Posts Tagged With: relaxation

I am (NOT YET) a Successful Yogini

Often if I tell a stranger that I am teaching yoga. The conclusion is drawn quickly; then you are probably very flexible and relaxed. Yes and no. In certain poses I can appear more flexible than average, while in other poses I can look more stiff than average. The better question is flexible compared to whom? There will always be people who are less flexible and people who are more flexible. So why not just stop comparing ourselves with other yogis and yoginis who have different bodies and are on completely different journey.

And no, you don’t have to be flexible at all to practice yoga. Sometimes a stiffer body is way better, since your body will let you know clearly when you are going too far/too deep. A stif(fer) body can make you feel more humble and grateful as well. Full lotus pose in headstand is not on your goal list, instead you just want to feel better in your body and relief your ache muscles.

A relaxed and calm person? Oh yes, I definitely am if I am on a holiday with loved ones and having nothing to worry about. No seriously, my close friends and family won’t define me as a relaxed person. While I can appear calm and focused on the outside, as soon as you start to know me better you realize that I am a normal human being who probably stresses slightly more than average. This is one of the reasons why I started practicing yoga at the first place.

Does this make me less of a perfect yogini? Again you could ask yourself compared to whom am I more stressed? What really matters to me is how my yoga practice makes me feel. What do I experience? What do I feel? How is my yoga practice helping me to discover who I really am.

That is why a home practice can be such a wonderful learning experience. I have only myself to deal with. If no one else is watching how does my practice look like? Do I nurture and nourish my body, mind and soul? Through my own personal practice I start to feel more grounded and more connected to my authentic self.

These strong roots allow me to practice with others while maintaining a connection with my inner truth and the signals of my body and mind. In this way, we can use a yoga class as a way to connect with others while keeping our own connection. In that way we truly become one.

While trying to define how a successful yoga practice looks or feels like, I first started to write down what it doesn’t mean to me;

–          You have been meditating (in an isolated cave) for (a couple of) years.

–          You are able to do that perfect difficult ………………… (to be filled in by you) pose which could be used as the cover photo of the Yoga Journal

–          You look like a super model and/or have achieved your ideal body composition

–          You’re always happy and everyone is your friend

–          You’re never mean to others or yourself

–          You are a vegan/vegetarian

–          You are drinking green juices

–          You don’t have a television

–          You practice yoga/asanas EVERY DAY

–          Your alignment is ‘perfect’

–          Your Sanskrit is fluent

–          You ‘AUM’ everywhere and everyday

–          ‘Namaste’ is your new “hi, how’re you doing?”

–          ………. ( to be filled in by your own critical self)

For me being a successful yogi/yogini means you are able to change your life, attitude and relationships in a positive way. It means you are making progress with moving towards living your authentic self 99.9% of the time. You don’t pretend you are better or worse than others. You are just you and you dare to show yourself to the world. You realize you are unique and there is only one person like you in the world. And that is real awesomeness!

PS: This has been writing while I was on a positive relaxed feminine high. So no, I am not there yet and still working and I will keep on working to be me and to let go of the labels I stick to myself on how I should look like, how I should dress, how I should eat, how I should behave and how I should feel. And I realize I am already perfect with all my beautiful imperfections. Let’s reach out to others and work together to make this world a more beautiful & positive place.

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Perfect imperfect yogini

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To the right or the left?

Left-or-Right

Often during a yoga class, the instructor tells you to roll to your right-hand side after relaxation or savasana. Most asanas are also performed from the right to the left and not the other way around. Have you ever wondered why?

Symbolic

First of all, rolling to the right or the right side has a symbolic reason. In India, it is considered more auspicious to enter a holy place with the right foot and in many parts of the world we extend our right hand in greeting. The right side also represents the east or the rising sun. Therefore rolling toward the east can symbolize asking for blessings, grace and bliss.

Energetic

The right side rolling can also be explained by using the yogic subtle anatomy teachings. According to yoga teachings you also have a subtle or energy body, besides the physical body. This energy body comprises of chakras and nadis, making up many thousands of energy lines or channels. The main energy line runs along the length of your spine and is called shusumna. Spiralling either side of shusumna are pingala and ida, which end at the tip of the right and left nostrils respectively. Pingala on the right side represents the masculine forces of heat, activity and alertness or the sympathetic nervous system. Ida on the left is more feminine, cooling, passive and restful, referring to the parasympathetic nervous system. Rolling to the right side after savasana can help us to wake up by stimulating pingala nadi. In this way, we prepare ourselves to become more active again after a deep relaxation state.

Physiological

There is also a physical explanation (from the perspective of the Western anatomical model) to roll to the right side rather than the left. Since the heart is on the left, rolling to the right brings the heart on top and therefore puts less pressure on the heart and helps allow the blood pressure reach homeostasis.

So right?!

So right it is? It depends really. For example, pregnant women should lie on their left because it makes the heart’s job easier as it keeps the baby’s weight from applying pressure to the large vein (inferior vena cava) that carries blood from the lower part of the body back to the heart. Lying on the left improves circulation to the heart and allows for the best blood flow to the fetus, uterus and kidneys. Since the liver is on the right side of your abdomen, lying on the left side, will keep the uterus off that large organ.

A state of ease

Personally, I don’t think it matters so much to which side you roll from relaxation. If you do a strong yoga practice in the evening rolling to the left side, could for example assist with preparing you for a good night sleep. It is good to know the reasoning behind right or left rolling, so you can make an informed decision yourself based on your personal constitution and your plans after your yoga practice. Most importantly, take your time to come out of savasana, since your nervous system has ideally shifted to a state of ease (lower heart rate and blood pressure, stimulation of digestive processes, lower body temperature and release of endorphins). Therefore savasana can be considered as the most important pose of your practice. And above all, don’t overthink, but feel. Good luck!

keep-calm-and-take-your-time-9

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Rest versus Activity

What is your personal favourite; a strong and fast-paced or a more gentle practice? I’m quite drawn to a strong, challenging practice. If I’m challenged, a strong focus is required and my mind doesn’t have a chance to interfere. At the same time, I’m easily stressed and rushing to my daily activities. A fast-paced practice stimulates my sympathetic nervous system – also called the ‘fight or flight’ response – even more. I’m more in need of input from the parasympathetic nervous system, associated with relaxation, nourishment and renewal. The parasympathetic system functions in opposition to the sympathetic system. The parasympathetic system is consistently active at a low level and levels of activity increase when it is necessary to bring the body back to a balanced state from a state of elevated sympathetic activity. If the parasympathetic system is active, it slows down heart rate, dilates blood vessels, activates digestion and stores energy.

In the end, it is all about balance: yin & yang, the feminine & the masculine, activity & rest, sthira & sukha. So rather, I need to learn to listen to my body carefully. What style of yoga is serving me at the moment? Am I kind to my body? Naturally, I include quite a lot of sthira or effort in my yoga practice and in my everyday life. Habitually I try and work hard to reach my goals and lack trust in life. Slowly I’m integrating more peace, stillness and rest in my life. For sure I’m forever learning to be more patient and enjoy my journey.

A wonderful nourishing yoga pose

A wonderful nourishing yoga pose

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The Manipura Chakra

The third or navel chakra is the energy centre of the life force and is located behind the navel in the area of the solar plexus and digestive system. The manipura chakra is associated with the element fire and it represents personal power, self-esteem, vitality, digestion and assertiveness. This chakra can give you the sense of complete satisfaction and contentment and is the seat of the intellect. It is associated with the colour yellow and it corresponds with the fire element in the body. Fire is required in the body for digestion and assimilation, both on a physical and mental level. Glands and organs associated with the third chakra are the pancreas, liver, spleen and the organs of digestion (small intestine). The emotion associated with this chakra is anger. The sense for this energy centre is sight and cognitive thinking, sometimes referred to as a ‘gut feeling’ when you try to figure something out.

Manipura Chakra

Manipura Chakra

Blocks in the navel chakra

If your third chakra is blocked, you feel powerless and frustrated. It can lead to low levels of energy, motivation, low self-esteem and difficulty making decisions. You are unable to move forward in your life and you may be unhappy in a current relationship or career or struggle with addictions. Fear is an emotion that will block this energy centre, for example you are afraid to make changes in your life. If you allow yourself to feel this fear and visualize the worst possible situation you are able to diffuse it. Your confidence is often diminished when there is criticism of fear of being criticized, fear of rejection or fear of making a fool of one self. Individual personal strength allows you to make decisions in your life that are not governed by your fears; instead it gives you the ability to act without always worrying what others may think. A weak third chakra can also result in feelings of anger and aggression or holding of guilt and self-doubt within. You may find yourself looking outward for validation and feeling deprived of the sweet things in life. This imbalance directly affects your ability to project your will into manifestation. On the other hand, over-confidence, pride and being too assertive indicates imbalance as well and could be the result of an excessive third chakra. Over-confidence and showing off can be a cover-up from your lack of personal power. Perfectionism, anger, hatred and too much emphasis on power, status and recognition are all signs of an excessive third chakra. An excessive third chakra could lead to too much heat in the body. With too much fire in your body, it is highly likely that you develop digestive problems.

Fire in your belly

Fire in your belly

Balance the third chakra

A balanced third chakra results in a healthy level of confidence and the ability to manifest your intentions and desires. In order to open the third chakra, you must utilize your personal will power and take personal responsibility for you life and your current situation. So stop blaming other people or external circumstances, since playing the victim, will certainly keep your third chakra closed. If you stimulate your personal ability to complete tasks and make choices that are not a reaction to your fears, then you strengthen your confidence and will power. If you have a balanced third chakra you have unlimited energy, excellent health, strong will power, the ability to make commitments and a solid inner balance. Practice acts of personal courage and doing things you are good at and love to do can nourish this chakra. If you do what makes you happy and not what makes everyone else happy, others will recognize your individuality and they will know what your limits are. They will respect you more and this allows you to be an exemplary leader and to be fully aware of the effects of your actions have on others. This leads to a strong sense of self-worth, self esteem which in turn increases our ability to help others.

And enjoy!

And enjoy!

Yoga and balance

Nowadays, people tend to pay little attention to their body’s natural energy levels. It seems like we have become masters in ignoring our longing for rest and manipulate our bodies with caffeine, sugar and other stimulants to create a false sense of energy. Yoga can offer you a different choice: to listen to your body and to truly nourish yourself, using appropriate asanas and pranayama practices to create more energy or relaxation. This way of nurturing and taking care of yourself can create a taste of your true personal power. In terms of asanas, strengthening the abdominal muscles is a great place to start to balance the third chakra. Restorative poses and passive backbends cool off the belly’s fire and therefore act as calming agents for third chakra excess. If the third chakra needs stimulation, you can work with Kapalabhati breath (breath of fire) or Bhastrika Pranayama (bellows breath). These breath exercises isolate the abdominal muscle and thereby bringing fire and heat there, which in turn radiates into the body as a whole. Practicing Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation), abdominal strengtheners like Navasana (Boat Pose), Ardha Navasana (Half Boat Pose) and Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Leg Lifts), Warrior Poses and twists all energize the third energy center. I practice quite a lot of Vinyasa Yoga flow which seems to be a perfect yoga style to turn on the heat and energizes the body, because of the combination of flow and breath. Practicing arm balances and inversion can also really stimulate your third charka.

The seat of the intellect

The navel chakra has been called the ‘fire in the belly’ and represents transformation. This fire or personal power provides you with the energy to change, grow and act in your life. The first chakra can be represented as a form or a vehicle (our body), the ability to move and change is represented by the second chakra. The third chakra gives you the intelligence, spark and power to move our body into action and makes you peaceful and generous.

Generosity

Generosity

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Nail mat

Acupressure yoga mat, Indian bed of nails, Yantra mat, Shakti mat, nail mat, Theramat or spike mat are all names for one and the same thing. It is a modern day mat of nails made up of thousands plastic spikes or acupressure points aimed to spread a deep sense of relaxation and relieve symptoms such as restless sleep, stress, insomnia, headaches, poor circulation, back and neck pain. Your first time on these spikes mat you will initially experience some level of discomfort. If you relax your body so your body’s weight is evenly distributed over the mat, the sharp feeling is quickly replaced by a comfortable state or natural high. The mat will create a soothing warmth, because of the heat caused by the increase of blood flow, a natural response to the spikes. Since the body experiences feelings of pain, it releases endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and will soothe away aches and tensions throughout the body. Oxytocin is also called the ‘happiness hormone’, since it makes you feel energized, joyful and relaxed. The spike mat is a great tool for meditation, since it deepens relaxation into peace and tranquillity. In addition, the improved circulation lowers blood pressure and improves nutrient delivery.    

