Tag Archives: india

The learning spiral – from fractals to freedom


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Have you noticed how time never passes ‘normally’? It’s always faster or slower than you think. Which makes me wonder how we intuitively know what is time’s normal pace. Otherwise how can we experience it passing by at a quicker or more lazy pace than it ‘should’?

Although our brains love to turn time, and most of our experience of life, into a linear pattern of moving from A to B, there may be different, more interesting shapes out there in the universe.

Like the spiral for example. It’s everywhere in nature…from our DNA to roses, snails, hurricanes and even galaxies like the Milky Way. In maths, the Fibonacci sequence (0,1,1,2,3,5,8 etc) describes these gracefully unfurling shapes.

If you add two Fibonacci sequences you approximate the Golden Ratio which defines the architecture of historic monuments such as the Giza pyramids and the Greek Parthenon.

Dogmatic creationism aside, there is poetry in the idea that “the spiral is the fingerprint of God which resides in all of creation.”

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From Fractals to Freedom

Even in our subtle emotional bodies we experience spirals of deeper and deeper learning.

Again they’re often misinterpreted by our brain as a two-dimensional line. We feel disillusioned when an issue we thought we had ‘dealt with’, comes back with a vengeance.

‘What? It’s still not over?! I’ve not made any progress and am back where I started?!’ – our saboteur brain starts chattering. We become convinced that we’ve taken quite a few steps back on our journey.

I see this often happening when coaching clients go through grief, process a break up or even let go of patterns that are no longer serving.

Instead of perceiving progress as linear, let’s add a third dimension and experience it as a spiral. Then we’re not going back to where we came from, but are tracing a circle, adding depth with each step taken, like the rose, snail and planets do.

In the reiki healing tradition, the sacred symbol of the spiral adds power and protection, indicating to “place the power of the universe here’.

Every time we reach the same side of the circle at a deeper level, we have the opportunity to understand the issue more deeply so that healing and integration can occur at a more profound level.

We continue to go deeper down into our learning spirals until we reach the deepest core of the issue, the end point of the spiral.

Then we may become aware of an even bigger spiral repeating the shape of the first smaller spiral. Like in a fractal image of expanding symmetry, one spiral is the building block for an even larger spiral.

In yoga philosophy, the serpent lies coiled like a spiral at the base of our spine until the kundalini energy, or the intelligence of complete maturation, is awakened.

Perhaps our fractal learning experience continues until our karma expires. Until we reach enlightenment and we’re free of patterns, be they lines or spirals.

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What spiral are you on?

I’d love to hear from you about your current learning spiral!

On the Maitree Community – the Sangha of Joy’s September calls, we are sharing and learning about spirals of self love, following the heart, being soft and firm, letting go.

I’m on the ‘surrender’ spiral. Every time I’ve surrendered more deeply, I’m presented with an even harder thing to surrender. It’s almost as if the universe is trying to tell me:

“Do you think you’ve mastered surrender by letting go of your high performing corporate career, and receiving a beautifully balanced and free life doing what I love most?

Then try this: surrendering your relationship.

Now do you think you’ve mastered the trick by breaking up and being gifted a fully unexpected reunion with your partner when he asks you to marry him?

Then try this: give up your home and sense of belonging in Auroville.”

That’s where I am at in my surrender spiral.

Deep down with no end in sight and a smile on my face thanks to the gift of 20 all Indian sisters in the dance and movement therapy course I just started in Bangalore. But I’m sure despite these gifts I’ll find something else to cling to!

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Spirals and movement

The dance and movement therapy course has much inspired me in many ways, integrating movement into my coaching practice and finding innovative ways of exploring authentic intuitive movement with clients.

In the sangha calls, we have been exploring the fun yet sacred element of moving spirals. Once we identified our learning spirals, we found movement to express them – from whirling dervish to rolling child and surfing on the waves of life.

The spiral movements we discovered were both liberating and transformative. They helped us shake off old patterns, for exampling shifting into an anti-clock wise upward spiral when in a clock wise downward spiral. And shifted us into new ways of being, for example from strongly spiralling our arms to protect ourselves, to a gentle swaying of the hips as a soft and peaceful pillar of strength.

Some say that spiral movements are among the oldest on the planet, as eye-less creatures grazed the ocean floor following their mouths with their digestive tubes.

There is a mysterious power in recreating ancient, primitive movement patterns – at once healing and joyful. While it’s fun to move in spirals, the movement awakens a deep vibration within us that seems to allow us to shift quickly from one state to another.

