Tag Archives: awareness

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

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Putting meditation to the test

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a small spider joining me during my meditation (A calm clear mind). I speculated that there may have been some difference in my composure if it had been a larger creature.  Well, this morning the test came! I had just settled down in my conservatory at 5.40am, having completed Surya Namaskara and had just started working through Pawanmuktasana 1 when I noticed three long, thick legs sticking out of the gap beneath the cladded wall. I continued my practice but kept looking out of the corner of my eye to see if the legs had moved. They didn’t, for the longest time.  They were just there, every time I looked. So, whilst continuing calmly, I decided this needn’t interrupt my practice.  Live and let live, he wasn’t bothering me, so why should I try to remove him?  Plus, taking a spider outside at that time of day would mean going all the way back through the house – risking waking my family – to get something to catch him with, unlocking the front door, getting some shoes and then trailing out into the garden to find somewhere nice to put him.  Plus potential running and even more commotion if he started scurrying out of the container with those long legs on my way through the house!

So, there I was, and there he was. He came out of his little home and had a walk.  Not far, just enough to make me move over a bit! As the long legs would have suggested, he was BIG!  Really big.  But not fast.  He walked a few inches  – not even in my direction, to be fair – and then stopped.  I continued my practice, on to my arms and shoulders by this point, risked closing my eyes, and then peeked again.  He was walking back.  Back to his original spot, until I could just see his legs again!

At which point, I finished pawanmuktasana and settled in for meditation. I turned my back on the spider so I couldn’t be tempted to check on him, and had a lovely practice, letting go of all the anxieties – it really wasn’t strong enough to call fear, let’s say disquiet.  And yes, he was still resting in the exact same spot when I finished at 7am. I hope he had as peaceful a time as me!

Then I rushed on to my day, breakfast, school run, classes, shopping, and now writing before the ironing, school run, swimming lessons – oops, have I missed out lunch again??  I haven’t had time to see if my long-legged friend is still there.  I guess he might be joining me again tomorrow!

And the thing about meditation is – there is room for all these distractions and unscheduled things.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Yes, my mind could have taken over – but it didn’t.  I was fully aware of how I was feeling – a little wary, assessing how fast /far he was likely to move. I reminded myself that, however big he looked, he was still tiny in comparison to me, and that he certainly wasn’t going to hurt me, even if he did come and sit on me like the other spider did. I experienced how it made me feel to share my space with him, but didn’t let myself spin off and ruin my own practice. Not something that would have been possible in my pre-meditation days. Mindfulness, being present with whatever comes up – that is the heart of meditation. Today might not have been utter bliss from start to finish, but it was fine.

 

Being in the flow

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In my last post, I wrote about the importance of being able to stay with our uncomfortable feelings, and to let them pass. In my yoga teaching and therapy practice, as well as in my own personal life, it is evident that we really struggle with our emotions, and may hold on to perceived hurts for long after the event which caused them.  We may feed our sadness or our anger, dwelling on the events or circumstances of our lives to which we attribute the emotion, going over and over it in our minds.  We can have a relatively small encounter which upsets us, and by repeatedly bringing it to mind, we can blow it out of all proportion;  when it’s a more significant event, we can hold on to the associated feelings for years.  Once we dwell on and feed an emotion, it can become a part of us.  It is no longer just an energy flowing uncomfortably – but ultimately harmlessly – through us.  Instead, it crystallizes and becomes an attitude.

We all have these attitudes or outlooks, which can affect our whole lives and the way in which others perceive us.  We all know people who we would describe as angry, sad, fearful or anxious – as well as those we would think of as basically happy, giving and forgiving types.  We also flit in and out of these modes of being throughout our own lives.  So what started as a brief, passing sensation can last much longer and colour our whole life.

But just because the attitude has begun to dominate our general mood, doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever.  The emotion may seem to have solidified, even to have become immovable, and yet it can still melt away once we become aware of it and begin to work with it.  Even if anger has become such a basic part of our nature that we react irritably to minor events and explode when faced with bigger challenges; even if we are so fearful that we feel we cannot move forward in our lives.  Things which seem permanent can change and dissipate over time.

Firstly, we need awareness.  We must not close our eyes to the way we are.  We must see the difference between the way we would like to be, and the way we truly are.  Not judging, but seeing kindly, with compassion for the difficult parts of ourselves.

Secondly, we need to desire change, and to create the space to change.  One way we create this space is through the breath; through meditation.  Just sitting quietly – watching the breath, stilling the mind.  Noticing the space between the inbreath and the outbreath.  Calming the mind so that the endless chatter starts to ease away.  An analogy often used is that of  the sky – letting our thoughts be like clouds, just floating through our minds without holding on to them or spinning off in all directions.  In this way, we slowly learn to  stop fanning the flames of our emotions, and to be less reactive in our wider lives.  Whilst we are learning – and this may be for the rest of our lives! – we must continue to be kindly observant of ourselves, to reflect on our progress and not only our inevitable failings.  And whilst we are developing this kindness for ourselves, and learning not to identify with our difficult feelings – acknowledging, for example, that anger is a passing energy rather than turning ourselves into ‘an angry person’ – we could also think more kindly of the difficult people in our lives, allowing that they too can be other than the way we perceive them.