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.
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”
Regular yoga practice is key
A weekly yoga class is great, but it is really a minimum to gain benefit from yoga practice. Regular practice enables the body, breath and mind to become familiar with the practices of yoga, the environment, the teacher, your body, your own practice and patterns that you bring to it, and the way your moves (or doesn't!) and responds to the yoga asana and to the yoga breathing. Once you have developed that level of familiarity with practice, the breath can become more central and more in focus, and the benefits for the body, mind, nervous system etc. can really start to develop.
Find a yoga teacher to help you get started
If you want to start practicing at home, first start with a regular weekly class with a yoga teacher that you feel comfortable with. Ideally a home yoga practice should be in conjunction with a yoga teacher who can help you navigate establishing a home practice, provide feedback to you and guidance along the way. Over time you'll become more self sufficient with it and be established in a solid and supportive, beneficial yoga practice.
It is very different practicing yoga on your own
As I tell my yoga students, it is very different practicing yoga at home, on your own - just you and your mat. A yoga class offers instruction, encourages you to explore in a different way and to try suggestions that the teacher offers you. In class you'll learn new practice skills, new postures and receive guidance from your teacher. A class is where you learn how to practice yoga. At home you are your own guide, and you put into practice the skills that you have learned in class. A bit like learning to play a musical instrument. You won't get very far if you only ever pick up the instrument in class each week. Using the guidance offered by the teacher, you go home and practice your skills and integrate them.
Your practice may well be set by a yoga teacher who can help you identify what is a useful starting point, but then it is up to you to explore your own body, breath, focus during the practice that you undertake. The process of your personal yoga practice is more intimate, your focus can be more internal, and your awareness need not be drawn away by external instructions.
Start small and regular
It need not take ages, 20 minutes a day is much more helpful than an occasional yoga class. It doesn't need to be an ambitious practice, and it might be more breath or meditation focused, or it might be more physical and challenging. Start with a modest practice, establish the habit of daily or close to daily yoga practice and without rushing headlong into it, over time develop a program that is suited and adapted to your needs
I often work with clients 1 to 1 to help them establish a tailored yoga program that they undertake at home, and over time we meet less and less often once they find an established and suitable way of practicing.
I also run yoga workshops to support you in checking in with home yoga practice. Or regular classes where your yoga teacher can input into your yoga practice are all great ways to develop a beneficial home yoga practice.
It should leave you feeling better than when you began
Your yoga practice should always leave you feeling better than when you began. Calmer, more settled, refreshed, and energised. And if it doesn't check in with your yoga teacher to explore further.
Please feel free to get in touch to find out more.
Or find out about our upcoming home practice yoga workshops here