Thursday, 12 December 2013

Playing catch up

Who’s feeling frazzled? Is it just me or does time jump through some hyperdrive barrier and speed up as the end of the year approaches? There’s all that racing to get things done.. finish work before holidays, get pressies, see family and friends, fit in parties, and of course yoga! That’s even more important when life gets frenetic.

I am lucky to practice and teach different styles of yoga and notice the different affects on students—and myself. In fact I am just lucky to do yoga!

In ashtanga, and vinyasa flow classes—where us yoga teachers string together a sequence of postures to work on a particular theme—the breath is especially important to help the movements feel flowing and gentle no matter what postures are put into the mix.

Sometimes, especially in ashtanga, where you practice a similar sequence most sessions, it can be tempting to just switch off and you can get half way through your practice without realising what postures you have done! That’s cool if you are really lost in the breath, meditating on the inhales and exhales. It clears the mind and the practice becomes a kind of moving meditation and that’s what’s intended. But have you ever found yourself doing it almost on auto pilot? Taking that same 'I’m going to get this done’ approach to yoga as you do to shopping, and clearing the work load, or say cleaning! And maybe (gulp!) thinking about all these things while practicing, or worse while in Savasana! (Yup, I’ve spotted the occasional flickering expressions and frown lines creeping up while students are supposedly relaxing.) Sound familiar? If so, just watch and bring yourself back to the breath and the moment.   

Yoga is great for creating space in the body and the mind, almost a chance to step off the wheel for a  while. It can get us to focus, to be present in the moment, concentrating on the ebb and flow of the breath washing waves of calmness over us. And if you try some restorative postures in your yoga mix, you give the body and the mind time to unwind and release a little more. As long as you indulge yourself and get the right props so you are comfortable enough to just settle and be. OK, I’m ready to retreat from the treadmill and switch off with some supported forward bends over bolsters and blocks… and then I might just be ready to party at the weekend!

Don’t forget your yoga in the festivities!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Self practice

Yoga teachers are probably the only people who aim to make themselves redundant! Or at least to encourage students to start self practising. Even really experienced yogis still come to classes for the social side or for inspiration, but a good teacher aims to encourage her (or his) class to do their own thing. So off you go then.

Not sure where to begin? OK, here’s a little checklist of things you need
to start self practice.
1 Will power!
2 Somewhere big enough, and clean enough, to practice.
3 Knowledge of what to do when, and how to do it safely…so postures to avoid at certain times of the month or with particular health conditions or injuries you have.

No 2 sounds trivial but is probably the most important in a way. Years ago in my BWY Foundation class, the instructor asked us to discuss the main thing that prevented us from getting up and doing sun salutations or some other yoga at home. One student sighed and said his flat was too small: “I can’t raise my hands above me or out to the sides, and there is no space to lie on the floor.” We all laughed at him… but I remembered that whenever I was in down dog at home I found myself examining the dust under the furniture and wanted to stop and vacuum. Clearly I wasn’t very adept at focusing within — or pratyahara — withdrawal of the senses, as it’s known in yoga!

 But you don’t need a lot of room. One of my students recently drove an ambulance to Syria and asked for some yoga sequences she could do, that didn’t require her to touch the floor as there wouldn’t be anything other than dust, and preferably things she could do in the confines of the ambulance cab! We worked something out (mostly seated twists, stretches and joint rotations). And as for the guy in the tiny flat — he took up meditation to create space in his life.

My kids were always good about letting me do yoga at home, though they would copy me, jump all over me or generally try to get involved. The only thing I couldn’t do with them around was meditate. But now they are teenaged, meditation has come into its own, to take my mind off the clock, wondering when they will be back from a night out!

Self practice can be just 10 minutes in the morning, seated twists at the desk, or pranayama before bed… and if you need some more ideas and inspiration, and you’re in London, funnily enough I am running a workshop Sunday November 10th at the Yoga Body Centre, E5. 12.30pm-2.30pm.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Does my asana look good in this?


I often wish I could take pictures of my students in poses in class — yoga poses that is, and not to post on social media sites to attract odd comments! Sometimes to show a student how close they are to that elusive posture they have been struggling with for ages… If they could just see themselves now, they would realise they are far more amazing than they think they are. Other times it would perhaps give a student a cue that they don’t seem to be able to get. Obviously a teacher can give pointers on posture but seeing for ourselves just where our back dips, shoulder pokes forward or hips sway can be really enlightening, and can give one of those epiphany moments — “Ah, my arms are bent out to the side, so that’s why I collapse forward in chaturanga — that’s what she means!” It can be hard to visualise ourselves in certain postures, and having a picture of yourself and the pose in mind, even just as much as you can do of it, may help.

Or would it?
On another level we can get too hung up about what we imagine a posture should look like, to recognise the beauty in our own asanas.

I was thinking that on those rare occasions when someone captures me in a yoga pose, there is always something I don't like about the photo. Limp hands, some sort of misalignment. Maybe because of when the shot was taken, catching me moving in and out of the posture.

On a trip recently, my other half took a sneaky snap of me as I did a little impromptu yoga on a beach —and not in yoga clothes either! When I looked at the pic, I started to criticise the pose — my pose. My hands were bent, head angled… it certainly wasn’t a uniform Vira 2. But then on another level, the picture is an instant reminder of the wonderful time on the beach. That day, feeling so warm, happy and free and ready to strike up a Warrior II anywhere (despite wearing an unwarriorlike dress!)
It is a reminder that we can sometimes give ourselves a hard time for not getting a pose picture perfect, instead of being happy that we can do it, and of the enjoyment we get from doing it.

