Yogic Gift Ideas for Christmas

It’s great to treat friends and relatives with gifts at Christmas. If you’re looking for a treat for someone who loves yoga as much as you do how about these – my top 5 suggestions –

Yoga Toe Socks

Keep feet warm during winter sessions of yoga

These socks have little toe sections and sticky dots on the base. They are very good for practicing yoga – not only do they keep your feet warm and toasty, but they help the toes to separate and find their own ‘space’ which helps us to balance.

You can order them from me in class – £5 per pair (colours vary)

Lavender Eye Pillow

A relaxing eye pillow can help people to get to sleep

This is a great eye pillow filled with lavender and is a great addition to anyone’s yoga kit. It’s also great if you know someone who has trouble sleeping – the aroma of lavender is soothing and the slight pressure on the eye sockets and forehead is calming and induces rest.

You can order them from me in class – the cost is £10.

Learn to Relax

Give the gift of relaxation

This is a lovely book that can either be worked through from front to back of just dipped in and out of as you fancy. There are several practical exercises plus lots of interesting step-by-step approaches to releasing anxiety and stress. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone and often use the exercises and chapters as inspiration for our relaxation sessions in class.

You can buy a copy on Amazon here

Power Thought Cards

Give the gift of positivity

These are a great combination of words and images that inspire a positive and powerful mindset. I have given them to so many people I can’t remember the number! Everyone who receives a set is absolutely delighted and uses them in different ways. You can’t go wrong with this honestly – whether or not the recipient is a yoga-lover.

You can buy them on Amazon here

Yoga Retreat

Treat a loved one to a super-relaxing day of yoga at one of my Saturday retreats in Exton. Fully inclusive of refreshments, light lunch and home-made cake, this will be a gift of yoga to delight. At just £39 you could make someone very, very happy for a fairly small cost.

Choose a day for them next year from the selection on this webpage

Tone Your Upper Arms

Here’s a few exercises to help you tone the upper arms. I’m afraid if we don’t do some exercises to help the upper arms they will end up rather flabby and drop down in the classic ‘Bingo-Wings’ style. Don’t let this happen, and if they are a litlle bit droopy, turn things around with this short yoga practice. Set yourself a goal of 3 times per week and see how your arms look in a month. I’m certain you’ll be delighted with the result.

There are just 3 exercises, firstly a standing posture ‘Goddess’ which you can do in a simple standing posture if you’d rather not squat. You can even practice from seated at your desk – just make sure you have space available to spread your arms wide.

The second exercise is good old plank pose – which helps to give us strength in the arms, shoulders and hands. The forearm plank is great too – this can be done as well or instead if you have any issue with your wrists.

Finally the chest opener either standing or moving into a forward bend (Dwikonasana) depending on how experienced you are with yoga.

Try to do little and often – when practiced regularly you will tone the upper arms and, by next summer, you’ll be able to show off your upper arms in short sleeves.

Relaxation – Drawing Energy up From the Roots

A guided relaxation from yoga teacher Deborah King

Here’s a short relaxation for you to practice, drawing energy up from the roots. It’s a great pick-me-up at this time of year, when the cold weather is beginning to drain our energy.

Lie on your back in semi-supine and get cosy with a pillow and blanket and press play.

Garuda Mudra

Garuda Mudra is also known as Eagle Mudra and is beneficial to the circulatory system. If you have high or low blood pressure please practice with caution.

First of all place the back of the right hand onto the palm of the left hand, clasp the thumbs together and position both hands facing the lower abdomen. Stretch out the fingers and take 10 smooth breaths.

Second slide the hands in the same mudra, up to the navel, 10 more breaths.

Third – slide the hands up to the stomach, taking 10 more breaths.

Finally, swap over the hands and position them over the sternum for a final round of 10 breaths.

In your minds eye, see yourself as free as a bird, sailing elegantly in a blue sky.

Yoga and the Water Element

From November our focus in class will change from Earth to Water. We’ll string a few postures together to have more ‘flows’ throughout the class. The Water element relates to our whole body and being (as we are more than 60% water!), but in particular the pelvic area and elimination system. With this in mind we’ll work to strengthen and release the hips – some of the students working on the above sequence of poses. We’ll also be working with the Moon Sequence – one of my old favourites – great for the arms and the hips too.

Our breath work will continue with the 3-part-breath and move towards Ujjayi (often called the ocean breath). In the meditation and relaxation sections of the class we’ll be floating and drifting using imagery of calm lakes, rivers and moonlit seas.

Stepped Breath

The Stepped Breath exercise is great for calming anxiety. It can be used as treatment for anger and any negative emotions. You may notice the same sensations in your body as sighing or after you have been crying. This is good – it’s a very natural response. Once you have learnt the technique it can be applied in any situation, just remove yourself from the stressor (if you are able to safely) and take yourself to a place you can be alone for a few minutes.

It’s best, as with all yoga practices, to learn the technique before you need to implement it. If you are suffering from negative attitudes, are getting angry often, get anxious or have insomnia, try to set 5 minutes aside each day over the next week to practice this breathing exercise. You might find that you naturally have less symptoms or you can apply the technique when you notice the symptoms arise.

To practice, sit in a comfortable position or on a chair, spine erect relaxing the shoulders. (It will help if you are able to close your eyes – ensure you are safe and stable before you do this.) Focus your awareness on your breath. Begin to lengthen and deepen your breath. If you are familiar with the 3 part breath move into this gradually. If not, continue to breath deeply and slowly, in and out through the nose.

In your mind create a picture of a playground slide with 5 steps up and a long slide down the other side. Now begin to breath as if you are playing on the slide – sniffing in 5 ‘steps’ of breath in through your nose and then a smooth elongated exhalation as you ‘slide’ down the slide.

Continue for 5 or 6 rounds and then begin to return to your natural breathing. Notice how you are feeling. If it helps, practice twice per day for general calming.

Breathe Easy Yoga

Would you like to improve your breathing? Most of us could have better breathing habits and, when you think about how important our breath is to our health we should all really try to improve.

This video shows 2 exercises that can help to strengthen the diaphragm – our main muscle used for breathing. By regularly breathing a little deeper and longer all the muscles used for breathing can be strengthened. Slow deep breathing is the best for us as it allows a better exchange of gasses in the lungs. Good air in and stale air out!

In yoga we call oxygen the ‘life force’ or prana. This is the fuel used by all our cells. Slowing the breath down means that we can take on more ‘life force’ and so feel more energetic. When we breathe out we are sending out a variety of gasses that can be toxic to us if we don’t expel them.

The balance of oxygen in our blood is important and effects how well we are and how we feel. It’s such an important aspect of our life that we really shouldn’t take it for granted – and yet we all do!

What is yoga?

The word ‘yoga’ is translated to mean ‘join’. Over the centuries there have been many definitions. As there fewer words in Sanskrit and we have lots of words in English that mean just about the same thing, we can choose our own to suit ourselves. We can choose something that appeals and strikes a chord within us – a bit like the drop-down thesaurus when we are typing in word.

YOGA – to join, unity, oneness, to yoke, to harness, bring together, gather in, consolidate

This ‘unity’ described in the ancient writings relates to our consciousness- joining our individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. But on a more practical level, and before you can get to the consciousness, you have to begin with the person – the individual. We have to bring together the individual person so that they are happy in their own skin – and as we say somewhat crudely these days – ‘have got their shit together’.

Yoga works on our physical body, emotional strength, vital energy and our spiritual quest. By regular practice of a variety of exercises we balance all the systems of the body and bring them back to how nature intended. A familiar starting point for this is the asana (physical postures). Other exercises that are important for all students are the breathing exercises and time for relaxation/meditation/reflection.

I began our classes this term with the following poem – it struck me as eloquently giving the quest for yoga from a student seeking a path to peace…

By John Roedel

My brain and heart divorced a decade ago over who was to blame about how big of a mess I have become.

Eventually, they couldn’t be in the same room with each other.

Now my head and heart share custody of me.

I stay with my brain during the week and my heart gets me on weekends.

They never speak to one another.

Instead, they give me the same note to pass to each other every week and their notes they send to one another always says the same thing: “This is all your fault”

On Sundays, my heart complains about how my head has let me down in the past.

And on Wednesday, my head lists all of the times my heart has screwed things up for me in the future.

They blame each other for the state of my life there’s been a lot of yelling – and crying.

So lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my gut who serves as my unofficial therapist.

Most nights, I sneak out of the window in my ribcage and slide down my spine and collapse on my gut’s plush leather chair that’s always open for me. And I just sit, sit, sit, until the sun comes up.

Last night, my gut asked me if I was having a hard time being caught between my heart and my head. I nodded.

I said I didn’t know if I could live with either of them anymore.

“My heart is always sad about something that happened yesterday while my head is always worried about something that may happen tomorrow,” I lamented.

My gut squeezed my hand.

“I just can’t live with my mistakes of the past or my anxiety about the future,” I sighed.

My gut smiled and said:

“In that case, you should go stay with your lungs for a while.”

I was confused.

The look on my face gave it away.

“If you are exhausted about your heart’s obsession with the fixed past and your mind’s focus on the uncertain future, your lungs are the perfect place for you.

There is no yesterday in your lungs.  There is no tomorrow there either.

There is only now.

There is only inhale. There is only exhale.

There is only this moment.  There is only breath.

And in that breath, you can rest while your heart and head work their relationship out.”

This morning, while my brain was busy reading tea leaves and while my heart was staring at old photographs, I packed a little bag and walked to the door of my lungs.

Before I could even knock, she opened the door with a smile and as a gust of air embraced me she said: “What took you so long?”

Yoga to Strengthen Your Core

Here’s a 15 minute set of yoga exercises to help you to strengthen your core. The exercises progress from gentle cycling movements of the legs to twisting movements and then scissoring the legs in the air. All 3 movements are done from the ‘Semi Supine’ position which is lying on your back with your knees bent. It’s a great sequence for all shapes and sizes to overcome the ‘middle-aged spread’. If you have any discomfort what-so-ever don’t practice that exercise, go back to the one before.

You do have to be able to get yourself down onto the floor and then up again – this in itself is a good exercise. If you struggle at first, please don’t be put off! Take your time and be kind to yourself. It will get easier each time you do it.

Commit to do these exercises everyday or 3 times per week and I’m sure you will feel the benefits in a short while. There are many benefits to improving your core muscles from better posture, easier breathing and of course, getting into your jeans!