Donna Negus Yoga

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One Step at a Time – the Power and Benefit of Walking Meditation.

One Step at a Time – the Power and Benefit of Walking Meditation.

Meditation can take many forms. For example we can use Sound, visualisations, affirmations and our breathe. For some of us, walking meditation is something we may be aware of but never took much notice of. In this article I hope to explain why this practice may be for you and encourage you to give it a go.

Sometimes we may find sitting still difficult; we may be too agitated to lye down; we may suffer from insomnia and get exhausted trying to get to sleep. Walking meditatively gives us a chance to be present and find mental rest through attentive movement.

We begin the practice by simply standing and feeling the ground beneath our feet. I have practiced this indoors on carpet, wooden flooring or my mat and I have practiced outdoors with the crunch of gravel, sifting sand or comforting grass. I have practiced barefoot or with shoes. There is no right wrong way to practice. All you need is a relatively quiet place, some space, your attention and curiosity.

Wherever you decide to practice, allow your self to ‘stop’ and feel the ground beneath your feet. We have over 7000 nerve endings in the soles of our feet, 33 joints and over 100 ligaments and tendons. The more we refine our attention the more sensory feedback we will receive. Going barefoot regularly not only strengthens our feet but increases the connections to our brain which enable us to move with skill and improved balance. Our ‘haptic perception’ (the feeling of a part of our body) increases and this allows us to walk with a feeling of connection to the ground, to the feet, to the spine, to the crown of our head. In this way, our whole body walks and we know we are walking.

We consciously decide to lift either the right (or left) foot. We observe our habit. As we carefully lift one foot, we feel our weight transfer into the other foot. We feel the rippling effect of the movement through our leg, spine and body and know that we breathe. With care, we place our foot in front of us on the ground and repeat the process. Thich Nhat Hanh has said ‘Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet’ and with this thought we can be grateful for the earth beneath and the simple fact of being.

Walking is something most of us take for granted. Even though, from birth it takes about a year for us to learn to walk, once we can do it we don’t give it a lot of thought. We walk quicker and quicker so we can complete a task or get somewhere else. Usually when we are walking, we are thinking about what we will do when we get to the destination. Walking meditation (or mindful walking) is the opposite to this. We are not walking to get anywhere or achieve anything.

We are simply inviting ourselves to experiment with being where we already are in this moment, with this step, and not get ahead of ourselves. (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

With this in mind, we usually only take about 12 steps before turning around. Each time we turn, change the direction; turn to the right and begin again with your right foot. Next time turn to the left and begin with your left foot. You decide what you do but vary it to keep your attention. If you are feeling agitated go faster, or consciously decide to slow down. Your attention rests at the heart of this practice and soon you will find there is relief in knowing that there is nowhere to go and nothing to do but walk and know that you are walking. It is helpful to time your practice (5,10,20 minutes?). Make each step as sensitive as you can and learn to treat your body with the care you deserve.

You may be surprised at the respite you can find from churning thoughts and you may be surprised at what thoughts enter your head, but the ground beneath your feet and the gentle rhythm of your pace can allow you to return to the present moment. Here, in this moment there are no problems and in this moment your walking becomes a meditation.


Kabat-Zinn J Full Catastrophe Living

Thich Naht hanh The Path of Mindfulness in Every day Life

Donna Negus

My teaching and practice is profoundly influenced by Vanda Scaravelli and Mindfulness.

I am BWY Teacher and Foundation Course Tutor member of Eastern Region Committee

Why Cultivate Gratitude?

Gratitude is an attitude that can have far reaching effects on our physical and mental health.

There are hundreds of studies that tell us if we have a ‘grateful’ disposition we benefit both physically and psychologically. The most accessible way to cultivate gratitude is by keeping a ‘gratitude journal’. I have dipped in out of keeping a journal for several years now but when we went into our second lockdown last November, I started and have kept one in earnest ever since. At the time, I wasn’t feeling particularly ‘grateful’ for anything!

We all have our stories that have dragged us down both mentally and physically and sometimes we can find ourselves in situations that seem too hard to bear. We can begin to lose sight of what is special and what ultimately can make life not just worth living but makes life wonderful. A study of 1000 people (age 8 -80yrs) by Robert Emmons showed that by keeping a Gratitude Journal for just 3 weeks a host of benefits was reported. These included:


Stronger immune system

Less bothered by aches and pains

Lower blood pressure

Took more exercise and better care of themselves

Better sleep patterns


Felt more positive and less anxious

More alert


Increased feelings of optimism


More helpful and compassionate to others

More forgiving

More outgoing

Less lonely

How does this work?

