firstly, regular yoga practice is known to work as a path to sustainable integrated health.

Secondly, it’s relatively cheap for the public purse. It’s taught in groups (in which good teachers differentiate for individuals’ needs) so for the return in health and wellbeing, spend-per-person is peanuts compared to costs associated with long-term health issues that yoga is proven to both treat and prevent. It also provides experiences of belonging and connection that reduce loneliness and isolation, identified as a major stress-factor on primary care.

Gilani’s article is a call-to-action for all yoga teachers to make community outreach a priority. I agree, but would go further; everybody should have access to the benefits of studio learning. In Hereford, we are conducting a pilot in partnership with 3 NHS surgeries, providing free yoga on prescription. It’s been the surest way to both diversify our yoga community and to dismantle social and financial barriers to practice.

As a long-term practitioner I’m not at all surprised by the transformative benefits reported by patients. Patients themselves, and their health practitioners, are surprised. They are also impressed and enthusiastic, telling us there is a big need and please can we do more? Our answer is, we know, and we hope so.

It should be remembered that physiotherapy was long regarded by the establishment as a fringe ‘alternative health’ practice. Now, quite rightly and thanks to targeted research, there is a physiotherapist attached to every surgery and hospital in the country. I’m not suggesting that yoga replace physio- it meets a different need- and the yoga industry is currently too unregulated for blanket integration into the NHS; as Gilani suggests there’s work to do, to differentiate between practices that offer a truly self-educative experience and those that sell unsubstantiated images and concepts for financial profit. But as we’re developing, as a species, our understanding of health as balance between body, mind and connected consciousness, yoga is poised, ready to deliver its very tangible benefits to masses of people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, income or ability.

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Well Done You Lot

Jenny-May in Child's Pose

Building resilience with daily practice.

There are lots of self-care calls to action going out today, but for mental health awareness day I thought I’d write about some challenges I’ve experienced in the past year, how I’ve used yoga as an integral part of my approach to them, and how that’s working out so far.

Since October 2021 a series of events have touched my life with traumatic effects to varying degrees. These have been a combination of historical trauma coming to the surface, illness and cognitive impairment, and secondary trauma (experienced first hand by loved ones and ‘referred’ via empathic connection. This is an actual thing- you can look it up. Secondary trauma is not experienced as acutely as primary trauma but shares a host of the same symptoms).

What has been difficult, and interesting, is the accumulative effect of these incidents. I feel that the majority of them by themselves, with time and space around each for contemplation and healing, I would have been capable of managing pretty well. After all, these are things that a) happened a long time ago, b) can be gradually recovered from or c) actually happened to other people, who it’s my role to love and support. In addition, I am lucky enough to be extremely well supported myself and to have practised over a long period effective means and methods to help deal with such challenges.

Accumulative Effect

So what is it about the accumulative effect then, that makes it all feel so horribly overwhelming? I believe it’s to do with resilience as a resource. A scarcity of resilience leaves us vulnerable, like a scarcity of energy leaves us cold. Luckily it’s a renewable resource, but once it’s gone it is very, very hard work to replenish. Like when your phone battery runs down completely it takes a lot more power to get it going than if you plug it in when it’s still on a few percent. We all need a little stored away.

This year it feels as though my store has been completely emptied, the contents trampled into the ground- and, confession time- my discipline is in tatters, my sleep patterns are erratic, my energy is shattered, I am weak and heartbroken, exhausted and grumpy and at times lost and desperate. No doubt I am difficult to live with. My practice of yoga, always my go-to, has morphed beyond recognition.  I have mainly been returning again and again to BKS Iyengar’s ‘Practice for Emotional Resilience’ just to get through the day (I can’t recommend this highly enough). And I’ve been crying. A LOT. And also, LUCKY ME, because I am 42 years old and this is only the second time I’ve ever had to really take seriously an experience of poor mental health as an adult person (during the first I discovered Iyengar yoga). And I teach about it all the time, so, time to practise what I preach.

Yes, discipline is important, and having the discipline of a well-established (daily) yoga practice can be a life line in times of mental distress, because it is a psychological practice that is uniquely embodied. If it has been skilfully crafted, if it has been cultivated with authenticity and trust, then chances are it will hold when you need, and if you choose, to fall back on it. But it certainly won’t look the same during these times.

There will need to be more room made for gentleness, for kindness, for forgiveness and for acceptance. Because the pain of psycho-spiritual suffering will not respond well to a hardening of body and mind; it will bounce around and cause more damage. Nor will a complete softening result in anything but total system meltdown; a certain firmness is required to enable the shoring up of the heart. As always, a balance. Never is that balance more elusive than when suffering is dominant.

