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I recently had the pleasure of presenting a 20-minute overview of yoga and mindfulness to Newbury council's contact centre staff, which is a particularly challenging job in these times.

Whilst it wasn’t a long presentation, it nonetheless resonated with these wonderful people. I focussed on 3 areas, breath, spinal movement and posture.

We started centring our minds and focussing on the breath, merely 1 minute of conscious box breathing pretty much had them hooked. It is always surprising how such elementary practices can have such a profound affect. If you haven’t ever focussed on the breath for a period of time, I would really encourage you to do so and reflect on how your head is afterwards.

Moving onto physical movement we looked at spinal articulation since this is so important for our backs. This is the process of moving one vertebra at a time, allowing the disks and vertebra to glide across each other, and an easy movement when sitting in a chair, really beneficial if you practice from early in the morning.

Finally, our posture in the west is not great merely standing straight, will put your body back into natural alignment, which in turn places less stress on your joints. It will also help to protect your spine and opens your chest cavity so that breathing is much easier.

Foundation is key, ensure your feet are placed firmly on the floor with your toes pointing forward. Tighten your core muscles, pull your naval to your spine and the ribs down and rotate your pelvis gently back and forth. This will help you to find your neutral position.

Stand with your back next to a wall, your head about an inch from it, your shoulder blades and buttocks touching it lightly, and your heels slightly away from it. Spread your weight evenly over both feet. Your spine has a natural s shape, so do not force it flat back against the wall.

Centre your ears over your shoulders and your hips over your knees and form a straight line down the side of your body, keeping your knees straight but not locked, there should be just enough space between your lower back and the wall to fit your wrist.

Having found your perfect posture, the key is to retain it. Initially, this may be quite tricky as you will have to keep reminding yourself which muscles to contract or relax.

We finished off with a little headspace meditation.

These simple processes are covered in every yoga class, or should be, but as my willing audience demonstrated, they are accessible to all of us, every day.

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The ancient yogis knew that mediation and calming the mind was an essential practice to improve their lives, in fact, yoga was fundamentally this, the physical poses came much later and even these were to condition the body to allow sitting in a relaxed position to facilitate meditation.

Science now supports the positive benefits we gain from a regular mediation practice; MRI studies have identified changes occurring in the brain with such a practice and there are numerous books on the subject.

In order for meditation to work, you have to do it. Sounds obvious really but there are clearly barriers that we put up, the most obvious that come to mind are that we just don’t have the time and we don’t know how to do it - or if it will work…

"I'm visualising a bird as the image just popped into my head?"

I agree, it may be difficult to find 10 minutes each day to spend quietly, in our own space to calm our body and mind down progressively to a point where everything is still, relaxed and at peace.

Or where we can take a walk and focus entirely on the sensations, the feel of the feet on the ground, wind on the face, hearing the sounds around but only focussing on the moment and not the continuous chitter chatter of the mind.

Yes, time is precious, and we need to use it wisely, how on earth can we free up 10 minutes each day to be so self-indulgent?

The irony is that meditation is a simple, effective method that can help you to improve your productivity. If you are completely relaxed and stress-free, then your mind will also work more effectively, you will probably get a positive return on your 10-minute investment.

The mind is continually churning thoughts, where do they come from, why are they popping up now, why can’t I get this problem out of my head? Even when we sleep the brain is active with REM activity, healing, dreaming.

"Sorry....but I'm just a little preoccupied for meditation at the moment....and I'm not a gnome!"

We owe it to ourselves to give it a break.

There are plenty of resources available to help embark on a course of meditation starting with the breath as primary focus, visualisations, counting, happy place, body scanning. All of these methods are certainly worth trying. We are all wired differently, and some may come easier than others. The objective is the same, calming the mind.

If you can free up some time for a 10 minute daily meditation and stick at it, very soon you will feel the change in yourself, how you feel, how you react to situations, the practice gets easier and you really start to love it and the improvement it brings to your day.

But it will only work for you if you do it.

Not just for frogs and gnomes...

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Updated: Apr 13, 2019

Our cat.... 'working out'

Ever wondered how the laziest of our domestic animals can still maintain a pretty good shape? I have. Our cat just lies around all day, eats, sleeps, eats, occasionally will venture out but even then will collapse and sleep in the garden, yet she is lean, doesn’t appear to suffer from a dodgy back or any form of stiffness and seems to have a pretty good life.

The advantage that our four-legged friends have is that by simply walking and (occasionally) running, these fundamental movements will strengthen and stretch all of the really important muscle groups: legs, core, hips shoulders, their bodies are performing the designed function to the full. No gym membership needed.

Our human form is clearly a marvellous structure however being an upright biped isn’t without it’s challenges, walking is a form of falling after all, our core isn’t working as hard as our four legged friends when we propel forward and our pelvic floor needs to resist gravity, maybe in a few more years on the evolutionary clock will iron some of these features out…

Perhaps we can help ourselves in the meantime through a fairly simple and accessible yoga practice.

Yoga is many things to many people but just considering the physical practice for a moment, such a practice will provide good strengthening, conditioning and stretching for the key areas, legs, hips, core, shoulders, spine and all the associated connective tissue.

It’s no coincidence that some of the more popular and beneficial yoga postures have animal names, downward dog, cat cow, pigeon, peacock, crow to name just a few.

Certainly, some of these postures will provide a beautiful stretch of our functional body and it is, after all, the most natural thing to do - a good stretch.

We’re not talking about a long session either, a simple set of yoga postures could be sequenced together and completed in the time it takes to brush one’s teeth. It is a great way to start or end the day and will produce some surprising results if the practice develops.

The physical benefits of yoga allow us to re acquaint with the movement and flexibility we once had but maybe let go.

If you want help in trying some yoga out, drop me a line.

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