The two meditation workshops given by Peter Bligh and myself in October and November were an enormous success. All those who participated found that the different techniques we practised gave them an experience of space, deep physical relaxation and peace of mind. At the beginning of the first workshop Peter had to constantly ask people to smile during the meditations; during the second day, as levels of contentment rose and stress diminished, smiles appeared by themselves, like the sun coming out from behind clouds. As people slowed down and relaxed more deeply, their experiences deepened too, and their heart energy was strengthened. There were moments when I felt intense contentment and connectedness to everything and everyone around me. My senses were sharpened, my mind was freed from desire and I felt totally able to accept things as they were.

On two occasions we went on a walking meditation through the Vondelpark. We walked closely behind each other in complete silence, our eyes cast to the ground as we wound our way through the park like a long human snake. I acted as ‘look-out’ at the back of the line, making sure there was no disturbance, and could feel the peace that we radiated. I also witnessed its effect on passers-by; their pace slowed down, cyclists and joggers reduced their speed while others stopped and stared.

Those who took part in the second weekend had been practising the meditation techniques all week and many of them said they experienced much sharper mental clarity and insight as a result.

Each day we carried out all five stages of antar mouna to develop inner tranquility; the fifth stage can lead to the complete absence of thought. CDs are available in English and Dutch that guide the listener through the practice of antar mouna.

Acting not reacting

It is easy to be ruled by the head and not the heart, especially in these current times when there is so much fear and insecurity. These workshops gave people the opportunity to experience for themselves how yoga and meditation can not only be soothing, but also provide an anchor to hold on to. By remaining a neutral witness, with a clear and focused mind, we are able to make better decisions. By acting on situations, rather than reacting, we maintain mental, emotional and physical balance.

For Peter and myself it was pure bliss and contentment to give these two workshops and see so many happy, relaxed and smiling people, many of whom are already asking when the next workshops will be given in 2011, so that they can reserve a space in their agendas. And this brings me on to my next point.

"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow"

Throughout the 24 years that I have been teaching, the "best" time for the evening classes has always been a subject of debate. What suits one person will not always suit another. Many of us no longer work a 9 to 5 day, we have "flexi-jobs" and "multi-task" and often have to commute.

There is no good time to begin a class – we have to create it ourselves by making our well-being a priority. This demands motivation, creativity and willpower. An increasing demand for the meditation workshops and private shiatsu treatments shows how great the need is for more relaxation in our lives, but it is up to each individual to make this commitment. If we don’t, we are more likely to become mentally ‘constipated’ and physically stressed out! Regular yoga practice leads to increased awareness, which in turn gives us greater understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs (the swan meditation).

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you controlling your life, or is your life controlling you?
  • Are you in control of your mind, or is your mind controlling you?
  • Does your mind help and support you, or does it restrict you?

When yoga was first written about in 400 BC by the enlightened sage Patanjali, one of the first things he wrote was: Yoga chitta vritti nirodhaha, that the aim of yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind. He understood that the mind can either help or hinder you in your life. The condition of our body is a reflection of our mental condition; it will not remain balanced, healthy and relaxed without modifying the mind’s negative, restrictive, fearful and stressful patterns of thinking. This has been my direct experience over the past 24 years.