The Asana Clinic: Vyaghrasana

Tiger Pose

So far, my year has been somewhat turbulent – I have said good-bye to my second Dad, (I have been very blessed in this life to have had a fantastic Father and a fantastic Step-Father), as he was so brutally taken away from me at the hands of life’s number one anathema: cancer. I have finally gained employment in the field that I spent tens of thousands of pounds getting educated in: art. I have progressed with my yoga teacher training…I have observed myself and evolved in to a better version of myself. Every day I am focusing on becoming a better version of who I was yesterday. For years, I have lived with chronic regression; or, to be more precise, a chronic desire to regress and afflicting myself with guilt, about things that have come and gone, desperately willing my life to turn backwards, so I can go back to times where I wasn’t exactly the person that I wanted to be or feel I should have been. To go back and be the person I feel I should have been in those times, those situations. The passing of my Step-Father taught me that living like this is no good. I won’t go into lengthy detail, but, I pulled myself together and, subsequently, am rediscovering who I am and; simultaneously, achieving things I had denied myself achieving for years.

I’ve gone back to basics.

Yoga is the foundation of my existence. it influences how my body moves, how my mind analyses situations, how I connect to other people and how I react to things, people and situations. I have reconnected with who I truly am and a big part of that involved (very hastily!) wiping the slate clean in all areas of my life and starting again. A former self-loather/perfectionist/nothing-I-do-is-good-enough…. I threw in the towel and started again. I stripped my practice back to basics and I learnt a lot. I learned to concentrate – properly. I achieved clarity – properly. I was blessed with the gift of patience – properly. I reconnected with my body by simplifying what it was doing and not pushing it to do things it was not yet quite ready for. I used to be an advanced practitioner, but, after an abeyance of a few years, I am more intermediate now. For the last 18 months – that has irked me and depleted my self esteem more than I could tell you! Characteristically, I am an acute perfectionist. Going back to basics and absolving my practice has humbled that inner perfectionist, teaching me to take things as they come and trust that my body and mind will do them when they are truly ready.

With all of this in mind, this weeks ASANA CLINIC focuses on an asana that is perceived as basic, but has a multitude of modifications and encourages dedication as you can continuously advance upon what you have done the practice before…”Tiger” Pose! In Indian mythology, the Tiger is the mode of transportation of the Hindu goddess Durga, whom is considered to be “Mother Nature” and the deification of energy. Shiva, the Hindu deity, whom protects and transforms the Universe, famously slew a tiger, effortlessly, when one was sent to exterminate him in the jungle. Symbolically, the tiger represents power and protection and has attracted a lengthy history in Indian, Buddhist and Chinese mythology. Mastering Vyaghrasana will invite power, energy and confidence in to your practice. Here I share my top 5 spiritual, physical and mental benefits of Tiger Pose:

  1. Commitment: Vyaghrasana encourages us to commit to a task. In this pose, we are encouraged to direct the elevated foot to the head – this is not something that most of us will be able to do straight away, or easily. It comes with dedication and commitment to practicing the pose regularly and steadily. Forcing the asana will result in cramps and muscle strains in the lumbar region – of which are incredibly uncomfortable. Instead, tiger pose should be developed and approached with patience and commitment. We rush through life trying to be the best at everything in our reach; if we don’t succeed instantaneously, we give up to avoid any humiliation gained by the need to practice and shed the façade that we are perfect.
  2. Concentration: From the outside, tiger pose seems easy. One is on all fours, lifting a leg. However, after around ten breaths or so, the muscles become tired and our instincts encourage us to give up. By elevating your leg, you are engaging some large muscles – the muscles in your legs are some of the largest in the body, thus, they will tire quickly and require masses of fuel to keep them energised and active. In yoga, we are encouraged to concentrate and move past the physical constraints of our body. We should not put ourselves at risk of injury, but we should learn to focus and still the mind. Often we are capable of holding asana for 15 breaths, per se, but only hold them for 10 because we are not truly focusing the mind and concentrating on aligning our mind with our body. We reach 10 breaths, our brain says “Okay, that’s enough” and we give in. Particularly in Yin Yoga, we are encouraged to teach ourselves to silence what is often called “Monkey Brain” that talks to us, loudly, discouraging us from doing what we are more than capable of! Breathe deeply, still your mind and concentrate. Be in the moment and concentrate on what you are doing, not what your mind is telling you not to do.
  3. Keeps Your Spine in Check: “You’re only as young as your spine” – keeping the spine in good check is imperative to our health. Our spines do so many things for us-  contribute to an array of complex movements, facilitate us in standing upright, harbouring a large portion of our nervous system…so it is important to keep that column, of complex bones, in vitality. Tiger pose stretches your spine form top to bottom. Right from the first vertebrae in the cervical spine, right down to your fused mass of coccyx bones – there is a therapeutic, complete stretch. This type of stretch is enormously beneficial at the beginning of your yoga practice – it “warms” the spine and preps it for more complex movements, reducing the risk of injury. It is also beneficial at the end of your practice, to give the bones, muscles tendons, ligaments and fasciae; surrounding the spine, a nice gentle stretch that irons out any tension that may have accumulated during more complex asana.
  4. Creativity: When in vyaghrasana, the throat is opened and slightly elevated. This activates Vishudda – the throat chakra. Vishudda governs our communication lines and creativity. The two go hand-in-hand. Creativity, in the form of visual art, has been conducive in communications since the very first cave paintings of the Aurignacian era right through to the subliminal messages of modern day conceptual artists. In contrast, we often have to be creative in our verbal communication skills – thinking quickly and negotiating certain situations; being mindful to not say the wrong thing and cause catastrophe. Creative activities – whether they be baking, gardening, painting, dancing….are tools for our souls to convey messages; whether we are conveying them surreptitiously to ourselves, esoterically, or extrovertly; they are vital for our spiritual happiness.
  5. Posture perfect: Finally, at number 5, is the benefit to our over-all posture. As with number 3, adapting a good posture is vital to good health; particularly later on in life. As well as preventing curvature of the spine, neck problems and balance issues, a good posture is very powerful in the field of “body language”. A tall, proud posture exudes confidence. Whether you truly feel it or not, adapting a good, confident posture will allude to confidence and positive self-assurance. Even if you are faking it, after a few moments, you will feel fabulous! Tiger pose facilitates good posture through the stretch of the spine, the opening of the chest and relaxing of the shoulders. It will give you the confidence of a tiger – a powerful prowess!

How To: Tiger Pose 

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  1. Table pose: On all fours, have your hands under your shoulders and knees under hips. Keep your hips square.
  2. Inhale your knee to your forehead, rounding the spine.
  3. Exhale, reaching the foot up toward the ceiling, elevating the gaze upwards to open the throat and chest. Be careful not ot tense the shoulders.
  4. Hold for 5 deep breaths, to begin, gradually building up to holding the pose for around 30 seconds.
  5. Release the pose by exhaling the knee back to the floor. Ensure you do this in a slow, controlled manner.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

Modifications:

  1. If you feel stable and balanced in this pose, you can take the opposing hand off the floor (if you have raised the right leg, raise the left hand). Slowly reach the hand back and grasp the elevated foot. You can also use a strap if you want to deepen the stretch, but don’t yet have the capacity to grab your foot. Remember, this is a challenging modification and requires gradual progression! Don’t force the pose or you risk straining the muscles in the trapezius area.
  2. Place a folded blanket or towel under your knees to reduce pressure.

Contraindications:

Recent or chronic injury to the back, hips, or knees.

Prepatory Poses:

Table Pose.

Balanced Table.

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Indubitably, yoga has an enormity of physiological, anatomically therapeutic benefits – that is why we do it, that is why we love it. When we assume the positions, on our mats, we grant ourselves the opportunity to align our mind and spirit with our bodies; wholly nourishing our entire existence. This is what the Theia Yoga “Asana Clinic” celebrates.

As well as studying to become a yoga teacher, I am studying toward a Level 4 diploma in Anatomy & Physiology, with the end goal of marrying the two subjects together and commencing a career in yoga therapy. Over the last couple of months, I have been studying the various “systems” of the body; of which include the endocrine system and the excretory system. I always had a vested interest in the circulatory system, but, after recent investigations, my interests have shifted somewhat to the excretory system. Perhaps because, coupled with the circulatory system, it is instrumental in sublimating the body. When our bodies are cleansed, our minds follow suit.

Kidney Beans:

Our kidneys are 2 bean shaped organs, located in the “retroperitoneal” section of the abdominal cavity (one to the left, one to the right, at the back), whose primary function is to purify the blood and excrete impurities from our bodies, through the creation of urine. They filter the blood in order to make urine, to release and retain water and remove waste and nitrogen (in the form of nitrogen containing urea) from the blood. The kidneys are part of the excretory system. They also control the ion (electrolyte) concentration and acid-base balance of the blood (acid base homeostasis). Each kidney feeds urine into the bladder by means of the ureter. Kidneys also regulate fluid balance and blood pressure. They govern the reabsorption of water, glucose and amino acids. In summary: they’re bloomin’ important and it is essential that we learn how to take proper care of them. Healthy kidneys = healthy body.

Proper Exercise: 

Yoga can be hugely beneficial for our kidneys and their overall health. With yoga, we synergistically work our digestive/excretory system (of which the kidneys function within) and our endocrine systems; nourishing the glands that release stress hormones (the adrenal glands, located atop the kidneys), whilst releasing beneficial hormones (such as serotonin) which help us to relax and restore optimal health. This is vital for all organs, not just the kidneys, although it could be argued that they take the brunt of our stress due to their partnership with the adrenal glands.

Stimulating the blood flow to the retroperitoneal area, through selected twists and back bends, will enhance the efficiency of the function of the kidneys. Certain yoga poses increase the blood flow to this area and provide an internal massage to both the kidney organs and the surrounding digestive and spinal areas; whilst simultaneously providing a rest to the sympathetic nervous system as the parasympathetic nervous system engages to aid the kidneys and supporting digestive system (excretory system).

Yoga postures that are beneficial to kidney health include:

  •  Big Toe Pose – Padangusthasana
  •  Boat Pose – Paripurna Navasana
  •  Bridge Pose – Setu Bandha Sarvangasana 
  •  Cat Pose – Marjaryasana
  •  Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana
  •  Cow Pose – Bitilasana
  •  Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana 
  • Gate Pose – Parighasana
  • Half Lord of the Fishes (Seated Spinal Twist) – Ardhamatsyendra
  • Lord of the Dance – Natarajasana
  • Noose Pose – Pasasana
  • Seated Forward Bend – Paschimottaanasana
  • Sphinx Pose
  • Staff Pose – Dandasana
  • Standing Forward Bend (Forward Fold) – Uttanasana

It is not difficult to identify the common denominator in these poses – they concentrate on massaging and stretching the retroperitoneal section, where the kidneys reside, in the lower portion of the lumbar spine. Twisting is a fantastic approach to creating good digestive health; the kidneys are a part of this and they really benefit from a good twist! As well as a good twisting massage, our kidneys love a back bend, to really target that area, at the back of the abdominal cavity, where they sit. Back bends where we are able to lie down – such as bow, cobra, sphinx and seal – are super beneficial as our kidneys are optimised, and actually work at full capacity, when we are horizontal (this is why we often need to get up to pee in the night!). Incorporating more back bends on the floor; whether it be a convex or concave bend (bow or bridge), assuming this position will give a double whammy of love to those little beans in your back! Try this simple, beginners vinyasa flow to get the blood circulating to your kidneys and show them some love:

  1. Start in table top (on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips and with a straight, flat back).
  2. Gently tilt your coccyx up toward the sky and drop your chest/lift your head toward the sky, creating a curve in the back and pushing your belly button toward the mat, adapting your cow pose.
  3. Moving into cat pose, move one vertebrae at a time, like the links in a bicycle chain, arch your back up towards the sky – like a cat does when it stretches. Point your coccyx toward the floor, keep your shoulders relaxed and core engaged.
  4. Tuck your toes under and push upwards in to downward facing dog. Ensure you are distributing the weight, in your hands, evenly and not putting pressure in just the heel of the hands. The weight should be in your fingers, knuckles and the heel of your hands. Keep your core engaged and bend the knees as much as you need to. Look back toward the thighs and keep the shoulders strong, but not tense.
  5. Shift your weight forward so as you form a straight line and are in plank. Keep your core strong and lower yourself to the floor by dropping your knees, then your chest and finally your chin (ashtanga namaskar).
  6. Lower yourself down so you are lying flat on the ground. find your sphinx pose by placing your forearms flat on the ground, in front of your chest, shoulder width apart. Gently create a back band by lifting the chest and directing your heart forwards — feel as though your are pulling yourself forward, without actually moving. Imagine how the Sphinx, of Ancient Egypt, was posed – this is what you are aiming for! It is a simple but effective pose and is a great kidney cleanser.
  7. From sphinx, move your hands so as they are closer to the fronts of your shoulders and push through the palms, lifting your chest and abdomen of the floor (but leave your hips on the floor) and looking upwards and backwards – this is your cobra. Try to keep your shoulders relaxed as you adopt this therapeutic back bend. Try and stay here for a few breaths before pushing yourself up in to a final downward facing dog. From here, drop to table top and repeat the vinyasa as many times as feels good to you!

Regular yoga practice aids our digestive health and relieves stress – 2 factors that contribute to positive kidney health. As well as yoga, changes to our lifestyles can help keep our kidneys healthy: take steps to manage your blood pressure, keep hydrated, don’t drink too much alcohol and ensure you are eating a varied, balanced diet that is not too high in fat (particularly saturated fat). Our kidneys purify our blood, helping in excreting all that stuff e don’t need….so the more that you supply your body with stuff it does not need, the harder your kidneys have to work!

Give my simple vinyasa a go, have a nice big glass of cucumber water and show your kidneys some love…they will seriously thank you for it!

Eat Like a Goddess: “Inner Strength” Smoothie

Yesterday, I woke up in a funk. I cannot pin point exactly what was dampening my mood – it isn’t “That” time of the month, I slept well….perhaps it was an accumulation of things: a tough week at the office, grief, from a recent bereavement, catching up with me, a friend getting a promotion and I feel like I’m stagnating at work…it was a myriad of things, when I relay the events of the week. I don’t often have dips like these; I aver that yoga keeps me balanced, positive and productive. This week, however, well….it’s ascertained that it was sent to test me!

With a Yin Yoga/Yoga Nidra workshop impending, I was not going to let the events of the week defeat me. I was not going to let this mood, this attitude, consume my inner Goddess! I was not going to take a negative, irritable body to the mat; I was going to take one that was honoured and nourished. What did I do? tackled it head on with my usual strategy: nutrition! As well as physical practices like yoga, pilates and barre (Move Like a Goddess), self care and restoration (Live Like a Goddess), Theia yoga is based on a system that believes nutrition is central to our existence and subsequent quality of life. On Friday night I must confess, I ate dreadfully. This, I believe, would have heavily contributed to my despondent demeanour on Saturday morning. I usually have a smoothie, first thing, on a Saturday morning. I have a little more time to experiment with different concoctions and really give myself a vitamin boost. This week, I needed a pick-me up. I needed chocolate! Out came the cacao powder. I needed some energy and hormonal nourishing. Maca powder covers that. I needed an overall boost, a mental regroup: bananas and avocado. For a little bit of a physical boost, I added a generous teaspoon of Greek yoghurt; for a beauty boost, I got my glow back with some almond butter.

Indisputably the superhero, of this nutritional solution, is the maca powder. Relatively little is known about the effects, on the body, of this root; but it is believed that it has similar attributes to cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, etc.). The combination of maca powder with bananas is the perfect antidote to a low mood and fatigue. Both are outstanding sources of potassium, which is vital for the metabolism of glucose and insulin – the metabolism of glucose is fundamental to the process of respiration and enables our bodies to create energy. As well as a big dose of potassium, maca powder delivers 23% of RDA of iron, as well as an impressive 85% RDA copper (* per 28g serving). Copper is not profoundly discussed as a major nutritional requirement, and a deficiency in it is very rare, but it is hugely beneficial to our overall health and wellbeing. It is contributory to our psychological functioning, further contributes to our bodies fabricating energy and encourages iron absorption. Copper facilitates the body in actualizing corpuscles (red blood cells), which contain haemoglobin and transport oxygen around the body, to our beautiful little cells. Copper also acts as an antioxidant, fighting free radicals and helps to form collagen; the fountain of youth! keeping you youthful and supple! Collagen keeps our muscles and bones supported, so keeping this in a bounty is essential if you are a regular yoga goddess!

Other nutritional benefits, of the Theia “Inner Strength Smoothie” include a natural pant sterol, called Beta-Sitosterol, found in the avocados; which helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels – keeping our Vitamin B-6, niacin, thiamine and folate also populate this wonderful smoothie, which contribute to energy, healthy hair/ski/nails an hormone regulation. Vitamins, E, C and K feature along with pantothenic acid, omega 3 fatty acids and beta carotene. This smoothie is also an acropolis of antioxidants (cacao powder contains over 4 times more than common dark chocolate) and contains 300 phytochemicals. Cacao powder is rich in magnesium, which will help stabilise blood sugar and prevent any future halo-slipping, “stay back, i’m moody and dangerous” kind of moments!!!!!

Theia's Inner Strenght smoothie

The Asana Clinic: Trikonasana

For mental and spiritual awareness, intuition and connectivity, Yoga is the alpha exercise; after a brief abeyance to Pilates, in the early Noughties, it is once again the dominant antidote to manic, stressful, demanding living. Through Yoga, we are offered physical, mental and spiritual sublimation. Through the gentle, but challenging asanas we are offered the chance to ablute ourselves of grimey, stress filled days and we are granted permission to divorce our minds from the “real” World. it is in Yoga that we truly communicate with ourselves. In yoga, we trust.

Our trust in yoga is so invested because we know that it offers us the lloking glass: we see our true selves when we do not have any burdens, negative thoughts and abrogation being hurled at us. We are quiet, thoughtful and we test our bodies We ask them to cooperate with our inner will. This is exactly what The Asana Clinic celebrates: the subservience of our awesome bodies. We are all a miraculous complexity of purposeful components – we are completely unique as a biological species. Amongst the tissue, muscles and skeletal system, we have networks of capillaries, veins, nerves and arteries; we have alveoli, bronchioles, corpuscles and immunity. Enveloped beneath the dermis we have a variety of vital organs that all have a purposeful method to our existence. The more you practice yoga, the more you will hear what your body is telling you on a daily basis. You become more intuitive toward the inner workings of your body as you bond with it through the cooperative method, between body and will/intention, when you physically practice yoga. The body telling you what it needs becomes less of a metaphor and more of a literal occurrence!

So, each week, I am offering you a synopsis in to what our favourite asanas, pranayamas and sequences are doing for our body; as well as tips for using your practice as a remedy to common ailments. So, welcome…The Asana Clinic is now open; the Dr will see you now 🙂 …..

This Week: Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)

More fondly known as Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), this is the epitome of physical therapy! Triangle pose offers multitudinous therapeutic benefits; not just for the body, but also holistically for the mind and spirit. It is without a doubt my all time favourite pose and I incorporate it in to every practice. Here are my top 5 (physiological) reasons to introduce this asana as a frequent guest in your practice:

  1. Spinal Soother: Each individual vertebra, of the spinal column, is employed to perform this pose. Often we just work one or two sections at a time, but Triangle pose will stretch the neck (thus, the Cervical spine), the thoracic section is stretched out and elongated; giving this section a much needed rest. Then we have the Lumbar section, which bears the most weight of all the spinal column sections, which is given a deep, well deserved stretch and the majority of the weight is transferred from this section and distributed to the oblique muscles to bear. The sacral and coccygeal sections are also stretched and encouraged to release tension.
  2. Oblique Engagement: With the lumbar section of the spine being alleviated of all weight bearing duties, our obliques are required, as we stretch out to the side at a 90 degree angle, to take some of this weight. This is cyclically beneficial, as you will then tone up your obliques; which can often be neglected in core training exercises; but are absolutely essential to good core health and strength. And, as we are all aware…you need a strong core for a strong back! So, counter intuitively it may seem, taking the stress and weight off your Lumbar, will increase the strength of it – whilst toning your abdominal muscles: #WINNING!
  3. Circulation Sensation: Triangle pose increases vital blood flow all around the body. Adequate circulation is so imperative to our overall health, for rejuvenation and repair and for aesthetic radiance! You will walk away from your practice glowing! Rich blood supply benefits our internal organs, tissues and cells – allowing the body to work efficiently and recover quicker from illness, demanding physical activity and physical injuries. Without blood, we could not exist. Thus, enabling it to be distributed around the body more effectually, can only enhance our overall health and radiance.
  4. Your new time of the month “Friend”: The 90 degree stretch is surprisingly therapeutic to PMS: particularly the mind numbing cramps that (circa) 70% of us ladies have to endure for a few days each month. Our periods are a miraculous process, but they can be petulant at the best of times. As we lean, in Triangle, to one side, the walls of the uterus are condensed and massaged. As they are condensed, the blood supply increases (circulatory blood, not uterine “blood” – don’t be alarmed!), creating a massage and sedative effect; thus, appeases cramping! The uterus is an involuntary muscle – it will contract on it’s own as part of a natural biological process; we cannot control it, but it occurs for a very good reason. Triangle pose will facilitate you in soothing these involuntary contractions (cramps).
  5. Posture Perfect: Sitting at a desk, slouching over a steering wheel, poor alignment…we all have moments of weakness and allow our frames to “flop”; we are prone to picking this floppiness up as a very bad, dangerous habit – creating bad posture. It is dangerous because we are not putting our spine in the correct position; our growth and development is compromised (our growth/development never stops folks!) and we endanger our overall mobility if we do not keep our spine in the correct position. Our shoulders can become hunched and round, we can end up favouring one side of our bodies and encourage weakness, anomalies and asymmetrical development (tilting, one side of the body shortens in comparison to the other). Alas, TRIKONASANA!!! This beautiful asana will straighten you out! Your whole body is employed in this therapeutic, elongating stretch. Your spine is stretched from one side to the other and elongated, which will automatically, subliminally encourage you to stand up straight. Your shoulders are encouraged to drop and the stretch in the neck will help you to carry this section of the spine correctly. Walk tall and walk confidently!!!

As well as these physiological benefits, Triangle/Trikonasana is essential for relieving stress, tension and anxiety. the mind is encouraged to quieten as you focus on elongating and relaxing your body. An entire side of your body is opened up all at once: particularly in the torso area, the vital organs are activated and encouraged to function “properly” – one of the most significant groups is the abdominal organs. Trikonasana can help stimulate the abdominal organs, alleviate IBS symptoms, dyspepsia and can help to expel excess gas! hello flat tummy! Pranic flow is stimulated around the entire body and this vital energy benefits the heart, spleen, gall bladder, intestines and bladder. Overall, this is one Mother of an asana! Give it a go and practice it regularly, introducing variations, to support your overall health.

The Clinic is now closed. Please come again 😉

Kate xxx

 

Asana Clinic: Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

The triumph of the human spirit knows no bounds – and neither does human stupidity; more specifically, my stupidity. Not usually one for self depricating abrogation, I am deserving of a bit of a verbal flogging rhetorical on this occassion!

Today i reintroduced ‘Utkatasana’ (Chair Pose) in to my practice. This is a pose that i have been somewhat ambivalent about in the past. It is one of those poses that i know has great physiological and mental benefits, yet i feel like I am “copping out” when i assume the near seated squat position. Fourteen months after recommencing my yogic path; after wandering astray for a few years, I still have a firm love-hate relationship with this pose.

It always just seemed too….well, easy (at the risk of sounding cocky – which, if you knew me, you would know that i am not!). In contrast to a 5 minute hold of shoulder stand, a wheel with the head between the legs…chair pose just seems like a scapegoat and a signal for “I can’t be bothered, but i feel like i need to make an effort”. Until today.

Don’t do Utkatasana for 6 months and then hold it for 2 minutes, marrying it with a few Goddess squats and one too many Warrior II’s, and you have got yourselves an inferno of a leg workout and a real test of the human spirit, not to mention capacity of mental strength…! I enjoy a challenge – I am strong willed, curious and easily bored; so challenges are always welcome – particularly when I cannot see them coming. Today’s practice was a challenge with the reintroduction of Utkatasana. To be more accurate, the practice itself was not the challenge – it’s the sorry state of carnage that has resulted from it! I’m writing this post sitting cross legged – because I automatically sit this way, but, ostensibly, I am now stuck and not moving any time soon! I underestimated the true power of Chair Pose. It is not as “basic” as it seems. It is one of the first poses that students are taught and has a whole host of therapeutic physiological benefits. When you challenge yourself (or get a bit too self assured, like someone did today…..*a-hem*….) and intensify this asana; as you would with most other asana, these benefits become apparent. Here are my top 5 benefits of Utkatasana:

  1. It is an excellent way to tone the muscles of the thighs and the arms.

Akin to a “squat”, chair pose engages all the muscles of the legs and can prove therapeutic to the muscles around the shoulder (trapezius, deltoids and rhomboid) – just remember to use your prana to help relax the shoulder and jaw; tensing/hunching/clenching will be counter productive.

2. Stimulates the Digestive System.

This pose encourages full engagement of the core muscle,s found in the abdomen, subsequently massaging the internal organs of the digestive system. Chair pose encourages us to engage our core muscles as we instinctively need to support the spine when it is lowered toward a theoretical seated position.

3. Strengthening of the Vertebral support system.

Subsequent to the engaged core muscles, to facilitate the spine, the muscles surrounding the vertebral column are stimulated in to action and are strengthened in order to further support their main priority: the vertebral column. the muscles of our back are multitudinous – increasing in quantity, decreasing in size as we get closer to the bones (vertebrae). Initially, as the muscles strengthen, you may experience discomfort and mild backache (like you would if you did any other exercise after not doing any for a short while); this is common with other asana, as we have so many tiny, concealed muscles around the vertebral column – they will all strengthen at different rates and there are a lot of muscles to strengthen! Persevere, it will be worth the patience! However, if your discomfort exceeds “mild” then consult with a professional yoga teacher.

4. It makes you aware of your breath.

The longer you hold the chair pose, the more oxygen you need to supply to those lovely large muscles in your thighs – which encourages you to deepen the breath. This subsequently reduces anxiety and acts as a natural muscle relaxant. As we should not under estimate the power of the chair pose, we should not under estimate the power of our breath.

5. The knees are strengthened.

Whether we mean to or not, we often neglect our knees during practice. On a day to day basis, they are not considered and are often a neglected area. The patella (knee bone/cap) is a “Sesamoid” bone – these bones are formed by means of stress to an area of our bodies – we are not born with knee caps, they are created as we instinctively start to move our legs. We are born with a soft cartilage that begins to ossify, in to a bone, at around 3 years of age. Thus, it is quite a vulnerable bone – albeit a vulnerable bone that serves a tremendous, vital purpose that is imperative to our mobility. “Squat” type actions, as with the chair pose, are an excellent way to increase strength around the knee cap -the tendons and muscles will be worked and creating a certain amount of tension, natural to the evolution of the bone, will keep the knee cap in check. Just don’t overdo the amount of pressure that you initially lace on the knee – build up slowly and gradually; you need to increase the flexibility in the muscles and tendons that support the knee area first. If you have any issues with cartilage (particularly cartilage erosion) in the patella, consult a medical professional before attempting this pose.

I have now unfolded my crossed legs and am feeling rather foolish. i had challenged myself physically, in other asana, got a bit too big for my boots and now have egg on my face! As foolish as I feel (and I should, as I am studying anatomy and physiology alongside my Hatha yoga teacher course…), I am glad that I reintroduced Utkatasana today – the flow was right and i was ultimately relaxed whilst in the pose. Tomorrow I will ease myself into the pose and not try to run before I can walk (no pun intended, as you can tell….walking is a challenge this evening. But, hey, I love challenges……!!!).

Yoga is all about growing with experience and discovering the answers to significant questions. Well, lesson indubitably learnt. Take note folks: don’t drop it like it’s hot….ease yourself down gently.

Thank goodness Radox exists.

Kate xxxx

When your heart isn’t in sync with your head

Our existence is a purposeful mystery – it can be marvellous, exhilerating and joyous; but it can also be tough. Being human is as much blessed, as it is cursed, with a multitude of hormones and emotions that fluctuate from one moment to the next. For us mere mortals, we are also equipped with an overactive memory that is perfectly adept at intruing our lives when we least expect it; perhaps, when we least want it. Harboured emotions of days past are awoken and maraud our daily lives – during times of trauma, bereavement and general social/cultural oppresion.

When we are presented with a situation that we have been in before, it is hard to align how our hearts and heads function, leading to an imbalance and confusion in emotions. Our brains may present a rational narrative to a situation, but that does not stop the heart from manufacturing emotional pain and sorrow. When we are making every day decisions, we tend to instinctively listen to either our head or our heart. When we are faced with an emotionally challenging situation, like bereavement, the heart and head can send us equally potent, cacophonic messages that are loud and confusing – leaving us in a more complex emotional condition. As well as the default emotional responses, to certain events in our lives, our heart’s remember how we felt in the first situation and are automatically triggered to synthesise those feelings again. Our head’s will often try and be the rational arbiter – if you have been in the same situation before, your head will try and communicate rational steps for coping. Where you have survived troubled times before, your head expects that you can do it again – and better, because you should be equipped with the tools to cope and supercede the solemn feelings thatyour heart is manufacturing.

Only, it is not that easy. When we love, care and give ourselves unconditionally – particularly to other people – separation, bereavement, arguments and grief, can have cataclysmic effects on our emotions. Particularly, as said before, when your current situation is an echo of something that has occurred in the past.

So how, when our heads are telling us “you have done it before, you can do it this time, ignore the pain” and our hearts are screaming for comfort and begging us to give in to the sorrow, can we pull ourselves together and establish some sort of balance? We are given an inherent, natural arsenal of “coping” methods – often learnt behaviours, when we are young, from dominant family members (parents, older siblings, etc.); some of these are healthy behaviours (deep breathing, making lists – the pro’s/con’s of a situation, going for a brisk walk, for exmaple) and some of these behaviours can be quite detrimental and exacerbate the negative emotions already manifesting in our hearts (excessive drinking, emissions of anger toward others/physical violence, etc.).

Some times, in order to cope, all we simply need is space. To take a step back, breathe, reground ourselves and gain some “perspective”. We can be too much in our own heads – whether that is a rational head or not – and when you are battling an aching heart as well; the lines of communication break down and confusion kicks in; which, in an already heightened emotional state, can be immensely distressing. Yoga and meditation can help aleviate conflicting emotions and quieten a disputing heart and head. I often have people telling me that they do not believe that they can silence, or empty, their heads; or that they are not confident that they have the patience for yoga/meditation. It is not something that we are given . Like physiological flexibility, it is something that we have to teach and train ourselves to do.

Meditation can start with simply closing the curtains, turning off the TV and lighting a candle. Sit in front of the candle, cross legged or kneeling – whatever is comfortable for you – close your eyes, inhale deeply (so that your belly fully contracts and your lungs fill with rejuvenating oxygen), and exhale fully and evenly. Relax tense shoulders by hinching them up as far as possible, whilst inhaling deeply, then drop them as you exhale. It is easier than you think to completely relax the shoulders when you let a big breath of air out. Gently rolling the head in alternating clockwise and counter clockwise motions can help disperse tension in the neck. Whilst you are practicing the deep breathing and shoulder/neck exercises, if you cannot quite silence your mind, try a visual silence. Picture a place that brings you calm. Visulaise a colour that represents serenity (white is a good example), or try to visualise something in your life that brings you joy and happiness. A memory from your childhood. as you focus in on these positive visions, your mind will begin to progress away from it’s general state; you will be silencing your mind of negativity without completely emptying it. This is a good start to rejuvenating the mind and settling the heart. Rather than silencing, you will be quietening the mind and the heart. Scented candles can further enhance the meditative experience. Good choices are lavender, peppermint and sandalwood. Essential oils may also prove beneficial – again, lavender is an excellent choice for sublimating the body of stress, chomomile can be incredibly relaxing and jasmine, ylang ylang and lemon can all purify the sense and uplift a weakened spirit.

As a supplement to meditation, Kundalini Yoga focuses on our ‘prana’ (breath) in order to eliminate ailments within the heart, body and mind. Although i am predominantly training to teach Hatha Yoga, i believe it is important to encourage students, whom wish to embrace the yogic lifestyle, to explore all practice variations. Each different yogic path (Yin, Kundalini, Tantra, Zen, Ashtanga, etc.) serves a different,beneficial purpose, to our well being.

Yogajournal.com is a fantastic, didactic source and provides teachers and students with a wealth of knowledge to fuel their practice:

http://www.yogajournal.com/?s=Kundalini+

The above link will take you to the Yoga Journal page for articles/videos on Kundalini and is a great introduction to this focused practice.

If you prefer a more physical approach to releasing tension and managing your emotions, the following asanas can be incredibly beneficial. Of course, if you have any serious medical issues/physical restrictions, please consult your doctor or a yoga professional before practicing the postures.

TREE POSE (VRIKSASANA)

CAT POSE (MARJARAYASANA)

CHILD’S POSE (BALASANA)

EXTENDED PUPPY POSE (UTTANA SHISHOSANA)

I find the above to be the most helpful for rejuvenating an addled mind and relieving some of the physical stress that can accumulate in the neck, shoulders and back as a result.

Follow the below link to retrieve a full guide to yogajournal.com’s recommended asana for stress, and remember, you are not ruled by your heart or your head. We are all free to look deep inside our souls and find the answers that we are looking for.

http://www.yogajournal.com/category/poses/yoga-by-benefit/stress/

Kate xx

 

 

 

An Alternative Sunday Dinner: Vietnamese Curry 

I originally sourced this recipe on Hello Fresh UK’s app. I absolutely adore Hello Fresh as a company – their ethos and social goals ( to make healthy, exciting, fresh food accessible and realistic for busy people) are a breath of fresh air to a health fanatic like me! 

   As well as studying to become a competent Yoga teacher, I am studying Anatomy & Physiology, with a desire to progress in to holistic nutrition. I am particularly focused on matters of inflammation within the body and how a tailored prescription of diet and (yoga) exercise can facilitate individuals in coping with inflammatory conditions. Thus, I am becoming rather adept, and naturally inclined to, altering found recipes to suit physiological needs on a day-to-day basis. 

    Our Anatomy is a magnificent, complex arrangement of purposeful components- we are unique on this Planet in our marvellous complexity. We are beautiful machines – but machines falter. With a complexity so thorough as our Anatomy, chances are we will experience faults, anomalies and imbalances, of some sort, on a daily basis. For example, I have recently been hapless in contracting a very nasty viral infection, which was doing the rounds in my workplace. Two weeks of unstable health, the virus finally peaked. I am now rapidly reaching rude health, once again, but the virus has resulted in a mild UTI  (Cystitis). Just as I thought it had gone…..bam! My poor kidneys feel like they are crying. Sobbing their little hearts out deep in my back. 

   However, touch wood, after 48 hours of Pukka “Cleanse” tea (nettle, fennel & peppermint for a “flushing” effect) bananas (for potassium), spinach (to replenish vital nutrients such as magnesium, iron, vitamins B6 & B12, as well as some vitamin c to fight the infection….I’m seemingly on the mend. Keith and Kevin are still blubbing a little, but they have settled somewhat!

   That said, this initial period of post-virus convalescence is the optimal time for recharging and replenishing my immune system; ensuring that my diet is rich in antimicrobial and antibacterial, anti inflammatory, infections fighting goodness! 

  Hence my adapted version of Hello Fresh’s “Vietnamese Curry”! The addition of broccoli, to the recipe, provides a host of added benefits in the way of antioxidants, vitamin C and magnesium; whilst exchanging standard field mushrooms for shitake will provide a dose of lentinan- an antibacterial compound. Mushrooms, in general, are a good food source of vitamin D, which is considered to have an important role in immunity. 

   These ingredients upgrades are fused with garlic, ginger and lemongrass, which have soothing, anti inflammatory and antibacterial properties – a recipe that will soothe the soul and aid in preventing a trip to the doctors office! 

Happy cooking 🌹🌺🌼🌻 Kate xx

INGREDIENTS: serves 2

2 large cloves garlic 

Bunch spring onions

1 thumb size piece of ginger (grated)

1 stalk lemongrass (cut in half widthways)

2 tbsp curry leaves 

1 tbsp coriander, chopped (fresh or dried) 

Juice of half lime

1 punnet (200g) shitake mushrooms

1 broccoli head, chopped

2 chicken breasts (buy the highest welfare that you can afford)

400g coconut milk 

1 chicken stock pot 

50ml water 

1.5 tsp mild curry powder 

150g wholegrain rice

METHOD: 

1. Prep the ingredients: slice the garlic, grate the ginger and slice the lemongrass width ways. Bash the lemongrass with a rolling pin to open it (so as the fragrance is released). Slice the mushrooms in 4 or 5 slices and chop the broccoli in to florets. Juice half a lime and chop the chicken in to 2 cm cubes.

2. Boil some water in a saucepan and add the rice, half the stock pot and half of the lemongrass. Cook for 30 minutes on the boil. Add more water if it evaporates before the rice is cooked. 

3. Whilst the rice cooks, heat a wok with 1tbsp olive oil. When the wok is hot, add the chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes (until brown). 

4. Add the mushrooms, broccoli and spring onions plus the curry powder. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, ginger and remaining lemongrass. Cook for 1 minute and then add the coconut milk. 

5. Reduce the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. Then add the remaining half of the stock pot and 50ml water. Stir thoroughly and cook for a few minutes more. 

6. Taste the curry and add some black pepper if desired. Squeeze in the juice of the lime and stir in the coriander. Leave for 1 minute and drain the rice. Remove the curry from the heat and serve in a bowl with the rice! 

Enjoy!