YouTube channel – Yoga with Adriene

I found this YouTube channel via an article in The Guardian.  I decided to post it because of what the author wrote here:

I’ve always had a near-pathological embarrassment about exercising in public. I’m far from alone in this.

It’s interesting because I myself give yoga classes and yet have always been a solo practitioner of yoga.  I started off taking classes at the Sivananda Centre in London, but once I worked out what I needed to do, I just practiced by myself.

Nowadays, I keep it to myself as my practice is so deep that I regularly burst into tears (not weeping, nor sadness, but an energetic movement in my body), make rather strange noises in pranayâma (have you ever felt your pericardium tendon on a exhalation retention?  No?  Tell me about it when you do) or even collapse into savâsana halfway through my sequence. It all happens when you really do yoga, when you really get deep, and for me anyway, I prefer discretion and solitude.

For those of you just starting out, though, Yoga With Adriene might be the perfect solution.  If she, or I, can convince even a single person to roll out of bed and get on the mat, in that strange and sleepy twilight world that is the first hour of the morning, then we are doing our jobs.

Having said all that, don’t forget this:  the group energy is healing, positive, friendly, and so, so necessary in these times of isolation and loneliness. The key is to join a group, but with the aim of establishing a home practice!  Go on, you can do it!

Yog and all is coming,  the guru is within you.

Peace, R

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Cycling and Hatha Yoga – a match made in Mediterranean Heaven!

Cycling is big business on the Costa Blanca, and for some very good reasons.  Altea enjoys 330 days of sunshine per year.  Our roads, though admittedly rather narrow to allow for both peloton and motor vehicle, wind through mountainous landscapes, the glare sliced only by the purplish shadows of Mediterranean pine trees.  The air is incredibly pure, delicious to breathe, and the deep blue of the sea stretches out below, enticing tired bodies as they make their descent, whizzing downhill after a day of pedalling.  A healthier break one could not find.  No surprise, then, that five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Induraín lived for some years in Finestrat, just below the Puig Campana, and no doubt honed his thighs on these same roads.

Cyclists

You can’t miss them.  In the winter months, the roads around here are full of packs of brightly coloured cyclists whizzing around the mountain curves.  They can be a menace, it’s true, but I would rather the roads be full of bikes than lorries!

I rode a bike for years.  It was my main form of transportation until I was 34 years old, and even then I only bought a car when I moved to Spain and had a child.  I consider myself a lover of the pushbike, and an advocate of its use.  I regularly cycled 100+km/week, through winter and summer, up hill and down dale.

However, I will admit that years of cycling left me with unbalanced musculature that I only corrected through the assiduous practice of hatha yoga.

As with most cyclists, my leg and hip muscles were well developed, but unbalanced.  You may know that muscles work in pairs (agonist/antagonist), so any time there is too much tension or strength in one area, there will be another area compensating.  In cyclists, because of the forward flex, the hip flexors and gluteal group seek, but might not always find, balance. Lest we forget, the shoulder girdle is also given particularly rough trade on a bike due to the over-stretching of the rhomboids/latissimus dorsii/lower trapezius and simultaneous compression of the pectoralis major/abdominal/upper trapezius areas.  Let me sum up:  hunched over, head up.  Got me?

Yoga for Cyclists

The judicious use of certain yoga postures alongside controlled and conscious breathing can help to address these muscular and postural imbalances.

Straightening

I recommend the use of danda postures, that is, postures that are mainly symmetrical and whose aim is to straighten the spine.  These are “millimetric” postures.  What I mean is that we work a small range of motion but with great precision.  How do we do this?  Breathing, movement and mental focus.

Symmetry

Cycling is an asymmetrical activity – one leg up, one leg down.  To restore balance, we need to work with the pelvis, legs and feet aligned.  This can involved standing, sitting, or lying postures, but most beneficial is a combination of the three.

Earth Element

Cycling is, furthermore, an activity that is performed with the feet off the ground, and with a lot of wind passing over the body.  This can create energetic imbalance in the Wind or Air element.  The way to counteract this is by using postures that favour the Earth element, which help the cyclist to ground after a ride.  Attention on the feet, the rooting of the heels, the use of mûdra, certain types of pranayâma…these are all yogic techniques that can be applied in a healing context by a qualified and experienced yoga teacher.

