Tag Archives: Yoga

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.

Padma

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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An introduction to chanting

I don’t know much about chanting – but I enjoy doing it.  In September, when my class starts up again, I thought I would invite my students to learn something about chanting with me.  I know many people are self conscious about doing this in a class, so I propose that we all do it at home and one day, if we are feeling big and brave, we can try it together.  I’ve written a hand-out for my class.  Here it is:-

MANTRAS – Words of Power!

I have some mantras for you to try at home.  We’ll go over the pronunciation together, and you can practise in private.  Eventually, if you feel brave, we can chant it in class.

The first mantra is for the removal of obstacles in your life and it’s

OM GUM GANAPATAYEI NAMAHA

The thing about mantras is not to get hung up about what they mean.  (This one is an invocation to Lord Ganesh – also called Ganapata. He’s an elephant god.  If you want to remove obstacles, send in an elephant). A mantra is ‘a mystical energy encased in a sound structure.  Its vibrations directly affect the chakras, or energy centers of the body.  It steadies the mind and leads to the stillness of meditation.’[1]

It’s the sound of the language (Sanskrit is exceptionally sonorous) and the effect of the sound on your mind and body.  Sound makes your cells do the boogie-woogie, you learn to control your breathing, and getting your teeth round a Sanskrit mantra 108 times concentrates the mind.

Ah yes … I forgot to mention the 108 times.  108 is a very significant number: I was taught that 1 = Supreme Energy (or God, if you are religious); 0 = completeness and 8 = the sign for infinity.  However, I’ve attached something by Swami J (I recommend Swami J) – so you can see there are all sorts of reasons for 108.  (I should say, it is permissible to build up to 108 in chunks.  27 rising to 54 is usually do-able when you are beginning).

Lastly, I’m going to give you a link to a YouTube video – nothing happens on it, but it is the wonderful Deva Premal performing this chant 108 times. I sing along with Deva every morning.

https://youtu.be/OTFWfD7L5QA

There is also the late, but wonderful, Thomas Ashley Farrand (you may have to buy him from Amazon or Sounds True, as I can’t find him on YouTube at the moment).

If it turns out you enjoy chanting, you can invest in a string of Mala beads. There are 108 beads on a string, plus one bead called Mount Meru.  You count your chants with the beads, and when you reach Mount Meru, you turn the beads round and go the other way.

Here’s the link to Swami J explaining the reasons for 108 Mala beads.

http://www.swamij.com/108.htm

Chant and be happy. xxx

[1] Meditation and Mantras, by  Swami Vishnu-Devananda

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Mind mapping for lesson planning

I’ve just started using this technique to work on lesson plans.  I find it really helpful, although they can grow out of control!  Here’s one I did for a class on the the theme ‘Yoga from the Heart’.

Mind map

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Some thoughts on getting old and travelling by bus

I am 61 now, and so I get free travel on the buses in Swansea where I live.  I still have to work though, but instead of getting stressed out in the car, I get on the bus.

I have a lot of audio books by Jack Kornfield – and he recommends practicing the Loving Kindness meditation (the Metta), on planes and boats and trains etc.  So that’s what I’ve started to do. I do the loving kindness meditation for me (you should always start with yourself), everyone who gets on the bus, the bus driver and extend it outwards until it’s a loving kindness meditation for anyone who happens to be on a bus – wherever they are in the world.

To be honest with you, until I started doing this, I had never really had much experience of positive energy (although I have always believed it existed), but believe me – by the time I get off the bus, I am much nicer than I was when I got on.

I’m sure you all know the Metta – there are lots of variations – but I use these two (I’m giving you the ‘ I ‘ version, because you should always start with yourself.  But then you can extend it to whomsoever you choose, like ‘man on the bus/lady on the bus’:-

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be free from suffering.

May I be at peace.

May I be happy.

Jack Kornfield varies this a little, and I like to use this version too:-

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be safe and protected.

May I be healed and strong.

May I live at ease, with a free heart.

I don’t know how you get to and from work, but next time you are stuck in traffic, why not say a Metta for everyone, everywhere, stuck in traffic?

Love and blessings to you.

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Taking the Yamas and Niyamas to the yoga class – Part 1

Every yoga teacher is probably bound to incorporate the Yamas and Niyamas into their lesson plans sooner or later.   These are really the backbone of our yoga practice, taken from Patanjali’s yoga sutras.  It’s quite a challenge, however, to use a set of moral guidelines in the context of an asana class.  Here’s what I’ve been thinking:-

Yamas:

1) Ahimsa – step back a bit and observe how it feels.

Ahimsa is traditionally non-harming or non-violence, in order to develop a sense of connection to all living things.

As a firm believer in starting with what you can actually change – i.e. yourself, that’s what I’m going to invite my students to work on. (It’s a life-long project, so don’t panic). Perhaps if we start in the class, they can take it over into every day life.

  • We ought to look after ourselves and not harm ourselves physically, mentally or emotionally.
  • We ought to like ourselves (that’s a tough one, isn’t it, but it shouldn’t be)?
  • How can we be of benefit to others if we don’t take care of ourselves?

In a yoga class we are reminded that Patanjali stressed that yoga asana should consist of steadiness and ease (2,46). (We could get into a debate here about what Patanjali actually meant about steadiness and ease in Asana, but let’s not).  So I’m going to invite my students to adopt a posture – triangle for example – to the edge of its availability, but then to come back a bit to the point where steadiness and comfort allow them to hold it without straining.  And then observe what it feels like. From here they are free to feel the breath moving in the body and track the flow of energy.

At that point, we should practice another aspect of Ahimsa – don’t pronounce judgement upon yourself.  Are you your own fiercest critic?  Is anything you do ever good enough?  Shouldn’t you just crawl under a rock and be a slug?  Is this harmful?

(I recently listened to one of Jack Kornfield’s teachings in which he suggested that we investigate the source of our judgemental mindset and then name it.  I am a very opinionated and judgemental person and I definitely get that from my late mother.  These days when I find myself pronouncing on something I thank my mum for her contribution and then I try to let go of it. I don’t remember to do it every time, of course, but I have told my kids about this strategy and now if I forget and start sounding off about something or other, my kids might say ‘Granny is at your shoulder, my dear!’.  That stops me in my tracks.)  You could try this..  Give your inner critic the name of its originator and remind yourself that this ISN’T YOU.

Of course it isn’t – because YOU are lovely!

(I have to say that this idea of coming back from the limits of a posture isn’t originally mine – but I can’t remember who taught it to me.  Thank you, whoever you are.  Nor do I remember which one of Jack Kornfield’s teachings the naming strategy came from, but you can find Jack at jackkornfield.com and recordings of his teachings are widely available).

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No more Thursday classes for now

As I finish at the Mercure the week beginning 16th February, I’ve decided not to run any more Thursday evening classes unless you request it.  Get in touch with me if you would like to attend.

From 3rd March I shall be at the Swansea Vale Resource Centre – just Tuesday evening to start with  – let’s see how we go.  The hall is big enough for all my existing students to turn up at once. Hurrah!

New students, please check with me for availability.  Might take me a week or two to work out how many  people can comfortably and safely do yoga in the new hall.

Shiny Sparkly, as my friend Nic would say.

Jane

 

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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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