Each week in my yoga classes in Bristol, I see people come in to class feeling tired, perhaps agitated by their day, and usually more than a little lack lustre. When they leave, there is a noticeable difference in how they are. They are usually settled, calmer, and more comfortable in themselves. A better version of themselves. They have changed.
During the class we move the body, opening, expanding, stretching, challenging, engaging and working the entire body in some way. We breathe deeply for the full class, slowing and extending the breath where possible. And we try to focus on ourselves and our breath.
I came across a fascinating talk by Amy Cuddy recently called 'Your body language shapes who you are'.
Amy is a social psychologist. She researches body language at Harvard Business School and she was interested in researching how body language not only effects other people's perceptions of us, but how it actually effects our own body chemistry.
In her research she concluded that by standing up tall with the feet apart and with the arms raised and open for only 2 minutes daily, we can raise our testosterone levels (dominance hormone supporting a confident outlook), and reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones). Simply by changing our body position in this way, we are altering our hormones and brain chemistry. We are changing ourselves to not only feel but become more powerful, confident and laid back.
In yoga classes it is very likely that you'll do a lot of arm raising like she describes, standing with the feet apart, reaching up, opening up. Also combining this with bending forwards, twisting and so on. So her research suggests that we are actually changing ourselves and our hormones in a very real way by doing this.
I took two things from Amy Cuddy's inspiring talk
- firstly, that yoga postures seem very aligned to the body changes she talks about, and that by doing them you'll actually become more confident and laid back.
- and secondly, that only a little practice, taken regularly, can make a big difference!
Pass it on...
I love TED Talks
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I've recently been inspired by reading about minimalism
as an approach to living. I've been enjoying how it reflects many values that I hold close, and that I've been cultivating through my study and practice of yoga. It has also inspired me to have a really good clear out of my home!
The idea of living simply with less to enjoy life more is one that has taken more prominence for me since becoming a yoga teacher. I teach viniyoga - yoga that is applied carefully and adapted to suit those who are participating. Viniyoga embodies a minimalist approach to yoga practice. It doesn't require a super heated yoga studio, or any special kit (no blocks, belts, bolsters or even mats required). Nor does it require a certain level of fitness or skill to participate. All you need is you, your body, your breath, and your attention. In fact this is why it initially appealed to me. I wanted to start practicing yoga at home but found the foam blocks, folding chair, bolster, strap and bricks used in class rather unwieldy and off-putting to home practice, and questioned how essential they really were. Upon discovering the simplicity of viniyoga I was hooked, home practice became encouraged, and there has been no looking back.
I often do use a sticky yoga mat, but at home I'm equally happy practicing on a carpet (or even floorboards if necessary as I did last week when I was away but it's a little less comfortable). I use my body's own weight to create resistance to help strengthen and energise as I practice the various postures (asana) of yoga.
Viniyoga has a minimalist approach to the repertoire of asana usually practiced. At it's core there are a carefully selected set of primary asana, each serving an important purpose. These asana are gradually explored in further and further depth, with a deepening emphasis on breath and focus and techniques around these as the practice advances. This makes it a very accessible form of yoga practice as you can deepen your yoga practice and continue to develop without the need for a gymnast's or dancer's body. Let's face it, if you started practicing yoga as an adult, that isn't a realistic ambition for most people.
And beyond the daily bodywork and breathwork to maintain and develop our health, yoga cultivates mindful compassionate living, minimising the dependence on material attributes in our lives so that we have space to spend each day in an enjoyable, meaningful way. A wonderful way to live with amazing potential.
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Yoga practice isn't just confined to the mat. The ancient discipline suggests bringing intention to how you conduct yourself - including what you consume. So choosing to eat foods that benefit you both inside and out, are part of practicing yoga throughout your day. But how to do this and still enjoy what you eat?I love quinoa (pronounced 'kin wa') which is a grain originally from South America. My friends are bored of me saying how great it is and coming up with new and interesting ways of eating it, so I thought I'd share my favourite recipe with you in case you hadn't discovered it yet. It also happens to be the International Year of Quinoa as designated by the United Nations as it is so easy to grow and so nutritious. It isn't just a grain, it is a seed packed full of protein, calcium and all things good.
Its delicious (when spiced up a little), nutritious, good for you and our rather lovely planet. Anyway, jump on the band wagon and try it!
~~~Spicy Quinoa Salad1 cup of uncooked quinoa 2 cups of boiling water
2 cloves of garlic1 red pepper1 cup of cooked sweetcorn1 tin of black or adzuki (or any other) beans
drained1 tsp hot sauce or chopped chilli 1/2 tsp cumin powder2 tbsp lime juice2 tbsp olive oilsalt and pepper to tastehandful of fresh chopped corianderStep 1: Cook the quinoa. Add the quinoa and boiling water in a pan, put the lid on and simmer for 10 mins, then turn off the heat and leave for 10 more mins with the lid on. Then fluff with a fork and allow to cool.Step 2: While the quinoa is cooking, lightly saute the onion, garlic and red pepper, and cook the sweetcorn.Step 3:
Mix together the sweetcorn, beans, hot sauce, cumin, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and coriander.Step 4: Once the quinoa has cooled enough, mix all together in a big bowl and enjoy!
Check out this great quinoa recipe site www.LoveQuinoaRecipes.com
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After being asked about it for ages by some of my male friends, we've finally decided to start up a men's yoga class at YogaSpace on Saturday mornings (9.30am, all levels of fitness and stiffness welcome!).
Fiona is a fab teacher who is both dynamic and knowledgable and will break down each of the poses to make them accessible and inspire you to challenge yourself. She is also great at anatomy and working with stiffness and injury so you'll be in safe hands. Men's yoga isn't different necessarily, but it is nice to be in a group where you feel comfortable and men tend to be stiffer in women, particularly in the legs and back, and in need of better core strength, so the classes will be taylored to focus on this. Traditionally yoga was only for men and it is only the last 50 years or so that it has been opened up to women by pioneers such as Krishnamacharya and Iyengar. So tell your friends and blokes who would benefit from a bit more strength, flexibility and de-stressing in their lives!Back to YogaSpace homepage
As we set our good intentions for the new year, it is sometimes helpful to get some inspiration...
The Dalai Lama shared some wonderful advice on how to live in the new millenium, and I love to read them at the start of each year.
Enjoy in a short video or read below!
The Dalai Lama's 18 rules for living
1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Respect for self 2. Respect for others 3. Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it
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A common complaint - stiff shoulders, limited mobility in the neck and discomfort in the upper back, shoulder, neck area. Accumulated tension, often caused by working at a desk, poor posture, cycling etc. all contribute to tension and stiffness related pain. There are some great yoga postures that gently get to the root of the problem and release blockages and free up the area. And without them, or regular massage, it doesn't resolve by itself. We don't really do any natural movements that will release that part of the body, unless we make the extra effort. So it just gets worse over time. So
many of us hunch our shoulders and have a rounded upper back as a result. It is good to see yoga being clinically researched to demonstrate how it can help. I see benefits in my students and anecdotally hear how it helps them regularly. I currently have two yoga therapy students who are greatly benefitting from the gentle releasing of the shoulders and neck. You need to work carefully and gradually, but gentle stretching and movements will help. See more on the research here:Journal of Pain Research paper
Yoga Journal Articlehttp://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2012/12/yoga-for-neck-pain.htmlGet in touch to find out more about how yoga can help you if you suffer from neck pain. firstname.lastname@example.orgBack to homepage >
Affecting up to a third of breast cancer survivors, fatigue can't be underestimated for its impact on a sufferers daily life. Fatigue can be debilitating and is often not taken seriously enough.
A study published recently has demonstrated the benefits of practicing yoga to help overcome persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors. 12 weeks of yoga practice in a randomised, controlled study not only found significant reduction in fatigue, but also increased vigor.
