YOGA to soothe aches and pains, boost energy and mood – with Heidi on Wednesday and Fridays.
With research showing regular yoga is as effective as drugs and physio therapy when it comes to tackling depression and back pain – it makes sense to give it a go. There is a good chance you’ll end up feeling amazing.
If you are someone who feels awkward about attending a regular class – don’t worry – Heidi’s sessions are small and tailored to individual needs. You don’t need the perfect body, fancy yoga gear or prior experience to come. All ages and abilities are welcome. Cost: £8. Concessions: £6.
Sessions build core strength and flexibility, integrating breathing techniques, mindfulness, meditation, and mantra to improve physical and mental wellbeing.
Heidi has been practicing yoga for nearly 20 years and teaching since 2012. She has worked with a wide range of groups, including children, adults with MS, Parkinson’s, Autism & Asperger’s, Bipolar and people rehabilitating from Strokes, Spinal Injuries and Amputations. She has also taught yoga in the corporate sector, for financial services firms Legal & General, Metlife and NHS Tayside.
Sessions are in a beautiful rural location in Balmerino on the Fife coastal trail, just five miles from Dundee.
Wed – 9.30am – 75 mins
Wed – 6.30pm – 90 mins
Fri – 4pm – 75 mins
Limited space available – please contact Heidi to book.
This gleeful yomp begins at my own front door – which overlooks fields of horses and opens onto a farm track used by 13th century monks at the nearby Balmerino Abbey.
The best ever walk to the pub begins on a balmy Sunday evening in midsummer and travels through barley fields to a hill overlooking the Tay Bridge to distant Dundee and onward past the village shop and school to the white-washed But and Ben that is home to beer and folk tune.
Before setting off I clear my clutter of garden tools, hosepipe, seedlings and pots – don’t want to stagger over them on my return. Now I crunch across the gravel terrace where where my favourite wild flowers grow – sweet nettle, poppy and quaking grass. Skipping under my honey suckle bower – not forgetting to take a snifter – and down the steps to the picket fence where the tufts of moss very sweetly grow. The rusty old latch on my garden gate has been worn smooth by Jimmy the old boy living here for 60 years before me.
Waving to my neighbour Ulladulla – a 34-year-old chesnut polo pony – I turn right onto a cool green avenue lined with majestic beech trees. Dappled light and shadows give it the feel of hallowed ground.
Now i’m passing through grand white pillars at the estate’s entrance and left onto a quiet country road where pheasants amble and scented phlox grows wild in the hedgerow.
Within a few metres, I’m on a footpath through fields to Gauldry. Walking briskly upward. Rusty barbed wire, cow parsley, bright sunshine, blue skies and suddenly an open vista over the sparkling Tay estuary – Hello Dundee.
I’m back on the road leading into the village, past the man with big ginger beard and death head insignia fixing his motorbike. We natter in the sunshine.
Now the sounds of accordion, bag pipes, chanson and bluegrass are in earshot and I flow with them under the chestnut trees, past a Victorian primary school and through the front door of the boozer. A stool by the bar with a full view of the folk is my finishing post – I cannot wish for more.
TO CELEBRATE the sweetness of honeysuckle and peony rose, the juiciness of home grown gooseberries and greens, I am offering a midsummer Shiatsu special. Treatments will cost £30 – a 25% discount on the normal session – until Friday June 23rd. Allow 75 minutes for this Japanese holistic therapy to work mind and body from head to toe.
Shiatsu combines delicious dreamy sensations – with an invigorating work out. It uses elbows to get into niggly shoulder bits – and the full body weight of the therapist to release tight muscles in the back of the thigh, if appropriate.
Treatments are available in the idyllic Fife coastal villages of Newport-On-Tay and Balmerino. It is only a short trip from Dundee and getting there is part of the therapy.
Shiatsu boosts mood and energy levels and releases tension with stretches, manipulations and the acupressure points used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. It is popular with people with MS and Parkinson’s Disease and has been successfully used in NHS mental health services. It is also favoured by cancer sufferers in centres such as Penny Brohn. Clients who came to me during pregnancy say it helped them give birth remarkably swift and easily – within a few hours of the session and with minimal pain relief.
