In the past week, I’ve taught GPs, business owners, parents, Premier League footballers, teenagers, and many others with a thousand and one demands. Most come onto the mat with the stresses of the day heavy in the hearts and meandering around their minds, with it taking sheer willpower to put aside their to-do list and sit down. Attending to the breath at the beginning, the telltale signs of excitation are clear (scratching the head, tapping the fingers, wiggling the toes) as are the signs of tiredness (slumped spine, falling head), but now is the chance to tap into the body and ask “How am I feeling?” The feedback loop between feelings and breath is so wonderfully intricate and reciprocally sensitive. Many times at the beginning of class I’ll see students’ chests expanding on the inhale with little/no movement of the abdomen, with this usually an indicator of overt or covert anxiety and the shallow breathing feeding tension. By never taking a full inhale, a full exhale remains elusive and the nervous system is in a state of fight or flight, simply clouding mind and the capacity to think clearly. And I speak from experience. Working in political consultancy in my early twenties, I was working long hours under a lot of pressure, but thought I was coping. For a few weeks, I had a growing lump in my throat that would come and go, until one day in the office before lunchtime, I could barely breathe. I was allowed to go to the nearby walk-in centre and see a doctor. “So, how are you Charlene?” asked the doctor. I burst into tears as I told her the lump was getting bigger. “Your stressed” was her diagnosis. Relieved to know what was the cause of the lump but perplexed as to how I’d allowed myself to get so overwhelmed, I walked back to the office and tuned into my breathing. I was taking short inhales followed by holding my breath, before a short exhale. Thereafter, every time I remembered to check-in to my breathing, I observed I was always holding my breath and could only detect movement in my chest. My breathing was responding to my unease, my unease responding to my breath. Thankfully, the regulation of the breath is remarkably easy to do, it’s the willpower to stick with it that’s the sticking point. The mind tries to play games, puts up a fight to keep the mental verbiage continuing at a pace that would put Usain Bolt to shame, but the quiet voice that says “You know you’ll feel better” guides us to a quiet place to sit and breathe. For me, it was going to the toilet that nobody used, closing the cubicle and sitting on the lid for three minutes that asked for so little of my time, but provided a pause where I could feel me, and the more often I took a three minute break, the less the mind put up a fight. Shining a light on the body, mind, emotions, and spirit, Yoga as a tool is one of the most effective ways to address to imbalances and seek to restore these. I often ask students to imagine a baby breathing before mimicking the puffing of the abdominal wall on the inhale followed by the falling away on the exhale, over and over until the natural movement of the breath is restored and the breath simply comes and goes. Although a secluded place can help to quieten the senses, you can observe, direct, observe your breath anywhere. Simply ask “How am I feeling?” and without trying to answer this, watch how the breath responds. When you’re ready, draw the breath through the nose to the abdomen, before allowing it to leave through the nostrils, noticing the puffing and releasing of the belly. Do this for however long you need to before once again observing your breath. Whilst worries probably won’t evaporate on the exhale, by simply focusing on the breath you’re tuning into now, crafting space, and sending the message to yourself that you matter. Other resources: http://cdn.franticworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Three-Minute-Breathing-Space-meditation-from-book-Mindfulness-Finding-Peace-in-a-Frantic-World-128k.mp3
What would you do if you saw scientific evidence that the practice meditation changes the brain within 8 weeks with an average of 27 minutes per day? The amygdala, which is the part of the brain that signals stress actually got smaller in 8 weeks and other more productive areas increased in grey matter. A hot topic in leadership these days is presence. How do some leaders have more presence than others and can this be learned? Presence is literally the ability to be present to whatever is happening 'now'. The present moment is accessed through the sense organs and the area of the brain associated with this actually grew within 8 weeks of practice. We are all leaders in life and the more we can tune into our senses the more our presence will influence the world. Being present to limiting beliefs in the mind and acting also leads to greater presence. Ask yourself what is the most common limiting belief you hear about yourself in your mind?..................... Simply becoming more aware of this voice when it arises and doing the action anyway will change your life. These patterns of thought are usually 'gifts' we have received in childhood and we still operate from their limitations as adults. I am passionate about human performance and making the most of the potential we have. I used to think that the very best athletes in the world would live without many of these limiting beliefs. The reality is that the pressurised environment often brings many of the beliefs to the surface and significantly reduces the possibilities the athlete may have of fulfilling their potential. The brain is plastic, whatever we do repeatedly will physiologically change it and also our experience of life. Both athletes and leaders see the benefits of going into the gym and I want everyone to know about the benefits of working with the senses and the mind in the present moment. Go out and work with a transformational coach who will help you to be more present, go out and learn mindfulness techniques and make the most of every moment that is the opportunity to fulfill your potential as a human being in the world today.   Danny Donachie

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a hot topic right now. It’s all over the medical press and promoted by health professionals of all flavours. I believe mindfulness is something everyone can access to improve their general well being. Most people are intuitively mindful from time to time, but to maximise its benefits regular practice is required: it is a skill that can be built upon. Mindfulness also has a therapeutic role for some specific medical problems, both physical and psychological. Even NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which can be hard to convince, is recommending mindfulness-base cognitive therapy for people with recurrent depression. So what exactly is mindfulness and how is it done? Well this is a very broad church with different approaches to suit different folk. The concept of “being in the moment” is a key message. Focusing on the body and its senses takes a person out of past experiences and future planning, bringing you to what is happening right now. You can eat a mindful meal or take a mindful walk. On a more meditative level you can sit and breathe and just be, allowing the distractions of the human mind to pass you by for a short while. This may feel a little conceptual so to illustrate I would like to share with you a personal experience to see where it takes you. I am doing the school run. Really it’s a school steeplechase with one child teetering on the kerb doing scooter stunts, about to fall in front of a passing lorry and the other trailing behind dropping books on the pavement. My mind is skittering between past and future at a rapidly cycling rate. Why couldn’t I sleep well last night?  Did I hang out the washing or is it left mouldering in the machine? How am I going to cope with the funding shortfall for the entire NHS and be at work from 8am to 6:30 pm 7 days a week without losing my marbles? Do we have a locum booked for the GP who is on annual leave this week? How did I make my trainee cry? Who is coming for a play-date tonight with my kids and what food intolerances am I catering for? Etc. etc. Just writing this down is making my jaw tighten and I feel the build up of the throbbing sensation behind my left orbit indicating a migraine is about to blossom. Anxiety rises and adrenaline throbs. This is not a good start to the day, but it is a common one…I am on automatic pilot, unaware of where I am and what I am doing, consumed by my unproductive and intrusive thoughts. Then I feel the warmth of my daughter’s small hand slip itself into mine. My consciousness arrests itself from autopilot and sits up to take notice. Without trying, I feel that my whole awareness is withdrawn from the chaos of my thoughts and is residing in the palm of my hand. Her small hand fits perfectly in my hand. It is hotter than mine pulsing with the energy of childhood. The skin is slightly rough from her eczema. That makes me sad, but I acknowledge that thought and let it go. She squeezes my hand slightly and draws me onwards. I feel better, calmer. The turmoil of my thoughts has settled to millpond still. The thoughts are still there I think, but I choose not to respond. Instead I choose feel the sun on my face and the fit of a small hand in mine: nothing else matters for a moment or two. That brief moment is window into how mindfulness can look and feel. To build upon it may require a framework, and some practice. There are plenty of formal workshops and courses as well as a wealth of literature and online resources. Mindfulness is part of our toolkit to mental health and wellbeing. It is not a panacea but it has its part to play. More and more people are waking up to its impact. Be curious. Yoga Manchester 1 day meditation course details here Matt Joslin GP
 The majority of my time is dedicated to being a GP in Manchester city centre. In my opinion it’s the best job in one of the finest cities. The world with all its problems can walk through my office door and I am invited to collaborate in helping out.  It was a convoluted path that brought me here. I started as science undergraduate at Trinity Hall, Cambridge but found that I needed more people contact than research could offer. So I enjoyed a second student hood at the Royal London Hospital Medical College. In between coxing, clubbing and eating a lot of curry in the East End of London, I got a great education in inner city medicine. Being a doctor is a great passport and I have had the opportunity to live and work in Germany and Belgium. In recent years yoga has become an increasingly significant feature of my life. Initially my wife took me to try a class, as she was fed up with me complaining about my sore back (GPs sit a lot). When we moved to Brussels, yoga was a means of making a social connection and a great way to learn French anatomical vocabulary. Since coming back to the UK I have deepened my practice and explored several styles and I attend several Yoga Manchester classes on a weekly basis. Yoga has brought me through work stresses and depression and put me in the best physical shape. More and more I share my experience of yoga with colleagues and patients. It has become a lifelong friend.    
  Introduction Welcome to the second instalment of the Yoga Manchester JanAsana newsletter! JanAsana has been designed to get your New Year’s resolutions off to the best possible start and forms part of Yoga Manchester’s New Year New Body New Mind (NYNBNM for short!) initiative. With weekly instalments throughout January, Yoga Manchester will be offering tips and tools to help you pay attention to both the mind and the body to allow you to keep up your intentions! Your 10 minute Yoga Express sequence http://youtu.be/rhLNuu62wh0 This is the second section of the Yoga Express sequence devised by Matt Ryan. The full sequence is designed to provide the physical and mental benefits of a 90 minute Yoga class, but in just 45 minutes. Classes start on 13th January at Studio 25 – visit www.yogaexpressmanchester.co.uk more details.   Resolution of the week This is a simple act or intention that should start this week and if it makes you feel good, stays with you for as long as possible. I’m going to take a three-minute pause in my day to mindfully breathe and pay attention to my thoughts. Observing your thoughts and mindfully breathing for three minutes seems easy peasy, but is actually near on possible for many. Multi-tasking, technology, television, and day-to-day stresses ensure the mind has enough material to distract us with, placing our attention everywhere except the present moment. Listen to this brilliant three-minute podcast from Mark Williams to bring you into the here and now, and if you enjoy, perhaps buy his book, Mindfulness – A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world.   Smoothie of the week Vanilla Milkshake smoothie Yes, you’ve read correctly, Vanilla Milkshake is our smoothie of the week. Rather than being packed with nasties and tons of trans fats, this milkshake is made from only five ingredients: avocados, milk, vanilla essence, maple syrup, and a bit of salt. Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat which reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol and helps to promote a healthy weight as the body uses these to slowly release energy rather than being stored as body fat - who says you can’t have your milkshake and drink it?   Recipe of the week Quinoa, chickpea, mango salad Quinoa, chickpea and mango. Photographed by Romas Foord This is quite possibly the most delicious salad ever! We know it’s winter but this salad is substantial, fresh, and a perfect replacement to the stodge-overload that was Christmas. Enjoy. 100g quinoa 275ml hot vegetable stock 1 medium onion 2 tsp medium curry powder 150g chickpeas, rinsed 1 tbsp lime pickle 2 tbsp Greek or natural yoghurt Small bunches coriander and mint, chopped 1 mango, peeled and diced 100g cherry tomatoes, quartered 2 Little Gem lettuces 1 Cook quinoa in stock for about 15 minutes. Drain and cool. Heat drizzle of olive oil in small pan and sweat onion with curry powder for 5-6 minutes until soft. Add chickpeas and cook for 2 minutes, stirring well. Leave to cool. 2 Mix pickle and yoghurt. Toss together quinoa, onion and chickpea mixture. Stir through yoghurt dressing, herbs, mango and tomatoes. Spoon on top of lettuce leaves. Serve. Until next week, TTFN!

Welcome to the first ever Yoga Manchester JanAsana newsletter!

JanAsana has been designed to get your New Year’s resolutions off to the best possible start and forms part of Yoga Manchester’s New Year New Body New Mind (NYNBNM for short!) initiative. At Yoga Manchester, we’ve put our heads together to  provide you with a weekly instalment through January of tips and tools to get you on the right track and more importantly, keep you on it. Without further ado, let’s kick-start JanAsana.  

Your 10 minute Yoga Express sequence

http://youtu.be/xW0UM23FBOA This is the first instalment of the Yoga Express sequence devised by Matt Ryan. The full sequence is designed to provide the physical and mental benefits of a 90 minute Yoga class, but in just 45 minutes. Classes start on 13th January at Studio 25 – visit Yoga Express Manchester for more details.

Resolution of the week

This is a simple act or intention that should start this week and if it makes you feel good, stays with you for as long as possible. This week, I’m going to brush my teeth and do nothing else Very few of us actually do nothing else while brushing our teeth. Instead, we choose our outfit for the day, make the bed, and comb our hair rather than concentrate on the task in hand. Attending to one task with our utmost attention allows us to be mindful and focussed, truly in the present moment; brushing our teeth is among the first tasks of the day, so is the perfect way to mindfully start our day.

Smoothie of the week

Super Green Super Vibrant cucumber apple and ginger smoothie Packed with vegetables and fruit, this smoothie will invigorate and energise you but without the sugar rush!

Recipe of the week

Energising and spicy dhal This is a much-loved recipe of Yoga Manchester teacher Charlene McAuley which she claims to be super tasty and satisfying but requiring very little effort (bonus!). Feel free to share your top tips, New Year resolutions and yummy recipes as we can all do with a helping hand at this time of year! Keep your eyes peeled for next week's installment.