How Yoga helps to reduce anxiety

How yoga helps reduce anxiety

One common reason that people turn to yoga is to try to find ways to reduce anxiety and stress. Yoga is a very powerful tool for this. You don’t have to be able to do complicated postures to achieve this benefit, as long as you have a pair of lungs you are able to harness this benefit.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a persistent feeling of unease, that may or may not have an obvious cause. It is different from stress, because stress generally has a root cause (although this can be an imagined situation, there is still a root cause). The stress response will pass once the cause is no longer an issue.

Anxiety is connected to stress, but the cause can be very non specific. Anxiety can be seen as a build up of stress. An anxiety attack may be provoked by something seemingly very insignificant. It is, in fact, the build up of anxiety that creates the problem.

There are many types of anxiety, including phobias, PTSD, post natal anxiety, IBS, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, social anxiety, hoarding and much more.

Some 3 million people in the UK are believed to suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.

How can Yoga reduce Anxiety?

Yoga is an excellent tool to help reduce anxiety. It can help you restore some peace to your life if you suffer with any form of anxiety disorder. There are many ways that Yoga can help to reduce anxiety.

Calm the nervous system

Slowing the breath and bringing awareness to your breathing in Yoga soothes and calms the nervous system. This is known as Pranayama. This takes the body and mind out of the stress response, and restores the body to balance and relaxation. Learning to breathe well has numerous benefits, but the impact on the stress response is possibly the one that 21st Century humans need most!

Stilling the mind

Anxiety is the result of thoughts that seem beyond your control. When you learn to sit quietly, to focus on the breath, and to let go of the thoughts that try to distract you, in time you will find that you are better able to do this in daily life as well. This control of the thoughts is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and stress (old video).

The Three Rules of Yoga

One of the first lessons I was taught on Yoga teacher training was Swami Gitanada’s ‘Three Rules of Yoga’. These are ‘Don’t Judge, Don’t Compare, Don’t Beat Yourself Up. These rules are very powerful guides for happy living in terms of how you interact with the world and yourself. So much anxiety and unhappiness comes from judgement, comparison and self recrimination – being able to let go of these will free you from so much stress and anxiety.

Acceptance

Yoga teaches the value of acceptance of the current state of things. That is not to say that you cannot make changes, but Yoga asks us to accept, without judgement or criticism, the fact that life is as it is. From this state of acceptance you can look calmly at what changes you need or want to make in life. This is a very empowering way to approach life – the ability to say ‘yes, this sucks, it is what it is, and I can accept that this is where I am now’ enables you to take ownership of what has happened in your life and move forward.

Physical release of tension

The mind and body are intrinsically linked – what the mind experiences manifests in the body, and vice versa. If you have anxiety in your mind, it will find its way to physical symptoms, such as IBS, high blood pressure, headaches and more. Similarly, tension held in the body will add to tension in the mind. Yoga helps you to release this tension through breath work, postures and end of class relaxation.  The practice of ‘throwing out’ which I teach in all my local and one to one classes, is a powerful and healing practice that allows you to release mental tension through the body.

Feel Good Factor

Yoga practices produce a neurotransmitter known as GABA. This is a chemical in the brain that makes us feel good and happy. This natural high is the reason that people leave yoga classes smiling. GABA deficiency is a contributory factor in conditions such as anxiety and IBS, so regular Yoga could help to alleviate this deficiency and reduce the anxiety at a biological level.

In addition to the increase of GABA, Yoga also reduces Cortisol, the stress hormone, thereby producing a double whammy of anxiety reduction and happiness.

Could Yoga reduce anxiety for you?

As you can see, there are some powerful reasons why Yoga could help you to reduce anxiety and stress. Would you like to give it a try? Subscribe now for your free 45 minute Yoga class lesson and practice tracker. Give a regular practice a try and see how you feel as a result. You never know, it might transform your life!

 

increase flexibility body jattis blog post

Increasing flexibility in the body through Yoga

Flexibility is seen by many as a pre-requisite to practising Yoga. This is a damaging and worrying misconception. yoga will increase the flexibility in your body, reducing stress and tension in your muscles and your mind, but you don’t need to be flexible before you start. Indeed, the complicated, acrobatic posture you see on Instagram are not the purpose of Yoga at all, the purpose of Yoga is what you learn about yourself in the postures.

That said, physical flexibility is important for physical and mental health. As we age, we lose that flexibility, and this can lead to pain, loss of mobility, increased risk of injury and more. These simple practices, known as Jattis, can reduce tension and stiffness in the body and improve physical flexibility and wellbeing in a very short space of time.

These movements might not seem like much, but they are powerful. In one session, you will feel looser and more relaxed in body and mind. I have delivered taster sessions to people where this has been all we have done, and the impact has been amazing to see – the reduction in stress is visible on their faces.

Try the movements in this video now, and every day, and let me know what difference and benefits you see from the practice. You might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you see progress. These are the same practices we do in all my classes, so you can try them out before you come along to a class, or to practice between classes.

And remember, progress is how far you move from where you are, not reaching anyone else’s level!

Wellbeing Wednesday on Rhondda Radio

Rhondda Radio is officially launching on 106.1 FM on Sunday 29th July, and Rhondda Yoga will be there!

Not only will I be offering taster sessions at the launch event (one at 2pm, and one at 3pm) but I am also a Rhondda Radio presenter!

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Join me every Wednesday from 1-3pm on 106.1FM where I will be presenting the ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ show. I will be discussing different aspects of wellbeing (not just Yoga!), and talking to people who are working within the Rhondda to help improve wellbeing and health throughout the valley. We will talk about relevant issues as they arise, share events that are taking place to do with wellbeing, and showcase all the ways you can take care of your health in the Rhondda area.

Is there is a topic you would like me to discuss?  Would you like to be a guest to discuss anything to do with wellbeing in the Rhondda? Do you know an organisation you think would be interesting for me to interview?  Please do get in touch if so! You can contact the Rhondda Radio studio at studio@rhonddaradio.com (put Wellbeing Wednesday in the subject line)

I’d love to hear from you, and to have you take part in the show. You can email and phone in when I am on air too, so if you have anything to add to the discussion, I’d love to hear from you!

man at front of a yoga class

Summer holiday arrangements

I’m writing this note today to let you know about the arrangements for Rhondda Yoga classes over the summer holidays. I just sent it as an email to people who I get to send emails to, but it needs to be available to you if I don’t have your email address as well!
As you may know, I am a single mother, with an 8 year old boy who really doesn’t like yoga!
The summer holidays means, obviously, that daytime classes will be impacting on him considerably.
I am not planning to cancel any of the classes, but I have decided that I need to implement a booking and minimum attendee policy for the daytime classes so that if no one wants a class on a particular day, we can do something else.
This will only be in place for the holidays, and only for the daytime classes – I already have childcare for the evenings, so there isn’t an issue there.
Please bookmark this form and use it to book yourself onto your chosen classes, or you can book out the whole of the summer in advance if you want to give yourself that commitment.
If you have any problems with the form, please let me know and I can book you in anyway!
In addition, the class in Porth is on hold throughout the summer, and will resume in a new venue, the Shed Cafe on Hannah street, when the schools start back again in September. This will be the same week that the Friday evening class starts in EGH Judo in Porth, so that will be a great week of Yoga!

Loyalty Cards

I am getting rid of the block booking scheme that is currently in place, and implementing a new loyalty card scheme. You will be able to earn a free class for every 9 classes you attend in a 4 month period. I don’t have the cards yet, but am starting to track your attendance starting this week, so any classes you attend this week will count towards your free class. If you already have a block booking in place, this will not be affected.

Summer Retreat

There are still a few places left on the weekend retreat at Ragmans Lane Farm in The Forest of Dean next month. I am holding the price at £200 for another week, so if you are interested but haven’t managed to book yet, do let me know. You can pay a deposit now to secure your place, if you can send me £100 today, you can pay the balance within a month. There are only 5 places left, so don’t delay, I anticipate them selling soon!
If you’d like to know more about the retreat, you can take a look at the details here http://rhonddayoga.co.uk/event/calm-and-connect-weekend-retreat/?instance_id=6279
I hope you have a wonderful week, and hope to see you really soon.
Much love
Esther
ps…….if you haven’t signed up for the 30 Day Practice Makes Progress free challenge yet, why not take a look? We have over 70 people spending 15 minutes a day to increase their flexibility, and i’m already getting some great feedback! I’d love to have you join us, take a look and sign up at http://members.beginnersyogaclub.com/courses/practice-makes-progress

Yoga IS for men as well you know fellas!

In ancient India, Yoga was pretty much exclusively a male occupation. If you look at the history of Yoga, you will see that all the famous Gurus who travelled to the West to share the message of Yoga were men.

And yet, oddly, in the West, Yoga is a predominantly female activity. In America, according to a recent study, 72% of Yoga practitioners are female.

This is bad news for men (and for women I have to say!).

Yoga is a powerful way of life that promotes good physical and mental health, increases strength, flexibility and muscle tone, reduces stress, improves sleep and energy levels, and much more besides.

 

Yoga is good for mental health

man in downward dog meru asana yoga posture

Given the recent attention being rightly given to male mental health, we need to look at ways that men can take care for themselves differently. Much of the sport and intense physical exercise that is in the ‘male’ arena is deeply competitive in nature. While some competition is good, and striving 

to be the best can lead you to great things, when it comes to taking care of yourself, competition can be counter productive. Too much competition, in the sporting world and in life, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, causing turmoil and damage to the self esteem. In yoga, you don’t have to be THE best, you only have to be the best YOU. Yoga will help you to get to that place of acceptance of who you are in all your glorious, flawed perfection

Men can gain hugely from attending a Yoga class that is focused on relaxation, getting in tune with yourself, learning to breathe and gently nurturing the body. With the need for competition gone, there is no need to fear ‘locker room’ style mockery if you can’t get into a posture. You can quieten the ego, take a deep breath and simply be.

Judo master Huw appreciates the advantages of Yoga. He is attending my classes in Pontypridd, and is already seeing the benefits after just a few  weeks. He writes

Tried yoga for the first time yesterday. Didn’t know what to expect despite having done quite a lot of research. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite being the only male in a class of nine females. Esther was very welcoming and helpful. I was allowed to take the class at my own pace, I felt strangely energised and relaxed (if that’s even possible) after the class. I will definitely be going back. Highly recommended

 

Huw Jones, EGH Judo

I would love to see more men practise Yoga. I think it would do you all so much good, and be better for the people around you too.

Come along to one of my classes in Pontypridd and The Rhondda, or take a look at Beginners Yoga Club if you would rather give it a try in the privacy of your own home.

Feel free to drop me a message if you would like to ask me anything, and ladies, please share this with the men in your life!

10 ways to practice yoga when you don’t have time to go to a yoga class (part 2)

Yesterday I shared with you 5 ways you can practice yoga in your life when you aren’t able to get to a yoga class.

Today I am going to share 5 more practices that you can integrate into your busy days. Today I will share 5 more ways you can find peace and calm in the midst of a hectic life.

Switch off your devices

The digital world offers a myriad of ways to distract and numb the mind from the realities of your emotions. It provides constant stimulation, and a never ending dopamine rush, creating more need for the highs you get from it. Notifications and the emotional roller coaster of TV and other entertainment prevents us ever having a moment to just fully be in the moment.

Switching off all your devices, and being exactly where you are right now, is a powerful way to allow your mind to rest. As we live in an increasingly digital world, I think it is going to become ever more important that we are able to function without them, to retain mastery over our own minds, and not allow technology to dictate how we behave. Try allocating time every day to step away from all devices, or consider things like not taking your phone with you when you are meeting a friend for coffee, spending time with the children, focusing entirely on the task you are doing, going for a walk, and going to bed. Re-acquaint yourself with boredom, with not having anything to distract and stimulate your mind, with being present with the person you are with, and living in the moment.

