Yoga Focus – What is Ashtanga Yoga?

If you’ve ever taken a vinyasa class with me, you will be familiar with a lot of the poses from the ashtanga lineage. Vinyasa yoga is essentially a free flowing version of ashtanga – anything goes. Ashtanga is itself quite the opposite; a set number of postures, in a set order…every time.

You may think this sounds a little restrictive and (gasp!) boring, but that is not the case with Ashtanga. There are so many poses and vinyasas (breath with movement) in and out of the poses, that boredom is the last thing on your mind. Lets take a closer look…

Historically speaking…

Ashtanga is a dynamic form of Hatha yoga that has its roots in the town of Mysore, south India. The ashtanga method is an ancient system of yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Kurunta. It is believed that the text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari.

Ashtanga means ‘eight limbs’ as described by Patanjali (an Indian sage) in the Yoga Sutras (the Sutras are believed to have been written between the 2nd and 4th century CE). This text is the authority on the practice and true nature of yoga – the eight limbs must be practiced in order to realise our true potential, our true nature and transcend human suffering. Ashtanga embodies these eight limbs:

  • Yamas (behavioural observances – things that we should do)
  • Niyamas (behavioural restraints – things that we should not do)
  • Asana (physical yoga postures)
  • Pranayama (yogic breathwork to control the flow of our life force energy)
  • Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Samadhi (liberation)

The practice that we know today as Ashtanga yoga was first developed, practiced and taught by the yogi Krishnamachrya in Mysore, India. A student of Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois continued the work of sharing the ashtanga method throughout the world. Today the method is continued by Manju and Sharath Jois (son and grandson of Pattabhi respectively). Ashtanga yoga is therefore a lineage as well as a practice and encourages many dedicated, life-long practitioners throughout the world.

What to expect

Ashtanga yoga is taught in series’ of postures and each student of ashtanga practices the postures according to their own ability. Students are ‘given’ postures by the teacher and practice their sequence individually (although in classes with others) under the guidance of the teacher. Each student therefore is carrying out their individual practice, broadly the same as the other students and yet unique to them. More postures are added to the series as the student grows in strength and flexibility until completion of a series. The next series can then begin (phew!).

This individual approach to yoga (rather than being in a class where everybody is taught the same thing and follows the teacher through the class) is known as ‘Mysore style’ after the place it was originally taught by Krishnamachrya and Pattabhi Jois. Ashtanga can also be presented as a ‘led’ class in the style that we are familiar with, where everybody works through the poses at the same time guided by the teacher – this style is a great place to start your practice.

All students of ashtanga start by learning the postures of the Primary Series. This series is known as Yoga Chikitsa or yoga therapy. The aim is to loosen the body and free the practitioner from stiffness or weakness and allow them the freedom to practice fully. You will find hip opening, hamstring lengthening, spinal flexibility, strength and stamina in the Primary Series.

Is it for me?

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic practice so you should be prepared to work hard. However, it isn’t yoga for the advanced only and it certainly isn’t reserved for the flexible. Ashtanga often has a reputation for rigidity, but the practice lends itself to variation and modification to suit the individual. Nobody starts an ashtanga practice able to ‘do’ all of the postures. There is work for everybody in this practice.

So what exactly will you find at an ashtanga class?

Structure – the Primary Series (where we all start) consists of sun salutations, fundamental asanas (postures), standing sequence, seated sequence, backbends and a closing sequence. You will learn to know what to expect, but no two days are the same for your body.

Sweat – the practice of ashtanga builds heat in the body. It can be strenuous and definitely raises the heart rate.

Breath-work – each movement in ashtanga is accompanied by the breath. We use the breath to move in and out of poses or hold poses for a breath count. This is the vinyasa – breath with movement.

Meditation – ashtanga, though a strong dynamic practice, becomes a moving meditation due to the structure, breath and counted nature of the vinyasas. You leave the mind behind and crowd out thoughts with the practice.

Accomplishment – The yoga journey is never about achieving postures but about moving beyond the ego to reside in peace; the true nature of the self. Due to the dynamic nature of ashtanga, you will also feel like you have achieved great things. Your body and mind will change with a consistent practice.

Ashtanga is a great place to advance your practice. If you’ve been a yogi for a few years and have felt the magic of yoga, the ashtanga method might be for you. Step outside the comfort zone, try new things and surprise yourself; find strength in backbends, find balance in headstand, find calm in deep twists.

Join me twice a month on Wednesday evenings to get to know the ashtanga method. Master the mind and the body and feel the endorphins flow!

Om shanti shanti shanti

Your Practice, Our Community: Lockdown 2.0

Well we were expecting it weren’t we? But that said, lockdown still comes as a blow to most of us (myself included). But, I’m still here helping you to stay motivated, lifted and encouraged to keep practicing yoga and meditation. We have a great community of yogis and meditators, so lets get through this together!

Back online each week with the following:

Weekly – ’10 minutes a day’ mindfulness practice uploaded to Youtube. Donation based class; pay what you can/wish by PayPalMe

Wednesdays 12 pm – Yin Yang Yoga, £5

Thursdays 6 pm – Vinyasa Yoga, £5

Fridays 10 am – Yin Yoga, £5

You can find out more about the styles of yoga here.

Classes will run when minimum participant numbers (3 people) have been reached, so please book early if you’d like to practice. There is no limit on the number of people who can join, so spread the word to anyone else who needs a little pick-me-up during lockdown.

If you have any issues with booking, please let me know [email protected]

See you online!

Namaste

Shamanism for Modern Life

Modern life is difficult – we all know this! Sometimes it’s hard to find exactly why it appears to be such a struggle – are we doing it wrong? Are other people finding it much more easy to navigate the challenges of modern life than we are?

The answer to both of these questions is largely no. Life is an art not a science – we aren’t doing it wrong and others aren’t having more success at it than we are (although social media and the art of ‘appearing happy’ would have us believe otherwise).

But…we do know that there are a lot of things we could do to help ourselves. Exercise, meditation, relaxation, therapy…all these things can help us sort through the difficulties of life and find more ease. Shamanism can help us find balance and ease with life too.

What is Shamanism?

Shamanism is one of the oldest systems of finding balance, harmony and wholeness that humans across the globe have relied upon for healing and wellbeing. Shamanism seeks connection to nature, to all of life, in order to find our balance and wellness.

Humans are animals, but with the development of modern society and cultural progression, we have lost touch with our foundations as creatures of the earth and have become largely separate. Living separate lives, looking after ourselves, losing the sense of community and balance with nature that is so fundamental to wellbeing.

There is a reason why so many wellbeing techniques rely on balance: re-aligning energy flows, using essential oils to correct imbalance, seeking inner stability of mind through finding balance between calmness and productivity. Modern life has thrown us out of balance. We live inside manufactured environments, surrounded by electronic devices, eating processed food and trying to protect our egos. This is not the natural life of an animal. It’s no wonder we desperately need help with our wellbeing.

Find balance and harmony

Why is Shamanism Relevant and Useful Now?

Shamanism is concerned with reigniting our nature connection. Re-discovering our place within the landscape of the earth and all of the life-forms within it. This is so relevant in today’s world where we desperately want to find that balance for ourselves, but with equal vigour, want to protect our precious environment so the earth can heal too.

Shamanism teaches us to live respectfully but to view ourselves as a part of something bigger. Part of the collective consciousness that all living beings can connect to. Shamanism is also a form of self-development. Practices give us a chance to live at peace, offering kindness and patience for the benefit of ourselves and others.

The Shamanic Journey and How it Can Help

The Shamanic Journey allows you to quiet the logical, thinking mind and access the subconscious; where our memories of living more harmoniously reside. The ego doesn’t run the show in the subconscious mind. We can access a place where we are able to work with intention and seek guidance on how to find the harmony and wholeness that is often missing from our modern life.

On a Journey, we can speak to other beings that appear to us and receive help on finding a new way to travel through life with more ease. Perhaps we are seeking answers to questions in life, perhaps we are looking for a new direction, or perhaps we are just curious. Nature is a great place to seek guidance; from the ancient wisdom of the earth that we have lost touch with as our society has developed into separateness.

Find a new way

Find out more and take a Journey…

Sometimes, it feels as though life doesn’t quite flow as smoothly as it could, or patterns of behaviour and experience often repeat themselves. The Shamanic Journey offers a way to gain insight into your path, your future plans and how to find balance.

The Journey is a meditation to the beat of the shamanic drum; the sound waves taking the mind to a place of relaxation and vision not usually accessible to the logical, conscious mind. Allow your logical, thinking mind to rest as your brainwaves adjust to the drumbeat and a new realm of the subconscious mind reveals itself to you.

Understand how to live with nature and all beings with more ease; flowing through life rather than resisting it. Appreciate the fullness of life and all that it has to offer when we understand our place in the universe.

Next Shamanic Journey Meditation Workshop is Friday 1st November 6 pm – 8 pm at TopLine Studio.

Men’s Wellbeing Series

The importance of men’s wellbeing can’t be stressed enough in a time when we hear frightening statistics about mental health, and about how men in particular tend to suffer with the stresses and strains of modern life. Men are much less likely to seek help for mental health issues, workplace stress or anxiety from life in general.

The Men’s Wellbeing Series aims to provide men with an opportunity to try wellbeing activities designed specifically for men, in a community space which aims to promote sharing and openness. This is an opportunity to invest in your health and wellbeing and learn techniques to calm the mind and release stress and tension from the body. Whether you suffer with the pressures of life already, or want to get a handle on your wellbeing before your health is affected, these workshops will provide valuable tools to help you take back control of your mental and physical wellbeing.

There are two options for men to try in this series, and no experience is necessary for either workshop. Each workshop can be booked individually (no need to do both) so you can choose both, or the one that appeals the most. To kickstart the Men’s Wellbeing Series, each workshop is offered at £5 off the usual investment.

The Workshops

Yoga for Mind and Body

Wednesday 26th June 2019, 6 pm – 7.30 pm, £15

A truly beneficial workshop for mind and body to help you unwind, de-stress, stretch and relax.

This workshop is a great place to start your yoga practice. The session will include dynamic movements for flexibility and strength and restorative, longer holds to encourage joint mobility and mindful movement. There will be guided relaxation and meditation included. 

To find out more, or book your place – visit the Events page.

Introduction to Mindfulness

Tuesday 9th July 2019, 6 pm – 7.30 pm, £20

A fantastic introduction to mindfulness that will give you the opportunity to try practices and learn how mindfulness can help to calm the busyness of the mind.

The workshop will cover: what mindfulness is, how to connect with the present moment through awareness, using mindfulness to calm the busyness of the mind, using mindfulness in daily life and in stressful situations. Participants will try different mindfulness meditations which can be practiced during and after the session.

To find out more, or book your place – visit the Events page.

The Venue

The Workshops will be held at a great new community space above Candid Beer in Stafford town centre.

Candid is a craft beer bottleshop/taproom/coffeeshop/co-working space and events hub rolled into one. Community and conversation are central at Candid.

See you there!

World Meditation Day 2019

Tuesday 21st May 2019 is World Meditation Day! I wrote recently about the benefits of a Mindfulness or Meditation practice and the difficulties of getting started.

When we are presented with an opportunity like World Meditation Day, there really is no better time to get started on the meditation journey.

Just sit…and observe

Meditation is for everybody

So what can you expect as a beginner? The good news is, absolutely everybody and anybody can meditate. It seems difficult because we hear phrases like ’empty your mind of thoughts’ and immediately we have fear that we won’t be able to do it. Luckily that’s not what meditation and mindfulness are about. If we could empty our minds, we wouldn’t need to meditate! Don’t be put off by popular phrases and preconceptions; come with no expectations and you’ll find your meditation experience all the better for it.

So what will you find at group meditation with the Well Nest? A warm and friendly welcome, a calm atmosphere in relaxing surroundings, full instructions from start to finish, knowledgeable insights and teachings and guidance through your meditation experience. At the Well Nest, we love beginners – because we remember how it feels to attend that very first group meditation session and feel like a fish out of water. But don’t worry, meditation really is for everybody. We will sit in chairs (no special clothing required) and enjoy teachings, progressive relaxation and meditation.

Meditation is for everybody

Join us…

Come and join us on World Meditation Day as we hold a Lunchtime Escape in Stafford town centre. At 12.30 pm at TopLine Studio, I will help you find 45 minutes of calm in the middle of your day. This is a great opportunity to try something that could really make a difference to your life and those close to you.

If sitting doesn’t appeal to you, why not try walking meditation. Learn to tune into the body and your surroundings in a whole new way: mindful walking classes are available at The Wolseley Centre. Spend your Saturday mornings wisely and invest in you.

You can read more about my Mindfulness and Meditation journey here. Isn’t it about time you gave meditation a try?

May is National Meditation Month

We hear about Mindfulness and Meditation all the time; on social media, in the news, at the doctors surgery and in the workplace…but where do you start if you haven’t tried it before?

Meditation and Mindfulness are founded on some of the simplest practices that have been relied upon for centuries by cultures that truly understood the real benefits of a meditation practice.

Take a seat…and find some peace

Although some of the practices are very simple, they can be very difficult. It’s understandable that most people read articles and think “I should learn to meditate” or “I know I’d benefit from mindfulness” but many don’t actually take the plunge. Part of that is availability, part of it is knowing where to start (what to try?) and what the experience might be in a class or group meditation.

Why not start with The Well Nest?

At the Well Nest we run Mindfulness & Meditation sessions through the week , evening sessions, courses and workshops in relaxed and welcoming environments. No experience is necessary; just come with an open mind and a willingness to learn a practice that could change your life. At the Well Nest we focus on delivering simple and effective teachings and practical meditations that you can take away and practice in daily life, right from the first session.

You are welcome to start your journey with us this month as we launch new Lunchtime Escapes in Stafford – 45 minutes of Mindfulness and Meditation on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the new TopLine Studio on Stafford Street. An opportunity to try something new that could last life time and make a real difference to your quality of life. Or, why not join us to learn the art of Mindful Walking in the beautiful surrounds of the Wolseley Centre on 25th May.

Learn to walk mindfully with the Well Nest

The benefits of a Mindfulness & Meditation practice

The benefits of a regular meditation or Mindfulness practice are well documented: here are just a few…

  • lower stress levels
  • reduced anxiety
  • better sleep quality
  • improved mental resilience and overall mood
  • better overall wellbeing
  • less instances of heart disease
  • less instances of respiratory illness
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Improved relationships….

It’s time to make this May, your meditation month. Join us and learn a practice that could truly benefit your life and free your mind.

Yin Yoga and Mindful Movement

Mindful movement provides a combination of physical and mental benefits that can connect the individual with the present moment and help develop a greater appreciation of how the body feels and moves.

Yin Yoga is the practice of holding yoga postures (asana) for extended periods of time providing stretching of the connective tissues and release of the energy flows within the body. Through long holds and conscious relaxation of certain muscle groups, participants are brought into deep focus in the present moment. Using mindfulness techniques participants learn to feel the true experience of the body in the moment. This combination of physical and mental practice makes Yin Yoga a deeply relaxing and balancing practice.

The practice of Yin Yoga is not the dynamic flowing yoga often seen on social media, but is instead a gentle series of asana combined with breathing and focus on the direct sensations in the body. Over time, joints become more fluid as the connective tissues (fascia) in the body begin to loosen. The muscles, tendons and supporting tissues of the joints gradually become more supple allowing greater movement and flexibility.

Yin Yoga is based on the principles of Taoist Yoga and the flow of Chi (energy) through channels in the body. By spending several minutes in each asana, individuals may start to feel the release and flow of energy in the body. Focusing on the momentary experience of these sensations in the body is a mindfulness practice that allows individuals to connect more deeply with the moment and with themselves. Combined with breathing practices and meditative relaxation, Yin Yoga is a holistic approach to mind/body wellness.

Yin yoga is a great lesson in surrendering to the present moment and the sensations of the body. The practice of holding asana leads to a breakdown of mental barriers that naturally steer us away from discomfort. Feeling into poses is a great release for the mind as the bodily sensations take over. This is beneficial for reducing stress, anxiety and low mood and can allow a deeper sense of relaxation which helps with sleep and improvement in general wellbeing.

Sign up via the events pages for upcoming Yin Yoga workshops to experience the effects of the practice for yourself.

Yin Yoga and Mindful Movement Workshop – By Candlelight Friday 5th April 2019, 6.30 pm – 8 pm


Regular Yin Yoga classes with The Well Nest are coming soon!

Namaste

New Year Mindfulness Courses

New year’s resolutions don’t tend to last too long, even with the best of intentions. This year try taking a mindfulness course that can give you the skills to make a change that can last for life.

Learning how to practice mindfulness can have many benefits:

  • calm the busyness of the mind and find peace within
  • reduce anxiety and stress
  • improve relationships with others
  • develop patience and compassion for others

8 session Mindfulness Practitioner Courses are now available with The Well Nest. Courses start on 23rd January at Colwich & Little Haywood Village Hall.

For full course details, see the mindfulness tab or book online via the events tab.

Mindfulness in sports

Mindfulness is the practice of applying awareness to the present moment through sense-based experience rather than thought. In other words, the ability to bring attention to what is happening right now, without imposing judgments on the quality or meaning of the experience. In practicing mindfulness, sportspeople are able to notice thoughts as passing mental events that don’t require action. The ability to observe in this way can lessen the reflex response to a situation and increase the ability to respond in a calmer more objective way.

We often remember the sporting outbursts (John McEnroe, Zinedine Zidane to name but a few) where players are overcome with rage, feelings of injustice or unfair treatment, or respond negatively to crowd interference. With athletes not only needing to consistently turn in their best performance, but also being role models for fans and aspiring young people, changing the way individuals react to thoughts is a growing area of focus in sports.

A Chosen Response

It is not just the one-off outbursts that sportspeople have to contend with; performance anxiety is a large factor whether you are a team player or individual athlete. So how can mindfulness help? Mindfulness can help individuals become aware of their thoughts, bodily sensations and environment. Through noticing as an observer what is happening in the present moment, we can choose to respond in a certain way instead of relying on the reflex, learned response that often isn’t the most helpful.

Novak Djokovic uses mindfulness every day to help him let go of negative experiences during play and re-adjust his mental and physical responses

We can choose to notice the environmental conditions and make adjustments to our play. We can notice how certain scenarios cause tension in the body and we can choose to relax those parts of the body. Or, we can just notice as an observer and watch the feelings or thoughts arise and pass away – they are mental events that don’t necessarily need a reaction; especially where the thoughts are unhelpful or negative or likely to elicit a negative response. Sport can be a very stressful environment. Mindfulness can help individuals to let go of emotional responses and instead help them to act with more balance and wisdom; this could be the difference between winning and losing.

