Sunday, 27 April 2014

Being Grateful

Yoga Bishops Stortford, Yoga Herts, Iyengar Yoga, Toward Yoga
At the end of most lessons, once you have sleepily come out of Savasana, I ask you to sit cross-legged, hands in Namaskarasana, head bowed, eyes closed. At that time I ask you to be grateful.

We can all find something to be grateful for. At the most trying times in our lives, when we feel we are at rock bottom, that is the time to really consider just what we have to be grateful for. If your work life, family and friends seem to be failing…be grateful for your health, etc.

When you feel at your lowest, please try to take the time to sit quietly, breathe smoothly and think about a few things you have to be truly grateful for.

I was asked to cover-teach a couple of yoga classes this weekend. And so it was I found myself introducing Iyengar yoga to a large group of smiley, expectant people. Most of the group had done some hatha yoga before, but not Iyengar yoga.

As a yoga student, I know how attached I became to my regular yoga teacher. There is a bond, a trust, a security and a belief that they are ‘right up there’ with Father Christmas in terms of brilliance!

And so, with that in mind, I am extremely grateful to those lovely people who were welcoming, smiley, trusting, hard-working and open. I was surprised by the positive response and warmth of these people.

Thank you. Tonight I am grateful for your kindness and positivity.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The King of yoga poses

Recently, a few students have asked about the health benefits of headstand…

Sirsasana, yoga bishops stortford, yoga essex, yoga herts, iyengar, headstand

Headstand belongs in a group of poses called inversions.  An inversion is any pose where the head is below the heart. 

Inversions reverse the action of gravity on the body; instead of everything being pulled towards the feet, the orientation shifts towards the head. Similarly, on the emotional and psychic levels, inverted asanas turn everything upside down, throwing a new light on old patterns of behaviour and being.

In general, inversions can be a bit daunting at first. Turning upside down for any period of time can feel strange and be physically challenging, but there are incredible benefits. In fact, headstand is called the king of all yoga poses because of the numerous benefits attributed to it.
1. Relieves Stress
Headstand helps you to draw your attention inwards. This posture is extremely helpful if you suffer from anxiety, stress, fear or otherwise worrisome thoughts. Combine headstand with long, slow breathing and you have a recipe for stress relief.
2. Increases Focus
When you turn upside down, you are increasing the blood flow to your brain. This can improve mental function, increase your concentration span, sharpen memory and enhance clarity of thought.
3. Strengthened Immune System
The lymphatic system is a closed pressure system and has one-way valves that keep lymph moving towards the heart, when one turns upside down, the entire lymphatic system is stimulated, thus strengthening your immune system.
4. Increases Blood Flow To The Head And Scalp
You can help your body deliver extra nutrients and oxygen to your head and scalp, thereby improving nutrient delivery to your hair follicles.
5. Strengthens Upper Body
While you are holding yourself up in headstand, you should be pushing down into the ground with your forearms, utilising the strength of your arms, shoulders and back. This is an awesome posture for improving upper body strength and muscular endurance.
6. Improves Digestion
When you allow the effects of gravity to be reversed on your digestive organs, you will help to move stuck material, release trapped gases, as well as improve blood flow to the all important digestive organs — increasing nutrient absorption and delivery to your cells.
7. Decreases Fluid Build-Up In The Legs, Ankles, And Feet
Edema in the legs is no fun, and it can happen if you tend to spend long hours on your feet. Reversing the effects of gravity on your bodily fluids will help to flush out built up water in the legs, relieving the uncomfortable feeling of edema & reducing likelihood of varicose veins.
8. Develops Strength In The Core Muscles
Headstands strengthen deep core muscles. To hold a well-aligned headstand for an extended period of time, the practitioner must engage the obliques, the rectus abdominus and the transverse abdominus. Having a strong core makes you more durable and less prone to injury during exercise and life in general.
9. Efficient Removal Of Toxins
The lymphatic system is responsible for waste removal, fluid balance, and immune system response (think rubbish dump system). This network of nodes and fluids help to remove waste products from your blood. When you flip onto your head you will be directly stimulating your lymphatic system and thereby helping to remove toxins from your body.

10. Reduces likelihood of stroke
Reduce your chances of having an ischemic stroke, as scientific evidence shows that this type of stroke rarely occurs in individuals who regularly practise headstand. Veins return blood to the heart and, unlike arteries, make up a low-pressure system that depends on muscular movement or gravity to move blood along. One-way valves at regular intervals prevent backwash and keep fluids moving towards the heart in a system know as venous return. Turning yourself upside down encourages venous return. Inverting also gives the heart a break. The heart works persistently to ensure that freshly oxygenated blood makes its way up to the brain and its sensory organs. When inverting, the pressure differential across the body is reversed, and blood floods to the brain with little work from the heart.

Headstand is definitely not a pose I would recommend you get into on your first day of practicing yoga. But, once safely introduced by your teacher, I do highly recommend you keep at it because it’s a great posture with tons of benefits!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Keep moving forward

Photo: Are you moving forward???

Are you moving forward?

This weekend Everyone Active are giving you the opportunity to try various forms of exercise for a small donation to charity.

In the mix, an Iyengar yoga class is available from 12.15 to 13.15. This is a taster class, giving you the opportunity to try a variety of yoga poses. There is no obligation to join or pay for a course.

Keep moving forward. Try new things. Expand your horizons. Challenge yourself.

See you there.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Letting go

"The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” 
Don Williams, Jr. (American Novelist and Poet, b.1968)

In our culture, we are often focussed on the result and the process can be overlooked.

When I first started doing yoga I was fascinated by the poses I couldn’t ‘do’ and thrilled with the poses I could. I wanted to know how long before I could ‘do’ Natarajasana, Hanumanasana and Astavakrasana (amongst numerous others!).

I think it was the wise and wonderful Aisling Guirke who taught me that it really is all about the process. When I finally achieved what looked like Hanumanasana…I realised that was only the beginning. There was so much more to the pose to explore. The closer I got to the final pose, the more I realised that tiny adjustments made a massive difference.

This illumination spread throughout my yoga practice. Even the simplest of poses became a work in progress. I could feel the possibilities, notice subtleties and make adjustments that enabled me to come closer to understanding each pose.

In crude terms, I guess it is like a moving goalpost controlled by an inner compass. In reality it feels like an expansion of possibilities.

Yoga is intellectual. You must be mindful of every intention, conscious of every movement. In the beginning you are guided by your yoga teacher. They give clear, precise instructions. They assist you in making adjustments to bring you closer to the pose, they are your compass. After a while, you begin to make these sensitive adjustments yourself, you become aware of your inner compass and trust it.

Yoga is not making shapes with your body. It is meditation through movement. It is expansion and growth through structure. It is becoming aware. It is unifying mind, body and soul.

In this season of renewal, I am going to approach my life as I do yoga poses - with an eye to the process, and let go of the results

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Yoga is Yoga...right?


All yoga classes were not created equally.

Hatha, Astanga, Bikram, Vinyasa, Kundalina, Anusara, Iyengar...the list goes on.

There are phenomenal yoga teachers across the globe...and some pretty poor ones too.

According to some courses you can become a yoga teacher in 6 weeks. This troubles me. It takes years of self-practise to develop an understanding of your own body and how it responds / develops / transforms / heals, let alone being able to understand someone else’s body!

All teachers of Iyengar yoga are trained to rigorously high standards. Every Iyengar teacher has completed at least 3 years of regular classes prior to 120 hours teacher training over a period of 2 years and successfully passed a series of assessments.

You know what you are getting when you walk into an Iyengar class. Teachers are precise, they have a have a well-developed eye. They'll observe and work closely with each student to individualise corrections. They adjust everyone according to their needs, injuries and body types. So much emphasis is placed on the best possible alignment of the body, allowing the body to develop symmetrically while minimizing risk of pain or injury. This level of expertise takes years to develop.

And what then? Once you have been ‘crowned’ an official yoga that it? For other forms of yoga perhaps. However, Iyengar teachers are required to attend regular courses and training to maintain and further their professional development.

We go the extra mile.

And we do it because we are passionate about it. We believe in it. We have experienced it for ourselves and seen the transformation of others.

So, what I am trying to say (in a rather long-winded way) is that if you have tried yoga before and found it lacking...try Iyengar. You won’t be disappointed!