Mindfulness for the Greater Good

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Mindfulness is key to yoga, which in turn helps us cultivate mindfulness. This virtuous circle can help us combat stress and anxiety, feel positive, and live fully in the moment.

Those of us who are committed to developing a life-altering practice, however, shouldn’t stop there — as an article by Ronald Purser in the Guardian argues

When mindfulness isn’t the answer

His longread, called “The mindfulness conspiracy” makes an important point: unless mindfulness is grounded in ethics, it runs the risk of becoming a selfish exercise.

How does this work? Purser points out that divorced from any ethical basis mindfulness becomes just another way to make ourselves feel good.

Feeling good is not bad, but it shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of being an engaged, aware human being. As he notes, there are a lot of real problems in the world: poverty, injustice, inequality, violence. If people use “mindfulness” to help them ignore these issues then nothing will change.

In other words, there are some things we shouldn’t be comfortable with and accept. Mindfulness that helps us be aware of our own mental and emotional processes can be a powerful force for personal and social change. “Mindfulness” whose only aim is to insulate us from discomfort stops us from making positive changes.

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Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Active mindfulness

The good news is that the practice of yoga cultivates what I like to think of as “active mindfulness.” When we are in the studio, using our bodies, we are learning to shape our physical and mental reality. As we experience the temporary discomfort of a tough posture we learn to accommodate and move through difficulties.

Yoga, above all, gives us an ethical foundation. The first of the eight limbs of yoga is Yama: respect for others. This basic principle requires us to be mindful of how our actions affect the well-being of other people. That can be on the daily level, by simple acts of courtesy, or direct efforts such as volunteering.

Mindfulness, at its best, helps us achieve greater insight, compassion and wisdom for the benefit of ourselves and others.

 

Read more: The 8-word guide to yoga, Yoga = CommUnity

Easy Spine Stretching Yoga Poses

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Our spine is the live-wire that connect everything in our body. We make a lot of demands on it — including in yoga class.

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Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

Sometimes students, even regular practitioners, push to hard in poses and can risk aggravating the spine. To avoid the possibility of stress or injury, it is incredibly important to listen to your body. Yoga is about creating a healthy balance, not forcing your body into postures that might actually do you harm.

The other thing you can do to protect your spine is regularly practice two easy spine stretching yoga poses: Cat (Marjaryasana) and Cow (Bitilasana).

These are gentle stretches you can do any time, as part of a class or on their own. They wake up the spine, massage the organs, activate the breath, and centre the body.

Marjaryasana (Cat pose)

  • Start on all fours: hands beneath the shoulders, knees below hips.
  • Breathe in and arch the back.
  • Tuck your stomach and tailbone, sucking your belly button in toward the spine.
  • Relax your neck to let your head hang loose.
  • Move directly into Cow pose.

Bitilasana (Cow pose)

  • On the exhale drop the belly, arching the back so your tailbone lifts up.
  • Raise your head and open your shoulders.
  • Press your chest forward to increase the stretch.
  • Repeat, alternating between Cat and Cow between 10 or 15 times.

Cat and Cow is a great warm-up for a vinyasa flow session.

Read more: 4 Yoga Poses for the Sacrum, 3 Spine Healing Yoga Poses

3 Ways to Eliminate Comparison

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Blogging about yoga for a quiet mind got me thinking about the things that make our minds unquiet. All kinds of beliefs, assumptions, fears and insecurities keep us on edge, waiting for something to change before we can be at peace.

Comparison is one of the big underlying reasons we feel these emotions. It’s a burly taproot, nourishing the small, leafy anxieties of daily life.

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Photo by William Warby on Unsplash

From the moment we’re born people compare us – are we cuter, happier, quicker to walk or talk than other babies?

When we go to school, our achievements are compared to others. Whatever we do, from sport to dating, is a basis for comparison. Instead of discovering our intrinsic worth, we are taught our value lies in out-doing someone else.

Comparison is a happiness killer. It dulls our self-confidence and stops us from having whole-hearted relationships. It is a tough habit to break but these three steps can help eliminate comparisons and open you to a richer, happier life.

