Tag Archives: breathing

Opening the heart

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When we are ruled by our emotions, we create a knot, a constriction, around the heart area. In yoga philosophy, this is called vishnu granthi, representing the constraints we place around our heart space when we hold on too tightly, finding it hard to let go of our hurts and move forwards.

Conversely, when we start to work with our emotions, recognising them, truly feeling then and then releasing them, we begin to create a sense of space, a new sense of ease and comfort in our chests; we release the tightness we maybe hadn’t realised was there. There may well be tears as we release old griefs, losses we may not have fully acknowledged before….there may be an emotional outpouring, but we will be taking a step towards greater freedom, a space for our breath to deepen and relax, and a new sense of ease in the muscles of the chest, the upper  back and the shoulderblades.

To find this space, I thoroughly recommend sitting quietly with the breath, in meditation, or, if that word sounds too intimidating, too unreachable, just mindful of the rise and fall of the breath. The aim is not to empty our minds of all thoughts, but to flow with whatever arises, without holding on. Emotions and thoughts will surface, and without judgement, we watch them and let them go. I recently read the wonderful The Cancer Whisperer: How to let cancer heal your life by Sophie Sabbage, and found the chapter ‘Dancing with Grief’ particularly moving. As she says, for someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, dealing with our sense of loss and regret is a matter of urgency; for all of us, though, feeling and releasing rather than burying our emotions is vital.

If you can, attend a mindfulness or meditation class so that you can learn appropriate techniques and have the opportunity to share and gain support from others if you feel you need help with this. If you prefer movement, try a Dru yoga class and learn Energy Block Release 3, a flowing sequence which can help so much with releasing tightness in the chest and finding this sense of space, of peace, in the heart.

I teach regular Dru yoga classes in which you can learn these techniques, as well as classes in mindfulness, incorporating both mindful movements (yoga), breathing and meditation. Either of these can help you to start untying your knots, and become easier in your body, mind and soul.

To find out more, please go to http://bit.ly/sunfishclasses, or sign up for my regular newsletter with articles like this and details of upcoming classes at http://bit.ly/sunfishnews. You’ll also receive a free relaxation, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Alison x

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A ‘typical’ yoga day…

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person-1281607_1280As part of a business challenge this week, I’ve been evaluating my working day – frequently so busy it’s a smoothie for lunch (yet again!) and often fairly unpredictable! On one day last week, I wasn’t sure if I had any bookings at all, all were dependent on whether babies had arrived or not, or on childcare arrangements…. I could have had three visits, or none (in the event, there were 2!) From a business point of view, it can be hard to plan ahead, aside from the definites such as group classes. It can be hard to know for sure when the downtime will be, when there’ll be time for accounts, marketing, writing this blog…and even eating!

But I won’t bore you with the business side. What about the yoga? What about making that time for myself (that I’m always banging on about for those I work with!)? For every one of my students who builds up a daily practice, there must be at least another ten who just don’t know how that could ever be possible.

So, it’s all about discipline – but also flexibility. My work schedule means that often things will crop up unexpectedly, or, at times, cancellations happen and I can seize the moment rather than  wasting that time. I have discipline in my morning routine – waking early to fit in  my first practice of the day:  a little movement – activations, energy block release (EBR) sequence,  perhaps a posture or two – and then meditation to set me up for the day. I really need to have this time: despite all the hours of teaching I do each week, my own practice is a time to work on the things I need the most. Without it, it’s hard to function at my best for the rest of the day.

Throughout the remainder of the day, it’s the flexibility that helps. Yes, it would be great to stop and  practise yoga whenever I felt like it – but that’s not the reality of my life! So, instead of writing off the whole day if I don’t have an hour to set aside, I might spend a few minutes being mindful of  my breath at odd times during the day, I might do some chanting in the car (silently if I have company!), I may stop and practise a flowing tree posture whilst hanging out the washing! If I’m in the middle of a day of therapies, I might take a couple of minutes to stretch  into a back bend and then a forward bend, or twist a couple of times, between clients, to stop that stiffness that likes to build up in my shoulders! I’ll do the same if I’m at my computer, catching up on emails, writing, doing my  accounts….

I practise mindfulness or a breathing technique when I’m cooking the dinner, and washing the dishes afterwards. I do also like to stand in tree pose while washing up!  And at bedtime I’ll usually practise a short relaxation, tensing and relaxing each muscle group ready for sleep. So much can be fitted in to a  busy day, without devoting hours that most of us just don’t have. The more you do, the more you’ll want to do, so these helpful practices will stay at the forefront of your mind, ready for you to take your pick according to your mood and what you’re doing at the time. So while you might need to make a huge effort to remember in the beginning, it will become more of a natural response to the demands of your day. You’ll start to know what your body and your mind are in need of as you build up a repertoire of favourite practices. So yes, do try to attend a class. Do read books, blogs, anything you can, but most of all, find what works for you.  It doesn’t have to be lengthy, it doesn’t have to be difficult, it just needs to work with your life.

For lots of ideas for things you can try at home, take a look at my facebook page http://bit.ly/sunfishfb or website http://bit.ly/sunfishyoga.

Or sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive my FREE 15-minute relaxation recording:  http://bit.ly/sunfishnews

 

 

Finding your foundation

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barefoot-87879_1280Let’s be honest….we all have times when we feel unsteady, unsure of ourselves, lacking in confidence and direction.  We can feel unsafe, insecure, as if a puff of wind could blow us away. We could feel this way for a variety of reasons – perhaps we have moved to a new area, moved on from a relationship, lost our job, or our sense of purpose.  We may be facing a challenge which feels too overwhelming.  Our emotions may be all over the place.

When we are in one of these times, we need to get in touch with our most basic instinct, that of survival. We all have this instinct, we share it with every sentient being on the planet. Sometimes it may get lost in a whirl of emotional turmoil, but it will resurface when we take time to let the dust settle. And we can take steps to strengthen our foundation, our sense of who we are, and of where we belong.

In yoga philosophy, our base chakra, mooladhara, is the key to our foundation, our survival instinct, and is our connection to the earth. We can tune into it when we spend time outdoors in nature, walking or practising yoga (perhaps barefoot on the grass or the beach when the weather warms up!). Gardeners have a particularly strong connection to the earth, which can be extremely healing in times of distress – growing and nurturing plants is now widely used as therapy, with patient volunteer groups attached to some clinics and medical practices.  Growing and cooking your own food could be a wonderful way to strengthen mooladhara, and could be practised in a small way if you have no garden – even adding a few fresh herbs from a pot on a sunny windowsill can have a dramatic effect on both the taste of your food and your emotional wellbeing.

When we moved house, we inherited two huge rhubarb plants, and I remember that it was in pulling that rhubarb and baking it into a cake in our new kitchen with my son (then 4) that the feeling of ‘being at home’, of belonging, started to set in. Even before many of the boxes were unpacked.

So in times where life unsettles us, making us unsure of our footing, it is our foundation we look to, our foundation we strengthen. In our yoga, we focus on grounding our standing posture through our feet in tadasana, through the weight of our pelvis in sitting, through the back of the body when relaxing in savasana. Lying down on the front of the body in makarasana we inhale and exhale with the earth, letting go into the earth on the exhale and drawing strength in on our inhalation. We let gravity ease our posture and the aches which our emotional unease can often exacerbate so much. We let our tension and worries drop away, down into the earth, and we start to feel strong again….in as many breaths and as many tiny steps as it takes.

Alison x

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

Time for a holiday!

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summer-814679_1280How long is it since you had a holiday?  And how long since you took a holiday before you were exhausted, when you could really enjoy it?

The trouble with holidays seems to be that they don’t come round quickly enough.  So when they finally arrive, we really feel in need of them – whether it’s a totally relaxing, lie-on-the-beach kind of break, a complete change of scene, or an adrenaline-rush activity holiday!  I once heard Caroline Myss talk about how some of us seem to need to justify our need for a break – you know, when you hear someone say, ‘yes, I really needed a holiday, I was so exhausted‘.  As if  apologising for needing to stop working for a while.  Her response was amusing, but dead right – ‘just take a holiday when you’re not exhausted, when you can really enjoy it!’

And how long is the optimum holiday?  Because for many or us, we are so stressed out before we actually go away, that it takes several days to relax and really start to enjoy ourselves.  So we might only really appreciate the last few days, and then, if life back home isn’t really something to look forward to, the last bit of the holiday can be spent dreading the amount of work which will be awaiting our return!  That’s if we haven’t succumbed to checking emails and making calls during our holiday, that is!

