THE GIFT OF STILLNESS…

“In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” Pico Iyer, (The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere)

Sometimes when I teach, I see students who crave to close their eyes while practicing postures and movements which require their eyes to be open and gently focused. They are trying hard to relax in what they are doing. Then when I ask them to pause, close their eyes and bring their attention within, those same people crave to open their eyes, as they feel overwhelmed by the tumultuous train of their thoughts. Other times, when I teach long held restorative poses, I see people who really struggle to become still. Sometimes, they don’t even realise that parts of their body are still fidgeting. Their nervous system is trying to recalibrate. Often, these are the students who lead a very busy lifestyle, multi-tasking in the office and at home, glancing at their smart phone every two minutes to see if something new has come up, if they have missed out on something…. At night, they often find it difficult to go to sleep or they wake up in the middle of the night with a head full of thoughts and anxiety. And I remember that a while back, I too was experiencing this, and I could easily fall back into the old pattern if I don’t pay attention…

In this day and age when we are constantly asked to perform and achieve as fast as we can, this can be incredibly depleting on all levels. In addition to have less and less time to do things, marketers and advertisers are always finding more ways to bombard us with unwanted information and images to sell their products. We are constantly encouraged to turn our focus outwardly and to increasingly rely on the use of ‘’time-saving’’ digital devices to manage our lives (online banking, online shopping, online dating, social medias etc.). And in the process, we may lose contact with ourselves…

Have you ever wondered how many hours in a day do you spend looking at your digital devices? And how did you spend your time on before all that smart technology existed ? I am not complaining about the speed of IT progress here, but rather that it is taking far too much space and time from us all… And some of us don’t even realise it, notably the younger generations who grew up immersed in that technology.

A few weeks ago, I attended a training with my teacher Rod Stryker , when he pointed out how the increased time spent looking at our smart phones impacts on our ability to daydream (different to mind-wandering) [1] which is an important function of our brain, stimulating intellectual and creative ability. Professor Jerome L. Singer [2] has researched and produced evidence suggesting that daydreaming (theta brainwaves), imagination, and fantasy are essential elements of a healthy, satisfying mental life. Before the age of digital devices, we allowed ourselves to daydream more frequently and on regular basis. Now, whenever we have a rare moment with nothing to do, most of us tend to look at our phones… By being constantly stimulated in the wrong way, our brains become overactive and in a state of hyper vigilance (hi-beta brainwaves). In the long run, it becomes more difficult to think clearly, and our memory/retention power decreases. If the brain was compared to a hard disk, an IT consultant would say it is time for a good disc clean-up and defragmentation…

When we consider the above, it is not surprising it is so difficult to become still. For those of us who live fast, work and play hard, the key here is in the ‘’balancing act’’ : finding time and space to cultivate the art of pausing what we are doing to become still. In his ‘Art of Stillness’ Ted Talk, travel writer Pico Iyer(3) reflects on the incredible insight that comes from taking time for stillness, also leading to more emotional intelligence :  “In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

So what can we do to become more at ease with stillness ?
It might not be easy at first, as it will take time to ‘’rewire the brain’’ to form new neural pathways and become more at ease with stillness. So here are a few ideas on how to create and explore stillness in our lives :

Where to start : Here and now. Slowly but surely, take small steps that fit into your life style, so you can make consistent progress which lasts, in your own time.

What next :
G.I.V.E  Y.O.U.R.S.E.L.F  A  B.R.E.A.K and do some ‘’internet detox’ on regular basis. Create time and space when you don’t look at your phone/TV/ computer, for an hour, a day, a weekend, a few days etc… In the evening, stay away from TV or electronic devices at least 2 hours before going to bed (as pixels stimulate your brain activity and might keep you awake). Instead, try and read a good book, listen/play some soothing music, or write in your diary..

Take a walk in nature : take the time to pause, notice and feel within and around you.

Practice mindful breathing : Several times during the day, take a moment to reconnect with your breath : Pause what you are doing and pay attention to your breathing. Hands resting onto your belly, take long, slow mindful breaths, feeling your abdomen expand as you inhale and relax as you exhale. Repeat to yourself, like a mantra, a positive affirmation such as: ‘’I inhale deep calm and peace, I exhale any stress and tension.‘

Go to a Yin or Restorative Yoga class : Long held supported postures with mindful breathing and body awareness, help release deep seated tension. Yoga practices such as Yin and Restorative Yoga activate the para-sympathetic nervous system, and literally help us ‘’re-boot’’ on a physiological, mental and energetic level, increasing our vagal tone(4) hence the ability to ‘’rest and digest’’. By aligning the physical and mental, the practitioner creates the optimum conditions to activate the natural healing process of the body, in harmony with nature.

Attend a Yoga and Meditation class : A fine sequence of asanas and Pranayama prepares the body to become still and sit in a comfortable position. Meditation gives the opportunity to observe the process of our thoughts and emotions and let them pass, without getting ‘’caught in the story’’, the ability to choose our thoughts more purposefully and find more lasting calm and peace within.

Try Yoga Nidra : Often underrated, the profound practice of Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep with a slight trace of awareness) is an ancient and life-changing approach to complete relaxation. It has been studied in clinical settings and has been found to treat various afflictions ranging from sleeping disorders to chronic pain, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. Neuro scientists say that Yoga Nidra helps access the brain rhythms (theta and delta brainwaves) that signals the deepest rest. By cultivating stillness and effortlessness, a more subtle awareness unfold, soothing the mind and body down to the cellular level. Yoga Nidra is also a way to build up Ojas, the ‘vital nectar’, the essential energy of the body, which will strengthen immunity and vitality.

What to expect : At first, it might be challenging to change any agitating, distracting habits which no longer serve you. So, please be patient with yourself : as you become more used to creating ‘’pockets’’ of stillness in your life, you will find it increasingly enjoyable. With consistent practice, it will soon become like having a shower in the morning and you will look forward to those moments of peace and quiet which allow you to check in with yourself. You might even surprise yourself feeling a new sense of joy and satisfaction for the most simplest things. And at best, it might even become contagious to those around you…


[1] There is a distinction between day-dreaming and mind-wandering, where you think of things other than the task you are doing, and daydreaming when, for example, you are on a train doing nothing and detach yourself from the world around you.

[2] Jerome L. Singer’s research produced evidence suggesting that daydreaming, imagination, and fantasy are essential elements of a healthy, satisfying mental life. He is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Yale School of Medicine. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the New York Academy of Sciences. Singer is to be considered "the father of daydreaming" and he "has laid the foundations for virtually all current investigations of the costs and benefits of daydreaming and mind wandering" https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00626/full

[3] Pico Iyer has spent more than 30 years tracking movement and stillness — and the way criss-crossing cultures have changed the world, our imagination and all our relationships. In twelve books, covering everything from Revolutionary Cuba to the XIVth Dalai Lama, Islamic mysticism to our lives in airports, Pico Iyer has worked to chronicle the accelerating changes in our outer world, which sometimes make steadiness and rootedness in our inner world more urgent than ever. In his TED Book, The Art of Stillness, he draws upon travels from North Korea to Iran to remind us how to remain focused and sane in an age of frenzied distraction. As he writes in the book, "Almost everybody I know has this sense of overdosing on information and getting dizzy living at post-human speeds ... All of us instinctively feel that something inside us is crying out for more spaciousness and stillness to offset the exhilarations of this movement and the fun and diversion of the modern world." https://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_the_art_of_stillness

[4] Vagal tone (Wikipedia definition) : Vagal tone refers to activity of the vagus nerve, an important component of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. This division of the nervous system is not under conscious control and is largely responsible for regulation of the body at rest. Vagal activity results in diverse pleiotropic effects, including: lowered heart rate, changes in vasodilation/constriction, and glandular activity in the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. Because the vagus nerve is importantly involved in heart rate regulation through its action on pacemakers in the heart, vagal tone is easily assessed by heart rate. In this context, tone specifically refers to the continual nature of baseline parasympathetic action that the vagus nerve exerts. While vagal input is continual, the degree of stimulation it exerts is regulated by a balance of inputs from both divisions of the autonomic nervous system and reflects the general level of parasympathetic activity. Vagal tone is typically considered in the context of heart function, but also has utility in assessing emotional regulation and other processes that alter, or are altered by parasympathetic activity.

KAPHA SEASON : Time to boost the inner-fire and refuel the energy

According to Ayurveda, at this time of the year when winter brings colder and wetter days, we move from the Vata to the Kapha season. Condensing the Earth and Water elements, the Kapha dosha* is a rather “sticky”, cold and muddy combination… so how does this affect us ?

In our northern hemisphere, from late winter till spring, the cold temperatures and humid weather influence our “inner-atmosphere”, creating more dampness in the body, disturbing our energy levels, our moods, our digestive and immune systems.
When Kapha soars up and gets out of balance, the body is likely to create more mucus, making the body more susceptible to colds and coughs, respiratory disorder, congestion, and sluggish digestion. On the mood level, it can also translate by stagnation, sluggishness, feeling less inspired, less spontaneous, a difficulty to “get going” and complete the tasks we set for ourselves.

When in balance, Kapha is the principle of stabilizing, grounding energy, it governs growth in the body and mind. It is concerned with structure, stability, lubrication, and fluid balance. So what can we do to make the most of the season and balance Kapha in our body ?

If you haven’t got a very active lifestyle already, it is a good idea to practice some kind of “yang” activities which stimulate the cardio-vascular system, increase the blood circulation and boost the metabolism. These can range from power walking, running, dancing, martial arts or some form of flowing Hatha / vinyasa yoga, encouraging dynamic asanas, including gentle warming Pranayama techniques such as the Ujjayi breath (also known as “ocean breath”), or kapalabhati (“skull shining breath”), stimulating the physical or digestive fire (Jathara Agni).

As we look after the body, it is just as important to soothe and balance the nervous system, so that we cultivate inner-calm, feel replenished and nourished inside. This can be achieved by practicing Yin activities such as Yin and  restorative yoga.

As we get our inner fire going, it is also crucial to create more “fuel”, also known in Ayurveda as “Ojas” (‘the sap of  life energy’’, one of the three vital essences which generates and maintains physical vitality, mental clarity, and overall health). In order to build Ojas, a very effective Abhyanga massage can easily be practiced from home. Amongst its numerous benefits, this self-pampering technique helps nourish the entire body, lubricate the joints, increase circulation, improve sleep and calm nerves. Another wonderful way to increase Ojas is to regularly practice Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation with a slight trace of awareness), deeply calming for the mind and the nervous system.

During the Kapha season, it is also a good idea to pay attention to what we eat, reducing sugar and eating warm, nourishing food. Depending on which dosha is prevailing in one’s body constitution, some of us can really benefit by adding warming spices to broths, soups and stews, such as ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper. As a winter warmer and good alternative to coffee, you can also try a DELICIOUS TUMERIC LATTE which is a great alternative to coffee. So here are a few ideas to think about and see what works best for you during the Kapha season. Enjoy !

Dosha* : literally means ‘’that which tends to go out of balance’’. According to Ayurveda, the doshas are three bodily Bioelements that make up one’s constitution : Pitta, Vata and Kapha. They are highly unstable and always fluctuating in the body.

WINTER BOOSTER : Delicious tumeric latte

Also known as ‘’golden milk’’, this is one of my favourite winter booster!
A delicious ayurvedic recipe which has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties..

Ingredients
–    1 cup of unsweetened non-dairy milk, preferably almond or coconut milk
–    1 cinnamon stick
–    1 tablespoon of virgin coconut oil
–    ¼ teaspoon of cardamom powder
–    1 pinch of crushed saffron
–    1  fresh small turmeric root, unpeeled, thinly sliced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric
–    1 small piece of ginger, unpeeled, thinly sliced
–    A pinch of black pepper (to activate the turmeric anti-inflammatory properties )
–    Ground cinnamon (for serving)

–    Optional :  a teaspoon of raw honey

PS : If you drink the above in the evening, before going to sleep,  it is best not to add the ginger which can be too stimulating.

Preparation
–    Whisk the milk, with the above ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a low boil.
–    Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
–    Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into mugs and top with a dash of cinnamon.

Optional  : to add a  bit of sweetness, when a drinkable temperature is reached, add 1 teaspoon of honey (raw preferably)

You can froth the above preparation to  give it a ‘cappuccino’ like effect.
Quickly done and so delicious ! Enjoy.

VERY BERRY SMOOTHIE FOR A BURST OF ENERGY …

Photo 10-08-2016, 08 31 21

This is probably my favourite smoothie when I have an early start and don’t have time to prepare a more consistent breakfast. It contains red berries which are packed with antioxidants. I have also added Chia Seeds (great for digestion) and Maca powder to boost energy.

