You'll likely be familiar with how important breathing is to the practice of yoga.
It's a remarkably effective and direct way to leave behind your whirling mind, once you've become comfortable with it.
If you've not yet discovered the benefits of breath focus, you may wonder what all the fuss is about and decide that the usual everyday breathing we do all day long is sufficient.
Breath focus, or pranayama in Sanskrit, is a profound and accessible tool that can offer a way into a direct experience of yourself, your mind, body and breath. A bridge out of being lost in thought, lost in worries, day dreaming etc. You move beyond thinking about the breath and become able to simply experience the breath with full awareness. At first maybe just for micro-moments, but over time in more sustained ways.
If you've ever tried this, you might be thinking, easier said than done. But like many things that are worthwhile, it might take a bit of practice to get the hang of it.
12 count hand mudra
A technique we've been using in my yoga classes this term which can be hugely helpful, is the 12-count hand mudra. A brilliant device for accessing the breath awareness more fully. A simple hand gesture that once it is familiar enough is a great addition to your yoga toolkit.
Using the left hand turned up, the back of the hand resting on your thigh, you use the thumb to count round the 12 inner creases of each finger (inside the knuckles).
- Place the thumb on the first crease of your first finger, and take a breath (inhale and exhale).
- Then on the next breath, moving the thumb to the middle crease on the first finger.
- With 12 creases to count on your fingers, you move round in a spiral shape among the creases. With 12 movements of your thumb, 12 breaths, you finally reach the middle of your ring finger (as long as you didn't forget to move your thumb and remembered to only touch each finger crease once).
Simple but effective
It is similar to counting on beads, and serves the same purpose. It helps you move away from your thoughts, and for a moment leave behind your conceptual mind (counting after all is conceptual).
The counting has been migrated to the hand so the mind is free to experience the breath more directly and fully. You are able to count without thinking about counting. This technique, once it is practiced enough for it to be comfortable and easy, allows you to move out of thinking and come more fully into directly experiencing the breath and the sensations in your hands. From here, you can experience each breath and moment in a new way.
It is a simple idea. As a technique it doesn't have the glitter of a complex body shape or flow of movements, but in its simplicity lies its power.
So ... a challenge for you
- Week 1: Use the mudra everyday to learn it and become comfortable with it
- Week 2: Then se it every day with more subtlety and more proficiency and notice the difference.
Simply take 12 quiet breaths, counting on your hand. Notice what you experience when you do it, how it leaves you, and if this has any bearing on the rest of your day.
Enjoy and feel free to get in touch with questions.
2020 was a year like no other. It was completely unexpected and included things I never thought I would do in my life.
An incredible year
Given all the limits and constraints of the year, I found it incredible in many ways. Some things of course I'm hoping we move on from. But I've learned so much, and continue to learn from all that has been thrown at us.
My meditation practice allows me a welcome space to sit with the tragedy of the year, and the heightened visibility of inequality and privilege demonstrated through the virus's progression through different communities and countries and the BLM movements. A clear re-evaluation of life and what to do with the privilege that I have is an ongoing project.
Perhaps we've all come to value our health and way of life more than ever before. We can more easily recognise the gifts of our health and our privilege and ensure we use these gifts well in our daily lives.
Start small, for achievable and sustainable progress. From how we make ourselves more resilient in our own health, through our lifestyle and dietary choices, to how we interact with others and treat our neighbours and engage with our local communities.
My top tips for every day:
There are lessons for each of us from 2020. If any positives are to come of last year, let's find them and take them to heart.
Appreciate what you have
Take time to appreciate what you already have and not get too caught up in high expectations for the holidays. Enjoy what comes your way, and find abundance in each moment. Notice the simple things that you take for granted and marvel at how amazing they all are!
Try some home yoga practice
A great time to commit to a short daily yoga practice, even if it is only one pose, or sitting and taking 12 steady, slow breaths.
Sanctuary in a book
Find sanctuary in a contemplative book, even if only for 5 minutes a day.
Be in nature
Spend some time with nature. If that isn't possible, spend a few minutes each day gazing at a tree or plant.
Treat yourself - mindfully
Treat yourself, but try and do it mindfully so that you really enjoy it and will remember it later on and so enjoy it again when you think of it!
Do a kind action every day for no particular reason. Share some joy with others in your local community, or do something kind for yourself. Random acts of kindness, even if only a smile to someone you don't know.
Here's to wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a joyful and healthy new year. x
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!
We are delighted to open our doors on Sat 13th September and invite everyone to join in our free yoga classes, meet the teachers and enjoy refreshments.
We are inviting you and your friends to join us, whether you are a beginner or just want to try another style of yoga or a new teacher. Everyone is welcome!
Free class schedule
11:45 - 12:45 Flow yoga with Virginie and Sheila
13:00 - 14:00 Beginners yoga with John
14:25 - 15:15 Viniyoga with Clara
15:30 - 16:30 Beginners yoga with Clara
All levels of fitness and experience are welcome to all the classes.
YogaSpace along with most of the other yoga studios across Bristol are all opening our doors for the 2nd Bristol Yoga Trail. Last year's was great fun so hoping to make this year's even better. Hope to see you there!
See the Bristol Yoga Trail website here >
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If you've said any of these things, then this article is for you:
"where does time go?" "time is flying past"
"I can't believe it is June already!".
As we get settled into our familiar daily lives and our days become repeated patterns, it's true, time seems to fly past. We stop noticing each day for what it is (it is in fact a brand new day with a world of opportunity in it). We often find ourselves going through the motions and forget to pay attention (or are too tired to notice!).
Here is a great suggestion to keep you a bit more grounded, a bit more mindful, and to make more of each day.
~ try something new for 30 days ~
Try something you have always wanted to do, but have never gotten round to doing. It can be anything you like, small, big, easy, hard ... but it will be new to you so will mark the day as different from any other in your life.
Some suggestions to get you started
- 5 or 10 minutes each morning of a home yoga practice, even if it is just one posture or movement!
- give up chocolate
- turn off the TV
- learn something for 10 minutes a day (guitar, French, YouTube is amazing for videos on just about anything)
- smile at 3 strangers every day
- pick up some litter
- sit quietly and meditate for 10 minutes
- Or a big one...write a novel (1,500 words a day for a month and your a novelist! It might suck but who cares, you did it!)
The idea is that 30 days is just about enough time for a new habit to stick (if it is a good one for you). And that it will help you re-engage with your life which otherwise will just pass you by.
Go on, try something new... think it through and start on Monday!
PS: And then 30 days later, try something else :-)
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The time for good intentions is all around us. Perhaps we want to become fitter, more flexible, leaner, more creative, more focused, happier? All of these are possible. And to help, here are my top 5 tips for getting started. (Also read our GETTING STARTED page for new students.)
1) Start small - Pick one thing. A new class? Or a mini yoga practice at home that you can do every day just for 10 minutes (just pick 3 or 4 yoga postures and do that for a couple of months). Don't choose both of these, just choose one thing as that is effort enough. Focus on getting the habit started, rather than the results that you want to get from doing it.
2) Be realistic - pick the time that you can do every day or every week that is sensible and that can work for you more often than not. Then pick a class or a short daily practice, 3 or 4 poses that you think you can do and that you will enjoy. Your focus should be on getting the habit ingrained. The rest will follow.
3) Get started - the main thing is that you do it. It doesn't matter if you do it well, or if you have a cold so need to go gently, or that it is raining and cold and you don't fancy going to your class. The main thing is to get started, do it, and do it in a way that you can stick to. Get yourself on your yoga mat every week or every day.
4) Tell someone your getting started - this will help you make the commitment and increase your likelihood of doing it!
5) Don't miss two in a row. If you need to miss one, then ok. Try not to miss two in a row as then the habit is broken and all your good effort may not come to fruition. Keep going, even if only gently if your under the weather. If your away, then try to make up the class or the practice in another way that still counts.
Good luck with getting your new yoga practice in place. The benefits will be worth it, all you need to do it turn up and do it :-).
Happy new year!
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 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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Each week in my yoga classes in Bristol, I see people come in to class feeling tired, perhaps agitated by their day, and usually more than a little lack lustre.
When they leave, there is a noticeable difference in how they seem. They are usually settled, calmer, and more comfortable in themselves. A better version of themselves. They have changed.
During the class we move the body, opening, expanding, stretching, challenging, engaging and working the entire body in some way. We breathe fully, slowing and extending the breath where possible. And we try to focus internally and our breath.
I came across a fascinating talk by Amy Cuddy recently called 'Your body language shapes who you are'.
Amy is a social psychologist. She researches body language at Harvard Business School and she was interested in researching how body language not only effects other people's perceptions of us, but how it actually effects our own body chemistry.
In her research she concluded that by standing up tall with the feet apart and with the arms raised and open for only 2 minutes daily, we can raise our testosterone levels (dominance hormone giving a confident outlook), and reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones). Simply by changing our body position in this way, we are altering our hormones and brain chemistry. We are changing ourselves to not only feel but become more powerful, confident and laid back.
In yoga classes it is very likely that you'll do a lot of arm raising like she describes, standing with the feet apart, reaching up, opening up. Also combining this with bending forwards, twisting and so on. So her research suggests that we are actually changing ourselves and our hormones in a very real way by doing this.
I took two things from Amy Cuddy's inspiring talk
- firstly, that yoga postures seem very aligned to the body changes she talks about, and that by doing them you'll actually become more confident and laid back.
- and secondly, that only a little practice, taken regularly, can make a big difference!
Pass it on...
PS. I love TED Talks!
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Over 20 FREE yoga classes across 6 locations in Bristol! Saturday was a chance to explore the wonderful variety of yoga available in our city. We are lucky to have such a rich array of yoga teachers, yoga classes and yoga participants and there really is something for everyone, new and old. We were thrilled to welcome so many students to YogaSpace on Saturday who were keen to explore our classes. We are very sorry to those who couldn't fit in as a couple of the classes were completely packed and we just couldn't fit anymore in!
