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Being Ram Dass Book Review

My ‘Being Ram Dass’ book review will look at this newly published autobiography of Ram Dass and hopefully inspire you to read it for yourself!

In the afterword of this book, Ram Dass states that he was not particularly interested in writing an autobiography. He spent the major part of his life cultivating presence and not living in the past or the future. Ram Dass was persuaded to write this memoir by Ramesh after he suggested it be angled as a review of his life through the eyes of his guru, Maharaj-ji. As a result we have a wonderful document of the life of Ram Dass. It is written in the intelligent, honest, open and charismatic way one would expect of Ram Dass.

Who is Ram Dass?

Being Ram Dass book review

Ram Dass was / is a famous spiritual teacher. He left his body on 22nd December 2019 on the Island of Maui, Hawaii. During his lifetime he undertook extensive lecture tours, ran retreats and authored over a dozen books. ‘Be Here Now’, his first book, sold over 2 million copies. It is through this book that I started to dig deeper into the teachings of Ram Dass. He is also known for popularising interest in psychedelic drugs in the 1960’s alongside his colleague and friend Timothy Leary.

The inspiration for buying a copy of Be Here Now was found in David Williams’ memoir ‘My Search for Yoga’ which you can read a review of here: https://yogasmiths.org/2020/05/28/my-search-for-yoga-by-david-williams-book-review/

Richard Alpert at the height of The American Dream

Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert. He was a chubby child who ate to please his mother. As a psychologist he would later have to work through some issues around this! He was born into a practicing Jewish family. The family were very well connected, his mother was from a wealthy family and his father became a wealthy self-made man. His father was friends with Albert Einstein which gives a feel for the kind of circles they mixed in!

However, their family life was always slightly marred by his fathers multiple affairs. Richard’s father wanted him to become a doctor. He had already begun to feel a sense of ‘otherness’ or a feeling of being a bit of an outsider. This resulted in him being drawn to psychology.

Richard Alpert ultimately reached the pinnacle of this career, despite crippling exam nerves, becoming a professor at Harvard. He was an embodiment of the American Dream. Richard had achieved professional respect, wealth, a sports car, a motorbike, a home full of valuable antiques and his own aeroplane. The kind of position he achieved is demonstrated in the story he tells of wanting to go to Mexico and buying a plane to travel there.

Feelings of being something of an outsider led him to travel to the west coast and to San Fransisco. He embraced the counter culture surrounding the Beat Generation poets and authors. Poetry readings by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac et al were attended. Richard struggled with his bisexuality and began to feel that he was leading a bit of a double life, a life as the respectable professor in Harvard and then a different life style in San Fransisco. It is clear that he struggled with shame around this due to the social pressures and cultural attitudes of the time.

Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary – psychedelic researchers

A new psychologist joined the faculty staff at Harvard by the name of Timothy Leary. Richard and Tim became great friends and embarked on research together. Their research moved into a very different area after Timothy Leary took magic mushrooms on the recommendation of a friend. Consequently, they started to investigate the effects of various psychedelic drugs as a potentially beneficial tools in psychotherapy. Research into this had already been taking place in some institutions. It later came to light that the US government has funded a project looking at the potential use of LSD in warfare. Allen Ginsberg took LSD as part of that particular project.

We must remember that at this time everything that was taking place was under the cover of research and was completely legal. This was well before the war on drugs. It struck me how meticulous they were with their research. They has a real sense of responsibility around the research. Dosages of drugs, environment and provision of a guide were all important features.

The approach taken by Richard and Tim is in stark contrast to that of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters who advocated taking as many drugs as you wanted and seeing what happened. Richard however was sacked from Harvard after he gave drugs to a handsome undergraduate who had caught his eye and asked for them.

Tim and Richard continued research independently. They were chased and evicted from place to place trying to set up a research centre into psychedelics. We get a feel that at around this time, things probably weren’t as fastidious as they had previously been. It felt as though Richard had become something akin to a drug dealer and this is when he took a step back.

From Dr Richard Alpert PhD to Ram Dass

Being Ram Dass is very much about the internal journey of Richard Alpert to Ram Dass.

Ram Dass discusses psychedelics as a gateway drug. Often this refers to a gateway to harder drugs. He postulates that they were a gateway but in a different way. They were a gateway to opening to the living spirit beyond the materialism and existential constructs of 1950’s America. In essence, they enabled him to let go of the labels, ego and conditionings and to see a connectedness with everyone and everything. He liked the mystical experience that he found.

The Zen meditation teacher Alan Watts advised him that “When you get the message, hang up the phone.” Richard took some time before he hung up the phone!

