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!
All forms of practice have their place at different times in life, and finding what suits you at is a very personal decision. The adaptable nature of viniyoga means it changes with you as your life changes, rather than requiring that you strive to sustain the same standardised forms of practice. Viniyoga is sustainable and supportive as you deepen your yoga practice over the years.
The British Wheel of Yoga is an organisation that offers yoga teacher training and accreditation, and a good standard of teacher training. It is the national governing body for yoga and the largest yoga membership organisation in the country. It ensures a minimum standard of teacher training so that the teacher is experienced enough and knowledgeable enough to safely run a group yoga class for the wide range of participants that each class attracts. Many teacher training courses these days are available to take as 1-6 month intensives however the British Wheel still maintains that 2-years is the minimum time period to fully explore, train and prepare to become a yoga teacher. Part of the yoga teachers job is to guide participants to move beyond their familiar physical and mental comfort zone and to do this safely is key to good teaching. They also require annual continual professional development have a good quarterly magazine.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to teaching at the annual yoga teacher conference and hope to see you there!
See Clara's group yoga class schedule >
Do you know anyone who isn't busy? Really busy? Chances are you have a long list of things to do (once you've done all the things you need to do). And once you've done that, you'll find something else to keep you busy.
Radio 4 recently had a short article on how we are 'addicted' to being busy and I have to say it rang very true. As a society, it is almost a badge of achievement to say your really busy. We value you, the idea of doing, achieving, getting more things done. Really it is easier to be busy than to not be busy. But are 'busy' things distracting us from bigger objectives?
We're so used to our time being filled that I'm not sure we'd be entirely comfortable with having nothing to do. When we might actually get a chance to turn our attention beyond the daily distractions. Unfortunately stress, health dilemmas, being 'burnt out' are all modern day results. And what have we really achieved?
The idea that we are too busy to take care of ourselves, to maintain a balance in our lives between doing, achieving, and being and experiencing is a conversation we should probably all have with ourselves along our journey - regularly. Yoga practice, and other meditative practices try to encourage moving away from 'doing' and entering a state of 'being' as a regular habit. To become familiar with other aspects of our lives and see what arises as we do this. At least weekly, preferably daily, try simply 'being' for 5 or 10 minutes. Try sitting, gazing, breathing, meditating, a moving meditation such as yoga, whatever you like. Try it and see what happens...
Yoga offers us a chance to take practices that will help make our body and mind stronger, more stable and less rigid and allow them to come back to a more harmonious and well-balanced state of being.
If your a beginner to yoga, you may have an advantage to those experienced in yoga practice. You come to class being open and curious to what is about to happen. The uncertainty of not knowing what you are going to be doing in your class, the unfamiliar postures and ways of breathing all demand an attention and a focus to pulling it off. There is an openness and natural effort, and less expectation. These are qualities that are essential ingredients in cultivating a healthy body and mind and enabling all that yoga has to offer to unfold for us.
Without the right attitude of attention and alertness in our yoga practice, our mind and body will stay in its usual patterns. Most of us are creatures of habit -- we're slouching, breathing poorly, thinking about the same old stuff (e.g. what is for dinner or mentally shopping for whatever has captured our attention...) -- all habits that we aim to change through yoga practice.
Once we become experienced at yoga breathing, posture, technique and focus we can lose that fresh edge and that natural effort. We can become comfortable, perhaps complacent, or develop more unhelpful habits rather than less.
The freshness of the beginner is a gift and something experienced practitioners may need to strive to retain in each yoga practice. Those with experience can become mechanical and repetitive as they practice during class, missing the potential of each posture and each breath. The full physical and mental harmony available by taking simple practices, can be missing for the experienced practitioner.
As beginners to yoga we often feel like we don't know what we are doing. We should see this as a gift. Familiarity in yoga postures, breathing and the mechanics of meditation can be a double edged sword. Trying to maintain a 'beginners perspective' will help to benefit more fully from each practice.
Is picture above simply another beautiful sunset, simliar to ones you have seen before, or the start of an unexplored and unique day ahead...
Beginners and those with experience, bring along your beginners mind to our new Beginners classes starting with our new 7-week term which gets started June 5th.
Have a clear out
Have a physical clear out. Sort out a room, a cupboard, perhaps even just a drawer. Empty it out and only put back the things that you use and need. Creating physical space is a wonderful way of feeling more spacious internally too.
Let go of something old
We need to let go of something old first. Perhaps move on from a commitment, a habit, a club, a stagnant relationship, anything that feels like it isn't positive any longer and not worth reinvesting in. Re-assess your commitments and see what would be worth replacing with something more positive and vibrant.
