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Sarah

(pinterest.com)  

Life is a balance of opposites, we can look at everything as being either yin or yang.

There’s hot(yang) and cold(yin), light(yang) and dark(yin), up and down, life and death. You can even describe a person as being more yin or more yang in their nature.
We can also describe how we exercise our bodies as being in either a yin way or a yang way. A ‘typical’ yoga practice in the western world is generally a yang practice. We are engaging muscles, building strength, and often moving quite fluidly in and out of poses. So, what is the opposite of this? How do we balance out all this yang energy? Well, that’s where Yin Yoga comes in. I was introduced to this style of yoga a few years ago, while living in a yoga retreat in Ireland. I came across a book demonstrating different yin poses, and I fell in love with the long holds in these simple yet challenging postures. I forgot about yin when I came to do my yoga teacher training a few years later, and my practice became completely focused on a very yang style called Ashtanga Yoga. I love this athletic and dynamic practice, yet I found last year that I was feeling somewhat off balance within my body and within my mind. So I introduced yin back into my life – and the results were immediately amazing. I have just completed a 50-hour Yin Yoga teacher training in Vancouver with renowned yin teacher, author and founder of yinyoga.com, Bernie Clark. In short, the course blew my mind. I was introduced to a whole new way of viewing the body, and it was really embedded in me just how different all our bodies are. So, what is Yin Yoga then? Well, first of all I will define what it isn’t. Yin is not a restorative yoga practice. Bernie says the practice is for people who already have reasonably healthy bodies, and who are looking for optimum health. However, in saying this, there are always alternative poses for those who do have injuries or imbalances. And if available, props such as blankets, bolsters and blocks can really help you get into, and stay in a pose. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to be flexible to do the practice, flexibility is one of the benefits of Yin. In a yin practice, we work mainly with poses that affect the lower part of our body.  Instead of strengthening and activating our muscles, we are working on our joints and connective tissues. Instead of flowing in and out of poses, holding each pose for just a few breaths, we are moving extremely slowly and holding poses for several minutes at a time. We are often told that adding stress to our joints is bad, but the old saying goes “use it or lose it”. If we never go to our full range of motion, if we never apply a little stress to these areas, we will lose the ability to use them fully. Stress, followed by rest, is an important formula for our daily lives. We stress our muscles in the gym and then we allow them to rest. Same with our joints, we apply stress in a safe and controlled ‘yin’ way, and then we allow them to rest. Healthy joints lead to a healthy body and a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. The great thing about yin yoga is that as well as keeping our joints healthy and happy, it also works with Traditional Chinese Medicine meridian lines, which contribute to keeping our organs healthy and happy as well! It is a great compliment to our yang lifestyles – but in no way should it replace our yang yoga or yang exercise, as we need to have that balance of yin and yang in life. Just like we can be too yang, we can also be too yin!
For more information visit www.yinyoga.com, or check out a class for yourself! I teach at Raw Yoga  three times a week, and provide 8 week courses during school term time at Selwyn Comed
Image Source: Pinterest
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Sarah

  Source: Pinterest  

I don’t have a regular meditation practice.

There—I admit it. I’m a yoga teacher, yet I don’t meditate on a regular basis. You know what? I just find it really hard. Is that a terrible excuse? Well, that’s really what it comes down to. The strange thing is that when I do meditate, I enjoy it immensely. I have had some incredible experiences, sensations and revelations. Yet, I still cannot keep a regular practice. I practice Ashtanga Yoga, known as a moving meditation, five days a week, where I incorporate meditation at the beginning and at the end of my practice. Yet, I feel I’m still not going that one step further, sitting on my own, observing my breath, watching my thoughts, feeling the sensations. So, instead of a regular meditation practice, I’m working on incorporating mindfulness into every day activities. Bringing awareness to each moment gives me this great feeling of presence. Paying attention to my physical body has helped ground me and calms me down in times of stress.

Are you also struggling to keep a regular meditation practice?

If so, ask yourself these questions: 1. Do you really want a meditation practice? Is this something that will actually benefit your life? If so, how? If it is just something you feel you should do because of articles like this telling you it will transform your life then maybe that’s why you’re not feeling committed to it. To be able to have a regular meditation practice you’re going to want to do it for yourself, because you can see how it will benefit you. 2. Can you force yourself into a regular meditation practice? I’ve tried this, yet it only ever lasts a few minutes, days or weeks before I want to rebel. Seriously, it’s like my inner teenager comes out and ruins the party. Maybe my ego thinks I’m doing something against my will. Discipline is great, and is needed in these practices, but having to force yourself into something you really don’t feel connected to often ends in failure. 3. Can you bring mindfulness into every moment of your life? Maybe a scheduled daily practice isn’t quite what you need at this point in your life? Instead you could start to bring more awareness into your life. Awareness of every moment, awareness of every activity, awareness of every emotion. Maybe just being mindful of the air as it enters through your nose and fills up your lungs, maybe the sensation of the soles of your feet as they walk on the warm sand.

Here are some ways I bring awareness into my everyday life:

Driving. Unfortunately, I live in a city where I have to drive, a lot. Sometimes it gets a bit much, I feel confined to the small shell of my car, almost claustrophobic. So I bring awareness to the sensations I feel in that moment. I feel my back against the chair, the sides of the seats pressing against my legs. I feel my hands on the steering wheel and I focus on everything that is happening on the road. I allow the normal chatter to dissolve as I bring full attention on what is going on outside. I often have moments of true clarity when I’m driving and have actually had some big realizations. Warning: This can be dangerous if you start focusing too much on your physical body and not so much on what’s happening on the road in front of you! Exercise. Whatever it may be—yoga, running, swimming, cycling, weight training—bring awareness to what you are doing. People often say exercise is their form of meditation and I think that’s great. Surprisingly enough, it’s a lot easier to get into a peaceful state when we are physically exerting ourselves – there’s no time for thoughts when you’re sweating like a pig and gasping for air! Dive even deeper into this awareness, feel that peace and just be with it. Slow down, take a breath. Breathing has helped me deal with a lot of anxiety and stress. Just slowing it down, focusing on it completely. Sometimes I have to lie down on my back, place my hands on my stomach and feel the movement of the oxygen as it moves in and out of my body. It really does work every time I find myself overwhelmed with emotion. Don’t judge yourself. I will not judge myself for not having a daily meditation practice. I will remove this expectation that as a yoga teacher I am expected be a disciplined meditator. Judgment towards ourselves is such a wasted and unnecessary emotion, when instead we can just be with what is, accept where we are right now and be ok with it. We don’t have to be master meditators to live a life with presence and awareness. Right now in this moment I know what’s right for me—awareness, self-love and continuing my yoga practice.   This article was first published here on elephant journal. Image: Pinterest
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Sarah

 

It feels like my brain is refusing to function at the moment.

