As we approach the end of the year, it seems everyone shifts into overdrive and life moves even faster than it does usually. Considering how fast paced life is on any given day – it becomes almost scary how much we begin to expect of ourselves. It is perhaps therefore no wonder that in recent weeks I have noticed more than ever, how the yogis who practice at Heal. Love. Yoga need and appreciate the downtime during practice.

It has never been unheard of for people step onto the mat and with the first few deep breaths and opportunity to just ‘let go’, tears begin to flow as the sense of release becomes quite overwhelming. I’ve seen this happening more and more in recent weeks –beautiful people feeling totally overwhelmed and the space on the mat seems the only place where some can allow themselves to let go of all that we hold on to, as we try to meet our own and everyone else’s demands on our time, our body and spirit. We don’t relax, even when we’re sleeping, and the moment we take a few deep breaths – relax our shoulders, relax our face – the tension that flows out leaves us naked in a sense. Confronted by all we have pushed aside and suppressed, because there has been no time to acknowledge our selves, our heart, our feelings, our need to slow down and just stop.

Giving yourself the time and space to escape from everything you need to do and think about – even for as little as ten minutes or an hour is so valuable, yet, strangely enough, we hardly EVER allow ourselves that time. Even in yoga practice, students want the hardest, fastest class when they start out. Even five minutes of centering at the start or 5 minutes of relaxing at the end of class, is met with jitters and impatience to move on to the next step. Some are so restless that even holding postures for 10 breaths as opposed to 5 is met with unease because ‘is this really making the best use of time?’

Luckily it doesn’t take most serious yogis long to realize that the value of the pause in the practice, most of the time, far exceeds the value of more high energy practice sequences when practiced in addition to the a high energy and demanding lifestyle. In the quest to do more, better, faster, be more productive, with less money and more profits in every moment, in every endeavour, when do we stop? What does it take for us to realize that it is not just okay, but essential to stop and appreciate the downtime?

If you tend to live a life like this you will find that even the 10 minutes downtime during a yoga class can be transformational – for both your body in terms of refueling and healing and for your mind in simply keeping you sane by keeping you calm! Yoga practice at its core equips you and sets you up for a calmer, more centered, focused, and peaceful existence and the rest and relaxation incorporated in the practice is a crucial part of this winning recipe.

Taking that a step further and taking an hour for a restorative session or Yoga Nidra (also referred to as yogic sleep – the deepest form of relaxation while staying fully conscious) could be the kindest thing you have ever done for yourself.

Build in purposeful downtime as an act of kindness to yourself. Your body needs rest and relaxation to heal, detoxify and come back to its centre. Recharging your batteries means recharging your adrenal glands and gives you more to give once you do get going. The most creative ideas and insights often come during or as a result of downtime.
Give THAT to yourself for Christmas this year!

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When it gets to this time of the year I tend to dedicate my personal yoga practice to practicing gratitude. In the practice of yoga we have the option to deepen the practice by dedicating it to some purpose or to just bring our full focus and awareness onto a particular subject – such as gratitude, love, an affirmation or perhaps some aspect related to our religion. The way in which we move in yoga allows us to bring whatever we focus on right into our bodies – with very powerful effect.

In teaching a yoga class I like to, during a gratefulness practice, bring the yogis’ awareness to at least three things in their lives that they are grateful for and constantly throughout the practice bring them back to that place of awareness of what is good in their lives. Certain pinnacle postures such a deep heart-openers like ‘full wheel’, ‘camel’ and ‘wild thing’ are powerful in breathing in and embodying those things we feel most grateful for – and it helps to keep bringing the awareness back to those things in the practice. It helps us to keep those things at the forefront of our minds once we leave the practice and it brings something very powerful into our bodies on a cellular level when our focus switches from that which we feel deprived of – to that which we feel grateful for. Through a gratefulness practice we begin to see the profound effect, both physically and mentally, that a targeted yoga practice can have on our lives.

Don’t practice yoga? You can still have a gratefulness practice to bring you back to focusing on all the wonderful blessings in your life – helping you to attract even more of that. It also helps you feel more at one with the natural flow of things and more connected to others and so less alone. Having a regular gratitude practice has been found to promote high-energy, positive moods, a sense of a stronger connectedness to others and feeling more positive about life. Definitely the kind of improvements in life we would want to strive towards.

Research shows its better to have two or three different kinds of gratitude practices for maximum impact, so pick two or three out of the list below and start practicing today:

  1. Reflect: When getting into bed at night let your last thoughts be around that which you did well that day. The ways in which you were of service and what good things you did. Be grateful for those opportunities. This serves as motivation every day to do things to feel grateful for and becomes the way by which you measure the success and failure of each day.
  2. Gratitude Journal: Get a small book in which to on a daily basis write three things for which you are grateful. In the beginning this will seem easy, but once you got past all the things you know you should be grateful for you will begin to have to look to find new things. Your outlook on your day will change as you begin searching for things that you are grateful for. What a great way to change the things you focus on during the day!
  3. Let’s Talk about it: Make a time (about once per week) to discuss with someone – a partner, a friend, a running partner, a colleague which you meet regularly for lunch – just all the blessings you have in your life. Dedicating a whole lunch date or running session just to focus on all the things you are grateful for is uplifting and revitalizing and adds so much to your overall attitude of gratitude!
  4. Put it in writing…and read it out loud: Regularly acknowledge and remember people that have had a significant impact on your life. This could be through big acts in significant roles in your life – or even just something small that someone did at some point that really inspired or touched you. Write a letter to that person – thanking them and explaining how what they did, impacted you so positively. Then go and visit this person and read the letter out loud to them personally. This is a very powerful gratitude practice – for both you and the person you are addressing in the letter.
  5. Thank you notes/texts: Take the time and make the effort to write short and sweet thank you notes or send text messages to those close to you for little things throughout the day, that you are grateful for: ‘thanks for helping with the dishes’; ‘thanks for being kind to your sister’ ; ‘thanks for picking up the kids when I couldn’t’; thanks for being such a kind/helpful/fun work colleague’. Such little acknowledgements will again impact you so positively but also will probably be a lovely gesture to whomever the note or text is directed – and encourage more of what you are grateful for!
  6. Dedicate your yoga practice or any other form of exercise to an awareness and focus on what you are grateful for: This is another way to set time aside to bring your mind to focus and linger on and around those wonderful things you already have in your life.
  7. Practice mindfulness: Practice staying present in the moment more regularly during the day. We often spend so much time living in the future – planning, anticipating, worrying – or in the past – thinking about what could have been and or holding on to resentments and hurts, that we miss so much of what is happening right here, right now around us. We get so obsessed with what is wrong in our lives in the world that we fail to notice the smallest things that may be right – and those things are often so much more significant: our child laughing out of his/her stomach; new flowers blooming, showing the turn of seasons and the way nature teaches that change and growth is a natural part of life; a smile from a stranger, a green light, or even better – a good considerate driver! Things to be grateful for are everywhere around us, if we just take the time – and have the presence of mind – to notice.
Have any other ways of practicing gratitude? Share them here in the comments section and allow us all to find new ways to be grateful..