Recently, on BBC Radio Bristol's 'Clueless' program, we were invited to be their special 'mystery' destination for their clue-led treasure hunt. Through a series of cryptic clues, callers had to ring in to the program and help find the location of the mystery place - US! All clues led to Bristol YogaSpace and once we were found I chatted with the show presenters where we laugh about the difficulties of starting out with yoga. Take a listen. We talk about breath-centred yoga practice which we specialise in at Bristol YogaSpace.
It is always interesting to hear about someone's first experience of yoga like the presenter in the radio chat who felt like she might never go back. She found her first class too challenging -- so for a long-term and sustainable practice, it probably isn't a good starting point. You want to have a good experience, feel engaged in what you are doing, revitalised by a positive experience, but not so challenged that you might not continue.
There is always a good starting place, and in yoga, there is always something you can do, now matter what your age or physical ability. This starting point will be different for each of us depending on our lifestyle and constitution A group class typically starts with body movements and breathwork but if your body isn't well or strong, then other starting points might be a better route for your yoga practice. But hopefully the presenter will find a class that she finds enjoyable and engaging, and something she can't wait to do again.
Maybe you first tried it through a YouTube video or DVD (my first experience was through a video cassette!). Or perhaps you tried a yoga class, or had a more meditative yoga experience, perhaps a podcast or guided audio practice. There are so many ways to first experience yoga.
Don't be disheartened if you try it and it doesn't feel right. Each teacher will teach what they found helpful and important so finding a teacher you feel comfortable with and aligned too, who can support you through the initial stages of your developing yoga skills will help you get the most benefit from yoga.
Please do get in touch if we can help you get started, whether in a group class or with private lessons to discover and develop your journey with yoga.
Hot yoga is really popular as an alternative to regular temperature yoga classes. Hot yoga is a studio-based yoga practice in a super-heated room (42 degrees celcius - imagine Egypt in the summer then pour in extra humidity) where the aim is to work through a physical yoga practice and sweat a ton, then lie down and bask in the heat as you recover from the effort. It's intense and many people love it.
Why super heat a yoga class?
The claims about benefits of hot yoga practice are many:
- Detoxes the body
- Sweating is good for you
- Improved flexibility
... and so on.
The science may not back this up, but those who love it feel the results and swear by it. Those who don't love it, probably never go back.
I fall into the latter camp and find the claims to be subjective but if it benefits you and you enjoy it, then keep doing it.
As with all physical yoga practices, be cautious not to over stretch and be particularly careful with your joints, that they stay within a safe and comfortable range of motion. I have had many injured hot yoga practitioners come with knee, elbow and shoulder injuries from hot yoga classes so go carefully. Sometimes when the heat is on and the practice is intense, it is hard to listen to the inner voice advising you to ease off. Hot yoga can get competitive and that makes it harder to draw back from a pose when necessary. So applying your own sensible body-awareness skills to your practice is paramount when the heat intensity is turned up.
Is it more beneficial than not-hot yoga?
I'm biased, as I've been practicing yoga for 20 years and find an ambient room or even a cool space a wonderful way to practice. I can engage fully in my yoga practice when I'm able to turn the attention inwards rather than feeling overly hot or sweaty. I tend to heat up during my practice anyway, even if just taking a breathing (pranayama) practice.
I recently came across an interesting thesis which undertook a study comparing hot yoga practitioners alongside regular temperature Hatha yoga practitioners. The aim was to measure the effects of yoga practice on physiological and psychological fitness in young men and women over an 8-week period. Health metrics that were monitored include BMI, blood pressure, flexibility, peak oxygen consumption, back depression, anxiety and depression metrics.
Hot yoga participants worked at a significantly higher cardiovascular intensity and spent more time at a higher heart rate throughout the classes. But even with this, over the 8-week period, both hot yoga and Hatha yoga groups saw the same improvements in body composition and flexibility and also in anxiety and depression scores. So the outcome observations suggest that there are real, significant health benefits to engaging in both forms of yoga practice but there was no final measure on any additional psychological or physiological benefits gained by hot yoga training.
So by all means, do hot yoga practice if you love it and feel no ill effects from it, but from what we can tell, the health benefits are not greater doing it in a hot and sweaty room.
Another article to read more on this can be found here >
Home yoga practice?
I'm a big advocate of home yoga practice. Little and often can often bring about the most benefit - it is free to everyone and has an intimacy to it that you rarely get in the classroom. Ask any of my students who get a free home yoga practice handout at the end of each term to go and try at home. So learning your yoga practice skills in a group class or with personal yoga tuition and then starting to apply those skills in your home practice is a wonderful way to practice yoga. I've written about home yoga practice before here.
One of the limiting factors to hot yoga practice is that you have to go to the studio regularly to do this, and the costs add up. (Don't get me started on Mr Bikram, the hot yoga business mogul and his exuberant love of money and Rolls Royces - as a business model he turned hot yoga into a money spinner). Of course the communities that develop around group classes are wonderful and valuable, but the tie in to the studio and the costs involved can become problematic.
What about subtlety in yoga practice?
Beyond the intense physicality of the hot yoga class, also remember there is an inner essence to yoga practice. The internal connection through body, breath and mental focusing that go beyond the measurable health metrics outlined in the comparative study. I'm not sure the subtlety of my pranayama or meditation practice would be possible in an intensely heated environment yet the crown of my yoga practice can often be found here (thus my bias to comfortable temperature practice). My inner meditative focus might be externally drawn to feeling overly hot or to the physical sensations of sweating. But I get that some folks need the intensity of a very physical practice to keep them focused out of their busy minds.
I guess my final thought is that usually any yoga practice is better than no practice - so ultimately do whatever is likely to motivate you and do what you you will enjoy.
Thanks to Kalin Shephert Gawinski for sharing the abstract to their study from 2012.
Breathing well in yoga can seem tricky
As a beginner to yoga, it can seem difficult to keep the focus on the breath. It is common to find that you’ve been holding your breath and straining in some postures. Arms and legs are just about doing what the teacher has invited you to do - but your breath, well who knows?
This is particularly noticeable in a fast-paced or deeply strenuous class where the body is most dominant and anything else gets left behind as you work your way through the class.
So what if my breath isn't great?
Day to day we typically breath 12-15 breaths per minute. The rate, depth and quality of it can help adjust our levels of anxiety and stress, our immune system effectiveness and many more physical and mental health markers. Yoga offers profound teachings in the breath if we choose to listen that can support our health, wellbeing and awareness in our day to day lives.
Familiarity helps to develop our breath focus
Gradually, with familiarity of a regular yoga practice, we can start to remember to breathe with a flowing and calmer breath. And eventually the breath and movements start to link together more. From here we can start to take that further still and refine into a more advanced yoga practice.
Once you feel you are able to link the breath and movements together, then the power of the breath can really start to be harnessed and the refinement and quality of our yoga practice can bloom. Our nervous system will feel immense benefit from working skilfully with breath centring and we can move beyond the endorphin highs of vigorous and strenuous yoga practice and move towards maturing our yoga practice.
The breath powers our yoga practice
Sounds obvious, of course we need to breath to power everything that we do or we’ll collapse in a heap. But it is easy to forget about the quality of our breath when distracted or physically strained. What if you eased back from the strain and found a spaciousness in the breath to develop the power of your yoga practice instead? What would that feel like? What could it do to your yoga practice?
What if we found our physical alignment from our breath?
We often listen to the technical instruction from the yoga teacher: move your foot here, rotate your hip there, etc... Breath-centred practice can support us to more naturally open and expand your body into a posture, rather than teaching instruction being the main driver. Explore how your breath can position you into a natural alignment from within that is unique to your body structure and your deepening breath.
Starting out with breath-centred yoga practice
The classes at Bristol YogaSpace work with a deeply breath-centred approach to yoga. Rather than simply coordinating with our breath, which is common in many Vinyasa, Flow or Ashtanga yoga practices, we centre ourselves in the breath more deeply and use it to power the practice and direct the postures and focus.
When I started out some 20 years ago I practiced Ashtanga yoga, a vigourous and strong yoga practice, then Iyengar yoga which is technical and detailed in its formal postures. But I eventually discovered a truly breath-centred approach in Viniyoga and practice was transformed for me.
Perhaps ask your teacher more about the breath when you feel ready or curious or come along to a Viniyoga class which specialises in breath-centred yoga practice, or a yoga workshop to support you to develop more breath centring in your yoga practice.
Enjoy your yoga practice.
“Without breath, it isn’t yoga – it is like a river without water”
The gentle yoga class was quieter but always nice to be able to offer a more adapted and therapeutic approach to yoga practice for those who want to start there. Small groups are ideal for this approach to yoga so that we can ensure that it is adapted and suitable for you.
We are pleased to say we raised £163.28 for Off the Record, the local Bristol charity providing free mental health support for young people. Thanks for your donations and the donation jar is there this week for anyone who wants to drop-off a donation who didn't get a chance on Saturday.
