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Mindful meridian yin yoga .....Focusing on what's possible!
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What Does Yoga Mean to Me?!

My perception of yoga is very different now compared to when I first bumped into the practice, many years ago. I was a competetive sportsman, looking for ways of stretching my hamstrings, which I came to the conclusion had been set in concrete from a very early age!! I enrolled in a class with super flexible ladies, not another chap in sight. So on the one hand I was thinking I had struck it lucky…..but once the class started I soon realised that this super competetive sportsman was cast adrift at the bottom of the class in terms of ability. The harder I tried the tighter my muscles got. What looked effortless for those around me, took a hurculean effort on my part just to get my feet and arms in the right place, and then there was the stretch……or lack of it.

So I deemed my fledgling journey into yoga to be an abject failure. I judged myself and the practice by the flexibility and bendiness of those around me. 

My journey as a therapist was beginning to unravel and unfold at around about the same time. I was beginning to explore the concept that less can sometimes be more. I was primarily working with sportsmen who worked under the premise of ‘no pain no gain.’ So I would generally oblige by sticking my elbow in their gluts or hamstrings or whatever body part was aching,  until the their screams subsided or they passed out…whichever was first!!! And on the whole it seemed to work…..

However there were some that did not respond to this method of treatment. So I took myself off on some forty plus postgraduate courses all over the world to explore the more subtle therapies. At first I was unable to do or get to grips with the very light touch techniques…. history seemed to be repeating itself similar to my yoga experience … it just wasn’t for me. But I persisted and slowly but surely my touch and understanding improved. In fact I got so good that I became a teacher and trainer myself ,and over a period of ten years I taught thousands of therapists all over the world, primarily about the role of Fascia ( or connective tissue ) being the common thread throughout all the bodily systems.

Over this period my focus gradually shifted from being the magician who with the lightest of touches could shift pain,  to a therapist who saw, and sees that patient empowerment and education is the greatest tool of all. It is no coincidence that in this time my personal journey into mindfulness and meditation was bearing fruits. The development of ‘awareness’ within myself and with those that I worked with,and the role it plays in wellbeing is the cornerstone of my practice as both a therapist and yoga/movement teacher.

Perhaps towards the later part of my journey outlined above , I thought that training as a yoga teacher would help compliment and strengthen the work I did as a therapist.

So I trained , but didnt really get the sense that awareness was a part of the practice, although awareness was part of the theory. I came away from the course feeling short changed, and very tired, travelling up to London every other sunday for two years!!! To me at least the yoga training I received talked the talk but didnt walk the walk.

At this point I was working in Victoria Education Centre, a school for children with profound physical disability. I was developing my own programme of mindful developmental movement patterns , with the intent of the children I worked with developing a greater sense of awareness of their movements. This combined with breath work really helped many of the students to do that , but also to self regulate their emotional states, as well.

Awareness of what?

So before I leap into the next part of the journey, I guess I need to explain what I perceive to be ‘awareness’, and how best I believe this can be cultivated. Awareness of what I hear you say?

Our internal world is starred studded with nerve endings that feedback to the central nervous system, relaying the state of play in our viscera , blood vessels etc. Information is batted backwards and forwards between the CNS and the receptors and what are known as effectors embedded in the connective tissues. The autonomic nervous that carries this information system works towards maintaining homeostatsis and balance. Associated with this process are the arising of senstations. Outside the inside of us , the skin and musculoskeletal system likewise has a feedback mechanism, known as proprioception. Telling us where are body parts are in time and space.

The vast majority of the time these two systems are operating without us having to think , they just happen.

Awareness of our internal and external world is usually below the level of our consciousness. Things are automatically regulated or moved in a particular way without us noticing. An example of this is folding our arms across our chest. We fold our arms each and every time in the same way, simply because neurons that wire together wire together. We are creatures of habit once we learn to move in a particular way it just happens. But we could fold our arms across our chest in a different way. If we are asked to do so then it feels odd, doesnt feel natural and we would soon revert to the old way of doing things.

So what benefits does awareness bring and how is it best cultivated?

Awareness gives us an opportunity to understand at an experiential level how interconnected we are in terms of mind and body, but also to how we interconnected we are to the world and environment beyond our skin.

So if I stick to the simple stuff, and what I have most experience  and knowledge of. Movement and mental and emotional state. How can awarenss help on these two fronts?

