WHY YOGA

image via

why not indeed! it seems to me like any article i read these days (especially online) always involves a list of some kind: 5 ways to do this, 7 reasons to do that, etc etc. ordered lists are generally very appealing to me (order = calm), but, at the moment, i feel a bit 'listed out'. to be completely honest, i find lists to be a great tool for procrastination: rather than actually doing what i am meant to be doing, i start pouring over the pros and cons, the whys... plus seriousness can take the fun out of anything. so today's answer to why do yoga is simply: why not. no excuses, no reasons to think about and analyse, just getting down to it because why not.

how about you? do you think about your own motivation to practice, or do you just do it? btw, love the seal :)

NOTE TO SELF



Wow, March is nearly here... In some way, I wonder how we got so far into 2013 this fast, and in another, it feels like this little blog of mine has been here with me for years rather than for only just under a couple of months! In any case, two months' worth of blogging seems like a really good time to stop and take stock.

So why did I start this in the first place? Well, it is nice in times of big change to have a little crutch, something that is there for us when everything else is new, uncertain, ever-changing. It is also very useful to have an outlet for thoughts and ideas, and writing stuff down is a great way to get clarity on a subject. The process of 'figuring out' is not always easy: feeling lost, being drawn into different directions, joy, frustration, moments of sudden inspiration, stumbling in circles... It's all part of the process and, even if it might feel like it at times, none of it is a waste of time.

One thing that has been really useful to me in terms of getting some structure into my yoga studies is putting together the asana posts. I have decided to make this column a little bit more regular and organised, and from now on will be publishing an asana post every Monday. Hopefully, in time other patterns will surface but for now, this is a good start!

THE TREE POSE

I didn't even realised until a couple of weeks ago, when I went to try a new yoga class, that I had been completely neglecting the tree pose. Somehow it disappeared out of my practice, which is weird since it is actually one of my favourites; it's a very graceful and meditative pose that naturally draws your attention inwards (it's tough to balance on one leg with a wondering mind!).

So, a couple of weeks ago in the class I got into the tree pose and... I was so wobbly that I could barely stay up there!! what? I am normally good at the tree, love staying there forever... the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that my sudden lack of balance was both the cause and the effect of the tree's departure from my routine: there is no balanced body without a balanced mind. But enough about me and more about the tree...



The tree pose is an extremely versatile standing balance pose that can be done literally by anyone (toddlers to pensioners, couch potatoes to olympians) with great benefits: apart from gently cultivating balance and a sense of poise, the tree pose improves flat feet and tones the ankles and knees. In fact, weakness in the joints inadvertently results and shows in lack of balance.

Here are basic tree pose instructions:

  stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart (tadasana)
  lift and spread the toes, press the four corners of the feet into the ground and lift the arches
  engage all leg muscles (imagine as if you were to jump off the ground, but you don't)
  shift your weight onto the left foot
  bend the right leg at the knee and lift
  place the sole of the right foot against the left thigh with the toes pointing downwards
  press the right foot and left thigh against each other to create resistance from which to fully engage muscle energy
  join hands in front of the heart in anjali mudra
  look at a fixed, unmoving point ahead of you to aid balance
  stay here for about one minute, then repeat on other the side

A few important points on alignment: as always, the balance starts at the foundation. Pressing firmly through the four corners of the feet will ensure that all sides of the ankles are engaged and this MUSCLE ENERGY (more on this later) will naturally travel up through the calves, knees etc, all the way to the top of the head.

When muscles are not properly engaged, there is a tendency to drop into the hip of the standing leg: the hip juts out to the side and the whole weight of the upper body descends on it, spine misaligns... it's not great. To correct it, engage your legs muscles as described in the paragraph above. It then becomes a lot easier to level out and SQUARE THE HIPS and, in fact, the whole body will suddenly feel a lot lighter and more balanced. Place your hands on the hip bones to check that they are both at the same height.

It may not be possible to place the foot of the bent leg all the way up the thigh. In this case, place the foot against the calf but avoid placing it against the KNEE: it may be tempting and temporarily comfortable to do so, but it could ultimately end in injury and tears.

Some variations:

  for beginners or those a bit out of practice: holding onto a wall or a chair is not cheating! if your balance is not up to scratch, practice the pose supported for a while until you develop a good balance.
  the next step from hands in anjali mudra is to extend the arms up over your head (IMPORTANT: avoid raising arms over head if suffering from high blood pressure!): either keep palms together, or hold arms parallel with palms facing each other, or extend arms wide in a V shape with palms facing each other.
  if you feel well balanced with arms up: open the chest , look up slightly, keep chin parallel with the floor and gently bend backwards. avoid tilting head back: try joining hands behind the head and pressing the head against the palms. feel the expansion.
  back in upright position: to take it a little bit further and get a little stretch in, place the right arm down on the bent knee (right hand/right knee, left hand/left knee - tricky otherwise), extend the left arm up, then slowly begin to move the left hip to the left and stretch the left arm to the right over the head creating a kind of bow shape, feel the whole left side of the body stretching.
  and finally, you can really challenge your balance by standing in the tree pose with your eyes closed!

Here we go, the tree pose! I have now worked the tree back in to my daily routine, and it is quite amazing what effect it is having on me: a balanced body, swiftly followed by a more balanced mind.

Watch this space for the tree partners :)

MIXTAPE 02




This month, my musical tastes went all classic and a bit nostalgic... Enjoy!


01. "hurt" - johnny cash
02. "summertime" - janis joplin
03. "into my arms" - nick cave and the bad seeds
04. "somersault" - i got you on tape
05. "famous blue raincoat" - leonard cohen
06. "running on fumes" - king creosote and jon hopkins
07. "lay lady lay" - bob dylan
08. "working class hero" - john lennon
09. "angie" - the rolling stones
10. "perfect day" - lou reed

play with spotify
play with grooveshark


WHY YOGA // ADAM LEVINE

adam levine // photo: ture lillegraven // men's health



'a lot of times people will think, i'm strong, i'm in shape; why can't i do this pose? but that's not the point. there's nothing to win in yoga. you just do what you can do, one day to the next.'

read the full interview with adam levine here.

LOVE IS.

geometric heart wrap // mini eco

the thing is, unless you live in a cave, it is virtually impossible to avoid the valentine madness that descends on the western world every february. i can get to the point when anything remotely red, pink or heart-shaped starts to induce a case of mild nausea in me. and then the next day, it's back to business as usual, love forgotten for another year. well not quite but you know what i mean. there is more to love than a great marketing campaign once a year. and there is more to love than just the romantic kind. because love is. all around. for life not just for valentine's day. so remember to:

  love yourself
  love your partner
  love your family
  love your friends
  love your enemies
  love your colleagues
  love all people
  love your cat
  love your dog
  love all animals
  love plants
  love the earth
  love life
  love everything
  love always

and if there has to be a card, why not make it yourself! i have been doing just that, often with a little help from my best friend the internet. for example, there are some really amazing tutorials on mini eco. when i first came across this blog, i literally dropped everything and started printing, cutting, folding, crafting... it was true stationery love at first sight!


boxed geometric heart // mini eco



WHAT I LEARNT YESTERDAY


Big letters. Not a lesson I want to forget anytime soon because there is a very good reason why we leave some things behind... Yet we do sometimes revisit the past because the human memory (or mine at the very least!) is so blissfully and stupidly selective.

So we go back, and then we get a rude awakening because it suddenly becomes blindingly obvious that we are not going that way anymore, and we are left wondering why on earth we were peaking back in the first place. I say we, I mean I.

But hey, lesson learnt and straight ahead I am staring now :)


P.S. If you made it all the way down here and liked what you read, why not sign up for my newsletter to get your weekly serendipity (and more) straight to your inbox!


LORD OF THE DANCE // NATARAJASANA

This is, at least in my opinion, one of the truly beautiful poses in yoga (another one I'd put on the beautiful list is the Wild Thing). It's one of those poses that feel not only empowering and uplifting, but also really fun and playful.



Lord of the Dance is a vigorous pose and anther great all-rounder: standing, balancing and backward bending pose all in one. It strengthens the ankles and knees, and stretches pretty much the whole front body: chest and shoulders, abdomen, groins and thighs. It's also excellent for working on improving your balance.

