Sunday, 26 April 2015

Banish Monday blues

The information explosion has provided us with unrivalled, almost unlimited, access to knowledge. Paradoxically, such scientific and technological advances have increased rather than reduced our stress levels.

Financial security, desire for wordly pleasures, appetite for success, keeping up with the Jones'...these pressures can push us into a spiral of anxiety and a feeling of always chasing our tail. We can lose sight of what is really important, unknowingly twisting the truth to suit personal goals. We can be blinkered to friendliness, warmth, honesty and compassion - instead perceiving deceit, dishonesty, greed and pride.

Egoism and pride cause an individual to lose contact with their emotional centre. The ancient teachings of yoga tell us that it is only when the heart and head are in harmony that peace of mind, stability and happiness can be found enabling you to cope with the stresses and strains that knock you off balance from time to time.

As long as the heart and head remain separate, stress will manifest itself physically and emotionally...anger, confusion, depression, contracted muscles, tense facial expressions and undesirable behavioural patterns are all common symptoms of stress.

Inevitably our health suffers. The science of psycho-neuro-immunology has established the connection between the body, mind and emotions (a connection the ancient yogis recognised a millenium ago!). Stress leads to disease, premature aging and in extreme cases, fatal illness.

Many people respond to stress by resorting to alcohol, comfort eating, nicotine, prescribed and non-prescribed drugs. These may bring temporary relief, but it is temporary and mostly counter-productive. They also have dangerous side-effects that actually increase stress levels!

The tension associated with stress is stored mainly in the muscles, diaphragm and the nervous system. If these areas are relaxed, stress is reduced. Yoga postures and breathing have a profound effect on the central nervous system, as well as the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems. Improved blood flow stabilises the heart rate and blood pressure, better breathing results in a higher intake of oxygen.

Regular yoga, along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, can help you to internalise positive attitudes, which enable you to face stressful situations with calmness and stability. It helps to generate enormous amounts of energy in the body, stimulates the cells and relaxes tense muscles. With patience and dedication, you will discover a feeling of well-being during and after your practise. Your entire being becomes calm and steady.

In summary...YOGA ROCKS!!!

It makes you feel good, and does you good, inside and out.

(All my yoga ramblings are due to the grace, intellectualism, wisdom and kindess of all my yoga teachers over the last two decades, including of course, BKS Iyengar himself)

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Into the blue

Al fresco handstand  (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
At the Tuesday class this week, we talked briefly about practising yoga on the beach. I personally find it tricky...sand drops off your feet and into your eyes during shoulder stand, people walk past, kicking sand into your eyes during seated poses or backbends. Trying to level sand sufficiently to perform a balanced headstand takes ages! Children try to join in & adults want to talk to you. Which is lovely, but in the end I have always given up on the yoga itself. All-in-all, personally, I find the practical challenges overwhelm the yoga itself.

However, that doesn't mean I rule out yoga al fresco entirely.

Yesterday was so beautiful: blue skies, busy bees, gentle breeze. Perfection. Too perfect to do a 2-hour yoga practise indoors, so I found myself rolling out my mat on the patio.

I had a wall of Leylandii ('trees' - for non-gardener folk ;-) in front of me and the house behind me.

Initially I was distracted by the life buzzing, crawling and flying around (and on) me. The wall of green in front really helped me to 'withdraw' from the external references and, by the time I was in Ardha Chandrasana, I was focussed on the yoga and able to find that blissful 'meditation in movement'.

'Meditation in movement' is when you are utterly absorbed by the minutia of the pose. Your mind no longer wanders or flits about. It is like a calm, steady stream of quiet concentration - without really being aware you are concentrating.

It is delving deep into a pose and examining your balance, stability, alignment, extension, expansion, energy and directionality. It is making minute adjustments and being aware of how these adjustments are like dropping a pebble into a still lake. You watch the ripples and try to be mindful of the impact on the rest of the pose. For me, 'meditation in movement' is when you are fully present, aware and pin-sharp.

Turning my gaze skyward in Utthita Parsvakonasana, I am initially in awe of the vast expanse of pure blue, moments later 'I am' the pose and it is as if nothing else exists.

'Coming to', after a peaceful savasana with a cool eye pillow draped over my eyes, I feel refreshed, positive, calm, together and so alive.

The word 'yoga' means "to join". In philosophical terms, it refers to the union of the individual self, with the universal self. Prior to that, it is the union of the body with the mind, and the mind with the self.

It is this joining, or integration, of the body, the senses, the mind and the intelligence with the self that brings such a harmonious sense of peace and contentment.

Cutting out all the waffle...Blue skies or not, yoga makes me feel good. It is that which keeps me coming back for more, and has done for 20 years.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

50 shades of stiff

It is widely accepted that we are born with 'natural' talents or gifts. Some people excel at sport, others maths, organising, multi-tasking, etc. As we grow, we learn, practise and get better at more things. But the truth is some people will have a natural ability that gives them a head start.

If you take the analogy that our bodies are like cars; some people naturally have bigger engines, some people are better at tuning their car to get the best out of it and some people park it on the drive and let it become rusty. There are many other shades in between these three examples.

My beautiful Nan was teaching Keep Fit and touching her toes well into her 80's. She moved with grace. There was a fluidity to her. She took care of her body and her body returned the favour. I'm not saying her health was perfect or that she never had a days pain. Just, that she did what she could. She listened to her body and cared for it. If my Nan was a car, I think she'd have been a Morgan.
Image result for morgan car

My 10 year old would like to be a Ferrari. After one year of football training he can no longer touch his toes! He goes everywhere at full speed, with not much thought given to obstacles. As a result, he currently resembles a rather fast but bashed up banger racing car!

Some of the yoga teachers that I have been lucky enough to work with, and learn from, are amazing! Still practising and teaching yoga in their 70's, these people are incredibly highly tuned and attuned to the nuances of their body and mind. Their engines have a reassuring rumble, the paintwork may belie the performance but the car itself has agility, maneuverability, sleek curves and is full of life!

BKS Iyengar once said, "Yoga is a light which, once lit, will never dim. The better you practise, the brighter the flame."
Image result for BKS Iyengar and flame

One of my students, who has been practising yoga for perhaps 6 months, said that she notices things in her body that she was previously unaware of. She is becoming attuned to her body.

Yoga is like a mirror. It enables us to look at ourselves from within. Once we are aware of a stiff back, shallow breathing, hyper-flexible elbows etc, then we can begin to work on ourselves. We should give our vehicle regular servicing and maintenance so that we can enjoy it at its best for the longest possible duration.

Monday, 6 April 2015

What do you want?

Ardha Chandrasana

I know what I want from a yoga class.

I want the teacher to be approachable, experienced, inspirational, firm with their expectations and gentle with their adjustments.

I want the class to be strong. I like to feel I am working to the very best of my ability. To challenge myself, both physically and mentally. I like to be introduced to new poses every now and again. To do poses in a sequence, where I have 'light bulb' moments of clarity and comprehension.

But what do you want?

I am going to be teaching another class (on a Monday evening) and would like to know what you want.

Over 50's class?

What is the ideal start time? 6pm? 6.30pm? 7pm? 7.30pm? 8pm?

Where would you like the class? Another one in Bishop's Stortford or Dunmow? A different village nearby? Is there a hall you know of that would be perfect?

Tell me what you want and I will do my best to make it happen.

Sarah x