A trip to India was a pivotal changing point in his life. Richard Alpert met Neem Karoli Baba affectionately known to his followers as Maharaj-ji. He gave Richard Alpert his new name of Ram Dass literally meaning servant of God. Maharaji-ji sent him to learn yoga and an intense period of study ensued.

During this period Maharaj-ji gave Ram Dass his blessing for his book. Ram Dass had no plans to write a book! The book that eventually materialised was ‘Be Here Now’ which is a classic guide to yoga and spirituality. You can find a link to our book reviews at the bottom of the page where you will find my ‘Be Here Now’ review.

Beware of dodgy gurus

Ram Dass embarked on a journey of spiritual discovery. He embraced and sought out different teachers and techniques but remained faithful to his teacher Maharaj-ji.

There is an interesting part of the book where he discusses studying under different gurus. He refers to ‘gurus along the way.’ One promised him wealth and power, trying to pitch Yoga to a westerner in a way that the guru thought he would be interested. Wealth and power were not attractive to Ram Dass. They are not a spiritual path. He had experienced wealth and power in his career and he resonated more with Maharaji-ji’s path of the heart. His intention had moved from the head to the heart.

The spiritual journey in India features an array of famous names. It is clear that there were a group of like minded searchers converging on India. These people then radiated the teachings out across the world.

Ram Dass’ mantra gift

The book is full of beautiful insightful quotes. I wanted to share in this ‘Being Ram Dass book’ review the mantra that he gives the reader.

Nowadays the mantra I give everyone is “I am Loving Awareness,” which is my own simple practice. The love is bhakti, the awareness is Buddhism: awareness and love, wisdom and compassion, formless and form, consciousness and love.

Ram Dass – Being Ram Dass
My favourite picture from the book. Ram Dass meditating in the dome at the Lama Foundation

Ram Dass Stroke in 1997

In 1997 Ram Dass suffered a major stroke from which he was given a 10% chance of survival. After a series of further health issues including a broken hip and sepsis, Ram Dass became quite frail and more dependent on his carers. He talks about how this enforced change resulted in a spiritual shift in how he viewed his service to others. Ram Dass became a being of presence and loving awareness. He loved nature and the natural world around him. Living out the later part of his life in Maui provided a connection to nature and its astounding beauty.

The stroke left him paralysed on his right side and affected his ability to talk. His speech became more broken and paused. He would ask people to ‘surf the silences’ with him. Interestingly as a listener you feel that you absorb his words more and have time to ponder and digest.

Ram Dass’ legacy

The legacy of Ram Dass lives on in his teachings, via this book and also through the numerous projects he instigated.

The Neem Karoli Baba ashram in Taos, New Mexico, is dedicated to his guru and Ram Dass was heavily involved in its realisation. Neem Karoli Baba has certainly become known in the west due to the work and life of Ram Dass. As detailed in this ‘Being Ram Dass’ book review, the inspiration for the book was to see his life through the eyes of his own guru.

Ram Dass had the foresight to record a large number of his lectures and talks. They serve to bring his teachings to new ears regularly via podcasts. You can find a link to these at the end of the review.

The SEVA foundation was another initiative that Ram Dass was involved in setting up. This is a fantastic organisation that works to restore people’s sight via cataract surgery around the world. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what the organisation has evolved into.

In the 1980s when the HIV epidemic was rife he sought to comfort those dying and to spend time with them, hugging people in hospital.

An important aspect of his later life was his openness around his sexuality. He started to talk about this and embrace this aspect of his life. It is comforting to the reader to note that he had a 19 year loving relationship with his partner Peter. I am glad that Ram Dass lived to see the world’s attitude around LGBTQ+ rights take some big steps forward. He details that he struggled with this so much but thankfully made peace with it and this was a real release for him.

Final Words from Ram Dass

The book ends with;

I have learned that we are all blessed and guided from within even when we lose faith or feel lost. That guide, the real guru, is our own being, our true nature.

Namaste, Honouring the Light within each of us!

Ram Dass – Being Ram Dass

The back of the book list’s Maharaj-ji’s advice and guidance:

Love Everyone, Serve Everyone, Remember God, Tell The Truth.

The words of which Ram Dass certainly led his life.

Being Ram Dass book review

Being Ram Dass Book Review Summary

I loved reading this book. It is a fascinating journey through Ram Dass’ life right up to his final moments before leaving his body. He writes with humility and is open about his failures and successes. As a whole, the book becomes a wonderful guide to the up and downs and pitfalls of life. Ram Dass imparts his knowledge and wisdom throughout. As a result the book is full of great insights and is certainly quote-worthy.

As a yoga teacher this is also a useful book. Ram Dass has a wonderful way of relating yoga practices and techniques to the challenges of daily life. He also draws from a vast array of sources from across different traditions.

