Yoga For Wellness

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It is the time of the year when people start sniffing and feeling under the weather.  Kids are coming home from school with runny noses and coughing all over the dinner table, and any forward bends in a yoga class is unbearable as it feels like you are drowning in your own mucus.

It’s interesting because I’m following a documentary series at the moment, Transcendence, and it refers to the fact that at least 90% of diseases right now are due to lifestyle factors.  This was pretty much the statistic when I was lecturing over 25 years ago.  What I wonder is whether the flu, the winter sniffles is also down to lifestyle.

The common thread is the word Stress. I honestly feel that most people are in a constant state of overwhelm and stress, without realising that they are.  In fact, they probably feel that it’s normal.  Stress in itself is a good thing.  Stress is needed for growth.  What is detrimental is our perception of stress, and of the situation that we find ourselves in.

Stress hormones compromise our immune system, thereby impacting on the various organs and affecting them on functioning at optimal levels.  There is also the long-term effect on our nervous and cardiovascular systems.  And so, we can really benefit from changing our perspective on what is stress.

In the Chinese language, there is no specific character for Stress.  Instead, it is made up of two characters, one indicating Opportunity, and the other, Threat.  Think about it.  When you are confronted with a situation, you will assess the situation very quickly in your mind on whether it is an opportunity, or a threat.  Usain Bolt will see the 100m race an an opportunity.  Pink will see going on stage to perform as an opportunity.  For someone else, those situations could be perceived as threats.  In either case, the physiological responses are the same.  Heart rate increases, respiration quickens, sweaty palms, feeling on edge.  Depending on how we read these signs, we can use them to help us perform or run.

So, here are some tips I hope you find useful in helping you feel well and boost your immune system:

  1. Change your perception of stress by re-framing the situation and asking yourself if it is an opportunity or threat. If it is an opportunity, embrace it wholeheartedly.  If it is a threat, say “no” and let it go.
  2. Eat whole foods and move away from processed foods.  Nourish your body well so that it is able to fight off any viruses. If you’re considering going plant based, there is a free new app that can help you on your journey. The free VeGuide app is now available on Android and iOS devices.
  3. Spend a few minutes each morning doing some deep breathing.  Take deep, full, luxurious breaths to oxygenate your body.  Give this breath ratio a go … 1:1:2:0.  As an example, breathe in for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 5 seconds, exhale for 10 seconds. Do this 10 times per day.
  4. Meditate or have some quiet time. A simple thing to do is sit comfortably, as you inhale, silently repeat in your mind, “I am breathing in.” On the exhalation, silently repeat, “I am breathing out.” Do this for 5-10 minutes a couple of times a day.
  5. Yoga therapy suggests that colds and flu result from poor digestion or an energy imbalance originating in the digestive tract. Poses that gently compress, twist, or extend the belly can help a host of digestive ailments.

I really believe that you do not know what “well” feels like, until you actually feel well.

Give your wellness a chance this month and let me know how you get on.

The Natural Rhythm of Life

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The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

English lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Does the autumn make you sad?

The waning sunlight lets us know that the sweetness of summer is beginning to fade, and the dark nights are coming.

This season isn’t something that everyone experiences.  Coming from Malaysia, there are no distinct seasons, apart from the rainy and hot season.  So, when I first moved over to England, experiencing the changing seasons was fascinating and exciting for me.

The Earth, like us, breathes with unyielding rhythm and there is no better time to observe this than during a change of seasons when the breath wave of Mother Earth can be experienced through our senses.

With the downward-moving inhale, all elements are magnetised toward the Earth. Plants surrender their vegetation in response to shorter days and cooler temperatures. Their leaves, drained of life-giving sustenance, eventually fall in the ultimate display of impermanence. Moisture and heat are absorbed into the ground.

So, as vehicles of the universal breath, we can interpret these environmental cues as a reflection of our internal seasons and emulate the perennial wisdom of the planet by letting go, slowing down and taking time to regenerate our bodies and our spirit.

This is a time for meditation and rest. Use this opportunity to surrender to your inner gravity, ask difficult questions and listen deeply for what arises.  This is a time to excavate anything that may be churning beneath the surface, a time to invite such thoughts and emotions to gently rise and dissolve.

Here are some contemplation questions to meditate on, or journal about …

  • What has been your personal harvest this year, what has brought you joy?
  • What seeds of insight will you collect and re-plant in the next season?
  • How can you conserve energy by releasing any unnecessary effort in this cycle?
  • If your body were to speak, what would it say to you?

From an Ayurvedic perspective, Vata is the predominant constitution during this time of the year, where the elements of air and space are prevalent. When in excess, mobility in the body may result in dryness, joint pain, insomnia and a general feeling of unease, which could lead to feelings of fear, anxiety and irritability.

So, get grounded. Keep only what is absolutely necessary on your personal, professional and social calendars. Get more rest by eating an earlier evening meal and committing to a regular bedtime. Develop a fall rhythm and stick to a ritual routine, be it exercise, nutrition or self-care.

Favour warm, cooked foods over raw and allow time for eating. Refrain from drinking cold water or juices and drink room temperature or hot beverages instead. Cook with heating spices like cumin, ginger and fennel to maintain a steady digestive fire.

Hot water tends to dehydrate the skin, so take time to use a rich body butter, to moisturise. Diffuse warm, earthy scents like geranium, patchouli and rose. Listen to slow rhythmic music with heavy drumbeats and deep melodic chanting with vibrations that draw your energy closer to the earth.

Accepting Yourself

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In a world that thrives on telling you that you are not enough, do you have the strength to embrace self-acceptance?

Self-acceptance is the first step towards self-improvement.  In yoga, we recognise that if we cannot accept ourselves first, then we cannot hope to accept others. Similarly, if we cannot love ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to love us?

The practice of yoga has allowed me to grow, to change, to transform.  On the mat I learned to love myself, and that overflows off the mat in to my life.  So, here are some tips to help you on your way:

  1. Let go of your need to be perfect.  We have so many expectations of ourselves, particularly women.  “Perfection is the absolute lowest standard you can have for yourself because it’s impossible to attain,” Tony Robbins. Every blossom is perfect.  In fact, it’s their imperfections that make them unique and beautiful in their own right.
  2. Find yoga that works for you.  In fact, I am of the belief that the yoga should always fit the individual, rather than the other way around.  So, if that is not your experience, I encourage you to look for a teacher that works for you. The same in life.  Why struggle to get a square to fit a round hole?
  3. Approach your yoga practice as a conversation.  So often movement, including yoga, gets wrapped around the axle of competition and achievement. As you may have experienced yourself, that is usually a path to discouragement and burn-out. I encourage you instead to approach yoga, or any movement practice, as a conversation. Ask yourself what do you need in this moment in time, and how can you meet that need?
  4. Listen. Actively listen to your body and your self.  With your own body, after asking yourself a question, show yourself you’re listening by responding to the need you identified, or at least telling yourself why you’re not or finding a different way.

The key, I believe to self-acceptance, is learning to truly listen to that quiet voice in your heart.  Instead of living in your head and trying to figure out what your foot was doing in a pose, learn to have a conversation with your body and yourself because that conversation is the root of acceptance.

From there, make self-acceptance part of your actual life and it becomes something lasting and sustainable that can adapt and grow with you over time. It’s here that we move towards creating the lives we want.