The things you can’t see changing in a yoga practice (the yoga of a skin cancer).

In yoga, we feel shifts and changes in our practices; on Monday my balance was great, Tuesday I was shaking like a leaf on one leg, Wednesday my hamstrings were long, Thursday I was stiff as a plank of wood etc. We recognise and accept that we are different each time we come to the mat, we are organic, we are evolving

A sustained, continued practice sees us make great physical leaps, when I first started the floor was so far away in uttanasana (standing forward bend), then it was close, then I found it, then I had to take my arms wide as I could lay my palms flat, my back still rounded out, now my back is reasonably flat and head nearly touches my shins (most days ;)) . The physicality of my practice is continually evolving and often a step forward is proceeded by a step backwards. I’ve noticed this so much more since the birth of my daughter 16 months ago, while my strength and flexibility are probably ‘better’ than before I was pregnant, some asana have escaped me completely, such as padmasana (lotus pose) it’ll be there one day.

Recently, it is the yoga off the mat that has me thinking about change, how yoga changes us. This thought process has come about through a change I recently went through, I had a skin cancer removed. No big deal, except it kind of was- 11 stitches in my face 2 x internal, 9 x external. The face I’ve known for 30 years, the face while not the most perfect, I’m rather fond of. Its the face my soul resides underneath, the face that my two favorite people my husband and daughter know, love and trust.

My face has changed forever and what surprises me is, I’m ok with it. What has this got to do with yoga i hear you ask? My answer, heaps! How I was barely attached to the vanity of it, even now, while it still looks angry and is healing and people stare at it and when strangers ask me what happened, I view their curiosity with compassion. (ok, I’ve had my moments where I’ve been a little attached to the vanity but I love this Ram Dass quote In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring each other that our costumes of identity are on straight. My besties and husband had to do a little reassuring)

When I first had it cut out and the stitches were tight and painful, I didn’t wallow, I felt so blessed that the dermatologist had found it, it was removed and that as a person that grew up in harsh Australian desert was having her first spot cut out at 30.

Each day as I rub rosehip oil into the long red and purple healing scar with gratitude I think about how lucky I am to be able to have this scar to encourage my daughter to wear a hat and sunscreen when she plays outside and part of me secretly hopes she will think the scar is pretty cool, maybe even a bit like Harry Potter’s. I have gratitude I have this experience to be more careful outside in the sun, gratitude for the guts to wear fabulous hats. Gratitude that maybe my story will make you mindful of any changes to your skin and your sun exposure.

It is yoga that has taught me to not be so attached to the ‘shell’, yoga that has taught me to be compassionate to find gratitude and accept things and the way they unfold. It is this experience that has had me stop and go, wow I’ve really changed, yoga has changed me.

Thanks, yoga.

Namaste- don’t forget to slip, slop, slap! xxx

Stitches

Home Practice: Part 1

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Recently some friends have been asking me for suggestions for doing yoga at home- how to sequence asana and what makes a pretty solid practice. So I thought I would share some of what I know, on the advice of my best friend, Brooke :). I think attending regular classes for at least the first year of your practice is imperative and checking back with a teacher frequently is also very important. It is so easy to form bad habits and much harder to correct them, bad habits can also result in injury or muscle imbalances. I also think that the best yoga resourse is BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga which includes weekly practices and detailed intstruction on how to perform asana correctly. It is considered the yoga bible 🙂 

Some Notes

Do not perform inversions when menstruating, the consensus is still out on whether practicing inversions during menstruation can result in polycystic ovaries syndrome or endometriosis but it is a long held belief that it does. For some women menstruation can be a time of low energy and its important to listen and honor your body’s messages. Menstruation is considered apana vayu one of the five vital forces, apana vayu is considered downward and outward energy and it is thought that inversions contradict this flow of energy in the body. You may also feel that backbends or twists disturb your period so be curious about your body and listen to its responses. A dynamic practice leading up to and post your period is highly recommended and beneficial.

Sequencing, is very important you can’t forward bend of twist until you have sufficiently lengthened the spine . Generally speaking a good way to sequence poses is a small warm up, standing poses, inversions, backbends, twists and then forward bends. Always seal your practice with savasana and paying gratitude to yourself for making an investment in your health and wellbeing. 

I like to work with the lunar cycle as the moon has a powerful effect on our energy levels and moods. During full moon week my practice has an emphasis of on backbends and twists, during the waning moon it is forward bends, new moon inversions and waxing moon is standing pose week. In saying this it is important to have a well rounded daily practice that incorporates elements from the above list. 

