Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

Working with wholeness, how to remember you are already whole?

Friday, March 9th, 2018

I’m in an Alexander Technique lesson in 2017 and I’ve got my forearms on the table. My teacher is asking me to pay attention to the opposition between my fingers lengthening forward on the table and my legs and feet lengthening down to the ground.

All this is AT jargon for remembering to be whole in any action that we do.

We can just remember that we’re whole. That’s a good start.

When we remember that our wholeness includes a relationship between parts of us, then that idea of wholeness become richer. Oppositions are a way to remember wholeness by paying attention to two things at once, head against feet. Or left hand against right hand.

It’s a great way of bringing tone into a movement. And it’s a great way of reminding ourselves that we tend to rush. When we rush, we are usually preoccupied with a small part of the thing we are doing.

Have fun with oppositions, an elegant way to remember that you are whole!

Calming down, waking up, Alexander Technique and Yoga

Friday, January 19th, 2018

A couple of years ago one of my students showed up to his lesson visibly stressed and tense. He was really upset at the political situation and the angry rhetoric that was going on at the time.

He had come to me for a series of 5 lessons to help him to resolve a hip problem. One hip was noticeably tighter and more restricted than the other.

10 minutes after starting the lesson he was much calmer. And he was really surprised at the difference and the speed at which it had happened.

So, what was up? 

Well, I had taken a bit of time to remind him that his nervous system was out of sync. When you’re in fight / flight mode, your nervous system goes in sympathetic dominance. It’s the mode that gives you a boost when you need to take immediate action to save your life.

Trouble is we confuse what is really dangerous and what is just annoying or uncomfortable. In this case, the political situation was annoying but not actually life threatening.

I reminded him that his feet were in contact with the earth, that his sitz bones at the bottom of his pelvis were in contact with the chair. That gave him some ground support. But ground support on its own isn’t enough to turn a tense person into a calm one.

For that I needed to add in his natural ability for tensegrity support. The ability to be in contact with the earth and flow upwards away from the earth. This opposition produces a balancing effect on the nervous system. You calm down and wake up at the same time.

That comes about from a small movement of your head nodding a little forward at the top of your spine.

Then your nervous system turns on a dime, going from tension and misery in one moment to calm alertness in the next. It’s simple, but not easy because we often overdo /underdo it.

It takes practice, sometimes years of practice: repeating it again and again until it becomes the default way of dealing with stress.

Yoga, Alexander technique and working with brains and movement

Friday, August 18th, 2017

The woman in front of me was holding a book and trying to read without her glasses. Here’s the interesting thing: she said that she couldn’t see the words as she was reading, they were too blurry. Yet, with some teaching, she was able to read reasonably fluently.

I was at a week in (not so) sunny Wales at the 2017 Eyebody retreat and the woman was being taught by the workshop leader Peter Grunwald.

What was up with this? Well, it turns out that what we think of vision, that is our ability to see clearly is only a small part of our total visual system. Light passes into our eyes; part goes to our visual cortex at the back of our brain and part goes to the upper part of our neo cortex at top and back of our brain.

It’s the light that goes to the upper part of our neo cortex that turns out to be very interesting from a movement, brain function, seeing and general well-being perspective. Because this is the bit that most of us totally cut off when we wear glasses.

So, the next time you reach for your specs or contacts, spare a thought for this orphaned part of your brain. You might have so much spare capacity up there that cutting off a bit might not be a problem for you. Me, I like to have 100% of my visual brain in use.

That bit of the neo cortex is actually quite important for overall movement co-ordination.

When I first included the neo cortex in my yoga practice, I was quite surprised at how much further I was able to go in my poses and still be comfortable. It takes practice of course and there’s been some ups and downs along the way. It’s also helped me find some extra sensitivity with hands on work.

I’m teaching a workshop in September 2017 on exploring how we can use our brains better in our life and in our movement in particular. The early bird discount expires on 22nd August, so why not come along?

Why are you stiff in your shoulders?

Friday, May 26th, 2017

A few weeks ago I worked with a one to one student who had pain in her neck and shoulders. In her busy London life, not much chance to relax, she had done what we all do (me included). She disconnected from how her body actually worked and forgot that her arms connected to her head and tail. She disconnected from the fact that her shoulders were just a name for a part of her arm structure.

And when we disconnect from how our body works, we also disconnect from the fact that we are all whole and OK no matter what.

When I asked moved her left arm upwards, it got half way and then got progressively stiffer as it went up. It felt like I was lifting a heavy weight.

I worked with her with my hands to help her remind herself of that truth about her body, that arms are connected to whole length of our torso at the back right to our tail and back of our head.

I like working with my hands, it offers me a chance to get across information that would take a long time if I had to explain it. And, really importantly, it allows me to support my students. The process of undoing tension is quite a thing. We need information to help us make better decisions. And sometimes, we just need holding, support, nourishment to give us the courage to implement that information.

And that’s what I did for a while with this student. It helped, she softened a little and started breathing a bit easier.

Are there things in your shoulders and arms that you want to change? That you have the information to that would allow you to change, yet somehow that change isn’t happening?

Perhaps you need some simple support. You can support yourself through learning some more about lying down to rest in restorative yoga. I have a blog post about that here https://www.yogaground.com/blog/asanas/yoga-and-lying-down-to-rest-poses/

Or you could come along to one my workshops too. Click here for more information.

Are your shoulders killing you after a long journey?

Friday, April 7th, 2017

We’re traveling a lot these days. The normal commute is 25 minutes for people in USA and 54 minutes in UK. Then there are all those business and leisure trips.

I’ve realised over the years that I’ve bought into a fantasy version of traveling. In this fantasy, I can travel long distances without preparation, suffer no discomfort from the journey and be able to instantly recover.

I’ve wondered where this fantasy comes from, after all long trips were treated with a great deal of respect in the days where you had to use a horse or a ship to get where you needed to go. Perhaps there was no advertising industry to persuade us that traveling was entirely without difficulty, discomfort or stress?

 

For me, there are some stages to travel.

The art of preparation.

Stuff takes time. It takes time to pack. It takes time to plan a route, to book accommodation and transport. The funny thing about planning is that most of us get it wrong. We assume that it takes 20 minutes to pack a bag. It probably does but we forget… well, life happening. During that 20 minutes someone will call you. You’ll get distracted by deciding whether it’s green sock or blue socks. You’ll forget where you put your passport, get in huge panic, realize its where it should be and then take 10 minutes to calm down.

Then there’s the journey.

One of the stresses of the journey is caused by forgetting that a lot of other people will be doing the same as you. That it’s inconvenient for everyone, not just you. That you have absolutely no control of whether that train or plane will leave on time.

That there are long periods where nothing is happening other than sitting and being followed by short periods of intense activity and focus.

Are you able to sit quietly for long periods and then transition into intense (often weight bearing activity)? Or do you find that you that you either zone out or stress out when you’re sitting only to be startled when you reach your stop and need to get off with a bag?

Here’s a tip to help that:

Switch on your core. Your core is a very loose definition (anatomists get upset about us talking of the core) of some of the muscles that are towards the centre of your body. We tend to switch them off when we collapse or tighten up.

Guess what one of the best ways to do that is? Free your neck so that your core engages effortlessly. Free as giving yourself permission to activate the resources you need on demand. Free as giving yourself permission to be connected and present to what’s needed right now.

After the journey.

After the journey there needs to be stretches, relaxation, restoration. Joints get compressed and need time to decompress. Stiffness and swelling needs time and some body TLC to drop out of the system.

The best way to drop down an over activated nervous system, stressed out muscles is Svasana (if you’re a yogi) or the lying down procedure if you’re an AT person.

Check out some further tips about how to get into svasana in my article Yoga and lying down to rest.

Workshop: Yoga and the art of exploration – Saturday 10th September 2016

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Click here to apply for this workshop

Cost is £28.

When we start to practice yoga, we generally do someone else’s practice. We go to a class and we do the poses. Many people find this an enriching and empowering experience. Some find that these practices suit them and they can continue them as a life long practice.

Even if a particular sequence or approach to the practice works, there are times when we need a more individualized and personalized approach.

What we need in order to have a more personalized approach is to cultivate skills of inquiry. It is the skill of learning how to set up a pose or part of a pose in a way that yields the results that we want. It is the skills of slowing down and taking time to figure out what it is that we need and building some poses from that. It is cultivating skills in self support, setting clear boundaries and deciding what we want and what we don’t want. We need to take stock of our skillset, notice where there are gaps and look for ways to learn those skills.

If you are a teacher, this approach is also very useful for generating further material for your classes, or just helping a student solve a particular issue that they bring to class

If you are a student this approach is useful for developing your practice further and bringing you the results that you want.

