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The New Year is about releasing old, stagnant and limiting energy to make room for new, flowing and abundant energy to enter our lives. Holding on to the issues of the past year weighs us down making it more difficult to manifest the impending joys and prosperity of the coming year.
A personal cleansing is a great way to bring in the New Year and release the energy that no longer serves you. Here are three tips to help you on your way.
Cleansing your body: Taking an Epsom salt bath releases tension and negativity in the body and aura, leaving you feeling relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated.
Cleansing your mind: The Kapalabhati breath, also known as the skull shining breath, releases toxins from the body and mind. The Kapalabhati breath is a series of short and active exhalations, alternated with more passive and relaxed inhalations.
Start by sitting comfortably, then take a few yogic breaths (belly breaths) to relax and prepare. When you’re ready, inhale at about half capacity and exhale forcefully. You should feel your navel pump inward toward the spine. Allow your inhale to happen naturally and effortlessly. Do a series of 10-15 short, rhythmic breaths. On the last exhale, breathe out completely and hold the exhalation for 3 seconds before inhaling deeply and taking a few yogic breaths. Be sure to start off slowly to avoid hyperventilation and feelings of light-headedness.
Cleansing your environment: Burning sage or any other incense that appeals to you is a wonderful and gentle way of cleansing your home or any other personal space, for that matter! As you walk around your space, simply intend for the incense smoke to remove old or negative energy and replace it with new and loving energy.
By cleansing your body, mind and environment, your Soul will automatically reap the benefits and set the energetic foundation for a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.
Balance poses can be some of the most challenging asanas you do in a yoga class. There are numerous factors that can contribute to difficulties in keeping your balance. However, one of the most basic reasons is that people often move into the pose too quickly.
Take your time. Setting your foundation before moving into the balance posture is key. For example, for standing balance poses, start from a solid “Mountain Pose” or Tadasana.
Check the flow of your breath. We tend to hold our breath, but it’s the breath that allows us to hold the pose. Find a point of focus for your eyes; this will help keep your mind from wandering. As you transition from your base posture into the balance pose, move slowly, with deliberate intention, and with a flowing breath. Once in the final pose, breath and concentration will help you hold the posture.
Another key to success with balance poses is to have fun! As adults, we often take ourselves a little too seriously and forget that it’s not about perfection, but rather about accepting our body as it is and appreciating what it can do for us in the moment.
Often in yoga classes, the terms “variation” and “modification” are used interchangeably. However, there is a subtle difference.
There are many poses that have variations, slight differences that allow you to do the pose based on the level of yoga you are capable of doing, while keeping the traditional foundation of the pose. Tree is an example of a yoga pose that has variations: the foot of the bent leg can be in different positions based on one’s abilities.
But when a pose is too challenging to do comfortably and safely in its traditional foundation, it can be modified. Using props (block, cushion, bolster, strap, etc.) or placing the body in a different position entirely will alleviate discomfort and prevent injury, while still achieving the same benefits of the traditional pose. It is important to remember that while not every pose has a variation, every pose can be modified.
Modifying doesn’t necessarily make the pose easier! It simply allows you to do the pose honouring your body’s physical abilities in the moment. So if you’re uncomfortable in a particular pose, ask for either a variation or a modification. You’ll be surprised at what a difference it can make in your yoga practice!
I’ve been asked this question many times and the answer, plain and simple, is: Yes, it’s normal!
There are a number of yoga poses we do regularly in class that help stimulate the digestive system in one way or another. Some of those poses include child, sphynx, cobra, down dog, cat-cow, etc.
As we move from one pose to another, energy flows through our body, the breath becomes our focus and we begin to release tension from the body. When the muscles in the body are relaxed, we are more likely to experience flatulence if we have recently eaten. It occurs more frequently in yoga classes than you might think.
Don’t be embarrassed! All it means is that you’re relaxed. Think about it: when we feel gassy, especially in a public place, we tend to tighten the body, specifically the gluteal and rectal muscles. When we release the gas there’s this immediate sense of relaxation in the entire body.
You may wish to avoid eating food that you know makes you gassy right before you head out to your yoga class. But when the urge arises, don’t forcibly hold it in. Feel free to step out of class to go to the bathroom. And if gas just happens to slip out without warning, thank your body for being relaxed enough to naturally release what it no longer needs!
People think that yoga is about contorting and pushing the body to do poses that are intense. But that’s not what yoga is about.
One component of the yogic philosophy is“ahimsa” (pronounced ah-HIM-zah), which is a Sanskrit word meaning non-violence or non-harm. Ahimsa is more than not harming others. It’s also about not harming ourselves.
The true focus of yoga is about respecting your body, respecting how you feel, respecting your abilities and limitations. Yoga is about respecting and honouring yourself in the moment.
So the next time you’re doing yoga, whether at home or in a class, bring awareness to what your body is doing and feeling. Know when your body can be challenged to safely go a bit deeper into a pose and honour the moments when your body needs you to ease up on the intensity. Starting with yourself, practice mastering the art of ahimsa.
I’ve been asked if entering a yoga class after it has started is appropriate or if you should simply not go to class.
Every teacher will have their own opinion, but I believe that going to yoga class is beneficial regardless of what time you get there. Of course, ideally, you want to arrive for your yoga class at least five minutes before it starts. But that’s not always possible. Traffic, work or family obligations, and other factors can make it difficult to arrive to class on time.
If you arrive late, out of respect for your teacher and the other participants in the yoga class, I recommend following these simple guidelines:
* enter the room as quietly as you can, find a spot as close to the door as possible and gently place your mat on the floor to unroll it;
* if you need props (block, cushion, etc.), signal the teacher and ask if she/he could bring you what you need; and
* if the class has already centred, take a few breaths to ground yourself and then join the class in progress.
