Namaste

Namaste

Hands into prayer position in front of the heart, gently bowing the head down and saying “Namaste”. A common picture in yoga classes and I finish some of my classes with this greeting but what does it mean?

Namaste is a sankrit word. It can be split into namah, which means “salutation” and te, which translates as “to you”. Literally, “Salutation to you”.

I particularly like the translation “the highest in me salutes the highest in you.” This meaning elevates this simple gesture to another dimension, a dimension of peace and calm, in which we all recognise that there is good in all of us.

The highest in each of us is this part of us that is untouched by stress, fear, anxiety… It resides deep inside each of us, more often than not, hidden away so as not to get it hurt.

But this highest part of us is remarkably strong and we could all benefit from getting a bit more in touch with it. Wouldn’t it be amazing to live our lives from a position of calm, fulfilment, confidence in oneself and the world around us? The highest part of us lives in this state and we can access it through yoga and meditation, during a walk, while being involved in something that we truly enjoy. We have all done it. It is the state of flow where you feel that everything is right. It is the feeling that time has just flown by without a conscious thought stopping in your mind long enough to be noticed.

This feeling often happens without design but yoga and meditation are ways to get in touch with this highest part of you intentionally. It is part of the reason why you feel so good at the end of a class or meditation practice. You have touched this part of you that is always there, always calm

By concluding the class with Namaste, it is an affirmation that this highest in you is truly there, present in you, recognised by others.

So enjoy its presence, and until next time, Namaste.

The Power of the Mind

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After some minor surgery on Monday, I am now unable to do any yoga for the rest of the week.

Needless to say, that this felt like a serious blow and my first thoughts were for the students I would let down this week by cancelling my classes.

The second blow was yesterday evening, when it became very clear that not doing any yoga for a day had had a definite impact on me. I was feeling rather fractious, restless and impatient. I am not saying that I don’t sometimes feel that way when I practice yoga daily but yesterday felt like there really was something not right.

As I woke up this morning at my usual yoga time, I remembered hearing about the power of visualisation. There have been studies showing that “thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions.” The same studies also revealed that “mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success and increase states of flow.” (AJ Adams)

So I decided to give it a go and started to perform a yoga sequence, moving into the movements that I could do and visualising the rest. And lo and behold, when I sat down for my meditation afterwards, my brain was calm and relaxed as if I had gone through the entire sequence.

This is good news for me and it reinforces my believe that yoga is really accessible to everybody. If you are unable to perform a certain movement and you find it hard to adapt it, you can visualise it, in this way getting some of the benefits.

 

 

 

 

Perseverance

“We can never truly fail as there are no errors in the system”, Mansukh Patel.

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A few weeks ago I started a new routine, trying to find some extra time to practise breathing exercises every day. Since my mornings are already pretty full, I decided to do these exercises in the evening.

I stuck at it for a couple of weeks and then, slowly I started doing it every other day rather than every day and little by little, I stopped doing it altogether. I carried on doing my morning routine, but let go of the breathing exercises.

I started having a familiar nagging feeling of guilt, of inadequacy… I have a tendency to start something with the best intentions in the world and after a while, it will slide and I will revert back to my old habits.

Usually, at this point I leave it at that and move on to something else. This time, I decided that there was no point feeling guilty and sorry for myself both at the same time. I admitted that maybe the evenings are not the best time for me and that I could try instead in the morning, before my meditation. Two days in, I feel really good about it and it has made my morning routine of yoga and meditation more powerful.

Now, I can hear you say that since I had given up a few weeks ago, I might give up again in a little while. You may very well be right! The important thing for me this time is that I am not giving up. It didn’t work in the evening, I am now trying another time of the day. If this doesn’t work, I will try and find another approach.

Importantly for me, I have finally admitted that I am only human and that sometimes I will trip and not do what I have intended to do. This time though, I have cut short to the feeling guilty part of the process and have moved on to trying to find a solution.

Perseverance is the key in trying to make changes in your life, both small and big. If you fall, pick yourself up and start again. If it is a process, start again from day 1 if need be, but start again. The key is not to give up, to carry on aiming for our goals. Sometimes, we need to fail to find a new approach that would eventually work out to be better than the previous one.

Grounding

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At the beginning of each yoga class, I invite my students to stand in Tadasana, the mountain pose. As they stand still, I bring their attention to their feet, to the contact with the mat. I take it further and ask them to imagine that they are on the bare earth, breathing in the energy from the earth into their body.

