There’s a quiet revolution that’s been going on for the last decade or so, with the advent of the slow movement showing up in the way we consume, work, play, behave and think. People are beginning to see that fast growth, fast consumption and fast profits, are not conducive to wellbeing. Relentless speed and growth negatively influences our physical and mental health and our relationships, not to mention the devastating effects it has on our Mother Earth. The slow revolution promotes quality, sustainability and fairness above quantity, exploitation and profit.
From a yogic perspective, the slow movement is a manifestation of ahimsa which teaches compassion towards ourselves and others including animals and our planet. It encourages practitioners to do less, to do it slower, more mindfully and more kindly.
In yoga studios we’re seeing a resurgence of traditional gentle and slow practices such as slow flow, restorative yoga, yin yoga, meditation and sound healing. It’s been shown that slow movement helps reduce pain, anxiety, inflammation and stress.
It would be wrong to assume that a slow practice is somehow an easier or less powerful experience. In fact, moving slowly required more strength, more mindfulness and more precision. Moving slowly is extremely helpful in keeping the mind focussed and present. Through slow movement we can build our capacity to concentrate, to strengthen our resilience and to give us a greater sense of direction and purpose. Slow yoga is also more sustainable for the physical body as it gives the practitioner time to find more stable alignment thus avoiding injury. In addition, slow movement is more meditative by nature and gives us the opportunity to listen to our intuition and inner wisdom. This all results in less stress, more insight and more joy in the practice and in our lives.
Slowing down is not easy for many people who are constantly juggling multiple responsibilities and continually multi-tasking in a futile attempt to tick off an impossible and bottomless to-do list. If we’re serious about calming our nervous system and reducing our anxiety and stress then we can begin with small steps towards an overall intention to slow down. Yoga teaches us that like anything that we want to master in life, it’s all about practice.
“Practice only becomes firmly established when it has been executed with great attention and without interruption over a long period of time” Yoga Sutra 1.14
In Yin yoga the winter season focusses on the emotion of fear.
Fear often places restrictions on us, it can tamper with our energy reserves and render us frozen. In winter we can notice similar sensations when stepping out in the cold weather, the body automatically builds itself an armour and curls inward, restricting full breath and often lowering our mood.
When working with fear, it’s important to remember that it is the mind that creates and fuels the fear.
The Buddha taught that there are 5 common fears that we are all subject to:
1. The fear of death - in particular the death of the self, the sense of ‘me’, the personality and identity that we spend our lives cultivating, expressing and reinforcing.
2. The fear of illness - this fear is the most powerful marketing tools used to sell us all sorts of products and services. We forget that getting sick occasionally is normal and sometimes desirable in building our immunity or forcing us to stop and rest.
3. Fear of losing the body - ageing, decaying and ultimately the death of the body becomes extremely difficult if we believe that our body is all that we are. Again this is a common fear that marketers exploit to sell us stuff we don’t need.
4. Fear of losing our livelihood - hence the suffering of many souls who remain trapped in unsatisfying jobs and careers.
5. Fear of public speaking - it’s interesting that this fear was also evident in Buddha’s time reminding us that our primal fears are largely universal and shared with humanity throughout the ages.
Interestingly, I read recently in a study that one of the most prominent fears of recent times is the fear of having a meaningless life. More and more, younger people are understanding the power and value of contributing to society and to fully explore their passions and true calling. It may be that the fear of a unfulfilled life is becoming stronger than the fear of risking financial security.
A useful way to work with fear in meditation is to embrace the feeling of fear fully, and not just focussing on our own personal fears but the fears of all beings. By imagining all the universal fears felt by all past, present and future humans, we can observe how this powerful emotion manifests in the body as a curious bystander. Try this until you are so engulfed in fear that you almost become the fear itself, at that point you may notice the emotion naturally disintegrates. This technique works by removing the personal sense of “I” from the equation so that the fear is no longer personal, but universal. By allowing ourselves that distance we can work with fear in a way that is harmless to us because it’s not just about us. This also allows us to develop more empathy and compassion towards others.
