I have seen some pretty special places in my life so far and feel very privileged to have done so. But it is only since I have been practicing conscious living (In the moment) for the past 2 years that I really started to appreciate these special moments of me being in these amazing places. My recent trip to South East Asia & Indonesia held an abundance of value to the development of my being. From the people we met along the way, the healthy diet we were able to indulge in, the variety of high quality yoga spots we worked out in, the places we found ourselves in & also the challenges along the way!
When you go away for a period of time, whether that be travelling around or on a short vacation away, you are able to decompress and relax your mind from the everyday routinely struggles of life. This is an important thing to do in my opinion as it enables you to slow down for a moment, observe the path you are following, and adjust the direction accordingly from time to time. This of course is something not easily done for some people, who struggle to take a break from life and are caught up in the "doing mode" too often instead of "being" where wonderful things can develop for yourself and others around you. A good friend of mine recently told me that, "You have to treat life like a wave that you surf on, adjusting the board small degrees left & right as you navigate through the wave". This has stuck with me and find it a great analogy. If you don't take time to adjust then you just fall off, but of course when this happens, make sure you jump straight back on it!
Travel allows us to meet people of different cultures, experiences, tales & lessons to be passed on. The people of the local villages and cities showed such a warming and compassionate approach. Walking along the streets you would mostly see open hearted individuals who would simply smile and even say hello as you walk by them or "Sawadee Krab" should I say. Back in the western world you would probably think it was strange for someone to smile at you as you pass by let alone say hello! From hostels / Air BnBs & homestays, the hospitality was tremendous, with a completely different experience each time. Conversing with fellow travellers with similar interests, learning about their journey and aspirations, sharing some amazing experiences and views on the world today. The general feel of meeting this variety of people, definitely helped me deepen my perspective on life and practice gratitude as I was informally meditating along the way.
Since becoming a yoga teacher in India, I have made it my aim to visit the eastern world each year for a period of time to recharge my spirituality and physical asana practice of yoga. The quality and diversity of the sessions were fantastic! Me and my travel brother Jon entangled ourselves in around 15 different classes. Ranging from Yin, Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa & Bikram styles! I tried to interact and meet the teachers after the class to learn a bit about their journey as a teacher and human being. A truly special experience each and every one of them which all held their own separate challenges both physically and mentally. Some classes would see me with beads of sweat slowly dripping off my hair strands and tip nose onto the heavy mat, whereas others would allow me more to reflect focus on a certain feeling or emotional pull. Coming back from these experiences I aim to bring a bit of everything of these styles as each one lends itself to the other on bringing a person into the present moment, being able to tap into your body and reconnect. Whether your holding a more relaxing asana for 3-5 minutes in a Yin class or fluidly moving from one to another in the space a few calculated breaths, each practice within the yoga spectrum are as important as one another for various benefits.
I was astounded at how easy it was to find great, healthy and nutritious food! Around every corner there would be a really innovative, independently owned cafe/ coffee shop. We actively sought out vegan cafes which is only just becoming "a thing" here in the west. Smoothie bowls, stir frys, curries, wraps, Goji berry balls.... the selection was crazy good! Of course this food was all just costing the equivalent a few quid back home. The coffee shops were fantastic too, not just the quality of a good stiff americano but also the concept of each quirky little space we found ourselves in. This coffee culture has been growing over in Europe over the past few years of course and it was inspiring to see such places here too. Overall, it was pretty dam easy to keep to a healthy diet, even with some "raw carrot cake" thrown in the mixer too! The Thai cooking class gave us 20 dishes to practice back home where its a lot harder to eat healthy for a reasonable price!
If it wasn't for sanctuaries like "Elephant Jungle sanctuary", then elephants would not survive. The ethical values at this place were good as they are able to roam freely within a large area with no riding or tying up to stakes. We were in fact able to bathe, play and feed with these wonderfully intelligent animals.
