Juggle, Balance, Sleep, Repeat – Meditation in real-life!

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Photo by Alan Rowlette a representation of me balancing my hectic life and serenely rising above all drama and obstacles… NATTTT. I am starting to realise that from the outside it looks like I am a bit of a little miss productivity. To be honest, it’s very difficult to keep up with everything all the time and I relish occasional moments when film work dries up and i have time to myself. I get TOTALLY OVERWHELLLLLLMMMMMMED now and again and then I remind myself, or my teachers remind me, do one. thing. at. a. time. Then just keep going!
It seems mad to most people that with a very long day ahead of me I voluntarily get up early to practice yoga and meditation every morning. But it’s what makes everything possible.
Taking that time to connect with myself and my higher purpose before I do anything else helps me in so many ways and I’m still learning!
1) Time to notice physical needs and imbalances and adjust accordingly – food, exercise, sleep, water, tense areas, breathing patterns.
2) Consistent refreshing sleep – meditation and yoga develops your ability to consciously put yourself to sleep.
3) Better boundaries – when I’m practicing and strongly connected to myself it’s much easier (although still challenging!) to say “that’s not me, that’s you” and accept that I don’t have to please *everybody* and that’s ok.
4) Better concentration – meditation and yoga give you more space in your brain box to concentrate on the task at hand and stay in the present moment, that way it’s easier to complete tasks efficiently.

Cultivating the enjoyment in your body

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Oh my legs… for so many years they took such a beating from my negativity, too fat, too white… ugh, gasp, cringe they even grow hair!!! I thought that was really normal but it just became another reason to disconnect from my body. The greatest gift I have gotten out of all of this… was just to feel what it was like to live in my body. To come down out of my head and just feel. At first it felt horrible, heavy, uncomfortable, of course it was so neglected. But I stuck with it and stuck with it and now I wake up most mornings and just feel the softness and the strength and the just being of my legs and it’s magic. They’re no skinnier or more tan, they’re definitely still growing hair but when you can enjoy them from the inside none of that matters. I want so much for other people to get that. I want so much for everyone to leave my class thinking how cool and lovely and soft and strong their body is.

Looking at these photos from shooting today with Alan Rowlette while stuffing my face with alpro ice cream straight out of the tub is a bit surreal! Ugly duckling me is like “who is that?!?!” Had the best time shooting with Alan in Killruddery, we had a great time collaborating on research, scouting and styling the shoot and I’m so happy with the results!
What’s even more surreal than my ice cream eating habits is to look at these photos of myself and remember that I went to my first yoga classes asking “can I sit at the back? Is it dark in the room? Will anyone be looking at me?” I was so not myself at that time, I wore these horrible baggy (corduroy?) leggings and one of my dad’s thick jumpers. The only way I could get out of my head was to be in that class as anonymous as possible, lying in my back in the dark, with all the people who were recovering from hip operations and arthritis. I was so wound up, so freaked out, I couldn’t bare for my vulnerability to be seen. In my wildest dreams I would not have set foot in a Dublin yoga studio wearing a sports bra because I was so ashamed of this shell of a person I had become all of a sudden. And now here I am. That experience of yoga has made me the most compassionate teacher I am capable of being because I actually get it. I completely get it. And I know first hand how to get back to being the person you were before all that bullshit happened to you. That to me is more valuable than getting anyone into a handstand.

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Yoga and Spirituality

BookYogaRetreats.com shared this interesting survey they conducted on Yoga and Spirituality with me this week. The results are really interesting, while nearly 70% describe the practice of yoga as something that connects body, mind and soul, and 80% feel more connected to a higher power/nature/universe/god, only 8% describe yoga as a spiritual practice.

One great thing about yoga is that anyone can access it on whatever level they’re ready for, be it purely physical or deeply spiritual, in the same class at the same time. Spirituality has become taboo for a lot of people these days, but remember that yoga is a spiritual practice and NOT a religion – at all! Yoga gives us a neutral space and structured practice to get in touch with our deeper experience whatever religious or non religious background we have without any dogma or rigid belief systems. For many people this is what has alienated them from their spirituality. So maybe it’s time to open up to yoga and the beautiful sense of spiritual connection it can cultivate in us all!

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Grounding Through the Feet

How do you decharge? This came up last night in the pub for my friend Megan’s birthday last night (funny enough) and got me thinking. We live in very, very stimulating times. All day everyday we’re bombarded with information and if you work in highly charged interpersonal situations on top of that it can be overwhelming. For a lot of us it’s a smoke or a coffee (me) or food (also me) or phones (also, also me) that we use as a tool to get back to ourselves and calm in the course of a hectic day. But actually what that’s replacing is connection to ourselves, our bodies, our breath, the world around us.