It will cover the following

  • How to get started with ideas for your own enquiries
  • How to deal with overwhelm
  • How to balance the need for entrainment and repetition with the need for creativity and originality

It will contain a mixture of guided inquiries to establish where we are in our bodies, our minds, our emotions and then will have some space for personal enquiries within the group setting.

We will be doing some simple vinyasas (flowing sequences) and asana as part of the class.

It is suitable for yoga practitioners of 1 year of more of yoga experience.

If you are a complete beginner, please call me to discuss whether this workshop would be suitable for you

Click here to apply for this workshop

The workshop will be limited to 6 people

Yoga and positive thinking

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Who wouldn’t like to think positively? And keep doing it better? Probably most of us would admit to wanting to be better at positive thinking.

The trouble is, there is an inherent contradiction in the term positive thinking. We think thoughts. And once that thought comes to your concisous mind, you label it positive or negative.

So, it’s not the thoughts that are the problem, they are just thoughts. Our brain generates thoughts and associations in the same way that our gall bladder produces bile. What most people have difficulty with is unwanted thought patterns which repeat again and again like an old fashioned record stuck in a groove.

These unwanted thought patterns are sometimes a symptom of  tension or maybe illness in your body. And sometimes, the thoughts we label as negative are just things that we have difficulty with in our lives. I’ve noticed again and again that if I release tension in my body, my thought patterns change. So just doing some yoga and relaxing a bit might sort out the problem.

But that doesn’t always get to the source of the problem. Desikachar in ‘The Heart of Yoga’ talks about samskara (roughly translated as habit or conditioning) and getting to the root of the habit. With unwanted and persistent thoughts that are not generated by tension in your body or unresolved issues from your past, you need to stop the thought just as it arises and choose another thought before the negative thought begins. Since our brain generates associations very quickly, we need some way of becoming aware.

The best ways to break a habit are:

  • A meditative practice which allows us to observe thoughts and stop them before it all begins.
  • A form of mantra which is repeated again and again with the intention of replacing a bad habit or attitude with a better one.

It’s possible with practice but isn’t easy. Most of us are trying to deal with the thoughts after the fact. So some techniques which might be useful.

  • Acknowledging the positives can rebalance our thinking. A standard technique is taking time to acknowledge the good things in your life, the things you feel grateful for.
  • Find the context, the big picture. Telling yourself not to take it personally if someone rubs you up the wrong way, that they do it to everyone is an example.
  • Break out of any isolation that you might feel. Take time to acknowledge that other people are in the same position and also struggling with the same problems.
  • Have compassion for yourself. You are human and that means that you are imperfect and that’s still OK.
  • Find ways of dealing with stress, lack of sleep or improper nutrition in ways which suit your body and your personality.
  • Take time to reflect on the things that trigger the thoughts. Gradually learning to disable the triggers will give your mind a breathing space and allow you to meditate clearly on the causes of the thought in the first place.

There are many forms of meditation which allow you to see the root of the habits and choose different pathways. If you want to explore this, I can recommend getting hold of ‘A Path with Heart’ by Jack Kornfield. It’s beautifully written and gives many practical meditations.

 

 

If you want to explore replacing thoughts by using affirmations, then Louise Hay’s ‘Heal Your Life’ is a also good read.

 

 

 

 

If you want a very entertaining talk on happiness and positive thinking at work (a place a lot of people have difficulty being positive about), check out http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html

This blog post arose out of some conversations in my intermediate yoga class, so thanks to Jo for bringing it up.

Why you should do Yoga if you’re a cancer patient

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

By guest writer Liz Davies

Sleep disturbances and fatigue are two of the most common long-term side effects experienced by people after cancer treatment. These side-effects are caused by various things but anxiety is a clear source. Yoga provides the emotional health benefit of reduction in anxiety which gives cancer patients the ability to help themselves get rid of these two symptoms.

Yoga practitioners are accustomed to clearing their minds and placing themselves in the moment. Taking a long, deep breath, feeling every part of your body and completely emptying your mind is something that yoga practioners aspire to do on a regular basis. If cancer patients are able to do this with the help of yoga, their focus can shift from disease to health.

The majority of research regarding cancer and yoga is focused primarily on patients with breast cancer; however, recent research has begun to focus on all types of cancer patients, including rare types such as epithelial mesothelioma. The results have been nothing but positive. Yoga has proven to create improvements in mood, sleep quality, stress, cancer-related symptoms, cancer-related distress, and overall quality of life.

Here are a few easy ideas to start with:

Alternate nostril breathing is a good way to reduce anxiety and is very simple. Just close one nostril using a finger and then breath out of only the other nostril. There is no special effort to breath, just allow your mind to come naturally to the breath as you breath in through one nostril and then out through the other. The full sequence is: inhale left and exhale right. Pause. Inhale right and exhale left.

The savsana pose is especially effective for full relaxation. The key to this pose is to be absolutely comfortable and to feel that you could lie quietly without strain for a long time. Being able to lie quietly and comfortably is more important than the exact pose.

Try lying on your back with your legs slightly apart and your arm slightly away from your body with palm upward. If your gaze point is above your head, it is an indication that your head is tilted backwards. A blanket under your head will help bring your head back into a neutral relationship with the rest of your spine. Other props to aid comfort are a blanket under your knees and / or blankets under your wrists. If it is not possible to perform this pose on the ground, feel free to try this on a couch or bed where you are comfortable. If this still feels uncomfortable, try lying on your side or on your front.

This pose combined with the right breathing is sure to cause relaxation.

Liz Davies is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer especially interested in health and wellness. She became particularly interested in ways cancer patients can cope with the side-effects of their treatment after her mother became an oncology nurse for lung cancer.

Useful links:

Sleep disturbances and fatigue
http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/50488.cfm?CategoryID=2382

Breast Cancer
http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/

Epithelial mesothelioma
http://www.mesotheliomasymptoms.com/epithelial-mesothelioma



				

10 ways to fail at asana practice

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Getting tired of having a successful asana practice?

Get right into these bits of advice, it’ll soon put you on (the wrong) track.
1. Treat the asanas as a performance which must be right no matter what
Point is to practice from a place of loving kindness, the moment it becomes about absolutes you’ll leave that place

2. Obsess about the asanas long after you’ve finished them
Did you not read the fine print about being in the moment?

3. Push down, push away all feelings which arise as a result of moving into the pose
Hmm.. lost touch with the holistic aspect of the practice?

4. Label difficult emotions, thought as un-yogic
All thoughts and feelings welcome on the mat, grasshopper. Some you want to take up residence permanently and others you encourage to move on

5. Fake the pose, desperately hang on while praying that the teacher will end the pose soon
The pose has been long over for you the moment you’ve entered that space. Time to explore how you got there in the first place?

6. Become really angry at yourself for not being able to do the ‘full’ pose
People are different and that means it’s OK to do what you can do

7. Beat yourself up by going into should,must,ought. i.e. saying things like ‘after x years of practice, surely I should be able to do this pose by now’
The practice is now, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it. Just encourage yourself to be present and to let those negative feelings go as they arise. The point of the practice is to eventually catch them before they arise and then let them go. If they have already happened, it’s OK, just back off and find another way into the pose

8. Ignore your intuition
Still not reading the fine print?

9. Rationalise your feelings away when a teacher gets you to do a movement which doesn’t feel right
You’re really not reading the fine print, aren’t you? Most teachers will welcome this as a chance to learn from your feedback.

10. Do the asana from a place of fear, lack of self worth
Easy to say that you shouldn’t do this, not so easy to be fully in yourself in a positive place. Part of the fun though..

11. Imagine that because you can / can’t do an asana that it means something
That’s true for around 100 people in the world, the ones who make a living as yoga models or who make DVDs. The rest of us, it just gets in the way. The point of asanas is just to practice, enjoy it as much as possible and then get on with the important things in life.

OK, that wasn’t exactly 10 ways, but just treat the 11th point as a bonus.

Good luck!

Goma Retreat 29 April to 1 May 2011

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Goma have let me know that they are doing a retreat from Friday 29th April to Sunday 1st May 2011. Cost is £150 for a dorm accommodation, £108 for share in large heated yurt or £80 camping.

There’s a choice of yoga, drumming, Indian dance or bushcraft for some of the sessions over the weekend. Of course, there’s also a Goma concert at 8:30 on Saturday night.

The location is Cleeve House, Seend, Wiltshire SN12 6PG.

If you’re interested, phone the retreat on 0789 199 0642, email them on gomaretreat [at] yahoo.co.uk or see the information on