Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

What is Vinyasa Yoga?

Vinyasa yoga or “vinyasa flow yoga” is a style of yoga I love. It’s a dynamic yoga style, where you flow from one posture to the next, coordinating your movement with your breathing. Coming from a dance background, I was drawn in by its smooth, graceful sequences. It has the strengthening, empowering appeal of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, but with more freedom, creativity and variety in the sequencing. 

What does Vinyasa mean?

The word vinyasa is Sanskrit, and there’s room for interpretation in the translation. It’s often said to mean “movement linked with breath.” However, the translation that resonates with me is the idea that nyasa means “to place” and vi means “in a special way.” Vinyasa yoga therefore is the yoga in which you place your body in a special way. It’s not just the “finished” postures, that count – instead the emphasis is on the mindful and deliberate movement into them.

To try to demystify the name, in promoting my own classes, I often refer to it as Dynamic Yoga. This also means students get fair warning not to expect a super-sleepy restorative yoga class!

Why is it so popular?

It’s hard to say exactly why vinyasa yoga has taken off in the West. Perhaps it’s because, as a dynamic practice, it’s easily integrated into a world of gym classes, fitness fanatics and cardio routines. Although vinyasa yoga is unlikely to provide the complete cardio workout of a run (unless you’re flowing so fast I’d be concerned for your safety!), it does build strength, flexibility, stamina and balance. However, I think although many people start vinyasa yoga for the physical benefits, they keep coming back because it makes them feel good – physically, mentally and even spiritually.

So what are the benefits?

Really, this depends on the class you choose. Vinyasa classes can be energetic, playful and challenging or mellow, relaxing and peaceful. The best classes, in my opinion  have elements of all of these. But what you can expect is to find a yoga practice which:

  • Builds muscular strength
  • Improves flexibility
  • Enhances focus and concentration
  • Promotes mindful movement

The reason I love it so much is that flowing through the postures in a deliberate, intentional way with your breath turns the practice into a moving meditation. Even in the most challenging, tricky transitions, it encourages you to connect more deeply with your body. In fact, the movement of vinyasa yoga can be one of the most effective ways to take your focus out of your head and into your body.

If you’re looking to try Vinyasa Yoga in Nottingham, check out the classes I run with my partner Tom and Yoga Let Loose here.

Or, for those of you who aren’t Nottingham-based, there are loads of vinyasa yoga classes you can try online – my personal favourite is Ekhart Yoga. Let me know how you get on!

Yoga For People Who Don’t Like Yoga

Yoga for people who don't like yogaI realised recently that many of my yoga students are people who “don’t like yoga”. Or at least, they didn’t think they liked yoga, until they were coerced into giving it another chance. These anti-yogis are now some of my most regular students. You might relate to them if…

  1. You think yoga is for hippies. Is being told to soften your pelvic floor so that fire energy can rise from your root chakra, infusing your spiritual being with celestial light not really your thing? No, me neither. I’m a big fan of yoga minus the bullshit, and it is possible to find it. Trust me, when you take away the pseudo-scientific narrative that accompanies far too many yoga classes, on a physical and mental level, yoga has a huge amount to offer.
  2. You reckon yoga is just relaxation. This is a tricky one because some yoga classes are. I once covered a class for someone whose style was evidently more passive than even my most gentle practice. I was asked afterwards whether I could make it easier. I politely explained that to me vinyasa yoga is a dynamic, physical practice, and one which has maximum benefits when it requires some mental and physical effort (notice, I said effort, not struggle – there is a difference). I’ll always, always offer modifications for students with injuries or limitations, and I make it clear that it’s good to rest whenever the practice becomes too much. But actually, I teach yoga to help people become stronger, more flexible and more self-aware. Relaxation is an important part of that, but it’s not the whole story.
  3. You don’t think your kind of people go to yoga. Considering points one and two above, you may well fear that a yoga class will be full of hippies, or people coming for extended nap time. However, as more and more people give yoga a try, and find a style that works for them, the yoga demographic broadens. I teach yoga to men, women, athletes, cyclists, those with disabilities, climbers, students, office workers, artists and builders. Oh, and a few genuinely lovely hippies. I don’t exclude.

If you’re a yoga-hater, I’d encourage you to give it another chance. And if you can get to Nottingham, come to my class… I like a challenge.  For those further afield, I’ll also be compiling a list of good quality, bullshit-free yoga videos online in the new year (I may even add a few of my own), so watch this space.

5 Great Reasons to go to a Yoga Workshop

Yoga Workshop I’ve been a fan of yoga workshops for a long time, and recently my obsession has reached new levels. 2016 has been the year of the yoga workshop for me – I’ve been on a mission to attend and teach as many workshops as I can. Why? Here are my top five reasons to go to a yoga workshop:

  1. Yoga workshops have a specific focus. Whether that’s improving your handstands, exploring meditation, or learning how yoga can help you cope with the colder months, with yoga workshops, there’s a clear and honest objective. Even when you go to a yoga class led by a teacher you love, there’s no guarantee that they’ll cover the thing you’re curious to know more about. When you choose a workshop though, you know exactly what you’ve signed up for and can make sure it’s something you’re into.
  2. Yoga workshops deepen your learning. Unlike in a 60 or even 90 minute class, yoga workshops give you the luxury of dedicated time. There is time to get proper instruction on a topic, to have it demonstrated and explained fully, then to try it out for yourself. Say you want to learn yoga techniques for cyclists, you get chance to explore these in detail, rather than gleaning the odd happy gem of relevant information from a general yoga class.
  3. Yoga workshops can answer your questions. Do you have a burning question about how to strengthen your core? Do you want to know what to do about the fact your right wrist bothers you every time you take weight into your hands? Or would you like a teacher to check your alignment in full wheel pose and give you feedback? You probably won’t want to ask those questions mid-flow of a yoga class, but yoga workshops are the ideal time to do exactly that. I recommend going with a list of questions, and checking at the end for any that haven’t been covered so that you can run them by the teacher.
  4. Yoga workshops are fun. If you’re looking for a great way to spend an afternoon, evening or day, you can’t go far wrong with a yoga workshop. You get to learn interesting things, play with yoga, and dedicate a couple of precious hours to developing yourself and your own yoga practice. Also, yoga workshops tend to be more sociable than yoga classes, and are a great chance to meet and interact with some lovely like-minded people.
  5. Yoga workshops are an investment in yourself. The couple of hours and the money that you invest in a yoga workshop directly benefits you. After most yoga workshops, I come away with lots of useful “takeaways” – new learning, things to try and ideas to incorporate into my own yoga practice. Workshops are also a great way to get re-inspired, especially if you’ve hit a bit of a plateau. I usually leave a yoga workshop motivated to get back on my mat, practising and learning more stuff.

If you’re convinced by all this, and want to give a yoga workshop a try, check out my page here for upcoming yoga workshops. Right now, I have a lovely workshop planned which will teach you strategies to beat the winter blues. And of course drop me an email with any questions you have: info@jadelizzie.com

I hope to see you in a workshop very soon!

3 Brilliant Yoga Poses For Cyclists

After clocking up the miles cycling, yoga is the ideal way to release tight muscles, keeping your body healthy and functioning at its peak. These are 3 brilliant yoga poses for cyclists. They’ll improve your range of motion, flexibility and strength. Practise them after a ride, or on their own after a bit of a warm up. Hold each posture for at least 5 breaths (practising in dungarees is optional).

  1. Downward Facing Dog

Yoga Pose for Cyclists Downward Facing DogHow to do it: From all fours, tuck your toes under and lift your hips back and up so that your body forms an inverted V-shape. Press into your fingertips and externally rotate your upper arms.  Bend one knee at a time to take the stretch deeper into your hamstrings and calves. Release your heels towards the ground and take the gaze to the big toes. Hold for at least 5 breaths

Why it works: Downward facing dog is a great yoga pose for cyclists because it releases the back of your legs, especially your hamstrings and calves which riding tends to tighten. It also helps to bring your spine back into alignment and strengthens your upper body and shoulders.

  1. Crescent Lunge

Yoga Poses for Cyclists Crescent LungeHow to do it: Lunge forward with one leg and bend your front knee, taking your front thigh towards parallel to the ground, but not letting your knee come forward of the toes. Lengthen your stance if necessary. Keep your back heel off the ground but press it away to deepen the stretch into your hip flexor. Engage your core and lengthen your spine, lifting your arms overhead. Remember to repeat on the other side!

Why it works: Crescent lunge deeply stretches and releases your psoas and hip flexors, which are often super-tight for cyclists. It provides a much needed stretch for the front of your body, while building strength in your legs.

  1. Bridge Pose.

Yoga Poses For Cyclists Bridge PoseHow to do it: Lying on your back, bring your feet in, positioning them parallel and hip width apart. Press into your feet to lift your hips. Interlace your hands under your back and draw one shoulder at a time underneath you. Press the sides of your arms, wrists and hands into the ground to lift yourself higher.

Why it works: Bridge pose is the ideal counter for a rounded forward cyclist’s posture. It takes your arms into external rotation, opening the front of your shoulders and training your upper body to return to a healthy, neutral alignment after a ride. It also strengthens the muscles of your back and glutes while releasing your hip flexors, abdominal muscles and chest.

To learn more yoga techniques to improve your performance, endurance, strength and recovery, book onto my Yoga for Cyclists workshop, Sunday 11th September 1.30-3.30pm at The Fitness Space, West Bridgford.

Why I Love Yoga to the People

Yoga to The People BrooklynI recently spent a couple of weeks in Brooklyn, writing and yoga-ing, and generally falling in love with the place. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen a lot of photos from my rooftop. There are still more to come. I can only apologise. The view was incredible though…

Yoga to the People

While I was in the US, I wanted to get some experience of NY yoga classes. I was lucky enough to stumble across the incredible Yoga to the People. I can’t recommend this studio highly enough. In Brooklyn, a city where I spent 2 dollars on an apple, and 9 on a teeny tiny beer (it was really good beer though…), and yoga classes are often $20 drop-in, their ethos is all about keeping yoga accessible. The classes are donation-based, with a suggested donation of $10. If you can pay more, they ask that you do, and if you can’t pay $10 they ask that you pay what you can (if anything) and just keep coming back.

Sharing the Yoga Love

I love this approach. To me, the elitist yoga scene is off-putting and distracting. I love yoga for its accessibility – you don’t need expensive equipment, just your own body and a mat. And even the mat can be optional. Yes, if you want to spend a fortune on expensive designer yoga leggings, coordinating props and luxury studios, of course you can. But none of it is necessary. The power of the practice is in its simplicity.

The Class

So on a seriously hot Tuesday morning in Brooklyn, I found myself rolling out my mat in the studio of Yoga To The People, along with at least 20 other dedicated yogis. In that first class we were put through our paces in a gorgeous, sweaty vinyasa flow class. The theme seemed to be accepting yourself as “good enough”, which I liked. The encouraging teacher managed to tread that fine line between fitness trainer and spiritual guru with grace. Delivered with less skill, his guidance may have bordered on preachy, but it was full of warmth and peppered with humour, so even my repressed British self couldn’t get too cynical.

The Best Bit

What stood out for me most about that class was the atmosphere in the room. It was a group of motivated, focused people, all there because they love yoga enough to want to go to class, even in the middle of the day when it’s almost unbearably humid. The sense of community was like nothing I’ve experienced before in yoga, and I loved it.

What Next?

Now I’m back in the UK I’m incredibly excited to share all my US yoga learning with my UK yoga family. Watch this space for details of upcoming yoga workshops, classes and retreats…

Getting Back Into Yoga

Getting back into yogaDo you find it hard to get back into something after a break? I’ve experienced this recently with yoga (and blogging actually, oops…) It’s not that I stopped practising, I just hadn’t been doing as much, which I’m ok with. But it was when I found myself getting genuinely cross because my bus was 3 minutes late that I realised it I needed some yoga love back in my life (yes, doing yoga makes me a nicer person.)