The story of Ram Dass is one of turning on to different ways of thinking / living. Tuning in to eastern wisdom. Dropping out of the fluctuations of the mind to live in loving awareness. As Timothy Leary said “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out”. Ram Dass embodied the true meaning and intention of this oft quoted statement.

If after reading our Being Ram Dass book review you want to buy a copy, you can get it from Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Being-Ram-Dass-by-Ram-Dass-author-Rameshwar-Das-author/9781683646280

Being Ram Dass book review

If you enjoyed our ‘Being Ram Dass’ Book Review, check out these other resources:

Ram Dass’ website:

https://www.ramdass.org/

The Be Here Now network has some great podcasts to listen to;

https://beherenownetwork.com/

Here is a link to the Neem Karoli Baba ashrom taht Ram Dass helped establish:

https://nkbashram.org/

The SEVA foundation that Ram Dass set up to restore people’s sight:

https://www.seva.org/site/SPageServer/

Check out our other book review:

https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

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The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson Book Review

In this blog “The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson book review” I will introduce you to this book, its author and hopefully why you might wish to buy a copy for yourself!

The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson is described on its front cover as “ravishing” by none other than Joanna Lumley. I would concur with this description. It is a lovely book with beautiful pictures, a personal love story to flowers and hens.

I purchased this beautiful book during the depths of winter for some colourful relief and inspiration for the coming growing season.

Arthur sets out his intention for the book;

“What I didn’t want this book to be was a heavy thing with tons of text. Elements of it, I hope, may prove to be of some practical use, but having myself amassed (like most gardeners) several shelves worth of books on the subject, I can divide them into two piles. One is for those that are for visual, inspirational use, much needed in the winter, and the other is for those that are practical and informative, often with very few pictures. This book is aimed at being in the first mentioned pile.”

Arthur sums up his approach to gardening as “Beautiful chaos is the look that is always wanted.” The pictures in the book show exactly this. Beautifully full beds, containers, dolly tubs and planters. The type of rich fullness behind which lies a great deal of hard work and creativity.

Arthur Parkinson – the author

Arthur is a young rising star of the gardening world and already has a good track record behind him. He details in his book his journey into gardening. Early inspiration came from visits to Chatsworth Estate, instilling a love of the gardens and the estate’s hens. Arthur’s father insisted he learnt a trade and young Arthur plumped for gardening. Training at college and Kew Gardens ensued.

Arthur became friends with one of his inspirations, Sarah Raven. On Sarah’s recommendation Arthur visited the Emma Bridgewater Pottery factory to inspect the garden there.

Gardener at the Emma Bridgewater Pottery Factory

Arthur visited the garden at the Emma Bridgewater Pottery Factory, discovering that it was fairly non-existent. He came to be the gardener at the factory and set to work creating a garden!

This is where the book becomes quite inspiring. Arthur had to build a garden upwards due to the industrial setting. Dolly tubs, galvanised animal troughs, raised beds, galvanised bins and more created the planting areas. Arthur explains that just because a space is small doesn’t mean you have to plant small plants. In fact, doing so just enhances the smallness of the area. He encourages planting of larger growing plants so that you feel as if you have worked into a rich and lavish garden dominated by fronds and petals.

Bare soil does not feature in Arthur’s plans for a garden. This is something I had not particularly considered despite being drawn to fuller looking gardens. The approach outlined in this book is to plant fully all spaces that you can with a wonderful succession of gorgeous flowers. In this way you can have cut flowers brightening up your house for a large part of the year. The garden at the factory provides beautiful flowers from early spring through to late autumn. Expertly planned successional planting is key here.

The pictures in the book of the Emma Bridgewater Pottery Factory garden are simply stunning. Enhancing the garden in many pictures are the beautiful rare breed hens that Arthur is equally fanatical about.

Inspiration and recommendation

Whilst Arthur’s intention for this book was to provide a delightful pictorial record of the gardens he has worked on, it also provides plenty of practical tips.

Arthur recommends many varieties of dahlias, tulips, alliums and many other of his favourite flowering plants. As I read this book I kept a pen and paper to hand and jotted down some of my favourite recommendations. As a result, I have ordered a number of dahlias. I always used to have dahlias in my garden at home as a child and I have no idea why I have not continued to grow them! This is being rectified this year! I’ve also purchased some interesting nasturtiums – it’s always a bit of a battle with my Dad about these at the allotment. I love them. He hates them. I am going to try and win him round this year with some colourful varieties. On the plus side they have a lovely peppery taste and are edible.

