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Category: Yoga Blog

  1. Yoga's on your Side

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    Yoga on your side....in yoga practice we often work with lateral bends and side stretches but it was the bananasana (banana pose) that drew my attention to the greater value of this part of the anatomy.

    Claimed by Chinese medicine and yin yoga to be the asanas that increase vitality and toning of the kidneys "sideline" asanas are an important connection with other parts of our anatomy that can make them even more valuable to our health and wellbeing and skeletal stability.

    The muscle group we more particularly engage with when we laterally bend is the Quadratus Lumborum. This muscle attaches to the iliac crest or pelvic hip bone and runs up to the lowest 12th rib whilst also attaching to the lumbar vertebrae. Consequently, it makes a connection between the hip the lower spine and the rib cage on both sides. 

    They are muscles that are often referred to as a postural muscles in that they are responsible for stabilizing us when we are standing or sitting. They have what is known as "slow twitch fibres" which means they don't function in quick or explosive movement. Hence their postural title. They don't tire too easily but they can get tight!

    They have an important connection to the core muscles, the glutes and the erector muscles in the spine so it is useful to keep all these toned to keep things in shape in the pelvic and focal area of the body.

    Finally, it can be argued that the tightness we feel in some of our postural muscles (these also include hip flexors spinal muscles and calves) can benefit more from more gentle stretching and motion while at the same time keeping the workhorse muscles strong.

  2. Beginners Yoga

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    While I have been practising yoga for some 40 years I have only been teaching yoga for about 16 years and in those latter years I have often thought it important to give my students a reason for practising yoga. That has often been played out on the yoga mat, why are we practising this particular posture, why are we doing this breath technique, why are we are we doing this particular relaxation technique or meditation.

    By giving students a good reason for doing what they are doing I have found it inspires them to continue with their practice with greater encouragement and purpose. 

    But if you are a beginner or someone who is thinking of starting yoga what might be a good reason for taking up this practice? 

    As we have moved into the 20thC many people are taking a fresh look at the idea of exploring spirituality and yoga can play an important role in that quest. Nevertheless, spirituality apart, yoga practices can give clear and meaningful benefits to everyone.

    At this point I would like to just make reference to one of the great yoga Swamis of the last century, Satyananda Saraswati who once said words to the effect: Don't just practice yoga because I say it is good for you but if you do practice yoga have faith for a while in the technique you are using and then decide for yourself if it has brought value to your life.

    Beside the spiritual quest, yoga can simply be a means of maintaining health and wellbeing in our increasingly stressful global community.

    We probably will never completely irradicate stress in our lives. After all stress is the nature of matter in the universe. All atoms contain an element of agitation or stress and remember we have evolved from that matter. But we can do a lot to alleviate some of that stress.

    Even gentle yoga postures assist in removing some of our physical discomfort that can build up during the day from our activities at work and other interactions that can leave us with tensions and sometimes feelings of anxiety.

    Yoga breathing is an underated practice but it is probably the glue that holds the whole practice together and as your yoga journey unfolds you often come to see its ever growing value. I would even go as far as to say that our breath is the key to experiencing Samadhi, that blissfull state when the stilling of the body/mind brings us to a place of exquisite calmness.

    Yoga relaxation and meditation can help us to make better use of our ever decreasing time off. We live in a time of mobile phones, laptops, 24 hour online shopping, a pandemic, political conflict and increasing hours of working from home. In this pressurized lifestyle practising yoga makes good social and business sense.

    You could say that the underlying principles of yoga give us a most useful implement for helping us combat social despair. Yoga helps us to start reconnecting with our true selves so as to bring harmony to our body, mind and spirit in this current age and compassion where it has often drifted beyond sight. Besides the benefits already mentioned remember that yoga practice is an experience that cannot be understood in a scholarly way but can only really become part of your knowledge through regular practice and experience.

    Barry Todd (Yoga Teacher M&B Bury) 

     

  3. All roads lead to Om

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    I can remember many years ago when I started practicing yoga that there was no real evidence of yoga teachers in most towns (cities maybe). I lived in Prestwich then and you had to go to Chorlton or the Manch.Univ. campus to find one. If you did it was likely they taught Hatha Yoga.

    In contrast today there seems to be a yoga teacher in every town and village across the UK and the styles vary from Ashtanga Yoga to Dru Yoga and many more.

    This might look like it would be hard to choose which way to jump.

    It can depend on what outcome you are looking for in your practice. Are you simply wanting to persue a moderate physical activity that will make you more flexible, toned and a little stronger; are you looking to relieve your stress and anxiety, are you seeking a deeper level of spritual reality? If it is one of the former then pretty well any style could suit you. Then again if it is one of the latter pretty well any style  could suit you! You might just find that Ashtanga Yoga is a bit physically challenging or Kundalini Yoga a bit high voltage. But all claim to be going in the same direction albeit a different path.

    So you could do a little yoga touring. Yes that means move around and try a few till you find the right one for you. I think the same goes for differing yoga teachers. You eventually find one that you are comfortable with and like the varying styles of yoga, all teachers are different but it is fair to say they are all on the same path. Or should I say they are all on a different path that leads to the same place! 

    The same concept applies to the deeper thinking behind yoga asana classes. The thinking we see if we read Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

    In the sutras we find the practitioners framework referred to as the Eight Limbs which are Yamas and Niyamas (the restaints and observances) Asana (postures) Pranayama (breathing) Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi (concentration, contemplation and merging into blissfulness). 

