Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Month: August 2015

Five things I wish I’d known before turning vegan…

About 6 weeks ago I did something I’d been thinking about for a while – I stopped eating meat, fish, dairy and eggs. My reason for doing this was simply that the more I learned about the animal industries, the more uncomfortable I felt consuming produce which supported them. I still like the taste of meat, I don’t judge anyone else for eating it, and I don’t think it’s more “natural” to be vegan necessarily. I just don’t want to support cruelty to animals.

Here’s what I wish I’d known before I started…

  1. You need to watch your calorie intake. It’s easy to not eat enough, especially if you’re not used to eating large volumes of food. For the first few days although I felt full after every meal, I’d wake up in the middle of the night hungry and have to make smoothies at 3am. This is not a good way to endear yourself to your housemates…
  2. Equally, you can have too much of a good thing. After realising I needed more calories, I set about eating almonds, avocado and olive oil like my life depended on it. My stomach was less than impressed.
  3. You need to have your rationale for a vegan diet clear in your own mind because you’ll be asked to justify your choices. A lot. Similarly it helps to have your nutritional facts straight – people become inordinately concerned about your protein intake when you tell them you’re vegan. Weird, because no one ever cared before when I’d shun dinner for a packet of Kettle Chips…
  4. You can feel like the awkward one in the group with the special dietary requirement. You might not have a problem with this, but unfortunately I do. I feel embarrassed and end up apologising. I’m working on it.
  5. You have to check things all the time

Me: These cookies are so good, I can’t believe they’re vegan!

Chef: Erm, Jade? They’re not.

Me: Oops.

Luckily there have been unexpected benefits too…

  1. There’s no need to live off rabbit food unless you want to. Vegan food can be delicious, varied and substantial. This week alone I’ve had burritos, curry, pancakes, cheesecake, chocolate mousse and flapjack.
  2. It’s easy to eat really well and up your intake of fruit, vegetables and wholefoods without even trying.
  3. You discover great restaurants that you may not have considered otherwise, like this amazing place in Tarifa where the majority of their menu is vegan.
  4. Vegan pizza is surprisingly tasty.
  5. It feels really good to know that you’re eating cruelty-free.

So for now I’m sticking with it. I don’t know whether it’s forever. I have a history of disordered eating, so now my physical and mental health are always my priority; I’ll only do it for as long as it’s healthy for my body and my mind. And who knows – maybe one day I’ll find a way to source the occasional animal product which is guaranteed to be cruelty-free. But at the moment, I’m happy with my choices. I just need to be more careful around cookies…

If you’re interested in going vegan, have been vegan for a while, or think it’s a terrible idea, I’d love to hear from you – let me know in the comments below!

Jade xxx

What do you mean I have to meditate every day?

I have a confession. For a yoga teacher, I’m really bad at meditation. I try to meditate regularly, but often even three minutes feels like an insurmountable hurdle. With my recent attempts to be more mindful, I was secretly really pleased to be invited to join the yoga teacher trainees this week at Suryalila for their daily meditation session. I knew this would force me to meditate for 25-30 minutes every morning. Here’s how the week went…

Day One – Vidya our teacher eased us in gently with a guided meditation. She instructed us to gradually move our attention through our bodies and to our breath. The time went reasonably fast, perhaps because there was very little time in complete silence. Even with the regular instructions though it was amazing how much my mind still drifted away though.

Day Two  – This time we were in complete silence for the whole meditation, with only a bell to mark the start and end. To say my mind wandered would be a gross understatement. My mind took epic treks, to the point that I forgot for what seemed to be huge swathes of time that I was meant to be meditating. Afterwards I tried not to beat myself up for not trying hard enough.

Day Three – I fell and bruised my coccyx the day before (note to self – move yoga bricks out of the way before attempting new inversions…), so yoga was out-of-bounds for a day. But I was pretty proud of myself for not taking the excuse and still getting up early for meditation. Another silent meditation led to more struggles to focus. At times I would catch myself as my thoughts started to drifting into something that felt more like dreaming – maybe I actually was on the verge of falling asleep. Given the painfully early start this seems entirely possible.

Day Four – I was teaching yoga straight after the meditation, so I kept mentally rehearsing the class. In fact, it was a good few minutes after the bell that I remembered I should have started meditating. On the plus side this was actually ideal preparation for teaching. I felt really centred and calm when I started the class . I also did a group meditation in the evening, which I enjoyed a lot more and found it far easier to focus.

Day Five – after the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages (a double dose of meditation everyday is clearly the answer to my insomnia) the morning meditation was guided instead of silent.  I liked this a lot.  We were guided to become aware of our thoughts without getting drawn into the narrative of them, and then to take our focus onto the awareness itself. I felt very peaceful and content.

