5 Tips To Start A Seated Meditation Practice

Seated Meditation Practice

Charley enjoying a quiet moment sitting in meditation with her young son.

Starting Out A Seated Meditation Practice Can Be Hard

Carving out time for you is hard, especially for seated meditation practice.   There, I said it “IT IS HARD” so we can all stop pretending that this is going to be an easy thing to do and instead steel ourselves to accept the challenge!  It’s even harder when you have a spare bit of time and have to choose between several unfinished tasks, all of which seem to be screaming out for your attention.  This can drown out the initial intent to sit quietly for a few moments since we’re conditioned to believe this is lazy or unproductive.  This is a familiar narrative in my mind too but I promise you that with practice, you will get better at doing it.

Building Up To A Seated Meditation Practice

This term in my weekly yoga classes the theme has been soothing the central nervous system to prepare for seated meditation practice.  We’ve added a minute each week in order to gradually build up to a 10 minute seated meditation practice.  If 10 minutes seems too long to begin though then I suggest 3 minutes as a great starting point.  You can focus on your breath to begin with or use a favourite technique if you prefer.  After that you’ll find out quickly that meditation is rarely a fully structured practice.  Your mind will wander and you will bring it back and then it will wander again.   Don’t worry! It is only your mind doing what all minds do, you aren’t bad at this and there is no way to be bad at meditation (except maybe not doing it at all!)

Reasons For Your Seated Meditation Practice

Strangely enough I disagree with our common excuse that not having enough hours in the day is the problem.  I believe that it’s how we prioritise our time that is the problem.   Rarely do we put our own self-care first and will often prioritise a basket of washing, uncleaned floor or grocery shopping over and above our own mental health.  In the past year or two I’ve reframed my self-care into caring for my own mental health.  For me this shift has been useful as I’m less likely to make an excuse that I’m busy.  That reason could be different for each of you so it might be useful to think about what your motivation is.  Why do you want to start a practice?  What do you hope to gain from it?  Write it down to help solidify the idea in your mind.

My 5 Tips For A Seated Meditation Practice

  1. Have a reason – write it down
  2. Work out where you will practice, it could just be a chair. Make it easy to set up.
  3. Decide when you will practice – what time of day suits you best, try to visualise where you will slot this little practice into your daily routine.
  4. Set an achievable time limit (3-10mins?) – use a timer on your phone with a soft tone like a chime or similar to bring you out of your practice.
  5. Keep going – the habit will get easier with practice although the practice itself may not!

 

It’s not always easy sitting with our thoughts, sensations, emotions and outside noises all vying for our attention.  Some days will be easier than others and you can note that – really that’s what meditation is – noting what is happening for you in the moment. Good Luck 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.

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How To Spring Clean Your Mind With Yoga

Spring Clean Your Mind YogaSpring is in the air, my nose has what I call the spring itch!  That’s one of the things I least like about spring I have to admit.  I love the change of season in countless other ways though. There are the obvious ones like gorgeous blossoms and patches of glorious warm sunshine to break up the chill of the days. Less overtly I always get a more subtle kind of spring itch which I can only describe as an itching deep in my soul.  It works its way in and irritates me with a constant commentary like “Shouldn’t you clear that cupboard out?” and “How are you going to grow as a person next year?” or “Where are you travelling to in 2019?”

Does anyone else get this spring itch? I’m sure it might sound familiar to some of you.  Well, I don’t have all the answers just yet but I take solace in the practice of yoga and take this opportunity to spring clean my mind (I’ll explain in a moment!).

Spring Clean Your Mind With Yoga

For me, this practice really comes back to the 4th of the niyamas (observances) in yoga; svadhyaya which means self-study.  It can mean study of texts but primarily it relates to understanding oneself.  Self-study allows us to see our own true nature through the contemplation of things that happen in our lives. This then gives us an opportunity to learn something about ourselves as we make mistakes or when things work out well along the way.   Examining our actions becomes a mirror to observe our motives, thoughts and desires more clearly.

In our yoga practice, we can do this exact same thing.  We find out what our body can and can’t do, how we might feel about that and even emotions that may be invoked by being able/unable to do a particular posture or practice.  Habitual ways of moving or recurrent thought patterns may also become apparent as a result of this practice.

Meditation Practice To Spring Clean Your Mind

  1. Sit comfortably in an upright position, how you are now is just fine!
  2. Close your eyes and begin to tune into your natural breath
  3. Bring to mind any thoughts, ideas, or beliefs that feel like they aren’t serving you right now or have become irrelevant to your current situation
  4. One by one, or all at once, see if you can connect to what their original purpose was. Do they have a reason for still existing and taking up your mind space? Is there something further to explore or is it time to return that energy back to your main reserves?
  5. When you come to the realization that it’s time to let go of mind clutter—much in the same way you would give away a piece of old clothing that you never wear anymore—thank it for having served its purpose and take in any learning or wisdom it has to impart and then say goodbye…
  6. Next, imagine erasing it from a chalkboard to reveal a fresh, clean surface.
  7. Once you’ve cleared away that which no longer needs to occupy your mind, spend some time connecting to the open space you have created in your internal world. The space that you’ve cultivated doesn’t mean the mind is now empty. Rather, see it as being filled with the element of space, which represents potential and possibilities
  8. Next, invite in a new thought or belief in the form of an intention for something you would like to happen in the coming days, weeks, or months. Perhaps there is an old idea that you want to take off the shelf and revisit. Maybe starting the project that’s been in the back of your mind for years.
  9. Bring your new intention to the forefront of your mind and imagine planting it like a seed in that newly fertile space.
  10. Then, let go of the intention, trusting that the Universe will work out the details.  Take a few slow, deep breaths before opening your eyes.

Happy Spring Cleaning x

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.

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK HERE

References: https://chopra.com/articles/spring-cleaning-meditation-to-tidy-up-the-mind

A New Way To Think About Flexibility And Yoga

Yoga And Flexibility

Author: 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.

“What will happen if I take a few days off?”  As a small business owner this is the dilemma I’ve mentally tortured myself with many times.

I’m returning to work tomorrow after an unplanned full week off from teaching which prompted me to write this.  (It’s nothing serious so please don’t worry!)

In the past, I used to easily talk myself out of having time off.   In part this was due to my absolute lack of flexibility.   I didn’t want to change things outside of my familiar schedule.  This extended to not wanting to change anyone else’s schedules either, for example the teachers that work for me.  There was also the worry of my students having to have a different teacher.  This lack of flexibility has always caught up with me in the end. Sometimes causing mini-burnouts which I’m sure sound all too familiar to anyone that lives in this century!

More recently, I’ve learnt to ask a newly phrased question instead. “What will happen if I don’t take a few days off?”.  This is a much more sensible and useful question.  It reminds me of times where my body has been sending me clear signals to take time out yet my lack of flexibility has impacted my ability to make a sensible decision.   So often we are giving others advice to slow down and take a rest when needed but it’s much harder to turn that mirror onto ourselves and really see what is needed.

Flexibility And Yoga

It’s my belief that flexibility in yoga is much more about flexibility of mind then flexibility of body.  Being flexible of mind  helps us to get through life shouldering much less stress when things don’t go to plan.  It sounds much like how a regular yoga practice can help us.  The flexibility that you might achieve over time in your physical body through the practice of yoga is great but really just a by-product of yoga rather than one of the goals.

Here is a definition of the word flexible in that physical context:

Flexible (adjective); capable of bending easily without breaking.

However, here is a definition in the context that I believe to be the most relevant in yoga:

Flexible (adjective); ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances

Synonyms –  accommodating, adaptable, amenable, willing to compromise, cooperative, tolerant, forgiving, easy-going.

These words all seem to me like universally useful additions to our personality traits.  Perhaps over time this could allow life to flow along in a  more fluid way thus adding to our overall happiness.   By comparison, being able to touch our toes in terms of physical flexibility seems less meaningful to me in terms of overall well-being and happiness.  Does being able to touch your toes help you and others as much as being flexible and adaptable to changes in your life?

How do you combine flexibility and yoga? Is it more useful to be flexible or flexible?

Charley Hickey

 

 

 

For a hands on learning experience of yoga and flexibility you are welcome to join us for a term of yoga to help improve your “flexibility” whichever way you like!  You can view our timetable here and read more about how we specialise in helping you start your yoga practice especially if you lack flexibility here

Yoga & The Anxiety of Anxiety

Yoga For AnxietyAuthor: 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.