Details on the study can be found here
(1). Also see the British Wheel of Yoga article here
This doesn't mean heading to your nearest group yoga class however. When suffering from fatigue it is important not to be exhausted by the yoga. A group yoga class would likely be too much to begin with. Short, gentle, regular yoga practices would be more beneficial, gradually progressing as improvements are felt. Personalised home yoga practice
, or therapeutically applied yoga
, is most effective when embarking on yoga for those suffering from fatigue. Get in touch
for more info on getting started with your own home practice designed to meet your health and energy needs.
(1) Bower, J. E., Garet, D., Sternlieb, B., Ganz, P. A., Irwin, M. R., Olmstead, R. and Greendale, G. (2012), Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors. Cancer, 118: 3766–3775. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26702
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Many fitness classes are available just to drop-in whenever you feel like it. So why do we encourage students to take Yoga as a course of classes?Yoga is of course different from a fitness class, and our aim is to encourage everyone to get the most they can from learning about and practicing Yoga. It's true, you can get some of the benefits from your very first Yoga class, or by turning up every now and again to a class. We are very open to students coming along to classes in that way. Simply by stretching and moving the body, and breathing more deeply, you are starting to energise and open up a bit more. But this is just the very tip of a rather large iceburg, and our aim is to deepen your experience. One of the aims of Yoga is not only to improve your overall health, but also your wellbeing, and much more besides. This includes physical and mental wellbeing. Yoga is working not only at the physical level, but also on the mind, and many of the practices of Yoga aim to help cultivate clear thinking and a sense of connection to your body, and also aim to open up and release the tension and energy in the body.
By committing to a course of Yoga, you are actually taking the first step towards disciplining your body and mind, agreeing that every week, whether or not you mind or body is saying to you you'll give it a miss this week, you turn up anyway and work on cultivating positive practices. And you'll always be glad you did. Over the weeks of the course, you'll start to become familiar with the basic, foundation aspects of the postures, and get to know your bodies stiffnesses and weaknesses feeling them gradually improving. You'll also start to learn the more subtle aspects of practice: your ability to gradually control your breathing (in turn starting to control your over-active mind and intensifying what you are able to achieve in each posture), developing your focus and attention during practice, releasing deeply held tension and blocks, and the ability to gradually deepen your weekly experience. It's true, some of the techniques take years to learn, but each week you gradually take it further, and each term, you'll build on the various layers of practice that will enhance your experience and get the most benefit. I've been practicing Yoga for many years, and I still take regularl classes and always learn something new. Regular practice also makes practicing Yoga safer. Allowing your body to become familiar and confident with the unusual positions you may find yourself in. By regularly stretching and maintaining health in the muscles, joints you can worry less about if you can get into the postures and start to develop the more subtle aspects of practice. We're just getting going with the Autumn term where there are many Yoga Courses you can enrol in. Our experienced teachers are
passionate about Yoga and all of us have studied the philosophy and methodologies of Yoga in depth over many years giving us the opportunity to carefully structure the classes so that they are appropriate to develop each student. Feel free to get in touch to find out more. Don't just do Yoga, learn YogaBack to homepage
I'm enjoying a good book by Tim Parks at the moment, 'Teach us to sit still: a sceptics guide to health and healing'
. It's a brilliantly honest account of a middle-aged academic's journey to overcoming chronic health issues through relaxation and meditation. I highly recommend it, a good read (perhaps skipping the literary references if not your thing) with amazing descriptions of what it is to struggle with the process of meditation. And he really is a sceptic so one I'll be passing it on to a couple of people who might be able to relate!
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There are many inspiring stories of how practicing yoga has helped to support people with serious health problems back to full health. Here is a wonderful account of an NBA basketball player struck down with a serious kidney condition which resulted in a kidney transplant, and how his dedicated practice of yoga helped save his life and his career as a professional athlete...Read more in this inspiring post by Trevor Kearney...Back to homepage >