Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: core strength

Five Forrest-Inspired Yoga Changes

Recently I graduated from a Forrest Yoga Advanced Teacher Training Course. The experience was incredible – emotional, exhausting and inspiring in equal measure. Here are five of the changes I’ve already made to my yoga practice as a result.

1. I’ve stopped torturing my neck.

“Relaxed neck” is a common cue in Forrest Yoga, and it felt alien to me. Relax my neck? As in let it my head actually hang down rather than crane my neck at a weird angle in order to get the “correct” drishti (gaze point) for the pose? Despite my initial reluctance, I found it felt really, really good. Try it – next time you’re in extended side angle pose or half moon, rather than forcing yourself to gaze up or into your hand, relax your neck instead. See how much nicer that feels? I love it, I’m teaching it, there’s no going back.

2. I love core work even more now.

Since I was about 11 years old, when my ballet teacher told us sit ups would help our balance in pirouettes, I’ve loved core strength work. But on my training, I realised that I’d barely scratched the surface. The precise, refined, and relentless (!) cues of Forrest Yoga abs seriously put me through my paces, and left me so much more connected with my inner strength. Now I do them every day. This is the video that’s my “go-to” online Forrest Yoga core practice, if you want to try it yourself.

3. I also know how to relax my belly.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t habitually suck my belly in. My ballet teacher told us to do it, my vanity and desire to have a flat stomach told me to do it, and my yoga practice prior to Forrest training was all “uddiyana bandha” and “draw your belly in and up”. So I’ve always done it. But for all Forrest Yoga’s focus on abs, the core work is an intentional practice, and they don’t encourage you to hold your belly tight all the time. In fact, in my third class, one of the intentions was to practise with a soft and spacious core. Even more than the neck thing, this felt uncomfortable. I don’t think I actually knew how to let my belly relax. But once I adjusted, it completely changed how I felt physically and emotionally.

4. I keep my lower back healthy.

I now use yoga to not only “fix” my chronic lower back pain when it flares up (it’s an old compression injury), but to heal it. The Forrest Yoga abs help a lot, but I’ve also learnt techniques such as back traction for creating space in my lower back. What’s more, I’m recognising my  tendency to jam tension into my lower back, and I’m learning to strengthen and stabilise my pelvis instead.

5. I’ve (almost) stopped punishing my body.

I want to finish on a high, but I have to admit that this one is a half truth still. After  years of abusing my body with disordered eating and exercise addiction, softness and ease are concepts I seem to need to learn again and again. What I am finding is that when I get on my yoga mat, I’m starting from a place of “having my own back.” If something’s hard, I’m breathing, not fighting through it. If a pose causes pain, I’m pulling away, then exploring what’s going on. And if something feels delicious, I’m staying there. It’s a work in progress, but even that, I think I’m learning to accept. There are some things that just take us a bit longer!

If this Forrest Yoga thing sounds like something you might be interested in exploring, watch this space, as I’ll be leading my first Forrest-Inspired Yoga workshop on Saturday 24th March 2018 at Akasha Yoga Centre. Drop me an email at info@52.209.252.246 to book your place.

Why I’ve Been Taking Cold Showers

Cold showersCold showers are something I’m used to as a traveller. Reliable hot water is a luxury, not a given, in a lot of the places I stay. And sometimes cold showers aren’t that bad. In Nepal, the water was never heated, but the temperature outside was very warm and the water was never really cold, so it was fine. In cooler places, I’ve perfected the art of showering as quickly as possible, with as little of my body under the water at any one time as I can get away with, while still ending up passably clean.

Suffice to say, cold showers are definitely something I’ve endured rather than enjoyed.

So why would I voluntarily choose to start taking cold showers during March in Portugal, in a house where the lack of heating leaves it chilly at best, glacial at worst?

Well I was intrigued by a program on Ekhart Yoga called “Core Strength and Radiant Health.” Both of those sounded like the sort of things I wanted more of, so I decided to give it a go. The only trouble was, the program included “an invitation” to take cold showers.

The idea of the program is that you start each morning with pranayama or breathing practice. Next you practise yoga – alternating between all-round yoga classes and core-focused practices. Then, it’s cold shower time. To make it more bearable, it’s suggested that you start with a hot shower, then for the last 30 seconds or so you dial the temperature down and blast yourself with cold water.

The cold showers are meant to have a range of health benefits, including:

  • Elevating your mood.
  • Building stamina and willpower.
  • Keeping your skin youthful and glowing.
  • Boosting your energy.

