Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: Energy

Why I’ve Been Taking Cold Showers

Cold showersCold showers are something I’m used to as a traveller. Reliable hot water is a luxury, not a given, in a lot of the places I stay. And sometimes cold showers aren’t that bad. In Nepal, the water was never heated, but the temperature outside was very warm and the water was never really cold, so it was fine. In cooler places, I’ve perfected the art of showering as quickly as possible, with as little of my body under the water at any one time as I can get away with, while still ending up passably clean.

Suffice to say, cold showers are definitely something I’ve endured rather than enjoyed.

So why would I voluntarily choose to start taking cold showers during March in Portugal, in a house where the lack of heating leaves it chilly at best, glacial at worst?

Well I was intrigued by a program on Ekhart Yoga called “Core Strength and Radiant Health.” Both of those sounded like the sort of things I wanted more of, so I decided to give it a go. The only trouble was, the program included “an invitation” to take cold showers.

The idea of the program is that you start each morning with pranayama or breathing practice. Next you practise yoga – alternating between all-round yoga classes and core-focused practices. Then, it’s cold shower time. To make it more bearable, it’s suggested that you start with a hot shower, then for the last 30 seconds or so you dial the temperature down and blast yourself with cold water.

The cold showers are meant to have a range of health benefits, including:

  • Elevating your mood.
  • Building stamina and willpower.
  • Keeping your skin youthful and glowing.
  • Boosting your energy.

Showering in this way is apparently called a “Scottish shower” and incidentally, if you’re needing further motivation to try it, it’s the way James Bond showers. I don’t think you can get a better endorsement than that…

So how have I found it? I must admit, the first morning, I probably only managed 7 or 8 of the 30 seconds I was meant to do. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and wondered why I would put myself through something so horrible. Particularly after my recent thinking about promoting self kindness, this seemed to go against the grain.

But, as soon as I stepped out of the shower, I felt amazing. A hundred times more energised and awake than I usually do first thing in the morning. And that feeling lasted all day. Weirdly, I also struggled less with feeling cold during the morning. Whereas usually I sit and write huddled under three blankets with a succession of cups of tea to keep me warm, I was down to just one blanket. It was as if the cold shower had woken up my own internal heating system.

So I’m definitely carrying on with the challenge. Let’s see how it goes when I’m back in the even cooler UK…

If you fancy joining me in the challenge, give it a try, at least for a day and see what difference it makes. The full information is here.

Have a great week (cold showers or not!).

Love, Jade xxx

Why do 108 Sun Salutations?

108 sun salutationsHave you heard of practising 108 Sun Salutations in a row? This idea has been on my mind for a while. It’s often done at the Winter Solstice, as a way of welcoming in the lengthening days. But I kind of missed that, so I decided to have a go at 108 Sun Salutations this week instead.

What is the significance of 108?

108 is an interesting number culturally, spiritually and mathematically. It is referenced in many ancient Eastern and yogic sacred texts, where it is said that 108 represents the wholeness of existence. There’s a thorough explanation here of the significance of 108, but my favourite reasons for its importance (because I am ever the pragmatist and geek) are these:

  1. 108 is made of three individual digits. The 1 symbolises the unity of all, 0 represents the completeness of spiritual practice (or emptiness, depending how you see it), and 8 is the symbol for infinity on its side, which represents eternity, albeit in a slightly wonky way.
  2. It describes fairly accurately the relationship between the sun, the moon and Earth. The average distance of the sun and the moon to Earth is approximately 108 times their diameters. And the diameter of the sun is about 108 times the diameter of the Earth.
  3. It seems like a pretty good idea to do 100 of something. But that’s a lot of counting, and it’s likely you’ll miss a few, so shooting for 108 means you’ll probably hit 100 at least.

So anyway, yesterday I decided to do 108 Sun Salutations.

How did I do my 108 Sun Salutations?

I chose Surya Namaskara A, because I get mixed up with which side I am on in the Classical Sun Salutation, and A is easier than Surya Namaskara B (hey, it was my first time). After 28 repetitions I regretted my decision not to mix things up a bit more, but my stubbornness wouldn’t let me change course, so I stuck with it.

To keep count of my repetitions, I downloaded a counter app onto my phone, and tapped it each time I jumped back to the top of my mat.  

How did I find it?

I knew physically it would be tough, but I have to say it was more of a mental challenge in the end. Physically I didn’t find it as challenging as I’d hoped (my masochistic tendencies coming out there…), although my hamstrings hurt today. But my god was it boring. I had brief periods where I’d be more in the flow, and I used my breath and bandhas (core engagement) alternately to maintain mindfulness, but on the whole I just wanted to finish it. It did teach me a lot about my own reluctance to engage in any kind of repetitive task, and how much of a battle it is to remain present when you are bored out of your mind.

What kept me going was the genuine hope that I’d have some kind of profound spiritual experience at the end of the 108 Sun Salutations. Unfortunately I can’t really say that happened. I was happy when it finished. I felt lovely and calm and centred when the last round was over. But there was no lightening bolt of enlightenment, or deep spiritual insight.

But, there was one massive, unexpected benefit…

After finishing the 108 Sun Salutations, and consuming the biggest smoothie my blender could handle, I went on to have the most ridiculously productive day. I wrote 5 whole articles (a record for me), organised the next bit of my yoga travels, caught up with messages from friends and family, cleared out my wardrobe, wrote a 100 step action plan for developing my blog over the coming year and sent three cards. I even fitted in some extra core strength training and visited my Grandma. I have no idea how all that happened in one day. But it didn’t feel like an effort – I just had loads of energy and focus.

So maybe there is something in this 108 business after all. Or maybe it’s simply that after boring myself stupid for the better part of an hour, my mind and body were ready to do anything and everything except Sun Salutations. Give it a go – let me know how you get on in the comments below?

Happy Sun Saluting lovely people!

Jade xxx

P.S. If you’re relatively new to yoga, check out Youtube for guidance videos as to how to do Sun Salutations (I’ll be making one myself soon – watch this space) and start with a smaller number – 3 or 9 or 27 – please don’t go straight to 108!

How to fall in love with Savasana

Savasana“Savasana is the most important posture.”

When I began yoga, I didn’t believe this. I’ve seen the T-Shirts saying “I’m just here for Savasana,” which I find funny, because for me, Savasana, or corpse pose (i.e. lying flat on your back and relaxing completely) was definitely not what I was there for….

Toned, lean yoga body? Yes please.

Ridiculous flexibility? Absolutely.

Inner peace and harmony? Well if that’s an optional extra, sure.

But I have to lie still and do nothing to achieve that? No, I don’t think so.

But over time, I’ve started to make friends with Savasana, and I think you can too. Here’s why it’s worth a try, and how to go about it…

Four big benefits of Savasana

  1. It allows you to notice and absorb the benefits of the practice. A lot can happen physically, mentally and emotionally during yoga. Yoga meets you where you are, but it does not leave you where it found you. You need time to let yourself catch up with that and to enjoy the differences.
  2. It rests the body after physical practice. Throughout your yoga practice, you are seeking balance between effort and ease, between strength and surrender. By its very nature, physical practice requires strength and effort. Savasana gives you chance to balance that by seeking complete relaxation, allowing the body to recover and rest.
  3. You learn the skill of relaxation. And it is a skill. When you scan through the body in savasana, you have a final opportunity to find any remaining tension, physical or mental and let it go. You learn how to consciously relax.
  4. It marks the end of your practice, creating space before you re-enter the rest of the world. If you rush out straight after the last posture, it’s too easy to immediately lose all the mindful connection with yourself you cultivated through your yoga. Savasana gives you chance to take stock, which helps you to sustain that connection afterwards.

Getting the most out of Savasana

Know that there is no “wrong way” to do Savasana. Whether you are able to relax or your mind races, allow that to be. Trust that the experience you have is enough, and is what you need right at that moment.

The biggest barrier to relaxing in Savasana is likely to be your mind. Recognise any thoughts that are holding you back. Acknowledge them, and gently answer them with something kinder. For instance:

Negative thought Positive and kind alternative

It’s pointless just lying here.

