The Magic of Gravity


Throughout my childhood, teens and early adulthood, I had countless dreams where I could fly. It was a strange method of flight, as I would push up into the air and use breast stroke to move, often with surprising speed. These dreams were so frequent, that as a small child, I was convinced that in my waking life, if I just lifted my feet from the floor I would float. To my small self the impossible was possible. But this is the way of childhood; with age, it seems that gravity claims us, its weight increasing with the passing years. We can often feel the limitations that it places upon us as a restriction.

I have been thinking a good deal about my relationship with gravity of late and realise that its gifts are becoming all the more important to me. In my daily yoga practice I have recently had a powerful urge to perform handstands. This desire, as strong as it was, was counterbalanced with an equally strong fear. What if my arms just couldn’t take the weight of my body?

Going back once again to my childhood, I spent a huge percentage of my time inverted, as most children do: handstands, cartwheels, headstands, hanging from climbing frames in playgrounds – I was intimately familiar with a world turned upside down, with the rush of blood to my head thumping in my ears and the wonderful elation and clarity that came in returning to upright. I never thought twice about hurling my legs above my head, balancing without trepidation, never once worrying about falling.

Something happens to us as adults. There is this unspoken expectation that we put away childish things. We stop skipping, swinging, leaping and jumping, in fact, we temper our joyful dance with gravity, often through social pressure or life’s demands. We can get out of the practice of really moving our bodies which makes re-engaging so much harder the older we get. The resulting aches, pains and decreased mobility and strength can feel like an inevitability of aging, our childish attempts to defy gravity long behind us. People with children get the opportunity to break out on occasion – playing with one’s own children enables us to become children ourselves once more; for those of us without kids, we have to borrow nieces and nephews or the children of friends to indulge in a little boisterous fun. But for many, with time, gravity and the sheer effort it can exert from us, can make us turn away from what it has to offer and lead us to confuse the natural restrictions of aging with inertia.

So, here I am, on the verge of my 48th birthday, and making a stand for… well… standing on my hands! I started gently, placing my hands upon the floor and walking my feet up the wall, edging my hands closer that my body might gradually straighten.

At first it was a shock to feel the weight of my entire body through my arms. How did I ever once do this with such gay abandon?! As I straightened my body, I also had to deal with my fear – the fear of something vital snapping, the fear of falling on my head…But gradually, with daily practice, I am starting to touch upon that elation that being upside down gives you and I can feel the strength in my arms and body growing.

In yoga, inverted postures are highly valued. From a yogic understanding there are many health benefits gained when we get topsy-turvy – it can help regulate our hormones, aid the lymphatic system and bring a greater clarity and alertness with the increased blood supply to the brain. But what also fascinates me about being upside down is that it puts us back into a much more alive and intense relationship with gravity and encourages us to view the world from a completely different angle. It is not for nothing that the Hanged Man of the Tarot has a halo around his head!

To stand on one’s hands requires that we build physical strength and develop emotional courage. These qualities, to me, seem like very important gifts that gravity gives us. It is not gravity that weighs us down but our unwillingness to dance with it. When we give up on our body’s dance with gravity, we become physically stiff, our muscles weaken and our flexibility is reduced. These conditions can age us long before we are actually old and have an impact on the way we think and feel.

Gravity teaches us much about perseverance and patience, about working within our limitations and by doing so, finding a new kind of freedom. When we work with gravity, it sculpts and strengthens our muscles; this in turn can help us to feel more grounded and stable both physically and emotionally. Gravity can literally change our shape – too little interaction with it and our muscles sag; too much and we become muscles bound, a condition where strength is given precedence over flexibility. Both extremes will ultimately affect the way we move in the world and because of that, can impact on the way we think. Getting the right balance (excuse the pun!) can help us to understand how much of an ally gravity is.

When we use our own bodies in weight-bearing exercises we actually strengthen our bones – simply standing on one leg repeatedly over time improves the bone density of that limb. This speaks to me of how gravity gives us the opportunity to become more embodied, to really feel and enjoy the way we are rooted to the earth. When we work with gravity we become stronger, we understand how important it is to be patient with ourselves, of accepting where we are whilst believing that we can change. We can also learn the difference between recklessness and courage.

Looking at those guys up in the International Space Station, I can see that, initially, weightlessness could be amazing fun and wonderfully freeing. However, we are children of our planet and in time I suspect that weightlessness would become wearisome and we would long to be earth-bound.

In truth, our dance with gravity is actually our dance with the Earth; it is how we move through her being; find our home in her density and our roots in her body. When you feel the weight of it, don’t bemoan its heaviness, let it push against you and enjoy the challenge. At first it might feel exhausting but if you stick with it, in time, it can gift you with its own kind of special freedom. It might not allow you unbounded flight but it has its own special magic.


Spring Goddess

This lovely photo was taken by Laura Cronk and is entitled Divine Feminine. This beautiful statue is performing a wonderful Yoga twist! The Yoga writer and teacher Christina Brown says of twists that they offer ‘a great opportunity to turn and see things from a different angle’.  Viewing things from a fresh perspective can re-energize us and –  just like those vitality boosting yoga twists – can help us to develop our flexibility and free us from rigid patterns of being. When our emotions, thoughts and bodies stiffen there is an increased discomfort felt throughout our whole systems; releasing the tension of mind, emotion and body can bring a wonderful surge of energy and optimism. It’s a good place to be, like getting a hit of Spring at any point in the year and there is nothing quite like seeing things from a completely new angle to help this process along. I am feeling so much better. This morning in bed I got that fizzy, excited feeling that this time of year can bring.

After such a long and testing winter, to feel the reality of re-emergence all around me is joyful. I am still having to take more Utovlan than I would like, my body is obviously not as it might be but increasingly this doesn’t seem to be bothering me as much. After wrestling and fighting against where I found myself, I seem to have come to a place of greater acceptance; this in itself is helping me to see things differently. My whole being has been doing its own twisting – there is a 360% world out there but we often only grasp a tiny piece of it; it’s amazing how seeing only a little more can bring such powerful change.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Tantra by Willow

Was digging around trying to find a nice Shiva and Shakti picture  as I thought that this might be fitting for Valentine’s Day. I got completely distracted looking at some amazing images of partner Yoga. Sadly, I don’t think I am going to be very successful in persuading Laurie on this one. I occasionally get the urge to be carried up to bed in a Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara kind of  a way but always get a big resounding ‘Fat Chance!’ from Laurie. Rightly, he values his back too much. So our Shiva and Shakti yogic love dance on Yaverland beach might have to wait!

Partner Yoga (

Keeping the Heart Open

One of the joys of practicing Yoga has been the exploration of the chakra system. As systems golike the beautiful Pagan Wheel of the Year – it is an elegant and profoundly useful tool for spiritual development. Of late, I have been focusing on the link between postures and individual chakras, experimenting with those asanas that supposedly open, stimulate or balance these energy centres.

Postures that work upon the open expression of Anahata, the heart chakra, involve opening the chest and expanding the lungs. I have found it interesting that lung and breathing problems are so often connected to grief and emotional pain – Anahata linking the physical heart and lungs. Our emotional states impact upon our breathing; when we are upset or angry it becomes shallow and rapid; when we are relaxed, it deepens and slows. Working with Anahata teaches us to develop trust and openness and the postures that support this very literally open out our bodies, easing our breathing and ‘making the heart available’ (as the very lovely yogi Marlon Braccia puts it).

I love this phrase; it’s the use of the word ‘available’, meaning that others may have access to our hearts; it speaks of generosity and ultimately of trust – trust of self, others and life. The open heart becomes the open hand – we touch and are touched. The asanas that facilitate this openness articulate also our willingness to be vulnerable. Many are back bends that expose the tender line of the front of our bodies. In back bends we present to the world each of the chakra centres without defence – the sacral, solar plexus and throat are all presented and exposed along with the heart; in opening the heart with trust, we allow all aspects of ourselves a freer and more authentic expression. Unlike the more introspective and protective forward bends, backbends invite life in. Physically, they quite often take bravery and strength to perform and this reminds us that the heart develops strength in embracing its vulnerability; it also speaks of the courage it takes to truly love without fear.

Last night in my Yoga lesson, we performed two of my favourite backbends: Camel Pose (Ustrasana) and Fish Pose (Matsyasana). Both open and strengthen the chest and lungs, freeing up the breath and because of this, both feel incredible good to do when stress or fear contracts our bodies and spirits and we feel psychologically hunched in upon ourselves.

