Guest Post – Nata Moraru tells how yoga has changed her life

“Home is neither here nor there, home is within you or nowhere at all.” Herman Hesse

One of my favourites quotes. Always liked it but never felt it 100% even if I thought I did. It was just after I started to do yoga (about a year ago) when I truly felt it. With all my bones, chest and water.

I felt in love with yoga the first time I went. I went for the body, stayed for the mind and soul. Because at the beginning I didn’t feel much changes in my body (the body changes came later and they were amazing), but my mind and soul was like a cherry tree in spring. During Savasana (relaxation) I started to feel that “home within” that Hesse is talking about. And it was amazing. I felt the whole universe is in my chest. I felt like I was lifted from the mat and at the same time was melting in the floor. Never felt that before. It was truly amazing. I always had a “special relationship” with water but since I started to do yoga it became stronger. When I am doing yoga I feel like I’m the whole sea and a boat that is floating on it. Both at the same time. Very interesting feeling. One time during Savasana I had tears in my eyes, totally unexpected, like the sea I was feeling inside me, that I always see an feel during yoga flowed through my eyes. Same water, same salt. At that moment I felt one with everything. I felt home. The “oneness”.

The breath is the bridge between mind and body and a very powerful tool.
I started to feel my body differently. I wasn’t ashamed of it anymore (as I’ve been my whole life, because of my twisted spine and because I was always very skinny and so many people were reminding me about it every day and telling me I should eat more).
And I think that’s why it started to respond to all the exercises. Because I started to feel my body differently. I also started to become more aware of my body and how I was standing outside of yoga.

Nata-before-and-after

Before and after photographs show how Nata has gained weight as she has become more in tune with her body

I stopped hiding my back (as I’ve been always doing, with long hair or hoodies). I’m not ashamed of my back and body anymore. It feels really good. I gained about 11kg since I started to do yoga, even my eating habits didn’t change. I feel healthy and feel good in my own body.

Then the pain disappeared. The back pain, I had my whole life, especially past 5-6 years when I couldn’t stand up for more than two hours without having killing pain in my back. I few weeks ago, after a very long day at work, about 12 hours standing up I noticed that I have no pain in my back, at all. Yes, my feet were hurting my arm was tired from holding the heavy camera, but no pain in my back. My lower back that was always in pain.
It’s an amazing feeling – not to be in pain, after so many hours of standing up, when a year ago I had to crawl out of bed because of the pain (it hurt too much just to sit up from lying so I always had to crawl out to the floor then stand up).

This x-ray of Nata’s spine shows her scoliosis clearly.

I had a twisted spine since I can remember. I think I was about 7-8 years old when my mum noticed that my back was just a little bit uneven, and we had the bad luck to go to a doctor that didn’t really know what he was doing and only cared for the money. I started to do some exercises with him, and some pretty “violent” and painful massage when he was pushing my bones, I found out later that It was very bad for my back and in no time from a slightly uneven back my spine became S shape and nobody couldn’t help me.

Unmeasurable gratitude to Helen for all her help. I am very lucky and thank the gods to have decided that winter day of 1st December to go online and look for yoga classes in Liverpool and to have found Helen’s class. Over the last year I have tried to go 3 times a week because I think it’s important to go regularly. There are many more things I could say about how yoga makes me feel and how it changed my life but sometimes there are not enough words…

Don’t just go to church, be the church. Don’t just go to yoga, be yoga. Don’t just lay on the grass, be the grass. Don’t just. Be. Be.come one.

Bless.

Namaste x

This post was written by Nata Moraru. As well as being a dedicated yogini, Nata is also a photographer, you may have seen some of the photo’s she has taken of me on instagram recently, you can find her photography here on Facebook.

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?

Teaching from experience. Why practicing yoga every day is important to my teaching

I practice yoga six days a week. As a yoga teacher I feel this is essential for me. I understand not all yoga teachers do this and that I am very fortunate to have the time to do so.

I find there are a number of myths among yoga students about yoga teachers and their yoga practice. So here is my insider view from my own perspective.

Myth one : Don’t you know it all?

Ha ha! Nope. Thanks for your faith in me but I will never know it all. Physically, philosophically and spiritually, yoga is a vast subject. No one person in the world knows it all and I am no exception. There is always more to learn….

Myth two : Are there yoga poses that you can’t do?

