Annual retreat

It’s our annual retreat this weekend and our theme is, ‘INDIA – birthplace of yoga’. We’re exploring the life and teachings of Desikachar, Amma, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Vivekananda, Krishnamurti and Swami Gitananda. We’re having a talk by Simi Sandhu on healthy eating with reference to the gunas, and on Saturday afternoon she and Yami Naik are instructing us on how to wear a sari.

Saturday evening the stage is taken by Jack Stafford. He’s a troubador, composing and performing songs on ayurvedic medicine.

The Indian nuns supply us with excellent vegetarian food, and the house and grounds support our peaceful retreat. Nothing beats coming back together – 50 yogis lying on their mats and sharing time, love and bliss…

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

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Concluding our half-term on saucha

I’m guessing you’re all pretty familiar by now with the idea that saucha means cleansing, purification! We’ll begin this our last class of the term with kapalabhati. It’s a great cleanser, being the skull-shining breath. Then we’ll stand for the Sun Breath. Now this one’s a superb cleanser for the aura – the energy field.

Let’s celebrate the summer with three salutations to the sun, followed by chanting the seed sounds. This practice is great for cleansing the chakras. Then we’ll work with three salutations to the earth and again chant the seed sounds.

Moving through squat (our go-to posture to take us to the mat), we’ll meet the camel pose. This beautiful posture allows us to open and cleanse the heart. Resting in swan will take us neatly into our challenge pose. Last time now – one big effort – variation on the swan has so improved!

We’ll complete our asanas with the mermaid. It’s always good to finish on a twist, and we know that twists are incredibly efficient at improving the digestive system. We think of saucha as we speed up elimination and make it more thorough.

Meditation is Bindu Kriya. This is a form of tratak which is one of the shat karmas – the six acts of purification. Closing the eyes you visualise a velvety blackness. Place a white square on the darkness and then draw a black spot in the centre of the white square. Focus on that black spot, bindi or bindu. This practise will cleanse the mind of it’s busy monkey-chattering. it’s enormously helpful for improving the memory, too.

Relaxation is Anu Loma Viloma Kriya. We’ve practised this relaxation technique throughout this half-term. The repetition will have allowed us to fully appreciate its benefits. They are many, but you may have noticed that it cleanses away worry, and allows us to totally relax on all levels.

Do have a brilliant summer holiday, and continue your cleansing. I look forward to our autumn term which begins on September 14th. Love, light and blessings, Carole.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Eat with awareness

Saucha is our watchword for this half-term. Cleansing takes many forms from cleansing your aura when you take a shower, to playing the Gregorian chants to clear negativity from your living space. Three of the Shat Karmas – the six acts of purification – are concerned with the digestive system. Our reading this week urges us to ‘eat with awareness’, remembering that eating with full awareness puts us in touch with nature. And that is not just externally, but our own nature as well.

We’ll begin with Kapalabhati, the skull-cleansing exercise. Then we’ll stand for Malla Kriya, ridding ourselves of excess carbon dioxide. On to Uddiyana Bandha, a wonderful cleansing practice for the digestive system.

Now let’s move to some forward and backward bends. Our purpose here is to work ourselves into Parsvottoanasa, a posture which increases the strength and suppleness of the spine while improving the digestive flow and alleviating constipation.

Then we’ll use twists to work ourselves into reverse triangle.

Balance follows, moving towards Eagle pose, Garudasana. This is great for stimulating the lower abdomen! It also strengthens the knees, ankles and calf muscles. We’ll return to the mat using squat pose, and then move on to all fours for Cat. After the exhalation, we’ll engage all three locks or Bandhas.

Resting in Swan pose and then, of course, it’s time for the challenge – the variation of the Swan!

Cool downs take us towards meditation. Now, let’s repeat last week’s exercise. Folk had interesting experiences with this one…It’s in four parts, beginning with the repetition of your full name and moving towards So-Ham.

Relaxation is continuing our work with Anu Loma Viloma Kriya. (Remember that a Kriya is an action and often describes a cleansing action.) This exercise cleanses and rebalances the energies.

Next week is our last class of this term. Returning again on September 14th for a twelve week term. Keep cleansing through the summer, won’t you?

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Cleansing your space

We can’t discuss Saucha, cleansing, without addressing the idea of clearing our space. New folk always wonder why we take our shoes off at the door of a yoga hall, centre or ashram. This action is about cleansing. Our footwear touches the ground that we walk on in the everyday world. Removing our footwear reminds us to leave our everyday world outside. It’s an act of humility, too, as we respect the traditions and philosophies of yoga practice. From a practical and cleansing point of view, removing the shoes means that we leave the rain, dirt and impurities outside of our yoga space!

We discovered last week that three of the Shat Karmas are concerned with the digestive system. Let’s therefore begin this class with Pawanmuktasana 2. This works on the digestive system and tones the abdomen. On to the shoulderstand and plough postures, and then we meet the fish. This posture is great for the respiratory system – another area which requires cleansing.

Nose-to-knee poses have featured prominently in our saucha work. we’ll move from them into the bridges and then proceed to supine twists. The boat pose will take us to sitting where we’ll focus on more twist postures.

Now let’s come into cat pose where we’ll employ uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lock. We’ll rest in swan, and then reacquaint ourselves with our current challenge – the variation on the swan. Such a big cleanser for the heart!

Meditation is in four parts. You begin by focusing on your name – ‘I am Carole Kerton, I am Carole Kerton, I am Carole Kerton’. As you repeat your own name, over and over again, visions and flashes will come to your mind from you past and your life. Then you move to repeating, ‘I am Carole, I am Carole’, so just using your first name. Different flashes may come to your mind. Move now to ‘I am, I am’, and observe the shift in your mindset. Finish with the repetition of ‘So-Ham, So-Ham’. This means, ‘I am that I am.’ This is the sound of the breath. SO represents the cosmic consciousness, and HAM represents the individual consciousness.

Relaxation is our aura cleanser and energy balancer, Anu Loma Viloma Kriya. Yoga practice cleanses the space in which we work. Chanting around your home, and playing the Gregorian chants, is a great way of cleansing your living space.

Last day of term is July 20th.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Six Acts of Purification

In Hatha Yoga, there are six acts of purification or Shat Karmas. These are often referred to as Kriyas and they are as follows:

NETI – nasal cleansing

DHAUTI: body-cleansing,(tongue-scraping falls into this category)

NAULI: abdominal cleansing (the first step towards this is mastery of the abdominal lock)

BASTI: colon cleansing

KAPALABHATI: skull cleansing

TRATAK: cleansing for the eyes

We’re focusing on the first of the niyamas – Saucha. All of the above practices relate to saucha, which means cleansing or purification.

Let’s begin with one of the Shat Karmas – kapalabhati. This is a pranayama technique as well as a kriya. We’ll then proceed to Malla kriya and then work with the abdominal lock, Uddiyana Bandha. This is the first step to Nauli, another of our Shat Karmas.

Salute to the Sun follows. Let’s try three rounds. Three of our Shat Karmas are concerned with the digestive system, and this sequence is great for getting everything moving!

Now for a balance. We’ll meet the Dancer’s pose. All of yoga practice shows us the liberation that can be gained by establishing healthy discipline. This pose is wonderfully expansive and free.

Salute to the Moon, practised three times will take us into a gentle place where we calm and cleanse the mind.

Back down to the mat through the squat and on to all fours for the Cat stretch and breath. Let’s add the abdominal lock at the end of each out-breath.

Pushing back into Swan to rest, and then we come to our challenge pose – the variation on the Swan. How are we doing? Gaining flexibility? Opening the shoulders, hips and, most importantly, heart?

Meditation is another Shat Karma. This time Tratak to cleanse the eyes.

Relaxation is another Kriya – Anu Loma Viloma Kriya.

It’s so interesting to explore inner cleansing in our sessions. In the West we’re so engrossed with outer cleansing…

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

The yogi fully embraces both internal and external cleanliness. Saucha is Patanjali’s guide on this point, and as we progress with our yoga practice, we realise that cleansing the mind is crucial, too. Then we can be fit to concentrate on higher things.

We’ll begin with a focus on the breath as we perform a supine movement – opening and closing the book. This rolling from side to side, working with the breath, is a time to fully connect the mind to the body. To cleanse away the busy everyday thoughts and to become truly present. We’ll follow this with the nose-to-knee poses which aid with cleansing the digestion. Then we’ll move into an easy twist, and a tougher twist. Twists are great for speeding up elimination and making it more thorough!

Bridge movements help us to open the heart. Cleansing the emotions is all part of saucha.

Let’s rest in Deviasana, the goddess, before using the boat to come to sitting. We’ll meet another heart-opener here – the cobra – and then continue with locust and bow. These will be a great preparation for our challenge, the variation of the swan pose. What a great heart-opener this is! We’re opening the front and the back of the heart…

Moving on to our pranayama technique, brahmari, we’ll remain on the knees if possible. Coming forward as we hum away the out-breath is perfect for expelling stale air from the base of the lungs. Cleansing again! But brahmari also clears the throat and the ears. Let’s mention hopi candles at some point in this practice. They’re designed to remove wax from the ears in a gentle and natural way.

Meditation returns us to the idea of cleansing the emotions. We’re going to ‘cut the ties that bind’.

Relaxation allows us to clear and re-balance our energies. Anu Loma Viloma is a fitting completion to our practice, and we’ll go out into the world feeling clean, fresh and renewed.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Structure then liberation

We’re focusing on the first of the Niyamas – SAUCHA, cleanliness or purity. Last week we talked about tongue-scrapers and this week we’ll look at the practice of neti – a most efficient way of cleansing the nasal passages.

Whenever we talk about inner cleansing, our go-to practice is Kapalabhati. So we’ll begin our class here. Kapalabhati is the skull-cleansing breath where we make the exhalation active and the inhalation passive. Let’s do three rounds with 20 sharp pull-ins of the abdomen in each round, expelling the air briskly from the nostrils.

From here we’ll stand for Malla Kriya. This is another cleansing practice. As we whoosh out the air through the mouth, we expel excess carbon dioxide. It is this excess which makes us feel tired.

On to the tree of life breath – yoga being like a tree is an analogy used in our reading. The structure which yoga brings to your life gives you a strong, supportive frame-work. When that’s in place, we experience freedom, liberation. We’re safe to explore fully. Let’s add ujjayi breathing to the movements in tree of life.

On to some standing forward bends. These are wonderfully cleansing and calming for the mind. We’ll follow these with twists, cleansing for the digestive tract.  Let’s try forward bends with the legs wide, and then repeat the twists. Yoga’s so great for getting everything moving! The best way to cleanse is to stimulate all the flowing systems in the body, to work with total awareness, and to keep the mind connected to the flow within the body.

We’ll return to the reference of the tree as we practice the tree balance and then move into the eagle. This will stimulate the lowest part of the body and is a great lead into another go-to cleansing practice – uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lift.

Taking ourselves down to the mat through squat, we’ll come into the all fours cat position and then resume our work with the challenge pose – the variation on swan. This is sometimes described as the squashed frog, which is rather unkind but does give you the right idea!

After the cool-downs, it will be time for meditation. We’re going to focus on the sacral chakra and work with its seed sound, VAM. The sacral chakra is associated with water so it fits well with our flow theme. It brings us in touch with our emotions and the cleansing of them.

Relaxation is our energy cleanser – Anu Loma Viloma Kriya. A ‘kriya’ is an action of cleansing.

Years ago, one of my students used to say that she came into class like an old wrinkled shirt, and I sent her out again all ironed and pristine! I do hope that you all feel that way after this class…

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti