Moving Through Autumn With Yoga and Ayurveda

 

As we come up to the Autumn Equinox, we prepare to move from the lighter days and high energy of summer into a slower pace of Autumn. Our bodies and energy levels can be highly influenced by our environment and the natural cycles so it can be wise to adapt our Yoga practice to suit the seasonal change. Autumn is a time for gathering energy for the upcoming winter, as well as for taking stock after the summer just passed. Nature slows down the pace after the productive summer where flowers burst into bloom and there was an abundance of fruit and vegetables. In autumn, we harvest nature’s bounty and the leaves on the trees begin to change colour before falling from their branches. In harmony with nature’s process, our bodies can also start to slow down and we can use this as an opportunity to reflect, take stock and let go.

Some themes to focus on throughout autumn are:

  • Celebration of abundance and giving.
  • Taking stock, reflecting on the year so far and cultivating gratitude.
  • Honouring change.
  • Regrowth.
  • Letting go.
  • Accepting impermanence.
  • Balancing light and dark.
  • Slowing down.
  • Grounding.

According to Ayurveda, a system and philosophy of health from ancient India, the vatah dosha is the predominant dosha associated with autumn. Vata governs movement in the body, the nervous system and the process of elimination. Its elements are air and ether. During the autumn, everyone can be prone to an imbalance of vata and can benefit from vata balancing practices during this season. Routine is really important to ground the restless moving quality of vata associated with wind and air. Irregular appetite, dry skin, changes in digestion, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, anxiety and feeling generally a bit all over the place can all be typical of vata imbalance and the autumnal season.

Ways to balance vata off the mat:

  • Routine: regular meal times, regular sleep times and practicing Yoga at a set time every day.
  • Try to get to sleep by 10 pm ideally and prioritise a bedtime routine. There is a suggested Yin Yoga bedtime sequence here.
  • Focus on drinking plenty of water.
  • Eat warming, freshly cooked foods.
  • Self-massage with warm oil.

Ways to balance vata on the mat:

  • Focus on grounding Yoga postures or more so, focus on bringing a grounding element to your Yoga practice. This could be bringing awareness to the solid foundations of the earth beneath, paying attention to the feet and how they connect to the floor in all standing postures and noticing all points of contact between the body and the mat in all seated postures.
  • Core strengthening excercises.
  • Engagement of the bandhas to access the deep front line.
  • Consider a regular meditation practice and dedicating time to pranayama. Autumn and winter can also be a good time to practice Yin, Yoga Nidra and give yourself more time than usual for savasana.

When we move through the transition of seasonal change with an appreciation of the natural cycles and honour the effects that the rhythms of nature have on our own mind, body and spirit then we can begin to find balance, ease and a sense of belonging. I hope that some of these suggestions were helpful. I also have three videos to share with you for your home practice that are particularly good for the autumn.

A grounding asana practice (20 mins) good for connecting to your roots, tapping into your inner stability and building strength. I find this type of practice very beneficial when I’ve been a bit all over the place with my mind running in 100 different directions at once and I need to LAND back on the earth, back into my body.

Autumn can also bring with it feeling run down or catching a cold so I made a very gentle Yoga video for when you’re unwell (17 mins).

This is a great practice to help you feel grounded and connected. This guided meditation and short visualisation follows the theme of Autumn. As the leaves begin to fall, we can take the time to sit with ourselves, tune in and notice what we are ready to let go of ourselves.

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Meditation: Getting Started

An introduction to meditation written by Jasmine Sara for ROSEMARY DREAM, outlining 6 different techniques to cultivate inner calm and focus.

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Meditation is a practice to cultivate inner peace. It’s a way to bring the practicing individual to the present moment so that they can rest in awareness of what is. Meditation is not about being “better” at anything. More so it’s a practice of simply “being” full stop. It’s a technique to invite awareness, helping to focus the mind so it can let go of becoming lost in endless trains of thought or of any attachments to these thoughts.

A lot of people notice the mind can get distracted easily during meditation, which for me is a great example of why it is called a “practice” because it’s learning how to train the mind to focus which really does take practice! Like most things, the experience can differ greatly from one day to the next. The idea is to let go of any attachment to the experience so that rather than there being a “good” or “bad” experience of meditation there is only an experience. This means letting go of the desire to grasp hold of the experience if one practice feels incredibly peaceful and to let go of any feelings of frustration if during another practice the mind seems to be continuously distracted. With meditation, we accept all that arises and welcome it without judgement, even the stuff that we may rather not be feeling or thinking about.

There are many different techniques that a person can practice for their meditation such as mindfulness, breathing exercises, chanting, visualisation, focusing the mind on one sound, listening to guided mediations and numerous other techniques. Some meditations can be done lying down, walking or moving but many are done sitting still and upright with a long spine. Some people may feel good sitting cross legged on the floor, whereas others may be more comfortable sitting on a chair. It’s really about finding what works best for each person.

There are many different types of meditation rooted in various traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga. Because of how vast the world of meditation is, when starting out it can sometimes be difficult to know where to begin and which technique to choose! So I’ve outlined here 6 different techniques. Some people like to try them all then choose one to stick with, others like to pick one and commit straight away and others like to practice a variety of different techniques on different days or at different times depending what they feel like in the moment. The great thing about any wellbeing practice is that each person gets to choose whatever they feel works for them.

For the below techniques, a good way to start is to set a timer for 10 minutes and resolve to stay the course for the full duration of the allotted time. All are carried out with the eyes closed unless stated otherwise. For all techniques, begin by arriving in the space. This can be done by taking a few full breaths, noticing the sit bones rooting into the surface beneath and feeling for the crown of the head reaching up towards the sky.

Breath Focus

Follow the inhale and exhale all around the body so the awareness stays with the breath, without consciously changing the breath. Notice how it feels to breathe in and out, the way the chest rises and falls and the way the body fills up with air then releases. Notice if there is a natural pause between breaths. If it helps to stay focused on the breath then count the inhales and exhales. Every time the mind moves away from breath focus, gently bring the attention back to the breath.

Candle Meditation

This can be done in a dark room if that feels comfortable. Light a candle and place it at around eye level so that it can be looked at without slumping the body over. Keep the eyes open, still and focused on the flame of the candle, simply staring at the light throughout the meditation.

Grounding & Connecting Visualisation

In the mind’s eye visualise a tree with its strong sturdy trunk, roots that ground down into the earth and branches that reach up towards the sunlight above. Bringing the awareness to your own body, imagine roots growing down from the sit bones and digging down deep into the soil. Stay with this for some time then imagine the head absorbing light from above. This could be seen as an energising white light pouring down into the body through the crown of the head, connecting you to the wider universe.

Gratitude Reflection

This is time to focus on expressing gratitude for all the people and things you are grateful for. This means reflecting on all the blessings in life. Blessings in disguise can be included which refers to those things that might be experienced as painful but hold a lesson or message.

Body Scan

Move the awareness around the body noticing physical sensations from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. Notice everything about how the body feels and consciously relax or soften any areas of tension.

Loving-Kindness

This comes from the Buddhist tradition of Metta meditation. In the mind and heart generate feelings of kindness, benevolence and compassion. Begin by offering these feelings of loving-kindness towards yourself, then bring to mind’s eye a good friend and develop these feelings of loving kindness towards them. Next, a person considered as “neutral” then a person considered as “difficult”. Extend that loving kindness to all 4 beings then gradually extend it out to the entire universe.

These 6 techniques are all a great way to begin practicing meditation. Some may appeal more than others but all are beneficial, especially if practiced daily/regularly. It’s also very helpful to have the guidance of a teacher or to practice in groups, as well as alone. The most important thing is for each person to find what feels right for them in crafting their own path of cultivating wellbeing.

Yin Yoga Bedtime Sequence

The following Yin Yoga poses calm the nervous system which aids sleep. This sequence helps to get your body into a restful state ready for a good night’s sleep.

You will need a space against the wall and a mat or blanket to make the floor more comfy. You can put on some relaxing music and light some candles if it helps you to wind down.

Hold each posture for 3 – 5 minutes and the last one (Sphynx) for less time, 1 – 3 mins. The whole sequence is about 30 mins if holding for 5 and about 20 mins if holding for 3. You can keep a clock or timer handy or just feel out the times roughly if you prefer. Or you can listen to reiki music with a timed bell, every 3 mins here and every 5 mins here.

During the sequence breathe in whichever way feels most comfortable to you and relax into the postures. The postures should be comfortable enough to rest in for some time. The eyes can be open or closed. Try to focus the mind on the breath, becoming aware of any bodily sensations or any other feelings that may arise. Gently bring the focus back to the breath when the mind starts to chit chatter.

For all of the postures your arms can be either by the side of the body palms up or palms placed down on the belly, or wherever else feels most natural and comfortable.

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Wall Supported Butterfly: Lay down on your back and shuffle your bum up close to the base of the wall, bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees open out to either side.
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Wall Supported Caterpillar (AKA Legs-Up-The-Wall): Keeping the bum shuffled close to the wall bring the legs & feet up the wall to rest roughly above the hips.

 

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Wall Supported Squat: Bring the soles of the feet to the wall, knees bent. Find what works for you, you may be more comfortable with the feet wider or closer to the hips or the bum further way from the wall.
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Wall Supported Straddle: Legs wide supported against the wall, bum up close to wall still.

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Wall Supported Eye of The Needle (AKA Figure 4): Do both sides. One sole of the foot rests on the wall, knee bent, the other ankle crosses over the opposite thigh just below the knee. You may need to shuffle away from the wall to be comfortable or you may find it best for you without the wall, in which case the foot which would be on the wall can rest on the floor (knee bent still). Feel for sending the knee of the crossed leg away from your body.

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Wall Supported Sphynx: Come onto your belly, elbows beneath shoulders, forearms flat on the floor, chin resting down towards chest. Can either have knees bent by the base of the wall, feet resting up the wall or move away from the wall entirely and just have the legs resting out long on the floor. If this feels in any way painful or pinching in the back then just lie flat on the floor face down, your head can rest on your hands or arms.
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Savasana: This final pose can be done in bed! Lie on the back and relax all the muscles. You can also try rolling over to the left side for 5 mins then rolling over to the right side for 10.

I really hope this sequence helps you to sleep and even if it doesn’t send you straight off to the land of nod then rest assured it will be still be beneficial by tapping into the bodies “rest and digest” mode.

25 Quotes to Inspire Your Yoga Practice

If you’re looking for some inspiration to get on the mat, a reminder of why we practice Yoga or some ideas for your own lesson planning / intention setting then here are some of my absolute favourite quotes!

Inspirational Yoga Quote
“The nature of Yoga is to shine the light of awareness into the darkest corners of the body.” Jason Crandell

“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.” Sharon Gannon

“Whatever it is that drags and dims your life force has to die. Whatever you cannot transform, you must either form a new relationship with or shed. That’s my bottom line: evolve or die.” Ana Forrest

“There is a strength that comes from being willing to sit with discomfort, and that’s really the essence of Yoga practice is whatever comes up you are with it, you welcome it. It’s not that you WANT it to be happening and are like woo hoo I’m having such a hard time at the moment. But it is happening, it’s revealing itself, it’s how things are. It’s how it is so you greet the moment fully.” Jo Tastula

“In truth, it matters less what we do in practice than how we do it and why we do it. The same posture, the same sequence, the same meditation with a different intention takes on an entirely new meaning and will have entirely different outcomes.” Donna Farhi

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“Good yogis are not perfect human beings but people who have recognised their patterns of suffering and are putting energy into breaking through those patterns.” Nanda Peek

“What yoga philosophy and all the great Buddhist teachings tells us is that solidity is a creation of the ordinary mind and that there never was anything permanent to begin with that we could hold on to. Life would be much easier and substantially less painful if we lived with the knowledge of impermanence as the only constant.” Donna Farhi

“Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted — in body, mind, and heart — and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow — or we begin to flow more in our lives.” Cybele Tomlinson

“Yoga is really trying to liberate us from … shame about our bodies. To love your body is a very important thing — I think the health of your mind depends on your being able to love your body.” Rodney Yee

“Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are.” – Jason Crandell

Inspirational Yoga Quote
“Do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” Rumi

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” Rumi

“The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” The Bhagavad Gita

Inspirational Yoga Quote
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are.” Ani Pema Chodron

“Put on the music and dance now. Your unrestricted, luscious, rich joy serves not only you but the planet. So move those lower chakras, open your heart, and let your life force express itself like the most succulent, juicy fruit, the most redolent and colourful flower, or the loudest and most raucous song. After that, make a commitment to getting rid of all the old emotional toxins that have become stuck inside you so you can live freely and agelessly.” Christiane Northrup

“Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness.” Shakti Gawain

“True Yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; Yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; Yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called Yoga, its essence must be embodied.” Aadil Palkhivala

