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?

A Morning Yin Yoga Routine to Open Your Hips for Padmasana Lotus and Life!

Most of us have tight hips, mostly because we spend so much of our time sitting in chairs. At my recent hip opening workshop we discussed how the benefits of opening your hips expand beyond your ability to do lotus pose. Having freedom of movement in your hips is so important for posture, especially as it is so close to the centre of your body. Lotus often features in images of the yogi and as such this posture has become a goal for many. That’s fine but remember to accept and enjoy where you are right now too. You also need to respect your body whilst attempting lotus and follow the guidelines of Patanjali ahimsa (non-violence). Be particularly careful about your knees, if your hips are not open enough then your knees may try and help out, this is not their job. If you ever feel even a little bit of discomfort in your knees doing lotus, come out of it, even if you can usually do it. Seriously, you only get one set of knees look after them. Regular  practice of the primary series of  ashtanga yoga will do wonders for your hip mobility.

My journey to lotus

About six or seven years ago, I was struggling with many of the lotus based poses in ashtanga yoga. I was practicing ashtanga yoga daily and it was coming slowly but I decided to do some additional yin yoga. As I was going to a lot of yoga classes most evenings at the time and working as a school teacher, I decided to do this practice in the morning before work. It was a lovely way to start the day. It gave me some space which I am sure made me a better teacher and I walked to the bus stop with much freer hips and a smile on my face.

What is Yin yoga

In yin yoga, you hold the positions for a longer period of time about 5-10 minutes. It’s almost the opposite of ashtanga yoga, which is much more fluid coming in and out of the poses. The idea behind yin is that it helps to release the fascia. Fascia is the interconnecting tissue between your muscles. I found yin yoga worked particularly well in opening my hips.

The morning hip opening yin yoga sequence

The great thing about this sequence is that it is highly adaptable. Each position is help for 5-10 minutes so if you have 15 minutes, you know you can do 3 poses for 5 minutes each. You can do this as an asana practice or you can do it when your doing other things, like reading. If you already have a yoga practice, then I think that’s fair enough. Obviously there will be more benefit to doing a focused practice but do what works for you.

Badhakonasa yoga pose against the wall

My student Rosey demonstrating Baddha Konasana against the wall Baddha Konasana – bound angle pose

 

Baddha Konasana – bound angle pose

You can hold this pose for 5 to 10 minutes but start with five and build up. Place your back up against the wall. I used to have my breakfast like this in the morning. If one side is tighter than the other then prop the more flexible side up, otherwise the tight side doesn’t get as much of a stretch. A pair of socks works well for this but use whatever you have handy and put under the more flexible hip.

Gabor practicing hip opener

Gabor practicing hip opener, made upasana

 

 

Made upasana (lol)

This is a variation that I teach for Marichyasana B, for people who can’t do half lotus. It is great for opening your hips. It releases the piriformis, which if tight can be one of the causes of sciatic pain. As this muscle connects the upper and lower body, it is important to keep it relaxed. Sitting on chairs tightens it and if you want open your lotus, this will really help you. Place your right foot over your left just above the knee, then place your back against the wall, gradually bend your left leg until you feel a stretch in your right hip. If you are very tight or are having problems with your back, I recommend you do this instead  for 30 seconds to a minute.  You can hold this yin variation for 5 minutes, repeat on the other side.

So there’s a 15- 20 minute sequence….

Agnistambhasana - fire log pose

Agnistambhasana – fire log pose (my legs) -fold forward

Agnistambhasana – fire log pose or double pigeon

Want more?  Try fire log pose also known as double pigeon and or half lotus with the other leg in pigeon. In the first variation stack your shins on top of each other and lean forward gently.

half lotus pigeon

Half lotus pigeon (my legs) -fold forward in lotus withthe other foot under your knee.

 

 

For half lotus pigeon place one leg carefully place one leg in half lotus and place the other foot under your knee. Hold each pose for 5 minutes and be sure to do both sides.

