Top Tips For A Super Relaxed Christmas Season

Feeling stressed just thinking about the Christmas season?  I feel for you and can empathise, that used to be me too.  Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it can still be stressful! I know several friends that don’t celebrate Christmas for one reason or another and they have the added bonus of fielding questions from well-meaning acquaintances as to why they don’t celebrate it.   Plus the shops are busy, people can be pushy and financially strung out which makes for a stressful environment.  I think it should be a time of rest, reflection and spending time with loved ones.  This is a far cry from my description so far!

I’ve refined my Christmas season into a non-stressful, peaceful and happy family time with plenty of time for relaxation and enjoyment.    Sound good?  I’d love to see less stress and more peace at this time of the year.  I’ve shared some tips and questions below that you can mindfully ponder over a cuppa.  I suggest you write your answers down if you are feeling super proactive and ready to make change.   You might have your own vision to strive for but here’s how I do it.

  1. Prioritise time for myself; don’t cancel your usual self-care appointments. If you usually take a yoga class, go for a massage or catch a movie with a friend, DO IT! This is especially so for physical based activities, all those niggly aches and pains are likely to rear their head again especially if you are stressed out (but I hope you’ll follow these tips and won’t be!).  What will I do for myself?

 

  1. Buy presents for a select few. If you think about it, are your favourite friends the ones that buy you good Christmas presents?   This won’t leave your bank account drained or have you out shopping multiple times for all the people you forgot!  Even my close family do a “present pool” where we each buy just one gift and randomly pick them out on Christmas day.  Who will I buy a present for?

 

  1. Accept invitations mindfully. Everyone wants to socialise over this period but I’ve learnt to delay some of this socialising until after Christmas.  People usually understand if you say no, particularly if you explain you’d rather have quality time with them later.   I take the Charleyoga team out to lunch in March/April instead of Christmas time.  What social engagements will I say yes to?

 

  1. Share the love i.e. preparation. If you have lots of people coming and they ask what to bring, don’t say nothing!  Make a list and get everyone to bring something.  Again it will drain you less both financially and time wise.  What can I ask others to do/bring?

 

  1. Take a breather. If time is creeping away from you, don’t try to speed up to catch up even though it may be tempting.  Instead, pause and take a long conscious breath in, then let it out slowly, repeat a few times.  Even better, you could practice either of these little sequences I recorded; you don’t even need a yoga mat!  Spine Salute Sequence  and Desk Salute Sequence  How will I take a breather?

 

  1. Make a list, plan early – all the ideas you now have from these tips, make a list now and start to plan early so you know where you’re at and can slowly chip away at it. I promise you’ll be thanking me when you are sitting down enjoying a cuppa/cocktail/mocktail with your feet up a few days before Christmas basking in the peace and relaxation whilst everyone else rushes around J  What is my vision for a relaxing pre-Christmas moment?

I hope this helps you and have a super relaxed Christmas won’t you!

Charley Hickey

 

About Charleyoga & Charley Hickey C-IAYT

Author: Charley Hickey C-IAYT is a practicing yoga therapist and senior yoga teacher who runs group and private yoga classes in Applecross, Bateman & Fremantle, Perth.  She also runs specialised yoga workshops for yoga students & yoga teachers.

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Sukha And Sthira: A Lesson In Cultivating Stability & Ease In Yoga

Meaning of Sukha And Sthira In Yoga

sukha and sthira in yoga This term in our weekly yoga classes, the theme has been to cultivate both sukha and sthira in our yoga practice.  These Sanskrit words feature in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a yogic text.  Sutra 2.46 is ‘sthira-sukham asanam’ which is commonly understood as ‘Yoga postures should be stable, and the body be at ease.’  As with all Sanskrit translations, there are many possible meanings to the words.  I actually love this as it gives us licence to interpret it in a way that makes sense to each of us.  Sukha can mean happy, good, joyful, delightful, easy, agreeable, gentle, mild, virtuous or quite literally; good place. Sthira can mean to stand, to be firm, stable, compact, strong, steadfast, static, resolute, and even courageous.

