Come with me into the woods

‘Come with me into the woods where spring/ is/ advancing, as it does, no matter what.’ – Mary Oliver

Come with me into the woods. It’s quiet there, except for the chattering song of birds, and the swishing of emerging leaves. You can hear your own calm footfalls on the path, mixing with jumbled half moons of horseshoe prints pressed into the mud.

Come with me into the woods and see the starburst twinkle of wood anemones along the banks, their pale petals reaching out from a huddle of feathery leaves. Spreading beneath the trees and into the distance is a shadow-striped carpet of vibrant wild garlic, its scent permeating the air.

Come with me into the woods and spot the iridescent green of freshly unfurled leaves reaching up towards the light. On the edge of a clearing, a haze of scattered bluebells shimmer.

Come with me into the woods and hear the unexpected rustle of a fluffy-tailed young squirrel, clutching a nut close and skittering up the trunk of a tree. Here in the woods, spring is advancing- it has already arrived. Come with me, let us walk the path together.

Sometimes, it’s the little things!

I turn 50 later this year and, I’ll let you into a secret. I don’t want a big bash, nor do I feel the need to dye my hair pink, get a tattoo (ticked both those boxes a while back, thank you!!) or drive Route 66 on a Harley (but, now you come to mention it!?)

WHY CAN’T WE CELEBRATE THE SMALL WINS?

It’s not that I’m a party pooper but, I like to celebrate the little things. Who says we need to wait for a big occasion in order to celebrate? Why can’t we celebrate the small wins – the ‘little successes’ – that happen as we head towards the larger markers like birthdays, graduations, engagements and so on?

Well, I say we can, and we should. Why not shift the focus in your life onto the maximising even the smaller occasions? We often lament over the bad things that happen, blowing them up in our minds until they are larger than life, so why shouldn’t we shift some of that focus onto the positives? Yoga encourages us to live in the moment and, in the midst of our busy lives, it’s time to take that to heart and celebrate our small victories as and when they come our way.

LIFE IS NEVER SMOOTH SAILING

Life is never smooth sailing and when the sea is calm or the horizon breathtaking, it’s important to take a moment to just pause, reflect and feel grateful. Celebrations don’t have to be heaving parties where your floorboards shake and your fridge is emptied, sometimes they can just be intimate dinners, a well-deserved pamper session or a glorious laugh-filled catch up with old friends.

I love a mini moment celebration, which is why, when we heard that more people than ever were Googling ‘mini moment celebrations’ I couldn’t help but get involved, to try and spread the message far and wide – THIS IS LIFE, LET’S CELEBRATE.

How do I celebrate these mini moments though, I hear you ask. Well, I have a couple of suggestions…

LIGHT A CANDLE AND JUST PAUSE

Candles are synonymous with celebrations; we light them on a cake, set the scene at a dinner party and use them as table-centres at fancy events.

I love this quiet and simple way to just step out of the bustle for a moment, acknowledge the present and connect with yourself. It’s a calming ritual and one that marks the occasion in a mellow way.

Light candles around a bath or simply sit by one and just breathe for a little while.

CRACK OPEN THAT BOTTLE YOU’VE BEEN ‘SAVING’ AND WEAR THAT ‘BEST’ DRESS

We always seem to save the ‘nice stuff’ for a big occasion, but why not a smaller one?

It always feels like a celebration when you’re drinking a fancy bottle or wearing your best bib and tucker. We don’t need to save things for the huge moments in life, often it means we don’t really notice them anyway, sometimes really savouring the good things in a quieter moment always us to enjoy them more.

Plus, once you start saving something, no occasion ever feels big enough anyway.

So, splash on your favourite smell, put on that favourite outfit which has been languishing in your wardrobe and raise a glass to life…and to all it’s glorious muddlesome moments!

And so, to bed!

“Sleep well” is more than a good wish: sleeping well is crucial for our health.  Quality Sleep helps us to function better, remember more, be more active when awake and even improve our outlook on life.

We all know that a major cause sleeplessness is a racing mind, unable to settle, just focused on all of those things we could have done or should be doing. Yet quality sleep is something we need and crave, so here are my Top 7 Tips for quality sleep.

1. Learn to Love the Relax Hour

Settle yourself a good hour before you even think of going to bed. Turn off your electronics, take yourself away from your computer, don’t let yourself look at your phone and certainly not your social media accounts.

In the past, I’ve made the mistake of ‘just checking’ email before bed. Messages which you wouldn’t think twice about in the morning, that you’d deal with in a flash, can fill your head at midnight, causing a whir all night long.

Same with social media. You might just see one upsetting thing, or something that causes some excitement in your brain and there you go – say bye-bye to your night’s quality sleep.

It may be a cliche, but it works to run yourself a hot bath and have a good long bathe. That really will soak away your worries and prepare you mentally for the next stage in your day, which should be all about relaxation and sleep.

2. Learn some relaxing moves

Many of us don’t get back home from work until late, so we have to do our yoga in the time we have. For me, I used to do an fast paced Vinyasa class in the evening….then I’d be absolutely buzzing! After that I’d eat late then wonder why on earth I couldn’t sleep.

I would recommend doing a much more calm form of yoga in the evening. Something relaxing and nourishing like a yin or restorative class instead. Both styles focus in breath work, relaxation and release, just the thing to get you in the right mind set for sleep.  Why not try different styles in the evening and see make a note of how they make you feel?

3. Keep Your Cool!

We tend to sleep better when we’re slightly cooler at night-time than we would be in the daytime. A good way to prepare your body to cool down for the night is to have a hot bath before bed, as the body will feel cooler in comparison to the heat.

If you can, keep a window open for the fresh air to cool you during the night. Wrap up warm under the covers, but your face can keep cool in the open.

4. Get Dark

It’s been proven that a truly dark environment helps the sleeping process. So get dark – get blackout curtains if needs be, or even indulge in an eye mask. These can be really relaxing in themselves, as it can feel very comforting to have an eye mask on. So why not try a luxurious, lavender-scented eye mask and get some seriously dark kip?

5. Journal

Always sleep with a journal by your bed so that any ‘useful’ thoughts you have during the night, or ground-breaking ‘Eureka’ moments can be recorded and you don’t have to think about them any more.

Your journal is also really useful for writing your gratitude practice down before you go to sleep – it’s very hard to feel anxious/angry as well as grateful. So writing down 3 things for which you are  grateful for before you go to sleep is a deeply relaxing and grounding practice, likely to result in a lovely relaxed state of mind and conducive of a good night’s sleep.

6. The Morning

I also think that what you do during the day has a big impact on how you sleep at night. Aim for a dose of daily activity such as some dynamic yoga during the morning. Great to wake you up if you’re feeling a bit blurry-eyed and need a gentle-jolt to get moving in the day.

Also remember to get as much fresh air as you can during the day and take a brisk walk, cycle ride or a run every day, moving more in the air will help move any stagnant energy and your body will just feel so much better in the evening and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Now, where are my PJ’s?!

 

Quieten your mind and let your soul speak

Sukhasana or ‘easy pose’ may not be one of those aspirational Instagram-worthy asanas we’re likely to see on the front of many yoga magazines. But maybe it should. Tune into yourself for a moment – is your breathing short and shallow? Is your jaw clenched? Is your mind racing? If the answer to any of these is a resounding YES, then we need to take time to steer into the slow lane.

Busy means good and stressed equals productive

In a fast-paced modern world where ‘busy’ means ‘good’ and ‘stressed’ equals ‘productive’, we seem to have lost the ability to simply sit and be. Along with a high-intensity work and social schedule, many of us practice hard core workouts or fast flowing, strong yoga classes – replacing one stress with  another.

We need to slow down and experience simply being once again

Sitting, too has been demonised as a killer, and if we’re sitting, we’re probably beavering away at a computer or driving in busy traffic, stressing about getting to our destination. Indeed, the amount of pressure on our bodies and minds is mounting, but thankfully so too is the awareness of how much we really need to slow down and experience simply being once again.  We’ve made things hard for ourselves and felt guilty about making time for ourselves. It’s time to find balance. It’s time to find ease.

We are shaped by our thoughts

A traditional seated posture for meditation, the name Sukhasana combines the Sanskrit word sukha, meaning ‘ease’, ‘pleasant’, or more literally ‘good space’, and asana, meaning ‘posture’ or ‘seat’. In yoga texts it is said to promote mental and physical balance.  One school of yoga thought is that Sukhasana and the other meditation positions were actually the end goal of a physical practice – everything else was intended to prepare the body to sit in silence and quiet the mind. Not so easy after all….

Whilst the physical postures help to focus the mind, aid in a healthier body and burn off excess energies,  it’s the happenings of the mind that ancient yogis were more interested in. Indeed, a famous line from the Buddha states – “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think”. 

Sukhasana may be one of the most important postures

Today, we have so many ways to distract ourselves from the mind – from social media, Netflix….you name it, we can happily fill our hours with busy-ness.  It’s easy for our senses to be pulled in all directions  and to always be in a rush to keep up with deadlines and goals set not just by others, but by ourselves too. If the ‘goal’ of yoga is  ‘calming the fluctuations of the mind’ then we can start by finding stillness in the body. If you feel the speed of your life really has become habitual,  evident in racing thoughts, physical and emotional tension, stress and shallow breathing,  then Sukhasana may be one of the most important postures you practice on a daily basis.

