Tag Archives: wellbeing

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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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

To book classes, visit http://bit.ly/sunfishclasses

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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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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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

Hands off!

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I might be unusual, but I don’t do a lot of hands-on adjustments in my yoga classes. I prefer to watch carefully and adjust my verbal cues to encourage students to find their best alignment in posture work. I believe that this is a safer way to work, as people are more likely to find a way that works for their body, one which lies within their own comfortable limits.
From watching someone, however carefully, I cannot always tell why they find if difficult to move in a particular way. I am not an expert in their body and their medical history in the way that they are (they live it, after all!) And therefore, if I start manually adjusting them, I may do more harm than good. I myself have been hurt as a result of over-enthusiastic adjustment by a yoga teacher at the start of my yoga journey. I have been sat on in a sitting forward bend to force my lower back a little lower. I have had my arm pulled into alignment overhead in triangle pose. The second of these exacerbated a pre-existing shoulder problem, and meant that I was unable to continue with the class.
And so I am very wary of manual adjustment. It was on my Dru yoga teacher training that I found my own way to work with, rather than against, my own body, with all its history, all its weaknesses, as well as its strengths. It was here that I found how to align my arm in triangle pose, whilst accommodating my shoulder injury, and without pain. No, it wasn’t as quick as being pulled into position, it took time and patience, but it was safe. Working this way increased my range of movement, rather than restricting it further. And surely, this has to be one of the main aims of yoga!
Whilst some students come to yoga in search of the ‘perfect body’ and quick results, I see it as part of my job as a yoga teacher to help them find that patience, to help them to see the benefits of taking their time, to help them differentiate  between a quick fix and a long-lasting improvement in their posture, their flexibility, their  physical and their emotional wellbeing. The rest of the world can move fast, forcing us along with it, but yoga is an escape from all of that. For some of us, it may be the only place we can move slowly, take our time, and deeply let go. And that can be the most healing thing of all.

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

To book classes, visit http://bit.ly/sunfishclasses

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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