Tag Archives: cooking

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

 

 

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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

What is happiness?

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jumpforjoyI’ve  been pondering this question a lot over the past few weeks.  We all wish each other a happy new year, we all wish happiness for our friends, our family and ourselves. So, what do we mean by that?

Do we want ourselves, and others, to be jumping for joy?  Is that really what we want, all the time?  Is joy a sustainable emotion? Or is it followed soon enough, for most of us, by the inevitable not-so-wonderful experiences of our lives?  If moments of pure joy are really to be fully appreciated, they need to be just that – moments.  High points of happiness, in which we are bubbling over with pleasure, excitement, exuberance.  Which are all the better for the humdrum nature of much of our lives. And which are unsustainable in the long-term.

So, what is happiness?  Is it merely the absence of sadness? Can we define it only by what is missing?

For me, happiness is a calmer emotion than joy.  There’s a bit less excitement, a bit less disruption to my equilibrium!  It can be quiet and still, calm and peaceful, brought on by the simplest things – spending time with loved ones, cooking, reading, walking by the sea or in the countryside. By laughter. By yoga and meditation.  By being alone, and by being with others. It’s less fleeting than pleasure, which is ‘only the shadow of happiness’, according to a Hindu proverb.

Happiness, it is true, can be lost.  But happiness can also be found. It can be cultivated quite deliberately. Happiness takes practice, but can become a habit. It’s a skill that can be learnt, and relearnt. Even when you think it’s gone forever, it can creep up on you and surprise you.

As Matthieu Ricard says in his book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill:

‘..achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill.  It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness and altruistic love’

So whilst some of us have a more naturally sunny disposition than others, happiness can be created, fostered, tended to. It can grow. In his book, ‘Buddha’s Brain’, Rick  Hanson talks about ‘taking in the good’, really noticing and savouring the good times we experience.  If things aren’t great right now, we can recall a time we felt truly happy and bask in the memory. And don’t let the good moments pass by without noticing. Notice what being happy feels like, right in the moment. Pause for a moment, and truly experience the sensations of happiness. Truly, madly, deeply feel that moment. And at the end of the day, recall those sensations, those feelings of wellbeing before going to sleep. Write about them if you keep a journal, express gratitude for all the good in your life. Deliberately, patiently and tenderly foster good feelings.  So that when things aren’t so great, your basic sense of wellbeing, your basic ground of happiness, isn’t rocked so violently as it might otherwise have been. So that you have resilience when things – inevitably – don’t go all your own way.

There will be days when nothing goes right.  There may be weeks, months or even years that are more difficult than others.  That’s life.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, life is the:

‘…full catastrophe….the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crisis and disaster, the unthinkable and the unacceptable, but is also includes all the little things that go wrong and that add up….life is always in flux’.

And we won’t always feel happy.  Not by any stretch of the imagination. Unless we have reached enlightenment! But with mental health such a huge concern, we can work to improve our underlying happiness.  We can build our happiness muscle as if we’re working out at the gym, being grateful for all the good in our lives. We can make time for things we enjoy, we can look after ourselves emotionally as well as physically. We can make sure we get enough rest, sufficient exercise and good nutrition. We can practise being happy.

It’s been a while…

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Yes, I’ve done it again!  The past almost year has flown by and I’ve not been writing.  Or nothing significant enough to post here.  Life got in the way – again!

