Sunrise Well media mentions on living well
Your thoughts become your beliefs
Pregnancy humbled me as a yogi, even when I thought I was already humble enough in my practice. I don't want you to wait until you are pregnant or injured before taking a leaf from my book and looking at the way you approach things in a new light. How can you be more humble and start doing things mindfully?
When I started yoga, I came to it with a pretty solid footing. Flexible and energetic from a young age, I had already worked my way through childhood gymnastics, dance classes, muay thai kickboxing, and swimming before I found yoga.
I maintained a regular meditation practice and I had tried yoga many times in my 20's but was still caught up in the notion that you have to do, do, do to be really healthy. As some have said, I was a human doing rather than a human being.
Does this sound familiar?
What I felt was, yoga just wasn't fast enough.
If I'm really honest, it wasn't really punishing enough to be considered a legitimate exercise. At least not the yoga styles I tried.
It wasn't until I started thinking about balance in my life that yoga moved back to the forefront. I was living in arguably the busiest, most rat-fuelled city in Australia, with a go-go-go work ethic, fighting the waves of commuters into the cbd every day to work, and running from there to push my body through hours of muay thai training.
You'd think I would go home and collapse into a deep, golden slumber, right? Wrong.
Most nights I ran home from training, showered and ate quickly, and spent the next few hours fidgeting, tossing, and over-thinking in bed.
Why?...Well, to be honest, sometimes something can be staring me in the face and I look right past it.
Despite all my training, despite my meditation practice, despite knowing it intuitively, it took a while for me to cotton on that my lifestyle was not well balanced at all, and it showed up in two ways.
Firstly, I realised my lifestyle was overly rajasic, a Hindu term I'd been familiar with for many years but had neglected to consider for myself. Rajas is one of three qualities or Gunas in Hindu philosophy and denotes energy or motion. The other two qualities are Tamas, considered heaviness, or ignorance, and Sattva, meaning purity, goodness, or wholesomeness. It is thought that we have all three of these qualities inside us all the time in varying proportions. In some schools of thought, too much rajas or too much tamas in a person is considered an imbalance.
--> When I looked at my life then, I saw too much rajas, no doubt about it. I was super rajasic and it was my health and well-being that was paying the price, even though I ate really well and worked out religiously.
The second sign of imbalance came in the form of my attitude. Again, I saw this steely edge in me that didn't belong. There was a certain competitiveness, seeping into bouts of aggression. Aggression doesn't have to be physical, it can be found in your thoughts and your actions, and that's where I found mine. It seems the go-go-go attitude, the over-performance and stress at work, and the hardcore approach to exercise was bringing out the masculine in me. Here I am referring to the yin/yang understanding of masculine, and feminine energies, not gender.
--> I saw an imbalance in the way I was approaching my life by overloading it with yang energy in the form of over-working, over-playing, over-exercising, over-thinking...you get the picture.
So, how balanced is your life, truthfully? Are you mindful of the way you approach things?
After pondering balance in my life, my true yoga journey began.
I slowed down. I listened to my body. I aimed for balance in my actions and attitudes.
And what happened?
I got more sleep.
My health improved.
I was stronger
I was happier in myself and my relationships.
I felt myself beginning to shine from the inside out.
It was great!
But it wasn't until 2016 that my yoga reached new heights in a way I had not even contemplated. I got pregnant and, consequently, for the first time I became truly mindful in my yoga practice.
Suddenly I needed to modify the practice for my condition. Instead of starting at a well-worn point and continuing my reach forward to stronger, better positions without thinking, I was literally forced to stop and change the way I practiced, and I had to do it mindfully.
In the first trimester I stopped doing some poses from the get-go. Other poses had to be modified, and still others changed more and more over time. At times I watched while others in my class performed difficult asanas, fighting against envy and the desire to do them myself. It was hard.
there were some days where I honestly wanted to just lay down in Savasanna for the entire class.
I had never felt that before.
I was humbled.
I felt like a true beginner for the first time, in spite of my years of practice, and in spite of the balance I thought I'd achieved.