It is recommended to lie on the mat for about 15-20 minutes to experience the benefits. Lying on the mat should feel ‘nicely painful’, although everyone has different pain thresholds. The first time you could use a towel or a t-shirt to decrease the sensations. If you are getting used to the acupressure mat, you could even doze off while lying on the spikes.

The healing art of acupressure has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine. Scriptures written over 4,000 years ago describe ‘nail beds’ that were used to heal the body and mind. They activate nerve endings down your body and provide soothing healing relief to your entire body. Studies have not only shown that as a result of acupressure, the body’s own pain-relieving and happiness hormones are relieved, there is even some evidence that it can create an increase in metabolism. Since the acupressure mat increases your blood flow and circulation. In addition, you can experience a meditative state of mind where you achieve the kind of focus and clarity that usually comes with prolonged meditation or intense physical activity. The only thing you have to do is lie down and relax.

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Time for….

Time for relaxation,

Time for contemplation,

Time for reconnection,

Time for introductions,

Time to renew my creativity,

Time for time,

In other words it is time for a break! I am off on holiday to The Netherlands to connect with my family and friends after I have been living in this beautiful country – New Zealand – for one year. In October I am planning to be back with fresh inspiration and creative energy.  

 

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Yoga of Awareness

Kundalini yoga is an ancient and unique form of yoga and is also called the yoga of awareness. It is the most spiritual type of yoga I have practised. It is brought to the West in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan. The focus is primarily on expansion of self-awareness and realizing your true potential. Kundalini literally means ‘the curl of the lock of hair of the beloved’. This metaphor refers to the flow of energy and consciousness that exists within each of us and enables us to become one with the infinite consciousness. In other words, Kundalini is the untapped energy or prana at the base of the spine that can be pulled up through the body and awake each of the seven chakras. When this prana reaches the crown chakra at the top of your head, enlightenment occurs. However, for most of us, this potent energy lies dormant at the base of your spine. Through the practice of Kundalini yoga, you can release this energy by breaking through emotional blocks, energy imbalances and addictive behaviour. For this reason Kundalini yoga can be highly transformative, since it releases held issues whether body or mind.

Each Kundalini class typically includes six major components: mantras, pranayama and/or warm-up, kriya, relaxation, meditation and closing with a song. The class starts with a short chant followed by a warm-up to stretch the spine and improve flexibility. The main part of the class is called a kriya. This is a complete set of exercises including pranayama that focuses on a precise area of the body. The kriyas are precise and bring the body and mind to a state where deep meditation is easily achieved. The goal of a kriya could be clearing the heart chakra or increasing spinal flexibility for example. There are hundreds of kriyas and therefore no class will be the same. The class ends with a meditation and song. Most Kundalini teachers and devotees wear white clothes and wrap their heads with a white turban or other head covering. The white clothing is worn to support both the body’s energetic field or aura and the nervous system functions. The white headband is believed to protect the crown chakra and improve the experience of meditation.

Since the emphasis is on breathing, meditation, mudras (hand gestures) and chanting, a Kundalini class could be intense and odd for newcomers. The breath and movement are often very dynamic and will be unfamiliar to more conventional Hatha yoga practitioners. Though, the use of mantras could support you if you are new to meditation and find silence challenging. Mantra meditation can result in clarity, balance and equanimity. This type of yoga appeals to you if you are up for both mental and physical challenges. I have tried different Kundalini yoga classes and I always love the use of mantras and sounds, because it supports me with the transition from a busy work day to a quiet yoga practice. I am quite used to physical challenges, but Kundalini yoga provides me with a whole new kind of challenge. The combination of specific pranayama techniques and asanas requires me to be focused and attentive. After practising some more physically focused forms of yoga, I felt at ease to spend time and energy to develop myself spiritually as well. My first steps in the world of Kundalini yoga were quite magical experiences; it brought me to stillness and peace, my true self.

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Namaste!

My love & passion for yoga has been growing enthusiastically since my arrival in New Zealand in September last year. Not strange, if you realize how much has changed in my life in the past year. These changes cause a strong need in me for more self confidence, relaxation, acceptation and contentment. Yoga stimulate these qualities in me. The thought to follow the same path as my mum by completing a Yoga Teachers Training comes more alive and present. I would love to share my yoga journeys, experiences and realizations with you.

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