St Non’s Retreat 9–11 March 2018

Kriyā Yoga: Transforming Ourselves Through Practice

A weekend retreat offers the opportunity to deepen your yoga practice and to step outside your normal routine. St Non’s is perched on the cliffs near St David’s in Pembrokeshire looking out across St Bride’s Bay and it has its own rhythm and a quality of timelessness far away from the rush and hurly-burly of life.

During the retreat we will explore the theme of Kriya Yoga – the Yoga of Action- and ways we can incorporate these ideas and practices to bring integration and transformation to our own lives. There will be yoga practices, pranayama, chanting, meditation and a deeply relaxing, evening yoga nidra session. There will also be time on the Saturday afternoon for a walk into St David’s or to explore the coast path or to simply relax!

Accommodation is in the retreat centre which is run by Sisters Anna and Bridget and there is delicious, freshly prepared vegetarian food. There are 5 twin and 5 single rooms.

The total cost for the weekend is: £280 per person for a single room or £265 per person for a twin room. This includes full board from Friday evening until after lunch on Sunday. Arrivals from 4.00pm on Friday afternoon and departures on Sunday afternoon.

The retreat is now full, but please email me if you would like to be included on the waiting list in case of cancellations.

 

Kapha Time

Winter is Kapha Time – How to stay well?

According to Ayurveda, the science of health and longevity that sits alongside yoga in the Indian tradition, this season is the time of kapha – the element which predominates in the cold and damp of winter. Ayurveda states that we all have a unique constitution – a balance of the elements (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), that was set down at the moment of our conception and which affects how we are built physically as well as how we think and respond. Then as we live our lives, the moment by moment choices we make will affect the balance of our constitution – what we eat, how much we eat, how much and what kind of exercise we take, how long we sit every day, how late we stay up/sleep in – all these factors together with our age, the climate and particular season will affect this balance. In Ayurvedic terms, we are healthy when we manage to maintain the unique balance of elements that we were born with and ill health comes about when we stray from that balance.

Another good image for kapha is a flowing river which gradually begins to slow as it freezes.

Kapha is a combination of the elements of water and earth and at this time of year when the weather tends to be cold and wet, its effects can build up in our system and we may begin to experience symptoms. A good image for kapha is mud with its slimy, heavy, cold and damp qualities or a flowing river which gradually begins to slow as it freezes. The feeling of kapha is the same as after a long lie-in when you feel slightly thick-headed and sluggish for the rest of the day.

The main site of kapha in the body is the stomach where mucous is produced. If kapha begins to get out of balance, first the metabolism and digestion slow down, then mucous problems develop in the chest, throat or sinuses and also in the lymph where fat can accumulate and ultimately weight is gained. Typical problems are Seasonal Affective Disorder or depression, colds, flu, allergies, asthma attacks, fluid retention and, later in the spring, hay fever.

So during winter and early spring it’s important to be aware of changes, particularly if you already have a high level of kapha in your constitution. It’s good to avoid getting cold, eating food that is too heavy, fried or oily or eating heavy meals after 7pm. Too much dairy and wheat, ice cold food or drinks, too much sugar and salty food will all encourage kapha to build up in the system. Sitting down all day, sleeping late in the morning or taking naps will all increase kapha.

Recently I taught a workshop at the Narberth Natural Health Centre focussing on kapha and how we can keep it balanced over this winter season. We did yoga practices which were both energetic and dynamic. We focussed on postures that opened the chest as this is where kapha accumulates. The aim was to leave us feeling warm and energised as well as invigorated. We also worked with sequences to keep the mind and the senses engaged as this helps to dissipate the dull and lethargic tendencies of kapha.

We also discussed various therapeutic tips to stay well at this time of year. It’s good to include plenty of warming spices into your cooking such as ginger, turmeric, cumin, black pepper and garlic. Lots of fresh, organic vegetables, pulses and drying grains such as millet, buckwheat, barley and rice are also good. Warming soups and stews are best eaten at lunch time and it’s best to have dinner before 7pm to aid digestion. Plenty of exercise during the winter is important to really warm the body – before 10am if possible – a dynamic yoga practice or a 30-minute brisk walk tick this box. Meditating for 10 minutes a day also helps to keep the senses sharp and helps prevent a slide into lethargy.

The key is awareness as changes happen gradually. If you start to feel a bit dull and heavy in the winter or notice mucous building up, then you can take steps to redress this increase of kapha and return to a feeling of health, energy and vitality. An understanding of Ayurveda and our own unique constitution as well as the potential effects of the changing seasons, enables us to make simple lifestyle adjustments to help restore our equilibrium and sense of wellbeing.

Some feedback from the workshop:

“Really enjoyed this winter session – warming and calming”.

“An interesting practise, lots of useful advice for the winter. I enjoyed it!”.

“The perfect balance of yoga and factual information. Lots to chew over. Great snacks too”.

“It was really interesting to learn about the three doshas and what influence they have in our lives and how to balance and look out for things. Really enjoyable thank you. Felt much better leaving the class than when I started”.

‘Texting neck’

Recently I drove past someone who was sitting on a bench texting on their phone. Their back was so rounded that their head was very close to their knees and their drooping head reminded me of the bluebells that were in flower at the time.

This is a common posture when using a mobile phone – the head hangs forward and down and doing this for many hours causes repetitive stress for the neck as it has to support the whole weight of the head – a job it isn’t designed to do. Heads are really heavy – an average human head weighs between 4.5-5kg. If you’ve never felt how heavy they are – get someone to lie down and then gently pick up their head from the floor. The weight of the head often comes as a surprise.

Our head should be supported by the neck in a neutral position where the head is not too far forward. These days, neck problems and degeneration of the spine are becoming increasingly common in young adults and teenagers who show structural changes in the spine that you would only expect to see in much older people. Texting or spending long hours sitting at a badly positioned computer where the weight of the head pulls forward cause stress to the muscles and ligaments that support the neck vertebrae, which can ultimately lead to inflammation and soreness. If the head pulls forward, the shoulders tend to come forward as well and the upper back rounds which can lead to shoulder pain and tightness.

When I work with yoga students, I assess whether or not they carry their head in a neutral position. Our spine forms the central axis of the body and when the head is in a neutral position it is given support by the pelvis and it can then rest on top of the spine, supported but not carried by the muscles of the neck. The spine has natural curvatures and these are vital to maintain its structure. As people age, the upper back and shoulders often become more rounded and then the head has to be lifted to look forward, exaggerating the natural curve of the neck. This causes compression through an area which can lead to headaches and arm pain. When the structure and natural curves of the upper spine are lost, the lower back is not well supported and it thus becomes more prone to injury.

Yoga texts stress how vital it is to maintain the upright structure of the spine so that all the systems of the body can function well. Practicing yoga makes you more aware of your posture in daily life and helps to gradually correct bad postural habits such as holding the head too far forward.

The next time you are texting, driving or working at a computer, take a moment to notice where your head is and see if it is tilted forward. If it is, then the neck muscles, ligaments and tendons are all working overtime to hold it up. Screens should be at eye level so that you don’t have to bend the head forward or look down. If you already have a tendency to do this, then yoga can help to unravel this and make you more aware of maintaining a good posture throughout your day, teaching you to hold the head in an effortless, neutral position while strengthening the spine and helping to maintain its natural curves.

Time for kitcheri

After all the lovely Indian summer weather over the last few weeks, it felt as though autumn arrived with a bang a few days ago and the wind and rain really brought home the fact that we are already in October. Today was back to sun again and I ate my lunch out on the cliffs in warm sunshine. The changeable weather has prompted me to begin to adjust my diet by including more warm food and spices to help my body prepare for the cooler weather conditions that are ahead.

It’s a great excuse to start having kitcheri for lunch again as it’s one of my favourites. Kitcheri is a one-pot dish that is really easy to prepare and there are lots of variations of the recipe. Ayurveda advocates kitcheri to cleanse the system and it’s seen as a balancing dish which is easy to digest. I tend to use whatever vegetables are in season and I sometimes make enough for lunch and then finish it off as a side portion with dinner. Ayurveda says that food should be eaten when it’s fresh so if you want to keep it longer, it’s best to freeze it.

Here’s my October version:
2 cups of basmati rice (I used brown but white is easier to digest)
1 cup of mung dal

Wash the rice and dal well (the dal can be soaked for a few hours but this isn’t essential)
Melt coconut oil or ghee in a large saucepan and then add:
2 cms of fresh ginger chopped finely
1 heaped tsp turmeric
1heaped tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds

Stir well to prevent the spices burning and cook for a few minutes until they begin to release their aroma. (You can adjust the amount of spices according to taste.)

Then add the washed rice and dal and stir again for a few minutes to coat with oil and spices.

Add 6 cups of boiling water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cover.

Then you can add any vegetables according to how long they need to cook. For this version I added 2 chopped carrots just after the rice, then a sweet potato, a chopped leek and just before the rice was ready, 2 large handfuls of kale.

When the rice and dal are cooked and all the water has been absorbed, add sea salt to taste.

It’s delicious served with some fresh coriander.

Time for a change?

