We tend to forget how miraculous our everyday life is. Even in the regular processes of life, such as breathing, transformation is happening. Nutrients turn into energy. Energy turns into waste. Waste becomes nutrients for the life of another. Transformation is always happening. Every time you breathe, follow your breath. Oxygen is inhaled, moves through your entire body. Every one of your fifty trillion cells breathes in, is cleansed and fed. Then we breathe out. Transformation is awlays happening. Breath released by us becomes fresh air for plants to breathe. Transformation is always happening. Life is miraculous. The processes of life are always in a state of perpetual transformation.
Your breath is your home. It is always available, always there for you. You can always come back to your home by returning to your breath over and over again. Breathe… and know that you are safe, you are protected. Breathe and know that you are at home. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
Know that you are breathing all the time. Do it consciously – be aware of each in breath and each out breath.
To strengthen the abdominal muscles is important for stabilizing the pelvis and providing a solid base for the rest of the spine to sit on. The following movement works on strengthening the abdominal muscles and it is also known as a heat inducing movement (so it is good for warming up the body).
- Start by lying on the floor on your back. Have your feet in semi supine – feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart; hands interlaced at the back of the head. Breathing out, lift your head and direct one elbow towards opposite knee. Breathing in rest everything down and swap sides. A few times like this, coordinating breath and movement… Feel the twist through the upper body….
- Stay with this movement but start to bring the knee towards the elbow, breathing out as you come up and breathing in as you come down, alternating sides….
- If it is easy, slowly piston the legs – instead of coming back to semi supine each time, keep the legs long and off the floor. It is more difficult to breathe while doing this, so make sure you are breathing, consciously using the lower back muscles. To work more strongly with the abdominals keep the belly pulled in for the whole movement, while breathing. This is a Pilates movement. It is much stronger on the abdominals and lower back, so rest any time you need to rest.
- Finish by briefly circling the knees over the chest to release the lower back.
Ideally sit kneeling with knees apart, but if that is not comfortable, you can sit cross legged.
- Have the knees apart. Bring the palms of the hands flat on the floor in front as close to you as possible, with the fingers pointing towards you, arms straight. Look up, arch the spine and hold this posture as you breathe into your belly.
- To perform this posture classically, look in between the eye brows, extend the tongue as far out as it would go to the chin and make the sound “Ahhhhh” (like a lion roaring) on exhalation.
- When you come out of the pose, lift the hands off the ground and rotate the wrists a few times….
This posture stimulates the pituitary gland in the centre of the head – the master gland, which controls all other glads in the body. This posture also works on stretching into the tendons through the wrists and releasing the rhomboids – the muscles in between the shoulder blades.
Practicing Locust pose is one of the quickest ways to strengthen the lower back muscles.
How to practice:
- Lie on your tummy. Have the arms beside you and hands tucked underneath your hips or thighs for support. Explore a bit and find a comfortable position for your hands – maybe making your hands into fists and placing them somewhere in between your pubic bone and iliac crests (hip bones), i.e underneath the lower abdomen. Or perhaps, move the hands down towards your thighs. But can you find a place for the hands that supports you and start lifting one leg a little off the floor and then the other leg.
- Full version: Lift both legs, both arms off the floor, lift the head, keeping the chin tucked in and hold with Breath of Fire for a few seconds (panting like breathing, which you perform through the mouth, focusing on exhalation).
Locust pose strengthens and increases flexibility throughout the entire back of the body, including the spine, legs, buttocks, and all of the muscles surrounding ribs and upper torso. Practicing Locust builds up the muscles in your lower back, which helps to support your spine. By lifting the front of your body, you also stretch through the chest, which helps to open the lungs and improves breathing.
pregnancy and back injuries.
In some yogic traditions, it is said that by opening the heart centre, all other chakras open. It is at the heart that we begin to experience unconditional love and compassion. On a physical level, the heart centre relates to the upper and mid back. The nervous system connects through the physical heart at T4 and T5 vertebrae. This is in between the shoulder blades where a bra strap would be or where your fingers meet when you reach round behind you.
The following sequence helps to open the heart – both physical and emotional. Please note, that some people might experience an emotional release within 2-3 hours after performing the sequence (if done intensly or for the first time). That could be laughing or crying.
