Yoga and the Blues

It is an open secret in the yoga world that most of us arrive here after trauma or trouble of one sort or another. In fact, I have heard said since my earliest days in this strange world of integral healing “people arrive at yoga when they are tired of suffering.”

I think it’s true. The suffering just goes on and on. As the Buddha observed, life is suffering. We suffer in our minds, our bodies and our spirits. Sometimes a little at a time, sometime all three at once.

So, the blues bring us to yoga. And yoga helps make the blues a little more manageable. But the blues don’t go away. They are there, we just learn how to deal with them better.

What are the blues, anyway, and where do they originate? The blues is emptiness. The blues is the sense that something is missing here, and we can’t quite work out what. The blues is the void. Each part of the body-mind-spirit construct may give cause for the blues. The body has appetites and desires. The mind never stops. The soul aggrieves with its absence.


When we are young, maybe the body doesn’t suffer as much. At least, the aches and pains are fewer and easier to deal with. As we age, maybe our mind gets calmer, we find some wisdom. But the suffering is still there. The body asks loudly for food, shelter, comfort, touch, stimulation of the senses. We are constantly being dragged off by desire and appetite. It is the way of the body. The body is the lovely prison that we inhabit for a time, and its wants generally dominate our entire earthly life.


The mind is just as bad, if not worse. The mind wants distraction. It likes to be busy. It oscillates between fear of what is to come and remorse for what has been. Rarely does it sit quietly, without judging and in the present moment. Mental fluctuations, called vrittis in Sanskrit, cause us untold suffering. As we think, we feel, we have emotional/limbic responses to our thoughts. Our heart may race, or we feel choked and tearful, or hot and agitated. This somatisation of thought and emotion wreaks havoc in our lives. The mind is the construct through which our soul has to view the world. The mind requires much cleansing and polishing lest its distortions be mistaken for reality.


The soul, well, the soul suffers all this. Its voice is the quietest but the most insistent. It talks to us in the dead of the night. It whispers to us when things don’t “feel” right. It begs us to listen, but generally we don’t. And so, the soft restful peace of the soul is denied us. We suffer its absence.

What does all this have to do with yoga and the blues?

So, the other unspoken secret of the yoga world is that yoga teachers also get the blues. We are often, by nature, sensitive people. Yoga makes us more sensitive, but less vulnerable. How?

When you have become aware of and able to control the subtle energy (prana), you can control how much energy sticks to you, and how much of your own energy you allow to escape. You get a kind of protective bubble.

When the blues come knocking, instead of, as before, running out to find bodily comforts (alcohol, food, etc)…before plonking down on the sofa with binge watch a series…before succumbing to that empty soulless feeling…you just sit with it. You watch yourself having these feelings, you don’t detach from these feelings, you feel them, but you watch yourself feeling them. You watch where the breath moves, what parts of the body feel heavy or shaky, you watch yourself and you don’t do anything. Except normal, basic care. Healthy food, good rest, time with living being (pets, plants, trusted people) and you just…wait it out.

(For completeness, let’s remember that medically diagnosed depression is not the blues and probably needs professional intervention…)

Patience being a virtue and all, the blues soon pass if you just let them. Nothing ever gets resolved overnight. Hurts happen, disappointments bite, life is a bit shit sometimes. But yoga says : “sit still, watch, wait it out”. And you know what? It works. And it hurts hardly at all.

Fascia and slow yoga

On the Alteayoga facebook page, I re-posted a piece from Dr. Mercola’s web site in which fascia is thoughtfully discussed.  I suggest that you pop over and read it, then come back here. 

Summing up: 

Fascia makes up about 20% of body weight and is like a battery pack for muscles.  It also transports water in the body. It seems to be tightly related to pain, especially chronic pain.  Movement is the best method for relieving fascial pain.

I teach hatha yoga in a very specific way.  Firstly, following the Viniyoga method, there is almost always a dynamic and a static phase for each posture.  This means that you get both the flow of vinyasa-style yoga and the holds of classical yoga.  

Uttanasana 6x + 6B

You can see that the whole posterior muscle chain is activated in this sequence.  There is a clear indication of breathing.  Also, there is abdominal compression.  All this contributes to making this very simple sequence highly effective in moving muscles and, ergo, fascia.

I design my classes with anatomy in mind.  There are four kinds of yoga:  Bhakti (devotion), Raja (intellect), Karma (selfless service) and Hatha (movement).  I am very clearly a hatha yoga teacher, and use my deep understanding of kinesiology to design sequences within sequences all with a clear objective in mind.  Loosening up the deepest layers, the bits that no one can get to, the parts that hurt but you can’t put your finger on.  Yoga, specifically Viniyoga well-taught, gets to these parts.

Practise, all is coming.  The Guru is within.

Look at yourself: Yoga & the mirror

Yoga studios rarely come equipped with mirrors, unless you are doing the undeniably self-conscious Bikram yoga.  Perhaps this is because yoga itself is the mirror.  
A few weeks ago, I posted about still feeling dislocated here in Altea.  It takes time to settle in.  But, more than that, by writing my thoughts down and sharing them with the world, I continued the process of self-analysis that is yoga.  Yoga and mirror.  Whatever you give, you get.
I still agree with myself in most of what I said.  but I am willing to swallow my pride – and my words – and ask your kind forgiveness for my til-then blindness.  When I said that I could not understand how the folk round here could be so glum while surrounded by this wild natural beauty, what I was really asking was “Rachel, how can you be glum when surrounded by all this natural beauty?”  Good question, eh?
Since then, I realise that I was simply prioritising my worries about work-family-life (the same ones you have, I am sure) and putting them ahead of my enjoyment of the here and now.  Looking at the mountains in the Calpe pass, I would think “what am I doing here” rather than “what beautiful rusty colours, what textures and lines!”  This is pretty common behaviour, people.  Yoga helps train the mind, keeping it on the straight and narrow and avoiding all wallowing and distraction.
Right now, in my Yoga Therapy training, we are studying the third book of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  In sutras III:9-16, Patanjali exposes the new state of mind that arises when we have fully integrated into our lives the first five limbs of Astanga Yoga (as set out in book 2).  We are now approaching contemplation, Dharana.  The mind is able to glimpse states of serenity, but theses are interspersed with the usual fluctuations and distractions.  Nevertheless, the mind is becoming increasing able to concentrate.  I find the sutras amazing because they really are very accurate in their portrayal of the milestones on the road of yoga.  Or, in my case they are.  Bear in mind that each person’s experience of yoga is unique and precious.
So, Rachel, look in the mirror.  Choose happiness and helps others find theirs.  This is the road of the yogini and the yoga teacher.

FAIL: juice of the day – FALLO: zumo del día

I know I don’t like chirimoya, so why on Earth I decided to add it to my juice is beyond me.  S’pose I thought it might be just a texture thing…

Juice of the Day / Zumo del día

  • Chard, raddicchio / acelga, radicchio
  • 1/2 mango, very ripe / muy maduro
  • Ginger root / gengibre
  • Chirimoya

Sickly and thick, with a nasty repeat.  1/10.


The Art of Massage

The Art of Massage
The art of a healing massage is finding the precise point between pleasure and pain, then working there as continuously as possible throughout the session. Too light pressure can be comforting, but for most it feels like a waste of time (and money). Too much pressure will only cause the musculature to tense. It can also harm – you might succeed in releasing knots, but at the expense of two days of suffering to follow?
Each individual experiences pleasure and pain differently. Most people experience some degree of “pleasurable pain” when a massage therapist hits the spot. This is a bit like rubbing a bruise to rid oneself of pain. The difference is that the therapist has to intuit the correct pressure to remain below the threshold of the client. Some clients will give verbal feedback. Most won’t. I make a point of mentioning at the beginning of the first session that their job is to inform me of anything that is undesirable or painful. Still, most would rather put up than speak up. So, what to do? The first sign that you are applying too much pressure is when the muscles in the area being treated tense and strain beneath your fingers. If the breathing becomes irregular, you are also provoking discomfort. They may even slightly move the body away, or shift positions. When massaging the feet, watch the face for signs of discomfort. Remember, none of these signals will be overt. You must watch for them.
Women generally have a significantly higher pain threshold than men. They are also less likely to indicate to the therapist when the touch is too forceful. There is a deep psychological work to be done in which some women connect with their suffering for the first time. It’s as if they had carried around this physical pain for so long, lying to themselves about its origin or meaning, and they suddenly become aware of it. This is common around the hip flexors and the gluteals. The chest and abdomen are unending reservoirs of long-held suffering that on some bodies cannot even be stroked let alone palpated or pressed. Respect your clients’ bodies and work gradually into these areas over time. If you feel that in the first massage the hips and abdomen absolutely need to be touched, do it through the towel, rocking and stretching rather than pushing.
But I digress…
And what of pleasure? The longer I work in this field, the more I come to value the simple act of relaxation. Simple, I say. Not so, actually. It took me over twelve years of regular yoga practice to learn to relax. Remember: muscles don’t stretch, they contract and relax. Tendons are stretchy. So, one can be flexible due to lax tendons while having a highly tonic (tense) musculature. The solution is finding a way to help clients relax. I find that if I myself am grounded and well, I can induce a moment of stillness and relaxation at about the 30-40 minute mark of the massage. Cease chatting, focus your mind and rub rhythmically and comfortably deep over an area. The shoulders and neck are wonderful. The sacrum loves to be stroked. Feet are made for holding, as are skulls and napes. Choose your zone, then stay there, gently allowing the client to sink into deep calm. Even if this state lasts only 10 minutes, its a glimpse of something more, a deeper and more conscious kind of relaxation. It is a gift that a therapist can give to their client.
(PS: It goes without saying that proper training and attention to contraindications is essential…AUM)