Category Archives: Meditation

THE GIFT OF STILLNESS…

“In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” Pico Iyer, (The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere)

Sometimes when I teach, I see students who crave to close their eyes while practicing postures and movements which require their eyes to be open and gently focused. They are trying hard to relax in what they are doing. Then when I ask them to pause, close their eyes and bring their attention within, those same people crave to open their eyes, as they feel overwhelmed by the tumultuous train of their thoughts. Other times, when I teach long held restorative poses, I see people who really struggle to become still. Sometimes, they don’t even realise that parts of their body are still fidgeting. Their nervous system is trying to recalibrate. Often, these are the students who lead a very busy lifestyle, multi-tasking in the office and at home, glancing at their smart phone every two minutes to see if something new has come up, if they have missed out on something…. At night, they often find it difficult to go to sleep or they wake up in the middle of the night with a head full of thoughts and anxiety. And I remember that a while back, I too was experiencing this, and I could easily fall back into the old pattern if I don’t pay attention…

In this day and age when we are constantly asked to perform and achieve as fast as we can, this can be incredibly depleting on all levels. In addition to have less and less time to do things, marketers and advertisers are always finding more ways to bombard us with unwanted information and images to sell their products. We are constantly encouraged to turn our focus outwardly and to increasingly rely on the use of ‘’time-saving’’ digital devices to manage our lives (online banking, online shopping, online dating, social medias etc.). And in the process, we may lose contact with ourselves…

Have you ever wondered how many hours in a day do you spend looking at your digital devices? And how did you spend your time on before all that smart technology existed ? I am not complaining about the speed of IT progress here, but rather that it is taking far too much space and time from us all… And some of us don’t even realise it, notably the younger generations who grew up immersed in that technology.

A few weeks ago, I attended a training with my teacher Rod Stryker , when he pointed out how the increased time spent looking at our smart phones impacts on our ability to daydream (different to mind-wandering) [1] which is an important function of our brain, stimulating intellectual and creative ability. Professor Jerome L. Singer [2] has researched and produced evidence suggesting that daydreaming (theta brainwaves), imagination, and fantasy are essential elements of a healthy, satisfying mental life. Before the age of digital devices, we allowed ourselves to daydream more frequently and on regular basis. Now, whenever we have a rare moment with nothing to do, most of us tend to look at our phones… By being constantly stimulated in the wrong way, our brains become overactive and in a state of hyper vigilance (hi-beta brainwaves). In the long run, it becomes more difficult to think clearly, and our memory/retention power decreases. If the brain was compared to a hard disk, an IT consultant would say it is time for a good disc clean-up and defragmentation…

When we consider the above, it is not surprising it is so difficult to become still. For those of us who live fast, work and play hard, the key here is in the ‘’balancing act’’ : finding time and space to cultivate the art of pausing what we are doing to become still. In his ‘Art of Stillness’ Ted Talk, travel writer Pico Iyer(3) reflects on the incredible insight that comes from taking time for stillness, also leading to more emotional intelligence :  “In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

So what can we do to become more at ease with stillness ?
It might not be easy at first, as it will take time to ‘’rewire the brain’’ to form new neural pathways and become more at ease with stillness. So here are a few ideas on how to create and explore stillness in our lives :

Where to start : Here and now. Slowly but surely, take small steps that fit into your life style, so you can make consistent progress which lasts, in your own time.

What next :
G.I.V.E  Y.O.U.R.S.E.L.F  A  B.R.E.A.K and do some ‘’internet detox’ on regular basis. Create time and space when you don’t look at your phone/TV/ computer, for an hour, a day, a weekend, a few days etc… In the evening, stay away from TV or electronic devices at least 2 hours before going to bed (as pixels stimulate your brain activity and might keep you awake). Instead, try and read a good book, listen/play some soothing music, or write in your diary..

Take a walk in nature : take the time to pause, notice and feel within and around you.

