yoga

Meditation and Mindfulness

How Long to Meditate ForConfession time!  At the start of the month, I challenged myself to practice yoga and meditation every day throughout October.  The challenge was going okay – I was managing to practice probably 5 days out of 7.  I was feeling good once I was on the mat but it was a real struggle to motivate myself everyday, especially with the early alarm in the dark and a long commute in the evenings (excuses, excuses!).  Then, about a week ago, it just kind of stopped.  I didn’t mean it to – I just noticed that I hadn’t actually practiced for a few days in a row.  Oops!

The month isn’t over yet so I still have a week to finish on a high.  And it hasn’t all been bad.  A group of us got together at work and arranged for a yoga teacher to come in once a week.  The first class was last week and I loved it.  It was really good to be challenged by a new teacher; as much as I love self-practice and enjoy practising at home, it felt really good to be in a class.

I’ve also really been enjoying meditating more often.  In fact, there have been some days where I haven’t wanted to practise yoga, but I have been quite happy to sit and meditate for a few minutes.  So I thought today I would share a few things about mindfulness and meditation.

Mindfulness seems to be an increasingly popular term (even politicians are in on the act) but one I think many people use without stopping to think about what it means (oh, the irony!).  For me, mindfulness is about being aware, noticing what is actually happening to you and around you, observing how something makes you feel.  But don’t just take my word on it – here are the thoughts of 10 different teachers on what mindfulness is.

So how mindful are you?  Take this mindfulness quiz and find out.  Assuming that you are still human like the rest of us, you might want to check out be mindful for more information about mindfulness as well as resources and courses to learn more.

So if mindfulness is about being a little bit more aware throughout the day, meditation is more about taking a moment to sit and give your mind an opportunity to relax.  It’s not about chanting, or sitting cross-legged for hours, or forcing your mind to stop thinking.  My absolute favourite resource for meditating is an app called headspace.  Their website is full of good advice and tips on meditation.  The app is free for the first 10 days and asks you to meditate for just 10 minutes a day.  That’s it!  It’s a really good guided meditation with some lovely little videos that help explain what it’s all about.

Still not convinced meditation is for you?  Take a look at the infographics below for some of the benefits of the practice.

Infographic

Infographic

I will be meditating daily for the next and trying to be a little bit more mindful during my day.  But over to you – post your thoughts and comments below.  Do you meditate?  Love it?  Hate it?  Going to give it  go?

How to Practise Yoga at Home

At the start of October, I set myself the challenge of practising yoga every day.  With a full-time job and a busy social life, not to mention this blog, I would really struggle to fit in and afford yoga classes every day.  So I have been practising at home.  Last week, I wrote about some of the benefits of self-practice so today I thought I would share some tips on how to practise on your own.

Where to go for ideas and inspiration

Go to a class

This might sound counter-intuitive but going to a yoga class is really important to developing your own practice.  Firstly, it’s a great way to learn the basics and how to practise the postures safely.  Secondly, your teachers (and I suggest you try classes with different teachers) should be a source of inspiration.  Many teachers use a set sequence to base their class around so, once you’re familiar with it, use this as the basis of your practise.  If you’re worried about not remembering it all (which doesn’t actually matter, by the way), take a pen and a notebook to your next class and jot down the sequence; just remember to let your teacher know what you’re doing – a, it’s polite, b, they are there to help you and may have their own tips on self-practice.

Go on retreat

In a similar vein, a yoga retreat is a great way to cultivate self-practice.  You’ll be taking your yoga practice to new depths anyway, exploring new postures and techniques, and you have so much time on your hands away from the usual distractions of life.  So take advantage!  Use some of that spare time to practise on your own – your yoga teacher will be on hand to give you advice if you’re struggling.  There are lots of retreats out there so hunt around but two of my favourite teachers, Natasha and Luca, are running retreats in Bali this autumn if you want to do something spur of the moment!

