Shining the light on yoga in schools – Part 2

Welcome back! Here’s part 2 of Netia Mayman’s presentation from Instil. 

Make sure you’ve read part 1 before continuing…

“Understanding where we have come from helps us to know where we are. In order to explore the question I listed the sustained changes (not the ones cancelled wholesale with changes of government) that have taken place since 1982, the year I gained qualified teacher status down the road at The Institute of Education. Apologies to delegates from other parts of the UK, but this really is just England. There really are differences across the UK between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales… I only have 45 mins.

These are legislative actions which have consistently come to underpin the way schools operate. They have been characterised by increasingly wholesale, more rapid and less consultative implementation.

  • Introduction of teacher appraisal eventually tied to pay
  • Establishment of inspection increasingly linked to implementation of government policy
  • School policies must be available and published (believe it or not my first school had nary a one)
  • National curriculum for subjects (pace academies and free schools, more about you later)
  • Legal establishment of school day (yes, there really had been no law for this until the Great Education Reform Act of 1988)
  • Minimisation of the role of local authorities and increasingly wide differentiation in types of school
  • Increased attention to safeguarding in all respects, including aspects of pupil behaviour like bullying, attitudes to race and disability. Victoria Climbie in memorium. Services working together to protect children… kind of. Sadly, since the national vow to make sure that no child ever died because professionals did not talk to each other, as in Victoria’s death, there have been many more cases.
  • Testing, testing, testing with a move from teacher assessment to examinations.
  • League tables. Publication of results of individual schools.
  • Measuring inequality leading to exposure of the underperformance of ‘indigenous’ working-class pupils and those with SEND
  • Balkanisation of teacher training and significant fluctuations in the supply of teachers, usually linked to the strength of the economy. Recruitment rises when there are few alternatives to teaching… but there are other significant factors.

I then recalled a conversation with a tearful trainee teacher last week. She had come to staff yoga tell me she was too stressed to participate. She couldn’t understand the latest data trawl and had to work instead of coming to class. She said she felt like the cat that had been kicked at the end of a long chain of accountability, starting with the headteacher’s need to keep the school ‘Outstanding.’

Evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research, the teaching unions and other bodies suggests:

The overall number of secondary teachers is falling fast, pushing the average pupil-teacher ratio from 14.9 in 2011 to 16.0 in 2017

The government has missed its teacher recruitment targets for 5 years in a row

Increasingly large numbers of working age teacher are leaving. Despite a smaller proportion retiring, the leaving rate is climbing significantly.

Long working hours, rapidly implemented government changes and pupil behaviour continue to be key contributory factors to teachers leaving the profession after 2 years.

Teachers are happy with their pay, and frequently take less well-paid jobs when they leave. Of the three professions of nursing, policing and teaching, teachers have the lowest rate of satisfaction with their amount of free time and the longest working hours (50 pw in term time.)

This made me explore common features of times when I had felt particularly effective and happy in my own work as a teacher. These were those when I had felt trusted and appreciated by those to whom I was accountable. This didn’t mean that I was left to do what I liked, quite the reverse. Rather, the leader inspired me by an example of kindness, discrimination and deep knowledge of what I was doing, not how it looked on an excel spreadsheet. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these leaders emitted an aura of compassion and enlightenment.

Data, money and off-rolling

Data about individual outcomes can drive who is actually on-roll as a student. It also drives finance as schools are funded per pupil. There can be perverse incentives leading to the cynical removal of students from schools.

This is what real terms spending cuts have been since 2010:

20% fall in spending on each 6th former

8% fall in 16-18 spending in further education

88% of schools real terms spending cuts since 2015

Loss of £178,321 per year to secondary schools overall

Loss of £52,546 per year to primary schools overall

Let’s not forget though, that the average Primary and Sport Premium per school £16,000 since 2016. This money is ring-fenced and Sport England guidance is that yoga is a highly appropriate target for this funding.

Meanwhile, Ofsted found that more that 19,000 pupils who were in year 10 in 2016 had vanished from the school roll by the start of year 11 and GCSEs. In 2016/17 40 secondary students per day were permanently excluded, compared to 35 a day in the previous year. Students presenting with challenging behaviour consume a disproportionate amount of resource and negatively influence exam outcomes.

