Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Sivananda 5 Points of Yoga


5yogaI love to visit Sivananda Ashram set in beautiful tropical forests in the hills of Kerala. Just across the lake by the Ashram is a lion sanctuary, you hear them roaring whilst you are meditating as the sun rises and they wake up, it’s amazing!

Yoga isn’t just about exercise, when fully embraced it’s a lifestyle. At the ashram you have the opportunity to experience living by their 5 points (or principles) of yoga. It can be a bit of a challenge at times but the positives absolutely outweigh the hard bits every time.

Following is a little explanation to what Swami Sivananda believed to be the 5 points of yoga for physical and mental health, plus spiritual growth;

1) Proper Exercise – Asana 

The yoga poses you do in a yoga class are called Asana, which means “comfortable seat”. The idea is to get into the pose and then just to be able to be in it comfortably as long as you wish, with no force

Asana are designed to be a non violent way of creating strength and flexibility in the body as well as having many other healing affects. They all have their own unique benefits such as calming the nervous system, balancing hormones, releasing tension, releasing emotions, opening the heart, to energize, to calm, the list is endless.

Practicing asana helps you to get out of your mind and into your body, it helps you to go within, to connect with your Spirit and higher consciousness. This is the meaning of the word Yoga – Union.

2) Breath – Pranayama

It’s important to link the asana with the breath, without doing that it’s just exercise. As well as asana yogi’s also practice pranayama which are various breathing techniques.

Pranayama, yogic breathing, helps us to breathe fully, deeply, to use the lungs to their maximum capacity, take in more oxygen and also to be able to control the breath,

Thoughts are forms of energy, prana, so if you control your breath you can also control the mind. If you consider what your breath is like when you are stressed, usually it’s shallow and quick paced. We forgot to breathe deeply when we have a lot whizzing around our mind. So when you hold your breath, you also pause the mind.

Just try it now, close your eyes and take 10 long deep full belly breaths, completely filling yourself from belly to chest with air and then release it all out again really slowly. Notice how different you feel after 10 breaths like this.

There are many different yogic breathing techniques all designed for different purposes, for example to calm the mind, to energize, to detox the system and to balance the mind.

3) Proper Relaxation

Stress causes dis-ease in the body so it’s important to make time for proper relaxation in your day.

Savanasa, corpse pose, is one of the most important asana in your Yoga practice. When we are in Savasana at the end of my class I guide you though a process of auto suggestion telling each part of the body to relax. This calms the nervous system and helps you to relax deeply.

This is something you can do for your self at home too. Start off by lying down on the floor feet open to the side and palms facing up. Tense each part of the body and then relax it. Next consciously move from toes to head saying “I am relaxing my toes” “I am relaxing my feet” “I am relaxing my ankles” and so on, work your way up to your head.

When our mind is focused like this our mind is free of everything else and we feel good. Mental enjoyment comes from focusing the mind, concentration. At Sivananda they taught us that if we can keep the mind quiet then everything can be enjoyable!

The equivalent of doing this for 10-15 minutes is an hours sleep. Rest and relaxation is natures way of recharging our battery’s but so often we forget or ignore this.

4) Proper Diet

A yogic diet is one that considers what affect food has on  the mind. Our mind is stronger than our body, we can go beyond pain with our mind, it controls everything.

Yoga advocates a vegetarian diet, in the ashram they told us “don’t make your stomach a graveyard for dead animals”! I ate meat when I first went there but gave it up after my second visit. One thing that really got to my conscience was why should an animal die for my ego just because I like to eat meat? Also the violent cruel energy around killing something then gets taken in to our bodies when we eat the meat, I didn’t fancy taking in that energy.

The yogic diet is based around the 3 Guna’s, or qualities of nature;

Sattva – white/gold – pure, Spring/Autumn, peaceful, healthy for body and mind. Vegetables, fruit, milk, lentils.

Rajas – red – energy, movement, motion, summer, stimulation. Sweets, chocolate, salty food, spice, chilies, bitter food, food that stimulates senses.

Tama – black – death, winter, lethargy, darkness, lazy, rotten, heavy, dull……you get the drift! Mushrooms, garlic, onion, over ripe foods, vinegar, meat, fish.

I learnt there that cutting out sugar, chili, onion and garlic really helps to calm the mind and the stomach.

A healthy diet would be mainly Sattva with a bit of Rajas. They say do not be dependent on any food for making you feel good. Eat to live, do not live to eat!

5) Meditation & Positive Thinking

Our mind creates our experience of life. Sivanada taught that our mind is in 2 parts;

1) The higher mind which is close to our Self, to love, compassion and unity.

2) The mind at the instinctive level, a lower level, this mind can take us away from our true self.

Positive thinking is using the higher mind. The goal is to have knowledge of the Self, who you truly are.

The most important aspect of positive thinking is to be present, there are no problems in the present. Right now in this moment, is there anything really wrong?

Asking yourself positive questions helps to develop positive thoughts, questions such as:

What am I grateful for today?

Who do I love and who loves me?

What can I do to make today fantastic?

With meditation Sivananda taught to be the director not the actress. As an actress you get caught up in certain roles, and you become the role. As the director you can direct your own life, your thoughts, you can be strong with the mind and be disciplined on what you focus on. Discipline is key to your freedom.

That was a very brief summary of the Sivanana 5 points of yoga. You may like to experiment with focusing on one a week/month just to see where it takes you. If you fancy a trip to the ashram and have any questions about it please do let me know, I love sharing my experience of being there,



Emotional Release Through The Psoas

a freeheartlady copyI’ll never forget the first time I experienced an emotional release in a yoga class. A few weeks before my relationship had ended with a man I had really fallen for, I was incredibly hurt and very slowly on the mend.

There we were in pigeon pose being told to do deep ujjayi breath through the discomfort, (not pain but that kind of feeling where you know the stretch is good but it’s extremely intense) when I just burst into tears. Craig, the teacher, was reading us a passage about letting go and said with every exhale to imagine just letting what ever you need to let go of into the mat.

I made a decision in that moment to let my ex go. I cried through the rest of the class and then in Savasana at the end I found myself distracted by what to wear to a festival I was going to the next day. A big smile came over my face and I knew I was going to be ok!

Pigeon pose often stirs up emotions to the surface to be released because it’s an intense stretch for the psoas muscle. The psoas is the only muscle that connects the spine to the legs, it runs from the top of our lumbar spine (around just behind the belly button) right down to the top of femur bone of the leg. At the top it also comes together with the diaphragm, the major breathing muscle at an energy centre called the solar plexus.

The Psoas is known as the fight or flight muscle as it’s linked with that sympathetic nervous system response, to get ready to run or kick. Through the science of somatics, or the body, it’s now understood we embed traumatic emotions in our bodies, as well as in our brains, and the Psoas is believed to be an emotional muscle that feels and holds on them because of it’s deep position in the body and it’s connection to all the organs around it.

So any asana (pose) that creates a release around the Psoas has the potential to create an emotional release too. This is only ever a good thing, as you release tension in the body you will start to heal and come back to harmonious balance emotionally too.

Pose’s like pigeon, crescent lunge, camel, bridge, cobra, fish are all great stretches for the psoas. What is really effective for emotional release though is to relax and release the Psoas which can be as simple as lying in fetal position and visualising the Psoas relaxing or letting go in childs pose.

Another recommended restorative pose for the Psoas is called the Constructive Rest Position. if you’d like to read how to do this and find out more about the Psoas I recommend reading Liz Koch’s articles, she is an expert in this area.

On November 2nd I am running a yoga workshop purely based around emotional release alongside Amy Branton who is an EFT practioner. EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique, which is a process of tapping along meridian points in the body to release stuck emotions. We will start off with a yoga routine based around the Psoas and then Amy will lead us through a group tapping session. Please do get in touch if you are interested as spaces are limited. 07779 150886/ [email protected]



Bring Acceptance to Your Practice

heartsandOne of my favourite phrases I have learnt over the years is “what you resist persist”, it’s so true! The times when I have felt things just shouldn’t be this way, “it’s not fair”, I have felt completely wound up, tense and at unease.

A perfect example of this is with any form of illness or injury, the more you resist it and keep on going at the same pace the longer it tends to last for. In the moment of accepting there is something wrong and taking steps to do what feels good for you, to be caring to yourself is when you start to heal.

Acceptance is not giving in, being weak or being defeated. It is simply acknowledging what is, and from this place you can think wisely what to do next for your highest good.

As with any area of life yoga is the perfect place to practice acceptance, starting with your Self. As you move through each asana (pose) just notice where you are trying to force something, where you are beating yourself up for not being as bendy or strong as the person next to you.

In that moment tell yourself “I accept myself” and relax into the pose, focus on your breath and see where it takes you.

Yoga is not a competition, it’s an opportunity for you to connect with yourself and the higher consciousness. As in any area of life, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else in room is doing. You are here for your own unique purpose with your individual greatness that you bring to the world.



My Yoga Journey

yogaYoga impacts people’s lives in so many different ways, everyone’s story is unique. I love to hear the transformations it’s created and then I realised this morning I have never really shared my yoga journey fully here. So here it is!

It begun as I wrote last week when I was worn out from trying to “make my business work”. I was always pushing, striving, trying to force things to happen. It was the same in my exercise routine, I loved to run and each year I would book my self on to longer runs to push my distance further. I was always getting chest infections from running in the cold.

Yoga helped me to calm down, to be in the present moment and to just focus on doing things that felt good to me. That was just the beginning though.

I always found I loved the yoga teachers that related life to yoga in their classes. I also found it interesting to understand what each different asana (pose) was doing for me. I fell in love with the classes that caused emotional releases, and the ones that helped me to connect with the silence within myself.

I considered myself spiritual back then but with no fixed belief, I was just open to learning about “the Universe”. I resisted religion, my parents were Christians but I had resisted church for most of my life, only going out of duty at Christmas and Easter. I did have a sense of God as my mother always told me she prayed for me and in difficult times I had a feeling of being looked after but that was it.

The first time I went into an ashram in India I was a little overwhelmed with the devotional chanting, it bring up memories of having to sing in Church. Every morning and night we were guided in to silent meditation and were told to repeat a mantra whilst focusing on either our heart or our third eye.

I am a big believer in gratitude so instead of repeating a Sanskrit mantra as they suggested I simply said THANK YOU. As I repeated it all the things I had to be grateful for in my life would come to mind, it was lovely.

Over the two weeks of living in the Ashram I started to have a sense of believing in God, I listened to the teachings about the Hindu Gods but I felt a strong instinct that there was just one, the God my mother had always spoken of. Unexpectedly my meditation mantra turned into “Thank You God”.

In every Satsang (meeting) people would have an opportunity to select and lead a chant. One morning some started to sing Amazing Grace and it just made me burst into tears.

This was the beginning of my connection with God and my faith, it has continued to deepen ever since. And I love the devotional chanting now, the essence of it, the sense of love you feel through singing and not caring how you sound to others! I believe all religions are speaking of the same God, it’s just different interpretations and we can all learn from each other. Ultimately it’s all about Love.

The next time I visited India I decided to give up eating meat. Firstly because you just don’t eat it there for risk of getting ill, but after 5 months of not eating animals it felt so right for me that I decided to continue it when I returned to the UK, Alongside that I also cut down the amount of alcohol I drink.

The results of this have been amazing; I feel clear headed, self aware, able to connect with my inner silence more, I’ve lost weight and I feel balanced. The times when I do have a drink now I notice it, my sleep is interrupted, I feel emotional and my blood sugar levels are all over the place. I also feel at peace with myself for not eating the animals I love so much, it just feels like the right thing to do.

To summarise yoga has connected me to my soul, to God, to living a healthy conscious life, and above all to Love. Yoga has healed my heart and opened it. Being love is my daily intention, I believe that is what life is all about.

Who knew this would all come from what I first thought of as a way to heal my back and get more toned!

What is your yoga journey? Or maybe you are at the beginning and have a whole adventure in front of you, how exciting!