Monthly Archives: February 2016

Take a break and align yourself!

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As a yoga teacher, I obviously aim for all my students to go away from a class feeling better, more relaxed, stretched yet relaxed. However, it always warms my heart when someone tells me that they are practicing at home, and feeling the benefits of their practice in their daily lives. Taking our yoga off the mat and into every part of our day is an amazing way to improve our lives and boost our wellbeing, so I advocate taking ‘minibreaks’ of just 5 or 10 minutes whenever you can through the day, which will ultimately increase your productivity as well as making you feel amazing! During these brief pauses, you may like to take your awareness to your breath, to your surroundings, or, as in the practice below, to your posture….

So, how long have you sat at your desk without a break? It’s so easy to get caught up in our work and stay in position for hours at a time, and only realise once we move how stiff and uncomfortable we have become!

So, if you’re in need of a break, maybe change position as you read this and then try the visualisation to help improve your posture – and your energy, creativity and productivity as well!

So, if you’re sitting (un)comfortably, let’s begin!

Did you know that as your body stiffens up, you are blocking the free flow of energy around it? In yoga we think of the spine as housing the main energy centres of the body, whirling around and distributing energy all around the body (you can learn more about this in my upcoming workshop here). If you don’t warm to that image, you can just think of the central nervous system and all the nerves emanating from the spinal cord to convey their messages to the body as a whole.

So, if we hunch ourselves up and restrict that flow, not only are we setting ourselves up for a variety of aches and pains – think backache, neck and shoulder tension and pain, headaches – we are also limiting ourselves in other ways. We might find that we keep pushing on to get through our workload, but that it’s getting harder and harder to think straight. That our ideas are starting to dry up. That we are never ever going to finish and will have to work late into the evening…..aaaargh!

This is exactly the time to stop and have a break. It might seem counterintuitive, the idea that stopping will help us get things done more quickly, but I’ve found exactly that, time and time again. And our posture itself can sometimes be to blame.

So, right now, stop and think about how you are sitting. Are your feet flat on the floor, or do you have your legs crossed? What part of your body is making contact with the seat? (Yes, I know it’s likely to be your bottom, but how is the weight distributed – central or to one side? Are you sitting on your tailbone or your sitting bones? Bet you can guess which ones you are meant to sit on!) How is your spine feeling? What about your shoulders? Your neck and your head?

Now, to adjust your position, place your feet flat on the floor and rest your weight on to your sitting bones (those two pointy bones in your buttocks – it can help to physically move the buttocks out of the way a bit with your hands!) Try to make the weight even between them as much as you can. If you can, adjust your seat height or use a cushion so that your hips are level with, or higher than, your knees, to ensure a good balance through the pelvis. Feel the spine lifting up from the pelvis, letting it lengthen, and then roll the shoulders back and down, letting the points of the shoulder blades slide down either side of the spine. Let your arms relax, maybe resting your hands gently in your lap, or letting them hang down by your sides. Now for your neck and head – let the neck lengthen and the head lift effortlessly…imagine your head is like a balloon, really light and free, and the spine is like the string – no tension at all. Now, just before you float away (you are meant to be working, after all!), think about the end of your string going down into a weight (like the weights you get on a helium balloon to hold them down). This weight corresponds to your points of contact with the seat and floor – your feet and sitting bones. Let your weight really drop down through them, letting gravity ease out your tensions and allowing your upper body to find more space.

Pause and observe your breath in this position for a while, letting any tension fall away with your outbreath.

And, when you feel better, and more refreshed, you can return to your work with a clearer head, and letting your energy flow freely – watch out, world!

Alison x

Mindfulness or meditation?

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peace-of-mind-349815_1280Being mindful is very popular these days. ‘Mindfulness’ is a real buzz word.  It’s become mainstream in a short space of time in the way that ‘meditation’ never quite has.  ‘Meditation’ still has that slightly exotic taste to it, and conjures up the idea of sitting uncomfortably, or, as one of my students (wrongly!) once put it, trying to ’empty’  the mind.

So mindfulness just sounds a little more achievable. A bit more everyday. Our mind doesn’t have to be ’empty’, it just has to be noticed. We regain some control over our wayward minds and notice where it wanders off to, time and time again. Even more, mindfulness can be practised anywhere, any time…during any activity.