If you’re interested in exploring the mystery further, join me end January in Auroville for the ‘Swing Your Hips’ 3-day women’s intuitive dance retreat.

I’m also starting to offer authentic movement spaces in Auroville and Pondicherry, organically for women only for now, yet I’m planning mixed dance spaces later in the season.

For more info, keep an eye out on the website or get in touch via julie@maitreecoaching.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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Restoring the Lotus


I’ve been much resonating with this passage from Anodea Judith on ‘Restoring the Lotus. Healing the Fifth Chakra’:

“If we express ourselves before our truth is fully ripened, then our actions are out of sync with our potential fullness. This is commonly experienced as ‘poor timing’.

Years ago, I habitually pushed myself in my work rather than waiting for my organic fullness to motivate me. When I rushed myself ahead of my own natural rhythm, I felt unprepared, stressed, anxious, and even a bit breathless. We push our timing out of sync because of financial pressure, emotional insecurity, fear, hunger for power, and the excessive rule of our mind as it orders our bodies with its barrage of “shoulds.”

Instead, when mind and body are balanced, we can dance to the rhythm of our own personal vibration as it resonates with the environment and the people around us.”

From her beautifully complete and masterful work on the psychology of the chakra system, ‘Eastern Body, Western Mind.’ Highly recommended!

The last full moon highlighted for me a blockage in my throat chakra and in the process of working with that I rediscovered Anodea’s work.

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I realised I was very much fighting to acknowledge and express two realisations brought up by my return to Auroville which coincided with this strong Aquarius full moon. I’ve noticed a funny pattern over the past half year – all my travels have been aligned to the full or new moon.

In Auroville I feel the presence of the moon stronger. Being in the forest the night sky is more visible, and the absence of city vibrations leaves more space to notice the moon’s impact.

This month’s full moon was in the sign of the future. Aquarius, the harbinger of things to come. A curveball moon, full of unexpected turns.

These turns were twofold for me – in love and work. And they shook me, making me feel quite wretched until I let go of attachment to what I thought was meant to be. As soon as I found back my flexibility, I could see new perspectives open up.

In Anodea’s words, as soon as I lost my rigidity of fear, paralysis of uncertainty, I could resonate at a new vibration, and create opportunities. Another approach to going at the pace of what is real.

I acknowledged two core inner truths about my love and work, and now feel fully aligned again.

In love, I renewed my vows to my life partner and committed even more deeply to a love and union of evolution.

In work, I moved on to work with those people whose values I share. Again, it comes down to the frequency – we resonate more fully when we work with people and organisations that we are aligned to. Then creativity can flourish.

Let’s see what the next full moon has in store!

India, land of paradox


This blog post is the first in a new series of coaching articles. I hope you’ll enjoy the new focus and insights of iliketothinkabout!

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Living in India is a great reminder of the power of paradox. I love paradoxes because embracing them creates so much new energy and possibilities in my own life. And I often work wit

h clients on discovering how they may hold themselves back by self limiting beliefs.

Predominantly Hindu, India is also the second largest Muslim country in the world. It’s daily life is infused with spirituality, yet there is a strong atheist tradition dating back to the early Middle Ages. It’s poor, and yet immensely rich. It’s chaotic and dirty, yet beautifully pure and quiet.

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There’s a great lesson in this. Having no option but to embrace paradox, we have to accept that two extremes can exist at the same time. And life becomes much simpler. Why waste energy arguing that it’s this or that when it can be both at the same?

However, our mind seems keen to keep things black and white. If you love one person, then you cannot love another. If you want to have money, you cannot be an artist. If you lead a spiritual life, you cannot have doubts. If you want a family, you cannot start your own business.

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These are some examples of topics clients have brought to recent coaching sessions. All of them are apparent contradictions, or ‘collapses’ in coaching speak. A collapse happens when our mind identifies two separate things as the same. By believing this we hold ourselves back. The realisation that this is happening, is often enough to create fresh energy and new perspectives.

Giving ourselves permission to accept the simple truth that we can love two people at the same time, that we can be a rich artist, a doubtful believer, a dad entrepreneur – it’s liberating and often reveals a straightforward next step to take.

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Last week I facilitated a workshop on fulfillment, that resonant, life affirming energy that opens up so much possibility. We talked about how simple fulfilment really is, and yet how complex we make it out to be.

The simplicity is about noticing what is going on, right here, right now, and creating from there. To recognise your feelings and intentions and act upon them. If you like someone, tell them, if you want something, say it. A simple message of true intent untangles a web of assumptions, of scenarios of potential rejection, failure, elation etc.

The next step is yet another paradox: letting go of attachment to the outcome of your truest intention. Instead, enjoy expressing yourself truly, which is a great gift and takes courage. It’s the joy of living your life according to your values.

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The balancing act is worth it. It’s about truly holding both extremes at the same time: ‘I’m expressing what is in my heart of hearts’, and yet, ‘I’m observing how life aligns itself around that desire’. The most important goal then is not gratification, or happiness. Instead, fulfilment lies in the journey of growth.

Yoga at Mysore, or how to stretch your way to heaven


mysore palaceThe last two months I’ve spent studying yoga asana, pranayama, philosophy and sanskrit at Mandala Yoga Shala in Lakshmipuram, Mysore. Mysore is a proud heritage city dominated by the Maharaja’s palace where Krishnamacharya, the ‘father of modern yoga’, used to teach. Lakshmipuram is a leafy neighbourhood full of mansions from the Maharaja’s time. Walking the quiet streets, here and there you’ll spot little yoga shalas started by (students of) students of Krishnamacharya. They mostly teach non-Indians who are keen to sample the traditional Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga.

Lakshmipuram street viewSo among the kurtas, cows and coconuts, you’ll spot one or two foreigners carrying yoga mats. They come from Europe, America, Asia and they live across the neighbourhood in rooms and apartments rented out by Indian families. They hang out in a couple of places and talk about adjustments, anatomy, pranayama, healthy food, ayurveda. Some live here, many come back every year.

PadmasanaThere’s also the K. Patthabi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Gokulam, the Beverly Hills of Mysore where Patthabi Jois moved his shala after the one in Lakshmipuram became too small. The ‘main shala’ is considered something of a fad by the cool Lakshmipuram crowd. Why spend so much money for maybe one adjustment a day if you’re lucky? Those in the early slot have to get up in the middle of the night to secure a space; if you don’t, you can practice in the changing rooms. I’ve heard nothing beats the energy at the main shala, but not everyone appreciates the business empire that Sharath has built. He is the grandson of Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and together with B.K.S. Iyengar the most famous of Krishnamacharya’s pupils.

So we’re good here in Lakshmipuram. The classes are small, the teachers genuine and the people dedicated to this intense physical style of yoga. My Taiwanese classmate moans and groans as my teacher lifts up his leg to almost 180 degrees in a standing balance pose (utthita hasta padangustasana, see picture). The corrections are pretty severe so you have to listen to your body and tell your teacher when to stop, else you risk straining a muscle. Everyone seems to get injured at some point and there’s a lot of talk about the yama principle of ahimsa, non-violence, against yourself as well as others. Ashtanga practitioners can be fiery people with a competitive edge so it’s important to stay with your own body’s pace and not want to advance too quickly.

TrikonasanaI’ve been very careful not to injure myself because to me this is the opposite of why we do yoga – for spiritual growth, for meditation in movement, for being present in your body, breathing and purifying it for 2 hours every day. And yet, it also happened to me. I was working very hard on extending my hamstrings, which in London had seemed impossible. I had become used to bending my knees a little in all forward bends and focusing on opening the hips. Instead, on the very first day here my teacher told me after a few asanas that he’d seen enough. We were going to start from scratch. We were going to lengthen my hamstrings and I wasn’t to bend my legs in any posture. As long as my hamstrings stretched no further, we wouldn’t go beyond sun salutations and standing postures, only a quarter of my normal practice. Ouch. That hurt my ego, but at the same time – wasn’t this a unique opportunity to allow my body to really open up, now that I finally had all the time in the world? Why rush ahead when the whole point is to take life as it comes? If my body has stored up years of office work and stress and cycling and running, then why not now take the time to purify it?

UpavishtakonasanaSo I did, and it hurt massively. My teacher told me to persevere, not to mind others who were going ahead much faster through the sequence, and to breathe through the pain – after all this is what is called ‘good pain’ in Mysore. ‘Bad pain’ is when knees or other ligaments hurt; ‘good pain’ is when muscles scream ‘stop torturing me’. I didn’t stop, I kept breathing and discovered another benefit of the practice. You learn to stay calm and keep breathing under tough circumstances. It makes a difference.