For me, trips like these are not just trips, they are adventures. Full of experiences and challenges along the way. (Not to mention the accident I had in Koh Phi Phi, ending up in hospital for 3 days!) It's a space for growth, broadening the mind's perspective and remind yourself of a few simple values/ principles which are often reinforced in a yoga practice. Bringing awareness to compassion, non- judgement, non- reaction, acceptance, self discipline, gratitude. In awareness of these, they help you enjoy the journey, appreciate the now, reduce negative situations, & increase the effectiveness of your life. Good vibrations will always come back to you when you are giving them out, but same with negative ones so be aware of that. This is what yoga, reading books, meditation & travelling has taught me so far, a lifelong practice of trying to be a good person most of the time and making time to do the things you love that feed your soul.
I hope the reader finds value reading this blog to carry into their next journey, being present for the most part of it!
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With non judgemental awareness, it is suggested that mindful people are able to cultivate happiness a lot easier, which enables them to learn more about who they really are too!
Self doubt is a common issue and many are faced with the disconnection from others and a lack of understanding of self, questioning who we really are.
The antidote to this internal conflict is a strong sense of self, what researchers call “self-concept clarity.” When we know who we are, we experience greater self esteem and independence. That helps us cultivate better relationships and a sense of purpose in life.
But where does this inner confidence come from? In the past, that’s largely been a mystery to psychologists. But a recent study provides a clue: It may partly stem from the non-judgmental awareness that is mindfulness.
Where does inner confidence come from? Researchers at the University of Utah recruited over 1,000 undergraduate students, ranging in age from 18 to 53, to complete questionnaires about three traits:
The results showed that more mindful students reported higher well-being—and that a stronger sense of self partly accounted for that link.
In other words, if we dont expect ourselves to beat our flaws we may be more willing to take a clear look in the mirror.
(Participants skilled at observing didn’t have deeper self-knowledge, Hanley speculates, because the questions about observing focused on their ability to notice external states—everyday smells, the sun on their face—rather than internal ones.)
How might mindfulness and a strong sense of self work together to make us happier? Besides reducing the uncertainty and conflict of self-doubt, mindfulness and a strong sense of self may also have positive benefits—by allowing us to confidently pursue the goals and relationships that are most authentically important to us.
Also, if mindful people notice change and improvement in themselves, they can shed ingrained beliefs that are no longer true—like “I’m not successful enough” or “I’m too shy.”
This study is part of the latest wave of mindfulness research, where psychologists explore not just its benefits (i.e., greater well-being) but what exactly brings about those benefits. It doesn’t prove that mindfulness causes us to develop a stronger sense of self, but it does show a link between “trait mindfulness” (an individual’s baseline of mindfulness), well-being, and sense of self.
If future research confirms these findings, that might encourage more mindfulness practices and meditations to specifically target self-doubt and internal conflict, designed for people who struggle with those issues.
The data showed that students who were non judgemental about thoughts and feelings tended to reveal a clearer sense of self however those who were better observing the present showed lower self concept clarity.
“Being non-judgmental may increase the likelihood of accepting the self, which may increase the willingness of more mindful individuals to explore and examine the self—ultimately, being more familiar or friendly with themselves,” explains lead author Adam W. Hanley.
Back issues- Yoga prevents & rehabilitates!
Since teaching my yoga practice, I have had a range of students from farmers/ footballers/ rugby players/ cyclists/ runners & more come and say to me how much better their backs feel over their time in the classes.
It is very common to encounter some form of back issue as you go through life, whether that be sports/ exercise induced or naturally developing through genetic make up in curvatures of spines.
Here is a short blog displaying 3 simple yoga postures that help address the back and reduce stiffness and the chances of it ceasing up and causing sciatic problems.
Check them out below!
Revolved Triangle Pose
Bringing energy to your spine with this stretch & really stimulating the muscles in the back. Step your feet about 4 feet apart and turn your right foot out to 45–60 degrees, with your left foot facing forward. Bend your left knee and on an inhale, raise your arms overhead; on an exhale, turn your torso to the left, encouraging your pelvis toward the front edge of the mat. Now lean forward over your front leg, reaching your right hand down either to the floor (inside or outside the left foot) or a block; bring your left hand skyward. With your front knee still bent, squeeze your torso against your thigh. Hold this shape, and then gradually engage your quads to straighten your front leg (shown). Draw your hips away from your shoulders to lengthen your spine. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, and then switch sides.
