Yoga blog

Yoga, Anxiety and World Mental Health Day 2019

I want this to be both personal, because mental health is personal and practical, by sharing some exercises and habits I use to manage and maintain my mental well-being. In no way should Yoga or the exercises suggested be seen as a replacement for proper medical care and treatment.

I have suffered with anxiety. Two years ago, I was in a job where I was badly bullied and I really unravelled. I think I had probably been living with mild anxiety for a long time, but it was at this point that it really took over my life. My husband, who had married me just a few months before, gave me more support than I could have ever imagined and I will always be grateful to him for that. I would cry a lot and often in public, the stress of being away from my house was just too much for me at that time. My head was like a hostile environment, I tortured myself by reliving minutia and doubting myself constantly.

I found the physical symptoms of anxiety some of the hardest to cope with. I would feel nauseous most of the time. I threw up a lot. I felt tight in my whole body and my head often ached. I think that I would have benefited from medication, but I was living abroad and I was earning only enough to cover my rent and my living cost so I couldn’t afford a GP appointment.

Yoga practitioners often talk about choosing your feelings and reactions to things. I do believe this, but I think it needs further clarification. At my deepest, darkest period I was practicing mindfulness. I enjoyed the beauty of flowers and trees I passed by and savoured moments of fun and love I shared with family and friends. I was deeply grateful for all that was good in my life, but I was still very sick and the situation I was living in was contributing to that so I had to change it.

If people are abusive towards you do not allow them to continue to abuse you and expect yourself to just be happy regardless. It can be very scary to make big changes and it can feel like the end of the world – but it isn’t. I quit my job, I moved back to England. I stopped working for a time to recover. I lent on my family in a big way.

I’d always been interested in Yoga. I first tried it when I was twenty-one following along with a DVD in my university house and I loved it immediately. I started to practice more when my husband (then boyfriend) and I moved to the French Alps for a summer season. I started going regularly after that to gyms and local community classes. It was when I was really ill that my Yoga practice became so much more than an exercise to me. When I was living abroad there was a really inspirational teacher at the gym I went to and I ended up going to multiple classes a week.

When I came back to England, I began my Yoga Teacher Training with YMCA Fit & Yoga Professionals. Part of the training involved keeping a detailed Yoga journal. As I slowly began to live by the philosophy underpinning Yoga, really thinking about how I could bring the Yamas and Niyamas into my life I also began to recover from my anxiety…

Can you ever fully recover from anxiety? Probably not. Therapy can help. Lifestyle changes can help. I now feel pretty good most of the time and I have ways of coping when I don’t feel good.

Part of the trouble when moving away from being anxious all the time is that feeling anxious is a normal human state to be in sometimes. However, whereas when someone feels anxious they might think ‘I’m worried about something’ I often think ‘OMG my anxiety is coming back, what if I end up feeling sick all the time, unable to leave the house and crying all the time again?’ So my response to feeling anxious can make me more anxious and that is something I’ve had to work on a lot.

I have learned it’s ok not to feel good all the time and I discovered that in Yoga. In Yoga sometimes moves or transitions are hard, sometimes you’re not the ‘best’ at that pose, one day you might be more flexible and the next day really stiff… But it is still Yoga and it is fine for that to be the case.

Also, there is something in us which craves the known and remaining in our comfort zone. If you’re really used to feeling anxious even though anxiety does not feel good you can default to feeling anxious because you feel oddly at home in that state. It’s a good thing not to be comfortable, especially if you are resting in places of comfort which are not benefiting you. I learned this in Yoga as well. When you start trying to balance on one foot or on your hands you really push outside your comfort zone, but it’s amazing and fun and you often fall over and find out that falling over isn’t that bad after all (I am still not very good at most balancing poses, but getting used to trying has made a huge difference).

There’s one more thing that Yoga has helped me with when it comes to managing my mental health. When I was very anxious, I was completely and utterly obsessed with myself. I wasn’t a selfish person; I was a sick person. Have you ever burned your finger cooking? In that moment all attention is directed to the pain and the injury. It’s the same when you are feeling mental pain. But I have found that as I started to feel better turning my attention outward and focusing mainly on uplifting other people made my life easier. This is not to suggest that you should hide from pain, but you are allowed to not obsess and ruminate on things which aren’t helping you.

Now to be practical. Some Yoga exercises which can help maintain and manage (not cure or treat, you need a medical professional for that) mental health:

Calming Breath

Sit comfortably. Maybe close your eyes or let the lids feel heavy. Inhale and exhale evenly and fully. Try to take the breath down into the belly on inhale. Slowly start to notice and extend your exhale. Try to make it roughly twice as long as your inhale. If it feels good to count your breath you could inhale for four and exhale for six-eight.

