Balasana 2 (2)

Now that Autumn has kicked in and the leaves are turning beautiful shades of crimson and red, this is the time when you might start to feel a little bit discombobulated.  Unlike mother nature’s ability to adapt to the change of season, the trees shedding their leaves in complete faith that they will stand tall through winter only to be blessed by budding new leaves come Spring, we may find ourselves feeling twitchy, flighty and ungrounded.

So here’s my go to pose whenever I need to reconnect, ground, chill out and stop spinning out.   Use it between your vinyasa flows or stay here for 10 minutes with a bolster or pillows under your torso.  Breathe in the support of the earth beneath you and breathe out creating space for stillness within yourself.  Enjoy the pause between the inhale and the exhale, take time to switch off and reconnect.

 

supported shoulder stand‘salamba sarvangasana’

This is one of my go to poses when my legs feel fatigued or ‘jumpy’, for the occasional times I experience insomnia or when I just need to shift my perspective, let go of whatever’s playing on my mind and bliss out.

BKS Iyengar describes this pose as the “Mother of asanas.  As a  mother strives for happiness and harmony in the home, so this asana strives for the harmony and happiness of the human system.”

This fantastic pose supports the important thyroid and parathyroid glands responsible for controlling many of the body’s functions.  It stimulates the abdominal organs, so helps with digestion and is a great stress reliever and nerve soother due to the gentle chin lock regulating the blood supply to the head whilst stimulating the vagus nerve, taking us more into the rest and digest mode and away from fight or flight.

For tips on how to get into the pose safely – click here.  For those with a regular practice and no underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, enjoy at least 20 breaths in this pose before coming down.  Pregnant students should avoid this pose in first trimester or if this is a pose not practiced before pregnancy it is not recommended that you start now.  As ever, trust your body, if it feels good to you, great, if not, come out.

Look forward to seeing you back on your mats soon.  In the meantime, give this a try and let me know if this becomes one of your favourite poses too.

 

Yoga with Caroline is back week commencing 13th July – check out my classes for more details of when you’ll find me on the mat.

Meantime, why not keep up the practice by taking to your mat in your own time in your own home or if you practice at work, keep to your regular worktime slot.  I promise it will be time worth spent, even if it’s only ten minutes flowing through the below sequence, just by breathing and moving, you’re going to feel the benefits.  Practicing in your own time really allows you to tune in and go deeper as you start to listen to yourself more, trust yourself more and notice what feels good and what doesn’t.

The Sun A and B sequences are as taught to me by my teacher Claire Missingham in London.

Vinyasa Flow Start

In Sun B – 2 refers to warrior I or Virabhadrasana I, 3 = warrior 2 or Virabhadrasana II and 4 = reverse warrior or  viparita-virabhadrasana and 5 is just windmilling your hands down either side of your front foot.

I’ve added some more sequences below – the idea being that depending on time, mood and energy levels, you could do the full flow, or pick and choose one from each of the three different sections.  Your practice, your choice.  These sequences are merely to give you some ideas, if your body starts to take you off into different poses, listen and follow, be intuitive and go with what feels good for you.

If you are looking for ways to start a home practice but you’re not sure if you’re doing things right – watch this space as I’m currently working on a “Cultivating a Home Practice” half day workshop coming up this September in conjunction with the lovely Nichola Veitch.   We’ll be sharing our tips and techniques to get you confident and ready to rock your asana at home!  Dates and venue to be confirmed.

Vinyasa Flow Middle

Vinyasa Flow End

Summer Solstice Sun Salute

Summer Solstice Sun Salute

Okay so the sun might not be shining right where I’m sitting, not outside at least, but there’s a smouldering flame in my heart as I start the morning celebrating the Summer Solstice.  Added to that, it’s International Yoga Day, so there’s a certain amount of energy in the air.  Perhaps all those yogis across the globe taking to their mats, harnessing their prana has me tuned in and all fired up!?

After an early start and many sun salutations later, I’m radiating from the inside out as I rest down into meditation, softening my gaze and turning inwards to reflect on the achievements and challenges that have arisen in the past few months where the darkness of the long nights has been replaced by the light of the long days.

And now, it’s time to take stock.  What seeds have I sown that have grown into fruition, good and bad?  For me it’s worth noting that being mindful is all important when it comes to wishing for things in your life as I firmly believe, you have to be careful what you wish for!  I ask myself what has worked well?  What is it that I would like for the coming months?  What can be burnt off and what can I invite into my life to nourish and nurture me, so that I can be of better service to those around me and play my albeit small part in making this world a better place?  Some of the answers were clear to me and others are part of my daily sadhana, that daily inquiry that leads me further from external desires and needs and closer to a place of truth that resides deep within.

So, here are some suggestions as to how you might like to celebrate and harness the amazing energy of the Summer Solstice and International Yoga Day.

  1. Traditionally and even still today, many yogis celebrate the summer solstice with 108 sun salutations.  Give it a try, surprise yourself with your own strength and ride the challenge of the fluctuations of the mind as the body starts to tire and then gets reinvigorated by the breath.  Stay with it, enjoy the heat you build and embrace the quality of stillness of mind that comes at the end of the practice.
  2. Practice yoga nidra or a simple meditation in which you plant the seeds of what you would like to grow in the coming months that will bring you closer to your personal goals and true happiness.  Set time aside each day for the next few months to dedicate to this potent yet restorative practice.
  3. Get creative.  Allow some time to brainstorm your top 5 priorities for the coming year.  Where would you like to be in a year’s time from now?  Are you looking for a change of career, would you like to set up your own business, invite love into your life, start a family, or perhaps just start some hobbies that really sing to your soul?  Set the wheels in motion by creating your own mood board that reflects your life’s goals using cut outs from magazines, brochures and photographs.  Stick these images on a blank sheet of A3 paper to create your own collage of what you wish to invite into your life.  Dream big, plant the seeds and who knows what could grow as a result.
  4. Stay grounded.  With all this fiery energy circulating, it’s easy to feel unstable and as though the world is spinning all around you.  Whether walking, sitting or doing your yoga practice, you can always establish your connection to the ground by spreading your toes, (even in your shoes), and noticing where your feet make contact to the earth.  Think about inhaling the breath from the earth through your feet all the way up your body into your lungs and heart space and out again through the earth.  Repeat as many times as needed adding in a mantra such as “Breathing in peace, breathing out peace, I am grounded, I am safe.”  Work with a mantra that resonates with you or simply repeat, inhale, exhale silently in time with your breath.
  5. Seek out some summer solstice songs to set the scene or choose from a selection that I’ve created that are great for inviting light into your life.  https://open.spotify.com/user/1162352495/playlist/0DrLxMkuxH2uJf6i1rz6h8

Enjoy – Happy Summer Solstice and International Yoga Day everyone!

Vasistha = literally means “most excellent, best, richest.” Yoga Journal

Vasistha = literally means “most excellent, best, richest.” Yoga Journal

Turn things on their side, come and find a whole fresh perspective as we explore yoga through sunny sequencing to leave you feeling uplifting and revived.

When and where?

6-7:15pm Wednesday 27th May until 24th June inclusive @ £40 for the 5 week block (block bookings only – numbers to ensure personal attention for each yogi)  Please bring your own mat.  Blankets and blocks provided.

Broughton St Mary’s Church, 12 Bellevue Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 6NE – also the option to practice in the beautiful secluded walled garden if the sun is shining!

9:30-10:30am Wednesday 27th May until 24th June inclusive @ £30 for the 5 week block or £7 drop in.  Please bring your own mat.  Blankets and blocks provided.

Temple Village Hall, Temple Village, Nr Gorebridge, Midlothian, EH23 4SQ

To book your place or for further info email contact@carolineyoga.co.uk.

Look forward to seeing you on your mats!

Putanjali's 8 limbs of yoga pic

Putanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga

It’s fair to say that for each and every one of us, life doesn’t always go according to plan.  In fact, depending on whether you’re sitting in the glass half full or glass half empty camp, it very often doesn’t go to plan but sometimes, the off plan can be more challenging than others.

Well, you could say it’s been that kind of a year already here but it’s not to say that it’s all been bad.  For as my body and emotions took a roller coaster ride as I encountered the unplanned for, it took me deeper into my yoga practice and for that I am grateful.

When the worse times kick in, that’s when you have the opportunity to reach into the yoga tool box and take out whatever it is your body, emotions and mind need.

It made me realise more than ever before that yoga isn’t all about the asana, the alignment, the physical practice, the pretty shapes we make on our mats, that’s just one small and beautiful part of yoga.  For those of us with an innate desire to move or need to in order to connect with our breath and to get rid of that pent up stress hormone cortisol, this moving element of the practice can be something we cling to, but as in all aspects of our practice, something we should practice to let go of too.

So that when that moment occurs when you too may encounter a period where through lifestyle, illness or injury your body’s need is to convalesce, you are able to use this time to your advantage.  To truly explore what other fantastic gifts yoga has to offer, to relinquish control on how you think life’s great plan should be played out for you and let go of the feeling that somehow you have been dealt the raw deal.  We can use this time to embrace what has been given to us as the lesson that for whatever reason was intended rather than seeing it as a punishment.

Whether it’s singing or chanting, breathing or just being, meditating or being mindful, mudras or mantras or diving into the philosophy of the yamas and niyamas, (all of which make up Putanjalis eight fold path to yoga), we can feel empowered to heal ourselves and who knows, we might just find out more about our life’s purpose on the way.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t happy about my situation.  It was a battle to see anything good about what had just happened but then a book that I ordered came through the post and landed like a thunderbolt on the doormat, just at the point I was contemplating taking to my mat for a ‘gentle’ practice despite my doctor’s advice.  “A Path With Heart” it’s called and just the title made me realise that there was nothing compassionate or kind about moving my body when at this particular time it needed to heal.  There was nothing kind about how I was judging myself for being ‘lazy’ when in fact the term is ‘to convalesce’.

This challenging time in my life has been just that, but we can use these times to realise that this suffering is something that many others have been through, that life is rich with great times but also painful ones, that ultimately, we have shared experiences, that each and every one of us is connected to the other and that we have the capacity in the face of suffering to learn, move on and grow.  As Jack Kornfield rightly said: “Our hearts can grow strong at the broken places.”

Special thanks to Juliette for recommending the book A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield and to all of you for your kind words of support.

If you’re going through a challenging time in your life right now, you might like the following practice adapted from Jack Kornfield’s book:

Healing Meditation:

Sitting in a comfortable seated position.  Begin by noticing how you are feeling as you sit here, is the breath short and shallow or stuck in places, is your mind busy or quiet?  Simply make an observation without judgement.  Now start to notice where the body connects with the ground and as you inhale through your nose, imagine the breath travelling up from the ground to your lungs.  As you exhale, the breath leaves the lungs through the points where the body meets the ground.  Continue this for several breaths and with each inhale, observe the increasing expansion of the lungs, with each exhale a sense of inner calm and connection with yourself and the safe, secure place of being supported by mother earth beneath you.

Now imagine yourself standing in the most beautiful garden, surrounded by flowers, the warming rays of the sun beaming down on you, a stream of water by your side and ahead a beautiful, white temple with a path leading up to it.  Follow the path towards the temple, enjoying the smell of flowers along the way, the trees blowing in the wind, the water of the stream gently flowing.  As you get to the temple, the door is open and you step inside and take a seat.  Sense yourself sitting there, peaceful, calm, happy, quietly meditating.  As you sit there, you allow the wounds or the pain you feel to gradually surface.  You breathe with a gentle soft awareness that allows space for whatever will be to arise.

As you sit here, a hand rests on your shoulder and you are met by a wise person from the temple.  They have come to help you to heal.  They are kind and open hearted and you sense their warmth as they move their hand to the place where your body feels wounded or pain.  As they lay their hands on your pain, they invite you to place your hands on top of theirs and teach you what it is to feel their healing embrace.

With this healing hand, for the first time, you are able to open to the pain rather than run from it.  You are able to let it rise to the surface.  The wise person starts to remove their hands as you continue to touch this place with tenderness and kindness, bringing your attention to what is there.  Is this sorrow hot or cold, does it feel sharp or is it a dull ache?  Name the sensations as they come up.   Allow yourself this time to be with them, knowing at any time, that your breath and the ground beneath you is there to support you.   Peaceful and calm, you are able to open up to these sensations.

Be still here in this healing temple for as long as you can, feel compassion, kindness and healing wash over every cell in your body as you sit here.  When it is time to leave, you offer your gratitude and bow to the alter in the temple.  As you walk back out into the garden surrounding the temple, you feel lighter, happier and closer to being healed.  You leave knowing that this temple is here inside you, a place where you can return whenever you need to.

Namaste my friends.  Cx

SIGN UP NOW FOR THE NEW 5 WEEK VINYASA FLOW YOGA BLOCK:

When: Wednesday evenings from 6-7:15pm in the Drummond Room, Broughton St Mary’s Parish Church, Bellevue Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 6NE.

Dates: 4th March – 1st April inclusive.  Price: £40 for the block *. contact@carolineyoga.co.uk with any questions or to book your space – places limited.

find your yoga

find your yoga

Blankets and props provided but please bring your own mat.

Previous yoga experience recommended.

*Classes run over 5 consecutive weeks and must be taken within that period.

 

 

Coming home from teaching the other evening, I found my nearest and dearest as pleased as punch as he looked towards a line graph on his laptop.  It was late on a Friday evening and I assumed he was still working, so I was confused by his happy demeanor, much as he loves his job!

All was revealed when he quietly mentioned that much to his surprise, he had clocked up as many miles as a car would over the course of a few years, yet his miles where on his pedal bike.  A man who loves his gadgets, he invested in a little tracking tool back in 2010 as a fun way to monitor his daily commute and here he was looking back on the journey.

Yoga by bike

Yoga by bike

It was never his intention to reach a particular mileage in a certain amount of time and was purely incidental that he’d cycled the equivalent of almost 9 times there and back from John O’Groats to Lands’ End!  For him, this was his mode of transport to and from work, a way to stay fit both physically and mentally, a form of mindfulness or even heartfullness that set him up for the day and helped him unwind at night. It brought to mind the question that if he’d set himself that initial goal to reach 15,000 miles in 3 or 4 years, would the target have seemed too huge to contemplate or even achieve?  Like so many aspirations we might have, if the stakes are set too high, or the challenge too great, then we may be overridden by fear or feel defeated before we even start.  And when it involves changing habits, starting and sticking to a new way of thinking, being or acting differently – taking those first steps to change can be extremely hard without the added pressure of meeting targets set upon ourselves.

We always talk about looking at the bigger picture, but sometimes it’s this big picture that’s too intimidating.  When it comes to changing habits and achieving goals, whilst we want to have an outcome in mind to help to focus us, actually looking at the smaller day to day picture might prove an easier initial step to getting started, plus isn’t life so much sweeter when we’re living in the now? Most of us for example wouldn’t wake up and decide to run a marathon that day without any prior training, so why do we expect so often that we should become overnight experts in our chosen subject or that we should suddenly change the habit of a lifetime in a day?  Putanjali’s three fold approach to kriya yoga or the yoga of action, is just one such way we can start to make changes in our yoga practice on and off the mat and unbeknown to my husband, he was in many ways living out Putanjali’s yoga sutra, tapas svadhyaya isvara pranidanah kriya yogah (chpt.II v I) as he took to two wheels.

Tapas which can translate as to ‘burn’ or ‘consistency’ can be seen as a way to bring discipline, it is both an action and an attitude and is done without attachment to the outcome.  But it can also be seen as a way to purify the body, to burn off the toxins that we accumulate and to literally cleanse from the inside out. On our yoga mats, tapas can be seen as a daily or regular commitment to your yoga practice.  It’s this consistency combined with pranayama and asanas that allow us to really get to know our body and to tap into the healing benefits of yoga as we start to work through any areas of tension and allow for the free flow or prana throughout our entire system.

But how does that translate onto two wheels?  Well, there he was, come rain or shine, wind or snow, pedaling through the elements on his bike, not because he was attached to an outcome of trying to rack up the miles, but because he knew on those day that he didn’t cycle into work, things were profoundly different and not in a good way.  On the days he did occasionally take the bus he would feel physically drained and sluggish.  His body would arrive at work feeling stiff and lifeless and as much as he would try to let it go, he felt physically tense at the frustration of the stop, start slow nature of the bus ride and he would arrive into work with gritted teeth and shoulders around his ears!  To cycle every day, just felt good to his body. Added to this, cycling each day was good for his brain and soul too.  Suffice to say, one of hubby’s great passions from an age when his thighs were no wider than yoghurt pots, was cycling, and so to him, to do what he loves every day as part his daily routine is a no brainer.

You could say he is demonstrating svadhyaya, that self-awareness that allows us to get to know ourselves, to see things for what they really are and not what we perceive them to be. On our yoga mats, we are constantly enquiring and checking in with ourselves, trying to be an observer of our physical body, fluctuations of our mind and the flow of our breath.  All of which can can be considered a form of svadhyaya.  For my nearest and dearest, cycling gives him a perspective that allows him to be more of a witness to how his thoughts, actions and behaviours influence the way he sees himself and his interactions in the world.  For him, cycling is a way he can tap into his own true nature, that part of him that is never happier than when the wheels are turning and he’s fleeting through the ever changing countryside. And this is what svadhyaya allows for, a space that allows us time to be with ourselves, so that in time, combined with consistency of practice, we can start to tap into that inner voice of wisdom that resides in each and every one of us.  A voice, that should we allow it any air time, will help to bring about positive change to the way we participate in life.

As T.K.V. Desikachar says in Heart of Yoga, “We can never be sure of the fruit of our actions.” [p.14 Heart of Yoga], and there was hubby each day religiously taking to the pedals for the sheer love of it, not because he was attached to how far he could cycle in a year or even 4 years’ time.  And that is what isvara pranidanah is all about.  It translates as ‘surrendering to God’ or a ‘certain quality of action’ – an action that Shiva Rea describes as heartfullness. [http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/776]. On our yoga mats, we learn to accept ourselves each day we arrive to our practice and come to realise that we may feel completely different from how we felt yesterday or how we will feel tomorrow.  If we can let go of these attachments to the outcome, (which might be for example thinking we need to get into the perfect pose), and start to be more heartfull and more present in our actions, then we start to surrender our own mind and ego and come to witness our true nature.

Sometimes, we might invoke strength from a particular faith or deity or offer up our practice to something or someone bigger than ourselves, but ultimately, this is about understanding that God exists within each and every one of us. Putanjali’s yoga sutra, tapas svadhyaya isvara pranidanah kriya yogah describes the more ‘practical’ side of yoga, the part that guides us to get to know ourselves better so that we really understand our actions, how they influence our lives, and as we turn the mirror on ourselves, the part where we can start to create positive change andexperience life fully and no longer as a spectator. So I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s time to get on your bike, put your feet on the pedals, set your limbs free, put your heart into it, enjoy the journey, don’t be too attached to the outcome and you too might be just as surprised at how far you can go in such a short amount of time! caroline on bike

If you’re not entirely sure whether vinyasa flow is for you or perhaps whether the style I teach is what you are looking for, then why not come along for a no obligation trial session for FREE!  Full details below – drop me an email if you’d like to book on.

Offer is available for a limited period only and applies to Wednesday Broughton St Mary’s Parish Church classes only.

flyer

IMG_0271

I loved a fellow yogi friend of mine’s recent post on Facebook – ‘I bend so I don’t break!’  It brought back teenage memories of my mother’s words of ‘don’t force it or you’ll break it’ in those moments I turned to brute force on a bulging suitcase zip.   Needless to say, I came worse off, yes the zip broke but it was me that had to pick up the pieces-literally-holiday clothes strewn across the floor! 

And whilst we don’t always like to listen to our mothers, they tend to be right!

Like the zip, try forcing yourself into a yoga asana (posture) and you’ll likely fail or worse case, cause yourself injury.  After all, yoga is not yoga without the integration of breath and a carefully crafted balance of sthira and sukham (steadiness and ease). 

So often we have high expectations of ourselves, what we should be doing and when, that we forget that our minds and bodies are an ever changing moving feast.

We all have those days where we beat ourselves up over what we haven’t done, what we should have done or what we could have done and really, why?  In the same way, why does is matter if I swim 60 lengths this morning or 6?  Or if I run round the park once or three times?  Is this reality or is this just our ego-self goading us on?

Of course, it’s great to have goals, to have targets, to be motivated but as with anything in life, there needs to be a bit of give and take. 

If we take unrealistic expectations of ourselves out of the equation, suddenly things start to look a little different.  Rather than fighting with ourselves physically or mentally to be or feel a certain way, we accept that we are where we are and it is in these moments that we are most connected and at our most truthful. 

Take the willow tree, all flimsy and willowy, blowing in the wind.  He had no control of what direction the wind would blow in the same way we have no idea of what challenge life will throw at us next.  When a storm hit the woods, the willow tree went with the flow adapting with the changing winds and despite losing a few branches and leaves along the way, he survived the storm.  Unlike the willow tree, the oak tree that had previously stood strong, solid and steadfast, resisted the wind so much so that it caused his roots to unearth much to his demise.

Creatures of habit, it’s hard to be flexible and to adapt to life’s challenges but if you can allow yourself an inch to bend mentally as well as physically, then like the willow tree, from a place of strength, you’ll weather the storm.

Click below for a little practice to get you started…

Yoga Journal Strength & Grace Practice