A lot of the books that I have been reading lately have been talking about doing something outside your comfort zone. And if I am being perfectly honest with you I would have to say that trekking to Annapurna Base Camp (See my travel blog: Dovan to ABC) is about as far out of my comfort zone as me travelling to the moon. With no training we decided that it would be a good idea to engage in a 10-day trek from Nayapul to Poon Hill and then all the way up to Annapurna Base Camp and back down again. It was difficult and tiring and draining… but we made it.
This got me thinking, what was it that we required in order to ‘take the leap of faith’ and just go ahead and try it anyway. Apart from wanting to try something new, we also had trust. Trust in ourselves, trust in our bodies, minds and spirits to get us there and back.
That led me to wonder about what this means for your yoga practice. Do you stay within your comfort zone and never break out? Do you trust and listen to your body?
In order to step outside our comfort zone, you need to have trust. You need to trust yourself and in particular, your body. You must trust your decisions and your ability to know what is right for you.
In that self-trust, you are acknowledging not only your strengths, but also your weaknesses or limitations. I myself have many limitations since my accident that fractured my ankle and partially tore my ACL (See: How did I find yoga?If you are interest in the back story to how I got here today). But despite my limitations I always find a way do to the things I want to do. Maybe some of my poses are not always perfect and I often take longer to do things like walking uphill or mastering a new pose but I get there with perseverance and trust. With trust we realise that we not only have the ability to succeed and thrive, but there is also the possibility that we may fail. But when you think about it, both are ok because when we trust ourselves, we are listening to our bodies and when we listen to our bodies, we can never push ourselves beyond our limits.
If we had been too scared to take the plunge and decide to do the complete trek, we would never have known just what we were made of and would have missed out on so many beautiful experiences.
So, we need to take the plunge, to jump, to try and succeed or fail, and if we do fail, to get back up and try again. We need to get out of our comfort zone and try something new.
So, getting back to the questions I posed earlier, do you stay within your comfort zone and never break out? Do you trust and listen to your body? Do you try new or difficult yoga poses or do you say to yourself that it is too difficult?
One pose that I know a lot of people are freaked out by are handstands so today I wanted to dedicate the rest of this piece to the humble asana- The handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana).
Sometimes, just like in real life, we need to flip our perspectives and get outside our comfort zone (or in this case get ourselves upside down)- even if it freaks us out.
Disconnection. Just like a coin, there are two sides to everything.
One can be a positive: disconnecting from work and technology in order to enjoy spending time with the people we love and doing the things we enjoy doing. The negative is the opposite: feeling disconnected from the people around us, because we are in a constant state of ‘busyness’; finding ourselves becoming more insular and separate. Day 4 into our trek (if you would like to follow my travel blog, please click on this hyperlink: Siprong to Dovan) and with no access to the internet, we are feeling disconnected not only from technology but our family and friends back home. Today I am going to talk about the positives of disconnecting.
Sometimes back in Australia I find myself permanently in a state of being ‘switched on’; available night and day to answer emails, chat to online friends, and working way too many hours a week. Worst of all, this is often to the detriment of my real-life relationships.
Just like my yoga practice brings me back to my mat, back to myself, and back to re-connect with the real-life people around me; trekking in Nepal has also had the same effect. Without access to and the distraction of technology, I found myself deep in my own thoughts, enjoying the sounds of nature and absorbed in meaningful conversations.
Trekking has been an imposed ‘switch off’ both mentally and metaphorically, from the digital clutter that fills a lot of my life. I have found that apart from the mind-blowing scenery in Nepal, the thing that I have enjoyed the most about my 10-day trek through Nepal was being with myself; both being alone with my thoughts and the quietness.
If you are reading this and wondering what does this have to do with yoga or thinking “I’m not keen to go on a 10-day trek through Nepal so that, I too, can practise being with myself”, never fear I have got a solution for you!
Why not try Easy Pose? In my opinion, it is the perfect a way to reconnect with that inner self and disconnect from all of life’s stresses (if only for a little while- I can’t imagine anyone sitting in Easy Pose for 10 days).
Easy Pose (Sukhasana):
Come to a seated position, back straight, and your legs gently crossed in front of the body. If you struggle to maintain a straight back, either sit against a wall, or on a raised cushion/ Yoga block.
Your eyes can be open or closed, but closing them often helps us to focus.
Rest your hands either palms up, facing the sky, or down (if you need to feel more grounded), touching the knees.
Begin to concentrate simply on breathing, inhalations and exhalations through the nose. If it helps, breathe in for a mental count of four, hold the breath for one second at the top, then out again through the nose for four. The moment when the breath is held at the top is thought to represent bliss, peace, the ultimate release.
Alternatively, if yo are more experienced at deep breathing you could try inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts.
Try to aim to do this for a few minutes each day, to simply ‘be’ with yourself, allowing thoughts to come and go. And of course, ensure you remove any digital distractions before beginning your practice. 🙂
Disclaimer: While I am a certified yoga teacher, if you have any issues or concerns, please check with your doctor before performing the above pose. As always, listen to your body and modify as necessary.
So today I watched my husband, Damien fall off the side of a mountain in Nepal (See Ghorepani to Siprong via Poon Hillif you would like to would like to read more about this story) and it got me thinking about how often we show our love and gratitude towards the people who are closest to us.
Today is the perfect day to tell your loved ones how much you care for them; how much you love them and how much they mean to you. Do not wait until it is too late.
Below I have included a love and gratitude meditation to help you enhance your feelings of love and gratitude for not only your loved ones, but also for yourself.
Love & Gratitude Meditation
This is an excellent script for experiencing love and gratitude. You may want to record yourself reading the script and then using it as a guided meditation.
To begin, find a quiet, peaceful place where you won’t be disturbed. This is your time, so make the most of it. You may want to turn off your phone, hang a do-not-disturb sign on the door, and really give yourself over to the peace and serenity that is always ready and waiting for you deep within.
Find a comfortable position, either lying down or sitting in a straight back chair, whichever feels best to you today. Take a few nice deep breaths, bringing your awareness fully to the present moment. Let go of any busy thoughts preventing you from tapping into your inner essence.
Now you are ready to scan your body. As you scan your body, if you encounter tension anywhere simply use the power of your mind to melt it away, as easily as warm water melts ice.
Starting at the top of your head, relax your scalp completely. Feel the skin of your forehead and temples relax. Allow your eye muscles to release, your jaw to soften, and let your ears, nose and chin, teeth, tongue and gums relax. Now, just let this peaceful feeling flow down your neck. Feel it soothe your throat and dissolve any tension on contact as it glides down to your shoulders, upper arms, forearms, wrists and hands.
Let this peaceful sensation of relaxation begin to fill your torso. Feel it relax your chest, giving your heart more room to grow and expand; more loving, giving and forgiving. Soften your belly muscles and let this relaxation penetrate even deeper, releasing any tension from your internal organs.
Now let it wrap around you, enveloping you in love and peace as it softens all the back muscles all the way down to the base of your spine. Continue to breathe in deep, fluid breaths. Breathe in health, happiness and harmony, breathe out any tension, toxins, worries or disease, allowing anything that does not serve you to leave your body like a dark cloud.
Send this peaceful feeling into your hips and buttocks. Let it glide down your thighs, relaxing your legs completely as it flows down to your knees, calves, ankles and feet. Allow any remaining tension from anywhere in your body to flow out your toes, leaving your whole body feeling very comfortable, peaceful and relaxed.
Continue to breathe deep relaxing breaths, feeling your belly rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. Notice how the air feels cooler as you breathe in, and warmer as you breathe out. Now, imagine a golden glowing ball of light about 30 cms above the crown of your head. On an inhalation, breathe that light in through the top of your head through the centre line of your body, right down to the tailbone. On the exhalation, breathe that light back up the way it came and out the top of your head. Repeat this 2 more times at your own pace.
Now, place your hands either in prayer position or flat on the centre of your chest bringing your awareness to this area. Visualise a beautiful emerald green or a soft pink glowing ball of light.
This is your heart chakra, the chakra of love for yourself and others. Let it glow, bringing gifts of compassion, self-acceptance, and the ability to love deeply. Breathe in pink or green and let these feelings expand, seeing yourself living in perfect harmony with everyone in your life. Feel your heart swell with compassion and forgiveness for yourself and others.
Visualise your loved ones smiling at you and smile back at them. Picture them happy, healthy and full of love and gratitude. Let this image fill you with gratitude for the opportunity to live in this wonderful world with so many amazing, loving, caring people.