Viniyoga for Cyclists

Viniyoga is almost unique in yoga lineages because it equips the teachers to design their own practices.  Unlike, say, Bikram or Astanga or Sivananda, in which the same sequences are done time and time again, Viniyoga sequences are highly personalised, and can be modified over time using the Vinyasa Krama method, or even, equally, on the fly, depending on who turns up to class. Viniyoga is an excellent system of yoga for athletic people, like cyclists on a cycling holiday.

So, if you are thinking about hitting the Costa Blanca with your bike, you could do a lot worse than popping in for a yoga class with me. Check out my schedule current as of 17 March 2018, but check back or subscribe because magic is afoot and I am on the verge of opening my own centre.

Peace, and happy day,

Rachel

 

 

How We Breathe: Mouthbreathing

Introduction

Mouth breathing is an all too common habit, and one that can be broken through yogic breathing techniques called pranayama.  In today’s post, I am going to talk about how mouth breathing can become habitual, the problems brought on my this bad habit and some ideas on how to correct mouth breathing.

The mouth-breathing habit

Mouth breathing is always an acquired habit as newborns are anatomically unable to breathe through their mouths.  This is why many a parent of a newborn with a stuffy noses sweats in fear as the baby struggles to breathe.

As the muscles of the neck and throat develop, though, the baby becomes able to breathe through the mouth.  If the child suffers from repeated bouts of  sinusitis, catarrh or rhinitis, mouth breathing may becoming habitual.  The child may become so accustomed to mouth breathing the shape of the mouth and teeth is permanently altered.  

If a person gets through childhood without developing a mouth breathing habit, they may still fall prey in adulthood.  Many high-intensity sports, like aerobics, running, spinning, tennis etc. can exert the cardiovascular system and make some mouth-breathing necessary.  However, external stressors like a very competitive attitude, pushing far past the pain barrier or a lack of awareness while exercising (the body is moving, but the brain is chewing over past or future events) can transform an otherwise healthy activity into a less healthy one.

So, why is mouth-breathing so bad?

The lungs work best with clean, moist, warm air.  They are made of an extremely fine tissue and produce mucus to protect themselves.  In fact, the whole respiratory system has a mucus lining.  What do the lungs, bronchii and throat need protecting from?  Bacteria.  Dust and particulate matter.  Dry air.  Aerosols.   Smoke.  Anything that can get into the breathing apparatus should be stopped before it gets to the lungs.

When we breathe through the nose, the cavernous area behind the visible nose, called the nasal turbinate, warms, moistens and cleans the air before it enters into the lungs.  When we breathe through the mouth, this happens to a far lesser extent, stressing the lungs.

Then, there is the adenoid tonsil.  This is a lump of lymphatic tissue that is a first defence against invaders.  If you breathe through the nose, the air passes over the adenoid tonsil.  If  any invaders are detected, the early-warning team of the immune system, the helper T-cells, kicks into action.  Keep in mind a cute and simple fact about immunity:  an early response keeps infection contained because the invader has less time to reproduce, so the extent of infection is lower.  That’s why you need a strong, quick immune response.  Bacteria and viruses reproduce very, very quickly.  You don’t want to give them even a few hours in the body without immune response!

Helper T cells are arguably the most important cells in adaptive immunity, as they are required for almost all adaptive immune responses. They not only help activate B cells to secrete antibodies and macrophages to destroy ingested microbes, but they also help activate cytotoxic T cells to kill infected target cells. As dramatically demonstrated in AIDS patients, without helper T cells we cannot defend ourselves even against many microbes that are normally harmless. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26827/)

The nasal turbinate also slows down the entry of air into the respiratory system because the air has to circulate a little bit in there. In slowing down the passage of air, the turbinate performs another very important function:  it warms and moistens the air.  How does this happen:  The air comes into contact with the mucus membrane of the turbinate and the blood in the capillaries which is at body temperature, transfers some heat to the air.  The mucus transfers a little bit of water, and ta-dah! cold and dry air becomes warm and moist air, just right for your lovely alveoli.

So, to resume:  the lungs want warm, moist, clean air.  The nose is the structure that can deliver air in the right conditions to the lungs.  Anything else is second-rate.

How to correct mouth-breathing.

