Soulla Soulshine

Why is Yoga so good for the mountain lifestyle?

Yoga is the perfect practice to wake up the body for a day on the mountains and stretch it out at the end of the day. Focussed poses and a regular practice can build strength, flexibility and endurance to maximise time playing on the mountains and avoid injuries. With a focus on the breath, Yoga can also help to maximise the body’s ability to perform at lower oxygen levels found at altitude. 

Bringing awareness to the breath, the moment and the body can help enhance calmness, concentration and clarity – helping to maximise performance and focus on the slopes and bringing peace throughout the day. 

Yoga also helps you feel greater connection to the moment and the space you are in. When practicing in the mountains Yoga and Meditation can bring a much greater connection to the magnitude of nature, bringing a presence to that experience which is both humbling, beautiful and gratitude-inducing. 

And finally, bringing an attitude of mindful compassion can help us strike the balance between finding our edge to improve our performance and letting it come from a place of kindness and compassion, taking care of ourselves rather than being driven by a strong inner critic. Letting go of what we feel we ‘should’ be doing and instead listening to our heart and what it is we actually need in each moment. 

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How do you make your living in the French Alps?

I run Soulshine Retreats offering transformational, healing and empowering retreats in Ibiza, the Alps and pop-up locations around the world. During summer we run retreats in our home in Ibiza and in the winter we head to the mountains for the season to run our Soulshine Snow Yoga Adventures. 2018 will be our 5th winter in the mountains running seasons of Yoga, Skiing & Snowboarding Retreats.

What brought you to the slopes?

I’ve been skiing since I was six and have always been a lover of adventures with a passion for adventure, travel, nature, the mountains and a healthy dash of adrenaline! Before setting up Soulshine Retreats my plan was to start a retreat company combining extreme and action sports with Yoga. As I went deeper into the healing and transformational aspect of Yoga this became more of my focus for the retreats, but the dream for combining the mountain sports and Yoga continued and so I began the Snow Yoga Adventures to chase the dream of winter fun. 

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What do you love about living / working here?

I love being surrounded by the overwhelming presence of nature and feeling it’s ever shifting nature. I love how my breath can be taken away each day by the natural beauty. I love that I get to do what I love teaching Yoga and facilitating beautifully empowering, transformational and fun experiences and then get to play on the mountains. I love the view from my office. I love the freshness of the air. I love having an aching body from using it so much to do the things that I love.  I love how the mountains is made up of people living a dream and willing to work hard to do so. I love how alive I feel in the mountains. 

Ski or board?

I’ve been skiing since I was 6 years old. I dabbled (fairly unsuccessfully!) with Snowboarding one winter but returned to skiing. 

Summer or winter?

I’m definitely a sun and ocean-loving girl – that’s my first love. I feel so lucky to have created a life that allows me to enjoy summer in Ibiza and winter in the French Alps and to travel the world with pop-up Soulshine Retreats and personal adventures throughout the year. 

Favourite yoga move?

Just one is impossible! All restorative heart opening poses, a cheeky Astavakrasana and I love Wild Thing to get the heart opened and the energy flowing.

Tell us about Soulshine Retreats

The entire ethos and dream for Soulshine Retreats and all that it encompasses, is to provide healing, empowering and utterly digestible life-changing skills and experiences that allow individuals to embrace positive transformation and live to their greatest, healthiest and most joyful potential. All Soulshine Retreats are an ongoing expression of this desire to take people on this journey. A journey back to all the vibrant brilliance that exists in every moment, within each and every one of us. To shine bright!

www.soulshineretreats.com

Charlotte St Jean

Why is yoga so good for the mountain lifestyle?

The mountains represent an incredible reminder of the strength, magnificence and power of nature. They command respect, they quietly stand in the beauty and strength and provide an incredible back drop for meditation and yoga practice. Yoga is all about union and harmony – the inner & outer balance, the marriage of strength and flexibility. What better way to practice than with nature’s reminder permanently infront of you.

What brought you to the slopes?

Initially my love of skiing, then I fell in love with my ski instructor with whom I had two children and although we are no longer married we are still great friends and still share a love for this region. I was a sales director in the IT industry based in London and even when I moved to Val d’Isère in 2000 I commuted between the world of ski slopes and city scapes. 

How do you make your living in the French Alps?

I used to work outside of resort but for the past 15 years I have been teaching yoga up here.

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What do you love about living / working here?

The non routine my day has, the ability to ski or run in this amazing environment in between classes. You opening the window in the morning and going YES! I live here. It is a total Disney land here. We work hard to stay here and the lifestyle can be hard core particularly on the Winter months – long hours, snow clearing, the influx of tourists and seasonairs – but the upside of our lifestyle here is “here” – the mountains, the fresh air, the wild side of this region.

Ski or board?

Ski & telemarking – not a great boarder but love my skiing on and off piste and have telemarked a lot over the years

Summer or winter?

I used to just be here in the Winter and spent the Summers in the Ardèche but for the past 3 years I have lived here all year round. It is even more sporty here in the Summer and so beautiful I love it! The Winter is so busy with people and work and although I get out and love my skiing the Winter still represents a kind of working environment for me whereas in the Summer the Alps are just my home and playground and I adore the freedom and the space here for me and my children.

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Favourite yoga move?

Hanumanasana – the splits. I am not naturally flexible and it took me many years to be able to get into the splits and I have to say it has become a favorite of mine – the power, the openness, the achievement. Love it!

Tell us about .... The Val d'Isere Yoga Festival...

The festival was a vision, a dream for many years. When I started yoga here there was none! No teachers, no classes, nothing. Big round eyes when I mentioned it so 15 years ago – and even 5 when the first festival happened – they didn’t quite get it. I was looking at the States and what they were doing. These fabulous weekends of yoga, music, wellness. Of brining people together to share, to be, to meditate and practice together. To have amazing teachers teach classes and in this fabulous resort of Val d’Isère I mean who wouldn’t want to!

We are now in our fifth year which I find staggering and I am deeply proud of myself for creating this event and thankful to Val d’Isère for supporting it and to my friends, family and teachers for being there for me each year for the three days of incredible energy. Yoga, martial arts, meditation, dance, Pilates as well as massages, conferences, nutritional advice, a healthy café and a fabulous little market. Outdoor sessions, live music, something for everyone.

www.yoga-with-altitude.net

Balance Bec

Why is yoga so good for the mountain lifestyle?  

Mountain culture and lifestyle is uniquely charged. We experience a powerful exchange from the interplay of human endeavours in these skyscraping landscapes.

We are inspired to challenge ourselves daily with endless activities. We dig out our paths when the snow falls, we chop wood for our fires, we hike, ski and snowboard, rock climb, mountain bike and so much more.  A whole lot of fun, challenge and adventure to be had but all of which takes its toll on the body and mind.  

Yoga is the counter-balance.  Yoga prepares and repairs us for the mountain lifestyle.  It keeps us physically able while developing a mountain mindset.  And a mountain mind brings a sweet quality to our endeavours and a deeper connection to ourselves, each other and the environment around us.  

Here in the French Alps the mountains are so immense forcing an enlivening impression on us.  We are empowered and improved by the challenges of the mountain lifestyle. Likewise we are empowered and improved from the challenges on our yoga mat. 

I think that collectively, both yoga and the mountain lifestyle bring to us a sense of freedom, respect and joie de vivre that enables us to feel truly at home in the mountains and in ourselves.

Photo by Philip Volkers

Photo by Philip Volkers

What brought you to the slopes? 

True love!  

Might sound cheesy but Mr Black brought me to the slopes almost 20 years ago. He’d been skiing the Scottish ski- hills from age 10 and was mad into snowboarding when I met him in the mid 90s. Clearly I had to try it and share in the stoke of this relatively new sport.  

I took my first turns on an August day in 1998 on the glacier in Tignes.  I quite literally felt like I was on top of the world. The views were incredible, the snow was soft and the sun was blazing. Amongst those endless horizons my outlook completely changed.  

With a one track mind I dreamed of making the mountains our home.  8 years later we honeymooned for the winter in Les Arcs. That was my first snowboard season and the start of a new lifestyle that redefined ‘winter’ to mean ‘mountain time’.

How do you make your living in the French Alps?  

I teach yoga in the mountains.

There's a great appetite for yoga amongst the mountain community for all the reasons mentioned above.  Over time we have formed a lovely yoga community with a schedule of weekly classes around Bourg St Maurice and Les Arcs.  I also teach private group sessions, workshops, events and yoga retreats.

I never set out to run a yoga business – I was always motivated to let it unfold organically without any particular business strategy as it was less about making money and more about sharing an authentic mountain yoga experience in compliment to our mountain lifestyle.

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What do you love about living / working here? 

I love:

that it’s a simple life

that nature is boss.  We keep it real.  That’s a welcome detachment from the man-made pace we experience in our cities and towns.  

That we drink wine at lunch time.

The camaraderie, the connection between people with a common love of the mountains and mountain culture. 

Cheese! I love cheese. Especially locally produced by happy mountain cows and goats.

The French language – so sultry, so quirky and so seemingly impossible to master. Teaching yoga in French is a fun way for me to learn. And if all else fails there’s always Sanskrit ….  ;)

I love that we can do yoga outside with such powerful and engaging backdrops - the mountains make the best yoga studios. 

Ski or board? Snowboarding!

Summer or winter? Gah... Both!... I’m probably more a summery kind of girl but I’m going to say winter because winter in the mountains is un-missable.  Where-as I can embrace all the qualities of summer wherever I am.

Favourite yoga move? I don’t have an all-time favourite move. I like to pull shapes that challenge my balance and perspective and I love to play with the feelings that come from being in a yoga pose. In particular the feeling of freedom or float that comes from balancing poses or being upside-down.  These are all in the favourites bag….

Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon) 

Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) 

Urdhva Padmasana (Upward lotus pose) 

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) 

Astavakrasana (8-angle arm balance) 

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel) 

Also in the favourites bag is a very simple but energising sequence called the Five Tibetan Rites – I was introduced to it in North India in 2006 and ever since it’s how most of my days begin.  It offers a balanced physical warm up with an energizing buzz – my favourite way to start the day. 

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Tell us about .... "SNOWGA"

SNOWGA is a style of yoga that I’ve developed to compliment skiing, snowboarding and the mountain mindset in winter.  The aim is to Move better, Feel better and Slide better by blending teaching points derived from my 3 main passions - Snowboarding, Yoga and Nature.  It’s a dynamic yoga style that integrates movement with breath to create a feeling of flow – much like the flow we vibe with when riding the fall-line in our mountain sports.  

SNOWGA is also a multi-national mountain community. For me it’s all about the people-connection.  Another kind of après-ski.  Another way for locals, foreign residents, seasonnaires and holiday makers to mingle, stretch, decompress and detangle together. To be challenged and inspired by each other.  

www.balancebec.com

Living on the edge

In my search for some version of home, I spent the summer revisiting my Cornish roots.  Not that I was born here, or have family from here.  But its definitely a place of perspective shifts for me.  Where I grew up, where I experienced connected-ness, where I first felt loss.  Most significantly:

I caught my first wave perched onto a bodyboard when I was 16, and discovered the most wholesome, playful fun I could have since being a toddler.

I came to watch the eclipse when I was 18; thousands of people gathered on Fistral Beach waiting for the sunrise; surfers, hippies, families.  I first encountered a hedonistic lifestyle that embraced the ocean as a way of living.

And when I was 21 and fresh out of University I moved into Matts Surf Lodge and came across a  book called Conservations with God.  It was my primary introduction to non dogmatic spirituality.  I was transfixed.

And these aspects rooted deep inside me as a tokens to the essence of living: Ocean. Community. Spirit.

After several years and months floating around the globe, I finally decided to commit to becoming a surf coach and it was back to Newquay for this endeavour.

And so I guess here lies the roots for Eco.Yoga.Surf.

I have never been one for the city.  Or even for the town.  I tried, again and again, but ended up exhausted, overstimulated and overwhelmed , which is part of the parcel of being a “highly sensitive person”.  I need a village, but with a solid, diverse tribe, an influx of creative ideas and energy and access to the wild, a variety of habitats that keep my cockles clear.

I have learnt this is what is referred to as an edge species.

Animals that live on the coastline, in the hedge, in the merging of two habitats, getting the best of both worlds.

And this is one of the principles in permaculture; to value the marginal.

I understand it more so now, because the edge is where the magic happens.  It’s where the ground is most fertile, where the woodland provides shelter from the winter storms, where the trickling stream meets the salty shore, where the seabirds soar and cetaceans dance beneath the waves.  There is food, there is play, there is safety, there is abundance, there is freedom.  

And as I understand the edge more I also lean into these changing seasons, the shifting tides, the inevitable choice to join the temperate migration, adapt or hibernate.

It is in these places, their boundaries melting into one another, that I feel most “at home”.  

Finally, I have found where I belong.

"Where is home?

… home is not a place

Nor a space found somewhere

Or an illusionary feeling of having a base.

Home is a state of mind.

Where souls meet the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dance of oneness …

Home is a state of being

Where time bends dissolving itself 

Into love embrace.

That is home."

by Christina Kayla Paes

I have chosen to move from one edge to another.  From the Cornish coastline, abundant in salt and minerals; sand and earth; gorse and heather… to the foot of the majestic Mount Blanc.  The first snow has already fallen and I am heading back to the French Alps clean and clear about my intentions.  The season does not begin until another few weeks so there is time for some exploring.  

I write this from the edge of the leuser ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia.  But that’s for another time…

2 STEPS BACK...

If you were an 80s child like me, it's most likely you remember the Paula Abdul classic "Opposites Attract".  An epic, electro pop beat indeed, but on a deeper level, the lyrics "2 steps forward, 2 steps back" are resonating with me right now.  And perhaps with society on a global level.

Its seems in this day and age we have more than we could possibly need in the world in terms of material wealth yet we are still bombarded by news of how fear, terror and violence reigns,  basic human rights are still to be met and disrespect for our planet, non human species and indigineous peoples is a daily occurrence.  

The macrocosm of our world is often described as a mirror for our internal world in yoga philosophy.  In another 80s cultural reference, I always think about Dennis Quaid in the movie "Inner Space", shrinking down into his little spaceship and journeying around the human body as if another galaxy.  From his shrunken perspective, he begins to truly understand that we are a complex, intricate and interconnected being, and when one part of us is out of balance, it can lead to trouble further down the line. 

There is always turmoil going inside our gut for instance, millions of bacteria within our microflora, some good, some bad, the overall ratio determining our overall health.  The digestive system - directly connecting to hormone release and detoxification process - is such an integral part of our functioning wellbeing.  And as we begin to learn decipher messages from our body, through awareness - rather than popping pills or numbing our emotions and sensations through toxins - we can begin to honour and respect the systems and processes that are governed by our bodies innate wisdom, including the ability to grow, heal and evolve.

As I have stepped back, first to Sri Lanka, then to Jersey, I have been able to observe and monitior my own behavouirs and reactions, in situations that were once comfortable, familiar and home - that then became unstable and insecure.  And as I try to remain non judgemental towards myself and others, the reoccurring theme is that we are all learning and all simply doing our best.  It is so easy to spiral into negativity if I think any other way.  And its uplifting to see the movements of peace, love and unity that are arising to oppose the threatening and downright scary aspects of our modern world.  It's more than uplifting.  It's hope.

And I guess that's what 2 steps back allows us to gather.  Hindsight, perspective and the feeling that we have been here before, yet now have the opportunity to move forward in a different way.

Together we can move forward, but not with strength and stability.  Because, lets face it.  Those are just words, and we've tried that before.  But with integrity, accountability and vulnerability; living by and upholding our morals and ethics and with a steadfast commitment to hope. After all, revolutions are built on hope.

Strength and stability, if built on disillusion, grandiose or ego, has absolutely no foundation to support potentiality and growth. I have learnt this through relationships, through yoga practice, through spending time in the sea, through natures' cycles, through simply being human.  Breakdown serves a tremendous purpose to lead us to the truth.

As I'm joined by students for my final nurture through nature workshop at KaliMukti studio tonight, our mission is to honour the flow of energy within us.  Where the flow was once stagnant or blocked, we are able to unleash and stir it up to find creativity and freedom in our movements and I am filled with gratitude I have been able to realise my vision to teach yoga and share my passions as a profession. 

As I'm set to join the Permaculture Associations SW Convergence this weekend to explore the connection between yoga and permaculture - and how the root of the people care pillar is self care; I am filled with inspiration for all the people working consciously and tirelessly towards the future of a healthy planet.

As I head back to the UK after 6 years of nomadic travel, living in Jersey and working abroad - searching and adventuring - on the eve of the general election - I am filled with hope that our collective voice can make a difference.  I have found strength and stability in my heart, a home in my values and a foundation in my self worth.  I am so very grateful to my past, my lessons and my continuing education and evolution.  

From Mountains to Waves

In the last week I have gone from the great mountains in the South of France to palm fringed beaches in the Indian Ocean.

A mighty transition but a lesson in adjustment and the opportunity to stay open, tune in and allow the feelings of anxiety that can accompany long distance travel and unknown journeys to freely flow. (Except these days travelling gives me a sense of peace rather than trepidation, rather like putting on a comfortable pair of old slippers)

My time in the Alps came to fruition with a deep love of snowboarding.  I’m not a fan of adrenalin, being a sensitive person, I struggle with that extra energy coursing through my veins and am not equipped to feeling comfortable being out of control.  But by giving myself time and space to learn gently and gradually meant I could progress at my own speed.  Soon enough I found my competitive nature coming forth and placidity being replaced by goal orientation.  It was me that insisted I went on my first black run in my final week, and 3 on my final day.  Blacks represented everything I found challenging on the slopes - steep gradients,  looming cliffs, moguls and experienced skiers; yet the challenge was fun and not overwhelming.  And as my fondness of the mountains seeps into my bones and my experience integrates, I find myself once again surrounded by coconuts and reef breaks.

