Shortcut to Relaxation

Here’s a little guided meditation you can do lying down or sitting up. Once you get good at it, you won’t need the recording and no one will even know you’re doing it. Handy for stressful situations where you have to stay physically present but you feel like you need a little bit of mental space.

How does it work? When you follow along with the rotation of awareness around some key structures of your face and torso, you will be activating your vagus nerve which helps create a sense of safety, ease and inner resource within your nervous system. Doing this a couple of times a day can create subtle but profoundly restful shifts within your body mind. Keep practicing because the benefits accumulate.

Enjoy!

Share

Private Practice

Me&my favourite teacher
Me&my favourite teacher

The tools of a variety of yoga traditions have catalysed ongoing and often intense transformation in my life, the latest of which is my transition from yoga studio owner into freelance teacher and full-time mother. The crucible of my yoga and meditation practices has held strong as the facades and personas with which I identified for a lifetime have been subtly and not-so-subtly stripped away. Authenticity has pursued me relentlessly ever since the first time I stepped onto a mat.

Teaching yoga has been my full time occupation since 2005. I have developed a skill and a feeling for guiding yoga students as safely as possible towards their own greater experience of authenticity. In my opinion, yoga is not one size fits all. Through study with many great teachers, I’ve gathered a diverse set of tools so that I can accommodate a broad range of students.

Lately, I’ve found my best offering is done in private sessions and small groups of sincere students. While it’s really fun to be part of big public classes, there comes a point in every person’s practice where dedicated teaching is optimal for navigating your personal path.

For some, it’s right at the commencement of their yoga journey. I love working with beginners who want to lay a firm foundation before heading out into the wide world of yoga to explore the smorgasbord of experiences.

For others, it’s following injury or during illness. I’ve worked with many students through a variety of situations for which a big class setting would not serve their needs at that time. Whether it’s breast cancer, a sore knee, a broken heart or anything else, the yoga practice can be adapted to support you on tricky parts of your journey.

Dedicated yoga students come to me for fine tuning their practice or exploring more subtle dimensions than they felt they could on their own. Alignment, anatomy, physiology and neuropsychology are all areas I’ve studied intensely and I love to share what I’ve learned with those who are interested.

I also love working with new teachers from lots of different traditions to help them find their voice and to navigate the early days of teaching. It can be overwhelming to finish teacher training, often in a cocooned and safe environment, only to head out into your community as a “teacher” without a clue of what to do next or anyone to hold your hand. After a decade of teaching and almost that long owning/running yoga studios, offering mentorship to a select few teachers is an honor and a privilege for me.

So if you’ve reached a point in your yoga journey where you think you’d benefit from one-to-one sessions, please get in touch via email kelly@kellyfisheryoga.com. I’d be delighted to work with you in person or via Skype if the situation suits.

Namaste,

K

Share

How to create a home practice

For me, the point of practicing yoga is to get to know and appreciate yourself better and to facilitate your ability to connect and celebrate life. Going to a public class is a great experience particularly for the connecting and celebration but but spending time on your own, exploring your own practice is where some of the juiciest experiences of yoga can happen. Yoga class is great for gathering information about the practices and poses, for connecting with like minded people and for consulting with a teacher about questions you might have so that you can build confidence in creating your own practice.

Ideally, yoga is a practice that meets you where you are, no matter what. When you practice on your own at home, you get a chance to tune into exactly what your body, mind and spirit need at that particular moment. It helps you to cultivate the aspect of the yoga practice where you get to know yourself better.

Yes, practicing on your own can be daunting, particularly at the beginning but the obstacles are the path. Facing and dealing with the obstacles are part of maturing into yourself. Figuring out how to deal with all of those obstacles is part of the yoga. Getting really honest with yourself about what you are and are not willing to do to make it happen for yourself will help you prioritise in the most appropriate manner for you.

I think there are two main things you need to consider to do a practice at home:

1. What do you really need from your practice on a given day?

Ideally, practice is an expression of what is alive in you on that day and what needs to be balanced or taken care of. Home practice isn’t necessarily about doing all the fancy poses or “staying in shape”. It’s about increasing your self-awareness – noticing your patterns of attraction and aversion, your reaction to challenges and easefulness, to constancy and change. As you learn more about yourself, you can learn to use your home practice to  enhance your overall wellbeing so that you can address all of the other things in your life the way they need to be addressed. Using your yoga practice to serve your life, not the other way around.

