meditation

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. 


MY JOURNEY & INSIGHTS ON MEDITATION

My journey & insights on meditation 

Someone sat opposite me at a wedding said to me ‘I don’t believe in meditation, it’s the biggest con’. I spent a minute trying to sway her but then thought fair enough. Sometimes I forget what it must look like from the outside if you have no interest. Being told to sit still for 10 - 30 minutes NO THANKS. 

I started meditation when I was 24, 7 years ago. I did the 10 day free trial on the Headspace app and I loved it. It was a profound experience. I realised that underneath everything going on in my life I was happy and calm somewhere within. And it only took me 10 minutes (at the time) to come to the realisation that everything was ok as it is. I was not drowning under the weight of everything going on, I was not treading water, which I often thought I was. I was just fine. I committed to the 10 days and did it each morning before work. I’ve had moments when I’ve struggled with the practice and moments when I could sit for 40 minutes. There have been times when I feel like I haven’t gotten anything out of it and days when it really helps me land in my body and quieten the noise. 

I have stuck with the practice (albeit at times with a struggle) because I can feel the difference in how I treat myself, and how I react to situations. If I don’t practice and allow things to build up, and don’t allow things to process and filter through, my tone is much harsher. My practice has taught me to notice when my inner critic is fully engaged and that niggly inner voice is getting the better of me. It’s how we interact with our thoughts that is important, how we allow them to manifest and affect us. How we interplay with ourselves affects how we are with others. 

I was chatting to a friend the other day who was upset as a girlfriend of hers said a flippant and hurtful comment that clearly wasn’t thought through. However it was how the girl dealt with the comment after that was most hurtful for my friend. We might say things and think things out of our control (saying is of course more in our control) but it’s how we grab the moment and react to these things, which is important. 

I have random insecure moments when my mind is telling me crazy things, which I know are utterly insane. I have to work hard to accept my insecurity with compassion and then consciously not allow those thoughts to manifest. It might sound unbelievable but only through my practice have I been given the tools to do this. (Not to say that this is the only practice that works but it’s what has served me).

Giving yourself the time to sit allows us the chance to observe what is going on. You might even write some things down that come naturally after meditation. Writing things down in itself is an incredible process for healing and working through stuff. 

Give meditation ago, it takes time so don’t beat yourself. If it’s not for you that’s ok. Figure out what does help you get out of the mind and into the body and in to the present and do that. 

N:B photo taken on the stunning Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe where I meditated each morning to the sunrise. 

TUNING IN NOT SWITCHING OFF 

 

TUNING IN NOT SWITCHING OFF

Often people have the misconception that in yoga we are switching off. In fact we are tuning in!!! YES we are putting down our screens and stepping away from the intensity of our everyday, BUT we are very much not switching off. 

Our culture doesn’t priorities or teach us the skills to listen to the body and be in tune with the bodies needs. Noticing the subtle energy of the body and then developing an understanding of that energy takes practice. What makes yoga so different to other forms of movement or physical exercise (not that yoga has to be done for exercise) is the fact it teaches us to appreciate the nuances of the body. 

Our practice gives us the time and space to bring awareness to intricate details e.g. the connection our feet has to the ground, the sensation of our palms touching, the movement of breath in our body, awareness of thoughts and feelings. It’s not to say we have to move about our day slowly and be hyper aware of everything we do. When we first start to embody this practice (for me also) the aim is to have moments of awareness. If something happens in your day whether frustrating, stirs up sensations of anger, or even if it’s a subtle feeling of guilt or jealousy - we can stop for a moment and observe where we can feel it in the body, and how the body is responding. What areas are we holding tension? Can we soften, release and let go. Locating the sensation is the first step - it's common to clench the jaw, or loose your stomach because of nerves. Once you’ve located the sensation in the body pause and breath deeply, see if you can work through the feeling with breath techniques, meditation, and/or mantra and then either respond to the cause at hand with greater clarity, or let it go. 

On another scale, we might find that we become more in tune to when the body is hungry, tired, stressed, anxious and we start to learn what we actually need to nourish ourselves rather than what we think we need. The art of listening and tuning in will have profound affects as to how you feel about yourself.  

When you next practice yoga remind yourself to keep tuning - checking in with the breath, the jaw, sensations in palms/ feet. You’ll have to reset often and you may even remind yourself ever few seconds but to remember to be aware is the first step. 

 

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. 

 

HOW & WHY MEDITATION WORKS?

