Yoga

YIN YOGA & BALANCING OUR NERVOUS SYSTEM

YIN YOGA & BALANCING OUR NERVOUS SYSTEM

Ideally we’d all live in the beautiful countryside, going on daily country walks, breathing in fresh air, being nourished by nature, growing our own vegetables and minimising stressful situations. Even if you live in the country this is probably not reality for you. We all know what a toll modern society takes on our lives. Especially living in a city and having a demanding job! It’s no secret that the way life has evolved is not inline with our natural habitat. The evolution of life has sped up with the birth of technology and our bodies have not adapted, or are designed (necessarily) to cope with the demand. In consequence our nervous system is more often then not in a constant state of alert. We can consciously and with great awareness change this state through certain practices and one of them is yin yoga. 

It can be hard to justify and explain yin yoga to people who are goal driven, run at a 100 miles an hour and feel strapped for time. It is exactly for these reason that we need yin yoga. To soothe our charged up nervous system and to teach our bodies and ourselves how to slow down and soften.  

Yin yoga teaches us to listen in with great attention. Often at first it can be very hard to be still and just be in the shape, the mind can be easily distract and might feel irritable. Over time this starts to dissipate and we learn to sit with the sensations. Learning to surrender and to release the desire to push and pull is a crucial lesson of yin yoga. It’s what makes it so different to other practices. Yin yoga gives us the space to be still with ourselves and bring great awareness to our body and mind. It gives us time to connect and slow down. This really is sacred as most of us are in such a rush all and never allow ourselves to ‘just be’. Our pent up nervous systems never seem to get a break. Even when we flop onto the sofa and put on a Netflix drama, our nervous system is kicked back into action. The intensity of our lives and the never ending stimulus fail to give us the opportunity to filter charged up energy. Most yoga practice for sure aim and does dial up our rest and digest side of the nervous system, but the yin practice gives us the time to really slow down and connect. 

When we practice yoga it could be the only time we find ourselves not having to multi-task, not being called upon by family and being buzzed at by our phones. Every other time of day there’s a resistance to being slow and we tend to feel the need to constantly push ourselves. When we practice yin we are aiming to do the complete opposite of this. We are cultivating a sense of loving-kindness for ourselves and giving our body and mind the time to process and filter information. 

THE NERVOUS SYSTEM : A brief overview 

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) are part of our autonomous nervous system, and our yoga practice, specially the Yin Yoga practice, can help rebalance these two important systems. 

The SNS is our basic fight or flight system. It is triggered as a response to threat and in consequence our heart rate increases, muscles contract, pupils dilate, saliva production decreases, we become more alert and adrenaline is released. In today’s society arguments with your neighbour, mid-year reviews, paying bills, loud music and intense programmes can all trigger our SNS. There are tones more things that we face daily that keep us in a constant state of SNS activation. 

The PNS is the complete opposite - it’s our reset and digest response. Through stimulation via the nerves running to our internal organs (primarily the vagus nerve), our heart rate slows and blood pressure drops. Our saliva can be secreted again and our eyes might get a little watery. 

The nervous system affects and works with the immune system and facial system. If we allow ourselves to constantly be in a stressed state and for some people a chronic stressed state this has huge implications on our body. Stress fuels some of the biggest health problems of our time, including type 2 diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, heart attacks and strokes as well as autoimmune diseases. If we are chronically stressed or sick, then the contraction becomes chronic as well. Bernie Clark, in his book Your Body, Your Yoga, states:

‘Chronic exposure makes us intolerant to cortisol, which not only fails to control how glucose is released into the blood stream but also no longer can control the degree of inflammation we produce in the body. We become chronically inflamed which creates a host of medical issues. Dr. Timothy McCall, in his book Yoga as medicine, states: “It can be argued that stress is the number one killer in the Western World today”.’ 

Stress is inevitable in our lives and in fact a certain amount of stress is essential for the health of our body, but too much stress and not enough rest causes health problems. In physiological terms we are hyperactive in our SNS and hypoactive in our PNS. This is when our practice becomes imperative as it works to bring harmony between these two systems. Something that other modalities do not focus on or value highly.

One of the ways yoga helps to bring balance to the nervous system is through the breath. ‘Slow breathing, with a roughly equal amount of time breathing in and out, increases the sensitivity of baroreceptors and vagal activation, which lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety by reducing your SPN and increasing your PSN’ (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). It’s important that the breath isn’t forced the emphasis is on the slowness of the breath. The slower we breath the more CO2 we have in our blood and we need CO2 for O2 transfer to take place from the blood to the cells and efficiently oxygenate the body (Patrick Mckeon, Oxygen Advantage). This slow breathing is very affective even after a few minutes it dials down the SNS. 

In Yin yoga each pose is like a mini meditation and if we encourage feelings of kindness and love for ourselves this can trigger the vagus nerve, which is directly linked to the PNS. Practicing Yin yoga with the intention of cultivating loving-kindness makes the practice very different to one focusing on ‘stretching’ or ‘getting more flexible’. Working with this intention we can start to create shifts neurologically. We start to adapt the way we think through great awareness of where our mind is in each held pose and consciously implement loving-kindness when the mind drifts to a negative or critical place. When we are actively stopping and changing the way we think we are firing new neurones together in the brain to create new thinking patterns. If you keep coming back to something eventually it becomes ingrained in the mind. Unfortunately it’s easier for our critical mind to keep stirring and coming back to negative thoughts. The Yin practice gives us the space and time to note our thoughts and consciously change the dialogue. 

On an anatomical level our fascia is connected to our immune system and richly supplied with nerves and they’re connected to our nervous system. In fact ‘there are 10 times more nerve endings in our fascia then our muscles’ (P46.Your Body, Your Yoga by Bernie Clarke). We know what is going on with the body because of our nervous system’s interaction with our fascia (this is called proprioception). If we are working the fascia the right way we send the right messages to the nervous system and the brain. Through the holding of poses we are telling the nervous system that it is safe to let go and be in this shape. 

Yin yoga is the antitheses of modern life. Too much negative stress in our lives imbalances our nervous system. In order to bring it back we need to find moments of quiet and activities that allow us to discharge. Yin yoga does exactly this and not only this it gives us the opportunity to connect to ourselves. 


INTENTIONS WILL ENRICH YOUR LIFE

INTENTIONS WILL ENRICH YOUR LIFE 

When I first started yoga I didn’t understand what it meant to set an intention at the beginning of the practice. When a teacher would offer this my mind would race around searching for something that had meaning to me. Setting intentions was not part of my daily practice. I set goals and targets, which is ingrained in most of us from work, but this is very different to intention setting. 

Intentions are positive and uplifting affirmations that help us to be more aware of ourselves in the present moment. Goals are things we think about in the future, things to strive for and to give us drive, which is no bad thing.

Personally, I work with an overriding intention that I come back to for a significant period of time. Some days, in my practice, I’ll work with slightly different intentions depending on what I need. We can set intentions at any point in our life. Often people set intentions in relation to the moon cycle or the seasons. 

Inspired by ‘The Art Of Happiness’ - an interview with the Dalai Lama, an intention I’m focusing on in my day to day is to be compassionate, and to really understand what this means from moment to moment, person to person and with different experiences. 

‘Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive’. - Dalai Lama

‘In Buddhist teachings, setting an intention is a path or practice that is focused on how you are "being" in the present moment. Your attention is on the everpresent "now" in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.’

Setting an intention in our yoga practice acts like a metaphor to translate our practice off the mat and into our life. It is a vehicle that makes yoga an aspect of our lifestyle, rather than something we do just for exercise. Setting intentions in line with the yoga philosophy is a great way to integrate the philosophy into your life and to keep the teachings at the forefront of your mind. It’s important to set intentions that are positive with no negative connotations e.g. I intend to give off positive energy, I intend to spread happiness, I intend to be kind to all those around me including myself, I look for the best in everything, I am open minded, I am loved and share love.

Whether or not you’re practicing yoga think about an intention you might want to set for the week or month. Keep that in your mind and heart, throughout the day and make every effort to live by it. This practice will enrich our lives and those around us. If everyone were to set positive intentions and raise their internal vibrations think of the affects this would have on the world.  

WHY IS YOGA AN ANTIDOTE FOR STRESS & ANXIETY ?

WHY IS YOGA AN ANTIDOTE FOR STRESS & ANXIETY?

Stress and anxiety are increasingly common complaints in today’s fast-paced world. We tend to live in a constant state of alert due to stressful situations that can’t be resolved quickly e.g. financial worries, commute to work, job satisfaction, conflicts with coworkers, relationships etc. Anxiety is a cognitive state which is linked to an incapacity to control or regulate our emotional response to stress. The practice of yoga and meditation can help you to combat anxiety and lead a calmer, more relaxed, centred and stress-free life. How does it work?

Yoga helps us to turn on and tune into our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), often dubbed the “rest and digest” system. Many of yoga’s health benefits stem from the ability to turn up the dial on the parasympathetic system and to tone down the sympathetic nervous system, also termed as “fight or flight” system. When our PNS is stronger we have the ability to react with greater clarity and control to testing issues. 

We are strengthening our PNS through focus and awareness of the breath and body in our yoga practice. Focus and awareness are antidotes to stress and anxiety and through conscious breathing and attention to the subtle changes of the body (as we move from pose to pose) we develop greater awareness of our internal make up. As we become more aware of where we hold tension, where we feel and don’t feel the breath, how our body changes day to day, what effects us physically and emotionally, the tone of our mind; we begin to understand ourselves a bit better. With greater attention we start to notice the signals of when the body and mind are getting stressed and anxious. We can then begin to catch ourselves before reacting in ways in which we might not want to; we can start to influence our reactions and take action. When we face problematic issues we can bring our yoga into the every day e.g. pausing to take conscious deep breaths, do 5 minutes meditation, hold a pose that helps you feel connected and centred for 10 minutes (perhaps a forward fold, or an inversion), write down thoughts to process feelings and to give your self time and space to think. These exercises can help the breath and body calm and find a sense of connection to self, so we can respond from a place of greater clarity and calm, which we gain from a stronger PNS.

It can be hard to get to this point of control, but through a regular yoga and meditation practice, we find the discipline and develop the tools to manage the negative mind and increased heart rate. When our PNS is stronger we are in a better position to deal with the stresses of everyday life.


‘SUNDAY NIGHT ANXIETY’ 

I know a lot of friends that suffer from slight anxiety on Sunday night. Often it can be hard to sleep on a Sunday evening after an active weekend and knowing you have an early morning with a busy schedule and pressures a waiting you. What has helped when I have the ‘Sunday night feeling’ is 30 minutes of yin, restorative yoga or meditation. Often I’ll do 2 yin poses for 5 minutes or more and then 10 - 12 minutes meditation. This helps get the body and mind into the PNS so you can let go and relax. 

BUTTERFULY   - Create a diamond shape with the legs and bring the soles of the feet to touch  - Use blocks or pillows under the thighs to support the legs and aid relaxation (you could place a bolster under the head or stack pillows to support the neck)  - Focus on the breath flowing deeply and softly in and out of the lungs  - Focus on softening and letting going  - Be aware of sensation and how sensation changes as you hold the pose   - Hold the pose for 5 - 15 minutes, or until you're in a place of calm 

BUTTERFULY 

- Create a diamond shape with the legs and bring the soles of the feet to touch

- Use blocks or pillows under the thighs to support the legs and aid relaxation (you could place a bolster under the head or stack pillows to support the neck)

- Focus on the breath flowing deeply and softly in and out of the lungs

- Focus on softening and letting going

- Be aware of sensation and how sensation changes as you hold the pose 

- Hold the pose for 5 - 15 minutes, or until you're in a place of calm 

CHILDS POSE   - Bring big toes to touch and knees wide  - Lie on bolster either with face down or facing one way. Make sure to change the turn of the head half way through. If you don't have a bolster you can stack pillows.  - Focus on breath and sensation   - Hold for 5 plus minutes

CHILDS POSE 

- Bring big toes to touch and knees wide

- Lie on bolster either with face down or facing one way. Make sure to change the turn of the head half way through. If you don't have a bolster you can stack pillows.

- Focus on breath and sensation 

- Hold for 5 plus minutes

CONNECT & LISTEN

 

|| CONNECT & LISTEN ||

In modern society we are never taught to listen and observe what’s going on within ourselves. Everything is clouded by something else. Our emotions are clouded by our inner voice, which is affected by cultural boundaries, brand influences, newspaper headlines, what people say do, what they don’t do, opinion after opinion - no wonder it’s hard to hear what's really going on inside. Some days we feel so on top of it and other days it feels like everything is spinning. Sometimes it's hard to let go of thoughts and feelings we don’t desire. As B.K.S Iyengar says in Light on Yoga - The ‘Mind is the product of thoughts which are difficult to restrain for they are subtle and fickle. A thought which is well guarded by a controlled mind brings happiness. To get the best of an instrument, one must know how it works.’ The mind is our instrument and we can retune it through our practice.

Yoga gives us the space and opportunity to connect and listen internally. Through a well-rounded practice of asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation the mind becomes more focused and less distracted. Yoga helps us find moments of deeper connection to self, which we lose in this disconnect modern world. We become better listeners internally and therefore we become better listeners for those around us.

Additionally, when we have a greater connection to ourself we become more aware. Awareness of self is key to our output, to the energy we give off. When we become more aware of our thought patterns, our reactions and root cause of emotions - we can take action and let go of feelings that do not serve us. With continuous practice we learn to manage our mind and we can only do this through a deeper rooted connection to our body and self, which we gain through our practice.

So give yourself the time to connect and listen to the body. It will make a huge difference to your well-being and continued happiness. 

 

STRENGTHEN THOSE HAMSTRINGS

 

In our yoga practice, even thought we're working our whole body, there can be imbalances and one of those is the approach to our hamstrings. Generally speaking in the yoga practice we continuously and consistently stretch our hamstrings compared to strengthening. This is partly due to the fact that not many poses strengthen hamstrings! It’s very common for people to have a desire to lengthen hamstrings to reach an aspired pose. I for one did not hold back on poses that primarily focused on stretching hamstrings. This persistence for longer hamstrings of course led to injury. As with everything we need to find balance!

Is it a myth that strengthening hamstrings will tighten them? As Jenni Rawlings concludes on her blog, ’strengthening your tight/short hamstrings (or any other muscles) will not make them tighter/shorter. But it will make the connective tissue of your hamstrings stronger and less prone to injury.’ Click here to read more - http://www.jennirawlings.com/blog/fact-check-will-strengthening-your-tight-hamstrings-make-them-tighter.

Admittedly when it came to strengthening hamstrings in a yoga sequence I was a bit stumped. So I turned to the ever insightful Google. I found tones of hamstring stretching poses / sequences but hardly anything on strengthening. For an injury that is really quite common in the yoga world I was surprised how little information there was on strengthening hamstrings. 

