Last one of the year, friends! The #YWP December newsletter is here. Enjoy & share.
Today, like many of you, is my last day of work before Christmas. Stepping out of our routine to celebrate and enjoy the holiday according to our beliefs and traditions is a chance to meditate on what Christmas can mean.
Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Thubten Yeshe gave a beautiful talk on spiritual meaning of Christmas, from the perspective of someone from a different philosophy.
I loved his words, and wanted to share them with you. Wherever you go, however you celebrate, may the gift of peace be with you.
Namaste, Paul xx
The following is an excerpt. You can read the whole talk here.
For a Christmas celebration to be a good one, it must be of a truly religious nature. Jesus came to this Earth and presented his teachings, but worldly beings completely disregard this fact. For them, Christmas means – first and foremost – spending money, buying presents, and creating confusion. Such confusion is entirely of our own making. We have the power to make Christmas meaningful, peaceful, and truly religious, but instead of using this power we succumb to worldly negative energy….
If we don’t not make an attempt to control the negative, confused mind, then there is no such thing as Christianity, there is no Buddhism, no Mahayana. There is nothing worthwhile! We must recognize the negative mind for what it is, and then slowly begin to find a solution for the pain it causes ourselves and others. In this way our mind can be brought to a state of everlastingly peaceful realization. If we do nothing to correct our motivation and distorted ways of thinking, then Christmas exists merely for the ego. Although supposedly making a celebration for Jesus, what we are actually doing is completely degenerate.
Therefore, if you want to come to this Christmas celebration and bring a present, the best present you can bring is a peaceful mind. If you can make such an offering with true love for one another, that is enough. There is no need for too much physical activity.
Share your Christmas wishes in the comments.
The phrase “stiff necked” means “stubborn” . And who wouldn’t be, when one of the most important parts of your body is tense and uncomfortable?
Our necks are constantly in use and unfortunately often ignored. We stretch our shoulders, lower, middle and upper back, but sometimes forget to show love to the critical portion of our spine that keeps our head connected!
Yoga offers tools to create strength and flexibility in our neck. Literally, softening our stiff necks so we can be more adaptive, receptive and mobile. You’ll see the difference when you add these five yoga poses to your practice.
Doing a wide-legged forward bend is the yoga equivalent of hanging upside down from the monkey bars. It lets gravity grab hold of you and stretch your spine and neck, creating space and flexibility. The key is to take a good, wide stance then fold forward from the hips, keeping your spine straight and letting the weight of your head pull you towards the floor. Keep your belly tight, thighs engaged and weight forward on your toes to permit maximum extension through the neck.
This is a fantastic pose for stretching your whole spine from sacrum to neck. Make sure you go into the posture with a long, flat back. Once your fingertips reach the floor you can relax your forehead onto the floor. This is where the stretch really begins to work. Press your palms together to activate your arms, work your hips down towards your heels and continuously reach forward, elongating and releasing your neck.
Cow face pose deeply stretches and opens the muscles in our shoulders, sending a positive ripple effect up and down our spine. To begin, stretch your right arm up next to your right ear, and your left arm down by your left side. Bend your left arm behind the back and up, reaching your fingers towards the middle of the shoulder blades, palm out. Bend the right elbow back, palm in, reaching down to grasp your left fingers. Use a strap to work into the stretch if you can’t reach your fingers. Eventually, you should be able to hook your fingers together, creating a profound stretch.
It is important to work your neck through a full range of motion every day, that means up, down and side-to-side. Spine twisting pose is a fantastic posture for increasing the flexibility of your whole spine, right through the top of the neck. The important thing to remember is to keep your head level. Don’t cheat by throwing your chin over your shoulder; it can do more harm than good.
Our neck gets tense when we are tense. Taking time to relax and meditate in savasana is essential to calm the whole body and break the cycle of physical tension. You can do savasana at the end of your practice, or any time of the day when you have a few minutes and need to ground yourself and focus. The more you are able to consciously release tension from your whole body the looser and happier your neck will be!
Questions or thoughts? Share in the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul
Happy Halloween all! Here is this month’s round-up of the best of the blog, and beyond. Please share, download and enjoy this newsletter 🙂
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a book of spiritual wisdom that has guided me for many years. Ever since I discovered it as a yoga student, it has been a source of insight and perspective. In searching for a new way to appreciate the Sutras I found a beautiful audio book reading on YouTube.
It is the full text of a translation by Charles Johnston, and includes a description and discussion of the sutras themeselves.
Whether you’ve read it a dozen times, or never, enjoying this melodic reading is a great way to absorb Patanjali’s precious words.
I look forward to your comments!
Hips are a major joint in the body, and a place where we store emotional as well as physical tension. We use yoga to create flexibility in our body and mind. Often it’s easy to focus on the body, because that is the most tangible. We see results in the mirror and feel the difference in our muscles.
If we are mindful, we can also observe the improvements in our mental and emotional lives. When we create physical flexibility in our hips, it creates a ripple effect of changes. Here are five ways a hip-opening yoga practice can change your life.
Your hips are where you store a lot of energy related to relationships. When they are open and flexible you have a more giving, relaxed attitude towards other people — whether family, romantic partners, or colleagues.
Being tight in the hips can manifest in being closed to changes or new possibilities. Opening our hips can prevent us from fixating on things being a certain way so we can see and grasp opportunities to enrich our lives.
It’s hard to feel playful when your taking stiff little steps. Opening your hips lets you stride, bound, frolic, dance. You literally loosen up and start having fun.
You can store pain and trauma in your hips. For example, women who have given birth often struggle with hip pain because the body contracts and tries to protect the area. Gently working your hips helps you overcome pain and promotes natural healing.
When we stand our hips face forward. If they are tight and closed, we are literally blocking forward movement. Releasing the tension in our hips gives us a much calmer, more open way to approach the future.
Reading to open up? Read 3 Hip Opening Yoga Poses and get practicing!
Questions about hip openers? Ask in the comments!
Our Achilles tendons connect the ankle and calf. Literally every step we take puts pressure on the tendon and overuse can cause pain and stiffness. Runners are particularly prone to Achilles tendon problems, but it can strike anyone.
Yoga is a terrific tool to stretch and strengthen the Achilles tendon. An ounce of prevention, as the saying goes, is worth a pound of cure, and regular yoga can help avoid injuries. One important thing: take it easy. Relax, breathe into any resistance and listen to your body. Never force a stretch to the point of pain.
Practicing these three Achilles tendon yoga poses will increase the power and flexibility of the lower leg, creating a stronger more stable tendon.
Downward-facing dog is a great whole body awakening and strengthening stretch that targets your Achilles. Press your hands to the floor, draw in your belly, and let your legs find a comfortable stretch. You may not be able to get your feet flat on the floor, which is fine. You can “walk the dog”, flexing alternate knees to loosen your calves and hamstrings. As you build flexibility work towards having your feet flat, but don’t strain.
Eagle pose is a fantastic stretch and strength and flexibility fast. The ankle of your standing leg is working hard to keep your whole body connected and balanced, this strengthens the small muscles in your lower leg, creating more support for the Achilles tendon. Because this is a challenging pose, take it slow. Start with just a few seconds and gradually increase how long you hold the pose. Keep the weight evenly distributed on the foot and your hips straight. Wrapping the other leg creates a fantastic stretch that works deep into the muscles and connective tissue.
Also known as the yogi squat, garland pose is a great stretch for your back, ankles, Achilles and groin. Separate your feet to about shoulder-width, or to the sides of your mat, heels in a line, toes turned out. Squat down and bring your palms together at the centre of your chest. Your torso should be firm and back straight. You can intensify the stretch by pressing your elbow into your inner thighs. Inhale and exhale through the nose, relaxing into the pose for maximum flexibility.
Questions or concerns about your Achilles tendon? Ask in the comments!
Self-care. Would you believe that in all the years of Yoga With Paul blog, I’ve never written a post with “self-care” in the title.
In a sense, the whole blog is about self-care, so you could say there is no need to spell it out. On the other hand, self-care is something we should be consciously embracing.
Why? Because otherwise self-care can turn from something positive into just another line on the to-do list. What I mean is, when we make a decision to take care of ourselves by going to yoga, eating clean, meditating, or taking time to do an activity we love, it enhances our well-being. We go to yoga with the intention of healing and energising our bodies. We eat choose wholesome food to build us up. And so forth.
If we forget about self-care, yoga becomes another task, eating right is just a duty, hobbies get shoved aside because we’re too busy or too tired.
In other words, intention is everything.
When we approach our life and practice with the intention of self-care we experience the world differently. By being aware and respectful of our own needs, we become more sensitive to the needs of people around us. We learn to slow down and not judge.
What’s your favourite self-care treat? Share in the comments or Tweet @YogaWithPaul
Looking back over the past few months I noticed lots of posts about vigorous yoga poses like handstand but not so many about restorative postures. These are just as important as the more demanding postures because they create balance in our practice. So today let’s take a look at balasana — child’s pose — which is a fantastic posture you can do any time you need a break, in the studio or out.
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.