Are you good at yoga?
Are you doing yoga wrong?
Is there a body position you struggle against?
Is there a breath technique which feels hard?
Who made up the rules of yoga anyway?
Rules are made up by people
Rules are made up by people. They are guidelines that probably helped someone (or many people) to gain more from their yoga practice, and so they keep being repeated and enforced in the hope that they will help you too.
They are often from a book and you don't really know if the person who wrote the book would stick to that rule if they knew what happened with you when you tried to follow it. Or the rule might simply be from a bossy person who likes to tell people what to do.
I do this to my kids quite often, enforce rules and boundaries, sometimes I'll seem bossy. And this has its place. Sometimes they just need to know where to start, and what to do, and how to do it. It is a good place to begin for them, and they like rules ... at first.
But at some point there is a conversation about the rule, when they are ready or when they feel like that rule isn't a great idea, and the rule may well be due for an update as a result of the discussion. Or they may just need to understand what underpins the rule helps it make more sense to them.
When to break the rules
Rules are there to be helpful. But rules are also there to be broken / updated / changed when they aren't working.
If you come up against a rule in yoga, use it as a springboard for your own enquiry into what it does for you, or what it doesn't do for you. This doesn't give you free reign to do what you like, discipline is a powerful tool in yoga and one that I have high regard for.
This is where teachers are really helpful. Someone more experienced at understanding this rule than you, with whom you can discuss it. Explore why the rule would be a helpful one for you to work with (or not). What might the rule offer that your not seeing from your viewpoint.
Be prepared for an outcome either way, or if the teacher doesn't know why the rule is there, and isn't able to explore it with you, then find someone more experienced who is.
Perhaps the rule is generally a good idea, or perhaps the insight you gain from the conversation and enquiry is perhaps more beneficial than the rule itself.
Some approaches to yoga teach the same sequence of postures and techniques that you learn, practice, develop, progress and refine over many years (e.g. Ashtanga Vinyasa).
Some yoga teachers change what is taught in every class (e.g. Vinyasa Flow can get very creative). There are benefits and pitfalls to each and of course it doesn't need to be one or the other ...
I teach a midline in my group classes, but with a definite pointer towards repetition and familiarity of postures, breathwork and technique. Hopefully leading you towards daily practice, repeating your personal home practice each day without variation unless there is a specific reason to adapt it.
Group yoga classes
My group classes follow a term of more or less the same practice - that is several weeks of the same class. There is some development of the poses over time, exploring variations or subtleties within the poses as they become increasingly familiar. Repetition in this way helps you move beyond the excitement of 'what are we going to do today?' to allow you to become more deeply involved in what and indeed how to practice and enable you to refine what you are doing and perhaps discover more subtlety and more spaciousness in the practice. Rather than inviting in exploration of what is new and exciting, removing the novelty to leave space for other aspects to emerge.
Pros and cons
Varying what is taught every couple of months supports you to encounter new postures, techniques and ways of practicing, learn how to do them in ways that suit you, and perhaps even discover that they are valuable to you and perhaps include in your own home practice.
Creative practice can be exhilarating and entertaining. Trying new things, exploring your body and breath, capturing your attention in new ways. This is particularly important for younger people who need the variety to keep them engaged and to keep them coming back to the practice. It can be satisfying in a way that is hugely important when you are embarking on your journey and need external motivation to keep going.
I practice almost the same thing every morning. However as with all elements in viniyoga, it is about picking the right tool for the job and teaching what is beneficial and appropriate to the person wanting to practice yoga.
What do you think?
I'm part of a community of teachers who participate in the Association of Yoga Studies (AYS). A group of a few hundred teachers, mostly in the UK, who meet annually to share teachings, learn from experts in their field, and continually develop our knowledge and understanding of yoga and yoga teaching. We are based in the teachings of TKV Desikachar and his father, Krishnamacharya, Viniyoga.
Part of this tradition is chanting. Chanting the Yoga Sutras was a core part of my teacher training. Learning by heart some of this core text which forms the basis of much of what I teach. Even though it is over 2,000 years old, the teachings on the mind are so relevant to modern life.
Being able to chant in Sankrit was a surprise part of my training that I didn't realise I was going to learn to do, but here I am, years later still continuing and participating in group chanting.
There are practical reasons to learn how to chant...
- breath development
- learning the ancient teachings of the Vedas and Yoga Sutras by heart
- focus and concentration (you literally can't drift your attention and remain true to the Sanskrit sounds without knowing that you have, as you'll make an audible mistake right away and bringing your focus keenly back)
- quietening the body, nervous system and mind
But something else happens when you chant, especially when your in a group. A resonance takes place in your own body and mind. Especially with the group sound, the coming together of individual voices to make a collective sound which is a wonderful and powerful experience. Anyone who takes part in a choir or orchestra will understand what I'm talking about. It's no coincidence that every culture has singing practices embedded deep within. And Covid has reminded us the value of being together in a room with others.
Chanting in Sankrit, continuing the strict chant rules and pronunciation that has remained as unchanged as possible for over 2,000 years is an inspiring experience. It brings us together, connecting us individually, as a collective, and to the shared subtle underpinning of our everyday life.
This past weekend I took part in a wonderful Vedic Chanting retreat with Chris Preist. Coming together with a shared joy of yoga practice and study with time for reflection and silence has never felt as needed as after the challenges of Covid.
If you've ever wondered about chanting, please do ask me, or come to one of my workshops where we use simple chanting and sound practices.
Or simply try humming to yourself and start to enjoy the sound and vibration.
Lie on your back, knees bent.
~ Place your hands over your eyes (not pressing on the eyes themselves) and block out the light.
~ Gaze into the darkness and patterns that appear there.
~ And then take a soft, easy hum each time you exhale.
~ Do this for a few minutes, slowly listening to the sound of each hum.
~ No matter what note or quality of sound, and no matter if you like the sound of your voice or not. Feel the sound if you don't like to listen to it,
~ After 5 minutes, see how you feel. Something will have changed in you. ~ Ponder....
2020 was a year like no other. It was completely unexpected and included things I never thought I would do in my life.
An incredible year
Given all the limits and constraints of the year, I found it incredible in many ways. Some things of course I'm hoping we move on from. But I've learned so much, and continue to learn from all that has been thrown at us.
My meditation practice allows me a welcome space to sit with the tragedy of the year, and the heightened visibility of inequality and privilege demonstrated through the virus's progression through different communities and countries and the BLM movements. A clear re-evaluation of life and what to do with the privilege that I have is an ongoing project.
Perhaps we've all come to value our health and way of life more than ever before. We can more easily recognise the gifts of our health and our privilege and ensure we use these gifts well in our daily lives.
Start small, for achievable and sustainable progress. From how we make ourselves more resilient in our own health, through our lifestyle and dietary choices, to how we interact with others and treat our neighbours and engage with our local communities.
My top tips for every day:
There are lessons for each of us from 2020. If any positives are to come of last year, let's find them and take them to heart.
Yoga doesn't have to be complicated, 'advanced' or be an hour long for it to be highly effective. Daily practice is in many ways more effective than once or twice a week for longer (apply this principle to cleaning your teeth). But motivation, or where to begin, can be a problem for many, so this course will help you embark on a 6 month home practice journey.
- Start with just 15 minutes of yoga each day and develop from there.
- Enjoy accessible practices, suitable for beginners or anyone wanting to embark on home yoga practice.
- All offline, arriving in a package each month - no screens or apps.
- Personal guidance based on your monthly feedback.
- Well crafted practices, mini-challenges, and thoughtful supporting resources to keep you engaged.
- Simple. Get started right away. No other kit required.
- Monthly intake - limited spaces each month for personal guidance
Find out more about it here:
We're proceeding with caution with all In Studio attendance and have robust safety measures in place.