Data in itself is neither good nor bad, hostile or compassionate. All knowledge is power. It’s just a question of what use the knower puts the knowledge to… and humility about what we don’t know and need to find out.

Meanwhile, revisiting the sustained changes, I STILL couldn’t see an underlying thread to shed light on the issue of enlightenment. The question of the knower, the knowable and of knowledge. What were the values in it all? Where, if anywhere, was the Samadhi?

Comparisons are always helpful in clarifying thinking. I wondered would happen if I took something objective, like the PISA tests and compared England’s sustained changes with those of Finland, the top performing country in the PISA tests. We can all argue about the basis for these triennial international measures of the skills and knowledge of 15 year olds, started in 2001. There’s a compelling account for giving them attention in Lucy Crehan’s, ‘Cleverlands’. Finland started a very slow and steady programme of education reform in 1972 which resulted in it coming top in reading, third in scientific literacy and 4th in maths literacy in 2001, and staying consistently at the top in subsequent collections.

I recognise that there are challenges in comparing a country with a very small population to ours, but what is so striking about Finland’s PISA scores is the level of consistency of performance across schools, unmatched by any other country.

In the list of sustained change in Finland, I have excluded the crucial common key features of all top performing countries: paying teachers well, giving them high status and provision of access to high quality CPD. It felt more important to compare our changes with less obvious ones:

  • Shortest schools day and year in Europe and late start to ‘formal education’ at 7. Universal, play-based early years provision.
  • No appraisal, abolished inspection 1990s, key role of LAs and high local autonomy
  • No nationally published testing except for evaluation of national system-effectiveness, sample-based.
  • Grades on basic ed cert age 18-19 given by teachers, moderated by a national board.
  • National curriculum adjusted locally. Vocation curriculum embedded and linked to local industries. A significant role for Local Authorities.
  • Few private and no segregated schools except for carefully assessed SEND.

I realised that the key word binding together the English changes was accountability, or rather COERCION and for Finland, TRUST. How would these translate in to the yoga ethical precepts, the yamas and nyamas? These precepts are there to help us control the instinctive mind.

I’ll pick out two, with bearing on trust and coercion, based on Swami Satchidananda’s wonderfully contemporary explanation of the sutras. He makes constant referral to world systems of morality including Buddism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Taken together, these belief systems are perhaps ‘Universal values.’

Ahimsa – non violence, non-injury, COMPASSION. Satchindananda writes, ‘When the vow of ahimsa is established in someone, all enmity ceases in his or her presence because that person emits harmonious vibrations.’ Is it melodramatic of me to suggest that the situation in our schools is informed by hostility? Could we say that educational leadership emits harmonious vibrations? Is there is a lack of trust and a climate of fear in schools? If so, what can we as yoga teachers do about it?

Tapas – austerity and discipline. We all know how difficult it can sometimes be to get on the mat or meditation cushion. Our own practice, is in many ways a microcosm of our struggle to give a framework to our lives. Discipline is a central to what we can give our learners, whether it be to practice yoga at home, or organise their bag for the next day’s learning. Gandhi gave us a wonderful understanding of this. Our habits enact our values:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

Institutions and society need rules, routines and structures and processes; without them there is no ‘democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law or tolerance of individual belief systems.’ Habits of thinking start early in life and interact with the way the nervous system develops. The good news is that the parasympathetic nervous system is highly teachable. Are the values underlying the standard operating procedures of schools coercive, or do the values work because everyone understands and consents to them?

Now to turn to the question of

What young people are like in 2018?

Bad behaviour is not the first issue cited in teachers leaving the profession, but it’s a regular feature.

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Is this the railing of a conservative politician, an infuriated parent of a teenager or an exhausted head of year 8? No, as many of you may know, it’s Socrates.

I’m going to suggest that:

  • We now understand much more about how young humans develop and can positively implement this knowledge.
  • That young people in the UK may be under more pressure than any generation since those who like my late father, walked through the gates of Maidstone barracks to fight for his country aged 17 in 1944.
  • That young people in the UK are increasing responsible and potentially committed to looking after their own well-being.”

The last part of this interesting presentation is going to be released next Tuesday – make sure you check back then!

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Shining the light of yoga on schools – Adapting and accommodating 21st century knowledge to ancient insight by Netia Prema Mayman

Netia Prema Mayman spoke at our recent Instil conference. She has kindly given us her presentation to share. We will break it into sections so you can absorb the most important parts in bits. Be sure to check back every week for the full presentation. Here is the start of it:

“The presentation will cover:

What schools are like in England in 2018, what VALUES may inform this and how we may have arrived at this point.

I’ll go on to look at what children themselves may actually be like.

I’m conscious of the fact that most of you are yoga teachers, and all people who believe powerfully in what yoga can offer young people. I won’t set out to prove what you already know. However, we can explore together the perspective that yoga offers us in schools and how we can, practically, communicate this to the schools we work with or in.

What are schools in England like in 2018 and what values underpin this?

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of schools, announced in Birmingham in September 2017, ‘British values are not universal values.’ She said ‘Good education takes people on a journey of enlightenment. I got excited about this and wondered what the Ofsted version of ‘Samadhi’ roughly translated as enlightenment, might look like. First I checked out ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. Samadhi is the eighth limb of Raja Yoga (one of the 4 paths of yoga) and really the outcome of the preceding 7 limbs, ‘Just as the naturally pure crystal assumes shapes and colours of objects placed near it, so the yogi’s mind… becomes clear and balanced and attains the state devoid of differentiation between knower, knowable and knowledge. This culmination of meditation is Samadhi.’

I got more excited. The knower, the knowable and knowledge seemed pretty much central to what schools deal with. This feels a bit different to Ofsted’s stated British Values of ‘democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and tolerance of different belief systems’. Most schools have explicit written values over their own, but need to show also that they are teaching ‘British’ ones. A headteacher told me last week that she had no problem integrating British Values in her curriculum model, simply a problem with them being called ‘British’.

I wondered what ‘universal values’ might look like in Amanda’s next big speech. What might be recommended to lie beneath the actions, beliefs, utterances and moments of enlightenment of school staff and students.

So…I scanned her North East Summit speech in October this year, announcing a new inspection framework, for the word values. If you can find it please let me know… it seems that after only a year, she had decided that attending to universal values was not in her job description.

In the absence of a Chief HMI slamming down the tablets of stone, let’s explore how values may be implicit in English schools…”

We will be releasing the second part of this presentation next week. Join us then.

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Strategies for teaching yoga in schools – Part 3

The last lot of tips for teaching yoga in schools…

Tip Number 7:

Sometimes persisting with the pranayama practice can work like magic. It might be worth using some cues to positively reinforce the behaviour you are pleased with as soon as you hear some students begin to chat ‘All we want to hear is the sound of our breathing… excellent year 8… this practice is a challenge for many of the adults I work with, you are doing really well’.

Tip Number 8:

Where you see examples of really great effort, (or someone who demonstrates the sankalpa really well), if you have chance, you could write their names on the board to acknowledge that you’ve seen their good practice

Tip Number 9:

It’s a good idea to have the sankalpa (intention) written on the board and the questions written on the board to support students with a visual reference during their class.

Thank you to Fay Crowther from Ark Teacher Training for these tips!

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Strategies for teaching yoga in schools – Part 2

Welcome back for more tips on how to teach yoga in schools. Read on for more…

Tip number 4:

A good technique to use is to bring people back together just as their conversation peaks, so that they know that they have to discuss the question straight away, otherwise they might not get chance. You could use a countdown ‘coming back together and being ready to share your answers in 3…. Sitting down and facing this way in 2…. Showing focus until the end of the singing bowl…1 (and then ring the bowl)’ ‘All I can hear is the bowl… what wonderful focus year 8, that’s excellent practice…’

Tip number 5:

The sun salutations are a great way for children to get rid of some of their energy but be careful as sometimes children will have so much energy that it will raise the energy in the room too! If you find that the children are over-excited after the sun salutations, try moving on to holding poses for longer. This seems to support them to have more focus and attention.

Tip number 6:

Where students are not on task and it is affecting the concentration of others, try standing next to them initially and modelling exactly what you expect them to be doing- it can help their minds to get back on track.

More tips to follow tomorrow…

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Strategies for teaching yoga in schools

Over the next few days we will be releasing some tips on how to hold the energy in a yoga class of teens. Keep checking back for more strategies to help you teach to your best ability!

Tip Number 1:

Students really respond well to listening to the singing bowl to help focus. Students often respond well to a challenge or working/moving in an aspirational way e.g. ‘Who can show me focus by holding the pose for as long as they hear the bell? Remember, the best yogis will keep trying, even if they wobble or fall out… that’s part of the practice.’

Tip Number 2:

Keep reinforcing what you want to see, ‘I’m looking for everyone to be standing at the top of their mat, focus forward, listening to the bell, not talking so that we can all start together as a group…Wonderful Amin, thank you Jonathan… great this side of the room’ (you could even write some names on the board/make a note of the names and they could be the ‘star yogi’ for the week)

Tip Number 3:

It may be useful to have a very engaged student take your position to model the moves to the other students.

Check back tomorrow for more…

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House of Commons Speech by Charlotta Martinus, November 2018

“Thank you for inviting me to speak. I base my contribution today on 15 years of continued interaction with the diverse community of people involved in yoga in schools across the UK, which includes school leaders, teachers, counsellors and yoga teachers.

Last week I was about to teach yoga to my year 7 and 8, they were messing about on the mats. A stern-faced woman enters the room – says “What’s going on here?” I invite her to join us for our yoga class, she says “I’m not really dressed for it – but tell me more”. I explain that the school has chosen yoga as their whole school wellbeing initiative –she pauses, her face changes as she looks at the mats and looks back at me and says – “what an absolutely wonderful idea.This is what we are looking for.” As she walks out through the door I ask who she is and she turns around to say “I am a school inspector”.

She is not the only one who thinks this way. Increasingly, yoga is catching on in those schools that have realised that they have to address mental health issues themselves and prevent the crisis from happening.

There are a wide range of issues that face young people linked to Mental Health such as:






Behavioural issues

Sleep deprivation


And many many more…

The research shows that all of these are addressed by yoga.

The most recent research led by Westminster University indicates an interesting new aspect which links yoga to increased resilience.

Apart from research, there is also an enormous amount of experiential evidence from yoga in schools. Here is one example:

This is a letter from the Pupil Referral Unit in Milton Keynes. A 14 year old girl who has been absent from regular school for many years.

Since you have been teaching yoga at the Bridge I feel like I have more control out of my life and that I can do anything I put my mind to (eg breathing work and relaxing and stuff) I feel like its gonna be a lot easier. If someone asked me a year or two ago would you ever think you would be doing yoga and in school full time, I would have laughed in their face!”

Imagine if more young people had access to these embodied practitioners before they were moved to the PRU which costs £13000 per year per pupil?

There are three important elements to consider when discussing the role of yoga in schools.

Firstly, up to 2015, yoga was increasingly used as a preventative measure (26% of schools accessed yoga), however due to redirection of Sport England funding, yoga is not as easily available in as many Secondary and Tertiary environments anymore.

Secondly, the increasingly stressful environment that teachers and pupils are facing (testing, lack of trust from leadership – 1 in 3 NQTs leave profession in 3 years!!!)

These first two actually LEAD TO MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES which takes us to the third point:

  1. the on average 30% cut in CAMHS funding over the last 3 years, means that schools are left to deal with something that they are ill-equipped to manage.


The vision we have in this vertical is for yoga to be readily available in each school to reduce the incidences of mental health issues and improve young people’s wellbeing. We see this as involving important cost savings for the NHS, the education system and other areas such as social services.

In order to achieve this, we need your support in three principle areas; curriculum, research and joining the dots between education and the healthcare system.

