6 ways to find your perfect yoga class in London

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Often I get asked to recommend a yoga class/school in London and often do I find myself matching different yoga schools to different temperaments and needs of my friends. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there are well over a 1000 active yoga schools and classes in London. How do you find the one that suits you? How do you even start choosing from this maze of different disciplines and approaches?

Let’s start with a simple list of questions, which hopefully will clarify your needs and simplify your wants:)

1. Spiritual balance, fitness or both?

Let’s be frank. For many people yoga is a way to keep fit,  improve posture and get a general feel-good effect. It’s fine! Most local gyms and centres have well prepared teachers that will take care of that.

However, if you are looking for a classic yoga class and fitness is not your goal, gyms are probably not your way forward. Try to find a yoga centre that puts emphasis on theory, inner awareness and breath. Well tried and good options are Sivananda centre in Putney or one of the many British Wheel of Yoga certified teachers. Also, have a look at less known teachers and classes which offer different yoga fusions combined with psychotherapy, counselling, breath work, laughter, massage, therapy, nutrition – you name it! Well known central locations for these are Buddha on a Bicycle and Neal’s Yard Therapy Rooms in Covent Garden.

2. Level of fitness

Do you want to seriously tone your muscles and get into advanced poses at ease? Are you prepared to lose your last sweat and seriously push your limits? Does the feeling of competition makes you achieve more and feel rewarded? Look at more physical yoga classes practicing Ashtanga, Vinyasa flow, Jivamukti, Power yoga, Kundalini yoga or Bikram. By no means more physical challenge means less spiritual practice.  If you feel that you have got loads of energy and need to disperse it with intense yoga practice go for it!

3. How much effort are you prepared to put in commuting?

Personally, spending the rush hour breathing into someone’s neck in a tube on my way to a yoga class is not my thing (I have done it for 4 years!).  I like to keep things local.  So whatever the class is, I have got to be able to reach it by my bike. Easy!

However, it significantly reduces your options so if you are opting for the best, you may need to sacrifice some hours a week to commuting.

For a cheap and good local class check your local Buddhist centre if you have one. Also, you will most likely have a local yoga centre nearby, so start looking outside your doorstep!

4. Are you social or a loner?

Truth is, some yoga schools will engulf you in a community, in some you will focus on your practice keeping socialising with fellow students and teachers to a minimum. Probably most of yoga classes will fall somewhere in between. But if you are up for a strong community feel and lots of after-class activities you are probably looking for a bigger school which treats yoga as a path of personal development rather than a way to get fit.

When joining any community or organisation use your common sense and find out about the background of the organisation. There may always be some bad things said about great communities, but it is important to see both sides of the coin. Be aware how open-minded are the students to different beliefs and also how the organisation interacts with international yoga/spiritual community.

5. Budget and trends

London is blooming with beautiful, shiny and serene yoga centres and is well influenced by the latest trends coming both from the West and the East. If you are after a trendy centre or a style, you should be prepared to pay more for it. The price of a drop-in class in a community centre or a church hall starts from £4-£5 onwards reaching £14-£18 per class in bigger holistic centres and top schools.

Attention – always look for great promotional deals: it is a great way to discover new styles and classes!

  • Bikram yoga has a deal of £10 for 10 days
  • Qi Yoga in Clapham offers a deal: when 10 classes are purchased upfront at £10.00 each you receive 10 classes free.
  • Yoganesh yoga centre in Shoreditch has donation based classes!
  • Many yoga classes offer first class for free and many many more deals!!

Truth is, there are a lot of yoga classes in London so there is a plenitude of promotional deals to attract new customers. Especially keep an eye on new centres – they will always offer good deals!

6. Teacher

How do you know the teacher is good? Do you check his teacher training diploma? Trust your intuition. Diploma gives security and a standard, but it does not provide inner wisdom and insight which is so important for a good teacher. Don’t chase qualifications but be aware of your teacher’s background. Most importantly, use your intuition to ‘see’ if the person is living what he/she is preaching.

Enjoy your class!

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New Beginnings: Spring Equinox in London

Saturday night and it is pouring down. I am aware I RSVP’ed as attending to Essense Spring Equinox Celebration 2010 but I am slowly trying to convince myself that maybe I shouldn’t push it this time. But then there is a phone call and two rainbow souls tell me to be in Brixton in 25 minutes. “You cycle, right?” – they ask me. “But it is pouring down, people!” – I exclaim to the phone. I have got a gut feeling that the night is set to be good and I’ve got no other option. Only my trustworthy bike will carry me to Brixton in 25 minutes. So I agree. Oh, don’t mind the fancy dress and tribal make-up – I am pretty much in my pyjamas but with no time to waste I quickly throw a waterproof jacket on me and off I go to Brixton.