We’ll also continue to offer many of our classes online for the foreseeable future and the in-person classes will often also offer attendance via Zoom.
The studio feels a little different to help keep you and our teachers safe. Here are the additional safety measures we have put in place based on the government guidelines that have been issued and we welcome feedback as we navigate this ever-changing time.
Plenty of space
Booking and attending
Reducing transmission potential
We will update these guidelines as we feel the need and please feel free to give suggestions so that you feel relaxed and comfortable at the studio when you take your practice.
Look forward to seeing you soon and hope you stay well.
At the start of lockdown, they announced an immediate and unexpected change to the way they reimburse partners (all studios and yoga teachers, not just us) and drastically reduced what they pay us when one of their members attends a yoga class. The reduction was massive, sometimes as much as 70%. This inevitably meant that our income and our teachers income reduced too. They needed to do this so survive as a business, so it makes sense for them. And it has meant that their members could continue their yoga classes during this time, which has been important.
For online yoga we have continued to accept MoveGB members and we have loved seeing you in class. But sadly this change means we have no choice but to limit MoveGB members to online classes only going forwards for the time being. At the physical studio, which we are hoping to reopen soon, spaces are going to be very limited given social distancing measures, so we have to plan accordingly. So initially we will be only accepting MoveGB members to online classes.
We will continue to honour current members with online classes, but we just wanted to let you know this change ahead of time so you can consider your options as we re-open our studio space and hope to welcome you back again.
As always, we welcome your comments and questions so please don't hesitate to get in touch.
Yoga - the art of moving, breathing, sitting and reconnecting to that sense of grounded perspective and awe. Using the practice to become revitalised yet quietened in body, breath and mind, Quiet enough even, to notice and dwell in that internal spaciousness that was the same yesterday as it was the day before that, and the year before that...
It's quicker than you think
All it takes is some simple movements, attention turned towards the breath, and bringing a steadiness and calmness through intentional focus. Then space to sit and be still for a moment. Like any skill, there is a learning curve to establishing the necessary skills and understanding of what you are doing. A practice that suits you and works for you might take a bit of exploration and discovery (this is where a teacher is very helpful). But it's certainly worth the effort.
Daily yoga practice doesn't need to be hot, vigorous or sweaty. It doesn't need to be acrobatic, complicated or impressive. It doesn't require flexibility or strength. It doesn't need to be on a yoga mat and lycra is definitely not required, PJs are perfect.
I find it truly remarkable how little it takes to feel like I'm thriving again (after another tiring day of home schooling, therapeutic parenting, an onslaught of bad news from the media, and restrictions on day to day living). Of course if you enjoy making it tough, sweaty, vigorous, or otherwise, then that is great and the benefits will speak for themselves. But there is also a much simpler and more accessible alternative that can be discovered. if that will suit you better.
Home yoga practice videos coming soon
I'll be posting some home practice yoga videos online soon to support some simple home practices that you might find helpful. A yoga class is of course great - it helps you learn the skills and techniques that are time tested to work and gives you a longer practice and more time than you'd likely dedicate to yourself on a daily basis. Yoga classes also get you learning from a teacher who has been where you are and can guide you more skillfully (as long as the teacher has the opportunity to get to know you and your practice and aims). But I'd encourage anyone who is interested to take up a short daily yoga practice too. 10 minutes can truly work wonders. Or join in my yoga classes and there is a home practice handout each term based on what you've learned to help get you started with your own home yoga practice.
Please don't be fooled by the Instagram/media yoga-hype --- it simply doesn't have to be that complicated or hard, it doesn't have to take ages, and no, you don't need to balance on your hands / head at any point.
Check back soon or join the mailing list for updates on videos coming soon (once the home-schooling gaps permit).
The new normal for yoga classes over the next few months is live streaming video.
