Take it to heart

Modern understandings of the heart are often anatomical and medical – relating to degrees of health and disease.

Few would contest that the heart is critical to health but limiting it to its mechanical functions ignores more innate understandings of this important organ of life.

The heart’s physical and literate centrality in our bodies and thinking affects our relationships and wellbeing in many ways and so accepting how elemental our hearts are, ring true.

Our emotions are generally understood to be influenced by our heart and to also directly affect the health of the heart. Think about it.. who can ignore the hearts place in love, joy and sadness?

In Yoga, we understand the ‘Hrydia’ or heart-centre as both a point of physical reference and a central energetic point – the first cell of conception. It is only a small step from here to understand the heart’s connection to body, mind and soul.

During yoga practice, we reference the heart through breath, movement, intention and attention for example in Anjali Mudra or hand placement over the Hrydia during many common asanas. A focus on awareness of the heart and its pulses throughout the body is a moment-by-moment reminder of prana (life-force) and energy moving constantly through our bodies.

The hearts constant expansion and contraction is a wonderful reminder and metaphor for growth and change at all levels – from cellular activity through to the rhythms of the ocean’s waves and tides. It can and is referenced within yoga therapy too providing a platform for healing on many levels.

Science and research continue to enlighten our understanding of the importance of the heart and its increasingly complex connections to notions such as intuition and self-fulfillment.

And while the power of the heart continues to inspire poems and wars that leave few of us untouched, the ability to simply place our hand over our beating heart and to take a simple breath at any time, returns us to a sense of peace and presence in our lives.

 

Sometimes you’re up…

Life is full of ups and downs – it’s a part of the rhythm of life.

From the many small moments of frustration and relief to the larger experiences of struggle and work that provide a conscious sense of achievement and delight, we live through the beat of day to day life.

Without these changes, stagnancy and resistance can take hold, while our ability to recognise and ride the waves of regeneration helps us to fully live. Our awareness of each climb and descent offers an opportunity to grow and integrate both within and without.

Daily yoga practice allows us to embody and explore life experiences on physical, intellectual and spiritual levels.

Returning again and again to the mat and our own changing nature through the experience of our body, our thinking, and our heart and soul each day becomes a lifelong practice of finding new acceptance and inspiration to become greater than ourselves.

In our practice, we experiment with the miracle of life through sensations caused by expansion and contraction of the body and breath, how we experience and react to the familiar and newly discovered and where our limits have expanded or stabilised.

My experience is that for all the benefits and richness of yoga study and learning it’s only in the practice that we fully experience the joy and freedom of being.

Think of your practice being complementary to your life. Try it.

Do your yoga. Everyday.

What a pain

If you’ve ever experienced pain understanding the latest science will change your experience.

Pain is complicated and it’s in your brain.

Scientific research clearly demonstrates that pain is not in the tissue, limb, muscle or any other part of our body. It’s an illusion that is constructed by the brain.

The purpose of pain is to protect you but it’s not always reliable as it’s tangled up with your thoughts and feelings. Our own stories and understandings of pain contribute to making our physical and mental experiences of acute or chronic pain vary enormously.

Chronic pain is especially complicated because it’s even harder to understand what’s going on.

When pain persists, we keep stimulating the neurons, or brain cells that produce pain and they get better at producing pain!

Australia’s Lorimer Moseley, Professor of Clinical Neurosciences tells us that as “our neurons become more and more sensitive, we need a smaller and smaller influence to create pain.” This illusion of increasing sensitivity becomes very unhelpful because the brain is trying to protect you from something that may not need protection anymore – but it’s very real.

Professor Moseley goes onto say that other networks in our brain and body become affected too – as they lose their capacity to be specific and precise so the pain spreads and its quality changes. It becomes uninformative and unhelpful.

Yoga provides several different pain reduction techniques that allow you to manage and reduce both acute and chronic pain.

You can also use yoga to change your relationship to pain, influencing your pain perception, improving pain tolerance and changing habitual ways of reacting to pain.

Depending on your experience of pain (acute, constant, intermittent, chronic, etc) a Yoga Therapist generally starts working with you to reduce the symptoms of pain to better support recovery. This can include working with your breath and or muscle tension, which influence your patterns of movement, through to being better able to manage your thoughts and emotions.

