2021 Refresh: Yoga your way

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.

Better?


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.


Breath Work

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.


Visualisation

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.


This next practice uses the three part breath from the last exercise and is best done with your bottom firmly on the ground, either cross legged or with your legs out in front of you and your back supported by a wall. If you can find a dry enough spot and wrap up warmly it is further enhanced by practising outside where we can connect with nature, but no drama if you're in a third floor flat with no houseplants. The magic here comes from within.


Tree Visualisation


As before, come into your comfortable seated position making sure you are warm enough to sit for around ten minutes or more.

Bring your hands to rest in your lap, your dominant hand on top in a bowl shape.

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 your three part breathing making the breath deep, slow and of equal parts.


When you are ready tune your mind in to the base of your spine, resting against the ground.

As you breathe in imagine the breath as light, filling a channel that reaches from the base of your spine to the top of your head. This light attracts all the tension, stress and impurities in your body. Feel them drawing in to this channel from every part of your body.

Release them on your exhale.

Continue for two more breaths.


On this next breath we will extend the channel. Roots of light will delve deep into the Earth from the base of the spine as we inhale and exhale, reaching ever deeper with every breath.

As we exhale we will also release our tensions into the Earth, and as we inhale we will feel our Great Mother providing us with new, fresh and vibrant energy. We will feel it fizzing up through our central channel before dispersing out to every part of our bodies, right to the tips of the fingers and toes, back the same way we felt those impurities drawing in through at the beginning.

Once our roots are deep and our whole bodies are feeling energised it is time for us to branch out.


Now during the inhale we draw energy up from the Earth. As we exhale shoots of white light begin to grow from the crown of our heads. These begin to form branches, the trunk of our body becomes the trunk of a great and stable tree. Our branches become a canopy, filled with many leaves and blossoms. Inhaling drawing energy up from the Earth, exhaling expanding our branches. We feel the sunlight on our leaves and draw that energy in on the exhale, becoming a circuit of natural energy. We hear the birds and squirrels playing in our branches and take joy in their presence. We take joy in merely being. We are a tree, the concerns of humanity are no longer ours. We are an intrinsic part of creation, perfect just as we are. Of value, just as we are.


Once you have enjoyed the sensation of being a tree for as long as you need to, or for as long as time will allow, it is time to gently come back to being a human again.


As you breath, gently fold in your leaves and branches, allowing your bird and squirrel residents to peacefully vacate to more permanent trees. Carefully draw up your roots, thanking the Earth for all she has given you. Draw all these things into the white light of your central channel. This can remain, as can the light in your whole body. Once you have withdrawn your tree form, push your light out into a golden bubble around you. Imagine it as swirling, iridescent light that no harm or negativity can pass through. It is a soft boundary, but will become solid when you need the external world to bounce right off. This is your own, personal, circle of protection that you can carry everywhere with you.


Again we close by allowing 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.


You may want to record this practice so you can play it to yourself as you meditate.

Alternatively,if you can wait until the 11th February I will be releasing all of these practices on my youtube channel! But if becoming a tree doesn't work for you, you can find hundreds of other guided visualisations for free on the Insight Timer app. I'm a particular fan of Steve Ahnael Nobel, links to all in resources below.



Yoga Nidra


The yoga EVERYONE needs to know about.


The word nidra means sleep, so yoga nidra can be defined as yogic sleep. The practice induces deep relaxation of the whole body in a short space of time, somewhat like a full body metaphysical massage. It is said to revitalize metabolic function and restore the energy levels of the body.


The practice starts with the conscious mind and physical body, before taking us to explore our subconscious minds. It is a way of accessing parts of ourselves that are not so readily accessible to get to a place where we can plant our intentions in the most fertile ground of the mind. Eventually, when we master yoga nidra, we can access the unconscious mind, also known as the cosmic mind, and the super conscious mind, the pure consciousness within. That's the point where we are one with everything and a fully enlightened being. Neat right?


