Musings: The unsung note

I had the great pleasure of returning to the stage this Thursday past.  Yes, dear yogis, in my spare time I am a singer-songwriter.
I began this odyssey years ago. In fact, I could say that I have always been a musician.  As  child I played the oboe, and the recorder.  I used to sit there with my tape recorder, registering a harmony to then play the melody on top.  Too bad I only had one track!  I gave up classical music, as most teens do, only to then buy a red Yamaha bass at the age of 18.  I played in a band, and enjoyed mild local success, before shyness and nerves forced me off the stage.  Life continued apace.  I began writing more and more, diaries, poetry, laments, and soon, songs.  It took me 10 years to buy a guitar  and another four before I could tune by ear and play with some fluency. At this point, I bought my lovely Taylor 414CE cutaway and began composing the songs that I still play today.

How does this relate to yoga?

Vishuddah chakra and overcoming fear.

Singing is related to the throat (vishuddha) chakra.  Mine was most definitely blocked.  I used to speak in  a whisper and was plagued by the sensation of something in my throat.  (In TCM, this is called plum-pit throat and is related to the Liver Qi).  I bought a couple of books (Finding Your Voice, Zen Guitar), took a workshop (The Healing Voice with Jill Purce), but, mostly, I just sang.  Over and over, through smiles and tears.  Overcoming my incredible fear, I took to stage in open mic nights and small gigs in and around London.  It was terrifying but I knew it did me good.  Still, the fear was being pushed down, not truly overcome.  But, I think that in yoga we have to push past our fear, be brave and have great faith, in order to grow.  So, that was one phase of my growth.

Control of the diaphragm

Another phase of my work was taking control of my diaphragm muscle.  The diaphragm is fundamental to the singer.  My yoga teacher gave me a short personalized practice in which I did krama in the exhale.  This means, the exhale was broken up into two or more parts, and then the breath retained with the lungs empty.  For the first time in my life, I could actually locate my own diaphragm.  My colleague Santi, a fantastic osteopath, adjusted my diaphragm and pericardium, loosening the tendons and leaving my breath much freer.

Control of the perineum 

By now, my voice was vibrating nicely in my chest and abdomen.   It was mellower and sweeter and easier to control.  But, still, on the high notes, something was missing.  In my ongoing reading – I am voracious, and practically only read on theme – I came across a few lines in The Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by H. David Coulter. 

  A famous conductor…once shouted…”No! No! Squeeze it in – push it up!”  He may not have known it, but he was telling them to seal off and control the anatomical perineum – the base of the pelvis -and thereby cultivate what we have been calling abdominopelvic energy.  All trained singers have learned that the purest and richest sound originates from this region.  In the language of singers, the base of the body “supports” the voice.

Wa-hey!  that’s the secret.  On the high notes, all that perineum work I’d been doing in yoga would pay in by holding my voice up in a clean, sweet note.  Hallelujah!

Believing in myself

Yoga teaches us that within each and every human being there is a tiny spark of Divinity.  We don’t need any mediators when we talk to God because God is within.  When we first learn, then internalize this, our faith in ourselves grows and grows and we begin to value ourselves for who we are instead of what we do.  Through yoga, I realized that my music, my words, my beliefs and my message are not only valid but beautiful and even Divine.  And having that behind me, I take the stage with courage and honesty, and never try to emulate the music or sound of anyone else.  This is freedom.  And now, the fear is not being suppressed. It is no longer there.  I offer it all to God with the simple mantra, Ishvara Pranidanah.
There is karmic cleansing here.  My grandfather went down to London in the 1920’s and played his clarinet in the earliest SoHo jazz clubs.  From my limited research, there was only a handful of jazz clubs in the UK at that time, so both he and my grandmother – they met on the jazz scene – were well ahead of their time.  They married, and moved up to Yorkshire where dreams of jazz music were replaced by granite houses and the family woolens mill.  A frustrated musician to the end of his days, Grandsir, as well called him, would get drunk on G&Ts and pull out the clarinet at Christmas, even as his dentures popped from his gums.  My mum sang.  In the choir, in Gilbert and Sullivan productions, in the singalong Messiah every Ottawa Christmas.  My father was the greatest music fan.  He wept and danced and collected music.  His LP collection filled the basement of a huge Saskatchewan house by the time he died.  I come by it in honestly.  Music is in my blood.  But yoga helped – and helps – me realise it in a sane and safe way.
When our karma (work) and our dharma (lifepath) unite, we find liberation (Kaivalya).  Let yoga guide you towards Self-realization.  And don’t think for a moment that Self-realization means isolation in an ashram.  For some, maybe, but not for everyone.  Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to modern yogic thought was the idea that liberation can be found here and now, in daily life, not only when the soul leaves the body.  Be happy here and now. Bless y’all.

