Monday, 25 September 2017

Reaching Heaven and Earth with Tree Pose

Vrksasana - Tree Pose

A tree acts like an enormous sponge that absorbs carbon dioxide, producing life-giving oxygen in return. Our own bodies are doing the opposite. Ourselves and the tree are in perfect gaseous sync and taking the shape of the tree can activate all its potent points, increasing absorption of life-giving Prana and elimination of used air. 
We're starting into the Autumn season now and according to Ayurvedic wisdom the heat which accumulates in the body over Summer and Late Summer becomes problematic if management of ‘Pitta dosha’ is poor. The remedial action of each Autumn Season is to help the body to treat the accumulation of heat (pitta dosha) whilst not aggravating any effects of the new Autumn Winds (vata dosha).

A great pose for this is Vrksasana (Tree Pose) which tranquilises the mind (cools Sadhaka pitta); Increases concentration (strengthens the nervous system/vata dosha); Calms and relaxes the central nervous system combating stress symptoms (Vata and Pitta dosha); Helps patience and mental focus (cools Sadhaka Pitta); improves balance (counters excess heat and directs Vata dosha).
This is a pose that is great to calm and cool - an all around Autumn win!

· If you are unable to bring your foot to your thigh or calf, rest your instep into your arch of the supporting leg, instead, resting the toes of your raised foot on the floor. 
· If you are very unsteady, try practicing the pose with your back against a wall for extra support. Alternatively, you can place a chair next to the standing-leg side of your body and rest your hand on the back of the chair for extra support.
· For a greater challenge when your arms are overhead, close your eyes. Practice balancing without using the outside world for reference.

Some teachers will have you hold your arms above the head with the palms together, others asking you to spread the arms wide like branches. Whatever you do with your arms, feel the connection of your arms to the heart space (hrdya marma/heart acupressure point) at the centre and sides of the sternum.

Feel the opening in the sinus area, particularly the point at the side of each nostril on the medial side of the cheekbone. This is the region of the marma point called Phana. This marma is an important in enhancing the flow of Prana into the body and for the actions of respiration. 

Hold steady at the area of the pubic bone (bhaga marma point) as this will root you into the ground. If the hips are tight, we may be tempted to try to pull the pubic bone off centre to get a greater angle of the knee (which comes out to the side (ish) in tree pose. Don't be tempted to do this. Notice where your bent knee is (how high off of the ground) when you are in Janu Sirsasana (head to knee pose). If it is quite far, your knee will not go at a right angle in tree pose either. Making it do so will lose the earthing effect (apana vayu) that is so important when taking the Pranic shape of the tree!

Use the pose to breathe. Think of the energy of the tree in a cooling breeze, rooting into the earth. Use this image to increase your strength of confidence, standing tall as you face life’s challenges with grace and ease.

Just before you breathe in, imagine that all your problems have disappeared......... and then breathe in.
As you breathe out, direct the energy to the pubic bone, the sides of the nostrils and the heart chakra. Repeat this cycle of energy in and energy out for 10 secs - 1 minute or 5-10 breaths or several minutes. Unwind the pose and take a stretch and repeat on the other side.
Take rest (savasana).

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Fly Like the Eagle



We're late into the Summer now and according to Ayurvedic wisdom the body and the digestion have been weakened slightly. If there has also been a lot of rain, Vata dosha will have been aggravated (nervous system/mind/bladder energy and circulation of energy) also. The remedial action of this Late Summer Season is to take care of the flow of Vata and enhance agni (digestive power).

A great pose for this season is Garudasana (Eagle Pose) which Improves digestion and elimination and increases circulation (a symptom of poor digestion is blockage in ALL channels. This pose also 'unwinds' the mind (mental stress and strain is a symptom of  Vata dosha chaos and a cause of poor digestion).

This is a detox pose for mind and body!

If you can’t yet wrap your arms until your palms touch, press the backs of your hands together.

Beginners can also hold the ends of a strap between each hand and pull gently on the strap.

If you can’t hook your top foot behind your standing-leg calf, rest the big toe of your raised foot on the floor to help with balance or you could also rest your lifted foot onto a block.

If you lose your balance easily, you can try this pose with your sacrum/sitting bones to the wall.

For a deeper challenge, lean your torso forward and press your forearms against your top-leg thigh. Inhale to release and unwind, then repeat on the opposite side.

Some teachers will have you hold your elbows high and in line with your shoulders; others will tell you to draw your elbows down toward the floor.

Use the pose to breathe. Think of the energy of the eagle as you practice and try to soak that into the pose (soaring gracefully high, intent gaze, above the chatter and hustle bustle of the ground below).

Just before you breathe in, imagine that all your problems have disappeared......... and then breathe in. As you breathe out, direct the energy to the solar plexus (above the belly button and below the sternum); the back of the standing/supporting calf and the top-most/upper arm bicep. Repeat this cycle of energy in and energy out for 5 breaths to 1 minute. Unwind the pose and take a stretch (perhaps downward dog or a backbend for 10 seconds) and repeat on the other side.

Take rest (savasana).

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Letting the Ground Catch Your Practice

In the last of the five blogs regarding setting up a home yoga practice using the five elements of Ayurvedic philosophy, we are pulling the thread of the all powerful Earth Element into our Yoga practice.

The Sanskrit word for Earth Element is Prthvi. Prthvi contains the qualities of stability, slowness and heaviness. When we slow our practice down, root our practice (by creating a routine) and use it to create a body 'heaviness' which is the same thing as letting go of stress (which creates too much 'lightness' in the body) we envelope ourselves around the Earth Element creating a feeling of safety and security within both body and mind.

Anxiety is now affecting a huge number of people and I have heard the the WHO (World Health Organisation) expects it to be one of the top three conditions of ill health as we move through the next ten years. Inviting the Earth Element into your daily routines is an excellent way to start to counteract the damaging effects of anxiety and mental stress and strain or to prevent anxiety and all of it's associated symptoms from taking hold.

Tips for creating a 'grounded' Yoga Practice:

  • Use Muladhara (root holding) mudra from a seated position before you start your practice to help settle your mind. Bring your palms together in a prayer at your heart, then interlace the pinky and ring fingers so they fold inside of the palms. Extend the middle fingers so the tips touch and then interlace the thumbs and index fingers so they form rings around each other, with the fingertips touching.Optional: Flip this mudra upside down and lower your arms slightly, so the middle fingers are pointed downward at your pelvic region.
  • Start your practice by lying down on your belly. This will settle your breathing into a slower pace by creating a gentle push against the breathing from the floor and allow a time to feel the Earth underneath you. Imagine the Earth element is catching you from underneath you and that all you need to do is simply surrender to gravity.
  • It's hard as the days get colder, but do take your socks off when you practice so that you can feel the sensations of the mat and floor as you practice. This will teach the body to connect and get you used to bringing your attention downwards away from your head. 
  • Create a regular routine of eating and sleeping. Try to keep as close to your 'contracted' times as you can for each of your meals and your bedtimes. The body loves nothing better than to understand what it's energetic needs are throughout the day. If you can stick to it, this will create the most profound changes to your health and energy levels.
  • Use Malasana (squat pose), Balasana (child's pose), Virasana (hero pose), Vrkshasana (tree pose), Virabhadrasana 1,2,3 (Warrior poses) regularly in your yoga sequences and use the last three poses to create a release of stress and awareness in the pubic bone and hip area. Use Malasana and Balasana to drop away tension and to strengthen mula bandha (root lock).
  • Learn Ashwini Mudra. This is a squeezing and releasing of the anal sphincter. Yes, you read that right! It's not often taught in a weekly yoga class because not everyone is ready for this sort of information and instruction, right? Here's the only video that I can find on the internet that is to the point. In Ayurveda, it is one of the remedial recommendations for piles and sexual stamina. In Yoga, it is taught as a stress relief practice, for calming the mind and for great health of Muladhara Chakra which is linked to a sense of security, feeling safe and with a sense of belonging along with the health of the large intestine and the low back/tailbone and legs.
I suppose this is a good place to the bottom.

Love Sonia x

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Be Like Water My Friend

Today, in Lancashire, this is THE day to be bringing in the Water Element to our home yoga practice sessions!

The Five Great Elements (Panchamahabhuta) have so much to teach us, both about the World around us and the World within us.

Ayurveda notes the five primary manifestations of Nature (Space, Wind, Fire, Water and Earth) and invites us to unravel the mysteries of the Universe using them. When we notice that each of the above archetypes are all around us, within everything, within us, it allows us to see more clearly each thread of what has built all we sense and, also, how to build something new.

In this previous blogs, I have been using the Five Elements of Nature to build a home yoga practice.

Where's your perfect Yoga Space

Move Like the Wind

Where the Mind Goes, Prana Follows

Today, we are noticing the Water element within our breath and movement practice.

When we think of water we may think of:

  • wetness and hydration
  • refreshments and cleansing
  • that which is sustaining to life

What we may not immediately bring to mind is:

  • it is a binding agent (ie mix dirt with water)
  • it is 'oily' which has a smoothing, caressing, healing balm-like action
In Ayurveda, water is the binder. It is the element that starts to create form (albeit a loose flowing form). It is the 'thing' in the Universe that starts to gather up the small, loose, flyaway, home-less fragments and give them a medium within which to operate. 

To give an example, the Wind, or Air, element (which has chaotic movement) requires a structured flow within which to function to be helpful to the body. Within our body, oxygen requires our blood (flow) to move around in. Using this example, without the philosophy of the Water Element, our yoga practice is simply a practice in which we fling our limbs around in unnecessarily extravagant arrangements and force air in and out of our nose in an alarming manner.

This binding action that we need to incorporate into all our limb swinging and deep breathing is what will be moving us into the very heart of Yoga. It is no coincidence that the word Yoga itself means 'that which is bound together'. 

To experience the qualities of the Water element, Yoga practice suggests to let love start to grow and flow and to share that feeling of love to those around us. In our yoga practice, we intensify this intention by opening the heart and imagining that our practice is 'for' someone else's benefit. Our movement and breath becomes a prayer for those around us. 

If we were to practice with the intention of having something for our self or as a means of getting rid of something within our self, then we will have, before anything is even started, set up a resistance to 'what is' in this moment. This type of resistance is the number one block to the flow of love and the creation and support of the Water Element.

It is very easy at this point to mistake creating an intention with engaging the mind, which would bring us back up into our head and into the follies of problem solving and goal making. Instead, with this intention of the heart to share love, which is a sensation, we attempt to move and breathe as an expression of prayer for others well-being and happiness.

To open the heart:

  • Whilst sitting quietly, think of someone or something that you have great compassion for (a lost kitten, a lonely child, a loved one, someone who is suffering) and once you have that sensation (no thought), intensify it to include those you have less natural compassion for.
  • Chant the sound AUM (OM) one time or for one minute, or anywhere in between, sending the sound through the heart space.
  • Start your physical practice (your Space/Wind/Fire practices) and if your thoughts start to dominate, stop and re-attend to the heart space.
  • At the end of the practice give thanks and gratitude.
With love,

Sonia x

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Where the Mind Goes, Prana Follows

In this, the third blog in a series of  'your home yoga practice' musings, I am bringing in the element of Fire.

*Blog 1 'Finding Your Perfect Space'
*Blog 2 'Move Like the Wind'

Ayurveda's philosophy of the Five Elements explains that within everything and even within every explanation of every thing are the five natural manifestations of energy called:

  • Space/Ether
  • Wind
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Earth
If you try to describe anything you hear, touch, see, taste or smell - that description will bear some resemblance to the five archetypes above. One particular quality will stand out from the rest. But, when we look deeply enough, it will, in fact, resemble all of the above to some degree or another.

Today, we are pulling the thread of Fire out from the explanation of a home yoga practice and examining it in order to create an expansive, personal, enjoyable and meaningful 'at home yoga practice.'

