Welcome the Spring – Easter Monday One Day Yoga Retreat

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As spring arrives, there is a sense of abundance, vitality and renewal.  We can tap into this energy in our yoga practice.  Taking a day to tune into the peace and stillness that lies within can be a great boost to your energy levels.  Gift yourself just one day of stillness, presence and peace, and enjoy going deeper into your yoga practice in a friendly, supportive group.

Plan for the day:

  • 9.30-10am – Arrival, light refreshments
  • 10am Opening circle, chanting, meditation, pranayama (breathing practice)
  • Dynamic yoga asana – energising practice
  • Light refreshments
  • Yoga Nidra (yogic deep relaxation)
  • Short mindful walk in nature
  • 1pm -1.45pm – tasty two course vegetarian feast in the company of new friends
  • Group discussion on how yoga philosophy can help with modern problems
  • Restorative yoga
  • Deep relaxation with gong bath
  • Closing circle, meditation and chanting to finish at 4pm
  • 4pm – 4.30pm hot drinks and snacks available, good-byes

Venue: Llandewi Rhyderch Village Hall https://www.facebook.com/llanddewirhydderchvillagehall   (a modern village hall close to Abergavenny, in a rural village setting)

Date and Time: Easter Monday 13th April. 9.30am – 4.30pm

Level: mixed level

Numbers: 6-12 people

Accessibility: please let us know if you have any dietary requirements, health issues, accessibility needs, preferred pronouns, etc.

Equipment: please bring a mat (if you have one), a blanket, wear comfy cloths you can move in and bring outer-clothes suitable for a short walk.  We will provide blocks, belts, bolsters, eye bags and all food and refreshments.

Cost:

  • £60 (includes food and yoga)
  • Early bird price up until 30th March – £48.
  • Reserve your place with a deposit of £20, refundable until 20th March

Your Team:

  • Ciara Bomford – yoga teacher
  • Gerry – catering
  • Lucy Stott – gongs

For more information, or to register your interest, please contact Ciara Bomford on ciarabomford@gmail.com or 07531 727352.

 

Abergavenny Soul Yoga

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It’s that time of year when lots of us decide to make a fresh start, live our lives better or get rid of old habits that no longer serve us.  Many new year resolutions fall by the wayside, particularly if we just feel that we ought to do better rather than deeply want to make a change.

Going to a yoga class could be one of the best new year changes you could make.  Yoga helps us to get really in touch with our moment to moment experiences and what we truly need to be happy.  Of course, many people also start yoga because they want to feel better in their bodies, be more flexible, be stronger or healthier!

If you live in the Abergavenny area, and would like to try yoga, do get in touch.

My class meets at the Abergavenny Guide Hall, Fairfield Carpark, opposite Morrisons, at 8pm on Wednesdays.

You are welcome to email me at ciarabomford@gmail.com or call on 07531 727352.

For more details, visit the website: https://ciarabomford.wixsite.com/mysite/yoga-classes

Abergavenny Soul Yoga with Ciara Bomford

I teach Sivanada inspired yoga, which includes stretches, traditional yoga postures, breathing exercises, chanting, relaxation and meditation. I hope that people leave the class feeling calm, centred, full of vitality and able to face challenges with a sense of equanimity. Yoga has many benefits – physical, emotional and spiritual – which are explored in class. For more information see What Is Yoga?

The class is mixed level, and welcomes people of all ages, fitness levels and backgrounds. It’s unfortunate that we see so many skinny, flexible, white women doing yoga on Instagram, because actually yoga is for every body, whatever shape or size.

Time – 8pm – 9.30pm

Day – Wednesdays in term time

Term dates for Autumn 2019 – 4th September – 18th December  ( with a break on 30th October)

Venue – Abergavenny Guide Hall, Fairfield Car Park, Abergavenny

Cost – £10 per drop in or £90 for the 15 week term (40% discount)

The Guide Centre is in the Fairfield car park (by Bailey Park) right in the centre of Abergavenny. My aim is to run a small and friendly class with a sense of community. With this in mind, I keep the numbers down to 15 per class with priority to those who commit to the term. I also organise occasional social events to give everyone the chance to get to know each other better.

Each term I donate part of the proceeds to a yoga-related charity, such as Our Mala

If you would like to join the class please email me at ciarabomford@gmail.com.  I will be more than happy to give you a call or arrange for you to try a class.

Even practicing for ten minutes a day at home will massively boost the benefits you feel. If you want to kickstart your home practice, there are some ideas at Starting a Home Yoga Practice

Why I Joined Extinction Rebellion

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This June saw me obstructing the highway in Cardiff, as Extinction Rebellion blocked Castle Street with a bright green boat for three days, calling on the government to act now in response to the climate emergency.  This might be a surprise to people who know me.  I am not a vegan, cyclist eco-warrior. I rarely get around to joining the many worthy, green events in my area. I love a foreign holiday and my vegetable patch is a mess.  So I might not be first person you would expect to find at an XR event.

Don’t get me wrong, I have never been a climate change denialist.  I have dutifully done my recycling, used the washing line, and walked short journeys rather than taking the car.   But, until recently, I hadn’t emotionally engaged with climate change, or even given it a lot of thought.  I confess to skipping over newspaper articles about projected global warming, because it all seemed a bit depressing.  What could I do about it anyway?  I made the convenient changes, but I didn’t give up air travel or driving my car. Climate change felt like something abstract that would affect future generations, rather than something that was happening right now and would affect my family.  Greta Thunberg has asked us to act like our house is on fire; I had been acting more like I had a leaky radiator.

So what changed my mind?  XR’s Easter rebellion caught my attention because it looked like people were finally doing something that might actually make a difference.  But I still wasn’t quite sure why they were being so extreme.  Couldn’t they just have a march?  (Although I should have known the answer to that – I went on the Iraq March in 2003, which at the time was the largest march in the UK, and it made it no difference at all).

Flicking through BBC iplayer, my attention was caught by  David Attenborough’s documentary on climate change which came out at the same time.  My thirteen year old son sat down to watch it with me.  It was like watching the most terrifying horror film, but with the extra twist that it was all going to happen in our lifetimes. I felt real fear for the first time.  “So why aren’t we doing something about it?” my son asked.  And I just had no answer for him.

I started to research.  What will happen if we don’t make radical changes? (Answer – we are on track to hit 4 degrees of warming in my kids lifetime, and possibly in mine).  What does 4 degrees warming look like? (Answer – everything South of mid-Europe would be desert, 95% of humanity would be wiped out, Cardiff and London under water).  What do we need to do to prevent it happening? (Answer – switch to a mainly vegan diet, ditch fossil fuels, invest massively in renewables, stop consuming and wasting so much, stop flying).   When do we need to do this by?  (Answer – we need to take radical action to cut our carbon emissions in half by 2030)  Are we on track to do this?  (Answer – a big no, global emissions are continuing to rise every year).

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This sounds like scare mongering.  After all, if was true, surely everyone would be talking about it.  We would be acting like the house was on fire.  But we are not.  We are just carrying on as usual.  Yet these predictions don’t come from a few whacky left-wingers; this is the advice given by the IPCC, the panel of scientists who advise the united nations.  Their past track record indicates that if anything they have been quite conservative in their recommendations.

Facing up to these truths brings up a whole load of negative emotion.  Guilt for the part I have played in this, fear of the future and of my children’s future, and anger at the fossil fuel companies who have lobbied so hard to discredit the science and spread confusion.  It’s hard to stay with those emotions.  I sometimes feel like a I live in a double reality, where part of the time I continue with business as usual, going to work, doing my shopping, spending time with may family, and then these emotions hit me again, and all the business as usual tasks seem like a trivial waste of time.

There is a meme circulating on social media that says “If you want to know what you would do in the time of the suffragettes, the civil rights movement or the slave trade, just look at what you are doing now.”  I really believe that this one of those moments in history where anyone who cares about the climate is called to act.

For the radical change required we need government action – an end to fossil fuel subsidies, a carbon tax, assistance for people who work in carbon heavy industries to retrain, massive investment in renewables, investment in electric cars, and a major public awareness campaign leading to lifestyle changes.  The government needs to treat the crisis with the same urgency that they would a world war, and put aside their ideological differences.  They need to work with other countries to negotiate international agreements, and refuse to trade with countries that do not sign up.

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Of course, we can all make changes in our own lives.  I have decided not to fly any more (this is tough because I love travelling).  I have been vegetarian for years, but I am reducing my diary consumption and buying more vegan products (I love Oatly, so that is no hardship).  My mission this summer is to switch over to ethical banking, since all the high street banks invest in fossil fuel.  I am trying to minimise my use of single-use plastics.  I am using my car less. But none of this is easy, and without government action, I don’t believe that enough people will make the necessary changes quickly enough.  Many people won’t give things up unless they see everyone else also giving them up.  The low carbon option needs to be cheaper and easier than the high carbon option.  This is why I believe that if we want change, we really need to call on the government to act.

Marches, petitions and social media posts haven’t worked.  But historically, civil disobedience that involves a significant minority of the population has consistently brought about change – think about the suffragettes, the civil rights movement, Gandhi’s peaceful protest which brought about India’s freedom from colonialism or the Poll Tax movement which eventually brought down the Thatcher government.  When enough people are prepared to break the law, governments have to take notice.

Extinction Rebellion has three demands – to tell the truth about the climate crisis, to act on that truth now, and to set up a people’s assembly (something like jury service) to inform government action.  This last is necessary, when we remember that governments have a five year term of office, which often binds them into short term thinking.

I was quite nervous about the Cardiff XR action.  My sixteen year old son wanted to come with me, and I felt protective of him.  I didn’t want either of us to get arrested, but there are many other roles in XR.  We joined the wellbeing team, and spent a lot of our time giving out water and snacks to the people who were locked onto the boat and the barricades.  I also taught a yoga class, which felt much needed as the whole experience of carrying out an action can be very stressful.  I particularly enjoyed talking to members of the public who were mainly sympathetic and interested (the queue to join XR in the information tent got longer as the action went on) and shared a lot of my concerns (though not always the sense of urgency).

The first day felt like a moral action – necessary, but rather stressful.  Even seasoned activists find an illegal action stressful and no-one knew how the police would react.  But the final day was a beautiful action, with music, a discussion group and a procession to end – I met many lovely people and was filled with joy, hope and inspiration.

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There are many days when I wake up in the morning feeling dread for the future.  There are many days I would like to forget all about climate change, and leave someone else to sort it out.  But I believe that this is a historic moment that will define who we are – are we the ones who acted or the ones who didn’t?

We can’t make a difference on our own, but we can play our part in a movement that is growing large enough to stand up to the fossil fuel industry.  If we are open to the possibility, social change can flow through us.

As Rumi says:

You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop.”

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Unwelcome Truths

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“Denial is the cornerstone of sanity,” or so my husband likes to say. We are all amazingly good at not seeing the things that we don’t want to see, whether that is a partner’s affair, the injustice of poverty, the reason why our mother winds us up so much or our addiction to our phones. It’s more comfortable to tell ourselves a different story or avoid thinking about it altogether.

One of the side affects of meditation, which people don’t often warn you about, is that these hidden truths tend to come into sharp focus. What was hiding in plain sight is suddenly uncomfortably visible. Once the busy chatter of very day thinking falls silent, what was lying underneath becomes visible.

The second of the yoga Yamas, or ethical principles, is Satya, or truthfulness.  It’s easy enough not to tell little fibs, but to be truthful with ourselves about our motivations and the world around around us is a whole lot more difficult. Once we dpconfront the truth, we may have to take action or change, and change can be scary.

Meditation helps us to become wiser and more self aware; we can spot our patterns of behaviour rather than acting them out without any awareness of what is driving us. Some truths are a huge relief and leave us feeling lighter, but others are less welcome.

A few such truths that I have become aware of are:

– My kids are growing up and they will soon leave home and pursue their own adult lives. Cuddles on the sofa will be a rare treat indeed.

– My husband is 12 years older than me. Both my grandmothers spent over twenty years in widowhood, longevity running in my family, and it is quite likely I will face the same.

– The aches and pains that I have at the moment are a gentle taste of things to come. They will only get worse! Yoga asana practice is already more about maintenance than progression, and soon will be about slowing decline instead.

– Climate change is real, it’s happening, and if we don’t collectively do something radical, large parts of the earth will be uninhabitable, and society as we know it now is likely to break down.

– World poverty is hugely unfair, and there’s are many people hungry while I live in plenty and comfort. I could give up half my income and still be relatively wealthy by world standards.

So, what to do about these truths? Should I stop mediating and go back to cosy denial? After all, denial may be what is keeping me sane! It’s one option, but it feels like the coward’s way out.

Some of these truths are uncomfortable, but I can comfort myself with the thought that everything is as it should be. It’s right that children should grow up, and older people should grow old and die, otherwise the world would be very over populated. It’s a natural cycle, and the wise and skilful response is to be grateful for the here and now, and enjoy each day for what it is, rather than waste them worrying about the future.

Meditation definitely helps with this, as it crates the skills to enjoy each present moment for what it is. Practicing gratitude also helps, reminding myself each day what I am grateful for. Many wise people say you should think about death every day as a reminder to live fully and show love.

When it comes to climate change and world poverty, however, “everything is as it should be” feels like the wrong response. I can practice gratitude for having been born into plenty, but I have to also acknowledge the injustice of it. Maybe it is normal and natural that one dominant species (humans) should become extinct and a new species take their place, but it doesn’t feel right to accept this without a fight.

The truly ethical response would probably be to give away most of my money, and join the climate change rebellion full time, but the honest truth is that I am too selfish. I like my comfortable life and I am reluctant to give it up. I still practice the deception that my life is more important than the life of those yet to be born or on the other side of the world. Enlightenment is still some way off! I still have a lot of attachment to my current lifestyle.

However, encouraged by my teenage son, I am eating more vegan food, turning down the thermostat, growing my own veg and thinking about a holiday by train next year. I am in awe of Greta Thunberg and all those who are speaking out about climate change, and will lend my voice to the campaign. It’s not much, but it’s something.  And maybe if I keep meditating I will develop the skills to let go of my attachment to selfish comforts at the expense of future generations.

 

 

 

 

Career Tasks in Mid Life

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“Maybe the truest difference between people is exactly this: how they see why they are hear.” David Mitchell, number9dream

The career tasks of early adulthood are well documented and recognised, even if they have become increasingly protracted and challenging. Most of us want to establish ourselves in a profession or trade, earn enough money to make a home and often support a family, and then begin to progress along the well worn tracks of career progression and increased material possessions. Key moments – leaving home, graduation, marriage, childbirth, property ownership, promotions – are well recognised and celebrated. All of these tasks contribute to the formation of a stable, adult identity and a sense of purpose.

But the tasks of mid-life are less well defined.  Donald  Super described mid-life as “maintenance”, a term that suggests we simply tread water in the place at which we have arrived.  This may seem to be true for some people, but it is certainly not the whole story.

The developmental tasks of mid-life (for those who choose to engage rather than tread water) are often more creative or spiritual in nature.  Whilst the mid-life crisis can manifest as a middle aged man on a motorbike, it is just as likely to show up as as a period of stress-related sickness or burnout from work, caused by the realisation that we can no longer bear to do work that takes us so far from our true selves. This period of introspection may be needed to give space to re-evaluate priorities.

Carl Jung describes how, by mid-life, we outgrow the persona that we created in early adulthood. This persona can most easily be observed through looking at out material possessions, career, achievements, family roles and relationships. He believed that this persona no longer serves us in mid and later life, and we need to return to whatever  lies beneath the persona we have created.  This may be a more authentic self that is less concerned with pleasing others or fitting into society.

Whitemore and Einzig describe a “yearning ingrained in the human psyche for something beyond the personal, beyond the material and everyday” in their essay on  transpersonal coaching and it may be this yearning that comes to the fore in midlife.  We inevitably more aware of our own mortality as we start to go to more funerals, watch our parents decline, and experience our own age related  health issues. Perimenopause and menopause are a clear sign for women that they are passing into a new stage of life and may need to prioritise self-care.  This changing of the seasons often prompts reflection over how best to use the time that is left.

With this awareness that life is short and finite, we may realise that we no longer want to spend it on the “shoulds”, rushing around to meet other people’s needs or jumping to some organisation’s tune. Material possessions, achievements and promotions may feel hollow as they do not generate the happiness we were promised (and besides, they may be increasingly hard to come by).

We may find ourselves craving the time and space to just be ourselves, please ourselves and express our selves.  We sense that under all the layers of conditioning, created by meeting the expectations of others, and all the the learned habitual ways of responding, there is another more authentic self just waiting to be discovered.

There may be a gradual change, as we start to let go of our egos and learn to simply enjoy the present. Perhaps we let go of competitiveness and embrace cooperation with our colleagues or take pleasure in mentoring the next generation. Maybe we find ways to be more creative at work, and get less bogged down in administration. Perhaps we learn to be grateful for what we do have rather than striving for things we don’t have. Maybe we learn to tap into our intuitive wisdom, honed through years of experience, instead of analysing every decision. Same job, different approach.

For many people though, there is a more significant crisis point which leads to a wholesale reevaluation of values and priorities. The old job no longer feels tenable, once we become aware of our own values and needs. This may result in a complete change in direction, a move towards self-employment, or downsizing into part-time or lower stress work. The moment of crisis may be painful and frightening, as we cling to the known and fear stepping out of our comfort zones. We are attached to the things we know, even as we experience aversion to many aspects of the work.

This dark night of the soul  is portrayed in the  Bhagavad Gita, with Arjuna having a crisis of purpose just as he is about to go into battle. Krishna counsels him to let go of his ego-based fears and attachments and to follow his dharma, or the path that is his, without attachment to the results of his labour. His life’s purpose is to win the battle, even if it is unpleasant, to ensure a better future for his country. Of course, our life purpose may not be so dramatic, but it can feel like an internal battle for meaning.

However the changing priorities of mid-life manifest, we are often looking for opportunities to get in touch with our authentic selves, to speak our own truth, to connect with others in a new way, and to create something meaningful, whether that is a garden, a friendship, a book, a craft, a social change or a charity fund raiser.

Anodea Judith, in Eastern Body Western Mind  discusses the link between the chakras of the throat and third eye, associated with communication and wisdom, and the need in middle age to speak our authentic truth and get in touch with our intuitive wisdom. In order to find balance, we also need to be firmly grounded in the present, with a strong sense of our roots.

To find the authentic self, we need to create enough quiet space in our lives to listen to ourselves and still the chatter thaT fills our minds.  Quiet space can come from yoga, meditation, prayer, gardening, running, dog walking, crafting, writing, fishing, painting or many other of the pursuits that often become popular in middle age. The tasks are to find ways to follow our intuition, express our truths and let go of ego. We spent the early part of our lives shoring up or sense of self with achievements and possessions, but now it is time to let go of this ego self and embrace our connection to the universe.

Maybe it is time to recognise and celebrate the these more introspective tasks, rather than righting off middle age as a time of stagnation, and to encourage those in midlife to find new ways of being rather than maintaining the status quo.

 

 

 

My Yoga Teacher Training Journey

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My journey to becoming a yoga teacher with Universal Yoga is nearly at an end, and it has been a busy year, so busy I have hardly had time to update my blog!  I have practised more consistently than ever before, read a library of yoga books, written reflections and assignments on every aspect of the course and planned my weekly classes.  I am now teaching a lovely class of eight people in a beautiful studio space, something I didn’t imagine would happen so soon.  (On top of that, I have been writing a book, working full time and looking after my family, but that is another story…)

Yoga teacher training is bound to be an interesting and at times challenging journey, and I feel very privileged to have been able to take the time to dive deep into my own yoga practice, and to share the journey with such a wonderful group of people.  Of course, I was practising yoga already, but now I have established a regular meditation and pranayama practice to supplement my asana practice. I have started practising early in the morning, something I had resisted for a long time, and this has helped me to be consistent rather than miss days of practice when I am busy. 