Alternate between child pose and flower opening
- From the child pose (Balasana), as you inhale, look up and come to raised Vajrasana (kneeling), lifting your arms up towards the ceiling and slightly to the sides, opening the chest.
- Exhale, tuck your chin in, bring the shoulders forward into slouch, back to child pose again. Do this a few times – alternating between raised vajrasana and child pose, coordinating movement with the breath. When you come up to raised vajarasan, look up towards the ceiling and bend the spine backwards (take this as far as you feel comfortable).
Other movements and poses that work on opening the heart are Cobra, Cat and Cow.
A lot of shoulder, neck and back problems are due to poor posture, lack of exercise, poor muscle tone, as well as lack of awareness when performing day to day activities. The following movement work on releasing the tension around neck, shoulders and upper back, as well as opening up the breathing. The best results are achieved when the movements are coordinated with the breathing.
How to practice:
- Come onto all fours with your hands underneath the shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Have the hands closer together, knees wide apart. As you breathe in, float your left arm up to the side.
- As you breathe out, bring the arm down, turn the palm upward and slide the left arm behind the right hand, keeping the left arm and the right hand in contact with each other (think of this as ‘threading the needle’ where thread and needle are close to each other). Continue going up and down following your breath……
- Start to extend the movement further. As you float the arm up, take it higher up towards the ceiling, but go gradually. If your neck is fine, follow the movement of the arm with your nose…..
- Each time as you bring the arm down and slide it on the floor, press with the back of the hand into the floor to open the shoulder blade up. Aim to eventually bring your shoulder on the floor and, perhaps, stay in that position for a few seconds breathing…
- Swap sides.
According to yogic physiology, one of the fastest ways of quickly bringing about yoga, which really is balance of breath, body and mind, in the present moment, is through moolabandha – tightening of the pelvic floor muscles. By contracting or pulling up on the pelvic floor muscles you bring about a realignment of the physical, mental and psychic bodies. It is also found to be useful for treating mental disorders.
Moolabandha is both a physical and psychic/mental practice. On a physical level, Moolabandha increases the nervous stimulation to the lower abdominal organs and so it is good for digestive and reproductive disorders. In women, it is useful for treating prolapse and also is wonderful during pregnancy. In men, it aids in the prevention of prostate cancer.
Moolabandha activates the peripheral nervous system, which in turn influences the parasympathetic nervous system. This reduces heart rate and breathing rate and is therefore a quick way to reduce feelings of stress and tension. This promotes relaxation and a more balanced state of mind, making it a useful pre-meditation exercise.
Yogically, Moolabandha increases energy levels in the body, yet calms the mind and body, and balances the hormonal system.
On a physical level Moolabanhda is similar to pelvic floor exercise taught in pregnancy classes. Yet Moolabanhda can be performed on a psychic level whereby it is the actual contraction of Mooladhara chakra (the seat of Kundalini or primal energy), thus making it a very powerful practice.
The muscles of the pelvic floor form a sling that runs from the pubic bone to the tailbone. There are actually 3 sets of muscles down at the pelvic floor. When we perform Moolabanhda classically, the actual location of the muscles that need to be tightened is:
For women: on the posterior side of the cervix.
For men: inside the perineum, midway between the scrotum and the anus.
At first you may find it hard to isolate Moolabanhda and will that you are also contracting the anus and the urogenital muscles. But over time you will be able to do that. Try to keep the abdomen relaxed as you practice Moolabanhda.
Moolabanhda is an advanced practice and not easy to practice. It is fine to contract all the muscles of the pelvic floor (if you cannot isolate the correct muscles) – you will still benefit from the practice!
How to practice
In Yogahealth classes we often incorporate awareness of tightening the pelvic floor into movements (it makes it easier to practice this way).
We also perform Moolabanhda on the out breath (rather than classically on the in breath). This is because on the in-breath, the downward action of the diaphragm causes an increase in pressure in the abdominal cavity, thus exerting a downward force on the pelvic floor muscles, which can weaken them further. Since a lot of people suffer from incontinence (especially women after giving birth), we practice strengthening pelvic floor muscles, which is more effective when done on the out breath.
