To put a deposit down for Spring Your Yoga…

I’m trying to add a PayPal button here but it’s proving challenging… I pasted the HTML but nothing is appearing. The easiest way to put a deposit down for the March workshop in Kiltimagh is to PayPal me at looseyoga (at) gmail (dot) com. I’ll get over this technical hitch as soon as possible and make things simpler for you but for now, that’s the best I can do. Namaste!

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Spring your Yoga with the Glore River and Labyrinths

This workshop will be on 7th and 8th of March in The Glore Mill in Kiltimagh. It will cost 80 euro, including a light lunch, and will run from 10 am to 3.30 pm. Please be here by 9.45 am. It is possible to attend one session (morning 25 euro, afternoon 30 euro, single day 45 euro), and to receive all materials which will be sent out beforehand to all who register, however, it would be much more beneficial to attend both days. There will be consideration given to those who are deeply dedicated to learning but who are in financial difficulties.

The focus in my practice and teaching is on developing and deepening an understanding of our interconnectedness and its implications. We practice compassionate attunement to let the individual self become a way through which love can act. This involves understanding, and then practicing how to maintain compassionate attunement based on ancient philosophies and modern scientific theories. It involves building resilience through focused asana practice, and unearthing the layers of experience through pranayama practice. We then practice pratyahara for peace and resilience, dharana through exercises in focusing awareness and keeping the attention steady, as well as writing exercises, listening exercises and walking exercises. We explore the powerful practices in yogic sleep, and link this with the practices of lucid dreaming which I have experienced and used to integrate issues in my own relationships. We use imaginative techniques and analytical, knowledge-based practices to learn more about our relationship within our culture and historical relationships so that these too can become integrated, and then we explore how we can elicit lucid dreaming through yoga nidra and other practices.

We will use practice, silence and discussion.

We will work to identify the desire that drives us, to name it to ourselves, to realise it in our lives. If it is real, not Maya, it will surely manifest.

Sessions run:

Saturday

10-12: introductions, yamas and niyamas, asana and pranayama, savasana

12-1: lunch

1-3.30: pratyahara, labyrinths with intention, following the thread writing, samyama techniques, asana to prepare for yoga nidra and lucid dreaming explored through silent meditation, writing, and discussion.

Sunday

10-12: intention setting, compassionate communication, the science of happiness, asana and pranayama, savasana

12-1: silent lunch

1-3.30: voice of the river walking, ancestral healing techniques, writing reflections, samyama techniques, asana to prepare for yoga nidra, lucid dreaming explored, closing discussion on driving desire, connections, reflections and seeing your story unfold, close.

Please book through my email looseyoga@gmail.com or through this website. Deposit of 20 euro required.

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Spring your yoga with the glorious Glore and labyrinths

No nonsense yoga and philosophy to ground your perspective and help you understand and respond to the ecological emergency. This work promises to be fun, fulfilling, and above all, to help shift our trajectory from one of increasing fragmentation, polarisation, blame, hatred and fear, to compassionate attunement and letting love do what needs to be done. Through this work you can:

-Understand how to maintain an attitude of compassionate attunement based meditating and discussing Yajnavalkya’s, as well as Patanjali’s yamas and niyamas in the light of modern scientific theories of compassionate communication and happiness.

-Build resilience, endurance and flexibility through asana and pranayama.

-Practice pratyahara for inner quietude, to strengthen your immune system and to experience the shift from outer to inner awareness., then develop samyama through meditation techniques, including walking labyrinths with a single focus, writing exercises, listening to the voice of the Glore river while walking, ancestral healing, finding the deep power of lucid dreaming and yoga nidra through practice, silence and discussion.

This workshop will be on 7th and 8th of March in The Glore Mill in Kiltimagh. It will cost 80 euro, including a light lunch, and will run from 10 am to 3.30 pm. Please be here by 9.45 am. It is possible to attend one session (morning 25 euro, afternoon 30 euro, single day 45 euro), and to receive all materials which will be sent out beforehand to all who register, however, it would be much more beneficial to attend both days. There will be consideration given to those who are deeply dedicated to learning but who are in financial difficulties.

Sessions run:

Saturday

10-12: introductions, yamas and niyamas, asana and pranayama, savasana

12-1: lunch

1-3.30: pratyahara, labyrinths with intention, following the thread writing, samyama techniques, asana to prepare for yoga nidra and lucid dreaming explored through silent meditation, writing, and discussion.

Sunday

10-12: intention setting, compassionate communication, the science of happiness, asana and pranayama, savasana

12-1: silent lunch

1-3.30: voice of the river walking, ancestral healing techniques, writing reflections, samyama techniques, asana to prepare for yoga nidra, lucid dreaming explored, closing discussion on driving desire, connections, reflections and seeing your story unfold.

Bring a yoga mat, any props you might normally use (e.g. a zafu for zazen) and a notebook and pen. Light lunch and tea and coffee provided.

bdr

Posted in Ancestral work, Ecological awareness, Lucid dreaming, sankalpa, Serious yoga, Writing, yoga nidra, yoga philosophy, Yoga practice, zazen | Leave a comment

Yoga is Green

I am offering a workshop in the Glore Mill in Kiltimagh for those interested in deepening their practice and understanding of interrelationship, non-dualism, the power of lucidity and awareness in practice, and the use of affirmations and journalling in developing self realisation. More details to follow but please contact me to book a place! 7th and 8th March 2020.

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Yoga and the ecological emergency (an edited version of an article I wrote originally for the Yoga for Healthy Aging site)

In the Brihadaranyakaya Upanishad (trans. Max Muller, 1879), Ganaka Vaideha asks, “Who is the Self?” Yâgñavalkya replies: “He who is within the heart, surrounded by the Prânas (senses), the person of light, consisting of knowledge”. 

