This is a short ode to meditation. If you already have a meditation practice, does this resonate with you? And if you don’t, is it something you might want to try?
Bat your lashes, take a deep breath and count to three. There is magic right in front of you. Jewels hidden in plain view. I swear it by the moon. All you have to do is look and listen, beyond the thin veneer of habituality. There is always something new to discover, something unseen. Like being tourists in our own minds and habitats. Or like children.
This winter I am living on my sailboat far north in the world, north of the Arctic Circle. To most people that sounds incredibly exotic. And it sure is. But this is my everyday life too, remember? It is no weekend vacation. The winter here is dark. No sun for a long, long time. And there are storms. Lots and lots of storms. It is absolutely possible to get used to this reality, and not in the «I could get used to that» sense of something comfortable or fun we want more of in our lives. Just used to, as in « this is my day-to-day life, and I’m used to it» sense. What does that really tell me? Several things, actually. For one, it tells me we can endure more than we think, when it comes to discomfort. But it also tells me we can end up «enduring» and tuning out the good stuff, if we forget how to look for it. Even up here, where it is stunningly beautiful, the eyes can go blind. Up here, where nature sings one day and growls the next. Ouch.
Paradoxically I think the dark makes it easier to see. I hibernate a bit during the darkest winter and let my eyes rest in velvety darkness. That’s ok. But not for too long. It’s an opportunity to really wake up. And if it wasn’t for the dark, we wouldn’t see the stars, of course. Or the aurora borealis. None of this magic is visible if we get stuck in front of a screen. I need to go outside, even if it’s overcast, even just to smell the sea. And I need to go inside, to really open my eyes and see. There is so much beauty on the inside, even when the world is dark. Even when there is suffering. Even when the mind chatters like mad hatters at a tea party.
So, yes, another ode to meditation. I can dig it. And may I humbly suggest that if you can’t really seem to take the time for the kind of meditative practice you think you should have, if feel like you are stuck in a rut, or that your city street looks dull, or you’ve forgotten the smell in your apartment, you simply sit down and get quiet just for a moment every day? Just noticing whatever is there to be noticed, whatever is there to be felt. Like an internal shower, where you wash the layer of grey dust off your senses. Then, perhaps, you can see, really see the clouds during your morning commute. Or smell the frost. The splendour in the grass, the glory in the flower. All that jazz. Maybe you have your own way of coming to your senses. Maybe it involves cabins in the wood or travels to faraway lands. Yes, please, both! May I suggest sitting a bit, anyway, just quietly? A fresh perspective is only a few breaths away. And there is more. So much more.
How to begin? Sit in a way that feels good and focus on your breath, just feeling the flow of air. A minute or five will do, just to start out.
If you need more guidance, I just might cook something up in the near future – involving adventures both inside and outside. Do let me know what you want! And there are plenty of meditation apps out there. Like Insight Timer, with lots of free guided meditations and sound tracks (I love sound baths)! Or, if you want snazzy design and step-by-step programmes, try Headspace or Calm. Calm even has bedtime stories, including nature essays by John Muir. Lots of love right there.
Now, bat your lashes, close your eyes, take a deep breath and count to three. And again. And again.
Great things are afoot (or, rather, afloat) at SV Pyxie (a.k.a. the yogini goes bear headquarters).
Soon a wave of peace and tranquility will be unleashed upon the world. Ok, maybe not that drastic, but plans are brewing of both a sailing yoga tour with gatherings all across Norway (and later abroad) and of online tools for your yoga and meditation practice.
But before I unravel all the mind-blowing videos, guides and programmes I have in the making, I thought I’d pay some respect to the great work people are already doing to inspire and help others grow a practice that serves them. I’m a bit of an internet junkie and have found so many great resources online. I have no problem recommending other sites to help you out. I’m a fan of collaboration and community building rather than competition. So I’m going to share stuff I dig.
Yoga programmes and memberships:
My Yoga Online has merged with Gaiam TV, so the site has changed a bit since I posted about it last. But there is still great content from a plethora of teachers, and a ten day free trial. You can also find articles, meditations and pose guides here.
Cody is absolutely physical, with various training plans – and not just yoga. This is a fitness app, more than anything. So this is not the place to go looking for knowledge on traditional yoga. I’ll post more on that later. The yoga section at Cody targets the seasoned practicioner wanting to learn specific asanas, like handstands, or new practices such as acro yoga. But if you look for it, you will also find beginner programs and meditation. I have a girl crush on Meghan Currie, and although I don’t have any ambition to reach her contortionist level of flexibility, I absolutely love her teachings. She’s got a great bundle on Cody.
Free youtube channels:
Bex is crazy amazing. Mother of five, backyard chickens and goats, meditation in the laundry room – Bex shows a level of authenticity where most youtube trainers gloss things over. I consider her my friend and I adore her, even when she does things completely different from me. Maybe especially because she does things her way. She is herself to the core. Hardcore. Don’t get me wrong, we see heart to heart. We just have radically different lives and I find that diversity oh, so refreshing. Check out her website bexlife.com.
Adriene is fun, playful and offers a 30 days of yoga program for free.
Ekhart Yoga is a stayer. Esther brings on other experienced teachers too, and there are a lot of resources on her channel.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of my favourite meditation teachers of all time. He is rooted in mindfulness, has studied under great zen masters and developed a secular program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) . He has a wonderful voice and infuses his guided meditations with wisdom and eloquence. His series 1 is a great place to start a meditation practice. There are videos on youtube too, but I’d highly recommend getting his full series.
Another great place to start is theHeadspace app. I’ve tried out the 10 day free programme, and it’s great if you’re completely new to meditation. It makes it so simple and straightforward.
Stay tuned for part II where I take a detour from yoga and into food, inspiration and … startup podcasts.
Start within. One of the life lessons to take off the mat is acceptance. By surrendering to and accepting the world as it is, we open up to the possibility of moving through our days with ease and a sense of harmony. Sure, sleet and ice and a whole lot of darkness is not particularly conducive neither to ease nor harmony. But if we do like good Norwegians do and wrap ourselves up in knitted jumpers and general coziness, it does make the dark days more enjoyable. Bring on the cat, cocoa, chai and cuddles!
Here are a few other tips on how to stay warm, healthy and happy:
Abhyanga – self massage. This is an ayurvedic massage technique. In India you might get it from two massage therapists using a whole lot of warm oil. But it can also be done by yourself at home as a nice way of increasing circulation, taking care of stiff, cold muscles (anyone say hips?) and dry skin. Plus it has a lot of other great benefits, such as better sleep and digestion. Here’s a nice and simple example of how to it:
Jala Netiis another helpful practice. It’s great to prevent a stuffy nose and painful sinuses. This is one of the Shatkarmas (or -kriyas) in Hatha Yoga. Basically it’s the simple practice of rinsing out the nose. It’s done with a small pot (called lota) that you can easily find the pharmacy, at yoga studios selling yoga equipment or online. You prepare luke warm (body temperature) water with 1 ts salt per liter. This gives it the right salinity to become isotonic, and thus non-irritating for the sensitive nasal membranes. With the chin drawn a bit in tilt the head to the side and pour water through one nostril and then switch to the other one. If it feels uncomfortable or painful, stop and try adding more salt. Having the right amount of salt really makes all the difference. Make sure you blow your nose thoroughly with the head bent forward over the sink until all the water is out. I’d also recommend doing sun salutations, downward dog, standing forward bend or any inverted pose afterwards to completely clear the nose. I personally do this practice every morning, right after brushing my teeth, flossing and scraping my tongue. It may sound gross, but it’s the perfect way to prepare the body for deep, balanced breathing.
Warming spices. This is the season for comforting soups and stews, and for drinks like masala chai, cocoa or herbal teas. Feel free to add warming spices like cardamon, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg to your food and drinks. Remember that warming doesn’t necessarily mean hot. Use your ayurvedic dosha (constitution) as a guideline. Very hot or pungent spices can irritate your digestive system if you’re a vata type person and aggravate pitta related conditions. Kapha might need some hot spices, and no matter your dosha a little bit of chili can help on a cold winter’s day. Just don’t go overboard with it. Remember that most of us are a combination of doshas, and that we nead some heat in winter. I recommend trying out some South Indian food like masala dosa or paratha if you have any places nearby serving it. In Oslo I know of one good place called Palmyra Café in Motzfeldts gate.
Warming pranayama. There are several breathing techniques, like Ujjayi (whispering/ocean breath), Kapalbhati (one of the cleansing shatkarmas), Bhastrika (bellows breath) and the one I love: Bhramari (humming bee breath).
Get some sleep! Bears hibernate during winter for good reason. It’s dark and cold out there. Being tired just makes you more prone to feeling chilly all day, and to catching whatever goes around. Try to ditch that last episode of whatever it is you’re watching or that email you know can wait until morning and give yourself some time to wind down before hitting the hay. And please hit it before Cinderella time. Starting the day right requires ending it right. Getting to bed early gives you the luxury of more rest and more time in the morning. Say, time for neti, tea and a little bit of yoga, pranayama and meditation before breakfast. Difficulty sleeping? I’m a notoriously light sleeper myself and I also get cold on hands and feet in the evening, making it hard to fall asleep. My best sleeping aid so far is the abhyanga self-massage above followed by a nice, warm shower!
Escapism. Ok, so you’ve reached the edge of acceptance and can’t really take it anymore. If you have a bath tub or know someone with one, you can always get in for a nice, warm soak. I love eating ice cream in the bath, closing my eyes and retreating to my own imaginary summer, just for a few minutes. Call it a meditation on warmth, if you like. If you’re a member of a gym, do take advantage of their saunas. I feel very lonely in the spa at Elixia sometimes, and it really surprises me that many pass on this opportunity to really zap some stress and feel warm to the core.
A real escape. Go somewhere warm. Take a yoga vacation. I’ve previously arranged trips to Morocco for a week of yoga and surfing. Lying on the beach or by the pool is like charging a solar panel. We absorb the sunlight and get some vitamin D in our system at just the right moment. So if you have the chance to go somewhere, do it!
The holidays and end of the year provide an excellent opportunity to faff around at home, build your own practice and create new habits that serve you; habits that you can bring with you into the year to come. Give this to yourself for Christmas! Take the time to move around, and also to just sit still and observe.
You can even do yoga while scrubbing the floors. Keep a note book close. Write down whatever plonks into your mind. Good ideas are sometimes like seeds who need paper to grow roots. Stale, dusty junk thoughts or heavy emotional baggage needs to come out into the light too. Then you can choose what to keep and what to toss. Let it out and let it go.
Create space and a nice atmosphere just for you. Check out some of my suggested videos below or just do the sequences or poses you like from classes you’ve been to. Play around with it. Nobody’s watching (except maybe the cat).
Want to start right now? Here’s my quick guide to yoga on the web!
I’m completely in love with Meghan Currie‘s Strength Intelligence bundle on the Cody App website. These paid plans are for deepening your practice, really listening in and developing a whole new level of grace, strength and flow. This is my Christmas present to myself this year! If you’re hesitant to heat up your credit card even more than you already might have, I get you. The lovely people at Cody are offering the first of her sessions for free. Enjoy! Actually, you could do this one practice throughout the holidays and you’d never need me ever again. (Just kidding. Come play with me!)
Want to join a yoga studio with lots of different teachers, or just hang on the couch and read up on anything from philosophy to nutrition? My Yoga on Gaiam TV has daily videos with whole practices, both short and long. You can do the daily practice, join one of the curated programs or find other videos in the archive. This is a subscription service with monthy fees, but you can try it out for 10 days for free. Also, there is lots of free content like articles and a pose guide. A nice way to get some inspiration!
There’s also tons of free resources on youtube!
Yogatic/Ekhart Yoga is the channel of Dutch yoga teacher Esther Ekhart. A great resource with tons of short and sweet practices, videos on alignment and transitions, full classes of up to 90 minutes and also nice meditations. And there’s a team of highly experienced and soothingly human, down-to-earth teachers in different shapes and ages. Check it out and you’ll see what I mean.
A very common cat situation, this:
Sit down. Relax. Do nothing. Not as easy as it sounds?
In a yoga asana class, there is simply not enough time to really get into a deep meditation practice in complete stillness. It’s a moving meditation, for sure, especially when plugging into our awareness in the way teachers like Meghan Currie invites us to. I would still highly recommend practicing meditation on it’s own, sitting or lying down. And it really doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Guided meditations are often a good place to start, but it’s important to find a teacher you like. Even just the sound of the voice makes a big difference. I adore Jon Kabat-Zinn, not only for his voice, but also his eloquence and wonderful introduction into moment to moment awareness. If I was to pick one thing for you to try of all the things I have listed in this post, it is the Heartscape/Loving Kindness meditation. Call it my Christmas present to you. That should make you open it, right? Then I would love it if you passed it on to someone else.
Merry Christmas and have a wonderful transition into the new year.