Katha Upanishad: The Secret of Death

When the five senses are stilled, and so is the mind, and even intellect does not stir, they call it the highest state. This state, the steady control of the senses, is considered to be yoga - Kaṭha Upaniṣad (6.10-11)

I’ve just completed a course on the history of yoga, which proclaimed that the word ‘yoga’ was first recorded in the Katha Upanishad (estimated 300 BCE).

In 2007, I made a short animation called ‘The Secret of Death’ based on the Katha Upanishad for my final year of Illustration with Animation degree. Katha Upanishad is said to be challenging to translate, as it contains many difficult and unique terms that are not clear. This short animation is a very simplified adaptation of the tale between a boy named Naciketas and Yama, the God of Death.

It’s made using shadow puppets and stop motion techniques. I remember making many puppets and background pieces, and spending lots of time in the dark moving them frame by frame. It was a frustrating but a meditative experience.  

I managed to get a lovely sitar player called Wasif Mullick to make the music and a friend called Tom Heron to narrate the story. My partner, Laurie Gibbs also helped too. After graduating, I did a bit of illustrating work but I mainly focused on teaching yoga. I do miss the creative aspects…maybe I will do something like this again.

I hope you enjoy watching!

Katha Upanishad

Yoga for Stress

By letting go, it all gets done - Lao Tzu

Yoga for relaxation and stress relief workshop at the Bristol Yoga Centre

We often think that we are relaxed when watching TV or cycling. Whilst these can be more relaxing than going to work or driving the kids around, they are still bombarding our senses. Yoga is a great remedy for stress as it teaches you how relax to fully. 

Relax the yoga way

One of the main causes of chronic stress is our inability to release tension and strain once the cause of the stress has passed. We often worry and carry the disturbance with us long after an incident has taken place. This can cause many of us to suffer tension in our head, neck and upper back. We literally carry the weight of the world on our shoulders! In Savasana, we take the weight off and our body can begin to really relax and rejuvenate.

Be with the breath

Bringing our awareness to our breathing enables us to be in the present moment, rather than focusing on the past or future. Breathing properly means that our body is being supplied with the right amount of oxygen, replenishing our brain and other vital organs.

Balance the nervous system

Yoga also helps our nervous system to rebalance after a challenge has passed. In our practice, we often alternate between strenuous poses and gentler postures, conditioning us to move easily between states of challenge and rest. This teaches us to let go & release once the challenges have been met.

Regular Asana practice

Doing regular asanas keeps our body and mind balanced, strong and flexible. It also relieves muscular tension and mobilise our joints.  If you're feeling healthy, it's much easier to handle stress and worries.  

Learning to accept change

One of the main benefits I’ve gained from regular practice of yoga is the ability to accept change. Quite often we feel really stressed when going through changes. Just like stress, changes are inevitable part of living. Therefore, it’s really worth learning techniques to help us when these changes become challenging and stressful.

New relaxation and stress relief Workshops at Bristol Yoga Centre

I am running a short relaxation and stress relief workshop on 4th June. Come and learn how to relax fully and ward off stress! This will be a lovely Sunday afternoon event supporting Bristol Mind, a mental health charity who do great work in Bristol.  

We have also scheduled a new meditation workshop on stress and life management on Sunday 2nd July by Kay Baxter at the Bristol Yoga Centre studio. 

Meditation Practice

‘Most of the trouble of the world comes because people have not learnt just to sit quietly’ 

- The French philosopher Pascal

Meditation Practice and the balancing nature of regularly doing meditation

Meditation practice is an essential part of yoga practice. And yet, yogis are often accused of just preparing to practice meditation without actually doing it! We tend to be very good at practicing asana and pranayama but quite often skip meditation altogether. When we actually do practice, it tends to be for a short time either at the beginning or end of the session.

Classical yoga is the ‘practice of settling the mind’ and we achieve this by following the whole of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Dhyana is the 7th limbs of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and it’s often translated as meditation, reflection and profound contemplation. The root of the word ‘meditation’ is similar to medical or medicate and the word implies a sense of ‘attending to’ or ‘paying attention’.

