Yoga practice assists us to develop new patterns and pathways for our mind and body.
I talk a lot about yoga meaning connection, and often mention the components of ourselves we connect to:- body, mind, breath.
Yoga also helps us connect to that part of ourselves that always knows just what to do in any situation. There are many names to describe this; awareness, our essence, witness consciousness. I like "compassionate wisdom in action", as this to me captures that this is an active as well as a reflective state of being. What we practice, and call yoga are all tools to assist us to allow this state to naturally unfold within us.
Yoga is therefore a state where we can freely act in the most wise and compassionate way in the moment.
The question arises of why we need tools and practice to find this state of compassionate wisdom? Traditional Yoga psychology describes a process of Samskara, that prevent us from accessing this state. These are habitual groove like patterns of thinking and acting that we develop over our life. Some of these patterns may be helpful to us, and some aren't. Think about any addictive behaviour for example, or any unconscious behaviour that is triggered by past hurts, or even the tendency to round your shoulders when working over the computer while furrowing your brow – eventually when you think about work, your brow tenses and your shoulders round. These are all examples of Samskara.
Modern Neuropsychology also recognises these patterns, and describes the ways brain neurons connect like paths through a forest. Feelings thoughts and actions often fire together in brain and the most trodden paths are easiest to find. Our brains love short cuts- it’s a very useful tool -not to have to relearn things like riding a bike, or driving a manual car each time. But perhaps these paths take us somewhere that no longer serves us, ways of thinking that are unhelpful, patterns of movement that create tension for example.
Yoga Practice assists us develop new patterns and pathways for our minds and bodies. It gives us tools where we can begin to skilfully chose what we need, based on our own compassionate wisdom. This means we can over time release unconscious patterns that create physical, emotional and mental tension, and create new habits and patterns that better serve us.
Just like forming a new path in a forest though, repatterning the body and mind takes time, and repetition. Initially it might seem exciting, but it can be challenging - and the old pathways seem more inviting and familiar. Practices that seem to work at first may not have the same effect.
Perseverance is the key to changing these samskaras and meeting yourself at that place of compassionate wisdom in action. The yoga sutras describe a need for dedication and persistence to the tools of yoga, and a cultivation of the attitude of patience. One of my teachers, Hareesh, describes three things that are required to help re-pattern samskaras:
Committing to group yoga classes is great because these classes create an environment which supports openness in all of these areas. Physical practices help re-pattern muscle tension. Breathing and meditation practices can make us aware of emotional patterns, such as holding the breath when anxious. Self enquiry practices give us permission to explore these patterns safely, and to come to our own conclusions about the practices that are most suitable and helpful.
This is also the reason why I emphasise being able to smile in any given practice, so that our body can tap into the state of compassionate wisdom in action- when you can smile without forcing, you know that you have accessed your compassionate wisdom.
Image drawn by Tarkai
In yoga the moon is associated with receptivity, coolness, silver and free flowing energy. This sequence taps those qualities.
I love this variation as it allows me to progressively free my hips and shoulders. I often spend time in each pose, allowing my body to move as required.
I also like the fact that sequence will take us to face each direction of the room we are practising in, as the sequence itself mirrors the phases of the moon. There are 28 steps in all - the first 14 will take us from facing the front of the room towards facing the back through the side. The second 14 will take us back to the front, via the other side.
As always, listen to your body, and adapt the sequence to make it work for you
Whenever you are ready, repeat the sequence using the right leg back to eventually return to the front of the mat. Repeat as many times as you would like.
Happy New Year everyone! I’m not sure about you, but a holidays can make me feel quite lethargic. The business of the season, along with an excess of food and drink, and a lack of my regular practice routines has an impact on how I feel.
As I was practicing recently, a sequence arose that stimulated my digestive system and assisted me to let go into a deep restful shavasana to rejuvenate.
I thought others may benefit from this brief but beneficial sequence ...so here it is if you want to give it a go at home. I also made a guided audio recording of this practice, you will receive a link to it a few days into the new year if you are on my mailing list, or email me for a copy.
