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Shhhhh… Taboo talk

Taboo Talk…

 

What “should” and “should not” form part of a yoga class is a pretty frequent topic for conversation in yoga circles along with what “is” and “is not” yoga.  A hot debate is: does politics have a place in yoga?  Many people feel that yoga should be a retreat from the troubles of life, we come to our mat to relax and forget about the world.  True, that.  Yoga is a powerful tool for relaxation and wellbeing.

However, a sustained practice of yoga cannot, for me, be anything other than political.  Note the small “p”.  I’m not talking party politics.  I’m not talking about asking who you voted for, making people of different political opinions feel unwelcome, inviting you to join a party.  But *why* is it so taboo to talk politics (never mind periods!  that’s for another blog!)?  We are all adults are we not?  What are we so scared of?  Causing offence?  We all have opinions, which we should be free to express considerately, and we can also choose to listen to different opinions without being offended, providing the sharer of the different opinion is not being outright rude!  I enjoy part of my role as a facilitator of these conversations and have been told I hold space well for this and encourage a respectful debate.  Yoga is my reference point for my own political positions, and it is my vehicle for sharing and communicating with the world.

As we practice yoga over time, we become initially more self aware.  We might start to make changes – to eat more healthily for example.  To prioritise self-care.  We then start to connect more with ourselves and through that connection with ourselves comes connection to others and to our lived environment.  As we explore making healthy choices for ourselves, we become more aware of the impact of our choices on others.  Where are our clothes made?  Is someone exploited at some point in the supply chain?  How is our food grown?  Do the chemicals used on our fruit and vegetables harm not only us, but the people who live and work on the land, and the other species of animals and plant who inhabit it?  How are the animals we eat raised?  The homeless person outside the station – but for a couple of different twists and turns, could that have been *me*?  *Can* we continue to consume at the rate we are without destroying the planet? The conscious yogi cannot avoid these uncomfortable questions.  The conscious yoga indeed should not avoid these uncomfortable questions.  This is about getting real, seeing things with clarity as they truly are.

We begin to act from a place of increased connection and awareness, so rather than “switching off” through our yoga practice, we “switch on”. 

We develop compassion first for ourselves, and then for others.  This order of play is really important because part of a conscious practice is knowing our limitations – the courage to change what we cannot accept, accept what we cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.  It means we act from a place of awareness:  I see pain and suffering in the world.  I cannot fix it all.  I cannot fix any of it if I am depleted.  So I will practice my daily yoga, I will rest and eat well, and I will make a donation to the foodbank; I will stop and chat for 10 minutes to the homeless guy and take him a hot drink; I will take the train today rather than the car; I will buy organically grown food where I can; I will make time for a friend I know is struggling.  These small conscious actions add up if more of us do them.  And sometimes we do just need to forget the world for an hour.  Our actions start to generate a wider influence – we quietly lead by example.  And sometimes we take the risk of loudly calling out something that is not right.  Anger is not often discussed as being an “acceptable” emotion on or off the yoga mat, and so gets suppressed. It’s a natural human emotion and a completely legitimate response to terrorism, abuse and senseless destruction.  When we’re told not to feel it, that creates more disconnection and distrust in our own responses.  When we engage with it, name it and hold it (rather than acting on it on impulse, which can be extremely unhelpful!) we can channel it to help us change the things we can, and should not accept.

I was delighted to receive this totally unsolicited comment after a workshop I ran last weekend under the title of “Changing Seasons”, in which we explored some of these themes in terms of life sometimes being difficult and messy, and not always love and light.  “Thank you for a brilliant workshop yesterday. I was touched so deeply by some of the practices you shared. You have a real gift of communication – such evocative language and such fkn truth.” 

So, of course, come to class and relax, there is always time and space for that.  And also be ready to change the things you can’t accept,  shake off some taboos and ask some awkward questions.

