I love this quote by Carl Sagan, the American astronomer. It reminds me that I am connected to everything in the Universe.
And I love this one from the Dalai Lama. It's a very yogic and Buddhist way of thinking...
And yes, we are all the same - we all have bones and skin and muscles and a heart and so on. And when we really think about it, right down at the deepest level, we all want the same things... security, acceptance, love. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the whole of humankind could recognise this and live peacefully and non-judgmentally with each other? With people such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh (the revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk and master of mindfulness) sending this message outwards to be heard by so many, and the huge rise in people practicing yoga and meditation worldwide, I like to think that it might one day be a possibility. Maybe.
But, although fundamentally we are all the same, each one of us is completely unique. Just as no two snowflakes are exactly the same, there isn't another person on the planet who has the same DNA (unless you have an identical twin), no-one thinks the same way, and we have all had different experiences in our lives which help to shape our personalities.
In yoga class we are often reminded not to compare ourselves with others. Although we are in a group class, it is a personal practice and our awareness should be on our own bodies rather than someone else's. There will always be someone else who can stretch further, balance more steadily, or stay in the pose longer, so we need to let go of comparison and wishing we were other than we are and deal with what is present right there at that moment.
Our yoga changes and evolves with time and regular practice. Muscles lengthen and we can stretch more deeply, and body awareness grows so we can refine the alignment, but sometimes we can get discouraged and frustrated because, in spite of practicing regularly, it feels that some poses never change. But instead of feeling disappointed by this it is useful to know that, in some instances, no amount of stretching muscles and tissue will increase the range of movement because of the way each individual skeleton is put together. We all have different length bones, we all have different shaped joints and, when bones meets bone there is nowhere else for it to go so the movement stops. And there is nothing we can do to change this.
Take a look at the photos below from Paul Grilley, a yin yoga teacher who specialises in accommodating the skeletal differences between people. They show the variation in shape and size of the same bones.
Two shoulderblades - the same bone but very different
Two thighbones with very different femoral heads - the ball part of the ball and socket joint that makes up the hip joint.
Two pelvises with very different shapes
So, if you have a tendency to give yourself a hard time in some poses, and try to force yourself into the 'perfect' shape, consider that it might have something to do with your bones. Practice instead the first of the 5 Yamas (yoga's moral guidelines) Ahimsa, or non-harming. Be kind to yourself. The world doesn't need any more force or criticism - it needs compassion and kindness and it starts with yourself. You made it onto your mat and you are doing your yoga - that's the main thing. Relax and enjoy the movement of your unique and amazing body. You are like a snowflake and you are made of stars.
This Week's Recipe... Courgette Spaghetti with Creamy Avocado and Mint Sauce
This recipe comes from Deliciously Ella. It's made with spiralised courgette rather than pasta, and the sauce has no flour so it's gluten-free. I added Parmesan cheese for extra flavour but you could leave this out and the dish would be completely vegan. It's quick to cook too.
You will need:
large handful of fresh mint leaves
2 brazil nuts
½ a cup of water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
½ a lime
salt to taste
a dozen chestnut mushrooms
Parmesan cheese, grated
And here's how to make it:
Start by making the courgette spaghetti. (I don't have a spiralizer machine but I have a little hand-held tool a bit like a grater that I twist the courgette into and out comes the spirals. If you don't have either and don't want to buy one you can make ribbons of courgette using a vegetable peeler and instead of having 'spaghetti' you'll have 'fettuccine'.) Place the spaghetti to one side and begin the sauce.
Cut the mushrooms into thin slices, drizzle with olive oil and gently heat in a large frying pan for about 5 minutes.
Place the brazil nuts in a food processor and blend for about 5 minutes, until they become creamy.
Then add in the avocado, olive oil, lime, mint leaves and salt and blend again.
Gradually add the water as the sauce blends to create exactly the right consistency for you.
Add the sauce and spaghetti to the mushrooms in the frying pan and gently heat for a few minutes, stirring gently, to warm the dish up and soften the pasta a little. If you like your pasta al-dente then a couple of minutes will be enough, but if you'd like a softer consistency heat for a little longer.
Stir in some Parmesan to taste.
Compassion in Action - Restorative Yoga Classes
Every so often I run Restorative Classes where we spend an hour and a half resting in various relaxing poses supported by blankets and bolsters. We gently stretch the body, calm the nervous system, quieten the busy mind and restore the spirit. In these classes we put the 'to-do' list to one side and slow right down - which is much needed in our busy lives. Proceeds are given to charity and we dedicate our time on the mat to easing the suffering of other beings who share this planet with us.
On Sunday March 12th I will be running two Restorative Classes one at 5-6.30pm and one at 7-8.30pm at the Reading Room in Fetcham. I ask for a minimum donation of £12 which will be shared between Goa Dog Trust which cares for street dogs in Goa, India and Give a Dog a Home UK which rehomes stray dogs from Romania (and it's where I got my new little canine friend, Flo, from). If you'd like to come along please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to book your space. Below is a little more detail about the situation in Romania - it is complicated and I thought it needed a little more clarification:
Romania has a terrible and massive problem with stray dogs. There is very little in the way of neutering and sterilizing programmes so most dogs are captured by dog catchers who get paid per dog caught and either exterminated (often inhumanely) or put in public shelters where the dogs endure the most appalling conditions. There they stay, often for years, in sub-zero temperatures with minimum food and rarely any care and attention, and many, many more are destroyed - again often inhumanely. The Romanian system of dealing with stray dogs just does not work. We here in the UK with our well-run shelters and rescue organisations cannot comprehend the scale and truly awfulness of the situation.
There is, however, a little ray of light in this distressing scenario – some small, privately funded shelters rescue a few lucky dogs from the public shelters and keep them in better conditions whilst trying to get them adopted abroad when all papers, vaccinations and passports have been attended to. Organisations such as Give a Dog a Home UK receive these dogs, arrange for them to be fostered here in the UK and then finally, they go to their forever home and, like my little Flo, have the chance to flourish into happy dogs.
Here are some pictures of Flo in the public shelter in Romania before her rescue.
This Week's Musical Offering... is a beautiful piece of music, perfect for a few minutes of meditation. It is called The End of Suffering and is by Gary Malkin. Within the piece is woven a guided meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh, the revered Vietnamese monk and master of mindfulness. It is 7 minutes long - take this opportunity to sit straight in your chair, relax your face, shoulders and hands. Soften your abdomen without collapsing your spine, relax your legs and feel the ground beneath your feet. Allow yourself to be suffused with this beautiful music and the visualisation. Your breathing will slow down, the busy thoughts of your mind will slow down and you will feel peaceful and calm afterwards. Think of these 7 minutes as a gift to yourself - a pause in the busy-ness of your day to reset your nervous system and your mindset.
This week's video... you may not want to watch this. It comes with a warning of showing some distressing scenes - in fact, all the scenes are upsetting! But it is real and it is happening. This is a video of one of the public shelters in Romania, PS Botosani. It is almost unbearable and I have to do something - only a tiny thing, but something nonetheless. This is why I'm doing my Restorative Classes where proceeds will be donated to Give a Dog a Home who will direct the money in the best possible way. If the video makes you feel helpless and hopeless and completely despairing of humankind I understand. But can I ask you to remember what the Dalai Lama said in the quote at the top of this post and increase the positive? Come along if you can to the Restorative Classes and foster a more hopeful and helpful way of being. As you rest and restore yourself in peaceful surroundings yourself you will also be helping to ease the suffering of other sentient beings we share this planet with. Thank you.