The building blocks to living a virtuous life

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I found this walking along the beach on holiday recently. An almost perfect fossil of a starfish. As I turned it over, I realised it had chosen a fully enclosed, but hollow shell to grasp onto. And whats more, this shell was only just big enough to house this starfish - almost perfectly centred in its entirety. What a courageous little starfish. It could've chosen to cling to a large rock rooted in the sand, wrapping itself safely in the stability and sturdiness of its comfort zone. But instead, it chose the path of vulnerability by choosing such a delicate but whimsical shell. What adventures this starfish would’ve had on its way to the shore. And this got me thinking about courage.

Courage is really at the soul of almost all virtues. Kindness, strength, honesty, compassion, patience, integrity. If you wish to live a virtuous life (just being a nice human) then courage is the foundation. And how do we build courage? By getting out of our comfort zone. Embracing change. Being like the starfish and choosing the slightly more daunting; and perhaps more exciting, option. Practice your courageousness and going beyond your comfort zone on your yoga mat. See what happens, then apply it to life off the mat.

And just like the starfish, I wonder what adventures you will have and what legacy you will leave behind. 

Observing the most powerful of all relationships - the one with your Self

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I have been pondering an interesting concept this week, one which is really helping my physical and emotional wellbeing resulting in more control over my reactions and emotions. 

I took my usual yoga class last Saturday morning and the Sankalpa; or intention, we worked with was around creating and observing the relationship with the Self. The class was lead by the inspirational yoga teacher with the biggest smile and warmest soul, Lisa Ball. She mentioned the words “sitting down and having a relationship with your Self”. Just read those words again. “Sitting down and having a relationship with your Self”. Have you ever done this? Have you ever been the observer of that relationship? That one relationship that is perhaps the most important of all? How do you talk to your Self? How do you perceive your own thoughts, your own inner voice and your own actions? Do you fully accept yourself and trust your intuition?

These words stayed with me and intrigued me. It wasn’t until a few days later that I actually thought about the relationship that I have with my own Self. A few realisations washed over me as I noticed that this relationship needed some attention. Being a mum, wife, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, employee; most of my thoughts and energy are poured into my relationships with others. I haven’t dedicated much energy into nurturing my own Self. And when I do, I feel like I am being selfish and self-absorbed. When observing how I perceive myself in my own inner world, I find this often comes from a place of harsh judgment rather than love and care. This is very much the polar opposite to my relationship with others.

 Here is the lifestyle curator I have been using to plan my self-care from  Saint Belford . It is specifically for this self-care purpose and has space to encourage daily wellness activities, meal planning, idea generation, habit trackers, empowering statements and daily to-do lists. 

Here is the lifestyle curator I have been using to plan my self-care from Saint Belford. It is specifically for this self-care purpose and has space to encourage daily wellness activities, meal planning, idea generation, habit trackers, empowering statements and daily to-do lists. 

So this week I have been trying to build a stronger connection to my Self. As the saying goes “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. This is so apt. How can I give my all to others when my own self is depleted? I must put on my own oxygen mask before helping others.

So how am I giving myself an oxygen mask this week? Treating myself that little bit kinder. Being gentle with myself. (I sound like I am talking to my 3-year-old!). Talking to myself with less judgment and more leniency. Restarting a meditation practice but instead of rigidly practicing every day and feeling guilty if I haven’t, doing it when I can and not worrying that I haven’t done it for 5 days. Buying a fancy water bottle to encourage myself to drink more. But the thing that has had the most profound effect was finding one way, each day, to do something just for Me. I have actually started scheduling these activities into each day. With the first day doing exactly that. Planning. Planning in what I will do and when I can fit in my daily self-care for the week. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. For me, most of the time it is just sitting down for 5 minutes, putting on chillout music, essential oils in the diffuser and having a cuppa with no phone or computer while the kids are asleep. The main thing is to find ways that refuel your own wellbeing. It might be exercise, socialising or personal development, it is different for everyone.

 This thing is a god-send! Check out the  Daily Wellness Activity Planner  to make self-care a #1 priority.

This thing is a god-send! Check out the Daily Wellness Activity Planner to make self-care a #1 priority.

And what have I noticed?

  • I am laughing more.
  • I am more patient with the kids.
  • My shoulders have relaxed.
  • Some things that seemed a big deal are now not.
  • Life seems a little smoother.

 

I highly recommend taking an honest look at your relationship with your own Self. Not judging or resisting. Just noticing. Observe your own thought patterns, prioritise yourself and perhaps recognise any areas that need a little TLC.

Why I am embarrassed to call myself a yoga teacher at the moment

Why I am embarrassed to call myself a yoga teacher at the moment? Babies, that is why. With minimal physical activity and conversation topics mostly involving sleep and nipples, I am now finally restarting my physical yoga practice. It feels great but; to be honest, I feel like a bit of a yogi fraud.

So here is a little warts and all review - what I am struggling with, where I am going to start and how I am slowly going to rebuild my strength and physical practice.

Headlining Yoga Australia's industry publication - Yoga Today

Feeling honoured to have one of my articles headlining the Autumn edition of Yoga Australia’s industry publication - Yoga Today. So excited to help spread the word of how Yoga can be applied to Modern Mummas.

Read full article here

Yoga meets Labour - Using yoga techniques in the birth of my baby girl

 Miss P, just minutes old

Miss P, just minutes old

I am back! Its taken me a good few months to finally get my head out of newborn land and semi-back into writing about all things Yoga. Life is pretty full these days (not busy, everyone is busy - just very ‘full’) and is a juggle trying to bed Miss P into the family whilst ensuring her big brother is ok emotionally with such a big change to the family dynamic. Then also getting myself right mentally, emotionally and physically whilst working part-time, running a household and ensuring my husband and I don't become ‘transactional housemates’. Maybe my yoga blog posts might get few and far between for the next little while!