By keeping a ‘gratitude journal’ and regularly recording the things that make you happy you are affirming there is goodness in the in the world.

Sometimes, I may note that I am grateful for the roof over my head, the sun in the sky, my family and the food that I eat. The list can be long or short but by noting the positive, we block toxic, negative emotions. This works by the simple fact that we cannot feel angry, resentful, envious, and/or ungrateful when we are feeling grateful.

We benefit in the physical sense as well because it has been shown that grateful people are more resistant to stress. Studies have shown that in the face of serious trauma, adversity and suffering those of us who have high levels of gratitude recover more quickly. Perhaps because there is that deep understanding that life goes on. Self-efficacy plays a role in this as well. This is that idea that we can cope with whatever life throws at us. Gratitude for what we have allows us to stop thinking we have to control everything around us because we are happy with how things are (or at least part of it!).

Our experiences of this past year has tested many of us and have affected us in ways that we may not even be aware of. Being able to see things from a different perspective allows us to not dwell in the negative (a propensity that we Humans are prone to do).

Mother Theresa talked about how grateful she was to the people she was helping in the slums of Calcutta. They helped her deepen her spirituality and feel closer to God.

Whatever we encounter, whatever lives we lead and whatever our day brings to us, our attitude is key. Why cultivate gratitude? Why not?

May 2021

The Value of Ahimsa 

"We have built a boat and mistaken it for the sea" S Santorelli

The idea of Ahimsa is one of Patanjali’s paths of Yoga revelation and sits as the first Yama or restraint. The concept of ahimsa and its observance stabilises the boat as we continue our journey into unchartered water and is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘hims’, meaning to strike and himsa is injury or harm. A-himsa is the opposite; non -harming.

To practice ahimsa is to embrace nonviolence to all living beings, including yourself. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept that envelopes attitudes to our self and others. What we ‘think’ can be just as harmful as how we behave and our opinions and judgements pay a key part in our actions and the life we lead. In this way observing ahimsa is far more than not overstretching on our mat in a particularly vigorous yoga session. Kindness to ourselves as we practice asana is a great way to introduce this concept in an accessible way but the more we continue our journey, the deeper the levels of the concept are revealed.

‘I think therefore I am’

This statement form Descartes proved his existence and was the conclusion of soul searching and doubt into the reason for human existence. Within Patanjali’s paradigm there is no doubt as to why we exist. The cycle of rebirth continues until we reach a state of enlightenment. Stilling the thought waves of our mind (BK1 V2) holds the key to calming our mind and revealing that place where doubts are irrelevant and our consciousness is united with all that there is, was and will be. This begins with realising our connectivity and unity with all.

Practicing Ahimsa brings us into contact with kindness and compassion. This journey begins with our self. How do we talk to our self? Do we berate our self and tell our self we are not good enough? Do we think we should do more, be more, have more? Can we (quickly) name ten things we love about our self? Is it easier to love someone else before you? The practice of ahimsa begins with our self because how can we love, value and be truly compassionate to others if we cannot feel it to our self?

Our thoughts, opinions and judgements play an integral role to the life we lead and the way we treat others. Our thoughts may make us who we are but this does not mean we have to have to be stuck in the same negative thought patterns. Sometimes we judge our self and others harshly, sometimes our opinion may be brutal but when we come to work with and understand the concept of ahimsa we begin to ‘know’. In that ‘knowing’ we gain perspective and can learn to not get ‘caught’ up in destructive emotions and opinions. We all judge and we all believe we know better sometimes. Practicing ahimsa allows us to see another’s point of view and perhaps more importantly to realise that only some battles are worth fighting for. Anger and resentment only poison our self.

"We have built a boat and mistaken it for the sea" S Santorelli

Our small rowing boat holds all our judgements, beliefs and opinions but the vast ocean exists regardless. We can choose to hold on to what we think is best or we can embrace life and live with understanding and compassion. Then our boat will become the sea. Practicing ahimsa takes us outside of our thoughts and into a world of moments where we care and listen, understand and trust that we are part of something far greater than what we think.

A Special Place

At first, it is the overriding heat that demands my attention. I think again, why did I come here in August? About an hours’ journey from Rome in the hills of Sabina, the temperature can be oppressive and energy sapping. I feel as though I am wading through invisible mud. My feet and legs feel heavy and I walk slowly to accommodate both the heat and the sheer wonder of this place.

My surroundings claim my attention. The hills undulate into the distance and verdant trees scatter and thicken. The shades of Green become more than just a colour but a living, breathing landscape that demands my attention.

The road my feet connect with is littered with potholes; its state of decay matched only by its gradient. Either side, overgrown bushes bow with orange and indigo berries. My taste buds are treated to the sharp tang of blackcurrants and my clothes are caught on thorns as I pick fruit along the way. I am going downhill now. The way back is steep, but I can’t allow myself to think about that now.

My senses are engaged, caught and held; wildflowers and clambering vines; brambles and nettles and sounds that both soothe and invigorate. Birds, insects and bees. Heat rises from the tarmac and I breathe in the scents of grass, thickets and wildflowers. I walk slowly, not only because of the heat but because this walk is as absorbing to me as the destination is important. Solitude is a state of mind and I am not alone. The call of birds, the distant sound from busy farming machinery are all carried blissfully in the thick stillness of heat.

The path I take veers left and it arrives, as always with sharp surprise. This Summer it is even more over-grown. Branches of thorns catch at my clothes and sometimes scratch my skin. Once, my hat was lifted from my head by a jealous bramble and I learned to move out of the way of this path’s inhabitants, not walk through them.

Now, there is the crunch of dried leaves and the sound of darting lizards. Sometimes I catch sight of a small lightning-fast tail as it whizzes through the layered path. I breathe in and lift one foot, I breathe out and place it carefully on the earth. Thich Naht Hahn’s advice to walk as though we kiss the earth comes to me and the pleasure at walking on this earth is felt deeply within. I play with ‘walking’. Attention is said to be caught by our imagination and in this place my imagination is not as powerful as reality. The sound of running water alleviates the heat for a moment. I can hear drains gurgle with the underground streams, crickets echo, insects call, and birds sing. It only takes a moment to feel connection to a world that is far greater than I believe possible.

I continue on this path, following it but (almost) not wanting my journey to end. There is wonder and pleasure in allowing my senses to experience what is happening Now: The ground beneath, the sounds that arrive, the smells that can be tasted and the understanding this moment is as transitory as it is beautiful.

I veer left again and the small house appears – the conclusion to my walk but the beginning of another journey. I feel excitement deep inside my body as well as that deep, familiar sense of rest that occurs when we feel we have come ‘home’. This year has brought many changes to our lives. My small world was shaken when my dad passed away in February. My larger world was turned upside down with the onslaught of COVID_19 and all subsequent events. I, like all of us, have coped, adapted and managed to carry on thinking I am alright, but really knowing I am not.

I have come to Italy to practice and be taught Yoga. Each time is different and each time my felt experience deepens to the extent that it does not matter if it can be repeated, explained or revisited. To feel it once is enough.

Diane Long said ‘we cry because we don’t know who we are. We cry because we validate ourselves by ‘doing’ something and in this we lose the true depth of knowledge that we are already whole, already You’.

I came here, not to gain anything but to lose the baggage that I carry. I came here to let go of habits and to find that way of practicing that cultivates freedom, not just in movement but in thought. I came here to remember ‘me’.

It is wrong to call this place special. It is just a house with a yoga teacher and other students. But, sometimes, we are lucky enough to find a place that will nourish us and a teacher who will direct us to a path that allows us to begin again. There comes a time when there is a realisation that searching, looking and trying to change, depletes us. A special place will nourish and allow us to be who we are.

The most wonderful insight of all is the realisation this special place resides within us. We may search for it outside us, beyond us and even oversees, but we find it when we stop looking and learn to listen. This is when we begin again.

Donna Negus


In order to ‘begin again’ we have to learn to ‘let go’

They say that in India there is a particularly clever way of catching monkeys. As the story goes, hunters will cut a hole in a coconut that is just big enough for a monkey to put its hand through. Then they will drill two smaller holes in the other end, pass a wire through and secure the coconut to the base of a tree. Then they slip a banana inside the coconut through the hole and hide. The monkey comes down, puts his hand in, and takes hold of the banana. The hole is cleverly crafted so the open hand can go in but the fist cannot get out. All the monkey has to do to be free is to let go of the banana. But it seems most monkeys don’t let go.

Story from Full Catastrophe Living Jon Kabat-Zinn

We can be so invested in our habits to the extent that we cannot see the benefits of letting them go. If we have spent days, weeks, a lifetime doing the same thing, why should we change? As a yoga teacher, sometimes I am asked how hamstrings can be ‘lengthened’ or hips ‘opened’. One client informed me he had been doing certain exercises for over ten years now and he felt no change in his hamstrings. My answer would be to practice different exercises.