The First, Yoga in the Curriculum, PSHE, PGCE and SEN

  • The logical place for yoga in schools is within the PSHE (initial exploration of this is already taking place)
  • Yoga is extremely beneficial in the Special Needs context and it would be valuable for SENCOs to have yoga on their list of recommended therapies

For maximum impact and consolidation:

There is a need to be offering yoga as part of the Teacher Training curriculum to support future wellbeing for teachers and students – so directive from government that this is a simple and impactful intervention affording long lasting change.

Secondly, research:

There are plans to implement two large scale research projects, one of which focuses on the ways in which yoga can reduce mental health issues in schools in which the aim is to be partially funded by the NIHR and the other is a longitudinal project aimed to explore how yoga can improve outcomes and reduce costs in a wide variety of ways, academic and other, within schools. And this would be funded by a social impact bond. In both cases, the scale of the endeavour requires an extensive range of support and we request your help in making contact with appropriate stakeholders and decision makers in funding bodies, governmental institutions and the corporate world to support these projects.

The vision for yoga in schools requires joined up thinking. It is vital to develop richer links between those funding health related interventions and school funders. In the current climate in some areas, CCGs are funding yoga for young people. It would be valuable to have conversations with different regional CCGs and NHS England, as well as other organisations, in order to raise awareness and develop policy of the potential impact of funding yoga in schools.

I am sure that the right honourable gentlemen and ladies have particular insights on how government might help to support the propagation of yoga in schools and would welcome any and all insights.”

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Why Teens Need Yoga More Than Ever

On my way to the second day of the Yoga for Teens training course, I reflect over the common themes that always come up on these days, 28 people from all over Europe, united in one vision to support young people with yoga, have all noticed the same thing – young people are increasingly anxious, lacking in self esteem and are suffering. 
Coming together, teachers, psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists all see one solution – yoga. In their own practise, yoga has taken them through difficulties and shown them hope through self care. We all wonder together with one voice: “what is it that happened, why do young people suffer today?” Huddled in groups, they tackle these questions, investigating the development of the adolescent brain and the psycho-social issues that play such a large part in lives of young people today.
We play, cry and laugh as we remember how tough this period can be and as we examine research around how many mental health issues in middle age have their root in adolescence (75%!)
Bringing yoga into schools no longer seems such an odd idea, as it did 15 years ago when we started mooting the concept in Somerset state sector schools. Now over 25 % of schools offer yoga as either part of the curriculum or as an after school club. The new directive from government to employ mental health leads in every school has opened up the opportunity for so many TeenYoga Teachers to go in and offer yoga as part of a wellbeing programme both for target groups, teachers and for the general student group. Given 75% of 14 year old girls opt out of PE, yoga proves to be a popular alternative, taking them away from the competitive atmosphere of GCSE and into an accepting, self-caring space.
I used to mention yoga as a possibility to the issues facing schools, now I
state it as an obvious solution and they listen.

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Thought for the day

According to one of the most ancient texts, yoga is about avoiding future suffering. It does
this in many ways. When we train our body to be fit and healthy we are less likely to fall ill.
When we train our mind through meditation and special breathing techniques, it is less
likely that we suffer anxiety and depression. But more than this, and the area that is often
overlooked is the philosophy of yoga, which presents human beings as all belonging to one
energy – connected – and divided only by the false notion of separation and individuality.
There is even an understanding that death doesn’t really exist, we simply drop our body. If
we choose to embrace this belief system, there is really nothing at all to be afraid of. We
start to choose love and empathy, not fear.

Then we start to learn from our experiences and simply see life as a series of lessons which
bring us closer to connection, we explore each experience, whether pleasant of unpleasant
as a step towards liberation from suffering. Then we step into life with curiosity, openness,
acceptance and love, the four elements which constitute a joyful and expansive life,
according to Mindfulness expert Dr Dan Siegel. So maybe that can encourage us to explore
what thought pattern or repeated experience is causing us suffering? How can that be
changed, what do you need to learn from this repeated thought, behaviour or response so
that you can let it go and free yourself to embrace joy in its fullest form?