We loved the range of students, from complete beginners to some who had been practicing for 25+ year. And we were inspired by the open questions and range of experiences that you all came with. We would love to welcome back students new and old to yoga classes in the meantime, and we very much look forward to next years' Bristol Yoga Trail!
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Yoga practice isn't just confined to the mat. The ancient discipline suggests bringing intention to how you conduct yourself - including what you consume. So choosing to eat foods that benefit you both inside and out, are part of practicing yoga throughout your day. But how to do this and still enjoy what you eat?
I love quinoa (pronounced 'kin wa') which is a grain originally from South America. My friends are bored of me saying how great it is and coming up with new and interesting ways of eating it, so I thought I'd share my favourite recipe with you in case you hadn't discovered it yet.
It also happens to be the International Year of Quinoa as designated by the United Nations as it is so easy to grow and so nutritious. It isn't just a grain, it is a seed packed full of protein, calcium and all things good. Its delicious (when spiced up a little), nutritious, good for you and our rather lovely planet. Anyway, jump on the band wagon and try it!
Spicy Quinoa Salad
1 cup of uncooked quinoa
2 cups of boiling water
2 cloves of garlic
1 red pepper
1 cup of cooked sweetcorn
1 tin of black or adzuki (or any other) beans drained
1 tsp hot sauce or chopped chilli
1/2 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
handful of fresh chopped coriander
Step 1: Cook the quinoa. Add the quinoa and boiling water in a pan, put the lid on and simmer for 10 mins, then turn off the heat and leave for 10 more mins with the lid on. Then fluff with a fork and allow to cool.
Step 2: While the quinoa is cooking, lightly saute the onion, garlic and red pepper, and cook the sweetcorn.
Step 3: Mix together the sweetcorn, beans, hot sauce, cumin, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and coriander.
Step 4: Once the quinoa has cooled enough, mix all together in a big bowl and enjoy!
Check out this great quinoa recipe site
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The Bristol yoga community are joining together on September 14th 2013 for our first annual Bristol Yoga Trail! An open day of free yoga classes and events across 6 locations in Bristol.
It's a wonderful chance to join in and explore the different yoga centres in Bristol, try different yoga styles and yoga classes. Or attend a talk or see a yoga film later at YogaWest in the evening. All are welcome and the classes will be free and open to all levels and abilities of fitness. No need to book, simply join in and enjoy!
There is Hot Yoga with Ed at YogaFurie, Iyengar Yoga with YogaWest, and a mix of different yoga styles at Bristol City Yoga, Wilder Studios and Yogasara. And we at Bristol YogaSpace are offering 3 viniyoga classes and a hatha yoga class for you to enjoy.
Plus if you visit all 6 locations in the day, and get your leaflet stamped at each centre, you can get a free yoga class at the centre of your choice.
Save the date and tell your friends:
Bristol Yoga Trail, September 14th 2013
For more info and the schedule of free yoga classes and events visit here:
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As we set our good intentions for the new year (including re-igniting your commitment to yoga classes!) 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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I went to a lovely yoga workshop this weekend where we were invited to rediscover the spring in our feet, ankles and knees.
As someone who has struggled with dodgy knees in the past, and who works hard to keep my knees and legs strong to avoid the pain that creeps in if I don't, I was particularly interested in what the teacher said... that if your feet aren't animated and vibrant, your ankles and knees and the whole rest of your posture can suffer.
I looked down at my feet, trained from years of yoga to be more alive than many I see, to notice that they are rather less than the vibrant source of life that they could be.
We were invited to try this...
stand up tall, but without locking out any part of the body, you should still be able to move through the shoulders, knees and ankles. Then bend the knees just a little, and try lifting the heels of the ground. Perhaps one, then the other, and then both if your balance permits. Try springing a bit, staying on the balls of the feet, sort of bouncing, feeling the feet come alive.
The strength and activity required will soon become obvious, you might find you tire quickly, or if you are strong, you might start to feel more alive and springy after doing this for a few minutes. Allow the spring to move up through the body, the legs, hips, spine, and shoulders and neck responding and working with the springy balance.
Our foot foundation
The feet are the foundation for most of us. They are the basis for standing and for supporting the whole rest of our posture. They are the source of our balance and connection to the rest of our bodies. They are packed full of nerves, alert to many sensations once we pay attention. Our focus and awareness can be heightened by developing our attention back into our feet. To neglect them is tantamount to letting the garden get rather weedy so you can't see the ground anymore.
For those with disengaged or even flat feet, there are a few postures that will be great for bringing them to life. You could try...
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose, arms and heels lifted)
- Utkatasana (Squatting)
- or Vrksasana (Tree Posture, one legged balance) to reenergise yourself from the feet up and reinvigorate them back into focus.
See this link for a few more ideas:
(although some of the more advanced postures I would avoid without supervision)
Guess what my classes will be exploring this week...
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Founder of YogaSpace,
More about Clara >