Today we reach the mid point of the year. A marker point, the light shining bright, glistening in the the rapture of fullness before gently turning back as we cast a thread slowly into the second half of the year.
This gradual process of endarkening begins with the Sun. A celestial ball of fire that since the beginning of time has reliably risen each morning. Surya, one of his Sanskrit names, carves out the day and frames the year with his slow transit. He conjures vitality, vivifies and immortalises all illuminated forms. Today Surya, appears to stand still in the sky - the meaning of the ancient word solstice - maybe as he glints down he is brightly surveying all that he has lovingly given to life.
Since 2015 the 21st June has also been officially celebrated as international yoga day. This is an opportunity to practice 108 sun salutations, either alone or maybe collectively and honour the practice of yoga by recognising all of its enduring physical, mental and spiritual gifts including the recalibration of awareness that one of its fundamental meanings is to yoke. What might be a more apt definition of yoking for today's contemporary world issues is to shine awareness into the potential unity present within all the diversity that surrounds us.
On Saturday we celebrated the Summer Solstice with a yoga and wellbeing woodland retreat. Held at Brown Rock Farm in Tickenham, this gathering was created by bringing together a group of creative hosts to provide an entire day bursting with fruitful activities designed to connect, nourish and revitalise.
In the morning guests were able to practice vinyasa yoga in the Cob House taught by Yoga Avenue and the newly qualified Ellie. With the mats arranged mandala style, this cosy circular building was the perfect setting providing shelter from a less than scorching day. It stands serenly, settled into the Earth, half of its' structure reflected in the pond which flanks one side as it abides above a field whose gentle incline allows for a vibrant and widely arching view of whispering grasses where calm horses graze. As we practiced, the building's endlessly spiralling, constantly overlapping ceiling whose central glass window is a porthole to the sky, there was a felt sense of connection. First to each other who had chosen to gift this retreat to themselves and then those threads inspiring unity with all of nature as we set intentions to embrace the day and pull a light cloak of self-nurturing care, shared appreciation and joy around us.
In the heart of the private woodland enclave, secluded by oaks and ash trees, guests created exquisite flower festival crowns around the warming fire of the Roundhouse. Crafting these fairy head dresses was done under the watchful and highly experienced gaze of Kathryn Delve Florist. Kathryn is a master florist with extensive training under her apron. She expertly guided people in their creations whilst adding humour and lots of encouragement at every turn of each stem.
A delicious and nutritious vegan buffet lunch complete with the most delicious cherry chocolate muffins was provided by Ali's Country Kitchen. Then an opportunity to try something a little different - a guided forest bathing session. Based on the popular Japanese practice of 'Shinrin Yoku' bathing in the forest is an invitation to receive all the benefits simply being in nature can offer. Through mindful awareness an invitiation to invoke reciprocity - what we pay attention to we are more likely to nurture and protect. The slow walk into the sea of green whose colours, shapes, textures and aromas were enhanced by the gentle showers that had visited us, brought us to the mother tree. An ancient oak. She is at first hidden from obvious view. Her branches extend out in all directions. Like all trees she provides a resting spot for birds and the woodland creatures which inhabit the forest yet she also willingly gives the gift of creative exploration, fun and encouragement to the children whose swings twirl freely from her sturdy limbs as she welcomes the construction of a make-shift den in her belly. Each haphazardly placed plank indelibly imprinted with happy memories of imagined lands and epic adventures.
The afternoon flowed on with the weaving of a web to catch a dream. Helen from Create Together, guided the crafting. These beautiful dream catchers required focus and concentration but offered so much in return. Not only the satisfaction of producing a unique object created with deft fingers, but also the relaxation of sitting still, surrounded by nature and crafting something uniquely individual with each and every wind and thread of string, watching the art grow and take on its own natural form. There was also the accompaniment of fireside chat, stories and jokes and a shared sense of revelation that uniqueness at every turn is a celebration of all that which connects beings - including the more than human ones. And each time someone paused to take a breath, we remembered that the freshly minted forest oxygen was diffusing itself and giving new life, healing and inspiration for a continuation.
More creative exploration was on offer in the outdoor kitchen whose functional areas were transformed into a felt working paradise. Kirsten has a genuine passion for her craft as witnessed by the utterly incredible and unbelievable creations she produces, including a wolf hand puppet and even a dodo! She gently guided guests to produced a felt flower using wool and a wet felting technique. Wet felting is a wonderful tactile introduction. It's surprisingly simple and fairly intuitive (made more so with Kirsten's guidance!) as the simple arrangement of aligned wool fibres merge together when dampened and begin to blend, shrink and take the firm 3D form of a flower. Then, after a little drying time, a stunning homespun, or rather forest spun decorative broach to take home. Kathryn now has her's attached to her yoga bag!
The day was jam packed with offerings. The healing hands of Deb from Ladye Bay Aesthetics offered sumptuous Indian head massages with deeply enjoyable neck and shoulder release. A moment to escape and melt away any accumulated tensions that remained. Deb's decorated tent was adorned with floaty Indian fabrics which occasionally the curious breeze would part to offer an enticing glimpse and invite an envious gaze from those yet to receive their treatment. Luckily the guests all received in their gift bags a voucher to visit Deb again.
