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Life starts with an inhalation – as a new-born it's the first time we receive prana through our own inhalation into our lungs. Although prana was there at the very beginning, the time of conceiving, this is the first active intake of prana.
Prana is the life force, an energy we not only experience through breath but also through our lifestyle, the way we behave, what we eat, how we interact with others, our feelings. Prana is much more than just air that fills our lungs.
There is universal prana that is all around us; everything has prana, is prana. And then there is individual prana, the prana contained in our body that enters our physical body through the soul.
This individual prana has 5 functions/seats in the body:
• Uḍāna (arms, legs, head) responsible for swallowing food; speaking, singing, laughing and crying.
• Prāṇa (chest area) responsible for respiration and beating of the heart.
• Samāna (navel area) responsible for digestion and cell metabolismn; also responsible for heat regulation.
• Apāna (abdominal area) responsible for excretion through lungs and excretory systems
• Vyāna (whole body) responsible for the circulation of blood and the voluntary muscular system.
The energy of these different pranas pervades our body and it is very important that we distribute the prana evenly in our system, that we keep it flowing beautifully and that we nourish it.
Through the practice of Pranayama, we do exactly that, we help the prana to flow in our body and direct it to the parts that need more attention by choosing between the different breathing exercises. We control our breath and gain control over prana. Each Pranayama has a different pattern and therefore a different effect on our body as well as on our health. It can cure many medical ailments and strengthen our body and immune system. By controlling the prana we also control the mind which cures mind-related ailments and issues such as worries, anxiety, restlessness, cravings, only to mention a few.
On a spiritual level Pranayama helps us to connect with our subtle body and to awaken unknown energy through the help of prana to such an extent that one can reach pure bliss.
When I got more interested in Yoga and had a deeper look into the philosophy I came across Patanjali's eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. That was the first time I was taught that Yoga doesn't only include the physical asanas (exercises) but has eight different levels or limbs as they are called in the yogic world.
The last stage is Samadhi – pure bliss or enlightenment as we so often hear it. Enlightnement as Buddha himself has reached and so many other yogis, sadhus and spiritual seekers.
In order to reach the state of blissful awareness one has to immerge into meditation, into a journey deep within to one's true self. Some yogis say that only through meditation one can find true happiness and only through the connection with your soul or your real self can one find peace. By sitting still, observing the breath and accepting every thought that comes into the mind but also letting go of that same thought with not attaching to it. By mastering meditation we open up to reach even further. Some attain bliss during meditation, sometimes it lasts for that moment, or it can last longer and for a few this state of superconciousness stays.
So in meditation there are many different styles and teaching practices and there is not one that is better or superior and helping you to reach samadhi faster. It all depends on each individual, their habits, their lifestyle and their yoga practice as a whole. As a beginner it is always easier and maybe also more comfortable to start meditating in a small group with a teacher guiding you through it. And then step by step one can start meditating at home, start with 10 minutes a day, ideally in the mornings and/or evenings before going to bed. And then gradually extend to 15 minutes, then 20 minutes up to as long as it feels good for you. Ideally 30 minutes of daily meditation is recommended and will help you to start your day in a different light.
Go within and you will find all the answers to your questions that trouble you. Take enough time to sit in meditation and allow your mind to settle and become still while listening into your deep self. Often when I meditate, even for a short period, I receive so much insight and solutions to situations that are present and are bothering me. It actually also happened that a few times I had to stop meditating to write down all the solutions and answers I was receiving because I was too worried that if I carried on meditating I would forget all of it. To receive such answers it is very important to be open to it and to accept them and not to think that it is just a thought but to see it as the sign from within or from the universe – whatever you believe in. These feelings, thoughts they come up from deep within while we are meditating and while we open up and become vulnerable and receivable. Therefore it would be wrong to think “oh this is just a thought, I don't put too much importance on it”. By ignoring such thoughts we limit ourselves and will not be able to enjoy the bliss, the help from the universe and therefore won't be able to take responsibility for our actions in regards to a certain situation or problem.
Another thing I learned is that we all carry samskaras with us. Samskaras are imprints which were created by experiences from our past lives. They can be positive or negative. We carry them with our soul and they guide us through certain situations. To free them and to find peace and deep relaxation is the aim of every being, we have to transform and go beyond the illusionary world which is “Maya”. Through my teacher Yogi Ashokananda I found a beautiful active meditation to do exactly this, to free the soul from previous Samskaras and become open, pure and connected with my soul.
The technique is called “Science of Relaxation” and takes about 60 to 120 minutes of physically active exercises in a meditative state where you will flow into different sitting, kneeling and lying positions and move either your arms, hands, legs or your whole body according to the instructions given to you. My first experience with this meditation technique is three years back when I was pretty new to meditation in general. I had no idea what was coming and what to expect from it and while going through the different stages of the meditation I was suffering greatly. My body was in pain and my mind was telling that I couldn't go any further. Still I kept on doing what I was asked to do, shed a few tears over the pain until those tears became more and I found myself sobbing while still being in active movement. And then suddenly it was all over and we were asked to lay down in Savasana. That was the moment when it happened. My first ever “out of body” experience. My body was lying there on the floor, peaceful and still but I was standing next to my body observing myself. First I was scared and about to freak out but then a voice softly spoke to me and calmed me down “...everything is all right; you are in peace; enjoy...”. And as sudden as we got into Savasana as fast time passed and my soul was asked to come back into this body and slowly move and come up sitting in Padmasana. I remember that the whole rest of that evening I was in pure bliss, beautiful silence surrounded me and a light was lit in my heart.
I did this meditation practice a few more times and can surely recommend it to everybody who would like to experience something different and something special as every time I am doing it I go much deeper than in any other meditation practice. But of course, this is my individual experience and varies from soul to soul. So I recommend, keeping on trying different styles and feeling which is right for you in which situation. For me it is also an important fact that on some days or when I have a certain feeling or situation, I prefer a different meditation technique. The same way as I vary my daily yoga asana practice.
A few more of my favourite meditation practices I do regularly:
- Heart meditation based on the Kundalini practice (sitting in easy pose, keeping the hands in lotus mudra)
- Guided chakra meditation by Deepak Chopra
- Trataka meditation (fixed gazing into the flame of a candle)
- Meditation on a word (recently I meditated on love and embraced every thought I had on love)
There are many meditation videos on YouTube and possibly classes in your local yoga studio or meditation centre.
Now it's up to you to give meditation a chance. You won't feel the full benefits straight away but it surely is more than just sitting still and doing nothing.
Let's be honest, January can be testing. You’ve had some time off, parties galore, excessive eating and for some even a tipple or two too many… before you know it your back to work, back in a routine trying to warm yourself with soups and purge yourself with salad to get those extra pounds off… and of course that NEW YEAR promise to not drink quite so much.
I think you need something to look forward to, something that will help you focus and get over those winter blues, something that’s fun and healthy, that’s going to help clear your mind and make you feel great. So what could be better than a beautiful weekend away being enveloped in yoga, fed glorious food, with beautiful settings and lovely company, and all this can be part of your New Year’s resolution to treat yourself better.
When I started running retreats my main idea was to offer them in gorgeous chilled out warm places with the sun and sea to help everyone along their journey into a deep state of relaxation and letting go, but it occurs to me that we should be able to do that everywhere and anywhere. Isn’t that what our practice is about? It shouldn’t cost us an arm and leg and it definitely shouldn’t mean we have the added stress of getting on a plane and the rigmarole of transfer at the other end. And don’t get me wrong, these retreats are still some of the best teaching experiences I have ever had, but yoga should be accessible to everyone and easy to do, so having something closer to home should give more people the chance to participate in these great experiences.
New year's coming soon and one’s willpower is starting to wane and coming along to the winter wellbeing retreat can help them on track as well as showing people that really it’s not about what they look like but about feeling healthy in the mind and the body, feeling good.
This retreat will include dynamic yoga sessions, restorative yoga sessions, pranayama, relaxation and yoga nidra. All food will be vegetarian and refreshments provided throughout your stay. I hope, mostly, that for everyone that comes, 2014 will be a year where they find happiness, wellbeing and enhance their yoga practise with this retreat as a sensational start.
This January 2014, I am teaching a Winter Wellbeing Retreat in East Sussex.
