A few years ago, my husband gave me a card (slightly tongue in cheek, but a humorous nod to my enthusiasm for my mindfulness and meditation practice), entitled ZEN DOG. It has a picture of a dog languishing in a bath tub boat, donning sunglasses, bobbing along at sea, the sun beating down on him. The words below read like this:
“He knows not where he’s going For the ocean will decide – It’s not the DESTINATION… …It’s the glory of the RIDE”
I actually framed the card and it now hangs on my bathroom wall, serving as a daily reminder that striving for answers to everything or trying to second-guess the future is a pointless, energy-sapping exercise.
When I do allow myself to come away from all that’s going on in my head and notice any tension I may be holding in my body, it really is such a relief, as I know that help is at hand and it’s entirely down to me! So, for self-confessed control freaks out there, how cool is that?! By turning our attention to what is actually happening in the present, we are able to see the situation for what it is – we have absolute control over how we react in any given moment. That is mindfulness in a nutshell.
Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).
“Go with the flow” – what a ridiculous thing to suggest when life was ALL about deadlines, rushing about to catch planes and trains, answering emails at the same time as talking on a conference call, etc., etc. – you get the picture. How could it be possible when we all have so many responsibilities and ‘to do’ lists, to “go with the flow”? I used to think that I had a high tolerance of stress but, in reality, that belief simply meant that I’d take on more responsibility and add more stress to my life!
The saying “necessity is the mother of all invention” springs to mind when I think back to the turning point in my life; to the time when I realised that if I wanted to continue functioning as the person I really wanted to be and knew deep down that I was, I’d need to make some fundamental lifestyle changes. Enter my inspiration and dear friend Shelley, fellow yogi and meditation junkie. For the next several years I went on my own wellbeing journey and soon discovered the joys of a meditation and mindfulness practice. The changes didn’t mean quitting my job and living in a yurt (I have been tempted!), but I went in search of the peace within that would enable me to regain the natural energy needed to live a happy and fulfilling life, that would fully embrace the day job, and my role as mum, wife, friend, daughter, etc.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with Zen Buddhist monks and inspiring yoga teachers around the world, I’ve read many dozens of books and have attended several wonderful courses, all in pursuit of inner peace. And do you know what the single magic ingredient is that makes this all possible? The breath! How we direct our Chi, Qi, Prana or, simply, energy with the use of our breath, is the answer to living mindfully, in the moment.
In yoga we learn that the breath is the link between the mind and the body. Learning, moment by moment, to direct our attention to the present using the breath as our anchor, can be truly life-changing. It’s such a simple thing but, of course, as with many simple concepts, that isn’t synonymous with easy. Yes, it takes practice, but the rewards are instant and exponential. Every few minutes that we choose to direct our attention to the breath and relax into the body, is like having a 30-minute power nap, only much quicker and longer-lasting and no-one need notice ☺.
So, the next time you’re feeling frazzled or just out of synch with life, take 5 minutes to sit or lie down undisturbed (we can all find 5 minutes) and connect with your breath. Inhale and exhale deeply, noticing any areas of tension in the body and allowing yourself to simply relax. You wait, 5 minutes will soon become 10 and 10, 15 and so on.
You may have realised that I’m a big fan of quotes so I thought I’d sign off this introduction to mindfulness with one by Albert Einstein:
“Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.”
Join the conversation by commenting below, and let me know your favourite life quotes too.
If you enjoy playing sport at any level, then I truly believe that yoga has something to offer you.
After the widely publicised inclusion of yoga into their regular training regime by the likes of Ryan Giggs (professional footballer, Manchester United and Wales), Andy Murray (professional tennis player, former Wimbledon champion and Olympic gold medallist) and Bradley Wiggins (professional cyclist, 2012 Tour de France winner), along with a host of other elite-level athletes, many of the yoga sceptics have been silenced.
And it’s not just a few individual sports men and women who have adopted the practice. World-class coaches and managers of football teams such as the 2014 Premiership Champions, Manchester City, and recent high-fliers Southampton FC and West Ham United have all seen fit to introduce yoga to their players, as have those working with the likes of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union team and various Olympic coaches in disciplines ranging from swimming to weightlifting.
So what are the benefits to us mere mortals who perhaps enjoy a weekly game of tennis, a regular round of golf or a session of mountain biking or road cycling?
For many of us, the key advantages of incorporating some regular yoga into our general wellbeing regime include:
Optimized movement and increased flexibility
Increased core strength/stability
Better relaxation strategies
Increased protection from injury
Improved breath control
Shorter recovery time
No-one will promise that yoga can transform you from a keen amateur or enthusiastic club competitor into a world beater, but it will increase your chances of staying fitter for longer, avoiding some of those niggling aches and pains, and recovering from minor injuries a little bit faster. And with the increased flexibility and core stability that yoga brings, you have every chance of improving your overall performance level in whatever sport you enjoy.