 

 

Mistress of Your Own Destiny

Life is busy, and most of the time, we love it, right?  But sometimes it all gets a bit much.  It’s so important to take regular time out to nourish and nurture ourselves, but how often do we do this?  And does the me-time sometimes become just another thing to tick off the to-do list and to beat ourselves up if we don’t achieve it?  I know I often think if I have some spare time I should spend it exercising burning off the maximum calories!  I feel great when I exercise and I love my bike rides and weekly Zumba classes but we do need to stop and slow down and actually spend some time doing nothing every now and again.  It gives us chance to reflect and actually makes us more productive.  When we work with menstrual cycles, we understand the reflection phase as being part of the inner autumn, the pre-menstrual phase.  And we don’t always like this phase very much in our cycles, so it’s not surprising we often skip over it in our wider life as well.

Autumn is the ideal time to take some time out to reflect, as our inner energy can align with the outer energy of the season.   We held our first Daydream Day quarterly full day of yoga and rest yesterday with a seasonal theme of “Reflect”.  We checked in with one word to describe how we were feeling.  Some of the words that came up were scattered, busy, tightly wound, discombobulated and uncomfortable.  By the end of the day the words to describe how people were feeling were powerful, raring to go, forward looking, refocused and content.   There was also some talk of being Mistress Of Our Own Destiny – very exciting!  How did we get from A to B?  I simply held space safely and warmly for these busy women to take time out to reflect.  I was blown away with how ready they were to rise to the challenge, and very quickly, in just six hours, reassessed their priorities and made commitments to make small changes that will have a big impact in their lives.

As I have mentioned previously, the retreat process has a definite patter of separation from daily life, surrender of old ideas and ways of being, and to the process, renewal as we let go and feel ready to receive what is due to us, clarity and vision as we see clearly what comes next, and purpose and direction as we commit to moving forward into our new way of being.  Just as the trees let go of their leaves, we can let go of what may previously have been helpful to us but is no longer serving.    The leaves fall to the ground, we rest, and then we nourish our new growth.   These days will be happening every three months, following this seasonal pattern.  Our next day, on 17th December, will honour the Winter solstice and allow us to rest deeply.  In the midst of the busy festive season, I will be holding space for you to do precisely nothing.  IN spring, we will play, feeling revived by our winter rest, nourishing the tender shoots of growth and exploring all the possibilities life has to offer.  In summer, we will manifest our wildest dreams, bringing to fruition the ideas we played with in spring.  And next autumn we come full circle to reflect on what we have brought into the world, and prepare to rest and repeat this creative process once more. You’ll have chance to weave a thread through your year that will hold you safely and help you realise your dreams and indeed become mistress of your own destiny.  Of course it’s fine to just come to the ones you can make, we will recap throughout and you’ll be added to a Facebook group so you can keep up.

You know where to find me if you want to join us on this meandering journey of dreams!

Much love, Alison x

Press escape…

Press escape…

I’m just back from a very powerful retreat weekend in the Yorkshire Dales with a group of fabulous women.   Here’s what a couple of them had to say:

“The retreat made me feel truly nurtured and nourished, in the company of lovely, supportive, open, strong women. On leaving I took with me a profound sense of how uplifting the support of strong women can be, a sense of having topped up my own inner reserves, having managed a head stand for the first time ever helps to carry the feeling of “keep trying and you can make it work” off the mat (as Alison puts it!) and some small but clear objectives towards finding time to care for myself in a busy life, and to perhaps channel my vulnerability to good use. I felt like it was a lovely warm, nurturing hug for the soul.”

“Alison’s retreats are amazing. I have just returned from my fourth one in the Yorkshire Dales with her. They are so supportive and nurturing and Alison really holds the space well for us. There is always a range of yoga from gentle breathing practices to dynamic yoga and of course the fabulously relaxing Yoga Nidra! I always return home feeling truly nourished.”