Starting the class in such a way brings the students to a relaxed and focused stage. They are a lot more “in their body” than they were when they entered the hall. They are ready to get the most out of the rest of the class.

Grounding seems to be able to instantly relax us and bring us back into our body, no matter how scattered our mind was before. Just a few moments standing barefoot in the grass, walking in nature, looking at a flower or a tree will have a relaxing effect.

With the weather warming up and the days getting longer, it is easier than ever to be outside, in nature. It only takes a few minutes so go for a short walk on the way to work or on the way home, stand in the garden barefoot, look at a beautiful flower, at the birds in the sky…

If you don’t have the opportunity to spend time outside, invite nature in your home with a house plant, or by planting seeds.

Anything to bring you in touch with nature and – seamlessly, effortlessly – with yourself, away from the worries, stress and tiredness of daily life.

 

 

The Crocodile – or the art of letting go.

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Letting go doesn’t come naturally to me.

When I started yoga, I was probably the only person in the class who didn’t look forward to the relaxation. As far as I was concerned, I came to my yoga classes to get toned and stretched… and to relax as well, but somehow I didn’t see the point of the relaxation. It was a waste of my time. For me, relaxing in yoga meant concentrating enough on the poses and sequences that I wouldn’t think of what bothered me outside of the yoga studio.

It took a long time for me to start enjoying the relaxation and even longer to really let go.

The first time I truly let go wasn’t during a relaxation. It wasn’t even during a yoga class. It was after a funeral. I was back home and I laid down on my mat in Makrasana, the Crocodile. Forehead resting on my hands, legs stretched out and heels rolled in. For the first time, through exhaustion and stress, I truly let my body go. I didn’t hold on to my muscles anymore to keep the pose, I just let go. I let my legs sink into the floor, my abdomen, chest and forehead rested heavily on the mat. And as I completely let go, I felt totally supported by the ground beneath me. I wasn’t holding on anymore and yet I felt stronger and more stable than ever before.

Since that day, Makrasana is my go-to pose when I need to relax and to let go of anything that is bothering or upsetting me. I lay down on my mat, legs out and forehead on my hands and I really, consciously let go. I completely relax the muscles of my legs, buttocks and arms. I breathe deeply, letting my abdomen expand against the mat. I consciously relax my shoulders and my face and I just rest on my mat, completely and consciously relaxed. I stay there for a few minutes or longer, depending on how I feel and I just let go. Sometimes I don’t know what I am letting go off but I just focus on breathing out and letting go.

At the end of the exercise, I come out of Makrasana into the Child pose and I feel happier, more grounded and relaxed.

So why don’t you give it a try next time you feel your mind or your heart twisting around something that is bothering you, refusing to let go and move on. Take a few moments for you, lying down on your front, feet as wide as comfortable with the heels rolling in. Place your hands on top of each other in front of you and rest your forehead on your hands. And just breathe, follow your breath in and out, conscious of letting go of any tension in your muscles.

When you feel ready to come out, stretch back into Child pose for a few moments before coming back to sitting. Enjoy the new found peace in your mind that is coming from letting go.

Waking up mindfully

Wake up

I started an experiment last Monday.

After years of waking up to reach for the alarm and get up in a slight daze to start my yoga routine, which would then wake me up fully and get my day started right, I have decided to experiment with waking up mindfully.

Waking up mindfully means waking up from your night sleep in the same way that you would emerge from a relaxation after a yoga session. You start by wriggling your feet and hands, you give yourself a nice big stretch before rolling over to one side and staying a little while longer in bed before getting up.

I found that doing this made my body and mind more awake when I did get out of bed. My mind was switched on from the moment I left the comfort of my bed, rather than having to wait for the beginning of my yoga routine to get there.

But what has really added to my morning, is to use those couple of minutes when I lay on my side to set my intention for the day. Now an intention isn’t a to do list of things that have to be done! It is a decision on how you want to live your day, do you want to take everything in your stride? ; do you want to try and stay calm through work and traffic jams? ; do you want to try and stay happy for the whole day ?

Simply affirm to yourself your chosen statement, in the present tense: “Today, I am happy”; “Today I stay calm”; “Today I am living to achieve my goals”…

I found that these simple statements have a profound impact. One day, I was about to lose my temper with one of my daughters refusing to do her homework, when I remember that my intention for the day had been to stay calm. So I took a deep breath, swallowed down my angry words and approached the situation in a very different way that I would have done had it not been for my morning intention.

A week on, I love my morning intentions and I find that they do give a direction to my days rather than letting myself be carried by the events and reacting to them in ways that I don’t particularly like.  After all, happiness is a state of mind and each day we  can decide to try our best to be happy, starting from the moment the alarm rings!

 

Doing the Unexpected

IMG_6194This morning, I went for an unplanned walk. After dropping my daughters at school, I didn’t go straight back home to switch on my computer and get on with my daily activities, I decided to go for a little walk.

The weather was mild and the walk thoroughly enjoyable. I walked slowly, looking at the first signs of spring around me, at my neighbourhood, the houses, the gardens…

As I walked, I felt a surge of happiness and freedom growing inside me. It was almost palpable, I was suddenly feeling more alive, more joyful and all that was the result of doing something that wasn’t scheduled.

This fresh outlook on life stayed with me when I got home. Looking at the clock, I realised that I had only been walking for 10 minutes. I didn’t take long for my energy and happiness levels to be boosted by doing something on the spur of the moment.

When I thought about it, I realised that most of my days are scheduled, either through my own doing or through somebody else’s activities. Don’t get me wrong, I have time for myself most days, but even that depends on the children being in bed, the house being relatively tidy etc etc. In a way, my down time is a scheduled activity.

The only thing that I have never planned is my yoga morning routine. I do get up at the same time every day to do my yoga, but what I do is completely depending on how I feel at that moment in time. And guess what, I have never got tired of my morning yoga and – even though I have to wake up very early for it – I look forward to it every day. After years of doing it, the excitement and fun hasn’t worn off.

I had never applied this approach to my daily life. Going with the flow and letting life unfold at times wasn’t part of my ordinary but after today’s experience I intend to leave the door open for more of these “spur of the moment” activities.

 

Creating a vision board


Yesterday I created a vision board for the first time. Sure, I had heard about vision boards before and been intrigued by them but I had never given it a go. 
A vision board is rather simple. Starting with a blank piece of paper or card, you stick, draw or write anything that you want to do over a certain period of time.

You can fill your board with anything you like, from images and affirmations to quotes, pictures, textures. Use your board to make your goals manifest, it can go from the smallest – books to read – to the largest – change of career, major project to do with the house, holidays…

If you like put on some lovely music in the background and get creative! The internet is full of pictures of everything and anything that you can print, cut and stick on your board. I found the whole process to be a lot of fun and very cathartic. It feels really good to take these ideas and goals that can go around in your mind for weeks or months and to make them real by finding a picture, a word that represent them. There is also something refreshing about using scissors and a glue stick, about physically cutting and sticking things!

The end result is a lovely picture to put wherever you like, ideally somewhere that you can see every day. Mine is where I go and do my yoga. 

I don’t guarantee that everything in the board will come to pass but, going by the past few days – and I know it is early days – it does focus my mind on trying to do a little thing every day towards one of my goals.

One thing I can guarantee though is that it is a lot of fun to do! So why don’t you give it a try? 

Dru Yoga Trial Session

Dru Yoga Trial Session – 10th January at the St Mary’s Community Centre, Rylands Road.

Come and discover the profoundly relaxing and empowering effect of Dru Yoga in this special trial class.

This beginner’s level class will introduce you to Dru Yoga with the foundation sequence EBR1 and gentle postures. It will conclude with a 20 minutes relaxation that will leave you beautifully relaxed and peaceful for the rest of your day.

£3 for the class. Please book early as places are limited!

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More than flexibility

stillness

This afternoon there was a power cut while I was at work. Whereas I was happy sitting and enjoying doing nothing, most of my colleagues were looking for things to do, tidying up their desks, walking restlessly around the office…

As I was sitting, revelling in the peace and quiet, I realised that the joy of being unable to do anything useful came as a refreshing change from my organised daily life. This pause was in some way similar to the stillness of a yoga class.

During a yoga class, you step out of your day-to-day activities and decide to take a break. To do lists and obligations disappear for an hour or so and you become fully focused on the movements of your body and the rhythm of your breath.

For me, this is what yoga is about… Not just the stretches, the asanas and the increase in flexibility but the pause, the conscious decision to take some time out of my daily life to do yoga, to focus on my breath and on stilling my mind.

To anybody whom I meet and tells me that they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible, because everything creaks when they move, I want to say that this is not what yoga is about. The word “yoga” means to unite. Yoga means to align the body and the breath, the body and the mind. It is about finding a stillness, a quiet pause where body and mind are at peace. The postures are a way of getting us to that stillness by focusing our wandering minds on one thing.

Flexibility is linked to the practice of yoga but, for me, it isn’t its aim. The aim of yoga is to learn to find that stillness