A Year of Gratitude...

gratitude jar

As the year comes to a close I always look back and reflect, whilst looking forward and setting goals. This year I have thrown myself into 'adult' life by getting married and having a baby. Added to this, I started to run my 200 hour teacher training course, something I've been planning for years. Suffice to say, life goals have been ticked off this year!

It's been easy to count my blessings, however life isn't always this full and with the ups there invariably come the downs. I've decided to start a gratitude, or happiness, jar in January and I'm inviting you all to join me on this. All you have to do is write down one thing each day that's made you happy or that you're grateful for and pop it in the jar. Then at the end of the year you can open all the notes and be reminded of what an awesome year you've had. And when you're feeling a bit down you can also dip into the jar and read a note, which is guaranteed to make you feel positive!

Practicing gratitude has been proven time and again to help improve our sense of wellbeing. We can get so caught up in the things that we think we want or need that we forget to appreciate what we have. But when we actively think about something that has made us happy the memory sparks the release of happy hormones... and remind us that however bad things may seem, there is always something to be grateful for. 

So, in this time of giving, give yourself the gift of gratitude; your future self will thank you for it!

Wishing you all a wonderfully positive festive season and start to 2018. Namaste, Nathalie

Yoga & Mindfulness - our summer holiday survival guide!

The summer holidays are here, which for many means a juggling of work and childcare, entertaining bored kids whilst trying to maintain a job, cook, shop, wash, think, breathe.... 

So how do we find the balance between looking after our family and looking after ourselves, especially when the time we have is stretched even further during the school holidays? Here are a few things  I try my best to do so that I can truly enjoy the precious time I have with the people I love without feeling stressed! 

Put the phone/laptop down! This is easier said than done, especially when you are running your own business. Children learn by example and it has been proven time and again that screen time has a negative impact on them. It's also a very easy way to get distracted with something that really isn't important, like checking our facebook feeds! So when we are with the kids / family / friends, make sure we really are with them 100%. 

Set time aside to do something fun. It seems like a bit of a shame that we need to schedule time out of our busy lives to enjoy with loved ones. However, if we can set time aside then we don't feel guilty about the fact that we aren't doing something else (like working) because we have already dedicated the time to doing something fun. That old 'work/life balance' thing comes into play here, but it is important. Perhaps if it's in the diary it's easy to stick to?

Be present. The previous two both relate to us being present in what we are doing, being mindful. To practice mindfulness we don't always have to be sitting cross-legged in a quite room focusing on our breath. We can be mindful in everything we do by bringing our awareness to the now, which helps us to fully enjoy the moment. When we are with people we love, whether it's kids, partners, friends, family, actually being present with them is so important. If our mind is elsewhere we are not making the most of that time, and the people we are with can sense it. It can be harder to connect and often this leaves us feeling unsatisfied. 

Make time for ourselves. In my experience, when I don't look after myself I have nothing to give out to others. Running on empty leads to tension, stress, snappiness and ultimately an unhappy family which makes me sad! So whilst it is important to put time aside to do fun family activities, it is also important to set aside the time for an evening jog, a yoga class, a quiet cup of tea, a long bath... whatever you enjoy.

Don't expect too much from yourself. Practice Ahimsa - non-harming - by being kind to yourself rather than being hard on yourself! Often the biggest expectations are the ones we put on ourselves. Sometimes we need to do our best, but sometimes we need to do what's just good enough, because this is still enough. So maybe, whilst we are being amazing parents during the school holidays we won't be winning best employee of the month, but that's ok! 

Share the things you love with the people you love. If you love doing yoga and you are struggling to find the time to do it because you are looking after everyone else, why not get them doing yoga too? Sharing activities that we enjoy with others is a great way to strengthen bonds, form new connections and common ground. 

....on that note, I thought I'd share a few partner yoga practices with you. These are great to try with the kids and a brilliant way to create a bit of light-hearted calm.

Partner chair pose (utkatasana) - stand facing your partner and hold their right hand with your right hand. Both bend your knees and lean back so that you are pulling slightly on each other's arms. Lift your left arm and bring it behind you, turning towards the arm as you come into a twist. If your partner is a lot smaller than you, let them lean out as you stay more upright to support them, otherwise you can both lean out and twist.

Lizard on a rock - come to a childs pose (balasana) with your knees together. Let your partner bring their back against yours as they lie over you. Their legs may be bent or straight, feet on the ground for support. Allow them to release into a backbend as they drape over your back, letting their hands to hang. Depending on the size of your partner, you may be able to swap positions.

Seated forward fold (paschimotanasana) - sit facing each other, with your legs straight and the soles of your feet against your partners. Bend your knees slightly and take hold of your partner's hands. Gently lean back, drawing them into a forward fold over their straight legs. Check in to make sure it isn't hurting. 

Back to back breathing - sit comfortably with your back against your partner's. Close your eyes and focus on the feeling of your back against theirs. Notice how your rib-cages move as you breathe in and out. Can you feel when your partner is breathing in and out? See if you can synchronise your breathing for a few moments, tuning in to each other's breath. 



Santosha (contentment) and finding happiness

santosha blog post

One of my first yoga teachers said to me that I would never be completely content. I thought she was right, but I've come to realise that we all have the ability to be content and that this is the heart of true happiness. Santosha, the sanskrit word for contentment, is an important part of yoga practice. Being present, mindful and OK with what we have right now allows us to enjoy this moment. But it can be hard to cultivate or to maintain. 

