yoga blog by yoga lover in Bicester

Ujjayi Pranayama

We’ve been enjoying the lovely Ujjayi breath as our pranayama practice in classes this week.

Sometimes known as Victorious breath, it’s a wonderfully calming, quieting breath.

I usually explain how to do it by suggesting students make the sound of the sea – the waves rolling in and out of the shore – whilst breathing slowly in and out through the mouth – this helps create a focus on the throat.  Once a slow, gentle rhythm is established, then transfer to making the same sound, with the same feel in the throat, but breathing softly in and out through the nose.

What’s actually happening is that the glottis is restricted, which serves to slow the breath down.  The pranayama has a soothing effect on the nervous system.  Some find it helps with insomnia.

If you’d like to try Ujjayi breath, sit comfortably, making sure you’ll be warm.  Let your spine be upright, including your neck.  Hands can rest gently in your lap or in Chin Mudra (tip of thumb and first finger touching).  Gently settle into a slow and comfortable breath, thru the nose, for a few minutes.  Then try making the sound of those ocean waves, breathing through your mouth.  Having got the hang of it, move to breathing through the nose and still hearing that wonderful ocean wave sound.  Keep the breath gentle, soft and slow.  After about 3-5 minutes, let your breath settle back into it’s normal rhythm, and then choose whether to gently stretch and carry on your day, or to move into a period of relaxation.

Please note Ujjayi breath is not recommended for anyone suffering from severe depression or psychosis as it takes you so deep within yourself.

Leave a comment »

Amazing feet

Feet are amazing …… 28 bones, 33 joints, 12 ligaments and 34 muscles.  They support us for hours each and every day … whether we are walking, running, standing or even sitting with feet on floor.  A recent article in Saga magazine stated that by the time we are 50, our feet have covered 75,000 miles … yes, you read that right, 75,000 miles.

And of course in yoga our feet play both a physical and symbolic role – helping us grip our mats in standing asanas like Warrior 1 and 2, enabling our standing poses like Dancer and Tree. We often use the symbolism of feeling our feet being ground when we need to feel ‘still’ or ‘grounded’.  And if you’ve ever enjoyed a walking meditation, you’ll know all about how wonderfully the feet can convey the feeling of the ground beneath you.

So it’s well worth looking after your feet – a bit of regular tlc

  1.  Wear comfortable shoes – as least most of the time!
  2. Vary heel heights – good for both feet and legs
  3.  Avoid dry skin building up and keep feet well moisturised
  4. Exercise the feet regularly

Some examples of good exercises for feet:

  1. Lay with legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) – your legs and back will love this too
  2. Whilst standing, try to create a space between each toe – gives a lovely stretch
  3. Whilst standing, try and move the big toe away from your first toe – supposed to alleviate bunion pain
  4. Whilst standing, lift each toe in turn (if you can)
  5. Whilst seated or standing – roll a tennis ball around under your foot – said to alleviate plantar fascitis
  6. Whilst sitting or laying, with leg straight, point and flex foot – good stretch

And I love this wonderful quote from Thich Nhat Hanh

Image result for poem about lovely feet

Leave a comment »

Flippin’ Incense!

I’ve written about my loathing of smelly smokey incense sticks before… but after what might have been a wonderful browse round an interesting shop yesterday, feel compelled to write again!

I’d planned a trip to a lovely shop selling beautiful crystals and was looking forward to browsing and treating myself to some lovely new crystals.

Hmmmm that was the plan … but the shop owner had chosen to have lots of those wretched smokey, probably carcinogenic incense sticks burning. Within a couple of minutes my nose was running, then the coughing started, soon followed by itching skin .. so I chose to leave.  For the rest of the day I had a headache and was coughing.

How is this a great customer experience?  I realise that the shop was trying to create a nice atmosphere, but as I’ve mentioned this issue to friends, several have commented they have exactly the same problem and avoid yoga studios, shops and centres that use incense sticks.

So come on people .. think of your customers and get rid of those horrid joss sticks!!

Leave a comment »

Your best self

Sometimes you read something  and it really makes a deep impression.  Meli who facilitated the Mindfulness Summit last year shared this quote from a book I’m currently reading :

“Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world.”  – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life

What a lovely sentiment…. sharing the best of yourself.  And that word practice is so key … we have to start doing it … won’t always be able to manage it …. but as we practice, we can get better at it.  By becoming more aware, perhaps we start to notice those small, mean, judgemental thoughts … and of course the first step to change is awareness.  Sharing our fullness of being – that real essence our true selves.  Sharing our trust and openness – you have to be feeling good about yourself to be able to do this … if you are coming from a place of fear, suspicion, or anger, you simply can’t do it.  Sharing our presence….. being there, really there.

And somehow, as we do this, the spaciousness in our hearts grows and grows.

I love this sentiment – will be the focus of my meditation this week.

Leave a comment »

Enjoy yoga outside

There’s something very special about enjoying a yoga practice outside.

You are more in contact with nature – with the feel of the ground beneath your feet, the breeze on your skin, the clouds above you, the warmth of the sun, sounds of birds etc. Yes there may also be the sounds of people or traffic, but once you are really in your practice, these sounds tend to fade into the background.

Your balance is challenged more when the ground is a bit uneven and the feedback you receive helps you bring a Beginners Mind to your practice.

I love Sun Salutations, or the slower Earth sequence, Tree balance … they all become magically different when enjoyed outside.  Just sitting with the breath becomes new again.

Try it …. in your garden, in the park, in the countryside … just enjoy the lovely summer!

Leave a comment »

Thank you for the feedback

I’m privileged to be doing something I really love and being paid to do it.  I want to get better and better at it too … so the feedback I get from my yoga students is really valuable.

Every week someone says something lovely to me – shares some insight about how their yoga practice has affected them … and this is so wonderful to hear.

Just this week someone has told me how their balance has improved which in turn has improved their confidence.  There have been so many people who tell me they sleep better after their class, that they feel calmer, less stressed.  Others describe how their back pain has reduced, or thank me for the stretches that ease out their neck and shoulders.  Others feedback how their yoga gives them a different insight into life helping with the times when life is challenging.

And of course the feedback that gives me the opportunity to improve things to bring greater enjoyment or benefit is really helpful too – whether it is a request to speak a little louder or to sometimes have a longer session or relaxation.

All the comments help me to continuously grow and develop as a teacher of offer more and more of value to my students.

So thank you for the feedback.

Leave a comment »

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!


Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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!

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »