Just Breathe


what do we need in times of stress?

There is this one thing that people say when you are in a great amount of stress. They look at you and say “Hey! Just breathe, just breathe!!!”

People’s advice

People give this wonderful advice, “just breathe.”  There might be great value in that. Sometimes it can be helpful.  Yet often you can feel a lot of frustration bouncing back at you (or them!).  Sometimes this advice brings out feelings of incompetence for the one receiving it, such as “Am I stupid? Why can’t I even breathe properly now!”

‘Just breathe’ is not necessarily a helpful phrase for someone who is stressed.

The issue with generalisations

When following a recognized prescribed method – the one that states “if you just breathe you will get through it” – you might find out that it actually brings you more pain, because you are breathing in a specific stressed pattern.  Deciding to just change the way you breathe in order to change what you feel might also become repressive.  It becomes a feeling that you are trying to manipulate, rather than a feeling to experience and go through – a potentially problematic approach.

Changing the way of breathing

‘Breathe through it’ might be a more helpful way of framing it.  But what exactly does it mean to breathe ‘through things’? Could it be that it means to change the way you are breathing?  Every emotion has a specific breathing pattern,  so if you change the way you are breathing to long deep breaths, then could it be that you are also changing your emotion? That is a big possibility. That is partly why we are instructed to take long deep breaths in a yoga class.

Observing the way you are breathing

Another way of working with breath through difficult or intense emotions is offered in Tara Brach’s RAIN meditation.  In this case, we wouldn’t necessarily change the way we are breathing.  Rather, we would become aware of the way we are breathing.  We could raise our awareness by observing the breath: is it a short inhalation?… or a forceful exhalation?… is there a pause after the inhalation?.. and a different pause after the exhalation?… which pause is longer? This way, we learn to dettach ourselves from the breathing as it is and we raise our awareness. By raising our awareness, the breathing will eventually calm down without forcing anything.

You can put your hand on your chest to make contact with your heart and your breath

 

Those are two possibilities of how breathing would be able to help in times of hardship. One is in the laboratory conditions of a yoga class, where the teacher asks you to get into a “stressful” position, like upside down and tells you ‘now breathe’. That is an example of practicing breathing under stressful conditions.  The other is to observe your breathing without changing it, while accepting without judgement what is happening to you.

We at English Yoga Berlin offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.”

Terminology Tuesday: Paschimottanasana

paschimottasana

one could think of Paschimottasana as a ‘salute to the sunset’

Paschimottanasana = from Sanskrit, paschima meaning West or back of the body, uttana meaning intense stretch, and asana meaning posture

We are talking here about the seated forward bend.  Traditionally we would be facing the East in the morning doing our Sun Salutations, which is why the back of our body is talked about as the West. 

Paschimottasana in practice

At Pinelopi’s Hatha yoga classes in Kreuzberg, we have explored this pose deeply.  We try through Paschimottanasana to stretch equally the entirety of the back of our body.  Here we have a network of muscles and connective tissue that starts from our eye brows, over the head, down the back and legs, all the way to the soles of our feet.  It goes by the name of backline of the body, or the superficial backline.

Introducing us to an insight she shared with us from the work of Leslie Kaminoff, Pinelopi guides us to become aware to where we feel the stretch most intensely.  For many people it is the hamstrings, and for others the lower back or the upper back.  For some, it is the back of the knees.  We then work with the specific needs of our body, adjusting with props, to get an even stretch all over the superficial backline.  This allows us to experience the grounding, release and surrender that is the core of this asana.

Paschimottasana as an experience, not an ideal shape

A specific example of that is my situation: due to my specific restriction of movement, I cannot get my abdomen in contact with the top of my legs.  Does it mean I cannot stretch the “west side” of my body, my back?  No, it does not mean that. How I stretch the back of my body will look completely different to how you do.  Yet we will both be stepping into an experience of arising and transforming sensations, witnessing life unfolding through us.

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.”

The Puzzle Picture

Avidal's painting on flyer

We believe Yoga to be a powerful tool that helps us assemble the pieces of our Life’s puzzle and allows us to see the big picture.

Ever wondered what the “Puzzle Picture” on our flyers means? Clelia, our Erasmus intern, reports from behind the scenes.

 

The image representing English Yoga Berlin left a deep impression on me from the first time I saw it.  It is the painting of an almost complete puzzle.  The puzzle image is of a person completing their own puzzle.  It’s an image within an image.  A puzzle of a puzzle.  I was curious, and I asked Pinelopi, my teacher of yoga in Kreuzberg.  The story she told me really resonated with me.  I want to share it with you, so here what she said.

“One day I met with my friend and artist Avital Yomdin, and told her I needed to design a flyer for my classes.  We sat and talked about what yoga means to me.  I spoke about what yoga had done for me in my life.  I realised something important as we were speaking: when I began yoga, I knew very little about my physical chronic pain.  Crucially, I also knew very little about myself, for example the space I take, the person I transform into every day.

Through the yoga classes, meditation and mindfulness techniques, I started to understand and accept myself more and more.  I am not anywhere close to knowing myself completely, as that might be, who knows, ultimate enlightenment.  Yet I feel that the process of doing yoga was like finding the pieces of the puzzle of myself, so I could put them together.  Slowly, I could form a picture of  who I am.”

 

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

Terminology Tuesday: Tratak

A candle flame is often the choice for tratak

Tratak is the practice of steadily gazing on one point. In our yoga classes in Kreuzberg, we practice Tratak on a candle flame, but virtually anything can be used as the object of concentration.

The term tratak from Sanskrit means means “to look” or “to gaze”.

 

It is one of six Hatha Yoga methods to remove toxins and sluggishness from the body’s organs.  This practice is said to relieve eye ailments, making the eyes clear and bright. It also said to improve a whole range of physiological and mental functions. Used in the treatment of insomnia, depression and anxiety, Tratak can improve the memory and concentration.

Through this practice, you learn that concentration involves no strain or effort, but that it is a relaxed state in which your attention remains easily fixed on an inner or outer object of your choice.

 

Here is a quick guide from this Yogapedia article:

  1. Light a candle and sit at least one meter away from it with the flame at eye level.
  2. Focus the gaze on the flame and keep it there without blinking for as long as possible.
  3. As thoughts arise, acknowledge them then return to focus on the flame.
  4. When the eyes start to water and tears flow, close the eyes and focus on the after-glow of the flame, bringing awareness to the third eye point.
  5. Meditate here until ready to come out of the practice.

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

Accepting positive feelings

I love the idea of meditating on positive feelings too – have you ever thought about it? It’s about honouring those precious moments and learn from them.

RAIN meditation

Tara Brach’s RAIN

I have learned about “the RAIN of Self-Compassion” from an English Yoga Berlin class in Kreuzberg.  It’s a particular mindfulness practice that helps us to work through difficult emotions.  It is a Buddhist meditation that was later on tweaked by Tara Brach.  Read more about it here, where you can explore a wealth of resources made available by Tara’s website.

Being present to our feelings

I wanted to share how differently it landed for me one particular evening.  I connected that kind of meditation to difficult feelings only.  But that day in particular, I was feeling so blessed and grateful (for everything in my life) and I was trying to skip those feelings, not allowing them to be, felt awkward – with a thought like life needs to be hard to be meaningful and to make a difference, something like that.  Then I got anxious.

When the meditation found me in the evening, laying in Savasana, I was able to apply acceptance, understanding and nurturing to positive feelings too.  I was able to welcome them and be present to what they were telling me.

When I reflected upon it later, I realised that maybe positive feelings is not necessarily the right word.  We are talking about feelings that are challenging in other ways.  The excitement of anticipation can be tiring or distracting.  The feeling you want to explode from love or tenderness can be overwhelming.  They are all feelings that have that sensation that the cup of emotion being very full and is about to overflow… in a positive way.. but overflow.

Finding out that RAIN works for them too was very comforting. It’s as if the feeling is not out of control and overflowing, but I can sit with it in a steady glowing way. I think it reminds me of a fire. It can be consumed real quick and glamorously fast, or it can burn steady and for a while giving heat for a longer time.

 

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

Anahata Chakra – a personal experience

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Anahata is the emotional powerhouse of your self.  In this chakra we process emotion and feel love, forgiveness and compassion.

 

Here, we learn that the most powerful energy we have inside of us is love.  Alas, this chakra gets strongly affected by trapped anger and the experience of grief and loss.
Anahatha in every day life
I have been struggling with anger, grief and loss for a long time.  I observed that when the teacher asked us to focus on the heart centre, I could not really feel the heart centre like the other centres, by will, by sending focus there.  And yet, spontaneously, especially after a good yoga session, I would feel a clear sensation in the middle of my chest.  It is a similar sensation like when the stomach is empty.  It feels like a call: “hey, I am hungry!”

What do you feel in the area of the heart? Have you ever observed how emotions feel physically in this area?
Anahatha in meditation
In meditation, I visualised the heart: I was following the instructions to bring forth the details of what I could visualize, what I could imagine.  I saw a beautiful yet hard armour around my heart. Then the teacher suggested “what are you not allowing yourself to feel?”.  I knew this was an important question.  I was struggling to keep focused, mind wandering.  The parent voice inside me said She just said ‘what are you not allowing yourself to feel’.  Some kind of energy was rising up, and with it resistance.  I got a glimpse at the energy contained in this powerful chakra centre.
What is your relationship to powerful emotions like rage or wild joy? Where do you feel them in your body?
To explore this part of my body through physical observation has helped me greatly. By grounding in the body sensations, I accepted my difficult feelings and allowed them to be.  It’s as if cracks started to appear in the wall that I felt was insurmountable for so long.  I felt hope for healing, as if I were a plant that is finally getting watered!

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen

 

Clelia is an Erasmus entrepreneur working as an intern in learning how to set up a small yoga business such as English Yoga Berlin. We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, private classes for pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes for people struggling with chronic pain.

Terminology Tuesday: Rotation of Consciousness

rotation of consciousness

photo by Fern

Today we are focusing on a term that we use in every class, during Yoga Nidra: rotation of consciousness.

The rotation of consciousness involves taking the practitioner’s awareness to different parts of the body. Wherever we focus our attention becomes the place where we also centre our energy. Bringing one’s awareness to each part of the body increases the energy in that part and allows the participant to identify and relax tensions there.

By using this practice we invite ourselves to experience total relaxation while being awake.  Nidra, here, means literally sleepYoga Nidra, therefore means the yoga of sleep.  It is about being aware while the body sleeps; the rotation of consciousness is one of the techniques that makes this possible.  It brings heightened awareness to the whole body, piece by piece. It grounds us with connecting to the sensations present there.

Important Tip

If you, like me, end up falling asleep during Yoga Nidra, first of all know that it is natural and common.  But, like me, you might regret having missed the visualization that follows, and really would like to stay awake.  Try and repeat the teacher’s words as they reach you, while feeling or visualizing the body part – it worked for me!

Clelia is an Erasmus entrepreneur working as an intern.  Her placement involved learning how to set up a small yoga business such as English Yoga Berlin. We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes for people struggling with chronic pain.

Terminology Tuesday: Niyamas

In our previous post we explored the concepts presented by the Yamas.  Today, for our Terminology Tuesday post we bring you the second part of Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas.

Hanging the laundry can be an exercise in Tapas

 

The Niyamas (the second limb) are the attitudes and behaviours that yogis can work towards to cultivate happiness and to improve their lives and environments. There are five niyamas as there are five yamas. Below is an introduction to three of them.

Tapas
“Tapas” is an attitude of passion and commitment. Some people think of it as discipline, or austerity. The word actually comes from the Sanskrit verb ”to burn”-so Tapas is all about fiery consistency. I think that we often get this mixed up with difficulty and striving. I prefer to think of it more as a gentle flame that inspires us to keep going, even when the tasks at hand seem very, very mundane!

Svadhyaya
Svadhyaya means active self-reflection, or study of the self. This doesn’t mean egotistical navel gazing. Rather, it’s about learning enough about yourself to see that you are part of something much, much bigger. Asana practice brings the body and mind to a place of quiet, so that we can experience our union with everything.

Isvara Pranidahna
The last Niyama is Isvara Pranidahna, which means ‘surrender’ or ‘faith’.  Isvara Pranidahna means that you do your best, in the moment, with the tools you have, and then you release your attachment to the outcome.

 

For a more in-depth exploration of the Niyamas, read here.  If you wish to learn more about how these values influence your own life, then we invite you to our 2.5 workshop on Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas coming up this Sunday. In this workshop we will use 10 guided mini self explorations to make the yamas an niyamas something applicable to our own personal 21st century lives.

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

Terminology Tuesday: Yamas

looks like morse

Yamas are guidelines

Now that the western New Year has settled in, many of us are resolving to change some of our habits. The yamas is an aspect of yoga that guides us to change certain deeply ingrained habits. Let’s begin here.

 

Yamas and Niyamas are the first two steps of yoga that Patanjali discusses in the Yoga Sutra. They are ethical, behavioral and spiritual guidelines for living.

The Yamas are ethical principles about attitudes and behaviors that cause suffering (greed, dishonesty, violence, etc).  They are about stopping the behaviors that cause you to suffer.

Ahimsa is the first Yama, and it is most commonly translated as ´non-violence´. Non violent consciousness is defined by some as connecting with what is alive in ourselves and others. It´s also what we use in yoga, when we decide not to push beyond our limits.

Satya is the second Yama, and it means ´truth´. Satya urges us to be honest with  ourselves, and with others. In asana, we practice Satya when we listen to our body and, again, respect its limits.

Asteya is the third Yama, and it means ´not stealing´. This is a more complex concept than the translation conveys.   We believe Asteya is not about stifling need, it is about restraining greed. Asteya guides students to ask themselves: do I really need this?

Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama. It  is translated into English as ´celibacy´, but can also be looked at as a ´conscious use of energy, especially sexual´.

Aparigraha is the last Yama, and it means ´non-comparing´. This Yama is about jealousy, and acceptance. Patanjali recognized that the human mind has a tendency to compare, in order to understand. In our Kreuzberg yoga classes we often tell students to observe without analyzing.

For a more in-depth exploration of the Yamas, read here and here.  If you wish to learn more about how these values influence your own life, then we invite you to our 2.5 workshop on Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas coming up at the end of the month. In this workshop we will use 10 guided mini self explorations to make the yamas an niyamas something applicable to our own personal 21st century lives.

We offer Hatha Yoga classes with Pinelopi and Vinyasa yoga with Juli.  Our yoga Kreuzberg Berlin classes are open for and welcoming to beginners. We also offer Berlin business yoga, pregnancy yoga, and private yoga classes, including for people struggling with chronic pain.

The gift that keeps on giving

“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

Khalil Gibran

 

know your light through the dark

Candles In The Dark
photo by אליעד מלין

Yes, yes, you know what I am going to say now: the Season is upon us. Or should I say the Seasons: Hanukkah, Bodhi Day or Rohatsu, Christmas, Kwanzaa, plus all the ancient festivals associated with the Winter Solstice.

It’s cold. It’s dark.  There seems to be an ancient intuitive call: to walk towards the light, the bonfire, the candle, reflect and get warm.  A lot of us go into this dark cave of hibernation and feel the need to reach inside our own psyches with a sign of care. Similarly, we reach out to our loved ones with a gift, a thought, a phone call, an act of kindness.

Additionally, the winter holidays mark the passing of another year. Memories, family dynamics, losses and longings all come up again, stirring a mix of emotions that makes winter hibernation hard to escape!

This time can be very overwhelming for a lot of us.

My way of dealing with this time of the year is by going into my body, into my breathing, into creating moments with myself. It is by going into my yoga.

If you feel you need a special place to go inwards during this solstice, we invite you to come and try out a class. This is also a great gift for a loved one who you think could benefit from the calmness and grounding, the gentle moments of solitude, and a more emotionally sustainable way of life.

English Yoga Berlin offer yoga gift cards for one or more Hatha yoga and Vinyasa yoga classes. You can buy them at our yoga studio in Kreuzberg, or online.