Tag Archives: breathing

Therapeutic Gentle Yoga

I am studying therapeutic gentle yoga with Rev. Padma Devi at the Special Yoga Foundation in London.  The course is spread over 100 hours at weekends throughout the year. To date it has been a revelation….

The first weekend I arrived with my notebook and pen to hear Padma say, ‘If you’re expecting to get a list of ailments with a corresponding list of yoga postures – think again’. I realised that’s exactly what I was expecting, but that’s not how Padma works.


The course notes she supplies cover only a fraction of what we discuss together in class. Thanks to Padma I have been introduced to the work of Bruce Lipton and Rob Williams, the fantastic programme for overcoming heart disease by Dr Dean Ornish,Reversing Heart Disease

and the truly horrendous statistics that you discover if you Google bisphenol A.  I come away with a reading list that will require at least 2 more lifetimes.  I have a book pile entitled ‘READ ME NOW!’ that includes work by John Stirk, Candace Pert, Nischala Joy Devi, and Fiona Agombar. At the top of the pile is a little book on self healing using tuning fork sound therapy entitled, ‘How to Fork Yourself’ (by Debbi Walker).

Padma has taught me that less is always more in yoga, especially when teaching people with chronic pain.  I have learned how big an impact toxic and emotional overload have on our health. For example, it’s enormously hard to help yourself if you suffer from fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.  If you just fight back from a place of anger and fear, you are feeding the pain.  There has to be a moment of acceptance and surrender before any healing can take place and even then it requires enormous commitment and strength of will to make a change.  I have deep admiration for people who, faced with all this, still manage to get on with their lives. Acceptance and surrender are things we know about in yoga.  Other things we can offer are being inside our bodies rather than outside (and learning to listen to them), breathing well and practicing yoga nidra.  I am beginning to think that Yoga Nidra (and Tamla Motown, but then I’m old) could save the world.

When we looked at problems of heart disease and blood pressure, we were privileged to have two volunteers so Padma could show us how she works. ‘Can you see where the breath is?’, she asked us when working with a man who’d had a triple heart by-pass.  And we could – way up in the top of the chest.  We also noticed his reluctance to perform any movements that involved opening at the heart centre.  Unsurprisingly he was very protective of that space and Padma scaled down the movements to a point at which he felt comfortable.

Our other volunteer was in charge of a station on a major transport network, coping with an average of two suicides a week. Needless to say, they suffered from high blood pressure! Just a brief introduction to abdominal breathing proved to be mind-blowing and was followed by a request for someone to organise a yoga class for people working at the station..

It’s an exciting time to practice yoga.  The scientists are just beginning to catch up with us, and we are perfectly placed to really help people in this difficult and isolating age we live in.

Om shanti. xxx





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January 2015 – some thoughts on the next 6 weeks of yoga

Course notes for classes from January 2015.

Overall Theme 1:  The Gunas – 6 weeks

TAMAS – darkness, inactivity, matter, inertia, stodge

RAJAS – energy, action, change, movement, fire, enthusiasm, drive

SATTVA – clarity, light, consciousness, harmony, balance, joy

Incorporating all three of these in our yoga practice.  Tamas – grounding, steadiness, holding the posture.  Rajas – energy within the posture, moving in and out.  Sattva – lightness and clarity – achieving balance and harmony in the posture.

Standing limber incorporating these three.

Tamas – stand in Tadasana, feel rooted, grounded, steady, solid.

Surya Namaskar – version using plank, zen-asana and bringing the foot forward.  Work on this – 2 to 3 rounds.

Stand and assimilate.

New postures to work on:  Dhanurasana; Garudasana; Krounchasana; Malasana; Marichyasana A; Matsyana; Nataraja; Navasana; Parsvottanasana; Warrior 3; Humble Warrior.

Week 1 –

Stand in Tadasana.  Feel rooted to mother earth. Observe the breath.  Surya namaskar; 3 Complete breaths[1]  Natarajasana; Tryaka Tadasana; Uttanasana; Malasana; Cat; Down Dog; Up Dog; Child; Ardha Matsyendrasana; Paschimottanasana with straps

Pranayama: ‘Once this harmony and control is attained through the practices of pranayama, it becomes possible to observe and transcend the gunas, and thus attain liberation’[2]

Abdominal breathing in Savasana

Relaxation:  David Coulter 562

The marriage of breath and movement[3]

  • Gently stretch the hands so the fingers are softly extended but not tense; observe the breath
  • Relax the hands and let the fingers curl inwards, so your palms form a slight hollow;
  • Extend this movement so you are also turning your arms out as you extend the fingers and back again as you curl them;
  • Grow this movement even more so that your spine becomes involved. Think of a sea anemone opening and closing under the waves – what is the breath doing?  Then gradually make the movements smaller again.
  • Notice how the movement of the hands and arms stimulates the movement of the breath and determines the rhythm and the speed of the breath.

The rise and fall of the abdomen[4]

  • Lie in savasana
  • Concentrate on the rise of the abdomen with each inhalation and the fall of the abdomen with each exhalation.
  • Make the breath as even as possible and watch its pace gradually diminish.
  • Notice how the inhalation merges smoothly into the exhalation.
  • Notice the pause at the end of the exhalation before the next breath in;
  • This seemingly simple exercise is concentration is also one of the most advanced – concentrating on this rise and fall is so relaxing that you have to be hyper-alert not to drift off.

Sweeping the breath up and down the body

  • As you breathe in, let your attention travel up the body from the toes to the crown of the head.
  • As you breathe out, let your attention travel back down again from the crown of the head to the toes.
  • Notice how the breath gradually lengthens.
  • Try to stay attentive – this is quite a challenge.
  • You can try reversing the direction – so letting the attention travel down from the top of the head to the toes on the in-breath, and back up again on the out-breath. Do you find this more difficult?


[1] David Coulter p. 128

[2] Prana & Pranayama p.107

[3] Donna Farhi p. 16

[4] David Coulter p. 562

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Summer Term is coming to an end, but a new class starting in September.

I see I have found the time to make elderflower cordial, but not to post anything here!
There are two more classes to go until the summer break, although I am toying with the idea of running a summer drop-in class one evening a week if I can find other yoga teachers willing to take one or two classes. This always worked well where I used to live, and it’s always good to keep your yoga going in the holidays – and by having a variety of teachers, students experience taster sessions for different styles of yoga.

When classes start up again in September, I have decided to run an early evening class specifically for breathing, meditation and relaxation. Of course, there will be some physical preparation for the breathing exercises and to ensure good posture and alignment, but the focus will not be on posture work. I am interested to include other aspects of yoga practice such as chanting and mantra and other uses of sound, and anything else that catches my eye during the summer!
Om shanti.

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Finding a focal point in your breathing room.

The new edition of Yoga Journal pops through the door and I am at once drawn to an article about finding refuge.  It mirrors exactly the chapter I am reading in Donna Farhi’s ‘Bringing Yoga to Life’, and it seems to complement the extract on having a ‘breathing room’ that I posted before.

My house is very small, but I am working on creating a special place for practising yoga and for sitting well and breathing.  Now I want to assemble a little altar of things that bring me peace, so that I can be in this room. What would you put?

So far I have my little Japanese bell and a photograph of my lovely cat,  Biscuit, who died recently but who was my wise old friend.  I’m going to add photos of my children – but I think it could be a picture of anyone I want to make a space for in my heart.  Next time I take my dog for a walk, I’m going to bring back some twigs of willow and alder that are just coming into leaf along the river here and arrange them in a vase that belonged to my father.  This will remind me of him, and also of the fact that we live in a beautiful world that is always changing – and that beautiful new leaves burst out of barren sticks.

One of my yoga teachers sent me this blessing.  I pass it on to you.

The Candle’s Blessing

May you meet any darkness with light and fire.  May you find inspiration in the flicker of your own ready flame, and may any troubles lift from you with ease in the warmed air.  May your radiant spirit illuminate those around you.  May your loving heart never waver in its truth.  Without reservation, may you shine.

(Diane Melanie, Cygnus Review).

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Bells of Mindfulness cont’d

‘Listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.’

This week I gave my students homework; find a bell with a sound that gives you pleasure, and ring it.  In his book ‘Peace Is Every Step’, Thich Nhat Hanh explains the importance of the sound of the temple bells in the Buddhist tradition.  ‘Every time we hear the bell, we stop talking, stop our thinking, and return to ourselves, breathing in and out and smiling.’

Since he moved to the west, Thich Nhat Hanh has learned to enjoy the sound of church bells for the same reason.  He says the sound of a bell serves to remind us of the wonderful world around us, and it invites us to pause and experience the present moment.

I have a little porcelain bell that I brought back from Japan many years ago.  It is a beautiful thing and now I am trying to sound it whenever my mind is overwhelmed by the soup of anxiety that we all carry around in our heads.  Pause, breathe, smile, and be here now.


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Bells of Mindfulness

Listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.

My little Japanese bell

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