Appreciation

pebbles and sea

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

Joni Mitchell

Back from a few days by the sea this week and just read a blog post by braith an’ lithe, which made me think about appreciating what we have in life. In her post, she writes about losing her sense of smell, and the feeling of loss and sadness accompanying that. Being by the sea, one of the first things I noticed was the wonderful smell of the seaweed, of the salt in the air and the particular smell of warm pebbles on a beach. I try not to take it for granted, but reading that blog today made me appreciate it even more.

We sometimes don’t appreciate what we’ve got until we lose it, whatever that might be, and we all experience loss in some form or another. If we really appreciate something or someone, will it be harder if we lose it? It might be, but if we don’t appreciate all those people or things that make life special, then we’re not fully living life. Yoga has helped me to become much more aware of the beauty in the simple things of life – to really see them, smell them and taste them.

Living about as far as you can be from the sea in England, I love to visit it, but when my agoraphobia was at it’s worst, I could hardly get to the shop down the road, so going to the coast seemed impossible. I lost my freedom to travel, and with that, lost my visits to the sea for a while. Yoga helped in my recovery, particularly the calm breathing techniques, and gradually I was able to get a little bit further and further from home. Appreciating and loving the sea gave me the incentive to keep pushing my boundaries – and it still does.

A calming breath

gentle waves

Like a wave, the breath is always moving and flowing. Sometimes smoothly and calmly like gentle waves on the beach, other times faster and more uneven like a stormy sea. Mostly we’re not even aware of the movement of the breath, and one of the great benefits of yoga is that it brings you to an awareness of the breath and with awareness comes an ability to  bring the breath under your control, rather than the breath controlling you. And a huge advantage of bringing the breath under your control is that it can help to change your emotional state. Usually we use the breath to slow us down and help us relax, but changing the breath can also lift your spirits and energise you.

There are many breathing techniques (pranayama) in yoga, but one of my favourites is simply to lengthen the out-breath. Breathe in to a count of 1 or 2 and breath out to a count of 3 or 4. It slows the breath, calms the mind and relieves stress. A good one to try if you can’t get to sleep.

As with all breathing practices, start slowly and gently and revert to your normal breathing pattern if it becomes uncomfortable or you feel light-headed.

“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.
Breathing out, I know
as the in-breath grows deep,
the out-breath grows slow.
Breathing in makes me calm.
Breathing out brings me ease.
With the in-breath, I smile.
With the out-breath, I release.
Breathing in, there is only the present moment.
Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.”

From: Present Moment Wonderful Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh

A cleansing breath

Waves on beach

As I write this, the wind is howling outside. I can imagine how it might feel by the sea as it reminds me of some really windy weather that whipped up the waves on a Devon beach a couple of years ago. Walking by the sea then felt like being cleansed inside and out, with the wind not only taking my breath away, but forcing the breath in through the nostrils. Lungs filling with ozone, and all the stale air being expelled.

The cleansing breath that we’re going to practice this week expels the stale air, leaving the lungs feeling clean and refreshed. It helps to clear the sinuses and brings clarity to the mind. I love Sandra Sabatini’s reflections on this breath, called kapalabhati: shakes….

“It’s about rhythm
it’s about releasing
cleaning
letting go
it’s about exhalation
it’s very powerful
it goes very deep inside
it really shakes the spine
and it shakes your whole being
with quick, short motions.

It sets the spine free
it cleans the inside of the sinuses
it takes the dust away – the clouds

the body becomes rooted down below
and ready to absorb up above.”

From her book, Breath – the essence of yoga

 

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

5-minute stress relief recipe

business yoga

Only for the brave or if you have your own private office!

You don’t have to go to such lengths to release stress during your working day. Just a few minutes stretching and some mindful breathing throughout your day will really help to break the pattern of stress and anxiety that can spiral out of control if we’re not careful. As we get busier towards Christmas, and the pace of life goes ever faster, we may think we have no time to relax, stretch and look after ourselves. But you don’t need long.

5 minute stress relief recipe

Ingredients

  • You
  • 5 minutes of time
  • Any quiet space, (loos are good :-)) **

Method

  1. Shake your hands, arms, feet and legs. Really loosen the muscles and flick away stress and tension.
  2. Shrug your shoulders, holding them by your ears for a few seconds. Breathe out and release, letting go of tightness from the shoulders.
  3. Circle your hips, drawing a wide circle to release tension from the lower back.
  4. Breath of Arjuna – a dynamic, heart-opening, stress-relieving breath that we practice in Dru yoga.
  5. Belly breath in Mountain pose. Complete by grounding yourself in mountain pose and allow the breath to fill your abdomen, visualising any remaining tension being absorbed by the earth beneath you as you exhale.

Result

A ‘you’ that is relaxed, refreshed and able to cope with whatever comes next in your life.

** If you don’t have a private space, either go out for a 5 minute walk, or focus on your breath for 5 minutes. You can practice mindful breathing anywhere – you don’t even have to close your eyes, just draw your attention inwards and count your breath in and out, consciously letting go of tension with each out breath.

Dru yoga breath of Arjuna

  • Stand in mountain pose, with the knees relaxed
  • Bring right hand in front of left at hip level
  • Inhaling, draw both hands up the front of the body, as if pulling off a jumper
  • Open the arms when the hands are above your head and exhale as you slowly lower them down by your sides, creating a big circle. Keep the elbows soft, and keep your hands in your peripheral vision. Bend the knees slightly as you lower the arms, but keep the body upright.
  • Repeat, bringing left hand in front of right.
  • Gradually allow the movement and the breath to slow down as you repeat a few times.

As you lower the arms, imagine letting go of any stress and anxieties.

Go with the flow

Flowing river

Easy to say, but not so easy to do. How often do we plan something, then find that our careful plans are thwarted? How often do we have expectations of ourselves or others, then find that we/they don’t live up to those expectations? Generally, we like to feel that we’re in control and don’t like it when we feel out of control.

Remember the river, and go round the obstacles, rather than fight with them. Pause, take a breath and accept.

Yesterday evening, I went to my yoga class (as a student), and found that our room had been double-booked. The venue had another room, but it would take a while to prepare. So my teacher went with the flow. She could have got angry and sent everyone home, but instead, as it was a sunny evening, we did the first part of the class outside. Then calmly came back to the other room when it was ready. It was also a challenge for everyone attending the class. We’re all creatures of habit, choosing the same spot in the same room. So to be faced with going outside, and then a different room isn’t easy. Resistance kicks in, and we think, ‘oh no, it will be cold’, ‘people might see me if we’re outside’, ‘ why did this have to happen?’……… and I’m sure you can think of some others. Pause, take a breath and accept. Enjoy all the benefits of practicing outside on the grass, with trees all around, the blue sky and sunshine.

In my classes, we’ve been working with some seated forward bends, which can teach us about resistance and going with the flow. Accept where you are, breathe into the stretch and gently encourage the body to relax. Let go of the expectations and enjoy where you are at this moment.

See some reflections on listening to your body in the sitting forward bend from one of my friends.

Reflections on water

words relating to water and the moon

Water has so many images associated with it. Associated with the tears of our emotions, water can be calm, gently flowing or raging like a stormy ocean. Invigorating, cleansing, refreshing – you probably have some words of your own. Reflecting on some of these associations can enhance our yoga practice. Yoga can help to smooth troubled waters and to balance the ups and downs of our emotions. The moon sequence is particularly good for this.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn