yogabeing

yoga blog by yoga lover in Bicester

Yoga for health

‘Study finds yoga injuries are on the increase’  – I was interested to read this headline on a blog post recently. And not entirely surprised either.

Increasingly we are seeing classes taught by teachers who have done the minimum amount of training, often via an intensive course that gives no time for reflection and assimilation.  Plus yoga seems increasingly to be promoted as a keep fit style exercise, encouraging people to perform attempt pretty extreme postures.

How different this is from the type of training I did – a 500 hour course is now a rarity.  How can you learn how to teach something as complex and multi-faceted as yoga in a course that may last little more than a weekend (Fitness Yoga).  Can you really absorb the classic texts and make them a part of yourself in a month (Intensive courses).  And can you get by with the minimum of anatomy and physiology?

I remember writing about how dis-spiriting a Fitness Yoga class had been – how I had missed the spirituality.  And also writing about how the image of yoga seems to have become young and fit.

And this article seems to show the damage the yoga community is doing by moving so far from its’ roots.

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The Stillness Within

People often come to yoga classes as they are stressed out and have heard that yoga may help them calm down a bit … and they are so right …. yoga can be magic!

When you can loose yourself in the movement of an asana (posture) and find the moment when you feel the stillness that somehow comes from within, it can seem that the world has stopped spinning and you have those precious little spaces of quietness.

Equally when you can really focus your attention on your breath – completely and fully on your breath, everything else can seem to fade away ….. cares, concern, worries, can all just lift away for a few precious moments.

When I’m teaching, I often hear myself saying something like ‘dropping into the stillness within’ … and that stillness is within all of us … but just gets masked by the business of daily life.

Inevitably it will take some people longer than others to tap into that stillness, but we can all do it … and the more we do it, the easier it becomes.  And of course the benefits stay with us as we go about our daily lives.

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Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

This can be a lovely calming pranayama (breathing technique) to work with.

Nadi means ‘channel’ – the channel through which your subtle energy (Prana) flows.

Shodhana means ‘purification’.

So when you practice this technique, you are undertaking a Pranayama that purifies the Nadis – which is why you feel so lovely and calm afterwards.

If you take time to notice, you may be aware that you are breathing more strongly thru one nostril than the other at various times of the day – so taking in prana predominantly thru one channel.  By using a practice that balances the breath, it is said to balance activity in the right and left hemispheres of the brain which in turn can calm the storms of the mind.

There are may different ways you can do the practice …. I’ll list some of them here.  It’s always a good idea to spend a few moments sitting  comfortably, spine upright and just tuning into your breath before you commence:

  1.  Using your left thumb, block your left nostril and breathe in and out through your right six time.  Then using your right thumb, block your right nostril, and breath in and out through your left six times.
  2. Using your right thumb, block your right nostril, breath in thru your left.  Then, using your left finger (right hand) block left nostril, and having released your thumb, breathe out thru the right nostril. Breathe in thru your right nostril, then close it with thumb, release fourth finger and breathe out thru left.  Repeat for a couple of minutes.  Using this technique, you can also add a short pause between the inhalations and exhalations to slow the breath down more.

There are various way you can use your fingers and thumbs – I’ve just chosen a nice simple way that suits most people.  If you want to experiment with other ways, using your right hand, tuck 2nd and 3rd fingers into your palm – then use thumb and 4th finger as above.  Or alternatively, let your 2nd and 3rd fingers rest on the bridge of your nose and use thumb and 4th finger as above – this method helps you focus on your Anja Chakra which can deepen the practice, but some people don’t like the feel of the hands over the face – find it a bit claustrophobic.

If you have a cold, it is not a good idea to do this practice.

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Cruelty Free?

As a yoga lover, I try to follow the principles of the Yamas and Niyamas in my daily life.

Ahimsa – non violence –physical, mental and emotional is one of the Yamas, and one way I apply it, is by aiming to always buy cruelty free cosmetics.

You might think that the big brand names would make this easy …. but that is definitely NOT the case.   A quick google search on using something like ‘Does Clinique test on animals’ will reveal that yes, they do … because they want to sell their product in China where animal testing is still required.  So most of the big corporates will not be offering you truly ‘cruelty free’ cosmetic or skin care products.  You need to read the corporate PR with a sharp eye …. look for phrases like ‘except where required by law’ ….. it will be there for almost all the big names.  They choose to put commercial profits above animal welfare.

Big corporates have also bought up companies like ‘Body Shop’ which was founded on the ethical principles of Anita Roddick.  Now the company is just a brand within the L’Oreal group.  Whilst L’Oreal state that Body Shop products are not tested on animals, every time you buy a Body Shop product you are contributing profits to the parent company.  Try the google search I suggested above for L’Oreal. Or Esteee Lauder ……do you still want to buy products from brands owned by those organisations?

