“In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention.” – Philip Dormer Stanhope
Good morning peeps , meditation done.
Quote for the Day:
“In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention.”
Philip Dormer Stanhope
I would like to speak about my Yogi of the week on my retreat at the Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort the new five-star luxury destination in El Jadida Morocco, Gretta Mitchell.
I have known Gretta a little over a year, she is a hairdresser and a friend of a long term good friend of mine Terry Jacques, who she met when they were both working at Paul Edmonds Hair Salon in Knightsbridge. She liked one of my Quotes for the Day posts on Facebook and we became Facebook friends. She then came to one of my Sunday morning classes at Lululmon at the Westfield store in White City. There were 50 people in that class, my Lululemon classes are always full to the maximum and the energy from such a big class is amazing. After the class I stayed behind to take questions and Gretta came and introduced herself.
A few weeks later Gretta got in contact with me and asked if I would do some one to one personal training sessions with her. As Gretta is a qualified yoga teacher herself and obviously loves yoga, I decided to incorporate some yoga in her sessions, mixed with a few barre exercises, which are great for toning the bum and thighs and bodyweight exercises to build strength in her core and sculpt her body.
Before she came on my retreat I asked Gretta if there was anything in particular she wanted to work on? She told me she wanted to be able to do a freestanding headstand and lose her fear of handstands.
I said this would be no problem and we joked about her not using a wall, which is one of my pet hates, because so often I find it teaches people bad habits and if you practice doing something the wrong way all that happens is you get better at doing something badly. I prefer teaching people things in the correct way, there are no short cuts to long term success in anything, taking short cuts or trying to cheat will only bring problems to you further down the line.
So everyday in my morning retreat class this week, which was between ninety minutes and two hours long we worked with no music on the poses of the Ashtanga Primary Series going through each one slowly concentrating on the finer details of each asana. I usually teach with music in my classes, but on a retreat where we have more time I like to work in silence, so I can hear and focus on people’s breathing and also enjoy the sounds of nature of our beautiful locations.
Everyday when it came to headstands Gretta would want to use the wall and I would not let her, I would also not let her use the word ‘Can’t’ in the studio, this is another one of my rules when teaching, there is no such word as ‘Can’t’ it is replaced by I cannot do something yet, but you will be able to do something after I have shown you how and you practice it correctly everyday.
So everyday Gretta had to prepare for her headstand on her mat in the middle of the room. She would hold onto her elbows and then slide her forearms apart until her hands would meet and clasp her fingers together to form a strong base to then put the top of her head into. She would then press down through her forearms and the little fingers of her hands so the weight was going into her arms and hands and not onto her head. Then pulling her abs in and pressing her belly button into her spine, she would walk her feet towards her hands until her hips were over her shoulders and then she would bring her right knee into her chest and hold for five breaths and then her left and hold for five breaths and then bring both knees into her chest and hold for five breaths which I would support her by her hips as she was not strong enough to hold this position on her own yet. Then she came down and rested in Child’s pose.
On the first day I asked her to repeat this in each position for two breaths. I then asked her to lift both knees up, making sure she kept them bent and did not straighten them. Of course the first thing she did as so many people do when they try a headstand was kick her legs out straight, this leaves everything to chance and the chances are you will fail. Most people are not strong enough in their core and hip flexors to kick their legs out straight and pike up into a headstand or handstand and stop the momentum of the kick at exactly the right moment with hips and shoulder stacked directly above each other to be able to balance. If you are not strong enough you will definitely fall over nine times out of ten.
So from day two onwards Gretta would lift both knees above her hips and hold in this position for a few breaths longer each day, before I would ask her to straighten her legs in this position, whilst I supported her hips, then when she was perfectly aligned, I would let go, but form a circle around her legs with my arms and hands so that if she moved off balance I could guide her back into position. Every time I would let go Gretta would have a little panic and shout,
“Are you there are you there!”
I would say yes and touch her leg to reassure her and everyday she gained more confidence about being upside down. The principles for a handstand are exactly the same as in a headstand, you just need more strength in your arms in a handstand, which we build up throughout the class starting with the Sun Salutations.
Yesterday in the final morning class in the Sun Salutations I asked Gretta to breathe louder and went and stood right next to her as she was doing Surya Namaskara B. Every time Gretta went into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana- Upward Facing Dog I could not hear her breathe, it was fine in Ardho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog, which we were holding for five breaths, but her inhale was still quieter than her exhale. I then discovered that every time Gretta moved into a pose or Asana she was not inhaling properly, she was virtually holding her breath.
I then stopped the class and broke down the yogic breath.
The Mechanics of Breathing
If we think of the chest cavity as a cylinder, one can produce an increase in volume, and consequently inhalation, by one of three means: extending the diaphragmatic flow of the cylinder downward, expanding the walls outward or moving the top cylinder upward. We shall call these three phases diaphragmatic breathing, chest breathing and clavicular breathing. In a yogic breath, all three phases occur in sequence to obtain maximum breath capacity.
Diaphragmatic Breathing is the most physiologically efficient. This is accomplished by pushing the diaphragm downwards, whilst the wall releases and moves passively outwards. A major portion of the circulating blood in the lungs goes to the lower portions, creating expansion. Interestingly, infants and small children use their diaphragms exclusively for breathing until the bony chest matures. Diaphragmatic breathing is a key part in the techniques used by classically trained opera singers, classically trained actors and demonstrated superbly by pop divas like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, to achieve a full sound and maximum projection.
Chest Breathing fills in the middle and upper portion of the lungs with air, but is not as efficient as the lower portion. When the body is upright, most of the blood is in the lower, gravity-dependent areas. So air is not mixed as thoroughly and requires more work to accomplish the same blood/gas mixing than slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing. Also, more blood needs to circulate through the lungs, which requires more work from the heart. Therefore, how much work the cardiovascular system has to do is directly linked to how efficiently one breathes.
The third type of breathing is Clavicular Breathing, which is only significant when the maximum amount of air is required like in vigorous exercise or the highest notes in singing like Mariah’s whistle notes. The two clavicles or collarbones are pulled up slightly at the maximum inhalation, which expands and lengthens the top of the lungs when the body’s oxygen demands are great.
The Yogic Breath
The three types of inhalation can be coordinated in one smooth exercise for a maximum deep breath. This is the complete breath used in yoga, which iniates in the diaphragm, resulting in the slight expansion of the lower ribs and protrusion of the upper abdomen, oxygenating the lower lung fields and then the middle portions of the lungs expand with outward chest movement. Finally, the slight raising of the clavicles expands the uppermost lungs’ tips.
After the lungs are filled to their maximum capacity, how are they emptied? The key is relaxation, as experienced in sighing or letting out a deep breath in a completely relaxed, passive motion, without muscle contraction to push the air out. This allows the lungs to act as if they are elastic, and shrink back to their original size, much like a balloon once the end is untied.
The quality of this breathing process is of great importance in maintaining health and energy production. Anxiety is associated with chest breathing and many people attempt to suppress their fears by holding in their stomachs and stilling the diaphragm. People also hold their stomachs in for body image, whilst diaphragmatic breathing pushes the abdomen forward. But a protruding stomach is not fashionable. So we are told to push our chest out and hold our stomach in leading to an increased reliance on chest breathing. Through practice and awareness, we need to change the habits of a lifetime and learn to breathe in a more efficient manner to boost our energy production, reduce stress and fatigue levels and maintain good health.
Gretta was making the common mistake of holding her stomach in whilst trying to inhale, which makes it impossible to expand the diaphragm, yes you need to lock your Mula Bandha, but you have to still be able to relax your stomach muscles to allow the diaphragm to expand.
When I teach yoga, I always start my class or private session with the participants lying still on their backs with eyes closed. I get them to concentrate on their full quality yogic breath, to calm their minds and bring them away from stress.
Fascinatingly I can really tell people’s personalities just by observing them in this breathing position. The people who cannot lie still and have to open their eyes and look around at everything and everybody else tend to be flighty in everyday life, and struggle to focus.
Gretta realised she had been practicing her breathing wrong for years, but I said, do not worry, we cannot do anything about what you have done in the past, only what we do now and in the future. I made Gretta lie on her back and I put my “Light of Yoga” book by BKS Iyengar on her stomach and made her lift it up and down with her inhaling and exhaling. I then got her to spend the rest of the class focusing on expanding her diaphragm on her inhales with each movement. She found this very difficult and frustrating at first, but practicing this correctly today is going to improve her practice dramatically as well as improve all aspects of her life. By learning to control your breath, you learn to control your mind, your emotions, your anxieties and your fears.
We then finished the final morning class with a headstand or Shirhsasana in Sanskrit. Here is a picture of Gretta’s headstand in her final morning class on my retreat Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort the new five-star luxury destination in El Jadida, Morocco.
Oh by the way did I mention to you that Gretta is 63, she is truly amazing, I am so proud of her and I am going to miss her incredible energy, when she leaves this morning.
On my next retreat she will do a freestanding handstand.
My next yoga retreat and health, fitness and wellbeing break after this one in Morocco, will be in Mauritius in September with Olympic legend Daley Thompson, who is another early bird. I have seen the first draft of the advertising and it looks great and we will be sharing details of this amazing trip soon.
Have a super Saturday and a wonderful weekend peeps,
“In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention.”
May all your dreams come true
Breathe, Believe and Achieve
Be Happy, Healthy and Wise
Keep on Winning, Smiling and Living the Dream
Keep on Winning Smiling and Living the Dream