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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Bristol Yoga Trail on Saturday
Over 20 FREE yoga classes across 6 locations in Bristol! Saturday was a chance to explore the wonderful variety of yoga available in our city. We are lucky to have such a rich array of yoga teachers, yoga classes and yoga participants and there really is something for everyone, new and old. We were thrilled to welcome so many students to YogaSpace on Saturday who were keen to explore our classes. We are very sorry to those who couldn't fit in as a couple of the classes were completely packed and we just couldn't fit anymore in! We loved the range of students, from complete beginners to some who had been practicing for 25+ year. And we were inspired by the open questions and range of experiences that you all came with.
We would love to welcome back students new and old to yoga classes in the meantime, and we very much look forward to next years' Bristol Yoga Trail!Back to Bristol YogaSpace homepage.
The Bristol yoga community are joining together on September 14th 2013 for our first annual Bristol Yoga Trail! An open day of free yoga classes and events across 6 locations in Bristol. It's a wonderful chance to join in and explore the different yoga centres in Bristol, try different yoga styles and yoga classes. Or attend a talk or see a yoga film later at YogaWest in the evening. All are welcome and the classes will be free and open to all levels and abilities of fitness. No need to book, simply join in and enjoy!
There is Hot Yoga with Ed at YogaFurie, Iyengar Yoga with YogaWest, and a mix of different yoga styles at Bristol City Yoga, Wilder Studios and Yogasara. And we at Bristol YogaSpace are offering 3 viniyoga classes and a hatha yoga class for you to enjoy. Plus if you visit all 6 locations in the day, and get your leaflet stamped at each centre, you can get a free yoga class at the centre of your choice.
Save the date and tell your friends:
Bristol Yoga Trail, September 14th 2013For more info and the schedule of free yoga classes and events visit here:www.bristolyogatrail.wordpress.com#bristolyogatrailBack to the Bristol YogaSpace homepage
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 >
Well done to Pilates teachers Emily and Linda who raised over £800 for the charity "Breakthrough Breast Cancer" at YogaSpace on Saturday!
They ran Pilates classes all through the day, creating a wonderful, welcoming atmosphere that was fun and inspiring, and they put so much energy into making the day a huge success!
From pink balloons everywhere to pink strawberry cup cakes on sale, to Linda's pink wig, and even pink worn by some of the students, it was a wonderful and positive event. YogaSpace was delighted to host the day and hope it plays its small part in helping to make breast cancer a disease of the past. Well done to everyone who helped make it a successful day!xxReturn to the YogaSpace homepage
The good news is that Yoga is becoming increasingly popular and many of us are starting to realise and take advantage of all that it has to offer. Two new yoga studios have opened their doors this month which is a wonderful addition to the range of yoga classes available in Bristol. YogaWest in Bishopston has reopened with new owners Diana and Mike Penny - a warm welcome to BristolBCY Bishopston is a brand new branch of BCY (Bristol City Yoga) on
Kennington Avenue near Ashley Down RoadThe ancient philosophy and methodology that is Yoga is becoming more and more accessible to us here in the west and has so much relevance to our lives today. If you haven't already, come along to a Yoga class soon (the YogaSpace term is about to get started and we always recommend taking a course of yoga wherever possible rather than a few one-off classes) and start to experience and learn the tools and practices that can support daily life and deeply enhance your wellbeing (and the wellbeing of those around you too!). Back to homepage
Friday evening and YogaSpace is full with almost 30 people celebrating the new yoga centre in Bristol. Paul Harvey
, a deeply knowledgeable yoga teacher and my teacher for almost 5 years led the evening which included a wide range of students from experienced yoga teachers to interested beginners.
Paul led us through discussions about yoga, some yoga practices, chanting and amusing anecdotes about his time in India with some of the great teachers over the past 30 years or so. The discussions were focused around body, breath, mind and beyond, leading us into the more mystical aspects of yoga.
