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Like the oxygen mask
Yoga for your mind and mood
Dosha Yoga

 

Like the oxygen mask in an airplane...

What has that to do with Yoga, Shiatsu or Hypnotherapy you might wonder.....
Remember what they always say "Put on your own oxygen mask BEFORE you help anyone else". This is such a good metaphor for a fundamental truth about life; we have to help ourselves before we can really help others. Our first duty is to take care of ourselves SO THAT we can fulfill our potential and contribute to the world.

It is said that the highest forms of healing are those which we do for ourselves, We are so blessed in this age, to have so many tools to help us. It so happens that Yoga, Shiatsu, and Hypnosis (and Osteopathy) have been the main ones I have found to work well for me and that I use with my clients and students, but there are of course many others.

The basics are pretty obvious. A form of exercise we enjoy and want to do regularly. A diet which makes us actually feel good, rather than just gratifying an addiction, and is also pleasurable to eat. Noticing what we think about and cultivating thought habits which generate good feelings. The causes of dis-ease are from within and well as from outside, emotions affect our biochemistry and thus our health. No matter how bad a day has been it is always possible to find something to feel grateful for and to fall asleep with 'an attitude of gratitude'.

And finally humour. This may be our saving grace. Laughter, we are told, is the best medicine. When we can laugh, it lifts us out of the situation and ourselves, it gives us perspective and punctures any excess sense of self importance.

 

Yoga for your mind and mood

It would seem that many of us have developed habits of thinking which generate negative emotions and we thus become rather good at making ourselves feel bad! ["As a man thinketh, so is he" - James Allen]. Unfortunately the habits are usually unconscious and it requires quite a high degree of self knowledge to become aware of them (let alone to change them). Hence the enormous popularity of many forms of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.
Meditation techniques like Vipassana (www.dipa.dhamma.org/) teach us to practise remaining steady, calm and detached while simply observing the ever changing current of thoughts and sensations - often not an easy task!!

Personal development teachers such as Anthony Robbins (www.anthonyrobbins.com) teach us that we can change our moods and thoughts by changing the focus of our thoughts or by changing our physiology. This is relatively easy and many of us do it automatically such as going for a walk or a run when we need to clear our mind or resolve a problem.

The psychology of Yoga uses all of these approaches. In doing the postures and breathing and observing the effects on our body and mind we deepen our self awareness. If we practise regularly (even if only for a few minutes) we notice how different we are each day. This depends on so many factors; what we've eaten, how we slept, what we dreamed about, the climate, the time of the month, the preoccupations we have at that moment..... it usually becomes pointless to try to analyse why a pose which was easy yesterday seems hard today and simpler to just accept that this is just how it is, this is how the current is flowing at this moment. At the same time in doing a practice we notice how it changes us, changes our energy level, our thoughts and our mood.

There is a little bit of extra magic that we can use. We can DECIDE how we want to feel by using a 'Sankalpa'. This is a positive intention or resolve. It is best determined by taking a few moments to relax, tune in to how you are and ask yourself the question 'what do I need?'. The first thing which arises is usually the most appropriate. I find that 9 times out of 10 people say they want to relax and are often surprised at this. It could be to enjoy your day, no matter what arises, or for the solution to a paricular problem to come to you by lunchtime. Imagine, before you do your practice, how it feels to have your intention fulfilled, then watch it work its magic in your day.

 

Dosha Yoga - Know yourself, treat yourself... better

As I write this Summer is coming (well now and then - this is Britain!) Thus we are moving into the time of the fire element when the sun is at it’s zenith. This is pitta time when pitta dosha people, who already have a lot of internal heat, can become quite uncomfortable and will, in particular, benefit from a cooling yoga practice.

Ayurveda the ancient medical system of India describes the human body as being composed of element combinations called doshas. The five elements in the Ayurvedic tradition are ether (space), earth, fire, water and air. [This is closely related but not quite the same as the Chinese system of five elements and similar to the system outlined by Hippocrates, of four elements and humurs: Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic and Phlegmatic].

The 3 doshas are Pitta (fire and water), Kapha (water and earth) and Vata (air and ether).
We tend to have a predominant natal dosha which determines our body type, constitution, temperament, strengths and weaknesses. It is often combined with another or a secondary dosha. Below is a short quiz you can do to get some idea of your dosha(s). It is useful as a basic framework for understanding how and why we get out of balance and what we can do to redress it. Our main problem is that we often feel drawn towards what we are used to and can thus aggravate our imbalances. Although yoga is a wonderful and powerful tool for enhancing health, healing, awareness and self knowledge, it can cause some harm if misused. This does not only apply to the injuries brought on by forcing, but also by choosing an inappropriate style of practice for our constitution and/or current imbalance.

Pitta people, as already mentioned are naturally hot and can overheat easily. They are strong, determined, driven and courageous. When out of balance they often tend to suffer from conditions of excess heat; fevers, inflammation, disorders of the digestive fire such as heartburn, acidity, ulcers, colitis, diarrhoea and hot emotions like anger, irritability, aggressiveness and competitiveness. They need calming, balancing and cooling.
A suitable yoga practice for a person with a pitta imbalance is slow and rhythmic, not too dynamic or heating. It contains twists to wring out the mid torso and solar plexus area where pitta resides, back bends to stretch and open that area and forward bends for their calming and cooling effect. A good inversion is Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand). Beware of Sirsasana (headstand) which should not be held too long, as it can cause heat to move into the head, causing headaches, bloodshot eyes, irritability. Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril) breathing is good for balancing pitta or, on very hot days, a cooling breath such as shitali (breathing slowly in through the mouth over a flat or rolled tongue and out through the nose).

Kapha people are cool and watery and dislike cold and wet climates. They have strong constitutions and are calm, sympathetic, easy going and pleasant to be around but can tend towards sluggishness. An excess of kapha in the body causes water retention, weight gain, oedema, phlegm, congestion, stiffness, dull aches, fog in the mind, depression and lethargy.
Exercise and a stimulating, warming yoga practice are good for balancing kapha, which get the body moving and stoke the internal fire. It might require a bit of effort at first for someone with a kapha imbalance as they may be lethargic or lazy. Back bends are good for opening the chest where kapha resides, but care must be taken not to overwork the lower back, which can be weak. Handstands and postures which work the arms and shoulders also move energy in the chest. Kapalabhati (abdominal pumping) breathing helps stoke the internal fire and cleanse the respiratory tract of excess kapha in the form of phlegm.

Vata people are slender, light, dry and airy and dislike the cold and wind, which aggravate vata. They are lively, enthusiastic and vivacious, but not very strong and tend to be hyperactive. They can easily exhaust themselves, become dry and brittle, strain their joints, get sharp aches and pains and become nervous and anxious.
Restorative yoga is good for balancing vata but people with a vata imbalance may initially need some movement to gradually calm their hyperactive energy. Gentle rhythmic floor work helps to ground them and can be combined with something to challenge their coordination and focus their restless minds. They need abdominal and lower back strengthening postures which, along with supported forwards bends, work on the lower abdomen where vata resides. Suggested inversions are shoulderstand resting the sacrum on a chair or sofa with some folded blankets to lift the shoulders in relation to the head and protect the neck or Viparita Karani, lying with the pelvis raised on a bolster, the head and neck supported on a single floded blanket and the legs up a wall. Covering the eyes and putting a little bit of weight on the top of the head also help calm excess vata. Headstand can aggravate it and doing shoulderstand flat on the floor can easily damage the delicate joints of the neck. Abdominal breathing with a simple mantra like "so-hum" or, for the more experienced practitioner, visama vrtti (uneven) pranayama breathing, lengthening the exhalations, both help to calm vata and quieten the mind.

Download and print table to determine your dosha

With so many styles of yoga available, it should be perfectly possible to find the right one for us. The main problem, as mentioned above, is that we tend to be drawn towards what we are used to because it feels familiar and ‘normal’, rather than what will balance us. Observe closely how you feel in the hours after a practice. Do you remain relaxed, calm and energised or are you exhausted, irritable or lethargic? How is your sleep? Is your mind clear? Do you feel more connected to the world or more in competition? In asking ourselves how we truly feel, we can then discover what we truly need.

 

 

 
 
 
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