It is a hands on therapy – but talking and listening are part of the process too, so it’s fine if you have stuff to get off your chest. Above all Shiatsu is ENJOYABLE. It pushes PAUSE on the hectic everyday, giving a sense of being connected and supported by another human being while opening your body and mind to new possibilities.
I love my garden and draw inspiration and comfort from nature. I like to think Shiatsu is like my juicy homegrown greens – it boosts vitality but keeps you down to earth. You can go for a fancy dressing if you choose – but at heart it is very basic. And it will leave you buzzing with the honey bees.
A midlife crisis typically involves a road to Damascus conversion to something cool or weird – yoga and raw food, body piercings and expensive bicycles, music festivals and Indie pop.
But what do you do if you are already a yoga teacher, with a nice bike, in a trendy place like Brighton where groovy tunes and wackiness are the norm?
To be honest the endless parade of goofy stunts from naked bike rides to zombie walks was making blood boil. Craving a life more ordinary, my midlife rebellion made me shun adventure and seek out structure and methodical processes instead.
My dear, dependable sister – an accountant in the Midlands – showed me the alternative path. One desolate wintry day when I despaired where I was heading, she built an Excel spreadsheet the size of a small planet that suddenly made life – add up.
It was a momentous occasion, a cold November morning shortly after my 25-year-old boiler had bust, when I sat at her kitchen table with a jumble of notebooks, diaries and receipts. One by one I decoded my hand written scribbles, smoothed the creases from the scraps of paper and began to type numbers into Excel boxes. Re-experiencing my life within a framework of figures was very comforting. For the first time in ages I was feeling in control.
Nothing escaped my rigorous new system – I discovered even the most troublesome anomalies could go in a box. This was a revelation.
The results were both miraculous and fast. By the end of that first day in November, I had calculated my self-employed income for the past three months and attached it to a grant application for a new boiler. One month later a £3000 cheque arrived in the post from the British Gas Trust – on the day before Christmas. Brilliant timing.
The following January I had the satisfaction of completing my first tax return. Ok, I had not earned enough money to pay tax but my spreadsheet was outward confirmation that I had become entirely self-supporting doing something I loved and believed in. Astonishingly I was bending and squeezing for a living – teaching yoga and doing a strange, hard to pronounce Japanese body therapy called Shiatsu.
My spreadsheet was abandoned half way through the year in the maelstrom of moving house from Brighton to Scotland. When I picked it up again in January 2017 to complete my tax return, I was struck once again by the profound satisfaction it gave me.
Accountancy makes me examine my life in micro, recalling and recording, the many small actions I have performed to build up my business and make life work. I put aside my daydreams and look at what’s really there. The sums are modest but the repeated efforts through winter, spring and summer, over bank holidays, evenings and weekend make me proud.
Seeing it in black and white, I am impressed by my dogged commitment. And I have paid my mortgage, stayed out of debt and added some shiny new components to my bicycle.
I lost some of my records in my house move and was forced to trawl my emails for dates, receipts, expenses and invoices. Doing this I find evidence of all my creative acts – creating a website, flyers, blog and gathering items to make a therapeutic space. I also rediscover the enormous amount of support I have had in the form of funny email conversations with family and friends. I excavate touching feedback and thank you messages from students and clients who tell me I’ve made them feel better.
Life as a self-employed yoga teacher and Shiatsu therapist is precarious. I am often racking my brains to find ways to be more successful – and I am often feeling inadequate because I’m not flush with cash. In a world where material wealth is highly valued – it is easy to see myself as a failure.
I’ve turned my back on shopping but, believe it or not, I now find clothes that fit on the forest floor and in the hedgerows when I’m out on my bike. And my clients offer me old cars, furniture, bicycle repairs, accommodation, dinners and cups of tea in plentiful supply.
Some may call it dull, but the methodical process of keeping accounts was the door to my midlife liberation. Learning to think inside the box, made me count my blessings and acknowledge the things that matter to me. It stops me from thinking about all the stuff that is missing and makes me remember I’m chosen the business of making people feel better – which makes me happy.
Discover the healing art of yoga at a new drop-in class at Forgan Arts Centre in Newport-On-Tay on Wednesdays at 6.30pm.
The 90-minute sessions are suitable for all ages and abilities, and offer easy and strenuous options. Research shows habits of sitting, standing and moving, profoundly influence how we think and feel. With this in mind, the goal of this class is to move more skilfully – not to obsess about attaining the perfect body or posture.
The classes will explore the effects of powerful, extroverted postures such as Warrior that can boost performance at job interviews – and introverted, reflective movements that calm the nervous system and improve mental clarity.
Discover how to soothe a painful lower back with simple techniques such as bending the knees – and improve digestive function with stomach churning twists.
Classes experiment with mudra – the expressive hand gestures that help us cultivate qualities such as compassion, courage and determination when we need them. Ganesh Mudra is said to overcome obstacles with a determined hand grip that releases tension within the chest and energises muscles around the heart. Lotus Mudra helps nurture compassion with expansive flowering of the fingers towards the light and warm of the sun.
The class teacher Heidi practices the Japanese healing art Shiatsu which is heavily influenced by Five Element Theory, Qi Gong and Traditional Chinese Medicine. She draws this wisdom into her teaching, showing how to boost energy by simply repositioning weight while standing to stimulate Traditional Chinese Acupuncture points in the feet.
Sessions also experiment with sound. Chanting the simple mantras So Humm or I Am That creates soothing vibrations in the chest and throat. The effect can be mesmerising, blurring identity boundaries that make us believe we are lonely or separate from the world.
Repeating the profound opening lines of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras: “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha” succinctly sums up of the essence of yoga – a practice for settling the mind into silence.
For more information call Heidi on 0753 6837 853 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
I wake before dawn on 30th December 2016 determined to bring in the New Year with something different. Instead of boozy urban revelry, my plan is to spend Hogmanay in Berneray in the company of seals, otters, oyster catchers and sanderlings – occasionally brushing shoulders with the rare species of hostellers who roam the remote Western isles in midwinter.
So I sprint across Glasgow, with wheelie case in tow to arrive at the Buchanan bus station for a 7am depart to Skye. I hope to catch a boat from Uig pier to Lochmaddy on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. As usual my travel arrangements are minimal. I dislike planning so there are uncertainties ahead.
With gale force winds forecast, I risk spending New Year in the ferry terminal if the boats are cancelled. Checking the Uist bus timetable, I find there is no service meeting my ferry. I call the bus depot to clarify, the driver Tom tells me he can put on a special service to pick me up, if there are no other last minute requests. He asks me to phone back at 6pm to arrange. The idea that someone will bring out their bus, just to collect me, makes me smile. Where else on earth would you get such an offer?
I’m not certain I will get a bed when I finally get to Berneray’s pretty thatched waterfront hostel. The Gatliff Trust operate on a first come first served basis and do not take bookings. Of course it is unlikely all 18 beds will be occupied. On the other hand it is not unheard of for big groups – bands of hairy Hells Angel bikers with death head insignia and bristly beards – to rock up out of the blue for a night or two. In a world where we expert to control everything with light finger tip pressure on a mobile key pad, such uncertainties and inconveniences make up the Hebrides’ unique appeal. Life has more surprises if you can not plan ahead.
Generally, I hate bus journeys. But the meandering route through the spectacular Glencoe mountain range demands my full attention. It is gob smackingly gorgeous – and I am forced to put down my book. The crepuscular light, wreaths of mist round the mountains, black skeleton trees, dark slippery ravines, fast flowing rivers, buffeting winds and relentless rain reveal the life force at its most dramatic and mysterious.
And so my seven hour bus trip speeds by and finally, I am at Uig Ferry Terminal in the rain with a four hour wait for the boat which has been delayed by bad weather. Last summer I spent 15 hours waiting for the ferry here. The weather was fine so I climbed to the highest cliff top and lounged in the springy pink heather waiting for the boat.
It is too soggy for hill walking so I pass a happy afternoon in the bar on the pier sampling Guinness and whisky specials and reading Barbara Pym by the stove. Occasionally, I poke my head out the door to check the weather and feel mist on my face.
