Ashtanga Yoga – Traditional Opening and Closing Chant

In Ashtanga yoga there are two traditional chants. One at the start of the class and one at the end.  In my classes I only do this chant in my non-beginners classes.  I do this because I think chanting can be a bit intimidating to some people.  This can be especially when they are just beginning their yoga journey.  People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons and I think that is fine, yoga has many benefits.

 

When I do teach the chant, it is is optional.  I know many of my students love it and some people just listen for whatever reason and that’s fine. I would hate someone to miss out on the many benefits of yoga because they don’t feel comfortable chanting.

Why do the chant?

I think the chant is really useful as a way to seperate your yoga practice from day to day life. If you don’t want to to chant you could take a moment to connect with your breathing.

What language is the chant and what does it mean?

The chant is in Sanskrit – an ancient language of India. The opening chant gives thanks to Patanjali, who wrote the yoga Sutras.  This ancient text can be considered the philosophical underpinnings of yoga.  If you are interested in deepening your understanding of yoga, you should definately read the yoga sutras. It was written approximately 200 years BC and has amazing relevance to our lives today.  In my mind when we say this chant we are also giving thanks to all the yoga teachers who have passed on the yoga tradition so that we can practice today.  The closing chant is more about taking the benefits of our yoga practice and putting them out into the world. You can find a  full translation of the chants here.

 

Religion and the Chant

Some people may not want to chant because they feel it is religious.  Yoga is not a religion.  It has a philosophy and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of whether they have a religious faith or not.

 

Pronunciation of the chant

This post came about because some of my students said they struggled to pronounce the chant when they are practing by themselves.  Last week I came across this wonderful video on yoga mammas blog.  The video shows Sharath and his grandfather Pattabhi Jois, saying the opening chant.  Pattabhi Jois was the founder of ashtanga yoga, he is no longer with us and the current head of the lineage is his grandson Sharath.  I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to study with both of them.  This video shows a beautiful transmission of the tradition.

 

Here is another video of Sharath chanting the closing chant.

 

Do you like chanting?  What do you like or dislike about it? Do you have any questions about the chants?

Can yoga release emotions and if so how and what should I do?

Emotional release can play a part in the transformational benefits of yoga.

Emotional Backbending

At my recent Backbending Workshop my students and I had an interesting discussion about emotional release in yoga. I would like to open up this topic for further discussion here. Backbending is one of the places where people can experience emotional resistance and release. Hip opening is another common area where people report experiencing it.

What do I mean by emotional release?

A commonly held belief by yogis is that we store emotional tension in our bodies.  Though yoga we release these emotions and give ourselves an opportunity to heal.  I think the emotional transformations that can happen in yoga also happen as we change the way we move to a more confident open posture.  This may initially make someone feel vulnerable and will ultimately empower you to shine.

 

Helen looking at extinct Volcano in Lanzorote

Montana Roja, Lanzarote

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Spiritual teacher, author and lecturer

Where’s the science?

picture of the book emotional intelligenceI have always been interested in science’s understanding of these seemingly alternative ideas.  Whilst there are many things that science can’t yet understand, there is some interesting research about emotions.  Many years ago I read Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel.  In this book neuroscientist Candace Pert discusses research which shows that the molecules of emotion can can be found in the body.  These findings provide a scientific framework to understand the mind and body connections.

 

Does Everyone experience emotional release in yoga?

I don’t think that everyone does, although most long term practitioners seem to accept that it part of the journey. It has certainly been part of my personal journey with yoga.  As much as I think this is a real phenomena, even with some scientific backup, it is just a belief that I hold. It is part of my model of reality and yet I am always keen to keep an open mind about my beliefs as believing in something often makes it happen and can close my mind to other possibilities.

 

If I feel upset what should I do?

Emotions from our past can come up for all of us, whether we are doing yoga or not. A yoga practice can really help you to remain calm and not get overwhelmed. Here are my tips for dealing with challenging emotions.

  • You don’t have to understand it it to let it go. Don’t get too involved as that will just feed the emotion.
  • Stay present – tune in to what is happening right now. Notice where you are and what is actually happening rather than getting wrapped up the story in your mind.
  • Use your breath to keep you present and calm.
  • It is not a concrete permanent thing – it is constantly changing, notice it’s impermanence.
  • Observe it without getting involved and it will pass.

As you develop your yoga practice you will find it gets easier to let go rather than cling to your emotions. If you find yourself getting hooked, give yourself a break. You are noticing which is an essential first step. I have found this process of letting go so liberating and healing and one of the wonderful benefits of yoga.

 

Have you ever felt emotional release during your yoga practice? What has helped you to let go of these emotions?

 

 

Change of Plan – How we ended up having a yoga adventure closer to home than expected

Last weekend myself and some of my yoga students planned to join together with Ashtanga Manchester for a Mysore style yoga class with Joey Miles from Ashtanga Yoga Leeds.  It was to be a meeting of Ashtangi’s of the North of England.  We all got up early on Saturday morning eager to get to class, despite the cold and snow.  Unfortunately Joey got stuck in the snow and was unable to make it.  Hopefully he was able to get home again.

 

We found out the news just as we were putting our yoga mats into the car, so we had a chat about our plan of action.  I felt bad that my students had made the effort to get up early etc and so offered to teach an impromptu yoga class in my home.  My yoga students, ever considerate of me insisted that instead we should practice together, it was my day off afterall. So we went to a house with a nice big practice space and did a self practice together.

 

Yoga students practicing Downward dog

Here's the gang, my mat is in the corner of the picture

It was so lovely to practice with my students, I had to pretend they weren’t there to resist the urge to teach, lol.  In ashtanga yoga we have a focal point called a driti for each pose.  Dristi and the breath helped keep me focused and it was nice to share the groups energy rather than practice alone. I was also  pleased for my students who from practicing Mysore style, now have a practice they can do on their own, wherever they are and whatever change of plans may come their way.

 

After practice we went to Lark Lane for a well earned brunch.

What is a Mysore Style yoga class?

A Mysore style yoga class is a traditional Ashtanga Yoga class  as taught in Mysore India.  In a Mysore Style class the student self practices at their own pace and learns the sequence gradually.  The teacher assist the student in a very individualised way.  There is no need to memorise the sequence before coming to your first Mysore Style class, as the teacher will show you.

 

Were your plans changed because of the snow?  Do you practice Mysore Style?  What do you like about it?

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?

May I Be Happy by Cyndi Lee – We Are Not Our Weight

I was given a copy of ‘May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing my Mind’ by Cyndi Lee in exchange for an honest review. The book is about the author, a yoga teacher in New York, and her path towards her self acceptance. I decided to write the review because I thought the book dealt with an important issue that of body awareness and issues arising from that. Cyndi’s biography is very honest and she talks in depth about her struggles to accept her own body image. I love the way that she freely admits her own failings.  Yoga teachers are sometimes expected to be radiant beams of ultra health and inner peace and whilst yoga is amazing, we are human beings too and Cyndi deals with this in a candid way. Cyndi writes informal style  which makes you feel you are somehow engaging in conversation with her.

 

There are some good gems and conversations with friends and teachers along the way. I like biographical writing as I always learn something about humanity and how we are similar as well as how we are different. As a yoga teacher the issue of body image does come into conversation with my students and I have learned a lot from listening to how people feel about it. Some people, of both genders, experience issues surrounding their body image. I have to admit I have never given it as much thought as Cyndi has and my heart goes out to her. I also felt that much of the book explored her struggles and not enough of the solutions and as such I wonder if it may not ultimately be a good choice for somebody who is experiencing similar issues. 

 

Yoga is great for your health and wellbeing and physical styles of yoga such as Ashtanga Yoga can also help with weight loss. You have to combine this with a healthy lifestyle and diet in order for it to be effective. For some people weight loss is a good step towards a healthier body and is a great thing. I feel the health and fitness industry occasionally exploits this a bit and I am frustrated to see the numerous fad diets and fitness regimes which people seem to torture themselves with. I feel that these extreme behaviours seem to often become a cycle whereby someone puts on weight then tortures themselves with an exercise regime and diet which they hate and so do not maintain and then they repeat the cycle. My advice, if you need to lose weight,  would be to find an activity you like doing and make gradual changes to both your eating and exercise regime.

 

Unfortunately, the situation sometimes runs deeper than this. The author Cyndi Lee honestly illustrates how some people who are in healthy active bodies can still struggle with their body image.  There are also people who are overweight who are concerned with their image of themselves.  Who you are as a being is not defined by your weight. There are many people, just like you, who are waking up to this possibility and are learning to enjoy their bodies, and themselves as beings, for all the amazing things they can do.  It is my hope that through yoga you can take steps towards self acceptance and begin to make peace with yourself one breath at a time.

 

What has helped you on your journey to self acceptance?

Welcome to Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool

Profile picture of Helen Aldred

Helen Aldred

Find out about Ashtanga Yoga classes in Liverpool view timetable or contact Helen.

Ashtanga Yoga Classes in Liverpool City Centre

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic style of yoga, which connects your mind body and breath.  Helen Aldred teaches a range of yoga classes for complete beginners to those looking for more of a challenge.  All yoga classes are in Liverpool City centre and are drop in, no need to book.  Feel free to come along and see how ashtanga yoga will benefit you. Find out more about ashtanga yoga, Helen Aldred or the yoga classes.

Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool’s Blog

This blog is community hub for students of ashtanga yoga in Liverpool and beyond.  If you would like to Helen to write about a particular topic or you would like to contribute to the blog contact Helen. Please join the discussion and share your thoughts.

Practice or Talent – How You Can Get Good at Anything

My boyfriend and I recently had some friends around for dinner.  As we sat around

Marc playing guitar

My boyfriend Marc playing guitar

chatting the subject of learning a new musical instrument came up.  Two of the people present are very talented musicians.  I am not one of them, unless you count my digeridoo explorations in teenage years.  At one point I did consider learning the guitar.  I even had a lesson from my boyfriend once.  What I realised was I could indeed play the guitar if I was willing to put the practice in. The truth is I wasn’t.  It’s not that I am not a committed person, in fact I have taught myself to be very dedicated.

 

You see I believe that you and I can do anything and become good at anything. What we need is practice. This has been a pivotal belief for me as it has allowed me to achieve all sorts of things. I recently redesigned Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool’s Website. I have always designed my own websites although I have no background in web design. I do this partly because I am a very small business and it saves money and partly because I enjoy doing it as well as the challenge and the learning. This is the first site I have built using css and html code and it has been and continues to be a big learning curve for me. I have taught myself using books and videos and a lot of trial and error and I still have a lot to learn.

 

Apparently it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an “expert” at anything. That’s a lot of practice and I am certainly no where near that in my web design journey.The thing is that some people have beliefs that they are not good at certain things or that they don’t know much about a particular topic.

 

As a yoga teacher, I am completely dedicated to learning about yoga. I feel I owe that to you, my students. Sometimes this suprises people, they think I should know enough by now. After all I have been doing yoga for 16 years. I practice it, I read about it, I write about it, I talk about it and I teach it. There is always more to learn and I feel it is my job to keep learning and experiencing so that I can pass on what I discover.

 

When you see others with amazing yoga practices, I think it’s easy to forget the many hours of dedicated practicing that led to that. Yoga is about so much more than just being able to do the positions, called asana. Yet with dedicated practice the body will change, things that were once impossible will become possible. I realise some people don’t have the time to put into their practice and maybe that’s because your practicing something else, like being a dedicated  Mother or becoming specialist in your chosen subject or career. These are all choices that we have made. I find it empowering to know that the reason I am not able to play the guitar is simply because I choose to do other things with my time.

 

So yoga is my subject, I may learn other things like web design or cooking but never with the same dedication. After all there are only so many hours in the day. I can’t possibly put that level of dedication into anything else and I am fine with that because I love yoga and I love teaching it, so it’s easy for me to find the motivation to delve deeper every day.

 

I have not always been as strong and as flexible as I am now. In fact I used to be clumsy and uncoordinated, yoga has transformed me physically and mentally and continues to do so. When you see someone practicing yoga and find it inspirational, it shows what years of dedicated practice can do.  What was once impossible turns into a reality with dedication and hard work.

 

What would you like to learn to do?  What can you now do that once seemed impossible in yoga or in life?

 

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?

From Backbends to the Kitchen Sink – Goals and the Present Moment

Happy New Year!  Christmas and New Year is usually a time of reflection for me, I think this is because I usually have some time off work, away from my usual routine.  This gives me a bit of perspective on the way things are going and seems like a good time for me to set some goals for my future.   I think goals are important because if we don’t decide on our own direction, we put ourselves at the mercy of other people’s whims.  I  wonder how goals fit in with a commitment to being here and now, which I also have. I think that whilst we can have a version of a future which we will do anything we can to get to, all we ever really have is here and now.  It’s important to not only enjoy the journey but realise that we build the future in the here and now, in many baby steps and as we do this we interact with a world which is beyond our control and ever changing.  So we may need to adapt our plan but it is still worth planning, in fact if you didn’t plan at all you wouldn’t even get out of bed.

 

One of my main goals this year is to be tidier.  In yoga philosophy cleanliness is one the Niyamas (ethical guidlines concerning ourselves).   In truth this has been a goal of mine in the past and I have learnt a lot in my previous attempts which will surely help me to make the necessary changes.  I also have a wealth of experience of which to draw on.  I know that I have made other changes in the past and I know that this is something which is mostly within my own control.  It is easy for me to write blog posts about maintaining a daily yoga practice because I have been practicing yoga for years and I love it, tidying and me have had a different relationship in the past and it is possible for me to draw on what I learn from yoga and apply it to my life, sometimes in surprising ways.

 

I posted this picture of my practice on Christmas day.  I am doing a deep backbend whichHelen doing Kapotasana, yoga pose by Christmas tree is part of the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga. It is called Kapotasana and although I may look comfortable enough in this pose, it has been a really difficult pose for me to do.  Obviously it requires a great deal of flexibility, this has taken many years of daily practice for me to open my back up. I also find it emotionally and mentally challenging, I think there is something about having my chest that open, it has been very healing and empowering for me.  Recently I noticed that I would start to dread this pose about 5 poses before I got to it.  With this sense of dread I also had a mental dialogue that went something like this “you will never be able to do it today, your body’s too tight/tired/strong. Why are you even trying, blah, blah, blah! ” Once I noticed my little story, I think noticing is often the first step in change,  I started to notice the feeling of dread for what it was, a feeling at the pit of my stomach that I have habitually created.  Sometimes I would even laugh at it.  Sometimes I could do the pose, sometimes I couldn’t, ultimately it doesn’t matter, it’s a yoga pose. Day by day, this sense of dread started to lose it’s power, as it was no longer being fed by my thoughts.

 

Part of my plan in order to be tidier is to wash up immediately after eating.  I was doing washing up with faded picture of kapotasanathis a few days ago and I felt this amazing sense of dread at the pit of my stomach.   When I noticed, I laughed and told my partner about it. Hello dread, I know you, I thought. No wonder I have struggled to make this change in the past, there is so much emotion attached to it, to deal with it requires dealing with not only a lifetime of habits but also all the emotional negative feelings associated with not doing this.  Thanks to yoga, I am able to notice them and let them go. They don’t really relate to here and now, where I am washing up – it’s not  dangerous, there is nothing to dread.  When you make goals for your future, look back at your past and see how you have changed other things, then notice the present moment again and take it one step at a time.

 

Do you have goals yet?  What can you do right now to make them more real? How has yoga helped you?

When you are Busy? How do you Make Time for yoga?

I have been fairly busy recently. I have sometimes had to work late and my routine has gone thrown out a little.  This doesn’t happen to me as much as a yoga teacher as it used to when I was a school teacher.  It got me thinking about you, my readers, whether your my students or not.  Do you sometimes find it hard to make room for yoga in your life?  As we enter into the Christmas season, things seem to be getting busier for everyone as we make room for Christmas parties and shopping. During this time we often have to drop something in order fit it all in.  In the midst of it all, do you find time for yourself?

 

I have had to be flexible recently about when I practice yoga.  I am really grateful that each day, whatever is happing, I stop and practice.  It is so easy to feel that there is no time to practice yoga when life gets chaotic, busy or when we are going through a difficult time. It sometimes seems there is no time to practice.  I am very grateful that I have practiced long enough to know that this is complete nonsense.  The busier you are the more you need yoga in your life.  I am also grateful to you my student as you inspire me to get on my mat, each and every day, you give me so much dedication and I owe you the same.

 

There is always more work to be done, other things I should be doing but I feel it so important to just stop and have some silent time.  Time away from work, email, Facebook, mobile phones, even socialising, time for you.  This can sometimes seem selfish but I know that I have so much more to give as a result of this daily commitment to spending this time with myself practicing yoga.

 

Obviously the more time you have for this the better, remember though that just a few moments will help.  Five minutes watching your breath at the bus stop, 15 minutes to do some sun salutations or  making time to get to a yoga class.  Yoga can benefit the mind in so many ways and when your very busy it may be hard to switch off even when your doing yoga.  One of the many things I love about Ashtanga Yoga is that it flows from one position to another with connecting vinyasas, breath movements.  This helps to keep my mind engaged with the present moment as it is so busy keeping up with what’s happening on the mat.  I also love the challenge of ashtanga yoga, to attempt something impossible everyday and know that if I fail it’s okay.

 

Do you find time for yourself over Christmas season?  Do you think it is important too?