Lifestyle

The Basics of Meditation

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Teaching at a busy meditation school in the heart of London’s Soho, the stresses of modern city living couldn’t be more apparent – the sash windows of the Georgian building offer little protection against the constant buzz of traffic and the clinking of glasses and jollities from local bars and restaurants echoing down the street. Once inside though, the studio is peaceful and cosy – and as we sit in silence, these sounds eventually fade to a distant hum, becoming a comforting reminder that we can always find stillness even in the cacophony of a fast-paced life.

Each day, people of all ages and all walks of life come searching for peace of mind – my last course included a 17 year old student and a 60 something American in charge of 300 men working at a major car factory. Most arrive wanting to ‘stop the thoughts’ – something I know I certainly yearned for when I was first drawn to meditating. The truth is the thoughts don’t ever stop coming, we learn how to manage them, to be more discerning with them. It is a process through which the mind begins to settle so we’re able to re-connect with our own inner silence, eventually allowing us to remain calm despite all the busyness around us.

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Embracing January

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Once all the partying of Christmas and New Year is over it’s so easy to go into a slump or into guilt mode and start on a rigid regime whether that involves dieting, exercising or making resolutions. Going from one extreme to another seems to be a natural response to make up for excess but inevitably it’s not quite as simple as that. Changes in habit take a while to stick, as do the results to show. And at a time when the weather is cold and the days short, embarking on anything punishing will take an iron will to stick to, most probably ending in us giving up before February arrives. So this year why not try a gentler approach – go with the flow a bit more, allow the fun and festivities fade gradually and adjust naturally to the coming months. If nothing else, being kinder to ourselves is a good place to begin to radiate kindness to others. Start by getting rid of negative thoughts and forget the usual New Year ‘to dos’ – here’s a January plan to enhance your mind and body in a positive way. Read More…

Rest And Digest

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So many of us experience digestive issues these days – and this can mean a whole host of uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, cramping, indigestion to full blown IBS and intolerances. Even more so at this time of year when festivities tend to centre around rich food and the drinks are flowing. Of course, we can always hold back, but a deeper understanding of the subtleties of how our digestive system works alongside some sensible advice can help see us through without being too bah humbug.

We talk about gut feelings, butterflies in our tummy in our day to day, so we instinctively know our digestive system goes beyond just a mechanical churning system – and indeed it is connected to our minds. It is our ‘second brain’, being made up of over 100 million neurons (cells), spread along its entire length which make up what’s called the enteric nervous system (ENS).  The ENS is constantly reacting to the state of play whether it’s hunger, bacterial infection or stress, sending messages to and from the brain via the vagus nerve, a kind of super fast information highway. Read More…

Finding Happiness

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What made me happy recently? Walking in the park through the falling leaves and golden sun of late autumn. Sharing a delicious home cooked meal with family. Teaching a yoga class and seeing the glowing, relaxed faces smiling back at me at the end. There are many examples we could all think of – occasions, fragments of our days which conspire to make our lives happier, more fulfilled, enjoyable.

Of course these are fleeting moments – short lived events which come and go. And as life gets busier, we often ‘miss the moment’, inadvertently neglecting that basic emotional need to be uplifted. Maybe we’re on auto pilot – in Facebook, Tweet, What’s App mode, not taking time to smile and say hello to our neighbours, or to feel the fresh air on our faces. This head down approach can leave us feeling flat, joyless even.

Equally, we can get hooked and find ourselves chasing rainbows, constantly searching for something new, more pleasurable. Like the marathon runner who turns to triathlons for a bigger challenge/high or forever trying out different restaurants and cuisines to satisfy our tastebuds. When we consistently ride happy highs and lows, we get less pay off, leaving us to feel deflated. The upshot is even if we do have enjoyable experiences, reach our goals and generally get what we want – happiness can seem ever more elusive. Read More…

Sustainable Exercise

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The exercise routine I follow goes like this: I begin the day thinking I’ll go for a run at lunchtime, and/or a 7 pm yoga class. But as the time draws closer, my mind will resist. The sun is setting, I’ve got to finish some work – a whole list of excuses suddenly comes to mind. It takes an iron will to ignore those resistant voices in my head even though I’ve never regretted going once I’m done. I know that it’s good for me to get moving. A stack of scientific research shows that those who exercise are less susceptible to serious disease. Most importantly, I feel much better when I’m active, so why do I so often choose the easier option – to stay in and watch a box-set instead?

There is an evolutionary explanation for this. Our ‘fight or flight mechanism’ means we are hard wired to do the minimum to survive. Thousands of years ago – when finding food was a life or death situation – we needed to conserve energy in order to fight predators. Now that our lives are sedentary, food is generally on tap, this natural response in our bodies hasn’t changed, therefore we rely on willpower and our minds to stay active. Read More…

Turmeric, Ghee and Sesame Oil

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Health bunnies can’t fail to have noticed how Ayurveda (the ancient Indian approach to wellness) is increasingly influencing our daily routines. Lattes and porridge laced with the golden herb, Turmeric; the idea of ‘oil pulling’ i.e. swishing our mouths with sesame or coconut oil; ghee (revered as a precious superfood in India) as the ‘good fat’ of choice.

In a way this is a natural extension of the interest in yoga, since Ayurveda stems from the same knowledge base – the Vedas, a vast body of ancient texts covering all aspects of living life to the full from exercise, eating and meditation practices through to astrology and architecture. But what does Ayurveda mean? Directly translated, the word ‘Ayur’ means life and ‘Veda’ knowledge, and generally could be described as a holistic approach to healthy living and longevity. A renowned Vaidya (Ayurvedic Doctor) I met in India recently had a very simplified and practical explanation – that it is a way of extending life mainly through good food and sleep. Read More…