This “being within the heart” involves understanding what one is united with, or yoked to (the derivation most commonly ascribed to the word “yoga”). “Surrounded by the senses” also means being aware of what the senses bring in to us and how. We are porous creatures. We interact with the world around us at a molecular level, breathing in, breathing out. We bring something else to the practice, with practice. The old texts speak of these attitudes as damyata (restraint), datta (charity), and dayadhvam (compassion).

So when we breathe in, what we breathe in is air but the air is full of human attitudes, and those, in turn, are shaped by human voices. Our beliefs, our culture, our experience, all shape how we speak, how we see the world and our place in it. With the growing awareness that comes through the practices of yoga, we cannot unsee the attitudes that allow factory owners in countries, however far away,  to make clothes, but even yoga mats, with cheap labour and impacts on the soils, air and water of those places that affect on humans and the more-than-human world. 

When we breathe out, it is not just air but our own words that resonate on the air, creating conflict, karma, and suffering whenever we fail to restrain the triggered reactions and allow generosity, patience, and compassion to guide us.

Technological innovations that simplify, speed up, or otherwise make our lives easier are to be appreciated deeply. We have better health, on the whole, as a species, than our forefathers, and even if the news would have us think otherwise, we have safer, more stable societies (particularly those of us lucky enough to live in the global North). But we are fools if we ignore the associated side effects of these innovations, the pollution that is pumped into the rivers, legally or illegally, the waste that’s dumped on land or at sea, the huge urban sprawls created by the manufacturing sectors in countries where people have few choices about what work to take—all these are inseparable from us. That thou art.

This is not a blame game. When we see agricultural practices that feed us cheap food by creating deforestation, desertification, chemical pollution, climate change, extinction of species, loss of habitat, fragmentation, and which rely on the insane barbarity of factory farming, we become aware of what we are caught in, our collective samskara. We become aware of the unbroken thread between a booming stock market and loss of livelihood in drought-husked Kenya, refugee crises in Syria, tar sands, pipelines, plundering the newly opened NorthWest passage to access oil. Tat tvam asi.

This is happening now, on our watch, under our gaze, as we meditate or stretch. Humankind may not be able to bear very much reality but a yogi’s work is to open to what is real, and to deal with it with friendliness (maitri), compassion (karuna), to take on board the ugliness but also to joy in the beauty (mudita), to take no heed of results but only of the process, and thus to develop equinamity, a deep peace (upeksa).  

It can feel overwhelming. That is the challenge that Arjuna faced in the Gita: How can we hope to succeed in action when the outcome is so uncertain? This challenge confronts  us every day, but practicing an attitude of non-attachment to the outcome, as Krishna recommends Arjuna, helps us detach from the end. We will not know the end. We can only know the way. 

Compassion, for ourselves, and for the web we’re woven into, is vital if we are to have the energy to act. And compassion, karuna, is the fountainhead yoga, an eternal spring that gives and gives. We can generate karuna for ourselves, for all the systems that sustain and create flourishing in our lives, and we can then stretch beyond even that, into the realm of loving enemies. Love is the most foundational, and also the most rational, attitude we can have. If we understand what is going on with an attitude of love, we will find answers everywhere. Love always does what needs to be done.

Kripa is mercy in yogic terms. We cannot learn if we cannot forgive ourselves and others for the mess we are in. Acceptance and forgiveness are essential to our flexibility. Talk to people. Make peace with even those you feel are most responsible. Eliminate anger and rely on honesty. Trust in your own resilience, and in the tremendous resilience of natural systems and believe that you can change nothing but yourself, but that to change yourself is to change your relationship to everything, which is the change we need now.

Practicing yoga gives us the strength and resilience to act. To practice means both to get better at, and to do something as part of a way of life. When we practice yoga, we confirm we are at home in the universe. We are at one with all the systems and processes that are unfolding in and around us, because they are what we are. This is union.

The practice motivates us to do all the small things, the local things: buy less stuff in general, buy more stuff from local, ethical producers. Challenge food waste in supermarkets—collect the food and redistribute it – and challenge ourselves to become more aware about where our food comes from. Reuse things (bottles and jars make good alternative lunch boxes), recycle what you can’t reuse (not just plastics, but also clothes, books, CDs). Set up local exchange systems with friends or by creating communities, networks, and support groups. Learning the principles of compassionate achievement, and of skillful communication.

Be kind, because we as a species have the potential to be humankind, and it is kindness that matters above all. Plant gardens (and waysides) with bee-friendly flowers, lobby the local council to allow your group to plant free food in wastelands, vegetables and herbs that anyone can pick. Lobby to have glyphosphates banned in your area. Organise local clean ups of rivers and woodlands, and recycle the resulting plastics wherever possible. 

Finally, the practice gets us into the big stuff. Petition universities to divest their investment funds from Big Oil, challenge governments on climate change actions that inherently contradict other policies, for example, why are they subsidising oil companies and then putting up taxes on larger engines? Ask what’s causing water pollution in your area. What or who is causing air pollution? Planting monocultures? Qui bono? Who gains? If it is not in the common, more-than-human good, find out if someone is working on it, and if not, ask for help from outside the area.

Get to know who our local and national politicians are, and let them get to know us. Write to them. Short is good. Green websites and lobby groups often have set letters that will help, though it’s even better, of course, if we can make it unique. This is our chance to express what we have to say. If we don’t feel we know enough, we can make friends with someone who does! 

The practice of yoga is fundamentally the practice of living in union – not in perfect harmony, but muddling along, in the way that wild ecosystems do, with more cooperation than competition, but with a healthy level of both – with all the systems that create and sustain us.  We discover peace, shanti, through healing our relationship with others and with the world. We do this by taking on as much as we can without overstretching. We cannot do everything. Just as in our practice on the mat, we need to find a line between effort and surrender, so in ecological practice we find:

“The small, old path stretching far away [that] has been found by me…on which sages who know Brahman move on to the Svarga-loka (heaven), and thence higher on, as entirely free” 

Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Raymond Clyde Cooper who has been inspirational in my life, who has restored a river system in the west of Ireland, and who provided the following links: 

http://www.religionandnature.com/ern/sample/Chapple–Yoga+Ecology.pdf

http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2002/cmay02/ecotrans.shtml

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/the-vedic-view-of-ecology

https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac:188013

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-fici/the-yoga-of-ecology-the-g_b_3704257.html

http://www.fivetattvas.com/blog/yoga-and-ecology

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The Fearless Heart NVC training adapted for Yoga-Zazen

  1. Enmeshment: Even when I feel disconnected or isolated, I intend to allow love and kindness to course through me so that I understand I’m entirely enmeshed and interconnected. Even when I distrust this process and attempt to maintain my independence, I intend to allow myself to rest in the peace of love and kindness that supports me, that is beautiful and open and creative and belongs to all. 
  2. Abundance: Even when I fear not having enough, I intend to recognise that there is plenty, that the universe is enough, that I am enough. Even when I grasp, I intend to understand that sharing creates abundance and rich nourishment for all.
  3. Integrity: Even when I am faced by serious challenges, I intend to feel at peace, and to understand that apparent opposites are relationships unfolding in the complex algorithm that is existence, that dualities are illusory, everything is on a spectrum, and a part of the whole.
  4. Appreciation: Even when there is chaos and tragedy, I intend to open to appreciation, which is neither negative nor positive, but which seeks to learn from all situations, to understand that I am not in control, that I must give it all up for love. 
  5. Understanding: Even when I cannot see the benefit in a particular situation, I intend to accept that nevertheless, a benefit, perhaps in the form of some deeper understanding, exists, and that connection exists as a matter of existence, and beauty and wonder exist, even in the dark. 
  6. Release: Even when I experience death, I intend to allow myself to mourn without guilt or shame, to allow love and creativity to flow through in the darkness, to nourish the night. 
  7. Humility: Even when I have learnt deep and important lessons, I intend to acknowledge how little I know and how little I control. I aim to keep open to new learning, knowing that I am but a drop in the ocean, but that the ocean is made up of nothing more than billions of drops. 

 

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Course Outlines: One. Yoga Philosophy and Practice for Yoga Teacher Trainees

The following is a refinement of the two courses I’ve been involved in so far with the wonderful Nadia and Sophia Elabdaly of Hot Yoga Studios Dundrum. I’m very happy to consider teaching this in a more condensed form, if people are interested, but it’s designed to give a flavour from a non-dualist perspective of the history and evolution of Yoga, along with practices that help embody the philosophy of yoga as compassionate attunement. Please contact me to discuss my offering this in your studio. 

 

Day One: Eight Limbs and The Bhagavad Gita; What makes a yogi?

Day Two: Yamas and Niyamas; Yoga Journalling: be your own CEO!

Day Three: Awareness and Intention Setting; Comparison of Patanjali and Bhagavad Gita; Savasana and Yoga Nidra, the Bandhas

Day Four: Become a great teacher: Journalling and Meditations: Avatar creation

Day Five: Atman awareness, Mantra and Affirmation practice, Yoga as Self Care

Day Six: Review, Journalling and Meditation: Find your Niche

Day Seven: Four Desires, Pranayama practices, Workshop on Standing Poses, Journalling and Meditation: Creating Content

Day Eight: Planning a Yoga Course, Yoga for Strength and Resilience, Workshop on Sitting and Lying poses; Creating a Presence. Review course and feedback.

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Breath awareness practice

https://www.dropbox.com/s/2watz9dl5prhben/breathawareness.wma?dl=0

The link should take you to a breath awareness practice I recorded five years ago.

I’m reviewing my notes and the handouts I prepared for the yoga teacher training course I’m facilitating, alongside Sophia Elabady of Hot Yoga Studios, Dundrum. I enjoyed teaching on the last course and I’m really excited and honoured to have been asked to teach again. Please contact Sophia if you want information about teacher trainings, workshops or classes. I wholeheartedly recommend her as a teacher and a practitioner, and her studio is a wonderful sanctuary for those who find themselves in South Dublin.

 

 

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Habits…

…. we beat ourselves up about habits, particularly bad habits, so called. Good habits we want to pursue and we beat ourselves up when we fail to grasp. But Shannon Crowe and Matt Kowald come up with the goods over on The Connected Yoga Teacher.

The first thing we need to consider is what we need to do. Then we set up routines based on existing habits, like teeth brushing. So, for instance, you can hook on one thing to an existing habit, like getting into the habit of doing a five to fifteen minutes of yoga practice straight after brushing your teeth. Then linking one more thing on. But they remind us that we learn one thing at the time.

I’m going to see how things go. I’d highly recommend you listen to this podcast. Powerful, generous stuff.

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Yoga for High Blood Pressure

(I originally wrote this for Celtic Harmony. I didn’t manage to get a response from them when I asked if I could reproduce it here so with a deep bow to them, and in the knowledge that they commissioned it from me, here it is…)

Keywords:
blood pressure exercise, yoga for high blood pressure, high blood pressure exercise, best ab exercises, exercise reduces stress, exercise to lower blood pressure, hardening arteries, lower blood pressure naturally, yoga positions for beginner, pranayama, art of living yoga, high blood pressure cures, high blood pressure natural remedy, exercise and high blood pressure

How Yoga reduces blood pressure and why the practice is important.