This practice is best to do on an empty stomach, perhaps in the morning before breakfast.
The practice starts kneeling, buttocks to heels. There are a few variations of this. Virasana is similar but you sit your buttocks on the ground in between your knees. Some people enjoy this, but please be careful if you have knee issues. I often prefer sitting on a blanket or bolster between my knees. This pose is great for digestion, and a great place to start this sequence focusing on breathing energy into the belly region. Of course, feel free to use any other sitting pose, or even a chair.
While here, try a breathing practice, a variation of agni sari, to stimulate the digestive fire. This breathing is a fast dynamic practice, snapping the abdomen towards the belly on exhale, inhale passive for 3 rounds of about 10 breaths each. We have practiced this in class, but if it doesn’t sound familiar to you please just sit and breathe with awareness, or try any other breathing practice.
From here, move into a variation of dynamic forward virasana, sometimes called sun bird. Inhale to high kneeling, arms overhead, control the exhale, belly to spine as you reach the arms long along the ground, reaching tailbone back towards the heels. As you come up with an inhale, sweep the arms to shoulder height first and then all the way above the head as you come to high kneeling. Do a few rounds of this before staying in a static extended child pose for a few breaths, elongating the spine with every inhale.
Then move into all 4’s for some rounds of cat pose, and then try a dynamic variation of kneeling balance. Start again in a soft extended child, inhale up to all 4’s but extend the left leg and the right arm long off the ground as you balance on the opposite limbs. Exhale back to extended child and then inhale up to the other side.
Rest after this pose in dog pose, staying and breathing and again lengthening the spine, keeping the knees as bent as needed.
From here drop the knees to all 4’s once again for a dynamic variation of extended side stretch. Balancing on the right side, hand under shoulder, extend the left leg long to extend through the left side. The bent right leg may swivel a bit here for balance. Bring your left arm to your hip or lower back while looking down. Inhale and sweep the arm over heard and towards the front, lengthening from the fingers to the foot while you look up. Exhale return the arm to your back and look down. Do a few rounds on each side and then have another stay in dog pose.
Transition from dog pose to the floor, coming to badhakonasana (butterfly) pose. Stay here and breath for another few breaths, either holding on the feet, ankles, or hands behind your back on the floor. This pose also assists with blood flow into the pelvis and abdominal area.
Then move into a comfortable cross leg, or other position for a dynamic seated twist, growing tall on an inhale and exhaling into the twist.
Transition into easy rest position on your spine for a variation of apanasana. In this variation, we extend one leg long along the floor, keeping it active by pushing away gently into the heel. Start with the left leg extended and both arms on the floor overhead. As you exhale, bring the bent right leg in towards the chest and the head towards the knee. Inhale the bent leg to floor, arms return overhead. Starting on this side massages the ascending colon. Do a few rounds before changing sides and massaging into the descending colon. When you have finished come into your favourite supine (lying) twist , resting for a number of breaths on each side, before coming to rest in shavasana for a brief relaxation.
Feel free to stay for a longer rest, perhaps using a yoga nidra practice. I hope you enjoy this practice - let me know how you found it!
Wishing you all a wonderful 2017, with plenty of yoga practice and deep rest opportunities.
We talk a lot about it in class, by now you are all probably pretty familiar with the definition of yoga- to unite, connection, join.
But how does this work?
Yoga teaches that we are multi-layered beings, and encourages us to explore all of these layers, instead of just over identifying with one layer, such as the physical body, or our thoughts and emotions.
Our multi-dimensional self has been described like a Russian doll, with different layers nestled inside moving from the most gross on the outside, to our subtlest core at the centre. Except, as my teacher Hareesh Wallis states, the layers are much more permeable and can pervade all the other layers. There are a few different models or maps which describe this. In his book, Tantra illuminated, he describes 6 layers.
The Centre is Cit- consciousness, described by Hareesh as “the secret pulsating core of your whole existence, mysterious because it is omnipresent, and yet you don’t notice it.”
This is the awareness layer, and it allows us to be aware of all the other layers, which are briefly –
Shunya -The void
Prana -Vital energy
Citta – heart-mind
Deha – The Body
Vastu - stuff
The void layer, is where we are empty and still like in dreamless sleep. Some spiritual traditions see this as the ultimate layer, however in the yoga teachings of tantra we are encouraged not to renounce anything, but to experience all the layers of ourselves.
The next layer is our Vital Energy, or Prana layer. As you are aware, the movement of the breath is intimately connected to prana, and the breath is said to be the key to the mind body connection. There are sub categories of prana that specifically govern things like exhale, inhale, digestion, speech and distribution of nutrients. Food can also bring prana (or deplete it).
The next layer is the Heart-Mind layer of thoughts and feelings. These are combined together in this model as often when we feel an emotion it is consciously or unconsciously linked to a thought, or memory. This layer changes rapidly, and in our quest for stability we create stories that we believe to be true- about ourselves and the world. These thoughts can become habits; and guide the way we behave – yet we rarely question if our thoughts are actually true.
The outer layer is the body where all of the other layers can be experienced. Our culture over identifies with this layer, and we see many images of idealised versions of physical bodies, and are also removed from aging and death. There is a layer beyond this, which is our “stuff”, all the things that we surround ourselves with that we can also become attached to; house, car, clothes etc.
So, how does this model help us?. Lets imagine we notice we feel depleted and lethargic (Prana layer), we might also notice at the same time that we feel sad (heart-mind) and we are reminded of a particular loss (heart-mind), and realise there is a pain in our chest (body). We might then notice how we use things like food, alcohol or work to bring us into a place (the Void) where we can be free – or escape from these feelings, thoughts etc we are uncomfortable with.
The key to the mind body connection is the word notice. This word is the Core- Cit- awareness. It pervades all other layers, and allows us to experience ourselves as interconnected multi layered beings. We are encouraged to notice which layer are we identifying with – perhaps our bodies, or our thoughts, or a particular mood state. Of course, we are encouraged not to know this in a theoretical sense, but to practice and experience it ourselves, and to also find our own unique map or pathway to the core of our being. Yoga helps develop these noticing skills and strengthens that connection to all aspects of ourselves.
I've been practising yoga since I was 20 - that's nearly a quarter of a century worth of practice! In those early days, yoga to me was about feeling my body-really feeling it. I was depressed and disconnected from my body- yoga awakened me to the feeling of sensation and the realisation I have a home- it is this body, it changes regularly, its not always what I would like it to be, and I might not always treat it the best - but its always here.
And in those early years, I mistook "yoga" for this sensation of being in my body. If I didn't feel my body strongly enough- I didn't believe I was "doing yoga". I practised with a variety of teachers, and I remember going to a class one evening where I was asked to do a complex blanket fold. I never returned, and can even still remember my thinking behind this decision- "I''m here to do yoga, not fold blankets"
These days I spend a lot of time folding blankets - (I'm also more likely to question my thoughts as I have realised that just because they appear doesn't make them true- but that's a topic for another day)
So, why the change? Why does using props, folding blankets and taking time feature so regularly in my home practice, and also many of my classes?
Like many things that develop over time, my felt sensation has become more refined and subtle. I now acknowledge that yoga is about being- rather than doing, which is harder than it sounds! I am better practised at catching myself when I get into doing my yoga rather than being it- restorative yoga is a great way to just let myself be.
It also requires that I attend to myself and my needs. I have to fuss and prepare and find the sweet spot for the bolster, the correct roll hight for the blanket - While all this is also a form of doing- I have to be mindful of my own needs in that moment, you can't easily fudge restorative yoga- it either feels comfy as you lie there for a few minutes or its not quite right. "It's ok", doesn't cut it, spending the time to give yourself some mindful attention is a precious gift, and a great skill to develop.
