My Ayurvedic Journey

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I’m not going to pretend that I am an expert in Ayurveda. The information that I am presenting to you throughout this series of Blogs is knowledge that I have gained from my own research (websites, online articles, books, Ayurveda cookbooks, talking to others in the know and speaking with my Ayurveda practitioner). Studying Ayurveda can take up to 5 years, so while I feel like I have a good basic understanding of the practice, there is so much that I don’t know. My purpose for my Blogs is to ignite interest, instil curiosity and hopefully inspire others to look deeper into their own lives, especially their health and wellbeing through yoga, meditation and healthy lifestyle practices and maybe even be curious enough to go out and try Ayurveda.

For the next few Blogs (this will probably end up being about a 15 part series) I am going to focus on my Ayurvedic Journey that I started during my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) and have recently become more serious about. I hope you enjoy reading about my Ayurvedic Journey and are inspired to also look deeper into this ancient natural medicine system!

What ignited my interest in Ayurveda?

During my YTT Amanda introduced us to Ayurveda. Of course this was only the briefest of introductions as there is so much to learn and know about Ayurveda that we could not cover everything in a 200 hour YTT course!

Immediately I was fascinated by this approach to health as it sits well within my beliefs around health and wellbeing- take care of yourself and prevent illness and disease, simple right? However, without the knowledge, it is sometimes difficult to know just how to look after yourself effectively and with so much information and misinformation out there about what you should and shouldn’t be doing, how does one know what is best for them?

Listen to your body

After my accident, I became highly in tune with my body. What it could do, how far I could push it, what it needed and so forth. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes when our bodies and minds are out of balance, they can trick us into thinking that certain foods or behaviours are what we need when really they aren’t. So while this is an important first step, it is sometimes not enough.

What is Ayurveda and why am I writing about it in my yoga journey?

During our YTT Amanda told us that Ayurvedic medicine (Ayurveda for short) is one of the world’s oldest holistic (whole body) healing systems that was developed thousands of years ago in India. Unlike Western medicine, its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease. Ayurveda does this by focusing on the prevention of diseases before they can occur in the body. Of course if you are sick, Ayurveda is there to help you too as treatments can be geared toward specific health problems.

Ayurveda is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit which it is why it marries so well with yogic philosophy.

Time to see an expert

After an amazing 5 weeks in Thailand doing my YTT I had to return to Melbourne and go back to work. This term was difficult with my husband getting sick and hospitalised for 2 weeks and work stresses mounting up with new responsibilities and a total change in routine, I felt like I had spent 10 weeks treading water. So at the beginning of the school holidays I decided that I would go and see an Ayurvedic practitioner to shed some light on some of my health issues and bring some balance into my life again.

Wish me luck!

Reaching for the stars

stars-moon-quote-facebook-timeline-cover-2621“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

As you may have noticed I have already used a few quotes from the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I can’t remember how long I had to wait before I actually got my hands on it but it must have been at least 4 or 5 years. Whenever I passed a bookshop, I would pop in to see if they had a copy only to be disappointed when they said ‘Not at the moment’. Whenever I visited the library someone else always had it out.

You see, it would seem that the universe was actually conspiring against me by preventing me from reading this book until I was ready to fully appreciate what it had to offer. Obviously I wasn’t ready until the end 2014.

I had spent years trying to locate a copy of this book and then one day, BAM! there it was… in the hands of a stranger sitting across from me in the lounge area of a cruise ship. From where I was sitting, I could see that he was almost finished it so I plucked up my courage and approached the guy. As he closed the book and rested in on the table in front of him, I politely asked him if he would mind if I borrowed it when he finished reading it. He said yes but on 1 condition: that when I return it to his cabin I was to let him know what I truly thought of the book and he would do the same for me. We agreed, he handed over the book and we parted ways for a few days.

A few days later I knocked on the guy’s door with the book in hand. I handed it back to him and once again thanked him for lending it to me. This was followed by a long awkward silence. Eventually he cocked his head on the side as if trying to read my mind and let out a long slow “Sooooo???” Even though I knew that he was going to ask me what I thought I didn’t know what to say. I mumbled something that was pretty unintelligible, listened to what he had to say and went back to my room where I wondered why I couldn’t articulate what I had gained from reading this book.

