Happy Tree Pose Simple home yoga practice for finding balance everyday


Home Sweet Yoga

Happy Friday friends!

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I have some fantastic news, I have finally launched my new business! 

Home Sweet Yoga – Build a unique yoga practice, so you can feel confident, calm & comfortable in your own skin.

Home Sweet Yoga connects you with experienced, highly qualified yoga teachers to practice in the comfort of your own home. You can set up a group class with your friends and family, or benefit from one on one attention and focus. Alternatively, for those of you who aren’t located in Sydney, you can set up an online consultation with one of our experts online!

We’re on a mission to reframe the way we approach yoga – you are unique, your practice should be too.

So excited and happy to be able to share this with you, I do hope you’ll join the growing tribe over on Facebook.

This business is the result of months of work brainstorming, writing, long discussions with friends and family. There were many chats over coffee, tea and the occasional wine about how I wanted to make a difference, and what I found frustrating about the current yoga teaching model.

I love yoga and the amazing things the practice has done for me, but there is no one style/brand/teacher who suits me to a T. I have to mix it up depending on my current health, stress levels and lifestyle. I enjoy teaching general hatha vinyasa classes and yin classes, but I still felt that what these students need is something more…. Something tailored, a practice that suits them and their unique needs.

I started teaching privately. Just a couple of groups at first, friends, family, colleagues.

Bingo.

It was clear – I had found my niche! No one session is the same with my private clients, no one approach to asana will work for all of them and each person needs a different blend of the yoga practices for their body/mind. The idea for Home Sweet Yoga was born.

FBHSYHome Sweet Yoga can help you build a personalised practice that’s uniquely tailored for your needs. We offer group classes and private classes here in Sydney, with highly qualified and experienced yoga teachers. Alternatively, we will consult with you over Skype to help you solve any yoga problems or to help you take the practice deeper. Our signature package is the Build Your Home Practice – 6 sessions either face to face or over Skype to build your home practice, customised to help you experience yoga using the methods that are right for you. 

I’m on a mission – I want to change the way we approach yoga. Let’s move away from a reliance on certain styles and types of classes, to take ownership of our practice and make sure it works for us.

You wouldn’t take your Mum’s prescriptions, you wouldn’t follow your partner’s personal training regime – why should you practice yoga exactly as someone else has had it work for them?

It’s time the industry matured – away from competing with the aerobics classes, towards a professional personalised approach. Ironically, this requires us to remember how yoga was initially taught by one of the Grandfathers of yoga, Sri Krishnamacharya.

“He always taught what was appropriate for each individual.  The purpose and the capability of the person determined the practice.  He always designed the practice depending on the person and the purpose.” ~ From this article on the legacy of Krishnamacharya.

This is why an Iyengar class is so different from an ashtanga session – Krishnamacharya gave BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois different practices to suit each of their individual needs! They then took their routines out to the world, teaching students yoga as they knew it, based on what worked for them.

While this brought yoga to the rest of us, it set the trend for yogis to claim that their way of practicing is THE next way for students to follow – think anasura, jivamukti, shiva’s flow, baron’s power. Is it any wonder that my body/mind doesn’t fit with any of these approaches exactly? Why should it, given that this is not the way yoga was ever intended to be taught?

Home Sweet Yoga will focus on connecting experienced teachers with students who want an individualised approach, a yoga practice that is designed just for them. I suppose the one slight exception would be the private group classes that we offer, but even then with a small group I feel it is easier to modify for each individual student. These classes are perfect for groups such as mothers groups, or close friends who are of a similar age and fitness level.

So far the other yogis I have on board are incredible, with a yoga therapy background and a committment to working with students from all backgrounds and abilities.

Above all I want to help more people establish their OWN practice. Something they feel at home and comfortable with, and confident practicing. These days the question “Do you practice yoga” is usually followed by “oh, what style?”. I think it would be amazing if we could replace this with “Do you have a yoga practice” then “What does that include at the moment for you?”.

Your practice will grow with you over time, shift and deepen and consistently offer you the chance to experience yoga, even if the precise methods you use vary as the years pass.

“The spirit of viniyoga is starting from where one finds oneself. As everybody is different and changes from time to time, there can be no common starting point, and ready made answers are useless. The present condition must be examined and the habitually established status must be re-examined.”

– TKV Desikachar

All of this exciting news and discussion brings me back to this blog, and to you lovely reader. I have decided to end my Happy Tree Pose journey, so that I can focus on Home Sweet Yoga and pour my energy into growing this business and vision.

This will be my last blog post here.

Some of the content from here will move over the the HSY blog in the new year (I’m currently developing the full website, this current one is just the first iteration!) and when I do that, I will be redirecting happytreepose.com to my new blog.

I want to thank you for reading and supporting me over the past couple of years. Blogging has introduced me to so many fabulous people, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey Happy Tree Pose started me on! From law school to entrepreneurship, yoga and blogging have supported me the whole way through.

I do hope you’ll join me on this next phase of the adventure, and feel free to get in touch – hello@homesweetyoga.com.au – with any questions, support, just want to say hello etc!

You’ll still find me on Twitter, Instagram and my brand new Facebook page too!

All the best, have a beautiful weekend and I’ll see you over on the other site xxxx

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22 Ways to Feel Better

Taking time to practice self-care might sound corny, but when the going gets tough, knowing a few things that you can do to lift your spirits can be really handy. In times of stress we need ways to unwind and restore our energy more than ever.

Trouble is, when life gets you down and the stress builds up, it can be hard to remember to practice small acts of self-care. To take time to relax & be present, to try to do things that make us feel good.

“Our way to practice is one step at a time, one breath at a time.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki

I’ve had a rough week. I won’t go into details here because it’s all family dramas and sad news, but late on Monday afternoon things got a little darker, and a little ball of tension formed at my core. Yesterday afternoon I managed to escape to the coast for an hour after spending time with my family, and then I set aside an hour for restorative yoga when I got home. Slowly this ball of stress loosened, and I’m ready to take a deep breath and keep going.

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I’m so very thankful that I know myself well enough now to know what I need when stress begins to mount, so grateful for the lessons of the past. I managed to cut back on my commitments to make time for sea air, the company of a dear friend and yoga. My very own self-care must-haves.

Last night, I was trying to think of things my Mum could do to feel better at the moment (as I said, the whole family is suffering currently) and I started a list. I emailed her these ideas. This morning I decided to share them here with you, as these are universally good things to do when the shit hits the fan or you are generally feeling blue! I hope they help in some way.

Feel free to pass along to a friend who might need some self-care inspiration, or bookmark for a rainy day :)

Here are 22 things you can do to feel better:

1. Move your body – get your yoga mat out, go for a walk, take the bike for a spin. The key is to get out of your head and into your body for a while. Plus exercise releases all the good chemicals that help you feel better naturally! Win win.

2. Borrow a box set or download a complete season of a new show (recommendations include Orange is the New Black, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation).

3. Make and eat this: Breakfast Polenta.

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4. Browse here: http://imgur.com/r/aww/

5. Make a good pot of tea. Theanine in tea helps calm you down, it’s science. Also, tea is just generally lovely.

6. Sit and meditate, even just for 3 minutes. Here’s my simple how to guide, and here’s a really interesting article about how meditation works.

“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

7.  Make popcorn from scratch, add macadamia oil, salt and maple syrup. YUM.

8. Paint your nails a ridiculous colour. Or (even better) treat yourself and get someone to paint them for you.

9. Lie on your bed and rest your legs up against the wall. Possibly nap. Probably wake with a start as your legs fall off the wall when you fall asleep. Feel better either way.

10. Eat chocolate. Or drink hot chocolate. Basically – chocolate.

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11. Drive to the sea. Sit and stare out at the ocean and smile at the fact that you get to sit and stare at the ocean right now. That’s pretty special. While you’re there, breathe deep. Fresh & salty sea air – there’s really nothing like it.

12. Message someone you haven’t spoken to in a while just to ask how they’re doing at the moment. You’ll brighten their day.

13. Re-watch When Harry Met Sally or Love Actually. With chocolate. Or popcorn. You can invite me over too 😉

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14. Browse a few of your favourite blogs. This one, this one and this one perhaps.

15. Go to bed early but make a ritual of it – shower, turn off all electrical devices, cleanse/tone/moisturise, read a book, journal, maybe do some bed-time yoga then fall into bed.

16. Alternatively, if you are up for it, organise a night out with friends who make you feel good. Or a brunch/lunch/afternoon tea. Pick people who make you smile, laugh and feel great about life. Not those friends who make you feel inferior, like you don’t quite stack up and don’t really fit. Nope.

17. Do 10 minutes of yoga in your underwear at home. Trust me.

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18. Write a post card to a friend overseas. Even if they are originally from your town, they will smile when they receive a touristy post-card, and will appreciate the sentiment.

19.  Treat yourself to a bunch of bright & beautiful flowers.

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20. Pull that book you have read dozens of times off the shelf and re-read.

21. Take three deep breaths and sigh loudly on each exhale. Feel your shoulders relax as you do so.

22. Book a massage or a restorative yoga session. Something passive for your body that will leave you feeling good, and help relieve some physical tension.

At the end of the day, try to remember that everything passes eventually – the clouds make way for the sun and the waves calm. This too shall pass, you just need to take it one breath at a time.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” ~ Albert Einstein

I’m going to take my own advice now and wash my hair, paint my nails, do some yoga and make popcorn. Probably not in that order.

 

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The Art of Slow Blogging

Just wanted to pop a quick note here on the blog to explain the shift in pace over the last few months. Gradually, I have been trying to slow everything down in my life. I used to operate at a truly frenetic pace. A few years ago I had two jobs, two volunteering roles and a host of social commitments, and spent my time dashing from coffee to drinks to work again.

Nowadays I am trying to focus my attention on a select few projects at a time, and savour my minutes and hours.

Life in the slow lane, it feels good.

Which brings me to this blog. From time to time I feel insecure about the consistency and quantity of my posts. As a recovering perfectionist, I’m aware that I don’t follow the golden rules of mega bloggers – post consistently, don’t post rambling crap and stay on topic. I write when I feel inspired to do so, which sometimes means a good rambling exploration of a topic that interests me and occasionally means nothing for a week or two. Further, the focus has shifted from just yoga to mindfulness, minimalism and my life in general.

You know what? Screw it. I’m not here to make money from this blog, I’m here to provide interesting & inspirational info to you guys – the people who show up to read it. I love writing and creating here, I do it for the fun of it.

So I’m embracing the art of slow blogging. I will post once a week, twice on occasion, and I will take a break when I need to. I promise I’ll only post when I want to – when I feel like sharing bits & pieces from my life, or when I think you might benefit from any insight I gain on my travels.

Sound good?

Do any of my fellow blogging friends agree that the pressure to be perfect gets in the way of creating decent content sometimes?

