Sunday, 29 March 2020

Looking after yourself during self-isolation

Dear yoga-loving friends,

It's been a long while since I've been in touch, and I hope that you've been doing really well. I'm writing because you've been in my thoughts a great deal at this very challenging time, and I thought I'd share some resources I've found valuable lately – for myself and for my loved ones – including yoga, meditation, Chinese herbs and support groups.

Firstly, of course, yoga practice. Here's what I use generally:

Glo
This is an American yoga website that's subscription based – but in my opinion, definitely worth it. There's a huge variety of teachers, classes, time durations, styles, and body part-specific classes. It's particularly good if you just want to get a 15-20 minute practice in every day. The site is also currently offering nine free classes. The teachers I love are:
-Jason Crandell – Great for careful alignment, clarity and precision
-Jo Tastula – Flowing vinyasa classes, lovely kind manner
-Kia Miller – Vinyasa and kundalini classes, warm and kind

Downdog
This is an app, usually subscription based but now free until April 1 because of the current situation. It's automatically generated, based on the exact time you want to practice for, and what your focus is. You can pick the kind of music that plays in the background, and the poses are demonstrated by a real person! 

Yoga teachers are really rallying to provide as many free classes online as possible, including some of my favourite teachers from New York.

Julianna Takacs
Julianna was one of my first ever yoga teachers, and I still think and feel what I learned with her, deeply. She's now based in New Mexico, but offering online classes – which of course, I highly recommend.

Tara Glazier
Tara is an exceptional teacher based in Dumbo, NYC, who runs a studio called Abhaya. The schedule is here, and you can book online for Zoom classes. Note: if you have any techy glitches, just email them and they'll sort it out for you! Here's the timetable -- look for Tara's classes specifically:

Meditation
Meditation is such an incredible support at times like this, when there's a climate of general anxiety. As I'm sure you know, there are some really good apps including Insight -- where you can either just sit with a timer, or choose a guided meditation. I highly recommend Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. Jack Kornfield does a wonderful podcast series of talks called Heart Wisdom. They are so incredibly calming and lovely, and you can get them on Spotify, or at his website, here: https://jackkornfield.com/podcasts-dharma-talks/ 

My absolute favourite meditation teacher is called Susan Piver. Again, she's based in the States, but operates a global network called the Open Heart Project. Susan has been studying and teaching Buddhist meditation for decades, and has written some incredibly insightful (and funny, and kind) books, including The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. If you subscribe to the OHP, you get a new guided 10 minute meditation every day, as well as lots of free courses. But you can still get a free weekly meditation if you don't sign up. And right now, Susan and some truly brilliant, renowned Buddhist meditation teachers are doing daily free meditations on Zoom -- there are four every day! I have found so much peace and clarity through her daily meditations, so I do hope some of you might give it a go.

Open Heart Projecthttps://openheartproject.com/
Daily meditation schedule, including link to join Zoom meditations (you will need to set up Zoom on your computer!) https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1I8UzukDDelASQfRE57k2Y7nuejK5lNkmUx2tUZIvWS8/edit?__s=c4zuh3snweoydpn6zim6#gid=0

Health
For those of you with lung conditions, I've been in touch with an acupuncturist friend in the States for some practical advice on supporting your health and specifically your lungs. Here is what she suggests:

"Astragalus and Isatis Root are both good for defending the lung and keeping it strong. Zinc and Vitamin D are also good. This virus in particular has a cold damp quality, so initial treatment principle is expel and purge while staying very hydrated, and keep nasal passages open. So, a fresh ginger tea with thyme and oregano, gargle with warm salt water, do Neti or steam with eucalyptus or oil of oregano. Don’t eat any cold or raw food, sugar or milk to keep the cold damp from penetrating further."

Hand sanitiser
As you will know, it is like gold dust right now! To be really clear, for hand sanitizer to be effective against Covid-19, it needs to contain at least 60% alcohol (note, vodka is usually around 40%). The Neal's Yard spray is 70%. They're out of it right now, but trying to produce more, as well as refills, which should be available soon. Meantime, it is possible to make your own. I used Amazon to get hold of rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel, and am about to start making my own – I'll let you know if I'm successful! 
Gel recipe: Mix 3 parts isopropyl alcohol to 1 part aloe vera gel. Add a few drops of tea tree oil.

