Recently, I was travelling across London on the tube to go to a yoga training day. I was feeling a bit nervous as I was going to a part of London I didn't know, to a venue that was new to me, and on a course where I wouldn't know anyone. On the journey, in an attempt to calm my nervous anticipation, I was reading an article on mindfulness. In it I came across a short meditation poem by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and it was just the thing to calm my jittery feelings. The poem was the verbal equivalent of Rescue Remedy, and I found even on a busy tube journey I could take the poem's advice and breathe and smile. Also, it was a gentle reminder to stay in touch with my breathing, my body, and my feelings, and to smile! It did the trick, by the time I arrived at the venue I was still slightly nervous, but I felt more open to enjoying the new experience and getting the most out of the day. Here is the meditation poem:
Breathing in, I smile
The beauty of a simple, meditation poem like this is that it can be used in everyday situations to induce a sense of calm. I've also been using it in my own yoga home yoga practice and with my yoga classes. My favourite use for it, in my own yoga practice, is to silently repeat it whilst I'm holding a yoga pose. I particularly enjoy using it in Sphinx Pose, Supine Butterfly Pose, or Hamstring Stretch. I find I can relax into the intensity of the stretch whilst I repeat the phrases, smiling, and breathing. Bliss!
After my initial nerves about the yoga day in London, I actually really enjoyed the day and learnt a lot. The tutor reminded us of how yoga standing poses build up both physical and emotional strength and prepare us for the emotional opening we encounter in the back bending poses. This has prompted me recently to reintroduce more standing poses into my own home practice and my classes. Below is a delicious standing sequence I've recently rediscovered and that we've been using in class. It is Sage Rountree's Parking Lot Yoga sequence. Enjoy!
The sound of summer rain is my accompaniment as I write this post today. It's pouring down and the rain is forecast to last all day...which makes it the perfect day to do... a few rounds of Salute to the Sun! In this version you visualise the warmth of the Sun both outside and within the body, which leaves you with a warm glow and feeling radiant...even if it's still raining outside!
Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskar)
1 Stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), hands in prayer position (Namaste). In your mind’s eye picture the Sun rising in the sky. Now picture a warm, glowing sun at your solar plexus; radiating warmth and light; and keep this image in mind as you perform the Sun Salute.
2 From Mountain Pose raise your arms out to the sides and up above your head, come down into a Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana).
3 Bend the knees and arch the back, and then come back down into the forward bend.
4 Step the legs back, one at a time, into Plank Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana): whole body in one long line.
5 From Plank Pose swivel to one side into Side Plank (Vasisthasana). Repeat on the other side. For a gentler practice: miss out Side Plank, go straight to (6).
6 Come back into Plank Pose and drop the knees to the floor, sitting back into Child’s Pose (Balasana): rest here for a few breaths.
7 From Child’s pose come into Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
8 From Upward-Facing Dog turn toes under and swing back into a Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Stay for a few breaths in the pose.
9 From Downward-Facing Dog Pose bring your right foot forward into Lunge Pose (Anjaneyasana).
10 Bring the other foot forward coming into a Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Bend the knees and arch the back.
11 Come back into the Forward Bend (Uttanasana) and stay for a few breaths. Then sweep the arms out to the sides and up above the head, coming back up to standing.
12 Bring the hands back into the prayer position (Namaste) and rest here for a few breaths. As you rest, picture in your mind’s eye, the Sun rising in the sky. And then picture a warm, glowing sun at your solar plexus; radiating warmth and light; and keep this image in mind as you perform another round of the Salute to the Sun.
If you have time do a few more rounds of Salute to the Sun. If you want to lengthen the practice you could follow it with the Relaxing Summer Yoga Practice, described in my last blog post. Take this warm, sunny glow into your next activity and into the rest of your day!
Here is a super, simple, short, and very relaxing yoga practice for you to do at home. It would be a great way to wake up in the morning, or perfect for winding down in the evening.
