Resolve to begin

Over two months ago I was in Italy on the 5-day Silent retreat lead by Sarah and Ty Powers (see Zen page for more). It was such a deep and meaningful experience that coming back to London was difficult. I was determined to keep that sense of calm and the discipline to practice but during the month of December this was difficult. January however, has been a reset; I’m determined to do more Lojong (mind training) and yoga and to read and study more. I find with resolutions it’s better to set small tasks, so don’t make them big challenges, but doable efforts which can become long-lasting habits.

I was feeling increasingly pressured (mostly by my own ego) to do power yoga and be active, but my body started to protest so I listened and chose a yin and restorative practice instead. Every morning and every evening I spend 15-20 minutes doing hamstring stretches, hip and chest openers. Within 4 days my mind started to feel more open too - the mind can feel closed when the body is tight.

It helps with my meditation practice -again it doesn’t have to be long- but every morning for 10-15 minutes I observe my thoughts. Additionally I’m trying to be more mindful of my breath and posture during the day and have little resets. I notice I hold my breath when I am focussed or busy and when I am breathing it is quite shallow. Just a few deep breaths will reset both breath and posture.

During the coming year I am really keen to learn more; I feel like I have been so fortunate to learn from very inspiring people and I want to further explore the seeds they have planted. Lojong and gratitude through Pema Chödrön and Norman Fischer and anything on life/yoga/Buddhism through Alan Watts, BKS Iyengar, Stephen Cope, Thupten Jinpa, Michael Singer, Eknath Easwaran, Bo Forbes and many others. There are so many inspirational books and courses out there and with our modern technology you can choose to listen, watch or read anything you like. Book club will be a way through which I can share my findings – see Books page for more!

In less than three weeks I get to go back to Kripalu, to finish my 300 hour Yoga Therapy training with a module on mental health. I’m looking forward to see my fellow yogis in that beautiful place; so many kindred spirits and kind souls. Furthermore I cannot wait to give my favourite Elm tree a big (cold) hug!

Silent - Listen

Tomorrow I am going to a wonderful place called Mandali in Italy, next to Lake Como where Sarah Powers together with her husband Ty will be teaching a 5-day Yin/insight yoga silent retreat.

I am so excited to be learning from Sarah; I studied her book Insight Yoga during my Yin course with Sarah Lo and I attended a 2-day workshop with her at the start of the year and her wisdom and teaching made a great impact on me. The silent part is a little daunting, but I think it will be very healthy for me to switch off my phone, be silent and listen to my body and mind. To properly pay attention and tune in to emotions and feelings which normally don’t get attention as the speed and shininess of the outside world overshadow the subtleness of the internal world.

I will be doing yoga and meditation most of the day surrounded by what looks like a beautiful scenery. I am curious what it will do for my health; my anaemia has been worsening over the past few weeks and the tiredness is relentless and making meditation difficult… unfortunately the first availability for an iron infusion is next week. Hopefully it won’t impact things too much and I get to enjoy the experience to its fullest.

Reflection

Realisation

And a lot of letting go.

Happiness equation

I feel I have been so lucky this year with all my teachers; first there was my month-long yoga therapy course at Kripalu, with its many fantastic teachers, then I got to spend a glorious week in Samos for my advanced Thai yoga massage course, where I met some wonderful people - including Mina Semyon who is an inspirational yoga teacher who has been teaching for almost 50 years. She taught some us some amazing classes while in Samos, beautiful in their simplicity. All that learning about yoga and massage has been feeding my soul; I feel more grounded and more connected and it encourages me to practice and study more.

Last Tuesday I attended an ActionForHapiness event featuring a lecture from Mo Gawdat, who has written the book Solve for Happy (see my insights page). It’s an insightful book which I liken to yoga philosophy as it teaches us about the illusion of the ego and the self, it teaches about suffering and what makes people happy or rather what makes them unhappy. As Mo says that everyone is born happy but when we are taught to conform, to analyse and spend a lot of time in our heads in ‘doing mode’ rather than being in our bodies in ‘being mode’. The equation states that happiness is the difference of your perception of events and your expectations of how life should behave. If you expect more than you perceive to get, the inner dialogue will increase and it’s hardwired to be negative and judgemental and this loop will continue to feed itself. Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool to counter this. His mission is #onebillionhappy check it out here

I had completely forgotten that I had sent Mo an email in November of last year, just saying I really enjoyed his book, that it reminded me of yoga and that I absolutely love yoga. I hadn’t heard anything (as he does receive a lot of emails) until yesterday when he sent me an email… what a coincidence that he did this literally 3 days after I went to hear him speak in London. Serendipity. He said he looked at my website and was honoured that I put his book on my webpage. I am still smiling about this….

And then in 2 weeks I get to go to Italy on a silent retreat with Sarah Powers (whom I saw in a workshop in March) who wrote the book Insight Yoga. I am a bit nervous about the silence, but also know it is exactly what I need; to delve deeper into my meditation practice and to learn from Sarah in the process (silent = listen). I count my blessings! Stephen Cope (writer and resident at Kripalu, see my insights page) wrote about the book: “Sarah Powers brings us a truly brilliant integration of yin and yang yoga, mindfulness, Buddhist philosophy and psychology, and the genius of traditional Chinese medicine. In less skillful hands this might be overwhelming, but Powers’ work is a marvel of lucidity—presenting very complex ideas and practices with the kind of straightforwardness that makes them easy to digest. This book belongs in the library of every serious practitioner of yoga and meditation.”

My Darhma in action.

Namasté

So much to learn, so little time

Four weeks at Kripalu (see my facebook page for pictures) have left me reenergised, inspired and believing in the power of yoga even more than I already did.

I have learned so much about yoga (all of yoga - not just the postures); somatics, group dynamics and most of all, the body. We studied a therapeutic yoga program, making use of the kosha model (more on that next time), pranayama (breath practices), mudras (hand gestures), affirmations, body-mapping, visualisation and guided meditation.

On a physical level we zoomed in on the main systems of the body; respiratory, cardiovascular , immune, endocrine, gastrointestinal (GI tract), muscular skeletal and central nervous system. We went in-depth on biomechanics; how we move and how our habits might be causing aches and pains and can even affect our state of mind. How everything is interconnected; physically (fascia is a big subject), mentally, emotionally and even spiritually and how incredibly clever our bodies are designed. Homeostasis, the ability for the body to balance our autonomic nervous system (ANS) consisting of the sympathetic system (SNS, fight/flight) and the parasympathetic system (PNS, rest/digest) and how it can get out of balance.

The first subject I want to delve into is the vagus nerve, as it is closely related to mental health issues and even GI tract issues. The vagus nerve (the longest nerve in the body), is part of the PNS and it aids communication between the brain and the GI tract. It also has an anti-inflammatory role. When we are in a prolonged state of stress, the PNS and the vagus nerve are not being stimulated.  We can however improve our vagal tone (improve the speed at which the body can get back to an engaged PNS) by simple things like deep and slow breathing, singing and humming, yoga and tai chi, probiotics, meditation, socialising and laughing, massage and cold exposure. Anxiety and depression, so common in our modern world should also be positively impacted by an improved vagal tone. I am studying, and more importantly practicing these techniques so I can experience and perhaps improve my own health. In theory, improving my vagal tone would have a similar effect as the biologic medicine I receive every 8 weeks in hospital…. You can find the research I'm reading on the Vagus Nerve in this link.

I've received so much valuable information that I still need to let it all sink in and read the approximately 25 books I have bought while on the course!  For now the most important thing is to try and focus on one or two subjects at a time as at the moment it all seems a little overwhelming... also exciting and incredible stimulating, but there is just so much to learn. Speaking of which first up, my advanced Thai yoga massage course in Greece… how lucky am I?!

I will post my findings and am planning to put more resources on the Yoga and Insight pages soon.

Namasté.

Dharma continued…

“The small coincidences in life which can lead to some unexpected developments that accelerate the path you're on… are perhaps confirmation that you are on the right track.

After teaching a class at the Power Yoga Company one of the students (and a fellow teacher) told me about a 2-day Insight yoga workshop, by Sarah Powers which was due to be held at TriYoga Camden. Sarah's workshops are usually fully booked as she is an amazing teacher who has written the brilliant book Insight Yoga - however there was space and so I was able to go last minute. The workshop was enriching, educational, grounding, spiritual, insightful and it spurred me on to accelerate my learning process so I booked a space on her silent retreat in Italy later this year. It also nudged me to find a yoga therapy teacher training course which had been my ambition ever since I started teaching yoga. The course I really wanted to attend was at  a place in Massachusetts called Kripalu. Also the place where Stephen Cope (the author of some wonderful books, look on the Insights page for more) resides as senior yoga teacher.

A lot of stars needed to align for the pieces to fall into place - but they did and I was accepted into the program and my boss approved a short sabbatical. This will bring me a step closer to my quest to leave the city and get a healthier life doing yoga full time both teaching and Thai Yoga Massage. I've already devoured one of the books on my reading list ('Why zebras don't get ulcers') which is a brilliant insight in the effects of stress on the body and has deepened my understanding of how my personality might influence my general health. I am very much enjoying the learning process. Those butterflies kick-starting the small changes are now firmly residing in my stomach; full of nervous excited energy.”

Now after a hectic 5 nights in New York city for a work visit, I spent 2 nights at the beautiful home of my friends Sam & Lou (and Tom & Manon) in Old Greenwich. The seabreeze, easy living, good food and fun eased me into the transition to Kripalu, where Sam dropped me off on Sunday. Stunning scenery of rolling green hills, the most amazing trees and flowers all surrounding a big lake.... my heart is just full of gratitude... how lucky am I? Can’t wait for the course to start, until then I’m treating myself to some slow yoga sesseion, a sauna, massage and a long soak in the bath. Bliss! For more pictures and stories see my BellyFullOfYoga facebook page.. 

Thai Yoga Massage

I'm over the moon that I passed both exams for Thai Yoga Massage (TYM) and I want to share a short essay of what makes TYM so special in my mind...

"The first time I experienced Thai Yoga Massage was during a Yin Teacher training, where I met a lady who had studied TYM. She embodied loving-kindness especially when she mindfully applied TYM stretches to her fellow students’ tired limbs. It seemed like such a kind gesture and the stretches looked similar moves to our yoga postures. I then attended an ‘introduction to Thai yoga massage day’ (by Kira Balaskas), to help me get more comfortable with my adjustments as a beginning yoga teacher. Not being an overly tactile person by nature, the physical contact whilst teaching yoga classes could feel somewhat alien. During teacher training our teacher encouraged us to give a head or foot massage while people were in Savasana, but it felt awkward and it left me a little insecure, so I thought I probably wouldn’t adopt this routine after I had completed the training.

During the TYM introduction day, I had the first experience of the feeling of connection with an unfamiliar person through the power of touch. The meta-meditation aspect of TYM, applying loving-kindness, creates an energy which connects people. Inspired by this feeling I wanted to attempt some sort of head-rub at the end of my classes and I started to notice a shift in my own perception of contact; instead of dreading it, I noticed myself looking forward to the last part of the class. I would ask people to place their hands on their belly if they ‘didn’t want to be disturbed during Savasana’ if they weren’t open to this potential physical interruption of Savasana, and I started to notice more and more people wanting to receive this small token of connectedness. After class, one student asked me if anyone ever placed their hands on their belly as surely this was the best bit of the practice. In a class where people are encouraged to focus on and observe themselves, while practicing in a space with others, this small action seemed to connect our collective energy.

In a world where disconnection is increasing by modern technology, moving back to the essence of being is getting more difficult as distractions are getting more and more embedded in our daily life. Those holding office jobs, sitting behind computers for hours on end, socialising via social media, are getting locked into their stressed and less flexible bodies with increasingly busy minds. Those busy minds are where the disconnection happens as it is the ego which is being encouraged by these instant gratification social media hits. Quieting the ego, creating space in the physical body and movement in the energetic body will ultimately allow us to start noticing the busy thoughts in our minds. Then we can focus on awareness and curiosity of these thoughts and getting to know the self. TYM allows all these features ‘to be applied’ to the receiver; gentle moving and stretching of the body to create space, moving and stimulating the energy via pressure points and encouraging a deep conscious breath will start creating space in the mind.  Every part of the body receives attention, love and care as the energy is moved up through the body, from the feet up towards the head, nothing is missed. Forward folding, inversions, backbends, twists and stretches being applied to the receiver’s body, has those same nourishing qualities it has in yoga. A fluent combination of movin g energy, by palming and thumbing the main 10 energy lines (Sip Sen) with the stretching and moving of the body creates suppleness in the body allowing the energy to move.

Applying loving-kindness creates more compassion and compassion will create more awareness and a feeling of connectedness. Awareness and connection to the deeper layers of yourself, but it also creates a seed for connection to others; real connection, not the virtual, social media kind.

Practicing Thai Yoga Massage has been a revelation for me, it has deepened my understanding of my own yoga practice, it has also helped me understand different bodies types for my teaching skills and it has given me the confidence of using more physical contact with the students coming to my yoga classes. However the best thing that has come out of this training is that it has opened up my heart space, it has allowed me to expand my feeling of connectedness to the world and to others, one Thai Yoga Massage at a time."

Going against the grain

On January 4th I started a strict elimination diet; cutting out foods such as wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, corn, sugars, eggs, alcohol, caffeine (and much more). The idea of the diet is that you cleanse your body and allow it to recover by eating only nutrient dense and anti-inflammatory foods for around 30 days and then slowly start reintroducing excluded items to test if they make you feel bad; however certain foods which will always be off-limits. I'm doing this diet because I believe that eating the wrong or too much of the same food has helped cause my body to create autoimmune reactions. It's not just food, it's lifestyle too; so yoga, meditation, sleep and being out in nature are high on my agenda. Science says it is also caused by genetics, but that is something I cannot change.

The food issue is interesting though; I'm now 7 days in and I am really starting to feel the difference. My stomach is behaving different, going to the bathroom is getting less painful -unless I eat raw vegetables- and I seem to have more energy (no need for coffee). The healthier eating also encourages me to do more yoga and meditation though the double edged sword is that it is all very time-consuming; buying, preparing, planning the food I eat and I seem to forever be washing up kitchen appliances. In turn I seem to watch less television and in the little time I have left I want to read the many books I've purchased and understand the science behind it all.

Like with yoga teaching and Thai yoga massage, I sense that I have taken another decision I was meant to make. Another learning curve which will lead me to changes in my life where I heal myself and perhaps can help others who are ill; by teaching yoga, meditation, mindfulness and what I know of diet. I'm not professing to have found the solution which will help everyone, but I am convinced that by creating more awareness and compassion for yourself and your body, it will help you find alternative solutions. For too long I have been trying to find this one medicine, one solution which was going to cure me, but I realise that is a combination of many things in your life; you have to find the things that will make you calm, mindful, exercise and eat well for your body (and that differs from person to person). For me (surprise) yoga is massive contribution to the calm, mindful, meditation and exercise part and it has made me assess my diet. Now it feels like I am addressing many of the factors which can alter my path of health and wellbeing; as the body is amazing as it produces millions of new cells every day and discards the old ones, maybe it will be able to heal itself by me adopting a healthier lifestyle?

I am positive and hopeful for the future, but will need to keep the discipline to stick with it. It is one of Niyamas (one of the limbs of the 8th-limbed path of yoga) which are shaucha (self-purification), santosha (contentment), tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-study) and isvhara pranidhana (self-surrender) - much more on this on Yoga International.

I learnt all the Niyamas and Yamas (how to treat yourself and others) during my training and they all made sense, but I couldn't fully relate to all of them. It is slowly becoming more real; I am studying myself, trying to clean my mind from negative thoughts, feed my body with good nutrients, train my body with both Yin and Yang, restorative and dynamic yoga asanas. Which all takes discipline; but I feel incredible content and grateful for my life as it is right now. The self-surrender was one of the parts I couldn't relate to very much, but I have always believed that there are many things I do not understand. Now it is starting to change as I am letting go of always having to find facts, knowledge, being in my head; I am starting to use my heart to guide me more, using it with compassion. If it feels right in my heart and soul, the mind can let go of that need to always fully understand, sometimes it is fine not to understand. I'm surrendering to my truth that there is something much bigger, that my brain can just not compute. I am content with that.

Namasté

Stars alligning.... Dharma

I owe the Power Yoga Company in Fulham (PYC) so much gratitude. The beautiful studio at the end of my street helped me through some difficult periods in my life. It started when the wonderful studio owner Marie-Laure Désiré gave me my first glimpse into the healing power of yoga after my surgery in 2009. She patiently helped me through a period where much of the medical system let me down.

Then in January 2016, after another period of surgeries, the first class I took was a Flow & Restore class led by Vicky Fox. It was so wonderful to feel my beaten-up body hesitantly opening up, stretching and breathing again. I vividly remember Passchimotanasana (seated forward fold) bringing me to tears of release and joy, and the realisation that this was something very special; had the first set of surgeries taken me well over a year to recover from, this time within 6 weeks of my last surgery I was back on the mat, feeling the strength returning to my body. I desperately wanted to deepen my knowledge of everything yoga.

I asked Marie-Laure whether I could enrol the 200hr teacher-training at the PYC which would start in April. She tested me to see if I was strong enough for such an intense training, and she said yes... I was over the moon, but also a little anxious so I was looking for some private classes to get up to speed. As luck would have it (those stars again) my favourite teacher Mona Godfrey unexpectedly had time to teach me.

At the end of May that year I qualified as a yoga teacher. I started teaching yoga at my work at the end of July 2016, and I still teach now, which is a wonderful experience. I've been further developing and learning new skills (Yin, Thai yoga massage) and it all feels like I'm on the right path.

In October 2017, by pure chance, I went to the 9:15 Flow & Restore class - the one which had me in tears of joy some 22 months earlier. Normally I wouldn't have gone as I practice my Thai yoga massage and I see Mona, but this day she couldn't make it. So I went to a lovely class led by Vicky, who at the end of the practice said she wouldn't be teaching this particular class anymore and wasn't sure who would be covering it yet. That was sad to hear.. though on my way home it had me thinking; was this meant for me? Why did she explicitly say she didn't know the cover yet, otherwise it wouldn't even have occurred to me...  So I asked Marie-Laure and did a trial which led me to becoming the permanent cover.

It all feels very much like I'm getting closer to my Dharma; my true purpose. All the things I am learning and doing are always a little scary but also fill me with great joy and purpose. My dream of one day leaving the city, living healthier and teaching yoga fulltime is etching closer. But I still have to work to make it come true; I have to take those (scary) steps and follow my heart.

To read more about Dharma, there is a great book, written by the amazing Stephen Cope (who I hope to one day visit in Kripalu) called The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling. Absolutely inspiring!

I am ever so grateful for being able to teach at the wonderful Power Yoga Company, a place which has given me so much. I am very much enjoying every moment... and I keep watching those stars!

Namasté

Mind body connection

When I was growing up a lot of emphasis was placed on knowledge, studying, striving to be smart. My high-school advertised that 'smart girls choose science subjects' which I felt compelled to do. All along my teenage years and well into my twenties and even thirties I was chasing this illusion of being smart. Studying maths and computer science surely would make me a very clever person. This cleverness in turn was bound to set me up to earn good money, find a husband/have a couple of kids and buy a nice house, as that is what is perceived to be the ideal dream in western society.

...then I fell ill.

A chronic illness, which made it difficult to live like everyone around me was living; working hard, sitting in an office all day, and then socialising. I wanted to function like everyone else I knew. The large quantities of medicine didn't make me feel  better at all, in fact I got worse and I thought (or perhaps was lead to believe) that 'if I just have surgery to remove the ill parts that will cure me'. Of course it didn't... the illness morphed (from Ulcerative Colitis) to Crohn's. Not only did I have the same painful inflammatory symptoms, I now had a lot of scar tissue and trauma from all the surgeries which caused bad posture and terrible back ache. I had listened to the many (clever) doctors, had asked for advise on whether I needed to change my diet, but western medicine decided I just had to keep taking the drugs for the foreseeable future.

...then I found yoga.

Yoga started to effect the way I thought about my way of living. Where for years I had hated my body for failing me miserably, I started to appreciate how incredible it was for being able to function at all, after all the things I had put it through... I finally started to reconnect with my body. Why did I expect my cure to be handed to me via some pill or surgery while not making some life changes? I believe my thought process was largely due to the western mind-set of trying to be clever. Being in my head, I had lost the ability to be in tune with my body.

Yoga made me aware, of my body and of how I felt. To be in tune with my gut. Via the vagus nerve the brain sends signals of 'fight or flight' or 'rest and digest' to the gut, and the 'gut-brain' (or enteric nervous system) sends gut feelings (fear, happiness) back to the brain. The more I am in tune with my body, the more I am aware of what I need. Stress is one of the triggers for Crohn's (and can lead to many other illnesses), so I will use breathing techniques (pranayama) to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and reduce feelings of stress. The movement of yoga (asana) has helped me with stiffness and aching joints. The meditative aspect of yoga has helped me tune into the power of calm, gratitude and visualisation.

Less thinking, more feeling!

I am hoping that one day my high-school will advertise 'happy people do yoga' and that it will become a life-lesson embedded into our educational system.

Namasté

Yoga in life

Yoga is about life.. and death.

When first practicing yoga, the physical aspect of the practice was the only part I noticed, perhaps understandably as these postures could be very challenging. Slowly when practicing more, I became aware of the impact it had on my breathing. Much later on I realised the impact these breathing techniques had on my mind. The space this created helped me better understand the connection between all of these, and between the self and others. Yoga, to yoke, is a union of body, mind, breath, spirit..

The discipline of the practice started to embed these qualities into my being and I started to use to these ‘yoga qualities’ in my everyday life. Taking more time to pause and breathe. More time to meditate and be mindful. Feeling more connected to my body, my soul, the world, others.

Recently it has helped me deal with the traumatic experience of my father passing away. The shock and devastation of the loss, and the realisation that the world kept turning and I was expected to keep functioning in it, were a big challenge. It hurt so much that I truly couldn’t breathe. 

I was walking around with this shallow breath; my body and mind numb and disconnected.  Only once I started to focus on breathing deeper, ever so slowly I was able to create some space, first in my body and then in my mind. Now, even though I am still hurting there is a sense of calm in my being as I feel connected.

My father loved that Yoga had brought me so much joy, he would jokingly ask me if I was 'still doing yogo'. My happiness made him happy, especially as he was getting older and found life more difficult; both physically and mentally. Life can be tough, the cruelty of its structure where we all eventually die. That's why every moment is precious; the good as much as the bad. And of course you can recall fond memories and look forward to future plans, but try to be here now. As I believe it's the best way to avoid the downside of dwelling in the past or longing for the future; sadness or remorse for what has been or fear for what's to come.

Living in, and appreciating the moment (mindfulness), gratitude, discipline, kindness  – practiced on the mat, will transfer to, and transform your life off the mat. Qualities to nourish and cultivate, discovering 'yogo' has given me so much more than the ability to touch my toes..

Breathe

Yoga has introduced me to the power of breathing.

Pranayama, yogic breathing, is one of the 8 limbs of Hatha yoga. We practice pranayama as part of our Asana, the physical practice which most people associate with yoga. When practicing yoga and focussing on a deep, conscious, even breath (sama vritti) for the duration of the practice, you notice the impact breathing can make. It balances mind and body; reduces anxiety, relaxes the body and calms the mind. You find that you are creating space and quiet; so important in our modern day life, which is full of distractions.

In everyday life however we don’t usually focus on breathing, as it is regulated by the function of the autonomic nervous system. This system controls all our involuntary actions (such as heartbeat and digestion) and has two control functions; the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems; the stress (fight or flight) and relaxation (rest and digest) systems.

The wonderful thing is that it can work both ways; the system controls our breath (e.g. if we are stressed, it is shallow), but our breath can also influence which of the functions will be triggered; a short shallow rapid breath brings our stress hormones into play, while long deep slow breathing will aid in dropping the heart rate and blood pressure, initiating a state of calm. So we can influence how we feel by controlling our breath.

When we breathe deeply, inhaling all the way into the belly we will start feeling more relaxed. Try inhaling deeply placing a hand on your belly feeling it rise and then exhale out through the mouth. Do this for a few minutes and you will feel more grounded and calm.

If you feel stressed, start exhaling longer than you inhale. Keep the deep belly breathing, inhale for 2 exhale for 4, then trying to go to inhale for 3 exhale for 6. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and you should feel less stressed.

Pranayama has many different breathing exercises which can aid with focussing the mind, it can energise, relax and be grounding. Many good books on the power of breathing are out there, light on pranayama from BKS Iyengar if you want to learn more.

Besides pranayama, I’m also trying to breathe more during the day, at work, before getting stressed. Creating little triggers to remember to exhale longer than inhaling. I have been feeling calmer and things seem to be effecting me a little less than they used to….

Gratitude

It seems a lot of people share a similar yoga journey; it starts off physical, focussing on the Asana, then the breathing starts to deepen, then the mind starts to calm and then the spiritual side starts to shine through.

This journey helps to broaden the mind, to have a different perspective of yourself and life.

For such a long time I was stuck in bad beliefs and habits, which deepened with each flare-up, doctor’s visit, operation and hospital stay. I started to build a wall and became increasingly intolerant of people complaining about what I deemed little things like colds or IBS. Life was not fair after all and I was struggling, physically and mentally.

But as I started breathing deeper and calming my mind I started to feel better. Mentally at first, physically later. It has helped me with perspective; where I used to feel hard done by (why me?) and ungrateful for my ‘broken body’, I now feel grateful for the amazing things my body is capable of. Everyone has issues, problems and worries of their own, there is no comparison, no need to judge as we each have our own journeys to make.

It has made me realise that that way I am currently managing this illness needs to be addressed as there is no amount of infusions and drugs which is going to make me better. Worse, the very real side effects of these drugs are painful to read and must at some point have a reverse effect. The surgery to remove the ill part of my body which was supposed to cure me has only resulted in the illness coming back somewhere else (from Ulcerative Colitis to Crohn’s). Why did I not realise earlier that it is going to take something other than ‘medicine’ to heal me.

Sitting in an office up to 12 hours a day in air-conditioning, TL lighting, no natural light, no plants, eating processed food at my desk. Evolution hasn’t quite caught up with that way of living…. So I am going to make changes, slowly as the reality of life is that I need to make a living and office work is what I need to do for now. Teaching yoga at works helps. Breathing exercises at work help too.

Now it is time to address the food issue; I need to check what my allergies are and make a conscious effort to change my diet so my body doesn’t create an autoimmune reaction every time I eat.  I'm hoping that I might be able to move to the countryside and teach full time and enjoy a more natural environment.

