Ayurveda & Dosha Types for Beginners

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Malasana / Garland Pose – a beautifully grounding pose for when I am feeling the effects of a Vata overload (South Easter to blame)

I posted recently about how the incessant wind that we’ve been having in Stellenbosch lately tends to make me go stir crazy, and that it’s got to do with Vata overload. Unsurprisingly, I had a few people asking me what that’s all about. So here’s a post as promised.

Ayurveda is a holistic science of health which is focused on maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state. It began about 5,000 – 6,000 years ago when Indian monks were looking for new ways to be healthy. Revering their bodies like temples, the monks believed that preserving their health would help them meditate and develop spiritually. Over thousands of years of observations, they gathered all their conclusions and advice and preserved it for future generations. This collection of knowledge came to be known as the “science or knowledge of life” — Ayurveda.

It differs from modern medicine in that it views every individual as unique, and there is no lifestyle routine or diet that is prescribed for everyone. Aside from that, a major difference is that it focuses largely on prevention, and providing specific advice and guidance on how to maintain your physical and emotional health. Food and lifestyle routines are considered the most important medicine. If you come to an Ayurvedic doctor with a complaint, you are more likely to leave with a recipe than with a prescription for pills.

Ayurveda is based on the principles of three doshas, which are the energies that make up every individual and perform different physiological functions in the body:

The 3 Dosha types:

1. Vata Dosha: Energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and your heartbeat.

  • In balance: There is creativity and vitality.
  • Out of balance: Can produce fear and anxiety.

Characteristics for Vata predominant types: Creative; Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget, Slender; Tall and a fast-walker; Tendency toward cold hands and feet, discomfort in cold climates; Excitable, lively, fun personality; Changeable moods; Irregular daily routine; High energy in short bursts; Tendency to tire easily and to overexert; Full of joy and enthusiasm when in balance; Responds to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety, especially when out of balance; Tendency to act on impulse; Often have racing, disjointed thoughts; Generally have dry skin and dry hair and don’t perspire much.

2. Pitta Dosha: Energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and your body’s temperature.

  • In balance: Leads to contentment and intelligence.
  • Out of balance: Can cause ulcers and anger.

Characteristics for Pitta Predominant Types: Medium physique, strong, well-built; Sharp mind, good concentration powers; Orderly, focused; Assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best; Aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance; Competitive, enjoy challenges; Passionate and romantic; Strong digestion, strong appetite, get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal; When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry; Skin fair or reddish, often with freckles; sunburns easily; Uncomfortable in sun or hot weather, heat makes them very tired; Perspire a lot; Good public speakers; Generally good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian; Subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger; Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, insomnia, dry or burning eyes.

3. Kapha Dosha: Energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system.

  • In balance: Expressed as love and forgiveness.
  • Out of balance: Can lead to insecurity and envy.

Characteristics for Kapha Predominant Types: Easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced; Affectionate and loving; Forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental nature; Stable and reliable; faithful; Physically strong and with a sturdy, heavier build; Have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is steady and enduring; Slow speech, reflecting a deliberate thought process; Slower to learn, but outstanding long-term memory; Soft hair and skin; tendency to have large “soft” eyes and a low, soft voice; Tend toward being overweight; may also suffer from sluggish digestion; Prone to depression; More self-sufficient; Gentle, and essentially undemanding approach to life; Excellent health, good immune system; Very calm; strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings; Not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others; Tend to be possessive and hold on to things. Don’t like cold, damp weather; Physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Each person has all three doshas, but usually one or two dominate. I, for example, am Vata-Pitta. Various dosha proportions determine one’s physiological and personality traits as well as general likes and dislikes. For example Vata types will prefer hot weather to cold and Kapha types are more likely to crave spicy foods than other types.

My reference to the wind making me feel extremely flighty and unsettled has to do with the Vata in me, and the fact that when there is an overload of motion (wind is a classic example), I feel completely overstimulated. Once you know your Dosha make-up, you can work with your diet, your lifestyle, your entire environment to bring yourself into balance. When it’s blowy, I need my practice to be extremely grounding. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, is a classic Kapha, finds the wind absolutely exhilarating and wants to get out and about and do things when the South Easter is pumping.