For more information visit www.stretchingpeople.co.uk
I usually teach yoga in North London as well as running yoga retreats and holidays in beautiful settings around the UK and abroad.
1) What inspired you to start your own business?
Like so many things, the idea for Wellbeing Escapes came because I couldn’t find a service like it when I needed it. Working as a business woman in the city, life was simultaneously fun, vibrant and busy, but also stressful, hectic and draining.
I didn’t know where to turn to get my much needed TLC in my precious downtime. Scouring the web just threw-up more confusion, questions and airy adjectives. I mean, who really knows what a ‘soul-detoxing journey of self-awareness in a holistic ambience’ really means? I wanted someone who knew what they were talking about to tell me this therapist was good, this spa would deliver, this holiday wouldn’t waste my hard earned time or money.
And that’s where Wellbeing Escapes came in! I wanted to give people a stress-free service with the very best health, fitness and relaxation holidays, so they’d know right from the start they are in good hands.
2) What separates you from other travel companies?
Firstly – we’re passionate about all things Wellbeing! We understand the difference between a wellness holiday that seriously addresses health issues, and a wellbeing break that simply lifts your mood through some relaxing treatments, fitness or sightseeing. We offer both. It’s important to us that the resorts we endorse are all carefully researched and vetted so that the experience lives up to our guests’ expectations. We believe Wellbeing holidays should be a positive and life-enhancing experience - the kind of holiday that’s so rejuvenating you don’t come back needing another holiday to recover!
3) Isn’t it more expensive to book through you?
Actually no! Although a lot of people think that. We have over 250 bespoke packages on our website and when we design our packages we make sure that you get VALUE on your treatment package. The savings on the treatments are significant and most of the time in the region of 30%. We also forge great relationships with the properties we work with to secure really good added value and rates. You can expect special prices for single travellers, room upgrades, and free transfers just to name a few.
4) What’s your perfect recipe for a healthy break?
In my world a perfect healthy holiday is one that helps and inspires the guest to lead a happier, healthier life whilst enjoying some well-earned relaxation. The food would be healthful and delicious, the staff attentive and caring, the trainers and therapists all top notch. Add pleasure to leisure, plus a dollop of health and happiness, and you will begin to understand what Wellbeing Escapes is all about!
5) What’s the hottest wellbeing trend right now?
Mindfulness and Meditation is (excuse the pun) on everyone’s mind at the moment. A few years ago people would have looked at you weirdly if you said you meditated; now it’s a top tool being harnessed by high-powered execs looking for an edge over the competition. Meditation, mindfulness, positive psychology, these are just some of the tools that are being used to improve people’s brain power. The benefits range from greater clarity and focus and a more positive outlook to even weight reduction and healthy ageing in the body, this is more than just a mental workout, your whole body benefits. As more people cotton on to meditation it’s clear that with such a great range of benefits, why wouldn’t you do it?
6) How do you bring a little wellbeing to your life?
I am a great believer in the power of a good belly laugh! I’m always trying to make my team laugh with anecdotes about my funny dog Louis, who is a regular round the Wellbeing office. He brings a lot of Wellbeing into my life – through the walks we take, and the way he defuses my stress just by looking at him! That is unless he goes after my favourite shoes... Otherwise I eat healthily and live by the good old fashioned everything in moderation, including moderation ;-)
“We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Nighttime was absolutely dreadful for me growing up. I was one of the little ones who would make every excuse known to man not go to sleep. I always made several trips to the bathroom, needed water for my parched throat and even occasionally woke my parents for lunch money for the next day. I was terrified of what lurked around in the dark and I was certain once the lights went out and everyone went to bed, I would be eaten alive. As I grew older my fear of child-eating monsters disappeared. Now I love the dark. In fact I can’t sleep unless it is pitch trip-over-my-shoes-on-the way-to-the-bathroom black.
This concept of growing out of our fears is very liberating. When you look at the example of being afraid of the dark, you can see that night is night no matter how you turn it. A child’s mind is filled with sometimes very silly fears that dissipate as they live on and realize that those monsters don’t really exist.
“And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
The very things that scare us have within them the material to make us loving, courageous heroes. When we come to our fears with love and courage we begin to make peace with them. I love the children’s book “Where The Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. It is a story about a little boy who comes from a broken home and is continually getting in trouble. He then goes into a dream state where he is introduced to each and every one of his inappropriate behaviors in the form of monsters. He gets to know each one personally and learns to love them all. He learns that they act out when they are afraid or hurt. When he nurtures them and lets them know they are safe they relax and become, in fact, quite charming.
Swiss Psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, a brilliant theorist who help bring psychology to the west, came up with the theory of shadows back in the mid 1900’s. He believed that each of us possesses a shadow of our real self. The self that we project to the outer world is simply a persona we’ve created out of people we honor and respect. But the whole self includes these parts of ourselves that we are afraid to share with the world because we don’t want to be judged and thrown away in response to our true being. The only problem with not being our true selves is that we bury these shadow pieces deep and they start to seep out in convoluted ways. We bury our fears away, never getting to know them personally and never realizing that they are shaping our whole way of life.
So it is our job to acquaint ourselves with these monsters/fears. We must name them, know them and work with them in order to be free from them. I have a “Fear Journal” in which I document the answers to the following questions each time I am faced with a fear:
Where do I feel this fear in my body?
When a fear comes up it always brings up an emotion. Typically panic, which I would feel in my heart because it starts to feel, constricted and beat rapidly. Sometimes it’s a sick nauseous feeling in my stomach or gut. While other times I hold it in my shoulders and feel as if I am holding the weight of the world inside them. Once I can identify where I am feeling it, I can then consciously take my attention to that place and relax it. It may me going for a massage and allowing someone to help you work through the emotion. Other times you simply just need to sit there and feel where it is and pair that attention with calm breaths. One of the things I absolutely love about the practice of yoga is that it gives you a heighten sense of body awareness so its much easier to identify where the emotion and fear is living in your body.
What is this fears name?
I like to give my fear a name as if it is actually a living human being. I got this idea when I watched the Showtime TV Series “United States of Tara”. Tara is a middle aged woman who is suffering from DID (Dissociative Personality Disorder), a terrible personality disorder that consists of a multiple personalities in response to severe trauma that occurred earlier in life. Every time she faces something overwhelming she shifts into another personality that can better deal with the situation. For example, she has “Buck”- the tough, motorcycle-riding guy who protects. “T”- the wild teenager that helps her understand and deal with her own teenage daughter. “Alice”- the June Cleaverish homemaker, that cleans, bakes and disciplines the children. There are several more but this gives you an idea of what you can do with your own fears. I have names for my own scared selves inside me. This helps me personalize the fear and have a deeper understanding for when it shows its face. It gives the fear a certain level of importance when you name it. Make sure the names have significance to you, so maybe characters in a movie or book or someone you remember from your childhood. This gives your fear an endearing quality and it makes it easier for you to personally welcome them in.
What are the ways I am running away from fear?
We spend countless hours of our day distracting ourselves from what is going on inside. Each time I feel an emotion I am uncomfortable with I find that I grab the TV remote, take a 5-mile walk, eat ice cream or call a friend. When we replace facing our fears with running from them we never get the chance to work our way through them. By identifying our forms of distraction we can then avoid running and actually do the real work. So next time an uncomfortable fear starts to creep up notice how you react. What action oriented behavior takes place in response to what’s going on inside. Write it down in your journal so you can be sure to avoid running when fear comes up.
What message is attached to this fear?
Each time a fear comes up inside of us there is a message about ourselves that is attached to it. That message can either be something that we need to work on in ourselves, while other times it is a complete lie that we are telling ourselves. When I get ready to pitch myself to a new magazine or site the fear of “I am not good enough” always finds its way to my gut. This is a lie that I tell myself and if I go back through my history I can see that the message simply is not true. There have been plenty of times my articles have been spit back to me to re-work, but each time they have I learned how to be a better writer. So the “ I’m not good enough” is a flat out lie. What messages are attached to those fears of yours? Investigate them intently and if the messages contain truth then that fear is a blessing in disguise that was sent to make you a better person. Once you face the fear and work your way through it then it serves as a kind of momentum to push you forward toward success.
What did this fear teach me?