There are many yoga poses that I can’t do and I am grateful for that. I find working on a challenging yoga pose teaches me a great deal about myself and is a great way to develop my sense of being in the here and now.

Myth three: Aren’t you doing yoga all day when you are teaching?

Yoga teaching and practicing are entirely different activities. When I teach my focus is external. I am looking at my students. I tend not to demonstrate that much as a teacher. This is because I can’t see my students when I am demonstrating and I can’t help them. Sometimes a visual cue is necessary and helpful. When I do demonstrate a yoga pose in class I am still not really practicing yoga. I am talking to the class checking they understand and checking they are okay. My focus is not on my breath my focus is on my students. So I still need time to focus on my own practice.

I learn from this yoga practice. By practicing daily I practice on days when I really don’t want to. I watch my inner resistance and I learn to be with it. Teaching requires me to give from myself. When I teach I give everything I have in that moment, it’s a full-hearted effort. I am there for my students in whatever way I can be, in that moment. My yoga practice helps me stoke my own fire so that I can give more.

My yoga practice helps me to be a better teacher. It helps me to be more present when I teach. It helps me to be aware of my body when I adjust. It helps me to remember what is like to find something challenging. It teaches me what it is like to be a student. It reminds me why I love yoga so much.

For all these reasons and more, I practice yoga daily. My students inspire me to do so through their own dedication and I am grateful to them and my practice for all that yoga gives.

Do you ever practice yoga when you don’t feel like it? Do you think it’s important for a yoga teacher to have a regular yoga practice themselves? Share your thoughts.

Happy New Year – How you can achieve your goals in 2015

Happy new year! This is the year, the messages are everywhere today is the beginning of the new you. Here I am going to share some tips for how I set my goals to help you achieve yours. Yes I know I am am a yogi, I should be happy just where I am, and I am but our lives will change in the next year and we can have an impact on what happens.

My tips for achieving your goals

  1.  Set your goals high but be realistic. You might want to do 5 hours of yoga a day, spend 3 hours a day  with friends and get promoted but are there enough hours in the day to achieve this? By all means set a big goal. One of my goals is to cycle 100 miles. I know I will have to make some sacrifices to achieve this I know I will have to do some extra yoga stretches to keep my body in a balance. It’s a big goal but I am excited enough about it to prioritise it.
  2. Write them down, and if you can, tell someone. Writing it down makes it more real, and telling someone makes you more accountable. Another one of my goals is to write on this blog more often, at least fortnightly. There I have told you so feel free to comment if you see I am slacking.
  3. Break it down. Some goals can seem huge. If you feel overwhelmed by your goal you may put it off but most of the time a big goal can be broken down into small actionable tasks. For example if you want to eat healthier you could start by learning to cook one new healthy meal a week. Work out what your next step is for each of your goals.
  4. Do challenge yourself. Your goals should be exciting they should make you feel inspired. Don’t be scared to challenge yourself.
  5. Find inspiration or help if you need it. We all get inspired by different things. Think back to a goal that you have previously achieved. What helped you achieve it? Was it involving your friends or your family, was it reading books about the topic, was it following a blog of someone going through a similar journey? See if you can find what motivates you then go find it.
  6. Make your goals clear. We all want to eat well, do yoga and exercise more but when will you know that you have achieved this goal? What is the outcome you are really looking for? If you want to lose weight what’s your goal weight and how are you going to lose it? Be clear on where you want to go and how you are going to get there.
  7. Regularly check your goals You need to check in regularly weekly is best but monthly is okay too. Are you still working towards this goal? What could you do next? Have you achieved it?  As you start making progress towards your goals you may find that you don’t want them after all or that something else is more important. That’s fine you learned something about yourself and you can set new goals at anytime, you don’t need to make them in the new year. Set new goals or change your current ones if you decide they need changing.

Here are my goals for 2015 in no particular order

  1. Write more – specifically writing a blog post on this blog at least fortnightly and starting a new cycling blog.
  2. Meditate for at least 30 minutes daily
  3. Cycle 100 miles, plan is to this in August at a sportive in Anglesey where I grew up.

Yoga is not there, I know but I already practice every day and I don’t need to do more than that.

Helen and Marc toasting their engagement

Marc and I celebrating our engagement with Appletise on Christmas Day. I know I like to step onto the wild side!