This is my third time in Sri Lanka, and somehow it feels like a home from home.  It is home to an abundance of wildlife - turtles, monkeys, elephants - inhabiting exotic rainforest on this teardrop shaped jewel in the Indian Ocean.  I went from pure white to lush green in just 24 hours, sometimes air travel just blows my mind.

At one time in Sri Lanka rainforests consisted of over 26% of the land area, however today only 2% is left of forest cover. Hence it is no surprise that all rainforests in the island have been declared protected areas with Sinharaja designated as a World Heritage site. http://www.jetwingtravels.com/about-sri-lanka/popular-destinations/rainforests/

Nature is wondrous.  Our nature is flawed.  (Look at our devastation on rainforest ecosystems) But that is ok, we are just human beings, learning to "be" in a world that convinces us we have to do or be something (else, bigger, stronger, different, better) to matter.

As I adjust back into the healing power of salt water and take time to play in the peeling right handers on my rainbow log, I ponder how blessed I am to be free to experience different regions, habitats and cultures - and such a rich tapestry of life.

Life in Sri Lanka is simple.  Most of the local people are struggling to survive, create business and support themselves; but deeply rooted in them is a sense of acceptance and joy.  I don’t think I have ever heard them complain.  Even when describing the devastating loss they experienced during the 2004 tsunami.  Their family structure is wide and all encompassing, just one smile can make you feel like a long lost relative.

And it is here I reconnect with teaching surfing and yoga, work on environmental initiatives and plan my upcoming “Nurture Through Nature” workshop series.  

The ancient yogis took inspiration from all they saw in nature, to bring them enlightenment about their own purpose, pathway and prana.  Buddha discovered the root of all suffering when he sat underneath the Bodhi tree, grounded in his experience of illusions before waking up to the truth of his existence.

In modern day life, where distraction, technology and communication rules, we can feel disconnected from nature and the clarity it brings - I certainly do if I cannot see or feel mountains, sea or forest for very long.  

Whereas the truth is that we are always in nature and part of it.  Even situated in the innermost cityscape or stationed on the tallest skyscraper - nature is all around.

The duality that nature is all encompassing yet we still have our individual-ness, our own personal experience and perspective of the world, is something to be understood experientially and developed through awareness. 

What is also true is that nature flows, powered by and towards love, always with abundance. Where there is wind on the ocean swell is created.  Where there are clouds and freezing temperatures snow will fall.  Where there is sunlight, earth and water a seed will grow.  

There are no stories or projections that accompany these creations, shifting movements or the turning of the tides.  They just are.  Yoga lies at this source, it worships the great Brahman and acknowledges that we too are of nature and in it, yet still distinctive and separate - the Atman.  We are eternal, flowing, abundant and full of love.  Continually expanding in our consciousness of who we are.  

It’s not just air travel that blows my mind.

Come and explore these themes of nature’s gifts and how they reflect in our own nature in May/June in the Nurture through Nature Workshop Series @ KaliMukti Yoga Studio, Jersey, Channel Islands.

Photo by Mike C @ www.nomadsontheroad.com

SUP Surfing in Sri Lanka

Rachel and I are longboarders and yogis, and also up for any old salt water challenge it seems, as when asked to take part in a SUP surfing photoshoot for Soul and Surf - despite having never done it before - we jumped at the chance.

What could be so hard about paddling into waves on 12 foot boards?  Surely our core stability and balance would be able to keep us afloat.  Our location was to be the picturesque Weligama Bay, renowned for its gentle rolling waves and soft sand.  We laughed nervously as we tried to look graceful carrying our cumbersome boards and paddles at the same time.  Our delightful tuktuk driver tried his best to help, but was too bemused by our clumsiness to assist.

To the South of the Bay is Trapobane, the only private owned Island in Sri Lanka which features a luxury villa perched on it.  It is an emblem of the Colonialism that has pursued this teardrop shaped Indian Ocean gem throughout history - first the Portuguese, then Dutch and finally the British in 1815.  Overlooking the fishermen and their daily catch, it is a reminder of how expats and locals seamlessly merge together in current times. 

Tiny, ankle high waves prove difficult to catch but after a few goes we are getting the hang of it.   It certainly is a different sensation to traditional surfing, looking at the wave from above and timing the movement of the board much earlier… It’s difficult to judge and requires digging deep with the paddle to pick up speed quickly.  I can’t help but get excited when I’m in that section of the wave where it all comes together - it’s a couple of milliseconds but the flow, glide and feeling of flight is there non the less, and it’s addictive!