I started meditation about 4 years ago. I committed to the Headspace app intro, 10 minutes for 10 days, and I immediately felt the affects of slowing down the mind. I loved it! The first 10 days were a real eye opener but I know for some clients and friends it has been a tough hurdle to overcome.

Over the past 4 years I have tried to be disciplined and meditate everyday but haven't always succeeded. The last 2 years I have been particularly diligent and I more or less meditate daily and have slowly increased the time I meditate. Some days it flybys and other days it's a real slog. In London, in my flat, I am slightly guilty of ticking meditation off my list but when doing meditation in nature it's a whole new experience. Regardless of where you are, who you are, how happy you are, the benefits of meditation are tenfold. 

I wanted to share this article by Ashley Tuner on the How & Why Meditation Works. 


HOW & WHY MEDITATION WORKS by Ashley Turner 

Meditation is one of the most crucial aspects to cultivate more peace and happiness in life. It is literally the first thing I recommend to all my students and clients to build self- esteem and intuition, hear your truth, make wise, skillful choices, improve communication, increase creativity and productivity and let go.

We can be in one of two states - either the mind is running us or we are running our mind.

My mentor, Dr. Ron Alexander, speaks of MIND STRENGTH and the changes that can occur as we begin the process of training the mind. Mind strength is one of the most empowering tools we can employ to impact and improve all aspects of life.

Here's the breakdown of how meditation works.

There are five major categories of brain waves, each corresponding to different activities we do. Meditation enables us to move from higher frequency brain waves to lower frequency and calm the mind.

Slower wavelengths = more time between thoughts = more opportunity to skillfully choose which thoughts you invest in.

5 Categories of Brain Waves: Why Meditation Works

1. Gamma State - In the Gamma state, the brain waves are at frequencies ranging from approximately 30 – 100Hz. This is the state of hyperactivity in the brain and active learning. Gamma state is the most opportune time to retain information. This is why Tony Robbins and other educators have audiences jumping up and down or dancing around - to increase the likelihood of permanent assimilation of information and lasting change in one's "state".

If overstimulated, it can lead to anxiety.

2. Beta State - The Beta state, which is where we function for most of the day, is associated with the alert mind state of the prefrontal cortex. Brain wave frequencies in this state range from 13 – 30Hz and this is a state of the "working" or 'thinking mind': analytical, planning, assessing and categorising.

3. Alpha State - Brain waves in the Alpha state range from 9 – 13Hz. This is the state where brain waves start to slow down out of thinking mind. We become more calm, peaceful and anchored. We often find ourselves in an "alpha state" after a thorough yoga class, a walk in the woods, a pleasurable sexual encounter or during any activity that helps relax the body and mind. We are lucid, reflective, have a slightly diffused awareness and at peace. This is often accompanied by an inner and/or outer glow - sometimes felt as "spacey". The hemispheres of the brain are more balanced (neural integration).

4. Theta State - When brain waves range from 4 – 8Hz in the Theta state, we are able to begin meditation. This is the point where the verbal/thinking mind transitions to the meditative/visual mind. We begin to move from the planning mind to a deeper state of awareness (often felt as drowsy), with stronger intuition, more capacity for wholeness and complicated problem solving. The Theta state is associated with the 6th Chakra (3rd eye), so in this state we are able to practice visualisation.

5. Delta State - The final state is the Delta state, where brain waves range from 1 – 3 Hz. Tibetan monks that have been meditating for decades can reach this in an alert, wakened phase but most of us reach this final state during deep, dreamless sleep.

A Simple Meditation: How to Meditate

A simple meditation to use to begin the transition from Beta or Alpha to the Theta State is to focus on the breath. The breath and mind work in tandem, so as breath begins to lengthen, brain waves begin to calm and slow down.

1. To begin the meditation, sit comfortably in your chair with your shoulders relaxed and spine tall. Place your hands mindfully on your lap, close your eyes and as much as possible eliminate any stimulus that may distract you.

2. Watch your breath. Simply notice your breath flowing in. Flowing out. Don't try to change it in any way. Just notice.

3. Silently repeat the mantra: "Breathing In. Breathing Out." As your mind begins to wander, draw it back to your breath. Notice that as your breath begins to lengthen and fill your body, your mind begins to calm.

4. Consistency is Key. Try to do this breath meditation for 10 – 15 minutes first thing in the morning and/or at night. Be consistent with your meditation practice, particularly if it is difficult to sit still as you begin. Shorter meditation sessions on a regular basis are more productive than long sessions every few weeks.

Meditation is the #1 Tool I recommend to ALL my clients + students!

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.