Tag Archives: mindfulness

Meditation and yoga can’t be rushed!

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Over the holidays we have been decorating and installing a new bathroom, a job which was long overdue.  We’re not quite finished yet,  but I can’t wait for washing to become a more spa-like experience!

Decorating is not something which comes naturally to me. I’m more of an ‘ideas girl’. I love to come up with the colours and dream about what the completed room will look like, but the actual painting isn’t one of my natural skills. I started in the airing cupboard, before the new pipework and cylinder went in – it was probably best I started there before getting to the walls people would actually see! It was very hot and confined in there, but in the end I did an ok job – not brilliant, but not terrible, either.

So now I’m on the bathroom.  I didn’t think it would take all that long. It’s a tiny room, and a lot of the wall is tiled, so really, I expected it to be done by now. Not by a long way! I had completely underestimated just how much preparation goes into making a nice smooth wall to paint, particularly when that wall used to be completely tiled. We have filled and sanded twice over, I’ve primed and prepared, but the perfectionist in me can see this still isn’t ready – more sanding is going to be required (hopefully just one more time!) I am itching to see it finished, but I know it’s going to be a busy weekend, and maybe, just maybe, I might get to put the first coat of actual coloured paint on the walls!

But, all this painting is a good opportunity to practise some mindfulness. I need to be completely focussed on the task in hand (I don’t want to mess up my beautifully white ceiling that I have finished!) I don’t want to have to clear up sploshes of paint from the floor, the tiling or the window (which has already been beautifully painted, thank you very much!) Cutting in requires full attention! And, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found a much greater enjoyment in decorating than I had ever believed possible – and I’ve learnt to be patient with the time it’s taking to get to the end result.

In short, I’ve learned to enjoy the process, one step at a time, rather than being endlessly focussed on the end result. And this, if you’ve been wondering how the title fits this post, is where meditation and yoga come in. My morning yoga and meditation practice, each day, is a chance for me to listen to my body, listen to my mind, and  select the practices which seem right for that very moment in time. I don’t have a goal, and some days the whole thing is more satisfying than others. When we start out in yoga, we may very well have a goal that gets us started – mine was recovering from a lengthy illness, as I wrote about here.

That goal may be less aches and pains, feeling fitter, being able to relax, better sleep, relieving stress, anxiety or depression – the list goes on. To start with, you’ll feel full of optimism and enthusiasm. But as you go on, you’ll realise, you need to relax and enjoy the process. You will keep moving closer to your goal, but the process itself can’t be pushed. For instance, if you want to be able to touch your toes when you haven’t reached past your knees in years, don’t expect to reach that goal on day 1! Don’t expect too much, or you’ll just get frustrated and feel that yoga isn’t working for you.  If you want to meditate, accept that, initially, you may be continually having to bring your mind back from whatever train of thought it keeps heading off on, and wriggling around to try and find a more comfortable position. This is just a part of the process, like sanding my wall – yuk!  – which we have to embrace in order to get to the other side (beautiful bathroom / peaceful mind and comfortable body!) If we try to rush things, and expect too much, too soon, we run the risk of giving up before we get anywhere.

So, by all means, have a goal.  Just don’t rush things, take your time and enjoy the whole experience 🙂

Alison x

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The ‘magic’ of meditation

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It’s often said that, if you can find the words to describe your meditation, then you weren’t really meditating. That is certainly the case. In the very deepest meditation, there are no words. Just feeling. Just peace. Afterwards, the meditator is left with the feeling of calm, but the experience itself cannot be fully conveyed to someone else. A meditation practice is deeply personal, and deeply transformational.

Which makes it all the harder to explain why meditation makes such a difference to daily life. If you can’t put into words how you feel, what that elusive ‘bliss’ feels like, then how can you explain why it’s so important? The only way to know is to experience it for yourself. But how do you know if you even want to experience it if you don’t know what to expect?

But, what you can describe is how you feel as you enter the state of meditation. The word ‘meditation’ is often used to represent the whole event, the act of meditation  – sitting down in your meditation posture, getting comfortable, focusing on the breath, slowing down from your busy day. But it can also refer specifically to the state of meditation, the moments of utter peace and ‘bliss’ which may make up a much smaller proportion of the total sitting time. You may sit for 10 minutes some days before there’s even a hint of the state of meditation. Maybe longer. Maybe much less. It varies from day to day.

So at this stage of the act of meditating, there are still words. There are thoughts (usually too many!), there are feelings, there are impressions. There are sounds, smells, all manner of physical sensations. There may be the sound of a buzzing insect, birds outside, rain on the roof, children playing, a lawnmower…… There may be the smell of coffee, or baking bread, or dinner being prepared….. There may be an ache in your ankle, your back, your shoulders….. There may be thoughts racing around, a shopping list, yesterday’s argument, a dream you woke up from this morning, what to cook for dinner, how long have you been sitting here for, is this really what meditating is supposed to be like?

But then, something starts to change.  All these things are still there. But there’s a distance. A space starts to open up. They all seem further away. They no longer grip your awareness. There’s something else, deeper, more profound. The body may feel like it’s letting go, sinking deeper, whilst at the same time feeling like it’s lifting taller. You may feel both heavier and lighter at the same time. The thoughts are there but there’s a detachment now, they don’t have the same power over you. There’s not the same emotional involvement. There’s not as much narrative going on.

There’s a sense of relief, of rest, of space, of peace. Before words are no longer there.

At least, that’s how it is for me. You’ll have to try it for yourself!

If you would like to read more articles like this one, as well as information on yoga and meditation classes, why not sign up for my newsletter? You’ll also receive a FREE relaxation recording!

Alison x

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

 

 

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

A time to reflect and make plans

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I’m not the biggest fan of new year’s resolutions per se, as we so often make them, stick with them for a few days or weeks, and then go back to the way we were before when we realise we have been too ambitious, and other things get in the way of that punishing exercise schedule which seemed such a good idea before we went back to work after the holidays.  It’s so easy to get discouraged and then give up altogether.  But I do think that this is the ideal time to have a look at the year we have just lived through, at the achievements we have made, however small,  and consider how we would like to take them forward.  And not just our achievements, but also our failures, the lessons we have learnt this year and which we can use to help us in the coming year.

When we stop to look over the past 12 months, we might be surprised by how far we have come.  We might not have changed the world, exactly, but we may have taken our first baby steps towards something incredibly important in our lives.  So whilst I have not yet become self-sufficient in making my own clothes, I have started that process and made a few items, and whilst invisible zips are still a bit scary, I can imagine that they will keep getting easier with each garment (I hope!). I’ve made most of the birthday cards I’ve sent and all of our Christmas cards this year, so hope to continue this next year.  I have continued my daily yoga and meditation practice, and have resumed my writing after quite a long – and unintended – break. I have bought a Nutribullet and most days I’m  drinking a delicious and homemade smoothie full of healthy fruit and vegetables.  I  completely quit sugar last year, and then resumed it to some extent, but now Christmas is over I’m already looking forward to my January cleanse.  Mindfulness of eating has become too ingrained to overindulge for long!

So even if, like me, you have previously been discouraged by unsustainable resolutions, don’t despair.  Look at how far you have already come, and then think about what small and achievable steps you could work towards next. Optimism is great, but try to be realistic too, so that, come the end of  January, you haven’t given up altogether.