Yoga Christmas Re-Treat

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It’s December and 2018 is coming to a close.

How does December make you feel? I love this time of the year, as it is always a time of enforced rest for most people, and I use this time to re-treat, to hibernate, and to give my body, mind and spirit breathing space.  Whether you run your own business or not, I feel that most of us, these days, are moving at full speed; and whilst it great and needed if you are moving towards a goal, we can also do so with less speed and also take time out every so often to re-charge.

Most of us tend to be naturally forward facing. We are future-oriented, always moving on to the next task, event, or responsibility. Seldom do we take enough time to think about why we succeeded at something, never mind celebrate. We also struggle to evaluate our mistakes and failures because it is hard. It forces us to take a look at ourselves and face things that we might not like. We need to realise that both sides are equal parts challenging, frustrating, motivating and rewarding but are vital to goal setting.

So, as the year draws to a close,

  • Look back through the calendar for the year
  • Look back through your social media accounts
  • Scroll through your emails for any projects that you have been working on
  • List any major life events that happened over the year, any notable challenges or mistakes, and any notable successes
  • Evaluate why each of these was relevant to you and what, if anything, you learned from them

Without looking back and reflecting on what has been, it is easy to make the same mistakes. Reflection is an important part of self-awareness, which is at the heart of self-improvement.

Take some time to reflect on the last year so you can set goals for the new year ahead.

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.