Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: yogi

How to be a proper yogi

Proper yogiWhat do you think it means to be a “proper yogi”? I keep hearing this phrase, and the perception seems to be that a proper yogi is at least one, but ideally several, of the following:

  • Super bendy
  • Teetotal
  • Big into chanting
  • A wearer of floaty, ethnic clothes
  • Vegan
  • A fan of incense
  • A hippy
  • Always meditating.

Now, I have nothing against any of these qualities (give me super-comfy yoga gear over jeans any day of the week). But I don’t like the implication that if you don’t fit this painfully narrow yoga stereotype, then you’re not a proper yogi.

What I like is the kind of yoga and yoga teaching that doesn’t leave you feeling like you have to eat only lentils, speak in “Oms” and turn yourself into a human pretzel for it to count. As far as I’m concerned, if you can breathe, move and focus at the same time, you can do yoga. And actually, I’m not even convinced the moving part is essential.

Yoga is everywhere. It’s not just something you do when sticking your bum in the air on a yoga mat (although I am a big fan of downward-facing dog too!). It’s an approach to life that cultivates more presence, mindfulness and compassion. I see yoga in action when people take a deep breath to calm themselves down, stop to appreciate a beautiful view or go out of their way to help someone out.

If you want to get your Om on, fill your house with joss sticks and levitate over your meditation platform, great! But if you choose beer over kombucha, cheesecake over chickpeas and Netflix over an evening meditating, don’t panic. When it comes to the values of yoga, if you display even a hint of a moral compass, and try to be honest and kind, you’re plenty yogi enough for it to count as “proper”. And you are definitely no less of a proper yogi than anyone who might judge you for not conforming to a stereotype.

How Much Yoga Do You Need?

how much yoga do you needYou might have come across the hashtag #yogaeverydamnday, which could seem funny, or inspiring or motivating. But if you’re new to yoga, or you’re very busy, the idea of practising yoga every day can be intimidating. So do we really need to do yoga every day? And how much yoga is enough to feel the benefits?

I’ve experimented a lot with this and I’ve tried everything from going weeks at a time without any yoga, to practising for more than 3 hours per day.

I’ve come to these three conclusions:

  1. The amount of yoga you need depends on your goals. This means working out what you want from your yoga practice. For example, if you want to learn to handstand, you need to put the time in to strengthen and open your body, and increase your body awareness and balance. Having a go as part of your weekly yoga class will help, but if you’re doing nothing in between, it’s probably going to take you a long time to progress. On the other hand, if you have a very active lifestyle and you use yoga to reconnect with your body and mind, your needs will be different. Spending just 10 minutes at the end of the day doing a restorative posture like legs up the wall pose followed by some meditation will have a huge impact.
  2. Daily practice is a non-negotiable. I appreciate this might be a controversial one, but for me, to function at my best, I need some kind of yoga every single day. This is not necessarily a vigorous flowing yoga practice, although that is my preference. Some days my self practice is just finding 5 minutes to meditate. I can even do this on the plane if I’m travelling. Other days I might do 10 sun salutations, some core strengthening work or some joint mobilisation exercises.
  3. Fluctuations are normal, and natural. One thing I’ve learned is that my own yoga practice ebbs and flows, depending how I’m feeling and what I’m doing in the rest of my life. I used to panic if I couldn’t fit in an hour to practise every day, but now I try to be more responsive to my situation. During my Advanced Yoga Teacher Training, I practised yoga for 3 hours every day (at least!) and meditated for 1 hour. I felt amazing, but that amount of practice isn’t realistic for me (or many people!) most of the time. That’s ok. The way I think of it is I still carry with me all the benefits of having spent that amount of time practising yoga. So now, even when I just do a mini yoga practice, or a short meditation, I know I’m reconnecting with all the good that I cultivated during that time of intensive practice.

It’s worth saying that the more I’ve practised yoga, the more I realised that yoga is everything. From noticing my impatience while I wait in a supermarket queue to remembering to relax my shoulders when I run, it’s all about mindfulness, and it’s all good yoga practice. But I still prefer to have some dedicated part of each day where I consciously and deliberately set aside the time and space to do yoga.

How much yoga is the minimum?

For me, I’ve found the lowest I can let it go is 5 minutes per day. I feel like I really miss out if I don’t spend at least 5 minutes per day connecting with myself. Usually if time is as tight as this, I don’t do yoga postures at all, I just sit and meditate for the 5 minutes, because I find that’s the most effective way to drop into the mindful awareness I am looking for in such a short space of time. 

I’d love to know what you think of this and how much yoga you need? What works for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Have a great week lovely yogis and yoginis.

Jade xxx

P.S. Shameless plug for my wonderful yoga retreats here… If you’re looking to spend some more focused and intensive time on yourself and your yoga practice, I have three magical retreats coming up – check out my page here and drop me a message if you’d like more details. I’d love to welcome you on one.

What David Bowie taught me

David Bowie YogiI always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, ‘Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.’

Growing up, David Bowie was the soundtrack of my childhood. My Dad was, and is, an obsessive Bowie fan, and he tells me that as a baby the only way he could get me to sleep was to play me Bowie’s Young Americans. When I was older I visited New York with my Dad, and we spent literally hours traipsing around Manhattan trying to work out which section of which apartment block was David Bowie’s apartment. As a teenager I can’t say I was thrilled by this, but looking back, I’m strangely glad we did.

Because as I grew up I began to appreciate what Bowie stood for and why he’s much more than the sum of his artistic work. There’s too much to do justice to in one blog, so I’m not even going to try. But this is what speaks to me about his life.

Bowie was the epitome of all that was uncool. Subversive, androgynous and irreverent, he was the ultimate misfit. He was mocked, misunderstood and asked repeatedly to justify himself. But he didn’t change, or at least, he didn’t change according to anyone else’s agenda. And in doing so, his defiantly uncool became strangely cool.

All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.

Bowie recognised that his real power was in being absolutely true to who he was and what he wanted. He embraced his individuality and refused to be confined by other people’s expectations.

So today I’m trying to remember this lesson. Because actually, I think we all have it in us to be superhuman, if we’re ruthlessly honest about who we are and what we stand for.  

Final thought to leave you with…

As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?

Have a superhuman day everyone.

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 I learnt not to take yoga too seriously

Prayer flags Nepal

In 2007 I volunteered in Nepal with the charity TravelAid. Bhola Yogi, the principal of the children’s home where we worked offered to teach us yoga in return for our volunteering.  He didn’t have to ask twice. There was no way we were going to miss out on the opportunity to tell people we’d been taught yoga at 6am every morning on a rooftop in Nepal, by a man whose actual surname was “Yogi”.

6am yoga classes sound pretty hardcore, and in retelling the stories since, I’ve made them sound that way. But actually  in true Nepali style, Bhola-ji’s approach was laid back.  We would practise one posture, maybe two, and then Bhola would instruct us to, “Take rest.” Every minute of effort was followed by one of rest.  We loved it.  Yoga became an excuse to lie on our mats and gaze up at the sky as the sun rose each morning.

He had a similarly undemanding approach to postures that we found challenging. “If you can’t do the yoga, just think about doing the yoga. Same thing,” he would say with a dismissive wave of his hand. I’ve often wondered since whether this principle applies to other activities. When I can’t get out of bed on a bitterly cold January morning for my 6.45am spinning class, will just thinking about it have the same effect? I really hope so.

Bhola-ji did not shy away from directing us about the more personal details of our yoga practice. “Long toilet before yoga, so the stomach is free.  Short toilet after,” was his euphemistic instruction.  And he practised what he preached.  Many a morning we sat shivering on the rooftop at 6am waiting for Bhola to finish his “long toilet” before he would come to teach us.

Our yoga practices like most aspects of our lives in Nepal were seemed hilarious. Perhaps we were giddy from the shortage of oxygen at altitude, or maybe from the sugar in all the mangoes we were eating, but most postures had us collapsed in fits of giggles. Bhola positively encouraged this – one of his all-time favourite postures was Happy Baby, which he urged us to laugh our way through.  This wasn’t something I found difficult given that I was holding a position that made me feel ready for a gynaecological exam. It wasn’t elegant. When you add to that the fact that Bhola’s favourite instruction was to tell us all to “Relaaaaax,” you have a recipe for hysteria.

He had the last laugh. We’d been diligently practising our sun salutations for 4 weeks when Bhola admitted that the “Lion’s Roar” – an open-mouthed, claw-fisted posture that he’d encourage us to hold then loudly roar to release – was just something he included as a joke when he taught children. He never expected us to fall for it.

Being surrounded by such happy people with such an amazingly positive approach to life taught me not to

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