Let your intuition guide you

Deciding what to practice can be difficult. It’s not unusual to put your mat on the floor and sit there without knowing what it is you should do. When that happens let your intuition guide you.

I’ve been doing quite a lot of physical work over the last few weeks, putting up a fence. I never thought it was going to be easy, but I never imagined that 6 inches under the top soil would be dense, solid clay that need breaking up with a metal pole and scraping out by hand. I had to dig 28 holes which were 18 inches deep. I also had to dig out a few old, concrete fence posts that had been cemented in very well indeed and were stubbornly resistant to being moved. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy hard work. But my enthusiasm was beginning to wane a little by the end.

At the same time, I was teaching at school and teaching yoga classes, so at the end of the fencing project I put my feet up, literally, and enjoyed a well-earned rest. And then my back went. Where it normally does – lower back, around the sacroiliac joint (mostly on the right-hand side) and around my right hip. Not badly at first, but what started as a twinge developed into an embuggerance which I’ve been trying to deal with ever since. My intuition guided me to the solution.

I decided to do some yoga so I put my mat on the floor and just sat there without much conscious thought of what I was going to do, beyond “something that will help my back”.

I sat in Sukhasana (cross-legged) and did a gentle forward bend. At the first hint of tension I stopped and focussed on relaxing the tension. I would normally go straight past this point and try to stretch to a ‘comfortable’ maximum, but that didn’t feel like the right thing to do. What felt right next was a gentle twist to each side. I changed the cross of my legs and repeated the sequence. My intuition then guided me into Setu Bhanda, moving up and down with inhalation and exhalation rather than holding the pose. After that Apanasana, alternating knees to chest. I was beginning to feel some relief.

I then went into the cat/cow sequence. To be honest, I was really surprised at how little movement there was on the cat stretch (shoulders up, chin in towards chest). When I started to bring my chin in towards my chest I could feel the familiar twinges in my lower back, a result of the stretch on the longissimus thoracis muscle which attaches to the lumbar vertebrae. Intuition said, “Stop at the twinge”, I stopped. I repeated this for 8 breaths.

From cat/cow I moved into Adho Mukha Virasana, which stretches out large muscles of the back (Latissimus dorsi). Although there was some initial discomfort moving into the pose,  intuition said to persevere, hold the pose, and allow time to relax. The discomfort eased and I found I could relax. I carried on into Adho Mukha Svanasana, trying to keep the pose as easy and relaxing as possible, and then into supported Cobra (Salambha Bhunjangasana). I moved between the poses 3 times, holding each for about 30 seconds.

I turned over to lie flat on my back and with a belt I did Padangustasana. First the right leg straight up, then the left, followed by the right and left leg out to the side. Next I did Jathara Parivritti, which was a really nice way to massage the lower back and release the abdominals and helped to calm my mind down before Savasana.

I’ve repeated this sequence most days for about 2 weeks now, and it is definitely helping. It’s a sequence borne out of necessity and provided by intuition. If you don’t know what to practice the next time you put your mat down, see where your intuition guides you.

170718 Grounding

Yoga to get fit

Yes, you can get fit doing yoga.

For many people yoga is associated with relaxation rather than getting fit. The idea that yoga could be hard probably doesn’t occur to people without experience of yoga. But, with 7 weeks to go before my stag do I’m focussing on using yoga to get fit so that I can tackle Pen-y-Fan and Snowdon. Not your typical stag, I know…

The Sun Salutation sequence is where we begin. There are a number of variations of this sequence so you can change it to suit your needs. You can start with just 2-3 rounds of a fairly easy sequence and build up to a 6-8 repetitions of a very vigorous sequence that will raise your heart rate and really get the blood pumping. This is what we’ll be working towards in class.

We’ll be making good use of the warm-up provided by Sun Salutations to help develop flexibility. First of all the quads, which are overlooked far too much in my opinion. It can be really satisfying to develop hamstring flexibility, but it really should be balanced with developing flexibility in your quads.

Then we’ll alternate between sequences that lift the heart rate and holding static poses to stretch. Although some poses, particularly the Warrior poses, can do both jobs at once!

It felt good today to work through the class I’d planned and to hear people working hard. I know I found it hard work to do all the demonstrations and talk at the same time! Hopefully by the time I’m heading up Pen-y-Fan I’ll be making it look easy…

What to expect in – and after – a yoga class

If you’ve never done yoga before you might want to know what to expect in your first class, and it might also be useful to know what to expect afterwards.

A yoga class normally begins sitting down. The teacher may give some instructions about how to sit or to adjust your position to make sure your posture is okay. Often there will be a few minutes to allow everyone to bring their focus and attention to the class ahead.

What happens next will depend on your teacher and the style of yoga they teach. In some classes you’ll go straight into a flowing sequence called Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar). This is a really good way to warm up before doing some stretches. Other classes may start in a more gentle manner, using some limbering exercises and gentle stretches to help you prepare for the class ahead. Or you might go straight into poses (asanas).

A good teacher will tell you what to expect and will demonstrate what they want you to do before talking you through things. You can also expect more instruction and guidance as you’re doing a pose. This will continue throughout the class.

If you’re new to yoga it can be difficult to do some things as well as the more experienced students. Don’t worry. In a good class your teacher will allow for all levels of ability. Everyone should be able to work at their level.

The end of the class is normally used for relaxation. This could include some breathing exercises (pranayama) before a short period of relaxing lying down (Savasana).

It’s true that in some classes you’ll be asked to join in a chant or ‘om’ but don’t feel under any pressure to do so. It can take a while to become comfortable doing new things in new surroundings with a bunch of strangers. It is worth giving it a go at some point however. And while its true that yoga classes are more popular with women, most classes will be mixed. Your teacher could be a man or a woman.

A day or two after a yoga class it is not unusual to feel some tightness or soreness in your muscles. This is known as DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. It’s simply a sign that you’ve been working your muscles and now your body is working to repair them. This is when you’re actually getting fitter! You can ease the soreness by being active, going for a walk is best, and you can help your body rebuild your muscles by drinking plenty of water and eating well. That doesn’t mean eating nothing but protein! A good, balanced diet will give you body everything it needs to do its job.

Doing 1 class of yoga a week will help to develop your range of motion, strength and stamina, and muscles tone – but don’t expect any miracles. If you practice regularly, and if you look after yourself outside of class by eating a healthy diet, then you should notice an improvement.