Ashtanga Yoga – Traditional Opening and Closing Chant

In Ashtanga yoga there are two traditional chants. One at the start of the class and one at the end.  In my classes I only do this chant in my non-beginners classes.  I do this because I think chanting can be a bit intimidating to some people.  This can be especially when they are just beginning their yoga journey.  People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons and I think that is fine, yoga has many benefits.

 

When I do teach the chant, it is is optional.  I know many of my students love it and some people just listen for whatever reason and that’s fine. I would hate someone to miss out on the many benefits of yoga because they don’t feel comfortable chanting.

Why do the chant?

I think the chant is really useful as a way to seperate your yoga practice from day to day life. If you don’t want to to chant you could take a moment to connect with your breathing.

What language is the chant and what does it mean?

The chant is in Sanskrit – an ancient language of India. The opening chant gives thanks to Patanjali, who wrote the yoga Sutras.  This ancient text can be considered the philosophical underpinnings of yoga.  If you are interested in deepening your understanding of yoga, you should definately read the yoga sutras. It was written approximately 200 years BC and has amazing relevance to our lives today.  In my mind when we say this chant we are also giving thanks to all the yoga teachers who have passed on the yoga tradition so that we can practice today.  The closing chant is more about taking the benefits of our yoga practice and putting them out into the world. You can find a  full translation of the chants here.

 

Religion and the Chant

Some people may not want to chant because they feel it is religious.  Yoga is not a religion.  It has a philosophy and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of whether they have a religious faith or not.

 

Pronunciation of the chant

This post came about because some of my students said they struggled to pronounce the chant when they are practing by themselves.  Last week I came across this wonderful video on yoga mammas blog.  The video shows Sharath and his grandfather Pattabhi Jois, saying the opening chant.  Pattabhi Jois was the founder of ashtanga yoga, he is no longer with us and the current head of the lineage is his grandson Sharath.  I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to study with both of them.  This video shows a beautiful transmission of the tradition.

 

Here is another video of Sharath chanting the closing chant.

 

Do you like chanting?  What do you like or dislike about it? Do you have any questions about the chants?

Can yoga release emotions and if so how and what should I do?

Emotional release can play a part in the transformational benefits of yoga.

Emotional Backbending

At my recent Backbending Workshop my students and I had an interesting discussion about emotional release in yoga. I would like to open up this topic for further discussion here. Backbending is one of the places where people can experience emotional resistance and release. Hip opening is another common area where people report experiencing it.

What do I mean by emotional release?

A commonly held belief by yogis is that we store emotional tension in our bodies.  Though yoga we release these emotions and give ourselves an opportunity to heal.  I think the emotional transformations that can happen in yoga also happen as we change the way we move to a more confident open posture.  This may initially make someone feel vulnerable and will ultimately empower you to shine.

 

Helen looking at extinct Volcano in Lanzorote

Montana Roja, Lanzarote

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Spiritual teacher, author and lecturer

Where’s the science?

picture of the book emotional intelligenceI have always been interested in science’s understanding of these seemingly alternative ideas.  Whilst there are many things that science can’t yet understand, there is some interesting research about emotions.  Many years ago I read Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel.  In this book neuroscientist Candace Pert discusses research which shows that the molecules of emotion can can be found in the body.  These findings provide a scientific framework to understand the mind and body connections.

 

Does Everyone experience emotional release in yoga?

I don’t think that everyone does, although most long term practitioners seem to accept that it part of the journey. It has certainly been part of my personal journey with yoga.  As much as I think this is a real phenomena, even with some scientific backup, it is just a belief that I hold. It is part of my model of reality and yet I am always keen to keep an open mind about my beliefs as believing in something often makes it happen and can close my mind to other possibilities.

 

If I feel upset what should I do?

Emotions from our past can come up for all of us, whether we are doing yoga or not. A yoga practice can really help you to remain calm and not get overwhelmed. Here are my tips for dealing with challenging emotions.