Take a moment to count your blessings. Feeling grateful each day is a wonderful practice to cultivate. It enables you to appreciate what you have, to re-envigorate your enthusiasm for them, and importantly, to break the cycle of always wanting something that you don't have. Gratitude can help you feel more spacious and avoiding taking on more things that you may not actually need. Hey, I have opposable thumbs, thank you!
Move and breath
Yoga and other embodied meditative practices are wonderful at creating a feeling of physical and mental space. They support you to physically become stronger and de-compress yourself, enabling your body to be more more stable and move more easily and naturally - ie. feeling more spacious. Easing out tensions, stresses and blocks enables us to feel more comfortable with ourselves. And using the mental discplines of breath focus, moving and still meditations to allow us to let go of unhelpful thought patterns and feel mentally spacious and open are all essential to our wellbeing.
Notice the present moment
Practice being in the present moment more often. We often spend our days carrying around old memories and worries, or bring along anticipations and fears of the future, and perhaps feel burdened and weighed down. Try letting go of these and practice appreciating and fully experiencing each day and moment as it unfolds.
I always love reflecting on the Dalai Lamas 18 rules for living this time of year too.
Happy new year!
Sunday is World Yoga Day as designated by the United Nations. The UN "recognises the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations."
The system of yoga was developed thousands of years ago and has been one of India's greatest gifts to the world.
The human body and mind work far better with with regular use, and yoga offers a system of exercises, practices and teachings to enable the body and mind to achieve the greatest health possible.
Some of the practices are rather esoteric and may not suit our western culture as well, but many of the teachings and practices are applicable to everyone and a great way of improving our health, strength, energy, awareness and becoming able to live a full life. Tune the instrument of your body and mind and see what becomes possible.
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1) Listen to your body and be comfortable
Make sure you feel comfortable in all the poses and during breathing or meditation. Adjust to use more blocks and talk to the teacher about how to make it comfortable if it isn't. Perhaps lie on your side rather than on your back as your bump gets bigger (should be fine up to about 30 weeks but see how it makes you feel) and encourage yourself to take easier alternatives that are offered, especially during your third trimester.
2) Take it easy
If you are a beginner, then this will be easier for you, but if you are an experienced practitioner, you'll need to really focus on doing less than you are used to and practicing slightly differently. You want to stay strong and supple during your pregnancy to avoid common aches and pains, but be careful to avoid over stretching (see below) or straining.
3) Make space for your baby
Stand with the feet wider than your hips and be careful not to squash your bump or feel any pulling in the abdominal area. Forward bends are still wonderful to practice as long as you keep the legs wide, bend the knees and go as far as feels right for you. Avoid deep twists in the abdomen, keep any twisting lighter and 'above the bra strap' so your shoulders are twisting comfortably, but not your belly. Consider twisting in the opposite direction so the twist is more open in the belly area. Don't push yourself into anything.
4) Start any time after 13 weeks
The sooner you start, the more benefit you will gain and any time from 14 weeks is a safe time to join in. And you can continue all the way through as long as you feel good and keep enjoying the practice.
5) Keep your spine lengthened
Keeping your back in great shape will help support you all the way through your pregnancy. Focus on keeping your spine lengthened in asana and use your 'chin lock' (jalandara bandha) to help keep your spine and back of the neck long.
6) Be careful of over stretching
Your body is producing a hormone called Relaxin during your pregnancy which makes you more flexible. You might find you can stretch further than usual, but don't be tempted to take advantage of this extra stretch. Your tendons and ligaments won't thank you later if you stretch too far. Don't stretch 100% in anything, hold back a little and be cautious.
7) Engage your pelvic floor
Great to tone this area in advance of your labour. On the exhale, think about lifting and engaging your pelvic floor.
8) Avoid straining the abdomen
If doing leg lifting, only lift one leg at a time, not both, and be aware of the extra strain the abdominals are under and that they need to be more protected during this time. Talk to your teacher if your not sure.
9) Choose your class carefully
Your yoga teacher should have specialist pregnancy training, but you don't need a specialist pregnancy class unless you want one. (The British Wheel of Yoga offer a good standard of accreditation for pregnancy yoga training).
A good class should be small enough so that the teacher can adjust the poses to ensure they are suitable as your body will change through each week of your pregnancy.
The class can either be a general class that will adjust the poses for you, or a specialist pregnancy class, whichever you prefer.
If your tired, consider a daytime yoga practice when you have more energy.
10) Enjoy the class
Yoga practice should feel enjoyable and leave you feeling energised, relaxed and calm. You can keep it up as long as it feels good and doesn't leave you feeling over tired. Enjoy...