For years I have wondered this until recently when I came across the abovementioned quote and I realised what it was about this book that had the greatest effect on its readers- it wasn’t the plot, the characters, or the setting, it was his quotes that have inspired millions of readers. Paulo Coelho’s comments on life are life-changing, thought-provoking and the mark that he has left on my soul is indispensable. Simply put, his words are words to live by.

“When you desire something, the world will conspire to help you realize your dreams. That’s why the best things take time. Require patience. Endure tragedy. Failure. And find their way through impossible.”

I have found that in my life that even when I haven’t got something that I desired something better has come along, the world conspired to help me realise my dreams, even though at times I didn’t even know they were my dreams until I got there. I have experienced failure, endured tragedy and had my patience tested time and time again while finding my way through life’s ups and downs but I am where I want to be and I am happy and grateful.

So my advice for my readers is to learn from your failures, grow through your tragedies, be patient and most importantly, recognise and appreciate what you have.

 

Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars- Les Brown

 

Namaste, Natalie

Get more out of nature

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Grampians, Victoria.

Besides the clear health benefits gained by walking (strengthens your heart and lungs, releases feel-good endorphins while reducing stress and anxiety, and tones muscles to name a few), walking provides time to think, meditate and step out of the rapid pace of modern life.

 

Victorians are lucky to have an abundance of bushwalks that are spectacular, safe and easily accessed. For my husband and I bushwalking is a cheap and easy way to get fit, a great way to de-stress, a perfect opportunity to leave the suburban life behind, and most importantly, reconnect with nature.

This weekend in Victoria is a long weekend, so my husband and I have packed up our tent, sleeping bags, camping chairs and camp stove and have headed off for a weekend in nature with the plan to go on several bushwalks…

Well with the endorphins still pumping from our afternoon hike, I’d like to share with you some ways in which I enhance my bushwalks (and how you can too).

  1. Connect with your body:

Take the time to sense your body as you walk. Feel your feet supporting you as you walk, your lungs expanding and contracting, and your heart beating in your chest. Send good thoughts to them, appreciating how much they do for you every day. Observe any aches and pains and send good thought to them too.

  1. Mindful walking:

Try switching off and really focus on your surroundings. Utilise all of your senses- listen to the grasshoppers hopping from strands of grass, the cicadas chirping, the birds singing and the lizards rustling in the dry leaves and bark. Inhale the fresh eucalyptus-smelling air, feel the uneven ground under your feet, look up and observe how the light filters through the leaves creating patterns against the clear blue sky, notice the puffy white clouds float through the sky or feel the rough and smooth textures of the bark on the trees as you gently brush your fingers along their trunks as you pass.

  1. Take a moment to meditate:

Find a peaceful spot, take a seat, keeping your back straight, close your eyes, and just practice sitting.

  1. Grounding:

Find a good earthy spot, take your shoes and socks off and just walk on nature. Stand for a while and imagine you are an ancient tree with roots that feed down deep into the soil connecting you to the earth, supporting you and keeping you upright. This type of grounding visualisation works with the root chakra and will help you feel grounded, safe and secure.

  1. Socialise:

Walking with friends or family and talking to them is far more personal than talking to someone on the phone/ over Facebook, etc. If your friends or family don’t share the same interests as you, why not try joining a meet-up walking group? When my husband is not available, I sometimes meet up with walking groups around Melbourne. It is a great opportunity to walk with like minded people. Meeting new people can also allow you to share ideas or just give you an opportunity to listen to a different point of view.

 

Walking connects you to the earth, reconnects you with nature and is a great way to distress. If you are already a walker, why not try some of my suggestions above! And if you aren’t already a walker, why not get out and try it for yourself?

Namaste, Natalie

Scars

You know that feeling when you read something that really hits home? That feeling when you hear a song that speaks to your soul. When you read or hear something that you deeply connect with, that explains exactly how you feel in a way that you could never quite put into words? Well that’s what I want to share with you today…

Scars can be hard to come to terms with. They are a constant reminder of how they came to be and can be a painful reminder of something which made such a mark on your body and your soul.

