It Started with ‘Om’

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Of all the experiences I had on my ‘big trip’ to India, staying in an ashram in the remote Himalayas, it was the many hours of chanting which turned out to be the most lasting and transformative. Of course, the physically challenging yoga sessions changed my body, but the chanting enabled me to go further in meditation, bringing a sense of stillness I’d never felt before. On our first day we were given a book containing the various ‘prayers’ in Sanskrit (the language of ancient India) which would punctuate our daily rituals (meals, classes, even walks) and brought a deep significance to them which resonates even now.

When I started going to yoga ten years earlier, I’d haphazardly mouthed the word ‘om’, (known as the original mantra), but it was all a little ‘hippy dippy’ alien to me – specially combined with shyness and British reserve. Then I discovered Kundalini classes, where longer mantras are used in combination with the postures. Chanting along with the movement felt so good, I began to lose my inhibitions, especially when I realised it’s not about being an accomplished singer, but connecting with your own voice. Read More…

Searching for Stillness

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How many times do you hear friends and colleagues saying ‘I’m so busy’ followed in the next breath with ‘I need to switch off’. Or words to that effect. Maybe it’s that life seems to be speeding up. Certainly, we’re multi-tasking and switched on 24/7 more than ever – meaning we are naturally craving peace and quiet.

In the past, that would mean a taking a beach holiday and relaxing for a couple of weeks (if we were lucky), but now that just doesn’t seem enough. For one thing, how many of us take that amount of time off in one go these days? And, somehow lying on a beach no matter how turquoise the sea, white the sand and soft and fluffy the white towels, we’re still distracted by Facebook and emails, Tweeting and Instagram-ing the gorgeous salad we’ve just had for lunch at the chic beach shack. Read More…

Are you drinking enough (water)?

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Ever since my gran told me as a teenager that drinking water would give me beautiful, clear skin I’ve been trying, and most often failing, to sip the prescribed 6-8 glasses or 2 litres per day (depending on who you listen to). I’ve lost count of the number of heavy bottles I’ve lugged around in my bag or that have sat on my desk only to be left almost untouched. As the wintry weather sets in, it becomes even more of a sticking point. No matter how many acupuncturists, Reiki therapists, nutritionists, yogis, facialists and doctors tell me it’s good for me, I just don’t like it. Especially cold water, with ice. Especially with a meal (which I now know is not a good idea anyway because it dilutes the digestive enzymes).

I’ve been mulling on this lately and I do realise it has become a battle of wills between me and my body. Because deep down I know I feel better when I drink more water. I know this because when I get back in touch with my thirst and appetite (and having just been on a detox that’s where I’m at) most of the time, my hunger pangs are actually liquid pangs. And when I have enough liquid I completely forget the 4pm coffee/chocolate craving, I’m more energetic and my skin still looks bright and moisturised at the end of the day. Mind you, that’s in combination with the cocktail of expensive face creams I’m now addicted to. Plus, what we eat can contribute to how hydrated we are – plenty of crunchy salads, fruit, lightly cooked vegetables, soups which have a high water content make sense as opposed to dry, salty or dense foods. Read More…

Perfectly Balanced

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A few weeks ago, I was teaching a morning yoga class and we were practising tree pose (for non-yogis, this involves standing on one leg, bringing arms up above the head). We were all wobbling around and just could not stay still. We’d been having a lively session, experimenting with postures, chatting away, and it was proving hard to come back to calm. We were all trying too hard, so I asked everyone to go for the easiest option by putting one foot up against the other ankle, with hands on hips and to concentrate on breathing.

Once we allowed ourselves to just be, our minds began to settle. The chatter stopped and the room became silent. Suddenly we were all perfectly balanced on one foot, reaching up to the sky with our hands. Of course, we were not stiff like statues, but gently swaying, as if with a soft, warm Summer breeze. Everyone looked serene, peaceful and graceful. It was a great to watch. Tree pose is one of the best postures to ground yourself at the start of the day or whenever you feel unstable. It’s so simple yet has a profound effect which is why I love it.

And it goes to show there is no need to be tying ourselves in knots with complicated yoga postures. What’s important is the connection with our breath to become more centred and in the moment. This gives a delicious feeling of being able to step off the merry go round of day to day life for even just a few minutes. This ability to push the pause button when we need to becomes easier and eventually becomes an awareness of everything we do. Read More…

Making the Connection

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At a retreat recently, on the second day of a no caffeine, wheat, dairy regime (not something I’m fanatical about, but I felt like giving it a go), I developed a crashing, nauseating headache which had me resting up for the next two days. Of course, caffeine withdrawal was the obvious culprit (my coffee count had been creeping up, and I’d gone cold turkey). Yet it took me straight back to the times I would suffer this type of ‘migraine’ as a child and into my 20s. The solution had always been to pop an Ibuprofen pill and wait for it to go – which it always would – until next time.

Conscious that I was there to ‘clean out’ my system, and that I hadn’t had one of these headaches for years, this time, I didn’t automatically take pain killers. Instead, I decided to rest and go ahead with an osteopathy treatment which I’d organised for later in the day. It turned out the be just the remedy. I’d always assumed osteopathy was about the mechanics and movement of the body – and true, it is about the musculoskeletal system. But I found out it is also a ‘whole body’ approach; the theory being that kinks and misalignments in our supporting structure (spine and skull) can disrupt energy flowing through the nervous system, as well as our organs and how well they function.

I don’t remember much about the 2 hour treatment, except at one point, I did feel a strange dull, achey sensation in my back. The therapist explained he was moving my right kidney away from my liver (!) – it wasn’t remotely painful but felt like a huge release. And when he started working on my head, the throbbing in my right temple went immediately. This time I felt a whoosh of emotion and tears began to flow. Again, a huge release. Later, talking through with the osteopath, it was never clearer to me how every cell, nerve, organ, muscle, and bone is connected, even down to our thoughts and emotions. Read More…

Doing Too Much?

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At a yoga training course in London recently, the world-famous teacher mentioned in passing that her Ayurvedic Doctor is treating more patients with what’s known in the ancient Indian system of medicine as Vata imbalance. In Ayurveda, it’s believed we have three groups of personality traits which bring with them different sets of health tendencies. Put simply, when we’re in balance, all three work in harmony – when we’re not, we develop a ‘dominant’ dosha which may make us prone to illness.

Vata is the quick thinking, fast moving, chattery and creative side of us when balanced, becoming highly anxious, frazzled and worried when not. This rings bells in our 24/7 society – who these days isn’t frantically busy? And no doubt technology is contributing to this via constant stream of information via 24 hour news channels, Twitter and email on a social and work level, giving us that ‘switched on’ feeling. We get hooked on it. After all, who gets Brownie points for going home early, having holidays or taking a lunch hour.

This wired state is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system – the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism which keeps us on our toes, and ready for action through the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These are known as the stress hormones for good reason, as they are diverting our bodily functions into a state of alert – many things happen including a raise in heart rate, diversion of blood away from the digestive system. Of course, we need this in times of real danger, say, if we’re in a near miss in the car, or to meet an important deadline. The problem is, we’re more often in a false state of alert which begins to take its toll on our bodies. Read More…