11 Jul 2016 Leave a Comment
Staying warm on these chilly days can be tricky, luckily as often is the case, yoga has solutions. I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite winter warming practices to help you stay snug during the chilly winter months…
For one Melbourne winter I taught yoga classes in a very cold and draughty hall, the wind would howl outside and sneak in and we would all begin the class shivering. It was challenging but a great opportunity for my students and myself to explore the warming practices yoga offers, these are a couple of my favourites – some not strictly yoga but that all depends on your definition of yoga.
- The bum shuffle – this is a great core workout guaranteed to get the blood pumping and warm up the whole body. Begin in dandasana, sitting on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you. Toes up to the ceiling and some space out in front. Then simply shuffle forwards, one butt cheek at a time, when you run out of room go into reverse and shuffle back again. To add intensity you can hold your arms out in front and push each arm forwards with the leg on that side. Heads up that the back and forth motion can cause the occasional wardrobe malfunction so be prepared to rearrange things but this is a fun and fast warming and energising practice.
- The train breath – this is a variation of Bhastrika, the bellows breath which is done by breathing very short, fast in and out breaths through the nose. Like bellows pumping up a fire this breath warms you up from the inside out. The train variation adds some arm movements, like choo choo train arms, you keep the elbows in at your sides ands move your hands forwards, down, back and up in a circular motion timing it so they come back into the sides on the out breath, knocking the breath out of the ribs. Only do 10-15 breaths before you stop at a station for a few long deep breaths, usually 3 rounds of 10 breaths is enough to warm me up and, as always, if you feel at all uncomfortable at any time release the practice.
- Marching – a great way to move around the house or practice on the spot marching gives you a good warm up and cardio work out. Optional swinging arms add more warmth and the higher the knees go the stronger it is so adjust to suit your body and energy levels. You can also play with the pace, speeding up or slowing down to suit your needs.
Have fun with these.
Love and light,
26 May 2016 Leave a Comment
We are creatures of habit, most of us anyway. We have ways that we tend to like things and a pretty clearly defined comfort zone which holds all of our habits in place.
This can be a great thing in regards to healthy habits like a regular yoga class or meditation practice, or a not so great thing when it comes to unhelpful habits. The tricky thing is to try to put in the habits we want in our lives and changes those that don’t really do us any favours.
One of my teachers, Leigh Blashki, once described habits to me in the following way – think of a nice new dirt road, nice clean surface, freshly graded. When the first vehicle drives down that road it leaves a set of tracks. If another vehicle follows in the same tracks they become more clearly defined, the next car to travel on the road is likely to follow in those easily defined areas and so on. Eventually ruts will form which steer the cars automatically into that path, it gets harder to drive on any other part of the road. In this way when we repeat a behaviour two or three times we are inviting it to become a habit. So the first step towards creating healthy habits is to practice them, once or twice a week. If we do this and commit to making the effort for a month or so it is likely to develop into a habit and become a permanent part of our life.
As for breaking out to those less desirable habits the first thing to do is be prepared for a bit of a bumpy ride and have realistic expectations. Knowing how easy it is for those vehicles to slip back into the well worn path and how much more effort and navigation is required to get out of them again can be very helpful. Don’t be too hard on yourself if there is the occasional setback and don’t try to break a habit during a time in your life which you know is already challenging for any reason.
I have found for myself that being able to replace a habit I want to break with a new one that I’d like to embrace is a good method. That way whenever I am tempted to go back into those unhelpful behaviours I make a bit of a bargain with myself, I will do that after I have done this, the new habit I’m bringing in. This reinforces the more positive behaviour and usually by the time I’m finished I don’t really want the other behaviour anyway!
Love and light,
31 Mar 2016 Leave a Comment
One of my favourite areas to work with in my own practice is my shoulders. They tend to be the first place that I feel tension and I have learnt over the years to be aware of that. When my shoulders are a bit tight it is my bodies way of telling me I’m doing too much. I use this as an opportunity to pause and take stock of what is causing the tension, reassess my priorities and hopefully rearrange things so I can avoid it escalating.
Sometimes in life however it isn’t easy or possible to just let go, things need to be done, unexpected challenges can arise and everything can seem like a priority. To get through those challenging times it is helpful to remain aware of what is happening and the effects it is having on our bodies and minds. If we do this and take a little time each day to release the tension that can build up it means we are much better equipped to tackle all of those other tasks without risk of burning out.
The Circle of Joy series is one of my favourite practices for times like this, it is short so can easily fit into a busy day, doesn’t require warming up so can be done anytime and never fails to release tension through my shoulders and arms as well as calming my mind. The flowing movements with the breath allow it to become a moving meditation which is easy to fit into 5 minutes
I first experienced this practice during my teacher training when the lovely Fiona Hyde from Williamstown Yoga shared it with me. Since then I have come across a few other versions and played with it a lot so it may well have evolved from what Fiona shared with me. I am including it here with a few options which I’ve developed over the years. This sequence can be practiced seated or standing, you will need room around you – about your arms length out in front, behind and to the sides. Hope you enjoy it…
- Start with hand together in Namaskar Mudra, palms together in the heartspace. Inhale fully here.
- On the exhalation interlock your fingers and open your palms out in front at chest height, lengthening the arms without locking the elbows.
- Inhale and float the hands up above the head, palms still facing away from you.
- Exhale and separate your hands, taking them out to the sides and behind your back where the palms come together again.
- Inhale and once again interlock your fingers and lift your arms, opening through the chest and collarbone.
- Exhale and fold into a forward bend, continuing to lift the arms behind you. If you are standing keep your knees soft as you fold forwards.
- Inhale to come back upright from the forward bend.
- Exhale to relax and release your arms and hands and bring them back to Namaskar Mudra in the heartspace.
That is the whole sequence, here are a few notes on how to practice it and adapt if needed for yourself.
- I usually practice at least four rounds of this sequence but even just one or two can help soften the whole shoulder region.
- I have given the instructions to flow with the breath but it can also be very nice to pause in each stage for a breath or three, or if you have a favourite part of the sequence to stop there for a few breaths then resume the flow for the rest of the practice.
- If you can remember it is helpful to swap the interlock of your fingers each round that you do. This might feel strange but will become less so with practice.
- If your shoulders are very tight or you are working with or recovering from an injury instead of joining the hands behind your back you can keep them shoulder distance apart and lengthen them up and away so you still get that lovely feeling of opening through the chest without causing any discomfort.
- For my prenatal students I often leave out the forward bend, if you have lower back issues you might like to do the same or just keep it very gentle.
Hope you enjoy this sequence as much as I do. It is one that I will be sharing at my next yoga retreat Mother Nature, Mother Nurture on May 6th, 7th and 8th at Clearview Retreat.
Love and light,
09 Mar 2016 Leave a Comment
Today’s post is for my pregnant students… some helpful hints for your yoga practice during pregnancy.
One of the best things yoga offers pregnant women is the opportunity to really tune in to their body and their baby, to move in ways that support the growing baby and changing body. To notice how you are feeling, what your energy levels are like, working at a pace and depth in your practice that honours each stage.
There are so many beneficial practices that it is hard to choose which ones to include in a post so instead I am listing some general guidelines which can be applied to all yoga practices.
- Never forget to breathe, during pregnancy you need to breathe both for you and your baby, so just keep that breath flowing and work in your physical practice at a level that feels comfortable and allows you to breathe easily and freely. Some pranayama practices such as belly breathing and ujjayi can be really useful however don’t underestimate the power of simple breath awareness, tuning in and remaining conscious or the coming and going of your breath can be relaxing, energising and very calming.
- To be gentle or not to be gentle… many people treat pregnant women like they are fragile or unwell. In fact pregnancy is a normal life process so as long as you stick to a few general rules there is no reason why you can’t work strongly, in fact building up strength and endurance during pregnancy helps women to get through labour with less interventions. Those general rules are to keep open space in front for growing babies, legs a little wider during forward bends, no closed twists or strong backbends and if anything doesn’t feel right or creates discomfort then come out of it and let it go. Also to work at a pace and a place that feels comfortable for you on the day, a rule for all of my yoga classes – not just pregnancy yoga!
- Pelvic floor work is very important to support the increasing weight of your baby and placenta and to aid in recovery post birth. Your pelvic floor supports all of the abdominal organs and regulates the flow when you go to the toilet – those are the muscles you use to hold on and release urine. Keeping it gently active during standing poses and working with it in a variety of ways to build up both strength and stamina means that you are less likely to have issues after baby arrives.
- Attend pregnancy yoga classes. While I do allow pregnant students into my regular classes as I am a qualified prenatal teacher I really enjoy teaching specific pregnancy yoga classes where each practice is selected for the benefits it offers to pregnant women. We work on practices that strengthen and relax, work with the pelvic floor, ease some of the discomforts that can occur during pregnancy, prepare for labour and babies arrival and share each others experiences. Being a part of that journey is a privilege for me and the community that is created amongst the students has built some enduring friendships over the years.
- Have fun, enjoy the miracle that is occurring within you. Take time, either in a prenatal yoga class or at home to stop and tune in to your baby, whether they are still very tiny and not yet showing or running out of room and wriggling around. Talk to them, sing to them, tell them everything you are feeling and thinking and hoping. Keep a journal and write down what you experience, you will look back on it in years to come with a smile as you try to remember what life was like before your baby was born.
I wish you all the best for pregnancy, birth and beyond. My prenatal classes run at Harvest Yoga in Kensington on Wednesday evenings, 6-7:15pm. To book or enquire go to www.harvestyoga.com.au.
Love and light,
25 Feb 2016 Leave a Comment
I have been meaning to write a new post for weeks, even months!, but have somehow not managed to do so. I have even got as far as sitting down and logging on once or only to be interrupted by one thing or another and not managed to get back to it.
If anyone has been really missing my posts, please accept my apologies however also take some inspiration from the fact that we all get caught up like this. Whether it is your weekly yoga class, time set aside for a task or pleasure, one of those lingering jobs which you know need to be done but they are not quite high enough priority to get to the top of your list.
Setting aside a time each week to get to these things can make all the difference but, as we discussed on the retreat I led over the past weekend, there is some freedom to be gained from not tying yourself down to a schedule – being more open to living in the moment and dealing with whatever is arising then and there. Of course we all need to be in certain places at certain times and there are things that need to be done daily, weekly, monthly. Having some kind of system in place that works for you and allows all of that to happen is a necessity – for me it is a two calendar system – one old fashioned one that hangs on the wall and contains all of the families appointments and activities. Then there is my phone calendar which I enter all of the same info onto but which travels with me everywhere I go so I can refer to it. Beyond that my time tends to be spent doing what needs to be done as it comes up, there are days and times that are more productive and days and times that are set aside for rest and yoga practice but there is a lot of flexibility to shuffle these things around. Obviously my blog posts have dropped out of the system in the new year but not that I am here tapping away at my keyboard they are coming back!
It is hard not to feel guilty when this does happen but after much practice I have mastered the art of accepting that I do what I can and I can’t do more than that. Guilt free, though I do need to remind myself sometimes!
We had a wonderful time at Clearview Retreat, a beautiful group of students, beautiful bushland surroundings and a great topic rather relevant to this post – Slowing Down – Tuning In. It is always a pleasure to be there and share the joys of yoga in such lovely surroundings. I have another retreat coming up in May titled Mother Nature – Mother Nurture, details can be found at www.clearviewretreat.org.au.
Can’t resist sharing a couple of photos including the cutest little echidna I came across and spent some time with during one of my walks…
Love and light,
18 Dec 2015 Leave a Comment
Christmas is only a week away as I write this, a time which for some people is joy filled and for others can be quite difficult for a range of reasons. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I love many aspects of Christmas. The excitement of my children as the big day draws nearer, the decorating of the tree and the house, the connecting with family and friends, the purchasing and wrapping up of the gifts which I have carefully selected for each person, watching their faces when they open a gift that brings them pleasure. I love it all.
What I enjoy less is the marketing and merchandising, the crowded shopping centres, the over the top excesses and extremes that we are exposed to in our society. The underlying feelings and obligations that accompany some exchanges of gifts. I have on occasion purchased or made a small gift for someone as a surprise only to have them then rush out to buy me something in return. My gifts are carefully selected to bring joy to the recipients, my gifts are given freely and openly to brighten someones day and bring a smile to their face. My gifts are always, absolutely, 100% obligation free. This applies not just at Christmas time but for birthdays, just because presents, all occasions.
Through Yoga Tinted Glasses Christmas is always full of joy, the philosophy of the yamas can be applied so effectively to the whole celebration.
Ahimsa – loving kindness for yourself and others pretty much sums up the spirit of getting together and celebrating with loved ones. If Christmas is difficult being aware of your own needs and seeking support or whatever it is that helps you to get through it. If you are tired, giving yourself rest. If you are loving every minute of it indulge in that. The whole time being open and aware of those you are spending time with, treating them to all of the love and compassion you can muster – what gift could be more meaningful than that?
Satya – honesty at Christmas time is about giving your true self, often when families gather there are underlying grudges and resentments, things left unsaid and we can feel like we need to be the person they expect rather than our true selves. How wonderfully liberating to let that all go and present the real you, at the same time greeting and acknowledging the real them. We might not be the same and we might have different values but letting go of any expectations, both of yourself and of others is a wonderful practice at Christmas time or any time…
Asteya – non stealing is not just about material things but also about energy and time. Letting everyone have their moment in the light, in our family when we open presents we do so one at a time so every gift gets seen, appreciated by each person, both giver and receiver are acknowledged and appreciated.
Bramacharya – moderation is something we can definitely use more of over Christmas time. It can become quite overwhelming with all of the excess. So much food, so many gifts, so many lights. I know it is only one day a year but what I love about it isn’t the food – it’s the people I’m eating with, not the presents but the presence. Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to really appreciate each other. One of the ways we do this by exchanging gifts but it should always be more about the reason they are given than the gifts themselves. Some of the most memorable gifts I have received have not been hugely expensive or big but well thought out and given with love. I personally try to either make gifts myself or purchase them from craft markets, small local businesses or ethical companies. I am on the lookout all of the time for things that make me think of a particular person, things that will bring them pleasure.
Aparigraha – non grasping so perfectly complements Christmas, being generous. If you have loads of money and want to buy expensive presents then go for it. If you don’t have so much money then all you need to do is share what you do have in abundance – your love, your time, your energy and your presence.
May your Christmas or other festivities be peaceful, joyful and spent with those you love.
Love and light,
09 Dec 2015 Leave a Comment
It’s that time of year, some things are finishing off like my beginners course which ended last week and my Braybrook classes which wind up this Thursday while other things get busy, busy, busy in the rush to prepare for Christmas or other festivities, go to all of the social gatherings and events and see all of the different people for Christmas and just get on with the day to day stuff.
I sometimes look at my calendar for the week ahead and feel a little alarmed when there are no empty days, not even empty afternoons or mornings. I feel the need to brace myself to get through all of the events. Not that I don’t enjoy all of the catching up and socialising, quite the opposite in fact – I love this time of year and the opportunities it presents to share time with family and friends. It’s more that I also need some time to myself, time to slow down, reflect on events, time to be alone, particularly when life is busy.
It’s taken me a while to realise this, I used to feel bad about not wanting to go to every party, every dinner, every event. I’ve arrived at the realisation of why I sometimes dread these things after much soul searching and self observation. What I’ve learnt about myself is this:
- I love spending time with those close to me
- I don’t feel comfortable in large groups of people
- I need time to myself in between time spent with others
- If I don’t honour these things I end up feeling frail, exhausted and on edge
26 Nov 2015 Leave a Comment
It has been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy with some extra teaching, ongoing renovations and switching to a new computer. At the same time my daughter has dislocated her knee and my son has been switching schools so there has been lots of extra appointments and other end of year activities. I am also preparing to launch my new website in the new year, planning next years teaching dates and details and preparing for Christmas and all of the busyness that it brings.
It is easy to get caught up in the busyness at times like these and find myself with little or no time for yoga or meditation, however experience has taught me that these are the times when we need to prioritise the things that help keep us going. Taking a little time out and ensuring we have some time to put back ensures we have the energy and reserves required to keep going and get through whatever we are dealing with.
The trick is in making time, not an easy task. I have what I call my Yogic Time Machine which allows me to fit yoga into even the busiest of days. It works like this.
17 Oct 2015 Leave a Comment
I love teaching prenatal and mums & bubs yoga classes, sharing a part of that wonderful journey with women as babies grow within, arrive earthside, and then continue to grow and thrive is a very special privilege. It is an amazing journey, not just for the women but for their partners and support people as well.
A few years ago I trialed inviting partners along to one of my prenatal classes and it was wonderful! The opportunity to meet them, practice some partner yoga and support tips for the big day when baby arrives, connect with the whole family unit was great and the feedback from those who attended was all positive. I always fully intended to do it again more formally but with one thing and another that hasn’t happened. Until now that is…
Harvest Yoga & Yoga to Grow
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07 Oct 2015 Leave a Comment
It is Mental Health week so my post today is about mental health, through yoga tinted glasses of course.
There is such stigma still associated with mental health conditions, I think things have improved but there is a long way still to go. I have a friend who was suffering depression and confided in me that she felt ashamed of having to take medication to manage it. I told her that I had no shame in using an inhaler when my asthma played up so why should she feel ashamed for treating a medical condition with medication? Yet she did, and I’m sure she was not alone.
Yoga gifts us with many tools to manage our mental health, from meditation, to slowing down, to tuning in or even losing yourself in the flow of surya namaskar for a while. My own mental health has been much more stable since I found yoga. It is not that I no longer have sad days or feel anxious, it is just that when these things happen I can pause, recognize, acknowledge and work through what is happening rather than getting caught up in the turmoil that comes from these situations. I feel so much more in control.
Here is a quick technique I use for anxiety which I find really helps me to stay calm. Hope you like it, please let me know if you have any feedback!
Step 1. Recognise – as soon as you notice thing getting slightly off balance recognize what’s happening. Say it to yourself, “I’m worried I’m going to be late.” Just putting that out there helps to put whatever’s happening and your reaction to it into perspective.
Step 2. Push the pause button – imagine, just for a while, pausing those thought processes, count to 30 or 100 or any other number that suits.
Step 3. Breathe – while you are counting let your breath slow down and deepen, when we are upset or anxious the breath speeds up, by doing the opposite you slow down those feelings and reactions.
Step 4. Acknowledge – give yourself a pat on the back for recognizing what was happening and acting to reduce the impact of it. The more you practice the above the sooner you’ll start to recognize the signs, the earlier you catch these reactions the less power they will have.
Step 5. Get on with your day – keep going where you were going or doing what you were doing, from a calmer, more in control place.
Love and light and good mental wellbeing,