Practice mindful breathing : Several times during the day, take a moment to reconnect with your breath : Pause what you are doing and pay attention to your breathing. Hands resting onto your belly, take long, slow mindful breaths, feeling your abdomen expand as you inhale and relax as you exhale. Repeat to yourself, like a mantra, a positive affirmation such as: ‘’I inhale deep calm and peace, I exhale any stress and tension.‘

Go to a Yin or Restorative Yoga class : Long held supported postures with mindful breathing and body awareness, help release deep seated tension. Yoga practices such as Yin and Restorative Yoga activate the para-sympathetic nervous system, and literally help us ‘’re-boot’’ on a physiological, mental and energetic level, increasing our vagal tone(4) hence the ability to ‘’rest and digest’’. By aligning the physical and mental, the practitioner creates the optimum conditions to activate the natural healing process of the body, in harmony with nature.

Attend a Yoga and Meditation class : A fine sequence of asanas and Pranayama prepares the body to become still and sit in a comfortable position. Meditation gives the opportunity to observe the process of our thoughts and emotions and let them pass, without getting ‘’caught in the story’’, the ability to choose our thoughts more purposefully and find more lasting calm and peace within.

Try Yoga Nidra : Often underrated, the profound practice of Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep with a slight trace of awareness) is an ancient and life-changing approach to complete relaxation. It has been studied in clinical settings and has been found to treat various afflictions ranging from sleeping disorders to chronic pain, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. Neuro scientists say that Yoga Nidra helps access the brain rhythms (theta and delta brainwaves) that signals the deepest rest. By cultivating stillness and effortlessness, a more subtle awareness unfold, soothing the mind and body down to the cellular level. Yoga Nidra is also a way to build up Ojas, the ‘vital nectar’, the essential energy of the body, which will strengthen immunity and vitality.

What to expect : At first, it might be challenging to change any agitating, distracting habits which no longer serve you. So, please be patient with yourself : as you become more used to creating ‘’pockets’’ of stillness in your life, you will find it increasingly enjoyable. With consistent practice, it will soon become like having a shower in the morning and you will look forward to those moments of peace and quiet which allow you to check in with yourself. You might even surprise yourself feeling a new sense of joy and satisfaction for the most simplest things. And at best, it might even become contagious to those around you…


[1] There is a distinction between day-dreaming and mind-wandering, where you think of things other than the task you are doing, and daydreaming when, for example, you are on a train doing nothing and detach yourself from the world around you.

[2] Jerome L. Singer’s research produced evidence suggesting that daydreaming, imagination, and fantasy are essential elements of a healthy, satisfying mental life. He is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Yale School of Medicine. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the New York Academy of Sciences. Singer is to be considered "the father of daydreaming" and he "has laid the foundations for virtually all current investigations of the costs and benefits of daydreaming and mind wandering" https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00626/full

[3] Pico Iyer has spent more than 30 years tracking movement and stillness — and the way criss-crossing cultures have changed the world, our imagination and all our relationships. In twelve books, covering everything from Revolutionary Cuba to the XIVth Dalai Lama, Islamic mysticism to our lives in airports, Pico Iyer has worked to chronicle the accelerating changes in our outer world, which sometimes make steadiness and rootedness in our inner world more urgent than ever. In his TED Book, The Art of Stillness, he draws upon travels from North Korea to Iran to remind us how to remain focused and sane in an age of frenzied distraction. As he writes in the book, "Almost everybody I know has this sense of overdosing on information and getting dizzy living at post-human speeds ... All of us instinctively feel that something inside us is crying out for more spaciousness and stillness to offset the exhilarations of this movement and the fun and diversion of the modern world." https://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_the_art_of_stillness

[4] Vagal tone (Wikipedia definition) : Vagal tone refers to activity of the vagus nerve, an important component of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. This division of the nervous system is not under conscious control and is largely responsible for regulation of the body at rest. Vagal activity results in diverse pleiotropic effects, including: lowered heart rate, changes in vasodilation/constriction, and glandular activity in the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. Because the vagus nerve is importantly involved in heart rate regulation through its action on pacemakers in the heart, vagal tone is easily assessed by heart rate. In this context, tone specifically refers to the continual nature of baseline parasympathetic action that the vagus nerve exerts. While vagal input is continual, the degree of stimulation it exerts is regulated by a balance of inputs from both divisions of the autonomic nervous system and reflects the general level of parasympathetic activity. Vagal tone is typically considered in the context of heart function, but also has utility in assessing emotional regulation and other processes that alter, or are altered by parasympathetic activity.