I’ve realised that what yoga provides me with, and what I’m really grateful to it for is self-literacy.

So for mental health day I just wanted to say that personally, this year, I’ve realised that what yoga provides me with, and what I’m really grateful to it for is self-literacy. Even though I feel that I’m lost in a foreign land, and can’t speak the language, I am nevertheless equipped with the grammatical structures necessary to continue a rudimentary communication between the different parts of myself. Often there is confusion, and misinterpretation, and that’s also ok. The thing about communication, whether that’s intra- or inter-personal, is that listening and willingness, although hard-won, will always succeed.


A cup of tea with 'gentleness, kindess, forgiveness and acceptance' tea bag

Make time for tea.


One of my teachers this Summer hugged me and said ‘You have to rest. And well, Geetaji* said you know, about suffering, you have to BEAR it.’ She really said BEAR in determined capitals. So while I’m working on learning this new language, I’m bearing it on my bolsters, in nature, in silence and in conversation, with the words of the wise, and with lots of cups of tea. My humble and heartfelt salutations to everyone suffering from acute and/or chronic challenges to mental health. Well done for bearing it and for maybe, somehow, finding your way. Well done for trying.

*Geeta S Iyengar

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Changing our Architecture

“We live in the most part in closed rooms. These form the environment from which our culture grows. Our culture is to a certain extent a product of our architecture. If we want our culture to rise to a higher level, we are obliged, for better or worse, to change our architecture. And this only becomes possible if we take away the closed character from the rooms in which we live.”

– Paul Scheerbourt, 1914



Yoga is an exploration of space; the spaces we live in; the body-mind-environment spaces. Have you noticed, there are lots of closed rooms…

Did you ever have one of those dreams where you discover a new room in the house that you’ve lived in for years? You thought you knew the place inside out, but here it is right in front of you, a door, and inside the door a completely new space. What’s in there?

With a sustained practice of yoga, we sometimes get those moments in waking life- when a particular experience, perhaps an adjustment in an asana (posture), makes you go ‘Aha! This space was always here, but I never knew!’. In fact, the exploration of consciousness through diligent training of body-mind processes can open out an infinite number of new ‘rooms’ for us to experience. Yet we tend to exist on a day to day level in a small, cramped abode, without questioning the limitations this puts on our potential for growth.

There are certain aspects of our body-mind architecture that we have no choice about. But we usually have more agency than we believe possible. Let’s take a simple example. As we age, the thoracic dorsal vertebrae, especially T6-9, begin a process of protruding outwards, or cyphosis. This can occur very slowly over many years, or in some cases more rapidly. In any case, as the spine ages that’s what happens. It is also exacerbated by how we live, for example working on screens, driving, caring….everything that gives us the ‘hunch’ of the middle-upper back.



The thoracic dorsal spine is proximal to the back of the chest. So when the spine in this region withdraws, it’s like closing a room in your house; shutting it off with a door that will eventually become so rusty and fixed that no amount of pushing and pulling will open it again. The implications of closing the back door to your chest are potentially serious. It’s where your heart and lungs live. In yogic terms the chest space also houses the seat of the spiritual heart or intuitive intelligence, which brings light and vitality and uplifts our everyday experiences. It’s the place in which we feel love most acutely and tangibly. I’d say it’s worth keeping it open for business.



If we make a repeated small daily effort to move the thoracic dorsal in, to maintain its function as a support and gateway to everything in front of it, then we can reduce the pace at which the door becomes rusted shut; possibly even avoid that happening all together. This can be done through various asana, with or without props (see the pictures for some ideas).


Urdvha Baddhanguliyasana

Paschima Baddhanguliyasana (without belt, fingers interlocked)

Gohmukasana (arms)

Purvottasana (using the chair)

Supta Urdvha Hastasana (with brick in the back)

Try one or two of these poses every day for two weeks and see if you feel a difference. As Paul Scheerbourt suggests, change your architecture. Change your culture. Do this with the intention of acknowledging and cultivating the intimacy between the back and the chest. Allow them to collaborate. This will frame how we experience and inhabit the space between them. That space where love happens.

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In praise of Savasana: How will you die today?

Aah, savasana. That lovely bit at the end. Or, that bit when I’m supposed to completely relax but my mind is running in circles. How is it for you? Sometimes we experience a flip between these feelings around savasana on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I cannot advocate strongly enough for savasana as a daily practice. I entreat you not to dismiss or neglect it and not to underestimate its transformational powers over a lifetime.

