The days are finally starting to lengthen as we head towards Spring! I'm excited at the prospect of longer and (hopefully!) warmer days! As a Spring baby, it's my favourite time of year! As I plan for my first workshop of the year on March 17th which is all about balance, and related to the Spring Equinox which falls on March 21st, my thoughts move to what this actually means.
Feeling balanced is what most of us are seeking, Getting the right mix of activity and rest, work and play. Not feeling heavy and lethargic; not feeling anxious and unsettled.
Depending on what type of person you and what your default setting is, you can use Yoga and its practices to help bring balance to your life. If you have a tendency to find it difficult to sit still you are probably drawn to dynamic yoga practice, moving quickly and sweating. If you have a tendency towards being quieter and more inward (like me..) this can swing toward inertia, and you may find it difficult to find the energy to get going and are probably drawn towards less dynamic yoga practice.
However, it is probably the opposite which may bring you more benefit. So if you normally practice vinyasa style yoga, try yin - where you hold the postures for longer to move deeply into the muscles and fascia of the body. You won't sweat but you will get a deep stretch and also work into the parasympathetic nervous system to sooth the entire system. If you normally favour slower yoga, try an ashtanga or vinyasa flow class. Get the blood and breath moving, get warm and shake it up to move away lethargy!
An excellent Pranayama which can benefit to everybody is Nadi Shodhana - alternate nostril breathing. This brings balance to the left and right breathing channels. The breath moves through 90 minute cycles where either the left or right nostril is breathing more dominantly, with around a 90 second pause between cycles when the breath is equal. When the left nostril is active, you are in a calmer, creative, more introspective state; when the right side is active you are in a more outgoing, outwardly energised disposition. By using the practice of Nadi Shodhana, you force the breath into balance. Try it here.
Yoga is a box filled with tools - to fire you up, calm you down, motivate you mentally, or bring you peace. Keep moving, and use this arsenal of gifts to help bring balance to your life. Move into Spring with energy and balance, peace and love.
I was in a class recently practicing with one of my regular teachers and as we moved through the sequence I got a point where I just knew that handstand was about to come next.
Handstand is new to my practice and right now I can only do it against the wall or with the assistance of the teacher. So when I started to think about having to do a handstand in a few moments, my brain activity and anxiety levels started to pick up.
I started to worry and the monkey mind started - “I wonder if I can sneak over to the wall where I feel comfortable”, “I’m not strong enough to do a handstand without support, I’m weak and stupid”, and “I’m going fall and injure myself and make a fool of myself”, "What kind of Yoga Teacher am I if I can't do this?!".
It, of course, totally took my focus away from my breath and the present moment.
I also noticed that I started to think about how much better my practice (and life overall…) will be once I can achieve the “perfect” handstand and how I’ll just be a “better” Yogi.
After class it set me thinking about this chase for certain Asanas (poses) and it gave me the familiar feeling I used to get when, years ago, I would get obsessed over having the latest shoes or bag or whatever the “must have, on trend” item was. That yearning and desperate feeling, and then when you get it, you are happy for a half a day (if you’re lucky) and then it ends up being just a pair of shoes, like all the others.
The same feeling can happen for Asanas. However, the reality is that being able to do whatever pose you are chasing, is just like the shoes or the bag - it will not change your life. And if you do manage to “achieve” it comfortably, it often ends up being an Asana, just like all the others and you will probably move on to trying to achieve another, more advanced pose.
Yes it can be a milestone of your progress. Yes it can make you feel elated. Yes you can love it and it can become your favourite. But all of the asanas are really just tools – Yoga Sutra 1:2 says “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga”. Not “performing” an Instagram worthy Handstand.
So whatever Asana you are chasing, let it go. It may come one day, it might not. There is nothing wrong with having a goal and working towards it by building physical strength but just remember it probably won’t change your life once you get there! Try not to be too attached.
What might change your life though is the overall strengthening and purifying of the body and mind through regular Yoga practice and using all of this as a tool to “Restrain the…mind-stuff” - the monkey-mind, the uncontrollable thoughts that can lead us into unhealthy places.
There is as much value resting in a Childs Pose with smooth steady breath as there is in an inversion or an extreme backbend, in fact maybe even more...
We all love a really great yoga class. Even teachers continue to go to classes with other teachers - it is an integral part of practice. The expertise of a teacher, the sequencing, learning new poses, alongside the energy of the group, are incomparable.
I have been practicing yoga for around 5 years. I went to a retreat about 3 years ago with the intention of improving my physical practice and the retreat changed my life.
Why? Self practice.
The retreat was, of course, amazing - everything I wanted/imagined it to be and more. Time away from the stresses, strains and distractions of everyday life to really focus on yoga asana, exploring deeper aspects of yoga such as meditation and pranayama, delicious vegetarian food, like-minded people, and long country walks for starters. However, the best thing I came away with wasn’t a better tree pose or the ability to do a headstand - it was the gift of self practice.
We were taught in the group classes, that happened twice a day, how to move through the sequence as a group but also to tune in to what was happening internally. How to take the body through the range of poses, moving in all directions; balancing; challenging our strength; meditating and chanting. Our teacher often used the phrase “enquiry” – everything we tried was just a simple enquiry to our body. Over the course of the week our teacher made us more aware of self practice and by the last morning we were not led – it was a teacher supervised self practice.
When I got home I was on a high – clear skinned, well rested and enthusiastic. The retreat wasn’t as intense physically as I had anticipated but something inside me had changed.
