Don’t miss your round-up of the best of the blog from April!
We often think of giving purely in terms of being the giver. We’re taught that “it is better to give than to receive” but what about the other half of the equation? We can’t give unless there is someone to receive. Which means that receiving is equally important, and equally worthy of being celebrated. Being a good receiver, though, takes practice.
We can cultivate the gift of receiving through yoga, which teaches us three key steps: mindfulness, openness and unity.
The first step in being a good receiver is knowing our own minds. There are many beliefs and fears that hamper our ability to accept gifts. We can feel we are unworthy, not like the gift, dislike the giver, or worry that there are strings attached. When we feel any resistance to a gift, we need to practice mindfully seeking why that is. We need to challenge our knee-jerk response of non-receptiveness.
Through mindfulness we can achieve the openness we need to be a good receiver. We cannot hold a gift in a closed hand, and we cannot receive if we have a closed mind and heart. Opening up means setting aside our insecurities (“I don’t deserve it”), ego (“It’s rightfully mine”) and fears about reciprocity (“I can’t repay this”). It allows us to look at the gift itself and the intention behind it. With a mindset of openness we are able to accept things in the moment and in the spirit of kindness.
Yoga means unity and it guides us to understand that there is no separation between “giver” and “receiver”. As long as we think of them as opposites, we will not give or receive in a true, heartfelt way. The truth is that giving and receiving are united; they are simply different expressions of a single interaction. They are like inhale and exhale: both parts form the breath, the breath could not exist without both.
Received a beautiful gift? Share in the comments!
In difficult times, it is easy to retreat, draw back, close our heart. We are bombarded with voices that incite conflict and division. We’re told we have to be afraid, build walls, turn away from the world.
Yoga teaches us the opposite. Yoga means unity. Not just mind-body harmony within ourselves, but unity with the world around us. Unity with fellow humans, with other living creatures, with nature, with the elements and the spiritual. Daily practice is an exercise in creating an open heart.
An open heart is receptive, fearless, loving and above all, strong. The beauty of yoga is you don’t have to feel a certain way to start with. You just do the practice and allow the asanas to do their work.
There are many heart opening poses and these are three of my favourites.
Lie flat on your stomach. Stretch your legs back, tops of the feet on the floor. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Hug the elbows back into your body. You press the front of your body firmly into the floor and as you inhale start to straighten the arms to lift the chest off the floor, maintaining the connection through your hips and legs. Keep your lower body tight, like a cobra’s tail. Take small breaths at the top as you gently increase the arc of your spine, lifting your eyes toward the ceiling.
Lie on your stomach. Bend your knees and reach back to grab your feet just below the toes. Keep your knees and feet in a line, about six inches apart. Gently kick back and up. The power in this posture comes from your legs, which should stay parallel as they pull your arms and shoulders back. Tilt forward onto your stomach and lift your head. Remember, where your eyes go, your body will follow. Breathe in and out through your nose through the posture.
I recently did a step-by-step blog on wheel pose which is a fantastic heart opener that works your whole body. Read the post here.
How do you cultivate an open heart? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Occasionally yoga can leave you feeling dizzy or lightheaded — especially if you are new to yoga, resuming practice after a break, or doing unfamiliar poses.
Feeling dizzy can be unpleasant, but shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.
When you practice you are moving a lot of energy around your body so it is normal to have some “surprise” reactions like feeling lightheaded. If you use these 3 tips your mind and body will be balanced and on the level again in no time.
One of the quickest ways to get dizzy is to move abruptly from one posture to another, especially an inversion or a posture where your head is below your heart. Focus on flowing through the postures, making each transition a mindful part of the sequence. Think of gliding from one pose to the next and focus on taking calm, even breaths.
Come to class hydrated. Arriving thirsty and glugging down water isn’t an effective way to hydrate, and it will make you feel worse. If you do drink in class take small sips that won’t overburden your system. Proper hydration ensures your body can cope with the challenges of yoga, especially hot yoga, and will help prevent dizziness.
There are all sorts of opinions about what and when you should eat. The rule you should follow is do what is right for your body. Low blood sugar can make you feel faint and dizzy. If you experience this a couple of times in class experiment with snacking beforehand. Dates are rich in glucose which is a perfect fast energy boost. Easy to digest foods like porridge, soup, or smoothies are also good options. Don’t overeat, obviously, but be sure to get the energy you need to get through class feeling well.
Questions? Ask in the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul
I was about to write “New Year’s resolutions can add to the pressure we feel to be perfect…” Then I thought about it and realised that we are almost always under pressure to “be perfect”.
The holidays are fraught with pressure around social events, gifts, meals, family and relationships. Come February and we face a bombardment of messages about “perfect” love and romance on Valentine’s Day. Before long the annual push for the “perfect” summer body will begin, along with the expectation of dreamy holiday to show off said body. Before we know it, we’ll be back to Christmas again!
Our culture loves to judge and critique. There is always something to aim for, whether it’s more money, better legs, a bigger house, or a sexier relationship. Once we step on that perfection treadmill it is hard to step off. We start measuring ourselves by impossible standards and become fearful of taking a break or falling short.
Perfectionism can seep into every part of our life, including yoga, and when it does, we lose something precious. We lose the joy of doing things for their own sake. When we are chasing an exterior measure of “perfection” we can’t experience the activity in the moment. Instead of mindfulness, we cultivate anxiety.
There is no easy solution for perfectionism. When we get something right, there is an intoxicating feeling of satisfaction. The problem is it that this is external and temporary. If someone does “better” we immediately feel bad. Genuine well-being and happiness is based on knowing that we have done our best. Not on measuring up to someone else’s idea of success. In order to cultivate that internal satisfaction, we have to be willing to trust our own minds, bodies and values.
These words, from B Grace Bullock, offer a new way to think about “perfection”
Yoga is an exercise in befriending our imperfection. You stand up, wobble, resist, thrash about, and fall down. And in that struggle you discover one absolutely perfect truth—imperfection is liberation.
Imperfection is the essence of being human. It is what motivates us to engage in svadhyaya (self-study), to change what isn’t working, and to accept what we can’t change. It makes living authentically possible.
Next time you’re in the studio, or practicing at home, set your intention to allow imperfection. Instead of chasing an impossible idea, give yourself space to sink deeply into the unity of yoga, and your life. Feel what you feel, move mindfully, and don’t be afraid to fail because that is when something new and beautiful happens.
Share your thoughts on perfection in the comments.
Did you see the BBC story about the 104-year-old yogi? Her name is Eileen Nash and she “enjoys regular yoga sessions” and is a former Test cricketer.
Yoga has a rare ability to keep us young. Other exercises can boost some aspects of health and fitness at the expense of others but yoga (remember, it means “unity”) connects our mind and body in a way that improves our overall well-being.
It does this in many ways, but let’s consider a few:
Circulation: As we get older our circulation can stagnate. Our veins and arteries aren’t as flexible, our heart isn’t as strong, our muscles get sluggish. But yoga increases and invigorates our circulation and safely strengthens the cardiovascular system.
Energy: We may never be able to stay up all night like we could at 20, but yoga gives a natural, long-lasting energy lift that helps us act and feel younger. Breathing exercises expel stale air to refresh us with oxygen, balancing poses charge our muscles, helping us feel strong and agile.
Stress: The older we get the more responsibilities we have. We get stressed, lose sleep, and find ourselves caught in bad lifestyle habits. Yoga releases tension, it connects us to our body, it soothes our mind and helps us regain perspective on what really matters.
Sleep: It can get harder to sleep as we get older, which has a knock-on effect of causing exhaustion and stress. Yoga is a great cure for insomnia. It is a challenging exercise that will help your body feel naturally tired, for one thing. There are also specific poses, like half-tortoise, that soothe the body and prepare it for restful sleep.
Metabolism: Our metabolism slows as we age, meaning we can catch ourselves with the dreaded “middle-aged spread”. Yoga reverses this pattern by keeping our metabolism running clean, strong and healthy. It also builds and preserves muscle mass, which speeds up our metabolism and helps us stay lean and strong even in older age.
What is your favourite anti-aging tip? Share in the comments.
We’re getting near the end of 2016 so it’s time to start thinking about our practice in 2017.
Yoga Holiday With Paul is scheduled for 23-30 June 2017 in the Algarve. If you have been on previous retreats you know what a rewarding, rejuvenating week lies in store. If you haven’t… this is your opportunity!
Every Yoga Holiday With Paul has core elements:
It is a chance to deepen and expand your practice, challenge your body, open your mind, and experience true relaxation and joy.
You can email YogaHolidayWithPaul@gmail.com to reserve a spot, or for more information. Early bird booking applies!
“Individual peace paves the way for world peace. The attainment of inner calm is the greatest work you can do for humanity” ~Sivananda
Maintaining a calm, positive mindset is difficult in the hectic days before Christmas at the best of times. It is even harder at the end of a tumultuous year that has seen so much antagonism and suffering around the world.
In the face of so much conflict and strife it is easy to feel helpless. Anything we can do seems relatively insignificant in the face of the world’s problems.
Get on the mat.
Yoga is a practice of peace and unity. To create peace and goodness in the world, we need to cultivate it in our own heart, mind and body first.
Every time we step into the studio, or take time for self practice, we are creating peace. The more dedicated we are, the more consistent and mindful our practice, the greater our capacity for connection.
Anxiety spreads. So does peace. We choose what we bring into the world.
Let’s commit to yoga practice and give the gift of peace this holiday season.
Share your ideas for increasing peace in the comments!
Hips are one of the hardest-working joints in the body. Every time we take a step, sit down, stand up, etc we are putting them to work. You might not notice when they’re stiff in the way you notice tight hamstrings or a sore back, but you will feel the difference when they are open and flexible.
This modified variation on Crescent Lunge — Anjaneyasana — stretches the hip flexors and thighs, while also helping to open the abdomen, chest, and shoulders.
A standard pose in many yoga styles, Extended Triangle — Utthita Trikonasana — tones the legs and stretches the hips, groins, and hamstrings. It also opens the chest and shoulders, and helps to relieve lower back pain, stress, and sluggish digestion.
3. Tree Pose
A popular balancing pose, Tree Pose —Vrksasana — stretches the hips, thighs, torso, and shoulders. It builds strength in the ankles and calves, and helps remedy flat feet.
Questions? Need help with a pose? Ask in the comments!