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An Easy Meditation to Help You Get Some Sleep (or just restore some calm and balance…)

Insomnia hit me like a truck – more mentally and physically drained than I thought possible. And I’m not alone. More of us than ever before are finding it harder to switch off and get the rest we need, and it has a knock on effect on our general health, relationships, performance at work and our happiness.

(Writing this, I’m sat in a cafe where two ladies are talking across the aisle about how they aren’t sleeping very well…)

I’ve had a lot of requests for a technique to help with sleep lately – mostly, but not exclusively, from very pregnant students and Mums adjusting to life with new babies and (even more trying…!) freshly minted toddlers. I also slept soundly until my little one came along. There was nowhere I couldn’t drop off. Public transport, under a desk, on occasion a stable… It was my favourite superpower. Then the yoga baby came along. Suddenly, if you’re not struggling with a bladder the size of an espresso cup, you’re such an awkward shape that there’s no feasible way of getting comfortable and then there’s a tiny, adorable, exceedingly vulnerable person-let to watch out for. All night. Every night. (Does this read like there’s a lot of teething going on in my house…?)

Even when bubs is sleeping soundly, I often find myself awake just incase. A more traditional insomnia. I’m not sure why my body refuses to sleep because goodness knows I’m shattered, but I finally understand what it’s like when you’re lying there, body primed for a disaster that isn’t coming, mind repeatedly circling problems that will likely only ever exist in your imagination.

This meditation is a great starting point for those trying to get some more sleep, pregnant or not. All you need to do is find a copy of the wordless audio track (details below).

There’s something profoundly comforting about having sounds to follow when you’re lying in the dark. It’s somehow easier to let your mind go all the way to sleep – perhaps because you give up trying to. Even if the worst happens and you find yourself awake at the end, there’s a quality to the rest you’ll have given your body and mind that means you’re bound to feel more refreshed and less panicked about the fact that you’re not in full on slumber.

The technique’s full title is ‘Osho’s chakra sounds meditation’. And it’s not as New-Age far-out as it sounds!

Osho was a prominent, if controversial, modern mystic and spiritual teacher who passed on in 1990. His prolific teachings cover a myriad of topics but usually focus on full-force living, creativity, joy and love. I should probably note here that he didn’t prescribe this technique for sleep in particular, it’s just when I’ve found it most useful.

The full meditation takes an hour, but it’s split into 15 minute modules if that sounds like too much to deal with for starters. Keep your eyes closed for as long as you choose to participate.

  • It opens with 3 repetitions of a 15 minute sequence. If you’re hoping to drop off lie down, ideally on your back with spine in line, but otherwise take a comfortable seat. Check in as you would before relaxing in a yoga class – deep breaths down towards the belly and checking muscles such as the jaw and hips are relaxed.
  • There’s also the option to hum, chant or sing along or move if the feeling takes you, but obviously this might not help too much with insomnia.
  • The track starts with a low tone for the root or Muladhara The sounds then lift in sequence through each of the 7 chakras. While each little piece of music plays you focus on the physical location of the chakra in the body and anything which might come up for you. Your focus is on the sound and the feeling. Perhaps you can feel the energy of the sound pulsing or vibrating in that area of your body, or even the innate vibration of the chakra as a centre of energy inside you.
  • When the tone moves higher, you move onto the next chakra up until you reach the crown. Here the tones start to descend, and you move your attention back down through each chakra along with the sounds until a short period of silence indicates the end of the cycle. If you can, allow for a space between your thoughts.
  • Don’t worry if your attention strays and you lose track of where you’re up to in the sequence. Just place your focus where you think it should be and then catch up when you either get to the top (the crown) or the bottom (the root, followed by a pause).
  • After another 2 repetitions of this sequence, the final – and possibly the most intimidating – track plays. 15 minutes of silence. Be still, keep the eyes closed and try to become witness to the thoughts and feelings that arise without judgement. This is difficult, but it doesn’t matter what you experience at this stage in the meditation – just that you allow yourself the time and stillness to actually have an experience!

If you’re unsure the 7 most commonly referenced chakras are:

1. base chakra – the reproductive, lower pelvis

  1. sacral chakra – just below the navel
  2. solar plexus chakra – above the navel, below the breastbone
  3. heart chakra – the middle of the chest, at the level of the physical heart
  4. throat chakra – the middle of the throat
  5. third eye chakra – deep-set, between the eyebrows 

7. crown chakra – top of the head

I got the tracks at https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/osho-chakra-sounds-meditation/id315292727 so I could put them on my phone on a sleeper timer but I’m sure you could also dig them up on YouTube…

Let me know what you think if you do give them a try!

