yoga blog by yoga lover in Bicester

Advanced Yoga??

Recently a student said to me “I really need a more advanced class”.  I asked her what she meant by this and she responded that she wanted to do things like Headstands and  other strong challenging postures.

I do teach in a gentle style, and understand that different styles of yoga suit different people.  But is a physically demanding class a more advanced one?  Physical postures are but one of the Limbs of Yoga (Patanjali’s Sutras).  And they are traditionally used to prepare  for meditation.

You may have heard the phrase ‘Beginners Mind’ – it comes from the book ‘Zen Mind, Beginners Mind’ … there is a lovely quote right at the beginning of the book “In the Beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”.  To me this means approaching everything with a sense of curiosity – whether it is something familiar or something new – by doing this, there is always something new to notice.  And you can certainly apply this in yoga.  Take a ‘basic’ posture like Tadasana (Mountain Pose) – how do the feet feel today, what is my balance like today, how is my breath,  etc.  By taking this approach, you are also ‘really present’ – your mind is not thinking ‘what am I going to have for lunch?’ for example.  If you get this degree of focus and awareness in your yoga practice, this is to me what makes a practice advanced.  And if you take this approach, you are always a beginner, never an expert!


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Yoga in pregnancy

When you are pregnant, your body is going through tremendous changes as it adapts to accommodate the baby growing within you and prepare for birth and beyond.

Yoga can be wonderful to enjoy throughout your pregnancy (avoiding weeks 11-13), but you do need a modified practice to be safe.  Generally a slow, meditative style will more suitable.  Quick changes of direction or position are generally not recommended.  But under the guidance of a suitably trained pregnancy yoga teacher, yoga can boost you energy when you feel fatigued, calm you when stressed, and help you sleep more soundly.

Many pregnant women suffer back, shoulder and neck pain – yoga can bring wonderful relief.  And of course yoga is renowned for the breathing techniques which can be invaluable during labour.

I’m a yoga teacher who has undertaken additional training to teach pregnancy yoga.

Here are some of the changes which require modifications from a standard yoga practice:

No laying on your front:

This one is pretty obvious – after a few weeks, you just won’t want to do postures lying on your tummy, whether or not your bump is showing.  So no Sphinx, Cobra, Locust, Bow poses.

No laying on your back after 18 weeks:

The weight of the growing baby and placenta can restrict blood flow back to the heart.  So no Bridge or supine twist poses.

No strong twists:

Abdominal twists are contraindicated

No strong inversions:

So no headstands or shoulderstands.

No breath retention:

Your baby needs you to breathe regularly to bring oxygenated blood to the placenta

In addition to the above, your centre of gravity will be changing, so your balance will be affected making balance poses more challenging.  You don’t want to risk falling so modifications are required.  You’ll have the hormone relaxin in your system, relaxing the ligaments of your joints making it easy to ‘over stretch’.

Given all the above, it is clear that many adaptations are required to practice yoga safely when pregnant.  So do make sure the teacher you choose has the appropriate training to give you best advice.

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Thinking about starting yoga?

What a great idea … yoga is fab!

But there are so many different types of yoga … so how do you find the class and teacher that are right for you?

Let’s start with some basics ……

How well trained is the teacher?  As an absolute minimum you are looking for someone who has completed a 200 hour course with a reputable yoga teacher training school.  This is really an entry level yoga teacher training qualification … many good teachers will have completed a 500 hour course and undertaken additional training since qualifying.  How do you know what training the teacher has done?  Check out their website and ask them.   Find out what teaching experience they have too … are they still in training, newly qualified or do they have years of experience.  The British Wheel of Yoga, a very well established training provider, lists qualified teachers on their website.

What style of yoga do you want?  Something energetic and physical? … then look for an Ashtanga or Vinyasa style of class – as often taught in gyms and fitness centres.  Looking for something gentler and more accessible – particularly if you are older, have an injury or want something to complement other activities – then look for gentle hatha yoga (though beware if it is at a studio or gym, it may still be a fast paced and challenging class).  Again, check out the teachers’ website and look for words such as ‘gentle’ or ‘holistic’ and again, talk to the teacher and ask them to describe their teaching style.

What to wear?  Something loose and comfortable.  Layers are good so you can add/take off as you wish.  Yoga is generally done barefoot, though socks are fine for when you are in the relaxation session at the end of the class.  There is certainly no need to spend out on expensive fitness gear!

