Arrangement, Asana, Art

I read recently that vinyasa is ‘arrangement’ which to me made total sense and resonated instantly. If you think of the postures – asanas – as flowers and the sequence as a combination of them, we are making art. Bouquets or collages, it’s going to differ from day to day.

Wildflowers picked and grouped together;how-to-make-a-wildflower-bouquet-first-bunch-1000

Boxes filled with special thoughts or memories;

cdgblauezymzalpwnkcpA random assortment of past and present.

3768594209_6b5bcc4e4b_b

What I love about this idea is that it means that we are treating our life like our own beautiful creation. Our thoughts, words, actions are mindful arrangements a bit like a collage or assemblage artwork. The practice is this selecting, positioning and arranging.

I teach you and you teach me

One of my long-standing students is moving abroad this week and last week was his final class with me. Earlier this year, another regular got a job in another part of the country and left as well. Both students are committed yogis who came to class every week whether rain, sunshine or snow and their leaving Norwich has brought up a host of emotions for me as a teacher. I thought it would be interesting and therapeutic for me to write about it. Here’s a list of just 10 of the many ways that you, as a student, teach me as the instructor life lessons each and every class:

1. Happiness is a discipline that takes practice; and takes a commitment. Turning up each week to class, consistently, does not mean that you are feeling on top of your game each week. I suspect its quite often the opposite. But you turn up anyway, and I salute you as this makes me also turn up, each and every time.

2. Practice really does make perfect. The student that is leaving this week started about 5 years ago in a corporate class I was teaching, and in his final class his bound side angle pose was the most perfect I have ever seen. This posture is notoriously hard, but this student came every single week without fail.

3. Yoga really is a breathing practice; the postures are secondary. People come to breathe more than anything else.

4. Stressful situations in work and life can be felt in the body as tensions, a heaviness or sometimes even pain. I have felt it and I know that you are feeling it, sometimes I can even sense that things are tough for you by  how I am observing your practice. And with this we build empathy for one another. We are in this together after all.

5. While we each have a body, we are one body and while yoga appears to be about the self it’s actually about serving the collective. You know, your family and your world. There are some students who come to the late evening classes and I know that their biggest alignment issue has been getting all the stars to align to be there. Children, fed, bathed, homework done + in bed. I am in awe, every single time.

6. Making an effort is always worth it. That’s me getting dressed up for the occasion! lol. But seriously, this lesson was something I first learnt with early morning surfs. It is always worth it. Practicing and teaching yoga is ALWAYS worth it. You won’t leave the mat regretful of what happened. And this is so useful in life. Get up, get out there!

7. Yoga is transformative. This relates to number 6 – the transformation is the state of mind  from pre yoga to post  yoga class. And of all the movements we do in the class this is the biggest achievement.

8. We are more capable than we think we are. And what’s with that? But I see it time and time again, people drawing shapes in a class that they never thought they could pre class. Relates to the transformative nature of the game 😉

9. People are breaking all the time, and they are reassembling all the time also. And sometimes yoga can be a very useful part of this un-breaking, and this reassembling.

10. When people do things together as a group, amazing things can be achieved. Backbends, handstands, arm balances… there is no way that after the day like we’ve all had you – or I – would have done any (or all!) of that at the end of the day. The group energy helps – its elevates beyond your own perception of your ability or limits and it feathers your fall. It picks you up when you’re down and it helps you have a laugh at yourself when you take it too seriously. Group yoga classes are such positive places. In short it’s life and humanity affirming.

I am not sure if I will see said student in a class of mine again; life is like that sometimes. But the lessons live on and for that I am so very grateful. This gratitude that I have will translate into a sense of inspiration and commitment to the classes I teach and the students I serve. I can’t wait to learn more from the students still in my classes and those I haven’t met yet but will one day   come through my door and sit on a mat in a yoga class. I really do learn so much from you.

x Sal

The reason I cheer you on in my classes ;-)

I literally started cheering when some students had breakthrough moments in their practice the other day. And then I had a self-conscious moment of realising that could of seemed weird, because isn’t Yoga meant to be non-competitive? Yes! So I thought I should explain the cheering….

