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Yoga Bliss Gambia: Welcoming the New Year with an Open Heart

My Magazine 2024/01
6 min
Author: Melissa Kuwahata Daswani
As we close our doors to 2023 and enter a new year, many of us set new goals and targets. This is a chance to start fresh and clear the old slate. But realistically, it is still just a new day, and what if it was possible for you to feel this way every morning? Feeling hopeful and empowered to take on a new day every day?

Taking on a new day and a new year comes with all sorts of unpredictable situations, both pleasant and unpleasant, and how we react to these situations can really change how our day or the year may unfold.

We must acknowledge that life is not full of roses but a bed of rose bushes that we must continuously nurture if we want the roses to keep blooming always. If you consider your heart, soul and mind a bed of rose plants, are you nurturing them with love, compassion, hope and desire?

To bloom, you must understand what it means to nurture yourself. Your perspective on life depends on whether your soul is filled with love, compassion, hope and desire or anger, disappointment, jealousy, hatred and resentment.

We may not be able to control what happens around us, but we can control how we feel, think, receive and let go. How you receive and let go can be a fundamental processor that decides how you feel, think, act or react. And how we nurture ourselves can reflect deeply on this processor.
We need to let go of any mental blocks inhibiting us from being present in the moment, accept the moment, and let go.

We also need to allow our hearts and inner eyes to open to the true perception of ourselves without judgment. Only when we are open in our hearts can we reach that soul.

By practising yoga asana, we can draw our awareness inward and connect to our true selves, especially those with heart-opening benefits. These asanas can help remove energy blockages and rebalance the flow through your heart chakra, also known as the Anahata chakra.

Get into a comfortable sitting position and pay attention to how you feel. Are you tensed, relaxed, flustered, or are you content? Is there any part of your body that is troubling you? Feeling stiff or dull? Now, focus on your breath. How are you breathing right now? Is it fast, slow, shallow or deep? Allow yourself to observe your breath for a while, then start deepening and slowing down your breath. How does that feel in your chest, the shoulders, upper back, and the stomach? See if you can deepen your breath more by allowing your stomach to blow out like a balloon as you inhale, feeling a greater expansion in the lungs. Allow yourself to exhale slowly and softly with control. Allow some time for you to settle into this breath.

You can start with a Heart Chakra Affirmation, which is also a healing affirmation. Bringing your palms together in prayer, in your mind or out loud, say to yourself:

"I am kind to myself.
I allow love to fill me up and guide me in all my actions.
I am able to let go of the past.
To forgive myself and others.
I love myself and others fearlessly."

Notice how you feel after that affirmation. Repeat as many times as you need.

As you inhale, extend your arms, spread your chest, and take your gaze upwards. As you exhale, bring your arms forward to meet the palms, spread the upper back, and take your gaze down to your belly. Repeat for 5 breaths.


Cat-Cow - Chakravakasana

Get into a tabletop position on your knees and hands. Allow your knees to be hip-width apart and the palms positioned directly under the shoulders. Start with the natural position of your spine, inhaling deeply. Exhale and come into the Cat pose, tuck the hips under, round the spine, spreading the shoulder blades and gaze towards the stomach. As you begin to inhale, come into the cow pose, turn the hips out, curve the lower spine, open the chest and gaze gently upwards. Continue this undulating movement of the spine synchronised with your breath. Repeat for 10 breaths.


Camel - Ustrasana

From the tabletop position, kneel on your knees and toes, lifting your body up and extending the spine. Place your palms firmly on your lower back, and while inhaling, open the chest, drawing your elbows back towards each other. As you exhale, gently come into a back bend without shifting your hips. Try to create space between your shoulders and ears. Maintain this position for 5 breaths.

Hero to Child Pose - Vajarasana to Balasana

From the kneeling position, start to lower your bottom towards your heels. If your ankles allow, untuck the toes so you are sitting on the soles of your feet. Bring your hands into prayer and stay for 5 deep breaths. If this is uncomfortable and your knees hurt, place your hands on the mat back into the tabletop position, and push the hips down to a comfortable level. From Vajarasana, bring your palms to the floor, lowering the upper body to your knees. Extend the arms forward and lower your forehead towards the floor; simultaneously, try to push the hips back towards the heels. Hold for 5 deep breaths.