On the 23rd January, Miss P joined our family, making another beautiful birth and entrance into the world - as did my 3-year-old, Master N. I borrowed yogic techniques heavily and also followed the CalmBirth™ approach to labour and birth.

 

How the day went

Well, I definitely didn’t start out thinking I was going to have a baby that day. It was the day before my due date. I woke up thinking my waters may be slightly leaking, but I had a few things to do that day and chose to get on with it and see how I went. The photographer we booked to take some family pics once bub arrived wanted to do a maternity shoot, so I donned some makeup, styled my hair and frocked up. Little did I realise I was about to be the most glamorous new mum on the ward that evening!

 The day I went into Labour - Photography from  adriateall.com.au

The day I went into Labour - Photography from adriateall.com.au

After overcoming a few trials and tribulations position-wise during pregnancy (low-lying placenta and breech presentation) bubs was still keeping me on my toes and had managed to turn posterior in the lead-up, so off I went once again to acupuncture at 2pm. My acupuncturist just so happened to be right beside the hospital so after my appointment I thought I'd better just pop in and get these waters checked. Sure enough, I had a hind water leak and was going to be induced in 30 mins. So there I was, my car parked in a 2-hour zone and nothing but my purse, a water bottle (but looking super glam - phew) and I was about to have a baby. After that, it was all stations go. I was started on the drip, hubby arrived 1.5 hours later with my bags and beloved exercise ball. We spent an hour or so making the ‘pushing playlist’ (which we still listen to! Accessible on Spotify here) and chatting. They broke my waters, cranked up the syntocinon and then we were down to business.

4 hours of super-intense second stage labour (hard and fast - how lucky was I?) but my contractions were all over the place, not regular or consistent and no rest in-between. I’d been through this before with Master N, and thought I was a long way off. But suddenly it was time to push! Our 115-minute pushing playlist got cranked up, but 1.5 songs in and Miss P was here! Whoosh!

 

Yogic Techniques I used during labour

I was super lucky to have a non-complicated birth, something that many women are not as fortunate to experience for factors completely out of their control. So in the first instance, I was so very grateful to be given another chance for a natural delivery using no pain relief, especially since I spent a lot of my pregnancy preparing for a caesar delivery.

Being a yoga teacher and having a passion for birth and the amazing things the body can do, I was so keen to once again challenge my body and; more importantly, my mind. I had spent many weeks preparing for the birth (you can read about this here) and the big day was finally here. My labour this time was only 6 hours, with Master N it was 16 and I used the same techniques. So here is what I found helped me most in both my labours.

 

Breath-work or Pranayama

This amazing technique helped my body to stay calm during contractions and allowed me to relax in between. According to Dr Grantly Dick Read’s ‘Fear, Tension, Pain theory’, the more we fear labour and birth, the more tension it creates which leads to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline in the body causing ineffective and painful uterine contractions. We can control this both before, during and after labour by using the breath to ensure the body and mind remain calm. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a way to stimulate the vagus nerve which triggers a relaxation response in the body. This reduces the production of adrenalin and increases the release of Oxytocin and Endorphins (the body’s natural painkiller), which are essential for opening the cervix and encouraging uterine muscles to work effectively during labour.

So I took as slow, deep conscious breaths as I possibly could. Pranayama, as yogi’s call it. The term ‘pranayama’ actually goes much deeper than breathing. It is a way of controlling the prana or energy in the body, however, breath control is a common way of achieving this. I probably averaged about 4 breaths per minute. I was so completely focused on my breath, thinking of nothing else but the air flowing in and out, trying to extend the exhale and pause at the end of the exhale. In Yoga, we call this Visamavritti Pranayama which is using an uneven but consistent breath ratio consisting of inhaling, pausing, exhaling, pausing. My most common ratio during labour was 5:3:6:5 respectively.

 

Positioning and Asana

I tried many positions this time including (a sort of) Utkata Konasana (Goddess), an ‘Anjaneyasana (Crescent Lunge) meets Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard) pose, a very high Malasana (Garland or Yogi squat). But found the trusty ‘bouncing on the exercise ball’ (not very yogi at all) was the most comfortable. Of course this is purely a personal preference, however, I found I could rock and bounce on the ball to help draw bub’s head down and manoeuvre them through the birth canal. At least this is what I was visualising as I rocked and rolled! I also found this gave my husband (and amazing support partner) full access to help me through contractions by rubbing my back, massaging my shoulders etc. Then when a contraction was over I could lean back onto his legs and just rest until the next one.

 

Conscious Thinking and Visualisation (aka. getting in ‘the zone’)

Some yogic mindfulness techniques (I guess you could call it!) also helped me to shift my focus. The practice of Pratyahara, which comes with meditation, is the process of shifting the awareness from the external world and drawing the focus within. This, in combination with Dharana, concentration of the mind.  Drawing the attention away from the senses - in the case of birth - away from the sense of touch (pain from contractions) and fiercely concentrating the mind on another aspect ie. visualisations, mantra, breath. In my case, I was so wholeheartedly focused on my breath that I was in my own little world, I barely opened my eyes, I didn’t talk to anyone, I barely made a sound. Just counting the seconds of my breath. 

Another technique I did try that was useful (more so before I was in ‘the zone’) was focusing on another area of my body, an area that was not experiencing the intensity. I wiggled my toes…. a lot. And I still use it when breastfeeding! I also had a list of mantra’s I repeated to myself to remind me to believe in my body and surrender to the process.

 

My husband, my rock and my amazing support partner

My husband probably played the biggest part in helping me during labour. Especially with my first birth when I didn’t know what to expect, wasn’t sure if I could do it etc. And he really didn’t get any of the credit. If it wasn’t for him, my first birth probably would've resulted very differently.

