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 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 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.
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.
Many 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.
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.
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
My 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’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!].
Flip, where do I start?? I’m calmer, moving better, getting up the stairs easier, more open and honest. Massive impact.
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!]
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
When I tell people I teach Yoga, one common response is, ‘Oh, I’d love to do yoga, but I’m too stiff/not flexible enough’.
This makes me so sad. It is to the detriment of the ‘Yoga industry’ that people now think that they have to be flexible in order to be able to participate in a yoga class.
It is not surprising…a Google images search for the word ‘yoga’ brought up a dazzling array of postures that would intimidate any beginner – some of them I can’t do and I’ve been practicing for years!
The trouble is that Yoga has become synonymous with the fitness industry, and given the tag of ‘exercise’. Yoga has been stripped of everything that isn’t physical, and blended with dance, gymnastic, pilates and more until it is barely recognisable.
The most famous definition of Yoga comes from the Yoga Sutras, the definitive text on yoga philosophy, which says
Yoga is the cessation of the whirlpools of the subconscious mind
Yoga is a way of life that aims to balance mind, body, emotions and soul. While caring for the body is a key part of this, the body is not the only thing Yoga cares about. It is not merely exercise.
Traditionally, Yoga was focused only on postures that enabled a person to sit in contemplative practices for long periods of time. It is hard to spend long sitting in meditation when your knees or other body parts hurt. The ancient Yogis would have lived very different lives than we do now in the 21st Century West, so we need more physical work in order to enable our bodies to find space and stillness. But the postures are a means to an end, they are not the end itself. Not being able to ‘do’ the posture doesn’t mean you are not ‘doing yoga’. Yoga is all about the effort. Every attempt in the right direction is rewarded.
You might come to Yoga classes with very little movement in your spine. This is not uncommon, and is a situation you really should try to rectify. In your first class, when the teacher tells you to touch your toes, you might barely reach your knees. This is ok. If you cannot touch your toes, but you go as far as you can, then relax and breathe deeply, you are practising Yoga.
In time you will notice that you can reach a little beyond your knees, then gradually your hands reach further down the shin and one day, maybe in 6 months, maybe in 3 years, maybe more, you will reach your hands to your feet.
“Yoga is not about touching your toes. It’s about unlocking your ideas about what you want, where you think you can go, and how you will achieve when you get there.” — Cyndi Lee
The Jattis, which we perform at the start of every class, are a series of gentle movements that will release tension and increase flexibility in the body, gradually increasing your flexibility.
Yoga is a mind/body discipline. What happens in the body happens in the mind, and vice versa. As well as developing the flexibility in the body, Yoga also helps you to develop flexibility in the mind. As you become strong in the muscles, you develop mental resilience. As you learn to balance your body, you create balance in your life and your emotions.
Yoga can give you what you need. The only pre-requisites to success at yoga are the desire to learn, a willingness to practice and an open mind. The only body type you need is a human body. Whatever level of flexibility, fitness, age, shape, size you are, Yoga can help you to become healthier and happier.
I run classes in Porth, Clydach, Treorchy and Pontypridd, as well as workshops from time to time. Check out the class timetable here. If you can’t get to class at these times, I also offer one to one, and online one to one classes, get in touch to find out more.
When you’re stressed and overwhelmed in life, it can be hard to know where to turn. You can’t sleep, you can eat, or you eat too much, you can’t think straight, you’re snappy with everyone around you and liable to burst into tears at any moment, for no obvious reason.
This is the flight or fight response in action, and too many of us live there all the time.
The flight or fight response is a survival essential that has meant that humanity has survived and evolved for millions of years. It is a response of the nervous system to a threat to life. In ancient times, and in some parts of the world today, that threat to life is real. But in the modern western world, most of us aren’t facing life threatening situations most of the time. And yet stress is a massive problem that is rapidly becoming a worldwide health epidemic. Stress is a contributory factor in the ‘big 6’ of cause of death conditions, including heart disease, stroke, suicide and cirrhosis of the liver.
The flight or fight response is intended to be a short lived response – you see a threat, you run away or fight it, and the threat ends (or, in the case of the sabre toothed tiger that may have threatened our ancestors, you might become dinner, in which case you are no longer stressed anyway!) Unfortunately, because of the never ceasing demands of our modern lives, most of us live in a state of low to mid level stress that we have become so used to, we don’t even know we’re stressed. Conditions such as insomnia, IBS, migraine, asthma, neck, back and shoulder pain to name but a few can be stress related, and the solution we are presented with it to take a pain killer or an anti anxiety pill, and carry on. While medication has it’s place, and can enable people to live better lives (I have has asthma since childhood and am only alive now because of pharmaceutical medication), often this merely masks the symptoms, and does nothing to relieve the underlying cause of stress.