1 Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) into Child’s Pose (Balasana): Come onto the all-fours. Exhale: lower the bottom to the heels and the head to the floor to Child’s Pose. Inhale: come back up to the all-fours. Repeat 6 times. As you inhale silently say: Perfect happiness: exhale: Contentment.
2 Supine Twist (Jathara Parivrtti): Lie on your back, knees bent, feet together, arms out to the sides at shoulder height, palms facing down. Bring both knees onto your chest. Exhale: lower both knees down towards the floor on the left. Inhale: return to centre. Repeat 6 each side, alternating sides
3 Then drop your knees to the left; place your left hand on your top, right thigh; gently persuading your legs down towards the floor. Turn your right palm up and keeping your arm in contact with the floor, raise your arm up towards your right ear. Stay here for a few breaths. And then repeat on the other side.
4 Knee-to-chest pose (Apanasana) into Leg Raises: Bring both knees onto your chest. Inhale: Straighten your legs to the vertical, heels towards the ceiling; taking your arms out to the side, just below shoulder height, palms facing up. Exhale: bring knees back to chest (Apanasana). Repeat 6 times.
5 Happiness and Contentment Meditation: Find a comfortable sitting or lying position. Become aware of the natural flow of your breath. As you inhale silently say: Perfect happiness. As you exhale silently say: Contentment. Every time you notice that you mind has wandered off, gently bring yourself back to focusing on the flow of the breath and the meditation phrase. When you feel ready, let go of the phrases, notice how you are feeling now. Have a good stretch and carry on with your day.
The above yoga practice has been adapted from the Summer to Autumn Yoga Practice in my book Yoga Through the Year: A Seasonal Approach to Your Practice.
Here is a short and simple yoga practice to relax, refresh, and energise you during hot summer days. Each of the five steps below can be done on their own as a stand-alone practice, for those times when you are looking to fit in just a few blissful moments of yoga. Or do all five together as a short and sweet yoga practice. Always remember that even a few minutes of yoga can be very beneficial and uplifting.
1 Blossoming Hands
Close your eyes and draw your awareness inwards (or if you prefer keep eyes open). Begin to gently open and close your fingers. Make a gentle fist, like a flower closing back to bud. Then spread the fingers, like a flower opening. Continue to slowly and gently repeat this opening and closing movement. Once you have established a rhythm to the movement, bring your awareness to the natural flow of your breath. As you observe the breath, notice how it corresponds to the opening and closing movement of the hands. (Can be done standing, sitting, or lying down).
2 Flower Arms
Stand tall, feet hip width apart. In your mind’s eye picture your favourite summer flower. Now place fingertips on your shoulders, elbows out to the side; relax shoulders down away from ears.
Inhale: open arms out to the side; like a flower opening.
Exhale: bend arms, bringing fingertips back to shoulders; like a flower closing back to bud.
Repeat 6 times.
3 Bend and Straighten Warm-up
Take the feet just over hip-width apart, toes turned slightly out; arms out to the side just below shoulder height. Exhale: bend both knees over feet; lower the arms. Inhale: return to the starting position. Repeat 8 times.
4 Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Stand tall, feet hip width apart; hands in prayer position. Picture your favourite tree in its summer splendour. Imagine that like a tree you have roots going from the soles of your feet way down into the earth. Then bring the sole of your right foot to rest on your inner left thigh; rotating your right knee out to the side. Either keep your hands at the heart, or take your arms above the head, hands in prayer position. Fix your gaze on a point that is not moving. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on the other side.
For balance problems: instead of bringing the foot onto the thigh, just rest the sole of the foot on the opposite inside ankle. Or be near a wall for support.
5 Bow to the Earth (Bhumi Pranam)
Stand tall, feet hip width apart, hands in Prayer Pose (Namaste). Stay here for a few breaths focusing on the heart chakra (anahata). Keeping hands together raise arms above the head: stay here a few breaths, focusing on the space above the crown of the head, the crown chakra (sahasrara). Lower the prayer hands to the third eye Chakra (ajna) and then the throat chakra (vishuddha). Bend the knees deeply (thighs parallel to the floor) and bring the prayer hands to touch the floor. Stay here for a few breaths, thanking the earth for supporting you. Inhale: come back up to standing, taking prayer hands above the head. Exhale: lower prayer hands back to heart. Repeat 3 times.
To conclude the practice: Breathe in, breathe out, smile! Breathe in, Breathe out, smile...Repeat...Enjoy the rest of your day :-)
Recently I've been enjoying bringing the Twisting Balancing Sequence back into my own early morning home yoga practice. I'm also teaching this sequence in my yoga classes this week, so I thought I'd share my handout with you.
You can use the sequence on it's own; or use it to prepare for a stronger sequence such as Salute to the Sun. Students who find Salute to the Sun too challenging could use this sequence instead if they prefer.
In the handout below you'll see that I combine the "Twisting Sequence" with the "Lunge and balance Sequence" to make one longer Twisting balancing Sequence. I usually do about 3 rounds of the sequence, but you could do less or more as suits you.
Today in my home practice I followed the Twisting Balancing Sequence with Utkatasana (standing squat), and then a few rounds of Salute to the Sun.
Here's a Yoga Journal video with teaching points for Chair Pose:
And here's my favourite version of Salute to the Sun.
Enjoy your practice!
You can find more seasonal yoga idea and inspiration
on my Yoga Through the Year website.
In winter some of us get in to the habit of a slumped posture, as we attempt to fend off the cold weather, and succumb to the winter blues. So during the autumn term one of the themes of my yoga classes has been: Yoga to Avoid the Winter Slump. The benefits of this sort of programme are: improved posture, correcting mid-back slump, lengthening the front of the body, strengthening the back, and relieving neck tension caused by the head migrating forward when slumped. The feedback I've got from my students has been positive. One student reported back that she didn't have her usual back pain for a few days after attending class. Another was delighted when she had a week free of her usual tension headaches.
Julie Gudmestad's article Break out of your Slump was my original inspiration for creating a series of practices on this theme.
Here are my teaching notes/aide memoire for one of the practices I designed in this series. Excuse their unpolished nature, but they were originally intended for my eyes only, but they'll give you an idea of what the practice is like.
Another yoga sequence that I have found fits in very well with the Break out of your Slump theme, is the Leg stretch Bridge Combination. It can be used to start or finish your yoga practice, or use it on its own as a mini yoga practice, when you are pushed for time. My inspiration for this sequence originally came from the book, Yoga for your Life, by Margaret and Martin Pierce. Here's my class handout for the sequence:
Trawling through some of my old teaching notes, I also came across a really nice warm-up that fits in really nicely with the theme too. The inspiration for this warm-up came from the book, Supple Workout by Lorna Lee Bender. Here's my class handout for the warm-up:
I find working with various practices that help you to avoid the slump can be uplifting, boosting your mood, and helping you to shake off the winter blues. They also have a wonderful heart opening effect.
"Learn to pause for a moment as you begin each pose, to feel the vitality of the support muscles of your back, the spaciousness of your lungs, and the openness of your heart. Over time, this practice of opening your heart will contribute not only to changing your posture but also to the development of compassion. In just this way, the physical practice of asana changes our outlook on the world and the way we interact with other beings."
A lovely way to conclude your heart-opening, Avoid the Winter Slump practice is to focus on your heart centre (anahata), whilst silently repeating the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. This is a Tibetan mantra, that roughly translated means: resting in the jewel of the lotus.
The steps of this heart-opening meditation are:
Here is Jane Winther's beautiful rendering of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum:
This occasional blog is designed to share my yoga class handouts, resources, and tips with my yoga classes.