Daily Prompt: Take Care

Slowly learning that I can’t do it all alone. Which is strangely empowering 🙂

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What is Yoga and Why Should I Care? (Part 1)

Well, this is a huge topic, why am I attempting to even broach the subject?  There are near-endless books, journals, articles and indeed philosophies on exactly what is yoga, so why in the world would I attempt to add my two-cents into the mix?  Well, for a start, it seems to me that many yoga students simply don’t know.  Many go to yoga class for exercise, relaxation, because they think they “should” or because they like it.  All good reasons (except for that “should” one…never do a “should”), but still people miss sooo much.  So I thought – the more people talking and writing about this, the less people will miss.  That’s gotta make sense, right?  Well…I’ll give it a lash…

The main thing many people don’t realise is that yoga isn’t exercise; it’s a way of living.  Sounds like a pretty big statement, huh, but stay with me. Most yoga classes only touch on one element of yoga: Asana, or yoga postures, but this is merely skimming the surface.

I’ll keep it short (famous last words!) and do some surface-skimming myself as an introduction and I’ll come back to revisit the topic from time to time to expand on what I say in this post.

The most obvious place to start for me (academic background and all that) is the meaning of the word itself: ‘Yoga’.  Yoga translates to ‘yoke’, which before I started studying yoga I would have heard that word and thought of the yolk of an egg or (in an overly-exaggerated Irish accent) “that yoke over there”, translating to the Queen’s English as “that yonder object” – and my apologies to those of you who don’t know many Irish folk to relate to this type of ‘yoke’.  Those older than I, or perhaps more well-read in, shall we say: less-modern? English would be aware that ‘to yoke’ loosely means ‘to unite’; yoke is ‘union’ or ‘to unify’.  (A wooden beam called a yoke unites two oxen together for working in the fields, for example, but somehow I’m going further off the topic of yoga, so! Back to it…)

Unify…union…with/to what? My philosophy teacher, Roshan, used to always say that “yoga is the union of you with you”, joining and merging different parts of the self together, becoming at ease with the whole being, the entire self, All of Me (aside: it’s best to not let someone take all of you, regardless of what certain jazz standards may allude to, trust me).

What does this mean in day-to-day living? Well, firstly looking at simply the asana part of yoga, this means that you bring body, breath and mind together to have your entire focus on the asana in which you are. Another, broader example is mindfulness – being in the present moment, in your body, in your location, in your desired action (or inaction). Focus. One-pointedness.

Perhaps it’s easier to give an example of what’s NOT yoga, such as my ridiculous attempt to find my keys earlier, walking into the room where the keys were, picking up my phone and entirely forgetting about the keys. After which I remembered I needed the keys, walked back in only to leave moments later with a glass of water and, you guessed it, no keys…you get the picture.  Four times I walked into that room to pick up my keys, the first three times my mind was elsewhere – it wasn’t unified with the task at hand.  We all do it at times, some put it down to getting old (hey! I’m not there yet!) but I think it’s simply that we have too much in our minds in this fast-paced world and have forgotten how to focus one on thing at a time.  (Yeah, yeah, women can multitask, but should we? I digress…)

Yoga can help us focus. From an asana point of view, balance postures are particularly good for developing focus.  If you’re standing on one leg and lose focus, you lose balance.  Practice makes perfect, as the well-worn cliché goes, and indeed it does. Gradually we bring body, breath and mind together to focus on where our balance is, questioning what muscles we are using to hold us in place, are we breathing gently, without strain, can we improve on what we did yesterday? Pure focus. Internal. How great it is to leave the outside world behind and keep our focus inward, body and mind collaborating beautifully together.

Moving on from asana practice, there is another aspect, or limb, of yoga called ‘dharana’, the main crux of which is concentration. As I said, I’m skimming here, so I’ll come back to this in another post along with the other 6 ‘limbs of yoga’.  According to the ancient yogic text of Patanjali there are 8 limbs in total – asana is the third, dharana is the fifth, but for now, suffice to say, if asana is all you do, you’re missing out 🙂

If you’d like to read more on this then please subscribe to my blog, and/or follow Melt Into Yoga Bristol on Twitter or Facebook.  Thanks for reading 🙂 x

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Never, Ever Give Up. Arthur’s Inspirational Transformation!