The book brims with recommendations for a range of different flowering plants. Enthusiasm for bee friendly flowers is present in a big way and I whole heartedly support this! Arthur also details suppliers and books he recommends.

I should also mention as part of this review that there is a chapter on hens. My purpose for purchasing this book was for the flowers but I have been wooed by the hens. They really are beautiful animals, particularly the breeds featured in this book. Unfortunately I do not have any space for hens – maybe one day.

I came to the book from a love of flowers and leave feeling love for hens!

My Own Experience of Gardening

Arthur makes some very interesting observations about how lacking school education is with regards to gardening and farming.

My own experience mirrors this. When I was in primary school I naturally gravitated towards the plants in the class room. My lovely teacher, Mrs Till encouraged me and made me plant monitor which involved looking after and watering the plants each day. Mrs Till presented me with a certificate for “The Boy with Greenest Fingers” at the end of the class year.

However, all that existed in the grammar school I attended was a voluntary nature / wildlife group. This group met infrequently to plant trees and clear wild blackberry vines. Other than planting a tobacco plant to see if we could observe acid rain burning its sensitive leaves, gardening did not exist on the curriculum.

I had my own plot of garden at home. In this plot I would grow lots of lupins, carnations and dahlias. I quickly discovered that I had “green fingers” and my enterprising brain soon saw me selling plants to school teachers. After all the school buses had ferried my fellow students home I would return to school chauffeured by my mum with the boot of her Datsun Cherry full of plants. I made some decent pocket money from this, selling boxes for £5 a time. Teachers would occasionally ask me to stay behind after class, not through any naughtiness on my behalf but to ask for some tips about their carnations!

I funded my hobbies of vintage scooters and records through gardening for older people in my local neighbourhood. Mrs Rees was a lovely lady who lived 5 minutes walk from my house. I gardened for her for many years and learnt so much from this gentle intelligent gardener.

Me and my parents

I was lucky to have been brought up by parents who loved the taste of fresh home grown vegetables. My father Graham and I have been helping each other grow vegetables for over 40 years now and counting! There is something very enriching and bonding about growing and working the land together. My dad brings his lifetime of knowledge, snippets of wisdom from “Treacle Toffee” Billy and other such characters that have crossed his path at the allotment. Having studied permaculture, I bring a different perspective to doing things. I also discovered Charles Dowding and his no-dig approach to growing vegetables. As a result this has revolutionised the way we approach the allotment plot.

Let me not forget my mum! Mum is a fantastic weeder. She clears a weed filled bed in no time at all. Mum also boasts super human strength when required and has been know to pull out trees with one hand!

In Summary, The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson Book Review

To quote Joanne Lumley, a “ravishing” book providing a wonderful splash of colour and inspiration. I have already spent a small fortune on ordering plants and seeds for the coming year. The entrance to my flat now features a lovely William Morris planter lasagne planted with tulips who are all peaking through ready to bloom and flourish as spring slowly arrives.

I have always loved gardening, having focussed in more recent years on vegetables in the allotment. Arthur’s book has reignited my passion for flowers and reminded me of my love for some that I had forgotten about.

I highly recommend this book. Both a beautiful coffee table book but also a useful book of recommendations and practical tips.

You can purchase a copy from Blackwells here: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Pottery-Gardener-by-Arthur-Parkinson-author/9780750992411

The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson

Having read our “The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson book review” blog you may be interest to know that Arthur has another book due out very soon. It promises to be another interesting and inspiring book. You can pre-order copies of it now. I’m a sucker for an autographed copy of things and you can get one from Sarah Raven’s website here:

https://www.sarahraven.com/gifts/gifts-by-type/sarahs-signed-books-1/arthur-parkinsons-the-flower-yard.htm

From Sarah Ravens website:

“The Flower Yard follows Arthur as he gardens through the seasons in pots. It is a beautifully visual yet personal and highly informative read on his love for bold colours, cut flowers and bees. The chapters provide a fascinating insight how he grows his garden and ensures a bold a brilliant show from his pots, treating the garden as if it is a stage by growing plants from seed and using bulbs on a huge scale, despite the gardens size and being in the middle of a town. This book will prove to be a tonic with over 200 photos taken also by Arthur and will be especially helpful for those with truly small gardens, patios and balconies who want floral exuberance and escape.”

Or you can get one from Blackwells here:

https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Flower-Yard-by-Arthur-Parkinson-author/9780857839176

Further Resources

You can follow Arthur Parkinson via his instagram account at: https://www.instagram.com/arthurparkinson_/

Sarah Raven can be found here:

https://www.sarahraven.com/

Follow Charles Dowding and find out more about his No-Dig approach here:

https://www.instagram.com/charles_dowding/

https://charlesdowding.co.uk/

If you liked The Pottery Gardener by Arthur Parkinson book review be sure to check out our other book reviews here:

https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

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Spectrum Magazine Autumn 2020

If you are a member of the British Wheel of Yoga you will have received your Spectrum Magazine for Autumn 2020. We are honoured to be on the front cover, all 3 of us! We couldn’t resist getting Archie in the picture. I’m sure you agree that he looks very smart. He even wore a fresh clean bowtie!

Spectrum Magazine Autumn 2020

Spectrum Magazine Autumn 2020

Spectrum magazine autumn 2020

In the magazine we discuss the importance of spinal health and consider all of the different ranges of motion that our spine has. Our spine has flexion, extension, rotation, lateral flexion and articulation. As a result we put together a sequence that takes the spine through all of these movements. It features across 3 pages in the magazine with detailed instruction. The sequence is mat based. This makes it very accessible and also adds an element of connection and grounding. We created an instructional video for this soothing Low Spinal Flow on our YouTube channel. You can check it out below. Let us know what you think and subscribe to our channel.

Low Spinal Flow as featured in Spectrum Magazine Autumn 2020;

DID YOU enjoy our article in spectrum magazine autumn 2020 edition? then join us for Online Yoga Classes

We currently offer a range of online yoga classes. Our approach to teaching the physical yoga postures is grounded in what is good for the body. We focus on postures that will help improve flexibility and build strength in the body. All of our classes include yoga postures, breathing exercises, guided relaxation and yoga philosophy. You get a well round yoga class covering many of the 8 limbs of yoga.

Check out our classes for this week in our Shop and further details at Yoga we offer

Previous Spectrum Cover Stars

We feature on the Spectrum Magazine Winter 2016 edition. The article in this edition discusses our journey to becoming British Wheel of Yoga teachers. It was also about diversity in the yoga scene and we talked about getting married as soon as equal marriage had been introduced.

Check out The Smiths song title reference!

Links

You can join the British Wheel of Yoga online. Click on this link for further details: https://www.bwy.org.uk/join-the-bwy/

You can purchase copies of Spectrum Magazine without being a member. Click on the link for further details: https://www.bwy.org.uk/spectrum/

Check out our other blogs here: Blog

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World Mental Health Day 2020

World Mental Health Day 2020 is on Saturday 10th October 2020. The theme this year is Mental Health for All. Greater Investment, Greater Access. Everyone, Everywhere. The World Federation for Mental Health set the theme every year. Check out there website here: https://wfmh.global/

MENTAL HEALTH FOR ALL

We all have Mental Health. As a result it is important to take care of it. Each and every one of us has to learn how to live with and interact with our mind.

Our experience of our minds changes and fluctuates throughout the day and our life. We go through periods where our mind is very busy and others where it is quieter. Whatever we experience is part of the human experience. It is almost certainly the case that someone has experienced it before or is experiencing it right now somewhere. As humans we have more in common than we have different. We are all in this experience of life and humanity together.

Our duty as humans is to look after each other and ourselves. This involves being aware of the mental health of others. Having discussions around our own mental health and the difficulties we face or have faced is important. Sharing information and being open is the healthiest policy both for us as individuals and for wider society. Can we reach a place where Mental Health is a topic of conversation for us all? Can we reach a place where mental health support is available to everyone across the globe?

COVID 19 AND MENTAL HEALTH

“Although the COVID-19 crisis is, in the first instance, a physical health crisis, it has the seeds of a major mental health crisis as well, if action is not taken. Good mental health is critical to the functioning of society at the best of times. It must be front and centre of every country’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently.” United Nations Policy Brief: COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health, May 2020.

The above statement made at the Untied Nations in May 2020 clearly highlights the need to care for our Mental Health at this challenging time. 

The World Federation for Mental Health

World Mental Health Day 2020

“The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) is the only international multidisciplinary, grassroots advocacy and education organisation concerned with all aspects of mental health. It was founded in 1948 to advance, among all people and nations, the prevention of mental and emotional disorders, the proper treatment and care of those with such disorders, and the promotion of mental health. WFMH has been an NGO in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1963 and we are in official relations with the World Health Organization (WHO) and in formal association with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI).” from https://wfmh.global/

Yoga and World Mental Health Day 2020

Yoga is a wonderful tool to assist both physically and mentally in response to the current crisis. It can help us keep our bodies in shape as a result of the strength and flexibility we develop from the practice. However, let us always remember that the aim of yoga is not to do a perfect downwards facing dog. It is not perfecting a hand stand. And it is not pushing our body beyond normal functional ranges of motion. The aim of the physical practice of yoga is to enable one to sit still without discomfort or distraction arising in the physical body.