As alluded to above we are creatures of habit and we move in habitual ways. Awareness gives us that choice as to how we move, we may be able to find more useful, functional and effective, maybe pain free ways of moving. In the same way we may be able to respond to lifes emotional and mental challenges in a more compassionate caring way, that our often hidden triggers may otherwise have us do. This is my experience. 

Movement with a deeper sense of awareness can enable us to notice where we move with ease and where we bump into resistance. Rather than trying to push through those areas of resistance which I once would have done, I would now negotiate ways around these areas or use breath control to soften those points of resistance. I guess the point is in order to do this I have to move my body three dimensionally in response to sensations I feel through the process of moving. Yoga postures can be focused on the outcome as opposed to the process. Yoga can be also be rather more two dimensional, a bit more dogmatic. This is what the posture should look like and if you can t do it then it is tempting to judge yourself as being a success or a failure by whether or not  you achieve the defining lines of that particular posture. This was my first experience of yoga. However, in my book in  essence their is no right or wrong, its what works and feels useful for you. 

Over the past six weeks we have undertaken our breathing challenge, and through this I would hope you are more knowledgeable and have greater understanding about how the autonomic nervous system can be either balanced or not. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is fired up when we are challenged and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is bought on line when rest in awareness.

When you come into class we roll around on the floor, noticing what moves with ease and what doesnt. It provides us with the opportunity of reseting the autonomic nervous system before we start to gently challenge the system a little more. If we did not check into our bodies in this way we would move into the postures and simply move where we are already moving ( perhaps excessively) and staying stuck and immobile where we are already stuck and immobile. By preparing the nervous system to move from a place of balance between the SNS and PNS, bringing our mind into noticing mode and experiencing movement of the whole body as an integrated whole; we are opening up possibilities to move in a more effective useful way. Less is the new more!

When we pause part way through the class to adopt a yin posture we again are offering our minds and bodies the opportunity to reset the autonomic nervous system.

If we find working towards a posture that is too challenging, we can lose that sense of internal connection, our SNS ramps up its activity and our muscles(under the control of the nervous system) tighten and instead of moving with the posture we automatically fight against it. This was my first experience of yoga.

Yoga or movement with awareness provides a map of what is possible and you are the one using the compass and navigating the way. Movement or yoga without awareness is where the teacher holds the compass. That is of course fine for say a body pump class or spin class, the purpose is different, we are looking for a workout to get us fit. We ramp up the challenge, ramp up the SNS, release all those fantastic endorphins etc. There is a lot of talk in the media about work life balance, essentiallly this could be distilled down to a SNS v PNS balance. How much time in your waking day do you navigate back to the calm restorative waters of the PNS.

What should be unique about a yoga or movement class with awareness is the recognition that you are unique and you will move, think and feel in a totally different way to your next door neighbour, because your nervous system has had different life experiences compared to anyone and everyone else. Developing the skills and curiosity to help navigate and negotiate with your nervous system, will enable you to move with greater ease, move from a state of heightened SNS activity to a place of calm and stillness with greater freedom.

What would that young competetive sportsman have thought of the above …. I suspect in fact I can say with certainty … a resounding bollocks. None of the above would have had time to resonant with him , he would have dismissed it totally out of hand. Now many of my old rigid belief systems have softened and  I have allowed myself to be better informed both at a cognitive and at a deeper more visceral level, I feel when I practice now that I have come home to a place of safety and non judgement, I can (not always I hasten to add) rest and be quiet and comfortable in the present moment. 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

 

I am really looking forward to the new term and helping you build and expand upon your movement and yoga programme.

Three key questions I'll be asking this term when moving into yoga postures are :-
Do you feel stable and hence safe?
Can you breathe?
Can you move?


St Thomas Church Hall, Lymington  7.00-8.00
Tuesday 23rd April - Tuesday 21st May. 5 week term.

Milford Community Centre, Milford. 11.45 - 12.45
Wednesday 24th April - Wednesday 22nd May. 5 week term 

£35 for term or £8 per session drop in.
Remember if you sign up for a half term then you can come to either sessions or both sessions in the week.

BACS details
S M Robertson
Santander
Acc Number 69301420
Sort Code 090128
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Our mailing address is:
Stuart.yoga@gmail.com
www.1-2-1yogatherapy.co.uk

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1-2-1 Yoga Therapy · 1 Curzon Place · lymington, Hampshire SO41 8DS · United Kingdom

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