But actually getting back into yoga wasn’t as easy as I expected. Here’s what I found helped:

  1. Clarify your motivations. I made a list of all the reasons I wanted to get back into yoga. They included everything from, “I’ll get better at keeping things in perspective,” to, “My back won’t hurt as much after I’ve been sitting writing.”
  2. Make a plan and keep it simple. In the past whenever I’ve wanted to get back into yoga, I’ve gone back to Ashtanga yoga, because it’s disciplined, I know it well, and I can just follow the set structure. But this time I wasn’t keen to do that. Instead I chose an online yoga class from Meghan Currie (look her up – she’s amazing) on Ekhart Yoga. It was an hour long and incorporated lots of stuff I wanted to work on – forearm balance, handstands and backbends. I decided to do this every day for a week. Simple.
  3. Stick to it. Once I’m into something, I’m pretty good at sticking to it, but I find the first few days of a new routine the hardest. So I refused to let myself skip a day or shorten the practice, because that would only make it harder to do it properly the following day.
  4. Remember to enjoy it. During the yoga class, I’d try to focus on the bits that felt good, and really notice them. I’d find ways to make my sessions nicer – lighting a candle, wearing my favourite leggings (in the picture – I actually love them) and hanging out for a little bit longer in postures I was enjoying. And at the end of the practice, I’d take time to acknowledge all the positives that came from it – strength, flexibility, mindfulness etc.
  5. Review it. After my week of doing the same thing every day, I wanted to mix it up a bit. I’m over my Ashtanga phase of making myself do the same thing repeatedly just to see how far I can push it. Variety is more fun. So my plan is now to do that class twice per week, and other kinds of yoga on the remaining days. I’ve added in some yin yoga, some core strengthening classes and sessions where I just play and see what I feel like doing.

Has it worked? In a word, yes. I can already feel the difference in my flexibility and strength. And crucially, I’m loads more patient waiting for buses. Or at least I’m working on it…

 

How to be a proper yogi

Proper yogiWhat do you think it means to be a “proper yogi”? I keep hearing this phrase, and the perception seems to be that a proper yogi is at least one, but ideally several, of the following:

  • Super bendy
  • Teetotal
  • Big into chanting
  • A wearer of floaty, ethnic clothes
  • Vegan
  • A fan of incense
  • A hippy
  • Always meditating.

Now, I have nothing against any of these qualities (give me super-comfy yoga gear over jeans any day of the week). But I don’t like the implication that if you don’t fit this painfully narrow yoga stereotype, then you’re not a proper yogi.

What I like is the kind of yoga and yoga teaching that doesn’t leave you feeling like you have to eat only lentils, speak in “Oms” and turn yourself into a human pretzel for it to count. As far as I’m concerned, if you can breathe, move and focus at the same time, you can do yoga. And actually, I’m not even convinced the moving part is essential.

Yoga is everywhere. It’s not just something you do when sticking your bum in the air on a yoga mat (although I am a big fan of downward-facing dog too!). It’s an approach to life that cultivates more presence, mindfulness and compassion. I see yoga in action when people take a deep breath to calm themselves down, stop to appreciate a beautiful view or go out of their way to help someone out.

If you want to get your Om on, fill your house with joss sticks and levitate over your meditation platform, great! But if you choose beer over kombucha, cheesecake over chickpeas and Netflix over an evening meditating, don’t panic. When it comes to the values of yoga, if you display even a hint of a moral compass, and try to be honest and kind, you’re plenty yogi enough for it to count as “proper”. And you are definitely no less of a proper yogi than anyone who might judge you for not conforming to a stereotype.