Most of them had done yoga with me before, many had been on retreat with me before, but for some it was the first time, and no previous yoga or retreat experience is necessary.  It felt amazing and I wanted to share it with you all and give you some insight into what we do and what makes a retreat weekend so special.  There are a few good ingredients:

  • A stunning location away from “real life”
  • Comfortable rooms for a really good sleep
  • ENORMOUS baths for wallowing in
  • Nourishing food to make you feel loved – and BONUS you don’t have to prepare it yourself!  Or wash up!
  • Like-minded company.  The retreats attract groups of women who gel brilliantly and become friends through the shared experiences
  • Time and space just for you, nothing and no-one else to think about
  • Lots of yoga, relaxation and meditation to support the process
  • Time in silence

Process??  Hmm yes, there is definitely a process, a flow maybe, to a retreat experience.  You begin with the separation from your daily life; this can feel a little strange, and I hold you safely through it with grounding practices and intention setting exercises so you are clear on what you want to get out of your precious retreat time, what you want to let go of and what you want to invite in.  By lunchtime on Saturday you have truly surrendered to the retreat experience and are deeply relaxed, the creative juices are flowing and you are dreaming into the changes you want to make when you get home so you can stay in balance.  By the end of Saturday you feel like a new person, revitalised and bursting with ideas.  On Sunday we pin down your insights into a clear action plan to take home, inviting in new ways of being that feel more like you, and also some ideas for transitioning gently back into “real life”.  A Facebook group offers you support afterwards as you continue your journey.  A longer retreat, such as the week I am leading in Portugal next year, gives you chance to separate more fully from daily life (for me there is no greater sensation of leaving it all behind than that awesome moment the plane wheels lift off the runway!), spend longer in that deep retreat experience, completely letting go of being busy, exhausted and stressed.  This could be an opportunity to invite bigger changes, to reshape your life, or simply to rest and return with new energy and zest.

You’ll note I put “real life” in inverted commas.  While there is definitely a step out of the ordinary routine on retreat, my approach is very pragmatic and I will always bring you back to: what do you want in your life now, who are you, where are you headed next.  And I will make sure you go home secure in your next steps and with a plan for re-entry into the atmosphere of your daily existence.  So it’s not quite pure escapism, but pretty close.

 

Retreat

So, last weekend I went on retreat.

The Oxford dictionary kindly supplied this definition of the word retreat:

“Withdraw to a Quiet or Secluded Place.”

I did just that, travelling to the stunning Hawkwood College in deepest rural Gloucestershire.  But why?  Is this not a little self indulgent?  Possibly – but

as women, the retreat process is built into our natural rhythm and is essential to our physical, mental and emotional health

Hawkwood

View from my bedroom window on retreat at Hawkwood

Please note I am not suggesting men do not also benefit from retreat. But the retreat I chose was “Womb Wisdom” with two teachers who have been inspiring me personally and professionally over the past four years:  Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and Alexandra Pope.  Through their teachings I have learned how to work with rather than against the rhythm of my monthly cycle and have begun the journey in supporting other women to do the same.   I have recorded my personal journey in my earlier blog, How I Became Woman Centred – when I first met Uma I was exhausted in part, I believe, due to a contraceptive injection that was suppressing my cycle.  With our monthly ebb and flow of hormones, the time as we enter menstruation is our monthly, in-built “retreat”.  Our attention moves inwards and we separate from the world – of course we have our stuff to still be getting on with, but there is a definite drop in energy and sense of separateness.  If, at this time, we can pay ourselves a little attention and take some rest, this can re-energise us for the coming month.  It is time for deep reflection and learning as part of the creative cycle.  If we force ourselves to carry on, over-riding the call of mother nature, we can head for burnout.   Retreat can take many forms – 15 minutes with a cup of tea; an hour or a few hours at a yoga class or workshop; a weekend retreat; a three month stay in a yoga ashram.  You may have your own retreats and rituals.

If you would like to explore these ideas more in your own life, try my Inner Seasons workshop on 22nd February, details on the website – here we will examine the cycle in more detail, using supportive yoga, to explore how we can harness greater energy and creativity through attention to the cycle.  For a full retreat, join us from 12th – 14th June at Parcevall Hall in the Yorkshire Dales for a refreshing and inspiring weekend of yoga.  Contact me for more info.

Inspiration: Yoga for Pregnancy

I promise I will get onto how I was inspired to teach pregnancy yoga!

But first just a snippet more on how I was inspired to teach yoga in the first place…

After I finished last week’s blog, I remembered a crucial moment that was absolutely fundamental to the shift I made to become a yoga teacher.  My dad’s retirement dinner.  My parents both worked in public services from desire to make a contribution to society.  They had both, by the time they retired, built reputations for excellence in their chosen professions. Both had skills and experience that could have earned them more in the private sector but they held true to their values.  Dad made a huge impact, locally and nationally, in his field and the speeches showed the people who worked with him had tremendous respect for him.  I remember thinking:  “If I carry on doing what I am doing, there is no way on earth anyone will be saying these things about me when I retire”.  I was good at my job but I just wasn’t feeling it and I knew I was not realising my potential.  I was not making a difference.

Mum and dad

My parents – inspiring people!

My opportunity came with my first pregnancy.  I completed my yoga teacher training when my son was six months old.  Yoga had been brilliant for my labour and birth and I learned so much from attending classes with Sophie Carr and we began to work together.  I took a qualification in Yoga for Pregnancy, and can honestly say I have never looked back.  I get such lovely feedback saying what a difference I have made to people’s pregnancies and births.

“Alison’s classes were recommended to me by a friend, and I have since recommended her classes to all of my pregnant friends!  Alison is a very grounded instructor. She makes you feel comfortable in yourself during and outside of class. She’s very pro natural birth but NOT anti medicine, which was a breath of fresh air. And, of course, the yoga she teaches is great too! I felt super fit the whole pregnancy through!  Before I started yoga I was afraid of childbirth but Alison made me feel more confident in myself and the natural birth-giving qualities of my body.  I learned a lotabout a broad range of pregnancy and birth-related topics, from Alison and the other women in our class. It’s been a really great opportunity to meet other mums-to-be, and I made some great friends too. Thanks so much!”

Going to work does not feel like work at all.  There are so many benefits from doing yoga in pregnancy: relieving aches and pains, easing a sore back, positioning the baby well for birth and learning breathing techniques for labour.  Butthe most important part is preparing women and their partners for a straight-forward and enjoyable birth, knowing all their options and empowering them to make their own informed decisions.  This is where we truly make a difference.  Just as important is the supportive community we build at the beautiful Stables yoga centre.  Women return for post-natal, baby and toddler yoga, then come to an evening class on their own – before often falling pregnant again and returning to pregnancy yoga, completing the yoga circle!

Next week’s blog will talk about the inspiration behind my special post-natal yoga classes.  For more about our pregnancy classes please visit www.stablesyoga.co.uk

 

Where it all began

What inspired me to teach yoga in the first place?

…continuing my series exploring the personal journey behind my classes…

I was going to talk about yoga for pregnancy this week but realised I would need to go right back to the start,  so, this week is the story of how I came to yoga – or maybe how yoga came to me.   Fifteen years ago, in my early 20s, I was in a competitive and stressful job with a lot of travelling.  I loved the work  – and the good salary and company car.  But I suddenly became ill.  I lost weight, was exhausted, anxious, had digestive problems and struggled to cope with my job.  I had months of medical investigations that revealed nothing  – perhaps it was all caused by stress.  I had heard yoga was good for stress so  I looked in the Yellow Pages (no google 15 years ago!) and found a class.  I laid down on the floor at the start and the room span – I was not used to being still!  But I was overcome with a sense of having come home.

Alison-048

As the weeks went by, the classes revealed everything I had been looking for.  I began to feel that the path I had set out on was a wrong turn that had taken me away from myself.  Yoga brought me back.  I made some positive lifestyle changes and I began to feel better.  Somehow I kept my career on track but changed jobs for regular hours and less travel, meaning I could spend more time doing things I loved – including yoga.  My teacher suggested I try the British Wheel of Yoga Foundation Course, for keen students to deepen their practice,  but also a pre-requisite for teacher training.  I wanted to share the life-changing benefits I had personally experienced with others so I trained to teach and started out with a small class after work for colleagues.  I always intended to teach around my full time job.  When we decided to start a family all that changed – and that will be the focus of next week’s blog on yoga for pregnancy!

 

How I Became Woman Centred

My classes are inspired by my own journey. Over the next few weeks I’ll share what lies behind each class, starting here with Woman Centred Yoga 

I had chance to spend a weekend of yoga with renowned teacher Uma Dinsmore Tuli, looking for inspiration for my pregnancy classes. I was expecting a great couple of days but I didn’t realise I was in for a life-changing experience! We learned yoga that embraces women’s bodies and energies. I had recently had my second baby and was intensely aware of the transformational power of birth and motherhood. I was also exhausted from caring for a baby and toddler, and pumped full of hormones to prevent conception.

With Uma’s teaching all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place. Our menstrual cycle, pregnancies, periods of lactation and menopause are not inconveniences that need to be suppressed. They are the essence of who we are as women and they contain power and insight we may never have imagined. When we deny them we deny our deepest selves. I was exhausted because I was not allowing myself to experience the natural highs and lows of energy that are integral to being a woman. I learned to literally go with the flow.

I wanted to share these teachings and help other women to become more in touch with their authentic selves and so after a couple of years digesting the practices and exploring my own journey I set up the Woman Centred class.  My journey continues to unfold through my practice, teaching and further studies with Uma and the menstrual cycle guru Alexandra Pope.

Woman Centred Yoga

I have been attending Alison’s weekly Yoga class since January 2014. She has a lovely way of encouraging all students and fosters a welcoming environment free from pretence which I really value. I wouldn’t say that at the start I was big on the whole woman’s well-being and moon cycle that is the theme underlying Alison’s class. Now though as the months have progressed I find that I do take more notice of how I feel in myself energetically and I do consider this in relation to the time of the month. It’s a subtle appreciation that I have become more aware of and I think this self-awareness and self-care is an important takeaway from Alison’s teaching. I would also recommend Alison’s class if you are new to Yoga, her encouraging style invites even the most reserved of characters to try new things. She has a buoyancy and bubbly personality which makes her classes very accessible. I would totally recommend coming to her class and giving Woman Centred Yoga a go.”   

BB, York

If you would like to find out more, your first class is free.  As we have just moved into a larger hall there are places available. Please contact me or check the calendar for full details.

Keep it cool!

Welcome to my new website. As I write this it’s a glorious warm summer day – lovely if you can sit in a shady spot, but if you have things to do, you may well start to feel a little overheated which can lead to discomfort, irritability, sweatiness and heat rashes!

Baby Yoga in York

Click here to find out more

My ethos is that yoga should fit in with your life and help you to feel better as you go about your daily activities – keeping a few simple practices in your “yoga toolkit” can make such a difference to your energy.

My top tip for cooling down is to try the  simple cooling breath (in sanskrit: sheetali pranayama). Roll up your tongue into a tube. (If this is not possible, put your tongue behind your bottom teeth, top and bottom teeth pressing together – this is sheetkari, hissing breath, same effect).

Breathe in through the rolled tongue or over the tongue through the teeth if doing sheetkari. Breathe out through the nose. Ensure the out breath is long and steady so you breathe out as much as you breathe in. Stop if you feel dizzy and breathe normally. Repeat the breath several times until you feel cooler. Granted it is not one to do in public but is very effective and can also help other “heat” conditions like heartburn, heat rash and a “hot” temper.

Make sure to also enjoy plenty of cool fluids, wear a hat and seek shade when the sun is at its highest, and you’ll soon be feeling fresh as a daisy!


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