Tag Archives: clarity

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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Finding clarity

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wave-64170_1280We live (most of us, anyway!) in a rushed world.  Just take a look at the drivers around you next time you’re in a traffic jam, or watch people walking in a busy city street.

As a yoga teacher, people often tell me they would love to have a regular practice, or they would love to meditate, but there just isn’t time. They are busy at work, with their families, and so on – and I get that!  Me too! But sometimes taking a few minutes out to calm and quiet our minds can be just what we need.  It takes us out of the constant whirl of our minds, in which it can be hard to find clarity. If you take a bowl of water and swirl the surface, you have to wait for the water to settle back into stillness before you can see clearly into the water again. Our minds are often swirling like that bowl of water, agitated and dashing from one thought to another.  I heard once that while we try to remember something we have forgotten, we will forget another 5 things.  That’s a whirling, distracted mind for you! (And it’s why I like making lists!)

Some people rarely stop to experience a still, calm mind.  They are either awake, dashing from one thought to another, one task to another, or asleep.  Or watching tv to block out their thoughts. But we also need time to relax whilst still being fully alert.  In a poised, alert, yet relaxed stillness, we start to see the clear water beneath those swirls, as the thoughts settle and calm down.

There are no doubt many things that can give us that space and stillness, a little mental clarity amongst the hubbub of our lives. For me, it’s yoga and meditation mainly, but also cooking, sewing or knitting.  Even a nice bit of peaceful ironing from time to time!

One of my lovely students told me this week that her yoga seems to give her the opportunity to reach decisions.  Often tricky ones, that can go round and round, being thought about continually without becoming any clearer.  During yoga, that thinking process –  the swirling waters – can be sidestepped, and answers can appear as if from nowhere.  All the surrounding thoughts and their associated emotions start to settle, allowing us to see more clearly and find more creative solutions.

So being busy may be one of the worst reasons for not doing yoga or meditation.  (If that’s not your thing, substitute your own activity that you love but don’t manage to do). We may become more productive and creative  – and, by taking those few daily minutes, we may save ourselves far more time being stuck in an endless and unhelpful cycle of thinking.

A place of peace and stillness

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Recently, a student asked me what  are the benefits of meditation. I answered truthfully, from my own experience, but felt afterwards that my answer had perhaps been inadequate in conveying all that meditation means to me.

The answer I gave was that meditation helps me to attain a calmer, steadier state of mind, and that a regular meditation practice helps me to carry these benefits over into the rest of my day.  All true, but there is so much more.

When I first established a daily practice, many years ago, I found that over time I became less reactive to the events of my life, dealing more calmly with the unexpected, and becoming more resistant to the ups and downs that we all experience. I found a new equanimity, calming the attachments (raga) and aversions (dwesha) to which we are all so prone. The ceaseless chatter of my mind was stilled, first in formal meditation  and subsequently in my wider life.  I found a deep and pervasive stillness and peace within myself, and a clarity of mind that would be impossible without taking the time to stop and simply be.  I developed a more tangible awareness of my chakras and began to truly experience the subtle movement of energy around my body. In truth, I became a different person.

But over the years, it became harder to maintain such an intense daily practice.  Long working days, marriage and parenting made it difficult, if not impossible, to find an hour a day to meditate, as well as another hour for asana practice. At first, I found that with missing the occasional day, I was able to maintain the benefits. But of course, with motherhood, I rarely had time to sit in formal meditation. I continued to chant, and to practice mindfulness, but it wasn’t entirely the same.  My sitting would get interrupted, and I learned to deal with the interruptions in a mindful way, but my practice wasn’t so profound.  Over time, that inner peace started to become more and more elusive.

I missed my daily practice dreadfully.  Whilst I loved my new life, the challenges that parenting sometimes presented would have been so much easier to deal with from that calm, centred place within.  And finally, it became essential for me to renew my commitment to my yoga, and to my meditation, in order to regain my full self.  Going back to a daily practice has been a revelation,  all over again.  I have been reminded of the healing and nurturing that can happen in deep meditation.  In meditation, in the stillness, I become fully aware of the work I  need to do on a physical and an emotional level;  I become aware of specific Safety Energy Locks (SELs) that are in need of some attention.  So as well as providing me with a tremendous sense of space and peace, my meditation practice also informs my asana practice and my Jin Shin Jyutsu practice too.  So much valuable information which would be hidden in the hubbub of daily life, but which makes itself heard in the silence of meditation.  Once again, I find an increased equanimity and a capacity to deal more calmly with the challenges of my daily life.  Once again, my intuition is enhanced.  So whilst I stand by the belief that something is better than nothing when it comes to yoga, and empathise fully with anyone who, like me,  has found their practice gradually squeezed out by other commitments, there does come a time when we all have to find a way to move our practice  forwards again, and to fully commit to that.

Clear communication

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One of the most important things about being fully present in each moment is that we are able to be fresh and honest in our relationships with others.  Instead of bringing the burden of our millions of previous interactions, some of which will have been distressing, with us into each situation, we are able to approach this current moment and accept it for what it is.  If we are talking to someone we know well, someone with whom we have had many other interactions, we can still approach this moment free from all the emotional intensity of those past encounters.  So, this person may have said or done things which upset us in the past,  but are we able to move on from this and see this moment as a chance to start anew?

If we are totally honest with ourselves, I doubt there is anyone out there who has never said or done something which upset someone else, even if it was unintentional.  There is so much opportunity for misunderstanding, for misjudging someone else’s motivation;  so much chance of getting it wrong and holding a grudge when, seen through different eyes, there really is no need.  If we try, at every opportunity, to see things from another point of view, we can learn to not hold on so tightly to our hurts and disappointments – to let go of all the baggage.  Because when we hold on so tightly, we are unable to live in the moment, and it is ourselves we hurt the most.  We deny ourselves the chance to welcome every fresh encounter, to engage in conversation without restriction, without constraint.  We have so much hurt inside that we judge everything that is said through some kind of filter, one which is expecting criticism, sarcasm or pain.

By contrast, if we learn to process and deal with hurtful encounters as they occur, perhaps at the end of the day, or whenever we have some quiet time, then we can minimise this reactive way of thinking.  We can live and communicate more clearly, free from emotions from some other time, some other place.  I think of  the hurtful emotions which we harbour inside as clogging and muddying our being, making it so hard to see each moment with clarity and freshness. When we engage in reflection, in meditation and in practices which promote our inner sense of peace, then we can clean away all this murkiness and live fully in each moment as it arises – without judging.  Specific mudras and sequences of movements can help to release our negative experiences and emotions, and keep our chakras clear so that we can respond truthfully and peacefully to the challenges in our lives.  And if tricky feelings do come up, and we feel that our communication may become hurtful and unkind, perhaps out of all proportion to present circumstances, we can take a few moments to watch our breath, to calm ourselves down, and hopefully respond more appropriately.  The more we manage to keep our interactions present, clear and kind, the more we keep our throat chakra clear, and the easier it becomes to keep the channels of communication open, even in our most challenging relationships.