Yoga

What is Yoga Nidra?

Yoga Nidra is a form of meditation resulting in a deep state of relaxation, a state between sleeping and waking consciousness. A meditation that takes the art of simply being and observing further and allows us to tap deeper into our subconscious mind, it becomes a mind-body therapy. We typically explore Yoga Nidra in both our monthly Meditation Workshops and our monthly Urban Retreats (yoga and meditation immersions). It is a simple mindfulness practice and can be done by anyone. You don’t have to be a seasoned meditator, nor do you need any yoga experience. And, as in all our classes and offerings, there is nothing to be achieved. This is a practice, like yoga, where simply doing the best you can, and in Yoga Nidra, this means lying down and listening, is the result, it is what makes it so beneficial. So no pressure, and no fear of big words. It is best, in the beginning, to have someone read to you or to listen to a recording. Most recordings go from anywhere between 10 and 40 minutes. Let’s explain and explore in more detail.

What are the benefits of Yoga Nidra?

  • Lower heart rate
  • Breathing slows down
  • Reduced stress
  • Relaxed body
  • Calm mind
  • Better quality sleep
  • Ability to fall asleep easier
  • Joy
  • Ease in body
  • Clarity of mind
  • Quiet mind
  • Lightness of both body and mind
  • Happiness
  • Heightened awareness
  • Feeling of spaciousness and abundance
  • Helps to resolve trauma
  • Helps to overcome or better deal with feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, frustration
  • Improves capacity to welcome any feelings, emotions, and life situations
  • Improves compassion towards oneself
  • Improves compassion towards others

Why Yoga Nidra and what does it mean?

Yoga Nidra is often translated into ‘psychic sleep’. It allows you to drift in and out of consciousness, almost into sleeping and yet your subconscious is still alert and listening. It is also said that 30mins of Yoga Nidra is as restful as 2-3hours of sleeping. Now, I got your attention. It means that in a lying down position you allow all your feelings, all your physical sensations, all your thoughts, all your visions and imaginations that may occur during the meditation to surface, and you will welcome them all in, without any judgement or need to change them. It is simply a welcoming practice.

The practice itself is the result. There is no need to achieve anything here. Be kind to yourself and know, that this is the art of doing something nurturing and supporting for yourself. Let go of any judgment, of any idea of the ideal practice. Just like in yoga asana practice. In this sense it becomes also a practice of mindfulness, of being present.

What are the steps and stages of Yoga Nidra?

  1. Firstly, you are invited to find a comfortable position. Traditionally it is suggested to lie down. However, you are in charge and can decide what the most comfortable position is for you.
  2. Set an intention. This could simply be to stay open and present to whatever thoughts, feelings and sensations arise. Perhaps today, you need to find clarity or simply relaxation. If you come to our yoga classes, then you have felt that this intention setting is invited in every class and sets the tone for your practice as well as gives it purpose.
  3. State your Sankalpa. This means you now connect to your heartfelt desire and really ask yourself, what it is you deeply long for. Say this positive statement to yourself in the present tense, as if it has already happened. Say it three (3) times. Set and feel this affirmation with all of your heart, your whole body and mind. For example “I am at ease”, or “I have all I need”, or “I am patient” (clearly, this one is for me).
  4. Body Scan or Rotation of Consciousness. This means that you gradually allow your awareness to rotate throughout your physical body. You sense your whole body systematically and feel it as one whole radiant sensation. Start with your jaw, your mouth, your eyes, your ears, your nose, your forehead, your whole head, your neck, your throat, your left arm, your left hand, your right arm, your right hand, then both arms and hands simultaneously. Become aware of your chest, your shoulders, your back, your belly, your pelvis, your sacrum, your whole torso. Feel your whole upper body. Now become aware of your left hip, your left leg, your left foot. Then feel your right hip, your right leg, your right foot. Now feel both legs together. Now become aware of your whole lower body. Feel your whole body now as one entity, as radiant sensation.This is a very basic body scan. Time and experience permitting, you can be much more detailed and even include your chakras, your energy centres. This is where a recording will come in handy. I am working on one or five for you, please be patient with me. In the meantime, join us for the meditation workshops and retreats.
  5. Breath Awareness. Simply become aware of your breathing. Allow yourself to notice your breath. There is no need to shift it in any way. Sense your breath in your body. Notice the air moving in and out of your nostrils or notice the breath in your belly or your ribcage. There is no right or wrong, simply become aware of your breath and feel it moving in and out of your body. Perhaps you can allow yourself to feel a wave of energy in your body with each breath.
  6. Welcome your Feelings and Sensations. Become aware of any physical sensations in your body. Perhaps you feel heaviness, warmth, tingling etc. Allow yourself to feel that without any judgement or the need to push it away or ‘fix’ it. Simply welcome it in and experience it. Then see if you can also bring up sensations of the opposite. Say you feel heaviness, see if you can bring up lightness in your whole body and your mind. Then proceed to invite in and sense emotions that are currently present within you. Say you feel anger, frustration, sadness, happiness etc. Sense it, stay present and allow the opposite to be felt too. Do this with as many sensations and feelings as are present.
  7. Observe your Thoughts, Memories, Images. Become aware and observe any thoughts, memories or images that are present for you. Simply notice them without judging them or trying to change them. Welcome in your experience just as it is. Often in a guided meditation you will be invited to experience images and symbols on a level of feeling, emotion and imagination just as they are read out to you.
  8. State your Sankalpa again. Allow yourself to state your Sankalpa, your positive affirmation again three times. Three times in the present tense, as if it had already happened. If you do not have a Sankalpa just yet, leave out this step. You still get the benefits of this meditation. See below for an explanation.
  9. Closing, Return. Now become aware of your breathing again. Become aware of your surroundings and deepen your breath. Slowly move again, thank yourself and enjoy your day or a good night’s sleep. Know that you can practice for as long and as often if you feel is appropriate for you.

What is a Sankalpa?

A sankalpa is a positive affirmation or positive resolve. It goes beyond simply goal-setting, it is inviting you to truly feel and connect to your heartfelt desire. It is a goal that comes from your heart. It is what you deeply long for. Take your time with connecting to this feeling. Sometimes we have to really allow some time to acknowledge it. For example, we might strive for success in a material sense, and yet, our heartfelt desire might be to simply be loved, unconditionally. Or it could be as simple as feeling abundance in our life. I have written an article on Sankalpa, read the full article here.

A final word, be mindful that there have been books written on Yoga Nidra, so our article here is meant to be a brief overview. My writings are based on my personal experience and the feedback from you, my clients. For this blog, I have consulted the book “Yoga Nidra, a meditative practice for deep relaxation and healing” by Richard Miller. This can be borrowed from our studio library.

Thank you for your curiosity. If you have any questions, please ask, I’m happy to find an answer and have a conversation with you. And please let me know what other topics you would like to explore. I look forward to your comments and to connecting with you in the studio. Enjoy your meditation.

In calmness,

Bettina

Your 5 GO-TO Yoga Poses for Winter!

Do you want to keep your body subtle, your mind calm and the winter blues at bay? Then these five Go-To winter yoga poses are for you! Remember to FEEL into your body, breathe evenly – and most of all – have fun.

As any of these poses would warrant an article on its own, the benefits described are mostly physical rather than emotional or energetic. I encourage you to find a position in your yoga postures that feels good for you on any given day.

Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Downward Dog

One of the most traditional Yoga poses, downward facing dog pose, is brilliant for stretching and strengthening the whole body. All of our joints and major muscle groups are being activated by this posture. As the heart is above the head, it is also an inversion, increasing the blood flow to the brain. With the relation of the upper body to the lower body, it is also a forward bend. It will strengthen your heart & lungs, enabling you to better ward off any upper respiratory ailments. Bend your knees to start with, over time you will be able to bring your heels to the floor. Further move your buttocks toward the ceiling to lengthen your spine even more. Stay for 3 breaths to 3 mins.

Now if you feel like it, you can vary your Down Ward Facing Dog pose.

You can walk your dog. One heel up, one heel down. You can bend the knees and the toes, lengthen the spine and work on some more strength. You can of course twist your down dog: reach for the opposite thigh or ankle with the opposite hand. Or come into a three-legged dog, or even take your dog to the bushes and open the hips.

Swing yourself forward into a high plank position on your inhale and back into downward facing dog on your exhale.

Be creative and have fun. Always move mindfully.

Triangle Pose – Trikonasana

Triangle pose

A traditional standing pose that strengthens all your muscles in your legs, opens your hips and your chest & heart. Allow your upper body to fold over your straight front leg sideways. Keep energy in both legs & both arms, feel your chest open & expand and your spine elongate. Look to your upper thumb. If this is too strong for your neck, keep the gaze to your big toe. Trikonasana is a great pose to reflect on three ideas of living well: loving, learning and sharing. Stay from 3 to 20 breaths, change sides.

Locust Pose – Salabhasana

Locust pose

This is a safe & wonderful mini-backbend that opens the heart & lungs and massages your abdominal organs which can get a bit sluggish in the winter months. It also strengthens your whole back muscles, buttocks, back of legs and your core. This in turn will improve your posture. Gently lift up your upper- & lower body, as well as your arms, keep your gaze forward and down to lengthen from the crown of the head. Hold for as many breaths as is comfortable and repeat.

L-shaped Legs-Up- The-Wall Pose – Viparita Karani (variation)

Viparita L Shape

Open your hips and reverse the blood flow with this wonderful inversion. Take your legs as wide as your hips, groins and hamstrings allow. Then bring your energy into your heels and point the toes towards your face to further lengthen the whole back of your legs. With each exhalation ask the legs to increase the angle of the V. Hold between 10 breaths & 5 minutes. Of course you can simply put yourself into this shape without engaging the legs and still get the benefits of the pose, without the strength work.

Reclining Two-Knee Twist

Side Lying Twist

This is a lovely twist to end your practice or to come into anytime you feel like both back and front of torso need a stretch. It increases mobility in your spine and hips, massages your internal organs, and stretches your shoulders and chest. Be careful, and very gently ease into it if you have lower back problems. Hold for as many breaths as feels comfortable. Change sides.

Childs Pose – Balasana

Childs pose

This is a very calming and comforting forward bend. If the hands along the side of the body are uncomfortable, you can bring them forward and rest your forehead on two fists, or on both palms stacked on top of each other. If uncomfortable in the hips, bring a bolster or blanket between heels and hips, and / or take your knees wider.

Physically, it stretches the whole of your back. Great pose to rest in between poses. Can be a starting or finishing pose to allow yourself to connect to your breath, set an intention and say thank you to yourself .

Energetically, it is calming and soothing as we turn our back to the world. We are curling inwards. A great pose to come into when we feel vulnerable, overwhelmed, or need a short rest from the world.

Always finish your practice with 3-7 minutes of Savasana – Corpse Pose, allowing your Nervous System to calm & settle. Allow your body to be still, your breath to be soft and your mind to be free and alert.

Wishing you fun on and off the mat. Happy Winter & Happy Practicing.

Any comments or questions, please let me know.

Namaste

Bettina

Brahmari Pranayama – Buzzing Bee Breath

Another way to calm your mind – and relax your body.

Whilst this breathing exercise can be done anywhere and in any position, for any length of time, traditionally it is practiced sitting in an upright position.

For our purpose today, I simply want you to explore using your breath as a tool to calm your body & your mind. The breath is such a wonderful tool to use as you have it available all the time. It is always at your disposal.

So, lets gently close the lips and inhale through the nose. Exhale through your nose with a soft sound like that of a bumble bee. Or in other words, the exhalation is released in a humming/buzzing sound. You are welcome to close down your eyes if it feels right for you. Practice allowing the vibrating sensation be felt in your jaw, third eye, your forehead and eventually in your whole head and body. Allow your breath to be even and smooth. Enjoy this slow and rythmical way of breathing and enjoy the soothing sounds of your own voice. Notice how it feels. Notice how your mind calms as it stays focused on the sound you produce. Notice how your body relaxes from the long, soothing inhalations and exhalations.

This is one of the many examples where yoga practice borrows from the happenings in nature.

Brahmari is said to relief stress, ease mental tension, alleviates feelings of anger, anxiety and insomnia. It also helps to increase the healing capacity of the body. It is stimulating the pineal & pituitary gland in the brain, and with that our endocrine system.