It’s a familiar enough story. Each missed week leads to another, and then suddenly it’s been months. Those months haven’t  been empty. On the contrary, they’ve been very, very full.  Teaching, reading, walking, holidays, cooking, time with family, time with friends, sewing, knitting (yes, very relaxing, apart from when it goes horribly wrong!), yoga, meditation, treatments, just being…….the most important of all!  The spring and summer have all rolled by, and now here we are in autumn, and there’s been no writing at all!  A few weeks ago, my son saw this pencil case in a shop and said I should get it….

http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0658/4527/products/small_pencil_case_-_front_no_swing_tag_1024x1024.jpg?v=1440414019

I didn’t, but it has been in my mind ever since – time to start writing again.  It’s not that it leaves a gap – of time – in my life (far from it!) but that it leaves a more indiscernible gap,  that I can only ignore for so long before I find I must start again! This time, to some extent, the creative gap has been filled by the attempt to refresh my wardrobe with handmade clothes – 2 skirts so far, plus some sailor trousers for my son’s school play, plus a dress and a jumper on the way – and the using-my-brain gap has been filled with studying for a certificate in mental health awareness – but really there is no more putting it off, I need to write as well.  About the things that matter to me, health, wellbeing, yoga, meditation, creativity.  More than 24 hours in the day would be nice, but I at least promise to myself to try to fit everything in.  And when I don’t (that’s daily, then!), to at least make sure it’s not the writing that gets pushed out every single day.  And then maybe I should consider this pencil case instead!

 

 

 

Taking time out

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Recently, I’ve been practising a lot of meditation.  Not so much writing as before,  but a lot of meditation.  There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do all of the things that make us feel good.  But it is so important to find time to do at least some of them.  For me, yoga and meditation make me feel good, as does writing, reading, quality time with my family, listening to music, cooking (but not the washing up!) – the list goes on.  You may like to think about what would go on your list.

But all too often, our days get filled with the things we must do.  The hours whizz by in a blur of work, driving from one place to the other, cleaning, tidying, phone calls, appointments and so on,  until we finally fall into an exhausted sleep at the end of the day.  Long-term, this will not do any of us any good at all.  We all need a break now and then.  And that week or fortnight that most of us manage once a year is probably not enough if we rush around frantically for the other 50+ weeks.  We need to look at our list of what must be done, long and hard, and work out if some of it is really necessary, if we could get help with it, or if we are creating unnecessary stress by our own perfectionism, our own demands of ourselves.

We also need to look at that list of the good things, the things which make us feel alive, nurturing our inner selves.  How can we fit more of that into our lives?  If you have a regular yoga and meditation practice, congratulations – you are helping to look after both your physical and mental wellbeing.  If you used to have a regular practice, which has fallen by the wayside due to the other demands on your time – well, we’ve all been there.  If you used to listen to positive, uplifting music, walk in the countryside or by the sea, and no longer do that, think how you could fit that into your day.  Maybe the whole world won’t fall apart if you have a few minutes out of each day, or a few hours out of each week to do the things which help you to feel good.  Maybe, just maybe, you will find that all your other duties seem easier to accomplish, that you achieve more and better by taking that time out.  And maybe you will be an awful lot happier, more relaxed, more vibrant , and more able to deal with the undoubted challenges of everyday life.

Moving slowly…

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Sometimes we just need to take life more slowly, and enjoy the moment we’re in. In a world where everything seems to be about not having time, we need to really take our time – at least occasionally.  In yoga, we vary our pace, moving dynamically at times, and at others we move slowly and carefully. We certainly can’t rush meditation – it just takes the time it takes.  An antidote to the rat-race. But how do we bring this quality into the rest of our lives?

Instead of driving somewhere that’s just around the corner, maybe we could walk, cycle or jog there.  It will take longer, but how much better it can make you feel!  Instead of microwaving a ready meal, or opening a jar of sauce, perhaps – now and then – we could cook the whole meal from scratch.  Instead of the car wash, could we find half an hour to wash the car ourselves, and burn off some calories too?!  I recently read an article by a gardener, advocating the use of hand tools.  More time-consuming, but really getting down to the ground, really seeing the garden at grass-roots level – literally.  More eco-friendly than weedkillers, that’s for sure.

When we rush through our lives, we build up more and more stress about how little time we have, about where we should have been 5 minutes ago, and we miss the joy inherent in the moment.

When we take our time to do things slowly, we can truly enhance our lives.  Recently, I prepared some semi-dried tomatoes for a special meal – two hours roasting in a low oven, with fresh herbs, to add to a wonderful Ottolenghi salad (my favourite cookbook of the moment!).  OK, you can buy sun-dried tomatoes in a jar, but these really were so much better, and the smell as they cooked filled my whole home, whetting my appetite for the meal ahead.  The task wasn’t difficult or arduous, but a total pleasure. I’ve also just started experimenting with making my own sourdough bread – making the starter and ‘feeding’ it every day.  Definitely a ‘slow-food’ procedure.  But again, not difficult, not particularly time-consuming, and working towards – hopefully! – a quality loaf in the end…..

So it’s not always just about the end result, but about the whole process.  Not rushing to the finish line, but enjoying the whole event.

What are the ways you slow down and take your time? Leave your comments below….

A feeling of belonging

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We all like the feeling that we belong – that we are part of a group, whether that be in school or work, with our family or friends, or our communities.  Children initially belong within their families, and, when they are very young, they accept their family’s way of doing things as the way. As we grow older, we learn that there are so many different ways of doing everything in life.  And this is where judgements can start to creep in.  We may still like to believe  the way we have been brought up is the right way.  Or we may admire someone else’s approach to life and adopt it wholeheartedly.  As parents, we can try to encourage our children to be accepting of other traditions and values, and to keep an open mind.

The sense of belonging is a comfort in difficult times.  No-one really wants to feel different to everyone else, or to feel as if nobody understands them.  But how much should we compromise our own inner guidance in order to fit in with our chosen group?  We all have an innate sense of what is right for us,  and the challenge is to adhere to that without judging someone else’s views as inferior or wrong in some way.  As we grow spiritually, we begin to see ourselves as belonging more widely –  not only all humanity but the whole planet and universe are one.  We remind ourselves of this every time we are tempted to set ourselves or others aside by our strong attachment to our own way of doing things, and we allow ourselves to lighten up.

To belong is to feel secure.  The sense of belonging is associated with our base chakra, mooladhara,  the chakra concerned with our sense of security and stability in life.  With our ability to weather the storm, and to withstand life’s ups and downs.  When our security is challenged, we may become fearful and depressed, unable to see our way out, and this can often happen when we feel rejected by a group with whom we have identified, or when a phase of our lives comes to an end and we are literally removed from a group – for example, when we leave a job,  a school or a relationship.  It can also happen when we move home, leaving the familiar and the comfortable and starting again somewhere new.

At times such as these, it is important to work on increasing our sense of security through our work on mooladhara.  This can be done through grounding yoga asanas, such as tadasana or trikonasana, feeling the ground beneath our feet.  The beautiful Dru yoga Earth sequence, Prithvi Nasmaskara, particularly when done outside, is wonderful for enhancing our sense of belonging, our sense of oneness with everything around us.  Connecting with our breath in pranayama and meditation can also help our sense of embodiment, of being safe and secure within our bodies.  Getting out into nature is another way to connect with mooladhara – exercising outdoors in the fresh air, going for a walk by the sea or in the countryside, or doing some gardening or cooking, can all help to enhance our sense of wellbeing, and our sense of belonging in our world.  When we moved home, I really started to feel settled when I went out into the garden with my son, picking rhubarb from a huge clump we had inherited, and then cooking it together in a lovely sticky cake. Amidst the boxes still waiting to be unpacked!

When we feel strong and grounded through our base chakra, we are more open to the changes that will occur throughout our lives – we feel less threatened by the movement of our lives.  As  Mary Burmeister, who brought Jin Shin Jyutsu to the West, used to say, “movement is harmony”.  Without movement, without change, we stagnate, we get stuck.  The movement of our lives keeps us fresh; change keeps us engaged in our lives with vitality and interest.  We let go of phases of our lives we have outgrown, and develop and grow with our new circumstances.  We are more able to take risks and to move into the unfamiliar.  To feel that we belong, not only in the past, not only in some imagined future, but right here, right now.