Refresh and Reframe

April 20, 2015

Refresh and Reframe

How are you feeling this month?  It’s the middle of March and we’ve got one foot in winter and one foot in spring and if you’re feeling like me, then your energy is being pulled in two opposite directions.

Today I am writing from the front room of my flat where I can see treetops out the window.  I’m wrapped up in the cozy seventies Scandinavian cardigan I happened upon in a vintage shop on my stroll home yesterday from teaching.  The view is absolutely grey and it looks as if it’s about to snow any second despite the pink cherry blossoms across the street rejoicing spring.  Today it’s definitely winter and, as I sip my home-made healthy hot chocolate, I’m loving it rather than resisting it.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been casually tracking my energy shifts according to the season and lunar calendar as a constant reminder of how the macrocosm parallels the microcosm.  The patterns of my moods never cease to amaze me.  Beginning to understand the effects that grand seasonal and lunar changes have on little old me and how I feel has helped me to honour my body and tune into my instinctive needs, as well as predict how changes in the weather and light up ahead will make me feel so I know better what to put into place to transition with ease and grace.

Honouring my body in the winter months often means surrendering to quieter, introspective moods and resting and staying in rather than committing to lots of social engagements.  As I showed in my last newsletter, it means slow starts in the morning with warm beverages, restorative yoga and preparing bone broths to accompany lunch and dinner and keep my immune system strong.  It means cozy jumpers and warm meals and taking every opportunity to read and hibernate in my flat.  I appreciate that, with children, carving out downtime can be more of a challenge.  It’s not every morning that I can keep that routine either, but when I can I do, and I don’t allow myself to feel guilty for not doing something more ‘productive.’ I love winter for this – I really enjoy the opportunity to do less and stay in (which is important for someone naturally prone to writing unattainable to-do lists and squeezing too many events/chores/actions into one day).

Honouring my body in the spring means cleansing and eating light, moving more and getting out in the sun.  It means less meat, more greens, and taking every opportunity to walk outside and observe the blossoms and crocuses (the birds beckon me to do so every morning).  At the moment, there are signs of spring everywhere (image above from a recent walk by the river), reminding me what’s just around the corner.  But before we ‘spring ahead’ and come out of that darkness and into the light, I am focusing on planning ahead for the transition and adjusting my eating, exercising and general lifestyle habits accordingly.

If you read my last post, you’re aware that I’ve been in the process of de-cluttering my living space. Again.  Big time.  And for the final time, I hope, ever in my life.  Yes – I did just buy a new cardigan.  BUT, I have brought bags full of clothing, books, and other paraphernalia to friends and the many local charity shops around me that I simply wasn’t wearing, reading, or sharing with others, so what was the point of holding on?  I mentioned a de-cluttering book my Marie Kondo that is all about this.  Since then I’ve read a few critiques and some mockery of her work and I’m not surprised.  It feels extreme to effortlessly let go of things you once cherished, things that helped to make your home and your current you, and not look back simply because they no longer bring you joy (her main criteria).  For me the hardest thing to get rid of was all my photocopies and notes from my last degree before training to teach yoga.  I hadn’t touched them for nearly 10 years but thought I needed them to prove those hours of studying and achieving my degree with visual evidence.  Silly.  But they’re gone now because those papers were a burden to store and making me unhappy.  It feels GREAT to be free of them! They weren’t proving a thing other than that we have nothing to prove at all – we are not what we own. What Marie doesn’t tell you is that de-cluttering is slightly addictive.  The more I get rid of, the more I find to get rid of so that now there is really space to breathe in my storage-less flat.   This was a necessary first step to making springtime 2015 one of true, focused action and CLEARING (my word for the year) out.  So far I do not miss a thing.

But then there’s that space within me too.  I’m talking about my tummy and my brain.

Like unwanted pieces of clothing, there are some less than ideal habits I may have accumulated over the winter. Let’s not call them bad habits, because one thing I don’t like to do is feel guilty when I don’t do the things I know I should do or eat the way I know I should eat or think the way I know I should think (and there are a lot of shoulds in there because I have studied a lot about nutrition and psychology to know what is conducive to optimum physical and mental health). Feeling guilty wouldn’t be helpful, but neutrally observing my pitfalls and reflecting upon them might help me find creative ways of working around them and preventing them in the future.  Constantly monitoring myself and over-thinking my choices (especially food choices) with my brain rather than my gut has not helped me in the past. Being aware of the effects certain foods or habits have on me (too much refined carbohydrate makes me feel tired/staying up too late makes me feel groggy the next morning and crave sweet foods), making informed choices and sometimes loosening the reins and reminding myself why I avoid those foods is something I can maintain without stress and trains me to think with my belly brain instead.

Because winter gives me stronger digestion and thus a stronger appetite, I let myself enjoy stodgier meals, more healthy fats, even more carbohydrates in the form of sourdough bread and whole grains, and my body loves this.  I gain a couple of pounds and stay fit, but I know that this kind of eating in excess throughout the year could lead to too much sluggishness so I am starting to think of ways I will cleanse and lighten things up when the weather gets warmer and I can enjoy raw foods again.  This is why cleansing is particularly good around the spring equinox (and not January).  My organic food delivery box starts surprising me with less root vegetables and more greens so everything lends itself to eating greener and leaner.

Last year I led a workshop called the Spring Clean Kick-start to help give people a deeper understanding of cleansing rituals and practices beyond the most marketed kind like juicing and ‘detox diets’ and simpler ways to cleanse to renew energy.  In the past I’ve done pretty intense (well-researched and sometimes monitored) juice cleanses for periods of 3-7 days, which I wrote about here in my blog. They have taught me a lot and always leave me feeling great.  This year I may skip or shorten the juice cleanse and opt to focus on increasing more sustainable ways to cleanse that we can even work into our routines easily throughout the year.  Here are a few things I’ll be doing that you can try and that don’t require a juicer or taking time off work:

  • Aim to finish eating before 8PM every night (ideally 6PM if you can) to leave time for a proper 12-hour over-night fast so your digestive system can start the day strong!
  • Eliminate snacking between meals so there are at least 4 hours between each meal to allow your digestive system to properly do its thing before taking on more (if you’re prone to blood-sugar crashes, this may take some practice and perhaps light, healthy snacks to get you from one meal to the next)
  • Focus on eating more alkaline rather than acidic foods (think more fruit and veg and less dairy, meat, and alcohol for starters) and keep your meals simple in ingredients
  • Make every meal a mindful meal.  Eat slowly.  Don’t multitask.  Chew carefully.  Use chopsticks (with a special thank you to friend Niki here for reminding me that I have chopsticks and love how eating with them makes me slow down!)
  • Incorporate skin brushing and epsom balts into your weekly beauty routine and avoid products with lots of chemicals in them (get a big old tub of coconut oil and use that for multiple things…like deodorant)
  • Focus on how much water versus coffee/alcohol/juice/soda you drink per day.  Try to drink only water and herbal teas for a week if you have a strong addiction to caffeine and observe how different levels of hydration/stimulants make you feel

The first thing I’ve done is freeze my gym membership for April, which may seem odd since I’ll have more energy to exercise.  I started going to the gym because I wanted a little extra cardio to add to my weekly routine and I love spinning/cycling classes, but boy oh boy, the toxic products the other girls use in the changing room – I need a break!  With all the hairspray and Aerosol deodorant, I don’t know how these girls breathe!  It also never ceases to amaze me how much time we girls spend on primping and how very little moisturizing.  It really makes me appreciate the numerous yoga studios where I have taught and attended classes who usually have signs up asking for people NOT to use harsh smelling products.   Think about what you’re putting on your body (yes, even perfume) as well as in your body, because it all gets absorbed through our biggest organ – the skin!