Have a fabulous weekend everyone!

xx

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Drop Your Baggage to Be Here Now

We humans are fantastic at planning for the future, and building on the knowledge of the past. This ability to consider other times, to imagine and reflect, sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, and has enabled us to build the modern world we live in now. Clearly, reflection and planning are good things.

One thing yoga and meditation have taught me over the years though, is that it feels really good to turn this ability off once in a while.  To let go of thoughts of the past, or plans and dreams for the future and to simply BE.

I was listening to a dharma talk recently (discussion before or after meditation) and the person who was speaking shared a lovely analogy…

Imagine yourself walking along a dusty road. In your right hand you are holding a huge bag – this is labeled PAST. In the left another large suitcase – this one labeled FUTURE. Becoming present, even for a moment, is like putting those bags down and giving your body a rest.

Your mind needs a rest from ruminating on past events and planning for the future. That’s where mindfulness comes in.

When we practice meditation (or yoga for that matter) we practice letting go of thoughts of the future and the past, for a moment, a few minutes, an hour. Eventually, continued contemplative practice allows you to lengthen this time, and perhaps, gradually you might be able to practice mindful awareness of the present more and more in your daily life.

Drop the bags, breathe deep.

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Relief and ease are available to us in this very moment. We can choose to pull ourselves into the present, and switch off the overactive brain – if just for a moment.

Try it now – close your eyes (at the end of this sentence!) and take 4 deep breaths, counting to 4 on the inhale, pausing, counting to 4 on the exhale, pausing and then starting again.

Feel better?

Let the breath be an anchor to the present moment. Allow it to remind you that you are getting tired, and need a break from hauling the baggage you carry with you.

Life can feel lighter, with practice.

I hope this little mid-week inspiration serves you well!

(Image by Andrew Stawarz)

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43 Books You’ll Love: Part Two

Hola & happy Wednesday!! 

Finishing this list of all the (non-fiction) books I’d highly recommend took a while, but we got there in the end…

Below are some of my favourite business/entrepreneurial, inspirational and generally freaking awesome books. 

If you missed part one, with my recommended reading for all things yoga and meditation, you can check it out here.

OK, let’s get started…

 

BUSINESS

The Fire Starter Sessions

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“You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge.”

Danielle LaPorte is one of those amazing writers who can really get you fired up, ready to take on the world, and you feel like you’d have a fucking awesome time doing it too. I recommend the Fire Starter Sessions to anyone looking to venture out on their own in business, or simply anyone who wants to start living on their own terms. A must read in this category!

 

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The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World

I wanted Chris Guillebeau’s life after reading this book, and he lays out exactly how he achieved it. Travelling the world, living on his own terms and making money doing work he loves  – yep, does sound like he has stuff figured out! AONC is a deceptively light book – easy to read, but it still delivers really great information and motivation. Fab.

 

Rework: Change The Way You Work Forever

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“When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.”

I read rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson a few years ago, and it’s time for a reread. The founders of 37signals lay out their ideas for how to launch and grow a successful business, and how to rethink the way we work. It really opened my mind and kickstarted my entrepreneurial drive.

 

The 4-Hour Work Week4hrww

One of the original books that inspired me to find a way to live life on my own terms, and work in a way that still allowed me to enjoy myself, the 4hrWW by Tim Ferris is a great book for any entrepreneur. Full of practical advice and ideas for how to set up your own thing, I couldn’t write a list of books on business that I love without including this.

 

The War of Art

warart1Steven Pressfield’s excellent book, The War of Art is one to pick up if you’re feeling stuck, resistant, or suffering writers block. His approach to getting the work done is straight forward and powerful if you can implement it. He’s clearly a master of his craft, and this book was a great help to me last year.

 

To Sell Is Humansellhuman1

Dan Pink’s book offers a great dose of insight for anyone who thinks selling is sleazy. Anyone who is reluctant to push their product or services, instead hoping miraculously that people will find them (*ahem*). Pink illustrates how selling is human, and we all do it all the time. Powerful reading!

 

Purple Cow

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“We’ve been raised with a false belief. We mistakenly believe that criticism leads to failure. From the time we get to school, we’re taught that being noticed is almost always bad. It gets us sent to the principal’s office, not to Harvard”

Seth Godin is a master of marketing, and this is a classic text for anyone starting or running a business. What can I say – Purple Cow, read it.

 

Make Your Idea Matter

makeideamatter1Loved this book!! I love Bernadette Jiwa’s blog and get her newsletter every day. In fact, her emails, along with Seth Godin’s updates, are the only ones I always read without fail. Fabulous advice on every page, Jiwa asks you to consider the story behind your business rather than the details of what you are offering.

 

 

The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level

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“The goal in life is not to attain some imaginary ideal; it is to find and fully use our own gifts.”

This great book by Gay Hendricks was recommended to me by the lovely Rachel of In Spaces Between.  Hendricks reveals how our fears and limitations hold us back from living our best life, and achieving what we want to achieve. I learnt so much about myself from reading this!!

 

GENERAL INTEREST

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Mealsomnivore1

As a former vegetarian, and huge supporter of ethical farming (we could debate these topics for a long time over a nice bottle of wine) this book gave me much to think about. Michael Pollan traces his food back to the source, considering how much corn is in everything we eat as well as the ethics of killing animals for food. Definitely deserves a spot on your bookshelf (or ebook reader).

Pale Blue Dot

palebluedot1Let me start by saying, Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan are heros of mine. He was super intelligent, eloquent and passionate about the importance of science on our quest for meaning. Pale Blue Dot reminds us of our insignificance yet also of our importance as star stuff made conscious. A must red for anyone who loves to have their brain stretched a little, or anyone who wants to know more about our world.

 

Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourselfmindmed1

I read this book in one (long) sitting, because I couldn’t put it down. Lissa Rankin managed to appeal to me on a rational this-makes-so-much-sense level, as well as a gut level where I found myself nodding along thinking yes-yes-YES! If you suffer from anything long-term, a must read. Insightful stuff.

 

A Universe from Nothing

universenothing1For anyone who still thinks we need the idea of God to explain how we got from nothing to the big bang – read this book. Laurence Krauss is a physicist who can eloquently explain the complex reality of how mathematical truths required something to come from nothing. Makes for an excellent (if sometimes controversial) gift!

 

INSPIRATION

The Little Book of Contentmentlittlebook1

Leo Babauta’s latest book, The Little Book of Contentment, is designed to be read in one sitting, over a cup of tea. That is definitely the best way to approach it, and it will leave you feeling refreshed, inspired, and maybe even smiling.

 

Seeking the Sacredseekingsacred1

Beautiful, poetic, heart-stirring stuff. Stephanie Dowrick is one of my favourite authors, and this book left me feeling warm and open. Even as a non-believer in all things other-worldly or supernatural, I still really enjoyed this book, and the insightful way she suggests we can learn from religions without having to believe.

 

Daring Greatly

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“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Oh Brene Brown, you are so wonderful! Daring Greatly encourages us to be vulnerable, open, honest with ourselves and the world. Only then can we hope to live a wholehearted life. A must read.

 

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff–and it’s all small stuff

dontsweatsmallstuff1This is a classic self-help text that I was given as a gift almost a decade ago. Richard Carlson has broken his advice down into manageable, bite-sized chapters with titles like “See the glass as already broken (and everything else too” and “Think of what you have instead of what you want”. I find myself dipping in and out as I walk past it on the bookshelf, and have read a chapter (or ten) out in yoga class too.

 

My Stroke of Insightstrokeinsight1

“I love knowing that I am simultaneously as big as the universe and yet merely a heap of star dust.”

I’ve posted Jill Bolte-Taylor’s amazing Ted talk here before, but the book is even more interesting. The story of a brain scientist’s experience of stroke, and how it lead to the life she leads now. Amazing. Truly inspirational stuff.

 

Tiny Beautiful Thingsdearsugar1

I would love to have Cheryl Strayed over for a cup of tea and a good long chat. After reading this book I feel like she was speaking directly to me at times, and to everyone, all of us. Strayed’s other book Wild
is also freaking incredible, but I have raved about it a lot already on social media and in real life, so I thought I’d mention Tiny Beautiful Things here instead. Read it.

 

How to Be a Woman

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“What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are.”

I can’t say this enough – I fucking loved this book and it’s a MUST read for ALL women. Seriously. Hilarious, thought provoking and guaranteed to make you put it down and declare – of COURSE I’m a feminist! Fuck yes. Seriously, read, pass on to all of your girlfriends/mums/sisters and then read it again.

 

Well, that’s all folks!!

Do you have any must-reads you’d like to suggest I read? I’m always on the lookout for new books, such a nerd :)

Have a lovely week everyone xx

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43 Books You’ll Love: Part One

Students and friends often ask me to recommend yoga and/or mindfulness books. Last year I posted about 5 classic yoga texts, but it’s high time I expanded that list!

This isn’t a completely comprehensive list of all the books I’ve read or am reading about these subjects, but those listed here are a fantastic place to start. If you have any questions, or would like to recommend any others, feel free to leave a comment!

I have divided the books into three categories – yoga, mindfulness & inspiration. It turns out the list (35 books in total) was far too long for a single post, so this is part one – the books I love, and I hope you’ll love, about yoga, meditation and mindfulness.

YOGA

These are some of the books on yoga that I have collected over the years, and return to again and again…

Yoga Ph.D.

Carol Horton’s eloquent exploration of yoga as we know it today asks many questions I have asked myself over the years. How can yoga be both an ancient spiritual practice, and a $6 billion booming industry ripe for commercialisation? Why does yoga hold such appeal, beyond physical fitness?

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“At it’s best, there’s a creative energy at play in yoga today; a sparking of the inherent energies of mind and body in ways that can feel both mysteriously timeless and immediately, even absurdly, contemporary.”

If you ever wanted to contemplate the whys andhows of modern yoga practice, I definitely recommend reading Yoga Phd. It left me thinking about modern yoga’s evolution into what we practice today, and sparked an internal debate around the idea of conscious expansion and ancient yogi notions of freedom. All in all, well worth a read.

 

Insight Yoga

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This book by Sarah Powers has become frayed at the edges because I refer to it so often when I teach! The yin-yoga bible of sorts, it also contains instructions and suggestions for a yang style (more dynamic) practice and meditation. She has a way of writing that is very easy to follow and understand.

The poses are well illustrated with step-by-step photos and whole sequences (long and short) are laid out for you. This book is for anyone who wants to practice yin on a more regular basis, or would like to know more about Sarah’s investigations into the interplay between yoga and the meridian system of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

 

Jivamukti Yogajivamukti1

This was the first yoga book I bought and I return to it again and again. Sharon Gannon and David Life are truly inspirational yogis, and their message of love and freedom is motivating and uplifting.

They are clearly passionate and committed yogis, just being in the same room with them encourages you to get back on the mat and let the magic happen.

 

Fierce Medicine

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“Every time you stalk your fear and choose life instead of oblivion, you’ll begin to reclaim the parts of you that have been blocked off.”

Ana Forrest is one of my yogi crushes. She’s just wonderful. I’d love to study with her one day. Her story is inspirational, and in this book she invites you to experience her tumultuous journey from addiction, trauma and fear to fierce strength and determination.

I love her no-nonsense approach to yoga -get on your mat, practice, connect with your breath and harness your inner power. Hell yes!

 

Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachingskrishnamacharya1

The teacher of our teachers, Krishnamacharya lead a fascinating life and helped bring yoga to the world. His students included B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois (of ashtanga yoga), Indra Devi, Desikachar,  Mark Whitwell and more.

This biography, written by one of his long-term students A.G. Mohan sheds light on the life of this yoga master and reflects back on his memories of time spent studying with him.

 

Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind

“By staying present we find threads of connection between the sensations, emotions, thoughts and memories that shape how we feel about, and respond to experience.”

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I thoroughly enjoyed this intelligent and eloquent book by Julian Walker. Much like Horton, Walker uses examples that really resonated with me and steers away from anything too new-age or hard to accept.

Yoga here is explored through the lenses of thought and feeling, and we are encouraged to embrace the complex reality of human experience on the mat. I’d recommend this for any yoga teachers out there, or yogi’s who are looking for a home practice gorunded in rational thought and interesting ideas.

 

Mindfulness Yogaminfulnessyoga1

Mindfulness Yoga by Frank Jude Boccio urges us to stay present as we practice, and weaves ideas from Buddhist philosophy seamlessly into a balanced approach to yoga.

With an emphasis on staying curious and aware throughout the asana practice, and making time to sit for meditation, Boccio’s ideas have greatly influenced my approach to teaching. If you are interested in combining meditation and mindfulness with yoga and an asana practice, then you should definitely read this informative and eloquent book.

 

Yoga of Heart

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Yoga of Heart by Mark Whitwell is a book about the simple beauty of a yoga practice. Mark asks us to remember that to practice yoga is to be present, with the breath, and the body just as it is. We fully inhabit our life through body mind and breath on the mat at that moment. This is another must-read for anyone who wants to take their practice deeper.

 

Yoga Body

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I’m not exaggerating when I say that Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body, shook my long-held beliefs about yoga to the core. I discovered that the asanas (postures) we practice aren’t ancient, but come from body building and stretching methods of the early 20th century. I learnt that many yogins of the past were outsiders in Indian society, feared and avoided. He revealed the complex truth about the modern postural practice we take today – it reflects our needs, collectively, as a society and is not a direct descendant of an ancient art as many believe.

If you are keen to know the history of the practice we call yoga, this is an absolute must read.

 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

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“The primary text of Raja Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of PatanjaliSutra literally means “thread”, each sutra being the barest thread of meaning upon which a teacher might expand by adding his or her “beads” of experience, example, etc. for the sake of the student.”

This classic text is one of the foundations of yoga philosophy today, and you will hear it referenced by many modern teachers. Patanjali’s sutras form the basis of our understanding of path of yoga, as taught by Krishnamacharya. Sr Swami Satichinanda’s commentary on the sutras is a traditional but understandable approach to the ideas behind the threads of knowledge Patanjali shares.

 

Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit

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Donna Farhi’s classic book on yoga was a core text for my yoga teacher training, and I still quote from it regularly. Farhi carefully explores the physical and mental aspects of a well-rounded yoga practice. In particular she offers beautiful guidance for correct alignment, explaining the principles of yielding to the earth and radiating from the core. This will be a classic for years to come, and certainly deserves a space on a yogi’s bookshelf.

 

21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice21st-yoga

This fabulous collection of pieces from some of the best writers on modern yoga was a fascinating read! Edited by Carol Horton & Roseanne Harvey (of It’s All Yoga Baby), 21st century yoga looks at exactly that – our modern practice, feminism and yoga, politics, commercialisation of yoga and more. A great read from start to finish.

 

Light on Life

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B.K.S. Iyengar’s first book, Light on Yoga is also a classic text for yogis, but I particularly enjoyed Light on Life that he wrote a few years ago. Here Iyengar, one of the first yoga masters in the west, offers his wisdom and advice drawn from a life of practicing yoga. He offers a fantastic overview of yoga philosophy as it relates to real life, and advice for practitioners on and off the mat.

 

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillnessspiritstillness1

I would love to practice with Eric Schiffman one day. His approach to yoga seems so open, free and loving all at once. In this book he describes the sense of stillness in motion that a yoga practice can help you achieve – like a spinning top, perfectly centred. This idea really resonated with me, when you are participating wholeheartedly in the present moment, it feels as if the world stands still yet you are still moving, dynamic, alive.

“When you experience yourself in stillness – that is, when you give your undivided attention to experiencing the truth about you – you will experience the conflict-free, calm, dynamic peace of perfectly centred abundant life energy.”

 

The Heart of Yoga

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Another classic text, written by T.K.V. Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya. The Heart of Yoga delves into yoga philosophy, correct sequencing of asanas as well as pranayama and meditation. This is another of the books that every teacher should probably own, and well worth a read for any dedicated yogi.

 

MEDITATION & MINDFULNESS

My interest in meditation and mindfulness began around five years ago. Learning to be more present in my life has helped me tremendously, and these are some of the books that have taught me how…

The Miracle of Mindfulness

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“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”

Thich Nhat Hanh’s classic book was the first one I ever read on mindfulness, and it’s fair to say it helped save me from the grips of an eating disorder. My therapist recommended it, and each week we would take time in our session to practice one of the meditations. The way he explains the art of mindful attention is easy to follow and the meditations he suggests are simple yet profound. We are encouraged to pay mindful attention in every moment of our life – whether washing the dishes, going for a walk or chatting to a friend on the phone. This book is a must read for anyone interested in mindfulness.

 

The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindnessstartwhereyouare1

“The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we already are.”

Again, I’m not exaggerating when I say that reading Pema Chodron’s books changed my life. Pema writes eloquently and honestly about self-compassion and awareness, gently encouraging you to drop your guard and embrace all aspects of yourself. My copy of this book is almost four years old and coming apart – full of underlined sections, folded corners, and worn from cover to cover. I often quote from this book when teaching, and can pick it up and reread often.

 

Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Changepema2

Yep, I love her books so much I’m mentioning another one. Chodron’s latest book is about coping with uncertainty and change in modern life. She encourages us to stay open to all experiences, cultivate compassion for others and eventually learn to embrace the feeling of groundlessness as liberating instead of frightening. A must read for any anxiety sufferers or those looking to push back at fear.

 

The Buddha Walks into a Bar . . .buddhabar1

Londro Rinzler offers a fresh modern approach to fundamental Buddhadharma, and suggests practical ways we can incorporate ideas from Buddhist philosophy into our daily lives. This books is a great light-hearted read for anyone interested in mindfulness and Buddhist concepts, and will ease you into a discussion of philosophy without diving deep into the more complex concepts.

 

The Power of Nowthe-power-of-now1

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”

I feel like Eckhart Tolle’s classic book needs no introduction, but I had to include this on the list! If you haven’t read the Power of Now I highly recommend you do. Tolle writes in a very open and relatable way about profound ideas. Enough said!

 

A Path with Heart

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“As we encounter new experiences with a mindful and wise attention, we discover that one of three things will happen to our new experience: it will go away, it will stay the same, or it will get more intense. whever happens does not really matter.”

I was first introduced to Jack Kornfield by one of my earliest, and loveliest, of yoga teachers who used to quote from this book all the time. Kornfield’s words are comforting and insightful and this book offers guidance for any who wish to take their mindfulness practice deeper. Whether you are a committed practitioner or new to the ideas of yoga and Buddhism, this classic definitely deserves a spot on your bookshelf.

 

Buddha’s Brainbuddhabrain1

Perfect for science nerds and lay-people alike, Rick Hanson’s in-depth look at the neuroscience behind Buddhist ideas of meditation is a fascinating book. I don’t have a science background, but I found this so very interesting, it offers explanations for many of meditations beneficial effects, and great reasons to maintain a regular practice.

 

Radical Acceptancetarabrach1

“Imperfection is not our personal problem – it is a natural part of existing.”

This was another key text along my journey to self-acceptence. Tara Brach is a leading Buddhist scholar, teacher and therapist and her classic text on total self-acceptance speaks to anyone who has struggles with doubt and insecurity (which is most of us!). You’ll be encouraged and uplifted, and reassured that really, fundamentally, you’re beautiful and deserve love. Yup, soppy but important.

 

Full Catastrophe Livingfullcatliving1

No discussion of mindfullness would be complete with reference to Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has spear-headed the acceptance of mindfulness practice into mainstream mental health care, with his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course that runs in hospitals across the world. This book is a great introduction to his work, and well worth a read.

 

The Dude and the Zen Masterdudezen1

“In Zen we say that the other shore is right here under our feet. What we’re looking for – the meaning of life, happiness, peace – is right here. So the question is no longer, how do I get from here to there? The question is: How do I get from here to here?”

I loved this light-hearted book from Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman! As a big big fan of the Big Lebowski and the Dude, I was keen to read this book. I found myself smiling and nodding the whole way through, as both Bridges and Glassman broke complex ideas down into totally relatable conversations. They covered meditation, death, loss, love, hope and that classic dudeism – “the dude abides… the dude abides”.

“No matter how hard we practice and how strongly we feel that we’ve mastered our life, new shit will keep coming to light.”

 

Phew!! That’s it – the first half of the list.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, or could suggest any more to add. I’ll be back with my recommended reading list of motivational & inspirational books next week!

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How to Start a Meditation Practice

Do you meditate regularly? If not, have you wanted to for a while but don’t know where to start?

I thought I’d write a short and easy to follow “how to” to get you started. This was actually inspired by a lovely friend and fellow blogger Katherine. I was chatting to her about my practice and she suggested I should blog my advice! Great idea.

Setting up a regular meditation habit needn’t feel like an epic task, hard to do, scary, or too mystical and new age. My meditation practice is so so simple – I sit my bum on a cushion for 10 minutes a day to breathe, focus, and watch my mind.

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Goodness everything in my life has felt better since I managed to work meditation into my daily routine. I was meditating on and off before, but when I made the commitment to get onto the cushion each day (give or take) I noticed a subtle but lovely difference in my days. I can honestly say it has improved my focus and helped me learn to calm down when things get hectic.

First up, my advice would be to pick a time, either morning after a cup of tea or evening before bed, and commit to trying to sit for 3 minutes each day. If you miss a day or night, no biggie! Let it go, and get back to it the next day. After 4-6 weeks of 3 mins you could up the time to 5minutes. This might seem like frustratingly slow progress, but that’s the beauty of it – because 3 minutes feels like no time at all, you can to stick to it much more easily.

The meditation practice itself isn’t hard, but forming a regular practice takes time and commitment.

I would also recommend sitting in the same place each day, no matter what time you choose. The space where you sit doesn’t have to be larger, and you don’t need to use a yoga mat. You might sit with your back up against the side of your bed before you go to sleep, or perhaps in a corner of the living room or study.

When choosing a place the most important thing is to pick somewhere you can return each day, creating a routine, making it feel familiar to sit down there and focus. 

I tend to sit either with my legs crossed (as I am in the photo above!) or with my knees bent with cushions to sit down on between my ankles. You can also use a meditation stool, or simply sit in a chair, especially if your knees/ankles/hips feel better here. I rest my hand on my thighs, or knees (palms down) if I’m cross-legged, or gently in my lap.

I keep my eyes open and look gently in front of me usually, though for some longer meditations or guided meditations I close my eyes. You can try both. Over the years I have found that keeping my eyes softly open helps me to stay awake, as sleepiness is one of my biggest obstacles in meditation!

As for the actual practice, I have a few different methods. Primarily I practice shamata (mindfulness) meditation, which entails keeping your focus on the breath. Simply sit, and become aware of your breath as you inhale and exhale.

You could also count your breaths. Try to get to ten, each time you notice that you have become distracted, let go of the distraction and start again at 1. There are also simple mantras you might use  such as – on the inhale think “let” with the exhale think “go”.Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a lovely phrase – “Inhaling I calm myself, exhaling I smile”.

To time how long I meditate I use an app called Insight Timer, its fabulous! You set the time, and how often you want an interval bell. You can also pick the bell sound you want (on the paid version of the app), which is a small thing but it’s nice.

In summary, to create a meditation practice you need to:

  1. Pick a time to practice each day
  2. Choose a space where you can sit comfortably for three minutes
  3. Set a timer – 3 minute is plenty to begin with
  4. Keep it up!

Gradually, slowly, you will begin to get to know your mind, your habitual patterns and the wonderful silence between thoughts. Meditation practice can truly enhance your life in a way that is both subtle and profound.

Do you have any questions? Have you tried meditating at home before?

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Inspirational Videos

This week posting here just didn’t happen. Life got busy, I started 3 different posts but didn’t finish any of them.

I’m also questioning the value of my Sunday round up posts. Do you actually read them and enjoy them? I bookmark lots of links during a week, and I enjoy sharing them… Hmm, this one will hang in the balance for a while.

For this week & weekend, I’m going to share four inspirational videos that I really enjoyed. I did this a while ago too, so you can check out more here.

First up, the lovely Tanya Geisler on Owning Your Authority. Love it!

I have just started reading Lissa Rankin’s excellent new book, Mind Over Medicine, and this talk from late last year was also inspirational:

Check out this short film set to David Foster-Wallace’s speech to a graduating class. Sobering perhaps, but still beautiful.

Finally, check out this Milky Way Timelapse. Goodness that’s gorgeous. Wondrous. Awe-inspiring

“Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.” ~ Jules Verne

Have a lovely weekend. x

 

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Science, Skepticism and Yoga

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” ~ Buddha

There’s something I need to get off my chest.

As much as I love yoga and meditation I just can’t get behind the concepts of the energetic subtle body and chakras. At least, I can’t wrap my head these things as real phenomena that actually effect me. Not metaphors, not concepts at the early stage of investigation, but accepted as truth; excused and heralded as being above the need for scientific scrutiny.

Does that piss you off? Change your opinion of me? Make me a bad yogi?

My fear of being seen as a bitch, judgemental and closed-minded has held me back from openly discussing my skepticism for years. I’ve reached a point though, after nearly a decade of yoga practice, where I feel it is a lie by omission NOT to state that I can’t stomach some of the woo woo new age stuff that is seen as part & parcel of the yoga scene.

I first tried yoga after a severe back injury left me unable to sit down, and a severe eating disorder was ravaging my body and mind. I loved then, and love now, how yoga helps me connect my body, mind and breath – drawing me into the present and calm. Over the years, my practice has helped me still my mind long enough to realise some hard truths, and let go of hefty emotional baggage. It  has been an invaluable tool, a beautiful part of my life.

However, talk of the subtle body, the energetic system and the chakras as spinning colourful wheels of energy has always left me cold. In fact, it’s these supernatural phenomena, often presented as inexplicable and beyond scientific investigation (faith based, not fact based) that have held me back from committing myself wholeheartedly as a yogi. A gnawing scepticism in the pit of my stomach that wants answers to my questions, not wishy washy ‘just because’.

I’m not religious, for the same reason. Agnostic since my first day in Catholic school when I was told that I would go to hell if I didn’t believe in God (by a nun). Never atheist, because that term always implies (at least in my mind) a kind of arrogance and dogmatic belief of its own but agnostic – comfortable on the fence.

You might ask – well then, why not just agree that to each their own, and if it works for someone to align their chakras and believe in the law of attraction, so be it.

Well, sure, that has actually been my approach for years.

Thing is, when it comes to religion I’m totally fine with people saying that it’s a matter of faith. When it comes to ideas like the law of attraction, chakras, crystal healing, reiki and psychics, these are often presented to us as things that are to be accepted – not as a belief, but as fact. As if they are really provable and backed up by science. Which, they are not. No, really, they are not.

It’s something that makes me really uncomfortable. I actually find all of the above fascinating, and have read a lot about them. I think they are fantastic jumping off points for rigorous debate and investigation. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could one day provide testable theories as to why reiki helps people?? (Above and beyond the placebo effect)

I’m not writing this to offend or criticise, and I don’t mean to judge. Though I suppose I am in a way. My bad, and my apologies if this pisses you off.  I’m just trying to be completely totally and utterly honest. That means coming clean – I’m a skeptic when it comes to all things supernatural and inexplicable. That doesn’t mean I’m not open to the possibility that they work, or that we will find out why some day.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this, I’ve already asked on Twitter. I’m asking for your honest opinions.

Earlier this year I confessed these thoughts to a far more experienced yogi than I. In an honest discussion I simply admitted that my brain can’t quite wrap itself around the idea that we have energy channels that are unseen and unable to be monitored. I was told (kindly) that the question I should be asking is (paraphrasing here). – why must everything be reduced to that which can be scientifically proved?

Is that the question I should be asking? Instead of asking for proof that Reiki works, should I instead be asking why I feel the need for evidence at all?

If that is indeed the case, is a belief that the chakras are real like a belief in God? Same for the belief that the Universe has a purpose and each of us a personal fate that we can shift with positive thought?

I love yoga, truly I do, but why do we need to explain the exquisite beauty of a regular practice  in supernatural terms? Why can’t it simply be a method of rediscovering yourself and feeling at one and peaceful with the world & cosmos?

I believe it can, or at least it certainly is for me. I feel truly connected to all that is at times through yoga. I have experienced  that same staggering feeling you can sometimes achieve by looking up at the stars, or out across a mountain range. I feel so amazingly at one with the universe – a being of the universe, a now-conscious collection of atoms that were once in the belly of a star. This mysterious wonder doesn’t need a supernatural element for it to be valid – no God, no energy that guides my life.

Life is brilliant in its reality – messy, chaotic, mind-bendingly complicated, largely unknown, wondrous and exciting.

I call this spirituality. My heart soars when I realise my small, humble place in the cosmos. Reading books like A Stroke of Insight, Wild, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Carl Sagan’s books and anything by Pema Chodron fills me with a sense of peace. I love the ideas of secular Buddhism, and I’m always fascinated by how human spirituality has evolved since ancient times. Equally fascinating is the question – where to from here?

Am I alone in the belief that the spiritual ideals and feelings of connection don’t need to be distinct and removed from scientific exploration and discovery?

“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.” ~ Richard P. Feynman

Earlier today I read a great article about Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Parts of our cosmos that are currently theoretical, without hard  evidence but full of possibility.

Could we see the ideas of the ancients in similar terms? Chakras and energy centres and chi – can we build on these ancient concepts with modern scientific knowledge and curiosity about the hows and whys?

People think that if you are a scientist you have to give up that joy of discovery, that passion, that sense of the great romance of life. I say that’s completely opposite of the truth.  ~ Ann Druyan

There are some people who have already tried to integrate these fascinating ancient ideas with the knowledge we have acquired using the scientific method. Julian Walker’s ideas on chakras as metaphors for mind/body processes are definitely worth a read I also love the NPR blog 13.7 Cosmos & Culture.

Hand wavy assertions that there are things that are beyond knowing, to be felt (by our brains) but not explained, just doesn’t do it for me. It leaves me with oh-so-many questions!!

Is there a greater supernatural force in the world that dictates what happens in my life? Does this energy flow through my body and govern how my cells work?

If so, do crystals and reiki and certain yoga poses somehow interfere with this great and mysterious energy?

Is this energy the same as God – another unknowable supernatural force?

If you believe in one, do you automatically have to believe in the other?

If your rational mind can’t take the leap of faith required for either of these then does that make you a bad yogi who might as well do pilates?

Oh blogosphere, help me out here!

I would love to debate this with people who are as fascinated by these topics as I am. None of my close friends are yogis, they haven’t experienced some of the exquisite loveliness a practice can bring. They also don’t know enough about chakras or the subtle body have this debate.

I’m honestly asking if any of you are willing to step forward and chat about this – whether you agree with my concerns, or disagree completely.

What appeals with energetic healing? What convinces you?

Do you believe, or are you  skeptical like me?

Is there room for science here, or will it always require a suspension of disbelief for the magic to work?

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Sunday Reading

For a while now I’ve called my link posts “Something for the Weekend…” and I’ve posted them on a Friday. I’ve come to realise that Fridays are super busy for me, and Sunday night tends to be when I browse the blogs I read and gather inspiration for the week ahead. So, I’m trialling a new name and a new time slot – “Sunday Reading” on a Sunday evening!

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This week has been good for me, I’m feeling positive and have been writing again, which is always a good sign :) We took a trip to the beach this weekend (pic above) and I spent this gorgeous Sunday brunching with a bestie, drinking cups of tea and visiting the one remaining swan in the park.

How has your week been? How are you feeling this Sunday evening?

I’d love to know.

Here are a few links to things I’ve enjoyed this week:

Loved the photos this post from Sprouted Kitchen. I was in Paris last year, and their pics just capture the mood beautifully!

Justine Musk hits the nail on the head again with 11 quick + dirty things you should know about writing

My sister has a crazy little blog now along with her awesome online portfolio. Be warned – eccentricity ahead!!

Chia seeds, a wonder food. Inspired by this, and totally going to make this.

Beautiful post on NPR blog 13.7, become a scientist when you’re out and about to live in the present and practise awareness. Love it.

A longer piece from Aeon about tracking your personal stats. Interesting.

For anyone feeling a little down, 21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You’re Depressed. Honest, helpful, worth bookmarking!

Finally, 10 Rules for Brilliant Women – not sure how I missed this from the fabulous Tara Mohr!

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