Focus on chocolate

Tulips and easter eggsJust before Easter, we did a chocolate meditation in one of my classes. It went down quite well, even though I got one or two strange looks when I suggested it. If you’ve got any Easter chocolate left 🙂 there’s a version of it on the website: Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Try it with some fruit if you don’t eat chocolate.

Why practice it?

Well, it slows you down and helps you to appreciate what you eat, rather than wolfing it down at 100mph. If you eat more slowly generally, it aids your digestion too. It helps to focus your mind by giving it something to do, so you are fully aware in this present moment. (And it makes the chocolate last longer too!)

One of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga is Dharana, variously translated as focus, attention or concentration, and is the step that precedes meditation.  Whatever we can do to help the mind to focus rather than jumping off in all directions is good for our equilibrium.

“By shining the light of awareness where there was murkiness and darkness before, you start to see what is inside and around you”.

~ from The Spirit of Yoga by Cat de Rham and Michele Gill

Finding balance

yin-yang

As it is the spring equinox today, it is a perfect time to think about balance. This is one of the two days in the year when there is equal day and equal night, a time when there is balance between light and dark.  Postures such as the Tree (vrksasana) help us to balance physically and also to balance right and left sides of the brain, harmonising the free-flowing, creative right side with the more logical left side.

It’s a good time to reflect on bringing balance into various areas of our lives, balancing …….

  • Work with play
  • Being with doing
  • Grounding energies of the earth with the spiritual realms of the sky
  • Giving with receiving

What others can you think of, and which areas of your life might need balancing up?

Lessons from a flamingo

flamingo

“Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.” ~Steve Goodier

Flamingos? What do flamingos have to do with yoga? Well, I visited a wildlife centre this weekend, and there were flocks of bright pink flamingos in the midst of the muted grey British countryside. It made me think how beautiful they are and what an amazing colourful bird they are with their slender legs and long, long necks. But the smaller, brown birds are just as beautiful in their own way too. How easily we are drawn to the bright and exotic, forgetting the beauty in the seemingly more mundane.

And if we think we have difficulty balancing, be grateful not to be a flamingo! What wonderful science enables them to balance on just one of these tall, slender legs? I don’t know how heavy they are, but I’m guessing those huge wings and neck are not light. Watching them balance, they have a perfect stillness.  Neck and head curled round, just resting, grounded onto the earth beneath them. I think visualising birds like this or other natural things can help us to deepen our yoga practice and achieve our own point of stillness,  so next time I practice the crane or tree posture I might just try imagining a bright pink flamingo 🙂

The middle path

cup of coffee

“Yoga is not for one who eats too much, or for one who fasts too much, nor sleeps too much or sleeps too little, but instead lives in a harmonious flow along the middle path” – Bhagavad-Gita.

In the pub yesterday lunchtime (New Years Day), it was noticeable that the guy serving coffee and other hot drinks was doing a roaring trade. Was it the effect of over-indulgence the night before, or resolutions starting to kick in? Also noticeable just after Christmas was the number of people pounding the pavements. All very laudable, but you wonder how long it will last.

By doing yoga, I’ve found that it’s easier to avoid the extremes and live a more balanced life. I still have a drink, but avoid the excesses (usually!) as I’m much more aware of the negative effect it has on my body. And I still make resolutions, but I tend to look at the bigger picture now, aiming for a healthier, happier lifestyle overall without starting a fitness regime that I won’t keep to.  A little yoga every day keeps me flexible, happy and calm. It’s worth giving it a try ……..

A calming breath

breathe away stress

Photo credit Spiritual Awakenings

Continuing our theme of exploring ways to relieve the stress of this busy time of year, this week we’re going to do the calming moon sequence and practice a breathing technique called alternate nostril breath (nadi sodanam).  This brings us into balance, helps us to focus on the present moment and can lower blood pressure, so is a lovely breath to practice if you’re feeling a bit frazzled! Become more calm and peaceful.

“The secret lies in the present
– if you pay attention to the present,
you will be able to improve it.
And if you improve the present,
whatever happens afterwards will be better too.
Each day brings us Eternity”

From The Alchemist by Paul Coelho

What does it mean to be grounded?

footprints in the sand

It’s one of the words I use frequently in my yoga teaching, and I know what it means to me, but wasn’t sure that everyone would think of it in the same way. When I looked it up in the dictionary, it hadn’t really struck me that it has some negative meanings, such as a plane being grounded because of bad weather, or being kept inside as a punishment.

I associate it with more positive qualities, such as stability, security and being in touch with reality. Another of the dictionary definitions is “mentally and emotionally stable : admirably sensible, realistic, and unpretentious.”

I started thinking about some of the expressions we use: they’ve got their feet on the ground, meaning someone is practical. Or they’ve got their head in the clouds, meaning the opposite, that someone is a dreamer. If your feet don’t touch the ground, you might be caught up in the excitement of something, not really appreciating the moment. Or plodding along, meaning that you’re in a bit of a rut, feeling heavy and lethargic.

Maybe you recognise a tendancy towards one of these qualities in yourself? The practical one or the dreamer? One isn’t better than the other – we need a mix of both and yoga helps us to find a balance between them.  This time of year is often associated with new beginnings at school and university, excitement, anxiety and rushing around, so a focus on grounding can help to restore that balance. Pause, breathe and connect with the ground beneath you.

We’ll be practicing the lovely Dru earth sequence, Prithvi Namaskara, that helps you keep your feet firmly on the ground, creating stability and security.

In Balance

Balanced pebbles

In classes this week, we’re thinking about what it means to be ‘in balance’ and working with postures, breathing techniques and relaxation that can help to restore some balance in our lives.

When you think about balance, what comes to mind? It might be physical balance, which becomes increasingly important as we get older to avoid falls, but it’s good to feel steady at any age. Or a balanced energy, having enough energy to take you through your day, without having dips or feelings of exhaustion. Maybe you think of emotional balance – we all have those days when hormones or stress gets to us and we experience an emotional roller-coaster and seem to be at the mercy of our mood swings (or someone else’s!).  Sometimes our mind goes into overdrive, and we lose our mental balance. Things get out of proportion when our thoughts spiral out of control as we lie awake worrying in the middle of the night.

If any of these sound familiar, yoga can help. Helping to restore the work life balance, and restoring balance in the whole of our lives, so we can cope more calmly and enjoy life more.

“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight………
…..Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced”.

From The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran