Wellness with Scarlett of Sow Studio
Tell us a little bit about Sow Studio. What brought you to practice, and teach, yoga?
Sow Studio was born out of a deep yearning to share my knowledge and passion about the sacred and beautiful practice that is yoga. Growing up I was a competitive figure skater and I've definitely had an affinity for movement my whole life. I feel yoga is the perfect mix of discipline and nurture for the body and mind, when I discovered it I just fell totally in love. Yoga allows us to go deep inside the body, cultivating a deep connection with yourself is such an important part of life and yoga allows people to do just that. Being able to lead people through yoga classes makes me feel so full, holding space for people to learn more about themselves.
Tell us about your morning routine? How has this changed during lockdown?
My morning routine pre lockdown looked pretty different, usually in a bit of a rush, running out the door with coffee in hand, off to teach a class — not particularly mindful to be honest!
Lockdown has a beautiful way of reminding us of the value in slowing right down, allowing us to nurture what most needs nurturing. At the moment my morning routine is nice and gentle. I wake up and wash my face, brush my teeth and scrape my tongue — something I never thought I would do but wow now I can’t live without it, I use this scraper (Shop). Then, I head downstairs to feed our cat Sammy and make a coffee. That's usually followed by reading a few pages of a book (currently reading “The Gifts of Imperfection'' by Brene Brown, I can’t recommend this book enough!), and then my partner and I head out for our daily walk around our neighbourhood.
These times of uncertainty can bring up feelings of anxiety and overwhelm in many of us as our daily routines are interrupted and we adjust to a new normal. In these moments when we need a gentle reminder to come back to ourselves, what simple techniques would you recommend to aid in this recentering?
With most peoples overly busy day-to-day lives we don’t recognise when our daily routines are a bit out of whack, myself included. This time can be perfect for a bit of a re-structure in order to make our time more meaningful to us. As our current routines are disrupted we can potentially use that interruption for the better, rethinking what habits serve us and maybe replacing some of the habits that aren't so useful. I guess it's a bit like taking the Marie Kondo approach: make a list of what’s included in your daily routine and get rid of the ones that don’t “spark joy”, replacing them with things that do!
It can be hard to function when everything feels uncertain, let alone starting to add new things in the mix. But taking time to recenter really is important. The best way to do this simply and quickly is to just take a moment to breathe. Humans, especially in times like these run primarily with their Sympathetic Nervous System taking over (their fight or flight). By taking 120 seconds to sit still and breathe we allow the Parasympathetic Nervous System (our rest and digest) to come back into the picture, allowing the body to calm down and remember that everything is okay.
Sama Vritti breath is a simple and effective Pranayama breathing exercise:
— Breathe in through your nose, slowly counting to 4. Close down the eyes and Feel lungs fill up with air.
— Hold your breath here and slowly count to 4 again. Try not to clamp your airways shut. Simply avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 counts.
— Slowly exhale to the count of 4.
— Hold the exhale for another 4 counts.
— Repeat steps 1–4 until you feel calm and centered.
For those of us tied to our desks, what gentle stretches would you suggest to help realign the body?
Simple movements can be the most effective. Some movements that I have implemented in my workday have been:
Gentle neck rolls - Kantasanchalana in Sanskrit; perfect for a tight neck.
Sit in a comfortable position, propping yourself up on a pillow or a couple of books if this feels good. Rest the palms on the knees or thighs. Close down the eyes. Take a nice deep breath and as you exhale begin to bring your right ear towards your right shoulder and then down, tucking the chin towards your chest. As you inhale, start to roll the head up, bringing the left ear to left shoulder and then bringing the head all the way back, as you exhale roll the head back to to right shoulder completing the full head roll. The rule of thumb here is exhale as you move your head down and inhale as you come up. Repeat as many times as you like making sure to go in both directions.
Cat / Cow - Marjaryasana in Sanskrit; perfect for tight shoulders + spine
Come to a neutral table top, on all fours. Bring the wrists underneath the shoulders and knees underneath the hips. If you have funny knees like I do then tucking the toes can release some pressure off the knees. From here, as you inhale, allow your belly to drop down towards the mat, chin rises up, and your gaze lifts towards the ceiling. As you exhale, begin to tuck your chin towards your chest, and allow your spine to curl up towards the ceiling, pushing the palms into the mat. Repeat these movements for a few rounds of breath and begin to feel into the spine. Close the eyes as you flow through these movements to really feel into the body.
Legs up the wall - Viparita Karani in Sanskrit; perfect for a tight lower spine
Find a wall in your house. Take your legs up onto the wall and try to get your sit bones as close to the wall as possible (you want to be at a right angle, upper body on the floor and legs up the wall). Place one palm on the heart and one on the belly and stay here for up to 7 minutes. If you feel any pain or tightness in your lower spine you can place a pillow or a couple of books under your lower back. If you find your toes tingling simply bend your knees and bring the souls of the feet on to the wall for a moment before coming back into the pose.
Cow face arms - Gomukhasana in Sanskrit; perfect for tight shoulders
Find a comfortable seated position, again propping yourself up on a pillow or a couple of books if this feels good. Inhale, raise your right arm up toward the ceiling and then rotate your palm to face the back of the room. As you exhale, bring your palm to your spine as if to pat yourself on the back. Next we add in the left arm, inhale and reach your left arm out to the side, Internally rotate your left shoulder so that your palm faces to the wall behind you and your thumb points down. Sweep the left arm behind your back, walking your hand up between your shoulder blades, palm facing outwards. The goal is to get the finger tips to touch, however if you have trouble reaching you can use a t-shirt or yoga strap to hold onto with both palms in order to maintain the stretch that we are looking for. Stay here for up to 5 Minutes and be sure to do both sides.
"I think that the most important thing to do during lockdown is to accept the situation for what it is and to make a little space in our day to do the things that really make us feel good. For me, that means creating morning rituals that make you feel whole and set the tone for your day. Avoid excessive use of any screens first thing and ensuring you get some outside time, even just a little nature can make a massive difference in our overall outlook — especially when lots of us are having to spend most of our day sitting inside staring at a screen. It's also really quiet outside in lockdown which actually means you consciously absorb and notice nature more than usual."
How has travel shaped your approach to wellness?
The true joy in traveling for me is just seeing and discovering all the different ways people live and do things. The western world has a drastically different approach to wellness compared to say my experience of South East Asia. I think traveling taught me that no matter how engrained something feels, there is always another way and usually there's a better way, and sometimes it is as simple as a switch in mindset.
What was it like returning to Aotearoa suddenly at the start of the pandemic in 2020? Has your view of Aotearoa changed since being back? If so, how?
It was pretty disappointing at the time, we'd just set off on this big adventure and it was just absolutely cut off at the knees. I definitely felt a bit robbed of the overseas experience but luckily we had spent a good chunk of time in Bali and Thailand before attempting to settle in London so I was really grateful to have managed to have been able to do that part. The pandemic/coming home also really forced me to reassess my focus and Sow Studio probably wouldn't have happened yet if it weren't for Covid so there's always a silver lining. I've always been grateful to come from Aotearoa and that appreciation has definitely deepened with the context of the pandemic. I think I feel more appreciative of the land and the accessibility to retreat to nature even when you live in a city, being the only one at a beach never gets old.