My new favourite activity after teaching an evening class is to head into the Sussex Countryside to star gaze - I'm often buzzing after teaching, so I look for ways to get some space and feel grounded.
Back in the summer we had the Perseid Meteor shower, so I headed into West Sussex with high hopes of a good light show. I went with a friend who in his own words is a bit of a geek; we set up his telescope and chatted as the sun set and the sky got darker. The shooting stars lit up the sky as they slowly made their way across the sky, much more like fireworks than usual faint flicker of a shooting star.
My friend’s telescope is a Newtonian Reflector so you have to look down into it, and the images are reflected around by mirrors. He expertly guided me around the sky, training the telescope on constellations and planets. As I looked down into the telescope I could see Jupiter, make out some shadowy stripes and three of its moons. The nature of this telescope (looking down through it, rather than holding it horizontal like a pirate) meant I had to slow my breathing to keep the planet in focus until eventually the little orb left the lens, as the Earth turned. What was crystal clear for me was slightly out of focus for my friend - reminding me we see life and its interactions through our own lens; neither my or my friend’s eyes showed the ‘true’ image.
This was a magical night (I'm still talking about it months later). The simplicity of the telescope - a lens and mirrors - combined with my friend who has been practicing his craft since childhood, was very inspiring. No apps, no shortcuts. It reminded me of the Polynesian navigators who were able to map almost the entire pacific ocean without a single tool, because they listened to the ocean, studied the clouds and constellations. They passed their findings down through generations without writing down a word or losing a single detail. This is knowledge, it’s only useful when it’s shared - a lesson for us all; share what you read, experience or feel, and in doing so you'll be contributing to knowledge.
Meteor showers occur when the earth in its orbit around the Sun and it passes through debris left over from the disintegration of comets. There is beauty in destruction, our challenge is to see the same beauty and opportunity in our own lives.
How Star Gazing is a form of Meditation, and how it helps your yoga practice
If you’re using a telescope or binoculars you’ll need to breathe slowly and deeply to keep objects in focus. This observation of how much movement there is in breathing. Now you’ve felt how much movement there is in the body from breathing, honour that when you hold longer stretches, allow for this play in the body
You get a break from looking at your phone, the white light from a smart phone screen will ruin your eyes for a few moments. After your yoga practice, make a commitment to leave your phone in your bag for at least 10 minutes.
It’s great for your eyes, that long distant staring, holding the eyes still actually relaxes the eye muscles that get fatigued when we use screens, read or watch TV. After savasana, when it’s time to open you eyes, initially allow the focus to be soft and keep the eyes fixed gently in one place, helps to keep the nervous system calm after a period of rest.
Puts things into perspective! –That presentation for work doesn’t seem quite so intimidating when you’ve taken time out to feel connected to the wider worlds. Inversions are said to have this same benefit, turning the world on it’s head helps change our perspective.
In our busy urban environment, we rarely experience true darkness, an hour or so out of the city, bathed in darkness is really calming for the nervous system. Recreate this in yoga, place an eye pillow over your eyes. Block out the light.
Having a fixed Drishti calms the nervous system, the eyes aren’t constantly flicking around trying to take in new information. Having a fixed point of focus will help with balancing postures and alignment.
Looking up inspires confidence! When you’re lacking in self belief you’ll look down. When you next arrive at a yoga class why not look around as you get set up, make eye contact and connect with someone.
Rosie Iles-Jonas teaches public and private yoga classes in Hove and is the Yoga teacher for Brighton and Hove Albion FC.