It is not about the asana, no really it isn’t….how to get beyond the fancy yoga poses

Seeing pictures of people in advanced yoga positions can be inspiring. One of the benefits of yoga is an increase in flexibility. Over time if you practice regularly, your yoga practice will change, you will be able to do things you never thought possible, but hopefully you will realise yoga has so much more to offer than freaky party tricks.

People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons. I am not going to tell you why to practice, you can work that out for yourself. I expect that your reasons will evolve, they will change over time as your practice deepens. I’m not going to tell you not to work on the yoga positions either. We all have yoga positions we can’t do and I think it’s great to work at them. I love doing something impossible everyday but not because it looks cool on instagram or wherever but because it challenges me. It doesn’t just challenge my body, but it challenges my mind, my ego, my beliefs. I learn to step outside what I think is possible. Sometimes I have to accept that I can do less on a particular day than I normally can and sometimes I have to believe that I can do more. The truth is it doesn’t matter which positions someone finds impossible it could be reaching to touch your toes in a forward bend or grabbing your ankles in a backbend. Where is your mind when you are doing it, where is your breath, are you here? Does your yoga practice help you to be a better person? Are you calmer, happier, more focused? These are the questions you should be asking.

Social media and yoga poses – Inspiring?

Over the last few years the bombardment of images of people doing advanced yoga moves on photographs or videos has increased. I sometimes find these images and videos inspiring and helpful. It can be interesting to watch someone else doing positions that are challenging. Sometimes I post pictures of myself and even made a video recently with the same intention. These things can be useful. They can also be intimidating because behind the video you can’t see all the hours of dedication that made that possible, you can just see someone doing something impossible with relative ease.  As a yoga teacher sometimes I feel like there is some kind of pressure on me to be some amazing gymnast. No such pressure exists of course. I have a commitment to myself and my students to practice, to learn and continue to learn more so that I can share more but this learning isn’t just physical. I have to understand what it is like to practice, to be a student of yoga philosophy as well as asana, to be on my path and to practice diligently. I have to understand what it is to be physically unable to do something again and again and again until one day I can. I do commit to this daily both on and off my mat.

It is not about the asana…

This is so easy to say. As we can sit there and smile at each other like the spiritually realised beings that we are. We can say it again and again but ultimately we have to learn it. If we are focused on an asana obsessed even, should we deny this experience, suppress it, deny that it is there and repeat the phrase, it is not about the asana again and again. To do so is to try too hard to be something that you are not in that moment. It is natural when when you practice asana and you can’t do something to want to be able to do it. As you practice you will probably find your habitual thought patterns unravel. They might not always be pretty, your ego might not be as spiritually realised as you think it should be, I know mine isn’t ;-). That’s okay, embrace it all, allow yourself to even experience any negative thoughts or emotions, accept that you experiencing these that but know that it is nonsense. Laugh at yourself, share your experience, just know that this is not what yoga is about. Your mind is just clinging to whatever it understands and your ego is driven by progress, this okay but it isn’t important. If your mind clings to the importance of asana at some point it will have to let go, the practice itself will teach you, surrender to it and bring yourself to your mat, just as you are. So yes yoga is not about the asana but you practice asana so it’s okay to think about it, it can even be transformative…..
What is yoga about to you?  Do you find videos/ images of yogis in advanced positions inspiring or intimidating?

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?

Visiting Rosie and practicing yoga in London

One of my long term students Rosie has recently moved to London. Rosie has studied yoga with me for at least 5 years? She was a regular part of my classes and a big part of the Ashtanga yoga community. I am sure she will be missed by many and we hope she will visit us from time to time.

In the meantime I was fortunate enough to be able visit her and attend some yoga classes with her in London. As many of you know I come to London once a month to study with my own teacher Hamish Hendry. These trips are very important to both my practice and my teaching. It allows me to focus in my own development in yoga! leaves me recharged and reminds me of what is like to be a student and to surrender to a teacher’s guidance.

I travelled up on the first train on Saturday morning 5:47 am, an early start but I slept some more in the train. I arrived in Euston at 8:00am in time for a Mysore class at Primrose Hill Triyoga with Ryan Speilman. I met Rosey there and we went to class together.  Great class, lovely relaxed atmosphere and a lovely kapotasana assist for me.  I then took Rosey to my favourite vegan cafe in London for brunch – Inspiral Lounge.  That gave us time to catch up and I can confirm that she is doing great in her new life down South.  Most importantly she has been a bit of a yoga tour and has been to 6 different ashtanga yoga teachers, since her arrival which shows real determination in finding her new regular teacher in London.

We then went to yin yoga class at the life centre which was really relaxing. In yin yoga, you hold the poses for 3-5 minutes. It was a lovely compliment to the morning ashtanga yoga practice. We felt so relaxed and mellow afterwards we went to a cafe before getting back to the hustle and bustle of the tube. Such a lovely way to spend a day.

On Sunday we went to another Mysore style class with Louise Newton.  Lovely to see her again, it had been a while and a lovely atmosphere of focus in the room.  We went back for brunch in Camden, I love that place!

This morning (Monday) I got to practice with my teacher, Hamish. Always so nice to practice with him in the room.  My practice felt relaxed and focused and was a bit quicker than when I practice by myself.  Must focus on removing any faffing!  I will be back again in just 3 weeks and am looking forward to it already.

Did you do any yoga over the weekend? Do you practice at home and with a teacher? What do you like about going to a yoga class?

A poem about Yoga – Surrendering to Yoga by Helen Aldred

Helen's creative journalWhen I was younger I used to write a lot. As soon as I learnt to write I would love to write creative stories then later as a teenager, poetry.  It was something spontaneous and necessary that was very much a part of me. As a teenager I used to have a book where I would collect quotes and write poetry. I would carry it with me everywhere so that I could always write should the urge hit me. It was by my bed as I slept, it was in my bag at the beach. In recent years I have written creatively less, not due to any conscious decision – I love writing – but it rarely grabs hold of me the way it did when I was younger. I am grateful to blogging for reigniting the writer in me. Recently I decided I would like to write more and I started by buying a beautiful notebook, a special place to journal and share my thoughts.  It is in this book that one morning before my yoga practice I felt moved to write this poem.

Surrendering to Yoga

Helen dropping back into a yoga backbendOh yoga sometimes you ask so much,

There is no place to hide.

Every part of me is invited, here I am,

I offer complete surrender.

Open, open, open body, mind, heart,

Expose all the hidden parts

Here, here, here, everything is bare.

In this moment, I open it all,

Here it is, all these treasures

The love ,the hurt , the vulnerability,

The anger, the pride, the invincibility

I clung to them but I need not.

They are not mine, they are not me.

Thank you yoga for asking for it all,

For not letting me hide, for allowing me to soar.

 

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?

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 ;-).

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?

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.

New Years Resolutions a Month on – 10 Tips to Create a New Groove

So it’s  February, every one has gone quiet about the  topic of new years resolutions.   Why is that?  Well………. change can be challenging can’t it.  If you decided to make a new year’s resolution the chances are you have to change your previous habits in order to succeed.  You may find that your old habits die hard.  Unfortunately statistics show that many people do not manage to keep their new year’s resolutions.

According to yogic philosophy we are born with mental and emotional tendencies which shape out actions.  The more we do a particular action the more more strong the groove becomes and the harder it is to change it.  Should we give up then?  No, I think the challenge of change is what makes goal setting so transformational.  It becomes less about making a specific change and more about being able to take conscious action rather than get stuck in a groove which is no longer serving you.

Scientists have found that when we repeat a particular we strengthen the connection in brain pathways.  However we are capable of creating new pathways whenever we want it just takes practice.  Eventually the new behaviour will become natural, so how do we get there?

Here are my 10 tips?

1) If you make a mistake, give yourself a break.  Think about what you could do differently next time?

2) Talk your goals through with friends, make them real.

3) Believe in you, you can do anything you want.

4) Be realistic and shoot for the stars.  You need a goal you can believe in and one that inspires you to make changes.

5) Recommit, if you find that you have slipped back into old pattern make a plan for how to make the changes you really want.

6) One step at a time, big goals can be overwhelming, always ask yourself what the next action is?

7) What was holding you back?  What benefit are you getting from any old behaviour that is stopping you from moving forward with your new goal.  What do you need to let go of – old view of self, watching less TV to create more time, etc. Can you think of another way to get that benefit?

8) Why do you want this?  What difference will it make?  Get motivated!

9) Know that change is not always linear, what can you learn from any steps that might have seemed like steps backwards.

10) Be here and now.  You are not your past or your future you are what you are right now, decide what that is and don’t let anything hold you back.

Did you set any new year’s resolutions?  What has helped you stick to your plan?