Donna Negus Yoga
Donna's Blogs & Publications
Donna's Blogs & Publications
The Perfect Present.
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
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.
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.
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
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.