Most important is finding a teacher you feel you can trust completely, someone you feel comfortable with…. and discovering this can start at the initial contact – does the website ‘feel’ like what you are looking for?  Are there positive reviews on Google or Facebook?  How does the teacher respond when you try to find out about the class?  Are you made to feel welcome on arrival?

Good luck …. and if you are looking for a yoga teacher in Bicester … try yogabeing!

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What is Mindfulness?

There’s been lots of mention of Mindfulness in the press, on the radio and TV … but what is it and how could it benefit you?

Mindfulness is essentially about being fully present in the moment.   Sounds easy … but most of us spend a lot of time worrying about the future or reliving the past.   We ruminate on the ‘What If’s – and this can can be a major cause of stress, anxiety and even depression.

When we’re being mindful, we’re focused on now – ‘What Is’ (not what if).  This takes time … you’re breaking down habits that have built up over a lifetime.

But goodness, it’s worth it!  Mindfulness helps promote a greater sense of calmness that can be useful for daily life – whether you have a stressful job or a generally stressful life.   You gradually develop the ability to step back and see clearly what is really going on rather than just reacting or getting caught up in an endless stream of thoughts.

Mindfulness is also associated with finding a greater sense of happiness. As you practice mindfulness, you find the endless stream of negative thoughts start to diminish as you learn how to keep bringing yourself back to the present moment.

You start to find joy again in the simple things that you’d forgotten how to notice.  And this seems to kick start a more creative way of approaching life – with greater flexibility.

Interested?  Find our more on the next Mindfulness course in Bicester.  I’ve been practicing Mindfulness for many years and it’s really helped me  – both on an everyday basis when everything is going well, and through times of stress and unhappiness.

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I hurt myself doing yoga

I seem to be hearing this phrase more and more as the fashion for strong, vinyasa and fitness power type yoga grows.  This type of yoga tends to be very physical and can encourage competitiveness and ‘end gaming’ as students try to force their bodies into postures …. a recipe for injuries.

If you are strong, supple, fit and healthy then maybe this tough, demanding yoga with lots of upper body and shoulder work, and lots of strong, dynamic posture changes is for you.  But make sure you work with an experienced and well trained teacher (ideally look for someone who has completed a 500 hour teacher training programme with a respected yoga institution such as the British Wheel of Yoga or validated by Yoga Alliance)

But many people drawn to yoga are not strong, supple, fit and healthy.  They perhaps wish to increase strength, flexibility, balance, co-ordination or overall wellbeing.  These individuals may well be better served by a more gentle style of yoga with a teacher who, whilst encouraging them to explore their boundaries, makes it a priority to keep them safe from injury.  Still look for a well trained and experienced teacher (as above) – but look for clue words in their descriptions of teaching style such as ‘gentle’ or ‘holistic’.

It’s always good to try and talk to the teacher prior to attending a class …get to find out about them – why do they teach, where did they train, what style do they teach in etc.  Make sure you feel comfortable with them.  Be clear what you are seeking in  a yoga class, and then you can find the right teacher for you.

I always love to talk to prospective students, and am happy to answer any questions and give reassurance.  I welcome students with existing injuries and am happy to offer modifications so that they can enjoy a safe practice.

Enjoy your yoga!

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The Magic of Yoga

I am so lucky to be a yoga teacher!

Why?   Because of the difference I seem to make to the lives of so many of my students.  This week at least half a dozen people have commented on the beneficial effect their yoga practice is having on their lives … using powerful language such as “yoga has changed my life” or has been a “life saver”.

And they are right ….. yoga is wonderful!  The word ‘yoga’ means union and refers to the union of mind, body and spirit – hence the overall wellbeing effect yoga can bring.  It always saddens me when I see yoga referred to just exercise – fitness yoga for example, as it shows a real lack of understanding of the true meaning and magic of yoga.

Yes, on a physical level yoga can help you gain strength and flexibility, improve posture and balance, reduce back, neck and shoulder pain.  But there is so much more.  Yoga can do wonders for stress management, confidence, and positivity. And increase feelings of ‘connectedness’ and wholeness.

So a big thank you to all my students for the wonderful feedback you give me.  I really appreciate it and will continue to work hard to share with you the magic of yoga.