I have a group of students, both 1-2-1 and group class attendees, who are on a handstand mission. They don’t walk around together like a real gang, or that I know of have any secret handshakes, but they are a group. I’m actually part of this group. There will be various reasons as to why the handstand is being pursued, which makes it all the more interesting and validating that it’s not really about the handstand at all.

I also have rock climbers and cyclists who are working on backbends. And office workers twisting out habitual seated patterns. Runners with tight IT bands. Perfectionists loosening up. So many people releasing from the grip of these things and instead take back control of their lives. And coming back to their centres.

But the truth is – as soon as you walk through the door to the class you have actually done enough. Showing up is enough. My Thursday gang have been coming to class now for years on end and practicing – displaying their ability to show up: to persevere. To put themselves in the face of it and try and have such fun at the same time.

Once I get on the mat I like to think of it as a mini-world. I’m practicing how to develop my resilience and staying power. The person next to me might be working on not speaking in such a cruel way to themselves, of themselves. The person behind is trying to wedge an hour into their lives not surrounded by expectations. And we are doing it in pretty abstract ways – shapes and breath and jumps, sometimes inversions. But so long as we all remember that it’s the intentions, and the showing up that counts. This is the essence of yoga. Come through the door, get on your mat and the fun and freedom can begin. When the yoga mat is perceived as both space and time to just be – and to try – then really nothing that was achieved or not actually matters.

So when I am encouraging you to attempt a tricky posture, it’s not because I want you to be something you are not or push you beyond your limits (actually sometimes it is the latter!), it’s really because I suspect your work and your life is full of much greater challenges than what I can even imagine and if this mini-world is to have an impact (and hopefully transformational effect) on your larger ‘real’ world, we need to take it up a notch. I need to get you upside down. You need to open your heart. And whether you land it or not doesn’t matter – it’s that you came along and tried. We’re working on it, together.

And that is literally what I am doing when cheering on a student, or giving an adjustment. I am saying that I know how bloody hard it is and I want to lend you a hand, give you support. And I mean it. I’m not cheering because you are achieving some near perfect yoga shape – I am cheering because you amaze me. I am leaning on your back not because you are doing anything wrong, but rather I have been there and I think 2 people (a gang) is better, for really hard times, most the time.

Come through the door and turn up. That’s all you need to actually do I will cheer you on the rest of the way 🙂

Come yoga with me soon! Taking bookings:
Saturday 9.30-11am VINYASA 13th Feb
Friday 6.30 – 8pm YIN 26th Feb
EVERY Thursday 7.30-8.45pm VINYASA

Towards a kinder, gentler perception of birth

Most Sunday evenings I tend to get into a reflective mood. Reflecting on the meaning of life and what part I play in it. I’m sure I’m not the only one, it’s that end of the week and look toward the week ahead that seems to make it the perfect time to work on a definition of this world and what my place is in it.

I’ve been teachingPregnancy Yoga for 5 years now, and am still just as inspired by this incredibly transformative period in a woman’s life. So in line with my weekly reflections – what is Pregnancy Yoga and what makes it so magical – so effective that I have continued to get butterflies every Tuesday morning in preparation for my class? In short I am excited by – and truly believe that birth has gotten a bad reputation and I am trying to work within that to assist women come to a more useful and meaningful individual understanding of birth. I don’t think it’s helpful for people to just screw up their faces and mutter the words ‘ouch’ or ‘it’s painful’ or ‘let’s change the subject’ when confronted with the topic. In teaching Pregnancy Yoga I am actually encouraging women towards a kinder, gentler and more meaningful perception of birth and motherhood. One that will allow you feel fulfilled and active and that what you are doing is good and amazing and of worth.