The flight or fight response is the same whether the threat is real, remembered or imagined. I still have a physical response when I think if stressful moments that happened when I was a child, and I am 45 years old now! I still cringe when I remember things I regret saying or doing, and feel old emotions rising when I think about things that happened in the past. I have worked myself into states of actual grief imagining terrible things happening to my children and other people I love, and I have got myself hugely excited dreaming about things that have not materialised. The stress and emotional responses bypass the logical part of the brain completely, so there is no quality control on the response, we react as if the situation is real whether it is or not.
Some tension and stress is vital in life. We couldn’t stand up or walk without stress in the body, and stress can create impetus to act in daily life. The scientist Hans Selye, a pioneer in stress research, identified ‘eustress’ as a positive stress that motivates and excites us, that creates laser focus, energy and drive. Eustress is short lived, giving us the energy we need for as long as we need it, then it disperses. The opposite to this is distress, which is demotivating, depressing and causes worry and anxiety. This type of stress can last for a long time, and can lead to ill health as described above.
The important thing we need to do it to learn to recognise the symptoms of distress, to use the stress in life when we need it, and to learn to let go of that stress when it no longer helps and serves us.
Yoga is one of the most powerful vehicles for stress busting I have come across. From my own personal experience I can absolutely vouch for this. At the start of my teacher training journey, I was trying to emerge from a breakdown the previous year, and was living in the depths of a 20 year alcohol addiction I could barely even acknowledge, and was a heavy smoker (both the legal and illegal variety!)
Through the practices I learned in teacher training, I was able to release years of tension and unhappiness from my mind and body, and to develop powerful new coping strategies to get me thought the times when life can be extremely challenging.
There are many ways that Yoga can help you to reduce, manage and balance the stress in your body. Here are my top 5!
Learning to breathe well is, in my professional and personal opinion, the most powerful gift you can give to yourself. Good breathing has a host of benefits to mental and physical health, and was the biggest factor in my recovery from addiction (I believe). When you take a deep breath in a moment of stress, you give yourself the space to bring the logical mind into action, allowing you to make a reasoned response rather than an emotion based reaction you will possibly regret once you calm down. Regularly practicing slow, deep, rhythmic breathing will help to balance the nervous system to that you spend less time in the flight or fight response in general.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that created a relaxed, feelgood feeling in the brain. The reason alcohol seems to provide relaxation is because it mimics the effects of GABA in the brain. It is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing in this, as it actually increases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, while fooling the drinker into thinking they are relaxed. GABA is increased naturally during a yoga practice. The relaxed, happy feeling you get after Yoga is the result of very real and powerful changes in the brain as well as the release of tension in the body. When we feel relaxed and happy, we are better able to deal with difficult situations.
Through Yoga you develop a greater connection to, and awareness of, your body, breath and emotions. When we start to become aware of something, we can make changes to improve that situation if need be. As you deepen your yoga practice, you will start to notice things like how your body responds to stress, so that you notice the signs and can take action to rectify the situation before is escalates.
Yoga teaches us to let go of the things that don’t serve us and help us to improve our lot in life. From promoting better care of the body, to encouraging us to shed habits that hold us back, and releasing physical and mental tension, there are a vast range of tools that Yoga offers to help us to let go. In fact , this is the ultimate goal of Yoga, to guide us to let go of the things that block our growth as humans. It is impossible to grow as a person when you are holding on to the stress, tensions, resentments and habits of the past, so you need to drop the baggage and move lightly through life.
I know the phrase is ‘sleep like a baby’ but babies have very unpredictable sleeping patterns, I like my sleep to be catlike! I suffered with insomnia for years from childhood, which contributed to my alcohol issues, and was remedied through Yoga. Through the relaxation and breathing practices, there are many ways that Yoga can help you to sleep longer, and better, giving you more energy and allowing you to wake feeling refreshed in the morning.
If you are based in the Rhondda or surrounding area, you can come to any of my ever increasing suite of classes in the local area. I now run the following classes
Monday – Cwmclydach Community Centre – 5-6.30pm, and 7 – 8.30pm
Wednesday – Oaktree Hall, Treorchy – 10-11.30am
Thursday – Oaktree Hall, Treorchy – 7-8.30pm
I also offer one to one sessions, both in person and online through Skype or Zoom. Drop me a message if you think this might be a better option for you.
One common problem I see in people coming to Yoga classes is problems with their knees. Pain in the knees affects so much else in life, making movement difficult and painful.
While there is much in Yoga that can help the knees, it is important that you take care of them, and don’t make them worse through your Yoga practice.
In the classes I teach, lots of the practices are done on the knees, particularly pranayama (breath practices). As long as I know, I can make adjustments to your practice to accommodate your particular need. This will often involve you being asked to sit on a chair, and perform slightly different, or adapted postures.
I often find that people don’t want to do this, whether from not wanting to be different from the rest of the class, or not wanting to be more noticeable. I understand this completely, but it is far more important that you take care of yourself than worry about anyone else’s view of you.
A useful thing to remember is that most of the time, no one else is taking any notice of us, people are too busy worrying about themselves to think about you. This idea has helped me ‘get over myself’ a lot in recent years!
Depending on the nature of your problem with your knees, you may find that regular practice of the jattis, and other postures will improve the condition of the knee and make it better, but for some, chair practice will be vital for a longer period of time.
Some of the postures we do in class, such as Veera Asana (Warrior posture) can make the knees worse if not practiced correctly. It is vital in this posture that the bent knee does not come over the ankle. The knee should be positioned so that the shin is at right angles to the floor, or back a little; if this is not the case, you need to widen your stance by taking the legs open wider, or straighten the bent leg a little.
If you have problems with your knees, please make sure that I am aware of this at the start of the class, preferably before so I can arrange to have a chair ready for you if you need it.
Even if you are never able to get to the floor and sit on your heels, you will find tremendous benefits from a regular yoga practice. Research has shown that it helps with pain relief, it will relax you and increase your overall sense of wellbeing so that you find the discomfort easier to bear even if it doesn’t leave.
Find a class in Pontypridd and The Rhondda that suits you here, and drop me a message if you have any queries.
Mamma dearest. You love your kids, and relish being with them, but isn’t it wonderful when you get time to yourself, to do adult things, to take care of your own wellbeing, and to have adult conversations? As a mum myself, and a self employed, single mother at that, I know how hard, and how wonderful it can be to carve out those moments of time for self care.
Self care is vital for us mothers. We are raised to think we need to put others first, see to the kids, the husband, the elderly relatives, the neighbours, the dog, the goldfish, before we can even think about our own needs.
All very admirable, but who takes care of things when Mum is so exhausted she gets ill? How can we be present with the children when we are so overwhelmed with all the things we have to do, we can barely think straight?
Think about how you feel after a long soak in the bath, or a night off from the kids with your best girlfriends, how good you feel when you are able to make a bit of time for yourself, when you can have time to breathe and connect to yourself properly.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could find a way to harness that feeling and bring it into your life more?
I have a solution for you……
Yoga is a wonderful practice of self care. Yoga is so much more than an exercise class, it is a whole approach to life that prioritises rest and relaxation, that tells us that we are far more effective when we can take care of ourselves body, mind and soul.
Through Yoga you learn to breathe deeply, to relax completely, to let go of the tension and stress you are holding in your body and mind, and to learn to love and accept yourself and the world you live in. A regular yoga practice builds resilience to stress, helps you to sleep better, teaches you to be more present in the things you are doing, can relieve mental and physical pain and increase energy and contentment.
As mothers, we can often feel that we have lost connection to our own identity as people, as women in our own right. Yoga connects you to yourself, and brings you back to the true you.
Yoga can help you to improve your life in ways you cannot imagine when you begin. When I started teacher training, I was a heavy smoking, unhappy alcoholic in denial. Within 7 months of my training, I had released all that and was sober, non smoking, and so much happier with my life and myself. I had no idea that was going to happen! What could improve in your life?
Rhondda Yoga offers a variety of classes you can access in the evenings or when the kids are in school. With daytime classes in Treorchy, Porth and Pontypridd, and evenings classes in Clydach Vale and Treorchy, there should be something to suit your location and availability. Find out more about classes here, and see if I can answer your questions here.
Going to a new class can be very daunting for many people. If you have never done any yoga before, you can really feel like you are stepping into the unknown. You may have some ideas of what Yoga is, and aren’t sure if you are going to like it. That is ok.
The very first class I went to, when I was a very silly 19 year old, I got into such an uncontrollable fit of giggles with my best friend that we had to leave. It was a long time before I tried Yoga again, and I took it far more seriously and fell in love with it.
You will find that I use a lot of Sanskrit in my class. I don’t use the westernised names for postures. I will talk about Meru Asana rather than ‘Downward Dog’, for example. You may also find, if you have come across Sanskrit in other Yoga styles, that some of the names I use are slightly different. The words I use are the ones taught in the particular tradition I was trained in, which is known nowadays as Gitananda Yoga. Gitananda Yoga is a very traditional style of Hatha Yoga, which places a great deal of importance on the traditional language and teaching style.
It is vitally important that you pay heed to your body, and respond to what it is telling you. If your knees hurt and you would be more comfortable sitting on a chair, listen to your body and ask for a chair. If you are in any pain in a posture, if your muscles are shaky and struggling, pull back or come out of the posture. This is the most important thing I can tell you, apart from to remember to breathe. Listen to my guidance, but if your body tells you something else, you listen to that over me. If you need to sit a posture out, if you need to rest, if you need to drink some water or visit the toilet, you do what your body needs. Yoga helps to foster greater awareness of, and connection to, your body, so the more you listen to the signals you are getting, the more you will benefit.
The style of Yoga I teach is a very traditional one. It is very focused on balancing body and mind, and training the body and mind to recognise the difference between tension and ‘non-tension’.
Yoga is a system for living, it is not an exercise class, and while the postures do create strength and flexibility in the body, the greatest reward, and the goal of these postures, is balance of mind and body, and personal growth. You may come to Yoga because you want to improve the health and fitness of your body, and you will achieve this along with a whole lot more. As Max Strom, author of the beautiful ‘A Life Worth Breathing’ wrote, paraphrasing John Lennon
“Yoga is what happens to you when you think you are getting fit” (not an exact quote, I need to revisit to get the exact quote!)
We work a lot with the breath, developing deeper and fuller breaths. This is the most effective way to create balance in the body and mind. Learning good breathing can be totally transformational for your mental and physical health. It certainly has been for me.
The classes I teach follow a fairly predictable structure. There will be a lot of repetition, which is, of course, the only way to learn and train your body and mind to do anything new. If you come regularly, you will learn the format of the classes. The postures might change from time to time, but the structure will stay the same.
You can get a taste of the way I teach in this 45 minute class video, but as most of my classes are 90 minutes in length, this is only a taster
Class begins with a few minutes of ‘quiet sitting’. During this time we will be focusing on the breath, and training the mind to focus on one thing at a time. There will be considerable mental resistance to this, as your mind wants to think about everything all at once. Remember during this that not being able to focus the mind is completely normal. You will find your mind wanders a lot. The growth comes in every time you notice its wanderings and return to the breath, even if that focus only stays for half an inhalation. Each time you bring it back, you are training it that you want to focus.
I will bring you out of quiet sitting with 3 ‘Om’ chants. Om is a very special sound in yoga, and I think it is important to include it in the class. You can join in if you want, or you can opt out. I will have my eyes closed throughout, and will not ask anyone to join in if you don’t want to. After this I will chant the Guru Gayatri, which is a chant to acknowledge the generations of Gurus that have shared the teachings I was trained in, to thank them and to ask for the wisdom of the teachings in the class. I will not expect anyone else to join me in this, but I will make the words available to you if you would like to learn them and join in.
The Jattis are a series of small movements that will loosen the joints in the body ready for the pranayama and asanas. We will begin at the feet, and gradually work the way up to the head and neck. These movements are designed to release tension in your body, to warm the muscles up and get you ready for the more demanding postures that will come later. They are both relaxing and energising at the same time, I have delivered sessions where all I have had time to do is jattis and a short relaxation, and people have still had plenty of benefit.
As you might expect from a teacher whose main website is called Balance and Breathe, and who has the word ‘Breathe’ tattooed on her wrist, I, like my teachers, place a great deal of importance on the breath. It is through the breath that we can control the emotions, regulate the stress response and relax the body and mind. We will maintain awareness of, and connection to the breath throughout the practice, and we will do postures that are specifically designed to strengthen the lungs and boost lung function. The better your breath, the better your life, and yoga is the perfect vehicle to help you improve your breath. You may find that your breath is quite shallow to start, this is normal. In time, and with regular practice, you will find that your lung capacity increases and your breaths become deeper.
The postures of Yoga are called Asana in yoga philosophy. We will do a variety of postures which will balance, tone, relax and strengthen the body, and the mind. Gitananda Yoga places great importance on maintaining balance between tension and ‘non tension’, learning the different between stress and relaxation. Because of this, we hold the postures for as long as needed to experience the tension, then after each posture, we take a moment to relax and bring the body back to rest. This trains the mind to recognise the difference between stress and relaxation, and to be able to let go of tension when it is no longer needed, a vital skill for daily life. There will be standing postures, balance postures, seated postures, and lying postures. We will revisit the same postures often to help you to become skilful in them – better to be able to learn a few really well than to mix up lots and never really learn any well.