Get online

The internet is a wealth of resources for yogis!  There are literally hundreds of websites out there with advice and ideas for your practice.  Some of the ones I use include: MindBodyGreen, DoYouYoga, ElephantJournal, YogaJournal, Yoganonymous, and GaiamLife. There are also plenty of sites offering free and paid-for classes – not something I have tried yet but check out this handy little guide to some of the best.

Use a book

In addition to the internet, there are a whole plethora of yoga books out there.  I am going to recommend two that I use a lot.  First up is Om Yoga: A Guide to a Daily Practice by Cyndi Lee.  This is such a great little book to practice with; it has short sequences for each day of the week, handily tabbed, with easy-to-follow stickmen drawings.  You can use the daily sequences or the book also has a series of ‘recipes’ at the back to put together longer practices.  This is my go-to resource when I don’t know what to do with my practice.  The other book I love is How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally.  This is actually a novel about a young woman in 12th century India, who transforms a community through her yoga teachings.  It’s a beautiful story in its own right but also provides a really accessible way to understand the Yoga Sutras.  I always recommend it to friends who have started practising yoga and they have all loved it!

Designing your own sequence

Keep it simple

All of my tips so far have been how to find ideas and sequences that you can practise at home but how do you make up your own sequence?  I asked Natasha this question while we were practising yoga in Goa a couple of years ago and her advice still guides my practice: start with a few rounds of sun salutations, then pick one posture you hate and one you love.  It’s that simple.  The postures you don’t like to practise are the ones you probably need to practise the most; I don’t like forward-folds because I have tight hamstrings (thanks, running!) and so they are hard but that just means I need to do them more.  And pick a posture you love because your practice should be enjoyable and it’s good to end on a positive note.  This will also help keep your practice balanced.

Closing your practice

Always close your practice with a moment of quiet contemplation; this could be shavasana or just sitting cross-legged on the floor.  Just take a moment to notice you feel after the practice and to reflect on all of the blessings in your life.


It can be daunting the first few times you step onto the mat without having someone else’s voice to guide you but it gets easier with time.  Try not to get too focussed on how long you should be holding a pose for (as long as you’re comfortable for or about 5 breaths are both a good guide); instead, really try to focus on how the postures feel.

So over to you.  What advice would you give to someone starting out with self-practice?  Have you tried to practise at home?  How did you find it?

The Benefits of Self-Practice

I love going to a yoga class.  Or on retreat.  I really enjoy the community that exists around practising yoga.  But ultimately, yoga is about your own journey, the connection with your body and your breath.  If you really to feel the benefits of yoga, whatever they are for you, you are going to want to step (bravely) away from a class and into self-practice at some point.

I’m going to talk about how you can do that in a later post; firstly, here are a few reasons why you should practise on your own.

Anytime, anyplace

You don’t need much to practise yoga.  There is only one essential: you!  A mat is a nice-to-have but not a requirement; you don’t even need a lot of space.  This means you can practise whenever and wherever you like, so no need to fit your life around a class schedule.  Find a time and place that works for you and go for it!

No time limits

In a similar vein, you can practise for as long or as little as you want.  Regular practice is the key to improving at anything; it doesn’t need to be an hour long class, even 10 minutes every day will help you start to feel the benefits of yoga.  I am already feeling better from practising every day over the last week; it’s easier to get up in the morning, I ache less at work, I have more energy throughout the day.

Practise how you feel

I think it’s great to be challenged in a class, especially if you’re lacking energy, but the beauty of a self-practice is that you can tailor your practice around how you are feeling.  Want to really push yourself today?  Go for it with a fast-flowing vinyasa practice.  Maybe you’re feeling run-down and just want to relax with some restorative yoga – I’ve been doing this a lot over the past week.  Or perhaps you’re working towards a challenging posture and want to focus on postures to help you reach your goal.  You can do anything you want in self-practice because you are the only person that matters.

Save money

Let’s face it – yoga can be an expensive business these days.  The average price of a class in London seems to be about £15 and that’s before you’ve thought about travel or having the “right” clothes.  Practising on your own is free and who cares what you’re wearing!

