What sets the physical aspects of yoga aside from mere exercise is the quality of attention that we bring to focus. A mindful attitude brings us towards embodiment – inviting our mind to where our body resides in the present moment – and allows us to fully tune in and gauge appropriate response. This ‘listening and responding’ is the basis of a meditative practice, and the route to registering safety through our whole system as the nervous system can settle. As in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1:2;
“…stilling the fluctuations of the mind”.
The importance of the pause
Within practice, we can slow down to truly feel the experience – yoga as ‘moving meditation’ – and also punctuate movement with places of pause, where we allow processing through tissues and integration of experience. Within the heightened input of information from the ‘doing’ of movement, points of stillness offer a chance to drop beneath the mind imposing its will or story upon our practice.
“The ultimate purpose of inquiry is that it allows us to pause. In the space of a pause, truth can shine through.”
Whether this is in response to what has been (eg judgment, comparison or analysis) or what is to come eg (ambition, anticipation or expectation); a pause is a place for presence. Brought into the body and physical experience, this might show as noticing we’ve ‘checked out’, are changing planes (such as moving from low to high) or observational enquiry between sides one and two of an asymmetrical position.
When a physical yoga practice simply keeps moving, we lose the opportunity to catch up with breath, to let the ripples of the motions settle and to integrate their effect. Slowing down to ‘simply be’, we can explore the mindful quality of the experience rather than simply where to move a foot or limb.
So often in modern society, we are habitually ‘up in our heads’. To do lists, competing stressors, perpetual analysis… All of which can lead to dissociation from the body on a personal level, but also a disconnect from our environment, those around us. We have become more like machines in our conditioned drive for productivity. Perhaps this is why so many of us are drawn to modalities such as yoga and Somatics, which bring us back into connection, which literally earth us.
An interesting lens through which we can access a sense of grounding is the chakras. Perhaps no other spiritual map has taken up human imagination as much, allowing us a framework through which to explore the polarities of light and shadow, spirit and matter, and embodiment as part of a healthy psyche. For digestive health, the polarities of nourishment and elimination are a potent expression of this animism. The chakra system has morphed from its eastern roots – much through the work of 20th-century psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, as well as the Theosophy and ‘New Age’ movements of the 1960s-80s – as a way of mapping how we feel and respond throughout life. As a universally acknowledged topography for mind-body symbolism, this can be a useful route into modern body psychology, psychosomatic and trauma work.
As our digestive tract is such a repository for the unconscious conditionings we can push down and continue to act from, self-enquiry through mind-body work provides some sense of the journey. Western developmental ideas can work so well in conjunction with the lineage of yoga.
Leonie Taylor & Charlotte Watts explore how our skin is the first line in communication, both to our internal landscape and the world around us.
The integumentary system (aka the skin)
The integumentary system, otherwise known as our skin, is both a boundary and a contact surface, a sensory organ. Every inch of our skin hosts over 2.5 million bacteria. The make-up of the skin microbiome varies greatly between individuals as well as where on the body it is, influenced by:
Physiology: sex hormones, age and site
Environment: climate and geographical location
Immune system: previous exposures and inflammation
…And how yoga – both physically and philosophically – can ease the path to healing
By Leonie Taylor & Charlotte Watts
From content covered in their books Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health and Yoga & Somatics for Immune & Respiratory Health.
To talk ‘health’ in a modern context is to recognise the need to be ‘trauma-informed’ and meet the recognition that we are all holding the stories of the past in various ways, much of which is unconscious and comes out in reactions that may overwhelm or that we don’t understand. This is not to teach a specific ‘trauma class’, but to be aware of holding compassionate space for the subtleties that tuning in and embodiment can uncover.
We don’t need to identify or even mention trauma but whether teaching a class or holding space for ourselves, recognising that tuning into our needs, boundaries and responses is to allow any nature of experience to arise. Whether we are holding intergenerational, shock, developmental or vicarious trauma, embodied awareness (tuning into the sensory, bodily experience of each moment) can help us navigate towards a relationship with grounding and even calm. It may even be the gateway towards post-traumatic growth.
We explore why listening in to and cultivating compassion for your microbiome can affect your whole health, including your immunity and mood…
Written by Charlotte Watts and Leonie Taylor, co-authors of Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health and Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health.
When we explore a meditative yoga or somatic practice, we bring attention to the subtle body, our interior landscape, as a means of then expanding clearer compassionate connection to our environment. In scientific terms, this plays out in the relationship between our microbiome and our whole body-mind integration, and out into the world around us.
The importance of the gut environment – the microbiome – on all aspects of our health, including psychological, is being increasingly researched. We are home to trillions of bacteria and, in a healthy digestive tract, 80% friendly, 20% pathogenic. The beneficial or probiotic bacteria help keep harmful bacteria as well as colonisers like yeast in check. Low probiotic bacteria levels are associated with depression and fatigue states, whereas a healthy gut flora can modulate the hypersensitivity that may come from chronic exposure to stress. Our microbiome is now believed to be a large part of the signalling mechanisms up through the gut-brain axis, where its communication plays a vital role in healthy brain function.
Pranayama, yogic breathing, means ‘extends life force’. This points to the importance of the breath to our whole health; healthy breathing patterns not only support respiratory health but also affect our immune capacity. This in turn affects our digestive and whole body health.
January is a common time for resolution-based diets and lifestyle shifts that may purport to ‘boost our immunity’. As we explore in Yoga & Somatics for Immune & Respiratory Health, ‘boosting’ immunity is, however, a problematic phrase, as immune issues are so often down to poor modulation – inappropriate rather than inadequate immune responses – with some parts stuck on over-reaction, especially inflammation. We can see in Fig 1, below, how the immune system’s balance can become dysregulated in either direction, leading to different issues.
‘Inflammaging’, a term coined by Italian researcher Claudio Franceschi in 2000, refers to the low-grade chronic inflammation that often characterises the ageing process. This may partially explain why some older people suffer more from diseases such as COVID-19. Beyond this pandemic, many refer to the creeping symptoms related to inflammation – such as joint pain, loss of mobility or issues related to immune and respiratory health – as an inevitable sign of ageing1.
Following the success of her previous book Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health comes Charlotte Watts’ timely exploration of our immune and respiratory systems, and how yoga and somatics play an integral part in maintaining whole-system health. We take a look inside the book, available to pre-order now…
When the UK went into its first COVID lockdown in 2020, people were abruptly separated and restricted from social contact. It wasn’t simply the virus itself that had devastating consequences for global health but the ensuing fear and reactivity, the effects of which are still rippling through our nervous systems. It was at this flashpoint of collective and individual trauma, stress and societal breakdown that Charlotte felt compelled to write Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health, knowing how vital the free flow of movement and social engagement are to mental and physical wellbeing. She was struck by the irony of how the focus of so much anxious attention at this time – immune and respiratory health – are most affected by stress and trauma.
Drawing on decades of experience as a nutritional therapist and therapeutically based yoga teacher, Charlotte has artfully brought together an impressive body of scientific research from diverse fields – from neuroscience, epigenetics, psycho-neuro-immunology, polyvagal theory and more.
Rewind to March 2020 and it’s fair to say we all thought teaching yoga online was a temporary thing. It was passable to have a thrown together space with the sofa as the backdrop, sit your laptop on a pile of blocks on a chair, not have a microphone, get interrupted by your cat during class… here in Summer 2022 that really isn’t the case anymore.
Online yoga has had a heck of a glow up over the past two years and is constantly evolving. The landscape for yoga teachers has changed forever, with this sector of the industry predicted to boom even further by 2027. Yet again, it is time for us to step up our game so we can keep developing top-tier online offerings that are slick, student-friendly and deliver expert transformation to our students and we’re ready to capitalise on that growth.