The changing of the seasons from summer to autumn is a favourite time of year for many. The turning leaves and the activity of wildlife can be a feast for the eyes if we get the opportunity to go outside. It may also signal the onset of SAD for many, from the darker mornings and evenings and less time to appreciate the daylight.
One way to improve mood and cultivate mindfulness, which can help through the darker months, is to practice mindful walking. Taking the time to tune into our bodies and our environment can bring a new appreciation for the colder months and can lift the mood enormously.
Mindful walking doesn’t mean taking a hike through the countryside however. It can be practised anywhere; in nature, during the commute or even indoors.
So what is it?
Mindful walking can take many forms but largely falls into one of two categories (or a mixture of both): body awareness and environment awareness. To practice body awareness, we can move with the breath, observing the natural breathing pattern or tuning the breath into each step taken. With environmental awareness, we move steadily but turn our attention to our sensory experience of the environment. What we can see, hear, smell, feel etc. The important thing to remember, mindful walking is not about travelling from A to B, it’s not about getting somewhere. It’s about fully experiencing the present moment through the action of walking.
How to do it
- Start walking at a slow and steady pace. Try to match your steps to your breathing but keep the breathing pattern natural rather than extending the breaths.
- You can hold your hands and arms where they are comfortable – at your sides, behind your back, wherever you like
- Get used to this pace as you walk around your garden, around your house or along the street – wherever you choose
- Start to bring your awareness to the feeling of your feet touching the ground. The contact points at various moments of each step. Notice how your arms move. Notice the sway of your hips and your balance as your step from one foot to another. Notice how you hold your head and shift your gaze as you walk.
- If you get distracted, gently bring your attention back to the awareness of your body in motion
- Try mindful walking for 10 minutes and as you finish, pause for a few moments and set an intention to take mindfulness into the other activities of your day.
- Start off following the first three steps as for body awareness above
- When you are walking with the breath at a comfortable pace, start to shift your awareness to what you can see. Raise your eye level to take in your surroundings fully. Notice the shapes, colours and textures of the things in your environment. Really take in the details.
- Next move to what you can hear; the breeze, trees rustling, birdsong, vehicles, people talking, machinery – whatever it is, really pay attention to the sounds in the moment
- Move on to what you can smell and feel. Use your senses fully to anchor yourself in the present moment.
- If you get distracted or carried away by thought, just bring yourself back to the sensations of the moment as you steadily continue to walk.
- As you finish, set yourself a mindful intention for the day.
As you become more experienced at mindful walking, you can try increasing the pace (if you want to) so that you can move mindfully wherever you are going. Otherwise, you can keep mindful walking as a formal practice that you make time for each day.
Mindfulness is the practice of applying awareness to the present moment through sense-based experience rather than thought. In other words, the ability to bring attention to what is happening right now, without imposing judgments on the quality or meaning of the experience. In practicing mindfulness, sportspeople are able to notice thoughts as passing mental events that don’t require action. The ability to observe in this way can lessen the reflex response to a situation and increase the ability to respond in a calmer more objective way.
We often remember the sporting outbursts (John McEnroe, Zinedine Zidane to name but a few) where players are overcome with rage, feelings of injustice or unfair treatment, or respond negatively to crowd interference. With athletes not only needing to consistently turn in their best performance, but also being role models for fans and aspiring young people, changing the way individuals react to thoughts is a growing area of focus in sports.
A Chosen Response
It is not just the one-off outbursts that sportspeople have to contend with; performance anxiety is a large factor whether you are a team player or individual athlete. So how can mindfulness help? Mindfulness can help individuals become aware of their thoughts, bodily sensations and environment. Through noticing as an observer what is happening in the present moment, we can choose to respond in a certain way instead of relying on the reflex, learned response that often isn’t the most helpful.
We can choose to notice the environmental conditions and make adjustments to our play. We can notice how certain scenarios cause tension in the body and we can choose to relax those parts of the body. Or, we can just notice as an observer and watch the feelings or thoughts arise and pass away – they are mental events that don’t necessarily need a reaction; especially where the thoughts are unhelpful or negative or likely to elicit a negative response. Sport can be a very stressful environment. Mindfulness can help individuals to let go of emotional responses and instead help them to act with more balance and wisdom; this could be the difference between winning and losing.
Often in competitive sports (professional and amateur) it’s easy to ruminate on past mistakes or predict an outcome before the performance has even started. Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment – what is happening right now? By focusing only on what is happening in the moment, thoughts of predicted failure or learned reactions to past events start to lose their power. Our minds and bodies find a freedom to perform in the moment.
As an amateur competitive cyclist, I have felt and witnessed performance anxiety and the effects it can have on the enjoyment and outcome for individuals. It’s easy to slip into the mental cycle of berating yourself for not doing well, or having moments of self-doubt. Mindfulness might not stop these moments, but it will teach you how to observe them purely as mental events and not based on the reality of the moment. Bringing yourself back to the present and anchoring attention on your breath is a powerful practice to overcome attachment to negative thought patterns. Trying a simple breathing practice before an event can reset the mind and body to be able to focus productively on the current situation.
Mindfulness is a powerful method for creating space in the mind which can then be used to meditate on positive visualisations. Utilising the senses can affirm visualisations bringing them to life with vividness that can overcome anxiety and negative thought patterns. Creating a positive mental image of a shot, play, race or outcome can help increase confidence and focus making mindfulness an essential practice not only for success, but also for enjoyment.
Practicing mindfulness is mental training that helps refocus awareness so that attention can be redirected purposefully to help you perform to the best of your ability. As with all training, it is a process that requires commitment and repetition. Mindfulness begins with a sitting practice and deliberate times set aside for mindful enquiry. This then moves on to mindful movement and can become a whole of life practice that can be utilised on the court/pitch/field/track before, during and after performances.
The Well Nest could help your sports team to improve performance through the practice of Mindfulness. To learn more about mindfulness, tailor a mindfulness package for your club or team or to register for mindfulness courses in Staffordshire (suitable for everyone, not only athletes) take a look at the Mindfulness pages or contact [email protected]
Yoga classes are running all through the summer with the Well Nest – why not come along and give it a go!
Yoga is an ancient practice of mind and body that can help improve fitness and stamina as well as reducing anxiety and stress through calming the mind. A regular practice can change your life.
Classes available every week on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Colwich & Little Haywood Village Hall – no booking required, just turn up and practice. We have two friendly, mixed groups practicing regularly. Men and women are welcome and classes are suitable for all levels. Just £5 per class.
My visit to the Om Yoga Show this year provided the chance to try something completely different from the selection of classes available. I usually go for something demanding and full-on so I get a good workout as well as learn from new teachers. As I had managed to book onto two classes this year, I mixed it up with a class on backbends with Ann-Marie Mainprize of Amiyoga in Hull.
The class promised to ‘deepen backbends the Forrest yoga way’ through ‘connecting the core and releasing deep rooted postural tension’ – sounded excellent to me! As I’ve never tried Forrest yoga, that was an added bonus.
I know many people struggle with spinal flexibility and I often advocate core strength as a way of back-bending with confidence, so this sounded like a great way to improve my own knowledge and experience how other teachers focus a class on back-bending safely.
The class focused straight away on opening the front of the body as a way to improve flexibility and stability through the back of the body. We did a lot of strong abdominal work which although simple, was incredibly hard work on the deep core muscles. Lying flat on the back with legs straight in the air we were instructed to press the lower back into the mat and curl up the tail bone – the simple action of lifting in this way (with breath work and holds) was a huge workout for the core.
We went on to work dynamically through sun salutation B, some low lunges and lizard pose with a arrow foot stretch (pressing the top of the back foot down into the mat to apply a deeper stretch to the hip flexor) which was bliss but also agony for my tight hip flexors. We visited the ‘engaged glutes or relaxed glutes’ argument when in wheel and bridge – Ann-Marie was on the side of engaged glutes as it provides greater support for the lower back; something I agree with.
An interesting counterpose to all the back bending was to twist out rather than forward bend to reset the spine. Again there is a lot of discussion around this at the moment, but it was the first class I have been to where twist rather than forward bend was taught. I always found that bending the opposite way was counter-productive when deepening spinal flexion…but that forward fold always seems to really loosen the spine as well. The class with Ann-Marie was a real anatomy class – her knowledge was obvious but she made it accessible to all.
The one issue (which I found last year as well) was the poor quality mats provided for the workshops – almost on the edge of dangerous when in wheel as they were so slippery – this is a show issue not a workshop issue however.
I loved the class with Ann-Marie as it was obvious she was used to teaching all levels of students. Her approach was very instructive but helpful (she had three assistants providing hands-on assists throughout). This was a real workshop rather than a yoga class as poses were broken down with anatomy at the forefront. I would definitely recommend this class for yoga teachers.
The next day (and the day after) the muscles either side of my spine were definitely feeling the work that had been done in this class. The simple but effective core strengthening exercises feature regularly in my practice as well now. Definitely worth taking a class with Ann-Marie.
I’m a big fan of the Om Yoga Show; this must be the eighth or ninth time I’ve been to the show over the years and the third time visiting the ‘Northern version’ up in Manchester. I enjoyed the show last year and generally find it a much more enjoyable experience than the London version of the show.
Travelling to Manchester is pretty easy from the Midlands by train or car and helpfully, the organisers had kept the venue the same as last year; Event City, right next door to the Trafford Centre (and with free parking woohoo!). I went up on the first day of the show (Friday) and arrived at about 11.30 am and was surprised to see a giant queue to get in, stretching all the way into the car park. I got chatting to a fellow yogi in the queue and she agreed that it hadn’t seemed this busy last year. luckily the queue moved quickly and we got inside to find the hold-up had been due to staff trying to fill and hand out goody bags right in the doorway. Just as we got to the front of the queue we were told the goody bag area was causing a hold-up (no kidding) and so we would have to come back later to collect ours. No problem, as I didn’t fancy carrying the massive paper bag round the show with me.
As it turned out, I could have done with the massive bag to carry all my purchases – I still forget that nobody gives you a carrier bag anymore! The freebies inside this year included samples from BIO-Extracts of face cream, anti-oxidant boost and anti-wrinkle boost and some NOUGHTY leave in conditioner. I gently turned down the free sample of cider vinegar (even though I heard a lively discussion about how it can be effective if applied to acne – not sure which is worse; spots or smelling like vinegar??)
What was on
There was a good variety of stands on offer again this year – about 100 to choose from. This included food and drink, equipment, books, music, clothing, retreats and teacher training, meditation aids, and my personal favourites singing bowls and gongs. I played lots if different singing bowls and had a good chat to the owner of the Moon Karma stand (who was also an ashtangi running yoga retreats in Nepal…that went straight on the to do list). There were also three open classes and two workshop areas and a meditation area. The ticket price of £7.50 for one day entry was a bargain as usual as this allowed access to the show and free entry to all the classes in the open and meditation areas. It also included free entry to Vegan Life Live and the Mind Body Soul Experience.
What to do
I started with my usual quick circuit of the stands to find out what was where and who/what I’d like to revisit. Despite the big queues to get in, the show was not overcrowded and it was always easy to see and speak to any of the exhibitors. It was great to see the open classes so well attended. It’s never necessary to queue for more than 5 minutes at the Manchester show to take part in a free class, whereas I have been known to spend 30 minutes waiting at the London show only to be told the class is full.
The open classes this year included traditional Hatha yoga, inversions, singing bowl meditation, chair yoga, crystals, alignment, how to flow, yoga for MS, Kundalini, Kriya yoga, and vinyasa flow to name but a few. There was also a children’s yoga open area. I didn’t have chance to try and open class this year as I had two workshop bookings, but I did stop to watch a few. The Kundalini open class run by KYTA was fascinating; they played some fantastic music which really did help to connect mind and body (and I was only observing!). That one is going on my list for next year. The classes were full, but I didn’t see anyone get turned away so even if you don’t have a workshop booking, it’s worth coming to the show to try a new style of yoga for free. The DRU Yoga area had loads of free taster sessions going on all day as well – I’ve participated in these before and they are well worth the experience. I always think DRU would be the perfect yoga class to get you going in the morning.
The workshop areas were easy to find and the cost of these longer, intensive classes ranged from £5 – £10 for between 60 and 90 minutes – another great value way to try new things with national or international teachers.