Compassion

The first of the Yamas of Yoga is Ahimsa, or non-harming. This might seem like quite a simple thing to practice, but it is deceptively difficult. It requires us to treat all living beings with compassion, and not to cause harm to any. Including ourselves.

There are numerous ways that we cause harm without intending to in our day. We can cause harm with our thoughts, words, and actions. Alanis Morissette wrote a fantastic song called ‘Versions Of Violence’, in which she lists many of the ways that we can harm another, without realising it.

 

How many of these can you recognise in your own behaviour, both to yourself and others. How many harsh things have you said to yourself today? Have you taken out the stress of the morning commute on someone else? Did you shout at the children and now feel bad about it? I don’t want to list lots of ways you could have caused harm and make you feel bad, but I invite you to think about it.

Just for today, could you try to raise your awareness of how you are treating yourself and others, and make a concerted effort to act with a little more compassion?

Quiet sitting

As i mentioned above, the ability to sit and be with yourself is a vital one, and one that the modern world makes harder and harder. The main, original purpose of Yoga postures was to get the body fit to sit in meditative postures for extended periods of time. The modern world has made Yoga mostly about moving the body, but in truth, the essence of Yoga is in developing the ability to be still.

A daily practice of sitting quietly, focusing on the breath, training the mind to be still, is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself. Research has found a wide range of benefits in this practice, from increased concentration, to better sleep, reduced stress and greater compassion to name but a few.

In this video I guide you through a 10 minute practice of sitting quietly. Try to fit in even a few minutes into your day every day, and see what benefits it brings.

Walk consciously

Walking is a great form of physical exercise, and a wonderful way to see places you won’t see, and notice the little details that you don’t notice, in a car. Walking is also a fantastic way to keep mental health in check. Research has shown that it lifts the mood, increases heart health, reduces stress and much more.

Walking can also be a powerful way to reconnect with your body. As you go about your day, the chances are you don’t really notice or think about your body that much, beyond tending to basic biological needs, or feeding yourself. Modern life has separated us from ourselves so much that we rarely stop and appreciate what a truly magnificent thing the human body, in all its shapes and sizes, really is.

You can turn your walk into a mindfulness exercise by getting really connected to your body. While it is best to do this without any stimulation or digital interference, it can be hard if you are completely new to it.

In this podcast I talk a lot about the benefits of walking, and share a 20 minute walking relaxation you can download to listen to as you walk.

Beginners Yoga Club

As much as i advocate stepping away from digital distractions to increase inner peace and reduce stress, there are ways that technology can really help if you are struggling to ‘get yoga’ on your own. I heard from a growing number of people who were telling me a range of reasons why they couldn’t get to a class. Reasons included being too busy, not able to fit my times in with their time, social anxiety, fears of being in a room of people they don’t know, doing something they don’t know, being in the wrong country, and more beside.

I wanted to do something to help people access Yoga in a way that works, so I created Beginners Yoga Club. This is essentially an online Yoga studio, aimed at beginners. We will have weekly classes in which I will be teaching you basic loosening practices to help you to release the tension you have in your body, basic breathing practices, and relaxation. We will also do some simple postures. Each month there will be a pranayama (breath control) class, and we will have an online social space where we can get to know one another, learn from each other, share experiences and ask questions.

Beginners Yoga Club opens on June 1. Find out more at beginnersyogaclub.com

 

10 ways to practice yoga no time for yoga class part 1

10 ways to practice yoga when you don’t have time to go to a yoga class (part 1)

One of the common reasons I hear that people have for not being able to get to a yoga class is lack of time. I get it, I really do. We live in a crazily hectic world, with so many things we think we need to do. You have so many responsibilities, demands and desires pulling you in so many different directions, it can be hard to make time for yoga. Whose got time for a yoga class?

There are many ways you can get benefits from yoga if you are short on time. Here are 10 ways that you can incorporate Yoga into a busy day.

Make time

There is a famous quote that has been attributed to The Buddha (among others!) that says

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour”

Now, I know I am talking about meditation in an article about yoga, but you cannot separate the two, and the principle behind the comment applies to both sitting quitely with the breath, and practising postures.

Both postures and stillness (meditation) allow the mind to still, release tension and stress from the body, teach focus and concentration, increase creativity, reduce stress, insomnia and depression and much more. All of these benefits will help you to achieve more in your working hours than pushing ahead and working all day.

The chances are you’ve got far more time than you think if work time is the barrier for you. Research has shown that the average worker doesn’t even work productively for half a working day. Spend a week tracking all your actual activities at work (with brutal honesty) and see how much of your time is spent in genuinely productive work, and see if you can squeeze in a bit of time for Yoga!

Breathe on the commute

The daily commute can be a very stressful experience. Whether you drive or use public transport, it can be unpleasant, stressful, uncomfortable and exhsausting. You can be stressed out before you even make it to the office, and this can affect the whole of your day.

Instead of allowing stress and frustration overwhelm you, try practicing deep breathing as you travel. Simply breathing slowly, deeply and consciously will have many benefits, including

  • Improving your respiration
  • Reducing stress
  • Enabling you to find mental clarity
  • Enhancing cognitive function
  • Enabling you to be ‘in the moment’
  • Reducing road rage!
  • Increasing energy

You have to be in the traffic if you need to commute. You get to choose how you feel about it. Deep breathing is the simplest way to calm the tension and allowing you to feel calm and happy as you walk into work

Gratitude practice

Santosha, or contentment, is one of the Niyamas of Yoga. This teaches us to be happy and accepting of whatever life sends our way. We cannot control what happens to us in life, we can only choose how we deal with it. A daily gratitude practice is a powerful way to choose positive emotions.

Practising gratitude doesn’t mean that we ignore the bad things that happen in life, but that we look for the ways that we can use it to learn and grow.

It can be hard to see the positives when you are going through a difficult time, but a regular gratitude practice helps you to see that there are still things worth celebrating in life, and enables you to see those lessons learned after the pain has passed.

You can learn more about the benefits of practising gratitude here

Journaling

Swadhyaya, or self study is another of the Niyamas of Yoga. Yoga is all about personal evolution and growth, and it is impossible to do this if we don’t look objectively at ourselves. This can be hard to do with the conscious mind, we need to access the subconscious, and learn to listen to that part of ourselves.

A journaling practice can be a powerful way to uncover the things you don’t know you know and think. When you sit and write freely, without editing or censoring yourself, you uncover the parts of yourself that the conscious mind hides from view. It can be difficult sometimes, but through a daily writing practice, you can really get to know yourself better and see your life more clearly.

You can learn more about the power of self study here

Jattis

Jattis are gentle loosening exercises that we do at the start of all of my classes. They are small, easy to do movements that can be done on the floor, or in a chair. There are even some that can be done standing up. They are a powerful way to improve health and wellbeing, releasing physical and mental tension, improving flexibility, increasing connection with the body, and allowing the body to relax.

You can access a short Jattis session here in an video I made for Quit Wining, or you can find a longer practice when you join for a free 30 day trial of Beginners Yoga Club

You can read part two of this post here

 

Which of these practices will you try? I’d love to know, please share in the comments, and pass this post along to your busy friend who needs some Yoga!

5 things you need for a yoga class

5 things you need for a yoga class

If you look at any Yoga store, you will find a dazzling array of accessories, props, clothing and more that you might think you need.

What sort of mat should you get?

Do you need a block, a pillow, an eye mask?

Will everyone else in the class be wearing skimpy lyrca, can you rock up in your leggings and Beatles t-shirt?

The good news is that there is very little you actually NEED to practice yoga. One of the many wonderful things about yoga, is that it can be done very cheaply.

There are, however, 5 essentials I would ask anyone who comes to one of my classes to bring with them (or at least use)

A proper Yoga mat

blue yoga matA mat is not strictly speaking essential, but it will be far more comfortable for you to practice on a mat, and gives you a clear sense of your space. At the first EGH Judo class, we tried not using mats, as the floor is already covered in judo mats, but quickly realised that we had no way to mark out space, so people were too close together. A mat cushions your body against the floor, which is vital for some postures, and it offers protection against sliding in some posture, minimising the chances of injury.