See more on yoga classes during pregnancy here.
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They aren't entirely sure why, as you don't get puffed in the same way that you do doing more traditional cardiovascular exercise. But research suggests it is true and believe it is due to the combination of exercise and stress reduction.
According to the research, yoga leads to weight loss, lowers cholesterol and cuts blood pressure. And it even helps you quit smoking.
The research involved 2,700 people and also found that regular yoga practice reduced blood pressure 3x more effectively then taking pills.
"Yoga may provide the same benefits in risk factor reduction as traditional physical activity such as cycling or brisk walking". Says researcher Myriam Hunink of Erasmus University and Harvard University.
Maureen Talbot of the British Heart Foundation said "any physical activity that can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease should be encouraged, and the benefits of yoga on emotional health are well established".
Brilliant, get yourself to a class or start your home practice today!
See our class schedule here and get in touch to find out more.
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Yoga helps us achieve improved health and wellbeing. Here are 10 things to watch out for during yoga classes to help you get the most from your yoga practice. Avoid these and your practice will be far more effective. If you find yourself doing these things, don't be disheartened - but do explore why you do them, see what happens if you mindfully avoid them, and in time you'll find the quality of your practice improves along with the benefits.
1) Avoid being late to class
If you arrive late, you are likely to be flustered and rushed. Arrive early or on time and you can settle yourself and get more from your practice. (But being late is better than not coming at all.)
2) Don't have your phone on
This is time for you, time to step outside your everyday life and ground yourself. Watching the phone won't help, and you won't fully switch off from your 'doing' mode. Plus ringing or vibrating phones can be off-putting for others in the class too.
3) Don't chat
Once the practice starts turn the focus inwards rather than chatting with your friends.
4) Don't eat a full meal before practice
It will be uncomfortable and those twists and abdominal holds will be limited by a full belly. A small snack is fine if you need to keep up your energy, but a full meal will restrict your practice and lose some of the energetic effects.
5) Don't look around during practice
The gaze is an important part of yoga practice. There is a saying, "where the gaze goes, the mind follows" - looking around encourages the mind to jump around too, and we want to try and settle the mind as much as possible. Settling the gaze, or closing the eyes for some of the postures, helps you keep your focus on your practice. Admiring the water bottle of the person in front won't help you get the benefits of yoga.
6) Avoid fidgeting
In the quest to develop our focus and attention in our yoga practice, fidgeting isn't helpful. Instead, try to notice that you want to adjust your t-shirt every time you finish a pose, notice that you want to do it, but don't react to it, don't do it, simply enter into stillness and see how it makes you feel.
7) Don't push too hard
Yoga practice should be engaging, even challenging, but if you find yourself constantly pushing yourself, then easing off slightly may improve the quality of your practice. We push ourselves all day, trying to get to work on-time, rushing around from task to task. During yoga, there should be an equal level of effort and grit but also of comfort and space in each pose (sthira and sukha). Notice your breath during the challenging parts of practice, if it isn't smooth and under your control, then it's time to ease off.
8) Don't drink in between postures
Ideally, you should come to the class fully hydrated so that you don't need to take a drink in between each pose. Yoga practice can make you warm, even hot,and this is part of the practice which we don't want to dampen down. Usually we are drinking through habit, rather than actually needing to hydrate the body, which means we have lost our focus. Keep focused, have a drink at the end, and you'll reap more benefits.
9) Don't wear jeans
They don't usually let you move freely and can be uncomfortable. Wear clothes that allow free movement. (Unless your jeans are of the full lycra variety.)
10) Don't beat yourself up
If you find yourself unable to focus, fidgeting, looking around, sipping your water, running late to class, and glancing at your phone - don't beat yourself up about it. Yes your yoga practice has plenty of room for refinement, but it is still worth doing, regular practice will help things improve, and you'll feel better for having done it!
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We are delighted to open our doors on Sat 13th September and invite everyone to join in our free yoga classes, meet the teachers and enjoy refreshments.
We are inviting you and your friends to join us, whether you are a beginner or just want to try another style of yoga or a new teacher. Everyone is welcome!
Free class schedule
11:45 - 12:45 Flow yoga with Virginie and Sheila
13:00 - 14:00 Beginners yoga with John
14:25 - 15:15 Viniyoga with Clara
15:30 - 16:30 Beginners yoga with Clara
All levels of fitness and experience are welcome to all the classes.
YogaSpace along with most of the other yoga studios across Bristol are all opening our doors for the 2nd Bristol Yoga Trail. Last year's was great fun so hoping to make this year's even better. Hope to see you there!
See the Bristol Yoga Trail website here >
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