This is why I do yoga. At 30 years of age I could barely walk. Yoga helped me to live a normal life. I never reached the extreme that this man did, but I could have. Easily. A friend of mine posted this to facebook recently and I felt the urge to share it here. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

You can read about some of my own struggles in previous posts such as:
The Yoga Bug and I Give Up…And It’s About Time! 

If you like what I write about please follow me on Twitter or Facebook and check out my Yoga Website. Thank You! 🙂

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Lovely 🙂

“If you have good thoughts
they will shine out of your face
like sunbeams
and you will always look lovely”

Roald Dahl


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Melting Into Peace?

My friend’s father passed away last week. My friends’ mother died yesterday.   Not the first of my friends’ parents to go, but it’s happening more frequently.  My friends’ baby is dying in utero.  Not the first friends to lose a baby.  My friend’s fiancé is sick.  Very sick.  Not the first.  Not the first.

My heart is breaking but at the same time I have so much hope for the future, wonderful memories of the past and happy times here and now, leaving me with a confusing feeling…does it make sense to be welling happy tears of sorrow, nostaligia, grief and love? Or perhaps it’s sorrowful grief-stricken tears of love and hope.  Yes, I think that more accurately describes it.  But no less confusing.

It’s hard to wrap my head around.  I’m not sure I understand.  Maybe there’s nothing to understand and that’s where I’m going wrong.  Maybe it’s not possible to understand until after we pass on ourselves.  Is there understanding after death? Or nothingness? Or simply melting into the ether, merging with the great spirit, the great link, the force.  Peace.

We often hear that life is a mystery, but what about death? Life is all around us, visible for us all to see, everywhere, every day.  And yes, death is there too, but we don’t experience it. We witness it. Can it be understood?  Life is fleeting; Life is a gift; This too shall pass; You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone;  And a billion other platitudes. So what do we do?

Do what we love. Be with people we love. Make a difference, no matter how small; the small things add up.  Smile.  Laugh.  Love.  Give.  Take/Accept.  Be grateful.  Appreciate ourselves, our lives, our loved ones.  And be there to support others in their pain, in whatever way we can. It won’t be long before it’s our turn again.

To my friends in pain: I love you and am here for you always xx

If this strikes a chord with you, please share using the buttons below and follow me on facebook or twitter.
Laura x

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So, uh…what’s the big deal with Osteoporosis?

Want to Build Better Bones?

Bone is living tissue and as such it responds to how we treat it. Recent research has indicated that a regular, safe yoga practice can not only halt the onset of osteoporosis (fragile bones) but actually reverse its progress.  It safety improves balance, clarity of mind and overall bone strength, leading to fewer fall incidences and decreased risk of fracture.

The nutrients we take in through our diet also play a crucial part in building bone strength, so knowing what to eat and what to avoid is important, as it is for our overall health in general.

Osteoporosis and even bone fractures (breaks) are not in themselves that much of an issue – which is not to say that a fracture isn’t painful…it is!  However, the life-changing circumstances that can result from a fracture can have devastating effects, leading to being bed-bound, or wheelchair-bound, which deteriorates the muscles, to say nothing of mental well-being.

Prevention is better than cure. The best time to build up good bones is in our teens and early 20s, or actually from pre-conception!  Bone density decreases from age 35 on average, so if strong bones are not already built up, we’re on a losing battle – not an impossible battle, but certainly more difficult.

Osteoporosis is not an aging disease, nor is it a women’s disease.  20-25% of men over the age of 50 break bones due to their fragility and men with osteoporosis are much more likely to break bones than their female counterparts are.

Education is key to prevent us, our families and loved ones from inadvertently allowing this disease to develop.  While many factors are out of our control, there are still many things we can do to prevent and manage brittle bones.  Check out my post on yoga for osteoporosis to find information on Dr. Loren Fishman’s and Ellen Saltonstall’s research on the topic.

Find out more from our FREE talk at the Chiron Centre, Westbury-on-Trym,  on Wednesday April 24th, 7.30-9.00pm, or book onto our day-workshop on May 26th at Bristol City Yoga, and tell your friends and loved ones about it.

Book your place by emailing info@meltintoyoga.co.uk or iza@lacuizine.co.uk

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What’s the point of Restorative Yoga?

It took me years of struggling, comparing myself to others and getting relatively nowhere in my yoga practice before I considered restorative yoga.  Actually, I think it was more curiosity than a desire to try “Restorative”.  I just hadn’t tried it before.  I tried it and I didn’t like it. It hurt.

Now I teach restorative, so what changed?  Well, for a start, me! I changed!  My years of struggling with stretching, of pushing into the pose, of trying to look like I thought the pose was supposed to look like…well, they didn’t get me very far.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Vinyasa Flow classes I took back then. They were a great workout, great for building muscular strength and wonderful for de-stressing and taking time out from a full-on university programme, but yoga? No, I don’t think I had any idea what ‘yoga’ meant.

Now I love slower yoga practices.  I’ve taken up Astanga in recent times, so this seems a little contradictory, but no… I prefer slower yoga practices.  What I’ve always known is that my muscles are tense (understatement), but what I’ve found is that so too is my mind and my heart has been clogged (emotionally speaking).  In slowing my practice and being mindful of my movements, every bit of each of my movements, this releases the muscles and also softens my mind.  My mind has to allow my muscles to release and with one letting go, comes another, and another.

When I first took up yoga it was for restorative purposes and, as I had never heard of restorative yoga, I took up the form that was at a time and place convenient for me.  The class moved too fast for me and I was self-conscious of physical issues in front of a group who moved so gracefully, but at home I would slow every move down and work at a really basic level – my own personal version of restorative yoga.  My body-awareness was so poor at the time that my self-analysis of movement and the connection to mind and heart was at a fairly superficial level, so looking back I can see all the errors of judgement that I made, but we all have to start somewhere.

Nowadays, I’m still physically tense, although nowhere near to the extreme that I once was, and my mind still races at times, but I’ve found some compassion for myself, some acceptance of where I’m at.  I’ve stopped pretending to be able to do things that are just beyond my reach and started respecting my limits.  And lo and behold, my limits are moving, expanding, releasing, not just of body, but mind and heart as well.  My compassion for myself has extended to those around me, which has improved relationships with friends, family and those I work with.  I feel so lucky that physical issues and pain brought me to yoga, which in turn has helped restore my sanity and serenity (I’m sure there are many who would debate this, but that’s alright too).

Restorative yoga is about learning to relax.  It no longer surprises me to find students in yoga classes who simply don’t know how to, when a few short years ago I thought I was the only one!   Imagine my surprise when I finally realised that I was stretching wrong. That physical effort isn’t required to effect a stretch and in fact stopping effort is the best (only) way to stretch effectively.  Even now that I know this I still catch myself pushing on occasion, or tensing my shoulders or jaw.  Did I say on occasion? I mean on the occasion that I’m alive!  What can I say…it’s a journey, a process, a gradual learning curve.  But every step in the right direction is one I’m happy to make.

I love Astanga, but where before I would have pushed and probably injured myself, now I practice it with a restorative sense in body and mind and the result is bliss.  Bliss and better health 🙂

So I’ll leave you with a non-me example to give you a reason to bother with restorative yoga.  A few months ago I taught the Restorative Yoga class in an Intro to Yoga course at Bristol City Yoga.  This course gives yoga students an overview of several types of yoga so they can choose which they prefer at a beginner level.  After the class one of the students came up to me to say how much he had enjoyed it, and that he was surprised that he had.  He told me he had been suffering with pain in his elbow for several days.  When he had arrived for class his elbow was sore, but when he was leaving he had no pain.  How many of us cause pain to ourselves simply by not relaxing? Neck pain, lower back pain, Repetitive Strain Injuries from computer use or sporting injuries. I was thrilled that this man chose to share with me that he had relieved his pain during the class.  While I know the benefit yoga has been to me, I’m never sure I can share it well enough with others.  I admit it gives my ego a tiny, little boost… still a way to go on the yoga path, eh? 😉

Looking forward to teaching a new class starting in Bristol City Yoga on Tuesday mornings called Yoga for Healing.  This will combine Hatha, Restorative, Mindfulness and Breathwork, to help both body and mind relax. It is ideal for beginners,  those who want a slower practice, those recovering from illness or injury, or those going through a stressful or difficult period in their lives who may need some down-time.  Book Online Here, or contact me for details on info@meltintoyoga.co.uk.

If you like what you read, why not follow me on Twitter or Facebook? I’d love you to join me 🙂

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