Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre

International Yoga Training Centres  
Goa | Ireland

Archive for : November, 2015

Grounding our Spirit during the Winter Months

Ayurveda and Yoga to lift our Spirits in the Darkness

An article on yoga, ayurveda and the seasons by Kundalini teacher & Himalaya Yoga Valley philosophy teacher Viriam Kaur.

Listening to the seasonal shifts of the year when we roll out our mat and when we cook our supper can give us nourishment as seasons change, temperatures get cooler and schedules get more hectic.

Winter is dominated by vata and kapha energies, which means that energy is moving both upward and downward. Vata is a downward flow of energy, while Kapha is an upward flow. Also in winter, there is a natural drawing inward, a pull towards hibernation so in order to be out in the world, we need a grounded and dynamic practice that connects us to our feet, legs and hips.  Bringing us into our body.

Kapha is a combination or the elements of earth and water, and manifests as qualities of heaviness, coldness, dullness, gentleness and a slow energy. We would often use these words often to describe how we feel in winter. Vata is the element of air and manifests as the qualities of dryness, erraticness, nervous energy and is often typified by energy that is used up quickly,Kapha can help us feel grounded, while Vata can motivate us to move. We need both. Vata is the creative inspiration and Kapha helps us get things done.

So there is a juggling act in Winter time between the push and pull for hibernation and the expectation to be social over the festive season. Through yoga, ayurveda and awareness we can bring ourselves into balance.

How can you support your body with asana? When you practice downward dog, connect to the sensation in your hands and feet – imagine roots growing down into the earth – supporting, grounding, nourishing. Again in standing postures connect to the earth beneath you and use grounding squats to strengthen legs and ankles. Long deep breathing gives us nourishment.

School Director & Senior Yoga Teacher Lalit advises that any asanas such as padmasana, yogamudrasana, and most seated forward folds that bring blood flow, healthy pressure and thus prana to the perineum area are excellent for nourishing the muladhara chakra and further assisting in the grounding process.

To shake up your practice, quite literally, try shaking. Stand with your feet hip width apart, grounded. Knees are slightly bent. Imagine a little shake starting in your pelvis – like a leaf blowing in the wind – let the shake build up through your hips, lower back, down into your knees and ankles. Let the shake ripple through your spine, into your shoulders and neck, down through the arms and all the way to the top of the head. Keep shaking – it will get stronger and lighter, just like the wind. Keep your feet grounded throughout the whole exercise – keep going for at least five minutes, keep your feet on the earth and just shake out any negativity and build your energy.

Take your cues from Nature, it is a time of hibernation, a shedding, a letting go. So take the time to go inward. Take time to meditate or practice yoga nidra. Give your body and mind space. Kapha invites us to look at the areas in our lives where we might feel stuck. Winter depression can take hold with the lack of light and warmth, so take time to connect to the light within. Try a tratakam (gazing) meditation with a flickering candle.

“According to the Atharva Veda, Ayurveda’s timeless education of sadhana (daily consccious practice) is the most effective spiritual path to awaken consciousness and enhance our Inner Medicine potential for healing ourselves,” says Maya Tiwari. “When the seasons shift we experience a sympathetic internal shift. All life-forms open themselves up to receive cosmic redirection from nature during these transitions,” says Maya Tiwari.

Winter is a time of planning – clearing the ground, ready to sow the seeds of new ideas and creative projects in the Spring. Honour your time and boundaries this Winter. Naturally it is also the party season – so as Nature goes inwards and invites us to follow, Christmas and New Year’s invite us into the world. Find balance, through creating boundaries and honouring your time. It’s fine to go out, but make sure you carve out enough time at home to be with yourself.

The vibe of our foods should be warming and nourishing, so it is not a time to fast and it is a good idea to moderate your intake of salads, raw foods, ice creams etc. Eat consciously and use the warming spices of ayurveda like ginger, but avoid bitter spices (turmeric for example is bitter, pungent and astringent – good for balancing Kapha but can increase Vata and Pitta). You can also eat a little more in Winter time, but eat with awareness – listen to your body. Work out what nourishes you, not just looking for quick fixes and emotional pick me ups like chocolate. Vata-balancing foods are good and are in keep with the foods that are in season, so soups and stews made from root vegetables. Cold and dried foods will upset the nervous system making it difficult to digest our food, while naturally we need a lot of digestive fire to digest cold foods. There is a simple recipe for mung beans and rice (kichadi) at the end.

Himalaya Yoga Valleys Ayurvedic lecturer Dr Rohit suggests using herbs or ayurvedic supplements like ashwagandha, tulsi and guduchi.  Try a fresh ginger tea with a pinch of black pepper and tulsi (holy basil).

Ayurveda is a holistic system which springs from the vision of Vedic rishis. The greatest physicians, physicists, and theologians of all times, the rishis, saw the universe’s spiritual anatomy and understood its interworkings with the human body. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. The body types are vata (air), pitta (fire), kapha (earth/water). Once we have established our body type, we can use it to find the best diet, types of massage or styles of yoga to suit us.

Our path to self-healing and self-realization comes from listening to ourselves. Listening to our bodies and souls. We have to learn what nourishes us and what depletes us and this is reflected in how we practice our yoga, how we speak to people, what we eat and how we spend our time. On or off the mat, it’s time to listen. Winter is a great time to go inwards.

Kichadi (Mung Beans and Rice)
This is a wonderful year round food that is easy to make and has infinite variety depending on your choice of vegetables. At this time of year, it is good to include root vegetables like beetroot and sweet potatoes. It is great for people on a budget. Mung beans are amazing for your digestion.

1 C mung beans 1 t turmeric/ haldi
1 C basmatti rice 6-8 peppercorns
9 C water 1 t garam masala
½ cup sesame oil Salt, Tamari or Bragg’s to taste
4-6 cups chopped vegetables of choice 1 T sweet basil/or any other herb or spice that you like – experiment!
2 onions chopped 2 bay leaves/ or curry leaves
1/3 C minced fresh ginger root Seeds from 5 cardamon pods
½ tsp mustard seeds

Pinch asafoetida (hing)

8-10 cloves garlic minced

½ t crushed red chiles
(HOT! More or less to taste… optional)

Soak mung over night. Wash beans and rice. Bring water to boil, add rice and beans and let boil over medium heat. (you can also cook separately if you prefer) You can add cardamom and peppercorns to water and a pinch of asfoetida (hing).

Heat oil and add mustard seeds in a frying pan and pop! Then add whatever ground spices you like, but namely turmeric (very  healing) another pinch of asafoetida (de-gasses lentils!) and then garam masala and whatever else. Then once spices are cooked together  briefly, add onions and lots of garlic and ginger (holy trinity!) Add to the pot of mung and rice. You can cook vegetables within the pot or separately.

Viriam Kaur

You can find out more about Viriam on our Teachers Page and you can also find out more about her workshops, retreats and classes in Goa and London at www.organickarma.co.uk






Born Again Yogini

When I found out I was pregnant I had some pretty clear visions of the mother to be I would be…Radiant, glowing, peaceful and maternal. I often struggled being these things when I was not pregnant so I am not sure why exactly I thought that surging hormones, rapid weight gain, rabid mood swings and back pain would bring forth these qualities, but a naive first time mother can dream.

I was also sure that I would be fully immersed in a yoga practice that would support me in pregnancy, labour and motherhood. I’m going to be honest here- I have never done less yoga than when I was pregnant and now 1 year on from the birth of my son things have not improved much.  But I’m OK with it. Here is the story of how I learned to really practice non attachment.

During the early stages of my pregnancy I was in India, feeling extremely hyper vigilant and suddenly terrified of anything that might harm my unborn baby- perhaps it is maternal instinct but everything felt like a major threat- the water (mineral water boiled THREE times), the food (what about the GERMS!), my beautiful dogs (what about the PARASITES!), and sadly my yoga practice… I was sure- even with all of my yoga education that somehow my practice was a threat to the safety of my pin head sized miracle growing in my belly.