And then finally how do I clear out some of that gunk in my mind?  Well, this is an ongoing project, good for any time of year really, but I think spring gives us a great opportunity to focus on the bright side of things – the sun is shining and my thoughts turn lighter and naturally more optimistic. Just because I’m a yoga teacher, doesn’t mean I have a pure and blissed-out mind all the time.  Far from it.  I still have moments, although much less than before, when I struggle with over-thinking, anxiety, all those things that brought me to yoga in the first place.  Over the winter I’ve been contemplating the concept of ‘reframing’ (as opposed to ‘awfulizing’) and how helpful that has been in the past when unexpected change happens and I start to freak out.  We tend to focus on what we’ll lose, how we’ll suffer and all the negative stuff that could happen to us if something changes, if we make a wrong choice.  We can add stress to a situation that doesn’t need to be that stressful.  So I am practicing letting go, accepting, and framing things in a positive light to suffer less. Here’s an example:

The other weekend my beloved boyfriend decided to move the furniture around in our flat. He completely changed the arrangement of the entire front room.  My first reaction was – eek!  It’s different!!!  And then I saw all the things that wouldn’t work with the new set-up. But then I took a few breaths, looked around and saw lots of benefits to the new layout.  I made a few tweaks and improved the ‘feng shui’ (to the best of my very little knowledge) and it works.  It really works.  And best of all?  It helped me get rid of more stuff (including the cobwebs that had been hiding behind the couch).  That’s a soft example and bigger changes are harder, but try it.  Try to focus on the gain, not the loss.

So all in all, I’m glad it’s still winter because I have a few more things to shed, a few more chickens to roast, a few more movies to watch and the need for more cozy evenings in my new jumper before I start to prolong my evenings, stay out late, travel and take on new projects.  It’s about truly enjoying the present whilst gently thinking and dreaming of what’s ahead, and doing a little planning. To quote Liz Gilbert’s Mom (from Elizabeth’s FB page), I really like doing things now to make life easier for ‘my future self.’ And that’s what the rest of this month is all about: clearing out my kitchen for some light, healthy cooking and juicing, giving away more stuff, gradually eliminating acidic foods, going to bed earlier, getting ready to launch my new website (ooh can’t wait!), etc.

Reflect: what can you do for yourself that will help you refresh and start anew in April? What situation could you reframe to see the positive?  Have a think, write down some objectives and then enjoy some warm stew and curl up on the sofa while you’ve got a bit more winter left!

Begin Again

February 3, 2015

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I admit that I have borrowed the subject line of this email newsletter from the recent film with Keira Knightley that I finally watched on a long-haul flight back to Boston to visit my family over the holidays. It certainly wasn’t my favourite film of 2014 (if you haven’t seen Chef, that one was), but it contained a favourite message of mine, one that echoes everywhere at this time of year, and the message is that life will always present us with an opportunity to start over. Isn’t that nice?

My yoga students and friends know that I am a huge advocate of quiet reflection on the past, conscious effort to focus on the present (and it does take effort), and setting intentions and goals for the future. I tend to talk about this a lot around the Spring and Autumn Equinox when nature beckons and supports us to change with it. It’s important to seize those opportunities to take a pause and see where you’ve come from, what helped you get through it, and consider what’s up next so you can prepare yourself to not only survive but thrive during the months ahead.

Even though it’s marketed heavily as such, January is not actually the best time to make major changes in your life. If we were bears, we would be hibernating. And who doesn’t want to live like a bear? If you could see me on this cold Sunday morning, bundled up in the biggest, brown jumper I own and have affectionately nick-named ‘jumpy’, I look a little bit like a bear disturbed from its slumber to tap away at my keyboard for a bit before curling up with a book and a cup of tea because the weather has given me permission to do so – thank you winter. For me, January is not a time of action. Instead I have learned that January is an excellent time to rest and reflect upon what you want to achieve over the next year and line up your support for the months ahead (not to mention recover from a potentially unrestful winter holiday break re-connecting with friends and family across many locations). Making changes is not easy to do on your own. Resting on the other hand is, so if you’re lucky enough to find a few moments of undisturbed quiet this month, then wrap them up in your arms and cuddle them because you’ve likely got a whole lot of activity up ahead.

So if you’ve been stressing about changing eating habits, starting a new work-out routine, improving your attitude, your relationships, your living situation, etc. then I invite you to sit back for a second, put on a big wooly jumper and breathe. You know you have some changes to make over 2015 and that’s the first step – well done. Now you’ve got 12 months to do it, as well as opportunities to edit along the way. Less daunting? You probably have a rough idea of new things you want to try, people you want to work with, places you want to go so perhaps write those down. Then look at the bigger picture. What served you well in 2014 and is something you want to burrow deeper into in 2015? What didn’t help you out so much and is something you can leave behind or replace with a better habit? Is an overall theme evolving when you look back and think ahead that could support you in your decisions? Meditate on that. Let it sit on your tongue. What are the finer, subtle notes you detect?

I was taught how to colour by my older sister (by 2 years). I could grip a crayon much tighter than most children for the fear of being reprimanded for colouring outside the lines (my sister, a natural artist, was unrelenting in her instruction). One technique I learned was to trace the outline of each image in my colouring book with a crayon and then colour in. The waxy outline helped to keep the edges clean and allowed more freedom and ease to fill in the shapes. In many ways January is my outline month and the following months are the colouring in. I am still outlining this month and enjoying the process.

Even though January isn’t the best time to make changes, it is a wonderful reminder of that opportunity life gives us to begin again. A fresh, new canvas to play with. Maybe a new calendar. But remember that these opportunities don’t only arise in the new year. The opportunity to start over presents itself each morning that we wake up. Changes don’t need to be drastic and life-changing, they can be small, subtle and gradual. In fact they can sometimes be so gradual, you don’t even recognize them until you look back. That’s always my motto in January – Start Slow (and I have to repeat it to myself often like a mantra because it’s not in my nature to be laid back). Last year I had the intention to develop a more restorative yoga practice and with that, to invest in a bolster. It took me 11 months, but I finally bought one in November when an opportunity for free shipping presented itself. I’m sitting on it now as I type and in 2015 it’s going to be a great friend – maybe I’ll need it more this year than last year.

Towards the end of every year, I have a ritual of going through all of my photographs (this year I had a record number thanks to my iPhone and Instagram inspiration) to remember the events of the year and to highlight the ups and downs and the lessons learnt from the downs. Below I have summarized a few of the things (including what I recently termed ‘frozen moments’ – the moments that freeze you into the present because they are so gobsmackingly beautiful and divine) that I don’t want to forget (especially when I’m feeling less optimistic about the world – pretty easy if you turn on the news).

One thing I am aware of every time that I look back, is the support I had from friends, family, colleagues, assorted therapists, acupuncturists, you name it, to get me through it all. Just because I teach yoga and health coach, doesn’t mean I have life fully sussed out. That’s a life-long journey and I am always learning new techniques. Every teacher has a teacher. Every mentor was mentored in some way. All of us in life have someone to look up to, someone or something that influences us, someone we can lean upon. I feel very fortunate to have studied and dedicated time to learning how to better support people on their journey towards wellness. Happy Resting and Reflecting, and Happy New Year!

P.S. Here’s a link to a great article in the Guardian by Sophie Heawood with a similar message about the new year: ‘It’s January, it’s dark – is this really the best time to launch a new you?
P.P.S Here’s a lovely practice poem I read in a book I picked up in New York City that was calling my name called ‘Beginning Anew’ by Sister Chan Khong (p.22):

Waking up this morning,
I smile.
I thank life for giving me
twenty-four brand new hours to live.

Expect the Unexpected

December 14, 2014

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I am so grateful for my life in London. I feel like I won the lottery of best cities in the world to live in and I have felt this way everyday for the past few years. I am thankful for that feeling of being in the right place for me at this time in my life especially since I migrated so far from my family and spent so many years jumping through hoops, doing work I didn’t enjoy, learning the ways of a new culture, to earn my right to live and work in a city that has fed me culturally, emotionally and spiritually, forever and ever if I so wish.

But certainty is not a feeling I have experienced that frequently. I used to get stuck in indecision, fearful of the repercussions of my choices. There were two angels on either shoulder – one saying – no matter what you do everything will be okay and the other ‘WHAT IF’ angel urging me to think of every possible worst case scenario that could lead to failure on some level (that would be my fault of course because I chose it).

Over time I have learned that both of these voices (trust vs. fear/doubt) are important and the secret is not to get caught up in what my teacher Alex Filmer-Lorch would call the ‘pendulum swing’ between two opposing ideas. It’s dizzying, tiring, unproductive and falls under the category of unnecessary and unhealthy worry. At the end of the day, decision-making stress is a byproduct of the freedom that I have to build my own life and I have to remember to see it that way.

A colleague of mine said the other day, you can’t choose where you were born, but you can choose where you live, and this is an incredible thing. But that wasn’t always true and still isn’t for many nor is it always an easy or affordable journey to relocate yourself on a map. I don’t follow politics too closely, but I’m well aware of recent debates over overcrowding in England due to immigration and resulting prejudices. It’s a shame because when I attended my citizenship ceremony last year I felt so proud to stand amongst a group of people from all over the world who were finally granted the right to call England home. I was also very aware that many of these people were leaving behind countries with grim situations and had likely been through far more harrowing times to get to where they were than me. Undoubtedly this would lead them to make the most of their new home and pursue opportunities otherwise not available to them with more passion and determination – isn’t that what planting new seeds is all about? So I am thankful for the opportunity to make choices, however stressful it may be, and I am thankful for the possibility to start over and offer something up to a new city, a new country, a new place to call home.

Sometimes things in life feel just right. Sometimes they feel not quite right. Sometimes very wrong. But that doesn’t mean you’ve messed up. The friction is what keeps us on our toes and challenges us to find our strengths and hidden mechanisms for survival. For every one year that I feel certain about things, there were probably five of uncertainty in between, and this is where the work began. During my first few years in London I wasn’t sure what the driving force was keeping me abroad, although I did feel certain that I belonged on this side of the pond. I had no idea what was awaiting me, where my studies would take me, how much I would earn, who I would meet, but something told me this was the place where things would happen. It didn’t always feel like the most logical decision but once I had made the choice, I was sticking to it. And right now, nine years later, I am so thankful I did even though it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

London will always be hugely significant to me because it’s the place where I cultivated my passion for yoga and teaching, and consequently how I developed many coping mechanisms to get me through times of doubt. It’s where I got stronger. They say to only expect the unexpected and this is sage advice. I had no idea when I moved here that I would be teaching yoga part-time in a studio that didn’t even exist yet just two blocks away from my original student housing. I had no idea that this studio would be a stone’s throw away from the theatre where the musical adaptation of my favourite childhood book “Matilda” plays every night and that I would go there with my wonderful boyfriend on his 34th (we’re always kids) birthday. I had no idea, until a fellow student in my meditation training sung it for us, that this musical holds a song that sums up what it means to find peace and strength when all around us feels like chaos and doesn’t seem to make much sense. And suddenly there is a tiny thread stringing everything together in hindsight.

The voice of doubt still likes to creep up when I am making decisions, such as planning travel. What if there’s a snowstorm and I get stuck and miss the connection? What if a cheaper ticket becomes available tomorrow for a better route? I know that voice is there to test me and so I listen for a second and then say – hey you – CHILL OUT. Because even if we make all the ‘right’ decisions, there are outside factors that we cannot control and in one way or another, we’re going to have to be creative. Unexpected stuff is going to happen and change things no matter how carefully we pave our path. Deep down I believe that we can turn every situation on its head and make the most of it – otherwise we submit to suffering. We submit to being the victim when we should strive to be the victor. So my motto for the new year? Plow through the What Ifs and don’t look back. What’s my other way to stop over-thinking my choices and their possible consequences? Take the focus off me and think of how I can help someone else instead.

In November I celebrated Thanksgiving both in London and the U.S. I woke up on Thanksgiving day and taught a gratitude-themed yoga class to 21 people in a cozy, heated studio tucked into a very peaceful Covent Garden. The next day I flew to Boston and was greeted by my nieces for a belated Thanksgiving meal hosted by my parents. At school in the States, we learn that when the first Pilgrims arrived in America, they were in quite a pickle. It took several winters, several deaths and finally help from the Native Americans to get them back on their feet and thriving in a new territory that would soon become home to hundreds of millions, including me. When I arrive at Logan airport, my family is there with the Subaru and a warm meal is usually waiting for me within an hour. Despite those comforts, I inherited the Pilgrim gene and while I don’t enjoy frequent air travel nor promote it for the toll it takes on our health and the planet’s, it has provided me with my present life, living perhaps not so far from my roots in England. It has deepened my understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the world, a small part of a vast humanity.

On a less happy note, once the Pilgrims thanked the Native Americans with a bountiful feast, they later got greedy and murderous and took rather than shared what wasn’t theirs to begin with. On Thanksgiving, Americans celebrate the nice bit of the story and continue the traditions of giving thanks for our lives and those who help us. We remember, as is repeated at Christmas time, that life is beautiful and there are many things to celebrate that we normally take for granted. Hopefully we all decide that it’s better not to be so greedy and to give back a little but I’m not so sure this is true for the majority.

I love the tradition of giving thanks and every morning that I walk over Waterloo bridge and look upon the Thames, the Southbank, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, I am so thankful for all the ups and downs that London has given me, for the person it has shaped me into today. I’m even thankful for the feeling of being a ‘familiar stranger’, to quote my friend Jen, when I return to Boston – it means I’ve discovered a new part of myself and there’s no going back. Expressing gratitude and drawing your attention to what is positive about the present is a great way to see through the muck. I have been going Instagram crazy this past month taking photos of Covent Garden in the wee hours of the morning before I teach, capturing pink skies, gorgeous Christmas decorations, dreamy London scapes. But I won’t lie. For every beautiful thing that catches my eye, there’s also a pile of sick I need to mind not step in (Londoners love to drink…especially this time of year). It’s not all roses.

So what are you thankful for? When times are tough, what gets you through it? Where do you find beauty and hope? Who do you turn to? What do you read? Watch? Listen to? Have you created your toolkit for unexpected times? Something that makes sense and feels right when nothing else does? Who might you write a note to this holiday season to let them know they made a difference to you?

I hope you’ve made it this far, because the most important thing I want to mention is the charity yoga class promoted in the opening image on December 20th, which is what’s got me on this giving gratitude high.  10 years ago many Brits left London to holiday around the Indian ocean in places like Thailand and Sri Lanka. Their plan was to have a blissful time in the sun with friends and loved ones.  Instead they witnessed an unimaginable tragedy and many did not survive.  One of the survivors was student and friend Niki Medlik who also designed the beautiful graphic images you can see on this newsletter.  Together we decided to organize a charity yoga class in honour of the 10th anniversary of the Tsunami to remind people of the tragic event that affected so many people, taking the lives of nearly 300,000.  Niki chose a wonderful charity that is the Sri Lankan Women’s Swimming Project helping to teach women how to breathe and float given that they were the majority who lost their lives from drowning.  We love this charity because it is providing ongoing support to the communities that were effected the most and empowering people with new skills for survival.  The idea is that we will get together to celebrate life in the safe haven that is the yoga studio where I teach and where I have been blessed to meet so many incredible people who come to yoga to feel better.

Surrender to Simplification

October 4, 2014

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If you’re a frequent traveler like me, you’ll have heard the following announcement at the beginning of most flights: please turn off all electronic devices, followed by: flight attendants, prepare for take-off. Which makes you more nervous?

My guess is that, unless you have a fear of flying, your palms are more likely to sweat when you have to put away your portable entertainment.

Some airlines now allow you to keep your mobile phone on airplane mode in case you fear withdrawal symptoms from this or some other kind of distraction enabling device for the duration of your journey. However, being both a student and teacher of yoga and meditation, I am all too happy to completely power off the most stress-inducing item I own and surrender to simplification.

Believe it or not, life is often better without pocket-size technology.

Of course there are other places where we’re asked to partially digitally disconnect such as museums, classical concert halls or movie theatres. But while we might not choose to have a long chat with grandma who lives an ocean away during these visits, we may still want the perk of tweeting about a piece of art we’re enjoying at the Matisse exhibit or checking work emails during a film just in case we can resolve an issue that would otherwise end up on our plate the next day.

We’re a generation of multi-taskers who have emotional connections to the devices that enable this. We want to see and share at the same time. We want the ability to be in three places at once. We want to get more done faster. We want to have our cake and eat it too (but instagram it first). And these are all marvels of modern day technology. But what we forget in all this excitement and momentum is that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing and digital delight can soon turn to digital indigestion.

Luckily there’s one place where we can cultivate an actual desire to be away from technology and that’s the yoga classroom. If you walk into a yoga class with your mobile phone, you’re going to get dirty looks. But I rarely see this as a teacher. Why? Because yoga time is off-limits time. It’s self-imposed take-a-break time. And just like some popular Apps, it’s a little addictive.

When I teach I like to think of the classroom as a sanctuary or haven from the stresses of modern-day life that we impose upon ourselves. While rolling out a mat and practicing yoga postures can work wonders for your body, it’s the time we spend during class cultivating awareness, being present, and connecting with our breath that works the magic we need to keep a balanced life.

