The Power of Wheel

Everything in life is cyclical. Our bodies operate on a series of cycles. Our planet exists through a series of cycles... scale right up to the universe as we know it and again we see a series of cyclical motions.

 

Eternal recurrence is a concept that describes the universe as a self contained energy that will continue to recur and recur in a self-similar form infinitely. 

 

In yoga we talk about the wheel of karma or the residual energies that determine how our next cycle will take form. It isn't so much that we can accumulate good and/or bad karma and as such are subsequently rewarded and/or punished in the next cycle, but that we all have a certain amount of karma to clear, certain lessons to be learned, and certain obstacles to overcome and that until those energetic prints are changed we will be destinated to re-live them in a self-similar way, potentially infinitely. However, once we are able to change that print then our course changes, our next cycle, our next orbit operates around a different axis. 

 

Of course a cycle doesn't have to be a lifetime. Is there someone who pushes past you at the bus stop week after week? Until you make some adjustment to the exchange it will always continue to happen. These rules apply to all your interactions.

 

... so you are maybe thinking, well this article is about wheel? And it is! 

 

Before karma is karma, it rests dormant as samskara in the root chakra. A samskara is most simply described as a potential karma. An unconscious habit. Something that if left unattended may become a self-sustaining pattern; or an eternal recurrence. 

 

Part of our yoga practice is to bring these unconscious samskaras, into our conscious awareness, such that we can move the energy from our lower, more base chakras upto the higher chakras, removing that limiting imprint and allowing us to move forwards through the cycles of our life.

 

Any posture that begins to take us to our edges will begin to reveal these samskaras, we see our impatience, our irritabilityWe see our pride and our fears. And perhaps we also begin to see how those same things show up in our daily life, and how by challenging them on the mat, we change our capacity of it. 

 

One of the many benefits of wheel, or Chakrasana is its ability to break through the knots that bind energy in the lower chakras,  granthi bhedena. Granthis are formed from the accumulation of many of these behaviours and cluster in particular points through the spinal column (more about this in an another post to come!)

 

Chakrasana creates a bridge between each of the chakras, that allows energy to flow uninterrupted through them all, whilst the strength of that flow pierces, or unties the various blockages. Chakrasana most powerfully opens our heart centre, which opens us up to the capacity to transform from a place of love and compassion, ensuring that our new cycle originates from a place of authenticity and embodiment. 

The science of 'Hot Yoga' (and why we do what we do!)

At the time of writing this article, it is almost impossible to find any true scientific research that backs up the claims professed by hot yoga junkies. Of the few that meet criteria for a reliable study, the results often show that the benefits of yoga in a hot and humid environment are not what they claim to be. This article instead collates information from broader research looking at the effects of exercising in heat, yoga, and the specific benefits of certain types of heat.

 

But first, the basics;

The human body rests at one core temperature called the “normothermia", which is usually around 36.8 degrees celsius, although of course there are inter-person variations. Our resting temperature will vary slightly throughout the day and the process of our circadian rhythms, however a variation of more than 1 degree is considered abnormal. For the body to maintain its own temperature without any aid (this includes clothes!) the external environment needs to be around 27 degrees.

 

If our environment begins to cool down then our body works to heat the surface of the skin up so that our internal temperature is unaffected. Likewise, if the environment begins to warm up then our body activates different mechanisms to begin cooling the surface of the skin. 

 

It is important to remember that our circadian rhythms evolved in line with our environments. There’s a reason some countries have siestas, and others start the working day at 3 in the afternoon. Also, one reason a morning or evening practice is often carried out early in the day is to avoid the heat inherent in the countries yoga began to evolve. Nowadays, we have so many facilities in place to moderate our environments that it is easy to lose track of these considerations (especially in the UK!), however, there is evidence to suggest that if our environment is constantly a little too comfortable (and especially, such that our body never needs to work to create and maintain heat) then our internal controls weaken and we develop a lower resting body temperature reliant on external input. This can lead to inefficient enzyme and metabolic function and a weakened digestive and immune system.

 

— So. Point 1. We don’t want to overrule our bodies natural ability to thermoregulate. 

 

At YogaTherapies, our practices use mostly static holds, which means that isometrically contracted muscles are creating stability in order to allow other specific areas of the body to lengthen. This action by itself works through a series of chemical reactions that provide the active muscles with energy, but also, the by product heat. As muscle activation increases so too does the amount of energy required and therefore more chemical reactions provide more heat. When internal heat rises, the heart has to work harder to dilate blood vessels in the skin and you begin to sweat to cool the body down. It is important to note, that the cooling response occurs through convection as the sweat evaporates. 

 

If the room is hot enough, or more importantly humid enough that sweat is unable to evaporate your internal body temperature will soar and potentially become severely disrupted. Our only response to try cool the body down is to increase heart rate further, in the hope that more surface blood will lose heat through convection, but this often fails to prevent core temperature rising beyond the normal level and further this heavy sweating results in dehyrdation, and decreased blood pressure. You may end up feeling weak, dizzy, crampy and nauseated (more on this later). 

 

For every one degree increase in core temperature a typical heart rate will increase by 30 beats per minute. Heat is a stress on our cardiovascular system (even before we factor in the exercise component!). And just to show how small our healthy margin is: once our body temperature raises beyond 39 degrees our cells and enzymes being to degrade, and ultimately our organs begin to shut down. Our gut wall also becomes more permeable, which can allow harmful bacteria to enter our bloodstream. 

 

How humidity affects our perception of temperature:

The temperature that a thermometer reflects rarely matches up to what we feel, which is referred to as the “apparent temperature”, which is greatly affected by humidity. In a room with 0% humidity, the temperature is likely to feel 5 or so degrees cooler than it really is, whereas in a room with 80% humidity then the temperature will often feel 5 or so degrees warmer. If you are lucky enough to be practising outside then other factors such as breeze, and relative amounts of direct sun light will also play a large role. 

 

So if our body knows how to regulate itself… and to externally heat the body potentially causes serious problems, why do we do it?

 

First, lets clear up some myths. Here are some commonly cited benefits of hot yoga that simply aren’t true:

 

Myth 1- You’ll lose more weight.

Research led by Emily Quandt looked in particular at Bikram style hot yoga classes. The defining characteristics being an unventilated room, heated to between 30 and 40 degrees celsius with high humidity. They found that on average, men burned 460 calories, and women 330 within a 60 minute session. This is roughly equivalent to the calorie burn of walking briskly for the same time period. However, she noted, that the heart rates measured in the yoga classes were dangerously high for such a relatively small calorie burn and cardiovascular training component.  

 

Myth 2 - You can sweat out toxins. 

The idea that sweating will detoxify the body on anything other than a superficial level lacks any scientific backing. As the sweat begins to pour along with a lot of water, you are losing vital minerals and electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium and sodium along with a little ammonia and urea. True toxin detoxification only really occurs in the kidneys and liver. Some research suggests that sweating accounts for no more than 2% of overall body detoxification.

 

Plus… if you do become very dehydrated and drink too much water (without minerals or electrolytes) during or after, you risk dangerously low blood sodium levels (or to use its proper name hyponatremia).

 

Myth 3 - It can make you more flexible.

There is a difference between muscular and joint flexibility, however, increasing blood flow to either area will generally “loosen” both. Ligaments typically do not require a great deal of circulation for their role creating stability. However, the hot environment often gives an illusion of increased flexibility as the resistance these areas normally hold lessens. 

 

The more you push into a stretch that is heavy on the joints the more likely you are to overstretch and irrevocably damage and destabilise the area. We recommend that in any posture where the stretch is felt close to or around major joints and not in the the belly of the muscle, that you ease off to the point where you can enjoy the stretch in the belly of the muscle.

 

Ironically, increased joint instability will often create hypertensive muscles as they attempt to compensate for the lack of stability in the ligaments by greater levels of contraction. The knees, sacroilliac joints and hamstrings are particularly vulnerable areas.

 

Perhaps even more cause for concern; over stretching the ligaments and over connective tissue around the joints can lead to a weakened elasticity in the fibres which causes blood to pool in the lower limbs. This further increases strain on the heart and leads to large amounts of adrenaline and endorphins being pumped into the body in an attempt to re balance the stress the body is placed under. This sensation can be experienced almost as a “high”, sometimes referred to as exertion exhilaration, and risks encouraging practitioners to repeatedly take themselves to extremes that are damaging their bodies for the experience of the adrenaline release.

 

And as a final point, if you cool down too quickly (which happens easily if stepping straight out into the Northern air!) then the rapid cooling causes rapid constriction of blood vessels and significant contraction of muscle fibres. There is further evidence to suggest that extreme temperature swings (and remember, it only takes 3 and a bit degrees of core temperature change before our whole body begins to fail!) can weaken the immune system. 

 

Myth 4 - Hot humid air is good for the lungs. 

Now, this claim has truth to it… but not in the context of a yoga class! (For respiratory benefits, go find yourself a nice sauna and steam room!)

Hot, humid air is the perfect breeding ground for a whole variety of bacteria, bugs and mould! Some styles of yoga even suggest a carpet is essential for the hot yoga environment which is even more of a health hazard! 

 

— Point 2. A lot of the claims are false, and even dangerously so! Fashion runs faster than the evidence can keep up with it, always be wary of people making grand claims without being able to back themselves up. 

 

 

So… What are the real benefits?

With everything, the secret to successful application is in the details! (All yoga sequencing and stylistic decisions to one side) It turns out, that there are some very real benefits to a heated yoga class, but it really depends on how you heat your space! 

 

Not all types of heating were created equal.

 

We are all well aware of the damning research looking at the over use of air conditioning and heating systems in homes and offices. Sadly, none of these will pop up if you google the risks of hot yoga. Perhaps its a problem with the way scientific literature is published and made accessible these days, but often obvious conclusions simply aren’t put together, and rather than knowledge cumulating for the common good, it is often manipulated for specific benefit. Fortunately, the therapeutic benefits of heat (completely separate from the yoga world) are well researched and evidenced.

 

Infrared is a band of light that we can't see but instead perceive as heat through a process called conversion. Leaving all complicated science to one side (references are included if you want to go into more depth)... You know the feeling of the sun warming you right from the inside out on a summers day? Well that's infrared! It works by vibrating the water molecules that make up 90% of us. Infrared wavelengths are easily and naturally absorbed to heat up organic substrates (like you and me) without heating the air. This means that you get lovely and hot and all glowing from the inside out, whilst the air remains cool, fresh and a delight to breathe! 

 

Additional benefits of infrared heating:

  • There are no emissions. Absolutely none.  
  • It actually cleans the air, and effectively stops mould. Firstly, by discouraging condensation and other factors that create an optimal environment for spores and bacteria. Secondly it actually kills many common, but dangerous bacteria and fungi. As it doesn’t work by creating a current of air, it also doesn’t encourage the movement of potentially dangerous particles or allergens… or even the circulation of odours!
  • Unlike all other forms of heating, It doesn’t effect oxygen levels in the room…meaning your inhale really will be filled with enriching oxygen!

 

And there’s more!

Infrared heat therapy effectively increases blood circulation without putting strain on your heart. This means higher levels of oxygen and white blood cells in your system. It also stimulates the production of collagen (a building block for human tissue) in your body and helps to rid your body of toxins through its vasodilating effects supporting effective eliminative in the kidneys and liver. The result? A stronger immune system, better cardiovascular health, and a faster ability to heal injuries. 

 

Different wavelengths of infrared light have also been repeatedly proven effective ways to treat arthritic and inflammatory joint and deep muscle pain.

 

 

Most importantly, why do we do what we do?

We structured our studio so that the heat of the room supports the building of heat in your practice, but does not overtake it. The level of heat also varies throughout the year, when its hot outside, we let the top limit creep a little higher, however, when you are stepping out onto a 3 degree pavement, we begin to cool the room gradually with the cooling down of the practice to ensure homeostasis is always maintained. If at all possible in the summer we love to get outside and really feel the benefits of infrared red light from its main source…the sun!

 

Our studio is well ventilated to ensure that the room maintains a low humidity. We heat the room on average from between 24 degrees (for our standard sessions) and 30 degrees (for our hot sessions). This means you will be receiving the maximal benefits of the heating whilst ensuring that your body remains in control, and no unnecessary stress is placed on the system. Furthermore, you won’t feel oppressed or unbearably hot on arrival and you won’t be in a puddle of your own making for savasana. 

 

Because of the nature of the infrared heaters we are able to zone our classroom. This means that every session has “hot spots”, and also some nice cool spots for those that prefer it. This also means that individuals who would be placed at risk within a flat temperature room such as pregnant women, or individuals with blood and heart conditions can still participate to the level that is beneficial to them! 

 

 

 

Finally a few tips to ensure your optimal experience:

  • Be careful about eating. Make sure you’ve had time to digest any major meals, but also, make sure you aren’t starving on arrival!  Something simple like a banana 30 minutes or so before class is a perfect top up. 
  • Avoid drinking coffee before class (or anything else that would dehydrate you for that matter!) 
  • Drink plenty of water during your usual day, and have water with you at class. If your body is well hydrated you shouldn’t be feeling overly thirsty in a 60-90 minute session. To cater for the electrolytes you are likely to loose add a pinch of organic, rock salt (we like celtic salt or himalayan pink salt) and a squeeze of lemon to your water. 
  • If you have a history of irregular blood pressure or heart disease you should definitely talk to your doctor and your teacher before you sign up.

 

 

 

References

Hasan J, Karvonen MJ, Piironen P. Special review. II. Physiological effects of extreme heat. As studied in the Finnish “sauna” bath. Am J Phys Med 1967;46:1226-1246.
Kauppinen K. Sauna, shower , and ice water immersion. Physiological responses to brief exposures to heat, cool, and cold. Part II. Circulation. Arctic Med Res 1989:48:64-74.
Kukkonen-Harjula K, Oja P, Laustiola K, et al. Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 1989;58:543-550.
Vuori I. Sauna bather’s circulation. AnnClin Res 1988;20:249-256.
Masuda A, Miyata M, Kihara T, et al. Repeated sauna therapy reduces urinary 8-epi-prostaglandin F2 alpha. Jpn Heart J2004;45:297-303.
Laredo, M Whole Body Detoxification (Part 3): Far-Infrared Sauna Use, viewed http://www.naturalnews.com/022847.html
Bachem A, Reed CI. "e penetration of light through human skin. Am J Physiol 1930;97:86-91.
Kihara T, Biro S, Imamura M, et al. Repeated sauna treatment improves vascular endothelial function in patients with chronic heart failure. J Am Coll Cardiol 2002;39:754-759.
Hunter Stacy D., Dhindsa Mandeep S., Cunningham Emily, Tarumi Takashi, Alkatan Mohammed, Nualnim Nantinee, and Tanaka Hirofumi. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. December 2013, 19(12): 930-934. doi:10.1089/acm.2012.0709.
Francisco José Cidral-Filho and Martins, Neurobiological Mechanisms and Perspectives on Far-Infrared Emitting Ceramic Materials for Pain Relief J Yoga Phys Ther 2014, 4:2

Peripheral mechanisms of thermoregulatory control of skin blood flow in aged humans. Lacy A. Holowatz, W. Larry Kenney Journal of Applied Physiology Published 1 November 2010 Vol. 109 no. 5, 1538-1544 DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00338.2010

Tracy, Brian L. et.al. “Bikram Yoga and Physical Fitness in Healthy Young Adults.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2013): 822-830, accessed November 18, 2014, doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c340f

Rissell, Allison A. et.al “Hot, Sweaty, Satisfied: Effects of Bikram Yoga and Psychological Well-Being.” Journal of Behavioral Health (2014): 71-76, accessed November 18, 2014, doi: 10.5455/jbh.20131231051431

Hunter, SD. et.al. “The Effect of Bikram Yoga on Arterial Stiffness in Young and Older Adults.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2013): 930-934, accessed November 18, 2014, doi: 10.1089/acm.2012.0709

Tate, P. Seeley’s Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. (New York: McGraw Hill Companies, 2012), 717

Physiological Characteristics of Long-Term Bikram Yoga Practitioners. Allison N. Abel1, Lisa K. Lloyd1, James S. Williams1, Brian K. Miller2

To hinge at the hips, or roll up the spine?

Putting all other considerations such as specific injuries aside for the moment, this is a debate that has strong advocates either side. Lets have a little look at the arguments;


The Argument For Hip Hinging:
The most stress is placed on the spine when it is flexed (bent forward) and loaded (lifting). Where problems begin to arise is when too much pressure is put through the discs, and this will depend to a great degree on how tight the hamstrings are, and whether or not the legs are kept fully straight. If the pelvis is unable to tilt forwards, then more of the fold will come from the lower back and the strain on the area will be significantly increased. 
Normally, the lower back should curve inwards, however, in this position the lumbar spine is forced to curve outwards which risks creating anterior disc compression (squeezing the discs at the front). Because of the angle of the body, we are also relying on a small section of core musculature to carry out the move, and we have the whole weight of the upper body, especially the head to factor in.

The Argument For Rolling Up:
As with everything the debate comes down to technique. Yes, with improper activation, especially when we consider an individual may not have experience working their core, then to roll up can put undue strain on the back. However, the world simply doesn't work in perfect alignment! Our bodies need to be strong from all angles, especially those we are more likely to encounter in real life (have you ever dropped something, only to pick it up with a perfect hip hinge?). The lumbar position described above is actually one we end up in after too long sat at desks so the importance of strengthening this area is clear.
To roll up effectively, it is important to think about engaging the entire posterior chain. This begins with activation in the feet, and works strongly with the hamstrings, deep hip flexors and other lumbar stabilisers such as the quadratus lumborum.

The Middle Way.
Why not mix it up? This may be determined by the intention of the class you are teaching, the students that are there, or it may just take your fancy to work one way rather the other one day. The important thing… make sure you coach the correct bracing of the core, an appropriate bend in the knees for the individual and engagement in the entire posterior chain (not just the lumbar!).

What does it really mean to activate the feet?

When properly grounded in standing asanas, the feet connect the spine to the flow of energy from the earth. Further, for most movement, neural signalling begins at the feet as the first point of contact and in many ways the steering of the posture. The better the feet and ankles are functioning, the better the innervation and energy through the whole kinetic chain.

Before we get to activating... resetting:

Much of modern footwear (socks included!) encourages our big toes to deviate towards the midlines of our feet, called ‘hallux valgus’, especially when elevated (and even high) heels, transfer more weight to the distal bones of the feet. If this is the case then the simple exercise of lifting and spreading the toes, before letting them relax back down to the floor will help begin to retrain the musculature and reduce stress on connective and bony tissues. However, this won’t be enough to offset the damage…you will also need to start getting those feet out. Your feet are complex, they require complex and varying stimuli to keep them working optimally. Walking on sand is a great way to start, then move onto something a little rougher! This lifting, spreading will be the first step for your feet (if this is an issue for you!), if the feet are already nicely spread then there is no need to continue stretching them indefinitely as like any other body part, over stretched soft tissue looses its elasticity and becomes susceptible to deformation.

