Cow Face Pose – Gomukhasana

Gomukhasana Leg ExerciseThis elegant pose massages and tones all the major joints in the body – Hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows and wrists. The upper arms, shoulders and the side of the torso gain excellent stretches as do the outer upper thighs.

If needed you can sit up on a Yoga Brick to gain some extra space and further use a Yoga strap if you un-able to reach the finger grip at the back.

Most likely for many folks the final pose may not be feasible. So we can break up into components and train stretching exercises, gradually working towards the posture.

Gomukhasana Variation Gomukhasana Variation 2

 

Never force the joints of the body as you can cause damage. Rather train regularly with patience and try to understand experientially in the body the way we can harness and regulate the flow of energy via our mind and controlled breathing. Use this knowledge to deepen and extend the body paying attention to correct alignment.

The hips and shoulders should be level and avoid arching the lower back (Lumbar spine)So check you are drawing the outer shoulders (Deltoids) back without compacting the area either side of the spine between the shoulder blades (Trapezius) Keep lateral space here. Always repeat with the arms and legs alternated. Hold for 30 secs to a minute with controlled, quiet and connected breathing. Concentrate into the stretches and your feeling awareness in the body.

Vatta – ↓ Kappha – ↓ Pitta – ↓

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Wide Angle Standing Forward Bend – Prasarita Paddotanasana

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This great posture is another ‘bread and butter’ pose that needs to be in every beginner’s repertoire. Classified essentially as an inversion, most folks can with practice achieve the pose. The Asana fully develops the hamstrings and abductor muscles and as with all inversions circulates venous blood to the head and trunk. Pelvic rotation is vital as in all forward bends and we can only gain this ability by increasing flexibility in the legs and mobility in the hips – both of which are exercised in the pose. Including the variations in your practice will assist with increasing flexibility in the arms, shoulders and wrists. As a standing posture the Asana also develops stamina and general body strength when practiced regularly and as part of a broader variety of postures.

In the pose the legs really are key, and need to be engaged to the maximum. As always the front thigh muscle group (Quads) need to be firmly contracted throughout the hold and the back thigh muscle group extend passively (hamstrings). To deeply engage the legs we need to spread out the toes and lift the inner arches of the feet, gripping the big toe and its mound firmly onto the mat. Keep weight back into the heels and the hips back-thrusting as we initially extend the chest and arms forwards. Once maximum extension is attained, lower the head to the mat and proceed with the variations shown, holding each one about 30 secs. When completed jump the feet back together or into a cross leg seated position.

Enjoy. Vatta ↓ Kappha ↓ Pitta ↓

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Shoulder Lifting Exercise for Sirsasana

Forearm liftOnce again with this excellent strengthening exercise and preparation for Head Balance, I have noticed that out there in the great sprawling world of Yoga, specifically Asana style yoga, this simple ‘exercise’ has suddenly acquired the status of a Yoga Asana and ecven been given a fancy name – English and Sanskrit to boot. Never mind, as mentioned elsewhere on this Blog, one enthusiastic soul has come up over 950 ‘Yoga Asanas’! What ever happened to the original 84 of the ancient texts :-)

Clasping the fingers firmly with the wrists pressing down, lift up as if moving into a Downward Facing Dog with the head up off the mat.  Lift the shoulders and trunk strongly upwards into the sitting bones (Femur Heads) and press the armpits towards the legs while keeping the whole shoulder level broad.

Easy Forearm lift VariationThe leg action is important with a powerful contraction of the front thighs and a lengthening of the back thighs, again as for Down Dog. The legs should feel as if they are ‘pulling’ the upper body back towards them.

Develop the lift to be able to hold for two minutes at a time.

Some variations are shown that further develop the body.

Eventually you can place the crown of the head between the cup of the hands and press firmly into the mat while lifting the shoulders. Now practice elevating the legs just off the mat a few times but without actually going up further into a Head balance. This is an excellent preparation exercise.

Forearm Lift VariationPractice regularly to develop strength and technique.

Since this is a partial inversion, many of the benefits of full inversion are naturally gained, such as reversal of gravity action on the body, refreshing redistribution of venous blood ij the body, balancing of endocrine and other glands, balance and proprioception and more.

Enjoy

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Supta Virasana – Supine Heroes Posture

This is the supine version of the upright seated ‘Virasana’ – Heroes pose.

Supta VirasanaThe posture is great for improving alignment and maintaining flexibility in the legs, specifically the all-important front thighs (Quadriceps group). Postural adjustment transfers up through the rest of the body and improves our entire upper body alignment – waist, shoulder girdle and chest. The neck benefits from better spinal adjustment and is generally freed from restriction.

Few folks will be able to sit with the buttock bones (Heads of Femurs) on the floor between the ankles without fairly extensive training. Never force the knees and be sure to keep the patella centred (Kneecap) Train initially up on a Yoga Brick and then over time work lower. Include lots of stretching in weekly sessions and also work on the tops of the feet keeping each foot straight.

In the full supine version it is most important to maintain correct space around the sacrum at the tail-bone region of the spine. The extension of the upper leg muscle groups should be sufficient to allow a full pelvic rotation and this in turn should enable us to spread and lengthen the lower back (Lumbar Spine) check when performing the pose that the large buttock muscles are not tense, but soft and broad. (Gluteus Maximus)

Chest is a little raised with the shoulder blades (Scapulae) placed flat and broad.

Hold initially for 30 secs and gradually build up the timing to a few minutes.

The pose has an excellent calming action and is a good preparation for back bending postures.

Vatta ↓ Kappha ↓Pitta ↓

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Advanced Sacred Spiral Relaxation

Preliminaries

Sunset in the Cradle of HumankindIn this technique we will aim to move from normal waking consciousness into a state of deep relaxation where the nervous system and analytical mind is gradually released and becomes dormant.

Avoid intake of artificial chemicals and foods containing strong stimulants such as caffeine, sugar, salt and so on – obviously they will not help much. As this is a Yoga practice, strong relaxants such as alcohol or prescription tranquilizers should also be avoided – we are aiming for voluntary control of our physical system.

The best time to practice this relaxation is between 2 and 5 AM. Make sure you have had at least 4 to 5 hours of sleep already. The best strategy is to wake up, get up and make a small cup of refreshing and calming herbal tea. I find South African Rooibos or Honeybush excellent. Chamomile tea is also a great natural, herbal quietner that is good for our bodies.  Sit quietly and sip the tea slowly with a sense of meditative contemplation. Avoid falling into thought about anything at all. Keep the mind and feelings blank and neutral.

One of the biggest hindrances to proper relaxation is our mind. We could be relaxing quite nicely and then just the wrong kind of stray thought coming into our heads can ruin the whole thing and we find we are all keyed up again. So basically the main ways approaching this issue are to practice regularly – both formal Meditation and Relaxation, and then work on developing a great relationship with ourselves. W\Many folks are their own worst enemies as the saying goes, and need to change this. I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of the contents of our famous ‘monkey mind’ arise from our views of the world. So a a great practice to do regularly is to gently put aside all views. This implies we become ‘empty’ in a sense of judgements and beliefs, both towards ourselves and towards others. This really does help when we come to the meditation seat or relaxation mat.

Now prepare for a standard Savasana session allowing at least 45 minutes. I am assuming here we all practice Savasana regularly, and so are familiar with this technique. If not, please refer to our Relaxation ‘Initial’ Guided Audio. Make sure you are comfortable and warm. You may find it difficult at first not to just fall back asleep, but perseverance will overcome this.

Lie down, placing the body in a relaxed manner and spend a short time simply being in the moment in your body, right here right now with no overt agendas in your mind. If you feel it may be helpful, gently stretch your limbs for a few moments. A simple stretching and tensing of each limb, your trunk, shoulders and neck should be sufficient. Avoid stimulating the body too much so keep it very short, simple and light.

If it helps you, you can do a breathing section to help calm the body. Keep this on the short side and remember our breathing needs to become ever-more gentle and subtle, so aim for as natural and quiet a breath pattern as possible.

Keep your mind field and feelings simple and neutral. This may be difficult in the beginning but simply staying focused in the moment as it passes with a light and gentle awareness will help a lot. An on-going and well-established Meditation Practice improves our efforts enormously.  Also, a gentle inner smile is very helpful. Catch just the feeling of the smile and spread this feeling into your body and soul.

Section 1 – first stage induction

Now place your attention lightly onto your left shoulder. Hold this focus just a few moments and then move to the left elbow again just a few moments and then move on to the wrist. Keep the same short focus span and move to right shoulder, elbow and wrist. Now focus on the centre chest and check your gentle smile.

