Around the Summer Solstice, when the earth is at her most fertile, many traditions celebrate and honour motherhood and the mother aspects of the Goddess. At times of crisis self-care is so important, and now is a great time to practice the skill of parenting yourself. Learning how to “mother” ourselves well is an essential part of our spiritual practice. Of course, we must also remember that nurturing, nourishing, and caring skills are not exclusive to one gender. If we are to be good enough parents, to our children and our grown-up children, then it's essential that we learn to model good self-care to them.
In this post I'll show you how you can use the mantra Ma to nurture and nourish yourself. I will also show you a simple way to incorporate it into your yoga practice. Ma is the basic mother syllable of Indo-European languages. In the Far East Ma represents the “spark of life” and was often defined as intelligence. Chanting the mantra Ma is a wonderful way to induce a sense of peaceful contentment.
Many of you are quarantined at home at present, balancing working from home with home schooling your kids. Respect! You have got a lot on your plate! The beauty of the mantra Ma is that it takes only a few moments to do, it's exhilarating, freeing, a great stress-buster...and...your kids will have great fun joining in!
Mantra Ma Practice
The sequences below are from the Summer Solstice chapter of the Yoga Through the Year book.
1. Mantra Ma and Arm Movements. Find a comfortable seated position. Rest your hands on your belly. Inhale and take your arms out to the side. Exhale and bring your hands back to the belly, chanting the mantra Ma. Stay for one breath, with the hands resting on the belly. Repeat 6 times. If you are short of time end your practice here.
2. Ma-Om Kneeling Sequence. Chanting Ma come into Child’s Pose from tall kneeling. Chanting Om sit back into Child’s Pose from all fours. Repeat × 4–6 times.
You'll find more nurturing, nourishing summer yoga practices in the Summer Solstice chapter of the Yoga Through the Year book.
With the COVID-19 restrictions in place worldwide, many of us are having to stay indoors. Yoga to the rescue! If you can't get out into the natural world, you can bring the natural world into your yoga practice through the use of imagery and visualisation. In this post I'll share with you how you can use Sun imagery in your yoga practice to uplift your mood and create a sense of sunny optimism. (This approach is explored more in my forthcoming book Yoga by the Stars).
The Sun’s energy gives life to the Earth and without it there would be no life on our planet. Its gravity holds everything in the solar system together. The Sun-Earth relationship is what drives the seasons, weather, climate, and ocean currents.
It can be fun to ask the Sun to guide you through a yoga practice. As you step on to your yoga mat ask yourself: If the Sun were leading my yoga practice today, where would it take me? At the start of your session make a heartfelt request: “Sun, please guide me through this yoga practice.”
I find focusing on the Sun during a yoga practice leaves me feeling happy, strong, and confident. What really impresses me is the creativity that you can tap into and harness with the sun as a focus. I find that the moves I come up with when the Sun is my guide, surprise and delight me. Anything feels possible with the Sun as your guide, and poses that you would usually find impossible, you find yourself achieving fearlessly and effortless.
Begin your Sun Yoga practice standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), hands in Prayer Position (Namaste). In your mind’s eye picture the sun rising in the sky. Now picture a warm, glowing sun at your solar plexus, radiating warmth and light, and keep this image in mind as you let the Sun guide you through your yoga session.
Whilst holding standing poses, like the Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), focus on a warm sun at your centre, radiating out. Breathe and focus on radiating sunshine. This is healing, calming, and promotes happiness.
If you don't feel confident enough yet to be guided through a yoga session by the Sun and your intuition, then simply use the Sun imagery in the Salute to the Sun sequence.
See also Solar Powered Breathing,
Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskar) is the perfect sequence for a home yoga practice. It's a circular yoga sequence that celebrates the sun. Surya means “sun” and Namaskar means “to bow to.” You can either use it on its own or integrate it into a longer practice. Find this sequence on page 137 of the Yoga Through the Year book.
The sequence will get your circulation going, which boosts your immune system. It’s energising and will help you shake off quarantine lethargy. It boosts your mood and banishes the stay-at-home COVID-19 blues. If you do have access to a garden or local park, it's great to do outside.
You can perform as many rounds of the Salute to the Sun as you wish. You can also play about with varying the speed of the sequence. It can be very soothing if performed slowly and meditatively. Try staying and resting for a few breaths in Downward-Facing Dog Pose, Child’s Pose, and Standing Forward Bend. In this way your Salute to the Sun becomes like a moving prayer.
We begin the sequence by standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), hands in Prayer Position (Namaste). In your mind’s eye picture the sun rising in the sky. Now picture a warm, glowing sun at your solar plexus, radiating warmth and light, and keep this image in mind as you perform the Salute to the Sun. Using sun imagery as you perform the sequence will recharge your batteries, lift a low mood and induce a sense of sunny optimism and vitality.
Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskar)
1. Mountain Pose with Sun Visualisation. Picture the sun rising in the sky. Picture a warm, glowing sun at solar plexus.
2. Raise arms above head and come into Standing Forward Bend.
3. Bend knees and arch back, and then come back down into Standing Forward Bend.
4. Step back into Plank Pose, with the whole body in one long line.
5. Swivel into Side Plank. Repeat on other side.
6. Plank Pose. Drop knees to floor and sit back into Child’s Pose.
7. Child’s Pose into Upward-Facing Dog.
8. Downward-Facing Dog. Stay a few breaths.
9. Bring foot forward into Lunge Pose.
10. Bring other foot forward into Standing Forward Bend, and then dip the back.
11. Standing Forward Bend. Stay for a few breaths. Standing up, sweep arms out to side and above head.
12. Mountain Pose with Sun Visualisation. Rest here for a few breaths. Picture a warm, glowing sun at solar plexus and keep image in mind as you perform another round.
The Yoga Journal video below is not exactly the same as my version, but if if you haven't done this sequence before it will give you a feel for it. If you do an online search for Salute to the Sun you will find many different versions, some meditative, some very energetic with jumping from pose to pose. Do a search and find one that suits you. Enjoy!
See also: Solar Powered Breathing, and Sun Powered Yoga
In my next few posts I'll be exploring ways that we can bring sunshine into our lives during the current pandemic, when many of us are isolating at home, and looking for ways to lift our mood and create a sunnier outlook. In this post I'll share with you the technique of Solar-Powered Breathing which is energising and will recharge your batteries. It induces a sense of sunny optimism and vitality. You can find this exercise on page 143 of the Yoga Through the Year book.
This breathing practice can be done lying, sitting, or standing. It can also be used when you hold a yoga pose, imagining that there is a warm sun at your solar plexus radiating rays of sunshine around your body.
Solar Powered Breathing
Find yourself a comfortable position, either sitting, standing, or lying. Imagine that it is a warm, sunny summer’s day. Picture the sun in the sky and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Now imagine that you can locate the sun within your own body. Picture a sun radiating warmth, light, and energy at your solar plexus. If you wish, place your hands on your solar plexus (the area below your breastbone but above your navel).
Imagine that as you inhale you are breathing into the sun at your solar plexus, and as you exhale you are breathing out from there. Repeat for a few breaths.
Now imagine that with each inhale the sun is charged up, and on each exhale the sun expands and glows a little brighter.
Inhale: charge up
After a few breaths of breathing in this way, begin to send the sun’s healing rays of energy all around the body. With each inhale the sun is recharged, and with each exhale the sun is radiating healing rays of light all around the body.
After a few breaths, go back to your normal breathing. Let go of the image of the sun at your solar plexus. Once again imagine that it is a warm, sunny summer’s day. Picture the sun in the sky and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Now let go of the image of the sunny day and bring your awareness back to your body; notice where your body is in contact with the floor or support. Notice how you are feeling and how you have been affected by the Solar-Powered Breathing. Resolve to take these warm, sunny feelings into your everyday life and the next thing that you do today.
See also Salute to the Sun and Sun Powered Yoga for more ideas on how to bring Sun imagery into your yoga practice.
In many cultures the transition from spring to summer, and its ensuing fertility, was celebrated through dance ritual. During the pandemic, when many of us are looking for ways to exercise at home, this is a good time to incorporate elements of dance into your yoga practice. Dance will boost your happy hormones, shift stuck energy, and give you a sense of connection to the earth.
As spring changes to summer, nature is dancing a sensual dance of creation, and the world is coming into bloom. Dance can be a way of honouring both sensuality and sexuality. In many cultures dance marked the various transition points of life. There were courtship dances; fertility dances; dances to prepare for giving birth. Dance can be a meditation and lead to ecstatic states where the dancer and the dance become one. The dancer is no longer dancing; rather she is being danced. I like to imagine that had yoga been handed down to us over the millennia from mother to daughter, as well as from father to son, it would include some element of sacred dance.
