18 July 2018

Dealing With Exhaustion

                                    Image result for bhairavi mudra images
                                      (bhairavi mudra -  internalising version)

I often think that people probably think that yoga teachers have different lives, than they actually do. I only ever knew of one who had a family, a large house which she was mostly responsible for, a partner, taught many excellent classes a week, did all of the advertising, book-work etc, for her yoga business, and managed a daily practice.

Whew! She was unique, for sure. I really admired her.

I find that daily practice is one of the most difficult things for many yoga teachers, to fit into their life. I certainly constantly experienced this, too. Why does this happen?
  • Exhaustion. Driving around a city taking classes all over the place, to groups of people with differing needs, is tiring. One is constantly 'giving out', which most yoga teachers do. Because they care about people.
  • Taking morning classes, then maybe a mid-morning one, then an evening one or two, leaves very little structured time to fit in some time to do a small practice.
  • The biggest obstacle for yoga teachers, I feel, is simply trying to practice too much yoga each day. 
Hints For Dealing With Exhaustion

One of the ways that I dealt with the chronic exhaustion and stress from trying to fit too much in, in order to make a (humble) living, was to arrive at a venue at least 10 minutes early, and park my car around the corner. I'd push my seat back, drop the back of my seat, close my eyes, let myself go limp, and do a hasta (hand) mudra (gesture), for five to ten minutes. Bhairavi mudra, with the left hand on top of the right. Thumb tips touching.

It was nothing sort of miraculous, as I would become instantly energised, yet completely relaxed. It was my little secret for coping with a massive teaching load.

You can even sit in this position, with your eyes open, whilst your class ambles into the room. It will revive you. And everyone will feel great and inspired that you are so relaxed.

Learning to relax whilst you are teaching, is definitely one of the 'tricks of the trade'. Being calm. Slow down your breathing: it will slow down your brain waves, and make you calmer. Smile: it will also make you feel less tired.

When I was teaching a lot of yoga, I really needed some quiet time. Basically, I would get over hearing the sound of my own voice, and just not want to speak. These periods of being quieter, will also revive and calm you.

Having to talk so much with teaching, especially teaching long week-end workshops, taught me a lot about not expending too much energy when I didn't have to! As a method for being able to be a good teacher. The first Swami - Guru whom I ever met, Dr Swami Gitananda, said that too much unnecessary talking, depletes one's prana. Weakens our life-force. I learnt this decades ago, and have followed this advice most of my life.

But I can offer some tips for being able to talk for hours on end, whilst teaching:
  • Talk clearly, and a bit slower.
  • Learn how to give verbal instruction for each pose, without non-stop chattering.
  • Talk to the back of the room. This is projecting your voice.
  • Drop the tone of your voice. A slightly deeper voice is easier to project.
  • Have the sensation of your voice as though it is coming up from your navel area (manipura chakra). This will give a strong energy to your voice.
  • Manipura is the gateway to our prana sheath, which provides life-force to our whole being, so we are connecting our voice to our life-force. 
Demonstrating Poses

I know that some yoga teachers do the postures with their students. And this is great, if you are not holding the poses too long. Personally, I prefer to watch people practising, as I like to be able to see who can do what, so that I can modify poses to the overall group.

But, it's not very self-nurturing for some yoga teachers to always do the poses with the class. I always found it exhausting, but you may not. I know that in some gyms, people can expect the teacher to do the whole class with them.

Again, learning how to teach without demonstrating is vital. If you are teaching a class when your throat is sore, you feel unwell, or your ankle is swollen, you will soon find this out! These are the times when it really helps if you can use less words. For example:

                Warriors and Triangles: "push your feet down and apart" 

                                     Image result for warrior 2 pose

This automatically takes the pressure off the knees, and makes the back leg have more of a supporting role, giving your students standing stability. It also means you won't have to add extra about ankle and/or knee locks, lifting kneecaps, pressure on outside edge of the back foot... etc

I am sure that you also have many tips: feel free to share them.


11 July 2018


                                             Image result for vintage yoga
                                       (film actress Mitzi Gaynor, probably 1950s)

Sometimes I think that I am too stuck in the past, regarding yoga. I'm not tweaking my down dogs, I'm not doing core activation, (actually I do in some poses, for myself), I am not extending prana (life force) out through my limbs. I am way out of touch.

I care not.

During decades of teaching yoga, I learnt some unusual things:
  • when you're teaching you have to think. Fast. You look up and see that someone is nursing their shoulder, or has a wrist bandage on. I have even had people come to class with a leg in a plaster cast.
  • I have had yoga teachers turn up to my class, stop doing it, and then writing down everything that I am saying
  • I learnt that teaching yoga in an alzheimers, dementia and psychosis unit, meant that I had to rethink absolutely every thing that I knew about yoga, and do something else instead
  • I learnt how to teach people who were heavily medicated, due to mental health problems
  • I learnt that people who were heavily traumatised were unsuited for meditation, and going within
  • I learnt, decades ago, that I may have known all about chakras et al, but I really didn't know where to put my big toe in trikonasana (triangle pose), nor what muscles to contract in a forward bend (but I did quickly learn!)
  • I learnt that the more the yoga was "made better', the more the essence of it was lost
And this last point, was the most important aspect:

that the essence of a very effective system, was being lost. Due to the poses being "made better"

The asanas (postures) are about the physical body, yes, for sure. When I first learnt yoga, a l-o-n-g time ago, they weren't actually for great muscles and intense stretching. The older type of muscle structure from yoga, was for the muscles being small and toned, yet long. I find that today, people have different muscle formation from yoga. The muscles are now more bulky, and this is, I believe,  from doing a predominance of standing poses. Like Warriors, and big Triangle poses, and holding them for a long time, too.

And also from emphasis on form. Form being how to get into, how to hold, and how to come out of, a pose. This includes all poses when one is talking about form.

When muscles are being contracted, whilst others are deeply stretched, whilst holding a pose, this does, of course, create muscle development. Beautiful, strong, defined, muscles. And, really, I am not criticising this, as such. I am just pointing out a direction which yoga has taken.

Going back to those big standing poses: it wasn't until I went to a new style of yoga which had been brought to the west, Iyengar Yoga, and this was decades ago, that I ever did a modern warrior pose. Iyengar Yoga is very much involved with musculature. It was that class (I never went back to that teacher!) which destroyed my back. Forever. Doing a pose I was well familiar with, that I could do easily - up till after The Back Incident. It was the plough pose. It had been made "better".

I had already been going to a teacher who allowed us to do the postures, at our own level. No way could I do a plough when I first started yoga, but after a few months, I could, without harming myself. I got there, into that pose, as my body slowly adjusted. Bit by bit. And then I wrecked all my efforts by going to a teacher who "knew how to do the poses properly".

When I was training yoga teachers, which I did for many years, I did have to know how to teach the new  "accepted standard" of yoga, and by this I mean the whole lot - poses, breathing, prana locks, meditations, yoga nidra. And I did do this. I was most particular about details, as I knew that the people whom I was training would be judged by how well they knew all of these modern bits and pieces.

I also, many years ago, introduced how to do poses if, for example, a student in a class has back problems. And how to modify poses, for various reasons. I am assuming that everyone knows this sort of information, nowadays. I understand how the standards of professionalism, do matter.
                                            Image result for vintage yoga

But, at the same time, I was sad about it all. Sad that the true essence of all of the practices, was being last. You could call this "progress", "keeping up with things", whatever.....

The asanas, the poses, were originally for:
  • getting the body fine-tuned. On all levels
  • building up the various nervous systems
  • correcting the endocrine system
  • getting the organs healthy
  • clearing the emotional content stored in the body
Now we have "shankti bandhas" for clearing the body. "Pawanmuktasana" series for joint or digestive health. Long Ashtanga Yoga series for doing things like building up the nervous system. Iyengar yoga to build muscles and bones. Prana Flow Yoga, Vinyasa, Power Yoga, Yin, Bikram, so many different styles. 

Which is great. Something for everybody. But, in many cases, I still do feel that the essence of a great system, is lost there, somehow.

7 July 2018

The bridge pose: old and new versions

                                Image result for muscles used in bridge exercise

I decided to look at the evolution of the bridge pose, today. Old and new styles of it.

The very old style

When I first learnt the bridge pose, decades ago, we did it from 1/2 or full shoulderstand, taking one leg down into the pose, then the other,so in the full pose we were up on tip toes, doing the bridge pose, with our hands still supporting our back. Then back up into the 1/2 or full shoulderstand, again.

I met someone during these years, who guest-taught my class, once. He did the modern style of the bridge pose (and was most derisive of the way that I taught then....) As I recall this, I realise that he was trained in the Iyengar system, which was not so widely known then.

Old Ashram style

Then, years later, when I did "ashram" training, (also decades ago) we went into that same pose from:
  • lying on our back, with knees bent, and feet flat on the floor.
  • feet were wide apart, at least shoulder width apart and toes turned out a bit. 
  • we held onto our ankles throughout the pose. 
  • the chest was wide open
At the time, it was the precursor to chakrasana, the wheel pose. It still is. And, of course, the bridge pose is an excellent alternative to chakrasana, for those who, for one reason or another, are not doing that more advanced pose. And to be honest, I had already learnt this method from my second yoga teacher, and, yes, it did enable me to then learn how to do chakrasana.

Modern style

Now the bridge pose is done with Good Form. For muscular reasons:
  • Lie flat on the floor
  • Knees bent
  • Feet hip width apart, and parallel. Hip width referring to placement of the hip bones, rather than the sides of the torso at hip level. 
  • Arms alongside the body, with the palms flat on the floor. 
  • We raise our hips to the ceiling, pushing into the feet. 
  • It will feel as though the weight is on the feet and the shoulders
  • Push down onto the big toes to activate the inner thighs by rolling them inwards 
In the final position:
  • We might do a straight line from collarbones to knees
  • we might have more of a gentle curve with the chest lifting higher
  • We might open up the chest (done by placement of the hands).  
The arms might:
  • Stay as they are - the hands may, or may not, press into the floor, for support
  • the fingers might be interlaced under the body. 
  • The next move is to roll the upper arms outwards in this position. Inwards would be the upper arm muscles going in towards each other. (opens the chest)
  • A third, effective variation, is to briefly lift up onto the toes whilst you put your elbows on the floor, and cup your hips with your hands. (opens the chest) Then put the feet back flat on the floor.
Some people find it easier to do the pose more effectively, if they take the arms overhead to the floor, whilst they hold the pose

Benefits of the modern version

Which of course, is all amazing. Wow: 
  • core activation
  • great buns (buttocks)
  • beautifully defined hamstrings
  • toned inner thighs
  • strong thigh
  • beautiful calfs
  • strong back
The secret of the older method

In reality, none of the modern benefits were what the bridge pose was originally about. The first style that I learnt it in, from the 1/2 or full shoulderstand, was specifically for the endocrine system, and in particular, the pancreas. These hormones are released directly from the pancreas into the blood stream. As we went into the pose, we got like a "squirt" of these hormones. 

Without being too technical, these various hormones, and other functions, of the pancreas did many things. Briefly:
  • Regulate blood sugar
  • Are an important glucose regulator, so they also affect our brain and liver
  • Are responsible for the storage of fat and glucose after a meal
So, someone like myself, when I first started yoga,who  could only do a very minor attempt at the bridge pose, from an inverted pose (as described), still got a quick squirt of beneficial hormones and elements from the pancreas, with my (cautious) attempt. This was major, as I had severe blood sugar problems when I first started yoga. Over time, these problems mysteriously disappeared.

How to merge old and new styles

As a yoga teacher, and a yoga teacher trainer, of course I am aware that many people could not and should not do this old form of the bridge pose. And of course, many cannot do a 1/2 nor full, shoulderstand. Which is fine. What I do, in this instance, is substitute a modern bridge pose instead. Why?
  • it can be held
  • most people can do a variation, whether beginners, or more advanced
  • it is an inversion (head lower than the heart)
  • it is beneficial for thyroid (as are 1/2 and full shoulderstand)
  • it opens up the lungs, so benefits breathing
  • I do feel that it does have a benefit to the pancreas, but less than the older version
  • great for adrenals
I usually finish it with reclining butterfly, as the pelvic area gets "drained" (sort of....) in the bridge pose, and reclining butterfly following it, allows a freer flow of blood and other fluids around the pelvic area.

29 June 2018

Ego, Yoga, and Meditation

                                   Image result for hafiz and ego

Apparently yoga and meditation boost one's ego. Or sense of oneself. When we start the spiritual journey, our sense of oneself certainly does increase. No doubt about it. And for most, we start to feel and behaviour in a more holistic way. But, sadly, this doesn't apply to everyone.

What is ego?

There is a demi-god, called Papa Purusha, who has gifted us the qualities of difficult emotions. Many of which are not exactly helpful emotions, like anger, jealousy. Who amongst us has not known these emotions?  In Maori, this Atua/God is known as Whiro.

These difficult emotions are intricately woven into what is known as ego. When one is following a good spiritual path, these difficult qualities gradually become less forceful, they somehow disappear, bit by bit, into the ether. The ties that bind us to Papa Purusha/Whiro, they become less strong. And correspondingly, our more "positive" emotions come more to the forefront of our "ego".

My Tohunga teacher (Maori spiritual guide), Ruatau Perez, says that our ego is how we outwardly express energy. This has been the best explanation that I have ever heard for ego. It implies that we have a choice with ego, of how we choose to be.

Either way, our emotions are what are behind the ego, as a driving force.

And the energy behind this outward expression, comes from within. And what then moves this energy, is from many sources. As explained below.

Where does our ego come from?

Ego is one of the components of mind, The everyday mind, mostly. I venture to suggest that ego is not just from our thoughts, but rather, also from:
  • Our feelings. Never, ever, underestimate the effect that our feelings have on us. Never. Ever. Often feelings are quite subtle, but they are always there. All the good ones, and also the more difficult ones, like anger.
  • Memories. Our memories are tied up with our feelings. Good, bad. There are a myriad of feelings hidden inside of us, many of which we may find difficult to define.
  • "Bad" memories are stored in our bodies. Yes - who knew? Yoga has an overemphasis on The Mind, which is such a little part of us, and my own ashram training was that our thoughts create our sense of self, our ego. Well, no. This is not exactly true. These "bad" memories have feelings around them, and these feelings can often be quite hidden. As an example: recently, I saw a childhood photo of myself, and then a few hours later, I realised after seeing it, that I had then sunk into a mire of extreme insecurity and other similar disturbing feelings. Which of course were triggered off by hidden feelings from about the age that I was in that photo. These feelings went through my whole psyche and I'm including my body and thoughts in the psyche bit, too. I went to the Maori healing clinic which I work in, and those crippling feelings lifted as the emotions were released from my body.
  • Our state of mind. Yes, I am including this here. If you read the above example, you will see that my state of mind was also affected by my feelings which had emerged. But actually, my whole being was affected, not just the mind aspect. (Just to make this clear)
  • The effects of our life journey. So this includes the way that we were brought up, the experiences that we undergo, and the effects of our upbringing and experiences. These experiences and effects have a massive part to play in expression of ego
  • Our own personal nature that we were born with. All babies start to express their own little personal quirks which have come with them into their new life, fairly quickly. 
How should the ego be expressed, from yoga, and from meditation?

Yoga increases the ego. It increases the sense of oneself, and what and whom we each think that we are. Which can be either a positive, meaning beneficial, experience. Or a negative one, meaning that one is not being a decent human being. Although the research about yoga, meditation and ego, was actually looking at specific beneficial factors, not the "negative" expression of energy as ego. We all have a choice about how we choose to express ourselves, and this, from myself as a spiritual seeker, a healer, and someone who has done hundreds of regressions, is the real choice in a lifetime. 

What benefits should yoga, and meditation, give us?
And this includes any spiritual path....!
  • We should feel better emotionally
  • We should be happier, from the hormones released into our system from the yoga poses, and from the feel-good effects on the nervous system in the brain, and in the gut
  • We should be thinking clearer, from the deep, slow, breathing which slows down our thoughts and calms our feelings
  • Our expression of energy, our ego, should be a beneficial expression. If it is not, then one is doing something "wrong" with the yoga. My long yoga experience also taught me that it also means that we are being taught the wrong type of yoga for ourselves, when it doesn't make us feel good about ourselves. I learnt this many decades ago, from Dr Swami Gitananda, and it became a sort of a measure with me. 

