From the 21 day lockdown in Varanasi, India. In this session a set of 9 techniques and practices that have been particularly helpful in warding off depression and bringing vitality to the mind and body. Bon courage!
From the 21 day lockdown in Varanasi, India. An amazingly simple technique for fast-acting relief from panic and anxiety. All you need is a wall and an adventurous bottom!
From the 21 day lockdown in Varanasi, India. This session takes us step-by-step through the foundational aspects of one of the main balancing asanas, Tree Pose, or Vikrashana in Sanskrit. Have a pole or broom handle handy!
From the 21 day lockdown in Varanasi, India. This fast, effective (and very cool) biohack begins with a demonstration of how movement of our eyes muscles connects to the suboccipital muscles at the back of the neck where the skull meets the spine. Yes, you really DO have eyes in the back of your head! Decompression of these muscles reduces tension in the neck, helps alleviate headaches, anxiety, sleep disorders and depression, and has been found to stimulate the Vagus nerve, a key factor in regulating the autonomic nervous system for overall well being. This is followed by the BASIC EXERCISE developed by Dr. Stanley Rosenberg that you can read about in his book, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve.
From the 21 day lockdown in Varanasi, India. Today it’s all about abdominal-diaphramatic breathing. This kind of breathing – called the ‘yogic breath’ is fundamental not only to yogic practice but to our general well-being. Learn how to re-connect with this unique muscle that provides the key to navigating between the conscious and unconscious, between the external and energetic dimensions of our experience.
References include: Dr. Stephen Porges and Polyvagal Theory; Deb Dana (author of The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy) and Stephen Cope Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.
It’s often said that the best things happen by accident. A couple of months ago, a
simple hardware purchase led to the inspiration for the creation of an innovative
form of yoga. I had bought a wooden curtain rail from Mr. Bricolage in Parthenay, France, and was on my way up the stairs with plan to install it in an open door frame. It was a gorgeous late autumn morning after a week of grey and rain, and the sun was streaming in through the windows of the yoga studio. I couldn’t resist a few rounds of Surya Namaskar in its rays.
When I finished, I picked up the curtain rail and was about to go get my hammer
and nails when something made me pause. I slipped the rail behind my
shoulders and rolled my wrists around the end. The encouraging effect on my
posture was immediate. I began doing some simple stretching movements with the rail in hand and found that it provided a very natural structure that deepened certain postures, accessed hard to reach muscles, and offered helpful support for specific postures.
There was also something graceful and playful about it that evoked movements and
postures from both modern dance and martial arts, inspiring a move away from
static poses to a more dynamic flow. This simple lightweight pole acted as a
an extension of the body. I discovered it to be a very precise as
well as creative tool for alignment, balance and strength. As I explored the
potential of this practice on my own over the ensuing months, I became
convinced that this tool was at least as useful as the blocks, belts, and blankets
that have become such a regular part of Hatha Yoga to help students enhance
and develop their form.
I have been incorporating the curtain rail into my classes since Spring of 2019. On the advice of a French friend and fellow yoga instructor, I have called it
Baton Yoga even though this might invoke images of marching majorettes). I do
see his point. ‘Curtain Rail Yoga’ doesn’t sound very elegant, although I
personally think it has a nice utilitarian ring to it. More importantly, I’ve seen how this tool can benefit those at all levels of proficiency as well as people with specific issues,
being particularly effective in addressing shoulder and back stiffness, pain, and misalignment. It is also fantastically useful for working on deepening balancing poses. With their baton, anyone can quickly acquire the perfect form to experience the lovely effects of Tree Pose, for example, and work on building up their balance later. Participants have reported how they find the baton acts as a focus for their attention throughout the lesson, so that they become less distracted by the external environment and what other students are doing and are able to concentrate more easily. Over the months, we have been developing poses in pairs, threes and even larger groups.
Come and have a go. And there is no need to take down your curtains—all poles provided.
Respect yourself, explore yourself.
With all the focus on aerobic exercise, you could be forgiven for thinking that what your heart wants is for you to constantly running, swimming or cycling. But a number of medical studies are showing that practicing yoga can significantly contributes to cardiovascular health. These days, doctors and other health practitioners are increasingly recognizing the benefits of yoga for the healthy functioning of the heart. More research, particularly in the past five years, is revealing how regular yoga practice can help to manage the levels of cortisol and adrenaline – the fight or flight/stress hormones – that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and put pressure on the heart by narrowing the arteries and raising blood pressure.
This calming effect on the body and mind is due in large part to the activity of the Vagus Nerve, that has been dubbed the “air traffic controller” of our nervous system. The Vagus is our largest cranial nerve, connecting the brain to the rest of the body via the facial muscles, heart, lungs, digestive tract, kidneys and reproductive organs. The Vagus Nerve plays a key role in the function of the parasympathetic nervous system (our ‘all-safe’ response) and helps to regulate many bodily functions including breathing, digestion as well as how we receive and interpret information from our environment, in particular our social environment.
What is fascinating cardiologists is the connection between the Vagus Nerve and the heart. They have discovered that the Vagus Nerve regulates heart rate through electrical signals and the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It is this neurotransmitter that tells our lungs to breathe. And here lies a key. If our body is getting flooded with stress signals what can we do? It turns out that we can indirectly stimulate the Vagus Nerve (and thus develop a more finely tuned response to danger and safety) by working with the areas and functions that it controls; throat, lungs, heart and abdominal organs, but especially by working with our breath.