Onboard the captain announces a gale force nine gusting ten. It is 6.30pm and distinctly chilly and I get a sudden gloomy premonition of plummeting to the sea bed for a watery hogmanay. I banish these visions by filling up on a surprisingly tasty curry and nan bread in the restaurant. I’ve a stash of lentils and onions in my suitcase, but it is unlikely I’ll be anywhere near a kitchen for a while.
Horizontal with a full belly is the way to weather a stormy sea. I stretch out in observation lounge, which becomes deserted as soon as things start to get choppy. I’m impressed by the tumultuous force of the water as the waves violently slap the windows. A discarded water bottle bounces erratically to and fro across the carpet. I doze.
I am as fresh as a daisy walking down the gangplank, with a helpful ferry man carrying my suitcase. It is hard to believe I’ve been travelling for 13 hours. Luckily I have been saved from a night in the ferry terminal by a pal I met on Berneray in the summer. He happens to be on the island, and has come to rescue me, He laughs at my jaunty stride with wheelie case. “Everyone else is staggering about finding their land legs and you look as though you’re stepping out on Kensington High Street,” he says
I spend the night in the quiet Howmore hostel in South Uist which is in the atmospheric grounds of a ruined medieval church swamped in lichen. It is simple accommodation, a small one storey stone building with pinkish hills in the background. There is no radio or TV or phone signal, shops or restaurants. I am a brisk 20-minute walk from the nearest bus stop and the main road. A flickering coal stove is the only man made distraction.
Walking the seashore the next day, my eyes need time to adjust to the desolate beauty. Everyday things have a different significance in this empty landscape. I wonder at the speed with which nature greedily reclaims discarded human objects. Old plastic, scrap metal, ropes and giant anchors – rot, rust or are ripped to shreds. There is no doubt about the dominating force of nature. In this landscape human life appears fragile and impermanent. There are countless ruined dwellings while the inhabited buildings are low rise and dispersed – giving no sense of humanity as a collective force.
It could be a post apocalyptic landscape. Motorcars and heavy machinery built for mastery of the planet – lie broken and abandoned. In this scene human is destroyed and not the destroyer. After two decades living in Brighton on the South Coast of England where every inch of land from the front door to the seafront and hills, has been concreted to make way for cars – I am elated to find a place where the motor is not king.
The power dynamics between human and nature is reversed. In my eyes this makes discarded objects more precious and beautiful. Elsewhere they would be litter or blight – here they add colour and interest to the barrenness. The once garish red paintwork on an abandoned dumper truck blisters and peels and fades until it is in harmony with pinkish tint of the hills.
Even the barbed wire, that ugly human invention designed for trench warfare and the conquest of the American West, rusts and softens and takes on a gentler hue. A dirty old black plastic sack is ripped to shreds on the fence – and dances in the wind.
The New Year arrives. With an almost biblical sense of timing, the landscape switches from a desolate void to a creation scene. There is light, lots of it. The sun comes out and the mood lifts.
I celebrate by rambling across the coastline in Berneray, tripping over ruins and old bones. Momento Mori, whispers a perfectly formed sheep’s skull washed smooth by the sea.
Later, on the path to the West Beach, I meet a strange mutant sheep with a freakishly large head. We trade stares in a stand off. He refuses to budge so I take a diversion into an ancient burial ground where the head stones have been reduced to weather beaten stumps, smothered in lichen. There are none of the grandiose structures and defiance of mortality usually found in graveyards. Even the graveyard walls are low and unobtrusive, merging seamlessly with the shape of the hillside.
This is a place where the dead surrender to the earth without the need for fuss or adornment. The stunning views, watery reflections and dappled light on this hillside are enough for them.
A new study showing that stress and anger causes heart disease – is a reminder of why mental health should be a priority.
It’s official. Stress is as risky as smoking and high blood pressure – because emotional turbulence causes inflammation of the arteries that can trigger a heart attack or stroke. Research by Harvard Medical School published in The Lancet this week makes sense of the idiom ‘anger makes my blood boil’.
