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How to improve your well-being during this crisis

How to improve your well-being during this crisis

In these strange times, many of us are struggling with navigating our normal lives. Everyday things have changed; shops have closed, exercise is limited, we can’t hug our parents or friends – and we can’t go to yoga classes.

As the weeks go by we have started to adapt, but every now and then the loneliness, uncertainty, and financial worries can hit home.

So here are some ways that we can look after our wellbeing during Coronavirus.

Limit your news intake

Be intentional in the way that you consume the news at the moment. If you have a news app on your phone, turn off the notifications. One news story can lead us to another, and before we know it, we’ve been pulled down into a dark spiral of fear-inducing news.

Yes, the world is dealing with a pandemic and, of course, there are things to be frightened of. But stoking our fear doesn’t help. It just increases our stress levels, which in turn reduces the strength of our immune system.

Connect with your body

As yogis, we know this. Doing a considered yoga practice when we’re stressed calms us down, brings us back from anxiety. But it’s easy to know this, sometimes less easy to do. If you’re working from home, as well as home-schooling young children, then fitting in a yoga practice will seem laughable.

But it doesn’t have to be a whole hour of practice. It can be as simple as sitting straight and tall on your chair; feeling the sitting bones and backs of the thighs on the seat of the chair, pressing the feet down, then stretching the arms up towards the ceiling.

This simple exercise will connect you to the earth, open the lungs and heart, and bring the mind into the body.

Think about others

This is a cliché, but a true one. The more we think about others, and consider how other people might be feeling, the less we focus on ourselves and how we’re coping, or not.

If you’re feeling at a loose end and it’s driving you mad, there’s plenty of ways to be useful. Check out nextdoor.com to see if you’ve got any elderly or vulnerable neighbours that need medication or shopping picked up and delivered. Or give your elderly relative a call every day to have a chat and see how they’re doing.

Get to know your family

If this situation has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t usually spend much time with our family unit. In a normal week, my husband and I have about 20 minutes a day to have a proper chat. Weekends were usually just as busy with yoga and work commitments, time away, kids’ activities, and so on.

Without all this frenetic activity, we are turning to look at each other, and now have the time and space to have proper conversations. On the daily walks there is a chance to really connect with our children and partners, with no distractions such as popping into shops or grabbing a coffee.

If you feel like you’re still more annoyed than connected to them, then try this exercise. Taking around 45 minutes, ask your partner these questions, and see how many surprises you get.

Do a daily meditation

Meditation has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety, calm the nerves, slow the heart rate, and increase feelings of contentment and well-being. If you already have a yoga practice, adding in a ten-minute meditation every day will come easier to you, as your body will be more receptive to sitting or lying still.

Why not choose a subject to meditate on? You can set an intention for your meditation, such as focusing on compassion for others, acknowledging your resilience, and being grateful for health, home, family, and friends.

If you’re not sure you’d know what to do, or might not have the motivation to do it on your own, there are plenty of apps out there, such as calm, headspace, Aura, and Smiling Mind – and we’re currently holding a free guided meditation on Friday morning, so why not join us?

Read more

We all take books on holiday, but as soon as we’re at home, we find we don’t have time to read anymore. With the uncertainty of how much longer we will be in lockdown, now is the perfect time to get back into that pile of books. Rather than buying a whole load more, check your bookshelves first. I found at least three books that I thought I’d read, but actually hadn’t – free books!

It could also be a time to release your inner yoga geek and do a bit of yoga philosophy reading. There is a vast wealth of knowledge out there, which deepens your yoga practice.

Write things down

I always think the word ‘journaling’ is really smug and slightly intimidating. You don’t have to keep up a relentless daily diary to do a bit of writing – of course, if you do, well done. But we all have a spare notepad somewhere, dig it out and start a lockdown diary. It doesn’t have to be every day. It could be just one sentence. Or you could keep a yoga practice notepad, and write how you felt before and after your practice.

If you’re struggling with your emotions, you can try ‘expressive writing‘, which is a safe way to express your feelings, and see them objectively.

Try not to compare

We all do it all the time, and it’s never good for any of us. But right now there seems to be some sort of ‘who can do lockdown life the best’ competition on social media – especially Instagram. Some people seem to be baking, gardening, doing DIY jobs, homeschooling, setting up new businesses, and making floral wreaths, all at the same time.

This sets up a feeling that we’re not making the most of this time and can trigger all sorts of self-criticism. But it’s important to remember that everyone who posts on social media is only posting the edited highlights, and that they too are having days when they feel scared, stressed, or angry.

Be Kind to Yourself

It’s easy to forget to be compassionate and kind to ourselves. We are in an unprecedented time within living memory, and it will inevitably affect, shape and change all of our lives. Well-known author Matt Haig has a note to himself in his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive‘, which includes these sentences that feel very apt:

Keep allowing yourself the human privilege of mistakes. Keep a space that is you and put a fence around it. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep your phone at arm’s length. Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Keep breathing. Keep inhaling life itself.

 

 

Poppy Pickles

Time to get reading – getting into Yoga Philosophy during lockdown

Time to get reading - getting into Yoga Philosophy during lockdown

As yoga teachers and students, how important is it to know about the philosophy of the yoga we teach?

Yoga Philosophy is a vast subject; the Vedas, the Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads, to name but a few. You could spend a lifetime studying just one of these. But yoga is a physical practice, so do we need to know about the philosophy of it to be fully-rounded yogis?

The answer is – why don’t you try it to see?

While we’re in lockdown, we have no choice but to become stiller. We can’t rush about, make plans and run into the future. We have more present moments. So let’s take this time as a gift to expand our mental and spiritual worlds, while our physical world can expand only as far as the local park.

Why study yoga philosophy?

Let’s look into the ‘why’ a bit more. In ancient times yoga was passed from guru to shishya (pupil). The knowledge of yoga was passed on orally, but most of this teaching is now lost.

What was retained is now written down in books. ‘It is difficult to learn through books, but they are our only means of progress until we come across that rarity, a true teacher or master’ says B K S Iyengar in his introduction to his ‘Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’.

The yoga that we practice is incredibly important but, once we add in the theoretical knowledge, there comes a deepening understanding of WHY we do all this stretching stuff in the first place.

It becomes less about how many likes we can get for our latest yoga post on Instagram and more about the deep-seated motivation for getting on the mat every day.

But it’s important to remember that knowledge without experience is meaningless. It is better to come to the philosophy of yoga once you have an established home practice; then the meaning of what you’re reading is illuminated by your own experience.

A (very) brief history of Yoga Philosophy

We don’t really know when yoga began, but the estimate is around 2,500 years ago. Modern Yoga is an amalgam of lots of different Indian forms, but the earliest mention of yoga in a written form is in the Upanishads and the Mahabharata.

The Upanishads are part of the Vedas (meaning ‘wisdom’) – ancient Sanskrit texts, which are a collection of spiritual teachings and the basis of Hinduism. The Mahabharata is an epic tale (the other one is the Ramayana), which tells of the wars between two groups of cousins, as well as lots of devotional and spiritual teachings.

Within the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna’s teaching is infused with yogic concepts.

Following on from these works is possibly the most important philosophy of Yoga; the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Written somewhere between 500 and 200 BC, it is a collection of 196 aphorisms covering all aspects of a yogic life. It is called Yoga Darshana, which means Yoga Mirror, as the effect of yoga is to be like a mirror held up to show the seeker their true self.

In the 15th century, the sage Svatmarama wrote the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Light on Hatha Yoga), which is much closer to a manual than the other works and is more like the yoga that we recognise and practice today.

Where to start

But where do we start? As yoga teachers, the most obvious place to start is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. As an Iyengar yoga teacher, I start all my classes with the traditional chant to Patanjali, so it would be a bit remiss of me to chant away to some sage I have no idea about.

However, if you’re expecting a handy guide on how to do yoga, you’ll be disappointed. The sutras are a series of aphorisms that take you deeper and deeper into the heart of yoga.

First of all, it helps to invest in a good translation, as it’s not an easy text. The one that I go to is B K S Iyengar’s ‘Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’, but there are other good versions out there.

There are four sections or padas of the book.

  1. Samadhi pada – on concentration, or contemplation
  2. Sadhana pada – on practice
  3. Vibhuti pada – on properties and powers
  4. Kaivalya pada- on freedom from attachment

The first deals with where you’re heading – samadhi. It’s an aspirational way to start and is directed at those who are already well on their way to enlightenment. The second sutra in this section is the definition of yoga that most of us have heard of:

Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness

The second chapter is for the less spiritually evolved (so, most of us) and covers the eight limbs of yoga, as well as the three great paths of yoga; Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga.  The third chapter is about the divine effects of yoga and the eight supernatural powers, or siddhis. These siddhis include the ability to change size, weight, to attain every wish and to gain power over all things – so eat your heart out, Marvel.

The final chapter is about achieving kaivalya when the sadhaka (seeker) attains liberation from the extremes of pleasure and pain and lives in a state of virtuous awareness.

Things to bear in mind

It’s not a religion. According to Patanjali, those who practice yoga can be of any faith, colour, creed, or sexual orientation (well, he didn’t say that, but I’m extrapolating). Anyone can do yoga, and their beliefs and values will be strengthened by the practice and philosophy.

Don’t be overwhelmed. Yoga philosophy was studied by sages who literally did nothing else, for their whole LIVES. Even in lockdown we still have a whole host of ‘things to do’. I return to the same chapters of my books over and over again. Sometimes, if I have 5 minutes, I just open the book at a random page and read what swims into view and just digest that one section.

Take notes. Have a notebook that you keep to hand, and then when something makes sense to you, jot it down. Or keep a handy guide of the meanings of some of the recurring words, like samadhi.

Where to finish

This is a tongue-in-cheek heading, as anyone who even delves just the tiniest bit into this vast subject knows that there is no ‘finishing’ this subject. Just as we never stop being students of yoga, we never stop being learners of yoga philosophy and where yoga strengthens body and mind, the philosophy of yoga brings spiritual health to enrich your yoga journey.

Poppy Pickles