 Upavashta Konasana – seated angle pose

Matylda practicing yoga pose upavishta konasana

Matylda demonstrates upavishta konasana, bend forward gradually from your hips

If you have more time, then upavishta konasana is a key pose which works great as a yin pose.  This is a great pose for opening your adductors (inner thigh) and will help free your hips.  Find a way of being comfortable here, don’t overstretch.  If you feel pain in any of these positions back off and talk to your yoga teacher.  This post can’t replace the advice of an actual teacher who can see and adapt these poses to suit your needs. If I am that teacher, hopefully you already know I welcome questions.

At the end of your practice, gently see if you can do lotus, listen to your body and ignore your ego, repeat….

Would like to thank my students Matylda, Rosey and Gabor for allowing me to use their photos and Joana for her photography help :-).  This post was requested at my recent hip opening workshop if you have something you would like me to write about, please contact me.

My next workshop in September will be more about hip openers and yin yoga. Details will be on my website in July. If you want to keep updated  subscribe to my newsletter.

Do you do any extra poses, outside of your ashtanga practice?  I won’t tell the Ashtanga police honest ;-).

How You Can Open Up Your Hamstrings – Part 2

I would like to show you how you can complement your yoga stretching with self massage techniques. This a great affordable way for you to release any trigger points in your muscles and a great thing to do as part of your warm down after cycling, running, etc. If you want to include it in your home yoga practice, I suggest doing it before your practice as it will help warm your body up.

Why self massage?

Self massage is an excellent complement to stretching. It is a great thing to do if you have especially tight areas and is easy to do.  Self massage is an affordable way to get regular massage.  I still like to get a good professional massage every now and then but I certainly can’t afford to get a massage every day and sometimes that’s what a tight muscle needs.

You can use a foam roller

The easiest way to massage the legs is with a foam roller, you can buy these cheaply online. As a big fan of self massage I have invested in The Grid Foam Roller.  Which is a bit more expensive but smaller and longer lasting and I prefer it to my regular foam roller which eventually got worn down.

What is a foam roller?

A foam roller is a roll of foam that you roll up and down on, you may have seen one down the gym.  In fact if you are a member of a gym you could have a go of there’s so you can see what you think.  You roll up and down on it and when you find tight, painful spots you can either stay still for a minute or you can cross friction it gently rocking back and forth.

How do I massage my hamstrings?

eddy on foam rollerTo massage your hamstring roll up and down on the back of your thigh.  You have three hamstrings muscles.  To get all 3 of them you need to rotate the leg in and out, as well as rolling on the bottom your thigh. If you find a tight spot stop and use yoga breathing to help ease into it and relax, stay for one minute.  You can control the amount of weight you put onto it if it’s really tight, don’t over do it.  Spend about 5 minutes on each leg, a once a day if you need it or after a run, etc.  Here is a picture of one of my students who uses the foam roller every day.

How you can learn more about self massage

You can also use a ball for self massage to get a little deeper, I find sitting on a chair useful for this.  Athletes Treating Athletes is an excellent resource for you to learn how to do this for yourself with some great videos.  Their is a wealth of such videos on you tube, the athletes treating athletes resource is by far the most informative, I have found and is ran by a physiotherapist who is also an athlete.  You can see her video for the hamstrings, below.  If you want to learn more about this topic and learn how to self massage yourself, I can also recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment for Pain Relief (Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief)

In part one of how to open up your hamstrings, I explained why you should stretch them and gave explained how to do a great yoga pose which is excellent choice for safely stretching out your hamstrings.  I have even more to share with you about hamstrings! Stay tuned for part 3……..

Have you been practicing the stretch I suggested in part one? How is it going for you? Do you use self massage to complement your stretching?

How You Can Open Up Your Hamstrings – Part 1

This is a common question from within our local yoga community and I was asked again last week so I offered to write a blog post about it.  Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series, the sequence I teach, has many forward bends in it.  As such a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice will open the hamstrings up quite quickly.  People tend to have difficulties with this if they don’t have the space for a regular practice in their life, they are exceptionally tight and find forward bending challenging,  they have a history of back problems and or they are very active and need to stretch out their hamstrings after their activity.  Liverpool half marathon runners from yesterday’s race, take note 🙂

Hamstrings and Back Pain

If you are really tight in your hamstrings it may prevent your pelvis from tilting when you bend forward, which can put your back at risk.  As your body is very much interconnected a tight back will often lead to tight hamstrings and vice versa.  The causes of back pain are numerous and are beyond the scope of this blog post.  If you have a problem with your back I recommend you work with a professional to work out how to best recover.

 What Causes Tight Hamstings?

Many people have tight hamstrings. You are not alone. Causes include:

  • Back tightness
  • Compensation from weakness elsewhere such as the glutes
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Sitting

How to Stretch Out Your Hamstrings

Charlie stretching out his hamstrings in a yoga pose, lying on his back and using belt to stretch the leg back.

If you can’t grab your foot or leg easily you can use a belt as my student Charlie is demonstrating.   Aim to get your leg to go straight up gradually over time, that is a good range of motion, Charlie is nearly there through dedicated practice 🙂 Make sure the leg you are stretching is straight.  You should feel the stretch across the length of the muscle either in the back of the thigh or even the calf and not in the joint, back of the knee or in the buttocks.  If you feel a sharp pain there or anywhere, something is wrong.  Keep your leg completely straight and engage the front of your thigh, this will help to relax the hamstring through what as called reciprocal inhibition.  If you are still having difficulties let me know as there are other suggestions I can make.

 

Guidelines for Practicing this Pose

  • If it hurts back off and modify. If you are not able to do it pain free contact a professional and stop doing the position
  • Take deep even breaths through your nose and allow yourself to relax into the position
  • Do not push too hard, gently and consistently allow the hamstring to open
  • Practice this regularly, at least 3 times a week
  • If you are running or cycling etc do this afterwards
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds, around 10 deep breaths
  • You can do this stretch up to 3 times
  • If you have one leg tighter than the other, start with that leg and do an extra one on that side.

I would like to thank Charlie for allowing me to use his photo in this post.  More student pictures coming up.  I would also like to thank my students whose questions have led to me to learn so much and whose dedication inspires me to continue to do so.

In part two I am going to give an alternative hamstrings  stretch and talk about how you can use self massage to help release the hamstrings.  Do you have tight hamstrings?  Have your hamstrings opened up through practicing yoga?  Do you have any questions or is there anything else you would like me to write about on this topic?

What Yoga Should You Practice When You’re Recovering From Illness?

I was asked  to write a blog post about this question by a student of mine on Facebook.  When we are ill we have to respect and listen to our bodies perhaps even more than usual to make sure they have energy to heal. Her question is a great one, I have been asked this many times, so it’s great to get a chance to write more about it.  Hopefully it will help you out too.

Illness can vary from just not feeling 100 per cent to something majorly debilitating.  Ashtanga Yoga can be very challenging for the body and there may be times where you are simply too ill to do anything.  At these times rest and/or medical care may be necessary.  After a period of rest if you are used to being active you may be itching to get moving again but not ready to do what you usually do.

It’s good to know what you’re like as a person, as this will help you discern how you approach your recovery.  After many years of practice, I know that I am highly motivated and don’t like to miss a practice, so if I think I am too ill to practice, I know I am too ill to practice.  When I start practicing again I know I am more likely to do too much than too little, so I know I need to reign myself in.  What type of person are you?  Are you like me or are you looking for any excuse to take it easy and overly cautious about doing too much.  Maybe you have a balanced approach to it all.  Get to know your mind so you know when to listen and when to tell it to shut up.

What should you practice?  If you’re feeling quite rough and the idea of a sun salutation makes you want to lie down but you want to move.  Explore some of your favourite stretches, you won’t be warmed up so move gently and hold the poses a little longer.  Listen to your body and do what it intuitively feels it needs.  I am not normally a fan of just doing the poses you like but hey if you’ve been ill, cut yourself some slack!  Legs up the wall, is a really restorative yoga position to do when feeling unwell.  To do this just put your legs up the wall with your back on the ground, if you have tight legs you can be a little bit away from the wall.  You can also practice Viparita Karani, which is even better but requires more set up.

Once you’re ready to start doing some sun salutations you can begin to do a more traditional Ashtanga practice.  Just get on your mat without an agenda, good advice for any day and see what happens, when you feel you have had enough stop and take your relaxation. If you come to Mysore Style classes, you can easily take this approach in class.

You want to finish your practice feeling better than you did when you started so you have some energy left for your recovery.    So take it easy and just be greatful that you have some time to connect with yourself in whatever way you can.

When you are better, you may feel you are not 100 per cent or have lost some of your previous stamina.  It is important that when you come back to your yoga class, that you make the practice work for you.  If you are my student you are always welcome to miss some vinyasa’s if you need to, rest in child’s pose when necessary.  This is true for any day, our bodies are never the same, always changing and through yoga we learn to connect with that and do what’s right for us, now.

Do you have any questions?  What would you like me to write about next?

Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool – January Challenge – Daily Yoga Practice

People often ask me how often they should practice.  This is a very personal question.  Ashtanga yoga is traditionally practiced six days a week, I realise that for many of you it would be challenging to find the time.  The truth of it is the more often you practice, the more benefits you get.  One of my students Claire, wrote a wonderful blog post about how Some Yoga is Better Than No Yoga.  I couldn’t agree more.  People often struggle to practice regularly because they don’t know how to keep their practice short.  I am able to prioritise a couple of hours daily for my practice, I consider it essential as a teacher to maintain a strong practice of my own.  For me it’s an non negotiable part of my day, that helps to shape all other experiences.  Whilst it’s great to have time for a full practice, if you can find just 15 minutes to practice, I am sure you too will feel the benefit.

So here is my challenge to you:

For the next four weeks, to practice yoga for at least 15 minutes, I will describe the practice, later in this post as well as giving some top tips to help you stay on track.  If you make it to class, then there is no need to do your self practice as well, you’ll have done at least an hour already.  You can start your four weeks any time in the next week and start your four weeks from that day.  If you’d be willing to blog about the experience that would be great, I am sure others would love to hear about it.

So here is your practice, 5 sun salutation A’s and 3 sun salutation B’s, the last three positions of the closing sequence and 5 minutes of relaxation.  If your unsure what I mean by any of this and I am your teacher, ask me in class and I will show you, otherwise ask your teacher.  You can of course do a longer practice than that if you have time and you want to, and why not?  The more you do the more you benefit.  The idea is to find something you can fit into your life every day, 5-6 days per week, I think everyone can find 15 minutes.

Are you ready to give it a go and see how a daily practice can benefit you?

Here are my tips:

  1. Schedule your practice in your diary if you keep one, at the very least decide when your going to do it the day before.
  2. Aim for consistency, find a time that works for your schedule and stick to it, this will help it become a habit.
  3. Be flexible, if you can’t stick to your designated plan, create a plan B.
  4. Good times to practice are first thing in the morning, in your lunch hour or first thing after work.
  5. Keep motivated by going to a yoga class, reading a book, watch a video, talking to a friend who does yoga.
  6. Get support for your home practice by talking to your teacher, if that’s me, I am always happy to help.
  7. Keep safe, be gentle with your body and don’t push it too hard, learn to respect it.
  8. If something hurts talk to your teacher,  so that they can make some adjustments to what your doing.
  9. If you miss a day, don’t give up.  Learn from it, is there anything you could have done differently if you were challenged like this again?
  10. This is your time, enjoy it 🙂

Self practice is great once you get motivated, once you have your own mat it’s free and you can fit it around your own life.  However we all need to visit a teacher when we can, myself included.  I go to classes with my teacher in London as often as I can because it helps keep my home practice motivated, there is always more to learn and there is no substitute for the teacher student relationship and all it cultivates.

So who is going to do January’s yoga challenge?  What helps you to practice regularly?