How to slow down and create some space

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So many people feel like that they have no time …no time for yoga, no time to meditate, no time for any hobbies, no time for self-care. Their stress levels are critical but they can’t see a way off the treadmill. Often the only time they actually stop and pause is when they are ill.

The cult of busy

Our modern lives drive us to live in ‘doing mode’, rather than ‘being mode’. We have endless to-do lists, and are contactable 24 hours a day, thanks to modern technology. Doing nothing is frowned on as being ‘lazy’ or a waste of time. There is even evidence to suggest that the more busy someone is, the higher others perceive their status, turning ‘busy’ into a status symbol.

However, whilst being busy is applauded, admitting to stress can be hard, especially to employers. We are expected to do more and more and just cope.

“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.”
― Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

How can we create more space in our already busy lives?

If this is you, you’re on that treadmill of busyness and want to get off – think about why you are so busy. Is it because you feel lonely / isolated / bored if every moment isn’t filled with something? Is it because you feel guilty if you are not doing something ‘useful’ or even if you take time out for yourself?

“When we make the transition from crazy-busy to rest, we have to find out what comforts us, what really refuels us, and do that. We deserve to not just put work away and be in service of someone else. What’s really meaningful for us? What do we want to be doing?”

-Brene Brown

Start being less busy by saying no to things – things you don’t have to do, things you don’t really want to do but do anyway out of a sense of obligation. Before you fill that time with new stuff, take some time to figure out what you really want or need to be doing. What will nourish you rather than leave you feeling depleted? Is it simply spending more time with your family, getting out in nature more often, or having a long soak in the bath for an hour after work?

Taking a few minutes to just focus on the breath at the start and end of each day can help to ground you, and help you to feel less scattered when there are lots of competing demands. Bring some mindfulness into your everyday life by really being present. Instead of checking Facebook on your phone when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, you could try feeling the ground beneath your feet, the sensations of the cup in your hand, the noise of the kettle as it meets your ears. Being more present, instead of spending the whole time worrying about the future, or the past, can help create more space in your day. Once you start believing that self-care is important, and a priority, you can start allowing more of it into your life.

And maybe experiment with doing nothing – turn off the phone, put your book away and just sit. See what happens, even if you can only manage a minute. You will see that you are never really ‘doing nothing’, there is always something going on – the breath, the thoughts. Try it and see!

“For fast acting relief, try slowing down.”
― Lily Tomlin

How to connect with the earth element in yoga

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The five elements of Ayurveda (India’s system of holistic mind-body medicine) are earth, water, fire, air and space. Keeping them in balance, or connecting to the qualities of an element you feel you are lacking in, can help to keep you healthy, in both body and mind.

The earth element is associated with the root chakra (energy centre) – muladhara. When this element is out of balance, you might feel scattered, anxious, or lacking in focus. You need a slower, grounding practice (with fewer or no vinyasas – think slow flow) with a long shavasana (final relaxation).

Asana (physical postures)

By focusing on a strong foundation in each pose – the feet, the hands, the sitting bones – we create a sense of feeling grounded, anchored, and stable. Starting the practice in tadasana the mountain pose can help with this as we feel the whole of the sole of the foot having contact with the mat. In adho mukha svanasana downward-facing dog pose, focus on the contact between the hands and feet and the mat, pressing the whole hand into the floor.

Balancing poses like tree pose or eagle pose can help you improve stability, in both body and mind.

Towards the end of the practice, instead of shoulderstand, headstand and other inversions, doing viparita karani or legs up the wall pose is a nice way to ground the body, whilst still getting all the benefits of an inverted posture.

A longer shavasana (final relaxation) is needed, 10 minutes or longer. Focus initially on all the points of contact between the body and the mat, and then releasing the weight of the body into the earth below.

Pranayama (breath control)

Using a deep ujjayi breath throughout the practice, focusing on an equal length of inhalation and exhalation (sama vritti pranayama) can help with feeling stable and grounded.