It has a deeply soothing effect on the mind and nervous system, and will eventually bring you into a very meditative state.

It also is called the breath of joy and happiness.

Traditionally, this is often practiced with the ears blocked.

Fine to be practiced any time of day. Practice 5 – 10 rounds in the beginning, over time you can practice up to 10 minutes.

Enjoy! Happy Buzzing!

Flowing Sun Salutation B – Vinyasa Yoga Practice

A flowing sequence to warm up and detox your body.

This vinyasa will use all your major muscle groups and joints. Allow your breath to connect with your movement. Keep your bandhas engaged, your pelvic floor and lower belly muscles engaged. Find a rhythm that feels good for you. This flow can be the major part of your yoga practice or simply be your warm up for a longer practice.

Allow yourself to explore your potential. No need to achieve anything. Move with your body not against it. Have fun and enjoy.

Modify according to your health condition and energy level on any given day.

Namaste, Bettina

Flowing Sun Salutation A – Surya Namaskara A

A flowing sequence of yoga poses, commonly known as Surya Namaskara A.

Open and warm your body for the day, or prepare for a longer yoga practice and further movement. This sequence can be a complete practice or a warm up only.

Allow the breath to lead the movement.  Keep connected to your breath. Do only what feels right and what nourishes your body and your soul.

Enjoy.

Namaste, Bettina

Yoga for Brain Health

A flowing sequence of yoga poses to balance both hemispheres of your brain.

We also train our proprioception (ability to know where we are in space) with this sequence.
Notice how all movements cross the midline of your body.

Enjoy the sense of balance, alertness and vigor this sequence brings.

Namaste, Bettina

How to get into Bakasana – Crow Pose

This short and sweet tutorial taken in our studio in Frankston South, Melbourne will playfully demonstrate one way of getting into Bakasana or Crow Pose.

As an arm balance pose it requires and develops upper body and core strength. Most importantly though, in my experience, it does require a sense of fun and playfulness and, on an anatomical and physical level, is about the relationship between our upper body and our lower body.

In other words, about the ability to bring our upper body closer to our lower body, or vice versa. This requires a relatively deep knee bend, and a deep bend at the hips.

Bending at the hips. Any preparation to do so, think deep forward bend, weather lying down in happy baby pose or coming into a deep uttanasana will help you prepare.

Here, I have chosen squatting, or Malasana, for your preparation.

Once you are comfortable with the closeness of upper body to lower body, the bakasana practice starts.

Your gazing point, your dhristi, is hugely important: forward, ahead of you, NOT down or back towards your feet.

Lift your sternum, your collarbones, and your heart forward, draw your shoulders down, hug your ribs in. Engage your core, your bhandas. This will create stability so you can initially play with lifting the toes, then the feet, and finally you will be able to hold the pose for a while.

Remember to keep your breath soft, your jaw soft, your attitude relaxed.

All this is very theoretical until you practice it. So go on, give it a go.

Have fun practicing and allow what you have learned in the process / practice, to filter into your life off the mat.

Please let me know in the comments how you went and what you’d like explained and demonstrated next.

Namaste, Bettina x

5 Tips to support your health & wellbeing this Autumn.

As the days shorten here in Australia, the deciduous trees are changing colour and are letting go of their leaves, as the air is cool & crisp, we are invited to let go. Let go of the idea of an eternal summer, of the idea of a daily outdoor yoga practice, and of letting go of what no longer serves us. Releasing what is old and no longer applicable, to make way for the new. This requires us to pull in, to become more inward focused. It does not mean to become static and stale. Yoga asana practice, or any type of mindful movement is still necessary to keep the body’s systems functioning and to stay healthy.

It is modification that is required. More time to be still. More time to reflect. More time in meditation. More being, less doing. Autumn reminds us of our own cycles of creating and letting go.

1. Let go.

What came to mind as you read this paragraph? What is your idea of letting go? There is no right or wrong answer. It is your choice, your life. Your letting go. It can be a thought, a habit, a life stage, a thing or a person. Write it down. Then let it go.

2. Meditate.

Sitting, standing, lying down; simply be with yourself. Slow down, notice your breath. Notice sounds around you. Let this last for a few breaths, minutes or longer. Again, no right or wrong. Being, instead of doing is the key here. If you’d like some guidance, our monthly meditation workshop will be there for you. Or use an app like Insight Timer for some immediate support.

3. Eat what’s in season.

Cooked foods, soups, stews, warming and lightly spiced foods. Herbal teas, warm lemon water with ghee or coconut oil, root vegetables and nuts.

4. Sunshine, Fresh Air, Sleep.

I know, that’s 3 in one. Getting more sleep, by going to bed early is the key here. Can you be asleep by 10pm? Adjust to the new cycle of wintertime, close down your eyes early. Let the lungs fill with fresh air as often as possible. Catch some sunshine too.

5. Yoga poses for the lungs and large intestines.

Any yoga poses that work your belly, think boatpose, leg pumps, twists, low and high plank. Shoulderstand with cycling legs. Downdog to updog and back. Keep it moving. Sun salutations and fishpose. And everyone’s favourite our supine eaglepose as a twist and a curl.

Enjoy! Any questions? Simply ask or come to class!

With best wishes for a healthy & vibrant Autumn.

Sincerely,

Bettina

Start with what you Love!

What yoga poses should I do at home? How shall I start my yoga practice? I don’t have enough time for a practice at home. All questions and comments I do get often from yoga students.

How long is the ideal yoga practice? What does it entail?

Let not the idea of an ideal yoga practice stop you from starting it in the first place.

Any mindful movement, mindful and kind task toward yourself is yoga.

Since most of us think of asana (yoga poses) practice when we think of yoga, let’s ask yourself what is your favourite yoga pose (asana) or your favourite breathing technique (pranayama). Then see if you can do that first thing in the morning. Only that one posture or movement. Nothing more. Quietly thank yourself. Get on with your day and notice what happens throughout the day. Celebrate and praise yourself for having mastered the discipline to do so.

Repeat the next day.

Do this for a few days, then perhaps add another pose, or simply extend the time you do the first one. Perhaps you can extend the practice to adding another small session in throughout the day or before bedtime.

This is a yoga practice. Find what works for you, what feels good, what nurtures and nourishes and challenges you.

Don’t let anyone tell you it needs to be of a certain length, at a certain time in the day, facing a certain way etc. Be your own master. Start with what you love doing. Shine.

Happy practicing & looking after yourself.

Namaste, Bettina

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin yoga is a quiet, slow-paced, mostly static & floor based form of yoga, where yoga poses (asanas) are held for a longer period of time. Yin yoga has been named and made ‘societal’ by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers, long-time yoga teachers from the US. Yin Yoga is based on the Daoist principles of yin & yang and aims to work on the yin tissues of the body, the connective tissues, namely joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and fascia. As opposed to the yang tissues, blood and muscles.

yin_yoga_1

Yes, you’re right, one set of tissue cannot be moved without the other, and as a movement therapist and anatomy geek (I’m also a remedial massage therapist), this above statement used to make me cringe. It is however possible to relax a muscle around a joint by practicing longer holds of a pose, allowing our deeper yin tissues (ie fascia) to “feel the stretch” and deform and reform, thus becoming longer and stronger.

Let’s discuss this in more detail.

What are the key points/intentions of Yin Yoga?

  • Improving flexibility and range of motion.
  • Keeping an existing range of motion.
  • Longer holds of poses (1-5minutes or longer).
  • No strength work.
  • Using passive and static stretches.
  • Using gravity to achieve a stretch.
  • Using props (wall, bolster, block).
  •  Relaxed muscle.
  •  Fascia elongation.
  •  Stimulation of meridians.
  • Improved energy (chi) flow.

True, these intentions are not exclusive to Yin yoga. And in all our yoga classes we seek balance between strength and flexibility in all tissues. So how does a yin yoga class look and feel different?

What can I expect in a Yin Yoga class?

