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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a sweetly chilled mix for your quiet yoga practice. Breathe deeply, feel your lungs, body and aura expand. Be still and humble before the teachings. Practice, and all is coming.
Here is a delightful, trippy, chilled-out track, just right for your yoga practice. Breathe deeply, be still on the inside but move on the outside. Practice and all is coming. The guru is within you. Your path is just as personal and unique as you are.
The lady who asked the question I blogged about last week, “Yoga is meant to calm me, so why do I feel so nervous?” asked another great question yesterday. Gosh, I love students who give honest reflections and ask questions! Thanks, honey bunch.
After class I noticed that her face wasn’t 100% bliss. Quite the opposite. So, unlike a YouTube video would, I sat next to her and asked her what’s up. She said:
“I couldn’t do some of the simplest poses. It made me feel old.”
Ouch. And yes, yoga does that. You see, if you give someone a workout routine like Crossfit or marathon training, it is very normal that they will find, at first, themselves not able to do it. But because it is hard, challenging, perhaps unattainable, they are quite happy to just thrust away at it for a long time until they reach the goal. To not do something hard on the first go is quite normal and acceptable for the ego.
But when we are asked to do something simple like lie on our backs and stretch one side of the body and breathe deeply, and find that there is pain, discomfort, we say “hold on a second…what is happening here?”
What is happening here is that our bodies have aged, have adopted fixed patterns, have held onto thoughts and emotions and stored them in our abdominal muscles, our hips, our necks, and we have become unable to make those muscles do our bidding. We try to move the ribs with the breath, and we can’t. Upon finding that we can’t do something so seemingly simple, we reflect on how, once upon a time, we could. As children, we were all free and loose and easy. But time, and life, and blows, and ailments, and all that, steals our childhood from us and we become adults, then middle-aged and then, if we are lucky, old. The body ages but so does the mind. We swap physical agility for mental wisdom. Or that is the idea, anyway. There is concept that I love in yoga that goes like this:
Why do we do âsana? We do âsana to keep the body strong and supple and youthful so that we can live a long time. And why do we want to live a long time? So that we can gain wisdom.
Doing yoga is like holding a mirror up to our true selves and being forced to look. Mostly, we won’t like all that we see. The mirror as a symbol is powerful and appears all over in the popular culture. In Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Movie Orphée, the mirror is the portal between two worlds, the living and the dead. And in fact, a very eerie reflection uttered is :
“Les miroirs sont les portes par lesquelles la Mort va et vient. Du reste, regardez-vous toute votre vie dans une glace et vous verrez la Mort travailler commes les abeilles dans une ruche de verre.” (Mirrors are the doors by which Death comes and goes. You have only to look at yourself in the mirror every day and you will see Death at work there, like bees in a glass hive.)
Yes indeed. When we look at the mirror every day, we look at the face of Death. Our own death. This is getting heavy, but the Yoga Sutras are very clear about all this, in the first 5-10 aphorisms of the very first Yoga Sutras book, Patanjali identifies the Kleshas, the mental patterns that cause the vrittis, the mental fluctuations that assail us all. And right up there in spot number five is fear, abhinidvesa. Principle fear? Death.
We are all aware of our mortality but none of us wants to admit it, to face it. When we do, we cringe and shudder. This is normal. I love to ruminate on the human being’s awareness of the passage of time. We are, I believe, the only animal that marks time with such precision. We are time-obsessed species. Why? Because we are all unconsciously counting down the seconds of our lives. And this is wildly uncomfortable. Because what this forces us to do is to admit that our time is limited, that we must live fully in the present and create from our meagre and humble little lives the best and brightest creation that we can. And any abstention from this duty, whether through fear, intransigence, obstinance or fakery, is a negation of our duty to grow and gain wisdom and be the best person we can be.
Uff. All that at 8 in the morning. I think a lot. That is why I do yoga. So, I will leave you with a Joy Division song with footage from Orphée. Enjoy it, and live this day fully. And get on your mats, and breathe deeply and feel the love. It is there, all the time, and there is enough for everyone.
I had a great group come along for class yesterday afternoon. We did a practice designed for the legs and the âpana. We all had a good go at some standing balances, with a transition between two postures. And mostly everyone fell out of the poses at least once.
Teaching a class is a dynamic, fluid thing. I usually have drop-in groups, and of varying levels of experience. The skill of a teacher depends on being able to tailor the practice to the group and make it enjoyable and useful for everyone, while never straying from the essence of the teachings. This is called “pedagogy” and is the art of teaching.
Ahimsa means non-violence. I use this word in the context of not allowing violent self-critiquing thoughts to arise. It is common to sigh in frustration when we can’t do something, say to ourselves “I always fall” or “I will never get it” or “I am useless”. We use ahimsa, which is one of the five Yamas of yoga, to practice peaceful, non-harming inner (and outer) dialogue.
Santhosha is one of the five Niyamas and of my favourite Sanskrit words. It means contentment, enjoyment more or less. Fall out of a pose? hahahah! Use Santosha to not want what others have, ie: don’t compare yourself to others, and be content with what you are.
Some people believe that the Universe is a big game, that it is all a joke. The archetype of the Trickster God is very common. Hermès, (AKA Mercury, my ruling planet) of the Greeks, was a trickster. Krishna was a trickster. The Raven of the Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples is aso a trickster. When you start to think of checks and balances in life as jokes, as something to laugh at, it all gets a bit lighter.
You see, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Fail and take it lightly, step wrong, then do a little shuffle and get back on the beat. Use non-violent inner dialogue to correct yourself, but not castigate. Use good humour to just take it as a little joke. Don’t put that strenuous face on in yoga, have fun.