When I was really bet down with this problem a friend gave me a tip that anyone can use, take your shoes off and go stand on a natural surface and just feel your feet on the surface, once a week, once a day, whenever you get the chance. It will calm you, decharge negative feelings from yourself and others and even take static out of your hair. It’s referred to as Earthing or Grounding and you can read about how it works from various different sources. Without going into a big explanation electrical charges and energy, I can say I have experienced it working for myself and know lots of people who do it too. When I was working full time in RTE I used to be so frazzled my hair was standing up off my head, I was dehydrated all the time and I couldn’t sleep even with my yoga practice, I was physically and emotionally overstimulated. So… I’d get in to the sea up to my knees after work every day and as mad as I seemed (in November…) it honestly worked! The dehydration passed, my body and sleeping patterns recouped noticeably and my yoga and meditation practice were able to do their work again.

. “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh.

I recommend trying it for 10 days and seeing if you notice a difference!

Another amazing thing you can do for yourself on this theme is walking meditation, in the style of the great Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. You can read some beautiful words here to bring into your daily walk to work, around the office or out in nature. But really it boils down to walking slow enough to feel each step and light enough to show love and respect to the support of the ground beneath you.

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Yoga and Mantra

This quarter I have an article in Yoga Therapy Ireland’s magazine which has a special focus on Japa Yoga and Mantra. I was really delighted to be asked to contribute to this issue.

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For the last 18 months I’ve been practicing Japa meditation alongside my hatha yoga practice. The result can only be described as transformative. When I began my teacher training with Yoga Therapy Ireland my life was very demanding, at the end of each day there was very little energy left for me. I was employing the tools of yoga to keep myself going, but I was getting to a point where it felt like I was spinning plates. Another yoga teacher recommended I take up Japa meditation. Even though I understood Japa was a yoga practice, it seemed mad that I would take up another class and daily disciple, but I trusted her advice and went to my local centre.

After the first few classes it felt like I was awake again after sleep walking. My peace of mind and level of awareness were raised so I started seeing how I could make things better for myself and the people around me. The best way I can describe it to anyone who’s practiced and loved hatha yoga, is to imagine how you feel on your mat, when your practice is in flow. What keeps people coming back to that sheet of foamed plastic is, as Iyengar so beautifully described, a sense of wholeness where you are no longer trying to fit broken pieces together. What Japa and Hatha together have given me is the capability to carry that feeling beyond the mat, beyond myself and beyond situations I feel comfortable in. The more I progress in my practices the more I feel I can internalise the union yoga brings about. It’s taken a lot of dedication, and with the support of my teachers I’ve had to knock down a lot of those spinning plates, but Japa and Mantra have been the missing piece of the puzzle up til now.

In a nutshell, Japa Yoga is a form of meditation in which mantras are repeated to engage the mind and bring internal peace. Mantras are sacred sounds with high vibrational energy. When we recite mantras, making a sound vibration, our minds and bodies absorb that high vibration. The effect of this practice is that by consistently working with mantras we can protect and improve our way of thinking in such a way that allows us to access our potential. What that looks like for me on a typical day is sitting down for about an hour before I start my day – sometimes that might be 5.30 am! I start with a short trataka and then nadi shodana pranayama then I recite about 5 different mantras, one after the other over 10 rounds of 108 bead mala. After that I’m settled to get into my hatha practice. In many traditional schools of yoga, this is the way yoga would be practiced, but Japa has not enter the mainstream in the West the way Hatha has. At the moment there seems to be a separation between Japa and Hatha yoga here in Ireland, with relatively few practitioners using both methods. Next year I hope to join Japa Meditation Ireland’s teacher training course so I can find a way of combining the two practices and share the experience I’ve had with others. Japa Meditation Ireland have classes all over the country which are open to all. http://www.japameditationireland.ie

My Journey to the Himalayas

This quarter I was featured in Yoga Therapy Ireland’s Winter Magazine with an article on my trip to India! Maureen and her team put great effort into compiling the magazine for the membership of Yoga Therapy Ireland, so I was delighted to be included. My meditation Master, Shashi Dubey helped me compose the article about the trip which was facilitated by Master Shashi and organised by Indus Routes.

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This October I went on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas. India is widely considered the home of spirituality and it had been a dream of mine since childhood to experience the affluence of ashrams, temples and mystics that exist there. I felt the urgency to realise this dream when I started practicing Japa meditation last year. I’ve always had a passion for the spiritual experience of yoga and found Japa deepened this experience profoundly. With a group of 70 practitioners of Japa, I went on a trip organised by Indus Routes (www.indusroutes.com ) and facilitated by Master Shashi Dubey. My fellow travellers came from all walks of life and backgrounds but shared the common trait of deep sincerity and kindness.

As I set forth on the trip of the sacred Himalayan mountains there was a tangible sensation of walking in the footsteps of all the saints and sages that been there before me. Our route was from Delhi, via Ranikhet to Devprayag – where the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers meet to form the Ganges. There was a profound spiritual energy in all of the varied and beautiful temples we visited, magnified beyond anything I had experienced before. I felt uplifted and moved by the blessing of each temple. At each place we visited we recited mantras, made simple, meaningful offerings to God, deities and saints, and paid our respects from the heart.

After leaving Delhi we visited the ashram of Baba Neem Karoli. We prayed at each pristine and carefully adorned shrine in the riverside temple by candlelight. Baba Neem Karoli was a devotee of the deity Hanuman and was a guru to many famous people. Although Baba is no longer there in physical form, many people visit to receive blessings from his spirit which still remains. Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerberg and Julia Roberts have all visited and received blessings.

Our next stop was the temple of Golu Devta, ‘the dispenser of justice’. The entrance almost bursts with beautiful brass bells and letters and petitions from devotees wishing to receive help from the angels of justice. We walked barefoot, ringing bells as we went, arriving at a little shrine where we went one by one, bowed in prayer to be blessed by holy men.

Later we visited Dhari Devi temple. This is a temple of the Goddess Mother Kali. The temple sits on stilts above a river and as we crossed the bridge we were escorted by a host of wild monkeys. When we got inside I felt powerful heat while the whole temple seemed to vibrate with the chanting prayer, bells and ceremony within it. We knelt in front of a shrine with an idol of Dhari Devi while chanting mantras and making offerings, asking for blessings from Kali who destroys obstacles and negative energy.

On the night of the Diwali festival we drove through the Himalayas by bus. I watched through the window as hundreds of houses bedazzled with fairy light of all colours and fireworks of all shapes and sizes, which were dwarfed by the scale of their surroundings, illuminated the mountains. I felt all the troubles and worries I had had before leaving become much smaller as I appreciated how lucky I was to be there.

When we arrived at Devprayag, our hotel was situated just above Mother Ganga, the Ganges, our entire stay was serenaded by the sound of the rushing current. Each morning I practiced Surya Namaskar and finished the day with Chandra Namaskar in view of Mother Ganga and felt the absolute power of the river in my practice. For two days we performed a Fire Prayer in the mornings to help us cleanse our energy and connect with our intentions for the trip. We sat in prayer and offered nuts, limes and seeds to the fire, the fragrant flames flooded the courtyard of the hotel all day. When this was complete we went to the village and walked to the very point where the Ganges begins. We made offerings of honey, milk, seeds, grain and dough to Mother Ganga and prayed for her blessing. We released letters we had all written with our hopes and intentions into the water and watched the rushing currents pull them. We were close enough to bath our feet in the water and when my turn came I felt mesmerised beyond anything I could have imagined by how beautiful and powerful the river was as I stood in it.

The next day I taught a yoga class for my fellow travellers. Although I knew hardly any of them before the trip, after sharing all those experiences with them I felt as much warmth and affection there as you would imagine in your fantasy family Christmas. Since arriving home I am sure of the blessings I received on my trip as my perspective has changed to appreciate how wonderful it is to be myself and how blessed I am to live my life.

Charity Yoga Success!

Last Saturday I held a yoga class in aid of Hot Food Idomeni hosted by Common Ground. The morning was a great success and we raised nearly €100 euro for the aid workers.

Hot Food Idomeni are working directly with the refugee crisis in Europe, providing hot, nourish food to thousands of people everyday. During Ramadan they provided food specifically tailored to the Muslim refugees religious custom.

Look out for more classes at Common Ground, Bray in the Autumn!

International Yoga Day!

Happy International Yoga Day!

It’s fallen at a very ‘yogic’ time for me as I’ve just completed my first year of training with Yoga Therapy Ireland and passed my teaching assessment ‘Masterclass’. Our classes were based around the shoulders and the spine. It was brilliant to sit in on all the other students’ classes and see all the interesting approaches we brought to the themes as individuals! I celebrated the day that was in it in typical fashion for me, by heading out in search of venues for my classes. Won’t be long now til we’re up and running!13442369_304094833264905_2671497523126527665_n.jpg

 

James Higgins Workshop at Fumbally Stables

On Wednesday evening I attended a vinyasa flow workshop with renowned teacher, James Higgins. I’d heard a lot about James’s special style of practice from a few people but know one could really explain to me what it was in particular that was different. As soon as I arrived at Fumbally and found the last space to roll out a mat was right up front and centre, I was sure I would get the whole experience!

From the beginning of the class it was clear James has a high sensitivity to the communal energy of whatever group he’s teaching. We started with an extended lying down centring that focused on a lot of breath work and guided meditation. After this we launched into a series of warm ups and vinyasa sequences. What seemed unique to me was the way in which James interwove direction to the physical body, emotional body and mind into each instruction. Attention was directed into triggering all the muscles required to enter an asana before engaging in it. The language he used seemed to honour both our physiological understanding of our bodies and the way they feel. Breath work and focus was maintained throughout the class. The practice was strong throughout the class and definitely helped me explore my own strength but this was in no way at the expense of the stability and quality of the practice which was illustrated the entire class achieving a set of very challenging variations on Tree Pose. During the warm down sequence and shavasana James’s particular blend of meditation, spiritual insight and philosophy was really evident.