Sunlight
Sunlight and fresh air really do help boost your health! At last, I have found scientific research to prove it!

Rest
Please take the opportunity to rest. And don't feel you have to launch into some gigantic, sonnet-writing project just because Shakespeare did. Most of us work pretty darn hard, and could use a little break -- and our immune systems need all the love they can get right now. Be kind to yourself. 

Support
Finally, there's a network of amazing Mutual Aid groups, all around the UK that you can join via Facebook. The Lewisham group really is fantastic -- lots of people offering to help with shopping, dog-walking, emotional support and such. The list of links to different groups is here:

Okay, that's it from me, for now!

Much love x

Monday, 12 June 2017

✨Come in✨ What a time of difficult news it is. How shaken we are, often, by what is going on in our worlds. I would like to share with you some thoughts about practice here.

I took this photo in Sri Lanka last month, at a Buddhist temple. You can see how the tiles by the front door are softly scuffed, from people coming and going and going and coming. One time you open the door, not much happening. Ten times, hundreds of times, thousands of times, something is happening.

Spiritual practice can be like this. Often -- so often -- it is a question of simply showing up, in the knowledge that something might be happening that you're not wholly aware of in the moment.

Yesterday morning I felt so flat and so sad; just at the beginning of comprehending what happened in London on Saturday night. I didn't really feel like practicing or moving. I felt like... doing nothing. But from years of experience with myself, I knew that starting by just showing up is helpful. I sat in meditation, just for ten minutes, and let myself soften into something that felt... real. I practiced on the mat for an hour and felt my energy and emotions move around. I was where I was. I am where I am.

The door opens, again and again. And it is a sense of opening that helps me feel available to myself and others. I am able to support, when I am open. So I practice opening, even when (sometimes especially when) it starts from a point of going through the motions.

I am sending us all a big hug and lots of tenderness. Lots of love from London.✨💛

Posted Jun 5, Instagram

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Cup your hands


It never fails to move me, when I think about how completely united the acts of giving and receiving are – or at least, they can be. I remember as a kid hearing the solemn phrase, "it is better to give than to receive," which carried the idea that one might be a brat for wanting to receive things, and that one should give things very nobly, as a matter of valor. In fact, there can be a deep and moving joy to giving and receiving, and in my experience, the key to finding that joy is realizing that giving and receiving are both the same. When we give a gift to someone who is touched and happy with the gift, isn't it the best thing? And when we receive a gift from someone who has really thought about us and loved us in that way, isn't it wonderful? I remember after some years of yoga practice, realizing that the hands are in the same position for both gestures. That realization made me laugh and feel full of wonder.
The reason I raise this with you today is because I was saddened to hear the news of a 17-year old Iranian boy who was very badly attacked yesterday in London. He is now in a serious but stable condition in hospital. Yesterday I had been thinking about how grateful I am for my community here in London; when I moved back here from New York after seven years, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but old friends and a new yoga community have been springing up around me. I am very, very lucky. So then I heard this news, about this young boy, and the fact he is here in England as an asylum seeker. Can you imagine?
I feel strongly that I wish to support him and his family, and others like him. There is a JustGiving page set up to help. If you would like to give something, you can find it here: justgiving.com/crowdfunding/17yr-old-asylum-seeker-subject-to-brutal-attack
It is a very simple act, to give in this way, and I believe the heart calls for it. Sending love to you all.  

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Offering


I found these beauties on the street this sunny afternoon and now I am offering them. Offering them to whom? To the divine. To the universe, the force of love and creation that runs through our veins and energetic channels as surely as it runs through the green grass. I really love the act of offering. It's like saying, "I get it -- I understand that nothing really belongs to me. And I am so grateful that I get to touch these things, or eat these things, or love these things. Thank you!" With the offering, I am humbly saying thank you. It's a nice way of not getting too attached to things, too. 

Sometimes I offer up something delicious I've just cooked. What tickles me about doing this is that quite often, part of me will be thinking, "But I'm hungry! I want all my dinner! What if I'm not full when I've finished, having given away the best bit?". And then I eat, enjoy, and by the time I remembered I offered up a little bit of it, I am completely full anyway. 

I notice that generous, kind hosts, when offered a gift of food by a guest, will offer the gift back to the guest before eating it themselves. I like this. Offer it back. See how much sweeter it gets.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Thoughts of love on International Women's Day



Hello my lovely friends! Happy International Women's Day to us all! I was thinking to myself, what does it mean to me? And my mind goes back to the first time I visited Spa Castle in Jersey, years ago. 

For those who don't know (ie anyone who doesn't live in NYC), Spa Castle is a giant Korean health spa place. There is a women's floor on the ground floor, a men's floor on the 3rd floor, and a mixed floor for hanging out all together in the middle. On the single-sex floors, everyone is totally naked and there are big showering areas and saunas and pools. To go on the mixed floor, you put on these pajama-y shorts and t-shirts (pink for the women and white for the men). On the mixed floor there are more saunas and pools and lovely restaurants, and by the time you get there after you've already been baked and showered and relaxed, you feel a bit like you're in heaven, eating kimchi. 

Anyway. I remember going to the women's floor at Spa Castle for the first time, quite nervous and not really knowing what to expect or how I'd feel. And then going into the main shower area -- and I remember so clearly how happy and deeply moved I felt when I went in. There were women at every stage of life imaginable there. Old ladies. Little girls. Young women, middle-aged women, large women, small women, women who'd had mastectomies. And we are all together. Women helping each other out with the showers, women going about their business. Everyone looked so beautiful in this way that was just so outside the box of TV sexualization, beyond the whole navigating-the-gaze thing. Just beautiful, wonderful women. 

It still fills me with such joy and spirit to think of it now. I think it moved me so deeply partly because I saw myself in each of those women: the little girl I was, the teenager, through to the the old lady. One rarely gets to see the panoply, and all together, and naked! And it felt so natural, and like it should be available to us all. I think I also liked that nearly all the women there were Korean and not speaking English, so I didn't feel like I had to fit into any particular western ideas about femininity or nudity. I could just be.

While I do believe that we all share the same pure consciousness or spark of divinity, regardless of what body we're in, I feel such a body-soul-wide connection with my women in this way. So I am just letting you know here, women: I love you, I support you, and also, yay!

And one last thing: To all you wonderful, brilliant men, who are also loving and supporting us, and each other — Thank you. 

Love to all! 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Wintery ways to look after yourself




“Do what you can. Do not be distressed about what you cannot do”. This is one of my favorite quotes – I’ve seen it attributed to St Magdalena of Canossa, but on the internet, who knows? The truth and kindness of it are what’s important and I’ve loved it since I first saw it years ago. It relates to this season because sometimes in winter, things can seem really hard. It’s as if winter has secretly decided, “I know what I’ll do! I’ll make things really difficult by raining and snowing and being dark and cold! Ha ha!” But here’s the thing. There’s another way of looking at it. Seen through the lens of seasonal living, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, it’s like winter is saying, “Hey, I know you need a rest, and some time to yourself – I’ll make things dark and quiet and snuggly so you can do that.” When we learn to flow with the seasons, our lives can become so much more peaceful and spacious. And from there, we do what we can, and we’re okay about the things that we can’t do.


What to eat (and how to eat it)
An important one. You know how it feels when you get in from the cold and you see a wood fire burner crackling away? That’s how we want our digestion to be, warm and efficient. Agni, our digestive fire, needs to be kept stoked in the colder months with warm, nourishing food and drink. Cold salads and iced drinks are definitely best avoided, as are foods that are considered “damp” in TCM (excessive milk products/raw fruit and veg, cold drinks, sugar and sweets). In Ayurveda, the kapha dosha comes into full effect in winter; kapha characteristics are darkness, heaviness, stickiness (its elements are water and earth). We need to make sure we don’t become sluggish and lacklustre, and warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg are great for bringing you back into balance, as are ginger, garlic, rosemary, onions and leeks.  Slow cooking is great – and slow eating and drinking is especially good! Take your time to sip and savour. Slow everything down.


Here are my two favorite breakfasts to get your digestive fire going in the morning:
2 minutes: Lightly sautée a diced apple and a sliced banana in ghee (clarified butter) with cinnamon and ginger. So delicious.
10 minutes: Make Ayurvedic porridge using water rather than milk, and add turmeric, pepper, salt, cinnamon and a date – plus sultanas, goji berries, nuts, seeds, whatever you love! (For me, it’s dried rose petals). Serve with a big spoonful of ghee melted on top. I like to switch up milky coffee in the morning for a zingy green tea; you can pep it up even more with turmeric to boost immunity, plus a teaspoon of coconut oil and black pepper.


