CategoryHealth

Restorative Yoga and the Importance of Rest

Restorative Yoga and the Importance of Rest

For some people lockdown has been a great way to increase the amount of exercise we do. For those people working from home, there’s less time commuting and more time fitting in an extra yoga practice.

This has been great, but without the usual pattern of the year, it’s easy to overdo it, because rest days are just as important as exercise days. Without resting the body doesn’t have time to rest and recover, and skipping rest days can lead to exhaustion, burnout, and injury.

As a nation, we’re not very good at resting. No siestas for us! But now the weather is getting properly summery, it’s time to re-think our exercise regime and schedule in those rest days.

Why Resting isn’t Wimping out

When we exercise or stretch we’re actually causing micro-abrasions in the muscles. To stretch them, we have to tear them – a bit. When they repair, they grow bigger and stronger. But if we continue to stretch and work the muscles without giving them time to heal, we’ll start to damage the body.

There are other ways we can overwork the body too. When we exercise we are also taking away the blood supple from other organs, such as the digestive system. This can lead to tummy troubles. If you’re feeling stiff and sore all the time, so that you make a groaning sound after bending down to pick something up off the floor, then you’re probably overdoing it.

Why Resting isn’t Sleeping

Sleep is obviously very important, and if you’re not getting enough sleep then back to bed with you. Most adults need at least 7 – 8 hours sleep per night in order for the body to regulate our hormones, repair damaged cells and improve cognitive function.

But rest is different to sleep. When we go into a state of deep rest we’re accessing the parasympathetic nervous system. This nervous system controls the ‘rest and digest’ functions and allows us to switch off the adrenaline and cortisol cocktail that keeps us rushing from one thing to the next. This state allows the mind to consciously rest.

Both rest and sleep are important. The great thing about resting is that it can be done in short bursts during the day. In order to rest we need to stop what we are doing, and literally switch off. Some simple mindfulness will help to slow the breath and heart rate and allow the brain to take a break.

Where Restorative yoga comes In

Yoga emphasises the need for relaxation, but it goes further and advocates rejuvenation. Relaxation is going from a negative to a neutral state, while rejuvenation is going from a neutral to a positive state.

Yoga for Sports by B K S Iyengar, p 45

Restorative yoga does what it says on the tin – it restores you. Not only does this form of yoga allow the body to rest and recover, but the brain too.

Restorative Yoga was ‘invented’ by B. K. S. Iyengar, although of course yoga has been used for restorative purposes for many years. But Iyengar’s inventive use of props meant that the benefits of poses could be felt without over-straining the body.

Restorative yoga is about allowing the pose to do you, rather than you doing the pose. You have to allow the body to inhabit the pose, and then let the breath inhabit the body, and the mind inhabits the breath. When you become fully passive in the pose there is a sense of weightlessness and submersion in the pose.

Why Inverted Asanas are Especially Important

All restorative yoga poses have their benefits, but inverted restorative poses are particularly important for a stressed-out nervous system and for mental and emotional health.

Any pose where the head is positioned below the heart counts as an inverted pose, so you don’t have to be up in full headstand or shoulderstand. Also standing inversions, such as uttanasana and adho mukha svanasana with the head supported (preferably on something soft) give the same benefits.

In inverted asanas, the heart centre is elevated, and the mind is given a chance to recover quickly. The breathing also automatically become smoother, quieter, and calmer, bringing the nervous system to a place of quiet too.

Focusing on Relaxing the Eyes

We can feel tired after a whole day spent working on the computer, but it’s brain-tired. Our eyes are pushed forwards from looking at the screen, and we haven’t been breathing properly so the body is not fully oxygenated.

With so much of our lives now conducted on screens – zoom meetings, online yoga, WhatsApp chats, and so on, we need to find a way to take a break from all the screen-related activities.

Yoga gives us this time to rest our eyes. Here’s a simple exercise you can try: take a bandage and softly cover the eyes. Lie in supported savasana and allow the eyes to completely soften. Focus on the breath.

In any yoga pose, it’s important to check on what’s happening with the eyes, especially strenuous poses such as backbends. We have to learn to soften the face, even while working the rest of the body – this eventually leads to the ‘effortless effort’ of Patanjali’s sutras.

Just Stop

Occasionally it’s OKAY to just stop. Those of you that have kept businesses going, that have home-schooled kids, and dealt with all the stress, uncertainty and sorrow that the Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed are probably just a bit tired now.

When we are both physically and mentally fatigued, sometimes the best course of action is to take a complete break and take some quiet days. Don’t even do a yoga practice, just allow the body to rest.

Then when you return to your practice, be aware of the difference in the body, you might even find you’ve improved after taking a few days off.

 

Poppy Pickles

Ayurveda: An Holistic Approach to Health

Ayurveda: An Holistic Approach to Health

Our health is always a top priority. But in these last few months, the Covid-19 crisis has made many of us realise how important (and precious) our health is.

Those who are physically stronger, at a healthy weight and with a more resilient immune system are more likely to beat the virus if they catch it.

And in order to be in peak health, we can turn to the ancient science of Ayurveda for help.

How Ayurveda Can Help

Yoga is all about balance. Ayurveda, its sister science, is likewise focused on health as balance. This 5,000-year-old practice began in India and has spread throughout the world as an alternative form of medicine. It is a holistic approach to health.

A holistic approach means that it is a style of medicine that takes into consideration each individual as a whole, including their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.

In contrast, western-style medicine is focused on waiting for something to go wrong and then treating the symptoms of the disease. Ayurvedic medicine is a complete system that creates a lifestyle that increases and maintains your overall health.

So let’s look into how Ayurveda works because this ancient system goes hand in hand with the practice of yoga.

Ayurveda and Balance

Balanced energies, balanced state of fire, balanced tissues, and excretions, peace of soul, senses and mind – this is called health.

– Susruta Samhita / sutra sthana xv 33

So says the ancient work, Sushruta Samhita, considered a foundational text of Ayurveda.

But what makes this ancient system of medicine so interesting is how there is no ‘one size fits all’ system of healing. Each individual is treated differently according to their makeup, which is a mixture of your genetic inheritance, your way of life, your stress levels, your personality and all the other differential factors, such as gender, age, and racial heritage.

All these different factors affect your energetic makeup, which is a balance of three types of energy – these are the doshas.

The Three Doshas

Fundamental to Ayurveda are the principles of the three doshas, or energies – referred to in the quote above. These are vata, pitta and kapha. These are combinations of the five elements that make up all living things: earth, water, fire, air and ether.

Vata is a combination of the qualities of the elements of space and air. It is a subtle energy associated with movements, such as breathing, muscle and tissue movement, and the heartbeat.

Pitta is a combination of the elements of fire and water. It drives the body’s metabolic system and governs digestion, absorption of nutrients and the body temperature.

Kapha is a combination of the elements of earth and water. It forms the body’s structure, holds the cells together and provides water for all the bodily functions.

In relation to the physical body, the three doshas can be seen as the three types of energy needed to keep the body alive: vata is kinetic energy, pitta is metabolic energy and kapha is homeostatic energy.

When these three energies are working in balance, the body functions optimally, and we feel full of vitality and energy. When one or more is out of balance, the eventual result is disease.

How do we know if the doshas are out of balance?

An imbalance in each dosha will have a different effect on the body. As an individual, you will be a combination of all three doshas, but you will have one that is your dominant dosha.

Too much vata causes aches and pains, dry and cold skin, bloating, gas, constipation, dehydration and weight loss. Its effect on the mind is to cause restlessness, dizziness, and a sense of feeling ungrounded. On the emotional level, when vata is in balance, it promotes creativity and flexibility, when it is out of balance, it causes fear and anxiety.

High pitta can cause excessive thirst or hunger, hot flushes, skin rashes and acne, and a disturbed tummy and loose bowels. When pitta is in balance it promotes intelligence and understanding, when it is out of balance, it causes anger, aggression and jealousy.

Too much kapha produces excess mucous, thick, white tongue coat, slow, sticky, sluggish bowel movements and carrying excess weight. It can affect the mind by making you feel sluggish, slow and lethargic, as well as overly sentimental and stubborn. When kapha is in balance it promotes love, a sense of calm and forgiveness, when it is out of balance it causes attachment and greed.

How do we create balance in the doshas?

When you go to an Ayurvedic doctor (who incidentally will have studied for just as long as Western-style doctors), you will be prescribed a whole host of things. In Ayurvedic medicine, herbs are used widely, as well as dietary recommendations, exercise – usually yoga or walking, breathing exercises, massage (called abhyanga) and meditation.

The principle of healing in Ayurveda is the ‘like induces like’. So if your predominant dosha is pitta, for example, you will have a tendency to be quick to anger, impatient and perhaps suffer from heartburn. To balance yourself you need to introduce things with the opposite qualities – so avoid fiery, hot foods, slow things down by introducing a meditation or pranayama practice first thing in the morning, and avoid eating late at night which will increase your pitta.

This is not a quick fix approach to health, but a long-term understanding of how your energies work, and consequently how to balance them to achieve overall health, increased energy levels and a better quality of life.


