A Charmed Life


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one size fits all

Do you think you breathe properly? I’m here to tell you, chances are you probably don’t, most likely you are a ‘shallow’ breather (as in you only use your chest). Unless you specifically seek it out, learning to breathe properly is not a life skill we are taught, mores the pity for breathing properly creates a positive domino effect in every aspect of your life and who’s saying no to that right?

I say this from experience for, it wasn’t until I took up meditation that I discovered a) just how lousey a breather I was b) the benefits gained in getting this breathing gig right; and as someone who suffers from anxiety I can’t tell you enough how this – to be able to apply a breathing technique to counterbalance any threat of a panic attack – has changed my confidence and all round mental health. The reason for this, as Yogis have always known and the medical profession finally agrees with, is because breathing is intimately connected to the autonomic nervous system and the mind. Don’t worry I’m not going to go into the science of why you should be using your diaphragm when you breathe or why breathing through your nose is much better for your health, that would be too much for a science dunce like me to explain, I’ll leave that for you to GOOGLE, instead I am just going to share my go-to breathing practice for anxiety.

Here goes:
♠Close your mouth. Breathe in through your nose counting to four as you inhale.
♠Hold your breath again counting to four.
♠Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of four.
♠Pause for four.

This is one breath. Repeat the cycle as the practice gains in power with repetition. Continuing this breathing for one minute or for four full breaths is good start for a beginner. As you improve you can increase your counts to six then eight and your body will tell you when you are ready to stop.

This one size fits all tool has served me well. It’s easy once you get the hang of it AND it really works in alleviating stress and restoring calm AND it is so handy to have up your sleeve, ready to use whenever wherever you are aware of any internal tension.

Sat Nam

Also this week: My favourite instagram follow HUMANSOFNY is currently sharing stories from refugees in Europe/Middle East. I urge you to read/follow if you haven’t already, en masse the crisis feels daunting and impersonal but reading these individual stories provides context – feel your stomach clench in knots and the tears roll down your cheeks – its hard to digest but it’s real and if it projects you into doing something proactive to help PLEASE DO #HealtheWorld #MakeItABetterPlace • As a rule I am anti religion, spiritual yes but religion can go do one as far I’m concerned but this Pope Francis he seems a bit alright; progressive and remorseful in all the right places #ImaStMarysOldGirl • And at the very other end of the progressive spectrum – this Putin guy, I don’t get his motivation at all. If I ruled a country I would push my country to thrive in all areas. Putin has done the opposite over and over; LGBT rights, freedom of the Press, Ukraine, Syria and okay you hate America but learn to communicate in English effectively – seriously you’ve been around too long not to, surely that must be a prerequisite for world domination 101.  #WhatWouldTolstoyThink • RWC15 the All Blacks are through to the quarter finals, no surprises there. I won’t say anything about England except that I was gutted #ImaFauxBrit but #aRealProperKiwi #goABs

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debunking

Med

I meditate. Morning and night and anytime in between if desired. One of the questions I get asked a lot is how do you find time to do it? My response – do you have time to breathe? It really is that basic, well it is to me at least and as I believe meditation should be an essential part of every soul’s journey I’ve set about debunking (love that word) some commonly held myths about meditation – myths I myself held at one point in my life – and by doing so just maybe (if you haven’t already embraced it) convince you to give it a try.

Myth No. 1: I can’t because… I don’t have time. If you have time to check Facebook then you have time to meditate. If you have time to sit in front of the tele then you have time to meditate. If Oprah and Rupert Murdoch have time to meditate then you have time to meditate. There is an old Zen saying: ‘You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.’ Here’s the reality: Meditation actually makes you more efficient, present and productive with your day-to-day. Author Peter Bregman writes that “Meditation makes you more productive. How? By increasing your capacity to resist distracting urges.” He continues, “Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behavior or changing an old habit. It’s probably the single most important skill for our growth and development. As it turns out, that’s one of the things meditation teaches us. It’s also one of the hardest to learn.”

