All

Surfing the yoga wave

Some of you may know I have some loves, and one of my other loves is surfing. Yoga keeps me flexible and healthy, it soothes my spirit and focuses my attention. In short it makes me happier and more patient. Yoga is feet on a steady sticky mat, in the warmth where movements are free but controlled. Surfing is different, everything is moving, its bitterly cold in scotland and you have to be very spontaneous.

p1410501Waves come, waves go, breath comes in, breath goes out. Some waves and breaths are deep some are short. Emotions feel settled and get rangy. For me there is a place they meet: alert attention, body awareness, feeling joy and being challenged. Awareness of the feet and the movement of the hips is as important in surfing as yoga. Finding your edge whilst keeping your body safe.

Surfing takes me out of my comfort zone and back to being a beginner, it also takes into the freezing cold grey sea!  This October was the first time Id surfed in Scotland as Im not keen on getting cold, however with the help of a nice 5mm wetsuit and socks it really was excellent.

p1410481When Im standing in the water and a big wave comes  and I don’t know whether to duck and escape or meet it I use my yoga. I feel my body’s reaction to the wave whether its tension or tummy excitement and I hear the chatter of my mind or the stillness. My yoga practice has helped me develop a philosophy of waiting, being patient, then seizing the moment. It has helped me enjoy the moment and kept my trying new things.

Yoga is a helpful tool in mastering a new sport or refining your skills. The even steady way of working means you will get an all round body workout whilst some sports are high impact on a few joints and muscles. Yoga will train your breathing so that you can breathe more freely under challenging circumstances. How could yoga help you develop further? Or surfing? What do you fancy, but don’t try because its too this or too that? What would get you just on the edge of your comfort zone just now? What could bring you to feeling your body in a new way? What could make you feel thoroughly alive?

 

practising with your breath

imgresYour breath is probably the most useful thing you have to guide you in your practise. It will tell you to push further and when to hold back, It will tell you when you’ve got a pose just right and when to leave a pose out.
Your breathing should move freely during your whole yoga practise. If you find yourself holding your breath it will do you no harm, but it is an indication that you are trying too hard. If you find yourself holding your breath, find some support, make the pose easier and remind yourself to enjoy what you’re doing! If your breathing stutters or becomes high it also means it’s time to back off and take it easier. When we keep pushing beyond what is healthy we may be doing good cardio vascular exercise or building determination, but we wont be doing yoga anymore.
When you are doing a pose and your breathing feels flat, dull or lifeless this is a message to expand your body and your boundaries. If you find you can’t feel your body moving as you breathe then its time to take a deeper challenge.
Yoga is ultimately about finding harmony between body and mind. It is finding your bliss, your peace and your steadiness as well as finding your wings. Be prepared to challenge yourself, to rest and to BE in the moment.

Happy New Year

Screen shot 2016-01-03 at 12.18.09

2016 has greeted us, so far wet, windy and mild. At this time of year I like to review the previous year and think of aims for the following year. Creating resolutions is fun! Of course trying to stick to them or transform the 10 year old resolution into reality is something else. This year I plan to do what I did last year – make my resolutions, and then completely ignore them for the next year. Then 2017 comes I will have a good laugh at my intentions, I find humour is the best way to deal with shortcomings. There is nothing like a good laugh at naivety, what didn’t go to plan and misplaced vigour. Letting go of my expectations to have succeeded, and to achieve goals in the future clears me. Then I can be honestly grateful for the year and all it has brought. Health, love, friendship, food, a beautiful world with beautiful people, leaves blowing in the wind, shards of sunlight and more. Wishing you the feeling of being truly alive for 2016.

Are you like an elastic band?

Photo on 2013-06-18 at 12.32Hayley Price brought the concept of muscles acting like elastic bands at a recent up at  yoga workshop. She was describing how when muscles are stretched too strongly they will snap back like an elastic band, and tighten. I really enjoyed thinking about this concept and would like to take it a bit further.

If you stretch to your very limits you will increase or maintain your range of movement, and you will also make your muscles harder. Like the the elastic band that gets pulled and pulled and pulled, and ends up looking a little deflated and wan.

If you think of an old elastic band, how it wont snap back or ping away – but break. The muscles in young bodies are full of elastin and collagen which makes them very flexible and easily able to adapt to changes. As we age our muscles are literally less elastic, and a bit more stringy. Lovely to imagine isnt it! The muscles may be long and flexible or short and strong, but the muscle fibres become less adaptive.