Lying here allows me to absorb all the benefits of my practice.
I should be doing something more productive. I deserve this time to relax and let go after my practice.
I’m too busy for this. Savasana helps me balance the busy-ness of the rest of my life.

If you examine them, so many negative thoughts come from an underlying belief that you are not good enough as you are. Let that go. It won’t be serving you in your yoga, and it certainly won’t be serving you in your life.

See whether you can allow yourself to dare to believe that what you are already enough. Whatever you think to Savasana…

Happy relaxing lovely people!

Jade xxx

Why I won’t be fasting again…

vegan yumI love the fact that during my travels I’ve met people with real expertise in health and nutrition. I’ve learnt a lot, and I’m very grateful for that. But somewhere along the way, I started to get a bit lost, and forgot the value of my own intuition about what is right for me, my body and my mind.

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of talk about restrictive diets – intermittent fasting, 500 calorie days, watermelon fasting, juice fasting, raw ‘til 4. In yogic circles, people don’t tend to advocate them for weight loss (too shallow a goal maybe?), but rather for cleansing the body, detoxing or even “spiritual development.” Disclaimer here: I am not a nutritionist. I have no objective argument for or against these diets. If they work for other people, great.

But they don’t work for me. I’m not trying to lose weight. And more importantly than that, I’m trying very hard to not go back down a route of restrictive eating, which got me into so much trouble in the past. I know that restricting my food intake is not a healthy way to go.

When I turned vegan, it was not for health reasons, although I do feel good eating this way. One of the things I considered carefully was whether I could cope with the restriction of a vegan diet without getting back into negative thought patterns. I decided I would try it and review its impact on my body and mind a few weeks later. I would be willing to let go of it if it had a negative effect on my physical or mental health.

So far it hasn’t, but restrictive eating caught up with me in a different way. I began to think that maybe I was far enough past my eating disorder to be able to experiment with some of the diets. I wanted to try a day of 500 calorie eating. I wanted to see how “clean” my body felt if I ate only watermelon. I wanted to know whether my thoughts would be clearer, my mind more meditative if I fasted.  

What happened when I tried? Well 500 calorie eating was very exciting. The anorexic voice in my head was thrilled that I was eating less again. This is great, it told me. See, you don’t need that much food at all. You’re good at this. The trouble is, once that voice had reawakened, it didn’t just go away the next day when I tried to eat normally. You should do another day of this. You’re strong. You don’t want to undo all the good work you did yesterday. You’ll get fat if you eat more now. I didn’t listen. But it was really really hard.

Watermelon fasting was even worse. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that you eat only watermelon for 1 to 3 days, to “detoxify” the body and let the digestive system rest. I don’t even believe in detoxing, but I still decided to give this a go. It was awful. It wasn’t the physical hunger itself that was the problem (although I did feel very hungry). It was the painful memories it evoked of the depression, isolation and misery of living with an eating disorder. I didn’t even last the day. By 4pm I felt so low, tearful and scared that I knew I had to stop. I ate normally for the rest of the evening, and felt better, although I had to contend with the sense that I had failed.

I know that’s not true though. I know that for me, eating a balanced, plentiful diet that gives me enough energy to live, and thrive and do all the things I love doing is a huge achievement in itself. So there will be no more fasting, no more detoxes. If that means I am less “cleansed”, and less “spiritually enlightened”, so be it. I choose health, happiness and life every time.

Why it’s great to come back…

DSC_0350-2When I started travelling, I had this idea that I’d be roaming all over the place, seeing as much of the world as I possibly could. I never thought I’d come back to somewhere I’d already been. There’s too much of the world to see.  In fact, when I arranged for my second Workaway placement to come to Suryalila Retreat Centre, I thought one month (their minimum stay) might be a bit long. But I liked the look of the yoga here, so I told myself I’d make the best of it.

However, within days of arriving here in March, I knew one month was nowhere near enough. Before I even left I made arrangements to return.

