Wednesday 21 October 2009

Three Way Stretch

This exercise is a sequence of movements to help keep your body in balance, flexible and gently stretched.

I have been meaning to make a video of this sequence for a long time. Those in my class will recognise the movements and I hope this will encourage you to have a go at home.

It involves the basic standing pose of Samastiti, a stretch, a gentle back bend followed by a forward bend, then side stretching to each side from standing.

Helpful Hints

1) Those of you who do yoga will know about the pelvic tilt.

The hips draw back, the coccyx tucks under, and it involves a little lift of your pelvic floor. This movement will help to protect your back. It also helps you keep your balance in the stretch as you balance on the balls of your feet.

So remember to engage your pelvic tilt throughout the sequence!

2) The back bend -

Place your hands on to your hips, take time to draw your shoulder blades together and then you can feel your chest expanding.

3) In a yogic forward bend the hips stay above the legs, but if you have tight hamstrings or any back problems please put a little bend in your knees to ease the lower back strain. Imagine that your lower back is concave. Your chest, like in the back bend feels open, and the front of your body stays long. So don't over do the forward bend especially at the start. Hopefully each time you repeat the sequence it will feel a little easier.

4) To come up out of the forward bend -

Think about your pelvic tilt and engage your tummy muscles, this will give you strength to come up leading with the crown of your head.

5) Keep the inner arm in line with your ear to help keep your body aligned during the side stretches.

6) Smile and keep breathing.

Beginners to yoga should watch the video before trying the sequence themselves. If you have any health issues please consult your doctor. If you are pregnant the pose can be adapted to your needs.

Thanks to brokenarrowfilms for helping me create this podcast.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Drawing your awareness inward

Over the last term I have been encouraging the students to bring their awareness to their bodies and breath.

Sometimes we go to a yoga class and our minds are simply on everything we’ve done or still have to do. Our bodies go through the motions until suddenly, and without us noticing, we begin to focus. The outside world and work is left outside. We have made some time for ourselves. It is blissful and necessary to keep healthy and happy.

This term we worked on our concentration and awareness while practising our Asanas (postures). In our first lesson we referred to it as ‘mindfulness’, as we brought our awareness into the present moment, accepting what is happening right now without judgement or reaction.

The Buddhists focus on mindfulness in all events, so that if you are shaking with nerves in an interview, it doesn’t have to eat into your self confidence and affect the situation. The yogic way is similar, developing our concentration while we focus on the breath. When you are practicing a yoga pose and your thigh shakes it becomes one small sensation. Observe the way you feel and use your breath to accept the current situation.

Stress relief

If you are feeling anxious or agitated it is recommended that you try more invigorating poses, giving your mind something to focus on. We did a sequence of poses to help ground our energy. Focusing on your body will help you to feel calmer if you are feeling stressed. During a class listening to each instruction will also help focus. In Kundalini yoga at end of the asana (posture) a little time is taken in a basic pose giving you the opportunity to observe the way you feel. This term we followed many postures with the child posture to give some time to watch our breath and observe how we felt, to help to feel grounded.

Practicing asanas (postures), and especially when you really focus on what you are doing, reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Then you get the relaxation response.


Pratyahara is the fifth of the 8 limbs of yoga. It is the withdrawal of the senses to focus on one thing.

Meditation is a form of practicing Pratyahara. It involves sitting comfortably and quietly. Unless the body is prepared it is not such an easy thing to do. So in our last class this term we practiced asanas to try to balance the energy of our external body and also our minds. Then at the end of the lesson we spent a little time sitting and withdrawing the senses physically by placing our hands over our eyes and our thumbs over our ears. We just spent a minute or so just listening to our breath. The absence of the distraction of sight and sounds helped us to internalise our awareness. It helps us to understand our own nature and mind.

When we are stressed we can begin to adopt these yogic techniques to gain a better understanding of ourselves to help us to relax physically, mentally and emotionally.

As you learn to weather situations on your mat, you’ll see that as quickly as difficult emotions arise, they also change and fade away.

Ref: Yoga Journal 08, YJ Sept 09, YJ Oct 06