Im a great believer that one size does not fit all. Younger bodies are different to older bodies, muscles vary in their type whether they’re tighter or looser, and not one sort of yoga is going to suit all people. Ashtanga yoga was initially devised for army training in India, it’s great for fit strong young bodies with boundless energy.

How you relate to your body and what you ask it to do is important. I have been to many yoga classes where the main aim seems to be to move a lot, to come out tired and to be ‘buzzed up’. I have been to yoga classes that seem intent on bashing the body into submission with a ‘no pain no gain’ attitude. These classes are valuable for physical fitness, but for me they’re not yoga. Yoga is about enjoying being m=in my body. I might strengthen or focus on flexibility or alignment – but for me – if it doesn’t feel good: its not yoga. I was in a class not so long ago where the teacher kept telling us what hard work wer were doing, and to keep going, keep going. This might have been excellent advice for some but it was not helpful to me on that day.

Im not suggesting the moment your boy gets a bit tired you should go watch tv on the sofa, but I am suggesting that when you’re in a class and you feel like you’re not good enough, that you’re being told off, criticised, or that you cannot enjoy each moment – then that class is not right for you at that moment.

This remind me of of one of my funniest yoga moments – a teacher training taster day. So its a room of people who think they want to become a yoga teacher. A yoga teacher tells us to forward bend and then goes around the room telling us we’re lying to ourselves about what we can do. This teacher traversed the room telling people off, being very judgemental about our physical poses, our mental attitude and seemed to be implying that the relationship on this course would be ‘the one who knows and the one who doesn’t’. Needless to say I didnt do that teacher training. This relates to every class I teach too, it was one of the best teachings: if you dont like something, if you’re not sure or it doesnt feel good then you must listen to yourself before me – always.

Bhudda said the same:

‘Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense’

…So back to elastic bands

  • If your elastic band body is stretchy – enjoy, explore
  • If your elastic band body is feeling a bit stretched out – go easy
  • If your elastic band body has broken in the past and been reknotted – be really kind

and if your elastic band mind just doesn’t enjoy something – do the best yoga in the world and ignore your teacher.

3 ways yoga beats stress

ID-10058821

Stress is the experiences where there seems to much to do, not enough time, not enough clarity, not enough ‘you’ and everything feels out of control.

Your body’s stress reaction was meant to protect you. But when it’s constantly on alert, your health can pay the price.
It puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Memory impairment
  • Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema

So how can yoga help?

  1. Yoga helps you focus and exercise your breathing. Good breathing is fundamental and affects the way you experience day to day moments. When you practice and allow your breathing to lengthen and become smoother you will feel more balanced and ‘in control’. Start conscious breathing today
  2. Yoga helps you find your feet – literally! When your feet are steady on the ground you will feel more grounded. In class we do exercises to help posture and feet to help you find your place in the world. Get your feet active and feel the floor beneath your soles.
  3. Yoga gives you wings. Sometimes we need to feel good in our bodies and see the bigger picture. Through practicing yoga you will find your body feeling more supply and comfortable, and then in relaxation you get a welcome break from the ups and downs of the day. Get on your mat and then dont forget to relax at the end!

All of us suffer from stress, and stress in manageable does is really good for you. So try to find a place where you can welcome your arms to a bit of challenge, and know when to take some well deserved time out.

Image courtesy of ‘Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot’ freedigitaimages.net

5 ways to improve your yoga

ID-10070460

Get your feet on the ground

Place your feet on the ground, now imagine your toes are softly lengthened along teh floor as the body of your foot gets really strong. You can imagine the torso of your foot is getting a bit shorter as you draw the balls of your feet towards your heels. You can get the same effect more gently by just lifting your toes. See how your arch lifts.

Lift your diaphragm

Leave your shoulders relaxed and try to lift your diaphragm further away from the floor. You can place your hand on the soft area just below where your ribs meet to remind you. Lift upwards from here so your torso lengthens.

Release your shoulders

This direction sounds so simple, but can be tricky. Imagine you are squeezing your upper arms down lower towards the floor – this will stretch your shoulders downwards. You may feel a stretch around your shoulders and neck, remember to go gently and firmly to help your muscles release.

