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Breath, Body, Mind.

There is increasing evidence demonstrating the relationship between emotional stress and the depletion of our immune system. Research shows how the immune system appears to benefit from the practice of yoga by encouraging ‘coherence’in the rhythm of the heart beat, as opposed to ‘chaos’.

In the body, the main agent of our immune system is our blood, a clear fluid (plasma) containing red and white blood cells. It is the white blood cells that inhibit the invasion of the blood stream by bacteria and viruses. The production of antibodies is a major function of the immune system and is carried out by special white blood cells called B cells (B lymphocytes). Antibodies can be triggered by and directed at foreign proteins, microorganisms, or toxins – antigens. An immunoglobulin is a specialized immune protein produced because of the introduction of an antigen into the body, and which possesses the remarkable ability to combine with the very antigen that triggered its production.

Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is the body’s front line defense against infectious agents. IgA is present in all the mucous membranes of the body. When volunteers were asked to recall an occasion when they became stressed or angry, and by doing so induced a chaotic heart rhythm, their secretions of IgA dropped for an average of 6 hours.

Negative emotions appeared to have a negative effect on the immunity of the volunteers, unless they had learned how to induce ‘coherence’. Research showed that those who had learned simple techniques for quieting their heart and brain through yogic breathing techniques could maintain coherence in the heart rate, and thus reduce the likelihood of a drop in their IgA levels.

We have two types of immunity – natural and acquired. Natural immunity is non- specific, and you could say that someone with a ‘strong constitution’ probably has good natural immunity. In contrast, the body can also acquire immunity, through its response to infection or vaccination. It is through the breathing practices and their effects on the heart that yoga strengthens both types of immunity.

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Iyengar Yoga Home Practice Sheets

#IyengarYoga home practice sheets, updated to include a #yoga sequence for menstrual pain.

Yoga Teacher | Massage Therapist

These yoga routines are designed to be simple, effective and easy to use. You may need some equipment, but most can be substituted with things you have at home. Beginners can try any of the first seven sequences. The Level 1 and Level 2 sequences are for more experienced students.

Staying in the poses is part of the process, to observe the way the body adjusts, learn how to release pain and tension, and allow the body and mind to relax. So it’s helpful to have a timer for these sequences. If you use your phone put it in flight mode.

If you have any questions or comments, please use the box below.

With best wishes, Hannah.

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Kansa Wands

Kansa massage helps restore the complexion, ease tension & pain and reduce congestion & inflammation. Known as Kansa Wands, the benefits of massaging with these tools are attributed to the different metals in the alloy – copper, tin and a very small amount of zinc. Clients often notice an immediate sense of comfort and calm when the wand makes contact with the skin.

The Kansa massage tools I use are carefully hand-made in Mumbai and I buy them directly from the manufacturer. Made with a wooden handle and a smooth, domed bronze head, they have a unique soothing and relaxing effect on the systems of the body. ​

Developed in the Bronze Age about 5000 years ago in conjunction with the principles of Ayurveda, Kansa metal (known in the West as bell metal for its particularly soothing sound) is one of the most unique alloys known to humankind. Made of tin, copper and a trace of zinc, it was fashioned into drinking cups, plates, bowls and massage tools. This sacred metal alloy has been used since then to enhance and maintain health and strength, to increase and balance energy (Prana), and to support general health and well-being.

​​Used in the Lovegrove Essentials Facial massage sequence, Kansa metal is a highly effective transmitter of electromagnetism and reacts positively when acidity is present, making treatment very beneficial to the skin. In some people, this reaction results in a grey deposit on the skin, a sign that elimination of toxins is occurring. The higher the acidity, the darker the grey colouration. Whilst the skin should naturally have an acidic pH level, the tin in the alloy encourages the removal of excess acid, which can be affected stress, diet and environment.

In Ayurveda, Copper is anti-oxidant, fights off free radicals and maintains the health of connective tissues. It’s particularly good for optic health and fights off age-related macular degeneration. (We incorporate the eyes into our Facial massage sequence.)

The Kansa metal has a stimulating effect on the circulation. It brings blood to the surface and stimulates the flow of lymph.

If a client is particularly stressed, we may supplement a body massage with some work with the Kansa wand, particularly across the upper back, neck and shoulders, or the abdomen.

Yoga, ‘Core Strength’ and Low Back Pain.

Releasing muscle tension to improve posture, alignment and movement is significantly more effective at reducing chronic or recurrent back pain than typical prescription treatment. (BMI 2009)

Many people advocate strengthening the ‘core mucles’. Whilst this might be helpful, in the sense that any exercise can be, it’s far too general to help people who already have a problem. People need specific advice and guidance on musculo-skeletal alignment: they need to feel its effects for themselves and re-train their bodies to adopt better habits under all circumstances, sitting, standing, walking, driving, exercising.

alignment1
Fitnessnetwork.com.au

In terms of your ‘core muscles’, Geeta Iyengar had a lovely analogy for this. Think of a baby monkey clinging to its mother as she swings high up through the trees of the jungle. The relationship between the back of the abdomen and the spine, what we call ‘core muscles’, should echo this.

01-low-back-and-tummy-cropHere’s a quick and easy example – are you sitting comfortably? Consider the position of the front and back of your lower trunk. The position of the pelvis is the critical factor in supporting the weight of the abdomen: everything else, including ‘core strength’, is secondary. So here’s a test for you. Lift your pubic bone up at the front and draw the back of the pelvis (your Sacrum bone) down. Now roll your shoulders back and lift your navel area up and slightly back. It shouldn’t feel hard – this is not about creating a six-pack, which incidentally could just as easily pull a weak lower back out of alignment.

Yoga postures can help you to realign your pelvis, identify your core muscles and release lower back pain, one step at a time.

These yoga postures form a simple daily routine with three key benefits:

  • They help to keep your lower back muscles and your spine healthy and supple.
  • They help to re-align your pelvis, esp. the first three poses.
  • They will strengthen the longitudinal, transverse and oblique muscles around the front and back of your abdomen, to better support the weight of the abdominal organs.

You will feel some benefits immediately, but this kind of conscious re-training takes practice, so keep it up!

  1. Lying – lie down flat on the mat, and push your feet into a wall. (Have them 4-6 inches apart.) Feel how your thigh bones press down towards the floor. Become aware of the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis and the sacrum bone at the back. Draw your pubic bone towards your navel, your navel slightly inwards towards your spine, and lengthen your lower back and sacrum away. This realigns the pelvis and the thigh bones. Now fold your arms, hold your elbows, inhale and take your folded arms over your head. Breathe normally for 5-10 breaths. Change the link and repeat, lifting the chest and pressing the legs down as you go.
  1. 01 Urdhva hast sittingSitting – try the same alignment sitting on a chair. Draw your navel back towards your spine, lift your chest and take your shoulders back. Feel better? What you have just done is to lift your lower abdomen up and lengthen your lower back down, which levels the bones of your pelvis and puts the weight of the abdomen into the ‘bowl’ of the pelvis, where it belongs, instead of dropping over the front of your pubic bone and giving you a belly!Lifting your chest and taking your shoulders back makes more space around the front and back of your abdomen, keeping this girdle of muscles firm, and of course relieving the pressure on your digestive organs. REMEMBER: this is not about creating a hard abdomen: it’s about realigning the skeleton-muscular structure.
  1. 01 Bvajasana ChairBharadvajasana – sit sideways on the chair, feet flat on the floor and knees pressed together, with the back of the chair to your right. (If your feet don’t reach the floor, place a block under your feet.) Repeat the abdominal lift as above. Then, keeping your knees and hips steady, turn your trunk towards the back of the chair and hold with both hands. Keeping your knees and thighs together, push gently with the right hand and pull with the left, so your trunk turns and your spine revolves.Keep your shoulders level, breathe steadily, and keep your chin in line with your breastbone. Hold for 3 breaths. Slowly turn to the front and pause for a breath. Swivel round on the seat so the back of the chair is now on your left. Repeat to the right and left once more, pausing between each twist. (Ladies: Miss this one out if you have your period.)
  1. 01-navasanaNavasana – face the seat of your chair. One at a time place your heels on the seat, holding a strap round the soles of your feet. Begin to straighten your legs. Tightening your kneecaps and extend the backs of your legs, pushing your heels away, and pulling on the strap with your hands. Learn to lift your chest, waist and lower back away from the floor. Keep your head, neck and face relaxed. Breathing evenly and smoothly, hold for 3-5 breaths.Relax the pose, bring your feet down if you need to, then repeat twice more, rolling your shoulders back as you lift your chest. Try to perch on your buttock bones! If you find the chair too high to start with, use a wall and gradually work your way up to chair height.
  1. J01 Jatt Parvatasanaatthara Parvatasana – lie down on your mat. Bring your knees up over your chest and push gently into your heels, keeping your legs firm, your feet and knees gripped together. Place your arms on the floor, straight out at shoulder height, backs of the hands to the floor. Keeping your knees together (that’s the tricky part!) and well bent, roll them slowly to your right and left, keeping a slow and steady rhythm to the movement and the breathing. Keep your face and jaw relaxed.Repeat this three times on each side, then rest with your feet hip width apart on the floor, knees bent and together. Repeat for three each side again.
  1. 01-urdhva-pras-padUrdhva Prasarita Padasana –lie down on your mat with your knees bent up. Lift your hips and put a yoga block under your sacrum. Bend your knees over your chest and put a strap over the balls of your feet, holding one end in each hand. Breathe in. As you breathe out push your heels up towards the ceiling, keeping your feet together and aiming to straighten your legs. The shorter your hamstrings, the more challenging this will feel.Hold this ‘L’ shape for 2-3 breaths, and then bring your knees back down to your chest on an exhalation. Rest for 2 breaths. Repeat this three times. If you find it difficult to straighten your legs, take your legs and feet further away from your face by using a longer strap. Experiment until you find an angle at which your legs feel comfortably straight, backs of the knees open. You can also rest your heels on a wall, as with Navasana. Finally put your feet down on the floor hip-width apart, knees bent and together, to allow your abdominal muscles to rest. Eventually, lift your hips and slide the block out, and rest your back on the mat.
  1. 01 Savasana with chairLegs over a Chair – lie with your back on the floor and your legs resting over the seat of the chair. (Put the chair sideways so you have room for your feet.) The edge of the seat should come right into the backs of your knees, so your calves rest completely on the seat. If you are less than 5’6” you might be more comfortable with a yoga block under your sacrum. If you are over 5’9”, you will find a well folded blanket on the chair seat more comfortable. Your thighs should be slanting slightly away from the chair. This particular pose relived a tight lower back and relaxes the spinal muscles.
  1. Savasana – To finish, lie with your back on the floor. It’s important to release the whole spine. You may be more confortable with your knees over a rolled blanket or bolster. Stay resting for 3-5 minutes, keeping the mind quiet and breathing normally.01 Savasana knees supported

Click HERE for a printable pdf version of this sequence.

Ten #Yoga #Hacks for Beginners.

  1. Stability comes before flexibility: if it’s a beginners class, you should be working on standing poses for the first few weeks to build a strong framework. All this ‘flow’ stuff is for people who don’t have the stamina for (or understanding of) real yoga, yet.
  2. Cultivate humility: however much experience you’ve had, you need to listen to and follow the teacher’s instructions. Yoga is a huge subject so loosen up your brain and be prepared to be broadminded, open and flexible in your thinking.
  3. Wear modest clothing: from the perspective of your teacher, or the person behind you when you bend over, neither a thong nor a tiny tank top is a good look. No-one needs to see your tattoos or body piercings.
  4. Avoid baggy leggings and short waisted tops: your teacher needs to see what your legs, ankles and feet are doing so wear high-waisted leggings and/or modest shorts (please mind the gap, chaps…). On top, wear a short/long sleeved t-shirt, long enough to tuck in for inversions and it won’t ride up when you raise your arms over your head. A wardrobe malfunction in the middle of a blissful pose is deeply annoying.
  5. Don’t bring water into class: it’s a trip hazard and a distraction. Drinking during class disturbs your digestive system and, unless you have a medical condition, you should already be properly hydrated.
  6. Food: a good yoga class calms your appetite. Have an empty stomach or a little food an hour beforehand. If you have low blood sugar, fruit is a good standby to have afterwards.
  7. Change your perspective: don’t cling to the same space every week and don’t ask someone else to move – move yourself. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.
  8. Never say, “I can’t”: we cannot avoid our own weaknesses or use them as an excuse not to try. We learn to cure what can be cured, endure what we must endure, and how to tell the difference. A 90-minute weekly class is enough to feel the benefits after 6 weeks.
  9. Sooner or later, we have to go inside:  a good teacher will use different methods to achieve specific effects. The same pose can be energising, relaxing, challenging or healing, depending on the approach. To find out what’s going on, go inside.
  10. Leave the outside world outside the door: allow your perspective to change and even the most intractable of problems will shift.

#Yoga for Hips – the good, the bad & the downright dangerous.

People who know me well also know I love a soap box, but out of respect for everyone else, I usually inflict those subjects only on my nearest and dearest. After many years practicing and teaching yoga, I’m becoming increasingly depressed by articles like this: Yoga Teachers ‘risking serious hip problems’  by Caroline Parkinson, because it’s all too true. So it’s time I stood up and spoke. In order to protect their bodies and those of their students, I would suggest the yoga community needs to address several problems:

  1. Teachers using their classes as their own practice. If a teacher is demonstrating while the class is practicing, how can s/he see what the students are doing? That’s not safe for either body.
  2. Teachers demonstrating on one side. Coupled with going further than is appropriate for their body because they have an audience, this will lead to imbalance. Then multiply that by the number of times that pose is practiced and taught in a year, the likely result is injury.
  3. Teaching poses based on their own ability, not that of their students. Managing a mixed ability class safely needs a very careful and experienced teacher. I have so many students who come to me saying they didn’t get enough attention in other classes, they didn’t know if they were ‘doing it right’, or ‘it was hurting me’.
  4. The key problem however, is teaching without understanding the sequencing of poses for safe practice:

In the article, Benoy Mathew says, ‘The problem lies in people repeatedly pushing their bodies into “prescribed” positions, when their physiology prevents it.’

He’s absolutely correct. (Iyengar Yoga teachers even have a name for it: they call it Teacher’s Hip.) There’s too much emphasis on ‘hip openers’ before we have learned hip stability. To protect our hips, standing poses should form a key part of our practice, especially as we get older. These are often ignored because they require strength and discipline. People blessed with a degree of youthful flexibility often favour more gymnastic, camera-friendly movements.

Using this article from Yoga Journal, let’s look at this in more detail. Click on this link below and look through the sequence of 11 poses, then refer to my comments on each one: 11 Deep Hip Openers For Tight Hips.

  1. Lifted leg twisting in the wrong direction, putting extra strain on the hip of the downward leg. (I wouldn’t necessarily start with this pose.)
  2. Ditto hip strain, only much, much worse.
  3. Fair enough – keep the back leg thigh well lifted. If you can’t get your body so low, use bricks to raise the body up and moderate the strain in the hip.
  4. Fair enough, but if the lower back is weak, this will hurt. (Look at your student – if their stomach is dropping down, their tailbone is loose and their lumbar spine overworking.)
  5.  Bricks again.
  6. God only knows what this is. My best advice would be roll the front thigh in, to create ‘grip’ in the hip.
  7. See how the arm-side is longer than the leg-side in this pose? Feet not far back enough to work legs properly and lift or grip the hips. (Why does the sequence not start with this pose?)
  8. Fair enough. To go forward safely, most people will need support for the right buttock bone.
  9. Look at the joints under pressure here: knees, hips, shoulder and toes. Without that support (this time for the left buttock bone), this could lead to lots of problems.
  10. That’s better! If your student has trouble with this pose, why have they just tried the other nine? I’d put this pose third in the sequence and modify their practice from there on.
  11. And this pose second.

In my twenties and thirties, I tried many types of yoga. When I decided to learn to teach, the only method that seemed to me to stack up was Iyengar. It was a tough choice – there are easier routes up the mountain – but the Iyengar teachers I had come across really knew their stuff, and I respected them. Simply put, it’s classical yoga, classically taught, with an emphasis on helping people. (All the props you see in classes today were invented by BKS Iyengar, for precisely that reason.)

Along with his gift of the props for ‘those who cannot do’, the gift of BKS Iyengar’s sequencing through some of the 13 assessment levels is nothing short of genius. If they want to protect their teachers, the yoga hierarchy would do well to put politics aside and pay more respect to this huge and valuable body of work.

alignmentP.S. Can you see the differences between this pose, Utthita Parsvakonasana as demonstrated by Birjoo Mehta with BKS Iyengar teaching, and the one that illustrates the BBC article? Look at the position of the hand, the angle of the hip and shoulder, the position of the head and top hand. (But as my husband often says to me, nobody likes a smart arse….)

#Yoga for #Mercury Retrograde.

Yoga is not about the outward form of a pose, the asana. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define “asana” as a position that, “is steady and comfortable”. Patanjali also mentions the ability to sit for extended periods of time as one of the eight limbs of his system.

One of the stories Abhijata tells is of her pride at staying in Sirsasana for over half an hour. She went to Guriji and said, “Grandfather – I stayed in Sirsasana for over thirty minutes!” She assumed he’d be delighted, amazed at her progress. Instead he said, “But what did you DO?”

If we’re not waiting for the flashbulb to go off and record our moment of perfection, what exactly are we supposed to be doing when we hold a pose? And what do we do if it is not “steady and comfortable”?

At first, before we are able to stay and hold a pose for any length of time, we have to go the the edge of our capacity, connect with each part of the body, check the balance and alignment of the body. At this point, yoga becomes a science.

It helps to think of your body as a laboratory. Your skin, muscles, organs, bone and breath are your equipment. Your mind is the clipboard where you record your results. You apply the shape and form of the asana to the body. What happened? On the left? On the right? Will a prop extend, release, facilitate, inform the results? Where did the breath flow, touch? What shape was it?

Yoga is to explore your internal world, using the asanas and the breath to map your universe. You may find surprising things there – pain, sorrow, anger. These are like the boulders in your path. Sit for a while with the boulder and examine it. Resist the urge to blame others, your teacher, yoga. These are the best learning experiences we can have, for this is when yoga truly begins to heal.

Your Magic Zone
Julian Lennon.

 

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