Tag Archives: creativity

Keeping my feet on the ground

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I have been working really hard in my business just lately – that’s why you may have noticed less writing going on than usual. I’m working on something really big – it’s too early to share what it is, although hopefully it won’t be too much longer before I can let out all my excitement and share it with the world!

What I have noticed over the past few weeks, though, is that achieving a dream takes an awful lot of work.  A dream, however long you have held it for, remains just that – a dream – unless you are prepared to  take the steps that make it a reality. We get inspired to do things all the time, but those inspirations will only result in a material change if we are prepared to put in the work required.

Suppose you feel inspired to go for a walk. The idea of it is so nice – the sun is shining outside, you can imagine how good it would make you feel to get out there and get some fresh air and exercise, but until you get your shoes on and take the first step, it just exists as a nice idea inside your head. I remember someone who was completing a registration form on joining one of my yoga classes asking if Wii-Fit counted as exercise?  I answered yes, at which point she admitted that she hadn’t yet taken it out of the box. We laughed, but this illustrates the point so nicely…..unless you actually do something, an idea is just an idea, a dream is just a dream – they live inside your head.

So, if you like the idea of something, but it seems unattainable – too big, too scary (my dream did!) – then what can you do about it? I always find it helps to break it down into tiny steps and see which of them you can manage easily. And for those you can’t manage, can you think of someone who can help you with those steps?  Don’t assume you already need to know how you’re going to achieve it all, just take those first steps, and get help where you need it.

If you would like to become more flexible, or more relaxed, or less stressed, or able to relax your body at will – don’t assume that you should just know how to do those things.  Most of us don’t.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn. Read books, find a teacher, go online – just pick a starting point and see where the journey takes you. And if you really want that walk, get out there and enjoy.  Take your first steps and keep your feet on the ground!

Alison x

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Why a daily yoga practice matters so much

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Everyone needs time for themselves. For some people, that might mean some time for reading, watching a favourite programme on TV, creating something useful or arty, playing a musical instrument. I like to do all of these things at various times, but even more, I need my daily yoga practice.

When I started yoga, back in the early 90s, I practised probably 3 times a week. I was recovering from a lengthy illness, and yoga was one of the ways I gently eased myself back into exercise and towards better health. But, after a while, it became clear to me that I felt much better – more energetic, less achey – on the days I had practised yoga. And so, for me, it was a logical step to practise everyday.

Yoga can be addictive. The feeling you get in a favourite posture, or when sitting in silent meditation, is something you can come to rely on. I certainly have! I remember when my son was small, my daily practice got very very squeezed, until it was practically non-existent. I was tired – as all new mums tend to be – and I was aching. I was stiff, and my muscles felt weak (not many of us get through labour with our core strength intact!) So I gradually built my practice up once again. It took some years before I could honestly say that my practice time was mine alone; there were, of course, interruptions and days I didn’t get a moment to myself, that’s parenting! But there were also a blissful few weeks where my son relaxed best at night if I was in the room doing a few yoga moves (sadly, it didn’t last for long!)

As I have written in other posts, taking care of yourself when you’re a parent is extremely important. We are able to be more patient, more in tune, with our children when we have taken a little time to relax. So it’s far from selfish to work on building up your own home practice. You will notice the difference so quickly if you take even 5 or 10 minutes every day to practise a few simple movements and postures,  and maybe find a few moments for meditation. There are lots of online classes and videos available, or even better attend a local class you love and gradually build up a ‘library’ of moves which you can draw on at home. If you have to just do one thing, do that one thing. When you find more time, you can add more.

Even now, despite teaching classes pretty much every day, I still need my own daily practice. Perhaps even more so. I need the time to flow through the sequences and postures as they come to mind, rather than planning around the needs of my students. I need the time to work in silence and listen to my body, observing my own state of mind, focusing inwards rather than outwards. To counteract the talking through postures, the demonstrating, the observing, of a group class, I need the quiet, the flow, the inner awareness of my own practice. This makes me a better teacher, a better yogi, and, I hope, a better parent.

If you need some inspiration for your yoga practice, why not come along and try a class? http://bit.ly/sunfishhome.  If you desperately just need some quiet time to relax, you can download my FREE relaxation here…you’ll also receive articles like this and tips on yoga and wellbeing direct to your inbox (it’s like a double freebie, but you can unsubscribe at any time).

