Hibernation

I write this while the sun shines but there is a definite chill in the air. My fingers feel cold and I am very aware of the roof over my head and my warm clothing keeping me snug. Winter arrives tommorow with its cooler temperatures (which we are already feeling), wet weather and shorter days. In nature at this time of year everything slows down and preserves energy, many plants and animals go into a state of hibernation until Spring arrives to thaw them out. Although it sounds tempting spending three months in a warm bed is not realistic for us humans but we can definitely go with the flow and slow things down, rest when we need to and not be too hard on ourselves if we find our energy levels are lower and we are not as productive as we’d like to be.

I was torn between featuring a warming practice to combat the cold or a restful practice to embrace the seasonal energy, the latter won out but next Friday I will share something to warm you up and increase your energy levels.

So on we go with savasana, which translates rather morbidly as corpse pose but don’t let that put you off. This is one of the most important and most challenging postures we practice and should be included towards the end of any yoga class. Particularly in the colder months when our bodies crave more rest, something which we often resist but is worthwhile as it boosts our immune system which needs to work hard in the season of coughs, colds and flu.

The most important thing with wintertime savasana is to make sure you will be warm enough. There is nothing worse than getting comfy, starting to relax and let go then feeling cold somewhere in your body – this makes it very difficult to relax completely and you either have to put up with it or disturb yourself while you get another blanket. So be prepared to cool down and ensure you will stay toasty warm through the process. I like to have one blanket on the floor underneath me and at least one over the top covering me from feet to neck.

Once your blankets are in place lie on your back with your legs extended and allow your feet to drop out sideways which will feel very natural and instantly allow the legs and hips to release. Place the arms a little out from your sides with the palms facing up to open the chest and relax the shoulders. Keep the neck in a neutral position and head resting on the floor behind you – pillows under the head often cause the back of the neck to be extended too far so are not recommended but if you really aren’t comfortable without something beneath the head try a blanket folded to give just a little height or a thin cushion  rather than a full pillow.

This is where savasana becomes challenging, you see to do it correctly you need to relax every part of your body. This is where the name corpse pose comes from, the dead are not tense anywhere, they have moved beyond that. There are several methods for allowing relaxation and it’s all about finding what works for you. Ideally you have someone to guide you through as we do at the end of a class, this is bliss and I find I can relax much better when the person guiding me is present in the room. If you are practicing at home there are some great relaxation CD’s available – Claire who I work with at SunYoga has a terrific one titled The Elements with four guided relaxations to beautiful music. Otherwise you can simply focus on your breath and let go as much as you can with each cycle, you will know where you store tension so it can help to release in those places first and let it spread through the whole body.

I recommend at least ten minutes in savasana though you can stay as long as possible – the longer the better really. In my Yoga for the Mind classes we spend at least twenty to thirty minutes in savasana and it is wonderful to be able to spend so much time letting go.

Once your time is up it is important to remember is to come out of this pose slowly and gently. Think of moving in slow motion, give yourself time to reconnect, stretch, roll over for a few breaths on your side and slowly make your way back into the space you are in. Rushing out can undo lots of the work you’ve just done so be very gentle with yourself.

Happy hibernating.

Love and light,

Belinda.

xxx

 

 

Animal companions

As I write this I have Ada,our beautiful warm purring cat in my lap, she seems to sense when I sit down at the computer and will always appear and demand some space on my lap. She is only one of the pets in our household, I have already written about Linus, our other feline, waking me up with a purr and Ebony, our dog inspiring my down facing dog pose. We also have a blue tongued lizard named Ben and 11 spiny leaf stick insects who don’t have individual names but are known collectively and affectionately as “The Stickys”.

As you may have guessed by now I am an animal lover and not the only one in the house either. We always had a dog when I was a child and some of my earliest memories are of playing with Bootsy and her puppys. I also recall often seeking comfort from the family canine when I was troubled, no one listens like a dog and they are loyal and accepting of whatever you say to them. People often try to fix problems if you share them, I have learned that sometimes all that’s needed is what dogs offer – a listening ear and then a sloppy kiss to say they still love you regardless of everything.

