Inspiring lifestyles

Three ways to care for yourself following winter hibernation

By Anita Ramsden, kinesiologist

I love the springtime because of the possibilities and hopefulness it offers as nature never lets us down.

The countryside can look so bleak in winter, but in reality everything is simply resting, restoring itself and conserving its energy. So when the sun starts to shine and the days warm up, everything is ready to burst out with newness and freshness to exploit its full potential.

At the start of winter, I read a blog about how people go within and, like much of the natural world, adopt an attitude of hibernation. It prompted me to think differently about things: Could we be happier if we saw ourselves and our behaviour reflected in those seasonal flows?

Certainly, the cold, grey days have not bothered me as much as usual because I have appreciated lighting the fire and acknowledging that this is a time to slow up, rest and get ready – for spring and growth.

So as we begin to emerge from our hibernation, what do we need to do to care for ourselves effectively? Hydration, movement and a quiet mind are key and here is why:

1. Raise your energy levels by hydrating your mind and body

During the winter, most of us spend a lot of our time inside. But life indoors can be very dehydrating. There is central heating, hot fires and the electromagnetic fields of WiFi networks and mobile phones. Computers and other electrical equipment all produce heat when we use them, but all of these things take their toll on the levels of water content in our cells.

Indeed, according to the Hydration Foundation: “We are 99% water molecules and even a 2% reduction in hydration leads to measurable cognitive loss.” It is certainly a pity that more schools do not realise this fact as reduced hydration levels affect everything from the amount of energy an individual has, to their mood, their ability to concentrate, their hunger levels and their ability to feel joyful.

But the solution is easy: Simply drink more water, ideally eight glasses a day.  Build it up slowly, especially if you currently do not consume that much, or indeed any.

A really beneficial way to start your day is with a big glass (eight to 12 oz) of water, with a pinch of pink Himalayan or sea salt and/or a squeeze of lemon. If you make it the first thing you do, you will give your organs a really good soak and get the hydration message straight into your cells and brain. But do not be tempted to use table salt as it does not contain the same essential minerals as other forms. 

Plants and seeds can also hydrate us too. So add a tablespoon of ground chia seeds to your water and/or daily smoothie. Chia seeds form ‘gel water’, which is what we find inside plants – think of succulents, such as the Aloe vera.

Scientists have also recently discovered gel water inside our cells. This means they can absorb it instantly, giving us a great deal more energy and allowing the water to stay in our body for use rather than going straight through us. Find out more by viewing this TEDtalk by Dr Gerald Pollack.  

A daily smoothie, which includes hydrating green veg, fruit, added ground chia and other seeds and nuts, will likewise provide you with long-lasting hydration – as will eating juicy fruit like apples. But you might also benefit from reading a book called Quench, which was released in 2018. Jam-packed with vital information you may not have considered before, it also provides a five-day ‘Quench’ plan to ensure optimum hydration.

Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

2.Get moving

Once you become adequately hydrated, movement is important to encourage even more hydration at the cellular level. Many of us spend large chunks of time crunched up over our computer at a desk. But sitting in this way compromises your organs, and sitting still for long time periods has been deemed as harmful as smoking cigarettes. Not only is it dehydrating, but as an article in The Guardian once put it: “When you’re sitting, you’re one step from being dead.”

So make sure you get up and move. If you are focusing on hydrating yourself, a positive side effect is that your bladder will remind you to move, which will in turn increase your oxygen supply and improve your blood and lymph flow.

Elsewhere, standing desks have been found to increase productivity and reduce the number of sick days taken – but even just doing head-to-chin and small spinal twists while sitting will help.

Also make tiny, little movements before you get out of bed. When you see cats and dogs stretching as they wake up, they are helping the cerebral spinal fluid flow around the head and down the back, which means they both energise and detox themselves at same time.

In order to prepare your body for spring though, go out to get lunch rather than eat at your desk and take advantage of the vitamin D that the sun will help you produce. Or walk the dog more often, get off the bus one stop early or park a bit further than usual from your destination. These may sound like simple things, but they can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.  

Spending time outside also aids sleep as sunlight is required to set our circadian rhythms – and our gut microbiota respond to these natural cycles positively too. Even better, spend time outside with a friend who makes you laugh in order to boost your energy levels and release health-giving hormones. It really is about looking for the magic in everyday life.

3. Learn to quiet your mind

Finally, train yourself to quieten your mind using meditation, mindfulness techniques or simply a walk in the park where you focus on nature rather than on what is going on in your head. It is refreshing, relaxing and reboots your thinking.

Moreover, all it takes is a bit practice, and the benefits are huge. By stimulating your vagus nerve in this easy way, you are taken out of a fight or flight response, which physiologically reduces your stress response.

You can do it anywhere and only 10 minutes a day will help boost your mood, your energy levels and help destress you. A really helpful app here is Headspace. Complementary medicine advocate Deepak Chopra’s meditation programme is also great and he has a new one starting at the end of March, so why not give it a go?

Anita Ramsden

Anita Ramsden is a kinesiologist. She is emphatic about affecting positive change and her work encourages wellbeing for mind, body and soul. Anita is also a member of the Kinesiology Federation.

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Cultivating mindfulness to support transformational change

Butterfly on zen Stones

By Laura McAvoy, transformational coach

There are many ways to experience mindfulness and meditation, whether through your own daily practice, within an embodiment tradition such as yoga or Tai Chi, or perhaps as part of a practical approach to stress reduction, to name but a few.

Mindfulness might not immediately spring to mind when you think of transformational coaching, with its focus on speaking and conversation to help you move your life forward. Yet mindfulness and coaching can have a big impact if the two approaches are combined – especially if you are feeling ‘stuck’.

It is an absolute truth that we can make a choice and make a change. Yet, deep personal transformation – the kind that brings significant, lasting and meaningful change – can often feel like a long process.

At times of transition – after becoming a parent, during and after illness or bereavement, in mid-life, during menopause or at certain points in our relationships or work – we can be called on to take stock, to turn inward and ask ourselves: Who am I and what do I really want?

Clients who start coaching work are often on the crest of this wave, seeking answers and with an awareness that something needs to move forward but wrestling back and forth in dilemma. They often feel hemmed-in by life circumstances, unsure of whether they have the resources within themselves to create something new and feeling trapped in circular thought patterns based on indecision.

The aim of a transformational coach in this scenario is to shift that sense of inertia or paralysis by helping to liberate their thinking.

If you are feeling stuck and want to start helping yourself immediately though, it could be useful to explore the attitudes on which mindfulness is based, which is an excellent place to begin. According to Emily Johnston, one of my trainers and a long standing mindfulness and wellbeing coach, mindfulness is underpinned by seven key attitudes:

  1. Non-judgement;
  2. Patience;
  3. Beginner’s mind;
  4. Trust;
  5. Non-striving;
  6. Acceptance;
  7. Letting go.

Sit for a while and sample the flavour of each of these attitudes, before combining them with some simple coaching questions. Doing so should help you shift perspective on your current situation.

Non-judgement

If you have been feeling stuck or as if you are not moving forward, your self-talk is likely to involve an element of judgement.

Ask yourself: How am I judging myself in this situation? Where am I placing blame? How is this judgement serving me in either moving forward or staying stuck?

See if you can ease yourself – even if only for while – into a state of non-judgement. Could you re-tell your story using only factual statements without your ‘inner critic’ rising up? If you are unsure, write your story down and read it back as if it had been written by a friend. What would you say to them upon reading it? How does this approach change things?

Beginner’s mind

This is my absolute favourite. ‘Beginner’s mind’ asks us to view our situation with curiosity and to approach it with an almost childlike wonder and openness as if for the very first time, with all of our preconceptions lifted. In other words, look at things as if they offer a new possibility.

Ask yourself: What have I not explored in my situation? What might I have missed? What other meanings could this situation hold for me? What other outcomes may be available?

Trust

Trust plays a crucial part in helping us make a shift. If we do not trust ourselves, our environment or other people, it makes it hard to be free ourselves enough to make the choices we desire.

Ask yourself: Where does my trust lie? What, if anything, is hindering my belief in myself? Who and what can help to support me?

Non-striving

The idea of ‘non-striving’ may seem to go against most people’s idea of coaching, but it actually sits at the heart of transformative practice. Deep transformation involves a process of unfolding, which entails listening in to yourself and being responsive to what arises, and even changing course if needs be.

Ask yourself: How can I bring a sense of more ease into my life? How can I honour the process in which I am finding myself? How can I truly be present?

Acceptance

Once we see things how they really are and are less clouded by judgement, fear and limiting beliefs, such acceptance can be freeing. It is not only about accepting the circumstances that surround us but also about accepting what is rising within us in terms of our emotions.

The discomfort provoked by some feelings could be too difficult to experience, so instead of accepting them and allowing them to express and dissipate, we supress or deny them. But it might also be worth exploring whether we accept the role that we are playing in what is happening too.

Ask yourself: What, if anything, have I been struggling to accept? What might I need to allow to rise within me? What am I feeling?

Letting go

Letting go is a process that naturally follows noticing and accepting.

Ask yourself: What is ready to be released in my life? What thoughts, beliefs, behaviours, relationships, old patterns and habits are no longer serving me? What will support me in letting them go? Where might more forgiveness be helpful?

By questioning your situation with an attitude of mindfulness, you could gain new traction. The story in your head might not be the ‘whole truth’, so it may be possible to find a fresh perspective by engaging in a mindfulness or meditation practice that suits you.

If this suggestion resonates, it may be helpful to find the time and set the intention to cultivate the seven attitudes of mindfulness within you. Just five to 10 minutes of meditation a day can make a big difference if you practice it consistently.

Laura McAvoy

Laura McAvoy provides transformative coaching and dialogue for women. She also offers group coaching courses, coaching circles and 1:1 work, all of which incorporates mindfulness and meditation. Laura works in Saffron Walden, Essex, and the surrounding area.

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Yoga Nidra: Learning to relax, consciously

Yoga Nidra Savasana pose

By Theresa Banovic, yoga and yoga nidra teacher

Yoga Nidra is a powerful meditation technique, based on ancient tantric practices, that helps you learn to relax consciously.

You may feel as if you are relaxing when you lounge on the sofa with a cuppa, watch TV, or read a book, but such activities will never meet the body’s need to relax completely. Even sleep is not actually regarded as relaxation from a Yoga Nidra point of view.

Instead the idea is that true relaxation takes us far beyond any sensory diversions. When our consciousness remains connected to our senses, we become less receptive. But when experiencing Yoga Nidra, it is about remaining aware while turning inwards, away from outer experiences to settle into a state of deep calm.

So just how does this happen? When practising Yoga Nidra, you generally lie down flat on your back on the ground (in yoga, this is known as Savasana pose) – although resting in a semi-reclined position or sitting in a chair is fine too if lying is not possible for you. Make sure you are as comfortable as you can be by wearing warm clothes, socks and even a lovely eye pillow infused with essential oils if you like. Blankets, cushions and bolsters can also help here too.

Your teacher/guide/recording will then lead you through breath awareness exercises, before systematically referring to different parts of the body fairly swiftly. All you need to do is mentally repeat each body part to yourself, place your awareness there and feel the area relax.

There is no need to move. It is more about listening, trying to surrender to the experience and going with the flow of this wonderful healing practice.

Om mantra

Experiencing deep relaxation

The idea is to keep your mind moving from point to point, remaining aware of every experience. Deep relaxation should take place at a cellular level, enabling physical, emotional and mental tensions to be released. Ideally, you should try not to fall asleep – although sometimes it is simply not possible.

When we relax deeply with the help of Yoga Nidra, we clear a space for the unconscious and subconscious levels of the mind to open and become really receptive. This means that, if we plant an idea there at this time, it will become very potent – like planting a seed and watching it grow.

So it is very important to make an intention, or Sankalpa, at the start. This can act as a positive way of focussing on the direction you would like to take in life, something you would like for yourself such as a new job or better health, or something you would like to give up. It could be a future goal, or even a simple act of gratitude.

Swami Satyananda described Yoga Nidra as an invaluable stress management tool, which could even be used to learn a language or other subject. In truth, it can be used to train the mind to accomplish anything.

It is usual to make a Sankalpa every time you practice Yoga Nidra, although it makes sense to stick to the same one for a while – and, if you use the technique regularly, you should be able to notice a change. In fact, if you choose to practice Yoga Nidra regularly, it will inevitably become an integral and invaluable part of your life.

Theresa Banovic

Theresa Banovic is a BWY yoga instructor and wellness advocate. She teaches Hatha yogaRestorative yoga and the Yoga Nidra meditation technique in a class setting, while offering yoga and massage retreats in both the UK and Portugal too. Theresa is also a trained provider of Ayurvedic massage.

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Kundalini yoga: Taking on the challenge of transformational change

women s white top and orange floral skirt
Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

By Sarah Stollery, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher

As the turn of the year approaches once again, how many of you have started thinking about New Year’s resolutions – even if, quite often, they are not very new at all? In fact, all too often, they are actually the same ones we made last year but did not stick to.

Which begs the question of why bother? Change is hard work. So shouldn’t we just accept ourselves as we are and let go of the idea that we could create a better version of ourselves?

Loving and accepting ourselves for who we are is certainly a worthy aim. But even doing that meaningfully can require transformation of a kind – a transformation in our thinking.

And what about those resolutions that really would support us in living more fulfilling, connected and joyous lives? If you are stuck in a job you hate, it IS important to make 2019 the year you find a new vocation.

If you are feeling stifled creatively, 2019 IS the year to find a satisfying outlet for your passion. If you are chronically stressed and exhausted, 2019 IS the year to find a more balanced and sustainable way of living.

Illustration with mantra om sign surrounded by energy beams

Transformational change

But change is challenging, and sometimes the best intentions in the world are simply not enough to ensure temporary change becomes lasting transformation. That is where kundalini yoga and meditation come in. They act as tools to help bring about authentic, lasting transformation by working on multiple levels.

Habits, both good and bad, exist not just in our subconscious and unconscious minds, but also in our cellular memory as well. So, to delete old habits and create new ones successfully, it is necessary to work on all of these levels. Kundalini yoga can help here by:

  • Rewiring our nervous system to remove old habits and embed new ones;
  • Rebalancing and reprogramming our endocrine (hormonal) system to support us through the emotional challenges that change generates;
  • Cultivating a neutral mind so that we have the necessary awareness to make conscious choices untainted by ego, which resists change;
  • Developing an achievable daily practice that specifically targets the changes we wish to make;
  • Providing us with a supportive community of fellow yogis, who are also working towards making change and so help to keep us accountable.

Life is too short to write off effecting transformational change in the name of loving and accepting ourselves as we are. It is important to remember that we cannot fully love and accept ourselves if we are not living an authentic life in which we recognise and honour our own needs. So it is vital to put in the hard work required to ensure those needs are met by creating the necessary change.

If you would like support in making such changes real and lasting, check out my new six-week Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Course starting on 16 January 2019 at the Mokshala Yoga and Meditation Centre in Saffron Walden, Essex. You won’t regret it.

sarah stollery headshot

Sarah Stollery is a kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and co-founder of The Cabin, a self-directed learning community for home-educated children. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages and stages of life with the tools to thrive in these challenging times by creating space to learn, explore and integrate a wide range of wellbeing practices.

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Kundalini Yoga: Awakening to a new truth

 

Woman meditating on a mountain
Meditation

By Sarah Stollery, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher.

In factual terms, Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, who first revealed the formerly secret practice to the West in the late 1960s, may be defined as:

  • The yoga of awareness;
  • A practice that prepares the body to release Kundalini, or life force, energy, which is coiled at the base of the spine and holds your energy field in stasis. When activated, this energy travels up a number of primary energy channels and merges with the crown chakra, bringing your spirit into union with the infinite, eternal essence of the cosmos;
  • Incorporating pranayama (breathing exercises), kriya (a series of yoga postures that work towards a specific outcome), meditation and mantras (chanting);
  • A non-religious practice, although it does include elements of, and teachings from, Sikh and other major world religions;
  • Embracing seva or selfless service to others.

relaxation sitting reflection statue
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What does Kundalini Yoga mean to me?

