yoga

MY JOURNEY & INSIGHTS ON MEDITATION

My journey & insights on meditation 

Someone sat opposite me at a wedding said to me ‘I don’t believe in meditation, it’s the biggest con’. I spent a minute trying to sway her but then thought fair enough. Sometimes I forget what it must look like from the outside if you have no interest. Being told to sit still for 10 - 30 minutes NO THANKS. 

I started meditation when I was 24, 7 years ago. I did the 10 day free trial on the Headspace app and I loved it. It was a profound experience. I realised that underneath everything going on in my life I was happy and calm somewhere within. And it only took me 10 minutes (at the time) to come to the realisation that everything was ok as it is. I was not drowning under the weight of everything going on, I was not treading water, which I often thought I was. I was just fine. I committed to the 10 days and did it each morning before work. I’ve had moments when I’ve struggled with the practice and moments when I could sit for 40 minutes. There have been times when I feel like I haven’t gotten anything out of it and days when it really helps me land in my body and quieten the noise. 

I have stuck with the practice (albeit at times with a struggle) because I can feel the difference in how I treat myself, and how I react to situations. If I don’t practice and allow things to build up, and don’t allow things to process and filter through, my tone is much harsher. My practice has taught me to notice when my inner critic is fully engaged and that niggly inner voice is getting the better of me. It’s how we interact with our thoughts that is important, how we allow them to manifest and affect us. How we interplay with ourselves affects how we are with others. 

I was chatting to a friend the other day who was upset as a girlfriend of hers said a flippant and hurtful comment that clearly wasn’t thought through. However it was how the girl dealt with the comment after that was most hurtful for my friend. We might say things and think things out of our control (saying is of course more in our control) but it’s how we grab the moment and react to these things, which is important. 

I have random insecure moments when my mind is telling me crazy things, which I know are utterly insane. I have to work hard to accept my insecurity with compassion and then consciously not allow those thoughts to manifest. It might sound unbelievable but only through my practice have I been given the tools to do this. (Not to say that this is the only practice that works but it’s what has served me).

Giving yourself the time to sit allows us the chance to observe what is going on. You might even write some things down that come naturally after meditation. Writing things down in itself is an incredible process for healing and working through stuff. 

Give meditation ago, it takes time so don’t beat yourself. If it’s not for you that’s ok. Figure out what does help you get out of the mind and into the body and in to the present and do that. 

N:B photo taken on the stunning Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe where I meditated each morning to the sunrise. 

TUNING IN NOT SWITCHING OFF 

 

TUNING IN NOT SWITCHING OFF

Often people have the misconception that in yoga we are switching off. In fact we are tuning in!!! YES we are putting down our screens and stepping away from the intensity of our everyday, BUT we are very much not switching off. 

Our culture doesn’t priorities or teach us the skills to listen to the body and be in tune with the bodies needs. Noticing the subtle energy of the body and then developing an understanding of that energy takes practice. What makes yoga so different to other forms of movement or physical exercise (not that yoga has to be done for exercise) is the fact it teaches us to appreciate the nuances of the body. 

Our practice gives us the time and space to bring awareness to intricate details e.g. the connection our feet has to the ground, the sensation of our palms touching, the movement of breath in our body, awareness of thoughts and feelings. It’s not to say we have to move about our day slowly and be hyper aware of everything we do. When we first start to embody this practice (for me also) the aim is to have moments of awareness. If something happens in your day whether frustrating, stirs up sensations of anger, or even if it’s a subtle feeling of guilt or jealousy - we can stop for a moment and observe where we can feel it in the body, and how the body is responding. What areas are we holding tension? Can we soften, release and let go. Locating the sensation is the first step - it's common to clench the jaw, or loose your stomach because of nerves. Once you’ve located the sensation in the body pause and breath deeply, see if you can work through the feeling with breath techniques, meditation, and/or mantra and then either respond to the cause at hand with greater clarity, or let it go. 

On another scale, we might find that we become more in tune to when the body is hungry, tired, stressed, anxious and we start to learn what we actually need to nourish ourselves rather than what we think we need. The art of listening and tuning in will have profound affects as to how you feel about yourself.  

When you next practice yoga remind yourself to keep tuning - checking in with the breath, the jaw, sensations in palms/ feet. You’ll have to reset often and you may even remind yourself ever few seconds but to remember to be aware is the first step. 

 

INTENTIONS WILL ENRICH YOUR LIFE

INTENTIONS WILL ENRICH YOUR LIFE 

When I first started yoga I didn’t understand what it meant to set an intention at the beginning of the practice. When a teacher would offer this my mind would race around searching for something that had meaning to me. Setting intentions was not part of my daily practice. I set goals and targets, which is ingrained in most of us from work, but this is very different to intention setting. 

Intentions are positive and uplifting affirmations that help us to be more aware of ourselves in the present moment. Goals are things we think about in the future, things to strive for and to give us drive, which is no bad thing.

Personally, I work with an overriding intention that I come back to for a significant period of time. Some days, in my practice, I’ll work with slightly different intentions depending on what I need. We can set intentions at any point in our life. Often people set intentions in relation to the moon cycle or the seasons. 

Inspired by ‘The Art Of Happiness’ - an interview with the Dalai Lama, an intention I’m focusing on in my day to day is to be compassionate, and to really understand what this means from moment to moment, person to person and with different experiences. 

‘Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive’. - Dalai Lama

‘In Buddhist teachings, setting an intention is a path or practice that is focused on how you are "being" in the present moment. Your attention is on the everpresent "now" in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.’

Setting an intention in our yoga practice acts like a metaphor to translate our practice off the mat and into our life. It is a vehicle that makes yoga an aspect of our lifestyle, rather than something we do just for exercise. Setting intentions in line with the yoga philosophy is a great way to integrate the philosophy into your life and to keep the teachings at the forefront of your mind. It’s important to set intentions that are positive with no negative connotations e.g. I intend to give off positive energy, I intend to spread happiness, I intend to be kind to all those around me including myself, I look for the best in everything, I am open minded, I am loved and share love.

Whether or not you’re practicing yoga think about an intention you might want to set for the week or month. Keep that in your mind and heart, throughout the day and make every effort to live by it. This practice will enrich our lives and those around us. If everyone were to set positive intentions and raise their internal vibrations think of the affects this would have on the world.  

WHY IS YOGA AN ANTIDOTE FOR STRESS & ANXIETY ?

WHY IS YOGA AN ANTIDOTE FOR STRESS & ANXIETY?

Stress and anxiety are increasingly common complaints in today’s fast-paced world. We tend to live in a constant state of alert due to stressful situations that can’t be resolved quickly e.g. financial worries, commute to work, job satisfaction, conflicts with coworkers, relationships etc. Anxiety is a cognitive state which is linked to an incapacity to control or regulate our emotional response to stress. The practice of yoga and meditation can help you to combat anxiety and lead a calmer, more relaxed, centred and stress-free life. How does it work?

Yoga helps us to turn on and tune into our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), often dubbed the “rest and digest” system. Many of yoga’s health benefits stem from the ability to turn up the dial on the parasympathetic system and to tone down the sympathetic nervous system, also termed as “fight or flight” system. When our PNS is stronger we have the ability to react with greater clarity and control to testing issues. 

We are strengthening our PNS through focus and awareness of the breath and body in our yoga practice. Focus and awareness are antidotes to stress and anxiety and through conscious breathing and attention to the subtle changes of the body (as we move from pose to pose) we develop greater awareness of our internal make up. As we become more aware of where we hold tension, where we feel and don’t feel the breath, how our body changes day to day, what effects us physically and emotionally, the tone of our mind; we begin to understand ourselves a bit better. With greater attention we start to notice the signals of when the body and mind are getting stressed and anxious. We can then begin to catch ourselves before reacting in ways in which we might not want to; we can start to influence our reactions and take action. When we face problematic issues we can bring our yoga into the every day e.g. pausing to take conscious deep breaths, do 5 minutes meditation, hold a pose that helps you feel connected and centred for 10 minutes (perhaps a forward fold, or an inversion), write down thoughts to process feelings and to give your self time and space to think. These exercises can help the breath and body calm and find a sense of connection to self, so we can respond from a place of greater clarity and calm, which we gain from a stronger PNS.

It can be hard to get to this point of control, but through a regular yoga and meditation practice, we find the discipline and develop the tools to manage the negative mind and increased heart rate. When our PNS is stronger we are in a better position to deal with the stresses of everyday life.


