- Stability comes before flexibility: if it’s a beginners class, you should be working on standing poses for the first few weeks to build a strong framework. All this ‘flow’ stuff is for people who don’t have the stamina for (or understanding of) real yoga, yet.
- Cultivate humility: however much experience you’ve had, you need to listen to and follow the teacher’s instructions. Yoga is a huge subject so loosen up your brain and be prepared to be broadminded, open and flexible in your thinking.
- Wear modest clothing: from the perspective of your teacher, or the person behind you when you bend over, neither a thong nor a tiny tank top is a good look. No-one needs to see your tattoos or body piercings.
- Avoid baggy leggings and short waisted tops: your teacher needs to see what your legs, ankles and feet are doing so wear high-waisted leggings and/or modest shorts (please mind the gap, chaps…). On top, wear a short/long sleeved t-shirt, long enough to tuck in for inversions and it won’t ride up when you raise your arms over your head. A wardrobe malfunction in the middle of a blissful pose is deeply annoying.
- Don’t bring water into class: it’s a trip hazard and a distraction. Drinking during class disturbs your digestive system and, unless you have a medical condition, you should already be properly hydrated.
- Food: a good yoga class calms your appetite. Have an empty stomach or a little food an hour beforehand. If you have low blood sugar, fruit is a good standby to have afterwards.
- Change your perspective: don’t cling to the same space every week and don’t ask someone else to move – move yourself. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.
- Never say, “I can’t”: we cannot avoid our own weaknesses or use them as an excuse not to try. We learn to cure what can be cured, endure what we must endure, and how to tell the difference. A 90-minute weekly class is enough to feel the benefits after 6 weeks.
- Sooner or later, we have to go inside: a good teacher will use different methods to achieve specific effects. The same pose can be energising, relaxing, challenging or healing, depending on the approach. To find out what’s going on, go inside.
- Leave the outside world outside the door: allow your perspective to change and even the most intractable of problems will shift.
Category Archives: Beginners etc.
Yoga is not about the outward form of a pose, the asana. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define “asana” as a position that, “is steady and comfortable”. Patanjali also mentions the ability to sit for extended periods of time as one of the eight limbs of his system.
One of the stories Abhijata tells is of her pride at staying in Sirsasana for over half an hour. She went to Guriji and said, “Grandfather – I stayed in Sirsasana for over thirty minutes!” She assumed he’d be delighted, amazed at her progress. Instead he said, “But what did you DO?”
If we’re not waiting for the flashbulb to go off and record our moment of perfection, what exactly are we supposed to be doing when we hold a pose? And what do we do if it is not “steady and comfortable”?
At first, before we are able to stay and hold a pose for any length of time, we have to go the the edge of our capacity, connect with each part of the body, check the balance and alignment of the body. At this point, yoga becomes a science.
It helps to think of your body as a laboratory. Your skin, muscles, organs, bone and breath are your equipment. Your mind is the clipboard where you record your results. You apply the shape and form of the asana to the body. What happened? On the left? On the right? Will a prop extend, release, facilitate, inform the results? Where did the breath flow, touch? What shape was it?
Yoga is to explore your internal world, using the asanas and the breath to map your universe. You may find surprising things there – pain, sorrow, anger. These are like the boulders in your path. Sit for a while with the boulder and examine it. Resist the urge to blame others, your teacher, yoga. These are the best learning experiences we can have, for this is when yoga truly begins to heal.
- A bottle of water: drinking during class disturbs the digestive system. If you need to hydrate, do so before or after class. And anyway, it’s a trip hazard.
- Baggy leggings: your teacher needs to see your legs, ankles and feet. Baggy pants fall down during inversions. And again, they’re a trip hazard.
- Food: have you noticed how a good yoga class suppresses your appetite? Have an empty stomach or a little food an hour beforehand, and if you have low blood sugar, fruit is a good standby.
- Your own space: don’t cling to the same space every week – change your perspective and help others change theirs. So don’t ask someone else to move – move yourself.
- Resistance to change: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. You cannot avoid your own weaknesses or use them as an excuse. Resistance is futile.
- Pre-conceived ideas: teachers use different methods to achieve specific effects. The same pose can be energising, relaxing, challenging or healing, depending on the approach. Go inside and see what happens.
- Modest clothing: think of it from the perspective of your teacher, or the person behind you. Believe me, a thong/tiny tank top is not a good look and no-one is interested in your tattoo/navel ring.
- Humility: our attitude can often be narrow, limiting and rigid. With humility we allow our yoga practice to change and re-shape us, body, mind and spirit.
- Humour: good humour is strength of character. Laughing at ourselves, we challenge our difficulties and overcome them. Don’t give up on that handstand: laugh and try again.
- The outside world: by definition, things that are common in normal life but are not part of your experience. Leave it all outside the door. Allow your perspective to change and even the most intractable of problems will shift.
If you put the phrase ‘yoga leggings’ into a search you’ll see a lot more than you wanted to see. (And a lot of it is not tasteful, especially on Twitter!)
As ever, when it comes to what the body needs rather than what the ego wants, BKS Iyengar was a pioneer. He designed and perfected all the yoga props we see in use today. Arguably his most universal gift to the yoga community is what we now call Pune Pants. The design allows complete freedom for the body whilst protecting the modesty of the people in the class. They are designed like a pair of bloomers but with an extra piece in the gusset so you can bend, extend, squat and twist with no limitation imposed on the movement of the body by the fabric clinging to your skin, and pulling it in the wrong direction.
Try Eka Pada Sarvangasana (see image from RIMYI, left) in your usual lycra, then try it in cotton Pune Pants…..see? Your groins will love you for it!
For more choices, lovely Indian fabrics , hand-made in the UK, see this site: www.frannixon.com
So if you want to see yourself as others see you, push your fist into your leggings – if you can see your knuckles, we can see your knickers. And you won’t have to throw away all your cosy leggings – just wear them underneath in the winter. The opportunities for colour co-ordination and fashion statements are endless…..
Photo credit: Ray Burmiston http://www.rayburmiston.com
Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation – why is home practice so difficult? With a little more time and effort between classes you could develop your practice and begin to understand and enjoy some of the more intangible benefits that yoga has to offer. These five simple steps will help to capture the enthusiasm from class and bring it home into your private practice. It’s really very simple and the only question is what path you might take between steps four and five.
1. Make space – a corner will do, somewhere you can put your mat down and shut the door. In this space, create a sense of the sacred. Use a windowsill, shelf or side table and make a shrine – a tea light, a statue, a flower in a vase – any objects which bring focus to the mind and humility to our intentions. This space reminds and encourages us to do better, to go deeper, and the people around you will appreciate and respect it too. (Saucha – Cleanliness.)
2. Have a plan. Even if your plan is to go with the flow you’ll find it helpful to have structure to act as a reminder once you’re ‘in the zone’. If you want a sequence, write it down. Preparation is an important part of the process. (Santosha – Contentment.)
3. Use a timer. To build up your strength and stamina by holding poses, staying in inversions, and for recuperative poses, in home practice the timer is our teacher and our best friend. For Savasana, Pranayama and meditation, a timer can help you to release more and in the end, you won’t need it. If you use a phone or tablet, use it to store your practice notes, make use of the timer, but always put it in flight mode. (Tapas – Discipline.)
4. Always begin by sitting for a few moments. This quiet time prepares the brain and the body: it instills the essence of yoga practice from the outset and reconnects the brain with the body. (Svadhaya – Self Study.)
5. Always finish with Savasana. The healing benefits of your practice need to percolate through all the cells of the body and this takes time. Offer up the fruits of your labour (however bitter!) to a higher self. Lie flat, a blanket for the head and/or a chair for the legs, if necessary. Set your timer and if you fall asleep, so be it. (Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender to a higher being.)
Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth. It also refers to a virtue, to being truthful in one’s thought, speech and action. In Yoga, satya is one of the five yamas. It is the virtuous restraint from falsehood and, crucially, the distortion of reality in one’s expressions and actions.
A student recently asked me why I didn’t give positive feedback to individuals in class. It’s a question that comes up from time to time. Speaking as a school teacher, she said she spent her working life encouraging and praising pupils for effort and achievement. Why is there no praise in a Yoga class?
There is a stock answer: when I say to a yoga student, “Well done”, I am giving myself a pat on the back. I am saying, “Look! My teaching is so excellent, and this student is living proof!” Is that Satya?
What about all the lessons that student has not learned, the basic actions avoided and evaded even after months and years of practice? Shoulders back, lift your chest – do I still need to say this every time? Clearly yes – I have not taught them this lesson yet. That these actions are not coming tells me their mind is elsewhere or their ego is still in the driving seat, and I have not dealt with those issues. That is the reality, the Satya in this situation. To say “Well done” is to distort reality for both of us.
How many of us experience moments of dread when the teacher moves on to our ‘worst’ pose, the one we love to hate? Somehow we struggle through, cling on and breathe a sigh of relief when they move to the next pose. And then when we are practicing, when we see the results begin to come, is there a part of us that looks forward to showing off our new-found skills and achievements in class, anticipating admiring glances from our fellows and praise from the teacher? Is this Satya?
Some students just seem to flow into the most demanding of poses – deep twists, spring up into handstands but how is their practice in, say, Savasana for instance?
And is it so very wrong to quietly say, “Well done” to someone who has been struggling and finally gets up into Urdhva Dhanurasana? When I’m immersed in my teaching, sometimes the words just pop out of my mouth! But what if a student is unlikely ever to achieve that pose? Maybe there’s an injury, a difficulty that precludes them from the final pose – is their effort any the less because of that?
Saying, “Well done” to someone in a Yoga class is the quickest way to stunt their progress. When someone is praised, in that moment, the learning stops: out come the laurels and the ego, effort ceases and is replaced by laziness, apathy and then disillusion. The brain takes over and their experience of yoga narrows down to a few postures they can use to demonstrate their experience and ability. Satya includes the reality of our inexperience, our inability too.
In Iyengar Yoga the challenge is to learn the essence of the pose, not just its technique or shape. If it was all about form and beauty, Yoga would be an Olympic sport, like gymnastics. When Mrs. Urdhva Dhanurasana finally lifts up from the floor, to say “Well done” creates a distortion of reality: the discipline and effort are gone and the student gets mentally ‘stuck’, believing that’s all they have to do. Their practice will suffer because getting into the pose is only the beginning. My teaching therefore is at fault. That is Satya!
- Book and pay your deposit for your yoga weekend 6 weeks in advance to save 10% on the price for the full weekend, (excluding B&B).
- Iyengar Yoga Summer Camp: 10% discount for current members of the Iyengar Yoga Association.
- Old Friends: if you’ve been to one of our events before, you can save a further 5%.
Yoga Weekend: normal price = £230 for the full weekend, Friday evening to Sunday lunchtime. With 10% discount = £207. And with the extra 5% = £195.50 (Plus B&B £45 per person per night.)
Yoga Summer Camp: normal price = £365 for Thursday 4pm to Sunday, non-residential. With 10% discount = £328.50. And with the extra 5% = £310.25 (Plus B&B £45 per person per night.) From 6th/7th – 9th July.
So join Freddie & Eddie, Bo and the gang for a relaxing weekend of Iyengar Yoga at Saddle Street Farm this summer. Namaste!