Stop, look and listen … to yourself



Recent minor surgery has resulted in much anxiety and forced ‘doing very little’ on me.  Prior to the operation I was becoming increasingly apprehensive and had to find a way to calm myself.  The answer came in the form of a free app; Headspace, which has ten introductory meditation sessions and encourages you to set a daily reminder to find the time and space to reconnect with yourself.  As a former yoga teacher you might think I wouldn’t need to an app to remind me to meditate, but you’d be wrong; even those trained in meditation sometimes need a little shove in the direction of ten minutes of peace each day.  Especially, if like me, you were not very good at sitting and doing nothing in the first place, and much preferred the physical asana practice of yoga.

It is also very beneficial to go back to the beginning sometimes and remind yourself of what you already know but may have forgotten, and possibly approaching it in a different way in the process.  I have almost completed the ten free sessions and have found them very useful during what has been a very challenging time for me.  As yet, I haven’t decided if I will sign up for further access to Headspace but it did lead me to consider re-reading some of my meditation books and I thought I would write a post about them as potential inspiration for some of you.

The little ‘Sit like a Buddha’ book is a simple, straightforward guide to meditation, written with humour, and is a realistic approach to the practice.  It’s also a quick read, so you can get straight on with your meditation!  One aspect of the book which I found useful was the chapter entitled ‘know your why’, which was something I had never thought about before.  I guess I just thought ‘I should meditate’ but never asked myself why I was doing so; it was just something I felt I ought to do.  Yes, I know all the benefits (and they are many) but what was the particular reason for sitting on any given day to practice?  That I had not previously questioned; and so my reason these last few weeks has clearly been dealing with anxiety over my surgery, and the ongoing recovery from it.  Once I had established my why, I felt a greater sense of purpose to practice and found it easier to make the time to do so.

‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ is a classic of the genre from Thich Nhat Hanh; my copy is quite old; it was published in 1991!  That goes to show how good it is because I do not horde, I have regular and quite ruthless clear-outs of everything, books included.  The fact that this one (and others by TNH) has escaped my eager de-cluttering is testament to it being an essential read for anyone interested in meditation.  I love the relevant examples used to allow beginners in to the practice, such as ‘washing the dishes, wash the dishes’ and the importance of being fully present in every moment, regardless of how you might feel at the time.  This is something which I have often used when anxiety comes calling and I consciously re-direct my focus to what is happening in the here and now, as opposed to what I fear may happen.  This is a must purchase!  As are any books by Thich Nhat Hanh.

‘The Meditator’s Handbook’ is one of the first books on the subject I ever bought and takes a more psychological approach to the practice.  It details varies styles of mediation from different belief systems, both eastern and western alike, in addition to perspectives from Tai Chi and yoga.  It is a very thorough and therefore, a more academic guide, with plenty of opportunities to put what you have read about into practice.  I would say this is for those who are more serious about their practice and would like to know something about the various meditation traditions around the world.

‘Mindfulness’ by Williams and Penman is one of the more recent publications on meditation and takes a modern approach by focusing primarily on the practice of mindfulness and how it can help with anxiety and depression.  It includes an 8-week programme with accompanying CD, and is clear, practical and extremely helpful; especially at a time when mental health is (rightly so) being given increasing importance in society.  As someone who is currently not 100%, I am aware that my recovery will be as much mental as physical, and if I can remain positive I will get better much quicker.

Regardless of whether you are a proficient practitioner or a beginner, I hope this post has inspired you, and I would love to hear of your books, apps or any other meditation tips you have.

Happy meditating!







Twenty years on the mat


A quarter of a century sounds like a long time, and I’ve just realised that is how long I have been practising yoga for. The amount I have done on a daily basis has fluctuated over the years since my first classes in a chilly community hall.  Periods of illness and general disruption have affected my willingness and ability to practice every day, and in recent years problems with my neck have forced a change to my practice; no longer Ashtanga but Yin Yoga and a return to where I started with Iyengar.

I also swim every week now, as yoga is no longer enough on its own to keep me slim and physically fit. Yet, the mental and emotional fitness is still more than catered for, and the routine of stepping onto my mat every morning is reassuring and necessary to start my day off on the right, or indeed left, foot.  When I go on holiday I miss my mat, and instead have to make do with a few stretches on my hotel bed in order to wake me up.  I have to admit, I love it once I’ve returned from vacation, having not done what I consider to be a proper practice for a week, and before I get into bed at night, I roll my mat out so it’s all ready for the following day.  There’s something very comforting about the noise it makes as it unfurls onto the carpet.  It’s a sense of comfort which continues the next morning as I stumble, sleepy-eyed onto it and begin my practice.

I’ll admit I don’t tend to go to a class now, and am instead happier practising at home, taking some time for myself. Yet, I do occasionally miss the shared energy which a good yoga class can have.  I’ve tried quite a few different styles of yoga over the years, and maybe I’m just searching for another.  Although that won’t be one of the newer, more Westernised approaches but something that takes me back to the original aim of yoga, which is to still the mind.  Even after all these years, it remains a challenge for me, but then that is what is so great about yoga; it never gets old.  It’s a constant learning curve, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

So, I’m potentially about half-way through my gift of existence now, and I’ve spent half of that doing yoga. I can say with certainty that it has been of benefit to me, in every single way; helping me through challenging and unhappy times in my life.  I’m sure it has also been responsible for the sense that, despite turning forty recently, I don’t feel physically any different to how I did ten years ago, and I’m much more content within myself.  I hope that a decade from now, after another big birthday, my practice will still be enabling me to keep my mind and body happy and healthy.

‘It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.’ Sutra 1.14 of The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, translated by T. K. V. Desikachar, from his book The Heart of Yoga. 

For International Children’s Day – Yoga is not a religion


In February of last year a group of parents in Encinitas, California began legal action against a local school which was providing Ashtanga yoga lessons to pupils.  They claimed that the classes involved religious worship of deities, and therefore contradicted their own beliefs.

Let’s be clear about this – yoga is not a religion.

You do not have to believe in any God or deity in order to practise yoga.  You do not need to believe in any concept of an afterlife, of a heaven or hell to go to your mat every day and find a few moments of peace.  As Patanjali stated in The Yoga Sutras, ‘Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.’  (p.90, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Alistair Shearer)

That’s it, nothing more.  The reason we practise our physical postures is so that we can gain mastery over the body, mind and breath, enabling us to sit still for long periods and be silent, which in today’s world, is a great gift.  This is precisely why it is so sad to hear that these parents are trying to deny their children the opportunity to learn a skill which would benefit their sons and daughters, both physically and mentally, providing them with an invaluable tool to cope with life’s ups and downs in an increasingly chaotic world.

What’s your view on this case?  Would you be happy for your children to learn yoga at school?

The original article that inspired this post:

The article which includes the ruling from the judge, who stated that the yoga programme ‘was not religious’.

At the time of posting, the ruling was being appealed.