Day Six –  We were back in silence, so I tried guiding myself through the sensations I felt in my body. Every time I started to feel bored or restless, I looked for somewhere I was physically or mentally holding on and consciously let go. My mind did wander, of course, but I also experimented with counting my breaths, which helped.

Day Seven – there was no group meditation today, so my roommate and I meditated together to hold each other accountable for doing it! I felt really good during this meditation – I did get caught up in my thoughts a lot, but I was able to bring myself back and to quietly congratulate myself each time I did for noticing that I’d drifted.

So has seven days of meditation made a difference?

I think it has. Just not in the way I expected. I thought that after a week my concentration would be better. I don’t think that’s the case, although I am perhaps getting better at gently bringing myself back to the present moment when I notice that I’ve drifted.

The difference I have noticed has been quite subtle. During the day I’ve felt more centred and less inclined to follow my thoughts into a spiral that affects my mood. It is only a slight change but it’s enough to make me want to keep it up.

This isn’t the first time I’ve vowed to meditate regularly though, so I’ll let you know how it goes…

You’re a human being, not a human doing

I heard this expression recently, and it made me laugh. Because I am definitely a human doing. And I like that. I like being busy.

I have things that I do every day in addition to volunteering, linked to my goals in life, which I never take a day off from. Currently my daily resolutions are to:

  • Write 750 words of my journal
  • Write something purposeful – a blog or article or idea
  • Pursue some writing work
  • Research future yoga and travel ideas
  • Attend or teach a yoga class
  • Do my own self practice of yoga
  • Do core strengthening and flexibility exercises
  • Meditate
  • Practise my Spanish using the apps on my phone

They’re all things I like doing. But as I’ve tried to become more mindful, I’ve noticed that they’ve started to feel very checklist-y. Someone asked me:

“What are you so scared of that you have to distract yourself by being busy all the time? Can’t you just be with yourself?”

This threw me. Why couldn’t I take a day off these activities? What would happen if I did? How would I make sure I was “making progress”? And then I told myself to get a grip – it was only one day. Let’s face it, if achieving my dreams was delayed by one day, would it really matter?

So I challenged myself to let go of the checklist for a day.

I didn’t get off to the best start. I initially thought I could still do things that were on my list, as long as I was doing them because I wanted to, not because I felt like I should. I got up for yoga class at 7.30am as usual. I found myself in the class thinking – maybe could do my core exercises after this. I realised that this wouldn’t work. I was going to have to ban the activities on my list altogether, otherwise I would just talk myself into doing them all anyway.

So after my morning dishwashing duties, rather than picking up my laptop to start writing, or my phone to begin language practice, I stopped, paralysed by indecision. What did I actually want to do? I realised that one of the reasons I have a list is because I hate wasting time and it can take me ages to work out what I want. But I stayed with this feeling of indecision, until it came to me. I wanted to read a book in the sunshine.

Later, two friends invited me to join them to practise some yoga teaching assists. I realised I could just say yes, without hesitating because I “should” be doing something else. It felt good. On another day I would have still said yes, but I  would have worried about when I would find the time later to get “back on track” with my list.

In the afternoon, I got ready to go for a walk, then realised I didn’t really want to go, and decided to read some more instead. I reminded myself there was no need to feel guilty about the time I wasted getting ready for a walk. It didn’t matter. I let go of the need for every moment to be productive.

I noticed at the end of the day how relaxed I felt, and how nice it was to not be mentally grading my day according to how productive I’d been.

The day off my activities also helped me to discover which of them I genuinely enjoy. I missed my own yoga practice. When I started to go for a walk in the afternoon, what I really wanted to do was some yoga. And I wanted to write, not because I had to, but just because I had ideas in my head that I wanted to get down on paper. I felt excited to be able to do them again the next day. The ones I didn’t miss I decided to rethink – maybe I can achieve the same outcomes in more enjoyable ways.

Am I a convert to becoming a full-time human being-not-doing? Not exactly. I’m still quite attached to my activities, because they’re all linked to goals I want to achieve. But I have learned that it’s good for me to take the pressure off and it’s helped me to be more present too.

If this sounds familiar to anyone else, I challenge you to let the checklist go for a day too. Let me know how you get on…

Jade xxx

How present are you?

11825661_10101252416878699_1449995224029953442_nWhat percentage of your waking day do you spend being present in the moment? As in actually being where you are, as opposed to replaying past events, or internally preparing for the future. 50%? 20%? 10%?