1. ‘Classical’- flat on the back with a blanket supporting the back of the head and neck

It’s important to finish each and every practice of yogasana and pranayama with savasana for a number of reasons:

7 Good Reasons to practise Savasana

  1. It marks the end of the practice, giving a sense of completion and contentment.
  2. It allows the benefits of the practice, both physical and psychological, to embed and consolidate.
  3. Even a short savasana is like plugging a device in to re-charge. It’s immensely restorative.
  4. It is soothing for the nervous system, so reduces symptoms of stress and anxiety.
  5. It allows the senses to completely rest from their habitual activity, reducing their attachment to external objects.
  6. It is a bridge between the ‘outer’ aspects of the yoga practice and the ‘inner’ aspects; it allows us to dive deeply inside that inner experience in a safe and secure way.
  7. It is one of the best preparations for a good death.

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Inside Out

Have you ever been there when someone is dying? If you have (and depending on the nature of the death) you may have noticed the phenomenal quality of love when death is close. When loved ones assemble in witness of a life’s twilight hours, love takes form and becomes, for some time at least, a palpable, almost personified presence. ‘Love was always love’, writes Gabriel Garcia Marquèz in his celebrated novel Love in the Time of Cholera, ‘any time, any place, but it was more solid the closer it came to death’.

As a world-wide community we find ourselves in a state of virtual vigil at the deathbed of many, many people, both known and unknown to us. The inability to assemble makes sorrow more acute and more lonely.  In grief and in love we are turned inside-out, our fleshy vulnerability exposed, raw, howling for human contact. If we are lucky and mindful, even as the scar tissues begin to form, we can retain the direct empathy that accompanies such open-heartedness.

As we stand witness at the demise of much that we have known and accepted and expected, a sharpened awareness of the trembling fragility of our societal structures underpins our everyday actions. Our cultural and political architecture, our hypocrisies, our complicities, our inequalities and everything we take for granted, is laid bare. What and who we love and value, and how, has become poignant and tangible on a global scale.

Space and time have changed their meaning. They are stretching and bending, contracting, expanding and aligning in unusual ways; some pleasurably, some dragging along a heavy pack of frustration and longing. We are removed from one another physically, spatially, over an unknown period of time, and it hurts in very many ways.  Yet as a species we are displaying more presence of awareness perhaps than ever before. Social isolation and distancing, as a great act of solidarity and self-discipline, has demonstrated increased, and increasing, awareness in human thought, speech and action. We are experiencing an unprecedented shift in consciousness; from individual to collective, from isolated to interconnected.

The many physical, emotional and economic hardships that this virus and the subsequent prolonged lockdown are causing are lamentable, and for many are utterly tragic. But a stripping back of everything but essential human activity has left a space. An external space that nature is recovering and inhabiting with abundance and abandon.  Cleaner air and oceans; a proliferation of flora and fauna of all kinds, in environments more conducive to their success; this is surely something to safeguard, to cultivate, to insist upon maintaining?

Our contemporary shared experience of opening spaces developing hand in hand with enhanced awareness and healthy habitation is entirely consistent with yogic processes. Indeed, the process of stripping life back to its essential elements feels profoundly familiar to anyone engaged in a daily spiritual practice. Through a disciplined practice of āsana (posture) and prānayāma (control of breath/life force), we are not creating new spaces, but rather discovering and cultivating what was always there; tapping into something that usually we are too busy, too occupied with external affairs, to notice.

Movement into and within and out of a series of archetypal postures, or breaths, invites us to inhabit an exponential internal spaciousness (ākāśa). In that space resides freedom of choice (svātantrya). So how do we choose to respond to our conditions? What do we maintain and cultivate, and what we discard and move on from? Through this conscious sorting process emerges an enhanced experience of embodied awareness. ‘We are love’s body’, writes Nan Shepherd, ‘or we are undone’.

From the more spacious viewpoint in which we are now collectively situated, the component parts of our human society can be seen for what they are. Rampant consumption, ecological destruction and the kind of gross economic expansion that benefits the richest few have, for the moment, reduced or ceased.  Currently the poorest and most vulnerable are suffering the most. We have proven that complete systemic change is possible, feasible, practical. And now we can make it just, if we find that something worth insisting upon.


A friend wrote to me recently ‘may you journey out and journey in…may everything rise’. Her words led me back to some of twelfth century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart: ‘What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love’.  Let’s decide now then, from inside looking out and in the painful, shameful exposure of our defective structures, what to cultivate and what to discard.  Let’s allow our grief-ripped hearts to continue pulsing openly, in a unified rhythm. Let’s balance our actions with proper contemplation, with compassion, and be ready to implement the kind of transformation we want to see, inside and out. This is our opportunity, individually and collectively. Let’s take it.






















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An Invitation

My young daughter loves to be naked. Her innocence is beautifully unspoiled. Her enthusiasm for music, nature,
friends, the moon, often results in her shedding all of her clothes, running and dancing in the utter delight of being alive in her body. She loves the feeling of being herself, in herself. It is a lot of fun. We often say the party hasn’t started until our girl’s got naked.


However your own childhood ecstasies manifested, fast-forward a few decades. How often have you heard yourself, or a female friend or relative say ‘I hate my hair/thighs/hips/feet/whatever’? My guess is too often. A friend recently told me ‘You’ve never met someone who hates their bum as much as me’. I have no way of knowing if what she says is true; hatred, like love, is subjective and unquantifiable. True or not, it represents an attitude I come across far too commonly to comfortably ignore.


In my role as a teacher of yoga, I meet women almost every day. Women of all ages. Women from a wide range of backgrounds and occupations. Women who find themselves in a yoga class for a huge variety of reasons. Women, too many of whom experience some level of fear of, loathing for or dissociation from their own bodies, or parts thereof. This applies to men too of course, who are certainly not excluded from this conversation, but I am particularly interested in why this body-horror manifests more frequently and more overtly in women and how yoga can map a path to acceptance and emancipation.


It would be completely incorrect to suggest that women spend their lives obsessing over how they look. Most don’t; we have more important things to get on with. But few would dispute that as women we are expected (by society, by patriarchy, by hierarchy), to aspire to look a certain way; and if we don’t conform to current trends then to wish to be different. There is a normalised, deeply embedded cultural expectation that we should spend quite a lot of time thinking about how we appear. Looking good (and wanting to) is great, it’s healthy, when it’s a natural expression of an inner state of sthira (stability) and sukha (comfort). It means that the outward appearance of the body need not present a distraction from more meaningful aspects of our lives. But women’s bodies are still being systematically commoditised, colonised and mined for profit.  As women, as people, we deserve better. Our daughters deserve better.


Feeling bad about oneself is not erroneous or weak, and to imply that it were would be irresponsible. The quest for eternal positivity is a myth (younger sister of Naomi Wolf’s ‘Beauty Myth’ of, yes, thirty years ago) which, just like standardised concepts beauty, is pedalled very effectively by the corporate machine. It keeps us buying stuff, oils the cogs of consumer-capitalism and has seeped into almost every aspect of our daily lives. Of course we will have days when we feel dissatisfied, grumpy, at odds with the world and ourselves. Of course this will be reflected in the way we view ourselves and our perception of how others view us. This is not failure; it is indicative of the fluctuations of daily life. But an occasional ‘off day’ which we know will pass is not the same as chronic hatred of or dissociation from a particular body part or the body in general. This latter is not failure either. It may have occurred for any number of good reasons, including trauma and pain. But in the context of yoga it is a state which can and should be recognised, addressed and reformed in the quest, not for an ideal of physical beauty or eternal positivity, but for peace of mind. The postural aspect of yoga (asana) is practised first in order that the body ceases to pose an obstacle to meditative states, and eventually to enable those states; the healing process is a prelude to the deeper spiritual endeavour that is yoga.


I do not ask explicitly about my students’ relationships with their bodies. I am not a counsellor or a psychologist. But I do listen to them, look at them and touch them.  By working collaboratively to observe responses in practice (verbal, physical, physiological, emotional), my students and I are able to deduce, never infallibly but I hope with a fair degree of accuracy, where there is a disconnect, for whatever reason, between their consciousness and the lived experience of inhabiting their human body. We all have them, these bodies and their hidden truths. Gems sometimes so buried, so forgotten, that we do not know they are there. We also have all we need in our yoga excavation pack: a shovel, a lens and a spotlight. To dig them out, bring them into focus and then switch on the light and let them shine.


Bare in the glare of our own consciousness can feel like a vulnerable place to be. We will be breaking long, long habits of ignoring the things we are now bringing to light. We may have become partially disembodied at a certain point in time for our own safety, for survival even. But when practised with due awareness and discipline, yoga offers a tried, tested and progressive means for making a safe and thorough exploratory excavation of the body-mind complex; a process that transforms pain into power, surviving into living.  What do we have to lose? Only the silt of embarrassment, shame and guilt associated, for whatever reason, with the parts of ourselves that over the years we have felt the need to dissociate from. What do we have to gain? Jewels of acceptance, renewal, celebration; and the chance to exist as a fully integrated human being. Yes, yoga can be an act of radical feminism. Let’s get naked and enjoy the party.

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