Fact Box

A normal range of blood pressure is 90/60 to 140/90 (where the first number is the ‘beat’ or systolic pressure number – when the heart beats – and the second is the ‘between beats’ or diastolic number – in between heartbeats).
Hypertension is anything above this (the higher, the more critical, creating conditions for hardening arteries, arterial plaque formation, kidney failure and the risk of stroke or heart attack)
(Hypotension – low blood pressure – is also a risk condition but unless there are symptoms, this condition is less dangerous)

Yoga as blood pressure exercise

Yoga – as a practice of certain physical stretches, as well as certain breathing and relaxation techniques – has been clinically proven to lower blood pressure naturally (see, for instance http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12186115). Yoga reduces blood pressure, essentially, by mirroring natural functions in the human organism. You naturally yawn when you’re tired, right? This has the effect of making you breathe more deeply, so you wake up a bit. Yoga mirrors that sort of process, bringing your attention to the systems, seeing how they work. This calm attention relaxes the systems and then even the observation relaxes.

Yoga for high blood pressure

If high blood pressure is caused by narrow arteries, or a heart beating harder or faster, yoga exercises to reduce blood pressure work by making it possible for the arteries to relax a bit (or at least, the muscles around them), or for the heart to beat a bit slower, or more softly. These blood pressure exercises, like other exercises to lower blood pressure, work by teaching the body to reduce stress. To some extent, all exercise reduces stress since the act of exercising allows the heartbeat to rise naturally so that when the exercise stops, the heart responds by relaxing. Exercise is ‘good stress’ (we’ll look at some of the best abs exercises: they really work the heart). Hand in hand with good nutrition and relaxation techniques, exercise is one of the key natural high blood pressure cures.

Art of living Yoga

As you know from elsewhere, high blood pressure is a sign of the heart working too hard, and an overworked heart is both a symptom, and a cause, of further health complications. Your genetic history is one deciding factor that you can’t do anything about but there are lots of other factors (poor diet, too little exercise, possible addictions or compulsive behaviours) that you could change. The trouble is, sometimes it’s a vicious circle: you’re stressed out, so you overeat (drink, drug, engage in too many sedentary activities like computer games). You develop a negative self-image (or maybe this came first) and that stresses you out. So you overeat (drink, etc). How can you ever hope to sidestep this cyclical trap?

Beginner’s mind

The first step is accepting where you are, without judgement, without blaming yourself or anyone else, without making excuses or telling yourself stories about traumatic history. Just accepting that the state you are in includes this condition – and observing all the things that arise, all the emotions, all the thoughts, the desires, even the physical sensations – that’s the first step.

Compassionate detachment

The second step is to do the first step, but add in a little compassion. Not self-pity. Not excuses. Not back-stories. Just compassion. You, like everyone else, have done the best you could so far to survive. This condition you are in is evidence of your attempts to deal with stress. Give yourself a little space. The motivation behind your attempts deserves appreciation. Appreciate how intricate, complex and clever an organism you are – not ‘the self’ you think you are, but all the cells, all the processes, working away day and night, even in difficult conditions, even on poor nourishment, or without the chance to get rid of toxins. It’s not vain to offer yourself a little gratitude for this (you’re not thanking your ‘self’ in the sense of the thing you think you have control over, the talking, laughing, crying, dancing, conscious self, the ‘foreground’. You’re appreciating and coming to focus on ‘background’, the whole body and all the things that allow the body to keep going, from air and water, to your cells, your organs).

Taking responsibility

The third step is to allow yourself to consider the possibility that you might be able to support your natural instinct to survive (Yoga isn’t really about surviving at all – it’s about learning to let go of everything – but let’s let that go for the moment!). At this point you might develop some urge to reach out to someone for some support. Sometimes there’s no obvious support but you might be surprised at how strangely things operate. Once you become open to the possibility that you might be able to do something to respond to your own problems, something that works with and not against the background, then you will perhaps find the inherent motivation. You might allow yourself to be drawn towards active responses that drive a wider network of reactions instead of trapping you into narrower and narrower circles of repetitive action. Of course you will have challenges. The strategies that have worked in the past are terrifying to release: what if nothing else works as well? What if I have to deal with things that were suppressed through these activities I used? Fear creeps in at every opportunity. Dealing with fear is part of Yoga, embracing it as a part of the process and then letting it, too, take its place among the dynamic, changing relationships so that it is just an element of the condition, and not its defining feature. Fear is essentially a kind of stressor, and if you’ve become hyper-sensitive to stress, that might be a factor in your hypertension. You need to learn that stress is one, but not the only, condition of living. This is the challenge!

Choose your weapon!

The fourth step is to choose what actions are best to meet your own needs, in other words, how can you respond most effectively, given your own conditions? You will find that responding happens at a number or levels, simultaneously. You may find you want to review your diet and that’s a great place to start. You may find you want to review your tendency to get locked into particular patterns of response and that might involve reaching out to learn about what other people have done to manage those kinds of knee-jerk reactions. That’s a good journey. Something that complements all of the above is Yoga because Yoga is just practicing stepping beyond instant reaction and developing self awareness in the process. Yoga is one of many processes that people have used over the centuries to align themselves towards a way of responding, peacefully, to the conditions we find ourselves in, however critical and painful. Find something that suits you. So long as it allows you to express and integrate stress into the whole background of conditions and situations that have brought you to this point, it will serve you perfectly well.

The way of the peaceful warrior

Yoga is not a path, as such, because it is not a ‘way’ to anywhere. It’s more of a practice of waking up to what’s happening right now. You practice realising, appreciating and taking into account, non-judgmentally, whatever you have to deal with, moment by moment. You notice each time a rigid response, like fear, or anger, or over-confidence, emerges, and you just watch it, like watching a puppet show. You practice not reacting, but waiting, and then responding. It’s fun, it’s physical, it’s challenging, but most of all, it’s great for dealing with tension, particularly hypertension.

Yoga positions and practices for beginners

Yoga blood pressure exercises are just Yoga exercises that lower blood pressure naturally. You can learn all these asana and pranayama practices with a Yoga teacher. You can use resources available on the web and in books to help you to learn but a qualified, experienced teacher can indicate where you need to focus your attention and help you to develop a good foundation.

Scientific studies on many of the practices and positions listed here prove the link between Yoga and Meditation practices and reduced hypertension.

Pranayama (Breathing techniques)

Yogic breath

What is it?

Yogic breath is one of the first breathing practices you learn in Yoga asana class. It’s best to learn from a teacher or even a video, but you can also follow these instructions:

1. lie down and practice breathing slightly more deeply than usual. Focus on your exhalation, sighing out through the nostrils, then waiting a moment until you need to inhale. If you’re new to this, try placing your palms on your abdomen and practice squeezing your abdominal muscles a little at the end of the out-breath. Do this up to ten times (but pay attention to how you feel and have a break if you need to – you don’t want to feel dizzy!)
2. Now take your hands to your chest and try keeping the chest still. You will have to puff out your abdomen slightly as you inhale so you use your diaphragm muscle more than your chest muscles to open the lungs.
3. Then reverse. Keep your abdomen as still as you breath in, as far as possible, just expand your ribcage. Breathe like this for five breaths. See how you feel.
4. The third stage is to keep your chest and abdomen still and just lift your collarbone as you breathe in. You need only do this for three or four breaths.
5. Finally, you’re going to put the three parts together: breathe into your abdomen, then into your chest and finally into your upper chest, breathing out from the upper chest, chest and lastly, the abdomen. You’ll be breathing very deeply and slowly. Stop after five or six breaths (practicing lying down is great but remember, the back of the rib cage can’t expand as much so it limits your breath).

Ujayi breathing

What is it?

When you’ve mastered Yogic breath in sitting, you can introduce the Ujayi practice which will lengthen the time it takes to inhale and exhale by a little more. You must always pay attention to how you feel. Dizzy is not good. Patience is excellent. Practice and it will happen. So how do you make a Yogic breath into a Ujayi breath? Simple: just close the throat. What does that mean?

1. Once you’re clear about the abdomen rising on the inhalation and falling on the exhalation, you need to practice the same thing sitting up. So come into a cross legged position (if that’s very uncomfortable, just sit with your legs out straight, but use a wall to support your back and practice opening your hips by taking your legs wide, or even sit on a chair).

2. Try saying ‘ah’ with an open mouth as you breathe out. Then say ‘ah’, breathing out, but without making any sound (as though you were whispering). Finally, close your mouth and just feel the ‘ahhhh’ sound in the throat (you might be able to hear that your breathing sounds a bit like waves on a beach or the wind through the trees).

3.You don’t need to make a loud noise in the throat. If it’s too harsh, your throat may start to feel dry. Keep it slow and even. Five to ten breaths is fine to begin with then relax, see how you feel. Eventually, you can use ujayi breathing throughout your asana practice.

How does Pranayama help?

Learning how to breath using what’s sometimes called a ‘yogic breath’ is really just learning to re-establish what happens when you breathed naturally as a baby, and then exaggerate that a bit. By breathing like you did when you were a baby, you make sure that the lower lobes of the lungs are opened during the inhalation. That means that you inhale more deeply, into all parts of the lungs. And that means that you can sometimes feel that you’ve breathed in a lot of oxygen, even though you are breathing quite slowly. As long as you are breathing very slowly, the entire system responds. Your heart responds to your breathing rate. A long, slow breath is a bit like the way you breathe when you’re in deep sleep, so your heart begins so beat more slowly, as though you were in a deeply relaxed state. Your blood pressure, as a consequence, goes down.

Caution! Breathing in a lot of oxygen is actually toxic to the system (we’re fine tuned creatures, folks!) so if you practice Yogic breath or Ujayi breathing too quickly, you’ll feel dizzy and even nauseous. Obviously, you can reverse the sensation very easily: just go back to your normal way of breathing. Remember, Yoga is the art of paying attention, so whatever condition you are in is just fine. Accept it, work within it, and keep moving the attention around to encompass the whole experience. Oh. And practice.

Bhramari (bee breath)

What is it?

Once you’ve practiced Yogic breath and Ujayi for a few days, you’ll be ready to introduce another technique (and none of these need be time consuming: two or three minutes’ practice has an effect).

1. To practice bhramari or bee breath, sit cross-legged (or straight legged, or on a chair) and start by practicing Yogic breath and then Ujayi for a few breaths.

2. Then bring your hands up and place the thumbs to close (with very little pressure) the ear hole (you can gently push against the flap just outside the ear hole if that’s more comfortable).
3. Then place the first fingers just above and along the eyebrows, the long fingers lay lightly over the eyes, ring fingers press lightly against the outside of the flare of the nostrils.
4. Exhale to begin. Inhale fully, then exhale with a humming sound, like a bee. You can begin with three or four rounds and see how you feel.

How does it help?

Slightly closing down your senses means you, as an organism, pay more attention to how you feel. Sound, particularly when it’s familiar (you’re making the sound!) and non-threatening, and vibration, both have an intense effect because you can actually feel them resonate through your body – a bit like being massaged from within. This has a biofeedback effect, the calming experience makes you consciously relax but all the organs of the body then react by relaxing too. Stress contracts, relaxation expands and opens, so even the muscles surrounding blood vessels relax, and the blood vessels themselves can open, reducing the pressure. In the longer term, you begin to realise that you have a little control over your stress levels. You can do small things to influence how you feel. These effects may be small but they add up.

Asana (Postures)

Supta padangusthasana (supine hamstring stretches)

What is it?

1. Supta padangusthasana is a supine stretch for the legs, feet and toes. Lie down on your yoga mat or on a rug on the floor. Visualise lining up the spine so that it is a plumb-line running through the body from head to tail, legs close together, draw your shoulderblades close together behind your back, drop the tops of the shoulders away from your ears, arms alongside the body, palms up. Lengthen the head away from the heels by flattening yourself out on the floor (you can use a blanket under the head if you feel any uncomfortable sense of pressure in the head).
2. Bend one knee into your chest and then stretch that leg gently, straight up towards the ceiling/sky. You can use a strap, or hold on to the big toe in a ‘mudra’ if you’re flexible, or you can hold on to your calf or trouser-leg.
3. If you lifted your head and chest off the floor when you straightened your leg, relax them back. Keep both legs as straight as possible. You can visualise breathing warm energy into the back of the lifted leg. Keep your attention on both your breath (if you’re straining, you’ll hear your breathing begin to tremble or become uneven – relax the pose a little) and on the alignment of your body (so make sure your spine stays in the centre by keeping the hips and shoulders in line). Relax into the stretch by making only enough effort to keep the leg stretched up. About a minute is long enough each side to begin with, and pause in between so you can feel any difference between the sensations in the legs.

How does this yoga asana pose help?

This pose stretches the hamstrings, four sets of tendons at the back of the thighs that get very tight when sitting, driving and even when running, cycling or doing other repetitive movements in sport. It also stretches the Achilles tendon, which is the largest tendon in the human body. Releasing and relaxing those tendons via the associated muscles is a huge deal for creating relaxation, which is part of dealing with hypertension. But within the long muscles at the back of the thighs lie the blood vessels, and the nerves. When the muscles are tight, the blood vessels and the nerves get squeezed. When you gently stretch the backs of the legs, and the feet, you’re encouraging the muscles at the backs of the legs to lengthen and relax. When you do this while you’re focussing on breathing gently and slowly, you’re giving yourself lots of biofeedback opportunities. If the muscles relax, there’s more space for the blood vessels. Result? Potentially at least, reduced blood pressure.

Pawanmuktasana (wind releasing sequence)

This is a wonderful series of very simple stretches for all the joints of the body. You would need a book to list all the stretches in this series, so here’s just an example of what kind of stretch is involved:
1. Sitting upright, straight legs (use a wall to support your spine upright if you can’t sit straight), begin to pay close attention to how you’re sitting and see how much length you can bring into your legs and spine.
2. Inhale and point your toes and when you’re ready to exhale, pull your toes back towards you and lengthen away your heels. Repeat a few times. You could start with three or four and build up to ten repetitions.
3. Relax completely, bending your knees and hugging them in. Pay attention to how you feel.

How does Pawanmuktasan help?

The whole series is challenging because it involves pretty simple movements, circling or moving the joints in different ways and coordinating the movements with your breathing, so your mind wants to think about other things. And that mirrors reactions to stress, paradoxically: you want to run away from it. But paying attention is actually a much more effective way of dealing with things, including stress that creates hypertension. Keeping your focus steady lets you see how the urge to distract yourself becomes more insistent, yet by letting that urge be there and just carrying on, you ride the wave of your experience. Result? A calmer acceptance (I’m not saying this is instantaneous, though it can be!)

Janu Sirasana (head to knee asana)

What is it?

1. Sit upright on your mat or rug with your legs straight out in front (use a wall to support your upright spine if you need to – this pose is called Dandasana).
2. Bend one leg. Bring the heel in as close to the buttock as possible keeping the knee upright. Then take the knee out to the side. If the underside of the knee doesn’t reach the floor, you can use a blanket to support the knee so you feel stable (but don’t raise the knee off the floor with the blanket. Support while allowing opening to happen is the key).
3. Inhale and turn yourself towards your straight leg. You can use one hand inside the bent leg and one hand outside the straight leg thigh to help you rotate a little.
4. Exhale and very gently extend forwards. Pay attention to the opening hip on the bent leg side, to the back of the straight leg pushing down into the floor, to the chest opening towards the shin, to the lumbar area.
5. If it all feels ok, you can extend further and then just stay still and see how it feels to be folding forwards over the straight leg. You can hold onto the calf, ankle, or foot, or you can use a strap looped around the foot to help you. Come out slowly, bringing the bent leg knee into the chest before straightening your leg. Repeat to the other side.

Paschimottanasana (sitting forward bend)

What is is?

1. Sitting in Dandasana, you can reach your arms straight up above your head with your palms facing one another, arms shoulder-width apart.
2. You can take an inbreath here, dropping your shoulders down but keeping your chest and arms lifted, everything strong and long, and then as you breathe out you very gently, inch by inch fold forwards.
3. You can pause when you need to breathe in and see if you want to rest there or go further. Push the backs of your legs into the mat or rug. Pull your toes back towards your torso, pushing your heels away. Keep your thumbs higher than your shoulders for as long as possible as you fold forwards to keep your chest open.
4. If you want, you can just bring your hands down either side of your legs and rest there for a few breaths. Let gravity do the work. Just relax and focus on what happens when you relax everything that doesn’t have to be held. You’re just holding the legs in place and extending your spine so it stays as long (rather than rounding) as possible. Pay attention to breathing out. Come out very slowly, back to sitting.

How does Pachimottanasa help?

Both Janu Sirasana and Paschimottanasana are forward bends and when you bend forwards you’re metaphorically folding in on yourself, taking your attention inwards, which is calming, and helps you deal with stress. Stress is often a factor in hypertension so that’s why forward bends are helpful – but you have to go gently because if you don’t push your legs down into the floor and stretch your lumbar area, you can irritate any existing problems there.

Purvottanasana (front of body stretch)

What is it?

1. You can start in Dandasana and if you’re new to this, bend your knees and put the soles of the feet on the floor (when you get really strong, do this with straight legs, pushing the soles of the feet onto the floor – but it’s tough!)
2. Lean back slightly with a straight back and with straight arms, wrists underneath your shoulders, put your palms on the floor.
3. Inhale where you are, lifting up your chest and as you exhale, push your hips up towards the ceiling. With bent legs, you’ll push up into a ‘tabletop’ position, if you imagine the front of your body and thighs as the table top and your arms and shins as the table legs.
4. Take a few Ujayi breaths, and feel the effort, but relax any thing that doesn’t need to hold (your face, maybe, or your jaw). (Oh, and don’t fling your head back – it’s safest if you keep your chin tucked in a little).
5. To come out, just relax the hips back down and sit for a moment in the starting position. Pay attention to how you feel.

How does it help?

Sometimes you have to re-create the sensation of stress in a healthy environment so you can learn how to deal with it. All the poses that build strength in Yoga work on this principle, and so does any exercise regime. You create ‘good stress’ and that makes you more resilient, more experienced in dealing with it in a healthy way (by letting go of anything unnecessary, by building up confidence in your own strengths) when you have to face challenges in less predictable situations.

Maricyasana III (seated spinal rotation)

1. Sit in Dandasana. Bend one leg and bring your foot in front of your buttock, knee upright. Hold the shin with the hand on the opposite side (bent left leg? Hold the shin with your right hand) and take your other hand round behind you.
2. Focus on stacking your vertebrae one on top of the other so you keep your spine upright but turn, as you exhale, slowly, towards the bent leg side.
3. Feel like your filling cushions of air between the vertebrae as you inhale, and your emptying out your core so you can rotate further as you exhale. No force. Just lots of attention on what’s happening.
4. Inhale and slowly come back to the front. Repeat on the other side.

How does it help?

Rotating your spine squeezes your abdominal organs, among which are your kidneys. Kidneys play a key role in influencing blood pressure, from the release of hormones, to the managing and excretion of toxins. No system works in isolation so all your organs (and your spinal column) get stretched in this pose but you’ll feel a little refreshed after you practice this, and you’ll find that having to breath more slowly (because this position restricts your breathing a little bit) also calms you down. As a result, you’ll find this pose helps reduce hypertension.

Ardha Halasana (half plough asana)

What is it?

Caution: only practice this if you have very mild blood pressure problems or if you know you can do so without ill effects. Inversions are brilliant for helping regulate blood pressure but they’re not a cure for hypertension and people who are already in that condition will normally find it extremely uncomfortable and even harmful to increase the pressure on the carotid arteries. Having said all that, if you have a good teacher, you can still get benefits from inversions. Please remember that all these descriptions are just that: reminders if you have a teacher and you want to have some help remembering what you did, or pictures for you to paint in your head, so you know roughly what to expect. Sure, I practiced on my own for years and I’m still here, but it’s not recommended. I have to warn you.

1. Lie down on your mat or rug. Arms alongside your body, palms facing down, legs close together.
2. Take your legs over your head. You can do that by bending your knees into your chest and then reaching your legs out behind or, if you’re more advanced, you practice by taking straight legs up into the air and then over your head until your toes touch the floor behind your head.
3. Support your back with your hands. Keep your spine as upright as possible (upside down, of course) with the hips directly over your shoulders, elbows are on the floor.
4. Half plough means your legs are bent because your learning to take your feet to the floor. They might not come all the way down. That’s OK. You’re only going to stay here for a moment if that’s the case but that means that you need to pay even more attention to how it feels for your heart to be higher than your head. So pay attention!
5. Roll as slowly as you can out of this position. You want to feel as though you’re zipping your spine, one vertebra at a time, back onto the floor.
6. Let everything become relaxed on the floor. Move as little as possible. No readjustments. No running away. Just notice how you feel now.

How does it help?

Inversions work on blood pressure by reversing the ‘natural’ flow. Just remember that we were four legged creatures before we were two legged creatures so this idea that our head needs to be higher than our heart for us to survive is pretty recent. And not cast in stone. On the same principle that you can build anti-fragility into your system by doing things (in a compassionate environment) that might otherwise stress the system (bringing the heart higher than the head does change the work the heart has to do), inversions actually create resilience. Your system self-regulates because it recognises that it has to readjust. And readjustment is really just building flexibility into your reactions. Instead of feeling like you’re going to collapse, you realise that your body’s got the natural capacity to adjust. As in Yoga, so in life. Stress is tied in with the idea that you can’t cope. But you just did. Readjust to your new-found ability. You just reduced your hypertension.

Setu Bandha (bridge asana)

What is it?

1. Lie on your rug or mat and bend your knees so the soles of your feet are flat on the floor, about hip width apart, your arms alongside the body with the palms down. Draw your shoulder blades close together behind your back and draw the tops of the shoulders away from the ears.
2. Inhale there and as you breathe out, push your hips up towards the ceiling. Go as high as feels comfortable, remembering not to let your knees flare out to the sides. Push evenly into the whole of your palms and the whole of the soles of both feet.
3. When you’re ready to come out of this pose, do so very slowly, as though you were zipping your spine back down onto the floor, vertebra by vertebra, from the top of the spine down.
4. Relax and see how you feel. You can repeat this two or three times if you feel good doing it.

How does it help?

This pose gives you the benefits of a slight inversion but without issues to do with balance, since it’s very stable. You’re also only just bringing your heart higher than your head so it’s not putting any great strain on the blood vessels. The bridge pose also opens your chest so you open the area around your heart. Since posture plays a role in stress (you tend to hunch forwards and hold yourself more rigidly when you’re stressed) then countering that with a pose to open the area around your heart is going to help relieve some of that stress, and that, in turn, will have an impact on your blood pressure.

Makarasana with bhramari (crocodile asana with bee breath)

What is it?

