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goodbye overwhelm, hello calm!

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I’ve been fascinated for quite a while with how stress affects my body, and with all the incredibly simple things I can do to change that. One of the practices which is right up there on my list of amazingly simple ways to relax yourself, is alternate nasal breathing or ALB.

It’s a cleansing and calming yoga practice, which recreates the natural alternating nostril breath pattern which should happen over the course of the day, but which happens less and less frequently as our bodies age and become more diseased.

This is how it’s done. Hold your right hand in front of you, with your palm towards your face. Block your right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly through the left nostril. Then move your thumb away, and block the left nostril with your little finger, exhaling through the right side. Once you’ve exhaled, breathe back in through the right side, keeping the left blocked, and then exhale through the left, with the right side blocked. Repeat this for as long as you can, with a breath rate of around 5 per minute. Ideally you do it for at least 15 minutes, but I often use it as an emergency manoeuvre where I do it for about a minute, and it brings pretty much instant calm.

Because it’s almost impossible to really think about anything else while you’re doing it, ALB becomes a meditation in itself. As with all relaxation techniques which involve slow deep breathing, ALB has an instantaneous effect on your heart rate, slowing it down, by stimulating your parasympathetic, or calming nervous system. There is a bucket load of research out there on the practice, and how it affects your nervous system and your cardiovascular system, but something which interests me is the idea that the effects are not just temporary. They are at their peak in the first 15-30 minutes following practice, but there is evidence to suggest that if you practice long term, then your parasympathetic nervous system is essentially trained to become more dominant.

That sounds like a dream come true to me…a sea of calm! I’m going to perform an independent study on myself, and see what happens. I’ll keep you posted!

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balancing your energy

Saturday morning at Leighton Beach in Perth. Photo courtesy of the lovely Louise Bowles
Saturday morning at Leighton Beach, Perth. Photo courtesy of the lovely Louise Bowles

The high energy of the festive season generates such a buzz within my body and my mind. A lot of the energy translates as warmth and happiness, making me feel amazingly positive. But some of it (particularly the organisational pressure of the season), feels like a huge burden. There are often high expectations, crazy schedules, and deadlines wafting around what are essentially meant to be wonderful, relaxed, family celebrations.

I often try and talk myself out of the stress that I can, but as a yoga teacher said in a class yesterday, you can’t always change it, so you have to know how to balance it.

Finding the peace inside of yourself. Generating an opposing force to that consuming frenetic energy, by doing whatever it is that brings you calm, so that you can handle the heightened energy, but also enjoy the warmth and happiness of the season.

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a peaceful practice

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I read something inspiring a few days ago from Carrie Contey and Bernadette Noll’s Slow Family Living blog. It was a post called Resistance is Futile.

The practice is pure simplicity, and although it’s not really new to me, it’s also not something I’ve practiced, and until you really make something a habit, it isn’t a habit! So today I started practicing, and establishing the groundwork for it to become a habit in my life.

The principle is that every little thing which frustrates you, delays and holds you up in life is an opportunity to stop, to breathe and to really connect with your inner calm. Brilliant.

This afternoon as I sat in a photo printing shop, and was confronted by one delay after another, I just sucked in my breath, closed my eyes and savoured the moment. Instead of wasting time imagining a different moment for myself, or allowing frustration and anger to replace my peace, I just breathed. My 5 year old seemed to absorb my peace too, and just rested against my leg the entire time. I had a deadline, a huge list of things to do before the end of the day, but I just had to roll with it in a good way. The outcome was so positive. It’s completely obvious of course, but how often do we allow frustration to win. How often do we let our anxiety rise and consume the moment, or worse still take out our feelings of frustration on someone close to us. This is my newest habit, which I intend to practice constantly. I might even create some intentional delays just to cement the practice in my life.

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the joy of laughter

my happy place
my happy place

Laughter is the best medicine, we’ve all heard the saying. But laughter is more than just a display of your happiness. Laughter liberates you from negative feelings, and completely transforms your energy, making you feel so good. It changes you at a cellular level in a way that clean living and all of the stress reducing activities in the world just can’t match. Simple laughter. It’s amazing.

For the past few days I’ve been lucky enough to be in Bali again, less than a month after our fabulous family holiday. This trip was with two of my ‘sisters’ from another mister. Two favourite friends I’ve had in my life for over 30 years. It was perfect in so many ways, but one of the things I realised being around these special friends for just a couple of days was that absolutely everything was funny. I had the time to notice the numerous, humorous details of life. There was no stress, no demanding children, absolutely no responsibility…and my response (our response) was to giggle about pretty much anything and everything, and it was absolutely perfect.

The lesson for me, and there’s no surprises here, is to laugh more, stress less…and to do it every single day, preferably with a friend or two!

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my not so slow living man

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It’s the last day of winter today, a momentous day before the spark of spring. It always feels like a very significant day to me, marking the end of a glorious hibernation, before the blissful slide towards summertime. Today also marks the very final, absolutely final, did I say final day of my partners third, and hopefully FINAL university degree. I’ve only been on the scene for one and a half of his sojourns into academia, but the half a one was a PhD, which also marked my first serious attempt at editing. Note to self, never volunteer to edit a 50,000 word paper on mine seismicity (if you can possibly help it), even if you are trying to woo the author…

Well when I say he’s finished, he has an exam on Saturday, but today was his actual last full contact day. I feel really, really proud of him for finishing, and for doing it well. He isn’t an average achiever, despite my encouragement for him to be so! It was never simply a matter of ‘just getting through’, it’s been high distinctions every step of the way, nothing less. As if working away wasn’t enough, spending all of his spare time studying has stretched the friendship quite a lot. I have parented solo so much over the past two and a half years, that I am sure there are people in my world who think we are a fatherless family…but now it is done, and my heart is bursting with pride for my not so slow living man, who does exist.

When I think about his choices, our choices, I can see now that if he hadn’t chosen this life of working away and studying like a trojan, that my path would not have evolved as it has. I wouldn’t have stopped work because it was too difficult to actually get there! I wouldn’t have realised how stressed I was, I wouldn’t have had the time or the energy to change how I was thinking, what we were eating, how we were living…I wouldn’t have started writing. Everything would have been so different. I would most likely have been on the same trajectory I was on over a year ago, stressed and grumpy, and I think that my life, my health and the lives of everyone in my family would have somehow been less.

Life is very complex. My not so slow living man drives me mad in so many ways, and his life completely counters a lot of the principles I follow for myself and the boys. But he loves what we do, and somehow does his best to slip in and out of his hectic world and into ours, sometimes appreciating the differences, sometimes not. Being the yin to my yang. Being the best he can be, and role modelling that to our beautiful boys.

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a woman’s work is never done

The perfect spot for a tea ceremony
The perfect spot for a tea ceremony

I was going to call this post ‘the never ending to-do list’, but as I wrote it down I realised I was just rephrasing an age old adage, which unfortunately and quite annoyingly, still rings true today. Well it does in my house anyway!

I mentioned recently that I’ve rediscovered my love of lists. But in saying that, it’s the interminable nature of domestic to-do lists which drives me a bit crazy. As satisfying as it is to tick things off, my lists are constantly sprouting new life, and I’m back to where I started.

Life has been chaotic, and I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed domestically since our holiday. I just haven’t been able to slip back into the usual rhythm of life after a week of laziness in Bali. It’s upsetting my natural calm, and I don’t really like it. I’m not sure if the women in developing countries experience this phenomena very often, I would suspect not…and just like that, I’ve managed to give myself a kick in the butt and some much needed perspective!

I remember reading somewhere once, that it’s the nature of domestic chores to be never ending. Of course they are. It’s obvious, but sometimes just reminding myself of that, and really accepting it, allows me to fully grasp that if something is never ending, then I can never actually finish. I think I have been trying to finish!

There are so many ways to enjoy every activity in life. Being mindful, keeping yourself in the moment, all of that. But simple acceptance is all it takes. Knowing that the mountain will never be conquered, and that fun, laughter and slowness need to be just as much a part of it as anything else.

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