yoga blog by yoga lover in Bicester

Yoga in the Garden

At this time of year, it’s really lovely to take your yoga practice out into the garden.

When I practice outside, I can feel the breeze on my skin, hear the birds, smell the flowers – it really gets you in touch with nature.  In my classes I often talk about feeling a connection to the earth – practicing outside you really can.

I notice my balance is sometimes more challenged by a slightly uneven surface – compelling me to really focus and ground through my feet.

There’s a wonderful sense of freedom with the wide open space around me – yet I can still be in the quiet place within me – in fact it seems easier to be truly present in the practice.

If your garden is overlooked, the neighbours will soon get used to you and not really take any notice.  And why do we assume anyone is looking at us anyway.

So have fun, experiment with taking your practice outside when you can …. it’s an amazing experience.anton-darius-sollers-424266

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In class recently, we enjoyed the ‘three part breath’ and used hand gestures – mudras to facilitate the practice.  Hand gestures are known in yoga as Hasta Mudras.

As well as being gestures, mudras are also referred to as attitudes – ‘psychic, emotional, devotional and aesthetic gestures or attitudes’ (Saraswati, 1996, Pg 423).   They form the ‘symbolic language of yoga sending powerful messages from body to mind via the nervous system and from person to person’ (Burton, 2004).

Mudras enhance yoga practice and become a language in their own right, communicating with our deep inner systems and can transform a physical practice into something far more spiritual.  We can effectively ‘engage and influence our body and mind’ with gestures (Hirsch, 2000, Pg 2).

Brown describes mudras as symbolic signs, gestures or body positions that ‘cause’ an alteration in the body’s vital force’ (Brown, 2003, Pg 330) and says the word mudra is derived from the Sanskrit word for seal and that mudras allow us to direct the pranic life force to various parts of the body so that the energies may be harnessed with in.

Mudras manipulate energy – just as the energy from light waves can be deflected by a mirror or sound waves by a cliff face.  By creating barriers within the body (mudras) the energy is redirected within instead of being dissipated externally.  Each mudra sets up a different link and corresponds with a different effect on the body, mind or prana.  In the Three Part Breath practice in class we experienced this with the breath seeming to move into different areas of the body.

Fraser describes mudras as completing an electrical circuit (Fraser, 2003, Pg 119).   They are also defined as seals, short-cuts or circuit-by- passes.

Mudras may involve the whole body – in combination with asana, pranayama and bandhas, or be simple hand gestures.  The postures adopted establish a direct link between the annamaya kosha (physical), manomaya kosha (mental) and pranamaya kosha (pranic).  Initially this enables the practitioner to develop awareness of the flows of prana in the body, ultimately establishing pranic balance within the koshas to enable redirection of the energies to the higher chakras.

Mudras are seen in many different cultures and form a part of ceremonies.

Do let me know if you would like full details of the texts quoted from in the above article

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The Gift of Sound

The Gift of Sound is one that I feel privileged to share with others.  It’s an incredibly powerful way of balancing our whole being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  Sound can bring wonderful  healing – releasing stresses and tensions that may have been buried deep within us.

As a sound healer I have a tremendous sense of responsibility.  Releasing and rebalancing through the medium of sound is amazing.  I spent a long time training, honing my skills, working to really understand the power of sound.

Everyone will have experienced how hearing a song can take you back to a past experience – feeling it all over again… perhaps evoking strong emotions.   Healing sound does this too. – affecting us on many different levels. in the hands of a well trained, sensitive, experienced and well intentioned player the therapeutic benefits can be profound.

It’s the vibrations of the sounds that work the magic – the sound waves.  Our bodies are a mass of vibrating energy – every organ has its own natural vibration.  When things get out of balance – the vibrational energy is affected and healing sound can aid bringing things back to a state of equilibrium.  We are 70% water and water is a fantastic conductor for sound waves.  The healing sounds can shift stagnant energy, remove energy blockages, and ‘entrain’ or cause the body to energetically respond.

The term ‘Sound Bath’ refers to the body being bathed in the soundwaves.  As we relax and open the sound vibrations can work their magic.  Whilst Gongs are probably the most powerful of instruments due to the incredible range of vibrations they can emit, Tibetan Bowls, Crystal Bowls, Rattles and Shakers etc can all have a deep impact.

In yogic terms, sound works on all the koshas – Anamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya.  Some will refer to Sound Baths as creating sacred space – a powerful therapeutic space.

It is the role of the Sound Therapist to sensitively create a journey through the medium of sound to enable relaxation, release and restoration – be this in a one-to-one or group setting.   Each individual will find their own path in the sound bath.

To me intention is key.  I recognise that when I play, I am blending art and science – using a mix of learnt skills and intuition and feel privileged to share the magic of sound.

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Customer Experience

Today I had a lovely browse in the local garden centre … which like many is now more a department store.  During my browsing I saw a lovely blouse that I decided to buy ….. but after queuing at the nearest till, I was told “you can’t pay for that here” ….. I was to go to a different till point at the opposite end of the of the garden centre.  I didn’t bother … so that impulse buy didn’t happen.  The store missed out on a sale and I’m telling lots of other people about my poor experience.

Which has made me reflect on how I can give a great service to my yoga customers.

I try to make my website informative and up to date with answers to the most common questions and show various ways to contact me in the event of queries.  On arrival, I aim to welcome each person individually and talk to several different people at each class.  I aim to have a clear pricing policy that I apply consistently.  During the class I aim to give guidance to help everyone enjoy their class, to understand what they are aiming to do and why, giving alternatives they may wish to try, and helping if they appear to need help.  I aim to create a friendly, welcoming, relaxing environment where egos are left at the door, so that all can enjoy their practice.  I aim to offer variety but not too much complexity.  Every now and then I offer a free session for regular customers as a thank you.

Invetitably, occasionally someone will come to a class once …and not return.  I encourage people to give me feedback so that if my teaching style isn’t what they are seeking I can suggest alternatives.

What else could I do to help you enjoy your yoga even more?

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I’ve been leading a mindfulness course and in one of the sessions we had a discussion about anger.  One of the course participants found it difficult to understand my perspective that, whilst it is OK to feel anger, we need to consider skilful ways to respond to those feelings rather than to explode.

So this has made me reflect on how I can explain the concept more simply and I share my thoughts with you:

Anger is a powerful emotion.  We feel it physically and it can galvanise us to take action.  What we are probably less aware of is that anger is generally the result of a build up of ‘little niggles’ that accumulate and finally erupt in what we term anger.  This eruption can often be misjudged and cause distress to others (our ourselves).  So what can we do to avoid this?

Firstly, let’s look at what happens physiologically when we feel anger.  Anger is a form of stress response.  So the amygdala in the brain fires up and triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline – i.e. the fight, flight or freeze response.  We may feel muscles tightening, our heart rate pumping, our breath may be faster and shallower, we become totally focused on the recipient of our anger. When this happens repeatedly (the little niggles that we are perhaps less aware of), our body is repeatedly subjected to these hormones which can have a ‘toxic’ effect – headaches, tummy upsets, neck and shoulder pain, frequent coughs and colds (immune system affected). In the words of the Buddha “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone – you are the one that gets burned”.

In mindfulness we learn to pay careful attention to the present moment.  To really be aware of what we are thinking, feeling and sensing – which is so different to our usual ‘being busy’ and being unaware of the chatter of our minds.  This applies not just when on our yoga mats, but throughout our daily lives.  This frequent ‘checking in’ can be a powerful way of diffusing tensions, taking us off the hair trigger so that we don’t feel the need to erupt.  We in effect learn to respond rather than react.  During these ‘check ins’ we may notice an angry thought.  We don’t try to push it away – we notice instead how what we feel in our bodies.  And this change from thought to sensation can be a powerful tool to dissipate the thought (and emotion).  We in effect allow the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and release the ‘feel good’ hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin.

By bringing frequent episodes of mindfulness into our daily lives – not just restricting it to a formal seated meditation practice, we can really change our perspective on life and live in a far more peaceful way.  “Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing our awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations which may be used as a therapeutic technique”. (Mark Williams & Danny Penman : Finding Peace in a Frantic World).

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What is Yoga?

Increasingly yoga is seen as exercise.  Many of the posts you see on Facebook, blogs, websites etc focus on the physical side of yoga with often physically challenging postures being performed with a competitive edge

To me this is not at all what yoga is about.

On my website I have a quote from the Yoga Bible by Christina Brown: “Yoga is learning to come back to yourself.  It’s finding your limits, expanding your boundaries and being able to relax into who you truly are.   It’s about taking time to remember who you are but have forgotten while being caught up in the whirlwind of a fast-paced life.”

This highlights that yoga is not all about the physical postures – it’s about finding yourself, a sense of contentment, coming back to the centre of yourself, away from the scattered, fragmented way we tend to lead our lives.

Yoga is also about finding balance – yes we practice physical balances, but also seek to gain a sense of equilibrium in life as a whole – a greater senses of harmony, like all the pieces have been put back together again.

As you learn to centre in a pose (I often talk about finding the inner silence) you start to find a greater sense of focus which can help in other aspects of life.

So yoga is much more about a state of mind which influences the choices we make in our lives as a whole.

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I love my gongs!

I’m all set up ready to share a lovely Gong Bath …… instruments have been blessed (I always like to do that), the fairy lights are twinkling, everyone is snuggled up in their blankets.  I talk everyone down into a relaxation and am then ready to start playing.

Usually it’s the Tibetan Bowls that call me to them first ….. a wonderful mix of gentle tones that soothe everyone into a state of readiness to receive.  Then perhaps some clear Crystal Bowl sounds …… but not too loud …. I find the very intense, almost shriek that some players use quite aggressive … so I keep it powerful but gentle.  And now the Gong … as I pick up my mallet and consider which gong and what to do … I feel a wave of calm flowing through me … and then the sound just seems to come with the gongs responding  both to me and the energies in the room as a whole.  The sounds build and fade, build and fade as wave after wave of sound vibration flows through the room easing out the tensions, physical, mental and emotional.   After a short silence, the Koshi Chimes dance their wonderful tinkling notes and then perhaps it’s a rain drum or rain stick to start to bring everyone back from wherever they may have journeyed to.

But before coming to completely, there is silence for several minutes, deep peace to allow healing to take place on whatever level that might be.  Then I gently bring people back into the room encouraging a slow, gentle awakening.

Of course the order is not always the same, the instruments not always the same … but the experience always seems truly magical …people tell me they’ve journeyed they know not where, they’ve seen lights and images felt the sound vibrations deep within.  Some are a bit discombobulated, some floating in a peaceful oasis of calm, others have felt the tensions flowing out.

I feel privileged so share the experience of sound … it’s a truly magical journey.

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Being kind to our world

I’ve been deeply affected by watching Blue Planet which graphically demonstrates the awful effect our modern lifestyles are having on our planet.

It’s made me reflect on the commitment that I feel I have made as a yogini to the Yamas and Niyamas – the codes of ethical living.  Can I be practicing non violence (Ahimsa) if I buy things that cause suffering to others?  Am I actually stealing (Asteya)  if through my activities or purchases I am using a perhaps unfair share of the planets resources?  Am I being truthful (Satya) to my yogic beliefs if I make these lifestyle choices?  Or could I be more contented (Santosha) with less?

I’ve been vegetarian for over 40 years and am increasingly adopting a vegan diet, using locally sourced products.   I choose skincare and makeup that’s free from toxic chemicals and is cruelty free. I’m trying to use my car less an cycle, walk or use public transport more.  I use eco friendly and cruelty free cleaning materials.  The next challenges I have given myself  are using less plastic and  reducing my purchase of synthetic clothing – I was not aware until I read a post on social media that the fibres from synthetic clothing can get into the sea and harm marine life.

Any suggestions for more?


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Living your values

What interesting information is coming to light with the leaking of the ‘Paradise Papers’ revealing how individuals and corporations, sometimes aided by so-called public servants, seem to do their best to minimise their contribution to society by way of seeking to avoid paying their taxes.

Those same individuals and organisations may have invested a lot of effort and money in creating an image – now completely shattered by this unsavoury behaviour.

It has made me reflect on the importance of living your values – being true to your beliefs in all walks of your life.  In yoga we have the Yamas and Niyamas – our codes of  behaviour and following these sets us on the right path.

The five yamas ask practitioners to avoid violence, lying, stealing, wasting energy, and possessiveness, while the five niyamas ask us to embrace cleanliness and contentment, to purify ourselves,  to continually study and observe our habits, and to surrender to something greater than ourselves (taken from yogajournal).

Somehow just a very simple ‘be kind’ is enough – test your thought, words, actions against this – is the thought kind (to myself and others) etc.   If the individuals and organisations identified in the Paradise Papers lived by this simple mantra, things would be very different.

So let’s all think hard about how we can be a force for good by making changes in our life to embrace the ‘be kind’ .


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Teaching Yoga

Having a few quiet moments reflecting on how lucky I feel to be able to earn my living through sharing something I love so much – yoga.

I really, really enjoy teaching.  It is just so rewarding to observe the changes in people as they attend classes regularly.  Practical things like being able to balance better and co-ordinate movements more smoothly.  Also observing changes in breathing – often smoother and deeper.  Seeing flexibility increase.  And of course noticing people seeming less stressed out.

My classes always include pranayama, mudras and mindfulness, never just asanas – so I ensure  am providing insight into each of the eight limbs of yoga

I love it when people tell me how much their yoga practice is affecting their lives – in positive ways.  Often people will tell me they feel they have more patience – don’t get wound up so easily.  They tell me back, neck and shoulder pain often reduces.  And others tell me they feel more confident, happier and calmer.  People really value the oasis of calm my classes provide them with.

I feel proud to be a yoga teacher – my original 500 hour training course has been added to with many additional study days and courses so that my professional skills continue to be enhanced.

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