The truth is, as we get older we can become stuck in doing things in the same way, using the same muscles in our body and same neural networks in our brain. I was once told that it takes repeating the same thing twenty one times for it to become a habit. This can be an advantage to us and it certainly was worth knowing when I started to learn how to play the piano a few years back and appeared to have no control in my left hand at all! Now, having practiced (and practiced!) I can play grade 3 pieces.

On Yoga Practice

To begin again we have to let go of pride in our postures. Sometimes we have to do less to find comfort in our bodies and acknowledge that pushing, pulling and forcing ourselves into shapes is not what our body wants but what our mind is making it do. This way of working spills over into our daily lives and we can begin to acknowledge that expectations and control have the propensity to be destructive to our well being, Vairagya (dispassion) is found through objectivity. If our asanas should be ‘steady and comfortable’ as advised by Patanjali (verse 11.46) then we should be listening to our body.

This way of practicing allows us to notice how we are in each moment with the acknowledgement that each moment is different. If we are invested in doing something in the same way at the same time it can be a habit and our interest may wane. Our practice is kept alive through our imagination and our interest in the simplest of things; our connection to the ground and the breath in our body. In this way, we learn to ‘let go’ and welcome what we feel and experience Now. Next time you come to your mat try something different, there is nothing to lose but expectation and habits.

The Possibility of Beginning Again: Practice and Freedom

Change is an integral part of life. We progress and try to achieve, so why is it that change can be one of our biggest fears? Donna Negus explores the idea of how cultivating a ‘beginners’ mind’ can improve our feelings of wellbeing.

As I am writing this and as you are reading this, cells in our body are dying, dividing and renewing. It has been calculated that, on average, every seven years all the atoms in our body have come and gone and been replaced (Jon Kabat-Zinn). As I am writing this and as you are reading this, the tides ebb and flow, night becomes day, seeds fall and trees grow and our world is engaged in a constant cycle of degeneration and regeneration. Change is all around us but one of our biggest fears is change.

Being able to adapt to whatever life throws at us is essential to our wellbeing. Our constant need to ‘control’ is destructive to our health. Stress occurs when things are not how we would like them to be or when we are not how we think we should be. In the last year we have all had our lives effected (to some degree or another) by decisions from the government or by fear of something that could happen. This can cause us to suffer both mentally and physically. Put simply, suffering is exacerbated by seeing everything from our own personal perspective. What we have experienced, everyone experiences to some degree or another. What we have overcome, others have overcome as well. As objectivity is cultivated the deep understanding that everything is a process is cultivated. Within this understanding we can find relief in the knowledge that nothing lasts forever. Change can be and is positive. Change can be welcomed and we can lives to the fullest.

Yoga teaches us that change is inevitable. Every time we practice our body will be different. Why should it be the same? Each time I come to my mat I work with the idea that I am practicing for the first time. Each time I practice (and teach) I endeavour to locate the beginner’s mind. In this frame of mind, preconceived ideas, perceptions and beliefs can be left behind and we can practice with attention to what is felt ‘now.’ This allows the possibility of starting again as we are, and not as we think we should be because yesterday (or five minutes ago) this happened and that made me/us do that.

The second sutra in Patanjali teaches us yogas-citta-vritti-nirodah. Alistair Shearer translates this as ‘yoga is the settling of the mind into silence’. Surely in this ‘silence’ we are not worried about what has happened before, what might happen in the future or the myriad of other thoughts that intrude and affect our health and wellbeing? Imagine what it would be like if we were able to accept all the changes around us without intellectualising, judging and wishing it were different. This is the beginners’ mind; the mind in its purest form.

Patanjali’s (V1:12) goes on to teach us that freedom is found by practice (abhysa) and dispassion (vairagya). Dispassion can be found through objectivity and not being bound to seeing everything from our personal point of view. Alistair Shearer’s translation of V1:16:

And Supreme freedom is that complete liberation from the world of change that comes from knowing the unbounded self.

The ‘unbounded self’ is the enlightened ‘self’. This state allows is to not be caught and bound by the fear of change. I have no expectations of achieving enlightenment (!) but I do want to live the life I have in the healthiest way possible. This means accepting change as part of the process and journey. Change is embedded in the cycle of our planet, the stars, the universe and our body. The worldwide pandemic that has engulfed us all has taught us that control is indeed, an illusion. We are all affected by changing circumstances but our willingness to accept, adapt and thrive is governed by our mind set. When we begin each day as though it is our first there is an amazing amount of relief to be found in the possibility that we can always begin again.

Albert Einstein once said, there are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.

The choice is within us all.

Donna Negus October 2020

Feuerstein G (1989) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Kabat-Zinn J (2013) Full Catastrophe Living

Shearer A (1982) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Mindfulness & Meditation: two sides of the same coin.

Donna Negus answers the question to her students on the differences, similarities and traditions that define mindfulness and meditation

I was wondering what is the difference between mindfulness and meditation? 

This is a question I am often asked when I teach a mindfulness course and one that I avoided for a long time in my own practice but it is a question that gradually answers itself.

Simple Answer;

Mindfulness is a meditative practice.

So – What does this mean?

A definition of Mindfulness;

Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non -judgementally.

(Jon Kabat-Zinn)

A Few definitions of Meditation (because there are many):

meditation noun. the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed: prayer and meditation. She practises meditation.

meditation Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

What does meditate mean?

1 [intransitive] meditate (on/upon something) to think deeply, usually in silence, especially for religious reasons or in order to make your mind calm. 2[transitive] meditate something (formal) to plan something in your mind; to consider doing something synonym contemplate They were meditating revenge.…

A Definition of Meditation (Dhyana) According to Patanjali (Yogic Sage 2000 BC)

In the yogic context, meditation, or dhyana, is defined more specifically as a state of pure consciousness. It is the seventh stage, or limb, of the yogic path and follows dharana, the art of concentration. Dhyana in turn precedes samadhi, the state of final liberation or enlightenment, the last step in Patanjali's eight-limbed system.

A Beginner's Guide to Meditation - Yoga Journal – Yoga ...

The definition of Meditation that I always go back to;

In his book, Teach Yourself to Meditate, Eric Harrison uses an example to explain what meditation is:

Often I enter the park with my head full of thoughts, mentally writing this book as I walk. But the scene is too lovely to ignore. The rainbow coloured parrots are feeding on the bottlebrush flowers, the air is rich with scent, and the afternoon sun shines on the white bark of the gum trees……..The thoughts and concerns I brought into the park have all slipped away. I am in a different time and space.

This is meditation, a state in which the body is relaxed, the mind is quiet, and we are alive to the sensations of the moment.

There are many ways to reach this state; visualisation, chanting, dancing, counting, breathing, to name but a few. Most of these alter our state of consciousness. In the past I have tried most of these practices and was often left feeling a bit ‘cheated’. If I was led to imagine I was a bird flying through the clouds, or resting on a beautiful beach with warm sun and sea I would not want to come back to the life I lead….. Practicing Mindfulness did not give me this feeling. We may find our consciousness shift but it occurs as a result of being with our life as it unfolds; being aware of each moment (like the passage from the Eric Harrison book).

It is worth knowing that mindfulness is often described as the heart of Buddhist meditation. Nevertheless, cultivating mindfulness is not a Buddhist activity (Jon Kabat-Zin).

My experience of mindfulness began with my completing the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme) about 8 years ago. This is a programme devised by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the Medical Centre of Massachusetts (1979). Jon Kabat-Zinn is a psychologist, mindfulness teacher and yogi (he still teaches today). He found, through his personal experience the benefits of bringing mindfulness into his life and was able to research its effects on patients with chronic pain who were not finding any relief from other forms of therapy. Through his work and research in a clinical setting, Jon Kabat-Zinn was able to secularise (take the Buddhism out of Mindfulness) and bring it to the mainstream world and now mindfulness is part of our everyday language.

When I first started practicing yoga (many years ago!) and completed my training with the British Wheel of Yoga (2006) meditation was something that wasn’t really referred to in classes or in everyday language. The myths that surround ‘meditation’ surface in the press every now and again when Churches ban its practice; or, it is described as ‘cultish’ or an inducement of psychosis. Now, meditation is more widely recognised as being of benefit to our health (mental, physical and emotional). This is due to the research pioneered by people like Jon Kabat -Zinn who were able to show the changes that takes place in our brain when we meditate. Ongoing research shows how those of us who meditate cope with stress and recover from failure more quickly and generally have a more optimistic outlook. I could go on…..

In answer to the question (at last!)

