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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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 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 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!
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
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.
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