Yoga offers us a chance to take practices that will help make our body and mind stronger, more stable and less rigid and allow them to come back to a more harmonious and well-balanced state of being.
If your a beginner to yoga, you may have an advantage to those experienced in yoga practice. You come to class being open and curious to what is about to happen. The uncertainty of not knowing what you are going to be doing in your class, the unfamiliar postures and ways of breathing all demand an attention and a focus to pulling it off. There is an openness and natural effort, and less expectation. These are qualities that are essential ingredients in cultivating a healthy body and mind and enabling all that yoga has to offer to unfold for us.
Without the right attitude of attention and alertness in our yoga practice, our mind and body will stay in its usual patterns. Most of us are creatures of habit -- we're slouching, breathing poorly, thinking about the same old stuff (e.g. what is for dinner or mentally shopping for whatever has captured our attention...) -- all habits that we aim to change through yoga practice.
Once we become experienced at yoga breathing, posture, technique and focus we can lose that fresh edge and that natural effort. We can become comfortable, perhaps complacent, or develop more unhelpful habits rather than less.
The freshness of the beginner is a gift and something experienced practitioners may need to strive to retain in each yoga practice. Those with experience can become mechanical and repetitive as they practice during class, missing the potential of each posture and each breath. The full physical and mental harmony available by taking simple practices, can be missing for the experienced practitioner.
As beginners to yoga we often feel like we don't know what we are doing. We should see this as a gift. Familiarity in yoga postures, breathing and the mechanics of meditation can be a double edged sword. Trying to maintain a 'beginners perspective' will help to benefit more fully from each practice.
Is picture above simply another beautiful sunset, simliar to ones you have seen before, or the start of an unexplored and unique day ahead...
Beginners and those with experience, bring along your beginners mind to our new Beginners classes starting with our new 7-week term which gets started June 5th.
Have a clear out
Have a physical clear out. Sort out a room, a cupboard, perhaps even just a drawer. Empty it out and only put back the things that you use and need. Creating physical space is a wonderful way of feeling more spacious internally too.
Let go of something old
We need to let go of something old first. Perhaps move on from a commitment, a habit, a club, a stagnant relationship, anything that feels like it isn't positive any longer and not worth reinvesting in. Re-assess your commitments and see what would be worth replacing with something more positive and vibrant.
Take a moment to count your blessings. Feeling grateful each day is a wonderful practice to cultivate. It enables you to appreciate what you have, to re-envigorate your enthusiasm for them, and importantly, to break the cycle of always wanting something that you don't have. Gratitude can help you feel more spacious and avoiding taking on more things that you may not actually need. Hey, I have opposable thumbs, thank you!
Move and breath
Yoga and other embodied meditative practices are wonderful at creating a feeling of physical and mental space. They support you to physically become stronger and de-compress yourself, enabling your body to be more more stable and move more easily and naturally - ie. feeling more spacious. Easing out tensions, stresses and blocks enables us to feel more comfortable with ourselves. And using the mental discplines of breath focus, moving and still meditations to allow us to let go of unhelpful thought patterns and feel mentally spacious and open are all essential to our wellbeing.
Notice the present moment
Practice being in the present moment more often. We often spend our days carrying around old memories and worries, or bring along anticipations and fears of the future, and perhaps feel burdened and weighed down. Try letting go of these and practice appreciating and fully experiencing each day and moment as it unfolds.
I always love reflecting on the Dalai Lamas 18 rules for living this time of year too.
Happy new year!
About 3 or 4 months ago a woman in her late forties joined my class who had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. She wanted to know if yoga would help and was willing to give yoga a try. She came every week, almost without fail, and enjoyed the classes. We took it gently at first, modifying postures where needed, ensuring that the practice was safe and giving her body time to get used to moving in new ways. After some practice, she took well to the ujjayi breathing, and even came to a weekend workshop to explore taking yoga further.
I had a wonderful email from her this week saying she has had her high blood pressure re-tested and it is back to normal and she credits the yoga practice for this.