Rain is refreshing, purifying, simplifying, regenerating. Rain in my face, in my eyes, dripping down my hair. Call it crazy, but it all feels good and appropriate for the spring reawakening. “Let the elements do their job and rejoice” – I think to myself. Eh… Spring!

Here is the essential Essense in a nutshell:

1. It is one of the warmest “community feel” get togethers in London. You do realise that the world and London are not that big and alien! Filled with love and the feeling of connectedness you do feel at home!

2. It is actually a one-night festival where you can cosy-up in a chillout area with a cuppa chai and a piece of raw chocolate, participate in a drum jam, get wild and crazy dancing all night with the finest dance fusions… get a superfood smoothie… and a massage or any sort of other healing in a healing area. All under one roof in one night. Indeed.

3. While you are doing all of the above you are surrounded by a bunch (ok, maybe couple of hundreds) of people who genuinely smile and talk to you. Also hug you. For real.

4. It is very likely that you know half of these people through friends of friends and the other half you have seen around in other gatherings and events (maybe even on a train:)), so you feel like you know your bunch and you feel connected. If you don’t know the people it is not the problem – everyone is so open and loving, willing to share, network and collaborate that by the end of the evening you may jam in the chillout area with a guitarist you met half an hour ago or share a smoothie with a fellow yoga teacher.

5. There is such a diversity of people! You can feel the openness of minds and flexibility of beliefs for the good! In all our diversity and individuality we can still connect in presence and it is beautifully celebrated throughout the night.

6. And then there is a Love Beam. The opening ceremony, called the Love Beam, is not to be missed. 12:00 at night, hundreds of people in the room, knowing each other or not, believing in the same things or not, stand there hand by hand as one, vibrating in the sound of their voices, visioning, connecting, feeling, loving, smiling. Here and now. Trust me, after that you are full of energy to dance and full of love to connect. P R E S E N C E prevails.

Let’s get to the point: organisers are doing an amazing job! And on behalf of Spiritual London I say a very big “thank you” for a beautiful Spring celebration.

To find out more about Essense join their Facebook group
The celebrations are organised on a word of mouth basis so if you don’t want to miss the next Equinox celebration and you are not using Facebook, email the organisers on us@essense.me or essense@googlegroups.com

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The Spiritual Psychologist Nicola Phoenix: The Gift of Learning

For this first column, I start with gratitude for the creators of SpiritualLondon.co.uk, who bring such an inspiring site of sharing, informing and togetherness. It shows us all what vision and intent can create in your life. I shall be writing more on this creative power within each of us in future columns.

This column is about the spiritual side of life. This is not just taking part in activities that we may call spiritual (such as yoga or meditation) it is about how we live our lives being in touch, being ‘in-spirit’ always. Being in touch with our own desires, needs and visions for our life, and how we can work towards these experiences in peace and with contentment. How can we use our intuition and personal insights instead of allowing our mind chatter to overwhelm our inner knowing? How can we embrace this wonderful journey of life with open arms to new experiences without fears and negative thoughts preventing us from experience joy and peace. This column is about being and staying in touch. Practical advice, questions to ponder and most importantly about a step forward in creating the life that you would like to living!

Throughout the coming weeks I shall keep you updated with information about events occurring throughout London, which may be helpful and beneficial to keeping yourself in-spirit in your London life. Most importantly, this column is a place to enhance your learning and development as you walk the path of your life.

So starting as we mean to go on, let us take learning from this column together. I previously mentioned walking the path of your life. How often do we let ourselves become absorbed in how well, what way, and whether others are walking what we feel is right for them. Although so often we come to this situation from a point of caring, concern and love for another, it is such a wonderful point of our own learning to let others live their lives and for you to follow yours. Quite simply allow others to be the master of their journey and even if you think that they are (metaphorically of course!) driving their journey of life at the wrong speed, in the wrong lane, or even in the wrong direction as the rest of the traffic, that is just where they are now. It can and will change, but for now we can embrace the idea of teaching others by our own path of living in spirit and let them be inspired from this. The well known and loved quote by Mahatma Ghandi

“Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Let us try to be the peace, joy and happiness that we wish to see in our world and more importantly our selves, and inspire others by embracing and living our own truths. Use this time in your life to ponder what feels right for you? Allow each aspect of your life to be addressed with the positive intension of tapping into where you would like to be, what would you like to be doing and how would you like to be feeling towards it?

