This February I am offering something slightly different in place of my evening yoga classes - a course on Body Sensing. But what is this?
Body Sensing is the art of living an embodied life, being aware of the innate intelligence of our inner world. It includes our physical body, but also extends to our emotions, thoughts, feeling and spirit.
Body Sensing is all about increasing our Interoceptive awareness – or the ability to listen effectively to our bodies. Just think about all the times you have ignored or failed to listen to your body. Times where you might have pushed through tiredness with caffeine, drank or ate too much, stifled feelings of grief or anger. These habits often create distance from our own bodies.
Through body sensing practices we aim to rebuild this relationship with our bodies, so that it can be based on trust and respect. Body sensing practices include moving with slow awareness, while incorporating the principles of mindfulness – non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.
Bessel Van der Kolk has researched changes that happen in the brain and body with slow, interoceptive yoga and meditation practices. He found these practices make positive changes in the “Mohawk” brain structures which help regulate Self Identity, as well as the region of the forebrain that promotes self-regulation, pro-social behavior, and positive affect (emotional states). Other useful changes to brain structures include improved focus, attention, memory, as well as less loss of gray matter which naturally occurs with aging.
Body Sensing practices, include slow mindful movement, mindful attention to the breath, pranayama (breathing practices), and yoga nidra (deep relaxation).
These practices also assist tone the vagus nerve in the body. This nerve is the connection between our gut and our brain. Healthy vagal tone assists us to feel more comfortable in our own skins. It helps build the ability to react appropriately to life, easily shifting states between resting and activity as we need to. It also helps regulate the insula area of the brain. This is the part that connects us to sensations and emotions, and can be agitated when we experience trauma or anxiety.
Body Sensing practices can help us understand our usual patterns of behavior, such as reacting or shutting down. The practices also have a significant role in helping us get in touch with our values and priorities in life. When we have a healthy respectful relationship with our body we can then chose how we act with more freedom, and can make decisions that positively influence our health and wellbeing.
For more information, or to sign up, check out the events page.
I love the Summer Solstice. It reminds me of the constant change of the world. Solstice means when the sun stands still. It is the longest day of the year here in Australia, and subtly the days will begin to get shorter and shorter again, until the sun stands still for the shortest day of the year in June.
I have a tradition of celebrating the Summer Solstice with my family, either around the Solstice on the 21st or 22nd of December, or Xmas day. We often go the beach, and have a parent vs child soccer match with the extended family. It is also often filled with water fights, laughter, drinking, eating, gift giving and celebrating how amazing it is to be alive, and to be here on this Earth at this time.
I also use this time for some quite contemplation and often have a dedicated yoga practice for the summer solstice to reflect on the light within. I am often reminded of the Buddhist deity, Kwan Yin at this time, who reminds us that we all have a light inside of us, and encourages us to share that with the world.
Initially, my practice was sun salutations, but any practice is fine. This is my favourite gentle variation of a sun salutation for this Summer Solstice practice.
Start Kneeling in Virasana (thunderbolt pose) with buttocks to the heels. Please use a bolster or blankets under your bum or your knees if this feels better for your body to have some height here. This is a wonderful pose for digestion and for strengthening the back (so also good to do after too much Xmas lunch) Spend a number of breaths here. Connect in with your breath at the centre. You might like to visualise a gold point at the solar plexus, where you breath in and out from. Make the exhale breath progressively longer than in the inhale until it is comfortably twice as long.
From here reach forward into forward virasana, or extended childs pose. Feel your fingers connect with the earth. Make your knees and belly comfortable. Stay for a few breaths, lengthening the spine, and allowing the warmth of the sun to move into your back.
Come into all fours and practice a few rounds of cat pose, or wriggle your hips around or do other movements that free through your centre.
From all fours and then into Downward facing dog pose. Feel equally connected between your hands and feet to the ground. Stay with the lengthened breathing. If it feels right, you might like to bring some gentle dymanic movement between plank and dog pose, if this is something your shoulders enjoy.
Return back progressively to kneeling, through each of the poses. You can practice this dynamically for a few rounds, or you can slow it down and spend time savouring each pose. It's up to you.
End with either a few rounds of seated breathing, or if you have been more physical, a lying shavasna, perhaps with your hands resting on your belly for a few minutes.
However, and whatever you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful time with family and friends, and allow yourself to shine like the sun.
I think we have reached peak Yoga Silliness with the Yoga and (fill in the blank) phase. You may have heard of goat yoga, cat yoga, Harry Potter Yoga, beer yoga and the like.
While many of these sound fun, the most recent news to reach me was all you can drink in an hour yoga class -essentially drunk yoga.
