Are you sitting comfortably?

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Traditionally, yoga is a preparation for long periods of sitting and the lotus position would have been a comfortable pose to remain in whilst meditatingfor very many hours.
But most of us humans have subjected our bodies to the rigours of sitting in a chair since childhood, so we no longer spend long periods of time in a squat or in a cross legged position, which is how humans would have more ‘naturally’ relaxed when not standing.
And the trouble with chairs is that they have chronically tensed our hips. We’re addicted to chairs. Many folks drive to work in a chair, sit in chairs at work (if you work in the office), come home and sit on the sofa. Our chair addiction is pretty out of control.
You may say, well, they are comfortable. And yes, we have trained our bodies to find comfort in this position. But do you ever wonder why children at first wriggle when put in a high-chair? Our bodies are made to wriggle, to move, to change positions.
Our hips are made to be open and flexible. Squatting and sitting cross-legged retains that flexibility and also encourage a straighter spine. Chairs tend to encourage rounded shoulders, rounded lower back, weak core, stiff hips. No wonder statistics say that one in ten suffer from lower back pain and that studies say that back pain is the leading cause of disability.
Surely, as well as most of our chronic lack of movement, being stuck to a chair for most of our waking hours is a massive cause of that back pain.
Of course, after all the hours sat at chairs, in our usual slack core, tense hip pose, it won’t be a good idea to hop straight into poses that require flexibility or much mobility of the knee-joint. But if, every day, we start to sit in chairs less, we start to squat and sit cross legged more, we move and mobilise our knee joints as well as our hips, and hamstrings, we might find that our backache is reduced.
So this week, perhaps pay extra attention to how you sit, not only on the mat, but off it. Are you comfortable? Are your shoulders down, your core subtly engaged, your chest open, your hips feeling free? And what can you do to change that?
And what of props? Those with tight hips find sitting still for ages hard and a recipe for pins and needles .. if this sounds like you we would  recommend a prop. This can be sitting against a wall sometimes for a long meditation.. or a wedged type block… or a bolster​ or even just a cushion.. Many folks find trying these things can give access to sitting on the floor for longer. And don’t forget a soft blanket under any boney ankles out there!

I’ve got that lovin’ feeling!

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A great philosophy teacher Rose Baudin, once said,

‘We do not see the world as it is, but as we are.’

Those words have continued to ring true for me in the many years since I first heard it. And the practice of yoga can shine a light on the way we view and react to the world and our habitual responses.

‘We do not see the world as it is, but as we are.’

 So what does that really mean? What does it point to?

Well, for me it is that our personal experiences of mind and body directly affect how we move through the world. If we never question or look in to this we can often assume that ‘our’ personal view of the world is the only one that exists.

And then we can find ourselves pushing out against the world and those around us from that point of view, without realising it is just a unique personal lens that each of us look at the world through each day.

Which is why, for example, when a wonderful thing happens in your life, such as falling in love, your spirits are usually so exalted and elevated that your whole world view is too.  Suddenly everyone and everything around you impart great joy, when just a short time ago you were irked and annoyed by it all.

All this leads us back to our sense of self

The relationship we have with ourselves is truly the most important and foundational relationship that exists in our lives. It has most potential to either positively or negatively affect our experience of the world.

So where does Loving Kindness come into all this?

Well, loving kindness or ‘metta’ as it was originally called in the Buddhist tradition that it arose from is a form of meditation that helps us cultivate ‘loving kindness’ and compassion for both ourselves and others.

The concept of ‘loving kindness’ is not unique to Buddhism alone. It is a concept that arises in almost all major religions of the world, which indicates that across time and space ‘loving kindness’ and the cultivation of compassion are acts that humanity values and deeply needs.

In Christianity, for example, you have the concept of loving kindness documented as far back as 1535.

In Hinduism you have the concept of ‘Priti’ meaning “amity, kindness, friendly disposition, love, affection, harmony, peacefulness”.

I have to offer myself good wishes?!

What I love about the practice is that it begins with oneself, and our relationship with ourselves. And what is interesting is that often we are surprised by how hard we find it to sincerely offer good wishes to ourself, revealing perhaps a latent underlying belief we have about ourselves that we are not worthy of well wishes.