I currently meditate 43 minutes first thing in the morning and eleven minutes before bed and in between I add in mini meditations (one-three minutes) just to bring some awareness into my day. Now it comes easy but it took years for me to get into this routine, I chose to commit then made a conscientious effort to keep at it. If meditation becomes a priority in your life, you will find time for it. Start small, even just a few minutes at a time is better than no minutes.

Myth No. 2: I can’t because… I can’t be sitting crossed leg. The lotus position is the ideal position to sit but it is not the only acceptable position. The Lotus Pose or Padmasana is the über pose when meditating because, by aligning the spine and opening the channels that run through the centre of the body, upright sitting encourages an unimpeded circulation of prana (energy); which in turn contributes to wakefulness on all levels — physical, mental, and spiritual AND it is a very balanced and symmetrical posture, which means the body can be held motionless with the least distractions.

However lotus position does require open hips and a lot of practice seeing as most of us won’t have sat cross legged much since leaving school. Meditation is meant to be calming and relatively easy so if lotus causes discomfort in any way you can stand up, sit on a chair or even lie down (just watch you don’t fall asleep), just as long as your spine is reasonably straight.

Myth No. 3: I can’t because… I don’t think I can still my thoughts. There is this idea that meditation is about banishing or controlling thoughts but just like you cannot stop hearing you cannot stop thinking. Try it. The more you resist the more it persists. The practice of meditation is to observe what happens in the mind in a non-judgmental way, and by focusing your mind on something else (an image, mantra, your breathing) you consciously withdraw your attention away from these thoughts, this allows the mind to slowly calm down. Anytime you catch your monkey mind wandering then you bring it back to the present moment (to your meditation) again and again and again and again. As you continue to practice, in time you will notice that although thoughts are present you aren’t getting lost in their content.

Myth No. 4: I can’t because… It’s not for me. For years I held the preconceived idea that meditation only worked for the devoutly religious or tripped out hippies and whilst being a tripped out hippie has always appealed to me, even as meditation grew into a global widely known practice I stubbornly resolved ‘I wasn’t that type of person.’ However it is my belief that you can talk yourself in or out of anything, so if you think meditation isn’t for you than it probably isn’t but I think if you feel a calling for it like I did or just simply want to give it a go – then it is absolutely for you. There is no right type of person when it comes to meditation. All that is required of you is that you show up and commit to the practice.

Myth No. 5: I can’t because… I would feel silly chanting. Then don’t or do and feel silly anyway. There are so many types of meditation and ways to meditate, some involve chanting of mantras but there are plenty others that don’t. I have a friend who says running is her meditation and another who says he feels he is meditating when he is out hiking. At different stages of my study I have learnt mindfulness meditation (non chant), mantra meditation (chant), guided meditation (non chant), kundalini meditation (chant) and transcendental meditation (chant). That said don’t discount the merit (and fun) of chanting altogether, the silliness won’t last but the feel good sensation you have inside will. I’ve always found when I take myself out of my comfort zone that’s when l thrive.

Myth No. 6: I can’t because… I’m already a better person Maybe you are but isn’t there always room for improvement. Meditation came into my life when I was living an unhappy chaotic existence. I’ve mentioned previously that it was calling, I’ll explain why. Years ago I was walking down the high street near my home and I walked passed a monk, not an usual occurrence I didn’t live near temple or anything like that, so he was noticed by moi. Next day same again, this time he smiled at me. Then the next day I said to myself before leaving home ‘I wonder if I will see that monk again.’ I walked along the same street looking out for him but to no avail so I went about my business and forgot about him. Three hours later eight tube stops away I bumped into him outside Pizza Express in Baker Street. He caught me staring at him, we smiled at each other as if acknowledging a comrade. That night and for the following four nights I dreamt of that monk, each time he would be in meditation. After that fifth night I woke up feeling a call to meditate, I actually said out loud ‘that’s what I’m going to do.’ I never saw that monk again in real life or in my dreams.

To put this story into context at this point in my life I was looking for something – meaning, purpose anything… I’d read so many books The Art of Loving, The Celestial Prophecy, The Secret, a little Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh and on and on, learnt The Kabbalah(some), seen tarot card readers and psychics, dabbled in yoga but hadn’t found a practice I enjoyed yet, had my astrology chart done, you name it I was trying it or at least thinking about trying it – all the while I was ‘finding’ myself  I was also engaging in destructive behaviours – nothing was sticking. Then I had this experience and I just knew. Something had finally stuck. It was one of those moments I could feel the universe had my back. Does meditation make me a better person? It definitely helps. I found my way in meditation and my regular practice leaves me feeling energised and this incredible feeling filters through into all areas of my life. I see it as an addenda like eating greens and drinking water.

I find myself going into a meditative state in the most unlikely places like when I’m dancing or more recently colouring, as in colouring in books (yes its a thing, adults do it now too) and that’s because there are no rules when it comes to meditation, no right or wrong way, all it takes is commitment but then so does anything worth having in life.

Sat Nam

Also this week: Gold for Jessica Ennis-Hill at World Championships in Beijing, whop whop! #WonderWomanlives • And while we are in China… how about that stock market! Aiya! #DominoDancing • ‘Straight Outta Compton’ in memory of my brother’s pet frogs Dre, Tupac, Snoop and Warren G I think I want to see this movie #BoyzntheHood #OldSkool • 1D to split, to you fans – I feel your pain, I went through it with Wham #ItDoesGetBetter #1DAnonymous

 


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embracing love

KeithHaringLike many of you, I feel heartsick thinking about the unconscionable loss of lives and the destruction caused by the earthquake(s) in Nepal. When tragedy like this happens I struggle with the ‘why,’ it churns over and over in my head until I feel like I’m going to burst. Of course what I think or feel doesn’t make the tragedy not exist so I know there is no point on dwelling, what is done is done, so I am trying to let go of the negativity and focus on embracing love.

Mother Theresa said ‘Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in that action’ and because I believe god is in the details I’ve compiled a quick list of ways to take responsibility for our own energy to embrace love (in addition to other goodies like meditation, prayer, being in gratitude…):

  1. Allow yourself a little extra sleep. I say this because sleep is something, as I wrote previously  I had to learn to appreciate. Now that I understand the value of sleep I actively try to get a little extra now and then whether it’s by going to bed a half hour earlier or sleeping in an extra fifteen minutes. I always feel better for it.
  2. Replace strenuous exercise with something less intense like yin yoga. I have an exercise regimen which I am very strict in following daily but I have learnt that is okay to have a day off but because it is not in my nature to do absolutely nothing, I find yin yoga to be a good substitute on these down days.
  3. Express yourself creatively. Dance and sing, get up and do your thing. When you are engaged in something fun and expressive you are less likely to stress and over-think.
  4. Tell someone you value “I want you to know you make a difference in my life. Thank you for being you.” It’s an instant feel good for the recipient and for you.
  5. Identify what you’re really seeking from technology. This is huge bugbear for me, for the growing reliance on technology does not sit well with me at all. I am pretty good at being disciplined about how long I spend online but I know there is still room to improve. There was time before Facebook and Twitter, it’s a bit hazy now but it did exist and it wasn’t so bad so whether it is acceptance, acknowledgment, or stimulation you are seeking from technology, switch off and look for ways to get that without logging on.
  6. Stop what you’re doing and look directly into their eyes when someone is talking to you. It is something I do naturally – maintain eye contact but increasingly in this age of smart technology it is getting rarer that I see people doing so with me. It’s not just good manners, it also makes you more appealing.
  7. Count successes. Coulda, woulda, shoulda… it’s human nature to think about what didn’t happen. Well I say Meh! to that and instead make a note of all the things you’ve done well, and give yourself permission to be proud instead of frustrated with what you haven’t done.