It was the first time I really had to place my baby and my body above my ego. It was there that I learned the true nature of listening to your body.
I thought I had been listening, but underneath it imbalance was still lurking. Sure I had really found a certain gentleness in the way I approached life. Sure I had tipped the scales way back to a more centred self. But, prior to my pregnancy, I never went for the 'easy' modification. If there was a higher level to the pose, I went for it. I never slowed down and really considered the results of each pose.
Are you really listening to your body and mind, and are you really thinking about your energy state as you do things?
I got more out of practicing yoga in this way than I have from all my years of practice. I felt more connected to my body, my energy state, and my growing baby. I felt more compassion and understanding for people who really struggle with their own demons in their practice, whether those demons be physical or mental.
I was more mindful than I have ever been and, as a result, I had some of the best yoga classes I've ever had.
How mindful are you in the things that you do, and how is that going for you?
What I'd like to suggest to you is, whatever it is you apply yourself to, have a go at doing it mindfully.
Really put yourself in the shoes of a beginner and feel what it is like to do it as if for the first time.
It may be yoga or meditation, it may be a sport, or it may even be something you do at work. We are constantly changing and growing. It isn't enough to simply do things without awareness, without listening. Bring your full presence to the activities you perform each day and see what comes to light for you. See what flashes of inspiration you have. See what empathy and understanding you develop, for yourself and for others.
Go on, give it a go.
Have a go at doing something in true mindfulness, doing it for the first time even if it is your thousandth, allowing yourself to simply 'be' in that moment.
And when you do, let me know how it went!
Any of you who have been to one of my classes would know that I looooove talking about the breath!
Whether it is releasing breath through the muscles in my yoga class, or following the in and out breath in a mindful meditation class, you can be sure that breath is a key part of my message to you.
Because for me, the breath is what unlocks your potential.
That's because it is intense! If you don't pay attention to your breath, you can be opening yourself up to a world of pain in the form of increased stress and anxiety, increased risk for cardiovascular issues, poor sleep, and the possibility of damaging relationships by not thinking clearly.
Not only that, daily breathing practice can bring you into the present moment, allowing you to think clearly and calmly about whatever is at hand, releasing emotional baggage that is preventing you from moving forward constructively, and bringing a deep appreciation for the very moment you find yourself in - no strings attached! This is how your potential can be unlocked through your breath. You can become a better, healthier, and more balanced person, simply by becoming conscious of your breath.
With all of our rushing around the place trying to compensate for the past or prepare for the future, how often do we just sit in the present moment, being aware of our breath and of the moment we find ourselves in?
In yogic philosophy, the breath connects to your prana - life force. Breathing techniques - pranayama - are employed alongside physical poses - asana - taking breathing from an autonomic (automatic) process to a conscious process. Attention is constantly paid to the quality of the breath, because the quality of the breath can indicate the quality of the mind.
On a practical level, the quality of the breath can be seen in the way someone breathes. Is the breath coming rapidly and concentrated in the upper chest? Or is it longer, slower and deeper, allowing the abdomen to move in and out?
Consciously directing the breath means that a person can move from a fight-or-flight response to the relaxed, rest and digest response. I have talked a little about this in previous posts here and here.
The benefits of moving away from the fight-or-flight response to the rest-and-digest response are huge.
The rest-and-digest mode is seen through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Once activated, the flow of oxygen and blood are altered. Here are a few benefits that result from this:
- decreased consumption of oxygen - increased relaxation
- decreased heart rate - increased relaxation, less work for the heart, lowers risk of heart disease
- decreased blood pressure - reduced risk for stroke, less strain on heart
- increased theta wave amplitude - boosts immune system, reduced anxiety, activation of healing mechanisms
- improved digestion
- experience of heightened alertness and energy.
(Jerath, Edry, Barnes, & Jerath, 2006)
So what are some tips to help me get in touch with my breath?
There are so many ways for you to get in touch with your breath. Here I share 3 simple and effective breathing tips that you can begin today.