It may be useful for you to take a little time to write down a few ideas, or draw a picture of what you would like your future to look like. Allow new ideas to flow in, and even start to think of all of those dreams that you have stored away waiting for the right time, its here now. Use this time as the very start of allowing yourself to become aware of what it is that you would really like to do with your life. For change always begins with awareness. If we can become aware of what it is that we would like to change…that is the fist step in heading in the right direction for us. Over the coming weeks we shall be looking at creating these ideas as your reality and of course how to make sure that the resistance and barriers that we can at times put up…are firmly gone.

Enjoy getting in touch with what it is you would like to experience in your life! No limits or restrictions, just allow your self to ponder the possibilities.

With love

Nicola Phoenix

Next Time – The Gift of your Creative Potential – The Power of Thought, Action and Emotion.

Psychologist, Yoga Practitioner, Speaker, Writer
www.nicolaphoenix.com
Neal’s Yard Remedies Therapy Rooms, London tel: 020 7379 7662

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A happy union of discipline and urban living: 4 ways to enjoy the efforts of personal practice

We all live busy lives. Work, shop, cook, socialise, relax, keep your shape right, catch up with all social networks, maintain our relationships, miraculously manage to get everywhere in time (-ish), search for a job, house, happiness, yoga class, tai chi, singing, dancing, gym, Saturday’s farmers market and oh, movies. We are all immersed in making a living or making our dreams come true trying to enjoy the process as we go along. We are like individual state governments and all the citizens at the same time, trying to juggle a myriad of responsibilities, duties, preferences, likes, dislikes, meanings and directions accounting to the toughest boss in the word – ourselves.

So we all know the benefits of a little bit of discipline. Consistency bears results whether it comes to going to bed half an hour earlier, sustaining a healthy diet, exercising or studying. But when it comes to a personal spiritual practice we often see that it is tucked away in the corner of our lives for ‘when I have a bit of free time’.
For some reasons it is fun going to classes and learning yoga, meditation or tai chi but hard to sustain the practice at home. A friend once asked me “Once I am at home it is as if I am lacking ideas of what to do with what I have learned…How do you manage your daily yoga practice?”

So here are 4 points to make discipline work for you:

1. Whatever you do must be enjoyable. As Minna mentioned in another blog post if you have an idea that meditation, contemplation, yoga, jogging or tai chi is a duty, then it will be a duty, getting heavier every day. Enjoyment comes from finding a deep meaning to your practice. So whether you are giving a practice a try, are curious to see results or want to seriously commit – find your meaning. Know what you want from it while remaining flexible in that knowing. Now that’s a science!:)

2. How do you find meaning? Personalise it. It is your life, your breath, your movement and your stillness. You may have learned it from someone but you have got to live it yourself – otherwise you will be mocking someone’s life! You have got all the intuition and wisdom in the world to sense what it is that works for you – be brave to explore it and live it!

3. Have a fixed time for your practice, but be prepared to break the rules you have created. The whole mechanism of our minds functions best in patterns. We have patterns of eating, sleeping, working and also patterns of times when our minds are still. When you set a time for your practice, you gently guide your mind into a new pattern of peaceful collaboration.
However, don’t forget to constantly review your life circumstances to suit you! “Fixity of goal, flexibility of routine” – a Kriya yoga master Yogiraj teaches. Your newly discovered freedom and personal growth ends the moment when the rigid concepts of righteousness and solid routine are established in your head. How to figure out this rather fragile balance of having a routine versus having none? Sounds very mystical, but it is not: follow your heart. It is a matter of fact that you can sense whether you are pushing yourself too much or too little, whether you are being fanatic or lazy, let your guide your heart ways in a smooth fresh stream.

4. Set realistic goals and your priorities right. If you are working 40 hours a week, study, socialise, have kids while still managing to invest your time in other activities you love – acknowledge that and don’t feel pressurised to spend two hours daily in serene meditation. If you have got 15 minutes, then happily accept that you have got 15 minutes. Whatever you have got is perfect! Once you start your practice rolling the priorities of busy living will shift naturally according to your needs. However, if you keep telling yourself that you will take your practice seriously someday or some year in the future, don’t fool yourself. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it is called present. The time is always now. Make this fun and joyous leap!

Persistent personal practice is a discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal. Yogi Bhajan said that a personal practice, in various Buddhist, hindu and mystic traditions reffered to as Sadhana, doesn’t give you a written guarantee from God.

“The one who does Sadhana builds himself such a powerful personality he can conquer anything! That is why I do my own Sadhana. I have been doing it for years. I do it even now.”
Some people ask me, “You are a Master, why do you do Sadhana?”
I say, ” To remain a Master!”