And if I was to snap some joyous moments in class? It’s not the perfectly executed bakasna — crow arm balance — by the super strong and flexible student that impresses me so much as the student timidly lifting her toes from the floor and hovering for a second or two before dropping them back down, when I know that is such a big achievement for them.
If I was to take a picture and catch that student hovering, would they look at the photo and think  — “That’s still not a good crow” or be proud, recognising their immense improvement?

It’s like choosing a photo for a passport. Who is truly happy with theirs? The pics have to conform perfectly to a stringent set of rules listed, yet there can be no glimmer of a smile and not the merest hint of personality, so they never really capture the true us. Back to the yoga pictures. So what it our pose doesn’t tick all the boxes of what it should or could be like on someone else, at least the essence of the pose shines out.

In our next yoga class, I think we should all look at the bigger picture, and find joy at the big improvements we have made over the course of our yoga practice, and not dwell on those little imperfections. It gives us the perfect reason to come back and keep practising. There is always somewhere to go in an asana and always something to improve on!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Learning from kids

Just started teaching Monday morning hatha flow classes at a wonderful new place on Newington Green, N16. Genius idea of yoga classes with a creche so mums — and dads or carers — can enjoy their yoga, get toned and calm their frazzled nerves while the tots have fun in the creche downstairs. And afterwards everyone enjoys cake! It can be so hard to find the time to go to class with little ones around and they don't always let you do your own practice at home!

Most of the tots are young and mums are keen to get back in shape, toning their abdominals and strengthening pelvic floor muscles, so forearm plank, vashistasana variations and surprisingly even navasana (boat pose) are great hits! Occasionally noise of gurgling drifts up from downstairs giving parents a chance to practice pratyhara — withdrawal of the senses, and learn to take their awareness within! Something we all probably need to practice!

Today when the little ones popped in, the mats were still out, they plonked themselves down, hips and spines beautifully aligned. One arced his upper back stretching into a perfect backbend, while a little girl sat down, picked up her toes and lifted up into a supta konasana — reclining angle pose still holding her toes — clearly wondering why her mum needed to work on those wide-legged postures! Even the tiniest tot held his feet and drew his knees into his armpits while relaxing on his back — classic ananda balasana or happy baby to you! It's almost as if they pop out with an inbuilt knowledge of yoga and spend the first few months demonstrating tricky poses with ease! If only we could keep that flexibility and ease of movement for life!

*Classes have taken a break for Summer! Back in September. Keep practising!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

That pose!

Sometimes the pose we like the least is the one that deserves more attention and sometimes the very thought of a pose can make us so tense that we will not allow our bodies to relax and work into it through the breath. Have you noticed?
When you next do your practice, watch when your mind subconsciously makes a grimace and you feel yourself stiffen. What pose are you doing?
It could be the full wheel backbend (aka crab) Urdhva Dhanurasana or a classic seated forward bend — Pascimottanasana.

Back off a little and assess your technique and why you don’t like the pose… but try not to back off so much that you ignore the posture and leave it out!

Observe whether your breathing changes and whether your mind wanders, races or freezes. Chances are both your breath and mind are freezing at the very thought of doing the pose. Noticing your reaction is the first step to conquering the posture — or your feelings towards it! Instead greet the asana like a contrary old friend… or willful child. A child can sometimes be very annoying but give them the attention they need and transformations can happen! So, instead of whizzing through the posture as quickly and half-heartedly as possible, lavish some time on it! Pick some props or tools to help you work into the pose in a different way… a bolster at the wall for your hands in Urdhva Dhanurasana perhaps and/or help from your teacher. And before you start Pascimottanasana forward bend, notice if your pelvis is rolling backwards so you are rounding into your lower back. Sitting on a blanket or block (or two) can help lift the pelvis into an upright position to support the natural curves of your spine. Then, when you are sitting comfortably, you can begin to move forward from your hips and breathe yourself into the pose!

Enjoy your experiments and pick your favourite posture in the fun poll to right!
The perfect pose is one you do anywhere just for fun...

Friday, 26 April 2013


Why do yoga?

Why not? As a lovely yoga teacher, Judith Lasater, puts it, 'all the time you are doing yoga, you are not on the streets getting into trouble' — or something like that! She probably put it far more eloquently — but you get the gist.

Yoga has tons of benefits for the body, both physically and for the emotions — from improved posture to improving the likelihood of being able to put on your own shoes with ease the morning after a jog, cycle ride or football match (read kickabout with the kids), or as you get a little older…. Yoga can help your breathing, ability to relax, sleep and concentrate, and to deal with stress. It can even lift your mood! A lot to take away from a short time on the mat.
But to benefit, you have to do it — regularly!

It’s easy to fit into your life: Simple joint rotations and cat poses to warm the spine in the morning or sun salutations to start the day, shoulder exercises at lunch time even some gentle seated twists while watching TV! Come and learn a few tips and techniques and face summer all the fitter...
And, as it happens I have a new friendly hatha flow class on Monday evenings at The Old Fire Station, Leswin Road, N16 (7.30 pm). Now you have no excuse!