Journalling on the yoga mat

I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. Over the years, my journals have held many ridiculous imaginings, fuelled some wild daydreams, and served as a place to sort through my problems (big and small). My journal is the place where I cannot hide from my thoughts or feelings. It is where my deepest truths fall out, even the ones that I’m most afraid of facing. The act of writing gives me perspective, and allows me a space to explore both the most mundane and the most intense experiences.

 

But I have another journal of a different kind: my yoga mat. Each time I step onto the mat, my body tells a story. I become aware of sensations in my muscles and joints that I may not notice (or choose to ignore!) during the rhythm of a typical day. It’s easy to travel through our daily schedules without paying attention to the effect each movement has on the physical body, not to mention the emotions we hold within. I can ignore a slight pain in the hip, some stiffness in the neck, or a nagging tug at the hamstrings as I go from one activity to another. But on the mat, as I begin to focus on my breath, and the framework of the postures, I can’t avoid feeling imbalances or tensions that have arisen in my body. And as I move through my yoga practice, I can consciously work towards bringing my physical (and mental) self back into, or closer to, alignment.

 

The days when I least feel like rolling out my mat are often the days when I need my yoga practice the most. Just as my journal provides a place where I can sift through my thoughts and let the page hold them in plain view, my yoga mat is the space where I can sort through what my body needs at any given time.

 

Do you use your yoga mat as your physical journal? What story does your body tell?

 

 

Running tag

My yoga and Pilates clients inspire me daily. I am lucky enough to work with a wide variety of students. From 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds, my teaching practice offers me insight into many ages and stages of life.

 

 

The one theme that has surfaced repeatedly in the past few weeks is how vital a functioning, moving body is to our overall health. I’m sure many of you can relate to a time when you’ve been really sick or injured, and your daily routine has had to change dramatically. And then, when you recover, when you’re back to your regular schedule, you feel so utterly thankful and appreciative of what it feels like to be healthy and to move with ease.

 

Why is it so easy to ignore the gift of health and celebrate our ability to move our bodies until we are challenged by something that threatens these abilities? Many of us take our bodies for granted until we are faced with a stark reminder that the body is fallible and will not always work in the ways we need it to.

 

This week, I encourage you to spend some time being aware of and thankful for the different ways you use your body. For the ability to walk, to jump, to play tag with your children. For the ability to open a door for someone else, to carry your groceries, to strike a yoga pose.

 

Our bodies do so much for us. Let’s do all we can to appreciate them.

 

Happy moving!

“If stuck, move.” 

 

It’s a simple concept and may seem completely obvious, but there have been many times that I’ve been stuck in a rut (or an emotional state) and haven’t been able to see a way out of it.

 

On days when I have writer’s block, feel overwhelmed with to-do lists or exhausted from a night of broken sleep, when the first instinct I have is to go straight back to bed, the only thing to do is move. Whether it’s rolling out my yoga mat to do a few sun salutations, or slipping on my running shoes for a walk or a jog, the sheer act of moving my body kickstarts my mind.

 

When my kids are getting at each other or going stir crazy inside the house, we change the dynamic by getting outdoors and being active.

 

Movement propels us forward physically, but also mentally. Regardless of how we’re moving, we’re creating fresh energy and changing our situation. It is and always will be my best “way out.”

 

What’s your best way to get out of feeling stuck?

 

There are so many reasons I do yoga: it grounds me, it stretches me out, it strengthens my body, it connects me with my breath, it clears my mind, it decreases stress, it makes me happy, and it keeps me moving. But on March 3rd, 2013, I’m doing yoga for a more important reason: to raise money for arthritis research. I’m participating in the Power of Movement.

 

The Power of Movement is a yoga fundraiser hosted by the Arthritis Research Foundation. On Sunday, March 3rd, thousands of Canadians will take to their mats for this great cause. For the second year in a row, I’m proud to be a Power of Movement champion. Last year, I wrote this post explaining why I’m so passionate about the initiative.

