Saturday, 31 December 2011

Basti, basti boy!

"Sitting in utkatasana, navel deep in water, insert a tube into the anus and contract the anus. This cleansing with water is called basti karma." (Hatha Yoga Pradipika - Verse 26, Chapter 2)

I began 2011 with a 3 session colonic hydrotherapy course, performed by a professional. The results were phenomenal. I had suffered from excess wind after eating *everything*, thought I had food intolerances, bloated when eating, just feeling that eating in general was a real bind, because the after effects were just hideous, ruining my social life and making me generally miserable.

I had my first colonic after Christmas. I felt amazing afterwards. My skin glowed, I could think more clearly, remembering more and felt more fluent in my speech. My 'wind' problem completely disappeared, the sole reason for me trying colonics.

I didn't realise until recently that colonic hydrotherapy was an ancient yogic cleansing technique which they called a 'kriya' and part of 'shatkarma' which is essentially cleansing the body from impurities before the beginning of asana, or yogic postures.

The HYP states that the by practising 'Basti' the appetite increases, the body glows, excess doshas are destroyed and the dhatu, senses and mind are purified. It completely washes the bowel and removes excess bacteria, old stool, threadworms and heat from the lower intestines. Most importantly it pushes apana vayu upward. Basti cures digestive disorders and is particularly effective in removing constipation, stimulating sluggish digestion, controlling nervous diarrhoea and strengthening the solar plexus. When the body is purified the chemical constitutions are in balanced proportion and the brain functions are simultaneously influenced and altered. when the body is pure the mind becomes stable, emotional reactions to external stimuli are altered and you will respond in a more relaxed manner.

I had my now *yearly* christmas / new year colonic yesterday and feel equally as good. I know it's probably not for everyone, although I always go on about it and probably in the most inappropriate of circumstances. i.e at the dinner table, but I confess... I'm a huge fan!

As a side effect, the colonic cleanse is an aid to kickstarting a more healthy diet and lifestyle for a lot of people. This year I gave up eating cheese and meat and it made a massive difference to my digestion. I recently started back on both but can feel the difference immediately and so I need to make tat choice again, to look after my colon. I don't care what anyone says, the colon is unbelievably important overall bodily and mental health, I completely believe in this. If you have any digestive problems just Google 'colonics' or 'yeast infections' or 'candida' and you may be amazed. I'll leave it there. I'm not saying it'll be great for everyone but if you have an issue that is ruling or ruining your life, then wouldn't you want to try everything to make that issue better?

Even if it means sitting in the middle of the Ganges with a piece of bamboo stuck up your arse??!!!! (I joke..  :)

The wonder that I feel is easy, Yet ease is cause of wonder...

My new daily yoga practice has brought to me such gifts within the past two weeks. Every day goes by and I practice. Whilst I practice I hardly notice what is going on second to second, but then something happens between those seconds which alerts me. This week I have experienced the revelation, the key to the konasanas, and it may be, but is too early to tell, the key to forward bends in general (I have not yet had chance to explore further, next practise maybe).

So I was told by my teacher D that in Baddha Konasana, the one where you lean forward, the key is to curl your tailbone under and reach forward with your belly. I've been trying this for weeks now and it has definately worked for me, getting me deeper into the posture. Yet yesterday, as I was reaching forward not getting much deeper with the tail bone instruction, I engaged the anal muscles and pushed the anus down into the mat and..... OMG. 

"Moolabandha 'The Master Key'" by Swami Buddhananda, described the anatomical aspects of what I found. He calls is Ashwini mudra, the anal area including the sphincter, ani externus and levitator any which consists of the pubococcygenus, iliococcygeus and puborectalis, i.e.. the anal muscles are contracted. So it wasn't the whole moolabanda that needed engaging this time but Ashwini mudra! What a subtle difference but an amazing one! I then tried it whilst in the sitting straight up baddha konasana and my knees immediately touched the floor and upavistha konasana and I held my chest towards the floor without having to hold the feet.

The contraction of the anal muscles (ashwini mudra) immediately resulted in the realisation of apana vayu in the body, grounding the body but at the same time samana vayu (the vayu that unifies the two opposite forces of prana vayu and apana) elevated the heart upwards from the navel resulting in the lengthening of the spine. The two opposing forces were balanced for that moment. 

I don't want to say much more because I'l love you to try it for yourselves and let me know what you think. But what I would like to say is that sometimes over-thinking postures can hold you back from, well, realisation I guess, and sometimes the ease of the posture that is the essence of Patanjali's yoga lies within the gaps between these thoughts...

... in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea (Litlle Gidding, T.S.Eliot)

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

In need of some shatkarma...

Oh my, I'm so full and have been for days.... why do we feel like we should eat soooo much at Christmas?! Yesterday I only had something small but it literally just filled me right back up to where I was Christmas day approximately 7pm....

I can't even bind my ankles in supta kurmasana.

The good thing is that my morning practice has not been let to slip. Oh no. This is it now, baby, forever...never question your decision to practice. It teaches you a lot. Make the commitment. You want practice to be harder? Eat and drink more, do it later in the day even, make it really hard for yourself! Punish yourself!! ..........I can't do it, just can't. I've punished myself too much over the years. Not now I've made this commitment to myself. To God? It's not going to be let to slip. The difference it has made already, in such a short period of time is too important to let go.

I need some shatkarma, kriya, some basti - colonic irrigation!!! That should sort me out!

Friday, 23 December 2011

The end of "dabbling" - 10 reasons to practice traditional Mysore style yoga!

Last Wednesday I decided that Thursday morning I'd get up at 5am and practice the full primary series. I can't even remember now what state of mind I was in when I made this decision, had I had a moment of insanity??! Nevertheless, I did it, set my alarm for 5am, got up, had a cup of tea, had a shower and hit the mat.

I guess that something in my life had to change. My practice has mainly been in the evenings for the past four years, but with me now teaching as well as cooking, doing paintings and yoga homework, watching Come Dine With Me etc etc, my evenings were ridiculously busy, leaving little time for any other life pursuits. I have been thinking to myself recently and for a while it seems, "Why not try an early morning practice?" But I didn't even entertain it until Wednesday.

Isn't it funny how sometimes you have to catch yourself at the right moment? You know?

And it seems that I caught myself at exactly the right moment, when it WAS going to work for me and I've now maintained the 5am start for a week, a whole week! It's a bit momentous I have to say, I'm still quite taken aback by the ease of my commitment, but all I can say is that it MUST have been exactly the right time to do this. BTW it has been found that people are more likely to keep up a change of habit, e.g. quit smoking, if they just do it and do not wait until a certain date, for instance the 1st January.

The other thing is I haven't even been practicing 6 days a week. I know, I know, what kind of yogi am I?!!
But again, it was just fitting it in! I've also been blaming it on getting back to knee injury and all that... I've been practicing 3-4 days a week since about April to let my knee repair. 6 has always seemed a bit excessive....for my knee!

No more excuses.

I have realised recently that I hate people making poor excuses not to do things. Especially things that are without a doubt are going to benefit them. I think it annoys me so much because I used to be one of those people and now I'm overly aware when I meet those with the same excuses. I'm not saying I'm perfect, I know I'm not, but I am aware that I have to make changes to benefit my life.

In the words of the Editors, "If something needs to change then it always will". People should make the changes if and when they need to be made. I know it's sometimes easy to say it, but take the chances when they arrive, and when the time is right to make the changes you will know and the best thing is, is that it will be amazingly easy!! JUST DO IT!

So, back to my practice. This week has been awesome. I've learned a lot about myself in just one little week. I have discipline when I thought I did not. I am a morning person. I'm not completely stiff in the mornings. I enjoy going to bed early!

I thought I'd try and find 10 reasons to practice early morning Mysore style ashtanga yoga. (There might be more, there might be less, let us see...)

1. You have more time in the evenings to do other pursuits as you don't have your practice to think about.
2. You will feel energised for the day's work.
3. It gives a focus to your day which you will always achieve.
4. You will feel a sense of achievement even before your "normal" day begins.
5. You will change other aspects of your life so that your practice is easier, for example, eating earlier and different foods, getting more rest, running less after money, indulging less, basically being more mindful and watchful.
6. You will become less lazy. (Contraversial?)
7. It will increase your ability to make other commitments.
8. It makes you more grateful that you can practice every day.
9. You will actually be able to listen to the World Service and shipping forecast. (Clutching at straws here?) (But I like it :)
10. You are more likely to catch a beautiful sunrise........ (My favourite reason) x

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Reviled to revered... 10 steps to dropping back

A year ago, if there was one posture which I would do as quickly and pathetically as possible was my backbend.

And hope that my teacher wasn't watching....

Yesterday I dropped back from standing, on my own, for the first time (According to D!) And it felt gooood! I've been working on dropping back for a relatively short amount of time, so I'm amazed at the progress I've made with back bending. In fact it's probably taken 15 practices (with a teacher) to get to this stage, which again, I find amazing, seeing as my back bending felt so alien, so recently.

So what's made the difference? I'd put it down to these points:

1. Pushing the pubic bone toward the ceiling in preparatory backbends.
2. Straightening the legs in prep backbends to strengthen/"switch on" the quads
3. Pushing the knees forward over the feet on the way up to gain a fuller arch and to create more work (in prep bbs)
4. When dropping back pushing the pelvis as far forward as you can before lifting the sternum and ripping back
5. Curling the tailbone under as much as you can as you drop
6. Lift out from the pelvis and upwards to maintain the arch as opposed to just bending from one point of the back (usually the lumbar region)
7. Imagine you are holding a pea in your navel when dropping back (whilst doing all of the above ;)
8. Lift your heels very slightly, to remove the fear of your feet sliding out from under you
9. Practice with walking your hands down the back of your legs, you'll be amazed at how quickly you will reach your ankles
9. Once you reach your ankles, push into your legs and toes, release hands and drop into place.
10. To come up, push away with an exhale, come up on an inhale, draw your arms down towards your thighs and keep your head back until your body is vertical.

Practice this and, to coin a phrase, "all is coming" ;)

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Paths of least resistance...

I truly believe that people find their ways into your life to serve a purpose for something or other, but ultimately to teach you. You might even not know what role they have to play straight away, it may be a while or it might be instantaneous, nevertheless, the reasons became apparent at some point, sometimes long after they've gone.

My yoga practice has given me a heightened awareness of when these people arrive. The ones who came ages ago, who didn't have too far to go (on their own journeys) have stayed, I held onto them... I cherish them. As every day goes by and life happens around me, sometimes my dreams go stale, these people awaken those dreams, bring me back to the present and breathe life back into me. When I was 30 a friend told me to make a five year plan, I was a bit lost and needed some guidance. I made the plan and I'm a few years in now, a couple of years to go. I kinda forgot what the plan consisted of, it involved my job, painting more, doing the BWY course and culminating in travelling to Mysore. I met someone at the weekend who  re-kindled the smouldering ashes of my want to travel again and so I've decided to start planning. I'm intensely excited!

The path of least resistance would see me go to Boulder, Colorado to practice with Richard Freeman, or to Byron Bay to practice, chill and surf (if I knew how!) and hang out in the sunshine. My ego is trying so hard to drag me away from the smell, grime and illness of India, but I know that this has to be the first stop!! Nothing really worth doing is ever easy.

So on the topic of paths of least resistance, my yoga practice is becoming easy and this is never good. "Switch on the lights of the pose" says Freeman, to stop the body from falling into too familiar paths. It's good to practice under the guidance of a teacher when this begins to happen as they start to spot when you're being lazy. It's frickin' hilarious too, catching yourself or being caught, being naughty in class, missing out postures or not engaging bandha, it reminds me of how many muscles I have, how human I am!!

I love my practice at the moment, I love life and all who share it with me.