Seated Forward Bend
To release any tension created in a twist, I like to follow up with a pose in which the spine is symmetrical. Forward folds—such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) or Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) —are great choices. For the latter, sit on the floor or a folded blanket with your legs extended in front of you. Press actively through your heels and slightly turn in the tops of your thighs, pressing them down into the floor. As you inhale, lengthen your front torso; as you exhale, lean forward from your hip joints and lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis to fold over your legs. Stay in the posture for 5–10 deep, easy breaths.
Practice Pose, before you twist is a nice way to expand the chest—a key action while twisting, too. Lie on your belly, legs side by side, and contract your glutes. Roll your outer thighs toward the floor to internally rotate your femurs, helping to broaden and lengthen your lower back and sacrum to protect them in this backbend. Set your elbows under your shoulders, and your forearms on the floor parallel to each other. Inhale and lift your upper torso and head away from the floor into a mild backbend. Stay here for 10 deep breaths, then find your way to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog).
Deepen the stretch
If you have the flexibility in the armpits, chest, and groins you can move into a deeper backbend. Walk the hands a little farther forward and straighten your elbows, turning the arms outward. Lift the top of the sternum straight toward the ceiling.
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Hello & welcome to a brief overview of what proved to be the most testing but valuble year for me... where everything changed and forced some form of awakening mindset to rise. I hope people who currently are going through a difficult time can take value out of this read.
Being involved in health & fitness from an early age, I often reflect on how my body has been exposed to a variety of training methods and states through the years, as if being placed in some sort of science lab!
Football was my life from the ages of eleven to seventeen years old, playing at high level clubs such as Coventry City, Manchester United & Walsall F.C. I look back at these times with great fondness and am grateful for all the life and character building skills football gave me. Aerobic, anaerobic & functional fitness was key and I learned how to achieve all of these attributes through a number of extremely experienced coaches at the time. But there was always a pressure to do well and succeed, this had caused a great deal of anxiety for me back then and it destroyed me when I finally got released.
My goals then changed as I was released from Walsall F.C and I decided to veer away from football. I became an apprentice at eighteen at Holmer Park Health Spa and spent two years exploring the goal of putting on as much muscle mass as my frame would let me, I got to quite a hefty size! Typical young bloke I suppose eh! During my time there I officially got the gym bug and couldn’t stop experimenting with exercises and cycles of different training regimes, pushing my body to its limits. Through great mentoring of Neale Willets, I discovered great enjoyment in teaching classes such as circuits, barbell, core, LBT and of course spin bike classes which Is where I especially found my groove!
At Twenty one years of age I decided I needed to further my education, I enrolled in Cardiff Metropolitan University. Here I studied Sport & physical education, whilst also obtaining my master diploma in personal training and nutrition along the way. I met some amazing people in these three years and made some lifelong friends. My goals changed again and found myself wanting to play football again in the University 1st team. However, as the first year flew by, I found that my love for the game was diminishing and I was forcing myself to play more than anything. So I decided to leave the football behind and the void was filled by music. I fell in love with electronic music in Cardiff and the various sub genres of disco/ house & techno. Bought a pair of decks and began to explore how to mix and DJ with friends, having a lot of fun doing it, which later evolved into the building of the music brand, Discotek (another story!).
So, fitness goals changed in the last two years of university and I continued to explore the gym lab with the aim of shredding as much fat as possible, keeping lean. This involved teaching a bunch of spin classes a week at Lifestyle Fitness Cardiff, alongside an intense regime of resistance training involving super sets and circuits. My dissertation focussed on how to rehabilitate from a sports hernia and the dietary/ training needs to do so. This aided my ability to personal train on the side and help those who suffered with similar injuries.
Throughout my three years at university I was lucky enough to travel a great deal. This was through a company called Challenger Sports, where I coached football bootcamps to kids all over central Western America in states such as California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah and Oregon. This was an experience for me I will never forget for as long as I live, having seen some extraordinary places and stayed with some heart warming and loving families who some I still stay in touch with today.
Post university I returned home to Hereford with lot more experience, not only in health and fitness, but in life. I landed a good job as Duty Manager at Holmer Park and I was able to continue to teach a variety of classes, issue nutrition plans and personal train clients. Initially it was a big struggle and found it difficult to adjust to the more tranquil life of the countryside. For the first 6 months or so of being back I sunk into a deep depression and I couldn’t not put my finger on what was wrong with me. Everything on paper seemed as though it was perfect, a good job, a girlfriend, a car, a home to live in, great people around me….I was stunned. I was no longer enjoying things I loved to do such as watch movies, play football, Dj, go out with friends, the only time I felt sane was when I was training or at work.
After much frustration and time wrestling with myself, those close to me urged me to go the doctors, (after me being a typical male in refusing the number of chances to go). The doctor confirmed the inevitable and I was (in clinical terms) "depressed". I tried a course of antidepressants but found they did not work and if anything amplified my anxiety, it was destroying me and I wanted to come off them. They persuaded me to try a different type called Fluoxetine which were a little better but still didn’t feel myself after some weeks. During this time I flew through a number of books on mindfulness and how to look at everything through a different light. Sitting with thoughts and not reacting, seeing a new perspective on things, these books were really helping. I first began reading these inspiring books in the first month of me being home and always saw that yoga was often mentioned in all of them.
This wonderful method came from studying those books based on mindfulness and how to perceive things In a more positive way dealing with the struggles the western world finds itself in. I began to self practice in meditation to start with and use all the apps and tools I could find to help me do so, to help quieten the mind and focus. After a month or so of doing this I began practicing asanas (yoga postures). I began to explore this new and exciting training method, not only on the body but the mind too. Yoga helps unify that mind, body & soul connection and I noticed the difference it was making to my mood, my outlook, not to mention my flexibility, (I was stiff as a board from all the football and heavy weight lifting!). The most important result of all the reading and self practice was that I was able over time to come off the antidepressants and beat depression’s butt. All I knew is that I did not want to go down that road again, so I became fascinated with enhancing both body and mind. Aiming not only to maintain my own physical and mental health, but to be able share my experiences with others who have gone down or going down a similar path.
I ended up taking a risk and left Holmer Park for a last minute opportunity that arose to become a certified yoga teacher in Goa, India. What better place to learn than the place it all began thousands of years ago I thought! What an incredibly authentic experience it was too, having being taught by some inspirational teachers out there who had practiced yoga through the generations. I made some lifelong friends there too who were also fellow students, all having many years of experience in the art of yoga. After a month of soaking in as much nutritional, practical and philosophical knowledge as possible, I was successful in my mission in becoming a certified teacher.
My goal is now to maintain this balance of body and mind, whilst still ever increasing flexibility, maintaining lean muscle and a good aerobic function. Presently, I find myself at the best shape of my life physically and mentally. And through high quality nutrition, resistance, aerobic and yoga training I have been able to achieve that balance and now aim to keep improving in each of those aspects. This would be possible through a healthy balance of all the training I had done over the years, alongside yoga. I have returned from India and started up my own yoga business (yogiPfitness) and also fortunate to join a team of superbly experienced, charismatic personal trainers at the PT1 facility in Hereford.
After several years of experimenting in a range of training methods in the “body AND mind laboratory”, I am excited to invite you all on to my next chapter. Which is to share all that I have learned over the years and hope to help you achieve whatever your goals may be and make a positive difference. Most importantly on how to lead a healthy balanced and happy life. I love my job as a lifestyle professional because my job is my life. I also want to thank the people I have met along the way who have taught me lessons and helped me grow whether they know it or not. And especially thankful for all the amazing support from my family and close friends.
Lastly, I urge anyone who has suffered or suffering from the grips of anxiety or depression to get in touch with those around you or myself and open out, you are not alone. Although it seems that way a lot of the time. Transfer that dark energy into light, bring positivity back into your life and use that power as a human being to create a better world for yourself and change your perspective. And remember, some things you cannot change, so don’t go wasting energy trying to change them. Be kind to yourself. Keep moving forward. LEARN from the past, BE in the present and PREPARE for the future.
“I am thankful for it all, the highs, the lows, the blessings, the lessons, the setbacks, the comebacks, the love, the hate, everything”.
Work? Family? Relationships? Location? Stage in life?
All these are umbrella categories of stress that we find in our life. Does stress consume you to a point where it not only effects you, but others around you too. You create the world you live in by the quality of your thoughts. So how do we enhance our mental being? Or mindset on life? Our World we live in? We gradually change our perception on different situations and states we find ourselves in, but how….
It does not mean to be different from how we already are. Instead, aiding us to become aware of what is already true, moment by moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is.
You may wonder what good that is. After all, don’t we want to suffer less? Aren’t we interested in tuning in to this natural wisdom, this brilliant sanity, that we’ve heard about? Aren’t those changes from how we already are? Pain is growth in the form of heartbreak or loss. Every next level of your life will demand a different version of you. A stronger one where these hard maybe low points in your life were spaces given to grow.
Well, yes and no. On the one hand, suffering less and being more aware of our inherent wakefulness would be changes from how we experience ourselves right now, or at least most of the time. On the other hand, though, the way to uncover brilliant sanity and to alleviate suffering is by going more deeply into the present moment and into ourselves as we already are, not by trying to change what is already going on.
The sitting practice of mindfulness meditation gives us exactly this opportunity to become more present with ourselves just as we are. This, in turn, shows us glimpses of our inherent wisdom and teaches us how to stop perpetuating the unnecessary suffering that results from trying to escape the discomfort, and even pain, we inevitably experience as a consequence of simply being alive.
As we’ve seen in earlier blog postings, the man called the Buddha taught that the source of suffering is our attempt to escape from our direct experience. First, we cause ourselves suffering by trying to get away from pain and attempting to hang on to pleasure. Unfortunately, instead of quelling our suffering or perpetuating our happiness, this strategy has the opposite effect. Instead of making us happier, it causes us to suffer. Second, we cause suffering when we try to prop up a false identity usually known as ego. This, too, doesn’t work and leads instead to suffering. (See earlier blog entries for more on these ideas.)
Mindfulness, paying precise, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our experience as it arises and subsides, doesn’t reject anything. Instead of struggling to get away from experiences we find difficult, we practice being able to be with them. Equally, we bring mindfulness to pleasant experiences as well. Perhaps surprisingly, many times we have a hard time staying simply present with happiness. We turn it into something more familiar, like worrying that it won’t last or trying to keep it from fading away. For example, when your so used to be working in a fast western world, it comes time to go on Holiday but your already thinking of the work you have to do when you return.
When we are mindful, we show up for our lives; we don’t miss them in being distracted or in wishing for things to be different. Instead, if something needs to be changed we are present enough to understand what needs to be done. Being mindful is not a substitute for actually participating in our lives and taking care of our own and others’ needs. In fact, the more mindful we are, the more skillful we can be in compassionate action, an emotional intelligence.
So, how do we actually practice mindfulness meditation? Once again, there are many different basic techniques. There are three basic aspects worked with in this meditation technique: body, breath and thoughts.
First, we relate with the body. Setting up the environment you wish to meditate in, whether that be in a pre-made class setting or in the comfort of your own home. As long as you are not sitting in front of something distracting, like the TV or the desk where your computer lives, it doesn’t matter too much what is in front of you.
Once you’ve picked your spot, you need to choose your seat. It’s fine to sit either on a cushion on the floor or on a chair. The idea is to take a posture that reflects your inherent brilliant sanity, so one that is dignified but not stiff. The back is straight with the curve in the lower back that is naturally there. I was once told to imagine that my spine was a tree and to lean against it. It works for me; you can see if it works for you.
