Meditation doesn't have to be complicated. In fact the more layers you add to your meditation practice the more inaccessible it can seem. Keep it very simple. Try this 5 minute meditation practice at any time of day to relax and unwind.
Take a comfortable seat. You can even lie down. Find a position that allows you to soften and release tension. Start to observe your breath. Your mind will inevitably start to wander. Any time you notice that you are caught up in a train of thought is the exact moment you are in the present. At that exact moment, simply relax. Observe your breath, sounds, smells, sensations, thoughts, anything at all that happens to come up. Every time you notice that your mind is fixed on something, just relax.
Continue with this observational meditation for 5 minutes. Once finished note how you feel. Repeat regularly and reap the benefits.
Here are a few tips that I put together for the Elbowroom blog to help cultivate a strong foundation in your practice. This is so so important for beginners and more seasoned yogis alike so I have reposted the piece here.
Have you ever seen a yogi effortlessly hold an elegant dancer pose? You think I can do that, attempt it and immediately fall over. Your internal dialogue runs something like ‘I am not strong enough to hold that pose’, ‘I am not flexible enough to even get into that pose’.
The truth is that the key to any standing pose lies in its foundation - the feet. Like a tree, a standing pose is simultaneously strong and flexible when it grows from solid roots.
One of the first things we do when we step onto the yoga mat is to learn how to stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). It may seem simple but this is the yogic equivalent of learning to walk before you can run. Every pose grows from the ground upwards. Activating your feet doesn’t just happen. It takes awareness and practice. Walking, running, heel striking, wearing heels, suffering from fallen arches can profoundly effect the feet. Often we are completely unaware of a weakness in that part of the body.
A passive foot is a weak foot. So what can we do to make our feet strong and active so that we can develop ease in every standing pose from the ground upwards?
1. Spread your toes – standing with feet hip distance apart, lift your toes and spread them wide like the rays of the sun. Consciously place the big toe mound on the floor and each toe in sequence all the way to the little toe.
2. Root the heels – find the very centre of the heel and firmly make contact with the floor. Heel and toe engagement create tripod of support.
3. Engage the arches – actively engage the arches of the feet by drawing them energetically upwards. Visualise the muscles at the centre of the arch of the foot as a suction cup that is actively working against gravity and drawing up towards the ceiling.
4. Root to rise – now that the toes and heels are purposefully connected with the floor consciously ground down deeply into the earth whilst keep the arches engaged. When the feet are properly engaged you will feel a strengthening energy rebound up through the inner legs all the way to the inners groins.
5. Stand up tall – every time you strike pose use the solid foundation to create length in the spine and stand tall. Practice makes perfect. You can even do this waiting for the bus!
6. Find balance – depending on the pose you may feel that one foot has to work much harder than the other. Regardless of the shape of your body, strive to find an even balance of effort through both feet. This will promote a sense of ease throughout the whole body and makes every pose much more accessible. Balance is key – on and off the mat!
This post has everything and nothing to do with yoga. A few moments on my Facebook feed this morning got my day off to a bit of angry start. There was a post about a supermodel (I must confess I don't know her name) who had shared a photo of her stretch marks on Instagram. Some of the comments were simply appalling. One in particular really pissed me off. Something along the lines of 'oh please, show me a real woman after 2 babies and I'll show you proper stretch marks'. Well I call BS on that.
Who has the right to define anyone else as real? Fat shaming, skinny shaming, cellulite shaming, stretch mark shaming, smooth skin shaming... it is all vile and serves no purpose other than to make people feel bad about themselves. If you are healthy and happy then your shape and size is completely irrelevant. You are not hurting anyone. Your 'realness' cannot be defined and is no one else's effing business. I have stretch marks and cellulite and I haven't even had my baby yet but I am no more or less a woman than anyone else. The worst part is that this broken record of negativity is usually directed from women towards women. Channel your energy into something more positive. If you are unhappy make a change in your own life but don't take it out on someone else. Yogis and non-yogis alike, we are all real.
Fancy yoga pants? Check. Eco-friendly re-useable water bottle? Check. Natural rubber sticky yoga mat with snazzy mat bag gathering dust in the corner of your bedroom? Triple check.
It can be a bigger struggle to roll out your mat and get on it than to actually practice. So what if you are ignoring the call of your yoga mat? I love love love yoga but sometimes I find it hard to get on my mat especially if I am tired or have been teaching a lot. So rather than feeling guilty, what can we do?
Start small. Just roll out your mat and leave it out. Every time you walk past your mat step on to it and strike a pose. Even if it is just one. You might find yourself lingering for a lot longer that you thought you would. Leave your mat beside your bed so it is the first thing you step on in the morning. Move and breathe to get your day off to a better and more productive start.
Commitment. Consistency is key. Ignoring your mat consistently usually leads to ignoring it permanent. Equally enthusiastically getting on your mat every day or for a reasonable number of times per week will boost enthusiasm for your practice.
Dive in. If the softly softly approach doesn't work for you, avoid dropping in randomly to classes. It is easy to blow off a drop-in class. Sign up for a multi-class pass with a teacher you like and whose teachings really resonate with you. Mark off that time as busy in your calendar for next 6, 8, 10 weeks. And go. Every single time. Consistency begets consistency.
Immerse yourself. Book yourself into a workshop and fully immerse yourself in the practice for a full afternoon, a day or weekend. Jumping back into your practice with two feet and remembering why you loved yoga in the first place might just be enough to get you back on your mat regularly.
Mix it up. Practice at a studio, outside, for 10 minutes, for 90 minutes, in the morning, in the evening, before bed, take a flow class, take a yin class, focus on a particular body part, set an intention. Variety and creativity keep the practice fresh. You are different every time you get on the mat and your practice can be too.
Drop the guilt. If you miss a class or your home practice don't give up entirely. Don't give yourself a hard time about it. Put it behind you, look forward and get back to your practice as soon as you possibly can. No excuses.
'I really regret practicing yoga today' said No One. Ever.
What works for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Yoga Tips & Wellness Musings. Treats & Eats.