Welcome to the Yoga With Paul March newsletter! Read + share + respond.
Violence is a sad fact of daily life in the modern world. We’re tend to think of it as dramatic acts like the Westminster attack, highly visible outbursts that we feel helpless to prevent.
Yoga teaches us, though, that we have a responsibility to practice ahimsa — non-violence. The first of the eight limbs of yoga is yama — universal morality. Yama signifies respect for all other beings. It is the ethical foundation of yoga and instructs us to practice non-violence, This is a basic principle of many belief systems, and the basis for living in harmony.
To understand our responsibility of non-violence we have to understand that violence isn’t just bombs, knives and fists.Violence begins in thoughts and beliefs. When we are angry and wish someone ill (even if we would never dream of expressing the thought) it is an act of violence. To be unforgiving, hostile, or aloof is to be violent. Prioritising our comfort over someone’s survival is violent. Feeling entitled to our privileges is violent. Withholding kindness or support is violent.
Confronting violence in the world around us means confronting it in our own hearts, minds and spirits. We cannot be mean, even in petty ways, and expect society to hold itself to a higher standard.
This is a huge responsibility. It requires daily effort to respond to other people in loving, positive, peaceful ways.
Yoga is a chance to practice non-violence in a safe, focused environment. Begin by practicing compassion towards yourself and your body while in the studio. Release thoughts of competition or strain, or “I’m doing this wrong.”
Acceptance is the root of ahimsa. When we accept ourselves just as we are, we don’t have angry, aggressive thoughts. Treating ourselves with kindness and compassion is the natural foundation for interacting with other people in an open, compassionate way.
We all have struggles. Instead of building defences or lashing out ahimsa calls on us to love life and love each other. Suffering that turns to anger just causes more suffering. Non-violence is the only way to break the cycle.
Share your questions or thoughts on ahimsa in the comments!
In difficult times, it is easy to retreat, draw back, close our heart. We are bombarded with voices that incite conflict and division. We’re told we have to be afraid, build walls, turn away from the world.
Yoga teaches us the opposite. Yoga means unity. Not just mind-body harmony within ourselves, but unity with the world around us. Unity with fellow humans, with other living creatures, with nature, with the elements and the spiritual. Daily practice is an exercise in creating an open heart.
An open heart is receptive, fearless, loving and above all, strong. The beauty of yoga is you don’t have to feel a certain way to start with. You just do the practice and allow the asanas to do their work.
There are many heart opening poses and these are three of my favourites.
Lie flat on your stomach. Stretch your legs back, tops of the feet on the floor. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Hug the elbows back into your body. You press the front of your body firmly into the floor and as you inhale start to straighten the arms to lift the chest off the floor, maintaining the connection through your hips and legs. Keep your lower body tight, like a cobra’s tail. Take small breaths at the top as you gently increase the arc of your spine, lifting your eyes toward the ceiling.
Lie on your stomach. Bend your knees and reach back to grab your feet just below the toes. Keep your knees and feet in a line, about six inches apart. Gently kick back and up. The power in this posture comes from your legs, which should stay parallel as they pull your arms and shoulders back. Tilt forward onto your stomach and lift your head. Remember, where your eyes go, your body will follow. Breathe in and out through your nose through the posture.
I recently did a step-by-step blog on wheel pose which is a fantastic heart opener that works your whole body. Read the post here.
How do you cultivate an open heart? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Happy Spring! We officially out of winter. And we are just three months away from the 2017 Yoga Holiday With Paul retreat from 23-30 June.
This is our once-a-year chance to connect, open, deepen our practice, and have a fantastic sun-drenched holiday in Portugal. What more could you possibly want?
To join the YWP retreat or for more information email: YogaHolidayWithPaul@gmail.com
Then, let the countdown begin…
Scent is a powerful sense we can harness for our well-being.
In yoga we take great care to think about elements such as sound (or silence), temperature, textures of our clothing or mat, and lighting. What’s missing? Scent.
We can lift, change, and enhance our mood and meditative experience by bringing scent into our practice. This can take several forms. One option is an essential oil diffuser in the studio or your home practice space. An all-natural fragrance spray can provide a burst of scent to lift energy at the beginning of practice, or suffuse the room with calm before final savasana. Or you could alter your scent experience by dabbing a drop or two of properly diluted essential oil on a pulse point.
Here are three natural scents that can uplift your practice.
Nothing evokes freshness and energy quite like citrus. A burst of lemon, orange or grapefruit brightens the atmosphere of any room and boosts the mood. Opening class or practice with a splash of citrus is a great way to set yourself up for an energised, optimistic and “sunny” session.
Peppermint is the classic “fresh breath” scent but rosemary is a wonderful alternative that adds a touch of depth. This pungent Mediterranean herb has a similar effect to peppermint, as far as enhancing the breath and opening the lungs, but it also has an earthy element that makes it appropriate for the pace of a meditative yoga practice. It is also thought to increase energy and combat headaches and mental fatigue.
This is a great scent to calm your mind and relax your body at the end of practice. Cedarwood essential oil is renowned for its soothing effect, which can enhance the benefits of savasana by promoting deep relaxation and alleviating tension and anxiety. It will compound the beneficial effects of yoga on stress, depression and insomnia, helping you feel even better once you leave the studio, and ensuring that tranquility carries over into the rest of your life.
What’s your favourite scent? Share in the comments!
What have you always wanted to know about yoga?
No matter how long you have been practicing yoga, there is probably something that you are curious about, or would like to improve. Maybe you have a question about a particular posture or breathing technique. Maybe you are interested in learning more about meditation and the spiritual side of yoga. Maybe you want to know how yoga influences your health, sleep patterns, or emotional state.
I cannot promise to have all the answers, but I can offer you the best of my understanding from years of studying, practicing and teaching yoga.