Feeling pumped from our success, we drive North so I can tackle an offshore reef known as Lazy Rights.  The paddle tires me out before I even get there, and the waves are hardly breaking due to the high tide.  Still, I manage to catch something and come away from the session slightly hooked.  I most definitely won’t be paddling out at busy surf spots on my SUP, but when there’s empty breaks or miniature waves that my longboard won’t pick up, I love the fact there’s another style of waveriding I can enjoy. 

 

Rach teaches yoga at Soul and Surf in the winters and heads to Watergate Bay, Cornwall to surf coach during the summers.  She runs her own yoga biz and writes about her travels here: www.saltwateryoga.co.uk 

I will be back to teach surfing and yoga at Soul and Surf this Spring and you can also join me and Jenn Moore for a SUP, surf and yoga retreat in Sri Lanka on 23rd April: www.jmoorehealth.com/retreats/sri-lanka/.  

Photographer Pat Straub spent 5 years on the picture desk at CNN, he now pursues his passions - surfing, travel and taking pictures as a roving, freelance photographer, see more of his work at: www.patrickstraubphotography.com

Pat, Rach and I all met through Soul and Surf who do feel-good surf, yoga & massage trips to special places, their new gorgeous bespoke villa set amidst lush jungle in Sri Lanka has just been unveiled: www.soulandsurf.com

Yoga in the Mountains

I'm currently in the French Alps learning to snowboard.  Yup, I'm 34 years old and doing my first season.  It's one of the most challenging, painful and rewarding things I've done so far.  Everything is new - chairlifts, bubbles, apres, altitude - and I'm having to really tap in to what works and doesn't work for me because a lot of the seasonaire lifestyle I can leave - the lack of sleep, the drinking and the wild nights out.

But the mountains are something else, when it snows it is simply magical - pure, mystical, silent - and being surrounded my this magestic, solid, stable force takes my breath away every time I step outside.  I feel so small, and then, when I make it up the mountain, I feel on top of the world.

I'm getting to grips with the different terrains, adjusting how to move my body, how to avoid catching edges and stacking it... but still I watch other people whizzing past me on boards and wonder if I'll ever get to that point.  Whizzing's not exactly my style, but I'd like to go a little more faster!

Yoga has been my saving grace, I'm aware I tend to breathe out more when I'm concentrating so I'm trying to allow myself to intake more o2, prana, energy as I'm coming down the slope.  My mind is focussed entirely on the job in hand, that practicing present moment awareness is inevitable - any internal wandering and I'm straight on the floor.  My emotional self is also having a work out, I need to be balanced and calm as I allow myself to move through this process of being a beginner - frustration, pity and giving up are simply not conducive.   Compassion and non judgement are the key - Ahimsa all the way down.  And the physical aspects have supported me greatly, I can tune into my toes when they need to be doing the work, I can connect with my front knee and I already have a conversation flowing from my head to my fingers.

My body has been carefully trained through yoga to respond to the crazy demands I am now putting on it.  Strap on a snowboard and throw myself down the mountain..?! Hell yeah! says my body.  Pre and post yoga workouts have been crucial on a daily basis to get me warmed up, stretched out and prevent serious injury.  I've out together a speeded up version of what I do before I head out...

Notice the emphasis on the wrist and knee joints, the extra triangle pose (I spend a lot of time standing the other way as I'm goofy), the opening of the hamstrings and some hand/leg balancing to activate root and core locks.  A simple 10 minute flow is all that's needed for getting into the right places in the body and ready for slope action.

The Science of Sleep

Sleep is the ultimate practice.  We need it.  Our bodies and minds cannot function without it.   The joy of our days is an insight into how soundly we slept the night before.  Take it away and we notice the decline in our overall health and wellbeing.

"Researchers have also shown that after people sleep, they tend to retain information and perform better on memory tasks. Our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones." National Sleep Foundation

I found out the hard way that sleep is the most precious gift we can give ourselves, it is a necessity.  During a time when I was exorcising, eating healthily and avoiding alcohol and toxins, I found myself suffering with insomnia and my whole world crumbled.  Luckily I had some amazing friends that stepped in to assist me, because the offshoot of sleep deprivation is loosing a grip on reality.  Luckily I bounced back very quickly and have learnt a great deal in the process.  For me the biggest lesson was about building boundaries and making sure I always prioritise my sleep from now on.

Sleep is so important because it allows our bodies and minds to rest, shut down and also process what has happened during the day.  Take that time away and it is a fast slippery slope towards sleep debt - the effect of not getting enough sleep - and a large debt causes fatigue, both mental and physical; diminishing our abilities to perform high-level cognitive functions.  And unfortunately we cannot bank our sleep, calling on those extra Zzzz's from when we had a good night to top us up on a bad one.  It's not just our performance that can suffer, sleep depravation results in increasing irritability, worsening mood and feelings of depression, anger and anxiety.  Some argue it leads to heightened emotional reactivity. 

"The amygdala, an area deep in the brain, is our emotional control centre.  When sleep deprived participants were shown emotionally negative images, activity levels in the amygdala were as much as 60% higher than levels in those who were rested" www.theconverstion.com

The more sleep deprived you are, the more likely you are to suffer mentally; according to a discovery made by an international team of researchers under the guidance of the University of Bonn and King's College London.

Twenty-four hours of sleep deprivation can lead to conditions in healthy persons similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia." www.uni-bonn.de/Press-releases/sleep-deprivation-leads-to-symptoms-of-schizophrenia

There are many reasons our sleep can become an issue, and once it is, it has the ability to feed on itself and trigger a negative cycle.  The mental implications of disturbed sleep can lead to depression, anxiety and stress... And disturbed sleep can also be caused by these... I call this the mind trap, when you start thinking about a problem, going over and over it in your mind, until you are very much awake.  Mindfulness can serve us greatly in this situation - practicing to watch the thoughts rather than allowing them control and to instigate more thinking is the key, but a lot easier said than done when thoughts feel like immense pressure and the pressure of going to work the next day feels like impending doom.

And its not just emotional and mental turmoil that can impact sleep - physical issues can lead to impaired sleep.  I suffer with a malocclusion of my jaw - aka temporomandibular disorder - and due to a mal-alignment increases tightness and tension in the muscles around my jaw, neck and shoulders.  Yoga, movement and massage are key to loosening this area.

Ever wondered why it is we are awake during the day and sleep at night?   Well, most living things are affected by the daily cycles of daylight and darkness, and for humans, we use the information coming into our retinas for our brains to decipher the time and then programme our energy levels.  The control centre of our circadium rhythms being housed in the hypothalamus part of our brain.

"This signalling of light and dark helps us to be alert in the morning and be able to fall asleep at the appropriate time at night." www.sleepfoundation.org
*image borrowed from wikipedia*

*image borrowed from wikipedia*

And it's not just being awake versus being asleep, there are 5 identified stages of sleep, that we move through each evening.

During stage 1, which is light sleep, we drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. Our eyes move very slowly and muscle activity slows. People awakened from stage 1 sleep often remember fragmented visual images. Many also experience sudden muscle contractions called hypnic myoclonia or hypnic jerks, often preceded by a sensation of starting to fall. These sudden movements are similar to the “jump” we make when startled. 

Stage Two Sleep

When we enter stage 2 sleep, our eye movements stop and our brain waves (fluctuations of electrical activity that can be measured by electrodes) become slower, with occasional bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles.

Stage Three, Four & REM Sleep

In stage 3, extremely slow brain waves called delta waves begin to appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves. By stage 4, the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is very difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called deep sleep. There is no eye movement or muscle activity. People awakened during deep sleep do not adjust immediately and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after they wake up.

So it seems there is a lot more to sleep than we think and a lot we neglect to consider when we shut down for the evening.  For me sleep is no longer just a way to power up my batteries for the next day but an active engagement I need to commit to mindfully each and every evening.

These days I love my sleep, and it's that mentality that has helped me get back on track.

Ways to aid restful sleep:

1) Shut down.  Electronics stimulate the brain, so avoid these close to bedtime, put phones into airplane mode and use an alternative waking up device.  

2) Wind down.  Yin yoga, baths, meditation, yoga nidra - all ways to switch the body from sympathetic mode (flight or flight) and into a relaxed state, ready to shift into unconcioussness.

3) Herbal helps.  Camomile, lavender, melissa.. try herbal tea, pillow mist, a scented bath, nature has its gifts that are proven to assist us on the road to sleepy ville.

4) Find your rhythm.  Acknowledge and honour your bodies natural cycles, get into a consistent routine and plan your daily sleep patterns just like you would exorcise, meals or social time.

5) Boundaries.  This was the toughest for me as its very easy to blame other people for causing your lack of sleep.  Keep the bedroom as a sanctuary and invest in dark curtains and earplugs if needed.

But don't just take my word for it - here's Arianna Huffiington, creator of The Huffington Post talking about why we should all get more sleep.

