Tag Archives: relaxation

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

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

Why mums can’t do everything…

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newborn-1506248_1280Mums do so much. So, so much. Yet they always think they can do even more. They feel guilty if they stop, even for a few minutes.  Sitting down, in the day….NO! Going to bed when they’re exhausted….NO WAY, there’s still more chores to do!

But here’s why us mums need to take care of ourselves. (That’s us mums of whatever age, with one, two or more children, babies, toddlers, or teens). We can only give our best when we feel at our best. And we frequently feel way less than our best. Sometimes, we forget what our best even felt like.

When we become tired, exhausted, and depleted, we lose something of ourselves. Mums frequently say they can barely remember who they were before they had children. Becoming a mother is certainly a life-changing event, a momentous thing for any woman. We grow very quickly, learning our baby’s, and then our older child’s needs. We very quickly learn to put their needs before our own. There’s probably nobody more selfless than  mothers. And that’s the way it has to be.

But when we get tired and neglect our own needs for too long (and we all know it can be VERY long!), we start to lose ourselves, that glimmer and sparkle that makes us who we ARE. We may lose our sense of humour, we may lose our vitality, we may even start to lose that vital empathy and ability to see things from our child’s point of view. Those things that bother them can start to feel so small compared with our own mountainous fatigue. We may become impatient, irritable, or depressed. We may stop enjoying and savouring this time with our children as much as we feel we should (oops, there’s that guilt again!) The sheer wonder of being a parent can start to pass us by, and it can feel like an endless uphill struggle.

So – we need to take time out. It isn’t selfish to look after ourselves from time to time. Who are we kidding if we tell ourselves we can be awake for 20 hours a day, every day, and still be supermum?! Yes, the house might be tidy, but the children crying again will feel like the last straw. Someone else can wash up for a change, someone else can bring in the washing and fold it away. Take those few  minutes for yourself, have a sit down with a good book, your favourite music, do some exercise, have a lovely warm bath – whatever you need to replenish your energy levels and bring back some of that lovely sparkle that makes you YOU!

What are your favourite ways to relax and recharge? Leave your comments below!

If you’d like to have more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox, and receive a FREE deep relaxation recording, sign up for the Sunfish Yoga and Therapy newsletter here: http://bit.ly/sunfishnews

Alison x

 

 

What’s stopping YOU from trying yoga?

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When it comes to reasons for not doing yoga,  I’ve probably heard  them all….

  • I can’t do yoga because I’m not very flexible
  • I can’t do yoga because I find it difficult to relax
  • I can’t do yoga because I can’t touch my toes /stand on my head/wrap my legs round my neck/I’m not a contortionist etc….
  • I can’t do yoga because I don’t look right…like the people in the magazines
  • I can’t do yoga because it’s not for men / older people / larger people / unfit people / people like me
  • I’m not healthy enough to do yoga

You get the idea…in many cases, people feel intimidated by the image of yoga as portrayed in the media.  In the majority of publications, you’ll see largely fit and healthy, young, thinnish people (most often women) practising advanced yoga positions, which is enough to put off most of us mere mortals from even trying! Which is a shame, as in many classes, those advanced postures are a rare thing – teachers will teach a variety of movements, and offer alternatives and modifications when they are tackling something tricky with more advanced students. If you look for a beginners, or mixed-ability class, you’ll find that there will be plenty more you can do than you can’t do.  If you look around, you’ll most likely find several classes full of people like you – ordinary people, with their own struggles, rather than the superfit, superskinny, superyoung people you might think make up a yoga class. You just might need to try one or several classes before finding one where you feel completely comfortable.

And if you worry that you’re not very flexible – well, most people share that concern to begin with! The only way to increase flexibility is to work at it, and learning yoga is an ideal way to do that safely and at your own pace. If you never start increasing flexibility, it won’t just happen on it’s own, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be the only inflexible student your teacher had ever seen! Just don’t expect instant results – if you have never been able to touch your toes, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to after your very first yoga class!

If you don’t feel very healthy – well, that’s the very reason that many people get into yoga initially. I started my home yoga practice after a lengthy illness, way back in my early twenties, thinking of it as a way to get moving gently, whilst building up my strength.  I became hooked, and never looked back, starting my teacher training a few years later. I certainly didn’t start yoga because I was already fit, happy, healthy and able to demonstrate tricky poses on a beach somewhere! Just the opposite!

And if you can’t relax – welcome, along with the rest of us, to the twenty-first century! We live life at a frantic pace these days, our brains are bombarded with news from all around the world, we’re seldom far from our devices alerting us to the latest disaster or sports result. Not being able to relax is one of the very best reasons to head to a yoga class and find a bit of peace! Believe me, most people find it tricky to relax to begin with – lying down, in a room full of strangers?! But most people find that, actually, after a good stretch, plenty of movement, an hour or more of peace and quiet, and then a lovely comfortable relaxation  position – it’s easier to relax on the floor than it is at home in bed! Perhaps not in their very first class, perhaps not until they’ve tried it several times  – but sooner or later, most people find a stillness they maybe haven’t experienced  before.  They’ve learnt to relax, body and mind.