So, if holidays don’t come around soon enough, and then we don’t fully relax and enjoy them when they do, what is the answer?  Well, for me, it’s building regular breaks, or mini-holidays, into every week, and into every day. If I’ve had a busy week, or lots of stress, or not enough sleep – I stop and acknowedge that it’s time to take care of myself.  I might have an early night and read a favourite book, or I might give myself the luxury of an afternoon off to create something lovely (like a scrummy cake, perhaps!)  When my son burnt his hand a few weeks ago, and we took him to A&E that evening, and then had an early start to the specialist hospital the next morning, I had very little sleep, and, as you would imagine, plenty of stress.  I was a bit of an emotional wreck for 2 or 3 days, to be honest.  So when he went back to school, with reminders to be careful with his hand,  not to get the dressing wet, and so on, I  could have just worried about him all day long until  he got back home (that would have been so easy to do –  and of course I did think about him all through the day). I could have spent the day making up for missed time at work, catching up on all those emails, coursework and everything else that had been put on hold.  And I did, for part of the day.  But what I really, really needed was to stop, to take time out, and to calm my frazzled mind.  I had managed some meditation each day, just a little bit, and that had helped. But now I needed just to do something I would enjoy, and that would help me get back to normality.  So I got on with a sewing project, just for a couple of hours, something calm, peaceful and just for me.  I did a bit of yoga, and minded my breath.  I ate healthily, and generally took time out for myself.

And I didn’t feel guilty.  Because I knew I needed it, and that it would help me to cope with the hospital visits yet to come, and the support I still needed to give. It would help me to come back to my calmer, better self.  It would help me to feel well (in the true sense of the word, rather than just the absence of a specific illness).

I truly believe that everyone knows, deep down, when they need to have a break.  It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.  It just needs to be at the time that they need it. If you hear yourself proudly telling people how late you stayed at work, how many hours of ironing you did, or how little sleep you had, then your ego is far too tied up in achieving and doing.  So many stresses and illnesses can start this way. It’s time to look after yourself before illness makes enforced rest inevitable.  When you’re too ill to enjoy it.  Take time now, each week, each day, to do something positive for your own wellbeing.

 

 

 

 

Taking time out for ourselves

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womanstress  All the research shows us just how important it is to take time out, to look after ourselves, before we get sick. By taking care of ourselves at the very first sign of stress, we may prevent a whole range of mental, emotional and physical ailments. Yes, it can be hard to find the time, and yes, there may be others we need to take care of, but we will do that all the better for acknowledging our own needs.

If you’ve ever been less than patient with someone when you’re feeling down, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

If you’ve ever felt so tired, drained, and just plain exhausted that you have almost lost touch with that wonderful person you are on the inside, you’ll know how important taking care of yourself really is.

And if you have ever felt guilty about taking that time, you need to stop that guilt, right now.

Here’s why….

So many of our top diseases now are stress-related, and so many of us are  getting unwell, both mentally and physically, because of the way we live our lives.  Work, work and more work doesn’t make us happy.  It might (or might not!) make us rich.  But since when did money automatically make us happier?  Happiness is right here, right in this moment, not some time in the future when our bank account is a little fuller, or when we have that amazing new car, house, or tv.  It’s in the time we spend with our family and our friends, or pursuing our dreams, not only in the achievements and recognisable successes of our lives.  It’s in the whole process of life – and if it’s hard for you to find your happy side in all of this, I would encourage you to take time out and find a space in which you can get back in touch with that sense of contentment.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be fancy, it might be as simple as watching your breath, having a stretch or reading a few pages of your favourite book. It might be in listening to a beautiful or uplifting piece of music, or going for a walk.  It might be in looking at the sky full of stars on a clear night, or at the dew on the grass in the morning.

So, we don’t have to spend a lot of money, and we don’t necessarily have to spend all that much time; even a few minutes in which we are mindful of our surroundings, or of what we are doing, totally and completely absorbed in our breath, or the music, or the movement….even those few minutes can help to build our sense of wellbeing, and help us to relate more happily to our world and those around us.  Our empathy, our patience and our sense of connection to others are all strengthened, and we feel amazing!  Physically, mentally and emotionally, we feel stronger, more resilient, and able to handle the demands of our lives with greater ease. Thinking and decision -making can be easier, as all the mental chit-chat starts to settle down.