Many yoga postures are inspired by animals, there are dog, cat, camel, tiger, cobra, locust, pigeon and crow poses just to name a few. The beauty of animals is that they manage to keep life uncomplicated, they live in a world where their priorities are simple. Food, water, a safe place to sleep and when the time is right a mate to ensure the survival of the species. Yoga teaches us the same message – look after our basic needs as they are important and let go of anything that over complicates things. In our world where we are bombarded with advertisements telling us we need this, that or the other it is not easy to do so. Once we have these basics we can look for a little luxury occasionally like Ada seeking out my lap so she can supervise my blog posts. We enjoy it much more when we acknowledge it as an indulgence rather than always looking for more.

There is much research showing that pets prolong life and promote health and happiness but they are a big responsibility and can be costly so sometimes it isn’t possible to have one. If this is the case for you I recommend visiting a friend who has pets and soak up some of their loving or see about volunteering at an animal shelter to take the dogs for walks. This is a great service and will give you lots of joy as well as helping out animals in need.

Our medley of pets provide us with constant companionship, entertainment and love. I particularly enjoy watching the dynamics of the relationships between the cats and dog as they each have unique personalities. Ada is a princess and disapproves strongly of Ebony while Linus is quite good mates with the dog as long as she isn’t overexcited. I am finishing with a rare photo of Ebony and Ada sharing her bed which we were so amazed to see that we had to capture the moment. This only occurred because Ada pinched Ebony’s bed and it didn’t occur to her that the dog would dare to climb on while she was sleeping but it is nice to think that even arch enemies can sometimes cosy up together. (Though Ebony does look a little nervous – I would have loved to see what happened when Ada woke up!)

Love and light,

Belinda xxx

Roar like a lion

We had a grumpy morning in our house today, you know sometimes everyone just seems to wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Seven year old Rhys was the worst affected and it didn’t take long for it to spread through the ranks until we were all feeling cranky and snapping at each other. He refused to get ready for school, I got impatient as he wouldn’t get dressed or eat breakfast, the older kids didn’t want to be late so also got a little snappy. After all of that we did make it to school on time but when I got home from dropping them off I did enjoy a little growl to myself. This helps me to leave those unhelpful feelings behind and move on with my day. To “reset” as I encouraged Rhys to do when he was in the depths of his bad morning. At the time he told me it was not possible but despite his saying that by the time we arrived at school he had done so and was chatting away quite happily.

Lion pose, or simhasana, is very useful at times like this when you want to let out any pent up emotions, be it the morning grumps, anger, grief or just a general all round release.

You can practice this in any comfortable seated pose but I like to embody the lion as fully as possible by taking my big toes together and knees apart, sitting back onto the heels then resting my hands on the floor in front of me. Spread the fingers like lions claws and ground through the palms while lengthening the spine.

Now tune into your breath and when you feel ready take a nice big inhalation through the nose with the eyes closed. On the out breath you simultaneously poke out your tongue as far as possible, open and cross your eyes and let the breath make a sound as you exhale over your tongue. Repeat a few times until you feel you have expelled any negative energy and feel more centered then walk the hands forward and release into down facing heroes pose, adho mukha virasana for a nice rest before you get on with your day.

This is a great practice as it is cleansing to the body as well as the mind and makes me feel a little bit silly as well! This helps to lighten the mood so I don’t take things to seriously. I like to be inspired by the lionesses at Werribee Zoo in the picture, they manage to be both relaxed and aware at the same time which is the balance I seek in my yoga practice and my life.

Love and light,

Belinda.

xxx

 

Autumn Leaves are letting go

As a follow up from my previous post on vrksasana or tree pose I am writing today about the seasonal energy of Autumn and the letting go that it brings. In my yoga classes during this season we focus a little more on inward energy, self exploration and letting go of what we no longer need. This is an ongoing process during yoga not only in Autumn but when the world around you is taking part it is often much easier to do.

A lovely meditation during the season of falling leaves is to take a comfortable, supported seat and close your eyes. Feel the base of your body grounding and connecting with the strong, stable earth below and from that support let your spine grow into it’s own comfortable length, the crown of the head rising. For a few breaths work with lengthening and growing as you breathe in then maintaining that as you soften and ground through your base as you breathe out. Think of your spine as like the trunk of a tree, strong and tall with the rest of you body supported by it broadening in all directions. At the top of the trunk is your head with the busy mind branching out in all directions, family, friends, work, home, leisure, self awareness and more are the branches of your mind. Each one full of thought leaves fluttering and moving with the breeze. One by one explore the branches and let the unnecessary leaves fall, imagining them drifting and floating downwards as you let them go. Some of the leaves might be serving a purpose and those you can allow to remain but let them be still for now. Once you have explored the branches of your mind let your awareness come back to the top of the trunk and rest there for a few breaths then slowly let yourself come back to your surroundings.