Let this chakra continue to glow and spin for as long as you want. [If you are recording this, you may want to have up to 5 minutes silence on the recording here].
Now it is time to gently reawaken your body and mind.
Keeping your eyes closed, notice the sounds around you. Feel the cushion or floor beneath you. Feel your clothes against your body.
Wiggle your fingers and toes.
Shrug your shoulders.
Open your eyes, and remain lying or sitting for a few moments longer.
Straighten out your legs, and stretch your arms and legs gently.
Sit or lie for a few moments more, enjoying how relaxed you feel, and experiencing your body reawaken and your mind returning to its usual level of alertness.
Slowly return to a standing position, and continue with the rest of your day, feeling re-energized.
I hope you enjoy this meditation. Showing love and gratitude is so important. Not only today, but every day. Make it a habit to appreciate the small things and notice the abundance of love in your everyday life. Your future self will thank you for it.
The Japanese have a marvellous word, wabi-sabi which celebrates the humble, hidden beauty of incomplete and imperfect things.
In nature we see Wabi-Sabi all the time: a jagged cliff’s edge, eroded rocks jutting out of a mountain face or gnarled branches in an untamed forest. As I walked from Nayapul to Ulleri, (See my blog entitled Nayapul to Ullerifor a traveller’s point of view of this leg of our journey), I realised just how many examples of imperfection we find in nature that we deem to be beautiful.
Everywhere nature’s imperfections were being ‘Ohhhed’ and ‘Ahhhed’ over and the best travel pictures always highlight the way the light hits the tangle of the trees or the asymmetry of the mountains.
Nature, as is life, is imperfect. And so are we.
“Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet- that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.” (Source: http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/wabi-sabi).
So, my advice to you is stop and enjoy the imperfections in nature, try not to take yourself too seriously, look beyond what’s on the outside and try to see the beauty (or the wabi-sabi-ness) in everyone and everything.
With that been said, today I’d like to introduce you to a fun and a little kooky pose called Alternative Cactus Pose. Despite looking imperfect, asymmetrical and TBH a little strange, this pose is guaranteed to make you smile, and to love that imperfection that your body is creating. It is a good pose to practise after the traditional Tree pose, which is a more graceful, symmetrical standing balance.
Disclaimer: While I am a certified yoga teacher, if you have any issues or concerns, please check with your doctor before performing the pose below. As always, listen to your body and modify as necessary.
Alternative Cactus Pose (above):
Come out of Tree Pose [optional].
Stand tall, raising and bending the right leg and taking hold of it just below the knee with the right hand.
Balancing on the strong, left leg, use the right hand to open the right leg out to the right side slightly.
Bend the left arm and raise it slightly, opening out the left palm and fingers.
Breathe into the balance.
Then repeat on the opposite side.
Finish with traditional Cactus Pose (below) [optional].
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As I floated down the river in the raft during our white-water rafting trip in Nepal (See Kathmandu to Pokhara via White Water Rafting if you are interested in reading my travel blog in Nepal), I thought of a quote that I re-read recently:
“Rivers know this, there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.” –AA Milne
And that made me think of Winnie the Pooh peacefully floating down the river with me with one paw in a pot of honey. For a bear with nothing but fluff inside his head, he sure thinks and says some amazingly insightful Buddhist-sounding things. While I am pretty sure Pooh has never studied Buddhism, I did wonder if he (and Buddhists) had the right idea in regards to time and hurrying and I have often wondered if we (‘Western’ countries) could learn something from them.
So, now some life philosophy from our smallest to our mightiest rivers. Even our smallest rivers don’t suggest you stand there and take what life has to give you without fighting back. You just have to look at how a river forges its way through rocks, over trees and through tight spaces with ease and grace to know this is true.
Nor does it suggest that you should stand and watch life go by without you. What is does suggest is there is an art to moving forward. It takes patience and time; flowing instead of rushing. If you flow instead of rush, you will get there someday and maybe do it with some beauty and grace.
Speaking of beauty and grace, makes me think of one of my favourite poses, Dancer’s Pose. This pose makes me feel weightless, limitless, graceful, confident, and perfect in the body I have. I hope it does the same for you!
Disclaimer: While I am a certified yoga teacher, if you have any issues or concerns, please check with your doctor before performing the pose below. As always, listen to your body and modify as necessary.
Shift your weight to your right foot and send your breath down to that leg to help you balance.