The aim of yoga is to find a place of calmness or stillness. The final limb of Yoga, Samadhi, can be translated as the great freedom. It is a sense of liberation from the fluctuations of the mind. The aim of yoga is to develop the ability to have a healthier relationship with our minds. This is to be able to turn the attention away from the fluctuations of the mind. As a result of doing so we no longer over identify with the fluctuations of the mind.

How do we utilise Yoga to help?

How do we do this? The 8 limbed path of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali sets out how to do this. As a result we have a handy guide in this ancient text. It is a path that has been trodden by many before us.

How is a 2000 year old book of use to us in 2020? The reason it is still useful is because the human condition hasn’t changed. Our day to day lives look very different from 2000 years ago but the experience of being a human with a mind is exactly the same.

The journey through the 8 limbs of yoga takes us from behavioural suggestions, through physical postures, to breath exercises, to withdrawing the senses inwards, to concentration – meditation – the great freedom.  As a result Yoga presents a series of techniques to help find a greater peace of mind. A good Yoga class will incorporate many of these aspects. Well trained Yoga teachers will infuse their classes with yoga philosophy, breathing exercises, postures and guided relaxations / meditations.

Greater Investment, Greater Access. Everyone, Everywhere.

There are some great initiatives starting to take shape as holistic health and wellbeing is being seen as very important. We are currently involved in a nation wide trial looking at the benefits of chair-based yoga. If proven to be effective this could result in NHS referrals to chair yoga classes.

Increasing access to Yoga is interesting to consider during the current global pandemic. As a result of moving our Yoga classes online we have have been able to continue teaching our students from the local area as well as  welcoming people from across the globe to our classes. Students have joined us from across the UK, United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Australia, Canada, Spain, Germany, Italy and USA.  The use of platforms such as Zoom has made Yoga more accessible than ever before.  Anyone from anywhere is able to attend a yoga class if they have a digital device with a camera.

You can find details of our weekly yoga classes and book a place in our shop at : Shop

online lockdown resources
Yogasmiths Online Yoga Classes – consider taking a class for World Mental Health Day 2020

However, there needs to be a greater investment in Mental Health service provisions. Many people struggle to access help and waiting lists can be very long. Businesses need to take more responsibility for accessing help for staff and creating an environment where mental health is a topic which is discussed. As a result of reducing the stigma often attached to mental health people will feel more free to talk and as such seek to access support sooner.

We have free resources on our YouTube channel that anyone can access at anytime, anywhere. Check them out below and subscribe to our channel.

Further resources

The Mental Health Foundation website is a great resource: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Links to some of our previous blogs on Mental Health:

World Mental Health Day

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020|18th – 24th May

Time to talk day – lets end mental health discrimination

Mental Health Awareness Week – helpful tips to deal with stress

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Alopecia Awareness Month

September is Alopecia Awareness month. Sue has been a regular attendee at our yoga classes over the years. She has written a moving personal reflection for us on her journey through alopecia. We hope that in sharing this it will help to raise awareness of alopecia and prove helpful. I’ll hand you over to Sue!

My personal journey with alopecia

It’s autumn, it’s 2020 and it’s been a year which, so far, has been pretty pants. All of us having to adapt to the changes brought about by a global pandemic.

I’ve never written anything like this before and I suppose not only find it challenging but also a little uncomfortable. Observing ourselves and sharing thoughts doesn’t always come easily. Whenever in the past I have challenged myself to experience new things I might normally avoid it has often proved ultimately to be a rewarding experience. …..so here goes!

Strange to think that September is already here. This month for me, brings another birthday, (number fifty eight if we’re counting!!). Also a time of reflection and contemplation.

I wouldn’t admit to welcoming the shift this month brings. With predictable regularity it reminds me that I do not possess the ability to postpone the arrival of darker mornings. Nor try as I might, find a way of hanging onto summer, my favourite season.

My name is Sue. I’m mum to two grown boys, a nurse, I’ve developed a love of yoga……..and I have no hair.

Alopecia Awareness Month

September is also Alopecia awareness month. This one marks the eleventh since my body turned on itself and altered my ability to grow hair. Dramatically altering my appearance.

Hair loss for anyone can be a tricky thing to deal with. I was first alerted to mine when pregnant with my first son. A small, perfectly round, penny size bald patch appeared on the back of my head. Reassured by nursing colleagues it was pregnancy related and would regrow I ignored it and it did, but as one patch grew back another appeared.

By the time I delivered my second son, fourteen months after his brother, large hairless patches occupied much of the back of my head.

