The Khmer people

image

Before I realised what had happened, I woke up looking out over the river and fresh green country side. Phnom Penh was hours away. Boarding our boat early in the morning, way back in Phnom Penh, to cruise down the Mekong river into Vietnam, I must have instantly fallen asleep.

Knowing a little of Cambodian history didn’t really prepare me for what I was about to see. We visited the very sad but very important parts of Phnom Penh – the killing fields and Tuol Sleng museum. I’m not going to delve too deep into these places of horror. We had to visit both places over two days, as visiting one after another was too heart breaking. You can read over and over again what went on in the those dark years, but when you stand where those people stood, it leaves you much emptier than you can imagine.

A survivor of the genocide talked years later about how she is trying to move on from her experience and heal. To hear her even begin to use the word heal after such a short amount of time left me overwhelmed. Strength like this must be so hard to find, but with time and the right kinds of help, people do seem to find a way. Mediation was one of these ways.

In your practice don’t forget to take the time to stop and stand or sit. Close your eyes and take some breaths. In no way shape or form am I comparing the events of Cambodia to our usual “struggles” in the western world, all I’m saying is don’t underestimate the power of simply stopping and taking a few minutes.

Mountain pose or Tadasana is great if your mind is full. Sometimes I don’t want to sit down, so you can stand with your feet a little distance apart. Keep your hands down with palms facing the outside of your thighs or, if you want to feel more energised, turn the palms outwards. Grace x

Advertisements

Floating in Angkor Wat

I keep seeing the camouflaged faces, tree roots the size of houses and beautiful carvings every time I close my eyes. Angkor Wat gave me that feeling, much like when a peacock opens it feathers, almost hypnotic. I could have quite happily just stayed in one area, staring at the immaculately carved stories on the walls. Truly a fascinating place.

Ta Phrom however, in my opinion, was like seeing 100 peacocks doing a dance in sequence – spectacular. Nature finding its way through nearly 1000 year old temples sculpted by man. It was a thing of beauty and will stay with me for ever.

It seemed only right, therefore, to share with you some guidance on peacock  pose or Mayurasana.

image

It’s one of the annoying postures that all of a sudden just “clicks”. Usually wrist flexibility gets in the way of this posture, so really warm them up before attempting. Coming onto all fours, turn your palms backwards, fingers facing behind you. Stay here for a few breaths if you’re new to this pose, just to get the feel of really opening your forearms. As you inhale bring your body into a plank posture, on the balls of your feet and pushing the heels away from you. Rest your elbows on the outer edge of your stomach (obliques).

On your exhale, start to walk your toes forward, bringing the weight over your wrists. Really squeeze the tummy muscles as well as engaging your shoulders and forearms. Keep looking forward as you point the toes and bring them up off the ground. Eventually aim to float your legs up higher whilst keeping your balance and face off the floor!

For months I always tried to achieve this posture by kicking up into it. Needless to say it never worked and felt awkward. For me this posture “clicked” once I trusted my body more. Really bringing the weight over the wrists is key. Get strutting my little peacocks. Grace x

Painful postures

image

It’s James’ birthday and I found an excellent climbing wall in Bangkok to take him to. We climbed until our skin fell off, then unlike me I needed a stretch.

Upavistha Konasana or wide angle seated forward fold. I also, personally, call this posture painful!

Attending yoga classes or teaching one, this posture for me is extremely tricky and requires a very deep breath with a calm mind. For some yogis however, this posture comes with ease. I’ve had first time yogis very simply laying their chest flat on the floor with no worries, glancing about wondering if they’re doing something wrong.

If you find this posture difficult and painful like me, see if this helps at all.

To start with, if sitting with your legs apart is not working at all and you feel like your spine is arching and falling back, roll your matt behind you and place your sitting bones on it. This will tilt your pelvis and should feel a little easier. Next, just sit and maybe move your body around a little. Sway from side to side then begin to walk your fingers forward. Lower the chest to the ground instead of the head with a nice lengthened spine.

Once you’re feeling comfortable, which took me a while(!), try to take hold of your feet, and with every exhale gently bring your chest closer to the ground.

