Student Perspective – Why Mysore Style is my favourite yoga class by Kate

I’ve been practicing Ashtanga for about 2 1/2 years now, and recently have been developing my home practice, which seems to be ever-expanding. Recently Helen asked if I would write something about Mysore style classes, which I feel strangely divided about. Mysore style teaching is definitely my favourite (I’ll explain why). Unusually, Monday’s Mysore style class is always quieter (which I do love, so I am secretly hoping not to advertise it too well).

Mysore is the Indian city where Ashtanga yoga originates from. Around the world Ashtanga is traditionally taught ‘Mysore Style’. In a Mysore class each student has the freedom to do their own practice, like they would at home, but with the benefit of support and guidance from their teacher. Teaching is individualised with students receiving new postures one, or several at a time, when they are ready to move on. Helen teaches a Mysore Style class every Monday at 730pm and the structure of the class, which is led by the student’s own practice, means it is completely open-level and appropriate for everyone.

Kate, Helen and Kevin practicing Ashtanga Yoga in a Mysore Style Class

Kate, Helen and Kevin practicing Ashtanga Yoga in a Mysore Style Class

My first Mysore class was just over a year ago when I was trying to consolidate my home practice. Prior to this I had been attending led classes, and felt a bit unsure if I would be able to remember the sequence. However, there was no need to worry. I entered a quiet class with a couple of experienced students and went through the sequence slowly in bite-size chunks with Helen, and was surprised how quickly I had remembered the postures. Now the sequence seems to be second nature up to my stop point, although I still experience memory lapse at Navasana!

There are a few things that I love about Mysore Style Classes. The first is the way they demystify self-practice. Because in these classes you are practicing leading yourself, this can help you to feel that your practice belongs to you. This confidence helps me to be more committed to practicing at home.

I have also found that developing my self-practice through Mysore Classes has helped me to be more tuned into my body. Facing challenges from pain or weakness requires physical and mental re-education, and the challenges are constantly changing. An example from my practice is that midway into primary series seated forward bends I like to yawn (a lot), which Helen (and other students) started noticing. But it’s not because I’m bored, I just breath lazily in deep forward bends, and the result is reduced oxygen to my brain! During Mysore teaching Helen helped me with the depth of my breathing, and last week with Christine I was able to spend a bit more time in deep seated forward bend focusing on using my diaphragm to breath deeply (and yes, no yawning!).

A really brilliant thing about Helen’s Mysore Style Classes is the atmosphere, as a result my Monday practice has become relaxed and thoughtful. Helen also recently started Mysore Intensives, traditional early morning practice Monday-Thursday, with full led primary series on Friday. Getting up very early and practicing before work is definitely a challenge for me, amazing and I would highly recommend the experience.

So if you are curious about Mysore Style Classes, my advice is to give it a go, with an open mind. There is no need to know the sequence in advance or to begin at a certain level, and it might just become your favourite style of class.

 

Foam rollers offer an affordable solution for home massage. Which foam roller should you buy?

Many of my students know I am am a fan of foam rollers. They offer an affordable way to massage yourself at home regularly.

What is a foam roller?

My foam roller collection

My foam roller collection

A foam roller in the traditional sense is a roll of foam. You roll your body on it to massage your muscles and fascia. When you find a tight spot you can either hold for 30 seconds to a minute or you can friction gently moving from side to side. They are a great compliment to a yoga practice.

I have 3 foam rollers, a quadballer, a tennis ball and two recently purchased rumble roller balls. This is a real massage arsenal which I use almost every day for 5 -15 minutes. I use them on different areas of the body depending on where needs work. At the moment I have been doing a lot of long distance cycling and the foam roller has been a godsend for my quadriceps after a long hilly ride.

The humble foam roller

Strandard foam roller

Strandard foam roller

This is a traditional foam roller and was my first foam roller. The benefits of this foam roller are that it is cheaper and less hard, so good if you have a lot of tightness and don’t like your massage too deep. They are usually quite long which doesn’t make them a good travel option. You can now buy smaller ones. For massage purposes I think the larger size is unnecessary but the larger foam roller makes a good prop for some stretches. Another thing to consider when buying a foam roller like this is that they will eventually loose their density, usually in the middle and then loose their effectiveness and need to be replaced.

The grid

The grid by Trigger Point Therapy

The grid by Trigger Point Therapy

The grid is my middle of the road roller, it is firmer than the traditional foam roller and has grid-like grooves to get in a little deeper. I use it almost every day. I find it great to use to check in and see what areas are tight. After a 50 mile bike ride, the thought of using the rumble roller, (see below) on  my quads makes me want to run for the hills, so I usually use this first. If they are really tight then I will use this for a couple days first. The grid is small and hallow so is great for travel, you can just put some things inside it.

The rumble roller

Rumble roller

Rumble roller

This as far as I know is the big daddy of foam rollers and it looks like it! The rumble roller comes in two densities blue and black. This black one is the firmest one. I bought it because it was introduced to me by one of my students, Tony, and I discovered that I could get into areas that I knew to be tight but couldn’t be released by the grid anymore. The spikes aren’t sharp. They go into you like the the fingers of a masseur would. It can be intense but as with any of the foam rollers you can control how deep you go by how much weight you put on it. I have had excellent results with the rumble roller. I use it daily in combination with the grid. If I had to have only one foam roller I would personally choose this one. On my current trip to London to see my yoga teacher the rumble roller was one of the first things packed.

The quadballer

Quadballer by Trigger point therapy

Quadballer by Trigger point therapy

Not exactly a foam roller this is made by the same company as the grid and designed for the quads. It’s shape and density means it goes deeper than a foam roller however I now prefer the rumble roller and rarely use it.

The humble tennis ball

Want to start doing some self massage but not sure? The tennis ball is cheap and is great for getting into small specific points like the hips. A fantastic tool.

The rumble roller balls

Rumble roller balls

Rumble roller balls

These are made by the same company as the rumble roller and similarly mean business! I have been discussing buying them for a while but the expense held me back. One of my students bought one this week and I got to have a go. The massage release was fantastic, it gets in really deep. I bought both balls (two different densities) as I found the green ball a bit hard at first. I love the balls in the same way as I love the rumble roller it gets in deeper than my tennis ball into smaller specific areas.

Which do I recommend?

Well it depends! You certainly don’t need to buy the arsenal I seem to have acquired. If you are unsure about it, a standard foam roller or a tennis ball would be a good choice. The grid is probably a good option for most situations. It also depends on what area needs a massage. Sensitive areas like the IT band are better served with a standard foam roller or a grid, although I do use the rumble roller on mine most people would find it too painful. The rumble roller is good if you don’t mind a bit of pain, and like your massage deep. The balls are more portable and good for targeting smaller areas, but make exploring larger muscles time consuming unless you already know where to massage. Despite my numerous foam rollers there are obviously many more on the market. Since I bought mine I have seen cheaper alternatives come onto the market. These might be great but as I haven’t used them I can’t comment. Remember you can control how deep the roller goes by how much weight you place on the roller.

How can I find out how to use a foam roller

Perhaps I will do another blog post but for now I will leave you in the safe hands of athletes treating athletes who have some great videos demonstrating how they can be used. You can also check out Trigger Point Therapy which is an excellent book. Do you self massage? Do you have any other suggestions?

Raw vegan chocolate cake with Cashew nut cream – recipe

People ask me for this recipe all the time so I thought this was the best place to share it with everyone. It’s so delicious and quick and easy to make.

The cake recipe

raw chocolate cake with cashew nut cream

Raw vegan chocolate cake with cashew nut cream

What you need:

  • A food processor
  • walnuts 350 grams
  • Dates (medjool are best) 10-15
  • Cocoa powder 3 spoonfuls – you can use raw cocoa if rawness is important to you
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  1. Put the walnuts in a food processor and grind down to crumbs. Do the walnuts by themselves as this makes them easier to process.
  2. Add the cocoa, the dates and vanilla essence and process together. Add the dates gradually until mixture starts to bind.  You can add a little water if the mixture seems dry.
  3. Take mixture and press into cake tin using a spatula.
  4. Voila, you have your cake. Place in fridge for at least 30 minutes. You may like to add some fruit to the top, such as strawberries or whatever  you fancy.

Cashew nut cream

You can make the cream into a pouring cream or a thicker cream that can be used to ice the cake. Change it’s consistency by the amount of water you add.

  • Cashew nuts 200 grams
  • Vanilla essence 1 teaspoon
  • agave nectar (sweeten to taste)
  • water
  1. Process the cashew nuts in food processor
  2. Add agave if you want it sweeter to taste, add vanilla essence and water. Add more water if you want to use it as a pouring cream, less if you want to use it to ice the cake. Mix ingredients together in food processor.

This cake is rich and delightful. It costs a fair amount to make because nuts are expensive but it’s a perfect treat for special occasions or whenever you have the chocolate urge. The cashew nut cream cuts through the intense flavours of the cake. Enjoy….. Have you got any great recipes to share with our community?

Open your hips with Yin Yoga – Sequence from my recent workshop

My students at my recent yoga workshop asked me if I would share the yin yoga sequence on my blog so they could practice it again. So here it is. The sequence takes about 50 minutes to an hour with a nice relaxation at the end. Each pose is held for 5 minutes. If you have less time just pick a section of the sequence to practice.

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin yoga is a quiet yoga practice as opposed to a more dynamic yang style such as Ashtanga Yoga. In yin yoga positions are held for between 3 and 20 minutes. As well as helping you to open your hips this sequence will also help you to stay present and still.

Precautions and Guidelines

  • If it hurts, stop, adjust or don’t do the position until you have discussed with your teacher.
  • Don’t go too deep, remember you are going to be here for 5 minutes.
  • Use props such as pillows and yoga blocks to make yourself comfortable.
  • This sequence is designed for each pose to be held for 5 minutes, use a timer so you don’t have to think about it.

The  Yin Yoga Sequence

Upavishta Konasana – Wide angle seated forward bend

Matylda upavishta konasana yoga pose - wide leg forward bend

Matylda demonstrates upavishta konasana yoga pose – wide leg forward bend

When doing this as a yin pose it is nice to have something to rest on. What you use depends on your flexibility. If you are very tight you may need to rest with your back against the wall. The next step would be to fold forward onto a chair, then some yoga blocks/cushions, then your own elbows or if your really open place you head on the floor. Be gentle. If you feel this pose at the back of your knee or in the buttock strongly, stop come out of the pose and talk your yoga teacher about how to do it safely.

Rosy-badha-konasana-yoga-pose

Rosey demonstrates Badha Konasana with her back against the wall

Badha Konasana – Bound Angle Pose

Do this pose with your back against the wall. If one side is tighter than the other put something under your more flexible leg to help even them out.

Marichyasana Hip Opener Variation or Firelog pose

Here you have a choice. The first option demonstrated by Gabor is more accessible for most bodies.  Place one leg onto of the other just above the knee, then bend the other knee, use the wall to help keep your back as upright as possible. Firelog pose demonstrated by Kate may be too hard for some. Place both legs onto of the other and fold forward as much as you can. If you have more time you can always do both.

gabor-yoga-hip-opener

Gabor demonstrates an alternative -opening the same area

kate-firelog

Kate demonstrates fire log pose- Agnistambhasana

low lunge, dragon pose

Claire demonstrates the low dragon lunge

Dragon Lunge

Lower the back hip down until you get a stretch in the back leg either front of the hip or front of the thigh. As you going to be here a while make sure you are comfortable by adding padding under back knee or folding your mat up.

Supine quad stretch

Supine quad stretch on block

Kate demonstrates supine quad stretch on block

This is a favourite of mine as I do a lot of cycling and this really helps to loosen my quads. It requires a lot of flexibility so you way prefer to practice virasana at first. To do the supine quad stretch bend your right leg back whilst sitting on the front of a block. Lie back onto your elbows, if that feels okay you may want to lean all the way back as Kate demonstrates. If you are flexible and are not feeling a stretch you may want to use multiple blocks or turn the block. The block should be on your sacrum, a flat bone at the bottom of your back. If it is too intense and or you feel pain in your back/ knee stop. Have a go at virasana instead. To do virasana sit on as many blocks as needed with you feet and calves to the side of the block. If you don’t have blocks you can use books. If you can sit on the floor between you legs do that.

This sequence is designed to stretch out the hips in  multiple ways, you may find you are tighter in some positions than others. Practice working on your tightest areas if you want to make the sequence shorter. Do you practice yin yoga? What benefits have you found?

 

It is not about the asana, no really it isn’t….how to get beyond the fancy yoga poses

Seeing pictures of people in advanced yoga positions can be inspiring. One of the benefits of yoga is an increase in flexibility. Over time if you practice regularly, your yoga practice will change, you will be able to do things you never thought possible, but hopefully you will realise yoga has so much more to offer than freaky party tricks.

People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons. I am not going to tell you why to practice, you can work that out for yourself. I expect that your reasons will evolve, they will change over time as your practice deepens. I’m not going to tell you not to work on the yoga positions either. We all have yoga positions we can’t do and I think it’s great to work at them. I love doing something impossible everyday but not because it looks cool on instagram or wherever but because it challenges me. It doesn’t just challenge my body, but it challenges my mind, my ego, my beliefs. I learn to step outside what I think is possible. Sometimes I have to accept that I can do less on a particular day than I normally can and sometimes I have to believe that I can do more. The truth is it doesn’t matter which positions someone finds impossible it could be reaching to touch your toes in a forward bend or grabbing your ankles in a backbend. Where is your mind when you are doing it, where is your breath, are you here? Does your yoga practice help you to be a better person? Are you calmer, happier, more focused? These are the questions you should be asking.

Social media and yoga poses – Inspiring?

Over the last few years the bombardment of images of people doing advanced yoga moves on photographs or videos has increased. I sometimes find these images and videos inspiring and helpful. It can be interesting to watch someone else doing positions that are challenging. Sometimes I post pictures of myself and even made a video recently with the same intention. These things can be useful. They can also be intimidating because behind the video you can’t see all the hours of dedication that made that possible, you can just see someone doing something impossible with relative ease.  As a yoga teacher sometimes I feel like there is some kind of pressure on me to be some amazing gymnast. No such pressure exists of course. I have a commitment to myself and my students to practice, to learn and continue to learn more so that I can share more but this learning isn’t just physical. I have to understand what it is like to practice, to be a student of yoga philosophy as well as asana, to be on my path and to practice diligently. I have to understand what it is to be physically unable to do something again and again and again until one day I can. I do commit to this daily both on and off my mat.

It is not about the asana…

This is so easy to say. As we can sit there and smile at each other like the spiritually realised beings that we are. We can say it again and again but ultimately we have to learn it. If we are focused on an asana obsessed even, should we deny this experience, suppress it, deny that it is there and repeat the phrase, it is not about the asana again and again. To do so is to try too hard to be something that you are not in that moment. It is natural when when you practice asana and you can’t do something to want to be able to do it. As you practice you will probably find your habitual thought patterns unravel. They might not always be pretty, your ego might not be as spiritually realised as you think it should be, I know mine isn’t ;-). That’s okay, embrace it all, allow yourself to even experience any negative thoughts or emotions, accept that you experiencing these that but know that it is nonsense. Laugh at yourself, share your experience, just know that this is not what yoga is about. Your mind is just clinging to whatever it understands and your ego is driven by progress, this okay but it isn’t important. If your mind clings to the importance of asana at some point it will have to let go, the practice itself will teach you, surrender to it and bring yourself to your mat, just as you are. So yes yoga is not about the asana but you practice asana so it’s okay to think about it, it can even be transformative…..
What is yoga about to you?  Do you find videos/ images of yogis in advanced positions inspiring or intimidating?

How To Transform Your Dedication To Build The Habits You Do Want

Have you ever looked at the achievements of other people and thought how dedicated they were?  Would you like to have that kind of dedication in your life? I think you already have it. It’s just a matter of channelling your dedication to do the things you really want to do.

When talking about my 6 day a week yoga practice, people often say how dedicated I must be. People think I am very dedicated to practice, mostly on my own. For me it’s easy. I love yoga and have learnt how it has enhanced my life.