This is interesting terrain as yogis to navigate and initially we may feel we are saying these sentiments without fully embodying them but over time I have found my relationship with myself has been deeply softened, improved and enhanced by this practice.

… And someone I don’t like?!

Then the next challenge people often face with the practice is attempting to sincerely and wholeheartedly offer well wishes to someone in our lives we are currently have difficulty with.

Again, initially, in the early stages of practice it may feel that you can’t fully embody offering these well wishes to this person sincerely. However, what I have found over years of practice is that it has resulted in a softness arising within me.  There is a slow embodied realisation that above all our differences, this tricky person and I have more in common than we have in difference.

Intrigued? Fancy giving it a go?

Below is a very simple script to follow to get you started in Loving Kindness meditation. Feel free to tweak and change it to what really resonates and works for you.

Find a quiet, undisturbed place to sit. Either on the floor with cushions elevating your hips higher than your knees or on a chair. Whatever feels most comfortable for you and allows you to have a tall spine. Start by taking a few slow, deep breaths and tuning into the flow of your breath.

Then bring your awareness to yourself and offer up the below 4 statements silently internally to yourself with as much sincerity as you can muster! Repeat 3 times.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.

May I be well in body and mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

 

Then repeat the same thing with someone you dearly love in your life, offering them these phrases. Then repeat with someone in your life you seen often but don’t actually know, then lastly repeat with someone you are challenged by currently in your life.

At the end, pause, allow whatever unfolded to be as it is. No judgement on how sincerely you managed to express these statements to self or other. Just trust in the fact that you made the time and commitment to sit and cultivate loving kindness and compassion for self and other.

Practice as much as you like, but know like all practices, the more you dive into it the more it will deepen and be enriched.

 

Are you getting enough??!

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This week there seems to have been a lot in the media about the importance of sleeping well. Which is so fabulous, as far as I’m concerned, as we often think of eating better, exercising better to improve our health and happiness, but actually, it seems that sleep has an even bigger impact on our overall health than what we eat or how we move.

I just heard about an amazing study, the ‘daylight savings time’ which is conducted twice a year on over 1.5 billion people across 70 countries, and shows a massive 24% increase in heart attacks due the the loss of just one hour’s sleep and in the autumn there’s a 21% decrease in heart attacks. That’s pretty incredible to me. Just one hour’s sleep results in such massive biological differences and such a marked affect upon our biology.

It’s so bizarre that sleep is the absolute corner-stone of good health but is often undercooked as a ‘nice to have’. And worse, sleepy-heads are called lazy and those who sleep less are applauded as being more productive, whereas it’s actually the other way round! Those who get their 8 hours are healthier, are able to lose weight easier, have better athletic performance, improved cognition skills, improved memory, are seen as more charismatic, more inspiring leaders, are more productive and happier!! 

Yoga has been proven to help those of us who struggle to switch off and ease our way towards a good night’s sleep. Restorative yoga is, in my book, yoga’s best kept secret and I love teaching this ‘Feel Good Friday’ class, now as a monthly workshop. Book with me now for October 27th and experience the benefit of yoga Nidra or yoga sleep. Sweet dreams assured!!

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If you’re in any doubt about the importance of sleep, have a read of this fascinating interview with Matthew Walker, author of ‘Why We Sleep’.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/24/why-lack-of-sleep-health-worst-enemy-matthew-walker-why-we-sleep

 

Shiny shoes and sharp pencils

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As a child, I secretly loved going back to school in September. Not for me the heavy heart as the summer holiday drew to a close. Instead, I longed for my smart shiny shoes and sharp pencils which marked the start of a new term, new opportunities, new challenges.

As an adult, we leave our resolutions and fresh starts for January, resolving to give up this, give up that and become that better, fitter, healthier, slimmer person we feel we ought to be.

SEPTEMBER IS THE NEW JANUARY

Well, how about September becomes the new January? New year resolutions? Sooo last year, darling! Instead, how about a daily resolution; an affirming, positive, life enhancing decision, no matter how small,  which will bring us joy? No more deprivation and denial.

REFLECT ON YOUR OWN PERSONAL HARVEST

Friday 22nd September heralds in the Autumn Equinox, the day when day and night are beautifully balanced, marking the start of autumn. In yoga, it’s a time to reflect on your own personal harvest and, just as the trees shed their leaves, a time to leave behind all that doesn’t serve you.

MAKE, LEARN OR DO SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY

So, shake off old habits and plan a new one. Sow the seeds now, ready to reap the benefits in the gloriously colourful autumnal days to come. As for me, I resolve to offer myself the same care I bring to my classes; to learn to let go; and to continue to make, learn or do something new every day…no matter how small.

 

Yoga for all.

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I’m a firm believer that yoga really can and should be available for everyone, regardless of age or ability. So, I’m feeling pretty pleased that LIM has made the local press with an article about Chair Yoga or ‘Choga’ as I call it. This group began over 2 years ago and we’re still going strong with many of the chogis having been with me from the start. It’s one of the most uplifting and inspiring classes I am lucky enough to teach and  I’ve seen the difference, both mentally and physically that yoga has brought. I’ve recently started teaching yoga for palliative care at a local hospice and, what’s so wonderful is to see both staff and patients getting involved together. Proof positive that yoga is something everyone can access and enjoy.

Valley Leisure launch community ‘Choga’ class

Easter joy!

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Happy Easter! I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I gave up my old life to start my new life on the mat. Easter in the Christian tradition is a time of celebration; Lenten abstinence is over and we can enjoy the delights of chocolate once more!! Easter this year is looking particularly beautiful, abounding with the colours of spring flowers, blossoming in the unexpected but, oh so welcome warm sunshine.

On the mat, I can feel my body wanting to shake off the winter gloom as I approach my practice with renewed energy and vigour. I’ve been incorporating invigorating sun salutes into my classes and was delighted to discover this wonderful, meditative music to accompany them. The steady chant soothes the mind, just as the flowing sequence gently warms the body, easing us from our winter hibernation. Enjoy.

 

The day I stopped apologising for slow flow yoga.

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I had 2 new lovely yogis to my class today. I first met them some years ago when we all went on our first retreat together with a fellow yoga teacher. They have been attending her rather more fast passed Vinyasa flow classes for some time but decided to mix it up and join me today. The theme was ‘Simplicity’ and I’d designed a sweet, simple practice where the challenge was to stay present and fully focussed, even when we slowed things right down. So far, so good. However, as I went through the class, there was a niggle of doubt at the back of my mind that they would be bored with my slow paced offering.

At the end as we all gathered for our usual leisurely Sunday goodbyes, I found myself apologising for my slow flow class when they were perhaps used to a more vigorous pace. ‘But, it was lovely’ was the response from one, while the other declared that he found slower classes more challenging than speedier ones. Afterwards, I began to mull over why I still feel the need to somehow justify my style. While I can and often do, plan a fast paced class, I find myself increasingly drawn to the slow side. I love my Feel Good Friday restorative classes where I can see the group begin to release the tensions of the week as they surrender into bolsters, blankets and pillows. I can hear their breath getting deeper and longer and the energy in the room tangibly shifts gear from fifth to first as we gradually put the brakes on.

My husband’s meditation teacher uses a wonderful expression at the start of each session. ‘Give yourself permission to switch off from an increasingly busy and noisy world’.

One of the lovely yogis who regularly attends my classes came up at the end of our practice last week to tell me that yoga was her ‘oasis’. What a wonderful way to describe it. To me, an oasis is a haven where we can take rest and restore ourselves before restarting our journey, refreshed and rejuvenated.

So, no more apologies for taking things slow. After all, it was the tortoise who won the race.

Happy New Year!

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After the festivities of Christmas and the parties to see in 2017, January can be a bit of a let down. With grey skies and dreary weather, it’s little wonder that many of us get a case of the ‘mean reds’ as Holly Golightly, one of my favourite literary characters, would say. As if this wasn’t enough to contend with, we then throw in the added pressure of New Year resolutions.