After trying many different hamstring exercises, I found the below exercises / poses, were the easiest to incorporate into a practice. 

I got this exercise from Jenni Rawlings blog.   - Lie face down and place a block between your feet  - Make sure your ankles are above the knees   - Lift knees of the mat and push pubic bone into mat   - Repeat between 5 - 10 times

I got this exercise from Jenni Rawlings blog. 

- Lie face down and place a block between your feet

- Make sure your ankles are above the knees 

- Lift knees of the mat and push pubic bone into mat 

- Repeat between 5 - 10 times

Add on   - Keep the knees lifted and straighten the legs   - Continue straightening and bending the knees whilst lifted   - Repeat 5 -10 times 

Add on 

- Keep the knees lifted and straighten the legs 

- Continue straightening and bending the knees whilst lifted 

- Repeat 5 -10 times 

- Set up for bridge pose (Feet hip distance, reach to touch your heals with your finger tips)  - Push down into the feet, as you lift your pelvis, keeping your arms beside you  - Extend one leg at a 45 degree angle   - Hold for 5 long breaths and repeat this 3 times 

- Set up for bridge pose (Feet hip distance, reach to touch your heals with your finger tips)

- Push down into the feet, as you lift your pelvis, keeping your arms beside you

- Extend one leg at a 45 degree angle 

- Hold for 5 long breaths and repeat this 3 times 

I got this idea from Jason Crandell when he was interviewed on Yoga Land podcast.   - As if you were setting up for dancer pose, balance on one leg and bring the opposite heal to the bottom   - Extend the opposite hand in front of you and place the other hand on the hip  - Lift the back leg as high as you can and start to reach the opposite hand forward  - Lift up through the abdominals to help with balance but most importantly bring your focus to the hamstring engagement of the back leg 

I got this idea from Jason Crandell when he was interviewed on Yoga Land podcast. 

- As if you were setting up for dancer pose, balance on one leg and bring the opposite heal to the bottom 

- Extend the opposite hand in front of you and place the other hand on the hip

- Lift the back leg as high as you can and start to reach the opposite hand forward

- Lift up through the abdominals to help with balance but most importantly bring your focus to the hamstring engagement of the back leg 

Even if you’re not a devote yogi it’s important to be aware of over stretching the connective tissue of your hamstrings; it’s very easy to do so and it’s a long road to recovery!

I hope these exercises are helpful!

 

HOW TO DEVELOP A SELF-PRACTICE?

 

HOW TO DEVELOP A SELF - PRACTICE ? 

Many of my students find self practice rather daunting. People have the illusion that you have to move in a certain way to do yoga. The fundamental importance of our yoga practice is to develop greater awareness of the body and to centre the mind. One of the beauties of being new to yoga and self-practice is that automatically you are more aware of your body as the practice is unfamiliar. In self-practice we have the opportunity to listen to the body more closely and move as the body desires as well as working deeper into areas that need it. Often in class our mind can take over our practice and force our body to do things it may not want to do that day. Being surrounded by other students our egos can take over, so rather than moving intelligently with awareness, we may move with more determination. This will not be the case in every class you take but at some point our ego does creep in. 

With self-practice we have the opportunity to listen more closely to our body and work on areas that need strengthen or opening e.g hamstrings, hips, core, breath, backbends, balancing, heart openers etc. We have the chance to listen to the body and target certain areas more mindfully at a pace you wish. You can explore and work deep into your edge, expanding your boundaries and awareness. 

Yoga is an exploration of the body and when practising we gain a better understanding of our body and mind through increased awareness. 

 

SELF-PRACTICE 

Where to start?

  • Purchase a decent mat Yoga Matters sell good, reasonable and non stick mats. 
  • Invest in blocks, straps and eye pillow (not essential at the beginning but great to have to support and advance your practice).
  • Set a side a time that works for you - morning is the best time to do yoga; try and set aside 20 minutes. If morning does not work then allocate another convenient slot. 
  • If 1 hour feels like a lot then start with 15 minutes and build up to 1 hour.

 

General plan

STEP 1: Plan a warm up e.g. Child pose (Balasana), cat cow, downwards dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), rag doll, Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Make sure you take 5 minutes in Childs or Corpse pose at the beginning of the practice to centre the mind and tune into how the body is feeling that day. 

STEP 2: Standing poses. Either do 1 pose on each side or start to link 2 or 3 poses e.g. Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II), Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana), Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana), Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III). Take Child's pose as often as you like. 

STEP 3: Do the same with seated poses e.g. Pigeon (Eka Pada), Head to Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana), Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

STEP 4: Backbends and Inversions. Depending on your practice your backbends and inversions could be restorative or dynamic. To invert you can take legs up the wall or place hips on a bolster and feet to the ceiling. For a backbend Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is great option. 

STEP 5: Give yourself time for Savasana (5 minutes or more)

Have some go to poses that you’d like to practice and work on these regularly. You can use your self-practice to learn any poses that you might want a bit more time on e.g. headstand (Sirsasana) 

Expanding your practice?

