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Finger-knotting mudra fun!

Yesterday I promised you some finger-knotting fun…well, here are two mudras which you might need to warm your fingers up for!

Kilaka mudra – good health key, mystical puzzle key.

This mudra might look like a mystical puzzle but it’s a great one to try! It is said to help emotional balance and create a sense of safety. It’s also thought to be good for deepening and supporting relationships. Looks complicated but feels amazing when holding the mudra!

Mandala mudra – circle universe gesture

This mudra is said to protect against negativity and help with health problems. Focusing on this gesture may help you connect with the earth, drawing energy in to improve your quality of life! It’s quite a complicated one – so take it gently!

Have fun with these mudras and remember – keep those fingers warmed up and don’t force anything! Namaste!

Mudras for the sinuses

Today I’m looking at a couple of mudras which might benefit the sinuses with all this pollen about!

Bhuchari mudra – gesture of gazing into the void.

Quite a dramatic name for this mudra but it is really lovely to do! This mudra is performed as shown in the photo but with the thumb nail at the lips so that you gaze out at the tip of the little finger while blinking as little as possible. This mudra frees the mind, strengthens nerve pathways in the neck and eye, and cleansing the sinuses and tear ducts.

Maha-Shirsha (great head) mudra – gesture for relieving the overactive mind.

Maha-Shirsha means great head and is a wheel mudra for relieving the “monkey mind”. It can help you clear your thoughts. Focusing on this mudra is thought to bring stress relief, ease tension and relieve migraines and sinus congestion. Just what you might need if you suffer from hayfever!

I hope you’re enjoying the mudras so far – I’ll be back tomorrow with some more finger-knotting fun!

More marvellous mudras!

So today I have a couple more mudras for you to enjoy…even though my autocorrect would like you to enjoy a nice madras!

Adhomukha mudra – downward facing gesture

This mudra helps you to focus on increasing wisdom and inner strength – it also helps you to prepare for meditation. It stimulates the digestive fire and encourages detoxification.

Those of you who know your yoga poses might notice that the name of this mudra is similar to adhomukha svanasana (downward dog pose). That’s because adhomukha is sanskrit for downwards (adhas = down, mukha = face)!

Bhu mudra – earth (Bhu) touching gesture.

This mudra is good for grounding yourself and being the present moment. It is an excellent mudra to use when meditating to induce stability and “stickability”! It’s great to connect to the earth in this way.

I’ll be back again soon with more mudras!

Meditation mudras

Yesterday, I introduced you to the Jnana mudra – one of my favourites! There are lots of mudras to explore though so today I’m going to show you a couple that are great for use during meditation.

Chin mudra – gesture of free consciousness.

You will probably be familiar with this mudra – it’s the one that’s commonly seen in cartoons of yogis! It is similar to the Jnana Mudra but the palm faces upwards. The joining of the index finger and the thumb still represents that connection with the Universe and it helps you become attuned to your environment. Chin mudra is used to instil calm and harmony.

Vishnu mudra – gesture of universal balance

The Vishnu mudra is the mudra for universal balance – balance of the physical and the mental. It balances muladhara, swadhisthana, and manipura – the lower chakras. It’s a great one to do during meditation or breathing techniques to induce calm, reduce stress and anxiety, and to tame the emotions!

Join me tomorrow for some more madras!

Mastering mudras

I really love the beauty of hand mudras and the amazing way they can influence the subtle energy body to create a feeling of well-being.

Mudra means seal, gesture, or mark. They are typically hand gestures but can also involve the body. I like to use hand mudras during my yoga and meditation practice to help me focus my mind. Different mudras can be used to access qualities like patience and compassion and can help us ground and release.

One of my most adopted gestures is the Jnana mudra – I love using it in my favourite pose, natarajasana. It’s the mudra of wisdom and knowledge. The thumb represents universal consciousness and the index finger represents individual consciousness. By connecting the thumb and index finger we connect ourselves with the Divine Self. The Jnana mudra represents connectedness with the Universe! Beautiful hey?

Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to some more mudras that are good to use during meditation.

Tree Meditation

Today I thought I’d offer you a meditation which you can do in Tadasana or seated in a chair. It’s extra special to do it outside! 

