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By West Norwood Therapies Team, Feb 15 2019 09:00AM

Yoga teacher Emma Klein looks at one of the core yoga poses, downward dog, and shares some suggestions to find it with accurate focus to get real benefits from this pose

We often do poses without understanding why we do them. Downward Facing Dog is one of the most famous poses, something that most people, including non-yogi’s have probably seen a picture of. We all therefore have an image of what the pose should look like without the understanding of how to achieve the pose or which aspects are more important to accomplish first.

How you get into a pose and ensuring that your posture is correct is usually more important that obtaining that final Instagram worthy "picture/shape".

Key Muscles and Benefits

This is a pose that lengthens and strengthens all the muscles along the back of the body, from the shoulders all the way down to the calves and along the base of the foot.

The areas where it is most obvious to see this is in the upper legs (hamstrings) and shoulders (deltoid muscles) as these are the ones that are often tight and where we start to feel the pose working first.

As this pose works the whole body, arm strength is needed to help keep your back in alignment and to keep you balanced; core and back strength are needed to help lengthen the spine and push the coccyx up and back; the quads need to be engaged to allow the hamstrings to release and the feet to give stability to the pose.

Doing this pose correctly has many benefits, a few of these being: better posture, relieving tension in the spine and assisting with circulation as the head is below the heart.

How to do the Pose Correctly

It is more important to have a neutral spine than to have your legs straight and your heels on the floor. A neutral spine is one where the natural curves of the back are followed, without trying to emphasise a curve or a lessening of that curve. Keeping the spine neutral, enables the muscles and joints in the body to work correctly and to their full potential.

Step 1: Start the posture with knees and feet hip width apart and hands and elbows shoulder width apart while lifting the coccyx (hips) up and back. As you lift the hips, imagine a string attached to your coccyx lifting you up to the sky bringing the chest closer to the thighs. Engage the core.

Step 2: Set a strong, solid foundation. Spread the fingers wide and push down through all the finger joints. We often lift the thumbs or bend the fingers. Spreading the hand and pushing down strongly through the entire hand gives traction and stops you from slipping as easily. Remember flats are easier to walk in than stilettos! Squeeze the thighs, imagining there is a block between them to really engage your legs and keep the heels pointing directly backwards. Continue to lift the coccyx as high as you can.

Step 3: From here, roll the shoulders back and away from your ears making space between your shoulders and your ears. Push up through your hands and back, lifting the hips higher and taking the chest closer to the thighs. Ultimately working towards a neutral back. Keeping the knees bent until the spine is truly in a neutral position is key. Only once the spine is in the correct position should a person work on straightening their legs.

Step 4: Start to straighten the legs without compromising the neutral spine. If the legs are straight slowly start to take the heels towards the mat. Keeping the focus on previous steps. Start to find a micro bend in the elbows taking them slightly closer to the mat.

Step 5: Hold and breathe.

Remember that no posture is completely static. With every breath, check back in from finger tips to toes and making minute adjustments to bring the body into greater alignment or to re-engage muscles that have taken a break.

What should I be doing with my breathing?

Ideally you should exhale into the posture. What I mean by this is as you move from a passive position (all fours) into the active pose (lifting the coccyx), exhale. Your breath should remain even and controlled throughout, always breathing through your nose. If at any stage breathing becomes laboured or short or you start to breathe through your mouth, then you have taken the posture too far, are pushing further than the body is ready for and need to pull back a bit or take a rest.

Great rest poses or intermediate postures are Childs Pose and Puppy Pose.

Other pointers and tips

The head should hang heavy, releasing any tension in the neck with the gaze towards the navel or between the legs

Bending the elbows very slightly helps to ensure that all the muscles in the arms are being used to support you rather than just locking out the joints which could cause injury

This pose is just as effective done on the forearms with a straight spine and legs or on the knees with straight arms and spine

Walking out the feet, bending and straightening one leg and then the other, is a great way to work into the hamstrings and warm up the legs.

Listen to your body and take it one step at a time. Remember that yoga is an ever-evolving practice that changes daily depending on you, your body and mind at that specific time and space.

By West Norwood Therapies Team, Feb 6 2019 11:00AM

Our tai chi and qigong teacher Hannah Horsfall shares how she found her way to being a tai chi and qigong teacher and then to West Norwood Therapies

This is my first blog for West Norwood Therapies, in fact my first blog ever! A dream way to begin my journey into social media!

Finding myself thinking what in the imensity of the subject of tai chi and qigong can I focus on I decided on this first blog to say a little about my own journey and the benefits I have personally experienced through my practise of both tai chi and qigong.

My initial contact with tai chi and qigong was through a one day CPD workshop for health professionals in 2004 which left me loving it but very cautious about going away and teaching others from a certificated one day course!

A couple of years later, after the birth of my second child, understanding that running around after two under fives is not really exercise, I attended a tai chi class. I could hardly walk after the first session but after a brief time practising felt the benefits in more ways than I expected and my comittment to training began in earnest!

My teacher training was a few years off but even quite early on I felt that the tai chi and the qigong was somehow bringing me back to, and developing further, previous levels of physical energy, flexability, strength and stamina but also mentally I felt I was developing increased grounding, clarity and spaciousness in my daily life.

I have taught locally and further afield since 2010, and am delighted at the seridipitous way that joining West Norwood Therapy team came about. A chance visit by their – our! – Acupuncturist Philippa, to my Thursday class in the Rosendale Allotments. This coincided with the team looking to expand thier repitoire of classes and my loving thier core values of “serving the local community together with high quality health and wellbeing care.”

I feel honoured to be part of the team!

So, along with the personal, there is so much exciting research happening, bringing western medical health science together with the vast and ancient knowledge of both Tai Chi and Qigong that I hope to explore in future blogs!

By West Norwood Therapies Team, Jan 30 2019 09:00AM

Hypnobirthing teacher Clare Butler shares some thoughts about positive and negative birth stories as part of National Story Telling Week

When I heard that National Story Telling Week was coming up, my mind at once jumped to birth stories. Whether you have had a baby or are expecting, here are a few things to consider.

What is a positive birth story? Let’s get this straight – as a hypnobirthing teacher I do not simply regard a positive birth to be one where pain relief was not used. In my view, a positive birth story is a labour and birth that, even if there were some unexpected twists and turns or interventions, you felt calm, relaxed, in control and ultimately you and your birth partner felt positive about it.

Unfortunately, those that are fortunate enough to have had a positive birth are not always sharing their story. This is a growing trend that is due to a number of reasons: people are sensitive to those who may have had a negative experience, they don’t want to be perceived as boasting and there is a tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive – just look at the news....

The sensitivity point came to the forefront recently. England footballer Harry Kane suffered a backlash after tweeting “So proud of Kate for having the most amazing water birth with no pain relief at all”. This is a positive account that was received negatively. It left some women who have used pain relief during labour feeling a failure and some angry. I understand why some women took it this way but as he pointed out, any woman can give birth how they like and also every birth is different. As a Hypnobirthing couple, I am sure that even if Harry’s partner Kate had chosen to use pain relief, that he would still be proud and elated after a positive birth experience. Despite Harry creating a bit of a storm, I am confident that his tweet would have also had a positive effect – helping expectant couples feel more confident ahead of giving birth and less afraid.

I also wanted to highlight the importance of choice when it comes to hearing birth stories. Like a well-stocked library, there needs to be an array of birth stories available to expectant parents. Every birth story is valid and has a lesson but I am a strong believer in giving couples the option to hear it or, after reading the title, allowing them to put it back on the shelf. Couples need to be informed ahead of birth but, most importantly, they need to feel confident and not fearful. This will result in a calmer experience.

So, what is my main message to those that have already given birth? Please ask your pregnant friend, colleague or stranger before sharing your birth story with them – especially if it is negative in any way, and please offer to share any positive birth story you may have. If we go into birth with only negative stories and thoughts swirling through our heads, then we are far more likely to have a negative experience.

To find out more about hypnobirthing and the classes on offer, please get in touch.

By West Norwood Therapies Team, Jan 23 2019 09:00AM

Sports massage therapist Lauren O'Sullivan shares her experience of a yoga class and workshop with WNT yoga teacher Emma Klein

At our last meeting at the beginning of January we thought it would be a great idea to do practioner swaps and experience and enjoy our peers’ practices. Emma and I paired up for a swap: a sports massage for some yoga time! I’ve always enjoyed practicing yoga but often neglect it so this was perfect for me...

Tuesday mornings at West Norwood Therapies and it’s class time with Emma. A beginner class, the flow is quiet slow and allows time for correction and continuous reflection on your practice. I’m quite familiar with yoga however I haven’t practiced in a long time so this class was a perfect reintroduction for me. With a mix of complete beginners and experienced returners, Emma handled the class with consideration for both. Every position was explained and demonstrated with and without blocks or modifications and Emma also offered reasons for why each position helped certain joints and muscles.

Emma talks frequently about the importance of Yin and Yang – Yin being the slower more stable postures that increase flexibility and relax our bodies and Yang being the active, strength building aspect of yoga practice. The two opposites complement each other in working towards a strong and flexible body. I am constantly recommending my sports massage clients to take yoga classes as building strength protects our ligaments and tendons, and increasing flexibility enables our muscles to stretch more freely helping to prevent strains and tears. Emma’s class was a perfect combination of both and working on the two aspects side by side leads to a more lean and lithe musculature.

Perhaps one of the most important things Emma’s class inspires is judgement-free practice. One of her mottos is “All who breathe, can practice yoga”. There is no expectation or criteria that you need to conform to – as yoga has become more popular it sometimes seems to come with a certain archetype. People that can’t bend themselves in half or don’t have the latest designer leggings may feel uneasy and afraid to take class. Yoga practice is what you make it. Everyone’s practice will be different and will differ day to day; it’s a process and takes time. There is never an end goal, which is why it’s called practice. In Emma’s class you are encouraged to listen to your body. As it was a morning class I was personally feeling a bit stiffer than usual and I took that on board with my practice, I didn’t force anything.

Fast forward to Sunday and it was time to detox. Emma lead a detox yoga workshop for 2 ½ hours and at first I was apprehensive as to the length – that seemed like a lot of yoga! I needn’t have worried and even felt like I could go for longer at the end; the workshop was structured perfectly.
Fast forward to Sunday and it was time to detox. Emma lead a detox yoga workshop for 2 ½ hours and at first I was apprehensive as to the length – that seemed like a lot of yoga! I needn’t have worried and even felt like I could go for longer at the end; the workshop was structured perfectly.

For the first hour and a half we practised a fairly fast flow with time to explore new poses and depth once we were warm. We then talked about Ayurveda: an ancient Indian system of medicine that supports and guides a whole holistic approach. Many people turn to its philosophies and basic constructs when considering detoxing their body. It was a lovely open and inviting space to share our thoughts, ask questions and gain insight into how we might incorporate some Ayurveda practices into our own lives and their individual needs. For the last 20 minutes we snuggled into some blankets and Emma guided us through some Yoga Nidra practice. Yoga Nidra is a form of guided sleep meditation that focuses on finding that window between waking and sleeping for ultimate relaxation. If you are interested in finding out more about Yoga Nidra, contact Emma and come along to her weekly Sunday evening Nidra classes at WNT!

Emma left us with a complete print out information pack of everything we had covered in the workshop - the poses, Ayurveda and even a detox recipe: Kitchari. I always find in workshops that there is so much information to take in that we frequently get home and forget everything, so a print out was such a great addition. As adults we often don’t get the chance to study and learn new knowledge and I relish this! I will definitely be reading up on the things we covered and practicing at home. I highly recommend Emma’s workshops – the next one is on 24th March and this will be a restorative yoga workshop focusing on de-stressing.

Thanks Emma, I thoroughly enjoyed our practitioner swap! Look out for more practitioner swap blog posts throughout this year as we all take it in turns to experience each other’s practices.

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