I now source my cosmetics and skin care products from a little company called Tropic.   Based in Surrey, all their products are vegan friendly … no animal testing, no animal based ingredients.  And everything looks, feels and smells gorgeous too.

So what choice will you make?

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The image of yoga

I have just been reading a popular yoga magazine, and reflecting on the images in the publication. Almost without exception they show young, attractive women in skimpy outfits.  Is this to indicate that you can only participate in yoga if you are such a person?  That you need to be able to afford ‘special’ clothing to join a class?  That how you look is really important?

Somehow this type of imagery seems in stark contrast to the traditional teachings that the purpose of yoga is union of mind, body and spirit.  Yes the physical practices can build strength and increase suppleness – both useful in a healthy body.  But this is only a small part of yoga.

I love this quote which I believe came from Max Strom:

The goal is not to tie ourselves in knots …we’re already tied in knots.

The aim is to untie the knots in our hearts.

The aim is to unite with the ultimate, loving and peaceful power in the universe.

So what we look like, what we wear (beyond it being comfortable!)etc, is irrelevant… what we are aiming for is that union.

But I guess that doesn’t sell magazines …. or am I just a grumpy old yogini!

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Why do we chant OM?

Chanting is wonderful – encourages you to breathe more deeply and takes you to a quieter place away from worries and cares.  But why OM?  Which we actually chant as three syllables A-U-M. Some say there are four syllables as when you chant the ‘M’ it develops into an ‘NG’ sound.

OM is said to be the primordial sound born with the universe – the essence of the universe and all creation, wrapped up in one wonderful sound.

As we exhale the A-U-M, its vibration links us to the original source of creation. The sound reverberates from the pelvic floor upward through the crown of the head, filling the body with pulsating energy that simultaneously empowers and radiates tranquillity. When we sound om together, we’re aligning body/mind/spirit; we’re aligning with one another. And we’re aligning with the universe because it’s the sound of the universe.  It’s a very grounding and peaceful sound.

The mantra is said to stand for Supreme Reality – symbol for what was, what is and what will be, an affirmation of the divine presence that is the universe.

Om is also considered the mother of the bija, or “seed” mantras — short, potent sounds that correlate to each chakra – with OM relating to both Ajna (third eye) and Sahasara (crown) chakras – hence the chant taking us to that quiet place.

The symbol of OM is also well known – consisting of three curves, an arc and a dot.:

 

The large bottom curve symbolizes the waking state, A.
The middle curve signifies the dream state, U.
The upper curve denotes the state of deep sleep, M.
The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, Turiya.
The semi circle at the top represents Maya (illusion) and separates the dot from the other three curves. It signals to us that it is the illusion of Maya that is an obstacle to realization of the Highest state of being.

Others would say that the ‘3’ shape is the Sanskrit letter for ‘A’, the little old fashioned ‘s’ shape to it’s right the ‘U’ and the bindhi and half-moon at the top the ‘M’

Other meanings are also attributed to the three elements:

The heavens, earth, and the underworld;

The Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (also known as the creator god, sustainer god, and destroyer god);

 

Some say the symbol is connected to Ganesh, the Hindu half-elephant god who removes obstacles.

The upper curve, of OM, is identified with the head or the face of Ganesh.

The lower curve his belly. The twisted curve, on the right side of OM is the trunk.

And if you’re not ‘into’ the philosophy, you can simply enjoy the magic of the sounds – there’s something rather magical about being within a group chanting OM with good intention.

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What are chakras?

There can sometimes seem to be a lot of jargon in the yoga world!  One of the words you may hear is ‘chakras’ … so what are they are why do they matter?

In yogic traditions there is the belief that we have what is known as a subtle energy system – when you are in the relaxation part of a class your teacher may refer to ‘prana’ and drawing in prana – also known as ‘life force energy’  or ‘cosmic energy’ – i.e. energy from the universe.  This energy moves through our body through chanels known as ‘nadis’.  Where the channels intersect is known as a chakra.

You may like to think of this as a network or roads with junctions.  When traffic (energy/prana) is flowing smoothly everything works well.  As soon as a route gets congested – often at a junction point (chakra), things start to go wrong.  Equally, if the traffic is moving too fast, things can go wrong.  So the idea of working with our chakras is to balance out the energy flows so that we feel great – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Chakra translates as ‘wheel’ – they rotate to help move the energy around.  Whilst there are thousands of channels and many, many wheels, we tend to focus on the 7 major chakras which are located at the front of the spine and upwards:

  1.  Muladhara – base of spine
  2. Svadisthana – below navel
  3. Manipura – solar plexus
  4. Anahata – heart
  5. Vishuddi – throat
  6. Ajna – between eyebrows
  7. Sahasara – crown

Each of the chakras is associated with different physical organs, glands and senses.  With a particular element,a specific planet,  essential oils, crystals, animals and so on.    It’s a complex area, but in essence, simply put :

  1.  Muladhara – security, stability, grounding, courage
  2. Svadisthana – playfulness, experimentation, sense of self
  3. Manipura – power, transformation, change
  4. Anahata – compassion, peace, trust
  5. Vishuddi – self- expression, will, communication
  6. Ajna – clarity, trusting inner guidance
  7. Sahasara – inner wisdom, higher mind

So in a yoga class, a good teacher will aim not only to offer a physically balanced class, but also a emotionally and spiritually balance class.

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What can Mindfulness do for me?

Unless you’ve been asleep for the last couple of years, it’s highly likely you’ve already heard of mindfulness.  Perhaps you have some ideas about what it is (something about getting calmer?) and maybe some thoughts about what it might do for you (something about getting calmer?).  Perhaps you’ve read an article in a magazine that seems to claim that mindfulness is a cure for just about anything too!

Mindfulness has been around for years in the yoga world, but has more recently become popularised and there are a wide range products and courses claiming to help you become more mindful.  But what does that actually mean?

Just take a moment to consider whether any of these apply to you:

  • I often spend time thinking about the past – perhaps a bad experience of something that hasn’t gone particularly well.
  • I often spend time worrying about something that might happen in the future

These are just two examples of the kind of thought patterns that can leave you feeling uncomfortable, unhappy, and dissatisfied.

Mindfulness gives you tools to use to stop you spending so much time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, which gives you the opportunity to actually enjoy what’s going on now – be it a conversation, a walk, a meal, reading a book etc.  It’s about being in the present moment (to use one of the buzz phrases). And this can help you feel less anxious and less stressed; calmer and happier.

So if you’d like a bit more ‘mellowness’ in your life, mindfulness might be just what you need.

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Real Yoga

Having read about Freestyle yoga  but never having tried it, I booked in to a class this week to experience it.   The tutor was friendly and spoke to newcomers to check any health issues.  She gave clear instructions throughout the class.

The class was at a gym and we were crammed in like sardines – impossible to stretch your arms out without banging into the person next to you …constantly had to move up and down mat to avoid being bashed.

The whole class was postures  – I won’t call them asanas as they were not referred to by the usual English or Sanskrit name – they were simply stretches and movements.  Yes they were well put together, formed logical sequences with counterposes.  But was this really yoga?

To me, definitely not … it was simply an exercise class.  It completely lacked any sense of spirituality.  I came away feeling really sad that this exercise class could be called yoga – where was the essence of yoga – the union of mind, body and spirit.  Just one of the classic 8 limbs of yoga featured.

With the lack of regulation around yoga teacher training at present, almost anything can be called yoga, and here is a prime example.

Let’s hope that professional standards come into play soon so that yoga means yoga – yes of course we need the richness of different styles, but let’s keep the spirituality that is the heart of yoga

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Want to try a Gong bath??

If you’ve never been to a gong bath and would like to know a bit more about happens ….. well, in essence it’s very simple … you lay snuggled on a yoga mat (or similar) snuggled up in a blanket and let the sounds of the gong wash over you (hence the name gong bath)

But what’s going on?  Sound can be very powerful – just think how music can affect – physically, mentally and emotionally – can make you feel happy, sad, alive, relaxed etc.  Gongs are used as a form sound therapy, with the player taking you into a deep state of relaxation in order that tension can be released.

Or as my friend Martyn puts it: “A gong bath is an opportunity for you to have time to yourself, to deeply relax and rejuvenate, and to delight in the awesome sounds of the gong.”

The vibrations of the gong have wonderful effects on the human being from top to toe.  On a physical level, your cells will all vibrate (some people who feel this strongly describe it as their limbs feeling fizzy!).  On an emotional level you may find yourself opening up from the heart, feeling things you’ve not felt since childhood.  And in the mind, your brainwaves are massaged such that you go through states akin to day-dreaming, meditation and deep sleep. Many people find the experience very spiritual in nature, and most find it deeply relaxing.

Inevitably, everyone’s experience will be slightly different as we all come to the gong bath feeling different.  Most people tell me they feel amazing – relaxed and energised; that they sleep like a log and can’t wait for the next time!  Sometimes when there is a lot of tension to release (mental, physical, emotional) you can feel slightly irritable or tearful afterwards …but that’s a good thing … shows healing taking place.

The first time you come, inevitably, you’ll be feeling curious, perhaps even a bit nervous.  A lot of people have told me it just gets better each time they come along.

So, treat yourself … book into the next gong bath with yogabeing, lay down, relax and let the sounds and vibrations do their thing!

 

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