Strength and Freedom through Healthy Alignment

There is and always will be a lot of debate when it comes to alignment in a Yoga class. Some (myself included) who tout its importance. And others who believe it’s not so important in the practice.
Looking at Ashtanga and Iyengar Yoga two completely different practices. Yet both Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar were students of Krishnamacharya. The underlying principle of his teachings was to 'Teach what is appropriate for an individual'

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Whilst Ashtanga recognises the importance of breath and movement. Iyengar is alignment first and foremost.

In today’s modern practices which I believe developed out of a need to address western lifestyles and bodies, I strongly believe a combination of these beliefs is necessary.

Through healthy alignment that is optimum for ‘your’ body you reduce the risk of injury, increase strength, take the pressure off joints, encouraging the correct muscles to engage and work. When the body is aligned optimally the muscles and joints assume their correct working roles leading to a greater sense of ease through the whole body. More often than not when there is a weakness or if the body is incorrectly aligned some joints may overwork in place of the muscles which don't engage - leading to injury over time.
Only when the body is aligned will you find a sense of ease so the breath can flow freely.

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So what does ‘optimum for ‘your’ body’ mean. Recognising we are all individuals, shapes, sizes, some hyper-mobile others strong but inflexible, injuries past & present... I could go on.  We enter a Yoga class and for the most part instruction is general for alignment. There are definitely some that in my mind are non-negotiable especially when it comes to safety (knees, back, neck) but more often than not some of that instruction needs to be adapted for the individual whether it’s a whisper in the ear or a hands on adjustment, this is the instruction you need to pay the most attention to. To align your body in a way so you can find more freedom. Gaining strength and freedom physically will lead to freedom and ease mentally too.

Take 2 extreme body types. Someone who is hyper-mobile may find some areas of the practice easy, almost too easy as their joints allow an amount of mobility that may feel right to them but over time can lead to injury. Encouraging that student to pull back and engage muscles more, will help them feel, connect to - and be in their bodies more.
A person who comes to class feeling stiff and inflexible may feel tempted to force the pose leading to injury.
Ultimately finding the best alignment for person number 1 will help them engage muscles and build strength while for person number 2 proper alignment will help the muscles relax and encourage more ease.

Whether you are new to Yoga or have been practicing a while you should take the time to pay attention to the structure and alignment of the pose from the foundation up. What is going on for you and in your body in the moment and paying attention to the breath. Whether you are in a fast paced Vinyasa class, or a class where poses are held for longer, understanding your body's structure and how to align in a way that is safest for you and allows the breath flow freely. A sense of bliss and ease will come not just to your practice on the mat but off it too.

 

 

Down but not out!

I've been plagued with injuries for the past 7 months. I'm not going to lie it has been the most frustrating experience. Prior to this I felt I was really hitting my groove I was running up the mountains, it was in short AWESOME! The views were exhilarating, motivating. Okay so the actual up hill run never seemed to get any easier but it was worth it for the rambling once I got up there. I'd come home buzzing and hit the mat (the Yoga mat) adapting my practice accordingly. Of course there were the days when I just couldn't fit it in. And there were the days when I just enjoyed the luxury of Yoga. In short I felt I was doing most things right to prevent any sort of injury.

But then one thing after another! my heel, my knee, my shoulder. I actually felt like my body was just giving up. I blamed my running shoes and took myself off to have my gait analysed, one small fortune later off I went with my new running shoes. They made no difference! and unfortunately you cannot get a refund on shoes that are covered in mud. So I took my own advice and decided to rest. I looked after the heel injury with some 'foot yoga', cared for and fixed the knee issue with yoga too. After a couple of months I thought i was ready to hit the road properly again. Mentally I was more than ready. And then it struck again, that blasted heel pain just seemed to be getting worse. On reflection I was reminded that consistancy is key and during the time I wasn't feeling any pain I stopped the specific yoga that was helping and just returned to my normal practice. I stopped icing the heel too, so of course the pain returned. I also made the mistake of starting right where I left off - running for an hour after being out of action for so long was definitely not the wisest decision I have ever made.

So it was back to rest and almost giving up! not where I wanted to be.

Happy to report that now - I am back! Lessons learnt means I am taking it slowly. It took a couple of visits to an amazingly helpful Osteopath to truly understand the cause of the injuries and now it is up to me to take it slowly and be grateful that I can still run and do yoga and can enjoy building back to where I was. To keep adapting my Yoga practice accordingly instead of being in this constant hurry to do everything, be everything is key.

The most enjoyable part for me.. and there is despite the frustration - is that there is so much to learn about yourself physically and mentally from exploring one pose at a time. Downward dog a pose we are all so familiar with can teach us so much. This is my go to pose when something is 'off' I feel the imbalance. Having a regular practice with a teacher is so important - Although I can feel the imbalance I am not always sure where it is stemming from and as much as I enjoy doing a class online, and as good as those teachers are, they have not quite mastered the art of adjusting students through the computer screen. Slowing down is a lesson in itself a valuable one. Maybe that strong 90 minute vinyasa class isn't what your body needs if you are injured. Take a step back to review and take stock before you move forward again SLOWLY.

You won't see me up the hills just yet, a slow 3-4k is where I am at. And in Yoga handstands are off for now, Urdhva dhanurasana is coming back slowly. My daughter has told me she wants me to live to 108! In order to do that I need to mind this body of mine I suggest you do the same.

 

Top 10 reasons to practice at home

My home practice did not come easily to me it was something I often put too much pressure on myself about. Now I try and encourage my students to just unroll the mat. Commit to 10 minutes and watch what unfolds.. Don't take it too seriously, don't put pressure on yourself to perfect a pose. It is a journey inward. It is a journey.. And because I don't like to take myself too seriously here are my top 10 reasons of why I love my home practice so much. In truth 1 & 10 are the main ones.

1. You can practice in your pj's!

2. You can practice whenever you want (time, children, animals depending).

3. You can practice for 10 minutes, or on those glorious days when you embody the flow - 10mins may turn into 2 hours and you may not even notice.

4. You can drop into Savasana at any moment (my personal favourite after every Urdhva dhanurasana).

5. You can stop and dance at any moment (after every handstand for me).

6. You can practice what you want and more importantly what you need in that moment.

7. You can go at your own pace (see no.4).

8. If you have kids you can practice with them and learn from them. At home Maia and I have a night time practice which can be chanting and pranayama or sometimes some asana. She loves it, perhaps because I never insist, I don't teach, I always let her lead.

9. Savasana can be 5 minutes or time depending can turn into 30 blissful minutes of Yoga Nidra.

10. Sometimes your practice can be just that... 5 min Savasana or 30 mins of Yoga Nidra.

NAMASTE

"I'll have that steak medium rare please.."

A while back I watched a video of Mark Hyman (Functional Medicine Expert) he was talking about the best diet to eat. Here we go you are thinking there is another diet out there to try that is better.. What he said made me laugh first, then happy that someone was saying what I thought. It's about what diet is right for 'You'. The diet that will make 'you' healthy energised fit, strong. It's not whether vegan is better than paleo or vice versa it's what suits you. He coined the phrase 'Pegan' - that's it I thought I'm a Pegan (one with a decent amount of bad habits mind you).

I started practicing Yoga many moons ago and looking back I actually credit my practice with the end of me eating a purely plant based diet. I look back now and see how my yoga practice was teaching me to love and respect myself, my body and with that recognising that a vegan diet was not the best fit for me. I started eating fish and immediately felt better, stronger, more energised. Funny you think  as Yoga  is so often associated with being vegan. Believe me I know I sat through so many Yoga classes and retreats where the teacher would spend too much time talking/lecturing about the vegan lifestyle I remember in New York sneaking off to have some Sushi and oh heaven forbid I had coffee after. It made no sense to feel such guilt about my healthy eating choices yet it was guilt that I felt. That in itself was wrong.

More recently I was told I needed to add red meat to my diet on a regular basis - I feel the shudder and tutting from the vegans in the world as I type. Here's the thing, when you've been diagnosed with Alopecia and your hair is falling out in handfuls you may reconsider your eating choices too. Despite my kitchen presses looking like the inside of a health food store, between my superfoods, supplements, my fridge bursting with dark leafy green goodness - It was not enough for my ferritin stores (iron stores). Including red meat once and sometimes twice a week has made a huge difference to me. I must emphasise to 'ME'. I am not suited to being vegan though I love to eat vegan meals, I also love fish, and include red meat because it's what my body requires. Surely that's the point - eating a healthy diet that gives our bodies the best chance at the best and healthiest life.

I know so many healthy vibrant strong vegans. The diet suits them. I also know many who like me look pale with dark circles around their eyes who may need a review of diet and or lifestyle.

I am a nutrition geek and love my food journey as much as my Yoga one. We may embark on our Yoga journey as part of a group but it is deeply personal and so is the food and nutrition one. There is a wave of new cooks and chefs making my cooking and eating habits fashionable and trendy and I love it because hopefully it is making some of you review how it is you eat and how food effects you. Sugar free, gluten free, grain free, paleo, pegan, vegan, organic, grass fed, wild, raw, superfood are all the hashtags you may see if you do the food thing on instagram.. You may even see some of my own recipes if you follow me (olwyn33)

They say you are what you eat.. Maia thinks I am a coconut! I think I'm more a Tropical Island that had a few healthy cows living on it.

 

Struggling to breathe..

When my partner of 10 years (Maia's Dad) and I broke up I felt like someone had ripped my heart out, I struggled to breathe. As much as I wanted to close the doors and hide in my room, I just had to get on with things. I had to ensure the transition for Maia was as smooth as it could be. I didn't stop to take a breath, I couldn't. I kept working, I kept up the routine and in some ways I felt like I just numbed the feelings.

As an emotional and passionate being, numbed feelings are foreign to me, I felt like someone had taken over my body. I ran every day to clear my head. I practiced Yoga every day to reconnect.

But life is life and some days I didn't get to fit in a run or yoga for as long or as much as I needed it - There wasn't enough time in the day for the amount of Yoga I needed to do. I needed something else.

When I started using Essential oils I had no idea the positive impact they would have on my life. I thought I would just use them in class to create an atmosphere.  I never saw how much I would use them for physical and emotional healing. I believe each oil resonates deeply with individuals in a different way and sometimes we are simply attracted to the smell of one we need the most. During this difficult time I layered my favourite brand of oils joyful blend with peppermint on my heart centre, diffused them in the house, used the cup and inhale method. While Peppermint helped me to breathe (no other way to describe it) the joyful blend connected deeply to my heart centre and helped me to feel. To feel good about myself, about life about difficult decisions being made, to let go of bad feelings, let go of blame.

The joyful blend contains a blend of Melissa, Lavender, Sandalwood, Tangerine, Ylang Ylang among others. They call it joyful blend - If you ever want to try some just ask, I always have a bottle in my bag!

 

Peaceful Child..

We are emotional beings that is true and never more apparent than through the eyes of a child. Children are a big ball of emotions ready to spill at any given moment as they navigate this world not completely sure of how to control their feelings.

I sometimes wonder did I give birth to a wild horse. My girl never walks, she likes to run, skip, jump, do cartwheels, handstands always moving. Is it any wonder when she leaves school in the afternoon after spending so much time sitting and concentrating that all those emotions are ready to erupt in some way. Some days I can just let her run wild.. others it's straight into the car. These days are like walking on egg shells unsure of exactly which emotion is about to come spilling out. I keep my favourite brand of oils calming blend in my car for these reasons (for me) and Maia has her own little blend of oils she uses called Peaceful child blend. They work. A combination of grounding and calming oils... Vetiver,  Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Clary Sage, Margoram, Lavender mixed in a roller bottle with some fractionated coconut oil.

I do feel some oils resonate more strongly with us than others. Frankincense I joke is her pause button. It is just that! If I manage to put a drop at the base of her skull right before she is about to explode it really is like pressing pause, she swtiches gears and moves on in a different calmer way.

I love that I have a fiesty, strong girl who loves to sing and dance and do Karate and swing upside down from trees. Sometimes she wants me to put the oils on her or puts them on herself, sometimes she wants to chant Om and sit quietly and colour to calm down and then sometimes she wants to own her anger and goes running from me when she sees me coming with Frankincense. Sometimes she needs to feel her anger in full force to let it run its course - And that's more than okay with me too!

 

 

Fear..

I used to live life quite literally by the seat of my pants I thought nothing of moving to San Francisco on my own, travelling through Asia on my own. I have travelled on some of the most dubious looking aircraft in the most hair raising weather conditions. Have you ever been on a plane so small you are almost beside the pilot? With the weather so bad he has to stand up wipe the window to see if he could see the runway?.. I have. I have done a parachute jump. I have travelled on plane where half the seats are missing. Quite simply for a great part of my life I was pretty fearless.

Then I had something greater than myself to live for - Maia.. soon to be 7 and the love of my life. She has made being on this earth so much more important. The benefits include being more mindful of my life and my health but the unexpected downside for me who loves to travel to far flung places was developing a fear of flying. I haven't been any further than London without her and thankfully the journey is short and for the past few years this journey is spent with eyes closed breathing deeply clutching the seat. As I turn into my mother (yes we all do, I see that now) it was through her and my essential oils I have found away to fly, breathe normally and even read while on the plane. My mother's fear of flying is a lot greater than mine and usually kicks in about a week before she boards the plane. Last year before she went on her holidays she was feeling anxious/jittery I handed her a bottle of my favorite esential oil brand's  Grounding blend, showed her the cup and inhale method - the results where instant. 

I like the smell of th grounding blend but it has never had the dramatic effect that the Joyful blend or Calming blend has had. So I honestly didn't think to use it. I just thought this maybe isn't an oil for me. Recently I travelled to London City Airport with Flybe. I actually thought it was some sort of joke that I was expected to board what looked like a small private plane (see pic) and fly to London in it. Thankfully I had some of the Grounding blend with me before the plane took off and several times during the flight I used it both cup and inhale method and placing the oil directly on my heart centre. Wow.. my breath immediately became quiet and the pounding heart slowed right down. I actually enjoyed flying into London and seeing all the sights as we came into land. I will not be travelling to an airport again without it.

The Grounding blend contains an blend of oils known for its grounding effect. It is a great oil to place on the souls of the feet in the morning. Cup and inhale for those times in the day when we feel a little unearthed. Or as I know like to use it when travelling on bizarrely small aircraft.

Trouble Sleeping?

We all seem to be somewhat sleep obsessed (at least in my circles). Whether it's babies or children, our busy over scheduled lives, financial stress, work stress, stress, our love of coffee, wine, our inability to switch the mind off. Whatever the reason we do not seem to get enough sleep these days.

"Sleep is the best Meditation" Dalai Lama

No better man to say it as it is. I couldn't agree more! Having adequate sleep is a necessary part of your healthy lifestyle to benefit the heart, weight, mind and more.

I read the blogs, take heed of tips I find on various websites - I practice Yoga, I go running, I have a diet so healthy that I often have to balance it out with some delicious vices like coffee, wine and chocolate. But knowing what I know (from the tips on the various websites and blogs I read.) I leave wine till the weekends because I know it disturbs my sleep, I seldom have coffee in the afternoon. The fear that 6am will roll around and I will have been awake for much of the night makes these small sacrifices easy.

But still I don't sleep through the night. I do not have insomnia. It's seldom I am awake for the whole night. I fall asleep easily but I wake easily too. I probably wake about 5-6 times in the night. I do fall back asleep some times a little quicker than others. This has been going on for about 7 years 8 months (Maia turns 7 the end of April!!)

Then the night before last I slept through the night - and last night too.. It was nothing short of a shock to wake up and see it was just gone 6am (not my choice but my daughters to get up at this time). I had slept without waking once! I call it a - friggin sleep miracle.

As many of you know I've been using essential oils since last May and loving them for everything. For many Lavender or the calming blend sends people off to a deep slumber for me it did nothing. A few months ago I added Vetiver to the mix! I thought I'd got it - Vetiver is grounding, it quietens the mind. They recommend for people who have ADD which explains why it helps switch the mind off. I started sleeping better, I was more grounded the following day. But still I was waking in the night, I was falling back asleep but still my sleep was disturbed. So still experimenting a couple of nights ago I added Marjoram to the mix just a few drops on the pillow after I had put the calming blend on the soles of my feet, followed by Vetiver. I also put Vetiver on the back of my neck (base of skull, top of spine). 7 years 8 months! I will do anything and all.

But it worked. That's what works for me. Marjoram is calming, I use it for sore muscles too, I put it in a blend for Maia called Peaceful child blend. I am not saying this particular mix of oils will work for you maybe Lavender is all you need. But finally I get to have a nights sleep. Happy happy zzz's

Check out my events page for Essential oils events coming up so you can learn more for yourself or email me for more info (olwyn@yogaflow.ie)

Kick S.A.D

Here in Ireland we like to give out about the weather. We give out when it's raining (which it does a lot) we give out when it's too warm (seriously!!) and that doesn't happen too often. A sprinkle of snow sends the country into a state of panic.

But the fact remains when you are looking out at grey skies and the days are short S.A.D is very real. I would love a Winter holiday in the sun (that's what they recommend) but the fact is that is not always possible.

My recommendation, just get outside! Get some rain gear, breathable layers and get outside. I promise you the hardest part is getting out the door once you are out you'll be glad you did. For me getting out the door is the challenge and then the hills I run and battling against the wind and the rain doesn't seem so bad. You are quite simply kicking S.A.D in the face.

Whether you run, cycle or walk get outside. This past weekend I was skipping through the woods with my daughter. As ridiculous as this may sound and probably looked (me not her) it was so much fun. The trees protect you somewhat from the wind and rain and the skipping! wow I forgot how much fun that is. No wonder Maia never walks, she only skips and jumps.. At what age did we decide this was not appropriate adult behaviour?

Next time it's raining, grey, windy, sleet, snow, expect to see me running and skipping through the park and kicking S.A.D in the face!!

Super Hero Coffee

Somewhat inspired after reading about Bulletproof Coffee I thought I'd try my own version. I needed an extra boost this morning I certainly got it, what's more - totally delicious..

Ingredients

  • 1 Mug of hot coffee
  • Coconut Milk
  • Dessert spoon of Coconut oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of Maca root Powder (High in Calcium & Iron)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of Raw Cacao powder (High in Vit C, Calcium, Iron)
  • 2 drop of Protective Blend essential oils (to boost Immune function)
  • 1 drop of  Peppermint (for that extra lift and because it tastes so good!)

blend together on high speed for a mug of frothy yummy coffee.

Disclaimer -   Please read all essential oil labels carefully not all are safe for internal use. You can purchase the oils I recommend here.

Take control of your Health this Winter

The wind has changed and after an amazing sun filled and warm September and early October there is a definite chill to the air now. Every year we put up with seasonal coughs and colds. We give out about it, we take our sick days, whine, complain and soldier on. How about not getting sick this year! how about taking control of yours and your family's health naturally. How about saving money on trips to the doctor and the chemist!

There are basic things we need to do, which let's face it some easier said than done.

1. Get enough good quality sleep. Who out there can honestly say this happens on a regular basis. I know I try but it doesn't always happen. Tips below on how to assist!

2. Eat seasonally, and when the weather gets cold lots of warming foods, soups, broths, warm drinks add colours of the season to your plate!

3. Adapt your workout for the weather. Warm up properly, wear warmer breathable layers.

4. Do YOGA!!!!!!!!!! and here's why.

The thymus gland is responsible for producing T-Cells a group of cells essential to protecting the body from foreign organisms. It is located between the heart and the breast bone. All our yoga postures that focus on opening the heart centre along with deep breathing help to stimulate the thymus.  Enjoy those backbends, whether it's cobra, urdhva dhanurasana or supported restorative - open your heart enjoy your breath!

All inversions improve the movement of lymph cells aiding in the transportation of nutrients and oxygen to the cells and also the removal of waste!

Twists and hip openers can assist in the removal of waste products from the body by activating the spleen and lymph nodes.

Savasana, Yoga Nidra, Pranayama, Meditation - anything that assists us in calming the nervous system and reducing stress will give the body more power and ammunition to fight something other than stress - namely any germs coming our way!!

5. Discover the natural wonder of essential oils! I have become a convert to the wonders of essential oils in particular DoTerra because of their therapeutic quality grade. My entire house has become chemical free as I have swopped out cleaning products, over the counter medication, skin care products - you name it and there's probably an oil I use for it now instead!

Did you know antibiotics can not penetrate the cell wall whilst essential oils can! Making them powerful in fighting viruses. How many times have you spent money going to the Doctor to be told its a virus there's nothing you can do. Or have a virus and be given a prescription for an antibiotic knowing it's not actually going to work?

Along with a healthy well balanced diet, adequate sleep, Yoga (of course) and adapting your workout for winter conditions I highly recommend adding DoTerra's OnGuard blend and products to your list.

OnGuard blend contains 5 potent oils (wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary) that have been studied for their antiviral abilities to fight bacteria, viruses, mold and more (see aromaticscience.com for up to date and ongoing research on essential oils and also DoTerra's blog for info on their oils). Diffuse it in your home or office to kill airborne pathogens - bonus it smells great too. Put on the soles of your feet nightly to build immune system or take their super teeny (perfect for kids) beadlets. Also have in stock OnGuard Plus just in case you don't escape the winter bugs and get struck down or feel you need some added protection. OnGuard plus is the OnGuard blend in a soft gel with Oregano, Black pepper and Melissa essential oils added.

Along with OnGuard diffusing citrus oils and melaleuca in the house will kill any airborne pathogens.

Trouble sleeping a few drops of Lavender and Breathe (perfect for any sniffles) in a diffuser or on the soles of your feet. Or try doTerra's Serenity blend.

**Note from my daughter Maia (age 6 1/2) night time favourite in her diffuser Lavender or Serenity with a few drops of Breathe and also Juniper (oil of the night) to keep the nightmares away!**

For more info on Doterra Essential oils and how to order and save 25% call or email me olwyn@yogaflow.ie /(085)153-0673.