Destination Sensation

 

bw saddle web

Yoga is an inward journey, I fear this is increasingly forgotten. In the yoga studios and gyms lined with mirrors, I’m almost certain it IS being forgotten. It’s true that this is where we go, these studios, for motivation, or for convenience, for a certain teacher or style, an adjustment or two, to be a part of something, for a community of sorts, for a reliable heat source or a mat sized flat space to call your own for an hour or two. Or for a regular pay check without the frustration of self promotion. 🙂

But yoga is also solitary. Actually, yoga is primarily solitary. A solitary, inward journey. Every student coming to class regularly should ALSO be devoting time to self practice. Turning up on your own mat to your own time and doing something ( it doesn’t matter so much what, as long as there is breath and focus).

I hear, over and over, that you don’t have the motivation for self practice.. the discipline — but I beg to differ. If you can come to class you have that drive in you, already. You say you don’t know what asanas to practice. I say you’d be surprised by your kinaesthetic memory even if you’ve only been to a handful of classes.

( Sequencing poses is quite intuitive. In can be ‘pose and counter pose’…. ‘compressive followed by expansive’. And/or a series of poses working one group of muscles on one side of the body, perhaps building up in depth or strength or hold, followed by the other side. Breathing is even more intuitive. Upward movements ask for an inhale, downward for an exhale. The breath wants to be smooth and fluid by nature, not ragged and jittery. Not forced in. Certainly not forced out. Not usually held, but sometimes so quiet it drops away. Focus is all that is needed here. If in doubt just breathe naturally! )

Then, here is where the concept of a quiet practice comes in. A practice doesn’t always have to be based on the constant chatter of a teacher and her generalised ‘blanket’ cues ( as experienced as she is, she can’t feasibly speak for everyone).  Or paced with the prescriptive mantra of the breath of your fellow class attendees. Yoga doesn’t require an external noise source ( your teacher’s playlist ),  defining a choreographed plot line with a musical peak pose moment.

A silent, solitary, inward practice.

Self motivated. Without mirrors or selfie sticks.  Without the internet or a podcast. Without music. Without that hottie on the mat next to you. Without a teacher or his instruction. Without that ‘advanced’ student to follow along, in front of you. Without the back-drop of a rack synthetic hot pants for sale at the studio, or boxes of packaged vegan bars / trendy ( ok, delicious) cold pressed juices, the free coconut water that calls you to rush out of your savasana before it runs out.

Can I ask you to practice alone, in old, not particularly flattering but just comfortable clothes, on a no frills mat from Target rolled out in a little bit of space somewhere, with your eyes half closed?

A silent, solitary practice is where yoga takes flight. For here, without external reflection, the mind is drawn inward and you start to notice, and in time observe, sensation. The feelings of being in a physical body. The feeling of the muscles, bones, sinews, skin. The stretch of the fascia, the rebound. The sensation of the breath moving in and out of the body. And more subtly, the sensation of energetic movement and pattern. Each pose has an attendant sensation. Perhaps a little -or a great deal- different for every body. Perhaps changing every day. The actual quality of the sensation is not what matters. Noticing the quality, with curiosity,  without judgement or categorisation, is what matters.

This is the present moment. This is the gift we are given whilst placed in a physical body. Sensation which always already brings you to the present moment. The start and the end of the journey, sensation is forever present, woven through all experience.

 

 

 

 

Yin yoga, Myofascial release & Yoga for the Face!

Yin Yoga, Myo-Fascial Release and Face Yoga workshop:  A self-care workshop:

savasana
I’m holding an afternoon workshop on these three delicious gems of self care on Sunday May 22nd at Hummingbird Eco Retreat, Red Hill, on the Mornington Peninsula in the beautiful Yoga space there. 

EXPERIENCE Yin Yoga , a slow and mindful form of yoga designed to wipe your stress away physically and mentally and bring you to an altered state of being. Yin yoga is a beautiful adjunct to a busy life or indeed a more yang style yoga practice. In Yin yoga we concentrate on sensation in the present moment. It is literally the anti-thesis of multi-tasking, and at the same time it is a powerful physical practice, working on deep connective tissue to relieve the body of stagnant energies.


LEARN Myofascial self release techniques ( MFR ) to shift stubborn tightness in the fascia (the connective tissue ) and muscles, helping to release habitual muscular patterns and chronic pain and enhancing everyday mobility. We use tennis balls on trigger points and along acupuncture meridians to ease blocked energies, built up pain responses and chronic tension.


TRY out Yoga for the Face- a yoga facelift method to tone the face via its muscles – a workout we never think of doing but one that is just as important as all the muscles below the neck. Everyone knows that toned muscles don’t sag, and this is just as true for the face. Yoga for the Face also enhances circulation to help with clear smooth skin. On a less superficial note,  Yoga for the Face also helps with tension in the head, face and neck, bringing relief from headaches and jaw tension. 


RELAX with a guided Yoga Nidra meditation, deep relaxation through a mindful rotation of awareness.

The workshop includes notes on Myofascial techniques and tennis balls and sock for the MFR therapy, plus chai tea and a healthy gluten free/ dairy free snack.

1.30 – 4.30pm Sunday 22nd May

( this workshop would make a great early Mother’s day gift- vouchers available! )


Investment: $65
Couples/friends: $120 for two
Early bird price ( book & pay before May 8th ): $55,
$100 for two.

Suits all levels including absolute beginner and the established yoga student- and this includes most bodies!

Check out the lovely accommodation at Hummingbird if you want to make a weekend of it. http://hummingbirdeco.com.au/sleep/accommodation

Bookings for the workshop can be made via email :
heidi@yogaguerilla.com
or call/ text Heidi on 0403560850

Effort in Yoga, how much is too much, how much is too little?

Deep surrender in dragonfly, the effort is in the surrender. Note that I am dagging out in trackie dacks and keeping warm in home practice with ample clothes, practicing on a warm carpet and in front of the fire. All highly conducive to letting go.

Deep surrender in dragonfly, the effort is in the surrender. Note that I am dagging out in trackie dacks and keeping warm in home practice with ample clothes, practicing on a warm carpet and in front of the fire. All highly conducive to letting go.

As a teacher, I see a range of types of people coming to class to learn and practice yoga, and within that many variations in body types, and mind/ personality types. It’s a wonderful thing that keep us yoga instructors on our toes and far from being bored and complacent. No two body/mind/spirit combinations are the same.
There is always a wide range of effort in class, from person to person and from week to week, from season to season and from one type of class to another. Hence it is worth posing the question- how much effort is the right amount?
How do we know when to just allow the shape of the pose to do its work, easing into it without activating the muscles, or when to work against the shape of the pose to press and push deeper?

Obviously, the type of yoga you are practicing makes a great difference on a basic level- in an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class effort is seemingly key, while in a Yin class it seems it is all about letting go.

However it goes deeper than that. The intensity and therefore benefit of a yoga posture can be enhanced by conscious activation of the muscles surrounding the joints that are being worked in any given pose. Engaging or tensing the muscles towards the bones with effort protects the joints and allows the practitioner to move in and out of the pose safely.

Think of the hamstrings for instance- when stretching the hamstrings, a purposeful ‘engagement’ of the front thigh muscle ( the reciprocal part of the body to the hammies ) perhaps through pushing into the big toes or consciously pulling up through the arch of the foot, maybe also micro bending the knee- will activate the quadriceps and in turn protect the hamstrings from over stretching. The hamstrings will then in turn, after a few breaths, be able to move deeper and more slowly into the stretch without the threat of sudden, damaging over-stretching in the origin or insertion points of the muscle.

This action demonstrates how the muscles serve to activate the reflexes of reciprocal action, and the reflexes of relaxation- if you tense the muscles towards the joint being worked and hold them there, the muscles will after a time let go, allowing greater depth in the asana without the danger of letting go and surrender. Ok, I kind of repeated myself there but you get to drift.

This type of activation also increases the heart rate for many people and encourages deeper breathing, creating heat, which helps with flexibility.

How much should we be tensing the muscles towards and around the joints though, and when do you and don’t you tense them?

Key to this question is- how does your head and neck feel? Is your jaw and tongue able to stay soft and your forehead smooth when practicing poses. Is your face red? If there is tension in the face and head, you may be trying too hard. Many beginner Ashtanga students find themselves using the face too much to do a pose that has nothing to do with the head, tongue cleaved to the roof of the mouth, and that intense set jaw and stare… this is not yoga!
You may also find you can not move into the pose very much at all if the muscular effort is too intense. Shaking or quivering is another manifestation of over doing it. Not so much the quivering of a muscle that you are not used to using, but an internal quivering, signalling nervous system over stimulation. Often you won’t realise this until after the practice, whilst resting in savasana.
Over breathing- basically hyper ventilating with breaths too deep and too close together- is another major sign of over effort. Sure we need to do it sometime to manage oxygen levels in something causing exertion ( think of pushing a wheelbarrow full of wood up a hill ), but a whole yoga practice like this ??? That lends itself to nervous system irritation and in the longterm over sensitisation. not really yoga at all. In savasana or meditation at the end of your practice, see if there is any subtle pulsing or flickering in the eyes or behind the eyelids, like a mini strobe light effect. If there is, you have likely over doe it with the effort that day- and need to pull back a bit tomorrow.