To me, Kundalini Yoga is the yoga of opportunity. It is an invitation to get to know yourself – both the light and shadow sides in equal measure. It is a chance to find healing and liberation from the traumas that all of us carry with us but often fail to integrate into our being.

But unlike some other modern day spiritual paths or self-help schemes, Kundalini Yoga does not promise a challenge-free path to freedom, which is why I believe it remains fairly niche. It is an approach that challenges and provokes as much as it elevates.

Above all, however, Kundalini Yoga is the yoga of connection: to ourselves, our families, our communities, all life on earth and finally to the universe’s truths.

My teacher Guru Dharam once described it as “a blueprint for an experience of you, but how you manifest that experience is entirely down to the individual. Embrace this challenging and unique path with commitment and heart, and the prize will be knowing yourself in this lifetime”.

Let me share with you a special experience I had half-way through my teacher training:

It is 5am on a Sunday morning in the middle of January. I, along with 40 other Kundalini Yoga teacher trainees are sitting, spines upright, eyes closed, waiting in silence for the recitation of Japji, one of the five daily Sikh prayers, to begin.

This morning, we find ourselves in a cavernous, converted barn, usually reserved for weddings, instead of the usual Elizabethan manor house where we live and practise as there are too many people to fit. The sub-zero temperatures outside mean it is not much warmer inside, and we can just about see our breath in the low lighting. My thin mat is proving poor protection against the freezing cold floor, and I find myself wishing I had a sheepskin mat like some of my friends.

But then the Japji begins and I become lost in the lyrical rhythm of its words. It is the start of the Aquarian Sadhana, a two-and-a-half hour practice that Yogi Bhajan gave us in 1992 to help with the transition into the Aquarian Age.

After Japji, we tune into the golden chain linking us to our teacher and to all the teachers that have come before by means of the Adi mantra, before launching into the kriya for this morning’s practice. By this time, I am grateful to have the chance to move. Heat begins to spread through my body as a combination of the stiffness from Saturday’s yoga, and the cold, starts to ease.

Illustration with mantra om sign surrounded by energy beams

A new truth

Following this yoga set, we relax in savasana (lying on our backs) for a few minutes – just long enough for the cold to seep back into my bones. But I don’t mind as my favourite part of the sadhana is just about to start: it is time for Long Morning Calls.

We chant the mantra seven times in seven minutes and, even though I have hardly moved in that time, the cosy feeling in my body and the space around me is like warm honey.

We now move our mats, blankets and sheepskins closer to the front of the room, where my teacher Benjahmin is setting up his harmonium and guitar. He starts to play the first six mantras that make up the playlist of the Aquarian Sadhana. As I hear each one, I am convinced each is my favourite.

But the penultimate mantra actually is. As we move into virasana (hero pose), I reaffirm to myself that this time I will remain in posture, sitting on my left foot with my hands held in prayer, for the whole 22 minutes.

Benjahmin plays the opening chords and my heart melts as the weight of what I am about to shed from my being starts to thaw, ready for release. I begin to sing and cry at the same time. As the music builds, so does an indescribable feeling in my heart. It feels as if all the love and pain that ever was and ever will be is exploding in waves of ever-increasing mass and energy, crashing into every thought, every cell and every breath.

Halfway through, I stop singing to allow myself to truly feel the intensity of the experience. I am of my body but not in it. The boundaries of my being have disappeared and I have merged with the space, the other souls around me and the essence of the sound or naad.

All thought has stopped. All I can do is feel. And now it comes – an awareness that has been lurking at the edge of my consciousness since I came to my mat two hours ago. I now know something, not with my mind, but with each of my 10 physical, mental and energy bodies. Because it’s not a thought so much as a truth firmly lodged in my being: “There is no suffering without purpose.”

What this actually means to me will be the subject of a separate blog but suffice to say, it is a knowing that continues to unfold daily and my absolute certainty in this truth is as strong now as it was on that icy morning three-and-a-half years ago.

sarah stollery headshot

Sarah Stollery is a kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and co-founder of The Cabin, a self-directed learning community for home-educated children. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages and stages of life with the tools to thrive in these challenging times by creating space to learn, explore and integrate a wide range of wellbeing practices.

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