Yoga for times of change and uncertainty – Part 1
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Yoga for times of change and uncertainty – Part 1

I was recently featured in an article for Stylist magazine written by Kerry Law titled “Yoga for unsettled times: how to use postures and breathwork to ground yourself” which included several short practice ideas from practitioners all over the UK and beyond. Whilst researching for this piece I ended up unpacking my own experiences of yoga over the years and while writing found that I had a series of short articles in response to the brief. So, instead of those articles sitting on my desktop I thought I would put them to some use and share them with you here instead.

Yoga for times of change and uncertainty; part 1

Yoga is a transformative practice. The meaning of yoga is ‘to join’, to yoke’ or ‘to unite’ and is an ancient practice which seeks “to join the several parts of an individual’s life into a coherent whole.” Gary Krafstow, Yoga for Transformation. There are many ways we can explore this wholeness, and during times of uncertainty and change perhaps it’s a practice we need now more than ever.

 

Through mindful postures (asana) and sequencing, breath-work (pranayama), visualisation (meditation), sound and deep stillness we can teach ourselves to tune in deeply to what’s happening beneath the surface and find space for our own healing to begin.

 

In this article you will find a brief introduction to ways the breath can support you as well as some postures and visualisation practices that could assist in the feeling of being grounded which I hope will support you further during these uncertain times. The idea being that you build your own stock of resilience and self-care practices to assist you through the transitions of Autumn and towards the darker days of Winter.

Breathing patterns 

 

Breathing as we know it to be is done automatically, we don’t have to think about it! Daily life, work, stress and postural habits means that it is becoming more difficult for people to breath effectively. Stress and tensions in the mind often manifest themselves as tension in the body, in particular the neck and shoulders. In turn the primary muscles that enable the breath to function well are restricted and the breath therefore is limited, with shallow breathing or breathlessness becoming a noticeable symptom.

 

If we can relax the mind, the body in turn is more able to relax, and the breath can move more freely in the body as it should be able to.

 

Finding ways to help calm and relax body and mind will therefore enable greater access to the breath. If the body is relaxed we can begin to deepen and lengthen the breath’s natural cycle. The more we can do this, the more likely we’re in a position of being able to stimulate the rest and digest response (parasympathetic nervous system) which is a little like giving ourselves a huge, loving and reassuring hug!

 

To begin with it can be difficult for people to relax into their breathing, or to even pause and notice the breath. Due to residual tensions there are many barriers to break down, which is where mindful practices such as yoga can really help. Teaching ourselves to move mindfully and in new ways can evoke a sense of curiosity and at the same time build strength, increase mobility and cultivate mental focus, all of which are very useful tools to when it comes to being able to relax fully in the body and mind.

 

Being still requires patience.

“…the breath is the key that can open thousands of doors – an infinitesimal but incredibly powerful laser capable of removing layers of encrustation.”

Sandra Sabatini; Breath, The essence of Yoga

Getting grounded; A short practice inquiry

 

Uncertainty brings with it tension, stress and worry which can leave us feeling confused, unstable and insecure. This is when it can be very useful to explore grounding practices as a means towards connecting to the present moment and bringing us back down to Earth.

 

One of the simplest and most accessible ways of getting grounded is to stand, sit or lie down (indoors or out) and simply direct our awareness to the points of contact that the body has with the ground.

 

Standing

 

Tāḍāsana – Mountain pose is the most foundational posture of all of the standing poses. It acts as a starting point for everything else that follows. A place where we’re invited to pause, notice and to check-in physically, energetically, emotionally and mentally. A place where we can spend time observing how the soles of the feet make contact with the ground.

 

Chapter 2 V46 “Sthira Sukham Āsanam”

In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali Asana / postures are defined as being steady and spacious, focused and at ease. Not too much, not too little.

 

Mountain pose can be a very useful place to explore this sutra as it embodies what it is to be grounded and yet at the same time tall, spacious and calm. Metaphorically speaking the mountain stands still and allows the clouds to engulf it, the birds to fly by and nest within its trees. The mountain accepts and surrenders into its place in the landscape and will remain still, present and peaceful no matter what is thrown its way.

 

Once we have the foundation, then we can begin to explore

 

From standing, notice the way the feet spread across the ground, shifting the body weight around the soles of the feet until you feel centred and evenly placed. As the feet anchor down, lift up through the knee caps and activate the thighs. With awareness at the central axis in your torso (the spine) invite a feeling of space along the spine as if lifting through the crown of the head, and in doing so ask your shoulders to soften and your jaw to relax.

 

Once you are established remind yourself of the connection with the Earth and that from here, anything is possible.

Prompts:

 

  • Exhale downwardly to the soles of the feet
  • Inhale upwardly to the top of the head

Observe the breath between these two points, pausing every so often if you find tension building. Invite a sigh, and then come back to the thread of awareness.

 

  • Anchoring further on each exhale
  • Breathing into space on each inhale
  • Stay here for a little while, then upon completion, notice how you feel

From here a mindful walk in nature, barefoot can help to further anchor and reassure the body and mind. Invite the sense of touch through the soles of the feet and the Earth and tune into the calming scents and sounds of nature. Pausing when you find something that draws you in, or zooming out to take in the wider expanse around you. The same practice can be taken whilst seated or lying down outside in nature, always ensure you are warm and comfortable so that you can rest there for a little while.

Sensory Practices

 

Let the senses come alive as you gently tune into the way the body makes contact with the ground through its warming touch. Zoom in to notice the colour, smells and textures of nature that surround you as you begin to absorb its calming and nurturing effect.

 

Then guide your awareness inwards and begin to notice your inner environment. Notice the breath and the touch of the inhale in the nostrils. Place your hands on the chest, torso or ribs and feel or sense the breath rising and falling in your torso. Listen to the sound of the breath soft and soothing like a distant wave.

 

When nature isn’t readily available, or access to open spaces is hard to come by this practice can be taken as a form of visualisation. Be creative. How can you invite nature into your home? Perhaps through plants, colour and images, fresh flowers or fragrance.

 

The use of props can also be very useful in order to support ourselves as fully as we can. The more we feel comfortable, the more we can let go of gripping and connect towards a natural, gentle breath. Getting comfy through props is very personal to each individual. I recommend using cushions and blankets to support the head and knees if lying down, and if you are seated a cushion for your bottom. An extra blanket for warmth is always good to have around too!

 

When you are comfortable and still notice each inhalation and exhalation as they naturally occur.

Nothing is forced.

Nothing is held.

Being gentle is key.

Insights/prompts

 

  • Inhale – notice a sense of lightness or spaciousness as the lungs fill and nourish you more fully
  • Exhale – notice the body resting more deeply with the natural pull of gravity as the lungs empty
  • Inhale – Vitality, energy, nourishment
  • Exhale – and let go
  • Stay here for as long as you wish.
  • Allow yourself to be received more fully by the Earth with each breath cycle

 

Upon completion of any of the above practice ideas you may wish to write some notes in response to your experience. Use the following prompts to help:

 

  • How do I feel?
  • What do I notice from here?
  • When I breath in it is like…?
  • When I breath out it is like…?
  • What has shifted as a result of this experience?
  • What would I like to happen next?

 

Short sessions in nature such as this will only require 5-20 minutes of your time / day and yet have the capacity to provide you with an energising and uplifting boost in your physical and mental energy, whilst at the same time can be very calming and reassuring of our place in the world.

I’d love to know your responses and feedback based on this article and if you have found it useful please do share it with friends, family and like-minded folks. Part 2 of this series will explore practice ideas around the heart-space as a means towards exploring courage and resilience. I’ll be sharing this with you over the coming weeks.

 

In the mean-time if you’d like to practice yoga with me in person you can do so from my home town of Marple, Manchester every week on Mondays and Thursdays with pregnancy yoga on Wednesday evenings. I teach and co-host seasonal retreats in Llanberis, North-Wales and am active on instagram and YouTube.

 

You can also sign up to my mailing list to be the first to hear about my articles, class schedule, online videos and courses. I don’t email too often, roughly once a month, to keep our community connected.

 

Thanks so much for being here and I look forward to reconnecting with you very soon.

 

Helen x

“Yoga is a mind, body and spiritual practice that invites deeper breath and presence through movement aligned with breath. It is a powerful practice and its potential for liberation is immense.”

 

Susanna Barkataki; Embrace Yoga’s Roots