We have our designated space (first blog) and movement (second blog). Today, we will bring forward an intention for that movement (Wind) within that space (Ether).

When we think of Fire we think of heat and the transformation it causes (wood to ash; melting of candle; destruction and, perhaps even, the pheonix rising from the ashes). In Ayurveda, this heat and transformation has it's seats in the heart and mind as well as the digestive organs, eyes and skin. In each of these parts of the body is a fire that glows hot and strong when healthy and weak and cold when unhealthy. Your yoga practice should entice the above 'seats of fire' to glow.

You can use three methods to ignite the fire:

  1. Start to breathe in a way that fills the belly (seat of fire) as you breathe in and also feel the navel move backwards to the spine as you exhale. This will blow on the embers of the Fire and make them strong. Rather than focusing on the movement of the spine (blog 2) as the intention, let the movement of the spine intensify this slow pumping of the navel which lights the Fire of the belly.
  2. Use your mind and your gaze (drsti) to move energy. There is a saying that 'where the mind goes, prana follows'. Your mind is another seat of Fire. The stronger the mind, the brighter the Fire. Using your mind in your practice this way will help brighten the mind's focus and healthy intensity. You can see this brightness of the mind in the eyes and also you can focus your gaze (softly, as if looking from the back of the eyes and using peripheral vision) so that you can 'watch' your own practice. You will feel the two techniques above transform the feel of the practice and also the warmth and circulation of blood and oxygen and nutrients that your practice generates.
  3. Start your day with warm sesame oil abhyanga (self massage); leave on for at least 10 minutes - longer if convenient and then take a warm shower. Wear 'breathable' clothing. Our skin is an important Fire seat and when given the proper care, can also transform the feel of our yoga practice. This step may not be possible on every occasion, but sometimes is better than never!
Your home yoga practice is now taking shape with the tools called 'Panchamahabhuta' in Ayurvedic traditions. Pancha means 'five' and maha means 'great' or 'important'. Bhuta is a word that doesn't have any direct translation into english, but the english word 'element' is often used. It's not a great translation, because we rarely use this word in the sort of context I am writing about now. It is more helpful to think of the word Bhuta as a manifestation of energy. The World around us is, ultimately, pure energy. This energy vibrates at different frequencies and, according to ancient Ayurvedic knowledge, creates sound and space; feelings and movement; warmth and appearance; taste and texture; mass and, with that, an odour. Energy is now 'something' that has manifested into a form we can smell, taste, see, feel and hear. A Bhuta!

All things have all five Bhuta within them (Space/Air/Fire/Water/Earth). Today, we have incorporated the Fire Bhuta into our daily home yoga practice. Here's some more ideas to work with the Fire Bhuta at home:
  1. As you get ready to get onto your mat, light a candle to symbolise the Fire that will build because of your light your practice will bring.
  2. Set an intention for your practice. Dedicate it. This will connect your heart and mind Fire to the movements that you make. Make this dedication as an offering to another rather than as a wish for yourself.
  3. End your practice with Trataka (candle gazing meditation). Find a 'fire meditation' on my mini immersions page of my website 
Above all, find joy in your home yoga practice and the warmth of that joy will be like touchpaper to all the Fires within!

