Me, Myself and (My 3rd) Eye

One of the things I am loving about India is how the spiritual and the secular parts of life are not compartmentalised but are intertwined and integrated.

Shrines and temples on every street; acts of devotion a no-nonsense, no-big-deal part of everyday life.

And people doing yoga, and meditating, in a similar, no-big-deal, just part of everyday life kind of way.

I admire that.

I’ve been struggling with a meditation practice for some time now (see  this post for a typical example of my experience), but in spite of nearly daily attempts, it hasn’t really happened for me.

The monkey mind remains untamed.

And so it was with some interest that I saw a place in Jaipur offering Ayurvedic massages that purport to open your third eye and facilitate the gaining of that elusive state of mental quietude that I was beginning to think was the yogic equivalent of the Emperors New Clothes.

So, in the spirit of Interest and inquiry, and it must be said, quite a lot of cynicism, I booked myself in for a Shirodhara massage.

It started, in a slightly startling fashion, by being told to take off all my clothes and put on a rather fetching pair of ginormous paper granny knickers (reminding me of the one time I went for a manicure in Leamington- but that’s a story for another time).

The lights were dimmed and I was told to lie down on the massage bed and relax.

At which point boiling oil was poured all over me.

Well, perhaps not boiling, but that’s how it felt at first to my unexpectedly exposed and goose pimpled skin.

Then the massage began – an hour of warm oil and expert pummelling, every joint popped, cracked and quite possibly dislocated.

After an hour, you are wrapped in towels, your eyes tightly blindfolded and then,

And then,

A stream of warm oil is poured continuously onto your forehead, the site of the “third eye”.

It is simultaneously slightly disgusting but also incredibly relaxing.

For twenty minutes or so I lay there, mind shifting this way and that, trying hard not to fall asleep and embarrass myself by a) snoring or b) dribbling.

And then the weirdest darned thing happened.

The thoughts stopped.

There was nothing except awareness of being.

Complete stillness.

It lasted for probably all of ten seconds.

And was frankly terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
There may just be something in this meditation business after all.



Yogic Lit

I realise that I am in danger of becoming a yoga bore.

So I promise this will be the last time I mention it.

For a little while a least.


But I have been asked for recommendations for books on yoga.

And given that I’m a Librarian with a degree in history, my ability to source books on yoga far surpasses my ability to actually do it ūüôā

So coming at this as a complete beginner, the following have been really useful additions to the bookshelf.

And I’m sure sitting reading them with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit counts towards self practice time.

Svadhyaya, (tick), Pratyahara (tick), dharana (tick)

See, well on the way to enlightenment already.

Books to help with the Physical Practice

¬†The Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual by David Swenson. ¬†I’ve found this absolutely invaluable. ¬†Clear photos and written descriptions of the asanas, together with variations for the more flexibly challenged. ¬†I still struggle with so many of the postures but at least with this book my brain can get what ¬† I’m supposed to be doing even if my body isn’t interested in joining in yet.

¬†Yoga Mala by the originator of Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabhi Jois. ¬†If I’m honest I really prefer David Swensons book, but it is interesting to read a text that weaves together the physical and spiritual elements of the practice. And makes incredible claims for the healing power of yoga.

image Having freaky fingers that bend the wrong way and are also double jointed I am fascinated by mudras.

Yay, postures I have half a chance of being able to do.

This is a really good introduction to a selection of the hundreds of different hand positions that focus on different physical, mental and spiritual attributes. Nice clear photos and written descriptions.


image Still working my way through this one.  But as I am trying develop both a daily asana self-practice , and to integrate other elements of yoga into my life, this is a useful set of pointers and discussions.

image¬†I love this book, it really makes me laugh (the description of the young boy who claimed to have awoken his Kundalini energy being given a good slap and told to get a grip by Iyengar is particularly memorable) as well as being thought-provoking and full of wisdom.image¬†This is absolutely fascinating. ¬†A bit “photo-journalist”, but given it’s a topic I knew little about that was fine. ¬†The photos are amazing, and the descriptions of how these men (and it is largely men) live and journey towards enlightenment are even more so. ¬†A word of warning, if you are male and read this book, be aware that some of the photos (I’m thinking in particular of one that shows them lifting heavy stones without using their normal four limbs) will make your eyes water.

image¬†Be Here Now by Ram Dass. ¬†Well, I’ve included this because it comes under the heading of “interesting”.

Dass was a renowned Harvard academic & psychologist who worked with Timothy Leary “researching” the use of mind altering substances such as LSD.

Not sure how academically rigorous the research actually was.

Anyway, the first part of the book is a really interesting autobiographical description of Dass seeking spiritual enlightenment, first through psychology, then through drugs, and then through his wanderings in India.  This is absolutely fascinating.

The second part of the book is a series of stream-of-consciousness statements and drawings which I must admit I struggled with as it reminded me too much of some “deep and meaningful” album covers I spent too much time analysing as an angst-ridden teen goth.

Lots of people swear by it as a starting point for their own spiritual journey.

but I think I’ll stick with The Sisters of Mercy


image¬†I’m just starting on this, but have high hopes it will prevent a recurrence of the hair ball incident (see previous post) and my tendency to sound like Darth Vader during his death scene in Star Wars ¬†VI.


Who knew there would be such a rich seam of yogic fic. to tap into?

image¬†Yes it’s chick lit, but it’s very very funny. ¬†And the descriptions of the heroines first forays into a yoga class are hilarious.

And so true to life.

image¬†I’ve mentioned this before, but it so good, and as someone who struggles with meditation this did offer hope that if I persevere ¬†one day my mind may stay focused for longer than three seconds (and yep, See previous posts about meditation)

image¬† I really hated this book. ¬†But if you like the sort of self-obsessed, narcissistic works of Eat, Pray, Love and the like then you’ll probably like this. ¬†Marketing executive decides there is more to life than image and goes off in search of enlightenment by staying in posh ashrams with beautiful people. ¬†It made me so cross I gave up half way through, but perhaps it gets better later on.


And just to finish off….Ayurveda

image Ayurveda is a sister discipline to yoga.  It works on the assumption that we have different body types, made up of a mixture of the doshas vata, pitta and kapha.  If these doshas become imbalanced then you will have illness -physical, mental or spiritual.  Ayurveda is a system designed to help you keep your life in balance.

There are much more complete guides to Ayurveda out there.  But if you want a light, easy introduction to the topic, this is a good staring point.

I Love to Go a Pondering

I’ve been doing yoga for nearly a year now.

Still rubbish, still as flexible as a plank.

But I get it. I enjoy it (mostly, and in spite of the pain).

But I struggle with the meditation.

My mind?

It doesn’t do focussing.

Or stillness.

Or calm.

There’s too much stressing and worrying and pondering to do.

But I get that meditation is A Good Thing.

And so my intention for 2015 (I don’t do resolutions because my brains immediate reaction is to waggle its fingers in its ears, shout “shan’t” and blow a very loud raspberry) is to try and do a mini meditation every day.


I’ve decided to do a counted meditation with eyes closed rather than staring at a statue or flickering flame or whatever.

Staring at things gives far too many opportunities for distraction.

So, for those of you who might fancy trying something similar, my meditation goes something like this….

Sits on zaku meditation cushion and tries not to think how much like a garden gnome (minus fishing rod) I look.

Painfully crosses legs and spends several minutes trying to shuffle buttocks into less uncomfortable position.

Closes eyes

One (breathes in and out, slowly)

Two (breathes in and out slowly)

Three (peeks at clock so can impress self with how long I have been meditating at the end)

Closes eyes again


Five ( argh, right knee is now cramping up. Breathe into knee and try to relax muscles in right leg which appear to be in first stages of rigor mortis)


Seven (wonder how much a trip to India would cost and then spend some time thinking of other places would like to visit whilst still keeping up with the counting)

Realise have lost focus and come back to meditation with guilty start



Realise am now slumped on zaku cushion like a yogic Jabba the Hutt. Straighten back and tuck chin whilst attempting to contract bhandas (still very unsure what these are or where to find them, but must show willing)



Twenty one (remember it is Very Important that I swap the way I cross my legs and try to hook one foot on top of other in attempt to encourage legs towards elusive lotus position. Attempt to do so and wonder again how my body got so lopsided without me noticing)

Twenty two (realise new position very uncomfortable so swap back to original position)

Twenty three

Twenty four

Twenty five (remember have several teaching sessions coming up next week and stress over flipped classrooms and related stuff for some time)

Argh, should be meditating. Where was I?

Twenty three (must concentrate)

Twenty four ( I am breathing in, I am breathing out)

Twenty five (perhaps I should be meditating over a mantra instead. Did a Facebook quizz that said my 2015 mantra should be “I am open”)

Twenty six (realise from the pain in my hips that “I am open” is possibly the most inappropriate mantra I could have come up with)

Twenty seven (Focus! I am breathing in. I am breathing out)

Twenty eight

Twenty nine

Thirty. (Looks at clock. Yay, 15 minutes of meditation. I can feel benefits already!)

Slowly and painfully unclicks joints and attempts to stand up like youthful, yogic 46 year old rather than old and creaky 90 year old.