With love,

Sal x

bear wisdom yoga seasons winter

Dark Nights and the Wisdom of Bears

I don’t really like the telly (except the late Bake Off and anything involving living in Alaksa)… but I do like David Attenborough. So last Sunday night I was happy to hear him accompanying a screen full of bleary-eyed, itchy bears crawling out from their Rocky mountain hibernation to go and find a good tree to scratch on. There was a groovy little beat playing and everyone was having a fine time. Even the little ones were trying a bit of a face-first tree shimmy.

This got me to thinking.

We are not like bears. (Deep, I know, but stick with me). As well as – hopefully – being less hairy and smelly, we don’t ever slow down. Ever.

Winter comes. The natural world settles back into itself for a little while. We carry on pushing and striving and enduring.

Even when the dark nights make us feel like we want to curl up earlier and get some rest, we look around at what friends and colleagues are doing and allow that to push us into going harder, longer. We get the serious FOMOs (fear of missing out) or worry about falling behind. Professionally, socially… we’re all so prone to putting up goalposts in our head. When I was younger I was convinced that by 30 I’d be happily married with two kids, lots of letters after my name, a mortgage, pension and close to partnership in a vet practice. In reality, I spent so much time achieve, then freaking out that I was still years behind schedule that I didn’t see or acknowledge that what I wanted had completely changed. Instead I ran around like a perennially dissatisfied headless chicken.

I don’t think I’m alone in having spent a lot of time and energy trying really hard to go in the wrong or no direction. We need to stop constantly chasing things, qualifications and lifestyles we’re not sure why we want.

When we look outside ourselves for validation, we get pushed completely out of sync with the ebb and flow of the Earth’s seasons. We go all out, all the time.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could accept the natural lull of winter as an opportunity to meet our need for rest and recuperation? If we could deeply honour the rhythm of our bodies and souls? We could regroup and recharge, ready to pour ourselves into projects we’re genuinely passionate about.

By slowing down and becoming still, we create space to listen to our intuition. Our inner wisdom always available to us, but we’re often so fast and loud we drown it out. A little introspective down time allows us to gauge what we can cut away, what’s weighing us down and holding us back. It gives us clarity. When we have time to really look, we can see the patterns in our actions – the concept of samskaras in yoga – that we don’t have to keep blindly re-living again and again. We set up a fresh start, and continue to grow in a way that’s true to ourselves.

Everything in nature, like every one of us, has its own time to bloom. We can learn a lot from the bears, or even the flowers in our garden when it comes to respecting our own inner rhythms and seasons. Because, despite what we tell ourselves, we don’t have to be producing constantly. And our best work often happens when we’ve had a decent sleep.

With love,

S xx

What I really mean when I say Namaste at the end of class…

It’s pretty rare these days that you’d go to a yoga class and make it out of the door without the teacher saying Namaste. We’ve definitely taken the traditional Indian greeting under our English yoga wings a lot more readily than other ways of closing class, like  group Om-ing or chanting. It is still pretty rare, however, for teachers to expand on what they actually mean when they say it.

I’m (really) often guilty of this myself.

It’s mostly because I hope that those moments of peace and connection at the end of class speak for themselves. Or that when I try to make eye contact with everyone as we press our hands together that the feeling that we’re really trying to ‘see‘ each other for who we really are is implicit.

And it’s a little bit because I don’t want to bore the regulars.

When there are a lot of new students or I think a reminder would be useful, I usually go with a shortened stock translation of Namaste, like…

‘The light in me recognises the light in you.’

Or…

‘The divine in me bows to the divine in you.’

I might say that – as with many words in foreign languages – it’s hard to hit an exact translation, but the general idea of this traditional Indian greeting is that it’s a way of saying ‘hi there’ or ‘bye now’ whilst simultaneously showing deep understanding that we’re all the same; little pieces of a great, thrumming consciousness that come together to make up the whole of existence.

Then I heard the renowned yogi and spiritual teacher Ram Das offer the following explanation in his book ‘Be Love Now.’

In India when people meet and part they say Namaste, which means I honour the place in you where the entire Universe resides. I honour the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honour the place in you where if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me there is only one of us.

And it seemed so perfect I had to share.

In love, S xo

5 tips to create a simple home yoga practice

5 Simple Tips for Starting Your Own Home Yoga Practice

Yoga at home is probably one of the most wonderful gifts you can give yourself every day. Even if only for a few minutes, it gives us a chance to check in with our bodies, minds and intuition for as long (or as briefly!) as we want and it really deepens and sustains our practice between classes.

