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:
We have all have had a tumble or two on the ski slopes. It is important to build strength and flexibility BEFORE you get skiing.
Doing high impact exercise can be great for strength and cardio but there is also risk of injury. Doing yoga is zero impact, high intensity exercise that will help you get ready for the ski season.
What to expect in ski fit yoga:
Click here to some great poses for before or after skiing:
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We tried our first glowing yoga class on Halloween. It was really fun to teach.
Some yoga purists might question fluorescent light and glow sticks mixed with respected ancient asanas but it does have benefits.
Doing yoga in the dark:
It was also a lot of fun. We hope to do more of these classes throughout the darker months.
I was training for triathlon in 2004 and couldn't figure out why I was having so many hamstring problems. I constantly stretched, I was going to yoga twice a week at work, and I was careful not to 'overdo' it during training sessions. I had massage, physio and finally went to a sports doctor who MRI'd my lower back. Apparently, those lower muscles around my spine were weak.
So, I was given a set of exercises to build up the muscles. But I still didn't know exactly what your core was.
What muscles are in your core?
In yoga, I often state that you need to tighten your pelvic floor 'mula bandha' and lower belly 'uddiyana bandha'. This is a way of locking those muscles which increases stability. Drawing in these muscles helps you balance and gracefully jump from forward bend to plank.
Your core is directly connected to your hamstrings (backs of thighs), glutes (bum/butt), and lower back. By strengthening your core, you will notice improvements in other areas in the body. Yoga poses do not isolate one particular muscle - it works several other areas at the same time. How efficient :)
Here's a vid of plank instructions:
This summer, we trialed some kids classes. They were 30 minutes long and was designed to get the kids moving in a focused way. The format was similar to adults class: Starting off with 5 long breaths to centre and then start moving into some fun sequences.
The kids liked the names of the poses, as the pose names are either animals (making animal sounds, of course) or strengthening names (bold warrior, strong warrior, etc.). The purpose of the bold and strong warrior poses is to remind the kids that they are indeed strong and bold. It is important that kids learn self empowering messages from an early age.
I integrated some mindfulness activities such as pretending to be a frog, sitting quietly and calmly, observing thoughts but being careful to jump too quickly. In order for a frog to catch a fly, it needs to sit still and concentrate in order to catch the fly. This is a good tool for daily life: Learn to fully concentrate on one thing at a time.
One thing I learned when teaching kids is that younger kids already have the skills to behave mindfully. They can focus on one object naturally. This is something that grown ups seem to lose with all the multi tasking and constant barrage of information. Grown ups need to retrain themselves to be more like children: Give one thing all your attention and you will feel calmer and happier. And have fun while you are doing it!
We aren't sure if we will regularly teach kids classes. Our specialty is sports yoga (or yoga for those who want to keep active/injury free). We had some requests to do some teaching for kids this summer and it was fun to try it out. We might do mini-camps during school breaks and will announce it in future.
How does yoga encourage mindfulness? When you go to a yoga class and start centering yourself, this is the time to reset the mind. This is your hour to allow yourself to let go of your to-do lists, your past regrets or future worries. This is the time to be in the present moment, as this is the only relevant moment. There is nothing you can do about the past. And worrying about the future won't change things either. It takes practice, as I often find I clear my mind, allowing for new exciting thoughts during yoga or meditation. But it's best to just clear the mind, no matter how great those thought seem to be.
In yoga, focusing on the breath can calm the mind. That's easier said than done too. As they teach in Vipassana meditation, you focus on the rising (as you inhale) and falling (as you exhale) of the abdomen. Or you can focus on the feeling of air through your throat. Or focus on the sound you make when exhaling through the nose.
In doing the yoga poses, another way to concentrate is to focus on one object, such as an object in front of you (e.g. your hands, your feet, tip of your nose) which is referred as Drishti. This is a gazing technique that is meant to improve concentration. This is very effective when standing in Tree (Vrkasana) pose. If you focus on one point, you are less likely to fall over. You will notice that when you start thinking of many things in tree, you will fall over. Concentrating on one object will help clear your mind as you are concentrating on only one thing - it feels strange at first but definitely the first steps to developing mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? It is appreciating the present and acceptance for how things objectively are. What are benefits to mindfulness? There have been many legitimate studies done which show that it can reduce stress proven by lower blood pressure or digestive disorders. It can reduce anxiety and depression on all levels. But it takes practice. I am looking in the mirror now and saying that after this email, I am going to spend the next 5 minutes being mindful as I did fly off the handle last week when Max dragged a chair across our new wooden floor. Would the Dalai Lama have yelled at his kid for that?
Article on mindfulness: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-mindfulness-good-medicine/
Tim & Shannon: Part time yoga teachers from Cookham, Berkshire. We thought it would be fun to share our learning experiences with like minded people.