The study aligns Western Science with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which is the theoretical basis for the bodywork therapy Shiatsu. These holistic Eastern disciplines have long believed that worry and difficult emotions are a major cause of physical disease. They approach the body and mind as a single entity and make a direct connection between the condition of the blood and arteries – and the stillness and clarity of the mind. In Chinese Medicine, the mind or awareness is known as “Shen” and resides in the blood.
Shiatsu’s success at soothing stress and difficult emotions means it is increasingly popular in mainstream mental health services. London and South Maudsley NHS Trust say a Shiatsu project set up in 2010, is one of its most “valued” interventions. Sarah Cook, head of occupational therapy at the Trust, said: “Service users, carers and staff alike have spoken highly of the impact this has made on their sense of well being. Particular reference has been made to renewed energy, improved motivation, reduction of side effects as well as reduced tension, improved healing and increased hope.”
Here are some of the tools Shiatsu practitioners use to boost mental health
Acupuncture Points – there are specific acupuncture points in the head, neck, arm, chest and leg that take pressure away from the chest, cool the blood and quieten the mind. These points alleviate physical and mental symptoms simultaneously, For example CV17 on the chest bone helps palpitations and cardiac pain and anxiety and panic attacks. HP6 on the lower arm calms the Shen or consciousness and relieves congestion in the chest.
Human Touch – instead of a cold and clinical needle, Shiatsu therapists uses the warmth of human touch, working thumbs, fingers, palms, elbows and knees to manipulate, stretch the body from head to toe. The feeling of being connected with another person through touch can be a powerful tool for dealing with mental health problems which often leave people feeling socially isolated and disconnected. It helps reconnect mind and body to the outside world.
Muscle release – Shiatsu therapists are trained to find and release areas of tension, which almost always triggers an audible “sigh” and a subsequent improvement in the quality of the breath. For example the psoas muscle, connecting the back to the legs, can become chronically tightened in times of stress as it prepares the body to run from danger. Stretching the psoas enables a release deep which can be profoundly satisfying for body and mind. When muscles release, the breath deepens and lengthens, which in turn stimulates the rest and digest functions of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Therapeutic space – Shiatsu is not mere mechanics – it is equally important to create a nurturing space where a person can take time out and be comfortably themselves – in silence or conversation, in tears or laughter, in a doze or highly alert.
Self discovery – Last but not least receiving Shiatsu is an immensely enjoyable opportunity to be totally pampered while developing self awareness. Treatments are an opportunity for self discovery because they provide a mirror to ourselves. For example they give people insight into habitual and often unconscious habits that contribute to a painful mental outlook. Clenched teeth, hunched shoulders, arms and fists braced for action and a shallow intake of breath will prolong feelings of stress, even after the stress situation has removed.
In treatment we become aware of our unhelpful habits of holding ourselves – which makes it easier to take steps to improve our way of being and moving in the world.
I want to share a wonderful experience I have had working with a 90-year-old man who had lost his “vital spark” and appetite for life after an eye operation caused sharp deterioration in his vision – and a bad fall knocked his confidence. After just one Shiatsu treatment, I witnessed remarkable improvements in his mobility and ability to live independently. After a couple of sessions he was performing daily routines with extraordinary zest, even chopping firewood.
Yet, when Claude first came to see me in September 2016 he was in frail physical health and had been in decline for some months. A couple of bad falls left him with a broken shoulder and painful bruised ribs. Limited use of the injured right arm restricted him in activities such as dressing, taking a shower, getting himself out of a chair and cooking. He was losing his vision and could no longer drive which was a serious blow to his independence because he could no longer get out and about. To make matters worse a recent an operation had caused considerable damage to his good eye which was now blurry. He had also stopped eating, lost energy, confidence and interest in daily life.
“Claude has lost his vital spark,” said his wife Hazel who persuaded him to come for Shiatsu because mainstream health services were not getting results. Although he always lived an active life, Claude was far from being a health and fitness fanatic. He enjoyed smoking and, in a glamorous past life, had been fond of the odd champagne cocktails, she said. Although he had no previous experience of alternative health therapies which were outside of his comfort zone, he was willing to come for Shiatsu on Hazel’s suggestion. “I’m so proud of him for being open enough to try,” she said.
The priority in my first session with Claude was to strengthen him and restore his appetite with gentle abdominal massage and pressure on the stomach meridian, in particular Stomach 36: Three mile leg to boost stamina, vision and vitality. He was frail, needed support walking and getting his shoes off and it took time to get him safely onto the futon mat.
It was also important to make Claude feel more comfortable by softening the pain and restrictions caused by the shoulder injury, by gently working the arm, chest, neck and shoulder blade, primarily using the gallbladder meridian. The upper body had become locked – making it impossible to live a normal life. The lower body was also rigid and inflexible, particularly the feet, which would put him at risk of falling in the future, I spent time opening up the feet, using pressure points and rotations and manipulations of the ankle and toes.
It was also important for Claude to feel at ease and free him up on a mental and emotional level. We talked about his earlier life in the South of France, his siblings, a 14-month granddaughter, a bright red Triumph sports car bought after a lucky win in a poker game. I asked him to describe the sheer joy of driving along the river Tay in his shiny new motor.
Claude enjoyed the first session. The importance of pleasure in a session should not be underestimated – it helps reignite the spark of wellbeing absent from daily life. He said he was relaxed but also had felt some uncertainty about what to expect during the first session because Shiatsu was a totally new experience. The second session would be easier, he said.
On the follow up session there were some amazing changes. Claude no longer needed my support walking and was able to drop down to the mat get and get up again more swiftly. His appetite had improved and he had resumed many of his chores, even chopping wood for kindling, something that would have been unthinkable two weeks earlier. He also reported improved vision.
On the third session – Claude no longer had a pain or problems with the shoulder and the range of movement was almost normal. Energy and appetite had improved. He had resumed normal household chores, and although his vision was still hazy it was not as bad as it had been. As well as chopping wood in the garden, he was even taking rambling walks in the steep streets of the nearby village.
Although Claude’s health is much improved, he is keen to return for sessions. So far the benefits have been considerable – pleasure and wellbeing in the session, increased mobility, stamina, improved appetite, stability and the ability to balance. My goal for the next session is to continue improving the mobility and flexibility in the feet to reduce any further risk of falling. I also supplement the sessions with advice on exercises that will improve flexibility and balance.
In conclusion, I must also say something about what this experience has given me. Working with Claude is a delight. He increased my optimism about the ageing process – and with each session I discover something new about the amazing, transformative powers of the human spirit.
Stressed out, struggling to relax, can’t face going to a class? Here are some tips on how to self soothe at home.
Begin by preparing a space – Forget the yoga cliches of joss sticks, buddhas and prayer flags unless they feel meaningful. Experiment with what feels good to you. This could be simply emptying the dustbin, turning up the heating and shutting a door. Whether you choose candle light or darkness, music or silence, the really important thing is to take pleasure in any small action you take. Your preparation should not be mechanical.
Open your mind – Be ready to do something different even it if makes you feel self conscious and puts you out of your comfort zone. Trust the process because the more you believe, the better it works.
Start on the floor – When you are feeling stressed and sad it is very important to come out of your head and down to earth. Surrendering the weight of your body to the earth can be a big physical relief – it also connects you to a bigger reality outside yourself. The practice of surrender – Īśvarapraṇidhāna – is key to yoga. The founding text of yoga – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – puts more emphasis on this than any other principle. Alternate between lying flat or raising the legs to a sofa or chair which is particularly good for calming the nervous system and relaxing a painful lower back. Spend at least five minutes here.
Notice how your are feeling – Self reflection – Svādhyāya – is crucial in yoga practice. It does not have to be a big deal, simply note your symptoms – tired, wired, irritable, anxious, sore shoulder, stiff neck. The goal is to to develop non-judgemental awareness about your condition. Always aim to be kind to yourself.
Breathing –Pranayama – Once you’re lying comfortably, begin to observe your breath. Make a mental note of it’s qualities – fast, slow, uneven, painful, stiff ribs, contraction of the belly. Bringing your hands to your belly or ribs will help focus. The goal is to deepen and lengthen the breath in a smooth and natural way. This will trigger activity in the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for sleep, rest and digestion.