Sonia x

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Move Like The Wind

Learning Ayurveda is learning how Nature affects us and how we affect Nature. It is learning about relationship, consequence, rhythm and releasing the bonds of resistance to what is. Ayurveda describes the World around us and within us as five manifestations of one energy (Shakti).
In the first of this series of blogs starting with 'Where's Your Perfect Yoga Space?' (, I wrote about how the five building blocks of the Universe can be used to build your daily practice.
Today, we are inviting the Wind Element (Vayu Bhuta) into your practice space..........
The Wind element animates that which it touches and, therefore, this is the stage where you can start to explore movement as a practice. Movement in Yoga is directed via the spine. There are five movements of the spine to explore during your home practice.
During your first next practice session, without trying to do a particular pose, explore all the twisting movements that you can muster. You can twist from standing, seated, lying down and from a balance pose! As you twist, imagine concentrating the energy in the body into the space behind the belly button. Try to move from the belly by bringing it in towards the back instead of swinging the hips or the shoulders first. Let the shoulders or hips follow the movement of the twist and the other half (shoulders or hips) remain stable, creating a 'wringing out' of tension. There is a power in this movement and also in it's effect. This power comes from finding our centre
On your second practice day, explore all your back bend moves. You can be gentle or strong depending on your experience and flexibility. A back bend is essentially a front body opener. Make sure that you don't try a back bend from the neck down (throwing the head back and expecting the rest of the body to join in). Squeeze your shoulder blades together - now use this to 'grow' your upper chest upwards and outwards - let the hip crests (front of the hips) come forward to counterbalance your upper back moving backwards - now let your neck follow the movement of the curve of the spine (resist throwing the head back but, rather, let it join in the natural curve of the spine below the neck). You may feel the heat of this pose. The potential energy that it creates. The body is now easily breathing in and finding acceptance. As we explore the backbends, we also explore our own latent potential and can encourage it's unfolding.
On your third day, explore all the side body openers. Stretch sideways and feel the breath soar. You can do this from seated, standing, lying down (banana shape pose). If the side body is tight, as you stretch the side the body gets pulled forward into a forward fold. Use some blocks, blankets, bolsters and cushions for extra support so that you can move back into your sidebends. Notice the rushes of energy around the body. Perhaps, some long forgotten areas become 'awake'. Move in a swaying, loosening fashion as if being pulled down a slow moving river with many twists and turns. Find your sense of creativity returning as you allow yourself to neither start nor finish a movement, but simply to transform from one side pose to another. Let your self play and have fun!
On your fourth day, move in a way that lengthens the spine. From seated, you could try putting a block, blanket or cushion under your sitting bones - then press your palms into the mat or floor beside you and feel the shoulders move out of the way and the spine lengthen - Now sink your sitting bones deeper into the ground and feel your crown lift high into the sky. Downward dog and plank pose are two poses that help the spine to grown long and strong. Notice that you need to figure out how to lengthen the spine. One thing that will help is to move from the heart up and the heart down. Give your heart some space. Kindness and patience is the only way to move forward with this sensitive lengthening of the spine.
On your fifth day, hinge at the hips into a forward fold. Relax and release as you explore this calming movement of the body. You can do this seated, lying down, standing or in a balance. Notice the activity of the legs. Active but not tense. Feel the sensation of the parts of your body that touch the floor/mat. Encourage the body to use the support of the ground beneath you to deepen the pose. Move forward confidently like an elephant strides through and pushes asides lesser weights that its own, but also, there is a gentleness there. No aggression should be used, just a forthrightness.
All these spinal movements are actually how me move energy into and within the body and also how we release spent energy. Each spinal movement moves Prana in a particular direction helping all the supports of the body (Prana, Agni and Ojas) and re-balancing imbalance (Vata, Pitta, Kapha dosha).
On the sixth day, combine your spinal movements into an enjoyable and curiosity induced flow of movement. See how and where your body naturally moves whilst listening to the cues that come from the depths to guide you in moving energy where it needs to go and away from areas that have become 'jammed' with excess. Notice whether you favour the backbends, forward folds, sidebends, spine lengtheners or twists. Notice why you favour them. Because they feel good? Or because they feel easy? Notice the movements that you avoid. Notice why you avoid them. Because they don't provide any sense of importance or relief? Or because they are challenging and require you to feel more?
Let your heart lead you rather than your head. As you sway and swing your way from pose to pose, be indifferent to the narrative of the mind. 'Why don't I try something harder/easier?' 'Why doesn't my back bend get easier?' 'I just felt a sense of quietening. I wonder why. I must ask my teacher why.' 'My knee hurts. My knee always hurts. What's wrong with my knee?' ----- Let all of the natter get lost in the flow of the exploration of movement.
You don't need to set a time limit or a minimum time. Let yourself move until you are done. Everyone is different. Every day is different. Sometimes you start and your body just wants you to go on and on (your head usually finds something better to do, but you are too in the moment to listen to some crankiness of the mind). Sometimes, your body moves for a bit, irons out a few creases. Lies down and rests. Then you are done. Try not to overthink this either.
Soon, we will move onto other essentials for your practice. For now, find a space and animate via the power of the Wind.
Wishing you a wonderful play,
Sonia xx

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Where's your perfect Yoga space?