In the afternoon we split into two groups to enjoy the elixir of yin yoga with teacher trainee Natasha guiding the first group and Yoga Avenue leading the second. Yin yoga is a slow form of practice. It targets the deeper tissues of the body through predominantly floor based poses which are held for a few minutes to enable body and mind to sink into repose and yield towards unwinding tensions whilst letting the need to endlessly 'do', quietly subside. The 5 elements system which is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a system of checks and balances aligned to the meridians; subtle channels through which energy flows and which relate to organ systems, the elements and also the seasons. In Summer the element is fire and one of the associated meridians is the spirit home of the yin loving heart. Yoga Avenue's sequence featured heart opening poses and gentle counter poses in which recipients could climb inside and simply notice the after glow as energy began to flow and circulate carrying recipients off down the yin river of bliss.
The Summer Solstice retreat was finally wrapped up with a soothing sound bath. As everyone gathered in a circle, seated or lying down, snuggled in blankets and supported by bolsters, around the roundhouse fire. Wisps of day lengthened smoke spiralled silently up and out of the circular opening in the living roof, carrying the exhales of a blissful day up into the sky. Then the sonorous, haunting notes of the didgeridoo encircled everyone in waves of healing vibration. Mike, Kirsten's husband, plays the didgeridoo, drums and flute for fun but is a talented and intuitive musician and a gifted and patient teacher. He possesses a knowledge which he frequently denies that encapsulates and enthrals when he is called to share the ancient history and stories of these indigenous instruments and the ways they are created and used. During the day he offered mini teach ins on the drums and it was wonderful to witness the sheer delight in the faces of those who had a go at beating the drum. The gong and koshi chimes added their notes to the relaxation which ended with Mike aligning and recalibrating us all with the tones that flowed forth from another didge he played.
And so to close....
Many ancient myths surround the Sun. These tales are stories, steeped in wisdom and peppered with truth teachings which have been passed down from generation to generation. They endlessly infuse spirit, create cognition and develop connection with this poignant pause in the calendar. Here is a a little of a somewhat lesser known Hindu myth:
Tvastr, the craftsman had a daughter Suranyu. She was born as a reflection, envisioned in her father's mind and then crafted by his desire into her unique beautiful form. Such was his love for his creation that when it came time for her to marry he could not bear the separation and malice influenced his choice of husband. As the creator of forms he chose an opposite, the formless one - a shapeless solar globe, the Sun, whose many names included Vivasat, brilliant one.
The Sun, life giver to the Earth was paradoxically born of a dead egg. The son of Aditi, she who loosens bonds and is self procreating, produced 7 gods. Her sons danced vibrantly from her womb feeling as though they had won freedom. But the 8th, an amorphous blob did not dance. Immortally ashamed Aditi kicked it away and the egg rolled into the waters. Nature gathered around it, coddling it and swelling it with protective lymph and holding it in the life giving waters. It was the brothers who chose not to leave Martanda there alone. They hauled him out and attempted to mould him into some form of recognisable shape but they couldn't eradicate his beginning; the death that was within and which later flowed into his son, Manu the progenitor of man.
Saranyu could not bear the scorching, burning, over bearing gaze of the brilliant one, always bright, always watching and yet she yielded to his blinding embrace and gave birth to twins, Yama, the God of death and his sister Yami. She decided she could no longer endure her husbands raw intensity and so she used her powers as the creator of copies, to produce a shadow wife to take her place. Samjna, which means same wisdom was also known as Chaya, the shadow was produced in intense likeness to her mistress who told her "you can bear his intensity, he cannot burn you because you are a shadow, you can survive anything."
Saranyu then departed and took the form of a mare retiring to the pasture and undertaking extreme meditational tapas. The Sun did not suspect anything and embraced the copy just as men today embrace copies of their mind born idealised beloved. All was well, indeed Samjna also gave birth to twins, a shadow family, Manu and Shuni were born. However now with her own family she began to favour her children and one day the Sun caught her scolding young Yama harshly. He realised with the power of his penetrating vision that saw through the veil, she was in fact not his real wife and he burned hot with rage. Suddenly he heard the drumming of resounding hooves beating on the Earth. His undefined form became a stallion galloping through the forest. He came to a field and saw a mare. At first the mare was frightened and wary that the stallion would try to mount her. She fiercely kept her back protected whilst the warm breath from her husband's nostrils infused into her own delicate softly arched chambers carrying his seed into her womb. From the union of suffused breath were born the Asvin twins; creatures with the bodies of men and the heads of horses who wander far and wide healing all mankind - as horses so often do.
So as the Sun stands still today, perhaps we reflect on our own nature, the natural cycle of all things and the healing we can offer those around us through shared connection. As we take onboard and understand that sameness teaches us how to know and difference captivates and expands our knowledge and capacity to creatively grow and extend into life as we slowly turn towards this second half of the year with new intentions.
For future woodland yoga events please visit the Events page or click this link.
A Celebration of Morning Light by John Mundahl
Come, my love,
The morning light
Has found the mountain meadow.
The sleepy grass
Yawns and stretches
Nudged by love
And kissed by rosy lips.
Who would not want
To awaken to such a love?
A love like this
Is sweet and kind,
Soft and never rushed.
With fresh breath
To the silent grass:
From joy you came.
In joy you live.
To joy you shall return again.