A Grounding Guided Meditation

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It’s the time of year when we could all use a little more rest and rejuvenation. Parties, shopping, social engagments and travel, coupled with the high tensions and expectations that this season brings, can leave us feeling overwhelmed and overstretched. One of my favourite practices to combat these feelings is Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a type of guided meditation that takes you out of your conscious mind and allows the opportunity for deep rest and restoration. It is said that 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra is the equivalent of 4 hours of deep sleep.

With that in mind, I have created a 15 minute grounding Yoga Nidra to help keep you steady and centered in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. Take a few moments over the next two weeks to come back to yourself, and I think you’ll be surprised at how nice it can feel.

Wishing you all a calm and peaceful holiday season! I’ll see you in the New Year 🙂

 

 

Yoga for Creativity

Sometimes we all need a bit of help to get inspired and to reconnect with ourselves. And of course yoga can help!

Below are a few videos to help connect in with our centre and lower bellies, the areas of the body linked to our creativity and sense of self. These are lovely movements at any time, but especially useful if you’re feeling creatively blocked, uninspired, unmotivated or not quite at ease with who you are. You can do just one video, or all four, and take as long or as short as you like with any of them – all together they are just under 10 minutes, but feel free to take more time if you have it. I like these movements most just after I wake up (to bring movement into the spine), or if I’ve been working all day and need a little boost in the afternoon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what impact the videos have for you! Leave me a comment or find me on instagram: @laurenewilkie

 

Are You Good at Yoga?

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New students often introduce themselves to me with the caveat that they are “bad at yoga” and it always gets me thinking – what is their idea of yoga that they think they can be good or bad at it?

There are so many images of yoga on social media, with people bending themselves every which way, we would be forgiven in thinking that that’s all it is. Creating an incredible shape with your body CAN be yoga, but yoga is so much more than just the shapes.

When people say they are good or bad, I think they mean that they have a hard time touching their toes or can’t do a handstand – that they are “bad” at the physical aspect of yoga. But I would argue that because yoga is a practice and not an accomplishment, you can’t actually be good or bad at yoga, you can only either practice it or not. Taking time to practice (in whatever form, physical yoga or not) means that you are good at yoga, because you are practicing, and practicing is what it’s all about.

For me, yoga is more about my state of mind and the small actions I take every day in accordance with my value system (developed with the help of yoga, of course), rather than what shapes I can accomplish with my body. The shapes are important, don’t get me wrong – the quest to achieve those shapes often allows us to understand and observe what’s going on in our minds and with our emotions. The struggle and slow progress of going from “basic” to “advanced” poses allows us to see our reactions, our thoughts and our feelings along that path. It allows us to have the space and time to notice what comes up when we are faced with challenges and adversity, and hopefully gives us tools for perseverance and resilience (i.e. breathing, letting go of limiting thought patterns that we weren’t previously aware of, connecting with our sense of self). It makes us step out of our comfort zones and helps us to grow and expand.

But yoga can also be practiced in other ways, and outside of the time spent “pretzel-ing” in class. In addition to the physical practice, we can practice yoga by staying present, by observing our reactions and emotions, by listening (to others, to our bodies and to our intuition), by noticing nuance and small joys in everyday life, and by being kind to ourselves and others.

So to anyone who has gone to class thinking that they are “bad at yoga” …. please let that idea go. You are at a class and whether it’s your first or 50th, the fact that you showed up and took time to practice, means that you are good at yoga. Keep it up 😊

I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a message in the comments, or find me on instagram – @laurenewilkie

Photo by Ali Schilling Photography

Presence

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I wrote recently how a digital detox helped me to feel more spacious and present. It’s all well and good to remove distraction while on holiday – but implementing the same isolation when back at home, at work and in real life is much more difficult.

A few things I’m loving right now that have helped create that same feeling of peace back home:

The Minimalists Podcast

If you haven’t heard of these guys, please check them out. While minimalism begins with a conscious cull of material possessions, it’s also a way of life. I find there are a lot of similarities between minimalism and yoga- it’s all about stripping back the layers of noise and distraction to come back to your true self. I always feel inspired to continue living consciously, mindfully and presently after listening.

Moment App

This app tracks phone usage. I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can set a daily limit for phone usage, and also see which apps have held your attention most during the previous day. It tracks the number of times you pick up your phone and when you’ve reached your daily limit, it buzzes and wails until you turn it off. It’s made me much more mindful when using my phone, and I find myself more easily limiting mindless checking and scrolling in an effort to save my phone time for when I really need it (connecting with friends, using the map when out and about, etc)

Daily Meditation

This month I’ve been strictly meditating for the same amount of time every day. It’s been both difficult and wonderful. In my last post on discipline vs freedom, I wanted to cultivate more balance, and my daily meditation has helped achieve this. For some ideas on how to meditate, check out my Instagram page @laurenewilkie (I did a meditation challenge a few months back), and also my October 2016 blog archives (I featured meditation ideas all that month). Daily meditation gives my mind space and sets me up for the rest of the day. As one of my teachers put it, a daily meditation practice gives everything else a bit more space.

Essential Oils

I’ve been diffusing some essential oil blends for relaxation, peace, and uplift. My favourite blend at the moment is doTERRA Frankincense, Cheer and Citrus Bliss. Frankincense is the oil of truth which reminds me to stay true to my inner guidance and not get waylaid by other voices; Cheer is (obviously) the oil of cheer and keeps my outlook positive, and Citrus Bliss is the oil of creativity, which helps to bring motivation and drive when it is lacking. In combination, these oils keep me grounded and steady, but moving forward – living mindfully and present, as I desire.

What do you do to keep a sense of presence and peace in your life? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments or find me on Instagram @laurenewilkie. If you’d like to learn more about incorporating essential oils into your daily life, click here.

Photo credit: @paula_sandersonphotos

Discipline vs Freedom

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I see discipline and freedom like two ends of a swinging pendulum. Trying to keep the pendulum centred and still is the challenge in a moving world.

With my yoga practice, I’ve spent time at both ends of the spectrum, and am now aiming for disciplined freedom – that sweet spot in the middle. Discipline fosters growth and learning, and freedom keeps things feeling light and fun, but too much of either good thing can be a problem. The best teachers I know have a healthy balance of both in their classes, and I am for that balance in my personal practice too.

Discipline

When I first started practicing yoga seriously, I had heard that in order to be a proper yogi, you needed to practice 6 days a week. Of course, I wanted to be a proper yogi (!), so rain or shine, aching joints or injured muscles, I got on my mat or went to class 6 days a week. My asanas “progressed” very quickly and I noticed a massive increase in both strength and flexibility. Along with the time spent practicing came a desire to achieve the physical aesthetic of various poses and to be able to tangibly see that I was getting “better at yoga” (I used quotes around all of these terms, because I don’t believe [now] that creating a certain shape is what being good at yoga is all about. See more about this at the bottom*). Because of this desire to achieve and progress – rather than enjoying practicing for the sake of practice – I suffered many injuries and mental anguish – beating myself up for not feeling motivated to get on the mat, and often struggling (mentally and physically) when I got there.

I felt so broken after a few months, that I had to reduce my physical practice, and (for a period of time) stop it completely in order to heal.  Continuing this level of discipline was not possible at that time, but it did provide incredible learning.

What I came to understand from this period of yoga practice, is that it was my ego pushing me forward. I was spending too much time in my mind and actually disconnecting from my body, not listening to what it needed. And I was comparing myself to others in classes, wanting to be at the same physical place/ability as them, rather than understanding and accepting where I was at that moment. The realisation that I could distance myself from my ego and connect back into my body, was a fantastic lesson that this period of discipline provided. The physical benefits of a disciplined practice – stronger muscles and the ability to move in new ways – were also noted, but understanding my ego, noticing my desire to achieve, and becoming aware of that unconscious comparison with others, had the biggest impact on how I live my life (and subsequently, my levels of contentment).

Freedom

After spending time feeling caged and feeling like I wasn’t a good yogi if I didn’t do a power vinyasa flow class 6 days a week, the pendulum swung. I discovered yin yoga and slow flow and started to rest, both in my life and in my practice (as someone who desires recognition through achievement, this was a radical discovery; resting was not only acceptable, it was also highly beneficial). I reconnected with what my body needed, continuing to notice when my ego reared it’s big head, and started doing my own thing within yoga classes. I modified poses, I used props when needed, I spent a lot of time in child’s pose. I even sometimes did a different pose than the teacher suggested (I did try to keep the intention of the pose within the new pose I chose). And in my personal practice, things got really soft and flowy, and I spent more time on my bum than on my feet (not a bad or good thing, just how it was). My yoga practice became all about moving in a way that felt good in my body, avoiding injury and not pushing or striving.

And again, I became friends with my ego. It still liked to flare up when other students “achieved” a difficult pose or when I needed to rest. But I learned to take the focus off of other students and focus only on what I was doing and how I was feeling. My practice became very joyful and I started to look forward to it rather than dread it.

I still took myself to a dynamic class now and then, and at times worked on a dynamic practice at home, but more often I kept things soft and easy.

After quite some time of practicing like this, I realised that I wasn’t learning anything new from staying with my soft practice. I had remained injury free and my body and mind felt good, but we can get to a point, whereby, in order to discover anything about ourselves, we have to step out of our comfort zone. That is the beauty of a little bit of discipline, doing something that we don’t really want to do. I realised that by always doing my own thing in class I was limiting my own learning and the possibility of finding a new way to grow – both in my body and mind.

The realisation came quite recently, so while on a yoga retreat with a teacher I wholly trust, I decided to see what would happen if I just did what she suggested, rather than changing the yoga to allow me to stay within my comfort zone. This teacher has an excellent balance of freedom and discipline and I felt safe to do this in her class, knowing that her sequences or instructions wouldn’t cause injury or harm.

I discovered a new sense of freedom and a better understanding of myself, once again getting to know my ego and this time making friends with my fear. So often we limit ourselves because of fear, but if we can get through to the other side of that fear, tremendous expansion and growth is waiting. I felt a newfound sense of contentment, and I was more able to understand and work at my edge – the place where I am both soft and striving, easy and hard. I found the middle of the pendulum.

Now back home, I’m working on finding that balance within my own practice. It’s not always easy, but having seen the two ends as well as the middle, I have an idea of what I’m looking for.

What’s on either end of your pendulum? What’s helped you find balance? I’d love to hear about it – send me a message or leave a comment below.

 

Photo by Ali Schilling

* Being good at yoga isn’t about being able to touch your toes or bring your foot behind your head. Yoga is about connecting with your body and learning to cultivate awareness of both body and mind. It’s about understanding patterns of reaction and learning how to use the mind consciously, rather than letting our thoughts and reactions control us.  I would argue that someone who is able to focus during practice, keep their attention in the moment, understand their own needs and limitations, and work at their personal edge (not pushing too hard, but neither being complacent) is actually “better” at yoga than a distracted yogi able to bend in all directions. Being flexible in body is a beautiful benefit of regular yoga practice, but that isn’t what’s it all about.

Yoga for Travellers

Tight hips and sore back after sitting for too long? Whether you’ve been too long in a car, on a plane or at a desk, this short yoga sequence will help unlock the spine and hips to have you feeling back to normal quickly. Repeat the sequence on the opposite site, and finish by spending a few minutes with your legs up the wall to help with circulation (and jet-lag).

 

 

Digital Detox

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I recently got back from an amazing holiday in Sri Lanka. Before we went, life had been full and hectic, and I knew that I wanted to take some time during the trip to really switch off and restore my body and mind, so that I came back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. We spent the first week on an incredible yoga retreat with Holly Warren, a remarkable teacher who is somehow able to find a place for the reverence of yoga, without making the atmosphere heavy. This is the second retreat I’ve been on with Holly and both have been transformative and magical.

The second week, we found an incredible AirBnB in a quiet part of southern Sri Lanka and I decided that to make the most of the breath-taking surroundings, I would stop looking at social media and checking my phone until we came back to reality. Ironically, often when I’m on holiday I find myself checking social media MORE, as I post photos of our adventures; not having anywhere to be also eliminates the natural deadline for a forced switch-off.

I’m not going to lie – I found it really hard. Not just at first – the whole time. What is it about those sites that is so addictive? I persevered and managed a full 5 days without looking at Instagram or Facebook. And it was only at the end, when I started checking again, that I realised what I had gained by switching off.

I had so much more space in my head! I wasn’t constantly feeling the need to consume words and images and to know what was going on everywhere that I wasn’t. My thoughts slowed down and I could actually figure out what I was thinking and feeling. My internal dialogue slowed. Everything inside me felt like it was moving at a manageable pace, instead of racing around on super-speed.

I realised that by the continuous filling up of my head, I hadn’t left any space for my self: for the guidance of my intuition and my heart. And that by limiting the amount of time on social media, (and therefore the number of messages that came into my brain) I was more able to relax, more able to concentrate and more able to feel and be.

I realised also that checking our phones is both a habit and a distraction. In a short amount of time, we have forgotten how to feel bored. Waiting in line, waiting for the train …. waiting for anything really, has become an opportunity to consume rather than reflect and observe. By not taking this time and allowing the space, we supress our natural instincts and especially our emotions (which of course, then come out in other ways when we least expect it). And we fail to notice what’s gong on around us – interesting things, opportunities, thoughts, emotions …. All of which could be extremely useful or just fun.

So for now, although I’m back on social media, I’m trying to limit the amount of time I spend there – allowing more space in my head, allowing emotions to present, and allowing more presence in my life … even if that means being bored for a few minutes each day.

I’d love to hear if you’ve tried a digital detox and what happened? What did you discover? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram or Facebook (after the detox, of course!).