Alopecia diagnosis

A swift referral to dermatology followed (something I still struggle with as my alopecia is an autoimmune and not a dermatological condition) and I was diagnosed with alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune condition which sees a specific type of T cell in the body cluster around and attack the hair follicles, preventing them from producing more hair.

At the initial appointment I was handed a diagnosis and also, with little compassion, informed by the first specialist I encountered, that there was no cure for what I had, that it was likely I would lose all my hair, and that should this be the case I’d be entitled to vouchers for NHS wigs which I could obtain from the hospitals appliance department. Great!!!

Reaction to the Alopecia diagnosis

What followed is, I believe,  not uncommon. A period of great sadness and almost mourning. I was mercifully followed up by a wonderfully kind, now retired dermatologist who supported my angry and desperate attempts to prove both medicine and my body wrong.

This is a journey, as a nurse, I see many travel and who I now  try to support when they face  a difficult to accept diagnosis.

Mine was an anxiety filled minefield punctuated by a series of unpleasant therapies and medications which would see my immune system horribly suppressed. By the time I’d exhausted the list and also myself, I was finally at a point where, with great sadness and reluctance, I accepted that the medical research was correct and that there is no cure for alopecia.

Reaching a place of acceptance

Many years followed during which I disguised my hair loss but with it’s rapid acceleration in 2009 things quickly reached the point of no return. It was that September that my youngest son shaved the final wisps of hair away.

I can say with complete honesty that this was a truly liberating experience. Having been at the mercy of unpredictable, widespread and very patchy hair loss, I was finally back in control of my appearance and not sitting, mourning the loss of more precious locks on a daily basis.

Not quite done with me alopecia did manage to kick my backside one final time that year as it robbed me of my eyebrows and  lashes. I was incredibly saddened by this final insult and felt alopecia had stolen my face. All the landmarks which give us shape and form were gone. I felt as though my features had been rubbed out.

Incredible experiences and long lasting friendships

Now all this might sound a bit doom and gloom but this is not the case. Alopecia has been an intrinsic part of my journey. It’s influenced my thoughts and decision making and rewarded me with incredible experiences and long lasting friendships.

I knew from the get go that wigs and I were never going to be friends. I’m more of a sunscreen in the summer, bobble hat in the winter type of girl. There are beautiful wigs and head coverings out there for those who feel happier covering their hair loss. Psychologically, these are very necessary in allowing some people to function happily and get on with their lives. I tried very briefly but knew I just couldn’t do wigs. It was so much comfier wearing waterproof eyeliner, big earrings and a smile.

Glastonbury festival 2010 was one of the hottest on record. Would I have traded my tanned little bald head for hair as I stood close to the pyramid stage….absolutely not!! There are some benefits having Alopecia!!

Alopecia UK

Alopecia UK is an organisation which has been an incredible support to me throughout. I remain eternally grateful to them as a charity for their advice, hair loss survival tips and friendship.

In 2012 Alopecia UK were approached by London based photographer Daniel Regan who hoped through his work, to help support people affected by alopecia.

I decided to respond to his request asking people with alopecia to volunteer and be photographed. One saturday morning I drove to the capitol, devoid of any makeup and let a stranger capture on film what he saw.

Uncovered Exhibition

https://www.danielregan.photography/

To this day I struggle to explain how or why the image he created was to have such a positive and powerful impact on my wellbeing. I think I can speak for others who were also photographed. As part of an exhibition entitled “Uncovered” my picture hung with theirs in Frameless Gallery, London where they were viewed by the public.

It was odd but strangely reassuring to watch members of the public looking closely at my face and reacting positively to much of what I’d perceived as being very flawed. Many of us who’s faces hung out together in the gallery then, still keep in touch now.

As for Daniel Regan, he remains a true friend and someone I love dearly. I’m now referred to affectionately as his “liverpool mamma”, a title I feel very privileged to own.

Sue with photographer Daniel Regan

Yoga and sitting for a photographic portrait

I try hard these days not to do the should’ve, could’ve, would’ve thing but I do reflect on life’s experiences. In writing this, I’ve considered what might have been the elements involved in sitting for a photograph taken by a then stranger, which had, and continues to have, such a positive influence on my life. I didn’t practice yoga then but do now. I’m able to reflect and question if some components of yoga practice where unknowingly at play.

Could it have been the non possessiveness associated with surrendering my time and my face, allowing and encouraging someone else to use it to help them with their journey? A comparison in yoga practice might be “Aparigraha” which is a letting go of what is not needed or not serving you.

As the shutter clicked and Daniel worked I remember consciously slowing my breath. Smoothing my brow, dropping my shoulders. Closing my eyes and focusing on projecting outwardly the growing sense of peace and contentment I was inwardly feeling. Comparing this with my yoga practice today, I realise what I was doing. I was directing my awareness (mindful meditation) and focusing on my breath (pranayama).