Applying Moolabandha with pressing lower back down
- Lie on the floor, on your back. Draw your knees up so that your feet are flat on the floor in semi-supine, adjust your spine and do whatever you need to do. Tune into your breath. Bring your hands onto your lower abdomen, somewhere above your pubic bone and below your navel. Breathe in and make your belly bigger so that it is rising, and breathe out and pull your lower tummy in. Breathing in, expanding the lower abdomen and breathing out, sucking it in….
- See if you can feel that subtle movement in the curve of your lower spine as you breathe in and out each time. As you breathe out and pull your tummy in, press your lower back down slightly. As you breathe in, allow your back to arch slightly and as you breathe out let it come down towards the floor………………
- Stay with this, but as you breathe out, tighten the pelvic floor muscles (pulling inwards and upwards for women and contracting perineal muscles for men). So as you breathe out, pull the tummy in, press the lower back down and draw the pelvic floor muscles in and up. Inhaling relaxing and making your belly bigger, arching the lower back slightly…. A few times like this. This practice has quite a dramatic effect on the mind when you’ve done it for a little while………………… Leave that.
We start to lose balance as we age. It is one of the first motor functions that we start losing. Yoga helps to improve balance, thus keeping you younger for longer. Here are 3 balancing poses you can practice. When you practice balancing movements, notice that you tend to lose the breath before you lose the balance, so focus on breathing. It is also easier to stay balanced if you focus your eyes on something not moving in front of you.
Balancing on one leg
Stand with your feet together. Bring the arms out to either side. Keeping your right foot off the floor start to trace semi circles with your right foot in the air – from the outside of the left foot, across to the right, and to the outside of the left foot. This is where you give yourself permission to totter as you explore how balanced you are. Pay attention to your breath. Swap sides.
Have the arms out to the sides for balance. Bring the right foot on to the left foot. If that is easy, then place the right foot higher up – perhaps, all the way up to the left knee. Then bring the hands together into a prayer position, in front of your chest. Hold and breathe. Notice what happens to your mind, your consciousness.
If you feel quite balanced here, then you can take the arms up above your head. Swap sides.
Classic Natarajasana (Lord Shiva’s Pose)
To help you balance in this position, you can use a chair or wall for support (holding onto the chair or wall with the hand).
Bend the left leg, and lift the left foot off the floor behind you. Hold onto the left foot with the right hand (opposite hand), and stretch the left arm up. Press the left foot into the hand, creating some space between the foot and the buttock, hold for a few seconds. The balance here comes from pushing the foot into the hand – it is the tension of the foot pressing into the hand.
If you find it easy, you could lean forward, keeping the back straight and the arm in front of you. Swap sides. Then roll the shoulders a few times to release the tension there.
Traditionally yoga classes finish with resting in Shavasana. We also start the classes by checking in while resting on the backs in Shavasana and include short periods of Shavasana throughout the class.
Shavasana is breath and pose of assimilation. When we come back to the balance of Shavasana, any changes we have made during the movements in any part of the body, let’s say in the hips, are transferred to the whole central nervous system, the whole body-mind system. This is how integration and assimilation happens. So we come to Shavasana a lot to bring everything back to wholeness…………………
Shavasana can sometimes be described as one of the most difficult postures because here we do nothing, which for some people can be extremely difficult.
How to practise
- Get comfortable lying on the back on your mat with your legs long, your arms along side of your body or out to the sides. Find your symmetry and make any adjustments to your body, whether it is lifting your head or drawing the knees into the chest briefly – whatever feels appropriate.
- Notice the sounds around you – any sounds coming from the outside, like the sound of the traffic, the sound of the birds, wind, people, etc and any sounds inside the room you are in. Take a few minutes to really listen to those sounds……
- Tune into your own breath. Begin to breathe in such a way so that when you breathe in you start to allow your belly to rise, and to fall as you breathe out…. Breathing all the way in and breathing all the way out…..
- Feel the contact your body has with the floor – the back of the head and the floor, the shoulder blades and the floor, the left and right arms and the floor, the spine, buttocks, both legs and the pressure under the heels……
- Notice the sensations in your body…. perhaps, feeling any tingling in your hands or feet, sensing the heart bit, feeling the temperature of the air on your skin – the exposed parts where it is cooler and the covered parts where it is warmer….