While I have obvious concerns about this from a safety view, it also made me pause and think.
Initially I thought about all the things yoga is not. And then I thought about why I practice and what yoga is to me, and thought I’d share.
Firstly, what yoga (to me) is not.
Yoga is NOT A DISTRACTION
I have been guilty of using yoga for this over time, and many people come to yoga classes for a break from difficult or stressful situations at work, home or their minds. And while there is nothing wrong with this, mindfulness and distraction are actually opposing terms. If you practice yoga mindfully, as I have been increasingly doing over the years, then yoga happens when I have a migraine, or have an injury, or have a great day. The yoga on these occasions may look different, but it includes a practice of accepting whatever my circumstances are and working from there.
Yoga is NOT A PERFORMANCE
When I was younger, I was more focused on “achieving a particular pose”. I never really mastered headstand, it didn’t seem to work for my neck, and I really suck at arm balances. I have let go of the need to “nail these poses”. As people who attend my classes would know, my favourite poses are really subtle movements, gently rolling on the floor and exploring different ranges of motion on different planes. Doesn’t look flash, but I am not expecting anyone to look at it, it’s not a dance or competition. Yoga is an internal connection to ourselves.
Yoga is NOT A STRIVE FOR PERFECTION
I need a lot of reminders of this, as perfectionism is one of my tendencies. There are enough things I beat myself up about, I don’t need yoga to be another one of them. There is no perfect pose, practice, meditation.
Yoga is NOT DEMANDING, ABUSIVE OR EXPLOITATIVE
I have a whole bookshelf of yoga books, by a range of yoga teachers and traditions who have now had a range of accusations levelled towards themselves personally, or the institution they represent for things such as sexual harassment, rape, child sexual assault, using manipulation to control students and the like. A WHOLE FN BOOKSHELF. This is a huge dilemma for me. Much of my early practice was in the Satyananda tradition. The ashrams associated with this tradition were exposed in the Australian Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. Bikram, who founded his famous hot yoga, has been accused of sexual assault, and is currently facing bankruptcy after accumulating a sickening amount of wealth.
A number of years ago, a visiting “guru” from another tradition I was practising in at the time, hugged me after a workshop, in an overly friendly way which made me feel uncomfortable. I later found out he was accused of rape and sexual harassment by women in other countries. This abuse and exploitation by people in power, is an issue for the Yoga Industry, like other industries.
So, what do I want my yoga to be?
I came up with three main things, and these have become my personal yoga manifesto.
I WANT MY YOGA TO BE….
-something that helps me move with as much grace and ease as possible in each moment. And to assist me to adjust and accept when my movment is compromised for some reason, through age or injury.
-something that helps me notice the world around me, and to take action as needed. Social Action to me, such as attending the same sex rally, speaking up to my politicians about the humane treatment of asylm mseakers are just a part of my yoga as the moving practices.
-something that assists me process personally difficult thoughts and feelings and to treat myself and others with kindness and love,
Finally, I want my yoga to be sustainable for my lifetime. I have been practising since I was 20 years old, and still learning more each day. While that might not look like a whole heap of sun salutations any more, yoga is so much more, and becomes more and more important in my life.
This term we are focusing on learning short sequences that can be practices at home in just 5 minutes.
Each week I will offer a new sequence: with just 5 poses. Each week will have a slightly different focus.
Week One focuses on Mulhadara (Base)Chakra and is a standing sequence for balance and stability.
Week two is a kneeling sequence with a focus on Svadishatana chakra (in the pelvis)for fluidity and mobility.
Week Three is a seated sequence to increase motivation by stimulating the manipura chakra at the navel.
Week Four is a prone sequence with heart opening poses for Anahata Chakra
Week five is a reclining sequence for Vishudhi to open and release through the throat and jaw.
You can practice one pose a day, or practice the entire sequence 5 times a week.
You can also start small, practising once in the first week, twice in the second etc.
You are also welcome to mix and match as you need, and can always put the practices together for a longer practice if you wish.
We will practice the poses and their variations in class, and there will be handouts for you to practice at home if you choose.
Try the Standing Earth sequence:
Weekly reminders and further suggestions will be posted in the Self care September face book group as well, so please join if you haven't already.
I wrote the e-book "Self-care September" in literally a week towards the end of August. It was one of those ideas that just wan't going to let me go, and I appreciate everyone who participated and gave feedback into this idea.
After reflecting on my journey through the month, I have chosen my top five practices that were most easily digestible into my life. Throughout the month I became unwell with a virus, and got a chance to notice how tired I was. I also noticed that I am able to listen to my body and take its cues about when to rest. I realised that I can say no to some things, but not to to others. I noticed that I am well loved and supported by my partner and family.
As I went through each suggested daily practice, I found that anything out of the ordinary was hard. Some days I am disciplined, but many days I am not. I have a formal yoga and meditation practice several times a week and thought the informal practices through Self Care September would be a good supplement.
What I liked best were brief practices that could be done anytime of day, didn't take longer than a minute and didn't need complex instructions. Practices that sounded good, such as using the good china - just didn't happen, although I did use the day to remind myself and people attending classes on that day to remember our special-ness.
So at the end of this month long experiment; my top 5 tips for incorporating self care into your daily routine are:
1. Set an intention based on your values
If you value honest and truth honour that. Create a wish as a way of remembering. "May I be truthful in each moment", or kind or patient, or whatever...Repeat to yourself a few times a day.
2. Self Massage
Offering yourself soothing touch through massage can help relax tight muscles as well as offer kindness to yourself. Many people rated the jaw massage very highly as a quick and effective way to ease tension a few times a day.
3. Express gratitude for ordinary things
Stick up for the mundane in your life. Clean sheets, a reliable pair of shoes, this glass of water. Try offering grateful for everyday experiences while they are happening.
Standing on one leg helps ground us into the earth and bring us into the present moment. It can remind us its ok to wobble. Why not pick up one leg while waiting for the kettle, or standing in line, or as a break from sitting.
5. Come back to the breath
This tool is always with us. 21,600 (ish) times a day we can an opportunity to be nourished by the life-force of our breath. Take a moment. Notice. Just. This. breath.
I would love to hear more of your feedback about the practices you most enjoyed, or other self care suggestions you have. If you haven't seen the book with its 30 daily self care suggestions, let me know, or subscribe to my mailing list to get access to a copy.
I am a giver. I work during most days as a counsellor, often being with people in times of distress, stress, trauma or anxiety. On other days, and some evenings I teach yoga and offer practices that care for peoples’ bodies and minds. In between, I care for my 4 children, 2 dogs, 9 chickens, garden and the Earth.
My lesson is how to receive. I am blessed with a great family and many caring friends. However, I have also had to learn how to offer myself compassion and kindness, and consider this to be my ongoing learning.
The idea for “Self-care September” came after my training on Mindful Self compassion. I was struck by how much I needed to incorporate these practices into my daily life, to develop a routine so that I can continue to give to others without experiencing burnout or ‘compassion’ fatigue.
I also know that habits are hard to form, and that smaller is better. I wanted to create a daily reminder for myself that self-compassion practices don’t have to take a long time, that 5 minutes or less is often all that is needed.
The self-compassion practices I have chosen to incorporate a variety of methods from mindfulness practices, positive psychology and compassion focused therapy. I have added my yoga understandings and somatic practices to develop 30 different meditations for body, breath and mind.
There is a suggested practice for each day. One for each day in September. The practice includes brief guidelines, a quote and picture to reflect on. On the four Sundays in the month, I have a suggested longer meditation practice, based on mindful self-compassion and yoga nidra meditations, with links to the audio to practice these guided meditations.
The practices are based on the components of self-compassion including:
- Offering yourself soothing touch
- Offering yourself kind thoughts
- Savouring the world using your senses
- Offering gratitude and kindness towards others
- Recognising our common humanity
If you practice, you may also wish to keep a journal to reflect on which practices resonated, and what you notice throughout the journey. I will also open a face-book group where you might like to share your reflections with others.
To receive a copy of this self care September manual, please join my mailing list and a copy will be shared soon.
Have a wonderful month, taking care of yourself.
Lots of love to you.
Yoga practice assists us to develop new patterns and pathways for our mind and body.
I talk a lot about yoga meaning connection, and often mention the components of ourselves we connect to:- body, mind, breath.
Yoga also helps us connect to that part of ourselves that always knows just what to do in any situation. There are many names to describe this; awareness, our essence, witness consciousness. I like "compassionate wisdom in action", as this to me captures that this is an active as well as a reflective state of being. What we practice, and call yoga are all tools to assist us to allow this state to naturally unfold within us.
Yoga is therefore a state where we can freely act in the most wise and compassionate way in the moment.
The question arises of why we need tools and practice to find this state of compassionate wisdom? Traditional Yoga psychology describes a process of Samskara, that prevent us from accessing this state. These are habitual groove like patterns of thinking and acting that we develop over our life. Some of these patterns may be helpful to us, and some aren't. Think about any addictive behaviour for example, or any unconscious behaviour that is triggered by past hurts, or even the tendency to round your shoulders when working over the computer while furrowing your brow – eventually when you think about work, your brow tenses and your shoulders round. These are all examples of Samskara.