In other news I am very happy to announce that my partner and I got engaged whilst on holiday in Lanzarote. We are delighted. I look forward to seeing those of you in Liverpool soon and sharing more on this blog this year. Thanks for reading.

Do you have goals for 2015? Do you have any tips for how to achieve goals?

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 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?

Do advanced yoga poses matter?

Does it really matter if you can put your legs behind your head or grab your ankles in a backbend? Will your life be enhanced? Will you be a better person? Why do you do yoga? People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons and you may find your reasons changing with time, I do.  So keep asking.

Sometimes you may get frustrated with your lack of flexibility. This may happen whether you are already flexible or not. When you are practicing yoga asana you are working with your tight edges, playing with them, exploring them. You may do yoga to become more flexible.  That’s fair enough, you’re in the right place. As you learn to accept your body as it is, you will feel so much better about it.

If you are tight you might find that tightness causes discomfort in your body.  As you work gently and repeatedly on this area you may find that you can feel better than you have ever imagined. There is a certain amount of flexibility that is functional, that helps you move about, that helps work against all those hours sat in front of your computer. Yoga is great for your body, it can do so much more.

Helen doing yoga pose supta kurmasana

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

I taught my beginners a very challenging pose on Monday.  I showed them how to get into it gently and they had a go, they are great like that, very willing explorers.  We talked about it, they wanted to see me doing the full version of the pose, supta kurmasana. I don’t demonstrate that much, I don’t want to overwhelm people but they were very keen so I showed them.  Here is a photo for those of you who weren’t there.

And then one of my students asked what the benefit of that pose was?  Such a great question! One of my favourite things about being a teacher is the questions. I said that to me it was a very quietening pose, the pose name means sleeping tortoise and it’s like going into a tortoise shell, some people don’t like it because of that.  I am sure I could look in a yoga book and find a list of benefits but I always like to teach from my own experience so I did. I’m not sure if that is exactly what she meant, I could be wrong.. but I think that she wanted to know the benefit for the body.

The truth is I don’t think that it’s necessary to be that flexible. I shared with my students that it took me many years of daily practice to be able to do that pose.  It wasn’t easy.  It is now but thats because I put my legs behind my head every day . Was it worth it?  Absolutely!  What were the benefits to me?  I am glad you asked!

  • There will always be things that seem impossible in life, it’s great to learn to work at them regardless in an safe environment where it doesn’t ultimately matter if I fail.
  • Attempting seemingly impossible things keeps my ego in check
  • It took years but I did it and it made me feel like I could do anything if I persevered
  • Doing something challenging forces me to become aware of my body, bringing me more into the present moment
  • It makes me accept where I am not where I want to be

The truth is you could apply these lessons to any yoga pose, it doesn’t matter what is challenging to you, it doesn’t have to be an advanced yoga pose. Whatever challenges you, here is a place you can learn. What can be problematic is if you don’t stop to enjoy the journey, if you forget that you were really practicing yoga to relax and that instead it has become another way to compete with yourself.  Those of us who find time to practice on our yoga mats are privileged I think.  It is a wonderful opportunity to connect and accept yourself.  To get away from the hustle and bustle of life and just see how you feel today.  So yes work on something impossible, go for it, I love a good challenge but don’t lose perspective.  Being more flexible doesn’t make you better at yoga, being more accepting does.

What yoga pose seems impossible for you right now? Do you enjoy working at it or do you find it frustrating?  Why do you practice yoga and have your reasons changed?

Yoga is not a Competition – How to Embrace it

One of the great things about yoga, often said by yoga teachers is that yoga is non competitive. That sounds lovely doesn’t it.  Yoga is a place where you can just be and be accepted for what you are and accept yourself where you are.

We live in a competitive world, we are taught we need to compete to survive and to thrive, from school grades to getting that perfect job. Without some competitiveness would we even get out of bed? Often we don’t compete with others but have our own standards and desires which we work hard to reach.

“When I get this toy, job, car, man, woman, money, you name it….. then I will be happy,”  is often a mantra that keeps us moving in a direction until we get there, and then we find we want something else. It would be great if we could set this aside and go to yoga class and enjoy being where we are here and now. To be here and now is to accept things as they are right now. The conditioning of the mind can be strong though and the mind loves to make simple things complicated.