It gets better.

On the mental level yogic sleep has tremendous effects on improving psychological well being,

a Danish study found that the practice can increase natural Dopamine levels by 65% and through the combination of these benefits the practice can aid better sleep. Just one session of yoga nidra can encourage the sleep state to arrive more quickly, be deeper and last longer.


The best part is;

all you have to do

is lie down,

relax,

and listen to a recording.


What will you need:

A place to lie down, a blanket, some cushions (particularly nice under the knees), a yoga nidra recording and something to play it on. My personal preference is noise cancelling headphones as I live by a busy main road.


When to do it:

Anytime. Though you're not supposed to fall asleep during the practice, it is a good one for just before bed. If you do fall asleep? Well, don't worry, the yoga police aren't a thing so no one will even know.


What to expect:

A deeply relaxing practice usually beginning with focusing on the breath, maybe some counting and listening to the sounds around before drawing in. This is often followed with a rotation of awareness round all the parts of the body to relax each in turn then a calming, supporting and nourishing visualisation. You may be asked for a sankalpa, a resolve or intention for your personal needs so it might be handy to have one in mind before you begin. You may want to listen through the recording before committing to the practice. This is a great way to approach the practice and won't reduce the effectiveness at all.


A catalogue of free yoga nidra recordings for all kinds of purposes is available here:

https://www.yoganidranetwork.org/downloads




You may be wondering how I know all this, well, I learned about these techniques in depth when I travelled to Nepal to study Tantra Yoga in 2017. This was all covered while attending a teacher training course in an ashram nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.

You may have heard the word Tantra in the context of Sting and his marathon sex sessions but before you start to imagine I spent 5 weeks at an orgy let's have a look at the (relatively boring) reality of what Tantra is.


The word Tantra is made up of two words, tan and tra. Tan is from the sanskrit word tanoti which means to expand or to extend, while the word tra is from trayati which means to liberate or free.

In essence, the practice of Tantra aims for liberation from the bondage of the mind through expansion of awareness. Mentioning bondage may suggest we're heading into exciting territory again, but alas, this merely refers to the state a lot of us find ourselves in most of the time, that one where we are trapped by our own endless thoughts and most of them ain't pretty, comforting or encouraging. The three practices here are all methods for expanding awareness and quietening the chatter of the mind but, if you're feeling skeptical, don't worry. As we were told endlessly by the orange clad Guru hosting our course:


“Tantra does not need your belief! Just practice the methods and see for yourself!”

Resources:


Guided visualisations and meditations in a free app - https://insighttimer.com/


Free Yoga Nidra Catalogue - https://www.yoganidranetwork.org/downloads

https://www.yoganidranetwork.org/download/yoga-nidra-increases-dopamine-levels


Meditate with Sarah - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMxQztznHYMWbYQiV_k9Fnw

A lovely, local meditation teacher sharing the practices that have released her from anxiety and depression over the last 12 months.


What Are Bandhas with Jenna Naik - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OIvpfNnPXA

The root lock bandha is an excellent addition for an advanced 3 part breath or tree visualisation practice, as well as being a great pelvic floor exercise. Tone your soul on all the levels!

Jenna was one of my first yoga teachers and the reason I got deeply involved with the spiritual side of the practice. She is a gorgeous soul and has regular online classes through her website if you fancy some actual stretches. https://www.ashtangayogashropshire.co.uk/


Mysticoloured Channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuafWml7afTw2nnWIGE8_Cg

On the 11th of February I will be releasing all the practices mentioned here as video guides, with fresh yoga nidra regularly thrown in. Click the link to subscribe and be first to know when they arrive!

Naomi Sampson is an Illustrator, Mala Maker, Tantrik, student Druid and all round mystic biscuit who emigrated to Shrewsbury from the sunny shores of the River Humber.

Catch her on Instagram ___Samyaza where she is exploring yogic concepts through a 365 art project.



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