The ability to sit and simply be – to observe the room around you, to look up from the phone screen and open your eyes to the present moment – is something we can all do in order to literally slow the racing mind, and allow the feeling of speed to dissipate and release from our limbs. If we can actively practice finding ease and stillness, we have the opportunity to engage fully with the moment at hand, time to slow down, and rebalance ourselves before heading back out into the world again. The more we do this, perhaps the more we’ll be able to bring a little of that stillness and ease with us wherever we go.

Give yourself a break

What is the worst name you’ve ever called yourself? Stupid? Or thick? Ugly or fat? Clumsy? We use words about ourselves that we wouldn’t dream of saying to a good friend. You might think being mean to yourself is motivational whereas in fact, research shows treating yourself as you would a good friend, i.e. with compassion, makes for better physical health and body image as well as helping you cope when life serves you lemons.

SELF COMPASSION IS NOT THE SAME AS SELF CARE

Self compassion is not the same as self care (that bubble bath at the end of the day), it’s how you talk to yourself in the difficult moments. Changing the voice in your head to a soft kind one works as it gets to the heart of how we are made. Our bodies are programmed to respond to warmth, gentle touch and soft vocalisation.

ASK YOURSELF HOW CAN I COMFORT AND CARE FOR MYSELF

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?

WHO EVER SAID YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE PERFECT?

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?

A heart felt plea!

 

When we begin to listen with our hearts rather than our heads, our whole world changes and becomes softer.

Most of us were born and raised in cultures that value the head over the heart and, as a result, we place our own hearts below our heads in a sort of inner hierarchy of which we may not be conscious. What this means is that we tend to listen and respond from the neck up, often leaving the rest of our bodies with little or no say in most matters. This is a physical habit, which sometimes feels as ingrained as the way we breathe or walk. However, with effort and awareness, we can shift the energy into our hearts, listening and responding from this much deeper, more resonant place.

The brain has a masterful way of imposing structure and order on the world, creating divisions and categories, devising plans and strategies. In many ways, we have our brains to thank for our survival on this planet. However, as is so clear at this time, we also need the wisdom of our hearts if we wish to continue surviving in a viable way. When we listen from our heart, the logical grid of the brain tends to soften and melt, which enables us to perceive the interconnectedness beneath the divisions and categories we use to organize the world. We begin to understand that just as the heart underlies the brain, this interconnectedness underlies everything.

Time for a Spring Clean!

Did you enter 2019 with a bundle of intentions and enthusiasm for the year ahead? Perhaps you started the month full of positive vibes, conquered Dry January, started a new morning routine or kept up your yoga practice consistently. Equally though, perhaps January hasn’t actually been all you hoped it would, maybe you’ve been through challenges and change and faced some demons already. Wherever you’re at on this year’s journey though – just keep swimming.

Change Through Challenge

February is often thought of as one of those dark and gloomy months, but behind the cold weather and cloudy skies, there’s an opportunity for profound personal growth. February may be challenging to cope with, but each challenge we face enhances our ability to adapt, overcome, and learn more about ourselves. Each intention we made at the beginning of 2019 was made for a reason, but now we’ve settled into the rhythm of the year, are those intentions still holding strong?

For many of us, there will always be waves of enthusiasm for the promises we make to ourselves, but each time we do something difficult, we get stronger. Each time we’re willing to get uncomfortable we expand our boundaries and abilities. Resilience and strength of character are often the results of having weathered a storm, adapting to what comes our way and gathering new tools for navigating life.

The ritual of doing something uncomfortable or challenging each day  (like taking a cold shower, going for a run, getting up early to meditate, approaching a challenging yoga posture or standing up in front of your work colleagues to give a presentation) all build a strong mind and an ability to overcome bigger life obstacles. The lessons we learn from everyday experience may not seem particularly profound at the time, but they can really be the ones that help us create the habit of being our best selves. The more we repeat these lessons, the stronger the habit of being our best selves is ingrained, and the longer this habit is kept, the more it becomes a firm part of us.

WE ARE WHAT WE REPEATEDLY DO

As philosopher Will Durant once said; “We are what we repeatedly do”, and now American author James Clear is championing the idea of harnessing small daily habits in order to make a big change. And those small habits are really small, just 1 per-cent in fact. He says; “It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any other goal, we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about.

Meanwhile, improving by 1 per-cent isn’t particularly notable—sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the maths works out: if you can get 1 per-cent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done”. 

Each action we commit to, even if it is a tiny part of our day, all helps cultivate who we are and attributes to the way we feel. The better we feel, the more likely we are to continue the cycle of positive habits. Even if we have a day where that 1 per-cent seems impossible, we can find even the smallest way of creating change – trying a five-minute meditation or focussing an anxious mind with some affirmations and breathing practices.