When someone asked me that question a month ago, my best guess was 5%. That’s not good. There’s a whole wealth of research into the benefits of mindfulness, or having your conscious awareness on the present moment on your mental health. But even putting that to one side, I didn’t like the idea that I was spending 95% of my life not actually mentally being there. I set out on a one month challenge to increase this percentage. Here’s the advice I’ve been trying to follow…

Increase the time you spend doing mindful activities

I already practised yoga every day – this is the only reason my percentage was as high as 5%! But the most obvious next port of call was meditation. When I make myself do it, I love the way I feel after meditation. But I am terrible at prioritising it. So this month I actively sought out opportunities to meditate. Living at yoga retreats I’ve taken advantage of meditation sessions run by others. I’ve also tried really hard to meditate for a couple of minutes at the end of my yoga practice each day. I’ve found this does make a difference. This time gives your body and your mind chance to absorb the benefits of the practice, and leaves you in a much better place to continue the day.

Reduce contact with things that pull you away from the present

For me a major distraction from the present moment is my phone. It is horrible to admit, but sometimes I barely notice the people around me because I am messaging someone, on Facebook or scrolling through random strangers’ images on Instagram. So I resolved to leave my phone behind as much as possible. I allocated times for messaging people in the day, then during the times I was with people I dedicated myself to that. It’s been a revelation. It turns out that when you give the people around you your full attention and really listen to what they are saying, they are far more interesting than the holiday photos of strangers. When you let yourself be fascinated by what someone has to say, they become fascinating.

Notice the times you zone out

One of them is while I eat. It’s fairly common for me to enjoy the first taste of my food, and then get lost in thoughts, conversation or my phone (again!) and the next thing I know, I’ve cleared my plate. Trying to stay present while eating proved a really big challenge. Although I enjoy food, I don’t really notice eating it very much. My mind drifts so quickly. I had to really slow down, to deliberately put down my knife and fork between mouthfuls and actively try to notice what I was doing. This is still a struggle. It is true though that when you manage it, you find that you enjoy the food more, and can also notice better when you feel full.  

Make the menial tasks into mindful  ones

I’ve tried tuning in with the same mindful awareness to all the tasks I do in my day in the same way I focus during yoga. I was worried I’d find this boring. How would I cope with doing the dishes without mentally planning my next trip abroad? But when I tuned into the sensory experience of what I was doing, the way I moved and the noises around me, even the most boring of jobs became really quite absorbing. Just like with people, when you give tasks your full attention, they become far more interesting. You give yourself permission to enjoy them.

Where am I now percentage-wise? At best I’d give myself 15%. Which is good and bad. On the positive side I’ve increased my mindfulness maybe three times over. On the less good side, there’s still 85% of my day that I am mentally not there. But at least the numbers are creeping in the right direction. And I do feel better for it. Definitely calmer, and more aware of the great things that happen all the time.

I think I’m going to make it my next goal to eat a whole piece of cake without getting distracted. Let’s face it, if I can’t get it straight away, at least I’ll have fun practising…

Why it’s great to come back…

DSC_0350-2When I started travelling, I had this idea that I’d be roaming all over the place, seeing as much of the world as I possibly could. I never thought I’d come back to somewhere I’d already been. There’s too much of the world to see.  In fact, when I arranged for my second Workaway placement to come to Suryalila Retreat Centre, I thought one month (their minimum stay) might be a bit long. But I liked the look of the yoga here, so I told myself I’d make the best of it.

However, within days of arriving here in March, I knew one month was nowhere near enough. Before I even left I made arrangements to return.

So here I am, one week into my return visit to Suryalila Retreat Centre. Here’s a few reasons why it’s worth going back to a place you love…

  1. It feels comfortable. Travelling is great. The constant movement, the new experiences, the lack of a routine, and the (barely) organised chaos. But when you travel, your whole environment is constantly shifting and changing, and it takes a lot of energy to keep up. Sometimes it’s good to stop and take stock a little bit. During my tougher moments in Thailand, the thought that I would be coming back in the summer to somewhere I felt as comfortable as Suryalila kept me going.
  2. You already know the ropes.  You don’t need to learn a whole new set of systems or ask a million questions. Aside from a few inevitable but unsettling changes (the place the muesli is stored has changed – did not see that one coming!) it’s probably quite easy to slip back into a routine.  This allows you to focus right from the start on being fully present and making the most of each day.
  3. Same same, but different. You’ll always find plenty of new in amongst the familiar – not least new people. Getting to know plenty of new, interesting people and catching up with those I knew from my previous visit has been the ideal combination for me.
  4. You appreciate it more. It’s so true that you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone. Sometime you have to go away in order to appreciate all that is great about the place you started. It’s like going back to your parent’s house after moving out and appreciating fully for the first time the joy of a fully stocked fridge and showers that actually work. Except this time I fully appreciate having beautiful vegan food, a space to escape to during downtime, and a schedule that is prepared in advance and fair.

There is still a lot more of the world I want to see and experience, but it’s really good to know I’ll be here for a couple of months. It’s even better to think that I don’t have to re-pack my backpack for a whole two months! I’m borrowing my final thoughts on this from the brilliant Terry Pratchett:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

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