Photo-asana

Through yoga teachings we become aware that energy within us travels via channels referred to as nadis. As with all channels, any blockage will interrupt the smooth flow of whatever is transported within it. Was it that the act of sitting, really breathing and setting a mindful focus or intention which helped release something I’d been unconsciously storing?

The final component involved in sitting for a photographer involves altering the body’s shape or posture and holding this for a period long enough to allow a visual artist to work. In Sanskrit the term for posture or pose would be asana.

Reflecting on that pivotal moment and all the components contained therein which produced such an amazing, long lasting, totally natural “high” with feelings of letting go, acceptance and calm, maybe the stage was set that day for me to seek other ways to introduce more of that “feel good” stuff into my every day.

Reflecting from 2020

So here I stand now. I have, in reaching 2020 had to occasionally let go of people who are not good for me but on the flip side, have also made many super and lasting friendships. I’ve continued to nurse because I love it but have modified and adapted my practice to enable me to nurse in ways which bring more happiness and meaning to my life.

There have been such memorable, irreplaceable, happy family times. A couple of parachute jumps, a love of stand up paddle boarding.  And some cracking travel opportunities when I’ve been wowed by some of the natural spectacles our beautiful planet offers.

As we all know though, life’s not always pretty or kind. Life does seem to have the knack of throwing the odd spanner in the works when we least expect it.

Finding Yoga

A couple of years ago that’s sort of where my life was. Newly divorced, new to Heswall, a little tubby (still am!!)  and not remotely fit or flexible I decided to join a couple of yoga classes. My thinking was that yoga would serve as somewhere, unlike some swanky gym, where a slightly portly, bald, female singleton could go to hide. And maybe in the process shed a few pounds.

I did a bit of online research which led me to two blokes (three if we count Archie), who, in the Wirral yoga universe, are known as The Yogasmiths. These two, Steve and Paul, together with many other gifted yogis, have patiently and with kindness, encouraged and supported the development of my yoga practice.

Sharing is caring

Paul approached me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I’d be prepared to write a blog. A little about myself and my journey. They’d recognised that from time to time they meet some people who might be struggling with some image altering problems. By sharing some of my experience, particularly during alopecia awareness month, hopefully some of my words may offer something to someone who might not be having such a great time.

We all have differences. Some are more noticeable than others. Many, including several forms of hair loss are not as permanent, obvious or long lasting as mine. Coping with a problem is often what prompts someone to access support networks and meet with others. In my case it was through that initial contact with Alopecia UK that I followed a path which led me to Daniel Regan and the magical, natural high my body woke up to when sitting in a photographic studio in London…the very same feelings which yoga practice now brings.

Now I’m not about to claim that alopecia dictates my day to day (I actually often forget I have no hair), or that a photograph taken in 2012 possesses strange, magical properties. I can’t preach that the different types of yoga I love to practice now hold the answers to anything but what I can say, with absolute certainty is that I believe the three to be inextricably linked.

Follow your heart

At points during the COVID-19 lockdown I jumped at the opportunity to be able to access on line yoga classes taught by highly respected yogis. A couple of these were with David Sye. David is a yoga teacher, musician, humanitarian and someone who believes yoga should be a “spontaneous, unapologetic and sexy celebration of life”. Interviewed in 2015 he said that if we look at the greats, all these artists, scientists, creatives have been moved by their hearts and not their brain. It’s never about the brain. He speaks about following your feelings and trusting that if you do, life will support you. David says that in making himself happy this makes the people around him happy too. This is true.

I suppose what I’m trying (badly) to articulate is, that when I follow my heart, my gut instinct and, quoting David Sye again “pay big attention to the small things and small attention to the big things” something quite wonderful will sometimes happen.

The yoga effect

When I practice yoga nothing can touch me. Not work, not social media and nobody can demand my attention or distract me. In those moments I’m back in 2012 again. I’m in a place where I dedicate my practice/set my intention. Let go of what isn’t needed, focus on the breath and accept being me. Knowing that all I need at that time is within me.

yoga and alopecia

Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, a teacher of kundalini yoga (something I’ve yet to experience) wisely said “yoga is not about self importance, it’s about self acceptance”.

If anyone in the Yogasmiths fold is struggling to cope with hair loss and feels I might be able to help in finding organisations or individuals who could offer advice and support, let me know. I’d be happy to try.

Photo credit – Daniel Regan (black and white photograph)  www.danielregan.photography/alopecia/

Resources

Alopecia UK – www.alopecia.org.uk

Changing Faces – www.changingfaces.org.uk

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