Modern Neuropsychology also recognises these patterns, and describes the ways brain neurons connect like paths through a forest. Feelings thoughts and actions often fire together in brain and the most trodden paths are easiest to find. Our brains love short cuts- it’s a very useful tool -not to have to relearn things like riding a bike, or driving a manual car each time. But perhaps these paths take us somewhere that no longer serves us, ways of thinking that are unhelpful, patterns of movement that create tension for example.
Yoga Practice assists us develop new patterns and pathways for our minds and bodies. It gives us tools where we can begin to skilfully chose what we need, based on our own compassionate wisdom. This means we can over time release unconscious patterns that create physical, emotional and mental tension, and create new habits and patterns that better serve us.
Just like forming a new path in a forest though, repatterning the body and mind takes time, and repetition. Initially it might seem exciting, but it can be challenging - and the old pathways seem more inviting and familiar. Practices that seem to work at first may not have the same effect.
Perseverance is the key to changing these samskaras and meeting yourself at that place of compassionate wisdom in action. The yoga sutras describe a need for dedication and persistence to the tools of yoga, and a cultivation of the attitude of patience. One of my teachers, Hareesh, describes three things that are required to help re-pattern samskaras:
Committing to group yoga classes is great because these classes create an environment which supports openness in all of these areas. Physical practices help re-pattern muscle tension. Breathing and meditation practices can make us aware of emotional patterns, such as holding the breath when anxious. Self enquiry practices give us permission to explore these patterns safely, and to come to our own conclusions about the practices that are most suitable and helpful.
This is also the reason why I emphasise being able to smile in any given practice, so that our body can tap into the state of compassionate wisdom in action- when you can smile without forcing, you know that you have accessed your compassionate wisdom.
Image drawn by Tarkai
In yoga the moon is associated with receptivity, coolness, silver and free flowing energy. This sequence taps those qualities.
I love this variation as it allows me to progressively free my hips and shoulders. I often spend time in each pose, allowing my body to move as required.
I also like the fact that sequence will take us to face each direction of the room we are practising in, as the sequence itself mirrors the phases of the moon. There are 28 steps in all - the first 14 will take us from facing the front of the room towards facing the back through the side. The second 14 will take us back to the front, via the other side.
As always, listen to your body, and adapt the sequence to make it work for you
Whenever you are ready, repeat the sequence using the right leg back to eventually return to the front of the mat. Repeat as many times as you would like.
Happy New Year everyone! I’m not sure about you, but a holidays can make me feel quite lethargic. The business of the season, along with an excess of food and drink, and a lack of my regular practice routines has an impact on how I feel.
As I was practicing recently, a sequence arose that stimulated my digestive system and assisted me to let go into a deep restful shavasana to rejuvenate.
I thought others may benefit from this brief but beneficial sequence ...so here it is if you want to give it a go at home. I also made a guided audio recording of this practice, you will receive a link to it a few days into the new year if you are on my mailing list, or email me for a copy.
This practice is best to do on an empty stomach, perhaps in the morning before breakfast.
The practice starts kneeling, buttocks to heels. There are a few variations of this. Virasana is similar but you sit your buttocks on the ground in between your knees. Some people enjoy this, but please be careful if you have knee issues. I often prefer sitting on a blanket or bolster between my knees. This pose is great for digestion, and a great place to start this sequence focusing on breathing energy into the belly region. Of course, feel free to use any other sitting pose, or even a chair.
While here, try a breathing practice, a variation of agni sari, to stimulate the digestive fire. This breathing is a fast dynamic practice, snapping the abdomen towards the belly on exhale, inhale passive for 3 rounds of about 10 breaths each. We have practiced this in class, but if it doesn’t sound familiar to you please just sit and breathe with awareness, or try any other breathing practice.
From here, move into a variation of dynamic forward virasana, sometimes called sun bird. Inhale to high kneeling, arms overhead, control the exhale, belly to spine as you reach the arms long along the ground, reaching tailbone back towards the heels. As you come up with an inhale, sweep the arms to shoulder height first and then all the way above the head as you come to high kneeling. Do a few rounds of this before staying in a static extended child pose for a few breaths, elongating the spine with every inhale.
Then move into all 4’s for some rounds of cat pose, and then try a dynamic variation of kneeling balance. Start again in a soft extended child, inhale up to all 4’s but extend the left leg and the right arm long off the ground as you balance on the opposite limbs. Exhale back to extended child and then inhale up to the other side.
Rest after this pose in dog pose, staying and breathing and again lengthening the spine, keeping the knees as bent as needed.
