restorative yoga

Movement Is Not A Moral Obligation

Movement Is Not A Moral Obligation

This year has been one of doctor’s visits, and tests, and surgeries, and medication. I am not ill, I just have what they call a ‘pre-existing condition’. 

There are a few things that have been challenging: the main one is that the drugs and surgeries have meant I am often too unwell to move. And I rely on movement rather heavily for my mental health.

I also have a little voice in my head that tells me, every day, that I ‘should’ move. Like it's immoral of me not to be moving...

The best advice I ever received as a yogi

The best advice I ever received as a yogi

I first encountered this radical (hah!) concept in Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar (incidentally, the book had such a big influence on me, that I went to India to train at his yoga school, totally changed the way I taught and practiced yoga, and now use it as a text book in our own yoga teacher training.) Man, it shook my world. Wanna know what it was?

How your greatest restrictions can become your greatest teachers

This is a guest post from our new team member Kirsten. She's only 25, but wow, she's lived. Read her inspiring story, and you can connect with her at her personal website too.

7 things spinal surgery taught me.jpg

4 years ago at 21, I was blessed with a spinal tumor, which I had removed 2 years ago in a full spinal resection. That’s right, I am now half titanium and you may call me the bionic woman! You may think I am being sarcastic when I say I was blessed by this but it truly was one of the most transformative events of my life.

We all have limitations, be they physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. They can make our yoga practice and daily ‘off the mat’ activities even more challenging. But they can also be our greatest teachers.

7 things I learned from my restrictions:

Humility:

I used to believe that if I could just perform a headstand, I would be somehow crowned a real yogi. Well, after my spinal surgery, when it was difficult enough to stand on my feet! My idea of ‘yoga’ was forced to change to suit my personal limitations. I suddenly had to pay attention to how my body wanted to move and what would be most conducive to healing. For about 6 months this was simply meditation and gentle wrist and ankle rolls, a little different from the power flow I had been used to. And that was OK. Which brings me to:

Faith: 

It’s okay to slow down… and even better to stop! Most of us are so busy that we've forgotten how to enjoy the moment, and what is life but a bunch of weird and wonderful moments all smooshed together?

If your restriction forces you to take time out and recover, be okay with that. You are not wasting time! You are investing time into your health and wellbeing and there is nothing more important than that. Stop fighting and wrestling with life and take the time you need to heal and repair. Have faith that the universe will take care of you. That is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Gratitude:

Gratitude is the single most important lesson I learned. We berate ourselves so often for not being ‘good’ enough: not smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough or flexible enough.

We look at what we don’t have rather than all we do have.

Taking time each day for gratitude will change the way you practice yoga and the way you live your life. No matter how awful your day has been, sit down at the end of it and list everything that you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just close your eyes and create a list in your head before you go to sleep. Even if you have had the day from hell you can be grateful that you are snuggled up in a warm bed, have a full belly and maybe you were even lucky enough today that someone else took the bins out and fed the cat! It doesn’t matter how trivial it seems, gratitude is a powerful healer.

Awareness:

Having a physical restriction forces you to become aware of your body and listen to it. This is a gift that many people cannot access, so embrace it! When you can tune in to sensations in your body (perceived as good or bad) you are honoring the connection of body and mind.
Deepak Chopra say this is the first step toward happiness. Awesome!

When you establish this connection you will also become more aware of unuseful tension and unhelpful pain, which will help you adapt your practice to your individual needs. So don’t fear uncomfortable sensations; don’t judge them or try to change them. Simply spend time listening to and observing them to increase your deeper awareness

Sanity:

Honestly, most of the yogis I know are a little bonkers, (in the best possible way of course)! A lot of us have found the road to yoga through our search for clarity and stillness. For many of us, moments of peace or stillness can get shrouded with the screaming physical pain or uncomfortable thoughts.

The best part here is that the remedy is within you already.

Breath.

Let your breath be a guide for your practice. If you are holding your breath or breathing rapidly, that is an indication you are straining in a pose. Connecting with the gentle ebb and flow of breath will help to quiet your mind throughout your practice and can be used as a simple meditation or focus point through your life. It is particularly useful during times of stress or anxiety (like sitting in traffic when you are running late)! The more often you connect to your breath, the more connected you will become to your body-mind, a side effect of which is more inner clarity, peace and maybe, just maybe, a little more sanity.

Compassion:

Often when we are feeling insecure in a class our ego can creep up and take hold. There are two ways the ego will respond, either by berating you or by judging others. This is a protective mechanism and quite normal but not particularly conducive to a relaxing or empowering practice. When you acknowledge and accept the limitations within your own practice, it becomes easier to accept them in others. Every single person in the class will be at a different point in their own practice and lives and that is okay. In fact, it is brilliant! It is what makes us unique and simply human.

Yoga is for every single body:

Overall this is what I’m getting at. You don’t have to be beautiful, flexible, physically fit, a dancer in a past life, injury free or even sane to practice yoga! If you are, that's fine too, of course.

You can be completely off your tree with half your body in a cast and you will still be able to practice to some degree. You may not look like the poster-girl (or guy) for yoga that you’ve seen on instagram but you will be honouring your body, mind and spirit in all its guts and glory!

have faith meme.jpg


PS: have you seen our 'Word' board on Pinterest? It's full of inspiring stuff. 


