Yoga & Meditation

This section is all about looking at different asanas, pranayama and meditation techniques as well as any other methods to help you tune into yourself body, mind and soul.

I started yoga several years ago when I was trawling through YouTube looking for exercise videos. I gave it a go and was particularly drawn to Hatha yoga. My “go to” home practice is based around the Yoga with Adriene online content and community.

As I’ve developed my home yoga and meditation routine, I’ve naturally developed more of an interest in its roots and history, different styles and approaches, the philosophies and shared interests that its followers resonate with, and ways to weave these into my own life connecting with a more authentic and natural part of me.

The principles and practices of yoga as far as I can see, are both simple and effective and pretty inclusive and adaptable to suit all ages, interests and abilities. I say this having not only seen it change my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, but having enjoyed seeing the family embrace it too. Lee and I have taken part in sessions together from the comfort of our own home but so has Mia, who massively enjoys watching Yoga for Kids (also found on You Tube) told through fun and engaging stories. I love it when she asks can she “do some yoga”?

If you’re thinking about starting a yoga and meditation practice of your own, it can seem really overwhelming where to start. I liked YouTube beginner videos as these were slow enough to get familiar with the asanas (postures) and learn different breathing and meditation techniques, free and available whenever I wanted.

You may prefer to attend a yoga beginner’s class in your area or to learn from a book or a friend – it’s important to adapt your practice into something what works for you on every level.

Alternatively, if the meditation side of things is calling to you, why not start with resources such as apps, webites or books introducing you to different types of meditation whether mindful or guided or simply sitting still for a few minutes, in a comfortable position, with your spine straight and your eyes still? As a beginner, (and whenever I feel like it), I often lay down to meditate, which at first feels more natural than the cross-legged style and can be a nice introduction to these topics.

Feel free to browse the articles below for a basic introduction to these topics. Who knew that breathing and stretching properly and regularly could be so life-changing?

What is Yoga?

What is Yoga?

Hint: It’s probably not what you think!

I started yoga as an exercise method about 3 years ago and soon became hooked. By starting out on YouTube and trying different content, I soon began to find favourite styles and teachers. Being naturally curious, (some might say nosy!) I moved to reading up on yoga in books, the internet, apps, wherever I could get my fix really.

What I’ve discovered so far on my yoga journey is that yoga is different for everyone. We all come to the mat for different reasons, at different stages in our lives and with different degrees of flexibility. This seems a good point to mention that traditional yoga is not just about the physical postures or asanas; it includes meditation and pranayama (see the topic on this site for more details), along with bringing yogic philosophies and practices generally into our everyday lives and interactions with our inner-selves, others and the world around us.

The main definition of yoga that I found is that it basically means a union. Definitions vary from person to person again but generally it seems to be a union of the body, mind and spirit, bringing a person into contact with the higher self, the best and most authentic version of themselves, a way of finding peace by coming to know yourself and accept yourself fully.

Of course some people partake purely for the exercise benefits whilst others may start for that reason, like myself, and find themselves drawn to the spiritual side quite unexpectedly. As long as its being practised safely, I don’t feel that there is a “right” way or reason to take part in yoga. That’s the beauty of it.

Historically, yoga began in India, with the word itself being Sanskrit in origin, traditionally thought to mean “to yoke or join”. Precisely when it started seems less clear; a cursory glance around the internet will show more than 5000 years ago, 4000 plus years ago, etc. One thing is clear – it’s been around for a very long time and, in my view, with very good reason – it works!

The purported benefits of yoga are vast, ranging from the physical, (a stronger, fitter, more toned and flexible body), to more stable emotional and mental health, (reduced stress and anxiety) as well as the spiritual benefits connecting you to the world around you and inside of you, (your higher self) leading to a better peace of mind and sense of well-being.

Yoga is so accessible these days – from gyms, to home and even office yoga becoming ever popular. What is important, as with any new exercise regime, is to know your body and seek suitable instruction particularly when first starting with the practice or returning to it after a long hiatus.

I think what frightens many people away from yoga is the thought that they won’t be able to do it – to be fair, many poses that you see someone holding perfectly, you won’t be able to do, (at least not at first) – neither can I! Poses can be adapted and modified to suit your body and abilities and some poses virtually anyone can do. If you can lie down and look like a corpse, congratulations, you can do Shavasana!

Start simple – basic stretches whether lying, sitting or standing with your head aligned over your heart space and pelvis are a great place to begin whilst breathing deeply. If you’re looking to start a home practice, I cannot recommend enough Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Her videos have quite honestly transformed my life over the last few years in ways I wouldn’t have even thought about when I first began my yoga journey.

Why not begin your yoga journey today? I’d love to know how you find it.

What is Meditation?

What is Meditation?

My simple definition and understanding when I practice meditation, is to quiet the mind, turn off the constant thoughts running through my head, or at the very least, to slow them down.

I have to admit, I’d tried meditation numerous times before I really noticed any tangible benefits. I started off sitting cross-legged, back straight as possible, trying not to think. It took many sessions of building up a regular routine of trying to fit it into my life at least a couple of times a week before it became something I looked forward to rather than treated as something I had to do.

Personally, I use YouTube most of the time to find either a meditation or self-hypnosis video that appeals to me at any given time. When I first started, I preferred to lie down and complete a guided meditation as I liked to visualise rather than focus just on my breathing. I also really liked “body-scans” and yoga nidra which is sometimes referred to as a “yogic-sleep” or the stage just before you fall asleep.

I’ve seen many people say how wonderful they find mindfulness as a meditation and I’ve tried this myself. It’s not a style of meditation that has clicked with me yet but I still go back and try it sometimes as it is probably the most accessible whilst out and about or doing other tasks. A good example is when you’re eating, noticing every tiny detail from how the food tastes of course, to how it feels in your mouth, how it smells, its texture, whether it’s crunchy or soft, chewy or hard – essentially slowing down and relishing the experience rather than wolfing down a meal without it touching the sides!

There are also numerous apps that I’ve heard have been really helpful to others who are not really “into” meditation such as Headspace. I’ve not tried it myself but know several people who’ve said how great they’ve found it.

Moving meditations are also possible with yoga and walking good examples of ones I use daily. It never ceases to amaze me how clear my mind is by challenging myself in a few yoga poses or by simply walking up to pick Mia up or drop her off at school.

My suggestion would be to just have a go for a couple of minutes each day for a week. The next week try 5 minutes a day. The goal is just to be yourself without “doing” anything. Don’t try to “not think”. Thoughts will come repeatedly – the trick is to notice the thoughts, let them go and then to return to focusing on the sensation of your breath coming in and out of your body. Whether you sit on the floor, a chair, lie-down or try a moving meditation; whether in complete silence, using an app or some other method, it doesn’t matter as long as you keep your back straight – don’t try to do anything or expect to feel a certain way afterwards. That is not the goal and I find that every session is different. Sometimes I don’t feel any different straightaway; other times I feel much better. It’s important to just accept where you are that day to avoid feeling frustrated that you’re “not doing it right”.

Let me know in the comments how you prefer to meditate. Have you any tips to help beginners or even more advanced methods for those who’ve been practising a while?

What is Pranayama?

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word made up of “prana”, often understood to be life force, and “yama”, meaning to control or work with. Pranayama techniques usually work with the breath, or life force, clearing out physical, emotional and spiritual blockages, so that the life force or prana can move through the body, mind and spirit more freely.

Essentially then pranayama includes breath work exercises that allows energy to flow more easily around the body. It is a practice that I am very new to myself and one that again I have learnt about through Yoga With Adriene and other videos on YouTube as well as various articles on the internet.

There are numerous types but ones that I have used frequently and found particularly beneficial include alternate-nostril breathing, skull-shining breath, Ujjayi breathing and lion’s breath. I’ve found these to have a very calming effect on me whenever I’ve practised them either as part of or instead of the physical Hatha yoga postures.

Up until starting a pranayama practice, I really took for granted all the breaths I took each day. It happens so easily and without thinking, most of the time as an involuntary bodily action, that many of us are so accustomed to it and don’t appreciate how effective different types of breathing can be for us at any given time. Examples of this for me include whenever I come down with a cold and I’m all congested desperately wishing I could breathe “normally” so I can sleep well or after a pleasurable moment, such as a nice meal, when I notice a satisfied sigh, or even when I’m feeling stressed and I’m taking a moment to “count to ten”.

Before starting a pranayama practice, it is again important to know your body and any particular conditions or health issues that may affect you. A good (and recommended) place to start then is to check in with your healthcare provider to ensure that the exercises are suitable for you. This is particularly true for pregnant women, anyone suffering with either low or high blood pressure or heart conditions, diabetes, epilepsy or vertigo.

It is also important never to restrict the breath or to force excessively – the key is to be balanced and to do the best you can when completing the exercise without it feeling difficult to breathe. Over time, you should find the exercises become easier as lung capacity improves. Don’t try to rush the learning process! Take it slowly and carefully and be fully aware of how the exercise is being completed rather than rushing through it. As with any new practice, it will take time for the benefits of the practice to become fully noticeable.

Keeping an awareness as you practice will also be key in identifying any uncomfortable symptoms or dizziness – should this happen I would recommend ending the practice and breathing as normal. Ideally, working with a qualified instructor is the safest and recommended way of learning these techniques.

An easier place to start could be just sitting quietly in a suitable meditation posture for you and practising breathing deeply in and out, keeping your breaths equal and measured for a couple of minutes regularly. Many meditation postures actually use the breath as a focal point during the meditation and you may therefore find that this would be a good place to start for you.

What are Chakras?

What are Chakras?

