Tag Archives: Emotions

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

Decluttering and looking after ourselves

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I have been thinking a lot about happiness lately – along with writing more and being more proactive in my business (Ok, I didn’t go into yoga teaching and therapies to do marketing and accounting, but I do have to accept that they are necessary evils!), taking steps to live a happier and higher-energy life is key for me this year.  It’s so easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by the many demands of life, and before you know it, you can feel less than your best!

Luckily for me, most of the things I teach – and use regularly – are hugely effective at lifting my mood.  Some energetic or relaxing yoga  can work wonders, as can a bit of reflexology, and Jin Shin Jyutsu in its simplest form is really the art of identifying and then balancing the subtle shifts of our moods.  And ultimately, for me, the key to feeling good, day by day, is to take time out for things I enjoy, and to live my life being ME – by my own standards, not anyone else’s. Even when you teach others ways to relax, to energise, to feel brilliant, it can be easy to forget to do this consistently, day by day, moment by moment. Despite my daily meditation and yoga practice, I felt that this year there was even more I could do….more reading, more writing, more looking after myself and earlier nights.  I have been taking a few minutes to light candles and nightlights around my home in the early evening, and have been doing a major decluttering, after reading the amazing The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo. There’s still a way to go, but clothes, books and paperwork have been having a complete sort out – the recycling bin and the charity shops near me have benefitted too!

In Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life,
Arianna Huffington writes of the critical need to reevaluate what we mean by success.  Her moment of realisation came when she collapsed from exhaustion, two years after setting up the Huffington Post.  She writes:

…after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage,and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful.  But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way.

The book goes on to look at the many ways we could redefine success, to include our wellbeing, and making room in our lives for wonder, wisdom and giving to others. So whilst there is nothing wrong in living a ‘successful’ life, in terms of status and money, if that is the kind of life that makes us feel fulfilled, we need to make sure we look after ourselves as well.

Sometimes it is argued that looking after ourselves is just a form of selfishness.  But I would argue that we are unable to look after others if we do not sometimes put ourselves first.  Yes, as parents we care for our children, as therapists we treat our clients to the very best of our ability, as professionals we do our job the best we can.  But, how can we do this if we are drained, exhausted, and lacking in energy? How can we be our kindest, most loving selves when we are tired and aching and just longing for sleep?  I’m certain I’m not alone in being more empathic when I feel good in myself, rested, vibrant and healthy. Have you ever tried being the perfect parent, partner, friend, employer or employee when you’re feeling rubbish?  With the best intentions in the world, it’s just not going to happen.

So, it’s time for us all to stop feeling that it’s wrong to take a break.  We owe it to ourselves – and everyone else! –  to live life to the full.  To explore our human potential to the limit, rather than trudging along, robot-like, just trying to get through the days.

Taking time out, being the best you can be….those are my keys (for myself, and those I work with!) for this year.  Let me know the steps you’re taking to look after yourself!

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.