So, here's the thing. A daily practice is where the magic happens for those that are Yoga practitioners. So there's no point rolling out of bed with no clear plan in mind. Before you know it, you've started answering emails and hey, wait, you're hungry! And that's the day steam rolling ahead without any SPACE for your practice. You might think 'I'll do it later' but later you're tired. Once you're tired, moving things out of the way and asking family to leave you alone and then finding some music. Where's that bloody lighter for the incense?? It all seems like toooo much work for a little relaxation. Surely, it would be better to stick Broadchurch on and put your feet up? Yes, that's a much better idea than moving furniture, hunting for missing items and providing lengthy explanations about why you are not around for half an hour.

But what if there was a five step way to bringing your daily practice into a reality?

Ayurveda is Yoga's sister practice and it has many enlightening ideas about how Nature all fits together and how our relationship to Nature is extremely predictable. One of Ayurveda's foundational teaching is about the five great elements. The pancha (five) maha (huuuuuge and important) bhuta (things that exist). The five great elements create the reality we see around us in a certain order.

First, to create the reality that we see around us (or the reality that we would like to see around us) is space (akasha). When we think about space, we also need to think about time. Let's just pretend we know all about Einstein and physics and call it space-time.

So, for the next week, open up some space-time for yourself.

Pick a time each day. It can be a different time each day. Perhaps on Thursday you have an early start, but you finish early and can manage a late afternoon or an evening. And so on. Once you have a time for each day of the week, you'll know as soon as you wake what you need to do to keep to that time. If you need to make any adjustments due to last minute plans and changes do. Don't make it too rigid or it will be easily broken. Then decide how long you can spend. Doing what? Doing nothing for now. Just putting some time aside to be you!

Now, the next part of the practice needs to be quite organic. Don't make any plans for what you are going to do or where you are going to be any earlier than necessary. Yoga is a listening practice and it is insensitive to ride roughshod over what may be a revelatory decision about where to be in the house or where to be outside of the house.

When the time comes for your 'practice' don't practice yoga asana, pranayama or even meditation. Strange I know, but you are still trying to find your daily practice at this point and it won't help to rush. Don't rush a good thing! Tina Turner will tell you.

Once it is 'time' decide where you want to be. Under the covers? (did I mention that this is a solitary practice? It is) Do you want to be out in Nature walking? Running? Would you like to be sitting on your mat under the radiator or in a spare room with the window wide open and the fresh air rolling in? Perhaps you would like a hot water bottle or a million cushions under you (or just as many as you own). This is the 'space' part by the way. There's no need to get too precious. After all, you aren't going to do anything in particular. You're just going to sit in it, lie in it, wander in it or be still, but above all be quiet in it. Are you wondering/worrying that you booked too much time for this now? Have you never given yourself a whole heap of time and space to just sit and think? And stare out of the window? And wonder? Wonder at yourself and everything around you? To daydream.

This may not be the gorgeous delicious time out that you were originally planning. Perhaps once you start you just start worrying or fretting or feeling guilty or feeling entirely fed up that you are not good at this or feeling angry at me for supplying such a stupid suggestion at how you can spend your valuable time. Perhaps you feel good but can't understand why it's helpful to simply feel good or maybe you feel connected but you want to know what to do next. You feel the need to know the how and the why to this 'doing nothing'? Perhaps the whole experience feels utterly blissful.....until next door's dog started barking. 'Stupid dog. Ruined it!'. Don't try to change how you feel. Just notice it.

Perhaps this is what has been underneath your physical practice all the time?

It's all good. The good is good, the bad is good. It's all useful......and it's only for a few days. Soon, we'll get moving. But for now, just notice yourself. Check yourself!

Sweet daydreams.

Sonia x