Some thoughts on Yoga

There’s been a long silence on this page, I know I haven’t written like this for ages. Lying down, tapping keys, diffuser on, quiet house. Stuck for time and space my words have been rushed into little Instagram squares typed with one thumb whilst the other stirs a soup/holds a babe/does the laundry. By evening I’m too tired to see a screen, let alone write, replying to messages is about all that’s been getting done. Organising the next day, is all I seem to have energy for. Planning writing days months in advance, losing the spontaneity of a story as it slips through my fingers. Watching the world shift in the last year blowing the family apart. The depths of the tragedy which has wrung out the hearts of my nearest and dearests. Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing to add. That I don’t know how to write anymore. That this blog has become a ramble with no fixed aim? Is it cathartic or business? I yearn to start a fresh one, concise and new, targeted, let this fade into history perhaps…perhaps but then this is my truth; a rambling round and round kind of life.

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Throughout this blog there is one thing I have learnt, been practicing, a thing that has got stronger and stronger in my life, something which seems to constantly be there to fall into, that holds me up even on the very darkest of days, an almost tangible force which only now after almost a decade of regular practice am I starting to feel I finally have a glimpse of what it actually is and that is Yoga. From almost as far back as I can remember I have been drawn to the practice, to the quiet, sacred space it seems to create. I remember watching a woman alone on a Devon beach early one morning when I was a child. She moved and swayed, groaned and breathed in time with the waves, I was hypnotised. The adults I was with hurried me on with a quick ‘Don’t stare darling! Come on.’ I remember she used to appear in my dreams after that sometimes. It’s only with hindsight that I realise she was practicing Yoga.

I think I first started to take Yoga seriously at university, when I was about 18. I remember the flyer for my first class had a picture of a tree on it. I liked trees, I’d been partying a bit too much, I had some notion it would be a ‘good’ thing to do. I remembered that woman on the beach, and I went. I’d love to say that I was hooked from then on that I became a Yogini overnight and dedicated my life to studying the Yogic paths…but it wasn’t quite like that, I was too hedonistic too much of a slave to the rave! I enjoyed it in a somewhat superficial, oh-isn’t-that-nice sort of way. Trying classes, then stopping. It took almost another six years for me to begin practicing at home and even then, through it all I’d say it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve really started to connect to what Yoga is.

It’s become a thread that runs through my life, through Epilepsy and Chronic Pain, through marriage and parenthood, through birth and death, through each day. It’s there in the background constantly. Like a stake pulling me back to earth, grounding, centring, holding. It goes far beyond Asanas, beyond perfect instagram poses. It’s about community and connection, it’s a link to women who’ve become sisters and those who walked before me. It’s thinking about what we eat, watching the seasons spin, and noticing the moon, the ebb and flow of my cycle. It’s loving my family and recognising my place in that. It’s being present with each moment. It’s learning about generosity and ultimately about love.  But more than anything Yoga reminds me how our thoughts create our reality. So we might as well be positive.

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Wake up Better

When you wake up in the morning what is the first thing you do? If you are anything like the increasing majority of the human population you’ll reach for your smartphone to turn off the alarm which woke you up. Then, as it’s in your hand you notice a little light blinking at you to alert you to the 100s of new status updates you MUST SEE NOW, so, as it’s in your hand you begin checking them, why not? And then your emails? And then the day starts and you’ve got to go and you’re late and and and…an endless list of ands for you to do and get to.

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When we first awaken we are at perhaps our most vulnerable. We are full of potential of the new day but still finding our way back from dream-land. Our consciousness needs to time to settle in and shrug of the unconscious. In many cultures the moments of dusk and dawn, between sleeping and waking are the most revered, perhaps because it is then that we ‘switch’ consciousness. It is a soft time in human existence, a gentle moving between moments. When we are blasted with the latest horrifying headlines or deadline reminder emails in this period we tend to forget entirely about ourselves. We forget to give ourselves time to wake up, time to switch states. In other words we begin the day by telling ourselves that everything else is more important than we are.

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Over the last year, I have found the truth in this the hard way. If we give ourselves no importance, we fail to take care of ourselves and if we fail to take care of ourselves how can we possibly hope to take care of other things.

Luckily I also discovered that there is another way, conveniently made of 4 steps. All of which have helped me to heal, transformed my life and I believe, could benefit everyone;

1)    Journal

In this instance journaling doesn’t refer to keeping a beautifully crafted diary of what you made for tea and who kissed who in the playground today. No. This is another simple tool to de-clutter your mind. All you need for this is a pen and paper. Simply write in a conscious stream the first words which spring to mind, slowly, or sometimes rapidly, words become coherent sentences. Do not re-read what you’ve written. This is a de-cluttering, not a dwelling-on session.

2)    Practice Mindfulness.

Firstly, this isn’t hippy-knitted nonsense (for those who might be thinking that –I see you!) this is simply a way of paying attention to the present moment using techniques like meditation and breathing. It is simply a way to connect with yourself and your thoughts rather than being overwhelmed by them. In that way we can better manage them. I personally found Headspace.com to be the best, cheapest (free!) and fastest introduction.

3)    Move.

Learn three basic yoga poses. Move, gently, consciously and slowly. It is up to you what you choose. A quick google of ‘basic yoga’ will give you some options. Practice these in sequence, following your breath. Worry less about ‘getting the pose ‘right’ and more about how your body feels. If a movement feels good follow it. Pay particular attention to your psoas muscle. If you don’t know what that is check out the work of Liz Koch.

4)    Get outside.

