Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Padahasthasan - what we learn on the way down!

Now the weather is getting a little pre-monsoon here in Kathmandu, the humidity is rising and feelings of a little sluggishness may be creeping in.  Padahasthasan is one posture that can help to revitalise and invigorate yourself; bringing relief to those lethargic feelings.  Using the pull of gravity this pose quickly lengthens the muscles and ligaments of the entire posterior of the body and releases any stiffness in the legs from sitting on chairs and in front of computers for too long!  There is a great stimulation to the spine and activates the sense of balance, turning ourselves upside down like this in a gentle way also provides an extra supply of blood directly to the brain and this in turn brings relief then to the sluggishness, sleepiness, inertia, forgetfulness and depression.  On a physical level, it lengthens the muscles in the back, hips and legs, trims the waist when accompanied by the proper diet, and relieves constipation.  It is said in the scriptures that the practice of this pose will bring eternal youth and develop good posture.  So let us lighten ourselves by the practice of padahasthasan and look at the world from a different point of view.
  1. Stand upright with the big toes connecting, feeling the weight of the body evenly balanced over the balls, sides and heels of the feet.  Feel a connection toward the earth through the souls of the feet, the lower body working downward as the upper body lifts upward.
  2. Inhale and raise the arms up alongside your ears, reaching high.
  3. Exhale and begin to fold from the hips so you make a horizontal line as you are coming down, keeping the knees straight.
  4. Continue exhaling and fold as far down as you can and hold on to the back of your legs, either the ankles or the calves, don’t let the arms just hang, hold on somewhere to the back of the legs.
  5. Hold for some time with deep rhythmical breathing.
  6. To come out of the pose gentle roll up through the spine the head being the last thing to come up.
  7. Alternative hand positions – you can take the arms behind the legs and then hold onto your elbows pushing the arms further down the legs.  Or if you can hold your toes you can slide the palms of the hands under your feet.
  8. Common mistakes are to round the upper spine as you are coming down, to bend the knees, keeping the feet apart and letting the arms just hang, so be aware of those and don’t worry about how far you are folding but try to keep the alignment of the pose, the muscles and tendons will lengthen in time.

So let us refresh ourselves with padahasthasan and feel longer and younger, I’m going for my mat right now!  But its not about whether we can touch our toes or not, but what we learn on the way down.  Taking the time to work with our bodies and feel how they work, to understand our internal selves.  Yes sometimes postures are uncomfortable at the beginning but so is life right, what we learn on the mat we should be able to apply into our daily lives, to get into some of these yoga postures takes time and patience and a lot of acceptance, and once you can do that then everything else in life becomes easy!!
Enjoy your Padahasthasana Happy Summer everyone,
Om Lokha Somastha Sukhino Bavantu
May we all be happy and balanced and in harmony
Mangala / Nicky

Friday, April 25, 2014

Children of the Summer Space.

So they called the children of the
Southern space the children of
Summer, and those who loved the
sun the most became the Sun people.
Others who loved the water became the
Toad people, or Turtle people, or
Frog people.  Others loved the seeds
of the earth and became the Seed
people, or the first growing grass, or of
the tobacco.  Those who loved warmth
were the Fire or Badger people.
According to their natures they chose
their totems.

Excerpt from Zuni creation myth.

Simplicity is a blessing like the un-carved block, we shouldn’t move far from it.
Stay close with the earth, the toads, seeds and the badgers!
Mangala / Nicky

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Final Relaxation

At the end of every yoga session, be you in a class or doing your self-practice there should be a final relaxation lasting at least 10 – 15 minutes.  This should bring complete physical, mental and spiritual relaxation, which is key to your yoga practice, (that of union with the universal consciousness.).  The energy that you have generated during your session needs this time to flow through your whole being, rejuvenating every cell and each part of you as a whole, without the relaxation a large portion of the prana could be lost as you walk straight back into your busy life.  But relaxation is not easy for every one, it is a practice within itself a vital one at that which everybody needs to maintain balance, harmony and optimum health.  So firstly we have to relax the physical body, we start by lying down on our backs in the position known as savasana.  The feet should naturally fall out sideways, the arms about 45 degrees from the body with the palms face upward, the eyes closed.  Allow the spine to find its own natural curve but the head should always be inline with the spine.  For many it is hard to actually feel the muscles relax as we can always hold tension in the body without realising it.  So it is good to tense and release the whole body before starting to really relax deeply.  You can start at the toes tensing the toes and work up the body ending up pulling all the facial muscles into the face hold the tension in the whole body and then release.  Then we start with the relaxation working into the subconscious, feeling the downward pull of gravity of the body onto the mat bringing you closer to the earth, then you can gently and mentally command yourself to relax each part of the body in such a way as ‘I’m relaxing my toes, my toes are relaxed, I’m relaxing my feet, my feet are relaxed.’  Moving up the body through the legs, hips, back etc you can mention each body part individually and make a mental picture of that body part as you mentally say its name and physically feel that part of your body relax.  You can even work through the internal organs depending on how much time you can dedicate to this practice.
Next we have to work on relaxing mentally, the mind is always switching between the past and future and it is hard to catch it and maintain it to be in the present moment, where then it is still distracted by our senses.  So one way to calm and relax the mind is to focus your full awareness on the breath, noticing the movements of the tummy rising and falling as you breath and the subtler movements of the chest.  Notice the speed of your breath and then try to slow it down by counting 5 counts for the inhalation and 5 for the exhalation or a number that is suitable for you.  You will need your full awareness following your breath from the tip of your nose all the way up through the nostrils and down deep into the lungs and then back out again, this full awareness with the breath will calm the mind and give it the vital rest it needs, leaving you feeling refreshed. 
Now we need to relax spiritually also, meaning that the mind has a carefree and contented manor with no anxieties and stresses.  To do this you can make a visualisation of a calm deep blue lake, no waves just still water, it is timeless and unchanging, all is completely still, you will find your inner calm and peace.
So after your asanas don’t rush off of your mat and off back into the world, you are not ready yet, give yourself this time for the 3 steps of relaxation for the well being of your whole self.  It is often the case with self practice that the relaxation is left out because of time constraints and it is thought to be the least important part of the practice, actually it is the most important part, the body and mind can only be pushed for so long before the whole system starts to break down with stress, you can prevent this by emphasising the importance on your relaxation within your practice.
So enjoy your savasana and go and reeeeeeeeeelaaaaaaaaaax!
Eternally grateful for this most precious practice,
May you all find your strength and peace within your stillness.
Mangala / Nicky.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Detox with Kitcheri

Kitcheri is a wonderful Indian comfort food that brings detoxification for your system; purifying the digestive tract and systemic toxins from the body restoring balance.  It provides nourishment but allows the body to spend less energy on digestion and devote more time to healing.  The digestive tract is often overworked constantly having to process different foods that we intake throughout the day, weakening the digestive fire.  Eating kitcheri provides the means to give the digestive system a real rest seeing as it is so easily digestible. 
Ayurveda believes that all healing begins with the digestive tract; so fasting so to speak on kitcheri is a good way to start.  It is the ideal detox food, it has long been used to nourish babies, the elderly, the sick and the healthy during times in need of detox or special calendar dates for detox or for deep spiritual practices.
There are many recipes for making kitcheri especially as this is what is known as real Indian comfort food that would have been prepared in Indian homes over the years to warm the bones and re-energise the system, prepared lovingly with ‘Mum’s’ own special recipe. 
Normally to warrant the name of kitcheri the mixture must consist of white rice such as basmati which is easier to digest than brown or red rice, and split mung beans, also the process of splitting making the beans easier to digest and lighter for the stomach.  For me however if I am making a fast of kitcheri for only one day I prefer to make it with just rice omitting the beans really making it lighter but still as delicious.  However this way the fast should be short as one day only, otherwise without enough protein the blood sugar can become unstable making you constantly hungry and irritable.  The goal of a fast is to rejuvenate and detox the fat cells this will not happen if the body is under stress and strain.  The basic equation is that stress will add to the body storing fat and no stress will allow for fat burning, so as well as the fast it is important to practice de-stressing techniques.  We process our stress through the intestinal wall, chronic stress will compromise digestion and bring a build up of toxins within the body, which can lead to disease. 
Eating Kitcheri can induce a deep inner calm and bring back harmony to your system; here is one recipe but for me for a one day fast I omit the mung beans, but for a 5 day fast it is definitely advisable to keep them within your diet.

1 cup split yellow mung
½ cup white basmati rice
1 tblespn fresh ginger
1 teaspoon each of black mustard seeds (already toasted to remove cholesterol and toxins) cumin, turmeric
½ teaspoon coriander, cinnamon, cardamom
pinch of rock salt
7-10 cups of water
Big spoonful of desiccated coconut

The mixture can all go in the pressure cooker, let it steam for about 20 mins or alternatively you can do in the saucepan but cooking may take a little longer.  The mixture should be stodgy, if you need to add a little more water then do so. 
For now enjoy your kitcheri and feel GREAT!!
Om Shanti
Mangala / Nicky

Thursday, April 3, 2014

When the mind becomes disturbed, what do we do?

When the mind is disturbed it can be very hard to get those disturbances out, thoughts keep rolling around in our minds, waking us up in the night, making a small problem into a mountain.  When we are angry it is easy to allow the anger to grow and not so easy to dissolve it.  When we are sad that sadness can build and embed itself without us being able to turn ourselves around to being a contented happy person whatever the situation. 
When the mind becomes disturbed it is vital that we don’t agitate it more, we have to handle our system gently and nicely.  Taking some steps back and just observing ourselves is a good way to free our minds from these lower emotions, by this observation you gain the support of the self, when the intellect becomes strong and can ride over the emotions the thoughts will subside.  One way we can support the intellect and help to overcome those emotions is by chanting or singing.  This way we can turn our mind to something positive letting go of the negativities that can eat into you.  I have found many adults to be shy to sing or chant, they are so caught up with entanglements, insecurities and fear of what they may sound like as the ego plays its part.  When we are children we love to sing, so why not when we are older, it doesn’t matter what you sound like, if you are singing from the heart it is bound to be beautiful no matter of the sound.  And it doesn’t matter what you sing, if you have a favourite song then blast it out (of course something uplifting!)  Or simply chanting Om or Maa can be a wonderful way of self-expression and can turn our anxieties, fears and depressions into joy and peace. 
There are so many mantra’s and bhajans that we can look into, but one of my favourites is the sun and moon healing mantra, coming from the Kundalini lineage from Yogi Bhajan. 
The mantra is RAA MAA DAA SAA      SAA SAY SO HUM.
Raa meaning the sun, we are evoking the suns qualities of creation.  Maa is the moon representing all female qualities of compassion and nurturing.  Daa is the earth as we chant daa we are grounding ourselves.  Saa is an uplifting vibration and saa say meaning that vibration is infinite.  So hum meaning I am that, therefore I am that sun, moon, earth, that infinite vibration of consciousness. 
You could make up your own melody or look for Satnam Kaurs version; who truly has the voice of an angel and chant with her. 
When I have been sick I have used this mantra and when you chant with belief and the right intention you can truly feel the vibrations working their way around the physical body but also around the mind, it can be a very powerful and positive thing, turning any negative health into positive health. 
So smile to yourself and chant away, you can also chant silently in your mind if you are on the bus or train you can still do it, and the effect will be just as strong.  So go ahead and enjoy bring the light back into your life.
Om Shanti
I wish all living entities to be happy, free from suffering and peaceful.
Mangala / Nicky.

Chanting class is held for free every Friday at Pranamaya Yoga Studio, Moksh, Patan, Kathmandu from 5-5.30pm, with Nicky.