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SEPTEMBER IS THE REAL NEW YEAR!

After a long hot summer, September has finally swept in with its cool air, crisp leaves and back-to-school excitement – it’s the perfect month to get going again

Finally, I’ve been anticipating it for ages. Don’t get me wrong, I adored the heady heat of August – I’m as partial to seaside swims and sandy sandwiches as the next person. But there’s something innately hopeful about September. Spring may be the season of hopping lambs and blooming buds but, for me, after the hen-dos, holidays and hedonism of high summer, autumn seems like a wonderful time for renewal.

Perhaps this is paradoxical given nature is in fact shutting down for the year – but with the change in temperature, comes a change in temperament. One crisp morning has the clarifying effect of an ice bath – and I’m suddenly prepared to tackle to the projects I’d been putting off for months.

Summer isn’t the season for studiousness – it’s all sun and sand and sea – and good god it’s great. But now I’m tanned and I’m tired and I’m ready for change. It’s a symptom of living in a perpetually precipitous nation – feeling we must soak up the sunshine whenever it strikes – because we never know when it might be back.

BUT NOW I’M TANNED AND I’M TIRED AND I’M READY FOR CHANGE

So, the recent heatwave, while phenomenal, did put something of a dampener on any plans to be productive. “I must make the most of it:” words I said daily for the duration of July and August: “If I don’t enjoy the sunshine now, I won’t get another chance until next year.” But on and on the summer went, glorious sunshine after glorious sunshine.

Unremitting loveliness which made productivity non-existent. But I’ve eaten one too many magnums and now feel the overwhelming need for soup, a new pencil case and a fresh notepad: a clean slate.

Oh, the joyful symbolism of a new notepad: a new school term: a chance to reinvent yourself, or at the very least, your handwriting. I think we got New Year wrong. January is a terrible time to suddenly uphaul your entire life – when you have half a fridgeful of leftovers and 10 hours of The Crown to get through. It should be now, after the buzz of beach life – when we’re all brimming with ideas stored up over summer and still have residual tans from our week in the sun.

The ensuing months will be darker and colder, but September is all ephemeral light and rust coloured leaves and jacket potatoes and Bake Off being back on the telly. It’s still warm enough for skirts but a woolly jumper wouldn’t be completely out of the question and the hedgerows are jewelled with ripe fruit, so crumble is always on the cards. Crucially, it’s time to go back to school. And as the kids reluctantly return to the classroom, now is the time for us to get back to work too.

It’s time to start tapping away at those goals we set nine months ago, without Christmas specials to distract us. It’s time to opt for fresh vegetables and hearty stews, instead of bread rolls and barbeque food. It’s time to start afresh.

So, while friends lament the declining hours of sunshine, I welcome cloudy days and drawn-out nights with open arms. To me, the cold and dark are comforting. Perhaps now I’ll finally get something done.

BE FILLED WITH A SENSE OF JUBILANT OPTIMISM THAT THIS YEAR JUST MIGHT BE YOUR YEAR.

After a long summer, September, is the time to reset: to feel the crunch underfoot as you walk through the park, welcoming the crisp breeze as it intermingles with the warm air and the auburn leaves as they float down towards the baked earth.

It’s time to give that thing you wanted to do another go, to turn to page one of your new notebook, write your name in your neatest handwriting and be filled with a sense of jubilant optimism that this year just might be your year.

Make today a Pomale day!

I love words and, today I’ve discovered a wonderful new one; and it’s perfect for lazy summer days!

Pomale, also spelled Bumale, Bumali or Pomalo is a term from Southeastern and Central Europe. It describes a moment of relaxed happiness, a feeling of ease and lightness that comes along with a profound sense of peacefulness and the knowledge that everything is alright and life is good.

It’s similar to the experience of quiet joyfulness that sets in after a yoga workshop, movement class, or long massage treatment, while being deeply engaged with a creative project, during a trip to the ocean, or on long hike through the mountains.

Pomale can be the response to the question “how are things going?” or “how’s life?” If you are relaxed, happy and in the flow of life, the response would be “everything’s pomale”.

Pomale can also be used in the context of slowing down. Saying “Pomale! Pomale!” means “Hey, slow down, take your time.”

Pomale always comes with a profound sense of peacefulness and the knowledge that everything is alright and life is good.

You can do things the pomale way, which means that you do things slowly and you enjoy the process. So, make today a day when you adopt a pomale approach to life. The sun is out and everything’s pomale!!

Want to be a weaver? Don’t buy a monkey for a pet!

“If a man is interested in weaving, he shouldn’t keep a monkey for a pet.”

So says the Indian proverb.

That advice has me imagining monkeys speedily undoing the threads on looms with their little monkey fingers the very minute their owners turn their backs. While The Yoga Sutra and their commentaries are often inscrutable to me, I think I get what Satchidananda means here; there seem to have been countless times when I’ve prepared my “loom” by setting a resolution, and then went right out and got myself a monkey; a distraction.

ADOPT A LOYAL PET

But not all pets are distracting and mischievous. Might there even be some that help us weave the tapestries of our resolutions, rather than tearing them to shreds? I wonder if sometimes, when we fail in our resolution-keeping, it’s because we self-handicap ourselves with monkeys rather than adopting loyal pets—the people, activities, and approaches—that might keep us inspired and help us to further our goals. No one said we had to go it alone.

 

Perhaps when we close our eyes and sit in a comfortable seat for meditation, we could not only invite fewer monkeys in, closing the door on the thoughts that disrupt us, but also invite in the pet of the breath. The pet of the candle flame. The pet of a mantra. And for a few minutes, things may grow quiet enough that we can see a new pattern emerging in the warp and weft of the mind’s loom.

 

Are you sitting comfortably?

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!

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??!

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!!

Image result for images of savasana cartoon

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

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.

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!

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.

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.