No bake chocolate delight!

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So, whilst in Denver, thrown off balance by the altitude, I and my partner in advanced TTC crime developed a slight obsession with no bake cookies! Since returning home there is nowhere I can indulge my new new fixation and I’ve convinced myself that if I try and recreate my Denver culinary passion it just won’t be the same – cue substitution with raw chocolate fudge! When I was on a yoga immersion with the High Vibe yoga crew in Bali a while back, I was  introduced to a nothing short of delightful recipe for raw chocolate fudge – and it’s that I’ve been tinkering with to make my Raw Chocolate, cashew butter and banana fudge! 🙂

A word of warning – if you make this – you will eat it, you won’t be that keen on sharing it – tip: make plenty!! (I have to laugh – I just went to get the recipe from where I stuck it on the fridge door and obviously just had to eat a piece before I came back to my seat! Quality control…honestly!)

Basic Raw chocolate fudge recipe:

3/4 cup raw cacao powder, 3/4 cup coconut oil, 1/2 cup honey (or agave – I prefer the texture of honey), pinch of rock salt, 1/4 cup cacao nibs, 1/4 cup cashews or other nuts chopped.

Mix in a bowl and then put in a flat tin or dish. Put in the freezer to set and then keep in the fridge – enjoy! (It might sound weird to add salt but it offsets the bitterness of the cacao nibs well and it tastes really good when you get a piece with a salty bit in it!)

For the cashew/banana extravaganza – I used all of the above except the 1/4 cup of cashews/nuts. Then I started free-styling! Note – when I get creative in the kitchen I am more Jamie Oliver than Delia Smith ie. I don’t really measure what I’m putting in, rather I go with what I’ve got and what seems like the tastiest quantity.

Before adding the cacao nibs I stirred in the cashew butter – probably about 1/3 -1/2 of a jar of the Meridian brand smooth cashew butter ( for those not in the UK a jar of that is 170g). The texture was amazing! I added the cacao nibs and had a look in my cupboards for what else might go nicely – I normally put in dried fruits such as gojis or juicy dried apricots, but this time they weren’t really calling me. Then I noticed some ripe bananas in the fruit bowl – I rationalised that if I mixed them in well and was going to keep the fudge well chilled they would probably work pretty well…So, grab a banana – chop it up into small pieces ( I reckon this mixes in better than just slicing it) and mix it in. I used one medium sized banana and that was plenty for this quantity – if you are a massive banana lover feel free to add more though!

I stuck the fudge in a small square baking tin (nb. straight edged tin makes it easier to cut your fudge afterwards than rounded edges) and popped it in the freezer to set. It’s now living in the fridge where I test my resilience frequently as I go in the fridge for other stuff (and more often than not fail – I even had a piece as I was cooking dinner tonight as I couldn’t wait for dessert!)

So, there we have it – sinful, chocolatey, nutty, banana goodness (which it is really as it has none of the rubbish you get in an average regular chocolate bar – let’s just keep telling ourselves that shall we….)Nom nom!

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The £2.15 out of body experience…

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Today I think I had a breakup with the beverage I used to really love. I could always depend on it to give me kick when I needed to get my ass and/or my brain into action, I loved the smell (and still do to be honest), and I like the taste, but today I did not like what that regular cappuccino did to me. I’m not sure if I accidentally ended up with a double shot (I’m also not sure I’ll ever get to sleep tonight!), but about 30 minutes after finishing my coffee I was a trembling, heart palpitating mess, on my yoga mat, cursing the moment I step foot in Starbucks. All of a sudden I realised that no I hadn’t really been so tired that I needed a caffeine boost, and worst of all now I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy my yoga practice I’d been looking forward to all day because how could I connect with this (my) suddenly trembly body?

Acknowledging not being in my body and resenting it…interesting scenario for someone who recently spent a 9 day teacher training course battling with her own lack of connection. I know I’ve been rather quiet of late, and I feel bad that I promised to write my blog whilst doing my Forrest Advanced TTC and then not a peep from me. I’d like to apologise but we don’t do that in Forrest so I’ll just say “I’m sexy” (the replacement phrase we adopt to make ourselves stop apologising for everything all the bloody time – I’m sorry for being alive and taking up space on this planet – no, I’m sexy not sorry!) Jokes aside I didn’t write because I didn’t know what to write. I often put this immense pressure on myself to be writing something profound on this blog; I don’t know why, I’m not even sure who even reads it, and the fact that my sister calls me “the Carrie Bradshaw of the yoga world” suggests that maybe I’ve never written anything profound and that actually I don’t need to anyway. (I’ll keep you posted when there’s a photo of me doing a yoga pose in a tutu on the side of a bus!) Anyway the pressure of being perfect has worn rather thin so I’ve decided to just be honest.

I realised on this training that even when you think you know what you want to work on in yourself, you sometimes have missed the point. That what you think is the issue actually isn’t and something you never dreamed of being the issue indeed is. Confusing and challenging stuff. Being determined not to waste the 9 days I had to sift through my “baggage” I ended up completely in my head. And jet lag, training at altitude, PMT and general exhaustion made that a messy one I can tell you. I discovered that I’m really good at convincing myself I’m feeling something and in the process miss what I really ought to be feeling. It seemed my body wasn’t going to stand for this ‘not being in my body’ bullshit this time. Late afternoon on the second day: knee twinged, I winced, swore profusely and ignored it for a good 2 hours, knee screamed at me, I caved and cried… a lot. Cue ice, epsom salt baths that could challenge the dead sea, and an annoying legging-unfriendly knee support (or maybe that’s just the Carrie Bradshaw in me thinking out loud). By the end of day three though I kind of got it – having a sore knee gave me no choice but to get the hell back in my body – particularly if I didn’t want it to get worse. It helped me to start filtering through “the stories” in my head and it helped me to discover the places where I assumed I had connection in my body but actually didn’t. I was shocked to realise that I actually couldn’t feel or turn on my leg muscles, especially my quads; I also got pretty fascinated with my feet and how playing with the pressure distribution in them changes what you feel in your legs and takes pressure off the knee.

I came to a pretty big realisation on this training and I think that perhaps this knee “thing” was one of the things I needed to happen to help me get to the place I needed to reach – they say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear, I guess I just never thought that I could learn something from my knee! There’s a whole host of other factors that I could and maybe will talk about at some point – we’ll see. I feel really grateful to have had the experience of working with such an inspirational, tuned-in teaching team, and to have shared my training with an amazing group of fellow trainees. I’m also grateful to the person who had to listen to me feeling sorry for myself more than anyone else, and still made me cups of tea, made me laugh and even ran me my dead sea bath. 🙂

Back to the title – today I did not enjoy the way coffee made me feel one bit; it made me feel squiggly, and buzzy, in my body yet out of it at the same time. Last year I gave up coffee for a good 6 months – I slept better, my nervous system felt much calmer, and I survived quite happily without it. God only knows why I started drinking it again – as a lifelong insomniac I do know better. I’ve made a step to connecting better with myself and I’d quite like to keep working on it, so it’s been a mostly delightful (although sometimes watery, instant and not so delicious) relationship espresso, but I fear we must part and go our separate ways. I may even have found a new love…wait for it…bacon…but that’s a whole other story!

Now, someone put the kettle on and make me a cup of tea!

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Chakra Workshops in Dundee!

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Looking forward to visiting Heart Space Dundee on Sunday 23rd June to teach the next two installments in my Chakra series. This time we’ll be focusing on the 4th and 5th Chakras:

Manipura Mission: Seeking the solar plexus chakra

An opportunity to explore your core through abdominals, twists, breath work and kriyas. Activating the solar plexus chakra in the upper stomach this sequence will not only fire up your digestive power, but also ignite your sense of personal power. We’ll be focusing on issues relating to self-esteem, shame and confidence, using these to burn through the blocks and fears that hinder us from honouring and acting from our personal power. Expect the roll to be a star of this session!

A Warrior’s Heart – The Heart Chakra
“A Warrior’s Heart” examines a challenge faced by many in modern day society: overcoming obstacles to self-love and acceptance. In this workshop we’ll be exploring our relationship to grief, forgiveness and social identity in order to strip away the protective armour with which we have surrounded ourselves and heal the heart. This heart opening sequence will enable you to release negative energy from the past and embrace your authentic self, bringing a sense of peace and balance to your Spirit.
Check out Heart Space for more details!

Schedule updates!

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I’m back from my trip and on full force! Find me teaching at these places:

Join me for a juicy Forrest class at Equilibrium –

Mon and Wed – 12.30-1.15pm, Peterborough. Turbo dog your lunchtime with these short sessions designed to fit into your busy working day!

Wed – 6-7.30pm Peterborough

Thursday – 6.15-7.15pm Huntingdon

Sat – 10-11.30am Huntingdon

Sunday 10-11.30am Peterborough

I’ll also be covering some classes in Cambridge later this month at Camyoga

Tues 21st May – Hot yoga 5-6.30 pm and 7-8.30pm

Fri 24th May – Hot Yoga 5-6.30pm

Sat 25th May – Yin Yoga 4-5.15pm

Thurs 30th May – Flow 10-11.15am

Lots of choices and a few locations too – join me at one or them all! 🙂

Change addiction v Change allergy

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“A change would do you good” so sang Sheryl Crow, and she’s right that a lot of the time a change can do us a lot of good – so why then is it often so damned hard?

One of the main challenges is the pure paradox that change inspires in our attitudes towards it: We either find ourselves chasing after it like a mad thing, hell-bent on revolutionising our yoga practice, our life, our self…and the list goes on. Or we find ourselves sh*t scared of changing anything in our life – ruled by the fear of making the shift out of our comfort zone, lest anything should go ‘wrong’. It’s what I’m calling the “Change addiction – Change allergy dichotomy”. Neither of these perspectives is right nor wrong, and it’s entirely possible that you find yourself dancing on the fine edge between the two attitudes from time to time depending on the situation.

Those of you who know me will be aware that the past 8 months have held a great number of changes for me – moving back to the UK after 11 years living overseas, quitting an 11 year career to focus on yoga teaching…in some ways it might seem I must be pretty comfortable making the dramatic changes. However, it’s not all the box of chocolates it may appear – enjoying surfing the waves of the bigger changes doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to enjoy the smaller and less significant ones. Having just moved to a new city (pretty big change but feels pretty good) I recently found myself getting irate in the supermarket as I was unable to find items I wanted to buy, all compounded by the fact that there was indeed not a bag of quinoa as far as the eye could see! (New supermarket = small change = not making me feel good!) So ironically it seems small changes can put us more out of our comfort zone than the more drastic ones from time to time!

I’ve been reading a book recently talking about the keys to becoming a ‘master’ of a skill, within which there was a really interesting chapter focusing on change, and how to overcome the resistance we may find to change both in our own attitudes and those who surround us. A key point here is the concept of homeostasis – nature’s generous way of providing us with an inbuilt resistance to…you got it…change! So having bitten the bullet to make that change whether big or small, mother nature simply rewards us with an internal mechanism designed to help us keep things the same. This is all well and good when it comes to keeping something like our body temperature even, not so great however when you are trying to make more dramatic changes to your life. So, this explains why when you first jump into that fitness regime, your body sometimes tries to rebel. It also explains why your family, colleagues, friends might not react so greatly to your new life style choice – a kind of social homeostasis I guess – not least because your change maybe has the knock on effect of making them question themselves too. In this latter case, the value of having a support system; a network of people who have been through a similar situation that you can share your experiences with, cannot be emphasized enough.

I guess perhaps the irony of this post then is that I’m ultimately I’m suggesting you change your attitude to change. A good way to start is by examining your attitude to change  – what changes do you shy away from? What changes are you constantly chasing? And most importantly – why?  I’ve realised that even if you are accepting of change, allowing yourself to get too caught up in your quest for it can mean that you miss seeing the finer and equally beautiful details. Likewise avoiding change can similarly mean you miss out on new opportunities to develop further. At the end of the day it seems we should aim to find consistency in change; to sit our surf board on the wave of change and enjoy the ride no matter how big or how small.

“To find consistency within change is to embrace the unfolding flow”                  Anodea Judith

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Smoothie-tastic!

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Vegan Smoothie

I’m a big fan of a morning smoothie – quick, easy to make and totally delicious!

Here are a couple of my current favs:

Vegan Smoothie (The original recipe was on the Mind Body Green Winter Detox but I’ve adapted it a bit)

1 banana, 1 tbs. organic cashew nut butter, 2 tsp. ground flax seeds, 1 (or 2) handfuls of fresh blue berries, unsweetened almond milk – 1/2 cup or more if you want a more liquid drink.

Blend, drink and enjoy! This is a great one for breakfast, but I also like it for a pre-teaching snack too. 🙂

Green goddess with a kick!

1 banana, juice of half a lime, 1 or 2 handfuls of spinach (depending on how green you’re feeling!), ginger – finely chop around an inch of ginger (or more if you’re feeling fiery!), 1/2 cup distilled water or coconut water if it’s available  (if the smoothie looks a tad thick just add more water of your choice and re-blend).

Blend and enjoy! I also like this one in the morning especially if I’m feeling sleepy and in need of a boost to get me going.

 

Change a small habit, make a big difference (or Why changing my hand clasp in ostrich has rocked my world!)

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Habits – be they good or bad, whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve all got them! They’re funny things when you think about it – a real double-edged sword. On one hand habitual tendencies and routines are like a child’s security blanket – they make us feel safe and reassured; we know where we’re at because it’s what we “always do” so it must be ok – right? The flip side though is that they also blind us from seeing what really is, and if truth be told ultimately actually stop us from evolving.

Often we have a tendency to think changing habits has to happen on a massive scale – that it will be a major maybe life-altering change we have to make. And sometimes it is – and if you have the power and strength to carry this through then that’s fantastic! But, that’s not always so readily achievable, so at the same time we mustn’t forget that the small changes count just as much. Whilst it’s not as easy to notice our more subtle habits, making a change at this level can bring about an equally if not more significant shift.

I’ve had a sore right shoulder for what feels like an eternity, although truth be told it’s only been about a month and a half. My pec minor and trapezius muscles fell out with me big time in January and boy do those muscles know how to tweak out! I felt upset, it hurt to push a door open and my practice was clearly suffering too. Doing sun salutations was painful after too short a while, and my newly ‘conquered’ arm balance was threatened with going down the pan before I’d barely had time to relish the pleasure of doing it free-standing. I drastically reduced my suns, avoided archer arms and forced myself to lay off forearm balances; I resorted to opening doors with my left hand rather right. I guess these weren’t even major changes, but they just left me feeling frustrated and the shoulder continued to niggle. Then recently I was doing ostrich one day; as I interlaced my fingers I quite frankly felt like burying my head in the sand as I knew the minute I lifted my arms up, my shoulder would be screaming. Whilst I’m big into getting my students to interlace their fingers their ‘most unusual way’ for abs, I’d never considered using this alternative grip elsewhere. Until now…so I swapped to my non-habitual grip (having the opposite index finger on top is starting to feel less funky these days I’m glad to report!) and tentatively lifted my hands away from my sacrum. My shoulder merely whispered to me, the tension significantly reduced…changing my hand clasp in ostrich had literally rocked my practice! I incorporated this grip into boat pose and forward bends with hands clasped too, accompanying this with a renewed effort to breathe into and relax my pec muscles. In a way these changes aren’t really anything new, but I’d got so sidetracked by the bigger picture that I’d forgotten to look at the smaller details I could fine tune.

“As we free ourselves from habitual patterns of the past we can learn how to walk through this life as our spirit dictates” Ana Forrest.

Whilst it can be a bit scary cutting ties to habits and patterns in our everyday lives, the good news is it’s much easier to experiment with this in our yoga practice. The yoga mat offers a safe place to start noticing small habits and play around with changing them. And the best news of all  – we can take the confidence we gain from this off our mats and out into making changes in the rest of our lives. 🙂

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 The small change that made the big difference! 

Chakra Chat

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Anyone who’s heard me talking about “Harnessing the Power Centres”, my new series of Forrest workshops might be wondering what on earth all this chakra chat is on about. And why I’m so fascinated with the chakras that I’ve designed seven entire workshops focusing on them! If you’re interested in reading an answer that will tickle your energy centres from Muladhara  to Sahasrara keep reading… (And if you don’t know what the heck those are, you should probably keep on reading too!)

In a nutshell the chakras are the seven energy centres in our body; and maintaining free-flowing energy through them helps keep us in our power and prevent energy blockages which can often lead to physical or emotional sickness.

I don’t remember exactly when I first became interested in the chakra system; I’ve always been quite fascinated with energetics but kept it to myself for fear that it was ‘a bit weird’ (cue first chakra!) I first had a chakra balancing session whilst I was living in Thailand, studying Thai massage on an island. I’m not sure if I really knew what to expect looking back. I remember having what felt like a pretty chilled out yet simultaneously powerful treatment, one that concluded with me lying on my stomach resting with my head turned to one side gradually realising that my neck was killing me, but all the while resisting moving as I knew I had a crystal balanced precariously on my lower spine (hello second chakra!) which was felt warm and was clearly doing something I shouldn’t disturb. Eventually I succumbed and rolled on to my side, and surprisingly no crystal fell off me. I left the room and went to speak to the lady who had worked on me; she told me she had left the room a good 20 minutes previously, and removed the crystals before she left… There was no doubt in my mind that there was clearly something to this chakra malarkey no matter what other people said.

I think the first and second chakras are my personal nemesis. A few years later, during my first yoga teacher training, we were having a talk on the chakra system. I’d been quite ill – something odd going on with my stomach that I couldn’t quite shift. It wasn’t food poisoning; it definitely wasn’t friends with lying over a roll. The topic came to Svadhisthana- the sacral chakra; and something shifted in me. I literally shrank up into a ball on the floor – my lower abdomen and lower back in agony. It lasted the ten minutes or so we were discussing that chakra – then as the topic moved on, so did the pain. It was the most bizarre experience. We never figured out what was wrong with my stomach on a physical level, but energetically something was definitely shifting. It took a dose of what was nicknamed ‘the Russian Jamu”  – medicine from my Cranio Sacral teacher to do the trick in the end – either that or maybe the shift had simply taken care of itself.

So, for me it goes without saying that the chakra system is powerful stuff, and in my book this makes it worth looking at in more detail, and definitely warrants 20 hours of workshops! And so it was from this that I developed Harnessing the Power Centres: The Chakra Series. This is a series of seven Forrest Yoga workshops, each based upon the physical qualities and emotional issues connected with one of the seven chakras. Each session focuses specifically on one chakra individually; providing an opportunity to explore and heal the physical, mental and emotional issues associated with it in a supportive environment. The session will open with a ceremony, then go on to look at the chakra identity and issues surrounding it both on a physical and emotional level. We’ll do some journalling on this individually – relating it to our own situation in a personal record that can be referred back to later. Then with the context and our own personal intent set, we’ll get down to the asana practice – expect involved, intense, enlightening, and rewarding!

For a sneak preview of the first three sessions take a look below:

1) The Pleasure of Strength : The Root Chakra
This workshop will centre around “Muladhara”, the root chakra located at the base of the spine in the tailbone region and related to our sense of stability and security. This workshop uses a strong standing pose series enabling you to discover and enjoy your own sense of strength on the mat, and provide the tools for you to take this out into the rest of your life.
2) ‘Hips don’t lie’ : The Sacral Chakra
 
Focusing on “Svadhisthana” located in sacrum, this workshop will facilitate you in engaging with your centre of creativity, sensuality, and joy. The modern day lifestyle has left many of us suffering from tight hips and as a result aggravated by lower back pain. This workshop uses a powerful hip opening sequence, to release tension in this area and the power of your creative potential.
 
3.) Manipura Mission : Seeking the solar plexus chakra
 
An opportunity to explore your core through abdominals, twists, breath work and kriyas. Activating the solar plexus chakra in the upper stomach this sequence will not only fire up your digestive power, but also ignite your personal power, giving an opportunity to focus on issues relating to self-esteem and confidence and gain a greater sense of control over your life. Expect the roll to be a star of this session!
The remaining workshops you can look forward to are:
  •  A warrior’s heart – The Heart Chakra
  •  Unravelling the Mysteries of the neck and shoulders – The throat chakra
  • A Sense of Spirit – The third eye chakra
  • Celebrate the gifts of your Practice – The Crown Chakra

It’s funny that the world gives us many teachers, but there really is none other more effective than what we ultimately end up teaching ourselves. With these workshops I hope to provide an opportunity for self-reflection, discovery and celebration of the amazing-ness that is You!

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 This image is of a beautiful painting by an artist who came to speak to us whilst I was staying in the Sivananda Ashram in Neyaar Dam, Kerala. I believe it’s showing the unification of Shakti in muladhara chakra, with Shiva in sahasrara. 

I have many random notes from that lecture, which don’t all make sense. But I’ll leave you with a thought that this artist shared which really does make sense to me:
Life is like a lotus leaf. As the lotus leaf moves on the pond, so in life we are constantly moving, changing and we can’t control this. 
I guess if the lotus leaf can embrace it, then maybe so can we! 🙂

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.

 

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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.”