We should also be aware of the position of our feet and knees in relation to the hip. Anatomically parallel runs from the heel through the line of the second toe. Weight should be spread through the outside edges of the feet helping to neutralise the position of the ankle. 'Knee valgus’ (again a deviation to the midline) is common if the posterior chain and hips are weak or under facilitated, but can also occur if there is a significant turn out in the feet that you try to correct too quickly. Your body has learned its posture over time, and it will require some time (usually relative) to retrain.

But anyway…back to the feet. Seeing as we are talking foundations lets start at the very bottom. The intrinsic foot musculature (that is to say that musculature solely functioning within the foot that does not cross the ankle) is often skipped, as the popular yoga practice of lifting the toes points to more extrinsic (and often superficial musculature) when discussing the arch, which I will argue is a gross oversight.


The intrinsic foot musculature provides dynamic support for the whole structure of the foot, both when static and in motion, but in particular we are discussing the effects on the medial longitudinal arch which is commonly (and henceforth in this post) referred to more simply as the arch. The (medial longitudinal) arch consists of the calcaneus, talus, navicular, cuboid, there cuneiforms and the first 3 metatarsals. Although often perceived as relatively fixed these bones by virtue of their function require a good level of movement in all directions in order to carry out the tasks of shock absorption and rebounding through the elastic properties of the plantar fascia.

The term 'active feet' is used generally then to refer to engagement of the feet to stimulate both a stable base by engagement of the arch and the reflexive upward movement of prana through the posture.

So, some anatomy:

The intrinsic muscles of the foot are arranged in four layers:
1st layer - abductor hallucis (big toe flexor - often considered the main player in arch support), flexor digitorum brevis & abductor digiti minimi.
2nd layer - quadratus plantae, lumbricals.
3rd layer - adductor hallucis transverse, adductor hallucis oblique, flexor hallucis brevis & flexor digiti minimi brevis.
4th layer - interossei muscles (dorsal and plantar, rest between the metatarsals with additional soft tissue connections and help maintain the arch whilst aiding in flexion & extension, these muscles are particularly responsive to lateral spreading forces)


And an exercise to put your intrinsic foot muscles to the test:

Stand facing the wall, feet & knees shoulder width apart and knees soft, have your hands resting on the wall so that balance doesn’t affect results.
Lifting and spread the toes; this action will use extrinsic musculature to wind the plantar fascia and create a superficial arch.
Lower the toes back down whilst maintaining the arch.
Lift one leg, and hold for 30 seconds at a time. (reset the feet in between sides)
If the arch cannot be maintained, without excessive toe grabbing, then this is a sign that there is inhibited functioning in the stability of the foot with the extrinsic structures overly relied upon.


Didn’t pass the test? Don’t worry!

The “Short Foot Exercise” is the gold standard for strengthening the intrinsic foot musculature.
Stand with the feet and knees shoulder width apart and knees soft.
Narrow the foot and then draw the big toe back towards the heel without the toes gripping the floor. Begin with a ten second hold, for 4-5 repetitions.

As intrinsic muscle control develops then the repetitions and duration should decrease to avoid overtraining the response. However, I believe firmly that this engagement is the central component of ‘active feet’ or Pada Bandha and proper foundations for all postures.
Soft tissue work and mobilisation (especially of the big toe) will greatly increase the efficacy of this move. This exercise can be carried out in a seated position also, but standing creates a greater neurological and proprioceptive response.

 


Moving up the Chain

As we cross the ankle joint we move into the realm of the extrinsic foot stabilisers.

The peroneals and the tibialis muscles wrap around the arch of the foot and in front of the ankle. These muscles provide stability across the front of the ankle especially when walking on uneven surfaces. The anterior tibialis further forms a sling with the fibularis longus that plays a role in extrinsically supporting the arch and stabilising the tarsals in movement. This sling forms a portion of the myofascial spiral line (as defined by Thomas Myers) that translates upward moving energy through the body (more on this in another post)

The posterior tibialis sits behind the shin, and connects to the inner edges of the arch, the muscle is involved in pointing the foot, and also, turning it inwards. It is the most central of the lower leg musculature and also plays the most central role in proprioceptive stability of the ankle. This muscle works effectively with deep flexors of the foot, and often through soft tissue connections, will activate directly with the intrinsic foot musculature. This stability then occurs from behind the ankle and works with the calf. The calf is comprised of two muscles, the soleus and gastrocnemius. The gastrocnemius is the more visible part that ultimately becomes the achilles tendon whilst the soleus sits deeper. A third muscle, the plantaris also sits here, although physically it is a relatively weak muscle, it plays a powerful role in the neurological regulation of tension in achilles tendon. Collectively they support the foot whilst in motion, and stabilise the ankle when the feet are pointed. Feedback form the muscles of the lower leg through autogenic mechanisms (especially the stretch reflex) maintain balance by reflexively measuring ’sway’ or rotation around the ankle joint. The calves are particularly important in standing balancing postures, and any posture where the knee is at risk of moving beyond the ankle (of course we can continue to move up the chain here too!)

 

To be clear, I am not saying that these muscles do not play an important role in foot and ankle stability, but rather, that they should not be the primary step considered to address a lack of activation in the feet. When focus is shifted overly towards lifting the toes, and does not consider the need to press down through the toe knuckles (and even through the toes themselves) we rely on the extrinsic musculature to support the arch. However, this is not by itself a strong arch!

When the tibialis anterior contracts strongly this shortens the top of the foot, which by virtue will create the appearance of an arch, but without its underlying forms of support. Further more, a strong and overly reinforced engagement will reciprocally inhibit the agonist muscles in the calves and soleus which will be problematic in balancing postures and increasingly in wider life as the patterns we train are carried off the mat. The final argument for avoiding this strong engagement of the flexors is that strain on the flexor retinaculum will affect the more delicate structures underneath, which include the tibial artery which supplies the blood flow necessary for optimal metabolic functioning in the foot. We have to also consider whether training foot and ankle stability by strong lifting and holding of the feet is translatable to foot and ankle stability in daily life.

 

When we engage the intrinsic musculature first, which stabilises the arch, toes joints, plantar fascia and braces the posterior chain, then the extrinsic musculature of the foot can engage correctly in their supplementary role. The focus then is not on training a few specific muscles that ‘activate the foot’, but returning to a global experience of using the entire lower leg to create stability in standing postures.


To conclude, when thinking about activating the feet start with the intrinsic musculature of the foot…the bodies truest foundations.

 

 


References:

  1. Boundless Anatomy.
  2. Fascial Release for Structural Balance. Earls and Myers. 2010.
  3. The proprioceptive and agonist roles of gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibias anterior muscles in maintaining human upright posture. Giulio, Maganaris, Baltzopouylos & Loram. Journal of Physiology, 2009.
  4. The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle and function. O McKeon, Hertel, Bramble & Davis. Journal of Sports Medicine, 2014.
  5. Intrinsic pedal musculature support of the medial longitudinal arch: an electromyography study. Fiolkowski, Brunt, Bishop, Whoo & Horodyski. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery, 2003.
  6. Effect of plantar intrinsic muscles training on medial longitudinal arch morphology and dynamic function. Mulligan & Cook. Manual Therapy, 2013.

Writing A Journal?

Writing a journal can be one of the most powerful self-awareness tools there is... but getting started can be daunting!

After extolling the virtues of journalling to clients, and most recently to our new intake of teacher trainees, I decided it was time to put it to paper (so to speak) and share a few starting points.

 

 

Step One: Ask yourself, why are you writing a journal?

It can be easy to overcomplicate the process! Certainly at first, without an objective in mind it can be easy to ramble on insipidly, or worse, simply write nothing at all. 

Perhaps the main reason to write a journal is self-reflection; maybe purely for relaxation, or perhaps with a specific aim around tracking, or self improvement in mind. The process of getting to know yourself, and your thoughts more clearly. 

If you have a target, why not write it down? "I'm using this journal to understand the patterns around my hip pain better", or "I'm using this journal to start tracking my self practice routines." Be explicit. Keep it simple. After all, this isn't being written with the hopes one day of being interesting enough to be recorded as a memoir (well, maybe it is!)... ultimately, its for you to read, for you  to streamline your consciousness, and to gain a greater level of self-knowledge. 

 

So what can you write about? 

First, write about what you did.

If it is a self practice journal, why not have your journal right by your mat? If its about your day, set some time aside before bed. But first and foremost write down the literal content of your topic. You can be detailed, including times, you can be creative with sketches and multi-coloured pencils, or you can be straightforward and bullet point the lot. Whatever appeals to you and your mind most!

 

Second, write about how it makes you feel. 

There's often not much to be achieved turning things over in your head... especially if they are things that worry, or scare you. Writing things down creates a different kind of solidity to your thoughts, that gives you full power to conceptualise, and re-organise your thoughts. To spot the gaps in your understanding, and the breakdown in your logic. 

 

Finally,  write about your intentions. 

Perhaps you are contemplating some life changing event, or perhaps, you are just wondering what would be a good pose to work with... But as your intentions clarify and crystallise in your journalling process commit them to paper. It doesn't mean you can't go back and change or extend, modify and re-evaluate. But your evolving intention is in many ways the fruit of your journalling process. 

In yoga, the word Sankalpa, can translate as your most heart-felt desire. It is often used interchangeably with the word intention, but infact it moves deeper, and could be tied in more completely with the concept of dharma, or a life's purpose. The practice of intention, is the practice of finding your sankalpa, which you could call your 'ultimate intention' or your purpose. Once you have found your true sankalpa it will always stay with you. The practice of sankalpa then becomes aligning that intention with your action to truly live your dharma. 

 

So there you go... sounds simple enough right? 

Grab a fresh book, or open a fresh document, title your first page, "Day One"  and enjoy the journey!