In 2014 I took an 8 month BWY meditation module with Kay Baxter, it was refreshing and enlightening to focus purely on the practice of mediation. Kay is one of the senior British Wheel of Yoga teachers and specialises in meditation. We met once every month to practice meditation all day, we also did little bit of asana, singing, listening to music, breathing and relaxation techniques but the main focus was on meditation.

Don’t get me wrong, especially at the beginning, it was really challenging to simply sit and feel. It was fascinating to see how easily I got distracted and lost in my mind.  Having Kay’s expert and gentle guidance was invaluable. Kay would often remind us to ‘let go of doing, achieving or competing and observe and feel’.  She also always allowed time to discuss and share our experience within the group, and it was really interesting to hear other people’s views. From regularly practicing meditation, I learnt so much about myself. As Kay wisely said:

‘In this deeper, stiller place you can discover many things. You will uncover your own truths. Truths that are universal, but that you experience and appreciate in your own individual way according to your life and understanding. An opening is created, a space where the deep intelligence may rise up and insight descend such that we can begin to know. Knowledge that is not information gleaned from books, but that carries with it a deep feeling connection, such that there may be a sense of coming into alignment with something that is clear and true’.

I strongly believe that we would all benefit from doing regular practice of meditation. It allows valuable time and space to reflect on our actions, thoughts and feelings, and be more conscious and attentive. As Swami Rama says:

‘We are taught how to move and behave in the external world, but we are never taught how to be still and examine what is within ourselves. At the same time, learning to be still and calm should not be made a ceremony or a part of any religion: It is a universal requirement of the human body’

Meditation practice has been around for centuries and with some guidance, it is accessible and available for everyone.


If you are interested in starting meditation, come along to Kay Baxter’s Wednesday morning meditation from 10 – 11am at the Bristol Yoga Space studio in central Bristol.  Kay’s class is structured in a way that it is accessible and enjoyable for everyone including beginners. Don’t worry if you cannot sit comfortably on the floor. We have chairs and props to make sitting more accessible.

I’m really excited to welcome her in the studio! It’s fantastic to be able to learn meditation weekly. I’m certainly going to be there :)

Kay will also be running series of Meditation workshops from May 2017.

Developing a Home Yoga Practice Part II

In the ‘Developing a Home Yoga Practice part I’, I explored the benefits and importance of having a regular home yoga practice. In this second part, I will cover information and advice on how to start your home practice.

Benefits of home practice

There are many benefits from regular home practice. Over time, you will gain flexibility and strength not just physically but mentally. You will feel more relaxed and confident in your practice and your ability to concentrate will vastly improve. Overall you will feel more balanced and aware of yourself.

One key advantage of home practice is that you become less reliant on other people and you can practice any time you want. You don’t need to find a suitable class every time you want to practice and you can tailor the practice to suit your needs. As your practice develops, you will gain the skills to become your own yoga teacher and learn to look after yourself better.

Yoga Tools for Practice

Yoga Tools

Hopefully, by now you are wondering how you can start practicing yoga at home. In order to get started, it seems obvious but you need to get some yoga equipment like yoga mat and blocks. It’s not a must but you can also buy other useful yoga tools like eye pillow, yoga straps, bricks and bolsters. These tools can make your practice more enjoyable and they can easily be found on online yoga stores. If you don’t want to start spending money, you can use household items instead. For example, a scarf instead of a yoga belt. See my blog post on restorative practice for more ideas.

Place & Time

Ideally, you want to find a practice area that is clean, airy and quiet – preferably a place away from distraction.  If you have particularly busy house, you might consider practicing early in the morning before everyone gets up. Our muscles tend to be tighter in the morning so it might feel more challenging to begin with but your body will adjust in time. In fact, traditionally yoga is practiced very early in the morning and it is a wonderful time to practice. It will wake you up and you will feel great for the rest of the day. However if this time really doesn’t suit you, try different times of the day like after work or just before going to bed. It’s best to experiment and see what works for you.

