how to deepen your yoga practice

When I completed my yoga teacher training, I knew that after 500hrs of learning I was just at the beginning of my journey through this profound body of knowledge. Yoga has given me so much in the way of growth, health, forgiveness, self-compassion + body awareness. I've learned that healing is non-linear; it happens through our bodies - yes, but also through feeling, perception, intention and consciousness. My yoga practice has softened the way I communicate, move, breathe, nourish + live... it has transformed my life for the better.

With every class I teach, I try to create space for my students to explore their own unfolding with every cue + through every breath. I guide them with reverence + gratitude in my heart for our shared experience + hope they leave feeling a little more aligned + a little more attuned inside.

Here are a few tips to deepen your time on the mat when we're not together:

Listen to your body + respond with compassion: I tell my students to default to rest or embrace a modification that softens the pose; we don't need to ignore how we feel {anymore than we already do} to achieve a pose, we need to deepen our breath + connect with what our body needs in the moment. Bālāsana {child's pose} is always the right pose if you need it. Some days you can go further + other days maybe not; on both days you are an exceptional human being discovering an ever changing edge... please learn to rest + not to give up on yourself.

Understand that the pose comes from within: I encourage my students to stay focused on their own practice; there will always be someone in the class that can go a little further or bend a little more + you can use that for inspiration - sure, but please do not use it for comparison. You are where you are right now + wherever that is, is just fine. I invite you to be there fully + honour what is possible for you in the present. Listen. Respond. Deepen or hold steady. Find your own flow. You cannot look outside of yourself to measure or determine where you should be; pay attention to your own mind, your own body + your own heart. Train yourself to become the most powerful person in your life.

Try to breathe through your nose the whole time: It's hard to imagine but the human body was designed for nasal breathing; most of us breathe at 10 - 20% of our capacity + this poor breathing contributes to a number of health problems {i.e. anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure etc...} but also, by decreasing our respiratory function we decrease our own energy levels.

"Breathing in and out through the nose helps us take fuller, deeper breaths, which stimulates the lower lung to distribute greater amounts of oxygen throughout the body. Also, the lower lung is rich with the parasympathetic nerve receptors associated with calming the body and mind, whereas the upper lungs — which are stimulated by chest and mouth breathing — prompt us to hyperventilate and trigger sympathetic nerve receptors, which result in the fight or flight reaction." 

We were not meant to engage our flight or flight response to deal with our daily modern stressors. It's purpose is to protect us from immediate or imminent danger, not an absent - or lacking - plan for self-care. I encourage my students to use their time on the mat to practice breathing well; I teach them that we disrupt + weaken our inner rhythms when we unconsciously hold our breath as a way to cope. When students find their edge in a pose, I ask if they can use their breath as a tool to go deeper, or if they need to rest to reconnect to the breathing that serves them most? During the more challenging moments on the mat - if we can develop a thoughtful inner dialogue - we strengthen our ability to respond to circumstance with mindfulness, rather than succumb to it without any awareness.

Meditate at the end of every class: Savasana feels so sweet at the end of a good class doesn't it? I always feel bad having to ease students out of such a peaceful state... then to get them up + send them off into world - it all seems so unkind. I try to teach them not to rush but to just take a moment + notice their inner calm + notice their own powerful breathing. I believe that if you can be still for 1 - 5mins longer {time + space permitting} after your class, you have an opportunity to really integrate your practice... to really seal the time you have dedicated to yourself, so it's not just a physical release but a spiritual {non-religious} one as well.  Your soul needs rest too.

You are capable of so much more than you know + a regular yoga practice is a useful, effective guide for that discovery.

Yoga gives us an opportunity to practice listening to ourselves with kindness + care. Practising builds up our inner strength, inner awareness + inner resourcefulness. By improving our breathing on the mat, we cultivate the ability to breathe deeply in our every day lives + to discover the power, peace + potential we all hold within + together.

I hope you'll explore these ideas in your own practice.

As always, if you have any questions or feedback please send me a note or click the let's talk button on the right.

Namaste, Alicia.xo

Quote Source: I apologize; this quote was added to my research notes without the source information.

eat. nourish. build your strength.

I began my journey in alternative medicine + healing with Holistic Nutrition; my own life had been dramatically transformed by changing the way I ate + I needed to understand why. Why did one set of choices lead to happiness, healing + health + the other set of choices lead to sadness, anger + illness? Could it really be that simple?

Nope. No. It's not simple at all.

As I learned more about nutrition, I learned more about myself. My relationship with food followed the spectrum of self-loathing; either I was overindulging or pushing myself to the brink of starvation. Food was mine to control in a life that increasingly felt out of control. For the uncertainty, stress + overwhelm I could binge on the days when my life felt scarce + my soul was hungry, or I could practice self-punishment by depriving + delaying my nourishment until it hurt. And so it was. Eating too much. Eating too little. Then back again. It was a vicious cycle of feast or famine - mentally, emotionally + physically.

I was out of alignment.

Holistic nutrition education gave me the fundamentals for self-care; it turns out that how, what + when you eat really does matter. I mean it is everything. It impacts your capacity for joy, health, patience, compassion + love. It determines how you will show up for your life + the person you will be when you arrive. If you are like me + depression sometimes waits just outside your front gate, then you need to know that eating well can make a tremendous difference. Period. But food cannot + does not work alone. You need to eat mindfully.

Mindful eating helps us learn to hear what our body is telling us about hunger and satisfaction. It helps us become aware of who in the body/heart/mind complex is hungry, and how and what is best to nourish it. —Psychology Today

How you nourish yourself is how you love yourself. Every time.

The reality is, I really didn't get better at eating until I began meditating; something about quieting the noise + clearing out the clutter gave me the ability to hear myself. In time, I knew the difference between what my mind wanted, what my body needed + what my soul craved but even more important, I actually trusted myself enough to listen + follow through. There was no negative internal dialogue after each meal. I was no longer pushed + pulled by diet industry 'news' or insecurity or life's changing circumstance. Day by day, I was getting lighter, brighter + more powerful. My energy, focus + time were allocated with discernment + care. I felt better because I was better.

Only the beginning.

It's been over 10 years since I made the connection between who I am + what I eat. I have a balanced relationship with food that is deeply rooted in self-love. What was once a salve for stress + anxiety is now a source of fuel + pleasure. My body is a temple that houses my soul; a spark of divinity that I know is whole, worthy + precious. I am mentally, emotionally + physically stronger. Every morning + every night, I come back home to myself through my meditation practice. I breathe. I listen. I love. My life is seen from the inside out + not, from the outside in + from this vantage point, I see clearly that I am already nourished.

a.xo

 

why you should start meditating

Our true nature is that of infinite spirit. The feeling of limitation is nothing more than thoughts within the mind. When we can silence the mental noise, we become truly unlimited. {author unknown}

Meditation {and yoga} transformed my life. It made me calmer, more rested + noticeably younger. It helped me find stillness in the midst of a very busy life. My ability to focus, to love, to become + to breathe improved. In meditation, I found a place for my mind to reset, for my heart to heal + for my soul to grow. It is the quiet we are all seeking. It is the place where you will find the best version of yourself. Patient. Full of grace. Grateful. Whole.

love, alicia.xo

Annie Spratt
Annie Spratt

HOW MEDITATION BENEFITS YOUR MIND

Meditation brings the brainwave pattern into an Alpha state that promotes healing. Your mind becomes fresh, clear and empowered. With regular practice:

◊ the intensity of your anxiety decreases ◊ your emotional stability improves ◊ your creativity increases ◊ your experience of joy + gratitude deepens ◊ your own intuition develops + grows ◊ you gain mental + spiritual clarity + peace of mind ◊ problems feel smaller

holistic understanding: meditation sharpens the mind by gaining focus + expands through relaxation, however a sharp mind without expansion causes tension, anger + frustration and an expanded consciousness without sharpness, can lead to lack of action + progress.

∴ the balance of a sharp mind + an expanded consciousness brings perfection

HOW MEDITATION BENEFITS YOUR PHYSIOLOGY

Your physiology undergoes a change + every cell in the body is filled with more prana {energy}. On a physical level, with regular practice, meditation can:

◊ lower blood pressure ◊ reduce anxiety attacks ◊ decrease tension-related pain; such as, tension headaches, insomnia, muscle/joint aches ◊ increase serotonin production that improves mood + behaviour ◊ improve the immune system ◊ increase your energy level

holistic understanding: it cleanses + nourishes you from within + calms you, whenever you feel overwhelmed, unstable, or emotionally shut down; when you meditate, you are in the space of vastness, calmness + joy and this is what you emit into the environment.

∴ as you learn more about yourself, meditation can bring about a true personal transformation.

{photo credit: Annie Spratt}