We have Ayurveda specialist courses coming up soon, take a look at our workshops for details

Poppy Pickles

How Yoga Can Boost your Emotional Resilience

How Yoga Can Boost your Emotional Resilience

This year has been tough. We have all been impacted in some way or another by the Covid-19 pandemic.

You might have caught the virus, and are still recovering. You might have lost someone you love. You will almost certainly have lost business, or been furloughed, had to change the way you work or lost your job completely.

We have all experienced fear, anxiety, uncertainty, sadness and anger. On the other hand, for some this time has been a quiet blessing in disguise. With our busy lives cancelled, we have stayed at home and learnt to appreciate the simple pleasures that brings.

This is an example of emotional resilience. Understanding that times are tough, but also that no experience, however painful, is ever all bad.

What is Emotional Resilience?

Resilience is a muscle.
Flex it enough and it will take less effort
to get over the emotional punches each time.

Alecia Moore aka P!nk

This great quote from pop star P!nk sums up emotional resilience. Resilience is a measure of how we can bounce back from what life throws at us – pandemics, loss, change, abuse – and so on.

There are three main elements or dimensions to emotional resilience.

The Physical Aspect – In order to build a healthy capacity for emotional resilience, we need to have physical strength, good energy levels, overall good health, and vitality – a zest for life.

The Mental Aspect – This involves being adaptable, having a good attention span and the ability to focus. It also involves self-esteem and self-confidence. It is also crucial to work on your emotional awareness so that you can manage your emotions as they arise. In addition, we need clear self-expression and reasoning abilities.

The Social Aspect – Emotional resilience means that we are able to manage interpersonal relationships, in our personal, professional and social lives. To understand how to function as part of a group, including the ability to communicate, be liked and to co-operate.

How Yoga Can Help with the Physical Aspect

This one is easy! Of course yoga helps us build up our physical strength. Through regular practice, the body is strengthened, muscles are lengthened, and joints are oiled. Once we learn to appreciate how good it feels to have a strong body, it encourages us to eat healthily too and to become more attuned to what’s good (and not so good) for us.

Yoga is also a great teacher when we have an injury. We learn to adapt to the injury, to work through and around it, and then put in the work to come back from it.

Pranayama, control of the breath, is about harnessing the prana (life force) to increase our energy levels and even extend our lifespan.

How Yoga Can Help with the Mental Aspect

This one is easy too! Built into the fabric of our yoga practice is the need to be adaptable. We have to adapt our bodies to the postures. This takes perseverance, effort, courage and patience.

We learn to focus on the minutiae of the body – the little toe, the skin on the breastbone. This improves our focus, or one-pointed attention – Dharana – the sixth limb of yoga.

The physical practice of yoga is also a great stress-buster, as the poses open up our chests, release pent up tension from hunched shoulders and soften the muscles of the face.

Restorative yoga and Yin yoga both help us become aware of our emotions. These types of yoga are less about doing and more about being, meaning that we have time to sit with ourselves without the distractions that buzz constantly around us.

How Yoga Can Help with the Social Aspect

Yoga is about coming together – as we all know, yoga literally means ‘union’. And although we have not been able to physically come together for classes for the last four months, community is often an important part of why we attend the same yoga classes with the same yoga teacher. These become important relationships in our lives, a kind of yoga ‘family’, where we feel accepted for who we are. And if you’ve been attending online classes you’ll know that even though it’s not the same, there is still a great amount of support that comes from feeling that we’re practicing all together.

If you’re a yoga teacher, there are plenty of opportunities to practice emotional resilience. The training itself is intense, as we cast off our old selves in the fire of teacher training and are re-born as yoga teachers. It is as painful as it sounds.

Then there are the knocks that come with setting up as a yoga teacher, gaining students, losing students, and learning the hard way that although it’s a brilliant job, it’s not easy!

Why Yoga is actually ALL about Emotional resilience

The yoga practice itself teaches us so much about resilience. As B. K. S. Iyengar says in his book, Light on Life:

Asana practice is an opportunity to look at obstacles in practice and life,
and discover how we can cope with them.

Unfortunately, it is guaranteed that however fortunate someone’s life is, at some point they will have to deal with sorrow and adversity. Yoga gives us the yamas and niyamas, including svadhyaya (self study), tapas (intense effort) and ishvara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power).

These things, together with the physical practice, will see us through the hard times that we will all, at some point, have to face.


We’re launching a new specialist course this summer around Yoga & Emotional Resilience. Check out our workshops page for details🙏

Poppy Pickles

Ready to Detox? Yoga and the Six Kriyas

Ready to Detox? Yoga and the Six Kriyas

On July the 4th 2020 a great day was proclaimed in England  – the pubs re-opened after almost three months! All joking aside, this is a huge day for those businesses in the hospitality industry who were allowed to re-open  – as long as they adhere to the government’s Covid-19 guidelines.

Although widespread drunk and disorderliness were predicted, the general public was generally well-behaved, but were you?

In actual fact, sales of alcohol have soared during lockdown, which suggests that people have just moved their drinking habits from the pub to the back garden.

Have we learnt to rely on sugar and alcohol more than we used to during this period? Perhaps it’s time we re-balanced our bodies through yoga, and yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda.

The Six Kriyas

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the 16th-century practical guide to yoga, the six kriyas, or cleansing techniques are mentioned. The purpose of these practices is to make the body light and remove built-up residual matter (also known as ‘amma’ in Ayurvedic medicine) from the body.

These practices are deeply interwoven with yoga in India, as discussed in an interview with Deepti Sastry, YogaLondon’s Philosophy expert.  As a child, the focus of her childhood yoga practice at boarding school were these immune-boosting cleansing practices.

These link into Ayurveda, and the three doshas, or qualities of the body: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. If these qualities are out of balance, then this will lead to dis-ease (disharmony) of the body.

What are the Six Kriyas?

In the HYP, Chapter 2, v 21 – 37, the six kriyas are prescribed rather bluntly:

One who is overweight and has excess phlegm, should first (before the practice of pranayama) practice the six acts (cleansing techniques or kriyas). Others [who do not have these issues] should not practice them, because the three dosas (vata, pitta and kapha) are balanced in them.

The six acts (cleansing techniques or kriyas) are dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka, nauli, and kapalabhati.

These six acts, which purify the body and produce special benefits, were kept secret for many hundreds of years and were only practiced by traditional yogis.

  1. Dhauti is the rather extreme (to us) method of cleaning the alimentary canal through slowly swallowing a long (8 foot long) piece of wet cloth, soaked in salty water. This is kept in for around 20 minutes and then drawn out, bringing with it any impurities.
  2. Vasti is essentially colonic irrigation – the cleansing of the lower gut through inserting water through a tube inserted into the anus. In the HYP a hollow piece of bamboo is recommended.
  3. Neti is described thus: Insert a smooth thread [about nine inches long] through the nasal passage and draw it out through the mouth. These days there are slightly less extreme ways to do the neti cleansing, including the use of a neti pot, through which you draw water into the nasal passages to wash away impurities.
  4. Trataka is the purification of the eyes and thankfully doesn’t involve any insertion – phew. In this practice, the gaze is focused on a small point, without blinking, until the eyes begin to water.
  5. Nauli kriya can also be linked to Uddiyhana bandha and involves massaging the internal abdominal organs through the use of the external muscles. When done properly the movement resembles undulating waves moving across the abdomen.
  6. Kapalabhati is a cleansing breathing technique. In the HYP it is described as ‘Inhaling and exhaling rapidly like the bellows of a blacksmith’. Kapalabhati literally means light skull, and the effects are to activate the digestive organs, drain the sinuses, and create a feeling of exhilaration.

According to the HYP, once these six cleansing techniques are practiced then pranayama can be commenced. However, some teachers debate that the kriyas need to practiced at all, as they say that pranayama alone will cleanse the body of all impurities.

In the Western world, almost all of these techniques are not something to just have a go at. However, the principles of cleansing the body of impurities are worth adhering to. The niyama (yogic moral guidelines) of saucha, or cleanliness, is also incorporated into this ideal of cleansing the physical body and ridding it of impurities in order to practice the asanas with a pure body.

What to Try Instead

The first thing in the morning is a good time to establish a few cleansing habits. Before you head to the kitchen, use a copper tongue scraper to clean the tongue, and then brush your teeth. This gets rid of the build-up of toxins that form on your tongue overnight. Then try drinking hot water with a slice of lemon to wash out your digestive system, or some detox tea.

Try doing a yoga practice or pranayama session before breakfast as this helps to purge the body of toxins too.

And, rather obviously, give your body a break from alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and highly fatty foods. Stick to homemade, colorful, fresh food, and feel your energy levels start to increase and your sleeping patterns improve.

How to Detox through Yoga

Yoga can help improve the gut – which is linked to improved mental health too. Poses that help to detox the body are those that are ‘pitta’ (or fire) inducing, such as sirsasana, or headstand. Backbends stimulate the liver – which is why they can make you feel nauseous if you’ve overindulged the night before. The twists massage the organs of the gut and help cleanse the kidneys and liver by wringing them out. And Supta Virasana, (Supine Hero pose) can be done at any time, even after a heavy meal (or heavy night) to aid digestion and stretch out the gut.

Happy detoxing!

Poppy Pickles