Notes From my Yoga Journal – Paschimottanasana (Sitting Forward Bend)

I’ve finally done it! After years of research and at-home practice I am finally registered on a Yoga Teacher Training Programme and I couldn’t be more excited! Those of you that have read my post A New Path to Wellness you will already know my affinity to Dru Yoga – a soft, flowing form of yoga which teaches the asanas as continuous movement or, to quote their own phrase; ‘stillness in motion’ and the effect it has had on my life. In short, I’ve gone from feeling empty to feeling utterly fulfilled, spiritually, mentally and physically by the virtue of yoga.

I spent yesterday on day one of my course (although I’ve actually missed the first few sessions so have a little catching up to do!) and woke up this morning inspired to roll out my mat and practise what I learned. The learning materials that accompany the course have given me deeper knowledge of asanas that I thought I was familiar with and my journal has served as a great reminder of quotes, conversations and my own feelings from the day. One asana that thoroughly stood out to me yesterday was Paschimottanasana, or ‘sitting forward bend’ to you and I! I had no idea that such a seemingly simple and everyday pose held such greatness. It can certainly be described as a ‘master pose’, with its positive effects on attachments and stress helping to fulfill the Yamas of Brahmacharya (Self-restraint) and Aparigraha (Non-grapsing). ‘Using the senses wisely’ was the turn of phrase that I felt really encapsulated the benefits of Paschimottanasana.

When done correctly Paschimottanasana:

  • Helps to release fear and amplify courage
  • Controls dominating desires
  • Calms the swadhisthana chakra
  • Awakens the spirit

Plus has the following physical benefits:

  • Stretches the hamstrings and lower back muscles
  • Tones abdominals
  • Strengthens pelvic floor
  • Stimulates the kidneys, liver, pancreas and adrenal glands
  • Helps with conditions such as diabetes

How to do Paschimottasana

Sit upright with your legs outstretched in front of you. Focus on sitting on your sit bones (You may need to physically hoick your buttocks out from under you!) and extend your spine upwards towards the ceiling.

Breathe in and bring your arms up above your above your head so that your palms face down and your fingertips just meet. Exhale and re-engage your core whilst relaxing your shoulders.

Inhale and stretch your spine upwards towards the ceiling and then on an exhalation hinge from the hips (Not the waist!) bringing your chest down towards your legs. Keep extending (Inhale) and lowering (Exhale) until your torso is closer to, or resting on your legs. You may not get this far comfortably so do not over stretch or fold at the waist in earnest – it is better to ensure an extended spine and hinging from the hips, than to force your body down by curving the spine over.  Stop where you naturally reach and grab hold of your feet or further up your legs and rest here, continuing to extend and lower discreetly as you inhale and exhale.

Paschimottanasana-forward-fold

I would recommend this pose as something to practise regularly – perhaps as part of your daily yoga or to heal and de-stress when you need help with something overwhelming.

I hope you enjoyed this extract from my yoga journal, I hope to write more posts like this as I journey through my training. Please let me know how you get on with Paschimottanasana in the comments below.

Jaime xx

 

Image credit: Care2

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Seasonal Yoga – Winter

I was lucky enough to find a new class this week. Housed in a beautiful local environment centre, I’d been to this place lots before with my children; where we’d walk, forage and stop for hot chocolate on chilly afternoons. This week I followed up on a poster I’d seen on one such afternoon and grabbed a spot in a Kundalini Yoga class. My previous yoga experience has mainly been with Dru Yoga (and of course my beloved Yoga Studio app) so I was excited to branch out and develop my practice. I learnt so much in that first session and having spent the past 24 hours rolling the new wisdom around in my mind, I want to share a mantra that really stood out to me; work with the seasons.

In Winter, we naturally want to hibernate. We plump up to keep warm and as the sun rises later, so we find the waking harder, forcing our feet to find the chilly floor in the cave-like room, like early daffodils eager to bloom in the midst of January. The midst of Winter. We spend our evenings curled up with blankets and we slow down, a little, saving big plans for Spring holidays and long summers. Well this week my sleepy eyes were opened; we can, and must, extend this mantra into our practice. Don’t fight Winter, go with it. We are naturally less supple in the cold and for most of us, the last thing we want to do is wake ourselves up with a dynamic set of poses. Like birds who stop singing in Winter, we too need to conserve energy to survive the winter hardship, save the exertion for the Spring and for now, hibernate. Give in to the season and give yourself time, check your awareness as it flows from the top of your body and into your feet in soft waves. Do this in abundance. Now is the time to indulge in you and indulge in the still and the quiet.

In terms of yoga, Winter is not the time for ferocious challenges, for a billion rounds of sun salutations or for contorting your rigid muscles into new poses. Save it. Save it and be glad to know that you can tackle these with joy in the sun-blessed mornings of Spring, but for now be rested. Meditate and keep a soft, flowing practice, indulge in savasana and bring your focus back to the gentle fizz of awareness in your body.

Light a candle for your practice this weekend and lay still, check your awareness from top to tail and then hug your knees to your chest, gently pivoting them forward and back as you breathe in time. Compress – breathe out, release – breath in, letting your tummy fill deeply with air. Compress, release, compress.

Indulge in you this winter.

Jaime xx

Image credit: www.bevitality.com

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Yoga and Meditation at Home

There is nothing better than expert advice and support from your local yogi or meditation group, but how are we to improve and develop our practice if we don’t expand on things at home? The truth is, it can be extraordinarily difficult to practise yoga and mediation at home, particularly if you have a busy job and/or family life. As a bit of a newbie, full time teacher and mother of two, I have myself become stumped, when trying to recall my favourite yoga combination a day or two after class. As for meditation; I would spend the entire 10 minutes or so asking myself rhetorically when time was up, or replaying the days events or simply fidgeting and readjusting my position with every twinge or niggle. I just could not achieve mental quiet on my own; in fact at times, the more quiet and still the environment, the more alone I was, the louder my inner thoughts became; I just couldn’t find stillness. This is the most bizarre juxtaposition but it’s more common than you’d think.

There are a myriad of home yoga and meditation apps for desperate beginners to download and use at will but are they any good? I feel as though I have tried them all, but here are reviews of my two current faves: Yoga Studio and Pranayama – Universal Breathing.

Yoga Studio £2.99

This app has been the answer to my at-home yoga dreams! Yes it costs a bit more than the typical £0.69 download but for a couple of pounds you are getting a fantastic resource absolutely brimming with poses, combinations and ready-made classes that you can download and play at your leisure. The poses are demonstrated by a single, simply-adorned female yogi with pleasant calming music accompanying each video, and a voice to guide you through the routine. You can use the pre-set classes or be creative and make your own – perhaps inspired by new poses learned at your recent yoga class. This app will help you to remember and recall those poses in order to practice them properly at home. To enhance this creative process even further, the app can automatically provide ‘linking’ poses to help you move fluidly from one pose to the next – they really have considered everything. One of the best features of Yoga Studio is that once you have downloaded your favourite classes, you can play them anywhere, no wi-fi connection required. Yoga in the park anyone? I am incredibly impressed with this modern, sleek, easy-to-use app, which has transformed my yoga and shaped the way in which I can develop my practice at home.

Pranayama – Universal Breathing £4.99

Before you run away screaming at the price tag, I know, it’s pretty expensive. I have actually only just downloaded the full app at this price, as the free version is just so brilliant in itself and absolutely perfect for beginners. For those unsure, pranayama, universal or diaphragmatic breathing, is simply the art of breathing fully, inhaling deeply, filling your lungs to capacity and releasing the waste air slowly. More expert modifications include sustaining and/or retaining this air between in/exhalations. There are a few key tips to remember when practising your diaphragmatic breathing at home (or anywhere!)

– sit or stand comfortably, relax your shoulders and focus on your lower tummy area; your diaphragm should move out and in quite noticeably as you inhale and exhale deeply.

– it’s not the amount of breaths, but the ratio! Even if you start small I.e. Two breaths in four breaths out, the key is to breathe out for much longer than your breathe in. The perfect ratio for optimum benefit and relaxation is 7:11. I.e. 7 counts in, 11 counts out.

– unless otherwise directed, always perform this kind of breathing through your nose.

The Pranayama app completely guides you visually and aurally through this process and keep count for you, as well as accompanying the exercise with pleasant music. There are lots of different ‘themes’ to choose from for this background music depending on your mood, but I tend to stick with the classic option which I find really soothing. I have also found this practice a real antidote to my early meditation problems and I can now apply the restorative breathing techniques, especially when needing a tool to focus or relax. A must-have tool for any budding yogi or meditation newbie.

Download them here; Yoga Studio, Pranayama – Universal Breathing (free version)

Photo credit: yoganonymous.com

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