Bend the knee of your left leg and grab the left foot with the left hand.
Hold your right arm out front to help balance.
Start to lean your upper body forward, balancing on just the right leg. If you are comfortable in the balance, start to press the left foot against the left hand holding it, and move the foot away from the body slightly.
Feel the grace and lightness as you inhale and exhale in this poseand remember to be like the river and not rush getting into or out of the pose!
Come out of the pose gracefully and repeat on the other side of the body.
Karma is the law of cause and effect– an unbreakable law of the cosmos. Your actions create your future. The reason your fate is never sealed is because you have free will. Therefore, your future cannot already be written. That would not be fair. Life gives you chances. This is one of them.
“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.” – Ghandi
The Great Law/ Law of Cause and Effect: “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
The simple explanation of the Great Law is: our thought and actions have consequences- good or bad.
Energy (thought, action) that we put into the world has a consequence, immediate or not.
To receive happiness, peace, love, and friendship, one must BE happy, peaceful, loving, and a true friend.
Whatever one puts out into the Universe will come back to them.
The Law of Creation: “What we desire comes through participation.”
Life requires our participation to happen. It does not happen by itself.
We are one with the Universe, both inside and out.
Whatever surrounds us gives us clues to our inner state.
Surround yourself with what you want to have in your life and be yourself.
The Law of Humility: “Refusal to accept what is, will still be what is.”
One must accept something in order to change it.
We must first accept the present circumstances in order to change them.
In focusing on the negative instead of making changes to address the negative, we’re committing to a zero-sum result.
The Law of Growth: “Our own growth is above any circumstance.”
“Wherever you go, there you are.”
The only thing we have control over is ourselves.
True change only occurs if we make the commitment to change what is in our heart.
It is we who must change and not the people, places or things around us if we want to grow spiritually.
When we change who and what we are within our hearts, our lives follow suit and changes too.
The Law of Responsibility: “Our lives are of our own doing, nothing else.”
When there is turbulence in one’s own life, there is often turbulence internally. If we’re to change our life, we must change our frame of mind and surroundings.
We mirror what surrounds us, and what surrounds us mirrors us; this is a Universal Truth.
One must take responsibility for what is in one’s life.
The Law of Connection: “Everything in the Universe is connected, both large and small.”
Our past, present and future are all connected. As such, we must put in the work to change these connections if we desire something different.
The smallest or seemingly least important of things must be done because everything in the Universe is connected.
No step- first, intermediate or last- is more important in the accomplishment of a task. All are required.
Each step leads to the next step, and so forth and so on.
The Law of Focus: “One cannot direct attention beyond a single task.”
We cannot have negative thoughts or actions and expect to grow spiritually. We must direct full attention to achieve any desired task.
One cannot think of two things at the same time.
Always think thoughts of love.
If our focus is on Spiritual Values, it is not possible for us to have lower thoughts like greed or anger.
The Law of Hospitality and Giving: “Demonstrating our selflessness shows true intentions.”
What we claim to believe must manifest into our actions. Selflessness is a virtue only if we’re accommodating something other than ourselves.
Without a selfless nature, true spiritual growth is nearly impossible.
If one believes something to be true, then sometime in their life they will be called upon to demonstrate that truth.
Here is where one puts what they claim to have learned into practice.
The Law of Change: “History repeats itself unless changed.”
Conscious commitment to change is the only method of influencing the past. History will continue along an unconstructive path until positive energies direct it elsewhere.
One cannot be in the here and now if they are looking backward to examine what was or forward to worry about the future.
Old thoughts, old patterns of behaviour, and old dreams prevent us from having new ones.
The Law of Here and Now: “The Present is all we have.”
History repeats itself until we learn the lessons that we need to change our path.
Looking back regretfully and forward pointlessly robs oneself of a present opportunity. Old thoughts and patterns of behaviour negate the present chance to advance ourselves.
Live in the here and now. Practice Mindfulness.
The Law of Patience and Reward: “Nothing of value is created without a patient mindset.”
All Rewards require initial toil.
Toiling away cannot be circumvented through wishful thinking. Rewards of lasting value require patient and persistent toil, nothing else.
Rewards are not the end-result. True joy comes from doing what one is supposed to be doing, and knowing that the reward will come in its own time.
The Law of Significance and Inspiration: “The best reward is one that contributes to the Whole.”
One gets back from something whatever they put into it.
The true value of something is a direct result of the energy and intent that is put into it.
Every personal contribution is also a contribution to the Whole.
The end result is of little value if it leaves little or nothing behind. These lesser contributions have no impact on the Whole, nor do they work to diminish it.
Loving contributions bring life to and inspire the Whole.
Energy and intentions are vital components that determine the significance of an end-result. Ideally, love and passion embody the motives of one that resolves to leave a lasting impression on the Whole.
P.S. This list was adapted from several websites. The words above are not my original thoughts or words. For further reference you can visit the following websites where I obtained this information:
Nowadays most people are running around from one task to the next. We can barely find time to cook and enjoy a proper meal let alone find time to slow down and take some deep breaths. There is a lot of talk in the yoga community that suggests that the way we breathe is crucial for good health.
As mentioned in an earlier Blog “Open your heart & Set the Foundations (Yoga Teacher Training)”, before I started yoga, I had little awareness of my breath. Apart from when I would find myself puffing and panting and gasping for air because of childhood asthma, I gave little to no thought on how and why I was breathing they way I was.
In my Blog entitled “Life’s Lessons” I spoke about how breathing exercises are a huge part of any yoga practice and how they can also be a very useful tool in our daily lives but in this post I would like to expand on those ideas a little further.
Breathing is a rhythmic, involuntary process regulated by our respiratory system but it can also be voluntary such as when we hold our breath or engage in pranayama techniques.
According to my past yoga teachers (and many other creditable sources), most of us breathe incorrectly, meaning most people do not know how to breathe so as to take full advantage of the nourishing, health-giving properties of the act of breathing. What is the first thing a person says if someone is stressed or having a panic attack? It is usually something along the lines of “Just Breathe!” Breathing has direct connections to emotional states and moods– observe someone who is angry, afraid or upset, and you will see a person breathing rapidly, shallowly, noisily and irregularly.
I’m a sucker for interesting trivia so when I watched a yoga documentary (sorry I can’t remember the name) that spoke about the correlation between how certain species who breathe fewer times a minute tend to live longer than species that breathe a comparably greater number of times per minute. The doco gave the example of the giant tortoise who only takes about four breaths per minute. So out of interest I did some research to find that an elephant only takes four to five breaths per minute, and when resting, an alligator may only take one breath per minute. While elephants (60-70 years) and alligators (30-50 years) don’t live quite as long as a giant tortoise (average 100-150 years), they’re undoubtedly on the high-end of life spans in the animal kingdom. Dogs, who average 10-13 years with 10-35 breaths per minute, as well as other animals like cats (12-18 years) and mice (2 years), take many more breaths per minute and live an unequivocally shorter period of time. Human beings, however, exist somewhere in between the dogs and the giant tortoises in both life span and breaths per minute. Humans tend to take between twelve and twenty breaths per minute, and they tend to live between 60 and 100 years.
So with this knowledge in mind, does longer breaths, resulting in fewer breaths per minute, equal a longer life? Paramahansa Yogananda’s book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ seems to suggest this is the case. This leads me to wonder if we can we increase our longevity by changing how we breathe and how often we breathe? If there is a way of increasing your longevity, it would have to be by implementing the Full Yogic Breath.
A full yogic breath is experienced through deep, full inhalations and long, slow exhalations. Rather than trap yourself in a frantic, high-energy breathing pattern, emulate the slower, deeper habits of the giant tortoise and work to take five to seven breaths per minute. When practiced over time, it has been suggested that this habit could lead to a much longer, disease-free life.
Since breathing has never hurt anyone, why not try it now? Get yourself into a comfortable seated or lying position and try Full Yogic Breathing for just 5 minutes.
Now, once you are comfortable, gently close your eyes and take a few moments to settle in. Close your mouth and breathe only through your nostrils. Breathe in deeply beginning by expanding the lower abdomen, moving up through the mid-torso and then to the upper-chest (feeling the collar bones lifting slightly). Then exhale by lowering the collar bones as the air leaves your lungs and push all of the air out by contracting your stomach and drawing inwards towards the spine to complete one round of Full Yogic Breath.
After several rounds of Full Yogic Breath (try to do it for 3-5 minutes but you can go up to fifteen minutes), allow your breathing to return to normal for a minute or two before gently opening your eyes and bringing your practice to a close. Before you move on to your next activity, pause briefly to notice how you feel. Are you more refreshed, awake, and relaxed? How did your practice affect or benefit you today?