I know now, looking back, that of course there was no threat from my yoga practice- quite the opposite, but I also know that I needed to listen to my instincts; hide in my bedroom and plan my escape from India, back to Europe as quickly as possible because if I had not done those things I would have cracked up.

When I got back to Europe I was 5 months pregnant and the fear surrounding my practice evaporated. But then the exhaustion set in. I just could not muster enough energy to get out of bed some days let alone complete a modified sun salutation. I started to feel like a yoga fraud. I was a yoga studio owner and educator who was spending the majority of my time on the couch watching Say Yes to the Dress using my rolled up yoga mat as a tray table to eat bowls of popcorn from. I was terrified the yoga police would burst through the door and arrest me. Every week I committed to taking a pregnancy yoga class with our amazing pre natal guru Lisa at Himalaya Yoga Valley and every week I fell asleep, or showed up 20 minutes late because I was too slow walking to our studio and every week I felt like a yoga failure without even stepping foot into a yoga class.

Finally, when the tiredness passed at around the 6 month mark, I sprung back in to my practice. I felt invigorated and at peace, edging slowly towards the hallmark card pregnant yoga lady that had been so far, so elusive.

And then one week into this glorious phase of pre natal yoga joy the cracks started to show.  In my rib. All through my pregnancy I had a terrible cough- according to my obstetrician this was common and it would clear when I had the baby. During a particularly strenuous coughing session I cracked a rib and ended up in the emergency room in excruticating pain. Through the tears I asked the midwife if labour would be this painful. She just smiled at me and said nothing. Kind soul.

I was sent home with no drugs and advice that I should rest. I could not move, sleep, walk long distances or even pick up my yoga mat to use it as a tray table (these were dark times) and the thought of yoga was laughable. I spent the next two months trying to manage my injury as baby grew bigger and bigger and my expanding ribs screamed at me for relief.

I could not wait to go in to labour and experience the gentle birth I had worked towards all through my pregnancy. I had coaching from the most wonderful midwife and yogini Bindu, from Bindus Birth Preparation. I was extremely confident that my body was entirely designed to deliver a baby in a peaceful and positive way and although I expected pain I was prepared for it all.

And then my waters broke- and we rushed to the hospital without the bag I had packed and had sitting next to my bed for the last 4 months, without my birthing ball, without my hospital file and without any money to pay for the taxi. Because I was prepared and calm you see.

In the hospital they noticed that my son’s heart rate was a little high, that I seemed to be progressing a little too fast and that perhaps he was in distress. I won’t go in to the details of my labor experience because I truly believe that gentle, positive and happy births are possible and they are also not the ones you hear about enough because they are not as exciting. I don’t want to add to the negativity that expectant mothers face with dramatic horror stories void of the beauty that is bringing life into the world. I truly believe that women are at their most powerful when birthing and this power is often depleted by the fear that is instilled in us from the minute we conceive.

Unfortunately I ended up in an emergency situation, it can happen. Mostly it doesn’t. I’m beyond grateful I was in a hospital and that it was 2014 not 1914 and there were things that could be done to make sure my baby arrived safely and without injury into the world. The birth was extremely traumatic- physically and psychologically for my baby, my husband and I, but I genuinely believe that is an exception rather than the norm. In my case maybe I could have been more balanced in my view of birth and included the possibility of struggle or emergency and it would have benefited me as I actually of believed I would do a few yoga breaths and he would pop out. Not so for me but doesn’t mean it’s not possible ladies!

But here is the great part. In my arms was the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes upon. I never thought he could be more beautiful than he was that moment they placed him on my chest but he just keeps on keeping on being more and more perfect every day-in fact not a moment passes where he doesn’t get more beautiful.

OK, babyswoon over! What about my yoga practice? Now that the pressure was off my ribs, the cough was gone and the stitches were dissolving, would I roll out my yoga mat and get back into it?

Sure I would. For exactly 30 seconds before my little bundle of screeching joy would demand to be breastfed or held or sung to or have his nappy changed.

Here was the new mothers yoga sequence I developed.

Inhale, raise the arms

Pick up baby and breast feed for 15 minutes 

Exhale, fold forward- for the first time in your yoga life try NOT to focus on the area between your perineum and anus. No, seriously. Don’t.  Wait a few months.

