Day 1 Yoga Intensive

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I was so excited to get back on the mat this morning, I couldn’t sleep last night! I finished work at 9pm last night and raced home showered and painted my toes bright orange (my favourite colour, does anyone else like to have nicely painted toes when they are doing yoga??!!) before oiling myself in sesame oil and hopping into bed. I kept waking up worried I’d missed my 4:30am alarm. The Yoga Intensive runs for 7 days, 6:30am classes, it runs each new year and is a chance to set an intention for the new year through a series of early morning classes.

When it was time to get up I sprung out of bed, here in Adelaide it was 45C degrees yesterday(113F) we are smack bang in the middle of a heatwave, my house was hot (my poor cats can manage a few steps before having to lie on the cool floorboards!) I opened the windows and let the dawn cool breeze inside the house- it was so lovely. I kissed my husband a sleepy kiss goodbye and set off at 5:30am. The world was cool and the birds good morning chatter warmed my heart- they sounded so animated and happy and it really seemed like they had so much to catch up on after their sleep! The world was covered in a cool blue shadow, the roads quiet and there is something really nice about being awake when all around you sleeps. I had found yoga before getting to yoga 🙂

I feel so inspired at the moment by my own health, I am trialing a Gluten Free diet to see if it improves my costchondritis (inflammation of the rib cartilage) as well as a course of pro-biotics and the best thing ever liquid chlorophyll! (Chlorophyll is what give green leafy’s their green and it is so easy to add a couple of teaspoons to a juice or mineral water or just have it straight to boost the nutrients in your diet, there is some really interesting research out there into the treatment and prevention of cancer with chlorophyll)

I can really feel a connection between what I eat and the chatter in my mind, by the time I got to yoga and laid down for pranayama, I was there I was in my body and it was so wonderful. The first asana we did were repetitions of adho mukha virasana and adho mukha svanasana, it felt so wonderful to be in my body the sun rising as I moved.

 

I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Namaste xxx 

 

 

2013

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2012 was such a great year, so many wonderful things have happened; I’m now half way through yoga teacher training, married, have given the house 2 mega spring cleans, am a year older but most importantly I made it through and that is a wonderful achievement all in itself, if you’re reading this- you too made it through- well done!

I used to go over the top every New Year and set myself up for feeling pretty shitty about myself, by making up complicated New Year resolutions that even by my own admission, a few were quite crazy.

For 2013, the wonderful first year of marriage and our first overseas travels and the end of yoga teacher training I’m focusing my attention on the Yama’s and Niyama’s , the Yama’s and Niyama’s are the first two petals of the 8 petal system we know as yoga, and they are basically observances and restraints for skillful living.

The yamas are; ahimsa/non violence, satya/honesty, asteya/non stealing, brahmacharya/ continence, aparigraha/ non greed

The niyamas are; saucha/ cleanliness of body and mind (inside and out!), santosha/contentment, tapas/heat fire- this is interpreted as the fire we build up inside through asana, pranayama and meditation helping us to become the best we can be. Svadhyaya/self study, Ishvara- Pranidhara/ is acting the best way we can, and relinquishing all attachment to the outcome of our actions.

They are blissfully easy and things we practice daily, to certain extent, you can see how their meanings also represent an opposite for example if you are practicing ahimsa or non-violence you are at the same time practicing compassion. Someone practicing santosha/contentment is also working hard to let go of things which do not serve them.

In 2013 I will try to be more aware of my observances and restraints, praise myself for doing something positive for myself and judge myself less when I do something less than perfect.

(I have also vowed to juice each day, get in the garden and master some sirsasana variations and I’m sure ahimsa and santosha will help me if it happens or not :))

I would like to leave you with the beautiful words of gorgeous yogini, Elena Brower

‘My intentions for the new year: Say less, listen more. Work less, sleep more. Judge less, love more’

May your 2013 be simple, inspiring, filled with happiness and health.

Namaste xx

Evangelical Yogi

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Last week I got married, it was the greatest day of my life and I cannot be happier. 🙂 🙂 🙂

This week as I slowly slip back into a routine and have had two wonderful practices in the past day I realise how much an effect not doing yoga has on my body. The feelings and sensations much stronger then that of doing yoga, go figure! My body was stiff and tightly wound, my brain foggy and when I laid down in savasana at the end of my first solid practice in over a week i thought to myself , that’s the shit.

My body has felt s much  beautiful emotion, love, anxiety, nervousness and happiness over the past month to get back on the mat and be completely in my body was such relief. The familiar soreness I carry to remind me that I’m getting stronger, the smooth breath cultivated through pranayama and the unusually quiet mind, remind me of why I love yoga. When I first started doing yoga I wondered why everyone didn’t do yoga, I was righteous and to borrow my fellow yogi, Tricia’s words, ‘evangelical’! Yoga makes sense to me in a way that perhaps swimming or cycling does to someone else, but its also for me, it suits my body and my mind. It is unrealistic when I believe in my heart that we are all so individual, that yoga asana is for everyone. It is also incredibly egotistical and ridiculous to think that yoga will prevent disease, aging or other.

My new husband is not a yogi, that is however his beautiful supta baddha konasana in the photo above, he has a job that is hard on his body and works long, unusual hours and would benefit greatly from an asana practice. The few times I have managed to be so ‘evangelical’ about the benefits of yoga, he has agreed to do some* he does beautiful yoga, his is blessed with a naturally athletic, strong body, he walks lighter and seems more centered afterwards. He also agreed in his wedding vows to take some yoga classes. ( man after my heart, I know)

But tonight sitting here feeling my yoga buzz probably combined with the sugar high from the chai shortbread I am devouring, I don’t mind if he ever steps on the mat. I know it would be of course of benefit, therapeutic even, helping to combat some of the impact his work has on his body, help him unwind, maybe even inspire him to quit smoking and eat better but he probably knows this too. If he wanted to do yoga or more importantly, if there was something about his life he wanted to change and yoga could help, all he has to do is ask his wife she is a yoga teacher after all!

I think, potentially…actually probably, I’m projecting my own desire of wanting Tom to enjoy yoga with me, than Tom just enjoying yoga so from now on I will stop. Who knows, maybe one day he may step on the mat of his own accord and maybe he won’t, I’ll love him just as much either way. I will however continue to tell him of the benefits of lying with legs up the wall after a long shift, nag him about smoking and tell him to not be so terrified of vegetable juice.

I promise to stop pushing yoga on people and just love it all to myself!

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Namaste

xxxx

* When I say does yoga only poses that are either supine/lying down or sitting, and his face probably does more yoga wincing and complaining then he does!

What is a good Yoga Teacher to you?

I feel blessed that I have been to classes where I really haven’t felt myself responding to the teaching style or teaching, often this was the case with various styles of yoga that require the teacher to teach in a particular way. I wanted to use this post to explore what I think makes a good Yoga Teacher.

I have at times left these classes feeling red hot anger and frustration that I was not good enough, embarrassed or humiliated all of these emotions can be a perfect combination for injury or perhaps worse, to never return to a yoga class again. I believe it to be very dangerous to build a yoga practice on premise of not being good enough or in an environment built on fear or ego.  I am not alone, several of my friends have had similar experiences and no nagging from me will get them back on the mat. But thankfully I have also had some teachers that have inspired me, challenged me and changed me in some way. While I believe it to be a privilege to be taught by these wonderful teachers, it also feels that they feel it is a privilege to be teaching yoga.

Living Yoga

I believe that the very most important quality of a teacher is a teacher who lives their yoga; we are after all yoga teachers and not just asana teachers. Understanding the philosophy, history, lineage and that yoga is a devotional practice. I believe it is important that teachers are aware of and follow their interpretation of the Yamas and Niayamas as I believe these restraints and observances make up certain qualities I think are important in a yoga teacher.

For example the first two yamas- ahimsa, satya are very important qualities in a teacher. A teacher practicing ahimsa or non-violence is at the same time practicing compassion, for example in an introductory level class you would not ask students to practice sirsasana (headstand), you are potentially setting the student up for injury, instead you show compassion and slowly and safely build up the strength and flexibility through practice so that one day maybe the student may be able to practice this wonderful inversion.

The risk of injury in a yoga class can be high, especially with newer students who may still be working on alignment by practicing and teaching ahimsa by teaching asana in a safe way ensuring the risk of injury is minimal and asking a student to stop doing something you feel is unsafe or a an injury risk for themselves or anyone else. I believe creating a supported and safe environment for all is a fundamental role of a yoga teacher. By creating a positive environment- disparaging, offensive or inappropriate comments should not be allowed or accepted in the yoga space.

On a more subtle level you practice ahimsa my making adjustments on students safely and to a level they are comfortable with and respecting students who may wish to not be touched. We can teach students about ahimsa how it relates to their yoga practice, being compassionate to themselves and listening to their own bodies.

Satya or truth/honesty is also very important when teaching yoga, being honest when you may be injured or feeling unwell, teachers are not there to be put on a pedestal and honesty builds trust. Being honest that every body is different, mastering a pose is mastering the pose for your body, it’s not always about getting your head to the floor in Prasarita Padottanasana!

Being honest that the path of yoga is a lifelong journey and as teachers we are still on this path. Encouraging your students to be honest with themselves, their own limitations and bodies and to not practice things not appropriate for their body, but also encouraging students to challenge themselves rather than getting stuck and doing a pose ‘well enough’ and being dishonest when it could be done better.

Niyama, Tapas or self-discipline is also important, you can be a positive role-model and play a positive role in your students life, even if it is only one 90 minute class, once, so standing with good posture when teaching, demonstrating with alignment and good technique.

One of the qualities from the Niyamas that I think is one of the most important qualities of a yoga teacher is Svadhyaya or self-study. Including; asana, pranayama and meditation you must spend time in your own body, continually learning, growing and developing. How can you talk about the benefits of a yoga practice if you don’t have a complete one?

I think that living your yoga is living with authenticity and awareness and yoga gives me a more open, softer heart, and helps me in every facet of my health and well-being and I think that this is a very good place to be teaching yoga from. It is also respect for the science of yoga and the history of yoga.

Anatomy and Ayurveda

Yoga is a devotional practice and I believe it is very important to remember this, but I think it is also fair to assume that most students seek yoga to improve their health and wellbeing in someway and so a sound understanding of anatomy and the musculoskeletal system is a very important quality. Understanding how to sequence asana, for example; where twists and forward bends come in a class, what are appropriate warm up sequences for specific asana etc.

It becomes extremely important when working with different groups eg. prenatal yoga, yoga for older people, kids yoga etc. that we can share how yoga can be of great benefit for different stages of life and having sound knowledge of the body’s systems and inner workings is important when it comes to this, especially if the student is in a more fragile physical/emotional condition due to something such as pregnancy. Some of these life stages can be so joyous and some so confronting and yoga is such a wonderful tool to assist in not only helping the body but also celebrating the body and life stages.

I also personally think it is also very important to have a basic understanding of common injuries, illnesses or anatomical problems students may come with eg. a disc bulge, scoliosis or depression and having understanding which asana can help with the ailment or perhaps pranayama and meditation techniques which could be of assistance. As yoga teachers we are not in the business of diagnosis, but we can make suggestions asana that may help tight shoulders or flat feet, for example and understanding the anatomical and kinetic body helps this.

On a more general level for the safety of your students it is extremely important to understand contraindications and cautions of specific asana is fundamental.

Ayurveda is Yoga’s sister science and I believe ultimately they have a very distinct and important bond, ayurveda deals more with the health of the body and digestion, while yoga purifies the mind they compliment and embrace each other.  Like, I have stated people seeking yoga are generally seeking to improve their health and well-being and ayurveda can transform people’s health so I think that an understanding the basics of ayurveda is a great quality in a teacher.

Communication and compassion

BKS Iyengar says “Confidence, clarity and compassion are essential qualities for a teacher.”

I agree with BKS 100 percent, confidence and clarity are all about communication and having good clear, concise instruction is very important and I think this comes with experience and fine-tuning over time to be able to communicate the best way that you can.

The way you communicate can be an indication of your confidence and a teacher that comes across as less confident through their communication, could be translated by students as having a lack of knowledge. Same goes for not just instruction, but demonstration and adjustments must be done with clarity and confidence.

I think that the use of Sanskrit language when naming the asana in class is very important and I don’t think it is appropriate to teach yoga using only English terms. I would not feel comfortable taking yoga classes from someone who didn’t use Sanskrit. Sanskrit as a student has helped me in ‘moving meditation’ hearing the foreign unfamiliar sounds triggered a relaxation and meditative response in me. This is also about respecting the history and lineage of the ancient science of yoga.

Being a good teacher is about being equipped with the right knowledge and learning from a good teacher yourself, having an open heart, compassion and to be without judgments.