  • Stand or sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Take a deep breath in and sigh it out. Feel the body and mind relaxing with each sigh.
  • Imagine that you are plugging the heels and the balls of the little and big toes into the earth – almost like connecting a plug into a socket. Spread your toes and wiggle them into the earth.
  • Feel your breath entering in and flowing out at your nostrils (you might notice the air is a little cooler as you breathe in and slightly warmer as you breathe out). Follow the breath down through the body until your awareness reaches the souls of your feet.
  • Start to visualise with every breath sending strong roots down into the earth, deeper and deeper with every out breath. Imagine these roots passing through the earth, rocks, and into crystal caverns glimmering brightly. See these roots reaching through the caverns into a cool, clear underground stream, sparkling and inviting.
  • With your next in breath, start to imagine that you are drawing up the nourishing water through your roots, see it flowing upwards, back through the caverns, rocks, and earth. Feel a sense of stability from your roots extending deep into the earth.
  • Imagining drawing that stability and nourishment up through your legs, visualising your body as a strong tree trunk – supportive yet flexible. Settle into that strength with your next out breath.
  • Feel your spine lengthening and imagine growing upwards through the crown of your head. Visualise the branches of a tree, covered with emerald green leaves. You might like to gently rock from side to side (keeping your core lightly engaged) – feeling the strength and flexibility of a tree gently swaying in the breeze. Affirm to yourself “I can flow like a tree in the breeze, no matter what life brings”.
  • Feel sunlight shining down on you and with your next in breath, feel as if you are drawing golden light in through the crown of the head, down through the forehead and the throat, and then rest your awareness at the heart.
  • Breath in and out through the heart, visualising all the qualities of your favourite tree and seeing the colour of those emerald green leaves. Stand for as long as you feel comfortable
  • When ready, take some deeper breaths and slowly become aware of your physical body and the world around you.
  • Gently rub your hands and place them over your eyes. Open your eyes into the darkness and then separate your fingers to gently let the light in. Take time to ground before continuing your day.

Enjoy nature whenever you can!


 

Improving non-specific back pain with Dru yoga

In the last few posts, I’ve been looking at the spine and today I want to share with you how Dru Yoga made a difference to my back problems.

My journey with back pain

I have always had issues with back pain due to a series of incidents in my younger years (accidents and self-inflicted!). When I was about 8 years old, I had a nasty fall where I bruised my back very badly. In my late teens and early 20’s, I was into heavy metal…and yes, that involved headbanging – really not great for the neck (I did warn you that some of this was self-inflicted!). A car accident when I was 19 years old gave me whiplash. In my 20’s I experienced a herniated disc in my neck after helping someone move house. Unfortunately, it was misdiagnosed as a shoulder injury and I was put in a sling for over 6 weeks. When it was finally recognised as a herniated disc, I needed a lot of physio to bring my shoulder back down and to release my neck. But it doesn’t end there. While I finished my degree I worked with children with autism and challenging behaviour, in specialist care centres, and with the elderly. I sustained numerous neck and back injuries during this time. Despite the injuries, I have never regretted working in these areas – the work was very rewarding.

Unsurprisingly after this catalogue of spinal disrespect, I ended up with a very sore back and chronic neck pain! I suffered severe headaches and had an atrocious posture (even though I had done a lot of different types of yoga since I was a teenager). I was eventually diagnosed with spondylosis in the cervical spine in my early 30’s. I thought I would always have to put up with the pain – not a pleasant prospect. I can totally emphasise with people when they tell me how miserable back and neck pain can be. So what changed for me?

Doing the Dru!

About four years or so ago, I found Dru Yoga. Not only did Dru Yoga save me from anxiety and depression but it helped alleviate my neck and back problems…in fact now, most people would not realise that I ever had a problem! So what did I do?

Every day I practised Energy Block Release One and the Dru spinal alignment sequence. I soon started to notice that my posture was improving and the creaks and clunks in my neck and shoulders were starting to become less and less. The other amazing thing was my headaches started to diminish. and eventually stopped completely! I now rarely get headaches and they usually happen when I have been doing computer work for long periods without a break – never a good plan!

As long as I do my Dru Yoga practice, I rarely get neck or back pain these days; I feel flexible and mobile…but don’t just take my word for it! Here’s why Dru Yoga is so good for easing back pain.

Why is Dru Yoga so beneficial?

In Dru yoga, movements flow with the breath and joints remain soft so that they are relaxed and flexible (1) .This type of yoga is particularly effective at alleviating lower back pain because spinal movements and core stability are important elements of a Dru Yoga class. Every posture is actually a flowing sequence. The aim with each movement is to focus on energy travelling through the spine (through the chakras) like a wave and for the limbs to move effortlessly – all movement is generated from the spine and the breath. The Spinal Wave is an important element of Dru Yoga; the movement flows from the base of the spine upwards, so that each vertebra is moving separately, expanding the spine and easing compression. The movement is then reversed so that the it  travels up and down the spine  like a wave (1). The Spinal Twist is also a key component of Dru Yoga ­– all twisting movements start from the base of the spine and move upwards so that the neck moves last and then the motion is reversed (1). Concentrating on the base of the spine helps to improve non-specific lower back pain and also ensures we are moving in balance. Furthermore, the movements increase flexibility of the facet joints and help the discs to hydrate due to the pumping motion.