As we let go and relax, smile and move attention gently, feel a sense of easy enjoyment in the process. We need to see the practice as a valuable technique that we are using to become more familiar with our own states of consciousness and as a spiritual tool we are using to develop ourselves.

As you focus lightly on the centre chest, say a short, silent affirmation to your-self. “I am perfectly relaxed therefore my body is perfectly relaxed” Just for a moment allow the feeling of this statement to spread through your soul being – our feelings and sense of our-self non-physically, and through your body.

Move on now placing your attention on your left thumb, then index finger, middle, ring, small fingers and then the palm. Now breathe very softly and gently from your palm up through your arm to the shoulder and then back down again to the palm. Do this twice.

Repeat this whole strategy with the right arm.

Move attention back to the centre chest and dwell here a moment checking your smile and also check the level of release of the nervous system. If the body still feels at all ‘keyed up’ the nervous system is still engaged. In reality the nerves release gradually, so we experience a sense of ‘levels’ of relaxation. This could be seen as a range from tense to comfortable and mildly relaxed and then moving on to deeper relaxation and finally the ‘body asleep, consciousness alert state’ which is where we are aiming.

Now do each leg exactly the same way as you did the arms, obviously focusing on the toes and the sole of the foot instead of the fingers and palms.

Return after completing the leg circuits to the centre chest.

One more affirmation can now be silently stated, slowly and deliberately – “I exist within the field of all potential therefore I actualise this silence here and now” Silence here is encompasses our bodies, our emotions and feelings and our thoughts. Further and most importantly, this silence encompasses a peace and equanimity beyond our daily struggles and joys, issues and fears, all our views of the world, beliefs and in short, our entire psychological palette.

Check in

This point is a good time to check in how your relaxation is progressing. Once the nervous system is properly released, a sense of heaviness quickly spreads over the physical body and we rapidly lose the feeling of the body. There comes a sense that the boundaries and solidity of the body is dissolving.

If this is not happening, continue with the next section. If this is occurring either proceed to the ‘depth of the heart’ section or the ‘inhabiting the second body’ section.

Section 2 – Second stage induction

The body may be partially relaxed at this stage and you may benefit from extra techniques.

Continue the inner smile practice in a gentle way, almost as a sense of background for your consciousness. Remember we are looking to move towards greater inner stillness. So our inner work should aim to become ever-more gentle and even a bit vague. Another way of saying this is that we become lighter in our engagement.

We can now introduce simple colour visualisation. Begin by sensing the entire body feet to head and open your visual sense to colour. Now do a fairly superficial run through of the colours in the sections of the body – base of spine/perineum is Red, lower abdomen is Orange, solar plexus is Yellow, chest is Green, Throat area is Blue, centre head is Purple and forehead and the crown area is deep Violet. One or more of these colours may appear brighter than others. Focus for a while on the brighter colours and engage their stronger vibrations then move to the less bright shades but without trying to overly change them. Just keep noticing them gently, either singly or in groups. Avoid thought or feeling, maintaining a neutral inner frame-set. Work with this colour practice for a while and try to be ever-more gentle with the engagement.

Once you sense the boundaries of the physical body becoming less well defined, actively encourage this sensation by gently picking the feeling up with your awareness. Use the imaginative faculty to expand this feeling, always gentle, casual and slow.

Head techniques

Often at this point we seem to almost lose our sense of the body, and all that remains is our ‘head’. The head and face can be quite stubbornly resistive to our efforts.

If this is the case a technique I have found helpful is as follows: once again using your feeling awareness, circle about the head a few times, slowly, moving anti-clockwise. This seems to once again help to break down our habitual impressions. If the strategy works well you can incorporate it into the other sections of the practice. The slow movement may also be useful when working with our limbs or trunk. Try to move slower and slower, eventually coming to rest at a slight angle to your normal centre front level of focus. Holding our attention to either side or angled can also be useful, especially if we can succeed in losing our original point of reference (to the centre front).

It is always the rational or analytical part of our perception that seems to demand supreme dominance of our consciousness. Know that whatever technique we choose to use we always have to be gradually moving away from this left brain mind frame. Letting it go without falling asleep is the eventual goal.

Depth of the heart

If you have been successful to this point, the body will probably be now ready to slip into a true sleeping state. Provided all your points of normal reference (body, thoughts, feelings etc) are now dormant we will effectively have arrived at ‘Yoga Nidra” the sleep of the yogis – body asleep, mind awake.