A home yoga practice is an antidote to Busy

I’ll be upfront. This is a post about being busy. And it is, um, particularly timely for me. When I wrote this, I needed to work on about five different things that day (sound familiar?).

I was Busy. And I felt it.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this thing we call Busy; finding out what it does to our bodies and brains and how it messes with our body's basic rhythms and cycles. Some of the reasons it's problematic are outlined in more detail in more detail in this 2012 article from the New York Times, and this one from 2013, in Australian magazine Dumbo Feather.

What concerns me most about ‘Busy’ is its close relationship with chronic stress and anxiety.

There are countless studies that show the impact of chronic stress on the body and the mind, and not much of that impact is good. Stress is supposed to be a short-term thing. 

Essentially, the antidote is to slow down. 

The body and the brain need downtime (or ‘rest and digest' mode) as part of a regular rhythm to keep them from falling apart. Yoga, especially a simple home practice, can be that. 

Being Busy is not, in itself, a bad thing. But for most of us it would be more useful to see it as an sign to pay more attention to how we're spending our time.

The What:

If you're Busy, chances are you won’t be able to get to a yoga class, or, if you can, you’ll only be able to go to one a week, maybe two. But to balance out the stress mode, your body really needs more downtime than that. This is where a home practice comes in. 

A lot of people get (understandably) nervous about the idea of practicing yoga at home. The trick, really, is to keep it simple. (Incidentally, simple yoga is often exactly the kind that’s needed if one is feeling Busy.)

My tips for starting a home practice:

  • Start small: commit yourself to ten minutes in the morning or the evening — if you feel like doing more you can, but regularity is ultimately more helpful; you’re trying to create a habit
  • If you know sun salutes, just do that. One round on each leg. Then lie down for a few minutes. 
  • If you don’t know sun salutes, do two or three poses that you do know. Start with the ones you feel confident enough with from class. Perhaps downward facing dog or a warrior pose or two. Perhaps the much-loved (ha!) chair pose or high squat. (You can always add more later. You don’t have to do it all on the first day.) Then lie down for a few minutes.
  • If you don’t know any poses at all, just stand with your feet at hip width apart, let your spine lengthen, then watch your breath. Then lie down for a few minutes.
  • Lie with your legs up the wall for a few minutes. Listen to this guided relaxation:
Grab a restorative yoga guide sheet   here .

Grab a restorative yoga guide sheet here.

Make sure your buttocks are far enough away from the wall that you’re not feeling a strong stretch in the legs, then just let yourself relax. Watch your breath. Resist the urge to do anything.

  • Have I made it clear enough that at least part of your home yoga practice, especially if you’re feeling Busy, should be just lying on the floor doing nothing?

Often the yoga I personally do at home is more complicated than this, because that’s what I feel like on the day, but at least once a week, sometimes more (usually when I’m feeling Busy), my yoga practice is just one of the points I’ve listed above. 

Honestly. 

Some days I just stand still for a few minutes. Other days even that’s too much and I just lie of the floor for a few minutes. This is a good way to lie:

Image courtesy   MoveWell Studio

Image courtesy MoveWell Studio

Yes, really. Some days I make time to do nothing. This is yoga.

If you want to do more than this (and I suggest perhaps waiting until a time when you’re not feeling so Busy to introduce a more complicated home practice), you can ask your yoga teacher to help you come up with a sequence that works for you. Or grab this download.

The Why:

To be honest, the ‘doing nothing’ kind of yoga is often far more challenging for me than the stuff that’s stronger physically, especially when I’m feeling Busy. The urge to “be productive” with all my time is strong. I suspect many people would notice the same thing.

The thing is though, different types of activity affect us in different ways, and downtime is productive, not just for the physical body, but also for the brain. This bit is especially important for those of us who work, probably at a desk, in a job that uses the brain but not so much the body.

Here's how different types and levels of activity affect our brains:

Aerobic exercise — something that gets your heart rate up — encourages the growth of more neurons and a better blood flow in the brain. This seems to improve the ability to focus in the face of distractions; it improves planning, scheduling, working memory and the ability to switch between tasks. All pretty good reasons to step away from the desk and move around, yes?

Anaerobic exercise — stretching or strength training that doesn’t necessarily get the heart rate up — appears to increase activity in the part of the brain that helps us to resolve conflict and to distinguish between confusing or disparate sources of stimulation. Again, helpful.

And then there’s doing nothing. Physically, doing nothing (or at least very little) allows the body to rest, restore and digest. But mentally, doing nothing is important too. Resting allows the mind time to wander, and to start sorting through all the stuff. It’s in allowing the mind to wander that we’re more likely to suddenly realise, say, that the answer to the problem at work can actually be solved using the something from some other part of our lives. Neurologists call this analogical thinking.

Here's the clincher: what we do with the physical body seems to be more effective than cognitive exercises for improving brain health and cognitive function.

The different benefits of the various types of activity (or non-activity) for the mind and body really need to be part of our daily rhythms, but they're especially important when we're Busy. So how about we all just have a little lie down now?