Strong, yet flexible, core stability muscles (see earlier blogs) are important for supporting and stabilising the spine. Movements in Dru Yoga are practised with a contraction of the lower abdominal muscles and pelvic floor which in turn activates the transversus abdominus and lumbar multifidus. These muscles become strengthened leading to improved posture and spinal alignment (1). Ultimately, a Dru yoga class empowers a student to take control of their non-specific lower back pain and helps them to become more positive about a pain-free future – easing stress and improving well-being.

The science behind Dru Yoga

So for all you people who like things to be evidence-based – here’s the science bit! Dr Ned Hartfiel is a leading researcher into the benefits of yoga for alleviated perceived stress and back pain. Here’s a summary of some of the back-pain related evidence:

  • A 2012 study demonstrated that Dru yoga is effective at alleviating back pain in the workplace (2). Participants of the study received a 50 minute Dru yoga class each week for eight consecutive weeks and were also given a 20 minute DVD to allow them to continue practising at home. The Dru yoga group, in comparison with controls who did not perform yoga,  achieved statistically significant reductions in back pain (as measured using the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire [RDQ]; p<0.01) at the end of the programme (2).
  • A recent study (2017) demonstrated that an eight week Dru Yoga programme, versus usual care (i.e. an educational programme with no yoga), was associated with reductions in physical and psychosocial components of back pain. At eight weeks statistically significant reductions in back pain-related disability were reported (as measured by RDQ [−0.84 (95% CI −1.78, −0.06); p < 0.05] and Keele STarT [−0.61 (95% CI −1.19, −0.39); p <0.001]) (3).
Dr Ned Hartfiel, leading yoga researcher

If you would like to know more:

 

Come to a Dru Yoga class and find out for yourself!

In addition to standard Dru Yoga classes, I also run specific back care classes for those people who already have problems with their backs. If you would like more information, please feel free to get in touch…I’m always happy to answer questions. Namaste

 

References

  1. Barrington C, Goswāmī A, Jones A. Dru Yoga: Stillness in Motion. Nant Ffrancon, Bethesda, North Wales, U.K.: DRU Publications; 2005.
  2. Hartfiel N, Burton C, Rycroft-Malone J, Clarke G, Havenhand J, Khalsa SB, et al. Yoga for Reducing Perceived Stress and Back Pain at Work. Occup Med 2012;62:606–12. Available from: http://occmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/62/8/606
  3. Hartfiel N, Clarke G, Havenhand J, Phillips C, and Edwards RT. Cost-effectiveness of yoga for managing
    musculoskeletal conditions in the workplace. Occup Med 2017;67:687–695. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/occmed/article/67/9/687/4676035

 

Common problems associated with the spine

Back pain is a common problem associated with the spine and surrounding muscles. In today’s blog, I’m getting my geek on and looking at specific and non-specific back pain!

Specific back pain

Specific back pain is the diagnosis when the problem with the spine or surrounding muscles can be attributed to a particular condition. Table 1 shows conditions associated with specific back pain.

Table 1: Specific back pain

 

Non-specific back pain

Non-specific back pain is the terminology used when the definite cause or condition of the pain cannot be identified (2). Non-specific back pain may be associated with the following:

  • Stress – this can increase tension in the muscles which can contribute to back pain (1).
  • Standing, sitting or bending down for long periods of time (2).
  • Muscle strain from lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling loads that are too heavy (1, 2).
  • Overuse (1).
  • Muscle disorders (1).
  • Upper-crossed and lower-crossed syndromes (muscle imbalances identified by Professor Janda caused by prolonged static postural positions) (3)
  • Poor posture (2).
  • Pressure on a nerve root.
  • Obesity (having a body mass index [BMI] > 30) (2).
  • Non-specific pain persisting after minor back injury (1,2).

Non-specific back pain is the most common cause of back pain and many of us have experienced it during our lives. Before I started Dru Yoga, I had a lot of back, neck, and shoulder problems – I was always pestering for massages and I had a lot of physio, spots therapy, and osteopathy; nothing worked for very long. Having a regular Dru Yoga practice has really helped me to overcome my back problems. These days, I’m pretty much pain free and rarely get headaches (I used to get them all the time). Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about the research behind Dru Yoga and how it has helped me! See you soon. Om Shanti!

References

  1. Sullivan K, Royal College of General Practitioners. 5-minute Back Relief. London: Collins; 2007.
  2. Canvin R. Back pain [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2015 Feb 5]; available from: http://www.bupa.co.uk/backpain
  3. Striano P, Striano P. Anatomy of a Healthy Back: a Chiropractor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back. Heatherton, Vic.: Hinkler Books; 2012.

Tips for a healthy spine

After yesterday’s interlude about reflections on the miracle of life, I’m back to looking at the spine! In previous blogs we have explored the structure of the spine and its surrounding musculature. From this we can see that the spine has many functions:

  • Movement
  • Support/posture
  • Protection of the spinal cord and associated nerves
  • Reservoir for calcium ions
  • Absorbing impact
  • Blood supply
  • Protection of major organs (ribs attach to the spine)

Movements of the spine include rotation, lateral flexion (left and right), extension (straightening/back bend), and flexion (forward bend) (Figure 10). Rotation occurs in the cervical and thoracic regions but little or no rotation occurs in the lumbar spine. Flexion occurs only in the lumbar and cervical spine – not in the thoracic region (1).

Figure 1: Types of spinal movement

Maintaining optimal spinal health

The National Health Service have reported that back pain is the leading cause of long-term sickness in the United Kingdom; in 2013 it was responsible for more than 15 million lost work days (2). Unsurprisingly, back pain represents a large societal and personal burden but in many cases it could be alleviated or prevented with adequate care.

The role of activity in good spinal health

Bed rest was once recommended for back problems, but it is now known that activity is vital to maintain spinal health. Inactivity actually exacerbates back problems (2). Activity is essential as it strengthens the back, abdominal, and leg muscles. Strong muscles assist us when lifting heavy objects, and also help with mobility and maintaining a good posture (3). During activity, movement of the spine causes the discs to be squeezed and released, keeping them hydrated and healthy (3). Plump discs cushion the vertebrae and offer more protection than thin, dehydrated discs.  Thirty minutes exercise each day helps to strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine and also maintains flexibility (3).  Low impact exercises such as walking, cycling, and swimming are good ways to improve fitness and yoga is especially beneficial  as it helps to improve flexibility, strength, and posture (3).

Good posture and spinal health

In  earlier blogs, we saw that good posture is necessary to maintain alignment and the four natural curves of the spine. Many of our daily activities can lead to poor posture if we do not take action to prevent it. For example, when carrying shopping or a shoulder bag, you should switch sides regularly to avoid strain on one side of the back (3). When walking, shoes should be comfortable and low-heeled ((3) – stilettos are not good for maintaining spinal health! Even when sleeping, there are postural considerations. It is best to sleep on your side in order to maintain spinal alignment and reduce unnatural curves (3). Mattresses and pillows need to be firm enough to keep the spine in alignment, otherwise our sleep is not restful and we might wake up with an aching neck or back. Kitchen surfaces and work benches should be at a at a comfortable height (3) – but how often do we check this? Everywhere we look there are ways in which we can protect our spinal health!

People who remain seated at a computer for most of the day are particularly prone to back problems. Workstations need to be set up appropriately and employers often undertake ergonomic assessments to make sure their staff are protected as much as possible from spinal issues. Bad posture when seated places strain on the spine. Imagine sitting all day with a bad posture ­– backache, neck pain, and headaches are likely! You can read about how to find the best way to sit correctly here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/. Standing up and walking around, stretching, and changing sitting position regularly are all other essential things to do if you are seated for long periods of time. This helps muscles to rest and recover as well as hydrating the discs (3).

In order to sustain good spinal health, it is important to avoid injury. Warm up properly before exercise and make sure that engage your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles and bend from the hips (not just the knees) when lifting heavy objects (3).

Other things to consider to help support good spinal health include: maintaining a healthy weight, having a nutritious diet (with calcium, vitamin D, phosphorous, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B12, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, bromelain), don’t smoke (smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine), avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water, having massages, and tailor your activities to your ability (3). And of course…do some Dru Yoga!

Hope you’ve found today’s tips useful! Tomorrow, I’ll be looking at some causes of back pain and how Dru Yoga can help.

