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What are those beads?

I recently had one of my students ask me about Mala beads. Here’s some short videos explaining what they are and how you can use them in your meditation practice.

What are those beads and why do you use them?
So I have a Mala, how do I use it?
What mantra do I use?
What if I’m left handed and it feels weird to use my right hand?
So, I’ve finished my Japa/mantra meditation, now what do I do?

Red Lentil Dhal

My go to for a quick dinner when the carnivores in my family are having something that I can’t add a vegetarian protein to for my dinner. I reckon I could eat a version of this everyday though it’s just sooo good. In winter I make it more comforting by letting is simmer a little longer and making it thicker and more soup like. In summer I add a little more water, to make it lighter. You can add in some of your favourite vegetables if you want a complete meal. (as pictured.)

Red Lentil Dhal.

Ingredients

Oil of choice – check what your dosha is online and use the oil that is suitable for you. I use a light oil – Sunflower oil because I’m Kapha Pitta.

1 Onion diced

3 Cloves of Garlic crushed

2cm piece of of Ginger minced (grated on a microplane)

1 tsp Black Mustard Seeds

5 Curry Leaves

1 Tbsp Tumeric

1 tsp Black Peppercorns crushed

250gm Red Lentils rinsed and picked over.

Water to cover

Salt to taste

Tempered oil Ingredients

Oil of choice

1/2 Onion sliced

1 tsp Black Mustard Seeds

5 Curry leaves

Method

Dhal

Heat oil and add the black mustard seeds. Heat through until they start to pop.

Add the onion and saute until transparent.

Add in garlic, ginger and curry leaves.

Add in tumeric and saute a little to remove the raw taste. Be careful not to burn the tumeric as it will taste bitter.

Add in lentils, salt and water to cover.

Simmer until the lentils are tender and some have broken down to make a thick gravy. You may need to add a little more water as needed to get the consistency you desire.

Add in the tempered oil and stir through.

Tempered oil

Don’t skip this step, it’s authentic and takes the dhal to a whole other level!

Warm oil and saute sliced onions until they are brown…like really brown. They become caramelly and awesome! When they are about half way to two thirds way to being ready add in the black mustard seeds and curry leaves. Again, you need to time it right so the mustard seeds pop but everything doesn’t burn.

Then add to the Dhal whilst hot for a delicious sizzling flourish of yumminess!

Enjoy it on it’s own with fluffy rice, the flat bread of your choice or the curry of your choice.

You can also add some heat by either adding your favourite chilli when you saute the onion, garlic and ginger. I usually will add a whole green chilli that has been split down the middle. Alternatively, you could add some chilli powder to your taste when you add in the tumeric powder.

Holding Pattern

A voice comes over the speaker system. It’s the captain speaking.

“There’s a bit of a queue to land at the airport, we’re in a holding pattern waiting for a spot to open. Should be about 30 mins…” (It’s almost always more than 30 mins…) The plane circles and circles and all you want to do is land and get where you’re going.

“There’s a bit of a queue to land at the airport, we’re in a holding pattern waiting for a spot to open. Should be about 30 minutes…” (It’s almost always more than 30 minutes…) The plane circles and circles and all you want to do is land and get where you’re going.

If you haven’t experienced this on a plane flight you’ve probably experienced this in your life at some stage, and for me, it seemed that I was in a holding pattern for a good chunk of the latter half of last year.

After finally sorting out my sacroiliac joint pain by strengthening my gluteus medius. I found myself with back pain that I had never had before. It limited my personal practice and my ability to demonstrate poses in class. It affected my pranayama and my sleep.

I was in a holding pattern in my physical practice and my teaching practice.

It got so bad, it was throwing out other systems in my body and my awesome Chiropractor was beginning to look concerned. She requested I get a scan to see what was going on.

So I went to my GP got the referral for the scans and blood tests – fearing it was an autoimmune disease (which is inherent in my family) and went for the tests.

They showed a normal healthy spine and no markers for the autoimmune diseases we were concerned about. YAY but still no answers to what was causing me the pain.

I am so grateful that I have such a great chiro that when I saw her next she was open to listening and exploring what I thought was the problem. Turns out I was right and with a few weekly visits it seems to be better!

I also have been in a holding pattern with getting approval to have classes at the home shala. The original application was put into council in May but I opened a can of worms that is still waiting on approval!

If it was the old patterning in me, I would have gone into overdrive, pushing to get an answer or to make the approval happen ASAP. I would have obsessed, shouted, written aggressive and pushy emails. I would have made my family’s life awful as I moaned and obsessively went over the scenario to them. I would have gotten jealous that other yoga teachers are achieving their dream while here I am waiting! I would have lay awake, tossing and turning going through all the different (and in real life implausible) scenarios that could happen to make or break the approval process. I’d have a plan B or C or Z Mark 1000.

I’d push my body, teach the poses that hurt me. Not express to my students that I was unable to do a pose for fear of looking like a fraud. I would have stuck to a practice that I had invested so much time and money on that was not healthy for my body. I would hate my body for letting me down. I would have lay awake at night obsessing about autoimmune diseases that would leave me in immense pain and on awful chemicals to control it. I wouldn’t have the courage to tell a health professional what I thought was the issue.

BUT that didn’t happen! I have had no anxiety over the health issues or planning approval. That for me is immense! So Awesome.

I will admit there have been times where I have been frustrated and sad about the situation, allowing myself to feel those emotions and more importantly letting them go is the difference.

That absolutely would not have happened without my yoga practice.

When I teach my beginner’s course I explain that asana changes the patterning in our body. When we practice regularly and with commitment, we lay down new, beneficial neural pathways and reinforce them. We become aware of our old unhealthy ways and patterns and choose healthier ones. We aren’t triggered like we used to be and in fact, act from a place of love and contentment.

With a meditation practice we gain control over our mind and tell it what to think, not the other way around. We can guide it from a way of thinking and being that we do not want to be to a way that we want to be. We can guide the mind back when it obsesses and over-thinks. We regain control and peace.

My practices have given me perspective, that the holding pattern is serving a purpose.

I’ve been able to sort out my clutter in my house so that when I do get approval and start teaching more classes it will be easier for me to keep organised and orderly.

I’ve refined being able to articulate  what a student needs to move to create a pose without  having to demonstrate.

I’ve also been able to show my students that asana fluctuates, there are poses that aren’t accessible or nurturing at times for us (or ever) and that there is a modification. Living authentically what I preach.

It’s okay to rest.

I’ve learned to trust my gut instinct again and to speak my truth.

I’m reminded to let go of the fruits of our labour and submit to being content and allowing that wherever I am in the process, that is where I am meant to be.

It is an invaluable system for our wellbeing, I will be eternally grateful for it and to it. It is the reason I want to share yoga with you, so that you too, may find peace and contentment and empowerment to change some of the patterns within that bother you and come back to your true self.

Eternally grateful to this practice and to be able to share it.

Santosha – When enough is enough.

Originally posted 18th December2016

I’m sure I’m not the only one, who at this time of year feels overwhelmed with the overabundance the season brings. I look at my children’s toy room and see so many gifts from previous years, knowing full well that in a few weeks there will be more. It’s hard to balance the joy of Christmas giving without feeling like the Grinch who says no to family gifting to my children.

The practice of Yoga teaches us gratitude. Western science has noted the benefits of expressing gratitude, having observed that when people express gratitude they have more positive emotions, the ability to relish good experiences, improvements in physical health, the ability to build strong relationships, deal with adversity and build resilience, be more hopeful and even sleep better, the list is infinite.

Recognising our abundance and being grateful for it, seems to quench the thirst for wanting more. When you are happy for simply having what you already have, when what you have is enough there is no need to want for anything else. Enough is enough.

A regular asana practice has its fluctuations, some days it all works, some days it doesn’t work like it did yesterday or just not at all. Being content with however it is and not overreaching is a reminder that we are enough, our practice is enough in whatever shape it takes today, with gratitude that we are able to practice at all.

Patanjali lists Santosha (contentment) as one of the niyamas (observances).

Contentment is the absence of desire, and in sutra II.42 he states “From contentment results in unsurpassed joy.” When we desire something and eventually have what we desire, the joy is short lived and we are then back to desiring something else.

To be content takes us off that merry-go-round of desire. We can tap into what is eternal and not fleeting and experience true lasting joy.

My yoga practice has taught me so much, healed me in ways that I don’t have an empty space inside that I feel like I need to fill with stuff.

I think the best gift I have ever been given by my practice is the knowledge that what is inside me is divine, perfect in its imperfections, immortal and immutable.

A divine expression existing with the purpose to experience this life and not the material things our society focuses on that are impermanent and transient and unsustainable.

I am reminded of this every time I step onto my mat…

There is a famous Sri K. Pattabhi Jois quote “Do your practice and all is coming.” I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what he meant.

Namaste.

To Thine Own Self, Be True.

I originally posted to my personal Facebook page 2 years ago about embracing my gentle and sensitive nature and my feelings of being steamrolled by others who didn’t recognise that it is special in its own way.

Since then have had people respond saying that it has really made an impact in the way they see themselves, by appreciating the differences that make us all special in our unique way rather than enforcing a cookie-cutter “everyone should be like me” view and embrace their quirks and uniqueness, seeing the strength in them, even if with others it doesn’t resonate.

It’s about honouring the true essence of who we are and allowing others to honour their true essence. I’m reminded of the meaning of Namaste – “The Light in me recognises and bows to the Light in you for they are the same.”

I remember groaning when reading in our yearbook, the parting wisdom of my year 12 Principal who wrote the famous words by William Shakespeare. In Act 1, Scene III of the famous play, Hamlet, Polonius says:

“This above all: to thine own self, be true

    And it must follow, as the night the day

    Thou canst not then be false to any man/Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”

It seems she was onto something…

It’s been a journey over the last 2 years, to embrace more and more my gentle nature which is my true nature. To re-define some of the dialogue that has been used to label me in the past. To see that it is my strength and that actually is helping others!

So here it is the Facebook post (only edited to remove typographical errors):

“I don’t normally share much about what happens emotionally in my life on Social Media. However, today I feel I need to share in the hope that maybe it will help someone out there. Therefore in the spirit of being authentic here goes:

My whole life people have told me that my sensitive, gentle nature was wrong. Usually by those, type A Alpha people who see me as lazy, dreamy, airy-fairy, and undedicated and even slow moving. You know, all those words associated with not doing.

For years those words were my inner voice, telling me that I wasn’t enough.
So, I fought against my true nature and listened to those Alpha words. I moved, I did, I was dedicated and I stopped dreaming.

Until 2 years ago. I was burnt out. That was then my true nature peeked through and I meditated. I asked the universe “What is wrong with me?”

It answered.

Since then I have found my purpose and it embraces my true nature and I embrace my true self.

I may be sensitive, gentle, slow to act and dreamy. But those qualities let me empathize, heal, teach, see the bigger picture, to really see others and help them, to create and to listen clearly to the divine.

I am not longer going to try to be something I am not.

I am not writing this to get likes or to have nice sentiments put as comments.
What I want is for my fellow sensitive soul sisters and brothers out there to know it’s okay to be just that. To not listen to those Alpha’s words, in fact, to be the opposite. To be the Yin to their Yang.

Because we need more people to be like us to undo all the bulldozing that Alpha’s do.
To bend when they steamroll us, so we can pop back up and shine our gentle love into the world.
To heal the hurt left in their wake.
To say I am wide awake and I see what they don’t see.
To not rush in, to give people the space they need to find their own way.
To Do but Do so gently and with care.
To nurture so we can know true love.
To embrace sensitive children with the gentleness they need. And to show them that they are perfect the way they are.                                                                                                            To teach so we can grow and improve humanity with love and kindness.
To dream so we can create beauty, innovation and abundance.

So, here’s to my fellow sensitives and gentles. Stay soft – it’s not a bad thing.

Tips for Creating a Regular Practice.

We all love that feeling after a yoga class. That blissful floating feeling that has your soul singing, but getting to a regular class or having a regular practice can be difficult. Even in my teacher training, a lot of us recognised that our practices at times waned.

Here are my tips for creating a regular practice.

Set your intention.girl-praying-hands-eyelashes-41942.jpeg

Just like we do at the start of our practice, setting an intention to practice is just as important. Take some time to think about it and really delve into why you want to practice so, when motivation is low you can remind yourself of why it is important to you. I like to remind myself that my practice draws me closer to my higher self, my best self, the person who I know that I am inside so I can draw from that well to manifest it in our world. I also remind myself what a privilege it is to be able to practice. The physical and health benefits are just a bonus.

pexels-photo-1059383.jpegSchedule it.

Yoga is a householder’s practice (particularly asana and pranayama). It is intended to be practised around all the responsibilities we have. We can’t just give up our day job and practice yoga all day (even if that is the dream – one day!) We have responsibilities to family, our community and our workplace.

So, by looking at when we like to practice; in the morning, evening or during the day. Consider what days we are likely to be able to practice and how often and if we want to attend a studio, what is the class schedule. From there we can form a plan to practice.

Once you have a plan – schedule it! Set timers and reminders; put it in your diary. Make it part of that day.

Find a teacher you connect with.Jana warm

If you are attending a class or one online, find a teacher that you like. If you go to a studio to practice, go a bit earlier or stay a bit later and have a brief chat with the teacher. Talk to them about what you’d like to work towards, what you like about the class or ask them a yoga question. Don’t be shy, we all were beginners and are still learning so we can understand how daunting yoga can be.

We yoga teachers love to talk about yoga and getting to know our students so we can help them – that is why we teach! Building a rapport between yoga teacher and a student is rewarding for both.

IMG_20160228_165724Bring a friend or make a friend in the class.

Making a commitment to meet a friend at a class can help when we lack motivation. It’s a two-way street – you can motivate them when they aren’t feeling it too! You can then catch up for a chat and a chai after the class.

30-day yoga challenge.

YouTube has some great yoga instructors who offer 14-day or 30-day yoga classes. Some studios offer similar courses. Signing up for a course can really help kick-start your practice.

A set sequence.

pexels-photo-892682.jpeg

Whilst practising the same sequence of asana like Ashtanga, might not be for everyone, it does have a few really great benefits.

One of the benefits is being able to see your progress in your poses. Another benefit of practising a set sequence is that when motivation or time is low you don’t have to think about what asana to practice you just get on your mat anywhere, any time and go for it.

Put on your yoga clothes and unfurl your mat.Emerald Mat Corner.jpg

If all else fails… put on your yoga clothes, unfurl your mat.

That is half the battle won right there.

Then, start connecting with your breath. Express gratitude for being able to practice.

If you still don’t have the motivation to do sun salutations or any dynamic asana, you can do cat cow curls, happy baby, just move and stretch in any way that feels good to you.

If that is still not going to work for you… you can do a pranayama or a meditation. Yoga is more than asana.meditation posture 1

Lastly, if it just isn’t going to happen for you today, lie down in savasana and cut yourself some slack – there’s always tomorrow.

A yoga practice is just that…a practice. Not perfection, it recognises that we are spiritual beings having a human experience in all it’s busy, complicated beauty and by doing the practice we are able to recognise it in ourselves…sometimes it just takes practice…

 

Meditation and Calming Techniques for Kids.

Originally Posted on 18 December 2017.

I recently visited my son’s class to share with them some of my techniques for calming and meditation.

 

E Savasana

 

Sitting still and meditating can be hard for adults so it’s understandable that it can seem nearly impossible for kids.

They are such sensory beings, while it is a natural part of their development, it poses a challenge when the task of meditation is to withdraw from the senses to go inwardly and still the mind.

The mind is the mind and it will try to reach out to sensory stimulus if it isn’t given something higher to focus on.

It goes into a primal mode, linked to what we needed to survive – the smells, touch, taste, sounds, like listening to be aware of a predator or prey, the smell or taste of something toxic or nourishing. When we meditate we are moving to a higher state, away from our primal, reactive state to become aware and conscious.

Being mindful that these kids are just starting out on their journey, we can give them the tools to have a fulfilling meditation practice later in life, without the expectation that they will be engaged for long periods of time. The key is to make it play based, to give them something to sit still for and focus on.

Here are a few of the ways I do kids calming and meditation:

Firstly, I always start a meditation session with a breathing exercise. The deep breathing exercises trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the “rest and digest” activities of the body. It is especially required when the children have been particularly active or stimulated when their bodies will be triggered by the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight actions)

When doing the breathing exercises, the exercise has to be sensory. They need to see it move something, hear it or feel it move in their bodies.

Make their breath move something; feathers, bubbles, a toy on their bellies that moves up and down with their breath or link it in with a movement so they can feel it move in their bodies. They can make a shhhhh sound when they breathe out or cover their ears and listen to their breath.

Breathing exercise Balloon arms and breath.

Have the children sit and make arm movements with their breath. Inhaling raising their arms like a balloon (try to make the breath in at least 4 seconds long) Hold their breath (again 4 seconds) then slowly exhale whilst lowering their arms (about 6 seconds). You can, as they get better at breathing, extend the time taken to inhale, hold and exhale longer. Remind them to make their bellies fill up like a balloon and let go of all the air when they breathe out.

Belly breathing exercises the diaphragm and allows a full breath and therefore facilitates the exchange of more oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the body. Holding the breath for a short amount of time also helps this exchange.

By taking a deep belly breath the diaphragm descends and releases the pull on the pericardium (the fascia that surrounds the heart and is connected to the diaphragm). This pull is associated with anxiety and often is the cause of the tight chest feeling in anxiety attacks.

Shoulder Shrug

The one time it’s okay for the children to shrug their shoulders. As they inhale get them to draw their shoulders towards their ears and squeeze and hold. Then exhaling drop their shoulders back down. Do this several times. You can also roll the shoulders forward and backward in sync with their breath or alternate between shoulders, raising one up then dropping it down then the other.

Rolling our shoulders backward triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and releases endorphins making us feel relaxed and calm.

Singing Bowl – Meditation

Have the children lie down and place the singing bowl on their stomachs one by one. Striking the bowl and engaging the children to listen till they can no longer hear the ring and asking them to signal when they can’t hear it any longer. Remind them that, if they fidget or talk, they won’t be able to hear it ring. Change up the strike so that from time to time it will ring softer or louder. If you don’t have a singing bowl, a bell or other chime that fades will work just as well.

This is a form of mindfulness, fostering attention solely at the task at hand.

Third-eye Stone

Placing the small stone or glass bead at the child’s third-eye center, inviting them to stay still otherwise it will fall off and the “magic” will be broken.

Fun in this game – Get the kids to close their eyes before you place the stone, then invite them to look through their third-eye to see what colour it is, reminding them that they shouldn’t touch the stone or open their eyes to see it.

Alternatively, you can place a stone on the child’s third-eye center and gently press it before secretly removing the stone. The child will feel as if the stone is still there. (This can be good to use if there aren’t enough stones for everyone or the children and too fidgety to lie still and keep the stone on.)

Scarf Breath

Using a scarf, tissue or other light fabric or paper, invite the children to make the material move with their breath. Engaging them to fill their bellies up with air and then slowly let the air out and blow the material.E Savasana

Extra fidgety kids

Placing a blanket or some other weight on extra fidgety kids can help soothe and comfort them. Occupational Therapy supply stores have purpose fidget blankets that are weighted.

For those extra, extra fidgety kids – a gentle foot massage or stroking their hair or even just placing a hand on their shoulder whilst reading the guided meditation works wonders. I find giving them passive attention stops them seeking it out in other ways (like talking through the guided meditation or moving or disturbing other children.)

I always come away from a yoga session with kids feeling so joyful. They are so beautifully complex and individual. Celebrating those differences and letting go of an idea of how the practice should be is something we can grow in their practice as well as our own.