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 find great value in, 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 as the eclectic practice styles became more popular. I found some wonderful people 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 ourselve, or on the flip side of that, to relax and restore. To ‘get’ somewhere with our practice rather than discover what we already have.
How to 'open your heart'?
Yoga seemed to be becoming more physical in what was being taught, more entertaining for people who come to class, physically challenging as the primary focus, creatively expressive and freeform, maybe with a sprinkling of yoga philosophy and perhaps esoteric symbolism. I kept coming across romantic sounding notions such as ‘opening your heart’ (metaphorically and symbolically interesting when presented thoughtfully and with context but otherwise a phrase that in my opinion 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!
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 seem. 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 fully, slowing and extending the breath where possible. And we try to focus internally 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 giving 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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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!
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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 2013
For more info and the schedule of free yoga classes and events visit here:
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I'm biased I know, but I think most people could benefit from yoga practice! I work with a lot of mums, especially in my private yoga therapy work, where women come to me without much time or space for themselves, and have a range of physical, mental and emotional issues such as stiffness, aches on one side from carrying children on one hip, stress through the shoulders, poor sleep, over-eating, worrying, and an over-active mind that refuses to slow down at the end of the day.
These are common complaints but particularly so for mums whose days aren't their own anymore and who struggle to find time to take care of themselves.
Yoga doesn't have to be a weekly class, although this is often the best way to ensure you actually make it on to your mat at least once a week and spend a good hour doing a full yoga practice.
Yoga can also be fitted in to your busy schedule, requiring perhaps as little as 15-20 minutes a day to help keep you physically, mentally and emotionally supported. Think of how you might tend to a garden - keeping it tended to little and often is as good, if not better, than a big session every now and again to keep it all under control.
A practice that is customised for you is ideal, incorporating some physical postures to help energise the body, stretch and release tension, strengthen the posture to help alleviate aches and pains. Plus perhaps some breathing work to settle the mind and restore balance, and perhaps even meditation if interested (which has well known stress-relieving and healthful attributes). All of these practices will help you create and maintain some well-earned space for yourself, and can be fitted in to those small pockets of time once the kids have gone to bed, when they are napping, when they are watching tv, or before you go to bed.
In my group classes I always encourage students to try some yoga practice at home if they are interested. Part-way through the term, I'll often offer them a small handout with a short practice to try for themselves at home. Sometimes students keep it up and come back weeks or months later reporting how much more benefit they get from yoga once they have started regular practice at home.
Of course a daily healthful practice doesn't just have to be yoga, there are other things that you might find you enjoy that keep you motivated to continue with it. But what better way to nurture your health and wellbeing than by giving yourself the gift of a short yoga practice a few times a week to help maintain balance and health in your life.
We can't let it pass without a moment of celebration. Even though we've been teaching yoga for far longer than 1 year, Yoga Space has been on Park Row for a full year now. Here are a few comments from people who we have been delighted to welcome to our studio:
"Yoga Space is a little gem! So glad I have discovered you."
"Brilliant teachers, thank you."
"My back used to ache constantly but it is so much better since coming to yoga."
"Just to say how much I have enjoyed the classes and benefitted."
Thanks for coming, hope to see you in the new year!
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It is that time of year again. We're back from holidays, feeling pretty chilled out, and facing an Autumn of work with shorter days and dipping temperatures. There is a need to try and keep the summer-time relaxed feeling for as long as possible while the warm weather lasts.
The yoga courses starting next week at YogaSpace try to encourage that feel-good feeling with regular yoga practice and even personal home practice for those who are interested (my students often take home handouts with little stick men in yoga poses offering a short 15 minutes yoga session to try at home - not homework, and by no means compulsory!).
Nothing beats a regular yoga practice for helping you feel good. The once-a-week de-stress in a group class is great, but keeping it up and taking even 10 minutes a day can really help cultivate that feel-good-feeling all through the week. All you need is a space on your carpet in a quiet part of your home and an uninterrupted 10 minutes (hard for some I know!). But an investment worth making.
Morning stretch anyone!
Last Sunday was a great opportunity to take a few hours to explore ways to improve how we handle stress in our lives. Stressful life is a given for most of us. We're busy, our lives are full, our jobs, kids, families, homes, obligations keep us pretty much flat out.
I'm used to welcoming people into my weekly yoga classes who are exhausted and stressed out. We often keep going until we are exhausted, and only really stop when things get to a point where we actually can't go on, when our bodies tell us in no uncertain terms that we must stop. We all do it, but of course it takes it's toll. Research suggests that stress is one of the biggest contributors to ill health and an early demise from various related health conditions such as heart disease.
So Sunday's yoga workshop on stress relief was a chance to explore some simple, easy to practrice yoga methods that can help us manage our lifestyles and keep stress levels lower. The aim was to teach them in a way that means they can be practiced daily or regularly at home. Short, regular practice of these methods can make a dramatic difference to our ability to deal with stress and having a few techniques that you can use at any time, even at work or when in the car stuck in traffic, can help reduce our stress levels. Simple breath techniques, body work or meditation for a few minutes every day can make a huge difference.
The yoga workshop on stress relief at Bristol Yoga Space explored a few easy methods and gave handouts on how to practice them at home. Another workshop on stress relief will be held in early Autumn too. Keep an eye on the website for dates.
Next Friday evening should be a wonderful event as we're honoured to have Paul Harvey at the studio. He is a great teacher and one of the foremost authorities in Yoga and will lead us through an evening exploring body, breath, mind and beyond. All are welcome and entry is a £10 donation to support the Julian Trust Night Shelter, a Bristol-based charity.
The evening will offer an introduction to Yoga as
body and energy work, psychology and mysticism
through asana, pranayama, sound, and mantra.
Through presentation and practice we will explore how
Yoga postures, breathing and sound can lead to meditational stillness, along with discussion and time for your questions.
Numbers are limited so please get in touch to book a space. Look forward to seeing you there!
The first post of many to share and explore ideas, thoughts, news, yoga themes and offerings as they develop through my yoga teaching and study. With the hope of continual learning, I'm always happy for comments, discussion and questions either through the blog or feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founder of YogaSpace, 2009
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