- Notice the benefits of integration, benefits of coming back again and again to the sensations in Shavasana to consolidate your gains in flexibility, in strength, in relaxation…..
Yoga Nidra is a simple yet very effective practice that reduces the effects of stress on the body and mind, providing deep relaxation and rejuvenation. It is often called psychic sleep because it’s as though you are sleeping, yet you remain conscious (aware) at a subtle level.
The main feature of Yoga Nidra is the systematic rotation of consciousness throughout different parts of the body. It may also involve visualisations, awareness of feelings, and awareness of breath.
Yoga Nidra is such a simple practice, yet it has many therapeutic benefits. This is because many diseases arise from tensions in the body and mind. The following disorders are those that respond well to the practice of Yoga Nidra.
- Insomnia (not only can Yoga Nidra help you to get to sleep, but even if you can’t sleep it still gives you the same benefits as sleep. It is said that practicing Yoga Nidra for half an hour gives you the equivalent of 3 hours of sleep)
- Alcoholism and drug addiction
- Severe pain (relieves pain by stimulating the pituitary gland to release its own suppressing chemicals)
- Colitis and peptic ulcers
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases
Although you can practice Yoga Nidra yourself – simply scanning through the different body parts it is far more effective if you are guided by someone else, or by a voice on a CD.
Metabolism is understood as the body’s ability to change food into energy, or store it as fat. The higher the number of muscle fibres in your body, the more food is used as fuel. Hence the emphasis on having an active lifestyle, or a muscle building fitness programme. Yet we see many wielding big muscles but slow metabolism. That is because there is more to metabolism than this simplistic view.
YOGA TAKES A DEEPER VIEW OF METABOLISM
Metabolism or the energy production system in our body has two aspects. Anabolism which builds new cells and tissue and catabolism which takes care of the dead cells and tissues. This cycle of birth and death is known as metabolism. This balance is maintained by the efficient functioning of the two sides of the nervous system — sympathetic and para-sympathetic. When they work in synchronicity, the body enjoys good health.
The science of yoga revolves around balance. The physiology of the human body is such that it is constantly trying to bring about balance. When this balance tips, especially in the nervous system, the hormones, digestion and immune system go for a toss. This is a serious metabolic dysfunction.
THE METABOLIC MYTH
There is a common misunderstanding that good metabolism is the result of a sharp sympathetic nervous system or a stimulated fight or flight response. Most fitness programmes rely on the sympathetics to achieve weight loss. On the contrary, when stress is beaming from all directions, most diseases and chronic problems result from an over activated sympathetic side.
THE METABOLIC OVERDRIVE
A sympathetic nervous system pushed into overdrive has dire consequences: a heart rate that remains up, sleep is not restful, joints hurt with widespread inflammation in the body, water retention and a jeopardised digestion. For all your efforts to lose weight, the opposite happens, fat gain. So looks like a perky metabolism is also a pesky one.
YOGA THE BALANCER
Yoga, the classic balancer, seeks equilibrium between the two sides of the nervous system — active and passive. It doesn’t just rely on the sympathetic side to get action going. It equally brings on the para-sympathetic side to put you in a state of “wakeful rest and relaxation”. The stretching, pressing, releasing and relaxing elements inherent to yoga postures, make sure that they get you active, sweating, building muscle density, with your blood pounding and invigorating your whole body, including your internal organs; and you have relaxation penetrating to your deepest internal layers. Hormones start flowing with endorphins flooding your blood stream, and the brain and nervous system unwind to come to a state of “rest and digest”.
THE REST AND DIGEST FUNCTION OF YOGA
Yoga with its emphasis on movement with breath and several breathing techniques is hugely successful in lowering the tone of body function, which leads to your cells receiving slow down signals from the central nervous system. By slowing the breath, yes the metabolism slows down, many accuse yoga of being a metabolic disaster but what it really does is to delay the ageing process. Yoga brings on a state of minimal body metabolism, in which you need less and so produce less energy and less waste needs to be metabolised. Less cell decay keeps the body rejuvenated and working like a pristine machine capable of mastering life and old age.
In Yogahealth classes we use ujjayi breath that specifically works on balancing the thyroid gland – the main regulator of the metabolism. A lot of postures and movements also help to stimulate the thyroid gland.
Source for this post: gulfnews.com
Recent scientific research has found that yoga can be beneficial for heart conditions. The data from 37 studies shows that people who practice yoga have lower blood pressure, lower levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol and improved HDL or “good” cholesterol – all factors that can lower the risk of heart disease.
How does it work? Most important part of yoga is really the breathing and meditation part. That’s what has the effect of dialing down the body’s stress response. “You’re lowering your blood pressure, lowering your heart rate and respiratory rate, and decreasing those stress hormones.”
Source for this post: The hidden heart benefits of yoga from CBS Interactive Inc. Read the full article here.
Five Tibetans is a set of movements that stimulate and rejuvenate the entire psycho-physio network, and are rumoured to be the source of the fountain of youth!
They stimulate full energy flow through the chakras and enliven corresponding nerves, organs, and glands. These exercises also tone and strengthen the major muscle groups, contributing to a strong, resilient physique.
In Yogahealth classes we often include Downward Dog into Upward Dog (Tibetan #5) at the end of the class for its energizing and strength building quality.
Double leg lifting (Tibetan #2) is another popular Yogahealth movement for strengthening the abdominal muscles.
Occasionally, in classes we also perform Camel (Tibetan #3). Being a back bend, it works on opening the heart, as well as on stretching and toning the neck, buttocks, thighs and the whole front surface of the body.
Five Tibetans is a strong practice and we recommend that is practised by intermediate students. It is great for those students who are lacking energy, as well as for loosing weight.
Download Five Tibetans Info Sheet here with full instructions and illustrations on how to practice.
“I don’t want to know what I can’t do. I’m only interested in what I can do.”
Meet Tao Porchon-Lynch, the 96-year-old Guinness World Records-certified oldest yoga teacher in the world who still teaches regular classes in Westchester County, New York. She is truly an inspiration for young and old.
Read the full story about Tao Pochon-Lynch here.
Source: Yoga Journal
Metta is a basic Tibetan practice of cultivating loving kindness (sending wishes of well-being) towards oneself and others.
Focus your awareness on breathing into the heart for a few moments….
Bring into your heart a picture or image of someone that you care for, a loved one. And holding this person in your heart, start to direct toward them care for their well-being.
Bringing each breath up into the centre of the chest silently say, “May you be healthy and happy” and with each out breath, “May you be at peace”. Silently repeat these words of caring and kindness that allow healing to take place……
Then focus on the contact you have with that loved one, how you hold them in your mind, in your heart, and just for a few moments direct this same caring toward yourself – as if you were your only child. With each in breath, “May I too, be healthy and happy” and each out breath, “May I experience peace”………
Begin by using ujjayi pranayam – breathing in such a way that you can hear the breath as it passes through the throat, constricting the glottis at the back of the throat (or you could make sound haaaaa with your mouth closed), making a very subtle rasping sound with the breath…
Imagine that you have a ball at the tail bone. As you breathe in, imagine the ball rising from the tail bone to the top of the head, and then breathe out and imagine the ball rolling down the front of the body. You could either visualize the ball rising from the tail bone up the spine to the top of the head and rolling down the front of the body back to the tail bone; or you maybe you get just a general sense of breathing in up the back and breathing out down the front of the body. Breathing in such a way that the breath is orbiting your body – going up the back and then down the front.
There are all sorts of yogic exercises to connect mind and body together, to bring them into union. So, close your eyes and tune into your breath. As you breathe in, think a long “in” and as you breathe out think a long “out”……..
In India the yogis say that the natural sound for the in breath is “Hum” and “Sa” for the out breath. So use that now – thinking or mentally repeating “hum” on the in breath and “sa” on the out breath, making “hum” last for the whole of the in breath and “sa” last for the whole of the out breath. “Hum… sa”…………………. “Hum… sa”………………………… And you will find that your mind will wander away, and that is natural and normal, so just notice that and simply bring it back to breathing in “hum”, breathing out “sa”.