Knee pain and yoga

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This blog post has been transcribed directly from an audio recording by Jessica Dewar. This is me literally thinking aloud.
— Jessica Dewar

Knee pain is the worst! I recall a period of time where I would sit cross legged, and then after a little while my left knee was not only on fire, but I needed help from my partner Owen to actually get up. I then spent the next hour or so feeling as though my left leg was going to collapse from under me as I was hobbling around the house holding onto whatever I could for support. For those of you who think this might have been a long time ago, you are incorrect. This was actually only about 3 years ago that my knee was in such a bad state that I needed this sort of support and help to move around.

So what can we do to manage knee pain and use yoga as a way of helping our knees to regain strength and mobility?

Well there's a lot of things we can do. The first thing we can do is RELAX. And what do I mean by relax? I mean relax your mind! When we're in any sort of pain the first thing we tend to do is panic and think that we are going to be in this pain forever and ever and ever, and that if we do anything to move that knee (or that part of the body) then we're going to break ourselves! Does that sound familiar? I know this because I have been there many many times.

So once you're relaxed, and you've accepted that you're about to begin your yoga practice, (and that some things are going to be a little uncomfortable because as we know yoga is all about pushing boundaries from a physical and psychological point of view), then I want you to make sure that you have with you some props. 

Props could include blankets, bolsters, blocks and straps. If you don't have any of those things with you, use a pillow from your bed. Sometimes the folding of your yoga mat is more than enough as an added cushion under the knees. My yoga mat has acted as a pillow many times under my knees.

How we support our knees will depend upon where the injury is, how long the injury has been there and how severe the pain is. For example, some people might have had full knee reconstructions, others may have issues with their AC joint. There is an array of things that can happen to the knee. So I'm going to speak to you from a very general point of view here...

One of the best things that we can do not only for our backs, our hips, and of course for our knees, is to sit in a cross legged position. If you have really tight hips and you find this really difficult to do sitting on the floor then just get yourself a pillow or blanket so you can sit upright for a period of time. NOTE: I don't recommend sitting for half an hour first off the bat. That would be silly and very unhelpful for you. You'll end up needing help to get up off the floor and will be hobbling around the house just as I was not that long ago.

So what I recommend you do is get a couple of pillows to prop yourself up in a cross legged position, then closing your eyes and placing your hands on your thighs or in your lap. Make sure that your hands are not resting on your knees because I can assure you after just 30 seconds to a minute suddenly your hands will start feeling like 20 kilo weights on top of your knees. What I do recommend you do is start small. And by that I mean sitting for one to two minutes at a time. You can then stretch your legs out open your eyes and that might be your meditation for the day. Plus it's great movement for your knees.

The beauty of being able to sit for this period of time, and gradually build your sitting tolerance, is this process is also conditioning your hips, your back and your knees to maintain this posture for longer. And what's so wonderful about being able to sit cross legged is it will open your hips, it will strengthen your back and it will release any tension that you may have in your knees. It will also start to improve your overall mobility of the entire body.

But I'm not going to lie to you here and pretend this is an easy process. It's not. At first this can feel very very very uncomfortable. You need to be prepared for the discomfort mentally hence why our first choice is to relax the mind. To trust in the process. We are not trying to win any awards here, and it is not helpful if we can prove we can sit for 10 minutes if that means that we are then crippled for the rest of the day or week. Rather we want to give our bodies a chance to open up and get used to being in this type of position.

Kneeling postures are also something to be mindful of. Note, I said mindful not weary of. It is important to have a blanket underneath your knees, or to fold your mat, for some support. If you don't do this then you'll be adding unnecessary pressure and load to your knees that could lead to a more serious, permanent injury which is absolutely not what we want to happen.

I've always maintained that yoga can be amazing for our bodies however this comes with a caveat that it must be practiced safely. All too often I've seen people push too hard too soon and ended up injuring themselves. And this is how we make yoga far worse for us than good.

