What is meditation and how do you do it?

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Meditation is not a withdrawal from life. Meditation is a process of understanding oneself.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

What is meditation?

Meditation is a practice of focussing the mind.

It is not forcing yourself not to have any thoughts, or to rigidly force the mind to be quiet.

Instead, you are the observer of your thoughts. Be curious about what arises when you give yourself the space, try not to get involved with them by making stories or adding judgement.  Acknowledge the thought when it comes and then let it go.

Above all, it is a practice.

That’s why it is called a practice. We have to practice a practice if it is to be of value.

Peace Pilgrim

What are the benefits of meditation?

Meditation can help to lower stress and reduce anxiety by slowing down any racing thoughts and encouraging longer, slower breaths. Over time it can help you grow your self-awareness and self-compassion, and allow you to develop new strategies when reacting to certain situations.

By allowing ourselves time away from exterior influences (such as other people, work, social media or the news), and be alone with our thoughts, we can get to know ourselves better and connect with the present moment.

Studies have shown that practising meditation can have a positive effect on the brain. It can help increase the grey matter density in the hippocampus and other front regions of the brain; this can help improve learning, cognition and memory. Studies have also shown increases in anterior insula and cortical thickness; this benefits cognitive function, attention and self-awareness.

The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.

Thich Nhat Hanh

How to meditate

Meditation can be done seated, lying down, standing, walking, moving, cleaning. Anywhere and anytime you feel you are in a safe space, and you can become the observer of your thoughts.

If seated or lying down, make sure you are comfortable – sit with your back against a wall or on a comfy cushion, so that you can really physically settle without having to fidget. If you’re walking, be sure to be somewhere safe, away from cars, somewhere you can tune into the nature around you.

Take some deep breaths to settle. If your mind feels like it is buzzing with thoughts, try bringing your awareness to your breath. Notice it coming in through your nose on the inhale, how does the air feels on your top lip and in your nostrils? Notice it make its way down to your chest, your lungs, all the way to your belly. Notice the rise of your chest with the inhale and how it falls with the exhale. How does the breath feel as it makes its journey out of the body? Notice the pauses, the space between breaths, how each breath is totally unique.

If watching the breath doesn’t work for you, maybe find an online meditation recording or visualisation guide. Maybe try some music or chanting. You don’t have to sit in silence.

Meditation, like so many things in life, is completely personal to you, and your way of doing it may be very different to others. You can do it for five minutes, ten minutes, or an hour: it’s all good for the mind and body. If at any point you notice your mind has wandered off, just bring it back to being the observer. It doesn’t mean you have failed.

The path that one person follows is not the correct path for any other person.

Each of us must walk his own path to enlightenment.

Wu Wei

Sources and further reading:



New Year’s Resolutions: Journaling

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There’s an image out there on the internet that really encapsulates why journaling is so good: on the left of the image is a bundle of different coloured threads all knotted and tangled up together and, on the right, the threads have been separated out into single colours and labelled. Journaling does just that. It helps us untangle the knotty, messy thoughts that jumble about in our heads, and helps get them out. It might not immediately sort them into lines of thought, but it’s where the magic of untangling can start to happen.

Journaling is the act of writing down how you are feeling at that very moment. It is said to be good for your mental health, help you reduce stress and develop your sense of self-awareness and understanding.

I’ve found that if I am experiencing a particularly strong emotion (if I’m upset or angry, for example, or feeling defeated or ashamed), or if I have a buzzy thought trapped in my head, writing it down does help give me a sense of release. The thought or the emotion starts to work its way out of my head and on to the page; sometimes it goes quickly and sometimes it takes a little longer, but it does always help to write it down.

Some argue that by seeing your problems, worries or concerns on paper, the brain can start to look at them analytically, removing some of the emotion to help form a response:

Instead of simply letting negative thoughts run rampant in your mind, journaling for anxiety allows you to engage with your thoughts and determine whether they are true or false.


It was also found that people who journal develop a “coherent narrative” about themselves which, in turn, encourages them to take better care of themselves, this could include healthier eating or taking up regular exercise. As a result, they also started to see physical benefits such as decreased blood pressure and an improved immune system.

Journaling also promotes happiness and gratitude. Some people keep gratitude journals, writing down things that have happened that day or connections with people who have made them feel grateful. I think this is such a wonderful idea to do before bed, closing your day with a moment of love and gratitude.

How to journal:

  • Grab a notebook (any notebook, don’t worry about what it looks like), and start writing
  • If you don’t know where to begin, start with the question: ‘how am I feeling right now?’ and write what comes up for you
  • You can write in full paragraphs, bullet points, doodles, spider diagrams, anything: there are no rules
  • Try not to self-edit: write what comes and acknowledge those feelings for what they are without any judgement
  • Occasionally, take time to look back on what you have written and start to notice if there are any patterns: does a particular thing in your life elicit a certain response every time you do or see it
  • Find the time of day that works for you – do you want to start your day off with a quick journal session, or is it better to do it last thing at night? Would it benefit you to come back to it multiple times during the day? Find what fits in with your life with no pressure and minimal effort
  • Keep doing it to see the benefits

Will you be starting journaling this year? Let me know in the comments!

My Top 10 Books For Yoga Lovers and Trainee Yoga Teachers

Have you ever heard of Jolabokaflod? It’s the Icelandic tradition of giving your loved ones new books on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading them together. It translates as “Christmas Book Flood” and sounds like such a cosy tradition.

I love giving books to people for Christmas and below are some of my yoga favourites for anyone looking for ideas; then you can enjoy your own Jolabokaflod!

Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, by Darren Main

For anyone who is curious about yoga philosophy and looking for a place to start, this book is perfect. It explains yoga terms in a simple and easy to understand way, there’s even a glossary at the back of the book so you can quickly look up the differences between prana, pranayama and pratyahara should you wish.

Darren also describes his life and how he came to practise yoga, become a teacher, and some of the things he has learnt along the way.

In order to use our relationships in a new way, we need to shift control over to the Sadguru or inner teacher so that our relationships are based on love, shared abundance and the desire to express our innate wholeness. In doing this we are able to turn every encounter with another being into a yoga pose of sorts, and relating to each other becomes as much a part of our spiritual practice as sitting to meditate.

Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, by Darren Main

Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search, Swami Sivananda Radha

I bought this book before my trip to Varanasi in September to get myself in the mood for India. It is the diary that Sylvia Hellman kept as she travelled from Canada to India to learn about yoga, and then back again when she was told to return and take what she had learnt to the West. In the diary, she describes her life in the ashram, her spiritual journey to becoming Swami Sivananda Radha, as well as her travels through India. For anyone who loves travel and yoga this book was fascinating to read, she had such an incredible life and wrote with honesty and transparency about her encounters.

Scientists tell us that our globe is but a speck among millions of other specks in the universe, so we should be under no illusion as to our importance. But even our limited faculties are given to us for some purpose. We as individuals must have some value. Every single cell of my body exists without being consciously experienced at every moment and yet it belongs to the whole. Without the body it has no existence of its own. And this body is only a cell of something bigger – we are a part of something important.

Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search, Swami Sivananda Radha

The Yoga Manifesto: How Yoga Helped Me and Why It Needs to Save Itself, by Nadia Gilani

In this book, Nadia talks about how, at the lowest points of her life, she rolled out her yoga mat and practised. Since becoming a teacher, she has witnessed the growth of the yoga industry and asks if it has stepped too far away from the original spiritual practice.  I found it very interesting and engaging to read with lots of things to pause and think about. The book explores all kinds of scientific and philosophical points but in an easy to approach style.

Also, it makes you excited to get up early and get on the mat.

I felt it best to keep them moving as much as possible, so I taught an hour of Ashtanga Yoga – a dynamic form of doing postures that I have practised for many years. What makes this approach distinct is synching the breath with the movement. With practice the breath starts to initiate the movement and that’s when the magic begins to happen. Neuro-scientific research also shows that people who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can benefit from physical practices to help process trauma and improve the resilience of their nervous system.

The Yoga Manifesto: How Yoga Helped Me and Why It Needs to Save Itself, by Nadia Gilani

The Eight Limbs of Yoga: A Handbook for Living Yoga Philosophy, by Stuart Ray Sarbacker and Kevin Kimple

I bought this book to help develop my own knowledge of yoga philosophy after I heard a teacher referring to the Eight Limbs in a class. This short-and-sweet book is an excellent introduction to the Eight Limbs, breaking them down into understandable explanations and chapters, and how yoga philosophy can be brought into everyday life.

The practice of yoga is for imperfect people, especially those who are earnestly dedicated to transforming themselves and their moral and spiritual legacy in this world. As human beings we share a common experience of moral failings and regrets in our lives. Rather than conceiving of this as somehow a reason not to practice yoga, we can view these failings as a great motivating force for doing so… We can work to uproot the sources of our anger, greed, and so on, and in their place plant the seeds of future happiness for ourselves and those around us. From a Buddhist perspective, we should take up practice with zeal…

The Eight Limbs of Yoga: A Handbook for Living Yoga Philosophy, by Stuart Ray Sarbacker and Kevin Kimple

Light on Life: the Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace and Ultimate Freedom, B. K. S. Iyengar

This book is so full of wisdom and knowledge about yoga and how it can bring a sense of wholeness to your life. It shows us how we can take yoga off the mat and out into the world, to make us better people for others, but also improve our lives for ourselves.

By learning to appreciate breath, we learn to appreciate life itself. The gift of breath is the gift of life. When we receive a gift, we feel gratitude. Through pranayama we learn gratitude for life and gratitude toward the unknown divine source of life.

Light on Life: the Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace and Ultimate Freedom, B. K. S. Iyengar

Hatha Yoga: the Hidden Language, Swami Sivananda Radha

This book explores the symbolism of the asanas (physical postures), through which we can discover layers of meaning and connections within ourselves. The asanas are split into groups: animals, birds, plants and structures (such as the mountain, the triangle, the eagle, the scorpion), and the reader is invited to hold an asana for a longer period of time and be curious about what it may bring up.

The book prompts you with questions you might like to ask yourself as you hold the asana, encouraging you to make reflections and take your time within each posture. If you want to start practising on your own, this book is a wonderful guide and encourages curiosity and self-exploration. I have found it to be very inspirational.

The name of the asana is the place to begin to look for its symbolic meaning. For example: Mountain. The words we often associate with a mountain are strong, massive, immovable, insurmountable, high. What have mountains meant to peoples of different cultures? You can ask yourself: “What does mountain mean to me? My inner strength, my immovability or stubbornness, my strivings, my insurmountable obstacles, my lofty ideals?” as you stand in this posture and view it as a symbol, think of your struggles to reach the top, the stretching of your body and the effort of the muscles helping you to see different aspects of yourself and gain new insights.

Hatha Yoga: the Hidden Language, Swami Sivananda Radha

Yoga School Dropout, by Lucy Edge

After a decade in advertising and enjoying a wine or two, Lucy quits everything and goes to India to travel round the different yoga schools and find her way to happiness. Not quite a beginner, and not an advanced student, she tries to find a daily routine in the different schools and ashrams that she stays at, but nothing really feels as right as she expected. This book made me laugh out loud and roll my eyes as she describes her journeys round India and the people she meets in the schools along the way. Also, great for anyone who loves reading about travel.

Train number 6525, the 21.00 Kanyakumari Express from Bangalore to Trivandrum, sat at the platform for a good hour after it was due to depart. The note on the timetable was proven right – passengers were warned that the published time of departure was the earliest the train would leave.

Leaving Mysore I had felt like a prisoner newly released from jail – seeing the world as if for the first time. Now, as I stood in the train doorway, sounds seemed amplified – the hiss of departing trains, the shouts of the chai vendors, the excited screams of children. I took in the broad spectrum of Eastern colours and textures with wide-eyed wonder. How come I hadn’t noticed these things before? Living in Mysore had felt very insular, the students were almost entirely Western and there had been little exploration of the world beyond the yoga schools. The small details of Indian daily life that I now saw before me held me transfixed. The platform was crowded with the friends and families of the departing. Young women in parrot-green and flamingo pink saris tried to control uncontrollable children, older ladies looking stern – adjusting their spectacles and tut-tutting at the lack of discipline, important men with important business looked on impatiently.

Yoga School Dropout, by Lucy Edge

Teaching Yoga: Adjusting Asana, by Melanie Cooper

This book was a god-send during my teacher training, and I still regularly refer to it now when creating my sequences. Adjusting can be a tricky thing and requires confidence – this book takes you step-by-step through the Ashtanga primary sequence in an informative and easily digestible way.

Teaching is an ongoing process. In the beginning you teach what you know. As time goes on, your understanding deepens, your knowledge expands and your teaching develops. Your practice is a major resource for your teaching. As you go along, your practice helps your teaching and in turn your teaching will help your practice.

Teaching Yoga: Adjusting Asana, by Melanie Cooper

The Confidence Solution: Seven Steps to Confidence, by Chloe Brotheridge

Not a yoga book, but I think this is a must read for any teacher (or any student) looking for that extra little boost of confidence. I read this as part of my YTT and can honestly say it helped me so much with understanding confidence and how to build it.

Hint: try it, at the very least you won’t expire on the spot.

Being human is messy. We are by our nature imperfect beings. Trying to be perfect actually goes against our nature! It’s unnatural! What needs to come first is acceptance. Weirdly, that’s when things start to feel perfect, when you accept that you, as you are, are pretty awesome. Accepting your imperfections doesn’t mean stagnating. It’s going to make your life so much richer to think of yourself as ever evolving, ever learning and growing, and always making progress, no matter what.

The Confidence Solution: Seven Steps to Confidence, by Chloe Brotheridge

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Again, not technically a yoga book, this is about creativity. I think it is a common trait amongst yoga students and teachers to appreciate creativity. I love this book, I love Elizabeth Gilbert. Quick side note, if you haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, (I know, who hasn’t), I recommend it, for the descriptions of pizza alone, but also her experiences of going to an ashram in India and her discussion of the world around her.

Both are wonderfully written books by a truly inspiring author.

Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “ a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the sense for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

What yoga books do you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

The Christmas Countdown: Tips to Help Ease Stress

The shops are playing Christmas songs, adverts for party food are on TV every night, and diaries are filling up with exciting festive engagements: the run up to Christmas is a magical time with lots of merriment, but it can also be mentally draining, physically exhausting and, at times, just outright anxiety inducing.

Here are a couple of things to try over include in, or get you started with, your morning routine to help with The Christmas Countdown.

Bonus points if you can do them before checking your phone!

Get up and move your body – stretch it out

When the mornings are colder and darker, it can be hard to get out of bed (believe me, I know). However, I’m a firm believer that some stretchy movement first thing in the morning is really helpful for the rest of the day. (Also, movement naturally gets you warm so even if you get cold getting up, you won’t be for long!).

It doesn’t have to be a full-on workout, or leaving the house in the cold darkness, it could just be some simple stretches or mobility exercises. For example, moving through child’s pose, some cat/cows, downdogs or seated twists, can be great for both mind and body.

Movement helps the body release cortisol, serotonin, and endorphins, this helps to lower stress levels and encourage you to feel good and more energetic for the rest of the day. Brill! There is also research to show that by achieving something as small as getting out of bed and completing a short movement routine, works wonders for helping us feel like we’ve already achieved something before the day has properly started. Winner.

Finally, moving, stretching, strengthening, releasing can only be good (provided we are safe and avoid injury). Your body will thank you later.

