Our Habitual Bodies

It’s the New Year! And it’s often a time of New Year’s Resolutions and wondering whether we are where we want to be and who we need to be.

But then, more often than not, we set our aims too high and our enthusiasm and will-power too low and after a couple of weeks we settle back into the comfortable habitual patterns we have always been in.

Yoga offers us a refreshing alternative to the Western traditional New Year’s Resolution. The yoga tradition of Sankalpa starts with the premise that you already are who you need to be. Often New Year’s Resolutions are too focused on what we perceive is wrong or missing in our lives. A yoga Sankalpa is a short, concise, positive statement, written in the present tense, that aims to bring to the front of our lives a change we are looking for. A Sankalpa can be a statement that reflects your true inner nature or a specific goal or intention.

This term I will be inviting you to hold a Sankalpa in your mind during your yoga practice and during our relaxation at the end of class, with the aim that this positive statement will plant a little seed in your mind, that with time (and a little bit of yoga!) will hopefully start to grow into something bigger.

Alongside the idea of Sankalpa, we will be concentrating on physical habits we unconsciously hold in our bodies. Whether you have been coming to yoga for a long time, or just inhabiting your body for a long time, we all have habitual ways of moving and holding ourselves that we often don’t even realise we are doing.

” Life becomes a pattern. Our happiness becomes a pattern. If something suits that pattern we are happy, if it doesn’t suit we are unhappy, and this way sometimes we become a total slave of a habit. That is why they say man is a slave to his habits and as the years go by, his habits become his comforts. “ Yogi Bhajan Lecture: Living as a Slave to Habit Patterns 1970

This term we will be using postures and breathing to challenge our habitual patterns, to make our brains engage a little more so we aren’t just moving without thinking, without being present, and we will also be moving back into the more familiar to enable us to become more aware of our habits and our comfort zones.

Finally I leave you with a little story from Dr. Wayne Dyer entitled:

The Sidewalk of Life

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost …. I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down another street.

Gratitude and opening your heart

The theme for this term is thankfulness. We will be taking time to consider things we are grateful for as well as undertaking poses which help us to open up our chests, lift our hearts and help improve our posture.

Take a moment to reflect on the things you are thankful for in your life…big and small….

Why?

Gratitude increases feelings of well-being, reduces stress and allows you to feel more compassion and kindness….. it can also boost your immune system, help you to sleep better and can make you feel more alive!

Cultivate a habit of noticing the little things, not taking things for granted and seeing the positive.

“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”
– Germany Kent

Working towards Dancer Pose

This term we are working towards Dancer Pose.

But before we get anywhere near the full pose, we will be working on opening the hips, stretching the muscles in the front of the thighs, strengthening and stretching the shoulders and increasing our awareness of the position of our hips and chest in various poses. We will also be working on different balancing poses to help improve our balance and strengthen our ankles.

The benefits of Dancer Pose include stretching and opening of shoulders and chest, stretching of thigh, groin and abdomen muscles, strengthening of leg and ankle joints and muscles and working on improving your balance.

Remember, only try this pose after you have extensively warmed up your body and there will always be modifications we can do to make this pose accessible to every body.

Note the picture here is just for a guide, every one is different and it’s more important to do the pose with integrity in your body rather than trying to fit your body to some ‘perfect’ shape.

An example of Dancer Pose

Sthira and Sukham

The theme for classes this term is the yoga philosophy of Sthira and Sukham.  These sanskrit words can be loosely translated into strength or steadiness and softness or ease.

We will be exploring the different ways we try to balance Sthira and Sukham within our yoga practice:-

– within poses it is important to seek out a balance between strength and softness.  So we look for the parts of the body that we need to hold strong in the pose and then seek out additional tension that we can release without compromising the pose.  When doing sitting poses, the spine needs to be held strong and upright and we need to find a sitting position where our legs can be soft and relaxed.  When doing standing poses our legs need to be strong and grounded but we need to seek out softness in our upper body, our shoulders, our face, and our breath.

– we also need to seek balance between the strength or challenge in the pose and the ease or self-compassion.  We need to challenge ourselves a bit, so we can further our practice, but without straining and ensuring that we listen to our bodies and allow our body to rest when it needs to.

– another way we can bring balance into our yoga practice is by having some strengthening static poses and some dynamic mobilising practices.  When we hold a pose still it is more strenuous on the muscles and it helps us to build strength in muscles and bones.  When we move dynamically in a pose we are helping to mobilise our joints and tendons and maintain our flexibility.

– we will also be investigating how we can balance some stronger poses by practising self-compassion and by using our breath to soften the tension in the body.

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Class theme 11 – Balance

In classes this week we will be working on balance. Balance is about physical alignment, strength and attention and as a result, many different things, both physical and mental, affect our ability to balance on any given day. In yoga we are working on:

– improving the alignment of the body so that it works efficiently with gravity,

– gradually building our muscle and joint strength,

– bringing our mind into the present moment.

We can also use a steady gaze point and a calm breath to help to still the mind.

Whilst concentrating on the physical balance, our nervous impulses, thoughts and emotions are also brought into balance.  Practising balances also gives us the opportunity to practice self-acceptance and being kind to ourselves, because it’s ok if we don’t manage it today….it’s the act of practising which is important.

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Class theme 10 – Breathing

Breathing is such an important part of yoga. Yoga helps us to become aware of our breath and to notice the effect of the breath on the body and the mind.

Breathing is an automatic process, which is affected by the health of our body and our mind. When our mind is feeling stressed and anxious, our breath reflects this by being shallow, short and fast. Taking slow, deep, calm, even breaths can help to calm the mind and relax the body, reducing stress and balancing emotions. As such, the breath is an important link between our unconscious, automatic systems and our conscious, thinking brain. It is unusual because it is one of the only autonomic systems which we are able to consciously control and this means we are able to have a conscious effect on our mental state and our emotions by learning to consciously control the breath.

In yoga we can practice healthy breathing exercises, which help to strengthen the chest and breathing muscles, help to improve the capacity of our lungs and also help us to develop more healthy breathing habits. Additionally, focusing on the breath helps us to be more mindfully focused on the present moment.

In class this week we will be focusing on the breath, moving with the breath, using the breath to help us relax and helping to build healthy breathing habits.

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Class theme 9 – Opening your heart

If your chest is collapsed in and deflated, then your heart and your mind are probably going along with it.  In class this week, we are going to work on opening up our chest, relaxing our shoulders, making room for our lungs, opening our posture, opening our minds and our hearts and thinking about being kind to ourselves and others.

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Class theme 8 – Strengthening the core

When we talk about having a strong core, we are not talking about a 6-pack of muscles…and it’s definitely not about what’s on the outside…it’s about building strength and stability deep inside…it’s about your internal muscles working together to stabilise and align your body, improve your posture, improve your range of motion and lessen the chance of back pain.  In class this week we will be working towards improving the strength and stability in your inner muscles… and don’t forget every time you come to a yoga class you are working on improving your inner mental strength as well!

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Class theme 7 – Relaxing

Learning to relax is an important aspect of yoga (and life!)…. recognising tension in your muscles, learning to relax your muscles at will, relaxing in between poses, and allowing your muscles to relax and release during poses, all help to improve our strength and flexibility whilst also counteracting the effects of stress on our bodies and minds. Join us this week for some quality conscious relaxation….

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Class theme 6 – Twisting your insides

This week we are going to be focusing on the health of our spines again with TWISTS!

Twisting in yoga practice helps to keep your back supple and strong, so you can twist easily, and without pain, in daily life.

Twists help to massage and stimulate our internal organs which can improve digestion and stimulate metabolism.

Twisting can also help to open up the chest, shoulders and back and improve posture, all of which can help to release stored tension and decrease feelings of anxiousness.

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