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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