Yoga Therapy works well with western medical approaches as it relaxes the nervous system, decreases pain and increases our ability to manage the pain and our response to pain.

By taking the time to gently practice each day you start to reverse the physical, mental, and emotional damage caused by chronic pain.

 

 

Yoga Anyone?

Anyone can do yoga if they want to.

Unfortunately, most of us have been exposed to images of fit, hyper-mobile people in complex yoga poses or heard of challenging yoga styles like Power, Hot or Acro yoga.

There are so many messages out there that just end up adding to the idea yoga is not for most people.

In fact, it doesn’t matter about your fitness level, age or state of health, yoga requires little equipment and it’s adaptable. A yoga practice can be designed just for you to improve your health and well-being on a number of levels; it can even challenge you to expand your ideas of life, at any age.

I came to yoga later in my life, with some resistance – no faith or expectation for growth. The idea of what yoga could offer motivated me more than my physical abilities or inabilities.

But it wasn’t until I started a simple daily practice that the reality of yoga’s benefits became apparent. My spine and other joints strengthened and increased in flexibility. My blood pressure dropped, my confidence in what I can do has increased and I can access a sense of peace, space and gratitude that only continues to grow with practice.

My overall health is better and I’ve seen many other people’s health improve too.

Many people and health practitioners are still unaware of the healing benefits of yoga and how Yoga Therapy naturally complements traditional care. Thankfully that’s changing as the science to back up its many benefits increases.

Yoga Therapy can help anyone who wants to change.

We are all individuals who will likely experience discomfort and or chronic or acute diseases or ailments. Yoga Therapy accepts that each individual will need their own practice or therapy because of their history, beliefs, life experience, goals and ability to meet change.

It’s not competitive and you don’t have to be sick to benefit from it. But there’s no doubt the relief of symptoms that reduce quality of life, through a simple daily practice, is a great medicine.

 

 

Breathing to change the world

I know the title is a big statement, but let’s consider for a moment how critical breath is.

While children generally breathe faster than adults and our rates of breath change with exertion and emotion, most of us breathe around 30,000 breaths a day. That’s a lot of mostly unconscious inhaling and exhaling.

Breath is life-giving.

If we choose to bring attention and practice to improve our breathing for even a short period each day we enter into a more conscious relationship with our self that ultimately improves our life. And there’s another big statement!

Self-care and well-being don’t just happen, we have to consciously attend to looking after ourselves and that requires skills and practice.

Over time our minds naturally form helpful and unhelpful patterns and many of us lose connection with our bodies – we stop listening to ourselves. We live less consciously and the speed with which we live means it’s hard but possible to change.

There’s a growing body of scientific evidence that shows we can change our beliefs and change how we live in many simple ways.

One of the first ways is to simply start.

If we start doing or acting differently change begins to occur.

By repeating that first ‘doing’ or ‘acting’ again and again we start to feel better and become more aware of ourselves, our potential and our ability to choose.

At its most basic, breath is life, so it’s the logical place to start any life change – big or small.

You can start today simply by making your breath more conscious, if only for one minute. Here’s how

Sit or stand upright and follow the breath from its entry through the nose and the body’s natural expansion of the chest on inhale, all the way through to the exhale and softening of your thorax as your breath moves out through your nasal cavities.

Relax, take your time to notice the small natural pause between your exhalations and inhalations.

Repeat for about eight cycles or rounds of breath.

Notice how you feel after one minute of relaxed, full breathing. Changing the way we breath can change the way we feel.

Many Yoga practitioners understand the criticality of breath and their regular breath practice becomes an act of goodness for their body, mind, and spirit.

Learning and practicing how to breathe well is a life-enhancing choice.

Every time we do our Yoga or Asana (physical postures and movement), our Pranayama (breathing practice) our Meditation, or become more mindful, we become more caring of our well-being.

The benefits of taking control of your well-being are immense – it radiates and grows beyond you and to those around you.

So every time we take care of ourselves, we improve our capacity to take care of others and our community.

We individually begin to change the world.