Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Month: December 2015

What Works Better Than Making New Year’s Resolutions?

New Year's ResolutionsIn January 2014, I moved to Birmingham. It was a scary decision for me. I knew no-one there, I was starting a new job, and I was moving into a house full of people I didn’t know. But instead of making my usual New Year’s resolutions that year, I started a couple of things that helped me beyond measure. Firstly, I decided to have more fun. I’d spent the first half of my twenties being hard-working and successful, but incredibly unhappy. So that was it – my aim for 2014 was just to have more fun. I prioritised immediate happiness.

The second thing I started doing was taking time to feel gratitude. At the end of every day (or the beginning of the next – sometimes I forgot!) I wrote down at least 3 things I was grateful for. Although I found it cringey at first, I did it until it became a habit, and something I looked forward to.

I think those two things were what started the happiest year of my life until that point. It was the year in which I made two huge decisions – to begin my yoga teacher training and to travel, both things I’d wanted to do for years, but had found excuses not to. Neither decision featured in some master plan for my future. Instead, they came naturally, almost effortlessly, from the strength, positivity and self-confidence that prioritising happiness and being grateful had brought about.

So I’m asking you at the end of the year to take 15 minutes to write down your answers to the following questions , and notice how doing this makes you feel. I promise it’s far more effective than making endless lists of new year’s resolutions to bring about positive change.

  1. Which experiences are you grateful for in the last year?

These might be travel, relationship or work experiences. For me this is gratitude for the diverse experiences I’ve had travelling – doing yoga on a beach in Thailand, partying my birthday away in a tiny town in Andalucia and participating in a Mayan Fire Ceremony in Guatemala.

  1. What life lessons are you grateful for learning?

You might find, as I did when I thought about this, that some of the life lessons you’re most grateful for have come from the toughest parts of this year. I’m now grateful for the time I spent being hyper self-critical, because it helped me to recognise the difference it made when I began working on self-acceptance instead.

  1. What opportunities are you grateful for being given in the last year?

Your brain is programmed to focus on your negative memories, so it can be easy to overlook the opportunities you’ve had. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work at some amazing places – Suryalila Retreat Centre, Moinhos Velhos Detox Retreat and 21st Sanctuary Retreats, and to have started my Advanced Yoga Teacher Training with Frog Lotus Yoga International.

  1. Who are you grateful for having in your life in the last year?

Consider all the people who’ve contributed to your life this year. Even people who at the time had a negative impact may have taught you a valuable lesson that you can be grateful for now. I’m ridiculously grateful for my family, who have supported me both practically and emotionally through all the ups and downs of nomadic lifestyle.  I’m also grateful for the inspiring people I’ve met on my travels and for the lovely people who read and share my blog posts (thank you!).

  1. What are you grateful to yourself for in the last year?

Think about what it is that you’ve done to help yourself this year, and thank yourself for it. I am grateful for my own energy, and the fact that I kept going when things were difficult. I am also grateful to myself for keeping up my yoga and meditation practice which helped me to find the strength to do that.

Looking forward to next year

Once you’ve done this, if you’re in the mood for looking ahead, think about what you want to bring more of into your life in the coming year. Bear in mind this research from Amy Cuddy about why most New Year’s resolutions fail. Keep it simple, memorable and positive. Possible examples:

  • To have more fun (I highly recommend this one!)
  • To enjoy being active
  • To find the opportunity in every challenge

Having already expressed gratitude you’ll be in the perfect frame of mind to make a difference to your next year.

Wishing you an amazing new year lovely people – let me know how you get on with your 15 minutes of gratitude!

The Sceptical Yoga Teacher

sceptical yoga teacherIs it possible to be a sceptical yoga teacher?

When I tell people I teach yoga, they make a lot of assumptions about me. And, to be fair, I do fit some of the stereotypes. My wardrobe does mainly consist of yoga leggings and sports bras, I do (try to) meditate every day and I am probably more flexible than the average person. But I also love science, I’m passionate about logical, rational arguments and I have a physics degree. So frankly, I die a little inside when I hear yogis referencing quantum mechanics, as if the very mention of quantum entanglement provides empirical evidence for every new age concept out there.

This is not because I don’t think yogis should talk about science. I love talking about science. I think everyone should talk more about science. But discussing concepts you don’t understand with the assumed authority of someone who does is a misuse of physics and undermines the credibility of what many describe as the “science of yoga.”

I have a similar reaction when people grasp onto alternative forms of medicine as if because they’re “natural” they must work. Don’t get me wrong, I think the western medical system has plenty of flaws, and I’m a big believer in exploring other options. For example, I think we can learn a lot from the holistic approach of systems such as Ayurveda, where they look at the whole person rather than treating symptoms. But that’s not to say that these ancient systems have all the answers, and because they are on some “spiritual plane”, they are above investigation. “Alternative” medicine can and should be tested just as rigorously as anything else.

What I find most strange is when people suggest that you can’t be “spiritual” or into yoga unless you suspend all analytical thought. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to discuss ideas with someone from the yoga community only for any questions I have to be met with, “But science can’t explain everything.” Perhaps not, but does that mean we should just hold our hands up, fall at the feet of the nearest guru and accept everything we’re told without question? To me that seems like a pretty dangerous path to follow.

I don’t think the barriers that people (on both sides of the fence as it were) put up between yoga, spirituality and science are necessary or helpful. Ultimately, everyone is seeking the truth and greater understanding, but approaching it from different angles. Surely the greatest growth comes when we learn from other fields, rather than disregarding them because their approach is different to our own?

A meditation teacher of mine used to say, “You don’t have to leave your intellect at the door,” and I loved this expression. I’ve always taken this to mean that you can have both. You can immerse yourself in yoga and meditation, and let thinking take a back seat for a while in order to drop into the experience of something. But it’s also ok to question things, try to work them out for yourself, and maintain a healthy scepticism when faced with so-called gurus making sweeping statements without backing them up. In short, I think it’s perfectly possible to be a sceptical yoga teacher. 

I’d love to know what your experiences are of this – let me know in the comments below?

Have a lovely day, and Merry Christmas everyone!

Jade xxx

 

Do you have a hummingbird?

HummingbirdI was recently talking to friends about the times in your life when you feel utterly overwhelmed by sadness or despair. The times when all the clichés about your heart being torn apart or ripped out of your chest feel true, and you can barely breathe for crying – that ugly, red-faced kind of sobbing that leaves you feeling physically and mentally drained.  It was a cheerful conversation.

But something one friend said really resonated with me. He said that at the times in his life he’d felt most low, there was still a tiny little hummingbird of a voice somewhere in his head, saying, “This is ok.” That voice inside that even when you’re at your lowest knows that this is permissible. I don’t mean it knows that it will work out well in the end, because maybe it won’t.  But the hummingbird inside you is the part that just notices the sadness or pain right then and accepts it.

And I realised I too have a hummingbird.

Emotions can feel so all-consuming. There are times I’ve cried so much that my face was swollen and hideous the next day. (As a side note, it’s not ideal to be a school teacher at those times – “Miss, what’s up with your face? You look really weird today!” Got to love the unfiltered honesty of thirteen year olds.) But the analogy that I like is that you are the sky; the emotions you experience – grief, fear, anxiety, excitement, happiness, joy – are just the weather. There’s space in the expansiveness of the sky to accommodate them all. The sky is still the sky, constant and unchanging.

I think that’s what the hummingbird knows too. So maybe next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to tune into that part of yourself that sees what’s going on, and knows that it’s ok. See whether you can hear your hummingbird.

Have a beautiful day everyone!

Jade xxx

P.S. The easiest way to hear your hummingbird better? Meditation. I’ve resisted this for a long time, but I can honestly say that meditating is the best way I’ve found to learn how to approach life with more equanimity and acceptance.  Sorry. I too was hoping I’d find more success with methods which included more cocktails and less sitting still and being quiet…

What happens when you do yoga for 3 hours every day

I’ve spent the last 10 days in Guatemala for the first part of my 500 hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training with Frog Lotus Yoga. The experience has been incredible, not least because we’ve done an hour of meditation every morning followed by a 3 hour yoga workshop. This is what I’ve found happens when you do yoga for 3 hours every day…

  1. Much of what you can’t do is in your mind.

Being challenged to try new things, and to keep trying them is a really good thing. There have been many postures, like Astavakrasana (in the picture) that I’d not done before because I assumed I couldn’t do them. Life lesson there. It’s also tempting to give up when you can’t do something the first time you attempt it. But when you do try again, it’s amazing how quickly your body learns.

  1. Your body can also be the most frustrating thing.

That said, there are still plenty of postures that I feel like I “should” be able to do now after doing so much yoga, but my body isn’t ready for yet. Full Hanumanasana (splits) for example – I mean seriously, I’ve been practising every day for the last six months! But yoga tunes you into your body’s the innate intelligence and what that can teach you. Unfortunately, for certain things, the lessons are in patience and acceptance of where you are right now. It’s about trusting that with consistent practice the posture will come, when and if your body is ready.

  1. Yoga tells you what you need and when.

On a similar note, unlike fitness training, where you might set specific goals, yoga has a tendency to dictate what your body needs next. This may or may not be the same as your ideas. I came to Guatemala thinking that I’d done enough strengthening work, and it was time to improve my flexibility. I probably have improved my flexibility a little, but what doing yoga for 3 hours every day here has really taught me is that I still need to get stronger. Much stronger.  Because I’m naturally hypermobile I have muscle groups that need strengthening before I develop a greater range of motion. Yoga won’t let me ignore that in the way that I could if I was training in the gym.

  1. Progress isn’t linear.

My first morning of practice here was amazing. My hips felt super-open, I managed Dragonfly pose for the first time and everything came very naturally. I thought I’d nailed it.  I had visions of myself levitating by the end of the week. The next day, everything hurt. My legs felt like they were made of stone. Even handstands, which I usually love,were a massive effort. You have to accept that even when you do yoga for 3 hours per day, not every day is a “breakthrough day”. Some days have been about practising gratitude and surrendering to the reality exactly as it shows up.

  1. Doing so much yoga feels amazing.

Before I came out to Guatemala, I’d been doing lot of other exercise as well as yoga, like spinning and interval training. I thought I’d miss that when I came to just doing yoga. I even told myself I might carry on some fitness training in my breaks. No chance. My short breaks are spent reading my course books while trying to catch a few rays of sunshine. But I’ve loved it. My body and mind feel really good for the consistency and routine of this daily practice.

Now I’ve just got to figure out how I can carve 3 hours out of every day to practise yoga when I leave here…

Happy yoga-ing lovely people!

Jade xxx

Five Reasons Why Meditation Is So Hard

meditation (1)“I’m really bad at meditation.” I’ve heard this from many yoga students, and I’ve said it myself. I blogged about my meditation challenge here in fact. But what are the reasons why sitting still in meditation is so hard?

  1. It seems to go against everything we’ve been brought up to believe, in terms of striving for goals and taking action. You can read all the scientific studies you like about the benefits of meditation (and there are plenty of them – try this article for starters) but it still seems counter-intuitive that to enjoy all these lovely benefits you have to sit still and be quiet.
    2. It’s not actually just sitting there. If you come to meditation believing that it will be an easy, relaxing experience, you won’t be prepared for the sheer effort it requires. It takes focus, concentration and discipline to meditate. And that can be hard. The main feeling I used to experience on hearing the bell to mark the end of meditation was relief that it was over, and that I could stop trying to focus. This is normal, and it has lessened with time.
    3. Most people don’t understand the real purpose of meditation. The point of meditation is not to relax. Although meditation can, and does, help you feel relaxed, contrary to popular belief, that’s actually not the intended purpose behind it. The actual purpose of meditation is to understand the nature of the mind. Through that understanding, you gain the potential to harness the power of your mind, rather than being at its mercy.
    4. It’s said that your ego does not like this, which is why you experience such resistance to meditation. When you meditate, you recognise the way that thoughts and feelings arise, seemingly from nowhere, and fall away. And you realise that you are not those thoughts and feelings. You are the observer or the witness of the thoughts and feelings – a much deeper state of consciousness that’s completely unaffected by the events that happen to you. This brings the realisation that so much of what you think matters really doesn’t. Your ego doesn’t like this, so it resists.
    5. Being alone with your thoughts can be difficult. Sometimes they’re negative, disturbing, or (a lot of the time!) just plain boring. Meditation is so hard because your mind doesn’t want you to be doing it. It craves stimulation and distraction, and will try any number of things to get you to stop.

So what can you do about it?

There’s so much information out there about how to start meditating – a Google search returns 1,790,000 hits. The most crucial thing though is deciding that you want to meditate, and that you want to enough to put the effort into overcoming the challenges. It’s worth asking yourself – do you want to understand the nature of your mind? Do you want the potential to master your mind, rather than being enslaved by the random thoughts and feelings that pop into your head for the rest of your life? And if the answer is yes, meditation is probably a good place to start.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Jade xxx

P.S. All credit for my latest learning about meditation goes to my wonderful teacher Vidya at Frog Lotus Yoga.

 

 

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén