Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Month: June 2016

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?

 

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