Whilst I’m making this to sound extremely simplistic, it is actually a very complex science, so feel free to do some more indepth research – you will find a wealth of information on this topic. If you are curious about finding out about your dominant dosha/s, I give a link below to one of many. Most online questionnaires are very similar and will provide similar results. Please keep in mind that shorter questionnaires will give a more generalized and approximate result. Also, your body changes with age, seasons, and life situations so the results will change as well. Taking a few different questionnaires will give you a more definite result for your dosha type.

As with any of these online / DIY quizzes, please take it with a pinch of salt – I believe wholeheartedly in the premises of Ayurveda and the Chopra Centre is a reputable source, however to reap the full rewards of this phenomenal life science, I advise you to make an appointment with a proper practitioner, and am happy to refer you to one if you are interested. Just comment below and I will respond. In the meantime, here is the link for fun and to get you started.

Once you’ve done the quiz, feel free to let me know whether the results resonate with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Click here for the short time-lapse video that I posted on Facebook and Instagram that prompted this post: me attempting Tree pose in a gale-force wind.

I quote extensively from a MindBodyGreen article: for the original post, click here.

 

 

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Who’s On The Mat? Meet Cara

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Tell us a bit about yourself, Cara. 

I’m Cara Mia Delport, I live in Stellenbosch and I am a seamstress at Artscape’s wardrobe department. And I am also doing my Advanced Diploma in Costume Design part time at Elizabeth Galloway Academy of Fashion Design.

Favourite asana?

Warrior! Makes me feel like a pirate warrior and reminds me of ancients tribes doing rituals to connect with the sky.

Least favourite?

Plank…just not fancy enough for my liking and it’s quite hard.

Tell us about how you got into yoga? 

I wanted to start some sort of exercise that’s not too hectic. So my fiancé and I started to do yoga as something we could do together. And seeing as I have depression and suffer from anxiety, doing yoga helps me to focus and releases internal frustrations. It makes me feel happy and clean on the inside.

What do you like about our yoga studio?

I love the studio! And from the moment you step through the gate you feel calmness and acceptance, which I love and appreciate ❤

Tell us something about you that not many people know

I used to do ballroom and Latin dancing for 5 years in which I competed in World Champs and received 5 first places. And I am getting married in March 2016.

Namaste, Cara – we love having you in the studio!

 

 

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Vanessa

Over the next few weeks and months, we will be profiling some of the fabulous folk that frequent our beloved yoga studio. 

Take a minute to find out a bit more about the person on the mat next to you. This is the kind of studio that we share – with intimate classes and even though we (mostly) honour noble silence in the space, there is always a real friendliness about the yogis that come to practice here. 

First up: Vanessa (cool dreadlocks, funky pants, fabulous lace-up boots and a growing love affair with arm balances)…

Vanessa flying in Bali on a recent trip. Thanks to surgical intervention, doctor were able to remove the speedboat from her Svadhistana chakra and her arm balances are now much lighter

Who are you? 

My name is Vanessa Von Der Heyde,  and I’m 29. 

What’s your favourite asana? 

I love arm balances! The hurdler was one of the first arm balances I learned and is just one of those poses that came quite naturally to me. It does feel a bit like flying which is why it’s one of my favorites 💚

Least favourite? 

Definitely Dolphin 🐬 no question about it! From the start it’s just felt awkward and although I consider my shoulders to be relatively strong and my hamstrings are not crazy tight this asana just kills me! My quads also often cramp in his pose. Like Victoria likes to say, “it’s my nemesis” 😅

How did you get into yoga? 

I used to swim competitively when I was younger and was first exposed to yoga during those days. I loved it from the start but never had any time for it as swimming took over my life. When I quit swimming and moved to Stellenbosch I went through a bit of a rough patch and just needed something that could help me calm my inner turbulence. So I googled yoga in Stellenbosch and it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. I’ve now been doing yoga at Nicci’s studio for almost 4 years and I am loving my practice more and more each day. 
What do you most enjoy about your practice? 

Yoga is the only time I take just for me. When I get onto my mat it is the only time I manage to switch my brain off and just be in the present. One thing I love about yoga is that it’s a quiet practice and there’s no talking to others. So I am able to forget about everything around me. I have also really enjoyed learning controlled strength. The human body is capable of amazing things and it’s an awesome feeling to move into postures you never thought were possible. I think my body has become addicted to this feeling because when I don’t practice for a few days I get these urges to do an arm balance or inversion. So that #stopdropandyoga hash tag makes a lot of sense 😜

Anything you like about our studio specifically?

What I love about Yoga With Nicci is that it’s a small and intimate studio. The yogis that are attracted to Nicci’s studio are such lovely people and it feels like a community. Nicci is also the most friendly, open and happy teacher and she’s got a knack for making you feel welcome and comfortable no matter what level your practice is at. She’s just one of those people you just want to hug when you see her. 

Anything else? 

I’ve started doing Instagram yoga challenges recently which have been a really fun way to connect to the larger yoga community and I love looking for beautiful spots to take my daily yoga photo. It’s been a lot of fun. So connect with me on Instagram @missvn3ss 😊

Thanks for the insight into you and your practice, Vanessa. It’s a joy to see your love for yoga blossoming in front of our eyes. When you’ve done your teacher’s training, come and teach with us! 

Who’s next? Inbox me or message me your answers to these same questions along with a picture of your practice. 

On Using a 6-year Old as a Meditation Aid

Danny and me

Danny and me

Since returning from India, I have vowed to become more disciplined in my meditation practice.

Hmmm.

The idea is to sit every morning for 20 minutes before I start with my official day. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Not just am I experiencing the most fascinating level of resistance to getting out of bed – despite having had ample sleep (another post on this very topic of resisting meditation is under way and soon to be posted) – but my children have inexplicably started waking up half an hour earlier than usual. I set my alarm for 6am and the theory is that by 6.30pm I will have finished my pranayama, meditation and be feeling that wonderful sense of quiet calm that comes as a result, and that it will carry me through the chaos of breakfast and getting the kids to school, and into my working day.

In the 3 weeks since returning from my trip, I have probably achieved that five times maximum.

I set up my spot the night before I go to bed – lay my mat out in front of the beautiful old sash window and wide windowsill that I use as my make-shift altar in my bedroom, and put out my beautiful scented candle and the very special bronze Buddha statue that is inlaid with turquoise and agate. My meditation shawl is folded on the mat and all I need to do is roll out of bed when my alarm goes off.

This morning, I was feeling sparkly and alert after three rounds of Kapalabhati and was settling into my meditation with something bordering on anticipation and exhilaration – “Here I am! Finally! I am going to get this right, even just this morning”. Brought my attention to the breath after mindfully scanning through my body. So, this is me, sitting, on my mat, breathing. Breathing in. Breathing out. And then I heard the slight creaking of the wooden floorboards in the passage leading to my bedroom and I knew that one of the kids was up. Back to the breath. Just breathe. A gentle tap on the shoulder and a whispered “Good morning Mummy”. Ah, Daniel. Maybe if I ignore him he will crawl into bed besides my sleeping husband – he knows not to disturb me when I’m meditating. Just breathe. In. Breathe. Out. “Mummy? Mum? (pause) Mummy, you look very beautiful when you meditate”.

And right there any attempt at ignoring this perfect little human being became futile. So I looked at him and smiled, and he gave me the most beautific grin and crawled onto my lap. He is only-just small enough still to be able to fit comfortably into my cross-legged position, with his legs dangling off the one side and his head lolling off the other, but he did it, and I tucked the shawl around him and we both took a deep breath and then I settled back into my meditation, but this time instead of focusing on the sensations of my own body I became aware of his: this perfectly formed human being lying on my lap. The curve of his spine pressing against my belly, the smooth warm skin of his face against my leg, the tousled curls of his head pressing against my arm. The slow and steady breath, about double the rhythm of my own, and the almost imperceptible beating of his heart, as we just breathed together and were peaceful. Soon enough my thoughts started flying as they so often do when it comes to my children: Is he happy? Does he seem to be balanced? Will he remain healthy? Am I a good enough mother? Is he doing enough extra-mural activities? Did I pack his swimming clothes into his backpack? Do I read enough to him? Are his tantrums normal? Am I setting a good enough example for him and his sister?

And then, as if reading my thoughts, he looked up at me and said “You’re the best mummy, you know”.

And then, “This is nice, isn’t it, Mummy?”

And I said, “Yes, my beautiful boy, this is very nice indeed”. And watched as all the thoughts drifted away and came back to the sensation of his small, warm body on my lap, the sound of our breaths, the sensation of our heartbeats, the weight of his head resting on my arm, the curvature of his delicate spine pressing against my belly, the flickering of the candle and the slow and easy peace of my home in the early morning.

 

My beautiful Buddha from Rishikesh, India

My beautiful Buddha from Rishikesh, India

**Photo of me and Danny taken by Shantelle Visser of Shantelle Visser Photography – highly recommended **

Call it social empowerment, call it ‘spreading the love’, call it what you will – there is no doubt that what we are doing is changing lives

An article that appeared in Homecoming Revolution a while back.

Nicci Annette Yoga With Nicci (1)

Name: Nicci Cloete Annette

Age: 39

Home Country: South Africa

Country returned from: UK and USA

Years lived abroad: 10

Occupation: Marketing & Operations Manager for TRADE-MARK (www.trade-mark.co.za), a non-profit organisation that supports township tradesmen build up their own businesses and break through the barriers to financial independence; Owner and Yoga Instructor at Yoga With Nicci, a private yoga studio in Stellenbosch.

What made you decide to return home and start a business?

I only ever intended to leave South Africa for 2 years and so didn’t even bother applying for the ancestral visa that I qualified for, instead going straight for the working holiday visa. At the end of the two years however I wasn’t quite ready to go home yet as I realised there was so much more I wanted to see and do – plus the small matter of having met my now-husband from Northern Ireland. We got married a few years later and after 8 years in London, moved to the west coast of America where he had the opportunity to open an office for the UK-based software company he worked for.

By this time I was already yearning to return home but it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss out on and we spent two wonderful years out there, however when we were told by two independent medical specialists that we would never be able to have children on our own, we decided to try the IVF route and that South Africa was the right place to do it – from a financial perspective but more specifically because of the support back here from my family and our mutual friends. My husband had fallen in love with SA during our many trips back home and so it was with great excitement and a fair amount of trepidation that we returned early in 2008. As it turned out (and it seems like it often does work out this way), the moment we stopped focusing on me falling pregnant, it just happened naturally and so when we touched down at Cape Town International, I was almost 3 months pregnant, and we had not a job between us, no place to live, but a firm belief that we were in the right place, and that as uncertain as the future seemed, we trusted the process to unfold just as it should.

Another thing that appealed to both of us hugely and made us choose to settle in SA rather than return to the UK – aside from the obvious like the weather, lifestyle, social networks that we’d both built up here – is the way in which we’d seen our friends carve out real niches for themselves in the business world and seeing how they seemed to be managing to find a balance between work and play.  Unlike London where it seemed like almost everyone was ‘working for the man’, in South Africa we had friends who were doing their own thing – one running a successful flower export business, another his own design agency, another a play group for small kids and new mums, another her own architectural landscape company, and so on. There were others in more conventional jobs too of course, but these people also seemed to be finding a way to make a comfortable living whilst taking advantage of all that our incredible country has to offer.

Having spent hours commuting to and from work each day and knowing how ludicrously expensive childcare is the UK was also a major factor in our decision – we hoped that South Africa would offer us an opportunity to spend as much time as possible with our little ones, rather than having to work every hour of the day in order to finance a crèche for them to grow up in.

What company do you work for and what do you do there? If you are an entrepreneur, tell us about your business.

I have two part-time jobs: first and foremost, I work for a brilliant non-profit organisation called TRADE-MARK (www.trade-mark.co.za) which supports township tradesmen by helping them to market their businesses and ultimately to break through the barriers to financial independence.  As I currently only work part-time, this allows me to keep teaching yoga on the side at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch (my second job), but we are confident that we will shortly be receiving some more funding that will enable me and the founding director, Josh Cox, to both work fulltime for TRADE-MARK. The concept is Josh’s brainchild – his friend Simon, from the township of Diepsloot, was struggling to secure regular work despite being an expert tiler. By providing Simon with business cards and a written reference, he was suddenly able to secure contracts of up to R30 000. It became clear that with added credibility and a few marketing resources, high-quality tradesmen from the townships were able to secure significantly more business.  I met Josh when I worked at WWF South Africa when I first arrived back in SA, and from the first day he told me about what he envisaged for TRADE-MARK, I was hooked. He went about making it a reality and after having my two (miracle) children and qualifying as a yoga teacher, when Josh approached me to come on board I leapt at the opportunity.

My job entails helping to hand-pick the best township tradesmen: individuals with initiative and drive, who communicate well and already have experience in dealing with customers, and then helping them to market themselves sufficiently to secure on-going work and to keep growing their businesses.

In terms of setting up my own yoga business, I was extremely fortunate in that my parents allowed me to use a space at their home which lent itself perfectly to being transformed into a yoga studio, which meant that I didn’t have the burden of paying rent when first starting out as a teacher. Initial outlays financially included transforming the space into a studio and paying for a website, and it was slow going at the beginning to get people through the studio doors, but what with regular blogging and use of social media to get my website picked up by the search engines, I now have a regular stream of students and as of a year ago, have a second teacher offering classes at the studio. You’ll never get rich as a yoga teacher, but it’s hugely rewarding, I love what I do, and it’s something that I hope to continue doing on the side line for as many years as I’m able, as we continue to grow TRADE-MARK.

What’s the hardest bit about doing business in SA?

I found it quite an adjustment initially upon returning in terms of the speed at which things happen. I used to work in the murky world of recruitment in London where it was 1000km an hour, with very little pause for breath. I used to find it frustrating (and still do sometimes) at how much slower things can seem to happen here, not just in terms of the pace at which things get turned around but also technically and logistically: the comparatively slow speed of the Internet and even the erratic electricity supply when we first arrived back could really make it challenging to get a full day’s work done at times.

Another thing that I find very hard is to be confronted on a daily basis with the shocking prejudices that still exist in South Africa, and the stark disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’.

What’s the easiest bit?

Switching off the computer, stepping outside into the magnificent Africa sunshine, taking a deep breath and giving thanks for being able to call such a stunning part of the world ‘home’. I also love the fact that it’s a lot less formal than the UK dress-wise – what a pleasure to be able to work in an office where people are wearing plakkies and jeans rather than the obligatory black suit! 

What advice would you give someone who is thinking of returning home and starting a business / finding work?

Do your homework – research what business opportunities exist in your area of expertise, chat to people here who are doing something similar about what they have learnt, what they’ve done right and wrong, and what they’d do differently.  Also, really check out the cost of living here – we did our homework in this regard and even so have found that it’s significantly more expensive than we anticipated. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the turn-around in securing a job is possibly going to be slower than you may envisage, and if your partner isn’t from here, make sure you’ve got all their paperwork in order before you come back – and pay for professional help with anything bureaucratic if you can afford it – tax, immigration etc.

How are you making a difference back in your home country?

At the risk of sounding clichéd and twee, it’s an absolute privilege to be back in South Africa, using the skills I’ve gained along the way to help to uplift people from my community who’ve not had the same opportunities granted to me. It’s not rocket science and I am so aware that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but basic things like using my experience of sales and marketing to help to pull jobs for our tradesmen, or like simply having access to the Internet, a printer and a car to help the guys put together and deliver professional quotes – these things are making a massive and tangible difference to the small group of tradesmen that we work with, as well as their extended families.  Call it social empowerment, call it ‘spreading the love’, call it what you will – there is no doubt that what we are doing is not only improving the individual tradesmen’s financial situations, but giving them hope for the future. We are so excited about what lies ahead for the organisation and about our imminent funding coming through – and this all feeds into the communities that the guys come from, creating ripples of hope, positivity and garnering a can-do attitude.

What is your opinion on what the Homecoming Revolution is doing?

Helping to reverse the brain drain by encouraging South Africans to tell their stories about coming home in an honest and non-biased way – although if you are truly and proudly South African, you will always be a little bit biased about all that this beautiful country has to offer.

When I’m not teaching yoga, I do enjoy a bit of sledding – watch this video!

For those of you who have followed the work that I do outside of the yoga studio, have a quick look at this video of me and some colleagues donning silly Christmas hats and getting into some serious sledding action. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQlZF1spmvY TRADE-MARK works with a small group of amazing township tradesmen who are building their businesses of carpentry, paving, painting and tiling, against all odds and with limited resources. Thanks for your support! 

Using Yoga To Get You Through The Festive Season

Arniston arniston3 arniston2I wouldn’t say I’m a Grinch but I’m certainly not one of those people who whole-heartedly embraces Christmas and the whole festive season and feels sad and deflated when it’s over. On the contrary, I have to work hard with myself to stop getting stressed at how much waste the whole season involves –  waste of money, waste of energy, waste of paper and food… and I admit to breathing a long sigh of relief once the 25th is over and everyone and everything seems to start settling down.