Better still, we can do it on our own schedule, we don’t have to drive anywhere and… especially if you don’t live in the city and/or have a job or family to take care of… many days it feels like our only option besides going without.

Getting started is much easier than you’d think – you don’t have to feel like you’re already an expert. My personal practice started as a nervous exploration of things I’d picked up in class and eventually led me off to teacher training. Once you start breathing and stretching in your own time, I promise you’ll be amazed at how good you feel and what you discover about yourself.

Creating your own practice is a personal process of trial and error, but below are some lessons I’ve learned that will hopefully make things a little easier so getting on the mat at home becomes a regular occurrence and not just a nice idea!

1. Nest

 Okay so nesting has been on my hormone-addled mind a lot recently but progesterone aside, it’s really nice to have a designated space to practice in. Even if it involves a little furniture rearranging, you only need to find enough floor to be able to lie down and – ideally – spread your arms wide. You don’t even really need a mat if you don’t have one. You’re already enough and have enough to start.

If you do have a mat, roll it out. If you have space, consider leaving it out. Even neatly rolled up, if it’s out it’ll act as a reminder of what you’re missing. This doesn’t tend to happen so much if it’s stashed in the boot room, coat cupboard or back of your car.

Don’t be afraid to make your space a bit special. Although some days we’re good to just unroll our mats and crack on, it’s often nice (and not too taxing) to turn our practice into an occasion by lighting a few candles or some incense, hitting play on some mood-boosting music or rubbing some of aramoatherapy oil into our pulse points. 

  1. Schedule

I don’t like scheduling things beyond strict necessity. It’s a bit grown-up and restrictive for my tastes. But it is annoyingly effective! Just like work deadlines, family commitments and ‘normal’ yoga class – if it isn’t in our diary, our home practice often isn’t happening.

Self-care and yoga are usually the last thing we dedicate our time to and the first things to get brushed aside when we get busiest… unhelpfully, when we need them most. This, quite literally, is not good for us.

Whether it’s earmarking a full hour of peace to do a deep flow or putting on yoga clothes when you wake up so you find time for a few sun salutations before you leave the house… some kind of plan tends to (read: always) work better than ‘I’ll probably do some yoga later.’

  1. Airplane mode

Devices have it for a reason – and I don’t think anybody flies enough for it to actually involve airline travel. It’s refreshing to hang up your virtual ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for a little while.

Use a real-life clock if you have to keep your eye on the time, or set an alarm if you know you have to be somewhere – ideally one that allows for a few minutes of relaxing in Savasana before you up sticks. Once you start time-checking your non-aeroplaned mobile, it’s a quick and slipperly slope into checking your texts or e-mails. This does not make for a peaceful practice you’ll want to return to.

  1. No pressure, no limits

Before my pregnancy, I had a fairly strict idea of what my home practice looked like – as much of the Ashtanga primary and/or second series as I had time for or a deep 45-minute yin session. Probably with a side of hand-standing. Although this discipline was great for my physical practice, the idea of actually doing it didn’t always make my heart (or achey muscules) sing and I’d sometimes find an excuse not to bother. If you run, you’ll be familiar with this feeling. It’s usually easier to lace up for a 3-mile jog than an 11-mile race-pacer.

Now I’m a lot more flexible with my practice (figuratively, if not literally) and pick my style each day. Sometimes I switch halfway. I know whatever I choose, it’ll make me feel better.

It’s much easier to go to our mat with the intention of doing even 7 minutes of sun salutations than a full hour of edge-of-our-limit contortion. Practicing this way, we often exceed our expectations. Chase feelings of ease and openness, not poses, time frames or you the intensity you think you think you need to burn off that night’s dinner. 

  1. Meditation Counts

Some days we don’t want to move. Or we know moving would be good for us but are under no illusions about actually extricating ourselves from the sofa. That’s okay. Because meditation is yoga, but sat still. Or even lying down. Ideally not on the sofa or in bed, but when needs must… it’s all good. Just try not to fall asleep.

Meditation practices actually make up 3 of the 8 traditional limbs of yoga. Our physical practice is just 1. This was perhaps a hint from the ancients at their relative importance and potential to change our life! Like solo-yoga, getting started with meditation is easier than we want to believe. Just pick a meditation you’ve enjoyed from class, light a candle and flame-gaze or try THIS easy technique… find a few quiet minutes and off you go.

  1. Get inspired 

It’s completely normal to feel a little confused or bemused as to exactly what you should be (or are) doing on your mat sometimes. There’s lots of books and internet to browse for ideas, and don’t forget to make the most of free trials to online class subscription sites such as YogaGlo and Gaiam.tv

I’m always happy to help with ideas for home practice and what you’re already working on in your own time – just send me an e-mail, comment below or catch me after class. Please reach out! Many people also find occasional private sessions can really give them some clarity and confidence, and they don’t have to be a weekly commitment. I have so much love for this traditional way of teaching and learning yoga, especially as we can choose asana and exercises best suited for you as an individual and sketch up a home practice sequence that will really stick.

 

P.S. If you want to learn more about meditation, but aren’t ready to go it alone – make sure you’re on the e-mail list for details coming very soon about new meditation classes starting in May and a 21-day online program (which you really can do in your own time, wherever you are) that’s very excitingly in the pipeline!

 

 

spring equinox vernal equinox balance yoga

On Balance and the Equinox…

 

March 20th was the spring vernal equinox. For a tiny slice of time the earth span completely upright on its axis, day and night were equal in length across the planet, light and dark are matched and yoga teachers across the globe heed the call to talk about finding balance in our lives as well as our Uttitha hasta padanghustasana.

Balance is something of a buzzword in yoga. Studios are named after it, teachers use nifty balance sound-bites and in every yoga class we go to, if we don’t find ourselves standing on one leg and doing strange things with the other one then we’re holding a pose and trying to find the perfect equilibrium between stretching ourselves (both literally and figuratively) without pushing to a point of lasting discomfort.

But what if constant pursuit of the conventional ideal of ‘balance’ in our lives – particularly the one upheld by the yoga community – is a bit like chasing a unicorn?

Maybe balance as we typically imagine it is a little over-rated.

A few years ago, I was really driving my veterinary career. I did a surgical and medical internship in one of the best horse hospitals in the country and suddenly found myself working more hours than I was aware existed in a week, earning way less than when I was 17 and at ‘Pizza Hut’ and coming nowhere near the daily recommended allowances for sleep, vegetables and exercise. Unless you counted cat-napping in pathology meetings, ketchup and chasing errant patients and/or vet students. One particularly memorable bank holiday I scored a 64- hour shift without a shower, sleep or proper meal. My life was not balanced. But, in the moment, I was pretty happy. I had purpose and was working towards something that was important to me.

We all go through phases like this. Take the first flashes of a new relationship. We choose our beloved over (healthy) food, sleep, self-care and phoning our friends and grandmas. Life is messy and spontaneous – it doesn’t drop neatly into equally proportioned boxes.

Even when I decided to devote more energy to yoga because 100+ hour weeks knee-deep in poo weren’t doing it for me anymore (and I love it), I still didn’t move in the ‘balanced’ way people expected. I quit my job, moved to a damp and crumbling farmhouse in a new area, simultaneously started two completely different businesses and acquired a puppy, a parrot and a proverbial bun in the oven. A hair-brained plan. Well, it wasn’t a plan. It was some more intense, free-wheeling shooting from the hip. But I’m happier than I ever thought I had a right to be.

I’m just not convinced we make the biggest impact in our lives when we prioritise equally dividing our attention between our career, family, significant other, friends, self-care, diet, dogs and gym routine.

Just like in asana, our ‘ideal balance’ in life is immensely personal. What looks great on one person would result in bone breakage for others. What might look slow and easy from the outside can be a ridiculously rich and fierce experience inside.

yoga balance snow snowga snoga Ullswater yoga Lake District

If our physical balance in class is a reflection of our inner balance… and I immediately pulled myself up the one time those oft-quoted words left my mouth in class, then it’s not the cookie cutter balance we’re often led to believe we’re searching for. It’s unearthing peace and equanimity with exactly where we are and immersing ourselves in the present moment. If we’re wobbling (and wobbling is cool) it’s likely because we’re momentarily stuck in the past or racing ahead to what comes next, rather than being fundamentally out of whack.

When we’re genuinely consumed by what’s happening right now, when our reality makes us feel electric and alive, our posture blossoms and steadies. Off the mat, our life feels productive and worthwhile.

Instead of defining balance as equal division of attention between our various earthly commitments, that division should feel appropriate to ourselves and the moment. Who cares if our pose or our ‘work-life’ choices look wonky as sh*t from the outside?? If it genuinely feels delicious and lights you up then go for it. And more power to you.

With (happily unhinged) love, Sal xx

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