As the group farewelled me goodbye from my hospital bed, I was presented with a present- a book called ‘Little Bee’ written by Chris Cleave. Whilst in hospital, the book lay there unopened. I just didn’t have the energy or desire to read. But on my return home to Australia and back to my parents’ home where I would live for the next 22 or so months, I picked it up one night when I couldn’t sleep and it just spoke- or should I say screamed- to me.

I was feeling miserable because I couldn’t walk. I hated feeling helpless and not being able to do anything for myself. But most of all I hated the horrible scar that ran down the outer side of my right leg; it was ugly and made my ankle and leg look deformed and worst of all it was a constant reminder of everything that I couldn’t do and that I had to give up.

Then I turned the page and read: “I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”  and immediately I felt better. I read the words over again and the resonated with me wholly. Perhaps, my scars were not as ugly as I thought they were. Perhaps these scars meant that I was stronger than I thought. Perhaps, instead my scars were actually a sign of my inner strength and perseverance and most of all perhaps I should stop feeling sorry for myself. This one quote allowed me to be thankful that it was over and that I was beginning to heal.

 

“Some people see scars and it is the wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact they’re healing.”- Linda Hogan

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Wounds heal and so can we heal our pasts. However that does not mean that the pain ceases to exist. It doesn’t mean that you never have to face up to the pain but instead what it does mean is that we are able to heal. When we look up and look around and acknowledge where we have been, we will never allow our past to stop where we can go.

A scar means “I survived”. A scar means we have a life to live, with all the pain and joy and confusion that life can hold.

It is funny how people and things come into your life just when you need them most. So, here’s my question to my readers out there, have you ever read or heard something that you deeply connect with, that explains exactly how you feel in a way that you could never quite put into words? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Namaste, Natalie

Open your heart (Yoga Teacher Training) – Part 2

Open to grace

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.

 

The 8 limbs of Yoga

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Yoga is not about perfection and while in the West, it has become about coming to your mat one day at a time to learn more about yourself and train the mind to focus, it is also about something that goes past the asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath work). Even when this seems obvious it can be difficult to articulate what that “more” is, well I know it was for me to articulate exactly why yoga made me feel so good and why I kept on coming back to the mat. It is obvious that it was something more than just the physical, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I did my Yoga Teacher Training that I discovered what that something more was- it was The 8 Limbs of Yoga that are interwoven into all good yoga classes. The 8 Limbs were written by Patanjali in a sacred text called The Yoga Sutras in around 200 A.D. The 8 limbs help to define yoga and is a common thread in all styles and systems of yoga.

Living your life to the fullest takes time and dedication. Putting in the effort will take a little bit of self-discipline, but the rewards you will gain will be well worth it. The 8 limbs are a comprehensive way of life/ life philosophy that will help guide you to a more fulfilled life. Each of the eight limbs addresses a different aspect of our multifaceted being, and together they act as a road map to what most yogis refer to as “yoga off the mat.”

Here’s a brief overview of each of the eight limbs:

  1. The 8 limbs begin with the Yamas which deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. There are 5 Yamas are universal practices and are as follows:
  • Ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Bramacharya (sexual restraint)
  • Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

2. The second limb consists of the Niyamas which are about self-discipline and spiritual observances and include:

  • Saucha (purity)
  • Santosha (contentment)
  • Tapas (discipline or austerity)
  • Svadhyaya (spiritual studies)
  • Ishvarapranidhana (constant devotion to the Divine, God, or whatever you want to call ‘IT’- for me it is nature).

3. Asana refers to yoga postures but in Patanjali’s initial practice, it referred to mastering the body to sit still for meditation. The practice of yoga asanas came about eight centuries later, which helped disciples ready their bodies for meditation.

4. Pranayama is generally translated as breath control and consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognising the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. It is yoga breathing techniques designed to control prana or vital life force. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine.

5. Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. By withdrawing we are able to objectively observe our habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.

6. Dharana refers to concentration and it is through Pratyahara that we create the setting for dharana. Once we have relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we are then able to deal with the distractions of the mind itself which, if you have read my previous blogs, is no easy task for most people! We learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single object.