Well woman massage

I have spent the past 11 years of my life as a professional massage therapist, and 8 of those dedicating myself to the gentle art of Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD).  MLD is a very gentle and highly specific massage technique that is used in cancer rehabilitation.  Many who opt for allopathic cancer treatments such as radiotherapy and surgery are left with impaired lymphatic drainage in the affected area.  This manifests as swelling known as lymphedema (sometimes lymphoedema).
In massage training, touching of the breast is generally verboten.  In MLD it is an integral part of the treatment, especially in women who have had lumpectomies, mastectomies, radiotherapy, reconstruction (implant or TRAM).  I consider myself an expert in the treatment of breast conditions.
Drawing from my massage training, I have always emphasized the importance of the abdominal massage.  Deep abdominal massage is used in many healing modalities including, but not limited to, Tui-Na, Mayan massage, modern Osteopathy, Ayurvedic massage,  and Swedish massage.  MLD includes very important abdominal work, but the touch is light, as it is in all aspects of the technique.
In hatha yoga, we learn and teach techniques to release the diaphragm muscle, deepen the breath and connect with the muscles of the pelvic floor.
I propose to you a Well Woman Massage: 

  • Hatha yoga to stretch the body and deepen the breath, connecting with the perineum and diaphragm.  
  • Deep abdominal massage, back massage (lest we forget that the abdominal obliques and the hip flexors originate in the spine)
  • MLD for abdomen and breast. 

Women have special physical needs not seen in men – hormones and hot flashes and pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding and, and, and…If you feel it’s time to care for yourself the way you’ve always wanted to, please feel free to drop me a line.  Treatments available in Altea, Benidorm and Teulada.  For treatments booked in April 2013, I offer a 5% discount on the normal price of €60.  This is a two-hour program.

Oranges – to juice or not to juice

Oranges have always posed a juicing problem for me.  I don’t find that they mix very well with greens – not as well as apple or pear, that’s for sure.  I find even the sweetest oranges probably prefer to be on their own, or mixed with carrot, lemon or another sweet fruit like mango or peach.  I just don’t get orange and celery or orange and chard.  And my stomach doesn’t, either.
The Macrobiotic diet is staunchly against citrus.  I don’t agree with most of their philosophy, and here there’s no exception.  I mean, what does some Japanese guy know about a Valencia orange, in season and in it’s own land?  Nuthin.
Ayurvedic diets include seasonal fruits and orange is no exception.  Again, seasonal is the key here.
I read once about a high-profile raw foodist who decided to de-bulk his muscular body and used an orange mono-diet to do so, with no ill effects.  He lives in Southern California, though, so again we see “seasonal” and “local” pop up.
As a kid in Canada, I remember those wooden boxes of Christmas clementines with great fondness.  My mum told me that, in Yorkshire after the War, children would be given a single orange in their Christmas stocking.  And perhaps a banana.  How times have changed, eh?
So, to juice or not to juice oranges?  My conclusion is that OJ is best drunk solo and on an empty stomach.  If you want green juice, avoid sweet fruits anyway, all but a little apple or pomegranate or pear.

The Healing Crisis.

A fundamental tenet of Naturopathic Cure is the healing crisis.

The philosophy of naturopathy asserts that all symptoms of dis-ease are the body’s sincere efforts to rid itself of substances that offend it.  These substances may be foreign (dust, chemicals residues, micro-organisms) or come from the body itself, thus endogenous (organic acids, hormone residue).  When the body is strong enough to rid itself of the noxious substance, it mounts a defence and sends it out via the nearest elimination route. The routes of elimination are urine, feces, sweat, skin shedding, hair shedding, and pus/mucus.

What provokes a healing crisis?

