Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: Yoga journey Page 1 of 2

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 International. 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…

My learning from doing 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 surprising 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 ego’s 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

Put down your damn phone and be present

phoneI was at a gig the other night. Unusually cool for me, I know. I have my little brother to thank for that. Left to my own devices I’d have spent Saturday night eating tofu stir-fry and watching Strictly Come Dancing. Anyway, I was struck by the number of people who had their phones out filming it. Their whole view was reduced to the size of their phone screen. I could understand filming a little bit to share with friends, or to play back later, but the entire thing? Really? Is having a pale imitation of the gig to keep worth diminishing the actual experience of being there?

To be clear, I am the last person to be able judge someone for being on their phone and not being fully present, as the photo with this blog testifies. Smartphones are mesmerising things. At your fingertips, you have access to everyone you’ve ever met (or at least everyone who’s been foolish enough to pass on their phone number), the whole of Facebook, all the awe-inspiring images of Instagram, and the entire world wide web. This is a beautiful, crazy, incredible phenomenon. It’s also distracting as hell.

Even for me, to experience the whole gig through a mobile phone screen seemed like a lost opportunity. The band picked up on this too. At one point the singer asked whether people would put their phones down for one song. He spoke about the value of connection, and how he wanted fans to just be present for a few minutes. Most people did, but a few couldn’t even manage that. And at the end of the song, the relief as people were “allowed” to pick up their phones again was palpable.

And so, conscious of the fact that my experience of the world can be far more expansive and interesting when it’s not lived through the tiny screen in my palm, I’m working on putting my phone down a lot more. I blogged here about how I’d started to schedule time for communicating with people and the rest of the time remaining present with the people I’m with. While I’ve not stuck rigidly to that, I have learned that I often have the best times when I leave my phone alone, or even better, leave it behind. I’m more engaged in conversations, and more mentally present. I’m even finding it’s not necessary while you’re waiting for people to “look busy”. It’s kind of ok just to sit there.

I still love my phone (yes, it’s actual love), but as with any relationship, I’m learning that dependence is a bad thing. I want to be present, and I want to value being with the people I’m with. Who’s joining me?

 

12 Things To Do At Suryalila

Things to do at SuryalilaWhether you visit Suryalila Retreat Centre as a guest, a yoga teacher trainee or a volunteer, this is the definitive list of things to do at Suryalila…

  1. Gorge yourself on the delicious food and tell yourself it’s fine because it’s all so damned healthy. Vow to eat more lightly the next meal, then go back for seconds. And thirds.
  2. Do yoga at 8am and feel virtuous and smug all day. Make sure everyone knows about it.
  3. Conversely, miss one early morning yoga class to lie in. Even hardcore yogis deserve a day off. And it’s cool to be a yoga rebel. Fact.
  4. Borrow a deeply spiritual book from the bookshelf in the hall and convince yourself that it will change your life.
  5. Laze by the pool pretending to read said deeply spiritual book, then doze and hope it enters your consciousness via some miracle of osmotic transference instead.
  6. Take photos of yourself doing the fanciest looking yoga postures you can think of in the Om Dome then immediately post them on Instagram. #Suryalila. It’d be a waste not to.
  7. Walk to the ruins wearing inappropriate footwear. Who brings hiking boots to a yoga retreat anyway?
  8. Tear yourself away from Suryalila for the day to visit Prado Del Rey and enjoy the ridiculously cheap vino and tapas at Carmen’s.
  9. Speak Spanish, even just a little. You are in Spain after all. Practise on the donkey if you’re too nervous to try the staff.
  10. Eat the vegan rice milk ice cream. Just trust me on this one.
  11. Promise to transform your lifestyle when you go home. Daily yoga, meditation, reading and clean, fresh organic vegetarian food cooked from scratch can’t be so hard to keep up, right?
  12. Book a return trip before you even leave so you know it’s not goodbye forever.

Fellow Suryalila fans, let me know what I’ve missed!

How to be happy

best day everOver the last year I’ve made huge changes to my life, because I realised a lot of the things I thought would make me happy didn’t. I can honestly say I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, despite being essentially homeless, having no permanent job and no boyfriend. If I can learn to be happy, I reckon you can too! Here’s how to be happy…

