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Kidney Energy and Relieving Neck Tension

Kidney Energy and Relieving Neck Tension

Kidney Energy and Relieving Neck Tension

Some years ago, when moving house – the professional removalists were amazed that I had energy to keep going up and down my steep driveway carrying things. My secret weapon was breathing into my kidneys!!! The kidneys are considered the energy warehouses of the body, kidney energy gives you your get up and go (of course the energy is produced by the mitochondria, but the kidney seems to store and release it).

Recently, I have enjoyed remembering how powerful this simple technique is. We’re used to placing our hands on our kidneys in child pose – to ensure the vertebrae of the lower spine are getting space and taking pressure off the nerves – but you can place your hands on your kidneys in almost any pose to make sure there is space in the lower back, better pelvic placement, better action of the pose and most importantly – sustained energy levels and less chance of fatigue.

I’m sure there’s a detailed physiological reason behind this technique – e.g. the breath moves fully into the lower lobes of the lungs, causing the diaphragm to lower and push the abdominal organs down and out requiring the pelvis to move to accommodate them – or something like that!? To be honest, I can’t fully explain why this works, only that it does – and is replicable over and over again, in my own body, and bodies of hundreds of students. It is especially great if you tend to over arch your back in the standings and find your mid/lower back is tense.

Simply place the top hand on your kidney and breath into it in standing postures like trikonasana, or parsvakonasana, or on both kidneys for forward standings like parsvottanasana or forward bends like cross legs or any seated forward. Placing the hands creates a focus point for the breath to move into.

Once you feel your “kidney” expand, you can release the hand to its normal position in the pose. I find the action of the pose increases all the way down through the legs and feet into the earth, making the pose stronger and more stable (sthithi); and the spine, neck and arm action seems to extend more fully as well.  It’s also great in twists to place your hands on your kidneys and feel them inflate on the inhale, then use your hands to guide the turn on the exhale. This gets a nice deep twist through the jathara (abdomen/middle) which is where we want it to come from in a twist. These practices also train the body beautifully for other poses.

As with all tips, don’t take my word for it – try it out!!! practice, explore, and make the knowledge yours. We are always looking for more skilfull and intelligent ways to move, sometimes the most subtle actions create profound change. I look forward to hearing how you go.

Neck and shoulder tension in standing poses such as Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana can look like this:

The remedy for this is usually simple:
1) Come up out of the pose a little;
2) Lift the head.

You would be amazed at the difference these two simple actions make. Then you can get a fuller inhale, and direct the action of the breath through the crown and arms more easily on the exhale. Your pose will extend more and feel more alive. It requires satya (truthfulness) to know where your limits are and work with them, not give into ambition and go as far as you can.

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Heading Towards Headstand

Heading Towards Headstand

Heading Towards Headstand

Headstand is one of the most advanced postures. Although many can do it, it is important to do it properly to avoid serious injury and get the maximum benefit. We run workshops in the practice of Headstand, but here are a few postures that almost anyone can do to prepare your body to be able to move towards Headstand safely.

Begin with a 5 Vayu meditation. In a relaxed lying down position, get to know the 5 actions of the breath. On the inhale receiving (Adya) and assessing (Samana), on the exhale directing energy downwards (Apana) upwards (Uddana) and circulating (Vyana – which can also create a centrifugal action that stabilises the core).

Link to the 5 Vayu Meditation:

Next is wide legs child. This pose gets you in touch with your belly chest breath easily, and on the exhale you can experience the action of the vayus drawing your hips back towards your heels while keeping your arms aligned and hands active – just like you’ll eventually need to do in Headstand.

Dog pose adds gravity into the equation as you further explore the essential action of pushing down and forward with the hands, and back and away with the hips – using breath (vayus) and energetic action, not muscle (leave the shoulders broad and at ease). This two-way direction of energy is an essential component to Headstand – you need to be able to move energy against gravity/away from the floor to take the load off the head and neck.

Standing poses can also help us explore moving energy through the channels. This is one of their main benefits and essential for headstand.

Walk forward into Uttanasana. Having long hamstrings can mean the difference of being able to go up into a Headstand smoothly without destabilising the base, or having to jump up awkwardly. There are many practices to lengthen the hamstrings – just remember to use the breath and allow the hamstrings to lengthen in the pose. Forcing them can make them tighter!