  My yoga practice is a struggle, my gym progress is declining and just living day to day is a way bigger challenge than it should be. Studying is hard, planning for my business is harder; teaching yoga has been some what of a relief as I have to be completely present—however, during some classes I forget things and I’m left stumbling, trying to remember simple words like “back” or “thigh,” and don’t even get me started on the Sanskrit pose names… A few days ago, I decided it was time to get to the bottom of this—What’s going on? Am I losing my mind? So, I had a blood test and received a message from my doctor less than 24 hours later saying my iron levels were the lowest they’ve ever been. Wow, what have I done to myself? How did I let it get this bad? Could this just be because I’m female? Because I’m vegetarian? Does my body just suck at absorbing iron? I don’t know, but it’s been a huge wake up call. I look back at my diet over these past couple of months and realize that I haven’t been eating properly; I haven’t been taking note of where my iron is coming from in my diet. If you’re feeling exhausted all the time for no real reason and/or never refreshed even though you’re sleeping normally, iron deficiency might be something to consider. It might be a good idea to go get it checked out. Iron is an essential mineral as it carries oxygen throughout your body. If you don’t have sufficient iron, your body cannot produce enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Without enough healthy oxygen circulating in our bodies, we become fatigued easily. This can affect our memory, which explains why I keep forgetting words while teaching and why I feel overwhelmed when trying to remember things—usually, my brain is excellent at remembering dates, times and my never-ending to-do list. It can also affect our immune systems, meaning our bodies are unable to effectively fight off infections, so when winter comes, we’re prone to catching everything that’s going around. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Iron deficiency is the leading nutrition disorder in the world. Over 2 billion people worldwide are anaemic, a condition commonly caused by iron deficiency. “Iron deficiency and anaemia reduce the work capacity of individuals and entire populations, bringing serious economic consequences and obstacles to national development.” (WHO Report) Women in particular are notorious for having low iron, and it only gets worse during menstruation. Then, add in vegetarianism or veganism and bam! If you’re not watching your diet closely and making sure you’re getting the right nutrients, you could easily fall off the healthy-iron-level bandwagon—and it’s really not that fun down here. Yesterday, I received an IV dose of iron to give me a good boost, but I hope this will be a one off thing. I would hate to rely on drugs to give me a nutrient that is so commonly found in food. It’s also a very expensive option, and it resulted in me feeling quite nauseous and spiked my blood pressure for a while. The best option? Take control of the situation yourself! People have been asking why I don’t just eat meat a couple of times a week, but I know that meat isn’t right for my body; I have known this since I was a little kid. Red meat in particular negatively affects my digestion and causes a lot of pain, which is why I stopped eating it three and a half years ago. Since I stopped eating meat, my iron hasn’t been drastically low; in fact, for a while, it was higher than what it had been when I did eat meat. If you think your iron may be a little on the low side, I strongly advise you to get on top of it now. Try adding some of these foods into your diet: 1. Spinach 2. Lentils 3. Dried fruit: apricots, peaches, raisins etc. 4. Collard greens 5. Soy beans 6. Pumpkin seeds 7. Black beans 8. Kale 9. Broccoli 10. Strawberries Even if you are eating plenty of iron, your body may not be absorbing it, so make sure you eat plenty of vitamin C to help the absorption process. Try these foods: 1. Citrus fruits 2. Berries 3. Mangoes 4. Kiwifruit 5. Papayas I really encourage taking a close look at what you’re putting in your mouth, check that everything is filled with healthy vitamins and minerals so you’re getting the very best out of every meal. Don’t wait until you’re feeling exhausted, forgetful and sick before you make the change!   First published here at elephantjournal.com
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Sarah

Urdva Danurasana

 

Today I sat myself down, and I asked myself one simple question:

Why do I practice Ashtanga yoga? You see, I’ve realized that I’ve been through a lot of emotional and physical turmoil since starting this practice almost two years ago. I’ve dabbled on the brink of depression, had a few physical injuries, relived past trauma and I’ve often just felt absolutely exhausted. So, why do I do it? Why do I still make it to my mat five times a week? Why do I still get up when that alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m.? My answer? I don’t actually know. That’s the truth. I don’t know why I still continue to push my body into poses it’s screaming to get out of, why I allow my heart to be cracked open and tears to flow freely at any given moment, why I sometimes reluctantly drag myself through that same physical practice almost every single day. I don’t know why I keep trying to bring my full attention to my breath, to keep my mind focused and present, when most days it feels like an uphill battle. All I do know is that deep down, something inside me is telling me to keep going. That something is what gets me up when all I want to do is roll over and fall back to sleep. That something is what helps me through a particularly tough practice, when my body just wants to melt and disappear into my mat. I don’t know what that something is, but I know it is a lot stronger than my ego, which tries to convince me that maybe another form of yoga would be a lot more fun, and a lot more forgiving. But I’m not there to have fun. I’m there to learn, to grow and to heal. I’m currently attending a weeklong Ashtanga yoga workshop with a teacher visiting from overseas. She has reminded me why I do this, that there is no other path for me but Ashtanga, at least not at this time in my life. She describes the practice as something that isn’t meant to be fun. Fun is for the vinyasa flows, the hot yoga and all the other new styles of yoga that are created every other week. Ashtanga yoga is a healing modality; it is not a form of exercise. It is powerful, we break stuff down, we go deeper and deeper into our own physical bodies, into our emotional landscapes, and we clear it all out. And sometimes, it’s really uncomfortable. But you learn to sit with that discomfort and you realize that, actually, it’s okay. It’s okay to be uncomfortable, it’s okay to cry and it’s okay that you can’t do the pretty poses or the difficult poses just yet. I look back to when I first started this practice at the beginning of 2013. I jumped right into a teacher training, which required me to go from no practices a week to five, 2-hour Mysore style practices a week. It was massive shock to the system, my entire life flipped upside down and it took a while to settle. During this initial detox period I started learning techniques and ways to deal with these emotions. I learnt the importance of my breath, and how it can take me away from feelings of anxiety and panic and into a state of peace and calm. I learnt that my body is capable of some things, and not capable of other things—and to accept that fact. I learnt that this was a process, and that things weren’t just going to start happening over night. That to be able to come into my light, I’ll first have to step into the darkness, and be with my shadows. So, I guess this is the answer to my question. I practice Ashtanga yoga because I can’t imagine doing anything else. Because it communicates with me in a way nothing has ever done before. I practice Ashtanga yoga because I’m ready to face my demons, and I’m ready to let go of my past even if it takes months, years, decades. I practice Ashtanga yoga…just because.   First published here on elephantjournal.com
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There’s a fine line between being present in savasana and being asleep.

A very fine line. I battled with this line during my time in India a few years ago. Living in a Sivananda Yoga Ashram for a few weeks, our days were scheduled from the 5:30am bell for chanting and meditation, to lights out at 10pm. Throughout the day, we had four hours of yoga asana practice, karma yoga (selfless service) and a couple of meals thrown in for good measure. Sivananda Yoga is a form of hatha yoga that follows a set of poses based around a lot of relaxation, which means you are in and out of savasana (corpse pose or final relaxation) a lot. It was hot, I was sleep deprived, in a state of spiritual shock and hungry most of the time—all these factors put together meant I was very, very sleepy. This is a dangerous state to be in while practicing Sivananda Yoga. Every time I found myself in savasana, my hot sticky body horizontal on my yoga mat, I was out like a light. It was to the point that a few times my sister could see I wasn’t moving and had to reach over and touch my hand to jolt me awake, whilst she tried to fight off fits of laughter. I wasn’t alone in this though—I distinctively remember being woken up by the snores of one man echoing throughout the temple, and the silent giggles of the other bodies lying close by. It’s a shame really because I now know that savasana is so much more than a glorified group nap. I enjoyed my time in the ashram (after the initial shock wore off) but I ended up coming back to New Zealand and doing an Ashtanga Yoga teacher training course. Ashtanga Yoga is the complete opposite to Sivananda Yoga, instead of resting between each pose, you’re jumping back into pushups and doing a vinyasa sequence to keep the energy and heat high in the body. Now as a teacher, during savasana I try and encourage my students to go into a place of deep relaxation, while keeping their minds alert and focused. I do always wonder though—should I talk in savasana or is it more effective to stay silent? My beginners struggle with the silence. They are stuck there for 5–10 minutes with nothing but their own thoughts; it can be scary and uncomfortable stuff. Or, they do what I kept doing in India and fall asleep. A few years on from my time in India, I now practice techniques to make sure I don’t drift off to sleep and instead remain in a peaceful and calm state with a focused mind: Breathing: In Ashtanga Yoga the ujjayi breath is very important. This is what creates heat and energy in the body, along with the bandhas (muscle locks). Savasana is the time where we shift from ujjayi breathing to diaphragmatic breathing. It is really important that we do this because if we take the ujjayi breath outside of our yoga asana practice we will be triggered into the fight or flight response—and our anxiety and stress levels will rise. So try this: Bring your attention to your stomach just below the ribcage and direct each in breath into that area. Allow it to rise and fall on each inhalation and exhalation. You may like to place your hands on your stomach as a guide to make sure the air is filling up the diaphragm. Keeping your attention on this action will keep your mind focused. Yes, you’ll still get distracted, or you’ll be so relaxed that you’ll start to feel yourself drift off, but just keep bring yourself back to this movement. Meditate: Who says you have to stay up right in a seated position to meditate? Savasana is a great opportunity to go inward. I sometimes practice loving-kindness (metta) meditation, or just become the observer of my thoughts. Take this opportunity to develop a meditation practice, which you could potentially take out of your yoga class and into your daily life. I do, however, have a confession to make: I still sometimes drift off during savasana. Yes, I know, that’s against everything I’ve just written, but you know what? I don’t beat myself up over it. Sometimes I am so exhausted, I just need a few moments of sleep. And if those moments make me a little bit happier on the inside, then at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

First featured here on elephantjournal.com

   
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Sarah_yoga

 

How can I be afraid of losing control when I was never in control in the first place?

  What a life changing realization that was…that you can’t lose something you’ve never had. Fear has been a consistent visitor of mine over the last few years. The sort of fear that constantly lingers in the back of your mind, stubbornly sitting there no matter how hard you try to tell yourself that it’s unnecessary and unreasonable. That’s the thing with fear and anxiety—you can’t just talk yourself out of it. There has to be shift within you to even begin to release it. My fears come in all different forms, but the biggest has been the fear of losing control. When I was at that terribly awkward age of 14 I found out that I had epilepsy. A seizure is an experience of completely losing control of your body, your mind, your everything. At that age, dealing with other people’s reactions was the hardest part. I was made to feel like there was something very wrong with me and a lot of fear arose in those around me. I haven’t had a seizure since that first big one, but the migraines first started about four years ago and they quickly took over my life. I could no longer drink alcohol, (a big deal at 22) I struggled working as a journalist and I felt constantly unwell. Every day for two months straight I either had a migraine, or I suffered a migraine hangover. My fear of seizures suddenly came out of nowhere, after living dormant in the back of my mind for years. I felt unsafe in my own head. I went through a time where my anxiety was so high I now believe that I was actually having panic attacks, rather than migraines. Vertigo and a distorted sense of reality ruled my life. I struggled being in social situations, interviewing people for my job became increasingly hard. It was during this time that I first thought maybe my weekly yoga class might have some answers. I started taking time at home to do my own breathing practices when the distressing feelings got too much for me. I travelled for a few years, and managed to control the migraines on my anti-epilepsy medication. It was when I was living in a yoga retreat on the west coast of Ireland that my yoga journey really began. During the year long Ashtanga yoga teacher training I completed, my world was tipped upside down and some of these fearful emotions and experiences intensified at times, but I began to learn how to trust myself.

When I say I trust myself, I mean I trust that the feelings in my head aren’t going to cause me to have a seizure, that I’m not going to pass out while I’m driving on the motorway.

  And that’s when I came to this realization of not being in control. If you can just learn to let go of this idea of control, then suddenly life seems lighter, you can relax in knowing that what is happening right now is perfect. If I am going to have a seizure then there is nothing I can do about it, fighting it will only make things worse. Practicing Ashtanga yoga five times a week really opens us up…and what comes out can be absolutely terrifying. There have been days where I have wanted to tell first time yoga students to just turn around and run for the hills, because sometimes its just damn right scary. But I keep going back to my mat; I keep finding myself there almost every day. Some days I argue with it, some days I laugh, some days I cry, and some days I just feel nothing. It’s always going to be a bit of a work in progress for me, but the improvements I have made are incredible and it’s evident in my yoga asana practice as well as my day to day life. I have become so aware of these dark, scary feelings that arise within me, and the way I deal with them is forever changing. But right now I’m just allowing them to be, as I learn to let them go. First published here at elephantjournal.com
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You’ve got the rest of your life to do yoga. Oh, right. So I don’t have to get that pose right now? I don’t have to push my body when it is crying out for some restorative yoga? So what’s the rush? Why do we obsess over getting our bodies into those ‘amazing’ poses that are sure to make us look like ‘real’ yogis? I’m a yoga teacher, but I’ve only been practicing regularly for 18 months. My practice isn’t amazing, I don’t have a long slender yoga body, yet I get to the studio five times a week and do my two-hour Ashtanga yoga practice. Throughout the past 18 months I have learnt that the way I look in my Lulu Lemon gear and where I can put my leg, isn’t what yoga is all about. The truth is, yoga is about learning to let go of these ideas and expectations.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt so far on this journey:

  No two days are the same Some days I have boundless energy and I bounce around like I can hardly control myself, other days I am plagued by this heavy sensation that almost flattens me to my mat. Some days I feel fat, other days I bind in Marichyasana twist no problem. Sadness will slow a practice down, while anger will speed it up. When I feel love, I feel as if I’m floating from one pose to another like I’m doing a perfectly choreographed dance and I’m the only one in the room. I have learnt to honour where I’m at each and every day. Some days I just cant do my entire practice, and that’s ok. I just trust that my body will do what’s right each time I find myself on my mat. Our emotions are intricately embedded within our physical body This is something I’m constantly rediscovering. I’m only in my twenties, yet some days I feel my body is about twice that age. Our emotions and past traumas are stored in different areas of our body, and through practices like yoga we perform poses which open up these areas. What comes out can be truly terrifying, but I am learning that it is a necessary way to move forward and to overcome these issues. I have held onto a lot of fear and a need to be in control for a very long time. This attempt to hold on and to keep things together has meant my body has taken a long time to even begin to open up. My practice has been a very slow process and I guess that’s because I have been scared about what’s going to come up, about what I’m going to learn about myself. The days that I just allow myself to relax into a pose and to really feel into it even when my body wants to come out, those days are when I have my biggest break throughs. I just surrender and I allow my body to take over and leave my mind out of it. There is no point in comparing yourself to others Let’s face it, we like to compare, we just can’t help it. Anyone who’s ever tried a Mysore yoga class will remember how intimidating it is going into that room for the first time, watching everyone doing their thing, flowing so gracefully with their knees behind their ears. It’s very overwhelming. But through this practice you learn your strengths and your weaknesses. For instance, I can do a great back bend, however I have short arms and legs so wrapping myself up in a twist is quite a challenge. Physically, my practice has been slow to progress, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually I have broken down so much stuff that I hardly feel like I’m the same person I was 18 months ago. So despite the fact I might not look like a ‘real’ yoga teacher on the outside (whatever that means?) I know that I have been through some truly life changing experiences already and I’ve only just begun this journey of self- discovery, self-realization and self-love.
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Sarah
  “Yoga should come with a warning: these practices will change your life.” Stephen Cope, The Wisdom of Yoga. Well, that sums it up nicely. I’ve been on my own yoga journey for three years now and wow, my life has gone through a complete transformation. Yoga is absolutely everywhere these days – there’s Bikram, Iyengar, Ashtanga, hot, power, flow, vinyasa. There is yoga for weight loss, pregnancy, post-natal, babies and the elderly. There is even laughing yoga, chair yoga and images of animals doing yoga. It’s a long, confusing list of what really is the same thing. Yoga is a union; it is the coming together of the body and mind. You begin to learn and understand body awareness, mindfulness and the fact that you are not your thoughts. My real ‘journey’ didn’t start until I walked up the little stairs of the Auckland Yoga Academy, through the lovely aroma of incense, which took me back to my time in India. My first class with the school’s director Peter Nilsson and I was hooked. Immediately afterwards I signed up for the yearlong Yoga Alliance 200hr teacher training course. And it’s not something I have regretted once. I had never done Ashtanga yoga, a dynamic and flowing yet very strong practice with loads of pushups and jump throughs, but there was something about it that drew me in. However, the actual physical asana practice (the yoga poses) is not what brought me to yoga. My original weekly class in Auckland helped me through a very tough time a few years ago when I was struggling with a health issue. That one and a half hour class every Tuesday evening gave me so much relief. I then started taking what I learnt in class and created my own practice at home. I found the breath work particularly helpful when I suffered anxiety over the situation I was in. And now, five years on I am a yoga teacher teaching in the same place where I originally participated in that first weekly class. I no longer have those health issues and I feel happy and content within myself. Yoga really has changed my life and I constantly witness how it changes other people’s lives too. It’s such a privilege to be a teacher and to see these transformations. I hope to use this blog as a place where I can inspire, inform, educate and entertain.  I see it as an opportunity to dive deep into all aspects of yoga, as well as to share my own experiences as I go deeper into my own practices.
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