Getting up at 4 am to go to a yoga intensive in Manchester every day last week, certainly took some determination but it was well worth the effort

Getting up at 4 am to go to a yoga intensive in Manchester every day last week, certainly took some determination but it was well worth the effort

I think everyone is dedicated. My yoga practice has taught me that with enough dedication I can build whatever habits I want into my life. After many years of practice, yoga is an unquestionable part of my life. If my schedule changes, the first thing I think about is when I will be able to fit in my yoga practice.  This daily practice did not come until after many years.  My first 8-9 years of yoga was mostly Hatha yoga, which I loved and got great benefit from, but I did not have a daily consistent practice. It wasn’t until 9 years ago when I discovered Ashtanga yoga that I started committing to daily practice. At the time I had a stressful job and the yoga would leave me feeling refreshed and renewed. The flowing style allowed me to become absorbed in my movement, becoming more present and less stressed in my job. I felt I was unravelling who I really was but if I got too busy and wasn’t able to practice, I started to feel disconnected and stressed once more. For me, having gaps of not practicing, really helped me realise why I wanted to practice daily. Without the experience of life without it, I wouldn’t have found the dedication to commit.  If you feel like this, but can’t find the time to do a full practice daily, see if you can find 15 minutes. It’ll be worth it.

We all have things we are dedicated to doing.  It might be your job, listening to music, reading, meeting up with friends, eating or even sleeping. You probably have a number of things that you are dedicated to doing, many of which you do without thinking. At this point they have become habits. That’s great if it is a happy healthy habit that you want in your life but if you want to do more of something else you may need to do less of another activity.  Time is not limitless. It doesn’t expand unfortunately. I could easily fill 24 hours with the things I love but I need to find time to sleep too.

So if you want to read more, maybe you need to watch television less. If you want to do more yoga, is there something else you could do less of to make time for it?  Maybe like me, you already have a life jam packed with the things you love doing. Lucky you! Maybe you want to do more than you have time or energy for.  Does that mean you should not take on the challenge at all. If you want more of something in your life see if you can find 5-15 minutes each day for it. You may find in time you are able to make more time but you may find that a short time is enough.

It takes a while to build a new habit. At first you have to be truly dedicated. Think clearly about why you want to build this new habit and all the benefits it will bring. Motivate yourself and prioritise it like you would an appointment. After a while your new habit will simply become, what you do, as automatic as brushing your teeth in the morning.

What are you dedicated at doing? Is there any area of your life you would like to be more dedicated to?

How you can stop your new yoga mat from being slippery

Buying your first yoga mat can be an exciting step. Unfortunately yoga mats are usually coated with a slippery film when you first buy them. If you find yourself sliding you might think you have bought the wrong mat.

hands on yoga mat

The best way to break in a new yoga mat is to practice on it

Fortunately there is a solution. Like many questions in the yoga world, practice is the best solution. The more you practice on your new yoga mat the more you will wear away the slippery film. If your mat is double sided I suggest you choose a side to break in, marking the other side. This way you know which way is up, otherwise it will take twice as long. The more you practice, the quicker your mat will build up traction. When I buy new mats for my classes I usually break them in to save my students from sliding. It usually takes 1-2 weeks of daily practice to break a mat in so if you are practicing less often it may take longer.

What to do if it’s really slippery or if you want to speed the process up:

If your mat is really slippery it is a good idea to wash it. If it is a regular sticky yoga mat then you can just put it in the washing machine, no spin. Yes really! I have done this with lots of mats. Once washed, hang on a door to air and dry and make sure it is fully dry before using. This will wash some of the slipperiness off and you can then continue practicing on it to get rid of any residue.

Some of the more specialised mats are not meant to be put in the washing machine, for example my own mat by Planet Sadhana is not meant to be machine washed. Contact your mat manufacturer if in doubt. To wash my mat, I use an Eco friendly anti bacterial surface cleaner and a sponge then rinse off in the shower.

At this point if you haven’t got your own mat already, you will be wondering which mat I recommend. That’s a very personalised question, I don’t think there is one mat that is great for everyone but I will write a post soon about which yoga mats I do recommend and why.

What to do if you are still sliding on your yoga mat:

If you are still sliding after following the above protocol you either have a mat that is unsuitable or you are sliding due to sweaty palms. As ashtanga yoga is dynamic, it is normal to sweat during practice. Unlike hot yoga which is done in a hot room, this is an internal heat built up from the practice itself.

No yoga mat is going to stop you sliding if you are sweating so yogis use two main solutions a yoga towel or a Mysore rug. This is put over the top of your yoga mat, usually after the standing sequence. My preference is for a yoga towel and I use one by Manduka but there are many products on the market.

It is great to have your own mat and I wish you and your yoga mat all the best on your journey together.

