Yoga for winter clarity and vitality
The quality of your life depends directly on the state of your mind. When we are joyful and at ease within ourselves, life just seems to flow. However, most of us at some stage experience times of doubt and stress, and it’s in these times that we can feel really unsure of ourselves and struggle making decisions. Maybe we have encountered a confrontation, or are experiencing a problem that we can’t seem to find our way out of. It’s like our minds are crammed with so much ‘stuff’ that we can’t think or see the situation clearly. We find ourselves making lists, weighing our options, asking others for their point of view, lying awake at night mulling things over- just hoping and searching for clarity we need.
Yoga has a unique approach to the state of doubt. Yogis see this state as just a lack of prana – the vital life force or energy. We gain prana from four sources – food, sleep, breath and meditation. So next time you feel the onset of this state, just get up and increase your prana.
It takes some practice to catch yourself before a negative train of thought gets momentum, but here are some simple yoga poses, breath work and meditation you might like to try to help manage your state of mind.
This pose is great for developing stamina, strength and clarity.
From standing at the top of your mat step your left foot back at least a metre or more, ensure the outer edge of the left foot is parallel to the back of the mat.
Bend the front knee deeply so that the knee is stacked over the ankle.
Take the arms out straight and feel as if your left fingers are being pulled towards the back of the mat while your right fingers are being pulled to the front of the mat.
Slightly lengthen the tailbone to the ground and draw the belly in engaging the core and pelvic floor mucles.
Take your gaze to the right index finger horizon and stay here for five to 10 deep, long breaths.
Repeat on the other side.
One legged balancing poses are great for focusing and calming the mind and bringing you into the present moment.
Start from standing, bend the knees into chair pose and take the arms out to the side.
Pick up the right leg and cross it over the left. Aim to get the right foot behind the left calf.
Once you have your balance, wrap the right arm under the left arm, seeing if you can bring palms to touch.
Lift your elbows away from your chest and draw your hands away from your face.
Sink down a little deeper and hold for five to 10 breaths.
Kapalbhati pranayama (breath of fire):
Kapala means the skull and bhati, to shine or to make clean, in lustre. This technique can be used to help stimulate energy, clarity and alertness when needed. It is highly recommended for students who have to do a great deal of study and need a clean, clear mind, and for spiritual aspirants before their concentration and meditation. It is much better than reaching for a cup of coffee or sugar fix.
Sit in a comfortable up-right position with your spine straight.
With your mouth gently closed, place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
Breathe in and out of your nose rapidly, drawing the belly in toward the spine dynamically with each exhale. To give an idea of how this is done, think of someone using a bicycle pump to quickly pump up a tyre. Focus on the exhalation and just allow the inhalation to happen.
Do this for no longer than 15 seconds when first starting. With practice, slowly increase the length of the exercise by five seconds each time. If done properly, you may feel invigorated, comparable to the heightened awareness you feel after a good workout. You should feel the effort at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen.
Nikki Ralston has been working with the human body for over 15 years. She devised the Ralston Method, which blends together elements of hatha, vinyasa, precision alignment and mindfulness teachings. She is also the owner of Urban Ashram in Auckland.