Tagpranayama

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

The Definitive Guide to the Mudras

The Definitive Guide to the Mudras

Where would we be without our hands? We do so much with them.

They express our innermost feelings even when we ourselves aren’t even aware of it, the opposable thumb and index finger give us the fine motor skills that differentiate us from most of the animal kingdom (bar the monkey family). Our hands are used to stroke our children, communicate, write, shake hands in greeting, and also as weapons when curled into fists.

mudra jana yoga meditation
Image Credit: Syed Bukhari via Pexels.

The hands are also important in yoga, and nowhere more important than in the practice of mudras, meaning seal, mark or gesture. Most mudras (but not all) are gestures with the hands and are specific positioning of the fingers, thumbs, and whole hands. Historically they are used in religious ceremonies and rites to symbolise different meanings.

But what are they? Can they actually benefit us, or are they just symbolic gestures used in ceremonies and rituals?

The Mudras and Prana

Mudras are not just symbolic hand gestures, they are so much more. This becomes clearer when we factor in prana – or subtle energy. The goal of the yoga postures is to prepare the body for pranayama, or control of the breath. When we practice the mudras, this is another way of influencing the dispersal of prana throughout the body.

In Mudras for Modern Life Swami Saradananda writes:

Since ancient times, Indian philosophy has taught that how the fingers move and touch each other influences the flow of prana, the life-giving energy within the body.

Mudras are so effective because they help to clear energetic blockages, which impede the flow of prana through the body.  This is because the energetic pathways (called nadis) mostly either start or finish in your hands or feet. So working with your hands is a particularly effective way of cleansing these subtle channels of any impurities, and directing the prana in healthier directions.

Mudras and the Chakras

The mudras also affect the flow of prana through the chakras. The chakras are particularly important to clear because they are points where the nadis intersect with the most density. The seven main chakras are located along the spine, moving up from the root, lower abdomen, solar plexus, heart, throat, forehead and the crown of the head. But there are also other chakras, such as the ones in the hands. These are also essential as they are directly linked to the heart and transmit a flow of healing energy out from the heart centre.

For example, Anjali Mudra (or Namaskarasana), which is the joining of the palms and bringing the base of the thumbs to the base of the breastbone, aligns the hands with the heart chakra.

The Mudras and the Elements

mudras earth element yoga
Image Credit: Bartosz Bąk via Unsplash.

Each finger and thumb relates to one of the five great elements.

  • the thumb relates to fire
  • the index finger relates to air
  • the middle finger relates to ether
  • the ring finger relates to earth
  • the little finger relates to water

So, mudras that focus on the different fingers and thumbs have a different set of elemental, energetic and emotional benefits.

Some Important Mudras

Some mudras come up with more frequency and are perhaps more important than others. Jnana Mudra, for example, is traditionally used in Siddhasana (Sage Pose) and during pranayama. B K S Iyengar gives this clear description in Light on Yoga:

Stretch the arms out straight and rest the back of the wrists on the knees. Join the tips of the index fingers to the tips of the thumbs, keeping the other fingers extended. (This position or gesture of the hand is known as the Jnana Mudra, the symbol or seal of knowledge. The index finger symbolises the individual soul and the thumb the universal soul. The union of the two symbolises knowledge.)

Sanmukhi mudra is another important mudra, which is often used to prepare the body and mind for pranayama and meditation. San means six and mukha means mouth. Sanmukha is the name of the six-headed god of war, also known as Kartikeya. This mudra is also known as Parangmukhi Mudra (facing inwards), as the student looks within himself to find the very source of his being.

Sanmukhi mudra is when the hands are placed over the face shutting out the outside world. The ears are blocked by the thumbs, the index fingers and middle fingers rest over the eyelids and the ring fingers and little fingers control the breath. The senses are turned inwards, the sound of your own rhythmic breathing calms the mind, and there is a feeling of inner peace.

Some Non-hand Mudras

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, not all mudras are to do with hand gestures. Khechari Mudra – literally ‘roaming through space’ – is a tongue mudra, and is NOT to be tried at home. Described in the religious text Gheranda Samhita (3:25 – 28), it is described as cutting the lower tendon of the tongue and moving the tongue constantly (aided with the addition of fresh butter) and drawing it out with an iron instrument. Once achieved the practitioner will experience no hunger, thirst, fainting or laziness…we’ll pass on that one, thanks!

Maha Mudra – the great seal, is a whole-body mudra, or pose, which also encompasses the three main bandhas, Jalandhara Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Mula Bandha, in order to seal prana within the body.

The Benefits of the Mudras

In order to feel the benefits of the mudras, you need to practice regularly, preferably daily, and for a decent amount of time. But if you are prepared to put in the time, regular practice can help to:

  • ensure prana moves freely to keep your body and mind well-balanced and healthy
  • increase flexibility and mobility of your hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders

    meditation yoga man seated mudra
    Image Credit: Spencer Selover via Pexels.

  • improve technique if you play an instrument or hand-intensive sport
  • boost mental acuity and concentration
  • ease symptoms of common ailments
  • overcome emotional difficulties, from anger to grief
  • purge your sub-conscious mind of negativity
  • develop a regular meditation practice
  • encourage inner peace and a sense of oneness with the universe

However, there are a couple of mudras that you can do, which will give you an immediate result, such as Bhairava Mudra. Place the left hand in the lap and rest the right hand in the palm of the left, cradling it. This mudra is for when you find yourself in a situation that you find scary, and will bring you an immediate sense of peace.

Poppy Pickles

Yogi’s guide: Starting a Home Practice

Yogi's guide: Starting a Home Practice

Are you wanting to start something to improve your fitness? Maybe help you deal with stress or sleep better? Are you looking for something to look after your physical and mental health that only takes up a few minutes a day? Well, a home yoga practice could be just the thing for you. (more…)

Sally Schofield

Cheeky Yogi at the OM Yoga Show – yoga pants are not created equal

Cheeky Yogi at the OM Yoga Show - yoga pants are not created equal

Nothing was more obvious as to how much of a business yoga is, than at this year’s Om Yoga Show in London. It tied in with the Mind, Body, Soul Show, buy one ticket and go to both exhibitions. It felt like one enormous, never-ending circus, everyone vying for your attention and selling their soul.

Every possible item you can imagine is for sale from the obvious such as mats, clothes to the less obvious shamanic witchcraft and food dice. (Which literally is what it says: a set of dice with food names on it)

(more…)