Life, yoga and other adventures

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Friday, 4 December 2015

Up close and personal

It might surprise you to learn that quite a lot of people who ask for a one-to-one session are beginners. Often, they want to get a few basic postures and a bit of terminology under their belt before venturing into a general class, or they might simply want to find out a bit more about yoga (and the teacher) before committing to a course.
Others like the security and discretion that a private lesson affords if they are shy or lacking in confidence and therefore uncomfortable in a public class. Others still might have health considerations that make a public class inappropriate. Some just prefer to have a teacher come to them, so that they are in a familiar and comfortable environment.
Yogis returning to practice after a break sometimes book a one-to-one session to refresh their knowledge and also for the insight it brings into their physical, emotional and spiritual condition.
While it is lovely to be able to go to a yoga class on a regular basis to support our personal, home-based practice, this simply isn’t possible for everyone. If you have a complicated home or work life and find it difficult to commit to a regular class, booking ad hoc private lessons can be an invaluable way to keep up your practice in a way that is better suited to your lifestyle.
Even if you are attending a regular class, a one-to-one can still be beneficial if, say, you need a bit of a boost to your motivation (this is also true for those who practise alone; in fact, they may well be in greater need of inspiration).
Experienced yogis might book a one-to-one session:
  • To work through questions about a specific asana – for example, ways to approach the challenges of Scorpion
  • To explore in depth a particular aspect of yoga that isn’t covered in their general class, such as chanting, working with mudra and bandha, or exploring yoga philosophy
  • To establish, develop or update a personal practice
  • If they feel they are not receiving sufficient adjustment or attention from their teacher in a class situation – the personalising of the teaching is a key factor for many private students
  • To explore a different branch of yoga or teaching style
  • As a treat – for the cost of a decent haircut, you could find your yoga practice kick-started, revitalised and re-energised
Whatever your reasons for booking a one-to-one session, it is useful to have an idea of what you want to achieve, so that you don’t waste valuable time when you get there. But while it is good to have a goal in mind, you will still need to discuss your objectives with your teacher so that you can decide between you the best way to proceed. Be prepared to be flexible, because although ultimately the programme has to lead to the results you seek, talking it through might reveal aspects of yoga that you hadn’t considered – and this applies whether you are a newbie or an old hand.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

What's in a name?

The second question that potential new students ask me is usually, ‘What sort of yoga do you teach?’ I generally answer that I am BWY trained in the hatha tradition, but that I have absorbed elements from various teachers and experiences over the years. (The first question is, ‘How much is it?’ Rarely does anyone ask me where – or even if – I qualified.)

There seem to be so many different styles of yoga around. Let’s start with hatha, ashtanga, Iyengar, kundalini, Dru: the list goes on and is growing. Add in Scaravelli, Bikram, viniyoga and yin, and those that are purely descriptive, such as dynamic, power, restorative, for pregnancy, and trendy ones like barre, aerial and acro – not to mention hybrids like Yogalates and Body Balance. I’m confused, never mind my students!

So, what sort of yoga do I teach? It depends. I always have a lesson plan, but adapt it according to who turns up and how we’re all feeling. Sometimes we work really slowly, sometimes more dynamically. Sometimes we have a very precise class, but sometimes we’re more mellow and we just go with the flow, literally and metaphorically. Sometimes, the age of my students on the night means it’s an over-50s session. Other times the boiler is playing up and we inadvertently have a session of hot yoga.

I don’t want or need a specific label on my classes. I teach ‘Julia’s yoga’, whatever that is.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Cultivating self-compassion

I'm studying an online course with FutureLearn called 'Mindfulness for wellbeing and peak performance', which is fascinating stuff. I've studied mindfulness before, but never with this particular focus.

We have reached the part where we try to cultivate self-compassion. Why is it so much more difficult to be kind to ourselves than to other people? I shall be dripping this bit of philosophy into the classes I teach over the next little while and including the following affirmation:

May I be happy;
May I be well;
May I be peaceful;
May I be safe.

Try it. What's the worst that could happen?

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Reasons to be cheerful

Fashions come and go in the world of wellbeing as quickly as anywhere else. Nevertheless, I was surprised to read in the Sunday paper recently that mindfulness is on the way out. Well, that's news to me, but then: what do I know? Apparently, the new kid on the block for those who like to follow the latest trends (laser lift for your lady bits, anyone? Check it out here!) is gratitude. I can't see why these two should be mutually exclusive, but again: what do I know?

This prompted me to recall a writing job I did years ago, where I was commissioned to come up with 100 reasons to be each of generous, confident, positive and thankful. It was a lovely job and I was glad to look back at it. Here are a few of the reasons to be thankful that were included:
  • You are who you are There is no one else like you, you are unique. Celebrate this and live life to the full.
  • The past is behind you If you have done wrong, apologise and be grateful for forgiveness.
  • Every day you move closer to your goal It might be something small: putting up a bookshelf, tidying the storeroom, catching up on the filing. Congratulate yourself on all these little victories.
  • The constantly changing seasons As well as revealing the power of nature, this gives us the opportunity for regular renewal in all aspects of our lives.
  • The comfort of realism As you grow older, you come to realise that you are not going to 'have it all'. Focus on the realistic and the possible.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Season's greetings

No, I haven't lost the plot, I know it's not Christmas. However, I have survived the equinox and am in full-on autumn mood. There is a lovely nip in the air first thing in the morning and as the sun goes down that makes me think it might be OK to start wearing my beloved boots again and browse some woolly jumpers online.

The garden is certainly telling me the seasons have changed. The nasturtiums are just about over, but I'm leaving them in place so they will self-set and give me some more glorious blooms next summer. Up above them, the purple Michaelmas daisies are just starting to come out. I could resist snipping a few to bring into my sitting room.

Do you find your practice changes with the seasons? At a class with my lovely teacher Carrie today, we did trataka, sitting in a circle and concentrating our collecting gaze on a candle. I haven't done this since the clocks went forwards in the spring and it was good to be reminded of its power.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we are being treated to a total lunar eclipse in the early hours of Monday morning, coinciding with a supermoon, so if the sky is clear the moon will appear a rust-red colour and will look bigger than usual. Worth getting up for? I'll let you decide. I might honour the occasion with a few rounds of chandra namaskara in the warmth of my house.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Good vibrations
I've recently experienced several different ways to work with sound in a therapeutic sense. I've done a little more chanting, lain in a yurt to the accompaniment of a didgeridoo and been to several gong baths. This weekend, I took part in a gong relaxation with Carrie-Anne and Kenny from Yoga Freedom, which was, as always, wonderful. They have a 36in Symphonic, 28in Jupiter and a 24in Uranus gong.

Carrie-Anne says: 'Sound healing works holistically by helping to bring back a state of natural balance; as vibrations of sound pass through the body on a cellular level, the body begins to heal itself. The sounds of the gongs allow your mind to relax completely due to the fluidity of sound they produce allowing the mind to drift on the vibration, leaving nothing for the mind to attach to.

'On arrival at a gong bath, you can either remain seated or choose to lie down on a soft floor; you may wish to cover yourself with a blanket for comfort. The eyes would normally be closed to allow the body to relax completely as the gong and singing bowls are played.

'As the sound waves pass through you, you may feel as though you lose all sense of your physical body or gravity. You will experience shifts in consciousness similar to that of deep relaxation or sleep. Time seems to stand still as a sense of inner peace takes over.'

I've always found music in all its forms to be a powerful medium and mood-changer, but working with sound itself is extraordinary, and I urge you to try it if you have the chance.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Yoga is not a competition

Sometimes I spot a student wearing ‘the look’. She might be holding a posture beautifully, but I can see on her face the signs that all is not well. At this point, I remind the class: ‘Patanjali says that asana is a steady, comfortable posture – sthira sukham asanam.’ Then I go and stand by said student and say again, ‘Yoga isn’t competitive. Come out of the posture whenever you’re ready.’
But some people just won’t be told. They think they look tranquil, but I can see the tension creeping up their body, their teeth are clenched and there is a hint of panic in their eyes. They simply won’t allow themselves to release until everyone else has finished.
You can’t teach people what they’re not ready to learn. For some, the idea of listening to their body and stopping when they’ve had enough, even if others have not, is a hard one. Nor is this limited to ordinary classes; I’ve also seen this phenomenon at teacher training sessions, where we really should know better.
Then there are those who like to challenge themselves beyond the point that is beneficial or even safe. These are often the super fit, the strong and the flexible who can normally do everything asked off them. An off day isn’t an option. OK, so maybe they’ve twisted their ankle while out running: so what? Think that’s going to stop them holding Warrior II until they shake?
I regularly remind my students that if I ask them to do something and it doesn’t feel right, even if they can usually do it, then they should work gently and not push themselves too hard. But that man, for example, who has found out his blood pressure is, unusually, slightly elevated might not like to hear that he should keep his arms down.
There is no denying the joy of manoeuvring yourself into an asana you thought was beyond you, but it’s a fine line between exploring what your body is capable of and going too far. I can encourage safe practice and highlight the need for caution, but ultimately the individual is responsibility for his or her own wellbeing.
If I have a particularly stubborn student in a class who won’t heed my safety guidelines, I will say, ‘OK, folks, you all heard me warn her!’ I try to keep it lighthearted, but really what I’m saying is: ‘Please don’t sue me if you fall over!’