Don’t Forget to Breathe

Fitness
Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Photo Credit: Wari Om Yoga Photography

Starting a new exercise that you’ve always wanted to try, is not dissimilar to asking someone you’ve fancied for ages to go out with you. It takes confidence and you need to build up the courage to make the first move. You are leaving yourself totally exposed, treading on unknown territory and you probably put it off for quite a while. For me, my date was yoga.

Yoga is an exercise I had wanted to try for many reasons but never knew how to go about it. I had always felt intimidated about making the first move, how would I know where to start? What would people think of me? What if I couldn’t do it? I looked up classes and stumbled across different types, which of course, meant nothing to me, so I freaked out and retreated back to my comfort zone. When my friend and I set off across South East Asia last year, yoga was on our bucket list. I finally lost my yoga virginity in Indonesia, in a small bamboo outhouse in Yogyakarta, just me, my companion and a fellow traveller were led by a beautiful french instructor. Finally taking a class made me feel silly for all the worrying and deliberating I had put myself through, I was completely defying the point of yoga. The atmosphere of the class was calm, relaxed and not in the least bit competitive, in fact it was so calm I actually nodded off at the end (this is highly embarrassing and I wouldn’t recommended it, but apparently it happens all the time.)

Now, in slightly different circumstances and certainly a less exotic setting, I have found a yoga class in my hometown and I am a convert. I am only on my second class, so am by no means an expert, but already I feel like a yoga enthusiast.

We practise two different types of yoga in each session, Yin and Yang. Beginning with Yang, which involves more movement and is more strenuous on the muscles, and finishing with Yin, for relaxation. That does not mean however, that the Yin is easy, it can involve holding positions for up to five minutes, which in practice is actually pretty tough.

Two classes down, I have learnt the importance of focusing on breathing and that this may be the best life advice I have ever received. When holding a position, particularly in Yin Yoga, it’s inevitable that wandering thoughts will sneak their way in, this is where you learn to patiently put them to one side, and return back to concentrating on your breathing. Breathing is the only bodily function we are able to control, and it will always be there, taking a moment to reconnect with it is something we should actively practice, and obviously not just in terms of yoga.

What I love about the class is that our instructor drums into us throughout, that every body is different. The more yoga you practice, your body will get used to the stretches and you will find you can push yourself further, but there is no competition.There is no right way to look when you are holding a stretch and there is no shame in not being able to push yourself as far as the person next to you, each of us is made up differently and we all have our own limits. Yoga is individual and unique to each person.

For me, this is what yoga is about, taking time out to feel calm, be myself and absolutely not think about anything else. In turn, I’m hoping this will make me happier, healthier and more productive in other – less calm – aspects of my life.

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Make 2015 Your Best Year Yet

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January is a strange time, we are full of hope for the coming year, full of motivation to kick those bad habits, full of ideas about how we can better ourselves, convinced that this year will be the year we become everything we have always wanted to be. This time last year I wrote about why I didn’t believe in New Years resolutions, that if you want to change something about your life you shouldn’t wait until the start of a new year, do it whenever you like. While I still agree with last year me, this year I have found myself – or rather the underlying anxiety in me – coming up with endless lists of resolutions. These resolutions are not things I need to give up or change, they tend to be things I need to add to my life, in other words, ways to improve myself.

It wasn’t that 2014 was a bad year for me, in fact I would say it was pretty good as years go. I travelled to seven different countries, in Europe, South East Asia and North Africa, with two of the best companions I could ask for. I continued to write and blog and receive inspiring feedback from all of my readers, as well as reaching my highest views yet. I got a new job and I managed to stay healthy.

This said, I still find it much harder to write about the things I did achieve last year compared to the things I didn’t. Therefore, my mind has gone into overdrive with hobbies I must take up, classes I must start attending, books I must write, jobs I must apply for etc. etc.

I am attempting to think rationally, to think about small things that I could add to my life in order to take bigger steps towards what I want to achieve in the long run. So here I’ve shared my list of ideas – notice the lack of the word “resolution” – for how to have the best year yet. Just in case you are feeling overwhelmed by the January expectations too.

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Write – anything and everything. Makes notes, write a blog, start on one of the books I’ve been plotting in my head for years, try a new style of writing, write more poems.

Organise – start organising every aspect of my life, starting by buying a diary then moving on to my laptop, my room, documents, my wardrobe and so on!

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Eat – and enjoy it. Try new foods, new recipes, cook for others and myself. Learn to appreciate and have fun with food – eating isn’t just a necessity, it’s a life skill.

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Meditate – every now and then, make time to take time out.

Clear out – clutter, work my way through my space one draw/cupboard at a time. I have gathered an unhealthy amount of “stuff” over many years. They say a clear space means a clear mind.

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Laugh – all the time. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh and have a positive influence on your life, as I get older it becomes clearer and easier to recognise these people.

Work hard – at every endeavour, give 100 per cent to everything then I can’t blame myself when something doesn’t work out

Worry less – about everything. Shrug things off. Worry less about worrying less.

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Travel – continue to see the world, visit as many new places as possible and take too many photographs.

Have a good one!

Be Mindful for Better Mental Health

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The word Mindfulness is being heard a lot more as part of our everyday language recently, as it has become a successfully proven counselling technique for mental health recovery, but also an increasingly popular technique, used by many for coping with the stress of every day life. Mindfulness was first recommended to me by a dietician about a year ago, as part of my recovery process, but it wasn’t until I tired a mediation class in Yogyakarta, Indonesia that I saw the full extent of how effective therapies such as this can be.

The setting for the class was a stunning Chinese Buddhist temple, in the heart of Yogyakarta, the city which locals and now me, believe to be the heart of Indonesia. To say I was apprehensive as I entered the temple, where there was only the rich, enchanting colours and the flicker of candles for company, would be an understatement. I had not expected it to be a particularly easy experience, but as I cautiously wandered further in, I started to wonder just how much I wanted to try this meditation malarkey.
Eventually I came across a local man, who looked just as confused as I did at my being there, and he led me to the back of the temple where two other local women were waiting for the mediation session.

“It’s our first time too” one of ladies said, in English.

My apprehension turned to relief. As with everywhere and everyone I encountered in Indonesia, it takes barely the time spent saying hello for the locals to make you feel welcomed and comfortable.

The session itself was led by a very tall, very limber local man. As would be expected, we sat, cross legged on cushions facing him, the lights dimmed as he talked us through the initial process of relaxing the body and then the mind. Then we began meditating. I urge you not to be put off by the term meditating, as always there are pre conceived ideas and much scepticism, but if you take away all the judgements and pre conceptions, it is really quite simple. Meditation is different for everyone and it takes many different forms but basically, it is a process in which you completely relax both your body and mind, in order to improve your mental health, clear your mind and live a simpler, clearer life. Still sound silly now?

For me, there was nothing spiritual about meditating. Obviously, it is an important part of some religions and other beliefs about it may be much more extreme, but the fundamental thinking and meaning behind it is something which I feel I could definitely apply to my own life, and no doubt many others could too.

I won’t lie, it is incredibly challenging, to completely empty your mind and remain focused for such a period of time is something which takes endurance and an awful lot of practice and I admired those at the class who had the mental strength to overcome any physical or emotional pain which crept upon them.

After the session was over I was left feeling surprised by my own reaction to it. I realised that during the mediation I had felt very connected to, and at peace with body. I had felt like I had control of my body and that it was a part of me, just as much as my mind is. Afterwards I became aware of how detached from my body I usually am, for me it is a shell I must exist in, a very flawed shell at that. For the first time in a very long time I wanted to take care of my mind and body alike, as though they were one. Me.

I know how ridiculous this sounds to the sceptics reading, who are probably thinking I went away travelling and "found myself." I too would of be one of them if someone else was to write this. It isn’t for everyone, but it is something to think about, and perhaps something that could be used to improve mental health in the chaotic, modern world we live in.>