The body keeps the score

I spent yesterday at the 'Aversion to Stillness' workshop with Alexandria Crow, discussing all things Restorative Yoga. This is yoga specifically aiming to calm the parasympathetic nervous system and move us from 'fight and flight' to 'rest and digest' state. 

Many of us think this sort of yoga is 'boring' or 'just lying about'. If your mind is very active without a good teacher I think these slow classes can make you feel even more stressed. It has personally taken me a long time to move away from fast/sweaty/challenging/stimulating/loud/hard/shouty teacher yoga classes into more gentle, still classes. 

In the workshop we looked at how more passive poses incorporating deep relaxation can open and relax the muscles (and crucially, the nervous system) more than jumping about and straining ourselves in active classes. 

The workshop got me thinking about where I want to develop my own practice and what I am offering out to clients. 

The more I study psychotherapy and learn about neurology the more I believe that the body, and yoga, is
an incredible tool we all have at our disposal when facing many of the mental health issues we are dealing with in modern life. 

I feel like I am still pulling together my coaching, yoga, interest in mental health and Jung course and wondering how they all come together and what that can look like if we tackle the body and mind as a whole, rather than separate entities.

I'm taking a two week break now to reset- if you are interested in the link between body and mind, drop me a message and I will reply on my return. If you're keen to learn more I recommend the book 'The Body keeps the score' by Bessel Van der Kolk and this TEDMED talk below.

Retreat: an act of moving back or withdrawing

It already feels like a lifetime ago but back in September I attended a week long yoga retreat in the Pyrenees. It was my first retreat in a few years, and reminded me just how blissful these holidays can be. Whilst the definition of retreat is an act of moving back or withdrawing, sometimes we need to step back to move forward.

There is something about going away and taking this time solely for you that leaves one feeling relaxed and rejuvenated in a deeper way than a normal holiday. Doing yoga twice a day, eating organic vegetarian food and connecting with new people is deeply nourishing. The recent retreat I went on had a strong focus on ayurveda and pranayama and I felt five years younger by the end of the week.

I’m often asked for retreat recommendations, which I find difficult because yoga teachers and their style is such a personal preference. For me a retreat is all about the teacher, and not just for the way they teach. Many people go on retreats alone and I find meeting new friends to be one of the highlights of a retreat. They say ‘your vibe attracts your tribe’ so the retreat is likely to be filled with people who are like minded, and like the teacher! Don’t be afraid to contact teachers before a retreat and see whether there is a connection for you.  

My recommendations for this year are as follows, all are teachers who I know and love:

Liz Jacobs, Goa

Lucy Roberts, Goa (1 space left)

Bridget Woods-Kramer, Andalucia or North India

Lucy McCarthy Portugal

Caroline Perrineu Norway

If you want to stay closer to home, I am considering running a retreat in Scotland in May/June. Think hiking, coaching, connection and of course, yoga. Let me know if you are interested x

Return to India

Last month I had the luxury of visiting Goa for some much needed ‘me time’. This was to be the first solo trip I had done in a while, and I set about it with a mix of fear and excitement. Having experienced a life changing trip to North India in 2014, it was with mixed emotions I took in my first few breaths of Goa’s tourist vibe.

In our always on, always busy, always connected times I think the biggest luxury we can give ourselves is space and time. So this trip was to be all about that.

Staying in Agonda, one of the quieter beach towns in South Goa, I quickly established a routine. Electing not to do a formal yoga retreat on this trip due to a combination of the cost, the often restrictive food and schedule and my longing to be alone, I cobbled together something of a DIY retreat. The Sampoona yoga centre offered twice daily 90 minute ashtanga, rocket or vinyasa classes. Each morning the birds would wake me and I would go to the 8.30am vigorous (and sweaty - it was already 30’) class. You can’t beat starting your day with a semi outdoors yoga class, enjoying a long shavasana to the sounds of nature.

Breakfast at the Mandala cafe next door was a daily highlight, sweet chai, fresh fruits and pancakes, cool staff and a great yogi vibe. Then off to Agonda beach for podcasts, reading and writing. These mornings were so peaceful, nourishing and calming I felt my stresses and worries melt away. A long lunch at Zest, a nap, then a curry for dinner and reading my novel in bed by 9.30pm most evenings. Bliss.

I went out on a few excursions - Cola beach (amazing) and Patnem (ok), but otherwise the above was all I did for 9 whole glorious, relaxed days. The sun shone down on me and I felt myself uncurling, unfurling and the long winter and the ‘beast from the east’ in the UK become a distant memory.  

The trip was life affirming rather than life changing. What I saw of Goa was that it is very, very touristy. This can be good; it’s safe, clean, easy to get around and avocado on toast is widely available if that’s your thing. There are hot showers, AC, constant electricity and people wander around the streets in swimwear and nobody bats an eyelid. Goa was nothing like the India I had experienced before. That was crazy, noisy, dirty, smelly, dangerous and incredible.

All the yoga teachers I found in Agonda were Westerners, and whilst the standard of asana teaching was high, in 8 yoga classes I heard one OM. This made me feel sad. If you are seeking a spiritual journey, are interested in more traditional yoga or learning about Indian culture, I cannot recommend Goa.

But for me, this time, the trip was exactly what I needed. Space, reflection, time to myself. When I went to India the first time, my friend told me “India will give you what you need”, and again, she was right.

And as I made my way back to the airport to go home, in a brand new car with air con, I ended up with cow dung splattered over my face and clean clothes. I sat in the taxi laughing. Goa may have been India-lite, but it was still India.

Remember why you started

I went to my first yoga class in a long time last week. I had pulled a muscle in my back a while ago pottering about the house, and since then found every excuse not to practice. "I don't have time" (reality: I am not making time), "I'm worried about my back" (reality: yoga is only going to be good for my back if I take it easy), "I'm not in the right mood to go" (reality: not going is part of the reason I'm in that mood)

Ahhh...I'm a yoga teacher! Is it bad I am admitting that I haven't been practising, or wanting to practice? Does it make me a crap teacher? Or does it just make me a human; having highs and lows and sometimes wallowing in the lows, even though I know how to pull myself up, doesn't mean I always want to.

I'm being 'still' I told myself, I'm allowing this wallowing, I am FINE. So what if I'm a bit tetchy, short tempered, a little anxious. But when does stillness become stuckness?

Yoga, therapy and coaching all hold up a mirror to our inner selves, our thoughts and feelings. This can be enlightening, amazing, joyful, all the good stuff.  It can also be frightening, revealing and uncomfortable. Last month I didn't want to look in the mirror, inside me. I instead chose to ignore it and started feeling more anxious, got less sleep, and generally started to feel a bit “meh”.

Then last week when I was away I met a teacher called Maria. She had a Jack Russell too and a big smile. She was friendly and warm, she hugged me when I turned up to the class, late and reluctant. The yoga was slow, and it was hard as I felt weak and stiff. But as I breathed and moved and shaked and laughed and fell over I felt better. I felt more like myself.

Maria, with your slow hatha flows, singing bowl, lavender eye pillows and classes half in English, half in Portuguese, you inspired me. Turns out sometimes, we do need an external catalyst to un-stick us, to move us forwards. I went back to the class the next day, and the next, and the next, until I had to fly home.

And, just like that, I remembered why I started.

Seeking Inner peace in Amsterdam

Last weekend I had the pleasure of travelling to Amsterdam for the second year of the Inner Peace Conference. Organised by the Delight yoga studio this was a two day conference spread over four grand venues across the city.

Amsterdam may not be the obvious place for a wellness break but the scene there continues to grow; every time I visit there are more vegan cafes, cold pressed juice bars and yoga studios. And it’s always fun to rent a bike and cycle around this charming city.

The conference consisted of 90 minute sessions covering all things yoga, meditation, coaching, yogi lifestyle, workshops, talks and debates. With four venues there was always choice as to what to attend to suit your preferences. The big headline names included Eddie Stern, Max Strom and Kevin Sahaj.

If you have been to the UK Om yoga shows, this couldn't have been more different. Om is great for doing short taster yoga sessions, buying leggings and trying vegan snack bars. But there are many pushy salespeople, stalls and a commercial feel. It's also so busy - I find it more hectic than zen!

At IPC there were no stalls, no selling or pamphlets thrust in your face. The 90 minute sessions meant there was really time to experience and enjoy each session fully. This was a conference focused on all parts of yoga, not just the physical postures. In fact I was surprised at how little yoga asana was on offer-after hours of sitting I would have loved more opportunities to stretch out!

Sadly there can be a darker side to the yoga world, and I liked that a few speakers acknowledged this. As yoga teachers we are in a privileged position to work with people, and it's important to recognise that boundaries are being crossed. I think by acknowledging this it keeps raising awareness. However, I did find some speakers at the conference to be positioning themselves as gurus...always interesting to observe. I continue to believe we can all learn from each other but that we are our own expert or guru. The answers lie within, not with-out!

Highlights for me were a talk on ayurveda, a workshop on energy awareness and a session on Forgiveness by Max Strom. I have been a fan of his for a while and often recommend his books and TED talks but this was the first time I had heard him speaking live. It was such a fascinating and emotional session at one point it seemed most of the people in the room were in tears. This was a practical, straight talking yet moving session - a week later I am still thinking about the impact.

I left Holland feeling relaxed with a lot of things to reflect on. If you're interested in yoga philosophy and self development in a vibrant city then this conference is for you. See you next year Amsterdam!

Harnessing the space

In our yoga practice we use the asana or postures to release physical tensions in the body, which in turn works our largest muscle - the brain. By aligning our body and coming out of our comfort zone physically the mind aligns, clarifies and clears. Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing our rest and digest hormones to flow, making us feel more relaxed and less anxious.

In our final yoga pose, shavasana (also known as corpse pose) we allow the body to rest and invite stillness in body and mind. In my role as yoga teacher I see students coming to class and finish feeling deeply relaxed. But then they get up, pick up their phones and step back into busy city life. For a few minutes there may have been a feeling, a thought, a moment of clarity, a gut sense, a calling. But so quickly the moment is lost and we step back into 'real life'. What if we could linger in that space longer? How about harnessing that space created to explore coaching?

With my coaching clients, often they are rushing to the coaching session, stepping out from work, or have had a stressful journey to meet with me (good old TfL). It can take time for them to truly arrive, become grounded and present in the session. When their minds are still back at the office or on the tube it can be difficult to tap into their deepest desires or true feelings.

By combining yoga and coaching, it allows us to work with the physical body to release tension, really arrive into the session in body and mind and become present and aware. This creates the perfect setting for coaching, where we can be fully connected to ourselves. 

My yoga and coaching sessions run for two hours, allowing an hours hatha yoga practice leading into a full hour of coaching. Using coaching tools we will get you clear on what your personal goals are, what is holding you back and how to overcome these obstacles, then set actions and use accountability to ensure you are moving forwards.

If you feel stuck, are looking for change or would like a life reboot this course will be perfect for you.

Yoga with coaching is available on a 1 on 1 basis at a time and place that is convenient to you, or in a group setting.

The next group course will run January 2018 in London. Contact me to be kept informed of location and dates! 

Volunteering - why bother?

I have been doing voluntary work for a few years now and was recently asked “why do you bother?’’

I first volunteered whilst travelling around India on my own, having taken a sabbatical from my corporate job. Directionless and unsure where to go next I found myself at a loose end in Dharamsala, a hilltop town in the Himalayas. Home to an eclectic mix of Buddhist monks, the Dalai Lama, Hindis, Christians, hikers and many passing through, I volunteered to help out at a local school. Each morning I would ride in a tuk tuk to a remote village, scramble down the side of a Himalayan mountain and attempt to teach a group of five year olds how to read and write. Having only worked in an office with adults, I was comically out of my comfort zone. I felt incredibly awkward at first, but over time I got to know the kids and them, me. Their smiles were so big and eyes so wide when I taught them a new song or brought them a packet of stickers. It was a very humbling experience and one which had a profound impact on me. Here I was, giving my time and energy, not for money, but for satisfaction and the joy of having a positive impact on others.

Back in the UK I vowed to continue voluntary work. Seeking out charities that worked with young people and coaching, two of my passions, I have now been fortunate to work with a few organisations as a volunteer. So why do I bother? On one level I have found it a great way to meet new people, it might improve my CV and I have been lucky to receive some fantastic training.

I also hope that I am contributing to society - I know many of us feel disengaged with government and frustrated by the lack of help for those most vulnerable in the UK. Rather than complaining about this I try to make a difference by volunteering my time and effort to helping within our communities. You might surprise yourself in what you can give to others and what you receive in return. Volunteering with people in less fortunate situations has also made me feel very grateful for the opportunities I have been given.

All the above reasons to help out are great, but the biggest benefit I have found by volunteering and what makes me so passionate about doing it has been the impact on my self esteem. It may sound selfish but I think the primary beneficiary of my voluntary work has Volunteering has made me feel kinder and more compassionate towards myself. Giving something and not receiving payment in a traditional sense has been so rewarding. At times I have found it frustrating and it has required commitment but I have stuck with it. Not to feel smug about ‘helping others’ but because at the heart of self worth is feeling good about ourselves, having a sense of purpose and having a positive influence on others.

So as another school year ends and I bid farewell to my latest young coachee, I’m not sure how much of an impact my volunteering has had on others, but I pause to recognise the huge impact it has had on me.

Begin Again

Since the start of the year I have been experiencing many new beginnings, and have been helping others start things for the first time too. 

Leaving my beloved Edinburgh behind has been difficult and has forced me to question again which direction I want my life to go in. It has only been two years since I quit my job in finance, packed up my London life and vowed never to live here again. Yet here I am, a new beginning in a familiar place. 

When we stay (metaphorically) in the same place we have our habits and routines - we know what we are doing, it's comfortable. But nothing really grows or changes from there. It takes courage to start something new, and perhaps even more to return to a place or activity that did not work for us the first time round. The comfort zone is called comfortable for a reason; however unhappy or dissatisfied we become with it, it is a known and safe place. "Habits keep you safe, but keep you small" a teacher once told me. 

So how and why do we change these habits and try something new, shake off being small and aim for something bigger? Is it when those niggling discomforts become too loud to ignore any longer...that persistent back ache, that feeling of being stuck, hearing ourselves complaining constantly, those thoughts that keep us awake at night as to whether we are really being the best version of ourselves. 

What we resist, persists. Things may get better for a while, we trundle along, we say ‘I’m fine’ and think ‘things aren't that bad'...but before long we find ourselves back feeling stuck again. 

Choosing to try something new and being a beginner, especially as an adult, can be excruciating. When was the last time you had no idea what you were doing? Felt silly, lost, uncomfortable, shy - out of your comfort zone. Moving this year I have been pushed into beginning again, losing my clients in Edinburgh has been just that - a loss - but also a blessing, as I have had the pleasure of working and engaging with new people ‘beginning’ to be their new selves. Turning up to that first coaching session or yoga class is a real act of courage and I truly respect and admire all the beginners I have worked with for trying something new. 

Getting people onto the mat or into the coaching space for the first time is the hardest part. Once they are there, the practices work. The first session is hard, the second a little easier, the third they are even starting to enjoy it...and by the fourth they are seeing improvements, growth, momentum and realising yes they CAN do it, they can change.

If you're feeling fed up or stuck then I dare you to try something as a beginner. Anything -  take a language class, music lesson, a new exercise class, anything to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person. Don't allow the excuse of a lack of time or money to stop you from trying, see this as an investment in yourself. 

Find the right teacher through recommendations, look for classes targeting your level, tell people you are doing a new thing to provide accountability, pay upfront for a block to make a commitment or book private classes for more focused attention. If you don't know where to start or what to try, find a coach to remove obstacles and propel you into action. Trying new things is so positive for our mental health - that feeling of learning, progressing and improving, no matter how difficult it is to begin with or how slow the progress. 

So what's really holding you back from starting something new? Beginning again, today, can be the start of the new you. Who knows what it might help you become.