By focusing on our breath, we are able to feel a connection between mind, body and spirit. Knowing how to perform simple breathing techniques can help lower your blood pressure, calm a racing heart, or help your digestive system without taking drugs. When the mind is focused on the breath and the nervous system is calm, there is less stress on the body. Your body can also experience better digestion and elimination through Full Yogic Breathing as fewer, fuller breaths help to reduce one’s appetite and keep the emotions and senses under control. Finally, you cannot be angry, upset or anxious if your breathing is slow, deep, quiet and regular.
I hope reading this Blog and completing 3-5 minutes of Full Yogic Breathing has helped bring a little bit of calm into your busy life. As you become more comfortable with the practice of Full Yogic Breathing, you can integrate this style of breathing more and more throughout your day-to-day activities for longer lasting benefits.
Like setting the foundation (See: Set the Foundations (Yoga Teacher Training) – Part 1), this is part of the first principle because it is also extremely important. For me, I think of this as more about ‘opening your heart’. When you practice yoga, your chest/ heart centre should be open.
As a child, I was a severe asthmatic and before being medicated I recall multiple times hunched over gasping for breath and my primary PE teacher yelling at me ‘walk it off with your hands on the back of your head’. Why did he tell me to put my hands on the back of my head you may ask? Well its simple, this simple action opened my chest up and in turn opened up the lungs allowing me to breathe easily. So what was happening when I was hunching over then? I was actually compressing my lungs, making it harder for them to expand with deep breaths which resulted in me taking shallow, inadequate breaths.
Why is this so important now-a-days?
I have just established that when we hunch over, we are compressing our lungs. So now let’s take a moment to think about all of the activities that we do every day (and sometimes for long periods of time) that close our chest and therefore compress our lungs- sitting at a desk all day, typing on a computer, or not sitting in the correct chair are all examples of ways that we close our chest every day.
Physically, opening to grace creates more space and naturally brings you toward a more optimal alignment. Opening your heart centre can make you feel taller, lift the heart, open the throat, and melt away tension.
So, what does this mean when applied to your yoga practice?
Of course, open to grace means so much more than just opening your heart space physically as described above and like all yoga practices it also has mental, emotional and spiritual benefits… just think about what the world would be like if everyone walked around with their heart emotionally open all of the time.
What does this mean when applied to other aspects of your life?
“The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
In English we have so many sayings referring to our hearts- open your heart, listen to your heart, follow your heart, speak from the heart, have a big heart, etc. It is so true that when our hearts are open and we listen and follow our hearts that we will find success and happiness. When you speak from the heart you will not only speak your truth but you will be mindful of those who are listening and will refrain from saying hurtful things. When we have a big heart we are said to be someone who is kind, caring and loving. When you listen to and follow your heart, you can never be led astray. And finally, when you open your heart you are open to receiving all of life’s lessons.
If becoming friends with your heart means opening up your heart to others, listening to yourself and following its advice on what you need, speaking your truth while being mindful of others, and being kind, caring and loving; then the world would be a better place if everyone became friends with their heart and opened their heart more often, wouldn’t you agree?
In order to sustain any type of growth or success, one must have an open heart and a solid foundation from which to build. Whether it’s a new creative pursuit, a new personal goal, or in your yoga practice, a good understanding of the fundamental elements and an open heart will help you establish a foundation that allows you to thrive.
When you live with an open heart, unexpected joyful things happen. – Unknown.
Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) is about opening your heart and sharing something that is special to you with others so that they too can feel as good as you do when you practice yoga. While my YTT was Hatha yoga, during our training one of my amazing teachers, Amanda taught us about the Anusara Yoga’s Universal Principles of Alignment:
I’m not going to pretend that I am now an expert on this topic but I thought that the first principle would be a great place to start as it kind of sums up my yoga journey to become a teacher of yoga- learning how to safely and correctly teach yoga and opening my heart and sharing something that is special to me with others.
Set the foundations
This is part of the first principle because it is most important. Everything else builds from it. Beginning your Hatha yoga practice by building a strong, flexible, and solid foundation is essential. Like any structure- think buildings, bridges, yoga is built from the foundation up and the foundation is rooted firmly to the ground. If you look at an asana the foundation of the pose which is touching the floor affects everything else. Yoga poses either start their foundations in the feet or hands (or, in other words, from the ground up).
