Thursday, 30 June 2011

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Here's a great article on how to breathe richly and deeply!

yoga and travel...

I'm off for an adventure this week. Going on a road trip with one of my bestest girls, up the coast of California. I think I may have to check out some yoga studios along the way, and maybe do my practice on a beach some mornings. I'm so looking forward to this change, a change of scenery, a change of energy. So I wish you all the best, peace and joy, until I write again!

Thursday, 23 June 2011


One of the intentions of asana, or the physical postures of yoga, is to prepare us for meditation. The definition for the word asana is "seat" or "to sit". Asana practice serves to strengthen our body so we can sit still in meditation. It also serves to balance our body, breath and mind so that we can come to stillness and quietness in our mind.

But sometimes, it also just feels really good to move! To hold, to stretch, to feel strong, to feel energy flow. This morning I had some time to enjoy my asana practice, and I felt a great joy in moving and being in my body.

I began with some slow sun salutations, as my body slowly woke up from a good night's sleep. I was aware of every joint, every muscle, beginning to open up as I stretched. I felt some pops, felt some tweaks, felt my back come into alignment as I did my forward folds, cobras and downward dogs. And I enjoyed it!

I did some standing poses, triangle, parsvottanasana, and warrior 2. I felt my muscles begin to awaken, felt my side body stretch, felt my legs activate and energize. And I enjoyed it!

I did some forward bends, both standing and sitting. My hamstrings and glutes were tight from biking a lot the last few days, and it felt delicious, to feel them warm up and loosen. Yep, I fully enjoyed it!

I love the quiet, still moments of yoga. I love the sitting and "simply being" parts of yoga. But today, I was aware of loving the physical part of yoga. To be aware of how incredible the human body is, to feel muscles and tendons and joints and skin work together in movement. To feel energy flow through me as I move. I am so grateful for my healthy strong body. It is a delightful gift to celebrate!!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Stop the spin!!

Sometimes I have a very spinny head :) Can you relate? My mind races, worries, analyzes, spins, jumps from one thought to the next so fast, I often have no idea how I got from one little thought to the gigantic dramatic story I've created in my mind.

And I love my mind. Without it, I couldn't survive. I love how it thinks and solves problems and creates beautiful ideas. It is a gift I treasure.

But there are times when I need it to quiet down. When I need it to stop working so hard. When I need it to stop spinning. I remember reading this beautiful book about the mind. In it, the author reminded us that often we feel like our mind is in control. That it has taken over, that it runs us. But the beautiful thing is that our mind is a tool we can use. A very important tool we can utilize to solve problems, organize our days, learn new things. It is a tool that we can call into action, or bring to a quiet, restful place. For me, this was revolutionary! I could actually tell my mind that it was time to stop, that it was time to rest, that it was time to be quiet?!? The moment I read that, I began to weep. In delight and gratitude, that I could learn to teach my mind to quiet. To work when I wanted it to work. Ahhh.

For me, it's been hard work. First, to be aware of when my mind takes off on it's own, spinning, worrying, running endlessly. Then, to stop and breathe and tell my mind, "it's time to stop. It's time to rest. You don't need to solve any problems right now. Thank you for all you do, but now it's time to be quiet". It's a skill I am developing.

Yoga is a delightful journey that helps my mind find stillness.

My asana practice (physical postures) helps me become aware of my body. It keeps my mind engaged by being aware of my body, the movements, the breath, how each part of my body feels.

My pranayama practice (moving vital energy through breath) helps quiet and calm the mind. It's amazing how the breath can reveal the state of my mind. When my mind is spinny and anxious and jumpy, my breath is shaky, shallow, unbalanced. When I can sit, and focus on rich deep breaths, intending equal length inhales and equal length exhales, my mind very quickly becomes calm and quiet. When I shape my breath so that my exhale is much longer than my inhale, I feel a deep peace and stillness come into my mind. It is so powerful.

My meditation practice is the greatest gift for quieting my mind. I assure you, when my mind is in a spinny place, I struggle to just sit and be still. It's pretty near to impossible. But after some asana and pranayama, my body and mind is ready to sit. Often I simply bring my awareness to my navel, or to my heart centre, and sit quietly. My mind still works, and thoughts often come to the surface. There are a lot of techniques to address this in meditation. I love the technique of watching my thoughts come across as clouds, and then simply watching them float away. The key, I've learned, is simply to observe the thoughts coming, and let them go. Don't judge them, don't get involved with them, don't judge yourself for having thoughts. That's what your mind does, that's what it's for. But in meditation, you can learn to just let them float away.

And the beauty of it is that as you practice this on your mat, your mind learns (cause it's so smart!) that it can function this way all the time! That thoughts can come, and be released, without the spin happening! It's such a delight!

I still have spinny days. Work overwhelms me, I worry about money, I worry about my relationships, I try to solve all the problems of the world. But it is a wonderful thing to know I have these beautiful techniques, on this beautiful journey, to give my mind a break. To come to moments of peace and stillness. And those precious moments, when they do come, are so restorative and refreshing to my busy mind, that I keep going back. :)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

As I learn to let go, I receive.

I just read this quote somewhere online, and it really resonated with me.

From a very physical point of yoga, when we can let go in our practices, release into our postures, and simply focus on our breath and the present moment, we receive. We receive the gift of stillness, the gift of ease. Our minds can become quiet, our bodies can release deeper into poses, and sometimes we can reach further than we could when we were grasping to achieve something.

As we take yoga off the mat, we can see the same principles at work. When I grasp at life, try to make things happen, worry about how my bills are going to get paid, try to control things around me, I very rarely truly receive. I feel anxious, bothered, spinny in my mind. Sometimes I get "results" from my hard work and strivings. And yet, when I am able to let go, I receive more. It may not look like what I thought it was going to, but wow, I am often blown away by the richness of what I receive!

I want to share a cool example.  I've been feeling a little stressed about money the last few days. I was going over and over in my head, how I would make things stretch, how I would make things work, where I could find the money... And in the process was feeling more anxious, more worried, with each moment. Then I brought my worries, my heaviness, my stress, to my mat and to my journal. I decided that instead of my old pattern of heaviness, striving, anxiety and shame that I have about money, I would let go. I would choose lightness and joy. I would release my old patterns and worries and heaviness. I didn't have a clue how things would work out, how I would receive, etc. But I set an intention to let go. To simply trust in the flow of life.

Then, today, I taught a lovely group of people yoga. I have set this class up that people can pay when and if they are able. I set up a little box, and people drop in whatever they choose to. I never know what I'll find when I open the box, and some weeks people aren't able to pay. But guess what?! As I learn to let go, I receive. This week my box was full!

This is only one small example of the beauty of this principle - as I learn to let go, I receive. I see it in action all around me, in my life and the lives of others who are learning to let go. So, as you go forward in your days, in your practice on the mat, and your practice off the mat, see if you can let go. Let go of the tension in your belly. Let go of the need to plan and control. And just see what happens! It's a fun experiment, if nothing else :) 


Thursday, 2 June 2011


Breath is such a beautiful thing. It is one thing that keeps going, whether we think about it or not. It nourishes us, strengthens us, keeps us alive as we sleep. It can be deep and rich, it can be shallow and rapid, it can be soft and relaxed. We can feel it in our belly when we're relaxed, pulling deep rich breaths into our body. We can feel it in our upper chests when we're nervous, tense, or stressed. Puppies and babies breathe in their tummies, because they haven't yet learned about stress and fear and the need to be on guard all the time. We stressed-out-oh-so-responsible-got-to-take-on-the-world adults need to take a lesson from puppies and babies, and regain that deep, relaxing, soothing breath. It allows our nervous system to quiet and our mind to calm.

Wonderfully, breath is an amazing tool to bring ourselves to quietness, to bring our awareness to this very moment, to practice mindfulness. If we took time each day, even for only a few moments, to sit and feel our breath, to simply notice where our breath is in our body, or to feel the air as it passes in and out of our nostrils, we would notice a shift in our being. A quietness. A gentle awareness. A knowing that everything is ok, if only for this moment. And perhaps we begin to feel grateful, for this gentle part of our body that works so well, with no attention from us.

Today, I celebrate my breath. For it keeps me alive. It is my very life force, prana in sanskrit. And it brings my mind to a quiet place, a still place. Here are some of my favourite quotes, in celebration of the breath today :)

A lifetime is not what is between
the moments of birth and death.
A lifetime is one moment
Between my two little breaths.
The present, the here, the now,
That's all the life I get.
I live each moment in full,
In kindness, in peace, without regret.
Chade Meng, Taoist poet

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.
Conscious breathing is my anchor.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh

When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady.
But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still,
and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Today, take a moment to notice your breath. Simply sit, simply be, simply breathe. Namaste.