From this level we can now centre our awareness very gently into our Heart Cakra. Since you will probably have lost sense of where your chest is, use the feeling of this centre of energy and possibly a very gentle visualisation of deep emerald green. Regular Cakra meditation helps greatly to be in touch with the various levels of our electro-magnetic being. (See Sacred Spiral Cakra meditation)

Dwell with your consciousness in the depth of this energy centre for a while. Experience the condition of total inner silence on all levels including our physical body. After some time, slowly and carefully return to your physical body.

Initially quite a degree of apprehension or downright fear may be present. This feeling usually drives us immediately back into our familiar references of the body, mind and feelings. Look out for this tendency and you will have to actively oppose it with a gentle level of intent until the issue is overcome.

Traditionally the ‘Yoga Nidra’ state of awareness is used to examine with completely detached impartiality, the roots of our individual Samskaras, which become apparent in this state. Complete detachment is absolutely necessary otherwise we will be emotionally moved and our Yoga Nidra will be lost.

Second Body

Sometime before the body actually falls asleep, usually when we are still in contact with the feeling of our limbs, we have the opportunity to develop awareness of our second body, sometimes called the Etheric Template. Breathing through the limbs as described above is a very helpful practice since it seems to awaken the subtle energy of the arm or leg you are working with. You can do this anytime you have a moment and are feeling relaxed. Even a few minutes at a time is helpful.

After breathing through a limb a few times focus your awareness on an area just outside of the actual physical limb – just above or to the side. Look for a feeling similar to the one you felt when breathing and concentrating on the ‘real’ limb. If you can pick this up, move the ‘second limb’ as if it were the actual physical digit. With practice we can gain quite a high level of ability with this seemingly phantom body, increasing awareness until we can sense the entire Etheric Body.

Yoga and Tai Chi practitioners can now perform Asanas or Forms with the physical body in a state of deep relaxation.

Once Yoga Nidra is attained the typical sensations of so-called astral travel or out-of-body state can be accessed. A sense of ‘floating’ or ‘rolling out’ of the normal body is often experienced.

This is not a dream state at all since we are in lucid control of our perception. A ‘lucid’ dream, if genuinely lucid, would probably amount to the same thing – the habitation of our second body.

Return to normal consciousness

Return to the normal physical sense will probably happen naturally after a suitable time duration has occured. Conscious return is always an option and should be cultivated.

As with any deep relaxation, our manner of return is important. Avoid sudden or jerky return to normal waking consciousness. First awareness of our breath can be very helpful. The breath will probably be extremely soft and quiet. Notice this gentle flow in and out for a good while before gently exploring into your limbs and energising them with simple stretching. Taking some time to return is a good thing and also giving a moment to acknowledge your-self on all levels – mental, physical and emotional, spiritual and material.

Let all links be made with love and care.

Namaste

 

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Pale Jackal

pale jackalOut here living in the Cradle of Humankind is such a privilege! Most days I take a walk in the early evenings, often with my friend and partner. Population density is low with the area comprising mainly large farms and also considerable areas of relatively un-spoilt natural land – grasslands over shallow rolling hills.

Seldom does a day goes by when we do not hear and even see occasionally, wild Jackal that live in the hills. Naturally there are wild rabbits too in this perfectly natural but perhaps a tad uncomfortable for some, symbiosis. The call of the Jackal is one of the most hauntingly beautiful animal sounds I have ever heard other than perhaps a Wolf (which I have not been so lucky to hear outside of the movies) They usually come out early evening and we have a favourite spot where we sit and watch the magnificent sunsets and have at times seen the Jackals playing, chasing each other about silently, when all of a sudden one will sit down and start to call, the pitch ever rising. Within moments answering calls spring up all over the place, some far, some near. We always wonder so what they are saying to each other.

My hope as a person endeavouring to follow a spiritual path is that somehow a call always goes out from deep within our souls, perhaps when we are practicing, perhaps just by merit of what we are trying to embody. Is there an answer out there? I believe there is and a resonance is established by like-minded folks with like-minded intentions.

Currently, less and less available habitat is available for our wild animals to live on. Here is a call to everyone – let’s all work together to ensure the growth and development of a spiritual habitat for us humans, our offspring and there’s too. It is my ardent desire that there world will be more balanced and have a place for the wild creatures to live more freely, and for Humans too to live in greater spiritual harmony and peace.