You should be conscious and present in your own practice, whether in a class setting or at home, and use this mindfulness- this concentration- to see and feel and know what your body is doing in any given pose on any given day. Some poses may require more effort than others, others more surrender.

If you move too fast into a pose or a vinyasa without muscle co-activation, where the muscles are working together to protect the joint, the danger is that you will compromise the joint or muscle by moving too deeply into the weaker OR more flexible muscles of the area, without using the more stiff regions. Damage can result, and in the long term- even without damage- muscular imbalances may be formed which are hard to undo.

Generally, if you are cold or stiff, tired, unmotivated and/or distracted, a little extra effort in the muscles is all you need to get you back on track and bring greater benefits to your practice.
Some teachers will ask you to ramp up the breath in order to do this- I suggest in order to nourish and protect your sympathetic nervous system ( the one responsible for flight and fight/adrenal stimulation) that the effort comes from the muscles and you don’t force the breath into an unnatural depth or speed. There are far too many people out there that are over doing the breath and are on the path to yoga burnout/ nervous system burnout. Extreme hunger after practice can also be a sign that you have been over breathing/ hyper ventilating.

How about Yin yoga then, the yoga of sweet, sweet surrender?
This advice can also be incorporated into a Yin style practice without being completely contradictory.

First of all, in a Yin practice, you are not building heat through the breath, or through muscle activation or through vinyasa, or through effort. So, the key is to be warm– practicing in a warm room or sunny spot out of the wind, with plenty of clothes on, even socks!
As the body remains cool, and therefore somewhat stiff, there can be a danger to the joints, tendons and muscles if going into poses too quickly and too deeply. Luckily Yin yoga is about patience and staying in the pose for minutes, and seeks to use the reflex of relaxation by doing this. The bodily reflex of relaxation takes around a minute ( give or take) to kick in, and a few deep slow breaths can help it occur. Then you may feel your body soften and let go.
But you have to keep it real and be honest with yourself- not push in any way or expect to get into poses with the depth that you may in a more Yan style practice. Yin changes every single time you practice. Keeping your eyes closed or focus soft, and keeping the breathing natural and tidal helps you keep from grasping or trying too hard.

However, muscle activations can be used to benefit Yin yoga too.
Take for example drogon-fly pose- or the wide legged, seated forward bend known as Upavishta Konasana A in Ashtanga yoga. In Yin yoga you hold this for 5 minutes, and since it is not asking you to balance or make a muscular effort, it is a true Yin posture- as Yin as you can get- especially if your body is open enough to lie on the floor between your feet.

However, on coming into this pose when the body is cool, you may find yourself too stiff to move forward, and too stiff to let go. The muscles of the hips, the hip flexors and extensors, tend to hold on tightly in many people and require more than mindful ‘asking’ of your body/mind to let go. Tensing these muscles while in the first minute or so of the pose, activating towards the hip joints and increasing heat in the area, can help move you deeper into the pose once you let go and the blood flows back into the area. Surrender is then able to happen more safely and completely.

Say you have moved into a Yin yoga pose but feel unsafe- like you have gone too far and are stretching the muscles or tendons beyond what they are ready for? Thats is another time that the effort of muscle activation is beneficial. Say you have a pain in the knee… Immediately engaging the muscles towards the knee, in effect locking it and not allowing it go any further, will protect it. You can then either stay in an engaged form of the Yin pose, or move a little out of it until your knee feels good and then let go of the muscles again.
And if there is a sense of over stretching the lower back? Use the muscle activations of the abdomen- especially good to use when coming in and out of asanas, by imaging a wide 80’s style belt around your belly between the navel and the hip bones, and consciously pulling this belt in from all directions, as if cinching the belt in. This will protect the lower back within the pose, or until you move back to a depth more safely available to you.

How do you know, in any form of physical yoga, if you have not used enough effort? Well, first up, you don’t feel radially different than you did when you first rolled out your mat.
Did your mind wander while practicing, and get caught up in mundane worldly problems or issues? Another sign that you could have applied more effort.
Or, you may find you can’t relax in savasana ( this can also be due to over breathing and over stimulation of the nervous system- be mindful and work out for yourself whether its from over or under effort ).
Or perhaps you don’t feel it in your muscles at all later that day or the next day. We are working the muscles and joints, some sensation is likely, and a useful gauge of how the effort involved.
Or perhaps your practice is going backwards, not forwards? Often in yoga we make effort abut reach a plateau. I believe this to be normal, it can last a long time, and that’s fine. But if in regular practice you feel you are going backwards- physically and in concentration- then maybe more effort could be a useful tool.