Pranayama, the kind of slow, rhythmic abdominal breathing that we learn to do in yoga has been shown to stimulate the Vagus Nerve and improve what is called ‘vagal tone’—that is, the body’s ability to accurately interpret signals of danger and safety and to better cope with stress. This practice, embedded for centuries within ancient wisdom traditions, is fast coming to be seen an advanced biohack technique and a promising part of the future of medicine.
For information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Respect yourself, explore yourself.
Several years ago, when I was working in radio production for a program in Los Angeles, I interviewed Dr. Andrew Weil, a renowned holistic health doctor. One of the questions I asked him was, ‘What is your definition of health’ to which he replied instantly, ‘Health is resilience’. What he meant by this, as he went on to explain, was that health is not something that can actually be measured in terms of a stack of test results, since the body is constantly in flux. Our physical processes are changing all the time in relation to many different factors. Health, therefore, is also not a static measurement. Ill-health occurs when things go out of balance to a point where one or more bodily system begins to break down. Health is not when the body is in perfect balance. There is no such thing. It is rather the ability of the body to cope with the stresses that are constantly being placed on those systems. This is resilience.
In other words, resilience is the ability to cope with changes in the body. But there is another extremely important kind of resilience — the ability to cope with changes in our lives. A change might be an enormous upheaval such as the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship, or simply the ability to deal with day to day disappointments or an annoying neighbour. As Heraclitus was famous for pointing out, ‘nothing endures but change’. Change is really the only thing we can rely on, so learning to cope with changes in our lives is nothing short of a super-power.
If our life resilience declines, the good news is that we can build it up again. We can begin by developing resilience to smaller difficulties, and through familiarity, we can learn to apply the same skills to the major challenges that we are all inevitably going to face one day, and to the ones we might face as soon as a few minutes from now. It’s a package that includes insight, kindness (to oneself and others), adaptability, creativity, and humour. Resilience creates a rubbery layer between us and change that provides a softer landing for life’s blows.
Yoga is a wonderful way to develop resilience that benefits both our bodies and minds. We learn to stay with a challenging pose in a compassionate space, exploring it for what it can teach us. We build strength and endurance through a gentle testing of our limits and discover new ways to go beyond them. We learn to giggle rather than tut when we topple over, as we inevitably will do at times. And we learn to breathe through the changes, rest when we’ve had enough, and conserve our energy for the next move.
Respect yourself, explore yourself
I am often asked what kind of yoga I teach. My answer is Hatha Yoga with an
Iyengar influence. But what does that mean? The word ‘yoga’ is often translated
simply as ‘union’, referring to the union of body and mind. Hatha in its simplest
definition means ‘force’ since it is involved in breaking habits of the body through a
certain level of exertion but the word also refers to the power behind the force itself.
Hatha is the general system of yoga poses (asanas) and breathing techniques
(pranayama) from which all modern yoga schools stem, and is made up of word
roots reflecting the union of opposites.
Ha – signifies the sun, the right side of the body, the masculine principle and energy.
Tha – signifies the moon, the left side of the body, the feminine principle and
Hatha yoga is included within the 8 branches of Ashtanga Yoga, an ancient system
of practices that was compiled and elucidated by the Indian sage, Patanjali, in the
Yoga Sutras in the early fifth century CE. All forms of yoga today originated as part
of this comprehensive system that includes ethical discipline, somatic purification
practices, textual study and meditation.
Over the centuries, the postural and breathing techniques of Hatha Yoga began to
gain popularity among the laity outside of the ashrams, and eventually it emerged as
its own discipline. Even today, in India, when someone says they are doing yoga this
is generally what they mean. It wasn’t until the 20th century, that yoga began to sub-
divide into the different schools that we see today.
Swami Sivananda (1887-1963) and Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) both contributed enormously to reviving interest in yoga in India that had waned after a peak in the middle ages. Swami Satyananda (1923-2009) founded the Bihar School of Yoga, the lineage in which my own teacher, Sri Surinder Singh, was trained. Around the same time, K. Pattabhi Jois developed a modern version of classical yoga, called Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
But it was B.K.S. Iyengar who perhaps had the greatest influence in bringing yoga to
the West. He founded his own yoga school in the 1950s, emphasizing precision
alignment and the use of props such as blocks, blankets and belts. One of his most
famous students was Yehudi Menuhin who was so convinced that yoga improved his
musical abilities that he liked to refer to B.K.S. Iyengar as “my favourite violin
Today, there are numerous other yoga schools, and some are controversial, so it’s
good to do some research beforehand. There is Bikram Yoga (sometimes called ‘hot
yoga’ because it’s performed in a room at temperatures up to 40 Celsius), Anusara
School of Hatha Yoga, Integral Yoga, even Kundalini Yoga that claims to awaken the
dormant energies at the base of the spine. And with the West’s love of endless
categorizations, more yoga schools seem to be popping up all the time. Lately, I have been incorporating more Somatic Yoga into my classes (see DSM’s September
issue) with gentle flow through movements that work to reprogram muscle memory.
What type of yoga you end up doing will be based on a number of factors, including
accessibility and your own personal motivations. The best way is always to get a
recommendation from someone you know and trust and don’t be afraid to try out
difference classes. There are a number of yoga teachers in the Deux-Sèvres so you
might find one down the road! And it’s worth remembering that not all types of yoga
will suit everyone. Find the style that works for your own body and mind. If you feel
happy when you leave the class, that’s the best indicator!
For information email: email@example.com
Respect yourself, explore yourself