Yoga teaches us to be more present. Many people love yoga for it’s non-competiveness and yet many people, myself included struggle with their competitive nature. I have found this is actually the hardest thing I have ever had to teach anyone. I think ultimately it can’t be learnt it has to be discovered.

I can tell you that

  • yoga is not a competition
  • the girl next to you has been practicing for 10 years and is a teacher
  • we all have different bodies, that everyone has different strengths and weakness
  • your body is a result of everything you have done with it up until this moment, and is unique and beautiful
  • when you can do this or that asana you won’t suddenly become enlightened
  • a person who is more flexible or more strong isn’t necessarily the better yogi
  •  yoga isn’t about the asana (yoga position), the asana is just a tool to bring you into the present moment.

You might agree with me or you might think, it’s okay for you, you can touch your toes, do lotus or whatever your pose of frustration happens to be.

And yes let’s say you are right and I can do blah blah, I have come to realise that there will always be someone more flexible than me. It doesn’t matter if I spend the rest of my life doing yoga and I hope I will, there will always be something I can’t do. Indeed as I age I might not be able to do some of the things I do now. This is true for almost anything by the way, there can only be one world best at anything.  Is this never ending escalator annoying then, you get to the top and find your at the bottom again.  Actually I think it’s a relief to know there is nowhere to go but here, it helps me to surrender.

Having said all this. I love to work on asanas.  When I first stared my journey with ashtanga yoga there was so much I could not do. My mind loves a challenge and I love to work on something that I can’t do.  I know that with dedication, eventually it will become possible and sometimes it helps motivate me to complete my daily practice.  Is this competitive? Maybe, but yoga also teaches me to be where I am, to surrender to it, to unravel it each day and notice it as it is.  It forces me to work with this body in this moment no matter what I think it should be, it shows me what it is, right now.

When a bird sings it doesn't sing for the advancement of music.In fact if you find yourself noticing your competitive nature in yoga don’t be too hard on yourself. Yoga is a safe place to notice these things about ourselves and it is perfectly natural that you should feel some level of ambition within yourself.  Notice it, don’t feed it, that’s the trick.  Don’t judge it as good or bad.  Accept it as it is, just a passing thought.

Those of us who practice yoga are so lucky.  We are fortunate to have the time and health, to move our bodies to breathe and be part of a wider community that embraces these things as much as we do.  It is such a privilege each and every time we step on our mats regardless of whether you can touch your toes, I hope you enjoy the journey because the only destination is right here.

Do you feel competitive with yourself or others in yoga?  Does yoga offer you a rare opportunity to not compete? What has this journey taught you?

Habits – how to build great habits of your own choosing

A habit is a practiced and repeated action which may or may not be done unconsciously. When we think of habits we often think of bad habits that people may  struggle to give up, such as smoking. However in reality we all have many habits which literally shape our lives. Realising this, and learning to change the habits that no longer serve you, and building new ones which do serve you is transformational. As many who have stepped onto this path will realise it is not always easy.

In yoga philosophy the word samskara refers to the imprints on the subconcious mind from previous actions. Scientists have found that when we repeat a behaviour we strengthen the neural pathway in our brains. This is great news if we are building good habits such as eating healthily, getting enough sleep and practicing yoga ;-). As we repeat the behaviour the neural pathways become stronger and in time we reach for a piece of fruit without thinking.

Yoga can be great at making us more aware of our habits. Awareness is a great tool and will help you understand why you do something. For example, I had a bad habit of reading for too long in the morning before practice.  My schedule is sometimes flexible in that I can do that, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do and it wasn’t helping me get the most out of my day. It had become a habit though, so there must be something I was getting out of it. I realised I needed some free time to do as I pleased. So now I give myself this time to read but it has a cut off time at 8 am when my yoga practice begins.

For me that’s one of the keys to changing habits, as I think you have to work out what the old habit is serving. Do you watch TV instead of being active because you’re tired? Do you need more sleep? Do you smoke because you like to take a break from work, socialise with friends or relax? Can you find new ways to get the same benefits that are more in line with the person you want to be.

We become good at what we practice. The trick is to choose what you want to practice and shape your life into your own groove. We all have good and bad habits. We can learn and gain strength from the good ones and use them as a model to work from. You can literally rewire your brain that way, building new pathways and a new you.

As a side note I hope those of you in the UK are enjoying this amazing weather.

Do you have any habits you have changed? How did you do it?

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 ;-).