  • Expect to be mainly on the floor as poses are mostly floor-bound.
  •  Expect to use props such as bolsters, blocks, belts.
  • Expect to be holding a pose for a longer period of time (1-3 or even 5-7mins or longer).
  • Expect to be moving into a passive stretch using your body weight & gravity.
  • Expect your mental activity to increase during such long holds. So essentially you may find yin yoga practice to be more mentally rather than physically challenging.
  • Expect the teacher to draw your attention to your breath more often.
  • Expect to be eventually moving into a deeply relaxing state.
  • Expect to only practice a few poses during your Yin yoga class.
  • No sun salutations.

Again, this is not un-familiar to you as we use props and longer holds in our general classes too. Typical yin holds are even longer. Of course, you are always encouraged to find your own personal edge and practice freedom of choice. So if you need to come out of a pose earlier, or shift to a more physically sustainable position, you will do so.

All yoga is about internal transformation. It is about cultivating awareness and attention. Allowing you to connect the qualities of your heart, your mind and your body. So why would you consider a purely Yin yoga class?

Why will I consider practicing Yin Yoga?

  • You seek to improve your flexibility.
  •  You seek to practice a calmer, quieter, slower style of yoga.
  • You seek to stretch more and strengthen less.
  • You seek a balance to your running, cycling, boxing, weight lifting or other gym-type movement.
  • You are tired, over-stimulated and stressed.
  • You are a risk-taker.
  • You are simply curious about life in general and yoga in particular.
  • You want to widen your horizons.
  • You would like a shorter class time of only 60 or 75mins.
  • You like the idea of being floor-bound in your practice.
  • You like the idea of working more therapeutically with meridians (energy channels).

Ready to explore? We have our Saturday afternoon retreats, where I will offer Yin yoga again in the New Year, as well as regular Yin yoga in the schedule for 2016. So keep your eyes open for upcoming e-news.

What are the key benefits of a regular Yin Yoga practice?

  • Improved flexibility.
  •  Increased circulation.
  • Improved joint mobility.
  • Deeper relaxation.
  • Reduced stress and anxiety.
  • Improved energy flow.

Yes, this is not exclusive to Yin yoga.

Again, the 3 tangible key principles of Yin Yoga.

Firstly, come into a pose slowly & gently, finding your edge, where you are physically challenged, but not in pain or overstretched.

Secondly, find an appropriate stillness in the pose, release into the pose and allow yourself to become muscularly soft, no need to fidget and reposition too much.

Thirdly, stay in this pose and hold it for initially 1-3minutes, eventually 5-7minutes or even longer.

yin_yoga_2

When I first explored Yin yoga about eight years ago, I missed the physical challenge and thought the mental challenge too great. Back then, I was a different person with different life circumstances. Young children, sporadic yoga practice, movement evolved around family and the mind, well, the mind…

Now my circumstances are different, there is a lot of movement in my days and weeks, my mind is busy full of ideas, my thoughts are malleable and changeable. Life is full. In all I do, my yoga practice, ANY yoga practice, is my anker, my way of connecting back with myself and giving back to myself. My non-negotiable time with me. I know it is for you too.

Yin yoga simply takes the strength work out of the practice and allows for even more stillness, introspection, and quiet time. It can still be physically challenging. We have enjoyed a few yin stretches in class with good results and great feedback and will continue to incorporate it into our yoga classes as you and I feel it appropriate. Yin style classes will be happening in 2016 for you to explore.

As you know my teaching is very yin-like. I want you to feel the poses, to find your edge, explore your potential and lean into the discomfort, and then use your breath to soften and breathe through these uncomfortable positions, may they be physical or mental. And as such learn the life skill of staying calm, focussed and non-attached should challenging and even uncomfortable situations arise in your life off the mat.

Remember all yoga is there to serve YOU, the practitioner of yoga. There is no need for guru-ship, or for putting one ‘style of yoga’ above or below another. Yoga is your tool for better health & wellbeing, for helping you manage physical or/and mental day to day challenges, for allowing you to feel better within your skin. It will become a lifestyle. No loving yogi would want you to serve his or her style simply for the sake of doing so. This will only serve the ego. Let yoga be your friend, your companion on and off the mat.

Thank you for your curiosity. If you have any questions, please ask, I’m all ears.

Looking forward to your comments and to connecting with you on the mat.

With love

Bettina Pfannkuch