All you need is inside

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Lately I have been sharing a stream of quotes and thoughts with my students and I started to recognize a pattern. They were almost all about the appreciation of good, bad, big and little things in life.

“ All the things that truly matter, beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind” – Eckhart Tolle

We live in a world dominated by the mind, as most of us are well aware. But being aware is sometimes not enough to tap into the things that truly matter to you. It does not help you to connect inside with what brings you joy, love, creativity. It doesn’t help you to recognize beauty or find your inner peace. We have to take an extra step; we have to put in the work.

You need to be willing to perceive things in a different way, to see things in a different way, coming from the heart, from the connection you make inside. Not coming from the mind. Many times we are stuck in our day-to-day habits. We take the same way to work, we have our breakfast routine, we sit in the same spot for lunch, etc. There is nothing wrong with having a routine, the only danger is that you get stuck in your way, stuck in your mind, stuck inside. When we are stuck in our ways, it becomes more difficult to see the little things that can give us joy. Often we only give credit to the big things that happen in life and we dwell in the time between. But what about all these little things that bring you joy? Things like waking up to your baby’s smile, or the cuddle of your dog, getting a message from your family or friends, seeing the flowers grow, feeling a stray of sunlight on your face, the smile of the stranger on the street, laughing with your friends or colleagues, finding a space to sit down and take a deep breath, and so forth. The things that can bring us instant joy and happiness happen constantly. The question is: are you open to it or not? Are you grateful for what presents itself to you? Brother David Steindl-Rast said a beautiful thing about this: “In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”

But what if life presents itself in the most shitty way you can think of? I recently lost people who were dear to me, to old age and to cancer. These moments are hard, and all I wrote above seems to become irrelevant. But is it really? When life shows itself to you in its most ugly way, it becomes increasingly important to appreciate all these small things. They can give you a small spark of happiness, they give you direction to find your way out. It helps us to understand that you can choose to be loving to yourself, or you can choose to judge. You are in charge of setting your direction, you are in charge of when happiness is allowed back in. This choice is crucial, some people mistake this difference by thinking that loving means there is no room to push yourself, no room for improvement. None of that is true! You can support yourself and lovingly speak with words of encouragement.

Because “every thought you produce, any action you do, it bears your signature” Thich Nhat Hahn. You put your signature on what your world looks like on the outside, how people respond to you and what you bring forward. But more importantly, you put your signature on what goes on inside.

Practice this every day, in good times especially, find happiness, joy, inner peace, love, beauty, creativity in the simple things in life. Change your routines, try to see something new everyday, change where you sit down, take a different route home, switch around your fork and knive. Break out and break through. So that when difficult times arise, you know that there is something on the other side. Because ”the best things in life are free. Sleeps, hugs, kisses, love, friends, family, memories, smiles, laughter & fun” Author uknown.

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Keep stretching!

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One of the most common reasons I hear for people to do yoga is stretching. Either they want to stretch, because they feel stiff, or they love to stretch and want to become more and more flexible. Yoga is great for that; it will stretch you on the mat and off the mat.

The feeling of a good stretch is satisfying and the contentment after a yoga class is rewarding. And that is because in yoga we don’t only stretch our bodies, we also stretch our minds, our boundaries & our breath. When we are able to combine all the different stretches in our yoga class, we can deepen tremendously in the pose:

The body opens up by practicing and will stretch deeper over time. We learn how to control our breath patterns and lengthen it when we need to hold a pose or create space in that pose. We always look for the boundaries and limits in our bodies and push them, touch them and see if we can move them a little further each time. We don’t march over our limits, but we stretch it in a comfortable way. And lastly, we stretch our mind, by learning how to control our patterns of thought through staying in the moment. Yoga teaches you that a laser sharp focus will improve your practice, creates a deeper connection to yourself and create a stillness in the mind. A stillness we can come back to whenever we are stressed, irritated or lack focus.

To me, the most interesting and biggest stretch is off-mat. How do you take what you have learned about yourself on the mat to your daily life? How can you make yoga something more than a work-out? How do you stretch the boundaries of what you believe you can achieve?

