Practice tips

Anatomy 101 - The pelvic bowl

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BEAUTIFUL BONES
If I were to pick my favourite bone of the human body it would have to be the pelvic bowl. Although I’m not sure it’s a question I’ll get asked very often! This beautiful sculptural bone is the hub of all activity. It houses our reproductive system, lower digestive system, and in the world of yoga, Mula Bandha (energy lock), the Nadis (energy paths) and our Root Chakra Muladhara (energy junctions). All movement in the spine and hip joint is initiated from the pelvis, using a complicated network of muscles leading to and from the pelvis. Tight quads, hip flexors and inner groins pull the pelvic into a forward tilt, referred to as an anterior tilt, which can lead to an over arched lower back (hyperlordosis). Whereas tight hamstrings and glutes pull it into a backwards tilt, called a posterior tilt, which can lead to a flattened lower back (hyperkyphosis). Our pelvis likes to be perfectly stacked over the foundation of our feet, to avoid unnecessary stress on the spine and allow the natural curves of the vertebrae to function properly as a shock absorption system. Moving through our day with hips that are not balanced can bring the spine into a compensatory lateral (side) bend or a twist, potentially leading to back pain, sacroiliac joint pain or any number of referred muscular and joint issues. A strong and balanced pelvis leads to a strong and balanced upper and lower body and a unified body.

EXPLORING THE PELVIC BOWL IN YOUR PRACTICE
Observing the position of the pointy hip bones (the iliac crest) at the front of the pelvis in our practice gives us invaluable feedback on our alignment in each pose. Think of the pelvic as a bowl filled with liquid. In upright standing poses, and even upright seated poses, try keep this bowl perfectly level without spilling a drop – by not tipping the bowl forward, back or tilted to the side.

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ALIGNMENT CUES
Connect with your pelvic bowl with this sequence which will focus on the position of your pelvis. Where possible during your practice place your fingertips on the pointy hip bones at the front of your pelvis, or have a glance down at your hips, and check for level hip bones. Hug your outer hips to the midline to activate the strong stabilising muscles of the hips. This feedback will help with your alignment in many poses. Pay particular attention to the position of the pointy hip bones in the six poses below and use these cues to help you find the perfect pose for you.

  • Phalakasana/Plank Pose – Often we have a dominant side which might end up higher than the other side in plank. Extend back through the heels and forwards through the tip of your crown to help stabilise the hips. Have a glance under you to see are your hips level.

  • Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon – Start by bending your back knee and lifting your pointy hip bones up to stack the pelvis perpendicular to your foundation. Check for level hips with your fingertips and then reach your arms up high.

  • Virabhadrasana III/Warrior III – The hip of the lifted leg will most likely lift higher than the standing leg for most people. Check the level of your hips and if needs be lower the lifted leg to less than parallel to the ground if it is destabilising the hips.

  • Natarajasana/Lord of the Dance – Using a belt helps to keep the hips level and squared while you find the stretch in the hip flexor. Glance down and make sure the hip of the lifted leg hasn’t drifted back as the leg extends back.

  • Dandasana/Staff – When the pelvis tilts back the hip bones will stack above the sit bones. Place your fingertips on your hip bones and make sure they are sitting forward of your sit bones and the bowl of the pelvis is nicely upright.

  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana/Bridge – Bend your elbow and place your fingertips on your hip bones to check are they level. Keep your fingertips here as you slowly lift your lower leg to hip height. Notice is one side more challenging than the other.

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Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

10 tips to develop a home practice

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SELF SUPPORTIVE PRACTICE
My yoga practice is my comfort blanket, it reminds me that I am perfectly imperfect – I turn to it to find grounding; bring myself back to me; keep calm in the face of adversity; find space to breathe a full breath; and live a more conscious life in a world that is becoming more and more unconscious. Developing a self practice means that you have a ready to use tool at your fingertips to self support from life’s challenges. It counteracts the busy lives we lead and helps us deal with everyday situations.

For most people home practice is the natural progression of their yoga path. Starting a self practice can feel quite daunting at first. We feel secure in the safety of a led class and go blank the minute we stand at the top of the mat at home. Online yoga classes can be useful to get a feel for practicing at home, but it’s important to remember one of the best things about yoga is how it gives you a break from the busyness of modern society, and a welcome chance to step away from technology and screens. Self practice lets you take ownership of your personal practice – tailoring to your specific needs; getting the most out of your time on the mat; and is available to you anytime of the day at home or when traveling. Empowering you to react to changing circumstances and find balance again.

There is no secret formula to sequencing kept under lock and key! The best place to start with is some simple rounds of your favourite Sury Namaskara. They are designed to give you a little bit of everything to wake up the whole body. That is why you frequently find them positioned at the start of a sequence. Once you are comfortable, and you are ready to move on, add in some standing poses that you are familiar with. Getting to know your own practice – your strengths, your limitations, your favourite asana – helps you become more intune with your physical and emotional needs. It won’t be long before your intuition kicks in and you will instinctively know what poses to add to your practice for your requirements on each unique day.

The transition from class to home practice doesn’t have to be quite so overwhelming if you keep it simple and follow these 10 tips to get you started:

Tip 1
Little and often is better than trying to get on your mat once a week and do a full hour practice. Start small with just 10 minutes, three times a week and let it naturally grow from there.

Tip 2
Accept that you may have a few false starts – it’s ok to miss a practice, if you don’t make it onto the mat don’t beat yourself up. You need to give yourself a bit of time to train your brain into this new healthy habit.

Tip 3
You don’t need a sacred space to practice. Anywhere your mat fits is perfect – end of your bed, kitchen floor, sitting room. From the get go politely let your housemates know that while you are practicing you are not available for them. I have an ‘unless it’s urgent’ rule for when I’m practicing or meditating.

Tip 4
Try incorporate your home practice into your morning routine. I find getting on my mat before I start into anything else works best for me. With the best will in the world life, or housemates, can often take over and prevent you from getting onto your mat later in the day.

Tip 5
Have very manageable time expectations. Do what feels good to you and fits into your day even if it’s just ten minutes first thing in the morning to open your lungs, stretch out the morning stiffness and focus your mind for the day ahead.

Tip 6
At first, practice what is familiar to you. Bring a notebook to class and straight after write down a few poses that you enjoyed or are curious to explore in the comfort of your own home. Ask questions and get advice. Your yoga teacher will be delighted that you are progressing your practice.

Tip 7
Move nice and slowly through your practice and enjoy being the boss. Get close to your breath, and take extra breaths in poses you are enjoying. Don’t panic when you need to move from one pose to the next. Keep your transitions simple and when in doubt link pose through a Downward Dog or come back to Tadasana and take a half Sury Namaskara.

Tip 8
Keep learning and keep reading, explore the areas of yoga that interest you – asana, yoga philosophy, anatomy, breathwork. Have a look at my List of Favourites for some yoga book recommendations. I find podcasts a very handy way to keep learning while I walk and run at the same time!

Tip 9
It doesn’t have to be a new sequence everyday. Pick a theme that will support you – a pose you’re working towards; an area of the body that needs attention; or finding support for a specific emotional need – and pick some poses that will help you achieve this. You will find info graphic to help you pick poses for specific needs on the homepage of my website. Practice the same or a similar sequence for one to two weeks. Moving on when you feel curious to try a new sequence or life has thrown a new challenge your way.

Tip 10
Explore other ‘off the mat’ yoga lifestyle choices like mindfulness, conscious living, an eco challenge – embedding the concept of yoga into your whole life.

My 108 Asana sequencing cards are the perfect tool to help you comfortably bridge the gap between classes and home practice. You’ll also find lots of ready made free sequences in the Sequences section of my website. Download them print them out and get started. Everyone has very different strengths and weaknesses. You can decide on certain days to work with your weak areas or on other days to enjoy your strengths. The best thing about your home practice is that you get to decide, and you can get the yoga ‘feel good factor’ everyday if you choose to.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Grounding practices

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WHAT IS GROUNDING?
Grounding is a word that most yoga teachers mention quite a lot, but why so? Directing our attention and energy downwards stabilises our body, centres our mind, and tunes us into the present moment. Today the world moves very fast, and the lives of most people have become so busy that high levels of stress and anxiety have become the norm. As a result, many people are left feeling ungrounded and emotionally out of balance.  

Recently I realised how important grounding is, especially in the morning as it helps to settle the mind and set the tone for the day. Practicing yoga, going for a jog or meditating are great ways to start the day - but sometimes it is hard to find the motivation to do so. It can be a challenge to ground and calm our monkey minds, especially when our smart phones are close by, or a delicious breakfast awaits! Below are some tips that help me ground my energy, particularly on days when my body is tired and my motivation is low.