Vegan Life and Mind Body Soul Experience
I briefly popped into Vegan Life Live because I know the food on offer is far superior to any of my own creations. As usual there was a great variety of food on offer as well as clothing, books and workshops to look at. I didn’t spend long in the show, but it was busy inside. I visited Home Kitchen Vegan again for the finest Asian food I have ever tasted!
The MBS Experience looked noticeably depleted this year. There were some familiar stands and faces from previous years, but none of the more interesting meditation, sound experiences and alternative therapies that have previously featured. I’d only recommend a visit to this show if there is a particular Tarot card reader or MBS practitioner that you want to see; otherwise it doesn’t have much to entertain you past the 30 minute mark.
Would I recommend the Om Yoga Show?
Definitely! This show remains a real bargain to visit and with all the free experience areas you can make a full day of it without spending more. If you do want a longer workshop, you can see world leading teachers for a bargain price. There is enough to entertain you for a morning or afternoon if you’re not doing an additional workshop or easily a full day with the extras. I noticed that the variety of clothing stands wasn’t quite as diverse this year but I loved the new additions of gongs and stands with a charitable or education focus.
The show desperately needs more areas for meditation and mindfulness and this should be a focus for next year as it was noticeably absent. The noisy atmosphere of the show means that people are often drawn to the quiet areas; and whilst there were places to sit, there were few places to enjoy a peaceful experience and try something new.
The Om Yoga Show is back next in London on 19th – 21st October 2018.
What are you doing for yourself this year?
Come and join us for New Year Yoga! Starting on Wednesday 3rd January 2018 at 12 pm
We’ve all heard that yoga is good for body and mind but isn’t it all just a bit of gentle bending and stretching? What’s all the fuss about…?
The combination of breathing, relaxation, meditation, strength, balance and dynamic movement often found in yoga classes can bring a complete overhaul to our often chaotic lives and busy minds.
Some of the benefits of yoga are more obvious; it builds muscle strength, improves flexibility and stamina, it improves posture, strengthens bones and protects cartilage, it increases heart rate and blood flow and helps drain the lymphatic system. These benefits come from the physical practice, Asana.
It can also help focus and concentration by being mindful of the body and the present moment. The deep and complete relaxation that can come from a yoga practice can fully relax the nervous system. We often spend most of our time in ‘fight or flight’ mode where the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated. This can trigger long-term stress responses and ill health. Yoga is calming and restorative and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering breathing and heart rate and bringing the body back to balance.
Yoga is also very useful in providing relief from chronic conditions. A regular practice utilising the full range of body movement improves mobility, flexibility and self esteem. It also improves mood and motivation; you will be more inclined to be active as progress physically, brings progress mentally.
Join a class with The WellNest to see how yoga can improve your body and mind.
One of the great joys of yoga is that no two teachers are the same. It’s so exciting to experience new flows, styles of teaching and types of yoga to keep the love of yoga alive.
This was the first time I’d managed to book my first choice workshop at the Om Yoga Show (show review can be found here). The session was 90 minutes long for the bargain price of £10. I expected the room to be an uncomfortable, overcrowded affair, but I was pleasantly surprised. Mats were well-spaced and there was enough room to spread out without getting too close to your neighbour (it’s just not very British to touch a stranger – especially a sweaty one).
The workshop was billed as a Himalayan Hatha Yoga series with energy to create freedom and lightness in the body. There were intense sun salutations with upward dog kept on the toes rather than the tops of the feet. Looking around, I could tell that everyone found this a change from their ‘norm’. There were people of all abilities in the class which is always great to see and be part of.
We were put through our paces using fast flows, arm balances, strength postures and some of the most intensive Kriya and pranayama I have ever experienced. The breath holds and transitions worked to cleanse the body, generate heat and still the mind. It was very tough! We worked through standing postures testing balance and strength. We added in fast arm movements to challenge concentration and work alongside pranayama. There were opportunities to try transitions from headstand to side crow and back and chair to flying pigeon to name a few. There were also challenging bound postures which I enjoy but really test the limits of patience and surrender. This was a full body and mind workout. We sweated…a lot.
Yogi Ashokananda was encouraging and warm. Although he moved through transitions quickly he was clear in his instruction – although firm when he spotted we were flagging. He added in asanas and movements I haven’t tried or heard of before (wagtail or cheetah pose anyone?) but they were intense. I really enjoy this physical form of yoga because pushing the limits of the body helps to control the mind. I really found this a transformational session and have since used some of Yogi Ashokananda’s practices in my classes, particularly how to move within postures rather than just the traditional holds. I also really enjoyed using pranayama and kriyas as an integrated practice while doing asanas rather than sitting down and doing them separately.
The only let down for me was the poor quality of yoga mats that were provided. They were slippy to the point of being dangerous in a class such as this where sweat was an inevitability. Holding downward dog was a feat of concentration and resolve. I recommend taking your own mat to the Om Yoga Show if you intend to do a workshop.
We finished with some chanting aloud (again not very British) which everyone engaged with (surprisingly). I’m not familiar with the verse we chanted but many were so it was great to be a part of it. I always enjoy some Om chanting at the end of a class though, it just really fills me with happiness.
Yogi Ashokananda prepared us well for the class by saying “corpse pose is called corpse pose for a reason. You shouldn’t do it unless you feel like you’re going to die. Five straight hours of yoga will make you feel like you’re going to die…you only get to do savasana then”. He stuck to his word…there was no savasana after the most intense 90 minutes of yoga I’ve ever done. But, he was right. I didn’t need it and I didn’t miss it.
This was my sixth visit to the Om Yoga show and the second time I’d been to it in Manchester. At £7.50 entrance fee this is a true bargain. After a succession of London venues that seem to be impossibly difficult (and time consuming) to get to, I thought the chance to drive ‘up north’ would be welcome.
The new venue at Event City was an excellent choice! Loads of free parking right outside the door. It was easy to get to and refreshingly didn’t involve multiple bus/train journeys and lots of waiting around – something that can’t be avoided in getting to the London venues of Alexandra Palace and Olympia.
Goody bags were freely available – no scrum necessary – just inside the door. We were able to help ourselves to show guides and freebies (powdered, vegan supplements for smoothies). The venue was large with lots going on this year. I always feel like the Manchester show might be the poor relation of the London event, but not true this year.
The bonus is that as it’s not as busy as the London show, you can actually get the chance to get into the open classes without a 30 minute queue and this year was the first time I’d managed to book onto my first choice workshop.
The best thing about the Om Yoga show is that it’s a hive of thriving young British businesses – loads of innovation and creativity in clothing, food, drink, styles of yoga and equipment that are freely available to us British yogis.
There was a strong display of exhibitors from therapists, food producers, tea importers, meditation aids, equipment, books, clothing, accessories and interiors. Really everything you’d want to see at this kind of show and far more. The Manchester show is definitely not a runner-up to London any more.
There were 3 open class studios, a children’s yoga studio and a meditation area this year. Classes ranging from gentle introductions, innovative new styles, traditional asanas, challenging backbends and arm balances and focus on all 8 limbs of yoga with some Ayurveda and holistic therapy thrown in. There were 93 free classes to choose from this year so it’s not just a day of shopping and browsing – there are multiple good quality activities to fill the day as well. With about 15 workshops per day ranging from £5 to £10 there were also some world class teachers to choose from for a more in-depth experience. I booked onto a masterclass with Yogi Ashokananda for £10 – the best yoga class I have ever been to! My workshop review can be found here.
The hot yoga pod was absent this year, but had been replaced by an aerial yoga workshop space. I like that the Om Yoga show encourages attendees to get stuck into new incarnations of yoga as well as sticking to the traditional. Whatever your viewpoint on yoga, there will be something for you to enjoy here.
No review would be complete without a mention of the vegan food court – AMAZING! This year was the best selection of food I’ve ever seen at the show. So many local home kitchens and creative vegan cooks. It was hard to choose, but a special mention needs to go to Home Kitchen Vegan who produced the most fantastic vegan curry.
Special mention to my favourite exhibitors this year:
Yoga clothing to die for The Power of Greyskull
Yoga bliss from a world class teacher Yogi Ashokananda
I dare you to leave without trying one of these drinks by Big Juice
The Om Yoga Show will be back in London 20 – 22nd October 2017