 

Tree Pose (Vrksasana) with Breathing Branches

Stand tall. Root your feet into the floor. Find a focus point (drishti) for your gaze. Place your left foot either toes to the floor heal against the right ankle, sole of the foot against the side of the right calf or sole of the foot up against the right inner thigh. Find your balance. Inhale your arms overhead, exhale your arms down by the sides. Breathe fully and deeply moving your arms with your breath. Repeat on the other side. If you wobble or fall over laugh. Shake it off and reset your position.

 

Checking In Meditation

Checking in’ Meditation

 

Yoga blog

A Beginners’ Guide to Sun Salutations

Sun Salutations are fantastic! They move every muscle and joint, providing a perfect whole body workout, while also warming the body up for other poses (asanas) and increasing strength and flexibility. But they can be the most daunting part of a Yoga class for beginners, so as my next batch of Beginner Courses all start this week here’s my Beginners’ Guide 🙂

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Tadasana

Stand with toes together, heels slightly apart. Inhale and lift arms. If you have low back pain keep a straight back. If not you can squeeze your glutes, draw your abdominals in and lean back as far as comfortable. Then keep your knees soft and bend as much as you need to as you exhale forward into Uttanasana

 

Uttanasana (Forward Fold)

forward fold

Don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on the floor with straight legs. Bend your knees, bend them more… bend them so much that you have your hands on the floor. Putting some weight through the hands takes the pressure out of your lower back. Also in this position lead with your heart, not the crown of your head, so you keep your spine long and allow your chest to remain open so you can take full, deep breaths. From here step one foot back and lower the knee coming into a low lunge.

Aswa Sanchalanasana (Low Lunge)

Low lunge SS

Don’t let the knee come past your toes. If you have any hip injuries keep this position more boxy, if not you can sink your hips forward more coming deeper into the lunge.

There are two options for what comes next:

  1. Bharmanasana (Table)

Table

Any pain in the knees you can double fold your mat under them here. Knees under hips, wrists under shoulders. Spread your fingers. Keep a micro-bend in your elbows so they are not locked out and use your triceps to rotate your inner elbows towards one another.

 

Or

 

2. Kumbhakasana (Plank)

 

Plank

Any pain in the wrists in this position come to the forearms.

 

 

The transitions…

 

In plank lower your knees first so you are in Table. From here you have two options:

  1. Bring your right forearm down, then your left forearm down. Make sure your forearms are relatively wide apart. Then keeping your hips lifted lower your chest down in between them.

Forearms DownForearms down chest down

 

2. Keeping your elbows into your body, lower your chest and your chin. This will require more upper body strength. If this is not available to you now do not give up hope, the best way to get stronger is to practice the first option, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time you are building the upper body strength you need.

Ashtanga Namaskar SS

3. From Plank, roll a little forwards. Keep the elbows into the body and lower yourself in one straight line to the floor. If you find yourself doing a belly flop stick to one of the earlier options to protect your back and build strength.

Chaturanga

NB: I know it can feel like you just want to be able to do everything straight away, but Yoga practice remains fun and interesting because there is always a challenge to be working towards, your body is beautiful and strong just how it is, so never worry about what anybody else is doing.

Bhujangasana (Cobra)

Sphinxcobra-ss.jpg

If you’ve come down forearm by forearm, you may prefer to lift into Sphinx to keep the flow. Equally if you have low back pain Sphinx gives more support. Only lift as high as feels comfortable. Or if you want a deeper backbend, then you can bring the hands alongside the ribs and lift up a little higher.

From here you can push back into Downward Facing Dog. However, pushing back to Downward Dog can be quite strenuous, so you can come through Table pose, tuck your toes under and lift up into it to begin with.

Ardo Mukta Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

Downdog

In this pose don’t worry so much about getting the heels down to the mat. Focus on getting along spine, by pushing actively into the hands and sending your chest and belly back towards the thighs. Spread your fingers, push into the knuckles and fingers. Keep your thighs active, gently pushing your heels down.

 

More transitions…

 

  1. To begin with get used to lowering your knees down from Downward facing dog and coming into Table. When in table you can take hold of the right/left leg and bring it forward into a low lunge. Make sure you assist your ankle so it comes under your knee.
  2. If you have the flexibility you can step your foot all the way forward between your hands from Downward Dog. If it doesn’t quite make it, take hold of the ankle and bring it forward between the hands.

 

From your low lunge, you can then step together into a Forward Bend and rise up to Mountain/Tadasana, closing the sequence by bringing your hands to your heart <3

 

Happy practicing!

Namaste Hx

 

 

Yoga blog

Divine Dancer

Dancer/Natarajasana is my most-loved Yoga balance for so many reasons. It requires and builds flexibility in the hip, back, shoulder and hamstring, tones the legs and builds concentration and focus. But a lot of people feel unnecessarily intimidated by this pose. In this blog I offer modifications to make this pose more accessible while also working towards getting into a deeper variation of the posture.

Variation 1:

dancer 1

Bring your weight into one leg and lift the other up in front of you bending at the knee. Bring the bend leg back so the knees are in line. Lift the opposite arm to you lifted knee and balance here.

Variation 2:

Dancer 2

From Variation 1, reach back with the hand on the same side of the lifted leg and take hold of the inner sole of the foot.

Variation 3:

Dancer 3

From Variation 2 start to lift the back leg while keeping the hips in line. Allow the body to tilt forward a little, but focus on pushing the back leg into your hand and using this to open the hip and back.

 

Of course there are more advanced versions that this! But I’m still working towards them myself so like everyone else I stay where feels best for my body until I’m ready to deepen the practice further <3 Why not send me your most divine variation of dancer?

Namaste! Hxx

 

 

Yoga blog

6 Post-Run Yoga Poses

Running is great, super for the cardio-vascular system, burns calories and increases bone density! But without proper stretching runners can find they have very tight calves, hamstrings and quadriceps. Why is this a problem? To keep muscles healthy and strong, and to maintain a healthy range of movement in joints it’s important to stretch. Here are my favourite post-run Yoga poses:

 

  1. Seated Forward fold

This is a great hamstring and calf stretch. To come into the pose inhale and raise the arms, then as you exhale bend forward leading with your heart reach down anywhere along the legs that’s comfortable.

Safety: anyone with hip constraints don’t bend too deep, you can just stay seated with a straight back. If your hamstrings are tight you may find it easier to sit on a block or even use a strap around the feet. Any pain in the low back ease out of the pose, only go as far as to get a nice stretch, don’t push into any pain.

  1. Low lunge

Low lunge

This stretches the hip flexors and you can sneak a backbend in too! From Table step one foot forward between the hands and then raise your arms up and overhead. Sink the hips forward if it’s comfortable. Challenge your balance by looking at your thumbs. Then switch to the other side.

Safety – if you have hip constraints don’t sink too deep into this. You can put extra padding under the knee to support it. If you have shoulder issues keep the hands on the hips.

  1. Low Lunge with Quad stretch

Low lunge quad stretch

From your low lunge lift the back foot, reach back for it and draw it in closer to you. If this puts too much strain on the knee come out of the pose or place something soft under the knee for extra support. Do both sides 😊

  1. Pigeon

pigeon

Such a great pose, a hip opener and a glute stretch. This pose is not for everyone, any knee constraints or pain in the knee in this pose do the alternative pictured below. To come into pigeon from Table bring the right knee to the right wrist. Walk the right foot over towards the left hip. Send the left leg straight out and behind you allowing the hips to come down towards the floor. Then you can come down to the forearms or reach your hands away in front. Do both sides 😊

  1. Spinal twist

Modified spinal twistspinal twist

Sit with both legs out in front. Cross you right leg over your left. You can keep the left leg extended and flexed, or tuck it in. Sit across both sit bones. Bring the right hand to the base of the spine. Use it to keep you straight. Lift the left arm high and try to bring the elbow over the right knee, twisting to look back over your shoulder. To intensify you can reach through the bent leg and take a bind here. Stay where feels comfortable.

  1. Savasana

savasana.jpg

You’ve earnt a break after running and doing Yoga! 😊 Any pain in the low back bring the knees up, if not extend the legs let the big toes roll out. Bring your arms down by your sides and turn the palms up. Close off the eyes and meditate for a few minutes.

 

Namaste 😊 Hxx

 

 

Yoga blog

Ten Yoga Poses to Start Your Day

Do you ever wake up stiff and want a way to quickly rejuvenate and uplift your whole body? Yoga to the rescue. Here’s 10 of my favourite poses which are perfect for first thing in the morning:

  1. Child Pose/Balasana

child pose

Take your knees wide, bring the big toes together and then sink your body back towards the heels. Reach your hands forward, fingers spread stretching out the back, keep the arms active.

Safety: those with knee or hip injuries/conditions may find this pose uncomfortable, it can be modified by adding a blanket below the knees, or staying up on the forearms.

2. Cat & Cow

Ok this is really two poses, but I LOVE them. Great for mobilising the spine and warming up the back after a long night’s lying still. Start in a Table Top (all-fours) position and round your spine up like an angry cat, tucking your chin under. Then to do Cow pose dip in your mid back, open across your collarbones and look up.