Every day the earth puts on an incredible, awe inspiring mind-blowing show. Sunrise and Sunset. If you are feeling a little down, depressed even, chances are you haven’t seen either for a while. Infact studies have shown that people suffering from Depression improve greatly if they watch the sunrise. So, whenever you can, make the effort, get up, throw open the window, go outside and look up. You are a child of the universe and you are meant to shine as children do. By letting your own light shine you unconsciously give permission for others to do the same.

These four simple steps are more healing than a year’s supply of painkillers and they are freely available to everyone. I challenge you to do these four things everyday for a week and feel the difference!

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Yogic Learning

One of the many silver linings to this ‘ill’ year is that I have been able to really develop my understanding of Yoga and Movement. I have begun to learn that movement is not something we do, it is something we are. Even when we sleep we are not still. Far from it. Being healthy, being ‘fit’ could also be described as having the ability to move our whole being fluidly, easily and constantly. Those amongst us who can do that are the ‘fitest and healthiest’. With that in mind, after so many months of barely moving I am keen to re-engage with a holistic and regular movement practice.

Continuum

I have learnt that when presented with a long list of Can’ts there is an equally impressive list of Can’s. Maybe you Can’t; run,walk,jump,hop,bend but equally, you Can; blink, stretch, twist, roll and breath. And if you have breath, I have learnt, then you pretty much have the key to all movement. Anything truly is possible. In my quest for health I have looked for many teachers to help me explore the power of breath and my potential for movement. Just as with my search for a Doctor it is no small task finding a yoga teacher. After so much self-research into movement, I know that any-old-generic-gym-‘yoga’ would not work for me. Particularly after learning from the wonderfull Liz Koch about my Psoas muscle, with which I am still totally enamoured! Liz’s work taught me to play with movement, to find my own space, to listen to my body and have confidence to follow its cues. Crucially Liz also ignited the idea in my mind that for me, there is not a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way to move. If it feels good it’s right, if not then stop. I only need to listen and my body will show me all it can do. In other words; complete AWESOMESAUCE! I learnt through Yoga Therapy that the teachers I connected with most listened to and watched me equally as much as they suggested and demonstrated asanas, just like the Doctors I return to are those who listen, support and don’t patronise.

I am movement lover

I am movement lover

I found another Yoga Teacher a few days ago, recommended by another teacher. Kate Ellis was simply fab! One of the reasons that I enjoyed my session with Kate so much was that without making any obvious fuss Kate created a space in which I felt listened too, safe, valued and hugely encouraged. Kate was the first yoga teacher I have met who seemed to truly recognise all the work I have done myself on this journey. That was an amazingly empowering feeling.  It was consequently a complete joy to share with her some of the things I have learnt and wonderful to feel that someone understood the place of movement I am coming from. My brief session with her rejuventated in me my love for yoga and a thirst to learn and deepen my practice.

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One of my favourite things about illness is that it has expanded my desire and perhaps even capacity, to learn further. Yoga has reminded me of this and I feel privilidged to be able to learn more about it. One Love.

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HeadSpace

Long before I began blogging, even perhaps before I was diagnosed with Epilepsy. Some professional, in some medical role suggested to me that meditation might be helpful……. it might help my ‘anger issues’ and ‘attention problems’…I remember the word, I don’t remember the person or where it was. Years later I looked into it further but I didn’t really know how to start or where to begin with it. What I did find was yoga – the ancient practice of preparing the earthly body for meditation – that seemed more tangible. I could get started on that! So, started I got…and started I stayed at for over a decade! Until that is, I begun on this journey with Chronic Pain. Now I have truly begun to practice yoga. Now, I have started to feel, to understand and to learn about yoga.  Now, I think I am prepared enough to explore meditation.

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I believe STRESS is the root cause of ALL my ailments, therefore this journey is first and foremost about working out how to process stress in healthier ways.  Stress is primarily designed to help us get out of physical danger, setting off an alarm bell which triggers the “fight or flight” response, our blood is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, as well as our respiration. While this heightened state once helped us with the physical threat of, say, a sabre toothed tiger, it does little to help us with today’s worries, like when we’ve forgotten the dates of a wedding!(#true stroy!) Stress stops the normal functioning of our body.  The body assumes there’s a physical threat at hand so it channels energy into getting out of immediate danger. To do this, it shuts down longer term projects which are taking up energy. Our digestive processes, immune system, growth and reproductive processes are inhibited (no time for eating or nookie when we’re being chased!) 

flight or fight

Meditation can change this. While stress activates the “fight or flight” part of our nervous system, meditation activates the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system, helping with stress management.  Our heart rate slows, our respiration slows and our blood pressure drops. This is often called the “relaxation response”.  While chronic activation of the response can be extremely damaging to the body, the relaxation response is restorative, making meditation for stress and improving wellbeing significant.

meditate

I started looking for a teacher. My Chronic Pain specialist suggested I check out GetSomeHeadspace.com so I did and….it is SOCK-ROCKING AWESOMESAUCE! A funky, illustrated, easy to use website run by a reformed marketeer, science guys, digital whiz kids and a former Buddhist monk on a mission to make meditation a life-long skill. Something which is accesible, mainstream and part of our every-day lives. There is even an app. to help you get started (if you have a phone that cool…) best of all they have a completly FREE, yes FREE, Take10 meditation starter kit. You simply press play for 10 minutes each day for 10 days. Easy. I have just done my first 10 minutes. I am Beautyfilled and excited to embark on this new aspect of my voyage. Everyone shoulc check them out. One Love HeadSpace!

HEADSPACE

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