Circle of Joy

One of my favourite areas to work with in my own practice is my shoulders. They tend to be the first place that I feel tension and I have learnt over the years to be aware of that. When my shoulders are a bit tight it is my bodies way of telling me I’m doing too much. I use this as an opportunity to pause and take stock of what is causing the tension, reassess my priorities and hopefully rearrange things so I can avoid it escalating.

Sometimes in life however it isn’t easy or possible to just let go, things need to be done, unexpected challenges can arise and everything can seem like a priority. To get through those challenging times it is helpful to remain aware of what is happening and the effects it is having on our bodies and minds. If we do this and take a little time each day to release the tension that can build up it means we are much better equipped to tackle all of those other tasks without risk of burning out.

The Circle of Joy series is one of my favourite practices for times like this, it is short so can easily fit into a busy day, doesn’t require warming up so can be done anytime and never fails to release tension through my shoulders and arms as well as calming my mind. The flowing movements with the breath allow it to become a moving meditation which is easy to fit into 5 minutes

I first experienced this practice during my teacher training when the lovely Fiona Hyde from Williamstown Yoga shared it with me. Since then I have come across a few other versions and played with it a lot so it may well have evolved from what Fiona shared with me. I am including it here with a few options which I’ve developed over the years. This sequence can be practiced seated or standing, you will need room around you – about your arms length out in front, behind and to the sides. Hope you enjoy it…

  1. Start with hand together in Namaskar Mudra, palms together in the heartspace. Inhale fully here.
  2. On the exhalation interlock your fingers and open your palms out in front at chest height, lengthening the arms without locking the elbows.
  3. Inhale and float the hands up above the head, palms still facing away from you.
  4. Exhale and separate your hands, taking them out to the sides and behind your back where the palms come together again.
  5. Inhale and once again interlock your fingers and lift your arms, opening through the chest and collarbone.
  6. Exhale and fold into a forward bend, continuing to lift the arms behind you. If you are standing keep your knees soft as you fold forwards.
  7. Inhale to come back upright from the forward bend.
  8. Exhale to relax and release your arms and hands and bring them back to Namaskar Mudra in the heartspace.

That is the whole sequence, here are a few notes on how to practice it and adapt if needed for yourself.

  • I usually practice at least four rounds of this sequence but even just one or two can help soften the whole shoulder region.
  • I have given the instructions to flow with the breath but it can also be very nice to pause in each stage for a breath or three, or if you have a favourite part of the sequence to stop there for a few breaths then resume the flow for the rest of the practice.
  • If you can remember it is helpful to swap the interlock of your fingers each round that you do. This might feel strange but will become less so with practice.
  • If your shoulders are very tight or you are working with or recovering from an injury instead of joining the hands behind your back you can keep them shoulder distance apart and lengthen them up and away so you still get that lovely feeling of opening through the chest without causing any discomfort.
  • For my prenatal students I often leave out the forward bend, if you have lower back issues you might like to do the same or just keep it very gentle.

Hope you enjoy this sequence as much as I do. It is one that I will be sharing at my next yoga retreat Mother Nature, Mother Nurture on May 6th, 7th and 8th at Clearview Retreat.

Love and light,

Belinda

xxx

Yoga for Pregnancy

Today’s post is for my pregnant students… some helpful hints for your yoga practice during pregnancy.

One of the best things yoga offers pregnant women is the opportunity to really tune in to their body and their baby, to move in ways that support the growing baby and changing body. To notice how you are feeling, what your energy levels are like, working at a pace and depth in your practice that honours each stage.

There are so many beneficial practices that it is hard to choose which ones to include in a post so instead I am listing some general guidelines which can be applied to all yoga practices.

  1. Never forget to breathe, during pregnancy you need to breathe both for you and your baby, so just keep that breath flowing and work in your physical practice at a level that feels comfortable and allows you to breathe easily and freely. Some pranayama practices such as belly breathing and ujjayi can be really useful however don’t underestimate the power of simple breath awareness, tuning in and remaining conscious or the coming and going of your breath can be relaxing, energising and very calming.
  2. To be gentle or not to be gentle… many people treat pregnant women like they are fragile or unwell. In fact pregnancy is a normal life process so as long as you stick to a few general rules there is no reason why you can’t work strongly, in fact building up strength and endurance during pregnancy helps women to get through labour with less interventions. Those general rules are to keep open space in front for growing babies, legs a little wider during forward bends, no closed twists or strong backbends and if anything doesn’t feel right or creates discomfort then come out of it and let it go. Also to work at a pace and a place that feels comfortable for you on the day, a rule for all of my yoga classes – not just pregnancy yoga!
  3. Pelvic floor work is very important to support the increasing weight of your baby and placenta and to aid in recovery post birth. Your pelvic floor supports all of the abdominal organs and regulates the flow when you go to the toilet – those are the muscles you use to hold on and release urine. Keeping it gently active during standing poses and working with it in a variety of ways to build up both strength and stamina means that you are less likely to have issues after baby arrives.
  4. Attend pregnancy yoga classes. While I do allow pregnant students into my regular classes as I am a qualified prenatal teacher I really enjoy teaching specific pregnancy yoga classes where each practice is selected for the benefits it offers to pregnant women. We work on practices that strengthen and relax, work with the pelvic floor, ease some of the discomforts that can occur during pregnancy, prepare for labour and babies arrival and share each others experiences. Being a part of that journey is a privilege for me and the community that is created amongst the students has built some enduring friendships over the years.
  5. Have fun, enjoy the miracle that is occurring within you. Take time, either in a prenatal yoga class or at home to stop and tune in to your baby, whether they are still very tiny and not yet showing or running out of room and wriggling around. Talk to them, sing to them, tell them everything you are feeling and thinking and hoping. Keep a journal and write down what you experience, you will look back on it in years to come with a smile as you try to remember what life was like before your baby was born.

I wish you all the best for pregnancy, birth and beyond. My prenatal classes run at Harvest Yoga in Kensington on Wednesday evenings, 6-7:15pm. To book or enquire go to www.harvestyoga.com.au.

Love and light,

Belinda