Mindfulness is the beginning of a journey that takes us towards those moments of complete immersion into what is being experienced Now. Simply by being with your breathing, your body and all the sensation you experience you are becoming awake and conscious (see definition of meditation by Patanjali). In the spirit of the words ‘ there is no right or wrong way of feeling or breathing’ and ‘nothing to gain and nothing to lose’ by practicing’ can we come away from our intense need to intellectualise what we are working with and allow ourselves to feel what we feel?

States of consciousness arrive when we don’t seek, and awareness is cultivated when we just observe. Sitting quietly in contemplation of ‘what is’, is being mindful and this has all the requirements of meditation.

I will finish as I began; Mindfulness is a meditative practice and meditation is being Mindful and so they can be seen as one and the same.


Harrison E (1993) page 1 Teach Yourself to Meditate

Kabat-Zinn J (2016) page 1,21 Mindfulness For Beginners

Donna Negus 13/6/2020   

The Perfect Present.

December 2019 - Published on MindfulnessUK website

At this time of year, the question,” What is the perfect present to give the ones we love?” is never far from our mind. In search of something for my mum, I hit the shops; the packed shelves heaved with gift sets; the jewellery stores with the promise of love delivered with a shiny stone and the colourful jumpers guaranteed to keep us warm and cosy. Christmas overloads our senses: Garlands and Christmas trees, chocolate and cheese, all (somehow) delivering a message that we need to do this or buy that in order to have what we desire and make the ones we love happy.

We all know in a deep place inside us that these ‘things’ do not give us happiness. It has been shown, and we can feel it if we listen to ourselves, that the anticipation of buying something or receiving something materialistic is far greater than the actual acquisition. Our mindfulness practice gives us this knowledge, but it is easily dulled by tinsel and cake!

There was a time that I would be in those shops with my mum and as I walk around those same places now I know the best present I could ever receive would be for her to able to do that with me again. My mum has dementia and her health and memory have steadily deteriorated over the last year and it is so easy, and I am so aware, that my mind will drift to how I would like things to be rather than how they are. Sometimes, I liken the life I have now to feeling as though I am in a parallel universe. I am being coerced along this unknown, treacherous path and alongside me is another path that is soft and inviting and with the guaranteed destination of happiness. I am easily seduced as I have a powerful imagination!

My mindfulness practice has allowed me the possibility of acceptance and the deep pain I suffer as I watch my mother’s health and memory deteriorate is lessened by compassion. So, at this time of year, when I search for the perfect present, I know that, really, it is already with me. Happiness is not just laughter and our memory does not necessarily make us who we are. Love is not something that can be bought but it must be noticed. Being Mindful has allowed me the possibility of sitting with emotions both painful and joyful, both pleasant and unpleasant (and rarely neutral). Knowing there is a possibility of befriending these feelings and welcoming these emotions has allowed me to cultivate compassion in a way that has evolved alongside the changing relationship with my mum.

Christmas is a season where we like to give presents as well as receive them, but sometimes we can glimpse this time as just being another moment when we can practice compassion. Why is this time any different from any other time? The truth is it isn’t. Living with Mindfulness allows us the possibility of being with heartfelt gratitude and compassion for what ever arises and whatever happens and as I search for the perfect present to give to my mum, I know the perfect present is time and it is already here. Time, and another moment to spend with my mum, to just sit and listen to her and be with her because I know that this time, right now is the best gift of all.

Working With Back Bends

Autumn 2015 - Published BWY Spectrum Magazine

Back bends allow us to find those movements that can appear so natural with children. Each time I work with dhanurasana (back bend from the floor) in my classes, there is always at least one person who remembers ‘doing this so easily when I was younger’.

As we get older, our habit is to live in the front of our body (1). When we want to pick up, or look at something behind us; we turn. There is a saying that to ‘bend over backwards’ for someone is to imply that we are doing something beyond our normal limits. In this way, back bends become ‘unnatural’ and perhaps this is why it is easy to become tense or ‘brace’ ourselves, when we attempt any kind of extension (back bend) of the spine. If we can work at losing tension; at activating movement without force, we can locate a fluid and innately graceful way of working, and the asana becomes secondary to the ‘feeling’ we experience.

The beginning of any practice is to relax, but not to collapse. If we can learn to do this consciously, with awareness of each part of ourselves, keeping our mind and our body alert to each nuance of how we feel, our practice will evolve in a way that is right for us in that particular moment. The best teacher we have is that part of us that is truthful to our capabilities and refuses to force our body beyond its limits.