YIN YOGA
Lately in these cold winter months, I have skipped my personal practice and slept in more, ending up feeling disappointed in myself for not being a ‘good yogi’. I decided to listen to my body, and realised what I really need to do was a more passive practice to help ground my energy – so I started practicing yin. Yin yoga involves variations of seated and lying poses which are held for 3 to 5 minutes – accessing deeper layers of fascia connective tissue. When practising yin I don’t need to move my body, I can just release into the pose and let gravity do all the work! Staying in each posture for a few minutes, and observing the sensations that arise in the body, is a great way to practice mindfulness. Make sure to slow down the exhalation – this will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and will help ground the body and put it into a state of deep relaxation.

EARTHING
Recently I discovered a simple practice called ‘Earthing’ that makes me feel more alive, present and reconnected to mother nature. Earthing simply involves connecting your feet to the earth. Well why on ‘earth’ would you do this (pardon the pun)? Studies have shown that by walking barefoot on the earth, the body takes in the earth’s negatively charged free electrons. When absorbed in the body these electrons are powerful antioxidants, and help to reduce chronic inflammation, pain and stress. During these cold winter months, I wrap up warm and walk around my garden barefoot a few mornings a week, for 5-10 minutes, weather permitting of course!!

GROUNDING MEDITATION
My favourite way to ground, especially when I am stressed or anxious, is to do the following exercise which can be practiced anywhere. While seated in a chair, take off your shoes and gently press all four corners of each foot into the ground. Press your palms softly into each thigh. Root your sit bones into the chair and allow your spine to grow tall. Take a slow, long, deep inhalation into the belly. As you inhale, imagine drawing energy up from the earth through the soles of your feet, and feel it flow through the body to the crown of your head. As you exhale, soften the muscles and send the breath and energy back down the body, through the feet and into the ground. After a few deep breaths, just pause, and allow the breath to return to its normal rhythm. Observe the contact of the feet with the floor for a few moments, and then hold the whole body in awareness for a few breaths. Let go of any tension you are still holding onto, and feel the support of the chair below. After a few minutes, you will be surprised how grounded and calm you will feel!

To learn more about grounding practices join Ruth Delahunty & Aisling Conn in The Yoga Room on 3rd February, 2pm, for meditation, asana practice, relaxation and take home material on top tips for grounding.


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CON SHEEHAN
Con is currently studying a Masters in Mindfulness Based Interventions in UCD. He is a 200hr certified yoga teacher and is currently completing his 500hr yoga teacher training in The Yoga Room. He teaches in The YogaHub at 6.10pm every Monday and at 8.30pm every Wednesday.

Finding balance

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SEPTEMBER MAYHEM
September back to school has left me feeling frazzled and out of balance. I found the more that was thrown at me, the faster I moved, and the more disconnected I became between my over busy mind and my hasty actions. To the point that last Wednesday, while speed walking up the  avenue, frantically retracing my steps to look for a lost glove, I tripped and came inelegantly crashing down on all fours. Which left me with a wrist injury, cuts and bruises on my knees, and an even bigger bruise to my sense of self and ego. I was chronically out of balance! I find injuries a huge challenge. Slowing down does not come naturally to me until I’m forced to. As a yogi, people expect you to be practically horizontal with calm and ease, but I am definitely not that persona! Yoga chips away at my busy mind and helps to remind me that this is not a sustainable way to live. You need to take time to slow the heck down before the path goes from under you and does it for you!

PRESS THE RESTART BUTTON
Since last Wednesday I've been taking time to slow down, even if my mind objects and tells me I'm too busy, I pause to take in the horizon on my morning walk, meditate for just 10 mins a day, and am taking Epsom baths to soak all my injuries away. I've slowly noticed changes are happening. My mind is becoming clearer and calmer, the constant headache I'd gotten used to at the start of September is gone, my wrist and other soft tissue injuries are fading, and my poor knees are looking a bit less like my six year olds proud school yard cuts and bruises.

LIVING YOUR YOGA
I’m also writing a document for my upcoming Yoga for Balance workshop with the amazing Aisling Conn. Aisling has been one of my regular teachers, and good friend, for many years and without fail I leave her classes feeling a conscious and subconscious sense of calm and balance, physically and mentally. She has an incredible knowledge of anatomy and uses this knowledge to access the deeper subtle body, through teaching with an emphasis on correct alignment with effort and ease.