I teach yoga and meditation in corporate settings and usually one of the first things I ask people to do in class is to stretch out their breathing apparatus - yep, that's right, breathing apparatus. The neck, chest and rib muscles are part of what helps you to breathe. If these muscles are tight and shortened, you can be sure that your breathing will also be tight and shortened.
Many people enter my class after sitting at their desk all morning working on stressful and tiring projects. They know it is a good idea to stretch, but it doesn't always happen when in the midst of a heavy workload. Often, my class is the first time in the day where they can sit down, switch off from work, and actually breathe.
So a few simple stretches can go a loooong way to loosening those breathing muscles.
- A simple neck stretch: Let your head drop to the right side and bring your right hand to sit gently on the side of your head. There is no need to put pressure on the neck, just let the weight of your hand help the neck muscles to lengthen slowly. Hold it there for 30 seconds, then do the other side.
- Stretch the chest muscles and activate the upper back muscles: Clasp your hands behind your back, roll your shoulders back, and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold it there for up to a minute.
- Lengthen and stretch the side ribs: Clasp the hands together, turn them out and bring your arms over your head. Stretch up through your arms, but keep your shoulders pressing down away from your ears. Keep the feeling of reaching upwards with your arms and bend your body over to one side. Be careful not to collapse into your waist here. Keep pressing upwards and outwards with your ribs. Come back to centre and do the other side.
2. Just breathe!
You might think this one is a bit of a no-brainer, but let me ask you, how often do you stop and notice your breath? Twice a day? Daily? Weekly? Ever?
Most of us go about our lives without ever thinking about our breathing, to our own detriment.
What I want you to do is really simple:
---> Just close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Notice it's quality as it enters and exits your body. Don't try and change it. Just follow it in and out, in and out. As you tune into your breath, start to recognise the four parts of the breath that run in a continuous cycle:
- the inhale
- the tiny pause after the inhale
- the exhale
- the tiny pause after the exhale
- and so on, the cycle continues.
I promise you, just checking in and doing this once or twice a day is a fantastic first step to becoming more aware of your breath. Incorporate it into your routine so it becomes habitual. In the morning after you wake up, splash your face with cold water to make sure you're fully awake, then sit down and take 5 minutes of breath awareness. In the evenings when you get home from work, do the same thing. Splash your face with cold water to wash away the day. Then sit down and take 5 minutes of breath awareness.
That's it. All you need to do is bring 10 minutes of conscious breathing into your day and you will notice a difference!
3. Count your breath
As you become more aware of your breathing, you can begin to add a count into your relaxation practice. Counting is a great way to avoid getting distracted.
You can also notice the quality of your breath by seeing the length of breath you can inhale and exhale comfortably. What you will probably find is that, with practice, it will be easier for you to lengthen your inhale and exhale. This can indicate a more relaxed state.
Try this simple counting method:
- Exhale all of your air
- Inhale for a count of four
- Notice the slight pause between the in and out breaths
- Exhale for a count of six
- Notice the slight pause between the in and out breaths
Often a 4 to 6 count is a good start, but if it is too much, just shorten the count to 3 to 5. Once you can do this count comfortably, start adding more counts to both the inhale and exhale.
If, at any time, you feel yourself straining or uncomfortable, you've gone too far. Straining can bring on the stress response - the opposite of what we're striving for here! Just dial it back to a shorter count. No need to get ahead of yourself, there will be plenty of time to lengthen the breath with practice.
So, there are 3 simple ways to calm down and unlock your potential using the breath. Give them a go and let me know what you think!
If you would like to learn to meditate but think you can't sit still or find the time, my 20 in 20 Meditate for LIFE Course is just for you! Join the no obligation pre-sale list and you will save when the course is released. Or, come and join us in the live and private Facebook group to be inspired and motivated to meditate daily.
Stay in touch and get more free stress reducing tips and tricks - sign up to my newsletter!
Jerath, R., Edry, J. W., Barnes, V. A., & Jerath, V., 2006, 'Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: Neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system', Medical Hypotheses, Vol 67, Iss 3, pp 566-571.
Do you suffer from IBS and other digestive complaints?
Did you know that your digestive system is another part of the body that can be easily affected by stress?
What can you do about it?