Something else I tried for this posture which also helped: Whenever I was reading or writing, sat watching a movie or just chilling out, I would try and sit in this posture even if just for a few minutes at a time. Be careful not to expect too much from your hamstrings too soon. Grace x

Free as a bird

image

Eagle pose or garudasana

We climbed to a truly spectacular view point yesterday on the island of Koh Tao. Even though I was exhausted, exceptionally sweaty and hot, what we saw from the top was totally worth it.

Walking in this heat makes my legs feel super tight so my practise recently has been about releasing tight legs. Hopefully, once WiFi improves, I’ll be able to upload you guys a sequence I’ve just filmed about improving leg flexibility. It’s a sequence I include in my daily practice. Here’s a sneak preview.

image

Eagle pose is great to finish a leg opening sequence with. Stand on one leg, bend at the knee and sit the sitting bones back slightly. Bring the other leg over the top of your grounded leg avoiding the knee joint. Trying to keep your balance, almost intertwine the legs together. Aim to eventually bring the leg all the way around, until the back of the foot acts as an anchor around your grounded legs calf.

When it comes to hands I started practicing this posture with Namaste at heart centre. If you can intertwine your arms too, once you’ve done this, try to lengthen them up to the sky as well. Always practise both sides. Eagle pose is great for strengthening and stretching your ankles, among other benefits! If you can get your hands like a pretzel as well, then its also a brilliant release on the shoulderblades.

You don’t need bulging biceps to balance on boulders.

We have made it to the beautiful island of Koh Tao in Thailand. This picture postcard picturesque little gem of an island not only has killer back drops for my website, it also has bouldering… On the beach! With climbing being possible for the several days we are on Koh Tao, I’ve been focusing my practise on improving my shoulder strength and stability.

If you’re new to arm balances in yoga try not to be deterred by the many acrobatic poses you might see. Start with a posture I believe to be the best introduction to learning arm balances and feeling weightless – Crow pose or bakasana.

image

Come to garlands pose or just squatting. Bring your palms together to Namaste then place each elbow onto the inside of either knees. This should feel like a nice release on the inner thigh muscles. As you press your elbows out squeeze your knees into them and keep this going throughout the asana. Bring your body weight forward slightly, until your palms sit on the floor. Create as much space between the fingers as possible. As you inhale keep that pressure between your elbows and knees, exhale and start to bring your weight over your hands. Don’t look down! Look straight ahead, this is the direction your body is going in. Eventually you’ll notice your toes float up from the floor. Point your toes together once you’ve lifted off and hold for five breaths. A cushion under your little noggin is advisable for first lift off.

Once you’ve mastered crow, ok I say crow… More baby crow. Next is mummy crow.

image

My excuse for months was that my triceps were too “muscley” I’m a climber it doesn’t work. Your triceps and arm pits are only there to stabilize you in crow pose, try not to let them take too much of the weight.

Come to standing, legs apart a little. Forward fold with bent (yes bent) legs, dropping your palms down in front of your toes. Keep your gaze forward as you place both knees as high on your triceps as you can. Again, like baby crow, bringing the weight over the hands. Personally I then bring up one foot at a time, visualising drawing each heel to my sitting bones. Round your back, pull your tummy in, squeeze your legs therefore pointing your toes. Keep the arms bent to start with. Straightening the arms in crow is very challenging and can be painful on the wrists, so don’t push your body. I seemed to crack it by drawing my chest up. Telling myself to physically straighten my arms resulted in me face planting or hurting my elbows.

Once crow pose becomes a walk in the park for you, the world is your oyster. New variations of every pose going are constantly being created. Side crow is a fun one to try which can progress to extending the legs.

image

Side crow (above). Come to squatting legs together, then twist your torso, planting both palms to the side of your thigh. Your thigh does need to be parallel with your tricep to then bring the weight over. Some hip opening might be needed if your struggling. Like crow pose, bring the weight over the hands until the legs float up. 

image

Side crow with extended legs, very challenging and strong on the shoulders. This is/was no walk in the park.

Finally I decided to take off in pigeon pose. Thank you to that wisp of grass that kept my dignity.

image

Arm balances are fun but I’m the first to admit can be frustrating. Flowing through sequences makes me feel calm, opening my back makes me feel, well, open. Arm balances do something different, they mentally and physically challenge me. For me, they’re the best and easiest way to meditate as I’m so focused on one thing.

Gemyoga xx