Tuesday night yoga will have a new look from January 2020! I am opening the class up to everyone, all levels welcome, so I can offer a class that is more accessible to those unable to attend weekly. For details click here.
The class will start at 7.30pm with a few minutes relaxation, followed by an asana (postures) practice that takes us to 8.30pm. The last half hour will include a breathing or meditation practice lasting some 15 mins, followed by a guided relaxation practice to finish the session off.
If you would like to know any more, please get in touch via my contacts page.
One of the things I have noticed since I started teaching yoga is the frequency with which people seem to suffer muscle cramps during a class. A muscle cramp is defined as an involuntary contraction of the muscle that refuses to relax. It may last anything from a few seconds to several minutes and once a particular muscle has cramped, it may be prone to doing so repeatedly during the same session. I have found that in yoga cramps often seem to affect muscles that are passively shortened. A good (and frequent!) example of this is the sole of the foot, where the muscles are shortened as the toes are pointed in postures such as cat (majariasana).
Muscles contract as a result of electrical stimulation and relax when this is deactivated. Obviously, during an episode of cramp this system is not working as it should. Cramp is also more common if the muscles have been overworked. If you are prone to cramp it is helpful to make sure you drink plenty of water and base your diet around healthy fresh foods that maintain your electrolyte balance. Sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium are all important in the body to ensure the muscle fibres respond properly to the exercise you are doing and make you less prone to suffering from cramp. Taking magnesium supplements may be beneficial for some people, as studies have shown that a lack of magnesium can make things worse.
Age and genetics also contribute to your risk of getting cramp and of course these are not things we can do much about. It can however be helpful to make a point of regularly stretching out the muscles that tend to be prone to cramping. For example, if you tend to get cramp when you point your toes, get into the habit of stretching the soles of the feet by flexing the ankles and toes. You might also encourage the area to relax by massaging it with a tennis ball – or golf ball if you are feeling brave!
When I hear this phrase in one of my classes, at the end of working into a fairly taxing main posture, it sets me to wondering why we go to a class to do something we could equally well accomplish at home. Practising in the comfort of your own home means you can do yoga at any time that suits. You can do exactly which postures you like and in the colder months you don’t have to brave the wind and rain to get there. It’s cheaper and you don’t miss out if you can’t attend a session. Hmmm. It’s starting to sound like I am trying to do myself out of a job!
Despite all the benefits of practising at home, so many of us (myself included!) prefer to attend a regular class instead. So what is it that makes a yoga class special? Although yoga is essentially a personal and individual experience, there is something more enjoyable about participating in a group. Of course, there is the social aspect; you may attend the class with a friend, or get to know others who regularly go to that session. There is a united camaraderie in working together in postures you are like or are less keen on (but know are good for you!) and motivation to be had in seeing the efforts of others. Personally, I enjoy abdicating responsibility for the structure of the session to someone else. In a group class, you are guided through a series of postures that have been planned to work and stretch all parts of the body as you move towards the pinnacle of the main posture for that session. The mind doesn’t need to worry about what to do next and you can really let go, just focussing on the breath and coming into each moment as it unfolds.
Tempted? There are still spaces for after the break, starting from 4th November. So if you are dithering about joining a class, why not give it a try?
Back when I was doing my British Wheel of Yoga Teacher Training course, I remember our tutor commenting that there was a feeling in the British Wheel that teachers were offering lots of prep but not so many postures in their classes. “Where have all the postures gone?” became a bit of a catchphrase at the time.
It’s true to say we do need to warm the body up before performing more challenging postures in order to avoid injury. We also need to do counter-poses after the main posture so that we relax the effects of the main posture. For example, a strong main posture that is a backbend might be followed by a twist and then a forward bend as counter-poses. So each class is going to consist of a mixture of movements and postures that prepare and counter-pose for the main posture. We also benefit from some quiet time at the end, when the body can absorb the benefits of the practice before we move on. That doesn’t always leave a lot of time for ‘proper’ postures.
According to the ancient wisdom of the Gheranda Samhita (translated by Ian Mallinson);
“All together there are as many asanas as there are species of living beings. Shiva has taught 8,400,000. Of these, 84 are pre-eminent, of which 32 are useful in the world of mortals.”
It would be a pretty tall order to include even these 32 in a daily practice, let alone 84! So, why not try another way of looking at the issue? By doing plenty of preparatory work we can aim to maintain the body in a state where a variety of postures can be successfully practised if we choose to, even if we don’t do them daily. For example, I rarely do boat pose (navasana) but I do prep work for it each morning. So when I do want to do this posture, there is no struggle. That prep work also serves me well for any of the standing balances and strengthening poses such as plank. This way I get all the benefits and save time too! Can’t be bad!
As the crops reach their peak and harvest looms, so the poppies spring into bloom. Dotting the fields and verges with their crimson flowers, they provide a welcome splash of colour as the dryness of the summer bleaches colour from the fields and trees. Poppies are considered weeds of cultivation. The seeds can survive for years in undisturbed soil, waiting until that soil is turned over before they spring into life. As a result, poppies may give a stunning display after the completion of roadworks or on building sites. The poppy seizes the opportunity that disturbance creates to burst in action, a reminder that we too can find new paths to follow in times of change, a chance for new beginnings and for growth. We can learn to see change as a positive experience in our lives,a nd embrace it with both hands.
