Yoga blog

7 Tips for Setting up a Daily Meditation Practice

Set aside a time to meditate

Meditation is great in the morning, although equally it can help people get off to sleep. Personally, I like to meditate in the afternoon to avoid the slump and feel rejuvenated. We’re all busy and we have commitments to family, work, friends etc. etc. so choose a time that works for you and stick with it.

 

Make a place where you feel safe and will be undisturbed

We can’t all build yurts in the garden, but if you have a busy house go into your bedroom and shut the door. Be comfortable. You could use a cushion or stack of blankets to sit on, or lie down on the floor or the bed. Make your own little ritual around getting comfortable, it will trigger your mind to relax and make the meditation easier over time.

 

Ensure that you are comfortable (at least at first)

At first it can feel like your mind and body are fighting against the meditation. As soon as you close your eyes your nose itches or you start thinking about what to cook for dinner. That’s normal, don’t beat yourself up about it. But learning to sit with a moderate amount of discomfort is really valuable. In life we can’t always be comfortable, sometimes our muscles might ache from being used, or our joints might ache from wear and tear. Coping with small amounts of pain and discomfort is part of life. And the same goes for mental pain, we can’t be happy all the time and things will sometimes not go the way we want them to. When you get started with meditation sit or lie down and be comfortable, but then start to challenge yourself – try sitting crossed legged without moving. If you feel an itch don’t immediately scratch it, if there’s some slight noise in the background don’t flick your eyes open. Sit with those feelings telling you to stop and move beyond them.

 

 

Use resources to help you

Well you’ve read this far into the guide so that’s a great start using resources!! And this is really the tip of the iceberg, there are loads of books and websites with advice (please see the resources section of the guide). Different strategies work for different people so hunt around and find what works for you.

 

Connect with others trying to add this into their lifestyle

I’d love to hear how your meditation journey is progressing and for us all to bond and connect, working towards being happier, healthier individuals. So why not join my Facebook group and keep in touch. You can also use the #hollysbreathingspacemeditation on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And why not start a little meditation circle with your family or friends?

 

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a day

We’re human and we’re busy. Adding meditation to your life shouldn’t be a chore like taking the bins out. If you missed your time one day because any number of things intervened (or even just because that day you really did not feel like you could be present in that moment and it just didn’t happen for you) that’s ok. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

 

Do come back to it if you miss day

Don’t be hard on yourself, but do come back to it. Building a new habit takes time and effort, but it’s so worthwhile. Get in touch with others to help keep you motivated. Think about why you wanted to start this in the first place. And be thankful for whatever progress and positive change you’ve already seen in your life since starting.

 

Enjoy your meditation journey. If you have any questions or want to share you experiences with me, please do!

Yoga blog

A Beginners’ Guide to Sun Salutations

Sun Salutations are fantastic! They move every muscle and joint, providing a perfect whole body workout, while also warming the body up for other poses (asanas) and increasing strength and flexibility. But they can be the most daunting part of a Yoga class for beginners, so as my next batch of Beginner Courses all start this week here’s my Beginners’ Guide 🙂

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Tadasana

Stand with toes together, heels slightly apart. Inhale and lift arms. If you have low back pain keep a straight back. If not you can squeeze your glutes, draw your abdominals in and lean back as far as comfortable. Then keep your knees soft and bend as much as you need to as you exhale forward into Uttanasana

 

Uttanasana (Forward Fold)

forward fold

Don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on the floor with straight legs. Bend your knees, bend them more… bend them so much that you have your hands on the floor. Putting some weight through the hands takes the pressure out of your lower back. Also in this position lead with your heart, not the crown of your head, so you keep your spine long and allow your chest to remain open so you can take full, deep breaths. From here step one foot back and lower the knee coming into a low lunge.

Aswa Sanchalanasana (Low Lunge)

Low lunge SS

Don’t let the knee come past your toes. If you have any hip injuries keep this position more boxy, if not you can sink your hips forward more coming deeper into the lunge.

There are two options for what comes next:

  1. Bharmanasana (Table)

Table

Any pain in the knees you can double fold your mat under them here. Knees under hips, wrists under shoulders. Spread your fingers. Keep a micro-bend in your elbows so they are not locked out and use your triceps to rotate your inner elbows towards one another.

 

Or

 

2. Kumbhakasana (Plank)

 

Plank

Any pain in the wrists in this position come to the forearms.

 

 

The transitions…

 

In plank lower your knees first so you are in Table. From here you have two options:

  1. Bring your right forearm down, then your left forearm down. Make sure your forearms are relatively wide apart. Then keeping your hips lifted lower your chest down in between them.

Forearms DownForearms down chest down

 

2. Keeping your elbows into your body, lower your chest and your chin. This will require more upper body strength. If this is not available to you now do not give up hope, the best way to get stronger is to practice the first option, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time you are building the upper body strength you need.

Ashtanga Namaskar SS

3. From Plank, roll a little forwards. Keep the elbows into the body and lower yourself in one straight line to the floor. If you find yourself doing a belly flop stick to one of the earlier options to protect your back and build strength.