Despite my current inner upheaval, I know that keeping the heart open is vitally important –to close down, is to stop breathing and we all know what happens when we do that. Despite feeling a little cut adrift, my fear seems to be lessening, which is odd considering that the psychological scaffolding of my beliefs appears to have collapsed rather. Feeling my chest open and my lungs expand in Fish pose last night – enjoying how good it felt – I thought to myself that being suspended in this strange place of ‘not knowing’ was really alright and quite exciting. I guess I have always relied on systems to help me feel ok – and of course, my Yoga still plays its part in this way, so I am not completely without support. However, my certainty has crumbled somewhat and the great thing is that this is not the disaster I might have suspected. All my old definitions of what the Divine is have dissolved and I am beginning to realise that this is not the same as losing my connection to the Divine itself. This connection is never severed – my finite understanding of God/dess is being challenged, not because the Divine is an illusion but because any shape I might give it is limited. We can only ever get a glimpse of that greater Mystery and it seems that my personal glimpse is attempting to widen. In this process, all old assumptions are broken down. Like the lightning struck tower of the tarot, crumbling edifices are torn down that we might get a better view, that we might be liberated from those actions, thoughts and patterns that no longer serve us.

I am making my heart available – it’s scary and exhilarating – I guess it is like falling in love with life, and there is nothing more terrifying and wonderful than falling in love:

The ideal situation for really understanding another is not so much how a person reacts to extreme stress, but rather how he or she suffers the vulnerability of falling in love. –  Aldo Carotenuto ‘Eros and Pathos: Shades of Love and Suffering’.

Ustrasana - Camel Pose (

The Dance

Natarajasana - Dancer's Posture (

The bleeding appears to have stopped. Last night I made it to my Yoga class. Poor Julie won’t be taking them for a while; Jake’s death has been a terrible shock. One of Julie’s friends – a lovely lady called Lisa is taking over for a bit. I think everybody in the group wants to keep it going to support Julie – she is such a wonderfully kind and thoughtful person, it’s awful to think that this has happened to her. We all want to be there when she feels ready to come back.

It was lovely to see everyone again – first time since before Christmas. I felt exhausted and headachy before I went but my body and being were absolutely singing by the time the lesson had finished. It felt so good to have such a strong and vigorous stretch. I have been trying to keep up with my practice through the last two weeks but at points I found it impossible. Traditionally, women are advised not to perform asanas when they are menstruating, particularly inverted postures, although there are many restorative postures that are permitted. I had no idea whether I was strictly menstruating or merely bleeding because of the implant (actually, I still don’t really know) and so I was trying to take it easy. It got to the stage where all I was fit for was Savasana (Corpse posture). Last night’s session was bliss. Lying in Savasana for the final relaxation after such a heated session, I felt peaceful and settled; haven’t felt that way in two weeks.

I respond best to life when I am regularly exercising. When not dealing with menstrual problems, I practice Yoga daily. I aim for an hour session, sometimes more, sometimes a little less, depending on the day. I have been doing this for nine years. I find that disciplining myself  is not much of a challenge because I love the way it makes me feel. If I miss a couple of days, my body starts to yearn for it. Some days its tough and I take a while to warm up and engage but mainly, unrolling my Yoga mat is a joy. When I don’t exercise, after a while I start to feel apathetic and listless and I start losing a balanced perspective on things. I have quite an active, agitated mind and engaging with my body seems to calm it.

Life really is about finding the right balance and this will be different for each of us. I know that if I overdo the exercise thing this will have consequences for my physical well-being and that will impact on the rest of me. Equally, if I get stuck in my own head for too long, I start to spiral down and then know that I need a good Yoga session and a walk in the woods.

Being poorly over these last two weeks made me think how dreadful it must be when chronic illness drastically limits a person’s choices and stops them from doing the things they love. Despite feeling pretty low and pissed off with my ongoing problem, at heart, I still count my blessings. There are many out there who are struggling with far worse. When I think what Julie must be going through at the moment…

Feeling my energy and my spirits rise again has been wonderful. I still don’t know how this is going to pan out but for now I am grateful for the respite. I include here a picture of one of my favourite Yoga balances. It is called Natarajasana or Dancer’s Posture and relates to Shiva as Lord of the Dance. The dance of life keeps moving and how we continue to find balance is dependant on us being able to constantly adjust and readjust to the changes, to sense when the direction of flow needs to shift. Onwards and upwards…

Love, Life and Dancing in the Rain

Yesterday, my lovely Yoga teacher Julie gave me a beautiful Christmas card that she had made herself. In it she wrote a quote which I really like:

Life is not about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rain.

