Sunday, 30 November 2014

Star of Wonder

When we are children Christmas is a magical experience, but as we grow older Christmas loses something of its magic.  There are many reasons for this, maybe we become disillusioned by the commercialism attached to Christmas, forgetting the true meaning of Christmas.  Maybe Christmas represents a stressful time financially or for relationships or maybe we just stop believing in Santa.  

It is the same with our yoga practice.  We start as a beginner full of enthusiasm, mindful of how every posture feels in the body.  When we have been practicing a while we may be less mindful, rushing say sun salutations so that the individual movements are less deliberate.  In this practice we will endeavour to return to the wonder of the beginner, being mindful of moving into the pose, the sensations we experience while holding the pose and how we release the pose from our bodies. In this way we might be able to recreate a sense of wonder in our approach to Christmas

Yoga Practice to cultivate wonder
Intermediate Practice

• Start in Savasana – take a few moments to assess how you are feeling at the start of your practice physically, mentally and emotionally.  Leave any concerns behind, any thoughts of all you need to do in this busy period of advent. Then starting to notice your breath.  The breath connects us all.  Spend a few moments watching the wonder of the breath noticing that as you continue to watch your breath you start to change the quality of your breath so that your breath becomes slower and deeper.  When your breath has settled into a smooth, natural rhythmical pattern gently open your eyes.  Set an intention for your practice to be open to the wonder of the poses and then carry that away with you to open up to the wonder of the advent season.

• Full Body Stretch – breath in take your arms overhead and s..t..r..e..t..c..h.  How good does it feel to draw the prana, the life force into the body.  Breathe out to release and repeat twice more.

• Gentle Twist – bend your knees drawing your heels towards your buttocks, your arms a little way from your body, palms up.  Take a breath in and as you breath out, let the knees fall to the right, just as far as feels comfortable.  Breathe in to come back to centre, exhale let your knees fall to the left. If you have no problems with your neck you could start to turn your head in the opposite direction to the head.  Be curious about how your lower back feels.  

• Hamstring Stretch- stretch your legs out then bend your right knee so that you can take hold of your big toe with your first finger and thumb. Make sure your left leg is in contact with the mat. Breathe in and as you breathe out work towards straightening your right leg lifting your head and chest towards your leg.  Breathe in to release and lie back on the mat.  Be curious about how one side of your body feels now compared to the other.  How did it feel doing a hamstring stretch without a belt which you are probably more used to if you have practiced with me for some time?  Repeat 2nd side then come into an all 4s position

• Cat/Cow – mindfully set up the pose.  Check your knees are directly under your hips, hands directly under your shoulders, fingers spread and open, middle finger pointing forward.  Breathe in lift the head and chest, let your spine dip towards the mat, tailbone points to the ceiling.  Breathe out, tuck your chin, arch your back, tuck your tailbone under and continue moving between the two positions making the movements last as long as your breath, your breath as long as the movement.  Be curious about the effect of the movements in your body, on your mind, on your emotions.  After several repetitions come back to a neutral spine. 

• Balancing Cat Variation– breath in and as you breathe out, draw back on your naval and extend your right arm to the right, your left leg to the left.  Hold and do not forget to breathe, drawing back on your naval with each breath out.  Breathe in to release coming back to an all 4s position.  Repeat with your left arm and right leg.  How did it feel to do a different variation of Balancing Cat?  Be curious.  Repeat on both sides and if you need more of a challenge hinge forward to engage the abdominals more.  Again be curious. 

Rest back in 
• Swan- come towards the back of the mat big toes touching knees wide.  Take your bottom back to your heels (used a block to fill the gap if you need to) and stretch the arms forward, fingers spread, elbows lifted.  Feel a two way stretch on your spine, tailbone pressing back, stretching forward from your hips to your armpits, armpits to your fingertips.  Press down with your index finger and thumb.  Be curious about how this feels in your chest, what effect this has on your breath.

• Frog – from Swan breathe in and come back to all 4s then turn to face the long edge of the mat. Place your hands under your shoulders, knees under hips and take the knees wide, shins parallel to the short edges of the mat.  If you want to go deeper come onto your forearms with fingers interlaced.  Close your eyes and if the sensations are intense try to breathe into them.  After several breaths bring your hands back under your shoulders and if it is safe for you to do so (that is your feet, which may be off the mat, will not slip) exhale and lift your hips into a wide leg Downward Facing Dog.  How does this different variation feel in your body?  Breathe in lower the knees and turn on the mat to take a .....

• Child Pose

• Downward Facing Dog – from Child Pose breathe in look forward, extend your arms forward.  On your next breath in come into an all 4s position, breathe out lift your hips into Downward Facing Dog.  Release your lower back and hips by circling the hips one way then the other.  

• Lunge – breathe in step your right foot forward between your hands.  Let your right hip drop slightly and lift your left thigh.  Make sure your right knee is directly over your ankle and lift up onto your fingertips noticing any affect on your breath.  Switch sides with a hop and repeat.  Step your back foot forward (knees bent if you need to), breathe in and take your arms out and up.  Straighten your legs, exhale join your palms bring your hands down to the heart.

• Tadasana –remember your intention
• Sun Salutation A (see Yoga Pose Gallery)
• Sun Salutation B (see Yoga Pose Gallery)-pause in Warrior 1 and with your right foot forward move into Eagle Arms taking your right arm under the left.  Lift your arms up and back.  Repeat 2nd side.

• Tadasana – reflect on your experience, being curious about your breath, your heart rate and allowing a few moments for everything to return to normal.

• Standing Wide Leg Forward Bend Variations – step your feet a good leg length apart and make sure the outside edges of your feet line up with the short edges of the mat.  Take your hands to your hips, breathe and squeeze your elbows back, breathe out and hinging from your groin come to a flat-back position then release your fingertips to the mat or to a block.  Breathe in and if you wish to go further as you breathe out release the crown of your head to the mat and walk your hands back under your hips.  Hold for a breath or two noticing any sensations.  To come out, breathe in come back to flat back, walk your hands forward, breathe out take your hands to the hips, breathe in and come up.  Repeat interlacing your fingers behind your hips.  Straighten through your arms, breathe in and lift your chest, breathe out and lower the crown of your head towards the mat, taking your hands up and over.  Hold a breath or two.  Are the sensations different this time, what is happening with your breath?  To come out breathe in and come up slowly, lowering your arms down and release the hands.  Step or jump the feet together.

• Tree to Warrior 3 – from Tadasana take your weight into your left foot, find a gaze point (drishti) and lifting your right foot either cup your left ankle with your right foot, take your right foot to your left shin or reach down and place your right foot on your left thigh (never opposite the knee).  Bring your hands to heart, lift through the chest and breathe for a few breaths.  Then breathe in lift the chest, breathe out start to hinge forward like a pendulum reaching the right leg back ideally bringing your right thigh parallel to the mat.  If you feel balanced extend your arms forward.  What did it feel like to transition between balancing poses?  Notice the sensations in your body, your breath, what is happening in your mind.  Balances are calming because they force you to be present,  if not you will fall out of the balance. Breathe in and lowering your right foot lift your arms (or for more advance you could return to Tree Pose!) and breathing out join your palms and bring your hands to your heart.  Repeat 2nd side, noticing any differences. Close your eyes and remember your intention.  Come to seated.

• Dandasana – sit with your legs outstretched, big toes pointing up, making sure you are on your sit bones (remove any excess to the sides).  Lift your kneecaps and let your pubic bone move towards the mat (sitting on a block helps with this).  Place your fingertips by your hips or on the block and lift your spine reaching the crown of your head towards the ceiling.  Gaze is down at your big toes.  How does it feel to sit with good posture?  Hold for 5 breaths.

• Half Lord of the Fishes Variation – from Dandasana bend your right knee and interlacing your fingers hold the knee just below the kneecap.  Breathe in and drawing your knee in, lift through your spine. Release your hands, bend your right elbow and place your right elbow to the inside of your right knee.  Take your left hand behind your hips, breathe in and lift your chest, breathe out and twist to the left.  This is not our usual way of doing this pose.  How did it feel to work with this pose in a different way?  Notice your sensations.  Can you twist a little more with each breath out  Hold for a breath or two, breathe in and lengthen your spine, breathe out and release the twist from your body.  Repeat 2nd side then bend both knees and softly fold over your legs to realign the spine before coming to seated.

• Chocolate meditation- sit in a comfortable cross-leg position and place a wrapped chocolate on the mat in front of you.  Take a few deep breaths as you gaze at the chocolate, noticing the colours of the wrapper, the patterns on the wrapper etc.  After a while pick the chocolate up and slowly unwrap it continuing to breathe slowly and deeply.  How does it feel to touch, does the wrapper make a sound?  Just notice.  Once you have revealed the chocolate turn it over in your hands.  Is there a pattern moulded onto the chocolate?  Is the surface smooth?  Continue to breathe slowly and deeply.  Now lift the chocolate towards your nose.  Notice the sensation of smell.  Is there any other effect (for example mouth watering in anticipation)?  Continue to breathe slowly and deeply.  Now take a bite.  How does the chocolate feel in your mouth.  Notice the physical sensation and as the chocolate starts to melt the sensation of take before chewing and swallowing. Continue to breathe slowly and deeply then finish the chocolate.  Do you feel the need to eat another or is eating one more mindfully more satisfying? This fun meditation shows the importance of being mindful not only of what we eat but in all we do so we can once again experience the wonder of life.

Note-If you are allergic to chocolate (like me!!!) please miss out this meditation, or subsitute chocolate with another sweet or piece of fruit.
Thank you

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