The benefits of practising yoga are unlimited. From increasing your flexibility and improving joint health to boosting your emotional and mental wellbeing, yoga is a great, gentle way to bring natural health and wellness to your body and mind. And there are so many different classes to choose from, such as Astanga, Bikram, Hatha, Iyengar, Kundalini, Vinyasa and so on.
But we were curious about Zen yoga, whose traditions are rooted in Zen Buddhism, so we headed along to one of Positive Change Yoga’s Day Retreats in Dysart – led by yoga instructor Scott Hutchison-McDade.
We learned that Zen yoga takes influence from lots of different types of yoga – sometimes adopting traditonal postures and, at other times, adding its own unique twist. That we can expect a range of movements and sequences in Zen yoga – some of which will be familiar and others which may be completely new. There are elements of Qi Gong included in Scott’s classes, for example, which blend effortlessly with the fluidity of a number of traditional yoga sequences.
Scott makes the class feel at ease and prepares us for a meditation.
“Don’t worry about emptying your mind,” he reassures. “It’s impossible. Your mind is like a train station. Trains (aka thoughts) will come and go but as long as you don’t get on and follow their journey, it’s perfectly fine.”
The meditation is one of many we practise throughout the day. For this one, we close our eyes and internally repeat a mantra to the sound of drums. For others, we use mudras.
After the meditation, we practise some classic Qi Gong moves, followed by balance work, squats and traditional stretches. It’s tough but, as Scott would say, it’s also beautiful and incredibly awesome.
After a plant-based lunch, we practise Yoga Nidra, otherwise known as Yogic Sleep. We get comfortable under blankets and drift into a meditative state while trying our best to stave off sleep and wandering thoughts.
“If you find your mind wandering, or if sleep comes, just reconnect with my voice,” says Scott.
Guest author and self-care and wellness coach Tara Jackson blogs about taking care of yourself when things go wrong
Sometimes life just happens to you. You can have the best intentions and daily practices but things seem to happen which are often out of your control.
Recently it seems a lot of people close to me have been going through life changing events – job losses, a relationship break down, health issues, a death of someone close, or similar upheavals which affect their life.*
When I look back on my life to date and how I have handled situations which have thrown me off balance, I realise they often felt totally overwhelming at the time and like there was no way out from them. I felt trapped and didn’t think life would ever feel good again. However, I now know that it is these moments which have helped to define who I am today.
Going through upheaval and change is exhausting both physically and emotionally. Our bodies tend to adopt the ‘fight or flight’ response and it can seem like many of our normal cognitive functions aren’t working as they do regularly.
As you go through whatever the situation may be, taking care of yourself can seem almost impossible but this is when you need to the most. I know in past situations I have just wanted to curl in a ball and sleep through everything, or escape through mind numbing activities such as drinking, watching endless TV and at certain times eating. However, these things offer only temporary relief and ultimately you feel worse.
When something comes up which is out of my control I am learning to allow myself to go through whatever it is I am going through. Feel any pain, rage, sadness and whatever else may be coming up as well as care for myself in as simple a way as possible, as my usual practices can often feel too much. Here are some simple things which have helped me in different situations.
So simple and so powerful, yet so easily forgotten. Taking long, deep breaths into your entire body regularly will help you to get out of the fight or flight response and allow your body to relax. Breathing will help to calm you no matter what is going on around you.
It’s easy to let the mind wander, and replay certain situations or scenarios, or even try to predict the future. Instead (and this is definitely easier said than done) bringing your attention back to the present moment really helps, as ultimately we can’t change the past or predict the future, so thinking about it can lead to unnecessary thoughts which can often spiral negatively. Try focusing on something small such as observing an object – all it’s different colours, textures, shapes. Then move on to something else. The more you do this the easier it gets.
Being kind to yourself
It’s so easy to want to blame or berate yourself for what is happening. Our minds try to come up with reasons for how it might be our fault, how we might be to blame. If only we had done something differently. Also being kind to yourself by acknowledging you need to take care of yourself first and foremost. Perhaps you need to say no to certain things for the time being that you would normally do, or ask for help? Do what you need to do to be kind to yourself.
Looking after your basic needs as best as you can
Food, hydration and sleep are essential to everyone and so easily forgotten when things get thrown. I know that eating is the last thing on my mind if I am going through heartbreak, whereas in another situation where I lost a job all I wanted to do was eat. Remembering to nourish your body and get sleep when you can will help with how you handle the situation enormously. Even a small amount of sleep deprivation and dehydration can impair your normal body and brain functions. If it’s hard to manage, go for little and often with both sleep and nourishment and ideally eat the most nourishing food possible.
Finding an outlet for release
Often life does not or cannot return to what it was before and you need to learn to live with a new normal. It can feel hard, uncomfortable and even scary, but learning to adapt and accept this new reality is a part of life. Having an outlet to express what you are feeling will help you to reach a place of inner peace and/or acceptance faster. Some things which can help are physical exercise or movement, counselling, journaling or another creative expression. Finding something which is within your time and budget allowances and that you feel able to do.
As mentioned earlier I do also think it’s important to allow yourself to feel what you are going through. Acknowledging that there is something happening and it’s okay to feel what you are feeling. Then adding in some simple practices to help you care for yourself whilst you are in this situation.
If you are going through something I hope these simple practices help.
If you need some more inspiration and tips to help you with your self-care, I run FREE 30-day challenges throughout the year. You can sign up to the next one here: http://bit.ly/30daysofselfcare.
* I know there is so much going on in the world politically and environmentally which affects millions. It saddens me and makes me feel helpless, but for this post I am referring to when things happen on a much smaller, more personal scale. I genuinely feel that we have to put ourselves first and learn to care for our needs (filling up our own cups) before we can help the world in a positive way.
Holistic self-care and wellness coach Tara Jackson shares her top self-care tips
The term ‘self-care’ is becoming more mainstream as people realise the benefits of taking care of themselves. But what does it mean? Well, self-care means actively setting out to do something that’s good for you and can benefit your body, mind and soul – either individually or as a whole.
It can take many forms, such as regular, good sleep; healthy eating; meditating and relaxing; doing something creative; getting into nature; not comparing yourself to others; giving thanks, or spending time with friends.
Self-care isn’t selfish. It helps you maintain a healthy relationship with the most important person in your life: yourself. Making time for yourself every day is also vital for your overall wellness.
They may seem simple, but self-care actions are essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. They also help to replenish you – making you more effective and energetic. Not only that, but doing things that make you feel better physically and mentally help to increase your confidence and self-esteem.
Because it includes physical activities such as exercise, self-care can keep you healthy. Even just taking time out of your day to do something you enjoy can help you to de-stress. It can help you take a break from technology, recharge and unwind, and manage physical or mental health symptoms to live life as fully as possible.
And self-care can benefit the other important people in your life too. After all, if you’re not at your best you can’t give your best.
Friends and family will also learn from you, so setting boundaries to take care of yourself shows them what you expect for yourself which sets a precedent for the way others treat you, and helps encourage them to put themselves first and not overwork or overextend.
Remember to change your self-care according to the seasons and your lifestyle
While self-care is about what’s good for the self, it’s important to remember that it can change throughout the year. What feels good at one time may not be what’s needed at another. Self-care in the summertime, for example, might include spending more time outdoors, doing more physical activity and eating cooling foods. Whereas, in the wintertime, it might involve eating warm, nourishing foods, taking naps and retreating to spend time reading.
Similarly, if you are very active in your day-to-day life, your self-care might be quite different to someone who has more of a sedentary lifestyle.
Ultimately, self-care only works when you listen to yourself and do what you want or need without resistance. If you don’t enjoy meditation or yoga, don’t do it. There are many ideas and ways we can care for ourselves. The important thing is to do something that feels good to YOU and is achievable within your budget, lifestyle and time restraints.
Top 10 self-care tips
Here are my top 10 simple self-care actions, which work in any season. I swear by little and often, so even just remembering to do one or two small things each day for yourself will help you in the long run.
Prioritise getting enough sleep.
Drink water regularly throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Take regular breaks away from technology – TVs, computers, phones, tablets etc.
Spend time in person with people you love.
Give thanks – be grateful for what you have.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Eat an extra portion of green vegetables whenever you can.
Move your body in a way that feels good to you.
Express yourself creatively doing something you enjoy e.g. painting, photography, dancing, writing or cooking.