As with anything, becoming aware is the first step. Watch yourself and see when and if you breathe through the mouth.  What are you doing when it happens? Do you breathe through the mouth at night?  Does that Netflix series you like so much keep you on the edge of your seat and alter your breath?  Just keep an eye.

When you figure out the triggers, you can put the brakes on when you need to.

If you find it generally hard to breathe through the nose and are prone to a stuffy nose, maybe you can use some neti nasal irrigation, or saline cleansing.

If physical exertion makes you mouth breathe, or pant, maybe you need to tone down the pace so that you can breathe steadily and correctly?  I know that is hard in a group class, or when we want to reach goals.  But doesn’t it make sense to not harm yourself while exercising?

Finally, if it is emotional stuff that makes your mouth breathe, try to keep your cool. Most of us seek out stimulating stuff like video games, television series and movies.  When the adrenaline gets moving, the heart rate increases and we are more likely to breathe through the mouth.  This is a totally unintentional and avoidable side-effect of a very normal activity.  Becoming aware of this can help you stop it happening.

Mouth breathing and sex.

There is one area where mouth breathing seems almost unavoidable:  lovemaking. If you are lucky enough to have a beloved to cuddle and canoodle with, right now, I’d say go for it, mouth breathing be damned! ha!  I mean, if your lover makes you pant, it is probably a good thing, right? hah!  Still, correct breathing will make it even better:   if you want to learn about tantra, or multiple orgasms for men, you will have to work on your breathing technique.    Having said all that, the good folks over at Conscious Breathing have published a very complete article about the links between good, nasal breathing and sexuality.

Conclusion

Since this is a yoga blog, I will resume by saying that the practice of hatha yoga, and pranayama will help you to breathe nasally and makes all the above easier, more pleasant and more natural.

So, come on down to class, get on your mat, breathe deeply, feel peace and joy within, and shine your little light, dear people.  The guru is within you.

Love,

Rachel

 

 

Series: How we breathe – Introduction

Yoga can teach us many things, but perhaps the most important one is how to breathe.  Since I know a lot about breathing, I have decided to begin writing a little series entitled “How we breathe”.  I know that, with great frequency, bloggers start of with big plans to write a series, but things tail off after two or three entries.  Rest assured that here with Miss Rachel, this will not happen.  I am far, far too stubborn to do such a thing.  Ha!

Reflect, for a moment, if you will on this:  There is little else, other than the breath, that accompanies you, absolutely surely accompanies you, from the first moment you are born until the last moment you live.

You can lose a kidney, a spleen.  A heart can be transplantedA brain can be induced into a coma.  But the breath is there, coming and going, rising and falling.

Breathing and Anxiety

Anxiety is crippling us these days and the breath may hold one of the keys to overcoming it.  The defining quality of a panic attack is the feeling that one cannot breathe.  I have had two panic attacks in my life, now thankfully, many years ago.  But I recall the constricted feeling all too well.  I doubt that it could happen to me now.  Why?  Because I know “how to breathe”.  To touch ever so lightly on the matter, and more will follow, paradoxical breathing is the main problem here.

How does one breathe?

Breathing is one of those things that we thing we all just know.  But how many of you can name the accessory muscles of breathing?  Or say whether the internal or external intercostal muscles aid the inhale or the exhale?  Gotcha?  So, can you say you know how to breathe if you don’t know the mechanics of breathing?

Biochemistry of Breathing.

And how many of you know about the interchange of gases (CO2 and O2) across the alveolar wall?  Or the difference between breathing and respiration?  Or what the heck happens to all that oxygen, anyway?  There are so many facets to breathing and there is so much to learn.

Pranayama

Yoga has some amazing techniques to deepen and broaden the breath. I have tried many systems of yoga and practised for ages.  I will stand here and say that Viniyoga, the style I teach, is the one that taught me to breathe.  I can teach you what my teachers taught me.

Best of all, breathing properly is free!  Yes, people, you may have to invest in yoga lessons in order to learn, but once you’ve learnt, ain’t no one going to take it away from you…you are your master, baby!

So, this will be the first post in a series dedicated to the mechanics, biochemistry and yogic technique of breathing.  Like and subscribe, people.  And hey, if you have a coherent answer to any of the questions above, comment below.

Love,Rachel

Yoga is meant to calm me…so why do I feel so nervous?