Naturopathy aims to avoid healing crises.  But, sometimes they are unavoidable.  Some people have a high tendency to mount strong healing crises.  With these people, we have to be careful that their therapy is gentle, keeping them as comfortable as possible.  Other bodies need a good, hard shove, and can tolerate stronger therapeutic regimes.  Magnesium is a strongly detoxing mineral whose administration can cause strong but bearable reactions such as muscle and joint pain, low grade fever, sweating and fatigue.  Don’t worry, this is just your body doing its work!  Vitamin B3 (Niacin) is also strongly detoxing, causing flushing through the skin, redness and heat.
Of course, healing crises can be provoked by other modalities.  A good, strong chiropractic adjustment can certainly throw things off for a few days as the body adjust to its new position and the eyes and ears rebalance.  A deep massage can also release acids left behind in tired muscles, leaving us achey and stiff for a day or two afterwards.  Again, this is only healing and should not be taken as alarming.
Yoga is a long term ally in the restoration of good health.  But, we do have to set goals and keep our practice current in order to really shift from one state to another.   Lately, I have been working the post Eka Pada Rajakapotâsana .  It is a powerful pose because not only do the hips and pelvis have to be fully opened and rotated, the spine is in full extension with the arms held above the head and grasping one foot behind.
I was able to enter the pose twice last weekend and it felt great.  But, it left my hips rather raw.  Not in a scary way, just in a “I know this is good for me, but…” kind of way.  Well, today my little pelvis could take no more and sent me to bed for rest.  I have had a day of classic healing crisis:  fatigue, aching joints and sore muscles.

What to do about a healing crisis?

I cannot stress enough that you should avoid anti-inflammatory and analgesic medicines if at all possible.  Let your body do its thing and your won’t prolong your suffering, nor send it deeper. All will be well within about 48 hours.  And, of course, don’t ignore symptoms if they become more acute.  Doctors are there for a reason.
Rest, take liquid, don’t worry.  If you have plans, break all but the most essential.  Be honest, people who don’t respect your need to rest and recovery are probably most in need of it themselves and will thank you for being brave enough to set the example.  I am not saying “shirk off” by any means.  I am a very reliable person who is not afraid to admit it when I need some downtime.
I wish you the very best health.

Musings on Meditation

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the path of yoga is very clearly laid out.  Book 1 talks about the kind of person who undertakes to stay on the path, and the pitfalls that may arise whilst there.  Book 2 talks about the practical part of yoga.  It is here that you will find the first mention of hatha yoga – the postural part that we are now familiar with – and the other 7 branches of Astanga Yoga (there are eight limbs in total).
We start with character-building, as Swami Radha calls it in her brilliant book “Kundalini Yoga for the West”.  These are the yamas and niyamas.  Once this is established, the yogi can then confidently practice asana  (postures) and pranayama, (breathwork) leading to pratyahara, or retraction of the senses. I found the concept of pratyahara difficult to understand before directly experiencing its effects. Your path and my path of yoga are each distinct and unique, so I won’t elaborate too much here.  But, in my case, pratyahara meant a softening of the impact of external influences – loud noises make me jump less, bright lights don’t annoy, strong smells…well strong smells still bug me.  Okay, but you might get the point.
The next limb of Astanga Yoga is dharana, or concentration.  This is not, note, meditation, which is dhyana. Dharana is the ability to focus the mind on a single object for increasingly long periods of time.   Eventually, one become “one” with the object, and enters into samana with it.  This is the beginning of Book 3 of the sutras.  The object can be something external like an icon or candle, or it can be more subtle, like the breath or the heartbeat.
Still, the point I want to make here is that dharana, and eventually dhyana, are the fruits of previous practice.  I was a terribly meditator.  For years I fidgeted on my zafu, wondering where all the mental peace was.  Well, the answer is it’s coming…be patient.  Practice and all is coming, said Sri Pattabhi Jois.   I use the spinal breathing method described in the book “Advanced Yoga Practices”.  (
My advice is:  don’t jump straight into meditation without toning the body and breath first.  Some people can – hey, we’re all different – but many people can’t.  And don’t give up.  Propel yourself forward on wings of faith.  Look up at the sky and realise that the Universe is boundless and you are a speck and rejoice in all the incredible freedom that gives you.  OM.

World Yoga Day – Día Mundial del Yoga

Hello and hola!  This Sunday 24, February, 2013, is World Yoga DayParticipating yoga studios and teachers pledge the proceeds from 2 hours of teaching to FIAN, the (formerly) FoodFirst Information and Action Network.  This NGO works to eliminate hunger worldwide, proclaiming the right to have sufficient food to eat.
Este domingo, 24 febrero, 2013 es el Día Mundial del Yoga.   Centros y profesores participadores van a destinar las ganancias de dos horas de clases de yoga a FIAN, un ONG que se dedica a aliviar el hambre, revindicando el derecho fundamental de tener de comer.
Dejame un comentario si quieres hacer una clase conmigo para celebrar el día.  Leave a comment if you would like to do a class with me to mark the day.

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.