Category Archives: Relaxation

#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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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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5 simple steps to #yoga practice at home.

Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation – why is home practice so difficult? With a little more time and effort between classes you could develop your practice and begin to understand and enjoy some of the more intangible benefits that yoga has to offer. These five simple steps will help to capture the enthusiasm from class and bring it home into your private practice. It’s really very simple and the only question is what path you might take between steps four and five.

  • Place
  • Plan
  • Time
  • Sit
  • Lie

MMChairWindow1. Make space – a corner will do, somewhere you can put your mat down and shut the door. In this space, create a sense of the sacred. Use a windowsill, shelf or side table and make a shrine – a tea light, a statue, a flower in a vase – any objects which bring focus to the mind and humility to our intentions. This space reminds and encourages us to do better, to go deeper, and the people around you will appreciate and respect it too. (Saucha – Cleanliness.)

2. Have a plan. Even if your plan is to go with the flow you’ll find it helpful to have structure to act as a reminder once you’re ‘in the zone’. If you want a sequence, write it down. Preparation is an important part of the process. (Santosha – Contentment.)

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3. Use a timer.
To build up your strength and stamina by holding poses, staying in inversions, and for recuperative poses, in home practice the timer is our teacher and our best friend. For Savasana, Pranayama and meditation, a timer can help you to release more and in the end, you won’t need it. If you use a phone or tablet, use it to store your practice notes, make use of the timer, but always put it in flight mode. (Tapas – Discipline.)

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4. Always begin by sitting for a few moments. This quiet time prepares the brain and the body: it instills the essence of yoga practice from the outset and reconnects the brain with the body. (Svadhaya – Self Study.)

01 Savasana knees supported5. Always finish with Savasana. The healing benefits of your practice need to percolate through all the cells of the body and this takes time. Offer up the fruits of your labour (however bitter!) to a higher self. Lie flat, a blanket for the head and/or a chair for the legs, if necessary. Set your timer and if you fall asleep, so be it. (Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender to a higher being.)

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Discounts for Summer Camp and weekends at #SaddleStreetFarm #IyengarYoga events.

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  • Book and pay your deposit for your yoga weekend 6 weeks in advance to save 10% on the price for the full weekend, (excluding B&B).
  • Iyengar Yoga Summer Camp: 10% discount for current members of the Iyengar Yoga Association.
  • Old Friends: if you’ve been to one of our events before, you can save a further 5%.

Yoga Weekend: normal price = £230 for the full weekend, Friday evening to Sunday lunchtime. With 10% discount = £207. And with the extra 5% = £195.50 (Plus B&B £45 per person per night.)

Yoga Summer Camp: normal price = £365 for Thursday 4pm to Sunday, non-residential. With 10% discount = £328.50. And with the extra 5% = £310.25 (Plus B&B £45 per person per night.) From 6th/7th – 9th July.

So join Freddie & Eddie, Bo and the gang for a relaxing weekend of Iyengar Yoga at Saddle Street Farm this summer. Namaste!

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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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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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Helpful ideas for losing #summerholiday #endofterm #stress

The past few months has been a struggle so we can be forgiven for feeling we have a very short fuse and need a very long holiday. No one should underestimate the health problems associated with stress – it’s the single biggest cause of long-term absence from work. More importantly though, it exacerbates, and is the cause of, all kinds of illnesses and if you need a list, there’s one below.

It’s easy to blame modern life and say that there’s not much we can do about it. BUT it has always been like this – the human body is no different to any other mammal with the ‘fight or flight’ response – the hormonal and physiological changes are more or less the same. I recently wrote an article on how horses respond to stress and how we can help them to relax by regulating our breathing, our heart rate and body language. What’s also interesting is that their ability to engage and learn is in inverse proportion to their stress levels. “Adrenaline up = learning down”, says Monty Roberts. Does the same hold true for humans? Probably.

More recently, think how stressed people must have felt during the Second World War. A friend told me about her grandmother in the East End whose advice to a fearful, tearful young mother was, “Roll up your sleeves, take a bucket of soapy water outside and scrub that front step.” And there you have it – recognition of her struggle, exercise, fresh air, contact with neighbours and people walking past – all the elements required to manage stress. But more than anything, sometimes I think we just need a practical way to pass the time.

Stress is nothing new, which is a thought I find (perversely) rather comforting! The success with which we cope with stress requires the ability to recognise our own stress levels as they build up. Then we need a strategy at the ready to deal with them. If you’re reading this because you already feel overwhelmed there are two things you can do immediately:

01 AMS heelsFirst: BREATHE – slowly, steadily, smoothly – regulating your exhalation so that it’s even from beginning to end. Take your tongue away from your upper palate. Sit up straight. Inhale again. As you slowly exhale, silently say the word, “ONE” as you breathe out. Inhale, slowly exhale silently saying “One”, and repeat several times. Do you feel a bit better?

Second: Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Dog – it’s the band aid of all poses. Go up from hands and knees, hold, stretch your arms and legs, come down and go up again, staying a little longer each time.

Then: we need a strategy, a basket of goodies, a toolkit of things you can choose from in all circumstances. You can write all these onto post-it notes, stick them round the mirror, incorporate them into your daily routine. Do let me know how you get on…..(see below).

1. Communicate and interact with others. It’s hugely important to communicate your feelings to someone going through similar experiences. Speak from your heart, encourage them to do the same. Whether you laugh together or cry together, there is often tremendous beneficial release. Why? Because when people are “in their hearts,” and not just their minds, the collective support helps to lift your spirits, which in turn releases the build up of stress and anxiety.

Talking2. Re-connect with your heart area. This is especially true after a shock, when it’s normal  for our heart to feel shut down. (Think of those phrases associated with this feeling – I haven’t got the heart, my heart sank, etc., etc.) When you experience a sense of loss, anger, fear or despair, it’s important to re-open your heart and connect with people, even in a very small way. If you find it hard to ‘unlock’ at first, animals can sometimes help as a bridge and open up your ability to be compassionate to another person. Practice random kindness – even small acts of kindness and compassion can make a big difference. Why? Because this is one of the quickest ways to re-establish your footing and reduce the stress that could otherwise affect your health. Research has shown that care and compassion release beneficial hormones that help balance and restore your system. Much stress can be reduced by caring for and interacting more with others.

 3. Count your blessings. At the end of a yoga class, after Savasana, I sometimes encourage students to count their blessings. Practicing appreciation and gratitude seems to be very helpful in restoring emotional balance. The appreciation needs to be heartfelt, not just from the mind. Why? Because  appreciative feelings activate the biochemical systems that help diminish stress and stabilise our psyche, and this helps us to reconnect with feelings of hope and gives us the initiative to move forward.

4. Decrease drama. We tend to spin thoughts of blame, anger, “doom and gloom” projections about the future around in our heads. This can be especially acute at night when we can’t sleep. We make things worse by being ‘in our heads’ and engaging with this Peacegloomy monologue, which adds drama to a situation that’s already less than ideal. This stunts our intuitive discernment, which is the very thing we need to find the most effective ways to navigate through challenges. (Adrenaline up = learning down.)You may not be able to stop all the internal drama, but you can try not to engage with it – instead, get up and do something practical (but not screen-based), even in the dead of night, rather than sit in that miserable puddle of worry. Why? Anger, anxiety and fear release excessive levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, throughout the body which cause a cascade of physical health symptoms, along with potential mental and emotional imbalances. As you practice reducing drama, the energy you save helps restore balance, clarity and positive initiative, even after a sleepless night. During the day, sharing our feelings from the heart with others reduces the tendency to keep amplifying and repeating the downside of situations.

5. Manage the amount of news you watch, and your reactions to it. This is a tricky one, but it has made a huge difference to me. Economic, political or global instability can compound our stress by projecting worst-case scenarios as we watch, read or listen to the news. Many people are afraid to watch the news because they dread what they might see and yet they’re afraid not to watch it in case they miss something important.  If you must watch/read/listen, resist the temptation to rant or obsess over the negative downsides of the news item. Manage how much negative emotional drama you attach to events or disappointing information because this is where a large portion of our stress accumulates. You can use the news as an opportunity to practice being in ’emotional neutral’. There’s a difference between evaluating an issue and emotionally obsessing over it. Practicing ’emotional neutral’ can help us manage our emotional energy expenditures and avoid stress overload. Why? When we are experiencing high anxiety and depression, cutting back on news can help lower the intensity of our fear and anxiety. Experiment to see if cutting back helps you, as it has many others who are experiencing high anxiety. (BTW – we shouldn’t judge the media. We are responsible for what we watch and how we react to it. It’s our job to balance and manage our exposure and our perceptions of how the news affects us.)

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No mud, no lotus – Thich Nat Hahn

6. Take a little quiet time for prayer or meditation. Feeling compassion for yourself, for others, and feelings of gratitude, are all forms of prayer or meditation. These practices help quiet the mind and encourage a new perspective that can restore hope and direction. Why? Research has shown that sending appreciative or compassionate feelings to other people or issues can have a beneficial effect on the hormonal and immune systems. Prayer re-connects us with ourselves and with each other. Sending appreciation, care or compassion to others also helps to balance the nervous system and create heart rhythms more beneficial to our health. This helps balance your mental and emotional system, which then reduces anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed. So prayer is good for you, and it’s good for the planet.

7. Heart-focused breathing to reduce stress and anxiety. Practicing breath control is very helpful for reducing anxiety, stress, anger and mild depression. Why? Studies have 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. With conscious effort, 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 the ‘fight or flight’ response. This gives us a chance to look more closely at the stressor and work out a better way to deal with the problem, rather than bashing it over the head or running away. (See below for a guide.)

8. Exercise. It’s chicken-and-egg: stress can make us feel lethargic and un-motivated, especially if we’re short of sleep. Remember: using energy creates more energy so take what little you have and do that dog pose, walk to the shop, go and find a view to look at. You won’t need a total workout to help clear your thinking and stabilize your emotions. Experiment and find what’s comfortable for you, but at least try to get your heart rate up every day, even for a short time. Why? Exercise won’t take away your reasons for feeling stressed, but it will help you to manage stress with less energy loss. And getting out there will do all the same things as scrubbing the front step did during the war.

A few other thoughts:
9. Comparing the present with the past – the good old days. I said that I find it comforting to know that the human race has felt stressed for millennia, so much that the philosophy, art and science of Yoga was developed centuries ago to manage it.  If you have had a crisis or a major life change, it is hard to stop comparing the way life was before with how it is now. Healing heartache doesn’t respond to schedules or agendas but we can trust that, in our own time, we will start to regain some stability and be able to move forward with life. It just might take time and so we need our tool kit to help us through.
10. Sleep. Many people don’t sleep well for all kinds of reasons, maybe directly due to stress or perhaps because of unhelpful habits – late night TV, alcohol, erratic meal times, poor diet, lack of fresh air and exercise. We’ve all been there! So get what sleep you can and try not to make that into another drama. Don’t lie in bed and engage with the drama scarlettor try to make decisions. Get up and do something helpful or useful, like the ironing, read a book, practice your breathing exercises, or do some recuperative yoga. Nothing bad will happen before morning. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

11. Reducing Fear. Fear is a normal response to uncertain and challenging times and is natural for our protection. Prolonged fear, exaggerated by drama, eventually creates harmful hormonal and immune system responses that compromise our health. Ask yourself – should I be afraid, or would some healthy caution be more helpful? The difference between these two can make a big difference in what hormones are released in your system.

12. Engage with your family. Keep communicating with family and close friends about the stress that everyone is going through. (You may even help someone else to manage their stress.) If someone is snappy or irritable don’t take it personally and do explain it to children, and reassure them that you can work things out in time. Work with them on simple stress-busters – carpet yoga, play at meditating, encourage them to think of all the good people they have in their lives.

13. Don’t blame yourself. Moving forward is easier without carrying baggage and guilt about what you should have done. Substitute the words ‘should’ with ‘could’ – there’s something liberating very about it. Above all, be kind to yourself.

Resources:

Teach yourself breath control for managing stressful situations, click HERE.

Read Dr David Servan-Schreiber: Healing Without Freud Or Prosac.

For a no-nonsense guide to the wide-ranging effects of stress, click HERE.

Herbs that can help: HERE.

With grateful thanks and much respect to Doc Childre at the Heart Math Institute who has produced a De-Stress Kit for the Changing Times some of which is paraphrased here.

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