How did you spend your May Bank Holiday? I got to spend mine doing some of my favourite things – yoga, walking at the beach, and listening to music at a festival!
The Roots Festival, Bridgend
I attended the Roots Festival in Bridgend last year with Marcus, and we loved it. This year, Marcus wasn’t with me that weekend, so I wanted to be a bit more involved. I contacted the organisers and asked if I could teach some Yoga as part of the festival programme. They happily agreed, so on Sunday, I went to Bridgend for some festival Yoga.
The weather was, unfortunately, working against me, and it was pretty cold. I set up my mats outside the post office, open for business so to speak. Sadly, no one wanted to join me. I can’t say I blame them. The mats were blowing around everywhere, and it was very cold and windy. I took the opportunity to practice myself though, and, for the first time in my life, did some Surya Namaskar practice in the very public setting of right in front of the post office’. It was fun, and I am very glad I was there even if no one wanted to take part. Gavin, one of the organisers, told me they have another festival planned for the summer, I am sure that it will be more yoga friendly then, so I fully intend to be there.
It was lovely to wander around the festival, looking at the stalls, getting my hair braided and listening to the music. I was delighted to see my friends Andrew and Dawn from the amazing ‘Between The Trees’ Festival. I taught some gorgeous classes there last year. I am so pleased that I have been invited back again this year for some more Yoga Between The Trees. Dawn and Andrew were encouraging people to appreciate bees, with a wonderful interactive stall complete with microscope and the most astonishingly beautiful book, Pollen: The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers.
To the beach!
After enjoying the festival for a little while, I headed off to my favourite place in South Wales, Southerdown and Dunraven Bay.
As I had my tripod with me, I decided to make my visit a little more productive than it usually is.
There are two trees here that I adore completely. I find them such glorious metaphors for resilience, growth and recovery. One has been completely reshaped by the wind that blows in from the sea, the other has been badly damaged by lightning. Both have been damaged, and their path in life changed by forces outside of them. And yet they still keep going. They are, it would seem, both healthy and strong, and are beautiful in this new shape life has forced them into.
These trees invite Yoga Asanas to my way of thinking. So with no regard for the people around me (once you’ve performed 3 rounds of Surya Namaskar alone in the middle of a busy town centre, you are immune to the stares of others!) I set up my tripod and performed some postures.
At the top of the hill, at the former entrance to Dunraven Castle, I attempted to be the warrior guarding the castle, with two variations of Veera Asana, the Warrior posture. Unfortunately, the weather was still against me, and my tripod fell over during the second posture. It was quite funny, but I got the message and gave up!
You can see the practices I did throughout the day, and the glorious trees I love so much, in this video I put together.
I find this place so peaceful and love to come here as much as I can. There is something about the drama of the landscape, the noise the pebbles make when the tide washes over them, and the sense of time and history that pervades the whole place. It always soothes and excites me whenever I come.
On this day, however, there was a stark reminder that this place I love so much is, in fact, fraught with danger. When I arrived there were several coastguard and police vehicles there. The whole time I was there, there was significant activity going on. I don’t know what happened, but my thoughts are with all concerned.
I returned home happy and at peace following my day. I spent an hour editing my video footage. I then had a long soak in the bath while watching ‘I am Maris’. This is a beautiful documentary about a young American woman who found recovery from severe anorexia through Yoga. I know from my own experience that Yoga is profoundly healing. It was good to see someone else’s story told so beautifully. After all that Yoga and sea air, I slept well that night after a wonderful Bank Holiday.
I hope you had a great May bank holiday too. What did you do?
It can be so hard to unwind at the end of the day. Many people turn on the TV, open a bottle of wine, head to the gym, smoke a cigarette, go shopping, or a whole host of other behaviours that we think helps us to relax.
While these behaviours might numb the stress, take your mind off things, or satisfy a craving, they are not really creating relaxation of the nervous system, and it is this that we really need in order to truly relax.
When we are stressed, the ‘flight or fight’ mode of the nervous system kicks in. This very necessary function of the nervous system is designed to keep us safe from attack, injury and death. It is not meant to be activated on the morning commute, but in our world of 27/4 news, constant internet connection, rising food prices, stagnating or reducing wages….oh, I am trying to make you feel better, I am not going to keep listing reasons you are probably stressed, but you get the idea… we’re ALL a bit frazzled and scattered.
Try Some Buy Some
The consumer world keeps offering us a bajillion different things to help us relax….holidays, alcohol, shopping, the idea that if only we can be super rich then we will be happy, but in reality, they are just marketing strategies.
Alcohol will numb the emotions, so make us feel less stressed in the short term, but in the longer term, it can lead to increased stress, risk of addiction, numerous health risks and decreases our ability to feel pleasure and joy without it. As the wonderful Brene Brown says in ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’
We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions
Shopping and acquiring things feels good momentarily, but shoppers’ remorse often creeps in when we have made a purchase as the result of seeking to satisfy an emotional need. Things cannot give us the emotional connection we need. The rise in minimalism is showing that many people are recognising that too many things actually is a contributing factor in stress.
A relaxing holiday can be quite transformative, but if the source of stress is something in our own mind, or a situation that will have to be returned to, then it will not be long before the stress returns.
The Relaxation Response
In 1975, Dr Herbert Benson published ‘The Relaxation Response’, a book that gave scientific explanations for the powerful effects of meditation and brought it into the Western mainstream.
This work was groundbreaking in making this knowledge accessible to the West, but, as Dr Benson himself acknowledged,
“We claim no innovation but simply a scientific validation of age-old wisdom”
What Dr Benson teaches as The Relaxation Response is taught at the end of my classes, and in other settings, as relaxation, or known as meditation by many people.
Share this to your Relaxation board on Pinterest to read later….
Relaxation through Yoga
Yoga provides many tools to help the body and mind relax deeply and completely. The benefits of this relaxation are many – improved sleep, happier moods, better digestion, more energy to name but a few, as well as reducing the risk of chronic illness such as heart disease, stroke and asthma, all of which are linked to stress.
Relaxing the body and mind effectively through this practice can bring deep relaxation, and promote a sense of wellbeing. It is far more effective are creating real relaxation than drinking alcohol, shopping, smoking or watching the TV!
Try this practice next time you have a tough day and need to unwind and relax your mind.
Some ‘Rules’ before you start
Don’t think you have to clear your mind of all thoughts. The aim is not absolute thoughtlessness, it is to be able to let go of thoughts. When a thought comes into your mind, which it will do, just notice it and let it go.
Be kind to yourself. If you get to the end of the practice and realise that you haven’t listened to a word of what I have said, and have, instead, been ruminating on your troubles, don’t feel bad, don’t think you have failed, just accept that you are clearly very stressed and try again with greater awareness
Try not to fall asleep. True relaxation is not passive, it is an active state of conscious relaxation. (but if you do sleep, see point 2)
Make sure you are warm and will not be disturbed before you start. Cover yourself with a blanket, switch off the phone, and make sure that the kids are being cared for or asleep.
Don’t worry that you will be ‘unconscious’ and not able to respond to anything that actually needs your attention, you will. But try to minimise the likelihood of that happening (see point 4)
Don’t think that the internet has stopped working and the video has finished because you feel like you have been lying on the floor for an hour. You haven’t. you are just not used to being still for so long. When I first started this, 5 minutes felt like an eternity. You will get used to it.
Enjoy it. Don’t worry that you are ‘wasting time’ or that you should be doing something else. You aren’t, and you shouldn’t. Anything you have to do will be done far better if you are relaxed when you are doing it.
Here is the video.
What are your favourite ways to relax when you’re stressed? Share in the comments below, and please pass this post on to your friends to help them relax as well…..
It might not come as a surprise to you that, as a Yoga teacher, I am a bit of a fan of Yoga.
I first tried Yoga when I was about 20, inspired by my hero worship of George Harrison. I attended the occasional class, and had a video I used to follow at home. It really became a part of my life in 2007 when I attended June Marshman’s class in the Rhondda Sport Centre. After only a few classes I promised myself I would teach it one day. Sure enough, 7 years later, I fulfilled that promise to myself.
Yoga has given me so many gifts over the years. Many of the reasons I loved it at first seem inconsequential now. I used to love the fact that I was *good* at it. I could perform the postures well, and was often praised for my ‘beautiful pose’. My teacher training, and healing through Yoga has given me other, far more important benefits. Being ‘good’ as the postures no longer matters.
Yoga helps relieve insomnia
After suffering from insomnia since childhood, I relied on ‘self medication’ to deal with insomnia. I learned in my 20s that if I drank enough alcohol, I could ‘sleep’ far easier. There were many other reasons I drank to excess, but insomnia was definitely one of them. Through the improved relaxation Yoga, and particularly learning to breathe, gave me, I can now sleep well naturally. I used to fear bedtime and resist going to bed for as long as possible. Now my bed is one of my favourite places to be! Many people tell me that after they come to my class, they have their best night’s sleep.
Yoga reduces stress
Yoga is renowned for being a powerful stress reliever. I have learned this so powerfully in the time since I began Yoga teacher training and learned to breathe properly. Yoga offers a wealth of tools to combat stress. It helps you reduce stress, manage stressful moments, recover quicker from stress, and heal the physical and emotional impact of stress. Yoga practices can help to train your body and mind to relax, to recognise the signs of stress, and to find alternative ways to experience and deal with a stressful situation.
Yoga promotes mindfulness
Mindfulness is a popular practice nowadays. People often ask me if I teach mindfulness as if it were a separate thing from Yoga. I do not. Yoga is all about developing awareness of your thoughts, emotions, actions and body. Yoga promotes this awareness in every aspect of the practice. When you sit with your breath, when you hold your body in a posture, when you learn to relax, you become aware, present and mindful. Yoga philosophy takes this even further, inviting you to develop an awareness of your thoughts, actions and how you live in relation to others. If you practice and study Yoga, you do not need a separate mindfulness practice, yoga is mindfulness in action.
Yoga promotes acceptance
By bringing you into the present moment, you can become more connected to the impermanence and fluidity of life. Holding a posture that is uncomfortable becomes more bearable because you know it won’t last, and there will be relief and relaxation at the end. The enjoyment of the relaxation is not spoiled by knowing you are going to be in another posture soon. All the moments of a class pass, both the comfortable and the uncomfortable. When you apply this knowing to your daily life, it becomes easier to accept life as it is, instead of trying to force it to be what you want it to be.
Yoga offers a new perspective
When you put your body in unfamiliar and uncomfortable postures, you start to notice things about the body you live in that you didn’t before. You may notice the imbalance between your left and right side. Maybe you will notice tension pain that you had got so used you stopped noticing a long time ago. You may discover muscles and areas of your body you have never given a second thought to.
As well as noticing your body, you may start to notice your thoughts. You may discover aspects of your life that no longer feel like they are working for you. Maybe you will discover new ways of being that feel more ‘you’. This is what Yoga is for. To help you discover the real you beneath all the layers you don’t notice, and help you to become more you.
Yoga helps boost self acceptance
From that sense of acceptance and new perspective, your relationship with yourself might change. Yoga is very much about being where you are, not worrying about where or who you think you should be. So if you can’t perform the postures, can’t sit on your heels, and feel like your brain goes into overdrive when I invite you to focus on your breath, that is ok. That is where you are right now. There is no pressure for you to be any different. You are perfect right now, as you are.
Yoga does not demand that you be super flexible, stong or an oasis of zen like calm. I am definitely not the latter! All Yoga asks if that you show up, and do and be the best you can right now. Yoga promises that if you practice, your body and mind will change over time, and you will reap the benefits.
Yoga boosts mental health
Many studies have shown that Yoga is a powerful tool in your mental health tool box. I can certainly vouch for that. Although I still do struggle with my own mental health, I know that Yoga has almost certainly saved my life. I beat alcoholism, marijuana and cigarette addiction.I have learned to balance extreme mood swings, soothe anxiety and find relief from long lived with depression. All through Yoga. I know that my yoga practice is going to be my most used tool to help with my recently discovered ADHD. Despite some challenging times recently, I have got through them thanks to my Yoga practice.
Just one class can change your mood. I have turned up to teach classes feeling like I didn’t want to be there, and felt so much better by the end I can’t even remember why I felt so grouchy before I left the house. Yoga has been shown to increase levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes good feelings, and reduces cortisol, the stress hormone.
Yoga boosts physical health
Many people know that Yoga is a useful aid to greater flexibility, strength and stamina. But it goes far beyond that. There are so many ways that Yoga supports good health, I could write a book on it. Even if all you do is learn to breathe better, your physical health would improve as you would be better nourishing your cells. Yoga can provide relief from tension and stress, improve posture, provide relief from conditions such as asthma, IBS, high blood pressure and much more. I have an old shoulder injury I got when I gave birth to my youngest son that used to flare up when I got stressed. Since practising the Yoga I do now, I have barely had any issues with it. The only time I do is when I let my practice slide. Any issues soon disappear when I begin to take care of myself again.
This is a short list of the reasons that I love Yoga so much. I have benefited from all these and then some!
How could your life be better through Yoga?
Come along to a Rhondda Yoga class, or book a one to one session to find out!
So, you’re thinking about beginning to learn Yoga. That is fantastic. You are possibly taking a step towards greater physical health, lower stress, better sleep, great self-image and so much more. Yoga is a potentially life-changing practice. It has certainly transformed me and my life beyond recognition. I would highly recommend it, but I may be a bit biased I know!
If you have never practised Yoga before, or if you have tried it once or twice but aren’t sure it is for you, you may have doubts and questions. I’ve come across many questions and misunderstandings about Yoga, and would love to clear some of these up for you.
I’ve been living with Yoga for many years now, so can’t remember all the questions a beginner is likely to have. If you have any other questions that I haven’t covered here, please let me know in the comments and I will address them for you.
You don’t have to be flexible to begin Yoga classes
This is probably the most common reason people give to not start. It breaks my heart, it really does. Sadly, in the Instagram age, we see Yoga as elaborate, gymnastic postures that can only be done if you are super bendy and thin. This is to the detriment of us all. It means that people who will benefit from the practices think they are excluded from them, and that is a great loss.
Yoga will help you to get flexible. If you have stiff, tense muscles, you will get great benefit from a Yoga practice that allows you to gently stretch and release that tension. Learning good breathing will also help you to relax your muscles. Tense, stiff muscles are likely to contribute to a tense, stiff mind, and vice versa. Yoga will help you to relax both.
Yoga is not just about the body
Many people, including pre-Yoga teacher training me, think that Yoga is merely a physical exercise. Many styles of it are, with no focus on any other aspects of the practice than the postures. The postures are very good for promoting physical health and wellbeing, but there is so much more to it than that.
Yoga is not about what you can do with your body. It is about how you live your life. Yoga is a holistic practice that takes into account all aspects of the human condition. This includes physical health and care of the body of course, but it is also concerned with how we live, how we think, how we speak, how we treat others, ourselves and the world around us, and how to grow through life. You can learn more about this in this post, the start of a series about Yoga as a tool for life.
Yoga is not just for women
Again, the popular media images of Yoga seem to promote the idea that Yoga is predominately for women. While it is true that in the West, Yoga is more practised than women than men, it is invaluable for men as well. In fact, prior to the export of Yoga to the West, Yoga was almost exclusively a practice for men. Most Indian Gurus are men.
There are many reasons why men will benefit from developing a regular Yoga practice. I cover several in this blog post that I would urge you to share with your male friends and family members. It can offer an oasis of inner peace in a world that makes it very difficult for men to connect to their emotions. We are facing a male mental health crisis, and Yoga can offer a powerful solution for men to manage their feelings.
There are many different styles of Yoga
My mother once came to a Yoga class with me. She didn’t like it. She concluded from that one class that she didn’t like Yoga. Even when I trained in a very different style, and have a very different approach to how I teach, she still thinks she doesn’t like Yoga. I used the analogy of a restaurant. If you went to a restaurant and didn’t like the food, you would know not to go to that restaurant, or not to order that dish again. You wouldn’t think that you don’t like restaurants.
There are many different traditional schools and styles of Yoga. In the 21st Century, there are even more styles of Yoga, as teachers develop their own style, blending in aspects of dance, aerobics, gymnastics and more to create unique styles. Many of these are fairly removed from the traditional ideas and practices of Yoga, fitting more into the fitness world than the traditional form of Yoga. You may need to try several styles and teachers before you find one that works for you. Don’t assume because one teacher or style didn’t work for you that Yoga isn’t right for you. There are other styles that might suit you better.
Yoga is about listening to your body, not pushing it
Many forms of exercise encourage you to push your body to, and even beyond, its limits. Some styles of Yoga do this too. I would argue that this is not Yoga.
Yoga is about bringing mind and body into harmony and balance, listening and surrendering to what your body needs. Pushing your body to extremes, forcing your muscles to stretch beyond their natural ability, ignoring and pushing through pain is more likely to result in injury than harmony and balance, and is certainly not something this yoga teacher would encourage. Given time and regular practice, and deep, relaxing breaths, your body will find its way into the postures at a pace that is healthy and sustainable. I always advise my students to listen to me, but to listen to their own bodies over and above my instruction. When you listen, your body tells you exactly what it needs. Yoga helps you learn to hear and respond to what it tells you.
What can Yoga give to you?
Yoga is a wonderful practice that can bring many beautiful gifts to your life. It has given me recovery from addiction, self-respect, sleep, emotional balance, resilience and tools to manage my sometimes fragile mental health in a far healthier way than I used to. It has also given me acceptance of my life and myself, forgiveness, compassion, self-awareness and greater tolerance than I used to have. And it has given me a healthier, stronger, more flexible body that I am finally comfortable in.
If you would like to explore how Yoga can help you learn to live your best life, come along to one of my classes in Treorchy and Tonypandy, or get in touch to book a one to one in person or virtual class. You might be surprised at how much it can transform your life
When Paul first came to my class in Clydach Community centre, he struggled his way through the first class. He was stiff, his body damaged from years of physical work and illness. He struggled so much that I assumed he was going to tell me that it wasn’t for him, or simply not return. When I went to speak to him after the class, I was amazed when he told me that, to the contrary, he had felt better than he had done in ages, that for the first time in months, his arms weren’t hurting, and that he would definitely come back the following week.
Over the weeks that followed, Paul’s dedication to his practice, combined with the work of his massage therapist, created powerful healing in Paul’s body. He stood taller, he looked more comfortable in the postures, his breathing was easier, he was better able to relax, and he gained flexibility. Pauls’ transformation rapidly become one of my favourite things about my work. To see his progress reminded me of the incredible power there is in Yoga, and how blessed I am to be able to share this with people who can gain so much from it.
I asked Paul if he would be willing to do a video interview with me to talk about his journey through Yoga. I was delighted when he agreed, and so one day we met over Facebook live, and chatted about the benefits he has had from Yoga.
Watch the interview with me and Paul here
How would you benefit from regular Yoga practice? What part of you needs to heal? It might be your body, like Paul, it might be your mind and spirit, like me. It might be both. Yoga will give you what you need, allowing you to heal the parts of you that need to be healed, and nourish and restore the whole of you.
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.
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!