Re-setting our rhythms – Yin yoga for the spleen and stomach meridians

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I’ve recently started teaching Yin classes and over the past couple of weeks have been introducing my students to sequences based on Yin-Yang organ meridian pairs. Tonight it was the turn of stomach and spleen!

The spleen (Yin) meridian starts on the inside of the big toe and runs up the inner thigh entering the body at the groin and moving through the stomach, spleen and diaphragm, chest, heart, finishing at the tongue root.

The stomach (yang) meridian begins next to the nose, and runs down the torso through the diaphragm, stomach, spleen, down the top of the legs and finishes at the end of the second toe.

Needless to say, these organs are the most affected by our diet; the spleen takes the nutrition from our food and converts it into blood and chi which feed the other organs. So if our spleen is out of balance, so our whole body will suffer from impure chi. A lack of balance in the spleen and stomach meridians can leave us lacking in energy, and feeling weak in both body and mind. It can also throw off our natural rhythms such as sleeping, and thus leaves us feeling ungrounded and uncertain. On an emotional level this can make us feel anxious, worried and out of balance; unable to think straight or understand clearly. When in balance, however we feel coherent and insightful; contented with who and what we are.

So, our focus in class tonight was on sitting with ourselves and being at ease with that; using connection with body, mind and spirit to relinquish judgement and find contentment in being at home sweet home in our amazing selves.

 

HomeSweetHome[3]

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Getting to know the unknown

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As human beings we are creatures of habit; generally speaking we like to think we know what we are comfortable with and often times are happy to stick with just that. It’s kind of like the security blanket that some of us carried around as kids. We know the smell, the feel and the touch, and this makes us feel warm inside. A lot of us might bring this same attitude with us onto the mat. It manifests itself in different ways of course though. We’ve done X pose before so perhaps we think we know it; we’ve never done Y pose because I/my body can’t do that… We only hold a pose for x breaths – it’s the way we’ve always done it, we can’t really inhale that deep – our lungs aren’t as big as the teacher seems to think….any of these sound familiar? And so all these ‘stories’ we tell ourselves thus become our yoga security blanket, and for sure in most cases we don’t just limit our story telling to the mat, but also to our lives as well.

In this lunchtime’s class I challenged my students to use their practice to journey into the ‘unknown’ – to not get caught up in their pre-conceptions of how a pose ‘usually’ feels, and instead to listen to how it felt today. To be open and alert for establishing connections with muscles/ parts of their bodies that perhaps they habitually ignore or numb out of, to get excited about breathing into tight spots of the body – instead using the breath to tease out the unknown potential and power being held there. Embracing the unknown isn’t just limited to the physical of course, so we also focussed on attitudes and expectations we bring with us to the mat – and what might happen if we dare to let them go; if we listen to our hearts and not minds for once…suddenly what was once scary metamorphoses into an exciting journey – one where anything could change or happen at any moment…a bit like life really.

Having the confidence to explore the unknown on our mats is an empowering and liberating experience; when we drop our barriers suddenly poses we didn’t think were imaginable become achievable; the breath expands our lungs more than we thought possible. And the best bit of all? That we can take this understanding of our true potential out into our everyday lives as well. In the words of Rumi:

“My head is bursting with the joy of the unknown. My heart is expanding a thousand fold.”

Happy Veggie Christmas!

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After 3 glorious christmases in exotic locations where I didn’t need to think twice about what I was going to eat on Christmas day, this Christmas I found myself back in the UK with my Mum asking me what on earth was I going to eat on Christmas day?! I toyed with the idea of fish (I do eat fish so I guess that this makes me a pescatarian if you want to get technical about it!), but couldn’t find a recipe that really grabbed me. Thus my search changed focus to nut roasts – of which there are many believe you me!

As Popeye trapped in a yogi’s body, I’m a massive lover of spinach, so when I found this recipe from the Hairy Bikers’ 12 Days of Christmas the search stopped and the cooking began.

Nut and Spinach Roast with wild mushroom gravy

Serves : 4

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Ingredients -for the nut and spinach roast:

200g fresh spinach leaves, 250g unsalted mixed nuts, 25g of unsalted cashew nuts, ½ onion, finely chopped, 1 carrot, grated, 200g tinned tomatoes drained and chopped, 50g sundried tomatoes in olive oil roughly chopped, 1 free-range egg beaten, 100g Gruyère cheese finely grated, ½ tsp dried sage, ½ tsp finely chopped fresh mint,  1½ tbsp freshly chopped curly parsley,  1 garlic clove, crushed, 1 tsp vegetable stock concentrate, Sea salt flakes, Freshly ground black pepper, Knob of butter for greasing tin.

Ingredients for the Wild Mushroom gravy

2 tbsp olive oil, Knob of butter, 1 finely diced shallot, 1 garlic clove finely chopped,  250g wild mushrooms, 300ml vegetable stock, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp plain flour, 1 tbsp butter, Sea salt and pepper.

The cooking bit:

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Blanch the spinach in boiling water, then drain it well and squeeze out all the water. Chop the spinach finely and set aside.

2.  Put the mixed nuts and cashews in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, but take care not to reduce them to powder.

3. Tip the nuts into a large mixing bowl and add the onion, carrot, tinned and sundried tomatoes, egg, cheese, sage, mint, parsley, spinach, garlic, stock and seasoning, then mix everything together well.

4. Grease a loaf tin with butter and pour in the mixture. Cut a piece of greaseproof paper to fit the loaf tin, grease it and lay it over the top to stop it burning. Bake in the preheated oven for about an hour until the nut roast is cooked through. Turn it out onto a plate for slicing.

5. While the nut roast is cooking, make the mushroom gravy. Gently heat the oil and knob of butter in a medium pan, then add the diced shallot. Sweat for five minutes or until transparent. Add the garlic and sweat for wo minutes.

6. Add the mushrooms and cook gently for a further five minutes.

7. Add the stock and soy sauce, then season to taste and simmer with the lid on the pan for 10 minutes.

8.  Mix the tablespoon of flour into the tablespoon of butter and stir into the gravy to thicken it. Serve piping hot with the nut roast.

This seriously is delicious! So much so, that even the self confessed carnivores of my family were digging into it too! I’ll totally be making it again, and won’t be waiting until next Christmas to do so!

Check out this recipe and many other scrumptious culinary delights here: http://www.redonline.co.uk/food/hrecipes/nut-spinach-roast-with-wild-mushroom-gravy 

 

Spinach and nut roast

 The finished product ready to be eaten!

Facing fear and fire…

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Following on from my last post I just wanted to share this photo – I love the way it embodies  the evening and my whole experience of facing my fear(s) and getting empowered.

(A big shout out to my fellow trainee Star Phoenix for letting me use this photo.)

To finish I’d like to leave you with this quote from my teacher Ana Forrest on ‘Stalking Fear’:

“The fear was there but it wasn’t unmanageable. I’d believed that in order to do what I was afraid of, I had to get rid of the fear first, but that turned out to be only an idea not the truth. You have to do something two hundred times before the fear will disappear. Are you still afraid of something? Just do it again. Do it again. Do it again. Maybe I couldn’t banish all my fears, but I made the choice to stop allowing them to rule my life.”

(Ana Forrest, Fierce Medicine)

So maybe it’s not what you fear, it’s what you do with the fear itself.

Walking on Fire…healing through ritual action

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I’ve recently been reading ‘Buffalo Woman Comes Singing’ by Brooke Medicine Eagle (an excellent read especially if you are interested in Native Indian healing and shamanic traditions) and was quite fascinated by the chapter on ‘Ritual Performance’ work as I realised I have already done this without knowing it!

 

Brooke describes ritual performance as ‘healing through ritual action focused through the physical body’. The idea revolves around using working with the physical body to transform your life; connecting our physical actions to actually acting on decisions we make. In this way acting out a ritual can become a physical metaphor for a making more dramatic change to our lives in order to live more authentically. Sounds interesting? Read on…

Over a year ago during the first my first Yoga TTC we did a lot of shamanic practices. At the start of the course we were told that as part of the closing ceremony we would be doing a fire walk. My initial reaction was ‘I can’t do that’; one of the things I would have said I was most scared of was fire. I had nightmares about waking up with the house on fire, and was most definitely not a budding pyrotechnic! As the course progressed amongst other things, I came to the realization that the job I was doing back home was making me very unhappy and sick; I knew that I had to quit, and make a change, especially if I wanted to become a yoga teacher. I had a good job and I expected that doing so would probably provoke a negative reaction from my family, friends and colleagues. Nonetheless the sense that I had to make this change became very clear in my mind, although simultaneously I also was quite terrified at the thought of doing so. The day of the fire walk came; I still wasn’t sure if I would walk. But with the butterflies of excitement in my stomach at the prospect of leaving my job, part of me suddenly started to wonder if maybe I actually would. Fortunately the fire walk was the apex pose and like in any good sequence we got to warm up first…with a crispy walk on broken glass! We gathered round and started to channel energy and vibrations. Our teacher walked first to demonstrate and then asked if anyone would like to try. Before I’d even had time to process, the words “I will’ had flown straight out of my mouth. Before I knew it I was walking the length of the glassy trail, feeling invigorated and powered by some higher source. Cut-free and enjoying a small adrenalin rush I joined back into our circle.

Later in the evening, after a ceremonious burning of that which no longer served us, and chanting around a fire of hundreds of burning coconut husks, the time was right for walking. At this point there ceased to be fear or doubt in my mind. I’m not sure if it was the glass walking, the day’s ceremonies or the high vibration that resonates through the Bali earth. All I could think was that if I wanted to quit my job when I got back, I had to walk across those hot coals; that if I could get over my fear of that, then there was almost no fear left to be had, and certainly not over handing in my resignation. With fire walking you are taught to only walk when the time is right for you; and when that times comes, when you feel you have stepped into your power, only then can you walk and not get burnt. And so I walked, not just once, or twice, I think I’d actually walked three times by the end. It was exhilarating, life confirming, and left no doubt in my mind that if I could do that, I was capable of anything. And so it was just that; less than a week later, I found myself back home, and starting to work my three-month resignation period. And how liberating it felt to be free from the constrictions I’d placed on my life and my self!

Fire walking is just one example of many ways of ritual performance; it’s not so much about getting the courage to quit your job, but more a way to step into your power, and know that ultimately you are capable of whatever you set your mind to.

Rebirth Reality Check

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As some of you already know, I’m in the process of undertaking a rather massive life change; leaving a career of 11 years and a country I’ve lived in for four, to move back to the UK to focus solely on my yoga. Some people have been shocked at this decision, many surprised, and a good few excited. For me though, it’s not really been a case of making some life changing decision, more that I finally suddenly had the enormous realisation that it’s time I started following my heart and not my head for once. And so I’ve quit my English teaching job, left Malaysia and over the next year will be participating in the Forrest Yoga Mentorship scheme, and working at a studio in Dundee (which, on the subject of following your heart, just so happens to called ‘Heart Space‘!)

In a recent conversation I found myself referring to my new adventure as a kind of ‘rebirth’. It’s funny how the words just popped put of my mouth; it wasn’t something I’d previously considered, yet the more I thought about it I realised how accurately this word describes the new stage in my life…. ………rebirth/to be re-born/ to start a new life…… Only thing is though, in order to do this there also needs to be a death…the passing of your current life. So, I realised a few weeks ago that whilst I’d done a great job of organising my new life (even down to finer details of booking train tickets!), I wasn’t really doing so well at moving away from my old one. Excited in anticipation of what’s to come, but clinging like a baby koala to the comfort of my familiar life. Something had to give….

You cannot live if you do not die psychologically every minute” Krishnamurti

Crap,yeah, he does kind of have a point…

In Forrest Yoga there’s a strong focus on evolving; taking the step(s) into becoming your truly authentic self, and this is what I hope I’m in the process of doing right now. But I guess what I’d forgotten is that in order to do this you have to just let go and embrace dancing with the unknown. In ‘Yoga and Psychotherapy’, a book I’ve recently read, the writers emphasize exactly this: authentic change really is a step into the unknown, and that the process of giving up your familiar (yet not fully authentic) life, and stepping into the unknown is actually like a death. For ultimately, in order to be reborn we must first die, and in order to die we must let go. This concept really resonated with me; enough to make me re-evaluate what I was doing to emotionally and mentally let go of the life I was preparing to leave. Of course there were still tears (saying goodbye is hard!), but I do feel that of the many times I’ve moved away from a place, this time it’s been easier to let go. As I’ve often said….”it’s time”.

So, I’m sure you’re wondering how the rebirth of Rosalind’s working out so far? To be honest, I kind feel like I’m in a chrysalis at the moment; still in process of transformation, and not sure how it’s going to all end up. But I have faith, and as we all know…. the caterpillar always becomes a butterfly 🙂 I’m looking forward to discovering my new wings (and teaching you yoga if you’re in Dundee!)

Sunrise at Doha airport – 5.45am today

Set your devotion (to yourself) in motion!

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Hanumanasana or full splits – a pose most people either love because they can do it or hate because they feel they can’t; “there’s no freakin’ way in a million years my legs are getting that far apart!” Sound familiar…?!

Allowing our love or (intense) hate of this pose to distract us means two things: 1) a bad case of “monkey mind” (yes, I’m really doing my best to work this theme here!) and 2) it totally gets in the way of letting us focus on what the origins of this pose truly represent: Devotion.

Hanumanasana is named after Hanuman, the monkey God and devoted follower of Lord Rama in the Hindu classic the Ramayana. In the story Hanuman demonstrates immense devotion to Rama on many occasions, leaping from India to Lanka to rescue his beloved Sita, and also from southern India to the Himalayas to fetch a mountain of medicinal herbs to cure Rama’s war-injured brother Laksmana. Hanuman’s leaps epitomise not only his devotion but also perseverance and it’s this we embody as we practice full splits pose.

In class today though, I chose to give the notion of devotion a slight twist…how might it be to spend a 90 minute practice being entirely devoted to yourself and your body’s needs? Feeling, listening and responding? What if the pranayama became an opportunity to nourish yourself with the largest, most rejuvenating breaths you could take? An opportunity to breathe fully and enjoy the sensation of oxygenating your whole body? It’s something most city dwellers probably don’t do in their day-to-day lives; I know I don’t, for distaste of the air pollution filling the air that surrounds me. What if each pose presented an opportunity to play, to explore your body’s potential yet still honouring your limits? A chance to turn off that monkey mind – the nagging reminders of your to-do list, or concerns about what other people expect you to do? And what if you didn’t need to feel guilty for being, just for once, devoted to yourself?

I admit to not always being so great at this myself, but know it sure is blissful when I do.  So what better reason for sharing it with my students. 🙂

“Splits in the city!”

“Hanuman leapt forward without a moment’s hesitation. He flew upwards into the clear sky, taking plants and creepers and birds nesting in the flowering trees with him. He was a truly wondrous sight.”

(‘The Ramayana’ translated by Arshia Sattar, Penguin Classics 1996)

Santosha: As simple as…

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“Santosat anuttamah sukha labhah”  (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali II:42)

 From contentment one gains supreme happiness

Finding pleasure – sounds so easy, but when it comes to the grind of daily life the reality of it can prove a little more challenging. On my recent Forrest training, we were taught about the importance of delighting your spirit and heart on a daily basis. It seems like a great thing to be asked to do as part of your TTC homework, but honestly speaking is something I struggle with. I get so caught up in what I think I’m supposed to be doing, feeling etc that ironically enough more often than not I forget about the most important person in this equation – myself! I recently realised that doing something delightful for my spirit doesn’t have to be (and quite frankly shouldn’t be!) a chore or a big deal; that maybe I just need to stop thinking so much about what this means, worrying about when I’ll have time for it etc and just go with the flow…

Recent example – last week on my day off rather than get up and do my yoga practice in the morning as usual, I decided to wait until late afternoon. At this point the sun was still shining, the temperature had cooled down, and I found myself on my mat gazing out of the window and wishing I had practised earlier so I could be outside enjoying it. As I moved through my warm up poses I suddenly realised that there really was an obviously simple solution to all this – get up, and get on my mat outside! I’m lucky that my condo has a lovely big green space in the middle; it’s been calling me and my practice for a while but I’ve always shied away from it, worrying about what my neighbours might think if they saw me. Last Friday though, this suddenly ceased to matter. As so I moved through my sun salutations and standing poses,  I had the warmth of the setting sun beaming down on my back, and the beauty of a rising 3/4 moon above me. I had fun playing around with handstands without worrying about which piece of furniture I might fall on top of, and held a freestanding forearm balance for a good 5 seconds before collapsing on the soft grassy cushion beneath me.Was it delightful? Absolutely! Did my neighbours stare at me – how the heck would I know – I was so wrapped up in my practice and a that lovely feeling of sheer contentment that I completely forgot to notice!

Lesson learned: Don’t overestimate what you need to do to find delight – the step to santosha really can be as simple as you’re willing to let it be.

Now…go and enjoy!

My new ‘yoga playground’ here in KL (monsoon rains permitting!!) 

Gonna get myself connected…because if your breath’s neglected, stumble you might fall…

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Reconnection was the theme of tonight’s class, for me as much as for my students. I’ve been away in the UK for the past 5 weeks, doing the Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training (an absolutely amazing experience and opportunity for which I am so grateful to have had) and so tonight was my first class back in KL for over a month. So, a time for me to reconnect with my KL students, connect with new students 🙂 and also reconnect my brain to my head and get my yoga pants on the right way round! (Yes, they were indeed inside out for the first ten minutes before class started and no, that is not a new Hardtail style last time I checked! A new trend perhaps…?!) And for my students I invited them to take the opportunity to reconnect with their breath. Breath and yoga – sounds pretty damn obvious right? Indeed you have reason, so let me explain…

I’ve recently had a delightfully airy reunion with my breath – one of the major breakthroughs I had on Forrest training course was learning how to actually breathe properly and fully. Sounds so simple, but not as easy as you might think let me tell you. We’re breathing literally every second of the day, but how many of those seconds are we actually conscious of our breath? For most of us probably very few…I know I certainly wasn’t (and this is coming from the mouth of someone who’s practised yoga for 6 years and taught it for over a year!) So learning how to breathe has truly been a revelation and if nothing short of delightful surprise! I’m really rather fascinated by the amount of expansion my rib cage is proving capable of, not to mention the thought of the capacity of air my lungs have space for. I got myself really rather good at shallow ujayi over the years (if I do say so myself!), so it’s not an easy habit to break , however I’m gradually getting better at remembering and with it the simple (or apparently not so simple) act of breathing has suddenly become so much more enchanting both on and off the mat.

So when you find yourself getting all caught up in the quest for a perfect arm balance, in the stresses of work or your daily life take a moment to reconnect with your breath… it could prove more seductive than you might think…

(Ps. As for breathing and talking – well that I’m still working on…!)