It was a lovely chance to collaborate with many of the other independent yoga studios in Bristol too. Our lovely neighbours, Yogawest, who offer the more alignment based Iyengar yoga joined in, Yogafurie who offer hot yoga in Ashley Down, Yogasara and Bristol City Yoga in Stokes Croft, and Flow yoga in Windmill Hill. It is so nice to collaborate with the other 6 studios, work together to share yoga to the broader Bristol community, and raise money for charity. It is great to demonstrate that in this day and age, not everything is competitive or trying to get ahead. We all love yoga and see if as a way to share our love of it with as many people as possible, bring people together and become more integrated with our communities as a collective. Looking forward to the 2018 yoga trail and working with the other yoga studios again to bring that to everyone.
Thanks again for coming and we welcome you back to the YogaSpace studio in Bishopston soon!
Church halls can suck
Church halls are not ideal teaching or practice spaces. I still teach on Thursday evenings in Westbury Park with limited heating, lentils leftover on the floor from the preschool earlier in the day, and don’t even get me started about the red glitter stuck to the yoga mats that will remind my students when they get home that they did cobra posture as the shiny specks remain on their foreheads. But I value these classes in many ways and value the students who come so enjoy teaching them anyway
How I came to own a yoga studio
I didn’t have big ambitions for what I was trying to do, just a space, a resource, to teach what my teacher Paul Harvey had taught me and what I had discovered along the way, and pass on this helpful stuff that I was privileged to be able to have time to study and practice.
Before starting the studio in 2009 I had a good job that I enjoyed and was teaching yoga part-time in the evenings in the church hall. I didn’t really have plans to start a yoga studio. But one morning I was early to an appointment with my hairdresser on Park Row, so was hanging around near her salon and noticed to sign advertising a space that was for rent. A great place for a yoga studio, right in the centre of Bristol. I recounted this to my hairdresser as I was in her chair and she mentioned that their basement was unused and I should take a look. I did and the seed of YogaSpace was planted. The yoga centre at 10 Park Row opened a couple of months later.
At first it was just me teaching classes. Then once the yoga centre started, many teachers approached me to be able to teach there. Naomi started up her Tuesday evening classes which she still runs now. I navigated the changing yoga landscape as best I could, found some wonderful teachers along the way, and hopefully have offered teachings and classes that the students of YogaSpace have found helpful and valuable and created a studio space that the teachers have enjoyed teaching in.
Push yourself, or restore yourself? Or neither...
Eventually though my heart was less and less in it as I found myself managing a centre and lots of other teachers and having less time for my own teaching and study. And also finding that the style of modern yoga practice was changing in a direction that I didn’t feel aligned to. It felt more and more fueled by the need to exert, sweat and push ourselves, or on the flip side of that, to relax and restore. To ‘get’ somewhere with our practice.
How do you 'open your heart'?
Yoga seemed to be becoming more physical, entertaining, challenging, expressive, maybe with a sprinkling of yoga philosophy and perhaps esoteric symbolism. I kept coming across romantic sounding notions of ‘opening your heart’ (symbolically interesting when presented thoughtfully and with context but otherwise a phrase that in my opinion in the context of yoga practice needs further examination). I needed a rethink of what I was spending my time doing. My compass felt a little off kilter. I had somehow found myself hosting and promoting classes that while enjoyable and of use to those who attend, I didn’t personally love.
Paul Harvey's yoga centre, Yoganjali
Then my teacher, Paul Harvey, decided to pass on his yoga studio as he was going to be primarily teaching smaller groups and 121 yoga ongoing and didn’t have need of a larger studio space. His beautiful studio, Yoganjali, established in 1998 and where I had taken my teacher training was in need of a new owner. It’s an ideal space, down a quiet cul-de-sac in the heart of Bishopston. If you could design a yoga studio from scratch, this would be it - beautiful, quiet, simple, functional, warm, light, tranquil, and just off a bustling high street. My personal history with yoga was embedded here, steeped in the tradition of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar.
No brand names or styles
So here I am, now based at Bristol YogaSpace in Bishopston, with like-minded teachers, without a brand name or ‘styled’ yoga approach, just simple, breath-centred yoga orientated towards personalised yoga practice, taught in small groups or 121. And I love it.
Good luck to Bristol Yoga Centre!
Naomi I’m sure will do a wonderful job with Bristol Yoga Centre. It is a lovely studio space and I loved the 7-years I spent there building a vibrant yoga community. I miss the teachers and students and I’m sure our paths will continue to cross, but I love where I find myself. I’ve gone back to my roots of teaching what I have a firm conviction about, and returning to study with Paul Harvey for the rest of the year. This time around, I’m hoping to keep my compass more aligned and closer to my heart. I wish Naomi and all those adventurers out there happy travels and very best wishes with all the other wonderful stuff!