A special epoch in my life came many many moons ago when I shared a flat in London with one of my treasured friends and her partner (now husband). Looking back, we were very much like The Odd Couple for while we had a shared history (same school, same ballet class and a love of English literature), she loved to hoard and I so did not, and where I like routine she rocked a more boho vibe. Despite this, I am constantly reminded of the many lessons I learnt while we cohabited; for where I would reserve weekends for mundane tasks like house cleaning she would encourage me to:

  1. Be Together. She taught me to relax and enjoy each other’s company. One our favourite things to do on a Sunday was to veg on a sofa and watch the Eastenders omnibus or some obscure channel 5 show whilst drinking copious cups of tea.
  2. Go outside and immerse yourself in nature. With Hyde Park at our doorstep we used to frequent those grounds all the time. Before I was never one to like being near trees or grass but in this time I learnt how to make daisy hair bands and to love the feel of grass underneath my feet, dancing in the rain, laying like broccoli on the grass watching birds fly by and star gazing. What I didn’t realise at the time was I learning how to be mindful.
  3. Set aside some time to play. It probably speaks to our sensibilities but we did the most silliest of things; go out in our pyjamas, eat cake for breakfast, skip whilst holding hands and it was so much fun. As we get older and focus on the minutiae of life we tend forget what awful fun it is to stop thinking so much and be childlike. Okay you might look a bit naff on a swing but I bet you would have the time of your life swinging.

‘When we function from a place of positive energy, the world around us becomes more positive.’~Gabrielle Bernstein

In the spirit of this post today – embracing love  –  please join me in sending a kiss to the sky for our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives in Nepal (and in Tibet and India) AND spare a thought for a very courageous man… one Bruce Jenner. Never in this lifetime did I think I would ever say this but it seems that there is a redeemable member in THAT family. To Bruce, your bravery will save lives, sending so much love to you as you go about your journey to be who you authentically are.

Sat Nam


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this princess needs her sleep

sleepI’m not the greatest television watcher – no patience for the ads you see – so I tend to dip in and out of shows. Last week was one of those weeks in which I dipped right in, like many Eastenders fans I was sat watching each episode with bated breath during live week and I’m still reeling from the shock that Kathy is alive (only in soap land can a character not be truly dead, note to the Coro producers, bring back Haley – Roy’s not same without her, he’s beating up people). Anyway I digress Eastenders live week came with so much hype… the whodunit element, the live segments and the 30th anniversary of the show.. that every night I was left wonting, impatient for the next episode. It’s the kind of tele that renders one unable to sleep. Being unable to sleep is something I know all too well. That’s why I had to do something about it.

Now I know people who love to sleep, they say they function better on a good night’s sleep and I always mistook this for weakness, for I was the better person because I could exist on minimal sleep. A completely asinine thought I know that now, but only after a severe bout of insomnia. Sometimes it takes being deprived of something to understand the importance of it in your life, to then take action to get it back.

So take action I did, unable to help myself, I sought out a hypnotherapist who help me to see how I had been suffering serious sleep debt for most of my adult life. Through hypnosis I learnt to sleep again, to sleep longer and deeper but unless I wanted to listen to a recording every night I knew I had to figure out how to sleep better naturally. I did my research, spoke to a load of folk; my therapist, nutritionist, friends, even my manager at work, listened to subliminal messaging recordings and I read articles (I bypassed books, only now when I think about it, reading a book on ‘how to sleep better’ might have been just the ticket to put me to sleep), dipped into a little ASMR and I even emailed a professor of sleep but received no reply. Don’t you think it bizarre how we know we need sleep but we rarely spare a thought on why we do other than because we are tired.

“I have one piece of advice for you: sleep your way to the top.” ~ Arianna Huffington

Turns out I had always been pretty rubbish when it came to sleep. It wasn’t just that I was sleeping less, whatever sleep I was getting would be interrupted by a slight sound, the need to pee, checking my phone for texts/calls/emails/Facebook or angst of the previous day; and once I was up I found it difficult to get back to sleep. So on average I would sleep for four hours. Actually let me rephrase that for full impact – on average I was functioning on four hours sleep a night (except when I was on the sauce, of course then I would sleep like a baby).

Bona fide ways I improved my sleep
Change Mindset: This was a game changer for me as I held the belief that sleep was a waste of time and the idea of sleeping more actually made me feel more anxious which obviously defeated the purpose. In one conversation I had with my therapist he said ‘sleep is not a guilty pleasure.’ Now I have a mother who is always on the go and who survives on very little sleep and I guess I fancied myself to be just like her so remained delusional in equating sleep with reduced productivity so guilt hung like a noose around my neck. This was why I researched sleep in the first place I needed to understand the impact the sleep in order to think and act differently. I learnt to not feel guilty about having a lie-in, or going to bed early. Even extra hour of sleep a day can make all the difference, as your body switches off and calms down so the brain can reprocess the day in turn helping you get over a particularly stressful day. Some scientists believe a good night’s sleep can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease as it allows the brain to sift and store memories. There is an abundance of benefits.

Eat/Drink: Maintain a balanced diet as fluctuating blood sugar levels can trigger early waking. Don’t eat too late in the evening(leave at least two hours between eating and sleeping). Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol after 3pm as the sugar and caffeine will keep you awake and you’ll miss out on those precious extra hours. Also limit the amount of tea and coffee you consume to 2-3 max a day.

Exercise: Exercise in the late afternoon as you’ll tire yourself out, leading to a deeper sleep BUT avoid exercise within a couple of hours before bedtime as exercise will give you energy and you are less likely to get a good night’s rest.

Take those devices out of the bedroom: How did we survive before smart phones, tablets, laptops even tele? I still marvel at the way these gadgets have taken over our lives.  In any case not only do they disturb pillow talk, the blue light in them halts the production of the sleep hormone melatonin so get rid of them from the bedroom.

Meditate: Mindfulness is proven to reduce the time taken to fall to sleep and improve sleep quality, the way to do this is instead of dwelling on stressful thoughts, notice and let go of them by focusing on how cosy your duvet and pillow are, watch how the light reflects around the room, having an awareness on your body and the room around you. I’ve been meditating for a good few years now but even so I didn’t connect the idea of meditation to a good night’s sleep, introducing a nightly meditation into my life made an vast improvement to my state of mind thus making sleep easier

Stay in bed: Bringing in these improvements didn’t change my sleep pattern overnight, I still woke up in the night. I had to resist the urge to get out of bed in the middle of the night as getting up trains the body to wake up more frequently.

Regular routine: Much like the aforementionedno alcohol after 3 pm,’ keeping to a regular routine is not an easy feat but heading to bed at roughly the same time each night strengthens the link between the night-time and sleep consequently keeping your body clock on an even keel.

AND here are some other ways that are said to assist with better sleep: Ensure the bedroom is conducive to a good sleep (ideally it should be quiet, cool, dark, comfortable and about 17°), Invest in a good bed, and don’t hit the snooze button when you wake up (you are most refreshed after unbroken sleep), recharge with a power nap (no more than 30 minutes).

“A problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” ~ John Steinbeck

We’re all guilty of aiming to have an early night but being distracted by our phones or binge-watching a television show or in my case a movie I’ve already seen like a million times already… only to realise its past one and you have to be up early the next day. That sleep is vital to your good health and well being is like saying you need to brush your teeth twice daily for dental hygiene – a no-brainer right? But like brushing your teeth it is worth taking a few seconds to consider if your sleep routine is ensuring you reap the many benefits sleep provides.

As for my own sleep journey I am happy to report that I am much better friends with sleep, we meet on average for at least six uninterrupted hours most nights; and the difference in my cognitive function is evident every time I do The Guardian crossword, which I can now finish in under fifteen minutes something I couldn’t never do before (she says with smug grin).

Sat Nam


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be the light

bethelight.jpg

I originally starting writing a post on how angry I was over Ferguson, over New York, over Cleveland. I went on to say how when we are young we are taught to respect the police. They make school visits telling us it is their job to make us feel safe and protected and to catch the bad guys; but what happens when they are the bad guys. The more I wrote of their prejudice the more pissed I got so I decided to take a break to calm down.