I believe that the way we practice is really what defines whether we are practicing yoga or simply striking a pose (asana).  I love this explanation by Kim Allen from Dragonflyyoga360.net  ‘In yoga, we should resolutely abide in a good space.’ Perhaps this is something to ponder next time we are struggling to pretzel or force the body to go somewhere it really doesn’t want to.  You could equally apply it to what is happening in the mind.  For example if the teacher asks you to close your eyes and that makes you anxious.  You might keep them open in order to maintain the good space for yourself. There are no absolute rules.

Patanjali’s View On Sukha And Sthira

Funnily enough, Patanajali only gives this one reference about poses in the sutras. The poses you practice in class are a relatively modern invention but that’s a whole other BLOG for another time. In this context, I think Patanjali was actually referring to our posture when we meditate anyway. However, I do feel that the practice of the lead up poses creates an ease in the body and allows for extended time in physical stillness.  This means we can shift attention to concerns of the mind which we all know is where the magic happens in yoga.

These two seemingly opposite states are in fact much more closely intertwined then initially realised.  I’ve felt this on a very personal level this term since as I have slowly recovered from abdominal surgery.  Losing strength in my body, regularity in my practice along with losing some courage to practice what I usually do has created a lack of ease too.  They really do balance each other and are juxtaposed in all aspects of yoga.  Here are some examples of how we might consider sukha and sthira in our practice.

Sukha And Sthira In Yoga Practice

Gross Physical

  • Having a balance of poses that naturally encourage sukha or sthira – some to build strength and stability and others to create ease. We could also be aware of the opposite quality too eg. Shavasana may naturally encourage ease & Warrior may naturally encourage sthira
  • Within each pose, being aware of each of the qualities in balance and how that might work eg. In Shavasana the pose itself may be easeful (sukha) but what happens in the mind? This could require cultivation of steadiness and courage to stick at it (sthira)? Warrior may be a strong posture physically (sthira) but require a conscious bringing in of softness to the breath, shoulders & face (sukha), can you feel both?
  • Joints need to have a balance of flexibility (sukha) and strength (sthira) around them in order to function properly so we have good mobility. Mobility is different to flexibility; flexibility is our absolute range of movement whereas mobility is range of movement that is strong and stable. This prevents injury and is very important for our physical practice!

Subtle Energetics

  • Breath (pranayama) should be a balance of these two qualities as well.  We might notice the steady rhythm or even a count (sthira) but keep the breath natural and easy so it doesn’t strain (sukha).  Too much of one or the other and we lose the purpose of the pranayama
  • Our approach to practice has the potential to overemphasise sukha or sthira . Too much ease and being relaxed about practice means we might not do enough or any at all!  Too much resoluteness and strength might mean we do too much, don’t rest or get injured.
  • Meditation – if you’ve ever fallen asleep during meditation, perhaps too much sukha! If you try too hard (sthira) to quieten the mind, that is not going to be useful either.  It might make it harder and then you will lose the ease too.  Oh gosh, so easy to lose the balance here!

This is by no means a definitive list and I’m sure there are many other examples.  These are simply some ideas I’ve asked you to ponder in class this term.   I hope you enjoyed the recap! I look forward to seeing you next term.

X

Charley Hickey

 

About Charleyoga & Charley Hickey C-IAYT

Author: Charley Hickey C-IAYT is a practicing yoga therapist and senior yoga teacher who runs group and private yoga classes in Applecross, Bateman & Fremantle, Perth.  She also runs specialised yoga workshops for yoga students & yoga teachers.

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK HERE

References: Yogainternational.com & Dragonflyyoga360.net

Home Yoga Practice For Keeping You Sane

How Do I Start My Home Yoga Practice?

Do you  intend to roll our your yoga mat during the holidays but then it never seems to happen?  I find that students can be afraid to start a home yoga practice without the guidance of a teacher.  Don’t let this stop you!  If you aren’t sure where to start then just unroll your mat and come into shavasana then see where it takes you.  If you come to class regularly then you will be surprised what you remember.  Your body will remember so try not to think about it too much.  Here are some questions you can ask yourself to get a clear idea of how you will approach your home yoga practice.

Finding time and a place to practice at home can be difficult.  As an experienced practitioner this is still something I  juggle but it’s not impossible, honest!  Setting achievable goals and having reasonable expectations is the key.  Perhaps a commitment to 5 minutes of practice most mornings or evenings if that works better.  Keep it simple and slot it in where it is easy and likely to cause the least disruption to other daily tasks.  What time of the day works for me and how long will I practice for?

Finding Space For A Home Yoga Practice

Unless you have a spare room or live alone, the space that might be the quietest during the day could be the bedroom.  It’s a place many students overlook but is sitting unused during the day.  You really don’t need much space to practice, particularly if you are going to start with some meditation or pranayama (breathing).  Practicing yoga are on my list of things that are fine do to in the bedroom and won’t ruin the sanctity of this quiet space.  Where will I do my home yoga practice?

Some things to get started with include; laying in shavasana and seeing where it takes you as I already mentioned above.  Practicing a breathing technique like nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing) click here for more information.  A modified salute to the sun sequence that you can do for a few rounds.  I’ve included a video below of me practicing this.  The first side (right) shows a modification for the step through to lunge as that can be quite a tricky part of the sequence.  The left side shows the step through to lunge if you feel up to it.  There are many variations of this sequence and it’s a yoga “staple”.  If you attend classes with me then you would have practiced this version before.  What will I practice when I come onto my yoga mat?

There are many ways to modify but I couldn’t possibly post them all here!  If you’re new to yoga, injured or restricted then I suggest you don’t follow the sequence until you have consulted face to face with a yoga teacher or even better, a yoga therapist.

Enjoy the video and happy practicing, be fearless x

Charley Hickey

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About Charleyoga & Charley Hickey

Author: Charley Hickey C-IAYT is a practicing yoga therapist and senior yoga teacher who runs group and private yoga classes in Applecross, Bateman & Fremantle, Perth.  She also runs specialised yoga workshops for yoga students & yoga teachers.

 

Life Outside The Yoga Room ~ How Do We Cope?

Yoga Charley HickeySo, this year has been an interesting one for me in terms of yoga and life in general.  At times it has been difficult with some tragedy and heartache along the way.  Along with that,  I turned 40 last week.   I didn’t foresee this as being a big deal or life changing. In fact, that would be quite  scary if an imaginary button were somehow flipped!  However, I do feel that over the past couple of years, my focus has changed.  Things that once seemed important have shifted and priorities have changed along the way.

As many of you reading this would know, I take regular breaks from teaching during the school holidays.  For many years it seemed no matter my intentions,  I used some of that time to catch up on work which began to take it’s toll.   Teaching yoga is such a joy but it’s still healthy to take breaks occasionally.   I also have a serious dislike for admin which doesn’t help as being self employed inevitably involves this.  Last year I decided that holidays were for just that, having a holiday from responsibilities as much as I could.  I stuck to it resolutely and wow, what a change!

At the end of last year, we took our family out into a National Park to volunteer for a whole month.  That’s a picture of me sitting by the river enjoying the surroundings.  We often go on shorter trips camping out but this would be a whole month without phone coverage.  It was so fantastic that we are doing it all again this year and even spending Christmas Day there.  If you are down south during the Christmas holidays, we will be in the Warren National Park at Drafty’s Camp in Pemberton from 17 Dec to 17 Jan so feel free to drive in and say hi or stay a night or two camping in this divine spot.   This experience created so much space for me to breathe that I realised life wasn’t as perfect as I’d imagined it was.  The break allowed me an opportunity to assess the year ahead and how I wanted it to look and it’s been pretty close to what I imagined.  Not without hiccups of course but that is to be expected.