If you try this and find that the fear is too strong when you sit in meditation then perhaps a physical practice is more appropriate. In the natural world, animals physically shake off their fear and we can do this too. I often use shaking in my yoga classes when we have just tried a difficult asana such as an inversion which often brings up fear in students. Shaking is effective in releasing the stickiness of fear that can linger in the body, it’s a wonderful way to literally shake off limiting thoughts and toxic energy away from us.
From a yogic point of view no emotion is inherently good or bad, they all exist to communicate with us. Fear sometimes warns us against danger but it can also let us know that we are about to experience something new that will help us to learn and grow. It’s our job as yogis to observe our emotions, become familiar with their patterns and learn to interpret what the emotional body is communicating in order to use this information for our highest potential.
“Some of the worst things in my life never happened” - Mark Twain
I use my chakra crystal bowls in my meditation, Yin and sound healing sessions to ease clients into a deep relaxation state in a very quick and easy way. This is highly beneficial for those who suffer from stress-related disorders or general exhaustion.
After a sound class or workshop clients regularly report feelings of calm and deep rest however they are not always aware that underneath the pleasing sound experience there is also a more profound energetic healing taking place. Crystal bowl sound is a form of vibrational medicine which validates that everything in the universe is in a state of vibration. The chakras, bones and organs in the body all possess a different resonant frequency and each crystal bowl has a specific note on the musical scale which corresponds to each part of the body. By absorbing the sound-waves from the bowls, energetic imbalances can be addressed in a natural, safe and holistic way.
Keeping our energetic body well-tuned is important to allow us to feel vital and to keep our inner spark, this has a domino affect on our physical, mental and emotional well-being.
If you’ve never tried sound healing, why not have a go and notice for yourself the effects it creates in all the layers of the body.
You can catch my sound Yin classes at Dancing Warrior Yoga, Coga Yoga and Haven Wellness every week as well as longer, more in-depth workshops on a monthly basis. For upcoming workshop details go to yoginithreads.com/yoga
I hope to see you there!
As the weather cools and we begin to draw our energy inward, Autumn gives us the opportunity to pause, reflect and process. In Yin yoga each season brings its own energetic quality, element and organ system. Autumn is ruled by the metal element, the lungs and the large intestines, it’s the season of transformation associated with cycles, the rhythm of the breath and releasing.
Metal is the most malleable substance because it can be transformed and re-transformed many times over without ever losing its integrity, it comes from the deep layers of the Earth and symbolically represents the discovery of our own self worth and value.
Our Lungs transform the air we breath into the oxygen necessary for our bodies to function, they open into the nose, and are directly connected to the skin and body hair which are part of our immune system and work very closely with other organs in providing and maintaining a sense of homoeostasis in the body.
As nutrients enter the large intestines, they are later eliminated as waste that our bodies no longer need. In Autumn we witness the same process in nature, as trees shed their leaves in preparation for the cold winter. Nature teaches us to let go and release what we no longer need, it shows us that it’s time to slow down, reflect, observe and move with an awareness to create the space for transition and growth.
Sadness or grief can surface at this time, in the Yin practice we delve into these emotions to release them and to arrive to a place of acceptance and a state of ease. Just as the decaying leaves add rich nutrients to the soil, we also need to nourish ourselves with this gentle and compassionate practice.
Autumn Yin connects us back to ourselves, to generate a gradual and healthy transition to the coming darker season. We just need to trust and let ourselves fall into Yin.
Yoga mudras are symbolic gestures often practiced with the hands and fingers in yoga and meditation. Using a mudra brings another dimension to the yoga practice by facilitating the flow of energy in the subtle body.
There are many types of Mudras designed to bring different benefits, depending on what we specifically need. Each finger represents a different element, they are:
Thumb - fire and universal consciousness.
Index finger - air and individual consciousness.
Middle finger - space and connection.
Ring finger - earth and the body.
Little finger - water and the emotions.
Mudras are one way of creating balance between all of these elements within us.
One of my favourite mudras and a crowd favourite is Gyana mudra, done by bringing the tips of the thumb and index finger together and keeping the other three fingers lightly stretched. This symbolizes the unity of fire and air as well as the unity of universal and individual consciousness. This mudra increases concentration, creativity, and is a gesture of knowledge. Keep the palms facing up for deeper internal insight or facing down to feel more grounded.
Gyana mudra is connected to the root chakra and is used to reduce tension by calming the energetic body. Many yogis use it in meditation to focus and seek more internal guidance.
If you haven’t used mudras in your practice why not give it a try, if nothing else it will lift your sense of extension and grace.
Individual Dharma - laws set for yourself to reach the ultimate
Common Dharma - Laws that set order (for the community, society, family)
The concept of Dharma both individual and common is explored in great depth in the great Sanskrit text the Bhagavad Gita. The central figure of this tale Arjuna is torn between his duty to fight a war and his reluctance to harm his opponents who are his cousins, teachers and friends. The story unfolds on the battlefield as Arjuna discusses his dilemma with Lord Krishna.
The external battle setting of the Bhagavad Gita is a metaphor for the battle that exists in the minds of all human beings. Arjuna represents our small ego self and Krishna represents our wise inner guide, that voice that encourages us to face the challenges of life as a spiritual warrior.
The courage needed to be a warrior means that we need to look beyond our small selves and to contribute to the greater good of our community. To some this may sound like self-sacrifice however it is how we create greater confidence in our abilities and brings us a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment. When our actions collectively contribute to something that benefits others, we become aware of our inner power and the universe supports our efforts.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reminds Arjuna that his individual Dharma is to be a warrior and that his duty is not to fight for the sake of fighting but to serve for what is right and just. We all have a personal Dharma which consists of our unique qualities, gifts, talents and abilities. These traits help us to find our life path no matter how small or lofty, and to follow it with the best of our ability, and only then can we be truly fulfilled. When we ignore our individual Dharma or when we are led astray from it by outside influences, we are left feeling that life is pointless. Ignoring our Dharma can lead to physical, emotion and spiritual unease. Krishna reminds Arjuna to remember his own strength and not to allow himself to be discouraged by outside factors.
No one else can tell us what our Dharma is, it comes from within. As yogis we learn to quieten the mind in meditation so that we can hear our inner guide. The Bhagavad Gita warns us against seeking external validation or being led by our minds or our emotions. Once we are clear on what our Dharma is, we need to trust that we will find the right conditions to support us on our path.
“Peace prevails when everyone follows their own Dharma. War erupts when common Dharma is broken”
After the extreme heat of summer and late summer we are now entering the cool autumn season, a time of letting go and making room for the new. In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the metal element. The lung meridian is the Yin aspect of the metal element controlling breath and energy and assisting the heart with circulation of blood. Metal season is the ideal time to nourish ourselves and to strengthen our immune system, it’s also time to draw our energy inwards as we begin to slow down.
The lungs open into the nose and are directly connected to the skin and the sweat glands which are part of our immune system, maintaining homoeostasis in the body. During this time of year we are more likely to experience asthma, allergies, colds, flus and skin-related issues.
The emotion connected with the lungs is sadness, and it is not unusual to feel grief, irritation or resentment. Use your yoga practice to explore these emotions, breathe into them and learn to let them go. From a yogic perspective, there are no ‘bad’ emotions however we want to ensure that emotions move through us, rather than getting stuck in the body. Working with breath exercises (pranayama) teaches us to explore our emotions, to feel them and to release them.
Autumn is an opportunity to strip away what is false, toxic and stale in our lives, and in turn to reveal what is true and valuable for our highest purpose. Life is always changing and it’s helpful for our wellbeing to move with its natural flow. The metal season reminds us to remain flexible and adaptable as we prepare for the challenges of winter. Now is a good time to clear away clutter, finish off projects, cook fresh wholesome meals, breathe in the smells of nature, slow down, do one thing at a time, making sure that we make time for our yoga practice and begin to increase the amount of pranayama and meditation to our practice.
The deeper you breathe, the longer you live. The bigger your lungs, the stronger your heart. Deep breathing expands your lungs and stretches your awareness to the edges of the universe.
Modern science acknowledges what the ancient yogis have always known, that everything in the universe is energy and is in a constant state of vibration. Within the human body, there are seven energy centres, known as chakras which allow energy to flow through our bodies. The ability for this energy to flow unobstructed is essential to your good health and well-being. There are a number of ways to help keep your chakras in balance including yoga, meditation and sound healing.
Yin yoga recognises that dis-ease in the body is characterised by a blockage in the energy channels (meridians) running throughout our bodies in the connective tissue referred to as fascia. Yin yoga uses meridian theory to create a free flow of energy through all our meridians thus creating harmony in the body. On a physical level Yin yoga increases blood flow, boosts the immune system and soothes the nervous system from over-stimulation.
Sound healing is a form of vibrational medicine that works on the same principle through vibration. These vibrations are absorbed by the body to create a sense of peace and relaxation, a clearing of emotional clutter and mind stuff.
Through the gentle targeted movement of Yin yoga and vibrational healing of sound, the body begins to slow down, to relax and to release. Yin yoga and sound healing work together to open the body’s entire energetic system to guide you on a journey of self discovery and inner exploration.
I’m running two retreats this year focussing on this work (end of May and end of October). I would love to share this practice with you, for more information go to: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/chakra-yin-sound-retreat-tickets-55004121809
Chanting is a powerful way to relax the body and open the heart. In yoga when we chant “Om shanti shanti shanti” it is an invocation of peace, we chant this three times to represent peace in body, speech and mind. This mantra calls forth cosmic peace and its purpose is to remove mental distractions and to immerse us in the sensations of the vibrations created in the body from chanting.
Om has no literal translation, it is simply the sound of the universe, the cosmic vibration of all life. Shanti in Sanskrit means peace, also described as calm or bliss. In yoga this is the ultimate state of being that we are moving towards in our practice. Shanti is a state of equanimity, we are not grasping or rejecting anything, we are simply content with what is.
Shanti is an enlightened state of being and takes constant practice to achieve. The nature of our minds is to control, we want to hold on to things, people, situations or to reject them. To experience Shanti we need to learn to surrender, accept, embrace everything that appears on our path with the understanding that all that exists in the material world in impermanent and constantly changing. Learning to flow with the impermanence of life and to surrender is how we get closer to peace of mind and body.
“ yoga is the golden key that unlocks the door to peace, tranquility and joy”- B.K.S Iyengar
We all need a sacred space to go to, a place to pause, slow down and breathe.
You can create your own sacred space with a beautiful home altar to reconnect with your deepest intentions for your practice and your life.
At your private altar you can experience inspiration and gratitude, it is a mirror of the heart that reflects the energies and attributes that you value most.
A home altar also creates a dedicated space for your spiritual practice and serves as a constant reminder to be consistent in your yoga and meditation practice. Making this space beautiful to you will encourage you to spend more time there.
To create a home altar, choose a spot in your home that is quiet and private. It is nice to have a cushion to sit on in front of your altar and to place on it objects which are meaningful to you. This may be photos of loved ones, deities that you find inspiring, fresh flowers, candles, incense or any object that you find inspiring. Let your creativity flow and decorate your altar in any way that feels genuine to you. The more personal and meaningful your intention in creating your altar, the more you will want to be there.
Over time, allow yourself to change things around, swapping old objects with new ones that come to you, add pieces to your altar that are symbolic of your current life and watch it slowly change and unfold organically. You may wish to photograph your altar each time you make a subtle change as a record of your evolution and change it through time.
Your personal altar is a physical manifestation of your inner spiritual landscape, give it love and gratitude and when you sit before it, that energy will be reflected back to you.
Whether you meditate here, practice your asana or simply pause to admire its beauty, know that this is your sacred place that you can return to whenever you need to reconnect to your inner self.