Tag Archives: pranayama

A ‘typical’ yoga day…

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person-1281607_1280As part of a business challenge this week, I’ve been evaluating my working day – frequently so busy it’s a smoothie for lunch (yet again!) and often fairly unpredictable! On one day last week, I wasn’t sure if I had any bookings at all, all were dependent on whether babies had arrived or not, or on childcare arrangements…. I could have had three visits, or none (in the event, there were 2!) From a business point of view, it can be hard to plan ahead, aside from the definites such as group classes. It can be hard to know for sure when the downtime will be, when there’ll be time for accounts, marketing, writing this blog…and even eating!

But I won’t bore you with the business side. What about the yoga? What about making that time for myself (that I’m always banging on about for those I work with!)? For every one of my students who builds up a daily practice, there must be at least another ten who just don’t know how that could ever be possible.

So, it’s all about discipline – but also flexibility. My work schedule means that often things will crop up unexpectedly, or, at times, cancellations happen and I can seize the moment rather than  wasting that time. I have discipline in my morning routine – waking early to fit in  my first practice of the day:  a little movement – activations, energy block release (EBR) sequence,  perhaps a posture or two – and then meditation to set me up for the day. I really need to have this time: despite all the hours of teaching I do each week, my own practice is a time to work on the things I need the most. Without it, it’s hard to function at my best for the rest of the day.

Throughout the remainder of the day, it’s the flexibility that helps. Yes, it would be great to stop and  practise yoga whenever I felt like it – but that’s not the reality of my life! So, instead of writing off the whole day if I don’t have an hour to set aside, I might spend a few minutes being mindful of  my breath at odd times during the day, I might do some chanting in the car (silently if I have company!), I may stop and practise a flowing tree posture whilst hanging out the washing! If I’m in the middle of a day of therapies, I might take a couple of minutes to stretch  into a back bend and then a forward bend, or twist a couple of times, between clients, to stop that stiffness that likes to build up in my shoulders! I’ll do the same if I’m at my computer, catching up on emails, writing, doing my  accounts….

I practise mindfulness or a breathing technique when I’m cooking the dinner, and washing the dishes afterwards. I do also like to stand in tree pose while washing up!  And at bedtime I’ll usually practise a short relaxation, tensing and relaxing each muscle group ready for sleep. So much can be fitted in to a  busy day, without devoting hours that most of us just don’t have. The more you do, the more you’ll want to do, so these helpful practices will stay at the forefront of your mind, ready for you to take your pick according to your mood and what you’re doing at the time. So while you might need to make a huge effort to remember in the beginning, it will become more of a natural response to the demands of your day. You’ll start to know what your body and your mind are in need of as you build up a repertoire of favourite practices. So yes, do try to attend a class. Do read books, blogs, anything you can, but most of all, find what works for you.  It doesn’t have to be lengthy, it doesn’t have to be difficult, it just needs to work with your life.

For lots of ideas for things you can try at home, take a look at my facebook page http://bit.ly/sunfishfb or website http://bit.ly/sunfishyoga.

Or sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive my FREE 15-minute relaxation recording:  http://bit.ly/sunfishnews

 

 

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Trying too hard

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elm-leaf-231857_1280We live in an age when continual work and huge amounts of effort are held in high regard. Many employees are expected to work above and beyond their contracted hours,  sometimes for no extra pay.  And people almost seem to compete as to who can work the hardest, or the longest hours.

And yet,  when we really look into this culture of competitiveness,  of excessive drive and ambition,  we can perhaps recognise that this constant effort,  the drive and ambition that characterise so many of us in our working lives,  can be counterproductive in terms of our quality of life. The sense of balance between work and rest, between giving and receiving, is so easily lost in this way.  And sometimes we put ourselves under the sort of pressure which actually makes us less, rather than more, productive.

In yoga philosophy, we now see a domination of the dynamic solar energy, the energy of the pingala nadi, affecting the majority of us.  When this dominance is allowed to continue, the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated which induces stress, and may result in any of the stress-related illnesses.  Yoga practices which quiet this system, such as asana, meditation, pranayama (breathing practices) and yoga nidra (deep relaxation), help to recreate balance by fostering the qualities of ida nadi, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the serene and peaceful energy of the moon.

In Jin Shin Jyutsu, we learn to perceive the attitudes which underlie our way of being.  These attitudes are largely recognisable emotions; worry, fear, sadness or anger, for example.  Emotions which, when they become dominant, affect our whole perception of, and reactions to, the circumstances of our lives. Another attitude which affects many of us is that of ‘trying too hard’ – where everything is an effort, and life is not allowed to flow more naturally.  The quality of our ‘being’ is often overlooked, crowded out by the effort of  ‘doing‘. We can then fail to notice the way we are affected by the things we do, both on an emotional and a physical level.

