Are you like an elastic band?

Photo on 2013-06-18 at 12.32Hayley Price brought the concept of muscles acting like elastic bands at a recent up at  yoga workshop. She was describing how when muscles are stretched too strongly they will snap back like an elastic band, and tighten. I really enjoyed thinking about this concept and would like to take it a bit further.

If you stretch to your very limits you will increase or maintain your range of movement, and you will also make your muscles harder. Like the the elastic band that gets pulled and pulled and pulled, and ends up looking a little deflated and wan.

If you think of an old elastic band, how it wont snap back or ping away – but break. The muscles in young bodies are full of elastin and collagen which makes them very flexible and easily able to adapt to changes. As we age our muscles are literally less elastic, and a bit more stringy. Lovely to imagine isnt it! The muscles may be long and flexible or short and strong, but the muscle fibres become less adaptive.

Im a great believer that one size does not fit all. Younger bodies are different to older bodies, muscles vary in their type whether they’re tighter or looser, and not one sort of yoga is going to suit all people. Ashtanga yoga was initially devised for army training in India, it’s great for fit strong young bodies with boundless energy.

How you relate to your body and what you ask it to do is important. I have been to many yoga classes where the main aim seems to be to move a lot, to come out tired and to be ‘buzzed up’. I have been to yoga classes that seem intent on bashing the body into submission with a ‘no pain no gain’ attitude. These classes are valuable for physical fitness, but for me they’re not yoga. Yoga is about enjoying being m=in my body. I might strengthen or focus on flexibility or alignment – but for me – if it doesn’t feel good: its not yoga. I was in a class not so long ago where the teacher kept telling us what hard work wer were doing, and to keep going, keep going. This might have been excellent advice for some but it was not helpful to me on that day.

Im not suggesting the moment your boy gets a bit tired you should go watch tv on the sofa, but I am suggesting that when you’re in a class and you feel like you’re not good enough, that you’re being told off, criticised, or that you cannot enjoy each moment – then that class is not right for you at that moment.

This remind me of of one of my funniest yoga moments – a teacher training taster day. So its a room of people who think they want to become a yoga teacher. A yoga teacher tells us to forward bend and then goes around the room telling us we’re lying to ourselves about what we can do. This teacher traversed the room telling people off, being very judgemental about our physical poses, our mental attitude and seemed to be implying that the relationship on this course would be ‘the one who knows and the one who doesn’t’. Needless to say I didnt do that teacher training. This relates to every class I teach too, it was one of the best teachings: if you dont like something, if you’re not sure or it doesnt feel good then you must listen to yourself before me – always.

Bhudda said the same:

‘Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense’

…So back to elastic bands

  • If your elastic band body is stretchy – enjoy, explore
  • If your elastic band body is feeling a bit stretched out – go easy
  • If your elastic band body has broken in the past and been reknotted – be really kind

and if your elastic band mind just doesn’t enjoy something – do the best yoga in the world and ignore your teacher.

3 ways yoga beats stress

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Stress is the experiences where there seems to much to do, not enough time, not enough clarity, not enough ‘you’ and everything feels out of control.

Your body’s stress reaction was meant to protect you. But when it’s constantly on alert, your health can pay the price.
It puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Memory impairment
  • Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema

So how can yoga help?

  1. Yoga helps you focus and exercise your breathing. Good breathing is fundamental and affects the way you experience day to day moments. When you practice and allow your breathing to lengthen and become smoother you will feel more balanced and ‘in control’. Start conscious breathing today
  2. Yoga helps you find your feet – literally! When your feet are steady on the ground you will feel more grounded. In class we do exercises to help posture and feet to help you find your place in the world. Get your feet active and feel the floor beneath your soles.
  3. Yoga gives you wings. Sometimes we need to feel good in our bodies and see the bigger picture. Through practicing yoga you will find your body feeling more supply and comfortable, and then in relaxation you get a welcome break from the ups and downs of the day. Get on your mat and then dont forget to relax at the end!

All of us suffer from stress, and stress in manageable does is really good for you. So try to find a place where you can welcome your arms to a bit of challenge, and know when to take some well deserved time out.

Image courtesy of ‘Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot’ freedigitaimages.net

5 ways to improve your yoga

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Get your feet on the ground

Place your feet on the ground, now imagine your toes are softly lengthened along teh floor as the body of your foot gets really strong. You can imagine the torso of your foot is getting a bit shorter as you draw the balls of your feet towards your heels. You can get the same effect more gently by just lifting your toes. See how your arch lifts.

Lift your diaphragm

Leave your shoulders relaxed and try to lift your diaphragm further away from the floor. You can place your hand on the soft area just below where your ribs meet to remind you. Lift upwards from here so your torso lengthens.

Release your shoulders

This direction sounds so simple, but can be tricky. Imagine you are squeezing your upper arms down lower towards the floor – this will stretch your shoulders downwards. You may feel a stretch around your shoulders and neck, remember to go gently and firmly to help your muscles release.

Soften your ribs

Can you keep all that work you’ve done and now feel that the front of your ribs can soften back towards your spine without loosing any length in the body or upper chest. You will feel your abdominals working to do this if the movement is not natural for you. So you get 2 benefits in one!