A healthy digestive system is essential for good long term health, through proper nutrient absorption and delivering energy to the cells of the body, among other things (Better Health Channel, 2014).
This article in The Express, UK (Lerche, 2016), describes a survey of 2000 UK adults aged 25 to 65 in which 70% of respondents reported moderate to extreme levels of stress. Survey participants also reported physical complaints from stress, such as headaches, exhaustion, and digestive complaints.
There are many causes and triggers for IBS and other digestive complaints and I don't purport to know all about IBS. However, my quick bout of research indicates that identifying and controlling life stressors can be used in conjunction with other treatment to help reduce the symptoms of IBS.
The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) states that a person with IBS [and, presumably, others with digestive issues] should identify the stressors in their life that are associated with IBS and work on addressing and reducing those issues (IFFGD, 2016).
A few things you can do that may help:
1. Focus on relieving emotional stress in your life - take up exercise, drop an activity if you're over-doing it, work on relationship issues - you be the judge on what you need to do to relieve emotional stress.
2. Take some time before your meal to sit calmly and focus on breathing - eliciting the relaxation response before you eat will help move your body out of flight-or-flight mode into the rest-digest mode you need.
3. Eat slowly and mindfully - slow it down! Take your time to chew the food and savour the taste. Allot sufficient time to eat and don't just squeeze it in between 'important tasks'. Give your eating and digestion the priority it deserves. After all, this is how you fuel your body and give it the energy it needs to get you through the day!
If you are seeing that stress is overtaking important parts of your life, like your eating habits, routines, or health, it might be time to take things down a notch in a more permanent way - I can work with you to design a coaching program based around your individual needs and challenges. Three months of your time and you'll be hitting stress on the head - you'll be a new, calmer, healthier version of yourself with your life under control.
Send me a message using one of the booking forms online here and I'll be in touch to set up a free 15 minute Discovery call with you to see whether stress management coaching is the right fit for you.
It's your health - it's so worth it.
Better Health Channel, 2016, Digestive System, August 2014, accessed 22 June 2016, <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/digestive-system>
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, 2016, Stress and IBS, 15 June 2016, accessed 22 June 2016, <http://www.aboutibs.org/what-is-ibs-sidenav/stress-and-ibs.html>
Lerche, O. 2016, 'Stomach ache? One in THREE Brits say stress gives them bouts of irritable bowel syndrome', UK Express, 21 June, 2016, accessed 22 June 2016, <http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/681846/irritable-bowel-syndrome-stress-bloating-one-in-three-herbal-remedy>
Tell me, what do you know about meditation?
Does it sound 'new age-y'? Or has it come into the main stream well enough for you to know meditation doesn't have to mean robe-donning, chanting, and so on...?
Have you tried it?
Tell me, did you close your eyes and 'nothing much happened'? ...Did you fall asleep? ...Did you find it hard to stay still?
In fairness, if you have tried to meditate and basically felt like you must be 'doing it wrong' or 'missing something', I'd wager a bet that you're not alone.
People quite often tell me that their first few meditation sessions didn't go how they thought they would. Some might have even sat there wondering what all the fuss is about! In fact, some may argue, why bother meditating at all if you end up feeling more confused about it all than when you started?!
What that tells me, is that this person has bought into the somewhat hyped-up idea that to meditate for the first time is to be instantly enlightened, and that if you do not discover the hidden truths or reach a higher plane, then you must be missing something. So maybe you put it into the 'too hard' basket and give up.
In reality, the sooner you let go of 'guru-level enlightenment' as a goal, the better. This idea has come from media sensationalism, envy-inducing and unrealistic social media posts, or, of course, celebrity hype. There is truth somewhere in those bold claims, which can be traced back to the original Hindus and Tibetan monks practicing yoga and meditation for many centuries, but in our Western, capitalist society, deeper spiritual meaning is quite often obscured by the shininess of the glitter that is the modern health craze. Don't get me wrong, the modern health craze is good, if somewhat skewed and confusing. Green smoothies and yoga have become mainstream. But that means that there are literally thousands of newbie yoga teachers around the world who walk and talk as though they've reached some state of nirvana from all the yoga and meditation they do, and that it is their job to impart its wisdom. This imparting of wisdom is generally nice and benign, but I believe it can mislead you, the modern public, about what meditation is, what it can do for you, and how to access it.
But I'm not here today to rabbit on about all of that, so I'll stop!
I simply want to point out what I see as misconceptions about meditation commonly held by the general public, perhaps including you, Ms or Mr Average Joe. My hope is that you see it for the amazing practice that it truly is, but that you see it with an ounce of realism and logic. If you have been put off in the past from trying it, I am hoping to clear away some of those myths so you might also see yourself giving it a try.
I teach meditation and yoga. I have skills to share, and an incredible amount of enthusiasm for yoga and meditation, because it can truly be life-changing.
As part of my offering in stress management, I want to share with as many people as possible, just how health-giving and stress-reducing these practices can be.
However, I do not intend to let others think I have become enlightened. I will not be a charlatan about it. I will not get woo-woo on you and try to convince you that I have some higher powers that you are missing out on. Because I think it will put you off making it a regular practice, and because I think it would unethical of me to do that.
My gut feeling is that the more you see it as something within your reach, the more chances there are that you'll try it. And because I know what an incredible difference it can make to your life, health and relationships, I would love to see more people bringing it into their daily lives!
So what has meditation done for me?
Regular, long term practice has definitely made me more grounded, more emotionally aware, more balanced, and more empathetic, among other things. It has improved my health, made me more alert and focussed, given me increased self-awareness and self-compassion, and helped me build and nurture my special relationships, and I absolutely love it.
I wish my daily meditation practice looked like this. But it doesn't.
This was taken in Bali on my yoga teacher training. It was posed and I was actually exhausted from the intensive (and enjoyable!) program we undertook. It was a beautiful setting, but I haven't made it back there, and I'm not sure when I will. Wish I could say my life looked like this every day, but I would be misleading you.
I live in a cramped 1 bedroom flat in a basement in a very expensive city. Usually, I do yoga and meditate in one of the only spaces we have available - the square metre or so at the foot of the bed, next to the wall and the hole in the floor that smells like musty earth. I don't mind though.
Usually, I meditate for 20-30 minutes every morning. But some mornings I don't sit down in time and I have to cut it short. Some mornings I have an early meeting or some other appointment, and I can only squeeze in 5 or 10 minutes. On those days I make a promise to myself to make up for it in the afternoon, but I don't always get there. Sometimes I have all the freedom in the world and I don't use a time limit, then time truly does disappear. But I don't mind either way.
I have dreams of running my own stress management retreats. I have dreams of living somewhere tropical and spacious with my husband. Who knows, we might even get there one day. But as it is right now, I don't mind one bit.
The photo you see above, this is not my meditation reality. And I truly don't mind.
Because, for me, meditation is never something that is visible on the outside. You could be in a dank and dusty cell. You could be run off your feet with chores. You could be all alone, or you could be surrounded by people. All of these things won't matter the minute you choose to close your eyes and connect with your breath, whether it is for 5 or 50 minutes. As soon as you do that, you are opening the door to a new, expansive world, and this is where the magic happens. Not surrounded by green smoothie gulping yogis, not in a world-class health facility, not on a long holiday away from work, but in your daily life, where you are right now, with the time you have right now. That's where it happens.
This brings me to the whole point of this article, misconceptions. We tend to create a set of beliefs around something, and these beliefs are not always true. Sometimes, these beliefs can put people off doing something, or trying something for the first time, even when this thing could be of immense benefit to them. I would hate to imagine that you have avoided trying meditation because you believe any of the 3 common misconceptions about meditation below.
(Bear in mind that I am not a meditation purist, and so, my thoughts on meditation are more liberal and flexible than some. What I'm giving is my take on reality, no one else's).
You close your eyes and something woo-woo (for want of a better word) should happen from the very first time.
'Fraid not dude! Unlikely, I should say. For most people, they close their eyes and nothing magic happens. In fact, most people, for the first time, realise just how congested with thoughts their mind is, and just how uncomfortable it is to sit completely still for a spell. To be fair, I had a pretty awesome first time meditation experience, and that definitely provided me with the hook to keep practicing. I was taught to meditate at 15 years of age, by a monk, with a small group of people, some completely new, and some very, very experienced. I can remember everything about that first session, especially the moment I was hit by wave after wave of what I can only call a 'deeply meditative state'. I'm convinced to this day that those waves were somehow passed to me from one of those ridiculously experienced meditators, though I'll never know for sure.
Either way, it hooked me right in as it was an incredible experience. But I think it was an exception. Most of the time, the feedback I hear from people who meditate for the first time is that 'nothing happened', as though they were expecting something like the rush from a drug, or the doorway to another universe to suddenly open when they close their eyes.
Your own experience could be anywhere along that spectrum, from 'nothing happened' to 'waves of awesomeness'.
What I suggest is that you be ok with that and, regardless of which it is, make a promise to yourself to just keep practicing. Eventually shifts will occur, and you'll start to see what is actually possible. Every single human being is capable of doing this, if they choose. Until the shifts happen, you can at least enjoy some time out from whatever you are doing. If you can slow your breathing down and elicit the relaxation response, you are doing your body a great favour, even if you don't meditate deeply for many, many months.
There's only 1 way to meditate.
Like, OMG, like, No Way Jose! There are a gazillion ways to meditate! Ok, maybe not a gazillion. But there are many.
The trick is to shop around to find that one that works for you. You can meditate with a candle, with your eyes closed, sitting in lotus, sitting on a chair, walking, saying a mantra, using mala beads, focussing on your breath, chanting, using a podcast, through Youtube, in a class, via an app, and more. These are just the variations I've been exposed to.
Perhaps you decided to learn to meditate a few years ago and took yourself off to a community class where everyone sat on the floor and chanted for 45 minutes, leaving you with a stiff back, bung knees, and, you've forgotten the words, but there's weird tune whirring through your mind from the incessant chanting. You don't go back and you've written meditation off as loony.
Please don't. Please don't give up on it. Shop around. Perhaps that wasn't the right one for you. Seek out some different meditation groups. Perhaps you can make it a goal to try a different meditation style per week for 6 weeks and see what works best for you.
Do you prefer to go it alone with an app or a podcast? Or is joining a group going to keep you more accountable?
Are you comfortable sitting on the floor for a long time, or can you chat to the teacher and see whether they have an option for chair meditation?
Do you doubt your own ability to sit still at this stage of the game? Maybe take the pressure out of it and explore walking meditation to start with.
Absolutely, there is not only 1 way to meditate. If you've tried before and didn't like it, give it another go. Open your mind and try a few methods. You might be surprised to find one that really works for you!
You have to meditate an hour a day every day in order to do it right
This is a tough one. It's true, the more you meditate, the easier it becomes. And it is also true that the longer you meditate, the deeper you can get into a meditative state. Buuuut that is quite an off-putting truism for most. There is no doubt that when you first start, finding even 5 minutes to spare is difficult, let alone 30 minutes!
So what I recommend is to start with just factoring in 5 minutes every day to get quiet and find a relaxed state. Once you have built that quiet time into your routine, you can start to extend it by 5 minute increments. You might stop and make yourself still for 5 minutes for the first two weeks, then up it to 10 minutes, and so on.
Over time you may build up to a regular, one hour practice. Or maybe not. If you're like me, you might have a regular 20-30 minutes per day, but sometimes you'll cut it short, or just be grabbing 5 minutes to centre yourself on the train on the way in to work.
Be flexible. You live in the modern world, as do I. Do what you can, when you can. But do it!
So those are 3 big misconceptions that I see popping up in my clients and people I talk to about meditation. Have a think about whether you have had any thoughts like this yourself, and whether you have considered 5 minutes of meditation as being somehow out of your reach.
What can you do to bring it into your world a little more often, and a little longer each time?
I'd love to hear from you! Do you meditate? Have you tried it and given up? Did you find it hard to make the time, or were you disappointed with the results?
Let me know in the comments box below!