References

  1. NYU. Muscles [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2015 Jan 17]; available from: http://hjd.med.nyu.edu/spine/patient-education/spine-anatomy/muscles-and-ligaments/muscles
  2. National Health Service. Back Pain at Work [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2015 Jan 30];Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/workplacehealth/Pages/Backpainatwork.aspx
  3. Sullivan K, Royal College of General Practitioners. 5-minute Back Relief. London: Collins; 2007.

Reflections on the miracle of life

Do we stop and appreciate life? Do we celebrate every breath? Probably not…especially when life doesn’t go as we planned. Yesterday, I was given an incredible lesson – one which I will deeply cherish for the rest of my life. I experienced the miracle of life.

I should probably give you a little background to that bold statement! A few months back, my best friend/spiritual sister asked me to be her birthing partner. I was honoured and accepted straight away. However, as time went on, we realised that it might not be logistically possible (as I live nearly 3 hours away from her). I really wanted to be there to support her though…so I put it to the Universe and trusted that whatever was to unfold would be for a higher purpose.

Anyway, this weekend, everything aligned as it was meant to and I found myself exactly where I needed to be. My friend went into labour and I was there to support her. What I witnessed was a testament to my friend’s yoga and meditation practice throughout her pregnancy and her incredible resilience.

My friend had an incredible pregnancy – she flourished and mde it look easy. I expect you’re thinking “I bet she’s going to say how easy the birth was”…well, I’m not – nothing went as planned! Arriving at hospital, she was monitored and it became apparent that baby’s heart rate would suddenly drop with the very strong contractions. The option for a water birth rapidly disappeared –my friend took it in her stride and accepted that. Then it became clear that staying on a midwife-led ward was not possible – my friend accepted that too.

During her labour, the staff were impressed at her amazing calm and how she went from contraction to contraction with such grace and peace. Despite being in considerable pain she was determined to give baby the most relaxed entry into the world as possible. Each push should have been bringing baby closer to the outside world, but there was something wrong. Despite her strength and resolve, baby was not able to slide past the base of her spine.

After a very long time of trying to allow baby to enter naturally into the world, it was confirmed that baby was in the wrong position and that an instrument delivery would be necessary. This was the last thing my friend had wanted, but as baby’s heart-rate was dropping with each contraction, she accepted the change in plans and put her trust in the Universe that baby would be delivered safely.

Sat outside the theatre, waiting for the team to administer an epidural, were the longest minutes of my life so far. I used my mala and I prayed that my friend and baby would be OK. When I was called in, after what seemed like an eternity, it all became a blur. Suddenly, my friend was pushing as hard as she could and the doctor was using forceps to free baby. And there was a Guru present! A radiant consultant called Miss Guru stood offering guidance. She exuded calm and serenity. Soon baby appeared.

Baby was placed on my friend’s chest but was quickly whisked away. Although the fantastic theatre staff were very calm, I could see baby was very floppy and he wasn’t crying. Again, I prayed. The team were doing something to baby, but I couldn’t see. Miss Guru gave me a beaming smile and said baby would be OK and was beautiful. I instantly trusted her and in that moment I heard baby crying!

At first it looked like baby would need to be taken to the special care baby unit. He had to be given rescue breaths straight after being born. My friend said to me with confidence “he needs to be with me” and I knew he would be coming with us. It was as if my friend was telling the Universe tshe was happy to accept everything that had happened, but this part of the plan was non-negotiable! Sure enough, while my friend was in recovery, the team decided baby should go with Mum and be monitored on the maternity ward.

As soon as baby lay in my friend’s ams, he became so tranquil and relaxed. She enveloped him in unconditional love. When it was my turn to hold him at last, I sang him a mantra – he opened his eyes and looked straight at me. I’m sure he recognised the mantra from when he was inside the womb. I was flooded with an immense sense of gratitude – gratitude for this perfect little soul, gratitude for my beautiful friend, gratitude for the dedicated hospital staff, and gratitude for the miracle of life.

So what lessons was I taught?

  • We are born to do amazing things with our lives, whether it be giving life to another or doing a job where we are serving others. We should embrace our gifts and trust in our higher purpose.
  • Go with the flow, no attachment – acceptance is the key to peace.
  • Trust the Universe and it will unfold as it should (even though the path may not always be easy).
  • Value friendship – we are all connected.
  • Be grateful for every moment.
  • Life is a wondrous gift.
  • Life is a miracle.

I want to thank my dear friend – she is a shining light and a great inspiration to all she meets. I feel so privileged to have been present at such a auspicious event.

What can you do with the amazing gift of life? Do something fantastic today. Namaste.