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The Reality of Self Practice- A Little Guide

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Ania Caplin practising meditation

What is the best way to start a home practice?

This is a question I am often asked by my students and there is never enough time to give an answer which is truly ‘complete’. This answer may still be far from whole but I will endeavour to do my best in a few easily digestible paragraphs.

The truth is there is no one way to make home practice work, the most important aspect of self-practice is to find a way that works for YOU 🙂

How Do I Find Time?

This may well be the factor most of us struggle with. The key here is to set an intention for  little and often… 15 minutes 6 days a week is better than 90 minutes once a week.

Time of Day

Most of us find that discipline becomes easiest with routine, so finding a time of the day that is ‘yoga time’ is ideal. Morning can often be the best time because as the day continues, the likelihood of other things getting in the way increases! This is when I prefer to practice, but other yogis I know chose other times. Whether for you it’s first thing in morning, before bed, when you get home from work or after you’ve put the kids to bed try to make this a daily routine.

Little & Often

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Donna in the hallway

It sounds cliché but it’s true. You can practice yoga every day but this doesn’t need to be for an hour a day. All you need to aim for is to get onto your mat for 5 minutes and simply connect with your breath. You can do this seated, standing, in savasasana, in child’s pose, it doesn’t matter, just 5 minutes of awareness. There may be times that this is all you do, and that’s fine, but other days the act of listening to your breath and your body will evolve into 10, 15, 30 minutes or even longer depending on what your schedule allows. At times I set an intention to practice for 10 minutes and this turns in to 2 hours, other days 10 minutes in the morning is all I have time for.

Never ‘Waste Time’

What I mean by this is actually to cast aside the idea of ‘time wasted’. While you are waiting for someone, something or travelling, use these moments to connect with your breath, to check in with your body and allow yourself a mindful moment.

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Heel lifts in the hallway

You can also use those little pockets of time, in-between “the doing moments”, for example take cat-cow while waiting for the kettle to boil.

Where to Practice?

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holiday posing

If you have a special, sacred part of your home for self-practice, that is wonderful! However, for so many of us this isn’t a reality. I have intentionally only chosen photos to illustrate this post, which show a more down to earth version of self-practice.

I’ll admit that even in my own social media platforms, I generally consider the aesthetics of the image so that what is portrayed is a highly edited, rose-tinted version of my practice. Remember that Instagram is often probably more about photography than it is about yoga!

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Ania and her boxes

About 18 months ago 2 yogini friends and I ran an Instagram yoga challenge to encourage pregnant women to cultivate a simple daily practice. It was sometimes a challenge to find a location in which a full posture could be photographed and we needed to be inventive with angles, move furniture, deal with the poor natural light of the U.K. in January. Not always easy to come up with an image! Many of the pictures show Ania in her new home, mid-moving house, mid-renovation and surrounded by boxes and her building project or Donna practicing in her hallway. The challenge was not so much about photography as it was about motivation to practice without having the perfect set-up.

The images we see so often on social media are ‘perfect poses’ in ‘perfect locations or spaces’, remember that these are often designed to be aspirational and visually appealing rather than reflect true practice. A beautiful minimalist, penthouse apartment or a tropical beach are not the reality for most of us who practice yoga. We are far more likely to be finding or making space amongst furniture, toys and carving out a space whilst being considerate of those we live with.

I live in London and share my space with others so I have never been able to have a dedicated space for practice. My practice space varies depending on where is available, and it almost always a tiny space as for years now there has been a transient element to home life. I sometimes practice in the hallway, on the floor next to the bed, currently I’m practicing in the living room amongst boxes, as it’s the only floor space and I certainly have to tidy away my props and mat after practice. If you are lucky enough to have a little yoga space in your home for your mat, any props and perhaps even candles or images such as yantras that you can use in meditation then that is really ideal but not necessary!

What to Practice?

Again, this is extremely personal and I would never want to dictate a practice as a regime as it depends on so many factors. Here are a few ideas to start you off…

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Ania mid-renovations

Set Sequences– I used to practice ashtanga and this meant that I had a set sequence  every day which was useful and meant I could notice the effect of the same postures on my body, breath and mind day in and day out. Counting 5 breaths in each pose felt very meditative and also helped to prevent my mind from become too distracted.  However, there came a point when ashtanga was too ‘yang’ for me in combination with a very yang lifestyle. It became necessary to adapt my practice and listen more carefully to my body and energy levels. Your set sequence doesn’t have to be as strong as the ashtanga primary series. Having 4 or 5 poses that you use every day is a good starting point.