Breathe!

The most important off all. When your breathing is comfortable and full you are energising and cleansing your body with each breath. Find a way to do you that allows your breathing to remain steady and smooth, and if it doesnt ‘go easier’. If your breathing feels a bit dull or lifeless work just a little bit harder so it perks you up.

Yoga is all about finding balance and refining harmony within your body and within your life. Enjoy your yoga: explore, play and feel with the directions above and see where it takes you

Image courtesy of ‘Chaiwat’ freedigitaimages.net

Yoga to cure and endure

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‘Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured’

B.K.S. Iyengar

This is a very famous quote from BKS Iyengar. He has written many books on yoga practice and philosophy including Light on Yoga. While much of modern yoga has arisen from the teachings of Krishnamacharya, Iyengar brought yoga to the West, along with it  a passion for  physical strength and flexibility. He also popularised the concept of the Indian Mystic.

But what of his quote?

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured – yoga as a discipline, can help you heal aspects of your health through bodily function and posture. So for instance a really sore shoulder and tight neck muscles may take the joy out of life. Through yoga, this discomfort and pain will receed with time and you will no experience the drain on your energy.

So what happens when that shoulder won’t heal, and remains sore? What happens if you are very ill?

Yoga teaches us to endure what cannot be cured – Iyengar tells us that yoga helps us to cope with what we cannot change. He is not saying yoga is going to make every pain and illness go away. He is not saying yoga will cure cancer. What he does say is that yoga can help us cope in times of trouble. It can settle the mind, keep the body moving and reduce discomfort. It helps us to endure when a cure does not appear to be an option.

So how do we know the difference?

I think the truth is that often we don’t know the difference, we don’t have a crystal ball and most of us cant predict the future. So how do we know it’s the right thing for you, at this very moment?

How do you feel? Do you move a bit and feel worse? Do you do your yoga or your class and feel better?… and what is better?

Sometimes better is steadier, stronger, more grounded, humbled and serious… sometimes better is lighter, bouncier, free and full of laughter. Both are better, but they are different in many ways. They are the same in that after yoga you may feel that you are living more deeply, more fully. You will feel joy, you will feel sadness, and you will feel more fully alive. That is good yoga.

 

 

 

 

 

Name-it meditation

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Labeling your emotions can help you feel better.

When you feel a surge of emotion say to yourself ‘this is anger’, ‘this is anxiety’, ‘this is grief’.

Labeling your emotions will help you feel less overwhelmed by them. Bhuddism teaches that we manage our emotions better when we label experiences. Science is catching up.

Researchers at UCLA used specialist MRI techniques to see how the brain changed when people labelled their emotions.

They saw more activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that processes emotion and inhibits behavior, and less activity in the amygdala, which is linked to emotional reactions. The amygdala becomes very active when we feel stressed, by labeling emotions the amygdala stayed calmer.

This also happens in traditional meditation. With a mediation practice emotions will feel they roll of your shoulders a little more easily.

Sounds simple… and it is simple. The next time you’re feeling overwrought naming your emotions can help you feel calmer. Those who label emotions feel less fearful, sad, pained or stressed.

‘this is curiosity’ ‘this is ready to give it a try’

Image courtesy of ‘Ambro’ freedigitaimages.net

Gratitude & thanks

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Life is full of celebrations, usually times when we get together with a group of people, share food and chat. Celebrations can also be reminders to give thanks.

Great teachers from Aesop to Oprah have taught how cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” can lead to a sense of well-being and fulfillment. In the yoga tradition, gratitude is related to contentment and counted as one the five observances or niyamas outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Lack of contentment gives rise to desires or cravings, and which, in turn, lead to envy or frustration over unmet expectations. These are all symptoms of what meditators call “monkey mind,” uncontrolled, incessant—and usually unhelpful—thoughts. Whatever we focus on has a tendency to magnify and define us, like a negative whirlpool that drags us ever deeper.

It is easy to end up negatively ruminating, and sometimes hard to make steps in a more helpful direction. Here is one easy way to turn the tide:

Focus on what we are grateful for, it’s that simple. This will start to calm your mind

“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind waves’

Patanjali

Image courtesy of [Porbital] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Feeling achy?

 I read a good article on the ‘Oprah’ website. It gave a good introduction to fascia and its affects on our bodies. Fascia is a connective tissue that runs around each and every muscle we have. Through time fascia becomes less flexible and helps firm up postural habits. To release muscles you need to stretch off, to release fascia you have to stretch off a bit longer and in a slightly different way. To stretch your calf muscle you can lift your toes, to stretch the fascia there you need to make a more concerted effort interms of positioning and timing. In class we are often stretching fascia as this has great benefits to living in our bodies more comfortably.

Here’s the introduction of the fascia article to tempt you to delve a little deeper.

You’re Achy, You’re Sore, and You Have No Idea Why

It feels like muscle pain, but unlike a tight hamstring that makes you yelp when you stand up, your ache isn’t triggered by a particular movement, and you can feel it in different places at various times. The culprit could be your fascia, says Mary Ann Wilmarth, DPT, chief of physical therapy at Harvard University Health Services. This sheet of tissue, made up of densely packed protein fibers, weaves throughout the entire body, and it binds and supports your muscles, bones and even your organs. While bodywork specialists have been passionate about fascia for decades, Wilmarth says it took new research on how fascia and muscles work together (some of it presented at the first international fascia research conference at Harvard in 2007) to get different health pros—from orthopedists to MDs and pain experts to personal trainers—to catch on.

Read: Feeling Achy? The Body Part You Don’t Know You Have

Image courtesy of [imagerymajestic] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just Do It: Meditation Tips

“A drunken monkey stung by a scorpion”

is an often repeated description of the mind. It lurches and spins from thought to thought, dwelling on the past, daydreaming about the future, latching onto one distraction after another. The harder you try to pin it down, the quicker and wilier it becomes.

Anchoring the mind in the present is not easy. It takes dedicated practice to calm the waves of the mind for meditation. Or, in the words of that great Star Wars yogi, “Do or do not. There is no try.” But with its countless benefits, meditation is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being.

Read more

Image courtesy of [imagerymajestic] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The unexpected benefits of yoga

Yoga is known for mind-body benefits such as reducing stress and flexibility. Scientists have found impressive results for it’s effect on more serious medical conditions. Yoga may soon become part of the standard treatment. This is based on an article from Oprah.com, link at the bottom of the article.
Depression
‘Low brain levels of the neurotransmitter GABA are often found in people with depression; SSRIs, electroconvulsive therapy, and now yoga, it seems, can boost GABA. Preliminary research out of the Boston University School of Medicine and Harvard’s McLean Hospital found that healthy subjects who practiced yoga for one hour had a 27 percent increase in levels of GABA compared with a control group that simply sat and read for an hour.’ There is a growing body of research behind yoga significantly improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Heart Disease
‘While almost any exercise is good for the heart, experts speculate yoga’s meditative component may give it an extra boost by helping to stabilize the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels that, when irritated, contributes to cardiovascular disease. Since the lining is reactive to stress, and meditation can lower stress hormones, yoga may be causing a cascade of events that could reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.’ According to several trials yoga can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and help slow atherosclerosis. These are all risk factors in heart disease.

Breast Cancer
Women who do yoga during and after treatment experience less physical discomfort and stress. In 2007, Duke University scientists reported women had much less pain and felt more energetic and relaxed.

Menopause
Research at the University of California, San Francisco, found menopausal women taking two months of weekly restorative yoga, had a 30 percent decrease in hot flushes. A study at the University of Illinois found that taking an Iyengar class twice a week boosted energy and mood. They also plus had less physical and sexual discomfort, and a reduction in stress and anxiety.

Chronic Back Pain
The HMO Group Health Cooperative in Seattle compared the effects of

  • 12 weekly sessions of yoga
  • therapeutic exercises and a handbook on self-care
The yoga group showed greater improvement and experienced benefits lasting 14 weeks longer.
So yoga, as we already guessed, really does have the power to heal… Looking forward to seeing you in class tonight!

Dr Oz’s guide to yoga

Yoga vs Pilates

Yoga for a healthy heart

Photo by Eammon McGoldrick

Amputee headstand inspiration

It is possible to be competitive in yoga, although not helpful: competitive with others and with yourself. Ultimately yoga is bring in the moment, accepting who you and celebrating life. Here is some brilliant inspiration.

This is a war vertran who has lost his legs and one hand in headstand. He is taught by instructor Daniel Hickman

“I’ve taught several combat veteran amputees who are below-knee amputations or above-knee amputations, so there’s a lot of stuff we can do on the arms. But then, every once in a while, someone will walk in and they don’t have a hand. So there might be people without feet and an individual without a hand,” Hickman says.

Hickman who’s been teaching yoga classes at Walter Reed for the past 6 years knows modifying and checking in with the students every day to see how they’re doing is important, as well as keeping the yoga open and social.

For the vetrans, it’s less about getting the poses and more about feeling. Marine Staff Sgt. James Sides, 30, had his right hand and wrist amputated after he was injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in July 2012. He also lost partial vision in his left eye from the explosion. Even though his hand is missing he can still feel it, often referred to as a “phantom limb.”

“I started noticing after about the third or fourth session, my phantom limb pain would go away. Or it would ease up just from doing yoga, from just not thinking about anything,” he says.

Here is a true example of  strength and courageous, of going beyond expectations and making your own reality. When you do yoga let this serve to inspire you that everything is possible if you have te courage to explore.

Courage to explore and KINDNESS! Read back over this article – if in doubt… These vetrans are not pushing and shoving and striving to go beyond. They are practicing a true yoga of self kindess. They are going their own rate and feeling every moment. This allows them to practice safely, be in the moment, deepen their practice and expand beyond their expectations. Through this perceptions change, pain changes and barriers change. Not because they are forced to, but through self kindness they dissolve. This is true yoga.

The Adaptive Yoga class is part of the Exalted Warrior program that started in 2006 and works with Yoga for Vets, a national program that offers veterans free yoga classes in their hometowns. For more information see:

Walter Reed Military Medical Center 

Yoga Dork