Strengthening the core. A strong core is ESSENTIAL to hold and maintain a steady Headstand, as well as to be able to go up and come down in a steady controlled manner that does not destabilise the foundation and put pressure on the neck. One of my favourite poses for this is to simply lie on your back with legs at 90 degrees. Roll your head neck and shoulders up and off the ground and reach forward past your legs with your hands, keeping your arms parallel to the floor. On an exhale, curl the pubic bone in towards the navel flattening the back, while you roll your shoulders up a little more. This activates the core. Breath here for 10 breaths, repeat 3 sets. As you get stronger, you will be able to start lowering the legs (cm by cm – don’t hurry) while maintaining a flat lower back and engaged core. When you can keep the back flat and core on while having legs extended to almost 180 degrees – you will have created a strong core (TIP: A modified version for true beginners is to have the legs bent, feet on the floor – everything else the same).

Forearm dog (for Beginners) or Forearm balance. These poses help to open the armpits. It is ESSENTIAL the armpits are able to open to as close to 180 degrees as possible. Closed armpits reduces the space the neck has to lengthen in, and puts enormous pressure on the cervical vertebrae.

You also need to be able to activate into the forearm and keep those armpits open as long as you are in the pose. A good test is if you can hold your forearms open in the walk up the wall version of forearm balance for at least one full minute without letting the armpits close or collapse. (There are other armpit opening practices – ask your teacher if you need more help).

PLEASE REMEMBER – Headstand is an advanced pose that requires strength, openness, ability to direct energy and an active core. Improper practice can lead to serious neck injuries. Please do not move beyond these poses without the guidance of an experienced teacher.  Always take time to rest in Savasana after these practices, and eventually kneeling or Savasana after Headstand.

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Balancing Hormones

Balancing Hormones

Balancing Hormones

Often I find myself talking to a lot of people about hormone imbalance in various forms. As one of the main reasons behind hormone imbalance is stress/nervous system imbalance – I decided to share a little practice remedy that particularly supports liver, reproductive system and nervous system as these are greatly affected during times of stress. This practice can also be very balancing and harmonising for anyone experiencing stress for any other reason, but especially during/after an illness, or having too much to deal with mentally. Combined practice with diet and lifestyle modification supercharges the results and brings you back to your highest state of wellness.

Supta Baddha Konasana:
Preferably on a spinal roll or bolster (to help open lungs and release diaphragm which tends to lock up and sap energy during times of stress). Support your thighs to be able to stay longer. Spend 5-20 minutes depending on the time you have. (Liver, reproductive)

Upavista Konasana:
Support your head in a comfortable position with blankets/bolster or chair, and sit on blankets as necessary. Experiment until you feel comfortable enough to stay 5-10 mins (longer if you love it and have time) without creating tension in the neck/thoracic spine or closing the lungs down. (Liver, reproductive, heart also gets a rest in forwards)

Supta Pashasana (aka Jathara Parivrttasana):
Support your legs as needed to make sure upper body can be flat and comfortable enough to stay 3-5mins each side. (liver, abdominal organs, gentle spine mobilisation)

Optional Halasana and Sarvangasana if appropriate (plough and shoulderstand):
Only practice this if not menstruating, and it is a comfortable, regular practice for you. You can practice supported versions (book in for a private with Kath if you want to learn these). Hold 5-5 minutes each pose. Remember to counterpose with Matsyasana (fish) approximately 10 breaths. (Thyroid, hormones, calming Nervous System).

Ujjiya – 3-5 long, even, full breaths with no tension.
Nadi Shodhana – alternate nostril breathing. Begin with 3-5 rounds as comfortable. Build up to 5 minutes. Please ask for instruction from your teacher if you have not practiced these before (nervous system balancing).

Optional sitting/meditation:
3-20 minutes depending on time.
(Integration, internalisation, calm NS)

10 mins (more if you have time).
(Integration of the practice, rest and rejuvenation)

EXTRA TIP – If you’re not sure whether you need an active or a restorative practice, salutes are a great diagnostic tool. Do a few salutes and see how you feel… If energised, then your tiredness might have been from stagnancy and active practice is best. If the salutes feel like a struggle, or tire you out further, then restorative practice is the best option.

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