Tear. Repair. Tear. Repair.

"The Physiology Of Muscle Growth. After you workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy (growth)."

This is how the human body gets stronger.  This is how we build muscle.  We need stress to grow.  Our bodies are a perfect example of how our intention can change the shape and substance of deeper tissues and fibres that create our physical outer shell.  And at this time of intense crisis, could this be how humanity makes it through the pain and confusion we are confronted with?  We are currently breaking down all barriers to seemingly to make new ones... On a global scale and also in our personal lives, the cracks are appearing everywhere.  Could it be that we will in fact grow, to be stronger, healthier and more fulfilled.

We are all different flavours of the human species.  Different flavours of colour, race, gender, religious beliefs, sexuality, nationality.  These are the things that divide us but do not define us.  A healthy ecosystem depends on diversity, if only we could see that by having so many flavours and differences it actually gives us strength as a species.

We are a bag of bones surrounded by a sack of skin. We have journied to the outer edges of our solar system and to the most intimate parts of the human body.  We know how we are made, where we came from and speculate about where we are going but we think this "intelligence" absolves us from the responsibility of treating our home and our mother with profound respect. I'm talking about Earth.  Everything we could ever possibly need comes from her, yet we put more value on numbers, figures, bits of paper, ideas, words and concepts.

It's the world we live in.  And it all seems a little bit nuts to me.

But we are still just human. We are learning. We are infants compared to other species. We are making mistakes and sometimes we are fixing them. We are here for such a short time. We are really just visitors. I like to see us as the most quickly evolving species on the planet. But that does not make us the most clever nor the most compassionate.

We share this planet with each other, and with many other species yet we have forgotten how to share and how to be resourceful. In our thirst for knowledge we have denied a part of ourselves that links us to our ancestors, and in doing so we have become deeply affected by trauma, reliving and replaying traumatic events so our body actually feels like it is experiencing the event again.  It is pain, sadness, anger but most of all fear that resurfaces and holds us back from being our best selves. We feel it and then we want others to feel it too, thinking this will take away the pain.  So we inflict and we project. We are all guilty of it. But perhaps guilt is the most damaging of all the emotional viruses we spread around.  So it becomes a vicious cycle.

Through Somatic Experiencing I have been able to connect with a deeper part of my being, a part I try to ignore, disown, judge and override with my rational mind. 

"Somatic experiencing (SE) is a form of therapy aimed at relieving and resolving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on the client's perceived body sensations (or somatic experiences). It was introduced in Peter A. Levine's 1997 book Waking the Tiger.[1] In it, he discusses at length his observations of animals in the wild, and how they deal with and recover from life-threatening situations. He concludes that their behaviour gives us "an insight into the biological healing process" (p. 98), and that "the key to healing traumatic symptoms in humans lies in our being able to mirror the fluid adaption of wild animals" (p. 17–18) as they avoid traumatization in reacting to life-threatening situations.

SE is based on the understanding that symptoms of trauma are the result of a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system(ANS) whose inherent capacity to self-regulate is undermined by trauma.[2] SE bases its approach on mammals' ability to automatically regulate survival responses from the primitive, non-verbal brain, mediated by the autonomic nervous system. In the wild, animals spontaneously "discharge" this excess energy once safe. Involuntary movements such as shaking, trembling and deep spontaneous breaths reset the ANS and restore equilibrium.[3]SE restores this capacity to self-regulate by facilitating the release of energy and natural survival reactions stored during a traumatic event.  According to founder Peter Levine, "Trauma lives in the body, not the event."

And so as we live out traumatic experiences on a grand scheme as well as in our personal lives we are presented with incredible opportunities to heal on a deeper level.  Through awareness we are able to see and feel the rifts that separation, conflict and trauma creates.  But without that separation we would not achieve the awareness. It's how we learn, how we grow, how we are able to work on our relationships and how we can take space to process things.

Like a beam of light piecing through a crack in a wall, we would not be able to register the light if it wasn't for the broken boundary. 

We have not evolved so that every day we can run from our fears. We must find a way to repair and to heal the separation and not get caught up in the devastation it leaves in its wake.  We have to focus on letting in the light rather than trying to fix the crack.

We have the potential to walk slowly, consciously and gracefully through our fear and towards love.  It's not a challenge or a requirement.  It's a choice.  Making that choice every day becomes a way of life. A path to higher living.  We can do it together or we can do it alone, but we must remember that we made it here and the hard work has already been done.

We know we want Transition, Change, Transformation, Trancendance - it is clear because that is the what we have chosen before this point. . Now we have to choose again.  Let's choose love. And light.