He started with discussions about Hatha yoga as body and energy work, using yoga as a starting point for physical health. Then leading in to ideas about breathing (pranayama) with specific techniques to aid our mental clarity and concentration. We discussed the concept of 'prana' or energy, the 'glue' that gives us life. Who knows what prana actually is, science doesn't quite define yet or describe it yet either, but something in us is our undefinable life force, stronger and more vital in some than in others, energy that is variable from day to day that can't be described in chemical or scientific terms. (An interesting illustration of the elusive concept of prana is 'chronic fatigue syndrome', very real for many people, no currently understood medical cause or treatment, and the yoga model considers this to be an issue with prana or our life force.). In yoga the breath is used to influence prana so a great deal of emphasis is put on the breathing as we take postures (asana) and then as we learn to sit and just 'breathe' as we refine and deepen our yoga practice.
Asana are often used for fitness and flexibility but were traditionally intended to help us strengthen the body and give support and length to the spine, the central channel in the body which provides us with the ability to sit, breathe well, and ultimately to meditate well without the body causing a distraction by aching after 5 minutes! Good asana practice leads to good energy, prana/apana and chakra health. The secondary purpose of good asana practice is to refine the rest of the body, for good structural and systemic health.
We took a crash course in chanting some sanskit chants. 'Yogena yogo' helped to take us out of our normal frame of mind, perhaps we found it uncomfortable or odd, perhaps we enjoyed the sounds and the group integration into one voice and the focus needed to listen and then repeat the different sanskit sounds. Either way, we felt different when the chanting was finished, and isn't that part of the point of yoga, to help us see things slightly differently and explore our reaction to resistances in our body and mind.
We talked about pranayama, the practice of controlling the breathing in different ways, a discipline often not taught in a group yoga class. We discussed the use of breath in asana to help develop a long, sustained, smooth breath so that when we practice pranayama, we have a trained breath with stamina that we can then work with. A Sivananda teacher raised an interesting point that in the Sivananda yoga tradition she was studying, they are advised not to teach pranayama unless the student has a pure body free from meat and alcohol, otherwise pranayama would be worse for you than not doing it at all. As Paul discussed this with her, he referred to the origin of the teaching which has Hindu principal's at it's heart. Sivananda brings a Hindu interpretation to yoga, coming from a Vedanta tradition, and blends yoga and Hindu teachings. The 'Yoga Sutras
', a seminal and ancient yoga text by Patanjali which is studied and respected by most who teach yoga, don't mention being vegetarian or the requirement of purity before learning pranayama. There wasn't disagreement that this was a good thing, just a clarification of where the teaching was coming from and understanding of what Yoga teaches us and what religion teaches us. Yoga can be interpretted without any religious influence as a set of practices for health and transformation and Patanjali is careful not to include religion in his teachings, even though it was written over 2,000 years ago.
We took some group asana practice before having a break and coming back to a discussion about Raja yoga. The focus now moved on the the mind and beyond. Yoga classes that teach asana are often for its own fitness purposes, but it was traditionally taught to ultimately train the mind. Asana and pranayama are used to provide us with a stable mind and body with the intention to prepare us for meditation and ultimately a connection with something beyond ourselves. Reflection and meditation require discipline, which requires training and preparation to be able to effectively practice these. As death looms closer for us in our later years, an enquiry into what might lie beyond death drives many to religion, or it can lead to reflective meditation and an enquiry into what life is all about and perhaps exploring something in us that might be permenant and beyond death. Or it might lead to busy, full lives full of activities and friendships that help us avoid thinking about death at all! Meditation allows space to explore or to just 'be' and ultimately not worry about it...
I left the evening feeling that YogaSpace
had been filled with teachings that got right to the heart of yoga. The warmth of the group and the good wishes from Paul for the new yoga centre were an inspiration to me and to YogaSpace. And we raised £235 for the Julian Trust Night Shelter
! Thanks to everyone who came, to Paul for being so generous with his time and his teachings, and for making the evening such a special and memorable event.