20 June 2018

Change Yoga According To Your Needs

                                 Image result for vintage doing yoga at home          

It's Okay To Do This

I do it all of the time:
  • If I pick up a virus, for example, I allow myself time to heal, rather than 'use' yoga to sort out the virus. Which really, I don't think that yoga can do this.
  • When I'm going to be sitting most of the day, like at a seminar, then I'll emphasise a standing dynamic twist, a lying dynamic twist, standing hip circles, hip openers, and a backward bend.
  • When it's hot, I do not want to be doing heated poses like warriors. Nor do I do heating breathing practices.
  • When it's cold, I reluctantly use one of a couple of warrior routines, that I know off by heart, for toning, strength, and yes, warmth. But, and again this is just me, not in the morning. (I'm not a Warrior postures fan)
  • And, I do change the pranayama (breathing techniques) in summer and in winter. Yes, of course I do!!
My Base Routine

I have a very simple base morning routine. If you do have one, then it's easy to use little adjustments. Here are some of my suggestions, for my routine:

I Don't Do Heaps

I do Surya Namaskaras (Sun Salutes) I like to do them faster, but that's just my personal preference. It means that:
  • I did something
  • It makes me feel good
  • It keeps me limber
  • I don't have to 'think' about it
  • Sometimes slowly and thoughtfully doesn't suit me
  • I have adjusted this Sun Salute to suit my needs. (I have a dodgy back)
  • I don't do lots of them
Or, I might just do a sort of Suryanamaskara A:
  • moving slowly and thoughtfully
  • being more precise
  • using soft ujjayi, and I might vary the breathing ratios
  • or I might use an unusual bhastrika in a couple of the poses
  • I might do a couple of modifications of this Sun Salute
Other times, I'll just do each pose, of either Salute:
  • three times each, moving with the breath
  • once each, holding for three to five breaths
  • sometimes do 3 cats
  • and I always end up in child pose at the end, to relax
  • I usually do this routine when I'm tired, or feeling a tad lazy
I like to finish some salutes-type morning practice, with:
  • a reclining twist, either dynamic, or a holding one, relaxing into the pose
  • either bridge pose, which I might do slowly three times, or once, holding a minimum of three breaths
  • or the half shoulderstand, which I hold for more breaths
  • and finish with reclining butterfly. Some might call it reclining baddhakonasana. Relaxing
Yours Will Be Different

So, I'm able to have all of these 'methods' to draw on, because of my 'base' practice, known as sadhana. I don't have to get up and make choices, because I know which variation suits me on any given day. And I know this because I've done my dues, put in my time. I've learnt through doing. Over and over. What I do is not earth-shattering, nor long, nor difficult, but it works for me. You might prefer to do something else, like one or more of these:
  • maybe some 'flexibility' type movements
  • backwards, forwards, and side to side, and a twist (standing, seated, reclining - whatever suits you best)
  • a simple evening routine to wind down
  • I met a woman years ago, who did 3 rounds each of the 2 Ashtanga Surya Namaskaras, each morning
  • and a yoga teacher friend, used to do 1 of each of the classical poses before bed. It took 10 minutes
  • another yoga teacher friend would go for a quick walk/run, come back and do a few poses
There's more.....

And I do have a 'base' pranayama (breathing) routine at the end:
  • in autumn I work on strengthening my lungs with a particular type of bhastrika (not the abdominal-pumping one), in preparation for a cold and rainy winter.
  • in winter, I move into the pumping abs bhastrika. It's so warming that of course I avoid it in spring and summer.
  • for summer and spring, I have a cooling little-known bhastrika
  • more often than not, I do kapalabhati, as well
  • and I do a number of each of these cleansing pranayamas, that I know that I can do each morning without it being a major effort 'thing' that I have to do (and it's not much .....)
I practise Nadi Shodana, sometimes known as the Alternate Nostril Breath:
  • when I'm not in a slow-and-relax-mood, It's just done with deep breathing and no retention
  • when I am At One with everything, I add retentions
  • usually only 3 -5 rounds
  • but my favourite version leads one directly into meditation, and more often than not, this is what I do
In summer I finish pranayama with cooling breaths

Usually I am in meditation, by the time that I have finished. I usually only do a short one. But, and this is the point: I frequently do it.

Sometimes It's Really Short And Sweet

Occasionally I'll just do:
  • a couple of warm-ups
  • pranayama
  • some meditation. 
Sometimes I Don't Do  Anything

But I'm okay with that, too. The points for me with a daily practice are:
  • make it doable, which for me is make it short
  • make it enjoyable, meaning it makes me feel good
  • do it more often than you don't do it 
  • don't head-trip when you can't get it done or don't actually want to do it