Unfortunately, not everyone is mindful of the fact that their tardiness can be disruptive to the teacher’s focus and to the flow of the class. However, in my experience, most people are very respectful of the yoga space.
A great way to stay cool this summer is to breathe. The Sithali and Sitkari breaths are useful to cool the body in the summer heat and help calm the nervous system. Doing either breath, even for just five minutes, will create a noticeable change in how you feel.
Curl your tongue so the sides fold up and allow your tongue to protrude from your mouth. Inhale through your curled tongue, like a straw, and feel the cool air as it fills your body. Close your mouth and then exhale through your nose.
If you find you can’t curl your tongue, do the Sitkari Breath as described below.
Create a small, relaxed opening between your lips, with your tongue resting at the base of your jaw behind your bottom teeth. Inhale through the opening in your mouth, as you would if you had a straw, and feel the cool air as it fills your body. Close your mouth and then exhale through your nose.
Do you feel you’re constantly on the go? Our society tends to reward the go-getters and the multi-taskers, but rarely supports the need for us to slow down.
The body and mind need to be active to remain healthy. But both also need rest. Integrating a gentle yoga class, such as Restorative or Somatic Yoga, into your busy schedule will actually help you gain more strength and remain more active in the long run.
Over-taxing your body and mind will quickly deplete your energy reserves and make it more difficult to re-energize. This means you are more prone to getting sick due to a sluggish immune system, getting more headaches and feeling more aches and pains due to constant tension in the body, and even experiencing insomnia due to a constantly active mind.
More and more health issues are being directly linked to stress. Even when you feel calm and relaxed, often there is still physical tension in the body and thought clutter in the mind. When you incorporate a gentle form of yoga into your regular activities, you allow your body and mind an opportunity to rest and relax, calm your nervous system and get out of the perpetual “stress mode” that we have come to believe is normal. It will also help you re-energize more quickly, making it easier to meet your daily life demands in a strong and balanced way.
It’s that time of year again: September!
For most, it marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. But for some people, September can bring about much stress related to getting back into a regular routine of work and personal commitments.
Taking time for yourself is essential in managing your stress in a healthy way. Doing yoga, meditating and doing breathing exercises are great ways to relieve tension and anxiety. However, not everyone has an hour or two in their schedule to get to a class.
Often, in her yoga classes, Christie teaches the four-count pranayama (breath exercise). It’s an easy breath to learn and can be done anywhere, at any time. The four-count breath is done by inhaling over a count of four, holding the breath in for a count of four, exhaling over a count of four, and holding the breath out for a count of four.**
Internationally recognized meditation teacher, davidji, says that doing just one round of this breath can release stress and anxiety, bring about mental clarity, as well as help you become more mindful. He calls this one breath “16 seconds to bliss.”
Give it a try and experience 16 seconds (or more) of bliss for yourself!
**Note that pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions should not hold their breath. Please consult with your doctor to make sure the four-count breath is right for you.
Have you ever been in a yoga class where you were holding a pose and you could feel your body start to really shake? I call that sensation the Yoga Shakes!
Shaking is natural and often occurs when every part of your physical body, including your nervous system, is engaged to support you in a pose. However, when you feel your body shaking, especially in a pose you find intense, your body is signaling you to take notice.
Though a certain amount of shaking is good for the body, strong shaking can be a sign that your body is losing strength and the ability to hold the pose much longer. It may also be a sign that you’re too deep in the posture, meaning that you’re over-exerting yourself.
In any yoga class, it’s essential that you honour your limitations and hold a pose only for as long as you feel you can do so comfortably. Just because the teacher has the class hold a posture for a certain amount of time doesn’t mean one person can hold for as long as another person. Injuries often occur when a person holds a pose too long and their body collapses as they come out of the pose.
The key is strength and control throughout: move into a pose with strength and control, hold the pose with strength and control (and with a flowing breath!), and come out of the pose with strength and control.
So the next time you’re in class, see if you can remain mindful of your body, especially if you’re experiencing a case of the Yoga Shakes.
In many Hatha Yoga classes you will often begin and end the class by chanting the mantra “Om.” Traditionally pronounced “Aum,” this mantra is said to be the initial sound of the Universe and of all creation. Though in our society we usually pronounce this mantra Om (oh-m), it is actually made up of three syllables, A (“ah”), U (“oh”), and M (“mm”), which represent all levels of consciousness.
When chanting Om, it is important to hold each sound for the same amount of time. Often, the M is cut short. The M vibration is a powerful sound that helps open the Third Eye or intuitive centre.
The powerful chant of Om can be practiced anywhere and at any time to help ground yourself and find a sense of inner peace. The mantra’s vibration aligns our body, mind and soul, as well as helps to connect us to one another.
The month of December often brings the pressure of obligations and expectations of the holiday season. With all the parties and gatherings with family and friends, it’s easy to forget to take time for ourselves.
As we get caught up in the holiday rush, we can easily become tired, not to mention irritable and frustrated. Taking a personal time-out may seem impossible. But it’s not!
Sometimes all we need is one minute, sitting in the car at a red light or standing in line at the cashier, to reconnect with our inner Self, change our mindset or to release tension.
Here are a few holiday time-out ideas that you can do anywhere, at any time, and that will only take a moment.
It’s easy to take a personal time-out without interfering with day-to-day holiday obligations. Try it. You may be surprised at just how much of a difference it can make!
Happy holidays and Yuletide greetings!