So if you frequently feel exhausted by the daily effort you put in to your life, it might be time  to look afresh at the way you do things.  Is the amount of  effort you put in to a task disproportionate to the effort that is actually needed to accomplish it?  An Alexander Technique teacher once told me to  notice the physical effort I used during the simple  task of turning on a tap.  Sure enough,  when I thought about it,  I was using way more effort than needed, and way more than I had ever noticed until my attention was drawn to it. And of course, the same could probably be said of  many other simple  daily tasks.  The  key is to start to observe, to be more mindful of our actions and the way we live our lives.

And then there’s the huge amount of energy we can put into resistance.  ‘Trying to’ hold on to things the way they are, to maintain our sense of familiarity and safety with what we know.  And herein lies the attitude of fear, the attitude which is said to be at the root of all others.  If things change, we are scared that change will be for the worse.  But then we are stopping the natural flow of our lives, which just might get better if we can learn to  relax  all that effort and let go.

The following quote comes from The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying
by Sogyal Rinpoche.  If effort and resistance to change is an issue for you, the exercise might be worth a try:

“Let’s try an experiment.  Pick up a coin.  Imagine that it represents the object at which you are grasping. Hold it tightly clutched in your fist and extend your arm, with the palm of your hand facing the ground. Now if you let go or relax your grip, you will lose what you are clinging on to. That’s why you hold on.

But there’s another possibility. You can let go and yet keep hold of it.  With your arm still outstretched, turn your hand over so that it faces the sky. Release your hand and the coin still rests on your open palm.  You let go. And the coin is still yours, even with all this space around it. 

So there is a way in which we can accept impermanence and still relish life, at one and the same time,  without grasping. “

I love this exercise.  Through our yoga practise, we learn to identify the areas in which we are grasping, striving, and holding on.  In asana, in pranayama, in meditation, we identify our blocks, and then we let go of the effort of holding on to them. We learn to flow with our lives, to use only the effort needed, and rebalance our bodies and our minds.  We gain a wonderful sense of space around us.

Nurturing ourselves

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It is so important to look after ourselves.  Many of us are ‘givers’ and  ‘carers’ rather than ‘takers’ from life.  We put ourselves so far down the list we may not get around to our own needs at all.  We may be looking after our families, our partners, our parents, our friends, and somewhere we can get lost in the middle of all this.

I have recently been reminded of just how much I take for granted, and put off for another day.  Becoming aware of the need to stretch,  to move, to ease my aches and pains, I will sometimes just soldier on with the demands of the day, putting off what I need to do until later – or maybe tomorrow; sometimes  even until next week.  By the time that need is calling even louder – perhaps with a muscle that just needed a little attention and is now in spasm, or with a migraine that I could have avoided had I listened to the earlier need for rest – it really is time to pay attention.

Going through a period of ill-health can be so enlightening.  It can remind us of how important it is to take care of, and nurture ourselves.  Yes, others may be calling us more loudly, but we are equally important.  It’s not selfishness.  After all, you getting sick is in no-one’s best interests.  I have been reminded in recent months of the very nurturing quality of the work I do, but which I hadn’t been making enough use of for myself.  Having all the tools at my disposal, but not always the time, I have  now been forced to make the time, to take time out for me.  I have been reminded again just how amazing the Dru yoga sequences can be for shifting my energy, for making me feel better and more myself – especially when done so much more regularly.  I have sought out reflexology treatments for myself with other therapists, and I have been giving myself time to apply Jin Shin Jyutsu treatments (almost) every day.  I have made time for daily meditation by getting up earlier, and am practising more pranayama than at any time since becoming a mother.  And I honestly don’t think it’s only me that has noticed the difference.  I am calmer, more focused, much happier than I was before.  And that has got to be better for everyone!

I’d love to hear how you make time for yourself, and what makes you feel  better.  Leave your comments below!

The ‘project’ of illness

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When I first started my Jin Shin Jyutsu training, one of the very many new ideas I was presented with was the concept of our illnesses being ‘projects’. The word ‘project’ usually suggests something we can engage with, be interested in, and work on. With Jin Shin Jyutsu, this is exactly the kind of approach we take to our own illnesses. Instead of despairing when we become unwell, we are challenged to use the tools we have learnt to meet our afflictions head on. It doesn’t usually work if we try to run away from illness. It is better to see it for what it is. If we try to ignore it, and the message it is giving us, it will most likely return in the future, maybe in the same form, perhaps in another.  If we attempt to ignore the early symptoms, chances are they will worsen until we do address their cause.

For instance, we know that the cold virus cannot survive in a bloodstream rich in vitamin C. If we ignore the early sniffles, or scratchy throat, it may develop into a really nasty cold. But if we acknowledge those symptoms and heed their warning, improving our diet, taking supplements if we need them, and getting more rest, we may avert the full-blown illness.

But what of the truly challenging times, when our ailments are more alarming and less easily solved? Is it possible to look at these symptoms with a degree of ambivalence, with a sense of enquiry rather than dread? What tools do we have that can help us through such situations?

There are no easy answers here. Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with illness. For myself, I try to remain present in the moment, dealing with what is, rather than with what should be. I may have had a busy week planned, which will have to change. I can waste the little energy I have railing against this fact, or I can accept the reality of it, and focus instead on getting well. I could try to enjoy the time I have in which to relax, sleep, or whatever it is I need to do to hasten my recovery. I could meditate and focus on my breath when asana practice is not so possible. I could accept help from family and friends with gratitude, and look for all the many positives in this new and unplanned situation. By accepting the way things are, I am likely to return to full health more quickly than if I fret about those things I cannot change right now.

So – apologies that I have not been posting so regularly over the past couple of weeks. I hope to be back to normal very soon!

Moving into stillness

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When we are busy and rushing around all the time, it can be too hard to simply be still.  Some of us are never still unless we are asleep.  This difficulty can put people off taking up yoga or meditation.  They would prefer to do some high-impact, high-speed exercise than to risk being unable to find the stillness which is buried deep within them.

And so when someone starts yoga, they need to learn to ease into that stillness.  Nobody can move from fast to still that easily.  We have built up a momentum in our lives which will take time to slow down.  So for most of us it won’t work if we rush in from our hectic day, sit or lie down and attempt to empty our minds.  It will take a bit more effort than that, a bit more preparation.  We make our slowing down a gradual and enjoyable process.

In class, we will generally start with some faster, rhythmic movements, which help us to initiate that process of listening to our bodies, co-ordinating our breath with our movements, and easing out any stiffness and tension.  Then the movements will slow down, moving into gentler, flowing sequences and a series of stretches and asanas.  Asanas may be held or we may flow in and out of them.  We are approaching that stillness in our bodies now, and moving towards a clear, calm mind.  Our physical practice can, in itself,  be a form of meditation.  One of the main reasons I chose to train in Dru yoga was because of the meditative, inward focus of the Energy Block Release sequences and the flowing postures.  Each part of the movement can be performed with awareness of different chakras (energy centres), with awareness of our breath, and of our state of mind.  Often we will pause at the end of a sequence to close our eyes and really tune into the effects we are experiencing from the movements.  The stillness follows naturally from the movement, without being an effort.

Only after this part of the class do we move on to meditation, pranayama or yoga nidra (deep relaxation).  The mental stillness follows naturally from moving and resting the physical body. Once the stillness is truly established, we may then – and only then – find an awareness of the subtle movement of energy in the body.  So just as movement naturally leads to stillness, so stillness will lead us into a deeper awareness and experience of our inner selves.

 

Sculpting with yoga

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Once I was teaching and there were people arriving for a meeting in another room.  As they arrived, I was teaching a relaxation at the end of my first class.  When they left a couple of hours later, I was teaching relaxation again, at the end of my next class. Two men were heard commenting that ‘it’s all about lying down in there!’  Well, that was all they had seen, but of course there had been a lot more to it than that!  Another time, I heard an elderly lady explaining to her friend that yoga was about learning to go to sleep!

People do have preconceived ideas about what yoga IS, even if they have never attended a class.  They may be interested, or not interested,  depending on what  they believe it IS.  There are many different reasons why people take up yoga – it may be to promote fitness or flexibility; it may be to aid in training for, or recovery from, another sport.  It may be to help improve posture, and to relieve aches and pains. Others may come to yoga as an aid to relaxation, to relieve their stress.  All excellent reasons for taking up yoga.

Increasingly, though, people are taking up yoga to improve their body image, as the press is rife with reports of various celebrities using their yoga practice  to tone up and slim down.  Another great reason to take up yoga.  The many forms of yoga vary enormously, and some will veer towards the physically arduous, whilst other styles are softer and more flowing.

When we practise asanas, whether holding the posture or flowing in and out in a sequence, our muscles gradually stretch, strengthen and gain definition.  It’s like a sculptor chipping away at a block of stone – the sculpture slowly emerges out of the mass of rock.  When we work our muscles, they will improve in their appearance as well as in their function.  Even if we can’t at first feel or see the difference, rest assured that just beneath the surface, the changes are on their way.

But the benefits of yoga are so much bigger than this,  even if it’s toning and body sculpting that you’re after.  The body becomes stronger, more toned, more flexible yes – but with yoga you can’t separate the physical benefits from the mental, emotional and spiritual effects.  This is true to some extent of any exercise – I know that running, swimming, dancing, team sports and so on can have an exhilarating, stress-busting effect.  In fact, just getting moving can be key to  our mental as well as our physical health.  However, with yoga we also learn to focus on the breath, to live in the moment,  to meditate and relax.  Yoga sculpts not just the body,  but also the mind.  When we practise pranayama, chanting or meditation, we start to cut through the clutter of the mind, to achieve a greater clarity in our thoughts, and to find the peace that is so often hidden by the endless chatter, the running commentary of our mind.

And we could go so far as to argue that this is what yoga IS – that yoga IS this growing ability to control and calm our thought patterns.  Patanjali does just this, in the first sutra, where he says that :

‘To block the patterns of consciousness is yoga’

~’Four Chapters on Freedom’ (1976) by Swami Satyananda Saraswati

It’s not easy, and there will be times when our mind spins off in all directions – remembering and re-running scenarios in our mind, getting ahead of ourselves with future imaginings, worrying about things out of all proportion.  It’s like a broken record, going on and on and on.  But with practice, it gets easier, just as the physical asanas become easier too.  If we are kind to ourselves when it all goes wrong, those times when we are not present and are swamped in our imaginings, we will gently bring ourselves back to a state of presence, of noticing where we are right now.

A feeling of belonging

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We all like the feeling that we belong – that we are part of a group, whether that be in school or work, with our family or friends, or our communities.  Children initially belong within their families, and, when they are very young, they accept their family’s way of doing things as the way. As we grow older, we learn that there are so many different ways of doing everything in life.  And this is where judgements can start to creep in.  We may still like to believe  the way we have been brought up is the right way.  Or we may admire someone else’s approach to life and adopt it wholeheartedly.  As parents, we can try to encourage our children to be accepting of other traditions and values, and to keep an open mind.

The sense of belonging is a comfort in difficult times.  No-one really wants to feel different to everyone else, or to feel as if nobody understands them.  But how much should we compromise our own inner guidance in order to fit in with our chosen group?  We all have an innate sense of what is right for us,  and the challenge is to adhere to that without judging someone else’s views as inferior or wrong in some way.  As we grow spiritually, we begin to see ourselves as belonging more widely –  not only all humanity but the whole planet and universe are one.  We remind ourselves of this every time we are tempted to set ourselves or others aside by our strong attachment to our own way of doing things, and we allow ourselves to lighten up.

To belong is to feel secure.  The sense of belonging is associated with our base chakra, mooladhara,  the chakra concerned with our sense of security and stability in life.  With our ability to weather the storm, and to withstand life’s ups and downs.  When our security is challenged, we may become fearful and depressed, unable to see our way out, and this can often happen when we feel rejected by a group with whom we have identified, or when a phase of our lives comes to an end and we are literally removed from a group – for example, when we leave a job,  a school or a relationship.  It can also happen when we move home, leaving the familiar and the comfortable and starting again somewhere new.

At times such as these, it is important to work on increasing our sense of security through our work on mooladhara.  This can be done through grounding yoga asanas, such as tadasana or trikonasana, feeling the ground beneath our feet.  The beautiful Dru yoga Earth sequence, Prithvi Nasmaskara, particularly when done outside, is wonderful for enhancing our sense of belonging, our sense of oneness with everything around us.  Connecting with our breath in pranayama and meditation can also help our sense of embodiment, of being safe and secure within our bodies.  Getting out into nature is another way to connect with mooladhara – exercising outdoors in the fresh air, going for a walk by the sea or in the countryside, or doing some gardening or cooking, can all help to enhance our sense of wellbeing, and our sense of belonging in our world.  When we moved home, I really started to feel settled when I went out into the garden with my son, picking rhubarb from a huge clump we had inherited, and then cooking it together in a lovely sticky cake. Amidst the boxes still waiting to be unpacked!

When we feel strong and grounded through our base chakra, we are more open to the changes that will occur throughout our lives – we feel less threatened by the movement of our lives.  As  Mary Burmeister, who brought Jin Shin Jyutsu to the West, used to say, “movement is harmony”.  Without movement, without change, we stagnate, we get stuck.  The movement of our lives keeps us fresh; change keeps us engaged in our lives with vitality and interest.  We let go of phases of our lives we have outgrown, and develop and grow with our new circumstances.  We are more able to take risks and to move into the unfamiliar.  To feel that we belong, not only in the past, not only in some imagined future, but right here, right now.