Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Unexpected Joy of Self-Love.

From an article I wrote for Bunnies and Zen blog:

I’ll be honest, the idea of self-love used to set my teeth on edge, like the Kardashians and memes with kittens. And as for self-care, well, that was an indulgence reserved only for those with the luxury of time. Always busy, I was a perfectionist, and a people-pleaser. My life ran at 100 miles an hour, juggling my own business with caring for my young son, and teaching yoga part time, often to stressed-out Mums just like me. I felt like I was out of control, constantly reacting to other people’s demands, putting off precious me-time for the needs of others and the day I was ‘less busy’.  As the anxiety that I’d struggled with since childhood started to creep back with unsettling regularity, I began to realize, something had to change.

It was during small windows in my week, when I eventually took to my yoga mat that I dared to slow down; lighting a candle, taking deep breaths, and becoming more mindful and intentional with my thoughts and my movements.

Why, I wondered, couldn’t I bring those lessons from my yoga off the mat?

And so I began to slowly unravel my patterns of behaviour and thinking, carefully undoing years of over-achieving and striving for that ideal of ‘having it all’. Finally weaving the teachings of yoga into my daily life. I began to see self-care less as a luxury, and more a necessity; less an occasional treat, like a massage or a leisurely soak in the tub, and more a daily practice that kept my spirit fuelled.

I studied my yoga text books, learning page by page about the negative effects of chronic stress on the body and mind, including high blood pressure, ulcers, back pain, immune dysfunction, reproductive and digestive problems, and depression.

I noticed that as teachers and students of yoga if we’re not careful, yoga can easily become just another thing on our never-ending ‘to-do’ list. Another box to tick before we hurry to the next thing. We often arrive frazzled to class after a hectic day and carry that energy through our practice, perpetuating our sense of overwhelm and exhaustion. But if we come to our mats (and also our lives) with kindness and compassion, yoga can help to rebalance our energy, restoring us back to our centre.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt from my yoga practice that now help me every day.

Self-care begins with self-compassion. For a long time my kindness was only reserved for other people. I constantly put my own needs way below the needs of everyone else, but this only led to feelings of resentment when my time was constantly squeezed by my obligations to other people. By asking what works for me I’ve got better at prioritizing my time and not overscheduling myself.

Be the witness to the uncomfortable and unhelpful thoughts. After 4 years of teaching yoga and running workshops for women I recognized that most of the unhappiness and stress came not from critical family members or friends, but rather from the women themselves. It was their own inner critic that was always the harsh voice telling them they weren’t enough, this helped me to recognize my own. Of course we’re not helped by the images we see every day in the media and online, but the internal criticism is always about more than the size of our waistline or the wrinkles on our face. It is about how we parent, how we work (or don’t work), how we prepare meals. how we keep our homes and our relationships. Through my yoga and meditation practice I’ve learnt to notice my inner voice that is quick to criticize and compare, the voice that often tells me I don’t have time to sit down as there is still more to get done. By witnessing the thoughts as they come up I find the space to acknowledge them and can begin to let them go, choosing a dialogue that is gentler and kinder. This is a constant practice (that voice can be pretty convincing), but little by little I’m getting there.

Learn the art of a loving no. Yoga teaches us to simplify and purify both body and mind, and most of my feelings of overwhelm and stress came from simply taking on too much. Learning to say no in a loving way was perhaps the hardest lesson in self-love. It meant sometimes having uncomfortable conversations, often feeling like I’ve disappointed people, when this is rarely the case, and I remind myself that the people who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.

In order to give, you have to be able to receive. Just like the inhale and the exhale of the breath, we have to be able to take energy into the body in order to be able to give it out. We don’t have unlimited reserves, or as the saying goes ‘you can’t give from an empty cup’. Quiet time and moments of stillness every day will literally recharge your physical and emotional batteries.

Practice less effort and more ease.  It was whilst reading a quote from the Buddha that this lesson really struck me ‘how we do anything, is how we do everything’. I realised that when I was pushing too hard in my yoga practice, I was usually pushing too hard in life too. By softening and being a little kinder to myself I could bring more ease and less struggle into my day.

Notice the breath. Our breath is such a great indicator of how we’re feeling, when I notice I’m going into the tailspin of stress and anxiety my breath is usually shorter, caught up in the top of my chest. By taking a few moments to breath a little deeper and more intentionally it helps slow me down and calm and steady my mind.

And finally…take that slow deep breath and let go of being perfect.

I still need to remind myself of these lessons every day, my old habits and patterns run deep, but slowly I’ve begun to take much better care of myself and I’ve found that sense of loving kindness towards myself that I used to find so difficult.

*Amy Bartle teaches regular yoga classes at Yoga at the Reach, Sheffield, you can find out more at

Monday, 20 November 2017

#yogasoulproject: OBSERVE

#yogasoulproject and social media

In September I started a small social media movement on Instagram. This was a quiet revolution focusing less on the physical postures of your yoga practice and more on what it has meant in my life. Those small, barely discernable shifts that occur when you take your attention inwards. #yogasoulproject was born.

I hope you can share your ideas and insights.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Q&A for Yoga at the Reach

Like all teachers I practice what I teach; mainly a dynamic, flowing style of Hatha combined with mindfulness based meditation. Over the years I’ve drawn influence from a few different styles including Sivananda and Ashtanga. My practice changes depending on how I feel and how much time I have in the day. Sometimes I enjoy a short, strong practice and other days a slower, more contemplative practice will suit my mood.

I began taking classes when I was 21 and living in London. I turn 41 this month and in those years since my first class my practice has changed hugely with my life and with my teachers. I’ve gone through periods of intense daily practice and other times when it might be just once or twice a week. At the moment I try to get on my mat at least 5 times a week, sometimes life has other plans of course and I try not to be hard on myself if I can’t make it, that’s the yoga too.

Ha - if I’m being honest it was because Madonna was doing it! Well I was an impressionable 21 year old! But the other main reason was because I was very stressed and anxious growing up and I think on some level I understood that it might help. My dad has being doing yoga for as long as I can remember and I’m sure there were elements of his practice that influenced me to go to my first class.

I feel calmer, stronger, happier, lighter and easier in my body. One of my first teachers talked about the ‘monkey mind’ in class and I always joke that mine has always felt like a particularly over-active and negative monkey! Off the mat, yoga has also afforded me the space and perspective to understand myself a little better. I still struggle with aspects of anxiety everyday, my monkey is definitely still with me but I’ve been able to observe and notice it more so it controls me less.  Today I teach self-compassion and non-judgement in my classes. Too often people come to the studio with an idea of how the postures should be, or how they would like their bodies to look and move, but for me the most important part of my teaching is acceptance of where we are right now. For too long I forgot this in my own life and practice. 

I teach two very different classes at the Reach. Thursday evenings at 7.45 is my Dynamic Hatha class this is a flowing style of Hatha focusing on slow, strong, mindful movement, with an emphasis on alignment and breath. As it’s a late evening class we always wind down with a meditation and relaxation, ideal just before bedtime. Once a month I get to share the Rest and Relax classes with my friend Joanne who is a Reiki master. This is an alternative experience of the mind, body connection and we often get people who wouldn’t usually come to a yoga class enjoying the immersive atmosphere of the deep relaxation. This class combines different modalities including restorative yoga, which uses props to support and hold the body, mindfulness-based meditation, and yoga nidra to explore a deeper sense of release in both mind and body. Those that come along can also have the opportunity to experience Reiki with Joanne [these places are limited to 5 per session and must be prebooked]. It’s fun and we usually have a few people snoring at the end!

It sounds like a cliché I know but it really is for everybody. Some of my most profound and rewarding experiences of sharing yoga have been with people with limited mobility or energy. At it’s root yoga is about focusing the mind, and in this age of constant distraction who wouldn’t benefit from that?! If you can breath you can do yoga. I encourage all new students to try different teachers and styles until they find one that resonates for them.