  • You don’t have to understand it it to let it go. Don’t get too involved as that will just feed the emotion.
  • Stay present – tune in to what is happening right now. Notice where you are and what is actually happening rather than getting wrapped up the story in your mind.
  • Use your breath to keep you present and calm.
  • It is not a concrete permanent thing – it is constantly changing, notice it’s impermanence.
  • Observe it without getting involved and it will pass.

As you develop your yoga practice you will find it gets easier to let go rather than cling to your emotions. If you find yourself getting hooked, give yourself a break. You are noticing which is an essential first step. I have found this process of letting go so liberating and healing and one of the wonderful benefits of yoga.

 

Have you ever felt emotional release during your yoga practice? What has helped you to let go of these emotions?

 

 

How You Can Open Up Your Hamstrings – Part 2

I would like to show you how you can complement your yoga stretching with self massage techniques. This a great affordable way for you to release any trigger points in your muscles and a great thing to do as part of your warm down after cycling, running, etc. If you want to include it in your home yoga practice, I suggest doing it before your practice as it will help warm your body up.

Why self massage?

Self massage is an excellent complement to stretching. It is a great thing to do if you have especially tight areas and is easy to do.  Self massage is an affordable way to get regular massage.  I still like to get a good professional massage every now and then but I certainly can’t afford to get a massage every day and sometimes that’s what a tight muscle needs.

You can use a foam roller

The easiest way to massage the legs is with a foam roller, you can buy these cheaply online. As a big fan of self massage I have invested in The Grid Foam Roller.  Which is a bit more expensive but smaller and longer lasting and I prefer it to my regular foam roller which eventually got worn down.

What is a foam roller?

A foam roller is a roll of foam that you roll up and down on, you may have seen one down the gym.  In fact if you are a member of a gym you could have a go of there’s so you can see what you think.  You roll up and down on it and when you find tight, painful spots you can either stay still for a minute or you can cross friction it gently rocking back and forth.

How do I massage my hamstrings?

eddy on foam rollerTo massage your hamstring roll up and down on the back of your thigh.  You have three hamstrings muscles.  To get all 3 of them you need to rotate the leg in and out, as well as rolling on the bottom your thigh. If you find a tight spot stop and use yoga breathing to help ease into it and relax, stay for one minute.  You can control the amount of weight you put onto it if it’s really tight, don’t over do it.  Spend about 5 minutes on each leg, a once a day if you need it or after a run, etc.  Here is a picture of one of my students who uses the foam roller every day.

How you can learn more about self massage

You can also use a ball for self massage to get a little deeper, I find sitting on a chair useful for this.  Athletes Treating Athletes is an excellent resource for you to learn how to do this for yourself with some great videos.  Their is a wealth of such videos on you tube, the athletes treating athletes resource is by far the most informative, I have found and is ran by a physiotherapist who is also an athlete.  You can see her video for the hamstrings, below.  If you want to learn more about this topic and learn how to self massage yourself, I can also recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment for Pain Relief (Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief)

In part one of how to open up your hamstrings, I explained why you should stretch them and gave explained how to do a great yoga pose which is excellent choice for safely stretching out your hamstrings.  I have even more to share with you about hamstrings! Stay tuned for part 3……..

Have you been practicing the stretch I suggested in part one? How is it going for you? Do you use self massage to complement your stretching?

Change of Plan – How we ended up having a yoga adventure closer to home than expected

Last weekend myself and some of my yoga students planned to join together with Ashtanga Manchester for a Mysore style yoga class with Joey Miles from Ashtanga Yoga Leeds.  It was to be a meeting of Ashtangi’s of the North of England.  We all got up early on Saturday morning eager to get to class, despite the cold and snow.  Unfortunately Joey got stuck in the snow and was unable to make it.  Hopefully he was able to get home again.

 

We found out the news just as we were putting our yoga mats into the car, so we had a chat about our plan of action.  I felt bad that my students had made the effort to get up early etc and so offered to teach an impromptu yoga class in my home.  My yoga students, ever considerate of me insisted that instead we should practice together, it was my day off afterall. So we went to a house with a nice big practice space and did a self practice together.

 

Yoga students practicing Downward dog

Here's the gang, my mat is in the corner of the picture

It was so lovely to practice with my students, I had to pretend they weren’t there to resist the urge to teach, lol.  In ashtanga yoga we have a focal point called a driti for each pose.  Dristi and the breath helped keep me focused and it was nice to share the groups energy rather than practice alone. I was also  pleased for my students who from practicing Mysore style, now have a practice they can do on their own, wherever they are and whatever change of plans may come their way.

 

After practice we went to Lark Lane for a well earned brunch.

What is a Mysore Style yoga class?

A Mysore style yoga class is a traditional Ashtanga Yoga class  as taught in Mysore India.  In a Mysore Style class the student self practices at their own pace and learns the sequence gradually.  The teacher assist the student in a very individualised way.  There is no need to memorise the sequence before coming to your first Mysore Style class, as the teacher will show you.

 

Were your plans changed because of the snow?  Do you practice Mysore Style?  What do you like about it?

How You Can Open Up Your Hamstrings – Part 1

This is a common question from within our local yoga community and I was asked again last week so I offered to write a blog post about it.  Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series, the sequence I teach, has many forward bends in it.  As such a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice will open the hamstrings up quite quickly.  People tend to have difficulties with this if they don’t have the space for a regular practice in their life, they are exceptionally tight and find forward bending challenging,  they have a history of back problems and or they are very active and need to stretch out their hamstrings after their activity.  Liverpool half marathon runners from yesterday’s race, take note 🙂

Hamstrings and Back Pain

If you are really tight in your hamstrings it may prevent your pelvis from tilting when you bend forward, which can put your back at risk.  As your body is very much interconnected a tight back will often lead to tight hamstrings and vice versa.  The causes of back pain are numerous and are beyond the scope of this blog post.  If you have a problem with your back I recommend you work with a professional to work out how to best recover.

 What Causes Tight Hamstings?

Many people have tight hamstrings. You are not alone. Causes include:

  • Back tightness
  • Compensation from weakness elsewhere such as the glutes
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Sitting

How to Stretch Out Your Hamstrings

Charlie stretching out his hamstrings in a yoga pose, lying on his back and using belt to stretch the leg back.

If you can’t grab your foot or leg easily you can use a belt as my student Charlie is demonstrating.   Aim to get your leg to go straight up gradually over time, that is a good range of motion, Charlie is nearly there through dedicated practice 🙂 Make sure the leg you are stretching is straight.  You should feel the stretch across the length of the muscle either in the back of the thigh or even the calf and not in the joint, back of the knee or in the buttocks.  If you feel a sharp pain there or anywhere, something is wrong.  Keep your leg completely straight and engage the front of your thigh, this will help to relax the hamstring through what as called reciprocal inhibition.  If you are still having difficulties let me know as there are other suggestions I can make.

 

Guidelines for Practicing this Pose

  • If it hurts back off and modify. If you are not able to do it pain free contact a professional and stop doing the position
  • Take deep even breaths through your nose and allow yourself to relax into the position
  • Do not push too hard, gently and consistently allow the hamstring to open
  • Practice this regularly, at least 3 times a week
  • If you are running or cycling etc do this afterwards
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds, around 10 deep breaths
  • You can do this stretch up to 3 times
  • If you have one leg tighter than the other, start with that leg and do an extra one on that side.

I would like to thank Charlie for allowing me to use his photo in this post.  More student pictures coming up.  I would also like to thank my students whose questions have led to me to learn so much and whose dedication inspires me to continue to do so.

In part two I am going to give an alternative hamstrings  stretch and talk about how you can use self massage to help release the hamstrings.  Do you have tight hamstrings?  Have your hamstrings opened up through practicing yoga?  Do you have any questions or is there anything else you would like me to write about on this topic?