‘SUNDAY NIGHT ANXIETY’ 

I know a lot of friends that suffer from slight anxiety on Sunday night. Often it can be hard to sleep on a Sunday evening after an active weekend and knowing you have an early morning with a busy schedule and pressures a waiting you. What has helped when I have the ‘Sunday night feeling’ is 30 minutes of yin, restorative yoga or meditation. Often I’ll do 2 yin poses for 5 minutes or more and then 10 - 12 minutes meditation. This helps get the body and mind into the PNS so you can let go and relax. 

BUTTERFULY   - Create a diamond shape with the legs and bring the soles of the feet to touch  - Use blocks or pillows under the thighs to support the legs and aid relaxation (you could place a bolster under the head or stack pillows to support the neck)  - Focus on the breath flowing deeply and softly in and out of the lungs  - Focus on softening and letting going  - Be aware of sensation and how sensation changes as you hold the pose   - Hold the pose for 5 - 15 minutes, or until you're in a place of calm 

BUTTERFULY 

- Create a diamond shape with the legs and bring the soles of the feet to touch

- Use blocks or pillows under the thighs to support the legs and aid relaxation (you could place a bolster under the head or stack pillows to support the neck)

- Focus on the breath flowing deeply and softly in and out of the lungs

- Focus on softening and letting going

- Be aware of sensation and how sensation changes as you hold the pose 

- Hold the pose for 5 - 15 minutes, or until you're in a place of calm 

CHILDS POSE   - Bring big toes to touch and knees wide  - Lie on bolster either with face down or facing one way. Make sure to change the turn of the head half way through. If you don't have a bolster you can stack pillows.  - Focus on breath and sensation   - Hold for 5 plus minutes

CHILDS POSE 

- Bring big toes to touch and knees wide

- Lie on bolster either with face down or facing one way. Make sure to change the turn of the head half way through. If you don't have a bolster you can stack pillows.

- Focus on breath and sensation 

- Hold for 5 plus minutes

CONTENTMENT....WHY WE SHOULD PRACTICE IT?

 

|| CONTENTMENT....WHY WE SHOULD PRACTICE IT? || 

Contentment is the acceptance of what is, without judgment or desires of what you would like it to be. Practising contentment and reminding yourself to be content is NO easy task.

I often work with contentment as an intention in my practice. With so many temptations, desires and the 'need' for material things in the modern world, the practice of being content is ever more important. Learning to be content, non-judgemental and not attached to our surroundings, is an everyday practice, but one that brings great rewards to our happiness. 

Contentment (Santosha in Sanskrit) is the second of the Niyamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga (See blog post ‘Yoga Philosophy for Beginners’). The Niyamas lead us towards a more positive relationship with ourselves, which is important as we cannot form authentic and sustainable relationships with others until the connection with ourselves is strong.

‘As a result of contentment, one gains supreme joy. Here we should understand the difference between contentment and satisfaction. Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for happiness. If something comes, we let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like nor dislike.’ Sutra 2.42 translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Accepting what is allows us to view the world as facts – unattached by emotion.  It allows us to be in flow with the rhythm, rather then in resistance to the rhythm. Buddha says ‘attachment is the key to suffering’.  When we stop defining events with emotion, and simply watch them, even when they are difficult, we can move through them more easily with a greater sense of contentment. 

To practice Santosa is to practice the perfection of every moment, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have. It doesn't mean idly sitting back and relinquishing the need to do anything. It simply means accepting and appreciating what we have and what we are already, and moving forwards from there. 

It’s so easy to allow ourselves to be victims of life. It’s our human nature to want things to be easy and things to be handed to us on a plate. The truth of the matter is, the more we invest in ourselves and work to understand our individual make up, our mind patterns and our nature, the more we can achieve and give to others. The more we work on ourselves the more content we become with who we are and what we attract. 

TO SUM UP

‘Santosa (Contentment) is the road to peacefulness. When we accept what is, we are at peace. When we resist what is, we enter pain & suffering. To be without judgment is to be content with what is – even in the midst of chaos. This is Santosa and it is where real peace begins.’

 

WHY IS SAVASANA SO IMPORTANT?

 

WHY IS SAVASANA (CORPSE POSE) SO IMPORTANT? 

Lots of people find it difficult to lie still in Savasana or don’t like to do it as they think it’s a waste of time and they could be achieving something in that moment. In Western society we feel the need to always be doing something and we pretty much never give our body the opportunity to rest and restore. Some people freaking love Savasana and zone out completely (not every time though). For others they fidget; hate the silence; thoughts creep in their head; they want to get on with the day. Savasana is more than just lying on your back and relaxing. It’s a time for your body to integrate and absorb all the information it’s taken on during the practice. It’s time for restoration and nourishment! What could be more important? :)  

Simply by lying on your back and following the flow of the breath, allows us to recover from any physical stress brought on from previous yoga postures, and releases any lactic acid build up acquired during a practice. It gives the body a chance to rejuvenate. It’s inevitable the mind will wonder in Savasana. Each time the mind does wonder gently draw the focus back to the body and the breath; observing how the body feels and holding the body in your awareness. Maybe there’s a sense of lightness, heaviness, tingling sensation or floating.

 

Benefits

1.     DE-STRESSES - it’s good for anxiety and works as a de-stresser (if you’re feeling stressed I understand it’s hard to take a 2 minute ‘lie down’ but by slowing down the breath and bringing the focus to the body; it will automatically begin to calm your thoughts)

2.     BRINGS CLARITY – it will leave you feeling refreshed in the mind so you can think more clearly or even sleep better (if done before bed). A less cluttered mind will not only benefit yourself but those around you.

3.     REVIVES THE BODY – When your body is relaxed, after your yoga practise, your bodily functions and systems (like your immune and digestive system) become stimulated and revitalised. Your body needs that time to process and remember the information and intelligence.

4.     MEDITATION - Savasana kind of bridges the gap between asana and dharana (intense focus) then dhyana (state of meditation). It trains the mind to be more focused and present, to be aware of flowing thoughts and not to fixate on them. 

 

The beauty of Savasana is that you can take the pose whenever you want throughout the day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be after your asana practice.

 

BE COURAGEOUS

 

|| BE COURAGEOUS ||

This is a topic that really resonates with me. So many of us our victims of life. It’s so easy to wish that we had this, or was like that person, or if only we had done that and then we could do this… bla bla. My recent motto is ‘stop wishing, start doing’. Each time I find myself wishing or longing for this or that I have firm words with my internal thoughts and realise that a lot of it stems down to having courage. Many moments or maybe every moment of my life that I’m proud of or has given me happiness and pleasure has come from courage – taking a step into the unknown.

I have a life long dream of living abroad by the ocean. I desperately want to make this happen but I’m scarred/fearful of something. And that something stems down to the unknown, what if?, failing, making the wrong decision. But what is worse……

1.     Never knowing and never taking the risk?

2.     Or taking the risk and it not working out how you might have thought?

The chances are reality will never play out exactly how you envision. Each of us are different and each of us have different risks to take but whether it’s a job you want that you don’t feel worthy of, or whether it’s a city you want to move to but you have no friends there, or if you want to start your own career… surely being courageous and going for it is the best answer?

There are sensible decisions and completely stupid ones so I’m not saying do something completely idiotic but follow your dreams, find it in your heart to believe in yourself and be courageous.

I hope this post inspires others and helps you find courage to believe in your ability. If you don’t believe in you no one else will. 

|| FINDING COURAGE ||

All very well to say we need it now we have to find it!

1.     Speak to a friend, a loved one that you trust who knows you and believes in you and write down 4-6 powerful, meaningful, short, snappy words or phrases that you can carry with you that will help you be courageous.

2.     Start looking into the unknown. If you’re someone that needs a bit of planning a bit of prepping, warming up, push yourself and start investigating looking deeper into the possibility of it actually happening.

3.     Believe it’s going to happen at all times! Even if you’re inner thoughts are telling you otherwise.

4.     Do everything in your power to make it happen. Write a list of all the things you can do. People you can email, things you can research, contacts you already have.

5.     Feed yourself with inspiration. Read inspiring books, watch Ted Talks, going to lectures, do things that you know will give you drive. Drive comes from within but we need to find the things that trigger that drive! 

 

 

FLUSH IT OUT... DON'T HOLD ON

 

|| FLUSH IT OUT… DON’T HOLD ON ||

In Western culture there is a disconnect between the mind and body. We’re not taught to be present in our body and listen to our body to then take appropriate action. From a young age we are taught to control and absorb our emotions. We’re taught to ‘suck it up’, ‘be strong’, ‘act like a grown up’, it’s not deemed ok to cry, shake and release our emotion.