If your foot is placed even slightly out of alignment, it translates up to your knee, pelvis, back, and so on. If your hand is turned out or the finger tips are lifted, your wrist, elbow, shoulder and neck may experience unnecessary strain. Therefore, it is essential to begin by building your feet as your solid roots to build upward. If your feet/ hands are fully connected to the earth, they will move energy up correctly through your ankles/wrists, knees/elbows, hips/shoulders and spine, preventing unnecessary injuries and allowing you to practice and master more advanced asanas successfully.
In yoga, you build a firm and level foundation by focusing on your foundations (whether they be your hands or feet), and from it a strong, spacious, and elegant pose will rise. To create a firm foundation, use the strength of your legs or arms to send strong roots into the earth; make the foundation level by contacting the floor evenly with your feet or hands. Building awareness in the feet/hands in each and every pose may sound tedious, and yes, it can take years of practice, but it’s well worth the effort. When building a house, having a solid foundation will determine the viability of the rest of the structure as it goes up, so too will having a solid foundation in your yoga practice ensure that the rest of your body is well supported and protected.
According to my 3rd surgeon, balance and shape of your feet are determined by the shapes of the bones in your feet, the structure of the ligaments that hold the bones together, and the muscles that move and position the bones. Though research I found out that the bones and the structure of the ligaments are hereditary, but you do have the power to change the strength, flexibility, and coordination of your foot muscles. Since doing yoga regularly, I have made significant changes to the shape and balance of my feet- my right toes have spread and my foot is slightly wider. This has allowed me to gain better balance and compensate for the irreparable damage that my foot and ankle have endured.
So what’s the life lesson?
Life is a journey and it’s up to you to set the foundation; to know when to pursue and when to let go. It’s up to you to look after your mind and body through meditation, exercise and healthy eating before you get sick, not just treat it when it is sick. It’s up to you to make choices that will serve you instead of hinder. It’s up to you to monitor and control your thoughts, feelings and actions. It is up to you to love yourself first and foremost so that others can also love you. Change is inevitable but when you set the foundations right, you are anchored and can brave the ‘stormy of high seas’ of life.
Whether you are setting the foundation in a yoga class or in your daily life, it is imperative to get the fundamentals right. Please come back tomorrow for the second part of this 2 part blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading my blogs so far.
Dedicated to Marina, Amanda, Tatijana, Jessica, Julia, Katelyn and Laura. Thank you for sharing some of my most profound and life changing yoga moments with me, Xx
For those of us who practice yoga, isn’t it often difficult to explain how transformative a yoga practice can be?
As mentioned a previous post “Transform your Mind, Body and Spirit” yoga provides many physical, mental and spiritual benefits, such as improved balance, strength and flexibility, it can increase your happiness, focus and self-esteem, and can provide inner strength, benefit your relationships and connect you with guidance. However, there are also many wonderful life lessons to learn through yoga.
Today I wanted to talk about 8 of the 10 most important life lessons that yoga has taught me.
To love and honour my body.
Dear Body, “I love you. I accept you. I see you. I promise to cherish you all the days of my life.”- Unknown
Today we are bombarded with images of perfection through social media and advertising, and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we should look a certain way. However the more I practice yoga, the more I appreciate my body for the way it moves, rather than the way it looks. I am thankful for its strength and flexibility, and for the way it functions. I am grateful for good health and the ability to be able to walk again. I now honour the physical temple that houses me by nourishing it with healthy foods, using positive thoughts and self-talk, listening to my body’s needs, through sunshine, movement and exercise and finally by treating it with dignity and love.
2. To be patient.
Our patience will achieve more than our force- Edmund Burke
In today’s society, we do not really have to be patient. If we want to buy something, we can order it online and have it delivered the same day. Yoga has taught me that good things come to those who wait. More challenging poses seemed elusive when I first started yoga, but with regular practice and perseverance and without force, I have been able to learn poses that once seemed impossible.