Alison x

For more articles, tips and information on all things wellbeing, AND a free relaxation recording, sign up to my e-newsletter at http://bit.ly/sunfishnews

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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

The importance of sleep

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We all feel so much better for a good night’s sleep.  But how many of us make it a priority in our busy lives?  There are so many things that can get in the way of us having enough time to sleep well and for enough hours.  I work with new mums, and remember well the effects of disturbed nights when my own son was small – nobody understands why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture so well as a mum who is up all through the night! In Sarah Moss’s book, Night Waking, the protagonist Anna muses during yet another night up with her son as to how many years of her life she would gladly exchange for a full 8 hours:

It depends on how long my life will  be.  Of a hundred years, I would give ten. I think about how much reading I might be able to do between being ninety and a hundred. I would be at liberty to live in what my mother used to call All This Mess and upon KitKats and salt and vinegar Hula Hoops.  I’ve always fancied sheltered accommodation. I used to cycle past some flats…and I’d peer in and see old ladies with flowery wing armchairs…reading or watching television in the middle of the morning. When they were in those kitchens I bet they were baking cakes for themselves….No, I’m not giving up a decade of sugar-fuelled self-indulgence, even for sleep….OK, five years of a hundred. As long as the sleep is in solitude and somewhere soundproof and I know that Giles is on call for the children.

Moving to a global scale, what would I pawn for sleep? Would I, given the chance, have peace for Palestine or twelve hours in bed?….It’s a good thing Satan doesn’t come and chat to the mothers of sleepless toddlers in the middle of the night.

It is not, of course, only mothers who suffer from lack of  sleep.  Insomnia, meaning the inability to get to sleep in the first place or waking during the night, several times or for lengthy periods of time, is thought to affect up to one in three people on a regular basis, according to the NHS website.

People who suffer with insomnia may frequently feel so tired that it is difficult to get through the day, lacking the focus, concentration, and the energy to accomplish what they wanted to, either at work or home. They may experience physical fatigue, in the muscles of the body, headaches and  low mood.  Insomnia may also be caused by low mood, stress and anxiety, creating a vicious circle which can be hard to break. Even if it is theoretically possible to take a nap during the day, some people will find that very hard to actually achieve.

Yet more people have no difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, but still feel tired in the morning because they didn’t get enough sleep to feel fully rested. They have gone to bed later than they meant to, or consistently don’t get to bed until 5 or 6 hours before they need to get up. They hit snooze on the alarm clock over and over in the morning, but those short 5 or 10 minute naps don’t cut it when what they really needed was a full night’s sleep.

So, how much sleep do we need? There is no set amount, as we all vary, and it will also depend on our level of exertion.  So some people might feel fully recharged after 7 hours or so, whilst others might need 9.  I personally fall somewhere in the middle, needing ideally about 8 hours to really feel I’ve had a good sleep. I get up early at 5am to do my morning yoga and meditation practice, so really would need to be asleep at 9 to achieve this – unfortunately, I don’t actually manage this all that often!  Especially when I teach one evening class which ends at 9.45! But I can get by on 7 hours reasonably comfortably – anything less, though, and I really start to feel the worse for wear!

I teach lots of techniques in my classes which can  help to energise us when we’re feeling a bit depleted.  They’re often particularly appreciated in my postnatal classes!  A good stretch to the back and leg muscles can help to boost energy levels, as in a standing forward bend, for example.  Dru yoga’s Energy Block Release 1 stretches the whole of the spine and the body in all directions, and is a particular favourite of mine on  low-energy days! But (and I know this is a real shame!), in the end there is no substitute for getting enough sleep, more often than not. We need to make sleep (and rest) more of a priority in our lives. We need to practice ‘sleep hygiene‘, cultivating habits which help us to switch off and get a good night’s sleep. Some of these habits include:

  • going to bed at a regular time
  • setting some time aside before going to bed to relax
  • having a warm bath
  • having a warm drink
  • not using screens and electronic gadgets before bedtime, and never in the bedroom
  • dim lighting
  • avoiding heavy meals in the late evening, try to eat earlier and not in the two hours before going to sleep
  • reading (for pleasure, not studying!)
  • gentle exercise like yoga,  rather than extreme exertion in the evening (but exercise daily!)
  • avoiding alcohol and caffeine
  • practising meditation or a deep relaxation before going to sleep
  • getting up and doing something else for a few minutes if sleep isn’t happening, rather than getting anxious about the time, and how long it’s taking you to get to sleep
  • dealing with any anxieties before going to bed, and if you wake up worrying over something, write it down in a notebook and promise yourself you will deal with it in the morning
  • wear earplugs and an eye mask if light and noise are stopping you from sleeping
  • drink plenty during the day but decrease during the evening

If you’re reading this and thinking that it’s all very well, but you just don’t have time to take it easy in the evening, and prepare for a good night’s sleep, it might be worth thinking about the consequences of not making sleep a priority. It is becoming well-known now that inadequate sleep can increase our risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. What if you’re one of those people who is proud of how little sleep you need, and the amount of hours you put in at work? Well, I would suggest that, whilst you might get away with it for a while, in the end, lack of sleep will impact your wellbeing and the quality of both your life and your work.  I have recently been reading Arianna Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life, in which she talks about the ‘third metric’ of success – adding the idea of wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving to the traditional worldly way of judging success in terms of money and power. On the subject of sleep she quotes a 2013 study which showed that the brain has two fundamental states – one of being awake, totally aware, and one of sleep.  During the sleeping state, the brain ‘cleans up’, clearing out harmful protein wastes which build up in between its cells (Arianna Huffington ‘Thrive’ p76). These wastes may be associated with brain changes in ageing and dementia. So, if you want your brain to be fully awake during the day, you need to ensure it’s getting enough sleep at night.  And if that isn’t happening easily, try some (or all!) of the suggestions above to see what works for you. Catch-up naps in the day are also good if you have had a poor night’s sleep (without guilt!)

And, if none of this is working for you because you actually are a mum with a wakeful child – don’t despair!  Things will get better as your child gets older, but the age-old advice to sleep when your child sleeps is worth remembering – yes, even though the washing and ironing is waiting for you!  It can wait a little longer.