Come with a sense of humour and an open mind. I still feel like a beginner. My ideas and thinking about the tradition are constantly challenged when I go to workshops and visit new teachers, the tradition and teachings are so vast it can sometimes feel overwhelming, I know enough to know I don’t know a lot. Zen Buddhism talks about ’Shoshin’ or ‘beginner’s mind’ and I think this is a big part of practicing yoga, it teaches us to stay open both physically and mentally as we get older. I feel I’m moving into a new phase in my life and my practice where I’m beginning to explore the more subtle aspects of yoga and it’s philosophy, this feels exciting and challenging for someone raised a spiritual sceptic!

Nicola still inspires me with her dedication and rigour in her practice, Angus Ford Robertson at Battersea Yoga is also someone who really inspired my practice early on. I’m also inspired by teachers who challenge our understanding of what yoga is and how we think about it today such as Peter Blackaby and Amy Matthews. I’m always reading and listening to different teachers from different traditions and backgrounds and some of my favourites are Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield and Michael Stone. I try to integrate some of these different teachings into my classes so that people who come along can take the lessons of yoga off the mat and out into the rest of their lives. This is where I’ve had the most benefit over the years. Teaching for me is just a continuation of my practice, sharing what I’ve learnt and how it’s helped me.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

3 surprising lessons I’ve learnt from Hatha yoga.

Each day when I step onto my yoga mat to practice [ok, lets get real here some days it just doesn’t happen…but more of that later], I look forward to the physical stretch of my practice. I settle my breath and begin to steady my mind. These are perhaps the main reason’s I’ve stuck with my yoga practice the last 18 years. Through relocations and major life-changes the stretch, the breath, and the peace of mind have kept me coming back. But what I didn’t expect was the other lessons I’ve learnt stepping onto my mat as an eternal student and now as a teacher.

1. Patience. This is a big one. It might be as simple as finding ease in my forward bend, or as challenging as dropping back into upward facing bow pose, but I’ve learnt the only way to progress is by consistently sticking with the practice. It’s called a practice for just that reason; it’s about the journey, not the destination. My yoga is always changing, evolving, and I’ve learnt to not rush the process, but acknowledge that in order to grow and develop I just have to be consistent and show up, the rest will take care of itself.

2. The importance of listening to my body. Connecting to my body and really paying attention to it’s subtle signals is so important for me as I spend 99% of my time in my head. I’m a big worrier. A big over-thinker. Learning to tune into the intelligence of my body has been vital to developing my yoga practice. What’s great is this has also paid dividends in the rest of my life too, like cutting back on food and life-style choices that I knew didn’t make me feel great because I tuned into what my body was telling me.

3. Acceptance. Something I’m still working on [refer back to point 2], but learning to accept where I am today is a big lesson. Sometimes that means acknowledging that I don’t have time for yoga today, but I’ll do my best to get on the mat again tomorrow. Accepting that I’m not perfect and that that’s OK has perhaps been the biggest lesson for me, and one that I’m still working on every day through the stretch, the breath and the peace of mind of my yoga practice.

What surprising things have you learnt from your practice? x

Sunday, 2 August 2015

A place to pause...

Where to start. I'll keep it short and sweet. This is where you'll find my thoughts, musings, ideas and hopefully some fun stuff too.

I love yoga, not just on the mat, but what it means for the rest of my life too. The breathe that carries me through stressful days at work, the stretch that eases my muscles after an energising run, the moment of gratitude at my son's kisses. For me yoga, like life, doesn't have to be serious. Yes, it is called a practice for a reason, and everyday I move on my mat, but it should also enhance all aspects of our lives. We should embrace it like we embrace the other things that bring us joy. So here you'll find pictures of what makes my life whole, the beauty, light and life in the simple details.

Hopefully just like my yoga practice this site will grow organically, spontaneously and always from my heart.

Thanks for joining me on this new journey.

Amy x