 

Arthritis comes in many shapes and forms. There are over 100 different types, and it estimated that 4.6 million Canadians live with some variety of the disease. The Power of Movement, Canada’s largest yoga fundraiser can make a huge difference in the lives of many.

 

This year, I’m proud to be teaming up with fellow champion Lisa Barkin and taking our Whole Living team to the Toronto event.  The master class is being taught @Jason_Crandell and I know it is going to be an incredible day.

 

If you’re in the GTA and want to be part of the fun, Lisa and I would love for you to join our Whole Living Team. And if you can’t make it to the mat, I hope you’ll consider a donation to give the gift of movement to all Canadians living with arthritis.

 

Namaste,

Annabel

 

My wise friend, and creative life coach extraordinaire, Jamie Ridler, once said to me: “There is something to celebrate everyday. Let’s not get so busy looking at what’s ahead of us that we forget to celebrate our accomplishments today – both big and small.” I think of these words often, especially when it comes to celebrating the smaller moments of life.

 

 

Often we associate the word celebrate with big events – such as birthdays, holidays, occasions – or with major milestones, such as getting a promotion, or signing a book deal.  Of course, all of these happenings do deserve a celebration, and I’m always up for a champagne toast! But I think it’s equally, if not more important, to celebrate the daily moments, the smaller happenings that contribute to our happiness. Because it is the smaller moments, the everyday actions that allow us to arrive at the “bigger” events.

 

What if we approached each day with a celebratory nature, a readiness to applaud ourselves and others for a kind action, for changing a thought pattern, for just being here, for being alive and breathing. It may not be a mindset that we can maintain at all times, but perhaps it can shift our thinking on those difficult days.

 

Today, I’m celebrating the fact that I finally tackled a to-do list I’ve been putting off (man, it feels good!), that I have carved out time for yoga and meditation in my workday, that my kids and I are healthy again after a month of crazy sickness in the household.

 

Looked at individually, these may not seem like momentous things, but as I am reminded of so often, gratitude in small things can alter your view of the world.

 

What are you celebrating today? Congratulations! I’ll raise a virtual glass to you.

 

 

 

Sleep. It’s such a precious commodity. Yet most of us experience trouble sleeping at some point in our lives. There are countless reasons for this: mental stress, physical stress, an inability to fully relax, the list goes on. And when sleep eludes us, it can cause even more anxiety because we become overly focused on the sheer act of getting to sleep.

 

 

Rest assured. There are ways to ease the body and mind into dreamland. The first step is to create an environment that is conducive to sleep. Put away or turn off your computer, smartphone, tablet or television, and establish a quiet zone in your bedroom. Then try some yoga and relaxation techniques to further calm the body and the mind.

 

 

Here are two yoga poses to relax the body at nighttime.

 

 

 

Child’s Pose: From kneeling, sit your buttocks back towards your heels and release your chest downwards. Relax your forehead on your forearms. Imagine opening a trap door in the middle of your forehead that allows any thoughts or mental clutter to fall right out of your mind. Hold for 2-5 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legs Up the Wall: Lie on your back with your legs up against a wall, and bring your buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Let your heels rest on the wall, and allow your legs, hips and back to completely relax. Hold for 2-5 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a meditation exercise that encourages deep mental and physical relaxation.

 

 

Autogenic relaxation: Find a comfortable position lying down, and take a few deep breaths. Bring your awareness to each area of the body from the feet to the head, and mentally encourage that area to release. For example: Say to yourself, “My feet are relaxed, my feet are relaxed, my feet are completely relaxed.” Repeat with each body part. By focusing on each area of the body, you are releasing unnecessary tension and allowing the body to come into a state of rest.

 

Combined with a quiet, dark sleeping environment, the above exercises should help bring on a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams!

 

 

Do you carry a heavy purse on one shoulder? Commute to work, only to spend eight hours sitting at a desk?  Cross your legs when you sit? Carry your child on one hip? Hold the phone to your shoulder with your ear?

 

 

Whether we realize it or not, every action we take in our daily life – big or small – has an impact on the way our physical body functions. And over time, any stress on our bodies creates an imbalance that could sap us of strength and energy. For some, an imbalance may result in nagging muscle aches or pains; for others, it may manifest in a chronic condition.

