Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

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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.

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

 

Do you have a hummingbird?

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

Image shows Jade sitting on a four poster bed cross legged and meditating, looking out towards the sea.

Hearing your hummingbird

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

And I realised I too have a hummingbird.

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

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

Have a beautiful day everyone!

Jade xxx

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

Five Reasons Why Meditation Is So Hard

meditation (1)

“I’m really bad at meditation.” I’ve heard this from many yoga students, and I’ve said it myself. I blogged about my own meditation challenge in fact. But why is meditation so hard?

Here’s what I reckon…

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

So what can you do about it?

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

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Jade xxx

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

Update: Check our this later post for details of ‘How I meditate: My personal practice.’

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?

 

Returning to yin: my first yoga love

Yin YangI’m beginning my yoga blogging a little closer to home, with the class that started my yoga obsession. Perhaps surprisingly for someone who enjoys exercising to the point of sweaty, scarlet-faced, endorphin-fuelled exhaustion, my first consistent yoga practice was yin yoga. Shortly after I moved back to Nottingham in 2008, I went along to one of Mike Morris’ yin yoga classes, and from that point onwards I was hooked.  I went every week, and (sometimes!) even remembered to practise in between.

Yin yoga is a slow and mindful practice, where you hold postures for much longer periods of time than in most forms of hatha yoga, typically 3-5 minutes. Rather than muscular effort, you use gravity and your own body weight to go deeper into the postures. This allows access to the fascia and connective tissue, which in the Taoist tradition are thought of as the “yin” tissues of the body.

I loved it. The stillness, the calm, the letting go, and even the discomfort.  Because for all its deceptive gentleness, yin yoga can be really damned uncomfortable.  While you may not be holding the postures through muscular exertion, you still feel it. Trust me on this one. Five minutes of “allowing gravity to do the work” while you lie in sleeping swan with your leg tucked beneath you and your thigh externally rotating from the hip, and you really know about it. Gravity might be doing the work, but it’s certainly not going to take the discomfort for you too.

Yin yoga became my touchstone though.  That class every week was the closest I could get at the time to practising meditation.  I learnt to sit with my body, sit with the postures, sit with the sensations and not fight them. The idea of accepting and even exploring discomfort taught me more than months of therapy could have done.

I’ve since moved to Birmingham, where I haven’t found a yin yoga class yet, so it was with genuine excitement that on a trip back to Nottingham this month I was able to go back to Mike’s class.  Returning to the practice felt like coming home.  The discomfort, which my memory had dulled, was horribly and beautifully intense.  Moving into each posture was fascinating. I felt the difference in my joints that the last three months of daily yoga practice have made – more openness in some places, and new aches, tender points and restrictions elsewhere. It was like checking in with myself again.

If you are interested in learning more about yin yoga, check out the videos here and Mike’s website here. Let me know how you get on!

Around the world in 80 yoga classes

Valencia yogaOr why I’m leaving my perfectly good job to travel around the world doing yoga…

Just over a year ago, I went from teaching English in a secondary school to working as a leadership coach for an education charity. I moved city for the role and effectively started a new life. This was a good move. It gave me the opportunity to work with some incredible, inspiring teachers, and it allowed me time to reflect on what I value.

After moving, a lot of the new people I met would ask me what I did in my free time, which was pretty embarrassing. Having spent the last 5 years teaching, my honest answer was, “Erm… marking?” But gradually I realised that there are a few things I love doing. Yoga, teaching, travelling and writing. And the thing about coaching other people is that it’s hard to avoid turning the questions back on yourself sometimes. I was forced to question why I wasn’t doing more of the things I love. What was stopping me?

Mainly fear.  Fear that if I uprooted the comfortable, happy life I have now then I might not find something as good again. I compared myself to other people my age and worried that I wasn’t “progressing” enough.  Shouldn’t I be climbing the career ladder and earning more money? Shouldn’t I be buying a house and settling down?  My friends are working for promotions, getting mortgages and having babies.  I wouldn’t trust myself with a pet goldfish right now.

And the thing is that’s not what I want at the moment (cute as goldfish are). I’m lucky enough to have the freedom to choose what I want to do right now. So I decided to go for it. I handed in my notice and booked my first flights.

My plan is still very open. I’ll leave my job at the end of February and set off for Spain.  I’ll complete my yoga teacher training in Valencia, then spend the next few months travelling and doing as much yoga as I physically can, writing about my experiences and sharing what I learn.  I’m so far out of my comfort zone it hurts, and so excited that I can hardly sleep.

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