I read an interesting article recently which said that only 8% of us manage to maintain our well intentioned resolutions beyond February. Before you get too disheartened and throw in the towel, there was a glimmer of hope. The key to being in that magical 8% is to think carefully before setting your intentions for the year. Too many fail as they are simply unrealistic or too nebulous. Setting out to ‘be a better person’; ‘be happier’ or aiming to ‘run a marathon’ when your only experience of running is to catch a bus are, on balance, not the wisest of choices.

Instead, following a few simple rules boosts your chance of success so, here you go!

Top tips for success;

  • Be realistic. Small steps towards your ultimate goal are far more likely to be successful. Remember, a journey starts with a single step!
  • Be specific.
  • Tell family and friends to enlist their support.
  • Set milestones along the way and celebrate success!
  • Don’t give up. If you experience a set back, start afresh with renewed vigour.

And for me? I have made the same resolution for the past few years and, on the whole, I’ve managed to keep it. Every night, before I go to sleep, I recall 3 things that I’m grateful for. Sounds easy? Believe me, I too have days when 3 good things can seem a challenge! But, that’s why I do it. Even on a bad day, there’ll be something which I should give thanks for. Having just come back from a wonderful trip to Mexico where I was welcomed with such warmth, openness and genuine hospitality, my gratitude cup currently runneth over. I’m going to hold these memories in my heart and recall them when the grey days of January threaten to overwhelm me.

Whatever your intentions for 2017, I wish you peace, health and happiness (and good luck at being in that 8% come February!)

Welcome to the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

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Autumn is bringing shorter days and changeable weather, exposing us to qualities that are light, dry, cold, mobile, subtle and rough. Ayurveda explains that when vata dosha dominates, these qualities are present. Ayurveda refers to autumn and early winter as the vata season.

Ayurveda is an ancient science based on elemental principles that pertain to life on earth. Ayurveda recognizes the elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth as the building blocks of the natural world. According to Ayurveda, these five elements pair-up in three combinations to form the primary forces of nature called doshas. Ether and air form vata dosha. Fire and water make up pitta dosha. Water and earth create kapha dosha.

Under the influence of vata’s ether and air contributions, you can feel light, carefree and creative or spacey, scattered, and unstable. The etheric nature of vata creates a sense of space, in which you may feel free or lost. The airy aspect of vata can inspire productivity or promote anxiety. Ayurveda teaches that like increases like. If you are dominantly vata by nature or are consistently influenced by vata, you are more likely to experience the negative effects of excess vata during the vata season.

As the external environment changes during the vata season, your internal environment can experience the same type of changes; dry leaves, dry skin; crackly leaves, crackly joints; shorter days, shorter attention span; colder days, colder extremities, windy days, windy bowels. The qualities of vata dosha are found in the disorders that are common at this time of year. By observing the processes of Mother Nature, you can better understand the processes of your body, mind and spirit.

Applying the Ayurvedic principle that opposite actions create balance, you can maintain balance during the vata season by emphasizing lifestyle and food choices that are grounding, stabilizing, warming, moisturizing and softening. You can stay calm and connected in this whirlwind season with a consistent practice that includes nourishing and protective measures. Ayurveda promotes simple and regular routines as having a deeper effect on balancing vata than an ‘as needed’ approach.

SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVING IS EASY!

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It’s been rather a wash out so far with glimpses of the sun, punctuated with showers more worthy of April than July. Hopefully, we’ll all have our time in the sun, either at home for a ‘stay-cation’ or abroad.

Wherever you go, take yoga with you. With so many high quality teachers and classes now streamed online, technology can really come into its own. Download a few to your iPad and maintain your practice wherever you are.

If you’re braver, why not hunt out a class in your holiday location? One of my most amazing memories is when we spent Christmas in Istanbul. I remember doing a restorative yoga class on Christmas day, relaxing on my mat whilst the lights from the boats were reflected in the Bosphoros. Magical!

You’ll find yoga is a universal language and, whilst you may not be fluent in Turkish, French, Greek or Spanish, a down dog is a down dog across the globe!

I can’t wait to hearing about your travel tales when you come back to class, hopefully feeling refreshed and revived after your well earned breaks. Happy hols!