Tag Archives: yoga

Yoga in difficult times

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When I look back at the past year – or two! – I have to say things have been challenging.  Difficult, really. Just plain hard a lot of the time.  On previous occasions when the challenges have come thick and fast, I have stopped taking care of myself. It’s been a definite pattern. I’ve taken care of others, yes, but myself no. On these occasions, I have been known to stop meditating.  For years.

This time it’s been different. I know that’s my tendency, so I have been careful to maintain some form of my daily practice in whatever way I can.

I have expanded my business and opened my own yoga studio. Some of you reading this may have already come along for classes and / or treatments. The process hasn’t been easy but I am incredibly proud of the space we’ve created.

There have been personal health challenges, and in fact these have strengthened my commitment, as, along with super-healthy diet and lifestyle, I truly believe that yoga and meditation have directly contributed to moving beyond these.

There have also been family health challenges – and these have been more difficult. By necessity, when you are caring for another’s needs, time for yourself does disappear. My own energy levels and health were affected considerably, and there were plenty of mornings when meditation just wasn’t going to happen – because I’d been up all night and / or my day just started at 5am, full on, no time off.

But even then, I continued to practise in some way.  Perhaps just a few mindful breaths now and then, looking at the view out of the window. Maybe a quick stretch, a minute or two, snatched when I could. A far cry from my regular hour in the mornings, but something. And always the intention to get back to my practice at the first opportunity. A resolve to look after myself again when the time was right.

And that time eventually came. Life still isn’t back to normal. But as a wise friend said a couple of months ago, it’s my ‘new normal’. The stress levels started to subside. My mornings could be reclaimed for my hour of yoga and meditation.  So the stress levels dropped a little more.

And here I am, writing again. This hasn’t exactly been a regular thing over the past couple of years. But…..life got in the way.

 

 

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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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

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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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

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So thankful for yoga…

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This weekend, I had an accident – nothing too major, but just a fall at home.  I’d like to say I fell slowly and gracefully, as would befit a yoga teacher, but sadly, no, it was far from graceful and I hit the ground with a definite thud!

I was a little bit shaken but otherwise fine, until later that day, when I first noticed the aching in my lower back, my hip and my leg. Really not what I need at all, when I’ll be teaching classes every day. Fortunately, however, I know from my training that it is far better to move gently than to stop completely, and, in the absence of serious injury, it is more than safe to continue with my practice.  Even more fortunate, perhaps, that I have recently returned from the Dru yoga back care course, and so had a fabulous range of movements and postures to practise specifically to prevent the stiffness from setting in. So two days later, I have a very slight ache in my hip but otherwise feel totally fine and have taught the first class of the week with no issues.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I like getting injured or enjoy pain, far from it, but there have been many things over the years which afterwards I am grateful for, as they show me, time and time again, how lucky I am to have the career and knowledge that I have, and help me to help others  even better.

It can be so easy to have a minor accident like this and then, at the first sign of discomfort, start to move gingerly, protecting or ‘bracing’ against the pain. The stiffness then escalates, and the muscular tension which results can cause even more significant pain. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you fling yourself around if you have an injury, but it is worth knowing that even injuries like prolapsed discs  are likely to heal within a relatively short space of time, and that ongoing pain can result more from the muscular tension and stiffness of reduced movement over the long term. I’ve been there – I had a lumbar disc lesion and then a cervical disc lesion in my early to mid twenties, and on both occasions was advised total rest, and to ‘stop doing my yoga’. On both occasions, the pain lasted way beyond the time you would expect for healing to take place – even for quite some years, in the case of the neck injury. In the end, the only thing which really helped relieve the pain was movement, and the gradual resumption of my full yoga practice.

Of course many yoga postures are strenuous and best avoided for certain conditions, but luckily there are a whole range of  soft, flowing movements, combined with strengthening moves, included in the back care classes. Whilst still feeling a bit of a numpty for falling over in the first place (!) I am pleased to have gained first hand experience of just how  beneficial these classes can be for those with back pain, and can’t wait to share them with my students.

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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