This is a brilliant question that I received this week from a newcomer to class.  This particular lady was recommended yoga by her doctor, so comes as a special case.  Ideally, it must be said, such a person would have private tuition.  But, the mere fact that she has managed to make contact and come to class is practically a miracle.

Before the second class, she asked me this

During class last week, I felt very good.  But afterwards, I went home and felt more nervous than ever.  Isn’t yoga meant to calm me down?

Thus I replied:  Most anxiety arises from repression of emotions.  Anxiety and depression are often mixed, and sometimes confused.  But they are vastly different.  While depression has to do with a lowered level of mental activity, anxiety is a heightened state.  In yoga terms, anxiety is rajas and depression is tamas.  

Anxiety seems to arise when the brain is over-active.  This can be an excess of information, or an excess of emotion.  Most people with anxiety develop coping mechanisms.  The best way to plunge on through life when your brain is screaming red murder is to pretend it isn’t happening.  Here is the delightful Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s explaining it much more clearly than I ever could:

So, this lady suffers from chronic anxiety.  ie:  running to Tiffany’s every time she gets the mean reds.  And Tiffany’s can be a place in your mind, it can be a bottle, it can be distraction, an addiction, whatever.  You’re afraid and you don’t even know what you’re afraid of, the best response is to run, right?

Well, yes, until it isn’t the best response.  Because, just like Holly Golightly, if we could find a real live place that makes us feel like Tiffany’s, then we would buy some furniture and give the cat a name.

You see, dear readers, dear students, dear seekers, yoga brings you home to that real live place. When suddenly you have contact with the Still Point inside of you, simply through breathing, movement and the right teacher, you realise that all your running was in vain.  And you relax a little bit.  But… the minute you relax a little bit and then go back to breathing fast and shallow, fighting with the traffic, being surrounded by people who are NOT on the Path and almost seem to wish to shove YOU off the Path, you have to start running away again.  And you feel even more nervous than before.  

You can think of it as a study of contrasts.  If you are always in the mean reds, then a little deeper tone of red is hardly noticeable.  But if you are suddenly “in the pinks” and you go back to the reds…ouch.

Why does yoga make me feel good in class but nervous afterwards? Because yoga holds a mirror up to your inner state and makes you look at the things you don’t want to see and have probably spent a lifetime avoiding.  For that reason it is very, very, very important to have a trusting relationship with a qualified teacher.

Upon receiving that information from my student, a person I know hardly at all, I modified the pranayama at the end of the class and gave a technique specifically indicated for her, but that would cause no harm to any other members of the class.  And then, the next morning, I texted her, to make sure she was okay.  And she was.  And what’s more, she felt good.

So, people, there are Youtube videos a-plenty, gymnasium yoga fit classes galore, all sorts of bells and whistles.  But yoga is a practice that transcends all of this stuff and has tools to help everybody and the teacher is the one who will show you the path.  Get on your mats, comes to class, breathe deeply, be joyful.  The Spirit is within you, let it move you.

Love,

Rachel

Teaching yoga from the heart

Every day I wake up thinking about yoga.  It has been like this for as long as I can remember.  It is my deepest passion, my guiding light, the shining star in my sky.  1313146901-300px

Yoga teachers are bound to one fundamental rule:  you can only teach what you know.  And knowing yoga is about doing yoga.  You cannot teach postures that you cannot do yourself.  You cannot create the discipline necessary to establish a home practice, even if that home practice is as humble as getting on your mat once a week, unless you yourself have a home practice.  And you cannot impart the power of yoga to ease suffering and pain if you do not use yoga yourself to ease  your own suffering.

An example:  I got really sick over Christmas.  And I was alone.  After days of coughing, breathlessness, helplessness, I found myself in a state of terrible anxiety.  I am going to die, I thought.  We are all going to die, I thought.  Death, sadly, has a 100% success rate.  it is the most elemental, primordial fear that we humans have, and it is a rational fear.  Because it is scary to think that our days are numbered, that all that we know will pass, that all the people we love will walk off this mortal coil one day and the worst thing is, we know not when.

womanchildstar-300pxI have a particularly intense relationship with all this because of the cancer rehab work I did.  I watched people I loved, my patients, die year after year.  I avoided the funerals because I had to maintain some sort of professional distance.  In the last year I worked in breast cancer rehab, I had four women lie on my table weeping, and all of them were younger than me.  How can you process that?  How can you deal with the fact that illness is real, that all the yoga and chanting in the world will not heal a tumour, and that even the doctors are helpless in the face of this.  How?  how do you deal with that?