Do you have your own yoga mat? Was it slippery at first and if so how did you overcome it? Do you use a yoga towel or rug?

Next Pose Please And Surrender – Traditional Mysore Style Ashtanga

Do you practice ashtanga Mysore style and ever wonder why your teacher stops you at a certain pose. Do you know what a Mysore style class is? Read on…

What is a Mysore style class?

Mysore is the city in India where Ashtanga has it’s roots.  A Mysore class is a traditional self practice class where students practice the ashtanga sequence as given to them by their teacher. It is highly individualised and therefore suitable for complete beginners and advanced students of yoga.

In ashtanga yoga there are six series of yoga poses. They are progressively difficult but the primary series is far from easy so many people this will be challenging enough. Within this system there are fundamental gateway postures and if you can not do this pose you stop your practice there and do the closing sequence.  When your teacher thinks you are ready you will be given the next pose. This process is highly individualised  – different teachers have different standards and also the reasons for stopping one person and moving another person on vary, it might be their breath needs work, or they lack stamina or flexibility. We are all so individual both in body and in mind and this is all considered.

When I first learnt ashtanga I did not have very traditional teachers and I was not aware of this approach of stopping student but I have come to love it. For me it has been very beneficial but I know others have taken a different route through the system and I am fine with that. I am happy for anyone who practices yoga regularly because I know how beneficial that can be, regardless of the approach. I have been in the ashtanga scene long enough to have heard dogmatic arguments on both sides. I know for instance that back in the olden days people were not stopped so readily even in Mysore itself. That’s cool, just practice, that’s the most important thing. I have learnt to like being stopped and given postures by a teacher and I therefore teach my Mysore classes this way. So I just want to share why I think it is a good approach and how I have benefitted.

About 5 years ago my Mysore teacher Gail left Liverpool. By that time I was practicing ashtanga daily and was about to become a yoga teacher myself.  Around the time that she was leaving I was practising the full primary series and had just learnt to stand up from drop backs. This was a weird time for me, I had spent 5 years practising ashtanga and had grown to love working on poses that seemed impossible when all of a sudden the primary series was possible. It was possibly time to start learning second series.

I had a daily self practice at home so in the absence of a teacher I started to give myself poses. I did this based on my own capabilities but it had many pitfalls.  For one I needed more guidance about the yoga positions themselves. I needed someone to teach me how to them correctly, what to work on, I also wanted someone else to stop me and tell me where my last pose was. I can to some extent decide what is best for my body, I know it well but it is very subjective. One of the things I love about my daily ashtanga practice is that I do not have to think about it. I know what sequence to practice on what day and which pose to stop at, this becomes a very meditative practice.  All of a sudden I had to think about my practice, what should be my last pose? It became a distraction.

I decided to go to London in search of a teacher where I dutifully practiced the poses I had been given by previous teachers, fully primary.  I went to a few different teachers looking for the one I connected with most but as soon as I went to my teacher Hamish, I knew I had found my teacher.

The process of surrender to my teacher wasn’t easy. I travelled to London, every month as I still do. It was a year before I was given the first pose of intermediate. There were times I thought I should be doing more, I missed the challenge of doing something impossible every day. I wanted more…but did I really need it and should we collect asanas like other possessions in this materialistic world?

Since then there have been many other times when I have felt like I wanted more but mostly I find that amusing. My practice for me is mostly a place to practice being present so that I can be here and now more often. It doesn’t matter what my practice is only that I surrender to it. Through being stopped at a certain pose, I have learnt a lot about my own mind and it’s yearning but mostly I have learnt to surrender. To practice what is given and trust in the process. This allows my practice to become more meditative.

Do you practice ashtanga Mysore style? How do you feel about having your teacher decide what your last poses is?

How you can develop your abilities through purposeful practice

There are some philosophies that can be transformational if you live by them. The belief that I can become good at anything if I put in the time is such a belief for me.  My yoga practice has been a place where I have been able to see this put into practice. When I was younger, I was very clumsy not particularly talented in any fitness activity.

One of the great things about yoga is that it is non competitive but also that it doesn’t really matter how flexible or strong you become. That’s really liberating. The idea is to practice and to stay present, to be here and now. Incidentally if you do this every day for some years not only does your body change but your mind changes too. People will say, “You are so flexible, coordinated, calm, happy, focused… (insert your own word)”, and you will find yourself thinking “It’s just practice.” Some people believe me, others roll their eyes, but it’s true – practice has transformed my body. That’s not to say practice is easy – it requires dedication but it is possible for anybody.

