Tagiyengar

How Yoga Helps us Become Open to Change

How Yoga Helps us Become Open to Change

At the time of writing this article about being open to change, the government has announced that social gatherings in the UK will be limited to six people [emits silent wail].

For many of us, this is going to be very hard to take, when most of us feel that we’re only just getting back to some kind of normality. Kids are going back to school, many of them for the first time in six months, people are heading back to offices and so on.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that everything that we took for granted as ‘normal’ can change overnight… Here’s how yoga can help us to come to terms with this, and even thrive.

(more…)

Poppy Pickles

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. (more…)

Poppy Pickles

Get off the mat! How to Practice Yoga on your Daily Lockdown Walk

Get off the mat! How to Practice Yoga on your Daily Lockdown Walk

During the lockdown, we’re all allowed one walk, run, or cycle a day to get our daily exercise. This precious time of being outdoors is invaluable, especially for those that live in built-up urban areas.

While on your walk, there are lots of ways that we can practice yoga, through the way that we interact with others, by practicing mindfulness or simply by being present.

Here’s a variety of ways to keep doing yoga, even when we’re off our mats.

Mindful Walking

Using apps such as Headspace we can enter a state of walking meditation. Instead of the focus being the breath, which is traditional for seated forms of meditation, the focus becomes the rhythm of our gait.

There are various steps that you can take, even without the app.

  • First, notice how your body feels.
  • Then begin to observe your gait, how your weight shifts from foot to foot, for example.
  • Then tune in to what’s going on around you, but without any layers of judgement.
  • Become sensitive to your senses, noticing smells, sounds, and physical sensations such as the breeze or temperature.
  • Once you’ve tuned in to all these things, keep your attention in the present by focusing on the rhythm of your gait, which keeps your mind from wandering.

Through these steps, you’ll learn to bring your mind into your body, which is just what we’re trying to do on our yoga mat. It will also help tame that chattering monkey mind.

Noticing Nature

I’ve always been one to stop and smell the roses – too much, according to my family – but now it seems more important than ever to enjoy the senses when out on your walk.

Even if you haven’t got a park in walking-distance (which I find hard to believe in our green capital), then there’s loads of nature doing its glorious spring thing in front gardens, on the trees lining the pavement, even growing out of cracks in walls.

Heading outside every day means that we will start to tune in much more to the seasons; now the blossom is starting to fade and the lilacs are blooming and throwing their scent into the air.

It’s also a great reminder that we are part of the dance of Nature. Just as nature has its seasons, and cycles of renewal and change, so do we. As B K S Iyengar says in ‘Light on Life’:

We too are part of Nature, therefore constantly changing, so we are always looking at Nature from a different viewpoint.

Yamas and Niyamas

Before we even get to our mats, the first limb of yoga is the yamas and niyamas – the moral codes of conduct for our actions towards ourselves and others.

Our daily walk is the perfect place to practice these qualities, for example:

Ahimsa – non-violence

The new considerate when out walking is to stick to small groups, or ideally just one at a time so that it’s easier to keep two meters from anyone else. When my two children and myself go out for a walk, we slip into single file when we see someone else coming, like a mama duck and her ducklings…

Aparigraha – non-hoarding

This is a weird one, but I think it’s easy to take more than we need in any situation. We’re being asked to take one walk for exercise, and if we take more than that, or stay sitting in the sun on benches for too long, then we’re taking up space in the park that others might need.

Santosha – contentment

There is a lot to be sad about at the moment. We can’t hug our friends, do our jobs, go on the holidays we’d booked. But there is also so much to be content about. Our health, spending time with our family units, enjoying our homes and gardens if we’re lucky enough to have one, appreciating nature. Remind yourself that we still have so much to be content about.

Svadhyaya – self-study

Our daily walk is the perfect time to reflect on yourself. Sometimes it’s not a comfortable exercise. Notice your thoughts as you walk. Are you leaping to judge and criticise others? Are you criticising yourself? Self-study doesn’t mean self-criticism, but self-awareness.

