The hard truth about back pain

The Guardian published a nice opinion piece, written by a Doctor, in which she basically poo-poos medicalised back-pain management strategies.  Here is the link:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/22/back-pain-drugs-scans-fixes-treatment-lancet

I will never forget the day I had someone come to me for sever, chronic back and shoulder pain and say to me, when I asked “Are you doing anything about it?”  meaning, are you exercising? swimming? lying on your back on the floor? doing yoga? I almost fell over when she replied

“Well, I am taking the pills my doctor prescribed me.”

I don’t have a lot of time to blog this morning, so the links will be few.  But know this:  time and time again in the past decade, scientific, peer-reviewed, academically published studies and meta-studies (a meta-study is a study of a group of studies, comparing conclusions and crunching numbers) have found that exercise and ideal weight are the best tools for fighting back pain.  

So, get on your mats, dear ones, practice and all is coming.  If you can live pain-free, you release energy for other things, like creating, communicating and just being happy in your skin.

The guru is within you.

-Rachel

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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

 

 

Yoga practice – “Towards Inversion”

I am feeling generous tonight, and shall give away a lovely yoga practice that I designed last year and have taught a number of times to my dear students.

Notice that “B” or “R” means breath or respiración.

When it says “6x”, it means do the vinyasa six times.

When it says “6B”, it means hold the pose for six breaths.

Respect any contraindications and check with your primary care provider should you have any doubts about the suitably of this practice for you, at this given time.

viniyoga hatha yoga sequence
Viniyoga practice “towards inversion”

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

The sun will come out, tomorrow….Yoga before the sea and the big blue sky

Yesterday morning dawned rainy and grey.  Around these parts, precipitation is a present, a gift.  The chill in the air was invigorating, and the light reflecting on the wet cobblestones a portend of danger, for they are slippery when wet.

Sophie and Laurence and I warmed up with a white tea before class, then ventured upstairs to el Cielo, which means “Heaven” in Spanish, for yoga class.

There was a chill in the room, so we doubled up the yoga mats, and distributed nice, warm, hot pink wool blankets.   When we reached the floor phase of the practice, I noticed that the chill was starting to bite.  Feeling protective of my students, I hoped and prayed for some warming rays.

As we began to practice dvipada-pitâm (“the two-legged table pose”), the sun burst through!  Suddenly our little greenhouse of a room warmed up!  Joy!  We finished the sequence with Dolphins and headstand prep…energies were moved, smiles dawned upon faces and yet again, yoga worked its magic.

Thanks to everyone who came to class, it is a honour and privilege to be allowed to teach even a little bit of this ancient system.  Thanks to all the yogis and sages who kept this oral tradition alive for us to employ now, in 2018.  Thanks to my teachers, Claude and Carmen, for dedicating your lives to teaching teachers.  Namasté.

Yoga at GOA Altea, with Rachel – video clip

Hey ladies and gentlemen,

A few months ago, the team down at GOA made a fab little video about the yoga and wellness programs that we run.  I, of course, am the yoga teacher.  That’s me on your right, with the braid.  So, click the link, watch the video and dream of quiet mornings in front of the sea, doing hatha yoga, breathing in the salty air, luxuriating in the silence and the sound of the waves.

Alteayoga @ GOA Altea
Alteayoga @ GOA Altea

Class Schedule – Horarios de clases

Hello beautiful people!  here is a quick resumé of the classes that I am offering as of January, 2018:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday mornings at 9:30AM 
  • Martes, Miércoles, Jueves, Viernes por la mañana a las 9:30AM:

GOA Altea, Carretera del Albir, 17, Altea (03590).

  • Tuesday and Friday afternoons at 4:00PM
  • Martes y Viernes por la tarde a las 4:00PM

Alfaz Paradise, Calle Badia, 50, el Albir, (03581).