I appreciate that the holiday season can be joyful, a time to share what we have with family and friends. However, there’s no doubt that it can also be a stressful time if we allow hectic schedules and commercial pressures to drive us. Which is why this year I persuaded my husband that our family needed to spend 2 weeks at the beach. I found a beautiful house in Arniston and after just a few days we have already settled into a gloriously easy rhythm of breakfast, beach, snooze, pool, more beach, braaing, reading, playing, and of course my precious yoga practice. The main bedroom happens to be huge with a deck overlooking Kassiesbaai and I have practiced under the rising full moon as well as the rising sun. And I have found that my practice has never felt sweeter. I’m sure it’s a combination of the sea air, the turquoise water, the easy routine and especially the fact that there is no shopping mall in sight and certainly no queues, no piped carols being played over a sound system in a mall, no gaudy decorations and no pressure to buy or acquire anything other than the odd piece of snoek or new set of beach bats once the old ones gave up the ghost after a particularly competitive volley between the husband and I (yes, I’m still working on losing my competitive streak).

It’s not all peachy. My in-laws are out visiting from Northern Ireland for 6 weeks. 6 WEEKS. Which is one of the main reasons I begged my husband for us to go away – I love them dearly and am very lucky to have them, but I am a fiercely private person who needs her own space and I figured that if we were in a neutral environment where I wasn’t having to be hostess the entire time, I would also be able to have a bit of a break and have a better chance of remaining marginally pleasant for a longer period of time. Well, that remains to be seen, but at least I’m getting a tan while I’m losing my ability to make small talk.

I’ve been pondering a lot what this time of year means to me. Whilst I consider myself a deeply spiritual person, I am not religious and don’t believe in Jesus Christ which is why I suppose I don’t feel a deep resonance with the whole ‘birth of Christ’ side of things. Sometimes I actually feel like a bit of a fraud that I’m piggy-backing on the Christmas theme even though I haven’t been to church in pretty-much all my life, other than funerals, christenings and weddings. I do, however, feel a huge amount of empathy for my fellow man at this time of year, especially because a number of my nearest and dearest have lost very special loved ones recently and it seems that a lot of folk are battling their own demons at the moment. It’s well documented that depression is one of the most commonly reported and treated illnesses at this time of the year, with people acutely aware of the sense of loneliness and alienation that can be felt when you think that everyone else is having a big family fun time.

I find that at this time of year I really do need to protect my yoga practice. The commercial pressure, holiday shopping, family visits, the logistics of planning and traveling, managing food and alcohol consumption, getting enough exercise and down-time whilst remaining a good mum, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, friend, employee at the same time… it can all get a bit much. And then I get onto my mat and start to breathe and then start moving through (typically) a slow, sweet and gentle practice, and everything falls into perspective again. As corny as it sounds, it’s true!

So I find that the holiday season is a golden opportunity to practice yoga outside of the classroom, actually applying all the skills we have been honing over the year. As Dr. Swami Shankardev says, managing the holiday season is like the exam, the real test of how much we have learned and embodied over the year.

How do we maintain a calm centre in the storm of the holidays?  The first thing to do is to dedicate some quiet time for contemplation and meditation. Just sit still wherever you are, breathing quietly to practice any calming, grounding process. Once you have settled in, why not contemplate what a particular holiday means to you, maybe asking yourself what you really want to get out of this period, and what will best support you and others.As you develop a sense of that meaning, perhaps focus on disentangling commercial pressures from the essence of the holidays. This may be able to help you plan strategies that will make this period meaningful and fulfilling.

It sounds paradoxical but stress can be the biggest issue for a lot of people during the holidays. Stresses come in many forms and it can be helpful to contemplate what yours is likely to be. For me, it’s the fact that there is always someone is my house, in my kitchen, in my garden, just in my space. The fact that there is a lot of chit-chat and I am not very good at that. I need to dig deep to remain calm, adult and hospitable when the revolting teenager in me is jumping up and down and shouting ‘JUST GIVE ME SOME &***%% SPACE!!!!’