Journaling Exercise - Evolving intention

How exactly do we begin to work with our intentions on a deeper, and more compassionate level? 

First. We need to bring them into the here and now.  If an ‘intention’ or a goal is rooted in the future, there is an inevitable dissatisfaction until that end point arrives. It is not only subjective, but conditional and inherently incomplete. 

Even more complicated, when we are anchored to the future we are ultimately out of control. Perhaps we reach our goal… but our mindset means it is fleeting. Satisfaction is temporary. We need our next goal, and as we continue to leave ourselves behind to see our next intention our bodies, and our worlds become increasingly empty.

And if we don’t reach it? We are plagued with feelings of incompetance and dissatisfaction, self doubt. Our energy is sapped and we feel drained on all levels. 

Compassionate intention is process oriented. It engages with the current moment and is in essence inherently complete as such. It can still be progressive, and is often far more expansive than the future oriented approach. It release us from the illusion that we can force the outcome we want, and instead broadens our perspective, and as such broadens our horizons. It opens us up to deeper and more expansive sensation and emotion and it is constantly evolving. 

 

Stage one: 

Turn to a fresh page in your journal… and right at the top of the page write down (in full!) the intention you are wanton to work with.

Now… rephrase it. Take out any unnecessary words and reformulate it so that it is in the present tense.

For example, if you intention was, “I really would like to be able to write a great journal post.”, Your newly refined intention could be, “I write great journal posts.” 

 

Stage two:

Looking at your intention…what elements are already in place that support this intention in your life? 

What talents or skills do you have that contribute to your great journal posts? What passions fuel your writing? And what is the ethical, or moral framework that underpins the process for you? 

Write the answers to all those questions down. Let your attention to focus on what is already available NOT what is missing. 

 

Stage three:

List all of the benefits that you will receive as this intention is realised in your life. For example, you might be able to write your blog posts so wonderfully that someone offers to pay you a full time salary simply to write your blog and all you have to worry about again is loving writing your blog! 

 In this stage don’t worry about being realistic… be spontaneous and write EVERYTHING that crosses your mind down. 

 

Stage four:

Start to track the ways that your daily life and your intentional process interlace. The more deeply you can incorporate your intention, the more powerfully it will manifest. 

As you move through your day take time to notice… is this thought/action/deed aligned with my intention?

If not, is it necessary for some other reason? Still no? Put it aside! (and then make a note of this realisation in your journal so that you can watch your intention evolve!

 

…Enjoy!

How to use a Mala for meditation

A Mala is a closed string of 27, 54 or 108 beads and one (often) larger bead, called the Guru bead that hangs perpendicular to the rest of the Mala. The tassle represents the awakened Sahasrara (crown chakra) or 1,000 petaled lotus as a symbol of enlightenment obtainable through the practice.

Mala beads can be used to help keep count of your mantra, or of your breath through a Japa meditation cycle. In a full cycle of Japa you begin with the bead next to the guru bead , and slowly feed the beads towards you; pausing at each to recite your mantra or to take a breath. Working through a full cycle of 108 repetitions can take anywhere from 5 minutes and is an immensely powerful practice to affirm your intention, however, at times where a full cycle is not possible the practice can be abbreviated by simply counting back from the guru bead for say 7, or 27 beads and then beginning your practice. 

Different traditions observe different respects when counting the mala. In Hindu practices the mala is always held in the right hand, with the beads resting over the middle finger of the hand (the index finger is never used and is sometimes called the admonishing finger!) with the thumb used to count. When the guru bead is reached it is neither counted, nor crossed, rather the bead is intentionally bowed to, the mala is turned around and the count begins back in the opposite direction. Always towards the guru bead as the representation of the supreme conscious. 

Tibetan traditions do not follow these same rules and instead count the beads on either hand, and with any digit. However it is interesting to consider that different fingers contain different meridians or acupressure points that are stimulated by the passing of the beads adding an extra dimension to your meditation. 

The index finger bestows wisdom, knowledge and prosperity,
The middle finger, encourages patience and trust,
The ring finger stimulates overall good health and  fresh energy, strengthening the entire nervous system, and
The little finger creates more intelligent communication.

 

Of course a mala isn't necessary for any of these practices. If you need to count there are many techniques that count through the fingers in varying amounts (have a look HERE). 

What does wrapping the shoulder really mean?

When we say 'wrap the shoulder', what we truly mean, is to engage the muscles of and around the shoulder girdle to create the optimal position of the scapula and shoulder such that it can function fluidly and healthily.

In many ways, this movement is synonymous with the idea of finding a neutral pelvic position, and the activation of the feet and hips we spoke about in a previous article. These three movements all fit into the greater action that we will call "Drawing into the Core", and truly, to 'wrap the shoulder', also requires an understanding of its place as part a series of movements that rebalance and stabilise the whole body.

Suddenly this article just got a whole lot longer!!

 

So lets start at the start... the soft edge.

Wrapping the shoulder is in many ways a subtle move, its expression varies depending on the position and the loading of the arms, but the resulting central sensation of spaciousness around the shoulder girdle is universal though additional layers will be added above it specific to the demands of the posture. We can see that an imbalance will create a tension that we must work against to 'wrap' the shoulder into its optimal position, and that as that imbalance is addressed, so too will that tension diminish. We can also see that different postures will require different (more superficial) activation around that central sensation. Likewise, the better the condition of the shoulder and its supporting musculature, the subtler the action of wrapping the shoulder will be in the first instance.

A mistake all too readily seen in yoga practice (and in life!) is a need to work right up against the hard edge of sensation, an assumption that if it isn't challenging, or that we can't feel a stretch that we are not 'getting it right'. In fact the opposite is true.

Yoga is the art of working with our bodies total tension as it is in that moment, to globally release, and open those boundaries. Unlike other disciplines where individual muscles are singled out and worked, for a specific benefit, in the flow of a yoga practice we are working towards an integrative state, whereby we honour the boundaries of our body and work within them to expand them with softness and an inner stability. We work to bring both the physical body, but the subtle and energetic bodies into alignment such that our energies can be channelled fully into fueling our core self and our core expression. 

If our body is unable to maintain the posture within the tensional state of the body in that moment then there will become a breakage point where the body releases in some part its tensional integrity in order to discharge the energy of the posture. This can occur in many ways, from a literal disengagement, whereby a muscle disengages or a joint over extends or changes its position to allow the continuing movement; an example of this could be the back hip rolling outwards as the front leg is pushed further into hanumanasana, or a ribcage that flares to allow the body to be pulled deeper into a backbend. In these instances we compress, or disengage one part of the body, to allow another to move to the forefront. Alternatively, rather than the body disengaging, the mind disengages, a pain threshold is ignored and the body 'numbed' and often flooded with adrenaline in order to continue working towards the perceived target. Regardless of the route our body takes we are splitting ourselves into components, no longer integrated in our cores, with the result that we achieve a physical and often aesthetic expression of a posture that is no longer working with our body, but against it. 

In many ways the sensations of drawing into and expanding from the core, become the only constant in our practice as everything else becomes variable within the surrounding circumstances that affect our overall 'tension'. 

 

So.... we've made a clear argument for the necessity of 'drawing into the core'. Lets describe it in parts before we put it all back together. 


Wrapping the Shoulder (Or, drawing into the core, pt 1.) 

The entire experience of wrapping the shoulder relies on a series of sequential muscular engagements that balance and stabilise the position of the scapula (or shoulder blade) in its most balanced state of strength and activation.  We are creating a proprioceptively strong joint, and also, a fluid one, that from this central 'wrapped' position is able to move and respond to the demands of the posture before, with the same ease and fluidity before returning to neutral. [NB// In these three articles we will use the terms 'core', ' neutral' and 'central axis' almost interchangeably, as we use each to refer to the deepest, most efficient and interconnected position of the variations elements within the myofascial meridians and their subtle energetic counterparts. In this sense neutral means the place whereby the tensions surrounding an aspect (or totality) of the body are balanced the extent that it's inner expansiveness can be experienced.]

What we are not aiming to do is create a rigidity, or a fixation in the area. A wrapped shoulder is not an immobile shoulder, rather one that is stabilised to work with clear control through its full range of motion. To fixate a body part in this way is only ever a substitute for true core strength. This does not mean that it is at all times incorrect to fix a body part, (infact at some times it is absolutely necessary!) but rather that the fixation where it is applied should be an extension and an end point to an expression of fluid core strength, that can be reflexively drawn back to center once the demands have been changed/met. 

The shoulder blade itself is primarily controlled by three muscles, the rhomboids (in the upper/mid back), the serratus anterior and the trapezius muscle (pictured above). The muscles of the rotator cuff then arise from the scapula and hold the humerus (upper arm bone) in place, stabilising and facilitating the movement of the arm relative to the shoulder. The balance of these muscles is often impacted by the demands of our modern lifestyle whereby the shoulders often end up chronically raised, and inwardly rotated. The result leaves the trapezius, along with musculature in the upper chest over facilitated and shortened, whilst the serratus anterior become under facilitated, and the rhomboids over stretched and weakened. The leveraging action of the rotator cuff is dimished by this changed angle, and at worst, an inwardly rotator shoulder will risk impingement of the tendons of the rotator cuff. This imbalance occurs on several levels;

Firstly, and often most neglected, is the neurological control of the muscles here; your body specialises not based on the same concepts of good/bad/future that we often think along, but simply around what is used most. In a literal way we are practising this non-optimal posture and getting good at it! Our neurology will be reluctant to change this pattern if we don't need to, as the energy required to do so is relatively speaking high, so, even though we may make some good progress on the mat, if we then return to our usual postural habits the actual rate of change will be very slow; our body simply doesn't see it as necessary enough to invest the energy.

This effect is then compounded by the physical tension that begins to arise. As the muscles are now arranged non-optimally, their action will also transfer force in a non-optimal way. In order to compensate for this the muscles will begin to adhese, and lay down new fibres to try and better manage their vector of force. Although our fascial system is capable of significant remodelling, this does not apply to our joints, so though this new arrangement may be functionally strong, it will begin to put excessive strain on the joints. 

We have a need therefore to both release and rehabilitate the musculature from its physical bindings, as well as re-wire the breakdown in neurological and proprioceptive control of the area. (this is also dependent on the degree of thoracic curvature, though we will discuss this in the latter parts of this series). 

As the change occurred (most likely) slowly, and over time, so must our remodelling of the shoulder progress slowly as we work through the physical resistance of the fascial adhesions and the perceived instability as we train the muscle in new arrangements that our neurology hasn't yet caught up with. This means that our practice will be an (often frustrating) mixture of working against resistance whilst feeling strong, to feeling 'free' but then unstable and weak until we reach the point where we have good proprioceptive control of the shoulder and the tension around it is dissolved.

Throughout this process there will be a distinctive sense of a hollowing in the armpit that signifies the achievement of wrapping, or neutralising the shoulder, although at any point in the process, and dependent on the posture, this may be surrounded by the balancing of tension. This may mean at times a strong activation of one component may be necessary to balance the tension of its opposing element, though this activation is not the essence of the successfully wrapped shoulder.

So... we go back to where we started. If upon first being taught how to wrap the shoulder you had a particularly 'tight' upper trapezius, and an under facilitated serratus anterior, then this will have felt like a strong stretch in the upper back and neck, and a strong activation under the armpit and around the ribs to achieve that sensation of hollowing. However, if you mistake the muscular activation and/or the stretch around the wrapped shoulder as part of its essence, eventually you will begin to pull your shoulder beyond neutral again, but in a different direction as you seek to maintain that intensity of sensation. 

There are some very specific risks to the soft tissue involved if certain elements are over-shot. For example, if the scapula is pulled too strongly down the back, then the subacromial space can become closed off at the risk of impinging the supraspinatus tendon, especially when the arm is in an overhead position. Likewise, in any placement, if the humerus is pulled too strongly into the socket then there is a risk of impinging the biceps tendon. When we apply additional demands to the shoulder through use we then expose all the elements to injury and strain. 

 

To conclude then, we know what we are aiming to achieve sensorially, but what is the mechanism? Try this step by step exploration to get a better feel for wrapping the shoulders.

1)  Engage the subscapularis and rotator cuff to anchor the arm into the shoulder girdle and bring the shoulder blade down the back.

Stretch your arms straight out in front of your shoulders with your palms facing in towards each other. Take a feeling breath up into your chest, shoulders and upper back. As you exhale, imagine that your arms are being sucked back into the socket. Feel a strong engagement that also encourages the upper arms to externally rotate, turning the little fingers in and the palms slightly up. 

2) Engage serratus anterior to 'wrap' the shoulder blade around the ribcage, creating the fluidity of movement and the sense of hollowing mentioned above.

Inhale again, right up into the chest and shoulders whilst keeping the subscapularis engaged. This time on exhale re-engage the subscapularis and simultaneously reach the arms out, feel the shoulder blade move around the ribcage and the armpit hollow.

3) Support the shoulder. Engage muscles of the chest and upper back, pectorals and rhomboids to add greater support to the shoulder. 

Inhale again right up into the chest. Notice the sensation of the chest and upper back engaging. Feel how the pectorals and the rhomboids facilitate creating a greater capacity for your breath. This time as you exhale, feel for engaging the wrap of the shoulder (subscap. moves down, serratus move around and forwards) whilst gently engaging the pectorals and the rhomboids to support the shoulder. 

 

Keep your eyes out for parts two and three of drawing into the core coming up!

Drawing into the core part. 2

In yoga the progression and experience of a pose can be defined by its expression of Rasa, or the energy of human emotion. Rasa as sanskrit word translates as 'essence', and although 9 basic essences or emotions are presented, three are considered fundamental: Vira, Sringara and Shanti. 

Vira signifies strength and potency, the fiery energy required to build strength and flexibility and refine alignment. It is vira that controls the breath, the mind and the body. Shanti describes a serene state of equilibrium or peace, perhaps akin to the 'steady seat' of Patanjali's sutra that is engaged with meditative movement and breath and sringara is the sense of unity that can be realised through the practice of yoga. The remaining 6 are: 

  1. Hasya, humor or joy.
  2. Adbhuta, inquisitiveness and wonder.
  3. Raudra, stress and anger.
  4. Karuna, sorrow and empathy.
  5. Bhayanaka, apprehension or anxiety.
  6. Vibhatsa, self-pity and disgust.

We could liken the state of Shanti, to the action of correctly drawing into the core. As with the neutrality, and central openness of the shoulder wrapping, when we experience Shanti we are the at the point where the tensional demands of the posture are balanced, or dissolved such that it is simply blissful for us to rest in that pose, to operate from our core and to connect to our inner expansiveness. When we feel this good, and our bodies are literally resonating the vibrancy of that core connection, it gradually begins to spread beyond our physical borders to include others and help align them along that same axis. We experience sringara, unified internally and externally. 

As we learn to utilise the energy of our rasa's appropriately we understand how our emotions can, when left unattended, become a force that can tear us open or seal us shut. Yet with the careful and constant commitment of our practice, tapas, and the energy of vira rasa we learn to direct the energies from our core as a reflection of the full spectrum of nature. Each with its proper place. Vira rasa here is inseparable from its root meaning "hero" as we use our practice to realise ourselves.

Vira rasa is a natural invocation of the rising energy of nature, which can be felt at any time when change is being ignited as a force of growth, evolution and vital energy.
— Shiva Rae. Tending the Heart Fire

So, in part 1, we wrapped the shoulder, and described its essence as the balance of tension around a proper alignment that allows the inner spaciousness of the shoulder joint to be felt... how does that expand to encompass the rest of the body?

When we look at the upper spiral of Tom Myer's Myofascial Spiral Line, we can see the direct relationship between the shoulder and stabilisation of the core. As we allow the activation of the rhomboids and serratus to travel through its interdigitations with the external obliques to mesh with the linea alba of the transverse abdominus and contralateral internal obliques. When we consider how the spiral lines work in synergy with the deep core line, and the overlaps with primary, and accessory muscles of respiration we begin to understand just how intrinsically tied to our breath this process is. 

In part one, we suggested using the mechanism of breathing to help facilitate the sensation of supporting the shoulder in its wrapped position as we engage the pectorals and the rhomboids. Levin (1997) proposed that within the a model of bio-tensegrity that we should consider the scapula as a sesamoid bone, in sofar as that it functions not as a fulcrum, but as a hub, resting in a tension of muscle and fascia and transferring its load to the axial skeleton through the balance of tension and compression forces. This means that the positional state of the scapula is therefore a representation of the overall tension of the shoulder girdle, and although we mentioned three key players in the action of wrapping the shoulder there are in fact another 14 (17 total) muscles that attach to, and therefore affect and are affected by the position of the scapula. Whether we look at individual projections, or fascial meridians, we have ample of opportunity for tension to be diverted, rather than addressed when we change the position of the scapula. 

To recap then. Yoga, is the art of working on the total tension of the body in that moment. When we draw into the core we unite the body along its most optimal alignment, and also, its most potentially expansive arrangement.  But, our innate response when our overall tensional state is exceeded it to discharge along the lines of least resistance, this will be experienced as a breakage, or an inability to re-engage a part of this core triad. 

Two more movements to add then to our sequence of drawing in the core that ensure 'wrapping the shoulder' has successfully drawn our arms into our core as opposed to shifting the tension elsewhere. These two will also operate around the breath as we use it both as an indicator of working with our body, and a physical cue for correct directional engagement of our myofascial system. They operate as individuals, but operate most effectively when applied simultaneously. Both operate with the caveat as wrapping the shoulder; that the movement will become increasingly subtle as simultaneously our tensional state is reduced and our skillfulness of movement and sensation increase.

1) Drawing the lower ribs, down and funneling in to the pelvis. 

This will facilitate engagement of the deep core, whilst creating a sense of broadening and space in the back of the ribcage and across the collar bones simultaneously as the spine lengthens whilst remaining neutral. We are equally balancing the action through the myofascial spiral lines (more on this in part 3) as we feel the lower right ribs to be drawn slightly towards the left hip bone and vice versa. 

2) Drawing the chin slightly in and back.

Primarily we are engaging a soft cervical flexion such that the space around the atlas opens and the crown of the skull lengthens up. Leaving the neck and back of the skull feeling spacious. This movement further completes the action of engaging the tri bandha (more on this in part 3) bringing the deep core line into balance. 


Well... lets put it together; 

1)  Stretch your arms straight out in front of your shoulders then raise them up to around a 45 degree angle with your palms facing in towards each other. Take a feeling breath up into your chest, shoulders and upper back and reach through your fingertips. As you exhale, imagine that your arms are being sucked back into the socket. Feel a strong engagement that also encourages the upper arms to externally rotate, turning the little fingers in and the palms ever so slightly up. 

2) Inhale again, right up into the chest and shoulders whilst keeping the subscapularis engaged. Exhale reach out through the arm bones whilst drawing back. Feel the shoulder blade move around the ribcage and the armpit hollow.

3) Inhale. Notice the sensation of the chest and upper back engaging. Feel how the pectorals and the rhomboids facilitate creating a greater capacity for your breath. This time as you exhale, feel for engaging the wrap of the shoulder (subscap. moves down, serratus move around and forwards) whilst gently engaging the pectorals and the rhomboids to support the shoulder. 

4) Inhale fully. Exhale lightly draw the chin in and back, feel the back of the head lengthen up, the crown lengthen and the space at the top of the neck open. Feel the collar bones broaded.

5) Inhale one more time, right up into your broad collarbones and all the way up to your crown. Exhale. Draw the lower ribs inwards and gently downwards whilst resisting the urge for the arms to lower... feel the upper back open, and the spine lengthen. Feel the muscles of the abdomen engage and join right in with the activation from the base the neck, down through the shoulders and into the pelvis.

 

 

Got it? Have a little practice! Then keep your eyes peeled for part 3... as we complete the action of drawing into the core and demonstrate its universality.

Drawing into the Core part 3.

There is an assumption that yoga is 'safe' and it is often touted as such. However, yoga is no longer inherently safe when it is separated from the principles that formed it foundations; ahimsa, the practice of non-violence, and samtosha, contentment.

When yoga is carried out in the environment of the modern fitness industry it can easily slide into that same mentality of pushing harder, aiming for an aesthetic endpoint or a discharge of tension or emotion rather than working from a place that honours our core. When we work each posture in a way that expands from our core, and simultaneously can always be drawn back into that place we honour ourselves, and furthermore we honour the principles that form the bedrock of yoga.

When we draw into our core, physiologically, we are engaging and balancing the action through our myofascial spiral lines, such that we are able to operate from our deep core line. The deep core (or deep front) line, is the home of the bandha and is the physiological action of the uplift we feel, from the arches of our feet, right out through the back of the neck and crown of the skull. Furthermore it encapsulates many of the key muscles of respiration. In this place we are functioning from our deepest, and our most relaxed axis. We are able to experience neutrality with our whole system as we utilise our spiral mechanics to balance the tensions that act upon our core. 

In a literal sense, the myofascial spiral lines hold our daily compensation patterns. They show our handedness and other postural tendencies, and are the arena in which our deeper spinal compensations play out. 

In a subtle energetic sense, the action of the myofascial spiral, and deep core lines map onto the three major nadi's (or energy rivers) described in yoga anatomy: the ida, pingala and sushumna. 

 

The ida nadi represents our lunar, feminine and cooling aspects. It is represented by the colour white, or a pale pale yellow and begins on the left side of the sushumna, wrapping its way around through the varying chakras, through the left nostril to join at the third eye centre.The pingala nadi represents our solar, masculine and firey aspects. It is represented by the colour red. 

The interaction between the two represent the balance between the varying aspects of our personality and our pre-dispositions, even our health. When the two are balanced, we are able to direct our pranic flow fully into the sushumna, which allows energy to rise right from our root to our crown and allows us the experience of stepping into the middle, of becoming the eye in the middle of the storm. We enter a state of neutrality, unaffected by the tensions that whirl around us, able to observe them all and act from our most connected sense.


So.... we've moved from wrapping the shoulder, to a system of working with the body that facilitates the balancing, and integration of our entire system, through honouring the humblest of principles. Non-violence, and contentment.

 

BUT// How do we know when we really get it right? 

Well... thats the tricky part. As we said right the way back in part one, the essence of drawing in to the core becomes a constant that we can experience throughout a practice. A sense of neutrality, and of resting in the middle, that is the central axis to each posture regardless of the differing layers of more superficial action above. 

Although we began with the shoulder, in truth, the order of engagement is arbitrary, and could be considered interchangeable with the activation of the three bandha. 

When the shoulder is 'wrapped' we experience a hollowing, and a neutrality in the shoulder, when the trunk is engaged, that hollowing and spreading sensation fill the torso and right up through the crown of the head, and finally, when we engage the muscles of the pelvic floor, right through to the arches of the feet we experience that essence through the entire body. We are drawn into the core. Each inhale is fed by this action, and each exhale deepens it. 

When we use the expansion of the inhale as the director of our practice we are also given the means to gradually extend the boundaries of this core, whilst always honouring it. At any point when we are unable to join these three elements then we have moved beyond our core

In order to understand this action, we must practice it... And not just on the mat. 

The 5 Principles of Effective Goal Setting

Dr. Edwin Locke’s 1968 paper “Towards a theory of task motivation and incentives.” identified five principles of effective goal setting:

 

1. Clarity

Unclear goals are one of the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving your goals! 

Clarity is about knowing what you are attempting to achieve, by when, and having some measure that signifies when you have achieved it. Lack of clarity leaves you vulnerable to losing focus and procrastination… wasting valuable time and energy.

2. Challenge

Goals are good..but challenging goals are better! The more difficult the goal, the more effort people put in leading to better goal attainment.

3. Commitment

Goal attainment is highest when people are committed to their goals (especially when there is challenge!)

“High commitment to goals is attained when the individual is convinced that the goal is important; and the individual is convinced that the goal is attainable (or that, at least, progress can be made steadily toward it).”

4. Feedback

Tracking and monitoring your progress is vital for keeping you on track. It also gives you an opportunity to celebrate all the little victories on your journey. 

5. Task complexity

Complex tasks risk becoming overwhelming. If they are not carefully managed, complex tasks can erode your commitment and build to become huge obstacles. Complexity can be managed by “chunking” to craft a roadmap or smaller tasks that lead to your goal.

Beetroot & Cacao pre-yoga super shake.

  • 2 small beetroots. Raw and whole... leaves and all, they contain many of the vitamins and minerals! (we get ours delivered fresh by the North East Organic Growers!)
  • 250ml milk... we like almond.
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of cacao
  • 1 ripe banana. 
  • And, if you like a little sweetness add a dollop of honey. 

Add all the ingredients to a high power blender and blend until the consistency of your preference! 


Why beetroot?

Apart from adding a deliciously earthy taste to your morning shake, it has a ton of health benefits! 

Beetroots are a rich source of fiber, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron, sulfur, silica and choline add to that Vitamins A, B and C and K, beta-carotene, beta-cyanine, folic acid and manganese. Perhaps one of their biggests benefits comes from the color pigment called betalain, bestowing not only the distinctive colour but powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, fungicidal and detoxifying properties. Betalains occur in all of the plant (including the flowers, leaves stems & flesh) and are damaging by heat, so to guarantee the best boost from your beets blend them up raw and whole. 

Beetroot has long been used as a treatment for conditions such an anaemia, and detoxication, and research backs up its many benefits for the circulatory system with new research showing a remarkable ability to increase blood flow to your brain! Read more HERE

The downsides? Well, there is evidence to suggest that if consumed more than 3 times a day there's a chance your kidneys might not be so happy. We recommend you enjoy this shake as a treat once a week for all the benefits without any risk. Its worth mentioning too that that distinctive beetroot colour will persevere so dont be worry if your pee turns a shade of rouge!

Kapalbhati

The best time for new beginnings... is NOW!

Ever felt like you woke up one day with a foggy head and it never really cleared? Well, this month's intention and challenge might be the solution.

We are challenging you to make one addition to your day, EVERY DAY for the month... kapalabhati breath!

 

Sometimes referred to as breath of fire, kapalabhati literally translates as 'skull cleansing' or 'skull shining' breath, and claims many health benefits including improving circulation, toning the stomach muscles and even weight loss! However, what we love is its ability to literally pierce through those sensations of fogginess and create a calm clarity of mind, amidst a deeply energised body. 

 

So, how does it work? 

The key characteristic is the forceful exhale through the nose, almost like a fly just flew up there and you are trying to get it back out! This forceful exhale is accompanied by the abdominals moving strongly inwards and upwards, helping to clear stagnant energy.  

The inhale on the other hand is totally passive, as the abdominals relax the pressure in the lungs changes and the breath is naturally drawn back in. 

To begin with you can work with 20 or 30 rounds, pausing if necessary. At its peak some advanced yogis claim to work with between 90 and 120 kapalabhati breaths per minute. 

 

TRY IT: 

Sit comfortably, perhaps cross legged or in baddha konasana. Have your fingertips on your floor by your hips to help lengthen the spine and open the upper chest.

Take a slow, full breath in. 

Exhale halfway, then begin your kapalabhati. Short sharp exhales as the abdominals draw in. 

Feel the fire build in your belly... and sense as the course of the breath literally cools and clears the space behind the eyes and the whole central column of the body. 

After whatever count you may be working towards take a full inhale, exhale slowly and completely and fold forwards. Letting the back muscles relax and stretch whilst taking a moment to feel the effects of this practice on your body and mind.  

Enjoy the connection to your most natural and vital energies. 

Repeat 3 times, or more if desired. Then head to your bedroom window, open it up, take a huge fresh gulp of that promise filled, fresh spring air, skip your coffee and head off to meet your day with a whole new sense of clarity. 

Gratitude

This week I am filled with gratitude! For my beautiful new baby boy, for my amazingly strong wife, and for all of the people around us that have afforded us the space and the support to enjoy this magical time. 

Beyond our little family bubble, the community around us are also filling up with gratitude. Whether you are Christian or not, Easter gifts us with time to share with our loved ones, we celebrate abundance and spring and maybe even get a little extra time off work. 

Gratitude is the emotion of expressing appreciation for what one has, or has received. In its primary, and perhaps most familiar expression, it is a spontaneous reaction. A swelling emotion as we see our stars fall into place. Gratitude was the feeling (well, one of!) I felt when I was first handed my child, wrapped up and eyes wide open. It was the feeling I felt when the staff so diligently went about their work, and the feeling I felt for my sister-in-law as she stayed with us for the full 30 hour experience...calmy doing everything and more; sharing her own wisdom and supporting from a place that had experienced the same (not to mention routinely fetching me coffee!) It was the feeling I felt when the midwives told us my wife and child were both well and good enough to go home, albeit mixed with just the teeniest bit of apprehension!

Yet there is another dimension to gratitude that is often overlooked or underplayed. The role of gratitude as an active practice. A conscious choice to view life from a viewpoint of contentment. Increasingly, through the legwork of positive psychologists and the interest in research surrounding yoga and mindfulness based practices we are understanding the real time, and far reaching benefits of making gratitude a lifestyle choice. When we shift to this state of appreciating the present moment, of contentment, and of unattached joy, we increase the entire spectrum of our wellbeing and open up to new levels of happiness, optimism and an increased ability to relate, and share that gratefulness with others. Perhaps most wonderful of all, this active practice allows you to feel those spontaneous moments of wonder all the more deeply!

There are many many great resources about how to bring gratitude practice into your daily life, but one of our favourites is "Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier" by Robert Emmons, who simply, and skillfully opens up a world of practice that can be incorporated into every life situation.  


So, how can you invite the energy of gratitude into your day?

Gratitude journalling is a popular and a powerful way to gradually, but deeply shift our focus to open up our understanding of exactly what we are grateful for. Of course, there are some obvious things that come to mind, families, friends, homes, jobs... but when you take the time to write this down it soon becomes apparent that you need to look a little deeper, and to be a little more specific about why you are grateful for those things. 

Try this:

Each day, make time to reflect and write down three things that you are grateful for. It can be anything, from the way your dog always comes bounding up to greet you after work, to the blend of coffee you just discovered that really hits the sweet spot... or even, the bus service that makes your day possible.

Deliberately stretch your focus, and challenge yourself to notice new things each day. And do write it down! The act of writing it creates a different kind of permanence to the emotion... plus... it opens up the wonderful opportunity to flick through your gratitude one evening when perhaps you are feeling a little low, or even just nostalgic!

 

Want to take it a little further? 

As a social species our gratitude is often tied to our relationships. Written something you are grateful for about someone in particular? Have you ever told them that you are grateful?

Maybe now is the time to do so! Pass that gratitude on!


Not the journalling type? 

Would it surprise you to hear there are actually some pretty amazing apps out there? Here is one of our personal favourites; just click HERE to sign up for your own Happify account for a whole wealth of resources on how to increase your overall wellbeing. 

Snap, Crackle, Pop!

We are all accustomed to a few familiar clicks and clunks that accompany our yoga practice. But how do we know when a sound is just a sound, and when it is a symptom of something more serious underlying?

 

Joint Cavitation

More often than not, that popping sound is the result of 'cavitation' in the joint. Joints that allow movement in the body are synovial joints; structured so that around the joint there is a fluid filled capsule which protects the joint through movement. The fluid capsule has various natural gasses dissolved within them, which, when there is a significant enough change in the pressure of the joint form a cavity resulting in the audible pop. The gasses then gradually dissolve back in as pressure normalises, taking anywhere upto 20 minutes (this is why if you crack your knuckles it wont happen again straight away).

Cavitation doesn't pose any risk to the joint. Infact, it will often feel particularly satisfying as the release of the joint capsule will further stimulate the relaxation of the fibres around the joint capsule. However, this does suggest that the cavitation is only a short term solution to a build up of tension in the area, and there is evidence that repetitive 'cracking' of joints can eventually lead to inflammation and impairment of the area. 

Instead, look at your 'cracks' as a cue to area that needs attention. Perhaps it's your knuckles, or perhaps it's your neck or your back. Either way... can you be curious about them? Is there a pattern to your cracks, i.e. do they always occur right at the end of your shift? And are there particular activities that either a) cause your cracks to happen more frequently, or b) relieve your cracks over a longer period.

Can you shift the balance of those activities in your life? 

 

So, if cavitation is normal...when do you need to pay attention? 

The main sign that your clunk is more than just cavitation is if the sound is accompanied by any sensation of pain, heat, or tingling. 

Pain, even if fleeting, is your bodies way of telling you that it didn't like what just happened. Sensations of heat, and of tingling may be an indication that there's some impact on the nerves. This could be due to misalignment of soft tissues that are causing the free movement of the joint to impinge in some way, or, it could be due to historical injuries and scar tissues that are restricting the movement, it may simply be the way your body is structured! In many cases this pain may actually be the result of your body reshaping your tissues in a positive way, however, it is always worth seeking the advice of a professional at this point. Attention to form will ensure your risks are minimised, but a massage may fix it, or analysis of your movement from an outside perspective may be able to more easily identify the cause of the impingement and support your progress forwards.

Is your 'clunk' is more of a 'thwunk' then there's a good chance that there's either a tendon, or even a large nerve experiencing misalignment. There may be an obvious sensation of something moving over another part, this is commonly experienced in the hips, and this is a strong sign that your muscular system isn't providing the proper support to the area and instead ligaments are carrying the brunt of the movement. The solution here (unsurprisingly!) is to strengthen the surrounding area, using careful repetitions of normal and proper movements, so that you address both the literal strength of the area, but also the proper proprioception and control of the area. Again, here the input of a trained professional will be invaluable. Why not consider a couple of 121 sessions to support you in creating a routine you can bring into your every day life? 

At the far end of the scale there may be some level of arthritis, or degeneration in the joint. In this instance, referral for a scan of the area will be the only way to know exactly what is going on in the area, and what the extent of the change might be. However, this does not mean that you have to stop your yoga practice! Simply that you need to consider some extra additions. All the research points to the incredibly protective effects of yoga (when practiced properly) on the health of joints, and its capacity to slow the rate of any subsequent deterioration. 

Abhyasa and vairagya; the value of steady effort.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.
— Gandhi

With the new moon in Taurus, and spring in the air we are invited to come home to our bodies. To celebrate sensation, and cultivate a connection with our own physicality and the earth beneath our feet. It's a time to plant seeds both within and outside ourselves and to take extra time to enjoy the grass beneath our feet. 

The grounded, and humble energy that taurus embodies is expanded upon by Patanjali as he introduces the two pillars of Yoga Sadhana (daily practice), Abhyasa and Vairagya at the forefront of his Yoga sutras. 

 

We are all perhaps most familiar with sutra 1.2: Yoga is the 'cessations of the fluctuations of the mind', but what follows is a little less quoted. Patanjali gives us the route! The formula isn't coded in a sequences of postures but rather the cultivation of two qualities: steady practice or abhyasa, and vairagya; centeredness and dispassion. 

Specifically, Patanjali describes Abhyasa as "the means that are employed in order to remain in a state of union, or harmony with one's own self." and further that for this practice to be successful it must be practiced for a long time, without break, with proper honour and respect, or in the words of Patabhi Jois "Practice and all is coming...". Abhyasa is action that is not easily distracted, or disrupted, and that creates its own momentum, as we learn to be present in our practice and to free ourselves from the notions of our "goals" and end-points, so our practice deepens and deepens, and, ironically, our goals are quickly reached, and easily embraced! We reach a point quite unintentionally, where the simple pleasure of our practice becomes all that is required, and any effort we once felt getting ourselves to our mat fades away.  

Vairagya describes the redirection of our energies fully inwards. In this way our focus is no longer distracted and our reserves in practice dwindled by pursuing our "ragas" or our colourings; our desires, and our ego drives. We are not practicing because it feels good, or because we attain certain benefits from the practice, but we are practicing because it has become the bedrock of our everyday life. At this point we see less and less that our practice is a projection of our needs and wants to meet certain ideals and aesthetics, and that it has become a lense of self expression. A tool that allows our atman, our individual soul, to shine through unhindered.  Our practice reveals and reveres our true self. Harmony occurs without effort, because it is no longer something we are striving for, but an inevitable result of our dedication. 


So, where do we begin?  

... the path is beautifully open!   

 

Lets rephrase Sadhana as a daily commitment to self. It doesn't need to be glamorous or complicated, simply consistent and internally oriented. There are more demands on our time and our attention than ever before...so it also needs to be realistic! 

1) What time/space can you realistically set aside each and every day?

2) What commitment would you like to make in that time? Perhaps a daily pranayama practice, the recitation of a mantra or an intention, or a simple sequence of postures that either prepare you for your day or for your evening? 

3) Do it! 

Harmony?

This month we are working with the intention of creating harmony... But, what does harmony mean for you?

Often when we ask this question the responses we get present harmony as an attainment, and not a state. It is presented as the end point of a very very long checklist of needs and wants in order to feel secure.

However, even if it were possible to remove all of those obstacles and tick everything off on that list of requirements there is a much more direct route to harmony! Indeed every breath is filled with the promise of it... 

Alongside identifying many of the obstacles to harmony in practice Patanjali presents four 'distractions' that always accompany and feed the obstacle. If you are experiencing one or more of these then it is a sure sign that an element of your life is out of alignment and needs some attention. In no particular order, they are suffering and/or pain (Dukha), depression and melancholy (Daurmanasya), restlessness, physical or mental (Angam-ejatva), and disturbed breathing. 

These arise as we deal (or fail to deal adequately) with the obstacles that surround our existence. Yet they also give us the route to their resolution! When they arise on the mat, we are able to test out, and train our responsivity to these obstacles such that when we meet them in daily life we can respond from a place of strength.

The beauty of yoga as a practice of union is that it allows us to practice this same quality of vairagya (read our article on vairagya here) constantly. We practice in the same way when our life is filled with joy, as we do when our life is filled with turmoil. This does not mean that we float through life in a mellow disconnected state but rather the opposite, that we are able to actively co-exist with the most wonderful and the most horrendous of sensations and experiences without allowing them to define our engagement. 

Each time we sit down on the mat, or each time we take a deep and conscious breath we create the opportunity for harmony to arise.

 

Try this visualisation to help bring harmony into your life;

Set aside some time, five minutes is enough, and get yourself comfortable either seated or lying down. 