Another great thing to do at this time of year is to declutter your home. As the seasons change go through your wardrobe and get rid of the summer clothes you didn’t wear or wore out last season. Donating these to op shops is a great way to recycle and you might even find yourself some new winter warmth by having a browse while you are there. Do the same thing for kitchen cupboards – getting rid of anything lurking at the back unused and forgotten and anywhere else it is needed.

It is a great feeling to clear out both your mind and home of everything you no longer need. It streamlines your thinking and creates space for new possibilities and opportunities. To finish try one of my favorite Autumn pastimes, go for a walk in a park with lots of deciduous trees and kick the fallen leaves up in the air, roll in them, crunch them underfoot, whatever takes your fancy. It is a great thing to do with kids or on your own to revisit the joys of carefree childhood. Have fun!

Love and light,

Belinda.

xxx

Vrksasana

I have just returned from walking my dog on a wonderful sunny Autumn morning. The trees were beautiful and inspired me to write about tree pose or vrksasana for today’s post. I was admiring both the deciduous trees, which are in various shades of shedding their leaves at the moment so the range of yellows, brown, reds, purples and oranges is a pleasure to the eye, and the mighty gums of which there are many around my home. The eucalyptus trees keep their leaves over the cold months and offer us their healing oils to help us to get through any coughs or colds that can sometimes waylay us in the colder weather. You can practice Vrksasana with any tree you admire in mind, they all share many properties which can be helpful to ground us in our balance and help us to grow.

To begin come to an easy standing tadasana with both feet well grounded and spend a few breaths tuning in to your breath and lengthening the spine. When you are ready choose which leg will be the trunk of your tree and let your weight shift over to that side, it is very helpful to grow your tree pose slowly rather than rushing into it as it helps your body find its balance if you move slowly. Tree can take hundreds of years to grow to their full height so a few more breaths between stages can help you to emulate this. When you feel ready let your other foot slowly come off the ground and move towards the inner leg of your trunk, where it goes is up to you, for an easier variation the toes can rest on the floor and the heel to the ankle of your standing leg. If you are comfortable to take it higher you can place the sole of your foot either against the side of the shin or higher up to the thigh. Avoid putting it directly on the side of the knee as you will gain stability in your balance by connecting the foot to wherever it rests and we want to avoid sideways pressure on the knee joint. It can help to use your hands to place the foot but do so with awareness and avoid forcing or pulling beyond what’s comfortable.

Now you have a nice grounded trunk with connection between the lifted foot and the inner side or your standing leg bring your hands together in the heart space and feel the connection between the palms and fingers. I like to pause here and connect through the whole body, feeling my foot grounding downwards and the return energy helping to lift through the spine and into the crown of the head. Then I allow my hands to begin to grow upwards with this energy, again not being in a hurry but waiting for the time to feel right before I let them float skywards.

Breathe slowly and deeply here, letting your tree be strong and grounded but with the flexibility to move and sway if needed to maintain balance. When you feel ready lower your hands and come out of the pose, rest for at least a few breaths then move to the opposite side and revisit vrksasana.

If balances are challenging for you there are many adaptations of tree pose which can make it accessible. Try it with your back to a wall so you can lean into its support or even side on with one hande resting on the wall as needed.

This pose has always been a challenge for me and I have improved greatly over time through practicing it, so saying I still have some days where it just won’t happen so if you find this happens don’t be discouraged. As I mentioned earlier – it can take decades or centurys to grow a mighty tree so patience is essential and if this is challenging for you tree pose can help you to access it!

Grow well.

Love and light,

Belinda.

xxx

 

Mother Love

A happy to mothers day to all of the mothers reading this. I hope you were able to be pampered in whatever way suits you best, to feel appreciated and recognised for all that you do.

It is a great thing to celebrate mother love and its all encompassing, never ending, unconditional nature. Regardless of what your children do or how challenging their behavior you love them always. Even when you are angry or exhausted or feel taken for granted your love for your children endures. It is both soft and gentle and powerfully strong with a nurturing quality which makes it quite unique.