Practice Sequence

Taking your time in each moment you are on your mat is the first thing you must promise yourself. It is not how long you hold a position for, but how you feel. If there is any aim to our practice ( whether it be back bends, forward bends, rotations or simply sitting) then it is to find length, or elongation in the spine and so reverse the effects of compression (2).


Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanansana)

In her book Awakening the Spine’, Vanda Scaravelli talks about the ‘division’ in the centre of our spine (3). From the centre of our spine (our waist area) we can let the area below the waist find connection with the lower half our body, through to our feet; and from the waist (centre) upwards, we can allow the spine to free towards the top of the head.

If we work with this concept from all-fours, we can imagine that we are being pulled up from the back of our waist and using this idea to allow our knees to come off the floor as a result of the connection to the centre of our spine. When we are in down dog, we can allow the weight of our lower spine to release downwards to the heels and by sending the weight of our upper spine through our shoulders towards our hands, we can allow the spine to free and lengthen.

Cobra (bhujangasana)

From all fours, place your hands a little bit further forward, but leave your shoulders behind. Send the weight of your hips back towards your heels (without dropping) and keep your attention with your spine. Working with the acknowledgement that your spine is deep inside, keep your outside muscles as relaxed as possible as you allow the movement forward to build momentum from your tailbone right through to the top of your head. The path of your spine within this position is forward, through the shoulders, before, from the centre of the spine, you can lift upwards, away from your wrists.


To begin, you can work with ‘half-virasana’ to make sure you are comfortable and ease into the position carefully. Allow the connection through your sitting bones to the floor to be as light as possible, in order to let your spine lengthen upwards. From the centre of the spine allow your hips to settle down into the floor, visualise your knees coming in (collecting) towards your hips and back to the centre of your spine. Work with this idea and not the challenge of forcible stretching.

If the conditions are right and you feel able to progress further, you can ease back to the floor behind you, but make sure your knees, ankle and feet are not locked. Do not force or push yourself into a position that your head is telling you to do, but listen to what your body is saying. Work with both legs when you feel ready.

Dhanurasana (back bend from the floor)

I always work in this position with the acknowledgement that it might not be possible today. This takes all my expectations and preconceived ideas away and allows me to focus on what I am doing NOW and how I am feeling at that moment. Each time we practice we will be different, if not physically, then emotionally. Learning to be patient has been the greatest benefit I have been given from practicing in this way.

Start in a semi supine position, feeling each part of you in contact with the floor and allowing your outside muscles to relax. We should not want to force or push our body into a shape but to find a movement within our ‘centre’ that will be able to radiate spontaneously throughout our whole body.

If you can comfortably take your hands above your shoulder, work with your fingertips lightly in contact with the floor. Don’t worry about bringing your palms down or taking weight into your wrists. When the conditions within your spine are right, your wrists and hands will engage.

Find the connections through your body. From your heels, take your attention to your knees and imagine your knees being drawn upwards towards the sky (keeping your feet resting on the floor). This will give your hips the ability to lift as lightly as possible. Avoid the instinct to ‘roll’ or ‘tilt’ your pelvis, remember you are practicing a ‘back bend’ not a pelvic thrust. Make sure your buttock muscles stay relaxed and lower back is comfortable. As your spine lifts off the floor, imagine your knees coming closer towards your hips and following this movement through the spine, from the base, through your pelvis, to your centre, and through to the top of your head. If you work with your attention firmly rooted on the movement of your spine within your body, you may find that your hands have come into position.

Take notice of how you feel. We want to find freedom and enjoyment in the movement. Drawing your attention to your elbows and knees, work with the idea that they can be lighter, to find a way of allowing them to move upwards as your shoulders and hips widen. Your feet and hands find connection to the floor as a result of what is happening in all of your body.

The experience of a full back bend is to feel your spine gather momentum from its base through to the top of your head. There is an overwhelming feeling of moving through the arms and forward towards the top of your head before you go ‘up’. Do not push down into the hands and feet; they will do their work as required. What is beneath us supports us, but it is our spine that inhabits our awareness.

There is no need to hold any position. True awareness is to experience being with a movement that feels as natural as it is surprising.

Variations can include lifting one leg off the floor. When you feel the movement through the spine, from the base through to the top, your legs will feel their connection through to the centre of your spine. This allows one leg to come away from the floor. Being patient and being with how you are in each moment gives us permission to enjoy the stage that we are in.


