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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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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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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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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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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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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