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
I've never been a great one to make resolutions perhaps because I always feel a failure when just weeks after setting them they end up being broken or unaccomplished. If you really want to set some resolutions as we approach 2018 here are some tips that may help you see them though to a positive conclusion.
1. It’s my belief that Resolutions are doomed to failure when based around denying yourself something and using the word STOP..... I am going to stop smoking, drinking alcohol, eating chocolate …….
Tip : Set a resolution for a shorter period than STOP, give yourself a time frame to carry out the resolution, remove the statement of denial and replace it with a positive intention
“For the month of January I will be a non smoker, alcohol free, replace chocolate with……”
Why? Shorter goals are more achievable, there's no outright denial of something you like but feel harms you. At the end of your given period and you've succeeded, you then have a choice, to continue for another period or pat yourself on the back for achieving your Resolution!
2. Some Resolutions are based around fixing a problem we want to solve but we try to solve it with the same solution that failed previously.... I am going back to the gym to get fit. I am going to start my diet again to loose weight ……
Tip : Fix the problem with a different solution! Find another way to tackle the issue, something you are interested in doing and that suits your needs.
Don’t really like the gym? Go swimming, running or something else you like to do.
Can't afford membership fees? Walk, run or do something at home.
Too busy to get to the gym/class? Take up a sport or activity which fits in with the time you have spare.
Why diet again? If you want to loose weight think of a change that moves towards a healthier lifestyle rather than a period of denial by dieting. Buy a healthy cookery book or go on a cookery course. View it as an ongoing process to learn new ways of eating and cooking.
3. Why focus only on putting right the wrongs?
Tip: Think of Resolutions as opportunities to try new things
This year I will learn a language, play an instrument, travel to…, volunteer to help out with….. No denial there just the sweet promise of the possibilities of a new experience.
4. If you really, really want to make resolutions make them 24 times next year by following the new and full moon cycles!
Tip: The new moon is seen as a time for new beginnings, the full moon a time to take stock, review, evaluate, let go.
Each new moon make an intention/goal/resolution that seems appropriate to your needs at that present moment. Then each full moon take stock of where you are, review and let go of what no longer serves you. This can help you attune to and fine tune what is happening in your life through a continuous process of change and evolution.
Happy New Year!
There is something about the dynamic relationship between strength and stability, openness and grounding, moments of stillness and at the same time feeling the vibration of pure energy course through me as I extend into half moon, that captivates me and makes this balancing pose one I come to on a regular basis.
My moods can pull me to practice this pose whether it’s to use the focus and attention the pose requires to calm a chatting mind or to feel strong and steady when mentally I’m wobbling or the opposite - to expand with confidence in all directions because I just can! Then there’s the times when my physical energy levels seek this pose. I’m full of energy and need to channel it to come to stillness or the opposite I need a boost to feel alive, vibrant. There are many poses we can turn to, to help respond to the constant changes taking place within and without. For me to practice half moon and find the state of balance regardless of conditions and inclusive of all circumstances is powerful just like our moon.
"The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished."
There’s an amazing energy shift in a room when the people in your yoga class drop into and influence the rhythm of their own breath. You don't have to be the teacher to be aware of this shift, anyone who is present experiences it and it makes me smile when I turn to them and silently mouth “ can you feel this ?“. Immediately I get the wide eyed, affirmative nod of “ oh yes and wow”
It happened recently when teaching a Sales Force Team at an early morning Yoga session. I had themed the class around solutions to ease the tension and stress created by standing “on the job” for over 8 hours a day. Prolonged standing is associated with short-term adverse health issues including fatigue, leg cramps and backaches, which can affect job performance and cause significant discomfort. A study published in Human Factors suggests that this type of sustained long-lasting muscle fatigue may contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and back pain.
From the outside looking in, that group of people lying on their backs, knees bent, eyes closed with their hands over their abdomen would appear to be inactive and certainly not doing anything dynamic. However they were tuning into and positively influencing a thing we take for granted and repeat on average 23,000 times a day — the breath. In particular, they were practicing deep abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. A simple breathing technique which requires watching the rise and fall of the belly as you slowly and deeply inhale and exhale through the nose.
Deep abdominal breathing has many benefits, in this class I introduced it to
* Trigger parasympathetic dominance — the part of the autonomic nervous system that governs rest, digest and regeneration — the relaxation response. Learning how to initiate the relaxation response through deep abdominal breathing gives us a tool to help reduce muscle tension, decrease the incidence of certain stress-related disorders, increase a sense of well-being and turn off the overactive sympathetic nervous system, the flight-or-flight or stress response.
* Help the respiratory system work more efficiently. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange - that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. It also help slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilise blood pressure.
* Help tone the deep core muscles and improve posture. With abdominal breathing the diaphragm works together with the pelvic floor muscles, abdominal muscles (transversus abdominis, obliques and rectus abdominis) and back muscles (multifidus, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum and more) to pre-activate and provide support to the body during movement. Together, these muscles are important muscles for healthy pain-free movement patterns.
We could all benefit from taking time to practice deep abdominal breathing even for just a few minutes a day. Many of us will feel its unnatural especially when chest (thoracic ) or clavicular (stress) breathing is your norm. Chest and clavicular breathing can have negative consequences if overused or used exclusively. They are shallow breathing patterns which activate the sympathetic nervous system, the fight-or-flight or stress response in the body.
Overusing the chest muscles for breathing is a subtle but major cause of escalating stress, tension and anxiety. Clavicular breathing recruits the muscles of the upper torso and neck. This isolated use of these muscles for breathing is most commonly seen in people who have asthma or lung disease but if you have adopted that rounded, forward head, turtle shape posture while in front of a computer or looking into your devices you could be also in a clavicular breathing pattern. Think of how your shoulders fly up towards your ears when a sudden loud noise goes off. Imagine holding that tension in your neck and shoulders constantly while you go about your day to day life — that’s clavicular breathing.
I like to think of the rhythm of the breath as a barometer of your wellbeing. Deep, slow breathing brings calm, tranquil, free from disturbance conditions, shallow breathing, a sign of stress and turbulent times. A few minutes a day using some of the 23,000 breaths we take to enhance the connection to abdominal breathing is a simple and free way to help reduce stress, muscle tension, improve posture, tone the core muscles - positively change your well-being.
Finally, that energy shift in the class - a definite sign that calm, tranquil, free from disturbance conditions were present — its like the room, the people, the space were cocooned in a living breathing gigantic comfort blanket.
Original article published www.thriveglobal.com/stories/13696-the-rhythm-of-the-breath-a-barometer-of-your-well-being
I recently returned from teaching a yoga retreat in Umbria with an overwhelming sense of having left something behind. Not a belonging, something was missing inside. It wasn’t worrying I just felt different. Retreats are about taking time out to recharge, rest and yes the aim to come back with a greater sense of wellbeing but this sensation was weird. Then I realised I had unplugged, lost the buzz and the weird sensation was actually a sense of calm an ease in my mind and body. Read more at www.thriveglobal.com/stories/10985-lose-the-buzz-and-gain-balance
"Prana is the Life force that, like oxygen, fans the fires of our metabolism, Tejas, which, by transforming food into nutrients and experiences into experience, creates a feeling of well-being, lustrousness and health, Ojas"
While on retreat at Monestevole we eat freshly prepared, organic, local, seasonal and traditional foods. Your accommodation, a 40 hectare working farm surrounded by the beautiful woodlands of Umbria. The air is clean, the scenery picturesque and a feeling of peace and tranquillity resides here. For those few days we come together as part of a community, we eat together, practice yoga together, spend time together and live together with one aim to Restore, Relax and Renew. Come and join me on retreat to restore vitality, create space to relax and renew the power of connection in the body, in the community and in life.
There are still a few places left on this retreat to a very special place. If you would like further details click here
Over the years people have suggested I write a book or make a DVD of my practices, thoughts etc to help them practice at home. To me that is a huge task, so I have finally made a mini step towards creating " Get WELLthy " : Mini Self -Care plans comprising of 7 two minute actions to practice and use to promote your own good health and well- being.
The first Get WELLthy Plan is the Stress Combat Plan - 7 steps to help alleviate stress from both mind & body and build stress resilience. What I call bouncebackability - how to bounce back from set-backs and, if things don’t go according to plan, then make another plan. From Worrier to Warrior is one of the 7 steps in the Stress Combat Plan for you to try:
From Worrier to Warrior:
What can you do when you get so bogged down with thoughts that you can't think straight? Worry breeds worry. Just remembering times when there has been a fog of thoughts racing, multiplying, causing chaos in my head can bring back memories of being indecisive, worried, anxious or overwhelmed about making that right decision.
Create space in 2 minutes and watch that fog clear
Close your eyes and start to breathe slowly in and out through your nose. After 4/5 breaths inhale and PAUSE for 2/3 seconds before exhaling. Repeat this a few times and start to tune in to what you are experiencing during the PAUSE - it's simple it's just that a PAUSE - SPACE. Now feel what happens after the pause when you exhale. Does your body soften, relax, do your shoulders sink or face relax. What else? keep watching. Practice this for 2 minutes then tune in to what's happened to the thoughts? Is your mind clearer, calmer, do you feel less heavy, less burden, can you make that decision now?
The create space action is a way to help clear that fog of unhelpful thoughts by breaking the link between them, reducing their perceived power over you. It gives you space to connect to your inner wisdom, those gut feelings, instincts that only work for your benefit and your interest, guiding you to make the right decision or take the right course of action. So, like those ancient great warriors who used their natural abilities and instincts to win battles, with practice you can learn to tap in to your inner wisdom and gain strength, focus, confidence and courage to know and do what is right for you and avoid the stresses of overthinking. That's when you move from Worrier to Warrior. Namaste
Each time we practice yoga we are given an opportunity to observe ourselves. The physical movements we go through on the mat expose much more than muscle weaknesses or strength. Our reactions and aversions to challenging poses, our attachments and ego trips when we are successfully or competently achieving a pose are all reflections of how we navigate and handle our day to day life.
So something struck me the other day, after a conversation with a student, when I heard myself saying yet again " you don't leave your practice on the mat when your finished and get off it - you are your practice - so it comes with you". It made me think about how my own yoga practice reflects this, how is it translated into my day to day life?
Here is a week of yoga practice I recored recently. Day 1 and 5 may be what most will see is a traditional yoga practice but what about the other days?
With a little awareness and the right attitude we can all draw on our yoga practices and incorporate them into our everyday actions, so life as it unfolds minute by minute, day by day becomes a living yoga. That self- care bodywork with a tennis ball becomes an asana practice , some moments of quite reflection when things get rough -meditation, a walk the opportunity for a moment of gratitude or the seed for mindfulness. A chat and a cup of tea, well that's it in a nutshell, to open our hearts and give the present moment to others in need is the truest most authentic practice of yoga.
I think it was meant that I met my neighbour's widow again yesterday, before I finished this post. Our conversation gave me the way to end this post. Her words to me carry the message I wanted to convey with this post. " I miss him so much, I feel numb, we were together 63 years and I know I can't but if I could I would live all those 63 years, good and bad, over again and this time APPRECIATE EVERY MOMENT."