We shouldn’t need an air stewardess to tell us to switch off our phones. We shouldn’t need a reminder to turn them to silent at the cinema. What we need is to remind ourselves that it’s okay NOT to be connected 24/7, to allow ourselves to be in one place at a time, to focus on a single item and take things at a slower pace. While the initial reaction may be resistance, the mind will migrate towards a place that is less cluttered and more centred. The result? You’ll be a much more focused, energized, attentive person to be around and work with and that can only help you stay ahead.

So here are five simple things you may want to try this week to find more balance with your digital routine and keep a clear mind:

  • Transport Timeout – most of us have some kind of public transport commute that involves waiting. What do we do? We start checking emails, waste hours on social media, play around with Apps. What if for one week your transport time became a digital time-out?   Would you read more? Breathe more? Look at the scenery? Give it a try and surrender to simplicity.
  • Get an old fashioned Alarm Clock – if you’re checking emails first thing in the morning and going to bed staring at a screen, maybe it’s time to make your bedroom a digital-free sanctuary. Instead of exiting and entering your day by cluttering your mind, what if you did 10 minutes of yoga or meditation? Give it a try and see what happens.
  • Pick up a Book – remember those things? They’re sad; they miss you. You used to take them on holiday but now hotels offer wi-fi and you’re sucked back into the Internet even when poolside. Give your books a front seat and respect them as elders to your tablets. Focus on one story rather than ten news flashes at a time and observe the delight in being in one world at a time.
  • Pick Up an Old Hobby – could it be knitting? Drawing? Cooking? What’s something you can do that doesn’t involve screen time? That requires focusing on the task at hand. Multitasking is an art, but it’s not art. You know what I mean? Create something. Spend time getting better at it. Don’t worry about what the rest of the world is doing and you’ll produce something great.
  • Start a Yoga Practice – okay so this is an obvious one, but I credit yoga for calming my monkey mind and creating a craving for detoxification. When you become more aware of your body, your energy levels and the way you breathe, you start to notice how technology as a negative impact on your well-being and you’re much more likely to moderate and feel justified and confident in doing so.

Salute the Sun

September 1, 2014

Salute the Sun

This incredible sunset is reflected on the facade of the church (and museum) of Santo Spirito in Florence.  While I do not affiliate myself with any religion, there is something special about happening upon a structure like this when aimlessly traversing city streets that stops you in your tracks and makes you look up, breathe, and notice the light.  I hope that is what resonates in this picture – a sense of sacred space illuminated by the sun.

September was a busy month and I got the sense from many of my students (not to mention myself) that it was stressful too.  In September, schedules pick up again after the summer and we get caught up in planning ahead by filling our calendars.  We quickly forget the spacious summer months and surge ahead just when nature is asking us to slow down. If that sounds familiar, then I’m giving you a few things to reflect on to keep that summer sun shining within even when skies turn grey. You’re going to need it for the winter.

It’s not always possible to simplify our schedules so we need to be creative about creating breathing space, moments to unwind, rituals to keep us grounded, and routines to keep us feeling on top, rather than buried under, our growing to-do lists.  This comes naturally to us during the summer when the weather beckons us to idle away some time but it’s an effort when the year picks up and we spend less time outdoors.

When I have a mountain to climb (figuratively or literally), I always remember the ‘one step at a time’ saying.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we’re looking ahead and that’s because it pulls us from the present moment.  The present moment is where we can observe, where we are attentive, where we can breathe.  The breath is the gateway to the present moment so in many ways we’re taking things ‘one breath at a time’ (to quote a student of mine who says this is how he survived a stressful flat move and prevented getting emotionally overwhelmed).  When you focus strongly on every inhale and every exhale you take, it’s hard to get distracted by much else, even anxious feelings.

This is why I slowed every flow class I was teaching right down and got everyone to really focus on their breathing.  Our natural breathing pattern can tell us a lot about how we are feeling, if we’re in a state of anxiety or depression, under too much pressure, too stressed.  And likewise we can take control of our breath to use it as a tool to counteract those feelings. There are times when it’s excellent to slow down your yoga practice (around the Autumn Equinox for example) and I always find these are the times we feel the biggest impulse to rush and run.  The yoga mat is where I cultivate a lot of patience and tame my inner White Rabbit to drop the watch and stay in the now.

If you’ve ever attended a yoga class, you’re likely to have practiced a Sun Salutation.  Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) are composed of 8 postures sequenced together and joined by the thread of the breath.  They are an excellent place to start when developing a home practice, especially one that you can incorporate into a morning routine to greet the first rays of sun (depending on when you wake up that is).  They are fantastic because once your body learns them, you don’t have to think about or get overwhelmed by choice of what to do on your mat.  They start with a strong standing pose, then an inhale to raise your arms to the sun, and you’re off, gracefully moving your body to your breath in a series of simple poses that get your blood flowing, your energy soaring and your being soaking up each inhale and exhale as nourishment for the day (read below for an instructional link).

This is my simple go-to practice when I have an overactive mind and am looking to slow things down, when I need a block of time to myself to soften my pace and feel at peace.  And this is why I love mornings – you’re much less likely to be distracted during the morning hours by people, tasks, and the general busy energy that increases as we approach noon.  Sun Salutations together with restorative yoga poses have been an essential part of my Autumn cleanse (more below).

Digital media can also pull us away from the present moment.  I was asked to write a blog last month about disconnecting from our mobile phones and computers and the timing was perfect.  We know when we’re being productive at the computer and when we’re using it as a distraction.  How many times do you actually pick up your smart phone to make a call? How does that compare to checking emails, playing games, and trawling the internet when you’re bored on a commute?  Do you ever leave your phone behind so you have no distractions?

Just the other day I was in a gym class and a woman answered her phone!  She didn’t even bother to leave the room or dismiss herself – it was assumed we would accept this as normal and that she could talk at a volume louder than the teacher regarding business affairs.  I felt less bad for the rest of us and more sorry for her not allowing herself even 45 minutes to be phone free and just in her body.  I put together some thoughts on this and 5 simple ways to have a digital timeout should you be addicted to your digital device in this blog.

Currently my iPhone serves two major purposes: photography (using the camera to capture moments of gratitude for lovely things in my life) and texting (to communicate with loved ones when I can’t see them in person).  Otherwise I try to save emails for designated work time at my desktop computer, don’t play games, remember to read books, and generally keep track of my phone use, cutting myself off when I know I am using it out of boredom and my vision starts to get blurry.  It’s an effort and I often fail, but I know it pays off in terms of creating space for my mind to breathe and obtaining mental clarity.

My suggestion this month would be to be a little soft with yourself.  Allow for some down time.  Even though the mornings are darker, allow yourself to wake up earlier to steal a few of those tranquil morning minutes when everything is a blank canvas and most of the city still sleeps (leave your phone in the other room).  Incorporate contemplative activities, such as wandering around an art exhibit (I thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant colours and shapes at the Tate’s Matisse cut-out show) or photographing nature and the Autumn foliage. Connect with your spiritual side – the side that takes you inward to reflect by taking long walks, creating a sacred space in your home or finding one in the city somewhere where the sun is shining.  Practice yoga in slow motion.

Finally, I am on day three of a 4-day Ayurvedic food-based cleanse.  The cleanse consists of a mono-diet of kitchadi (warm, cooked moong daal).  This is the fourth time I’ve done this cleanse and it never ceases to amaze me how much we resist foods that make us feel calmer and more centered, always reaching for a stimulant like caffeine or chocolate to keep us going, even in the evening when we’re meant to wind down.  This cleanse is all about balancing and training the body to have a set routine of eating for nourishment only.  It’s an incredible experience that teaches you a lot about how we often try to distract ourselves from the present moment by reaching for a mood-enhancing food and snacking.  No snacks allowed – just three set meals and over time you learn to dismiss the false hunger and allow yourself to be tired and rest.  You learn to surrender and hang up the towel before you over exhaust yourself.  It’s something that should come naturally so listen for those signals and be aware of when you’re ignoring the need to rest your body, your mind, your digestive system, you name it.

Summary (and links):

I love this video for a gentle sun salutation sequence.  Give them a try.  I teach this in my Beginners Yoga Courses, so sign up if you’re interested in more…

Tips and thoughts on digital overload – Surrender to Simplification and take timeouts from your phone (I’ll be taking my own advice)

And just for fun, here’s last year’s Autumn blog on why I love Autumn colours

If you want to learn more about kitchadi and cleansing in the Autumn, send me an email.

If you need a song to get you into that slow down space, try Devi Prayer from 108 Sacred Names (many thanks to Romee for recommending this peaceful chant that smoothed out my September)

Enjoy the sun when it shines.

Take a break

July 5, 2014

Take A Break

This summer I hope you’ve given yourself permission to have a treat, take a break, do something totally indulgent and unproductive.  That’s right, I’m encouraging you to idle away some time.

Maybe it’s a holiday you’ve planned by the beach.  Maybe it’s wrapping up work before 6PM so you can take advantage of happy hour al fresco or catch a World Cup match.  Maybe it’s taking a longer lunch or a longer walk or a bit of a nap in the grass when you have a spare moment because it really would be a crime not to with such nice weather.

Now I’m a hard worker by nature and far from what anyone would call lazy, but if there is one time of year that I don’t need a reminder to play, it’s most certainly July and August.

Behaving any differently would just feel wrong, disrespectful even, to mother nature and the generous gifts she is handing us: an opportunity to connect more with nature by getting your feet in the grass, submerging them in sand and salt water and letting your hair dance in the breeze.  July and August are open invitations to surrender your senses to the sweetness of summer and let go.  So will you accept?

If the idea of letting go already has you nervous and twitchy, then maybe you need to book yourself a trip to Italy.  Seriously.

Italy – land that I love.  I studied Italian and French at University in hopes that learning the languages would one day take me to these foreign countries so often depicted in glorious films about summer.  There were the adaptations of Marcel Pagnol novels – Chateau de ma mère (My Mother’s Castle) and La Gloire do mon père (My Father’s Glory) to make me dream of Southern France, and then Stealing Beauty (and more recently I am love) that left me wanting to run through wild grass and flowers in the Italian countryside.

I’ve spent many summer weeks in Italy since then when my dreams were realised.  One summer I spent studying art history in Florence and another I spent two months living in the Abruzzo region of Italy volunteering on different organic farms.  One taste of Italy in the summer and I knew it would become an ongoing love affair.  Returning to Italy whenever possible would become a priority to remind myself of the importance of la dolce vita the Italians live so well.  To remind me (a juggling to-do lister) to slow down and enjoy life.

Motorbikes are fast in Italy.  But life is slow.  Italians speak at high velocity, but linger over a meal for hours.  A day in Italy is full of unknowns and ‘possiblies’, but never void of some kind of pleasure.  You must be patient, playful and passive and that’s when you see the beauty (same rules often apply to yoga…).

I remember there was a gelateria in Florence called Perche non? (Why not?) and it’s an expression I think of a lot when I’m muddled with indecision – most often confronted with an opportunity to treat myself, indulge in something ‘naughty’, let go a little but I feel too guilty.  Then I hear it in my head – why not?  And my excuses are usually pretty lame.  This is a great way of eliminating the fears, the worries, the what-ifs that accompany my impatience to complete a project and embracing the ‘live a little’ attitude Italians demonstrate so well.

Over time I have learned that taking a break and spending time ‘idle’ can actually yield huge benefits.  It makes me more productive when I return to work, more focused and able to prioritise, and more present to all those and all things around me.  It makes me more human, less self-centered and simply healthier.  This is also why I meditate.

I’m not the only one who has caught on to this marvel.  Just this week an article in the Evening Standard magazine highlighted changes happening in the workplace to allow people more freedom with their work schedules in an effort to prevent ‘workaholics’ and increase motivation.  New legislation around this could mean more flexible work hours, nap rooms in office buildings and company pets in the future.

Some people have no issues with ‘not doing’.  And they may take it too far to the opposite extreme.  As with anything, it’s all about balance.  There is time to rest and time to work and both feed off each other.  But definitely take time to rest.  Ideally away from a screen.  And look around.  Notice the man who plays accordion by the train station every day on your commute and thank him; hold doors open and give your seat up because you notice people around you.  Be part of the world, not just your world.

So in case you ignored the first invitation, summer and I (and Italy too) would like to invite you again to let your hair down a little.  Run around a bit.  Eat some gelato (there’s a fantastic place in Richmond if you want to stay local Londoners – even with dairy free varieties 🙂 Do ‘nothing’ for at least 30 minutes every day and stop checking your iphone so darn much.

If you can’t get to Italy or are minding your carbon footprint, then do rent a film on Italy (or some other glorious and warm location).  It might be just what you need to finally convince yourself you need a break, that a break will yield good things and that life is simply too short to keep fixating on work that could get done, problems that could get solved, money that could be made.

Meditation plays a big role in my life and when summer weather comes, I take my meditation outdoors by taking meditation walks, pottering in a garden, staring at a body of water, shelling broad beans in the kitchen, etc.  There are so many ways to meditate that don’t require sitting still (see more inspiration below).  Can you think of your way?

Ways I slowed down, treated myself and enjoyed summer in June:

  • Row row row your boat – Moving flat a lot in one city can be a big nuisance, but it also means discovering more, exploring more and getting to know all of London’s little nooks and crannies more intimately.  Since moving out towards Richmond nearly a year ago, I have been determined to get myself out on a row boat for a paddle down the Thames.  And in June I finally did. What did it feel like?  Being hugged my nature and sunshine – idling time away in the most pleasant way possible.  A synonym for ‘idle’ is to ‘rest on one’s oars’ so if you need an activity to help you slow down and take in summer, get yourself to Richmond ‘beach’ for a bit of paddling (beware potential blisters and summer breezes offering your hat to the swans).
  • Got snapping – photography has always been a hobby of mine.  I was inspired my my father who always had a camera in hand, always lagged behind us on walks in Maine to capture scenery through a lens.  My first camera was a yellow Kodak kids camera and then I eventually graduated to a high-tech Canon SLR and assorted appariti; I started using a Polaroid and then even a twin-lens reflex camera before transitioning to digital. Nowadays my photography is mostly limited to the trillion shots I take and store on my iphone, but nonetheless, it still delivers the kind of satisfaction I crave from ‘taking pictures’: capturing beauty I see to revisit again later, looking for beauty, colour and light all around me and then curating my creations.  It’s my favourite ‘do nothing’ activity that results in something. This June I wanted to fully return to my photography hobby so enrolled in yet another beautiful e-course by Susannah Conway called Photo Meditations– you’ll see some photos in this post (from my short trip to Italy).
  • Made some kitchen creations  – I’m always rolling up my sleeves and making a mess in the kitchen in one way or another.  This month, inspired by London-based raw chocolatiere Amy Levin and her many free and friendly resources, I got back into making raw chocolate at home for two reasons: 1) to cut down on the cost of buying raw chocolate and 2) to make the EXACT texture, shape and size of chocolate I want.  Raw chocolate is highly nutritious, has the perfect bitter/sweet balance and because of its potency, should be moderated.  Raw chocolate has helped me cut down on store bought chocolate (sugar) consumption and save it for a special post-meal treat. There are 3 simple ingredients for a base: raw cacao butter, raw cacao powder and a non-refined sweetener like coconut palm sugar.  For more info on raw chocolate, how to make it, and it’s benefits, visit her website Oosha.
  • Had a cuppa  – a World Cuppa that is.  Now I am NOT a spectator sport fan (see note above re: upbringing by photographer/musician father who was not into sport).  BUT, since moving to Europe 10 years ago, I have made it a point to try new things, to get involved in the local culture and see what happens when you embrace the things you want to resist the most.  I have fond memories of the first World Cup I experienced in London – I was studying with an internationally diverse group of students at the LSE and countries playing against each other took on real significance and meaning. There was so much lively, communal energy in the streets.  So now with a boyfriend who is a major football fanatic, I have surrendered again to the charm of a good old cuppa football.  Best brew yet was the U.S. vs. Belgium game – not only did it keep me on the edge of my sofa, it also had me tearing up at the display of good sportmanship, camaraderie and pure passion often unseen in England matches.  As I type this I am also half-watching the Wimbledon Men’s Final – when in Rome…:)

Take A Break 2

Should I Try Yoga?

April 20, 2014

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Has anyone ever told you about a yoga class they tried and then quickly dismissed because it was ‘too slow’ or ‘too boring’; there was ‘too much breathing’ or they weren’t ‘flexible enough’ and couldn’t ‘do any of the poses’? Perhaps you’ve had this experience yourself?

I get a lot of these responses from people when I tell them I’m a yoga teacher. A lot of people, sometimes without even trying, think yoga is simply NOT for them.