The workshop will combine breathwork, asana and tips to help bring these life skills into your everyday lives. These are tried and tested methods to bring back a sense of calm to your lives. There will be take home workshop pack with material on the techniques we will practice in the workshop and lots more tips for ways to find balance through nutrition, essential oils and natural remedies.

The workshop takes place this October 7th, 2:00-4:30pm, The Yoga Room, Dublin. Book online at The Yoga Room. Suitable for all levels. For those feeling out of balance and for those who are open to learning ways to staying balanced.

We look forward to seeing you there to explore yoga for balance.

Ruth Dealhunty Yogaru

The benefits of meditation

DAILY PRACTICE
Establishing a daily meditation practice has been on my ‘to do’ list for quite a while. I have a well established yoga practice for over 15 years, but I struggled to settle long enough for daily meditation. Over the last two years I’ve dabbled with it, and done lots of meditation and mindfulness courses, but as much as I loved it and understood the huge benefits of it, I couldn’t get it to stick. Until last Christmas when my dad, the centre of my universe, became very sick and spent four difficult months in hospital. My yoga practice became my safe haven, where whatever was lurking under my brave exterior could flow, in all its shapes and forms. I practiced with such clarity, and was amazed by how the body knew exactly what it needed to do to support itself. I finally was ready to sit in silence and establish my daily meditation practice!

THE BENEFITS
It’s now three months since I started a consistent daily practice, and as I reflect over what the practice has brought me, I notice they are far greater than the value of the small amount of time required for your daily practice.

Here are some of the benefits I have noticed so far...

  • Greater awareness and observation skills
  • More self-compassion
  • Learning the value of taking time to nourish myself by taking time out
  • Less judgemental of myself and others
  • Learning to pause before reacting to situation
  • Feeling less overwhelmed by busy day
  • Learning to declutter my day and let go of unnecessary tasks
  • Happier to be me
  • Feeling nourishment thrive from every cell
  • Appreciation of my health
  • Calmer and more attentive to the kids
  • Deepening of my yoga practice
  • Learning that not everything can be fixed, and sometimes it's not my job to fix it!

And many more benefits I look forward to along my meditation journey...

  • Stress management
  • Eases anxiety
  • Eases tension
  • Eases depression
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Improved attention span
  • Builds focus & concentration
  • Builds connections with others
  • Increases empathy & compassion
  • Improves quality of sleep
  • Balances nervous system
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Slows biological ageing
  • Aids pain management
  • Increases immune system

GETTING STARTED
All that in just a few minutes a day! If, like me, you find it hard to get your daily practice going, keep chipping away at it - learning, reading, listening to podcasts and playing around with different methods of meditation, until eventually it will stick. Start with just 3 mins a day and build up from there. You don’t have to be meditating for an hour a day to make a difference to you life. Small, regular practices are more beneficial than one 30min practice a week. Remember that the mind will wander, and when it does, gently guide it back to the breath, without judgement. When I feel myself getting involved in internal chatter, I label them ‘stories’ and return to the breath without making a fuss. For people with kids, those 3 mins of meditation are the most important minutes of your day, take it from a mum and her three kids.

TOOLS FOR LIFE
I now look forward to my meditation and to the lovely feeling of clarity I know it will give me for the rest of the day. Meditation is not a miracle fix glue for life – there will still be plenty of life's challenges, but when you do encounter moments of stress, it gives you the ability to pause and observe, before you react. Your mind will thank you for helping it to take a break from the days planning and list making. Ciara Cronin of The Yoga Room runs a continuous Mindfulness & Meditation 4 week course. The studio is a beautiful space and is always warm and welcoming. Ciaras knowledge and guidance of mindfulness meditation help you to cross the bridge safely into the unknown. Before you know it, you’re meditating and you’ve started your new journey!

“Most people are aware that the benefits of mindfulness include relief from stress and anxiety and a calmer state of mind, but it also has a profound restorative effect on all the physical systems of the body; improving our immunity to illness, aiding digestion, balancing metabolism, relaxing the nervous system, and increasing our creativity, empathy and compassion.” Ciara Cronin, The Yoga Room

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru