May Retreat Day - Time for You!

I’m a busy mum, wife, school teacher, yoga teacher, and trainee life coach as well as just about to begin assisting and teaching on a yoga teacher training a few hours a week. I have a dog that needs walking, clothes that need washing and a daughter who won’t sleep at night unless I sit in her room for half an hour until she’s out cold. Sound familiar?

If I didn’t have a good routine of self-care, healthy eating plus a  yoga and meditation practice I know I would soon find myself in a messy heap (as I did a few years back before fully taking responsibility for my own health and energy). These practices sustain me and allow me to live each day with awareness, self-compassion and intention. When we live intentionally we can get more achieved from a calm and clear state of mind, make positive choices and feel good about where we are headed knowing we are in control. We can also notice when we need to stop...rest... and digest all that is happening in our lives. Often we are DOING so much that we don’t make time to simply reflect and bring awareness to our lives. Not being aware of or responsible for your choices is ultimately unsustainable. It will stop you in your tracks - I know this as a fact. You need the space and stillness to bring the light of awareness.

Perhaps you have noticed stress or lethargy in your body, maybe some anxiety or a knowledge that you’ve fallen into some not-so-positive habits. Does it feel like you never have enough time to yourself to think straight or even take a shower without being interrupted, let alone get to a yoga class? Often we’re not sure how to restore the balance to feel well and energetic again and with so much going on it can feel too overwhelming to make a positive change and stick to it so we end up doing nothing. We can end up feeling stuck (and damn tired to boot)!

If you are ready to take a step towards positive, rejuvenating and energy-restoring change in your life within a supportive wellness community our “Restore the Balance” retreat day is the perfect first step. When you give yourself permission to have some time out - just for a day - you can hit pause, click off autopilot and reflect on your year so far. You can acknowledge your places of imbalance and gently take steps towards a more harmonious life - with greater clarity.

Your retreat day on Saturday May 27th will be held in the sleepy coastal village of Lennox Head, a short drive South of Byron Bay, at the peaceful ‘Dharma Cottage Yoga’. The day is run by yoga practitioner and educator of 16 years Emma Waters of Jala Yoga in collaboration with EFT practitioner and hypnotherapist Maureen Bracken and Bridget Ann Murray - Sous Chef at one of Byron Shire’s exclusive spa retreats. You will be stretched, strengthened, nourished and relaxed and given the tools and practices to stay balanced in your busy life. Reignite or start a yoga and meditation practice, learn ways to release negative patterns that are getting in the way of a peaceful life, get yogic lifestyle tips for Winter to prevent illness, partake in delicious and nutritious vegetarian wholefoods and learn how to make some yummy recipes at home to fuel yourself and your family. Leave the day feeling calm, with a fresh perspective and renewed vitality. The day runs from 9am to 4pm.

Our community is welcoming, inclusive and non-intimidating and your facilitators have your wellness and peace of mind as their ultimate goal. We’re passionate about women filling their own cup on a regular basis to give from a place of abundance. We know full well how much you are giving to others and we hope that you take the step towards prioritising your own health and happiness via this truly delicious and practical investment in yourself. It truly is worth every cent.

 

 

Leading with your Breath

The breath can lead the body toward wellness and the mind toward calmness.

A.G Mohan

The theme of my class today was inspired by this quote. We can try and understand this quote intellectually and know that it is probably true but it is only through our practice that we come to know fully the absolute truth and wisdom of this statement. When we practice yoga asana (postures) without a focus on the breath it is not true yoga. Focussing on the breath anchors us in the present moment but also has deep physiological benefits for not only the Nervous System but all systems of the body as well as the mind. We must start our practice with the breath and try to experience our movement as an extension of the breath. When we begin yoga we might force ourselves into an asana but stress and discomfort will disturb out breathing which creates imbalances in both body and mind.

So too when we are deeply connected to our breath throughout our day we can maintain a sense of serenity regardless of what is going on around us (or we can make a choice to get back to that place if we're knocked off centre). The ability to stay calm comes from within us and is intricately linked to our breath. I think we know this intuitively but we forget - our breathing quickens and becomes more shallow in stressful or anxiety producing situations. When we tune into the body through yoga practice we notice this and we know what to do to counteract it, to give us space to respond rather than react. We lengthen the breath, we deepen the breath and physiologically we trigger a calming response.

This knowledge then guides us to begin to understand that we have a choice. As Wayne Dyer notes 'Blaming others for our lack of calmness will never bring us to the state of being that we'd like to attain.' How often do we blame others for our emotional reaction?

Dr Dyer also says 'The solution to a life of unrest is choosing stillness.'

Personally I have lived 20 years of unrest until I chose stillness as a daily practice. Our asana practice, with a focus on the breath, prepares our body and nervous system for stillness, to be able to connect to that deep place of calm which is there, often unseen - like the eye of a storm -  forgotten in the busy-ness, veiled by fluctuating thought patterns and over-activity. Yoga begins to lift that veil.

So let your breath lead you to calmness, to true wellness, as you practice on and off the mat. 

5 Ways to Calm your Nervous System

Stephen Cope writes in his book The Wisdom of Yoga:

“The shape, look and feel of this world is actually a function of our own nervous system”.

This encapsulates my own experience so vividly. A couple of years ago my nervous system was headed for a breakdown and the look and feel of my world at that point matched this malfunction. At the lowest points in my struggles I was barely sleeping each night and experiencing strong muscle twitching and jerking in my limbs – surely a sign of my sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” part) being in overdrive. In Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga) such symptoms would constitute a “Vata Derangement” – in other words a whacked out nervous system! Both wings of our nervous system are necessary and important but in our fast-paced world we live mainly from the sympathetic wing - which is like the accelerator of our car – think about what would happen if you only used the accelerator of your car while driving - crashing likely!

Here are my tips for soothing your brain, spine and of course, in turn, your nerves – the central components of your nervous system. It’s time to start applying the brakes….

1) Do abdominal breathing / relaxation / meditation. Some people find it hard to sit in meditation. It took me many years of yoga postures before I finally sat for more than 10 minutes, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t sit! An alternative is laying on your back with your hands on your belly, breathing deeply and raising the belly with each breath. Don’t let your chest rise – it’s harder than it sounds. Abdominal breathing activates the soothing and calming parasympathetic wing of the nervous system. Making your exhale long and slow increases the benefits.

2) Eat “grounding” foods. The following foods are recommended for those with a “Vata Defect”!

Protein and omega 3 oils such as fish oil (or if you are vegetarian you can use a combination of flax oil and DHA from algae).

Avoid refined sugar and flour

Good quality dairy, eggs, nut and seed butters

Sesame oil and ghee added to cooked foods

Cooked vegetables (salads are to be avoided as they are too light but if you can’t resist in summer, use an oily dressing)

3) Do yoga poses that increase blood flow to the brain or involve a “chin lock”. These activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the brain. Poses in which you bend forward, invert or lay back over bolsters are beauties.

4) Cut stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Alcohol deprives the brain of oxygen – the buzz is the feeling of neurons drowning.

5) Get regular exercise and more sleep. Note, if you’re ill, stressed or working hard you need more sleep!

As Dr Robert Svoboda, a renowned Ayurvedic doctor says:

It is easiest to harmonise the body-mind-spirit complex by starting with the body….balance of the mind and spirit…comes more easily once the body has been made firm and healthy.”

A healthy nervous system = a healthy and happy you and a different world to enjoy!

 

Cultivating your Inner Light

"The joy of Christmas" is a much used tagline perhaps started to describe this time of year with some depth and meaning but is most often used now as an advertising hook to encourage more buying. For many, Christmas is a happy time - family, fairy lights and food - which do provide a sense of joy but this can fade after all is unwrapped and consumed and we head back to our daily tasks.

I strolled around the block earlier this week to check out a house one street away that every year produces an epic display of twinkling extravagance and this year was no exception. It got me thinking because in the light of day this house doesn't have a lot of sparkle and I would not tend to describe its residents as joyful. It made me wonder what life would be like for them, in fact all of us, if we put as much effort into cultivating our inner light as we do on the external, flashing veneer of joy we cover our houses in for a month each year. I'm not saying ditch the fairy lights (I LOVE them) but rather calling us to consider whether our attention is more focused on external "lights" than the internal one. As a result of my musings I've remembered some practices to help us cultivate light and joy on a daily basis - long after the fairy lights are packed away!
Here are 5 ways to strengthen the light within for 2016:
1) Experience the divine in everything. Nischala Joy Devi calls us to focus on a simple repetitive chore such as making the bed (or washing up or hanging out the washing) and ask ourselves how this can be made into a spiritual practice. Perhaps by savouring the smooth feel of fresh sheets, the warmth and comfort of the water and bubbles in the sink or the smell of clean clothes....it's a matter of bringing full sense awareness to every daily task and performing it mindfully.
2) Take note of what saps your joy and positive energy - make a decision not to do / eat / drink / listen / watch / engage with these.
3) Connect with nature regularly - observe the natural display of lights available every night. Spend some time gazing at the moon or doing some meditation beneath the stars.
4) Find time for the things that make you feel happy to be alive (e.g for me: yoga, meditation and surfing!!). Don't just do them in the holidays.
5) Experience your breath and moments of stillness throughout each day (after yoga practice is a great time) so that you can become a witness to your unchanging, true nature which IS joy - a fact that we've forgotten.

I hope these practices give you inspiration for strengthening your inner light in 2016 to make it your brightest yet!