Dhyana Mudra

dhyana mudra2

We often see the Buddha represented with this gesture. It is beautifully simple and brings you into deeper, more profound concentration. It is the traditional mudra to aid qualities of tranquillity and inner peace.
Method: To do the Dhyana mudra, simply sit with your hands facing upward, right hand resting on top of your left palm. The right hand, representing enlightenment and higher spiritual faculties, rests over the left hand, representing the world of maya, or illusion.
I like to visualise the hands as a little basket. Sometimes there are flowers in the basket and sometimes there is a little fire burning. The space within the hands is empty and you can see that space as freedom and a way to empty the mind. You can do whatever works for you – it’s a soft embrace and the fingers could be holding a dove…  allow your imagination to roam and find something that works for you.

Time to relax with a good book

fireside

As the days get shorter and the outdoors less inviting, a cosy seat near the fire or radiator seems much more appealing. Curling up with a good book is a fantastic way to relax and unwind – why not chose some poetry???  Here are a couple of lovely wintery poems… or you could get creative and write a poem of your own???

 
Winter-Time

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 – 1894

 
Winter’s Embrace
Shimmering lakes of silvery ice
welcomes skaters’ scarring slice.
Hills adorned in lacy white
watch children sleigh into the night.
In the brilliant pristine light,
snow birds in tall trees take flight.
Evergreens draped in capes of snow,
their heavy branches hanging low,
blanket earth as north winds blow
Winter’s dance is quite a show,
an ice-kissed, dazzling, magical place,
transformed by winter’s cold embrace!

© Patricia L. Cisco
Published: December 28, 2017

 

 

 

Festive Couscous

couscous

I was inspired by Nigella Lawson for this recipe. Anything that looks like rice gets a massive thumbs down in our household as my husband thinks it tastes like gravel. So with rice and particularly couscous I have to work very hard with the flavours. And … he also finds pomegranate ‘over-rated pips’! As these are in the original recipe I substituted them with cranberries for a very favourable result.

Serves 4 as an accompaniment

INGREDIENTS

200g couscous
200ml boiling water
2 tablespoons EV olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
100g sultanas
50g dried cranberries
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon each of paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Instructions
Place couscous into a heatproof bowl add salt, spices, raisins and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Mix to combine and then pour over the boiling water.
Let sit for 5 minutes or so until all the water is absorbed.
Fluff up with a fork adding in the remaining ingredients.
Serve warm with a parsnip and chick pea tagine or cold with savoury pasties and salad.

Yoga Stocking Fillers

Here are a few gift ideas for your yogic friends, for your own Christmas list – or of course, for you to treat yourself ; )

A year of Yoga – a new pose or practice for each day of 2019

A year of yoga £11.99
Mudra tea light holder

mudra tea light holder £15.10
Yoga dice – to inspire a home practice

yoga-dice £12.99

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.

Immune Boosting Yoga

Immune-System-600

New research published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine (Feb 2018) suggests that yoga can be a helpful way to boost your immune system and decrease inflammation in the body.
Psychological stress can impact many systems in the body, including weakening the immune system and increasing chronic inflammation. Inflammation is natural part of the immune response and in the short term can be helpful to heal wounds, injuries, and infections, but chronic inflammation can do more harm than good.
Researchers collectively reviewed 15 randomized controlled trials that examined whether the regular practice of yoga postures could strengthen the immune system and reduce chronic inflammation. The average sample size of the trials was 70, and sample sizes ranged from 11 to as many as 140 participants. The majority of studies used Hatha yoga, a general term that indicates a style that includes postures.
Scientists in these yoga trials examined the immune system response by measuring blood or saliva levels of circulating pro-inflammatory markers such as cytokines, a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP), as well as immune cell counts, antibodies, and markers of gene expression in immune cells.
Researchers found an overall pattern that yoga reduces pro-inflammatory markers, with the strongest evidence for the reduction of a cytokine called IL-1beta. There are mixed but promising results regarding other types of pro-inflammatory markers. One study found that yoga increased levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-10. Another trial found that yoga could mediate inflammation at the genomic level, changing levels of proteins that control the DNA transcription of proinflammatory cytokine genes.
Overall, the collection of research trials indicate yoga has a promising anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
How often and how long do you need to practice yoga to get this effect? So far researchers do not have a conclusive answer, but most of these research studies implemented yoga programs that lasted from 8 to 12 weeks with a frequency between once weekly to daily. Yoga classes in the research studies range from 30 to 90 minutes. As with most mind-body practices, regular consistent practice yields the most promise.

Originally posted by Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D.

Holy Fig Tree Posture

holy fig tree

This is a fabulous all round posture – it’s a balance which improves concentration and co-ordination, back bend which improves posture and breathing and when done dynamically with the breath is energising, warming, clearing the respiratory system and improving circulation. Start with 5 each side increasing to 10 gradually.

Find a space where you can practice – warm, clean and free from furniture/low ceilings.

First take your arms out to the sides and up overhead 3 times slowly.  Then place your hands onto your hips and alternate taking the legs back without leaning the body forward 3 or 4 times on each side slowly. This warms up the muscles and IMPORTANTLY ensures that you have enough space around you to work.

To practice Holy Fig Tree dynamically –

Stand tall in Tadasana

Place your weight into your right foot.

Lift your left foot to the back, left arm out to the side and right arm up to the ceiling as you inhale

Return to Tadasna as you exhale.

Repeat x 5, rest for 5 breaths then do 5 on the Left side.

ALWAYS PRACTICE WITHIN YOUR CAPABILITY – IF YOU GET TIRED OR DIZZY THEN STOP

Some Book Suggestions…

As it’s coming up to Christmas I thought I’d give you some recommendations for a little present for your Christmas list or for you to give to a friend. Reading about yoga is a great way to supplement your own practice – it’s another way to learn, just looking at the poses helps you to understand the shape the body is supposed to be in!! And you don’t even have to get up off the sofa! And giving the gift of yoga to someone else is the best gift you can give…

slim calm sexy

SLIM CAM SEXY YOGA – Tara Styles

This a great guide to yoga postures – geared towards the younger, (more bendy!), however the photographs, words and sequences are well put together (even though some are a little ambitious).

Tara Styles helps you to discover your own home practice… in just 15 minutes a day yoga can help you…

sculpt your body
control diet-busting cravings
banish stress
get smooth glowing skin
sleep better
improve mood and energy

51ZSNP78APL._SX361_BO1,204,203,200_

YOGA FOR LONG LIFE – Stella Weller

By contrast, his book offers gentle, effective exercise for the mature person. It’s more of a practical workbook offering strengthening and stretching yoga exercises for anyone wishing to preserve the quality of their mobility and life.

With lots of drawn illustrations, this book offers chapters on breathing exercises, mental exercises, eating for longevity and help for common disorders such as arthritis, eye problems and osteoporosis.

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.

8 anti-aging benefits of regular yoga practice

Age means nothing in yoga. Our bodies, if kept healthy and happy will go on and on, it’s something that even scientists are coming to agree with. The practice of yoga doesn’t have to take over your life, make you eat vegetarian or grow your hair long.

Whilst there are some things that improve with age – decision making, empathy and happiness, there are a lot of things that do change as we get older that are not for the better; it doesn’t have to be that way.  And it’s never too late to start… just so long as you make a commitment to practice regularly, little and often is the key.

1 Arthritis

Problem – painful joints (especially hands and knees) can make us feel really stiff and creaky – making us grumpy as it hurts to do things we used to get pleasure from.

How Yoga Helps – gentle regular movements help to bring synovial fluids to the joints making them feel more flexible and reduce swelling which relieves tension and pain.

2 Osteoporosis

Problem – as we age our bone density decreases which means our bones are more likely to crack if we fall.

How Yoga Helps – weight bearing exercises help to increase bone density. Although the gains are relatively small, these gains along with the improved muscle tone and balance can help to negate the effects of osteoporosis.

3 Insomnia

Problem – as we age we need less sleep and can be woken with the need to go to the loo.

How Yoga Helps – Gentle stretching and rhythmic breathing techniques can help to induce sleep. Relaxation exercises learnt in a class environment can prove very useful and help us get a full night of restful, healing sleep.

4 Blood Pressure

Problem – High blood pressure is a common ailment affecting us as we age due to reduced elasticity of blood vessels and the decreasing ability to process dietary salt.

How Yoga Helps – The regular practice of deep breathing and gentle physical exercises helps the tissues of the body to remain healthy and elastic. Attending classes helps people to look after themselves, be with like minded people, feel supported in adopting more positive approach to diet and lifestyle.

5 Hormonal Changes

Problem – menopause can cause debilitating disruption to life with wild mood swings and temperature fluctuations.

How Yoga Helps – relaxation techniques and gentle flowing posture work practiced daily can help to decrease symptoms.

6 Myofascial Tightening

Problem – a decrease in collagen produced by the body causes a loss of flexibility in our muscles and connective tissue, this leads to stiffness, tension and imbalance in the body.

How Yoga Helps – gentle, regular stretching keeps the body’s soft tissue fluid and flexible.

7 Ligament Tears

Problem – tears are common in stressed and overused ligaments of the knee joint, shoulders, hips and ankles.

How Yoga Helps – by strengthening the muscles around these joints the stress is reduced on the ligaments and the joint is able to retain it’s healthy use. There is a saying in yoga ‘use it or lose it’ and the best way to keep joints moving is to keep joints moving.

8 Core Strength and Back Pain

Problem – pain is caused by nerves being squashed by unsupported vertebrae. Gravitational forces and poor posture will continually cause vertebrae to want to move downwards. The only way to keep the spine in correct alignment is to support it with strong muscles. There are many spinal issues that can arise as we age – narrowing of the spinal canal, herniated, bulging or slipped discs – all cause back pain which is commonly managed with pain relief tablets.

How Yoga Helps – gentle work to strengthen the back, core muscles (and really the whole of the body from the feet to the eyebrows) will help the back to be supported by muscle and bring about correct alignment to the spinal column.

There is only one rule that you need to know in a yoga class “the posture should be steady and comfortable” – so if you are steady and comfortable you are doing it right. Some people may wish to stand on their heads, some may want to tie themselves up like a pretzel and that’s OK so long as it’s steady and comfortable for them. If standing on your 2 feet with the back in good alignment is what you do at your first yoga class – so long as it’s steady and comfortable then you are doing yoga that is right for you. Your practice is just that – your practice. Don’t delay – you can begin today – see my free online yoga exercises here