So after a month of painful practice, I suddenly felt a lengthening. When I walked my strides seemed longer, my feet more extended and my hips were turning backwards more. I could now hold my leg straight in most poses and even clasp my hand around my wrist and put my chin on my knee in seated forward bends. Well, for a couple of days, until my teacher pushed me forward a little more, and I didn’t tell him to stop and my right hamstring was stretched just a little too much. Ouch.

Eka pada sirsasana‘Don’t worry, this is normal, just take some pain killers and keep practicing.’ I decided not to be upset with myself, for after all, I’d taken all the care in the world to avoid an injury, and yet, there it was, it seemed inevitable. And I know how much I learnt from previous injuries about how to heal the body and the effect of asanas on different parts of your body. So I went practicing again the next day, testing which poses I could and couldn’t do. I just kept breathing and maintained a gentle practice. Until I hit Janusirsasana A, when my body suddenly remembered that this was the pose in which it all happened, and wham, I couldn’t stop crying. My muscles screamed, ‘How could you have done this to us??’ But the led class went on, and amazingly, in Janusirsana B and C, I was all fine again. It was as if my body had retained the memory of the injury and then had let go. Of course it was still painful, but bearable and not emotional.

I think this is one of the most beautiful things about the daily Ashtanga practice – the continuous cleansing makes one not only very sensitised to the needs of all parts of your body, but also able to flow through life much easier. After a meditation in movement, things don’t stick so much and we rest in the more stable rhythm of the universe. Every day we feel different in our body, but whether we’re ecstatic or sad, the breathing and focus wash out any extremes. Fewer emotions hook themselves in your body. We get a glimpse of the peacefulness and bliss beyond Maya, our perceived reality of form. This is Brahman, the land of Samadhi, where the ego is dissolved in flames and objective truth shines its formless glory.

All yoga pictures are by Christine Love-Hewitt. Check out her site http://www.yogicphotos.com so you can book your own photo shoot at Mysore!

Take off


So the adventure has started. I’m on a 7-month sabbatical in India to do yoga, to write another novel, to do nothing, to see where life takes me and to enjoy. Not sure about the order.

On last year’s trip to Thailand, I discovered the benefits of yoga almost as a side effect to writing my first novel. I had told friends, family and colleagues that I’d write that book, and so I would. Meanwhile on lush tropical islands I learnt much more than I anticipated about letting go, love and life. So much so that the ending of my book was changing real time.

Now I feel quite different and one of the main reasons for taking more time off is to explore what happens when you let things happen to you. Instead of organising life, why not flow with what the moment offers? If you like it, you go, if it doesn’t feel right, you stay. You can go in the general direction of your intentions and wishes, but be mindful of alternative suggestions that come your way. It would be a shame to miss out.

Since it’s my wish to study the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga, I decided to start this adventure in Mysore, Karnataka, India. This is the city where Pattabhi Jois, who brought Ashtanga yoga to the West, used to teach before his death in 2009. For the past nine months, I’ve been doing self practice ashtanga (Mysore style) at Stillpoint Yoga London (a wonderful family of lovely people). I love starting the day with a 90-minute mind-body-soul purification. In my experience, a regular practice cultivates awareness, stillness and a profound sense of ease, grace if you like.

It means that it becomes easier to be present, kind and loving in the moment, and be attuned to what your heart, or intuition, tells you about what is happening. Life becomes lighter because unnecessary worries about the future drop away. Should I stay or should I go, is a question that you can trust yourself to answer more truthfully. If you stay, new opportunities materialise, others close down. And if you go? Same thing, just different!

To ‘follow the flow’, or to use another yoga favourite, to ‘open your heart’, you’ve got to know it first. That’s not that easy, especially when educated in a system that favours rational thinking. Yoga – asana, pranayama, meditation etc – helps you unpeel the layers covering the heart so you can give more freely without expecting one-on-one returns. The beauty is that you’ll receive returns in spades, or other unexpected shapes that you may have never noticed before.

So let’s see what happens over the coming months now that I’ve created the opportunity to flow and learn. I don’t plan to practice at Patthabi Jois’ studio because ashtanga yoga can get a little competitive, and its birth place is likely to attract the alpha male variety of the yogi bear. I do want to write about these crazy yoga cities full of Westerners seeking enlightenment while creating new social hierarchies based on how long one can stand on one leg. I intend to blog and do research for the new book. And to enjoy myself. Inshallah!

P.s. needless to say, I don’t think that yoga will magically turn all the world’s problems into pink bunnies. I do think it’s one of the ways that can make people feel more comfortable in their own skin.