Place the following ingredients (organic preferably) in your blender :

  • a good handful of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries
  • a generous spoon of goji berries (which are a great source of essential amino acids, minerals, vitamins B1, B2, B6, and E, linoleic acid, selenium, germanium, and more beta carotene than the common carrot)
  • a handful of  spinach
  • a banana
  • a quarter of lime or lemon
  • a medjool date (remove the fruit stone)
  • a big spoon of chia seeds
  • a small spoon of maca powder
  • a small spoon of cinnamon
  • a glass of almond milk

Optional : To make it more consistent, I also like to add a handful of pure porridge oats.

spring energyBlend well, sit back and enjoy this delicious breakfast smoothie which will keep you going until lunchtime.

REFRESHING GREEN SMOOTHIE TO BOOST YOUR ENERGY…

Today, after indulging a few good meals at the weekend, I felt like a healthy cleansing green smoothie. I have added two energy boosters : some maca powder (which is  supposed to be great for hormone balance), and a big spoon of chia seeds (also great for digestion).

1 handful of organic spinach
1 organic celery stalk
a slice of a juicy melon
a couple of slice of pineapple
a couple of fresh mint sprigs
a quarter of organic lime
a tea spoon of Maca powder
a big soup spoon of chia seeds
Add 1/2 a glass of water or coconut water  and blend the above ingredients.

Optional : if you wish to add a bit of sweetness, add a spoon of raw honey or a medjool date.

Sit back, sip slowly and enjoy the feeling of freshness !

SPRING DETOX AND NEW OPPORTUNITIES…

It’s already Spring time, and we love it… because the grass is green again, the sun is shining, the days grow longer and it feels like a fresh start ahead…

IMG_1674At this time of the year, I feel an urge to clear my cupboard of any unused items or clothes,  and I usually realise, with a lot of shame, how much unnecessary stuff I have accumulated. Once I have gone through the process, it always feels better, clearer. I clean every corner of my home and I might even ‘smudge’(1) the place to remove old stagnant energy. Spring is a time of renewal, an opportunity to start again and give birth to our true nature. By letting go of old stuff, we can bring new energy into the light. Still, there is a feeling that the job is not quite yet done and that I need to go deeper… much deeper. I had no idea until a little while back that I had to pay closer attention to what the Taoists call the ‘General of the army’ , or  the liver (the leading organ excelling in strategy planning in the Body)…

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each season corresponds to different organs and meridians (subtle energy channels) through which Chi (vital force, also referred to as Prana in the Yoga and Ayurveda traditions) flows. The liver and gall bladder are connected to the season of spring.
The liver is the primary chemical factory of the body, the main organ for detoxification. It takes care of any substance which cannot be broken down and used for energy. Any wastes the liver cannot use are converted and either carried out by bile (produced by the liver, stored by the gallbladder, it helps us digest food, especially fats) into your small intestine or carried by the blood to the kidneys. The liver was considered by the ancients in Chinese medicine as the seat of life, hence naming it “the liver”. It is the largest gland in the body. It stores vitamins A, D, K, and B12, minerals and glycogen which is converted in glucose as needed to provide energy. Keeping the liver healthy, strong and stress free is very important in our overall health, longevity and fitness. The liver is also responsible for the overall metabolism of the body, controls muscular strength, movements and coordination, strength of vision, clarity of thinking, helps to detoxify and re-energize the blood during sleep and creates important cholesterol. It also controls sexual energy and vitality, and is associated with the opposite emotions of anger and kindness.

According to the Taoist tradition, each season corresponds to an element(2). Wood is the one associated to Spring, ruling liver and gallbladder chi. The wood energy of the liver helps to feed, control and energize the heart. Just as wood keeps a fire going, the wood energy keeps the heart going. When we get angry, the amount of “wood” energy sent to the heart increase considerably. This is why the heart rate speeds up when we experience strong anger.

The main role of the liver meridian is to regulate the energy in the body, and to create a harmonious internal atmosphere. When out of balance, we may physically experience fatigue, migraines, vertigo, dizziness, tight hips and back pain, general stiffness. Emotionally, we may experience a fluctuation of emotions such as irritability, anger, frustration and impulsivity. When liver and gallbladder meridians are balanced, it brings a sense of relief and fulfilment, we feel more compassionate, more adaptable to change. We feel more connected and harmonious inside. The liver has a huge impact on the overall health of the body, but also on the mind and emotional state. A healthy liver and gallbladder Chi allows us to see more clearly. Our ability to devise plans and implement them smoothly increases. Just like water, we can flow around obstacles, bouncing off from what is in our way, to move towards fresher goals. We become more adaptable to changes and more open to opportunities coming our way.

Simple steps to look after the liver and empower the changes within our body and mind in Spring:

  • Become more mindful of what we eat, perhaps do a gentle detox by favouring lighter, drier and less oily food.
  • Eat your greens, especially green leafy vegetables, which are full of anti-oxidant.
  • Reduce heavy dairy products, like cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
  • Eating warm food.
  • Drink herbal teas such as artichoke, milk thistle, sage etc. which support liver detox.
  •   Mix a few drops of liquid chlorophyll to your bottle of water. It tastes so good and refreshing. I find it boost my energy levels too.
  • Ayurveda suggests to eat more food with pungent (cayenne pepper, onions and garlic, ginger,etc.), bitter (like endive, chicory, romaine lettuce, spinach, turmeric, fenugreek, etc.) and astringent (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc. ) tastes. Eat fewer sweet, sour and salty tastes.
  • Seize this time to spring clean and declutter your living and working space, as they are an extension of your energy field. Be ruthless, and let go of any unused or unwanted stuff. You may observe the difference straight away and feel great about the space you have created!
  • Another great way to embrace the Spring energy is to adapt our yoga practice accordingly:CB_4405-Edita (640x427) alternating Yang dynamic practices which are more stimulating, energising, increasing circulation in the Body, and Yin restorative practices with supported postures, held longer, which help to reach deeper layers of the body, releasing tensions, knots and old energy, to create spaciousness in the bodymind (3).CB_4425-Edita

Once our sacred space has been cleared inside and out, inspiration will arise and we are ready to embrace new fresh energy. We have a fresh canvas and can allow ourselves to play with the colours of creativity, while considering what truly makes us happy and fulfilled, and welcome fresh opportunities in our lives… Most importantly, don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself and see how it feels.

spring energy

(1)    Smudge : Smudging is an ancient ceremony in which you burn sacred plants, such as sage, to allow the smoke to clear and bless a space. It helps clear the energy at home,  and to start anew. 
(2)    The five element theory : the ancient Taoists studied Nature to observe and determine how it relates to our health and well-being. The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element is associated to a season : Wood to Spring, Fire to Summer, Earth to Indian summer, Metal to Autumn, and Water to Winter. 
(3)     Bodymind : is an approach to understanding the relationship between the human body and mind in which they are seen as a single integrated unit. In the fields of psychology, therapy and alternative medicine bodymind implies that the body, mind, emotions, and spirit are dynamically interrelated. Experience, including physical stress, emotional injury, and pleasures are stored in the body’s cells which in turn affects one’s reactions to stimuli.

FREEING THE NECK AND BODYMIND WISDOM

Growing up with a scoliosis and carrying a heavy school bag full of books for many years did not help…Then a couple of whiplash injuries left me with chronic pain in the cervical spine and shoulders area. I got so used to it that I did not complain anymore nor seek to alleviate it, until I developed more body awareness through my yoga practice and meditation…
How many of us suffer in silence with a sore neck, shoulders or stabbing pain in between the shoulder blades, just accepting and putting up with it ? Many people have just resigned themselves to pain as they feel it is a normal condition…. As I check in with students at the beginning of my classes, there is always at least one person in class, who suffers from chronic pain, tension in the neck and shoulders area.
In the United States, it appears that 80% of the active population report at some point a neck and shoulder problem. I did not find any statistics for the UK population but it would not surprise me if it was pretty close. There seems to be an increasing amount of people who loose the natural curvature of the neck and develop a military neck (flat neck) or hyper extended neck (head forward or reverse cervical curve). The most common causes are poor posture, walking in high heels, sitting at a desk all day, spending long hours in front of a computer and/or on electronic devices. Whiplash injuries, carrying weights, doing lots of arms forward movements, occupations which require repetitive neck movements, regularly sleeping on piles of pillows, can also ultimately compromise the shape and structure of vertebrae and muscle of neck and shoulders.
When the natural lordosis of the cervical disappears, it can result in chronic pain, numbness in the arms and hands and sometimes even pinched nerves. It also affects the way we breathe and the quality of our sleep. Inspirational Yoga therapist Doug Keller, explained in a training I attended a couple of years back, that during sleep, the cerebrospinal fluid moves up to the head and washes the “waste-pipes” going to the brain. And if our sleep gets interrupted every so often, this important process cannot run smoothly. In the long run, it affects the nervous system and leads to all kind of medical conditions linked to the nervous system. This was a revelation for me. As far as I can remember, I had been part of the “happy many fluffy pillows club”, sometimes sleeping with up to two big pillows and a bolster… As I started to look after my neck and sleep with a single good quality pillow gently supporting the back of my neck, not only did my sleep improve greatly but also I felt more rested in the morning and less prone to tension during the day.
Beyond the physiological and anatomical aspects, taking care of the neck is just as important from an energetic perspective: The neck is the location of Vishuddhi (the throat chakra – the fifth energy centre*) which represents our ‘Voice’ , our self-expression/ communication (with ourselves and with others). On a psychological level, neck issues can be related to a feeling that we are unable to express ourselves as we would like or that we feel not heard when we speak. As a result, the throat chakra starts to close down, the energy there stops expanding, unable to flow properly. When the neck and shoulder area clammed up, the shoulders tend to round and the chest caves in. It affects the way we breathe but also the way we feel. When this happens, the communication between the head, the rest of the body,and our energetic heart centre (Anahata chakra*) is affected. It becomes more difficult to hear our “inner voice”, also known as the “inner teacher”, the voice of the heart. This is the amazing body wisdom which tells us when there is an energetic disconnection we need to address. Most of the time, we are far too busy to listen, as we get caught up in all kind of external distractions.
The modern society we live in encourages us to look outward constantly , live in our head more than our body. Just consider for a moment how long most of us spend on computers, electronic devices or watching TV, bombarded by social media, and all kind of advertising, ‘gloom and doom’ news etc … As a result, and with years of conditioning, the voice of the mind becomes much louder than the voice of the heart.
Ultimately, it is our choice and responsibility to become more aware of unhealthy postures and the tendencies which do not serve us. This is the first step to transformation to get more attuned to the bodymind**, access our quiet centre and become more empowered individuals in the mist of the eternal battle between the voice of the heart and the voice of the mind…

Simple steps to take care of your neck and shoulders:

1/ Take regular breaks from your desk, move and stretch yourself.

2/ Give yourselves a hug by placing your hands around the shoulders. hugAs you breathe in, feel the area around and in between the shoulder blades expand, as you breathe out, feel the neck soften, and the shoulders relax down. Repeat a few times then change the crossing of the arms and repeat the process again.

 

3/ A simple reclined posture: Lay on the back, with knees bent and resting towards each other, feet wide. rolled blanket under shoulder bladesPlace a rolled blanket in the area just below the shoulder blades. Rest there for 5 minutes with the arms in “cactus position”. After a while, when the body has softened, you can try extending the arms in a wide V shape.

4/ If you spend long hours sitting in front of a computer, there might be a few simple adjustments you can do to improve your posture at your desk :posture at the desk

*Chakras (Sanskrit cakra, “wheel”): according to Tantric philosophy, and the Yoga and Ayurvedic traditions, there are seven main chakras, thought as a spinning vortex of energy. These are Muladhara (located mainly in the pelvic floor), Svadhisthana (located in the pelvic basin/ lower abdomen), Manipura (at the navel centre), Anahata (energetic heart centre,in the sternum area), Vishuddhi (throat energetic centre), Ajna (third eye) and Sahasrara (at the crown of the head).

**Bodymind : is an approach to understanding the relationship between the human body and mind in which they are seen as a single integrated unit. In the fields of psychology, therapy and alternative medicine bodymind implies that the body, mind, emotions, and spirit are dynamically interrelated. Experience, including physical stress, emotional injury, and pleasures are stored in the body’s cells which in turn affects one’s reactions to stimuli.

THE POWER OF SANKALPA

In the yogic tradition, a Sankalpa is an intention, a desire, a resolution which we place in our heart and mind. It is activated by our willpower, the transformative power of our thoughts into action.
Ideally, there is no better place and time to establish a new resolution but here and now.
However, the beginning of the year is also a good start to place an intention, before life pace increases and we get caught into the “busy-ness” of life and any potential procrastination. It gives us a sense of direction, a focus point for the rest of the year.