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I have done a few challenging poses that I didn’t think I could do, but more important, I have got better at listening to my body and adapting my asana practice to my own needs.  I am coming to terms with the fact that my way forward with yoga is no longer doing challenging poses, but more about maintaining good health and slowing down the more negative effects of ageing.  Meditation and asana have become my yin and yang – one is not complete without the other.

One of the real joys of this course was studying and discussing the Bhagavad Gita in a way that made it really relevant to every day modern life.  At times we must all feel like a warrior on the battlefield who no longer wants to fight – all those doubts about whether teaching is the right way forward – and Bhagavad Gita is full of pearls of wisdom to help with living a wiser life.   Having the opportunity to explore the history and philosophy of yoga has helped me to identify the values that I want to incorporate into my yoga practice and teaching, and my life.

Anatomy and physiology has been one of the most challenging aspects of course, and a subject that I feel I have only scratched the surface of.  It’s definitely high on my list for continuous professional development.  There is so much to learn, and every body is different.

Chanting has also been quite challenging for me. I have never felt confident to sing or chant without the safety of a group, and to lead the chant was quite daunting.  But like many things in life, once I got over my initial self-consciousness, it became something I enjoyed doing.

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I have made very special friends, and felt part of an amazing community of like- minded women who gave me the space to just be and offered me endless compassion and acceptance.  I have unravelled and cried and felt energised and powerful, and I have also given myself permission to not feel energised, to rest and say no to work, to stop driving myself so hard (that is my toughest challenge!).

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So I am nearly ready to be a fully qualified yoga teacher!  It’s a time to reflect on why I started this journey and what I wanted to get from it.  If I’m honest, I was never all that fussed about the teaching part of it, I just wanted to study yoga more deeply and improve my own practice, finding more tools to help in my own life.  However, yoga has changed my life in many ways and I have enjoyed sharing that with others. 

One of the things that has really surprised me is that teaching yoga gives a lot of the same benefits as practising!  I teach on a Wednesday evening, and I often get to the end of my working day on Wednesday feeling tired, not really in the mood for teaching, but then when I teach, I get so absorbed in the class that all the tiredness and petty irritations drop away.  By the end I feel as relaxed and energised as if I had practised the class myself.   I am not sure why this is, because I don’t generally do the poses in the same way that the class do; I am moving around assisting or giving verbal instructions.  I think, however, that teaching yoga requires a high level of mindfulness – both inner awareness and awareness of what every student is doing.  The intention that I bring to teaching is very similar to the intention of my own practice, so the overall effect is very similar.

 

I love to share my interest in yoga with others and see them coming to that same place of peace, stillness and self-acceptance that I find on my own mat.  Community is very important to me – I love being part of my yoga teacher training community, and I love the community of advanced practitioners that my old yoga teacher created (shame he moved to Brighton!).   Now I am creating my own little yoga community on my doorstep of people who share the yoga values of cultivating compassion,  inner peace , truthfulness, self-study and contentment through practice.

My aim is to create a group where people feel connection with each other and with the teacher, where they can experience peace, self-acceptance and self-nurturing, and where they can explore their potential – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  As a careers professional, I have always been interested in how people can achieve their potential and I find so many parallels in yoga, which is also a technology for living well. I want to keep my class small, so that I can interact with each person and personalise their practice. I also want it to be a place where people talk to each other and know each other, rather than entering and leaving in silence (silence is lovely, but community is also important).

As I move forward with my yoga teaching, I want to make sure that I keep my own core values at the heart of what I do – creating community, helping people achieve their potential, sharing my love of the whole of yoga, accepting people where they are and helping people come to self-acceptance and self-compassion.  I don’t want to get to the point where I no longer enjoy teaching yoga or it feels like a burden, or the point where I am so focused on teaching that I no longer enjoy my own practice.

Om shanti shanti shanti om!