However I give the credit right back to her. She was motivated to do something positive to help herself with her health situation. She was ready to make changes to her lifestyle that were contributing factors to her high blood pressure (high stress and lack of exercise). She stuck with it, even though at first she saw no tangible improvement in her blood-pressure and asked how long it would take for the yoga to 'work'. She helped her health situation for herself and she now has her own reward.
All of us have this ability within us to help ourselves and I'm inspired by students who come and practice the yoga teachings in their own way for their own aims. It does take perseverance; it isn't overnight. Often when we arrive at a class we are looking to improve imbalances or issues that have crept up over years or decades, and these won't be changed in a few sessions. But hopefully by finding a yoga practice that you enjoy you will enable the improvements to come.
Another woman in her early thirties came to my class in December. She was a British Athlete, a snowboarder, who had suffered a serious concussion and was unable to continue her rigorous slope and gym training. With frequent, regular yoga practice, she was able to continue her physical training in a way that adapted itself to her injury. She found a sense of peace of mind and confidence. Then in February she went on to win Britain's first Olympic medal on snow.
Well done Jenny Jones!
Yoga is adaptable to any injury, illness or health situation. When skillfully applied, it can be a great support and help you pave your way to improvements. The tools are varied and some may be more appropriate than others - bodywork, breathwork, meditation. No matter what your situation there will be something you can do to get started. Please get in touch to find out more or read more about yoga therapy here.
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Mindfulness - to be mindful. To be aware of each moment and to act with intention.
Christmas - beyond the religious festival it is to fill stockings, make plans, see friends and family, plan menus, arrange travel, eat wonderful rich foods etc. It's busy, fun, tiring, stressful, overindulgent, exciting, a whirlwind ... a mix of many things.
For many people, trying to maintain a sense of mindfulness when life gets hectic is a challenge most of us struggle with. Those who go to a yoga class will already have a headstart in maintaining a mindful attitude. To practice yoga is to develop a mindful body and movement with mindful breath.
Maintaining a mindful approach helps you to enjoy the whirlwind. To experience joy and gratitude for the festivities all around us. It is all too easy miss if your too busy to notice.
To help you remain mindful try setting aside as little as 5 minutes each day to re-set your intentions. Sit quietly, perhaps alone, or over a quiet cup of tea. Do nothing else except gaze softly at a blank wall, table, or natural object and settle your gaze there gently, or close your eyes. Notice your breathing, and connect with yourself for a short while. Note your intentions for the day and resolve to pursue them. Try this for 5 minutes each day through the Christmas period.
Try not to get carried away in the potential whirlwind but to stay connected to what is important to you and to enjoy the moments. If you find yourself feeling too rushed or stressed, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself 'what would my 'mindful self' do?', and then act.
Remember to take time to actually enjoy your Christmas festivities.! Keep up some yoga or other grounding practice if you can. And see you in class in the new year.
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Fascinating radio programme on Radio 4 where we explore findings that show we are made up of 10x more microbial cells than human cells. We are a community of billions of micro-orgamisms. In fact we are more a microbiome than human. The community is constantly exchanging between our environment and other people, in constant interchange. We're not as individual as we think we are, sharing much of our environment internally aswell. Which I find mind-boggling and food for thought. So who am 'I' again?
Listen to it by following this link:
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As we set our good intentions for the new year, it is sometimes helpful to get some inspiration...
The Dalai Lama shared some wonderful advice on how to live in the new millenium, and I love to read them at the start of each year.
Enjoy in a short video or read below!
The Dalai Lama's 18 rules for living
1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Respect for self 2. Respect for others 3. Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it
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Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard Brain Scientist who had a life changing experience: a stroke in the left side of her brain. This offered her the extraordinary experience of analysing the progression of left and right brain function first hand as her left brain function subsided. She describes her intermittent experiences over four hours during the stroke, experiencing moments of pure stillness, fascinating insights and being an energy being connected to the universe. The chatter of the brain turns off as her left brain function is hampered, and she experiences the purity and wholeness of what we really are as her right brain comes to the fore. An interesting and inspiring experience which is worth seeing in her 20 minute TED talk.
