These are strange times and we are all being challenged in so many ways.

As human beings we are naturally social creatures. In recent years we have taken socialising to extremes and many of us have overfilled our lives with social events. So, it may feel even more uncomfortable for those with normally busy social lives to suddenly find themselves confined.

It reminds me of times when I have been on retreat except that I still have my mobile phone and opportunities to connect in different ways with people and even learn new skills and disciplines.

It is normally the initial stages of a retreat that are the most challenging.

I remember times when relinquishing my ties to the busy life I am used to has felt really uncomfortable and the silence of non-verbal communication has felt overwhelming.

Cutting the ties to the life we are used to and adapting to a quieter and more self-reflecting existence is something that any retreat requires.

The difference here is that we have no time constraints and we are facing the serious threat of a virus that we know to be potentially life threatening, and therefore we are starting this retreat from a place of fear.

It feels more like hiding away from the world at the moment, but as we adapt to the quiet of isolation, just like when we go on retreat, we discover a world within us that is just as interesting and offers even more potential for growth than the world outside.

The image of a chrysalis springs to mind.

The caterpillar that wraps itself into a cocoon in order to morph into a butterfly. It does not know what lies ahead. It has no choice. It follows its instincts.

Facing the unknown and realizing our mortality, is threatening our most primal instinct for survival, so it is not surprising that we are all feeling ill at ease and fearful.

When starting a retreat, it is customary to be instructed in a daily practice of meditation and encouraged to observe the thoughts and emotions that arise.

When we encounter thoughts that are disturbing it is important that we spend time with those thoughts and confront our fears. It is the only way we can overcome them.

As living beings our survival instinct is strong. We all cling to life when confronted with this survival instinct it is only natural.

But living in constant fear is not fully living and at some time in our lives we will need to reflect on our mortality and free ourselves to live our lives.

I am using this time as I would a retreat, but it is even more challenging in some ways because I still have to go out and get food and supplies and continue to manage my life on the internet. So instead of shutting off fully I must continue to interact with the outside world.

There are many who are working full on as health care workers fighting the virus on the frontline. They have little time to reflect and are most likely experiencing full-on fear and extreme stress.

So it is vitally important that we all use the time when we are alone to create a space for meditation and reflection, whether that time is limited because the demands of work are more than they have ever been, or whether the time seems to stretch out endlessly because we are homebound , feeling impotent and isolated.

Meditation will give us the opportunity to emerge from this time having changed in ways that we could never have done had we not been in these exceptional circumstances.

Here is a simple meditation practice that everyone can achieve.

Choose a time to practise this every day. Do not miss a day unless you absolutely have to. Regularity will allow the transformative powers to unfold more fully and help to release the stresses created by fear.

Use a timer and set a gentle soothing ringtone to end the practice. Set the timer for twenty minutes. If that is too much for you adjust it to 15 minutes. Many of you will easily sit for 30 or more minutes.

Sit upright in a comfortable position. Use support for your spine if you need it.



Close your eyes and observe the inner world that you inhabit for a moment.

Notice how the thoughts arise and subside creating waves of reactionary emotions and influencing the chemistry of the body.

Our thoughts literally create a chemical reaction in our bodies producing hormones such as adrenalin, serotonin etc…all thoughts have a powerful chemical influence on the body. This is why we recognize the need to practise regular meditation in order to create the chemistry we crave for a healthier, happier disposition.

At first, we are simply watching as thoughts manifest. We are not concerned with trying to change anything. Gradually we can begin to notice how those thoughts are influencing our breathing. When we breathe more deeply the mind becomes calmer and more peaceful.

(Here we confront a chicken and egg situation. We can alter the breath to change the mind or we can alter the mind to change the breath. Yet none of that matters because as we focus our attention on the breath and simply watch it, we can begin to immerse ourselves more deeply in the experience resulting in a calmer mind and a deeper breath.)

After observing the natural breath for some time, you will find you begin to sense this calm feeling.

Even if it doesn’t fill your being entirely you will be able to sense its presence within you. We refer to this state in Yoga as Samatha or calm abiding.

Now we can begin to explore the expansive quality of the inhalation. Observe how each inhalation invites us to expand into the space around us.

This expansive quality is the antidote to fear.

When we are fearful, we shrink from our space but when we are confident, we expand into our space.

It is simple. Nothing complicated.

Take several breaths focusing on this expansive quality.

Reflect for a moment on how comfortable you feel expanding into your space.

How natural it feels for you.

Do not judge yourself.

We are simply getting to know and understand ourselves better.

Whatever we find can be changed once we have witnessed and understood.

Now we can begin to observe the nature of the exhalation.

Notice how we draw back into our centre but crucially how we release and relinquish the space around us.

There is a letting go that takes place when we exhale that leads us to surrender to the moment.

A withdrawal back to our source.

Stay a while watching the exhalation to observe this concept of surrender and withdrawal to source.

Now we can turn our attention to the spaces in between each breath.

The space between the in-breath and the outbreath where we find stillness briefly as we are suspended in full expansion.

(Do not hold or force but simply observe the naturally arising space.)

Then we can observe the naturally arising space between the outbreath and the in-breath where we find stillness as we are briefly suspended in that attitude of surrender and withdrawal.

Continue to observe the spaces between breaths and reflect on the inherent qualities of these naturally occurring moments of stillness.

After you have completed the practice. Sit and allow the thoughts to arise freely as you reflect on the effects of the practice so far. If any important thoughts manifest, write them down for future reference before moving on to other activities.

Everyone can achieve this practice at some level. We all breathe and even when the breath is compromised, if we focus on this practice the breath will become a little easier as the mind calms down.

On leaving a retreat, I always feel a little disorientated, the world outside seems somehow different. In fact, nothing much has changed except me. My link with my inner world has been strengthened, and I am more connected to a source of inner strength and vitality that is calming and allows me to respond to my circumstances from a better perspective.

I hope you find this Meditation helpful

I will post up an audio version shortly to support the practice.

Love and Maitri

“If you do not find peace within, you will not find it anywhere else. The goal of life is the attainment of peace and not the achievement of power, name, fame or wealth.”

— Sivananda Saraswati



The ultimate aim of Yoga is the expansion of consciousness and eventual enlightenment. Yoga is the path of evolution into self realization.

The Yoga sutras of Patanjali clearly define the eightfold path known as Ashtanga Yoga. (Not to be confused with the Hatha Yoga method taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois commonly known in the west as Ashtanga Yoga.)

The Yoga Sutras

The word sutra means thread. There are eight main strands which map out the path of yoga and from this the word ashtanga is derived meaning eightfold path.

The eight strands are listed below but remember they require careful thought and contemplation as so often they can be misinterpreted and misunderstood. It is important that we always remember that yoga is not a religion it is simply a way of life that can enhance our existing beliefs and make our lives meaningful and whole.

  1. Yamas (Universal ethics)
  2. Niyamas (personal observances)
  3. Asanas (postures and physical practice)
  4. Pranayama (Awareness and directing of Prana through breathing techniques)
  5. Pratyahara (withdrawal from the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration/contemplation)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi. (Enlightenment)

We will look at the Yoga Sutras and Yogic methods of meditation in more depth at a later date and Saturday workshops are available in West London for those wishing to learn more. (See newsletter for dates)


To begin creating a home practice I have suggested choosing a theme for your sequence based on the Yamas and Niyamas. If you prefer, you can choose your own theme but it is always helpful to be familiar with the foundations of Yoga practice.

Select one that appeals to how you are feeling at this moment and how you would like your practice to develop..

Yamas form the ethical foundations of Yoga

Ahimsa -Non Violence
Ahimsa forms the foundation of all Yoga practice. It means not causing harm. Many of us will immediately assume when we talk about Ahimsa, that it applies to our relationship and attitude towards others, but in fact Ahimsa begins with our attitude towards ourselves. How many of us can honestly say that we treat ourselves with the respect and kindness that nurtures and upholds every aspect of our being?
How many times have we pushed the physical body beyond its limit of comfort in order to satisfy the egotistic mind?
Equally how many times have we ignored the needs of the physical body and neglected to fulfil its natural desire to move and stretch?
Have we nurtured the mind by teaching it to focus and explore its creative potential?
Are we overly critical towards ourselves?
Do we take time to appreciate what we are and what we have?
In modern societies we have learnt to mask the perceived flaws of our physical bodies by subjecting them to surgical procedures that are often unsafe and harmful.
When we choose Ahimsa for our personal theme during practice we become more aware of our relationship with ourselves and develop more wholesome relationships with other people and the natural world around us. We learn to appreciate and respect ourselves and all sentient beings.
We notice the contact between body and floor and the air and space all around us. We stand alone but at peace with all around us. We appreciate our lives and express that appreciation in our movements and attitudes throughout our practice. Eventually this spills out into our lives and manifests in our thoughts and words and actions. By upholding the principle of Ahimsa we free ourselves from anger, we learn to forgive ourselves and others and we abide in compassion. We learn to live without selfish ambition and offer our full attention to achieving a more meaningful existence.
Selecting this theme we will carry out each practice with compassion and kindness, with the respect and appreciation for all that we are.