Personally I tend to do my practice at the same time every day. Doing your practice at the same time makes it easier to create a regular routine. If you cannot do a regular time and find it difficult to stick to your practice, try making appointment with yourself. You could try writing it down in the diary or note it down on the calendar so that you keep this time free and mark it as something important that you have agreed to do. After all, you wouldn’t forget or decide not to turn up to an important meeting with some one.

How to begin

An ancient text, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali[1] has the following advice on practice,

The practice of yoga will be firmly rooted when it is maintained consistently and with dedication over a long period - Yoga Sutra verse 1.14 (A Shearer translation)

To begin with, it’s best to try and do short regular practice - try doing couple of basic postures and sequences that you know well. At this stage, the most important thing is to establish the routine of doing yoga. It’s better to do 20 minutes everyday than to do an hour and a half practice once in a blue moon. You can then gradually increase the practice length over time. For inspiration, I recommend that you continue to attend your group classes regularly and take a look at yoga books and website for more ideas. It is said that there are over 840,000 yoga poses [2] available. Having this many choices can be great but it can also be confusing. Try not to do everything at once and take time to learn each posture well.

Coming up with a balanced yoga sequence can be challenging and it can be hard to know which postures to do and when to do them. Try to notice the effect of each of the asanas so that you can begin to know what postures work well together. Yoga sequencing can be likened to cooking. First of all, it’s important to learn the basics. You can begin by following a recipe (or other people’s sequences) and once you have learnt the basics, you can begin to experiment and come up with your own unique flavours and practice.

As a general rule, you want to try and have a definitive start, middle and end to your session. This will help to create a rounded practice. Try to spend at least couple of minutes settling and connecting to your breath. Do some warming up movements to limber the body especially before doing advanced postures like strong backbends or inversions. Towards the end of the practice, wind down by doing some more calming and relaxing postures. Make sure you always rest in Savasana at the end of your practice.

Keeping a practice journal can be beneficial. You can see your progress easily and it will encourage you to learn names of the poses and breathing techniques. This doesn’t have to be long. It could be just couple of sentences. If writing something doesn’t work for you, try recording a journal on your phone. Encourage yourself to reflect on how the practice made you feel. Note down things like how your body felt, the qualities of your breathing and how the mind reacted during your practice. Write down what worked and what didn’t and your energy levels during and after the practice.

Practice Tips

Instilling a regular practice can be very challenging so try and persevere.  It’s normal to have setbacks so try not to be too hard on yourself. Stay sensitive and notice small changes. Most of all enjoy your practice.

Finally, there are other creative ways of brining yoga practice throughout the day. You can practice simple breathing techniques like Full Yogic Breathing whilst you’re walking down the street or do Tadasana (Mountain Pose) when you’re waiting for a bus. You could also do few simple stretches at work.

I will leave you with a quote from K Pattabhi Jois, a renowned Indian Yoga teacher who developed Ashtanga Yoga, said ‘Practice and all is coming’.

Footnote

1. The Yoga sutra was written around 200 AD is considered to be one of the most authoritative texts on yoga

2. The Gheranda Samhita is a classic text of Hatha yoga. The text states that there are 84 basic poses but it also claims thatShiva taught 8,400,000 different asanas. Some people argue that they are infinite poses because people have infinite imagination and abilities to move the body. https://www.quora.com/How-many-yoga-poses-exist

Developing a Home Yoga Practice Part I

‘Home practice explores the exquisite relationships between the body, the breath and life itself. The whole reason for doing yoga is to enjoy this relationship, the natural intimacy with life itself’

 – Mark Whitwell, an internationally renowned yoga teacher 

Home Yoga Practice

Developing a consistent home yoga practice is one of the most rewarding and important activities for serious yogis but it can also be one of the hardest things to achieve. A regular practice requires motivation, creativity, discipline and confidence – all qualities that are really worthwhile to try and develop.

I’ve met dedicated students that attend taught group yoga classes almost every day and yet find it a real struggle to get on their yoga mat alone at home. This is important to remedy as it’s within a regular home practice that we truly discover and connect to ourselves. As Tara Frazer in her book ‘Yoga for You’ says, ‘Although you will learn a great deal from a teacher, you will experience most of yoga’s benefits by practicing alone. This is because, ultimately, yoga is a process of self-realisation and you are the best expert on yourself’.