Of course, mindfulness and meditation are really one and the same thing, just like two sides of a coin. When I originally trained as a yoga teacher,  we were taught that, with regular meditation practice (that is, the formal, cross-legged kind!), the benefits would start to spill over into everyday life.  We would gradually apply the calm, spacious mind we experience in meditation to more and more of our lives – and, hey presto! that sounds just like mindfulness.

And so, when I teach meditation, I am also teaching mindfulness.  When I teach yoga, I am teaching mindfulness too.  Dru yoga, the style of yoga I teach, is soft, flowing and performed with awareness, finding the grace and ease of our bodies rather than trying to force anything. Joints are kept soft, not locked. We generally flow in and out of postures rather than settling in for a long hold. We listen to our bodies, which change daily, and the way we feel, and select the practice which seems right, in the moment. Mindfulness in action, in every movement, prepares the body and the mind for a more formal seated practice. We find the stillness in the movement, and also the movement in the stillness.

So now, when I teach mindfulness, I teach a whole range of things – from simple flowing movements, performed with awareness, to breath awareness, to meditation in both seated and standing positions, and lying down full-body and mind relaxation. I teach how to apply the principles of mindfulness to daily activities, to eating, to walking, to relating to others. I show how it can be hard, to begin with, and yet easy to fit in to our busy lives.  It can be as easy as bringing our awareness to the quality of our breath in a heated moment, as simple as savouring a lovely meal, or enjoying a hug.

I would love to read your experiences of mindfulness  – please leave your comments below!

Alison x

Decluttering and looking after ourselves

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I have been thinking a lot about happiness lately – along with writing more and being more proactive in my business (Ok, I didn’t go into yoga teaching and therapies to do marketing and accounting, but I do have to accept that they are necessary evils!), taking steps to live a happier and higher-energy life is key for me this year.  It’s so easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by the many demands of life, and before you know it, you can feel less than your best!

Luckily for me, most of the things I teach – and use regularly – are hugely effective at lifting my mood.  Some energetic or relaxing yoga  can work wonders, as can a bit of reflexology, and Jin Shin Jyutsu in its simplest form is really the art of identifying and then balancing the subtle shifts of our moods.  And ultimately, for me, the key to feeling good, day by day, is to take time out for things I enjoy, and to live my life being ME – by my own standards, not anyone else’s. Even when you teach others ways to relax, to energise, to feel brilliant, it can be easy to forget to do this consistently, day by day, moment by moment. Despite my daily meditation and yoga practice, I felt that this year there was even more I could do….more reading, more writing, more looking after myself and earlier nights.  I have been taking a few minutes to light candles and nightlights around my home in the early evening, and have been doing a major decluttering, after reading the amazing The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo. There’s still a way to go, but clothes, books and paperwork have been having a complete sort out – the recycling bin and the charity shops near me have benefitted too!

In Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life,
Arianna Huffington writes of the critical need to reevaluate what we mean by success.  Her moment of realisation came when she collapsed from exhaustion, two years after setting up the Huffington Post.  She writes:

…after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage,and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful.  But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way.

The book goes on to look at the many ways we could redefine success, to include our wellbeing, and making room in our lives for wonder, wisdom and giving to others. So whilst there is nothing wrong in living a ‘successful’ life, in terms of status and money, if that is the kind of life that makes us feel fulfilled, we need to make sure we look after ourselves as well.

Sometimes it is argued that looking after ourselves is just a form of selfishness.  But I would argue that we are unable to look after others if we do not sometimes put ourselves first.  Yes, as parents we care for our children, as therapists we treat our clients to the very best of our ability, as professionals we do our job the best we can.  But, how can we do this if we are drained, exhausted, and lacking in energy? How can we be our kindest, most loving selves when we are tired and aching and just longing for sleep?  I’m certain I’m not alone in being more empathic when I feel good in myself, rested, vibrant and healthy. Have you ever tried being the perfect parent, partner, friend, employer or employee when you’re feeling rubbish?  With the best intentions in the world, it’s just not going to happen.

So, it’s time for us all to stop feeling that it’s wrong to take a break.  We owe it to ourselves – and everyone else! –  to live life to the full.  To explore our human potential to the limit, rather than trudging along, robot-like, just trying to get through the days.

Taking time out, being the best you can be….those are my keys (for myself, and those I work with!) for this year.  Let me know the steps you’re taking to look after yourself!