I like to compare the formulation of Sankalpa as an “alchemy recipe”… In addition to will power, and to become potent, a Sankalpa requires a good dose of detachment or surrender. So that when we place an intention, we bear in mind that there might be a Divine plan in motion,  a higher power in action.  Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to the Divine,  the Absolute or Universal Force) is one of the Niyama (ethical observances established in the eight limbs of yoga *). It fuels our Sankalpa and helps us switch from the ego-based “I want” to the more humble and fertile “I wish and trust” mode.

I also like the idea of placing a Sankalpa at the beginning of a physical challenge: In the Spring of last year, my husband and I took a trip to Cape Town with his youngest son, John. On the last day, John, who is a keen climber, convinced us to trek up Table Mountain. Towering 1086 meters over Cape Town, and around 500 million years in the making, Table Mountain is a playground for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. So, we could not resist and decided to embark all together on the adventure…
The way we chose to walk up the mountain was via the Platekip gorge and the best way to describe it was “up and relentlessly up”!  It’s the most direct route to the top of the mountain and the most popular. However, it is not a route to be trifled with; the going can be tough. So as we started to walk, I placed my Sankalpa. Half way up, we realised that although John was climbing like a rabbit, neither my husband or I were quite prepared for this. We were more on the “ slow worm” kind of pace… IMG_1596We soon started to feel exhausted and dehydrated. We had misjudged the heat, the difficulty of the path and the quantity of water we should have brought with us. The path was steep and narrow and there was no turning back.  We also had to be very aware where we stepped as there are a number of  ”not so friendly” crawlers (snakes, spiders and scorpios) in the neighbourhood . As we climbed, and felt more and more tired, I got a sense that the only thing I could do at that stage was ‘’surrender to what is’’… I started to recite a mantra to Durga (warrior goddess of protection and inner strength).

IMG_1590The more I focused on mantra and surrendering, the more I started to feel the energy coming back and pushing me up the hill. A few hours later, with shaky legs, a ”very dry” smile and dizzy head , we made it to the top with a huge sense of relief and achievement. That trek became our kind of our “Camino de Santiago”… a pilgrimage to the top of the mountain and it turned out to be an exhilarating experience, where we all had to expand our comfort zone and go beyond our limits. Not to mention the stunning views and fresh air which were waiting for us at the top of the mountain.

Finally, a powerful place to introduce Sankalpa is also at the beginning of our yoga practice or at the beginning and end of Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation, yogic sleep with a slight trace of awareness). When we practice yoga, we declutter, we reorganise and create space in our body and mind, which become a fertile ground to plant the seed of an intention.

According to Yogarupa Rod Stryker, the best way to create a goal is, before we go to sleep,  to write down the question : “what is my Sankalpa?”, Then, wake up the next morning and listen throughout the day. The answer will come as you refine your listening. His advice to formulate an intention is to make a short and positive statement, which addresses a deep and significant urge. Ask yourself what is the one thing that if you were to have or be, it would improve your whole life. What one thing or quality will have the greatest possible positive impact on your life and on the life of others? The Sankalpa should be stated in such a way as to reflect that what you want has already been achieved.

Table mountain 2So like an explorer, climbing your own mountain, reflect on what is your challenge this year and formulate your intention, clearly and purposefully. Once your resolve has been planted, remember to feed it with your willpower and water it with your detachment. Watch and let it grow and unfold…

*The eight limbs of Yoga are : Yama (abstinence), Niyama (observance), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Dharana (concentration), Pratihara (meditation), Dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (contemplation, absorption, super-conscious state).The Yama includes : Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (self-continence), Aparigraha (non-greed). The Niyama includes : Saucha (cleanliness, purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study and study of the scriptures), and Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to the Divine, to the Absolute, the True Self).

AUTUMN YUMMINESS: Courgettes spaghetti with rosemary, roasted garlic butternut squash and Portobello mushrooms

About a year ago, I started to cut down on gluten, wheat and refined sugar in my diet. Since a very young age, I have experienced blocked sinuses and a sluggish digestive system, including IBS, bloating, etc.  Within a month of seriously reducing the amount of bread, pasta and sugar from my meals, I started to feel better and better. I now enjoy better energy levels and my digestive track feels better than ever. I have even lost weight in the process. I do indulge a bit at the weekend with some toasted sourdough bread at  breakfast, sometimes  a piece of gluten free cake or home made apple tart with tea in the afternoon, a couple of glasses of wine at dinner and it feels good . Having some Italian genes, I still craved a good pasta now and then, until my friend suggested I try courgette spaghetti… I first felt a bit sceptical about it, but as she is italian and a fine ‘ gourmet and cordon bleu ’, I thought I’d give it a shot. So, I bought a spiraliser from Amazon and started to explore various recipes. It did not take long before I was hooked to ‘veggie spaghetti’. It tastes surprisingly good, looks just like it (nearly fooled my husband), and is so light to digest.

Here is one of my favourite recipes. So easy to prepare and simply delicious!

Ingredients (for 2people) :
1 organic butternut squashed seeded and cut in cubes.
3 organic courgettes
6 unpeeled  crushed  garlic cloves
Fresh rosemary
2 flat Portobello mushrooms
A hint of cinnamon
Coconut oil
Himalayan salt
Smoked paprika

Optional :
1 pack of thinly sliced smoked trout
Soft goat cheese

Add the butternut squash  and the unpeeled crushed garlic cloves into an ovenproof dish  with a good dollop of coconut oil. Sprinkle a hint of cinnamon and smoked paprika to your taste, a pinch of salt, and cover with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Cook in the over at 180-200 degree for 30 minutes, stirring the dish regularly so the squash and garlic starts to golden all over.

While the above is roasting, thinly slice your mushrooms and fry them slowly in a pan with some coconut oil until they are soft. In the meantime, cut both end of the courgettes and put them through the spiraliser to make them into spaghetti like shape. If you haven’t got a spiraliser, you can always use a vegetable peeler to slice your courgettes in ‘pappardelle ‘ like pasta.

Once the butternut squash and garlic are golden all over and slightly crunchy, throw your courgettes spaghetti into the frying pan with the mushrooms, a couple of rosemary sprigs and add a pinch of salt and smoked paprika. Quickly fry for 1 minute, so the courgettes get warm, a tiny bit softer and start changing colour.

Serve the courgettes spaghetti in a dish covered with the roasted butternut squash and garlic. You can add some thinly sliced smoked trout and crumble some soft goat cheese on top to add a bit of a twist to the dish… Sit back and enjoy!

RELAXATION AS THE ANTIDOTE…

When the days become shorter and colder, our body tells us to slow down, go to bed earlier, make our lifestyle a bit more nurturing. However, as the holiday season approaches, I find that life often gets busier and more frantic…
According to Ayurveda, autumn is the Vata Dosha season. What does this mean?  Vata literally means “wind”-a mix of air and Ether/space; Dosha means that which tends to go out of balance. The signs of excess Vata are anxiety, fear, spaciness and exhaustion. There are a number of things we can do to reduce Vata, and feel more grounded and nurtured:
First of all, look after our diet and eat warm, grounding food with plenty of root vegetables (take a look at my Hearty beetroot and bramley apple soup recipe).
Second, look after your joints by massaging the body with warm organic, untoasted sesame oil, before having a shower or a bath.  It gives a warm nurturing feeling and instant wellbeing.
Finally, and most importantly, slow down your practice: even if you are keen on Yang types of activities or yoga which requires stamina and muscle power (power yoga, hot yoga, vinyasa yoga etc.), it is important to allow time for more Yin (gentle, calming) practices such as Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation with a slight trace of awareness), Pranayama and Meditation.

Regardless of the time of the year, fast pace modern life, multi-tasking, too much time spent on electronic devices, often triggers stress, fatigue and anxiety, even more so in a busy capital city like London. Stress is a very natural and necessary process which in small doses, helps us to keep motivated, pro-active, and eager to achieve something. Stress can also be a life saver when we are presented with a life threatening /dangerous situation. The mind alerts the body that danger is present and as a result, the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys starts secreting “stress hormones”, which act upon the autonomic nervous system , and prepare the body for the “fight or flight response”. The heart beats faster, increasing the blood pressure, the mind becomes more alert. The muscle tension is increased, ready for “spring/ explosive action”.
However, when stress becomes too much and too often, the mind becomes confused and starts triggering the “fight or flight” physiological response, even though there is no dangerous situation as such. As a result, the adrenal glands become depleted, affecting notably the kidney chi (the pranic energy/ vital force in the kidneys). In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered amongst the most important organs as their health reflects on the smooth running of other vital organs, the cardio-vascular and digestive systems, and also the joints and the bones. “Bad stress” also affects the metabolism, and the ratio of good/bad cholesterol in the body. It creates physical and mental tension, often leading to poor posture and shallow breathing, and also affects the quality of sleep. In time, this can lead to a state of chronic fatigue, anxiety, and can act as an “activator” to all kinds of dormant medical conditions.

Relaxation is the antidote. A good way to start is by introducing “Relaxation snacks”, so that on a daily basis you get some kind of quality time for yourself, whether it means to spend time in silence to walk in a park, read a book, paint or play music. Something which fits into your lifestyle and that you will easily keep up with. The next step to reduce stress and build reservoirs of energy is to practice Yoga, especially Restorative and Yin Yoga, which both focuses on holding postures for a longer period of time, often using props (bolsters, blankets, bricks and blocks,etc.) . This allows the body to safely open and release stress and tension. It creates space in the body and the mind, so that our innate natural healing process can occur. As stated by Judith Hanson Lasater, renowned ‘Relax & Renew’ yoga teacher and therapist: “We work very hard in our lives, and while we may sleep, we rarely take time to rest. Restorative yoga poses help us learn to relax and rest deeply and completely. During deep relaxation, all the organ systems of the body are benefited, and a few of the measurable results of deep relaxation are the reduction of blood pressure, serum triglycerides and blood sugar levels in the blood, the increase of the “good cholesterol” levels, as well as improvement in digestion, fertility, elimination, the reduction of muscle tension, insomnia and generalized fatigue.”

So, see how you can start bringing more relaxation into your life and let it work its magic… In time and with consistency, notice how it makes you feel, how it impacts your life in general, and how you carry this into the world… how it reflects on your surroundings and your relationship with those around you.

SPECIAL HALLOWEEN : HOME-MADE IMMUNE BOOSTING POTION …

Home-made immune booster potCalling all white witches this weekend :-)))… Park your broomstick and get your magic wand out for this homemade potion !
If you enjoy making your own natural remedy, this is one of my favourite to help clear cold & flu symptoms, soothe sore throat and boost the immune system :

  • 2 lemon juiced and a few sliced rings,
  • freshly squeezed ginger,
  • raw or Manuka honey,
  • 1 good dessert spoon of cinnamon,
  • 1 spoon of tumeric powder (or even better 1 crushed fresh tumeric root )
  • a pinch of organic cayenne pepper (usually, the redder it is the better).

The tumeric anti-inflammatory properties are activated by the cayenne pepper (also a natural anti-inflammatory and immune booster). This  home-made natural remedy can be kept for months in the fridge, although it might not last that long as it tastes rather delicious…  I like to eat a couple of spoons pure or diluted in teas or with warm almond milk.

Happy Halloween everyone !

MAHA NAVARATRI… OR THE TIME TO CELEBRATE YOUR DIVINE POTENTIAL.

Today is a special day in the Yogic, Tantric and Ayurvedic Traditions: It is the first day of Navratri or Maha Navaratri , one of the most important Hindu Festival, symbolising the triumph of good over evil, celebrating the Divine Mother in all of Her forms.

It is considered a time to worship the auspicious  Godesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, who are representing the three different manifestations of Shakti (universal power or cosmic energy).

Navratri lasts 9 days : On the first three days, prayers and worships focus on Durga, who destroys all  impurities, old patterns, anything which no longer serves one’s highest potential. The next three days, Lakshmi is celebrated and worshipped to empower  spiritual wealth, health, abundance and prosperity. The final three days, worships and prayers turn onto Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning.

Even though I don’t consider myself a hindu, I like to honor the traditions and celebrate this in my practice, on and off the mat, expressing gratefulness to the Divine Mother: the expression of God, the Universe,  the supreme Creator, with whom I resonate the most.

I like to see Navratri  as an auspicious time to celebrate the Divinity inside each of us, the Sacred Feminine, which empowers our inspiration, our creativity, and our natural healing power. So, for the next 9 days, my self-practice will become a little bit more devotional : On the mat, my asanas (postures) become more like a moving prayer, incorporating  a bit more chanting, Pranayama and  Meditation. The whole practice become a ritual (Puja), an offering to the Divine. Outside the mat, Navratri is the time to acknowledge and celebrate all the wonderful women in our lives.