7. Dhyana is the practice of meditation or contemplation. It is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus.

8. Samadhi, the eighth and final limb, is described by Patanjali as a state of ecstasy/ enlightenment/ bliss.

Yoga is a practice that anyone can do, on and off the mat. You don’t have to follow Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, but in my opinion it is when you begin to take yoga ‘off the mat’ that you start seeing the vast benefits of yoga in your everyday life. Keeping in mind these values and striving to aspire to them, even moderately, could be a huge tool in the pursuit of happiness. In addition, I feel like it is nice to understand the roots and foundation of a practice that you love doing for a deeper appreciation of the practice. As long as you remember that yoga is not about forcing, but about embracing the practice and the journey, it will certainly benefit your life.

I truly believe that knowledge is power, so I hope that in sharing this knowledge with you has, in some way, enhanced or empowered you in your life.

 

Namaste, Natalie

Transform your Mind, Body and Spirit

Yogas chitta vritti nirodha

(Yoga is the silencing of the fluctuations of the mind)

Though many people think of yoga as a fitness regime, it actually is a comprehensive way of life/ life philosophy that originated more than 5,000 years ago in India. The word “yoga” means ‘union’ or ‘connection’, which refers to union of the body, mind and spirit. Conscious connection to something allows us to feel and experience that thing, person, or experience. The experience of connection is a state of yoga, a joyful, blissful, fulfilling experience. Patanjali begins the yoga sutras by defining yoga as “citta vrtti nirodaha” (YS 1.2) which is often translated simply as ‘Yoga is the ability to silence/calm/direct/restrain the fluctuations of the consciousness/mind’. Patanjali goes on to say that when in this state of yoga, the practitioner then abides in his or her own/true nature.

In my last post I mentioned the sense of mind, body and spirit connection that Savasana provides but the truth of the matter is that the practice of yoga fuses the body, mind and spirit through meditation, breathing and physical postures. The postures, also called asanas, belong to a branch of yoga called Hatha yoga and were developed to strengthen the body, improve health and prepare for meditation. In a modern yoga practice the postures may serve any or all of these purposes but in my opinion for best results, attending a yoga class that focuses on meditation, breathing and physical postures yields the best results.

According to Yoga Journal and my yoga teacher trainers, there are numerous benefits for taking up yoga. If you have been reading my Blog or practicing yoga regularly, I probably don’t need to convince you that yoga improves the body, mind and spirit but I have put together a list just in case 😉

Body:

  • Improves flexibility
  • Builds muscle strength and tone
  • Improves respiration, energy and vitality
  • Perfects posture
  • Prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
  • Protects your spine
  • Improves bone health
  • Increases blood flow
  • Drains lymphs and boosts immunity
  • Ups your heart rate
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Regulates the adrenal glands
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Improves balance
  • Maintains the nervous system
  • Maintains a balanced metabolism
  • Releases tension in the limbs
  • Boosts immune system functionality
  • Gives your lungs room to breathe
  • Prevents IBS and other digestive problems
  • Eases pain
  • Helps keep you drug free
  • Employs sounds to soothe your sinuses
  • Keeps allergies and viruses at bay
  • Supports connective tissue
  • Assists with weight reduction
  • Improves cardio and circulatory health
  • Improves athletic performance
  • Boosts sexual performance
  • Protects from injury
  • Lessens chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Reduces insomnia
  • Increases body awareness

Mind:

  • Makes you happier
  • Initiates a healthy lifestyle
  • Helps you focus
  • Relaxes your system
  • Helps you sleep deeper
  • Creates peace of mind
  • Increases self-esteem
  • Builds awareness for transformation
  • Guides your body’s healing in your mind’s eye
  • Affects change
  • Encourages self care
  • Helps manage stress
  • Helps develop coping skills
  • Builds a more positive outlook on life
  • Creates mental clarity and calmness
  • Improves mental well-being
  • Relieves chronic stress patterns
  • Relaxes the mind
  • Centers attention
  • Sharpens concentration
  • Creates self-awareness
  • Fights food cravings

Spirit:

  • Provides inner strength
  • Connects you with guidance
  • Benefits your relationships
  • Helps you serve others

Although many people come to yoga for the physical practice, I believe that people keep coming back for all the other wonderful benefits that yoga provides. If you have never given yoga a chance, I encourage you to try it today!

I hope you enjoyed reading my Blog post. Keep on reading my next post to find out more about my take on meditation.

 

Namaste, Natalie