The little chap in the graphic we encountered one day out on a walk. I promptly wrote a song for him called the ‘Pale Jackal’ :-)

Namaste

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Yoga Asanas for Spinal Curvature

Over the years I have on various occasions had folks coming to me with the somewhat awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful condition of spinal curvature. In fact one of my very first students had quite a severe back issue.

The three most common problems that one comes across are – Scoliosis (S curving or C curving, usually dominant on one side as one looks directly at the spine from the rear) Lordosis (inward curvature or ‘swayback’) and Kyphosis (outward protrusion of the spine – hunchback).

Believe it or not I once had a student who had two extra vertebrae in her spine and this resulted in her back exhibiting all three of these common spine problems. Thankfully this is an un-common condition and most folks that have curvatures of some kind do not have any extra vertebrae.

Generally one has to proceed with considerable caution if using Yoga Asana and Yoga based exercises to try and help.

The first thing we do is make sure our student is fully aware that we are not medical or specialist back therapists. So the material we offer is purely in the form of exercise suggestions that may or may not aid the person. I would strongly recommend the instructor and student work in conjunction with a professional back care specialist such as a Chiropractor, Physiotherapist etc. At the very least consultation with a professional at least once at the outset of training is necessary to get an opinion on the severity of the problem and the suitability of the proposed exercises.

I have personally found a high degree of benefit has been gained by students provided regular practice is undertaken and the guys make an effort to understand the principles we are trying to leverage.

The two main ideas I work with are to help create ‘space’ in the back since this logically alleviates compaction, and secondly to improve muscle tone to firm and support the back in a holistic way, meaning the body is inter-connected and we need to understand the bigger picture of body alignment – at least as a working back-drop to going forwards with an exercise program.

Often what happens with injuries and issues like scoliosis, is that the musculature of the body surrounding the problem tends to seize up and may even become quite rock-hard, the body probably does this to ‘shore-up’ or protect the damaged area.

We need to respect this natural tendency of the body’s intelligence and try to work in tandem and not against the body. This may mean that indiscriminate stretching is inappropriate. Stretching should be done in such a way that the person feels greater mobility without feeling compromised that the area is weakened. So healthy strengthening action is essential in tandem with any mobilising efforts.

All Asanas that lengthen the trunk are beneficial. Most folks do not really grasp the issue that we need to develop ‘space’ in the body in an evenly distributed fashion. This boils down to taking care of correct alignment when working. Balance is vital and avoiding over or under extension.

Space should always be created with an awareness of vertical, horizontal and circumferential extension. Furthermore, a high degree of understaning is needed that the musculature and joints need to be ‘intergrated’. This basically means we avoid over extending in one direction only. Every outward extension always has a counter balancing ‘anchoring’ action. A good example of this is when we stretch out an arm, there is a bi-furcation at the elbow joint. From this joint we are anchoring the upper arm powerfully back into the shoulder socket and simultaneously extending out from this same joint into the hand and fingers. So equilibrium is created within the bodies energy and physiological system.

Most types of twisting Asana’s are useful. The leg and hip-work is essential in order to develop correct posture from the base upwards. Shoulder and arm work is also useful. In the case of Kyphosis, chest openers and later back-bending’s can be most beneficial.

Patience and good communication must be cultivated. There are no quick fixes here and dedicated work is needed on both the students and teachers parts in order to bring relief.

Asanas and exercises

There is a veritable multitude of possible movements, stretches, strengthening actions and so on that could be used. Each individual case is unique and will require unique attention.

Realistically most folks will probably be quite limited in the range of motion and ability in what they can do with their body. Additionally, many people have poor body awareness and this further compounds the problem.

I have given a few general movements and stretches that may be of use to teachers or interested folks.

It has perennially been my view and approach that many of the traditional Asanas are in fact quite difficult for most of us to perform even remotely acceptably as students of Yoga never mind as therapy. This is probably the main reason I have developed so many side-line exercises and mobilisations that are designed to take the body towards the correct performance of Yoga posture, hopefully gaining benefit along the way from extension, strength, mobilisation, energy enhancement and better body understanding.

Please feel free to comment or contact me if you have questions and i will try to give some comments back.

Namaste

Back Mobiliser rear Back mobiliser forward Chair twist 1 Chair twist 2 Chest opener arm and shoulder Lateral right angle Cross leg forward bend ? Chest opener supported arms extended Chest opener supported Chest opener centre back Leg stretching Lower back diagonal stretching Lower back opener Side body opener - intercostals Triangle Yoga bricks for aiding back stretching

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