Thursday 3rd October - Fabulous Feet, Courgette Cake and Gorgeous Glassworks
This Week's Class Notes... The Bandhas Part 4 - Pada Bandha, the Foot Lock
Over the past few weeks we've looked at the 3 main bandhas - Jalandhara Bandha (the Throat Lock), Mula Bandha (the Root Lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (the Stomach Lock), the action of which help to seal and contain energy within the body, helping you to feel light and lifted in the poses. There are two other more minor bandhas too - Pada Bandha and Hasta Bandha. Pada means 'foot' in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, and Hasta means 'hand'. Applying these two locks in your yoga practice helps to stabilise and optimally align the body in the postures, and also to lift and direct energy upwards. Let's look at Pada Bandha now.
Each of your feet has 26 bones, 33 joints and an intricate web of muscles, tendons and ligaments holding everything together. To keep these amazing structures mobile and flexible we must move them as much as possible, yet we tie them into shoes for most of the day and walk on smooth, even man-made surfaces. We hardly ever walk barefoot and the average person rarely takes their feet through their full range of movement. But, as a yogi, you'll know that moving your feet is an intrinsic part of your the practice. In yoga we take our shoes and socks off and free our feet at the beginning of class. We take our awareness into our feet and feel the texture of the mat beneath us as we move the feet in our practice, turning the feet from side to side, flipping over the toes, coming onto tiptoes and sitting on our heels. We press down through the outer edges of our feet in, say, Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose) and then in the next pose we might be pressing weight into the heels in Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or pressing down onto the tops of the feet in Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose). Us yogis use our feet - encouraging mobility, flexibility and dexterity both on and off the mat.
There are 3 arches in each foot - one along the inside edge, one along the outer edge and one across the middle. Although we need to be able to roll the foot from side to side as we walk and run, both excessive pronation (when the foot rolls inwards and the inner arches and inner ankles collapse) and excessive supination (when the foot rolls outwards and the outer arch and outer ankles collapse) can cause problems for the knees, the hips and even the low back. Take a look at your feet in the mirror and, as you stand straight and tall, ascertain whether or not you have a neutral stance. If not, practice Pada Bandha and lots of foot exercises to strengthen, stretch and keep your feet mobile and those injuries away.
So how do we activate Pada Bandha in our yoga poses? We start with awareness. Try the following movements to bring your attention down into your feet. Stand barefoot with your feet hip-width apart. Notice the feeling of the soles of your feet against the surface you are standing on - the texture of carpet, the smoothness of wood, the cold of tiles. Shift your weight very slightly back onto your heels, and then shift it forward onto your toes. Then find the middle and have a sense of lifting up from your feet all the way up to the crown of your head. Lift up all 10 toes away from the floor and feel how the arches of your feet lift up. Try to stretch your toes forward and then lower them lightly down to the floor while keeping the arches active. Can you feel your heels rooting down, your arches lifting? Can you feel both the big toe side of the ball of the foot pressing down and the little toe side of the ball of the foot pressing down? This is Pada Bandha. It changes very slightly in different poses depending on the position that your feet are placed in, ie. you need to root down more with the outer edge of the back foot in, say, Warrior 1 Pose (Virabhahdrasana I) to lift the inner arch up, but generally having an awareness of pressing down with the four points shown in the diagram below and a lifting of energy up through the arches will transform your both your poses and your posture.
This Week's Recipe... Courgette Cake
I still have so many courgettes growing in my garden - they just keep on coming! I've roasted them, griddled them, added them to pasta sauces and made soup. And then I found a recipe to make a cake with them so I had to give it a try. It turned out very well - a bit like a carrot cake, dense and moist - easy and just about as healthy as a cake can be!
You will need:
250g grated courgette
1 ripe banana, mashed
180g plain flour
half a teaspoon of salt
half a teaspoon of baking powder
half a teaspoon of cinnamon
half a teaspoon of vanilla extract
And here's how to make it:
Grease and line a small loaf tin (approx 20cm x 10cm) and preheat the oven to 180c, gas mark 4.
Place the grated courgette on some thick layers of kitchen paper or an old but clean tea towel and squeeze and press down firmly to get as much liquid out as possible.
Mix the courgette, bananas, margarine and vanilla together in a mixing bowl.
Add the dry ingredients into the bowl one by one, stirring to combine.
Pour the mixture into the greased tin and bake for about 30 minutes. Note: I had to keep checking to see if the centre was cooked as this cake has a lot of moisture in it. Use a skewer to insert into the centre of the cake and if it comes out with mixture on it it's not ready but if it comes out clean it's done. I ended up putting it back into the oven twice for a few more minutes. As Paul and Prue say on Bake Off - there's nothing worse than a soggy bottom!
Leave to cool on a rack. Best eaten fresh on the day you make it - you're allowed a second piece ;-)
This Week's Mother Nature's Magic... Exhibition of Chihuly Glass at Kew Gardens
Blending art and nature together in the wonderful setting of Kew Gardens on the outskirts of London, this exhibition features 32 of Dale Chihuly's glass sculptures in 13 different locations around the gardens. The contemporary US artist has had a long and celebrated career making expressive, intricate and colourful glassworks and this exhibition gives a great opportunity to see them together in one place. Chihuly's work is unique and unforgettable and Kew Gardens, which I haven't been to for years, is just beautiful. The exhibition is on until 27th October, so time it right and you'll get the wonderful colours of autumn to add to the experience and as an extra bonus you can see The Hive too. For more information take a look at Kew's website HERE.
This Week's Musical Offering... Quiet by Paul Simon
I played this in Savasana in class last week and I've had it stuck in my head ever since. It's such a beautiful melody with profound words too. Take a few minutes out of your busy day to sit with your eyes closed, breathe deeply and just listen...
And I'll Leave You With... a lovely poem I read in my slow and stretchy Yin Yoga class on Monday, reminding us of our connection to the earth...
I can't remember where I found it, marked as 'author unknown', but I have seen it attributed to Osho, so maybe he wrote it, but I'm not sure.
Nature - author unknown
When I roam lofty mountains I feel like my soul is raised on high and covered like the peaks in never-melting caps of snow.
And when I descend into the valleys I feel deep and profound like them and my heart fills with mysterious shadows.
The same thing happens at the edge of the sea.
There I merge with the surging waves: they pound and roar within me.
When I gaze at the sky I expand.
I become boundless. Unlimited.
When I look at the stars, silence permeates me.
When I see a flower the ecstasy of beauty overwhelms me.
When I hear a bird singing its song is an echo of my own inner voice, and when I look into the eyes of an animal I see no difference between them and my own.
Gradually my separate existence has vanished for the illusion that it was...
Only peace remains.
A huge and colourful star of my autumn garden - dahlias are simply the best.