We lead busy lives. We sit for long periods of time staring at our computer screens, our work-life can often times be quite stressful and we rarely get an opportunity to hit pause during the day.
Yoga has been scientifically proven to have a range of positive effects on office workers and it’s an easy practice to bring into the corporate environment.
Reduces lower back pain
Improves concentration and focus
It also give co-workers an opportunity to relax and do a non-work related activity together. This can lead to more harmonious workplace relationships, better conflict resolutions and healthier and happier employees.
There really isn’t a good reason not to bring yoga into the office.
You can access some of the scientific articles around the benefits of yoga here.
It’s that time of year where we get inundated with “new year new you” advertising and everyone is sharing their resolutions for the new year. These often include resolutions for change such as starting a new healthy eating habit, exercising more or finding a new job. The problem is that often before the end of January we are already back to our previous habits. Luckily there’s a way to help you find intentions that you can achieve within the year.
What are your intentions?
I find the easiest way to set intentions is to think about the year that just passed. What are the things I didn’t achieve? If I felt that it was a particularly crazy busy year, I think about why that was and if there was anything I could have done differently. It’s good to take a few days to think about what you would like to achieve in the new year and to make a list. That way you can then go back and perhaps focus on two or three for the year.
Keep it simple.
We often fail because we set unrealistic goals for ourselves. Of course I would love to spend the year travelling the world, but that would be impossible unless I win the lotto, quit my job and bid farewell to my husband and fur babies for a year and there’s no way I can leave them for a year. A better way for me would be to add travelling more as an intention for the new year. That could include sneaky weekend getaways and possibly a longer holiday somewhere overseas at some point in the year. The same goes if you have set a goal for losing a certain amount of weight. A better way would be to set an intention to focus on becoming healthier. That way there’s less focus on the negative.
Create steps to achieve your intentions.
Most of us set our intentions and then we wait for the Universe to fulfil it for us. If only it was that easy! I find that by creating a plan or steps to achieve my goal makes it far more likely that I will reach it by the end of the year. If you choose to be healthier, think about what you need to do to achieve that and write those steps down. They can include making sure you have a bottle full of water on your desk every day, setting reminders for yourself to get up and stretch every hour, scheduling a yoga class every few days or going for a walk at lunch time every second day and packing a healthy lunch so you don’t end up buying something deep fried and unhealthy every day. Creating stepping stones let you see how achievable your intentions are and provides you with a map that you can follow throughout the year.
It can be difficult to go at it alone, so find people who will encourage you or possibly help you reach your goal. You might like to join a club where you will meet likeminded people. It’s much easier getting out of bed early in the middle of winter when you are being held accountable and have friends waiting for you to join them for an early morning run or walk around the river. Getting the family to also reduce their unhealthy eating habits will make it easier to make healthy meals and cause less temptation for you.
Don’t give up.
It’s important to know that we’re all human and with that comes the occasional falling off the wagon. It’s impossible to be perfect 365 days. There will be days when you’re feeling under the weather, when you might have no option for lunch but a quick, easy takeaway meal or when you just really need a break. The important thing is to not hate yourself over it. Accept that you’ve fallen off the wagon for the day or that you’ve given yourself a little leeway during a holiday and then get back to working on your steps again. If you feel that you’re struggling, talk to your support group. Chances are there are people who are going through exactly the same thing and together you can help each other.
I hope that by breaking it down, you will be able to set a few intentions for yourself this year. I have three which I’m working towards. I wish you a wonderful new year filled with all the things we often don’t wish for, such as happiness, joy, lots of laughter and fun adventures!
Happy International Yoga Day and Winter Solstice (for those of us in the southern hemisphere!) I started my day on the mat (how else) sharing my passion for yoga with some wonderful students before coming home and doing my own practice. I thought this is the perfect opportunity to share a short Winter Solstice inspired sequence with you.
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With so many of my yoga friends making the trip to Mysore lately, I’ve been reminiscing about our trip a few year ago and am finding once again India is tugging at my heart. India is one of those places; you either love it or hate it and I absolutely love it. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on how to prepare for a trip to the motherland of yoga, although I don’t think you can ever really prepare yourself for India.
I’m sure everyone knows at least one person who’ve shared their story on that explosive curry they had while travelling through India. Most guide books suggest adopting a vegetarian diet (if you’re not one already) for the duration of your trip. I remember how smug I was eating one delicious vegetarian dish after another while my Hubby went on what I called The Grand Tour of Mutton. “Any minute now” I thought at every bite he took until…I woke up in the middle of a hot,sweaty, humid night in Varanasi and didn’t feel too well. “Just dehydration after a day’s sightseeing” I thought. Unfortunately for me, I must have eaten something that got contaminated (we had dinner at a restaurant right on the ghats that night) and said bug traveled with me for the rest of our trip. So my tip would be to make sure you eat at busy, well reviewed places if you’re worried and to accept that while you can try and minimize your chances of picking up a stomach bug, sometimes the universe likes to remind you that you really aren’t in control.
This leads me onto my next tip, get travel insurance! I can’t believe how many people risk it and travel without it. Sure chances of you using it is slim but it’ll save you bankruptcy, a whole lot of stress and tears in the unfortunate event something does go wrong. As my bug seemed resistant to all the medication I brought with me plus the ones we got from the pharmacies and local remedies, my Hubby ended up taking me to the hospital in McLeod Ganj up in the mountains. We were already risking our lives heading down the mountain at breakneck speed in a tiny taxi at night with me clutching the bin from the hotel room we were staying in. I ended up in what was the hospital’s tiny emergency room waiting for the Dr to be summoned from her home. Had things been worse, I would have been transferred to a private hospital where the fees would have been significantly higher and would quickly add up. Luckily we had travel insurance. Thankfully we were able to avoid that but I was very grateful that I didn’t have to think twice about going to the hospital.
Dressing modestly is key in India. As a foreigner, chances are you will get people starting at you regardless of what you wear. You look different and some people might never have seen red hair or blond hair before. I found that being friendly helps and often times, before you know it you’ve made new friends. However, India is a relatively conservative country. It’s changing slowly in big cities such as Mumbai, but it’s still best to make sure that you dress respectfully. This means trying to stay away from strappy tops and shorts or short skirts. I always carried a shawl with me as some holy places require you to cover your hair, and if you are wearing a strappy top, you can always cover up with your shawl.
I mostly wore salwar kameezes (super comfortable and perfect for hot days) and received so many compliments from the local women. Other days I wore long skirts, jeans or loose cotton pants with loose t-shirts or kurtas.
India is unlike any other country on earth. It has a long history and is incredibly diverse. This means that there are many religions, languages and people all living together for the most part in crazy, chaotic harmony. There are some places where religious tensions run high and we did our best to avoid them. People were always happy to tell us more about their religion, beliefs and culture when we asked and we were genuinely interested. I feel we learnt so much just listening to their stories and you often get to learn something you haven’t come across before.
It’s also important to know when it’s the right time to take a photo and when to be respectful. So many people try to take photos of the cremation ghats in Varanasi, but it’s actually considered incredibly rude and very disrespectful towards the family who are mourning the passing of a loved one. It would be the same as random strangers showing up at a funeral and starting to take pictures. The same goes for when you’re attending a religious ceremony at a temple. Always have a look and see what the locals are doing. We were lucky enough to attend the evening aarti at the Ram Raja temple in Orchha which is quite intimate. Taking photos would have felt out of place and I’m sure the locals wouldn’t have appreciated it. The evening aarti along the Ganges in Varanasi however is a big attraction and locals and tourists alike tend to take photos.
As it was our first trip, we opted to have a driver. We had a few out of the way places we wanted to visit and taking public transport would have taken too long to get us there. Our driver was absolutely wonderful and ended up being a wealth of information. After our time in India he felt like part of the family and we were quite sad to say good bye. He knew all the unspoken rules of the road in India (there are many, the most important being the biggest vehicle gets right of way, doesn’t matter which side of the road it’s driving). He pointed out long forgotten forts and temples on hill tops, knew where we could stop in the middle of nowhere to get a bite to eat and took us along back routes showing us sights we would never have seen.
Travelling by rail is also a great way to see the countryside and meet people. Unfortunately we had limited time in India so opted for a more reliable mode of transport as trains can often times be delayed. Trips can also take quite a while. We flew from Varanasi to Amritsar and it was relatively inexpensive. Considering how ill I was feeling I was quite grateful I was able to crawl into a warm bed that night instead of having to sleep on the train.