During this break – which ended up being four days long – I participated in a workshop held by one of my teachers (Gabrielle Bernstein) during which I brought up how angry and upset I felt not only about the events over in the US but also of my own treatment by police earlier this year. I went on to conclude that this experience when I needed their help, had devoided any shred of respect I had for them (not that there had been much to begin with).

She replied and I’m paraphrasing here ‘the riots, the casualties and the overall chaotic energy in the world right now is why we must meditate. This is why we must choose a higher perception in every moment. We have a responsibility to be the light in order to balance out the darkness’

As she said this, I had this light bulb moment – my being angry and committing this anger to paper Word – was keeping me focused on the darkness. The world can be a scary place if you let it be, but it doesn’t have to be; at this time of year (and indeed any time of year) the best way to be in the highest service to the world is to celebrate your commitment to love. At times I find it really hard stay committed to the spiritual path I have chosen to be on, but I know if I continue to lean on joy I am choosing to be the light which is where I want to be.

….AND even though I am now somewhat subdued after my initial anger, I do not want to dim the memory of those who have lost their lives needlessly. Lost their lives because officers of the law believed they were a law unto themselves – this is not right, this is not okay as Martin Luther King, Jr said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ 

Sat Nam


3 Comments

do – all together now everyone say … ‘OM’

I have been fascinated with meditation for years mainly because I felt it could never work for someone with my energetic and sometimes excitable personality. For a long time it stayed with me, as something I would like to know more about but that I was not quite ready for. Then a few years ago, due to some life changing events I felt the calling to take up the challenge to learn how to meditate. Ever the student; I read what I could, spoke to those who practiced it, attended workshops, found some gurus to guide me, visited the Buddhist centre in London; basically whatever I could get access to I did and I started to meditate – experimenting with different types to see what suited me best.

As with most things in life through practice and constant repetition you can achieve anything and now meditating, like breakfast, has become a daily event for me. I have learnt to shut my mind off from the outside world and as a result I feel calmer, and centred. Always open to learning new ways to meditate, recently I have taken up the practice of learning mantra meditation. If you are like me when I said mantra meditation you immediately pictured a room full of people chanting ‘OM’ over and over. Well all I can say to that – being one of the converted – is give it try, it is very powerful.

Why you should try mantra meditation:

Most newbies to meditation find it hard to clear their minds so after a few attempts will give up thinking it impossible. With mantra meditation, when you are concentrating on saying a mantra over and over, there is less room in your headspace for thoughts to form therefore it decreases inner mind chatter.

The meaning of mantra in Sanskrit is man ‘to think’ and tra ‘designating instrument’ so together this translates to ‘instrument of thought.’ In practice this means that a mantra delivers us from our sense dependency (which is the unrelenting habit we all have of looking toward the senses for gratification) from pleasures that are and that will always be fleeting (how much can you eat? Or do? Or buy?). Sense gratification never really gratifies. We are always left either unfulfilled and/or guilty. Chanting is a pleasure that transcends the senses, it takes us beyond the boundary of time and space (which is why we don’t have to understand the mantra). It relieves us from the sights and sounds and stimulation of the material world and delivers us into a spiritual space, where the sound is God. Material needs are reduced to nothing. Through the sweetness of devotional surrender, mantra turns the negative into positive.

What we think we are. Our thoughts reflect and affect our mood, our attitude and our general being. Our thoughts are silent sounds. And sounds are electromagnetic vibrations. The more refined our thoughts, the more elevated our vibration; the more elevated our vibration, the closer we get to the highest vibration of all, our own divine nature. The entire universe was built on sound, which is nothing but vibration. By vibrating a certain combination of sounds, we are able to tune into various levels of intelligence, or consciousness. This means chanting mantras is a conscious method of controlling our moods thus increasing our radiance.

And it is easy. You don’t have to sing well (case in point: ME). You can do it alone or in a group. You can chant softly or in full voice. I always sit in the lotus position when I am meditating but you don’t have to. Some mantras can move you to dance, others to walk, you go with what you feel comfortable doing.

My wish is for everyone to incorporate some kind of meditation into their busy lives. I really do hope you give it a go.

Sat Nam