Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: spirituality

Yoga For People Who Don’t Like Yoga

Yoga for people who don't like yogaI realised recently that many of my yoga students are people who “don’t like yoga”. Or at least, they didn’t think they liked yoga, until they were coerced into giving it another chance. These anti-yogis are now some of my most regular students. You might relate to them if…

  1. You think yoga is for hippies. Is being told to soften your pelvic floor so that fire energy can rise from your root chakra, infusing your spiritual being with celestial light not really your thing? No, me neither. I’m a big fan of yoga minus the bullshit, and it is possible to find it. Trust me, when you take away the pseudo-scientific narrative that accompanies far too many yoga classes, on a physical and mental level, yoga has a huge amount to offer.
  2. You reckon yoga is just relaxation. This is a tricky one because some yoga classes are. I once covered a class for someone whose style was evidently more passive than even my most gentle practice. I was asked afterwards whether I could make it easier. I politely explained that to me vinyasa yoga is a dynamic, physical practice, and one which has maximum benefits when it requires some mental and physical effort (notice, I said effort, not struggle – there is a difference). I’ll always, always offer modifications for students with injuries or limitations, and I make it clear that it’s good to rest whenever the practice becomes too much. But actually, I teach yoga to help people become stronger, more flexible and more self-aware. Relaxation is an important part of that, but it’s not the whole story.
  3. You don’t think your kind of people go to yoga. Considering points one and two above, you may well fear that a yoga class will be full of hippies, or people coming for extended nap time. However, as more and more people give yoga a try, and find a style that works for them, the yoga demographic broadens. I teach yoga to men, women, athletes, cyclists, those with disabilities, climbers, students, office workers, artists and builders. Oh, and a few genuinely lovely hippies. I don’t exclude.

If you’re a yoga-hater, I’d encourage you to give it another chance. And if you can get to Nottingham, come to my class… I like a challenge.  For those further afield, I’ll also be compiling a list of good quality, bullshit-free yoga videos online in the new year (I may even add a few of my own), so watch this space.

How I Meditate – My Personal Practice

How I meditateI’ve had quite a few people lately ask me about how I meditate, and although I’ve written before about the challenges of meditation, I’ve never really shared my personal practice. I think it’s different for everyone, but after a lot of trial and error, that is what I’ve found works for me with meditation. I hope it’s useful.

Commit to a Daily Practice

Although I don’t notice an immediate effect if I miss a day of meditation, what I have found is that missing one day makes it harder to meditate the next day. Before I know it a week has gone by without me actually sitting still and being quiet (yes, meditation is the only time I do that), and that does affect the clarity of my mind. So I hold myself pretty strictly to at least 5 minutes per day meditating. Most days I do 10 minutes, some days I do 15 or 20. I rarely meditate for longer than that unless I’m in a group, and someone forces me do it…

Find A Time That Works For You

I think it’s easier to stick to meditation if it becomes part of your routine. I like to meditate after I’ve practised yoga in the morning. Because I’m naturally so restless and it’s a real challenge for me to sit still, it’s at least a bit easier once I’ve done some yoga. Also my body is more relaxed and my hips are more open, which makes sitting easier. Other people prefer to meditate before bed, or in their lunch break. I did try meditating in bed (lying down, under the duvet, with my eyes closed) before I got up in the morning, but to my intense disappointment that didn’t really work.

Use a Timer

I’m sadly not the kind of person who can just indefinitely and meditate for as long as I feel like it. If I did that I’d probably only ever do 30 seconds. So I use an app on my phone – Insight Timer. This has a soft bell sound to end the session, which is less aggressive than setting an alarm. It also has social features, so you can see who you’ve been meditating with around the world afterwards. Sometimes they send you messages to thank you for meditating with them (you can turn this off if you like!). I used to find this really weird. Now I love it. Things change.

