Vegan Date & Walnut Cake

1 cup of chopped pitted dates 

1 cup of chopped walnuts 

( I bought whitworths already chopped and mixed together )

1/2 cup oil ( I used coconut oil )

2 cups of water

I/2 cup of sugar 

1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon 

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt 

2 cups of spelt flour 

 

*Sieve together flour and baking powder and soda 

Sieve a second time 

*place all other ingredients in a pan stir well and simmer for 30 mins till it becomes gel like 

*leave to cool for 2 hours ( very important ) 

*pour cooled wet gel into flour mixture and combine 

*Place in greased loaf tin or 9 mini loaf cases 

*cook in preheated oven at 360 / 180 gas mark 4 for about 50 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean .


This cake is deliciously moist and keeps for over a week in an airtight container

Ayurvedic apricot and lentil soup ( suitable for Kaphas) .

100g dried chopped apricots 

100g lentils ( I used half green half red )

Veg Stock 1litre

2tsp cumin powder 

2 potatoes 

Juice of 1 lemon

Chopped parsley 

 

Cube potatoes and throw everything except the parsley in a pan simmer till lentils are cooked .

Season and garnish with fresh parsley.

 

This soup is healthy, totally fat free and suitable for vegans! A great warming dish as the autumn nights start to get a little cooler. 

Preparing for a Yoga Mala

As we lead up to the YogaMatters North East Yoga Mala this Saturday a few questions keep popping up!

 

Here's a little post to help put your mind at ease...

 

 

 

1) How do I know when I've done all 108?

Easy... we'll be counting for you! After we've opened with a short meditation to unite our focus, and some chanting to wake up our energy, each of the four teachers will be leading you through 27 salutations. Each 27 will have a distinct theme that is presented all around the world as many other tribes join the Global Mala project... read more here https://globalmalaproject.squarespace.com

We will then conclude the practice with a guided savanna and some time to socialise! (Plus all attendees will receive a free gift from YogaMatters!)

 

 

108 that sounds like a lot! Will I be able to do it? 

Yes! 108 might sound like a lot of sun salutations, but for those with a regular practice it will not feel too dissimilar in difficulty to a standard 90minute class.

 

What happens if I need a rest?

That's absolutely fine! The most important thing is the communal moving of energy. We will be teaching several different variations of the salutations with modifications for all. You are welcome to rotate through the modifications as necessary to keep your body feeling good!

 

If to continue with you integrity you would like to take one or two (or ten!) rounds in child's pose then all we ask if that you continue to follow the visualisation of the movements and breathe in sync with the group.

 

 

Can I bring water in?

Yes of course. Water will need to be in sealed bottle, but bring as much as you like! We do no recommend bringing in food however as there will not be opportunity to eat it throughout. Make sure you have a good breakfast (this is our favourite!) and have a banana or your favourite pre-yoga snack on hand for before you step on to your mat.

 

 

Should I prepare an intention?

If you would like to! The Mala is a powerful meditative process, and is a wonderful opportunity for you to work deeply with personal intentions if you have them, alongside the global intentions we will be sharing on the day.

 

 

Anything else we should know?

The cost is £5, with proceeds going to support work by the Phoenix Prison trust, bringing yoga to prisons across the U.K. And you can sign up HERE

 

See you on the mat soon! 

Overnight Oats

Gluten free rolled oats

Almond milk

Seed & Nut mix

Dried cranberries

Goji berries

Coconut flakes

Honey

Large orange

1 cup of oats, 1/2 cup of almond milk, juice of half and orange mix together.

Add half teaspoon full of honey, mix.

Then sprinkle of coconut flakes, 1 teaspoon of goji and cranberries, 1 heaped dessertspoon of seed and nuts mix.

Mix all together, then store in fridge overnight.

Serve with a heaped spoonful of natural yogurt.

 

 

 

 

Gluten free rolled oats

Almond milk

Seed & Nut mix

Dried cranberries

Goji berries

Coconut flakes

Crunchy Peanut butter

1 large banana

Cacao nibs

1 cup of oats, 1/2 cup of almond milk.

Sprinkle of coconut flakes, 1 teaspoon of goji and cranberries, 1 heaped dessertspoon of seed and nuts mix. Soak overnight.