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Yesterday was the 4th International Yoga Day and all over the world, yoga was being practised and celebrated in various ways. I spent the day at the House of COmmons at the APPG on yoga in society, where i found myself pinching myself again and again at the incredible steps we are taking towards the acceptance of yoga as a healthcare initiatave and as support in education.

Theorists say that an idea goes from Ridicule to Rejection to Acceptance. Any of us who have worked in yoga in education or even yoga in general can bear testimony to this. In the 70s Yoga was seen as cultish and hippie, in the 90s it became fashionable among the cognoscenti and today it is being rolled out in all areas of society with government getting on board. Yesterday at the House of Commons, I was invited again to participate in a meeting for the APPG on Yoga at which I represent the Education vertical.

Listening to the peers and experts speaking about yoga and yoga in schools in particular, it is clear that we are at the beginning of a burgeoning surge in interest for yoga. Julie Montagu spoke eloquently about the importance of bringing yoga to everyone as she shared her personal journey from anguish to joy and went on to reiterate the importance of using social media to bring awareness to the general public.

Dr Justin Varney, who works in Public Health outlined the criteria for bringing yoga into the Health Service in a meaningful way. He reiterated that the research on yoga is fundamental and that in 2007 there were only a few meaningful research papers and today there are around 400 research papers being produced every year.  This indicates that there is a rise in interest and serious enquiry into the effects and supposed effects of yoga.  Josefin from Sweden gave us an overview of yoga in Prisons all over the world, from Mexico to India and Sweden.  She gave us some beautiful quotes from prisoners who felt their violence and anger drop away in yoga, positing that the re-offending statistics could drop significantly if many continued with yoga outside of prison, thereby saving countries money and saving lives.

Preaching to the converted, around 100 yogis sat smiling and content that finally what they knew all along was being explored and expressed, namely that yoga brings peace and when practiced extensively could potentially change the heart of our nation, bringing it to joy.

As head of the Education vertical in the APPG, I feel the importance of bringing a solid and unflinching cohesion to the community of yoga teachers working in schools or with children outside of school so that we speak with one voice clearly and concisely, working together in solidarity. When we report to government in this way, our voice wil be heard loud and clear and acted upon without hesitation.  This is a call to all kids’ yoga teachers to come together in harmony and move in the same direction, to bring yoga to young people all across the UK in an optimistic, simple and compassionate way. I believe that yoga in schools and for kids could be the answer to so many issues that we are tackling today: obesity, anxiety, disembodiment (and all that that entails) and failing schools. Mindfulness has paved the way and the UK has been a long-term innovator in society, so let’s lead the world in this vision of yoga for children as a way to bring harmony, authenticity and joy to our kids and for our future. Maybe the yoga community could model a new way of leadership, that supports and empowers, that listens and brings together and that moves as one, adhering in this way to the fundamental principles of yoga.  

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Thought for the Day

Many young people are preparing for exams now – whether it is end of year, GCSEs, A Levels, or Uni exams. Yoga is well known to combat stress. In one study we did together with the CBeebies, cortisol (the stress hormone in the body) dropped by 30% at the end of the class, but more interestingly, the whole class started with a 20% lower cortisol rate than the control groups. This means that week on week, your stress is reducing and the benefits are cumulative.

1 – when we stretch our body, we are indicating to our brain that we are relaxed as a stressed body is a tense body.

2 – when we breathe deeply, we activate the baroreceptors in our lungs which tell the body to relax

3 – when we turn ourselves upside down, the heart gets to relax as it no longer needs to pull the blood back up from the bottom of the body

4 – we focus on one thing, the breath or a mantra, in order to train the brain to be strong and not wander or ruminate, which is the basis of so much anxiety. To be able to focus, brings success in any field.

5 – Philosophically – we distinguish between what is real and what is unreal. We look at our lives and we see it in a philosophical perspective, where we are no longer at the centre, but just someone who is learning lessons, whatever they are – this brings us into a more detached mode of thinking.

So when you get home, lie down and pop your legs up the wall and breathe deeply. Make sure your outbreath is longer than your in breath for about 15 to 20 minutes and you will soon feel a difference.

Good Luck!

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