(1) Scaravelli V. (1991) Awakening The Spine (page 48)

(2) Scaravelli V. (1991) Awakening The Spine (page 31)

(3) Scaravelli V. (1991) Awakening The Spine (page 10)

Ideas for preparing to practice elbow balance

Autumn 2014 - Published BWY Spectrum Magazine

Elbow balance is a position that can seem unobtainable. It is a position I have been working with for many years (I hesitate to admit that it has been part of my regular practice for around 10 years). In the classes I teach, I work with the preparation for elbow balance, and though demanding, it is always received well. The most important thing to understand is that it is the progress towards the posture/asana, and not the posture itself that allows us to enjoy working with it. If we practice without judgement and without a debilitating need to ‘do’, yoga practice becomes an enjoyable game, rather than a checklist of things to achieve.

The more we ‘practice’ the stronger and more supple we become. I have practiced yoga for 30 years and have had many different teachers and many different viewpoints thrust upon me. I was always taught that ‘discipline’ is integral to yoga practice. This will ensure we practice, this will make us improve……But, I started to practice more when I stopped thinking I ‘had’ to practice and started to ‘want’ to practice.

Every day is unique and learning to listen to our body (its capabilities, its limitations) are integral to this way of practicing. When I started to practice in this way, the words ‘be content in the place you are in’ seemed like just a nice set of words. But, if we promote patience, tolerance, and gentleness within our practice, these words reveal a simple truth.

Where to start.

In any posture there is no ‘one’ part of our body that is more important than another. If we work as a ‘whole’ then a lightness can be achieved. It is easy to say that we need strong shoulders in order to perform ‘elbow balance’, but it is the connection of our shoulders to the rest of our body, that opens up possibilities. Thus, in order to prepare for ‘elbow balance’ we ‘find’ or shoulders in relation to our ‘whole’.

While on all fours, play with the idea of distributing your weight equally in your hands without ‘pushing’.

Can there be a feeling of space beneath you as well as above? For your hands to feel ‘light’ our shoulder joints must be found and their connection to the spine explored. Keep this feeling as you experiment with down-dog.

Can we keep our shoulders feeling the same if we carefully lower the elbows? If not, return to ‘cat’ and ‘down-dog’.

Be attentive to the way your body is feeling. Is it possible to keep your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands ‘free’? Is there a possibility of movement in all these positions? This will ensure we are not straining.

Be interested in working with your arms in gomukhasana. Be aware of the connection between your shoulders, elbows and wrists. Keep the area between your shoulders ‘rested’, this will stop your ribs lifting. If you ‘find’ this position, is there a possibility of sending the elbows ‘away’ but allowing your shoulders to stay connected and not ‘pulled’ away from their joints. In this way, we are attempting to connect with the inner muscles. At no time are we attempting to ‘push’, ‘pull’, or ‘strain’ and ‘stretch’. To find the inner muscles, our outside muscles must stay as relaxed as possible.

Work with parsvottanasana in the same way. Only step forward as far is as comfortable for you and by being attentive to the back heal, allow your spine to lengthen forward (away from the heals) and then down towards the ground. Use this position to elongate the spine. The connection with your palms are your guide, if the hands come apart, do not go so far forward/down. Be aware of your length, from the ground, through your body, to the top of your head.

If you feel ready to prepare for elbow balance, it is interesting to explore the way in which our elbows are placed. Sometimes, I begin by kneeling and gradually ‘round’ my spine down. Don’t let your shoulders or head drag you down, but feel as though the space underneath you if lifting you up. Explore the ways your hands touch the ground – can you still lift them? When your elbows come down, can you still lift them? Are your shoulders and neck free? By practicing in this way, with care and attention, you will be aware of ‘all’ your body having to work just to place your elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands on the floor without allowing the weight of your spine to sink into them. Remember the position aims for us to lift our weight UP from the floor. Our elbows stabilise/ground us but our spine must feel light. Only lift your knees if you can keep the freedom in your shoulders and ‘lightness’ in your arms. The best teacher you have, is your own body.

Once we have practiced and prepared, listen to your body at each stage. I start by lifting one (straight) leg at a time. If this can be done without ‘pushing’ into the shoulders/arms then continue, if not, stop. Play with the position with no thought of ‘holding’. Our bodies enjoy movement and once we have learnt to integrate our shoulders to our spine, there is a possibility of being able to enjoy postures that may seem unobtainable. I have been exploring this position for many years now and know that I have a lot more to learn. The most important part of my practice is acknowledging what I am able to do at each moment, without judgement and without force. In this way, asanas are an exploration of movement, rather than something to be ‘done’. After all, what we practice should be enjoyed.