The practice has to be satisfying at a deeper level than ego or intellect or you won’t want to stay with it. The key to getting that satisfaction comes from cultivating a deep level of listening to yourself. The only way to do that is to spend regular time with yourself. Yoga is not the only way to develop this relationship but for some of us, the physical aspect helps us to access parts of ourselves that are otherwise difficult to access.

2. How to decide what to do, sequence wise.

There are many theories about how to go about this. While I will give you a light framework for deciding your sequence, I wholeheartedly encourage you to explore and experiment to find the alchemy that works for you.

Before you start:

Decide on a regular place to practice. You may be able to dedicate a whole room for your practice space but it isn’t necessary. In fact, when I first started practicing in my “own yoga room”, I felt almost like I was being punished. Being in this austere room meant to be kept only for yoga and meditation felt really awful to me. More often than not, I would pull my mat out into my favorite sun spot in the lounge or outside on the patio.

If you don’t have a fully dedicated space, it’s a good idea to have a very short set up ritual, which helps you to transition into your practice mode. It could be as simple as being very quiet and mindful as you clear the space for your practice, gather your props, journal, tea and roll out your mat.

Quite often, we can look at the set up as a hassle, an obstacle to practice but you can actually make it part of the practice itself, by choosing your attitude. You might like to bring meaningful objects into your practice space, like sacred symbols or beautiful flowers. Lighting  a candle can be nice as well, kind of like the OM at the beginning of a class.

Decide how much time you have to practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 minutes or 5 hours. Deciding a minimum will help you honor your commitment to yourself. You might even like to set a timer that will go off a few minutes before the time is up so you have time for savasana or meditation.

To start your practice:

It’s super important to make a couple of minutes to check in. You might like to sit up, lie down or even stand up to check in. Do a body scan, noticing what feels good, what doesn’t. Observe what’s on your mind. Notice your breath. You may like to write down your observances in a journal. Those observances are going to help you to know what to do in your practice.

Once you’ve checked in, you may like to deepen your breath in your “check in” posture or you might like to go to child’s pose or down dog. Ujjayi is a great breath for focusing your mind and for smoothing, heating the breath. From there, you can begin to build your sequence, either by simply starting with some general warm-ups to see where your body takes you or by planning which kinds of postures you want to work towards. If you have a specific set of peak poses in mind, it pays to plan accordingly.

Suggested sequence of poses:

Warm – ups

Most of the time, a general warm up will be suitable for any kind of practice you’re about to do. It can also be helpful for determining what kind of practice is appropriate. There are a couple of ways to tackle home practice – either targeting a specific thing or kind of practice no matter what or a deep listening practice where how you’re feeling determines where you’ll take your practice. Both types have great value to them – sometimes at the beginning of a home practice, it can be useful to have a target, a goal. But I’d just caution that sometimes being too rigid with a plan can take the juice and the joy out of the practice and thereby defeat the purpose.

Examples of warm ups: cat/cow; wrist vinyasa; foot massage; lunges/pulsations; shoulder openers; gentle twists; supine ab work – good idea to move with the breath to begin with, rather than to hold anything static at this early point in the practice.

Namaskars (salutations)

These are heat building sequences designed to increase the energy in the body and loosen everything up. They are great for building strength and flexibility. Common salutations include Sun and Moon salutations.

Core Cultivation

Simple core strengtheners early on in the practice serve to prepare the body for the deeper work to come. Boat poses, planks, side planks and reclined core work are great optins.

Heating Inversions

It’s a good idea to do the preparation for and practice of heating inversions early in the practice while you’re still fresh and your energy is high. These poses require lots of strength and stamina so if you’re feeling a little off, it’s best to leave them till another day particularly if you’re not overly familiar with them.

Heating inversions include things like handstand, headstand and forearm balance. If you’re not overly comfortable with these types of poses, dolphins and box-poses at the wall will serve to build your toolkit for eventually practicing these poses.

Standing poses

Standing poses are hugely useful for just about any type of practice. They help to build strength, stamina and opening in a very safe manner. Depending on which class of peak poses you may be working towards, you can pick and choose the postures that will create the best opening. Even if you’re not sure what poses open up what, a general practice of standing poses tends to cover a lot of basis. And if you’re not sure what each pose is useful for, I highly recommend getting into the poses and trying to feel what muscles are working, which ones are stretching and generally what’s going on in your body. As I’ve said, yoga is about listening. Getting on the mat to listen to what’s happening in your body is a great way to learn to sequence like a pro.

Twists

There are variations of twists from light, gentle ones (good for the beginning and the end of practice) to intense, deep ones within various classes of poses. Twists are a great way to prepare the spine for backbending but the deeper ones could be your peak postures all on their own.

Arm balances

You may choose this class of poses as your peak. Lots of hip and shoulder opening are key for getting ready for these poses and a good smattering of core work will help too.

Examples: crow, side crow, elephant trunk

Backbends

Backbends are great for waking you up and making you feel great. Ideally, they should be practiced earlier in the day so that they don’t interfere with your sleep. Anyone who’s ever done huge backbends at 8pm at night will probably have a tale to tell about a challenging night’s sleep afterwards.

Lots of heating and preparation is required for the deeper backbends like upward facing bow, bow pose and camel. Thigh stretches, shoulder opening, leg strengthening, twisting. Ideally these big poses belong toward the end of a longer practice. There are no shortcuts to a safe backbend. The preparation has got to be done.

Forward bends

Heating the body & warming the hips & legs is important to being able to find good arch in low back to do the deeper work of seated forward bends. It might be best to work with standing poses for many months until you develop sufficient strength in the legs to keep them active while seated (supports low back curve). Grounding femurs. Very good for night time, calming, cooling. Examples: seated forward bend, easy cross legs, head to knee pose.

Inversions (cooling)

By this I mean shoulderstand and it’s variations. Ensure your upper back & neck are sufficiently warmed up and use blankets to elevate your shoulders if need be.

Restorative postures

This class of poses can make up your entire practice on some days when you just can’t face a full sequence of asanas. They can also be a nice way to wind down towards relaxation and meditation. For these poses, you set them up so that the minimal amount of effort is required to maintain good alignment. You may opt to hold these poses for 2-15 minutes but stay aware of what’s going on in your body. You’re not looking for stretch sensation or any fatigue at all. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, make whatever changes necessary to feel completely supported. Examples include reclined bound angle, legs up the wall, supported twist, supported backbends.

Pranayama and/or Meditation

Breathwork is a great way to prepare for meditation and savasana. Choose calming breaths rather than hugely stimulating breaths like kapalabhati at this late stage in the practice. Alternate nostril breathing and ratio breathing are good options.

At this stage in the practice, you might find you effortlessly slip into a meditative state. It can be nice to just sit for a few minutes, basking inside yourself.

Savasana

No matter what kind of practice you’ve done, always plan to have at least 5 minutes (and ideally 15 minutes) in relaxation pose. This is where everything you’ve done settles into your body mind and becomes part of you. Ensuring you take proper relaxation will be incredibly nourishing for you at all levels and facilitate your progress on the path. I’ve seen people struggle to gain any ground with their postures and sense of wellbeing when they skip this most important part of the yoga practice. It’s the difference between walking the path and running it.

As I’ve mentioned all of these are my suggestions for approaching your own home practice. There are numerous other valid ways to go about it. The most important factor is whether it’s sustainable and beneficial to you.

Share

Self-compassion

Be compassionate with yourself when you make mistakes. – Every choice helps reveal another aspect of yourself and your patterns of responding. If one happens to be less life affirming that you might like, there is still something of value to be gained from it. Being unkind with yourself only adds insult to injury and is a waste of valuable energy. Everything that happens is preparation for a moment that is yet to come. If you can learn to address yourself with compassion in the face of a mistake, it will make you more available for others when they inevitably also make a mistake.

A simple practice for cultivating self-compassion, as offered by Kelly McGonigal in Yoga Journal, is a basic body scan. Allow about 10 minutes or maybe even more if you have the time. It can be helpful to set a timer so you can relax and just focus on the scan rather than worrying about how long it’s taking.

As you sit or lie down in a relaxed posture, take your awareness around your body and acknowledge what each part does for you. It may take some time to connect with a sense of loving appreciation for yourself and feelings of vulnerability may arise. See if you can complete an entire circuit of your body from the top of your head down to the soles of your feet, cultivating a sense of respect and compassion for yourself

When you make mistakes, if you’ve got a grounding of this sense of compassion inside, you can more easily access it. When you do this, you can use your energy to heal and move forward, rather than to inflict judgement on yourself.

To read Kelly McGonigal’s brilliant article about Self-compassion, click here.

 

Share

Yoga and the Elements

Mahabhutas

As creatures of the natural world, we are surrounded by, subject to and even composed of five basic elements. These elements are recognised by many schools of philosophy and are referred to by various names. Within the philosophical schools from which yoga as I teach it arose, the elements are known as Mahabhutas. The Mahabhutas are Earth (Prithivi), Water (Apas), Fire (Agni), Air (Vayu) and Space or Ether (Akasha).

As we deepen into yoga practice, we become increasingly aware of the power and influence that aligning with these natural elements can yield, both on the yoga mat as well as in our daily lives. Yoga practice can help us more fully understand these elements as they affect us physically, mentally and spiritually.

The Earth element (Prithivi). Earth is the very ground upon which we live. The particles of energy in Earth are tightly packed and vibrate at a low frequency, thus we experience earth as dense, solid and heavy. Within our own bodies, the Earth element is experienced as the solid cellular structures of our bones and organs. Our sense of smell is associated with Earth. Within our minds, Prithivi brings qualities of steadfast commitment, patience and humility. Spiritually, our Earth experiences will relate to annamaya kosha, or the physical body. The chakra associated with Earth is the Root Chakra (Mooladhara). Continue reading “Yoga and the Elements”

Share

Happy 11-11-11!

Today is thought to mark the shift from the time in the world where we sought to dominate other each other, to acquire power, money and status to a time in the world where we seek to know ourselves as innately strong, wise and knowledgeable. Our challenge is to find our way inward to that truth, rather than taking the path our ancestors took outward – looking for answers from “out there” and seeking power over each other.

Meditation is one of the key practices we can use to get to know ourselves better so that as the world changes around us, we remember our own eternal, bright auspicious nature and hold to that light so that we can help others to do the same.  No matter what you do for a job, where you go in the world, when you have mastery over your own power, even just a little bit, your presence becomes a blessing and a beacon for others who are seeking to reconnect with their own power. Continue reading “Happy 11-11-11!”

Share

Barefoot bliss

Yoga doesn’t always happen on a yoga mat. Sometimes a yoga mat can get in the way of a decent yoga practice. Bear with me while I digress somewhat.

One of my favourite things to do is to walk barefoot in the woods. Although I loved it as a child, I was only reminded of it recently by my Osteopath. He suggested that I walk barefoot over uneven, natural surfaces to help my body use deep, intrinsic postural muscles and in so doing, unwind some tricky internal knots that he normally sorts out when he works his magic. While my hips and back feel absolutely fantastic after a barefoot traipse through the trails, that result pales in comparison to the state of my heart and mind. Continue reading “Barefoot bliss”

Share

Set your foundation, Flow with ease

Grounded GoddessIdeally, the very first thing we do in a yoga posture (asana) is set the foundation. We place our feet and/or our hands in a very particular way, with great intention and keen attentiveness to detail. We position our feet and hands carefully because the way the rest of the asana unfolds will be directly affected by the placement of the parts of us that are touching the ground.

Then, before we build the rest of the asana, we soften a little. When the foundation is strong and sure, we are able to breathe freely. Almost instinctively, we pause and we are able to open to the possibility of how the next few moments might unfold. From the clear physical foundation, with openness to the present moment, we then build the rest of the posture.

When we practice in this way, there is an internal surrender that can occur. The strength and support of our foundation sends subtle cues to our entire system so that some layers of tension can dissolve, muscles can release and space can open up.

Once a strong foundation is set and that openness occurs, it is tremendously satisfying and liberating to flow, either within a posture or between postures, taking just as much care to ensure that each foundation is clear so that we can fully experience freedom. With that freedom comes ease, not only in the body but also in the mind. We feel light and capable and discover that we are able to open more than we thought possible.