Cobra - Bhujangasana

Starting in Balasana, as you inhale, bring your chest forward to the top of the mat. Place your palms on the mat beside your chest with the elbows tucked in towards the body. Engage your legs, buttocks and lower back and gently raise the chest off the mat as you extend the elbows. Only extend to the point that is comfortable for your lower back. Draw your shoulders back and down to open the chest and take your gaze slightly upwards. Hold this pose for 5 deep breaths. As you exhale, gently release yourself from the pose by lowering your chest to the mat and pushing your hips back to the heels into balasana.

Mountain Pose - Tadasana

Get into a standing position with the feet hips width apart, thighs engaged, chest open, and the shoulders gently rotated back. Open your palms forward and gently close your eyes. Feel the extension in the spine and the back of your neck. Take your focus down towards your feet and try to balance your body weight equally between your feet. If your body sways slightly, see if you can hold yourself still. Stay there for 5 to 10 deep breaths.

Open Heart Lunge - Anjanayasana

Step your right leg back from the mountain pose and lower your right knee to the mat into a low lunge. As you inhale, draw your arms up and centre your spine; as you exhale, push your hips forward and bend your elbows to shoulder height, shaping your arms into a cactus. Inhale as you rotate the shoulders back, open the chest and come into a gentle back bend. Exhale deeply into the pose. Hold for 5 breaths and return to the centre. Gently step forward to mountain pose and repeat on the other side.

Humble Warrior - Virabhadrasana Variation

Extend your right foot back from the mountain pose into a high lunge. Make sure that you have a wide enough space between your feet so that your left knee is not bending past the line of your toes. Lower your right heel down by turning the foot out. Inhale as you bring your arms up, keep the chest and hips facing forward and lower the chest forward towards the knee as you exhale. Maintain the arms in line with your body so that when you lower the chest forward, the arms follow with the body. Squeeze into the legs and buttocks, hold for 5 deep breaths, and return to the centre. Gently step forward to mountain pose and repeat on the other side.

Bridge - Setu Bandhasana

Lie on the mat supine (lying on your back), bend your knees, and bring your feet back towards your bottom. The feet should be placed on the mat about hip's width apart. As you inhale, begin to lift the hips off the mat, squeezing into the buttocks. Lift the hips as high as possible. Hold the pose for 10 breaths, then gently lower your back and hips to the mat.

Relaxation - Corpse pose - Savasana

Lie on the mat comfortably in a supine position. Allow some space between your legs and between your body and your arms. Turn the palms to face up, and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and exhale, relaxing the body. As you take a few more deep breaths, check that you're not keeping any tension in the face, shoulders, arms, back, hips and legs. Then, gently take your focus to your breath and begin to ease down into a comfortably-paced breath; the breath becomes less dynamic with less movement in the chest and the body, but try to maintain awareness with the breath. You may want to keep the awareness with the sensation of airflow as you inhale and exhale or the subtle sound of your breath. As you hold your awareness, try not to be distracted by thoughts and sounds. See if you are able to hold this stillness for 5 minutes or as long as you desire. At the end of savasana, turn yourself onto your right side and take a few moments before getting up into a sitting position.


Melissa Kuwahata Daswani
Founder, Yoga Bliss Gambia and Yoga Bliss Creations
Melissa Daswani is a professional yoga teacher trained and accredited in Hatha Yoga from Rishikesh, India. She was introduced to yoga in the early adolesce by her mother who often practised yoga at their home and still continues to practice to date. Melissa started to indulge in yoga with a keen interest in her 20’s after researching the benefits of practising yoga. In order to expand her knowledge and practice, she initially enrolled on official training in India during 2009. Her initial stint in yoga teaching began in 2012 in Togo, followed by expanding in the Gambia from 2016. Melissa’s style of teaching incorporates the fundamental and crucial steps of yoga called Hatha yoga, which encompasses the basis of all other styles of yoga. Melissa believes that every individual has something to gain from Yoga which is not limited to mental, physical or spiritual. Yoga is not a religion but more a spiritual exercise as well as a practice that can universally be incorporated into your daily routine. Melissa offers regular weekly classes in Fajara, the Gambia, which is open to all levels. She also runs a weekly beach yoga class which is very refreshing and energizing. It’s her love and dedication towards teaching which allows her the opportunity to share the essence of yoga and its benefits to people from all walks of life. Whether you reside in the Gambia or a visitor in The Gambia, Yoga Bliss Gambia would love to welcome you to their next class.

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