I draw a lot of my lessons in life from surfing, sometimes it's a cliche but it works for me! I used to sit in the line up and look down the beach, and the waves always seemed to be breaking better there. However when I got out, walked down the beach and paddled back out, surprise surprise, the waves were exactly the same. Yoga has taught me a similar lesson. Whilst I don't see the need to practice on a yoga mat, I do understand the symbolism of it. When we practice yoga we are not looking at what anyone else is doing, we are looking inside ourselves, a space definted by our mat. When we do look around at other people on their mats, notice someone elses external pose and compare ourselves to that we loose our focus. This is not yoga.

So, how does this relate to our lives and our happiness? Over the years I have longed for other things, mainly sandier beaches, bluer sea and warmer sun! I have found it difficult to settle because there is always somewhere else to be and something else to do. My lack of contentment has taken me on many adventures and I would never change this. It has given me lots of memories, but it hasn't always made me completely happy.

Life goes in phases - there is the time to fly the nest and gather experiences and there is the time to settle and make a new nest. As I reflect on the last 6 months I feel happy that I have the things that are truly important to me, love and family. And as I prepare for my new family I know that my life isn't perfect and it certainly isn't the life I had imagined a few years ago. I dreamed of travelling with my baby on my back, bringing it up in different countries, settling somewhere hot and sunny and definitely surfing more than once a year! But I had to make a decision, what did I want more in my life - all of that, or love and family. My husband and I can't travel right now because we have a responsibility to be here for my stepson. My life doesn't 'look' the way I imagined it would, but it 'feels' even better than I could have imagined. 

In a world where we are constantly seeing visual representations and portrayals of other peoples lives in a way that they (or the marketing companies) want us to see it, it can be hard to ascertain how any of it feels to those people. Usually we assume they must be happy because their lives look so perfect, and often we think that we, too, would have that happiness if we had all the things those people have. However, once our basic needs are met our happiness doesn't change that much regardless of how much more or less stuff we have, and we can't have it all! Working out what are the most important things to us right now and forgetting about all the other things we could have helps us to find contentment and ultimately happiness. And my guess is, usually the most important things to us aren't 'things' at all. 

Yoga and the releasing of unwanted tensions

'Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders' is one of my favourite sayings because it is EXACTLY what we do. When we are stressed out or worried, our shoulders seem to automatically tense as if we are trying to hold something up. It's no secret! The problem is, we walk around in this physical state for so long that it begins to feel normal and we forget what it's like to not tense our shoulders. We think we are relaxed because we are so used to feeling this. Letting go of that tension becomes harder. 

It's not just our shoulders that carry the weight of the world. All the muscles in our body tighten up when we are under stress or tension. As the fight or flight response often kicks in, our breathing becomes shallower and faster, blood vessels restrict to keep the blood supplying our vital organs, we either prepare for battle or to run. These natural bodily responses tell our brain that we are under threat. The longer our shoulders remain tense and our breathing short or shallow, the longer our brain things there is a problem. 

Today, our stresses aren't the same as they were when we were primal beings. They are often unseen and not life threatening - a deadline at work, an influx of emails that need to be replied to, a bill that needs paying, being stuck in traffic and late for a meeting. But our bodies don't know the difference and so they respond in the same way. These modern day stresses are consistent, like a low-level hum. And so, our nervous systems often don't have time to switch off and reset. Hence, people wander around with their shoulder's hunched up to their ears unaware of what their bodies are doing, creating a negative loop of stress that can be hard to break.

So how do we overcome this? It's not so easy to just disconnect and take off to live on a desert island (although I'm working on it ;-) ) Obviously, my answer is yoga. When we practice yoga the first thing we do is breathe slowly and deeply. Moving with an awareness of our breath helps to slow our breathing down which tells our brain that we are calm. Spending time focusing on what your body is doing, how it feels in a certain position, where it is in space, brings our attention away from the outside world AND away from the world inside our minds, simply into our bodies. 

Yoga Chitta Vritti Niroda is another one of my favourite sayings. Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind. More often than not, in today's world the stresses we are placed under come predominantly from our minds. We have so much going on and are so 'connected' to everything and everyone that it seems impossible to switch off. This creates tension. Yoga gives our brain time out, something that it needs. 

As we allow our mind to settle and focus more on how our body feels, noticing whether our arms are in line in warrior 2, or whether our spine is straight, brings our focus back to our bodies. From here we are able to notice where the tension lies. How tight are our hips and shoulders. Which muscles feel stiff, which feel loose. Over time this body awareness heightens, and we are able to notice it faster. Only then are we aware of the moments when our shoulders are hunched up by our ears and only then can we take the steps to release them. 

Sometimes, especially in a fast paced world, we seek fast paced activities to keep us entertained. Sometimes what we really need is the opposite. To slow down, allow the noise to become quiet so that we can listen to what's really going on. Sometimes taking the time to listen is daunting, but the relief we feel when we can finally hear is worth it. 


If you'd like to slow things down and take some time out to listen to your body and release those unwanted tensions, join us on 9th April for our next Sunday Session of yoga at The Boathouse Studio, Amberley.