Chaturanga

NB: I know it can feel like you just want to be able to do everything straight away, but Yoga practice remains fun and interesting because there is always a challenge to be working towards, your body is beautiful and strong just how it is, so never worry about what anybody else is doing.

Bhujangasana (Cobra)

Sphinxcobra-ss.jpg

If you’ve come down forearm by forearm, you may prefer to lift into Sphinx to keep the flow. Equally if you have low back pain Sphinx gives more support. Only lift as high as feels comfortable. Or if you want a deeper backbend, then you can bring the hands alongside the ribs and lift up a little higher.

From here you can push back into Downward Facing Dog. However, pushing back to Downward Dog can be quite strenuous, so you can come through Table pose, tuck your toes under and lift up into it to begin with.

Ardo Mukta Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

Downdog

In this pose don’t worry so much about getting the heels down to the mat. Focus on getting along spine, by pushing actively into the hands and sending your chest and belly back towards the thighs. Spread your fingers, push into the knuckles and fingers. Keep your thighs active, gently pushing your heels down.

 

More transitions…

 

  1. To begin with get used to lowering your knees down from Downward facing dog and coming into Table. When in table you can take hold of the right/left leg and bring it forward into a low lunge. Make sure you assist your ankle so it comes under your knee.
  2. If you have the flexibility you can step your foot all the way forward between your hands from Downward Dog. If it doesn’t quite make it, take hold of the ankle and bring it forward between the hands.

 

From your low lunge, you can then step together into a Forward Bend and rise up to Mountain/Tadasana, closing the sequence by bringing your hands to your heart ❤

 

Happy practicing!

Namaste Hx

 

 

Yoga blog

Ten Yoga Poses to Start Your Day

Do you ever wake up stiff and want a way to quickly rejuvenate and uplift your whole body? Yoga to the rescue. Here’s 10 of my favourite poses which are perfect for first thing in the morning:

  1. Child Pose/Balasana

child pose

Take your knees wide, bring the big toes together and then sink your body back towards the heels. Reach your hands forward, fingers spread stretching out the back, keep the arms active.

Safety: those with knee or hip injuries/conditions may find this pose uncomfortable, it can be modified by adding a blanket below the knees, or staying up on the forearms.

2. Cat & Cow

Ok this is really two poses, but I LOVE them. Great for mobilising the spine and warming up the back after a long night’s lying still. Start in a Table Top (all-fours) position and round your spine up like an angry cat, tucking your chin under. Then to do Cow pose dip in your mid back, open across your collarbones and look up.

Safety: any back conditions of injuries be careful. Don’t do anything which hurts. Small movements can be much better than larger ones which cause pain or discomfort.

3. Downward Facing Dog

DD.jpg

This pose in an inversion, which means it stimulates the thyroid gland, changes the flow of blood and improves circulation… what’s not to love? Oh, and it also tones the legs and arms. To get into downward dog from all-fours tuck your toes under, push into your hands with the fingers spread and lift your tailbone high. Don’t worry if your heels don’t come all the way down to the ground straight away!

Safety: Inversions are not suitable for people with high blood pressure. This pose also puts weight into the wrists, so ensure to push into the knuckles to alleviate some of this pressure.

4.  Cobra

Cobra

This is a gentle backbend. Only lift up as far as feels comfortable. Any pain in the lower back, come straight down! Start by lying on your belly, bring the hands alongside the ribs and then lift the chest up, keeping the shoulders drawn down away from the ears and the shoulder blades pulling together at the back. Keep at least a micro-bend in the elbows not locking out the joints.

Safety: This pose can put pressure on the lower back, if you feel any pain come down out of the pose. There is a variation of Cobra, called Sphinx, where you put your weight in your forearms and lift up just a little, this may be more suitable for those with back conditions/injuries. Do not push into any pain.

5. Warrior II

warrior-ii.jpg

This pose is brilliant, it strengthens the legs and arms, and builds mental focus. Step the feet more than shoulder-width apart, slightly pigeon-toe the feet inwards. Then turn the right foot out, make sure the right heel is in line with the arch of the back foot and then bend the right knee to 90 degrees. Open the hips to the side and lift the arms in line with one another. Gaze over your right middle finger. Make sure you repeat on the left side too!

Safety: those with balance problems should be careful in this pose, perhaps practicing near a wall. If you find it painful to bend your knee so much a lesser bend is fine. A shorter stance will take some of the pressure out of the legs.

6.  Reverse Warrior

Reverse Warrior

This is a gentle backbend, which also tones the legs. From Warrior II, run the back hand down the back leg, lift the front hand high and turn the palm to face behind you. Look up to the palm (or if this hurts your neck look straight ahead). Watch the bend in your front knee, don’t let it disappear as you bend backwards. Make sure you do both sides!

Safety: Any pain in the low back come out of this pose. Looking up will challenge the balance, so be careful and have a wall nearby if you need one.

7. Tree

Tree Pose

This is so great for strengthening the ankles, opening the hips, aids balance and focus. Start by bringing the weight into one foot, then lift the opposite knee, you can keep the toes on the floor with the heel resting against the ankle, bring the foot to the outside of the calf or up onto the inner thigh. Arms can be at the heart or overhead. To challenge your balance look up or… I dare you… close your eyes!

Safety: never put the foot against the knee, the knee tendons are not strong in this direction. If you have knee of hip conditions/injuries stick to a modified version or skip this pose.

8. Forward Bend/Uttanasana

Uttanasana

This is quite an intense back stretch, especially for first thing in the morning so make sure you do the other poses first. Inhale and raise your arms high, as you exhale bend the knee (at least a little bit – don’t lock them out!) and then bring your hands down to the floor. Bend the knees as much as you need to in order to get the hands on the floor and support your low back. From there you can start to straighten the legs (keeping hands on the floor).

Safety: Those with high blood pressure/pregnant should avoid this pose. Instead you can bend half-way down with a flat back using a chair or wall for support.

9. Belly Twist

jathara

My husband calls this pose the Yoga Splat and I know it’s not the best photo ever, but hopefully you get the idea! It’s a lovely supine spinal twist, which releases tension and I love the back stretch. I do this pose at the end of most of my classes. To come into it, lie on your back with your knees up. Zip ankles and knees together and pin your shoulder blades to the floor. Then let both knees come down to one side and look away from them. You can put blankets or cushions under the knees if they don’t reach the floor. If they do reach the floor you can intensify the stretch by extending the top leg and bring the foot down onto the ground.

Safety: those with back/spinal injuries or conditions should be very careful. Check with a doctor about what movements are safe for your back. To modify you can just lower one knee to the side at a time, reducing the intensity of the stretch.

10. Uppanasana

Uppanasana

Hug your knees into your chest. If it’s comfortable rock from side to side massaging the spine into the mat. If it hurts your back to lie down skip this pose or try lying on a blanket.

 

Have a lovely day! ❤ Any questions please get in touch, or join me for a class 😊 Hxx

Yoga blog

Your Yoga, Your Body, Your Option: Or overcoming the ego in Yoga

Ashtanga NamaskarI want to share the story of my journey to being able to perform Chaturanga Dandasana or the bottom of a yoga push up. It was a slow process involving a lot of collapsing to the floor, frustration and self-doubt. That went on for a long time and then I started to do something I wish I’d done years before. That was taking an alternative option – in this case Ashtanga Namaskar or five-pointed bow pose.

It took me so long to choose this option partly because I had almost exclusively done yoga in a gym where the focus had been on strength and power, so no one had ever told me there was an alternative to a belly flop in the middle of my sun salutations. And partly because my ego was getting in the way of my practice and I just wanted to be able to do what the person next to me was doing. The irony is that when I started regularly performing Ashtanga Namaskar I quickly built up the strength for Chaturanga in a way I hadn’t by performing Chaturanga incorrectly.

Options in yoga aren’t there because one pose is better than another, but because every human body is different and there’s no need to rush or force yourself into a posture. Rather than giving in to feelings of inadequacy or skipping a pose, taking an option allows us to participate and build strength for other poses in the future.

The other absolutely fantastic thing about options in yoga is being able to use equipment. Blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, jellies… they are all brilliant and should never be shunned. Using blocks and straps I can achieve variations of Utpluti Dandasana (Floating Stick) and Rajakapotasana (King Pigeon). Maybe one day after using the equipment these poses will be achievable for me. But even if not, I like to remember this quote ‘yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down’. Now I challenge you to go and look up a variation or option of a pose you never thought you’d be able to do and give it a go!

Recipes

Chickpea and Green Bean Salad

Serves 4 (2 if pretty hungry!)

I got back from climbing earlier and I just needed something tasty and quick which wouldn’t make me feel like I had undone all the good of exercising. This was it…

Ingredients:

250g Green beans

Half a red onion

1/4 jar of partially drained sun-dried tomatoes

1 can of chickpeas

1 can of cannellini beans

200g spinach

2 teaspoons of smoked paprika

1/4 of a lemon

1 clove of garlic

Caper berries in brine

salt and pepper

Optional – corn tortillas

Method:

  1. If you want to add crispy tortillas to this recipe just pop them in the oven on about 200 degrees C to crisp up. Remember to take them out when they are crispy! (takes between 5-10 minutes depending on whether the oven is preheated and how strong it is).
  2. Chop the red onion finely and take the tops off the green beans. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes coarsely.
  3. Steam the green beans for a few minutes to your personal preference. I like to keep them with a bit of crunch!
  4. Drain and wash the chickpeas and Cannellini beans, then pour into a microwaveable bowl. Add the chopped red onion and sun-dried tomatoes (with the oil they come in). Add a crushed clove of garlic. Squeeze in the 1/4 lemon. Mix the paprika through
  5. Cover the mixture with the spinach. Microwave for 3-4 minutes.
  6. Mix thoroughly and serve topped with a couple of caper berries and the crispy tortillas 🙂 Enjoy!