As we move into autumn and the change of the seasons, the theme of my next yoga workshop is “Ayurveda and How to Stay Well”. Ayurveda is a system of healing with a tradition stretching back more than 5,000 years and its main aim is to enable us to live and remain in a healthy state. Ayurveda asks us to take responsibility for our own health and it enables us to take simple actions to help us stay well.

In the workshop we will explore how and why we go out of balance, the idea of ama or toxicity and what we can do through yoga and lifestyle adjustments to restore our equilibrium if it has been lost.

The workshop will take place on Saturday 26 September from 10am to 1pm at Redhill School, Haverfordwest.

Working the spine

I saw these foxgloves gently swaying in the wind whilst on a walk this summer. They were past their best, the flowers had started to fall and the stem was beginning to dry out. Their silhouette reminded me of the shape of bony spines and it made me think about the way our spines change through our lives.

The word spine comes to us via the Old French espine from the Latin spina meaning thorn or backbone. The spine is a vital part of our structure as it holds up all the upper body, the head, neck, arms, chest and abdomen. It is also involved in walking as the pelvis tilts, causing the spine to bend to the side. Flexibility, strength and correct alignment of the spine are all important in maintaining the structure of the rest of the body and facilitating ease of movement.

The spinal discs don’t have a blood supply of their own, but are part of a self-contained fluid system. They are hydrated by diffusion from surrounding tissues and this occurs when they move. The best way to keep the spine healthy is to keep the discs moving through a range of movements on a daily basis. These movements actually nourish the disc joint.

As we age, the spine is affected by gravity and a decline in muscle strength and tone. These effects increase all the curvatures of the spine which in turn affects the circulation of blood and energy in the body. There is an overall drying and stiffening of the body – the process that was visibly starting to affect the foxgloves.

This process isn’t inevitable however and yoga texts talk about nurturing a feeling of lightness in the body and fostering the body’s ability to withstand change. Yoga postures were developed to help the body remain balanced through the different stages of life and they help to maintain the uprightness of the spine. Yoga can help to sustain the spine’s strength and flexibility and directly works against the effects of ageing, bringing benefits to the circulation, digestion and respiration.

I teach a method of yoga which links our awareness to the spine through the use of the breath. We strengthen the core muscles and learn to work with posture in a way which can be carried through into daily life, not just in a yoga class or one-to-one session. This tradition stresses the importance of influencing the spine and this sometimes comes as a surprise when people who have practiced yoga for years, realize that they haven’t really been doing that at all.

The aim of working in this way is to prevent the deterioration of the spine by supporting it with a strong core and keeping the discs well-nourished and mobile. Maintaining the spine in good working order is central to good posture and standing tall and it also affects how energetic and well you feel. Good motivation to get the yoga mat out!

Yoga retreats at The Grove

Exciting to see my yoga retreats at The Grove, Narberth, advertised in a recent issue of Woman & Home magazine. The Grove is such a beautiful setting, I’m really looking forward to working in their stunning space overlooking the garden. The first two retreats are planned for 6-7 September 2015 and 10-11 January 2016. Contact me or The Grove for more details.

What happens when you practise yoga?

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching yoga is seeing how students transform with regular practice. Someone may start with poor posture, stiff shoulders, or a rounded upper back but gradually they stand straighter and visibly have more freedom of movement. How quickly this happens usually depends on the amount of time invested in practising! Sometimes the transformation can be so radical and beyond what I could have imagined would be possible that I kick myself for not having taken before/after photos.

The changes can often come as a surprise to students as well. One of my students regularly reports that she has to readjust the rearview mirror in her car after a class as she has grown taller. People may start yoga because they want to do ‘something’, or they feel a need to be fitter or sometimes because an osteopath or acupuncturist as told them to. Then after a few months they find that yoga has crept up on them and they are hooked in a way they never expected. Another student has stated that her life seems to flow when she does her practice – everything just falls into place. Some people have started yoga to recover from an injury – a broken leg or frozen shoulder but then they find that they are sleeping better too and their digestion has improved and they feel calmer.

Using some of the postures and techniques learned in a class or one-to-one, yoga gradually becomes a part of daily life. This can be as simple as remembering to breathe properly or stopping what you’re doing and taking a few deliberate breaths if things start to get stressful. You develop a greater awareness of how the body feels – of standing well, an ability to use the spine and sit more upright at a desk. Yoga gives you the tools to use when you need them in life whether for the body or for the mind. It can be a challenge to establish a daily practice – sometimes it can take years but the doing becomes its own reward. Aim to get to a point that you don’t feel right without doing your practice – then you know you’ve really integrated yoga into your life. One translation of the Sanskrit “yoga” is “arriving at a place we have not been before” which suggests we have the potential to change. If you’re ready to change, then now is a good time to start.