Friday, 19 November 2010

GIVE WATER THIS CHRISTMAS


Plastic water bottles have joined overly packaged, overly processed, air-flown food and plastic bags in the minefield that is our modern supermarket.  Those of us trying our best to do the right thing for the well being of our planet and our families have for a long time been refilling our reusable bottles from the kitchen tap.  Chilled and served in pretty glass bottles from the local pound store, I have to confess that I actually do prefer my London tap water over many of the varieties on sale at hugely inflated prices in the supermarkets.

However it was while in the kitchen one evening filling a bottle to serve with the family meal that it occurred to me that in the midst of my efforts to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics, I had overlooked the great privilege of having the choice between tap or bottled water at all.  In fact like a lot of people, I think we take safe drinking water in our home completely for granted.

In 2010 one in eight of us - almost a billion people in the world do not have access to clean, safe drinking water.  Forget the luxury of being able to make a conscience driven choice between tap and bottled water. Many of these people are forced to walk up to four miles each day to reach the nearest supply of water or quite simply go without. In Africa alone, people spend 40 billion hours every year just walking to collect water.

It is the women and children who usually have to collect their family’s water. Not only do they have to walk for miles in hot barren regions to the nearest source, but also when they get there the water is often unprotected and is likely to make them sick. Unsafe water and the lack of sufficient hygienic living conditions cause 80 percent of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhoea, dysentery, and other illnesses.

In the build up to Christmas we all receive many requests to donate money to charity or to buy gifts from charity shops and mail-order operations. It has certainly paid off. In recent years  I have found myself much more interested in foregoing the cost of mailing Christmas cards and gift wrapping endless pairs of socks and woolly scarves for friends and family preferring instead to give the equivalent sums of money to organizations that I am keen to support.

WaterAid is an international non governmental organisation that uses practical solutions to provide access to clean water, hygiene education and safe sanitation to the world's poorest communities. WaterAid now works in 26 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. It does simple, effective things that transform communities, like building freshwater wells, rainwater catchments, and sand filters. Its projects enable communities to achieve a better quality of life and escape the spiral of poverty and its focus on equity and inclusion ensures that its work reaches even the poorest and most marginalised people.

The best part is how we can participate just by donating a little of the money that we might be planning to spend on some of the unnecessary paraphernalia that we seem to have built up around Christmas. 

Yes of course it is a good choice to reuse and not keep throwing away all those plastic water bottles. However even better, is playing some small part in helping to  bring easy access to the same safe water that we take for granted every day as well.  So in the quest to take your yoga off the mat and into the world around us why not donate the gift of water this Christmas.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Make Time For Mellow Fruitfulness

Following a wonderful week this October enjoying the last of the summer heat in Southern Turkey with a lovely group on my recent yoga holiday, we have returned to find that autumn is well and truly upon us. 

 This is the season to completely let go, quite literally with our breath. We see this in nature as the leaves wither, die and begin to fall to the ground. We can let go of old feelings, beliefs and attachments and by doing so create a fresh space to grow with new wisdom and compassion for ourselves and others.

In autumn, lung conditions such as colds, flu, bronchitis and asthma begin to rear their heads again. Other symptoms can also be sinus congestion and allergies.  

Practicing any yoga posture in a relaxing way with slow deep breathing and the intention to let go and relax the nervous system can be very beneficial in decreasing the symptoms of allergies. Kapalabhati breathing is great for allergies as it forces out the mucus.

The relaxation time at the end of our yoga practice is also an important part of decreasing allergic immune response. Relaxation helps to decrease the body's reaction to allergens. Other seasonal symptoms can be constipation, ibs and fatigue. These are all signals that there is an imbalance within us. We need to address this as when our organs are working well our bodies have an effortless rhythm about them.

If our lungs are healthy we can become refreshed and inspired with each new breath. By exhaling fully and completely our body can literally be expunged of wastes and toxins. A healthy functioning colon assists our body to eliminate the waste from digestion and cellular breakdown. We keep only what our body needs and let go of what it doesn't. If our colon function is impaired then this clutters our body and we feel heavy, lacking in focus and motivation, even toxic.

In our autumn yoga practice we should focus on the areas in our bodies that hold and store excess. These are our outer hips, the side waist and the backs of our thighs. We need to free up and open our upper chest and shoulder region. By opening and releasing these areas we can experience a sense of better health and overall wellbeing. We become more toned and  increase our body's elimination efficiency. By letting go of excess we improve our lung health and soften our chests, shoulders and necks. Some of the postures for this purpose are Cobra, Pigeon, Fish, Boat, Bow, Camel and Bridge.


 By deepening the quality of our breathing we can experience more life force (prana), which lifts ours hearts and helps us to become more compassionate, motivated and energised. It is also important to look after our lungs in preparation for winter. The lungs are sensitive during autumn, as the air quality changes to become cooler and drier which can adversely affect our lungs and skin. It is important to drink plenty of fluids to remain hydrated with warm drinks like herbal teas, green tea and fresh ginger tea. As we begin to turn on the central heating the dry air also affects our skin, so massage with oils and moisturisers after baths or showers.
It is important to keep ourselves warm during the cool crisp days particularly first thing in the morning and on those chilly journeys home from work as the evenings draw in and when the air temperature can drop rapidly. Make sure that you protect yourself from cold drafts, especially your neck, wrists and ankles.

A healthy functioning colon is helped by consuming plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The shops and markets are full of locally sourced apples, pears, pumpkins, squashes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, onions, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli and spinach. Also include in your diet at this time of the year fibre rich grains, like medium grain brown rice, barley and oats. Autumn is the season to start thinking about preparing warming comforting soups and casseroles with all these vegetables, pulses and grains. Miso soup is now widely available in our supermarkets and is also very beneficial for our lower body health and can be purchased when you're on the run very cheaply in high street takeaway outlets.

 Autumn is the time when it is actively encouraged to sweeten your food. Try stewed fruits and bake old family favourites like pies and crumbles with in season apples, pears, blackberries and plums.

Our good health at this time of the year, as any other is not just isolated to our physical bodies. In autumn we have the potential to create and feel refreshed and inspired in our thinking and our experience. Our deep sense of personal well-being can be found as we allow ourselves to let go and find space for new opportunities. We can wipe clean the slate, blow off the cobwebs to discover our full potential.


If we live by these suggestions, autumn can become a time of transformation for ourselves as well as we begin to reflect what is going on in the natural the world around us. Just by adopting healthy habits, good nutrition and regular yoga practice, we can enjoy a clear perspective, inspiration and an open heart. Our minds can become clear, just like these fresh crisp days; we can loose that heavy sluggish feeling and replace it with heightened energy, vitality and motivation.
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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

THE POWER OF LOVE

I have become increasingly awere of the fragility and shortness of life as I have grown older. More and more, acutely aware of the preciousness of each moment and our ability to connect with the forces so much greater than our own. The strongest force in the universe. like a band of steel that stretches through time and across any distance, is the force of love.
Way beyond asana and pranayama, time spent in meditation and prayer, my teaching and parenting, is this incredibly powerful force we call love. When I remember this my heart feels more open and accepting and I know that I have with me the ability to love and to be loved in return. It is a wonderful feeling.
It is this that we all journey towards throughout our lives and hopefully through patience and acceptance this powerful force of love is there for all of us whatever name we choose to give it.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

COMPASSION


"When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another - Helen Keller"

Over recent weeks, the scale of the devastation faced in Pakistan by unprecedented floods has filtered on to our television screens. As the realisation of what had happened began to dawn on us, the people of Britain have been praised internationally for their generosity with other nations quick to follow. Prayers are being said in mosques and churches, synagogues and temples all over the world for this beleaguered nation. Even in yoga classes teachers are encouraging their students to hold the people of Pakistan, at the centre of this human tragedy in their hearts. Graphic news images of men, women and children trying to clear unimaginable quantities of slurry and mud from the rubble that remains of their villages has really made us look at our own homes and loved ones and be thankful.


Time and time again after these shocking catastrophes we see the world coming together like it does at no other time. Even after nine years we continue to hear how 9-11 changed the lives of people forever; how people otherwise caught up in their own lives suddenly dropped everything to turn their eyes outside of themselves, with hearts of compassion.  Earlier this year I watched a television programme about the Tsunami and it effects five years on.  It is hard to believe that this dreadful event was already so long ago and while the rest of us in the world have moved on and buildings and towns have been rebuilt, many communities and families have remained shattered forever in the worst hit places. More recently still, has been the unimaginable horror of the earthquake that struck impoverished Haiti with all the troubles that island nation already had to bear.  There, the effects of the aid effort will take years and years to make any significant impact and to many Haitians it probably seems as if the world has already forgotten them.

