Finding Balance – more equanimity please!

I was at my monthly woman’s Full Moon Bliss Night recently – oh, I think that might sound a bit much for some of you but don’t judge till you’ve tried it.  Honestly it’s one of the most amazing things I do each month and can I recomend you check out Louise’s website if you’re even a wee bit curious – One Woman Awake.

Anyway, I had a strong feeling of equanimity even though I wasn’t clear on the definition. I felt equinimious, equinamatic… when I looked it up (and found out how to spell it) I found it meant calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.  On the button.

How often do you feel that way?

Me? Not often but more so recently than ever before.  I felt a strong sense of happiness and balance and a feeling of being able to cope.  Nice!

But these feelings are hard to come by when we are full to the brim with anger and resentment and stress and worries and whatever other baggage we cling onto through habit – and we have no release valve.

What’s shifted for me I think is I have found some proper release valves in my life to let go of some of the burden. Not just a sticking plaster (binging on Netflix, a glass of wine etc – although I am partial to both at times) but a proper activity which consciously or more often unconsciously pulls the plug on all the internal cr*p and leaves me feeling lighter and freeer and, yes, more equanimous.

My release valves include:

– getting crafty and making something useful (I recently did a fabulous candle making workshop at The Recycled Candle Company – yes, I think candles are useful before you say anything)

6357CA30-C946-4E10-A56D-56F75B4AA3EC– walking with friends in the countryside if possible

– early morning meditation and asana practice ON MY OWN

– reading inspiring books and articles, currently I’m reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport – worth another post which is coming next week)

– Baths in my new bathroom – some of you have been bored with me raving about how much I love my new bathroom so here’s a wee pic…

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In Buddhism, equanimity is one of the four sublime attitudes …

“Neither a thought nor an emotion, it is rather the steady conscious realisation of reality’s transience. It is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love”

And this is one of my focuses for the Spring Equinox workshop which is coming up on Saturday 23rd March (2-5pm Hedley Hall, Oldfield Park, Bath). And to be honest, the motivation for this post.

I have five places left and I’d love to fill them!

If you think you’d like to encourage more equanimity, more balance, mental calmness and evenness of temper I can’t promise a cure all in three hours, but I can promise that Michelle and I will do our best to share a balancing beautiful yoga practice – and a little goody bag to take home with you.

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Michelle is an ashtanga teacher but the practice is well suited to those who want a no impact practice as we will be offering safe alternatives. She’ll share with us a little of the history of ashtanga, we may do a little chanting (don’t be scared!) and we’ll be sewing some seeds – of various kinds (ooo cryptic).

We’ll have tea and snacks and I will be sharing a satisfyingly luxurious quiet and calm yin yoga practice suited to the Spring Equinox (which this year actually falls on Wednesday 20th March) – a time of the year when the day and night lengths are evenly balanced. Perfectly poised. Just like us!

I hope I’ve inspired you to find out more. You can do that here, and also book your place if you’d like to come.

See you soon –

Keep feeding your peaceful wolf 🙂

Plastic not so fantastic

 

6E76470E-094C-48B3-BA45-8F5AAC2E4531I was going to use an image of plastic waste at the top of this blog post but I know how important it is to look at and be around nature so here are some trees (courtesy of a walk into town last week when it was still 😎 sunny) to calm and sooth your nerves before the plastic images to follow!

So much in the news about plastics at the moment, huh? And so we all diligently stop using plastics straws, and tut under our breath at cafes and bars that still use them (we’re using up our stocks is the usual response, which I’m sure is true).

And the reusable coffee cup movement is really taking off – although it seems coffee everywhere has become more expensive so that they can afford to discount if you bring your own cup. Or am I just a cynic?

Yet I look around my house and the supermarket and the street gutters and I see plastic EVERYWHERE!  How can cutting down my plastic straw habit change the world? It comes down to being and feeling personally responsible – that goes for my body’s health (and is one big reason I practice yoga) and the state of the planet. And whilst I can’t change lots of things, there are plenty I can.

It is depressing. But being depressed about it gets us nowhere. Linking to climate change, which is not an unrelated issue, recently the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued a report recommending that we need to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

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And they are clear that although governments and big business need to play a huge role, it’s also (partly) down to the individual:

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I think I need to be part of the solution. I need to accelerate my actions. Little ones and big ones. And as it says above, it could even be good for me. Win win.

SO.

On visiting the beach we take bags with to collect rubbish. The last time I did this we found little rubbish. Was almost disappointed!

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But then I’m reminded that every little bit of plastic breaks down into even tinier bits of plastic in the sea, compromising the health of all sorts of tiny water loving mini beasts, and big ones too. And I’m pleased with my haul.

I also pick up rubbish when I’m out walking or running.

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My middle daughter and I recently made our own beeswax food wrap – the blog Moral Fibres, one of my favourite blogs, has good instructions.

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And finally I wanted to shout out to all those people out there who are not doing what everyone else is doing and are not having a house extension even though they sort of could and sort of think they should, or feel they ought to. It seems the thing to do.

Reasons: House is ‘too small’ with a growing family, extending would add value to the house, it makes financial sense, it will be an amazing ‘living space’ etc etc. And to be honest, all good reasons really.

But you can look at it a different way. We have decided, in our three bedroom modest terraced house, in which lives three children (one of whom is now considerably taller than me), my husband (who is considerably taller than all of us) and two cats, NOT to build an extension.

And we are being led by our strong values of enjoying what we have, being grateful for the bounty we already have, and minimising our impact on the environment. We live in a pretty large house bearing in mind some families have to share one room for living, sleeping, cooking. We don’t need more to be happy. In fact, arguably, we need less.

We also don’t want the financial burden of what will inevitably happen which is that we will overspend, putting more pressure on us to work harder and earn more just when we would rather be spending more time with our family and friends.

So we intend to try to tread lightly as we improve our house, not building a huge extension, but instead upgrading what we have, using local tradespeople to help us and as many pre-loved and ethically sourced items as possible.

There is also the not insignificant detail that we don’t have the appetite for the stress involved in a big extension. And I think that’s a fair factor to consider. A neighbour pointed out that friends of her divorced over their house improvements. Very sad. Each moment and minute and day of our life counts. And I love that we live in a society where we get to choose how we spend it.

If there was a moral to this blog, it would be this: What are your values? What things, actions, feelings and people are most important to you and are you ensuring that you are living your life every day in a way which supports and upholds those values?

Let’s always have fun on our travels through life but this doesn’t preclude taking responsibility for as many of our individual actions as possible.

😉

It’s the little things

FA22C554-96BF-4111-9371-2C7A45BBCB01What makes me happy? When I properly stop and ask myself this question, I get a whole range of replies which go something like this:

”I don’t know. Well maybe I do. I’m not happy often enough. What is happiness anyway. Oh ok….. my husband. My children. Being outside. Having a fulfilling job. Is this happiness or contentment. Or fulfilment. Is there a difference? Should I look it up? NO! Back to it… Experiencing small moments of delight in an otherwise mundane day. Making things. Being with friends. Beaches. Playing the violin. Wild swimming. Walking. Practicing yoga and chi gung. Meditation. Resting. Doing nothing. Lying in my hammock. My cats…”

And many more besides.  I realise that happiness is a flowing thing which comes and goes on a bed of general contentment, which also flows too, up and down with the day, the seasons, the food I eat and the people I spend time with. My happiness levels rise when I do more of the things in the above list and I find that the more I practice yoga with a clear intention, the more I am able to make time for the things in my day that I really find fulfilling.

Here are some of them:

My sister gave me a book for my birthday back in April called ‘Healing Herbal Teas’.

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She then apologised for giving me a book with ingredients in it that were often impossible to pronounce and seemed perhaps hard to get hold of. No problem. With a Neals Yard in Bath and a garden full of things, I made Beauty Tea – nettle leave, calendula flowers and dandelion root from my garden – yes I dug up the roots and dried them out. So cool. Here they are:

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And the finished tea. Which is tasty.

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What else? Oh yes.  My mum came to visit and brought a huge massive bag of rhubarb which a friend had given her. I rose to the challenge.

This was only a small portion of what she brought.

