yogabeing

yoga blog by yoga lover in Bicester

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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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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Ujjayi Pranayama

We’ve been enjoying the lovely Ujjayi breath as our pranayama practice in classes this week.

Sometimes known as Victorious breath, it’s a wonderfully calming, quieting breath.

I usually explain how to do it by suggesting students make the sound of the sea – the waves rolling in and out of the shore – whilst breathing slowly in and out through the mouth – this helps create a focus on the throat.  Once a slow, gentle rhythm is established, then transfer to making the same sound, with the same feel in the throat, but breathing softly in and out through the nose.

What’s actually happening is that the glottis is restricted, which serves to slow the breath down.  The pranayama has a soothing effect on the nervous system.  Some find it helps with insomnia.

If you’d like to try Ujjayi breath, sit comfortably, making sure you’ll be warm.  Let your spine be upright, including your neck.  Hands can rest gently in your lap or in Chin Mudra (tip of thumb and first finger touching).  Gently settle into a slow and comfortable breath, thru the nose, for a few minutes.  Then try making the sound of those ocean waves, breathing through your mouth.  Having got the hang of it, move to breathing through the nose and still hearing that wonderful ocean wave sound.  Keep the breath gentle, soft and slow.  After about 3-5 minutes, let your breath settle back into it’s normal rhythm, and then choose whether to gently stretch and carry on your day, or to move into a period of relaxation.

Please note Ujjayi breath is not recommended for anyone suffering from severe depression or psychosis as it takes you so deep within yourself.

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Amazing feet

Feet are amazing …… 28 bones, 33 joints, 12 ligaments and 34 muscles.  They support us for hours each and every day … whether we are walking, running, standing or even sitting with feet on floor.  A recent article in Saga magazine stated that by the time we are 50, our feet have covered 75,000 miles … yes, you read that right, 75,000 miles.

And of course in yoga our feet play both a physical and symbolic role – helping us grip our mats in standing asanas like Warrior 1 and 2, enabling our standing poses like Dancer and Tree. We often use the symbolism of feeling our feet being ground when we need to feel ‘still’ or ‘grounded’.  And if you’ve ever enjoyed a walking meditation, you’ll know all about how wonderfully the feet can convey the feeling of the ground beneath you.

So it’s well worth looking after your feet – a bit of regular tlc

  1.  Wear comfortable shoes – as least most of the time!
  2. Vary heel heights – good for both feet and legs
  3.  Avoid dry skin building up and keep feet well moisturised
  4. Exercise the feet regularly

Some examples of good exercises for feet:

  1. Lay with legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) – your legs and back will love this too
  2. Whilst standing, try to create a space between each toe – gives a lovely stretch
  3. Whilst standing, try and move the big toe away from your first toe – supposed to alleviate bunion pain
  4. Whilst standing, lift each toe in turn (if you can)
  5. Whilst seated or standing – roll a tennis ball around under your foot – said to alleviate plantar fascitis
  6. Whilst sitting or laying, with leg straight, point and flex foot – good stretch

And I love this wonderful quote from Thich Nhat Hanh

Image result for poem about lovely feet

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Your best self

Sometimes you read something  and it really makes a deep impression.  Meli who facilitated the Mindfulness Summit last year shared this quote from a book I’m currently reading :

“Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world.”  – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life

What a lovely sentiment…. sharing the best of yourself.  And that word practice is so key … we have to start doing it … won’t always be able to manage it …. but as we practice, we can get better at it.  By becoming more aware, perhaps we start to notice those small, mean, judgemental thoughts … and of course the first step to change is awareness.  Sharing our fullness of being – that real essence our true selves.  Sharing our trust and openness – you have to be feeling good about yourself to be able to do this … if you are coming from a place of fear, suspicion, or anger, you simply can’t do it.  Sharing our presence….. being there, really there.

And somehow, as we do this, the spaciousness in our hearts grows and grows.

I love this sentiment – will be the focus of my meditation this week.

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Enjoy yoga outside

There’s something very special about enjoying a yoga practice outside.

You are more in contact with nature – with the feel of the ground beneath your feet, the breeze on your skin, the clouds above you, the warmth of the sun, sounds of birds etc. Yes there may also be the sounds of people or traffic, but once you are really in your practice, these sounds tend to fade into the background.

Your balance is challenged more when the ground is a bit uneven and the feedback you receive helps you bring a Beginners Mind to your practice.

I love Sun Salutations, or the slower Earth sequence, Tree balance … they all become magically different when enjoyed outside.  Just sitting with the breath becomes new again.

Try it …. in your garden, in the park, in the countryside … just enjoy the lovely summer!

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