Safety: any back conditions of injuries be careful. Don’t do anything which hurts. Small movements can be much better than larger ones which cause pain or discomfort.

3. Downward Facing Dog

DD.jpg

This pose in an inversion, which means it stimulates the thyroid gland, changes the flow of blood and improves circulation… what’s not to love? Oh, and it also tones the legs and arms. To get into downward dog from all-fours tuck your toes under, push into your hands with the fingers spread and lift your tailbone high. Don’t worry if your heels don’t come all the way down to the ground straight away!

Safety: Inversions are not suitable for people with high blood pressure. This pose also puts weight into the wrists, so ensure to push into the knuckles to alleviate some of this pressure.

4.  Cobra

Cobra

This is a gentle backbend. Only lift up as far as feels comfortable. Any pain in the lower back, come straight down! Start by lying on your belly, bring the hands alongside the ribs and then lift the chest up, keeping the shoulders drawn down away from the ears and the shoulder blades pulling together at the back. Keep at least a micro-bend in the elbows not locking out the joints.

Safety: This pose can put pressure on the lower back, if you feel any pain come down out of the pose. There is a variation of Cobra, called Sphinx, where you put your weight in your forearms and lift up just a little, this may be more suitable for those with back conditions/injuries. Do not push into any pain.

5. Warrior II

warrior-ii.jpg

This pose is brilliant, it strengthens the legs and arms, and builds mental focus. Step the feet more than shoulder-width apart, slightly pigeon-toe the feet inwards. Then turn the right foot out, make sure the right heel is in line with the arch of the back foot and then bend the right knee to 90 degrees. Open the hips to the side and lift the arms in line with one another. Gaze over your right middle finger. Make sure you repeat on the left side too!

Safety: those with balance problems should be careful in this pose, perhaps practicing near a wall. If you find it painful to bend your knee so much a lesser bend is fine. A shorter stance will take some of the pressure out of the legs. Not everyone’s hips (crucially backs) will feel comfortable opening in this way, if you feel discomfort or compression allow the back foot to turn slightly more towards the front of the mat and let the hips be where feels better for your body).

6.  Reverse Warrior

Reverse Warrior

This is a gentle backbend, which also tones the legs. From Warrior II, run the back hand down the back leg, lift the front hand high and turn the palm to face behind you. Look up to the palm (or if this hurts your neck look straight ahead). Watch the bend in your front knee, don’t let it disappear as you bend backwards. Make sure you do both sides!

Safety: Any pain in the low back come out of this pose. Looking up will challenge the balance, so be careful and have a wall nearby if you need one.

7. Tree

Tree Pose

This is so great for strengthening the ankles, opening the hips, aids balance and focus. Start by bringing the weight into one foot, then lift the opposite knee, you can keep the toes on the floor with the heel resting against the ankle, bring the foot to the outside of the calf or up onto the inner thigh. Arms can be at the heart or overhead. To challenge your balance look up or… I dare you… close your eyes!

Safety: never put the foot against the knee, the knee tendons are not strong in this direction. If you have knee of hip conditions/injuries stick to a modified version or skip this pose.

8. Forward Bend/Uttanasana

Uttanasana

This is quite an intense back stretch, especially for first thing in the morning so make sure you do the other poses first. Inhale and raise your arms high, as you exhale bend the knee (at least a little bit – don’t lock them out!) and then bring your hands down to the floor. Bend the knees as much as you need to in order to get the hands on the floor and support your low back. From there you can start to straighten the legs (keeping hands on the floor).

Safety: Those with high blood pressure/pregnant should avoid this pose. Instead you can bend half-way down with a flat back using a chair or wall for support.

9. Belly Twist

jathara

My husband calls this pose the Yoga Splat and I know it’s not the best photo ever, but hopefully you get the idea! It’s a lovely supine spinal twist, which releases tension and I love the back stretch. I do this pose at the end of most of my classes. To come into it, lie on your back with your knees up. Zip ankles and knees together and pin your shoulder blades to the floor. Then let both knees come down to one side and look away from them. You can put blankets or cushions under the knees if they don’t reach the floor. If they do reach the floor you can intensify the stretch by extending the top leg and bring the foot down onto the ground.

Safety: those with back/spinal injuries or conditions should be very careful. Check with a doctor about what movements are safe for your back. To modify you can just lower one knee to the side at a time, reducing the intensity of the stretch.

10. Uppanasana

Uppanasana

Hug your knees into your chest. If it’s comfortable rock from side to side massaging the spine into the mat. If it hurts your back to lie down skip this pose or try lying on a blanket.

 

Have a lovely day! <3 Any questions please get in touch, or join me for a class 😊 Hxx