My Mothers Day began with this lovely gift selected from the school Mothers Day stall by my youngest, Rhys and a giant pikelet made with love by my husband, Richard. Then I went to day two of a workshop on Befriending Resistance with the wise and wonderful Paul Wooden which was ever so inspiring and enlightening. The topic was relevant to everyone as who doesn’t resist unpleasant experiences? I got a lot out of the process of exploring my own patterns and habits and am now much more aware of what I am doing and where my mind is going.

For me one of the most powerful things we learnt was to let things come to you rather than following them – be this thoughts, emotions, distractions or physical sensations by resting in my centre and letting whatever it is come to me I am much more able to deal with a situation calmly and with presence instead of being overwhelmed by it. I am now still processing and working on implementing this practice into my life as old habits die hard but it is refreshing to be able to notice when I do get drawn out and think to myself, “There I go again!”.

The day ended with a meal shared with my whole family and my sister and mother, these two women are such wonderful support to me as a mother that I thought it was the perfect end of the day to spend time with them. I also was gifted a lovely teapot from Kelsea and origami rosette handmade by Mitchell. Wonderful gifts from wonderful kids!

I’d like to finsh this post with a poem for my Mum.

MOTHER LOVE

At my very beginning we were together, you were the one who first felt my touch.

You carried and cared for me as I grew and did your best through good times and bad.

You dried my tears, nursed me when I was unwell.

Encouraged me to fulfill my dreams.

The years have passed but you’ve always been there.

Supporting me as my own children arrived.

Still doing your best through good times and bad.

Loving your grandchildren as you did me.

But something has changed from my beginning.

Now I am able to care for you too.

Now I can dry your tears and care for you.

Encourage you to fulfill your dreams.

Through times good and bad my love is here.

Love from Belinda.

xxx

 

 

 

 

Bridge over troubled waters…

Setu Bandhasana or bridge pose is a backbend that is great because it is accessible to most students. I love to use it towards the end of my practice as its calming energy is a great preparation for relaxation but it can be sequenced at other times during a yoga class as it is also a good warm up, preparation for stronger backbends or stand alone pose with many benefits.

It has a calming affect on the mind and lengthens the spine (particularly the lower back and neck), opens the chest and upper back, strengthens the legs and shoulders as well as regulating the thyroid and parathyroid glands in the neck. It is not recommended for anyone with a neck injury but is otherwise suitable in its beginner stages as discussed here for just about anyone.

To give it a try lie on your back with your knees bent, heels as close as comfortable to the buttocks and hands by the sides of the body with palms down towards the floor. Your weight in this pose is distributed over several points, the soles of the feet, palms of the hands and back of the shoulders. Before you go anywhere get a sense of activating these points, connecting down through them without overdoing it, they should not feel tense but awake and grounded. Then tune in to your breath and start to move with the flow, starting with gentle lifts of the pelvis as you inhale and lowering down as you breathe out. Gradually build up height over several breaths until you reach your comfortable opening. Then pause in the pose, feeling your breath flowing and checking in with your alignment. Feet, knees and hips should all still be lined up – watch those knees as they often try to fall out to the sides here. Your shoulders grounding should prevent tension developing in your neck so ensure that connection is still in place and the neck is comfortable. Avoid turning your head to one side or another here as the neck is vulnerable in this extended position.

If you would like to go further you can release the hands and bring them together behind you, interlock the fingers, lengthen the arms along the floor and open the chest a little more continuing to ground through the length of the arms.

When you are ready to come down release the hands back to the sides, exhale and slowly lower your spine down, trying to get a sense of doing so one vertabrae at a time so your back feels lengthened and released. I like to lie still for at least a few breaths here softening through the whole body and soaking up the feeling bridge pose gifts to me.

I titled this post bridge over troubled waters as the lovely sense of calm that flows through me after practicing setu bandhasana does seem to wash away my troubles. Bridges are wonderful things, giving us access to places which would otherwise be inaccessible and helping us to overcome obstacles or dangers which lie in our path. In the moments after practicing open yourself mentally to what may come – possibly some solutions which had not yet occured to you will arise in the aftermath. At the very least you will be able to look at them differently from the other side of the bridge and put them into perspective.

Hope you enjoy playing with bridge pose and that the view from your bridge is peaceful and calm.

Love and light,

Belinda.

xxx

 

Time for yoga, time for you

I met someone recently who, when she found out I was a yoga teacher, raved about how much she used to love her yoga practice but told me sadly that she hadn’t been for a while. When I asked why she said she that life had just gotten too busy at work so her free time was limited. Then when she has finished work she wants to spend time with her family as she had been away from them for the whole day.

This is a challenge for most of us, we all have lots to do and finding time for a yoga class can be difficult. So what is the solution? Modern day living asks a lot of us and we usually have a long list of things to do. I am afraid there are no easy answers to this dilema but I can share what works for me when my “to do” list gets out of hand.

First thing I do is put yoga practice to the top of the list. If attending a class is a viable option then I schedule one in but if that isn’t possible I roll out my mat at home and climb aboard. Often when I am overwhelmed the practice I need is very gentle, it can be ten minutes in childs pose or with my legs up the wall. Sometimes some sun salutations can bring the energy I need to fulfil whatever tasks lie ahead of me. Others I listen to a guided relaxation CD to restore my energy and let go of the tension that accumulates as the to do list gets longer. While it can be daunting trying to practice at home all you really need to do is close your eyes, connect with your breath and body and see what happens.

Once I have completed my practice I write down the to do list – making sure I break down big jobs into smaller components such as taking the task of washing the clothes and dividing it into putting it on, hanging it out, taking it in and finally putting it away. While this can make the list longer it also pays off as you get to cross more items off as they are completed – a very satisfying feeling indeed. Then I prioritise the items what is absolutely necesary – we need to eat, I need to complete my class plans for work, the clothes need to be washed and what is less important – the house won’t fall down if the dusting isn’t done though if I won’t be able to relax looking at those dusty shelves at the end of the day it becomes higher priority. I cross off half of the not so important jobs there and then and I add one item which is all about me, a tea break or reading a chapter of my book or sitting in the garden for 5 minutes.

Having restored my energy and equilibrium with my yoga practice I find I am much more productive and able to go from one task to the next efficiently and effectively. I don’t try to do more than one thing at a time so I focus completely on the task at hand and make less mistakes and each time I complete a task I cross it off my list. If and when my energy fades I go to the last item added and look after myself for a short time then get back into it with renewed motivation.

At the end of the day if my list is more than half complete I celebrate and give myself a pat on the back. This is a very important aspect as the list helps me be more effective but should not make me feel overwhelmed by it’s length, it is a work in progress and what didn’t get done today can simply flow over to tomorrows list.

Time management is a huge thing in this day and age and the methods I have shared above have been evolved by me over many years. I hope some of them resonate with you and help you to find time for yoga, time for you.

Love and light,

Belinda.

xxx

A blistery blustery day

The wind is howling today, it has been doing so all night. I am frequently surprised by how disruptive this can be to my day. I find everyone is a little on edge during windy weather, as though we are like the trees being tossed to and fro and unable to find out centre. My children tend to be more restless and argumentative while our pets are jumpy and spend more time inside. Ebony, our dog, is particulary nervous when the wind blows and things move around her in the breeze.

So what to do on a windy day? How do we find some stillness when everything is being upheaved by the very air around us? Well, staying out of the wind definitely helps me, choosing to remain inside or sheltered where possible. The sound of a strong wind can be exceptionally soothing when you are out of it. It can make you appreciate what you have, shelter, warmth and protection from the more extreme weather conditions. If I must go out into it – as sometimes I must, I am a big fan of beanies. Particularly my nice hand knitted ones that I have worked into being with my own two hands and they must cover my ears to offer full protection.

My other tactic is to join the wind and embrace its turbulance, dance in it, do a load or three of washing and watch them flapping around on the clothes line. Feel the breeze carrying away your inhibitions and take inspiration from children, allowing yourself to be energised and renewed by the wind. If there is anything you feel it’s time to get rid of then release it into the wind and let it blow away. This works with both physical tension and unhelpful feelings or worries.

When my children went to kinder they used to get crepe paper and cut it into long streamers then climb up to the top of the playground and let the breeze take the streamers. This simple activity would keep them fascinated, waving the streamers around and it looked fabulous with all of the different colours and lengths. A true example of enjoying and embracing whatever the weather brings rather than complaining about it.

Go with the flow.

Love and light,

Belinda