Go easy on the exercise
In January, lots of people try to exercise really hard; gyms fill up with people trying to make good on their new year’s resolutions. It’s great to want to live healthily, but aggressive exercise in winter can exhaust even the fittest of fleas! We’re not separate from nature – we are nature! Think of bears in the mountains hibernating and penguins going on snuggle rotation duty. This is a time for great self-care, rest and recuperation. In TCM, the winter is considered yin – cool, dark, reflective, feminine, mysterious, contracting – compared to summer’s expansive, warm, dynamic yang energy, so we want to tune in to that. Restorative and yin yoga are great for this, though if you’re feeling sluggish, go for a class with a bit more flowing movement. Brisk walks are great, and will get you out in nature for a mood boost, as well as topping up your Vitamin D. Either way, remember it’s your unique body, so take note of how you’re feeling: Does this exercise make you feel peaceful, clear, energized? Or does it make you feel depleted? Act accordingly.

Take care of your kidneys
In Chinese medicine, winter’s  element  is water, and this is associated with the kidneys and the bladder, governing filtration and urination. The kidneys are the source of our yin essential sap, and yang essential fire. They are the storehouse of your body’s Jing,  life-force; in Ayurveda, Ojas. You can see and sense when someone’s lifeforce is strong: glowing skin, bright eyes, bushy tail. And equally when it’s diminished, even if the person has been training non-stop at the gym. The kidneys are sensitive to fear, and equally when the kidney network is out of balance, it can make you feel more fearful. Other signs of kidney imbalance include anxiety, bone problems, hearing issues, hair issues, reproductive and urinary imbalances, feeling the cold excessively, nervous system disorders and fluid metabolism issues (sweating, puffiness, thirst, dryness). When we nourish our kidneys, we can expect to feel more centered, stable, vigorous and adaptable (and have lovely lustrous hair!).


Look after  your kidneys by getting a full night’s sleep and going easy on yourself; try giving yourself a warming, relaxing  Abhyanga body-massage with sesame oil  before bed. Take time to practice mindful movement like Yoga and Qi Gong. Strengthen the kidneys with whole grains (quinoa is great), dark berries, dried fruit, nuts and seeds and beans. In Ayurveda, ghee is considered to be a terrific Ojas-booster (and it’s utterly delicious). If you’re feeling weak, organic bone broth is an exceptional mineral and nutrient booster.


Quiet reflection
Winter is the perfect time for meditation, as it’s the most naturally quiet and soft of all the seasons. I recommend installing the Insight meditation app on your phone. It has a timer you can set, as well as lots of different recorded guided meditations. I’ve also recorded some guided meditations on my Soundcloud page that you can listen to.  When we regularly rest and go inwards, we start to find a lot more peace and clarity. It’s from this place that we make really good decisions. I know that the new year can make us feel like we have to be in “go-getter” mode, but really it’s the springtime that surges with energy and asks us to leap into action. We want to be prepared to meet that excitement, and for that we need to be rested and ready. So, take a rest. Be still. Snuggle up. Enjoy the winter.


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Interview with Nutritionist Amelia Freer, What Does Healthy Eating Look Like?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

From space to grace



This is what popped into my mind while I was lying in Savasana after taking one of Jo Tastula's wonderful Yogaglo classes.

When we put space around something – whether it's something we desire or something we're frightened of or excited about – then we allow it to be whatever it actually is. And when we accept whatever is going on with tenderness and curiosity, then this quality of grace comes in. Grace, as I understand and feel it, is a sense of the rightness of things – of the universe knowing what we need and flowing it through our lives. We spend a lot of time in our modern lives trying to push, pull and manipulate our situations to be the way we want them to be, or the way we think they should be. Having direction and enthusiasm is great, but when we start wrestling or spinning grand narratives, it can all get a bit exhausting.

Space, when I'm able to find it, feels like a great big kiss from the Divine, or snuggling into clean sheets on the bed, or walking barefoot on the grass on a summer morning. It feels like freedom. You know what I mean? 
And the practice of yoga, on every level, supports this; finding space in your body, in your heart, in your mind.

*s * p * a * c * e *! 

Have a beautiful, peaceful day.