Yoga For Anxiety

Anxiety is by far the most common mental health problem that I see in my yoga classes on a weekly basis.  In years past, I found that many students coming to yoga for anxiety were too embarrassed to mention that they were suffering. I’d often find out later on as trust built between us.

I felt a little helpless in what to do and how to make it easier for students to approach me about having anxiety.  This prompted me to learn more and undertake a “Mental Health First Aid” course.  I always renewed my actual First Aid certificates but didn’t realise that a mental health one existed.  I feel that the certificate I received quite a few years ago has been more useful to me over the years and used more frequently than my standard first aid by far.  I highly recommend it for any person that wants to have a deeper understanding of mental health problems and how they affect people around them and the greater community.

These days, we advertise that our yoga classes are mental health friendly.  I am no longer “helpless” and feel very comfortable asking each and every person that comes through our door if they are suffering from anxiety or mental health disorders.  It’s sad that so many are suffering but its equally lovely to see them relax a little bit just by being asked the question.  One of my students described it as “Phew, they understand, thank goodness I don’t have to try and hide it!”.  That’s some of the anxiety gone right there, along with permission to step outside anytime during class to have a breather if things get too much.  Yoga for anxiety is not my specific area of expertise but here is a great article written by Jen Shrader, former president of the Australian Association of Yoga Therapists.  It explains in a bit more detail how yoga might help those suffering from anxiety.

Yoga Therapy Practices for Anxiety
by Jen Schrader

Natural Breathing

Breathwork may well be the most important practice element for reducing anxiety. According to world-renowned yoga teacher, Donna Farhi “The process of breathing lies at the centre of every action and reaction we make or have, and so by returning to it we go to the core of the stress response.” In her book, The Breathing Book, Farhi stresses the importance of restoring the natural breath before using yogic breathing exercises (pranayamas). She identifies a number of common dysfunctional breathing problems and how to correct them so that the basic underlying structure of your breathing is integrated and functional.
In my own work with patients experiencing post traumatic stress disorder knowledge about natural breathing is invaluable. Much of our time is spent in re-patterning diaphragmatic breathing and restoring the length and ease of the exhalation which is often shortened in anxious people. Natural breathing is an important foundation for everything else, particularly when you consider the relationship between breathing and the sympathetic and parasympathetic aspects of the central nervous system.

Pranayama

Slow and deep breathing are known to increase the parasympathetic tone and are associated with a calm mental state (Kaushik, et al, 2006). A number of yogic breathing techniques encourage this type of breathing rhythm.
For example, Philip Stevens is a Melbourne-based yoga teacher and a consultant neurophysiologist who holds degrees in both psychology and physiology. According to his website, Yoga Links, “How you breathe affects the heart, brain and nervous system, and there is a direct correlation between the breath and anxiety or well-being.”
“Research has shown that increasing the flow of air in the right nostril stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the heart rate, produces more sweaty palms, dilates the pupils and opens up the lungs – the “fight-or-flight” reaction. Increasing the flow of air through the left nostril however, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and increases digestion, lowers the heart rate and relaxes the body (Shannahoff-Khalsa-DS, 1993). So by practising alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana pranayama), you help to balance both of these systems in relation to each other as well as balancing brain activity.”
Stevens also says there is ample evidence to show that the humming breath (bhramari) works as a stress reducer by slowing down the heart and having a calming effect.” A study on yoga practice and yoga theory (Telles et al 2009) found that yoga practice significantly reduced anxiety (14.6% decrease). In this study, 60 minutes was spent in yoga breathing including high frequency yoga breathing (kapalabhati), alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodana), exhalation with specific sounds (bhramari and udgeeth pranayamas) and breathing with a period of breath-holding or with a voluntarily partially constricted glottis (bahya and ujjayi pranayamas respectively).

Yoga Asana

Movement is a wonderful way of creating flow in the body – physically, emotionally and mentally. Movement can support the processing of unused energy from emotions and experiences which are often stored in the body’s tissues.
In the short term, physical work may help to relieve muscular tension and stress, and in the long term may help re-set defensive holding patterns which keep the body in stress response.
A study using magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging in yoga and non yoga practitioners showed definite changes after a 60 minute yoga asana session compared to a 60 minute session spent reading. The chief difference was an increase in levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain after the yoga session. GABA is a calming brain neurotransmitter used to counter-balance more excitatory brain chemicals.
But it’s important to remember that not all physical yoga is the same. To reduce stress, I would recommend a more gentle, flowing style of movement and personally caution against the more vigorous, powerful styles of yoga asana or anything done in overheated conditions which may promote or exacerbate an anxiety state.

Meditation

Numerous studies exist which espouse the benefits of mindfulness meditation, guided meditation and open meditation. For those experiencing anxiety specifically however, a guided or mindfulness-based meditation practice may be the most beneficial as it provides an agitated mind with something to do. Open meditations may make participants feel like a failure if their over-aroused mind finds difficulty in achieving stillness. Open meditations can also trigger memories of experiences which may be at the root of the anxiety.
I often find it useful to start really small and allow participants to build up at their own pace. An important aspect of meditation is to be non- judgemental about your perceived success or failure. Learn to see every meditation as a worthwhile endeavour in helping to build your skill and when the mind wanders, just begin again – even if you have to do this 50 times in a five minute session.

Yoga Nidra

A study was conducted at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in the US on the use of iRest Yoga Nidra – a technique developed by psychologist and yoga teacher Dr Richard Miller. The technique was practiced by active duty military personnel who reported decreased insomnia, reduced depression, anxiety and fear, improved interpersonal relations, increased comfort with uncontrollable situations and an increased sense of control in daily life. Participants attended 18 classes over 9 weeks as well as a home practice using a guided program on CD.
Another study examined two different meditation techniques compared to an active control group and the results suggested that meditation leads to greater physiological relaxation and better mood compared to listening to an audio book. In addition, the study suggested that meditation, specifically techniques such as iRest Yoga Nidra, lead to significant decreases in cortisol and increases in mood during practice.

Restorative Yoga

Judith Lasater is well known and well respected world-wide for her use of restorative yoga. Lasater believes that one antidote to stress is to rest deeply. She also believes that this rest is different from sleep because deep states of sleep include periods of dreaming which increase muscular tension as well as other physiological signs of tension. However relaxation or deep rest is a state in which there is no movement, no effort and the brain is quiet.
Restorative yoga uses bolsters, blankets and other props to fully support the body in a variety of positions. Once you are 100% comfortable the aim is to let your attention turn to your breath and spend a little time in stillness. If quietness disturbs you some very gentle soothing music can be used.

Yogic Philosophy

The yamas and niyamas and other yogic philosophical ideas were originally used to help bring equanimity to the mind and are still as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago.
In research conducted by Dr Telles, she looked at the use of yoga practice and yoga theory (philosophy) to reduce anxiety. In her study she found that the group using yoga theory decreased anxiety by 3.4% which was considered statistically significant.

Sound

The use of sound through chanting can also be a helpful therapy for alleviating anxiety. The use of sound crosses over into many yoga practices – it can assist with breathing and be used as a meditative practice. The vibratory quality of sound can also be considered as a type of movement practice due to its ability to move energy and impact on body tissues.

Yoga Classes vs. Yoga Therapy

For mild anxiety a general level yoga class may be suitable, particularly if the class is small, gentle and focuses on some of the practices raised above. However, anxiety or other circumstances can temporarily preclude a person from participating in a general class. Once a yoga therapist feels that the anxiety has stabilised enough a suitable regular yoga classes may be highly beneficial.

References:

1. The Breathing Book: good health and vitality through essential breath work, Donna Farhi
2. Relax and Renew: restful yoga for stressful times, Judith Lasater
3. www.yogalinks.net
4. Effect of a Yoga Practice Session and a Yoga Theory Session on State Anxiety, Shirley Telles, Vaishali Gaur and Acharya Balkrishna, 2009
5. Yoga Nidra as an adjunctive therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder: A feasibility study, Engel et al.
6. The effect of meditation on cortisol: A comparison of meditation techniques to a control group, Borchardt, Patterson, Seng
7. Effects of mental relaxation and slow breathing in essential hypertension, Kaushik, Kaushik, Mahajan, Rajesh
8. Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study, Streeter, Jensen, Perlmutter, Cabral, Tian, Terhune, Ciraulo, Renshaw
Copied from Cikitsa Sangati Summer 2013 – Newsletter of the Australian Association of Yoga Therapists, with thanks to Jen Schrader.

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