Just to know there was someone I loved there with me, cheering me on, motivating me to keep going, believing that I could do this and being so in awe of what his wife was capable of enduring. The midwives even commented on how calm and amazing he was and left us to it most of the time, knowing I was in safe hands. He spent the entirety of both labours counting my breaths with me, talking me through the contractions and encouraging me if I ever doubted my abilities. What a man!

 

 My gorgeous kids - Photography from  adriateall.com.au

My gorgeous kids - Photography from adriateall.com.au

Pure f-ing belief in my self and my body

This aspect was much easier the second time around as I knew what to expect and drew a lot of strength that I had done it before. Provided all went swimmingly and there were no complications; I believed my body could do it so much that I didn’t give myself an out. I completely surrendered all control and just trusted my body knew what to do.

 

 

So there you have it, the final page of my pregnancy and birth yoga journey. Now the attention shifts to recovery and rebuilding my body post natally. 

 

39 weeks! Turning my breech baby

 39 weeks and looking forward to a caffeinated coffee! Or maybe a nice cold glass of bubbles... 

39 weeks and looking forward to a caffeinated coffee! Or maybe a nice cold glass of bubbles... 

Well, here we are, 39 weeks pregnant - and down to the final few days (hopefully!). Apart from driving my husband crazy with nesting and various baby-related chores, I am feeling well and enjoying the calm before the inevitable storm.

The last 4 weeks have been interesting. If you have been following along with my birth journey, I have had a breech bubs since 29 weeks. I had such an amazing, powerful birth with Master N using CalmBirth techniques to assist with the contractions (aka. ‘surges’) and associated pain (aka. ‘pressure’), I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that it was looking like a caesarean section for me this time around. To be honest, I kept yo-yo-ing between “just accept it and start preparing for a positive cesarean experience” and “no, I am going to do everything I can do to help flip this baby and look into a breech delivery”. It was quite a tumultuous time for me mentally as I couldn’t seem to choose a path to stick to. So I ended up doing a bit of both - preparing for a caesarean whilst still doing everything I could do despite the low chances of it turning.

At my 35 week scan, I was told the baby was frank breech (bum down, head under my ribs and feet in front of the face), with a less than 5% chance it would turn. Bummer. But still, I persisted with all my weird and wonderful techniques to help flip baby. At my 37 week scan, I was 100% convinced it was still breech with a large hard mound stuck underneath my ribs and very limited movement. But to my honest amazement, it turns out that was a boney bum I could feel and its head was DOWN! I could not believe it - I was ecstatic and so very fortunate. 

Now, I am not sure if bubs was always going to turn or if it was something I was doing to help give it the space it needed. But I thought I would put together the things I was doing consistently that maybe did or didn’t have an impact. At the very least, it felt like I was trying everything I could and the rest was out of my control.

 

Chiropractic Manoeuvres (Webster Technique)

For me, I think this one made the most difference. I went to see Bianca at Body in Balance as she was one of the few Chiropractors trained in the specific pregnancy manoeuvre called the Webster Technique (read more about it here). The Webster technique is a chiropractic manoeuvre to help align the pelvis and whilst they say it is not designed to turn a breech baby, it can be a nice side-effect. 

On my initial consultation (35weeks +2 days), Bianca ran a series of tests and we discovered my pelvis was out on one side by a whopping 471%. She explained if the pelvis was out that much then my uterus could have a kink in it, something that baby just couldn’t seem to get past. Makes total sense. As soon as she adjusted me, bubs started wriggling around straight away and continued for the next hour - I had never felt baby wriggle that much. She obviously freed up some room in there! I have been seeing her 1-2 times a week since then to ensure the pelvis hasn’t reverted back out of alignment. I can't reccommend this highly enough.

 

Meditations, Self-hypnosis and deep Visualisations

This was another aspect I think helped me mentally. The mind-body connection is such a powerful tool. Biochemically, meditation and similar techniques set off a chain reaction of hormonal releases which help to relax the nervous system and the tension in the muscles. When I went to the chiropractor, she tested where my nervous system was sitting on a scale from sympathetic (stress response) to parasympathetic (relaxation response). Even though I was feeling quite relaxed on the outside, my nervous system was sitting in the sympathetic (stressed) zone. If your body is in the sympathetic state, it is starting to prepare to fight or flight, therefore muscles are tense and ready for action. Not the ideal conditions for bubs to grow, turn and flourish. So I realised I needed to work on getting my body and mind into equilibrium.

I changed my morning meditations from CalmBirth meditations to 2 guided meditations in particular:

Both are a little steep on price (approx AUD$17 each) but I was up for trying anything! Both of these meditations focus on relaxing and releasing through the muscles supporting the uterus and also letting go of fears relating to the birth. I found these, coupled with intense visualisation of baby turning really helped. Occasionally I listened to them as I was falling asleep at night and then had crazy visualisations all night about baby turning!

 

Talking to bubs

This is one my senior prenatal yoga teacher Rachael Foster from Luminosity Healing recommended. Just having a good old chat to baby and ask them to turn around. I also roped Master N to chatting (or yelling) to bubs daily telling it to turn around.

 

Prenatal Yoga of course!

As well as my morning yoga practice that I shared in my previous post, I was also going to prenatal yoga classes. It is always a wise idea when pregnant but particularly when facing any pregnancy issues (pelvis discomfort, odd baby positioning, blood pressure, fertility issues). The classes can easily be modified to accommodate various stages of pregnancy as well as many variations to ensure you are practising safely whilst pregnant. So I was modifying my practice to ensure I was only attempting poses that were useful to turning baby rather than poses that would help to engage baby low down in the pelvis. I worked very closely with Rachel to come into many weird and wonderful positions to release the abdominal and hip ligaments, create space and use gravity to our advantage (hence lots of inversions upside down!). Rachael mentioned to me in class once, the power of a group of prenatal women together can be very strong so always a good idea to pop along. 