This concept of practice and its transformational effect fascinate me because it means that I am only limited by time – I can learn any skill and if I don’t seem very good at it first it doesn’t bother me. I feel some people are limited by their belief in talent being an innate skill. People tell me they are not like that, they are not very good at learning languages, building strength or staying focused. We all have skills and we all have areas where we want to improve but the main thing that makes a difference is purposeful practice. So inevitably there will be things you are good at and things that you aren’t but you get to choose what they are. When I taught myself Thai – I wasn’t good at learning languages but I was motivated and living in Thailand and so I had lots of opportunity to practice.

Bounce book cover
Over Christmas I read the book Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice‘Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice’. It’s a great book, which explores this concept in detail.  The author, Matthew Sayed, was a professional table tennis player and believes that it is practice rather than talent that set him apart. He makes a great case and uses lots of research throughout the book. The only area that I felt wasn’t fully explored was that of opportunity. This plays a big part in whether someone has the time and drive to put in the practice in the first place. This opportunity can be dependent on finance, but not always.This concept is also explored in another, similarly great book, Outliers: The Story of Success

In it he describes how purposeful practice is necessary for someone to become an expert in something. The nature of the practice is important, it is not enough to merely do an activity. You have to do it in focused way, always challenging the limits of what you think you can do. The amount of purposeful practice is thought to be about 10,000 hours, which usually takes around ten years of dedication.

This concept of purposeful practice where you are always challenging the limits of what is possible for you reminds me of the traditional Mysore method of Ashtanga yoga. In this method you are given more poses when you are able to do the ones you are practicing, so there is always something to challenge you. If you want to get stronger you have to challenge yourself to do things that you can not currently do, if you just use the strength you already have you will maintain your strength but it won’t increase. By challenging your mental and physical limits daily – change is inevitable.

My daily yoga practice has taught me a great deal about the power of practice but the reason that this matters is because I can then take this into any area of my life that I want to improve. If I want to learn to be more efficient, to learn a language, to play an instrument or to write better, I know that I can. The only limitation is with all the wonderful things there are out there to practice and become better at there are only 24 hours a day.  So choose wisely.

Do you believe in the power of practice? What skills would you like to develop in 2014?

Why you benefit from practicing when you don’t want to

One of the benefits I have found to practicing daily is that I sometimes practice when I don’t want to. You may think this seems excessive and certainly when I first started practicing I would just practice on the days I wanted to. After all I am doing this by choice right ?

I practice daily, 6 days a week and mostly I love it. It’s some time to myself in each day and it reignites my passion for teaching through my own experience. However as much as I love yoga, some days I just do not want to do it. However, I have never practiced and wished I hadn’t though so I now know I need to just get on with it. There are all sorts of reasons why I might not want to practice, if you have been practicing for a while you may find some of them familiar.

  1. I want to do something else
  2. I have to do something else – I have lots of work to do
  3. My body feels stiff/ tired/ not what I am  used to
  4. It’s winter, can’t I just stay under the duvet until Spring?
  5. My mind is on hyperdrive – note I usually don’t notice this at the time. It reveals itself as a resistance to the silence of practice.

I’m sure there are more…

There are times when you should not practice if you are really ill for example. We discussed this in my post about what to do regarding practicing yoga when you’re unwell. There are also times when you might have to do a shorter practice or a less intense one. Having a daily practice or however many days you are ready to commit to is about showing up. It’s about doing a gentle practice when you are tired. It’s about being patient with your body when it’s tight. It’s about allowing your mind to buzz in silence and sometimes it’s about giving yourself some time to be with your emotions when your mind wants to run and hide. Most of the time it will feel great and empowering but sometimes it will be challenging, and you will have to face yourself, to accept each moment just as it is.

Sometimes you get the most from the practices that you don’t want to do. They give you a chance to accept you are inperfectly beautiful just the way you are. They offer you a chance to find some space when you don’t want to, they reveal what you are hiding from and show you who you are. This is where the yoga journey really begins………..

Have you ever practiced yoga when you didn’t want to?  What was your experience?