Pranayama (that’s breathing to you and me), relaxation, blood pressure

When you inhale, your heart rate rises slightly. When you exhale it falls slightly. There are probably evolutionary reasons for this (possibly to do with the ‘diver’s breath’ mammals take in water), but Yoga practitioners have long exploited this knowledge to create the so-called ‘meditative mind’, a deeply relaxed state of consciousness that allows thoughts to connect and synthesise in creative ways, giving ‘insight wisdom’, or, in Zen terms, seeing things as they are.

The slow down of the heart rate is associated, in obvious and less obvious ways, with relaxation, a kind of ‘rest and restore’ phase in the cycle, and something that has a ‘positive feedback’ effect. When you’re relaxed, your system’s inclined to respond to the condition of being relaxed by engaging in more restorative activity. Since consciousness is directly correlated to brain activity, this, in turn, has an effect on how you perceive the world, and yourself. You can attain a state of deep relaxation while still being thoroughly engaged with everything that is going on, in and around you. This can allow you to develop much more fruitful relationships, as you find yourself adopting a calmer, more compassionate understanding of situations.

However, there are significant side benefits quite apart from the ‘meditative mind’ that are associated with controlling, or lengthening, the breath, and particularly with making sure that your exhalation is longer than your inhalation (experienced practitioners and athletes can cope with a 2:1 ratio, but this takes practice).

A consistently raised heart rate is associated (though not directly correlated) with high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high for an extensive period of time, you’re at risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, dementia, and other serious health problems. Using the very simple formulation of breathing out for longer than you breathe in can induce a slower heart rate which, in turn, can reduce blood pressure. Because the effect isn’t direct, and because there are other things involved, you shouldn’t assume that this is the answer to all your problems. Changing the rhythm of your breathing with conscious awareness is a kind of ‘top down’ approach, whereas being in an unstressful or relaxing environment is a kind of ‘bottom up’, or organic, approach, and probably has deeper effects. Yoga uses both. But you can’t always magic yourself off to a beach in Tahiti, or even go and lie down on Yoga mat. And it’s definitely more worthwhile getting a small beneficial effect from this exercise than it is to slump back fatefully and succumb to an adverse health condition.

Sit up tall, as tall as you can without straining. Have an awareness of moving towards a more upright posture, rather than holding yourself rigid. Take your palms to your belly, thumbs on the navel, fingers spread, and begin to feel the breath moving in and out. You should feel your belly moving into your hands as you inhale, and back towards your spine as you exhale. If this doesn’t happen naturally, see if you can create the movement deliberately. Some people find this tricky, but it will come, with practice. Don’t stop using your rib-cage which also expands and contracts as you breathe. Just be more focused on your belly. Finally, begin to allow the exhalation to lengthen and deepen. Let yourself become more and more conscious of how many associated responses there are to this lengthened, relaxed exhalation.

You can then introduce the practice of counting as you breathe. You could count up to four as you inhale (1234) and down from four (4321) and then up to four (1234) making a total count of eight on the exhalation. If this is too much to begin with, just add one more count to the exhalation until you are comfortable with that, and then add another, and another, week by week.

Five minutes a day is a good start. You might want to build up to longer sessions but it’s more important (isn’t this almost always the case?) to make this a habit than it is to do the occasional marathon session.

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International Day of Yoga: Mensa marking the event in Mayo with Dawn Yoga

India moved a Resolution in the United National General Assembly to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. The Resolution which was adopted unanimously on December 11, 2014 received a record 177 co-sponsorships of a total of 193 members, thus creating a new record for the highest number of co-sponsorship countries ever for a resolution of such a nature in the United Nations. The importance of Yoga can be judged from the fact that the Resolution was adopted within 75 days of the Indian Prime Minister proposing it in his address to the UNGA.

For those of us who can’t get to Dublin for the event, there are various other things going on around the country, including 108 sun salutations at dawn on Cross beach 4.50-6am! This is open to everyone who wants to come, but I’m also advertising it as a Mensa event – Yoga is intelligence, embodied! So come along, and come back for a cuppa and a snack and a chat afterwards, then spend the day enjoying all that Erris has to offer: I can give info, point out good picnic spots, organise maps and put you in touch with boathire, etc.

Bring warm clothing and a towel – we may swim afterwards (if it’s not raining!) Any questions, contact me here. IMG_1770 IMG_1776

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Keep safe while in class, or while practicing Yoga at home, by following these basic guidelines

  1. Share relevant information. If you’re in a class, tell your teacher about any injuries, illness, conditions or problems that might affect your ability to certain poses or put you at risk. She can then advise on what you need to avoid, and  give you alternatives.

 

  1. Pay attention to pain. Learn to tell the difference between sensations that are potentially good for you, such as the healthy stretch of a tight muscle, and those that are potentially injurious to you, such as over-stretching a tendon or ligament, or compressing structures to the point of injury.

 

  1. Listen to your breath. Although your breath may speed up in demanding poses such as backbends or long-held standing poses, gasping for breath indicates you’re over-stressed. Notice if you are holding your breath because this a possible sign you are becoming fearful or anxious, or reacting to pain. If you find you are holding your breath, consciously relax your breathing, avoid holding it, and see if you need to come out.

 

  1. Rest if you need to. If you feel you’ve reached the limit with your time in a pose, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, come out and take a rest. Likewise, if you are suddenly sweating much more than normal, take the same precautions. If you feel like you just can’t finish the rest of a class, either let the teacher know so they can give you a resting pose to finish with or just lie down in a comfortable Relaxation pose (Savasana) Don’t just leave in the middle of a practice, without cooling down.

 

  1. Stay balanced. If you are weak or have trouble with balance, use props, such as a chair or the wall, to stabilize yourself so you don’t fall over and can practice with confidence. You can practice with your back to a wall, with one foot on the wall in standing poses, or with a hand on the wall in certain poses. If you know you have problems with balance, come to class early and stake out a place next to the wall so the wall will always there when you need it.

 

  1. Use props. Even if you have not been specially instructed to use a prop and you know that it is important for your safety (to keep you from over-stretching or falling or to use as padding for sensitive areas), go ahead and use it. And if you know you typically need a certain prop, such as a block or blanket, have one ready at your side before class starts.

 

  1. Resist peer pressure. If your class is doing a pose that you feel is beyond your capabilities or that you just aren’t ready for, ask your teacher for an alternative or take a resting pose. Or, you can just watch the others do the pose, and learn through observation. If you find your class is consistently too challenging for you, look of another a class that fits your level of ability, such as an eight-week introductory series for beginners or a class that is designed specifically for older students.

 

  1. Only do inverted poses if they’re okay for you. Inverted poses are contraindicated for people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure or who are having eye problems, such as glaucoma or detached retina. If you are having neck problems, refrain from Headstand and Shoulderstand, please. If you have no contraindications and want to learn inversions, start by finding a special class, series, or workshop that is designed to introduce you to step by step to the inverted poses, so you can learn to practice these poses safely, under the careful guidance of an experienced teacher.

 

  1. Talk to Your Doctor. If you have had a surgery, or if you have a medical condition or an injury, explicitly ask your doctor or physical therapist which physical actions are safe for you and which are not. Don’t wait for the medical professional to tell you! Some doctors in particular (no offense, Baxter) often don’t even consider that you might be going upside down or twisting yourself like a pretzel, so you have to be sure to ask: Can I go upside down? Can I round my spine? Can I twist my spine? Can I cross my legs? Can I put pressure on this or that part of my body? And if you get no for an answer to any of those questions, be sensible, and follow the doctor’s recommendations.


(Edited from ‘Yoga for Healthy Aging’, and with grateful thanks to the team there.)

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Meditation and Yoga with a timer

I love doing Yoga with a timer: you get such objective feedback. This Youtube audio lasts 20 minutes – not too long, I hope you’ll agree, to spend on mindfulness in action – and there’s a chime every 30 seconds. That means you can take around five breaths in every pose (or stay for a minute, or two, and that, my friends, will concentrate the mind, or at least make you aware of how easily it wanders!) and know that you’ve stayed there that long. The minutes fly by, and yet you’re focused. It’s a wonderful experience: highly relaxing. It’s got me back on the mat more than anything else recently (and my zazen practice is also enhanced, though I do switch off all guides to ‘just sit’: that seems appropriate – like taking off training wheels when riding a bike).

I hope this helps you: I’ve got several sequences on this site, and there are thousands of others, just as good, all over the web. So choose a practice, or make one up as you go along, and spend 20 minutes in moving meditation. Greater love hath no person, than to lay down his time to benefit humanity.

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Keep safe while in class, or while practicing Yoga at home, by following these basic guidelines

  1. Share relevant information. If you’re in a class, tell your teacher about any injuries, illness, conditions or problems that might affect your ability to certain poses or put you at risk. She can then advise on what you need to avoid, and  give you alternatives.

 

  1. Pay attention to pain. Learn to tell the difference between sensations that are potentially good for you, such as the healthy stretch of a tight muscle, and those that are potentially injurious to you, such as over-stretching a tendon or ligament, or compressing structures to the point of injury.

 

  1. Listen to your breath. Although your breath may speed up in demanding poses such as backbends or long-held standing poses, gasping for breath indicates you’re over-stressed. Notice if you are holding your breath because this a possible sign you are becoming fearful or anxious, or reacting to pain. If you find you are holding your breath, consciously relax your breathing, avoid holding it, and see if you need to come out.

 

  1. Rest if you need to. If you feel you’ve reached the limit with your time in a pose, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, come out and take a rest. Likewise, if you are suddenly sweating much more than normal, take the same precautions. If you feel like you just can’t finish the rest of a class, either let the teacher know so they can give you a resting pose to finish with or just lie down in a comfortable Relaxation pose (Savasana) Don’t just leave in the middle of a practice, without cooling down.

 

  1. Stay balanced. If you are weak or have trouble with balance, use props, such as a chair or the wall, to stabilize yourself so you don’t fall over and can practice with confidence. You can practice with your back to a wall, with one foot on the wall in standing poses, or with a hand on the wall in certain poses. If you know you have problems with balance, come to class early and stake out a place next to the wall so the wall will always there when you need it.

 

  1. Use props. Even if you have not been specially instructed to use a prop and you know that it is important for your safety (to keep you from over-stretching or falling or to use as padding for sensitive areas), go ahead and use it. And if you know you typically need a certain prop, such as a block or blanket, have one ready at your side before class starts.

 

  1. Resist peer pressure. If your class is doing a pose that you feel is beyond your capabilities or that you just aren’t ready for, ask your teacher for an alternative or take a resting pose. Or, you can just watch the others do the pose, and learn through observation. If you find your class is consistently too challenging for you, look of another a class that fits your level of ability, such as an eight-week introductory series for beginners or a class that is designed specifically for older students.

 

  1. Only do inverted poses if they’re okay for you. Inverted poses are contraindicated for people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure or who are having eye problems, such as glaucoma or detached retina. If you are having neck problems, refrain from Headstand and Shoulderstand, please. If you have no contraindications and want to learn inversions, start by finding a special class, series, or workshop that is designed to introduce you to step by step to the inverted poses, so you can learn to practice these poses safely, under the careful guidance of an experienced teacher.

 

  1. Talk to Your Doctor. If you have had a surgery, or if you have a medical condition or an injury, explicitly ask your doctor or physical therapist which physical actions are safe for you and which are not. Don’t wait for the medical professional to tell you! Some doctors in particular (no offense, Baxter) often don’t even consider that you might be going upside down or twisting yourself like a pretzel, so you have to be sure to ask: Can I go upside down? Can I round my spine? Can I twist my spine? Can I cross my legs? Can I put pressure on this or that part of my body? And if you get no for an answer to any of those questions, be sensible, and follow the doctor’s recommendations.


(Edited from ‘Yoga for Healthy Aging’, and with grateful thanks to the team there.)

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Our sphere of knowledge is shifting: we need to respond to this shift now

We need to update the epistemic sphere to include current information that makes clear the human impact on the rest of the biosphere. We need to update how we see ourselves in relation to context, so that, for instance, we begin to understand and appreciate that the shared global commons is shared not just with other humans, but with everything that exists on this planet. We need to shift our sense of agency so we stop imagining that this is a top down approach, some willed event happening in the mental plane that gets translated into practice. Instead, we need to understand ourselves as entirely reacting within context, but with the capacity to get an insight into what is going on by ‘waking up’, or realising, our current situation. We need to enact these changes now, as a matter of prime importance, as though our lives depended on it. In a very real sense, they do. The story we tell ourselves about what is going on is, at the moment, killing us, causing immense suffering among the vast majority of humans, and destroying the very fabric of the ecological stability that supports and sustains our own health and well-being: our very survival.

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What’s important in being a Yoga teacher?

Being professional.

Being able to teach in a way that reflects one’s way of life.

Openness, honesty.

Wanting to learn.

Being engaged and wanting to be engaged and in relationship, in partnership.

Focussing on relationships – with students. Learning about the students.

Being there on a long term basis: committing to a long term relationship with students.

Great classes, great times for people.

Taking ownership of the classes, and sharing relevant information about other potentially interesting businesses and therapies.

Having a Yogis night out dance party. Alcohol free!!

Having presentations by other businesses and sharing what works.

Giving back to the community, particularly in terms of ecologically mindful actions.

Getting clear about what your ‘bliss’ is: and diving in, and becoming the expert!

Please let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed out…

(Taking care not to burn out… taking care not to forget my own practice and learning…)

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Yoga classes in Aughleam – Game On!

I’m really excited that so many people in Aughleam want to start Yoga. What a wonderful, positive boost, and in the Spring, too! We all need to work to find ways to respond to the different crises we are facing, as individual humans, but also in our relationships to one another and to the wider world. Yoga is a great place to work from, whatever else is going on.

The next step is to get men involved! I have one or two bravehearted fellows booked, and the ones who come to the classes in Belmullet give a definite buzz to the group (!). Still, I think more men would come to a class that was just for men. Men definitely have it tough these days, as the tragic effects of male suicide show us time and again (female suicide is just as tragic but, thankfully, much less prevalent in Ireland). There’s good evidence to show that Yoga helps with depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, general stress, self-esteem and lots of other conditions that make us miserable. It’s not a miracle cure – you have to work at it to get results. But for most of us, it’s a brilliant way of shifting focus.

Of course Yoga’s not for everyone: some people are never going to get as much out of a yoga class as they get out of a walk on the beach, followed by a pilates class. If this is you, don’t sweat the small stuff: go to pilates. Find out who else is teaching classes. Get up, stand up for your right to be healthy in attitude. See things for what they are, not what you want or expect them to be, change what you can and give yourself permission to love yourself, just as you are, warts and giggles and all. No better way to heal and soothe the pain we all so frequently face, the heartache and the tears. Embrace your experience with loving arms, breathe in, and let go, ready for the next breath, the next experience, the next moment.

Thank you, people of Aughleam, Blacksod, Cartron, Glosh and Surgeview, of Tirraun(e?? someone help me with the spelling, please), Newtown, Faulmor and Mullaghroe. I really appreciate your vote of confidence and I will do everything I can to make our classes fun, inspiring, motivating, relaxing, interesting, challenging and peaceful spaces in your week that you can use to develop the strength, flexibility, focus and compassion you need to enrich your experience and enhance your relationships with yourselves, and with the world.

Not too ambitious, is it?

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Taking the next steps, as a Doctor of Philosophy…

Today is my conferral day. In Cork. But I am in Mayo. The simple explanation for this is that I cannot afford to go to Cork, to receive the parchment that says I have attained a doctorate. I was upset when I realised I would be unable to attend the conferral ceremony. I’d tried to save money, but I have two teenage kids, and very little in the way of an income, and a couple of weeks ago, I realised that my attempts to keep any funds aside were futile. So I resigned myself to the inevitable sense of defeat and depression that lurks at the edges of my awareness now, and I buoy myself up with the encouraging thought that I did it. I may not receive the applause. I may not get my photo in the paper. No one in the community I live in knows or cares that I went through the process of doctoral research, thesis-writing, submission to deadline, and viva examination. It means nothing to anyone. But in the end, that’s all any achievement is: a phantom. The real impact is in how I live my life, and interact with others, how I find ways to disseminate the results of my research to the many others out there who also care very deeply about how we are living, and the kind of impact we are having.

One thing I’ll be working on, along with looking for work, is organising this blog, and its sister blog, http://www.gamanrad.wordpress.com. I’ll see if I can make it easier to navigate, and I’ll trim some of the longer posts. I will post once a week, but I’ll make sure I archive material that’s older, so there’s room to manoevre, as it were. Please bear with me. I’m working on this without help. I live an isolated, marginalised life, partly because what I deem important isn’t necessarily what the vast majority deem important. But I will keep sending out this tone, this sounding, this cry from the far flung shores of Erris, so that, for those for whom these things matter, the signal will serve as a sign that even here, even alone, even unable to participate, the message is, keep going, the attitude of mindful self-awareness is the key to an enriched and enriching understanding of interrelationship.

So, I rededicate this website to those of you who understand that yoga is more than asana practice, that the light that shines is not separate from the activity that causes it to shine, that your practice is not limited to the mat, but that every relationship, every interaction, matters. Your interrelatedness extends infinitely, and, when you think of it like this, any ‘you’, or ‘I’, simply disappears. This can be quite unnerving, but ultimately, it means that the only thing you control is your attitude, your stance, the angle you take on things.

The site will cover the topics of yoga practice (including practice sheets for those who want them), issues that arise in practicing or teaching yoga, mindfulness and meditative awareness techniques and practices, modifying or dealing with specific issues through yoga, yoga and ecological awareness, compassion, humility and forgiveness, humour and yoga, and anything else that springs to mind while I’m sitting, thinking about what to include here. I will attempt to organise, and to archive material that has been here for a while. I will link to any other blogs I contribute to, and I will make sure that I acknowledge the sources of any material I include in my own blog. I’ll also include details of any classes I happen to be teaching, if I’m teaching, when I post.

I don’t believe in making a profit out of yoga or teaching other mindfulness techniques. I do believe that anyone who is willing to work should be able to do so, and, if they have dedicated themselves to a particular area of study and expertise, that they should be paid for the contribution they make through that work. So if you have work for me, let me know. I have a wide range of skills, from shooting to sailing, from skiing to singing, from painting to pottery, from event management to interior design, and more.

I welcome feedback, although I would deeply appreciate it if you would couch your comments in terms that are mindful, considerate, balanced and show an awareness of the threads of experience and context that have led you to your perspective. I will aim to add a post once a week, on a Friday, so if you’re following this regularly, look out for a post then.

If your interest relates to a deeper understanding of the thinking behind the practice of yoga, meditation or related practices, then please feel free to visit my other site, http://www.gamanrad.wordpress.com, where I have uploaded papers, summaries of parts of my PhD thesis, and postdoctoral work.

With deep bows, as a sadder but (I hope) a wiser woman, I remain,

your lw

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Attempting to coordinate

I’ve just uploaded a post and I don’t really want this one to supercede it (so please read the last post too). But I wanted to let you know that I’m starting new Yoga courses, beginning Mon March 2nd in Belmullet. This is the last set of classes I’ll do for a while. I want to step back. So come along, people, and do what you can to support me and yourselves as things change gear again for Spring. See my Facebook for details of classes https: https://www.facebook.com/events/425779297586085

Loose Yoga? Why? Because I can help you to loosen and lighten up, but only you can become lucid to the wonder, in all its pain and glory, of being here, now.
Mondays, March 2nd – April 6th (Easter Monday! Compassion please!) 7.30-8.45pm Staying present Yoga, IWA , Belmullet, (holding deep stretches: some experience needed);
Tuesdays March 3rd – April 7th, 7.30-8.45pm Back to basics Yoga, IWA, Belmullet (suitable for beginners);
Wednesdays March 4th – April 8th, 6.45 – 8pm and 8.10-9.25pm, Back to basics Yoga Ionad Deirbhile​, Aughleam (beginners/ general);
Thursdays March 5th – April 9th, 6.45-8pm Pregnancy Yoga (suitable for second and third trimester);
Thursdays 8.10-9.25pm Surya Namaskara and inversions flow sequences (intermediate/advanced), IWA, Belmullet.
All classes 45 euro for six weeks, payable on first night. Drop in, if available, 10 euro, but please check by texting/calling first (0861286449). Please bring your own mat. I look forward to seeing you there!

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