 

Many techniques from the Spinning Babies website

This is a great resource with copious amounts of information on turning babies. I recommend reading through it around the 32-week mark so you can start doing the daily / weekly activities to help position baby. In particular, I did a lot of the daily activities, forward-leaning inversions and the breech tilt - sometimes with a bag of frozen peas placed low down in my pelvis to encourage bubs to move upwards towards my ribs. I had some interesting experiences trying to lie down on an angled ironing board on my own when hubby was away!

 

 Moxibustion - Traditional Chinese Medicine designed to help turn breech babies

Moxibustion - Traditional Chinese Medicine designed to help turn breech babies

Acupuncture and Moxibustion

And lastly, the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach - Acupuncture and Moxibustion. We all know what acupuncture involves (needles placed along meridian lines in the body to help stimulate the Qi or energy in particular areas). Moxibustion involves burning sticks of Mugwort underneath your little toe for 20 minutes twice daily to help the Qi to rise up to the uterus and create light heat that hopefully gets baby moving. I was using very smokey sticks of mugwort which resulted in many strange looks when I was doing this in the middle of a campground whilst on holiday! But at least it kept the mozzies away….

 

So what now?

 

Now I have gone back to preparations for CalmBirth. I listen to CalmBirth meditations every morning which helps my mindset and belief - surrender to the process and truly believe that my body is perfectly designed to birth this baby. I practice my relaxed breathing (trying to take 5-6 breaths per minute) to help keep my nervous system calm when it is under stress during labour (and also helps with my 3 year old toddler tantrums haha!). I am still working on the relaxing visualisations and gathering tools I can use during labour to create this calm environment. And of course, prenatal yoga, trying to get deep into the hips to help engage this baby’s head!

So wish me luck and I will see you on the flip side.

Confession of Meditating #4 - REMIND YOURSELF OF THE WHY

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IDEAL: Reaching a higher state of consciousness
REALITY: Helps me to deal with everyday life and be a calmer mum

Always come back to the why. Why am I doing this? What in my Sankalpa; or intention, of meditation. For me, this is not to reach a higher state of consciousness. Whilst that would be great, it would require solid time, energy and commitment. Something that is just not a priority in my life right now. My goal is just to have some time to work on me, my mind, my thought processes. To be a calmer, less serious mum and find a tool that helps me to approach life in a calm, positive and less reactive way, especially with toddlers.

The aim is not to stop all my thoughts, but rather try to detach from them a little. Remembering, I am not my thoughts. I always explain thoughts in meditation as like a train pulling into a station - don’t get on board, don’t judge or evaluate, don’t follow the thought. Just watch the thought from afar, watch the doors close, bring the focus back to the breath and watch it gently slip away.

Confession of Meditating #3 - FINDING THE RIGHT POSTURE FOR YOU

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IDEAL: Sitting upright with impeccably straight spine
REALITY: Experiment with a position that's comfortable for you

So this took me a long time. When I first attended meditation classes we had to sit in the same spot for 75 minutes. But I ended up being in so much pain and thought this just doesn’t seem right. Since then I have learned that the actual reason we practice the physical side of yoga or the postures / asanas is to ensure we prepare the body and mind to sit for long periods of time in meditation without being distracted by bodily sensations. But in the modern world, life gets in the way, most of us can’t dedicate sufficient time to asana making this ideal difficult to attain. The next best thing? Finding a comfortable position that works FOR YOU. This could be sitting cross-legged on the floor, sitting in a chair (ensuring the spine is upright), sitting on your knees, lying down, or using props to ensure you are comfortable enough to sit for a prolonged period of time. Its a fine line of comfort - comfortable enough so the mind isn’t drawn to physical sensations, yet not too comfortable that you fall asleep. There is always one person in a meditation class who is snoring their box off - perhaps a little too comfortable?

I tend to sit in a kneeling position, straddling a bolster or two. 

Confession of Meditating #2 - DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEDITATION

 My beautiful set of Mala Beads that were gifted to me at my Yoga Training graduation

My beautiful set of Mala Beads that were gifted to me at my Yoga Training graduation

Ideal: Closed eye seated meditation
Reality: There are many different ways to meditate

There are many ways to meditate. Of course, not all of these techniques follow the idealism of meditation and do not all achieve the same benefits but; again, just the notion of being consciously aware and practising mindfulness has its own merits in itself. Here are some styles that I tend to sway towards:

Guided Meditations:

I love a good guided meditation, especially if you are prone to falling asleep during meditation (which I do A LOT) or your mind tends to get immersed in your thoughts. I use guided meditations for the times when I am working through something in particular (ie. anger, disappointment, positivity, gratitude, stress, sleep). I find that both the conscious mind is listening to the words but the unconscious mind is really working to alter those reoccurring and underlying thought patterns. For example, at the moment I am 34 weeks pregnant, and I am using the CalmBirth guided meditations to prepare my mind and my body for labour and birth. When I was in labour with Master N, my external world completely shut down, I was in my own little bubble and hence I really only remember bits and pieces of the birth process. I found I really relied on this unconscious mind and the work I had put into CalmBirth and making sure I unconsciously believed in my body and the power of staying calm to really get me through. 

There are a few good apps that I use: Insight Timer, Headspace, Happify and Buddhify.

Walking Meditation:

A great alternative for those who are time poor. This focuses more on mindfulness and being completely aware in the present moment rather than zoning everything out and drawing the focus within as you do in a sitting meditation (yes that would be quite dangerous). I use walking meditations when I walk Master N in the pram up the road in the mornings to get a coffee and used this a lot if I miss a morning meditation.

Group Meditation:

Many yoga and wellness studios offer meditation classes. These are commonly a guided meditation but also introduce different types of meditation for you to try out in a safe environment. For example, Moksha Yoga Studio in Bentleigh includes pranayama (breathing) techniques and sometimes mantra and chanting. Its a great way for those new to meditation to experience different types and also help to overcome feelings of self-consciousness or nervousness around meditation. Science states that practising yoga in a group setting boosts the oxytocin levels in the body (one of our feel-good hormones), and this is part of the reason why you sometimes end up leaving on such a high.

Japa Mala Bead Meditation:

So this involves a set of Mala beads. Mala Beads are 108 beads strung together with a junction bead in the middle. The idea with this is: repetition of a meditation technique 108 times, touching each bead until you reach the junction bead again. Some common techniques of repetition are breath work or pranayama (one round of breath per bead) or one repetition of a mantra per bead (either in your mind or out loud). Some common mantras are “So hum” or “Om”. I also find this method of meditation really useful for those who have a tendency to fall asleep or engage in thoughts. Its helps to give the mind something to focus on.

Confession of Meditating #1 - FINDING TIME

Ideal: 20 minutes twice daily
Reality: Find time, any time!

The popular method of TM (Transcendental Meditation) recommends meditation must be practised for 20 minutes twice daily. These days, if I have a spare 20 minutes to myself I usually fill it with a task off my incredibly long, never-ending to-do list. The trick here is to FIND some time. It might only be 5 minutes, it might be before the kids wake up, it might be on the daily commute to work, it might be in the shower (whilst not being a wally with water obviously!). People think ‘I just don’t have the time to meditate’ and I myself have been guilty of this in the past.  But at the end of the day, any time you have that you can spend on yourself helping you to keep level-headed and deal with the challenges in your world is worthwhile isn’t it? FIND the time. 5 minutes of meditation is better than none at all.

 The result of trying meditation with a toddler - a book thrown in the face and a black eye!

The result of trying meditation with a toddler - a book thrown in the face and a black eye!

Take for example, a few months ago, Master N was waking during the night so to get up at 6am before he woke was a real struggle and I found I was just falling asleep again. In those instances, I decided my body needed more sleep rather than a morning meditation. So I would wait until Master N woke and thought I would try meditation together with him. I put on the “Calm” app which made a beautiful chime to signal inhale / exhale. The first few times were ok. We managed to do it for 4-5 minutes together. But then, during one of my sessions, Master N threw a book in my face and gave me a black eye… And hence that idea went out the window quick smart.

But at least I tried. I tried to find time in my life that would work for me and my family. Sometimes it takes a few goes to figure out what works best and that is ok, there is no ideal time to meditate. Well actually there is, the ancient yogi’s used to rise at Brahmamuhurta - between 3:30am and 5:30am. This is the time when the mind is pure and calm and when the universal energy is at it’s highest. But let us be realistic here… 

So for a while, I would have a 10-20 minute meditate whenever Master N was asleep, if I missed my 10 minute slot during his day sleep, I would do it once he went down for the night. Or some days I would do a different type of meditation that suited my life in that moment, which brings me to my next post…

Confessions of meditating - the ideals and the realities of a meditation practice

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Aah meditation… an amazing practice aimed to centre and ground us, align the energy in the body, calm the mind as well as the physical body. 

It seems these days everyone is doing it - mindfulness and meditation - its the ‘in-thing’ of 2017. However, there are a plethora of benefits to this ancient practice which have now been backed by many scientific studies. We could be here all day if I listed them out but here are some of my favourites:

  • Innervates the parasympathetic nervous system which triggers the relaxation response - this lowers stress levels, regulates breathing, lowers blood pressure and heart rate and increases immune system functioning
  • Helps to clear the mind, slow down brain waves which slows thoughts and projections of the mind
  • Regulates hormones of the endocrine system
  • Stimulates biochemical releases of serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine that stimulate an overall sense of calm and increase positivity and happiness
  • Assists in combatting the symptoms of anxiety and depression

When I first took up a meditation practice, I was under a preconceived notion - I must do it for at least 20 minutes per day, I must sit cross-legged on the floor and completely quiet the mind so there were no thoughts at all. The reality is, for a lot of people (including me) this is not always possible. 

Whilst these things are ideal, all it was doing to me was making me feel guilty that I couldn't commit, I started to evaluate the meditation as a ‘good one or a bad one’ and just ended up feeling like a bit of a meditation fraud. And as a result, my motivation waned and I inevitably gave up.

I have now come to an understanding with myself and given myself a few personal guidelines to follow to help make this a regular practice. And just to give myself a bloody break! So over the next few posts I will share these with you, maybe this might just help you to do the same and make meditation a habit in your own life.

32 Weeks! My morning Yoga practice to encourage optimal birth position

OK second video attempt and slightly more natural this time! This is my practice at 32 weeks pregnant - a little flow I am doing most mornings to (try to!) encourage bubs to be in an optimal position for birth. At the moment, bubs is breech, so I am trying to lengthen through the muscles of my hips, pelvis and abdomen to give bubs some extra space and encourage movement. I am also practising a few gentle inversions making use of gravity to help bub flip into the head down position (only attempt these if you are an experienced yogi. If new to yoga, please seek assistance from your prenatal yoga teacher).

Absolute Detachment From Expectation

An ancient Yogic concept applied to a modern-day mum

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I’m just going to come right out and say it. Being a mum of a toddler is… be diplomatic… Demanding. The constant toil between pure joy as you watch your toddler learn something new, to frustration when they have a tantrum over the shape of their sandwich, to proper belly laughs when they show you their new dance moves, to despair when it seems nothing is working and of course the pure love which makes you start to question if it is even possible to love someone else this much.

Every day is a constant rollercoaster of emotions and sometimes I can’t believe I struggle to understand why I am so exhausted at the end of the day. The emotional and mental demand is equally as exhausting as the physical.

A few weeks ago, I was going through a ‘phase’ with Master N when he was just plain driving me nuts. We were transitioning to a new bed which threw his (and my!) sleep patterns out the window. I was tired, easily frustrated, pregnant and felt like I was losing control of my own reactions. I found myself flying off the handle easily and saying things to him like “You know we don’t do that” or “Why are you being like this?”. I was relying on my expectations in certain situations and I really didn’t feel like myself at all.

I happened to mention it in passing to one of my favourite, truly inspirational, fellow yoga teachers, Chelsea Leigh Haworth. And she really knocked the nail on the head. She mentioned life as a parent is really one of the ultimate forms of yoga off the mat. It is so much about being present and really surrendering to the current moment and the curve balls it throws at you at any time. She mentioned the words “Absolute detachment of expectation” - these words really resonated with me. 

One of the really fascinating philosophical aspects of Yoga is about trying to renunciate or detach yourself from things. Words, possessions, opinions, thoughts everything and anything that skews or clouds the Self or starts to create ego. In yoga, this concept is called “Vairagya”. To me, the aim of vairagya is to become so detached, that everything becomes plain and simple, thoughts are clear, there is less drama and one can remain on an even keel in the world. I liken this to the popular saying “it is what it is.”

So these words “Absolute detachment of expectation” became a very welcome reminder of vairagya and always trying to live a conscious life in both thought, word and action. I needed to start letting go of these expectations that I set in my own mind of how life should be, how I should be as a mum and how Master N should or should not behave. I needed to remember, “it is what it is”. Start to detach from any and all expectations, stop being in conflict with the reality and put my energy into dealing with the situation at hand in a calm, nurturing and responsive manner. After all, this is where the parent and child are happiest. 

I began to remind myself of this in those times when I started to feel the ‘expectation’ thoughts arising. I noticed these thoughts and consciously assessed the situation. Was this reality or expectation? How was I going to react? What would be the better outcome for both myself and Master N? And was this in line with the values at the very core of my being? Whilst this process took a little longer to deal with the situation at hand, I found I started to become less reactive and started to gain control of the situation and the emotions arising in me a little better. I felt much more in tune with myself and as a result, Master N’s ‘phase’ seemed to blow over.

So I thought I would make a little poster as a reinforcement of this and share it with the world in case it helps someone else out there who is experiencing a similar thing. I popped it in a frame and put it on my wall as a constant reminder.

I have created a downloadable version of each poster (both Vertical and Horizontal) which can be printed out up to A3 size. I hope you like it. 

Just click the images below to download. Please share on social media to help spread the word!.

Yoga Australia Photo Shoot

I was very fortunate enough to be asked on a photo shoot for Yoga Australia. Truly honoured to have these precious photos when I was 28 weeks pregnant.

Backbending Series: Pregnancy friendly backbends

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When pregnant, strong backbends are contraindicated. As the pregnancy progresses, the lordotic curve (inwards curve) of the lumbar spine becomes exaggerated due to the increased weight of bubs in the belly. If we then add a backbend to this already compressed lumbar spine, we could run the risk of spinal injury, vertebrae or disc damage. 

Additionally, it is also integral to engage the core in all of our backbends to ensure proper pelvic and lumbar spine alignment. However, when pregnant, we are trying to avoid compressing the abdominal region where the baby is growing so it would be unsafe to attempt any strong backbends.

However, there are a few lovely backbends that are safe during pregnancy and ones which I tend to modify with. I have demonstrated these below:

 
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Bitilasana (Cow Pose) 

This is a great option for any prone asana (lying on the tummy) such as Salabhasana (Locust Pose), Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) or Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) etc. Here we try to open through the chest by bringing the gaze upwards and opening the chest forwards between the upper arms. Usually, we would dip the spine toward the mat, however, this could cause hyperextension in the lumbar spine region so it is safest to try to maintain a flat lumbar spine and neutral pelvis here. It's also a good idea to try to relax through the rectus abdominus (our ‘six-pack’ muscles in the front of the abdomen) and try to focus on gentle engagement of the side abdominals (transverse abdominis and obliques) instead.

 
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Ustrasana (Camel Pose) Variation

Here we still get the benefit of opening through the chest and front upper body but without compromising the lumbar spine and over engaging the rectus abdominis. If you feel comfortable the head can be released backwards for the cervical spine extension opening through the neck and massaging endocrine glands located in the neck.

 
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Salambar Supta Baddha Konasana (Supported Reclined Bound Angle Pose)

Here, there is a gentle yet supported and restorative backbend with the added bonus of a hip opener. Hip openers are a great way to prepare the body and pelvis for labour and birth. This pose also opens through the chest and front of the shoulders which helps to counteract the common hunching posture we gain when working at a desk, driving, lifting kids etc. This chest opening and posture is also very important postnatally when there may be a lot of upper body endurance needed when picking up bub, breastfeeding, hunching to change nappies etc.

 
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Salambar Matsyasana (Supported Fish Pose)

This is a little stronger on the lumbar spine and could be uncomfortable late in pregnancy due to the reclined position (2 bolsters in a T-shape would be more appropriate for the 3rd trimester) but is a lovely alternative to a regular Fish Pose. Here we are safely extending the spine with that added support of the bolster. Be careful when coming out of this pose, ensuring we roll to one side and then use the arms to support the body to sit up, rather than using the abdominals to sit up immediately from lying down - a good one to remember when getting out of bed in the morning as well!

 

So if you are pregnant but still want to explore that extension in the spine and some of the benefits of backbends, give these alternatives a whirl!

Now qualified to teach Prenatal Yoga!

A few months back, I completed an extra 30 hours of training to be qualified to teach Prenatal Yoga. Whilst my training at Moksha included a whole module on prenatal modifications, this just further solidified my already thorough understanding of the female anatomy, nervous system and the effects that yoga techniques can have on a pregnant body both during pregnancy and birth. This combined with my Calm Birth knowledge, I feel so well equipped and ready to share and help other pregnant ladies with the challenges and intensity of: 

1. the thought of becoming a mother
2. actually becoming a mother, and, 
3. the challenges that may come after becoming a mother

And who better to learn prenatal yoga from than a pregnant teacher! I feel I have left my run a  little late to try to gain specific prenatal classes in a Yoga studio, but for now, I can cover classes and use my knowledge in my own practice. 

