Last week I noticed a low-level feeling of sadness clouding over my otherwise blue skies. I had a deadline to meet, so I pushed down a growing sense of nostalgia arising in me, that was craving the everyday pleasures that I took for granted before the virus. I was missing simple things, like not having to remember my mask every time I leave the house, relaxed meals with friends, wider family meet-ups, and most of all girls' days out with my my lovely daughter. It wasn't convenient for me to give these feelings space by allowing myself to feel them. I had to review and revise the final proof and artwork for my Yoga by the Stars book. I resolved to put these feelings aside and make one final push to get the book over the finishing line, ready to go to the printers.
Once I'd met my deadline, and spent some time feeling exhilarated that my editor had signed the book off, I noticed that those wistful feelings, I mentioned earlier in this post, were still lingering in the background of my mind. The wise part of me knew that the best thing to do was to stop and be with the feelings. Another part, less wise, whispered to just carry on, ignore them, minimising and invalidating the feelings. A low-level migraine had also been hanging around for a few days too.
Yesterday, in preparation for writing my monthly Yoga by the Stars newsletter, I read through the Scorpio chapter of the Yoga by the Stars book. It reminded me of the importance of doing the warrior work of approaching and befriending our fears, and how we must learn to cultivate compassion for our struggles and difficulties, surrounding them with love and understanding. It reminded me to stop and feel my feelings, which I did using a tried and tested way of doing this, the Surrounding a Difficulty with Love Meditation (page 126 of my Yoga Through the Year book). The amazing and unexpected benefit of doing this meditation, on this occasion, which included a good cry, was that my migraine completely disappeared and I felt better than I had for days!
The Surrounding a Difficulty with Love Meditation allowed me to turn towards and feel all the difficult feelings of loss and yearning that I had been pushing aside. I noticed where I was feeling the feelings in my body. I surrounded these tight, tense areas with love and compassion. I gave myself up to the tears that arose, staying aware of bodily sensations and my breathing. I followed this with a Mindfulness of Body and Breath meditation, to bring me back down to earth and ground myself, and I finished with a 3 Minute Breathing Meditation. This whole process took about 30-40 minutes. Afterwards I felt lighter, energised, and my migraine had disappeared. What a relief!
So, how are you feeling? Before you say, "I'm fine thanks", pause for a minute, and ask yourself how are you really feeling? We all have losses during this pandemic. Our lives have changed irrevocably, and it is worthwhile to stop and allow our selves to recognise how we feel about the monumental changes that are occurring in our lives and the wider world. The lesson of the zodiac sign Scorpio is that if we face fear, we can find freedom.
See also: Mindfulness to Manage Difficult Emotions for a script of the Surrounding a Difficulty with Love Meditation (or page 126 of the Yoga Through the Year book).
In the next few posts we will be exploring how the wisdom of Scorpio offers us the gift of facing fear and finding freedom. Currently there is an epidemic of fear due to the pandemic. Naturally, we all feel a heightened sense of alertness as we negotiate the risks of doing everyday activities in the face of the dangers posed by the virus. Regardless of your own Sun sign, Scorpio will help you to cultivate the resilience you need to approach your fear and move through it.
Scorpio teaches us the wisdom of facing fear and finding freedom. This is also the approach that mindfulness uses too. From personal experience I know how debilitating anxiety can be. I also know that practising yoga and mindfulness gives us a toolbox to manage overwhelming feelings. Anxiety is all-consuming, it narrows our focus, and shrinks our world view. Whereas our mindfulness practice delivers us from the small confines of our fearfulness and allows us to see the bigger picture.
Turning towards your fear and allowing yourself to experience it is warrior work! You put your fear under the microscope of your awareness, and allow yourself to feel it both emotionally, and where it resides in your body, whilst at the same time holding in your mind the bigger picture. Then with practise you realise that yes, your fear is there, but you also notice that you are breathing in, and you are breathing out. Mindfulness gives you an anchor, such as the breath, that prevents you from being overwhelmed by the waves of emotion that accompany fear and anxiety. In turn you also learn to carry this mindful awareness into your daily life, noticing what you can see, smell, hear, and feel. You are aware of suffering, and you are also aware of the beauty in the world around you.
The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, reminds us that suffering is not enough. He teaches that one part of our meditation practice is to be aware of suffering in the world; whereas the other part is to appreciate all of the beauty in the world. This practice of turning towards suffering and simultaneously noticing the joyful and the beautiful, allows us to experience the totality of life as it is, without getting overwhelmed by it.
"Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.
