Being strong as a woman is not only okay it’s incredibly good for you

One of the benefits of a more dynamic style of yoga like ashtanga is that it will build strength. Some women may be scared to be strong fearing that they will somehow make you less attractive. Don’t panic, women build strength differently to men in fact it’s more difficult for women to build strength so chances are you won’t end up looking like Arnie especially not with the bodyweight exercises in Ashtanga Yoga.

Why challenging your strength is good for women

  • Photo by Nata Moraru

    Builds stronger bones and reduces the risk of osteoarthritis

  • Muscle burns fat at rest so increases your metabolism helping to build a lean healthy physique
  • It’s incredibly empowering and fun to be able to lift your own body weight
  • Challenging your strength physically challenges your mind mentally making you stronger and more resilient on the inside and the outside
  • It looks beautiful, whoever says woman can not be strong has an outdated view of what a woman is in my opinion, we are many things and some of us are incredibly strong
  • It helps you do stuff like lift things and have a stronger core and thus be less prone to injury

Women face a few challenges when building strength. The common thing you will hear is that because we don’t have as much testosterone it is harder for us to build strength. This is true. On top of that our hormones change throughout our monthly cycle. During the two weeks just before your period the levels of oestrogen and progesterone are elevated. During this phase of our cycle it is harder to build up strength.

Just keep going, it is possible for women to get strong it will usually just take longer than a man takes. My husband seems to grow muscle overnight that I swear it would take me months to build!

Building strength in Ashtanga Yoga

Helen doing yoga arm balance Karandavasana

Photo by Nata Moraru

Yoga isn’t about being stronger or achieving the next pose it’s more about learning to relax and accept things as they are. That said ashtanga yoga is physically demanding and it will make you stronger so it makes sense to consider your physiology and work with it. Your muscles get stronger when you challenge them and then allow them to recover. Both the challenge and the recovery are equally important here. If you just do what you normally do and don’t challenge yourself then you will maintain your strength which is great but you won’t get stronger because there is no challenge. Also if you challenge yourself everyday then your body will struggle to build muscle because it doesn’t have enough recovery.

If you practice yoga 2 or 3 days a week your body will have plenty of time to recover. If you practice Ashtanga Yoga six days a weeks as I do then make some of the days easier from a strength perspective by just doing the movement using your current strength rather than challenging yourself further. It’s fine to keep moving whilst recovering, and stretching everyday is really good for you.

Have you gotten stronger through practicing ashtanga? How has this changed you?

 

When you don’t want to practice is sometimes when it’s most important to get on your mat

Yoga is great! I love it so much and it’s a fundamental part of my day and my life.  Most of the time I enjoy practicing and am happy to get on my mat but it’s unrealistic to think that would I always want to practice. Sometimes I don’t.

Most people don’t experience this when they first start practicing as at this point you are still discovering how amazing it is. Obviously, there are times when not practicing is the right choice. If you are ill for instance. Most of the time however, these are the best practices. They are the ones you need and benefit from the most.

Helen practicing a yoga forward bend

Photograph by Nata Moraru

Yoga has a multitude of benefits that go beyond the general improvements in your health and wellbeing. It is a practice that teaches you to connect with yourself, your body and your mind as they are. This can be incredibly transformational but sometimes you don’t want to see things as they are. Sometimes you want to distract yourself from it and this. I guess this is one of the reasons drinking alcohol and watching tv are such popular pastimes.

Ashtanga yoga is traditionally practiced 6 days a week, which is how I practice. This means I practice on good days and bad. I respect that it is not possible or practical for everyone to commit to practicing daily. What is good then is to commit to the days that you do practice so that you don’t just practice when you feel like it. If you do that you miss out on the opportunity to bring your mind back when it’s distracted, to learn to accept your mind even when it’s chaotic, to accept your body when it’s not at it’s best and to give yourself the practice when it needs it most.

Life isn’t always easy and your yoga practice should reflect that. We practice when we are happy, sad, in love, angry, lonely, lost and busy.  Yoga practice isn’t about perfection it’s about being present with whatever you are experiencing at the time.

If my mind is feeling particularly busy, I just take my practice one breath at a time. I let my mind do whatever it is up to. I don’t judge it but whenever it wanders, I just bring it back to my breath. Without fail, in all the years of doing this, I have always been grateful that I practiced.

Do you practice yoga when you don’t want to? How has it helped you?

How to deal with the mental aspect of being injured

I have helped so many students with injuries over the years. As well as helping students with the physical aspect of an injury, and referring for more help when appropriate, I have discovered that there are some common mental aspects to being injured.

Being injured can be a real challenge. If you are injured then you may need to seek out specific advice about how to manage the physical side of the injury. You may need to see a physiotherapist and also talk to your yoga teacher about how to adapt your yoga practice. The range of possible injuries is vast and so I am not going to deal with that here, if you’re my student and need to talk to me about your own individual case then, of course, you can.

If you get injured and you are used to being physically active then there is usually a mental journey that you go on too. You may feel that your progress will be hindered but as yoga is an internal practice usually the opposite is true. It can be difficult to see that at the time but the patience, awareness and compassion you develop from being injured will teach you a great deal about yourself.

Blame

When you get injured it is logical for you to ask why did this happen. It’s good practice and worth asking. If you can find the cause it’s good to learn from it, particularly if you were pushing too hard. Sometimes it’s not your fault! Not every injury is caused by you or someone else doing something wrong, maybe you fell or maybe you just had some underlying imbalance you were unaware of. So take a moment to learn what you can to help you in the future but be compassionate about it – you are not invincible and sometimes things just go wrong.

48 hours rest

trikonasana yoga pose

Don’t be afraid to go back to basics – photo by Nata Moraru

If your injury is severe it is generally advised to rest it as much as possible for 48 hours. Again I am not going into specific injuries here, so seek advice on your individual injury and circumstances. After that, it is generally advised to resume activity but only to the extent that you can do so without aggregating your injury further. This may mean you do a different activity or you modify the activity – you may need help working this out. You need to be prepared to take a step back from your normal practice. It is tempting to rest completely but usually this is not optimal, as exercising helps blood circulation, which in turn helps an injury to heal. However you don’t want to aggravate things further, so I would generally advise you do less than you think you can, and gradually and carefully build back up, under the guidance of you teacher. Mentally you have to be prepared to back off and take it easy, which can be harder than stopping completely. It can seem hard, because you have to face the injury, and it can be frustrating but it’s incredibly useful as a practice because life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes you have to keep going when things are not going the way you had planned. You can battle internally with this or you can learn to accept and embrace your current circumstances whilst taking steps forward to help you get better.

The process of dealing with an injury is very universal, so despite feeling like you are the only one going through what you are, you will probably find others have had similar experiences at some point in their lives. Yes, you are special but so is everyone else. Realizing this can help you let go of your own melodrama, so talk to others about how you feel.

Practice ahimsa. One of the ethical precepts of yoga is ahimsa, which means nonviolence. Like many things in life, it’s good to start learning to practice this on yourself before branching out into the world. It sounds easy to practice not hurting yourself but again and again, I find myself teaching this. Your body is the most amazing gift you have, it is incredible, take good care of it.

Yoga is not about advancing your physical practice, it is easy to get distracted by that. The real yoga happens practicing when you don’t want to as well as when you do. Take some time to reconnect with the bigger reasons of why you practice, be it because it makes you calmer, more focused or enhances your wellbeing. Remind yourself of that and work with what you have.

Have you ever been injured? What did you learn from it?

 

Is Yoga Photography Inspiring or Intimidating? You Decide…

Last month I did my first Instagram yoga challenge. The challenge involved having a photograph of myself taken in a yoga pose from the second series, for each day of the month. The challenge was organised and hosted by Ashtanga Dispatch who gave us a pose for each day of the month. I did every pose but sometimes had to post multiple photos on one day, as I didn’t always have a photographer handy.

karandavasana

A hugely physical pose that requires not just strength but the presence of mind to control the movement. I can land this but alas can not come back up yet…..Photograph by Nata Moraru.

I am not shy in general, but I do feel a bit self conscious about sharing photographs of myself doing yoga. I decided to do the challenge partly to take myself out of my comfort zone and to examine this resistance. It was challenging at times. I practice yoga 6 days a week so doing the pose wasn’t really the challenging part. Don’t get me wrong, some of the poses are really challenging, but I am used to that and I know I can only do what my body will allow on any given day. What was challenging was sharing that photograph out into the world regardless of how I felt emotionally that day. Yes it’s true. Yoga teachers are not perfect human robots and sometimes they feel vulnerable or well just about anything, because we are not robots!

Why the resistance to yoga photography?

Yoga to me is about so much more than the yoga positions themselves. I sometimes think people get a bit caught up in the physical dimension of the practice and they think that the most advanced yogi is the one who is the strongest and most flexible. I don’t think social media has helped this and there are a lot of photographs of thin people, scantily dressed, doing advanced yoga moves. As a woman I have mixed feelings about this. I think women should be able to wear short shorts and crop tops if that’s what they feel comfortable in. What gets corrupted though is that it sometimes feels like people are showing beautiful thin bodies in order to advertise yoga. Now I have no doubt that yoga can help people who need to loose weight to attain that, but I see this as a secondary almost incidental gain. Yoga can give you so much more. It can help you become more at ease with who you are right now. It can help you to experience life more fully. It is not some kind of secret club for the young skinny and beautiful.

Are yoga picture inspiring or intimidating?

yoga-nidrasana

It looks so easy but it took years and years of daily practice. Yoga Nidrasana which means yogi sleep pose. Photograph by Nata Moraru.

This is up to you. When you see an image of someone in an advanced position what do you think? You might think they have crazy genes and they were born bendy. I would say my own genetic flexibility is average, but because I have done yoga since I was 17, my body has become more flexible over the years. Now at 35, I am more flexible than I can ever remember being and this is due to a dedicated daily practice 6 days a week. When you see the photo you can’t always see the story behind the pose. The daily journey from not being able to do something to doing it everyday, the impossible can become possible, but sometimes it takes years. By challenging yourself you will learn a great deal about yourself, so it is my hope that such photographs inspire you to do so. It is also my hope that you don’t feel the need to become anything other than more like yourself. We all have physical limits. Challenge your own, but enjoy where you are too. An advanced yoga pose may not change your life in the way you expect. Surrendering to where you are whilst always gently pushing against your own limitations will teach you so much more.

Why I have come to like Instagram as a social media channel

Uth-pluthi-Helen

Finding time for a cheeky smile. Photograph by Nata Moraru.

The thing I like most about Instagram is that I can write a couple of paragraphs to accompany my photographs. I know it’s primarily a photo sharing site and not everyone will read something, but it’s nice to be able to share more of the journey or to give some tips on the yoga positions as well as a micro blog about other aspects of my life. That way it feels less narcissistic and more of a useful service. Despite all my misgivings about sharing photographs of myself in yoga poses, it has been nice to share more of what I do on my mat with both friends and students. There is a whole lot more going on than the yoga positions themselves, but I can hopefully share that by who I am as a person. I endeavour to do so. Meanwhile yoga pictures are a visual way of me sharing more of myself, and what I do on my mat. I hope you find them useful. You can see the rest of the photographs on my Instagram account here.  All these photographs by my student Nata Moraru.

What do you think about yoga photographs?

How to start your own yoga self practice at home

Finding time for yoga can be hard. Life gets so busy and there are always more things to be done than can be done. The busier we get the more useful the yoga can be, everybody needs time to relax. So whether you are finding it hard to get to class as often as you like or if you would like to practice between classes, here are some tips.

  1. Set a time for your practice and defend it. You need to make sure you have some time to yourself when you can do some yoga, it might just be 15 minutes. There will always be other things you could be doing so don’t let them take over, prioritise this time.
  2. Get your mat out. When the scheduled time arrives you may or may not want to practice but you should get your mat out regardless. Once you get started you will probably feel better, so put your mat out and see how it goes.
  3. Doing a short practice is a great start. It’s better to start short because then you are more likely to be able to find time and energy for it. Start with some sun salutations and the last 3 seated positions. If you have more time and energy then by all means do more but if this all you can do, it will still do you the world of good.
  4. Respect your body – sometimes you will be tired, ill or even injured. Sometimes this will mean you should rest completely or modify your practice, don’t beat yourself up. There is a principle in yoga called ahimsa it means non-violence start with yourself. If your unsure talk to a yoga teacher or medical professional, whichever is appropriate.
  5. Allow yourself some time for relaxation. Do not rush off your yoga mat give yourself some quality time to relax. If necessary set a timer, you need to allow at least 5 minutes. The timer will stop you rushing off because you feel busy but it will also allow you to relax more fully.
  6. Use a book or a dvd to motivate you. David Swenson created short versions of the ashtanga sequence which could be a great option if you’re busy or just starting to build up a practice. You can find this sequence in his book and his DVD. If you want to practice the full primary series, Kino MacGreggor has a great primary series DVD.
  7. Come to a Mysore style class. A Mysore style class is the traditional method of teaching Ashtanga Yoga. It is self practice with teacher’s assistance. This allows for much more personalised instruction as well as a personalised practice. These classes are suitable for all levels including complete beginners and are especially useful if you want to develop a self practice. If you are in Liverpool I teach Mysore style classes on Monday evening as well as running regular Mysore intensives.

Do you have a home yoga practice? What tips can you share to help others develop their yoga practice?

 

How working on that seemingly impossible yoga pose will enhance your life

Yoga can sometimes be challenging. Really – it’s like that for everyone. I know you maybe weren’t sold it that way. You were led to believe it was all peace, light and relaxation and it is, but sometimes it’s hard too.

We all face challenges in our yoga practice. You may think you’re the only one, that you are special and nobody else has it as hard as you do, I am sure, but we all have our challenges. Challenges on the yoga mat aren’t usually as hard as the challenges we can face in life. Yoga can be hard but life is sometimes harder still. What do you do when you can’t do something, how does it make you feel, what do you do about it? So you can’t touch your toes, grab your big toe, bind your hands together, jump back, whatever it is. Or maybe the challenge is getting on your mat in the first place; maybe you don’t feel like it, maybe that’s the best day to practice.

Helen doing yoga pose supta kurmasana

Supta Kurmasana – sleeping tortoise a challenging yoga pose which became possible after years of dedication

It doesn’t really matter if you can do fancy yoga poses although sometimes yogis get so obsessed with asana that they forget this. Yes, I have been there too. What matters is how you learn to embrace the impossible, can you work at something again and again that you can’t do. If you can manifest this attitude on your yoga mat can you bring this new skill into your life? If you can do this, and of course you can (I believe in you every step of the way), then imagine how much more you can achieve. Maybe you won’t manage to do all of the things you set out to achieve but I suspect that not only will you achieve more than you ever imagined possible but somewhere along the way you will realize that the journey is way more important than the destination. You will find that being willing to step into the space of what you deem impossible, gradually, carefully yet consistently, gives life more color and possibilities. Yoga has taught me so much patience and perseverance I sometimes feel unstoppable.

How you can to face the impossible on your yoga mat

• Practice, this is the most important one. Practice often and just appreciate that there are poses you can’t do yet.
• Avoid getting overwhelmed; choose a maximum of 3 yoga poses to work on in any session.
• If you are going to repeat a yoga pose, do it a maximum of 3 times, if you have done it 3 times move on with your day.
• Work out what is making this challenging for you in the pose, if in doubt ask your teacher for guidance, maybe some other poses can help.
• Keep your sense of humour and perspective. People are not going to love you more or less depending on your ability to do this pose. Achieving it will not perceivably change you or your life. It is far more important who you are in the moment – and for that, the journey and the humility you learn are much more important.
• Do go easy on yourself in those times when you fail, just showing up is enough.
• You may feel resistance, acknowledge it but don’t let it control you.
• Listen to your body, this isn’t about doing more than you can, it’s about safely exploring your current limitations, safely and consistently.

Have you faced the impossible on your yoga mat? How has this helped you in your life?

Balancing your strength and flexibility – how to stretch your shoulders

One of the great things about Ashtanga is that it builds both strength and flexibility. Sometimes people graduate towards one side of this spectrum rather than the other. Flexible people tend to like to become more flexible and strong people tend to want to become more strong. What we should really be doing is moving towards balance but sometimes the ego likes to do what it is good at and sometimes the body has a natural ability towards one or the other.

For me personally I feel like I have moved from one end of the spectrum to the other. I remember a teacher once telling me that I was naturally flexible and I should work on my strength. So I did. I worked really hard on it and then I was told that I was naturally strong and I should work on my flexibilty. Ha! I worked hard for all of it.

As you get stronger you can get tighter but the shoulders can get tight from life too. It’s important to keep the shoulder flexible not just so that you can do deep backbends but to help maintain an upright posture and release tension in this area. One of the postural changes that can happen as people age is that the shoulders, upper back and neck come forward. That’s because activities such as working at a computer, driving and riding a bike can make it hard to maintain good posture. Eventually your body decides it should stay in this slouched position but not you! You do yoga!

Here are some great stretches to keep these areas free.

Pectoral muscles and upper back

upper-back-stretchPlace a yoga brick or two under your upper back, the top end should be at the base of your shoulder blade (vary height depending on your flexibility). You can experiment with taking the block higher but don’t go too low, you want to focus on the upper back not the lower back which is a lot more flexible. Start with your arms by your sides as shown in the picture and experiment with moving your arms up above your head gradually looking for any tight spots in the front of your shoulder. This shouldn’t feel too intense if it does start lower. You can stay here for up to 5 minutes but I usually find a minute is enough to release it. This is one of my post bike ride stretches. It’s nice because you don’t have to do anything!

