Appropriately, a blog linking yoga and American football ahead of the Super Bowl this weekend. (Come on the LA Rams!)
American football (particularly this side of the pond) - is often perceived as the archetypal 'macho' sport with plenty of physical contact, taunting of opponents and less than subtle celebrations....
This video outlines one athletes path to finding yoga.....did he find yoga or did yoga find him as Goldie has suggested (available on BBC Sounds).
NFL linebacker Keith Mitchell found yoga as way to recover from a career ending spinal injury that left him unable to move for several days. Initially the main objective of starting yoga was to regain full mobility. What turned out to be a means of recovery became a life changing experience.
Now a yoga instructor, Mitchell believes the combination of mediation with physical movement has changed his life.
Isn't it great that increasingly professional athletes turning to yoga, breaking down the social stero types that yoga is predominantly for women. Interestingly, yoga was originally for boys in India - it is only as yoga practice was adopted in the west that it became the domain of women. Yoga is constantly evolving, being influenced by geography, gender, age and the ever increasing styles of yoga that people can practice. Most importantly the practice of yoga is open to everyone - there is no right or wrong way.
Go find a local teacher or class - try a few out to find out what you like and don't like. If you don't try it - you wont know if its for you or not....
So what does running have to do with yoga?
The objective of yoga has been described trying to achieve the, 'restraint of the modifications of mindstuff' - or essentially clearing the mind of thought and reaching a meditative state. One thing when learning meditate is that this 'state' may only be fleeting on occasions.
To complete the summer of challenges (not a conscious goal) I entered the Maidenhead half marathon- again with the hope that friends may join me. Much like the swimming in June, I found myself on the starting line alone - again. More time for inward reflection.
Like the day of the swim it was another gloriously sunny day. Unlike the swim, my preparation had not quite gone to plan. A few longer runs were not going to provide the 'legs' needed to find the event comfortable. Despite the company of a new found running buddy that provided a welcome distraction for the first 6 miles, it was going to be hard day on the road. Rounding onto the second loop of the half marathon, I realised that it was going to take the most of my inward reflection to help get me through the rest of the distance. It wasn't pretty but brief moments of reflection (I cant quite say I reached the meditative state) helped me get through a few of the tougher miles.
Sometimes you have good days (the swim) and sometimes there are hard days (the run) - both are experiences none the less.
Who knows - perhaps I may find someone to share an event with at some point soon...
On a recent business trip to Budapest I was keen to experience yoga in a different country and potentially in a different language.
Within my time and travel constraints I found 2 options.
My first class was in a meeting room at work given by a colleague that had recently qualified in one of our meeting rooms. Students were scattered either side of the desks in the meeting rooms as we followed our instructors sequence. I still remember giving classes having recently qualified - with a certain degree of nerves and not daring to move too far away from the primary sequence. Despite offering to the follow the class in Hungarian, I think she took pity on me. With a mixed range of students, the 90 minute class was a wonderful way to get the travel and day's work out of the system.
Looking to challenge myself I found a second local class to gain a Hungarian yoga experience - a 90 minute Bikram class before work. The studio was located on the second floor of a small shopping arcade. Fortunately, it turned out that another student recognised the lost look on my face and directed in the right direction. Most of my practice has been Vinyasa flow so this would surely offer something new. And it certainly did as it was silent Brikham class with no instruction but 'prompts'(sounded like a 'pfssss') for the next position. It was no coincidence that I positioned myself in the middle of the room with many angles covered by the surrounding mirrors.
Despite not experiencing being taught yoga in a foreign language, the overriding feeling was that there is a connection between yoga practitioners - whatever the country, whatever the language (or not), or setting; it is our shared perspective that brings us together. We do spend a lot of time on the mat looking inwards, however, I do believe that this practise in itself does make us more open and worldly in our perspective.
Whenever possible, I will certainly aim to join classes wherever my travels take me. If you have the opportunity certainly continue your practice, or self study (Svadhyaya) as a student of yoga.
For the first time, YogaTonic UK entered a team into the Cookham Regatta Challenge Cup event in 2018. Shannon and I thought it would be a great opportunity to hang out with our yoga friends, off the mat and to enjoy doing some different activities.
As part of the Challenge we would have to compete in 5 events - twice - including dragon boating, Canadian canoeing and several non water events such as volleyball, tug of war and 'silly walking.' Most importantly, it was not about winning but having fun with friends and family... although it would appear we all have a competitive edge. Competition is not bad - though it is important the way in which you compete. In all of the events there was a friendly respect for our opposition, but that did not dim the desire to win.
In yoga philosophy, one of the 'niyamas' (self observations) is that of 'fiery cleansing' (Tapas). It would be fair to say that of all the events that gave the most cleansing / fiery sensation was the tug of war. Not something any of us do to often but certainly something that gets the adrenaline pumping and voice strained in an attempt to encourage the team to pull in the same direction at the same time.
Another yogic 'self observation' is 'contentment' (Santosa). Though we may have lost some races, we were content with how we worked as a team. Santosa means to be happy with what we have rather than what we don't have. We had a great team. We had a lot of laughs. We lost the last dragon boat race but we won overall with highest points. Even if we wouldn't have won, it was still a great day out.
That day, we were a team of active people who like to do yoga. It was fun doing events which were competitive. Sometimes people fall into feeling competitive when they go to a yoga class. It's human nature to observe another person but yoga itself should not be competitive. We are all built differently. There is no wrong way to do a pose in yoga (only if it's unsafe for your bod). In a yoga class, you can do some fiery cleansing (Tapas) through your breath and concentration. You can practice contentment (Santosa) by enjoying the class and know you are doing your best.
So back to the regatta. Great day. Big smiles. With many of the younger generation desperate to get involved I would like to think there will be YogaTonic teams of various generations well into the future... and who knows we maybe able to retain the title in 2019...
Our summer holiday: We have been looking forward to it for months. Easy journey to airport, smoothish flight on Alitalia, fresh Italian coffee immediately upon landing at Rome airport and the long wait at the baggage carousels. Still waiting. No bags left at carousel. How is this possible?
I am not sure why I was surprised that our baggage had failed to turn up; although the last time this had happened for me was in 1992 so had been lulled into what appears to be a false sense of security by checking bags for the flight. Of the 2 bags, one had running shoes, a chess board and a pack of Uno. The remaining bag had all our clothing for the weeks break for the 3 of us.
Having lost our bags, was this the opportunity to put our yogic 'aparigraha' (or non attachment in Sanskrit) to the test. Thankfully leaving the airport we found a local Decathlon what would provide us with the key essentials for the next few, or however many days. Both Max and I found our 2 Tshirts and shorts within 10 minutes, whilst the third member of the family took a little bit longer trying on the few pieces of clothing... (Shannon edit: Tim's yoga shorts were exceptionally tight from not trying on at shop)
On day 4 the first bag turned up- both the chessboard and pack on Uno were gratefully received and members of the party made best use of the games and the chance of a bit of one upmanship. Our clothing issues had not been resolved and the Decathlon was hours away from the remote rural hotel. Only at the end of day 5 did the clothing bag arrive. Our limited wardrobe had served us well and made us realise that once again we had over packed. Did we really need all these clothes? And more importantly can we travel with just hand luggage in future to prevent us from over packing and to make sure we arrive with all our bags.
Practising aparigraha encourages us not to hoard both physical and emotional things and for us to be content with what we have without a sense of loss. Maybe in some small way we learnt a little about non attachment.
In this case - less proved to be perfectly sufficient - though I would have to say that it is certainly worth trying on clothes in future. It proved particularly interesting trying to do yoga in shorts that were rather tight and felt as if they would split any moment. Naked yoga was certainly not an option. Perhaps next time if we do check bags we will pack emergency clothing in our hand luggage. Perhaps we will just pack less.
Life throws us little lessons to show us that it's about the journey, not the luggage.
Many people feel intimidated by yoga because they feel as though they feel inflexible and worry they can't do all the poses. I have been doing yoga for years and I can't do all the poses like the Instagram yogis and sometimes I feel a bit self conscious.
We all may look different in a pose, even with the same instructions. Inherently, our bones are shaped slightly differently, our muscles have different elasticity, and we are different heights. You can't get the pose wrong as long as you are doing it safely.
The essence of yoga is connect with yourself through calming the mind and body/breath awareness. How yoga works for each person is their individual preference: Some people want to calm down and stretch their sore muscles. Some want to reach spiritual enlightenment. And there are many shades in between.
Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras as guidelines for a more purposeful life. The sutras say that there are 8 limbs (ashtanga=8 limbs) consisting of:
My point is that out of the 8 things listed, only ONE refers to poses. So, when you see more experienced yoga students turning themselves into a pancake or pretzel, remember that they may doing some of these other limbs too and aren't even looking at you struggling to touch your toes.
So, I tried to demonstrate Urdhva Danurasana (wheel pose) in class last week. It was a failure (not great as a teacher). I practice yoga almost every day (even for 10 mins) and I have strong upper body strength. For the life of me, I cannot make my wheel look like Tim's. Get him some tighter lycra, a sleeve tattoo (and a couple minor adjustments) he could almost be an Instagram sensation. Looking at Max and I, we may need to practice every day for the next year. Apparently despite the shoulder and hip opening poses, I still can't move beyond the flat tyre (that's tire, if you are American).
So, practice. If you want to move towards the yoga manual photos, you need to practice. As mentioned about different body shapes, you may never look like a gymnast, but you will move into the posture strongly with less effort. Which gives you more time to focus on your breath and enlightenment.
This kid can go into Mayurasana (peacock) without warming up. Not sure how, considering that he can't stand holding downward dog for more than 2 breaths. But this advanced pose is easy peasy for him. We all have our strengths, we are all different. Rather than feeling self concious about it, embrace it - own that pose!
The answer to the question can be answered in a hundred, if not a thousand ways as it will not only depend on who you ask but also when you ask them; teacher or student. Of course no answer is wrong as everyone has their own reasons and motivations for their practice.
(Aside from this - who are we to judge anyway!?)
For some, yoga gives people time away from their day to day commitments to switch off. For others the act of moving their body can be to support recovery from injury, gaining greater flexibility through to an alternative type of exercise. Similar to the answers to the first question - none of them are wrong and indeed many are likely to change or even evolve over time
The most important thing for a student is to find a style of yoga, and teacher that can provide what they are looking for. I often describe yoga as similar to athletics - with track and field the different events require different skills and training. For all of the events an athlete will need dedicate time and effort to see improvement.
In a yogic context there is now such a wide variety of styles to choose from including Hatha, Hot, Vinyasa Flow, Restorative, Power, Partner, Acro, Aero to name a few....the list goes on. Some styles and teachers will suit some and not others. It's up to the student to find what works for them.
As I started my training to become a teacher 3 years ago - I was speaking to someone who simply summed up why people do yoga. His comment has stuck with me ever since and remains important to me now.
"Whenever someone comes out of a class - they are always smiling"
In my mind - it doesn't matter why they are smiling but that they are.
The person who made the comment has never done yoga but gets to see the increasingly broad range of people that do. As a taxi driver in London, he gets to see the cross section of our community.
If a class can help people smile then I can not think of a better way to spend an hour of my day sharing my practice.
Since I have started teaching, over 2 years ago I have been fortunate to have gained several corporate yoga classes. The experience has certainly improved my practice, my teaching and also my ability to adapt to changing situations.
When I say, adapt to changing situations - read - thinking on my feet! Sometimes the best laid plans were just not meant to be...
One client regularly provides a lovely meeting room with floor to ceiling windows on 3 sides offering plenty of natural light and views over Windsor Great Park. It really is ideal for a class. On several occasions the room has been required for business (priorities, eh?) with the only alternative being the store room. Surrounded by shelves, working printers and no natural light, not to mention limited space the pre-class planning had to be tweaked ever so slightly. Plan B applied.
Several clients have provided in site gyms for the lunchtime classes. As noted with Plan B - sometimes the clients work unsurprisingly takes priority that can change the make up of the class. Gauging the size and the experience of the class has given me the opportunity to take smaller classes through more advanced sequences with more of a workshop feel to them. Application of Plan C.
In another location, I was preparing my class and creating calm atmosphere for a lunch time class. An attendee to the class kindly pointed out that the candles may set off the alarms... after all this was a key product of the client and was particularly sensitive! Plan D required.
Lastly, supporting a local conference I had been asked to provide a 15 minute yogic energizer. Following an engaging session (i.e. it over ran) - my slot was reduced from 15 mins to 5! Think yogic energizer on speed. Plan E activated!
Though I know some of my experiences are not unique to corporate yoga itself, offering classes away from the studio / deck (when it is warm enough) in the sanctuary of yogatonicuk.com HQ- has certainly improved my style and confidence as a teacher and given me so much enjoyment on the way. (After all that is one of the reasons to teach yoga isn't it?)
Whilst I can safely stay that I doubt I will ever feature a picture of me teaching in a store room, the opportunity to share my practice with new people, in new environments has been a pleasure and one that provides some of my personal highlights each week.
Now - how to provide corporate yoga on beach with the sun setting.... answers on a postcard please!
In our classes, we are constantly throwing out words like 'bandhas', 'lower abs', 'pelvic floor'. We know we repeat it a lot but there is a very good reason. The deeper abdominal muscles should be responsible for supporting your body, but many people do not engage them while doing yoga or other exercise.
If you learn to engage those muscles, you will be more effective in yoga, running, or anything requiring stability. Your lower back will thank us for it!
Things to consider:
Transverse abdominis "TvA"
Personal trainers, physios and some yoga teachers will use the term 'transverse abdominis'. In yoga, we also call these our bandhas. Specifically, your uddiana bandha (lower abs) and mula bandha (pelvic floor). Engaging those bandhas will help pull your core muscles in and upward, which helps with yoga in 2 ways:
How to do that small movement
Essentially, you are trying to hollow out your belly - pull your belly button towards your spine. Then squeeze your muscles at base of pelvis upward. You could practice at any point in the day without anyone noticing. The pelvic floor is a hard one to explain in classes. To be blunt, you use the muscles that control your bladder - squeeze in and back tightly.
Poses to engage your TvA
When doing plank or chaturanga (the lowering down bit of press up), you will want to draw in your bandhas (lower abs, pelvic floor). This will draw your muscles in centrally, making the pose more about the core and less about the arms and shoulders. It will actually make the pose easier.
Side plank is another great pose. Again, to support your body, you must draw in those bandhas. In side plank, you are also working your obliques, your side abs.
Scale pose (Lolasana) is a great example of what happens when you draw in your lower abs and pelvic floor, it lifts you up! Start by drawing in your bandhas and push up on hands. It does require some upper body strength but you couldn't do it without tightening those deep abdominal muscles.
To be honest, it's hard for everyone to remember to "draw in their bandhas". Even I forget when doing yoga or running. It's helps when yoga teachers remind you in class, which is what I try to do in our classes.
If you do practice engaging your TvA's, it will dramatically improve many things:
Strong deep abs = happy lower back :)
After doing yoga for a while, sometimes we want a little more than a downward dog or triangle. Sometimes we want to push ourselves a bit further, sometimes not. I did yoga regularly for years and didn't push myself, which is fine, too.
When I started regular yoga in 2001, I dreaded the class where the yoga teacher, Trevor, would say "Next, we are going to try some headstands. You can bring your mat up against the wall..." Ugh. I didn't want to stand on my head, so I just would remain in childs pose or watch the people pop up on their mat or wall.
The best alternative and preparation is Dolphin pose, which is Downward Dog on your forearms. So, every time headstand would come up, I'd remain in Dolphin pose. This built my upper body strength and forearm placement for the time I was ready.
I wasn't ready to push myself into handstand for years to come. When you, as the reader, are ready, follow these steps:
There are other ways people can try headstands. It is always taught that the best way to learn headstands is by coming up in a controlled manner.
However, sometimes, people would like to try to kick upwards to the wall, being supported by their teacher.
Tips for a gentle kick up headstand:
Here is my class this morning, giving it a try:
Tim & Shannon: Part time yoga teachers from Cookham, Berkshire. We thought it would be fun to share our learning experiences with like minded people.