    Many think that it is best to start with asana and pranayama and we are often first introduced to yoga with these two limbs. Yet they are all referred to as the "limbs" and they are not necessarily meant to be considered in a linear way. Like saying "Well, I'll stick with the asana and breathing for a while and maybe in the future look at Dharana and the last two and sometime I'll get around to the yamas and niyamas. The point is that in their own right each of the limbs is going in the same direction so we should not really neglect any of the limbs for long. I was remiss myself for years putting off Samadhi thinking that it was for more "advanced" practitioners, whatever that means!

    Once we have started to get comfortable with asana and breathing then why not delve into dharana and even samadhi.

    Even if we spent months just contemplating the yamas and niyamas along with our asana work we would learn a great eal about ourslves.

    The yamas and niyamas themselves also lead to Om as does simply working more with pranayama. In fact working more with the breath even when you are off the mat will show you how the breath is that amazing link between body and mind.

    So when you are wondering where to go next with your yoga practice be daring, be adventurous and move around those limbs with greater confidence and prove to yourself that all paths do indeed lead to Om.

    Barry Todd

     

  4. Yoga through a lens

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    Yoga through a lens

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    The yoga 200 hour teacher training course is in its sixth month or about half way and its all been on Zoom so far. Admittedly it all seemed a bit strange at the beginning back in September when everyone was living this strangled covert Covid life and there we were training through a lens. It felt like speaking to somone while looking at them through a telescope. But hey the human being has this wonderfully infinite capacity to adapt and adapt we did.

    We have a weekely Zoom meeting and are well on track with the course content which is suitably 50% practice and training and 50% delving into the depths of yogic thinking. My trainees have started giving twenty minute micro teaches weekly since the start of new year as opposed to monthly on the old live course and this has been a great move as it nourishes their progress more quickly.

    The group have been asking me this week if I can add a new module on how to teach yoga on Zoom which is encouraging as three months ago they were asking me when I thought they could start coming into the studio instead of Zoom. They are now beginning to see the possible advantages of both.

    On this week's session trainees were re-positioning their device cameras before starting their practice teach so they could be seen better. They are all evolving wonderfully. It's lovely to see this adaptive progress. Discussions off the mat are also maturing and developing. You get to a place when you are so engrossed in the session you almost forget you are on camera.

    The future is looking good for yoga teacher training. Part of it might be through a lens in a hybrid delivery but I'm glad to say it's working!

    Barry Todd

  5. yoga breathing as a source of core toning

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    Of course the image below is of someone in a seated yoga twist but look more closely at the creases in the person's top.

    What you see is not dissimilar to what the body is experiencing behind this garment. Yoga twisting is a bit like wringing out a damp cloth.

    The muscles and soft tissue contort a little to allow for the positioning. The challenging thing for the body is that it presents the diaphragm and other muscles of respiration with a resticted feeling when breathing and more especially when breathing in. This may feel a little uncomfortable but it can provide us with something useful.

    When putting the torso in this contorted position if we pay closer attention to our breathing and breath slowly and evenly it can neutralize the tension but also massage and tone the muscles and tissue in that area to our advantage.

    It doesn't stop there. It is really worth exploring a number of postures including those you already use in your practice to check if they too require their own kind of contortion (different to that found in twisting) so asking questions of the diaphragm.

    This approach makes for greater awareness and concentration when in posture and if we use our breath in a massaging way can bring added toning and even more strength to those muscles and tissue.

    As an example next time you do a Downward Facing Dog notice the breath, one thing you will notice is that you are breathing up hill!

    Barry Todd

    Yoga Teacher Mind and Body

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  6. Beyond Asana: Yoga Foundation

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    I love taking the yoga foundation workshops because they are an opportunity for participants to dive deeper into their practice and explore more those areas that have been alluding or confusing them on the yoga mat. 

    The many years a yoga teacher spends taking classes and reading deeply builds a lot of latent understanding of the thinking and ethos behind yoga. While they cannot discuss these topics in depth in a one hour class they probably do try to weave a delivery in their instruction that brings a hidden influence to the proceedings that will benefit their students.

    On a foundation course participants can more indulge the depths of yoga so bringing that extra bit of purpose and meaning behind their daily practice. 

    On this foundation my participants have highlighted those areas they would like including, such as: nidra, breath retention, mudras, prakriti and purusha, their purpose in life, suffering and even samadhi! A strong list but one full of wonderment and worthy consideration.

    These will of course all be considered over the next 6 months as we zoom away with two and half hours per fortnight sharing our thoughts and understanding of these valued topics. They will work well around my usual framework of the 8 limbs from the Sutras of Patanjali: yamas and niyamas (the "ten commandments" of yoga or psychological buttresses) Asana (posture), Pranayama (breathing, how to and its value), Pratyahara (starting to get on a better footing with out feelings and emotions and working in the shallows of meditation), and then the inner limbs of dharana, dhyana and samadhi that merging into meditation that strengthens our calm abiding begun in the day to day work with deep asana awareness and breathing.

    A good yoga foundation finds you where ever you are in your practice right now and there is no pressure to achieve only an invitation to explore and try some of the myriad of yoga techniques and discover how they can work for you.

    Barry Todd