Basic instructions would go something like this:

  Stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart (Tadasana)
  Lift and spread the toes, press the four corners of the feet into the ground, lift the arches
  Engage all leg muscles (imagine as if you were to jump off the ground, but you don't)
  Shift your weight onto the left foot
  Bend your right leg, raise foot towards the bum, keep thigh bones parallel
  Reach the right hand back and grab the right foot or ankle
  Begin to lift the right foot up and away from the torso
  Stretch left arm in front

As you stand in Tadasana and start shifting your weight onto the left foot, press the top of the left thigh back and feel the muscles strong on all sides of the left leg. Don't lock the KNEE: if there is a tendency to hyperextend the knee, microbend (= a bend so little it is barely visible) the knee to counteract this. An easy way to tell whether a leg is straight and not hyperextended is to look at your leg from the side (use a mirror or ask someone to check for you): the ankle, the knee and the hip should all be in one straight line.

As the right leg starts to lift, keep an eye on the HIPS. The natural tendency will be for the right hip (lifting leg) to rise and the left hip (standing leg) to descend, but this action throws the whole alignment off and makes it more difficult to balance. Square the hips by drawing the left outer hip back and tucking the right buttock under as a kind of a seesaw movement. Keep the thigh bones parallel and draw the knees towards each other (towards the midline of the body). It's important to keep the lifting leg engaged: this will help with balance and stability, and with keeping the hips square.

When reaching back with your right hand to grab the lifted foot, you can hold onto the inner or the outer edge (I find that holding the inner edge deepens the shoulder stretch). whichever variation you choose, make sure to fully INTEGRATE the top of the armbone before extending it back. Start by extending the arm in front of you, actively draw it back into the shoulder socket, keeping the top of the armbone in place (ie in the shoulder socket), lower the arm down, extend it behind and grap hold of the foot.

As you lift the right foot up and back, keep an eye on the hips making sure they remain squared (= right outer hip moves down, left thighbone moves back). The aim is to lift the right thigh up so that it becomes parallel with the floor. But remember, yoga is not a competition: if the final form is not happening just yet, it's absolutely ok to just imagine moving towards it. Respect for and awareness of your body comes first. When working on gaining balance, strength and flexibility, it always pays off to practice PATIENCE.

It's great to have a goal to works towards though so today, I'd like to end on an aspirational note... the bound version of lord of the dance:

tiffany cruikshank // photo: jasper johal
P.S. For more info, go to yoga journal, which has a great asana library and it's all free! And if you liked what you read, why not subscribe to my Serendipity letter and get yours (and more) straight to your inbox!

PLANTING ANOTHER SEED


Since I have vowed to work on cultivating good living and working habits, and another new moon is fast approaching (on sunday the 10th), it is time for the monthly check in on my resolutions and for another seed to be planted.

Today is all about eating. I like to think that I have a well balanced diet and a very healthy relationshop with food: I eat regularly, don't skip meals and allow myself treats when I feel like it. Since I am pretty much completely missing a sweet tooth, the treat would normally be something quite salty and fatty. But most of the time, my meals consist of vegetables, grains and always some protein.

The good eating habit that I need to work on is HOW I EAT. I am a natural fidget and find it difficult to stop doing things. The same goes for eating, somehow I always have this need to multitask: eat and watch, eat and read, eat and talk... It's a bad habit deeply ingrained after years of eating at my desk whilst catching up on my emails. Well, it was the nature of my job then.

These days I accompany my lunches with things way less stress inducing (watching youtube, reading a magazine). But the point is that even innocent activities are ultimately distracting and stressful on a subtle level. And so this month I will be working on eating MINDFULLY.

Paying attention when eating, I find that the basic good eating habits just sort of come naturally: I eat slower and chew more. This is great for digestion as the system receives food in a consistency that allows for easier extraction of nutrients and subsequent processing for elimination.

It also means that my brain has a chance to register the stomach's signal that it's full before I over eat (happens easily, I really really love my food). When I pay attention and eat slower, I also appreciate flavours so much more. Surely, food must be one of the main sources of happiness so why cheat yourself out of it by eating whilst watching TV!

^_^

P.S. If you made it all the way down here and liked what you read, why not sign up for my newsletter to get your Serendipity (and more) straight to your inbox!

RESTLESS MIND II


It's one of those things that, even though maybe not always enjoyable, are indispensable. A habit, a personal ritual, something that we do every day. Morning meditation, lunchtime run, evening yoga. Cooking, reading a book, gardening, making music, taking a bath.

I am deliberately only listing activities that can be done alone, activities that offer a little respite from the world, and that includes other people. Probably because I like having a little alone time to catch up with myself!

I have been working on establishing a good working routine for myself and, in the process, have discovered that self-discipline is a toughie (even the obvious can surprise). There is nothing like externally imposed deadline or a promise to make me stick with it. Otherwise things can go two ways: either I become a little too hard on myself (guilt and all) or I go the exact opposite direction and let myself off very easily.

After years of working in a busy and demanding job, where time to myself was like gold dust and ruthless efficiency was a must, I kind of miss the rules, limitations and responsibility to deliver that made me so productive and creative.

Working for myself has thrown the whole thing on its head. I now need to rebuild the structure with my own rules - or I might call them good working habits since rules tend to get broken :) - and exposing them here should provide the feeling of responsibility to deliver!

Habits take time to establish, so I will be taking baby steps, practice a lot of patience and regularly add to my rolling list, starting with the basic common sense: 

 wake up at 6am
 no computer after 8pm

Failing to get up early in the morning turns my whole day into one big slippery slope. No matter what I do for the rest of the day, I have this niggly feeling of being behind when I let myself sleep in a bit. This exercise is about retraining the body and mind and cultivating better habits. And it all starts in the morning because what you do first thing in the morning matters.

The other big one for me is to stay away from the computer in the evening. Sometimes things need to get done but it's ultimately counter productive and sleep disruptive to spend evenings plugged in. No brainer.

So there we go, good organised framework is my lifeline. What's yours? I'd love to hear form you!

^_^

P.S. If you made it all the way down here and liked what you read, why not sign up for my newsletter to get your weekly serendipity (and more) straight to your inbox!

WHY YOGA // STING

Read the full interview here.


P.S. Like this? Sign up for my newsletter to get your weekly serendipity (and more) straight to your inbox!



RESTLESS MIND

i have been feeling a little bit all over the place lately. i am not referring to my physical location here but to the going-ons inside my head... i can barely remember the last time i managed to do my morning meditation without the pesky to-do lists taking centre stage. today was no different.

the mind chatter continued through the whole of my morning yoga session... well, it finally dawned on me that i have clearly lost sight of the big picture and perhaps need to brush up on the basics. why am i doing all this in the first place? reluctantly, i dragged myself off the mat, picked up the book again and scheduled in some quiet time for reflection.





i am finding this nicely succinct sutra very reassuring: my mind needs to calm down and yoga is the tool for it, no doubt. the trouble is that whatever i am doing at the moment is not quite delivering the results.

have i fallen into a rut? do i need to rethink and refresh my practice? or maybe i am going through a little rough patch and just need to keep working through it patiently? or maybe i am overdoing the variety and need to simplify? or maybe i am just overthinking?!!

honestly, i don't know, but i'll keep working on it :)

xo

BAGAN, BURMA

itchy feet alert! i've only been back a couple of months but the little voice started nagging again, when are we next asia-bound? with no firm plans in place at the moment, i am resorting to reminiscing...

bagan is a weird yet magical place. an active religious site and a place of pilgrimage, it is also one of the main tourist destinations in burma. but in spite of that, it takes near to no effort to get lost amongst the circa 3000 temples (stupas, ceremonial halls, ruins etc) and not see another tourist for days, and at the same time for a minute forget about the country's desperate human rights situation and dubious politics. some of the temples have been around for a thousand years, many have been rebuilt, many more have been destroyed by the frequent earthquakes. cycling around on the dusty paths, we got transported back in time like nowhere else.

visit burma sooner rather than later, it won't stay this way for long...

xo