The Dangers of Practicing Yoga

Yoga is growing like wild fire. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people practice yoga in the USA, and the UK is catching up.

Why has yoga become so popular?

The overwhelming popularity of yoga can be attributed to many things. Accessibility, affordability along with the association of ancient spiritual wisdom and a healthy lifestyle, all make yoga very attractive.

Other perceived benefits of yoga such as a lean, strong flexible body, being calm, present, balanced, connected to body and soul, getting rid of back-pain, depression, anxiety; the antidote to a stressed busy mind and lifestyle are also very appealing.

The Dangers of Practicing Yoga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many yoga teachers and students experience injuries caused by how they practice yoga. What I have come to notice, through attending hundreds of yoga classes, is that many people begin yoga hoping to alleviate stress, tension and achy joints, but often, in their pursuit of nirvana, reinforce already existing habits of poor use and coordination.

These repetitive habits are usually caused by simple, everyday activities, such as sitting, walking and standing; being pulled into smartphones or computer screens; and a lack of knowledge, awareness and understanding of how the body functions as a whole integrated system.

We unwittingly bring our habits into the yoga class, most of which are unidentified, and what I refer to as our “blind spots,” because we are usually unaware these blind spots exist, they are therefore difficult to stop.

We cannot stop doing something we do not know we are doing.

 I see this in yoga all the time – students trying to get the pose, position or sequence “right” and, in the process, unwittingly reinforcing already existing, poor habits.   

Why are so many people getting yoga injuries.

Western culture is very competitive, result and goal oriented. It’s often this end-gaining attitude of wanting immediate results and a “get it right” mindset that result in excessive tension and injury.

“The process is much more important than the goal.”

The genius that developed the Alexander Technique said, “It is not the degree of ‘willing’ or ‘trying’, but the way in which the energy is directed, that is going to make the ‘willing’ or ‘trying’ effective.” F.M. Alexander.

“Trying is only emphasizing the thing we already know.”

Yoga emphasizes the qualities of listening to the body, giving quality attention to detail, correcting, adjusting, guiding, not being ego and result oriented. However, we tend to bring our individual character traits and ego into the practice of yoga. We often look around the yoga class to compare, for guidance or feeling we need to be able to do what the other people in the class are doing and becoming very competitive. What I see in others, I can see in myself.

Being aware of our characteristics and habits, and not being so goal, oriented, listening the the body, breath, and having a good understanding of the biomechanics, alignment and balance of the whole self, will create more ease, flow and presence and hopefully prevent injury altogether.

We bring our (unconscious) habits into everything we do.

Many of the yoga classes I have attended over the years do require a great deal of strength, flexibility, endurance, coordination and balance, which are some of the amazing benefits of yoga. The western version/fusion of yoga usually involves various breathing techniques, a sequence of postures, balancing poses, inversions, headstands, shoulder stands, handstands, backbends, seated postures and other Houdini like contortions of the body.

Your body/mind has to be in really good condition to withstand the pace of many yoga classes today. (if not it’s likely you will get injured) 

Popular classes or teachers will usually have lots of students, so no matter how much of an expert, or diligent the teacher is when guiding and making adjustments, it is impossible to observe and guide everyone.

I have attended many classes where teachers do not make corrections or adjustments. This can be for all sorts of reasons, but I’ve noticed that in many cases, people simply do not like being adjusted or touched or the teacher doesnt want to cross that sensitive boundary

So how do we address some of these issues? How can we avoid injuries?

How can we work more intelligently, intuitively to experience ease, flow, precision, balance and poise?

I believe the Alexander Technique addresses many of the underlying causes of injury by understanding our faulty, sensory perception and habits of movement, function and body design.

In many cases, how we perceive ourselves in any given activity or movement can be very different from what is actually happening. This perception is what F.M. Alexander called, “faulty sensory perception.” The basic premise of the Alexander Technique is identifying these unconscious habits and to recalibrate our sensory awareness, (kinaesthetic sense), and learn to undo many of these things we are doing that causes so much tension and pain.

I have been practicing Yoga for over two decades and I am fortunate to say that I have never been injured. I believe this is a direct result of practicing and teaching the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique can be applied to any activity; I would call it a brilliant pre-technique, which can accompany and enhance any activity with awareness, poise, precision and balance.

The method has been around for over 120 years and is practiced all over the world; endorsed by renowned academics, scientists, medical profession, famous actors, singers, musicians and athletes. The Alexander Technique is an education in rediscovering your natural alignment, balance and coordination in anything you do.

Starting lessons with a highly skilled and trained Alexander Technique teacher, (all accredited teachers complete a three year full time training), to observe the biomechanics of the body, will also have you see your undistinguished habits. The teacher will use their skilled hands and carefully crafted words, along with other tools to release the unwanted tension and guide the body, you will experience the potential you, rather than the habitual you.

The common experience after an Alexander Technique lesson is an overall sense of feeling lighter, grounded, poised, calm, present, free, connected and balanced.

A course of 20-30 lessons is recommended to learn the basic principles and procedures in order to apply them to any activity.

To find our more about the Alexander Technique or to find a fully certified teacher near you check the following links:

http://www.alexandertechnique.co.uk

http://www.alexandertechnique.com

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Do you sometimes feel like an animal in a cage?

Trying to hold yourself up is just as tiring as feeling slumped and collapsed. There is a whole industry including the media advising us about all the things to do and all props and apps to buy to maintain good posture. My colleague Adrain Farrell points this out in his excellent article about posture;  he says “good posture is the absence of bad posture”
 or a much better word than posture is poise.
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feeling constrained?

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Do you know of any animals that go the gym

Posture is dynamic, not static or a position as most people think. Being an expert on posture, people often ask me what is the best posture or position? often my quick reply is; “the best posture is the next one, (in other words move and don’t get stuck in anyone posture) were not designed to be stuck in chairs, being stuck in a chair all day  is the equivalent of putting an animal in a cage, we soon lose that dynamic muscle tone and balance you see in animals, young children and athletes. This causes all sorts of long-term health issues.  You don’t see animals going to the gym pushing weights and running on treadmills. They are also not as susceptible to all the various injuries that go hand in hand with sitting for long hours each day or many forms of exercise including yoga.
If you want to discover an intelligent, kind way to get to know how your body works in harmony with its natural design; instead of pushing your body like it’s a mechanical machine and then being surprised when you are in pain or don’t perform well.  Then come and treat yourself to a lesson and find our how the Alexander technique might benefit you.
The Alexander technique has been around for 120 years and is endorsed by the medical profession, the NHS, renowned academics, scientist and may public figures.
I teach regular classes, 1-2-1 lessons  & workshops in Central London: visit my website for more details.
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Mindful Eating & Alexander Technique

I attended a silent 10 day Vipassana retreat which inspired me to write this article.  All of the activities were conducted in complete silence. Eating was one of the rituals I most enjoyed; as it allowed me to be completely immersed in the whole process of eating, which was an amazing experience. I had time to notice my habits around eating, such as my posture and how quickly I usually eat; also to consider the whole journey of how the delicious vegetarian food arrived on my plate.

This made me think about how noisy and distracting eating usually is, and how there has been a fundamental shift in what we eat, and the way we eat in the last two decades; which is having a big impact on our health. We live in a world of fast foods, eating out, takeaways, microwave/oven dinners, a bombardment of information, distractions and visual pollution. Like many habits, eating is not that conscious for most people.

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Eating on the move

We often gulp food down without giving our attention to taste, texture, smell, colour and sensation. We spend little time to consider where the food is from, how it was cooked, grown or produced. The decline of eating meals at a table is also more apparent than ever, with 35% eating their breakfast in front of the TV or smartphone, and almost half eating dinner while watching TV slouched on the couch.

 

Research has shown that being present while we eat plays an important role in digestion and the amount of food we consume. If we’re distracted we eat more! Also, the mind forgets we had a meal when distracted so it’s likely we will be snacking later; so eating when relaxed and collapsed in front the TV, or working at a desk, on a mobile device, or on the move isn’t such a good idea: also it’s wise to remember that after eating it takes about twenty minutes for the brain to give the body the signal that it full.

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multi-tasking

If you are stressed, or in a rush when eating, you don’t digest your food properly. This can be the cause of all sorts of health problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation,  acid reflux and heartburn to name a few.

The good news is many of these common problems can be reduced or eliminated if we are organised in a more poised and balanced way; this give us time to eat and adopt healthy eating habits.

I  truly believe the Alexander technique is a wonderful life skill that addresses the demands and challenges of contemporary living.  So much of what we do is habitual, eating and movement come under this umbrella of unconscious habits. At the heart of the Alexander Technique is a very simple idea, which is being present and poised in your activities. Eating is a great activity to practice being present; when we are present there is the potential for more ease, poise, balance, grace, appreciation and satisfaction.

Here are a few ideas that can lead to a much healthier attitude and approach to eating.

These five basic Alexander principles can be used when eating. I would like to add that it is best to have lessons with an Alexander teacher for these ideas to make more sense and  more importantly to experience some of the wonderful benefits.

See if you can begin this practice with just one meal a day.

(1)  Awareness: Identifying your habits around food, how do you eat, are you stressed? Rushed? Distracted? Are you collapsed on the chair/sofa?

(2) Inhibition: Stopping yourself from doing the unhelpful habit. This could be poor posture, being distracted, eating too quickly and not tasting and chewing food properly.

(3) Means whereby: This is where we consider the process of eating, rather than the end result. Explore the taste, smell, sensation and colour. Think about the journey of how the food got to your plate, how you eat, how tight are your shoulders, hands and jaw when you eat?

(5) Primary control.  This brings our attention to the delicate relationship of the head relative to the rest of the torso. In other words, are you compressing your body when you eat? What is happening to your posture? Is your head poking forward and down into your plate?

(6) Force of habit: This is one of the biggest obstacles to change, noticing how strong your  habits are around food. This is where the help of a teacher is really valuable. How easily are you distracted, slumped, rushed and tense when you eat?

(7) Mind wondering: This is where the mind wonders off. Notice how easily distracted you are.  I find not having a mobile phone helps. Also by creating the intention to be present will be enormously helpful.

When you choose to be mindful around the habit of eating,  you are less likely to shovel the food down, or be slumped over the food.  You can consider your relationship to your body and the food, and you can ask the questions are you comfortably erect? Are you present?  These questions can have an immediate influence on the quality of your eating habits and posture, all of which impact our health.

Give yourself enough time to eat.

Give a blessing or thanks for food, a moment to consider how the food got to you; the sun, earth, water, growers, producers, packers and delivery vehicles etc, and people who don’t have food.

Hold the utensils lightly in your hand, noticing if the grip is tight, even swapping the knife and fork around, to get you out of your habit of always holding the knife or fork in the same hand.

A great way to practice being present when eating is to ask a question about the food, such as what’s the taste like? The texture? Colour? Smell? Origin etc?

Chewing your food is really important; do this as slowly as you can you, will get to experience the full sensation, smell and flavours of the food.

Eating is so primal and necessary to life; it can also be one of the great healthy pleasures in life, or it can turn into another unhealthy habit.  Enjoy exploring healthy mindful eating habits which can transform your health and give you greater vitality and enjoyment.

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Fresh new vision

The Alexander Technique Is an amazing practical tool to help bring life’s  experiences alive. Much like a musical instrument needs tuning to come alive; the Alexander Technique is a tool to tune all of our senses which brings the mind, body and spirit alive.

This work is remarkably simple but not easy, it not about learning more like informative learning it’s transformative learning which means we take away what in the way of you being natural, awake and alive.

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barefoot walking is so grounding and healthy

I was out in the garden walking bare foot with students today, touching the earth, awakening ourselves to the wonder of  nature, it is so rewarding to share this gift of being alive and tuning ourselves up; which helps us rediscover our natural sense of ease, poise and balance. Spring! is a great time to wake up and feel revitalised and awake, we can see with new eyes and a fresh perspective, here are a few thoughts on seeing with fresh eyes.

Our vision is usually the dominant sense; it is how we gather most of the information about the world.

 

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Spring cherry blosson

When we look at an object/subject this is changed by the observer, science calls this the observer effect.

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

As the saying goes “we only see what we want to see”

We don’t experience life with fresh eyes, as a child does.

A child has the quality of a beginners mind, seeing with excitement, awe, wonder, passion, vividness, clarity, sharpness and alertness.

We place meaning, opinions, judgements, evaluations and a personal test on everything we see and often relate it back to a past experience.

So the experience is never a fresh new experience as would be experienced through a beginners mind.

Seeing with a beginners mind, we can give up the arrogance of knowing, instead have the curiosity of not knowing, which will engage and stimulate interest, freshness and looking with new eyes.

Imagine being blind for years then suddenly being able to see.

How much excitement, interest and curiosity would be present?

I’m sure it would be quite magical seeing for the first time.

Spring is a great time to start to see with a beginners mind.

Creating the possibility of seeing with complete attention.

Having a whole new excitement about seeing, curiously interested and engaged, allowing and inviting what you see with bright open eyes.

Looking for colour, texture, depth, light and delight in what you are seeing.

Also a great practice is looking into people’s eyes, really being with them, we so rarely do this. I also practised looking into my own eyes, I did this for 5-10 minutes a day for a whole week. I have never done this before, It was quite an experience. This will be a good practice for being with others and looking into their eyes, something we don’t really do so easily.

Really practice looking and being curiously engaged for no reason.

Also see if you can maintain awareness of your body, balance and coordination., in other words, we want to be extending and expanding in the body, not pulling down and compressing.  This will improve our overall functioning of the body including vision.

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Most importantly have fun! Notice all the things you don’t normally notice. Think of having a light spring! in your step and a smile! on your face.

 

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Body Balance “Use it or lose it”

  “Use it or lose it”

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As you get older your balance decreases,  but this doesn’t have to be the case. Balance is often neglected and not appreciated and if we don’t use it or maintain it, we lose it. 25% of falls among older people are caused by poor balance.

If you improve your balance you will see lots of other benefits, such as better coordination, posture, more ease in movement, being more alert, increased capacity to breathe, more energy, being more present, less fearful and prone to injury.

So what interferes with balance, and how does balance deteriorate?

Here are some of the most common reasons; excessive tension, getting older, lack of exercise, gravity, lack of awareness, injury and sedentary culture.

These are some solutions, suggestions for improving and restoring your balance.

There are many parts of the body that help to maintain balance, but the principle mechanism for balance are the vestibular sensors in the ears.

The vestibular sensors in both ears are designed to keep the body aligned over the center of gravity.  Have you ever had a bash in the ear, or you spin around, this upsets the balancing mechanisms causing you to feel dizzy, equally if the head is well balanced on top of the spine in such a way, that head is going upwards relative to the spine and the spine is lengthening; this facilitates optimal balance in the spine and ear sensors.

Proprioception (body position awareness), and vision are equally important,  these parts work together, contributing equally or relying more on one system or two, to keep us stable and balanced.

Your eyes tell you how our body is oriented with the ground. They help you stay upright. You only have to close your eyes to appreciate the importance of vision; most of us start to sway ever so slightly. Try closing your eyes and lift one foot off the ground; you’ll appreciate the stabilizing effect of vision.

The feet are often overlooked but also play an essential part in balance.

Footwear is often about fashion rather than comfort or support.

Most peoples shoes are to small or pointed, with heels that are too high, shoes need to be foot shaped.

Practice being present with you feet, we live predominately in our heads, when you get present with your feet you are more grounded, supported, balanced and present in your body, you will discover your connection to the surface of the earth.  I love to walk on the grass, the earth, the ground with my shoes off, whenever and wherever possible,  by doing this you take the negative charge from the earth, which is really healthy,  healing, balancing and energising.

Challenge Your Balance.

If you are a regular walker, try walking on rough terrain, take advantage of it to challenge your balance. Frank Forencich, an exercise expert and human biologist says: “Every little rock, every uneven root, every slippery patch of moss…boosts the detection of tactile signals. It wakes up the sensory nervous system and makes your body smarter.”

Click on picture below to see how beneficial it is to walk on the Earth.

You are an Electrical Being, and the Earth's Surface is Electrically Conductive

You are an Electrical Being, and the Earth’s Surface is Electrically Conductive

One-legged standing exercises are some of the most effective and challenging; doing it while keeping your body still, relies mainly on proprioceptors in your feet, ankles, and legs to maintain balance.

Balance on one foot at every opportunity; for example, while shaving or brushing your teeth, standing or waiting somewhere. This will develop your proprioception, which is your sense register which gives you a sense of space, balance, orientation and equilibrium.

Closing the eyes makes it harder, challenging more receptors. The vestibular system kicks in only if you struggle to stay still- again wobbling is good, because it wakes up all the stabilising muscles.

Falls or injuries will create a mindset where we will avoid exercising, which limits movement, resulting in inactivity, stiffness, being fearful. This eventually decline is so evident in elderly people; wonder how they became so tight and stiff. Often it was a minor fall that started this decline.

Balance, once we start to loose it, it can become a slippery slope.

Balance, once we start to loose it, it can become a slippery slope.

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