RELAXATION AS THE ANTIDOTE…

When the days become shorter and colder, our body tells us to slow down, go to bed earlier, make our lifestyle a bit more nurturing. However, as the holiday season approaches, I find that life often gets busier and more frantic…
According to Ayurveda, autumn is the Vata Dosha season. What does this mean?  Vata literally means “wind”-a mix of air and Ether/space; Dosha means that which tends to go out of balance. The signs of excess Vata are anxiety, fear, spaciness and exhaustion. There are a number of things we can do to reduce Vata, and feel more grounded and nurtured:
First of all, look after our diet and eat warm, grounding food with plenty of root vegetables (take a look at my Hearty beetroot and bramley apple soup recipe).
Second, look after your joints by massaging the body with warm organic, untoasted sesame oil, before having a shower or a bath.  It gives a warm nurturing feeling and instant wellbeing.
Finally, and most importantly, slow down your practice: even if you are keen on Yang types of activities or yoga which requires stamina and muscle power (power yoga, hot yoga, vinyasa yoga etc.), it is important to allow time for more Yin (gentle, calming) practices such as Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation with a slight trace of awareness), Pranayama and Meditation.

Regardless of the time of the year, fast pace modern life, multi-tasking, too much time spent on electronic devices, often triggers stress, fatigue and anxiety, even more so in a busy capital city like London. Stress is a very natural and necessary process which in small doses, helps us to keep motivated, pro-active, and eager to achieve something. Stress can also be a life saver when we are presented with a life threatening /dangerous situation. The mind alerts the body that danger is present and as a result, the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys starts secreting “stress hormones”, which act upon the autonomic nervous system , and prepare the body for the “fight or flight response”. The heart beats faster, increasing the blood pressure, the mind becomes more alert. The muscle tension is increased, ready for “spring/ explosive action”.
However, when stress becomes too much and too often, the mind becomes confused and starts triggering the “fight or flight” physiological response, even though there is no dangerous situation as such. As a result, the adrenal glands become depleted, affecting notably the kidney chi (the pranic energy/ vital force in the kidneys). In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered amongst the most important organs as their health reflects on the smooth running of other vital organs, the cardio-vascular and digestive systems, and also the joints and the bones. “Bad stress” also affects the metabolism, and the ratio of good/bad cholesterol in the body. It creates physical and mental tension, often leading to poor posture and shallow breathing, and also affects the quality of sleep. In time, this can lead to a state of chronic fatigue, anxiety, and can act as an “activator” to all kinds of dormant medical conditions.

Relaxation is the antidote. A good way to start is by introducing “Relaxation snacks”, so that on a daily basis you get some kind of quality time for yourself, whether it means to spend time in silence to walk in a park, read a book, paint or play music. Something which fits into your lifestyle and that you will easily keep up with. The next step to reduce stress and build reservoirs of energy is to practice Yoga, especially Restorative and Yin Yoga, which both focuses on holding postures for a longer period of time, often using props (bolsters, blankets, bricks and blocks,etc.) . This allows the body to safely open and release stress and tension. It creates space in the body and the mind, so that our innate natural healing process can occur. As stated by Judith Hanson Lasater, renowned ‘Relax & Renew’ yoga teacher and therapist: “We work very hard in our lives, and while we may sleep, we rarely take time to rest. Restorative yoga poses help us learn to relax and rest deeply and completely. During deep relaxation, all the organ systems of the body are benefited, and a few of the measurable results of deep relaxation are the reduction of blood pressure, serum triglycerides and blood sugar levels in the blood, the increase of the “good cholesterol” levels, as well as improvement in digestion, fertility, elimination, the reduction of muscle tension, insomnia and generalized fatigue.”

So, see how you can start bringing more relaxation into your life and let it work its magic… In time and with consistency, notice how it makes you feel, how it impacts your life in general, and how you carry this into the world… how it reflects on your surroundings and your relationship with those around you.

MAHA NAVARATRI… OR THE TIME TO CELEBRATE YOUR DIVINE POTENTIAL.

Today is a special day in the Yogic, Tantric and Ayurvedic Traditions: It is the first day of Navratri or Maha Navaratri , one of the most important Hindu Festival, symbolising the triumph of good over evil, celebrating the Divine Mother in all of Her forms.

It is considered a time to worship the auspicious  Godesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, who are representing the three different manifestations of Shakti (universal power or cosmic energy).