Practice

I have heard lots of people say they practice Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskar (see image below) on a daily basis but nothing else. This is great and 2 x rounds of Surya Namaskar can be a great warm up but too much Surya Namaskar can really overwork the shoulders and under work the legs, so I would advise to add a few standing poses- you even build in some standing poses into the vinyasa or flow of postures. For a home practice I do believe it is a great start, it is easy and intuitive to move with the breath and can easily be adapted for those that require it. 

When you come to step 5. the lunge you could easily come into virbhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) and trikonasana (triange pose) and the same on the second side.

Virabhadrasana 2. see the torso remains over the hips and the knee moves more to the little toe edge side of the foot so you don’t roll in on your ankles.
Trikonasana, fore most people coming to the shin with a light horse shoe grip is better then straining to come to the floor. See the back heel is in line with the front foot instep. Feel you rotate the lower ribs around to make your torso more parallel to the ceiling. If it troubles your neck to look up, simply look forward or down.

In the morning it is best to practice dynamic energetic poses to wake up the body and light the fire in your belly. While if you find yourself practicing in the evening make it a more passive practice and always try to not eat for two hours before a practice. On recommendation from my yogi friend Dominique some almonds, seeds and dried fruit is a great little energy booster if you think you may pass out during your practice! Especially in winter be mindful that you have enough energy. Everyday at some point I practice supta padangusthasana, I find it lengthens and stabalises the lower back and can be a great way to really evaluate how the body feels on a daily basis. 

Supta Padangusthasana. You can easily use a belt or dressing gown belt as a strap. Starting with both feet to the wall can be a great assistance, don’t forget about the down leg, its your foundation. Don’t let the down hip lift when taking the leg out to the side think about anchoring through the down hip and buttocks.

This is a good start, but a well rounded practice involves additional hip openers, abdominal work, deeper back and forward bends, but I think this a is a good start to taking your practice home. spending some time lying out on your mat to begin with watching your breath is a nice addition. Remembering that yoga isn’t just physical postures and if you wanted to take your practice to the next level BKS Iyengar’s Light on Pranayama is a great introduction to breathing exercises. Our breath is a wonderful tool and can have profound effects on our health and wellbeing. 

I’ll continue to post suggestions for your home practice, but remember some days simple legs up the wall may be all you need. Happy yoga-ing but remember yoga is devotional practice so always come to the mat practicing ahimsa or non-violence, you are your greatest teacher. 

Namaste xxx

 

Yoga Intensive- the rest of the week….

ImageThe thing about yoga for many people and certainly for myself, it increases your sensitivity, five of the seven mornings of the intensive I cried. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, my tears often caught me by surprise as i felt the spontaneous warm drops spring from my eyes. Often I was trying to send the energy I was creating in my practice to a friend in need and other times I was releasing (or they were tears of petulance because I didn’t want the intensive to end!!). Yoga has brought about such an awareness of my emotional self and who I am, my body and the space around me- but unfortunately this awareness doesn’t come with an instruction manual and it can be difficult when you are looking at exactly who you are and unsure of whether you like it. Luckily yoga is also a vehicle for change and learning acceptance and the art of compassion can all come about through a practice. 

Each morning i was so surprised at how easy it was to wake up, get up and greet the freshness of each day. In Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, it is optimal to rise before the sun and the first thing that you ingest for the day has a profound effect of how you feel for the remainder of the day- this week rather that a black coffee being the first thing i ingested I had lukewarm water with chlorophyll, and I think that this indeed had a profound effect on how I felt. My digestion has felt quieter, I have eaten and slept less but had more energy, I think being gluten free has helped in this too. I noticed in my inversions there is a lightness, rather than using brute strength and feeling somewhat like a baby elephant I was able to float up. (for the first time I could get into Pincha Mayurasana/forearm balance it felt releasing, I felt strong…and yes, I made my husband take a photograph of it!) 

Of the intensive the actual classes, the asana and the sequences felt timeless, the mornings have felt so magical and so right but then working the 5 working days of the week have been difficult. Possibly this is something that I realised about the intensive, there are factors in my life that make me quite unhappy. 

Another thing I realised about myself during this week is the way i habitually hold my diaphragm and upper abdominals and the toll this is taking on my physical, energetic and emotional body. I am now constantly reminding myself to relax. (a trip to the physio last night confirmed my suspicions of the problems this was causing.)  

It’s true that I didn’t want the intensive to end, but it has taught be so much about how wonderful discipline can be, while I usually practice yoga daily, some of that is rolling around on the mat, it is never practiced at the same time and my home practice has never had such a quietening effect of my whole body. I realise how valuable this mental quietness is and how wonderful my body feels, how sparkly my eyes are and how much more care I have for myself. I am determined to find much more ritual in my home practice, I am determined to be up before the sun, most of the week 😉 

 

With all of my heart I would like to thank my wonderful teacher, Wendy. 

Namaste. 

xxxx

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

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