One big lesson I have had in the past couple of years, was that I was more concerned with what would come next, then actually appreciating what I had achieved so far. Every day I am growing and developing as a teacher, which creates bigger goals and more dreams about what I would like to achieve. I have made my master plan and every few months I look at where I am, what needs to be changed and how I should change my course of work. However the great part of it is, that I am able to also enjoy and be grateful for what I’ve achieved so far. I have set up building blocks that show me my progress. Every little step is one in the right direction on my path.

As a teacher you need to develop, extend your knowledge, understand the bodies in front of you, be able to explain different types of poses and offer classes that are challenging and satisfying. You need to be able to step out of your comfort zone to explore what else you have to offer. You need to push your boundaries and don’t take it personal when something doesn’t work out for you. Just like deepening a pose, sometimes you click, you got yourself a step further in your practice and sometimes the time and pose are just not right. All you are left with is take a deep breath, take in your lessons learned and move on.

Understanding the lesson and moving on is easier said than done, but it is the only way to test if you still gives life the opportunity to show you what it has to offer. It is the only way to discover if you actually stretch yourself or if you are led by your fears; your fear to fail, your fear for the unknown, your fear to lose face, and so forth. . Just like we do in our poses. When I practice a handstand in the middle of the room, I am afraid to fall and hurt somebody, I am afraid to fail which paralyses me to do the pose and I am afraid to lose face. I am a yoga teacher, shouldn’t I be able to do this pose easily? What would other people think of me? So all I can do is practice, learn how to fall, learn to accept my practice where it is and celebrate every small goal in my journey upwards.

So every stretch is one closer towards yourself. Every stretch is one closer to what you want to achieve. Using the mat as your playing field to test out what you can do in real life. But in the end it all start with being appreciative and grateful for what you have, your achievements both professionally and personally. Don’t only look ahead to where you want to be and don’t get caught in looking back to what was. Be in the moment, celebrate and keep stretching!

 

 

9 yoga poses for travellers

9 yoga poses for traveling

Living abroad, being addicted to traveling, or a very demanding traveling job causes you to be in airplanes, buses and taxi’s more than you would want. And even if you don’t travel that often, we all know that feeling after a long flight: you have a lack of sleep, a stiff neck, lower back pain and you are suffering from the lack of blood flow in the legs. And on top of that, you smell, like you have spent too much time in a not well-ventilated space (which you have!).

As a yoga teacher I always feel like I should be doing some poses on the plane, but let’s get real: there is no space, it is awkward and you are disturbing your fellow travellers. So besides a few stretches when you go to the toilet, turning your head and rolling your shoulders, not much movement is happening.

Not to worry – perfect time to actually do yoga is when you get off the flight. And I hear you think: taxi is waiting to bring me straight to my client, friends and family are eager to come and pick me up, I am not at my destination yet and have to figure out my next bus ride, train or flight.

Well, doing some after travel yoga doesn’t have to take long. Couple of minutes is enough. Instead of checking your emails, take 5 minutes in your hotel room to move around, take a few extra minutes before you shower and freshen up or find a spot in the corner of the airport (most airports nowadays have a yoga space) before you continue your travels.

Below is a suggested sequence for when you do find those 5 minutes!

Pictures 1,4 & 7 create energy in the body to battle your lack of sleep.
Pictures 5, 6, 7 & 8 focus on your stiff neck after falling asleep in a crooked way
Pictures 5, 7, 8 & 9 help the lower back to loosen up after sitting for hours.
Pictures 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 restore the blood flow in the legs, making them feel strong and energized again.

Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breathes through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.  Stay in a pose for at least 3 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When it is bent, it makes a 90-degree angle with your ankle; however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

If you need further instructions with the poses, see below:

Picture 1: Urdhva Hastasana
Upward Salute pose. With an inhale come up from Uttanasana. Keep your back straight while coming up. Align the movement and speed of your body with the breath. Bring your palms together over your head and on a next inhale make a small backward bend. If you want you can keep the pose for 2-3 cycles of breath.

Picture 2: Virabhadrasana II
Warrior 2 pose. Turn your back foot to a 45-degree angle. Open your hips towards the side. Roll your shoulders down and back. Look over your front hand. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.

Picture 3: Utthita Trikonasana
Extended triangle pose. Straighten your front leg. Have your torso similar to the Warrior 2 pose. Bring your body weight forward. Bring your arm down towards your leg. Either grab your thigh, lower part of the leg or ankle. Make sure your torso is parallel with your front leg. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.

Picture 4: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Bridge pose. Lay down on your back, knees are up, feet are hip distance apart. Measure the positioning of your legs by bringing your arms next to your body; the tip of your middle finger needs to just barely touch your heel. Then interlace your fingers behind your back. Push your hips up as far as you can, roll your shoulders together. Breathe into your chest.

Picture 5: Salamba Sarvangasana
Shoulder stand. Lay down on your back. Palms are facing down on the mat. Bring your knees into your chest. With the force of your hands push your hips off the floor. Place your hands in your back. Straighten your legs upright. Walk your hands closer to your shoulders blades. Stay here; wait until you can breath properly. If gravity is pulling you down, walk your hands closer to your shoulder blades and give yourself a lift. Stay for a minimum of 10 cycles of breath.

Picture 6: Matsyasana
Fish pose. Lay down on your back. Place your hands under your hips, palms facing down. Breathe into your chest and bring it up. Place the top of your head on the mat. Make sure the weight is on your hips and not on your head. Stay for a minimum of 5 breath cycles.

Picture 7: Salabhasana
Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest off the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.

Picture 8: Reclining twist
Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.

Picture 9: Release pose.
Release pose. Lay down on your back. Bring your knees into your chest. Place your hands over your knees. Make small clockwise circles. Make them bigger as you go. Come back to the middle and change direction. This pose helps you to release tension from your lower back, by massaging it.

9 poses to deal with fatigue

Yoga for fatigue

Fatigue is something we all are faced with from time to time. I know this because many of my students, friends and family complain about it. We’re so busy going to work, keeping up with our social life, taking care of the kids, taking care of the parents once they get older, battling a flu or serious illness, recovering from a strong work-out, and it tires us out. Fatigue has been an interest of mine for a while, since so many people (including myself) in so many different situations are dealing with it.

About two weeks ago, I was at this amazing training with Kate Holcombe on Yoga and Cancer. Maybe I should’ve known this, but to my biggest surprise, one major problem cancer patients are dealing with is fatigue; due to a lack of sleep, fear and stress, body aches and the recovery of the treatment.

From my own experience I know that yoga has often helped me in moments of fatigue. Even though often I started my practice feeling like I was too tired and shouldn’t be doing it, I have NEVER EVER regretted my decision to practice.

So to get to the point, I thought it would be nice to share the 9 poses that help me when I am tired, because they might help others too.

Chest opening poses and back bends are often associated with creating energy, while forward bends and inward going poses are associated with relieving anxiety and a calming of the mind. And then we have a variety of poses that can help you with insomnia, which are often forward bends or movements with the spine.

Below is a combination of these poses that help with fatigue. You could do the poses in a sequence, although you have to add a few extra poses to move smoothly from one pose into the other. If you are dealing with fatigue it is good to try the poses and see which ones are helpful for you. When you do all poses, you will also do all elements we practice in yoga, forward bend, backward bend, twist, standing poses, seated poses and inversions. The sequence will take you 5 to 10 minutes.

It is advisable to start the practice with 5 minutes of meditation, to calm the mind and be focused during the practice. End the practice with a Savasana pose (corpse pose) for a minimum of 10 breaths.

Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breaths through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When it is bent, it makes a 90-degree angle with your ankle; however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

If you have doubts about the poses, below you can find the basic ideas and adjustments per picture.

3 poses to deal with insomnia

  • Picture 1: Marjaryasana
    Catpose. Come to your hands and knees. Knees in a 90 degrees angle with your hips, shoulders with the wrists. Inhale, look up and arch your spine. Exhale, look down and round your spine. Do this with a minimum of 5 times.
  • Picture 2: Adho Mukha Svanasana
    Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.
  • Picture 3: Paschimottanasana
    Seated forward bend pose. Sit on the mat. Bring both legs forward. Pull your toes towards you. Inhale bring your arms up and straighten your spine, push your chest forward. Exhale come to a 45 degree angle. Grab where you can, knee, calf muscles, ankles, toes. Inhale straighten your spine again and exhale come forward as far as you can with your back straight. Look towards your knee.

3 poses to create energy

  • Picture 4: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
    Bridge pose. Lay down on your back, knees are up, feet are hip distance apart. Measure the positioning of your legs by bringing your arms next to your body; the tip of your middle finger needs to just barely touch your heel. Then interlace your fingers behind your back. Push your hips up as far as you can, roll your shoulders together. Breathe into your chest.
  • Picture 5: Salabhasana
    Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest off the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.
  • Picture 6: Urdhva Hastasana
    Upward Salute pose. With an inhale come up from Uttanasana. Keep your back straight while coming up. Align the movement and speed of your body with the breath. Bring your palms together over your head and on a next inhale make a small backward bend. If you want you can keep the pose for 2-3 cycles of breath.

3 poses to deal with anxiety

  • Picture 7: Salamba Sarvangasana
    Shoulder stand. Lay down on your back. Palms are facing down on the mat. Bring your knees into your chest. With the force of your hands push your hips off the floor. Place your hands in your back. Straighten your legs upright. Walk your hands closer to your shoulders blades. Stay here; wait until you can breath properly. If gravity is pulling you down, walk your hands closer to your shoulder blades and give yourself a lift. Stay for a minimum of 10 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 8: Uttanasana
    Standing forward bend pose. Hang forward, have your knees slightly bent or straight (your own preference) while holding your elbows or releasing your hand on the floor. Feel how, due to your head hanging down, the vertebras in your neck are getting some space. Stay in this pose for at least 5 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Picture 9: Reclining twist
    Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.

Yoga and cold weather

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We practice yoga under all circumstances. I just went from +30 degrees and sun in Brasil to cold and rain in Holland. Going so sudden from one type of weather to the other, made me realise how different my need is for practice. With cold weather yoga is a perfect practice to improve your immune system, to work on strengthening the joints and do breathing exercises for the lungs to prevent a cold.

I still love to do my vigorous fast paced sequences, although now I do spend more time on my joints and on my pranayamas (breathing exercises).

Yoga and your joints
It is always good to keep your joints healthy and active. However, in wintertime, they are colder and therefore automatically stiffer. This can create chronic joint pain and it becomes easier to misuse your joints, which can create wear and pain.

Yoga can help to move the joints, to lubricate them and to loosen them. Also yoga helps to relax and heat the muscles around the joint, which is the system that supports and protects the joint. Practicing yoga maintains mobility of the joint and it increases the circulation in the body.

David Lurey, a world traveling yoga teacher has a perfect sequence for this, which he calls: rolling the joints. He does this sequence every morning and swears it is the perfect way to warm up the body for the day after a deep night of sleep and he says it keeps the body healthy. When you do the sequence fully, it takes about 13 minutes. Click this link to see the movie.

Yoga and pranayama
Winter often gives us a cold, which has a negative effect on our immune system. To protect ourselves from a cold and protect us from a less functional respiratory system is consistently breathing through the nose. When we breathe in through the nose we heat up the air entering our body before the air goes into our lungs. This can help to prevent a cold. Secondly, breathing through the nose helps us to filter for potential allergens entering our body and lungs. The filtering of allergens is done via the passageways of our nose and the little hairs in our nostrils. When the air is filtered we have less chance to irritate the lungs.

Pranayama practice not only benefits the lungs, but it also strengthens the relationship between the nervous and the respiratory system.

Through the practice of pranayama (breathing exercises) we strengthen the practice of breathing through the nose and we clean our body and respiratory system. If you go online and look for pranayama, you will find many hits on google and many explanatory videos. However, when you do have a cold, there is a particular pranayama that can help: the Kapalabathi – the skull shining breath. In Kapalabathi we focus on our exhale and we pump the stomach by pulling it in when we blast out the air. If you are looking to do this practice, this is a good instruction video to try it out.

Yoga and asana practice
When you decide to do an asana practice, it really depends on your state of being what type of practice you need. If you feel well and you want to strengthen yourself and your immune system, it can be very good to do a practice at a higher speed so you stay warm and improve your circulatory system. Make sure that you warm up your joints properly and you focus on breathing through your nose.

An example of a sequence you can do is this one to boost your energy.

When you are not feeling well already, it is best to do a restorative yoga session. In a restorative yoga session you work on sitting longer in a pose and focus on the breathing. You try to calm the body and take away any stress there might be on your system or muscles. An example of a session of 30 minutes you can find here.