Tuesday, April 22, 2008

When life gets in the way - stop!!

Sometimes life gets in the way of my search for bliss. By life I mean bills, money (or lack thereof), mood swings, the happiness of my other half. Sometimes life escalates into petty squabbles, disagreements and a general feeling of gloom...

But hang on. Stop a moment!

Spring is here, the sun is shining and when I open the kitchen window I can hear the birdsong and smell the sunshine...

And there it is. Bliss is right there - always. You just need to know where to look for it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Peel the onion

My yoga practice is changing, my attitudes, my thoughts, my desires and the purpose of yoga for me is all changing. Finding it hard to explain it in my own words I will borrow those of Gary Kraftsow:-

"Our tendancy today is to thing of physical fitness and health in terms of measurements and/or standards of performance. Bringing this mentality to asana practice, many have the impression that it is about performance and that we can measure our progress by our ability to perfect the forms of postures.

"The ancients, however, based their concept of physical fitness and health on an entirely different set of criteria; a feeling of lightness within the body, an ability to withstand change, and a stable body and focussed mind, ready to sit for pranayama practice and mediation

Yoga has gone mainstream in the west over the past few years. And this is a great thing. But so so much yoga concentrates purely on physical asana (posture) practice. To concentrate on this alone, or indeed to make this the majority of your practice is like discovering the onion but cooking only with the skin. So much of the flavour and goodness is left out.

Sitting and breathing, sitting and focussing, allowing oneself to be is equally important as posture practice. At the end of the day, apart from looking kind of cool, getting one's leg behind one's head is of little benefit in the grand scheme of things. Practicing consistency, and mental, physical and emotional awareness if far more important. What good after all physical strength without the strength of mind to resist the everchanging nature of life in this physical realm?

So will my new thoughts and feelings gained through my own yoga practice change the way I teach?

Well yes and no. I think that by trying to transcend the physical a little in my own practice I can teach more from the heart, with the stillness, calm and strength that my students need; that they come for whether they realise this consciously or not. I already only teach 50-55 minutes of asana practice during a 90 minute class so they are already experimenting with breath and and meditation by themselves. Some people love it. Some have come from yoga backgrounds where 85 minutes or so is dedicated to asana and have been surprised by my teaching style. Some have persevered and come to love it, some have hated it and never come back. *shrugs*. What can you do? Some people just aren't ready; they may never be ready in this life. And that's OK.

But as for the question will I be teaching a class that perhaps incorporates minimal posture practice, for example 20-25 minutes to warm up the body for deep breath practices? No probably not. Not in a regular class. That's not what people want right now. It's not what I'm here to teach right now.

But of course I could teach a two hour workshop on it one Saturday afternoon and take it from there.....

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mummy and me

On Monday morning I taught my first mum and baby yoga class. Four mums and four babies (most of whom I taught right through their pregnancies). Babies, for the record are very very noisy. They weren't crying exactly just yakking away to themselves, then realising there are other babies in the vicinity and yakking away to each other. Babies are strange, fabulous and enigmatic but did I mention they are very very noisy!

This isn't for everyone admittedly. To teach mum and baby yoga you write a class plan.... and then you throw it away. You go with the flow, not everyone's going to be doing the same thing at the same time, some mums need to stop for a feed, or a cuddle or just because they are absolutely knackered. There will always be one baby who decides to poo and/or yell in the middle of relaxation. You have to give the mums the run of the place, make them feel nurtured and at home. You have to be prepared to look after their little one so they can concentrate on their pelvic floors/breathwork/relaxation, you have to ensure they just keep breathing no matter what and you really have to think on your feet!

That said it was amazing. Truly amazing. It taught me so much about myself and how, when I need to, my ability to stay completely calm no matter what is going on and to just take the chaos as read and carry on regardless. I amazed myself by just how chilled I can be. I still have to work on crossing that bridge from yoga into my daily life and deal with all situations as though it were a mum and baby yoga class!

Now the big question here is why does someone who doesn't want children of her own specialising in pre and post natal yoga? Well there are several answers to that really. I live in a family friendly area, so in some ways doing the pregnancy and baby training was a business decision. Secondly, I think that sometimes it's nice for mums-to-be and new mums to be in an environment that isn't centred entirely on baby. Having no children of my own I'm focussing much more on the mums and their health and wellbeing. I make a point of asking them how they are before I ask how baby is. I think it is a refreshing change for them. There is only impartial advice, there is no competition, there is just yoga. And thirdly... well thirdly just because a woman has made a decision not to have children does not mean there is no maternal instinct. I do not want my own children for a miriad of complicated reasons, but the mother in me can use a skill I am trained in and am good at to nurture, help and heal other women who have chosen to be mothers and their little ones. And you know, that's enough.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Too Much Too Soon... (or, on going back to class)

So this week I have returned to yoga class for the first time since before Yule.

On Wednesday morning I went to the Iyengar teacher who lives just around the corner from me - she has converted the ground floor of her three floor Victorian semi into a yoga studio, a very peaceful beautiful yoga studio.

I fall in and out of love with the Iyengar method of yoga. It's very precise, concentrates on alignment and correct positioning of feet, hands and spine - all of which really help with my own alignment and scoliosis. However, on the flip side I feel it concentrates too much on the alignment and "correct" way of doing a posture, rather than working with the capabilities and limitations of the individual and at the expense of stillness, pranayama and meditation. In conclusion then, whilst I enjoyed the session, my sacrum and sacro-iliac joints were burning by the end of the 90 minute class and by the end of the day I was in screaming agony. I am not a great believer in pushing your body too far - I appreciate that sometimes a person needs to push, but not to this extent. Again it is an example of my need to practice having "enough", not reaching out and grasping for more, wanting for more than my body can achieve.

So yesterday I went to a Satyananda class in Clapham. A much more gentle and subtle practice - less asana based, far more pranayama and meditation. I have found over the last couple of years that my own personal practice has become much gentler, much more based on the movement of the breath and the length in the spine rather than pushing to achieve complicated asana. And that is why I love Satyananda - especially in this venue; a little attic with skylights on a sunny April morning. There is of course a flipside to this as well - Satyananda doesn't speak fully to me. There is almost a sense of ignoring the body for the energy of the breath and mind, and while I am not against that per se, there is an aspect of yoga that is about healing the body as well. I also teach yoga from a Western perspective - we are living in a Western culture after all and for a lot of people there is a lot about yoga in it's completely classical form that does not ring true. This doesn't mean of course I won't be returning to the Thursday morning Satyananda class - I will, it was just what I needed and filled with people I know and trained with!

I have two problems with classes at the moment. The first it purely a timetabling one. I cannot make evening classes as I am teaching myself - same goes for Saturday and Monday mornings. And I cannot find a single Tuesday morning class anywhere in Surrey or South West London! Come May I will be working three days a week and thus far it seems those days will be Wed-Fri. I really need to go to as many classes as I can while I can!

The second is that I trained and teach in the Viniyoga style of TKV Desikachar. I believe that yoga is healing, both physically and emotionally, but that everybody's bodies need different things, in approaches to both asana and pranayama. This is why my classes are so small and why I teach different classes on different days. Not everything is for everyone. However, it would appear I am the only Viniyoga teacher in the area as well. And I cannot go to my own lessons.

I trained in north London and it's a long and expensive trek for a yoga class....

But enough, it is a beautiful April morning, and time for my own practice in the sunshine.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


The questions of Christianity and Yoga seem to be everywhere at the moment. Here is a podcast from one of my favourite teachers and writers.

Peas in a Pod

I taught my first official pregnancy class on Saturday. I've been teaching pregnancy yoga for a while, mixing my pregnant ladies in with my general classes (the more gentle ones obviously) but this is not ideal. It involves a lot of stopping and starting to modify the postures for those who are pregnant, interrupting the flow for those who aren't!

So after training with Uma Dinsmore-Tuli at Sitaram, I decided the time had come to start a class specific for pregnancy on Saturday mornings in my home studio where there is room for about four or five students. I got four students within a week of putting it up on my website!

After some intial confusion (the world and his wife seem to have an inability to find my house), and a late start to the class, three wonderfully round and pregnant women and skinny ol' me (one poor lady has this bug that's going around and won't be starting until next week) flowed a beautifully energising pranayama and gentle asana practice with preparation for birth breathing, chanting (which the baby can hear), and deep relaxation.

Everyone (including me) seemed pleased and content after class.

Here's to next week - and a whole new adventure!