  1. Choose to be happy. Once you realise that you have the ability to choose your thoughts (meditation helps a lot with this), you discover the extent to which you can also choose your mood. I used to have constant thoughts that life is difficult. I thought that every day was a struggle, and I was right. But I realised that this thought was not serving me very well. Sometimes life is difficult. But the more I think it, the more that becomes my reality, regardless of what’s actually happening. So now every day I make the deliberate choice to think that life is beautiful. This makes me happy.
  2. Let yourself be sad sometimes. This seems to go against the previous point, but you need both I think. There are times in life that are genuinely distressing. You lose someone close to you, go through a relationship break up, or crash your new car. So allow yourself to be sad. Tell people that you are feeling sad right now if you want. Sit with the feeling. Notice that you can experience sadness without becoming consumed by it. Take a step back and observe its effect on you, your body and your mind. Much of the suffering comes from our resistance to the sadness, rather than the sadness itself, and the only way out is through. Then, after a time, you can begin to…
  3. Find the positive. Our brains have a “negativity bias” for evolutionary reasons. We are have evolved to focus on negative experiences because in life-threatening situations, avoiding danger keeps us safer than pursuing pleasure. Fortunately our brains also have tremendous plasticity, so we can learn how to be happy. We can create new habits, and practise choosing more positive thoughts. Even if this positive thought is as simple as, “At least now we’re not together I don’t have to put up with his terrible taste in music/ clothes/ films,” it’s a worthy start. Essentially we are teaching our brains how to be happy.
  4. Be grateful. One of the ways to find those more positive thoughts is to get into the habit of actively noticing things that you are grateful for. As an example, I was woken up 3 hours before my alarm this morning by an over-enthusiastic cockerel… I could have been annoyed by this (and admittedly, my first thoughts were not saintly). But instead, mindful of my understanding now about how to be happy, I chose to be grateful for the chance to get up early and write while my mind was at its most productive.
  5. Grow. I learnt this from Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project and it makes so much sense to me. We are happiest when we live in an atmosphere of growth. It actually doesn’t matter too much in what way you believe you are progressing – it could be fitness, learning a language or improving your wine tasting skills (now there’s a thought…). The main thing for learning how to be happy is that you believe you are getting better.

Perhaps the biggest thing though is remembering not to make happiness dependent on something . Too often we think we’ll be happy when we lose weight, get a new boss, find a partner or finish a project. Ban yourself from the phrase, “I’ll be happy when…” It’s not true. You have to chose to be happy now.

Wishing you all lots of love and happiness – let me know how you get on with these!

Jade xxx

 

Around the world in 80 yoga classes

I’ve done it! This week I’ve hit 80 classes of yoga since starting this blog and my yoga travels. This doesn’t include classes I’ve taught myself – just those I’ve attended. I’ve done 17 different types of yoga:

Types of yoga

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve had the privilege of being taught by 30 different teachers, whose experience ranged from 40 years to just 2 weeks. I’m grateful to them all:

Mike, Sarah, Adam, Vidya, Raphaelle, Gabriela, Roberto, Lidiya, Jess, Carl, Marcus, Lamonte, Charlie, Chetana, Jasmin, Nina, Josh, Dylan, Alex, Marina, Tara, Bob, Sammi, Richard, Drew, Tamzin, Jenne, Amanda, Cyrus, Alicia

What have I learned from my 80 classes?

There is no right or wrong.

Every teacher and every class is unique. Sometimes I’ve been taught ways of assuming postures in one class which directly contradict those taught in another. Sometimes classes are so different that it’s hard to believe they’re all called “yoga” My take on it is that it doesn’t matter too much. As long as the teacher is sharing their practice, with enough instruction, guidance and support to keep their students safe, the differences only add to the experience, and help me to stay more present.

Every teacher teaches you something worth learning.

As a recently qualified yoga teacher, I’m trying to soak up everything I can to make myself the best yoga teacher I can be. Often the flow of a class will exactly fit with the way I like to teach, or I’ll be in awe of the teacher’s creative sequences or their inspiring words. These are the classes I rush out of to find my notebook and scribble everything down before I forget it. In other classes the learning might be more subtle, and less easy to articulate. But maybe I’ll notice later in the day a shift in the way I feel. Or a week or even a month later, something that teacher said to me will come back to me, and I’ll be grateful for their insight.

Yoga will meet you where you are, but it never leaves you where it found you.

There have been yoga classes where I’ve been aching so much from some ridiculous workout the day before that I’ve told myself I could leave after the warm-up if it was too painful. There have been classes at 6am that I’ve had to almost literally throw myself out of bed to force myself to get to. There have been classes that I simply couldn’t be bothered with. But every single time, once I get on the mat, something changes. Somehow the yoga meets me in whatever state I’m in, acknowledges that and then gently moves me through it. There hasn’t been a single one of these 80 classes that I’ve regretted making the time for. So when my motivation to go is low, I do just have to remind myself that the hardest bit is turning up. Once I’m there, things are already starting to get better.

What’s next now I’ve done 80 yoga classes?

When I started my yoga travels, I told myself I’d maybe do this until September, but that was unrealistic. 80 classes is not even close to being enough. I still have so much I want to learn. Maybe I’ll aim next to be taught by 80 yoga teachers, or to try 80 styles of yoga. Or maybe I’ll let go of the numbers altogether. Whatever, I’ll never consider myself a “finished product” as a yoga teacher. I’m going to keep practising, keep learning, and keep writing. I am eternally a student.

Things I’m learning about detoxing (without actually doing any detoxing myself…)

I’m sceptical about the idea of detoxing. In my experience, ‘detoxes’ tend to be a socially acceptable shorthand for, “I’m starving myself on a crazy crash diet in a bid to lose weight.” Given my intolerance for feeling hungry, and my genuine love of cake, this is not something that appeals to me. I’m more a ‘everything in moderation (including moderation)’ these days…

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

But I’ve found myself teaching yoga in a beautiful little detox retreat in Portugal, and I have to say I am learning a lot about detoxing, handily without doing any myself (staff are allowed actual food – I did check that before I arrived!). Here are a few of my observations so far…

  1. People can fast and still be nice, sociable human beings. I’m pretty sure if it were me fasting I’d be consumed by “hanger” (hunger+anger= hanger) and resentment of anyone with food. But the guests here tend to be easy-going and happy. Impressive.*
  2. Detoxing seems to bring with it an obsession with bowel movements. It is nearly impossible to ask someone how they are without them decribing in full detail the way “things are moving”.
  3. Conversations in general become bizarre. “Jade would you cover my yoga class tomorrow? I’m doing a liver cleanse tonight,” is a yoga teacher problem I had not anticipated.
  4. “Breaking” refers to the end of a fast. It does not refer to the physical or mental destruction of a person through starvation as I thought the first time I heard the question, “When are you breaking?”
  5. Detoxing involves a lot of work. You’d think that with no meals to cook, the daily diet would be simple. How wrong you would be.  There are fresh fruit and vegetable juices and broth to prepare four times a day, as well as pills, pastes, powders and supplements to measure and consume. I now understand why people would pay someone else to sort out all the hassle.

Am I tempted to try it? In a word, no. Given my history of disordered eating, I think following paths of thinking which are, “It’s only hunger; it’ll pass,” would not be good for me. But maybe one day when I feel more secure in my recovery I’ll give it a go – if only because I’ve heard that cake tastes sublime after a few days of juice fasting…

*Edit: I later discovered that two of my favourite guests had graduated from pinching apples off the tree to taking ‘detox walks’ to the local cafe for coffee and actual food. I don’t blame them at all. I only wonder how many others were doing the same…

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.

What I learned doing yoga in Thailand

Chiang MaiI started out my solo travels in the north of Thailand with the best of intentions – every morning I would wake up at sunrise, do my self-practice of yoga, then meditate for 20 minutes before going for a healthy breakfast and beginning my day of travelling and exploring. It would be perfect. It was my opportunity to be completely on my own agenda with no distractions. This is what I learned:

  1. It is possible to take budgeting too far. I was so excited when I found a place to stay for just 100 Baht (around £2) per night. I was less excited when I discovered that my “bed”, essentially a mattress pad, was exactly 13cm away from my neighbours on each side. Never mind finding space to lay my yoga mat on the floor, finding space to roll over without becoming rather too acquainted with the snoring stranger next to me proved impossible. Needless to say, after a sleepless night or two, my yoga practice was the furthest thing from my mind…
  2. 39 degree heat is not conducive to an effective Ashtanga yoga practice, at least not for me. It is one thing to do hot yoga deliberately in a specially designed pod. Doing it accidentally in a sweat box of a room is an altogether different experience, and not a pleasant one. It made me question how and why Ashtanga yoga could possibly have originated in India. Given any kind of hot climate I think I would have developed a regime with a whole lot more lying flat on my back, and a whole lot less actual movement.
  3. There is something to be said for being physically comfortable. I came to Thailand with all these ideas about how I did not need anything – how I could live in the most basic of conditions, and I could do without any home comforts. And I can. But I realised that to be completely honest, I’d rather not. I actually quite like sleeping in a room which is free from cockroaches and mosquitos. I appreciate clean sheets, and air conditioning, and showers that run for long enough for me to rinse the conditioner from my hair. Who knew.
  4. Too much Chang (Thai beer) and yoga do not mix. That stuff is lethal. Nuff said.
  5. Yoga classes are invaluable. After 10 days of struggling to find the physical or mental space to do my self-practice, I needed some external motivation. I found it, in the form of Tara, a fantastic yoga teacher at NAMO Yoga in Chiang Mai. Her class reminded me why I love yoga, and what I’d been missing. Best of all, I drew energy and discipline from the other students in the class, and no longer felt that this was my solo battle.

On my last day, having treated myself to a better room, I finally managed what I had been aiming for all along. I woke up (hangover-free), rolled out my mat and practised underneath my fan with the sunlight streaming through the window. I then took a hot shower and walked to pick up a fresh coconut, kombucha tea and vegan muesli for breakfast. Okay, so it took me two weeks, but I got there in the end. And in that moment of smug satisfaction, it was all worth it.

What happens during yoga teacher training?

Wheel poseYoga teacher training by numbers

So much happened during Term 2 of my Yoga Teacher Training in Valencia that I struggled to summarise it in words. I decided to let the mathematician in me take over instead.

Number of…

  • Days spent training:12
  • Nights slept at the retreat: 11
  • Times I woke up before the 5.45am alarm: 7
  • Times I consumed meat or alcohol: 0
  • Times I woke up so hungry I wanted to eat my own arm: 7
  • People I had contact with from the outside world: 3 (taxi driver, housekeeper and pool man)
  • Repetitions of chanting the Gayatri mantra: 108
  • Mosquitos I killed: 2 (both in the same night – we became more vigilant with bedroom security after that.)
  • Times I fell asleep on my yoga mat: 5
  • Times I fell off my yoga bolster: 1
  • Times I cried: 3.5 (the .5 I was wearing sunglasses and nobody noticed, so it hardly counts.)
  • Times I laughed so hard my belly ached: at least 14
  • Pages of revision notes made: 29
  • Times I was told off for breaking the “no talking” rule: countless
  • Poses I forgot during my practice exam class: 3
  • Poses I forgot during my actual exam class: 0 (score!)
  • Exams taken: 3
  • Exams passed: 3 (yay!)
  • Newly qualified yoga teachers let loose on the world: 9

It’s hard to remember a time when I felt simultaneously as relieved and exhausted as I did at the end of this 12 days. Needless to say, I would advise that anyone going for a Yoga Teacher Training Course learns from my mistake, and does not book flights to Thailand for two days after the end of their course. My reasoning of “It’ll be fine – I can sleep on the plane,” felt somewhat flawed by the time I arrived at East Midlands Airport so tired I could barely remember my own name. Still, on to the next adventure – yoga teaching in Thailand

 

Teaching my first ever yoga class

The Om Dome. SuryalilaWhile at Suryalila, I had the opportunity to teach my first ever yoga class. I say opportunity, but to be honest I had to be coaxed, bribed and coerced into taking the class. I was terrified. Because the thing about teaching yoga in a yoga retreat is, people know what you’re doing. And therefore they know when you don’t know what you’re doing.

But they’re very persuasive people these yogis, so I found myself at 7am in the beautiful Om Dome with my lesson plan, laying out mats, blankets and blocks. Despite the vast differences in my surroundings, the nerves were very similar to my feelings six years ago when I taught my first English class in a Teach First school in Derby. They were Year 7, and lovely, and lulled me into a false sense of security. The Year 10 class I taught second lesson were not quite so compliant, but that’s another story…

At least my class size this time was small, with just four lovely students. Except that three of the four were qualified yoga teachers themselves. I couldn’t blag this. They were all very encouraging though, and as they all managed to come in without shouting “blow job” or attempting to forcibly remove their mate’s nose ring, I decided I was onto a winner.

In fact, the atmosphere was incredibly calm (I realise given that this was a yoga class, it shouldn’t have come as a shock to me.) In guiding the class to relax and let go, I couldn’t help but do it myself, and I let myself be completely present in the space I was holding for the class. I realised how much I had missed this aspect of teaching. While I don’t claim that my English lessons were ever as calm as a yoga class (although some weren’t that far off), I always found that teaching had a way of making bringing me into the present moment. The world outside my classroom, and beyond my students’ immediate actions would drop away, and I would be absolutely in the zone with whatever was happening right there. It was mindfulness practice in action.

The rest of the class ran smoothly. I gave some odd instructions at times (“Take your foot between your front two hands” As opposed to the back two, of course.) and I did miss out a few postures, but I’m hoping no one noticed. I also discovered that guiding to class to centre themselves between postures, and focus on their breath gave me the time and headspace to think about what I needed to do next. I wondered how often I’ve been in a yoga class, dutifully checking in with my breath and taking a moment to be present, while the teacher remembers what to do next…

After the class was finished, my students were lovely, and I got some useful feedback from them too – teaching teachers does have its advantages! What’s more, I was able to tidy the room and walk out without a single book to mark, guilt-free. Teaching without hours of marking – I don’t think the novelty of this will wear off for quite some time.

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