So here I am, one week into my return visit to Suryalila Retreat Centre. Here’s a few reasons why it’s worth going back to a place you love…

  1. It feels comfortable. Travelling is great. The constant movement, the new experiences, the lack of a routine, and the (barely) organised chaos. But when you travel, your whole environment is constantly shifting and changing, and it takes a lot of energy to keep up. Sometimes it’s good to stop and take stock a little bit. During my tougher moments in Thailand, the thought that I would be coming back in the summer to somewhere I felt as comfortable as Suryalila kept me going.
  2. You already know the ropes.  You don’t need to learn a whole new set of systems or ask a million questions. Aside from a few inevitable but unsettling changes (the place the muesli is stored has changed – did not see that one coming!) it’s probably quite easy to slip back into a routine.  This allows you to focus right from the start on being fully present and making the most of each day.
  3. Same same, but different. You’ll always find plenty of new in amongst the familiar – not least new people. Getting to know plenty of new, interesting people and catching up with those I knew from my previous visit has been the ideal combination for me.
  4. You appreciate it more. It’s so true that you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone. Sometime you have to go away in order to appreciate all that is great about the place you started. It’s like going back to your parent’s house after moving out and appreciating fully for the first time the joy of a fully stocked fridge and showers that actually work. Except this time I fully appreciate having beautiful vegan food, a space to escape to during downtime, and a schedule that is prepared in advance and fair.

There is still a lot more of the world I want to see and experience, but it’s really good to know I’ll be here for a couple of months. It’s even better to think that I don’t have to re-pack my backpack for a whole two months! I’m borrowing my final thoughts on this from the brilliant Terry Pratchett:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Exhale Festival – a weekend of hardcore yoga

Black and Light YogaI’ve been lucky enough to be volunteering at Suryalila Retreat Centre during the Exhale Festival. Although I was working the whole weekend, my perpetual fear of missing out meant I tried to squeeze in as much yoga as was physically possible. Not the most yogic attitude, I know. I’ll work on that for next time…

My day on Saturday began (after a quick round of dishwashing) with two hours of Rocket Club Yoga with Marcus. Ashtanga enthusiast that I am, I loved this Vinyasa class, and all of its intense sequences, deep stretches and brilliant assists. It reminded me of something an Ashtanga teacher told me – she doesn’t believe in “hot yoga” because when you are practising yoga vigorously, you create the heat from within anyway. This two hours definitely proved that point. I finished the class feeling hot, sweaty and invigorated.

Next came my fastest ever round of dishwashing and chicken duties to allow me to get to an Inversions 101 Cyber Yoga Workshop with Lamonte. If you haven’t come across Cyber Yoga before, check out Lamonte’s website here. It makes me hurt just looking at his Instagram feed. But as well as being an awe-inspiring performer, Lamonte also turned out to be a great teacher. He catered for every level in his class, from those who were practising lifting up into their first Crow pose, to those who were working on one-armed handstands. He encouraged us to take baby steps into the postures, telling us that only way to achieve “total body control” is through dedication and consistent practice. He should know. Although I opted out of the one-armed handstands (no one likes a show off…) I did discover that I can do tripod headstands, something I previously assumed I couldn’t because I’d never tried. Another yoga life lesson there for me…

I spent the next part of my day working in the Shakti Boutique at Suryalila, before dashing off to Envision Yoga with Vidya. I think I need to devote a whole blog in itself to Envision Yoga, a practice which includes Kundalini yoga, mantras and NLP. We created our own mantras for each of our chakras, and repeated them to ourselves while doing yoga, before shouting them at our partners. Even the thought of it made me want to hide behind the nearest pile of bolsters and not come out. But the session took me beyond my scepticism and left me feeling better than I have in a long time.

My uninhibited energy buzz from Envision Yoga was put to great use in the final yoga session of the day – Black and Light Yoga. For this our beautiful Om Dome was transformed into a UV light spectacle. Daubed in neon face paint, we began our session with yoga, before rolling up our mats and breaking into a rave. Forget dancing like no one was watching, we danced like everyone was watching, and loved it. Then, all danced out, we came back to our mats for a final yoga sequence, ending on a euphoric yoga-fuelled high.

That night I discovered the true meaning of falling asleep before my head hit the pillow, and was still up before 8am the following morning for the next Vinyasa class. The whole festival was an incredible, enlightening and exhausting experience. If I ever do it again, and I hope I will, I definitely need to learn to pace myself…

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