Backward Bending

Backward bending asanas are energising and rejuvenating. They can be very exhilarating, bestow courage and bring lightness to the body and mind. There is an old adage, ‘you are as young as your spine is flexible’. Backbends ask us to ‘come out of our shells’ and embrace life. They develop our ability to trust, to adapt to change and see things from a different perspective. So much of life is experienced through the front of the body; we spend our lives reaching, bending and also too much time hunching forward. Worries are often placed on our shoulders and backs and we carry them around with us. Backbends help us put down these mental loads that over time become stiffness and inflexibility in our bodies. They offer a new perspective and way of looking at things.

On a physical level backbends tone the abdominal muscles, internal organs and strengthen and tone the back, neck and shoulder muscles while making the spine flexible and strong. They expand the chest and strengthen the respiratory system. Backbends have a detoxifying effect on the body as liver function is stimulated. Back bending also has a neurological effect, as circulation is increased in the spine more oxygen is fed to the spinal nerves. This energy feeds into the brain, effecting mental alertness and agility.  

As with all asanas, in back bending our foundations need to be strong, rooted and connected, grounded in the earth, so we can extend, elongate, trust and breathe past any limitations and open the heart. 

Join Dory for an uplifting morning of backbending on Sunday 22nd May - details and booking here.

Happy New Year - setting a Sankalpa & Ganesha

Happy new year to you all...

Hope you've all had a restful nourishing break? We spent Christmas week in Norfolk enjoying big domed skies, watching flocks of geese and being pretty low key, it was lovely. The New Year retreat at West Lexham in Norfolk was a wonderful celebration shared with a great group of Yogis.

The turning of another year offers space for reflection and renewed energy and focus for our next steps forward. The practise of setting a Sankalpa is central in yoga. A Sankalpa can be described as the most perfect wish we could have for our lives. It helps us stay positive and focused on our goals. It should be about the improvement of our own lives and those of others. 

New year is a perfect time to make a new Sankalpa or reinvest our energies into a current one. Sankalpa keeps us strong when life hands us the big stuff, I don't know about you but 2015 was a 'big stuff' year. Staying with Sankalpa and the practise graces us with inner strength to keep breathing, keep being present, keep experiencing at those times when at a survival level we want to hold our breath and go numb to survive. Sankalpa really helps us to thrive.

The January workshop calls on the energy of Ganesha. Ganesha is the elephant headed God who symbolises amongst other things the removal of obstacles. Using Asana, Pranayama, meditation and chanting the practise will focus on a flow to bring awareness to limiting beliefs and other obstacles that may obscure our progress in actualising our Sankalpas. Building physical strength, with a courageous heart and clear focused mind can move mountains. Come and get inspired to make 2016 the year that you live out more of your hearts desires and dreams.

Practices To Open The Heart

“All paths are the same: they lead nowhere... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.” Carlos Castaneda

Such a huge part of yoga is learning to ‘listen’, learning to ‘look’. 
Developing an awareness that has the ability to hear the calling of our own heart. 
Hridaya Kasha is the spiritual heart space; it expands way beyond our physicality. 
Sitting in the centre of hridaya kasha we sit in the centre of our Being. We sit in connection. 

The word asana translates as seat. As we develop our skill in the asanas, the body becomes a comfortable place to be, a place to relax like a welcome old sofa. The asanas nourish the nervous system and we find greater ease and a comfier seat for the mind and emotions to settle into. Breath by breath, asana by asana we arrive at the gateway of the heart. Through the heart we find connection, we live the yoga.

 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna “Yoga is skill in action.” For the many of us who practice yoga asana, this may be experienced as the bringing of awareness into the actions of the physical body. While reconnecting the mind with the experience of the body is a great start, and a challenging accomplishment, it is only just the beginning. To truly deepen our experience of yoga and gracefully navigate our lives we must learn not only to be present in the moment, but how to move skilfully through the thoughts, emotions and attitudes that surface and block our dynamic energy and inhibit the realization of our potential.

In practical terms this means that rather then just being aware of our tendencies to become agitated, angry, nervous, anxious, over-excited, sad or blue we develop the tools to move these energies through us without getting thrown off our center, distracted, scattered or put down. Rather then simply reacting or responding to whatever life throws our way, we choose the quality of our experiences by what we bring to the moment – not what the moment brings to us. We stay in the centre of our heart. 

For back door easy access to the heart we have all the wonderful Bhakti practices; chanting and singing the glories of the Divine can fast track us into the arms of our own hearts. 

All life is about relationships. The most intimate relationship each one of us will ever have is the relationship we have with ourselves. As we delve deeper and deeper into the heart space our capacity for love expands. As we learn to love ourselves more this is mirrored in all our relationships.

Practices To Open The Heart Yoga Workshop takes place on Sunday 22nd November, from 10am - 12pm in Clifton, Bristol with Dory Walker. Details here.

Forward bends as part of a balanced practice.

Yogic science teaches that there are three bodies in man: the physical body, the astral and the causal. Prana is the energy that links the astral and physical bodies through channels known as nadis. Sushumna nadi is of greatest importance and can be likened to the spinal cord in the physical body, and ida nadi and pingala nadi start at the base of the spine, spiralling up and around sushumna. Ida carries the moon energy, or cooling energy, while pingala is the sun or heating energy.

Forward bends, which are really forward extensions, involve the legs, hips and spine. They effect the physical body, mind energy and emotions. If backbends are energising and extraverting; forward bends are calming and introverting.

Yoga is an integrated, holistic system, with the health of the body, mind and spirit given equal importance. Together, yogic practices work on the healthy functioning of body and mind as the essence of yoga is about balance. It is the middle path of regularity and consistency, not of extremes. It is about right living and the choices that we make in day-to-day life.

Yoga is so much more than pranayama (breathing practices) and asanas (poses) working on the physical body alone, for they also work on the subtler energies within us. As more freedom and space is created within the body, so too is it in the mind. Yoga is therefore about proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, a wholesome nutritious diet, positive thinking and meditation. It is about fostering non-violence, honesty, generosity, kindness, compassion and contentment. As such, the regular practice of yoga increases energy levels, fosters a balanced state of mind and reduces stress levels and fatigue. Yoga brings life to life.

The classical seated forward bend, Paschimottanasana (paschima means the ‘west’, or back of the body) stretches and elongates the back of the body. As circulation is increased in the spine, the spinal nerves are flooded with oxygen, releasing physical and mental tension. Once the body is open enough for the abdomen to reach the thighs, a deep massage is placed on the internal organs and the kidney region is stretched, toning the abdominal region and removing excess weight. Seated forward bends are beneficial for menstrual complaints and sluggish digestion, they also have a meditative quality, and teach us to surrender to the power of breath in challenging situations.

There are also standing forward bends and inverted forward bends such Adho Mukha Svanasana and Halasana.

Forward Bends Yoga Workshop takes place on Sunday 18th October in Clifton, Bristol from 10am - 12pm.
Full details and to reserve a mat space, press here.

And remember, Breathe!

Doing the asanas without the breath is like doing wind surfing without wind: you go nowhere.
— Dona Holleman

Breath is life. I have experienced this is a very real way this year. The first breath our daughter took as she was born and the last breath my mother took as she died. 

Both happened within a few weeks of each other, the beginning and end of a circle. The ultimate inhale and exhale. Breath is unquestionably inextricably the fabric of life. How intimate we become with the breath along the journey of life profoundly effects our lives. The thread of breath in and out is the weft and wharf that weaves the fabric of our lives. The consciousness with which we infuse our breath has a bearing on the quality of the fabric of our lives.

Breathe well to live well from birth until death. 

Breath effects our physiology, with slow steady breath the heart rate is lowered in turn lowering metabolic rate and relaxing the nervous system. Slow steady breath and a relaxed and well nourished nervous system promotes balance for the mind and emotions.

A huge part of the journey on the yoga mat is being in a receptive space to allow the body to ‘breath a pose’. Being connected and conscious of the breath leads us into a state of being and feeling; being and feeling invites us into the present moment. 

Intimately married with each inhalation and exhalation we get closer to truly standing in the centre, the ‘ presence ‘ of each moment. The presence is the state of Yoga.

First of all the twinkling stars vibrated, but remained motionless is space, then all the celestial globes were united into one series of movements... Firmament and planets both disappeared, but the mighty BREATH which gives life to all things and in which all is bound up remained.
— Vincent Van Gough

OM

Guru Purnima 31st July

"Guru Purnima, is a review day of your growth. A day to see how much stronger and wiser you have grown in the past year. This review will bring you encouragement and strength."
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

This year Guru Purnima falls on July 31st, it is always on the full moon.

The essence of Guru Purnima is reflection and gratitude. Guru Purnima is the day you reflect on your life and honor the wisdom that life has offered. When you reflect how wisdom has transformed your life, you feel grateful for all that has come your way. Celebrating this feeling of gratitude is Guru Purnima.

The observation of nature reveals truth. Watch the sun rise and set, the moon wax and wane. The flowers bud and fade. Life has so many things to teach us – it is our job to look to  develop the ability to truly ‘see’; yoga is the seeing.

What is right and what is wrong? What is real and what is unreal? Why is it that we chose that which isn’t right, or that which is? You don’t have to ask this question of somebody, something inside you tells you. You just have to listen. Something inside you tells you 'This is right'. Something inside you pricks you and tells you 'This is wrong'. Honor that! This is the Guru. Guru is made up of two root sanskrit words Gu and Ru. The Sanskrit root gu means darkness or ignorance, and ru denotes the remover of that darkness. 

If you don’t throw light on your own life, then the Guru aspect is absent. By reflecting on your life and honoring the wisdom that life has offered you, you honor the Guru because that wisdom is the Guru Principle. So the Guru is present within you! Wisdom is intrinsic in each and every one of us. It is the essence of yoga to throw light on our life, because when we throw light on our life, we illuminate our lives and wisdom dawns.

Make every day embody the essence of Guru Purnima, by honouring what life has taught you.

OM