As you begin your a practice, be really mindful that this is your practice and your practice alone. Don't worry about what other people are doing in the studio. Don't worry about the fact that you might have five times more blankets or bolsters than other people. This is all about you and what your body needs in that moment. It is when we start getting competitive about the practice that we can suffer more serious injuries. Believe me I've been there!

So if you're or somebody who has troubles with your knees then grab as many blankets, bolsters or blocks that you feel you might need in the class. Chat with your teacher beforehand and see what they have in mind because they will know what props you should have with you for that class. And gradually you will be able to to apply more weight on your knees, or remain in a cross legged position for longer. You will start to notice quite quickly, especially if you are consistent with your practice, i.e. a daily practice, that the tension or sharp pains that you feel in your knees will start to disappear. You'll go from noticing pain daily to maybe once every couple of days, to maybe once a week, too maybe once every 3 months.

Your body is using pain and injury as a way of finding balance. When your knees feel better, just be prepared that something else in your body is going to start to show itself to you. And that could also be an uncomfortable ache in your body. This is the reality of life.

Grant yourself permission to nurture your body and cultivate the right mindset for a strong and healthy practice, then before you know it your body will start feeling stronger, healthier, and you'll be feeling much happier.

If you're somebody who has any trouble with your knees, and would like some very specific advice around what you can do, feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear from you.

Sending so much love and hugs your way,

Jessica xx

Why are you vegan? Do I need to be vegan to practice yoga?

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It is well understood and accepted that the diet of a Yogi is a vegetarian diet. Not necessarily a vegan diet, but a vegetarian diet. This is for many reasons but one of those reasons it because meat is very heavy in the body. It takes a lot of energy to digest. Meat is also the result of bringing harm to another creature and for those of you who are familiar with patanjali's yoga sutras, you would know that a non violence is a very important part of yoga.

So why am I vegan?
Well, in all honesty it has absolutely nothing to do with yoga. I have been a vegetarian from most of my life and at the time of writing this, I have been vegan for about 6 or 7 years. My decision to be vegan was not to better my practice although it certainly has helped in many regards. My decision to become vegan was purely a moral and ethical decision. Many of you who have gotten to know me over the years would already know just how special animals are to me. The idea of bringing harm to anything or anyone is extremely disturbing to me on so many levels.

I believe as human beings we have a responsibility to take care of other creatures. I don't know why but for whatever reason so many of us have used our intelligence as a means of taking advantage. An abuse of power if you will. I don't care what people say about us being the greater species, and that we as humans have the right to kill and eat other animals. For one, humans are not meant to eat meat. We don't have the teeth for it, nor do we have the digestive system for it. Our bodies find it extremely difficult to digest. This is going to get a few people up in arms but the reality is, and when you start looking into the research even deeper, you will find that our bodies are absolutely not meant to eat meat or other animals products.

But regardless of whether we are or are not meant to eat animal products, which is a huge discussion in itself, I personally cannot be responsible for inflicting harm on another creature. Simple. And just because meat comes nicely wrapped in plastics in the supermarket, does not mean that the process of it reaching the supermarket was in any way a nice process. In fact it was no doubt horrific.

So this is why I choose to be vegan. I want no part of that industry. In saying that however, as I've gotten older and a little wiser, and let's be honest a little less judgemental, I have come to accept other people's decisions to eat meat and other animal products. Whilst I do not agree with that decision, I accept those decisions. Of course my dream would be for the world to be vegan l, which we all know would lead to a much kinder world, but if I remain in a place of judgement then I am constantly harming myself. Rather, my hope is that those people who do decide to eat animal products are making kinder choices around where they get those products from.

So whilst in the yoga world a vegetarian diet is recommended for many reasons, it is not a requirement of the practice. If you eat meat, it should not be a reason not to practice. Of course the more consistent you are with your practice the more in tune you will become with what your body does and does not want (and so your diet may change), but no it is not necessary to be vegetarian/vegan to practice yoga.

Sending love and warm hugs to you all,

Jessica xx

Everybody can practice yoga

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So today I wanted to share with you all a bit around my thoughts on what it means to be a yoga student. So often I have people come to me and tell me that they are not flexible enough to practice yoga. That they are not strong enough to practice yoga. The reality is you don't need strength or flexibility to practice yoga. This comes as a result of the practice.

I totally get that feeling of being new at something. At not knowing what to expect and feeling that other people might be looking, judging, and all the other crap that goes on in our mind. But let me just get a couple of things clear here.

-       Firstly, it is very elitist of you to assume that everybody is looking at you. Whilst you are a very important person, I can assure the other person is also thinking the same thing about themselves. That everybody is looking at them. The reality is nobody is looking at anybody. We're all just focused on our own practice.

-       Secondly, I believe we need to practice the mindset of being more open, and accepting of being a newbie to things. That it's ok to be in suck mode if you will. I find it so satisfying to start new things. And I don't know if I should care more about what other people think, but the honest truth is I don't. So long as I'm enjoying myself, doing something positive for me and only me then I really couldn't care less what other people are thinking, believing, or judging about. This way of thinking has given me a lot of freedom to challenge myself in ways that I otherwise would never have done. Because when I learn to let go of the fear and worry about others opinions, and that's all they are is an opinion, then I felt free.

So whilst I appreciate it can be quite an intimidating process walking into a brand new studio, to do something that you've never done before, and not knowing whether you have the right things with you, if you can keep up, if you understand the cues, if you will be strong and flexible enough, I feel that if we can step into these experiences with a more open mind, then those fears will disappear. The anxiety is no longer there because there is absolutely no need for it to be there. There is nothing more debilitating and there is no bigger crusher of dreams then fear. And I know it is this, fear, that is a big reason why people do not begin something new, for example yoga.

So if you're reading this, and you're yet to start a Yoga practice but have been wanting to start Yoga for quite some time, let the s*** go in your head that is telling you that you are not good enough or cannot do this. It is not helping you. Trust that you are safe, learn to laugh at yourself, and just start..

Remembering to breathe

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I’ve been practicing a lot of pranayama lately. For whatever reason, I’ve felt a pull back to particular pranayama practices.

*For those who are unsure what I mean by pranayama, the simplest way to think of it is breathing techniques.

Whilst away over Easter, fortunate enough to spend the weekend in the Grampians, I felt an intense need to practice Kapalabathi (shining skull), Uddiyana Bandha (flying up) and Nauli (stomach rolling).

The first practice, Kapalabathi, is practiced by forcefully expelling air out of the nose in very quick, short bursts. I can do any where up to 100 breaths in a minute, hence the name shining skull. Uddiyana Bandha is all about drawing the internal organs upward within the rib cage, hence the description of ‘flying up’. This is also understood to manipulate energy flow, or Prana, to move upward.

Then there is Nauli, stomach rolling. This is literally what I’m doing. Rolling my stomach and giving the abdominal organs a massage whilst detoxifying them at the same time.

Starting a business has meant less time to practice some of these additional techniques. My personal asana practice has always been consistent – I make sure of that – but my attention to pranayama has dwindled as of late. This is OK. I’m human and the reality is I can’t spend my entire day on my yoga mat. But for whatever reason things are catching up to me, and my body is calling for this deeper attention.

I’ve always looked at yoga as a lesson. That it is a means of coming to understand myself on a greater level. I’m therefore interpreting this calling back to a more regular pranayama practice as a sign I’m not breathing enough. That I need to slow down, pause and notice what’s going on – whether that be what is going on in my own body, in my relationships and so on. My physical and energetic body is signaling to me, and instinctually I am finally listening to it. (I think the signals have been there for sometime but with a busy schedule I’ve ignored them somewhat).

 Given pranayama is so widely misunderstood and often overlooked for the powerful benefits it has for both body and mind, I’m considering running a workshop that teaches people how to practice some key techniques. I’d love people’s opinion about whether this would be beneficial for them. Comment below. I know my body has certainly craved for it, and I’m so happy to have reintegrated these stronger practices into my day.

Feel free to leave comments, suggestions and feedback below.

Big hugs and so much love to you all,

Jessica xx

We have no choice, so roll with it!

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March 3rd, 2018 was my 32nd birthday. OMG! I’m 32 years old! 

I’ve never liked my birthday. Growing up, I didn’t have millions of friends and parties were always an anxious time. “Will anyone turn up….”  With ambitions to become a famous singer, I also felt every year I didn’t achieve this goal, the more impossible it became. I recall laying in my bed on my 16th birthday eve crying that I was too old to become a singer. LOL!

Every year that has passed by, I always felt like it did just that – it passed me by. I would sit wondering how the year could have been better, what more I could have achieved. I always felt this sense of not doing well enough. A feeling that I was wasting my life, pouring energy into a career that only brought me down (emotionally) and into meaningless relationships. And so with that came a deep sadness that this one life that I have the privilege to lead, is being wasted. That I am not fulfilling my potential. The trouble was, I didn’t know what my ‘potential’ was and as such was at a loss as to how I could correct course.

Whilst it’s nice to be celebrated on your birthday, it always felt a little like – let’s get this one over with. Coming from a family of a gazillion people, it’s easy to feel like birthdays come on a conveyor belt and just take time out of your week to attend. Sounds awful, I know, but it’s the truth. Birthday after birthday get’s expensive and tiring. And I personally don’t want to be a drain on anyone, so whilst everyone puts their best efforts in to come and share a dinner, the reality is we’d probably all rather be in bed. As I write this, in hindsight, this is saying more about me than it is my family. My insecurities and neurosis that come up with birthdays… hmmm… something to ponder. 

So what was different with this birthday? About turning 32? My only family to share it with was Owen and two very dear friends who I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know since moving to Melbourne? 

Well, I think two things happened this year. Firstly, I have become happier with who I am and the direction my life is finally taking. It has taken many years to get to this point, and for the first time I can honestly say I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Yes, I’m getting older. Yes, I have FAR more financial pressure and personal risk than ever before. And yes, I have the back of a 150 year old woman. BUT, I love my life. I love my partner, I love my teachers at the studio, I love our community, I love what we’re creating together. So if I think about it, I’m happy because I feel like I have a sense of purpose. That as a community we are building something truly special and unique. I’ve never felt this before. 

Secondly, whilst I didn’t have my family here to celebrate with, I feel my relationships with my parents and siblings have actually strengthened since I’ve lived away. Sounds odd, but it’s the truth. We have come to respect and value one another more. To appreciate the moments we can spend together when we see one another. My love for my family has deepened and this is so exciting. 

Thirdly, feeling more secure at 32 than I did at 16, I decided for the first time ever to do something special for my birthday. To do something that is important to me and that I ‘d like to share with those I care deeply about who are here to share the day with me. So what did I choose…. Horse riding of course! I use to own horses and miss them terribly. The dream is to have a hobby farm one day with horses, but until that time, riding other people’s horses is perfect.

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So if I were to sum up why 32 has been my happiest birthday ever – well:

1) I feel I have a sense of purpose as we create our beautiful yoga community in pursuit of a kinder world

2) My family bonds are stronger than ever before, regardless of distance

3) I did something for me, which was meaningful. Putting myself first does not come easily so this was a big deal.   

As I come to sum up this blog, I feel this nagging voice of – “Jessica, you can’t tell the world how happy you are? No one wants to hear that. You sound up yourself and little miss goodie-two-shoes.” But then my other voice says, “Screw that! You’re allowed to be happy and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it.” And so this latter voice is the one I shall choose to keep listening too. 

Through MANY existential crises, I’ve come to accept that love is amazing. To embrace where we are in the moment because they come and go all too quickly. 

Thank you all for the millions of birthday messages and love you sent me.

Sending big, birthday hugs,

Jessica xx

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