Soften your ribs

Can you keep all that work you’ve done and now feel that the front of your ribs can soften back towards your spine without loosing any length in the body or upper chest. You will feel your abdominals working to do this if the movement is not natural for you. So you get 2 benefits in one!

Breathe!

The most important off all. When your breathing is comfortable and full you are energising and cleansing your body with each breath. Find a way to do you that allows your breathing to remain steady and smooth, and if it doesnt ‘go easier’. If your breathing feels a bit dull or lifeless work just a little bit harder so it perks you up.

Yoga is all about finding balance and refining harmony within your body and within your life. Enjoy your yoga: explore, play and feel with the directions above and see where it takes you

Image courtesy of ‘Chaiwat’ freedigitaimages.net

Yoga to cure and endure

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 11.19.25

‘Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured’

B.K.S. Iyengar

This is a very famous quote from BKS Iyengar. He has written many books on yoga practice and philosophy including Light on Yoga. While much of modern yoga has arisen from the teachings of Krishnamacharya, Iyengar brought yoga to the West, along with it  a passion for  physical strength and flexibility. He also popularised the concept of the Indian Mystic.

But what of his quote?

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured – yoga as a discipline, can help you heal aspects of your health through bodily function and posture. So for instance a really sore shoulder and tight neck muscles may take the joy out of life. Through yoga, this discomfort and pain will receed with time and you will no experience the drain on your energy.

So what happens when that shoulder won’t heal, and remains sore? What happens if you are very ill?

Yoga teaches us to endure what cannot be cured – Iyengar tells us that yoga helps us to cope with what we cannot change. He is not saying yoga is going to make every pain and illness go away. He is not saying yoga will cure cancer. What he does say is that yoga can help us cope in times of trouble. It can settle the mind, keep the body moving and reduce discomfort. It helps us to endure when a cure does not appear to be an option.

So how do we know the difference?

I think the truth is that often we don’t know the difference, we don’t have a crystal ball and most of us cant predict the future. So how do we know it’s the right thing for you, at this very moment?

How do you feel? Do you move a bit and feel worse? Do you do your yoga or your class and feel better?… and what is better?

Sometimes better is steadier, stronger, more grounded, humbled and serious… sometimes better is lighter, bouncier, free and full of laughter. Both are better, but they are different in many ways. They are the same in that after yoga you may feel that you are living more deeply, more fully. You will feel joy, you will feel sadness, and you will feel more fully alive. That is good yoga.

 

 

 

 

 

Name-it meditation

red cahir woman by ambro

Labeling your emotions can help you feel better.

When you feel a surge of emotion say to yourself ‘this is anger’, ‘this is anxiety’, ‘this is grief’.

Labeling your emotions will help you feel less overwhelmed by them. Bhuddism teaches that we manage our emotions better when we label experiences. Science is catching up.

Researchers at UCLA used specialist MRI techniques to see how the brain changed when people labelled their emotions.

They saw more activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that processes emotion and inhibits behavior, and less activity in the amygdala, which is linked to emotional reactions. The amygdala becomes very active when we feel stressed, by labeling emotions the amygdala stayed calmer.

This also happens in traditional meditation. With a mediation practice emotions will feel they roll of your shoulders a little more easily.

Sounds simple… and it is simple. The next time you’re feeling overwrought naming your emotions can help you feel calmer. Those who label emotions feel less fearful, sad, pained or stressed.

‘this is curiosity’ ‘this is ready to give it a try’

Image courtesy of ‘Ambro’ freedigitaimages.net

Gratitude & thanks

waves free ditial- porbital

Life is full of celebrations, usually times when we get together with a group of people, share food and chat. Celebrations can also be reminders to give thanks.

Great teachers from Aesop to Oprah have taught how cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” can lead to a sense of well-being and fulfillment. In the yoga tradition, gratitude is related to contentment and counted as one the five observances or niyamas outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Lack of contentment gives rise to desires or cravings, and which, in turn, lead to envy or frustration over unmet expectations. These are all symptoms of what meditators call “monkey mind,” uncontrolled, incessant—and usually unhelpful—thoughts. Whatever we focus on has a tendency to magnify and define us, like a negative whirlpool that drags us ever deeper.

It is easy to end up negatively ruminating, and sometimes hard to make steps in a more helpful direction. Here is one easy way to turn the tide:

Focus on what we are grateful for, it’s that simple. This will start to calm your mind

“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind waves’

Patanjali

Image courtesy of [Porbital] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net