I think part of being a good teacher is understanding  and embracing that we never stop learning, there is always more to know, more to see and more to feel and this means that the practice and yogic journey never ends, it evolves. Hunumasana never stops being difficult to do, it just gets easier to do it.

Namaste xxx

When you have all the tools….

Tonight when I taught I spoke of yoga being a tool for us to use- that yoga is here to service us and not for us to service yoga. It is well documented that yoga is an excellent way to de-stress and relax, to help restore harmony in our bodies in a time, in a world, when we probably need it the most.

It would be my guess, for more seasoned yogi’s or those that attend classes regularly that their is a relaxation response just by stepping on the mat or lying over the bolster with a comforting familiarity. The opening class chant or a teachers voice you know so well. These yogi’s may take deep breathing off the mat when times are stressful, subconsciously or perhaps consciously aware that extending the exhalation calms the nervous system, having a profound effect on our emotions. Or how simply how relaxing it can be to be in your body, watching your breath. These yogi’s may take a savasana to revive when feeling weary, they know exactly which way to twist or stretch when something feels tight and could do with a fresh blood supply. Or even just to know the joy of a a backbend or handstand spontaneously in the sunshine. This is I guess like a ‘yoga toolbox’ yoga’s service to us, a reward for our service to ourselves.

I choose to study yoga because I believe in the wonderful, healing, cleansing effects it has on our bodies, I believe in the science. (yes, I said science 🙂 ). I have a very big ‘yoga toolbox’ of things I have read and experienced as well as wonderful things shared to me by teacher and her teacher and all the other teachers i have experienced.

This week I had a terrible week, I searched and dug deep and I thought there was nothing in my toolbox that could help me; I was too irritated for pranayama, too depressed for dynamic asana that would have given me a bit of sparkle, my head far too jumbled for any serious attempt at meditation.

It was tonight with the wonderful power of hindsight, some clarity of mind and the old saying ‘practice what you preach’ I realised that this week in my darkest moment, I did 5 headstands sirsasana, I knew whilst on my head I had to be in that moment, if I wasn’t, I’d simply fall. The falling didn’t worry me it was losing that tremendous sense of strength. Thank you, yoga. Namaste.

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What is your yoga….

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When I first started yoga, it was for all the wrong reasons. I worked with two gorgeous women with lovely toned bodies, beautiful gait and a tremendous sense of self awareness. I would watch them stretch their arms into urdhva hastasana several times a day with the grace of a dancer and the strength of an ox, expanding their lungs synchronising their movements with their strong smooth breath. They spoke of interesting foreign words such as ujjayi, asana and savasana.

How I longed to feel what they felt when they would say things such as “my shoulders are tight today” or my “hamstrings are finally releasing.” I’d check in with my soft, stiff body and felt nothing but numbness, my head would race- are my shoulders tight, where are my hamstrings and how can these women speak with such ease and understanding of their lovely bodies?

So, I decided to go to a yoga class. I was hooked I was like a drug addict that only needed a drug once and was addicted for life. From that first class threes classes a week weren’t enough, I read everything I could find on yoga and slowly without even realising things changed in me.

Rather than obsessing and stressing about things out of my control I thought ‘why bother’ and I let them go (for the most part). I found contentment in just sitting and doing nothing, a beautiful cup of tea became a joy, absolute joy, rather than a cup of tea. I was able to give up cigarettes without any trauma, I just stopped.

My body grew hard and strong, instead of despising my thighs and thinking they resembled Christmas ham’s, I loved them. I loved them in Virabhadrasana 2, in handstand when they launched my feet off the floor up in the air. Off the mat I still loved them when they walked me all over the city and helped me crouch to weed in my garden. I learnt to scan my body in the mornings, to check in and see how it felt, physically and emotionally.

3 years on, my practice is daily even if the asana component is sputa padangusthasana in front of the TV after a long day, or jathara parivartanasana in bed first thing in the morning, I always find time for a couple of downward facing dogs and forward virasana, though a good day is an hour of asana, pranayama and meditation.

My yoga isn’t all headstands and chanting it is also the perfect cup of tea, a rainbow or a beautiful sunset, yoga has enriched my life in so many ways I can find the joy in these little things. I dip in the freezing ocean, a cuddle with my cat, a laughing fit with my beautiful man or the perfect quinoa and pumpkin salad.

So tell me where do you find yoga?

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