Practice or Talent – How You Can Get Good at Anything

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

Marc playing guitar

My boyfriend Marc playing guitar

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool – January Challenge – Daily Yoga Practice

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

So here is my challenge to you:

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

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

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

Here are my tips:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Beauty of Imperfection From the Yoga Mat to Life

For me my yoga practice is like a microcosm of my life in general and who I am in the Helen siting in a meditation pose, world is reflected in who I am on the mat. Sometimes images of yogis or meditators looking at peace, lead people to believe that they will be at peace as soon as they step onto a yoga mat. Whilst yoga will certainly help you to be calmer and more at one with yourself and others this may not always be what you find when you step on the mat.  I hear this particularly from people who meditate for the first time but I think it happens in yoga too.  I think sometimes people think everyone else just gets it and they are the only one who is distracted.

 

This is to me part of our current culture at this particular time in our history, we feel we have to be good at everything or at least I do 😉  That is until I notice and tell myself to get real!  Anyone who has practiced yoga for a few years will realise that there is always more to learn.  Some people don’t believe me when I tell them that I still have things to work on with my standing positions despite having practiced yoga for 15 years.  In reality however, I am always noticing more and aligning my body better in subtle yet important ways.  This asana refinement is never ending and yet that is not what yoga is about.  The refinement is a useful tool for realigning the body and perhaps more importantly the  mind. It helps us to tune into what we are doing rather than do it without thinking. It enables us to bring our awareness back into our body and in the context of this post it helps us to realise we are not perfect and more importantly, that this is absolutely fine.

 

Chasing perfection is like chasing your own tail. It will always be somewhere in the future, meanwhile the real juice of life is right here waiting to be noticed. Hopefully yoga will help us to experience it more.

 

Sometimes this is easier said than done.  Life can throw challenges at us that can make it hard to focus on this moment even with the help of the practice.  I think it is important to realise that we all have days when the mind is distracted.  My practice was certainly like that today.  I had a thought flapping around in my mind that would not go away until it was acknowledged.  Mid practice it was so acknowledged that it was having it’s own party.  It was at that point that placing that thought in the context of the entire world helped me regain some sense of proportion and then returning to my breath helped me gradually get back to the actuallity of my practice.

 

I mention this because I feel that some people give themselves a hard time if they get adjusted or if their mind is cloudy or if they can’t relax.  They often think that they are the only one that feels like this and because of that the belief we fail to share what we view as our imperfections which means we don’t get to realise we all go through fairly similar things.  This is all very understandable and as we take our approach to life onto our mats we may find that some aspects don’t serve us as well as we thought they did.  The beauty is that the yoga mat is such a safe place to work this stuff out and we get to revisit it every time we step onto our mat.  So next time you feel everything isn’t quite how you thought it should be try and experience it for what it actually is and give yourself a break for making time to be on you mat at all.

 

One final note many people have said that they would love to comment on this blog but that they feel that their comments are not insightful or interesting enough. This saddens me. If you have something to say, I would love for you to share it on the blog. For one thing you might help the other people who also want to write on the blog find their courage. You will also find as I have that many people are actually thinking similar things and would benefit greatly from hearing your thoughts. We don’t have to wait for the perfect moment, to write the most interesting thing ever, what you have to say write now is perfect in it’s own way.

 

Do you ever find practice challenging?

Have you found that yoga has helped change your attitudes towards life in general?

Building a Regular Ashtanga Yoga Practice

I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me develop my self practice over the years.  Claire wrote a wonderful post about how some yoga is better than no yoga.  I totally agree. Sometimes people feel like they have to do the whole practice and so they end up doing nothing.  A good starting point is to 5 Surya Namaskara A and 5 Sury Namaskara B after you have done that you may feel like doing more and if you have time then go for it, if not simply close the practice with the last 3 positions of closing.  This practice will take approximately 15 minutes and will be a very beneficial way to start your day.

How often you practice is entirely up to you.  You will get benefit from doing yoga just once a week.  In my experience the more often you practice the more you will benefit. I have a daily practice, 6 days a week  which has been very beneficial and has meant that the benefits of yoga come into my daily life and are in fact inseparable from it. The six day a week practice is what is recommended in Ashtanga and is practiced by thousands around the world. However, I realise it may not be possible or even wanted by everyone. Each individual needs to work out what works best for them and their life.

For me the practice of yoga has been incredibly transformative and sometimes my mind puts up its own resistance to that. It will try and find all sorts of excuses to not get on the mat. I’m tired, come on give yourself a break etc. Obviously there are  times that this voice needs listening too. You don’t want to drive your body into the ground, injure it, or make yourself ill. Guidelines for practicing when ill or injured are specific to the injury, illness and individual and should be discussed with your teacher and where appropriate your gp or physiotherapist, etc. Here I am talking about a general tiredness or mental resistance.

So sometimes your mind will say it’s tired but it’s just an excuse or it is partially true and needs listening to to some extent or your completely exhausted and need to rest. The imbetween version where I am tired but can practice happens fairly regularly, my job is physically demanding. I have found the best remedy is to consistently practice, whilst listening to my body. If you practice anything regularly then it is very important you learn to listen to your body and react accordingly, which is best done with the guidance of a teacher. It is important to tune into your body each day and react according to its needs, ignore the ego!

The length of your practice should be something you can easily maintain on a daily basis without it tiring you out in the rest of your life. If you practice consistently you will ache less as long as you practice at an appropriate level. The best way to work this out is to come to a Mysore style class, where the teacher determines the length of the practice for the student. This is gradually built up. The ego tends to want to do more, at least mine does from time to time! A teacher can be a useful external gauge.

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Every practice begins with the first breath – photo by Nata Moraru

How much you should practice at home should be gradually built up even if you are used to practicing for longer in classes a couple of times a week. This should be done at a rate that makes daily practice enjoyable, possible and safe. For individual guidance on how to do this, talk to your teacher.

Another thing that I love about daily practice of ashtanga is that I do the same sequence every day.  So there is no mental negotiation about what to practice or even what pose to stop at.  I just do it.  I also have something that I do consistently in my day with the ever changing fluctuations of my mind and I find that especially useful.  Although some people advocate practicing less when you have less energy etc. I personally have found consistency to be the best advocate for my daily practice, although exceptions obviously have to be made for illness etc. You can only take this approach however if you are consistent. If you take a break from regular practice you have to start with a shorter practice and gradually build up. I guess what I am essentially saying is that I find it easier to practice every day because that’s what I always do and there are no negotiations about what I do, I do my full practice.  If this is difficult for you because of your schedule or priorities then the some yoga is better than no yoga philosophy may work better.  Do something regularly and do more when you can.

Developing a personal practice is a journey and it is something I had to work at rather than something I always had. So how did I get here?  Some things that helped me build to a daily practice are:

  • Planning – Working out when I can fit my practice into my day in advance and sticking to it.
  • Listening to my body, when I wake up I scan my body to see how it feels. When I practice I am continaully doing the same thing.
  • Going to a yoga class. Going to class not only gives me some great feedback to keep me safer during my practice but also helps keep me inspired and motivated to practice. I also find I am more focused in class which I try and bring back to my self practice.
  • Practicing along with a dvd. Obviously you cant see a dvd whilst practicing but having someone talking me through it helps me if I am tired or demotivated.
  • Community -Talking to yoga friends, reading a book, a yoga blog, etc.  Reading about other peoples experiences helps keep me inspired and allows me to look and explore the practice in other ways.
  • Being consistent but flexible. When I have practiced has varied depending on my lifestyle. I currently practice in the mornings but if for some reason I couldn’t, I would just practice later in the day.

I am very grateful and fortunate to be able to practice yoga daily and for all the benefits it has given me. I am particularly grateful to my students who continue to inspire me to delve deeper.

Do you have a regular yoga practice?

What helps you maintain it?

What do you find challenging?

 

Mysore India – Ashtanga Yoga’s Headquarters – Guest Post by Jennie Gorman

Helen has asked me to write a short guest blog about my trip to Mysore last December but keeping this short has proven to be something of a problem. To capture the magic of your first trip to India, with all its wonderful mix of smells and colours, spices and smiling faces, free roaming cows and honking horns, temples and palaces, is something of a challenge, especially as this is the first blog I’ve ever written.

 

Anyway at the end of last November I jumped on a plane bound for Bangalore to spend a month practicing at the Pattabhi Jois AYI in Mysore with Sharath. Some useful advice from Helen before I left was invaluable so I wasn’t completely taken completely by surprise when I arrived, only a little! After my first walk round Gokulum I did wonder where were all the western style cafe’s Helen had mentioned. However after a second tour round the streets by the shala with my trusty guide Kevin the delights of Gokulum were revealed, all the shops and cafe’s I hadn’t noticed before. All either part of houses or set back in gardens behind, the only giveaway was often only a small sign on the gate.

 

Having travelled all the way to India I was keen to get started practicing yoga so registered at the shala the afternoon I arrived. It was also a Sunday so had the opportunity to attend my first conference with Sharat. These are held every Sunday afternoon and provide many insights into the physical and spiritual practice of Ashtanga yoga not normally covered in a traditional class. This was also my first introduction to shala time. The clock in the shala is set 15 mins fast so this needs to be remembered for anything held at the shala, practice times, conference times, class times. It can become a little confusing when trying to convert from Indian time to British time to shala time, especially as none are in full hours.

 

After conference I filled in my registration form and waited in line to pay my fees and receive my registration card with start time. I was starting practice at 9 the next morning. After a good night’s sleep I made my way to the shala for 8.35, 10 mins early for my 8.45 start (9am shala time). I joined the queue in the hall and waited for a space to become available as those practicing finished one by one. Finally it was my turn and I entered the shala to Sharat’s call of ‘one more’. I laid my mat down in the newly opened space and went to the changing rooms to change. And so my first practice began. Adjustments were given by Sharat, his mother Saraswati and a few assistants at key poses such as hasta padangustasana, marichasana D and sputa kurmasana. Sharat stopped me at sputa kurmasana and so I went to straight to back bends followed by the finishing sequence. 2 days later my time had been changed to 8.45 shala time and I was completing the full primary with drop backs. Friday was led primary practice for everyone while Sunday was led intermediate for those at this stage with another led primary for everyone else. Another compulsory class was chanting at 10.30 three days a week. At first this involved chanting some Sanskrit prayers, counting and asana names. Optional additional classes were also available, including Sanskrit, yoga sutras, Bhagavad Gita and hatha yoga pradipika. All of these were run by Laksmish in the evening 3 times a week each.

 

As the month progressed the shala and Gokulum became busier and busier, soon it was becoming very difficult to find accommodation. This was slightly difficult to arrange from England. There are a few guest houses and a handful of hotels that can be booked from the UK but most rooms / home stays can only be arranged once you get there. There are a few fixers that can help you with this once you arrive. For me I went to Shiva just opposite the shala and got a room sharing with fellow yoga students within few days of arrival. It was also only 3 doors down from the shala, very handy for the early morning starts.

 

While a typical day can often involve not much more than getting up for practice, going for breakfast, attending some extra classes, going for chai, fresh coconuts, lunch and wondering round the streets of Gokulum or a trip to the pool there is certain plenty of things to do while staying in Mysore. A visit to Mysore palace, both during the day and again on a Sunday night when it’s all lit up. Sightseeing and shopping around the city. Chamundi hill is worth a wallk up / down for views across the city. A trip to Mysore zoo or just relax at the swimming pool at the Regalis hotel. For Saturdays and moon days it’s well worth making a trips further afield sush as to the hills of Ooty or Coorg, or the Tibetan settlement of Bylakupe.

 

Well while I could easily continue on I’ve probably made this blog long enough now so I’ll leave it there but if anyone is planning a trip or just interested in hearing any more I’d be happy to tell you more.

 

Om shanti, shanti, shanti

 

Thanks for sharing your experiences Jennie. I many people will find this interesting. Below is a brilliant video of of Mysore by Kino MacGreggor, so you can see it for yourself. Enjoy, Helen

 

 

Why Do You Practice Yoga and Does it Matter?

For me yoga is a spiritual practice with physical benefits.  I enjoy it and I practice daily because I have found it transformative.  The term spiritual draws differing responses from each person, depending on how they interpret the meaning of the word. For me its meaning is somewhat fluid, as it exhibits varying qualities at different times.  I like yoga and meditation as they allow me to discover things for myself rather than being told what it is about. Although I also like to read the teachings, it is the fruit of my own practice that leads to understanding.  I find that fairly scientific but it is also very subjective, as all my experiences are interpreted by me.  Yoga certainly helps me to see through these illusions though and to question and experience more of what actually is.  For me mostly I am just trying to get beyond my thoughts and experience more of what actually is, be it spiritual or physical.

 

People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons.  As a teacher, here are some of ones I have come across: inner calm, relaxation, spiritual, losing weight, recovering from injury, increasing flexibility, help with sport (cross-training), help with sleep, anxiety, stress, increasing general health and wellbeing.  The list of reasons is endless.  For me any reason is valid.  Yoga is great and I feel many people can benefit from it.  Yoga in the West is sometimes criticized for having lost its spirituality for the sake of commercialism.  Whilst reading the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with Christine and her students we discussed this as it is brought up a number of times in Swami Muktibodhananda’s commentary

 

“Originally, a sadhaka practiced hatha yoga  for many years to prepare himself for the awakening of kundalini, or in terms of raja yoga, for the experience of Samadhi.  However, in the last fifty years, with the revival of yoga in the West, it seems the real goal of yoga has been overlooked or even completely forgotten.  Today, yoga is generally practiced to improve or restore health, to reduce stress, to prevent the body from ageing or to beautify it.  Hatha yoga does fulfil these of objectives, but it should be kept in mind that they are certainly not the goal.” Swami Muktibodhananda, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

 

While I think this is a valid point, I feel that more people are practicing and getting benefit from yoga than ever before.  I feel this is a good thing, whatever the reasons and generally people’s reason for practicing changes with time, I know mine has.  As a yoga teacher I try my best to make yoga accessible to the varying needs of my students.  I sometimes feel that this openness does mean that spirituality and philosophy are not discussed as much as they could be.  I make an effort to connect with my students and hope that they will feel they can talk to me about the deeper aspect of their practice.  I am always interested to hear about other people’s experiences.  I also hope that this blog serves to broaden what I share about yoga and what we discuss both here on the blog and in class and so far I am finding this to be the case.

 

If you are interested in exploring yoga philosophy I highly recommend readingThe Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, which contains a translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras at the back.  It is a wonderful book and a great starting point for this vast subject.  If you are practicing yoga to get fitter or loose weight, good for you – you may find you get even more from it than you expected…

 

Why do you practice yoga?  Have your reasons changed since you started practicing yoga? What is your experience about the physical and spiritual aspects of your yoga practice?

Yoga with a Bump – A Guest Post by Lyn Marven

Yoga with a bump

Pretty much the first thing I asked my doctor when I found out I was pregnant was whether I could carry on with yoga. I’ve been practising for around 15 years now, most of which has been ashtanga, and I couldn’t really imagine 9 months without yoga, however good the cause. Luckily medical advice these days is that you can carry on with any exercise that you are already used to doing, and Helen was happy to support me and give me information about the necessary modifications.

 

I had no idea what pregnancy would throw at me, and no expectations about how long ILyn Marven balances on one leg practicing yoga pose tree, 39 weeks pregnant would be able to carry on practising. But I’ve just come back from a Mysore style practice, and at 39 weeks I’m aware that it might actually be my last before the baby arrives! I’ve reached the point where my bump touches the floor in chaturanga dandasana (though sadly being supported in the middle doesn’t make it any easier); my camel pose (ushtrasana) has a real hump; and my forward bends neither go forward, nor really bend… but I’m glad I’ve kept going.

 

At first I felt quite self-conscious about missing out or modifying so many poses, especially early on, when we hadn’t told people about the pregnancy. Luckily in Mysore classes everyone is absorbed in their own practice so no-one really noticed. My body didn’t feel any different in the beginning too, so it was frustrating leaving out so many things, from jumping back / forwards, through the cross-body twists and most inversions, to anything that would overwork my stomach muscles or compress my non-existent bump (bye-bye bhujapidasana and supta kurmasana). Mind you, I wasn’t sad to wave goodbye to navasana…

 

In the second trimester I started to notice some changes – all that extra blood circulating made moving more strenuous, I had to stop lying on my back, and binding and bending became much more difficult as my growing belly began to get in the way. Since then I’ve been gradually adapting the poses to accommodate what I can now do – as yet another one changed, I couldn’t help hearing ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ in my head. Not the most relaxing soundtrack to yoga! But no more distracting than some of the a capella choir singing from the floor above on a Monday evening…

 

There isn’t a single posture that I haven’t had to modify over the last 8 months, even Lyn Marven practices warrior 2 yoga pose pregnantincluding dandasana and shavasana (corpse pose). But the essentials of yoga haven’t changed – breathing, focus, working with what my body can do on that particular day. And I’ve developed a new relationship with the postures I can still do – I’ve concentrated more on alignment, and grown to enjoy the poses that show off my bump, like tree posture, or virabhadrasana II (warrior 2), which was never my favourite pose before but now really does make me feel warrior-like.

 

I’ve been lucky that I haven’t suffered too many ailments and have been able to keep on practising –and no doubt practising has staved off some of the aches and pains that I might otherwise have had: I can’t prove anything, but I’m sure it’s a virtuous circle. I would certainly credit yoga with helping me to avoid some of the pregnancy side-effects like backache and high blood pressure, and with keeping me supple and active. (I have also been swimming and following a specific pregnancy yoga class.)

 

And I do know that yoga has helped me through pregnancy in a number of less tangible ways: it has kept me in touch with my ever-changing body, helped me adapt to what I can and can’t do, and to my shifting centre of gravity; at the same time, it has also kept me in touch with my pre-pregnancy self – in that sense having yoga as a kind of continuity has really helped me to get my head round everything that has changed (and will soon change even more!). And hopefully the strength, relaxation, focus and not least the breathing will stand me in good stead for the big push any day now!

 

By Lyn Marven

Lyn also attended some Pregnancy Yoga classes with Jenni Jones  which she found most helpful.  I trained to be a yoga teacher at the same time as a lovely Midwife Ann Blower who now has a Pregnancy and Postnatal Yoga Class.  If you are new to yoga and become pregnant it is recommended that you only attend dedicated pregnancy yoga classes.  If you are an existing student of mine please talk to your doctor and contact me before coming to class.  Each individuals needs need to be addressed differently.

Lyn, hope all goes well with the birth, look forward to meeting your daughter.

Helen

 

 

Some Yoga Is Better Than No Yoga – Guest Post From Claire Sanders

I first discovered ashtanga almost four years ago and was immediately drawn to the physical challenges it provided; I practised rigorously and with enthusiasm finding that, for awhile, physical improvements in the asanas were a regular occurrence.  As somebody who had never felt particularly physically capable this was a real ego boost, ego being the operative word.  But inevitably, after a time, my practice began to plateau and I was faced by my own limitations.

 

To me this is yoga; finding that gentle space between effort and struggle, the difference between loving corrections and violent scolds – connecting the breath and body with acceptance.  And yet in my experience it is far easier said than done; I still catch myself internally berating my efforts in my practice, a pattern repeated in daily life when left unchecked.  Yoga allows me to engage with and answer this voice, to silence it with a smile, and occasionally when my practice has been absent for awhile, a few tears.  Conversely when I do not practice regularly my body feels heavier, but the biggest change I feel is not in my back, hips or hamstrings but in my thoughts, actions and awareness of the wider world.

 

Despite this I often find that I have tricked myself out of the practice I deserve.  Ego’s don’t like to be quashed and mine frequently tells me “But you don’t have time…” followed by a long list of other important things I have to attend to that day.  This appeals to my rational side; my practice takes around 90 minutes after which I need to shower and get dressed which brings it to roughly two hours.

 

“Two whole hours?  Do I have a spare two hours today?  Not really, it can’t be helped, I will practice tomorrow.”

 

This is a familiar conversation in my mind.  To combat it I have begun answering it with “Some yoga is better than no yoga”.  In saying this I persuade myself to step onto my mat, knowing that any time spent there is time well spent, a shorter practice does not mean a less meaningful one. Perhaps I will not work on supta kurmasana that day but I will deepen my breathing, focus my mind, connect with my body and make peace with my ego.  This is why I really practice.  This is why it is important for me to make some time, any time to practice.  How do you experience making time to practice, are there internal/external obstacles to negotiate and what methods help you to overcome them?

By Claire Sanders

Hatha Yoga Pradipika – Sharing the Reading Experience

Christine Weise teaches and practices Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville, Florida.  She is also the author of the Blog, Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville, which I have read over the last few years.  I love the way that the practice of yoga connects people.  To me the wider Ashtanga Yoga Community is like a big family of people who do the same practice and as such go through similar experiences.  The internet enables us to connect and share our experiences with people who we may not otherwise meet.   Christine has decided to take this medium and use it so that we can share with her and her community, as they study the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

 

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is thought to have been written in the fifteenth century C.E by and the Indian yogi Svatmara.  It is considered one of the classic texts of yoga.  I first read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika during my yoga teacher training course.  The version I read was translated by Brian Dana Akers, he original text is in Sanskrit.  At the time I liked this version  because it is a does not contain a commentary, just a translation, leaving me to think about the text in my own terms.   The text has four chapters asanas (physical yoga positions),  pranayama (control of prana/ energy), mudras (symbolic gestures) and samadhi (state of oneness).  It explores the spiritual and practical aspects of the practice of hatha yoga, some of the practices explained are extreme and if I remember correctly some of the benefits of the poses are  far out if taken literally.  As much as I like to explore these texts I always like to do so from the point of view of my own experience.  As the Buddha said

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”

Picture of the book the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Christine is doing a shared read of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with her students and she opened this up to the wider yoga community via her blog.  The idea is that we all read a section of the book and then discuss it on Facebook.  I love to read books and the idea of sharing the experience with others appeals to me. Christine is reading a version of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swarmi Muktibodhananda. This version contains a commentary as well as a translation. I decided to buy Swarmi Muktibodhananda’s version, so that I could delve into this text a little deeper and join in their discussions, I am also re-reading Brain Dana Akers version so that I can compare the translations. If you are interested in joining in that would be great, I intend to write about my journey with the book here on this blog as well as joining in the discussion on Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville’s Facebook Page. There is no need to have any prior experience of yoga philosophy to join in, just an interest.

Have you read or are you interested in reading The Hatha Yoga Pradipika?