There is nothing more energising than starting your day by doing sun salutations. The sun salutation is classic sequence of poses in the traditional yoga practice. There are different variations and each teacher might show you a slightly adjusted one. But if you are looking to do the basic sun salutation, this involves a mix of poses benefiting the entire physical body and energising the mind. Ideally, you’d want to do your sun salutation in a more open space, with a big open window or outside on the grass, your body facing the sun. The benefits of doing sun salutations first thing in the morning are endless. It is a heating, energetic sequence which will fuel your body with trust in yourself and ambition towards your abilities. It helps release physical and mental tension and it provides a deep stretch to the legs, thighs, arms and overall in the body. Sun salutations are also great for bringing more flexibility to the spine and strengthen the arms.
HOW TO SALUTE THE SUN (SURYA NAMASKAR)
To begin with, there is a mantra specific for saluting the sun. This is “Om Surya Namaha”, and you can say this at the beginning of the sequence, every time you do it. It connects you with the power of the sun and brings gratefulness towards the wonderful light the sun brings into our life every day.
Stand at the edge of your mat with your feet parallel and close together, keeping your back straight and shoulder blades together. Take a deep breath in and extend your arms all the way up above your head. As you exhale bring your arms all the way down with your palms touching the floor. Inhale and release the right leg back and then the left leg, both into lunge and then exhale going down into chaturanga. Breath in and come up into upward dog and exhale, going into down dog. Breath in and bring your right leg forward in between your hands, doing the same with your left leg and then stay in that forward bend and exhale. On your next inhale, lift your arms all the way up and exhale, releasing the arms to either side of the body. Doing just two of these every morning energises the body, stretches almost every part of your physical self and it’s a great mood booster for the day ahead.
STEP BY STEP
1.Inhale and bring arms up above the head
2.Exhale and fold bringing your arms down to the ground (bend your knees slightly if your arms don't reach the floor)
3.Inhale and take right leg back into lunge and then do the same for left leg
4.Exhale down in chaturanga
5.Inhale into upward dog
6.Exhale into up down dog
7.Inhale bring right leg to the front in between the hands and then do the same with left leg
8. Stay in fold and exhale
9. Inhale and raise arms all the way up
10. Exhale and release hands down
Repeat sequence next round alternating by bringing left leg back first into lunge and right follows.
Breathing sequence based on the image in this post:
*1 inhale; 2 exhale; 3 inhale; 4 exhale; 5 inhale; 6 exhale; 7 inhale bring right leg forward, then left leg forward, exhale and fold; 8inhale and bring arms up; 9 exhale and release arms to the side of the body.
Whether you are new to the practice of yoga or have been incorporating in your lifestyle for some time, it’s important to know what are the yoga props and how to use them. I used to think that using props meant that I was not going into the pose deep enough, but actually props can bring many benefits. Using props can teach us to be in the correct alignment during the pose. They also protect us against injury by providing support to the body, joints and bones. They are used almost always in restorative in yin yoga, when holding the poses for a prolonged period of time. Let's look at some of the most common yoga props used...
If you invest in one yoga prop only, I would highly recommend getting the blocks. Two is enough and they can assist you throughout your yoga journey. Using the yoga blocks is simple and you can use them for almost any asana (pose). There are any different kinds, some made of foam, cork, bamboo or heavier ones made from wood. The foam blocks are quite popular as they are very light so easy to pick up and moved around during the poses. The blocks can assist you in the standing poses, such as triangle pose, when bringing the arm to the ground. If you cannot reach the mat, you can place the block next to your foot and rest your hand on it. Blocks are also used for back bends, such as camel pose, placing them near to the soles of your feet and bringing your hands to rest on the blocks instead of the soles of your feet. For bridge pose, you can place the block under your sitting bone, and this can also be the restorative option of the pose. Most yoga teachers will provide guidance on the use of blocks during a yoga session.
Providing cushioning to the body, bones and joints, bolsters are a great addition to have to your yoga practice. Alternatively, you can also use pillows, but make sure they provide enough cushioning to the body (not thin ones). Some poses in which you may find bolsters helpful for are reclined hero pose, placing it just at the tip of your feel and leaning all the way back on it; bow pose, placing it under your stomach to provide you with a higher extension of the chest; pigeon pose, extending the arms and chest forward on top of a bolster instead of the floor; extended puppy pose, placing it under your arms and extending the arms forward and many other asanas. Bolsters are also used in restorative yoga, providing a soft, gentle support to the body when sitting in a pose for a longer period of time.
The yoga straps are generally used to provide extra support for flexibility and stretching. Most straps are easy to use and don’t require much effort. Common poses in which you could use the strap are when doing seated forward bends, holding it on either side and placing it on the soles of your feet; during gomukasana/cow face pose, when the palms of your hands don’t meet, so you can hold the straps and pull in opposite direction, the top hand pulling up and the bottom hand pulling down; when doing twisted head to knee pose, placing the strap on the sole of the extended foot helping you extend the spine and then twist. There are many poses the strap can be helpful for, just be weary not to pull too hard on them and ignore the movement needed from the body. Use them to help you with flexibility not to just pull on them.
Pretty self-explanatory, blankets can be used during shavasana (corpse pose) to place on top of your body for warmth or folded and placed under your head when doing poses which require you to lie down. Like bolsters, they provide cushioning and support to the joints and bones in the body so you can use them under the knees, hips, ankles, during sitting poses etc.
The yoga sandbag is a prop used to provide extra weight placed on a part of the body during a specific pose. Most commonly used in restorative or yin yoga, but available for all types of yoga, using the sandbags is a great way to relax the muscles and release stress and anxiety. By applying more pressure on the muscles, the specific area of the body begins to surrender and go into a more relaxed state. The yoga sandbags can also be used to help you go deeper in a pose due to their weight. They come in different weights and sizes, depending which area of the body you would want to use them on. Heavier ones apply more pressure, helping the body release more and even strengthen the muscles. Alternatively, you can use it over your eyes during shavasana.
Yoga props are very helpful and I highly recommend making use of them during your practice. And of course, let's not forget the number one yoga prop, the yoga mat. Find the one which suits your needs the most because they also come in different sizes, some thicker to provide more support, others thinner but more sticky. Which is your go to yoga prop?
Yoga focuses on the connection between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of the self and it is a deeply personal practice. Finding the most suitable type of yoga practice for you is very important because there are many to choose from. Ultimately, whichever type you feel most connected with, that is probably what you should be doing for that moment in your life.
Restorative yoga is a gentle type of yoga on the physical body which takes the person into a state of relaxation by focusing on deep stretching, without actually making much physical movement. Making use of the props, restorative yoga is all about being kind to your body, using bolsters, blankets and blocks to carefully place the body on, and to induce relaxation. The poses are usually held for longer than other types of practices, some holding between 2-5 minutes. By staying in the pose for so long and applying very little physical pressure on the body, restorative yoga provides the muscles with a deep stretch which has many benefits overall for your health. Whilst you are in the poses it's very important to breathe deeply and just sink in even deeper, letting go of resistance and simply just letting yourself surrender.
RECLINED RESTORATIVE POSE
Using bolsters or pillows and a block under these to slightly bring them into an incline, lie restfully on your back. Open the chest by letting the arms go to either side of the body, and place your lumbar spine at the bottom of the props. You can keep the extended forward or bend your knees into reclined butterfly pose and place one block under each one to provide support for the knees. By opening the chest, you can now breathe in deeper through the nose, bringing your breath all the way into the lungs and then exhale through the mouth. This pose is great for opening and activating the heart chakra, otherwise known as the anahata chakra. the purification sound for this chakra is Yam and you can mentally repeat this mantra to yourself to place the focus onto the heart chakra activation. Stay in this pose for at least 3 minutes.
KNEELING RESTORATIVE POSE
Using two bolsters or pillows, bend your knees on either side of body and bring your pelvic area all the way to the end of the props. When you are feeling comfortable enough, lean forward onto your stomach and hug the bolsters or pillows. Place your right cheek onto the props and stay still for about 2 minutes. Then you can slowly lift your head and bring your left cheek onto the bolster. Relax and breathe in and out deeply.
SIDE RESTORATIVE STRETCH
This restorative side stretch is a great way to extend the spine and the sides of the body. Using two bolsters or cushions, come onto your right hip and bend your knees. Bring your right hip all the way to the bolsters, touching the end of the props and slowly extend the right arm forward onto the props and then lie down onto your right side bringing your right arm further down onto the floor. Once you are comfortable take a deep breath in and lift your left arm up and bring your left hand towards your right. Close your eyes and relax in this pose for about 2 minutes and then gently turn onto your left hip and do the same for this side.
RECLINED HERO POSE
Reclined hero pose has many benefits for the body but it can be a very intense back bend. The restorative option involves using a bolster or a cushion under the lumbar spine to provide more support to the lower back and the vertebrae. Sitting on your knees and resting the buttocks in between the soles of the feet, place the bolster next to the tips of your toes. Take a deep breath in and open the chest and slowly pushing the pelvis forward slightly. Once you feel comfortable, bring your hands all the way behind the bolster and sink in deeper, coming onto your forearms and finally bring your back onto the floor. As you sink in deeper, adjust your feet slightly, so the soles of your feet will come outside of either side of your thighs. Hold this pose for at least 1 minute, but do come out of it if you feel too much pressure. Back bends can release different feelings and emotions, so always be in tune with your body and most importantly be kind to yourself.
Yoga is a personal practice in which we connect all parts of our self, the physical, mental and spiritual bodies together. Although commonly known for the asanas/poses , yoga takes you much deeper. The more you practice and keep consistency, you will really get to understand yourself on a more profound level. The benefits of yoga are endless and it’s important to know that it can bring a different experience every time. If you are new to the yoga practice or are an experienced yogi, it’s always good to remind yourself of the following 5 things before starting your next practice.
Yoga is about being gentle with ourselves
Whether you are practicing a slow flow or a more intense type like Ashtanga yoga, the most important thing to remember is that yoga is about being gentle with our bodies. It’s not so much about the pose, as it is about your journey of getting into it. It’s about what you feel as you go deeper and not resist but instead surrender. Your yoga practice is about continuing to breathe and letting the flow guide you, working with your breath to coordinate the movements of the physical body. Yoga is always about opening yourself up to explore yourself, so there is no need to push and create strain onto your body just to reach a deeper level of a pose. Learn where your body is at that point and work towards bringing more balance for yourself within all three bodies, mental, physical and spiritual to sink in deeper and appreciating just how amazing you really are.
Flexibility is not required
As a yoga teacher, I hear many people saying they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible enough. This is a self-limiting belief created out of fear and preconceptions, a restriction from which you can break free, today! Yoga does not require flexibility, it requires you to show up and work with your body to reach a certain level of inner and outer strength, clarity and balance. Flexibility is built over time, but always remember that not everybody can do the splits, or go into a full camel pose but there are always alternatives for every pose depending on where your body is at. Each body is different and yoga will help you understand just yours, where you are resisting and what you need to let go of and release in order to release the blockages and go further. Focus on working towards a more aligned, centred physical self, and not on reaching flexibility.
Learn to breathe correctly
I always start my classes with pranayama/yogic breathing exercises. Ujiayi breathing otherwise known as the ocean sound breath, is a type of breathing technique in which you take a deep inhale through the nose with your lips sealed, and as you exhale through the nose keeping your lips sealed, you constrict your throat making a slight sound (hence the name ocean breath). This has a calming, heating effect, perfect for warming up the body before you start your yoga session. You can do 5 deep Uyaya breaths at the beginning of each practice and continue to use it throughout your yoga session. Another useful pranayama technique is nadi shodhana, alternating between the nostrils. Using one hand, bend your index and second finger onto the palm of the hand, and use the thumb for one nostril and the last two fingers for the other. Breath in through the most open nostril closing the other,then as you get ready to exhale close it and release through the other. Alternate between the two and you can do this 10 times with each nostril always finishing up with the nostril you began with. Nadi shodhana brings balance between the left and right side of the body, the feminine and masculine. Throughout your practice, make sure you breath in as you go up with the body and exhale as you go down. Without using the breath correctly, the practice should not even happen as you might get dizzy or even injured.
Keep an open mind
Yoga teaches us to let go of the ego and to connect with our consciousness. Here, there are no needs, no wants, no desires, but simply being in a state of existence. Keep an open mind throughout your practice, and find your intention. Why is it that you are practicing? There is no need to show off, to focus on poses which you cannot yet do, on bringing awareness to anything else, but your mind, body and spirit. Stay humble within your practice and even if you are an experienced yogi, you can never know everything. Remember that we are all students of life, that you can always approach a pose with a beginner’s mindset and discover yourself always. Breathe, surrender and let go of your fears, of the what if’s, of the need to live in the future. If you are open to completely experiencing the journey of your yoga lifestyle, learn to stay present, stay focused and be in the now.
