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!
1) Friendly teachers
All of our yoga teachers are friendly, supportive, and are there to help you experience yoga and its benefits in a way that suits you. We are all different, need different things from the class, and friendly, approachable teacher will help you get there.
2) Health info
When you arrive, it is best to arrive 5 or 10 minutes prior to the class starting so that you can fill in a quick health questionnaire and meet the teacher. We like to know about any injuries, fitness limitations, health problems, relevant experiences that might benefit from additional supervision, instruction or adaptation of the practice to ensure it suits you. Every body can practice yoga safely and getting started at the right level will help you get there.
3) Smaller classes
We have a max of 15 in each yoga class, most classes are smaller. We strongly believe in supporting each individual and providing a good level of attention that will get you started safely. In a smaller group this enables the teacher to observe your practice and develop it when the timing is right.
4) Teacher-student relationship
Our teachers will get to know you and your health background, will observe how you practice yoga, where your interest develops, and be there to offer guidance during the class and talk through any questions both before and after class. There is no substitute for an experienced teacher to guide you along your yoga journey once you get started.
5) Step by step
All our classes are taken step by step, maintaining and developing your ability to practice in a group class and perhaps at home safely once you are familiar with the movements, techniques and ways of practicing yoga. Every body is able to participate and any postures or techniques that don't suit you, or are inaccessible for whatever reason, will be adapted or substituted suitably for you to enable you to get the most from practicing yoga..
6) Feel better
A new class should leave you feeling energised, settled, refreshed, more relaxed and spacious, both mentally and physically, than when you arrived. The benefits of yoga should feel immediately apparent and enjoyable. Then with regular practice to help you learn them, the tools of yoga, the movements, breathing techniques, meditation techniques and approaches that you learn in class, may well become a lifelong support...
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...
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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Life is busy and stressful but yoga can help give you peace of mind, health, strength and support. We talked about this and much more when I was recently invited as a guest on Steve Yabsley's lunchtime radio programme. So if you have 20 minutes, have a listen by pressing the play button below.
(Or find the full radio show on Listen Again here >)
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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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...
PS. 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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