Pectoral doorway stretch

pec stretch1One of the best way to stretch the pectorals is in a doorway. There are 3 different positions I like to do. Place you arms in the positions shown with your hands on the doorframe, for the first position your upper arm will be on the door frame too. Step through the doorway, hold for about 30 seconds. Try all 3 positions and repeat the one that is tightest. The pectorals are commonly tight causing the shoulders to come forward which can cause faulty shoulder mechanics.

pec stretch 2
pec stretch 3

Arm behind your back

This stretches the external rotators of the shoulder. It may be noticeably tighter on your dominant arm. If this the case do the tight side first then repeat on the tight side after doing the more flexible side. You can do this as as and active stretch if possible using the other arm to gradually bring the elbow up the back. You can also do it as a yin pose (holding it for up to 5 minutes). To do this put the arm behind you, start in a relaxed position i.e not too deep, then carefully lie down on your back, make it less or more deep depending on your needs, go gently.

Latissimus dorsi (lats) stretch

This broad muscle goes all the way from the shoulder to the lower back. If it’s tight it can limit your overhead arm position. In yoga this makes poses like downward dog and urdva dhanurasana difficult. It is important to be flexible here in any sport that requires an overhead position – such as swimming, climbing, catching a ball overhead, hand-standing etc. It’s good to stretch it out in different ways. Here is a couple of my favourites.

lat stretch

    From child’s pose with hands out in front come up on to your knees take your hands forward about one of your feet’s distance. Keep your hips high and take your forehead, nose, chin or chest towards the ground.

sidebend-lat-stretch

    Standing with feet hip width apart. Reach hand up overhead to whatever extent you can, hands touching if flexibility allows, parallel if you are very tight. Then side bend, anchor through your feet and reach up and over with your arms.

 

If you try out all these stretches you may find some of them are tighter than others. Those are the ones you will obviously get the most benefit from practicing.
Do you have tight shoulders? Where or how are you tight? Do you have any great shoulder stretches to share?

Great Expectations – Going with the flow at Christmas

Christmas is coming… are you filled with joy, excitement, or maybe a mixture of many feelings. Christmas means different things to different people, and this can lead to very different expectations. It can be a day for families to come together and yet for some it can make them feel even more alone. Whatever your perspective or situation it is important not to place too high an expectation on this one day of many but instead to live each day as fully as you can. It can be a day of giving, of sharing or feeling like you’ll never have enough or of feeling like you have too much. It is a day of excesses. Everything is heightened and yet it is just a day….and like every other day, for all our hopes and dreams about it, we do not have complete control over it or the people we share it with.

Helen practicing yoga in the snow

Yoga in the snow

People are often amazed that I practice yoga even on Christmas day. For me I feel I need yoga on this day of all days to ground me to help me see each moment for what it is. To help me to see what other people may be asking of me. To help me to be not in my idea of how this day should be but in the actual moment as it unravels. I get many benefits from my yoga practice but the most important one for me is to train my mind to be more present. I practice this awareness on the yoga mat but I also bring it off the yoga mat into every aspect of my life. Yoga helps me immensely to embody each moment. Sure I have days where I get on the mat and my mind is totally distracted. I have days where my mind is so distracted that my yoga mat is the last place I want to be but those days of overstimulation are when I need yoga the most. I just take it one breath at a time.

Practicing yoga at Christmas time can seem selfish – how you can find the time

When your around your friends and your family it can seem strange or selfish to disappear for an hour or so to practice yoga. Is it really though? I feel I can be of much more use to others if I have practiced yoga. I am fortunate in that my friends and family understand that I practice yoga daily, that it is part of who I am. That said, if I feel like it is conflicting with their day I will discuss it with them. I can be flexible (pun intended) about when I practice. If you feel your friends and family do not want you to practice yoga talk to them about it. Tell them why it is important for you to find this time to practice yoga and the benefits you get from it. Be flexible, make your practice shorter, find somewhere out of other people’s way or practice at another time of day when others are busy or before they get up. Who knows they may even want to join you…

As the day unravels keep an open mind if you feel disappointed is it because you are comparing reality to your expectation of what you think reality should be. If you are dissagreeing with someone else are you taking the time to understand where they are coming from? If you are having a conversation with someone are you really listening? Of course with all the yoga in the world conflict can still arise life can be as challenging as it can be delightful. Yoga can give you some tools and some space to experience each moment more fully.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. Please share below how yoga helps you through the festive season.

 

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?