To serve slice banana and layer on top of the oat mix with a dessertspoon of crunchy peanut butter and a sprinkle of cacao nibs on top.

Autumn Cleansing.

Palo Santo, literally meaning “holy wood”, is found throughout Central and South America and is used in much the same way as White Ceremonial Sage is used in North America; to combat negative energies and to cleanse spaces and people. Palo Santo comes from the same family of tree (Burseraceae) that includes frankincense and myrrh. So sacred is this tree, that its harvesting is protected by the Peruvian government. Only branches that have naturally fallen may be harvested, with the wood reaching its highest potency 4 years or more after it has fallen. 

The use of Palo Santo is different than many other smudging materials as it is fragrant in its raw form and therefore does not necessarily need to be lit to feel its benefits, although it often still is for ceremonial purposes. The rising smoke of the lit sticks has been used for centuries, dating back to the Inca period and is believed to enter the energy field of ritual participants to clear misfortune, negative thoughts and to chase away evil spirits. It uses also extend to inspiring creativity, evoking protection, infusing blessings and bringing both love and good fortune. 

Regarding physical healing, Palo Santo has been said to relieve symptoms of common colds, stress, headaches, anxiety, inflammation and in its oil form supports the nervous system. 


How to use Palo Santo to cleanse a space.

  1. Light your Palo Santo stick; once the stick has caught fire allow it to burn for about 30 seconds and then gently blow out the flame leaving the stick smouldering. 
  2. Start by the front door (or main entrance) and from there walk clockwise through the space letting the smoke reach each corner. For a specific effect you can add an intention to this process and hold it in your mind as you move through the space.
  3. When you are finished, place your Palo Santo stick in a fireproof container. The glow at the end of the stick will eventually go out on its own. Unlike an incense stick which will burn out completely after lighting it, your Palo Santo wood may be relit many, many times. One stick can probably be used 20 times or more.

The Joy of Leading A Yoga Mala

One of my teachers once described the process of yoga meditation as a little like running for a train. At first, there is effort…a distinct effort filled with frustration and doubt, even a sense that perhaps it really isn’t even really possible to catch the train. And of course, there are many trains that simply get missed, leaving you standing on a platform somewhere that isn’t where you were hoping to end up.

Yet with just enough effort expended, the timing just right, and perhaps a little bit of luck, the moment will arrive when finally you leap on to the train and can relax totally into the fruits of your effort… your onward journey supported by some complete and external momentum.


.... CONTINUE READING THIS POST ON THE YOGAMATTERS BLOG HERE

A Total Eclipse...

Our universe has always been a source of immense wonder to me, and eclipses are a particularly rare and beautiful treat! 

Despite the fact that eclipses are essentially the blocking of the sun's light, and it may seem like this moment of temporary darkness would have negative connotations, the reverse is true. Rather a Solar Eclipse is like an amplified New Moon and offers the chance of transformation as we have an opportunity to break out of the viewpoint we currently hold, and appreciate the light anew. Sometimes these realisations can be challenging, yet they will make their benefits known soon enough. 

 

Sadly, the total eclipse will not be visible from the UK, though we will be able to see a partial eclipse just before sunset – provided the skies are relatively clear.  The eclipse will start at around 7.30pm and will peak at 8.04pm in London and 7.58pm in Edinburgh and will last for around 40 minutes. If you have the opportunity try to catch it. The ancients believed that during a Solar Eclipse the light of the Sun would give way to the darkness in order to be transformed.

This momentary darkness was believed to be highly spiritual as it would allow the Sun to return even brighter and more energetic in the sky. An energetic reboot for us all!

These changes may not be visible immediately as this Eclipse has a veil like effect that can shield us from seeing the full story. It is often not until the energies have settled down that the full truth can emerge and clarity shows. Although we can struggle with change, allowing ourselves to accept and sit with it will be the best thing we can do for our own energies. Be cautious to avoid miscommunication and take time out to check your own patience.

Over the next few mornings on waking breathe deeply and give your body and mind a few extra minutes to stretch, if you have the time warm up with some seated postures, and sun salutations, and finish with a good 5 minute savasana.

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.