Be sure to process this fear full circle so that when you overcome it and make your peace with it, it can now be an example of how you are able to face your fears. Write in your journal what you learned by facing this fear. What valuable information did it give you about yourself and the world around you? What tactics worked for you in the process? Who was there to help you through it? When we overcome things in our lives we are teaching ourselves that we are brave, capable human beings and we start to have faith in ourselves. A person who has faith in him or herself is completely unstoppable! So what once served to hold us back is now the very thing that helps us grow.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Facing our fears with love and courage is the safest and quickest way through. This process will allow you the freedom to “BE”. When we learn to love and accept ourselves we can then love and accept the world around us. Know that you are not alone in your world of fears, we all have them and we are in this battle together!
With the launch of the new Covet Girl book just around the corner, they caught up with founder of Wellicious Heike Schnell to see why she feels female entrepreneurs are important to the industry… The book will be available on http://covetgirl.com from the 30th October.
Covet Girl: As a working mother and entrepreneur, how did owning your own business help/challenge your family life?
Heike Schnell: My family actually inspired me to start my own business, I wanted to create a brand that was sustainable and eco-friendly as I knew this was a step in the right direction to protecting their future. Also as a mother of three young children and founder of a business it actually allows me to be super productive with my time. It makes me realise that every minute is important, and this allows me to get a good balance between work & family time.
Covet Girl: How do female entrepreneurs help build the community? Please give any examples of things you have done to better your community.
Heike Schnell: As I am part Peruvian I felt it would be nice to give something back to the community in Peru and therefore I decided that Wellicious should open its heart and support the charity ‘SOS Children’s Villages’. Each member of our team is connected with a child that Wellicious supports, 5% of all future profits also goes to the charity and we believe this is an extremely important part of our brand dynamic.
Covet Girl: Why should we encourage other women and girls to take the lead and start their own businesses?
Heike Schnell: I think again we must all work to promote equality in the work place for our future generations and not allow girls to feel intimidated in achieving success. Starting up the Wellicious brand was one of the best things I have ever done, it gave me true happiness in seeing something I created go from strength to strength, and I will definitely encourage my children to follow their dreams.
I never really gave it a proper thought but then when I was doing my Yoga teacher training I realised that my yoga mat was like my second home, the comfortable place where I spent most of my time. During that time, I've practiced yoga once a day, sometimes even twice, studied on it, ate on it (my yellow curry marks are proof of it), I cried on it when doing deep heart opening asanas, I slept on it and I used it out in my garden, in the park, at a yoga flash mob and it also travelled with me many times. It was constantly rolled out in my bedroom by the window and waiting for me to step on it.
Only then I felt what a treasure and precious thing my yoga mat was to me and that I loved my Divine Yoga Mat that also features a beautiful mandala made of small tiny Swarovski elements – divine indeed.
I learnt that before using a newly bought yoga mat, you should actually wash it to make it less slippery and ready for a yoga practice. Most yoga mats are machine washable, so you can throw them in a cycle by itself with a tad of mild detergent using cold water. Important: remove the yoga mat before the washing machine starts the spin cycle! Then rinse off the soap completely with room temperature water after washing. It's always surprising me just how much dirt comes off my mat.
As my yoga mat with the Swarovski Mandala is not machine washable, I roll it out in my bathtub and rub it with a washcloth and an eco-friendly, biodegradable soap. Then I thoroughly rinse until the water runs completely clear.
A great way to dry your mat: place your wet and well rinsed mat onto a large towel and roll both together. Then stand onto the mat and by doing so all excessive water will be squeezed out. Unroll the mat and hang it to air dry.
Always allow plenty of to time to dry completely – never use a damp mat for your practice. Of course you can also use a special spray to clean your yoga mat.
As a Bikram yoga practitioner you want to clean and especially disinfect your mat ideally straight after class. A tea tree oil solution is a good way to get rid of all bacteria and prepare your mat for the next round of sweat.
If your mat shows some dirty, stubborn spots you can always use lemon juice and baking soda diluted in water to rub out the stains.
If you take care of yourself by eating healthy, using natural products for your body, then you should do the same with your yoga mat. Only use mild and gentle, eco-friendly and beautiful products to clean it. Think of all the moments when your face, your cheeks, your chin or your forehead are touching the yoga mat. Your whole body is in constant contact with the mat so you want to have it clean and treated with just the right products. Remember: the cleaner your body the nicer your mat stays. Some people also clean their feet, hands and face before they step onto the mat.