It is important to get the right sort of mat for yoga. A spongy, thick mat that you might use for Pilates is not suitable as is doesn’t offer the stickiness, and is very hard to balance on. A yoga mat is around 4mm or 6mm thick. YogaBliss, a UK based Yoga supplies company, offers some beautiful mats or varying quality and price. I will be getting my next mat from here, I have fallen in love with these Elephant and Yantra mats

If you find that a regular yoga mat is too thin and uncomfortable on your knees, you can double over part of the mat for knee based postures, or place another mat on top of it to see if that increases your comfort.

If you come to my classes, you can borrow a mat from me if you don’t have one of your own.

Water

Outdoors Wet Travel Also Water FountainWater is really important for the health of the body. Every cell in the body needs to be hydrated. The best way to do this is through drinking water. Plain water is best, or sparkling water. Sugary additions such as squash should be avoided if possible.

There are mixed opinions about drinking water in a yoga class. Some teachers explicitly teach that you shouldn’t drink water through your yoga practice. Rishiculture Ashtanga Yoga, the tradition I teach, promotes drinking at regular intervals through the class, to keep the body hydrated, and to help to flush out toxins from the body. At certain points through a class, I will ask you to drink some water. If you really don’t like the idea of drinking water through the class, please be sure to drink plenty after it.

A blanket

dog relaxing under a blanket

Image courtesy of Gregg O’Connell on Flickr

At the end of a Yoga class, there will be a relaxation. This is a vital part of the class as it allows your muscles to release any remaining tension that has been created by the postures, and gives you space and time to bring your mind and body into balance and harmony.

Relaxation is performed by lying on the back in a posture called Shava Asana. You will, in a Rishiculture Ashtanga class, be in this posture, lying very still and quietly, for at least 10 minutes. During this time your body temperature will drop, which will cause the muscles to gain a some tension, depending on the temperature in the room. The use of a blanket keeps you warm and prevents this tension building. Before we go into relaxation I will invite you to put on socks to keep your feet warm during this time as well.

Clothes you can stretch in

man wearing blue t-shirt and black leggings in vriksha asanaMany people worry that a yoga class is going to be full of people in Lycra. You do not need fancy ‘yoga clothes’ to practice yoga. All you need is something comfortable you can stretch in, that isn’t going to be revealing when you bend over, that allows you to comfortably bend at the middle. I tend to wear t-shirts with leggings, exercise trousers, or loose Indian trousers. I would advise bringing a pair of socks to put on at the end for relaxation, and to wear at the start if it is a bit chilly, and you can add layers in the colder weather to keep warm. Yoga is a barefoot practice, so no shoes requires. If you want to wear socks throughout, you can buy sticky socks to prevent your feet sliding.

 

 

 

An open mind

Yoga may not be what you think it is. Even if you have tried yoga before, you will find that different teachers and different styles vary quite a lot. Some teachers include chanting in their classes, some might ask you to do things you might find unusual, such as crawling on your hands and knees. All of these things have meaning and are important to the style of yoga being taught, and will give you benefits that you might not expect. Try to enter into the spirit of it, and remember that everyone else in the class is doing it as well.

Yoga will impact your life in ways you cannot possibly foresee at the start of your journey. Students who come to my classes are already reporting noticeable improvements in their flexibility, but also reduced pain, regular headaches disappearing, mental calm, better sleep and much more. As time progresses they will likely start to notice other changes as well.

Yoga has the power to transform your life for the better in so many ways. You just need to start. So come along to a class this week and begin your journey with Yoga.

Beginners Yoga Club

If you can’t make any of my local classes, you might be interested in Beginners Yoga Club, an online Yoga school where I will be delivering live classes online once a week, and making the recordings available to you so you can watch in your own space and time.

The club opens on June 1, and you can get access to early bird resources and a free 30 day trial right now. find out more and register your place here

Words of wisdom from a yoga loving Fat Bird

shan marshall fat bird yogaMy friend Shan Marshall recently made my heart sing with joy when she began attending Yoga classes in her local area. A self confessed ‘Fat Bird‘, Shan had many reasons she could have decided that Yoga wasn’t for her, but she gave it a try, and fell in love with it. She recently began a website, Fat Bird Yoga, which is one of my favourite website names ever! I wanted to ask her about her experience with Yoga as a ‘fat bird’

You discovered the joys of yoga only recently. Can you tell us what brought you to a yoga class?

I hurt my back and a chiropractor recommended I take up yoga to keep my back, shoulders and hips flexible, clear my stress and reduce the migraines.

What did you think about yoga before this?

I thought it was just about getting in strange positions. I was curious to find out how someone could scrunch their body up and balance on one foot.

How did you feel when you went to your first class?

Apprehensive. I didn’t know what to expect and hoped that people were friendly, I wouldn’t be laughed at, and that they wouldn’t be the archetypal “yoga bunnies” – stick thin, young and perfect makeup. Oh, and colour co-ordinated outfits.

What were the biggest hurdles you felt were in the way for you when it came to practising Yoga?

Quite honestly, my boobs and belly. I was trying to do Downward Dog a couple of months ago and – I don’t know how I managed it – got the angle wrong and was gently slapped in the face by two soft pillows, my boobs. I remembered an ex-boyfriend telling me “You could suffocate in there”, and thought he was right. Then I thought “If I needed help, I don’t think anyone would hear me call out” so I stood up.

How did your yoga teacher accommodate your particular needs so that you can practice and feel comfortable in the class?

Gill Littleford was great. She told me to get two chairs and put them by my mat. Each pose the class did Gill came and sat on the other chair and showed me the modified pose. She encouraged me when I was afraid of hurting myself or falling off the chair, and she was compassionate and understanding. Seven months on, she’s still like it. She’s my “go to” teacher.

What is your favourite aspect of yoga?

It’s knowing that whatever I do, whether it’s simply sitting quietly or stretching my body into Triangle pose, I’m showing myself love. Having been brought up to love others, not myself, to be able to show love to me is amazing [editor’s note – I ADORE this!].

How has yoga impacted on your life?

Flip, where do I start?? I’m calmer, moving better, getting up the stairs easier, more open and honest. Massive impact.

You have the best named yoga website I have seen in ages, fatbirdyoga.com. What are your plans for developing the site?

Good question. I started the site to write about doing yoga as a morbidly obese 61 year old, after telling Carrie Eddins the Downward Dog/boobs story and her rolling about laughing. I want to develop it to include where to get clothing suitable for fat bird yogis, a directory of yoga teachers willing to teach fat birds yoga – i.e. who can teach modifications or at least be inclusive of fat bird yogis. This would be a paid listing when I get reader numbers up.

I want to be open about the difficulties of being a fat bird yogi in terms of movement and resisting the temptation to force yourself as low as everybody else is going. Then there are the experiences everybody faces which I haven’t seen written about such as yarts (yoga farts), yurps (yoga burps) and yorgasms (that was a surprise – thank Goodness it didn’t happen in class). [editors note – I have to say, after more than 10 years of Yoga practice, I have yet to experience a ‘yorgasm’ – I need to talk to Shan more about this!]

You don’t fit the instagram stereotype of the yoga practitioner, and can be a real inspiration for those who think that their size, age, fitness etc is a barrier to them trying Yoga. What would you say to someone who might want to try yoga but feels that is ‘isn’t for them’?

I would suggest they contact a local teacher, explain their situation – size, age, mobility, beginner, etc – and ask the teacher if they can teach modifications for chair yoga.

Do you want to try Yoga in the Rhondda

If you resonate with Shan’s story, and would like to try yoga, there is every reason why you can take part. Drop me a line and let me know your concerns, and I will be able to accomodate your needs in class.

Do you suffer from arthritis Here are 5 ways Yoga can help

Do you suffer from arthritis? Here are 5 ways Yoga can help!

Arthritis is a progressive condition that affects the health and mobility of the joints of the body. It is very common, with around 10 million people in the UK suffering from it, and while it is often thought of as an age related condition, it can strike at any age, with children also affected. 15% of women and 10% of men in Wales are reported to be affected by arthritis.

The most common form of arthritis, which affects an estimated 8 million people in the UK is osteoarthritis. This is most common in women over 40, but can strike at any age, and can be triggered by injury or other conditions, as well as age and genetic predisposition.

While there is no cure for arthritis, there are things that can be done to alleviate the symptoms, and slow down the advance of the condition. Treatment to manage symptoms and reduce pain are available on the NHS. The NHS also recommends gentle exercise to maintain as much movement in the joints as possible.

Yoga for arthritis

Yoga is a powerful tool to both prevent and manage arthritis. Research has found that regular yoga practice can improve the mental and physical wellbeing of arthritis sufferers.

Here  are 5 powerful ways that Yoga can help to make life with arthritis easier.

Increased flexibility in the joints

The arthritic joints, if not moved and exercised regularly, will stiffen more and more and pain will increase. Yoga is well known for promoting flexibility in the joints, and many of the postures can be hugely beneficial to those at risk of, or suffering from, arthritis. Care needs to be taken not to overdo it, or your yoga practice could cause more problems, but if practised with care and under the guidance of a teacher, it can be really beneficial.

If practised regularly, the jattis, or loosening exercises, we do at the start of one of my classes can promote and maintain flexibility and mobility in the joints. This can help to prevent or slow the onset and progression of arthritis.

Pain relief

Arthritis is most associated with chronic pain. Research has shown that people who regularly practice Yoga have a higher tolerance for pain and show lower brain response to pain than people who don’t practice Yoga

Pranayama, the yogic practice of breath control, has been shown to reduce pain in patients with lower back pain, and specifically with arthritis, and is believed to relieve pain in other situations as well

Improved mood and mental wellbeing

Yoga increases production of the feelgood chemical, the neurotransmittor GABA, in the brain. This creates a positive state of mind, which naturally leads to lowered stress, a higher tolerance to pain, and the ability to look beyond the pain to the positives in life. One Yoga session has been found to increase production of GABA in the mind, leading to a real, deeply felt sense of wellbeing in the body and mind.

Reduction of stress

Stress makes every bad situation much worse. Constant pain creates a great deal of stress in the body, which will try to compensate for the parts that feel pain, and the mind, which is constantly trying to deal with, or anticipating, the next flare up of pain. Yoga teaches the practitioner how to relax, to let go of tension in the body and mind, to focus the attention away from, and to breathe through pain.

Yoga can reduce inflammation

As Yoga is a condition characterised by painful inflammation, reducing the inflammation could help to relieve the pain. Yoga has been shown to reduce inflammation through the practice of Pranayama, the art of breath control. Rhythmic breathing, such as Sukha Pranayama, has been found to reduce inflammation in the body. This has powerful implications for arthritis sufferers, as it means that they can get enormous benefits just from breathing exercises, allowing participation regardless of mobility.

In the video below, I guide you through a simple Sukha Pranayama. It is a very old video, my hair looks nothing like this anymore, and I will update soon, but in the meantime, the practice is just the same!

Safety in Yoga class with arthritis

When you have any health issue, it is always best to talk to your yoga teacher, and your doctor, before beginning any exercise regime. Your doctor may have already recommended Yoga as a gentle form of exercise, but make sure that you check with the teacher to make sure that the class you hope to attend is suitable for your needs – some forms of yoga are very intense and powerful and would not benefit you at all. Your teacher should be able to make adjustments and suggestions for how you can participate in the class and still get lots of benefit while taking care of your body’s needs and being safe. I will always recomend that you sit on a chair for many of the postures, and my golden rule is always ‘listen to me, but listen to your body more, and stop and rest when you need to.

If you are based in or around the Rhondda and would like to explore how yoga can help you with arthritis, take a look at my class timetable and see if there is a location and time that works for you. All my classes are accessible to you, and I will suggest modification to suit your condition.

Get in touch if you have any specific questions, or if you would like to double check the suitability of the yoga class for your needs.