With this in mind, here are the 3 ideas I work with in an attempt to achieve this rather h-u-g-e objective in my little classes each Tuesday evening at the Willow Centre…

Soften 

Modern females don’t need to ‘be strong’ or just ‘get on with it’. I’m betting you already know how to do that. You’ve worked hard at school and possibly further education and really stuck your head down and grinded away in the workplace. You have the strength within you and you have learnt to allow this side of you to play out on a daily basis. What you really need to learn the moment your get pregnant is that you need to allow yourself to soften. It’s there within you but haven’t been encouraged to embrace it, enact it. The whole experience can be seen of the balancing of strength and softness. Think of the ideal mother – maybe, but not necessarily your own mother – but the ideal mother. Compassionate, forgiving, supportive and open. She is one big metaphorical hug. And a hug is both strength and softness combined with its effect both magical and therapeutic for the lucky recipient.

Expand 

Another lesson is in the way you perceive birth. Birth is not just a 2-36 hour experience from when your cervix has dialated to 3 cm. Birth can be seen as the experience you and your baby share from the moment of conception, and then the foods you eat, the movements you make and the thoughts and feelings you have whilst pregnant all become that much more meaningful. Your baby’s journey encompasses all of this and if you are feeling fearful or worried about the labour side of things, just closing your eyes and trying out this new perception of birth can instantly make you feel better and more at ease.  Thinking about birth with this expanded lens allows you to see that all of the proactive things that you are doing during the pregnancy really does count, and really is of worth.

Let Go 

Let go of the internal dialogue that you have going on inside of you that is negative, restrictive and self-critical. I bet it’s there – the voice that says you am not good at this or that; or that you should have continued with something from your past; or that you look awful in your clothes, etc. If you don’t wish your baby to have these thoughts start by not having them yourself. You share feed, breath and thoughts with your baby – so – watch your thoughts. This is by far the hardest lesson to learn or achieve – at least in my experience. I had worked for 23 years to tell myself that I was just not good enough and reminded myself daily and sometimes multiple times in a day of this strange little lie. Yoga and structured breathing (meditation) helps to bring a quietness and calmness that in turn assists with the quietening. And the more of this internal dialogue you have, the more that the yoga and the breathing on a daily basis can help in controlling and letting this absolute rubbish go.

My Tuesday evening Pregnancy Yoga classes are a great way to prepare for and celebrate birth and motherhood. Check out dates and details here.

It’s in the WAY you move

So I just read a really interesting article about preventing weight gain and like all these things, the yogic take on things is so worth considering. I’ve had a cold and feeling a bit low, unfortunately I have to say all internal eyes and voices turn towards my weight. pwrhaps it’s a but of a universal experience, but it certainly feels to be very much my own way of doing things. And because of this I did my internet searching via a trusted wellness website not just google with it’s diet sales pitches.  Yogic philosophy has it covered.  It always puts a fresh perspective on things and picks me up from the slumps of self-loath into a far more elevated perspective that feels lighter and aing towards something more real. So in keeping with my own personal yoga story, I came to the site for one thing and stayed with it  for a whole other:

Tara Stiles via MindBodyGreen says:

Here’s the thing: if exercise doesn’t change how we eat for the better, it will never ever lead to weight loss and a healthy body. In particular, if our way of exercising is aggressive, pushing, forcing, we’ll just build tension and carry it through the rest of our lives. We’ll eat aggressively, mindlessly, without the self-connection that’s our best road to being healthy. And there’s no amount of fat-blasting and calorie-burning in our lives that ever comes close to correcting what the wrong foods can do to us.

Tension in the brain leads to tense habits. Eating for reward, emotional eating, and over-eating to “get through the tough workout” all come from tension in our minds and bodies, rather than ease. When you practice tense, you reinforce tense. If you love your form of exercise, whether it’s spinning, running, yoga, hiking, dancing, whatever, that enjoyment is causing a different cocktail of chemicals in your brain, that lead you in the direction of treating yourself well. Doing what you love leads you to happiness and good health. Activities that make you feel free, connected, calm and capable reinforce habits that keep creating the same feelings. Activities that make you feel anxious, stressed, and not good enough also lead to reinforcing habits. The activity itself doesn’t matter. What matters is how you feel about it. How you practice is most important.

 

I love this as it is just so true. I tend towards the no-pain-no-gain perspective of life. But it’s really just not the best way. Pushing through, being strong, getting on with it. For goodness sakes! If exercise is meant to balance us out and remove is from the places we’ve gotten stuck throughout the day, then yoga is the best way for me. Yoga doesn’t encourage competition. Nor does it believe in just pushing through pain. It’s all about really listening to your body and really tuning into the messages your body has. It’s also about transformation. So, transformation of our limiting thoughts,; of our out-dated and unhelpful mind sets; and our inherited misconceptions.

I I loved what Tara wrote here, and I hope you get something from it too. Love the exercise you do; do it for a purpose; and listen to – and refine – what you are saying to yourself while you are moving your one and only beautiful body. That internal dialogue. Listen and love it

Slowing down

IMG_4697I love Vinyasa Yoga…the flow, the transitions and the energy. I have been practicing this style of yoga for about a decade and still do and always probably will. But I have discovered another secret weapon for my wellness practice – and it’s a gentler and more passive form of yoga. I call it gentle yoga – but others have termed it Restorative or Yin yoga, and the main premise is the same. Working through less postures, slowly and allowing time to let go on a deeper level has profound effects.

I started working a fairly stressful second job about a year ago – and have since finished it. The experience left me entirely depleted and I think it was this that caused me to explore new ways of moving and being. My body just asked for it and it works. I have added a type of Gentle Yoga to my weekly practice and it is something I look forward to so much.

Here’s a list of my favourite gentle yoga postures, and and here’s a tip – dress warm when practicing like this. Comfy + warm, even PJ’s are suitable for this type of yoga…

Reclining Spinal Twist
Sleeping Pigeon Pose
Viparita Kirani

 

3 things we need more urgently than ever

free-stock-photos-prairie_0003

I’m one of those people who needs to have time away – and when I mean away, I mean to myself. Walking, swimming, cycling, looking at art, scrolling through Pinterest – whatever it is I need it daily and history has proven to me that I just can’t function without it. But what is it about this ‘need’ that seems to keep the balance – what exactly am I seeking? I ask myself this question and suspect my students ask this very same question. So I’ve attempted to articulate this need, and have found it to be a really simple and basic requirement that we modern-life attendees all seem to not have:

Time + space + stillness

3 parts…now think of it as an equation.

time + space + stillness  = _________ .
You know “if only I had more time/space/stillness, I could get this done, be this person, have learnt that (I bet you could fill that space with a million and one things right?)

But how about if you flip it:

_______ = time + space + stillness
What is that special _______ ?

How about if I was to say on the days where I either meditate or practice Yoga I seem miraculously to have more of these three things – time, space, stillness.

So if you, like me tend to use your lack of time, space, stillness as an excuse for everything – perhaps you need to flip your perspective, just like we flipped the equation. None of us have enough time, space + stillness because we are required to be more, try harder and constantly hustle as that’s the hectic chaotic world we live in. That’s my starting point, and maybe yours as well. So how can we get more of this stuff that we need so urgently to balance ourselves out? Well I’m proposing yoga and meditation…and daily.

  1. Start with 10 mins and work up to 30 mins, it starts with purchasing a mat and then putting on your alarm.
  2. Cat + cow pose on all fours, you can do many of these and then work up to downward facing dog.
  3. Add some Sun Salutations – 5 to 15 rounds – however you feel!
  4. Finish with Savasana and focus on your breath.

    And see if you – like me, find that on the days you commit to practicing you have more time – more spaciousness – and more of a sense of stillness – and with this the possibilities abound.

Read more from Yoga Journal about The 38 Health Benefits of Yoga.

 

 

Healthy Choc~Coco Slice

Raw, vegan choc-coco sliceTechnically you could get away with eating this little square of deliciousness for breakfast AND dessert (and why not afternoon tea for that matter). As requested by my recent workshop attendees, here is the recipe for the raw, vegan choc-coconut slice that I served up at the end of last weeks session…

INGREDIENTS
base
  • 1½ cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • handful of dried prunes
  • 3 tbsp baking cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
vanilla cream
  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 3 tbsp water
  • beans from 1 vanilla pod
  • liquid stevia, to taste
  • vanilla essence, to taste
chocolate top

IMG_4525

  • 100 grams dark sugar-free vegan chocolate
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
DIRECTIONS
  1. Place cashews in a food processor until they crumble, then add remaining ingredients until a sticky dough forms. Grab a baking pan lined with parchment and press the crust firmly down.
  2. Place in the fridge.
  3. For the cream layer, add all the ingredients into a food processor.Pour on top of the crust and place in fridge overnight.
  4. For the final chocolate layer melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a glass bowl over a small pot on low heat. IMG_4528Once completely smooth, pour it over as a final layer, spreading evenly.
  5. Place it back in the fridge until the chocolate has hardened and then slice to serve. 

Your life, only cooler + calmer

If we fixate on perfection where’s the room for learning + growth?

I went to art college and practiced making things look aesthetically pleasing + thought provoking for 4 years – so it’s no wonder that I would put myself in that box called ‘perfectionist’. And it’s cool trying to get things right – and make things look great. But sometimes when we fixate on the perfection we leave no room for mistakes, learning opportunities + growth. This idea came to me via a status update one cold + grey morning. A friend from my hometown in Australia mentioned how it breaks her heart that each time she trims the new leaves off her beautiful + perfect topiary plants at her front door. How much they sacrifice for this perfection – never growing always pleasing everyone else by staying the same.

IMG_4697So along with me, I invite you to think about how much cooler + calmer your life could be if you let go of the ‘perfect’ in favour of the mistakes + consequent growth. In what parts of your life are you holding yourself back by spending so much time trying to keep things as they’ve always been? Maybe it’s a hair colour or a clothing style. Perhaps it’s something bigger like your job or attitude. Imagine how it would feel to just let go and flow…new ideas, new possibilities, new creative endeavours…?

In Yoga it can mean smiling where you would once get frustrated at falling out of  an arm balance or looking for opportunities to try out old postures with new focuses. Ask yourself it’s not working how else can I come at and approach this posture?!

In life – maybe you could practice going to sleep an hour earlier and notice what the early morning quiet is like. How could you use this time morning to help set you up for a positive day, rather than rushing out the door?

As the great (and my absolute favourite quotable individual) Marcel Proust once wrote:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

In yoga and in life!

For me and from me, this month x

 

 

Six-Minute Breathing Practice

six minute breathing practice

six minute breathing practice

In classes and across the years I have taught many breathing techniques, the most simple of which is the lengthening of the breath. Lengthening the breath is a process of applying a counted structure to the breath – increasing from 4 – 8 counts. Lengthening the breath is a great starting point when beginning to control the breath as a way to calm and control the mind. Yogis believe a steady breath reflects a steady mind. And like many things when we apply the structure the result can be a truer sense of freedom at the end.

This breathing practice is a great way to start your home practice and doesn’t involve any special equipment. I invite you to give it a go! Just find a comfortable seated position, ideally on a folded blanket or cushion on the floor, with your legs crossed, or kneeling.

*This was such fun to make, and it was my first time creating a sound recording! Please note that I will be getting a microphone to improve the sound for the next recording x x x Namaste x x x