Make an ongoing commitment to your own health and wellbeing

Looking after your health is an ongoing process and we must always be increasing our commitment to it as we get older and become susceptible to more problems. Most of us take good health totally for granted – something we are given and don’t have to take care of. But as you are probably thinking, that’s a ridiculous notion. By turning a blind eye to our niggling back pain or continuous tension headaches we have more time for the ‘important’ things in our lives. But what good will all the money in the word do you when you develop a heart disease? And how will you look after your family then?

 

Are you actively involved in maintaining your own health? Come on, be honest, do you prioritise YOU? Sounds so obvious doesn’t it? But if you were to spend one week in my shoes – or reading my email – you would see just how many people put soooo much before their own health.

 

It is a convenient belief of many today that we can simply hand over our health to doctors, nurses, pills and potions and say “fix this please, it’s hurting me”. This is a further acknowledgement that we don’t want to be responsible for our own health and perpetuates the myth that illness and disease are something that happen to you – that they are somehow separate. However no disease happens by accident. Accidents happen by accident. Getting a heart disease is not an accident.

 

We are all actually in a state of wellness or un-wellness. It really is a case of shades of grey rather than a black and white situation. Illness and disease are not something ‘out there’ separate from you – something that you have no control over. Your body is a magnificent, self healing organism. Your immune system is very powerful and the self regenerating capacity of your body is simply fantastic.

 

Illness is only the last stage of a problem. Before anyone becomes ill, there are early warning signs that things are not quite right. These might include feeling tired more than usual, feeling lifeless, irritability, mental confusion, headaches or general aches and pains. All these should say to you “I need to rest more often and listen to my body more, to see what is at the bottom of this”. If these signs are ignored the body will not cope and ends up waving a red flag and saying ‘I’ve had enough and am going to break down’. The run down state is the cause of the problem (causing a weakened immunity system) and the disease that follows is the effect.

 

If you have the awareness to identify the problem before it gets out of hand and provide the body with the right conditions for it to get on with its own defense and healing, you will have saved yourself much suffering – and this is the goal of yoga.

 

After all modern medicine helps the body to heal – the doctors, nurses and drugs do not actually heal the body for us. It is our cells which have to regenerate and mend the affected part. Take a broken leg for example. Once the bone is set back in the correct place, it is the body that does the job of mending. With rest, good food and a calm mental attitude this will take less time. It is more difficult to imagine how the body ‘rebuilds’ itself with other illness such as pneumonia or high blood pressure – but it does.

 

Convinced? Take a long look in the mirror, look at your eyes, skin tone, tongue. Do you look good? Feel alive? A healthy lifestyle with fresh food and daily yoga goes a very long way to improve your health and wellbeing. All it takes is for you to commit.

Inspirational Poetry for Meditation over the Sunny Summer months…

Why not steal five or ten minutes over the summer to simply sit and read a poem?

You could even read it on a visit to a beautiful place – some local suggestions – Rutland Water, Launde Abbey or Burghley Park…

You fill my soul with sunshine 

You fill my soul with sunshine
my heart with tender care.
You fill my world with happiness
knowing that you are always there

Every waking hour
is filled with your love
that I feel I’ve been blessed
with an angel from above

There are no words enough
to express the way I feel
knowing that this heart
will never feel no ill.

This old world may go on,
being crazier every day.
However, I have the inner warmth of knowing
you fill my soul with sunshine each and every day.

David Harris

A Gleam Of Sunshine – Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is the place. Stand still, my steed,
Let me review the scene,
And summon from the shadowy Past
The forms that once have been.

The Past and Present here unite
Beneath Time’s flowing tide,
Like footprints hidden by a brook,
But seen on either side.

Here runs the highway to the town;
There the green lane descends,
Through which I walked to church with thee,
O gentlest of my friends!

The shadow of the linden-trees
Lay moving on the grass;
Between them and the moving boughs,
A shadow, thou didst pass.

Thy dress was like the lilies,
And thy heart as pure as they:
One of God’s holy messengers
Did walk with me that day.

I saw the branches of the trees
Bend down thy touch to meet,
The clover-blossoms in the grass
Rise up to kiss thy feet,

“Sleep, sleep to-day, tormenting cares,
Of earth and folly born!”
Solemnly sang the village choir
On that sweet Sabbath morn.

Through the closed blinds the golden sun
Poured in a dusty beam,
Like the celestial ladder seen
By Jacob in his dream.

And ever and anon, the wind,
Sweet-scented with the hay,
Turned o’er the hymn-book’s fluttering leaves
That on the window lay.

Long was the good man’s sermon,
Yet it seemed not so to me;
For he spake of Ruth the beautiful,
And still I thought of thee.

Long was the prayer he uttered,
Yet it seemed not so to me;
For in my heart I prayed with him,
And still I thought of thee.

But now, alas! the place seems changed;
Thou art no longer here:
Part of the sunshine of the scene
With thee did disappear.

Though thoughts, deep-rooted in my heart,
Like pine-trees dark and high,
Subdue the light of noon, and breathe
A low and ceaseless sigh;

This memory brightens o’er the past,
As when the sun, concealed
Behind some cloud that near us hangs
Shines on a distant field.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

I Will Be Your Sun

 

You carry a whole world with you.
A planet rests upon your shoulders.
You may not see it, but I do.

There is a Universe Within that you carry wherever you go.
Ecosystems of passion and romance. Warring nations of worry and fear.
A billion living ideas, stories and experiences that make up a whole history named You.

Wherever you go, I promise to be your sun.

It’s not that your life revolves around me.
Think of it like this:
Whenever you come to me,

I will do my best to be quiet and still
and shine nothing but kindness and light upon you.

 

Dave Ursillo

Q&A What is Yogic Breathing?

Yogic breathing combines abdominal breathing, thoracic breathing (chest) and clavicular (lower throat) breathing. In class I call it the ‘3 part breath’ – it can also be call the ‘Complete’ breath – but of all the names I like ‘3 part’ because it reminds me of the 3 stages.

 

This breathing exercise is used to maximise inhalation and exhalation. Its purpose is to gain control of the breath, correct poor breathing habits and increase oxygen intake. It is a worthwhile practice to do every day as the body takes a long time to make corrections and needs continuous effort. With most of us leading a sedentary (seated) lifestyle plus the pressure of gravity upon us the 3 part breath helps us to avoid a slouching posture.

 

It may be practiced at any time and is especially useful in situations of high stress or anger for calming the nerves. However, while its inclusion in a daily yoga programme will correct and deepen natural breathing patterns, yogic breathing itself should not be performed continuously.

 

Yogic Breathing

 

Sit in a comfortable seated posture with the spine upright or lay in semi supine.

Relax the whole body, begin to watch your natural breath.

Inhale slowly and deeply, allowing the abdomen to expand fully.

Try to breathe so slowly that little or no sound of the breath can be heard.

Feel the air reaching into the bottom of the lungs.

At the end of the abdominal expansion, start to expand the chest outward and upward.

When the ribs are fully expanded, inhale a little more until expansion is felt in the upper portion of the lungs and around the base of the neck. The shoulders and collar bone should also move up slightly. Some tension will be felt in the neck muscles – but no strain.

The rest of the body should be relaxed.

Feel the air filling up the upper lobes of the lungs.

This completes the inhalation.

The whole process should be one continuous movement, each phase of breathing merging into the next without any obvious transition point. There should be no jerks or unnecessary strain. The breathing should be like the swell of the sea.

Now begin to exhale.

First relax the lower neck and upper chest, then allow the chest to contract downward and then inward.

Next, allow the diaphragm to push upward and toward the chest.

Without straining, try to empty the lungs as much as possible by drawing or pulling the abdominal wall as near as possible to the spine.

The entire movement should be harmonious and flowing. Hold the breath for a few seconds at the end of exhalation. The breath should flow naturally in and out of the nose and not be at all forced.

This completes one round of yogic breathing.

Begin with 5 – 10 rounds and slowly work up to 10 minutes a day.

Mantram CD by Rajesh David

We have been listening to the wonderful music and chanting of artist Rajesh David at the beginning of our sessions this term. The CD (titled ‘Mantram’) is available from his website here and contains several mantras set to haunting melodies which are ideal for relaxation and meditation. All of the tunes are famous mantra chants. The one of particular interest to us has been the Gayatri which we have listened to a variety of versions this year.

The Gayatri chant is from the Rig Veda  one of the oldest known written works.  It has been sung from the very beginnings of time.  Why not join in and hum or sing along?  It has a calming and uplifting effect and once you know it you can do it anywhere. There are many benefits to chanting the Gayatri including helping you breathe more slowly, stimulating the subtle energy centres in the body and improving concentration. For 10 benefits of chanting the Gayatri see this site

There are many translations, here is one by Deva Premal:

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat savitur varenyam

Bhargo devasya dhimahi

Dhiyo yonah prachodayat

 MEANING:-

Through the coming, going, and the balance of life

The essential nature illuminating existence is the adorable one

May all perceive through subtle intellect

The brilliance of enlightenment

Yoga and Meditation – June 17

Our focus for this term will be the Chakras – working with a sequence of postures to balance and stabilise our energies. This will be tested with a range of balancing poses… (see below) some challenges for us!

We shall certainly need our energies calm, strong and balanced to hold these postures!

Our meditations will be based around the practice of Om Kara (please bring your malas) and the Gayatri mantra.

I very much look forward to teaching this term and welcoming you. If you would like to join one of my friendly groups simply email me here to book your place.

Beginners Yoga – June 17

We’ll be focusing our practice on relaxing the spine and the breath this term with a view to soothing the nervous system.

The nervous system controls and regulates all the other systems of the body – we have this year looked at the skeletal, muscular, digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The nervous system carries messages to and from the brain – the above image shows a simple diagram of it. We don’t need to know all the details – however it is helpful to know a little bit about how the nervous system can keep us calm or can place us in ‘fight or flight’ mode which is what we call ‘stress’. I’ll be talking in some depth about this during the classes, but it is more important to have an appreciation of how your nervous system responds to your life than an in depth knowledge of the anatomy.

The postures will help to ease out the spine – working with some simple back bending. Our relaxations will be developing some breathing techniques to help the nervous system return to homeostasis (a state of equilibrium).

Would you like to join us? We welcome new beginners into the class – please email me here to book your space,

Yoga Fit – June 17

For this whole year we have been concentrating on our ‘core’ – the muscles of the centre of our body which act like a corset at the front, sides and back. This is a large collection of muscles on the surface and deep inside the body. They help us to keep mobile and have a well aligned posture. Our aim is not to have “6 pack abs” but to gently strengthen this part of our body, get to know it and to love it. This type of appreciation is at the centre of yoga – to make the most of ourselves and get our body to work as nature intended.

Over this next 6 weeks we’ll be revisiting the Plank posture, refining and improving using the balancing cat as we go.

For those who wish, we’ll be integrating the Plank into our Sun Salutation which we have been learning – an excellent routine to keep the core healthy, ideally practiced on a daily basis.

We’ll also be working with some sideways postures – the Gate and Half Moon (shown above) to develop strength in the obliques (sides of the waist) and our adductors (inner thighs). These postures help to pull in the waist and keep the thighs trim – just the job for the summer.

Why not join us? Whilst the year is developing an overall theme, beginners are most welcome and brought up to speed with individual help and guidance throughout the class. To book in simply email me here

Seeing yourself through the lens of the Gunas

We all know and love the story of Goldilocks and the 3 bears. Just as some porridge is too salty, some is too sweet and some is just right… we can learn to balance out our energy with the use of an ancient philosophy devised by yogis thousands of years ago.

According to these ancient yogis, all of matter (including us humans) is a mixture of 3 qualities or energies – known as the 3 Gunas.  These may sound a little abstract at first, but even if you have only been practising yoga for a short while the chances are that this will make sense to you – you have probably observed in yourself these 3 qualities at one time or another:-

The busy bee – all action, flighty and rushing around – this is known as Rajas. Rajas is the energy of change, we know it through the feelings of passion, desire, effort and pain.

The solid rock – stillness and inertia – this is known as Tamas. We know Tamas as a feeling of lethargy, dullness and heaviness.

The light of illumination – clarity and tranquillity – this is known as Sattva. Sattva is not necessarily happiness but a moment of inspiration, beauty and contentment.

A balance is required of all the Gunas in our life – all are good!  It’s when we have a dominance of one type of energy that  our lives can get out of kilter. The regular practice of yoga teaches us the ability to take a step back from the day to day coming and goings of life.  This enables us to see through the lens of the Gunas where we are with our energy and how we can redress the balance.

According to yogic philosphy –

An excess of Rajas leads to wilful stubbornness, tiredness and disease.

An excess of Tamas leads to delusion, obscurity and ignorance.

We can cultivate more Sattva in our lives through meditation. By observing our actions and reactions in a non-judgemental manner – being mindful that we will always be a mixture of the 3 Gunas, our job is to try to balance them out.

I’ve heard that opening the hips can help my backache – how is this so?

In the Yogafit classes this term we have been developing a pose called Anjaneyasana – a deep lunge which sinks the hips down and stretches the groin. Ooh-er Mrs! This is extremely beneficial for us all to have a go at – obviously when suitably warmed up and when the time is right – don’t be tempted to spring into this one first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

Whilst it may be obvious that this pose is a hip opener, it would be very easy to argue that most of our work in yoga is opening the hips as there are many muscles that help to move the hip/leg joint.

There are over 20 muscles that cross the hip (the collection of inner thigh muscles known as the adductors, the collection of outer thigh muscles known as the abductors, the hip flexors in front, deep lateral rotators in back, and more), so any movement that stretches any of these muscles could be considered a “hip-opener.”

If you take a closer look at the diagram you will see that some muscles even span through the pelvis and hip joint, actually joining the upper leg bone to the lower back vertebrae. All of the muscles that move the hips can become weak due to a sedentary lifestyle (too much sitting on your ass) and so this puts an increased pressure on the spine as you compensate movements with the back muscles because your hips have become a bit lazy and tight.

Tight hips affect everything from your ability to do Anjayneyasana to simply being able to pick your socks up off the floor. More movement of the hips means more strength in the muscles and more circulation generally in the pelvic area.  This will lead to decreased back pain, relief from constipation, decreased menstrual cramps plus opening the hips can create an energetic shift or release as well. The yogic tradition holds the hips as a storage ground for negative feelings and pent-up emotions, especially ones related to control in our lives. Hip-opening can also create space for the birth of new ideas and new pathways….

Opening the hips gives us access to freedom of movement in the body and in our own unique expression — creatively, physically, and spiritually.  Enjoy – even simple cross legged pose will do it!

Understanding Your Own Breath

Sitting still and simply observing your own breath or working with a Pranayama (Ujjayi, abdominal breathing, 3 part breath etc) are all calming exercises that will help you to get to know your own breath. Simple practices such as these help to relax us – body and mind –  a relaxed body breathes better; a relaxed mind thinks clearer.

I’d like to share with you ‘Natural Breathing’  a preliminary practice taken from Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. This exercise follows the ‘journey of the breath’ and gives us an excellent focus for a 10 minute meditation. You could easily record it onto your phone and then listen to it whenever you wish. Besides calming the mind and the breath, this practice helps us to learn the mechanics of the breathing process.

Remember the words of Tich Nhat Hanh

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

― Thich Nhat HanhStepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices

 

Natural Breathing – The Journey of the Breath

Sit in a comfortable meditation posture or lie in shavasana.

Relax the whole body.

Observe the natural and spontaneous breathing process.

Develop total awareness of the rhythmic flow of the breath.

Feel the breath flowing in and out of the nose.

Do not control the breath in any way.

Notice that the breath is cool as it enters the nostrils and warm as it flows out.

Observe this with the attitude of detached witness.

Feel the breath flowing in and out at the back of the mouth above the throat.

Bring the awareness down to the region of the throat and feel the breath flowing in the throat.

Bring the awareness down to the region of the chest and feel the breath flowing in the trachea and bronchial tubes.

Next feel the breath flowing in the lungs.

Be aware of the lungs expanding and relaxing.

Shift the awareness down to the abdomen. Feel the abdomen move upward on inhalation and downward on exhalation.

Finally, become aware of the whole breathing process from the nostrils to the abdomen and continue observing it for some time.

Bring the awareness back to observing the physical body as one unit and open the eyes.