Navratri lasts 9 days : On the first three days, prayers and worships focus on Durga, who destroys all  impurities, old patterns, anything which no longer serves one’s highest potential. The next three days, Lakshmi is celebrated and worshipped to empower  spiritual wealth, health, abundance and prosperity. The final three days, worships and prayers turn onto Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning.

Even though I don’t consider myself a hindu, I like to honor the traditions and celebrate this in my practice, on and off the mat, expressing gratefulness to the Divine Mother: the expression of God, the Universe,  the supreme Creator, with whom I resonate the most.

I like to see Navratri  as an auspicious time to celebrate the Divinity inside each of us, the Sacred Feminine, which empowers our inspiration, our creativity, and our natural healing power. So, for the next 9 days, my self-practice will become a little bit more devotional : On the mat, my asanas (postures) become more like a moving prayer, incorporating  a bit more chanting, Pranayama and  Meditation. The whole practice become a ritual (Puja), an offering to the Divine. Outside the mat, Navratri is the time to acknowledge and celebrate all the wonderful women in our lives.

So on this first day of Navratri, on this special New Moon, auspicious to new beginnings, let it be a time of inner-exploration, a time of reflection on how we can empower our practice, fuel our meditation and come closer to our Divine potential. How can we best embody our goddess energy in this lifetime? What do we need to let go, what are those old habits that no longer serve our purpose? How can we declutter our mind, our body and our home so that we create space for new energy, new opportunities ? Let it be a time to celebrate and share the fruits of our seeking and reflections with the other amazing women in our lives, little spark of goddesses in disguise.

Namaste

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5 TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR ENERGY LEVELS…

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1/ First thing in the morning, drink a cup of lukewarm water with a squeeze of lemon juice or a tea spoon of organic apple cider vinegar. It will kick start your digestive system, help control hunger and cravings, prevent bladder stones / urinary tract infection by eliminating excess acidity.

2/ Once a day, allow some time to find stillness and silence. Turn off your phones and electronic devices and sit in a quiet space, either to read a book, enjoy the sound of nature if you can sit outdoor, or perhaps start a short meditation practice. Start by a very simple technique: spine tall, sit up on a chair or cushions, so that your hips are slightly more elevated than the knees. Become aware of the sensations in your body, noticing the areas where you are holding unnecessary tensions. Softly inhale and exhale through the nose. Keep the abdomen very soft and see if you can release/melt any area of tension in the body with your breath, making the body feel more and more relaxed.
The most important thing is to find a time which works for you and fit with your lifestyle. So, at the beginning, even 5-10 minutes will be beneficial. In time and with consistency, you will realise how this little ritual transform your day, your ability to relax and it will become easier to sit for longer period of time.

3/ Just as precious it is to find time and space for stillness, it is also important to move, move, move your body… In the western civilisation, most of us tend to have a sedentary lifestyle, spending far too much time in sitting position, whether it is at a desk behind a computer, driving, or watching TV… So, whether or not you already practice Yoga weekly/daily, or another kind of physical activity, take the opportunity to move your body as often as you can , to stretch, to take the stairs instead of the lift, to walk around the block during your tea/lunch break etc… it will boost your energy levels and help you release some tension in the body.

4/ “Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince, and Dine like a Pauper…” to improve your digestive system, manage your energy levels and sleep better. Make breakfast and lunch your main meals with a well-balanced diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and aiming to reduce sugar intake and acidic drinks. Keep dinner light and eat early.

5/ if you have little time to practice Yoga at home, Viparita Karani (legs-up-the-wall pose) is an easy and efficient way to relax the body, calm the mind and soothe the central nervous system. It also helps to recover from long flights and jet lag, relieve tiredness from the legs, and reduce swollen ankles.
Before getting into the pose, decide whether you wish to elevate your hips with a couple of neatly folded blankets (optional) and if so, establish the distance of your support from the wall. Start with your support about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall (If you’re stiffer, the support under your hips should be lower and placed farther from the wall. Experiment with the position of your support until you find the placement that works for you.). Sit sideways on right end of the support, with your right side against the wall. Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and rest your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck. It is a good idea to place a small cervical pillow under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Let your hands rest softly on your belly or release arms out to your sides, palms facing up. Close your eyes and enjoy this position for 5-10 minutes.