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Backbending Series: What to be aware of and when to avoid

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What to be conscious of in your backbends?

Although backbends can sometimes feel a little cumbersome and awkward, there are a few biggies that I like to focus on in my backbends. (I say ‘a few’… maybe attempt these one at a time!)

  • Ensure correct pelvis alignment. Quite often in our backbends we have a tendency to hyperextend through the lumbar spine (lower spine). If we can correct the alignment of our pelvis to be in a more neutral / slightly posterior position, this is going to ensure the lumbar spine is lengthened, relieving the compression in the lumbar spine. Sounds tricky to do when you think of a backbend eh? Try drawing your sit bones down towards the back of your thighs. Or perhaps think about using your hamstrings and glutes (muscles in the bum and back of the thigh) to draw the back of the pelvis down. This will align your pelvis and lengthen through the lumbar spine. 

  • Open the chest rather than crunch the lumbar spine. Although we are bending the spine, try reframe the perception of ‘bending backwards’ to ‘opening the chest and whole front side of the body’. This will help to protect the lumbar spine and bring the bend upwards into the thoracic and cervical spine (mid to upper spine). It will also encourage engagement of the core muscles to ensure we are supporting our lumbar spine (lower spine). 

  • Engage Bandhas and abdominals. Ensure the deepest layer of the abdominals (the transverse abdominals), Mula and Udiyana Bandha’s are engaged to protect our lumbar spine and support a neutral pelvic alignment. And your next question is: WTF is a Bandha? Put briefly, Mula Bandha is our ‘Root Lock’ where we engage the perineum and muscles of the pelvic floor, it sort of feels like you are trying to draw your sit bones together. Udiyana Bandha is our “Flying Up Lock” where we draw the lower abdominals back towards the spine.

  • Go slow and ensure adequate preparation of the body. If attempting a strong backbend, it's a good idea to slowly build the body up to the backbend to ensure we build muscle tone and avoid injury. There are a few areas of the body we should open, engage and stretch to prepare the body to bend in this way. Some of these include:

    • Opening the side of the body through lateral stretches

    • Stretching and also strengthening the hip flexors and quads through asana that incorporates lunges

    • Open the chest and front of the shoulders through asana incorporating heart openers or hand/arm binds

    • Adequate engagement of the core and glutes (be careful not to tire) to ensure these areas are switched on to support the lower spine and pelvic alignment

  • Be conscious of neck alignment. One of the most common misalignments I see as a teacher is head and neck alignment. People are busy trying to follow all the alignment cues, they simply forget about their head placement. Backbends usually involve an option to extend the cervical spine by opening through the front of the neck, however, if this causes pain then keep the neck in a natural extension of the spine. Think about trying to draw the back of the neck towards the crown of the head. This will tuck your chin ever so slightly but will lengthen the upper spine and avoid unnecessary injury. If opening through the neck feels good, then go for your life, but just remember to use your neck and chest muscles to hold your head rather than letting it hang.

  • Breath awareness. As with all yoga poses or asana, the breath is the best indicator of our body. As soon as the breath is held, shallows or the need to breathe through the mouth arises (rather than the nose only), this is a good indication that we have gone beyond our edge. Easy to fix - just come out of the pose slightly and re-enter with awareness and non-judgement.

 

When to avoid bending backwards in your yoga practice?

  • Heart conditions and Hypertension or high blood pressure. Due to the stimulating effects on the nervous system as well as increased intra-abdominal pressure. These elements can elevate heart rate and blood pressure.

  • Pregnancy. Strong backbends should be avoided due to the strong abdominal stretching and compression of the abdomen - the very space where bubs is trying to grow. Gentle backbends with the use of props to support the body can be ok, but be sure to check with a prenatal qualified yoga teacher. I will be sharing some safe prenatal backbends next week.

  • Insomnia, anxiety and late at night. Due to the stimulating and energising effects on the nervous system which could affect sleep. 

  • Spinal injury. For obvious reasons! This includes sciatica, disc injuries, hyperlordosis, osteoarthritis etc.

Backbending Series: 5 Major Benefits to Backbends in Yoga

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Backbends, some people love them, some people hate them. For me, they are a bit like mushrooms, I am in a love/hate relationship with them - and I am totally fine with that. Backbends can tell you a lot about yourself especially if you fall into one of these like/dislike categories. Regardless, backbends are an essential part of our yoga practice and so important for the holistic health of our body and mind. Over the next three weeks, I will be explaining some of the benefits of backbends, what to be mindful of in a backbend, when to avoid and of course some pregnancy friendly backbends.

So why do we bend backwards in yoga?

In general, backbends are an energising and stimulating pose. Great to do first thing in the morning to kick start the nervous system and awaken the body. There are so so so many benefits to backbends that it is proving challenging to choose only 5 to write about! Here are a few of the biggies (and my favourites) plus some explanation into the why behind them:

 

Stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System

Although much of yoga is about relieving stress and calming body & mind, there is still a very large aspect of stimulating the body. We do this for a variety of reasons, to build strength & endurance, to stimulate energy flow within the body, to increase circulation and maintain cardiac health. Therefore it is important to stimulate our nervous system and innervate the sympathetic nervous system (also known as the “fight or flight” response) as well as our parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the “rest & digest” or relaxation response). It is the Yang to the Yin.

In our backbends, pressure is increased at the heart centre due to compression of the chest cavity, the adrenals are squeezed and the heat in the body is increased which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. This activates and energises the body and can be therapeutic for fatigue, low energy and mild cases of depression.

 

Helps to increase immunity and stimulate the lymphatic system

Compression of the thymus gland (located in the centre of our chest) into the sternum (breastbone), helps to stimulate the thymus gland - a very important organ in our lymphatic system. It also aids in massage of the spleen - our largest lymphatic organ in the body. These glands are largely involved in maturation and storage of white blood cells in the body. They help to filter red blood cells and kill cells that have been infiltrated by a pathogen (bad things like bacteria, infection, virus etc), thus helping to remove infection in the body.

Backbends also usually involve a compression or opening of areas in the body that house our lymph nodes - mainly the armpits, groin and neck. This helps stimulate the lymph nodes and movement of lymphatic fluid through these nodes, helping to filter lymph fluid to remove infection and waste in the body.

 

Contributes to overall spinal health and correct posture

When bending backwards in yoga, if done correctly, we open through the front side of our body and start to explore the range of movement in the spine. Particularly the cervical and thoracic spine (our mid to upper spine). This is particularly important with the type of modern-day daily activities we are commonly exposed to these days. For example - working at a desk, driving, carrying children, housework etc. These repetitive movements create this type of ‘hunched forward’ posture. After a prolonged period, this shortens the muscles in the chest which in turn pulls the shoulders forward, further rounding out through the upper spine and shoulders. Backbends help to reverse the effects of this hunched posture and opens the chest to stretch and release tension or tightness through the chest muscles.

In our backbends, we also explore the spine’s natural range of movement. This helps to strengthen the muscles that surround and support the spine including the QL (quadratus lumborum) and erector spinae. This helps to correct and maintain spinal alignment which contributes to a better posture.

 

Moves and releases Energy (Prana)

When I talk about ‘energy’ in a yoga sense, we are talking about Prana or the force within our body that gives us vitality rather than the more physical energy we gain from nutrition, oxygen etc. You can read more about that here. So when energy starts to get stuck or blocked in a particular area, it starts to manifest in us physically, emotionally and mentally. For example, butterflies in the stomach - mental states of nerves and stress cause a block in our energy giving us this physical sensation of butterflies or knots in our belly. Anywhoo, I am starting to get off topic here… Back to backbends - a lot of our backbends help us to move and release and stuck energy throughout almost the entire body helping us to feel balanced and clear.

In particular, it opens through the chest which opens the heart, helping to become more welcoming to love, life and relationships. Also our stomach and solar plexus area which is related to self-confidence and personal power. So balance in this area helps us to feel more empowered within ourselves.

 

Trains the body to stay calm when under stress or confronted with fear

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we store a lot of emotions in the organs of our torso. Our backbends stimulate some of these ‘powerhouses’ of emotion storage: the hips, heart, stomach and kidneys, to name just a few. 

Our backbends in particular, squeeze into the kidneys which house the emotion of fear. This allows us to confront fear, giving a feeling of letting go or becoming free. I know when I am in Ustrasana (Camel Pose), I am very reluctant to release my head backwards but the few times I do, I feel so open and free afterwards. An interesting feeling!

Also the stimulation of the nervous system coupled with the use of the Ujjayi Breath (the Yogic Breath - breathing in and out through the nose, catching at the base of the throat), helps train the body to remain calm and in control when perhaps our body is experiencing stress or large emotional releases. This can be applied to our life off the yoga mat, using similar techniques in stressful situations. This helps the body to deal and process stress or challenges in life without the physical overreaction of the nervous system (that fight or flight response where your heart starts racing, your breath shallows and your body prepares for danger).

 

So those are my 5 favourite benefits to backbends. Next week I'll be talking about what to be mindful of in a backbend and also when to avoid backbends. Have a good week!

 

References:

yogamag.net, Prana: the Universal Life Force, http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1982/emay82/prana582.shtml
Yoga Journal, What is Ujjayi, https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/what-is-ujjayi
Yoga Journal, Face Fear in Backbends, https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/fearless-backbends
Australian Natural Health Magazine, Palmer. E, The Body of Emotion, Accessed via Moksha Yogahttps://www.mokshayoga.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/21-The-Body-of-Emotion.pdf
Moksha Academy of Yoga, Asana Lab - Backbends
Long. R, 2006, The Key Muscles of Yoga, Bandha Yoga Publications

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Worry, disappointment, misery, anguish, irritation. All fruitless feelings with no positive purpose. Feelings that cause inner disequilibrium. Choose to quieten these and observe those feelings that bring appreciation, perspective, compassion and integrity to your being.

This is something I have been contemplating and practising this week and can be applied to so many different areas in life. I recently discovered that I have a 50/50 chance of receiving the beautiful birth I had for my first child. Initially, I was a little disappointed, but I began thinking, what actually is this feeling and why am I allowing myself to feel this way when there is nothing I could have or can do to change it? This feeling is generating no positivity in me. Why dwell something that is useless? Instead, I've been asking what is it here to teach me? Accept it, let it go and move past it.

My prenatal practice at 20 weeks pregnant

Here is my first attempt at a video - my Surya Namaskar A practice at 20 weeks pregnant, complete with prenatal modifications. I recorded this for anyone that is pregnant but feels attending a prenatal yoga class is a little premature. If you are comfortable practising in a vinyasa flow class, these are the modifications I make to my Surya Namaskar (a.k.a Sun Salutation).

We were recently in the Gold Coast, Queensland which I thought would be a beautiful backdrop (which it is!) but didn’t really think through attempting a Surya Namaskar on a short towel, on the uneven sand whilst trying not to engage my core too much. It was also a little off-putting having my 2.5-year-old shouting “MUMMYYYYYYY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!!!” in the background but hey, that’s a mum life for you. (Don’t worry, he’s been dubbed over with some pleasant music for your enjoyment)

It was an enlightening experience actually watching myself do yoga, one of those ones you cringe as you peep between the fingers covering your eyes - much like a horror movie. So many things I would change if I was to do it again however Original Silence is all about authenticity so this is it! Enjoy.

Music credit: The Yoga of Dance by galacticwind