Chakras relate to the energetic or auric body – that is to say the field of energy surrounding our physical bodies – with the word “chakra” often translated from its Sanskrit origin to mean “wheel” or “circle”. In essence, they are spinning wheels of energy centres said to be located at 7 key points in the body, through which energy flows. Although some people believe that there are more than this, the general consensus tends to focus on 7 chakras as follows:

  1. The Root Chakra (Muladhara) – this is located at the base of the spine (tailbone), is associated with the colour red and the element of earth as well as the wellbeing of your foundation generally e.g. basic survival needs such as access to food, water, shelter and resources. Signs of a blocked root chakra include anxiety, or feeling threatened or unsure, difficulties concentrating, becoming obsessive about one’s health or paranoia in general. Physically it may manifest as feeling low in energy, a sore lower back and feeling cold in the limbs.
  2. The Sacral Chakra (Svadhishthana) – located approximately 2 inches or so below the navel, in the middle of the abdomen, this chakra is linked to creativity, our imagination and artistic endeavours, our sexuality and ability to adapt to changes in our lives. The colour orange and the element of water are associated with the sacral chakra and signs of this being blocked included confusion or worries regarding your sexuality, an unsatisfactory relationship or dissatisfaction in one’s own life and/or an inability to believe in one’s own creative capabilities. Boredom, ennui, a loss of your joie de vivre, low libido along with addictions of all kinds, allergies and urinary issues are also linked to blockages associated with this chakra.
  3. The Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura) – based at the top middle of the abdomen and associated with the colour yellow and the element of fire. Linked to our “personal power”, self-esteem and determination, our inner-knowing, independence and accomplishments. Negatively affected, one can feel low self-esteem and confidence, social anxiety, a tendency to dwell on real or imagined failures, a feeling of not being “good enough” in some way. Physical blockages relate to memory problems and issues with the digestive system.
  4. The Heart Chakra (Anahata) – the heart space linked to the colour green and the air element. Related to feelings of love and compassion, empathy for others, being open emotionally with an inner peace and understanding of one’s own emotions. Where blocked there can be relationship breakdown, grief, bereavement, problems relating to others and trust issues, with physical problems said to be low immune system and high blood pressure related.
  5. The Throat Chakra (Vishuddha) – Found in the middle of the throat area related to the colour blue and the ether element. How you express yourself, are authentic, direct and emotionally honest. When balanced, you find it easier to say what you mean and to communicate well. Signs of a blockage here include being misunderstood, difficulties expressing yourself and arguments. Physical manifestations are related to neck pain, hormonal imbalances and sore throat symptoms.
  6. The Third Eye Chakra (Ajna) – Located in the brow centre, linked to the colour of indigo and the element of extra sensory perception (ESP). When unblocked, intuition works well along with a feeling of connection with universal energies and being less concerned with day-to-day worries. An experiencing of greater synchronicity and gut feelings and hunches panning out are said to be linked to this chakra working well whilst misalignment is related to feelings of doubt regarding your life’s purpose or a “head over heart” mentality. Other signs of blockage include indecisiveness, a lack of faith or psychological blocks. Physically, it can show itself as clumsiness, difficulties in learning or sleep-related problems.
  7. The Crown Chakra (Sahasrara) – Situated at the very top of the head, associated with the violet colour and the thought element. It is the highest chakra related to one’s spiritual connection. When unblocked it leads to a feeling of peace, being in love with one’s life and the beauty all around us, feeling joyful and abundant spiritually. When negatively influenced, it leads to doubts regarding one’s purpose and life, depression, seeing the world in “shades of grey”, a lack of motivation or excitement with life. Physical symptoms include headaches or migraines as well as dexterity issues.

In order to “unblock” a chakra/chakras many people undertake “energy work” to clear their chakras using techniques such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, aromatherapy, reiki, pranayama, acupuncture and the like.

The idea of chakras is an ancient Indian concept found in important Hindu texts such as the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is also found in traditional Chinese medicine in a similar system, but is then referred to as qi or chi energy. In comparison, in the West it is a relatively new concept that is rapidly and deservedly gaining traction.

I have been undertaking energy work myself for only a short while but have most definitely felt the benefits. As I continue to benefit from the daily practices I engage in such as yoga, meditation and pranayama, I do feel more in touch with my energetic body such that it is becoming more apparent if one of the chakra centres is not working as well as it might. I have had treatments such as “stone-healing” as well as using apps and again YouTube meditations and yoga videos which have been surprisingly effective too.

Up until the start of 2019 when I reduced a number of habits I had that I felt were no longer working for me, I did indeed feel “blocked”. Some work particularly on the sacral chakra, led to me feeling more inspired in my life, one of the results of which is this blog and website! I should say that this was not an overnight change! Why not have a think about areas in your own life in which you feel challenged in some way? Which of the chakras listed above does it seem to fit with? Maybe undertake some energy work or healing yourself in a way that suits you and let us know in the comments below what has worked for you? Who knows, sharing your experiences could really help others in feeling “unblocked”.

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