To end the practice, the brahmari or humming bee breath – using the thumbs in the ears to block out sounds, and the fingers over the eyes, inhale and then on the out breath, make a humming sound. Feel the sound resonating throughout the bones of the head. repeat this five times, and sit for a few minutes after the practice to notice the effects. The humming bee breath is a great way to achieve sense withdrawal (pratyahara), one of the eight limbs of yoga.

Meditation

We can connect with the earth element in meditation, through firstly contemplating that element within our physical body – our bones, teeth, organs, etc. Then think about the earth element outside the body, starting with the floor beneath us, the walls around us, the building we are in, the structures beyond.

Having the realization that these two are no different – the earth element within us and outside ourselves is one and the same, ever-changing parts of a greater whole.

How to start (and maintain) a home yoga practice

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So you’ve been going to a weekly yoga class for a while, you love that straight-outta-shavasana feeling, but aren’t sure how to get started at home. This article is for you! I’ll outline the basic equipment you might need, how to make sure you actually get on the mat, and what to do when you get there. Plus a few bonus pointers to mix things up and keep it interesting. I’ll focus on vinyasa flow yoga, as that’s what I teach. If you prefer yin or Iyengar yoga, you might want to invest in more props.

What equipment do I need?

Not a lot, to be honest. Whilst a yoga mat is not essential (unless you have carpet), a good sticky mat can really help your practice (especially for vinyasa flow yoga, where your hands can get a little sweaty and slippy). You don’t want to spend every downward-facing dog worrying that your hands are sliding on the floor …

You really can spend a whole lot of money on a yoga mat, and if you’re just starting out, it’s probably not necessary to spend more than about £20. I would avoid going to a sports shop as they rarely have anything that’s actually any good for yoga, and look online at somewhere like Yogamatters (I’m not making any money by featuring them, I  just like what they’re about!).

Once you have maintained a regular practice for a while (maybe a few years) you might want to step it up to a stickier type of mat – Liforme is my mat of choice, but I only switched to that after practising for almost 20yrs on a regular sticky mat!

You may also want to get a block and / or a brick. Whilst not essential (and you could use a big book or a cushion), they can help with modifying poses (not just for beginners!).

I got a yoga mat, now what do I do with it?!

How you practice at home is a matter of choice, and how much you can remember from your weekly class. You might just want to start off with some sun salutations – next time you go to your class, really pay attention to the poses in the sun salutations, so you can take it back to your mat at home. Then each week maybe add in a new pose from your class.

If you want to have a longer home practice, or don’t trust yourself to remember much from your classes, you might want to get a DVD or use an online video. There are TONS to choose from. Being a bit old-school, I am a DVD-girl… I love Shiva Rea‘s DVDs (Fluid Power and Daily Energy are my favourites) – especially as she has a ‘yoga matrix’ where you can create your own practices made up of sections of her sequences, varying it according to how much time you have and your energy levels.

There are so many online videos, some are free (Yoga with Adrienne is a favourite) and some are sophisticated membership sites with top international teachers (Movement for Modern Life and YogaGlo are popular)

Another old-school (but still valid!) choice for your home practice is an audio CD. You don’t have the distraction of needing to have your eyes on the screen, and can make your practice more meditative. Lara Baumann does some good yoga practice CDs for beginners (although you can also download the video sequences).

You might want to practice yoga using a book. Whilst this is good for slow hatha styles, it’s not so good for vinyasa flow, as stopping to look at the book after every pose doesn’t keep the heat in the body. Books can be a great resource off the mat, however, and maybe I’ll do a blog post in the future about yoga books.

How to make sure you actually do some yoga

Whatever diary / planner you use, start scheduling your yoga home practice sessions. Whether you prefer getting up early and doing it before work, or in the evenings, you’re more likely to stick to your plans and actually do some yoga if you mark out the time in advance. Laying out your equipment the night before can also help.

How to keep it interesting

If you just use the same one DVD, online video, or few poses from your weekly class, things can get a little stale. Having a few videos that you rotate can keep it fresh. In the summer, you might want to take your mat out into the garden or on holiday with you. Also adding in things like a guided meditation or a yoga nidra recording at the end of your practice can step it up to the next level.

The main thing is to get started! You know all about the benefits of yoga and how great it makes you feel … in the words of the famous sportswear brand, JUST DO IT!

Namaste!

My story

I had dabbled with yoga as a child, copying the pictures in my mum’s Richard Hittleman book. I first got on the yoga mat seriously in 1997 with the course in the back of Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, in search of connection between body and mind. I was recovering from an eating disorder and depression, and needed to find a kinder way of inhabiting my body. Yoga gave me a way of feeling embodied and grounded that I had never had before.

Yoga (and later, meditation) provided a platform for personal growth and transformation in the area of self acceptance and connecting with a larger purpose. By observing your fear in that big backbend, you can really learn a lot about how you face fears in your everyday life. It’s all there in the microcosm of the yoga mat, you just need to tune it in.

I became a teacher to share the potential of this transformation with others, and have been surprised how much I love teaching (I’m really a bit of a wallflower!)

I have been teaching vinyasa flow yoga since Jan 2017, and have been practising since 1997 (over 20yrs). I am inspired by David Swenson, Lara Baumann and Shiva Rea.

I graduated from a Yoga Alliance accredited 200hrs training with YogaLondon in 2017. I am also a qualified nurse and have a diploma in counselling skills. My classes are accessible yet challenging, have a creative approach to sequencing and always feature a gentle soundtrack to complement your experience.

Meditation 101 – benefits, techniques, how to get started

Apparently today is world meditation day. But why do we need to meditate? What benefits does it have? And how can you get started today?

Why meditate?

People have been meditating for over 2500 years. Now neuroscience is now proving what those ancient people knew all along – that meditation is highly beneficial. It can improve memory and concentration, and can help us regulate our emotions.

Personally speaking, I am a much nicer person to be around since I started meditating about 7yrs ago. I am more aware of my emotional response to people and things around me, and it also gives me space before I respond, rather than just reacting out of habit. It also allows me a greater amount of self-care as I can see when things are becoming stressful and I can consciously choose how to respond to things in a way that is kind to myself.

Types of meditation

“Meditation” is an umbrella term for many different practices. A common one for beginners and experienced meditators is mindfulness of breathing, where the attention is focused on the breath.

Metta or loving kindness meditation is where you try to cultivate kind feelings towards yourself, a friend, someone neutral, someone you’re having difficulty with and then all beings.

Just sitting meditation is just that – sitting with no agenda, just an open awareness of everything that’s going on (thoughts, feelings, sensations, sounds etc) without getting caught up in the story of those things.

How to get started today

Sitting upright on a chair or on a cushion on the floor, have a clock nearby. The posture should be upright but comfortable. Consider having a cushion or blanket in your lap to rest your hands on.

Close your eyes and just focus on the sensation of breath flowing in and out at the nostrils. Notice the temperature, the texture, the quality of the breath – really be curious. If it is easier to stay with the breath by counting then you can do that. Every time you notice the mind has wandered, just gently guide it back to the breath. Aim for five minutes and you can build it up over time.

There are lots of great guided meditations on various apps and websites. I like Insight Timer, it has thousands of guided meditations (I like the ones by Bodhipaksa) but also a simple timer to use unguided. Headspace is also popular.

What is yoga, anyway?

“Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to yoke, or union. In modern terms, union between body and mind, greater integration of ourselves as a path to liberation.

Uniting body and mind means embodiment – so many people today are very disembodied, have lost touch with their bodily sensations. Modern scientific research shows that embodiment as a form of mindfulness can help relieve stress and anxiety, putting us back in touch with the body as the container for our emotions (so when we feel angry it anxious, we really notice where we feel it in the body).

Yoga as physical postures is just one of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s ancient system (we will look at the others in weeks to come), as well as our ethical behaviour, meditation and breath control.

Yoga is good for bodies in the modern world which are often hunched over computers for hours every day. It’s a good way to increase flexibility and gain strength. It is also great for relieving insomnia, managing stress and simulating the abdominal organs and assisting digestion. So what are you waiting for?