Archives for February 2016

Some poses may take a while but what you learn along the way will be more valuable than achieving them

Some of the yoga poses took me 5 years or more of daily practice before I could do them. This surprises some of my students when I tell them. Typically it comes up when they start to feel frustrated that they still can’t do x y z. They say something like “I have been working at this for ages and I still can’t do it”. It often turns out that ages is actually a few months.

Marichyasana D - was very challenging for me, it took about 5 years I think

Marichyasana D – was very challenging for me, it took about 5 years I think

I get that they are frustrated, I have been there. We live in a world that changes fast. When you first start practicing yoga you will see big changes in your flexibility and strength. The more you practice the more you will see these shifts will continue but may become more subtle at times. It’s not that the body isn’t changing, it’s just that some of these poses ask a lot and require lots of gradual shifts; and if it is skill and/or strength orientated it also requires lots and lots of repetition.

Many people are more flexible than I was when I began my yoga journey but I was never very tight either. Having taught hundreds of people over the years I would say I was about average.

When I began my Ashtanga journey 11 years ago I looked at many of the poses and wondered how they were even possible for anyone let alone me. I sneaked a look at second series and thought it was something that was beyond my body, I never imagined that I would be practicing full second series as I am now. As such I never imaged I would learn third series but it is now pretty much inevitable that I will begin that journey at some point. My body continues to amaze me and yours can too.

Helen doing yoga pose supta kurmasana

Supta Kurmasana – sleeping tortoise took about 7 years before I could do this without help

Over the years more things became possible. I came to realize with consistent practice my body would change. Sometimes it feels like no changes are happening and then all of a sudden there is a big shift. It’s easy to get obsessed with achieving asana which, as I said in my last post, is just another form of spiritual materialism. Over the years I realized that my life didn’t change that much when I managed to get into an asana. I also learnt that although obsessing over achieving asana is unnecessary I have to care a little bit in order to do a challenging practice. If I don’t care at all then I don’t take myself to my edge and miss out on many of the wonderful lessons which that brings to my life. So you need some striving and some surrender and along the way you learn the valuable skills of patience and humility.

In all honesty I can often help a student to get there a little quicker than I did myself. I have learnt a lot along the way which I can now share. The important part however is never how long it takes to get there but what you learn along the way.

Enjoy your journey…

Are there any yoga poses that you once thought were impossible that you can now do? What has working toward a yoga pose taught you about yourself or life?

How to stay present during your yoga practice and how this will help you in your life

There are many reasons to practice yoga. There are lots of reasons why I practice yoga but my main reason is to practice becoming more present. Mindfulness and being present is my most important value not just in my yoga practice but in my life. That is because if I am not present I am not fully able to engage in anything else. I can love more fully, I can enjoy life more, I notice more, the list is endless.

We were discussing this in my last workshop because sometimes yoga can seem like its always about advancing in the yoga poses. This is just another form of materialism and doesn’t really lead to any lasting peace. Of course there is joy from achieving something you have worked hard to achieve. There is also a fantastic shift that happens when you realize that with practice you can transform your body or indeed other aspects of your life. These are some of the other wonderful benefits of the practice.

I think some people imagine that people who are more present are in some kind of state of bliss. They maybe feel that it is easy for them, the way we can look at others practicing advanced yoga poses and not see the decades of daily practice but just the flexible body and think how lucky they are.

Being present isn’t always easy. I have been practicing it for many years now, through my yoga practice, meditation and my life and I still find it challenging. The practice has made me better at it but not perfect. Being present isn’t just something that happens on the mat but the time on my mat gives me a focused part of my day in which to tune in and to train my mind. Sometimes my mind is busy, sometimes my mind is calm. Good things and bad things happen to everyone all the time. It’s easier to sit with bliss than with pain but if we run from pain then we could feed it with our thoughts.

When I practice on my yoga mat it isn’t always easy. Sometimes my mind doesn’t want to be in the present but after many years of practicing I have learnt some techniques which have helped me.


When your mind gets busy, use your breath as an anchor to keep you in the present.

  • Don’t judge yourself. Judging your mind for being noisy or yourself for being emotional is feeding the pattern. It is neither good nor bad it just is. Acknowledge that the mind is noisy but don’t dwell on it.
  • Take each breath as it comes, the breath is a very real and present experience, become aware of it. This is true all the time but if you are struggling it can really help you to just focus on each breath one at a time as you practice.
  • If you start thinking about something and get lost in it. As soon as you notice bring your awareness back to the breath.
  • If you are going through a difficult experience focus on what is actually happening rather than what could happen in future. Often this is less overwhelming even in a crisis. If there is pain allow yourself to feel it. Being present isn’t about suppression or perfection it’s about being here.

How do you practice being more present? Do You find it challenging? What has helped you?