Pick up baby and breast feed for 30 minutes

Inhale, half lift

Pick up baby and breast feed 12 minutes

No time for forward fold 

Clean runny poo off your yoga mat and out of your hair

Exhale, forward fold

Do the laundry. Are you crazy? Why are you doing a sun salutation? You have to wash 678 baby gros. 

Burst into tears and accuse your husband of being a selfish twat because he went to the shop for 6 minutes.

3 second closing Savasana. 

Accidentally pass out and wake up to screaming baby. 

Feel free to use that sequence and make it yours ladies…

So, my postpartum practice started off shakily and really I am not sure how much better it has gotten in the last year in terms of physical practice but here are a few things I have learned about yoga and being a new mom.

I have to look after my babies momma. He only has one, and no matter how busy, tired or stressed she is she deserves to be well nourished, practice self care through yoga and to have a little time for herself. These days my practice is usually much shorter but much better than the first few weeks of motherhood. I try to take 15-20 minutes in the morning to practice Surya Namaskar, some standing postures, grounding seated postures, inversions and most importantly pranayama and that is enough.

This may not seem much to yoga folk like the old me who had a lot of time to invest in my physical practice but I have truly come to appreciate the middle ground approach that is taken by people here in India to incorporate yoga into their lives without attachment to the outcome. I am so grateful to be able to have that time, the incredible benefits of that practice, no matter how short and to be able to go back to being a better mother than before I stepped onto my mat.

Your baby will bring you closer to enlightenment. One of the most life changing aspects of parenthood that no one can prepare you for is how vulnerable you become. You can not negotiate with the love that takes over. You can not play games, avoid commitment or run for the hills like you can with any other relationship and that can be terrifying. The greatest spiritual growth I have experienced did not come from chanting mantra, reading the yoga sutras or deep in meditation- it came from having to face a love so great, so powerful that it left me entirely open to the possibility of real loss, pain and of course immense joy. I found the courage to face that love with an open heart and I am proud of the spiritual growth that took place for that to happen.

Yoga is about letting go. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know now that during my early days of pregnancy and perhaps after my son was born I could have done more in terms of a physical practice but I think as new mothers we have so many expectations to meet- from ourselves, the world, our families and of course our little people. If yoga becomes another expectation or burden it can lose it’s joy. For me it brought me guilt rather than peace. Of course I know that was not yogas fault, it was me being hard on myself and I wish the me sitting here now could reach back in time and say- it’s OK, you’ll get your practice back, enjoy this time.

Yoga can only make things better. Try to find space for yoga in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t have to be a 2 hour practice, it doesn’t have to be any asana at all. It could be a 5 minute meditation, a 15 minute pranayama session or if you are willing to ask most people will jump at the chance to help- get someone to watch baby for 30 minutes or an hour and get into a restorative or dynamic practice. Your baby will benefit so much from your yoga practice.

The early days are hard and wonderful and maddening and magical and one thing is for sure- they get easier. Your baby will go from needing constant care, attention, and feeding in the early weeks to happily playing on his own mat while you crack on with your 40 minute practice in the later days. Trust that you will get your practice back, that at some point you will reemerge from the shadow of your babies constant needs and that when you do you will find your way back to your mat.

Someone told me to imagine my sons life like a string of pearls. His infancy, they said is only a few pearls on that string and I would forever regret missing any of it. It’s true. Time flies, enjoy your baby. Practice Ahimsa with yourself, forgive yourself, let go of expectations and look at what you have achieved. It’s right there in your arms.

For  practitioners who become parents there can be a huge contrast between your practice then, and your practice now. I think we need to support each other in understanding that every single situation, baby and parent is unique. Many of my peers and mentors never saw any changes in their yoga practice during and after pregnancy and that is completely possible too. Embrace whatever comes your way, take what you can get in terms of time and space but don’t fight the most wonderful change that will ever come your way.

I would like everyone to know that this article you read in 5 minutes only took me 3 months to write during nap times.

Peace and love to all the new moms, the wonderful supportive dads and the beautiful squidges they have created!