So, it’s been a very long time since I last wrote a post and a lot has happened in that time. In the world at large and in my own small universe. I’ve just returned to teaching after becoming a mum for the first time and was asked the other day, “How are you finding it being back? Does your body feel different now? Has your practice changed?”
As I sit down to write of my return to teaching, I wonder where to begin. I feel like I’ve possibly been on the biggest yoga journey of my life so far in the last ten and a bit months of motherhood. There’s nothing like becoming a mother for the first time to put you face to face with your own daemons that lurk in the recesses of your brain and the tissues of your body after countless long dark sleepless nights, endless hours on the sofa breastfeeding without the movement that your body so craves and the biggest responsibility for life that you have ever known.
As with many challenges in life, there are huge rewards to be reaped, not least in this case having the most beautiful content and smiley little boy who bursts my heart with joy, but I have learnt new depths to the yoga practice too that perhaps until now I was not ready for?
So if you’re facing a challenge or a huge change in your life, good or bad, that asks you to look beyond the physical asana practice of yoga, perhaps due to physical injury or lifestyle, then I invite you to delve into some of yoga’s less sung heroes that certainly helped me to find my feet, my breath, my mind, my sense of humour and most importantly my sense of Self.
Yoga Nidra: I can’t rate this practice highly enough. I reckon the NHS should start prescribing this as medicine for Western Society! So many of us are constantly switched on high alert as a result of our fast paced culture of instant everything when what we could all do with is some proper deep relaxation. The kind of relaxation that is apparently as good as sleep. Now what new sleep deprived parent or any being for that matter doesn’t need that? Added to this, to allow for optimal healing, be it physical, emotional or mental, we need to bring ourselves into rest and digest mode and yoga nidra can be a great vehicle for doing this. Check out some lovely yoga nidras here by donation.
Breath or Pranayama: Ask yourself what it is that you need then adopt a breath that reflects that. It’s something I often invite those who attend my classes to do and beyond weaving a mantra into the intention of the breath, there are some specific breath practices that I have found particularly useful both in times of anxiety and lethargy. Ujjayi pranayama, simple even inhale and exhale that resonates at the back of the throat. For me, it literally feels like a breath of fresh air whispering through the tissues of my body, balancing out the kinks, calming down the places that need calmed, energising the places that need energised and with its wave like sound, it’s a breath that I have to say works wonders at helping lull a newborn to sleep in the wee small hours. Add in some breath retentions and you have an even more powerful tool that literally is like hitting the pause and reset button. I must admit for a long time I struggled to find my ujjayi breath, but finally, when I stopped trying, it came to me. So as with anything, practice with ‘Aparigraha’ or non grasping for results and the rest will follow.
Philosophy: To me, yoga philosophy is another important aspect of my practice. As much as our bodies like to be challenged, so too do our brains and being able to weave in the “why” yoga works and the “why” we do things the way we do, helps me to unravel and let go of the deep samskaras or imprints on the mind that unless identified will repeat again and again as habitual unhelpful patterns do. Just as unhealthy foods will make our body and mind ill, so too can unhealthy thoughts. I could write a huge list of the books I would recommend on this subject but one that has really stood out for me is “Yoga And the Quest for The True Self” by Stephen Cope. It’s a book that integrates Western psychology with Eastern philosophy and reflects on the different lineages of yoga through the story of Stephen’s own yogic journey.
Mantra: Whether it be the words we speak to ourselves or the resonant hum of a gentle Aum, both are powerful ways to shift our brain chemistry. Looking down on my post natal body after a few weeks, belly still inflated and swollen, plagued by the images of those celebs who just seem to bounce back to their pre natal bodies within days, I realised the grip that my own false identity had on me. The false identity that said I must look a certain way to be me. It has been a daily practice to accept and embrace what is now a different physical body. To not only accept but to be proud of my torn abdominal muscles, my herniated belly button, for they represent that something greater than “I” exists and something way more important than the Ego Self. It was useful to stand back and observe those deep routed ideals I had of who I was based on my physical appearance, so much judgement! This has been one of the biggest still in progress lessons in self love, dropping the Ego and understanding a much deeper beauty that resides on the inside. My chosen mantra? “Om Namah Shivaya.” We’ll cover this one in class soon!
If time is short as it is for many of us, think of this: There are 1440 minutes in the day. Take off some of those for sleeping and some for work and you’re still left with a good few minutes. So, let’s make them count with this delicious recipe for not just surviving but for thriving. 5 minutes of breathing first thing in the morning, 5 minutes to read something inspirational or journal or both if you have time, then 10 minutes of yoga nidra at night before bed. All marinated with an inspiring mantra of your choosing, perhaps just “ I Breathe In Peace, I Breathe Out Tension, All Is Well” Think of it as an extension to brushing your teeth, to quote another, “self care is not self indulgent, it is necessary”.