Astro yoga for SURRENDER BY CHRISTINA CHUNG

Holy moly is May a busy one - astral activity all over the place! Now I’m absolutely no expert in this field (it’s really only something I’ve started following lightly over the last year) but this month certainly brings a lot to digest. We start with five planets in retrograde, meaning that they look like they’re going backwards in the sky and consequently the energies/ attributes linked & ruled by that particular planet will also slow down, go backwards, even tangle. There is a New Moon in Taurus celebrating our connection to nature and a Grand Trine in Earth (meaning there are planets in all of the other earth signs). This is but a scratch on the surface of an otherwise complex and extremely interesting read - definitely have a web search if you want to delve a little deeper. 

My poor newly astro-interested-brain went into overdrive trying to understanding what these next few weeks may bring and after much reading/ research/ absorbing from bigwigs in the know, I’ve decided to spend the month surrendering to the universe. So for May, I choose to allow myself to flow with the energy mother earth brings, embracing the change in pace, being open to a journey into the soul, the self, aligning my spirit with nature. It is a time for reflection, for acceptance, for truly discovering self love and trusting in the powers that be. Let us embrace the uncertainties of life with a smile and try best to live and find thanks for this present moment.

It’s not a time to push or be hard with the self so let each day guide you naturally and enjoy the ride! I’ll be trying each morning to rise early with the sun (try being the operative word) in order to grant myself more time for meditation and to show my body a little love with some dedicated time on the mat.

This is a short grounded sequence I created with surrender in mind. Warm the body first with a few rounds of sun salutations and then move through the flow mindfully, slowly, listening to what your body tells you, understanding that each moment, each day is different and being completely happy with that. Depth here isn’t important, instead, listen to what your body tells you. As you move through your practice focus on your intentions for the month, open your heart to them, connect your feet/ points of root to the earth, to mother nature - align, unite the body & mind and if nothing else, allow yourself to move freely without judgement. 

Astro Yoga: Pisces by Christina Chung

As the sun moves into pisces we begin to mark the end of another astrological year, the last of the zodiac signs; a time to reflect, dream and heal before we fire up again for the Spring Equinox. It’s a month where can we can potentially feel more spiritual and connected to the self. A month of dreaming, freeing the imagination and following instincts. 

So let us dream freely but to prevent it from becoming lazy escapism (which I’m more than prone to doing) we can focus our practice these next few weeks on grounding and exploring our foundations. Think of your feet in each posture - the part of the human anatomy associated with pisces - and enjoy the points connected to the earth creating strength as well as space in the body.

A particularly wonderful pose to perhaps try and incorporate into your practice this month is Extended hand-to-big-toe (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana). This posture requires focus and commitment and I never find it easy. It works on strengthening the psoas which stabilises the body, helping us to connect with a stronger balance. It’s easy to neglect the asanas that we find difficult, especially if the body shows resistance but power through because I promise it’s worth it.

If you’re just starting with this pose it’s nice to keep the knee of the raised leg bent so that you can focus on engaging the core, keeping the balancing leg strong and staying long through the torso. If you feel like you have a little more to give, you can grab the big toe (same hand to foot) and maybe even try extending the leg - I like using a strap to help me so that I can keep my body in a straight line and avoid hunching in the shoulder. 

So be playful in your flow, feel the foundations and grounding in each of your asanas and enjoy the space your in!


Yoga: What's The Point? By Stella Tomlinson

So, I’ve been rather confused about yoga of late.

Increasingly, yoga seems to be about challenging poses, contortions, arm balances, headstands and pushing through your fears – at least that’s how it’s represented and how many teachers teach it.

According to Instagram, this is the point of yoga. Image from Elle

According to Instagram, this is the point of yoga. Image from Elle

But to me, practising yoga has always been about “stilling the thought waves of the mind” (as Patanjali, the sage behind the ancient Yoga Sutras states). A practice of becoming aware and alive to the subtleties of my body, emotions and mind and to connect to my inner self and inner peace.

So I’m left wondering what Down Dog after Down Dog into Planks and Chaturanga and Crows, Wheels, Hand Stands and Headstands, and articles about “perfecting” poses, has to do with this.
Obviously for some (*many*) people yoga is about the physical side: pushing your body to its limits and getting into gravity-defying postures. And perhaps that leads to a sense of achievement and in doing so quietens the self-doubting mind.

But that’s not my path – when I’ve been in such classes I find myself sitting and watching and wondering what’s going on and why on earth you’d want to risk hurting yourself by continuously pushing your body to its limits.

THE SUBTLE PATH

My practice is about what I feel and learn about my body – but more importantly what I learn about my mind and emotions as I practise.With yoga I create an oasis of me-time away from external demands and stimuli. A way to joyfully fill up the tank so I have the energy to be active in the world.

As a popular yoga meme says: “Yoga is not about touching your toes… it’s about what you learn on the way down.”

Over the years my yoga practice has taught me awareness of my body and where emotional tensions and mental frustrations get lodged so I can mindfully move and breathe into those areas and release the tension.

It has taught me to watch my emotions and thoughts rather than getting pulled about by them this way and that (although I’m definitely still working on that one!).

But then again, a yoga practice to me has always been about working with body, the breath, relaxation, meditation, and mindful awareness not just the Yoga Poses. And to be frank, I believe that working with this honest awareness is more challenging and fearless than attempting to stand on your head!

WHY I STEP ONTO THE YOGA MAT

So, I step onto my yoga mat to give myself a respite from the demands and busy-ness of modern life, from the over-stimulation of our loud and pushing culture, and to create an oasis of calm to watch my mind and emotions. I don’t step onto my mat to add more even pressure to my over-taxed nervous system and my busy mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying yoga which is physically demanding is somehow wrong (although if it’s taught without a focus on the breath and calming the mind I would question whether it’s yoga or just a fitness routine).

But it absolutely breaks my heart that it’s this physically focused, demanding, push-through-your-fears kind of yoga which seems to be so prevalent at the moment – in yoga magazines and at yoga shows and representations of yoga in the mass media and in so many classes.

I know that it puts a lot of people off from even thinking about trying yoga.

WHY I PRACTISE YOGA
So, that’s why I practise and teach a gentler yoga, with mindfulness.

Movement with awareness of how my body feels. Movement which shows kindness to where I am today rather than punishing myself for my perceived physical limitations if tiredness, stiffness, confusion, aches and pains are present.

I practise yoga which encourages looking within: to learn about how I hold my breath if I’m tense. And how I can feel so much more enlivened, present, energised and calm by breathing deeply and smoothly.

I practise yoga to enable deep relaxation – to let those tense muscles really relax. To calm my nervous system to bring it back into balance: to rest, digest and heal.

I practise meditation to give my body and mind permission to be still – but also to give the mind permission to do its crazy whirlwind of jumping around all over the place and to watch it and smile and find freedom in that observation.

I practise yoga which works with the mind with visualisations and affirmations to create new neural pathways to encourage me and those I teach to live the highest, brightest, most wonderful version of ourselves.

Above all I practise and teach yoga to reconnect to the inner peace which is my true nature and yours.

Why do YOU practise yoga? Meet us in the comments!


About the contributor: Stella Tomlinson is a yoga and meditation teacher and blogger, teaching calming yoga techniques to help sensitive souls release the symptoms of anxiety and tension and to empower them to connect to inner peace and joy. You can hang out with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Coming Back to the Mat by Christina Chung

After being somewhat more than generous with allowing my body to rest during the cold winter months (replacing yoga with eating ALL of the dim sum), it’s finally time to abandon the excuses and get my ass back on the mat. Easier said than done with dark mornings & cold, cold, cold; I resent leaving the warmth of my cosy, marshmallow bed preferring instead to continue hibernation… But needs must.

My first morning rise isn’t pretty. Still clinging to the duvet, me and my happy little dumpling belly battle with the strong wish to stay warm. Eventually we take a clumsy roll out of bed and slowly get to the mat (yes, my happy dumpling belly is another entity). Stiff & tired my body moves reluctantly trying to manage a few sun salutations, until soon the familiar ebb and flow of the breath, that delicious inhale and exhale, takes over and suddenly I remember the wonderful feeling of my moving meditation.

It’s not always easy to find the motivation, so whilst we wait for Spring and longer days; for mornings where the sun can playfully tease you out of bed, take baby steps and ease yourself gently back into your practice. Not every morning battle can be won and sometimes the gorgeousness of feeling sleepy, staying cocooned in blankets is the right action to take.

For a little inspiration here’s a short, steady sequence to reawaken tired winter bodies. Move through it slowly, take time to listen to what your body needs and breathe deeply into places that show resistance...


Christina trained at Sampoorna Yoga School, India, where she studied the primary series as well as vinyasa flow. She's also one of Jo's teachers at Hotpod Yoga in Nottingham. You can hang out with her on Instagram