True happiness and greatness indeed don’t always come from a massive action, but from hard work and committed practice. As even the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali say, calming the mind is the result of persistent and repeated practice, done over a long period of time. (sutras 1.12-1.16) Becoming our true and best selves is a journey worth taking time over, so keep going, keep swimming.

No need to sparkle.

“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

– Virginia Woolf (from A Room of One’s Own)

I find that it is always the beginning of a new year which calls to mind Woolf’s assertion that there is ‘no need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.’ The online world can become particularly clamorous in January. It’s not just the messages of ‘new year, new you’ diet and exercise devotion, but also the insidious feeling that everyone else is forging ahead, filling notebook after notebook with amazing plans for productivity and success in the months ahead. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the pressure to hurry and to sparkle, at a time when really, all many of us want to do is hibernate.

I love the promise of January

It’s not that I don’t welcome the fresh start and clean page of a new year- I love the promise of January, the chance to begin again, to learn new things, to plan and to dream. I do have hopes and intentions for the year ahead- one of which is to return to this space, so long-neglected, to reclaim it and reshape it for the stories that I long to tell you.

This may not be the moment to sparkle and shine

I’m just looking to go gently in these first weeks and months, to remember that I’m allowed to take my time. This may not be the moment to sparkle and shine- which will surely happen for each of us, but only when the circumstances are right. I’m seeking the courage to feel that I am already good enough, that there’s no need, – in fact, there’s no way – for me to be anybody but myself.

When you’re happy, don’t you know it!

READY FOR BLUE MONDAY?

Ready for Blue Monday, officially the most depressing day of the year? It’s apparently due to a combination of the factors: the weather being bad, our motivation is low and that sluggish feeling still hasn’t left us, plus we’re all really starting to feel the pinch after our Christmas spending.
On top of that we’ve probably all dropped our new year’s resolutions and are feeling in a bit of a no man’s land when it comes to our lifestyle.

WHAT IS IT THAT CAN MAKE US HAPPY?

The secret to happiness is a concept that philosophers and psychologists have pondered for centuries. But just what is it that can make us happy?

Some think it is our behaviour, thoughts and attitude that can leave us feeling happy with our lives, rather than simply our situation.

HAPPINESS IS THE RESULT OF CONSTANT EFFORT

The host of the podcast, The One You Feed, Eric Zimmer, recently told Business Insider what he thinks the answer is for a happy life. After speaking with almost 200 psychologists, mindfulness teachers, and life coaches, he said he has realised happiness is the result of constant effort rather than simply thinking positively.

He revealed three simple daily practices that can help you achieve this…

MEDITATE AND BE MINDFUL

Zimmer suggests that honing your mind and practising meditation on a daily basis can help you become more focused, empathetic and aware. Training your brain in this way can open you up to a better understanding of how your mind works and how to enjoy the present moment.

If you have never tried meditation before, a good place to start is by sitting in a peaceful space for a few minutes at the same time every day, remaining still and concentrating on your breathing and only what is happening in the present moment. If you find you get distracted by thoughts, focus your mind back to your rhythmic breathing.

SET YOUR PHONE ALARM TO STOP SOCIAL MEDIA SCROLLING

It’s so easy to just keep scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feeds, only to find you have wasted a big portion of time effectively doing nothing.

‘We have a natural desire to distract ourselves with our phones, which is not always a bad thing, but you should be consuming something you care about,’ Zimmer told Business Insider. ‘The more we are conscious about how we spend our time and do things that matter to us, the more content we will be.’

The way to combat this mindless scrolling is to set your phone alarm to give yourself a time limit on browsing. Be strict with yourself and actively choose to do something which is important to you instead.

PLAY THE ALPHABET GAME TO STOP NEGATIVE THINKING

The alphabet game can be a useful tool in banishing negative thoughts, Zimmer advises. If you find your mind is turning negative, then go through the alphabet, naming something you value for each letter until you get to Z. This draws you away from unhealthy thought processes.

 

January is a time for quiet contemplation and much needed rejuvenation

As we emerge into a New Year, bleary eyed and three boxes of Quality Street down, the long cold months of January and February looming ahead can seem like a daunting prospect. To some people anyway. I happen to love this time of year. Once the crowds return home and the incessant consumerism ceases, this month arrives as a much-needed pause – an opportunity for rest which I’ve always found refreshing after the decadence and debauchery of December. No forced fun, no five gold rings, no mulled wine or mince pies. Time to breathe.

Of course, there’s the small matter of heading back to work after two weeks of binging and watching box sets. Getting up in what feels like the middle of the night and hauling yourself into the office is never easy – but in spite of the unwelcome crash back to reality, January is still a time for quiet contemplation and much needed rejuvenation. Unlike most normal people, I adore the cold, dark evenings – it’s as if they were made for curling up on the sofa with a cup of tea, a packet of hobnobs and a brooding Scandinavian thriller.