I have to laugh because I used to have the same attitude about yoga. I used to think that yoga was for the skinny, bendy, twisty types. Bring on a spinning class (if anything) please…

Over time, I have proved myself wrong. Very very wrong. And every day I am so thankful for that. I’ll tell you why…

One of the most common misconceptions about yoga is that you have to be flexible. Let’s just say that, back in the day, I was lucky to get my hands past my knees (let alone to my ankles) when I folded forward at the hips to try to touch the ground. I was tight and inflexible, a gymnastics reject and with lower back issues to boot.

But against all of these odds I decided to trial out a yoga class anyway. There was something drawing me to the practice – an innate sense that this ‘yoga stuff’ carried some of what I needed.

My instinct was correct. The more classes I took, the more flexible I became so that now I can place the palms of my hands on the ground without bending my knees (and without pain). I healed a back injury. I got strong and less stressed. And then I got certified to teach.

The simple fact is that there are no prerequisites for yoga other than an open mind (or what we call ‘beginner’s mind’). I would also add to that patience and the obvious checks you would do with a specialist before getting involved in any physical activity following injury or trauma to the body. However, a yoga class can be a great place to cultivate patience if you haven’t got much and also to heal an injury if you choose the right kind of yoga.

That’s right – flexibility isn’t the only benefit from practicing yoga. There are many styles of yoga that address various energetic, physical, emotional, and mental needs.

The kind of yoga I teach is mostly dynamic and energising vinyasa flow mixed with restorative postures. The overall aim is to leave my students feeling better in their bodies and minds before they exit class, whether that be by the simple act of moving in new and challenging ways, finding strength and stability in poses, quieting busy minds through meditation or lengthening spines and limbs through breathing.

Basically, the more you practice, the more you realise this ‘yoga stuff’ goes much deeper than stretching…

With yoga, the possibilities are endless. But you have to be curious and you have to devote some time to trialing out different classes and teachers. I would say try 5 different classes/teachers minimum before you decide yoga is not for you. And remember that a lot of the things we think we need to have before we take a yoga class (flexibility, strength, patience, balance, a fit body to name a few) are what we gain as a result of a dedicated practice. And there’s no better time to start than now.

Pastures New

January 1, 2014

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Every year at Christmas I migrate back to the East Coast of America to spend time with my family.  Every year I find it hard to leave my home and friends in London when the city is so festive but feel equally excited to wrap my arms around my loving parents.  While the house I return to is not my childhood home, it still holds many relics from my adolescent and teenage years, tangible reminders that who I am is no longer who I used to be.

Sometimes these reminders trigger humorous embarrassment or regret.  Oh man – was I really that obsessed with dolphins and dinosaurs?  What on earth convinced me Joey from New Kids on the Block was special enough to merit a mention in my diary (and once a place on my wall)?  Sometimes they are painfully embarrassing – photographs of a less vibrant version of myself (recalling those awkward years when I lacked self-esteem) or disappointing test scores and rejection letters from universities that once made me feel inadequate.

But they are also reminders that things change.  And that is hugely powerful and comforting knowledge. Accepting that nothing is permanent can make us feel vulnerable, but if you look at it on the flip-side it’s hallelujah refreshing.  Why?  Because it means we’re never stuck.  There is always an opportunity for a new beginning on the horizon.  There is always time for growth and cultivating a sense of ourselves and the roles we’re meant to fulfill in life.

The past was merely a dress rehearsal for the future, which is the present (the pre-sent), which tomorrow will be the past and so on and so forth.

Along with that is the understanding that life is a journey of learning and sometimes we take wrong turns or have to test the waters in one pond before we realize we’re more suited to the ocean.  I have to laugh when I look at a collection of softball trophies (the kind you get just for participating), my old neglected and dented saxophone, and horse-back riding gear I used less than ten times. To the person I am now, it’s no wonder these hobbies were short-lived or abandoned as soon as I became an adult.  And while I could regret the time ‘wasted’ pursuing avenues not suited to my personality, strengths or more importantly my true passions, I know this foggy, confused time existed for a reason.

You wouldn’t start a trek at the top of a mountain, would you?  I suppose you could parachute from a helicopter to catch the view and start your descent, but what would happen to the adventure of getting there?  What of the bumps and bruises, the callused feet, the pitfalls that nearly made you quit but that you overcame with persistence?  While we can admire the view of what we see from the top, it hardly has any meaning if we don’t look behind us and acknowledge where we came from.

So as much as I cringe at the sight of those old photos, embarrassing diary entries, things I wish I never said or did, it’s important that I acknowledge them, forgive myself for not knowing better and feel blessed for what life has taught me along the way to bring me to where I am now.

To pass on just a fraction of these valuable learnings:

  • Do what you love and not what you feel you should do or everyone else is doing 
  • Get out and see the world – you will find yourself in the most strange places
  • Move your body – it’s the best way to get unstuck and fit!
  • Don’t buy so many souvenirs – you don’t always need physical reminders from every experience you’ve had (and you’ll save money)!

Which brings me back to the theme of ‘de-cluttering.’  Just like personal growth (there’s never really a summit to that mountain), it seems my mission to de-clutter is also never ending.  I am, however, a great deal closer to that ending than I was at the beginning of the year!  And now I am ready to shred those old test scores, give away the riding helmet and boots to my nieces, perhaps save one softball trophy for my mother’s sake.

The more technology advances, the easier it is to deem things redundant.  I’ve held on to a collection of CDs thinking I might want save them to show my grandchildren one day, but I haven’t played them for years and doubt I will in the next ten, so they go in the charity box. Music fulfills a different purpose for me and now I am mostly interested in finding transportable tracks I can play in my yoga classes.  The classical music CDs? Those stay. New Year’s resolution? More live music, more creating music, less plastic cases.

So on this occasion of the New Year (or whenever you might read this), I invite you to embrace even just the concept of the possibility for renewal and change and give thanks to 2013 (or the past 12 months) for what it taught you.  I’m sure you can already think of a few positive changes you made this year that have left you somewhere different than you began.

I am an Autumn

November 11, 2013

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Two years ago a close friend of mine told me about a friend of hers Annie whose profession is to help women define their style so they know the best clothes to wear to suit their personality, shape and lifestyle.  If there was one area of my life where I was feeling I could use some help, it was in the fashion department.  So I was very excited I could hire a professional for some guidance in order to de-clutter my wardrobe.  What I never could have anticipated was how taking this step would dramatically shift my perspective on buying and wearing clothes in the most spectacular way.

I had no problem finding clothes that I adored (and a good eye for high quality and tasteful design I liked to think), but my issue with fashion was that I was spending significant amounts of money on random articles of beautiful clothing from favourite British chains like Jigsaw, TOAST, and Whistles, and then watching them sit in my wardrobe collecting dust and making nice homes for a substantial moth population.  In other words, I was amassing a nice clothing art collection that hardly ever got to be exhibited.

I was also getting stressed about getting dressed! For most women I know preparing what to wear and primping are the key activities of a typical morning routine, but I was continuously saving it to the very last minute.  I would do the things I felt confident about first (let’s call this my inner beauty routine): a gentle yoga and meditation practice, sipping hot water and lemon, preparing a warm meal to take to work, exfoliating in the shower and moisturizing and then whoops! – 10 minutes to go for make-up and outfit choice – eek!  I would rush upstairs only to stand frozen in front of hangers adorned with pretty fabrics and textiles fretting about which direction to take my outfit in only to end up pulling out the same pair of jeans I wore yesterday and a baggy jumper that left my entire silhouette to the imagination.

No matter how much time I had spent making sure I felt good from the inside out, the lack of icing on the cake was putting it all to waste.  Luckily, I have pretty low-maintenance wash-and-go hair and a very simple make-up routine, but a poorly thought-out outfit for the day and lack of coordination do not make a confident woman, no matter what else you’ve got going on.

As a yoga teacher and health coach, I am pretty creative when it comes to finding solutions for all sorts of psychological, physiological, and nutritional health dilemmas, but for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on why I wasn’t wearing most of my clothes.  At first, I put it down to being a body image issue (not as trim as I was when I bought the item or something to that effect), but I hadn’t outgrown these clothes nor, after years of studying health and the human body (and finally entering into my don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think thirties), was I hung up on having the perfect figure and a flat stomach anymore.  HOWEVER, deep down I knew that I still wanted to look good.  If not for others, for myself.  And I knew that the right clothing (in terms of fit and style) can make a huge difference to how you feel.

To me, a woman who puts effort into her appearance is showing the world a clear sign of self-respect and saying: I am friendly, approachable and part of this world.  As someone who loves her job teaching yoga and health coaching, loves life and loves getting to know people, I wanted to make sure I was coming across that way – lively and loving – even when on a boring, lifeless commute to work on public transport.  But choosing an outfit was taking up a lot of time and energy and making me feel unhappy and regretful about my purchases.  Did getting dressed have to be so stressful?  Wasn’t it supposed to be fun?  

Stress, Unhappiness, and Regret are three things I have worked very hard to get out of my life, which meant cleaning out my closet once and for all!  So I picked up the phone to call Annie and the conversation went like this :

AnnieHello?

Me: Oh hi, is that Annie?

Annie: Yes it is.  

Me: Hi! My friend referred me to you as someone who can help me sort out my wardrobe (and then I started babbling…)...every morning  I wake up dreading the moment I have to choose what to wear and am pretty sure that more than 50% of my wardrobe never gets touched.  I want to love my clothes and love getting dressed, but at the moment it’s my least favourite time of the day (and a rushed one at that).  Could I sign up for a consultation with you to sort that out?  I just want someone to come to my place and tell me what to keep and what to get rid of and help me feel more confident about my choices.  This is one area of my life where I am really helpless! Can you help?

Annie replied with a friendly tone of complete confidence and competence:  Yes I can help you.  BUT, she insisted, first we need to ‘do your colours.’  

MeMy what?

AnnieYour colours.  Everyone has certain colours they should and shouldn’t wear that pertain to a colour wheel broken down by season.  You’d be surprised that the majority of what you own is probably the wrong colour for you.

I politely declined the offer:  Oh no that’s okay – I know which colours look good on me and which ones are my favourites and I really just need help with style more than anything – things that will suit my figure, sorting out how to get the most out of clothes for my different jobs, activities and making it all work…(babble babble)

But Annie wouldn’t go any further: Kate, we need to know what colours suit you first before we can do anything else.  It’s the most important thing.

This is not what I had bargained for.  Growing up, I remember that a friend of mine’s mother had her make-up done and was defined as ‘a Spring.’  She told me I was ‘a Spring’ too and would suit her lipstick shade.  I liked the idea of being a Spring (I was born in April after all) and started buying lots of pastels  and floral prints but soon forgot about the colour concept and simply went along with any colour or style trend to blend in with everyone else, keeping it simple and preppy (and often baggy and comfortable).  As far as colours were concerned, I chose muted tones or hues that appealed to my mood, but most of my wardobe was navy, blue or black.  And ‘being’ a season was just an eighties trend that no longer had relevance.

Were navy, blue and black accurate reflections of how I was feeling?  What happened to the little girl in me proud of her pastel birthday colours?  I hadn’t really thought about it until Annie mentioned colours and then recalled that wearing certain shades of green always got me the most attention and that everyone always stopped to complement me when I was wearing my red coat.  So I was beginning to think that Annie had a point…had I become colour-blind?

Despite my initial resistance, it didn’t take long for Annie to convince me of the necessity of a colour session.  I may not have become colour blind but my colour consciousness had certainly faded.  She had me intrigued when she mentioned that wearing the wrong colours can actually make you look older, tired and generally clash with your complexion and your spirit.  So, embracing ‘beginner’s mind,’  I set out to learn my colours from scratch and could never have imagined how life-altering (not just wardrobe-altering) the experience would be.

First of all, upon meeting Annie, you discover she is a canvas of colour herself.  She has a rainbow-like aura and now I know it’s because she’s got her colours right.  You see, as city dwellers whose main objective is to blend in with our drab scenery, Londoners tend to wear a whole lot of grey and black.   The next time you stand on a train platform in London, take a look around and you will find yourself in a sea of depressing colours – none that lift your spirit, none that stand out, hardly any that suit those wearing them.  I recall it being the same in New York City.

But Annie is not shy about wearing an array of uplifting colours and because of this, she looks damn good.  The confidence and radiance she exuded when I first met her already had me convinced I would be getting my money’s worth.  Now, you’ve probably got a picture in your head that resembles Rainbow Brite or a shiny, baubly Christmas tree.  But this is exactly where our concept of wearing colours goes wrong.  We forget colours that lie between the bold primary colours, the many shades of blue, green, orange, the predominantly yellow versus blue-based colours and the endless choices we have when looking beyond grey and black.  We don’t realise that when you put the right colours together, there is nothing gaudy or flashy or intimidating about them.  When you find the colours that suit you and each other best, everything blends beautifully and people will notice your inner radiance and spirit more, not necessarily what you are wearing.

A colour session with Annie lasts up to three hours and involves being draped in different coloured scarves with enough daylight for Annie to be able to discern the colours that make your eyes pop, make your complexion glow and most surprising of all, make you FEEL better!

I won’t lie – it wasn’t instantly obvious to me.  I found myself squinting to see shadows that Annie immediately proclaimed blue-based colours brought out on my face.  I initially shunned colours like caramel that I would never choose for myself.  But as the session progressed, so did my understanding of how colours can work for or against us.  As Annie explained, all colours are mixed with blue and yellow – the amount of blue or yellow will make them warmer (more yellow) and thus softer or colder (more blue).  The same is true of our skin so we must find colours with the right tones for our skin otherwise there is disharmony.  It’s an intellectual process at first but over times it becomes instinctive and delightfully artistic.

Certain scarves immediately felt like home around my neck, made something deep inside me glow outwards.  And this was all without make-up.  The amazing thing is that when you wear colours that are suited to your complexion, you need less colour on your face!  Not only did I feel enlightened but I felt lighter and happier because the process, while long, is tremendously fun and uplifting.  The delight of playing with a box of crayons as a child suddenly brought to the present moment with my wardrobe as my construction paper!  I felt like a kid again!

My consultation with Annie proved that Peacock Blue (my new favourite colour), Golden Orange, Pistachio Green and Chocolate Brown are my wonder colours.  They all belong to the Autumn palette, and thus I am ‘an Autumn.’

What does that mean?  Well, it means I must avoid wearing black or white (but I can wear cream white and certain very dark greens) and that Autumn is my best time of year to shop (because that’s when most Autumn colours appear in stores).  At first, I found this potentially very limiting and a little upsetting.  Most of my wardrobe was not the right colour and I was worried shopping would become even more challenging.  NOT TRUE – I was pleasantly surprised to discover just the opposite.  The more I wore the clothes in my wardrobe that belonged to the Autumn palette, the better I started to feel.  And the Autumn palette has colours that don’t scream AUTUMN so there are shades to wear year-round.

Annie gave me a little leather booklet with colour fabric swatches to carry with me when I shop.  She explained that as long as the colours are of the Autumn variety, they can be mixed together – so rusty orange with brown is great (but not rusty orange with black!) and peacock blue with pistachio green is wondrous but join those up with sterile white pants and you’ve taken warm and mixed it with cold – no good.  My shopping became more targeted and intelligent.  It became more personal.  I had newfound confidence to select items I knew would make me shine and shun items that might look amazing on ‘a Spring’ but better off as a piece of art in my wardrobe.

Like Annie said, it took me years to get my wardrobe wrong, so it will take a few more to get it right.   Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Nevertheless, I did a massive and dramatic clean-out of my wardrobe – ruthlessly getting rid of anything that wasn’t an Autumn colour or didn’t fit my style archetype (determined in a later session).  I saved one small box of clothes that didn’t apply to the new rules as a security blanket (I didn’t have the funds to start completely from scratch) but have since found more suitable replacements in sales over time.  Now I open my wardrobe doors and just look at the beauty of a collection of clothes whose colours are so harmonious they nearly leap off the hangers ready to be mixed and matched and worn together!

Since my consultation, I have introduced others to the process, including my mother.  Not everyone has embraced Annie’s advice as quickly as I did because sometimes old habits die hard.  My mom still insists on needing black items, but she’s just bought an orange winter coat that is perfect for her (she’s an Autumn too!) and is loving how she feels in it.  Likewise, a friend of mine who works in finance did a colours session to discover she’s a Spring and suits a lovely shade of pink.  She still struggles to stand out in an office of grey suits but has certainly brought more colours into her wardrobe following the session and has become more aware of her tendency to want to blend in.  Sometimes it takes baby steps, but I went for it 100% and all I can say is I don’t miss my old clothes (or the way I felt) a bit!

Habits and societal pressures put aside, it’s my feeling that the earlier we are educated about our colours (like the earlier we are educated about nutrition), the less we’ll have to suffer in life from doing things that don’t suit our unique body types or natural constitutions.  Because like with yoga and food, when it comes to fashion, there is NO ONE WAY.

The best thing of ALL?  Discovering my colours shifted the focus off of changing something about my body or my look and on to keeping things as they are but complementing them better.  Annie says that’s how it should work with make-up too.  It’s not about covering up or transforming, but rather emphasizing the beauty that is already there.  And honouring your unique features and personality.  Beyond colours, you can learn about your style archetypes with Annie (mine is Princess/Adventurer), which empowers you even more to wear outfits that are uniquely you and blend with your lifestyle so you feel completely at home in your clothes.  Selecting shapes and styles that are harmonious with your look is the next step after colours, empowering you even more to be a discerning shopper.   I never knew how much I loved a ‘princess shaped’ skirt and ballet flats until I put them on and started skipping!  But likewise, throw a pair of rugged boots on me with skinny jeans and I feel my sexiest.

Here is a list of some of the BEST things about finding your colours:

  • You will SAVE money on your clothes (although you might end up spending more during ‘your’ season when those colours abound)
  • You won’t be seduced by sale items (you’ll be more targeted about your spending when you find jewels that fit your palette)
  • You will GLOW when you wear your right colours (and people will comment)
  • You will discover colours you never knew existed (and bond with colours in a new way)
  • Your wardrobe becomes a work of art rather than a collection of art  (if you have all the colours of one season together, it looks amazing!)
  • You will know more than the shop assistants!  (I can’t tell you how many have now seen my colour booklet and had to know what it was!)
  • You will feel more beautiful and confident (even without make-up on – Annie says you only need a good lipstick and the right colours)
  • You will de-clutter your wardrobe and own less clothing to organize (by far the best outcome for me – especially when I moved house)
  • You won’t miss black if you have to get rid of it (it actually makes me feel depressed to wear black and grey now)
  • You can swap clothes with a friend more easily once you realise things don’t suit you (especially if you are different seasons – jackpot!)

The one down-side for me?  I struggle to find yoga clothing that isn’t black and neon colours but there are some brands out there rocking the natural tones.

Learning one’s colours is really a science and it takes practice and guidance from someone skilled and motivational like Annie.  I highly recommend a colour and style consultation with her to bring not only more colour but more happiness and joy into your life.  Red Leopard is located in Battersea.

As it’s November, I’m off now to go roll in a pile of Autumn leaves so I can bathe in my colours – ha – colour therapy!  I once passed a shop window with Annie that had a peacock blue couch. You should drape yourself over that thing! she laughed.  But she was right – I would feel right at home!  Just like I do in all my clothes now.  Phew!  Problem solved.

Kate-1.. 4

Inner Pace

September 28, 2013

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I can remember my first piano lesson like it was yesterday. I was eight years old and shy by my mother’s side entering a white New England church where I would continue to take lessons throughout my teenage years. To ignite my enthusiasm to play, my teacher sifted through a pile of colourful sheet music and demonstrated a few measures from potential recital pieces.  The intention was that I would work on one over the next few months until it was ready to perform. I impulsively chose a piece entitled ‘Old Time Train Ride’ and not only for the jolly drawing on the cover. It had an upbeat tempo that became livelier as the piece progressed and left me eager to get home to practice it.

I grew up in a musical household so the piano was already familiar to me.  My dad is a trombonist and at the time was teaching general music at a public middle school. As the youngest of three daughters, I was not the first to take up a musical instrument nor the first to recruit my dad when it came to all things technical, musical and practical (mom was person in point for all things emotional, financial and menstrual).  Perhaps it’s because I was the youngest (and a ‘surprise’ child no less) that I had developed impatience to grow up like my sisters and to prove myself.  I started school at a younger age and even got my ears pierced ahead of my middle sister (a bitter point to this day), and therefore I was determined to learn to play the piano as quickly as possible too. This ‘Old Time Train’ was not going to be chugging along under my fingertips.  I set upon learning the entire piece (not the few measures I was assigned) before my second lesson.

It was not a pretty process. Tears were shed. Frustration abounded. And I got upset with my dad for not understanding my haste. I remember the pain (on behalf of both parties) as I pushed myself to achieve at a faster rate than was healthy. I showed up to my second lesson and performed the entire piece by heart (at twice the speed) for my teacher who was anything but impressed. I somehow managed to miss the most important lesson that one can gain from learning an instrument: patience is the key to progress.

My punishment? The metronome. Even worse? Residual stress from having pushed myself (and my Dad’s patience) to the limits.  I didn’t know it then, but rushing or ‘racing against time’ is a mistake I would continue to make throughout my younger years with the same result of fatigue and anxiety, leaving frustrated family members and friends in my wake.  If only I understood the concept of time the way I do now, all of that stress could have been avoided.

If you’re not familiar with the instrument that is the metronome, then let me draw a comparison for you. Have you ever sat in a quiet room with a ticking clock? A reminder that time is passing by that can fade to silence if you are busy or become annoyingly audible if you’re bored? A metronome is like that but rather than moving time forward it has no destination.  It’s a clicking contraption whose sole purpose is to set a pace for your playing. If you speed up or slow down, you’ll notice the offbeat clicking. If you play in time, the beat of the metronome blends with your playing. And thus you learn to count, in time, to a set tempo and it’s a tedious process.  Especially for those of us who want to race towards the finish line. You become consciously aware of time and its limitations and that can be painful for the hares among us.

It’s no surprise then that I resisted the metronome and it’s arrogant tempo.  It’s also no surprise that I continued to choose piano pieces that were challenging and frenetic in their energy – and sounded better when played loudly and at a fast pace.  Until I was dually ‘punished’ with Bach and soon realised that, in order to play the most impressive sounding of pieces requiring agile fingering, once must have the anchor of  a steady beat.  There must be composure in the background before you can move at speed and not falter.  In short, I had to learn to count and obey and imposed tempo.  And with this, I had to get to the root of the problem and learn to keep a steady beat pulsing through all parts of my life to maintain my inner pace.

It took many years of making the same mistake and several years of developing a yoga practice to wake me up to ‘rushing’ as being the key hindrance in my life to getting ahead and staying well.  And I had to fall first.  In fact, I hurt my back from practicing advanced yoga poses at a fast pace that my body couldn’t handle.  The pain was so horrible that it turned a bright neon light on in my head that I would never forget. It read: SLOW DOWN.  It was at that point that I decided to train to teach yoga – I wanted to take a big step back to see the bigger picture, starting at the beginning and taking baby steps.

You may have already experienced this for yourself but the greatest beauty of a yoga practice is discovering how you can use your breath as a tool to move better, feel calm and clear your head.  As a yoga teacher, I spend the majority of my time reminding people to breathe.  To consciously breathe.  Because we hardly do this throughout our days and lives if we don’t have some kind of meditative movement practice – for me that is yoga and (now) that is piano playing.  Both work better when done calmly and both remind me (and allow me) to breathe.

A conscious yoga practice and a piano practice are very complementary – physically, emotionally and mentally – and meditatively.  I was thrilled when I discovered someone else had come to this realization and was working to share it with the masses.  During one of our lessons, GéNIA, the creator of Piano-Yoga®, gave me one of the most beautifully synchronistic pieces of advice when it comes to learning something new and working out a healthy practice schedule – always ever practice up to a point that leaves you craving to play again tomorrow.

What Genia was reminding me of was the power in standing up to your desire to move ahead at a fast pace and challenging it by slowing down instead. You can practice this with anything.  Draft your to-do list.  Does it make your heart race?  Now chop it in half, then carve it down to 5 things and go about doing them slowly and consciously. No doubt the result will be a less stressed you and more quality results, in due time.

Now I play with slowing down time and rather than it being a punishment, it’s a gift.  It’s the best permission I can give myself when things feel like they are moving at a rapid pace.  I set time free and somehow time becomes limitless.  I do this in yoga, I do this with piano and I do this with responding to emails.  I do this with eating, with commuting, with ticking of my to-do list.  I slow down.  I breathe.  I find my inner pace.  And I’m happy.

There is a time for being ahead, 

a time for being behind;

a time for being in motion,

a time for being at rest;

a time for being vigorous,

a time for being exhausted; 

a time for being safe,

a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,

without trying to control them.

She lets them go their own way,

and resides at the centre of the circle.

– From Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell)

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