Another way that helps keeping your yoga mat clean is by folding it in half before you roll it up. Actually leave a small gap as the inner portion of the rolled mat will creep forward during the rolling to meet the bottom end. Having your mat rolled up this way, prevents the dirt from the floor from contacting the side you use for poses. When unrolling, keep the same side "down".
Having a clean mat makes a yoga practice all the more inviting and it's a ritual that fits well into your yogic routine.
Enjoy taking care of your beloved yoga mat, the same way you take care of your body which is your temple and immerse into your practice every day anew.
Over the summer I started playing around with Acro Yoga, a physical partner-based practice that, according to AcroYoga.org ‘blends the wisdom of yoga, the dynamic power of acrobatics and the loving kindness of healing arts’. I love yoga and I love spending time with my friend Anne, who is also a yogi, so it seemed a natural extension of our friendship to bring it onto the mat.
For me, doing yoga with a partner is about rediscovering the playfulness in my asana practice – during the past five years yoga has evolved from my favorite pastime into what I do for a living, and as such has become more serious. It is about building trust, in yourself, the situation and your partner. Through moving together on the mat you can discover the true blessing of real partnership – recognizing that the beauty of the final pose is greater than the sum of its individual parts, and that either you work together or everything falls apart.
Through working closely with others on the mat we can learn a lot about ourselves. Am I moving or being moved? Am I giving or receiving? Am I getting what I need by asking what I want? Do I allow myself to be supported?
But what really strikes me is that all the things we spontaneously said to each other during these sessions, such as ‘is this comfortable for you’, ‘where do you need me’, ‘lean back on me’ and ‘I’ve got you’ – are things that we should say more often in any partnership or friendship.
Cat Mathiesen is a Wellicious ambassador and Anne Maren Botnan is training to be a yoga teacher.
It’s the age-old problem and convenient excuse. I have no time to practice, go to class, fit a meditation into my day because of the kids. Sure children take up space, time and energy and they need all of that parental nourishment too. There are definite practical logistics that have to fit into a day… meal times, school runs, homework, bath time, playtime etc…. but in order for you to be that amazing super-mum or dad you have to find some yogatime for you too. We have all been there though – up to your eyes in kids running riot or running you ragged, rushing between school pick ups, sports activities, cooking the evening meal whilst testing French homework and signing school books… How on earth are you able therefore in that kind of scenario to find a few moments of calm, enough space amongst the Barbies and Playmobile or the noise of Super Mario to flow gracefully through your sun salutations or meditate on the oneness of the universe?
Being a modern yogi of any level (casual class here and there to trying very hard to practice once or twice a week at home or class, right up to being a teacher) juggling parental responsibilities and family time is just that at the end of the day, a juggling act. But it is possible. Simply saying that you “don’t have the time” is just too easy an excuse. You don’t have to have a full day ahead of you or even 2 hours of perfect peace and quiet time. You certainly don’t have to schlepp up the Himalayas or head off to an ashram in India either. And if you are not the kind of person able to get up at 4am to meditate and practice fear not there are ways that you can integrate your practice into your daily routine.
I am a busy working Mum with two children now 10 and 5. Throughout their childhood I have integrated my practice into their schedule as well as into mine. I don’t necessarily have a daily fixed routine but I do meditate and have a daily asana practice. When they were babies I would put them by my side or sometimes wait until their sleep time to practice. I have often come across students and even fellow teachers who say that it is just impossible to practice because the house is never quiet and the feel they have to wait until the children are in bed or very much occupied elsewhere to be able to practice. I have never hidden my practice from my children or waited for them to be silent and away from me. Some days I have got up early to flow through my meditation and practice in more of a silent environment and the girls often come downstairs to find Mummy on her mat in full asana flow. They have learnt to come up and sit or give me a morning kiss and hug mid posture and then either help themselves to breakfast or wait for me to finish.
Other times I simply practice with them as they play or watch a DVD right next to me, some times I retreat to the garden and often the girls come and practice by my side or with me. Sometime we practice together – My eldest daughters first word was OM and recently aged 10 and to my delight she practiced morning and evening with the yoginis who came on a retreat in our house. My youngest frequently sits by my side and chants Om or when I am in downward dog or bridge pose giggles and scrambles underneath me. The trick is to actually let them do that and enjoy what is yoga with you. Children are very versatile and adapt easily to what you teach them to be normal. Your practicing during their daily routine instead of banning them from your yoga time or waiting for them to be “unavailable” as it were just teaches them that it is an exclusive activity that takes you away from them and they will ultimately resent you for your practice or even yoga in general. I have lived in France for over 14 years now and one of the biggest differences I have learnt between the UK and France with children is that in France you take your children pretty much everywhere with you – dinner parties and restaurants included. They grow up seeing their parents at drinks, dinner etc… and see what they are like outside of the house, how they behave and learn that it is really no different from home – no big secret. In the UK it seems to me there is more of a culture of babysitters for nights out and as such the parents tend to go out without their kids returning possibly a little more “jolly” than when they left or a little fragile the day after. The children don’t know why as they don’t know what happens they just see the results.
This is not a criticism of culture its just an observation and can be applied to your yoga practice at home. It is important for your children to see and experience your practice and the results of it as they will quickly learn that when Mummy gets her mat out and in the words of Clarisse Bean (if you don’t have the book get it) stands on one leg and listens to whales to relax, they see that that is exactly what happens. She is a nicer more patient Mummy afterwards! They will be happy for you to practice.
The other great thing about children is they have a very short attention span. So if they come up whilst you are in mid practice wanting something or wanting to join in either quietly go and get them what they need or let them join in with you – they will last 5 to 10 min max and then will go on and do their own thing. The trick is to not get cross with them. Keep practicing it is vital for your sanity as a busy parent.
Find the time – make the time – let them see you practice and join in if they want to. Maybe even encourage family yoga time. Not only do the kids love some fun postures – the animals are the best – but they will of course benefit from the postures and mediation or breathing.
Finally calling all you busy parents – you can and should find at least 5 minutes a day to meditate - especially on the hectic and noisy days. It will replenish your body and soul. Just taking 5 minutes out to sit, be, breath and let a simple smile creep onto your face with your eyes closed, your spine straight, breathing calm and heart open will help you tackle the rest of your day with way more patience then if you don’t. And if you can’t sit at home try meditating in your car, doing the washing up, the housework…. Allow your breathing to steady and observe the sounds around you and let go of tensions. Be in the present moment – that is THE best form of yoga you can practice both on yourself and WITH your children.
I am by far the perfect Mum and believe me when things get full-on at home and the kids are playing up (pre full moon is the worst) Durga – the warrior goddess – arises and I am not always calm and “zen”. But without my daily practice and without my “letting-go” space I would be way worse with them and far more stressed myself.
Being a yogic parent is after all just an extension of the over all yogic message of unity and harmony. Finding that within our own home environment is an incredible goal to aim for and one that is totally achievable. The first people who should benefit from that are your children so give them that precious gift of their parent practising this sacred discipline in a modern and accessible way. It is a great lesson for them in life. Namaste.
Enjoy this video that Charlotte has put together for you to meditate for just a few minutes each day to find your calm.
Charlotte lives and teaches yoga in France in the mountains of Savoie (Val d’Isère, Tignes and Savoie) and regularly in Paris. She also organises a variety of yoga retreats – May 2014 in Morocco combining Ayurvedic Cooking and Yoga amongst them – and several yoga festivals in 2014 : Val d’Isère in February, Brides les Bains in April, Bordeaux in May.
For more information : www.yogawithaltitude.blogspot.com
Check out this lovely video of Charlotte: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36IWqe_BunQ
My first encounter with my teacher Yogi Ashokananda was at the London Yoga Studio Alchemy, when I joined my first ever meditation class and then later got introduced to his Himalayan Hatha Yoga to which I connected immediately as it was so different from any yoga class I took before.
His teaching is so much more profound than any other yoga teaching I came across so far.
And this is no wonder – he grew up in India and was in touch with yoga from his early childhood when he observed his grandfather practicing yoga and found more and more interest in it until one day his grandfather started teaching him. From then on he never left the practice of yoga, meditation and pranayama as it became part of his life, the system of his life. Later on he studied with many other masters in India and whenever he is telling us about how he was taught back then, I can see and feel the authenticity of real and pure yoga teaching behind.
For many of us – especially in the western world – yoga is a physical form of exercise. Here yoga is extrem, fanatic and very different compared to how it is in India. This is mainly due to the commercial aspect as yoga became a brand but also because we lost our deep connection to nature, the connection to ourself, to the truth within.
In India yoga is a vital part of life, fully integrated and Indians don't even realise that they do it. They blend it into life, it's part of their life.
Through Yogi Ashokananda I learnt to understand what the purpose of yoga is and that it's not just about asanas but yoga as a whole lifestyle, a system, once entered you don't want to leave.
Important is how we approach it. We have to try to keep authenticity alive, we have to try to integrate it into our lifestyle. Yoga affects not only the physical body but also the mental and the subtle bodies. It works on the nervous system and on the different organs.
Yoga means unity and although you first have to experience complete separation from body and mind, it eventually leads to unity. Yoga is peace, yoga is love, yoga is knowledge, yoga is patience, yoga is bliss, yoga is health, yoga is god, yoga is finding your true nature... Yoga is everything and should never be a competition or comparison, you do it for yourself! Validation or recognition is not important, it's the self-awareness and the balance to stay in the centre.
Through his teaching he lives and integrates the old ancient Asian practices into the modern Western world. In the modern world we shift from energetic to burn-out life-situations and then are in search for yoga and meditation to get back energy only that we can go out and fully burn-out our body and soul again. We are trapped in this circle and are living a very unhealthy life and are not aware that this is never leading to a balanced life full of happiness. Yoga should be all about finding this balance and then keeping it by living it. That's why yoga is not only a physical practice but a full lifestyle, a way how we look at things, our behaviour and our compassion and self-love.
The real purpose of teaching Hatha Yoga should be to help your students to improve the physical as well as the mental health but we should not forget to help them also to grow on their spiritual path too. Through Himalayan Hatha Yoga I found more strength in my whole body, especially my back, shoulders and neck which were always my weak parts and caused me years of headache and migraines. Thanks to the practice of yoga this is all gone. Furthermore I felt deep guidance on my spiritual path, I learnt and am still learning a lot from my teacher and by reading books.
Through his many years of experience and the knowledge he received from his masters in India, he started to create his own different yoga styles:
Himalayan Hatha Yoga
It is a strong form of yoga working on the whole body and mind with special sequencing. He also puts emphasis on the counterposes which should immediately follow a pose. Furthermore he focuses not only on the muscles you use for a certain asana but also which organs, glands and systems it influences in your body.
His other speciality is the use of counterforce which is different from a counterpose! By applying the counterforce, the energy and strength is going into opposite directions. Properly applied, this enables you to hold the strength and weight of this asana in more than one part of the body which means you can stay longer and more comfortably in the asana. It prevents injuries, exhaustion, overuse of joints, misalignment and it brings full body awareness. It connects you with your physical and subtle body and it helps you to find the centre of strength in your body.
By the teaching of counterforces his students understand the interaction of their mind, body (muscles, joints, bones) much better while going into an asana. Only through applying full breath and awareness of your body you can go deep into the asana on a physical, mental and spiritual level. Prana has to flow in the body, the chakras have to be awakened and your mind has to be focused. Use your breath to let your body flow into an asana, apply the counterforce and observe the strength you are building up.
Prana Kriya Yoga
It is a moving, active and continuing practice which makes you become aware what you are transforming, where things are happening in the physical, mental and subtle body. From consciousness to spiritual level. Physically challenging and working on stamina. Kriya yoga is also known for its anti-ageing properties.
Science of Relaxation
It works on the Samskaras (imprints from previous experiences from this or from previous lives) to free/release them and to find deep relaxation, to find yourself. The mind and your needs is the third dimension and this is trapping you in the illusionary world (Maya) and has to be transformed. Only by going deep you can understand yourself and connect to atma – your soul.
Yogi Ashokananda teaches in London and Europe and invites yearly to his yoga retreats in India. More information can be found under: www.yogiashokananda.com
His next retreat is with Mind Body Spirit, in October in Somerset.
Be the Light – Yoga and Meditation Retreat with Yogi Ashokananda.