The three gunas…

Yogic physiology fascinates me, I love to read new books, explore new ways of feeling and experiencing prana, energy and consciousness both through my yoga practice and through my day to day life. Earlier this year we explored each of the chakras through this blog and today I am sharing another aspect of yogic physiology which we can explore though our own body and experience as well as in the world around us. 

The three gunas.

Sattva                                                                                           Rajas                                                                             Tamas

These are three different energies which are present in everything. I like to think of them as like a braid or plait, entwined together in all things with each one taking it’s turn to be dominant and visible then receding into the background but always there.

Sattva relates to a balanced state of peaceful bliss. Have you ever been in a moment where everything just seemed perfect?  This can happen at life changing events such as falling in love, the birth of a child or achieving a goal or just out of the blue as you look at the moon or hear children laughing or see a beautiful flower.

Rajas relates to activity and busyness, working, running, moving, sometimes this can be productive but it can get out of control so even though you never seem to stop you also never seem to finish anything. Many people spend much of their lives in this state, moving from work to home and back to work feeling overwhelmed by everything.

Tamas relates to lethargy, laziness, static energy. Spending your time lounging around, sleeping in, feeling tired even though you haven’t done much. This is felt often on these cold winter mornings where you just want to stay in bed and it is soooo hard to get up.

So with our yoga practices we work towards balancing these energies. It is important not to look at them and think that you just want to be sattvic all of the time. Like a braid they are all equally necessary, if one strand is missing the braid won’t stay together. If we didn’t have any rajasic energy we would not be able to prepare our food, get work done, achieve our goals. If we didn’t have any tamasic energy we would never rest and restore so would burn out. If we don’t have any sattvic energy we can feel as though we are just going through the motions with no sense of purpose or satisfaction from our life.

The important thing is balance, finding the right energy at the right time. Tamas and rajas are opposite and can be countered by inviting the opposite energy in. So if you are lying in bed and don’t want to get up (tamas) you bring some activity (rajas) into your body. Have a stretch, wiggle your fingers and toes, move around. This helps to balance the tamas with some rajas so you can get out of bed. You probably already do this without even thinking about it. Finding sattva is as easy as taking a moment to breathe, become aware of everything around you, watch the sun rise or set, notice the flowers in bloom or the clouds in the sky.

So far I have only talked about the gunas as they relate to our bodies but they are also everywhere around you. Nature has a tamasic period, winter, where she becomes dormant and energy is low, a rajasic period, spring, where she is active, busy and working and a sattvic period, summer where everything comes to fruition and she can shine in all of her splendour.

Each day has tamas, darkness at nighttime, rajas, sunshine at daytime and sattva, sunrise and sunset – the in-between twilight times where everything is perfectly balanced.

Spend some time this week noticing the three energies at play around you and in your own life. They are always present in one form or another and it is lovely to be able to notice them and their connection to each other and our lives.

Love and light,

Belinda.

xxx

Snuggle Up for Scleroderma

A few years ago I had no idea what Scleroderma was. This is fairly common as there is not much awareness out there about this illness, what it is, what it does or how it is treated.

Then one day Nia came to my yoga class and I have taught her on and off over the past five years or so. As that time has passed I have learnt more about scleroderma both through research and through working with Nia.

For those of you who might not know about scleroderma here is a simplified explanation of the illness and how it affects those who suffer from it.

Scleroderma is an auto-immune disorder, along with type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and many others. The immune systems job is to protect us by  eliminating threats, attacking viruses and bacteria with special defence cells and chemicals. Auto-immune disorders occur when our body wrongly misreads our own cells as enemies and so attacks them. 

In scleroderma the connective tissue is affected, excess collagen being deposited into it so that it thickens and hardens. Connective tissue makes up much of our bodies- our skin, joints, organs are all made up of or contain connective tissue. It is like the mesh that holds us all together, fills the spaces in between organs, joints and skin. Scleroderma can therefore affect the whole body, multiple organs and joints.

It is an illness which can manifest in many different ways and at it’s own pace so different people will have different symptoms and rates of progression. Most commonly the skin and joints are affected becoming swollen and thickened. This is the most visible sign of the condition but less visible are the internal organs which also may be affected.

One of the symptoms of scleroderma is feeling the cold, particularly in the extremities so as an awareness and fundraising campaign this World Sclerodrema Day, June 29th you are invited to Snuggle Up for Scleroderma. Have a sleep in, stay in bed all day if you like, tell your friends and ask for sponsorship.

This brings me back to Nia, who is snuggling up herself, to sponsor her all day sleep in or arrange your own just click here.

I am supporting Nia both through sponsoring her and writing this post for so many reasons. Over the time I have known her she has taught me so much about this illness and about how people deal with lifes challenges. She is a wonderful person, sincere, honest and down to earth. There have been good times and bad times, ups and downs. Nia has struggled, she has fought, she has suffered, she has surrendered, she has been on a very difficult journey which continues to this day. Most of all for me Nia has inspired. We have had some wonderful conversations both in person and through writing about yoga, meditation and life. 

I hope you now have a little more awareness about scleroderma, a little inspiration from the lovely Nia and an excuse for a nice snuggly sleep in on a cold wintery morning.

Love and light,

Belinda

xxx

Be Victorious

We practiced ujjayi breathing in last nights meditation and relaxation class. This has always been one of my favorite pranayama practices for many reasons.

1. It translated and the victorious breath, helping you to overcome and obstacles in life – who wouldn’t love a pracitce that offers that?

2. I am asthmatic and whenever I feel myself getting tight in the chest or in any way having my breath restricted a few rounds of ujjayi slow and deepen my breathing and most of the time I do not need to use medication. I still always have it in hand just in case but honestly can’t remember the last time I needed it!

3. Whether you have a blocked or runny nose, chest infection or any other respiratory ailment this breath seems to bypass blockages allowing full breath without any feelings of shortness.

4. It is a meditation in itself, listening to the sound of the ujjayi breathing slows and calms a busy distracted mind.

5. It switches the nervous system into parasympathetic mode, the rebuilding, proactive phase as opposed to the sympathetic mode which is draining and reactive.

I could go on however then I wouldn’t get around to sharing the how to so lets cut straight to that important part.

This breath is easier when practiced on the exhalation so to begin with start there. With practice and over time you can maintain the breath for both the inhalation and exhalation.

1. Make sure you are comfortable, this practice can be done either seated or lying down but in either position you need to feel the chest is open and you are warm and at rest.

2. Whisper a long slow Haaaaa sound and take note of what happens in the back of your throat as you do so. There is a little muscle there which narrows and tightens to slow the flow of air. Repeat a few times until you are confident you can feel that action at the back of the throat.

3. Now repeat this but with the mouth closed so you are, in effect, whispering through the nose. The sound of the breath is a whispering sound. At the start you can exaggerate the sound but with practice and over time let it soften so it is quite subtle.

4. Five minutes is a good length of time to feel the effects though the longer you practice the more benefits you will gain. Even a few of these breaths in a challenging moment will help you to slow and calm your body and mind.

5. When you feel comfortable you can maintain the narrowed airway on the inhalation as well as the exhalation. Explore the effects of this.

While this is one of the safest breath practices yoga offers with no contraindications always be aware of what is going on for you and how you are feeling. If at any time you become uncomfortable physically, mentally or emotionally release the practice.

Enjoy the victorious breath and may you have a victorious day (can you tell I just love the word victorious!).

Love and light,

Belinda

xxx

Busy making other plans

Sometimes I find myself thinking into the future and saying to myself, “Once we get past this or that then I’ll catch up and get on top of things”. The problem with this way of thinking being that there are always new “this or that”s coming up. Sometimes it is part of our renovation, others general busyness or family stuff or a school term or a month or a job to be done or the car being repaired or the house guests arrive or leave or the weather to change and so on and so on and so on.

Life gets busy, things come up and I try to avoid wishing away my time by hanging out for some golden future where I’m caught up and on top of everything. The John Lennon lyric “Life is just what happens to you while your busy making other plans” really hits home here and I try to remember it when I find myself going into that way of thinking.

Of course sometimes it is great to look to the future and imagine what it will be like when our renovations are finished or the kids are on holidays (we love the holidays!) or a busy time calms down or a goal is achieved. Just so long as I don’t lose touch with the present and what I can learn and experience along the way and don’t get too attached to a future that may never happen.

A lovely meditation to do this is to spend 5 to 10 minutes becoming completely present to whatever is going on for you right now. Without judgement tuning in to your inner world, emotions, thoughts, body and your outer world, work, family, home, activities. Whatever you find, meet it with acceptance and openness to each experience, emotion, thought, sensation. Imagine taking a snapshot of this moment in time that you can then look back on in the future to reflect on any changes that have occurred, and challenges you have met and what else might have come up for you in between now and then.

Love and light,

Belinda

xxx

Creeping up on you

In two days I have had two discussions with students about how changes in your body can creep up on you. One was with my prenatal students about how the changes pregnancy brings seem to go in spurts rather than gradually, the other was about how when you stop doing yoga or other physical exercises you don’t notice your loss of flexibility, strength or stamina until one day you try to do something and you find you can’t.

What I love about yoga is that it brings positive changes which also creep up on you. Time and again I have found myself able to achieve a pose which was previously unobtainable to me and surprise, I can do it. Even though I haven’t practiced it in  while my other practices have built up the strength or opened up the flexibility needed.

These advantages are not limited to the physical body either, I find myself remembering when I suffered with anxiety regularly or breathed through my mouth due to childhood asthma. These and other habits have gradually dissolved with regular yoga practice.

Life with yoga becomes increasingly easier so that even when challenges arise. as they inevitabily will, I am more able to stay centered and deal with them.

Love and light,

Belinda

xxx