Meditation is to be aware of what is going on- in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we need to be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot"
Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace
Libra: Open to the wisdom of your heart, restore peace to a troubled mind, learn to live harmoniously and in a state of equilibrium. Reconcile pairs of opposites in your life so that healing may occur. Make judgements, take action, create a more peaceful, harmonious world for all.
We live in a world where, due to the virus, all the cards have been thrown up in the air, and we are waiting to see how they land. How do we find, peace, harmony, and maintain equilibrium in such uncertain and troubled times? Working with the zodiac sign Libra can help us to open to the wisdom of the heart, and to create some order in our disordered, chaotic lives.
Libra is a cardinal, air sign, ruled by Venus. Its symbol is the weighing scales. The Sanskrit name for the sign was Tula, the Balance. Libra's key words are harmoniously and unitedly. Libra, like yoga, helps us balance pairs of opposites, such as Sun and Moon, light and dark, masculine and feminine, passive and active, pushing and yielding, and order and chaos. This reconciliation of pairs of opposites creates balance and healing.
During this current pandemic we urgently need to balance the intellectual energy of our head with the compassionate wisdom of our heart. It is essential at this time to use our intellect to engage with science, and empower ourselves to stay safe through a base of sound, scientific knowledge. At the same time, we must balance this, by also engaging with the wisdom of the heart, which will guide us safely through the storm, revealing to us the path that will lead us from confusion to clarity.
In the Yoga by the Stars book, the affirmation we use in the Libra practice is My heart balances all. It can be coordinated with the breath:
Inhale: My heart balances all
Exhale: My heart balances all
Libra is the fulcrum balancing the material and spiritual world, reminding us that what is considered “lower” supports that which is above and that the two worlds are united by love. This is beautifully encapsulated in the equilibrium of the figure-eight glyph, the symbol of infinity, which is associated with Libra. This is mirrored in the body’s chakra system, where the heart centre balances the lower and higher chakras in a loving and compassionate way
Below are some meditation questions, from the Libra chapter of the Yoga by the Stars book. They will help you to connect with the wisdom of your heart and find balance in your life:
In the Yoga by the Stars book, you will find a Libra-inspired yoga practice, that balances and realigns the body and mind, both physically and energetically. It is calming and quietly energising and has a centring effect. It soothes a restless mind, restoring balance and equanimity. The heart-centre chakra is gently opened, helping us develop a sense of love and compassion for ourselves and others.
Purity is a theme associated with the zodiac sign Virgo, and purity (sauca) is one of the observances, or the personal disciplines, that make up the second of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. Do you find that purity is a concept that works for you and helps to keep you healthy in body, mind, and spirit? Or has it become another thing to beat yourself up about?
Of course, yoga has a purifying, cleansing effect on a mental, physical, and emotional level. The yoga asanas, coordinated with the breathing, improve circulation and flush out toxins in our system. Deep relaxation allows the body to repair and renew itself. However, the concept of purity can be a double-edged sword. One trap that we can fall into is to become obsessed with self-purification. Some yoga teachers exacerbate this tendency in their students by pushing the idea that we are all impure and need to follow extreme exercise routines and diets, including purging, to detoxify ourselves. Purity shouldn’t become a stick to beat yourself with.
Below are some meditation questions, from my forthcoming book, Yoga by the Stars, that will help you to explore both the negative and positive aspects of working with the Virgo theme of purity:
Purity is not a destination; it’s a way of being. The beauty of yoga is that we experience ourselves from the inside out, rather than responding to the gaze of others, and how they view us from the outside. Perhaps for the first time, we are comfortable in our own skin. This inner confidence helps us bat away projections from others who tell us that we are impure or not good enough. Yoga’s inner journey helps us uncover what is true and pure within: our radiant authentic self.
See also: Virgo Pure Light Visualisation
Virgo: Let the Earth Support You
Virgo is a mutable, earthy sign ruled by Mercury. The symbol for Virgo is a young woman with an ear of corn in her hand and a child in her lap. She symbolises fertility and purity. During the current pandemic, purity, or rather avoiding contamination is a preoccupation for all of us . We are fearful of touching surfaces for fear that the virus is lurking there. We are anxious that the virus might be lingering in the air we breathe. Of course it makes sense to take precautions to stay safe when facing a potentially deadly virus. However, all this airy, worry energy can leave us feeling disconnected from nature, ungrounded, cut off from our inner wisdom, and so less able to navigate the crisis. In this post we'll consider how to harness Virgo's earth energy, to help us to stay grounded and centred.