I started self practice tentatively. I wasn’t sure if it would stick. But it did - not everyday, but most days, and that grew over the following months until yoga became embedded in my life.
Occasionally I would (and still do) use yogaglo.com, an excellent subscription resource, if I felt bored and needed a new perspective or wanted to work on something specific. But 95% of the time, it was me, alone, on the mat. Connecting with my breath, noticing my muscles and joints, observing my thoughts and emotions with more attention- going within.
With time, my repertoire of asanas grew, and I started to experiment with different poses that I learnt in group classes. Self practice also gives you the space to work on the areas of the body that you want to focus on at your own pace and experiment in the privacy of your own home. No-one to see you wobble or fall!
I found that at different times of day, I would do different things. If I practice in the morning (not my preferred time as I am very stiff first thing and definitely NOT a morning person!) I find that I do things more intuitively. My body moves to its own rhythm, without much conscious thinking. If I practice later in the day I feel stronger and more flexible and more likely to follow a set sequence and really go for it.
Some days, even now, I don’t want to do it. I procrastinate - make another cup of tea, ‘prioritise’ doing something else. But once I’m on the mat, have done a few rounds of cat/cow and a downward dog…then inevitably I’ll end up staying.
So I encourage you to get on your mat, at home. Don’t get overwhelmed by thinking “I’m going to do 60 or 90 minutes” and end up not doing anything at all. Say to yourself instead “Just 5 minutes” - start small and see where it takes you. Just you and your own breath, no distractions. My experience is that self practice is where the real magic happens- the going deeper, and coming back to yoga - uniting the breath, mind and body in a totally organic way.
It’s been a while since I've written a blog post. It’s been a busy year with highs and lows, and the main thing I’ve learned is that I will never stop learning about yoga! It is a continuous process and what I know so far is just a drop in the ocean.
I have discovered that I really love teaching yoga. The privilege of sharing what I know about yoga with others is something that I am truly grateful for. Seeing the look of relaxation and joy on the faces of people after a great class is what I do this for. Helping people get some relief from physical, emotional or mental discomfort is humbling.
I have learnt that each person is even more unique that I can ever comprehend. That each person has something beautiful to offer, even if they don’t know it yet.
I see myself not really as your teacher, but as your guide. You know all this stuff already – I am just there to guide you, redirect you and remind you. I personally love to practice and am inspired by the Jivamukti teaching method and I love this quote from one of its founders Sharon Gannon:
“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”
I hope to see you on the mat soon! Namaste - I see the light in you.
Yoga is creating space.
Space in the joints of the body. Increasing flexibility, a deeper range of motion, by creating space in the muscles, allowing fibres and tendons to gently lengthen.
Space in the breath, instead of grasping for one shallow breath after another, breath becomes longer, stretched, warmer.
Space in the day for some precious, often much needed, time to nourish ourselves.
Space for rest and letting go in Savasana (relaxation pose).
Space for honest reflection and self-assessment.
Space in the mind for calmness and still to arise, and perhaps a deeper level of thinking to occur.
Space for love – love for ourself, working on accepting our flaws and acknowledging our strengths; love for others - our family members, our friends. That time to practice yoga can refresh and renew our patience like no other.
Relax and enjoy the space of yoga and all the benefits it brings. Even if only for 5 minutes, you won’t regret it.
Namaste (I see the light in you),
When I first had the idea of doing yoga teacher training, I asked a couple of the people closest to me what they thought, and I got an unexpected response. They said they really couldn’t see me as a yoga teacher.
I know that no harm was meant by the response but it totally knocked the wind out of my sails. So it seemed that the idea was dead and buried.
However the seed was still there. It was just dormant and after a few weeks it started to take root again. My regular yoga teacher, Conrad Paul, had a teacher training school (Yoga Professionals). I had a tentative look at his website, and really started to mull over the possibility of making this real.
In some way, the response from my nearest and dearest turned into defiance. I started to think ‘hang on a minute; I think maybe I could be a yoga teacher, at the least I should try….I’ll prove you wrong’. And this actually motivated me.
I spoke to Conrad and asked him what he thought. I was expecting him to say that I was not there yet, and that I had to develop my practice more before I would be ready. My confidence in my practice wasn’t that high... I am not naturally flexible or strong, and I thought that I would have to reach a lot more ‘milestones’ before I would be good enough. Like nailing a handstand. Or maybe even scorpion pose.
I was therefore surprised when Conrad said he thought I had a lovely practice and that I should go for it. He told me what the course consisted of, that it was a lot of work, but was achievable with determination.
So I seriously started looking at course dates and before I knew it I was enrolled. I went into the course with a totally open mind and heart. I didn’t know whether I would actually end up teaching but just thought I would go along for the ride and see where it took me. At the least it would deepen my understanding and knowledge of yoga.
But I knew that if I did teach, I would especially like to help people like me – that didn't think of themselves as ‘physical’ people, that had maybe never been sporty, or naturally flexible. I wanted to connect with people and show them that they could eventually touch their toes (0r whatever "thing" they feel is impossible) and they could maybe even one day do a headstand. It just needs a little bit of work and dedication but most importantly kindness to, and acceptance of, yourself.
Maybe it was always my path and destiny (if you believe in that kind of thing of course…). I read somewhere that you may have practiced yoga in a previous life and death interrupted your journey, and this life is where you pick up where you left off. An interesting idea… but whomever I may (or may not!) have been before, I am only truly present in this moment, and this is where I hope to have the privilege of sharing the light of yoga with others.
Namaste (I see the light in you).