Well, first you freak out, if you’re me.  Yep, it lay on me like a shroud and I carried that mantle for years. I tried, I tried my very best.  But then it got too much and I ran.  I rejected the world of oncology, I didn’t want to know.  And then I got real.  I realised that I possessed the skills to ease this particular suffering, this terrible elemental pain that we all share.  I have yoga.  My mission in life is to teach the yoga I know to ease the suffering of our human condition.  There, mission statement. I don’t know if I ever had one before!

Yoga will not change the fact that we are mortal.  Yoga will not make you live forever.  But yoga can make you still in the face of all that fear, all that sadness, all that fragility.  Yoga can teach you to sit still and say “Yes, okay, it is like this.”  And dear, dear people, that stillness is so necessary to this world.  One day you will be called upon to be still in the face of a storm and if you know how to breathe, to chant a little prayer, to ask the Universe for guidance when you yourself don’t know what to say, when words fail you, when your heart wants to burst, you lie in the hands of your maker, this incomprehensible, beautiful, contradictory, frustrating world that we live in and you say “I don’t know, please help me”, then you have the power of yoga.

And if all this is getting heavy, but you’ve stuck with me until now, thanks for listening.  And let me tell you this – yoga is about joy.  Yoga is about the joy you find when you understand and accept the reality that is ours, and you say – HEY !  But I am ALIVE!  And I have love inside me!  I have so much love to give and there is always somewhere to put my love!  And then you smile, and you laugh and you are present and available and, and, and….you feel HAPPY!  So dear readers, this is what I did when I was sick.  I sat and I chanted and breathed until I remembered that this life is the one I have, and it is marvellous, beautiful, miraculous, just as your life is marvellous, beautiful and miraculous.  

Now get out there and have a great Friday!  Live, love, laugh.  I will be teaching in less than an hour, and I will probably hug all my students afterwards.  Cos I am like that.

Get on your mat! Yoga to ease the symptoms of menopause

I came across this article about the benefits of yoga for peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women.  I just had to share!

The study was done by researchers in Germany,  and examined groups of women in the USA, India, Brazil, China, South Korea and Germany.  What is really interesting about the breadth of the study groups is that the women would have had vastly different lifestyle and diet habits.  So, the observed positive effect must come from something outside of existing diet and lifestyle.  In this case, the researchers conclude that yoga helps specifically with night sweats and hot flashes.

I worked for twelve years in rehabilitation of women who have had breast cancer.  As you may know, many breast cancers are sensitive to oestrogen, so one of the therapeutic strategies is to provoke a chemical menopause.  This may sound harsh, and it is, for the ladies.  Later, the woman may take a hormone disruptor (aromatase inhibitor or similar) like Tamoxifen for a period of five to ten years.  So, I have seen my share of ladies going through the menopause, believe me. The hot flashes and night sweats are very disruptive.

I myself have been crossing this particular juncture in the past two years and the night sweats thing comes and goes.  But, as a practising yogi, I will say that my transition has been smooth, and I am not overly bothered by the symptoms.  If anything, I feel lighter in my body and more stable in my mind.  I did not expect to have a relatively early menopause (I am only 45), but I did expect that my symptoms should be bearable.  And in fact, yes, they are.

It is worth noting that the positive effect of yoga might also lie in the way the women perceive the symptoms.  It is now known that the intensity of pain or physical discomfort is partly an issue of perception.  “A study from the University of Colorado at Boulder released on Jan. 12, 2015, reports that the ability to use your thoughts to modulate perceptions of pain utilizes a completely separate brain pathway than the pathway used to send the physical pain signal to your brain. This discovery is a breakthrough”

So, let’s just sum up, shall we?  Yoga seems to be effective at easing symptoms of menopause, even adjusting for diet and lifestyle difference.  Yoga is a safe and practical solution.  Viniyoga, which adapts the practice to the individual, not the individual to the practice, is a style that can help women who might have co-pathologies like osteoporosis/osteopenia, overweight/obesity, arthritis, and so on.

Have I convinced you yet?  Don’t worry, I will keep trying if not.  Why?  Because I care about your health, even if I don’t know you (yet).

Love, Rachel