Mindful movement with the breath – It is very important to keep the breath flowing smoothly as you move from one yoga pose to another. Never hold your breath. Start by exploring simple twists, forward and side bends in cross-legged position – Sukhasana. If your back or hips feel tight and sore use a chair to support you. Focus on coordinating breath and movement. Take your time, slowly repeating a movement several times can help you go more deeply into your practice. Here’s a nice little sequence
Big stretches release pent up feelings – Don’t underestimate the connection between the body and mind. Physical tightness in the muscles can lock feelings into the body and stop you relaxing. Pigeon Pose – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana – is great for releasing the unconscious physical tension trapped in hips, buttocks, thighs that can leave you feeling wound-up.
Working with a chair – helps you go deeper and stay longer in a pose, which means you get more benefit. It takes some of the effort out but you still get a big release. This is particularly good when you are stressed, tired, stiff and new to yoga. Chairs make it a bit easier to do yoga at home – and it is fun bringing new purpose to boring household furniture.
Pursvottanasana or upward plank pose using a chair give a bigger release for chest muscles that become tight in times of sadness and stress when it is common to collapse the chest and shoulders. Anjaneyasana lunge using a chair enables release of the hip flexor muscle – the psoas – in a controlled, supported way with minimal impact on the knees. The psoas is the only muscle connecting the back to the legs and can become chronically tightened in times of stress as it prepares the body to run from danger. Stretching the psoas enables a release deep in the body which can feel profoundly satisfying.
Alternate nostril breathing Nadi Shodana – It may feel a bit strange at first but once mastered this is an incredibly calming breathing technique that has been proven to reduce blood pressure. Spend a few minutes doing this at the end of your practice – but don’t push yourself to do it if it creates any tension in the body.
Slow, simple, short & sweet – Yoga is a practice that develops over time. To get lasting benefit you need to keep it up. But please don’t punish yourself with an elaborate regime that will give you something else to feel guilty about when you cannot practice. Better to spend five or 10 minutes peacefully in Savasana observing the breath – than to rush through a big routine feeling irritable. Mindset is more important than the physical mechanics. So take pleasure in whatever you choose to do because contentment – Santosa – is key to yoga.
Autumn walks with my seven year old nephew have unearthed magical new dimensions in my favourite woodland. The forests of Balmerino, Morendy and Falkland in Fife, Scotland, are always places of enchantment. In my mind they easily beat beat the fantasy world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter, with the strange appearances and disappearances of red squirrel, deer and freaky fungi, mysterious sounds of creaking, rustling and fluttering of wings, dappled light and sweet earthy smell of petrichor.
But it is not always possible to feel the full force of forest awe with a companion in tow. The subtle sounds of birdsong or a leaf in free fall are drowned out when someone is blathering on about cold hands, muddy feet, how much further to go, is it time for tea? The forest contracts in the company of someone on an aerobic mission to Keep Fit. It becomes a two dimensional space to be traversed rather than a living breathing organism, with eyes and ears – a being to relationship with.
Forests are sensitive like people. They do not reveal their secrets to folk marching noisily through in hob nailed boots. You do not need map grid references or hi-tech paraphernalia to find the heart of the forest – simply make yourself very still and quiet inside and out. The path from the mundane to the magical is a leap of faith, not unlike the trick school boy wizards use to arrive on Platform 9 and 3/4.
Although a city dweller, my young nephew Hamish had a great intuitive sense of how to be in the forest. He watched and listened and wondered. Seeing this world through his eyes, the magic and mysteries multiplied. He spun his own web of fantasies and enchantment transforming murky muddles into portals to the underworld, finding hope in stray white feathers.
Dark stains on the tree bark were angry graffiti protests by beautiful Michaela whose heart was ripped out by a Gorgon prince. A radiant circle of light through the trees was a fairy aureole. A narrow passage through the Rhododendron is actually an a vortex for time travel to 1968 – the year of Space Odyssey and protests in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome.
“You are dead now. The fairies have been murdered – there is no pain here,” Hamish informs me pointing to the last teardrop, luminous and quivering on a twig. In such company the forest becomes a place where the bounds of possibility, identity and perspective are loosened, and we bond – profoundly – with the world.