Sleep is the most important thing we can do for our body.
In Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, he writes that he used to think that the trio of health was sleep, exercise and food. But new research has shown that sleep is the single most beneficial thing we can do for ourselves.
The way we live our modern life fights against our natural sleeping pattern.
Blue light from screens disrupts our circadian rhythm (yes, even the TV).
The night time economy means things are open late. It is sociable to eat late (when our digestion is primed to eat our main meal in the day).
Electricity leads us like moths through darkened streets when our brains need to be sleeping.
Apart from arranging more lunches, what can you do?
One of the best ways to relax the brain is through movement. Ideally, we shouldn’t exercise about four hours before bed. So I don’t mean a vigorous, ashtanga based sequence. I mean a gentle, yin sequence, designed to unwind the body.
Poses like legs up the wall and supta baddha konasana. Poses like puppy and supported bridge.
Once we start to respect our natural rhythms, evolved over thousands of years, our body will start to relax. Chronic inflammation, stress, insomnia can all be improved by the healing and restorative quality of sleep.
There’s a lot of talk about meditation, as if it is a separate thing from yoga. There are people offering to teach you how to meditate. There are apps to help you meditate – you may have tried them.
When you think of meditation, what does it mean to you? Do you picture a Buddhist monk on a hilltop somewhere, sitting in silence, for hours?
Try sitting in stillness with your breath. Try it in your asana practice. Try it in savasana. Try it in seated meditation, in seated pranayama.
Every single person thinks they’re doing it wrong. Every single person thinks that the person next to them is doing it properly. Everyone feels like a fake.
You cannot practice yoga for a short time and expect mental stillness immediately. It takes practice to start to understand the potential of yoga. The potential to exist in a physical and mental state at the same time.
I try to think about each movement as a physical expression of my breath. I try hard to link the two. And I keep practicing.
I’m reading ‘The Tree of Yoga’ by BKS Iyengar. In it, he talks about the difference between teaching children and adults. Adults need demonstrations and constant advice. Children just do.
Children live in the present, adults live in the past and the future.
When we begin yoga, we think a lot. We are worried about the pose, worried about whether we’re doing it properly.
How can we move our mind back to the present?
The first thing is the breath. When we practice yoga well, the asana becomes an extension of our breath.
The second is bandhas. Engaging the root lock (perineum or pelvic floor), the abdominal lock and the chin lock. A good place to practice this is tadasana (mountain pose).
The third is dristhi. Your focus. Ask yourself, where are you looking in the pose? Are you looking down, at the floor? Are you looking at other people? Wherever our gaze is directed, our energy follows.
How attached are we to control? We control everything: what we eat, how we spend out free time, who we spend it with. This can be a great thing. We feel like we are making good choices by doing things we want.
What happens when our control is challenged? When things happen that we don’t choose. When choices are taken away from us.
How can yoga help us with this?
Our control of external things is an illusion. We are never really ‘in control’.
Through the practice of yoga we can start to see that this idea is just that – an idea. But we can shape our reactions as we choose.
Yoga can help us control our mind. Pranayama (breath work) is control of the breath. Asana (physical practice) is control of the body.
Both of them, with practice, help to control our thoughts, help to calm the ‘monkey mind.’ The mind that jumps from one thought to the next, screeching for your attention.
Through our practice, we can begin to change that. We can control our reactions, but we must see that we cannot control our world.
“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” BKS Iyengar.
Each week in my class at Fit4Less in Brentford, I try to think about a theme that will interest my students.
I’ll share that theme with you in this blog.
Last week, my theme was the connection between the physical body and emotional pain. At the start of each class, Anna Forrest asks her students: ‘pick a spot that needs extra attention, so you can connect to that spot and then feel what emotion is connected to it.’
We often overlook this physical and emotional connection, but it is littered through our dialect, ‘I have a gut feeling’, or ‘my heart was in my mouth.’ We are used to describing emotion in a physical way.
How can we move this idea into a yoga class? We can isolate our physical stressors. We can move with care in each asana. We can try to use our body, mind and breath together in our practice.
By focusing on these areas of physical instability, we can start to strengthen our emotional selves.