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The Cat Method 😉 Now I often begin the day in child’s pose and spend a few minutes observing my breath and checking in with myself… Some days my mind is saying “Oh! I want to go back to bed. I need a coffee. I should check my emails!” I bring my attention back to the breath, over and over. After this initial checking in let my body lead me into movement- cat-cow (marjaryasana- bitilasana) or simple side stretches, or other breath-co-ordinated movement. It can help to imagine you are a cat waking up and beginning to move. From here, letting my body go with the flow which on some days leads me into a strong “Yang” practice and on other days a more gentle practice, in which I hold a softer space, hold the poses for longer or the emphasis may be more on pranayama or meditation. However, I have been practicing for many years and if you are newer to yoga you may wish to have more support.

Using the internet or apps- In addition to going to real classes these online resources can be useful to get you going and provide some guidance. There are hundreds or even thousands of free YouTube videos ranging from 2 minutes to an hour of practice. It is worth trying different videos to find a teacher or a channel that resonates with you. I particularly like Esther Ekhart but it depends on how you like to practice. Websites such as Yogia and YogaGlo are another option and the monthly subscription is very reasonable. There are also many yoga apps to give you inspiration for what to practice. I use Simon Low’s Yin App for my evening practice and I have used Headspace in the past to motivate me to meditate more!  You have to pay for many of the better app’s but they are normally no more than a couple of quid and well worth it.

Practice with a teacher- It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, when you can, it is still important to go to real classes with a teacher you trust and whose style of teaching resonates with you. This will help to inspire your home practice, prevent postural “bad habits” from developing and gives the advantage of shared energy in a space. Treat yourself 🙂

Possible Obstacles and How to Deal With Them

Cold dark mornings

If you live as far north as the U.K. this is something you may need to contend with for at least half the year. In this case the most difficult aspect of the practice is getting out of bed in the first place, which you will have to do anyway!

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If you intend to do 10 minutes of practice you only need to set and alarm 10 minutes earlier and the benefits definitely outweigh this sacrifice.  I find wearing comfortable bamboo yoga pants, a supportive t-shirt and (depending on how cold it is) a warmer sweatshirt, as my pyjamas, means I can roll out of bed onto my mat, ready to practice. You can even get non-slip socks to keep your feet warm. Heading straight for the kettle to make warm water and lemon or a herbal infusion can also give you that initial warmth from the inside. Set the heating to come on 15 minutes before your alarm.

Injuries or specific medical conditions

If you are working with particular challenges or limitations at any time in life, it is well worth investing in a few one-to-one sessions with an experienced yoga teacher or yoga therapist who can support you in developing a home practice.

Lack of motivation

Starting can be the hardest thing. Set yourself a challenge such as 10 minutes of yoga a day for 1 month. Thank yourself for giving yourself this 10 minutes just for you, that’s all it takes. Reward yourself at the end of each week. The following month you could set yourself 10 minutes a day and 30 minutes on Saturdays as an example, be realistic about what is manageable for you. It can help to do this with a friend or partner so that you can encourage each other, even if it’s through long distance communication.

Phones/screens

Do not look at your phone/email/facebook before you start your practice. If you use the phone as an alarm keep it on airplane mode and if possible get a separate alarm clock. If you are using an App/YouTube this requires discipline!

What you need

It’s very helpful to have a yoga mat and makes practice far more comfortable. It also establishes your yoga practice space (even if it means rolling it out every morning). Props can also be useful but you don’t necessarily need to invest in proper yoga props to begin with. A large book can be used as a block, cushions or rolled up blankets and towels can be used instead of bolsters, a dressing gown belt can be used instead of a strap. You may want to invest in props once you have developed a more established home practice and you know exactly what you will find most helpful.

Work commitments, children, partners, others you share your home with

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With Olivia & 3 year old Myka

10 minutes is all it takes! Discuss with your family how you can make it work for you to have that time for your practice. There may be times when the uninterrupted element is not an option especially if you have small children. In this case, it can be useful to practice with the kids and teach them a little of what you know about yoga. Ok, so it’s not the same as the “me-time” you would get in a class but it’s certainly better than not practicing at all. Perhaps even teaming up with other parents or friends for a few minutes of playful practice.

And finally…

Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day! It happens, life is like that. Just make sure you do it the next day! 😉

Photos in this post are taken from the Instagram challange #getoonthematyoumother with yoga teachers Ania Caplin and Donna Noble

Follow Ania on Instagram

Follow Donna on Instagram

 

Yoga and Creativity

Meditation and Yoga can have a significant impact on your creativity. This isn’t just important for artists, writers, musicians, dancers or people who work in creative industries, but for all of us, creative ideas and intuition are intrinsically human qualities.

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Play-time!

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”

Albert Einstein

There are many things that can hinder and block our creativity: self-judgement, self-criticism, stress, exhaustion and essentially fear. The practice of yoga and meditation can greatly help us to overcome these barriers.

“Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender.”

The Bhagavad Gita

The Body

Physically, asana practice can keep our bodies healthy and in balance and build better postural habits into our physical structures. The coordination of breath and movement help to keep energy flowing freely and help us tune into the true creative self.

“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.”

B.K.S. Iyengar

Breath

The breath is a vital tool in quieting the mind to provide us with the calm and space essential for giving our intuition and creativity a clear voice. Our perceptions are heightened by an awareness on our breath, and on sensations and details in our bodies that would normally escape us. Bringing ourselves to single pointed focus develops our ability to concentrate and be awake to the present moment,  a skill transferred into our creative lives and practices.

“Breath is a bridge between body and mind. Probably because of this, the ancient Chinese thought breath was everywhere. They perceived breath as an activity of the atmosphere and as a symbol of transpersonal force, essential in art.”

Kazuaki Tanahashi- calligrapher and Zen teacher

Non-judgement and Non-attachment

It is important that we play, explore and in the process create with fluidity, letting go of the part of the mind. As creative beings we have to be prepared to detach ourselves from the outcomes of our endeavours, not because they don’t matter, but because the resulting freedom gives you the confidence and spontaneity to take risks and grow, allowing that creative part of yourself to flourish. Being true and present in the process of creating is what allows inspiration to be unlocked!

“Art reaches its greatest peak when devoid of self-consciousness. Freedom discovers man the moment he loses concern over what impression he is making or about to make..”

Bruce Lee

True Self

The practices of yoga and meditation heighten our consciousness and connectivity to the true self and rest of the living universe. This connectivity allows us to create with authenticity in a way which communicates with the universal human spirit. Many artists consider their work to be spiritual, considering themselves a channel for the creative energies of the universe.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique”

Martha Graham- Dancer and Choreographer

Unlocking and Unblocking

Many people I speak to about their own education say they were never any good at creative subjects at school, the phrase “I can’t draw” is something we perhaps start to tell ourselves (or perhaps someone else tells us), often as teenagers, and it becomes fixed in our minds into adulthood. Equally, “I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I’m not creative, I’m not good at____ (fill in the blank)” may have become negative mantras infused through our lives and subconsciously embedded into our sense of self. This can be an all too familiar story, that perhaps deprives us of a whole realm of creative exploration and enjoyment in our lives.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case, by allowing ourselves to create with non-judgement and non-attachment to the outcome we may discover so much more about ourselves and find talents we had always previously dismissed. Perhaps creativity cannot be taught in the conventional sense, but can be facilitated and practiced and unlocked. Creativity is a gift all of us are granted with and is an inherent part of our nature.

“Why should we all use our creative power?.. Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money”

Brenda Ueland- Writer

If you are intrigued, see the upcoming workshop-  Moving Into Creativity with Silvia Giovannoni Webster and myself. We will be exploring the connection between yogic movement, breath awareness mindfulness and creativity. We will use art materials as to explore this connectivity but no artistic experience in necessary.

This is something that I feel very deeply about, my yoga and meditation practice has had a huge impact on the way I create as an artist, the way I teach art and has infiltrated my life on so many levels that I am extremely excited about sharing this with others. I have peppered quotes from inspirational human beings throughout this post, to show the diversity of creativity. I have also found several books and articles that explore this subject and are really helpful if you would like to read more 🙂

The Artist’s Way– Julia Cameron

Brush Mind– Kazuaki Tanahashi

Awaken Your Inner Artist– Karen Macklin

Movement, breath, quiet of mind, awareness, non-judgement, concentration, intuition… all elements of yoga that help us to tune into our latent creativity

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Photo: Gaelle Marcel

Pregnancy Yoga in Stoke Newington

While thepregnancy yoga poster lovely Ivana is on maternity leave I will be teaching her Pregnancy Yoga classes on Sundays 11am-12noon in Stoke Newington, Hackney

Suitable for beginners or more seasoned yoginis. Yoga is a prefect way to connect with your breath, your body and new baby while expecting. Whether you just want to look after your pregnant body as your baby grows, have an hour of ‘me time’ or if you are looking to develop a deep connection with your breath and that of the growing life inside you or whether you would like to prepare yourself for birth, or simply to meet other local woman who are expecting and sharing the experience with them. If you have any concerns or questions don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Summer Yoga in the City!

London is a mega city and in all the hustle and bustle the lovely (but sometimes brief) summer time can quickly escape us, especially if we forget to make time to be outside. I’ve been taking every opportunity to practice and teach outside. Without a garden of my own, I feel so lucky to have so many public green spaces in London to practice and teach in.

Whether you have time to actually attend some outdoor yoga classes or even just sit under a tree, have a cup of tea outside, connect with your breath and find some stillness in the great outdoors, every little helps! Being in nature is proven to help us relax and cope with stress. The wonderful thing is that you don’t even need to be in a national park or deep in the wilderness… a little urban green works wonders and can be incredibly healing!

