Seasonal Yoga – Winter

I was lucky enough to find a new class this week. Housed in a beautiful local environment centre, I’d been to this place lots before with my children; where we’d walk, forage and stop for hot chocolate on chilly afternoons. This week I followed up on a poster I’d seen on one such afternoon and grabbed a spot in a Kundalini Yoga class. My previous yoga experience has mainly been with Dru Yoga (and of course my beloved Yoga Studio app) so I was excited to branch out and develop my practice. I learnt so much in that first session and having spent the past 24 hours rolling the new wisdom around in my mind, I want to share a mantra that really stood out to me; work with the seasons.

In Winter, we naturally want to hibernate. We plump up to keep warm and as the sun rises later, so we find the waking harder, forcing our feet to find the chilly floor in the cave-like room, like early daffodils eager to bloom in the midst of January. The midst of Winter. We spend our evenings curled up with blankets and we slow down, a little, saving big plans for Spring holidays and long summers. Well this week my sleepy eyes were opened; we can, and must, extend this mantra into our practice. Don’t fight Winter, go with it. We are naturally less supple in the cold and for most of us, the last thing we want to do is wake ourselves up with a dynamic set of poses. Like birds who stop singing in Winter, we too need to conserve energy to survive the winter hardship, save the exertion for the Spring and for now, hibernate. Give in to the season and give yourself time, check your awareness as it flows from the top of your body and into your feet in soft waves. Do this in abundance. Now is the time to indulge in you and indulge in the still and the quiet.

In terms of yoga, Winter is not the time for ferocious challenges, for a billion rounds of sun salutations or for contorting your rigid muscles into new poses. Save it. Save it and be glad to know that you can tackle these with joy in the sun-blessed mornings of Spring, but for now be rested. Meditate and keep a soft, flowing practice, indulge in savasana and bring your focus back to the gentle fizz of awareness in your body.

Light a candle for your practice this weekend and lay still, check your awareness from top to tail and then hug your knees to your chest, gently pivoting them forward and back as you breathe in time. Compress – breathe out, release – breath in, letting your tummy fill deeply with air. Compress, release, compress.

Indulge in you this winter.

Jaime xx

Image credit: www.bevitality.com

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Yoga and Meditation at Home

There is nothing better than expert advice and support from your local yogi or meditation group, but how are we to improve and develop our practice if we don’t expand on things at home? The truth is, it can be extraordinarily difficult to practise yoga and mediation at home, particularly if you have a busy job and/or family life. As a bit of a newbie, full time teacher and mother of two, I have myself become stumped, when trying to recall my favourite yoga combination a day or two after class. As for meditation; I would spend the entire 10 minutes or so asking myself rhetorically when time was up, or replaying the days events or simply fidgeting and readjusting my position with every twinge or niggle. I just could not achieve mental quiet on my own; in fact at times, the more quiet and still the environment, the more alone I was, the louder my inner thoughts became; I just couldn’t find stillness. This is the most bizarre juxtaposition but it’s more common than you’d think.

There are a myriad of home yoga and meditation apps for desperate beginners to download and use at will but are they any good? I feel as though I have tried them all, but here are reviews of my two current faves: Yoga Studio and Pranayama – Universal Breathing.

Yoga Studio £2.99

This app has been the answer to my at-home yoga dreams! Yes it costs a bit more than the typical £0.69 download but for a couple of pounds you are getting a fantastic resource absolutely brimming with poses, combinations and ready-made classes that you can download and play at your leisure. The poses are demonstrated by a single, simply-adorned female yogi with pleasant calming music accompanying each video, and a voice to guide you through the routine. You can use the pre-set classes or be creative and make your own – perhaps inspired by new poses learned at your recent yoga class. This app will help you to remember and recall those poses in order to practice them properly at home. To enhance this creative process even further, the app can automatically provide ‘linking’ poses to help you move fluidly from one pose to the next – they really have considered everything. One of the best features of Yoga Studio is that once you have downloaded your favourite classes, you can play them anywhere, no wi-fi connection required. Yoga in the park anyone? I am incredibly impressed with this modern, sleek, easy-to-use app, which has transformed my yoga and shaped the way in which I can develop my practice at home.

