Spring Clean Home Practice

Spring is in the air… it’s time to spring into action!

At this time of year yogis often ‘cleanse’ their systems with a variety of practices. They can be physical asana, breathing practices or literally cleaning out the sinuses or digestive system with a special kriya or yoga cleansing method.

I’ve devised a simple sequence of asana for you to give it a try – a few stretches including the all important twisting movement which help the digestive system to ‘flow’.

Please note – always work within your own comfortable range of movements. Do not strain! If you have any blood pressure issues it is not advised to do a standing forward bend, try one of the modifications we have done in class instead.

Happy spring cleaning!

Don’t Over Do It

Trying too hard

Are you trying too hard? Don’t fall into this trap in any area of your life… and especially in your yoga practice.  If you are applying too much effort (we call this rajasic in yoga) this will only exhaust you and detract from your enjoyment of whatever it is that you are doing.  If you let go of your expectation and simply focus on exploring and enjoying the feelings of the practice then your practice is worth the time spent on it. For example, if you want a toned tummy, find a variety of exercises that make you feel good at the time (abdominal breathing, Kapalbhati, plank post, Utkatasana) rather than just going with one an over doing it. Your tummy will come under control eventually and the journey that you make will be an enjoyable one with many other benefits.

This philosophy applies to life… enjoy what ever it is your doing without forcing things. If you have to force things there is a sense that it was not meant to be. In our yoga we want a practice that is comfortable – yes explore the edges, boundaries and challenge ourselves – but if it causes pain or our mind to be distracted then it’s not right for us at this time.

Any ‘posture’ is simply a guide. The benefits of a posture can be felt by a subtle, gentle variant as well as a strong variant. It could be argued the subtle movements are felt more greatly by the more experience yoga student and that the stronger moves are better for the beginner who has to feel with the whole body rather than the subtle energy. So the next time you are having a go at yoga – in class or at home – ask yourself “Am I trying too hard?”

 

The Benefits of a Pair of Yoga Toe Socks

yoga toes socks

Besides the obvious – THEY KEEP YOUR FEET WARM – yoga socks and specifically the ones with the awkward little individual toes, are very good for your feet. They give the toes their space and help to correct all of those years of crushing the little toes into tight shoes and high heels. I know that it takes a while to put them on and feels a bit uncomfortable at first, but they can help to alleviate a variety of foot problems –

  • bunions
  • joint pain
  • foot cramps
  • athletes foot
  • tired feet after long walks or shopping in the sales

For obvious reasons we need to have a good grip on the sole of the yoga sock – to stop us from slipping on our yoga mats! However, there’s an added bonus to using the socks in yoga postures because the toes are forced to spread and this gives us more surface area to balance on.

So have a thought…TOE SOCKS… great idea and not just for yoga.

You can buy Yoga Toe Socks from me in class – they are £5 a pair and come in a range of colours. Have a look at my shop window here to see the socks and other items I can get for my students…

 

Yogic Cleansing Practices

neti pot

“Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” Eckhart Tolle

In our yoga classes this year we have been working with the Kapalbhati pranayama which serves to cleanse the lungs and nasal passages besides many other benefits. At this time of year with lots of colds around it’s good to try to keep ourselves as ‘pure’ as we can and this does mean cleansing the insides of our bodies – maybe just keeping hydrated with plenty of fresh water or perhaps following a few yogic techniques if we feel it’s right.

Another practice we have done in class is the Lion’s Breath which stretches the tongue, cleanses the throat and gets all the breath out of the body in one long roar! Fun and cleansing too – well it makes me laugh!

Jala Neti
You can also use salt water (saline solution) to cleans the nostrils with the aid of a neti pot. This is particularly useful if you have a blocked nose, cold, sinusitis and can be helpful to relieve tension in the face and brow. “The breath is the most vital process of the body. It influences the activities of each and every cell and, most importantly, is intimately linked with the performance of the brain.” (Sw Satyananda Saraswati, APMB) Anything that impedes air from circulating around our bodies will have a far reaching impact upon our health, so it’s worth doing what we can to keep the air flowing.

The practice of neti can be performed at home by anyone – except if you get regular nose bleeds. A special pot will be required – these are readily available from the internet. Always prepare boiled water mixing 1 teaspoonof salt per pint of water. Don’t be tempted to use less salt – this ratio is the same as our tears and is what the body is used to. If you use pure water it will sting. Allow the water to cool to blood heat.

Fill a neti pot with the prepared water, tie hair back and lean over a basin. Begin to breathe through your mouth. Close the eyes and relax the body, tilt the head over to one side and gently insert the nozzle of the neti pot into the upper most nostril. The water will trickle through to the lower nostril and out into the basin. It may be a small trickle at first but it will unblock gradually. Once half the water has passed remove the pot and blow the nose gently. Repeat on the other side.

Now the nostrils must be dried thoroughly – this is where some people make the mistake of skipping the process and that can result in worsening the problem not improving it.

Stand up straight and close one nostril, blow the other nostril into a tissue 5 – 10 times in quick succession – rather like we do in Kapalbhati. Repeat on the other nostril. Now repeat on both nostrils again.

Bend forward so that the trunk is horizontal, turn the head to the left for 5 breaths and then blow the nose rapidly as you straighten up to standing. Repeat turning the head to the right.

Finally repeat the bending forward but keeping the head centred – 5 breaths still and then blowing the nose through both nostrils as you return to standing.

The whole process takes about 10 minutes to complete and can be done daily until the nose is unblocked. If you get regular nose bleeds then don’t do this practice. If you find that the water does not run out of the nostrils then it’s best to see your doctor for further investigation as you may have a structural blockage. If you are unsure, work with a yoga teacher – there is instruction on line but often it omits the drying stage which is vital.

Shining Skull Breath (Kapalbhati)

Kapalbhati Pranyama

In our yoga classes this term we have begun to work with Kapalbhati Pranayama. This is a practice which is cleansing and energising – the forceful exhalation clears out the nasal passageways and the pulling force of the abdomen stimulates and strengthens the abdominal muscles and organs. When you have got the hang of this practice it literally takes 5 minutes and you feel strong and ready for anything!  It will make sits up a thing of the past.

The way this makes you feel so good is because the blood is enriched with more oxygen than your usual breathing which is very good for your circulation, renewing body tissue and helping your nerves and metabolism. There really is no other practice in any sport or exercise like it – which can make it difficult to understand and get into.

The following guide is meant as a supplement to our class work. It’s always best to learn from an experience teacher and exercise caution – building up the tummy muscles gradually and the bodies’ capacity to deal with the changes. If you feel dizzy at any time you should stop and sit still until you feel better. People suffering from high blood pressure, eye problems, hernia or recovering from any abdominal injury or operation should not do this practice. IF IT HURTS OR MAKES YOU DIZZY THEN STOP

The body should be prepared over some weeks before even having a go.  A gentle way to do this is to lay on your back in the semi supine position and work with leg raises and apanasana (knees to chest) to bring your awareness to your abdominal muscles and strengthen them. In class we worked with a routine called Mooncat (which I have given as half term homework). This sequence of postures includes the cat and cow, half moon pose and plank – all of which work the abdominal muscles.

Further preparation is required to understand abdominal breathing and our breathing process in general. Visualise air travelling into the body thought the nose and down into the abdomen allowing the abdomen to swell and then visualise the air travelling back out up through the body and out through the nose squeezing the abdominal muscles increasingly tighter with each round. You can begin practising in the semi supine position and then move onto a sitting posture. For more information about abdominal breathing read this post.

To practice Kapalbhati – (it is very important to have taken the steps to prepare, this lays the foundation for your success)

Sit in a comfortable seated posture (one that you can hold and feels as if your back is upright and if someone came along and gave you a shove you wouldn’t fall over)

The back must be upright and the crown of the head up towards the ceiling

The hands resting on the knees, shoulders and elbows relaxed – use your favourite mudra

Close the eyes and relax the whole body – especially the abdominal area

Inhale a deep abdominal breath and then pull the abdominal muscles back to force and exhale back out through the nostrils

The next inhale happens passively as you relax the abdomen then pull the abdominals back again to force the exhale out through the nose.

Continue pumping the air out like this for 10 – 20 rounds or less if your tummy feels tired.

Relax and then take a deep slow inhale, pause gently then exhale smoothly and slowly.

This concludes 1 round, begin again and practice up to 3 rounds.
Always practice with awareness – keep your mind on what you are doing. Stop at once if you feel faint or dizzy.

“You are as young as your spine is flexible”

I’m not certain who first said this, but they really do have a point. Keeping the back healthy is so vital to our well being and enjoyment of life that we can’t afford to ignore any niggles or signs that something is wrong.

The spine is made up of 33 individual bones stacked up on top of each other rather like a tube of polo mints. In between these bones (vertebrae) are discs like mini rubber rings filled with fluid. Down the ‘hole’ in this structure runs our spinal cord which is like the body’s ethernet cable with telephone wires leaving this main cable at each intersection in the vertebrae. Whilst this is a very simplified ‘model’ of our spine, it gives us a few things to think about. 33 bones means 33 joints, which means 33 areas for problems to occur. The vast amount nerves running down the and through these joints means they can get easily caught up or trapped and stop working in many different ways. (And unlike your computer there is no such thing as simple as turning it off and on again!)

When the spine is in good alignment with all discs nice and plump and the nerves running freely, the body feels healthy, light and our reflexes (messages travelling through the nerves from all parts of our body) are fast. In short, we feel alive!

What keeps the spine stable, upright and with the right size of holes for the nerves to fit through is the ligaments and muscles of our back and core. What makes your back ache? Having uneven muscles which mean the vertebrae settle out of alignment. Another way to view your spine is like a tent pole – if the guy ropes (muscles) are not working to pull in the different directions then it will bend and break and fall over.

So to keep the spine in optimum condition the ancient yogis devised many practices to move the vertebrae through their comfortable range of movements – forward and back bending, side to side (lateral bending) and twisting. In our yoga and stretch and relax classes the focus is often on a specific theme (this term Big/Small and Feet) however, we always work through these 6 movements of the spine in a gentle and comfortable manner. This is what makes you feel more relaxed at the end of the class 🙂

If you want your back to get stronger, it’s fairly simple really, work a few postures every day. The benefits are too many to relate here, but back ache will be a thing of the past and your posture and breathing will improve enormously. In turn you will feel like eating less food (yes really) because you get more energy from the air that you breathe. Not only that, but also, as you strengthen the muscles they will become more balanced and strengthen your resistance to and recovery from injury. It’s a big win to keep your spine flexible.

Stretch & Relax – September 2018

In this year’s Stretch & Relax classes we’ll be taking a tour around the body seeing how each part feels for us on a personal level and also how improvements with one area can often alleviate issues in others… We will begin with our FEET which form the foundation o f our standing postures and which we rely on for our mobility and independence as we get older.

Feet are actually quite fascinating once you get over the look of them. They consist of lots of tiny bones, with lots of tiny joints in between. When the joints in the feet aren’t as flexible as they could be the result is that the feet can’t operate as the ‘suspension’ mechanism of the body – so even walking (let alone running and jumping) can become problematic to joints further up the body (knees, hips and spine) as the foot is not taking the impact of the weight of the body as it steps/plods around. We will use a variety of means – movement, massage with a small ball and massage with our hands to help to get our feet more flexible. And do you know… that because of all the nerve endings in the souls of the feet working with the feet can be extremely relaxing and calming. A traditional yogic remedy for insomnia is self foot massage. We’ll spend some time working on proper alignment of the feet as this can help prevent and heal foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, and shin splints not to mention a variety of mis-alignments further up the body. Keeping the feet flexible and relaxed also helps circulation of fluids to this area which over time helps to keep the skin on the feet healthy. Poor skin health is what leads to the build up of bacteria, smells, verrucas, athletes’ foot etc

So before we pack our tootsies into the boots for winter let’s give them some TLC and – who knows you may notice that the pain in your neck goes as well 🙂

 

Get Back Into The Swing…

Get yourself ready for the new term by having a go at these 3 standing stretches. They are great for waking up the spine and strengthening the core muscles. Do 5 repeats of each every day until the new classes begin and you’ll slip seamlessly into our work 🙂

As with all our practice – do not strain, if something doesn’t feel right for your body (my shoulder hurts or my knee doesn’t like that) then miss out that part and do the other exercises. Some work for you body is much better than none.

1 Tadasana with Breath

Tadasana

Remove your socks and shoes if possible. Allow the feet to spread out on the floor or your mat, positioning them directly under your hip joints. Bring awareness into the soles of the feet and feel your weight sinking down evenly through the whole surface of the sole. If you feel unbalanced, bring awareness to each side of your foot in turn – leaning forwards, backwards and side to side. Come to stillness – an evenness of weight now descending through the soles of your feet.

Next interlace the fingers in front of you and as you inhale take the arms over head and rise up onto the balls of your feet. As you exhale return the heals and arms down. Repeat 5 times. Pause.

2 Swaying Palm Tree

Now take the feet a little wider so that they are on the outsides of your hips. This time keeping the heals in touch with the floor, breath in and take the arms up the front, as you exhale take the arms over to the right side keep the hips still and let the movement come from the waist. Keep facing forward, do not strain. When you need to breathe in come upright to the centre and then exhale down to the left side. Feel as though you are light and loose, don’t push. Lift the hands up each time you breathe in to the centre. Repeat 5 times to each side. Pause. Smile.

3 Kati Chakrasana

This is a free moving twist for the upper body. Keep the feet in the wide stance and soften the knees, breathing in raise the arms sideways to shoulder height. As you breathe out twist around to the right allowing the arms to wrap around the back of the waist and the shoulder as in the picture. Swing around 5 – 10 times to each side, feeling the freedom of your spine. Come to stillness, move the feet back under the hips. Pause for a few breaths in Tadasana.

Well done to you – same again tomorrow xx

Next term – 19th February to 30th March 2018 – Stretch & Relax Classes at Tinwell and Preston

   

The work for this half term will focus on some standing postures – the Warriors. These are great for stretching and  strengthening the legs whilst also developing the core and back muscles. We’ll continue to improve our breathing with the stepped breath – great for relaxation too.

Next term – 19th February to 30th March 2018 – Yoga Classes In Tinwell, Preston & Ryhall

In keeping with our theme of the heart we will work opening the heart space with the Bow pose (Dhanurasana). This is an excellent posture for improving the digestion and so we’ll also be thinking about food – our love of food. There will be some time spent considering our relationship with food, how we eat our food and we will start with the benefits of detoxifying and purifying our bodies – which one of the first steps on the path of yoga.