Tune into the soundtrack in your head

The first thing you have to do to stop comparison is to become aware of what you’re doing. We all have a running mental soundtrack. We are so used to constantly judging other people, and ourselves, that it is almost reflexive. If a colleague gets a promotion, your first impulse might be to feel envious, or insecure that you weren’t chosen. When you consciously examine this thought, you realise that actually they are going to have a lot more work, and that they have totally different experience. Their status is not a reflection on you.

Cultivate gratitude

Someone is always better off than you, and someone is always worse off. Comparison keeps us tugging back and forth between envy and pride, if we let it. Gratitude helps us take a different course. When we make a conscious decision to think about and appreciate the blessings we have – health, friends, hobbies, food, shelter, and so much more – we don’t feel the need to compare ourselves to others. We may not have everything, but we have an abundance.

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Photo by madison lavern on Unsplash

Practice non-judgmental yoga

Yoga can easily lure us into comparing our practice, postures or bodies with others. This makes it a great opportunity to work on new ways of thinking. To practice non-judgmental yoga, ground yourself in the breath. Focus your whole energy on the movement within your own body. Observe the way your chest rises and falls, the connection of muscles and bones. If you need to, slow down from your regular pace to really concentrate. Gradually, with time, you will find it easier to sink into your own practice instead of getting lured into comparison.

Read more: Body Image Boost, How to Want What You’ve Got

Yoga for a Quiet Mind

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Though often we focus on the physical aspect of yoga is as much a mental practice. Regular sessions, whether at home or in the studio, can help us achieve a quiet mind.

What does that mean? It means a mind that is at peace, accepting, aware of the moment without judgement. It means a mind that is able to acknowledge pain, confusion or difficulty without getting swept into those emotions. Yoga gives us this capacity by teaching us to breath — thereby calming our nervous system.

University professor Matthew C Nisbet wrote a great article on the science of yoga and how it quiets our mind. Breathing is key:

Compared to running, lifting weights, or other forms of exercise, it is yoga’s focus on controlled breathing that makes the practice unique, writes New York Times science journalist William Broad (2012) in The Science of Yoga. The focus on the breath is one reason studies consistently indicate that yoga in comparison to conventional exercise is more effective at managing feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety. Almost all forms of yoga emphasize Ujjayi pranayama, a style of slow breathing. When we breathe quickly, which often occurs when we experience stress or anxiety, carbon dioxide levels in our blood-stream decrease while oxygen levels stay the same. The imbalance produced by faster than normal breathing boosts the excitability of our nerves and muscles, producing muscle spasms and tingling in our extremities, which can trigger greater feelings of anxiety.

In contrast, the slow breathing emphasized in yoga practice increases carbon dioxide levels. In response, blood vessels in the brain dilate, sending more oxygen to the brain. By enabling our brains to absorb more oxygen, the slow breathing of yoga increases calmness and alertness, writes Broad.

Regular practice — especially daily pranayama — is a simple, holistic way to find peace in every day life.

 

Seasonal Eating: Gooseberries

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Summer is almost upon us with a glorious array of fresh fruit and veg to enjoy.

Thésée-la-Romaine (Loir-et-Cher)

Gooseberries. Photo credit: sybarite48

Gooseberries are a quintessential British fruit, delicious in tarts, crumbles, meringues… even whizzed in a smoothie. For a double dose of seasonal goodness try this sublime-looking strawberry and gooseberry crumble recipe via From The Larder.

It’s gluten free, packed with scrumptious fruit, and perfect with a scoop of ice cream or a splash of custard to finish off an indulgent, sunny-day lunch.

Pick up the ingredients, below, then visit From the Larder for the full instructions.

Ingredients

  • 400 g strawberries
  • 300 g gooseberries
  • 50 g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca pearls
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Crumble Topping

  • 80 g sweet rice flour
  • 60 g gluten-free oat flour
  • 25 g tapioca flour
  • 80 g almonds roughly chopped
  • 150 g light brown sugar
  • 125 g unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

More great seasonal food: Plum crumble, Leafy green & herb salad, Rhubarb

photo credit: sybarite48 Thésée-la-Romaine (Loir-et-Cher) via photopin (license)

Your Unique Well-Being Journey

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The past few years have brought us a huge amount of information about health and wellness. If you Google you can literally find hundreds or thousands of articles, posts and pieces of advice – some of them right here on Yoga With Paul.

This abundance of information has made it easy to find things out, but sometimes makes it decide what is relevant and reliable to your own well-being.

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Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

Being yourself

I take the responsibility of having a blog and social media presence very seriously. They are spaces to share my personal experience, and what I’ve learned from years of yoga study and practice, but they are not meant to prescribe what is right for someone else.

Everyone’s experience is different. Even if someone did the exact same training I did, attended the same workshops, ate the same food, studied with the same teachers, their mind and body would process it in a unique way. The results would be different.

This is tremendously important to keep in mind, whether we’re browsing social media or in the yoga studio. Our culture is competitive and prescriptive: there is a plan or programme that is “guaranteed” to help you reach any goal. The problem is, we aren’t machines.

The combination of exercise and lifestyle that makes one person feel wonderful, strong and alive can make someone else frustrated, annoyed, or even sick.

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Photo by Audi Nissen on Unsplash

Health, your way

Health and well-being are not monopolies. Look at the range in elite athletes: a champion swimmer wouldn’t last five minutes in an elite running race, and a world-class cyclist would look pretty foolish on ice skates.

Media and social media have a tendency to flatten the range of human experience and possibility by presenting a limited array of ideals. Scrolling through an amazing Instagram yoga feed can be inspiring, but remember, it is just perspective among infinite ones.

When it comes to figuring out what works for us there are some obvious basics: eat wholesome food, stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, make time for relaxation and fun, surround yourself with caring people, be kind…

The fine-tuning of these principles is down to each of us. Information and guidance from the internet, teachers and experts are great tools to help us identify our own well-being patterns and needs. Ultimately, we should aim to be our best self – not somebody else.

What’s your well-being secret? Share in the comments!

5 Benefits of Hitting the Beach

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The first Yoga Holiday With Paul Yoga Holiday With Paul 2019 is coming up, 21-28 June in the Algarve. In addition to dedicating ourselves to yoga practice we will enjoy the chance to relax and rejuvenate our minds and bodies at the beach.

Spending time at the beach offers physical and mental perks to help you feel stronger, healthier and happier. Here are five health benefits of hitting the beach.

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Photo by Lopez Robin on Unsplash

Stress relief

Our hectic lives and busy days create a lot of stress. Going to the beach removes us from the stress cues of our normal environment and replaces it with a scene designed to promote peace and calm. From the soothing lap of waves on the sand, to the chatter of birds, to the soft texture of the sand, the beach is a sensory experience that helps us relax both physically and mentally.

Detoxification

Sun and salt water are a potent detoxifying mix. The sun heats us so we sweat, releasing toxins while salt water flushes away surface dirt. When you spend an hour or two at the beach, enjoying the sun and cooling off by splashing in the sea, you are basically giving yourself a free spa-treatment!

Vitamin D

Our bodies need sunlight to produce Vitamin D and it isn’t always easy to get enough, especially living in the UK! Those of us with darker skin also need more sun exposure for optimum vitamin D production, so you can think of your time at the beach as an essential part of staying strong and healthy.

 

Cross-training

The beach offers lots of opportunities for expanding your fitness. Even a simple walk in the sand is offers your body a challenge, thanks to the shifting grains underfoot. If you choose to jog, it ramps up the benefits even more. Swimming, of course, is a wonderful total-body workout. Yoga and beaches are a perfect fit too: you can use soft sand to practice inversions like headstand, or to do sun salutations in the sun!

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Photo by Ash Edmonds on Unsplash

Mindfulness

The beach is a perfect place to cultivate mindfulness. Walking, chanting, or sitting meditation amidst the serenity and natural beauty of the beach will help you clear your mind of every-day distractions. The is also rich in objects and views that inspire contemplation. Simply studying the infinite variation in a handful of sand is a chance to be inspired and uplifted

Read more: Yoga Holiday – 3 Ways to Get Ready, Do You Get Enough Vitamin D?

3 Ways to Free Yourself from Frustration

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Frustration is a part of life. Daily life is full of irritations large and small: being cut off in a queue, put on hold, or realising you overpaid for an item, clashing with a boss or friend. Like water behind a dam, they can build up until we reach breaking point and use unhealthy coping mechanisms – like yelling, or eating a whole bar of chocolate.

We can’t avoid everything that causes frustration, but we can find positive ways to deal with it – and transform our experience of daily life. These three practices are not about “building a better dam” to suppress your feelings but about transforming your perspective to truly free yourself from frustration.

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Let it go! Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash

Appreciate what you have

The philosopher Epictetus said a person can only lose what he or she has – in other words, even our frustrations are grounded in blessings. If you come back to your car to find a parking ticket, take a moment to consider that you are fortunate to own a car, and have the health and ability to drive it. This mindset is especially helpful in relationships. When (inevitably) you are annoyed with your partner, friend or child, think about how blessed you are to have that person in your life.

Practice constructive empathy

Empathy is being able to see things from another person’s perspective. Unfortunately, it tends to dissipate in situations where we feel wronged or short-changed. This is why the discipline of constructive empathy is so important. The next time someone – whether a stranger, shop assistant, or colleague – bugs you, stop and put yourself in his or her shoes. Really think about how they feel and how they might perceive the interaction. This is a profound way of acknowledging someone as a fellow human, and even if it doesn’t solve the situation, it will free you to experience it with compassion and understanding.

Cultivate endurance

The stronger you are physically, the stronger you become mentally. As yoga builds endurance and stamina in the body, it strengthens our mental and emotional fortitude. Every time you step into a yoga studio, you are developing discipline and patience. Every time you hold that posture a half-second longer, you are training yourself to withstand difficulties. Every time you fall out of a posture and get back in, you are reminding yourself that setbacks are temporary. Not only that, the regenerating, energising, calming effects of yoga make you more resilient to frustration in the first place!

Read more: 3 Ways to Be Patient, Yoga With a Sense of Humor,

New Sloppy Tunas Shorts!

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Sloppy Tunas, the brand that makes cool, colourful swimwear out of recycled plastic rubbish, has brand news shorts up its sleeve.

Right now it is taking orders for its first all-terrain short, designed for men and women!

Created for dry land, but equally at home in the water, the new shorts have loads of great features to make travel and every day living that little bit easier.

They are water resistant, with a waterproof zip pocket to hold your phone and wallet; they are light, fast-drying, and odour resistant; like the swimmers, they are made from 100% recycled plastic, making them environmentally sound and vegan friendly.

Whether you’re hanging out at the lake, hiking, hitting the beach or on a yoga holiday, these shorts are a practical, comfortable, stylish option you can feel good about wearing.

Pre-order yours now!

Yoga in Kabul

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Imagine not having access to a yoga studio. For many years that was the reality for women in Afghanistan, until Fakhria Momtaz opened Momtaz Yoga Centre in Kabul.

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The only yoga studio in Afghanistan, it is a welcome oasis where women can come and practice yoga, relax, and be part of a community away from the strains of daily life.

“Everyone in this country wants to find peace after suffering in years of war and conflict,” its founder, Fakhria Momtaz, told Al Jazeera. “But you cannot establish peace in this society if you are not at peace within yourself.”

We are hosting Fakhria Ibrahimi Momtaz

Momtaz

Momtaz was sporty from a young age, and started practicing yoga as a child. When the Taliban took control in Afghanistan she and her family fled to Pakistan, but they returned. Now, she wants to help women by spreading the benefits of yoga.

“Yoga is something that helps with self-awareness, helps with depression,” she said. “This is why I think it should be accessible to women.”

A single studio can only reach a limited number of women, so Momtaz is dedicated to increasing yoga awareness by developing an app that women can use for home practice.

Her dedication is a reminder that yoga is truly a practice of unity. And that yoga can help us face problems and difficulties, no matter who we are, or where we are.

Read more: 5 ways yoga boosts mental health, Yoga everywhere