Outside The Yoga Room

My yoga practice stretches far from my mat and the yoga room these days and has become a way of life for me.  It is an embodied philosophy that helps me to cope when life runs away and I stupidly try to run to catch up!  Yoga reminds me that I don’t have to run to catch anything.  I’m already here in life, just where I’m meant to be.  It seems so simple yet it’s easy to lose track of in the day to day.  For me, life outside the yoga room is still about practicing, it’s about practicing life!  We are always practicing, just like in the yoga room.  Sometimes things come easily, other times they feel difficult but we practice nonetheless and learn things along the way.

I’m forever grateful for the learning which I thoroughly enjoy sharing with my students who incidentally are also my teachers! My greatest desire is that my students all eventually become their own teachers and really no longer need me.  Seems silly to want to do myself out of a job doesn’t it.   I love hearing all the stories about your holiday yoga practice and how you coped just fine outside of the yoga room  Some of you may have got on your mat or just generally gone about living your yoga whatever that means to you.

I hope you have a wonderful festive season, this is my last BLOG for the year (probably?!) and I’ll see you back on your mats in the new year.  You can view the timetable and term dates for next year here

Take care until then x

Charley Hickey

 

 

 

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About Charleyoga & Charley Hickey

Author: Charley Hickey C-IAYT is a practicing yoga therapist and senior yoga teacher who runs group and private yoga classes in Applecross, Bateman & Fremantle, Perth.  She also runs specialised yoga workshops for yoga students & yoga teachers.

 

Yoga And Insomnia Talk With Charley Hickey C-IAYT

yoga and insomnia Charley HickeyI hope you enjoy watching this talk I did live on Facebook last month.  Hear me chat about yoga and insomnia, my own experiences of insomnia and how yoga helped me.  I also cover some of the current research into yoga and insomnia. There are a few questions that the audience asks towards the end which you can follow in the comments.

Trouble Sleeping?

Have you ever had trouble sleeping? I hear you!  Over half the population suffer from insomnia at some point in their life and that includes me.  At the age of 11 insomnia hit me full force and it was intense! With constant nights spent tossing and turning whilst stressing about the daylight hours fast approaching.  The fatigue, anxiety and fear which accompanies insomnia are all too familiar to me.  It was by pure luck that I discovered meditation and yoga and got myself back on track.  My hope it is that others watching will be inspired to try yoga.  Yoga really has a clever way of bypassing the cycle of fear, anxiety and fatigue that insomnia creates.  I think yoga and insomnia are the perfect partners so have a listen to find out why.

Tune into one of my other talks coming up soon which you can find on my Facebook page.   Facebook.com/charleyoga

 

Charley Hickey

 

 

 

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK HERE

Author: Charley Hickey is a practicing yoga therapist and senior yoga teacher who runs group and private yoga classes in Applecross, Bateman & Fremantle, Perth.  She also runs specialised yoga workshops for yoga students & yoga teachers.

Hot & Bothered? Try Sheetali Pranayama Yoga Breathing.

Hot & Bothered_ Try Sheetali PranayamaAuthor: Charley Hickey is a practicing yoga therapist and senior yoga teacher who runs group and private yoga classes in Applecross & Fremantle, Perth.  She also runs specialised yoga workshops for yoga students & yoga teachers.

I’d like to thank the lovely lady in one of my classes who jokingly calls hot flushes/flashes “power surges”!  This comment caused many giggles amongst my students and knowing looks between those that may have suffered from this at some point.  It’s often beneficial when we can label something fairly unpleasant in a way that normalises it and turns it into a bit of a joke.  Power surge sounds like it’s almost empowering for the person experiencing it rather than it being an unpleasant hot feeling that the sufferer has no control over.   It turned out to be a timely comment since the day was a very hot and muggy one in Perth.  It seemed like a great opportunity to practice Sheetali Pranayama which is a cooling breathing technique.  Sheetal means cold or soothing which describes the breath perfectly and I love how that fits with taking charge and being proactive during a process we have little control over.

How it works

I often describe Sheetali Pranayama as personalised evaporative air-conditioning for the body!  A more scientific explanation is that we are also drawing the breath through a small gap restricting its passage so that the air loses energy in the form of heat on the way into the body. We are also passing the air over the tongue which is moist and therefore cools the breath down further.

Benefits of Sheetali Pranayama

  • Cools body temperature,
  • Beneficial for fever and hot flushes
  • Calms the mind
  • Helps relieve insomnia
  • Stress buster

It can be contraindicated if you have asthma, a cold or other respiratory problems as the coolness of the breath can be irritating to the chest so keep that in mind.  If you aren’t sure, then please ask for the guidance of your yoga teacher before practicing.

Sheetali Pranayama Technique

Sheetali Pranayama can be practiced in any position where the spine is upright, ie sitting in a chair, seated yoga posture or lying down.   Sitting is preferable when initially learning as you will stay more alert.  If you cannot roll the tongue, it’s no problem; you can still practice by placing the tongue just behind the back of the teeth and draw the breath through the teeth and over the tongue instead (Sheetkari Pranayama)

  • Sit or lie comfortably
  • Roll the tongue or place tongue just behind the teeth with lips parted slightly
  • Draw the breath slowly in over the tongue feeling its cooling effect
  • Relax the mouth
  • Breathe out slowly and smoothly through both nostrils
  • Repeat for as many rounds as you feel comfortable with, you could start with 10 rounds.

Stay cool and let me know if it worked for you : )

Charley Hickey

 

The Biggest Yoga Scam EVER, Is It Happening To YOU?!

Yoga Breathing PracticeAuthor: Charley Hickey is a practicing yoga therapist and senior yoga teacher who runs group and private yoga classes in Applecross & Fremantle, Perth.  She also runs specialised yoga workshops for yoga students & yoga teachers.

Ok, so perhaps the photo & caption are a little extreme and/or provocative but I do like to get your attention!

I was talking to some long term yoga students at a tea break during one of our yoga workshops. I find it amusing how the most interesting discussions seem to happen in the tea breaks and not during the workshop itself! We were discussing what was the thing about yoga that we liked the best or found helped us the most in our lives. The unanimous decision was “breathing” which I found quite surprising. Comments ranged from, “I just love coming to class and breathing” and “Thank you so much for teaching me to breathe!”

I said something to the effect of “Hang on a minute, you’re telling me that you come to your yoga class and pay me each week to do something that you are already doing? You do realise that you are breathing all the time right; you don’t even have to think about it as its part of your autonomic nervous system (the part that is not consciously directed)? I feel bad now; maybe I’ve been ripping you off all these years and owe you some money back!” A mixture of humour interspersed with deep conversation ensued about the topic of the breath. This was fantastic but I really felt I couldn’t accept responsibility as a teacher for such a natural process, or could I?

It prompted me to think about it a little more deeply afterwards. If everyone is already breathing all the time and they are breathing when they arrive at class and they are breathing when they leave class, then what have I really done as a teacher? I realised it is awareness of the breath that changes, that’s the secret, that’s what the teacher does. We simply suggest that you bring attention to your breath; however it is in that moment. The breath that is already happening in the body, the breath that is always there, the breath that is always ready to support you and reflect back to you what is happening. The breath is like a mirror for whatever is happening in our lives in that moment. It’s a mirror for the state of our physical body, our emotions and our general mind state. What’s so great is that this mirror is like two way glass. There is a cause and effect relationship that can be used to our advantage. For example, when we are stressed out the breath becomes shallow and this can cause blood pressure to increase and feelings of anxiety to increase – conversely if we focus on the breath and start breathing into the belly, this can slow the breath, lower blood pressure and calm the central nervous system. Although the breath is autonomic, there is also an element to the breath that can be manipulated through the practice of prananyama which I like to think of as “playing with the breath”. “Playing” is a great word as it keeps the practice light-hearted and free from stress or pressure to do it perfectly. It doesn’t have to be serious; you could even treat the whole process as a game, why not?!

Here are few yoga breathing practice tips (wow, I still feel a little bit like I am scamming you!)

  1. Ask yourself this question ~ “How do I know that I am breathing?”
  2. Focus on whatever it is you answered for point 1
  3. Start to notice what your breath is like; observe it without trying to change it in any way. Is it deep or shallow? Is it slow or fast? Rough or smooth? etc….
  4. Notice if the breath naturally adjusts itself or changes in any way whilst you are observing it.
  5. Stay with your breath, moment to moment, breath to breath…..
  6. Notice that you mind wanders from time to time (this is a natural process so don’t try to stop it!)
  7. Bring your mind back to your breath each time that you notice it is wandering (this may be many times)
  8. Repeat, repeat, repeat, remember, it’s just a game!

Once you’ve done that for a bit, then you might move into a specific pranayama (playing with the breath) that might be samma vritti pranayama, nadi shodana pranayama or one of numerous other yogic pranayamas (yoga breathing practice). Some of these we teach in group classes, others are a bit stronger and I prefer to teach these one on one. Whichever way, please remember when you practice that it’s all just a game!

If you’d like some homework, see if you could notice that you are breathing for just one breath a day – one breath, that’s all, just see what it’s like to do that once a day for one breath.

Charley Hickey

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Nadi Shodhana Pranayama – Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique

Alternate Nostril Breathing Instructions

Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique  ~ Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

(nadi = subtle energy channel; shodhana = cleaning, purification; pranayama = breathing technique)

Nadi Shodana is an easy and safe breathing technique with some promising therapeutic applications

BENEFITS INCLUDE:

*Balances L/R brain hemispheres

*Clears mind, improves focus

*Slows breathing rate

*Calms the central nervous system

HOW?

This technique has featured in a few studies with various findings:

*There is evidence to support its use to decrease heart rate and breathing rhythm and therefore cause parasympathetic nervous system dominance which creates a feeling of calm (Jovanow, E. 2005).

*It featured in another study which showed that participants had an increase in plasma melatonin levels after 3 months of yoga practice (Harinath, 2004). (melatonin is your naturally produced “sleep drug”)

*It was part of another study that showed improved stress and self-confidence scores in insomnia sufferers without any side effects (Sobana, 2013)

*Enhances respiratory function in school students (Sivapriya, 2010)

TO PRACTICE:

Sit comfortably or lie down if that’s easier. Place the tip of the index finger and middle finger of the right hand in between the eyebrows, the ring finger and little finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril.   Close off the right nostril gently and breathe in through the left nostril, then breathe back out the right, back in the right and then out the left. Out and in on one side, out and in on other side – follow this lovely pic if unsure & try to keep the breath really natural, no need to force it or lengthen/deepen it in any way. Continue for a few breaths or a few minutes, whatever you are comfortable with, finish with a breath out through the right nostril and pause to notice how you feel.

References

  • Jovanow, E (2005). On Spectral Analysis of Heart Rate Variability during Very Slow Yogic Breathing. Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society conference publications.
  • Sobana, R. (2013). The Effect of Yoga Therapy on Selected Psychological Variables Among Male Patients with Insomnia. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 7 (1), 55-57.
  • Harinath, K (2004). Effect of Hath Yoga and Omkar Meditation on Cardiorespiratory Performance, Psychological Profile and Melatonin Secretion. 10 (2), 261-268.
  • Shivapriya, D.V., Suba Malani, S. Thirumeni, S. (2010). Effect of Nadi Shodana Pranayama on Respiratory Parameters in School Students. Recent Research in Science and Technology, 2 (11), 32 – 39.