We’re heading into summer here in Barcelona, although it’s been off to a slow start this year. I often find that by this time of year, I’m well and ready to kick off my shoes and take a break. Only problem being that the holidays have still not arrived. There are still deadlines to meet, exams to write and hard work to be done. That’s why I’ve put together a little list of tips on how to take a short mental holiday, before the real thing comes along, in order to keep your batteries charged. Of course it’s also good for your sanity and those around you as well.
Do Viparita Karani for 15 – 20 minutes (also known as legs-up-the-wall pose) This is definitely one of my top, go-to poses. If I feel tired, but wired and still need to get a lot done, 15 minutes spent in this pose will make the world of difference to how you feel. It’s an instant pick-me-up with rejuvenating, yet deeply grounding after-effects. So put on your favourite music to chill-out to and spend 15 – 20 minutes here. For instructions on how to do the pose, have a look here.
Reconnect to your breath Easier said than done, this thing of staying present. If you’re feeling stressed and as though you’re completely disconnected, taking just 2 minutes to sit quietly and watch your breath, will make you feel like a different person. An effective technique is to silently count your breath as you inhale, e.g. count to 3 or 4 or 5 and then keep the count the same as you exhale.
Abhyanga In Ayurveda, there is a massage called, Abhyanga, where you massage your whole body with warm, organic sesame or coconut oil, before taking a shower in the morning. Massage your limbs by using long strokes and use circular strokes on your joints. Then take a shower, at first with hot water and then finishing off with cold water. This Ayurvedic practice is incredibly detoxifying and revitalising. You’ll feel amazing afterwards.
Put on your favourite dance track and dance your heart out Our bodies are designed to move and often we need to get rid of some excess, negative energy in order to reboot our brains and get our endorphins flowing. Only requirement here, make some space, turn up the volume and have fun!
Go and sit under a tree and watch the world go by When is the last time you just sat down on a bench or on a patch of grass and drank in everything that was happening around you? Without any judgment, just watching people, animals, nature, everything moving at its own pace and feeling your connection and place in the world. Notice how time slows down, when we are more present to everything around us.
What are some of your favourite ways of taking a mental holiday?
Oh wait. I should say, month. How does that happen? That life travels so fast, that we can hardly catch a ride on our own one? Last year felt a bit like that and now here we are already at the end of January of a new year. (Mmm, I still wanted to write a blog entry for December!) It’s hard to just slow down enough to really take in what is happening in our lives. That’s why I find practicing yoga helps. It’s a bit like pressing the slow motion button on the remote control of your life. You do a series of postures and through bringing your awareness to the breath and the different shapes you make with the body, you start slowing down and tuning in. Connecting with your centre and finding your way back to yourself again. Everything just seems to make more sense when we do that.
Last year, I started teaching yoga in Spanish for the first time. To be honest, for me it was quite scary to take that step. Getting up in front of a class and speaking for 75 – 90 minutes in a language in which I still didn’t feel that comfortable. That, in itself proved to be an experiment in mindfulness. I had to tune in completely and look at the practice in a completely different way, even though it was Astanga, something I had practiced perhaps thousands of times and where you always do the same series of postures in the same order. A student who had attended my class both in English and Spanish commented that I said a lot less in Spanish. I told her it’s simply because I lacked the vocabulary. Funny, but true. And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Speaking less and listening more. Something that could be valuable for all of us. Whether it’s listening more closely to our friends and partners or listening closer inside.
In conclusion here, what is it that you really want to achieve this year? Not in terms of completing a long to-do list of resolutions, but more in terms of growing as a person – on the inside? Try to find some quiet time here at the start to a new year to sit down and really tune in and listen. And then start following that inner voice, which at first might sound faint, but will become more clear the more you listen to it. It will lead you down the path of a more authentic and ultimately deeply fulfilling life. At the end, that is really all we want to tick off on our to-do list: that we lived deeply and intensely, having savoured each moment along the way.
You’re likely to hear or to have heard this phrase many times in a yoga class: ‘Find your edge.’ So where is your ‘edge’ exactly? I would say it’s that place where you start feeling uncomfortable. Where you’re ‘gently’ being persuaded to become present. Your muscles, both those of the body and of the mind are being stretched in new ways. You can hear Dorothy saying: ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.’ Yes, welcome to the very frontier of your comfort zone. What do we do when we’re in this place of extreme agitation, irritation, fear or discomfort? Our practice offers us a safe place from which to explore this unchartered territory. We can use these lessons we learn in our yoga practice and apply it to our lives.
Case in point. I went on a little bicycle trip for 3 days this week in the countryside of Catalonia to Ripoll and Olot. On the second day, I had to cycle uphill for 7 km. To put you in the picture, I haven’t really spent any serious time on a bicycle, since my impromptu Cape Argus 109 km Cycle Tour in 1998. You could say I came up against my edge in a big way after the 2nd kilometer going up. I had to get off my bike and push it up the mountain for the next 5. I just couldn’t do it. My legs felt like jelly, it was hot, my heart was pumping in my chest and my breath was at this point not yogic. Closer to hyperventilation. I couldn’t appreciate the beauty of my surroundings; I was way out there in the Wild West of my comfort zone. And I had to remind myself of something I repeat often in class, really it’s the most basic of the pranayama practices, which is to just focus on the breath, on inhaling and exhaling through the nose. To come back into the moment and override the crazed panic-induced mental state that says you’re going to self-destruct if you don’t stop doing what you’re doing right now!
Needless to say, I made it. But it reinforced for me in a big way how our minds have this incredible power of setting boundaries for us. Measuring out our little gilded cage in which we feel we can cope with life. And how it is really important to go against this urge to live a so-called ‘safe’ life. If we don’t challenge our minds and our bodies, we don’t have the opportunity to grow and expand spiritually and it’s impossible to live our lives to the fullest.