Regarding the food issue; I have been watching a documentary called ‘Betrayal’ by Dr. Tom O’Bryan which is all about autoimmune illnesses and how they are spreading in the Western world. Try to see past the slight sensationalist way it is brought (and the director is a bit much) because it has incredible information, I very much would recommend it for autoimmune sufferers who have been through the mill and are wanting to look beyond a medical solution. I'm staying sensible though, I wont just stop my meds, but I am actively looking to break this vicious circle of drugs.

The last year has been eventful; from being off sick for 3 months, to doing my 200hrs yoga teacher training and now having taught over 35 yoga classes at my work. I have learnt and am learning so incredibly much, I feel more alive and present than ever before. It feels like a lot of experiences are coming together for something altogether more meaningful.

In a time of chaos and despair in the world, I’m learning to create a bit of calm and healing from within which I can hopefully spread it around me, trickling out into the world and I'm grateful for the journey.

Namasté

Signs

Signs are everywhere, but you need to open your heart see them.

I used to think of myself as quite a down-to-earth, analytical, somewhat sceptical person (studied maths/computer science) and wasn't really into this floaty, spiritual stuff. But by deepening my yoga practice -which started of purely physical- I have started opening myself to new things and by doing that I have started to open my heart. This has been a big effort as going through the trauma of chronic illness and surgery made me build a wall around my heart in order to be able to cope with all the hospital visits, bad news, feeling ill and to not get hurt any deeper. I wanted to work even harder to prove myself and I berated my body for being 'broken'. I started focussing on the negative and was in survival mode. I needed to learn to love myself and my body again. Instead of being disappointed with all the things 'wrong' with me, I needed to focus on the magical recovery my body, mind and spirit were capable of. And once I did that, with the help of yoga, the magic started trickling in.

I started teaching yoga at work over a month ago and it has been the most wonderful experience. Teaching in its own right is a beautiful thing. Teaching yoga has this added quality sharing an experience and energy with people. Why we weren't taught yoga or mindfulness at school is an absolute mystery to me; it has such wisdom, spirituality and is great for physical development. You can touch people's hearts and minds and that is so rare in these times of modern technology, where we seem to be getting more disconnected and isolated. I've had such nice responses to the classes, especially from those people new to yoga. It fills my heart and is breaking down this wall I created... more than that signs are appearing on my path that confirm what deep in my heart I already know, that this is good, this is purposeful and rewarding and this is where I'm headed.

Today I finished reading an inspirational book written by a neurosurgeon, Dr. James Doty called Into the Magic Shop. It is a moving life-story of a man who at a young age was taught to breathe, quiet his mind, open his heart and set an intention. It is a book about human connections, but it also teaches how to do these four exercises and towards the end you'll find his Alphabet of the Heart, which should help to create more compassion and balance. Dr. Doty has helped set up CCARE, a research centre studying the effect of compassion on the heart and brain. Maybe if I practice setting my intention often enough, one day I might get to meet this fascinating man... I am a very slow reader, but I read his book from cover to cover in no time! Please read it if you can.

I'm going to move forward on my path, sharing what I learn with others (another sign in my yoga workshop today, where the 'Teach' card found its way to me) but also showing more gratitude to myself and all those inspirational people I have met so far.

Namasté

Belly Full Of Yoga was born!

Today BellyFullOfYoga.com has gone live. My wonderful teacher Mona has helped me to get started and it is fabulous, I can't stop smiling. After struggling through the end of 2015, this year has been an incredible turning point; never could I have imagined that I would become a yoga teacher and that I actually would start teaching yoga at my place of work.

More than that, I think my experiences over the past decade or so, are now being combined into something more purposeful, where I might be able to help other people. It would be great if I could reach out to people who might be struggling and who could really benefit from discovering yoga, but might be intimidated by studios or yoga in general. For some it might be too physical for others perhaps not physical enough and too 'floaty'?

The wonderful thing about yoga is that you can take out if it exactly what you need. But you need to try it. So for those of you, who for whatever reason can't make it to a class, I want to record postures, sequences and advice in general. So watch this space!

Namasté