Improving Focus

Often in competitive sports (professional and amateur) it’s easy to ruminate on past mistakes or predict an outcome before the performance has even started. Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment – what is happening right now? By focusing only on what is happening in the moment, thoughts of predicted failure or learned reactions to past events start to lose their power. Our minds and bodies find a freedom to perform in the moment.

As an amateur competitive cyclist, I have felt and witnessed performance anxiety and the effects it can have on the enjoyment and outcome for individuals. It’s easy to slip into the mental cycle of berating yourself for not doing well, or having moments of self-doubt. Mindfulness might not stop these moments, but it will teach you how to observe them purely as mental events and not based on the reality of the moment. Bringing yourself back to the present and anchoring attention on your breath is a powerful practice to overcome attachment to negative thought patterns. Trying a simple breathing practice before an event can reset the mind and body to be able to focus productively on the current situation.

Positive Imagery

Mindfulness is a powerful method for creating space in the mind which can then be used to meditate on positive visualisations. Utilising the senses can affirm visualisations bringing them to life with vividness that can overcome anxiety and negative thought patterns. Creating a positive mental image of a shot, play, race or outcome can help increase confidence and focus making mindfulness an essential practice not only for success, but also for enjoyment.

David Njoku of the Cleveland Browns uses mindfulness and visualisation to improve performance

Practicing mindfulness is mental training that helps refocus awareness so that attention can be redirected purposefully to help you perform to the best of your ability. As with all training, it is a process that requires commitment and repetition. Mindfulness begins with a sitting practice and deliberate times set aside for mindful enquiry. This then moves on to mindful movement and can become a whole of life practice that can be utilised on the court/pitch/field/track before, during and after performances.

The Well Nest could help your sports team to improve performance through the practice of Mindfulness. To learn more about mindfulness, tailor a mindfulness package for your club or team or to register for mindfulness courses in Staffordshire (suitable for everyone, not only athletes) take a look at the Mindfulness pages or contact [email protected]

Letting go of the past

Letting go of the past will be an issue for most people at some point in their lives. We can all remember hurtful things that were said to us decades ago, or bad experiences that we (knowingly or unconsciously) allow to affect our future experiences. I think we would all agree that being able to let go of the past would provide us with more space in our minds and more peace in our lives.

So how do we do it? It comes back to basic mindfulness principles of being in the present moment, using an anchor to keep us there and staying intentionally and without judgment.

Something that should help us gain some perspective on letting go is that the past has already been and gone; it has been let go of already. What our mind is holding onto is attachment to an event, thought, experience or occurrence from the past. It’s that attachment that stays with us and effects our mind over and over again. When we go into the ruminative state, we run the past (or an imagined future) over and over in our minds. Neither the past nor the future exist; it’s just our thoughts that disturb the mind.

If we repeatedly bring ourselves back to the present moment, our mind will start to learn not to dwell in the past and slowly we will let go of attachment or harmful/negative thought patterns that seem to have power over us. One of the best anchors that we can use in our practice of letting go is the breath. It’s always with us and accessible at any time. Bringing awareness to the breath frees the mind from the past and brings it immediately into the present moment. A simple breathing meditation can be used any time, any place and can provide immediate relief from unhelpful thoughts based on the past. By being in the present moment, we are forced to let go immediately of our attachment to the past. The process won’t be easy and it will take time to be free from attachment to the past for longer than a few moments, but practising bringing ourselves back to the present moment will train the mind to let go.

If the breath doesn’t work for you, or your thoughts prove a stronger anchor than observing the breath, you can try a sense based mindfulness practice; using what you hear, see, smell, feel etc in the environment at that moment to keep you in the present.

Using mindfulness to break down attachment stems from Buddhist teachings and practices that have worked for providing mental calm and clarity for many hundreds of years. The Buddhist tradition that I follow very much focuses on making Buddhist teachings practical and accessible for the modern world. Applying traditional mindfulness techniques in practical ways means the application of this ancient knowledge is relevant to helping us solve our modern problems.

Try something old; to find something new.