Yoga for Stress

By letting go, it all gets done - Lao Tzu

Yoga for relaxation and stress relief workshop at the Bristol Yoga Centre

We often think that we are relaxed when watching TV or cycling. Whilst these can be more relaxing than going to work or driving the kids around, they are still bombarding our senses. Yoga is a great remedy for stress as it teaches you how relax to fully. 

Relax the yoga way

One of the main causes of chronic stress is our inability to release tension and strain once the cause of the stress has passed. We often worry and carry the disturbance with us long after an incident has taken place. This can cause many of us to suffer tension in our head, neck and upper back. We literally carry the weight of the world on our shoulders! In Savasana, we take the weight off and our body can begin to really relax and rejuvenate.

Be with the breath

Bringing our awareness to our breathing enables us to be in the present moment, rather than focusing on the past or future. Breathing properly means that our body is being supplied with the right amount of oxygen, replenishing our brain and other vital organs.

Balance the nervous system

Yoga also helps our nervous system to rebalance after a challenge has passed. In our practice, we often alternate between strenuous poses and gentler postures, conditioning us to move easily between states of challenge and rest. This teaches us to let go & release once the challenges have been met.

Regular Asana practice

Doing regular asanas keeps our body and mind balanced, strong and flexible. It also relieves muscular tension and mobilise our joints.  If you're feeling healthy, it's much easier to handle stress and worries.  

Learning to accept change

One of the main benefits I’ve gained from regular practice of yoga is the ability to accept change. Quite often we feel really stressed when going through changes. Just like stress, changes are inevitable part of living. Therefore, it’s really worth learning techniques to help us when these changes become challenging and stressful.

New relaxation and stress relief Workshops at Bristol Yoga Centre

I am running a short relaxation and stress relief workshop on 4th June. Come and learn how to relax fully and ward off stress! This will be a lovely Sunday afternoon event supporting Bristol Mind, a mental health charity who do great work in Bristol.  

We have also scheduled a new meditation workshop on stress and life management on Sunday 2nd July by Kay Baxter at the Bristol Yoga Centre studio. 

Finding Balance at a Yoga Retreat

 Nothing can bring you peace but yourself – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yoga Retreat in Spain 2017 by Bristol Yoga Centre

Going on a yoga retreat is an excellent way to relax and rejuvenate. It gives you time and space to deepen your practice and reflect on what is important in your life. The daily yoga practice helps to bring a sense of calm and peace. As Judith Hanson Lasater, renowned yoga teacher says ‘Taking time out each day to relax and renew is essential to living well’.

I often hear people coming back from holidays and saying that they need another break straight away! When we go away we tend to sleep late, eat and drink too much and end up running around doing lots of sightseeing. Although this can be fun, we can often come home feeling tired and depleted.

Whenever I’ve been on a yoga retreat, I’ve noticed that my mind becomes clearer and I develop a tremendous sense of wellbeing. I return feeling balanced and full of energy, and ready to take on whatever life brings.

Twice daily yoga means that there are opportunities to delve into different practices such as pranayama, meditation and yoga nidra. These techniques are incredibly restorative and energising, by doing them regularly you’ll be able to feel the benefits they can bring. 

Healthy food at a yoga retreat can also help you revitalise as delicious balanced meals are provided everyday. These offer a great opportunity to get to know each other and make new friends in beautiful and inspiring surroundings.

The yoga retreat should help to encourage and instil your own personal practice once you return home, meaning that the benefits you’ve gained will stay with you.

This year, I am running a luxurious 7 day yoga retreat in Tarifa, in the south of Spain, from Saturday 17th – 24th June 2017.  It’s open to all ages and abilities. There is currently £100 off last minute discount available.

The villa is located in a stunning elevated position in the La Pena area (Natural Park) of Tarifa, nestled between mountain and sea with a panoramic view over miles of sandy beaches.

There are lots of exciting activities that can be organised including:

  • Hiking
  • Rock climbing
  • Water sports
  • Mountain biking
  • Horse riding
  • Whale watching
  • Day trips to Morocco
  • Roman ruins

Or you can just relax on the beach or at the gorgeous grounds of the villa!

This article was originally featured in British Wheel of Yoga Spectrum magazine Spring 2017.

Tibetan Breathing Technique: Simple Alternative Nostril Breathing

‘Your breathing should flow gracefully, like a river, like a water snake crossing the water, and not like a chain of rugged mountains or the gallop of a horse. To master our breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds. Each time we find ourselves dispersed and find it difficult to gain control of ourselves by different means, the method of watching the breath should always be used’  - Thich Nhat Hanh

Yogic Breathing techniques

I wanted to share this brilliant breathing technique that I learnt from one of my yoga teachers some time ago. I’m not sure if it’s a classical Tibetan breathing technique, as I’ve never come across this anywhere else but it’s a great introduction to alternative nostril breathing or Nadi Shodhana.  

Nadi Shodhana means ‘purifying the channels’ and balances the pranic energies by controlling the airflow through the nostrils. This technique is excellent for beginners as it’s simple and easy to follow. Similar to Anuloma Ujjayi (another simple alternative nostril breathing), this technique is excellent for beginners as it’s simple and easy to follow. You don’t even need to be able to do Ujjayi pranayama or know how to hold Vishnu mudra, a hand gesture used in alternative nostril breathing.

If you are new to pranayama (yogic breathing techniques), it’s worth reading my previous posts on breathing technique and seated postures. To gain the most benefit from pranayama it’s best to be taught in person by an experienced teacher. 

Preparation: ways of opening and balancing nostrils

If you have a slight congestion, especially just on one side of the nostrils, you may want to try using the following techniques:

-       Lying on the side of the body: If your left nostril is blocked lie on right side and vice versa.

-       Practicing Padadhirasana, the breath balancing pose (see picture below).

Breath balancing pose

Sit tall in Vajrasana or a comfortable seated position that supports the spine. Cross the arms in front of the chest, placing the hands under the opposite armpits with the thumbs pointing upward. Close your eyes and start to focus on the breath. Allow your breathing to be smooth, deep and rhythmical. Practice for 5 – 10 minutes before pranayama.

If you’re still congested try visualisation techniques instead. With this breathing technique, you could even do the arm movements but omit holding the nose down.

Method

  1. Sit comfortably with the spine tall (use cushion or chair if necessary)
  2. Connect with your breath and begin to slow down your breathing
  3. Raise your right arm up as you inhale through both nostrils, as you exhale block the right nostril and breathe out through the left. On your next inhale, raise your left arm up and when you exhale block the left nostril and breathe out through the right (this completes a full round). Continue like this for 6 - 12 rounds.
  4. Sit and observe the effects of your practice.

If you feel dizzy or unwell during the practice, stop and bring your breathing back to a normal. If you have a regular pranayama practice, you can alter breathing ratio and slowly introduce breath retention.

Practice advice

This breathing technique can be practiced before or after the asana session.

Relax your shoulders, face and neck and try to keep an upright spine. Avoid pressing too hard on your nose and be delicate with the use of your hand. Gradually lengthen and deepen your breathing. Take your time to practice slowly and try to feel the effect of the pranayama.

Benefits

The immediate effects of pranayama can be subtle but with regular practice, you will notice that your mind is clearer and your concentration will improve. It’s said to be great for reducing stress and overall you will feel more balanced and energised. Pranayama is used for dharana (concentration) and preparation for dhyana (meditation).

I have personally practiced pranayama over the years and have noticed a massive improvement in my mental and physical wellbeing. I found that I am more grounded, centred and relaxed.

Meditation Practice

‘Most of the trouble of the world comes because people have not learnt just to sit quietly’ 

- The French philosopher Pascal

Meditation Practice and the balancing nature of regularly doing meditation

Meditation practice is an essential part of yoga practice. And yet, yogis are often accused of just preparing to practice meditation without actually doing it! We tend to be very good at practicing asana and pranayama but quite often skip meditation altogether. When we actually do practice, it tends to be for a short time either at the beginning or end of the session.

Classical yoga is the ‘practice of settling the mind’ and we achieve this by following the whole of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Dhyana is the 7th limbs of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and it’s often translated as meditation, reflection and profound contemplation. The root of the word ‘meditation’ is similar to medical or medicate and the word implies a sense of ‘attending to’ or ‘paying attention’.

In 2014 I took an 8 month BWY meditation module with Kay Baxter, it was refreshing and enlightening to focus purely on the practice of mediation. Kay is one of the senior British Wheel of Yoga teachers and specialises in meditation. We met once every month to practice meditation all day, we also did little bit of asana, singing, listening to music, breathing and relaxation techniques but the main focus was on meditation.