Pranayama – breathwork to bring yourself to the present moment

By focussing on the breath, we can bring ourselves to the present moment – an excellent place to start the day. By allowing ourselves time to not worrying about to-do lists, shopping lists, what we ate last night… we can just be here, now. Repeat to yourself: I am here, now, in this body.

Also, increasing the amount of oxygen in your lungs and blood is a great way to refresh after a night’s sleep.

Try a few rounds of Box Breathing. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, pause for four. Then repeat the cycle for a few rounds.

Journaling – How am I feeling this morning?

Start the day by asking yourself that question: how am I feeling?

Write down what comes up without judgement or getting lost in stories (or making it into a to-do list). Instead, notice how you are feeling mentally and physically. Are you tired or energetic, for example? Are you feeling purposeful or tense? Are you achy, sad, excited, or is your mind full of chatter you can’t switch off. Getting it on the page does help to free the mind.

Read back over what you have written and notice any patterns or triggers. Notice if you write things like ‘I must do’ or ‘I need to’ and see if you can change the language to something less black and white, ‘I would like to…’ or ‘it would be good if I could…’ We put so much pressure on ourselves over Christmas to get things done! You can’t fill from an empty cup and so taking time in the mornings to really notice how we are feeling, and our energy levels, can be useful.

Meal planning – Life is too short to say no to roast potatoes

This might seem a little controversial, but I write about food because I can really make myself feel awful over what I eat and drink in the run up to Christmas. During this time of year, I’m lucky that I get to go out and see friends and eat in lovely restaurants with family quite a lot. I don’t want to seem miserable and turn down the invites, (or tearfully look through a menu… I’ve been there!) so instead, I think about the meals I can control that day and what I can make for myself that is fresh and healthy.

Then I don’t get lost in self-blame for enjoying a roast potato or two. Or seven.

This time of year is meant to be fun, so accept there will be times of over-indulgence without feeling guilty.

Find a yoga class and get booked on

Finally, there’s something really special about taking part in a yoga class in winter. It can be online from the comfort of your own home, or finding a local class. There’s something very cosy about sharing a class with others – feeling their energy surround you and lift you up, and the teacher (hopefully) saying something soothing. Release and relax, stretch and re-set; yoga is all about helping the body and mind feel good. Go and get that yoga buzz!

What’s the difference between Restorative and Yin Yoga?

Restorative and Yin yoga both involve holding poses for a length of time, with the help of props, to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (promoting rest and digest). But there are some differences between the two.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga poses, if done correctly, should feel like you are doing nothing at all. By using props such as blankets, bolsters or bricks, the joints of the body are held comfortably and feel completely supported. From there you can encourage your mind and body relax into the pose. For example, in a recent class I went to, we started by folding up a blanket, lying one end of it over a brick placed at the top of the mat, and then lying down with the head on the part of the blanket over the brick. The blanket then supported the spine, coming to just above the coccyx, so that the bum was off the blanket and on the mat. Then, covered by another blanket and a bolster placed under the knees, the teacher encouraged us to take a scan of the body and start letting go of any tension.

Before my first restorative class I remember being nervous that I might miss the instructions for how to set up the props and then try to relax into something uncomfortable. However, I really needn’t have worried: a good teacher will give the instructions slowly and clearly, and there is plenty of time within the pose to adjust if something doesn’t feel quite right for you. One of the great things about Restorative (and Yin) yoga is that each student is in complete control and can make the poses their own.

If you’re at home and don’t have any these specific props, all you need is a bit of wall space, some chunky books, a chair or even a towel or some pillows. Just get comfy and allow yourself to R E L A X. You can hold a restorative pose for anywhere from 5 to 10 to 30 to 40 minutes… It’s all about listening to what feels good in your body.

Some of the benefits of Restorative yoga include increased blood circulation, reducing stress and promoting good quality sleep.

Yin Yoga

Similar to Restorative, Yin gives you time to be calm and settle into the body to become more aware of what is going on within.

In a Yin pose, we apply gentle stretch to the muscles (this is sometimes referred to as finding the “edge”) and you should feel the stretch but not any pain. Then by holding the pose for a few minutes and connecting with the breath, the tissues may start to soften.

An example of a Yin pose could be sitting with the legs wide on either side of a bolster, folding forwards from the hips and bringing the head to rest on a brick placed on the bolster. This would help stretch the hips and inside of the thighs. It would also focus on the liver meridian. In Yin, the poses work with energy channels in the body known as meridians. A teacher can choose a particular channel (like the liver or the stomach) and plan the class around that area.

Yin is helpful for increasing flexibility as well as clearing stagnant energy in the body.

I think both Yin and Restorative yoga have a reputation for being ‘easy’. They don’t have the dynamic flow of Vinyasa or the non-stop jumps of Ashtanga, but they do have their own challenges. You have to be comfortable to find the stillness of the pose and be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes I have classes where I find I can empty my mind and soften into each pose easily; and there are some days where I really struggle to turn off the internal stream of mental chatter. I can be physically still but mentally? That’s a whole other ball game.

But, as with anything, it is about practise and learning what works for you and what doesn’t, and being accepting of the times when it doesn’t work.

For me, Restorative and Yin classes are part of my yoga practise as a whole and not just isolated classes to help me relax. The things I learn when holding poses for a longer period of time also helps me progress and get more out of my Vinyasa and Ashtanga classes. For example, my understanding of the connection between the body and the breath is deeper after Yin and Restorative; and also being in control of the pose – if something is painful or restrictive, then I can adapt the pose so it suits my body. Iyengar students see restorative classes as a fundamental part of their yoga and I agree – plus it is always good to give yourself time and permission to relax and restore.

Yoga glossary: What does ‘yoga’ mean?

“Yoga is a more comprehensive practice than simply stretching and breathing,” says Darren Main in his book ‘Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic.’ So, what does ‘yoga’ mean?

The word comes from the Sanskrit meaning to ‘yoke’ or ‘unite’ and the physical postures (asana) only make up one part of it. Yoga is about the uniting of the body with the mind, the soul, and the breath; but also between the individual and a sense of connection to a oneness around them.

The physical poses are a great place to start, because we learn so much about ourselves as we learn the different poses. Poses that seemed impossible when we first tried them do, after time and practise, become easier. But originally, the physical poses were about preparing the body to be ready to sit in meditation for a long time, rather than the vinyasa and ashtanga flows we know now. 

Pantajali, a Sage in ancient India wrote the Yoga Sutra around 1800 years ago and in it he outlined the principles of yoga: he described it as “the cessation of mental fluctuations” and to get there the student should follow the path known as the ‘Eight Limbs.’

The Eight Limbs include the Yamas (ethical and moral observances to live by), Niyamas (spiritual observances), Asana, Pranayama (control of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (liberation). I will go over the Eight Limbs in more detail in another post, because there is so much to say about them, but in effect yoga is as much about how you live your life off the mat as it is what you do on it.

How can we practise off the mat? Do something that brings you joy, get out in nature, express gratitude for the life you are living and don’t live grasping for more, being kind to others and yourself. As my yoga teacher says, there’s no point in having a great class where you hold every posture perfectly to then get in your car to drive home in a fit of road rage. But sometimes it’s hard to feel content with where you are in life, and sometimes the guy that just overtook you on a roundabout really did deserve all the swearwords you showered him with. Yoga isn’t a quick journey where you learn the poses and you’re done, it’s an ever changing, continuous journey that takes time and discipline. But that’s what makes it so interesting.

As Darren puts it: “Remember that yoga…is a practice, not perfection. It’s the process of returning to your yoga practice over and over again that gives you the benefits. Doing the perfect yoga pose or clearing your mind of all thought is well and good, but in the end it is the practice of returning to yoga that allows you to live life to the fullest.”

So, my questions to you are: what does yoga mean to you and how do you practise it off the mat?