It's all a little bit hectic at the moment, isn't it?! We caught up with local artist and yogi Naomi Sampson, who trained at an ashram at the foot of the Himalayas - she's share her top tips for a gentle and accessible approach to a yoga practice that's going to help melt away the tensions of the day.
First things first.
Relax. Your. Damn. Jaw.
Drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth, let it chill.
Drop your shoulders.
Give your head a gentle rotate, and the other way.
Sit up straight.
Take a deep breath.......and exhale it all, long and slow.
Right. Let's begin.
With articles popping up every other day praising the benefits of the practice most of us have had the thought, “I should really take up yoga”.
Only for that thought to be swiftly followed with “but I'm too inflexible”, “I don't have the space” or “I've heard it makes you fart, what if I fart in the middle of class?!?”
Of course there aren't even any in person classes to go fart in at the moment, leaving most of feeling even more lost on where to start with Yoga then ever. Though with the benefits of yoga including stress reduction, better sleep and greater resilience to face the struggles of life, in the current climate it's the perfect time to begin.
You may be relieved to hear that, contrary to popular belief, you don't need, a large, light filled space, to be gymnast flexible, squeezed into expensive lycra or even a mat to do yoga.
The Western World is a little obsessed with asana practice, the physical aspect of yoga and all of the Instagram gymnast pretzel-like contortions, when in the traditional Eastern teachings it is only a small part of the practice. Asana definitely increases the benefits of yoga and comes with a heap of benefits of its own like reducing back pain, easing arthritis symptoms, releasing stored trauma from the muscles and retraining the central nervous system into a calm resting state. I will join that choir of “you should try!” if you can manage it. But if you, like many of us, don't have the space, time or energy for it right now then I've got three elements of the practice for you here that, personally, I've found to be the most beneficial.
Have you learned how to breathe yet?
Sounds like a daft question right? Of course we all know how to breathe, it comes naturally!
But, what if I were to tell you that there is a huge difference between automatic breathing, and conscious breathing?
Our breath patterns tell our central nervous system what's going on. Short shallow breathing tells our bodies that we are stressed, long slow breathing gives a relaxed signal.
Unfortunately for us, automatic breathing tends to fall into the short and shallow category meaning that our central nervous systems are often in a default stressed mode.
The good news is we can change that by taking conscious control of our breathing.
For this practice I would recommend you wear loose fitting clothes and find a quiet spot (preferably where you can close the door) where you can sit comfortably. I like to do this sitting cross legged in bed with my full spine supported in a partial recline by my many, many throw cushions.
You may need to give your nose a good blow before you begin as this will require nostril breathing. Having a bit of peppermint or eucalyptus oil to hand on a tissue or in a diffuser can work wonders if you are struggling with a little seasonal congestion.
3 Part Breath
In your comfortable seated position bring your hands to rest on your navel.
Gently close your eyes.
Allow your body to relax and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth, relaxing your jaw.
Lengthen your spine and lift your rib cage away from your hip bones to create some space.
Begin to breathe through your nostrils only, allowing your breath to fall into its natural pattern.
After a few breaths begin to expand your stomach on the in breath, pushing your navel against your hands and using the action to draw the breath deeper into the body.
We exhale slowly and completely, drawing the navel towards the spine to force out all remaining carbon dioxide.
This is part one.
Continue like this for a few more breaths.
Now, when you are feeling ready, after filling the abdomen with air, expand your chest. From the base of the lungs to the top, filling the sides and the back of the body. Allowing the body to grow with the breath in 3 dimensions, taking up as much of the space around as it can, without straining or forcing.
This is part two.
Release the breath slowly, trying to make the exhale the same length as the inhale
For the final part of this breathing exercise we begin as before, first filling the abdomen, then we expand the chest, then we continue until we are filled with air right up to the collarbones and shoulders.
Here we can add a count. One, two, three...we fill the abdomen, four, five, six...we expand the chest, seven, eight, nine...we inflate ourselves right up to the shoulders.
Here we can also release the air with open mouth and a gentle roar, releasing all our pent up tensions.
Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one...we exhale all the air, drawing our navel back towards the spine.
Taking a pause here before repeating for two more of these deep breaths.
If the count of nine feels like a struggle start with a count of six, giving a count of two for each part of the exercise. Or count faster. Make this work for your body and its current abilities, because that is what it is designed to serve.
To close we allow the breath to come back to its natural state. Taking a moment to notice the changes in the body, the mind and our mood, tuning in to any sensations we may be experiencing.
When you are ready, place your palms over your closed eyes and slowly open them. Gently part your fingers allowing your eyes to readjust to the light.
Bring your hands together at your heart centre and thank yourself for taking a moment to start the practice of yoga.
At any moment when you are feeling a bit stressed or overwhelmed you can use this practice to bring your breath, and body, back to a more relaxed state.
The powerful mental tool that brings everything in to being.
Yeah, that's right. We humans imagine things, make plans, and then create those things in the real world. Making dreams reality. We're magic! You are magic and don't you forget it.
As well as sparking the creation of the whole of human innovation, visualisation can take us to places that we're not allowed to go in lock down. With this power we can be on top of Everest, swimming in a warm tropical sea or walking through the peace of giant ancient redwoods without leaving our homes, or having to fork out for the plane tickets.
It can also allow us to transform our inner state of being. We can replace stress and tension with peace and bliss. We can fill our bodies with healing light. We can effectively ground ourselves and connect to the energy of the Earth, allowing our great mother to take our denser energies from us and cleanse them, delivering peace and hope back to us.