But why is it that we humans so often have to wait until something catastrophic happens before we allow our hearts to express compassion? Why can't we live compassionately everyday? We don't have to look too far to find people who need our compassion, people who may have just lost a loved one, been diagnosed with cancer, or lost their source of income. When we look outside of ourselves compassionately, we open ourselves up to a different world. What if we allowed our emotions to connect with other people every day and made a conscious decision to be more compassionate without the trigger of an international tragedy?






SInce I have become a yoga teacher, I have met many people who are trying to change their lives for the better, sometimes after traumatic events or illness. They might have decided to start by trying to become physically healthier but in reality this first step towards helping themselves through yoga works hand in hand to help them become healthier both emotionally and spiritually.

There is a reason that we are made of these three entities. We need to experience that sense of well being in all areas of ourselves before we can become completely healthy.  When we step outside ourselves and plant seeds of hope, encouragement and even relief in the lives others, even if its only in some small way we also find that we are also helping ourselves.

 We all need to be there more for each other, in good times and in bad.  We all need to take responsibility.  Some time ago I stumbled across this quote. 
"I always thought that someone should do something about that and then I realised I was somebody." 
The words are Lily Tomlin's but the sentiment applies to us all.

 I think it's fantastic that the world has rallied together once again when confronted by  devastation on such a massive scale.  But why don't we all challenge ourselves to live our lives more compassionately on a daily basis. To make a conscious effort to notice the people around us and open ourselves up to caring more even if it's just with an encouraging squeeze on the arm or  a genuine smile. Maybe delivering a bit of shopping or dropping round with a cooked meal, which is a really appreciated scheme run by my local church or even just by saying a simple, kind word and sparing a few moments just to listen.

 People need to love and be loved. If we make it our purpose to live our lives more compassionately, I think we might all be surprised and rewarded at how often we find ourselves in the path of someone who may have gone into tomorrow without hope and for whom we were able in some small way to make a difference.



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Friday, 20 August 2010

A Sanctuary Beneath Our Skin


Thrown back into London life after 16 blissful days enjoying the tranquility and sunshine of Provence is quite a jolt to the system. I taught my first class yesterday and it was lovely to see so many of my students again. They reminded me what a valuable tool yoga is to survive 21st urban living.


While the relaxing and revitalising effects of yoga are widely recognised what draws us to it from our busy over scheduled lives is something a little more elusive. Yoga presents a blissful marriage of mindful movement combined with a sense of inner stillness. It is yoga's geometric shapes connected through the breath that serve to create peace and harmony out of the chaos of thoughts and city life. It is when we fully commit to bringing ourselves into the present moment either by anchoring our attention in our breath or the physical sensations of our bodies, that our yoga practice becomes a moving meditation.

It is this that facilitates a very real physical opening and a tremendous release of tension. It is a powerful and effective method of reclaiming our physical bodies and an opportunity to discover how enjoyable it can be to get inside ourselves.

My yoga practice gives me the chance to feel thankful and sometimes surprised at what my body can actually do. If I stay rooted in the present moment I can really begin to experience time away from the endless demands of everyday life and my desire for achievement. Time on the yoga mat creates a place where I can be at one with precisely where I am, a place where I don't feel that I need to be doing more or be anywhere else.


Through yoga we can all discover that sense of holiday stillness and calm by seeking out the sanctuary beneath our own skin.

http://www.elisawilliamsyoga.com

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Time To Embrace Change

Over the years I have had the opportunity to take classes with some wonderful teachers - all have guided me to try things I'd never tried before. 

Being away on holiday at the moment in the warm sunshine of South of France has been an excellent opportunity to rise early before the rest of the family gets up and try new poses or new transitions between poses. My husband Dom is a keen yoga convert and since he started during the summer holidays of 2009, it is incredible just one year on to see how far he has travelled on his physical and emotional adventure.

Yoga helps to open our minds and hearts to new possibilities. It reminds us that change is possible, and that growth is possible. New experiences are a direct demonstration that we are not static, but that we are ever evolving within our bodies. So profound has this realisation been in my husband, that he has even at long last found the courage to walk away from a job that he has despaired of for years and now is extending this spirit of adventure found on the yoga mat into the rest of his life. With no idea of what's to come or how we're going to manage financially supporting a family of seven without the security of his monthly salary, he is just going to slow his life and down see what happens.

It's hard sometimes to embrace experiences that are unfamiliar and challenging, they make us a bit uncomfortable and we might be afraid of failure. However, if we just embrace new challenges in the playful spirit of possibility and just go for it we can quite often really surprise ourselves!

Monday, 9 August 2010

PLEASE TAKE ONE

I have just read this newly published book by our friend Mike Dickson that I would like to recommend.
While feeling mildly virtuous and on message by the fact that I read it sitting by the sun heated swimming pool in our house-swapped villa in Provence, wearing my long owned but too seldom worn bikini and a charity shop hat (see unflattering pic sneakily obtained by stalker husband armed with Blackberry!);  like most people I could do a whole lot better when it comes to generosity to others and, come to that, the planet. This very easy to read, non preachy book, reminds us that the world is in a social, economic and environmental mess which let's be frank is largely of our own doing. Please Take One takes a look at where we've gone wrong and sets out perfectly simple and practical advice as to how we can live more generous lives day by day. Importantly it shows us that this subtle shift in how we operate is not remotely difficult to build into busy lives or prohibited by our individual financial circumstances
It brings to mind one of my favourite quotes from Lily Tomlin: ' I always thought someone should do something about that and then I realised I am someone' or to use one Mike included in the book by the Dalai Lama: 'If you think you are too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito!'

http://www.pleasetakeonestep.com/

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

One day in Provence

We woke up this morning to the sounds of cicadas and the unmistakable dance of sunshine filtering through the shutters. After a raft of family holidays spent not ungratefully in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, held to ransom by whatever the Atlantic decides to throw at us, there is is a tangible feeling of euphoria. Just to know that the day ahead is going to be sunny and any plans we make will not be rained off by gales or sea fog. In fact the pleasure is in realisation that for once we dont even need to make plans and endless contingency plans to keep the family from mutiny.

Morning yoga on the terrace, a quiet swim before the family awakes and a breakfast that rolled into lunch is to me doing exactly what a family holiday should say on the tin.

Today we can live in the moment, lazy minutes and idle hours in the sunshine if we want them, spontaneous bursts of activity if we dont. We are in Provence on a home exchange. http://www.homeforexchange.com. Unfathomably, an otherwise sane French family approached us with the view to spending three weeks in West London, (Shepherds Bush to be precise) and six cheap flights (courtesy of that marvellous website http://www.skyscanner.net) later, we Brits find ourselves here in Ventabren in their lovely villa surrounded by all the vistas and flora of this much celebrated region.


The art historians among our older teens have headed off to Aix for a late afternoon stroll in the birthplace of Cezanne. Although I suspect shopping and a bar may be higher on their agenda, while us parents and younger offspring plan an evening excursion to yet another impossibly picturesque hill town, to quote Henry James:

Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language"


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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

YOGA IN SUMMER



Summer is a lovely time to practice yoga on the grass in the open air. Our bodies are also much more flexible in the heat but be warned it is possible to over stretch. 

Enjoy your body and hanging out with yourself on your yoga mat at this time of the year. On hot days practice yoga slowly with lots of soothing deep forward bends, Yin and restorative yoga sessions are the perfect antidote to hot muggy days as many of you who come to my restorative yoga gently classes will already know. 

Tonight we spent some time with  legs up the wall (viparita karani,) and supported shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) both cooling inversions especially at the end of the day - instantly reviving and refreshing!

I do love summer - it  takes me back to last winter in Goa where this photograph was taken on my first yoga holiday there in February. Can't wait for the next trip currently being planned  late January 2011


YOGA MUMMA FOOD FOR SUMMER


In summer a lighter diet feels better, and it's the perfect time for cool fresh locally produced food. Our own abundance of British fruits and vegetables are all good choices. Living in London I am very lucky to have an allotment so we're a little over run at this time of the year with salads, courgettes, green beans, soft fruits and tomatoes. As I write this post I am rather glad to hear the sound of a summer downpour as the watering duties have been pretty full on this year!

Food with cool properties can clear heat, reduce toxins, and generate body fluids. Cooling foods tend to be green and some of the coolest are lettuce, cucumbers and watercress. Fish and seafood are also cooling and are particularly good on the barbecue (most meats are warming), while spicy foods, alcohol, or caffeine that all heat the system so should be reduced. Instead drink lots of clean, pure water or add lemon and cucumber and chill in the fridge. Steer away from dairy, heavy, greasy and fried foods.

Tonight we have liberated the monster courgettes and plum tomatoes grown on our Fulham plot from the fridge and made a garlic and herb infused pasta sauce served with penne and wild rocket and cucumber salad. There's something very hunter gatherer about cooking up your own produce that somehow flies in the face of our urban existence here in West London.