3. To not compare myself to others.
The only person you should try to be better than, is the person you were yesterday- Matty Mullins
I’m not going to lie, this was a hard one but I can honestly say that I do not compare myself to other people when I take yoga classes anymore. Believe me I used to feel very inadequate, especially in more difficult classes. Dealing and managing a long-term injury is always difficult. In the beginning I would find myself looking around, wishing my body was injury free or that I was able to get into that pose or look like that instead of the way I looked in the pose (usually awkward and uncomfortable). For a long time I have been able to focus on my practice and movement without being distracted by watching other people. However in the beginning of my Yoga Teacher Training I did find myself somehow getting distracted by the strength and flexibility of my peers and teachers but instead of wishing that I looked like that in this moment, I was inspired by their dedication and practice and refrained from feeling jealousy. I looked at what they were doing and endeavoured to improve my yoga practice so that I could be a better yogini than I was the day before. Thanks for the inspiration Amanda, Tatijana, Jessica, Julia, Katelyn and Laura.
4. Let go of things that no longer serve you
Respect yourself enough to walk away from ANYTHING that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you HAPPY! – Robert Tew
It is natural for things to come in and out of our lives and when things that we have wanted in life come our way, we sometimes hold on so tightly for fear that we will lose it. Other times we may cling on to unhelpful thoughts or feelings. It’s normal to want to hold onto behaviors, thoughts or feelings, objects, or even people but when they no longer serve us, that is when this ‘holding on’ can become unhealthy and sometimes harmful. At times, our minds can make us believe we need these belongings, situations, thoughts, feelings or relationships, and out of this fear we desperately hold on to them.
By letting go of these things that no longer serve us, a powerful lesson is reinforced- the lesson to trust when it’s time to let some things go. This has been one of the hardest lessons for me, especially to let go of thoughts and feelings, and one that I am still struggling with now.
5. Slow down.
Slow down, happiness is trying to catch you- Clarissa Garay
I lived (and still do to some extent) my life in the fast lane. For those who know anything about doshas- I am a pretty typical Pitta. I speak quickly, walk quickly, think quickly and make decisions (most of the time) quite quickly. I am adventurous and am always planning my next adventure. I am also observant and I process information I gather accurately.
So when I noticed in my yoga classes that people who move slowly are incredibly strong and have good alignment, I too wanted to implement this into my practice. I started focusing on slowing down and not rushing to get to the end of the pose (or to finish a challenging pose).
I have learnt that growth occurs when we take our time and push through a challenge instead of rushing through it without reaping any of the rewards. I also started taking the entire breath for each movement and have noticed a change in my practice. This has also helped me outside of yoga. I am able to stop and smell the roses, instead of running from place to place (although I must admit my work life is still chaotic- and probably always will, I have made a conscious effort to bring balance to my work and private life). I now allow myself time to relax without feeling that I must always be doing something and for this I am a happier person.
Before I started yoga, I had little awareness of my breath. Breathing exercises are a huge part of any yoga practice, and they can be a very useful tool in our daily lives, too. As I learned to breathe in yoga, I started to become more aware of my breath outside of my practice and began to utilise these techniques in my daily life. I am now able to notice how my breath changes when I am nervous, and how I can focus on deepening and slowing down my breath to help myself relax. Focusing on my breath is one of the easiest things I can control, and I can do it anywhere at any time.
7. Be present.
Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have- Eckhart Tolle.
For the longest time, I could not articulate to other people why I loved yoga- but then I had a teacher talk about being present, and it clicked for me. When I am on my mat, I am only thinking about what I am doing and nothing else. Each pose requires focus and concentration that forces me to be present. This is not easy for me outside of yoga. As an extremely organised planner, I usually get consumed about something in the future- usually my next travel adventure. Being present is still a challenge for me, but I am much more aware of my ability to get caught up in future events and am able to bring myself back to the present moment. This has helped me better manage my stress and realise I can plan for the future but cannot control it.
8. I am strong and I can achieve more than I think
I am stronger than I think I am- Thomas Merton.
My accident and subsequent injuries spanning from 2010-2011 forced me to step outside my comfort zone and to have the courage to take massive action. Being forced to have to learn how to walk again made me a true believer that I can achieve more than I ever thought I ever could. I am strong. I am capable. I am determined. And so are you!
Stay tuned for my next 2 posts entitled “Set the Foundations & Open your heart (Yoga Teacher Training)” where the other 2 life lessons that need a blog unto themselves will be explored.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that the life lessons that I mentioned above do not happen after one class, but if you stick with it, you might just find yoga will change your life in many beautiful ways!