1. Lie down on your front with your legs along the floor, about hip width apart. See if you can keep the front of the feet on the floor.
2. Bring your elbows onto the floor underneath or just in front of your shoulders (the further forward you and closer together you bring your elbows, the more intense the stretch) and support your chin in with your palms. Then bring your hands into bhramari (if this is too difficult, just keep supporting your chin with your palms)
3. Relax, inhale slowly and as you exhale, begin bhramari breathing, paying attention to the feeling all along the spine.
4. When you want to come out of this pose, take your elbows out to the sides and make a pillow with the backs of the hands, resting your cheek on your hands. Relax your heels out to the sides.

How does it help?

You’ll find that lying on your front while concentrating on your breathing makes you intensely aware of how your breathing affects the shape of your body, and that, in turn, makes your body aware of the effect of slower, deeper breathing. So you become more relaxed. You’re also challenging the diaphragm in this pose and that can make you really aware of your lower lungs. The lungs and the heart work so closely together that when you learn to breathe more deeply, you influence how the heart beats, letting it relax a little since it doesn’t have to make so much effort now that the lungs are working more efficiently.

Balasana (child asana)

What is it?

1. From Makarasana, bring your hands underneath your shoulders and come up onto all fours.
2. Sit back on your heels and bring your chest onto your thighs, your forehead onto the floor.
3. You can either curl your arms around your body (imagine you’re occupying minimal space, and let the palms face up, fingers curled naturally) but if you feel a sense of pressure in the head, bring the hands, fist over fist, underneath your forehead and rest your forehead on your fists.
4. Relax in this pose for a minute or more. If you can’t sit right back on the heels, you can use a blanket so there’s indirect contact between the heels and the buttocks.
5. To come out of this pose, just gently sit up.

How does it help?

Balasana is very like the foetal position and your body as an organism can turn its attention inwards and become aware of itself. Your organs are all very protected (and slightly compressed, which can help stimulate the flow of blood when you come out of the pose) so you feel safe and contained. This means you can relax and that, in turn, can help to lower blood pressure.

Vajrasana (diamond asana)

What is it?

Caution: avoid if you have knee injuries

1. Sit up from balasana. Lean forwards and take your feet wider than hip width apart. You might need to roll your calves outward.
2. Sit back between your lower legs so your sitting bones are on the floor, spine long, crown of the head reaching up to the ceiling/sky. Your hands can be in your lap, palm over palm, thumbs touching.
3. You don’t need to breathe deeply in this pose. Just pay attention to your breath and then take your attention through your whole body.

How does it help?

Vajrasana is called the diamond pose because it develops a very stable inner stillness. You can meditate in this pose if you want to, just by paying attention to how your breathing comes in and out of your body, keeping your spine upright, and letting your thoughts come and go. The effects of meditation have been shown in many studies to reduce blood pressure.

Supta Vajrasana (supine diamond asana)

What is it?

Caution: avoid if you have knee injuries or chronic lumbar pain.
1. From Vajrasana, take your palms onto the floor either side of your hips.
2. Slowly lie your spine down onto the floor. If your knees come off the floor, or you feel any twinges of pain in your lumbar area, gently come back to a sitting position and avoid this pose.
3. If you can lie back in this pose with your lower legs still on the floor, take your arms up over your head, and bring your palms together in prayer position so that the thumbs are in contact with the floor. Breathe normally (no need to take deep breaths when the lungs are so stretched and open).
4. When you’re ready, use your elbows and then your hands to help you back up to sitting.

How does it help?

This pose combines the meditative stability of Vajrasana with the benefits of a back-bend, opening up and stretching the entire front of the torso. Arteries can be slightly stretched and this helps them to relax and reduces blood pressure. Again, because the lungs are so open, this has an effect on your breathing rate, and so lessens the work your heart has to do, potentially lowering your blood pressure.

Savasana (corpse pose)

What is it?

1. Lie down or your rug or mat. Bring your arms alongside your body, palms facing up, fingers curled naturally. Tuck your shoulder-blades together behind your back (as if you are folding your wings) and make sure that the tops of the shoulders drop down, away from the ears. Broaden the back of the head by bringing your chin down slightly. Check that the hips and knees aren’t locked by rolling them slightly, then let the feet roll out to the sides.
2. Make any other minor adjustments you need to before making a conscious decision to both allow the body to remain completely still, and to remain consciously attentive to what is going on. Let your breathing relax.
3. Let your body soften and give way to gravity. Take your attention through your whole body. Then take your attention to your breath and watch as a breath comes in and leaves the body. Do nothing to control or influence the process. Just observe.
4. Practice watching the breath for at least ten breaths. Then take your attention to your thoughts and feelings and again, watch as each thought emerges into conscious awareness and then is replaced. You may be able to sense that your awareness remains present, even when you are not thinking and if you can sense this, then just allow yourself to be, without thinking,
5. Stay here for a few moments, drawing together and integrating the experience of the body, the breath and the thoughts and when you’re ready, slowly begin to take a deeper breath or two, gently begin to move toes, feet, ankles, hands, wrists, and fingers. Roll your head gently from side to side and if you want, stretch and yawn, sigh and relax. Bring your knees up to your chest and hug them, then roll over onto your right side. Stay there and slowly open your eyes but keep your gaze very soft. Use your arms and hands to support you to a sitting position.
6. Sit and keep your attention on how you feel now.

Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) is a relaxation technique involving various strategies to keep the attention focused while deepening your relaxation

How does it work?

Both Savasana and Yoga Nidra work on the principle of bringing your body and senses in a position that echoes sleep. Yet because you are awake, and conscious, and because you’re lying symmetrically, you become very aware of what happens while you’re relaxing. This means that you intensify layers and layers of biological feedback processes, from hormone production (and that influences blood pressure) to heart rate, breathing rate, electro-chemical stimulation in nerves and muscles, and many other systems within the body. Establishing a good Yoga Nidra practice will undoubtedly influence your response to stress in everyday life and that will have a beneficial effect on your blood pressure throughout your day. The key, as I’ve said before, is practice!

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