If you know me, you know the title of this blog is a pun if ever there was one. Whilst I would like to say I know the answer to a life of tranquility and absolute peace, the reality is – I don’t. And I don’t know anyone else who holds this solution either. Sorry.
This past week has been anything but peace and tranquility for me. And it seems for many of my students also. Uni has gone back, it’s been consistently hot weather (shocking for Melbourne standards)… Life is busy and stress levels are on the rise for people. Myself included. I like to write my blog as I feel something. As a topic of interest comes to me that I want to share with those who care to read it. But today, this week in fact, I’ve got nothing. I feel totally blank. My mind is scattered, and my practice is off. It’s just been one of those weeks. Nothing bad has happened, and I’m in no way dissatisfied with my life. All I can put it down to is simply just being ‘one of those weeks’!
The Type-A Overachiever in me tends to get really pissed off when I have a week like this. Actually, an unproductive day or even an hour can annoy me. I hate to waste time. I’m up at 3.30am every day and I make the most of every minute. If I don’t then the unhelpful, critical parts of myself begin to kick in and tell me to work harder, to stop slacking off. I often talk about being accepting of our own journey and the different paths we will take. To embrace the good and the bad, the tough times and the easier times. Well, this has been a week where I’ve needed to really take a leaf out of my own book and allow myself to be OK with the hurdles I’ve faced. My washing isn’t folded, the dishes are not put away and cooking – well, thank goodness my partner cooks or I would starve to death. I’ve lacked the motivation to really push as I normally would. It’s just been one of those weeks and that is OK!
At the end of the day, we’re all human. Our physical and emotional body will fluctuate. No two days will ever be the same and whilst we may have the energy to run a marathon one day it does not mean we have the same energy the next. I’m a classic example of someone who can quickly head toward burnout if I don’t pause and reflect, so I’m accepting that this time, this week has been an opportunity to do just that. Pause and reflect about where I’m at, where I’m heading and what steps to take next. Rather than being angry about this, I’m enjoying the process of being slightly more tranquil and a little more peaceful in my mind, achieved purely by granting myself permission to slow down.
If you’re feeling a little run down, be sure join our Sunday Restorative Yoga classes or a deeply relaxing Yin Class on a Monday and Friday evening. If you ask me, they’re always just what the doctor ordered.
How many times have you come home and just collapsed onto the couch after just a crappy day at work? About the only amount of energy you actually have left is to find the half empty bottle of wine and fill the glass to the brim. Sound familiar? I've totally been there!
Back in the corporate days, drinking a glass of wine (possibly two depending on how bad the day was), became my way of trying to slow down. I almost felt non-functional until the first gulp. Unfortunately... turns out this is not the healthiest habit to fall into. But whilst I completely understand the desperation to just chill out and unwind at the end of the day, alcohol is not a very effective way of relaxing the body and mind. If anything, we're just numbing ourselves to the dramas of the day just gone, or what might lay ahead. Believe me, I know what it feels like to be in this frame of mind.
What I've learned over the years (through a lot of trial and error with my body) is that alcohol is never a long term solution to stress relief. But we all need an outlet as feeling like you’re on overdrive 24/7 is just as unhealthy, if not worse.
You see, when our adrenal system is on overdrive, EVERYTHING starts to fall apart. Our eating habits are all over the place, we’re irritable, are short tempered and tend to snap at those closest to us… the list is never ending. Stress is also hugely responsible for heart disease, one of Australia’s biggest killers, hence the urgency to bring those cortisol levels down!
For many years I couldn’t work out why my weight fluctuated despite near killing myself at the gym 6 mornings a week, why I struggled with sleep and why I was unable to sit still for more than two minutes. Upon doing a complete overhaul of my life, I came to realise stress was at the bottom of everything. It wasn't until I realised this (after spending a small fortune over the years) that I began making fundamental changes - I’m talking leaps and bounds - in my life, for I knew if I didn’t, then something would have to give… and probably not in a good way.
Without feeling like you need to submit your resignation letter today to get out of a job you despise, I first recommend learning to draw your attention deeper inward. Because at the end of the day, it turns out there is nothing out there that can change the way you think, feel, behave. It all needs to come from within. Sounds simple enough right? Wrong! We would love to have a quick fix answer but truth be told it really does come down to mindset and breath. So often we go through the day without taking even one deep inhalation and exhalation. Our breath slows all the systems in the body naturally so it makes sense why we need to breathe more! This is your detox, your getaway retreat, you treat to self - breathing!
So with that said, a beautiful asana to help calm the mind and slow the breath is Paschimottanasana (see picture). A forward fold which naturally slows the heart by lowering it to the ground. Here, the whole body is given a chance to slow down. Don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes. What’s important is keeping the straight spine and then working to slowly fold the body. In time, when the back and hamstrings release, you can come to rest on your thighs and calves. After 9 breaths, when you come up, the whole body will have come to a much more relaxed state allowing you to continue functioning despite feeling like the world is falling apart. Done daily for a minute or two, you will begin to notice huge benefits in the body, breath and mind. Give it a try and see!
What’s your experience with stress been? And how have you learned to manage it? I would love to hear from you!
Breath. It’s somewhat important right? Learning to breathe sounds so simple and yet it’s actually more challenging than many of us realise.
In today’s fast paced society, many of us have forgotten how to breathe. Yes, we breathe automatically, but more often than not this breath is short and shallow. Unfortunately, short and shallow breathing can lead to problems such as increased heart rate and adrenal levels, feelings of dizziness, not to mention the limited amount of fresh oxygen within the body which is necessary for healthy cell reproduction. These additional stressors can wreak havoc in the body, leading to all sorts of illness and disease. Considering the breath is something which can be under our command, should we consciously choose for it to be, then why don’t we bring more attention to it?
The beauty of asana practice is it can teach us to breathe correctly. By learning to steady our breath, drawing long and deep inhalations followed by controlled and steady exhalations, a practitioner will notice they are not only more present in the asana (they are practicing at the time), but the asana becomes more effortless. You feel ‘lighter’ in a sense. By learning to breathe correctly, we are releasing this stress within the body which gives us freedom within ourselves. Self limiting boundaries can be pushed and exceeded. Test it and see. Hold you breath for as long as you can and answer me this, “did you feel relaxed?” The likely answer is “no”. But, notice as you release the breath and steady it how calm you then feel. By controlling your breath you have brought deep relaxation to all internal processes, which can only lead to life giving health benefits as a result.
The benefits of the breath are endless, but to give an example, regular practice of yoga and pranayama (which I will talk about another time but is essentially breath control techniques) encourages healthy cell development, reduces blood pressure, controls adrenal levels and as such will enable you to manage stress far more effectively. Think about how differently your life could look if you could bring stress under control… With patience and commitment to your practice, I assure this is possible to achieve.
Living such crazy busy lifestyles without remembering to stop and just ‘breathe’ means we are, in essence, creating that uncomfortable feeling of holding our breath, all day every day. By taking just five minutes a day to sit with closed eyes and just notice the breath, drawing deep breaths in and releasing them slowly, not only will our bodies thank us for it in the long term, but our overall feeling of health will skyrocket with effects being noticed instantly. The power of the breath is undeniably amazing and something which should not be overlooked.
Where to from here? Find a quiet space in your home - somewhere you feel comfortable which could be in the lounge, the garden, a spare bedroom - and commit just 5 minutes a day to being in that place. Sitting in a position with your spine uplifted, just notice your breath - inhaling and exhaling through your nostrils. Take this time to notice what’s going on within the body and just be present with it. In time, you will notice tension within the body will begin to melt away and your awareness of self will deepen significantly. Also, don’t hesitate to do a few stretches afterward. You don’t need to be in a Yoga Shala to practice yoga. Listen to your body and then move it however feels natural to you.
It would be great to hear about your experiences with the breath - how has deep breathing helped you? Are you someone who tends to forget to take deep breaths? And why do you think that is? Feel free to share your comments below. Together we can support each other to bring energy back into our lives.
I’ve had such a wonderful start to my day, I felt the need to share it with the world. In a word, this morning I’ve felt completely ‘connected’. This mornings practice, which ended up going for just over 2 hours (I could have kept going), was quite possibly one of my deepest practices since returning home to Australia. My attention was almost (I say almost as I would be lying if I said I had complete mastery of my mind) 100% on my practice; on journeying that little bit deeper into the body to really notice what’s going on in there. I was focused on listening to every cell of my body and taking the time to ‘feel’.
Since moving to Melbourne, a lot has happened and I don’t feel I’ve really taken the time to truly connect with myself. Because of this I’ve realised my eating habits haven’t been great, my energy levels are lower than normal and my overall mood has been quite inconsistent. But today was something different. I found ‘me’ again. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and throw away all the barriers I can create for myself, to actually listen deeply to what’s going on. I think another part of this is realising I’m truly following my bliss. I’ve been planning some outdoor yoga events and the response has been phenomenal. With no financial gain, but purely an opportunity to share the gift of yoga with the world, brings me ‘home’. This is what I’m meant to be doing with my life. It’s just incredible how everything about our being changes when we do what makes our hearts sing.
So, sitting on my mat with tea, candles, incense and beautiful relaxing music in the background, I’m going to continue to enjoy these moments of pure bliss. I can only hope you too are taking time to do what makes your heart sing also. Stop, breathe, listen and then do what ‘feels’ blissful for you.
I left Mysore yesterday morning at 9.30am. Today, I arrived at my hotel, Jasmine Palace, at 9.50am. In short - buggered.
The 16 hour train from Bangalore was nothing short of ‘an experience’ to put it nicely. Dealing with people sitting on my bed, bumping me through my curtain, fart smells, men walking up and down the aisles yelling (I’m not joking - yelling) “coffee, coffee, coffee!” or “chai, sweet
chai, chai!”, screaming children and snoring about sums up the
experience. Not to mention the toilets. I swear to God I nearly died
when I saw them. I knew they wouldn’t be good and in anticipation of
what I would find I held on for as long as possible. But I was mortified
when I saw the toilets.
Walking out from my carriage into the
part which joins the carriages, I was instantly struck by the foul smell
of urine and shit (excuse me, but it’s the truth). Those smells
combined with hot, humid conditions were just revolting. Trying not to
fall off the speeding train, (as all the doors are open and the train
tilts at every corner), I steadied myself against the wall of the first
toilet door. I opened the latch and saw an Indian toilet with a
combination of water, urine and poo sloshing around on the floor. Jesus
Christ! Slamming that door shut I went to the next one. Same again. In
hope to find a western toilet I tried a third door but again the same
story only this Indian toilet had tiny raised platforms for your feet to
go on. By this point I knew I just needed to suck it up, do my business
and get out. Thank God for my baby wipes and Dettol gel in my pack.
Refusing to stand on the feet cut outs, for if I slipped my feet were
going into the hole, I just spread my legs as far wide as possible and
went. Where I went, I don’t know, but I don’t think it would have made
any difference to how sanitary the toilet was. With wee spraying on my
feet I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Disgusted, I wiped and
sanitised everything when I made it back to my sleeper (which now
appeared cleaner than ever before compared).
I slept on and off
all night, with my feet raised against my pack (mostly so I would notice
if sometime tried to take it) and cuddling my small backpack which has
my passport, wallet etc inside. My bed felt like a rock with a big hump
in the middle of it. Let’s just say comfort doesn’t come close. However
when I saw other trains pass us, similar to the one I was on, with
people’s arms hanging out of barred windows, I was certainly grateful to
be in the seat/sleeper I was in. The rest of my train would have been
like this also - and 16 hours in ‘cattle class’ (as they call it) would
have been nothing short of horrendous. It’s going to be interesting when
I do the same trip but for 3 days straight to Agra! I will worry about
that when the time comes.
Waiting for the train to arrive in
Kochuveli, I sat in my sleeper stretching my legs and doing some forward
bends, like Paschimottanasana and Marichyasana A. It was nice to try
and get the circulation going again. That’s definitely a benefit of
yoga. It can come with you anywhere.
Arriving at the Kochuveli
train station, a tall Indian man dressed in the whitest of white shirt
and pants, with contrasting back leather shoes, immediately came to me. I
think I’d been off the train for about 5 seconds before he approached
me. Clearly I was the only white person on the train. I followed him to
his gold sedan which had seats covered in white towels, smelled of
incense and was nice and cool. Everything about this man just seemed
clean, which was so refreshing after the trip I had just been on. I
suddenly noticed a ‘poo’ like smell in the car. I wondered if it was
something in his car, or something one of us may have trodden in? I
wasn’t sure. But then I suddenly worked out it was me. I stank. When I
smelled my clothes up close, they smelt fine. But I think there was a
combination of smells (collected via my 24 hour journey) coming from my
hair, armpits and clothes which created a concoction of ‘poo’ smelling
Jessica. I was utterly embarrassed. Hopefully the smell didn’t waft into
the front of the car…
We traveled for about 40 minutes to
Kovalam, where my hotel, Jasmine Palace, is located. Travelling down a
steep, unkempt narrow lane, we arrived at my hotel. I was so relieved.
Step 1: Shower Step 2: Food. After check in I was taken to the most
stunning, large room which overlooks the pool. What a change in sleeping
arrangements! The bed is big enough to fit 5 people in it! And the view
is just magnificent. I felt instantly relaxed. WIth a quick check in
back home to Owen, so he knew I was alive, followed by the best shower
of my life, with wet hair I ran downstairs to the closed restaurant who
agreed to make me breakfast. Toast and jam has never looked so good. As
mindfully as possible, I scoffed my toast and fruit salad. I then took
some time to enjoy my black ginger tea whilst admiring the pool and
grassy outdoors. I was completely calm and enjoying every second of just
I spent the afternoon walking along the seafront admiring
the beautiful coastal town Kovalam is. Westerners were lying on the
beach in bikinis which was an odd sight to see, but clearly accepted
here. Indian’s swimming fully clothed, in their saris and jeans, was
equally as odd for me. How vastly different cultures can be.
moseyed up to the red and white striped lighthouse which stood on the
edge of a far cliff. As a foreigner I have to pay three times what the
locals pay to walk go inside the lighthouse. Ridiculous! But ok. After
one scary vertical ladder climb to reach the very top of the lighthouse
(did I mention I’m scared of heights) I was speechless by how beautiful
the view was. Coloured homes drowned in coconut trees lined the beaches,
there were multiple coves and in the far distance was what looked like a
palace from Aladdin. It felt truly magical. I sat up there for some
time, just being present, enjoying everything about being up there. It’s
incredible what you notice when you just stop.
down, holding onto the rails for dear life, I walked along the beach
with my feet in the warm water. It was so lovely to be by the ocean. I
don’t tend to swim, but I do love the view of any beach. Hungry, I
stopped at Malabar on the oceanfront and ordered dal fry, coconut rice
and plain naan. An odd meal to have by the beach, but when in India! The
meal was divine, as was the view. I sat there for sometime, enjoying
not having to be anywhere, before walking to a lookout to watch the
sunset. By this time Kovalam was beginning to glow. There is such a
beautiful, relaxed atmosphere here which I really enjoy being a part of.
This evening has been spent committed to re-packing my pack -
which I did an awful job of the first time - and just relaxing in my
room before a big day tomorrow. My alarm is set for 5.00am to practice
yoga in my overly large room. I’m quite excited by this. It will be my
first proper self practice since finishing class on Monday. Nervous and