First you breathe in

It started with Guy Martin in Russia, or at least a programme about Guy Martin in Russia. Rather than being suspicious of Russian people Guy got on really well with them, which got me thinking. Specifically about Systema, a Russian martial art I’d read about years ago.

After a spot of googling I came across the website of a guy called Matt Hill, a Systema instructor based in Wiltshire. I watched a few of his videos and they totally flipped my idea of what a martial art is and what Systema is all about. A lot of Matt’s videos focus on breath. It made me think about yoga from a different angle.

So, it actually starts with Sukhasana. Just about every yoga class I go to or teach starts with sitting cross-legged. This is usually followed by instruction to “sit up straight” and “pull your shoulders back”…

But, I thought, what if I just try to create the pose from the breath? After repeatedly starting my practice like this I find that it really helps me to bring my focus to my practice straight away. And it’s a focus and awareness that remains throughout. I start by sitting cross-legged but without any conscious effort to do anything regarding posture. Instead, I start yogic breathing, deep down into my abdomen and allow my ribcage and chest to fill with air. This action naturally extends the spine and lifts the chest. A few repetitions asserts the extension and then I focus on using the exhalation to relax my shoulders, neck, groin, hips, knees… As my next extends and my chin comes towards my chest I feel a good connection to and awareness of my breath.

I try to maintain this throughout my practice to see what it brings. It’s certainly brought new insights into Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). And it’s brought a new appreciation for Balasana (Child pose) and Adho Mukha Virasana (Face-down Hero pose).

In Balasana I focus on breathing into my back and minimise any expansion of my chest, which I monitor through the pressure between my chest and thighs. Likewise, in Adho Mukha Virasana I focus on expanding my ribs sideways using the pressure between my ribcage and inner thighs as a guide. I also like to come up onto fingertips of my hands as they extend forward as it helps my thoracic spine to extend.

The ability to controlling my breathing and direct into different areas of my body has done wonders for the development of other poses. By breathing into my back ribs I have found a much improved ability to go deep into forward bends. It also helps with twists like Parivrtta Parsvakonasana where breathing into the front body becomes very compromised and spending anytime in the pose very difficult without being able to use the back to breathe.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring Sun Salutations through breathing, any insights from which I’ll be happy to share.

Let’s get back to work!

Well, it’s been quite a summer. Hopefully you’ve all enjoyed the beautiful weather we’ve had.

Yoga classes at Avonmouth Community Centre will start again on Monday 10th September at the same times as before; 6.15pm- 7.15pm.

My own practice has changed a bit of the last couple of months, currently I’m focussing much more on mobility and relaxation. Classes will start with some gentle exercises and build up to the Sun Salutation sequence, after which we’ll do some standing poses and stretches before relaxation. It’s a routine I’m really enjoying at the minute, I hope you will as well.

Back to normal

Class will start up again tomorrow – Monday 7th May. Class starts at 6.15pm and lasts for an hour. It is run on a drop-in basis so there’s no pressure to sign up for a minimum number of classes, all equipment is provided.

New Year – New Class time

Happy New Year!

There’s a change to the class time for 2018. Class will now run on a Monday evening, 6.15pm – 7.15pm, but the class format is the same. Each week we’ll practice poses and sequences with a different focus each week. Some weeks it might be core strength and balance, some weeks it might be flexibility and other weeks we’ll focus on relaxation.

Classes run on a drop-in basis. Everything is provided but please feel free to use your own mat if you prefer.

Class news

We now have only one class left this year, Friday 22nd December. There will be no class on Friday 15th December or Friday 29th December.

There will be a new class time for 2018, with class moving from Friday afternoon to Monday evening. Class will start at 6.15pm and finish at 7.15pm, the cost per class will be £6. The style of the class won’t change, each week we’ll continue to practice a range of poses with a specific focus (forward bend, backbend etc) and allow time at the end of the class for relaxation.

Be passive – be active

A few months ago I wrote a short entry about using intuition in your yoga practice. Sometimes it can useful to simply put your mat on the floor and start doing some yoga, and see where that leads you. Respond to your body and your mind and let them direct you.

I’m often surprised by what I end up doing when I take this approach, rather than determining the course of my practice consciously at the beginning. If I set myself a conscious direction, then I may end up focussing on particular poses (standing, forward bends) or I may try to deal with something that’s a source of frustration, such as a lack of flexibility in my quads. I think this is mostly influenced by the classes I go to.

The yoga classes I go to are almost exclusively Iyengar. So they’re quite physical and focus on correct alignment in asana. That’s not to say they’re not relaxing. I often find that I’m physically tired at the end of a class which helps me relax deeply in Savasana. But my yoga journey didn’t start with Iyengar. It started with Hatha yoga and Sivananda Yoga – echoes of which continue to resonate in my practice.

Hatha yoga is really a term that covers all physical yoga. Iyengar, Ashtanga, Viniyoga – they are all physical disciplines and so they can all be considered Hatha yoga. Sivananda would come under this heading as well, but Sivananda is really very quiet and gentle compared to Iyengar and Ashtanga.

I think that yoga is a mixture of being active and being passive. The practice of asana is there to help develop the physical strength, stamina and control to help the practitioner to sit comfortably for periods of time where the breath and being quiet is the focus.

When I decide to approach my home practice without any conscious intent, other than practising yoga, I now find that I start and end with a few minutes sitting cross-legged, head bowed forward, relaxing and trying to just focus on my breath and connect with the present. When I get it right (I’m not sure if the idea of right and wrong is really appropriate here) it’s a wonderful feeling – a clear, still mind which isn’t distracted by external or internal events.

Hatha is a word made up of two terms from Sanskrit: Ha which can mean Sun – think activity, physically demanding poses and; Tha which can mean Moon – think passivity, restful and recuperative poses. If you practice a phyiscal form of yoga it’s important, I think, to include elements of both in your practice, whether that’s a conscious decision or not.

170718 Grounding

Hair of the (downward facing) dog…

The morning after the night before. It’s a feeling many of us are familiar with. The sore head, dry mouth, lack of energy and the nagging worry about who we offended and how. We all get that, right? It’s pretty much how I feel at the minute, but I only have myself to blame, or so I’m told.

A hangover might be an extreme case, but it is all too easy to get to a point where you feel less than 100%. Work might demand too much of your time so you end up not eating properly and trying to deal with the stress of a heavy workload. Looking after a family can mean there’s very little time (and peace, and quiet) just for yourself.

Just as eating well and drinking plenty of water can help to keep your body healthy, regular yoga practice can help to keep your ‘you’ healthy, your self. The stretch that muscles receive during yoga helps to promote good blood circulation, increasing energy and also helping the practitioner to relax and de-stress. The breath work in a yoga class (pranayama) helps to regulate energy levels and quietens the mind, which in turn helps us to relax deeply in Savasana at the end of a class. If you can relax effectively then not only does it become easier to deal with stress, it also helps to keep stress at bay.

If you’re interested here’s a link to an excellent video about pranayama. 

The hair of the dog isn’t my go to remedy for a hangover any more, but I do recommend a regular practice of Downward Facing Dog (and other poses) if you want to feel happy and healthy.


Good to be back

Yoga at Avonmouth Community Centre re-started on Friday 13th October – good to see some new students and some regulars! This week we focussed on hips, particularly the actions needed in Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2) and Vrksasana (Tree).

170718 virabhadrasana 2 away from cam

This coming Friday we’ll be working on a series of poses that includes Warrior 2, and that gives the legs and core a really good workout. Hope to see you there.