Holding onto negative thoughts and emotions creates negative patterns in our body and actions. It doesn’t do any good for anyone. We get so used to reacting to things in a certain way and dealing with our emotions in a certain way we forget to absorb the situation and deal with the issue in a way that we desire to. Yoga has helped me and taught me to become more conscious of my emotional patterns and over time and through practice I’ve been able to manage my reactions and thought process due to greater awareness. As B.K.S Iyengar said ‘Yoga is a powerful tool for liberating ourselves from unwanted, ingrained patterns’

Through our asana practice we can understand our internal nature better, and through breath we integrate the mind and body, becoming more aware of our body. In order to prevent patterns from being repeated we strengthen our body and do meditation to bring awareness to when our body is being affected by fluctuations of the mind. Yoga allows us to slow down and recognise our thought process. Patterns that are ingrained in our nature will not change overnight but yoga allows us to become aware of them and recognise patterns that we want to change or evolve. Over time it is possible to change negative patterns into positive ones and transform the way we see situations.

How we are today is a reflection of our past. How we allow our memory to affect us is key to how we live our lives.

‘Memory is useful if it helps to prepare you for the future, to know whether or not you are moving forward. Use it to develop. Memory is useless if it brings about a repetition of the past. Repetition means to live in memory. If repetition is taking place, then memory is only the means to know whether we are fully aware and evolving. Never think of yesterday. Only go back if you feel that you are doing something, wrong. Use yesterday’s experience as a springboard. Living in the past or longing to repeat previous experiences will only stagnate intelligence.’ Quote by B.K.S. Iyengar

So the moral of the story is to practice yoga of course…. But even if it’s not through yoga, work to develop greater awareness and understanding of the body so we can catch negative thought patterns. Only through greater awareness can we flush out negative thoughts and make room for positive action! 

 

DAILY RITUALS FOR INNER PEACE

DAILY RITUALS FOR INNER PEACE

Here are some of my daily rituals that keep me on track and help me find a sense of inner peace. If I have a hectic weekend or a manic week with work and I find my head is in a bit of fluster I come back to my rituals and check in with myself - they help me see more clearly when my judgement is clouded by my thoughts. 

1.     DAILY INTENTION – We're often telling ourselves what we are not and what we can't do or achieve. Choose what you want to be each day! Whether that's strong, courageous, kind, flexible, understanding, patient... Only when we start telling ourselves we are these things do we start to feel and act that way. The brain is a muscle we can train but it takes time and dedication for patterns to shift. In my daily yoga practice I choose a positive word each day and when my mind goes on a tangent I bring myself back to my word for that day.

2.     MEDITATION/MINDFULNESS: Sitting for 10 minutes a day really does calm the mind and help us see more clearly. However, if meditation isn't for you there are other ways other than sitting still that we can practice to focus the mind. You can find stillness in the mind by being mindful when you eat, walk, brush your teeth, shower, or use colouring in meditation books, which help to ground your thoughts to the very moment. We can then begin to use this skill of grounding the mind when we feel anxious, stressed or negative. As soon as these thoughts arise practice tuning into the body and be as present as you can be. Often we realise that our mind has gone on a tangent and by drawing it back in we can deal with the issue at hand with more clarity. 

3.     TIME OUT: Try and find time to yourself to relax even if it's for a few minutes. In the winter I love to take a bubble bath, light scented candles and chill, maybe watch an episode of my favourite programme. In the summer I tend to sit on the balcony and have a glass of wine or go for a stroll in the park. Treat yourself to time that is not rushed. Time that you consciously choose to unwind. It's so tempting to jam pack our lives but try and slow down, and treat yourself to some chill time that's not necessarily hungover time. 

4.    POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS: Feed yourself daily with goodness. Positive affirmation cards are a great way to start the day on a good foot. Pick one each day, read it in the morning and carry it around with you. Whenever you feel a wobble or need something uplifting or some encouraging words, read your card. It’s so simple but such an uplifting way to start the day. 

5.      LETTING OFF STEAM:  If we feel angry or frustrated and our head is spinning having something to turn to that's physical that will help clear your mind is super helpful. For me exercise always makes me feel better. Whether that's playing sport, jumping on a bike and cycling round the park, going for a run or sweating it out in yoga - flushing it out and moving your body will always make you feel a millions times better. But if you feel absolutely exhausted don't force yourself! 

I hope the above helps at times when the mind begins to spiral, and I completely understand that it can feel impossible at times to slow down the thoughts and calm the mind. But if you keep working at it it will become easier!