For these reasons, one of my restorative yoga teachers, Neal Ghoshal, who I attended a workshop with in 2015 describes restorative yoga as an advanced form of yoga. Once you support the body adequately, and this means so that none of the joints are left hanging in space, the body can deeply relax on a very visceral level. He describes the benefits of restorative yoga as:
One of my favourite restorative poses is reclined bound angle pose. This is often a favourite of people to start class, many people allow their legs to hang open, which will often give a deep sensation in the groin. In restorative yoga, we back away from the sensation and support the body so instead of opening on just a gross body level, we can release deep tension held around the hips. There are a few variations of this, my favourite is the most simple:
Lie down on a yoga mat or floor and place a bolster under your knees. Lift your legs and bring the soles of your feet together on top of the bolster. If your knees don't rest on the bolster roll up a blanket or towel and place under the knees. Your arms can rest where they are comfortable, perhaps on your belly. The focus in restorative yoga is to remain present- remember we have turned the volume control down on sensation, so you will need to finely attune your antenna. Deep inquiry is useful - Am I as comfortable here as I possibly could be? what expression is on my face? What is my breath doing? Where is my attention being drawn to? Once settled in the body and mind, you can enter into a meditation practice such as mantra repetition, eg So Hum, or count your breath, or lunar and solar breathing.
To get you started, check out a short restorative yoga sequence from an earlier blog post.. Give yourself an hour at some time to give it a go, or if you prefer, you are welcome to organise a private lesson where I can assist you to find your way into these poses (and lend you the equipment!)
Sometimes, it’s just too cold to get out of bed early enough to do yoga on these dark winter mornings – so I cheat, and do some yoga poses in bed instead. I have chosen some of my favourite simple but effective poses to share here which stimulate the fire centre in the navel to warm the body and reduce sluggishness- that can all be done under warm covers! (Provided your bed is firm enough and you have space to spread out a bit). They can of course also be done on a yoga mat on the floor.
The following sequence can be done either at night before going to bed, perhaps following on with lying flat in corpse pose (savasana) counting the breath backwards from 12 before going to sleep - or you might like to try it in the morning before you get up- follow it with a warming drink of fresh grated ginger and lemon juice in hot water. Make the practice fit your available time, if you only have 10 minutes, spend a couple of minutes on each pose, if you have longer, take your time and enjoy.
As usual, any time you practice yoga, it is about connecting your body, mind and breath- only do poses that feel right to you in that moment, and only to your comfort level.
1. Easy Rest position. Place the soles of your feet on the bed hip width apart. The feet need to be a comfortable distance from the body so that the legs stack against each other like you are making a house of cards. Remove your pillow, but ensure that the chin is tucked in and the back of the neck long. This pose invites the psoas muscles to release, the diaphragm to move easily and restores calmness to the central nervous system. This is a being pose. There is nothing to do but breathe- through the nose, slowly and smoothly. You can stay here for as little or as long as you like, 10-15 minutes if you have time, or 1-2 if you don’t. Bring your mind back to the breath any time you notice that it has moved away.
2. Spinal arch and flatten. As you stay and breathe in easy rest pose, you may notice that the body wants to start rocking rhythmically with the breath. As you inhale, the pelvis may rock forward, allowing the lower back to further lift away from the bed (the bottom stays down). As you smoothly exhale, your lower back will return back to the original position. You can join in by deliberately contracting the muscles that run along the spine with every inhale as you lift, and encourage these muscles to release with every slow exhale as you return. Tightness in these muscles often contribute to lower back pain. About 5-8 rounds is ideal.
3. Supported Revolved Belly pose. Hug your knees into your chest. As you exhale, allow the bent legs to roll to the right, as you bring the left arm out to the side at shoulder height. Rest your knees on one or two pillows for support, and keep the shoulders relaxed on the bed. Your right arm can rest on your knees if you like, and your head might like to turn to the left. Rest here and breathe into your belly. Repeat on the other side after a minute or so, taking care to lift the top leg, and then the bottom leg to roll over. This pose will massage and squeeze internal organs, great for our digestive system and lower back.
4. Happy Baby pose. This may get tricky to do under the covers, but is great pose to explore. Bring your knees over your chest and then out to the sides of your body with your feet pointing up. Grab hold of your toes, ankles or shins and roll from side to side. If doing this in the evening, you might like to be quiet and calm here, but if practising in the mornings, you might like to explore opening and moving the limbs and joint-. wriggling the toes; rolling the ankles; opening and closing the knee; rolling wrists; opening elbows; straightening arms etc. I also like to add in massage to the face, arms,armpits, hand,s legs and feet here to get the lymph moving to improve immune function. Be like a newborn baby in her cot, taking delight that she has limbs and that they move in wonderful ways!
5. Reclining bound angle pose. Come to lie on your back (again with no pillow) and bring the soles of the feet together and allow the knees to fall out to each side. If you like, put a pillow under each knee to support the legs as they open. This is one of the most powerful positions for regulating women’s hormones as blood is directed into the pelvis, and it is also good for the prostrate in males. Stay here and breathe for as long as you remain comfortable, allowing gravity to gently open the hips. Finish by hugging the knees into the chest, and then extend them long into savasana if staying in bed to sleep, or rolling to the side if you are ready to get out and face the cold winter’s day!
Sustaining a practice can be hard, we are warned in the Yoga Sutras about many of the obstacles that come up on the path.
Luckily we are given antidotes these obstacles, and cultivating gratitude is one of these. Often negative experiences stick to our minds like Velcro, whereas positive ones tend to slide off like teflon. Gratitude helps these positive experiences to stick. I recently joined in with a capturing gratitude project. I'm not a very good photographer, but taking great shots wasn't the aim of the project.
It of course made me very aware of how grateful I am for my yoga practice. The practice of yoga is an offering of gratitude to ourselves. We offer asanas to our body, pranayam to our breath, meditation to our mind. As I went through this practice, I also developed a yoga sequence to practice gratitude on the mat and thought I would share it with you.
1. kneeling prayer pose or cross legs. Feel the breath moving in and out. Cultivate the feeling of gratitude for your body, mind and breath.
2. Dynamic child's pose. From kneeling with buttocks on your heels inhale to high kneeling as you raise your arms out and up. Look up if it feels ok. As you exhale sweep your arms to your sides as you lower your body over your knees to child. Rest your head on your fists if needed.Inhale back up, repeat 3 times or so.
3. Extended child's pose. From child's pose extend your arms out. Allow the spine to start to lengthen. Hands spread on the floor, tailbone reaching back. Your bum can lift up away from the heels if needed. Stay for 3 breaths or so.
4. Cat pose. Lift to all fours. Inhale as you lift your sternum and tail bone, exhale as you draw the navel in and gaze down.
5. Dog pose. Tuck your toes under and reach back through the tail bone as you exhale. Stay for a few breaths.
6. Strong lunge. Take one leg forward, foot in line with the hands, keep the knee over the ankle as you come into a lunge. Feel free to put the back knee on the ground, or keep it lifted. Step back to dog and try the other side. Feel free to rest in child any time in between.
7. Squat. From dog pose, take one foot to the outside of your hand, and then the other to the outside of your other hand, then brig your hands to prayer in a wide squat. Stay for a few breaths.
8. Boat pose. From squat, guide your bottom to the floor (use hands in you need!) and lift your legs in front- they can be bent or straight as you come to boat pose. Again stay for a few breaths.
9. Seated bound angle. Bring the soles of your feet together. Lift the sternum, breathe for a while. You could go straight to bridge pose (no 12) from here, or stay seated for 10&11.
10. Janusirsasana (head to knee pose). Extend one leg out, while the sole of the other foot stays connected to your inner thigh of that extended leg, knee bent. Inhale lift the spine, exhale forward, moving from the pelvis. Extended leg can also be bent, and just because the pose is called head to knee pose, it doesn't have to look like that (and probably won't!. Swap legs.
11. Seated twist. Keeping one leg extended, step the other one over the thigh. Hug the opposite arm around the bent up knee. Inhale to left the spine and exhale to move into the twist. Again stay for few breaths and then repeat on the other side.
12. Bridge pose. (Dynamic version) Lie on your back, knees bent, feet in line with hips and close-ish to the buttocks. Inhale to lift the pelvis and spine. Arms can come up and over to the floor behind as well if you want. We are opening the chest here. Do 3 rounds or so. Stay in the last round for a few breaths if you want.
13. Apanasana. (wind relieving pose) Hug the knees over the chest. As you inhale guide the knees away so the belly can lift, as you exhale guide the knees in. Practice a few rounds.
14. Lying twist. Bring the soles of the feet to the floor, arms out at shoulder height. Turn one hand up and the other down. Look towards the upturned palm as you allow your knees to fall to the other side. Swap hands, allowing the whole of the arm and shoulder to be part of this movement. Swap head and knees as well. Find a slow smooth rhythm with this that allows you to feel like you are wringing yourself out like a cloth.
15. Savasana. Find stillness in the body. Allow the eyes to close, find the natural movement of the breath. Stay for about 3 minutes. When you come out, roll to one side, give your self a hug. Remember to offer gratitude to your body, mind and breath. As an extra gratitude practice, list in your mind 10 things you are grateful for before you get up and roll away your mat.
I love my counselling work, but there is a lot of sitting. I do stand whenever I can, and also try and adapt my workstation to a standing work station for when I need to write, but this isn’t always possible.
However I have found that some of the chair yoga I have been teaching comes in very handy for short movement breaks during the day. Here is a variation of a sun salutation I practice during my sitting work days.
Gently rock back and forth, find your sit bones at the bottom of your pelvis and make sure that you are placing your weight through these bones, and lengthening through the back of your spine. Inhale and lengthen through the front of the body. Exhale and ground through your feet making sure the ankles are under the knees, feet parallel.
The following sequence only takes a few minutes, perfect for a movement snack a few times a day. It will ease tension through the lower and upper back, and neck.
Start by bringing your hands together in prayer pose.
Inhale arms out to the sides
Exhale stay, turn palms up and draw shoulder blades together and open chest.
Inhale arms up
Exhale roll forward, hands come to floor
Inhale roll up half way, hands on knees
Exhale roll down hands to floor
Inhale up to sitting
Exhale twist to right
Inhale neck /head to front while torso stays twisted (be gentle-no force!)
Exhale head back to join twisted spine
Inhale whole body back to centre
Exhale twist to left
Inhale head to front while torso stays twisted
Exhale head back
Inhale everything back
Inhale arms up
Exhale to start.
Repeat whenever you have a quiet moment and need to ease out your back and neck.
I love introducing new people to the experience of yoga. I often recognise the same feeling in them that I encountered over 20 years ago after my first class- it works! Yoga can simultaneously energise, and calm the body and mind. It doesn't make stressful situations go away, but it does help us deal with the various challenges, be they physical or emotional. But how does it do this?
More and more studies on yoga are being conducted, many of which show the benefits for various conditions from rheumatoid arthritis, to cancer recovery to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Other researchers are curious about why - what actually happens in our brain and body through the practice of Yoga? The Journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published a study in September last year with a detailed theory for how yoga works.
The simple answer is that it increases our capacity for self regulation. The ability to self regulate allows us to moderate stress and overwhelming emotions as we develop the capacity to monitor how we automatically respond to situations.
The really interesting thing I found about this theory is that they talked about the way yoga helps us self regulate through both a top-down and a bottom-up approach (see their diagram below). A top -down approach used in yoga is the use of focused attention through concentration. Bottom- up processing arises through allowing our body sensation to feed into our experience, such as when we practice asana and feel into our body.
The practice of yoga was broadly described to include ethics (yamas and niyamas); meditation; asana; and breathing practices.
Breathing practices in particular are known to affect the nervous system. Slow breathing can influence the Para Sympathetic Nervous system and is interpreted by the body that we are safe and secure. Many specific breathing practices, and various postures or asana also stimulate the Sympathetic Nervous System, which can shift low moods and lethargy.
I find this theory of how yoga works, by being both top-down and bottom-up fascinating because the Yogi's of old have always known this. Yoga was described as:
The uniting of consciousness in the heart, where we can abide in our true essence of joy (1.1,1.2) (Based on Yoga Sutra translation by Nicola Devi).
The sutras also go on to tell us:
Enthusiastic practice, self enquiry and acceptance of life as it is enhances our inner awareness and guides us to liberation (2.1, 2.2)
In other words- regular practice of the tools of yoga- postures, breathing, meditation and ethics will help us self regulate and have better control over our reactions. Its great to have scientific language to help explain what the ancients have always known- Yoga works!
All life is change, every breath, every sunrise, is an opportunity to notice this. However that doesn't make change easy, especially if it's beyond our control or traumatic. But even when life moves in an exciting, hoped for direction, change often means letting go of something; and that can be hard.
Dealing with change is my theme for 2015. I will be taking on extra counselling work, which while exciting- means letting go of some much loved group yoga classes. Travelling to Melbourne for some exciting new training in yoga and mental health is also on my agenda for this year, but travel takes me out of my comfort zone! And I will be assisting my children as they transition from primary school to the next stage of their schooling in the coming few years, changes which are likely to be challenging; especially for my boys with learning difficulties.
I have noticed that change creates a sense of anxiety for me; my sleep is more disturbed by thoughts about how to move ahead; my immune system doesn't function as effectively as it could with more minor colds and inflamations. Yoga, of course helps me during these times.
The yogis of old recognised that change is difficult, and holding on (becoming attached) can create physical and mental suffering. Difffculty adjusting to change is not a new thing!
The Yoga sutra states:
Excessive attachment is based on the assumption that it (what you are attached to) will contribute to everlasting happiness. (2.7)
Insecurity is the inborn feeling of anxiety for what is to come. It affects both the ignorant and the wise. (2.9)
So, how to we do this? How do we avoid excessive attachment to things we have to let go of, and avoid feeling anxious about things that we don't quite know how they will pan out for us in the future?
Any of the tools of yoga (breathing, asana, meditation, mudra, mantra) can be useful, but here is my current go to sequence to help me navigate change:
1. Sit still. Any comfortable position. Just stop, tune in. Notice where you hold tension. For me its the jaw, and if I stop and notice I can feel my teeth clenched slightly and stiffness through the sides of my neck.
2. Breathe. Lift up the head slightly as you inhale through the nose, lower the head, open the jaw and sigh the breath out through the mouth. This releases my tension in the jaw, and neck, and also brings me easily into ujjayi breathing, where you make that soft ocean sound on inhale and exhale. Do a few exhales through the mouth and then return to exhaling through the nose, keeping ujjayi.
3. Move. Trust yourself. Practice self enquiry. What does my body need to do in this moment? For me its neck rolls, seated cat/cow movements for my lower back and side bends to open my chest. Go slowly with the breath.
4. Apanasana. This is one of my favourite yoga moves. It is designed to move stagnant energy from the lower abdomen- a place where many of us store nervous tension. Start from easy rest on your back and bring your knees over your chest, hands gently resting on the knees. The variation I enjoy at the moment is guiding the knees into the chest as I exhale and extending the legs to the ceiling as I inhale, keeping my hands connected to the knees. You can also just guide the knees over the chest (on exhale) and away (on inhale), or you can also raise the arms overhead to the floor on inhale.
5. Twist. Again, your body will guide you to the right variation for the moment. I have been enjoying revolved belly pose with one leg extended. Take the right leg long along the floor and bring the left leg in, bending the knee, move it across the body to the right, rest the knee on a bolster or blanket. Stay for 5 breaths or so and then change sides, noticing any slight differences as you go. Using props in this pose allows my shoulders to anchor to the floor, which helps me feel grounded- a really important feeling for me in times of change. It also allows the hip of my bent leg to lengthen- another place I store tension- and my chest to open to the breath- and to future possibilities.
6. Lie still in shavasana. Even if its just for a few more breaths, remember this is The Pose of surrender, where we practice letting go! Practice self enquiry again. How does the body feel now? What has changed? what's the same? What do I neeed to do next? Perhaps there's a need for more movement, or longer stillness, or perhaps other things call more loudly.
Always thank yourself for your practice, and your life journey, acknowledge that life spirals, change doesn't happen necessarily in a straight line!