What Yoga Should You Practice When You’re Recovering From Illness?

I was asked  to write a blog post about this question by a student of mine on Facebook.  When we are ill we have to respect and listen to our bodies perhaps even more than usual to make sure they have energy to heal. Her question is a great one, I have been asked this many times, so it’s great to get a chance to write more about it.  Hopefully it will help you out too.

Illness can vary from just not feeling 100 per cent to something majorly debilitating.  Ashtanga Yoga can be very challenging for the body and there may be times where you are simply too ill to do anything.  At these times rest and/or medical care may be necessary.  After a period of rest if you are used to being active you may be itching to get moving again but not ready to do what you usually do.

It’s good to know what you’re like as a person, as this will help you discern how you approach your recovery.  After many years of practice, I know that I am highly motivated and don’t like to miss a practice, so if I think I am too ill to practice, I know I am too ill to practice.  When I start practicing again I know I am more likely to do too much than too little, so I know I need to reign myself in.  What type of person are you?  Are you like me or are you looking for any excuse to take it easy and overly cautious about doing too much.  Maybe you have a balanced approach to it all.  Get to know your mind so you know when to listen and when to tell it to shut up.

What should you practice?  If you’re feeling quite rough and the idea of a sun salutation makes you want to lie down but you want to move.  Explore some of your favourite stretches, you won’t be warmed up so move gently and hold the poses a little longer.  Listen to your body and do what it intuitively feels it needs.  I am not normally a fan of just doing the poses you like but hey if you’ve been ill, cut yourself some slack!  Legs up the wall, is a really restorative yoga position to do when feeling unwell.  To do this just put your legs up the wall with your back on the ground, if you have tight legs you can be a little bit away from the wall.  You can also practice Viparita Karani, which is even better but requires more set up.

Once you’re ready to start doing some sun salutations you can begin to do a more traditional Ashtanga practice.  Just get on your mat without an agenda, good advice for any day and see what happens, when you feel you have had enough stop and take your relaxation. If you come to Mysore Style classes, you can easily take this approach in class.

You want to finish your practice feeling better than you did when you started so you have some energy left for your recovery.    So take it easy and just be greatful that you have some time to connect with yourself in whatever way you can.

When you are better, you may feel you are not 100 per cent or have lost some of your previous stamina.  It is important that when you come back to your yoga class, that you make the practice work for you.  If you are my student you are always welcome to miss some vinyasa’s if you need to, rest in child’s pose when necessary.  This is true for any day, our bodies are never the same, always changing and through yoga we learn to connect with that and do what’s right for us, now.

Do you have any questions?  What would you like me to write about next?

May I Be Happy by Cyndi Lee – We Are Not Our Weight

I was given a copy of ‘May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing my Mind’ by Cyndi Lee in exchange for an honest review. The book is about the author, a yoga teacher in New York, and her path towards her self acceptance. I decided to write the review because I thought the book dealt with an important issue that of body awareness and issues arising from that. Cyndi’s biography is very honest and she talks in depth about her struggles to accept her own body image. I love the way that she freely admits her own failings.  Yoga teachers are sometimes expected to be radiant beams of ultra health and inner peace and whilst yoga is amazing, we are human beings too and Cyndi deals with this in a candid way. Cyndi writes informal style  which makes you feel you are somehow engaging in conversation with her.

 

There are some good gems and conversations with friends and teachers along the way. I like biographical writing as I always learn something about humanity and how we are similar as well as how we are different. As a yoga teacher the issue of body image does come into conversation with my students and I have learned a lot from listening to how people feel about it. Some people, of both genders, experience issues surrounding their body image. I have to admit I have never given it as much thought as Cyndi has and my heart goes out to her. I also felt that much of the book explored her struggles and not enough of the solutions and as such I wonder if it may not ultimately be a good choice for somebody who is experiencing similar issues. 