Satya -Truth
Satya is intricately entwined with Ahimsa.
We seek the truth but without it being detrimental to ourselves or to others. It takes courage to acknowledge that we are imperfect beings and that responsibility for our lives lies fully at our own doors. Much easier to blame something or someone else.
When we work with the physical body we often fail to achieve our potential because of false beliefs and habitual patterns of holding the body that we blame on past experiences. Whilst those experiences will certainly have influenced our health and wellbeing they may not be the full cause of our demise. Satya is a return to innocence.
When we select Satya we are renouncing deception and finding the beauty in  simplicity. Our practice becomes an enquiry and search for our true nature.
Upholding Satya in our practice we cut away the delusions of who we think we are and discover the beauty of honest appraisal. Acknowledging our flaws, we recognise our potential. With Satya we destroy delusion.

Asteya- Non-stealing
Asteya is only taking what we need. It suggests moderation in all of our actions. Moderation in eating and in fasting. It is finding the middle ground where our actions become beneficial to our overall wellbeing.
It is often asked at the start of classes in which Asteya is our underlying theme, how does it apply to our Yoga practice?
This idea of stealing is not just applicable to taking what does not belong to us, but extends to denying ourselves what is rightfully ours. Stealing time that could be allocated to our wellbeing in favour of the pursuit of self gratification. Eating junk food instead of fresh wholesome produce.
In its positive interpretation Asteya suggests generosity. It encourages us to give our full attention and just the right amount of effort into our Yoga practice so that it becomes joyful and exhilarating and feeds the spirit.  
When we follow this principle in classes I am always surprised by the many thought provoking interpretations that class members contribute. One of the many ideas put forward was that Asteya can become a form of nurturing, towards ourselves and towards others.

Brahmacharya- Channelling the creative force
This is often translated as celibacy and advocated for sanyasis who are adhering to the ascetic path of Yoga. This is in order for them to channel the powerful creative energy into meditation practices.
However in the tantric tradition it is interpreted as tapping into the powerful potent energy of creation in its many manifestations and redirecting it into our Yoga and meditation practices.
Brahma is the creative force that brings forth life as we know it.
When we select Brahmacharya as our theme we attune our practice to the currents of energy that run through our bodies. The vast energy system that is made up of nadis (energy channels), chakras, (energy intersections) and prana (life force) is revealed through our practice itself and through studying the classical tantric tradition.
The pranamayakosha or energy body is revealed.
Today we are aware that physical matter is just the crystallised form we recognise as the body, but science tells us that underpinning that physicality is pure energy.
If you are unfamiliar with the teachings it is possible still to select this theme and focus your practice on sensing the currents that run with your movements. The directing of energy as we move in and out of postures. The holding and releasing of energy in certain postures.
More specific to the concept of Brahmacharya is the sexual energy that we experience in Swadhisthana chakra, it is a powerful driving force that holds all creative potential. When we are balanced and understand this energy our practice becomes a sensual expression of this creative force. It can often create a massive shift in our asana practices as we immerse ourselves in the world of heightened senses and the fluid qualities of sensual experience. The ability to express this in our lives and in our movements ensures that we are tuned in to our creativity and fulfil our creative potential.
On a personal note I have observed massive shifts in my practice when working with the principles of Brahmacharya.

Aparigraha- Greedlessness
To break the habit of wanting more.
It is common for sanyasis to relinquish all their belongings in order to experience the freedom of non covetousness and wander in detachment from desires and wants.
In the Yoga Sutras, Aparigraha is practised as a temporary measure to experience the life of the renunciate. It was not advocated for prolonged practice for the aspirant as it could give rise to weakness, over dependence on others, and obsessive tendencies.
However in our lives we too can be excessively driven to want more than we ever will need and to take more than our share of the world’s resources. The cycle of wanting more can be hard to break and lead to a permanent feeling of dissatisfaction.
When we adopt this as our theme we observe our attachments to outcomes, and the inner clutter that we cling to in our thought processes. We learn to shed the need to covet new acquisitions and find the freedom of our natural disposition. When we approach our practice in this way it can lead us to where we most need to be instead of us deciding what we want to acquire from the practice. It quite literally frees us to practise without limits and be directed by the natural effects that the selected practices incur. When we hold on to our desires, the benefits are limited and we will be unable to perceive the potential of each practice.