Opening up Julie’s wonderful card which she created with love, and her incredibly apt choice of words, made me cry.

We had finished our Yoga lesson with some candle gazing, sitting in a close circle together in the dark, focusing on the light of the flame and after some time, closing our eyes and visualising the flame in our Ajna or third eye Chakra. Then we visualised moving the flame down into our Anahata or heart Chakra, feeling its glow and warmth there. We then held hands and visualised sending this golden light out from our hearts, down our arms, feeling it pass from our hands to those next to us and around the circle. It was a lovely, intimate moment. We each silently affirmed love and well-being for ourselves and for the whole group.

I returned home, opened my card, and sat on the bottom step of the stairs, not being able to stop the tears. Julie’s kindness and thoughtfulness touched me and the words she had picked for my card couldn’t have been more well chosen. If I could sum up what I believe my major life lesson is then this sentence would be the one that would express it best. I have spent so much time and energy surviving storms but I am coming to realise that when we engage with our hearts – with that Anahata centre – survival strategies are a poor substitute for dancing in the rain.

There is a wonderful book by Anodea Judith called Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System (Llewellyn). She writes well of Anahata and its connection to love:

Love is not a matter of getting connected; it is a matter of seeing that we are already connected within an intricate web of relationships that extend throughout life. It is a realisation of ‘no boundaries’ – that we are all made of the same essence, riding through time on the same planet, faced with the same problems, the same hopes and fear. It is a connection at the core that makes irrelevant skin colour, age, sex, looks, or money.

More than anything, love is the deep sense of spiritual connection, the sense of being touched, moved, and inspired to heights beyond our normal limits. It is a connection with a deep, fundamental truth that runs through all of life and connects us together. Love makes the mundane sacred – so that it is cared for and protected. When we lose our sense of connection with all life, we have lost the sacred, and we no longer care for and protect that which nourishes us.

We are that love. We are its life force, its expression, its manifestation, its vehicle. Through it we grow, we transcend, we triumph, and surrender to grow again ever deeper. We are renewed, cut down, and renewed again.

In the Chakra system, we ideally express ourselves through all our energy centres but it is the heart that balances and connects these various energies, ‘the central wheel of life from which all others turn’. To close any part of ourselves down will cause pain but to close the heart causes the greatest pain of all.

When we stop trusting in life, when we have become overwhelmed with fear or have contracted with hurt, the true route to healing is ultimately through the opening of the heart. It’s not about being brave; it’s about feeling oneself a child again.

And Finally…

How I feel after both poses (please see last two posts)!


And Now for the Experts!

Please see previous post!

down dog2

Perfect Downward Facing Dog (


Moving into Upward Facing Dog (

Yoga and our Relationship with Nature

One of the things that I love about Yoga is that many of its poses have been inspired by observations of nature. A great many asanas are named after animals: cat, cobra, camel, swan, heron, locust, pigeon, fish, crocodile, rabbit, eagle, lion, crow…to name a few! These poses seek to emulate the strength, flexibility and qualities of that particular animal and it is recommended that you try to imagine yourself as that animal whilst performing the pose. It’s fun and it does help in connecting more deeply to each pose. It also strikes me that there is something vaguely shamanic about it too, in the sense that by encouraging you to physically emulate the animal, you touch upon an inner expression of its nature, and in doing so, seek to express this quality yourself in some way. Done sensitively and consciously, I think this can help to build empathy between the animal and self, much in the way that many modern pagans strive to do in their own spiritual practice with regards to animal totems and guides.

Currently, two of my most favourite poses are named after the same animal: the dog. Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana, to give it its Sanskrit name, and Upward Facing Dog, Urdhva Mukha Savnasana, are both poses that I am deeply drawn to at the moment. As their names suggest, Up Dog is a back bend, whilst Down Dog takes the body in the opposite direction by inverting the head. I don’t see that many crocodiles, lions or cobras on the Isle of Wight but I see plenty of dogs and the deep joy of these poses, is that you can witness the animal doing it in its own perfect way by just popping out and engaging in a little dog watching. Dogs do these two wonderful stretches pretty much without thinking; it always makes me smile to see them doing it with such apparent ease when I consider the time it has taken me to build the strength and flexibility to perform them myself.

I wonder if my love of wolves goes a little way in me being so attracted to these poses. The American Yogi Marlon Braccia calls the slightly extended Upward Facing Dog – where the head is bent right back – ‘Howling Dog’! It’s hard not to feel a little bit Wolf-like when you are doing it!

Nature informs other poses too: the Mountain, the Tree and the Lotus…Many assume that Eastern Philosophies, with their focus on the ultimate transcendence of the physical, might be antithetical to modern pagan understanding, and yet I have found with Yoga that my relationship with the material world – through the intimacy it encourages with my own body – has deepened. I find it fascinating that a proposed route through to ultimate transcendence –which is what the practice of Yoga is intended to be – can actually also be a route though to discovering Divine Immanence – God/dess at the centre of the natural world and our own bodies and beings.


Upward Facing Dog - Yoga Journal


Downward Facing Dog - Yoga Journal

Going Inward is Reaching Outward

I have felt a shift in my Yoga practice of late, something opening and expanding. It is often the way when we practice something over years that we witness these sudden unfoldings and a whole new perspective emerges, deepening our understanding and experience. It’s like discovering a secret room in your house that you didn’t know existed; it’s exciting and mysterious; it also leaves you wondering how you never knew of its presence until now. The process is an unfolding; a peeling back of veils, each layer pulled aside when we are good and ready.

I have been feeling very aware of – and grateful for – my body. Daily practice of the asanas over the last eight years has built my strength and improved my flexibility; those areas that had started to become a little rigid have softened, making movement through life that much easier, my stamina improved. We can take our bodies for granted. Unrolling my Yoga mat is a way for me to honour and enjoy just what it is that my body continues to give to me. It has also illustrated that my body truly appreciates movement, thriving on it. It is amazing to think that certain poses that were once incredibly challenging to me are now a joy to execute. With time, patience and gentleness the body opens up. My practice has also taught me that there are moments when movement is not appropriate; that there are times when stillness is the order of the day. Yoga helps me to listen to myself a whole lot better, to know what is needed a little more clearly, although I admit there is still room for improvement here too.

I think that most people start Yoga with their main focus on the physical postures. Like many, I have found that these inevitably lead one to want to explore more deeply pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation. Building a more intimate and aware relationship with my body is enabling me to access my emotional, metal and spiritual selves from a more grounded place. Recently, I have been finding myself looking forward to practising pranayama as much as the asanas. Like our bodies, oxygen is also taken for granted. During pranayama and the breathing used for the postures, I am increasingly aware of how life-giving and nourishing it is. The link between breathe and our state of mind/emotion is a powerful one; when we begin to engage consciously with our breathing, we discover just how wonderful a gift it is to our spiritual development and physical well-being.

A couple of days ago, at the end of my morning session, I was sat practicing the Hamsah (‘I Am That’) Mantra on my mat. I love it because it is simple yet powerful and its rhythm and sounds strike me as intimately linked to the rhythm and sound of our breathing. The sun poured in through the window, covering me with light and warmth. As I became aware of my breathe rising up my spine on the inhalation, inwardly hearing ‘Ham’ riding on its expansion, then following it with the physically whispered exhalation of ‘Sah’- its sighing sound like the deepest release and surrender – I realised that the light was changing and flowing rhythmically too. The clouds passing over the sun meant that, at moments, the vision of my closed eyes was flooded with a deep red. As clouds obscured the sun, this red turned to a dark brown and then shortly back again to red, and so on. The breathing in and out of ‘Hamsah’ and the moving in and out of light and darkness, merged to produce an extraordinary feeling in me of being an absolute part of everything – inhalation, exhalation, life, death, light, dark – each contained within the breathe of the Divine and the song of the world the most magical Mantra of all. ‘I Am That’ suggests this very notion – the sense of separation of our true selves from the Divine, an illusion. We are always at one with that infinite and indefinable source, despite the fact that our ‘little selves’ can so often tell us otherwise. The beauty of any spiritual practice is that it can help us to re-engage with that sense of belonging. We might not find it easy to stay ‘plugged in’ for long but it makes a massive difference to get those occasional glimpses. Finding a practice that we feel comfortable with and that encourages this ‘plugging in’ can make such a difference to our lives. Sticking with it can bring huge benefits (and challenges too!) and we might just find that we touch that magical state of connection more and more often.

For me, it’s a wonderful notion that the Divine stretches with me and flows through me on my Yoga mat; it breathes with me and through me too, its song resonating like a powerful and transformative chant through every cell in my body and being. As I stretch and release tension, I feel as if I am creating a space inside me for it – another unknown room in the house of ‘me’ just waiting to be discovered.

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