The Virgo symbol of a young woman, a babe in arms, and corn in her hand, gives us a few clues about how to stay grounded. Grounding activities include; spending time with children, pets, gardening, baking (especially kneading bread), and walks in nature. Whereas worry energy takes us up into our head and away from the present moment; grounding activities bring us back into our body, our feet firmly planted on the earth, and back to the present moment. When you are grounded you are reunited with a sense of hope, optimism, and a clarity of purpose.
Below are two meditations that you can use when you need to ground yourself. The first, the Mantra Lam Meditation, is from the Yoga by the Stars book. The great thing about chanting is that it releases tension and helps to restore a healthy breathing pattern; this in turn is calming and soothes worry energy. The second meditation, Standing Like a Tree, is from my first book, Yoga Through the Year.
Mantra Lam Meditation
Come to a sitting position and rest your hands on your belly. Notice the gentle rise and fall of the belly with each in and out-breath. Then with each out-breath, silently repeat the mantra Lam (pronounced lum). This is the bija (seed) mantra associated with the base chakra (muladhara), and it is very grounding. After a few silent repetitions, begin to sound the Lam mantra on each exhale. With each repetition of the mantra bring your awareness down to the belly and the lower half of the body. After a few repetitions, let go of chanting.
Spend a few more minutes here, quietly observing your breath and noticing the contact between your body and the earth. When you are ready, carry on with your day.
Standing Like a Tree
This exercise can be used at any time of year as a stand-alone exercise or as part of your yoga practice. It can be used as a way of centring and grounding yourself at the start of a yoga practice. In daily life it is particularly helpful for those times when you feel thrown off balance by a situation and need to regain your equilibrium and ground yourself.
Stand tall like a tree. Your feet are parallel and about hip width apart. Your knees are soft, your face relaxed, shoulders down away from the ears. Your tailbone feels heavy as though it is weighted, and the crown of your head feels light and floats skyward. Picture in your mind’s eye a tree that you love or feel a connection to.
Bring your awareness to your feet. Be aware of where your feet are in contact with the earth beneath you. Allow your toes to spread and your heels to drop down into the earth. Imagine that there are roots growing from the soles of your feet, going deep down into the earth below you, spreading in a wide circle, and giving you stability.
With each inhale imagine that you are drawing healing energy and nourishment up though your roots into the soles of your feet, up through the legs, torso, and to the lungs.
With each exhale imagine that the out-breath is travelling down both legs, through your feet, and back down into your roots. Imagine with each exhale that you are letting go of anything that you do not wish to hold on to, letting go of tension, worries, anxiety, persistent thoughts, discomfort, or pain. Imagine that any negativity that you let go of is then cleansed and purified by the soil.
Inhale: Healing energy
Exhale: Letting go
Repeat over several breaths until you feel centred and grounded.
See also: Virgo Pure Light Visualisation
The ancient yogis believed that within each of us there is a Divine spark. It is like a candle flame at the heart centre, that burns steadily unmoved by the winds of change. It is always there, constant, light and bright, guiding our way. Although sometimes, like a dusty lamp, the light can become obscured and dimmed. Our yoga practice helps us to clean up the lamp and to uncover this light within, bringing light into the darkness.
The Virgo-inspired yoga practice, in the Yoga by the Stars book, uses visualisation and affirmation to help us to reconnect with this guiding light within. Inspired by the zodiac sign Virgo, this practice has a devotional feel. It is deeply relaxing and grounding, and it will help you to access a deep source of strength and wisdom. It enables you to cultivate a sense of being comfortable in your own skin and to get in touch with the purity of your authentic self.
The affirmation we use in the practice is The light within guides my way. It can be shortened and coordinated with the breath:
Inhale: The light within
Exhale: Guides my way
During the practice we also coordinate the affirmation with movements in the asanas, and with the breath. Or you can repeat the affirmation, The light within guides my way, at the start of each round of a sequence, such as Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskar).
Below is a simple meditation that we use to begin and conclude the Virgo practice. You can use it yourself at home to start or finish your own yoga practice. Also, during the practice, between poses, in a pose such as Mountain Pose (Tadasana), you might wish to place your hands at your heart and picture a candle flame burning steadily there.
Virgo Pure Light Visualisation
Find yourself a comfortable seated position. Draw an imaginary circle of light around yourself. If it feels right, silently say, I surround myself with love and light, and I am safe. Bring your hands to your heart and visualise a candle flame burning steadily at the heart space. Then silently repeat your affirmation 3 times: The light within guides my way.
Ask to be given an image that symbolises purity for you. If an image does not immediately come to mind, trust that at some point one will arise. If an image does arise, hold it in your heart as you do your yoga practice.
The above practice is from the Virgo chapter of the Yoga by the Stars book, to be published by Llewellyn in December 2020.
The Leo-inspired practice, from my forthcoming book Yoga by the Stars, is the perfect antidote to all the covid-related fear and anxiety that is swirling around at the moment. Due to the virus we're all having to be hyper-vigilant as we try to avoid catching or giving others the virus. This makes life very stressful and many of us are finding it harder than usual to relax. We can also feel dis-empowered and overwhelmed when faced with what can feel like an insurmountable problem. I was certainly feeling like that when I stepped onto my yoga mat early on this morning. However, I found the Leo practice did it's magic and I felt stronger, calmer and more courageous by the end of it.
The Ram-Yam-Lam sequence is part of the Leo-inspired yoga practice, and I just loved doing it this morning! The chanting helps you to release tension and find your lion's roar! The mantra RAM is associated with the solar plexus chakra and helps you to access your personal power. The mantra YAM connects you to your compassionate heart centre. And the mantra LAM is associated with your base chakra and so is grounding.
Stand tall, feet parallel and about hip-width apart, with hands resting on the solar plexus. Inhale and take the arms out to the sides. On the exhale, chant Ram (pronounced rum), as you bring your hands back to the solar plexus. Inhale taking the arms overhead. Exhale, lowering the arms and crossing the hands to the heart, as you chant Yam (pronounced yum). Inhale taking the arms overhead. Exhale, coming into a Standing Forward bend (Uttanasana), chanting Lam (pronounced lum). Inhale, come back up to standing, taking both arms up above the head. Exhale lower the hands back to the solar plexus. Repeat the sequence 3 more times.
See also the Leo Page of this website, and the Strength Powered by Love post
Yoga helps you stand tall and find the courage in your heart to follow your true path in life. Sometimes yoga is quiet and reflective, and at other times it prompts you to roar like a lion and to defend what you believe in. The reflective side of your yoga practice puts you in touch with what is true for you, whereas the active side of your practice requires you to give voice to that truth—and this is your lion’s roar.
We look to the zodiac sign Leo for the gift of fierce confidence. Regardless of your own Sun sign, working with Leo's energy will help you to connect with your powerful Sun self and to radiate your light out into the world. As we emerge from the pandemic and try to establish a "new normal" we really need people who are empowered to speak up and speak out, to ensure that we make the new normal better than before.
Although we don't know what the long term effects of the covid virus will be, we do know that it will have a massive impact on the way we live our lives. Understandably there is a lot of fear and anxiety about the future, and we can offset some of that by envisioning what we want the future to look like. One positive step we can take, as we begin to emerge from the virus, is to consider how we can go about rebuilding a better world? If you are in touch with your "lion's roar" then you stand a better chance of making your voice heard in this debate!
Here in the UK one of the criticisms of the government's covid policy is that women have been absent from the table, and consequently important issues impacting on our daily lives have been overlooked. So right now it is vitally important that women's voices, worldwide, are heard loud and clear in the debate about what the new post-covid world should look like. As Ursula K Le Guin said in her Bryn Mawr Commencement Address, "When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains."
So how are you going to go about getting in touch with your lion's roar? How are you going to make sure your voice is heard and helps to shape this new and better world? Perhaps being in quarantine you've lost some of your confidence and can't quite imagine yourself roaring like a lion. That's understandable, however, you can harness Leo's energy to help you to regain confidence and to empower you to give voice to your opinions and preferences. And remember, you don’t have to go it alone. At the heart of a lion pride is a closed sisterhood of female adults; they work cooperatively together, both in hunting and looking after their young. When we work collectively with others, we are stronger and can achieve more than when we work alone. So get together with other like minds and roar together in orchestrated chorus!
The gentle discipline that you cultivate through your yoga practice will stand you in good stead in life. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the judgement that something else is more important. What you say and what you do will shape the new world that is emerging. You can help to rebuild better. So let me hear you roar!
In the Leo-inspired yoga practice in the Yoga by the Stars book, we aim to build fierce, unshakeable confidence, in tandem with a compassionate, loving, heart. The book will be published in December 2020 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
See also: the Leo Page on this website, the Leo Ram-Yam-Lam Sequence, and the Strength Powered by Love post
The Leo-inspired yoga practice, from my book Yoga by the Stars, is the go-to yoga practice whenever you need to be nurtured and empowered. It is centring, energising, uplifting, and creates stability, releasing tension and blocked energy. It's a grounding, sunny, strengthening practice that increases confidence and courage. So, the perfect practice for those of us tentatively coming out of lock-down and bracing ourselves to face the world again! I used it as my early morning yoga practice today, and by the end of it I felt less of the quivering, small, nervous animal coming out of hibernation, and more in touch with the brave lion within!
In the Leo-inspired yoga practice, we aim to build fierce, unshakeable confidence in tandem with a compassionate, loving heart. We draw our inspiration in this practice from the strength and courage of a lion as well as the lioness’s ability to cooperate lovingly with other lionesses in her pride. Our intention to build a strength that is tempered by love is encapsulated in our affirmation for the practice, which is: My strength is powered by love.
The affirmation My strength is powered by love,felt perfect for me this morning. I really enjoyed coordinating a shortened version with the breath. Inhale: strength. Exhale: love. This works really well if you coordinate it with movement, for example inhale and affirm "strength" as you raise your arms, exhale and affirm "love" as you lower them. You can try it out with dynamic, moving versions of the postures, such as Child’s Pose (Balasana) into Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).
Of course, no Leo-inspired yoga practice would be complete without the playfully fierce Lion Pose (Simhasana). In the Leo practice we use it dynamically as part of the warm-up for the practice.
The Leo-inspired practice, begins and ends with a seated Sun Visualisation. This is wonderfully centring and guaranteed to calm the emerging from lock-down jitters and the still in lock-down blues!
Seated Sun Visualisation
Find yourself a comfortable, erect seated position. Picture in your mind’s eye the Sun symbol, which is a dot within a circle. Then imagine that you are drawing a circle of light around yourself. Picture yourself as the Sun at the centre of this circle. Now picture a sun, at your solar plexus, radiating light and warmth around your body. Silently repeat this affirmation three times: My strength is powered by love.
The above Leo-inspired yoga practice ideas are from the Yoga by the Stars book, which will be published early December 2020, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
The zodiac sign Cancer, the crab, is a watery sign, ruled by the Moon. Following on from my last few blog posts, themed around the zodiac sign Cancer, in this post we'll look at how you can introduce a Moon theme into your yoga practice.
In astrology the key words associated with the Moon are response and fluctuation. In older texts the Sun represented spirit, the Moon represented soul, and the ascendant represented body. The Moon represents the pull of matter (subconscious), and the Sun the pull of spirit (superconscious). The Moon’s connection with health has always made her prominent in astrological medicine.
The Moon is the Earth’s natural satellite that shines by reflecting the Sun’s light. The Moon speaks to us of time passing, and its waxing and waning connects us to the ebb and flow of life. The phases of the Moon teach us about the cycles of life, death, rebirth, and renewal. Out of the darkness, the New Moon arises in the night sky and speaks to us of hope reborn. The Full Moon is pregnant with possibilities. The Dark Moon reminds us to pause, rest, and recuperate.
The Earth and the Moon are in a symbiotic relationship. The gravitational pull of the Moon, and to a lesser degree the Sun, creates the ocean tides. Many people believe that the Moon’s gravitational force also affects humans, as our bodies are made up of approximately 60 percent water.
Some of us notice that the phases of the Moon elicit a response in us. Of course, our response to the phases of the Moon is a very personal thing. Some love the flurry of energy, activity, and creativity during the waxing phase of the Moon up to when it reaches its fullness. Others prefer the more serene, contemplative, reflective energy of the waning phase of the Moon. If you regularly observe the response that the moon’s cycle elicits in you, it will help you find a rhythm of activity and rest that is uniquely healthful and energising for you.
There are many ways you can introduce a Moon theme into your yoga practice. You can include circular sequences that mirror the phases of the Moon, such as Chandra Namaskar (Salute to the Moon). Or you could try including flowing, fluid, watery movements into your yoga session.
All pranayama practices are a way of bringing both Sun (ha) and Moon (tha) into your practice. We are also connecting with the ebb and flow, waxing and waning, rhythm of the Moon, when we consciously attend to balancing sthira (effort) and sukha (ease) in our yoga practice. Off the mat, meditative, circular walks also have a satisfyingly Moon-like quality to them.
You could try visualising the Moon during a yoga practice or ask the Moon to guide your intuitive practice. However, whenever you introduce a Moon focus into your yoga, it’s important to remember to stay grounded. Working with a Moon theme and forgetting to ground yourself can be disorientating, so always keep an awareness of your connection with the earth beneath you and a sense of roots connecting you to the earth, giving you support and stability.
You'll find lots more moon-inspired yoga ideas in my forthcoming book, Yoga by the Stars.
Hello, I am Jilly Shipway, the author of Yoga Through the Year, and my forthcoming book Yoga by the Stars. In this Yoga by the Stars blog I will share with you zodiac-inspired yoga insights and inspiration. I also have another blog on my Yoga Through the Year website.