Setting your sankalpa
At the beginning of each practice, set an intention for your practice that day. Sankalpa is a vow you set for yourself, going into the deeper meaning of life. This can be a statement that helps you connect to your true nature. Maybe there is something you would like to release and let go off, an experience that is no longer serving you. Setting an affirmation which you take with you throughout the entire session, reminding yourself of what it is that you are working towards for yourself, in your life can also be a good option. Whatever it is that you want to connect with in your practice, set that at the beginning and remind yourself of it for the duration of it. Yoga helps you find your grounding and your intention will always remind you of the why you are doing it. Focus, be clear and let the yoga experience unfold for you.
Yoga is a lifestyle and not a sport or fitness regime. It can have many great benefits on the physical, mental and spiritual body if you learn to let go and simply surrender. We are complete as we are, and yoga prompts us to look within and accept this, to understand ourselves from all angles and most importantly to learn to love every part of our body, mind and emotional self. Be kind with yourself, stay patient and keep disciplined.
People come and go, but trust there is a reason for every individual you have come across in your lifetime. The connection made between the souls during the bond has created an impact in your life. Sometimes this could have been something that has completely changed your life, whilst in other cases it may have been a simple understanding or a social connection to teach you something that you needed to learn for that moment in your life. There is a lesson to be learnt from each person we meet and it is our foolish ignorance that often dismisses this. No matter what role each individual played in your life, this was significant just the same as the role you played in their life. It is how we operate on a social level to add to the essence of the collective consciousness of the universe. In the universe there are no coincidences and through this understanding we learn the value of divine timing and trust.
We might doubt this especially when a relationship we encounter brings us pain, sorrow, misery, confusion. But all these are simply lessons and motions we must go through in that moment in time. Amongst many of the lessons presented to us in our lifetime, there are two that are the most important ones that we must master and we will continue to go through different experiences until we do so. One is love and the other is forgiveness. When we understand that love heals and gives life and forgiveness frees us from any created expectations and illusions, we get closer to the true essence of our spirit and begin to see the physical life as it is. Through love we allow everything to just be, without judgement or in need to alter the experience. Love teaches us that it’s ok to be vulnerable and to open our heart to all experiences and persons that cross our paths. The true meaning of love can only be felt when you practice unconditional love, the kind that you give without expecting it in return. Unconditional love is an abundance of love that never runs out and we all have this within us.
Through forgiveness we learn to let go of our own created limited beliefs and need to control others’ experiences. Nobody is perfect but sometimes we believe we can be. So we continue to chase ideals which we think will lead us to this perfection, only to find that the more we search for it the more far away we distance from our core self. We allow the ego to provide us comfort by searching endlessly for an illusion that we mistake for reality, and a reality which is merely an illusion. We fail to recognise that there is no “was” or “will be” but instead we only have a “there is”. We take time as a notion to hold onto so that we can create meaning for ourselves and the relationships we have, because the ego wants to find a reason for everything we do. We compare others to how they used to be and how they are now, and wonder if we can change the way they will be. But the experience every human being has is unique, it’s their own therefore no matter how much we try to alter this, there is no edit button for such action. We give ourselves the self-importance to choose the path of others and give guidance towards their own experience. At the same time, we seek the guidance from others in what we should do, how we should be and most importantly who we are. We are always students of life therefore we are in constant learning mode; however how can we seek answers from others when these are simply inside of ourselves. How can we know the truth of somebody else, when they are not even familiar with theirs and us with our own? We hear of people who say they are unable to trust others, perhaps from a personal previous experience or something that has triggered this limited emotional belief. The issue here does not come from the individuals we believe are not trustworthy, but instead from our created expectations of how people should be or act.
Let go of the idea that you should be somebody more than you are. Let go of your fears, slowly flow with what life brings for you. Accept that everything that is manifesting in your life is doing so for a reason, as part of something bigger that perhaps you may not understand. Free yourself from self-limiting beliefs, from limitations and barriers. Accept the now as it is, feel it, see it, believe it. Take responsibility for your decisions and know that not all will be the best. But that’s ok, learn from these lessons. Evolve, love, accept and let go. Accept others for who they are and if you love, then do so unconditionally. Have trust in yourself and know you are worthy of everything your heart and soul are calling you to go for. Be brave, take risks and go on adventures. Open your eyes to new places, your heart to new people, your mind to new possibilities.