Understanding Your Own Breath

Sitting still and simply observing your own breath or working with a Pranayama (Ujjayi – for example) are calming exercises that will help you to get to know your 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 air 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 air 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 air 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.

Yoga for Good Vibes

Our new term begins next week (20/4/20) and the classes are designed specially to be taught online with the focus on raising energy vibrations.

The affects of lockdown are affecting us all – they can be felt physically, mentally and energetically. Our yoga this term will focus on the vibrations that we give off and how to make them GOOD. The first aim is to release blockages that form when we are inactive. This will include hip opening postures as this is one of the main areas to quickly get stiff and restricted. We’ll work to increase energy with physical movement and static holds (Warrior 1 variations) and breathing exercises (Ujjayi and Bhramari).

Our relaxations will be uplifting and positive.

The classes will be a live feed to a closed FaceBook Group. All times will be as per the usual timetable. You will be able access the recorded class at any time throughout the week. So you will be able to do parts of the class – eg listen to the relaxation to help you sleep. That said, the traditional sequence of the 90 minute session has evolved over many thousands of years to be the most effect way to use the yoga class.

The term will run for 6 weeks and costs £30. We will move back into the village halls just as soon as we are able. The British Wheel of Yoga have advised me to prepare for disruption to classes for 6 to 12 months so we may have to alternate with classes in person and online for some time. It is worthwhile taking the time to set up your home yoga space so that you can adapt as necessary. If the technology is putting you off, I am happy to help you as best I can with your set up.

If you prefer, I can offer alternative remote teaching options for this course, for example emailing posture guides and sequences, audio files or 1-2-1 Zoom classes.

Please contact me if you would like to book – new students are most welcome.

Chair Yoga Sequence

Here’s a gentle chair yoga sequence that’s ideal you are recovering from illness or are less mobile at the moment. It works through the limbs and joints and has a short section of standing and sitting. This is great for strengthening the thighs.

You will need a chair!! Get one that is stable. A dining or kitchen chair is best – one with no arms and a firm seat.

Take care at all times, stay focused and breathe in and out smoothly through the nose.

Try to practice everyday. Let me know how you get on – are you feeling stronger?

Calming Yoga Sequence

Here’s a short sequence to calm the mind, ease the shoulders and… moisturise your feet. A real all round calming sequence! It’s ideal when you are feeling stressed out and need to take ‘a moment’.

Find a small, quiet space to lie down in, grab some moisturiser with an enjoyable fragrance and some soft blocks, then hit play.

It takes about 15 minutes and leads you through some guided breathwork, gentle stretches including ‘thread the needle’ which is great for the shoulders. Finally working into the feet with massage and ‘ankle cranking’ and finishing off with the stepped breath.

Let me know how you get on!

SPIRITUAL ADVICE FOR FEARS OF PANDEMIC

I AM REPOSTING THIS FROM https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/coronavirus-meditations/ AS I FOUND IT INSPIRING.

By Gesshin Claire Greenwood

I don’t know a single person right now who is not emotionally affected in some way by the COVID-19 outbreak. As a Buddhist priest and community mental-health worker, I have counseled many people in the last week who are anxious about family members contracting the virus. This is perfectly understandable; I have also felt the anxiety and fear. Fear is a natural response to the existential (and very real) threat of death. But the people I talk to also feel powerless, confused, and are desperately searching for a feeling of agency in the face of potentially overwhelming tragedy. I believe these secondary feelings of powerlessness and confusion are perhaps more painful than simple fear.

In times like these, I am grateful for my many years of Buddhist practice. After initially feeling anxious about the virus myself (and doing my share of stress shopping—yes, I did buy dried lentils and canned food), I have started to feel more grounded and hopeful—or at least, equanimous—about the state of the world. And so I would like to share with you a few things that have been helpful for me in gaining equanimity.

Old Age, Sickness, and Death Are Inevitable.

Buddhist wisdom points to the reality that suffering is an enduring and continual part of being alive. There is one foundational Buddhist parable that explains this beautifully. Before the Buddha was enlightened, his name was Siddhartha, and he lived as a prince in India. (“Buddha” means “one who is awake.”) Siddhartha’s father had received a prophecy that his son would be either a great ruler or a great sage, and so he kept his son enclosed in the palace, surrounded only by lovely people and beautiful experiences, to prevent him from encountering the spiritual life. However, well into his early adulthood, Siddhartha longed to see what was outside the palace. He convinced his attendant Channa to drive him through the city on his chariot.

When he finally entered the city, Siddhartha saw many wonderful things, but he also saw a man who was hunched over and wrinkled with age. He turned to Channa and asked, “What is that? Why is that man hunched over and wrinkled?” 

“That is an old person,” Channa answered.

Ignorant of the ways of the world, Siddhartha asked, “Who becomes old?” 

His friend answered, “Everyone in the world is young in the beginning but grows older with time. None of us can escape old age.”

Siddhartha continued driving, and eventually saw a beggar lying on the side of the road, wheezing and coughing, with a pale face drenched in sweat. “What is wrong with that man?” Siddhartha asked Channa. 

“He is sick,” Channa answered. 

“Who becomes sick?” Siddhartha asked. 

“Everyone who lives long enough will become sick. There is no one who can escape that fate,” Channa replied.

Next, Siddhartha encountered a corpse being carried away on a stretcher. He asked Channa the same questions, and Channa explained that everyone who is born will inevitably die. Siddhartha was shocked and horrified. 

Before he reached home, Siddhartha encountered a holy man. Channa explained that many people, when faced with the inevitability of suffering, choose to devote their life to spiritual practice. This experience inspired Siddhartha to leave the palace, become an ascetic, and eventually achieve enlightenment.

I love this story because even though it might seem ridiculous that someone could be so sheltered as to not understand old age, sickness, and death, the truth is that we are very much like Siddhartha in our naivety and ignorance. We are often sheltered in our own kind of psychological palace where we are shielded from things like illness. Yet this kind of suffering can ultimately not be avoided. We will all, everyone one of us, face old age, sickness, and death. The fourth sight—the holy man—reminds us that we can choose the way we respond to this suffering.

Personally, one of the most distressing things to me about the COVID-19 outbreak has been a feeling that “things should not be this way.” In reality, though, things are and always have been this way. While there is a certain contemporary, American, capitalist flavor to the suffering caused by COVID-19 (our abysmal healthcare system, corporate greed, governmental incompetence, lack of sick days for most part-time, exempt workers, and a host of other factors), the suffering caused by illness and death is nothing new.

There is one more Buddhist parable that I want to share. According to a Buddhist legend, there once was a woman who sought out the Buddha after losing her baby to illness. Crazy with grief, she asked him for medicine to bring her son back from the dead. He replied that he would give her this medicine if she brought him back a white mustard seed from the house of a family that had never experienced death. The woman went door to door, searching for a family untouched by the loss of a loved one. Of course, she could never find such a family. She realized that death touches everyone. And in realizing the universality of grief and death, her suffering lessened.

This story shows us that the feeling of “things should not be this way” is an additional and unnecessary pain on top of our inevitable suffering. We cannot avoid old age, sickness, and death, but we can remove the unnecessary assumption that things should be otherwise, and the psychic pain this assumption causes us.

Recognize Interconnectedness.

Another important piece of wisdom, though not exclusive to Buddhist traditions, is the recognition of interconnectedness. Nothing lays bare our interconnectedness like a literal global pandemic. Humans depend upon each other for survival, and we also impact each other in large and small ways.

Take, for example, the now ubiquitous advice to wash your hands to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At first glance, hand-washing is an act of self care. Frequent hand-washing protects us individually from contracting the virus. But it is also an act of community care; we help protect others when we help protect ourselves. So too with the recommendation to stay home when sick. Although there is definitely a level of privilege in being able to take time off work, it is clearly important to take care of our communities by preventing the spread of illness. In these simple hygiene practices, our understanding of “self” and “other” start to break down.

Where do I end and you begin? We breathe the same air. My survival and happiness depends upon yours. As the Dalai Lama points out, “Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Even tiny insects survive by mutual cooperation based on innate recognition of their interconnectedness. It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.”

Convert Fear into Action.

Without catastrophizing too much, I think it is important to consider a future reality in which there is insufficient government response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and our healthcare systems become overwhelmed by illness. This is when community response will become crucial. In fact, the CDC recommends talking to your neighbors about creating a community crisis plan. But I don’t think we need to despair too much. Human beings are quite good at taking care of each other, especially in the face of natural disasters.

In his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger documents how mental health actually improves during times of war and disaster. This, he theorizes, is because we have lost touch with our natural proclivity to form community (i.e., to join “tribes”), and disaster necessitates building community. During World War II, he writes, psychiatric wards were “strangely empty,” and suicides decreased. Despite the horrors of war, social resilience actually increased, because people depended upon each other more.

One member of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Charles Fritz, intrigued by the resilience of citizens during the blitz in London, conducted further research into community response to disaster. According to Junger, Fritz was “unable to find a single instance where communities that had been hit by catastrophic events lapsed into sustained panic, much less anything approaching anarchy. If anything, he found that social bonds were reinforced during disasters, and that people overwhelmingly devoted their energies toward the good of the community rather than just themselves… Disasters, he proposed, create a “community of sufferers” that allows individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others.”

The months to come will undoubtedly bring pain, suffering, and fear. My wish to you, gentle readers, is a recognition that “things should not be another way.” This is all the stuff of human existence. It’s beautiful and traumatizing and it’s life. Additionally, I invite you to open up to your surroundings and to your community. This can be a time to get to know neighbors, care for the most vulnerable, share resources, and build connections.

If we can convert our individual suffering and fear into compassion for others, we will suffer less. This is because you and I are not separate. We breathe the same air and touch the same subway poles. As COVID-19 spreads, fear and grief are perhaps inevitable, but so is connection and care. We are all of these things.

[This article was originally published on Medium.]

Nurture yourself to Keep Healthy…

In these trying times it’s very easy to be short tempered with our housemates. It’s very easy to sit for hours on end binging on a Netflix serial. It’s also very easy to keep on pouring the wine/gin/beer.

Try your very best to resist. Taking half an hour out for deep relaxation will make all the difference. You can find sound tracks to suit your mood on Spotify or YouTube. Classical music, guided relaxations or sounds of nature all work really well.

I’m sure you will be surprised at how effective this deep relaxation is. Not only for you own state of mind but how you treat your loved ones around you.

I know that it’s hard to stay awake during these deep relaxations! But you should try to… when we truly relax the body and mind for 15 minutes or so we have a chance to really nurture ourselves. The ancient yogis said that this type of ‘stilling’ the body and mind is equivalent to 4 hour sleep. I’m not so sure about that, but I do feel that during the relaxation exercises we are teaching our body to be still (when it is otherwise still?) and our minds to stay focused on just one thing and allowing all thoughts to drop away into the background. If we just give in and go to sleep – well it’s good to get a little nap – but that is all it is. It can also be a bit disorientating to wake up in the middle of the day and can make you feel woozy.

When we have trained ourselves to remain alert during relaxation we can move on to the practice of Yoga Nidra – in this state – where the mind is between being awake and asleep – we are very receptive to ideas and this is where a ‘Sankalpa’ is used. A Sankalpa is a resolution for change – after we find our resolve, we repeat it during the practice and rather like sowing a seed into the soil, this resolve is placed deep within us. Unfortunately I had to postpone last weeks Yoga Retreat on this theme, but I will reschedule it as soon as we are the right way round again.

I have recorded a couple of relaxations that we have used in our classes. You may feel more comfortable working with the sound of my voice. Please feel free to try them out and other types as mentioned above.

 

Daffodil Relaxation for Springtime Nurturing
So Hum Relaxation

A chance to relax in this crazy time…

I was really pleased when Deb said she would be running the yoga sessions on line, as life is so odd at the moment it was good to have one regular commitment. As the time drew nearer I did wonder though if I would actually lie on the floor in my lounge covered in a blanket for 20 minutes – but I did! I asked my son to help me set up the telly first, we have Apple tv it was very easy, I am sure there are other ways or you could watch/listen on your phone or computer. I put out my blocks, mat and blanket as usual, moved the furniture, changed into my yoga gear on and tuned in.  The lesson was great, comfortingly it followed exactly the same format as usual, with some additional health and safety advice about low ceilings. I found it very easy to follow, and gradually started to relax and stop thinking about other things as the time went on. A very stiff neck and shoulder caused by a combination of stress and fence painting slowly eased off. It is great that the lesson is now available to watch again, I will definitely do parts of it through the week, and look forward to next Wednesday. I do have a confession though Deb – I fell asleep in the relaxation –  luckily no one could hear me snoring! Thanks again.- 

Yoga Student in Ryhall

Online Do-Yoga Adventure

Are my technical skills up to it?

The prospect of signing up to Facebook and negotiating my way around live streaming filled me with dread. I’m terrible with technology and don’t have a presence on social media.   With a little encouragement from Deb I decided to be brave as I really didn’t want to miss the class.  All I can say is that if you are in any doubt about signing up, I managed it so you definitely can!   Signing up was straightforward and I didn’t use a photograph.  At the given time I logged in to the Do-Yoga group and hey presto Deb appeared in her ‘office’ at home.  You can see and hear Deb but she can’t see you and neither can anyone else, although the names of those logged in appeared on the side of the screen.  I really enjoyed it.  It can be difficult to find a suitable space.  I used a room with a desktop but a laptop or iPad would be ideal.   A crack in the ceiling caught my attention and set me off on a train of thought about painting during lockdown but apart from that I didn’t have any trouble relaxing.

Do-Yoga Preston Student

Live Stream Yoga Classes get the thumbs up!

Last week I did all of my classes via Live Stream on Facebook. This transported me into the homes of over 50 students. It was pure magic.

First you need to know that before this I did not ‘do’ Facebook. This website has a link to the Facebook site which posts all of my posts on a ‘Do Yoga’ page. This was all set up about 10 years ago and I have long since lost the password to the Facebook page and so have avoided it out of embarrassment of what I might find there.

Crisis make you face your fears. Well that and a helping hand from a ‘Digital Native’ in the form of my daughter. Fortunately for me she is at home. Unfortunately for her – rounding off 3 years of sweat, blood and tears of a textile degree with nothing but my old sewing machine and an embroidery needle. Not quite what she had hoped for her final major project.

Here we are – in happier times…

My second piece of good fortune is that I did decide last year to up my game on your home practice and do some video work on YouTube. This meant that I have some equipment – lighting to be precise – as without this online stuff can look extrememly dark.

My office is not an ideal place to do yoga as it is far from the calm, serenity that I create in our village halls. But it does have a soft carpet and my knees have appreciated that.

Behind the scenes…

Here is a ‘behind the scenes’ picture for you to see what I mean. Hopefully that didn’t show too much in my voice or face. I did smirk occasionally when I thought about what I was trying to put over from such a messy room…

It’s Yoga Jim, but not as we know it!

If you would like to join in a Live Stream class please get in touch.You can take a look at this post which gives ideas about how to set up a yoga space in your own home. If you are not on Facebook, it is really easy to set up. You could start practicing by having a look at my YouTube videos.

Setting up for Yoga at Home

Bedrooms are good as they are already designated as private space

It takes a lot of discipline to practice yoga at home – so many other things to do… masses of distractions… plus finding a space that works practically can be tough. It’s really important though to have some ‘me’ time – preferably on a regular basis to release the stresses and strains of our lives. Ideally you would come to a class where I prepare a calm, quiet environment with sweet fragrance and soothing sounds. But sometimes that’s just not going to happen. So setting up for Yoga at home is an important preparation.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking…

  • Find a space that you can be in alone. If you live with others, you could suggest that they do something for themselves too. I wouldn’t encourage them to watch you or join in, it will make it difficult for you to concentrate.
  • If you are joining one of my online groups you will need good wifi and somewhere to prop up your device – cookery book stand, book ends may help here.
  • Ensure that there is enough space. 2.5m x 2.5m x 2.5m of clear space is idea. Take a good look around for things that you may catch your fingers on (that can hurt!). Also scan the floor for any objects you may stand on or trip on. It sounds daft but I have done this lots of time.
  • Make sure it’s warm enough.
  • Try to stick to the same time each day or each week and ensure everyone that you live with knows not to disturb you.
  • Leave your phone in another room. Turn the sound off.
  • If you can make a permanent yoga space – say a bedroom that won’t be used for a while. Leave your mat out and create a sanctuary with your favourite objects/yoga pictures.
  • Use a diffuser to scent the air with your favourite essential oil. I use lavender in the classes, but you could use any that are relaxing like rose, ylang ylang or jasmine.
Lounges have space but not the privacy
Another idea for setting up in your lounge
Use your imagination – go wild!

Now that you are ready, you might like to just sit and listen to a lovely version of the Gayatri Mantra to give the area a lovely yoga vibe. You can use your hand outs from class or choose from various home practice posts I’ve put on the website –

It takes dedication to keep up Yoga at home but the results are worthwhile. You can find more tips on this post here.