Pranayama – Universal Breathing £4.99

Before you run away screaming at the price tag, I know, it’s pretty expensive. I have actually only just downloaded the full app at this price, as the free version is just so brilliant in itself and absolutely perfect for beginners. For those unsure, pranayama, universal or diaphragmatic breathing, is simply the art of breathing fully, inhaling deeply, filling your lungs to capacity and releasing the waste air slowly. More expert modifications include sustaining and/or retaining this air between in/exhalations. There are a few key tips to remember when practising your diaphragmatic breathing at home (or anywhere!)

– sit or stand comfortably, relax your shoulders and focus on your lower tummy area; your diaphragm should move out and in quite noticeably as you inhale and exhale deeply.

– it’s not the amount of breaths, but the ratio! Even if you start small I.e. Two breaths in four breaths out, the key is to breathe out for much longer than your breathe in. The perfect ratio for optimum benefit and relaxation is 7:11. I.e. 7 counts in, 11 counts out.

– unless otherwise directed, always perform this kind of breathing through your nose.

The Pranayama app completely guides you visually and aurally through this process and keep count for you, as well as accompanying the exercise with pleasant music. There are lots of different ‘themes’ to choose from for this background music depending on your mood, but I tend to stick with the classic option which I find really soothing. I have also found this practice a real antidote to my early meditation problems and I can now apply the restorative breathing techniques, especially when needing a tool to focus or relax. A must-have tool for any budding yogi or meditation newbie.

Download them here; Yoga Studio, Pranayama – Universal Breathing (free version)

Photo credit: yoganonymous.com

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A New Path to Wellness

I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year, nor did I give up a vice for Lent.  It wouldn’t have been enough. I needed permanence, I needed a new path…I needed more.

Or was it actually less that I craved?  It’s all down to perspective in the end; is your glass half-full or half empty?

My eyes were opened in stunning fashion a couple of years ago when I was introduced to Dru Yoga at a local prenatal yoga class in fear of having to endure another terrifying labour ending in surgery, as I did with my first and wanting to try anything, anything to help my body through it this time.  I practised yoga weekly throughout my second and third trimester and in the end, was lucky enough to have a text-book, drug-free, natural birth.  Though I will always be skeptical about the physiological role yoga played in this experience –  I haven’t ever been able to forget about it. I have, since then sporadically kept up my yoga practice but have only recently begun to indulge in the wider ethos and lifestyle around yoga and wellness.

I never felt so alive and attuned, as when in a yoga session and the meditative phases allow my highly-strung, busy mind to slow and to clear.  The wider lifestyle, I would suggest, is all part of the same ethos; wellness. Or if you are sensitive to the term, plainly; ‘being well’.  I had already, for a number of years, been thoroughly adopting a ‘greener’ lifestyle through food and home product choices, visiting farm shops and markets as well as using British (largely) organic food companies like Abel and Cole to provide the majority of our grocery shopping.  I am an avid re-cycler and re-user and enjoy experimenting with the use of homemade cleaning products for bath and home. I have recently embraced vegetarianism again, which is something I first did as a would-be activist youth wanting to save the world, but let slip as I grew ever-more occupied by pressing societal concerns that all teens experience; like peer-pressure and conformity and commercialism. Yuk.  I let my true self go in order to conform and have it easy – eating meat was easy. Though it never did sit well with me and this time, I won’t look back.  To compliment my diet and boost my nutritional intake, I have in the past few days begun consuming ‘green juice’  (recipes, product review and experience to follow!) and am already feeling the benefits. (Yes truly!)

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I still have much to learn, and there are certain aspects of this wider lifestyle that I am yet to fully embrace.  Meditation is one of them and is something that has had a profound affect on me when in a guided session with Alison or one of my countless audio apps but I have yet to perfect meditation at home (Something to do with two very loud and demanding children perhaps?!)  The other one is positive mental attitude.  As a mother with a high-pressure job, this aspect is my nemesis but also, for the aforementioned reasons exactly, the most valuable.

Here are my personal six-steps to wellness for 2014:

1. Meditate daily – starting each day with clarity and stillness.

2. Put down the smartphone – be present!

3. Practise yoga regularly.

4. Embrace a vegan diet – indulge as much as possible in non animal-derived products.

5. Juice daily! Juicing vastly increases the amount of vitamins, nutrients and those cancer-fighting phytochemicals you can take from raw superfoods such as kale.

6. Write/read/walk/observe/reflect –  be creative and indulge in the things that make you happy!

 

What are your favourite wellness tips? Please do share any of your own super tips for a happy, healthy 2014!

 

 

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