16 Aug: Did you take the Forward Fold Challenge?! There’s Still Time!!
Last week’s ‘This week in Yoga’ was live from the mat, inviting you to increase your flexibility and movement by taking the ‘Forward Fold Challenge‘. If you didn’t see it, have a look on my Facebook page under Videos!
Some of you accepted the challenge (YAY!) and were surprised at the stiffness at first, but after a few days started to feel a bit better. So let’s maintain momentum – how about another week of forward folds?! Those who missed last week can join in this week too.
Benefits of the Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana in Sanskrit)
- Lengthens the hamstrings that tend to tighten as you sit and get sore as you stand
- Helps release lower back tension
- Relieves shoulder and neck tension
Many of you who attend my classes will be getting back into yoga after the summer holidays or may even be starting yoga for the first time. Wherever you are in your practice, be gentle with yourself. Its great to want to be more flexible, be less stiff, be more agile, be healthier – yoga can definitely help you do this – but also be willing to accept where you are today. You showed up to the mat, let that be enough, because day on day, class on class, your flexibility is increasing and you are doing something great for your body & mind. Believe in the process, I have the joy of seeing it even if you don’t realise its happening! So keep on folding & I’ll see you on the mat!
2 Aug: If you are thinking about getting into Yoga…READ ON!!
With a new series of classes starting, I wanted to take the time to tell newcomers a bit about the classes, how I teach and why I teach.
All of my classes are absolutely ok for beginners!!! Here are the differences:
Hatha Yoga Bend & Stretch takes things at a slow and steady pace and you’ll get options to take poses further if you want. Generally students are NEW to yoga, but want to increase flexibility & strength, so are happy to follow along and take things at their own pace.
Beginner’s Yoga starts at square one. We’ll spend more time getting in and out of poses and repeat sequences so you become familiar with them. Generally students are NEW to yoga and want to get back into fitness.
Total Relax Yoga is (you guessed it!) focused on relaxation. We’ll do some gentle yoga postures to shake off the stiffness of the day, yin yoga to focus on the breath and increase joint health and some blissful quiet time for relaxation/meditation. Generally students are NEW to yoga and want some of that sweet ‘me-time’.
How I teach: In my opinion, yoga should help us walk taller, sit with ease, lie down comfortably, and move with less aches and pains, so the way I teach reflects this. I’m there to help you find your yoga – finding where your forward fold is today and then working from there, without judgement. Lots of people come to class with: ‘I’ve never done this’ ‘My balance is terrible’ ‘I’m not flexible’, but that’s probably why you’re coming to the class (!!). But time and time again I see the change happen – in a few weeks’ time its ‘I felt more comfortable in downward dog today’, ‘I could hold that tree pose on one foot for longer’ ‘I am getting closer to my toes’. (And just so you know, yoga is an on-going practice, there’s no ‘mastery’ of yoga, best yoga – only more yoga!!)
Why I teach: I teach yoga because I love yoga. After over 10 years of having yoga in my life, I could not imagine being without it because its a way to keep my body healthy, to calm my mind, to connect with my inner self so I can live a better me in the world. I teach in the hopes of sharing the immense benefit yoga has brought to me with others.
So I hope this encourages you to give a class a try and I look forward to seeing you on the mats!!
27 July: If you only have time do one yoga pose a day Peggy recommends… Downward Facing Dog!
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is a great pose because it works your whole body.
How to get into Downward Facing Dog?
Kneel on your mat/rug with knees about hip width apart and then place your hands on the mat, shoulder width apart. You are now in ‘table top position’. Spread your fingers wide, curl your toes under so they grip the mat, and then press into your hands, press into your feet and rise your hips high. You are now in Downward Facing Dog! Hold here for three deep breaths (Try inhaling through the nose for a count of four, pausing, then exhaling through the nose for a count of four, pausing and repeating). Get out of the pose the same way you came in through ‘table’.
Benefits of the pose:
- As you press into your outstretched fingers (especially the thumb and forefinger) the movement ripples up your arm creating expansion in the shoulder. This counteracts the ‘slump’ of standing and sitting for long periods of time.
- In this inversion with the tailbone rising high, the weight is taken out of your lower back and you have a chance to gently stretch this area that also suffers from too much standing or sitting.
- Encouraging the heels to come closer to the mat stretches the backs of the legs that makes actions of bending easier and loosens muscles that tighten from too much sitting.
- The gaze is soft and directed to the space between your feet so you get a whole different perspective of the world!
Things to be mindful of: If you’ve never done Downward Facing Dog before or are a little stiff, take care coming into the pose, rather than taking the full-strength pose right away. Even try ‘walking the dog’ by moving the heels up and down to loosen the muscles in the back of your legs. If you have blood pressure issues and are not used to holding forward folds or inversions you may want to hold the pose for a shorter period of time. Bottom line, always listen to your body! Yoga is there to support your health, not hinder it.
So this week, give Downward Facing Dog a try, even just once a day and let me know if you notice a difference! If you send ‘selfies from the mat’ I’ll post them on my Facebook page!
20 July: Mindfulness on and off the Mat
Its been great to see how, over the past few years, Mindfulness has become a mainstream practice. Little guides to Mindfulness, which encourage us to take a deep breath & bring our attention into the present moment in order to create calm and reduce the negative impacts of stress, can be found in any bookstore. Adult colouring books offer another creative option to focus and be present by building up colours and patterns without concern for the outcome, only the joy of the process.
Mindfulness on the Mat: Yoga is also a practice of mindfulness. It returns us to the breath, encouraging us to focus on and fully appreciate a natural action that is usually taken for granted. All the directions that lead a foot here and a hand there also shake us out of our set patterns of motion and, in doing so, enable us to be present in our bodies.
When doing yoga, we may find we move in ways we didn’t expect, we may be reminded of how easily we moved as children, and we may find we are not as mobile as perhaps we thought. As in any mindfulness practice, all this should be considered with curiosity and gentleness toward ourselves. If you can’t touch your toes, approach it with an attitude of acceptance ‘I cannot touch my toes today, but what does it feel like to fully be here, not touching my toes?’ This does not mean you will never touch your toes, but it is the process of fully showing up to the mat that is where the real yoga is happening.
Mindfulness off the Mat: Mindfulness practices can also be easily added to your normal routine. Let’s say you have a list of things to do: Before each task begins, consciously stop and take one deep breath, and after then after you finish the task, stop for another deep breath. It won’t take more than a few seconds, but in those seconds you bring your mind that is running with thoughts of the past and future into the present. Another practice of being present can be fully enjoying your walks from place to place. Instead of letting your mind wander to things you have to do, notice what it feels like to walk. Notice the summer sun (or rain!), notice the breeze, become completely interested in what all your senses are telling you. And if your mind wanders, gently bring it back to noticing things around you: even take a ‘mindful picture’ as you appreciate the view, like this one from the Dalgety Bay Sailing Club!
So give it a try!! I’ve been enjoying learning more about Mindfulness through Future Learn’s free ‘Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance’ put online by Monash University in Australia. https://www.futurelearn.com Check it out if you are interested!
12 July: Peggy’s Picks for Guided Meditation
Last Saturday I was led through a beautiful Yoga Nidra meditation journey as part of a Yoga & Art Therapy by the wonderful Rose (https://www.artyogatherapies.org) at Sacred Heart Centre in Edinburgh.
This reminded me how much I love guided meditations. In fact, that was how I started meditating! (And no, you don’t have to sit in full lotus on a cushion, you can get comfortable and listen over a cup of tea, on your couch, on a bench outside, or on the train). We all know we need to take care of our bodies by exercising and with the food we eat, but our minds need the same thing & meditation can provide that.
Hundred of Free Guided Meditations are available through the Insight Timer App & Hay House Meditations App. Some of my favourites are by:
Davidji (Soothing voice with lots of wisdom, quiet time & mantras)
Denise Linn (Encouraging voice with vibrant descriptions that help you imagine)
Sonia Choquette (Warm voice with soulful reflections)
Colette Baron-Reid (A voice full of life with powerful affirmations & a spirit of fun)
Why not give one a try? Let me know what you think!! Guided meditation will also be a part of my Yoga with your Chakras workshop on 28 July (see below for details).
3 July: Yoga with your Chakras
Have you ever felt your chest warm at the sight of your dog’s wagging tail or your stomach in knots before an interview? These are experiences of your Chakras!
‘Chakra’ literally translates from Sanskrit as ‘wheel’ or ‘disk’, but more broadly refers to our bodies’ energy centres; in other words, how we hold thoughts and emotions within our bodies. Whether you believe in the existence of these energy centres (as many eastern traditions do) or you prefer to think of chakras as a symbolic map of the different facets of the physical, mental, emotional self, gaining an understanding of your Chakras means gaining an understanding of the connections between your body-mind-emotions-consciousness/spirit.
Working with my chakras through Yoga and Reiki has been an amazing tool for reflection and change throughout my life, so much so, that I want to share it!!! So if you are a natural empath, if you are feeling ‘stuck’ in some aspect of your life, if you are seeking clarity or resolution to an issue/relationship, if you are looking for a new dimension in your yoga practice, this workshop is perfect for you. Curious?? Join me at the Sacred Heart Centre yoga studio in Edinburgh 13:00-15:00 on 28 July 2018. You can be a total beginner with yoga and know nothing about chakras aside from what you have just read, as long as you have an open mind and a willingness to give it all a try, then that’s all you need. Feel free to get in touch with questions beforehand.
25 July 2018: I have to do what? Set a Goal and Challenge yourself:
Since I started yoga, I believed it was a practice that should support me in my life. Sure it was good to be sore after a class and feel like I was doing something beneficial for my body, but I was never in it to get rippling muscles or contort myself into a pretzel. This philosophy served me well. I’ve never had a yoga injury and yoga helps me sit, stand and move with greater ease and less discomfort.
This philosophy, however, was tested at my teacher training, as we were all encouraged to go beyond the physical limits of the practices we were used to. Was I apprehensive? Yes. But surrounded by amazing people and with an experienced teacher trainer to guide us, I thought ‘If not now, then when?’
The biggest challenge was the headstand (and it’s other varieties of shoulder and handstand). We did them every day. And I did not like it. It was scary. The feeling of wheeling your legs into space, even with the wall close by and a partner to spot you is disorienting and far from zen. More like alarm bells going off in your head that say ‘You should not be doing this!’. But I didn’t want to give up, especially when I knew that it was not really shoulder and core strength that was holding me back, that would develop if I kept practicing. It was fear. Fear of falling (and I did), fear of making a fool of myself (yes, that’s the ego talking), fear of injuring myself (somewhat valid, some of my classmates did). Despite this, I vowed to give it a try, promising myself that after the course I could say ‘I’ve tried hard, but now I’m never going upside down again’.
One morning practice in week 3, my muscles were sore and I was tired. I came out of the first headstand and knew I still had time, that I should do another one. So up I went, feeling tired and sore, only to find the most beautiful sight across the room: my classmate in full headstand silhouetted against the winter morning sun doing some poetic ashtanga leg sequence. There was hope.
Around week 4 something shifted. I think it was the repetition compounded by the fact there were fifteen other people upside down in a room with me multiple times a day that did it. The fear lessened and my mind accepted the fact that it was ok to be upside down.
When training finished, there was no more teacher, no more classmates and I had the option to never do a headstand again. But now it was normal. And once you taken the trouble of allowing upside down to become normal, why go back? So I continued.
As part of my morning practice I worked on my headstand and in a couple of months I went from alarm-bells in brain wall and person supported headstand to nearby door self-supported headstand (if only for a few seconds…for now! Still a work in progress.)
So the moral of the story is, I still believe the physical practice of yoga doesn’t need to be showy (if you never do a headstand that is A-OK with me): how you feel in your practice is always more important than what you look like, but setting physical goals can be good too. Challenging yourself, safely and with support, shakes things up and hopefully helps you realise you can do more than you think you could. So set a goal, imagine your future self touching your toes, meditating in full lotus, suspended in crow, touching the mat with your heals in down dog, whatever you want and then take one step at a time toward that self that is waiting for you! I’d love to know what your goal is and help you achieve it!
15 June 2018: Whether you are new to yoga and wondering what its all about or have done yoga for years and need a reminder here are 7 REASONS TO LOVE YOGA!
- Yoga is good for your body. Yoga asana (postures) and vinyasa (posture sequences) work the whole body, so nothing gets left out, even those muscles you didn’t know you had!
- There is a yoga style for everyone, whether you seek a gentle stretch or a power workout. (see last weeks post for more info about styles of yoga)
- Yoga is good for your mind. By drawing our attention to the breath and directions about which hand is going where etc, yoga brings us into the present moment to quiet that string of inner dialogue (you know, the ‘to-do’ lists, the ‘what am I having for dinner?’ questions, the ‘are these leggings flattering’ talk). There’s just INHALE, EXHALE, HOLD THAT POSTURE, REPEAT.
- Sweet sweet Savansana: that time at the end of every class where you can relax and let go.
- Yoga is good for your emotions. You should feel better after a yoga class, maybe sore, but better, a little more calm, a little freer, a little stronger.
- The more you learn with yoga, the more there is to learn. A new posture to work on, a different feeling you find during your practice, a new technique to try, a new style to experiment with..there’s always something fresh and exciting.
- Yoga is good for your spirit. At a class, you find a community of wonderful people. During savasana, you may find your awareness of the world around you and inside you opens up. On the mat, you find you can do more than you thought you could and accept the limit of where you are.
Those are just a few reasons I love yoga. What about you?? I’d love to hear from you.
4 June 2018: A question I am asked frequently is ‘What are the differences between all these types of yoga?’ Good question! There are a lot of varieties of yoga, which gives students a lot of choice to find a class that is right, but it can be confusing too.
All of today’s yoga traditions are rooted in ancient India (although the yogis of old would certainly look at our leggings and mats and think ‘WHAT?!’) but as far as what is on offer in the 21st-century, here’s a quick summary:
I practice and teach Hatha yoga. Hatha comes from two words in Sanskrit (the ancient language of India), ‘Ha’ meaning Sun and ‘Tha’ meaning Moon. So Hatha is about balance, between effort and rest, and between body, mind, emotions, and spirit/consciousness (whichever word you like better). Hatha is great for beginners because its a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ pace of a class, but it also doesn’t get old – tens years later, I’m still hooked!
When yoga started to become popular in the West in the 20th-century there were two main teachers who began influential branches of yoga: BKS Iyengar & K Pattabhi Jois. Iyengar yoga, is a yoga of ailment where you’ll be aiming for the ideal form of a pose. That means holding poses longer and doing lots of little adjustments to reach that perfect position, usually using props along the way. This is great for people who like to get things ‘right’, but, depending on the teacher, does not always address the fundamental differences in our anatomy. From Jois came Ashtanga yoga, an aerobic practice that is physically challenging and beautifully sequenced. This great for people who enjoy movement and rhythm, but can sometimes be too much for a beginner without a current exercise regime.
In the past few years, there has been a growing interest in hot yoga, particularly Bikram yoga, created by Bikram Choudhury. In a Bikram class, the room is heated to 35-42 degrees Celsius and you’ll be directed through the same series of poses every class, no matter the teacher or location. Great for those who love the heat, the ‘detoxifying’ of sweating, and like the reliability of a practice, but it can be too intense for some. (I must admit, I have never been to a Bikram class because I love hydrating and struggle to function, let along yoga, in the heat!)
All of these yogas are ‘yang’ style disciplines, which means you’ll be focusing on working your muscles, but classes that are ‘yin’ means holding particular poses for 3-5minutes in a way that encourages joint health. Yin yoga also brings in ideas from Asian philosophy of acceptance, allowing, and the feminine aspects of ourselves and is growing in popularity.
These are only a few forms of yoga, there is also Kundalini Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Restorative Yoga, and the list goes on and on AND every teacher will apply their discipline differently.
Final Top Tips: 1) Never be afraid to give a class a couple of tries, sometimes it takes awhile to see if you like it and get used to the format and the teacher. 2) Never be afraid to ask your teacher questions before or after a class – in my experience, it is usually welcomed. 3) Whatever class you try, always work within your own practice! If you don’t feel comfortable ‘going there’ with a pose, don’t go there. Let’s face it, you are paying to be there, so your mat, your rules. 4) Have fun with it! Trying different styles of yoga is really interesting and is even better with friends, so go out and yoga!!!