the calm within

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?

Less doing, more being

Every year, I set a two-word intention. It's helpful. I tend to stick to the spirit of those two words far better than I ever did with actual new year's resolutions.

This year, because I (cough) love a challenge, I chose these words: Here Now.

Here Now. Less doing, more being - mm…Yoga!

I regretted it almost instantly. 

It's so dang hard to refrain from worrying about the future (my personal specialty) or ruminating on the past (ok, I am pretty good at this too).

Of all the two-word intentions I've set over the years, this one has been the hardest. The simplest, but the hardest. It's like that saying is true: humans make plans, and the Universe laughs.

humans make plans and the universe laughs - mm…Yoga!

I had some side effects to a medication earlier in the year, the worst of which was a six-week stretch of nausea and retching. It was so severe that I dislocated a couple of ribs.

Also, it stopped me sleeping through the night, and THAT made me crazy. Like, way more than my usual crazy.

The first lesson I learned:

Always check what side effects medications have. Ask the googles, and don't just trust your doctor. Not that I am bitter or anything.

The second lesson:

It's quite easy to be in the moment when said moment is enjoyable. It's a whole other thing when it involves sleep deprivation and retching.

So it's been six months of practice.

Practice at relaxing into whatever turns up. Practicing being gentle with myself when I feel like crap. Practising being here now, with varying degrees of success.

In the end, what really helped me turn the corner wasn't anything I did, but rather, allowing someone else to help me, so I could just be.

Karen suggested I try manual lymphatic drainage, a form of massage designed to help your lymph drain. The lymphatic system is our body's detox system: it's meant to move excess hormones, including the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol, out of the body by mopping them up and fluidly transporting them to the organs of elimination.

Lymph relies on muscular movements.

Unlike blood, there is no heart to pump it back up to the chest for drainage. If you don't move enough, neither does your lymph.

Which means if you've been lying still because you've been ill, or your body is misaligned (like, say, dislocated ribs) or you've had a surgery, you end up with a buildup of fluid with all sorts of nasties in it. It's probably not quite as nasty as when you get a blocked drain at home, but the net result is similar.

After the first treatment, I felt deeply at peace - and I slept really well, for the first time in months. 

Also, the pool of lymph in my right chest, which I'd thought was muscle tension, and which was restricting my neck and arm movement on that side, is gone.

Right now, I'm finding it much easier to be here. Much easier to just be.

Being here, now is probably a practice for a lifetime, rather than a few months or a year.

But I've made progress! Turns out you can't always do everything by yourself. Sometimes, you need to give up control and just be. Let other people help you.

PS:  If you want to work on your own intentions & attitudes, you can download your very own yogAttitude Kit for free here.  If you want to try out Karen's amazing massage skills click here

How To Create A Retreat Space At Home

Getting to do yoga or meditate at home can be challenging.

You may not have much time at home - and maybe your kids/dogs/cats view the unrolling of the yoga mat as an invitation to clamber all over it, and you. Believe me, I completely relate:

It can be very frustrating. But with a bit of ingenuity, you can squeeze in some 'you-time' and even create a retreat space for yourself.  

How to create a retreat space at home

Having a special little space set aside can be like having a practice buddy, just quietly reminding you to take time out for yourself, do a few yoga poses, sit and meditate for five minutes.

Here's my space. It's just a corner of my not-very-big lounge room. 

Peaceful yoga altar - creating a home yoga retreat

I use a few elements to make this a space I want to practice yoga in. Given that I am 100% likely to have my practice interrupted, the feeling of retreat needs to come from something other than actual peace and quiet! 

Four elements of a great home yoga retreat:

  • An anchor for the space. In this space, it's the Buddha statue. You could also use artwork that makes you feel inspired or peaceful, like these from Sweet Peony Press:
sweet peony press namaste print
sweet peony press let it go print
  • Candles. I love candles, especially ones made from natural materials with pretty, light scents. Lighting a candle at the start of your practice can be a ritual that helps you get into a calm state before you've even done any yoga.
  • Intention cards. There is a yogic tradition of setting an intention for your practice - it's called making a sankalpa. For example, making sankalpa to be accepting. How smart, when your you-time might get interrupted! Getting angry about the interruptions won't help, but accepting them? Well, you are halfway to calm already. 
  • Special keepsakes. These help to remind you of good times and loved ones. Life can be tough, and sometimes we need tangible reminders that it's not always so. Here, I have a set of mala beads I got at a beautiful retreat centre in South Africa, and a heart made from semi-precious stone. I also often add in gifts small children have given me. Right now, there's a little stuffed hippo on my Buddha's lap! You could also add photos of loved ones, keepsakes from special places…the options are endless.
special things to put on your yoga altar

Even if you don't get to use your little retreat space very often, it's so nice to take a deep breath when you walk past it, and remind yourself that your little oasis of calm is always there for you!