 

Yoga is great for your health and wellbeing and physical styles of yoga such as Ashtanga Yoga can also help with weight loss. You have to combine this with a healthy lifestyle and diet in order for it to be effective. For some people weight loss is a good step towards a healthier body and is a great thing. I feel the health and fitness industry occasionally exploits this a bit and I am frustrated to see the numerous fad diets and fitness regimes which people seem to torture themselves with. I feel that these extreme behaviours seem to often become a cycle whereby someone puts on weight then tortures themselves with an exercise regime and diet which they hate and so do not maintain and then they repeat the cycle. My advice, if you need to lose weight,  would be to find an activity you like doing and make gradual changes to both your eating and exercise regime.

 

Unfortunately, the situation sometimes runs deeper than this. The author Cyndi Lee honestly illustrates how some people who are in healthy active bodies can still struggle with their body image.  There are also people who are overweight who are concerned with their image of themselves.  Who you are as a being is not defined by your weight. There are many people, just like you, who are waking up to this possibility and are learning to enjoy their bodies, and themselves as beings, for all the amazing things they can do.  It is my hope that through yoga you can take steps towards self acceptance and begin to make peace with yourself one breath at a time.

 

What has helped you on your journey to self acceptance?

Welcome to Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool

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Helen Aldred

Find out about Ashtanga Yoga classes in Liverpool view timetable or contact Helen.

Ashtanga Yoga Classes in Liverpool City Centre

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic style of yoga, which connects your mind body and breath.  Helen Aldred teaches a range of yoga classes for complete beginners to those looking for more of a challenge.  All yoga classes are in Liverpool City centre and are drop in, no need to book.  Feel free to come along and see how ashtanga yoga will benefit you. Find out more about ashtanga yoga, Helen Aldred or the yoga classes.

Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool’s Blog

This blog is community hub for students of ashtanga yoga in Liverpool and beyond.  If you would like to Helen to write about a particular topic or you would like to contribute to the blog contact Helen. Please join the discussion and share your thoughts.

No Impact Man – Film Review – Is Individual Change Enough

Marc and I have just finished watching a documentary film set in New York about a family who decide to live a year making as little impact on the environment as they can.  They live in New York city and give up electricity, cars, buses, elevators, clothes buying and eat local seasonal food.  The documentary follows their family through the highs and lows of their experiment. The film was  released in 2009 and I only recently found out about it. Have any of you seen it?

The project was criticised for

  • Being a promotional stunt for his book, no impact man, which of course it was.
  • Some environmentalists felt that the extreme nature of the experiment was giving them a bad name.
  • It goes against the consumerist mindset of the modern world and I think people possibly felt their lifestyle was being judged.

I loved it because

  • It made me think about my own choices and the impact they have.
  • It made me think about what impact one person can have.
  • It challenged belief systems and I think it’s always good to question.

Ethics is something I have been giving a lot of thought to recently.  I have always been a firm believer that you need to be the change you want to see in the world.  This belief is really useful to me because it stops me getting overwhelmed by the problems of the world and moves me into a state of action.  I am aware that with all the efforts that I make there are always so many ways I can improve.  I also feel that I don’t have the right to tell others what to do, every action has all sorts of positive and negative consequences. Who am I to tell others what to do? One person can only do so much, efforts spent in one area is time and effort that could be spent elsewhere.

 

One of things that I love about yoga is that it gradually makes people to be more aware of what they do.  With that awareness comes personal choice rather than just flowing with the whim of others.  We live in  a society where consumerism is everywhere we are bombarded with it. Advertisements tell us if we have blah blah we will be so happy, so sexy, so successful.  The gap between the rich and the poor in this world is staggering:

The richest one fifth of the world

  • consumes 45 per cent of all fish and meat, whereas the poorest fifth consume 5 per cent
  • consume 58 per cent of total energy, the poorest fifth have less than 4 percent
  • own 87 per cent of the world’s vehicles, the poorest fifth own less than one percent.
  • consume 84 per cent of the world’s paper, the poorest fifth 1.1 per cent

The statistics are from Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, Bread for the World, 2007.  I found them in the wonderful book Yoga for a World Out of Balance by Michael Stone.  This book is brilliant and I will write about it in more depth once I have finished reading it.  Despite these staggering polarisation in terms of how we consume we are all interconnected if I pollute the air you have to breathe it, whether you polluted it or not.

 

When I read statistics like that it makes me wonder not only if my own actions are enough but if my belief that all I have to do is be the change I want to see is enough.  When I first stopped drinking a few years ago, I realised that other people found it really challenging.  I don’t mind if other people want to drink at all as long as that’s what they want to do and they’re not harming anyone, who am I to judge?  Yet people get uncomfortable because it makes them challenge their own beliefs.

As a vegan, I experience the same thing, many people seem to want to argue with me about my choices. I have never tried to force my beliefs about veganism on anyone.  I don’t want to be the annoying person that rants at people while they are eating.  I feel that lacks compassion for my fellow man.   I don’t have that right and as passionate as I am about it I believe we each have a right to make our own informed choices.

I have been wondering recently if individual change is enough and if it isn’t what should I be doing about it.  I think it is not about telling other people how to live their lives or acting superior for all the great things we are doing.  In many ways I am very fortunate to live in culture where I have so much choice that I can learn about where my things come from and what impact they have, that I am not starving,  I have so may choices, I can read and learn at the touch of a button, I have so may things to be grateful for. There is also so much that I am not doing, I often leave lights on, I don’t always eat organic or seasonal, I sometimes forget my bags for life and there are many things that I have no even considered.  There is so much more I can do, I know I am not perfect.  I think what I am realising is that it is not about telling people what to do, I don’t have that right, however maybe there is a need to open a discussion to share what we can do and how we manage to make our own impact or tread a little lighter on the planet so that everyone can benefit.

Do you believe in the power that one individual can have to make a change?  Has yoga made you more aware of the impact of your actions on others or the world?  Do you feel empowered to be the change you want to see in our world?

 

New Years Resolutions a Month on – 10 Tips to Create a New Groove

So it’s  February, every one has gone quiet about the  topic of new years resolutions.   Why is that?  Well………. change can be challenging can’t it.  If you decided to make a new year’s resolution the chances are you have to change your previous habits in order to succeed.  You may find that your old habits die hard.  Unfortunately statistics show that many people do not manage to keep their new year’s resolutions.

According to yogic philosophy we are born with mental and emotional tendencies which shape out actions.  The more we do a particular action the more more strong the groove becomes and the harder it is to change it.  Should we give up then?  No, I think the challenge of change is what makes goal setting so transformational.  It becomes less about making a specific change and more about being able to take conscious action rather than get stuck in a groove which is no longer serving you.

Scientists have found that when we repeat a particular we strengthen the connection in brain pathways.  However we are capable of creating new pathways whenever we want it just takes practice.  Eventually the new behaviour will become natural, so how do we get there?

Here are my 10 tips?

1) If you make a mistake, give yourself a break.  Think about what you could do differently next time?

2) Talk your goals through with friends, make them real.

3) Believe in you, you can do anything you want.

4) Be realistic and shoot for the stars.  You need a goal you can believe in and one that inspires you to make changes.

5) Recommit, if you find that you have slipped back into old pattern make a plan for how to make the changes you really want.

6) One step at a time, big goals can be overwhelming, always ask yourself what the next action is?

7) What was holding you back?  What benefit are you getting from any old behaviour that is stopping you from moving forward with your new goal.  What do you need to let go of – old view of self, watching less TV to create more time, etc. Can you think of another way to get that benefit?

8) Why do you want this?  What difference will it make?  Get motivated!

9) Know that change is not always linear, what can you learn from any steps that might have seemed like steps backwards.

10) Be here and now.  You are not your past or your future you are what you are right now, decide what that is and don’t let anything hold you back.

Did you set any new year’s resolutions?  What has helped you stick to your plan?