Normally students ask me questions in class or afterwards. This one-on-one approach is great for individual learning but the answers only go as far as the particular student.
Questions and answers via the
Yoga With Paul blog can go out
via @YogaWithPaul on Twitter, on the YogaWithPaul Instagram, and beyond, meaning they have the chance to reach more curious yogis.
So if you have a question about yoga, please ask via the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul. Your question is a gift to the yoga community — because if you’re wondering, someone else probably is too!
Please reach out and let me know what’s on your mind.
My last post was 3 poses to reach Wheel Pose so today let’s go for it!
There is a wonderful blog on Gaia.com that goes into great detail on the pose, including props for modifications, and more. I’ve borrowed some of their description and recommend reading the full post for the background it gives. If you’re comfortable with cobra, bridge and camel pose and are ready to advance to wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) here we go.
To begin, lie on your back with the soles of your feet on the floor, close to your bum, feet hip width apart and parallel to the sides of the mat. Place your hands on the floor just above your shoulders with fingers spread wide, finger tips pointing towards your shoulders.
Be sure the four corners of your feet are planted evenly. Contract your inner thighs so they are pulling together, but maintain hip width distance. Send your arm bones into their sockets so that you feel your shoulder blades come on to your back. Your elbows are moving towards one another but stay at shoulder width.
Press evenly into your feet. Lift your hips and lower back off the mat. Pause there and check your body. When you are ready to proceed press into your palms and lift your upper torso off the mat, bringing the crown of your head to touch on the mat.
Check that your inner thighs and inner upper arms are still pulling towards each other, with hands and feet planted firm. Then press into your palms again to straighten the arms and lift your head off the floor.
Relax your neck and let it hang with gravity.
Take several breaths here. At first you may just take four or five. With practice, work up to longer holds, such as 10, 15 or 30 breaths. Wheel pose will build terrific strength and stamina, as well as fully opening the front of your body.
To release, allow your arms and legs to slowly bend. Tuck your chin into the chest and slowly lower your spine till you are flat on the mat.
Questions or thoughts? Ask in the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul
Wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) is a beautiful back bend that opens the whole front of your body and builds tremendous strength and flexibility in the spine, wrists, arms, chest, shoulders, hips, abdomen and quads.
Getting comfortable with the posture is a challenge though. At first, the sheer mechanics of it can seem daunting. You have to flex and work against gravity in a way your body isn’t used to. This makes wheel pose incredibly powerful and a great confidence boost when you can get into it.
The secret is to break the posture down into steps instead of trying to throw your body into the full asana in one go. With these three steps you build the strength and flexibility to achieve a safe, empowering Urdhva Dhanurasana.
If you practice hot yoga or Vinyasa flow you will know this pose. Cobra begins face down, palms flat on the floor beneath your shoulders, elbows close to the body, legs pressed together all the way down to your heels and toes — contracted and firm like the tail of a cobra. You rise on the inhale, keeping your whole lower body tight and using your back muscles to lift your upper body as high as you can go while maintaining the breath. In preparation for wheel you can practice holding cobra for longer — 15, 20 or 30 seconds.
This asana activates your core and lower body to strengthen and stretch your spine. To begin, lie on your back and draw your knees up with your feet flat on the floor, about hip width apart. Press up from the four corners of your feet, engaging the legs and buttocks to lift the hips higher. If your knees start to splay gently bring them together to maintain hip-width distance. Press your arms and shoulders into the mat to lift the chest up and toward the chin.
Another core asana of hatha yoga, camel pose is a deep back bend and front-of-the-body opener. To begin, kneel with your knees about six inches apart, or slightly wider for a deeper stretch. Put your hands in your “back pockets” and release your spine backwards. Press your hips forward as you go back, then drop your hands and bring your palm to your heels, thumbs on the outside, fingers on the inside. Drop your head back for the full expression, remembering to breath in and out through your nose.
These three asanas, practiced in a sequence, build the foundation to achieve wheel pose. Stay tuned for my next post to learn how to master the final step!
Questions? Ask in the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul
When is tofu not not tofu? When it is made our of chickpeas instead of soy.
To be honest, the thought never occurred to me until a Veggie Zest recipe for “chickpea tofu” popped up in my feed. Tofu is made from soybeans so it makes sense that you can substitute another bean. What I didn’t expect was how simple it is to make this. Chickpea un-tofu only needs five ingredients and about a day to prepare, most of which is just the mixture resting. So minimal time commitment and a good alternative to tofu for anyone who is allergic, or prefers to not eat too much processed soy. It is also gluten free.
Check out the full recipe at Veggie Zest.
1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
6 cups water
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
- In a large pot mix together the chickpea flour and water. Whisk to form a lump free mixture. Cover with a lid and keep on your kitchen counter overnight or for 8 to 10 hours.
- Uncover the pot and without disturbing the mixture remove 2 to 3 cups of water or as much of it that floats on top of your mixture.
- Prepare a 10 x 10 non stick dish (preferable glass) by generously coating it with oil.
- Place a heavy bottom pot on medium heat and add oil to it.
- Slowly pour the chickpea mixture into the pot without disturbing the bottom too much. You will be left with a thick sludge at the bottom. Keep aside.
- Add Salt and turmeric and start cooking on low heat stirring the mixture continuously.
- Once the mixture starts turning thick in about 4 to 5 minutes add the rest of the chickpea mixture that was left in the bottom of the pot. Now mix rigorously as the mixture will turn thick very quickly. If you don’t stir continuously then the mixture will become lumpy. Keep mixing on low for about 2 to 3 minutes and turn the heat off.
- Pour the thickened mixture into the prepared pan and level the surface of the mixture using a spatula.
Have a favourite recipe variation or tip? Share in the comments.