Dance is sensual and can be a great way of getting your creative juices flowing. Yoga and dance combine to make great partners. Try using dance as a warm-up for your yoga practice. Put on your favourite dance music and just allow yourself to be danced. Make this into a dancing meditation by focusing your awareness on the sound of the music, the sensations of your body moving, and the dance of your own breath. Feel those happy hormones soar! Flowing yoga sequences (vinyasa) also have a very dance-like quality. The Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskar) is a fiery sun-dance, combining wave-like movements with breath awareness. The Dancer Pose (Natarajasana) is of course the perfect asana to include in your dance inspired vinyasa.
At a time when the natural world is coming out of hibernation, we humans, to protect ourselves and others from the virus, are drawing inwards and staying at home. My next few posts will focus on ways that, despite the restrictions imposed on us by the virus, we can still connect with the natural expansive, opening, outward looking, blossoming nature of the season, even as we isolate ourselves from each other and the the virus.
During spring to summer nature’s creations, such as blossom, have a luminescent quality that can inspire our yoga practice, bringing us closer to the yogic state of clarity and light (sattva). This post will share with you the Visualising a Tree in Blossom exercise (page 52 the Yoga Through the Year book). It will help you to connect with the outward, expansive, blossoming quality of the natural world waking up in spring. See also my previous post Blossom With Yoga which includes this visualisation as part of the yoga practice.
Visualising a Tree in Blossom
Focusing on the natural beauty of a tree in blossom has an uplifting effect and will help you to feel a peaceful sense of connection to the natural world. This exercise can be done standing, sitting or lying down.
Picture the beauty of a tree in blossom. Notice its shape, colours, and fragrance. Now imagine that you are a tree in blossom. Feel the space around you, the blue sky above you, and the earth below you. Picture your roots going deep down into the soil; spreading, wrapping around rocks and boulders, giving you strength, nourishment, and stability. Feel yourself receiving energy from the warm sun. Allow yourself to be breathed. You are a tree in blossom breathing. You are part of it all. You are a tree, connected to the earth, the sky, the air, and the sunshine. Stay here for a few more breaths, feeling your connection to the intricate web of life.
When you are ready let go of the image of the tree in blossom. Become aware of where your body is in contact with the floor or your support. Become aware of your surroundings. Take this peaceful feeling of connectedness into the next thing that you do today.
The natural world seems blissfully unaware of the COVID-19 crisis that we humans are facing worldwide. Here in the UK the whole world is coming into blossom. This is usually my favourite time of year as the monochrome shades of winter give way to a riot of colour in spring. In my next few posts I'm going to share with you ways that you can connect with the natural, sensual rhythm of the year and harness that open expansive blossoming energy of spring, even if you are quarantined at home to protect yourself from the virus.
For my first post on this theme I'm going to share with you a yoga practice that is inspired by the theme of blossoming. It is the Spring to Summer Yoga Practice on page 46 of the Yoga Through the Year book. I tried the practice out again this morning and I found it really lightened my mood. I loved picturing blossom and this gave a light, calm, sattvic quality to the practice.
Spring to Summer Yoga Practice
As spring changes to summer, the whole world is coming into bloom, and it is the theme of blossoming that has inspired this practice. That sense of opening and flowering is conveyed through expansive poses such as Warrior 1 and Bow Pose.
This is a time associated with dancing and so naturally the Dancer Pose is included. It’s also a time traditionally connected with the flowering of sexuality and the Pelvic Flower exercise has been chosen to reflect this.
This practice is designed to be used during the spring to early summer period, however it’s fine to use it any time of year. It will help you to cultivate an open, expansive attitude. It will enhance your ability to embrace and dance with life. And encourage you to blossom to your full potential.
Allow 20-30 minutes
Spring to Summer Yoga Practice Overview
(full instructions given on page 46 of the Yoga Through the Year book)
1. Standing Like a Tree in Blossom.
2. Knee to chest into Dancer Pose variation × 10 on each side.
3. Dancer Pose variation. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on other side.
4. Warrior 1 variation. Inhale: picture blossom opening. Exhale: picture blossom closing back to bud.
5. Dancer Pose. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on other side.
6. Puppy Dog Pose. Stay for a few breaths. Rest in Child’s Pose. For a shorter practice, end here.
7. Bow Pose variation × 6. Stay in final pose for a few breaths. For a gentler practice, skip step 8 or repeat this step in its place.
8. Bow Pose. Stay for a few breaths.
9. Child’s Pose. Rest here for a few breaths.
10. Pelvic Flower Exercise in Supine Butterfly Pose. Inhale: picture a flower opening at the pelvic floor. Exhale: picture the flower closing back to bud.
11. Full-Body Stretch. Lengthen tall along floor.
12. Visualisation a Tree in Blossom.
In my next post I'll share with you the Visualising a Tree in Blossom exercise.
We are all part of an intricate web of inter-dependency and COVID-19 has forcefully brought this reality home to us. We rely on so many people to help us maintain the lifestyle we've become accustomed to, and when those people aren't there we miss them! Here in the UK we are on lock-down. We are allowed out once a day to shop and exercise. All shops apart from pharmacists and food retailers are closed until further notice. Everyone is where possible working from home. We feel the effect of this in small ways, for example my fringe is nearly in my eyes and my roots are showing through and it will be weeks until my hairdresser opens her doors again. And we feel it in big ways: a friend has been waiting for a hip replacement, which will improve her mobility and quality of life, and this has been cancelled due to the pandemic. Schools are closed, so parents are struggling to keep kids occupied indoors, and juggling this with working from home.
In this post I'll share with you a meditation that helps you to cultivate gratitude towards all those people who help make your life run more smoothly. The Showing Appreciation Meditation can be found on page 188 of the Yoga Through the Year book. It helps to strengthen our gratitude "muscle" and stops us from taking people for granted. It's particularly relevant at present as it gives us an opportunity to send good wishes and gratitude to all those "neutral" people in our lives who we usually take for-granted. Before you do the meditation just take a moment now to consider all the people who are helping you to get through the COVID-19 pandemic: the front-line health workers, shop assistants, online delivery people, food growers, postal workers, water, gas, electricity, and internet providers, and the list goes on
The Showing Appreciation Meditation
This meditation engenders positive feelings towards self and others.
Allow 10-20 minutes.
Find yourself a comfortable, erect sitting position, either on the floor, or in an upright chair. Or if you prefer this meditation can be done lying down.
Relax the parts of your body that are in contact with floor down into the earth. Let go of any unnecessary tension; relax your shoulders down away from your ears; and soften your face by adopting a half-smile.
Now become aware of the natural flow of your breath and maintain a background awareness of the breath throughout the meditation.
We begin by cultivating a sense of gratitude and loving kindness towards our self. Recall three things that make you feel grateful towards yourself. If you are finding it hard to think of anything, see if you can find just one small thing you like about yourself and feel grateful for. If you find yourself lapsing into self-criticism, congratulate yourself for noticing this, and send yourself some love and compassion.
Now silently repeat several times the Loving Kindness phrases for yourself:
May I be safe,
May I be happy,
May I be healthy,
May I live with ease.
Now bring to mind someone who you are close to and who helps your life to run more smoothly. Consider all the things that this person does for you, big or small, and all the ways that they improve your quality of life. Send your gratitude and thanks to this person; thank them for the many ways they contribute to your happiness.
Now silently repeat the Loving Kindness phrases a few times for this person (if you wish you can insert their name into the phrase):
May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with ease.
Now bring to mind a neutral person; someone who helps you in some way but who you don’t know very well. Choose someone who you don’t have strong feelings towards either way, but who makes your life run more smoothly. Perhaps they are someone who delivers your mail; or serves you in a shop; a cleaner at your place of work; or a bus driver etc. Send your gratitude and thanks to this person; thank them for the help that they give to you. Silently repeat the Loving Kindness phrases a few times for this person:
May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with ease.
Now picture yourself, your friend, and the neutral person altogether. Picture all three of you looking safe, happy, healthy, and at ease. Just like you the friend and the neutral person want to be happy and free from suffering. Just like you their life has ups and downs. And just like you they rely on others to help and support them and to make their life run smoothly.
Repeat the loving kindness phrases for the three of you:
May we all be safe,
May we all be happy,
May we all be healthy,
May we all live with ease.
After repeating the phrases a number of times, let them go and finish by once more sending yourself good wishes, loving kindness, and compassion. Resolve to take these feelings of love, kindness, and gratitude for yourself and others back into your everyday life.
For an audio version of a similar meditation visit the Finding Peace in a Frantic World website and listen to their Befriending Meditation.
For shorter Loving Kindness meditations see my other recent posts:
Spread Kindness not the Virus
Find Peace With Compassionate Walking
In these coronavirus days of social isolation our challenge is how to maintain a physical distance from people, to prevent the virus from spreading, and at the same time remain connected to others, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. The Loving Kindness meditation, that I will describe in this post, is a wonderful way of connecting with others and sending them your love and good wishes, at a time when circumstances may demand that you are physically apart. We're all experiencing the stress of uncertainty and rapid change at the moment, and this meditation is way of showing love and compassion to yourself and others.
The Loving Kindness Meditation originates from a Buddhist meditation called the Metta Bhavana. Metta can be translated as love, compassion, or kindness, and Bhavana is the development or cultivation of these qualities. In this post I'll share with you the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases and we'll look at ways that you can use them informally, including how to incorporate them into a yoga session. In my next post we'll look at how to use them as a formal sitting meditation (see The Showing Appreciation Meditation on page 88 of the Yoga Through the Year book).
Below is my favourite version of the Loving Kindness meditation phrases:
May I be safe.
One simple way of using the loving kindness phrases is to silently repeat them at the beginning and end of your yoga session. At the start of my home yoga practice, I stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and repeat the phrases for myself, which makes me feel safe, secure, and looked after. Then at the end of my yoga session, following my pranayama practice, I sit and send good wishes and love to myself, my husband, and my daughter (who lives 150 miles away from me). Sometimes I use the formal phrases above, and at other times I just give myself a hug, and say, "I love you. I hope you have a good day", and then I do the same for my loved ones, imagining that they are on either side of me and that I am holding their hands, sending them love and good wishes too.
You can also incorporate the phrases into simple yoga sequences. To do this simply repeat one line of the Loving Kindness (metta) phrases each time you exhale. For example, pictured below, inhaling raise your arms, and exhaling lower your arms, silently saying, "May I be safe". Next time round, on the exhale, you say, "May I be happy" etc. Try it. It will focus an anxious mind and induce a state of calm.
You can do the same in this Cat Pose variation:
If you prefer you can simplify the phrases to: safe, happy, healthy, ease.
Inhale, exhale, safe.
Inhale, exhale, happy.
Inhale, exhale, healthy.
Inhale, exhale, ease.
If, at present, your mind is like the proverbial hamster on a wheel, relentlessly going over coronavirus worries, you'll find that the Loving Kindness phrases are a wonderful way of realigning yourself with a sense of safety, good health and happiness. They are also a way of surrounding yourself with love and sending your love out into the world.
See also: Find Peace With Compassionate Walking
Peace is the walk.
All over the world people are practising social distancing in order to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, although we are physically more distant from each other, no hugs or handshakes, many of us are creatively finding ways to stay connected with each other through acts of kindness. In this post I'll share with you the practice of Compassionate Walking which is a wonderful way of extending love to yourself and others.
To begin the practice, start your walk by sending love and good wishes to yourself. This can be as simple as saying something like, "I hope you have a good day today". Use any phrases that help to build up the energy of loving kindness in you. Have compassion for yourself, recognising the difficulties you face at present as you adjust to the restrictions imposed by the virus.
Next, as you walk extend goodwill and loving kindness to both yourself and to passers-by. Do this one person at a time. Again, it might just be a simple phrase such as "I hope things go well for you and me today." Like you, this person is also struggling to adjust to this new world we find ourselves in. Like you they want to be healthy and happy. Send out your love to them. Recognise your shared humanity.
It can also be fun to send out love and compassion to trees, plants, dogs, cats, birds, the earth and the sky.
If you want to develop the practice of Compassionate Walking further you can incorporate the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases:
May I be safe.
The approach is the same as in the less formal version of the meditation already described. You begin the meditation by saying the phrases for yourself, engendering feelings of loving kindness towards yourself as you walk. Next, you choose individual passers-by and say the phrases for both of you:
May you and I be safe.
Christopher Germer, in his book, "The Mindful Path of Self-compassion", says that you can also simplify the phrases to: "Safe, happy, healthy, ease" or "love, love, love, love". Simply repeating these shortened phrases for yourself and others.
If you are quarantined at present and not able to leave the house to walk then see my earlier post: Relieve Stress with a Walking Meditation, which can easily be done at home. My next post will explore simple ways to incorporate the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases into a yoga session.
Here is an excerpt from a blog post I recently wrote for my publisher's website at Llewellyn Worldwide.
During the uncertainty of the current COVID-19 crisis, many of us are looking for ways to support our spiritual and mental health, alongside safeguarding our physical well-being. Walking Meditation is one of the best ways I know to relieve stress and calm an anxious mind. It’s ideally suited for those times when you want to meditate but don’t want to spend more time sitting still. It’s also a way of getting some gentle exercise. Many people find it’s a way of freeing up their ideas and of magically finding creative solutions to difficult problems.
At times of uncertainty, when we feel insecure, our overactive mind unrelentingly turns problems over and over, trying to resolve them, and our energy tends to get stuck in our head. This heady energy makes us disassociate from our body, making us feel stuck and disconnected from the flow of life. Walking Meditation is the perfect antidote to this as it brings our awareness back down from the head, into our body, and to the feet, and in doing so grounds us. Once we feel grounded, we regain clarity, we’re more able to cope with challenges, and life is flowing again.
The beauty of Walking Meditation is that it can be done anywhere, anytime, and it’s very simple to learn. It can be done indoors or outdoors. If you are quarantined at home it can be done around the house, or in the garden, if you have one...
Carry on reading... Walking Meditation in 3 Easy Step
Below is the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh giving guidance on Walking Meditation
The Ten Mindful Movements are a wonderful way to calm down when you feel too stressed to sit and meditate. The meditative movements give an overactive mind something to focus on and help to induce a sense of peacefulness. If you are self-isolating at home they are a gentle way of getting some exercise and meditating at the same time. Other members of your household and children might enjoy joining in too. If coronavirus restrictions in your country still allow you to go outside, they are lovely to do in the open air. Another bonus is that you don't need a yoga mat, so they can be done anywhere. They take about 10 minutes to do.
Here in the UK we are still allowed to leave our homes once a day to exercise (brisk walking enjoying nature for me). I'm also intending each day to practice the Ten Mindful Movements as I find them wonderfully calming, grounding, and centring. Perfect for bringing me back down to earth in these troubled times we're living through.
At the end of this post you'll find a YouTube video of the Ten Mindful Movements as done at Plum Village in France, and below is my class handout for the movements. Please note, on number 8) I do a Half-squat, as I think that's safer on the knees than the Full Squat done in the Plum Village version. I've also added an extra exercise number 12) Hug Yourself, Hug the World.
When practising the Ten Mindful Movements, every time you exhale you do a half-smile. This is super-relaxing! You'll find other smiling-breathing posts on my blog: The Breathe and Smile Meditation, and The Calming. Smiling Practice. Enjoy!
In my last post, the Calming, Smiling Practice, we considered how a smile can help you to regain sovereignty over yourself. The practice involves smiling at difficult feelings such as fear, anxiety, or uncertainty, knowing that you are more than your fear. In this post I will share with you a longer Breathe and Smile Meditation, which is adapted from the Sagittarius chapter of my forthcoming book, Yoga by the Stars.
It's important to say that smiling practice is very different from "positive thinking". We are not pretending everything's OK and ignoring our feelings. Rather we are lovingly acknowledging and attending to our feelings, and smiling, in the same way that you might smile to comfort a crying child. A smile relaxes you and also allows room for other more joyful feelings to arise.
The Breathe and Smile Meditation
Sometimes we approach our meditation practice with such intensity that we forget to cultivate an attitude of joyfulness. The Breathe and Smile Meditation allows you to maintain a clear, focused attention whilst at the same time joyfully lightening up.
This meditation can be done sitting on the floor, in a chair, or lying down in Savasana. Allow 10 minutes.
Find yourself a comfortable position, either sitting or lying. Become aware of your body, particularly noticing which parts are in contact with the floor or your support. If you notice any discomfort in your body, be aware of it without immediately trying to fix it, notice any sensations associated with the discomfort and how they change from breath to breath. Notice which parts of your body already feel relaxed, comfortable and at ease.
Become aware of the natural flow of the breath. Notice where in your body you are most aware of the movement of the breath. Perhaps you feel it at the nostrils as the air enters and leaves the body. Or perhaps you can sense it in the chest, or the belly. Wherever you feel it most clearly allow your awareness to settle there for a few breaths.
Next picture something or someone that makes you smile. Perhaps it is one of your kids, or a grandchild, a pet, your best friend, or a beautiful landscape. Allow your lips to relax into a smile; notice how a smile relaxes so many of the facial muscles. Imagine that the smile is spreading through your body; your eyes are smiling; the back of your throat is smiling; the smile expands across your chest; your belly is smiling. If any part of your body needs soothing, imagine that part of your body is relaxing into a smile.
Return your awareness again to the natural flow of your breath. Particularly be aware of the out-breath, which is the part of the breath associated with relaxation. Each time you breathe out, feel yourself relaxing into a half-smile. A half-smile is that gentle smile that you see on the face of the Buddha. Inhale: exhale half-smile. Carry on breathing and smiling over a few more breaths.
Now imagine that the air that you breathe comes from a vast ocean of love. With each inhale you draw love into yourself, and with each exhale give love back to the world. Inhale: love. Exhale: love. Carry on for a few more breaths and then let it go.
Notice what effect this meditation has had upon you. In what way do you feel different now to how you felt at the start of the meditation?
To conclude become aware of your body; noticing any sensations associated with the contact between your body and the floor or your support; feel a connection to the earth beneath you. Become aware of your surroundings. Do any movements you need to do to wake yourself up, including a good stretch. Resolve to stay in touch with your inner smile as you go about your day today.
In my next post I will share with you the Ten Mindful Movements which also incorporate the breathing and smiling practice.
Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we need to be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot...If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work."
It's a beautiful sunny day here in the UK today, and we're all coming to terms with the government's announcement that for the next three weeks, at least, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus all UK citizens should stay indoors. Many of us are feeling daunted by the prospect of this. Fortunately we are still allowed out for one lot of exercise each day. Many of you around the world will be living under even tighter restrictions and perhaps don't feel you have much to smile about at the moment. This post will share with you the mindfulness technique of breathing and smiling, which will be another simple, quick way to lift your spirits, lighten your mood, and bring a bit of sunshine into cloudy days stuck indoors.
Calming and Smiling is such a simple, beautiful practice, and remember that a smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face and your nervous system. The practice is like this: as you inhale feel the breath calming your body and soothing your mind. As you exhale do a half-smile (like the Buddha) and feel a wave of relaxation spread over you. It's really that simple!
You can also incorporate the calming, smiling practice into your yoga practice. Below are some simple ideas to get you started. You could also use them with Warrior Pose, Bridge Pose, and many other dynamic versions of the poses.
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. He relates how a friend asked him, "How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow?". He replied that she must be able to smile at her sorrow. He said that a human being is like a TV set with hundreds of channels. If we turn sorrow on we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are a smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. He says that we have the seed of everything in us, and when we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have sovereignty over ourselves. I love the idea that a smile helps us to regain our sovereignty. We can't always control our circumstances, but we do have a choice in how we respond. We can breathe and smile.
In the next few days I will also post a longer Breathe and Smile Meditation (from my forthcoming Yoga by the Stars book), and the Ten Mindful Movements practice which incorporates the breathing and smiling practice too.
If you are feeling panicky and overwhelmed with all the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, then you are not alone. In this post I'll share with you a mindfulness-based meditation that will give you support whenever you feel worried, anxious, stressed, unsettled, panicky, or overwhelmed. It only takes a few minutes to do and will help steady you so that you feel more able to cope with whatever arises. It can be particularly useful during hectic, stressful times when you most need meditation but seem to have zero time to devote to it. So for those of you with caring responsibilities, such as kids off school, or jobs on the front-line, it can be a way of squeezing in a few minutes meditation in a busy day.
If you can find a few minutes to spend on this meditation it will actually save you time, as it restores a sense of perspective; preventing you from running around like the proverbial headless chicken. If you put in the time to learn and practice this meditation regularly, it will be there for you when you need it most, helping to restore a sense of calm. It's called The Four Minute Check-in Meditation and can be found on page 144 of the Yoga Through the Year book.
The Four Minute Check-in Meditation
This meditation can be done anywhere and anytime. Usually it is done standing, although it could be adapted to sitting or lying down.
A simple way of remembering the four stages of the meditation is by the acronym: S.A.G.E.
S: Stand tall
Step One: Stand Tall: Assume an upright and dignified posture.
Step Two: Awareness: Become aware of any thoughts and feelings that are arising. Notice any bodily sensations that you are experiencing. Just observe your inner experience, without judging, shaping or trying to change it.
Step Three: Gathering: Bring your awareness to your breathing. Notice how with each in and out breath the belly gently rises and falls. If your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to an awareness of the belly rising and falling with each breath.
Step Four: Expanding your Awareness: Be aware of the breath at the belly and be aware of the whole body breathing. If any part of your body feels tight or tense, imagine that you are breathing into it on the in-breath and breathing out from it on the out-breath; softening, releasing, and letting go with each exhale. Allow your experience to be just as it is in this moment.
Resolve to take this more open, spacious and accepting awareness into the next thing that you do today.
The above meditation is my version of a popular mindfulness technique called The Three Minute Breathing Space. You can find an audio version of the meditation on the Finding Peace in a Frantic World website, where you'll also find plenty of other free mindfulness meditations.
When I feel anxious, apprehensive, or overwhelmed my automatic reaction, like most people's, is to push those difficult emotions away; so I push them down, distract myself, or I ignore how I'm feeling. Experience has taught me that this doesn't work as what we resist persists. Fortunately, my mindfulness practice has given me tools for managing difficult emotions, and today I will share one of these with you in this post.
My go-to mindfulness practice for managing difficult feelings is The Surrounding a Difficulty With Love Meditation (you will find it on page 126 of my Yoga Through the Year book). In this meditation we learn to approach our difficulties with curiosity, rather than avoiding them, and this can help to reduce the intensity and duration of difficult emotions. This meditation can also help you to learn how to show love and acceptance to yourself when you are suffering.
The Surrounding a Difficulty With Love Meditation
Allow 10-20 minutes.
Find yourself a comfortable sitting position. Have a tall, erect, and relaxed posture. Or if you prefer lie down. Notice where your body is in contact with the floor, or your support. Allow those parts of your body that are in contact with the floor to go with gravity, and relax down into the earth.
Take your awareness around your body; noticing which parts of your body already feel relaxed, and which parts feel tight, or tense. Let go of any unnecessary tension; relax your shoulders down away from your ears; and soften your face with a half-smile. Become aware of the natural flow of your breath.
Now bring to mind a difficulty that has been troubling you. Spend a few minutes turning this troubling situation over in your mind. Notice in a non-judgemental way any thoughts and feelings that are arising in response to this difficulty.
As you dwell on this troubling situation notice how your body is responding. Notice where you are feeling the difficulty most strongly in your body. Rather than pushing the unpleasant sensations away see if you can welcome and surround them with love. Imagine that you are giving a big hug to the parts of your body that have tightened or tensed up in response to this troubling emotion.
Notice how the intense physical sensations change from moment to moment. Keep surrounding them with love. As you breathe in, imagine that you are breathing into this part of your body. As you exhale, soften and release, letting go of any tightness or tension.
Now let go of focusing on this difficult situation and the emotions it brings up for you. Bring your awareness back to where your body is in contact with the floor or your support. Feel yourself supported by the earth.
Come back to an awareness of your surroundings. Notice how you are feeling now and in what way this is different to how you felt at the start of the meditation. Give yourself a big hug and then carry on with your day.
On the Mindful Way Through Anxiety website, you will find an audio version of Inviting a Difficulty in and Working it Through the Body. Which takes a similar approach to the meditation I have described above.
In future posts I will share with you more tried and tested mindfulness techniques for managing difficult emotions, to help you find your peaceful place within.
It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
The next few weeks look set to be a challenging time as the population of the world tries to find a way through and out of this coronavirus crisis. Naturally we are all feeling frightened and apprehensive in these uncertain, unpredictable times, and more than ever we need our yoga and mindfulness practice to help us to navigate our way through anxiety and fear, so that we don't get stuck in a frightened, anxious place, and we are able to take the actions necessary to protect and support ourselves, our family, our friends, and wider community.
Many of you will be self-isolating at home, so over the next few weeks my intention is to regularly post short, blog posts and share with you simple accessible yoga and mindfulness techniques that will help you find your calm place in the midst of the storm, and to assist you in managing the torrent of emotions that naturally arise during such turbulent times. I will also post short, simple yoga practices that you can easily do at home. Although I don't do audio and video, I'll be giving you recommendations of excellent online resources from other members of the yoga community. I'll also be making soul-nourishing and courage-inspiring book recommendations.
All of my regular yoga classes are cancelled at the moment, due to government restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus, and so I hope through my blog posts to give my students and newsletter subscribers lots of ideas of simple ways to practice yoga and mindfulness at home.
You can sign up for my newsletter to receive notifications of new blog posts, or just drop in regularly to this website to see what's new.
Jilly Shipway, sharing seasonal yoga ideas and inspiration with you through the year...
Coronavirus: Finding Peace in Troubled Times
The next few weeks look set to be a challenging time as the world tries to find a way through and out of this coronavirus crisis.
Many of you will be self-isolating at home, so over the next few weeks I will regularly post simple, accessible yoga and mindfulness techniques to help you find your calm place in the midst of the storm. I will also post short, simple yoga practices for you to do at home.
Please consult the expert advice in your own country on keeping yourself safe and well during the pandemic.
Please feel free to share ideas and resources that you find in my blog, but please do acknowledge me and my website as their source. Thanks!
Disclaimer: if you have any concerns about your health or suitability to do yoga, please consult a medical professional before attempting any of the yoga routines in this blog.