Gandhi: What we Can Learn from Him in these Trying Times

Gandhi: What we Can Learn from Him in these Trying Times

Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on the 2nd of October is celebrated as a national holiday in his native India.

We all know what this iconic figure looked like – unprepossessing, with his round glasses, traditional dhoti and kind eyes. But this one man did so much to change the world.

As we struggle to come to terms with the uncertainty of what the future will bring, his life and actions give us guidance and hope. And his values of tolerance, peace and standing up for what you believe in, are ones that we can all learn from.


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

Complementing your Yoga Practice with Cross-Training

Complementing your Yoga Practice with Cross-Training

We all know that yoga is a great complement for other sports, but can other sports enhance our yoga practice?

Since lockdown began, back in the dawn of time – or just over three months ago – many of us have branched out into other forms of exercise, the most obvious one being more regular walking for our ‘daily exercise’.

Some of us have tried cycling again for the first time in years, others have become Joe Wickes devotees and some have dusted off our running shoes and started jogging again. But will we keep up these extra forms of exercise, and more importantly – should we?

Yoga and Running

Often as yogis, we’re told that yoga is the ONLY exercise we need to do. But that depends on what you call yoga. According to Patanjali’s famous sutras,

Yoga is the stilling of the movement of the mind

and any runner will tell you that the calming effect on the mind is the single best thing about running.

The thing about yoga is that on the whole it is practiced inside. And while we’ve been in lockdown, we have needed to get out of the four walls of our homes and into the great outdoors – or the urban outdoors. I’ve been a yogi and runner for nearly ten years now and I’ve found that the two are excellent co-habiters.

Running increases your heart rate, burns calories, boosts your mood and improves joint health; while yoga opens your hips, lengthens and stretches muscles and tendons, and strengthens the muscles around the knees. While running takes you out of yourself, yoga brings you into yourself.

Should you run and do yoga on the same day? It depends on what your yoga and run will be like. If you’re training for a marathon, then no. If you’re doing a quick 5k, then yes.

Whatever your main focus is, do that activity first. So if you’re doing the running to improve your yoga, then do your yoga practice first, and vice versa.

Yoga and Weight Training

The great Carrie Owerko said in her recent interview that if you want to build muscles, you’re going to have to do some lifting!

From the age of just thirty years old, you will start to lose muscle mass, a process called sarcopenia. This is part of the natural ageing process, but it can be prevented.

Yoga already involves some resistance work – Chaturanga Dandasana is an obvious one for the upper body, but all the Warrior poses, and Utkatasana involves the legs holding your body weight.

If you’re a super-flexible yogi, your problem won’t be making the shapes of the poses but holding them safely. By doing some gentle, regular weight training, you’ll build strength around the joints, making your yoga practice safer. If you have a student that keeps getting injuries due to hyper-mobility, then it might be worth suggesting that they look into adding some weight training into their week.

Yoga and Cycling

I have some very keen cyclists in my yoga classes, and there’s no doubt that yoga helps to stretch out their thighs and open up the hip connectors, as well as the front of the shins and ankles. But can cycling improve our yoga?

Like running, cycling is an aerobic activity that will boost your cardiovascular health. Since lockdown began, sales of bicycles have gone through the roof, as a form of exercise, and also to avoid getting on public transport.

Cycling is also a resistance activity so it builds muscle around the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. For people that work from home, which over the last three months has been nearly everyone, our glutes have had to put up with being sat on  – a lot. Cycling helps to strengthen these important muscles, which consequently support the hips and spine.

So for those standing poses that need hamstring and glute strength – think Warrior 1 and Warrior 3, and the tricky Revolved Half Moon pose – cycling could give you an extra boost. But cycling can also cause muscles to become very tight, so be sure to include lots of poses to stretch out the front of the legs in your yoga practice.

Yoga and HIIT

HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training, is a hugely popular form of workout. It involves a short burst of intense exercise (as the name suggests) before a rest period, and usually lasts for 15 – 20 minutes. But does this highly energetic form of exercise have anything in common with yoga?

Research shows that HIIT (as compared to moderate forms of exercise) is linked with increasing levels of cardiovascular fitness, boosting aerobic capacity, and the ability of the body to absorb oxygen to make energy. It can also increase muscle mass, which as we know starts to decline from the tender age of 30.

There are already forms of yoga that incorporate this principle: Rocket yoga, power yoga, dynamic vinyasa flow. All these types of yoga will increase your heart rate quickly, and get your sweat up.

If you’ve found that your yoga practice has slipped into a slightly slumberous lockdown rut, then incorporating the principles of HIIT into your practice could be the wake-up call you need. And if you’re a yoga teacher, perhaps your students could do with a high-intensity sun salutation or jumping session to give them an energy boost.

Yoga and Walking

Most of us have been doing a lot of good, old-fashioned walking during the lockdown. Walking is a great way to keep healthier, get outside, and help to reduce polluting the world while we’re at it. Hopefully, this change in habits is something that people will stick to now the lockdown is starting to be eased.

Walking regularly brings all sorts of health benefits, and keeps your bones healthy, and is especially important for those with osteoporosis. Research has also shown that yoga can help increase bone density, so together these forms of exercise can work to keep your bones healthy.

Walking is also a great time to practice mindfulness and to walk off the stresses and strains of a day spent inside at your desk.

Yoga First

While all the above forms of exercise can complement your yoga practice, it’s important to remember what your focus is. Yoga is not just the physical asanas, not just the awareness of the breath, but a path to yourself, and, if you seek it, spiritual enlightenment.

While the body is important, it’s where physical health leads us that is the important factor. Use the methods of yoga in all other forms of exercise that you do, to achieve mental stillness. And make sure that you do all forms of physical exercise (including yoga) in a balanced way – as overdoing any of it will lead to exhaustion and injury.

Poppy Pickles