More than flexibility

stillness

This afternoon there was a power cut while I was at work. Whereas I was happy sitting and enjoying doing nothing, most of my colleagues were looking for things to do, tidying up their desks, walking restlessly around the office…

As I was sitting, revelling in the peace and quiet, I realised that the joy of being unable to do anything useful came as a refreshing change from my organised daily life. This pause was in some way similar to the stillness of a yoga class.

During a yoga class, you step out of your day-to-day activities and decide to take a break. To do lists and obligations disappear for an hour or so and you become fully focused on the movements of your body and the rhythm of your breath.

For me, this is what yoga is about… Not just the stretches, the asanas and the increase in flexibility but the pause, the conscious decision to take some time out of my daily life to do yoga, to focus on my breath and on stilling my mind.

To anybody whom I meet and tells me that they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible, because everything creaks when they move, I want to say that this is not what yoga is about. The word “yoga” means to unite. Yoga means to align the body and the breath, the body and the mind. It is about finding a stillness, a quiet pause where body and mind are at peace. The postures are a way of getting us to that stillness by focusing our wandering minds on one thing.

Flexibility is linked to the practice of yoga but, for me, it isn’t its aim. The aim of yoga is to learn to find that stillness

Journaling – Being in the moment

grassMindfulness is all around us at the moment, there isn’t a day that goes past without somebody mentioning it, at work, in the medias…

I used to approach mindfulness with a very focused, “I am going to be mindful of my actions” state of mind. It kind of worked when I was focused on what I was doing, I was in the moment, not thinking of anything else, but it didn’t seem to last for very long. I knew that practice is the key, so I tried and practise as often as I thought about it, which wasn’t often enough to make it into a habit.

I played with the concept of mindfulness for a long time, dipping in and out of it, not really getting anywhere with it, until I heard on talk on meditation during which the speaker explained that there was no real need to sit in a specific way, with the hands in a precise position meditate properly. His point of view was that sitting properly and hand positioning where helpful but shouldn’t stand in the way of anybody meditating. According to his, meditation is about focusing on the breath, no matter when, where or how you do it.

This very refreshing approach to meditation made me wonder about mindfulness. Maybe I was trying to hard to be mindful and I should just enjoy the moment.

This little brain wave of mine was confirmed this morning when, on the way to school, my daughter stopped to look at an injured daddy long leg on the grass. My first reaction was to tell her to leave it and carry on walking so as not to be late for school. Then I remembered the talk and stopped myself, my daughter was in the moment. School had been momentarily forgotten, she was captivated by the appearance of the daddy long leg on the grass. I walked across to where she was standing and we both looked at the little creature and discussed how it must have got hurt.

When we started walking to school a few minutes later, I realise that this was mindfulness. I had stopped worrying about being late for school (we had plenty of time anyway, which I knew fully well!), about my day at work. I was truly in the moment, without effort to be mindful. I just let the moment be and enjoyed witnessing it.

 

Journaling – change of air

Journaling is something I do from time to time to put to paper what I have going on in my head, to clarify my thoughts. Usually, I write these thoughts down on notepads and – having several notepads – I usually misplace what I have previously written to find it much later on. Some organisation is required and this blog will provide it for me. Hopefully, it will also provide you with some things to think about, some ideas…

Today, when I went out of the garden early this morning, I noticed a change of air. The sun was shining and the sky was blue, as it was yesterday and the past week, but the air was different. Fresher, sharper and with a soft, musty smell… For me this means one thing, autumn is on its way and the holidays, the sun, the summer – my favourite season – is over.

My first reaction was a little bit of sadness, this familiar pinch around my heart, which  I remember having every year around this time, when it meant the end of the holidays and back to school. A little bit of apprehension, butterflies in my stomach at the unknown, at the new school year…

This first reaction subsided and I reflected that today, it doesn’t mean the same thing. It is a much more exciting time: the yoga classes I love teaching will start again, I have a new appreciation for the change of colours in the trees and the cosiness of colder days… Yes, I will miss the long summer evenings, but it isn’t all bad!

This change of air, which used to fill me only with stress and some anxiety can now fill me with some excitement at the new season, at a sense of renewal brought by the steady transition from summer to autumn.

Taking a moment with unpleasant feelings can help assess if this feeling still has any value in this precise moment. I was still carrying emotions and sensations from many years ago, which are not relevant anymore. Taking a moment to pause and breathe, identify the feeling and telling myself : ok, I have this “new school year” feeling. What’s this about? What I have ahead of me now isn’t the unknown of new subjects, new classmates but a return to activities I like. Try and let it go.

I’m not saying that it is easy and that this familiar “end of the holiday” heartache will not come back between now and mid-September, but I now have tools to bring this feeling to the present moment and try let it go.  A small change in the right direction!

A pause

Day to day life: working, playing with the kids, cooking, going out with friends, cleaning the house, looking after the garden… A series of activities that follow each other, more or less smoothly, some pleasant, some less so. They follow each other seamlessly, a long stream of things to do and very little empty, unused time on any given day. Or when it happens, it is late in the evening, after the long to do list has been worked through as best as possible.

We all act on this sustained rhythm without even noticing it, that is what we are used to. We like to be busy, to feel like we have made the most of our days.

And then suddenly, sometimes completely out of nowhere, we find that our temper flares up, a little detail annoys us. When these little annoyances repeat themselves, we eventually pay attention to them, wonder where they are coming from, how come this is now annoying me… We look back and realise that we haven’t really paused in hours, days, sometimes weeks. We haven’t switched off and just let life go by.

When it all gets too much, it can lead to real stress, a sense of burnout. Then we wonder, what can I do, what can I change to avoid this? And the answer is surprisingly simple, and yet so difficult. We need to pause, to stop, go for a walk, do some yoga, breathing exercises, meditation or sometimes just sit and watch the world go by.  And suddenly the world feels wider, bigger, brighter and with more room to breathe and to be.

Pausing just a few minutes every day creates the space that our mind needs to just be, without to do lists, without agenda. A time to find ourselves again, a time to resource and to refill our batteries. A time to be in the moment, without judgment, just observing what is around us and realising that we don’t need to control things for the world to keep turning.

So let’s try to find, every day a few minutes, to stop and pause. To look around us and breathe, relaxing into the breath and focusing our mind on the moment, just for a moment.

Trying something new

This week, I tried something completely new. The last time I tried a new kind of exercise was eight years ago when I started practising yoga. I walked into a class not knowing what to expect and never looked back since. Eight years on and a yoga teacher, I am now practising yoga every day, both for my personal pleasure and enjoyment and to plan for my lessons. It nurtures me and centres me in a subtle and almost imperceptible way.

Yoga has become second nature to me and with that, I had forgotten what it is like to be a beginner. I believe in always being a student – and I learn new things about yoga and other subjects on a daily basis – but being a beginner is another thing entirely.

This week, I tried a new activity and for the first time in a long time I was a complete beginner, following the teacher’s every move and instruction and trying to make my body move like hers – as much as possible.

It felt strange not to be in my comfort zone anymore, to realise that my body – which I thought I knew well enough – wasn’t always moving as I wanted.

But by the end of the class, I realised that not only had I had a lot of fun and learnt new ways to move, I also had immersed myself completely into this new experience.  The hour had gone by at lightning speed and without me giving one second to the list of mundane thoughts that usually crowd my mind: shopping list, homework, reading books, school paperwork, washing and ironing piles… I felt so refreshed, energised and light as if I was walking on a cloud.

Trying something new as that advantage of being that little bit scary, that little bit more challenging that the usual things you do, it brings your mind completely into the present moment, into the flow of things. The flow that – according to researches on the causes of happiness – is that magical thing that we should try and move into as often as possible, these moments when the mind doesn’t think, it just is and so is the body.

belly dancing scarf