Practicing this way is a very different experience from casually moving into an asana without consideration for the foundation and quickly moving between postures before the first posture is fully expressed by the body. In my experience, when I move quickly without taking care with my foundation, I begin to gather internal tension, with deep internal muscles trying to compensate for the work that the larger muscles are meant to be doing. Beyond the physical, I notice I also begin to feel anxious or agitated.

Similarly in daily life off the mat, I notice that if I set my foundations wisely, I can soften and open to the possibility of what a given day or a given situation may hold. When I have my feet on the ground figuratively, I am far more able to go with the flow of life. If I neglect to take care of myself, everything else in my life suffers – I become tense, situations seem impossible, other people’s shortcomings become unbearable, I worry more, I demand more, I sleep less, I give less, I live less and I achieve less.

Consider the things that help you to set your foundation. A regular yoga practice is invaluable to creating internal steadiness. What else helps you to put your feet on the ground? What connects you to your innate wellbeing and joy? What food, drink and company make you feel healthy and whole? What activities light you up inside? What do you absolutely need to feel fully like the very best expression of yourself? THESE are the things you need to make sure you get. They aren’t luxuries. They are necessities. The world NEEDS you to come fully alive every single day.

I would encourage you to spend a few minutes in reflection and write down your answers to the questions above. Choose three non-negotiable things that you need to do to “set your foundation”, whether they be daily or weekly things. Then make setting your foundation a priority for at least three weeks (that’s how long it takes to form a habit). Notice how your life unfolds differently when you’ve got the internal softness that’s possible when you’ve properly set your foundation.

In my experience, the way that you take care of yourself has a direct impact on everything and everyone else in your life. When you’ve got the strength and surety that comes from setting your foundation, you can be open and responsive in your body and your mind instead of tense and contracted. Because of this, you are able to offer more kindness and be of greater service to every single person around you and to the world in general. You can go with the flow and live more fully.

~Kelly Fisher

**To learn more about ways to create sustainable ways to be of service to the world, check out the “Yoga in Action” courses that I run!

Share

Going Home

The practice of yoga conditions us for life and helps us to tolerate and integrate the challenging experiences that we encounter in our lives. Elena Brower, a teacher I admire greatly, often says something like, “We accumulate moments of healing in the time spent on our mats”.

As someone who has had a consistent daily practice for years, I can attest to the truth of her words. As often happens however, when something beautiful is perpetually right in front of you, I lost a little of my reverence for the nourishment provided by my practice. It took missing out on that practice for a few days during my recent trip to North America to help me to regain my gratitude for the healing power of yoga. Continue reading “Going Home”

Share

Breathing meditation for Chakra Balance

Breathing meditationSince I’m away, I thought I’d offer you a breathing meditation practice you might recognise from one of my classes if you’ve come along recently. This practice is tremendously balancing and helps me to remember my connection to the rest of the world and encourages me to carefully cultivate the kind of influence I would like to have on the people around me. It has evolved from my own practice, taking influence not only from the Yoga tradition but also another form of eastern wisdom, the Japanese Jiu Jitsu form – Seishinkan. The philosophy and breath form are from the Yoga Perspective while the movement pattern is based on a Jiu Jitsu warm up.

BACKGROUND

There are seven energetic centres along the spine that, within the Yoga tradition, we call chakras. In Western medicine, these energetic centres correspond with massive crossing points of nerves, the communication channels within your nervous system. In yogic theory, it is thought that you can have an excess or a deficiency of energy in any of these centres which will affect your way of being in the world. There are many techniques of balancing the various energies in the body, but from my experience, pranayama is among the most effective.

Beginning just above the pelvic floor, we find Muladhara chakra (root chakra). This centre is said to govern your sense of foundation in the world – your family, your home, your finances. A little further up, just in front of the sacrum is Svadisthana chakra(sacral chakra) which is your emotional, creative, sexual centre, governing the gifts you have to offer to the world. Next between the navel and the sternum is Manipura chakra (solar plexus chakra), your personal power centre which influences the way you assert yourself in the world. Then at the level of the chest is Anahata chakra (heart chakra) and this is the turning point in the chakra system. It’s your connection with the outside world – how you manifest all of the things you generate in the lower chakras in relationship to other people.

In the first phase of the practice (described below), I spend a few rounds of breath drawing energy from the root to the heart, smoothing the breath, regulating my own energy. After some time, I move up the chakras to the final 3 which have more to do with your relationships to the outside world and to spirit.

At the level of the throat, Visshuda chakra (throat chakra) governs the way you communicate with others. At eyebrow center, Ajna chakra (third eye chakra) is your connection with your intuition and the vast amount of wisdom that is available to you from the universe if you are open to it. Finally at the top of your head and just beyond is Saharara chakra (crown chakra) which connects you to Source. (Universal Energy, God, Spirit, Divine or however you see it).

In the second phase of the practice, after I’ve spent some time generating energy for myself, I consciously choose the kind of energy I would like to send out. Energy must be exchanged to be sustained. You can’t horde the energy you generate for yourself and expect to nourished by it. Yes, first you generate energy for yourself but in order for it to live, to breathe and to be manifested the way that is most life-affirming, it must be shared. It must be perpetuated. To create abundant energy, you must share what you have and in a timely fashion. Energy that is hidden is wasted.

THE PRACTICE

This breathing meditation can be done from seated or standing. If you’re sitting, take your time to establish a good, steady seat, grounding through your sit bones and inner thighs while extending tall through the spine. If you’re standing, have your feet hip distance apart and second toes parallel. Ground through the four corners of your feet and lift tall through the spine. With your eyes closed, let your awareness come to your breath. Gently begin to lengthen and deepen it, using the ujjayii technique if you wish.

Check out the video for visual instructions of the first two phases of the breath

PHASE ONE: Nourishing yourself

Once you’ve got a sense of breathing fully and deeply, begin first phase of the moving meditation, which helps to balance and harmonise your first three chakras.

Interlace your hands and let your arms hang straight down in front of you, palms facing up just in front of muladhara chakra. Inhale to a count of three and as you do so, draw your hands up to the level of anahata chakra (chest-height). In the pause between the inhale and the exhale, flip your hands to have the palms facing down. Then exhale to a count of three and, keeping your hands interlaced, release your arms to hanging in front of you again. In the pause before the inhale, flip your hands to face up again. Repeat this for 10 cycles of breath or two to five minutes, as you like. You might like to visualise your spinal column being filled with light from the base of your spine to the level of your heart as you inhale. See that light getting brighter and brighter with each inhalation. Feel that you are offering nourishing energy to yourself and attracting more of the same with every breath.

PHASE TWO: Offering your energy

When you are ready to move to the next phase of the breath, extend the inhalations and exhalations to a count of six. Beginning with the hands interlaced, palms facing up in front of the base of the spine (as before), inhale to a count of three and draw the hands up to the level of the heart. Continue counting and flip your palms to face up (signifying the transition from internal to external) and extend your arms straight, palms reaching past sahasrara (crown of your head) facing the ceiling. In the pause before the exhale, release your hands and face the palms forward. As you exhale for a count of six, radiate your arms wide and scribe a semi-circle with them until your hands are hanging by your hips. In the pause before the inhale, interlace your hands again, palms up in front of the base of the spine. Continue with this breath for 10 cycles or two to five minutes. As you inhale, visualise drawing light up your spinal column from the base all the way past the crown and then as you exhale, visualise radiating that light out through your fingertips, surrounding yourself with white light. Consider what type of energy you would like to be radiating and consciously send it out along with the light.

OPTIONAL PHASE THREE: Balancing internal generation with external radiation

As a reminder that it’s important to balance the energy you offer out to the world with the energy you direct to your own self-care, it’s nice to combine phase one and two of this practice for a few cycles of breath or even a few minutes. Begin with a three count breath as described in phase one, lifting the hands to heart height as you inhale and exhaling to take the hands back down. Let the next breath be a six count breath as described in phase two, lifting the hands all the way up to over head as you inhale and radiating them outward as you exhale.

When you’ve finished your practice, it’s nice to stand, sit or lie quietly for a few moments, absorbing the experience of this meditation.

~article by Kelly Fisher

Share