Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: mental health

5 Reasons Why Retreats Are Amazing For Your Yoga

Retreats are so good for your yogaI’ve been out teaching at a beautiful yoga retreat in Andalucia for a few weeks now, and it’s struck me just how good it is to practise yoga in a retreat setting. Here’s why:

  1. You practise yoga every damn day. Weekly classes are fab. You turn up every week, and it’s like a little oasis of peace and tranquility in the craziness of your life. But when you do only practise once a week, it can take ages to feel a noticeable difference in your body and mind. For the super-impatient (like me!), this can be way too slow.  If you’re more of a “I want to see a difference and I want to see it now” type, practising yoga every day at a retreat will be right up your street. People leave after just a week already feeling the difference in their strength, flexibility and self-confidence. Result.
  2. You have chance to notice the fluctuations in your own body and mind. This daily practice means you tune in every day to where you are mentally and physically. You learn that things come in waves – some days you might feel grumbly and cross, taking a while to settle into your practice, while on other days you might bounce through the class like a happy little yoga bunny. And it’s all fine. You learn that tomorrow may well be different, or not, and it really doesn’t matter. It’s the turning up and doing the yoga no matter what that counts.
  3. You have fewer distractions. Yoga to clear your mind is great in theory, but it’s less fun when you find yourself utterly unable to let go of your mental “to do” list – realising that you forgot to feed the cat, you need to put your jeans in the wash and you still haven’t fixed the printer. And it is good to practise yoga at these times – learning to get absorbed and be present even when your mind is being really annoying is a useful skill. But equally one of the most lovely things about a yoga retreat is that you can let yoga be your priority. It helps you to focus better and just enjoy it a whole lot more.
  4. You get into a happy yoga routine. Making it to yoga class when it means you have to haul yourself out of bed 2 hours earlier than usual, pile on 7 layers of winter clothing and de-ice your car in the dark? Unlikely. Making it there when you can roll out of bed and onto your mat as the sun rises over the horizon? Much more appealing. The yoga retreat class convenience factor takes a whole lot of the effort of motivating yourself to do yoga out of the equation. And the great thing is that once you start to practise yoga daily, the yoga bug bites. By the time you leave, you’ll find yourself wondering why you would ever start a day without yoga, which makes it considerably easier to keep up your practice back home. Even if it is really bloody cold in November.
  5. You get to practise yoga in stunning settings. Let’s be clear – I am by no means a yoga snob. Some of the best yoga classes I have done have been in very average church halls with biscuit crumbs trodden into the carpet (though trying to work out if it was a custard cream or a rich tea is pretty distracting mid-downward-facing dog). But doing yoga in the mountains at dawn, or on a rooftop under the stars, or on the beach as the waves lap the shore is pretty special. Experiences like these make it easier to get that warm, fuzzy “yoga is magical” feeling. It’s a bit like a holiday romance, except without the getting dumped as soon as you get off the plane bit.

I’m at the end of my round of retreats for 2016 (sob!), but if you’re convinced by this and would like to join me for a beautiful yoga retreat in 2017, watch this space! It’s going to be so much fun…

The Unexpected Difference Meditation Makes

Difference meditation makesI wrote last week about my own meditation practice, and what exactly I do. Those who have read this, will know that I don’t do anything particularly impressive. My routine is basically “Sit still, be quiet” for 10 minutes every morning. But despite its simplicity, the difference meditation makes for me is huge. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

I’m less reactive.

It seems to me that meditation has opened up space in my mind, so that when things happen, I have time to process them and make a choice about how to respond. That’s not to say I don’t still have emotional reaction, because I do, at least mentally. I’m just less likely to act on it before I’ve thought it through. For example, if someone says something that upsets me, in the past I might have gone straight down a mental avenue of “WTF. How dare they? Clearly they hate me. I think I hate them too. This is a disaster.” Whereas now I might manage a slightly more reasonable, “Ouch. That hurt. I wonder what they meant by that. Is it worth trying to find out?” 

I’m more aware of my thoughts.

Meditation helps me to tune into where my mind’s at each day, and to realise the sorts of thoughts that pop uninvited into my head all the time. It’s definitely not about emptying my mind – I really can’t do that – but I have developed a better understanding of how my mind works. If there’s something that’s worrying me, I know how much my mind is going to keep bringing it up. Although I can’t stop that, I can practise engaging with it less.

I’m learning to slow down.

My natural tendency is to be in a rush with everything. I want to do everything quicker and more efficiently, so that I can get more done. But often, I don’t know what it is that I want to do after all the stuff is done. And of course the stuff is never all done. So taking the time each morning to “do nothing” is an exercise in disciplining myself to stop mindlessly racing through life, and slow down. It means I’m more inclined to step back in the morning and consider my intentions for the day. It also means I’m more likely to slow down during the day and actually enjoy what I’m doing. Even if that does mean it takes a bit longer.

Stuff doesn’t seem to matter as much.

I spent most of my teenage years and my early twenties lurching from crisis to crisis. I was always caught up in the drama of whatever was going on right then, and it all felt so important. One of the things that meditation (and maybe getting older too?) has taught me is how transient everything is. Thought, feelings, situations. Everything rises, and everything falls away. That’s not to say that I don’t care about things. I do, a lot. I like being passionate about life, and I feel things intensely.  I’m just more aware that even when things seem unbearable, I will get over it, and it won’t feel like this forever. “This too shall pass,” has become one of my favourite mantras.

I’m reining in my own judgemental tendencies.

This last one is more of a confession than anything. Sometimes the thing that makes it most obvious to me that my mindset has changed through meditation is when I recognise elements of how I used to think in other people. I’ll see someone get angry because their bus is 10 minutes late, and realise I’m less impatient than I used to be. I realise judging the behaviour of others is not a desirable quality, but at least I’m aware I’m doing it, right? Joking aside though, becoming a judgemental prick is not something I’m trying to encourage in myself, but it is kind of interesting to observe.

I’d love to know whether you’ve noticed any changes after trying meditation?

Have a great week!

Love Jade xxx

How I Meditate – My Personal Practice

How I meditateI’ve had quite a few people lately ask me about how I meditate, and although I’ve written before about the challenges of meditation, I’ve never really shared my personal practice. I think it’s different for everyone, but after a lot of trial and error, that is what I’ve found works for me with meditation. I hope it’s useful.

Commit to a Daily Practice

Although I don’t notice an immediate effect if I miss a day of meditation, what I have found is that missing one day makes it harder to meditate the next day. Before I know it a week has gone by without me actually sitting still and being quiet (yes, meditation is the only time I do that), and that does affect the clarity of my mind. So I hold myself pretty strictly to at least 5 minutes per day meditating. Most days I do 10 minutes, some days I do 15 or 20. I rarely meditate for longer than that unless I’m in a group, and someone forces me do it…

Find A Time That Works For You

I think it’s easier to stick to meditation if it becomes part of your routine. I like to meditate after I’ve practised yoga in the morning. Because I’m naturally so restless and it’s a real challenge for me to sit still, it’s at least a bit easier once I’ve done some yoga. Also my body is more relaxed and my hips are more open, which makes sitting easier. Other people prefer to meditate before bed, or in their lunch break. I did try meditating in bed (lying down, under the duvet, with my eyes closed) before I got up in the morning, but to my intense disappointment that didn’t really work.

Use a Timer

I’m sadly not the kind of person who can just indefinitely and meditate for as long as I feel like it. If I did that I’d probably only ever do 30 seconds. So I use an app on my phone – Insight Timer. This has a soft bell sound to end the session, which is less aggressive than setting an alarm. It also has social features, so you can see who you’ve been meditating with around the world afterwards. Sometimes they send you messages to thank you for meditating with them (you can turn this off if you like!). I used to find this really weird. Now I love it. Things change.

Get Comfortable

I’m really not a believer in forcing yourself to sit in a certain position to meditate. Meditation is hard enough anyway without sitting there in agony. If you’ve got pins and needles and you’re panicking that you may never feel your lower leg again, you’re unlikely to feel that focused. It’s even less likely you’ll choose to carry on the next day. So get comfy – use cushions, kneel over a bolster, sit upright in a chair or lie on your back if you have to (and if you can stay awake!). But find something that feels ok for you.

Scan Your Body

This helps with the point above, and it’s how I almost always start my meditation practice. I take a scan through my body, from the ground up, and consciously bring awareness and relaxation to every part. I only take a minute or so to do this, but it helps my mind and body to settle at the beginning of the practice.

Focus On Your Breath

Once I’ve scanned my body, I focus on my breathing. I breathe through my nose and concentrate on the point at which my breath leaves and enters the body – the edge of my nostrils. Every time my mind wanders off (which it does, all the time) I try to gently and nonjudgmentally notice it, and return to focusing on my breath. It’s a kind of “Oh look, I’m thinking about what I’m having for breakfast. How interesting. Let’s go back to my breath.” Reminding myself to focus on “just this breath” sustaining my concentration one breath at a time really helps to keep me present. Other people use counting or mantras to keep their focus here – I keep it simple and just watch my breathing.

This is just how I meditate. I’m not saying it’s the right way for everyone, but I hope you do have a go, experiment and see what works for you. Because it is incredibly good for you. Blog to follow next week about the difference meditating every damn day has made for me.

Have a great week!

Jade xxx

How To Be Kind To Yourself

Be Kind To YourselfI wrote recently about the power of self-love. That’s a different concept to being kind to yourself, although the two are intimately linked. But it occurred to me as I wrote that how hard it can be to do the little things that show yourself compassion and love.

I don’t 100% believe the idea that you can only be as kind to yourself as you are to others. I know plenty of people who care unremittingly for others while really struggling to be kind to themselves. BUT, I do think that without also being kind to yourself, this constant giving is hard to sustain. Sometimes, consciously or otherwise, we wait for others to show us the kindness we aren’t showing ourselves, which can lead to disappointment and even resentment if they don’t.

10 Easy Ways To Be Kind To Yourself

  1. Do yoga. Regular readers may have seen this one coming. I’m a big advocate for yoga as an act of kindness towards yourself. But, make sure it is yoga that makes you feel good, not something you tell yourself you have to do. Give yourself 10 minutes to move in any way that makes your body feel amazing. Stretch, rock, lounge – whatever works for you. Luxuriate in it.
  2. Give yourself time off. This can be time off anything that you feel like you “should” do – work, studying or training. Throw away the to do list and the “shoulds” for an hour, an afternoon, or a whole weekend, and let it go. The world won’t fall apart.  
  3. Plan something nice for yourself. Here’s some news – you don’t need to wait for someone else to book tickets to a show, or plan a trip, or choose a holiday. Do it for yourself. Schedule it in your diary and give yourself something to look forward to.
  4. Give yourself some great advice. Whatever it is that’s troubling you, have a think about how you’d encourage and support a best friend/ child/ loved one in this situation, and follow that advice. You’re wiser than you know.
  5. Write some positive affirmations for yourself and repeat them regularly. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe them, or if it feels cringey and awkward. Just do it. No one said being kind would be easy. Oh wait – I did. Sorry about that…
  6. Prepare (or buy!) and enjoy your favourite meal. Let go of the diet/ detox/ nutrition program for one meal and allow yourself to just enjoy it. Seriously, no one will die if you eat what you want to for one meal. Chocolate brownies for dessert, anyone?
  7. Give yourself a massage. Spend 10 minutes massaging your feet, shoulders or scalp. Coconut oil is my favourite. This is especially good if you do it just before Number 8.
  8. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. It doesn’t matter whether you actually fall asleep early or not. Switch off your mobile phone, turn off the TV, get away from all your electrical distractions and relax.
  9. Take a dance break. Put on your favourite music and dance like no one’s watching. If they are watching, you get extra points for this one.
  10. Treat yourself to something you want, but you don’t need. This doesn’t have to be super-expensive (unless you want it to be!). It can be as simple as stopping for a latte on your way to work, or buying yourself a new T-shirt just because you want it.

If the thought of doing these things makes you feel a little uncomfortable, that’s ok. Do them anyway. There’s no need to wait for other people to do kind things for you, or to give you permission. You already have permission. Commit to trying at least one thing on this list today and show yourself some of the kindness you cultivate for others.  It will be life-enhancing, I promise.

What does it mean to love yourself?

Love yourself I’ve struggled with the concept of self-love in the past. It seemed to me to be self-indulgent and even narcissistic. And, I thought, surely if you just decide to love yourself,  you’ll lose any motivation to develop or grow?

But lately, I’ve had some great conversations with people who have helped me to see the advice “love yourself” completely differently. I also signed up for a one month trial of EkhartYoga online classes (the best one euro I’ve spent this month – if you haven’t tried it, sign up now. It’s brilliant. Seriously.) and watched some thought-provoking talks about loving yourself.

What I’ve realised is that my discomfort around loving myself came from my misconceptions about what it meant.  My new understanding is that self-love means shifting your attitude towards yourself, dropping the negative self-talk and embracing all aspects of yourself – the light and the dark.

Here’s what self-love isn’t:

  1. It’s not self indulgence.

I associated loving myself with spending hours having luxurious baths, painting my toenails, and buying expensive face creams. Which was fine, but seemed kind of superficial. No matter how nice these things are, I was unconvinced that they could be the key to lasting happiness. But I’ve come to think of these activities as self-care, rather than self-love. Self-care is an important aspect of loving yourself, but it’s not the whole story. Self-love requires a more profound mindset shift.

  1. It’s not narcissism.

I thought loving yourself implied believing that you’re awesome – and far more awesome than anyone else. But that’s not the case. Loving yourself and embracing all that you are does not mean thinking that you are better than anyone else. If anything it’s the opposite. It means seeing all of your “flaws”, and annoying behaviours  and choosing to love yourself anyway. When you develop that compassion for yourself, you expand your capacity to be compassionate towards others. Practising self-love trains you in how to see every aspect of another person, the good and the bad, and loving them anyway.

  1. It’s not complacency.

This was the scariest aspect of self-love for me. I worried that if I loved myself as I was, I would lose all motivation to develop and grow. Because there’s still so much I want to work on, and learn and progress with. I didn’t want to lose my drive. But actually, self-love and acceptance doesn’t have to mean thinking that you have nowhere else to go in the future. It means recognising and deeply accepting where you are right now. And that place of deep acceptance and love for yourself is the perfect foundation from which to evolve. The criticism that we inflict upon ourselves is more likely to promote self-punishment and destructive behaviour than growth.

The hardest thing about self-love?

When you realise that self-love is not about indulgence, narcissism or complacency, it becomes a much less scary prospect. And the hardest thing then is that like any shift in mindset, it requires effort to retrain your brain. Until it becomes habitual, you need to consciously choose more loving thoughts towards yourself.

But how do you actually do this?

I like being practical about things, and having tangible strategies to try out. So I’m sharing Esther Ekhart’s advice, which I’ve personally found really useful. She says that when you do something “wrong” and you’re feeling frustrated, annoyed or upset with yourself, stop. Recognise that if you had known or had the ability in that moment to do it better, you would have done. See yourself from the outside, acknowledge and accept all the good and the bad, and meet it with compassion. Repeat the phrase,“I see you, and I love you,” to yourself.

It’s likely to feel strange, and maybe uncomfortable at first, but give it it a go. Even if it’s just for this week, see what difference it makes to love yourself.

Let me know how you get on!

Lots of love, Jade xxx

Whatever you are doing, love yourself for doing it. Whatever you are feeling, love yourself for feeling it – Thaddeus Golas

Yoga To Make You Feel Amazing

Yoga To Make You Feel AmazingI use yoga as my therapy for pretty much everything. However you’re feeling, the majority of the time, yoga can make you feel a bit (or a lot) better. It’s just a case of finding the right yoga prescription. Here are my suggestions…

Feeling sad? First of all, don’t fight it. Spend a few minutes sitting in meditation, or if that feels unbearable, practise alternate nostril breathing instead. This is a very soothing, nurturing pranayama practice which can help you to calm your mind. Then allow yourself 10 minutes to move in any way that feels good. The key is to keep moving, letting your body feel some positive sensations again. It’s good to reconnect with the fact that even when you feel sad, you can still find enjoyment and pleasure in physical movement.

Feeling angry? The old advice about taking deep breaths can really help, but sitting still is hard when you’re raging. Give yourself 10 minutes to warm your body with Sun Salutations, then practise some forward bends, such as Standing Forward Bend, Wide-Legged Forward Bend, Bound Angle Pose and Head-To-Knee Forward Bend. Breathe deeply into whatever sensations you feel and focus on your body, dropping into feeling rather than thinking. Forward bends have a naturally calming effect on your nervous system. At the end of these, you may well feel collected enough to sit and meditate for a few minutes.

Feeling physically tired? Restorative yoga is your friend. Let your body relax and recover by choosing the most restful postures you can find. My personal favourite is Supported Child’s Pose over a bolster or cushions, turning your head left for 3 minutes, then right for three minutes. Then take Happy Baby to release your lower back, and a nice long Savasana.

Feeling mentally drained? When your brain is worn out, it can help to balance that with some movement for your body. I love Vinyasa Flow yoga when my mind is tired. Because coming up with sequences and moves is hard when you’re weary, this is a great time to use some online yoga inspiration. I like this mini class from Rachel Scott when I’ve had a long day at the computer.

Feeling low in energy? When you need an energy boost to face your day, and you don’t want to resort to coffee and chocolate, backbends are your best bet. Don’t go into these cold – warm your body with some gentle movement, then a good 3-5 rounds of Sun Salutations before you start getting bendy. You can try Cobra, Bow and Bridge Poses. To add a little extra challenge, give Camel Pose or Wheel Pose a try. Hold each backbend for at least 5 breaths and resist the urge to bend forwards to release your spine until you’ve finished all the backbends. At the end, let yourself rest for a minute or two in Savasana and notice the energetic effect on your body of all those lovely backbends.

Let me know how you get on with these. What kind of yoga do you use to make you feel amazing? 

Have a great week!

Jade xxx

P.S. If you’re struggling to do anything at all, check out my blog from last week about how to motivate yourself to do yoga.

3 Amazing Ways That Yoga Makes You Strong

Yoga Makes You StrongThere’s a misconception out there that yoga is:

a) Only for the super-flexible

and

b) Solely to make the super-flexible even more bendy.

To steal a saying from someone wiser than I am, that’s not yoga, that’s just bending.

Yoga is great for flexibility, but for me its power has been in the strength it’s given me.

Here are three of the ways that yoga makes you strong:

  1. Physically. Just try lowering slowly from High Plank to Chaturanga and back again and you’ll see that there’s more to yoga than having open hamstrings. Yes, flexibility helps you to move deeper into postures, but so does strength. Full Wheel pose for example requires upper body strength to lift yourself up as well as flexibility in your back to move into the back bend. You can be as bendy as you like, but without the strength to support your body weight, after a few rounds of Sun Salutations, your muscles will be shouting at you. Your body needs flexibility and strength for optimal health, and yoga can help you to develop both.
  2. Mentally. Meditation is like exercise for your mind. Repeatedly bringing your focus back to the present moment takes real mental effort, and just like strengthening a muscle, regular meditation improves your ability to concentrate. Yoga is meditation in motion. Maintaining mindful awareness while moving through yoga postures can be even more challenging than trying to do it while sitting in meditation. Not only that, but yoga challenges you to move out of your comfort zone, to face your fears and to experience discomfort without shying away from it. This last one is especially true in yin yoga – if you haven’t tried it, do! The discipline and focus yoga requires is as strengthening for the mind as it is for the body.
  3. Spiritually. It’s hard to find a definition of spirituality that doesn’t sound new-agey and weird. But one way to think of your spirit is that it’s the thing that lies beneath the fluctuations of your mind. Your spirit is deeper than your thoughts, your feelings, your wants and your worries. You might prefer to call it awareness, or consciousness or your soul, but whatever term you use, it’s the idea that there’s part of you that observes everything that happens, but remains untouched. And as such, it’s the source of your inner strength. No matter what happens there’s part of you that’s still okay. Yoga helps you to connect with that.

Yoga’s power to make you strong on all these levels is one of the many reasons I love it so much. Whether you’re experiencing physical, mental or emotional challenges, yoga can help you to become strong enough to handle them.

If you’re wanting to take your strengthening yoga practice to another level, and work through some of your fears while you’re at it, I highly recommend this free online class from the incredible Ana Forrest. I discovered it a couple of weeks ago, and I love it. Let me know how you get on!

Much love Jade xxx

Why you need to sort your head out first

Sort your head outWhat do you want most right now? A promotion at work? A beautiful body? A new car? A puppy?

And now consider why it is that you want that. Most of the time we want the things we want because we believe those things will make us happy. But so often you can get the things you want, only to find you’re utterly miserable anyway.

I know because I tried it. I starved myself and exercised like I was training for an ultramarathon (I wasn’t), because I thought I’d feel better once I was thinner. I didn’t. At work I became a super-employee, never saying no, because I thought I’d be happy once I had a promotion. I got it, and I did, briefly, feel happier. And then that disappeared. I clung onto relationships that were broken because I thought I’d be happy once I’d fixed them. It didn’t work, and it just made me more unhappy.

Because the thing is, until I turned my attention to developing a healthy mindset, nothing worked. As a friend said to me, “The only achievement in life that matters is good mental health.” I think that’s so true. It’s great to want to make positive changes to all aspects of your life, but none of those will work unless you sort your head out first.

I see lots of people coming to yoga retreats who set themselves up with the idea that the 5 or 7 or 10 days of the retreat are going to be transformational for their mind, body and soul. They think they’ll leave a different person, with a whole new life. And maybe it works. Maybe they do the “detox diet”, they exercise more, they enjoy a bit of yoga and they feel good. But then they return to their lives, and does anything actually change? Sometimes, I’m sure. But I’m also pretty sure that a lot of the time life carries on as it always has. More worryingly, perhaps they then feel disappointed in themselves for not having lived up to their own expectations.

I’ve been lucky enough recently to be the resident yoga teacher with 21st Sanctuary Retreats, where they have a slightly different take on things that I like a lot. Their primary focus is unapologetically on mental health and wellbeing. Yes, they had daily yoga (that’s where I came in!), fitness, vegetarian food and a beautiful setting, but they also facilitated life coaching and mindfulness sessions. They wanted to empower guests to make meaningful changes through improving their mental wellbeing and setting achievable goals. They also offered a longer-term support programme, to keep guests on track after the retreat.

I think this mind-based focus is the way forward. Although yoga has been amazing for my body, it’s been more amazing for my mind, and it’s the happiness it has brought me that I want to share with people.

So what about all the things you want? My best advice is to sort your head out first. Everything else will follow.

Have a beautiful week, everyone.

Jade xxx

Five things I wish I’d known before turning vegan…

About 6 weeks ago I did something I’d been thinking about for a while – I stopped eating meat, fish, dairy and eggs. My reason for doing this was simply that the more I learned about the animal industries, the more uncomfortable I felt consuming produce which supported them. I still like the taste of meat, I don’t judge anyone else for eating it, and I don’t think it’s more “natural” to be vegan necessarily. I just don’t want to support cruelty to animals.

Here’s what I wish I’d known before I started…

  1. You need to watch your calorie intake. It’s easy to not eat enough, especially if you’re not used to eating large volumes of food. For the first few days although I felt full after every meal, I’d wake up in the middle of the night hungry and have to make smoothies at 3am. This is not a good way to endear yourself to your housemates…
  2. Equally, you can have too much of a good thing. After realising I needed more calories, I set about eating almonds, avocado and olive oil like my life depended on it. My stomach was less than impressed.
  3. You need to have your rationale for a vegan diet clear in your own mind because you’ll be asked to justify your choices. A lot. Similarly it helps to have your nutritional facts straight – people become inordinately concerned about your protein intake when you tell them you’re vegan. Weird, because no one ever cared before when I’d shun dinner for a packet of Kettle Chips…
  4. You can feel like the awkward one in the group with the special dietary requirement. You might not have a problem with this, but unfortunately I do. I feel embarrassed and end up apologising. I’m working on it.
  5. You have to check things all the time

Me: These cookies are so good, I can’t believe they’re vegan!

Chef: Erm, Jade? They’re not.

Me: Oops.

Luckily there have been unexpected benefits too…

  1. There’s no need to live off rabbit food unless you want to. Vegan food can be delicious, varied and substantial. This week alone I’ve had burritos, curry, pancakes, cheesecake, chocolate mousse and flapjack.
  2. It’s easy to eat really well and up your intake of fruit, vegetables and wholefoods without even trying.
  3. You discover great restaurants that you may not have considered otherwise, like this amazing place in Tarifa where the majority of their menu is vegan.
  4. Vegan pizza is surprisingly tasty.
  5. It feels really good to know that you’re eating cruelty-free.

So for now I’m sticking with it. I don’t know whether it’s forever. I have a history of disordered eating, so now my physical and mental health are always my priority; I’ll only do it for as long as it’s healthy for my body and my mind. And who knows – maybe one day I’ll find a way to source the occasional animal product which is guaranteed to be cruelty-free. But at the moment, I’m happy with my choices. I just need to be more careful around cookies…

If you’re interested in going vegan, have been vegan for a while, or think it’s a terrible idea, I’d love to hear from you – let me know in the comments below!

Jade xxx

How yoga teacher training changed me

beforeafterIn May 2015, I finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training. During our graduation ceremony, we were presented with a card, which had a photo of our group on the first night of our training back in October 2014. A lovely idea. Except when I saw the photo (it’s the one on the left in the picture!)

I didn’t even recognise myself to start with. Once I realised it was me, I had to fight the urge to confiscate the photo from every member of my group, and erase all evidence that I looked like that. I might be smiling but I look worn out. And the thing is, it’s not just a bad photo. I know that the way I look is reflective of how I was feeling at the time. But I’ve decided not to pretend that it never happened. I’m choosing to share it, along with the photo on the right taken on the last night of my yoga teacher training. I hope you can see the difference…

Back when the first photo was taken, I’d made the positive choice to do yoga teacher training, but other aspects of my life weren’t so great. I’d left teaching, and although I had a better work-life balance, I missed the sense of purpose in my new job. I’d also become a bit obsessive about food and exercise. Although it probably looked as if I was eating “normally”, I was over-exercising to justify eating at all, doing intensive cardio five times per week. Some days I’d run 10km and go to spinning. The week before I started the yoga teacher training, I badly hurt my back when I tried to add a CrossFit class into my already fairly manic exercise regime.

The initial 10 days of yoga teacher training were really tough. I lacked any real control over my diet and I missed running a lot. More than that, when doing yoga (unlike running), I wasn’t able to disconnect my mind from my body. Instead I was forced to notice how I much I was hurting and how tired I was. I realised what damage I’d been doing over the last few months. My muscles were tight and sore. Any attempts to achieve yoga teacher super-flexibility were laughable. Some days my back pain made it nearly impossible even to relax in child’s pose.

But despite these struggles, or maybe because of them, something in me changed during those 10 days. I noticed the pain I was in and sat with it. I found an inner stillness, a quietness that I had been drowning out. And I realised it was okay to relax and let go. I decided it was time to stop punishing my body and practise a bit of self-acceptance and love.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t start running again when I got back. Instead I committed to practising yoga every day, and channelled my physical and mental energy into that. I also relaxed my control over food and began to eat more intuitively (i.e. more!). On a trip to Bruges at Christmas I enjoyed hot chocolate, amaretto mulled wine and Belgian waffles. I remembered how good life can taste.

Later came my decision to travel, which was largely driven by my desire to focus fully on the yoga I was enjoying so much.

I could write some nice clichés here, about how I’ve never looked back, and it’s been all onwards and upwards since then, but that would be a lie. There have been incredibly challenging times – times when I yearned to go back to the familiarity of my old life. I’ve experienced volunteering disasters, dead chickens and nights I’ve been so hot and uncomfortable I haven’t slept at all. But I definitely don’t regret it.

I’m writing this while drinking fresh coconut water in a café in beautiful Chiang Mai, already planning my next trip. I’m wondering which friends to visit in Europe, and where to spend Christmas. I’m embracing the uncertainty because of the possibilities it brings. And if I ever do doubt whether I’m doing the right thing, I only have to look at that photo to know that going back is not an option.

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