Category Archives: Breathing

Yoga, a life and a death.

Settling down to planning yoga classes and workshops for the new term, and after attending the BKS Iyengar Centenary event in December, I hardly know where to start. I feel a bit lost! When I left for India in November, I was physically and mentally very low, but I knew that whatever the teaching was, it would be just right for me. (It ALWAYS is.)

When the twelve day event began, I sank gratefully Prashant’s teachings on pranayama over the first five days. There were mutterings of frustration from the young, fit, active, healthy ones, they wanted action – they had been training for weeks no doubt, whereas I was lucky to be there at all! Instead, Prashant was asking us to develop a “culture of tenderness and delicacy”, to battle with our barriers through the breath:

“Don’t get trained. Get educated.”
“Pranayama is not deep breathing. It is breath craftsmanship.”

Exploring the internal purposes of exhalation, he encouraged us to use it like the heads on a Swiss Army knife – to cleanse, wash, expel, offer, evacuate. So for five days we dissected ourselves. It was intense and it felt very good to me.

Then, on the sixth day, Geetaji arrived. At 8.30 am sharp for the next five days, she was brought onto the stage in a wheelchair and taught us for four or five hours straight. After lunch it was on to Q&A sessions, back to the institute for meetings, interviews, where she finished at seven or eight in the evening. (On the final day, the centenary of her father’s birth, she was there with her whole family. Rachel and I went to pay our respects – I’m so glad we did.)

She was determined to make us reach inside, plumb our depths, face and deal with our issues. You wanted some action? Well, try this! Again and again she urged us to go beyond our limits, like in Sirsasana:

“Don’t come down. Go back up!

And going further and further over in Halasana:

“MOVE! MOVE!”
“Pain is not the criterion. Movement is the criterion.’
“If there’s a will, there’s a way. If there is no will, there is no way.”

At her feet she had 1,300 people from 56 countries and she knew she had very little time left. She wanted us to go through the pain, the fear, find out what lies beyond:

“There is transformation in every asana.”

Then her work was done, and her time had come. When the event was complete, less than 48 hours later, she died. She had been telling everyone all year that she wanted to see the centenary through, then her work would be done. No-one gave much thought to what she actually meant, though.

And what did I learn? I learned that freedom comes through the exhalation: the gift of yoga is power over life and death.

So back to today and where to start my class planning. Geetaji implored us to read Gher father’s books, and going back to basics seems as good a place as any. I’ll start with the book co-written by Guruji and Geetaji: ‘Basic Guidelines For Teachers Of Yoga’, and see where it takes me.

In her niece Abhijata’s words: “The cleanest mirror that we had, is gone… Never again will we have someone who was as clear, as simple, as straightforward…Everything else in the world came to a standstill when she was involved in an action…Her life force ended after December 14th…which reminds me of the death of Gandhiji… her work was done, and all she had to do was close her eyes.”

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Filed under Ashtanga, Breathing, Iyengar, Pain, Relaxation, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga - Therapeutic

Iyengar Yoga Home Practice Sheets

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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Filed under Beginners etc., Breathing, Iyengar, Lifestyle Changes, Pain, Relaxation, Yoga - Beginners, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga - Therapeutic

Better breathing for you & your horse.

IH breathing.jpgOver many years as a Yoga teacher, I’m often surprised by how little we know about our breathing and yet how closely connected it is to the way our brains and bodies function. During one of his Intelligent Horsemanship demonstrations at Kingston Maurward in June 2016, Monty Roberts explained that horses respond instantly to the breathing patterns of their handlers and encouraged everyone to learn diaphragmatic breathing. It occurred to me that not many people in that audience would have a clue what that meant so I offered to practice with Scarlett, whose lovely but nervous ex-racehorse Tabby won everybody’s hearts at the demonstration and wrote this piece for Intelligent Horsemanship (UK).

When the human body responds to danger and stress through the ‘fight or flight response’, the release of adrenaline triggers changes in our bodies which speed up the heart rate and breathing. This sudden burst of adrenaline gives our bodies increased abilities, and heightens sensory perception. However, it’s not a pleasant state to be in – we feel stressed, frightened and anxious – some people can ‘freeze’ under these circumstances, like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Horses have very much the same responses as we do, and as prey animals, their ability to turn and fight, or to run away quickly, is paramount to their safety. Monty says, “Adrenaline up, learning down”. Scarlet wanted to teach her horse Tabby new things and to encourage her to respond differently to things that had possibly caused her pain or stress in the past but how could she help Tabby to feel less stressed, frightened & anxious?

Studies have shown that we humans can encourage our bodies to release chemicals and brain signals* that make our muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain, the opposite of ‘fight or flight’. Studies have also demonstrated that meditation and breathing can bring down our stress levels, release tension and so help all kinds of health problems that are caused or exacerbated by chronic stress.

But horses can’t ‘breathe themselves down’ like we can. They measure the anxiety level of the rest of the herd by observing the breathing, heart rate and body language of those around them. In a training and learning situation Scarlett wanted to help Tabby by regulating her own breathing, slowing her heart rate and adopting the relaxed body language which gives horses comfort, and tells them everything is OK – they don’t need to prepare to fight or flee.

I sent Scarlett some breathing exercises. At first she said it made her feel very sleepy. Later, she said, “I can now do the exercise in different circumstances, with out thinking about it. I also wanted to let you known that I have found it very useful when working with Tabby.”

The Method:
You need to find a quiet place and time to focus on your breathing. The best time to practice is first thing in the morning for ten to twenty minutes. By practicing just once or twice a day you can learn to access relaxation and a more peaceful state of mind, which in turn reduces the heart rate so your horse will feel more relaxed and comfortable around you even when you’re asking him/her to try new things: ‘adrenaline down, learning up’.

  1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Close your eyes.
  2. Allow your body to relax, soften your muscles, starting with your feet and progressing up to your head.
  3. Relax your tongue. Take it away from the roof of your mouth. Now your thoughts are quieter and you are more aware of your breathing. Breathe through your nose: mouth closed, teeth apart, jaw relaxed.
  4. Let the breathing become slow, soft and steady. Each time you breathe out, say the word “one”* silently to yourself.
  5. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes**. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
  6. Try to ignore your thoughts – they will come and go – return to repeating “one”* with each exhalation.
  7. Practice the technique once or twice daily, on an empty stomach. (Digestion interferes with the process.) Soon, the response will come with little effort and you won’t feel quite so sleepy!

*Choose any soothing, mellifluous sounding word, preferably with no meaning or association, in order to avoid stimulation of unnecessary thoughts.

** If you use a phone alarm, choose a soothing sound to ‘wake up’ to.

*** https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/neuroscience

If you’d like to know more, please do contact me HERE.
Monty Roberts: 
http://www.montyrobertsuniversity.com/library
Intelligent Horsemanship: http://www.intelligenthorsemanship.co.uk

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Bo (at the back) and Benjy, doing what comes naturally.

Copyright: Hannah Lovegrove, Saddle Street Farm, Thorncombe, Dorset TA20 4PY

 

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Filed under Breathing, Equestrian Yoga, Mindfulness, Relaxation, Well-being