A calming breath

gentle waves

Like a wave, the breath is always moving and flowing. Sometimes smoothly and calmly like gentle waves on the beach, other times faster and more uneven like a stormy sea. Mostly we’re not even aware of the movement of the breath, and one of the great benefits of yoga is that it brings you to an awareness of the breath and with awareness comes an ability to  bring the breath under your control, rather than the breath controlling you. And a huge advantage of bringing the breath under your control is that it can help to change your emotional state. Usually we use the breath to slow us down and help us relax, but changing the breath can also lift your spirits and energise you.

There are many breathing techniques (pranayama) in yoga, but one of my favourites is simply to lengthen the out-breath. Breathe in to a count of 1 or 2 and breath out to a count of 3 or 4. It slows the breath, calms the mind and relieves stress. A good one to try if you can’t get to sleep.

As with all breathing practices, start slowly and gently and revert to your normal breathing pattern if it becomes uncomfortable or you feel light-headed.

“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.
Breathing out, I know
as the in-breath grows deep,
the out-breath grows slow.
Breathing in makes me calm.
Breathing out brings me ease.
With the in-breath, I smile.
With the out-breath, I release.
Breathing in, there is only the present moment.
Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.”

From: Present Moment Wonderful Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh

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A mudra for friendship

Lotus flower

“Imagine the bud of a lotus flower in your heart. Every time you inhale, the flower opens a bit more – until it finally is completely open and can absorb the full sunlight into itself. It lets itself be filled with light, lightness, warmth, love, desire and joy” ~ Gertrud Hirschi, Mudras – yoga in your hands.

A mudra is (usually) a position of the hands and fingers that can recharge your energy reserves and make you feel better about yourself. Another of the yoga tools to keep in your toolbox for when you need it.

We’re focusing on the lotus mudra this week, which is an opening gesture: with the heels of the hands together, you imagine opening your fingers like the lotus flower opens its petals to the sun. With the hands held in front of the heart, you can imagine opening your heart to whatever comes your way. So a good mudra to practice if you’re feeling a bit isolated or lonely. It also helps to make you a bit more approachable if you’re shy or tend to close yourself off from life and other people.

Tip: a useful mudra to practice if you use a mouse and keyboard a lot as it keeps the fingers flexible and stretches them out and back.

Focus on the heart

heart on tree

“Have respect for yourself, and patience and compassion. With these, you can handle anything.” ~ Jack Kornfield.

With Valentine’s day coming up, this week’s classes had to have a heart-centred theme. Whether you are in a relationship or not, you can give yourself some love and compassion. We are often so busy caring for others, that we forget to look after ourselves. Yoga is a great way of looking after your body, mind and emotions, helping to restore balance and harmony to every part of your being. Time on the mat is time for you to replenish and relax.

Parsvottanasana (the charity pose) is a gentle backbend that expands the chest and opens the heart, giving rise to feelings of generosity and compassion. It’s also great for stretching the hamstrings, strengthening the core muscles and increasing flexibility in the spine and around the hips.  In Dru yoga, we work with the breath and do a lovely flowing form of this posture, encouraging a fluid, wave-like movement in the spine.

Lessons from a flamingo

flamingo

“Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.” ~Steve Goodier

Flamingos? What do flamingos have to do with yoga? Well, I visited a wildlife centre this weekend, and there were flocks of bright pink flamingos in the midst of the muted grey British countryside. It made me think how beautiful they are and what an amazing colourful bird they are with their slender legs and long, long necks. But the smaller, brown birds are just as beautiful in their own way too. How easily we are drawn to the bright and exotic, forgetting the beauty in the seemingly more mundane.

And if we think we have difficulty balancing, be grateful not to be a flamingo! What wonderful science enables them to balance on just one of these tall, slender legs? I don’t know how heavy they are, but I’m guessing those huge wings and neck are not light. Watching them balance, they have a perfect stillness.  Neck and head curled round, just resting, grounded onto the earth beneath them. I think visualising birds like this or other natural things can help us to deepen our yoga practice and achieve our own point of stillness,  so next time I practice the crane or tree posture I might just try imagining a bright pink flamingo 🙂