Intention

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One of the beauties of a Yoga practise is the attention we bring to our postures, our breath, our inner selves. By bringing attention to our minds and bodies, we can block out the noise of the world and simply be.

But I think ‘intention’ is something slightly different. When we bring intention to our practise, it can bring a deeper meaning to our Yoga.

The word intention signifies that you are intending to do something, to be somewhere, to bring a higher awareness of ourselves in whatever activity we are engaged in.

As usual, I think this idea can be translated from Yoga into our everyday lives.

When we switch off our Smartphones or, better still, put them away in a drawer, in order to spend time with a friend or family member, we are sending a very clear signal that we intend to enjoy that person’s company fully and without distraction.

When we set aside a specified time in which to care for ourselves – be it a Yoga practise, going for a run, or simply sitting in the garden and reading a book – we are signalling our intention that we are worth the time spent on ourselves.

Bringing this idea back to our Yoga practise, I often utilise the word intention when moving in and out of our basic, everyday poses. This is because we can often begin to perform movements on auto-pilot, not really taking in the benefits they bring. How many times have you driven somewhere and not really noticed anything along the journey?

This week’s post then is a part of my regular practise: Cat and Cow Pose. I always use this pose as part of a class, as well as in my own personal practise, as it is a simple way to warm up the spine. But it is easy to simply move back and forwards without really taking notice of what we are doing. So this week, try to slow everything down and give your full attention to the pose.

The Pose: Come to hands and knees, have the hands around shoulder width apart and directly below the shoulders. The knees should be about hip-width apart and directly below the hips. Spread the fingers wide and flat on the floor, evenly spaced. On an inhale, allow the back to dip slightly, allowing the chin to lift and the eyes to begin to look up toward the sky. When the lungs are full, hold for a second, before exhaling through the nose, and reversing the action. So the chin begins to move back down toward the chest, the eyes trace an imaginary line along the floor and through the knees, and the back arches up like an angry cat. Again, hold the breath for one second once expelled, then start again with the inhale. Repeat this several times, pushing back into child’s pose to rest afterwards.

As you perform the movement, bring your full focus and awareness to your breath and your very slight movements.

As ever, try to take your Yoga outside of the mat by performing everyday tasks with more intention.

Until next time,

Kate xx

Mindful

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Mindfulness. Is it just me, or does this word suddenly seem to be everywhere?

From anxiety sufferers, to Yoga practitioners, to primary school children; it seems that Mindfulness has become the solution offered to many of the side effects of living in a fast-paced, increasingly digitised world.

I’ll be honest: I’ve struggled for a while now to comprehend what exactly Mindfulness is. It isn’t really something tangible, something you can readily explain.

In essence, I believe it’s the practise of concentrating on doing/seeing/being one thing or in one place at any given time. I think it’s a kickback against the multi-tasking ideals we’ve been increasingly sold.

I was recently considering attending a Yoga workshop. When I enquired what type of Yoga the workshop leader was delivering, I was told her classes were ‘Mindful’. I have to admit to being kind of confused. Because Yoga, to me, is the very essence of Mindfulness in itself.

Within a Yoga practise, you can’t do anything else but concentrate on the pose or the breathing exercise you are engaged in. If you are standing on one foot, for example, and start to think about what you are going to cook for dinner, you will likely fall over!

And it was at this point that a light bulb finally went on for me. One of those wonderful ‘A-ha!’ moments.

I’d been trying to figure out what all this sudden interest in the wonderful benefits of practising Mindfulness were, that I’d failed to realise I’d been practising them all along! The very reason I first fell in love with Yoga was the fact that I completely forgot about everything else whilst I was engaged in it. I loved the fact that my mind would empty, as soon as I sat down on my mat, and began breathing – really breathing – and moving my body into the poses.

I’ve recently begun introducing this idea of Mindfulness into my daily morning walks. Instead of thinking over a problem, or turning up my MP3, I’ve begun slowing down. Taking notice. Of the sounds of the river, the lushness of the trees, even the feel of rain on my face. And it’s true – it really does work.

So this week’s Yoga pose is simply a breathing exercise. There’s no fancy meditation practises required, just a simple, concentration of breath, to allow the body to settle.

The Pose: Bee Breath: Come to sit cross-legged on the floor – sit on a cushion or Yoga block if it makes you more comfortable, or even rest your back against a wall – the key is to have the back as straight as possible. Gently close your eyes and place your hands either palm face down on your knees (earthwards) or face upwards (skywards), and begin to deepen the breath, in and out through the nose. After a few breaths, begin to breathe in a little more deeply, completely filling both lungs with air. When you feel you can’t take in any more breath, begin to slowly breathe back out, through the nose, but making a ‘buzzing’ sound in the back of your throat. As the breath totally empties from your body, the buzzing will begin to fade out, and you can once again take a deep breath in through the nose. Continue to repeat this process for around ten rounds of breath, or a minute or so, before coming to return to normal breathing.

As a follow on from this, next time you go out, try to really notice your surroundings: the colour of the sky; the shape of the clouds; the smell of the pavement after a rain shower; the feel of rain on your cheek.

Until next time,

Kate  xx

Trees

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I’ve been out and about in my local area over the past week or so, due to the school holidays. We’ve had a few sunny days – at last! – but also, a lot of rain. The rain has had its required effect, however, of bringing out the lush greenness of the woods around the corner of Yorkshire I live in.

I feel truly blessed to live in the greenest city of the UK.  Sheffield is estimated to have over two million trees, more trees per person than any other city in Europe, and Yorkshire is one of the greenest counties in England.

So you don’t have far to walk to encounter an abundance of trees!

Our trees bring huge benefits, especially for city dwellers, from filtering fine air particles to reduce pollution, providing shelter from harmful UV rays (when we get enough sun to demand it, of course!), to mental health benefits, whereby simply staring at pictures of trees have been shown to improve mood.

Put simply, we couldn’t live and breathe without them. Yet, we often take them for granted. Even though I profess to love the greenery around me, I realised recently that when my kids asked the names of common trees just down the street, I wasn’t sure. Sure, I could recall the more obvious ones – the willows and horse chestnuts maybe – but I really wasn’t sure of the rest.

So I invested in a little pocket tree book. Now, when I go on my morning walk, I carry this little fact book in my pocket, so I can stop and find out the names of the trees I’m walking by. At first, I did feel a little bit childish, but soon, as I began to start realising which trees were related to which other trees, and their histories, I forgot about that.

But the other thing this has brought me is a sense of mindfulness. As I ponder the origin of a particular tree, examining one of its leaves, the way the catkins hang, the thickness and texture of the trunk, I slow down. I contemplate. I breathe.

I’m learning to appreciate the wonderful nature around me, and in so doing, I’m learning to really notice more.

So obviously, this week’s pose has to be Tree Pose! Tree is one of my all-time favourite poses, as it allows us to feel at one with nature; graceful and contemplative.

The Pose: Standing as straight as possible, place your right foot flat on the floor and raise the sole of your left foot to rest somewhere on the inside of the right leg. (Note: don’t put the foot on the knee joint, as this can cause injury). It isn’t important how high the foot rests – the ankle or calf is fine – it is more important to feel the left thigh opening outwards. When you have the foot in a comfortable position, find a spot on the floor or wall in front of you and concentrate on it, bringing your hands to prayer in front of your heart. If you wish, you can keep your hands in this position, or raise them above your head, even opening the hands out into ‘branches’ to help you keep balance.

Now smile! Enjoy the feeling of being a tree, and the renewed balance it restores when you plant your left foot back on the floor to join the right. Repeat on the other side.

I hope you get a chance to get out and hug a tree near you sometime soon!

Until next time,

Kate  xx

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Wabi-Sabi

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The Japanese have so many wonderful words for seemingly incongruous things. Wabi-Sabi is one such example. An aesthetic term dating back to the fourteenth century CE, it celebrates the humble, hidden beauty of incomplete and imperfect things.

Within this concept, random and naturally occurring irregularities are to be revered: a knotted piece of wood, the inconsistent shape of an eroded rock.

Wabi-Sabi is also an acceptance of transcience and imperfection. This is where, I believe, the term can easily tie in with our Yoga practise.

When we practise the physical asana of Yoga, we will be far from perfect. Even experienced Yogi’s will have bodies which are less than perfect, and so may be unable to force their bodies into certain poses with perfection.

And why would we want to?

If we take a walk in a forest, we will see many examples in nature of imperfection. Gnarled tree barks, broken branches, brown-tinged leaves. Yet, we will often wax lyrical on the beauty of the nature around us. We will celebrate its wabi-sabi-ness.

Nature, as life, is imperfect. And so are we. Today’s pose is one I find fun and also a little kooky! It encourages us to smile, to look imperfect, and to love that imperfection. It is a good pose to practise after the traditional Tree pose, which is a more graceful standing balance.

The Pose: Cactus. Stand tall, raising and bending the right leg and taking hold of it just below the knee with the right hand. Balancing on the strong, left leg, use the right hand to open the right leg out to the right side slightly. Bend the left arm and raise it slightly, opening out the left palm and fingers. Breathe into the balance. Then repeat on the opposite side.

Until next time,

Kate xx

 

 

Grace

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There’s a saying in the Navajo language for anyone who walks with dignity and confidence: they are said to be ‘carrying their beauty’.

I think this is such a beautiful phrase. It makes the suggestion that dignity and confidence are to be recognised as indicators of beauty. I think this can be taken as something of a revelation in the era of the air-brushed selfie, the Instagram society we live in, where how we look is often judged over who we are and what we stand for.

I read a wonderful little book recently, ‘L’art de la Simplicité How to Live More With Less’ by Dominique Loreau, recently translated from the French bestseller, in which she talks about grace and beauty coming from inhabiting our bodies as we are.

This is something that at first seems obvious, and yet, it can be the hardest thing to achieve. So hard, in fact, that I’d say it has taken me most of my life so far to realise.

Since I found Yoga well over a decade ago, I have always come the closest to this ideal of finding beauty and grace when practising Yoga asana. Often, Yoga helps me to feel weightless, limitless, and perfect in the body I have.

This week’s pose, Dancer’s Pose, is one that makes me feel graceful and confident. To move into this pose, take your right foot to balance on first and send your breath down to that leg. Bend the knee of your left leg and grab the left foot with the left hand. Hold your right arm out front to help balance and form a circle with the thumb and forefinger. Start to lean your upper body forward, balancing on just the right leg. If you are comfortable in the balance, start to press the left foot against the left hand holding it, and move the foot away from the body slightly. Feel the grace and lightness as you inhale and exhale in this pose.

Come out of the pose gracefully and repeat on the other side of the body.

I hope this pose helps you to feel like flying as it does me!

Until next time,

Kate  x

Disconnection

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Disconnection. It can have more than one meaning, can’t it?

One can be a positive: disconnecting from technology and work in order to enjoy spending time with the people we love. The negative is the opposite: feeling disconnected from the people around us, because we are in a constant state of ‘busyness’, finding ourselves becoming more insular and separate.

Our yoga practise can bring us back to our mats, back to ourselves, back to re-connect with the real life people around us.

Recently, I read a book about digitally detoxing: The Essential Digital Detox Plan by Orianna Fielding-Banks https://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Digital-Detox-Plan/dp/1780979053/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1494321358&sr=8-3&keywords=digital+detox

In it, the author refers to the position we have now found ourselves in of being permanently ‘switched on’; available night and day to answer emails, chat to virtual, online friends, and work, work, work. Often, at the detriment of the real-life relationships we are neglecting.

Since reading, I have been trying to incorporate ideas into my life which allow me to switch off, mentally and metaphorically, from the digital clutter that can threaten to fill our lives. Here are some ideas:

  • Try a period of ‘letting go’, for example, ‘Unplugged Saturdays’, or deleting apps from Smartphones and putting them back on if you really find them necessary. Often, we turn to scrolling through social media as simply a habit. Try downloading one of The Minimalists wallpaper screensavers as a reminder of what you are trying to achieve: http://www.theminimalists.com/?s=wallpaper
  • When with family members or friends, make a conscious effort to unplug, leave the Smartphone in another room, focus on whoever you are spending time with, listening to them and giving them your full attention. You may not be able to convince your whole family or group of friends to do this, but your actions are likely to have a positive effect. Lead by example.
  • Remember that when we do receive a notification, update, email, etc, we don’t have to actually deal with this immediately. Practise pausing, taking a breath, controlling the urge to jump to the tune of your devices.
  • In her book, Orianna Fielding-Banks suggests asking yourself: If this were your last day on Earth, would you want to spend it scrolling through Facebook or Twitter? Looking at pictures of other people’s lunch on Instagram, or answering countless emails? My guess is no. Take your lead from this.

The truth is, although we often complain about the impact our addictions to digital technology has over our time, if we’re honest, we can see that it is sometimes used as an avoidance technique. These constant distractions can be used to avoid being with ourselves, being alone with our thoughts and quietness. This week’s Yoga pose then, Easy Pose, is a way to reconnect with that inner self that we may be avoiding, for whatever reasons.

The Pose: Come to a seated position, back straight, legs gently crossed in front of the body. If you struggle to maintain a straight back, either sit against a wall, or raised on a cushion or Yoga block. Eyes can be open or closed, but closing them often helps us to focus. Hands rest either palms up, facing the sky, or down, touching the knees. Begin to concentrate simply on breathing, inhalations and exhalations through the nose. If it helps, breathe in for a mental count of four, hold the breath for one second at the top, then out again through the nose for four. The moment when the breath is held at the top is thought to represent bliss, peace, the ultimate release.

Try to aim to do this for a few minutes each day, to simply ‘be’ with yourself, allowing thoughts to come and go. And of course – ensure you remove any digital distractions from the room in which you practise!

Until next time,

Kate (the Yorkshire Yogini)

x

 

Warrior

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The world is in a mess. There are many things to cause us to worry recently, and this isn’t the place to go into them. World politics, environmental disasters, poverty and displacement fill our TV screens and news sites, and it is all too easy to drift into depression and anxiety about issues seemingly out of our control.

I’m not here to suggest that Yoga can change any of these serious issues. But the truth is, it can change your inner world, and often, that can be half the battle.

If we try to embrace simplicity and practises which bring us back to our core selves – such as Yoga, meditation, simply taking five minutes to breathe – we can put ourselves into a much stronger position to take action.

Courtney Carver, on her fantastic blog ‘Be More With Less’ https://bemorewithless.com/ says: “The remedy to helplessness is action”. I have found so much truth in this lately. If the world’s problems feel too overwhelming to deal with, contributing to the people and community around you will increase your feelings of control, and the satisfaction of knowing you are contributing in whatever small ways.

Simple ways of getting involved and contributing might include:

  • Cooking for, or checking on, an elderly neighbour.
  • Donating food or time to a local food bank.
  • Picking litter from the local environment.
  • Campaigning for change in issues you strongly believe in.

However you get involved, taking action is sure to turn helplessness into hope.

This week’s Yoga pose is Warrior II – one of my all-time favourite poses. It is a strong, powerful pose, which always makes me feel capable of achieving anything. The term ‘Warrior’ shouldn’t be interpreted as a negative; the idea is that you are a strong, compassionate, Warrior, facing challenges and gaining strength from your practise. As with all aspects of Yoga, the idea is of non-violence and compassion.

The Pose: Standing, spread the legs apart about three feet, one foot pointing forwards, one turning slightly inwards. Raise the arms outwards, palms face down, shoulders relaxed. On an inhale, bend the front knee deeply, and turn the head to face the outstretched hand on that side. The waist and centre of the body should remain facing forwards. Breathe. Hold for a count of three deep inhales and exhales through the nose, and repeat on the other side of the body. (See above).

Until next time,

Kate

x

 

 

Welcome

Yoga

What does that word conjure up for you?

For a lot of people, it will conjure up an image of a contorted body in some kind of unimaginable pose.  Maybe for others, a cross-legged Buddha-like, serene figure.

Yogi’s are mindful; introspective; and definitely vegetarian.  Right?

I don’t fit neatly into any of these models – and I’m guessing you don’t either.

The truth is: Yoga is more than a set of practised postures, deep breathing, or eating vegetarian food – though all of these may come into it.

Yoga is a way of life; a continual practise; a way of striving to be the best, most authentic you.

I practise the physical poses – or asana – of Yoga to strengthen my body; the breathing exercises to strengthen and calm my mind; and the philosophy to try to make sense of the world around me.

This blog is all about the simple, intentional way of living that I continue to seek through Yoga.

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