Watch the video here >>
The tools and techniques of Yoga could be described as aiming to allow us to quieten our left brain, to bring it under our control by training and discipline, to allow us to experience and tap into the right side of our brain. Being in the present, letting go of the baggage that our years of living have left us with, and becoming fully aware of our sensory experiences, being a witness, completely at peace with ourselves and the world.
She says 'the more time we choose to run the deep inner peace circuitry that is the right brain, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful the world will become.'
Yoga movement and body work, breathing, sensory experience, and meditation are all tools that help us to still the left side of the brain and run our deep inner peace circuitry and find our own freedom.
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Yoga uses the body, breath and mind to help establish stability, health, strength and balance. This can start on the yoga mat, but it's reach goes beyond into life with regular practice. It could be considered a form of meditation in action. A moving meditation as you practice yoga, focusing the mind on the breath and body. If you find a sitting meditation hard, perhaps a moving meditation might be a good starting point.
For an interesting overview on Yoga as a moving meditation, I came across this article which provides a nice overview beyond the bodywork that we often see in yoga classes. Read more... Yoga, a moving meditation?
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Many fitness classes are available just to drop-in whenever you feel like it. So why do we encourage students to take Yoga as a course of classes?
Yoga is of course different from a fitness class, and our aim is to encourage everyone to get the most they can from learning about and practicing Yoga. It's true, you can get some of the benefits from your very first Yoga class, or by turning up every now and again to a class. We are very open to students coming along to classes in that way. Simply by stretching and moving the body, and breathing more deeply, you are starting to energise and open up a bit more. But this is just the very tip of a rather large iceburg, and our aim is to deepen your experience.
One of the aims of Yoga is not only to improve your overall health, but also your wellbeing, and much more besides. This includes physical and mental wellbeing. Yoga is working not only at the physical level, but also on the mind, and many of the practices of Yoga aim to help cultivate clear thinking and a sense of connection to your body, and also aim to open up and release the tension and energy in the body.
By committing to a course of Yoga, you are actually taking the first step towards disciplining your body and mind, agreeing that every week, whether or not you mind or body is saying to you you'll give it a miss this week, you turn up anyway and work on cultivating positive practices. And you'll always be glad you did.
Over the weeks of the course, you'll start to become familiar with the basic, foundation aspects of the postures, and get to know your bodies stiffnesses and weaknesses feeling them gradually improving. You'll also start to learn the more subtle aspects of practice: your ability to gradually control your breathing (in turn starting to control your over-active mind and intensifying what you are able to achieve in each posture), developing your focus and attention during practice, releasing deeply held tension and blocks, and the ability to gradually deepen your weekly experience.
It's true, some of the techniques take years to learn, but each week you gradually take it further, and each term, you'll build on the various layers of practice that will enhance your experience and get the most benefit. I've been practicing Yoga for many years, and I still take regularl classes and always learn something new.
Regular practice also makes practicing Yoga safer. Allowing your body to become familiar and confident with the unusual positions you may find yourself in. By regularly stretching and maintaining health in the muscles, joints you can worry less about if you can get into the postures and start to develop the more subtle aspects of practice.
We're just getting going with the Autumn term where there are many Yoga Courses you can enrol in. Our experienced teachers are passionate about Yoga and all of us have studied the philosophy and methodologies of Yoga in depth over many years giving us the opportunity to carefully structure the classes so that they are appropriate to develop each student. Feel free to get in touch to find out more.
Don't just do Yoga, learn Yoga
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I'm enjoying a good book by Tim Parks at the moment, 'Teach us to sit still: a sceptics guide to health and healing'. It's a brilliantly honest account of a middle-aged academic's journey to overcoming chronic health issues through relaxation and meditation. I highly recommend it, a good read (perhaps skipping the literary references if not your thing) with amazing descriptions of what it is to struggle with the process of meditation. And he really is a sceptic so one I'll be passing it on to a couple of people who might be able to relate!
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