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

Self-care for the holidays.

Christmas is a wonderful time for connecting with family and friends, but it can also be a busy time as we have to juggle the demands and expectations of those around us. How can you navigate this time with a little more ease and grace, and a little less stress and strain?

Here are 5 simple steps for letting go of the struggle this Christmas.

1. Acknowledge that you cannot please all the people all of the time. So much of our stress at this time of year is to do with managing expectations both for ourselves and for others. If you are going to keep parents, extended family, friends and partners all satisfied it’s going to leave little room for you, so accepting that there will be difficult choices and compromises to be made is step 1 in finding a little more space for yourself this holiday.

2. Try not to over-schedule. There is a temptation to cram it all in, friends, family, the work Christmas party, walking the dog, entertaining the kids, and all their friends too, don’t forget... Stop! Over-stretching yourself will just lead to mental and physical exhaustion, not to mention resenting the things you do. Trim it down, edit your to-do list, and if you can, simplify, simplify, simplify.

3. Let go of the idea of a perfect Christmas, so this should probably follow number 1, but if you look at adverts on the TV, pages in magazines or Facebook there is an idea of how Christmas should look. Let that go! Find a celebration that works for you, however imperfect, messy and fun that looks.

4. Practice being more conscious and deliberate around technology. So much of our time and energy is taken up by the mindless scrolling, it can lead to frustration, serious time-suckage, and self criticism, so be aware and be more mindful about your time online or in front of the TV. If you find it hard, set a timer. You will feel better about being more intentional with your day.

5. Do healthy activities with your favourite people. So this is the time of year when your diligent yoga / fitness / health regime goes right out the window along with the rest of your routine, so rather than feel frustration at what you aren’t doing, get your walking shoes on and take advantage of where we live with the people you love. (Tip: Leave your phone at home).

6. Be a little kinder to yourself, don’t judge that extra mince pie or glass of Prosecco. If you’re going to do it, then enjoy it with a full heart. Life is too short to add guilt to the long list of things you’re already carrying.

7. Make time for a 5 minute breather. So if you can’t make time for a full class at the studio or at home you could do 3 slow rounds of a gentle sun salutation, alternatively if you find you’re struggling with stress and anxiety take yourself somewhere quiet for 5 minutes. If you’re in a busy house you could take a walk around the block. Slow your breathing, be aware of how your body feels, notice where you can feel the stress in your body, soften and then follow the breath, even label it; breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out. As thoughts come up you can try a technique from meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg and label those thoughts as ‘not breathe’. Be kind, don’t judge, just breathe.

8. Find time for gratitude. Sometimes the old ones are the best, and this one is simple but effective. Take 2/3 mindful breaths and feel the gratitude for something in your life whatever that looks like for you.

Have a great Christmas and see you at the studio soon,
Amy x

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