Don’t get me wrong, especially at the beginning, it was really challenging to simply sit and feel. It was fascinating to see how easily I got distracted and lost in my mind.  Having Kay’s expert and gentle guidance was invaluable. Kay would often remind us to ‘let go of doing, achieving or competing and observe and feel’.  She also always allowed time to discuss and share our experience within the group, and it was really interesting to hear other people’s views. From regularly practicing meditation, I learnt so much about myself. As Kay wisely said:

‘In this deeper, stiller place you can discover many things. You will uncover your own truths. Truths that are universal, but that you experience and appreciate in your own individual way according to your life and understanding. An opening is created, a space where the deep intelligence may rise up and insight descend such that we can begin to know. Knowledge that is not information gleaned from books, but that carries with it a deep feeling connection, such that there may be a sense of coming into alignment with something that is clear and true’.

I strongly believe that we would all benefit from doing regular practice of meditation. It allows valuable time and space to reflect on our actions, thoughts and feelings, and be more conscious and attentive. As Swami Rama says:

‘We are taught how to move and behave in the external world, but we are never taught how to be still and examine what is within ourselves. At the same time, learning to be still and calm should not be made a ceremony or a part of any religion: It is a universal requirement of the human body’

Meditation practice has been around for centuries and with some guidance, it is accessible and available for everyone.


If you are interested in starting meditation, come along to Kay Baxter’s Wednesday morning meditation from 10 – 11am at the Bristol Yoga Space studio in central Bristol.  Kay’s class is structured in a way that it is accessible and enjoyable for everyone including beginners. Don’t worry if you cannot sit comfortably on the floor. We have chairs and props to make sitting more accessible.

I’m really excited to welcome her in the studio! It’s fantastic to be able to learn meditation weekly. I’m certainly going to be there :)

Kay will also be running series of Meditation workshops from May 2017.

Savasana (Full Relaxation Pose)

‘Proper relaxation is a gift everyone of us should give to our bodies each and everyday’ - Tara Fraser, a senior yoga teacher.

Full relaxation yoga pose

After the Christmas and New Year, we often take up new activities and projects, and run around trying to achieve our goals. Whilst it’s a great time to take on new things and reflect on our intentions, it’s really easy to over do it and end up feeling burnt out.

Relaxation is a key element in yoga practice; Savasana or ‘the full relaxation pose’ is the ultimate position for relaxation…as the name implies. It is one of the most important asanas as it teaches us how to release physical and mental tension and assimilate the practice we have completed. Allowing time to reflect and absorb our actions will enhance their benefits.

It’s easy to over look simple poses like Savasana but I have found that it’s often one of the most powerful ones to do regularly. Savasana teach us important lesson of letting go. Experts believe that one of the primary causes of chronic stress is inability to release worries and strain. We often hold on to these feelings and tension even when the stressful situation has long passed. Practicing Savasana regularly is a great way to notice how we are and encourages us to let go.

Savasana is often translated as the corpse pose and is synonymous to Mrtasana, which means death pose. The pose symbolises death and letting everything go. No longer trying to do or analyse but letting everything be as it is.

At a first glance, it may seem like the easiest pose to practice but it can actually be one of the hardest postures to do properly. It can be challenging to relax fully whilst maintaining full awareness. It’s very easy to be lost in our thoughts or just fall asleep! As with most things, the more you practice, the easier it becomes; so I recommend doing this pose regularly.

Savasana is normally practiced at the end of asana practice but it can also be done at the beginning or on it’s own. When I feel depleted and tired, I often spend 5 -10 minutes (longer if I have the time) in Savasana to rejuvenate. It has a quality of a power nap and is incredibly restorative. As Gheranda Samita, one of the three classical text on Hatha Yoga says ‘Lying flat on the ground like a corpse is called Mrtasana. This posture destroys fatigue, and quietens the agitation of the mind’ - Chapter 2, verse 11. After practicing Savasana, the body feels rested and the mind becomes less cluttered and clearer. You will also have more energy to do what you want.

To practice this pose, it’s important to spend some time ensuring that you are as comfortable as possible. Make sure that you are lying down in a balanced way and allow yourself to relax completely. Use as many props as you need such as blankets, cushions and eye pillow. Blankets can be placed over the top of the body to keep warm or folded up and placed under any part of the body for support.  Cushions can be used to prop up the head or used under the knees to release your back. I highly recommend using eye pillow as it will help you to relax your face and head. Experiment and see what works for you.

If you are pregnant, it’s not advisable to spend too long on your back so choose to lie down on the left side of the body.

Once you are in Savasana, gently watch over your body, breath and mind. Try to observe your thoughts without becoming attached to them, by feeling your body and keeping yourself connected to the ebb and flow of your breath. Simply learning to observe your thoughts in this way will help to calm your mind.

If you are worried about falling a sleep, try setting a timer or a gentle alarm. When you are ready to end the practice, come out slowly and take the time to notice the effects of Savasana. Sit quietly and observe how you feel.