  • After attending a class write down 2 or 3 poses and add them to your self practice. This will help build your flow and motivate you. 
  • Ask your teachers questions and seek advice. 
  • Follow a couple of online classes to give you inspiration - Yogaglo.com is a great platform.
  • The key to self practice is motivation. Set realistic goals and don’t beat yourself up if one week you slip. There is always the next week.

Sanskrit names of poses mentioned above

Childs Pose - Balasana

Downwards Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana 

Mountain Pose - Tadasana

Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II

Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III 

Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana

Extended Side Angle - Utthita Parsvakonasana

Pigeon - Eka Pada

Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana 

Bridge - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana 

Headstand - Sirsasana 

Corpse Pose - Savasana 

 

CONTENTMENT....WHY WE SHOULD PRACTICE IT?

 

|| CONTENTMENT....WHY WE SHOULD PRACTICE IT? || 

Contentment is the acceptance of what is, without judgment or desires of what you would like it to be. Practising contentment and reminding yourself to be content is NO easy task.

I often work with contentment as an intention in my practice. With so many temptations, desires and the 'need' for material things in the modern world, the practice of being content is ever more important. Learning to be content, non-judgemental and not attached to our surroundings, is an everyday practice, but one that brings great rewards to our happiness. 

Contentment (Santosha in Sanskrit) is the second of the Niyamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga (See blog post ‘Yoga Philosophy for Beginners’). The Niyamas lead us towards a more positive relationship with ourselves, which is important as we cannot form authentic and sustainable relationships with others until the connection with ourselves is strong.

‘As a result of contentment, one gains supreme joy. Here we should understand the difference between contentment and satisfaction. Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for happiness. If something comes, we let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like nor dislike.’ Sutra 2.42 translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Accepting what is allows us to view the world as facts – unattached by emotion.  It allows us to be in flow with the rhythm, rather then in resistance to the rhythm. Buddha says ‘attachment is the key to suffering’.  When we stop defining events with emotion, and simply watch them, even when they are difficult, we can move through them more easily with a greater sense of contentment. 

To practice Santosa is to practice the perfection of every moment, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have. It doesn't mean idly sitting back and relinquishing the need to do anything. It simply means accepting and appreciating what we have and what we are already, and moving forwards from there. 

It’s so easy to allow ourselves to be victims of life. It’s our human nature to want things to be easy and things to be handed to us on a plate. The truth of the matter is, the more we invest in ourselves and work to understand our individual make up, our mind patterns and our nature, the more we can achieve and give to others. The more we work on ourselves the more content we become with who we are and what we attract. 

TO SUM UP

‘Santosa (Contentment) is the road to peacefulness. When we accept what is, we are at peace. When we resist what is, we enter pain & suffering. To be without judgment is to be content with what is – even in the midst of chaos. This is Santosa and it is where real peace begins.’

 

PATIENCE

 

|| PATIENCE ||

We could all do with a little bit more patience in our lives. Modern society has not moulded us to be patient. With everything at a tap of a finger, now more than ever, we need to practice being patient not just for our own sanity, but for our nearest and dearest too. I have been working with being more patient over the last few weeks and it’s such a relief when you give yourself permission to relax and let go. 

Some of the smallest things can be SO grating whether it’s standing in the queue at Sainsbury’s, getting on public transport, walking behind a very slow person on a busy pavement, being patient when your family winds you up, or being patient with ourselves in reaching goals. It’s often the closest people to us who are on the receiving end of our impatience and being a little bit more patient will transform our relationships with others and our own internal relationship. 

I did a 10 day meditation recently with Headspace focusing on patience, which has really helped me manage and recognise when I’m being unnecessarily impatient. It’s such a relief to be able to let go of that feeling and to continue with whatever you’re doing without frowning, or tensing up in the body. 

The meditation trains you to recognise and note to yourself when your mind is wondering off on a tangent as ‘thinking’. By recognising that we’re thinking we become more aware of the patterns of our mind. When you’re feeling impatient, practice noting to yourself that what you’re feeling is just ‘impatience’, and then let it go (appreciate at times this is easier said then done). When our mind is boggled with negative thoughts its very easy to let it spiral. If we can become aware of when we’re spiralling and note that then it’s easier to let go and move on from the feeling. It takes practice but it really works and it feels so good to realise that you don’t have to be so tense. 

My favourite saying at the moment is ‘life is your own creation’, and if we want to be impatient we can be and if we choose to let go a little more, we can…..with practice. Half the time my thoughts get the better of me, but the other half my practice comes into action. 

If you’re out and about it’s pretty hard to drop to the floor and do yoga. But if you’ve had a long and stressful day, and you want some chill stretch time at home, I find the below poses soothing and calming. 

 
 

RAG DOLL 

So simple and easy. Bend the knees and allow the torso to drape over the legs. The feet are hip distance apart, make sure the weight is spread evenly in the feet, and the knees track over the second toe. Either grab opposite elbows or let the arms dangle. Release the neck and allow the weight of the head to encourage the torso to lengthen as the hips lift. Option to interlace the hands behind the back. It’s a little bit more intense but a nice shoulder opener. 

HAPPY BABY (Ananda Balasana) 

In happy baby allow the lower back kiss the mat and at the same time the neck and shoulders to be soft. If holding the outside edges of the feet causes tension in the neck and shoulders, or the lower back to raise off the mat, then hold the ankles or further down the legs. Alternatively bring the knees wide and into the chest, placing your hands on top of the knees. Close the eyes breath and let go. 

BADDHA KONASANA Restorative 

Make a diamond shape with your legs and place the souls of your feet together. Your feet should be about half a metre or more from you pelvis. Bring your head towards your feet and round your back. Either place your hands either side of your feet, or grab your toes and gently draw yourself towards your feet. This pose is also great with a bolster so you can rest your head. Either place the bolster between your legs at an angle between your forehead and against the floor. 

SETU BADDHA KONASANA 

Come to lying on your back, place the souls of your feet together, and let the knees fall out wide. For a slight chest opener you can place your arms above your head and grab opposite elbows. Alternatively place the right hand on the belly and left hand on the heart. If you start to feel discomfort in the hip flexors lengthen your legs, or place the souls of the feet on the ground and bend your knees. 

 

THE 8 LIMBS OF YOGA

 

|| THE 8 LIMBS OF YOGA ||

Even though I did history at university and love reading historical books, I find the philosophy and history of yoga complex and can be hard to get your head around. I have very simply broken down key points to help understand the philosophy and how you can integrate it into your practice. 

Firstly let’s very briefly deal with who Patanjali is and what the Yoga Sutras are.

Very little is known about Patanjali but it is known that he compiled the Yoga Sutras, an important set of aphorisms (sutras) on yoga practice. Modern scholars believe that Patanjali wrote the sutras in the second or third century CE but it is also argued that it was written during the second century BC.  

The Yoga Sutras offers practical methods to practitioners to bring peace and contentment into modern life. It systematically explains what yoga is, the obstacles on the path of yoga, and the method for achieving enlightenment (Samadhi). In chapter 2 & 3 of The Yoga Sutras Patanjali writes about the 8 limbs of yoga (also known as Ashtanga Yoga) - a guideline on how to live your life with more meaning and purpose.

The 8 limbs of yoga highlight the philosophical and practical elements to help you find a more balanced and enriched lifestyle, one that will eventual lead you to Samadhi/ enlightenment. Below is a brief description of The 8 Limbs of Yoga and practical tips that you may want to try in your everyday practice.

 

1) Yamas: Ethical Consideration

Yama has to do with ethics and how we approach our lives off the mat. The 5 yamas are non-violence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), non-stealing (Asteya), moderation (Brahmacharya) and non-possessiveness (Aparigrapha). We can interpret and relate the yamas as we wish to our everyday life. As an example, many yogis are vegetarian due to the first Yama, as they do not condone the killing of animals, but this does not relate to all yogis.

Practical tip: choose 1 yama each week and put it into action and discover what it means to you.

 

2) Niyamas: Self-observation

Niyama has to do with self-discipline and observation. There are 5 niyamas including cleanliness (Saucha), contentment (Santosa), fiery cleansing (Tapas), self-study (Svadhyaya) and devotion to the universe (Isvara Pranidhana). Like the yamas you can interpret the niyamas in a way that resonate with you. The niyama is a lot more personal and they refer to the attitude we adopt towards our self and the lifestyle we lead.

Practical tip: like yamas, choose 1 each week and discover what it means to you.

 

3) Asana is our physical practice. In the West this is the limb we resonate the most with. It’s important to note that Patanjali however, when discussing asana was referring to a posture that we could find stillness and comfort in e.g. seated, lying down or standing.

Practical tip: start practicing yoga 3 times a week, whether it’s for 10 minutes or an 1 hour. Start moving the body and see how it invigorates you and energises you.

 

4) Pranayama is considered the bridge between the body and the mind. When we’re stressed and anxious the breath can become short making us more agitated. When our breath is long and smooth it is calming on the mind. The breath is a good reflection on how we’re feeling in that moment. 

Practical tip: when the mind is in a state of flux take a few minutes to find a comfortable seated position. Inhale for a count of 5 through the nose and exhale for a count of 5 out of the nose, repeat this but see if you can gradually lengthen the exhale up to 8 counts (if this is comfortable for you). You can place one hand on the belly to follow the flow of the breath in and out of the belly. Belly rises on the inhale and deflates on the exhale.

 

5) Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the 5 senses (touch, taste, see, hear and smell). When we withdraw from the sense we detach ourselves from the outer world and we’re able to therefore draw sense and awareness internally. We remove ourselves from dual thinking likes/dislikes, pleasure/pain etc.

Practical tip: This is best experienced in your yoga practice. When practiced diligently our gaze is fixed and we’re concentrating on the breath and so external influences fall away.

 

6) Dharana is concentration. It’s the contemplation of a single object in the mind. In a yoga class it’s often the breath we focus on – this is our object. Dharana helps us stay focused and when the mind gets distracted we draw the focus back to our object/breath.

Practical tip: choose a positive word / affirmation and repeat it for a few minutes. If the mind wonders then gently draw the focus back to the mantra.

 

7) Dhyana is meditation. There are two understandings. 1) When concentration is no longer disturbed we’ve reached meditation. 2) The mind is at rest and is not fluctuating with thought.

Practical: Try and sit for 10 minutes a day for 1 week in meditation. The app headspace offers a 10 day free trial.

 

8) Samadhi is the state of enlightenment, when the sense of being falls away. We’re free from the ego-conditioned mind and we’ve reached a supreme state of consciousness. For a Westerner it’s quite an abstract concept. Think of it as liberation from social constraints, judgments and the ego, which is developed and influenced by our surroundings.

Practical tip: not so easy to give an exercise for this one but keep practicing all of the above and in Savasana we may experience moments of bliss.

 

 

 

 

WHY IS SAVASANA SO IMPORTANT?

 

WHY IS SAVASANA (CORPSE POSE) SO IMPORTANT? 

Lots of people find it difficult to lie still in Savasana or don’t like to do it as they think it’s a waste of time and they could be achieving something in that moment. In Western society we feel the need to always be doing something and we pretty much never give our body the opportunity to rest and restore. Some people freaking love Savasana and zone out completely (not every time though). For others they fidget; hate the silence; thoughts creep in their head; they want to get on with the day. Savasana is more than just lying on your back and relaxing. It’s a time for your body to integrate and absorb all the information it’s taken on during the practice. It’s time for restoration and nourishment! What could be more important? :)  

Simply by lying on your back and following the flow of the breath, allows us to recover from any physical stress brought on from previous yoga postures, and releases any lactic acid build up acquired during a practice. It gives the body a chance to rejuvenate. It’s inevitable the mind will wonder in Savasana. Each time the mind does wonder gently draw the focus back to the body and the breath; observing how the body feels and holding the body in your awareness. Maybe there’s a sense of lightness, heaviness, tingling sensation or floating.

 

Benefits

1.     DE-STRESSES - it’s good for anxiety and works as a de-stresser (if you’re feeling stressed I understand it’s hard to take a 2 minute ‘lie down’ but by slowing down the breath and bringing the focus to the body; it will automatically begin to calm your thoughts)

2.     BRINGS CLARITY – it will leave you feeling refreshed in the mind so you can think more clearly or even sleep better (if done before bed). A less cluttered mind will not only benefit yourself but those around you.

3.     REVIVES THE BODY – When your body is relaxed, after your yoga practise, your bodily functions and systems (like your immune and digestive system) become stimulated and revitalised. Your body needs that time to process and remember the information and intelligence.

4.     MEDITATION - Savasana kind of bridges the gap between asana and dharana (intense focus) then dhyana (state of meditation). It trains the mind to be more focused and present, to be aware of flowing thoughts and not to fixate on them. 

 

The beauty of Savasana is that you can take the pose whenever you want throughout the day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be after your asana practice.

 

WORKING TOWARDS PINCHA MAYURASANA

 

 

WORKING TOWARDS PINCHA MAYURASANA 

Pincha Mayurasana, Forearm Balance, is one of the most fun and rewarding poses to master. It requires a lot of upper body and core strength as well as flexibility in the shoulders. It takes time, dedication and practice to master the pose but enjoy the journey of exploring your body and see it begin to open and build strength.

The below poses will help you build strength, gain confidence and increase flexibility in the shoulders. 

HOLLOW BODY ROCKS

1.     Begin in Navasana (boat pose), either with knees bent or legs straight, squeeze the inner thighs together and lift up from the perineum (pelvic floor) to engage the core muscles.

2.     Rock back and extend the arms and legs but maintain the hollow body shape. Interlace the thumbs and reach your arms along either side of your ears. Tuck the tailbone slightly so there is a rounding of the lower back.

3.     Rock backwards and forwards maintaining the shape for 30-60 seconds.

4.     Finish in Navasana and then repeat twice more.

DOLPHIN

1.     From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downwards Facing Dog) gaze towards the hands and slowly lower the elbows at the same time then the knees. Make sure the arms are parallel to each other and shoulder distance apart. See image below.

2.     Stack your shoulders directly over your elbows and begin to lift the hips. Gaze towards the toes and walk your feet towards your head to find greater lift in the hips. Press down in your feet to engage and lift the front of your legs. Use the lower belly to elevate the hips and tailbone.

3.     Breath here for 5 breaths then take Childs pose (Balasana). Repeat but with one leg raised then switch legs rest in Childs pose between. 

 

IMG_8856.JPG

AGAINST THE WALL

1.     Come into Childs pose with your toes touching the wall. Place your arms out in front of you shoulder distance apart. Spread your hands wide with your index finger facing forward. Walk your feet up the wall, gaze towards the wall and hold at 90 degrees.

2.     Push into the elbows to lengthen the spine and shoulders, lifting away from the ground.

3.     Take one leg straight and begin to point the foot connected to the wall, maybe finding a bit of balance or hover.

4.     Use the fingers as breaks to prevent the torso from toppling over ahead

(Same as image above but against the wall)

SHOULDER OPENER

1.     Lie down on your front and line up your right elbow and shoulder at a 90 degree angle.

2.     Gaze towards the left and place your left hand in front but a little away from your face and then begin to stack the hips taking your left leg behind your right. Make sure you engage the lower belly and lengthen the right leg pushing the heel away from you to protect the lower back as you might find a slight pinching.