 

 

So how can we become more aware of the effect of our everyday actions and prevent our “bad habits” from wrecking our bodies? Here are three ways:

 

 

Visualize Your Day

 

In your mind, walk through your typical daily activities – from getting out of bed in the morning to going to bed at night. Visualize the way you’re standing when you brush your teeth, the way you sit at your desk, talk on the phone, eat your lunch, play with your kids, sit on the couch, even your workout regime. You might be surprised at how many activities you engage in that create imbalances or put negative stress on your body.

 

 

Brainstorm some ways to combat these imbalances. For example, if you drive long distances or sit at a desk all day, schedule stretch breaks where you can counteract the stresses of sitting with gentle back bends and some neck and shoulder stretches. Or if you carry your purse on one shoulder, try to be conscious of switching arms as much as possible.

 

Body Check-In

 

In the morning, at lunchtime, and in the evening, perform a “check-in” with the body. Here’s how to do it: Get out of that office chair and rise to a standing position. Direct your attention to each body part and notice if there are any areas of tension, pain or discomfort. See if you can trace this discomfort back to an action or activity (large or small) that you recently engaged in.

 

 

Once you have a focused awareness of your body tension(s), perform some gentle but targeted stretches to release tightness in the muscles. The more time we spend connecting our minds with our bodies, the more likely we are to catch and stave off negative stress before it creates strain on our muscles or joints.

 

Regular BodyWork

 

Incorporate regular bodywork into your life. Just as cars need regular maintenance, so do our bodies. Making an appointment to spend time working on your body increases your awareness of your physical habits and their effects. Whether it’s in the form of a monthly massage, a weekly yoga class, or a daily guided relaxation, bodywork is a fantastic way to maintain and nourish a healthy, balanced body. And as an added bonus, your mind will feel refreshed as well.

 

 

So, as you head off into the rest of your day, bring a greater awareness to everything you do. You might be surprised at the results.

 

A version of this post originally appeared on January 11, 2011 in my weekly health and wellness column over at That’sFit.ca (no longer in publication).

It’s the first Monday of 2013 here at Annabel Fitzsimmons Whole Living, and the first post of the year. Happy 2013 to you! Talk of resolutions abound, but I’m taking a new approach to the new year. I’m using January as a time to reflect, and build a foundation for the year ahead.

 

The theme for this week’s Monday meditation is balance. The word balance brings up a wide variety of reactions from people. Some people view it as an unattainable goal, an over-used buzzword, or a concept that places undue pressure on us in an already pressure-filled world.

 

But this week, I’m going to challenge you to throw your idea of balance out the window, and think about it through fresh eyes. Balance could be as simple as the physical ability to balance our bodies upright down the icy sidewalks of this snowy winter. It could mean eating a balanced meal that fills our bellies and gives us energy. Balance could mean standing on one foot in tree pose or staying upright on a spin bike as you get your cardio on.

 

This week, as you take some time to reflect, I ask you to meditate on the many different aspects of the word balance, and the many possibilities the word holds. Try to let go of preconceived ideas about the meaning of balance (somebody else’s idea of balance is not going to be the same as yours) and explore what kind of balance you’d like to see in your life for the year ahead.

 

2013 lies before us, full of potential and promise. May our meditation on balance this week allow us to move into the year full of positivity and optimism.

 

If you’d like a little daily inspiration on the theme of balance, please follow along the 21 Days to Balance initiative I’m involved in this month. You’ll get fast and friendly nutrition, exercise, yoga and meditation tips from nutrition expert Lianne Phillipson Webb, fitness expert Samantha Montpetit-Huynh and me.

What Tree Pose Can Teach Us

 

Every pose in yoga has specific physical benefits. These benefits are what draw many people to yoga in the first place. But what I witness my clients learning — and what has kept me falling in love with my yoga practice over and over again in the last 19 years — are the many-layered lessons that each pose can offer us. Today I’m going to focus on one of my favourites: Tree pose.

 

 

Like many balancing poses, tree pose requires strength and flexibility. But neither of these can be achieved effectively without a sturdy foundation. It doesn’t matter how strong our legs or core are or how flexible our hips and upper bodies, if we are not grounded through the feet of our standing legs we will topple over. Likewise, in life: if we are not grounded or steady in who we are, no amount of strength or flexibility can prevent us from losing our balance.

 

Healthy trees strike the perfect equilibrium between foundation, strength and flexibility. Healthy trees grow deep roots. They are strong enough to withstand heavy gusts or gentle breezes, yet they have the flexibility to move and sway with the winds of all seasons. An unhealthy tree becomes rigid, inflexible, and will snap or crack when the wind blows too hard.

 

When we practice tree pose, the intention is to be a healthy tree, one that is rooted and strong but allows us to move gently with our breath. By staying grounded and working with our strength and flexibility, we can maintain balance. But if we focus too much on being still or rigid, that is when we are likely to fall out of the pose.

 

Tree pose as a metaphor for life?

 

When we develop a strong sense of who we are and what we stand for, we have a sturdy foundation. Once we have this foundation, we can develop the inner and outer strength to withstand both the calm and stormy days, and the flexibility to move and sway with the changing nature of our lives.

 

 

 

 

I had the privilege of teaching yoga last weekend at Simply Blossoming, a yearly women’s retreat in Haliburton, Ontario. I taught morning yoga classes and a couple of yoga workshops to the group. I was also lucky enough to participate in some of the other workshops offered, had a reflexology appointment, went on a nature hike, meditated, sang, journalled, and spent time with this group of diverse and fascinating women.

 

I’ve been on many retreats, as a participant, a host, and as a guest instructor. Regardless of what role I play in a retreat, I am amazed at the transformations that occur. Whether it’s a weekend retreat or a weeklong retreat, the action of getting away from our everyday, of “retreating” is powerful.

 

Over the years, there are a few things I have learned about retreats and, coming off a profound weekend, it seemed like a perfect time to share them.

 

If you’re thinking of going on any type of yoga, meditation, or spiritual retreat, here are 7 things you should know:

 

1. You don’t know why you’re there until you get there.

 

You may think you know why you’re going. You may think your intention is clear from the moment you put down that deposit, but often it’s not until you’re actually there, physically there, that why you’re really there becomes apparent.

 

2. You will gain perspective.

 

When you are removed from your daily life, your obligations, your roles and responsibilities, a wonderful thing happens. You can see your life for what it is, warts and all. You have the ability to step back from the minutiae of your life and look at it in a big-picture kind of way.

 

 

3. Be ready to face your life head-on.

 

When on a retreat, it is difficult to avoid the emotions, insights and realizations that occur. Be prepared to take a honest look at your life, and all the areas that are working (or not working, as the case may be). We are often surprised by the parts of our lives that come to the surface during these times of reflection.

 

4. Be compassionate with yourself

 

At some point, during the retreat, you may feel crabby or out of sorts. It might be short-lived, it might last longer. Know that this is okay, and look for the deeper reason. Sometimes we’ve discovered an uncomfortable truth about ourselves, or we’ve hit a roadblock in processing something, or perhaps it’s as simple as we’re just eating a different diet, have low blood sugar or need a nap! Be gentle with yourself, and listen to your body.

 

 

5. Try new things.

 

There will always be new experiences to try on a retreat, and some will seem weird or “out there”. These are often the sessions you stand to gain the most from. So, if something scares you or is out of your usual routine, try it, and observe your reaction(s).

 

 

6. Write things down.

 

You will process so many things during a retreat. You may have small realizations or grand epiphanies, but I guarantee if you don’t write them down you’ll find it hard to remember exactly what that thought was and why you had it during that particular workshop.

 

 

7. Be open.

 

Of all things, this is probably the most important. Everyone is on that retreat for a reason (and referring back to #1, most don’t know why they’re there until they’re actually there) and we all stand to learn from one another. Suspend judgment, listen, and be open, and your experience(s) will be that much deeper and richer.