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.
This is an appropriate time to look at one symbolic meaning of Easter.
As you crack open your Easter eggs, think about the chicks emerging and tapping their way out of those shells, consider how much effort and discomfort they must feel; how much fear maybe they feel at being trapped; they may have an awareness that they won't be able to continue breathing for long. Yet they put all their effort into that escape whilst we look on and marvel. Those that can't put in the effort fail to survive.
The reason I believe it is a good time to reflect on the symbolism of this is that we can often relate to some of those uncomfortable emotions.
Many people are in an egg shell of their own. They have an invisible protective shield around them that keeps them safe from harm but also restricts them from moving forward freely through their life. They stop and examine every little thing that might effect them, consider every conversation and whether they should have said 'that'; suppress their anger and harbour it;try to please other people above themselves. They feel vulnerable.
Their behaviour is influenced by this shell making them appear to be defensive, submissive, manipulative, cohersive, agressive and more. Yet they just feel that they are staying safe. Like an egg they feel that if someone gets to close to them and gives a tap in the right place then the inner substance flows out, flows away leaving them empty and destroyed emotionally.
Yet if you were able to hard boil the egg and emerge from the shell you would have taken away your vulnerability. You are now able to stay together even if people tap you in the right place. You may suffer a little but like the hard boiled egg you would quickly bounce back.
Sounds simple enough.
Yet breaking your shell is the hardest thing you will ever have to do in your life. Emerging from your protected invisible behaviour 'shields' with freedom shining ahead is profound. It's a never ending journey as the sheilds are removed one by one over time.
Hello again. I have just seen an online article by the Daily Mirror with the Headline 'Can you be hypnotised' and a brief explanation that only some people can be. I thought I needed to examine this potentially fake news or at least check that it was a headline aimed at grabbing attention, expecting a bit of an anti-climax. I couldn't even open the quiz so I am still wondering what that says about me.
You might be asking "What's the problem Andrea, why are you getting so uppity."
Here's the problem. In my formative years as a hypnotherapist back in 1995, I spent most of my time doing everything I could to explain what hypnosis and hypnotherapy is. I actually thought that over this period of time my efforts along with those of my fraternity gradually took the mystic and magic away from hypnosis and established it as a bonafide option for healing and breaking free from self imposed limitations.
Of course, it's always great to have a bit of magic around. I won't deny that sometimes when people who have been suffering all their lives with unnecessary restrictions suddenly turn it around and experience a great sense of freedom, it can feel magical. Truly it is just the proccess.
So let's start at the beginning. Don't believe anyone who starts by talking about trances, that's all part of the mystical control they like to promote. Hypnosis is simply a deep relaxation, the type that you experience when you're about to drop off to sleep or just after you have woken. You're less alert than when fully awake and even feel as though you are in a bubble of tranquility but still in full control. The aim is that this state quietens the thinking mind and gives more access to the stored limiting beliefs and fears that are harboured to the rear. This part of your mind is often active when you are fully asleep and you sometimes remember those dreams that are lurking there.
Whether or not people are suggestable is a different matter. It is true that some people are very open to suggestions and some totally closed. Hypnosis doesn't come into it, this is an every day phenomenon. You can tell a suggestable person that they are looking ill and they will start to feel ill, whereas there are those who would shrug it off and never think about it again. That means that the highly suggestable people are open to suggestion while hypnotised.
Suggestion therapy as it's very basic and raw is just that a suggestion that you will stop or will feel something desireable. It is a bit hit and miss and has the potential to wear off in most cases. It is also what the stage hypnotists depend upon.
Hypnotherapy is able to identify the sources of limiting beliefs in oneself, of fears and anxieties that influence our reactions to events in our lives. Whether that is a phobia or a compulsion in contrast to a habit, in fact anything that prevents one from being who they would prefer to be.
So, if they want to be, everyone is able to be hypnotised, don't believe anything else.
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.
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.
Face the Fear ... and do it anyway ..... face your fears .....
Okay good advice maybe but what the hell does it mean?
Anyone who has been watching 'Breaking Dad' on TV will know that Bradley Walsh has been subjected to facing many of his fears and doing them sometimes with pride, sometimes regret.
But generally we can each take or leave those kinds of fears which may be seen by some as dare-devil stuff.
We all need fear to survive. Not saying that anything is impossible and with some belief you could probably walk through fire or on broken glass but in everyday life as we know it we programme our fear to stop us from taking unecessary risks .... and heres the crunch.
Our programming during our life has decided what kind of level our fear barometer is set at and we tend to live within that level. The fear is not of the things you need to face but is an emotional fear of becoming unsafe. In other words a zone in which you feel safe - also known as your comfort zone. So facing the fear probably means stretching your comfort zone. You could do this gently and slowly or like Bradley Walsh you could get thrown in the deep end. This could have one or more of several effects: make you fearless (unlikely); build up your confidence to do more (possible); establish the fear even deeper (possibe); make you physically or emotionally ill (possible).
Deciding what course of action to take to conquer your fears needs careful consideration as any over stretching could cause you to further withdraw into your zone of comfort.
Lets take a break for a moment and consider those who have been brought up doing things we would need to summon up some courage to do. Like circus performers for instance introduced to the high wires or trapeze. To them it is simply a part of their life but they may have other fears that we cope with easily.
This example may offer us some insight into the base of our fears. The emotions that influence the fears are more generalised often allowing you to go about your daily life in trepidation and anticipating a disaster.
We only have the past. the present and what we imagine for the future, to live up to and influence our perceptions and choices.
So in some ways our fears that we live with are like self-fulfilling prophecies in that we choose the option most like what we fear to take as our reality. This is one of the areas that we can work on to improve our safe space. Once we feel the anxiety of fear or the result of a perceived negative experience we can take the time to look at the situation and do our best to introduce new perspective to view it through.
One perspective could be to imagine you are someone else who you admire and who you believe would be able to handle this situation more confidently than you did. Allow yourself to experience their perspective with your body and your mind.
Another way would be to imagine yourself distanced from the situation in some way. Up in the air like a bird looking down on it; behind the situation and far away; from yesterday; from tomorrow; from next year.
All these things are increasing your experiences and options for future fears and even those fears that are with you all the time known as anxiety.
Anything that you imagine well becomes within your experience range as a memory. That's why sports people spend great lengths of time practising in their mind achieving their sporting ambitions.
So if you suffer from fear or anxiety then give this a go and please let me now how you get on.
Thanks for reading.
Andrea Lowe, Senior Hypno/psychotherapist at Mind and Body