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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How you can stop your new yoga mat from being slippery

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

hands on yoga mat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How you can develop your abilities through purposeful practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sure there are more…

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

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

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

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?

Kino MacGregor’s recent yoga workshops in Manchester and London

Kino MacGreggor and Helen Aldred

Kino and me in Manchester

This week I have managed to do four workshops with the ever inspiring with Kino MacGregor in Manchester and in London. I have studied with Kino a number of times and always learn something new. It is great to have a senior teacher who is female and and a similar age to myself, she has a unique way of helping you find your edge and encouraging you to explore it.

On Tuesday Kino came to Manchester to teach for the first time, as ashtanga yoga continues to grow in the North West it’s great to see more teachers coming this way.  The daytime workshop on Tuesday was an adjustment workshop for teacher or experienced students wanting to deepen their practice.  As a teacher it’s always great to practice adjustments and have a chance to discuss them and all the different body types that come to the practice.  I learnt a lot from this workshop and continue to learn from it as I integrate it into my own teaching and understanding.

In the evening Kino’s workshop was called Ashtanga Yoga Power elements. A number of my students came up from Liverpool for this and it was great to see everyone.  For some reason I didn’t think this workshop was going to be that hard…. Like I said Kino has a unique way of helping you find your edge! This workshop was a challenging exploration through shoulder and core stability with lots of great tips.  When I talk about the challenging nature of Kino’s workshops, people often think they are not ready but this workshop was for everyone, options were given and you were just encouraged to find ‘your’ edge.  So the next question might be why….

I think my favourite part of the workshops was when Kino said that we needed to be strong so that we would have the strength to be the change that we want to see in the world.

“You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi

How strong do we have to be? Really strong…The practice offers us an ideal way to develop this inner strength and discipline so that we can then bring it into the world.  It’s not about what you can do or what you can’t do, it’s about what you learn on the journey.

On Sunday I did a Mysore practice with Kino, in London, which essentially means I got to do my own self practice and get help and advise from Kino. This is the traditional method of teaching ashtanga yoga as taught in Mysore India.  I learnt a lot today even when Kino wasn’t teaching me, her presence woke my practice up and made me work.  She stopped a couple of times to talk me through some of the areas I need to work on next, such as kapotasana from the air, she says I should work on, to open my shoulders. At the moment I walk my hands into my heels from the floor, she thinks I can do it and her belief is contagious so I am inspired to challenge myself in this yoga position which strips me to the core more than any other yoga position has. Thanks for the homework Kino… I will work at it and will challenge my mind to be strong and surrender each and every practice.  I feel so fortunate to have this tool to use and explore myself with…

Sunday afternoons twisting workshop was also great, lots to share in my teaching…..and this morning I went to practice at my teachers Shala. Now I am Liverpool bound on the train, inspired and ready to share what I have learnt.

Did you go to any of Kino’s workshops. Share your experiences.

How has your yoga practice helped you to be stronger in your life?

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?

Yoga Workshop with Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Tim Miller

Tim Miller has been studying ashtanga yoga for over thirty years. He began his studies before I was born in 1978.  He teaches ashtanga yoga at his studio in California. He has an excellent reputation internationally as one of ashtanga yoga’s most senior teachers and yet this year was the first time he had taught in the UK. I feel privileged to have been able to have attended his recent workshop hosted by Yoga Manchester.

As a teacher and practitioner, I know that the more I practice and the more I teach, the more I experience and learn about this wonderful practice. To be able to learn and meet someone who has so much practical experience to draw from and share is a unique opportunity.

I think it important to keep learning. There is always more to learn about any topic and learning helps me keep my passion and enthusiasm for teaching as well as informing my teaching and making me a better teacher. Yoga is such a vast subject, understanding the physical and philosophical aspects of the practice is a never ending journey.

There is no beating the consistent relationship you can develop with your own regular teacher, who can learn to react to both your body and your temperament.  Workshops offer an opportunity to discuss the practice in more depth, I always learn something I can apply to both my own practice and my teaching.

Tim Miller’s workshop covered a nice balance between practice and philosophy. It was really interesting to listen to him talk about the yoga sutras. Listening to him share both his understanding of the text and his experience of it was inspiring and insightful. Each time I read or learn about this text, I learn something new. Here is a video of Tim teaching about the yoga practice….

His workshop on Saturday afternoon was about injury or areas of the body or practice which seem resistant to change. This was such a great idea as it enabled Tim to share the depth of his experience in a very individualised way.  He had a mat in front of him and people came up to work with him. People often struggle with the same things so I learnt a lot that I can apply to both my students and my own practice. I even got on the mat myself and Tim helped me release my hip flexor and quads in backbends, which is what I am currently working on in my own practice.

He told me that my shoulders and upper back were really open and I needed to work on my hips now. I resisted the urge to laugh at the irony.  In the early days of my practice I was told the flexibility would come and I should work on my strength. I am very diligent when it comes to my yoga practice so I worked on my strength and very gradually over many years I became strong. I was then told that because of my strength my upper back and shoulders were tight in backbends and so I worked on this with the same diligence. After years of practice this has apparently opened my back up and I find it ironic that if people comment on my practice they usually say something about how open my back is or how strong I am. I have in effect made my weaknesses my strengths. So when Tim commented that my back was really open I commented that I had just been practicing a while.  It’s only a short time compared to Tim miller but I have been doing yoga now for 16 years and ashtanga yoga for about 8.  Most of the transformation I have experienced both physically and otherwise has come from ashtanga yoga which seems the best fit for my mind and body.

Next month Kino is coming to Manchester, she is teaching a workshop for teachers during the day and a workshop for everyone in the evening.  I am attending both Manchester workshops and I know some ashtanga yoga Liverpool students are also coming which should be a fun outing.  I am also going to two of her workshops in London, again one of my students will be there too. This will also give a chance to practice with my regular teacher Hamish. I am looking forward to learning and then sharing that learning through my own teaching.

How has your practice changed since you began? Have you ever attended a yoga workshop? What was your experience?

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 ;-).