Y is for… Yoga

I love, love, LOVE yoga.

My first experience of yoga was when a yoga teacher called Cath came to my office to teach a taster session, as part of a staff benefits scheme. I remember going along with the pre-conception that yoga would a nice, gentle exercise class;  I was keen to lose a few pounds and I’ve always been a bit of a hippy at heart so I thought I’d try it out with my colleagues. All I remember about that class was being in fits of giggles with my colleague Rosie, as we tried to walk in figure-of-eights on our hands and knees, on yoga mats.

Fast forward around five years and I’ve just signed up to my second yoga retreat. I attend yoga classes regularly and I’m currently on day 98 of a journal I’ve been keeping this year, to document how I feel during my own daily practice which I do at home. I set my alarm for 6:00 every weekday (8:00 on weekends) to roll out my mat; if the weather’s nice I practise in the garden and I hate it if I have to forgo my daily practice for any reason.

I’ve had several different yoga teachers during the last few years. Ellie, Ray, Sharon and, most recently, Claire are all wonderful and have taught me many different things. I’ve met them all through my original and lifelong teacher who got me hooked on yoga to begin with – Cath Kelleher, who owns Yogafever. I have a lot of love for this lady, not least because she caused me to fall in love with yoga in the first place through her fantastic teachings but because she is a huge part of Cardiff’s thriving yoga community and a totally inspiring person. In December last year, Cath organised Yoga for the Philippines, within a fortnight. She managed to fill City Hall, Cardiff with people participating in mass yoga practices and workshops, bringing together an entire yoga community and raising over £4,000 for the people of the Philippines following the hurricane disaster in the process. She’s one cool yogi.

The Great Hall, City Hall, Cardiff during Yoga for the Philippines

I’ve tried many different styles of yoga: vinyasa flow; hot yoga; power yoga; restorative yin yoga; kundalini yoga; yoga nidra. I’ve even attended a laughter yoga workshop (hilarious – thought I was actually going to die of laughter!). The class I attend at the moment is a mixture of flow, restorative poses and pranayama (breathing exercises), run by my teacher and friend Claire.

Yoga is not an exercise class or a hobby; it’s a way of life and it has changed mine completely. Yes, I’m bendier. I hang out in Downward-Facing Dog. I can breathe in for the count of ten and my shoulders and arms are toned from doing countless planks. Yoga is great exercise and a lot of fun however the main purpose for me will always be to strengthen and still my mind, to shut off all the chatter going on in my brain and to reconnect with my body, with the ground and with the universe. It makes me feel alive. And so happy.

Within yourself is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.

-Hermann Hesse

Yoga is completely accessible and beneficial for anyone and in my opinion, anyone who says they tried it and didn’t like it went to the wrong class. If anyone in Cardiff would like to give yoga a go, I can recommend lots of different classes.

X is for… X Pro II

I’m rather new to Instagram and I’ve only recently started to use it regularly. I don’t always use filters when posting photos but when I do, I like the moody shadows created by X Pro II; it’s fast becoming my favourite of all the Instagram filters.

Here are some photos I took earlier this evening using the X Pro II filter, during what turned out to be a rather rainy walk through Cefn Onn Park. I often take photos like this when I’m out and about as a way of practising mindfulness; noticing beauty around me.

Trees, Park, Plants, Nature Trees, Park, Nature, Sky bird, pond, nature

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram, my username is louczek.

R is for… Ruth

I discovered a wonderful lady called Ruth Steggles last November, when I saw her talk at Ignite Cardiff. Ruth is ‘The Fresh Air Coach’; she coaches people in the open air, whatever the weather, which is a concept I absolutely love.

I always feel better after going for a walk so I completely buy into the idea that being out in the fresh air can create the perfect environment for coaching and facilitating change. Ruth always insists, ” I don’t believe there is any such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing” which has completely changed my attitude towards going out for a walk in the pouring rain!

Ruth has just launched ‘Fresh Air for Happiness’, which is a 12 week course designed to help the listener achieve happiness, through listening to podcast sessions whilst walking outdoors. The podcast emulates an outdoors coaching session with Ruth – the idea is that you listen to each topic several times whilst going for a walk, whatever the weather.

I’ve subscribed to Fresh Air for Happiness and I’m reviewing it for Ruth as I go along, to provide feedback and also to document how the course is making me feel. Here’s the review I wrote of the first session:

Week 1

The topic for week 1 is ‘Being Present’ and I first listened to this podcast whilst walking through Bute Park during my work lunch break,  which was actually the first time I’d ever listened to a podcast so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was the school half-term holidays and there were lots of families around me, so I felt quite self-conscious but during the introduction Ruth’s warm manner put me at ease and I was able to focus on what she was saying.

There are some lovely exercises throughout the session to encourage mindfulness and provide tools to keep the listener present and appreciative of  their surroundings; I genuinely felt joyful doing them. The podcast finishes with a relaxation exercise which literally melts stress away – immediately afterwards I felt as if I’d had a massage or been to a relaxing yoga class and this feeling lasted for hours. The session took around 30 minutes but it can be longer or shorter because there are instances where you pause the podcast to continue walking and following Ruth’s instructions – the listener can determine the length of these pauses.

I listened to the session three more times over the following fortnight and the changes I’ve noticed are that I’m gradually appreciating my surroundings more when I’m outdoors,  and that I’m able to bring myself to the present more easily.  I feel ready to move onto week 2.  I feel grateful that I’ve made this decision to invest time in myself and gain the benefits of being outdoors more.

I’m currently listening to week five and I’m enjoying the course immensely. I’ve mainly been listening to it in and around Cefn Onn on weekends, or Bute Park if it’s during the week on my lunch break. I feel blessed to have these beautiful places in Cardiff to explore as I listen.

I’m dying to write more about this and the changes I’ve experienced as I’ve progressed through each week – maybe I’ll blog about it again after I’ve finished the A to Z Challenge. If you’re in a place where you’d like to make some changes and you like the idea of outdoor coaching, I strongly recommend that you visit Ruth’s website and check out the Fresh Air for Happiness course yourself.