There are advantages to this:
- you can wear your PJs if you like
There are disadvantages to this:
- we don't get to chat as much, although there is still chat before and after the practice time
We are figuring this out as we go and are excited to continue meeting and sharing yoga with you and providing much needed yoga practice and support during rapidly changeable times.
How it works
It is actually easier than I thought it would be
1) You book into a class either via our online booking system or MoveGB, ideally at least 30 mins before the class begins.
2) Set up a home practice space - somewhere warm and quiet if possible where you'll be undisturbed. Set up your computer, tablet or smartphone where you can see the screen and hear me.
3) You're sent a link straight away once you've booked via our online booking system. The link is active 15 mins before the class start. Check your spam folder if you don't receive the link. MoveGB members will receive the link when they 'check-in'.
4) Click on the link you've been sent and join in the class. :-)
5) Enjoy your practice.
Here is more detailed information. And we are happy to help if you need support getting you up and running.
You’ll need a laptop, computer, tablet or smart phone to join this online class.
If you plan to use a tablet or phone, we recommend downloading the App in advance via your App store.
You’ll receive a Zoom link for this class once you’ve completed your booking which can be used up to 15 minutes before the class start time.
Visit the link 10 minutes ahead of time for your first class. There is a very quick and straightforward download to join in and then you can set up and relax before the class begins.
Check your spam folder if you don't receive the link.
When you join, you can choose to have video switched on or off. We'd prefer it switched on so we can see you and support your practice and offer suggestions, but you are equally welcome to have it turned off if you prefer. If your video is switched on, just like at YogaSpace, everyone will be able to see you - except you'll be a very small thumbnail video.
Once you arrive in the virtual studio, make sure that is your main view and not all of the thumbnail videos of the attendees. If it isn't by default, scroll or select the virtual studio and click on the three dots to 'pin' the teacher and make them full screen.
Once your in if you want to chat to the teacher, there is an option to 'raise your hand' next to your profile which we will see, and we can unmute you so that you can chat to us or we can chat via typing too.
If you need additional help, we’d be happy to talk you through your first set up earlier in the day or prior to the class.
Yoga practice at home - top tips
We are learning as we go given the sudden change in situation so any feedback or suggestions for improvements is very gratefully received.
We look forward to seeing you online soon.
2 metres apart - 9 max per class
We are limiting class sizes to 9 participants so that there is at least 2 metres distance between heads in the class. Arrive early and avoid lingering in reception too long to maintain your distance. The side room is also available to head towards and leave your belongings to provide more space.
Bring your own mat or towel
Bring along your own mat or towel to lay over ours. Ours are cleaned before each use with sanitizer but lets maintain caution.
Adjusting the practices slightly
- We are not adjusting using our hands or walking around in between people to maintain the social distancing recommendations.
- We are avoiding any poses that are face down on the mats and not recommending anything that involves touching the face.
Paper towels and wipes
We're using disposable paper towels to encourage hand washing and avoid communal towels.
Cleaning the studio and wiping everything
After every class all door handles, taps etc. are all wipes down with sanitizer which as far as we know kills the virus.
Looking into online class offerings
Watch this space. But we might be able to offer some classes live online so if you are self isolating, then you can still maintain some practice. .
What you can do to help
Check the website before coming in case the class has been cancelled. If the teacher feels unwell or anyone in their house does, they won't run the class.
Arrive 10 minutes early to settle in, wash hands etc.
Wash your hands before and after class
Avoid touching your face
Please don't come if you have a cough or temperature or are living with someone who is
Keep up your yoga practice
Maintaining equanimity during times of difficulty is so important and helpful not only to you but to those around you. Staying grounded, maintaining a connection to the wider perspective, knowing that this will pass, and tending to the seeds of worry that can grow out of proportion if we don't also tend to the seeds of calm and steadiness.
If I can be of any help please don't hesitate to get in touch.
Please bring along your own mat or towel
Given the need to be proactive and sensible in our response to the current corona virus outbreak, I'm recommending that if possible, please bring along your own yoga mat or a towel to lay down over the yoga studio mat where your head will be placed.