Put the camera down
You will fill up your memory card with photos, and then some! India is the most photogenic country I’ve ever visited. It’s riot of colours, beautiful smiles, incredible temple architecture, amazing sunrises, snow capped mountains, holy men, monks, beautiful sari clad women and stalls stacked sky high with spices, fruits and gorgeous fabrics. You’ll want to take photos of everything, but doing so you’ll miss out on the experience of just being there. Nothing beats sitting at the Ganga aarti in Varanasi, surrounded by laughing women trying to teach you the mantra blaring over the loudspeakers, or enjoying a rare, quiet moment as the forest surrounding McLeod Ganj erupts with thousands of butterflies.
A few other tips:
Don’t drink the tap water.
Remember that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.
Take earplugs, you’ll need them, especially in the cities.
Make sure you have some smaller denomination notes with you for tips.
India is known for absolutely mouth watering dishes, from super spicy hot to mild. Don’t spend your time eating at McDonalds. There are countless hole in the wall eateries and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal without getting the feared Delhi Belly. A good rule of thumb is go anywhere popular with lots of locals.
Cows always have right of way.
You will get haggled by people trying to sell you everything under the sun. Try not to get annoyed and instead just say you’re not interested and walk away. Some might follow you but will soon lose interest to move on to someone who might buy something.
Wear shoes that are easy to remove. You’ll be taking them off and putting them on a 1000 times a day as you visit temples.
Most people understand some English in the cities, but that’s not always true in more rural areas. Usually some amusing arm waving and interpretative dancing gets the message across much to the delight of the laughing locals.
Don’t do anything you would’t do back home. I was asked several times by groups of guys to pose for a photo with them, but I wouldn’t do that with a group of strange guys back home, so just politely declined.
Do sit back and enjoy the beautiful chaos that India is.
If I head out to practice first thing in the morning, I often need to warm up first. My tendons and muscles tend to be on the stiff side first thing and I find that doing some warm ups, either as part of my home practice, or before I leave for class really helps my body feel more comfortable. I also find that it prepares me mentally for my practice by making me aware of my breath and how my body is feeling and reacting in poses.
Join me in my latest video as I talk you through a quick warm up that you can do ahead of any yoga practice or your exercise of choice. As always when practicing, remember to listen to your body and stop if you experience any pain.
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Summer is finally on it’s way and I can’t wait for the warm days to arrive. It’s so much easier for me to get up early in the mornings to go to yoga when it’s light and warm. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy at the moment and I still have my mornings where I just want to sleep in.
On such mornings, I always end up doing some yoga in bed. Just a few poses and some breathing to get my day started. You really can do yoga anywhere. Favourite poses include reclined twists (you can use your pillows as bolsters if you need to), legs up the wall, Cat/Cow and Puppy Pose. Below is a little video I did more for fun, but showing some of the poses I do when I just can’t get myself out of bed. It also features one of my yoga kitties.
I hope you enjoy the video and if you do, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel.
So I’ve been a little bit busy recently with some exciting new projects, one of which is my new YouTube channel. Expect videos of where I live, my travels and of course, yoga! I plan to create a series of short yoga practices (called yoga bites) which most people could squeeze into their day before or after work. I’m really excited to share this with you and learn a whole new set of skills along the way.
So remember to subscribe to my channel to receive all my latest videos.
I recently read Colleen Saidman Yee’s book, Yoga for Life. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve known a little bit about her from what I’ve read in articles but this was an opportunity to find out more about her and her love for yoga in her own words.
She has divided the book into different phases of her life. Each chapter is accompanied by a yoga sequence themed around the subject for that chapter. The book read like you were having a casual conversation with her over a cup of tea and I was engaged from the first paragraph. She opens up about her childhood, her drug addiction and how she overcame it, her modelling career and how she was introduced to yoga. She even talks about how she and Rodney met and the affair that rocked the yoga world at the time.
I think what I liked most about the book was her pure honesty and willingness to put it all out there, knowing that some people might judge her for her past actions. Her message is one of hope and the accompanying yoga sequences are great. She offers plenty of options and even includes a restorative and chair yoga sequence.
It was great learning about her journey, how she found her own voice and became the yoga teacher we all know today.
Most of us are familiar with the physical side of yoga, known as Asana, but very few know that all together yoga comprises of Eight Limbs. There’s more to yoga than just stretching and trying to get some killer arms while working on your Chaturanga. The Eight Limbs were first recorded in the sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. While it might sound daunting, I will try and outline each limb as simply as possible.
There are five Yamas and they act as moral guides on how to interact with the world around us. This is how we practice yoga off the mat. They are:
Aparigraha (non-greed and non-hoarding)
There are also five Niyamas which are seen as observances and self-discipline practices. They are:
Svadhyaya (self-study and the study of spiritual or yogic text)
Isvarapranidaha (surrender to a higher power)
This is the limb we’re all familiar with and practice when we go to a yoga class. It’s the physical aspect of yoga. The idea behind Asana is to get the body ready for meditation.
I have grown to love this Limb. Prana is energy or life source and can be described as the breath. Pranayama is the practice of controlling your breath. This can be achieved through different breathing exercises such as Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) which I do whenever I feel anxious.
This is the practice of withdrawing the senses. During meditation we draw our focus inward, letting go of the distractions around us. Most of us experience this when we’re concentrating hard on something. It seems like the whole world falls away except for that one thing you’re focusing on.
Dharana is connected to Pratyahara. It’s the focussed concentration required when the senses are withdrawn to begin to meditate. We begin to focus on concentrating on a single point. Through extended periods of focused concentration we begin to meditate.
Dhyana is when we become completely absorbed in our focus, this is meditation. Initially we might only be able to hold it for a second or two, but through regular practice you will be able to meditate for longer periods of time without any breaks or distractions.
Samadhi is often referred to as enlightenment or bliss.
That is essentially the Eight Limbs in a nutshell. Each Limb works together with the next one to encourage your body to relax, your breath to come under control and for your mind to find clarity and peace. So next time you unroll your yoga mat, maybe try to sit still for a few moments and focus on your breath or save a few minutes for a meditation practice.
When I first started practicing yoga many moons ago, I didn’t really think it would have much impact on my life away from the mat. Boy was I wrong! But I’ve never been happier about being wrong.
Yoga helped me combat stress and anxiety.
I’ve always been a bit anxious but by the time I was in my last year at university I was battling both anxiety and high stress levels. Yoga taught me to breathe, to soften where I was holding tension and to let go. It wasn’t something that magically happened overnight but through regular practice I was able to cope a lot better. I’m much better today at identifying when I’m starting to feel anxious or stressed and often a simple, quick meditation or breathing practice will help.
Yoga gave me family in a new country.
We moved to a city and country we had never set foot in. It was difficult initially trying to settle down without family or friends to support us. Luckily I was practicing with a great group of people who soon became my surrogate family. We’ve been through heartaches, health scares, tragedy and babies together. Having that support and friendship means so much to me and has made my life all the more richer.
Yoga taught me to live in the moment.
My yoga teacher often tells us to let go of all expectations when we step on the mat; to focus on our body and breath in that moment and to let go of what we were able to do yesterday. This really rang true for me when one morning I was finally able to get into headstand only to find myself in the emergency room that night due to appendicitis. This meant letting go of what my yoga practice was and changing it completely to suit my body at that moment as it recovered from surgery. I’ve also learned to do the same in my life off the mat. Dwelling on what could have been or what could happen takes away what is really happening in the present. You can’t change the past and you can’t really control the future, so rather be present in the moment now and enjoy it.
Yoga taught me body awareness.
Yoga has taught me to listen to my body. I’m much quicker now to pick up on subtle changes and can adapt my practice accordingly in order to avoid injury. It’s also taught me to respect my body and that it’s not going to be the same each day. Some days back bends are easier than others and that’s ok. It’s just another opportunity to explore my practice in a different way.
Yoga made me a better person.
I know, this one probably sounds like a cliché but it’s true. Yoga has really made me a more compassionate person. I’m also much more relaxed so way less likely to blow up at someone when something goes wrong. Bugs that I previously would have squished now get caught in a container (albeit gingerly) and then get released outside. I make a point of smiling and greeting people I pass in the street and pick up litter whenever I see some. Yoga has really taught me that we are all connected and by doing small things you can really make a positive difference.
Has your yoga practice had any influence on your life off the mat? Let me know how in the comment section below.