April 2011

Main Feature – Giving and receiving gracefully

Occasionally at yogaphysio we offer yoga or meditation teachings freely, though welcoming Dana. This is quite common in the buddhist tradition and therefore you will have seen in the meditation days lead by Geoff and the upcoming retreat, a cost is placed on expenses only, leaving students open to giving Dana according to their means. These times have prompted me to consider the act of 'giving and receiving' and what teachings are inherent in this practice.

As with all of our actions, we can cultivate awareness to delve into our experience, in order to learn about ourselves and be free from any unhelpful conditioned responses. Acts of giving and receiving are ripe with conditioning and deeper meaning. When we are engaged in the act of giving we able to see what our relationship is with 'that which we are giving'. Do we struggle to let go of money? Are we overly attached to possessions? Do we feel compromised if we give some service without remuneration or even thanks? With some reflection we may begin to see how conditional some of our giving is. We may gain insight into the origins of this relationship and with that awareness become less bound by it. From this we may experience the joy of giving. We may also be able to honor ourselves by acknowledging truthfully where we are attached and not willing to give – AND to be Ok with this. I remember early days of time spent in India, being terrified that I would find my spiritual practice to be one of renunciation and monasticism!

To be in a position of giving Dana, allows additional contemplation of our self and our motivations. It prompts us to try to find a balance between how we value something and what we can afford to give. The practice is one of looking honestly at ourselves and to be Ok with our decision. Thoughts may arise, like “What is the market value of this training? “If everyone else gives this much, that would be fair. “I've just booked a holiday/ new car/ kids schooling.... better pull in a little”. Coming up with a figure not so easy. Spending time in India I have made friends with people that don't have very much money. Money can be very well spent to reduce suffering and improve lives and frequently I struggle with deciding what to give. It is one teaching from India that remains an ongoing valuable part of my spiritual practice.

Maybe harder still, is to look at how we receive. Can we receive graciously and with equanimity? Can we perhaps see that there is a fair 'energy exchange' in process and that's all. Or does receiving prompts us to consider ourselves undervalued or overvalued in an ego inflating way. Can we also decide when it is inappropriate to take what is given, perhaps when it comes with some conditioned bind.

Finally I would to say how grateful I am to be able to earn my living doing something as rewarding as sharing yoga. For this privilege I give thanks to all my lovely students who are so dedicated to learning how to look after their bodies. You are very appreciated. To you I offer the newsletters and new website which I hope will grow in what they offer as an educational resource to complement your classes.

Hamstring Stretching

The most sort after flexibility - hamstrings! People seek flexible hamstrings to look graceful in yoga poses, to manage back pain, to balance their cycling and running. So how do we approach this seeming bain to yoga existence? Well, let me tell you the mechanical actions that help to therapeutically strain this muscle into longer length. I think the best and safest asana is ‘Samakonasana’ - pictured right.  If you really want to isolate the hamstrings (and particularly if you’ve had recent backpain) it’s best to keep the back straight, so bend the knees as much as you need. Feet hip width apart, outside borders of the feet parallel, tip the pelvis forward like you’re taking the belly to the thighs.

For those of you that are naturally more flexible you can do ‘Down dog’, with the same focus.

Other stretches, like lying on the floor with a strap around the foot or leg up on a chair/wall are also nice stretches, but because of the asymmetry you need to pay particular attention to keep the pelvis square. If one side is tighter than the other it’s a good idea to do the tight side first and then again last, thus doing it twice.

The other thing to consider with any muscle stretching is to think beyond mechanics. Though it might appear to, your muscle doesn't get longer or shorter within a matter of days. Muscle tension is influenced by stress, emotional factors and your overall energy. When you are more relaxed,rested and happy in yourself, your body will be more open. Be open to noticing your emotions when you are practicing asana. This is also why I encourage you to arrive early for class and relax for 10 minutes – it will make a big difference to your practice. The other thing that is helpful is to approach asana with an attitude of surrender not force. An attitude of surrender is far more conducive to relaxed muscle than fighting with it. Trust - by doing whatever practice you are doing, you will elicit a helpful response given time and perseverance. Every little bit is better than nothing. Moving and feeling better is inevitable.

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