– Yogi Bhajan

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Spiritual Living: 5 ways to make meditation a part of your daily life

Meditating can produce an inner calm. It can wake up your heart and mind and help you see more clearly, and feel more fully. When you open your eyes, your heart will open too.
Yet, so many of us struggle to find the time in our increasingly busy lives for meditation, making it feel more like a chore than a pleasure.
The key to making it a part of your life is to understand how enjoyable silent contemplation can be. It is not hard work, or boring, meditation is fun! Below are five useful tips to hopefully get you synching and connecting with that inner fountain of love and peace.
1. Substitute the word ‘meditation’ with ‘me-time’.
As much as I love to meditate, I’m not a great fan of the word. It sounds quite clinical, and certainly not like a source of enjoyment, which makes it easier to neglect on a busy day.
2. Make ‘me-time’ fun.
That way you will want to do it more frequently. It can be very rewarding to sit in Buddha position and just quieten the mind, but on occasion you might prefer to draw, cook your favourite meal, write or go for a jog. The only criterion is that you connect your me-time activity to your ‘self’. So, if you choose to draw, sketch something that makes you feel calm. If you write, make it a poem. If you cook your favourite meal, try to connect with the food, enjoy the textures, aromas and colours of the ingredients.
3. Spend ‘me-time’ every day.
Even Barack Obama sets aside me-time. You can too. Start with five minutes a day. That’s nothing! Be persistent and gradually, you will likely spend longer as you will find yourself looking forward to your reflection time.
4. Expand your imagination.
On those days you decide just to sit and contemplate (which I highly recommend you do), imagine that you are on a private beach by yourself, or in a tropical garden lying on a bed of scented flowers, or that you are a ballet dancer practicing in an empty arena. You can be anywhere or anything, set your imagination free!
5. Spend me-time on the go.
Meditation is about more than sitting at home in a reflective state of mind. It means making connections to everyday life. Take your reflective mind with you wherever you go. For example, stay calm during your commute to work by listening to meditation music on your mp3 player. Close your eyes, reflect over the calming sounds and transport yourself into your inner world. Your colleagues will wonder over your new calm and peaceful moods!

Minna Salami is a writer and blogger who loves the blessing of me-time and silent reflection. You can read more of her musings on the missmays blog

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Prize Draw Closing

Dear Readers,

Two months into the Spiritual London experience we are absolutely overwhelmed by your response and feedback. Thank you for believing in us and taking your time to spread the word or add a listing. Please continue to do so in the future – for a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and whithout your support Spiritual London is just a piece of coding.

The first price draw is now over as we received over a hundred listings in no time. To remind you of the prices:
–3 interviews/reviews and a photo reportage which will be published in the Spiritual London blog.
–3 banner advertising options on our site worth £50 each.
–5 featured listings for 3 months!

And the lucky Spiritual Londoners are:

We are going to interview/visit/review:

Still Point London, Liverpool Street
Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green
Sinchronicity Studios, Clapham

And these guys are going to have their very own banner ads:

Shamanic Practicioner
Becky Walsh Intuitionist
Kagyu Samye Dzong Tibetan Buddhist Centre

Finally five of the Spiritual Londoners will receive free featured ads.

We will contact the lucky winners very soon and by popular request will organise a round two of this fun price draw, so watch this space.

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The Power of Chant

Creation begins with the activity of consciousness, which may be called vibration, and every vibration starting from its original source is the same, differing only in its tone and rhythm caused by a greater or lesser degree of force behind it.- Hazrat Inayat Khan

Scientists, mystics & scholars throughout the ages have articulated the understanding that we exist in a field of constantly vibrating awareness.  It is truly as if we are part of a grand symphony, each of us a unique and beautiful instrument resonating within the whole.

Sound changes our vibration, because we ourselves are vibration.   We encounter a huge range of sound vibration every moment of our lives – a car alarm in the street, a baby crying on the bus, a thumping techno beat in a club, a loving word whispered in our ear – each of which communicate vastly diverse messages to different levels of our being.  In an urban environment we may find ourselves shutting down and playing our ipod to drown out this huge seeming cacophany of sound surrounding us.  Yet if we listen attentively and use sound consciously we can use even the most jarring of sounds to attune our own vibration and heighten our awareness.

A tone is a meaning-carrying sound – Dane Rudhyar

You don’t have to be a musician to perceive tone – tones are the living, organic essences of sounds, conveying the colour and character of each sound entity… within the sound of the hoover we may detect a low tone not so dissimilar to a didgeridoo or within the sound of an aeroplane taking off we may hear the high tones that children so love to mimic.  We talk about ‘tone of voice’ – a teenager’s rebellious communication may prompt the response – ‘dont take that tone of voice with me!’ from a teacher – it is not what we say but how we say it, and it is tone that communicates the meaning and intention of our words.

To sound is firstly to listen – to listen for the tone within each sound, within each word, within each thought – for even in our inner world, our thoughts are resonating at certain pitches and frequencies.   We each have our own individual inner soundtrack playing constantly and whilst this takes place within the privacy of our mind, our thoughts radiate and create an atmosphere around us – our mood.  This is observable from without – we will talk of a person being in a bad mood without knowing the content of their thoughts – but were we to attune ourselves to the finer sound vibrations of their thoughts, we would be able to detect the content of them and be listening ourselves to Bad Mood FM.

This telepathic awareness of intent is acutely developed in animals – whose survival depends on being able to know when the next predator is around the corner and also in plants – as scientifically demonstrated by Cleve Backster in 1960s who discovered that a plant could sense his intent to damage one of its leaves before he even took action.  Even a rock is composed of vibration, just much denser, slower ones than a bird.  So all of nature is listening and singing, listening and singing in continual call and response.  Beyond our own blue and green rock, the big rocks in the sky are also vibrating, singing their tones which have been mathmatically measured and recorded.  So it can be that when a planet starts singing backwards, we all get a headache…:)

To chant, then, is to change our whole sonic landscape – is to consciously alter our resonance.  To interrupt the unceasing flow of inner sound and to chant the sacred syllables of a mantra such as Ohm Mane Padme Hum is akin to letting off a sonic rocket in the mind. The underlying soundtrack defragments in order to align itself with the resonance of the mantra inwardly and outwardly.  Of course it is our tone that determines our engagement and the resulting effects.  Mantras – Man – think/mind; Tra – tool – are powerful healing instruments that have been diversely used since the beginning of time by everyone from the Beastie Boys, Kula Shaker, The Beatles and the Dalai Lama.  There’s nothing to say that headbanging versions are any less effective than monastic use.  All are part of the divine symphony.

The benefits of chanting include:
* Physical – Singing of any sort causes the whole body to vibrate and resonate.  This has a very relaxing, releasing effect – the breath cycle lengthens, happy hormones (endorphins) are released into the blood stream and tensions dissolve.  Entering the rhythmic experience of chant stabilises and harmonises our own body rhythms and can prompt ecstatic dancing!
* Emotional – Emotions are energy in motion.  As we chant our energy starts moving, liberating our being.  Tears flow and laughter rises, opening the heart, cleansing the residue of past trauma and connecting us back into the beauty of the present moment.
* Mental – As we focus on the melody and words of chant, the mind becomes still and concentrated.  Thoughts crystallize, becoming clear and spacious.
* Spiritual – Whatever your spiritual practise, we can all receive great nourishment from contacting the silent awareness which informs every sound- the vast silent realm beyond thought, beyond the beyond.  We connect with the quiet, still observer within, which witnesses everything silently.  Our perspective widens and we may receive powerful insights, images and intuitive guidance.
* Fun –  most importantly!   Playing with sound is fun! The creative aspect of us wants to learn and experiment.  Exploring our voice in the safe space of chanting enables us to discover new realms of self-expression, fine tuning our self-awareness and ultimately giving us the sense that it is ok to be us. Singing in a circle also enhances our listening for others, heightening our communication skills on every level.

In the vibrationary bedrock of all existence exists a singular sound entity which is utterly unique yet completely interconnected to everything in the Universe and beyond.
Like a pearl in the seabed, shining, glistening, complete and beautiful in itself – it radiates resonantly, glowing with divine potential.
That pearl is you.
You are the wonderful creative unique being at the core of your own existence.  Without you, it wouldn’t all being going on.
Recognising your own divinity is the truth transmitted by all great teachers – ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you’.
In the resonant field of chant, we can remember the divine creative vibratory essence that we are.
As the sound current flows through us, we can sing our essence into being,
Ultimately becoming aware that as we sing, we are infact being sung
By the heavenly silent symphony that makes all One.

Sat Nam. Ohm. Namaste. Insh’Allah. Halleluyah! Shalom.
Katie Rose


Katie Rose is a qualified holistic therapist who has facilitated sound workshops with adults and children across the UK and internationally.
She became aware of her vocation to use the voice as a healing instrument at the age of 15 and has recently released an album, The Singing Tree.
For more info about singing and chanting workshops please visit
www.therosewindow.org or email info@therosewindow.org

©Katie Rose March 2010

WWW.SPIRITUALLONDON.CO.UK

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