This may be the most important part of the class. After the postures and the tension they create, we relax the body and mind fully, with a 10 minute quiet relaxation. I will guide you into relaxation then leave you in peace to absorb the relaxation. We will work with a number of relaxation practices, and I will teach you techniques you can try at home when you need to relax. A yoga practice without relaxation at the end can leave you with too much tension through the body and mind, it really is vitally important. I used to go to yoga classes and not fully participate in relaxation, and then would go home to a bottle of wine or an evening in the pub with lots of smoking, clearly not anywhere near relaxed enough! Your body temperature will drop during relaxation so make sure you bring a blanket to cover yourself with.
At the end of each class, we finish with the Shanti Mantra. You can learn more about this here. Again, you don’t have to participate in this if you don’t want to, but please don’t get up and leave until we have finished
Water is essential for bodily health, so at various points through the class I will guide the whole class to drink some water. I encourage plain or fizzy water, without any flavouring, and especially not any sugary drinks, to promote maximum health benefits for your yoga class. Please make sure you bring a bottle of water to class with you.
As you can see, there is a lot to each yoga class you attend. You will get such a lot of benefits from each and every aspect of the class, and I look forward to seeing you grow as you deepen your practice.
You can find out about all my classes and workshops on the class timetable page, and any questions you might have may be answered here, but do feel free to get in touch if you need to know anything else.
At the end of any of my classes you attend, you will hear me chant a prayer at the end.
I do it everytime I finish a yoga practice, including my own practice at home. I was taught it by my teacher, Kalavathi of Om Studio, as part of the training I did there. We chant it after every class at her studio. It is part of the tradition of Yoga that I have been trained in.
As soon as I knew all the words, I started singing it to Marcus, as I think the meaning and the sounds of the words is so soothing and peaceful. It forms the perfect addition to our bedtime routine. We sing it every evening after his bedtime stories, and I expect his children will have it as a lullaby as well!
We love the words so much, we even named out dog, Shanti, after it!
Although it is known as ‘The Universal Prayer’, it isn’t religious in nature. Yoga isn’t a religious practice, although it is deeply spiritual. It is this that makes it Universal, it can be said by anyone. It has a beautiful meaning, a wish for peace and well being for all. I think we need more of this in our world.
I share with you here the words in Sanskrit and the English ‘translation’
Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
Sarvaa Janaha Sukhinu Bhavantu
Aum Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi
May all beings be happy and at ease. May all beings be wise and may they evolve gracefully into higher realms of consciousness. May all beings posses peace in their bodies, in their minds and in their consciousness. May all beings experience the peace which surpasses understanding, the peace of the Divine Light
Aum, Peace, Peace, Peace, Aum
You can hear me chant the Shanti Mantra here
You never have to join in with this chant at the end of a class if you don’t want to. However, many people who come to my classes do end up learning it and joining in. It is lovely when a group of people chant together, the sounds is amazing! But I will never ask or expect you to join in, it is always your choice. And I will have my eyes closed so won’t know anyway!
We live in a world that can feel very unpeaceful. While I don’t believe that chanting changing anything in the external, it is good to spend a few moments thinking of others with peace. It can also make us feel more peaceful inside, and make us think more about others.
Many people want to bring more Yoga into their lives. knowing it will bring them many benefits to mind, body and spirit, but simply don’t know where to start,or how.
If you have never been to a yoga class before, it can be very daunting to step into that space, not knowing what to expect, if you will fit in, if you will be ‘able to do it’.
It can be hard to even find a class that is suitable for you as a total beginner, and there is such a weird and (not always) wonderful variety of Yoga ‘styles’ available, that it can be hard to know where to look.
A home practice sounds lovely, but you have to know what you are doing. A real catch 22 situation!
Recently I livestreamed, into one of my Facebook groups, a really gently morning practice that you can do on your own, with no experience. You can follow this class in the privacy of your own home.
The practices I do in this session are mostly gently loosening exercises called Jattis, and some breathing exercises that will help to strengthen your lungs. There is also a short relaxation at the end, so make sure you have a blanket you can cover yourself with (a case of do as I say, not as I do, I didn’t grab my blanket and regretted it!)
If there are any postures that you struggle with, listen to your body and work with the signals it is giving you. Don’t feel any pressure to stretch as far as I do in the postures, the flexibility will come when you practice regularly.
This practice will be here for you at any time you want a gentle relaxing practice that will release tension in mind and body, energise your body and clear your mind and increase flexibility in your mind and body.
If you would like to experience the full class, or begin your yoga journey under the guidance of an experienced teacher, then my Rhondda yoga classes are now up and running, see the class timetable here