No matter how excellent your yoga teacher is, they will never be able to feel and connect to yourself like you can. Instead of relying on other people, you can begin to look after yourself.

When we know ourselves better we are in a much better position to take care of our minds and bodies. One of the greatest benefits from my own practice is the ability to really listen and adapt my practice to suit my changing needs. I believe this is an essential point as no matter how strong or flexible you become, if you are unable to modify your practice when you have injuries or at challenging times then it’s severely limited. In fact, it’s during these times that our yoga practice should help and support us.

The yoga practice then becomes a therapeutic transformative activity for the individual. Gary Kraftsow, a senior viniyoga teacher said ‘...Yoga lies in the adaption of the practice to the individual, not in the adaptation of the individual to the practice’.  When designing a balanced personal practice, Krafsow says to respect our individual situations and requirements and take into account constitution, place, gender, time, age, capacities, aspirations and activities.

It is easy to ignore our personal needs and circumstances and set unrealistic aims and goals in our practice. Yoga is not something we accomplish but it is a life long development. You will naturally find that your practice will continuously grow and change.

Over time my own practice has changed to be more self-reflective and contemplative. It is now much less about achieving certain postures or complying with rigid ideals. I do my home practice to try and achieve greater harmony and balance within myself. I believe these important changes have come from my continuous personal practice.

In the next part of this blog, I will give tips and advice on starting a home practice.

Restorative Yoga Postures

I caught a particularly bad cold earlier in the year and had to adapt my personal yoga practice. I didn’t have the energy to do my regular asanas so I chose to do restorative postures instead. I thought I would write about the benefits of poses that I used to help.

I believe that it’s really important to be able to modify our practice to suit our changing needs. My personal practice enables me to connect and reflect on what’s going on within my life.  It’s imperative that we learn to listen to our body and adapt our practice as much as necessary.

In restorative postures, it’s much nicer to use props but if you don’t have any, you can always use alternative things that you can find in your home.  For example, you could use couple of pillows instead of a yoga bolster and a scarf or belt to replace yoga strap. Eye pillows are wonderful for restorative practice but if you don’t have one, you could use eye masks or cover your eyes with a small towel. Get creative and use whatever that works for you. Just make sure that you are supported and really comfortable. Here are some recommended restorative postures:

Supported Supine Bound Angle Pose

This is a great heart and hip opening pose, especially beneficial for relieving some symptoms of a cold.

 Props: Bolster, yoga straps or blocks and eye pillow

Cobbler yoga pose

Supported Child Pose

When you’ve got a cold, it can be difficult to do forward bends but this is a lovely calming and relaxing one to do.

Props: Bolster, cushion, blanket 

Yoga Child Pose

Legs up the wall pose

Similar to forward bends, inverted postures can be challenging postures to practice when your feeling under the weather but you can practice this pose easily.  It is also said to be a great pose to encourage you to get a good night’s sleep. The trick to getting close to the wall is to start by sitting very close sideways and flipping your legs 90 degrees. If your buttocks are still far away, use your elbows to nudge yourself closer.

 Prop: a wall or a chair, bolster

Yoga legs up the wall pose

Practicing points

  • Stay in the pose from 5 – 10 minutes
  • Feel and decide for yourself how much props to use
  • Relax and enjoy

Yoga for Alzheimer's in Bristol

This was written last summer for a charity yoga event that I was involved in Summer 2016. 

Yoga for Alzheimer's Bristol

Thank you to everyone who participated in this great event last month! It was a successful and enjoyable yoga day. This was part of a nation wide charity event to raise money for the Alzheimer's Research UK

Most people managed to do the whole 3 hour session and there was a real mixture of abilities from beginners to more advanced students, and different styles of yoga from Iyengar to Vinyasa flow were taught in the class. Judging from the feedback we received, all the students and teachers really enjoyed the experience. It was also really exciting and fun to practice in the Colston Hall too!

There's talk of running this event again next year so why don't you come along next time :)