So on this first day of Navratri, on this special New Moon, auspicious to new beginnings, let it be a time of inner-exploration, a time of reflection on how we can empower our practice, fuel our meditation and come closer to our Divine potential. How can we best embody our goddess energy in this lifetime? What do we need to let go, what are those old habits that no longer serve our purpose? How can we declutter our mind, our body and our home so that we create space for new energy, new opportunities ? Let it be a time to celebrate and share the fruits of our seeking and reflections with the other amazing women in our lives, little spark of goddesses in disguise.

Namaste

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5 TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR ENERGY LEVELS…

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1/ First thing in the morning, drink a cup of lukewarm water with a squeeze of lemon juice or a tea spoon of organic apple cider vinegar. It will kick start your digestive system, help control hunger and cravings, prevent bladder stones / urinary tract infection by eliminating excess acidity.

2/ Once a day, allow some time to find stillness and silence. Turn off your phones and electronic devices and sit in a quiet space, either to read a book, enjoy the sound of nature if you can sit outdoor, or perhaps start a short meditation practice. Start by a very simple technique: spine tall, sit up on a chair or cushions, so that your hips are slightly more elevated than the knees. Become aware of the sensations in your body, noticing the areas where you are holding unnecessary tensions. Softly inhale and exhale through the nose. Keep the abdomen very soft and see if you can release/melt any area of tension in the body with your breath, making the body feel more and more relaxed.
The most important thing is to find a time which works for you and fit with your lifestyle. So, at the beginning, even 5-10 minutes will be beneficial. In time and with consistency, you will realise how this little ritual transform your day, your ability to relax and it will become easier to sit for longer period of time.

3/ Just as precious it is to find time and space for stillness, it is also important to move, move, move your body… In the western civilisation, most of us tend to have a sedentary lifestyle, spending far too much time in sitting position, whether it is at a desk behind a computer, driving, or watching TV… So, whether or not you already practice Yoga weekly/daily, or another kind of physical activity, take the opportunity to move your body as often as you can , to stretch, to take the stairs instead of the lift, to walk around the block during your tea/lunch break etc… it will boost your energy levels and help you release some tension in the body.

4/ “Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince, and Dine like a Pauper…” to improve your digestive system, manage your energy levels and sleep better. Make breakfast and lunch your main meals with a well-balanced diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and aiming to reduce sugar intake and acidic drinks. Keep dinner light and eat early.

5/ if you have little time to practice Yoga at home, Viparita Karani (legs-up-the-wall pose) is an easy and efficient way to relax the body, calm the mind and soothe the central nervous system. It also helps to recover from long flights and jet lag, relieve tiredness from the legs, and reduce swollen ankles.
Before getting into the pose, decide whether you wish to elevate your hips with a couple of neatly folded blankets (optional) and if so, establish the distance of your support from the wall. Start with your support about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall (If you’re stiffer, the support under your hips should be lower and placed farther from the wall. Experiment with the position of your support until you find the placement that works for you.). Sit sideways on right end of the support, with your right side against the wall. Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and rest your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck. It is a good idea to place a small cervical pillow under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Let your hands rest softly on your belly or release arms out to your sides, palms facing up. Close your eyes and enjoy this position for 5-10 minutes.

YOGINI GONE GREEN…
 THE NUMEROUS HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHLOROPHYLL

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As the cold days settle and with less sunlight,  I feel the need to boost my immune system and build up Ojas (essential energy of the body / sap of one’s life energy) , detox and restore deep inside…

So, I make my Yoga practice more nurturing, with a bit more forward bends and twists, holding the postures longer. I also allow more time for deep relaxation, with long Savasana at the end of practice or even better, indulge in the most “delicious” Yoga Nidra (Yogic sleep with a slight trace of awareness – see my FAQ section to read more about Yoga Nidra). In addition, I also look at my diet and eat more warm hearty food, with plenty of ginger, garlic and a pinch of cayenne pepper here and there.

Lately, a friend has introduced me to the many benefits of Chlorophyll and it has become one of my favourite nutrients to mix with water and drink throughout the day.
Apparently, its molecular structure is almost identical to haemoglobin except for the centre atom: In haemoglobin this is iron, whereas in chlorophyll it is magnesium. As a result, Liquid chlorophyll (or “plant blood”) helps to rebuild and replenish our red blood cells, boosting our energy and increasing our wellbeing almost instantly. It is very alkaline and has the power to regenerate our bodies at the molecular and cellular level. I love drinking it first thing in the morning, mixed in a cup of lukewarm water and after practicing Yoga. It makes me feel even more energised and ready to get on with my day.

Looking into it, it appears that other Liquid Chlorophyll Benefits include :

Anti Carcinogenic: Chlorophyll protects against a whole host of carcinogens found in fungus-laden foods such as grains. It blocks the metabolism in the body of harmful chemicals known as pro-carcinogens that damage DNA.

Antioxidant & Anti-inflammatory: containing high levels of the vitamins A, C and E, liquid chlorophyll has strong antioxidant capacity and has also been found to help reduce inflammation.

Chlorophyll and Heavy Metals: chlorophyll has a particular way to bind to and remove toxic heavy metals such as mercury makes it an extremely powerful healer.

Anti-Candida: recent research has also shown that chlorophyll is effective in fighting Candida albicans (an opportunistic fungus – or form of yeast- that is the cause of many undesirable symptoms ranging from fatigue and weight gain, to joint pain and gas), thanks to its highly alkaline properties.

Get rid of Bad Breath : Chlorophyll has a double-action remedy for bad breath. Firstly, as a deodoriser, it will eliminate odours in the mouth and throat, but secondly (and more importantly) it promotes a healthy digestive tract – which is the primary reason for bad breath. in addition to keeping a healthy and balanced diet, I also like cleaning my tongue with a cloth after brushing my teeth in the morning ( an effective Yogic/Ayurvedic cleansing ritual).

Wound Healing & Antiseptic: while liquid chlorophyll doesn’t actually have antiseptic properties of its own, it remarkably seems to have the ability to aid our body’s tissue in destroying germs. By strengthening tissue, it increases the disease resistance of cells and, at the same time, prevents the growth of bacteria! Research apparently also suggests that chlorophyll greatly assists in wound healing and prevention of reinfection.

A good source of Magnesium: chlorophyll is rich in magnesium, which is a highly alkaline mineral and so consuming chlorophyll rich foods has a highly alkalising effect on the body. Magnesium is very important as it helps to deliver much needed oxygen to cells and tissues, bone formation, nerve and muscle function. Magnesium is most important for our cardiovascular system, digestive system, nervous system, muscles, kidneys, liver, hormone-secreting glands, and brain.

A good source of vitamin K, C, folic acid, iron, calcium, protein: which are all also essential in building and repairing red blood cells and boosting our immune system.

So the first step is to add plenty of good organic green vegetables to your food, juices and smoothies. If you wish to take it to another level, in a more concentrated way, I like the Liquid Chlorophyll from Nature’s Sunshine which is really pleasant in taste (no strong minty taste, more of a fresh herbal natural flavour). I usually add a few drops to water, juices or smoothie

When I was a child, my immune system was not so good and I used to develop cold and flu every so often. At that time, I was regularly prescribed a course of antibiotics and as a result, it affected my immune system/ natural resistance and my digestive system (food absorption and elimination). So, in my twenties, I became more and more interested in natural remedies and alternative ways to strengthen my immune system, boost my energy levels…Hence, another reason why I also decided to explore the Yogic path…. It is trully amazing to observe how much is available in  Mother Nature when we take the time to investigate, and I love to share what works for me. So, see how green suits your diet  ;-). Enjoy !

You can read more about the liquid chlorophyll and order it from : http://www.onlygoodhealth.co.uk/liquid_chlorophyll_%28473ml%29

 

RECIPE : HEARTY BEETROOT AND BRAMLEY APPLE SOUP

beetroot soup  beet and bramleyindex

A delicious soup which will make you feel warm from the inside when it is cold outside. One of my favorite after yoga practice ….  so easy and quick to prepare !

  Ingredients :

1 big spoon of coconut oil ( I suggest coconut oil for frying as it is a short-chain saturated fat that is delicious and perfect for higher-temperature cooking)
3 beetroots (cook and then peel if bought raw, cut into small pieces)
2 onions
A whole celery,
1 bramley apple
3-4 garlic cloves crushed
1 good chunk of ginger
1 pint of vegetable or chicken stock
1 spoon of ground nutmeg
1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon
Salt, pepper

Finish with :
A generous drizzle of basil infused olive oil
A handful of mixed seeds and / or grounded nuts to sprinkle on
A dollop of crème fraîche or Greek yogurt

Preparation :

– chop the onions , garlic and ginger
– fry till transparent in the coconut oil
– pour in the stock
– cut up the beetroots into chunks pop into the stock.
– add salt,pepper and squeeze the lemon and orange halves into the mix
– add a teaspoons of ground nutmeg
– cut up the celery, Bramley apple and add to the above.
– cook at a simmering heat for 25 minutes.
– leave to cool down a bit and then liquidise.
– when you serve you can add a little crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt , sprinkle with seeds and/or nuts.

Enjoy !

PS: can also be served cold like a Gazpacho.

THE BREATH : A GATEWAY TO A HEALTHIER AND HAPPIER LIFE…

We all breathe but how many of us actually do so correctly and with attention?
Fast paced modern life, bad posture, emotional disorders, smoking, etc. usually lead to uneven use of the respiratory muscles and often below our natural capacity. As breathing affects our heart rate and our central nervous system, the way we breathe impacts directly on the way we feel inside.

Before I discovered Yoga, I used to be a typical shallow breather… My chest and throat felt tight, I used to feel stressed and anxious all the time, and my immune system was also on the “not so good” side…. When I started to get panic attacks and insomnia, a friend recommended that I try Yoga. Within weeks of attending a weekly Yoga class at my local health club, I started to feel better on every level. I even started to do a short self-practice at home whenever I could. Most importantly, I soon started to feel inspired again and even found a new sense of direction in my life. It was the beginning of a life long journey, which eventually led me to become a teacher in order to share with others what I have learned from the beautiful tradition of Yoga.

Because we are born with the automatic gift of breath, most of us don’t think about it or may be assume that it is beyond our active control. Yet, as described by BKS Iyengar in Light on Pranayama, the respiratory system is a gateway to purify the body, the mind and the intellect. Breathing can be made more efficient by changing its rate, depth and quality. As a matter of fact, the lung capacity of athletes, mountain climbers and yogis is far greater than the ordinary man, allowing them to perform better, beyond the usual limits. Better breathing means a better and healthier life.

From a more therapeutic point of view, learning to improve our breathing patterns can considerably help those suffering from insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression and also help manage heart disease. Once balanced breathing has been established, subtle changes can take place in the body such as improved posture, digestion, sleep and an overall growing sense of wellbeing. By slowing down our breath, we learn to become more at ease with ourselves and feel more relaxed. With regular and consistent practice, we become more mindful and more aware of our “vasana” (behavioural tendencies) . In the context of a Yoga class, the key to this is the right combination of Asana (postures) and Pranayama.

“Prana” means life force and “Yama” means to enhance, to expand. Hence, Pranayama is the practice of breathing techniques that enhance our vitality and concentration skills. Pranayama helps us move energy in the body, clear blockage in the nadis (subtle energy channels, also known as meridians in Chinese medicine), expels toxins from the blood and rids the lungs of stale air. In the yogic tradition, the breath is considered as the vehicle of Prana, a bridge between the body and the mind: as the practice of asana removes the obstructions which affect the flow of Prana, Pranayama regulates the flow of Prana through the body and the mind. The careful sequencing of Asana, Pranayama and Meditation have a calming effect on the physiological and nervous system. As a result of the right pranic balance, the mind quietens and the highest aspects of the mind (creativity, intuition, memory, compassion, forgiveness) are brought forward.

As we change the way energy flows within, the way we view the world starts to change and also impacts on the world around us (how we relate to others, and as a result the way others will relate to us and so on…). In Fire of Love: Teaching the Essence of Yoga, Aadil Palkhivala writes that “breath is our way to exchange atoms between us, that is why we are all connected with each other”. Using the breath to calm the “waves” of the mind is the ultimate goal of yoga (“Yoga Citta Vrtti Nirodhah” – Yoga Sutra 2 – Book one / Samadhi Pada). In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the world is considered as a reflection of the mind. Therefore, if we remove the filters from the mind, we understand ourselves and those around us better and see the world with more clarity and discernment.

So as you embark on your Yogic path, remember to let your practice be guided by your breath, enjoy every single bit of it ,let it inspire you and reveal the treasure within you. Most importantly, remain playful and enjoy the journey all along. Namaste !

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