Sometimes I find myself dashing around, always busy, trying to work things out in my head, filling my days and my mind unintentionally. I have to set aside time to stop, breath, meditate, practice asana and just be… Creating this ‘space’ can be easier said than done, but a little taste of the natural world can help you invite space more easily. Step outside, put yourself next to a tree or on the grass, notice the light from the sky and how it plays upon the leaves, watch the clouds, appreciate the beauty found in the little things and be present. To start with just for a couple of breaths, then when you have more time build this up to longer periods, follow the breath… Build noise from the traffic or people around you into your practice. Notice sounds, loud, soft, subtle, constant and acknowledge them, without analysing or judging just let the sounds be a backdrop of your present moment.

I often come back to this, one of my favourite quotes from the Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

“But isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t? It seems fairly obvious to some of us that a lot of scholars need to go outside and sniff around – walk through the grass, talk to the animals. That sort of thing.”

Here is a little of what I’ve been up to over the summer in London. I hope you also manage to enjoy the outdoors even in little snapshots!

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become quite a buzz word and has made it into the mainstream spotlight. Now it is being hailed as an antidote to our full and busy information rich lives. It is practiced by politicians, company CEOs, athletes, in it is Silcon Valley it is being hailed as “the new caffeine” for it’s effectiveness in fuelling creativity and productivity, it is being used now by the NHS and is being taught in many schools. There is a list of benefits that are seemingly endless. Sometimes all the media hype around it just seems to build on this idea that we do mindfulness or meditation to become something more. To quote Radiohead “Fitter, happier, more productive”…. to be better at something, to be more creative, to be more able to carry on rather than just to be, another extension of a society driven by goals. This is not necessarily wrong, perhaps by practicing mindfulness we discover more rather than become more? Does it matter if this is a goal as the benefits we will encounter will be more profound than simply allowing us to have more stamina so we can work and achieve more. This article written by Madeleine Bunting is very thought provoking. I’m still deciding!

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/06/mindfulness-hospitals-schools
I am one of those teaching mindfulness in schools both to students and staff and there is often opportunity for debate around why we do it. I have been teaching it in school for almost 4 years now and find watching the effect is has on others deeply rewarding.
Mindfulness or Meditation
People often ask what is the difference between mindfulness and meditation.

My understanding is mindfulness leads to mediation, but then I’m coming at this from the dicipline of yoga, so perhaps the subtlety is in the translation.
To me, the word mindfulness encapsulates a combination of the 5th and 6th limbs of yoga Pratyahara (turning inward) and Dharana (concentration). Although the other limbs also prepare us for mindfulness and meditation. Meditation is the 7th limb of yoga- Dhyana.
Pratyahara

In pratyahara we turn our attention inward, withdrawing our senses from the external world. This is like taking a step back, observing our inner selves physically, mentally and emotionally more clearly without external distractions.

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Dharana

Now that we have let go of the outside chatter we can start to reign in the internal chatter- the mind. We can do this by focusing on a single thing, be it the breath, a mantra or a physical object. The key is to be kind to ourselves, if the mind wanders (which it will do) gently draw it back to the object of focus, such as the breath. By practicing this eventually we will eventually be led into meditation or “Dhyana” the 7th limb of yoga.
Yoga Journal gives a comprehensive explanation of this-
” We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation.”

http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/158
Dhyana

Here we are in a state of heightened awareness, the mind is still and has moved on from the single point of focus. The thoughts have stopped and no longer interrupt our state on consciousness. This stage takes much practice of Dharana and may take a long time, but this practice in itself is hugely beneficial.

My Journey So Far

I am always interested to know what draws people to yoga. Perhaps the yoke or union of body, mind and spirit is in our nature, so possibly it’s less about starting to practice but more about re-emphasising and rediscovering? Feel free to share your thought on this with me.

Like so many others although yoga had been on my radar for a long time, but it was an injury that brought me to the mat initially. I broke my collar bone surfing and found that yoga allowed me to move, breathe and heal in a way that was gentle, non competitive and eventually helped me grow as a person in so many ways.

I had also experienced PTD after being swept away (but very lucky to survive) the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami and gradually yoga helped me to heal, sleep and process this experience. I know that life’s challenges are inevitable in the future and practicing yoga both on and off the mat helps enormously.

Since then I have become far more aware of my body, I am stronger, more open and also more compassionate towards myself. Every day is different and this presents itself in my practice constantly, some days I need to take it easy, some days I’m full of energy and strong, other days I feel stiff and tired, my mind races and my mind can be still, the more I practice the more I accept that life is like that. Every day i’m learning. Ultimately, I am very grateful that the world of yoga opened up to me, and grateful to my teachers who have been wonderful. Yoga has helped me in almost every aspect of my life and this I what made me to decide I wanted to share this with others.

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