The use of breathing techniques in yoga also helps us make that all-important mind/body connection; when we’re in the flow of our yoga postures, we use the breath to keep us focused, offering instant access to the “rest and digest” part of our autonomic nervous system. The more relaxed and focused we are on the mat, the more energy we conserve for the times when we really need it off the mat!
Back to Ryan Giggs: “My body feels so much better having done the yoga … I still get the odd hamstring strain, which you are going to get playing football, but it wasn’t about curing the problem, but making it less frequent. I wish I had done it from the start of my career.”
Over the coming months here at the Integrated Wellbeing site, we’ll take a look at some specific postures and series that can help those of you playing a particular sport enjoy it just that little bit more. And as we’re one of the main 2015 sponsors of current North East champions, the Team WattCycle road-cycling team, cycling is likely to be near the top of that list!
I currently teach two yoga classes each week at the Ocean Physio and Rehab Clinic at Woodbury near Exeter. The Ocean team has experience of working with those suffering from various sporting injuries, including members of the Exeter Chiefs rugby union team, the English golf team and the Devon cricket team, as well as a number of elite-level sports men and women and Olympic competitors. More information about my current class schedule and the Ocean team’s expertise can be found at www.oceanphysio.com.
I believe that incorporating a regular yoga practice into your schedule can increase both your enjoyment of your favourite sports and your level of performance.
And for those of you who are interested in exploring the role of yoga in sport more deeply, there are now numerous yoga teachers across the UK (and the rest of the world) who offer expertise via classes and courses specifically aimed at sports people. Head over to Google now to find a class in your area, and let me know in the comments section below how you get on!
Oh, and guys, in case you hadn’t realised, this one is definitely for you too. I’m seeing more and more men turning up to classes and they all come back for more ☺. So, if in doubt, banish thoughts of lycra and getting yourself stuck in some pretzel shape and find a class and teacher that suit you.
Here at Integrated Wellbeing, we’re proud to be one of the main sponsors of both the men’s and women’s road racing cycling teams at Team WattCycle for the 2015 season.
We hope you’ll share our support for them as the season unfolds and we’ll be posting regular updates on the site and through social media throughout the year.
The team are still the new kids on the block, having formed in time for the 2014 season, initially to compete in the men’s North East regional series as Manilla Cycling. With a combination of single-mindedness and enthusiasm, music PR guru Tony McDonagh got a small group of fellow cyclists together to practice on dark, wet November nights and persuaded them to form a team. There was nothing to lose. 12 months later, as North East Regional Champions and with a brand new women’s team joining the group under the watchful eye of experienced international rider Karen Poole, the group has both a national and a regional team and expectations are considerably higher.
“It’s fair to say plenty of people in the region couldn’t wait to see us fail and our debut at the Croft Race Circuit only served to fuel other teams’ laughter aimed at the team. Riders who knew nothing of us quickly dismissed us.” Tony McDonagh, Team Manager
After a bleak opening day with just a single 34th place finish in the All Category race and an 8th place in the lower-level Category 4 group, the team had registered a mere 2 points. On the Monday after the race Tony arrived in the office to an email from the head of a rival team mocking them. His words became the best possible team talk!
Out of adversity, the team spirit grew in leaps and bounds. Minds were focused. Training increased. From hearing Tony’s account of that first season and following their progress as a supporter, I sense that they were helped, perhaps without knowing it, by one of the cornerstones of mindfulness: being present in the moment. Earlier race results didn’t matter. What might happen in future races (and at the season end) didn’t matter. Nothing was expected of them save for being fully focused on the race, moment by moment.
I’m looking forward to joining up with the team soon to underpin the idea of mindfulness helping athletes to focus on the job in hand; and now that former Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, has stressed the importance of yoga to his training, I’m hoping to persuade a few of them to roll out a mat too!
I’ll be posting more about yoga for those of you who participate in sport at all levels over coming months, starting with “Yoga For Sport: Bend It Like Wiggins” here in the Integrated WellbeingBody Matters resources.
How often have you met someone and had them completely “figured out” before either of you has even said a word? How often have you had a pre-conceived idea of how an event will unfold? A recent experience of doing just that taught me so much about myself in one short evening ☺…………………
Not long ago I had the honour of meeting Shammi Nanda, a truly inspiring guy, Indian film director turned NVC (Non Violent Communication) global ambassador and facilitator at a “Conscious Kitchen” event in my home town organised by a fellow yogi.
When I received a follow up invitation from Shammi to sign up for the “Great Food Debate” at Embercombe in Devon, I have to confess that I was excited; an opportunity to participate in a discussion on such weighty matters as Fighting Food Waste, The Paleo Diet, Building Relationships With Our Food, Eating Choicefully and Compassionately and The Fast Food Nation, was too good to miss. I had never been to Embercombe so my imagination immediately took me on a flight of fancy to a stage, PowerPoint presentations and break-out sessions. How wrong could I have been?!
More than 20 years in the corporate world had conditioned me to arrive early (after all I wanted to get a good seat so I could fully participate in the debate!) only to find some very relaxed individuals clearing up from the last event of the afternoon to make way for the evening’s Great Food Debate programme.
Not a PowerPoint slide or stage in sight, but several very large comfy sofas, a beautiful wood-burning stove, home-made flapjacks and tea on arrival – what a fabulous, warm welcome.
Nevertheless, my organised, conditioned mind soon went into overdrive. Here I was on a dark, damp autumn Sunday evening, in what is to all intents and purposes a large barn, notebook and pen at the ready, waiting to voice my views on matters of great importance to me only then to be invited by Shammi to adopt an “Open Technology Approach” to the evening – i.e. “without any formal agenda beyond the overall purpose or theme”. Interesting, I thought to myself – is it possible to have a productive evening without an agenda? Surely chaos would reign with such an unstructured approach!
However, I reminded myself of my Zen teacher’s words about being present to what is, and not trying to predict the outcome (I paraphrase, but you get the sentiment) and in an instant I relaxed. We were invited (not directed, you notice) to go to whichever corner of the room we felt moved to, talk to whoever was there, share thoughts and ideas as well as eat lovingly-prepared food.
Then something lovely happened. For the next hour and a half the energy in the room was palpable as we went from each “topic area” sampling some wonderfully nourishing, home-grown food prepared by the Embercombe team and Shammi’s own delicious vegan Indian fayre. It was an opportunity to learn more about our relationship with food and to better understand the motivation of the speakers behind their subject matter.
After much conversation and sharing, the comfy sofas beckoned and we were invited to an open fireside chat. It was time to reflect on the last couple of hours. As I sat there listening to others’ reflections, it gave me time to reflect on my own experience so far that evening: complete turnaround of my pre-conceived view of how the evening would evolve. I found myself laughing inwardly at how wrong I was and yet how joyful the evening had been. What really struck me was not only the passion and enthusiasm in the room for the subject matter, but the way in which vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike were able to voice their thoughts in a wonderfully non-judgmental way.
My take home message and “call to action” ☺ was to leave my pre-conceived ideas at the door, allow things to unfold in a non-judgmental way and to experience the joy of being able to relax in the moment!
I guess that’s Non Violent Communication in its purest form and I am exceedingly grateful that I had the opportunity that evening to witness it. I loved the philosophy behind the Embercombe project and look forward to participating in future events.
We all know that we need to eat more greens (especially raw ones) and for many of us, even if we love them, it’s hard to consume at least 5 portions a day.
It seems that the most important and healthiest vegetables (the green ones) are missing from a lot of our diets.
Juicing or blending really helps fill the gap and allows for far more efficient absorption of the vital nutrients in our greens such as essential alkaline minerals, calcium and magnesium. Greens are also rich in antioxidants, and cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli, kale, collards, watercress and rocket to name a few, speed up the liver’s ability to rid the body of ingested toxins. In addition, iron, vitamin C, beta-carotene are found in most of these greens (I could go on, but you get the picture), so you can see why I’m so enthusiastic about this daily ritual!
My Morning Favourite Combo
Makes approximately 1 ½ pints or 750ml to divide into glasses, cover and sip throughout the day or pour into a takeaway flask for your instant “on the go pick me up.”
One large celery stalk or 2 smaller ones (washed – no need to peel)
1/4 a cucumber – peel if not organic
1/2 an apple – peel if not organic. Add a whole apple if you prefer a slightly sweeter start to your day ☺
A handful of spinach leaves
2 or 3 lettuce leaves
A small handful of kale
500ml filtered water
A piece of peeled ginger
A generous squeeze of lime juice
Fresh mint leaves
6 ice cubes
Wash the leaves and add all the ingredients into your blender. If using a juicer you may want to add some filtered water afterwards to make it go further or simply add a few ice cubes instead.
Tips / Time-savers Kale: I regularly buy a large bag of kale, wash it, chop it and place it in the freezer in an airtight bag. Once frozen it’s really easy to break some off for your morning juice. This cuts down morning prep-time and instantly cools your drink for an extra fresh taste. Do the same with collards, Swiss chard, etc.
Ginger: Ginger has antiviral and antifungal properties. It’s also an anti-inflammatory and stimulates circulation. As root ginger tends to come in quite large pieces, I peel and chop it into ready-made thumb nail size pieces and again put it in the freezer in an airtight bag. Fab – no messing about in the morning and a large root can last a few weeks. (If you too are a fan of ginger, grate a frozen piece into a glass of hot lemon at any time of the day ☺.)
This recipe is my favourite morning combo and one I keep coming back to. Have a look at my recent piece “Superfood Smoothies: What’s All The Fuss About?” to read more about the many health benefits of regularly juicing or blending. Greens in particular are top of the list, so go ahead, get your creative juices flowing and experiment with your favourite greens: replace apple with pear, lemon juice instead of lime; or try adding broccoli florets, chard or collard leaves in place of kale. The combos really are endless!
And please share your favourites in the ‘comments’ below.
With love and wellbeing wishes,