Sitting on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. There’s no need to contort yourself into an uncomfortable posture. Just simply cross your legs as you might have done as a child. Notice again that you want your hips higher than your knees. If necessary, add more height to your seat by folding up a blanket or towel or a block.
Hands rest on the thighs, facing down. The eyes are closed.
Let your front be open and your back be strong.
Begin by just sitting in this posture for a few minutes in this environment. If your attention wanders away, just gently bring it back to your body and the environment. The key word here is “gently.” Your mind WILL wander; that’s part of what you will notice with your mindfulness: minds wander. When you notice that yours has wandered, come back again to body and environment. Do not stress, relax.
The second part of the practice is working with the breath. In this practice rest your attention lightly (yes, lightly) on the breath. Feel it as it comes into your body and as it goes out. There’s no special way to breathe in this technique. Once again, we are interested in how we already are, not how we are if we manipulate our breath. If you find that you are, in fact, controlling your breath in some way, just let it be that way. It’s a bit tricky to try to be natural on purpose, so don’t get caught up in worrying about whether your breath is natural or not. Just let it be however it is.
Again, sit for a few minutes with the posture and the environment and with your breath. In and out. Count an inhale as 1, the exhale as 2, inhale 3, exhale 4, continue until 20 and then restart. If thoughts run away with you, refocus on the breath back to 1. The idea isn’t to get it “right,” but instead to give you an idea that you’re not channeling all of your attention tightly on to your breath. The rest of your attention will naturally be on your body and the environment.
Finally, the last part of the practice is working with thoughts. As you sit practicing, you will notice that thoughts arise. Sometimes there are a great many thoughts, overlapping one over the next: memories: plans for the future, fantasies, snatches of jingles from TV commercials. There may seem to be no gaps at all in which you can catch a glimpse of your breath. That’s not uncommon, especially if you’re new to meditation. Just notice what happens.
When you notice that you have gotten so caught up in thoughts that you have forgotten that you’re sitting in the room, just gently bring yourself back to the breath. You can mentally say “thinking” to yourself as a further reminder of what just happened. This labeling is not a judgment; it is a neutral observation: “Thinking has just occurred.” I like to think of it as a kind of weather report: “Thinking has just been observed in the vicinity.”
How long should you practice? As little as 5 minutes is great to start with, build it as a ritual every day perhaps setting that time aside. Rituals tend to cement in after 3 weeks of consistency in doing so, after then it will become easy as a beneficial habbit. Build this as you feel 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes a day to increase your self awareness and effectiveness in every day life.
For instance towards the end of one of my yoga classes, I set aside time for complete relaxation and meditation. This is a skill alongside the physical asanas (postures) we perform before hand leading up to it. Eventually, you could extend it to 45 minutes or an hour. If you want to sit longer, you might want to learn how to do walking meditation as a break.
Walking meditation is one of many variety of ways to meditate, it isnt just being able to sit for an extended period of time, (although most effective once mastered). Through walking pay attention to your senses, what colours do you see? Scents do you smell? The feeling of your feet crunching on the leaves on an autumn night? The crisp cold air on your nose, eyes and ears?
Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn reveals a large amount about mindfulness and types of meditation. Describing others such as shower meditation, where the stress is essentially visualised to run off the body in the form of water. Lake mediation, where you envision the ripples on the lake to be the small stressors of life, disturbing the perfect reflection in the water. Sky meditation, where the clouds resemble pockets of thoughts, negative and positive, but the knack is to just watch them pass by and not let them consume you, just be. Sea/ Ocean meditation, waves resembling stressful thoughts, both small and large but having the skill to not rid them but to ride them instead.
Don’t try to get rid of your thoughts, instead be aware of what they are. It won’t work and it’s the opposite of the spirit of the practice. We are trying to be with ourselves as we already are, not trying to change ourselves into some preconceived notion of how we ought to be instead.
Contact by email for where you can catch me and any questions I can try and answer: Yogipfitness@outlook.com
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All blog posts are written by Ross Powell