Finally, do ask any questions or offer feedback on this article below – I look forward to hearing from you!

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

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.

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….

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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!

 

 

 

Doing something new

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It’s so easy to get stuck in a routine, to become set in our ways, to hold our opinions too forcefully. To stagnate, allowing no room for growth. We can stifle our creativity, our potential to be other than as we are now.  At the root of this may be a deeply held belief that we are right, that there are no other, better ideas we could explore, no alternative way of doing things that could match our current methods.

But, very often, life does not let us get away with this way of thinking. It has a tendency to shake us up, to challenge us and to force us to change. This may occur through some event in our lives, such as an illness, or the loss of a job or a primary relationship. Something which jolts us out of our complacency and forces us to try something new.

Alternatively, we may become bored with our lives. With the sameness of our day to day routines. We don’t necessarily have to wait for some major disruption to come along, or to book our annual holiday to make a change. Perhaps there’s something you have always wanted to try that you have never got around to, or something you used to do which has fallen by the wayside. If we learn to listen to our inner selves, we can find those things which will wake us up, and we may become more whole in the process.  As Swami Radhananda says,

‘Through self-inquiry we can crack the shells of our narrowly held concepts and find our strength of character’

~ ‘Living the Practice'(2010)

We open ourselves up to the possibility of growth and development, perhaps of  becoming more than we thought we could be.  And as Swami Radhananda continues,

‘Even a little idea or action in a new direction has a great effect on old static concepts’

By really looking for small ways in which we can introduce change into our lives, by examining which of our beliefs still serve us and which we have outgrown, we start a whole process of change which may lead us in all kinds of interesting directions.  So what are we waiting for?  Let’s all try something new today!

I’d love to hear where making a small change in your life may have led you – leave a comment below.

Keeping the waters flowing

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In my post ‘A feeling of belonging’, I wrote about the sense of security which we find when our base chakra, mooladhara, is strong and open.  When we feel secure and grounded, we find it easier to move and flow with the events and circumstances of our lives, and to deal with strong emotions a little more easily (they will always be a challenge!).  When we come to our second chakra, svadisthana, situated at the sacrum, we come to the element of water – as opposed to the solidity of the earth at our base.

Water should flow.  That’s what it does.  And at this very emotional centre, we can learn to flow like a clear river or stream, rather than stagnating like a muddy pool (yuk!).  We learn to allow our emotions to pass through us, to truly feel them, and then to let them go.  We learn to be flexible in our lives, and to be truly in the moment, adapting to where we actually are, rather than dwelling interminably on where we hoped to be.

Svadisthana is the chakra which will be rocked by grief and its less intense cousin, sadness.  When you are dealing with watery emotions, particularly when you feel blue without any idea why, you can be sure that swadistana may be needing some attention.  Equally, if you find it hard to cry and to show your emotions, you may be experiencing a block at this level.  This chakra, together with Vishuddhi chakra at the throat, is also associated with our creativity, with birth and renewal.  And if you have experienced grief  or depression, you may have noticed how these emotions really dull your creativity.  They are stultifying emotions, extinguishing the ability to create new possibilities for ourselves. If we think of our creative impulse as a spark, then the waters of an imbalanced second chakra may quench the spark before it really gets going.

If you are working with the chakras, it is always worth working with an experienced teacher, who can help you deal with difficult emotions as they arise.  Sometimes, there are current circumstances which elicit these feelings; at other times, they arise seemingly out of nowhere, or previous experiences may come back to the forefront of our minds.  But when we work on svadisthana, through yoga asanas, sequences, meditation or concentration (dharanam), we learn to calm the turbulence of our emotions, as if calming a rough sea.  In yoga, we may use the Moon sequence, Chandra Namaskara, to help balance this centre, visualising the moon shining serenely over still, calm waters.  We may work with forward bends, such as Paschimottasana or Padahastasana, which powerfully affect the lower spine. In Dru yoga, we always precede intensive postures which will activate the lower chakras with heart-opening moves, so that any emotions released at the lower centres can be transformed at the heart.  After a forward bend, we will stretch upwards, extending the spine and bringing the energy up through the spine to the higher centres.  We balance our practice not just on a physical level, but also on an emotional and energetic level, simply by pairing our forward and backward bends.