Bandha what?

bandhas

An important component of yoga, the bandhas are primarily meant to serve our yogic practice. They are often misunderstood and so have a certain sense of mystery floating around then, when actually it’s all pretty straightforward, once you know the basics. I’ll try to unpack these guys here a little bit in an attempt to make them more accessible and to take your practice to the next level.

If you have been coming to my and Victoria’s yoga classes, you have probably been using them perhaps without realizing it, as we often cue them in class to guide our students into better alignment and help prevent injuries. Indeed, the physical practice of the bandhas utilizes co-activation of muscles and physical movements that ensure better alignment in postures and protect us from strain and injury.

More importantly, the bandhas, also known as energy locks, serve as valves that control energy, irrigate the channels of energy, and activate, replenish and balance the flow of prana throughout the body. While practicing, we observe energetic patterns beyond our physical form in the energy body.

So how does it work?

When you activate a bandha, the energy flow in a specific part of the body is blocked. When the bandha is released, this allows the energy to flow powerfully through the body and increases pressure. Asana creates bandha and bandha serves the breath and the breath is the vehicle for prana.

There are three classic bandhas: mulabandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha. They can be practiced together or individually during kriya, asana, pranayama, mudra, visualization, and meditation. When practiced together they are called tri-bandha, maha bandha or the fabulously named “Great Lock” (Maha in Sanskrit means ‘great’ or ‘supreme’ and Bandha means a lock – this term is the one used in the yogic texts Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, Gheranda Samhita and the Siva Samhita). 

The question came up on our recent retreat as to why one would isolate the bandhas – a great question which I’m not sure I know the official answer to, but my understanding is that you would initially just use one or the other of the classic locks, and only at the point that you have mastered it/them would you move on to using all three at once. Does that help? Does anyone have a better answer or explanation?

So, the next time you hear the word bandha bandied about in a yoga class, you will know that it’s an instruction to focus on your internal energy and on harnessing this energy within the body. Start practicing slowly, please ask as many questions as you may have, and please let me know how you find it benefits your practice.

For a detailed breakdown of the three classic locks, you may wish to check out this lovely clear explanation of each.

Source: http://www.intuitiveflow.com

Image: Brenda Medina, http://www.brendayoga.tumblr.com

 

Ayurveda & Dosha Types for Beginners

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Malasana / Garland Pose – a beautifully grounding pose for when I am feeling the effects of a Vata overload (South Easter to blame)

I posted recently about how the incessant wind that we’ve been having in Stellenbosch lately tends to make me go stir crazy, and that it’s got to do with Vata overload. Unsurprisingly, I had a few people asking me what that’s all about. So here’s a post as promised.

Ayurveda is a holistic science of health which is focused on maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state. It began about 5,000 – 6,000 years ago when Indian monks were looking for new ways to be healthy. Revering their bodies like temples, the monks believed that preserving their health would help them meditate and develop spiritually. Over thousands of years of observations, they gathered all their conclusions and advice and preserved it for future generations. This collection of knowledge came to be known as the “science or knowledge of life” — Ayurveda.

It differs from modern medicine in that it views every individual as unique, and there is no lifestyle routine or diet that is prescribed for everyone. Aside from that, a major difference is that it focuses largely on prevention, and providing specific advice and guidance on how to maintain your physical and emotional health. Food and lifestyle routines are considered the most important medicine. If you come to an Ayurvedic doctor with a complaint, you are more likely to leave with a recipe than with a prescription for pills.

Ayurveda is based on the principles of three doshas, which are the energies that make up every individual and perform different physiological functions in the body:

The 3 Dosha types:

1. Vata Dosha: Energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and your heartbeat.

  • In balance: There is creativity and vitality.
  • Out of balance: Can produce fear and anxiety.

Characteristics for Vata predominant types: Creative; Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget, Slender; Tall and a fast-walker; Tendency toward cold hands and feet, discomfort in cold climates; Excitable, lively, fun personality; Changeable moods; Irregular daily routine; High energy in short bursts; Tendency to tire easily and to overexert; Full of joy and enthusiasm when in balance; Responds to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety, especially when out of balance; Tendency to act on impulse; Often have racing, disjointed thoughts; Generally have dry skin and dry hair and don’t perspire much.

2. Pitta Dosha: Energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and your body’s temperature.

  • In balance: Leads to contentment and intelligence.
  • Out of balance: Can cause ulcers and anger.

Characteristics for Pitta Predominant Types: Medium physique, strong, well-built; Sharp mind, good concentration powers; Orderly, focused; Assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best; Aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance; Competitive, enjoy challenges; Passionate and romantic; Strong digestion, strong appetite, get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal; When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry; Skin fair or reddish, often with freckles; sunburns easily; Uncomfortable in sun or hot weather, heat makes them very tired; Perspire a lot; Good public speakers; Generally good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian; Subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger; Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, insomnia, dry or burning eyes.

3. Kapha Dosha: Energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system.

  • In balance: Expressed as love and forgiveness.
  • Out of balance: Can lead to insecurity and envy.

Characteristics for Kapha Predominant Types: Easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced; Affectionate and loving; Forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental nature; Stable and reliable; faithful; Physically strong and with a sturdy, heavier build; Have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is steady and enduring; Slow speech, reflecting a deliberate thought process; Slower to learn, but outstanding long-term memory; Soft hair and skin; tendency to have large “soft” eyes and a low, soft voice; Tend toward being overweight; may also suffer from sluggish digestion; Prone to depression; More self-sufficient; Gentle, and essentially undemanding approach to life; Excellent health, good immune system; Very calm; strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings; Not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others; Tend to be possessive and hold on to things. Don’t like cold, damp weather; Physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Each person has all three doshas, but usually one or two dominate. I, for example, am Vata-Pitta. Various dosha proportions determine one’s physiological and personality traits as well as general likes and dislikes. For example Vata types will prefer hot weather to cold and Kapha types are more likely to crave spicy foods than other types.

My reference to the wind making me feel extremely flighty and unsettled has to do with the Vata in me, and the fact that when there is an overload of motion (wind is a classic example), I feel completely overstimulated. Once you know your Dosha make-up, you can work with your diet, your lifestyle, your entire environment to bring yourself into balance. When it’s blowy, I need my practice to be extremely grounding. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, is a classic Kapha, finds the wind absolutely exhilarating and wants to get out and about and do things when the South Easter is pumping.

Whilst I’m making this to sound extremely simplistic, it is actually a very complex science, so feel free to do some more indepth research – you will find a wealth of information on this topic. If you are curious about finding out about your dominant dosha/s, I give a link below to one of many. Most online questionnaires are very similar and will provide similar results. Please keep in mind that shorter questionnaires will give a more generalized and approximate result. Also, your body changes with age, seasons, and life situations so the results will change as well. Taking a few different questionnaires will give you a more definite result for your dosha type.

As with any of these online / DIY quizzes, please take it with a pinch of salt – I believe wholeheartedly in the premises of Ayurveda and the Chopra Centre is a reputable source, however to reap the full rewards of this phenomenal life science, I advise you to make an appointment with a proper practitioner, and am happy to refer you to one if you are interested. Just comment below and I will respond. In the meantime, here is the link for fun and to get you started.

Once you’ve done the quiz, feel free to let me know whether the results resonate with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Click here for the short time-lapse video that I posted on Facebook and Instagram that prompted this post: me attempting Tree pose in a gale-force wind.

I quote extensively from a MindBodyGreen article: for the original post, click here.

 

 

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Barbara

  
Please tell us who you are?

Hi, my name is Barbara Seele, I grew up on a beautiful farm in the Natal Midlands, and am now doing my masters in conservation ecology here in Stellenbosch.

Favourite asana? 

It was a tough call between trikonasana (one of my all-time favourites), and doing an acroyoga bow pose (dhanurasana)! I love playing around and challenging myself, all whilst feeling that I’m flying. Thanks to Hannes for being a stable and steady base (in the photo). 

Any asana we’re unlikely to see you in voluntarily? 

Hmmm, probably a hip opener, I find those really challenging (and really good for me). Especially the wide angled seated forward bend (upavistha konasana).

How did you get into yoga? 

I first started doing yoga when I was 18, I found it fascinating, and really liked how I felt at the end of shavasana. I slowly got into it more deeply, and in 2011 I completed by teacher training course in Bali – an amazing experience. After a bit of a break I am now feeling drawn in to deepening my yoga practise again.   

Why is yoga important in your life? 

Yoga allows me the time and the space, and the breath, to really focus on myself. I like how it makes me feel – stronger, more calm and more grounded. And it allows my often anxiety riddled thoughts to become clear and light. 

Your thoughts on the studio? 

To share a yoga space with others is an intimate and special experience. I feel safe in Nicci’s studio, I love the incense, the plants outside and the beautiful, warm energy that is held inside the four (now green) walls. Both Nicci and Victoria (the teachers whose classes I have been to) are intuitive, supportive guides, and I deeply appreciate their classes. 

Anything you’re working on adding to your practice at the moment? 

I’ve been trying for a long time to do a headstand on a horse…with no success yet. Maybe I should rather start by trying the crow 🙂

Thanks for your answers, Barbara. Let us know when you get that equine crow right! We love having your petite self in our studio space and look forward to when we see you teaching in the future 😊

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Alesha

 

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Hello, and who are you? 

My name is Alésha Bredell and I’m a 24 year old MA Art philosophy student at Stellenbosch University.

What’s your favourite pose? 

Definitely Goddess pose (utkata kon asana). It makes me recognize and appreciate feminine strength.

Most dreaded pose? 

Side plank (Vasisthasana) – Just no!

Your yoga journey?

I started yoga when I was about 14. I did not enjoy sports much and after being at the Art school the entire afternoon, yoga in the evenings became one of my favourite physical activities. I remember being inspired by some of the older women at the studio I attended, standing on their heads. I still can’t do that today, but I am working my way up, slowly.

What do you love most about your practice? 

Yoga allows me the time to be with myself without over-thinking things too much, as I often do. Seeing that yoga has been part of my life for a few years now, it is always something I return to through many phases of my life where I learn and explore new depths every time.

Anything particular you like about practicing at Yoga With Nicci?

At Nicci’s yoga studio I have found a space where I feel welcome and at ease to ask questions and make mistakes. I have also recently become more confident in my practice and realized that every body is a yoga body.

Tell us something that not many people know about you. 

If I did not study art I would have wanted to become an archaeologist 🙂

Anything else that you’ve found through your practice?

Realizing and exerting physical strength, especially as a woman, is extremely important as such a realization and ability translates into many facets of ones life.

Namaste, Alesha, and thanks for participating! We’re happy you found out studio and hope to see lots more of you moving forward. 

Yoga For Children starting at Yoga With Nicci in 2016

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I am so excited to make this announcement! For a long, long time now I have been wanting to offer yoga for children at our little Stellenbosch yoga studio, but simply have not had the time or the bandwidth to do it myself, despite the many requests I have had over the years.

And then, as has happened with all of the teachers at our studio, the right person just appeared!

Nia Thorpe-McFall will be teaching children’s yoga at the studio from early next year, and will be offering a kiddies workshop just as the schools break up for holidays in a few weeks, just to give you – and your little ones – a taster of what it’s all about.

Nia is highly qualified to lead our little ones in the ancient practice of yoga and mindfulness.

Nia is highly qualified to lead our little ones in the ancient practice of yoga and mindfulness.

She was recommended to me by a fellow teacher and when we met a couple of weeks back, there was an instant connection. I have two little ones (as most of you know) – seven and four – and I just know that Nia is exactly the sort of person that will be able to do enchant and inspire them and all their peers. She is calm, gentle, smiley person who commands ones attention despite the fact that she is softly spoken. She has a lovely way of making you feel like you are the only person in the world when she is talking to you, and I can understand exactly why she gets such wonderful results from the kids that she teaches.

Originally from the UK, Nia is a qualified primary school teacher who has taught here in South Africa but also in the UK and Spain. She has practiced yoga since she was in the womb and dedicates time daily to enjoy a self-led intuitive yoga and meditation practice. She has studied yoga under the British Wheel of Yoga and has done children’s yoga training through Yoga Beez, a Yoga Alliance teacher training provider.

Previous to becoming a primary school teacher Nia worked in the field of art curation and education as well as supporting NGOs. “I thoroughly enjoy teaching children yoga as a way to enhance their natural intuition and imagination- they are such natural yogis! With my background in formal and informal education I really understand that children need to work on balancing out their pressures and determining a more productive, confident understanding for life. I therefore aim to make each class I teach both fun yet grounding and do this by incorporating creativity, playful movement and peace.”

Aside from private and group lessons for children, Nia and her business partner also offer a powerful approach called ‘Calm Classrooms’ which encourage children to slow down from the inside out and provide meaningful tools they can draw on for their whole lifetime. These resources are currently in use by therapists, schools, teachers and parents, and I am a massive believer in the value that the tools of mindfulness and more can bring to our children as they make their way through the world.

You can find out more about Nia on her website and watch this space for further details on the upcoming workshop. Classes will be on a Wednesday moving forward next year and will cater for two age groups – to be confirmed but more than likely along the lines of 3-5 and 6-12.

We can’t wait to welcome Nia to our studio and we know that any mums and dads that already know the benefits of this amazing practice will be delighted to have someone properly trained and passionate about passing them on to the younger generation.

Chakras 101

  

In anticipation of the 5 class series on chakra alignment that I’m offering in November, my next few posts will be about the sometimes mysterious chakras: what they are, why they are important, how to bring them into alignment, and more specifially to answer any questions that you may have about them.

The ancient yogis understood that in order to experience a more satisfying life—one that feels more stable, more sublime, and more connected to others—we have to effect change from within. And one of the key ways to alter the inner reality is working with the chakras, the body’s energetic centers.

Chakra literally means “spinning wheel.” According to the yogic view, chakras are a convergence of energy, thoughts/feelings, and the physical body. Our consciousness (mind) gets projected through these wheels, and this largely determines how we experience reality from our emotional reactions, our desires or aversions, our level of confidence or fear, even the manifestation of physical symptoms.

By working with these centers in yoga practice, we can begin to unravel any blocks that may prevent the unfolding into our highest potential. 

That’s all you need to know for now if you are just wanting a basic explanation. If you want to take your understanding a bit deeper, please come back for tomorrow’s post which will get a little more technical. 

Any questions? Any thoughts? 

The Gentle Beauty of Yin Yoga – Love It Or Your Money Back!

Yin yoga was developed to penetrate deep into connective tissue expanding flexibility while invigorating the energy centers of the body (nadis) to release blockages and increase your energy flow.

Yin yoga was developed to penetrate deep into connective tissue expanding flexibility while invigorating the energy centers of the body (nadis) to release blockages and increase your energy flow.

Many people have asked me about Yin yoga after seeing it on our new October schedule – what it is, why they should try it and why it’s different to our usual flow classes. And since we aim to please at our little riverside yoga studio, here is some information that may help you to decide whether it’s something you want to add to your practice (the answer is yes, by the way):

A quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga, Yin focuses on lengthening connective tissues and is meant to complement yang yoga—your muscle-forming flow that is most often practiced in Western studios. Yin poses are passive, meaning you’re supposed to relax muscles and let gravity do the work. And they’re long—you’ll practice patience here too.

Yin Yoga uses gentle long held postures practiced with an attitude of compassionate acceptance to awaken the more Yin parts of our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. It is an amazing practice that is dominantly seated, that focuses on bringing health and vitality back to body/mind/spirit through the manipulation of the fascia (connective tissue), the energy body and all sensations and emotions that come along for the ride. Its a profound practice, very insightful and carries a wealth of healing knowledge that can be applied to anybody. A lot of yin is allowing yourselves to be tender and wise within our own forms.  There is so much wisdom in the water and tissues in the body, we simply must create a safe and relaxed setting for this wisdom and energy to flow. Yin helps to still the body, setting it shapes that allow us to target the areas where energy tends to get stuck.

Yin focuses on the hips, pelvis and spine mostly but because the body cannot be separated into parts and sides, yin yoga examines the body as a connected unit of tissues that communicate, contain or liberate other aspects of the body. We can all relate to that feeling stuck or out of place feeling in the body. We know what it needs to flow, with inside and out.

Yin has a few simple principles. Find the shape that works for you. Victoria will guide you into the pose but you may find that you need to adjust it slightly to suit your own body (as with ‘normal’ yang yoga) – until it feels right. Turn the muscles off, relax the body, deepen the breath, stay present and hold for time. Seems simple right? Looks like it from the external appearance,but on the inside we are looking for and hanging out in the places in the body where we tend to hold, resist and feel stuck in. It’s in the tension in the body that we can unlock the keys to healing, realigning and becoming stable in who we are. The long holds and focus on breath in Yin means that classes have this air of meditation and the same feeling of otherworldiness only long breathing sessions and moving of blockages can do. I recently did one of Victoria’s Yin classes and I felt like I was floating by the end of the class – even speaking felt like it was too loud and jarring after the peaceful atmosphere she created so masterfully. Her beautiful Norwegian accent and her ability to hold the silences without needing to fill them with words just helped to make it a truly magical experience.

I really, really, really recommend that everyone tries one of these classes at least once. See it as the biggest and kindest gift and token of self love that you could give yourself this month. You will not regret it. In fact, if you don’t like it, I will give you your money back. So please, go to one and feed back to me how it was, so I can put my money where my mouth is. No pressure, Vic!

I took a lot of this information from a lovely site called ‘Love Light Yoga’ – check them out if you want to show them some love.