Get Comfortable

I’m really not a believer in forcing yourself to sit in a certain position to meditate. Meditation is hard enough anyway without sitting there in agony. If you’ve got pins and needles and you’re panicking that you may never feel your lower leg again, you’re unlikely to feel that focused. It’s even less likely you’ll choose to carry on the next day. So get comfy – use cushions, kneel over a bolster, sit upright in a chair or lie on your back if you have to (and if you can stay awake!). But find something that feels ok for you.

Scan Your Body

This helps with the point above, and it’s how I almost always start my meditation practice. I take a scan through my body, from the ground up, and consciously bring awareness and relaxation to every part. I only take a minute or so to do this, but it helps my mind and body to settle at the beginning of the practice.

Focus On Your Breath

Once I’ve scanned my body, I focus on my breathing. I breathe through my nose and concentrate on the point at which my breath leaves and enters the body – the edge of my nostrils. Every time my mind wanders off (which it does, all the time) I try to gently and nonjudgmentally notice it, and return to focusing on my breath. It’s a kind of “Oh look, I’m thinking about what I’m having for breakfast. How interesting. Let’s go back to my breath.” Reminding myself to focus on “just this breath” sustaining my concentration one breath at a time really helps to keep me present. Other people use counting or mantras to keep their focus here – I keep it simple and just watch my breathing.

This is just how I meditate. I’m not saying it’s the right way for everyone, but I hope you do have a go, experiment and see what works for you. Because it is incredibly good for you. Blog to follow next week about the difference meditating every damn day has made for me.

Have a great week!

Jade xxx

3 Amazing Ways That Yoga Makes You Strong

Yoga Makes You StrongThere’s a misconception out there that yoga is:

a) Only for the super-flexible

and

b) Solely to make the super-flexible even more bendy.

To steal a saying from someone wiser than I am, that’s not yoga, that’s just bending.

Yoga is great for flexibility, but for me its power has been in the strength it’s given me.

Here are three of the ways that yoga makes you strong:

  1. Physically. Just try lowering slowly from High Plank to Chaturanga and back again and you’ll see that there’s more to yoga than having open hamstrings. Yes, flexibility helps you to move deeper into postures, but so does strength. Full Wheel pose for example requires upper body strength to lift yourself up as well as flexibility in your back to move into the back bend. You can be as bendy as you like, but without the strength to support your body weight, after a few rounds of Sun Salutations, your muscles will be shouting at you. Your body needs flexibility and strength for optimal health, and yoga can help you to develop both.
  2. Mentally. Meditation is like exercise for your mind. Repeatedly bringing your focus back to the present moment takes real mental effort, and just like strengthening a muscle, regular meditation improves your ability to concentrate. Yoga is meditation in motion. Maintaining mindful awareness while moving through yoga postures can be even more challenging than trying to do it while sitting in meditation. Not only that, but yoga challenges you to move out of your comfort zone, to face your fears and to experience discomfort without shying away from it. This last one is especially true in yin yoga – if you haven’t tried it, do! The discipline and focus yoga requires is as strengthening for the mind as it is for the body.
  3. Spiritually. It’s hard to find a definition of spirituality that doesn’t sound new-agey and weird. But one way to think of your spirit is that it’s the thing that lies beneath the fluctuations of your mind. Your spirit is deeper than your thoughts, your feelings, your wants and your worries. You might prefer to call it awareness, or consciousness or your soul, but whatever term you use, it’s the idea that there’s part of you that observes everything that happens, but remains untouched. And as such, it’s the source of your inner strength. No matter what happens there’s part of you that’s still okay. Yoga helps you to connect with that.

Yoga’s power to make you strong on all these levels is one of the many reasons I love it so much. Whether you’re experiencing physical, mental or emotional challenges, yoga can help you to become strong enough to handle them.

If you’re wanting to take your strengthening yoga practice to another level, and work through some of your fears while you’re at it, I highly recommend this free online class from the incredible Ana Forrest. I discovered it a couple of weeks ago, and I love it. Let me know how you get on!

Much love Jade xxx

The Sceptical Yoga Teacher

sceptical yoga teacherIs it possible to be a sceptical yoga teacher?

When I tell people I teach yoga, they make a lot of assumptions about me. And, to be fair, I do fit some of the stereotypes. My wardrobe does mainly consist of yoga leggings and sports bras, I do (try to) meditate every day and I am probably more flexible than the average person. But I also love science, I’m passionate about logical, rational arguments and I have a physics degree. So frankly, I die a little inside when I hear yogis referencing quantum mechanics, as if the very mention of quantum entanglement provides empirical evidence for every new age concept out there.

This is not because I don’t think yogis should talk about science. I love talking about science. I think everyone should talk more about science. But discussing concepts you don’t understand with the assumed authority of someone who does is a misuse of physics and undermines the credibility of what many describe as the “science of yoga.”

I have a similar reaction when people grasp onto alternative forms of medicine as if because they’re “natural” they must work. Don’t get me wrong, I think the western medical system has plenty of flaws, and I’m a big believer in exploring other options. For example, I think we can learn a lot from the holistic approach of systems such as Ayurveda, where they look at the whole person rather than treating symptoms. But that’s not to say that these ancient systems have all the answers, and because they are on some “spiritual plane”, they are above investigation. “Alternative” medicine can and should be tested just as rigorously as anything else.

What I find most strange is when people suggest that you can’t be “spiritual” or into yoga unless you suspend all analytical thought. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to discuss ideas with someone from the yoga community only for any questions I have to be met with, “But science can’t explain everything.” Perhaps not, but does that mean we should just hold our hands up, fall at the feet of the nearest guru and accept everything we’re told without question? To me that seems like a pretty dangerous path to follow.

I don’t think the barriers that people (on both sides of the fence as it were) put up between yoga, spirituality and science are necessary or helpful. Ultimately, everyone is seeking the truth and greater understanding, but approaching it from different angles. Surely the greatest growth comes when we learn from other fields, rather than disregarding them because their approach is different to our own?

A meditation teacher of mine used to say, “You don’t have to leave your intellect at the door,” and I loved this expression. I’ve always taken this to mean that you can have both. You can immerse yourself in yoga and meditation, and let thinking take a back seat for a while in order to drop into the experience of something. But it’s also ok to question things, try to work them out for yourself, and maintain a healthy scepticism when faced with so-called gurus making sweeping statements without backing them up. In short, I think it’s perfectly possible to be a sceptical yoga teacher. 

I’d love to know what your experiences are of this – let me know in the comments below?

Have a lovely day, and Merry Christmas everyone!

Jade xxx

 

Why I won’t be fasting again…

vegan yumI love the fact that during my travels I’ve met people with real expertise in health and nutrition. I’ve learnt a lot, and I’m very grateful for that. But somewhere along the way, I started to get a bit lost, and forgot the value of my own intuition about what is right for me, my body and my mind.

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of talk about restrictive diets – intermittent fasting, 500 calorie days, watermelon fasting, juice fasting, raw ‘til 4. In yogic circles, people don’t tend to advocate them for weight loss (too shallow a goal maybe?), but rather for cleansing the body, detoxing or even “spiritual development.” Disclaimer here: I am not a nutritionist. I have no objective argument for or against these diets. If they work for other people, great.

But they don’t work for me. I’m not trying to lose weight. And more importantly than that, I’m trying very hard to not go back down a route of restrictive eating, which got me into so much trouble in the past. I know that restricting my food intake is not a healthy way to go.

When I turned vegan, it was not for health reasons, although I do feel good eating this way. One of the things I considered carefully was whether I could cope with the restriction of a vegan diet without getting back into negative thought patterns. I decided I would try it and review its impact on my body and mind a few weeks later. I would be willing to let go of it if it had a negative effect on my physical or mental health.

So far it hasn’t, but restrictive eating caught up with me in a different way. I began to think that maybe I was far enough past my eating disorder to be able to experiment with some of the diets. I wanted to try a day of 500 calorie eating. I wanted to see how “clean” my body felt if I ate only watermelon. I wanted to know whether my thoughts would be clearer, my mind more meditative if I fasted.  

What happened when I tried? Well 500 calorie eating was very exciting. The anorexic voice in my head was thrilled that I was eating less again. This is great, it told me. See, you don’t need that much food at all. You’re good at this. The trouble is, once that voice had reawakened, it didn’t just go away the next day when I tried to eat normally. You should do another day of this. You’re strong. You don’t want to undo all the good work you did yesterday. You’ll get fat if you eat more now. I didn’t listen. But it was really really hard.

Watermelon fasting was even worse. If you haven’t heard of it, the idea is that you eat only watermelon for 1 to 3 days, to “detoxify” the body and let the digestive system rest. I don’t even believe in detoxing, but I still decided to give this a go. It was awful. It wasn’t the physical hunger itself that was the problem (although I did feel very hungry). It was the painful memories it evoked of the depression, isolation and misery of living with an eating disorder. I didn’t even last the day. By 4pm I felt so low, tearful and scared that I knew I had to stop. I ate normally for the rest of the evening, and felt better, although I had to contend with the sense that I had failed.

I know that’s not true though. I know that for me, eating a balanced, plentiful diet that gives me enough energy to live, and thrive and do all the things I love doing is a huge achievement in itself. So there will be no more fasting, no more detoxes. If that means I am less “cleansed”, and less “spiritually enlightened”, so be it. I choose health, happiness and life every time.

Breatharianism, chanting and pesto…

DSC_0243~2Learning to appreciate the little things at Moinhos Velhos…

I’ve reached the end of my time teaching yoga at the detox retreat, and it’s been an incredible experience. I must admit it didn’t start so well though…

My first meal was uncomfortable. There were only two of us at the staff lunch, myself and another yoga teacher, who explained to me, “Before we eat we hold hands and chant a prayer.”  I laughed in his face.

“Are you joking?” He wasn’t. Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe the experience of trying to recover from that, hold hands, and chant a prayer I didn’t know.

Things went from bad to worse at dinner time, when they explained to me that one of the founders of the place had just been on a programme to learn how to be a breatharian. For those like me who have never heard of this before, a breatharian is someone so uber-spiritual that they exist only on light and air. No food, sometimes no water. With impressive self-control, I resisted the urge to tell them that breatharianism sounded like a synonym for bullshit.

Thankfully, the team forgave my heathen lack of spirituality and let me stay. During those first few strange days where everything felt alien and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I found myself really appreciating the little things that did go well.

After 2 days of getting everything wrong with juicing and washing up (who knew there were so many ways you could go wrong there?!) my supervisor handed me a glass of fresh watermelon juice and barked, “You can drink this.” I almost fainted with shock at the sudden kindness.

Then a client stopped me after my first yoga class to tell me that she’d loved it. I found a beautiful walk that I could do in 30 minutes which was exactly the length of time I had between finishing clearing up and making lunch. I got to teach at 8am in the morning when it was still cool enough to enjoy a proper yoga practice without the room turning into a complete sweat box. Another volunteer made the best vegan pesto imaginable with fresh basil from the garden. I discovered the joys of pesto on toast for breakfast.

Even the mosquitos made me appreciate things more. After three nights of sleep disturbed by their horrible, “Eeeeeeeeee,” noise, getting insect repellent and a mosquito net felt like the equivalent of being upgraded to business class on a flight. And I discovered that a true friend is someone who not only will stay awake to help you find the mosquito that’s driving you crazy, but will also kill the one that has found its way inside your net (thanks Laura!).

The more I appreciated the little things, the more I found myself open to the benefits of the bigger things. I met people who were passionate about yoga, permaculture, alternative therapies and nutrition, and learnt from them all. And the experience I gained teaching yoga to the same group consistently was so valuable.

So all in all I feel very lucky to have been able to work and learn in this gorgeous place. Just don’t ask me to convert to breatharianism, or start chanting before meals anytime soon…

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