I have a new website to run alongside this one. It focuses on women’s health and the different cycles we live with and move through. I know we don’t need to talk about this everyday but we should be able to talk to each other if we need to.
I have posted my first blog about the menopause and yoga. This will be an ongoing series. As I read through different resources, the main self-help is to calm the nervous system and give ourselves permission to do what we would tell our family and friends to do: take time out, do something you love doing, give yourself some space to work out what you need, nourish yourself …
There are plenty of ideas about yoga practice during menopause. I am not sure about particular asanas (postures) stimulating specific endocrine glands but I am sure about the effect on the body, to bring it to a balance and to open the joints and heart. I am sure about the effect of the breath on the mind, head and body. I feel myself move from agitation to stillness when I gift myself the time to pause. I have changed my own practice and am beginning to feel the effects, particularly during the night. The last two nights I haven’t woken until 5 am and I went back to sleep. That’s not happened for a while!
At the start of lockdown, I began the Morning Dailies. These 30 minute daily yoga practices were to enable anyone to have access to regular yoga practice and to provide the opportunity for daily contact. Some people came every day and continue to do so, others once or twice a week. The majority of the time, people have been in their homes but we have had away visits from Preston and Bournemouth.
I know recorded yoga classes are useful but I find them limited. If I go to a class, I want to be able to ask the teacher about the practice. As the lessons are live, I can respond to the class and adapt the practice where appropriate, just as I would if we were in a non-virtual space together. There has also been the opportunity for everyone to share sadness or joy both COVID and non-COVID related. We have met every weekday except bank holidays since 24 March. As of today, that’s 145 thirty minute lessons!
My first answer to the question, What are the Morning Dailies?
The Morning Dailies are a gift. An unexpected treasure.
As the space developed so did the intention. In response to conversations and questions, it seemed natural to bring a sustained focus to the practice. Each week, the practice remains more or less the same. As with the weekly term yoga, this allows familiarity to develop and the experience to inform, develop and on occasion ‘for something profound to be revealed’ (a sentiment passed to me from my teachers).
The start of lockdown was a shock for us all but also a unifying experience even in isolation. The initial practices focused on opening the heart to encourage acceptance but I also hoped everyone would be able to acknowledge how they felt beneath the resignation without feeling overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed.
We had a practice including chanting; perhaps a little ambitious first thing in the morning and with everyone muted! We played with twists. We considered devotional practice with the hands. In June, we started a journey to explore cobra or bhujangasana. There were many questions. The most common ones: Where am I meant to be moving from? How do I stop my back pinching? What do I do with my shoulders?
We focused on supporting the body with the individual effects of the inhale and exhale. We brought attention to lengthening the spine while opening the chest and shoulders. Shoulder and arm movements were introduced keeping the priority on lengthening the spine. We visualised the breath moving from root to crown and crown to root. Cobra developed into variations of locust or salabasana. This highlighted how the movement of arms and legs impacts on the back and the neck; we also brought attention to the hips. Eventually we made it to the bow or dharanasana and some comedy moments using a belt …
Through August, I am teaching practices to release the neck and shoulders. Did you know that the position of your head affects how you hold your pelvis? Did you know that jaw tension affects the whole of the back, first feeding into the neck and shoulders? Tension in the upper body affects the action of the breath which creates movement and shape change in the body – did you know that inflexibility in the upper spine can affect the quality of your breath which has an impact on the whole body?
I love teaching these shorter regular practices. I have benefitted from the connection and shared care. I have the yoga bug; I am privileged to have a life where I can roll out my mat at the start of each day. On the days I don’t, it is down to me not outside influences. In an ideal world, everyone would roll out their mat daily. For different reasons, this is not feasible for everyone … work, family, health, general busyness. For yoga to be most effective, a consistent approach is needed. If this cannot be daily, it is helpful to at least aim for regularity. In a busy world where the mind wanders off and multi-tasks, regularity is the key to returning to centre, focus and awareness. This is the path to maintaining an uncompromised immune system. Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) can be influenced by the way we breathe. Mindful breathing can encourage the ANS to turn off our stress responses which can become chronic if unchecked (sympathetic nervous system). This allows the focus to be on repairing the body and activating the immune system to respond appropriately to our internal and external environment (parasympathetic nervous system). I accept that health is not this simplistic but we can do so much for ourselves to make it simpler. An answer to a strong and adaptable immune system is to live a life that is sustainable, balanced and healthy. This needs to be done in an environment where we take responsibility for ourselves, each other and the natural world.
It won’t surprise you that I feel the starting place for all of this is a regular practice. A moment each day (or most days) where we are fully engaged and focused; where we tune in and are honest about how we are on all levels. A moment to connect and realise that we are part of the world and nature and have a central part to play. We may not be in a place where we can actively change in that moment but mindlessly falling forward will not facilitate change either.
What practice you choose is up to you. But you have to do it not just think about doing it. This was not the motivation for creating these classes but it is the sustaining principle. So, What are the Morning Dailies?
A space to explore sustained, regular practice
Yoga Sutras Chapter 1.14: sa tu dirghakala nairantarya satkara adara asevito drdhabhumih
It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.
There will always be a tendency to start practice with enthusiasm and energy, and a desire for sudden results. But the continuing pressures of everyday life and the enormous resistance of the mind encourages us to succumb to human weaknesses. All this is understandable, we all have these tendencies. This sutra emphasises the need to approach practice soberly with a positive, self-disciplined attitude and with a long-term view toward eventual success (‘The Heart of Yoga’: Developing a Personal Practice, TKV Desikachar)
This was going to be a light-hearted writing about the Morning Dailies. How you approach these classes is entirely up to you. The starting point for accessing yoga is often the need to stretch the body, to find a bit more flexibility or strength. The Morning Dailies provide that. How you engage with these classes is up to you.
Yesterday I met online with my yoga teacher, Chris Priest. I felt emotional making contact and having space to think about my own practice. It was my first lesson since lockdown. Yoga has gradually woven its way through my life. My own daily practice is a priority more than ever but it hasn’t always been that way. My first teacher was Chris Fielder when I was pregnant with Joe, now 23 years old. Three years later, Will came along and Chris supported me through pregnancy again. I wanted to continue with yoga after pregnancy and Chris agreed to teach me and I’m so grateful that she did. I would turn up every four to six weeks in a fug of chronic fatigue and parenting mayhem. Most of the time I did not practice between lessons but she remained committed to my practice. She could have very easily finished the relationship but we continued on. Eventually with an established practice and realising the benefit of sustained practice, I made noises about attending a foundation course. It was at this point that Chris said it was time to begin with a new teacher and she knew who that should be, Kay Wensley. I was gutted but trusted her decision and Kay was fantastic. Chris also steered me towards Sadhana Mala for my learning.
It took me a long time to commit to learning to teach yoga. As I glance at the date, I realise that I’ve been teaching for nine years (including my student teaching). I have never been one for short courses. If I am going to commit to study I want it to have depth and breadth. A three week intensive just doesn’t suit my learning style. Learning with Dave (Charlton) and Ranju (Roy) was an enriching and challenging five year experience. There’s something in my make-up that makes me commit fully to an extended learning but then I twist and turn, trying to push boundaries and question why I’m being asked to do certain things. The pranayama six month diary and practice during the third year was the hardest part of the course. I discussed it with Kay and she explained I was ‘cooking’. I complained to Dave and Ranju; they listened but they didn’t budge! It made me appreciate the power and importance of breath.
Over the course I made close friendships. These are as important to me as the yoga. I have friends who accept me as I am. They are patient when I am challenging and challenge me when I need to be challenged. They have celebrated my successes and supported me when I feel weary or doubt myself. As well as the teachings and practice of yoga, I have a community I can be at home in.
I started my teaching practice with friends and colleagues at Penny Brohn Cancer Care. I then began a class in Long Ashton Community Centre and at Church House. For some reason the class numbers reduced and we worked in small groups at my home. Eight years ago I started at Yanley Court and moved all my therapies and yoga classes to that space. Everyone appreciated the magic of the Loft.
So to the present day and we are separated by the demands of a pandemic. Yanley Court has closed. I have recreated a space in my home. It feels like the right space to be in. My yoga practice and teaching have provided a means to continue with my business and to support a loyal client/student base. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful. I never thought that part of my teaching provision would be online. The Morning Dailies have given me a daily structure and connection during lockdown. It isn’t the same as face to face but we are developing as a group. Some people come for the whole week, others dip in and out once or twice a week or when they can. Today when I was watching everyone work and stay with the breath, I thought the screen had frozen. It was a wonderful moment of stillness and it made me appreciate what has been nurtured and created between us.
The term classes have enabled us to continue meeting as weekly groups. I know this has been difficult for some. Space and wifi has to be negotiated with the family; I know that there are TVs on in the background, grocery deliveries arrive at just the wrong time, partners nudge doors open to see if we have finished, children are living their lives at volume and occasionally a cat’s tail or a dog’s nose appears at the screen. This can all be managed for the class as a whole but I know individuals are unable to MUTE their own households while we practice. Thank you for adapting to online teaching in the home. It reminds me of trying to practice yoga on campsites either with other campers watching me on dewy grass or fitting arm raises and forward bends into the cramped space of the caravan, usually with the family being aware of my every move.
I have been meeting groups for online meditation on Mondays and Fridays. With information sent out before and after we meet, we can focus on sitting together virtually and having the support of the group to contain us for a meditative experience. I am not a meditation teacher. I am a yoga teacher with a mixed experience and varied approach to meditation. I am enjoying sharing this to find different ways to approach meditation without high ideals or expectation. I am continuing with these two spaces through July. I have found in the four weeks we have met that my own practice is more focused. I meditate at the end of my morning yoga practice and am finding that I am sitting for longer and with less tension.
Another joy of my online week is the reiki share. We meet every Wednesday morning for an hour. I guide a meditation for everyone to connect to themselves and to healing energy. We then send healing to each individual within the group, finishing with a healing circle for our community and beyond. Reiki was founded by Usui Mikao who was a Tendai Buddhist. Buddhism states that we are all connected. We are one. Distant healing is an obvious practice and not something that needs doctrine or a belief system. Calling someone to mind is the beginning of distant healing. For some this is a form of prayer. I heard a quote recently: ‘prayer is a conversation, meditation is listening‘. In reiki practice we do both.
I am missing the physicality of my bodywork practice but I have four willing bodies at home. We have had the futon and the couch out. The days seem to be a succession of food, exercise, yoga and bodywork. There’s usually at least one body eating, exercising or practising yoga.
When I started teaching online I was very aware of the two dimensional aspect of zoom. The need to focus on words and facial expressions was exhausting. As time rumbles on, I am beginning to feel some of the more subtle communication between us. When we are allowed back into the wild, I assume my work will be a mixture of face to face and online experiences. I am unsure of when I will be able to change from only online work and I do like to have a plan. For July, I am set up for another month of online work.
Stay in touch, I like hearing about your experiences and insights. If you have any questions about how we can work together do ask.