In my early years as a yoga teacher I would spend hours sketching out stick figure sequences, themes and variations of poses for my class plans. I would then spend more hours practicing and finely tuning those plans on my own mat before taking them out to my students. Some years on, it became a regular class joke that I never quite stuck to my plan and those poor yoga stick figures on the page hardly ever got the chance to be practiced.
Why had I started to deviate from my written plan and teach something different instead ? It could be conversations I would pick up as everyone was readying themselves before class started, someone struggling with a pose, moments when I noticed a shift in class energy that didn't sit well with me - those were cues to move away from the plan and provide the yoga that was needed for that moment. That change in teaching style was over 10 years ago now and it has been evolving ever since. Although my class content still has a theme it's not based on the usual hip opening or back bending themes but on release, the breath, posture, resilience, core connection, themes that are linked to what I call Innercise. I rarely demonstrate and I have veered any from hands on adjustments. I want my students to experience how the practice feels in their own body and have awareness and confidence in that connection. I believe that won't happen through watching a teacher perform a pose nor from adjustment. It hasn't been easy moving away from directive to embodied teaching but it has been rewarding. There are so many times I see people almost light up when they just "get it", or times when I see someone shift from agitation to ease even if only briefly.
So where does Getting Back to Simple fit in? It's another stage in that teaching style evolution. In this buzzed up, technology- driven, performance led world I have again noticed the cues not just in my classes but in my day to day life - peoples bodies are longing for permission to simplify, unplug and connect in a more meaningful way. So my classes and workshops are getting back to simple, simple breath and mindfulness practices, simple rhythmic movement, no frills poses allowing space to experience what is present, a generous dose of guided relaxation and most importantly - time to experience Innercise.
Inspiration - the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something different. Inspiration - the drawing of breath.
It was at a Max Strom workshop over 10 years ago I first heard those two definitions linked together. Prior to the workshop I had noticed I had a really long exhale but struggled to inhale deeply and no matter what I tried in my yoga practice it wouldn't change. The timing of the workshop was just right, although it was teacher training, perhaps I would find something to resolve this unusual breath pattern.
Halfway through the workshop Max talked about emotional and physical issues that can be reflected in the quality of our breath. He explained how people can struggle to inhale fully when in the midst of grief, depression or at a low. Their exhale can be super long as instincts try to let go but there can be little to inspire you and so the struggle to draw a full breath.
It was as if he had tuned right into my inner world and those words were aimed at me. My struggle for inspiration now made sense. I was a person in that process of trying to let go, my husband had passed away nine months beforehand - I hadn’t realised my breath was reflecting my emotional state - grief.
Those words and definitions had such an impact - they the were start of my journey to doing and feeling something different - how I breathe.
10 years on I use movement and breath patterns for emotional and physical well-being to release tension from the inside out. Whether it is releasing tension held in the abdomen as a result of stress, massaging the intercostal muscles to create room to breathe, promoting lymph drainage in the chest or armpit area or simply lying in stillness - it all involves skilfully and in an embodied way tuning into the depths of the breath.
The breath is like an inner ocean. It can be shallow or deep, it ebbs and flows, it’s powerful like waves. For many of us we can spend our lives splashing around on the surface of the breath never taking the opportunity to dive deeper. If you do, you may discover down in those hidden depths of the breath is the door to transformation.
My Brecon Beacons retreat is designed to give your mind and body a spring boost. Each of our yoga for well-being sessions will focus on ways to shift those sluggish systems into gear, rid yourself of the stresses and strains our frantic pace of life can bring, boost energy and restore balance.
On day one the spotlight of focus will be on the core. The first practices will include abdominal breathing and self massage using a soft squidgy ball to release tension held in the abdomen/gut. The abdomen is one of the main areas where we hold stress and tight abdominal tissue can cause many problems such as bloating, digestive and elimination difficulties, inflammation, back pain and it can affect mood.
The gut is home to our enteric nervous system - also referred to as the belly brain. This special nervous system housed in sheaths of tissue in the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon consists of 100 million neurons - more neurons than in the spinal cord! The gut area is also the most abundant site in your body for lymph and is loaded with immune rich cells. Massaging this are encourages lymph flow, boosts the immune system, stimulates the rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system and helps release that tension to ease some of those symptoms stress in this area can cause.
The additional abdominal breathing practice will also a stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, help the respiratory system work more efficiently and tone the deep core muscles prior to our sessions where we will dive into core stability and strength.
If you have been living with tension in your core this work has to be approached tenderly. That's the beauty of retreats there is plenty of time to explore this way of practicing and listen to your body.
These set of practices really will be our first step on our road to recovering vitality and putting a spring in your step!
This morning was the first morning back teaching classes after a two week break. The theme for this term "same pose - different view.
This theme came from a recent discussion with a friend about experiencing those light bulb moments. Those times on the mat when we suddenly get that moment, the struggle goes and there you are with this feeling of - yes this is it! It can be fleeting but amazing. It's as if these light bulb moments squeeze through a tiny slither, a gap and presto a moment of feeling things differently. To me they come at that point when there is a subtle shift, we are present and experiencing things from the angle of "this moment" and not from the default of it should be this way, I need to try harder or I like/don't like this pose etc.
Why are those light bulb moments so elusive? If we get caught up in doing, making an external shape, we can forget the work isn't about the external, it's about creating those sublte internal shifts from the inside out, same pose - different view. I see poses as if looking into a kaleidoscope at the thousands of reflections/fragments/ angles that create the pattern you are viewing, turn that tube slightly a completely different pattern appears and will change with every turn. Practice this way and the possibility of those light bulb moments are endless. The important thing is to keep repeating this exploration throughout each and every practice. This way we regularly create the opportunity for those gaps, and possibilities to wire in new positive patterns - a new pathway. Neuroplasticity, in action, every time we are on the mat.
So in this morning's practice I used familiar poses with small variations within each pose to explore same pose - different view. There were many light bulb moments, I could tell from the smiles on my students faces, as each spark flickered through the gaps.
Life has a funny way of throwing you off course sometimes but I am a great believer that when it all suddenly comes together - the time is right for that something special to happen.
It has taken me almost 15 months to get everything in place for this retreat to the Brecon Beacons and the fantastic Tall John's House. What better time to go there than when Spring has sprung. This 3 night Find Balance retreat is about leaving winter behind and giving our mind and body a spring boost. The combination of energetic morning yoga and slower mindful evening practices are perfect to shift those sluggish systems into gear and rid yourself of the stresses and strains our frantic pace of life can bring.
Although grand and elegant Tall John's oozes an atmosphere of homely cosiness. All meals are freshly prepared and every effort is made to use locally sourced and locally produced ingredients. A healthy breakfast, wholesome lunches and dinner is included in the retreat price. Plus, I love that cake suddenly appears each afternoon on the main hall table, along with tea or coffee. Plates stacked to the side ready for you to cut a slice and enjoy sitting by the fireside or on a window seat in one of the beautiful reception rooms. The beds are comfortable, the towels fluffy, the staff always on hand to ensure your needs are fully met. I cannot wait to use the newly renovated old barn for our twice daily yoga practices. It is an amazing space, bright and airy for the morning and the lighting can be adjusted to create a tranquil setting for evening.
Outside nature waits for you to explore - bird sanctuaries, walks, hikes, wildlife, rivers & local communities. Stay closer to your weekend home from home and wander round the grounds and walled garden of Tall John's. Have a sauna or find a quiet spot to relax and read. Angela Cox of Health- Healing and Happiness will also be available for you to book a facial, massage or other holistic treatment.
Make time for something special to happen - just for yourself - join me and press the restart button to put a spring in your step.
The benefits of interrupting busyness
Most of us have experienced times when we have felt stressed, lacked energy or focus, decided to take a break, to then come back feeling refreshed and ready to get going again.
The decision to take a break is our natural way to switch off the autopilot mode. The power of that simple action to interrupt your busy day has been well researched. That short period of downtime is enough to recharge your body and reset your brain improving attention, memory, creativity and performance.
Although it may not be feasible to take lots of breaks during your day, it is possible to regularly switch off the autopilot and - Take Notice. Autopilot is a doing, task orientated mode - you’re in your head. Take Notice is an awareness skill to get out of your head, and in to the present moment - being mindful. Evidence of the physical, psychological, and social benefits of mindfulness continues to grow. To quote Jon Kabat-Zinn
“There are few people I know on the planet who couldn't benefit more from a greater dose of awareness.”
Introducing Take Notice into your day could be a game changer. Once you start, you’ll be amazed how this simple action can help you tune in to how your environment and your actions are impacting your mind and body. In 30 seconds to 2 minutes you can get out of your head, in to the present moment and reap the benefits mini mindfulness moments can bring.
Remembering to take notice can be difficult to put into action at first. Persevere, the good news is, this awareness skill strengthens over time with practice. There are many ways and opportunities to Take Notice and reap the benefits of interrupting busyness. Here are a few 30 second - 2 minute suggestions to get you started.
Check -in: If nothing else this is the one to use regularly at any time of the day. Try it after a meeting, disagreement, a long hard day. The check- in helps to tune in to how your environment and actions are impacting you physically, mentally and emotionally.
Here's how: Stop, close your eyes and ask yourself. What is the speed of my mind or thoughts? How does my body feel - tired, is there tension anywhere? Is my breath shallow, rapid, long, smooth? What emotion am I feeling at this moment? That’s it - once you’ve checked in you have the information to either go back to autopilot or try one of the suggestions below to help address anything you have noticed.
Breathe: Wherever you are, at work, dinner, stuck in traffic, whatever the circumstances, take a long deep breath. Deep, relaxing breathing slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, turns down the “fight-or-flight” response and turns up the “rest & digest”system. A few deep breaths is also a powerful way to help take the edge off anxious moments and a great way to calm both the body and mind.
Name that emotion: Whatever you are feeling name it, Angry, Nervous, Sad. This simple technique of labelling your feelings can ease emotional pain in a nanosecond. Studies by UCLA revealed that putting feelings into words makes our feelings less intense as it shifts some of our brain activity from the emotional areas to the thinking areas of the brain. Secondly it was found, labelling those feelings in a mindfulness practice has a greater effect.
Listen: Walking the dog, checking your mail or on the train home - just for a minute - stop and listen. Ceasing physical motion, tuning in and allowing your environment to come alive around you can momentarily slow down a whirling mind. Wind, birdsong, city noises, office noise, kids at play. Let the sounds fill your field of your attention and choose to be a spectator for that minute. Then watch how your mind quickly comes back online when you return to motion.
Use your senses: Reconnect all your senses into the physical moment you’re in. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, notice:
Make time to build wellness into your daily schedule and create a ripple effect of positivity in your body and mind.
The work hard or fail approach of our intense work culture, full calendars, constant messages, and the blurring of lines between work and family life is adding more to our days and leaving us with less energy. These demands stress the body, change it’s rhythms and encourage unhealthy behaviours such as wrong food choices, neglecting exercise, poor sleep habits. Add the physical stresses created by long periods of inactivity and you have the perfect recipe to threaten and impact physical, mental and emotional wellness.
As the relentless pace of our lives takes it’s toll there is an increasing need to make time to build wellness into our daily schedule. It’s about making a commitment to recognise, take effective action, and make choices to move towards a healthy and fulfilling life - to work at wellness.
The 5 themes below are skills that can help us regain a sense of ownership for our own health. Take Notice - an awareness tool, Release Tension, More Movement, Core Connection & Relax - action tools. The suggestions are examples of practical ways to implement the themes. This might seem really simple stuff but as the saying goes ‘bad habits are like chains that are too light to feel until they are too heavy to carry’
1.Take Notice: We check the condition of our cars more frequently than we check the greatest tool we have to gauge what’s going on inside our body and mind - the breath.
How you breathe directly effects your heart rate, which in turn can influence every major system in your body. For example when upset or anxious our breath becomes shallow and quickens, the body tenses, heart beat increases, oxygen levels lower, the brain senses this and a vicious cycle can begin.
Regularly checking this powerful gauge and choosing to take as little as two minutes to slow and deepen the breath can break that vicious cycle, change mood, improve attention and reduce the affects of stress.
2. Release Tension: Our hectic lifestyles create tension in fascia the network of connective tissue that surrounds and includes your muscles.This tension limits movement, triggers the stress response and many other reactions in the body.
YES yoga, meditation, deep breathing all help release tension. Research has shown massage reduces cortisol by around 30% and increases the feel good hormones serotonin and dopamine.
Self massage, especially Myofascial release using tennis/massage balls or a foam roller its a “no cost “way to target tension and boost your sense of well-being.
3. More Movement: If we exercise 7 days a week for 1 hour a day that equates to 4% of a week, leaving a huge 96% filled with…..inactivity?
This isn't about more exercise, its about keeping mobile and targeting the negative affects of inactivity. Find ways to move more and move in a variety of ways is the slogan to adopt here.
4. Core Connection Stress can create tension in the abdomen and cause poor digestion, constipation, IBS, mood imbalances, and more.
Several minutes focus on abdominal breathing with your hands placed one on top of the other over the abdomen stimulates the vagus nerve, the main communicator of our rest and digest system. It’s the primary medium through which the Enteric Nervous System ( ENS), also known as the second brain regulates mood. It also elicits our tend-and-befriend system, enabling us to reach out and connect with others. This is a critical factor in long-term stress resilience and, research shows, in happiness.
5. Relax:- Make space in your life to relax, rest and play. Push yourself too hard for long enough and you can become less adaptive, self critical, grumpy - an unhappy version of yourself. The worst - burnout.
If you find it easy to relax fab. However, it can be a challenge when your body and mind are in overdrive. Rest and play are great alternatives.
Original article published https://www.thriveglobal.com/stories/35363-5-ways-to-work-at-wellness
Balance: the process of holding something steady during change.
The yoga mat is an ideal place to practice Strength, Relaxation and Resilience. These three qualities help in that process of holding steady during change.
Strength: Expending energy to gain strength isn't always the answer. A harder, faster, better attitude can sometimes drain us. Looking at the familiar through a different lens can be challenging but can also lead to change. Sometimes it's the tiniest tweak that makes a difference. Strength focussed practices that help gather strength back into ourselves offer a way to recharge depleted energy levels.
Relaxation: “Trust your gut” is a common saying and most of the time our instincts are usually right. We spend our a lot of our day in our outer world and don’t have enough time for our inner world. That inner world holds information learned, experienced and gathered constantly throughout our life. When we act on these insights the term 'acting on instincts' is used. Being instinctive is a quality that increases or decreases depending on how much we practice doing it well.
Relaxation practices give us that much needed time away from the outside world, time to relax and create space to connect and listen to that inner world - that place of wisdom.
Resilience: the ability to respond appropriately to life’s challenges, problems and set-backs and come back stronger for them. “Bounce Back Ability” can be learned, asana practices, breath work, meditation, relaxation techniques can help build our resilience levels and the ability to come back stronger but also to come back to balance.
Treat yourself to 4 nights at my Find Balance retreat in Mykonos 18th- 22nd May and try out the practices of Strength, Relaxation and Resilience for yourself. click here for details
"Balance- the Process of Holding Something steady during Change"
On my first visit to Mykonos last year I found it an island full of contrasts.The glitz and glam shops, buzzing vibrant bars and nightlife then the traditional picture postcard whitewashed houses, iconic windmills, narrow pedestrian streets bedecked with bougainvillea and stunning scenery. Add a sky that glows with a fiery intensity as the sun sinks from heaven to meet a sea which during the day sparkles like it’s made of thousands of stars. Mykonos is something else!
However it was the beautiful way Mykonos has managed to retain it’s cultural history yet embrace the need for change that ignited my imagination and sparked the idea to hold my first Find Balance Yoga Retreat on this stunning island. Once a poor island in the Aegean, now known for its glitz and glam Mykonos has managed to find that thing most of us lack in this hectic world we live in - Balance.
In this high speed, high pressure and high stress world, we can find our lives get out of balance. We work so hard that work and family life can suffer, we can struggle to find down time, time to exercise, read, relax or time to simply enjoy a long hot shower. These modern day lifestyle demands can drain us physically, emotionally and mentally and make us ill.
As a yoga teacher I see the affect of these stresses regularly and as a yoga teacher I know yoga has a magical way of helping address these imbalances. This age old practice helps calm the restless mind and bring balance to the body.
This Retreat in Mykonos will introduce you to Yoga for mind-body well-being and my way of integrating traditional yoga, mindful movement and contemplative practices to help balance the stresses created by our modern lifestyles. The aim of the energising morning practices and relaxing sunset practices : to help boost energy, improve flexibility & strength, activate the relaxation response, reduce anxiety & stress, stimulate restful sleep and enhance immunity. I want you to go home with a selection of simple practices you can blend into your daily routine, practices that will help you manage times of change, transition, stress whenever they arise in your life.
To offer a 4 night Yoga Retreat in Mykonos, seemed to be the perfect short term break to help escape the demands of daily routines, find a place to relax, practice yoga, be pampered, eat well, meet people and especially find space to slow down, renew, review, re-connect - Find Balance.
Imagine my excitement when the Semeli luxury hotel agreed to my holding the retreat at this amazing sophisticated 5 star hotel, which nestles perfectly amongst the distinct Aegean style small white houses of Mykonos town Chora.
Semeli, a name from Greek mythology and a hotel that offers that unique blend I was looking for, sitting in perfect harmony with the surrounding architecture and environment but with contemporary modern luxury. Another example of - Balance
The Semeli shares many things in common my vision of a Find Balance Retreat. As you explore this luxury hotel you will notice how the hotel colours, stone, trees blend in perfect harmony with the sea and sky. The luxury accommodation together with unique personal customer services provides the ideal environment to treat yourself to that break from the demands of daily routines. Truly a space to slow down and re-connect.
Then there’s Aquaspa with is vast array of therapies and treatments for complete mind and body rejuvenation and the stunning pool with a fabulous decking area. Ideal for relaxing and that much needed pampering.
The food? Local suppliers provide the freshest locally sourced ingredients, with an aim to use local products with a certificate of quality. The breakfast offers a huge selection of dishes to set you up for the day. The Thioni Restaurant provides a place to enjoy a range of mouth watering traditional Greek cuisine in truly stunning surroundings.
To me finding balance is a lifetime project, it’s ongoing and actually not a finite goal. I once read this definition - “Balance - the process of holding something steady during change.”
I think those words reflect Mykonos, perfectly.
A catalyst for change and transformation
I'm not one for resolutions, so a couple of years ago when I came across the practice of choosing one word for the coming year as a focus, a theme, catalyst to help bring about transformation I was surprised how the idea appealed to me. Change is the driver of most of our failed resolutions so why did choosing one word resonate with me and seem to offer the possibility of success?
It was choosing a word, not a list of desires. One word as an every day reminder of an intention, made at the beginning of a new year, to take positive steps towards change. A word to help define how you move towards who you want to be, what you want to achieve, how you want to live.
There’s plenty advice out there about choosing your word should you like the idea but how do you put it into action?
As 2015 was drawing to an end I was reflecting back over the year. I was at a point in my life where things were going wrong. I had become complacent and neglected my business, it wasn’t in a good financial state. I was in a battle with a developer about damage to my home, add the end of a long term relationship, I felt stuck, trapped by circumstances and had no vision of better times ahead.
The one word theme struck me like lightning. Don’t focus on those things gone wrong, don’t try to put them right. How can you move forward, add, enhance, grow personally and professionally? What one word sums up what you feel needs to happen to change, bearing in mind the things you have no influence over? Presto my 2016 word came to mind - Expand.
A definition of Expand “ to increase in size, number, or importance” and synonyms: develop, supplement, enlarge on, add detail, flesh out. Also the words I used to describe what needed to happen for me to change: grow, add, enhance - expand was my word.
So there was my theme, my focus, a way to break out of the box of restrictive circumstances and thinking. Throughout the year I would look at situations, experiences, challenges, problems from the lens of that word - Expand. I made an effort to build new friendships and business relationships, grew my private client base, increased my yoga retreat business. I also focused my own self development and furthered my studies in mind body practices. I fed my passion for travel, other cultures, nature - to coin a phrase “ I expanded my horizons “
I actually expanded more than I could possibly imagine, beyond Gail Smith Yoga and took the first steps towards creating my wellness business, Wellness WorkSpace. An idea hatched from an opportunity I had been given by a client, one of the new relationships I had forged, to talk to her management team about mind-body wellness. By the end of 2016 Wellness WorkSpace started to take shape just in time for my 2017 word - Nurture.
In deciding Nurture I asked myself - what word was now appropriate to both my personal and business circumstances? I had worked extremely hard during 2016 to expand. I realised that to continue at such a pace could cost my health, affect relationships and my business. I also had a new hatchling Wellness WorkSpace. So my word Nurture seemed a right choice. A definition “ to care for and protect (someone or something) while they are growing” and synonyms: take care of, attend to, look after, support, tend, cultivation, advancement….
Throughout 2017 Nurture was there in the background. I still worked hard but this time it was in a nurturing way. I spent much more time with my family. I now have a very small, close circle of real friends. My travels and education continued. My yoga business flourished. At the beginning of the year my idea for Wellness WorkSpace gained me a place on a business accelerator programme and Wellness WorkSpace became a company in June.
So as 2017 is nearing a close I already have my word for 2018. This word has been shouting out to me for several months. It makes me smile when people say it or I come across it when reading etc
A definition of my word “unspecified qualities of a promising nature” “ a thing that may be chosen or done out of several possible alternatives”. Related words - chances, likelihood, prospect, hope, choice, achievability, alternative, solution, course of action.
The last two years I have expanded, broken free of the box. I've built new and hopefully strong foundations. Nurtured those foundations, those seeds of change, in an effort to create a new way of living and working that will keep evolving, changing, growing.
In using the one word theme I’ve realised limitations live only in our minds. Believe in yourself, have hope, understand there are always choices, chances, alternatives, solutions - all synonyms of my 2018 word - Possibilities