This is a common response to the question “What attracts you to doing a yoga class?” I don’t think anyone has ever told me they want to come to yoga to get stronger. However, you might be in for a surprise! Sadly, our muscular strength declines as we age and personally I don’t think our modern lifestyle helps a great deal. So many more of us have sedentary jobs these days and exercise becomes another thing to be fitted into the week, rather than happening as a matter of course.
It’s been suggested that building strength should actually take priority over becoming more flexible. Improving muscle tone helps us to maintain our body weight as muscles consume more calories than fat, even when resting (Yay!). Muscle strength helps us to improve our posture. We have greater endurance and are less prone to falls because we have better balance. Ideally we should focus initially on building core strength and then look to develop the major muscles in the body i.e. arm and leg muscles. This stops us from relying on smaller weaker muscles that are not up to the job.
A physical yoga practice helps us to build muscle strength in all the key muscle groups. Our arms and shoulders are worked with weight-bearing postures such as bowing cat or downward-facing dog. The standing postures build leg strength and balancing postures help develop the core. By making slow movements we can exercise all the fibres in the muscle, whilst by maintaining a posture we use isometric contraction of the muscles to stay in position. Another benefit of weight bearing postures (i.e. any posture that uses the body’s weight) is that is strengthens the muscles around the joints, helping to protect them from arthritis in later life.
Summer has now arrived with a vengeance, and what can be more summery than the sight of deckchairs fluttering in a gentle breeze on a promenade at the sea shore? As much as the bright colours and the cheerful scene, it was the complex pattern of shadows made by the deckchairs that drew me to capture this image. Whatever is happening in our lives, we invariably experience some shadows at times, however sunny things may seem to be on the surface. Just as shadows cast by the deckchairs change over the course of the day, so they are constantly moving in our lives. Keep following the sun and let the shadows look after themselves.
“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
Are you wearing rose-tinted spectacles? I believe that we develop our outlook from quite a young age, perhaps influenced by those around us. Some of us see life’s adventures in a positive light, the proverbial ‘glass half full’. Or perhaps we see the same glass, half empty. Whatever life brings, it serves a purpose and we can learn from it. You may believe that someone ‘up there’ is dishing it out, you might believe in karma, it might just be the way the cookie crumbles.
Whatever the source, we all have good days and bad days, exciting experiences and unpleasant ones. And therein lies one of the problems; labelling it as good or bad, categorising and pigeonholing. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the mind keeps a better hold on the ‘bad’ things than the ‘good’ ones, so looking back we may be more inclined to recall what went wrong rather than what went right. Maybe there were good bits sandwiched in between. Perhaps we don’t remember them. Maybe we were too caught up in the bad to even see them in the first place. Little wonders like a sunny day, a spring flower, the smell of grass after the rain.
Scientists at the National Institute for Mental Health have now shown that a positive attitude really does help us to stay motivated and in a good frame of mind. This is linked to the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin in the brain. Positive thinking as a concept has really mushroomed in recent years, and while it is important that your positivity is realistic rather than rose-tinted, having a ‘can do’ attitude is more likely to help you achieve your goals than out-and-out pessimism.
In the Tuesday class we are currently using positive affirmations at the end of our meditative practice to help develop an optimistic outlook and attitude towards ourselves. Positive affirmations are short positive statements, such as ‘I feel relaxed’ or ‘I am strong enough to do this’. Used in the present tense, they help you to believe it’s already true. If our thoughts can become self-fulfilling, better that they are positive ones. Repeat your affirmation several times, to reinforce the message. You can use them at any time; try it as a daily practice when you have a quiet moment, or as first aid when those negative thoughts start creeping in!
Yoga mats can last a surprisingly long time, which is fantastic given the potentially negative environmental impact of your mat. Sadly, the more affordable mats generally contain PVC, which is not the most environmentally-friendly substance to manufacture or dispose of. The alternatives tend to be quite expensive and may not be so easy to keep clean. In the case of rubber mats, they also come with a rather overpowering smell. However, when the time finally comes to say good bye, your mat doesn’t have to end up at the landfill site. I really dislike throwing things away if I can find a use for them, so here are some ideas for reducing the environmental impact of your unwanted mat by recycling it into new uses around the house and garden. Some are ways to use the whole mat, others will require a pair of sharp scissors and perhaps some glue or tape.
Keep using it, underneath your new mat, to provide extra padding in class
Line the boot of your car to keep it clean or as padding for pets
Line your cat or dog’s bed to provide extra insulation and padding
Cut out pieces to line terracotta plant pots in the garden. It will help reduce water loss in the summer and increase protection from frost in the winter.
Keep in the car as an impromptu picnic ‘rug’
Cut a piece to stick on a step stool for extra grip
Fold up the mat into quarters (or less) and tape or stick in place to create a kneeling mat
In the garden lay it over bare soil on new flower beds as a weed suppressant before you plant them up
Use small pieces to protect wooden floors from table legs
Pass it on; sell it on Ebay to make some money, advertise it on Freecycle or donate it to charity. You might be able to help out someone who can’t afford to buy a new mat.