Niyamas observances for personal discipline

Saucha- Purity
Purification takes place on different levels. The care we take to cleanse our bodies is a form of external cleansing which we are all familiar with. Equally the purity of what we put into our bodies as nourishment is well understood by most Yoga practitioners as an important feature in our health and well being. The Yoga practices of Shankaprakshalana and jala neti are normally carried out twice a year in order to cleanse the digestive system and sinus passages. If you have studied Yoga with me in years gone by we will have discussed these and some of you may have practised them with me. These are external manifestations of Saucha, but for our inner Yoga practice we need to look beyond the external and search for purity in our thoughts, in our actions, in our speech, in our relationships with ourselves and with each other. Just as the purification of the body is dependent on what we put into it, so the purification of the mind relies on positive input. Focusing the mind on subjects that uplift and enrich our lives and influence our outlook on life will help to wash away negativity.
Using pranayama practices that cleanse and purify the nadis such as nadi shodhan and kapalabhati will help us to maintain a healthy and happy disposition. Searching for the positives in our practice and reminding ourselves to focus on what is good in ourselves and in others reinforces this process of purification.

Santosha- Contentment
Contentment comes when we accept what we have and what we are. When we give up the struggle to be something that we are not, we free ourselves to enjoy the pleasures of our lives and exist in each moment. Dissatisfaction causes a restlessness that prevents us from being in the moment. When we are forever seeking to be somewhere else or to be different or to have more than we need, we cannot be peaceful. Of course we must ensure that all of our basic needs are met, but we must be clear about what those needs really are. Basic needs uphold the mind, body and spirit, they nourish and nurture and sustain us so that we can direct our passion towards cultivating peace and tranquility. If those basic needs are not being met then we must take appropriate action but not from a place of anger or aggression but simply because we accept that changes are needed. When we accept what we cannot control we free ourselves to manage it differently or move on.
When we choose this as our theme for practice, we adopt gratitude. At first, for the physical body and all that it does, but when we end our daily practice we may sit and reflect on all that is good in our lives. This creates a happy disposition that opens our eyes to the many wonderful gifts that are offered to us but that we often fail to notice.
Santosha makes our lives more fulfilling and joyful.

Tapas- Self discipline
Tapas allows us to fulfil our heartfelt wishes.
Without it we would lack direction and focus in our lives. Contrary to what we might think, it upholds the previous niyama santosha rather than contradicting it, because if we don’t apply an element of self discipline to our lives, we cannot achieve contentment.
Tapas is easily misunderstood in our current culture of valuing high achievement. Self discipline should not lead to pain or suffering but instead should focus the mind and direct our thoughts and actions into the fulfilment of our needs. Tapas is often learnt from our parents or guardians and can play a large part in the rebellion that many teenagers experience as they learn to take responsibility for their own lives. It is a necessary process in the coming of age ritual of life.
Sadly, this type of self discipline can so easily become unbalanced and lead to extremes that cause pain and suffering. When applied appropriately, it reminds us that we are in control of our decisions and we direct our own thoughts. It gives us responsibility for our actions and our words and all that we contribute to this life.
When we select Tapas as our theme we will, no doubt, start by applying it to the pursuit of our daily practice, but the more we discover about this theme, the more empowered we feel in making decisions and choices that uphold our natural desires. No longer will we blame others for our demise but instead recognise that the key to our happiness lies in our own hands.

Swadhyaya- Self study
For me Swadhyaya is my default setting! When I am uncertain about which of the yamas and niyamas to work with, I fall back on Swadhyaya, and equally once I have worked with a theme for a period of time I return to Swadhyaya in order to evaluate its effect. It is swadhyaya that many of you have experienced in my classes when I ask you to carry out a sequence on your own and observe how you react in the moments of doubt, where uncertainty creeps into the practice, or when you perceive failure. The judgements we make and the reactions we observe during these practices are undercurrents of our instinctive patterning that underpin our lives. Discovering these patterns empowers us to change what we normally fail to notice in our lives. We become less critical of ourselves and others because we realise that we can change our reactions once we are aware of them. Whatever happens during our Yoga practice is a reflection of what happens in our lives. When selecting swadhyaya as a theme we empower ourselves to make the most profound changes in our lives by bringing the unconscious reactions into our consciousness.

Ishvara pranidhana- Surrender.
Of all the themes this one focuses on trust. We are asked to release and relinquish all that is superfluous so that we can free ourselves to find our higher purpose.
This is a process of transcendence that can sometimes be difficult to apply. It represents the culmination of our lives and our practice. Having taken responsibility and control in order to consciously evolve we are asked to take that final step into the unknown.
As a theme in our daily practice, we apply it in small doses when we surrender to gravity and allow the body to release its holding patterns and tensions. In meditation when we contemplate the void and our impermanence we are exploring this concept of pranidhana.
When we practise savasana and yoga nidra, we surrender to the earth, we surrender to the breath and we trust in the inherent forces of nature to restore and revitalise our whole being.
This niyama has the potential to allow us a glimpse beyond all earth bound limitations.


In the meantime a friend of mine who is a Buddhist monk has written a short introduction to basic Buddhist meditation practice.




Buddhist meditation

From the personal perspective of a Buddhist monk.

Firstly find a comfortable posture, ideally sitting on a cushion but remember ideals are just ideals and generally not attainable, which is probably just as well because Buddhist meditation is more about letting go than controlling or gaining!

What we are really looking for is a posture that is naturally balanced, so if you are on a cushion, envisage a tripod, knees on the ground and buttocks on the cushion with a strait back, (does a camera tripod use energy to stay to stay balanced?) We also can be very balanced and alert without forcing or struggling.

Of course you can sit on a chair and meditate, again in a balanced position; in fact we need to practice meditation in the four postures e.g. sitting standing walking and lying down.

It is said, while standing just stand, while walking just walk, while lying down be aware of the body and its sensations.

There are various methods, one of them being (samatha practices) developing peace and calm through sustained attention, included in this is (anapanasati) mindfulness of breathing.

One method is to sweep the body which means, place your attention on the crown of the head and then become aware of that place, maybe letting it relax but not proliferating about it for any reason.

Now move your attention centimetre by centimetre, always Knowing with bare attention if your mind is present or not, continue though the whole of the body.

As you can imagine it could take a long time to work through the whole body down to the toes,

So sweep at a speed that suits you, perhaps the most important thing to remember is the mind will wonder because that’s its nature plus that’s what we have conditioned it to do. So when the mind does go off on a journey or gets stuck in views and opinions just become aware of that and let the mind return to the particular area you were sweeping.

Whatever you do don’t make value judgements about the thoughts or the fact the mind wont stay on the object for more than maybe a few seconds, to make judgements, is just like putting petrol on the fire.

As mentioned above mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) is a very common form of Buddhist meditation, there are many techniques: you can watch the breath at the tip of the nose, entering the nose, filling the lungs or the diaphragm, again what is most important is that you do not interfere with the breath (if its long its long if its short its short) its just the way it is, perfect!

Another method is to count the breaths, say counting one on the exhalation, just watching the inhalation and counting two on the next exhalation, counting up to ten.

Now the important thing here is just that you know when the mind wanders, so supposing you count to three breaths and the mind goes off, when you notice just return to counting from one again.

It really does not matter how high you count to, what matters is you are aware and can start again, without judging or commenting, remember its not about achieving or gaining but trusting the way it is!

There are many variations on mindfulness of breathing techniques so experiment to see what works best for you.

When some degree of calm is seen these techniques can be let go of and practice can be more in the stile of (vipassana) ‘Insight Meditation’ to me the two methods are not exclusive, but they support each other.

Insight meditation is more like, just being aware of the thoughts as they arise, being aware of the feelings and emotions as they are, not interfering, but getting to know the heart mind as it is, thus gaining confidence and faith that you don’t have to interfere and try to sort things out.

Perhaps the main difference is that from the more peaceful mind one gets to know the silent thinker

This is from the heart mind that is not subject to the ignorance in the idea that we are a separate, permanent self.

This is the place to look at the Buddhist teaching of the four noble truths:

  1. Suffering
  2. The cause of suffering
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The path leading to the end of suffering

A quick summery: We suffer because we believe in the world we create in our mind. The cause of suffering is clinging to desires, desiring to become, to take rebirth into something else, be a happy person, an enlightened person, a rich person, it goes on and on. And the desire to get away from, much the same as above but in the negative e.g. suppressing feeling emotions, or believing that if I give this or that up I will be a happier person. There is nothing wrong with these things but if they are clung to it will be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic! If these clinging beliefs are seen for what they really are, they are seen as empty of the reality of the way things really are! The eight fold path, right thought, right speech right action etc, etc, the important word here is right! Right can only truly come from the heart mind that has seen through the illusion of a dualistic mind. There are many helpful ways of discovering this pure presence: Tuning into the sound of silence, Or noticing the space between objects instead of the objects them selves, or asking your self questions like. What am I before I was born. These questions bring the mind to a stop, look at that, get to know what it is that can look at that and still function respond and be in harmony with life as it really is. Sometimes I have used imperative words like you need to but its just because I have been asked to write something, I suppose for me Buddhist meditation is just about doing things for there own sake with nothing to gain, just being in the immediacy of this moment, just the knowing awareness! I titled this a personal view of Buddhist meditation because although I have used some doctrine I have interpreted it from my own experience. So please forgive me if it is not in line with tradition or it offends anyone.