DeviceFREE

Try doing your daily walk without a device. Our phones are pretty much grafted to our hands these days, and although we’re more grateful for online communication at the moment than ever, there’s only so many online Zoom meetings a person can take.

Make your daily lockdown walk a time to literally switch off from social media, messages, taking pictures or chatting, and take it as a time to be with yourself.

Although most of the time we’re fine, there’s a low-lying anxiety underpinning this whole situation. Our lives and the lives of the people we love are at risk, and although that risk is very small, it’s still there.

Our phones are outward-looking, constantly deflecting our attention from one thing to the next. When we put them down we give our minds and hearts a chance to turn inwards (just as we do in yoga) and start to heal.

Enjoy!

Poppy Pickles
One Weekend Workshop to up your skills

The Definitive Guide to the Bandhas with Annie Carpenter

bandhas yoga locks breath

Becoming a yogi is like being given the secret to gaining superpowers. There are ways that we can work the physical body to summon up superhuman sources of energy, vitality, and strength.  One of these super-yogi methods is ‘THE BANDHAS’.

So, what exactly are the bandhas? Translated into English they mean bondage, restraint, joining together, fettering or catching hold of. They are a set of closing actions, which act as safety valves, to keep in the life force and energy known as prana, which is increased through the practice of pranayama. According to B K S Iyengar,

Without the bandhas, prana is lethal.

This is a dramatic statement! So, this is a subject not to be taken lightly – as such, YogaLondon has sought expert advice. Annie Carpenter, a globally respected yoga teacher, founder of SmartFLOW Yoga and an authority on the bandhas, agreed to give us the lowdown on all things bandha.

The Three Bandhas

But first, an introduction to our protagonists: Jalandhara bandha, Uddiyana bandha, and Mula bandha. Taken all together they are the supergroup Maha banda or ‘great’ bandha. Give it to us Annie:

The Maha Bandhas are the three great seals in the body. The lowest one, which is mula bandha, the middle bandha, uddiyana bandha, and the chin lock, jalandhara bandha, and if you put all three together then you have maha bandha.

What is their purpose?

spine breath yoga bandhas
Image Credit: Patrick Malleret via Unsplash.

According to Annie, the purpose of the bandhas is “to move prana up the Sushumna [the main channel for the flow of nervous energy up the spinal column]. This upward movement of energy is the goal of yoga in the classical sense of the word, yoga.”

In his book Light on Pranayama, Iyengar comes up with a neat simile. He compares prana to the generation of electricity. Just as electrical energy needs to be channelled through conductors, fuses and switches, prana, another source of powerful energy, needs to be contained and dispersed to the right places so as not to damage the body and nervous system. The bandhas are these controlling fuses.

Jalandhara Bandha

The first bandha which you should get to grips with is Jalandhara bandha, otherwise known as the ‘chin lock’, and which means a net, web, or lattice. The Jalandhara action is when the neck and throat are contracted and the chin is made to rest on the chest, or as close to the chest as you can get it, between the collar bones and at the top of the sternum. This action is first practiced in shoulderstand, Setu bandha, and Viparita Karani – all the poses where the back of the neck is lengthened and the chin moves towards the chest.

Jalandhara bandha is the first ‘locking’ action of the three bandhas, as it regulates the flow of blood and prana to the heart, neck, and head. Without this action, the pressure created by pranayama can put a strain on the heart, eyeballs, inner ears and can cause dizziness. It is also a cooling posture as it keeps the brain passive and soft.

Annie states that Jalandhara bandha is the most important bandha for pranayama, and it’s used in most seated pranayamas.

Uddiyana Bandha

This bandha is the middle bandha and means ‘flying up’. This is a literal description of the process, which is to lift the diaphragm and pull the abdominal organs towards the spine. This causes a concavity from the lower ribs to the lower abdomen (in an ideal world). It should only be performed in the space between exhalation and inhalation (and not while holding the breath on the inhalation).

Abdomen digestion bandha breath yoga
Image Credit: Jannes Jacobs via Unsplash.

Uddiyana bandha exercises the diaphragm, abdominal organs, and tones the heart. It also increases the digestive fire and eliminates toxins.

There is a pose called Uddiyana bandha as well (sometimes known as Uddiyana bandha kriya), which involves the extreme version of this action. Performed in a standing position with the legs slightly bent and hands resting on the thighs, Jalandhara bandha is engaged and then the Uddiyana action  – after an exhalation breath – where the whole abdominal region is contracted, pulled back to the spine and lifted up. This is the penultimate pose in Light on Yoga, and as the poses generally get harder the deeper you get into the book, this gives some indication of how advanced a practitioner you need to be before performing this action unsupervised.

Mula Bandha

Meaning the root, base, beginning, or the foundation, Mula bandha seals the base of the trunk – the pelvic floor. The perineum, which is the space between the anus and the scrotum, or the anus and the vagina (take your pick), is contracted, and drawn up and in. By contracting this region, Apana Vayu (the prana in the lower abdomen), which naturally flows downward, is redirected upwards to merge with the Prana Vayu (the prana centred in the chest region).

According to Annie, mula bandha is the most important bandha to engage during asana practice. An introduction to Mula bandha is through Ashwini mudra,

headstand yoga bandha inversion breathing
Image Credit: Mikail McVerry via Unsplash.

which is the practice of contracting the anal sphincter muscle. This can be used during poses such as Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Sirsasana (headstand), Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward facing bow pose), where the legs are together.

There can be differences of opinion as to exactly what regions are specifically contracted in uddiyana bandha and mula bandha. Annie clarifies that: “Mula bandha is the area of the pelvic floor. Uddiyana is above that to the diaphragm.”

Maha Bandha

Maha bandha is the practice of all three bandhas at the same time. A little like rubbing your tummy and patting your head, mastering these bandhas one at a time before attempting all three is advisable. Annie Carpenter clarifies that you should “not practice [maha bandha] if you are on your menstrual cycle, are pregnant, or if you want to fall pregnant. Also, you should avoid the practice if you feel out of sorts, emotionally or psychologically.”

All three bandhas are also practiced in the pose Maha Mudra, meaning ‘great seal’. In this seated posture, one leg is bent up and the foot placed against the inner thigh of the opposite leg. You reach forwards and catch the extended leg big toe (or a looped belt), keeping the spine lifting and concave. After inhaling, the chin is lowered into Jalandhara bandha, then Uddiyana bandha is activated and finally Mula bandha. This is a safer way to prepare the body for pranayama and to practice the bandhas.

Precautionary Words

There’s no doubt that the bandhas are best practiced under experienced supervision. Annie warns that “students should begin with a teacher who really knows the practices, as they can be very powerful and disorienting, if not done at the right pace, etc.”

It’s crucial that students are experienced at both the asanas and pranayama before regular practice of the bandhas. Annie Carpenter advises that “it is important to note that at first, the practice is very muscular; but ultimately it is mostly energetic and intentional. Less is definitely more.”

Benefits of the Bandhas

However, for the yogi who commits to and masters the practice of the bandhas, there are untold rewards. Annie herself practices them “often” and in Light on Yoga, Iyengar says:

With the mastery of the three bandhas, the yogi is at the cross-roads of his destiny. One road leads to bhoga or the enjoyment of worldly pleasures; the other leads to Yoga or union with the Supreme Soul.

…Choose wisely.

Poppy Pickles

Yogi’s Guide: Shoulderstand

Yogi's Guide: Shoulderstand

I have said it before, and I say it again – shoulderstand is truly a thing of beauty. With the right combination of strength and flexibility, it can be elegance and grace personified. It is iconic and SO photogenic – a social media ‘go-to’ pose that all yogi’s want to be able to do from the moment they discover yoga. Nicknamed the ‘Queen of poses’ – shoulderstand is considered to be cooling; stimulates the calming (parasympathetic) side of the autonomic nervous system; and is reputed to assist in resolving a wide range of medical problems. It demands significant upper body and core strength plus beautifully open chest and shoulders – all wrapped up in a healthy dose of confidence in being upside down. So easy when you are a child – so much harder as an adult! (more…)

Sally Schofield