3.     Breath into the stretch in the right pectoral muscle and visualise the muscle softening and lengthening on each exhale. Keep the right shoulder rolled from the ear. Repeat on left side. 

Keep practicing and the pose will come! 

 

FLUSH IT OUT... DON'T HOLD ON

 

|| FLUSH IT OUT… DON’T HOLD ON ||

In Western culture there is a disconnect between the mind and body. We’re not taught to be present in our body and listen to our body to then take appropriate action. From a young age we are taught to control and absorb our emotions. We’re taught to ‘suck it up’, ‘be strong’, ‘act like a grown up’, it’s not deemed ok to cry, shake and release our emotion.

Holding onto negative thoughts and emotions creates negative patterns in our body and actions. It doesn’t do any good for anyone. We get so used to reacting to things in a certain way and dealing with our emotions in a certain way we forget to absorb the situation and deal with the issue in a way that we desire to. Yoga has helped me and taught me to become more conscious of my emotional patterns and over time and through practice I’ve been able to manage my reactions and thought process due to greater awareness. As B.K.S Iyengar said ‘Yoga is a powerful tool for liberating ourselves from unwanted, ingrained patterns’

Through our asana practice we can understand our internal nature better, and through breath we integrate the mind and body, becoming more aware of our body. In order to prevent patterns from being repeated we strengthen our body and do meditation to bring awareness to when our body is being affected by fluctuations of the mind. Yoga allows us to slow down and recognise our thought process. Patterns that are ingrained in our nature will not change overnight but yoga allows us to become aware of them and recognise patterns that we want to change or evolve. Over time it is possible to change negative patterns into positive ones and transform the way we see situations.

How we are today is a reflection of our past. How we allow our memory to affect us is key to how we live our lives.

‘Memory is useful if it helps to prepare you for the future, to know whether or not you are moving forward. Use it to develop. Memory is useless if it brings about a repetition of the past. Repetition means to live in memory. If repetition is taking place, then memory is only the means to know whether we are fully aware and evolving. Never think of yesterday. Only go back if you feel that you are doing something, wrong. Use yesterday’s experience as a springboard. Living in the past or longing to repeat previous experiences will only stagnate intelligence.’ Quote by B.K.S. Iyengar

So the moral of the story is to practice yoga of course…. But even if it’s not through yoga, work to develop greater awareness and understanding of the body so we can catch negative thought patterns. Only through greater awareness can we flush out negative thoughts and make room for positive action! 

 

URGH....FLEXIBILITY

|| URGH…. Flexibility ||

Some of us are gifted with being naturally flexible and have never known what it’s like for Downwards Dog (Ardho Mukha Svansana) to feel horrendous. I have great news… you do not need to be a noodle to do yoga. I was pretty stiff when I started yoga. Being sporty growing up and then sitting at a desk for several years my muscles adapted to my lifestyle. My hamstrings, shoulders, hips and upper back are my problem areas and when I started yoga pretty much every pose was hard. I remember feeling as though teachers would hold me in Downwards Dog and Warrior II FOREVER. My shoulders would burn and my ego would get the best of me. I did not want to give up. It seemed as though everyone else in the class was finding it a breeze, so I would try and muscle through it. I learnt pretty quickly that this was not sustainable and I had to modify for my body. Becoming aware of your body and learning to modify your practice to suit your needs is really important. It frustrates me when teachers make students feel as though they’re a beginner for using blocks and props because this isn’t necessarily the case... at all! We are all different shapes and sizes with different bone structures so to avoid injury you need to learn what modifications you should be taking for your body. 

 

The good news is the body adapts and changes so much faster then one might think. However, practice is key, even if it’s 2-3 times a week or 10 minutes a day but the body will start to unravel and open.

 

My shoulders really suffered when I first started yoga and I see this regularly when I teach. If you suffer from 'desk shoulders' here are some arm variations in some standing poses that you can play with. There are tonnes of modifications in yoga so don’t be shy to ask advice from your teachers or to question why they’ve recommended to use a prop. 

 

 

 
Warrior II  (Virabhadrasana II) : Place the hands on your hips and encourage the neck and shoulders muscles to relax. When the arms are extended tension can build  in the neck and shoulders

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) : Place the hands on your hips and encourage the neck and shoulders muscles to relax. When the arms are extended tension can build  in the neck and shoulders

Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) : interlace the fingers behind the back and draw the shoulders blades down your back away from the ears. Draw the hands towards the ground and away from the body. 

Warrior I  (Virabhadrasana I) : Cactus Arm Variation - Squeeze the shoulder blades down your back as you draw your elbows towards each other and broaden in the collarbones. 

Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) : Cactus Arm Variation - Squeeze the shoulder blades down your back as you draw your elbows towards each other and broaden in the collarbones.