All of these signs are good markers to work out for yourself what kind of effort you should apply to yoga practice, so that you neither damage your joints and muscles or your nervous system, or just waste time on the mat faffing around getting distracted and stagnating.

What are your thoughts? Where are you at right now and what do you feel affects your effort in practice the most?

Finding presence. Yoga as Meditation.

In the first year or two of a solid, committed YOGA practice you are learning the asanas (yoga poses). Your body responds by cleaning out, your strength and flexibility increase, your energy begins to flow clearly and your muscles and joints re-calibrate. Your system is able to detoxify more easily and your metabolism increases. You may discover the breath and how very deep and wide- and how very shallow and still- it can be.

Over more years, more practice, more attention, you discover how the breath and the body and indeed the pose are all one and the same, simultaneously. You begin to find some acceptance of the body- as within the exploration of breath you realise the body is far bigger than you ever imagined. Without borders. You feel the breath as the ocean, swelling and subsiding, beyond the physical limits of the body.
You begin to know a pose as a path of energy encompassing the body mind and breath- often changing in nature from day to day. No longer a collection of arms and legs, muscles and bones- with the breath thrown in from the outside.

You begin to sense that – ‘hey… the body is not me. It is something providing sensation.’ You look at sensation and see – ‘hey… these sensations come and go like the wind, the sensation is not me.’
And the thoughts- as much as we believe they are us, and give them such primacy, such value- almost attributing them with substance- we come to realise:
‘hey… my thoughts are not me, they come and go but I can be aware of them’
You feel the flow of breath and you begin to have an idea that indeed, you are being breathed.

The mind, the breath and the body and the energies within are forever in flux- they can not be defined as self.

Within your yoga practice, especially evident in self practice, is the vital task of cultivating awareness of the sensations of the asana, and the movement in and out of each pose. Awareness of the way the breath feels as your lungs fill and your ribs expand. The sensation of the parts of the body that touch the mat, the stretch in the muscles, the skin, the placement of the bones. The shapes of the energy as it moves. The bodily feeling of being in yoga.

Naturally, with practice, with time and with intent, you begin to become aware of certain thought habits that tether you to a limited reality. The grasping towards the idea of singular self, the ‘me’. The ego at work. The self-categorisation ( I’m tired, I’m flexible, I’m strong, I’m hopeless at this, I’m so spiritual etc, etc ).
The self limiting boxes we place ourselves in.

The practice of becoming mindful of habitual thoughts is key to progress in yoga practice. It is an integral step towards going beyond the physical- finding the spiritual- in yoga. As you become familiar with your familiar habits of perception, the conceptualisations that we build and have had built around us, and you see that everything that is perceivable comes and goes in a state of flux- it becomes clear that what goes on in your mind has nothing to do with the Real.

They manifest in myriad ways, these patterns and constructs… it may be the way you are a little averse to poses that deeply flex the ankles ( yep, that’s me right there ), but love a good deep forward bend or could hang out forever in an incorrectly executed headstand.
It may be a habitual, unexplored way of doing a pose, or a stuck-ness in a joint or muscle system. A catching of the breath. A hesitation. The way a pose triggers a thought association that can lead you off your mat even as you continue moving the body…. the way the mind plays extended remixes of high drama, on replay, ad infinitum. These are only a few, but the ones I have personally seen play out, either staying around and playing for a while or slipping away as fast as they arrive- over and over- within the past 25 years of various Yoga practices.

Our awareness of reality is clouded by avoidance and attraction- our minds swing from attachment to aversion, aversion to attachment, grasping in a habitual way.
Once we begin to even notice this vacillation between thoughts of
‘Oooh yes, I like this, I want more of this, I’m holding on to this’ and ‘No, don’t like that, yucko, I’m pushing that one away ‘, we begin to let it go.

Yoga is all about letting go.

Letting go of the grasping, of the pushing, or the fabrications and constructions. Realising that they are not you. Releasing, as they arise, the judgements and the comparisons. The personal and societal perceptions. The false concept that mind and body are split.

The lonely lie of the limited self.

Finding the neutral spaces between the grasping towards and pushing away, is finding yoga, the raw spaces where future thinking and past reflecting are not in attendance.

Yoga is finding and developing- with intentional curiousity and exploration– those moments where you can drop in to the presence that is ALWAYS ALREADY there. Always has been, always will be. Learning and practicing this focus is discovering freedom, for when you let go of boundaries, you find freedom. The presence of being..

Wat Po, Bangkok- Yoga sculputre- utplutihi