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I had to act quickly as it wouldn’t fit in the fridge and was going off fast. So I made, at lightening speed, rhubarb cordial (delicious), rhubarb and vanilla jam (totally delicious), rhubarb and date chutney (too early to tell) and rhubarb gin (of course).

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Walking. Sometimes all the way back from town in bare feet.

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No one batted an eyelid at my unshod feet.

And lastly I want to share Some pictures from this morning (Thursday 21st June) since it’s Midsummers Day and I managed to merge so many things into one activity (#stackyourlife). Walking, yoga, being with friends, being outside, resting, conversation, community, honouring the seasons, noticing.  All these things at 4:30am this morning on Kelston Round Hill.024D9AAF-CF75-43D1-8B45-AC80F0A4497B

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It’s a theme that runs through my practice and my classes again and again. What makes you happy? Does yoga make you happy – do you enjoy it (and if not – why are you doing it?!?!).

Use intentions any time (beginning of practice, beginning of the day, start of a journey and so on) to help us ensure that our life and our yoga practice is influencing our life. In the case of asana practice, so that it’s so much more than an hour on the mat. Then you can bring inspirations from your practice into the everyday.

If you stop and consider, can you think of ways in which your life has changed since you have started practicing yoga? If you can’t think of any, maybe you need to rethink how you practice. Make your yoga practice really count!

Yoga = an enjoyable, fulfilling life, full of the small things.

Yin Yoga Training Day 8

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I’ve been in London on an 8-day Yin Yoga Training with Norman Blair and 12 really interesting and amazing yoga teachers and have committed to sharing my thoughts here each day …

Day 8 (Wed 18th April) LAST DAY!

It’s now Thursday and I’m back in Bath. I didn’t write yesterday as when we finished, I headed straight for Victoria Coach Station.

Top tip: the National Express coach was really great, I highly recommend.  Yes, it’s a longer journey but it cost £11 return – yes, really – compared to over £100 by train.  Plus added bonus: the driver.

My driver to London sounded just like Andy Hamilton – “just as long as he can see over the steering wheel” texted Michael (my husband).  My driver back home really needed more yin yoga in his life. He used his horn no less than three times and tutted and sighed more times than I could count – I was sitting at the very front.  I think he needed a break.

So key learnings from my yin yoga training overall:

– The mind is malleable.  Change is always possible. This is the beating heart of the practice of yoga.

– We need more MATHS and less ANTS

ANTS – automatic negative thoughts

MATHS – more affirming thoughts

– Everything but everything is connected and everything has consequences. Just because we don’t have a big experience in a class or a big sensation in a pose, doesn’t mean change isn’t occurring. Change is always occurring. Maybe we need to learn to say hello to the quiet mouse who is trying to speak to us (or maybe ‘squeak to us’) rather than looking for the roar of a lion.

– I love practicing and teaching yoga. I also love my family, my cats and my garden. Listening to music, festivals, walking and camping, playing the violin, cooking and so many other things. So many things.

– Yoga is just yoga. It is magical but it isn’t a magic wand. And people, I’m just a lowly yoga teacher, not a doctor, a nutritionist, a physiotherapist or a councillor (even though I may be very interested in topics from all those disciplines and happy to share my thoughts!)

I look forward to seeing you in class soon.  More blogging to come, but every other week or so from now on.

Yin Yoga Training Day 7

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I’m in London on an 8 day Yin Yoga Training with Norman Blair and 12 really interesting and amazing yoga teachers and have committed to sharing my thoughts here each day …
Day 7 (Tues 17th April)

I’m posting this on the morning of Day 8 because last night I went out with two very old school friends in Covent Garden for the first time since being in London.

Once upon a time I lived in London for 10 years. It’s now been 14 years since I was a Londoner and I’d forgotten how to be in London! I felt like I’d been dropped from another planet when I arrived at Wood Green station last Wednesday. Everything was alien, so many foreign languages and skin colours and strange smells and scary looking shops I didn’t dare enter.

How things change in a week. I felt like surely everyone must know, when I walked to the studio each morning, that I was a fish out of water. I was self-conscious and found it hard to get my bearings. Now, I have explored this little area, found shops, Greek cafes, Vietnamese restaurants, Tesco metros and joined the dots between Lordship rec and Turnpike Lane tube.  I even walked home last night at 10:30pm from the tube and found myself remembering what it was about London that I loved. But I am also keen for the relative quiet, beauty and familiarity of Bath.

Anyway, musings over, here are my key learnings from yesterday:

– Insomnia is becoming the accepted face of depression

– Pain is an opinion of the nervous system. If the nervous system perceives it’s safe and sound, pain recedes

– There are many different ways of practicing and teaching yin yoga and many intentions we may have as begin a practice. What is it we hope that yin yoga will do for us? Perhaps improve joint mobility, reduce stress, soften our minds effort, reduce muscular tensions, alleviate certain symptoms, break old habits, illicit change, create peace of mind, look better, healing, connection, relaxation, for a deep stretch, to energise. They are all valid.

– Yin in in many ways a practice of developing patience. “Infinite patience brings immediate results” Waye Dyer

– I can’t remember who said this but it’s a great aphorism for life “what you can’t let go, let be”

– In our yin practice as in many yoga practices, we are seeking some sort of inner peace. We all want to feel connected, whole, relaxed with who we are and with our circumstances. The first step on the journey is greater presence.  Yin yoga is one of the few yogas where we get the chance to turn up and dive deep.  Because we hold relatively still in the poses for time. Yin creates the container for that possibility in contrast to more yang/movement based yogas.  Not that one is better than the other. Yang needs yin and yin needs yang. It’s a complimentary thing.

Yin Yoga Training Day 6

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Day 6 (Mon 16th April)

(Remember, useful links relating to content listed at the end)

This morning, after my now routine stroll through the reassuringly simple streets of N22, was assessed teaching, not as nerve wracking as it sounds.  So 6 of us were given 4 poses and half an hour each, teaching flowing from one to the other. This meant when we weren’t teaching we were doing continuous yin yoga and I have to say, it was very very nice. I taught a session today. So tomorrow morning will be the other 6 teachers and for me will be 3 hour non-stop which will be bliss. But I’ll be doing some physical activity in the morning for balance (more online half hearted HITT training for me!) and walks midday and early evening.

The afternoon was led by Ben Wolff, a yin yoga teacher and yoga/neuroscience researcher whose work is based on modern evidence-based science as well as incorporating ideas from TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine and yoga (totally floating all my boats).  I’ve met many interesting people, he’s one of the most interesting (although we just scratched the surface). He also has the accolade of single handedly inspiring me to re-consider entirely how I practice breathing and how I teach it too.  Much more in a future post, little bits and bobs below.

Key learning from today’s training

– Maybe in our practice we could sometimes move away from the desire, the need, the habit, to look always for sensations. Are pain and sensations useful experiences, can we trust them? Do you know which is the most important muscle of the human body? It’s the diaphragm my friends. If you stop using it you will not last long. But where do we feel pain if we have a problem with our diaphragm muscle? Is it where you’d expect, in the mid torso, where the diaphragm is? No, it’s up in the neck (because this is where the phrenic nerve starts and it’s key to working the diaphragm). My point is, how can we make sense of the body when sensation is not always where the problem lies. This is why we may want to move away from focusing on sensations sometimes, and we’ll explore this from time to time in future yin and restorative classes.

– Yin Yoga is a coming together of yoga and Daoist practices.  It’s why I may talk about meridians (from TCM) in a yin class and not nadis (from yoga). Both are energy channels in the body responsible for the flow of information. The maps are similar but not exactly the same.

– You could say that historical yoga texts were interested in practices to prepare the mind and body for the afterlife while classical doaist texts were more about being healthy in this life. What is more pertinent to you? Personally, at the moment, I’m interested in a healthy body and mind for this life.

If you’re more interested in esoteric practices, you may want to do long breath retentions and other more extreme practices.  (Just as if you want to  be a prima ballerina you may want to hyperextend the legs and over stretch the hamstrings.)  The breath is the major driver of the body’s ability to be in balance, particularly the blood’s pH (which should be 7.2 in health). Hold the breath and all sorts of strange and things happen to our blood and trippy things happen to our mind. I think it’s why free divers report having feelings of spiritual connection and why reclusive spiritual adepts will use extreme breathing practices to access this ‘higher realm’ or at least an altered state of consciousness. Nothing wrong perhaps if that’s your intention.  There’s a price to pay though.

– If you can be overwhelmed, and can be underwhelmed, can you be just whelmed? Just lightning the mood a little.

– The same part of the brain responsible for the feeling of food hunger is also responsible for breath hunger. Next time you’re tempted to grab a snack, try a breath snack.  The most healthy ratio of breathing is 6 seconds inhale, 6 seconds exhale (5 breaths per minute). This is sometimes called the coherent breath – essentially equally length inhale and exhale, no retentions and slow but not too slow. Lots more to come on this here in later posts and in class!

For a 15 minute TED talk on understanding the messages of pain
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gwd-wLdIHjs

A really nice introduction to what a Yin Yoga practice is
https://www.ekhartyoga.com/more-yoga/yoga-styles/yin-yoga

Quick little explanation of breath hunger
http://www.healthblurbs.com/causes-for-an-air-hunger-feeling/

A slightly annoying but informative American 5 min video on coherent breathing (scroll down the homepage for the video)
http://www.breath-body-mind.com

 

Yin Yoga Training Day 5

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I’m in London on an 8 day Yin Yoga Training with Norman Blair and 12 really interesting and amazing yoga teachers and have committed to sharing my thoughts here each day …

Day 5 (Sun 15th April)

Musings on meditation

This week my resurrected morning 15 minute meditation practice is going. Not well, not badly, just going.  And we’ve been practicing quite a lot during the training too. Sometimes it’s sublime and I catch myself congratulating myself on having ‘done well’.  I sit up in bed to do it when I’m at the AirBnB because the bedroom is peaceful and very calming with good natural light and seems a good place for it, and I give myself full permission to be warm and comortable.

Sometimes my meditation has not been pretty at all. It’s hard, I squirm, sneak a peak at the timer, wonder what the point is – as the stillness and time and space uncover and reveal thoughts and emotions, body sensations, frustrations.

What to do? Meditation is not a practice of emptying the mind but instead of exercising the mind muscle.  It’s tough sometimes working on something that’s weak.  Think about how we may rehabilitate a weak ankle after breaking it. We can start to recognise that the struggle and the unpleasantness are the meditation.  The thoughts are the meditation.  Our mind becoming stronger, we are becoming more familiar with it and its demands.

Thoughts are a sure fire way of affirming you are human and you are alive.  Phew. Be glad.  We can be gentle but persevering, we can give ourselves time but not give up.  We can all use a little more softness towards ourselves.  This is the basis of a yin attitude. Let’s have a yin attitude to meditation.  Striving, trying to get somewhere and achieve are yang. They have their place. But you will find yourself learning more if you slow down and soften.

What are we trying to prove anyway?  No one gets a medal for meditating.  I didn’t noice it at the commonwealth games. What you will find though is that if you can sit in awareness of what comes up, choose to stay with it a while, you may uncover hidden gems. Or perhaps you need to turn away – that particular emotion/thought is too raw, too much for the moment. So you reconnect with your meditation focus (whatever it is – perhaps breath, mantra, image) to help you pass through that unpleasant patch – and more than that, sometimes discover something about yourself you didn’t previously understand, during the meditation or commonly a while after.

 

Are we ready to face difficult stuff that comes up in our meditation practice?  Maybe not, sometimes it’s kinder to ourselves to leave it, and turn away. Know it’s there, just don’t deal with it yet. Not ready. That’s fine. May be ready next week, next year or never. The journey the journey.

It’s a shame there isn’t more time to get to know this mind of mine.

Someone said today that SHAME stands for

Should

Have

Already

Mastered

Everything

How many life times do I have?

Are you wondering why I used a picture of a green-haired turtle that I screen-grabbed from Have I Got News For You? It’s simply because it’s so ridiculously funny.  And if you want to know what’s even funnier, check out this article

I have so much more to share from today but I’m leaving it there. It’s a good place to stop.