Close your eyes, and visualise that you are looking out over a vast expanse, and far out in the distance you can a whirlwind. As you move closer and closer, visualise the many elements of your life whipping their way around in the whirlwind. 

Notice the familiar emotions that are attached to all of these things, perhaps the anxiety at your deadlines, the frustration at a colleague, and also, notice the joy associated with a particular memory and all of the other emotions that make up your experience right now. 

As you get closer still begin to step right into the very edge of the whirlwind. Feel the almost irresistible urge to get caught up in it, (perhaps recognise times that you do!) but know that there is still one more step to take.

Step right into the centre of the whirlwind...right into the core of everything that makes up your experience.

Notice an instant tranquility...a total stillness, a complete calm. Even though those elements are still whipping around you notice that they are not a part of your core... not a part of you, but something else. Profound maybe, tempting even, but also, ultimately impermanent.

From this new viewpoint, from your true viewpoint, notice that you have the power to step into, and out of the whirlwind. Feel that the sensations of each breath that reaches right down into the bowl of your pelvis is that same invitation. Each breath an invitation to step right into the core of yourself, and observe and act from the harmonious eye of your own storm. 

Should you be using your brain in Yoga?

Proprioception is our ability to know where our body is within space, and is created by a series of proprioceptors located in the tendons and the muscle fibres that monitor our tone. 

Muscle tone describes the resting muscle activity, which can be influenced by many external factorssuch as temperature, mental and physical health and stimulus such as pain. Perhaps the best way to describe tone is ‘readiness to respond’. Normal tone is high enough to withstand gravity, but low enough to allow selective movement.

One category of proprioceptors sit parallel to muscles fibres, constantly measuring the tension within the muscle and refer the information to the spinal cord to ensure the muscle is is ready to respond.  The golgi tendon organ is located in the tendon body, close to the muscle, and the pacinian corpuscle is located near the golgi tendon organ in the tendon; both are sensitive to change in tension throughout the connective tissue, and further the rate of the change of that tension. Most of our muscle tone is controlled through these mechanisms completely reflexively, never reaching further than the spinal column. Indeed, it seems strange to say, but as much as 90% of our 'voluntary' muscle activity occurs at a subconscious level. 

Practices like yoga ask us to bring these usually subconscious mechanisms into our conscious awareness, deliberately structuring practice to enhance our bodies plasticity. 

So, what are some of the reflexive mechanisms at action? And how can we utilise them to make our practice more effective? 

  • The Myostatic Reflex

When muscle spindles record a change in length, particularly a fast one, the stretch reflex attempts to resist the change in muscle length by causing the stretched muscle to contract in an effort to maintain muscle tone and protect the body from injury. This ‘stretch’ reflex is used daily as our body adjusts to gravity and balance, when we sense muscle fibres lengthening, then the contraction occurs to maintain our posture in relation to our environment.

Moving into poses slowly and softly, then holding poses for longer periods of time allows the muscle spindles to habituate and therefore ultimately allows greater muscle length.

 

  • Autogenic Inhibition (the lengthening response)

Golgi tendon organs are located around the musculotendinous junction and monitor the level of tension within their associated muscle fibres. If a muscle is contracted it produces tension through the tendon and wider fascial connections, hence stimulating the golgi tendon organs. If the tension reaches a point that is perceived as dangerous to the integrity of the muscle fibres or joint, the GTOs will fire, overruling the signalling from muscle spindles and instead causing the muscle to relax and lengthen. 

Holding poses for longer periods of time also allows the lengthening reaction to occur, helping the muscle being stretched to relax, however, this does not necessarily require high levels of tension. After approximately 10 seconds in a low-force stretch, the golgi tendon organs will respond, making it possible to safely stretch the muscle further.

 

  • Reciprocal Inhibition

Joints are controlled by two opposing sets of muscles, which must work in synchrony for smooth movement. When agonists contract, it (usually) forces the antagonist to relax, this accommodation of motion is reciprocal inhibition. As an example, the contraction of your bicep when you bend your elbow reciprocally inhibits the triceps to allow this motion to take place smoothly. This is not only true for muscles working around joints however, in gait, the activity of the anterior deltoid (as in a forward arm swing) will reciprocally inhibit the contralateral anterior deltoid to allow the backward arm swing. 

In postures, engaging the opposing muscle groups to those being targeted in the pose will ensure both that a greater level of stretch can  be safely achieved, but also, that the co-ordination between movement will improve, meaning we will 'get in our own way' less.

 

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (/PNF)

When a muscle is stretched not all of the individual fibres are involved, therefore the length of the entire muscle depends upon the total of the fibres that are stretched. One way to increase flexibility therefore is to increase recruitment through fascial networks and the somatic nervous system. 

PNF combines passive stretching and isometric stretching to achieve maximum static flexibility. Originally developed as a way of rehabilitating stroke victims this style has made its way into mainstream flexibility training. There are many different methods of PNF however, all function through a combination of passively stretching a muscle then adding and releasing isometric stretches at various intervals. In this way, PNF takes advantage of the immediate additional length acquired by isometrically stretching a muscle to work deeper into a posture. Additionally, by pre-fatiguing muscle fibres their ability to resist stretching through the stretch reflex is weakened, especially as additional fibres are recruited. Finally, PNF stimulates the golgi tendon organs to a greater degree than other forms of stretching encouraging the relaxation responses in the muscles and nervous system. Most importantly, it brings the 'stretch' wholly into our conscious awareness, ensuring it is integrated more deeply, and more quickly!

 

So... there is certainly a way to use your brain in yoga! But, you have to use it right, and that means off the mat too! 

Davis’s law states that soft tissue will remodel itself along lines of stress* which conveys both advantages and disadvantages. When we practice a movement, our bodies remodel to become more adept at that movement, however, this is equally true for non-movements, or undesirable movement patterns that may be a necessary part of our lives. Sarcomeres will cannibalise themselves to change on a cellular level so as to become more efficient at what they do most. Therefore, we must be conscious to maintain global responsivity and avoid increasing ability in one area at the expense of another, in the form of muscle imbalances or instability that will encourage protective and contrastive mechanisms to activate.

Breathing life into your weekend.

I recently read an article in the guardian titled 'who killed the weekend?' and it struck me just how right the author is! As a self-employed business owner a day truly 'off' is a rarity, especially, as the convenience of modern day technology often means that no matter where I am my iphone will lovingly remind me that I have some notifications waiting. Fortunately for me, my role also offers me the tools to rebalance my attention and my energy!

 

Yoga, whenever, wherever and however it is practiced offers us the perfect opportunity to move back from the world. We retreat into that somehow sacred space always waiting in the confines of our mat, and there we are free to unwind. We take the opportunity to truly pause, or 'switch off' our doing mind, and settle back into the natural state of being.

 

Many different terminologies are used; the witness state,  your highest self, but the term I favour, is simply the observer. To me it captures the essence perfectly of slipping into the middle and just watching. Yoga creates a space where we are able to view ourselves from a different lense, not one coloured by the requirements of our day to day to life, but one that first and foremost sees Us. Non-judgmentally, and inescapably honest, when we become the observer of our own experience we can see clearly what it is our system truly needs, and we then have a choice when we step of the mat. Can we honour that? Perhaps for this reason on friday nights our Yoga practice is at its most potent. 

 

Here's three reasons you should go to Yoga on a Friday night; 

 

1. End the Week on your terms. 

Good week, bad week, somewhere in the middle week, it doesnt matter! Your practice offers the space to pause and integrate or release that experience. 

 

2. Integration creates Inspiration.

Our working week often leaves us locked into left-brain analytics and an overly critical way of viewing our surroundings. Yoga fosters whole brain integration, reconnecting us with our inspirations and creativity. Moreso, this whole brain stimulation allows us to make new connections, solve problems, and see things from a more global perspective helping to resolve any niggling hang over from the week ready for a fresh start. 

 

3. You will always have something to look forward to! 

Lets face it. You know how good you feel after a yoga class regardless of how you felt before you started.... especially with that extra time in savasana! (read about the mythology of savasana here.) Why not let that be the perfect end to every week?

The Mythology of Savasana

There was a king, Parikshit Maharaj. He was a wise and just ruler and took good care of his subjects. One day when out riding he became very thirsty. and realising he was close to the hermitage of sage Shamika Rishi went to ask for water. However, the sage was in a deep meditation and was unable to hear the King's request. Angry, the King threw a dead snake around the sage's neck and left, but his actions were watched by the sage's son, who infuriated by the insult cursed the King to be killed in seven days by a snake bite. 

When he awoke from his meditation Shamika Rishi rebuked his son, but nothing could be done to remove the curse.

King Parikshit however accepted his fate. He handed over his throne, and travelled to the ganges to learn the science of Yoga from the many Holy Men there. After seven days of intense teaching the King achieved self-realisation, and understanding that this death realise him from the endless cycle of death and rebirth he lay down happily to receive it. 


People often shy away from the term 'corpse' when describing savasana, the ideals of this deeply restorative and peaceful pose seem somehow at odds with our negative assumptions about death. However, when we embrace this symbolic death, we see each round of savasana is an opportunity to be born anew at the end of our practice. Savasana asks us to surrender and be open to death, to the unknown and to the changes that we truly need in our lives. It ask us to release our preconceived notions of the good the bad and the ugly and open up to infinite possibility, it does not teach us how to die so much as how to live; with grace, acceptance, with vigor and without fear.

We come into this world with empty hands, and we must leave with empty hands. Being conscious of death in a yogic way does not turn us into curmudgeons, but instead allows us to live every moment in freedom and joy
— Alanna Kaivalya, Myths of the Asanas