Avoiding close contact sharing could be either over cautious, or helpful in inhibiting the spread of the virus so let's err on the side of caution.
It will also help you relax in your yoga practice and place your awareness more effectively.
~ If you feel unwell, have a temperature or cough, please avoid coming to class. (We will ensure that any missed classes can be made up at a later date, we would rather you were cautious.)
~ Wash your hands before and after class.
~ Wipe down your mat when you get home.
We do clean the mats and the studio regularly and thoroughly and will be stepping up our efforts here.
In the meantime, keep moving, keep breathing, keep calm and carry on.
YogaSpace raised £228.41 (updated 22nd October) grand total of the Trail to be announced soon - all to support young people's mental health. And we had a really inspiring day talking with you about how yoga can help and how the Viniyoga approach to yoga practice ensures there is always a way to find a yoga practice that suits you, even when you don't even remotely resemble a bendy, lycra clad person doing a pretzel pose!
Thanks for coming and and joining in, and we look forward to welcoming you back to YogaSpace in Bishopston soon! xx
Yoga is a set of practices but also, it is an area of study. The practices that we embody - the movements and postures, the breath and the meditative supports - can be wonderful to simply experience and do. No prior knowledge needed. But as your experience and understanding develops the richer it becomes, As an adjunct to the practices is the understanding, the context and the wider practices of yoga, which are rooted in a rich, broad, deep and ancient tradition. Not something you get to grips with in a group class generally (try one of my Bristol-based yoga workshops or Foundation Courses to find out more about this).
The Association of Yoga Studies (AYS) of which I'm a teaching member, is a viniyoga community that meets every year and comes together for a weekend of wonderful yoga workshops. This weekend just past was our annual convention with an inspiring theme on Yoga and Music led by Ravi Shankar and Sheela Shankar from India. They are both long-time yoga scholars trained directly by Desikachar and Sheela is an accomplished classical Indian singer. They shared the most beautiful and subtle approach to yoga practice through sound, song, chant and ancient Vedic poetry. Sheela delightfully performed songs for us and then led us skillfully in ancient chanting practices. While Ravi gave us eloquent context and history around the chants that we practiced.
As always with the teaching conventions, I've come away inspired to explore these subtle practices in my personal practice and feel re-rooted in the tradition of yoga. It is such a privilege to be welcomed into this warm and generous community all brought together by the legacy of the humble, honest and rigorous teachings of TKV Desikachar.
What I love about the teachings in this weekend's community, is that your never more than a breath away from a reference to the Yoga Sutras or the Vedas. The ancient traditions are maintained with a thread of understanding that is brilliantly woven through the workshops and brought to life through the teacher. The interpretation of yoga hasn't been recycled so many times without reference to the original teachings, that it is barely recognisable as yoga at all (as is common in many modern yoga teaching approaches). Refreshing, inspiring, grounding and beautiful.
Chanting sublimely embodies a timelessness that is hard to find in other yoga practices. The chanting of a song that was written millennia ago, chanted to the same clear, strict rules which means it sounded the same then as it does now (if your teacher is as skilled as Sheela Shankar) bringing you to the exact same point as the people who chanted it before you, The sounds, the breath and focus required to maintain the ability to chant in Sanskrit, the acute listening and heightened senses, the connection to that which is timeless, And the awareness that of course life hasn't changed that much. The outward appearance and experience is unrecognisable, but our internal experience is still on the same path and these teachings which were so valuable then, are still available to help make life and living better. Love it!!
Perhaps an ache will reduce, perhaps a tension habit will subside, perhaps the sleep will start to improve, or you'll be less moody. Perhaps your chores will feel more pleasurable, or you'll be more present with your kids or colleagues. Perhaps you'll be more patient or open to other people's ideas, perhaps you'll be a little kinder - It shows up in many ways.
But the other can also be true. The prep may feel GREAT. The practice might be fully satisfying, and you want more prep. You might feel like you are becoming a fantastic chef and your prep is awesome. You practice more, you love it, you find your tribe and you're into it, BUT you don't notice the meal.
Life beyond the practice is the important bit - how the prep leaves you. Do you feel tired? Are you getting a repetitive strain or grumbling discomfort in your body that wasn't there before? Are you agitated or judgemental, impatient or aggressive etc. How is your ego handling all of this awesome prep and how great you have been feeling lately? How are your relationships with those around you? Subtle results that are important revelations to the results of our practice. Being vigilant to the sidetracking towards the glitter of the prep, rather than the meal itself and how it shows up in you in subtle ways, is a consideration when practicing yoga.
What I love about yoga practice is that the more consistent and appropriate prep you do, the better the meal - the better the rest of your life feels. This builds day-on-day, week-on-week, year-on-year. And occasionally in our prep, we get to taste a sublime flavour that stays with us far beyond the yoga mat.
Regular, consistent, appropriate prep, regular consistent practice, to bring into the rest of your life.
Appreciate what you have
Take time to appreciate what you already have and not get too caught up in high expectations for the holidays. Enjoy what comes your way, and find abundance in each moment. Notice the simple things that you take for granted and marvel at how amazing they all are!
Try some home yoga practice
A great time to commit to a short daily yoga practice, even if it is only one pose, or sitting and taking 12 steady, slow breaths.
Sanctuary in a book
Find sanctuary in a contemplative book, even if only for 5 minutes a day.
Be in nature
Spend some time with nature. If that isn't possible, spend a few minutes each day gazing at a tree or plant.
Treat yourself - mindfully
Treat yourself, but try and do it mindfully so that you really enjoy it and will remember it later on and so enjoy it again when you think of it!
Do a kind action every day for no particular reason. Share some joy with others in your local community, or do something kind for yourself. Random acts of kindness, even if only a smile to someone you don't know.
Here's to wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a joyful and healthy new year. x
Free yoga to raise money for charity!
We are delighted that we had another successful Open Day with the other independent yoga studios in Bristol as part of the Bristol Yoga Trail. Together we all raised a whopping £943.59 for charity, all going directly to OTR (Off the Record) supporting young people's mental health. Each £10 raised equals a counselling session for a young person and we are so pleased to be able to support such a good and worthwhile cause.
Thanks to everyone who came along to our free yoga classes. From the 8:30am Saturday morning yoga class, to the pregnancy yoga and the viniyoga classes, everyone seemed to have a lovely day and we certainly enjoyed meeting so many new faces and beginners to yoga. Gloucester Road in Bishopston was buzzing and the balloons from our studio and Yogawest next door made a gloomy day into something quite delightful.
Don't forget to use your discount vouchers and come back and visit us again soon! x
Come and join us on Saturday 13th Oct
We are delighted to be taking part in this years Bristol Yoga Trail again and open our doors for a day of free yoga classes. Come to one or more classes and bring your friends! Everyone is welcome, newcomers and old friends alike and your support will be most welcome. It is a wonderful day to share what we do, offer free classes to our regulars, and welcome beginners and newcomers to try out what we do. We are also raising money for Off The Record, a local mental health charity supporting young people's mental health.
TIMETABLE OF FREE YOGA CLASSES
8:30 - 9:30am - Viniyoga, with Vivien
10:00 - 11:00am - Birth Preparation Yoga, with Vivien
11:30 - 12:30pm - Pregnancy yoga (13+ weeks), with Vivien
13:15 - 14:15 - Introduction to Viniyoga, with Clara
14:30 - 15:30 - Beginners Yoga, with Travis
15:45 - 16:45 - Viniyoga, with Clara
All classes are drop-in and are open to all levels of experience and fitness including beginners (there are often many beginners along at these open days so a great time to try it out). Arrive at least 10 minutes early to get your space. Mats and blocks provided along with refreshments and a chance to chat with the teachers.
Hope to see you there! x
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.
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