During my early morning meditation, I find it helpful to playfully visualize what may lie ahead on any given day. I have also looked back at past holidays and considered what I’d like to do differently – which is why we are having Christmas at the beach this year. To give myself the best possible chance of remaining calm, focused, grounded and friendly, I actually have to contemplate strategies that I can actually apply outside of the practice space. This meditation, then, is mental rehearsal for the actual event. So far, so good.

I have to continuously remind myself that yoga is more than technique; it is a way of being. Breath is the best tool we have to remain conscious and calm; any time is a good time to practice moving and breathing more slowly and consciously. It’s my way of keeping that sulky teenager that lurks within me under control, especially when my children are bickering about who’s got the biggest glass of milk or whose turn it is to pull the plug out of the bath. I’ve taught them to breathe deeply too when they get overwhelmed, so if ever there’s a stressful moment in our house, you’re likely to find me (40), Isla (3) and Daniel (5) all lying on the ground and taking deep, slow breaths as we calm each other and ourselves down. It works, even though it looks funny and my in-laws think I’m a hippy-freak.

If you do plan to keep your practice up whilst you’re away from your usual studio, it’s probably worthwhile being realistic about what’s actually going to be achievable in terms of getting on your mat. When we first got to the coast, I had planned to be up at 6am every morning for 45 minutes asana practice and at least 15 minutes meditation. As it turned out, the first day my kids woke up at 5.30am (at home I have to drag them out of bed at 7.30am or even 8am – but here the excitement was too much) so there went my practice. The second day I just felt too pooped to get out of bed and instead had a glorious lie-in as the sun rose gently over the sea. The third day I got on my mat at 7am and all I did was balasana and halasana, and breathed and let go and allowed myself to just relax. Yes, I did fit in my practice later in the day but it was so lovely to just let go of any plan or goal and to rather do what I always encourage my students to do: listen to your body and your mind, and tune into what you really need from your practice. This morning my practice took place in the comfort of my bed, and it consisted of legs up in the air, the full yogic breath, and then supta baddha konasana as I drifted off to sleep again. Perfect.

I find that my real and ongoing challenge is keeping yoga in my life and mind when I’m off the mat: practicing empathy, non-judgement, equanimity, forgiveness, losing my ego, letting go of any semblance of control and surrendering to what is, without losing the essence of who I am. I also find it helpful to remember that asana, pranayama and meditation practices are not ends in themselves, but means to an end. That end is to develop a greater inner resilience and a more stable mind that can handle the difficulties of life with greater calm and poise.

Even if you don’t practice at all over the next few weeks before our Stellenbosch yoga studio re-opens, don’t feel guilty! Take some time out, do something totally different, have a break! And then when you come back to your yoga practice I’m sure you’ll get back into formal practice with renewed enthusiasm and a clearer direction of what you need to work toward in the New Year.

Higher Yoga (with thanks to Dr. Swami Shankardev)
If you wish to practice some form of higher yoga to nourish your spirit during the holiday season, you may wish to focus on how you can support others less fortunate than yourself. It is an excellent time to practice selfless service and giving. It is a time when we can learn from and support others, especially those going through difficult times.

Here are a few tips for practicing higher yoga so that you can fill your life with peace and joy:

1. Honour yourself, your relations, and the planet by choosing a noble and virtuous intention for the New Year. Practice ahimsa, a yama of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, which means nonviolence toward yourself and others.

2. Follow your own heart. Learn to listen to yourself, your own higher intuitive inner voice, through meditation practice.

3. Practice contentment (samtosha), which is one of the niyamas of Patanjali. Contemplate just how much you already have and what you really need. Is there some

thing that you think you need in your life to make you happy, and/or do you already have plenty? Cultivate gratitude for all the things you have.

4. Before you indulge, bring consciousness into the moment. For example, before eating, be aware of what you are going to eat and perhaps say a simple prayer or thanks. Prepare to really enjoy what you are about to eat, to take it deep into your tissues so as to fully nourish yourself.

5. Be flexible in body, mind, and spirit. Learn not be constrained by plans but to go more with the flow. There is an old Indian saying: “Man proposes; God disposes.”

With great thanks to Dr. Swami Shankardev for the backbone of this post. Dr. Swami is a yogacharya, medical doctor, psychotherapist, author, and lecturer. He lived and studied with his guru, Swami Satyananda, for ten years in India (1974-1985). He lectures all over the world. Contact him at www.bigshakti.com.