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Loving yoga

Scary thought …. I’ve been enjoying yoga for almost 40 years!!  Whilst inevitably during that time my practice hasn’t always been regular, yoga is something I have come back to time and time again, and still really love…. and have practiced almost everyday for the last 15 years.

It’s amazing how even the simplest breath or posture can still seem fresh and new when approached with a kind and curious mind … a kind of constant exploration … what’s here today?

Yoga has been my companion through happy times and sad times, relaxing times and stressful times, periods of ill health and wellness …..and I’m more and more deeply into my practice.

And now I’m lucky enough to be able to share my love of yoga by teaching others – something I’ve been doing for nearly 9 years …. and yes, each class still feels fresh and new too.

If you haven’t tried yoga yet, you don’t know what you’re missing!  It is a wonderful practice for mind, body and soul (with the right teacher).

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Incense … no thank you!

Why is it that so many yoga teachers still burn copious quantities of incense during their classes?

There is a growing body of evidence indicating that the smoke from incense sticks can be carcinogenic …not surprising really …. is breathing in lots of smoke ever likely to be good for you?  And of course for anyone suffering from asthma, the smoke is a real problem.

In yoga, we encourage deep breathing … so even more reason to ensure it is not smoke filled air!

Of course  yoga teachers want to create a nice welcoming environment for our students, but,  I really think incense smoke should not be forced upon students.  By all means, use some incense prior to the class as a space cleaner, but not during please!

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Feeling Blessed

I am so lucky …… I’m beginning to live the life of my dreams!

Having trained as a yoga teacher almost 10 years ago, I have been teaching part-time for a long while ….. but about five years ago decided I wanted to spend more time teaching as I love it so much.

It’s taken time, gradually building classes over the five year period … and there have been some scary moments when I’ve had doubts … but I am so, so glad I’ve stuck with it.  There’s still a long way to go, and the marketplace is ever more competitive, which simply means I need to get better and better and keep thinking of ways to thank the lovely students that choose to come to my classes, courses and workshops.

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How to find a good yoga teacher

So you’ve decided you would like to take up yoga …. how do you choose a good yoga teacher:

  1. Check our their training.  A good teacher will be happy to tell you about their training.  Yoga teacher training takes around two-three years.  (If someone has only done a short weekend type course, they will not have any real depth of knowledge with which to guide and support you).  All the reputable teacher training programmes cover not only yoga postures, breathwork, mudras (gestures), and bandhas (energy locks), but also the philosophy that is an integral part of yoga, plus anatomy and physiology, health and safety, teaching skills, how to adjust students safely, common health issues etc … you can see why a comprehensive course needs to take a coupe of years.
  2. Are they registered with one of the major yoga organisations – such as British Wheel of Yoga – to be registered with the British Wheel of Yoga, a teacher has to have evidenced a comprehensive training and also on-going professional development – i.e. they are competent to teach and keep their teaching skills up to date.
  3. Check their insurance.  A good teacher will be fully covered by an insurance policy..  Whilst one hopes nothing bad wil ever happen, it’s another sign that you are in good hands.
  4. Can you try out a class?  A good teacher will want you to be in the class that is right for you and will be happy for you to try a class before committing to a term.
  5. Does the teacher seem professional?  Are the tidy and organised?  Are you asked to complete a health questionnaire before starting a class (in a gym it might be a verbal health screen rather than a written document, as you are likely to have completed a full screen on joining).
  6. Do they explain things in a way you can understand?  A teacher may use demonstration or words or a mix of both.  Some may bring along pictures or other teaching aids … but you should always know what you are supposed to be doing.
  7. Is the teacher happy to answer questions?  You should always feel able to ask questions (even if you choose to wait till the end of the class so as not to interrupt the flow of the class)
  8. Do you like the teacher?  And yes this is important … if you don’t, you won’t keep going to the class!
  9. Do you enjoy the class?  Do you feel welcome as you arrive and enjoy the practice.  Yoga is wonderful with the teacher that is right for you.
  10. Does the class flow well.  A good class will have a mix of standing, seated/kneeling and laying postures with alternatives offered to suit different levels of ability.  There will be forward and backward bends, side bends, twists and inversions, plus breathwork, relaxation and perhaps meditation.
  11. Do you feel good afterwards?  Most people find yoga refreshing and relaxing, they enjoy the stretching, toning and de-stressing.
  12. Do you want to go again?  Find the class that makes you want to keep going back for more!
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