“Change is not only inevitable, but always happening. When you truly embrace this concept of change being constant, the only thing left to do is grow, detach, venture inwards, touch the spirit and find your source — the one responsible for keeping you grounded through the ever-changing seasons of life.” Julie Weiland

“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” B.K.S Iyengar

Inspirational Yoga Quote
“Yoga is a dance between control and surrender, between pushing and letting go, and when to push and let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your well-being.” Joel Kramer

“The natural tendency is just to run away when things get tough but the practice of Ashtanga Yoga teaches you how to find your way gracefully through whatever obstacles may arise in your life experience. It just might be a bumpy ride for a little while. Your job is to stay the course and use sound anatomical alignment, deep breathing, and a courageous heart to follow the path.” Kino mcgregor

“The fact that life is a mixture of happiness and sorrow cannot become untrue. It should be so, otherwise life has no meaning…Yoga makes one face both happiness and sorrow with equanimity.” Geeta S. Iyengar

“Yoga gives serenity and composure, an inward unity amidst the diverse struggles of life.” Geeta S. Iyengar

Rachel Brathen Yoga Quote
“The yoga pose is not the goal. Becoming flexible is not the goal. Standing on your hands is not the goal. The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil the layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noise it creates. To make peace with who you are. The goal is to love, well… You. Come to your yoga mat to feel; not to accomplish. Shift your focus and your heart will grow.” Rachel Brathen
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“It was when I stopped searching for home within others and lifted the foundations of home within myself I found there were no roots more intimate than those between a mind and body that have decided to be whole.” Rupi Kaur

With thanks and gratitude to all these wonderful Yogis & Yoginis for their inspiring words on Yoga practice! Plus thanks to poet Rupi Kaur whose poem I ended on, which can be used to beautifully illustrate the union of mind, body and soul experienced through Yoga. Feel free to share the images or comment to add to this list with your own favourite quotes : )

 

Summer Solstice

In the Northern Hemisphere the summer solstice takes place on the 21st June and is the longest day of the year. It’s a time to celebrate and honour the light as we come to a turning point between the seasons and welcome in summer. Summer is the season of abundance and growth with fields and gardens bursting into bloom providing us with a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as beautiful flowers. It’s a time of raised energy alongside the sun’s light and is connected to the element of fire. Heat and fire are both powerful transformers, so summer solstice can be a great time let go, making space for growth. It’s a time to tap into our personal dreams and stoke our internal fire, fanning the flames of any budding projects or intentions to give them life.

Here are a few ideas of things you can do at summer solstice:

  • Check in with yourself at this midpoint in the year. If you wrote any intentions for the New Year back in January then you could look back over them and see what’s been done, what is in motion or what still needs working on. You can use this time to give yourself some love and encouragement for things you have achieved during the first half of the year. Do note that sometimes these “achievements” don’t have to be big huge typically “successful” things. In really hard times in my life sometimes what I am most proud of is simply managing to feed myself or get out of bed, which can be more than “enough”. Wherever you are at right now, you are doing a great job. Also consider making a gratitude list for what has come so far in the year. As Yogi Bhajan says “The attitude of gratitude is the highest Yoga.”

 

  • Set intentions for the second half of the year, planting seeds for what you hope to bring into fruition. You may even like to plant a real seed to tend to over the summer and put a little note in the soil of your intention. It can also be helpful to write intentions in the present tense to tap into the power of now as well as thinking about how you hope to feel e.g. rather than “I will develop a kinder way of speaking to myself” it would be “I am developing a kinder way of speaking to myself, this makes me feel safe” or instead of “I want to commit to regular exercise” it could be “I am committed to regular exercise to help me feel happy and healthy”. It’s also important to reflect on what actions you will need to take in order to turn these intentions into reality.

 

  • Make a list of all the things that bring you joy, all the really fun things that maybe you don’t feel you have time for. With the longer days of summer perhaps you can fit in some of these things and this can be your go to list of things to do during the lighter, brighter months. I like to think of this as taking myself out on dates!

 

  • Spend time out in nature. Being outdoors is so good for the soul and summer solstice can be the perfect time to get outside, whether that’s for a walk, meditation, Yoga practice, exercise or whatever else it is you may like to do outside.

 

  • For Yoga practice, sun salutations are perfect as they honour the sun and also are an energising sequence that builds heat and energy in the body. For my Yoga practice at this time of year I also like to focus on the Manipura Chakra (Solar Plexus Chakra) which is our inner power source associated with willpower, determination, a sense of purpose and inner strength. It’s like our own sunshine inside! So to connect to this chakra I do strong postures like plank, warrior 1, 2 & 3, goddess stance, boat pose and core strengthening excercises/sequences. Kapalbhati is a great one to do for pranayama practice.

 

Of course, there are so many other things that you can do but there are some starting ideas of ways to honour the summer solstice and connect to Nature’s cycles. Let me know if you have anything in particular you like to do at this time of year, I’d love to hear about it! I wish you all a very happy summer solstice. Namaste.

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Photographs taken outside the temple in Gokarna, India by Hogg Photography.  

New Early Morning Class!

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Join me on the mat for a mid week uplifting morning Yoga flow. This is a great way to start the day and make the most of the lighter summer mornings! This Vinyasa flow class develops strength, flexibility and balance whilst helping to calm the mind. Suitable for all levels and all equipment provided.

£7 or £5 for concessions
or £20 for 4 week block bookings

Shanti Bee is a short walk from Byker and Chilli Road metro stations and is located in Heaton. Any questions get in touch!

A Yogini’s Guide to Taking Care of The Planet and Yourself with Every Period

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Me, my menstrual cup and organic cotton pads!

Yoga is all about union and oneness so it goes without saying that part of Yoga is taking care of the planet and all living things on it. We all know that we are facing a huge ecological crisis and that humanity’s presence on Earth has become dangerously destructive. There are so many ways in which humans negatively impact the environment, but the one I am going to focus on today is the problem of waste disposal and how small everyday (or in this particular case every month!) choices can help to live a more sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle in line with Yoga philosophy.

Landfill sites are overfilling with our waste which releases methane gas contributing to the greenhouse effect. Incinerating waste produces toxic substances and air pollution. Years back, when trying to think about ways in which I personally contributed to the problem of waste, I realised that every month I was throwing away a lot of waste from feminine hygiene products. Some sanitary pads can contain the equivalent of around 4 plastic bags. The Ocean Conservancy volunteers collected 27,938 used tampons and applicators on our world’s beaches in a day (International Coastal Cleanup, 2013).

So I decided to try the menstrual cup instead and organic cotton pads. I have also since heard of thinx pants which are underwear that absorbs your period that you can reuse. Menstrual cups are a re-usable device used to collect menstrual blood during a period. It’s inserted into the vagina and then emptied and rinsed out every 4 to 8 hours. It is hypoallergenic and contains no toxins or bleaches unlike most leading brands of tampons and pads which are made with harmful bleaches and chemicals. Tampons come with the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome as well as increasing the chances of thrush, due to absorbing important natural fluids which are needed to keep the vagina’s flora healthy. In terms of practicing the Yoga Yama Ahimsa (non-harming, non-violence) we can have a period that is less harmful to both the planet and our own bodies.

Menstrual cups are revolutionary because they are both safer and healthier for women / people with periods and the planet. On average, a woman will use over 11, 000 disposable sanitary products in her lifetime, waste that the planet has to deal with. The cup lasts for years, meaning you can save a considerable amount of money, making a single investment in a sustainable product.

I also use Natracare organic panty liners as a double protection against leaks. Natracare makes totally chlorine-free, plastic-free products with GMO-free plant derived materials from sustainable and renewable resources that are biodegradable and compostable. Even better would be to use reusable pads or pants. There are lots of different choices of menstrual cup now since the Mooncup was created in 2002 as the first reusable silicone menstrual cup. I also wrote an article all about the menstrual cup and how it breaks us out of disposable consumer capitalism, challenges period shaming and empowers women across the globe. You can read it here on The Huffington Post.

As well as making the choice to look after the planet every period I also take it as a time in the month to take extra special care of myself. I have drawn below a set of Yoga postures that I do on the first couple of days of my period when I’m especially low on energy and have painful cramps.

These yoga poses help calm the mind, relieve pain & discomfort associated with menstrual cramps and relax the whole body. Menstruation can present the perfect opportunity to slow down, honour the body and take extra good care of ourselves. I like to feel supported by using bolsters, cushions and blankets when practicing restorative yoga postures during my period. This time of the cycle can be associated with letting go, turning inwards and connecting to our intuition. It is indeed, a sacred time worth honouring. Or if all that’s not really your thing then physically these yoga postures can really help relieve the pain of cramps, I promise!

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Illustration by Jasmine Sara Whitley Irving