5 Reasons Why Retreats Are Amazing For Your Yoga

Retreats are so good for your yogaI’ve been out teaching at a beautiful yoga retreat in Andalucia for a few weeks now, and it’s struck me just how good it is to practise yoga in a retreat setting. Here’s why:

  1. You practise yoga every damn day. Weekly classes are fab. You turn up every week, and it’s like a little oasis of peace and tranquility in the craziness of your life. But when you do only practise once a week, it can take ages to feel a noticeable difference in your body and mind. For the super-impatient (like me!), this can be way too slow.  If you’re more of a “I want to see a difference and I want to see it now” type, practising yoga every day at a retreat will be right up your street. People leave after just a week already feeling the difference in their strength, flexibility and self-confidence. Result.
  2. You have chance to notice the fluctuations in your own body and mind. This daily practice means you tune in every day to where you are mentally and physically. You learn that things come in waves – some days you might feel grumbly and cross, taking a while to settle into your practice, while on other days you might bounce through the class like a happy little yoga bunny. And it’s all fine. You learn that tomorrow may well be different, or not, and it really doesn’t matter. It’s the turning up and doing the yoga no matter what that counts.
  3. You have fewer distractions. Yoga to clear your mind is great in theory, but it’s less fun when you find yourself utterly unable to let go of your mental “to do” list – realising that you forgot to feed the cat, you need to put your jeans in the wash and you still haven’t fixed the printer. And it is good to practise yoga at these times – learning to get absorbed and be present even when your mind is being really annoying is a useful skill. But equally one of the most lovely things about a yoga retreat is that you can let yoga be your priority. It helps you to focus better and just enjoy it a whole lot more.
  4. You get into a happy yoga routine. Making it to yoga class when it means you have to haul yourself out of bed 2 hours earlier than usual, pile on 7 layers of winter clothing and de-ice your car in the dark? Unlikely. Making it there when you can roll out of bed and onto your mat as the sun rises over the horizon? Much more appealing. The yoga retreat class convenience factor takes a whole lot of the effort of motivating yourself to do yoga out of the equation. And the great thing is that once you start to practise yoga daily, the yoga bug bites. By the time you leave, you’ll find yourself wondering why you would ever start a day without yoga, which makes it considerably easier to keep up your practice back home. Even if it is really bloody cold in November.
  5. You get to practise yoga in stunning settings. Let’s be clear – I am by no means a yoga snob. Some of the best yoga classes I have done have been in very average church halls with biscuit crumbs trodden into the carpet (though trying to work out if it was a custard cream or a rich tea is pretty distracting mid-downward-facing dog). But doing yoga in the mountains at dawn, or on a rooftop under the stars, or on the beach as the waves lap the shore is pretty special. Experiences like these make it easier to get that warm, fuzzy “yoga is magical” feeling. It’s a bit like a holiday romance, except without the getting dumped as soon as you get off the plane bit.

I’m at the end of my round of retreats for 2016 (sob!), but if you’re convinced by this and would like to join me for a beautiful yoga retreat in 2017, watch this space! It’s going to be so much fun…

3 Ways Science Can Be More Yogic Than Yoga

Science more yogic than yogaI’ve made no secret of the fact that as a yoga teacher, I can be pretty sceptical about some of the things I hear. I wrote here about the fact that I’m a scientist at heart, and I don’t believe in leaving your intellect at the door of your yoga class.

Recently I attended a Pint of Science event in Nottingham (so good!), and it made me think about what yoga can learn from science. Here are 3 ways that science can be more yogic than some of the yoga I’ve come across:

  1. Non-attachment. There’s a misconception out there that science is arrogant, assumes it knows it all and has an explanation for everything. My experience listening to these incredibly intelligent, respected scientists speak about their work was that they were about as far from arrogant as you could get. One of them spoke about how when the research corroborates your hypothesis, it’s actually quite an uncomfortable position to be in because you then need to try to break your own theory – to test it and probe it and search for holes in it. There is no becoming attached to the perfection of your own work, because the search for the actual truth is more important than the neatness of any hypothesis.
  2. Humility. One of the lovely things about seeing a group of scientists answer questions was the speed with which they would redirect questions to their colleagues who had greater expertise in that area. This happened regardless of whether they could have answered the question themselves or not – they simply recognised that someone else was better placed to answer it, and were comfortable deferring to their more relevant knowledge.
  3. Curiosity. During the question and answer session, the most common answer by far was, “I don’t know.” This partly comes back to the idea of humility, and being honest when the answers are not there yet. But it is also testament to the fact that scientists choose to work at the periphery of our known world. They are constantly pushing at the boundaries of what we know, asking questions and choosing areas to get curious about. Instead of seeing an unknown as something shameful, they use it to inspire them to explore further.

I’ve deliberately chosen to train with schools of yoga, like Frog Lotus Yoga International, which not only accept but actively embrace new research. I respect their approach because they adapt the way that they teach as new evidence comes to light about the safety and efficacy of types of yoga.

The history and tradition of yoga is important, and ancient yogis had some incredible insights into how the world works. But that’s not to say that they had everything right, or that their practices are always appropriate for our very different lifestyles today. So it’s good to not get too attached to one way of doing things, to stay humble and to get curious. Surely the greatest advances can be made when we respect and honour the tradition of practising yoga at the same time as applying scientific rigour, principles and investigation to what we do?

 

Learning To Be Struggle-Free

struggle freeI blogged last week about how I’ve been embracing a more “underachieving” approach to my yoga practice lately. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who contacted me to say they loved this post. I know – who would have thought slacking was so inspiring? But many of these people had been beating themselves up for not doing enough and they were relieved to hear I was able to dial it down for a while, and be ok with that. It struck me how hard we are on ourselves. We live in a goals-driven, target-setting, progress-orientated culture. We’re taught that effort equals success, and while that can great, it can also leave us with the impression that if we’re not struggling, we’re doing something wrong. So I wanted to share some advice that has helped me a lot.

The reason I’ve not been practising as much yoga is because I’ve been busy. Squeezing in such a long practice every day was making yoga into a struggle, and not something I loved. So I chose to let go of the struggle and adopt a more realistic, manageable yoga practice for a few weeks.

And this goes back to something that a yoga teacher said in class a while ago which resonated with me. In the warm up she encouraged us to, “Allow yourself to be struggle-free.” During the initial, gentler sections of the class this was fine. But then later, in a fairly intense core-strengthening sequence, she reiterated the guidance. “Be struggle-free. Be easy.” I was skeptical about the possibility of being “struggle-free” while doing Forrest Yoga abs (try them – they’re brutal). But weirdly, it worked. Not because I stopped trying, but because I realised how much of my suffering was caused by my mental battle. I was surprised that I could still work hard, and feel the intensity of that (which I definitely did), but without struggling, and therefore without hating it.

I’ve been experimenting with this quite a lot in the rest of my life too, and it’s been helpful. There are two ways that I try to apply the “struggle-free” philosophy. The first is that if I’m doing too much, or not enjoying something I’m doing, I reflect on whether I really need to be doing it, or whether it’s a self-imposed struggle that I could find a way around.

The second way acknowledges that sometimes there are things I have to experience which don’t feel particularly comfortable. Let’s say I need to have a challenging conversation with someone, or I’m anxious about the outcome of decision. I’ve been reminding myself at these times to, “Be easy.” Depending on the circumstances, maybe this means I need to relax, to detach, to surrender or to let things go and trust that it will work out.

And I’ve found that the more I let myself be struggle-free, the more things do seem to work out. Not necessarily to start with, but in the end they have a tendency to come good. Because actually even if I really think I know what the best outcome should be, I don’t really know what’s for the best. Things that I might initially perceive as failures can give rise to other, better opportunities.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t make an effort. You can still apply yourself fully, and commit and work hard at whatever it is you’re doing. And sometimes you do need to make a stand, and do things that are tough. But you can also make the conscious decision not to struggle with them. Even in the midst of things that feel horrible, like abs workouts or relationship break ups, it can be possible to find a kind of acceptance and peace in surrender to the situation. Most of the suffering is in the struggle. If you can let go of that, things get a lot easier.

So this week, my challenge to everyone, myself included is to let yourself be struggle-free. Drop something from your “To do,” list, find an easier way or let go of a personal battle. Let me know if it makes a difference.

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