Discover what yoga really means for you

People practise yoga for all sorts of reasons: to be more flexible, to get stronger, to feel more grounded.  Maybe all of those things apply to you; maybe you haven’t quite worked that out yet.  Yoga teachers can guide you through your journey but they can’t do it for you.  I would really recommend going to classes and learning from as many different teachers as you can but you are the one who needs to put the work in and discover what ignites your passion for yoga.  For me, it’s those little moments of peace and quiet in my head, where the rest of the world and all my worries just back off for a while; I just feel a sense of space and lightness after practising.

It’s fun!

There is no right or wrong way to practise yoga (as long as you are staying safe and listening to our body) so play around with the practice.  Have fun.  Enjoy it!  Put on loud music; laugh; experiment with postures and flow.  Whatever you want – it’s your practice.


I’m now a week into my challenge of practising yoga every day.  It was a rather inauspicious start but I’ve managed to keep it up so far.  It’s not always easy, even finding 10 minutes can be tricky on some days – I practised in bed this morning as I was staying with my sister and I know I will be home late tonight.  I’ve been doing short sessions so far but am planning a couple of longer practices over the weekend when I have a bit more time.


So over to you.  Do you have a self-practice?  How do you find it?  What do you think the benefits are?

How Yoga Changed My Life – October Challenge Days 1 – 4

I first practised yoga on a surfing holiday in Bali in 2008 but it was after spending more than two weeks at a yoga centre in Goa in late 2011 that I started to describe myself as a yogini.  Since then, my practice has slowly deepened but has no means been consistent, at least in terms of being on the mat.  Starting that journey has changed my life and has changed who I am.

So I thought that the start of my month of daily practice would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on what I have learnt, and am still learning, through yoga.

It’s a yoga practice not a performance

Despite what Instagram would have you believe, yoga is ultimately a very personal experience.  You don’t do it to show off, to be able to do gymnastics or party tricks.  It’s hard work!  It’s about challenging your body and your mind every time you get on the mat.  The Ashtanga Yoga Guru, Sri Pattabhi Jois, famously said “yoga is 99 percent practice and one percent theory”.  Your yoga practice is never going to be perfect but just keep showing up, keep practising, and it will get easier.  Maybe one day, you’ll be able to touch your toes, maybe you won’t, but at least you tried.

Yoga is not a competition

It’s really easy to compare yourself to other people in a yoga class.  I went on a retreat in Ibiza once and one of the other people there was a dancer; this guy was so incredibly flexible and, although he had never done yoga before, he could effortlessly move into all of the poses.  I was so jealous!  So I worked hard; I treated the 3 hour daily sessions as a workout and I pushed and I pushed myself.  By day 3, I could barely walk!!  So I was forced to actual pay attention to what my body could do.  Lesson learnt – don’t compare yourself to other people, or even to yourself.

You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga

Some people are naturally bendy.  I am not one of them.  But with practice, I am slowly, slowly, slowly, improving my flexibility.  But that’s kind of not the point.  Yoga isn’t just about stretching or holding postures; it’s about that moment of peace when you are fully living in the moment and you don’t need to be able wrap your leg around the back of your head to do that.  I heard about a yoga teacher once who had been paralysed in an accident and had started yoga to improve what mobility he had; he eventually became a teacher and, despite having never actually done any of the postures he taught, he was able to guide his students with his voice and help them find what they were looking for.  That’s yoga.

Yoga (aka life) is a journey

As a society, I think we have become obsessed with doing everything perfectly, all of the time – a completely unattainable ideal!  I am totally guilty of beating myself up for not achieving perfection 100% of the time.  But the constant message of all my yoga teachers has been that there is no such thing as perfection in yoga; as soon as you’ve mastered one posture, there is another or a different variation to challenge yourself with.  Yoga is a journey, one which you will never reach the end of.  It’s not even a linear journey but more of a case of one step forward, two back, and maybe a couple sideways as well.  So stop trying to be perfect and enjoy the ride!

It just is

It’s really hard to explain this (I’ve re-written this paragraph about half a dozen times already!).  Nothing is fundamentally, intrinsically, good or bad; what you see as good or bad are your perceptions, your reactions to a person, an experience or a situation.  As soon as you realise that, you realise you’re in control, you can decide how you react to something.  It’s not easy but it is incredibly empowering.  So don’t waste time trying to change someone else; change your reaction and accept the situation for what it is.  Everything, in the end, is temporary so relax and enjoy it for what it is: it’s either a great experience now or will be a great story later!


The challenge so far

The last few days have reminded me of many of these lessons, especially after a rather inauspicious start to my challenge!  Getting up at 6am to practise on the first day of October, when it was cold and wet and dark outside was not a lot of fun; I really had to force myself out of bed, into my yoga clothes and onto the mat.  There was no profound moment but at least I did it!  It’s not really been getting any easier, especially in the mornings, but I did have a lovely session of restorative yoga on Thursday evening, which really helped me let go of what had been a long and stressful day.

I’ve noticed this week that I have tendency to say “I should get up and do my yoga practice”, loading myself with expectation.  So instead, I’m trying to listen, with compassion, to what my body is trying to tell me and say “I want”, “I will” or “I am”.

The other thing I have been struggling with this week is turning off the narrator in my head!  Because I know I want to blog about it later, my mind is constantly examining what I’m doing and ‘writing’ about it – it’s really rather annoying when you’re trying to focus on your breath!  But I surprised myself yesterday during meditation when I was able to sit easily and focus for the full time, so maybe I’m starting to get there.

So that’s me and yoga.  Over the next few weeks, I thought I would share some thoughts about the benefits of self-practice and how to start practising on your own and, following some questions from a friend, maybe a guide to some basic yoga terms – are there words you hear around yoga that you don’t understand?  Let me know and please feel free to share your own experiences with yoga.

Until next time, namaste.

An October Challenge

Lotus

I would describe myself as a yogi, albeit one with a lot to learn. I list yoga as one of my passions so it is somewhat sheepishly that I admit that I have been seriously neglecting my practice recently…well, a bit longer than just “recently”, to be honest.  So I have decided to set myself a challenge for October.

I am going to practise yoga and meditation every day throughout October.  For 31 days, I will get on my mat, I will move my body and I will look for a moment of stillness in my mind. I’m not going to set a minimum length of time for either but I will show up for myself every day.

And, of course, I am going to blog about it.  Probably not every day…I have a day job and a busy life (and I would hate to bore you all)  but expect regular updates on how I’m getting on so you can share the inevitable highs and lows of my journey.  I think it’s going to be tough at times but I am hoping that, by the end of the month, I will be a little more centred, a little more balanced, a little stronger, and perhaps a little bit more flexible.

I invite you to join me at any stage.  I will be posting some thoughts on cultivating a daily yoga practice and on getting into mediation along the way but please share any of your thoughts below or get in touch.

OmNamaste xxx

Sunday Stuff

I love to start my week with a clean slate so I often spend some time on Sunday doing all of those jobs that I haven’t had time (or inclination) to do during the week.  I change the sheets on my bed; I get around to answering the email that has been sat in my inbox all week; I plan what I’m going to eat during the following week and when I’m going to work out (yep, I’m one of those people); and I like sit and read some of the things that I’ve seen online during the week, which is what I would like to share with you today.

This is a great article that just shows how ridiculous it would sound if we gave men the same rape advice we give women.

I am a yogi.  Here’s what that doesn’t mean!  And here is a great little guide on yoga for people who don’t practice it.

Whether you’ve been meditating for years or have never tried it, I really recommend this one minute meditation challenge to help to manage stress during the day.  Everyone can find a minute, right?!  This is one I will be trying to incorporate into my day tomorrow.

Have you ever considered how powerful your thoughts and intentions areThis is one way to harness them.  I”m intrigued by  the idea of a daily challenges so watch this space!