From here drop the knees to all 4’s once again for a dynamic variation of extended side stretch. Balancing on the right side, hand under shoulder, extend the left leg long to extend through the left side. The bent right leg may swivel a bit here for balance. Bring your left arm to your hip or lower back while looking down. Inhale and sweep the arm over heard and towards the front, lengthening from the fingers to the foot while you look up. Exhale return the arm to your back and look down. Do a few rounds on each side and then have another stay in dog pose.
Transition from dog pose to the floor, coming to badhakonasana (butterfly) pose. Stay here and breath for another few breaths, either holding on the feet, ankles, or hands behind your back on the floor. This pose also assists with blood flow into the pelvis and abdominal area.
Then move into a comfortable cross leg, or other position for a dynamic seated twist, growing tall on an inhale and exhaling into the twist.
Transition into easy rest position on your spine for a variation of apanasana. In this variation, we extend one leg long along the floor, keeping it active by pushing away gently into the heel. Start with the left leg extended and both arms on the floor overhead. As you exhale, bring the bent right leg in towards the chest and the head towards the knee. Inhale the bent leg to floor, arms return overhead. Starting on this side massages the ascending colon. Do a few rounds before changing sides and massaging into the descending colon. When you have finished come into your favourite supine (lying) twist , resting for a number of breaths on each side, before coming to rest in shavasana for a brief relaxation.
Feel free to stay for a longer rest, perhaps using a yoga nidra practice. I hope you enjoy this practice - let me know how you found it!
Wishing you all a wonderful 2017, with plenty of yoga practice and deep rest opportunities.
We talk a lot about it in class, by now you are all probably pretty familiar with the definition of yoga- to unite, connection, join.
But how does this work?
Yoga teaches that we are multi-layered beings, and encourages us to explore all of these layers, instead of just over identifying with one layer, such as the physical body, or our thoughts and emotions.
Our multi-dimensional self has been described like a Russian doll, with different layers nestled inside moving from the most gross on the outside, to our subtlest core at the centre. Except, as my teacher Hareesh Wallis states, the layers are much more permeable and can pervade all the other layers. There are a few different models or maps which describe this. In his book, Tantra illuminated, he describes 6 layers.
The Centre is Cit- consciousness, described by Hareesh as “the secret pulsating core of your whole existence, mysterious because it is omnipresent, and yet you don’t notice it.”
This is the awareness layer, and it allows us to be aware of all the other layers, which are briefly –
Shunya -The void
Prana -Vital energy
Citta – heart-mind
Deha – The Body
Vastu - stuff
The void layer, is where we are empty and still like in dreamless sleep. Some spiritual traditions see this as the ultimate layer, however in the yoga teachings of tantra we are encouraged not to renounce anything, but to experience all the layers of ourselves.
The next layer is our Vital Energy, or Prana layer. As you are aware, the movement of the breath is intimately connected to prana, and the breath is said to be the key to the mind body connection. There are sub categories of prana that specifically govern things like exhale, inhale, digestion, speech and distribution of nutrients. Food can also bring prana (or deplete it).
The next layer is the Heart-Mind layer of thoughts and feelings. These are combined together in this model as often when we feel an emotion it is consciously or unconsciously linked to a thought, or memory. This layer changes rapidly, and in our quest for stability we create stories that we believe to be true- about ourselves and the world. These thoughts can become habits; and guide the way we behave – yet we rarely question if our thoughts are actually true.
The outer layer is the body where all of the other layers can be experienced. Our culture over identifies with this layer, and we see many images of idealised versions of physical bodies, and are also removed from aging and death. There is a layer beyond this, which is our “stuff”, all the things that we surround ourselves with that we can also become attached to; house, car, clothes etc.
So, how does this model help us?. Lets imagine we notice we feel depleted and lethargic (Prana layer), we might also notice at the same time that we feel sad (heart-mind) and we are reminded of a particular loss (heart-mind), and realise there is a pain in our chest (body). We might then notice how we use things like food, alcohol or work to bring us into a place (the Void) where we can be free – or escape from these feelings, thoughts etc we are uncomfortable with.
The key to the mind body connection is the word notice. This word is the Core- Cit- awareness. It pervades all other layers, and allows us to experience ourselves as interconnected multi layered beings. We are encouraged to notice which layer are we identifying with – perhaps our bodies, or our thoughts, or a particular mood state. Of course, we are encouraged not to know this in a theoretical sense, but to practice and experience it ourselves, and to also find our own unique map or pathway to the core of our being. Yoga helps develop these noticing skills and strengthens that connection to all aspects of ourselves.