Showering in this way is apparently called a “Scottish shower” and incidentally, if you’re needing further motivation to try it, it’s the way James Bond showers. I don’t think you can get a better endorsement than that…

So how have I found it? I must admit, the first morning, I probably only managed 7 or 8 of the 30 seconds I was meant to do. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and wondered why I would put myself through something so horrible. Particularly after my recent thinking about promoting self kindness, this seemed to go against the grain.

But, as soon as I stepped out of the shower, I felt amazing. A hundred times more energised and awake than I usually do first thing in the morning. And that feeling lasted all day. Weirdly, I also struggled less with feeling cold during the morning. Whereas usually I sit and write huddled under three blankets with a succession of cups of tea to keep me warm, I was down to just one blanket. It was as if the cold shower had woken up my own internal heating system.

So I’m definitely carrying on with the challenge. Let’s see how it goes when I’m back in the even cooler UK…

If you fancy joining me in the challenge, give it a try, at least for a day and see what difference it makes. The full information is here.

Have a great week (cold showers or not!).

Love, Jade xxx

How Much Yoga Do You Need?

how much yoga do you needYou might have come across the hashtag #yogaeverydamnday, which could seem funny, or inspiring or motivating. But if you’re new to yoga, or you’re very busy, the idea of practising yoga every day can be intimidating. So do we really need to do yoga every day? And how much yoga is enough to feel the benefits?

I’ve experimented a lot with this and I’ve tried everything from going weeks at a time without any yoga, to practising for more than 3 hours per day.

I’ve come to these three conclusions:

  1. The amount of yoga you need depends on your goals. This means working out what you want from your yoga practice. For example, if you want to learn to handstand, you need to put the time in to strengthen and open your body, and increase your body awareness and balance. Having a go as part of your weekly yoga class will help, but if you’re doing nothing in between, it’s probably going to take you a long time to progress. On the other hand, if you have a very active lifestyle and you use yoga to reconnect with your body and mind, your needs will be different. Spending just 10 minutes at the end of the day doing a restorative posture like legs up the wall pose followed by some meditation will have a huge impact.
  2. Daily practice is a non-negotiable. I appreciate this might be a controversial one, but for me, to function at my best, I need some kind of yoga every single day. This is not necessarily a vigorous flowing yoga practice, although that is my preference. Some days my self practice is just finding 5 minutes to meditate. I can even do this on the plane if I’m travelling. Other days I might do 10 sun salutations, some core strengthening work or some joint mobilisation exercises.
  3. Fluctuations are normal, and natural. One thing I’ve learned is that my own yoga practice ebbs and flows, depending how I’m feeling and what I’m doing in the rest of my life. I used to panic if I couldn’t fit in an hour to practise every day, but now I try to be more responsive to my situation. During my Advanced Yoga Teacher Training, I practised yoga for 3 hours every day (at least!) and meditated for 1 hour. I felt amazing, but that amount of practice isn’t realistic for me (or many people!) most of the time. That’s ok. The way I think of it is I still carry with me all the benefits of having spent that amount of time practising yoga. So now, even when I just do a mini yoga practice, or a short meditation, I know I’m reconnecting with all the good that I cultivated during that time of intensive practice.

It’s worth saying that the more I’ve practised yoga, the more I realised that yoga is everything. From noticing my impatience while I wait in a supermarket queue to remembering to relax my shoulders when I run, it’s all about mindfulness, and it’s all good yoga practice. But I still prefer to have some dedicated part of each day where I consciously and deliberately set aside the time and space to do yoga.

How much yoga is the minimum?

For me, I’ve found the lowest I can let it go is 5 minutes per day. I feel like I really miss out if I don’t spend at least 5 minutes per day connecting with myself. Usually if time is as tight as this, I don’t do yoga postures at all, I just sit and meditate for the 5 minutes, because I find that’s the most effective way to drop into the mindful awareness I am looking for in such a short space of time. 

I’d love to know what you think of this and how much yoga you need? What works for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Have a great week lovely yogis and yoginis.

Jade xxx

P.S. Shameless plug for my wonderful yoga retreats here… If you’re looking to spend some more focused and intensive time on yourself and your yoga practice, I have three magical retreats coming up – check out my page here and drop me a message if you’d like more details. I’d love to welcome you on one.

Why do 108 Sun Salutations?

108 sun salutationsHave you heard of practising 108 Sun Salutations in a row? This idea has been on my mind for a while. It’s often done at the Winter Solstice, as a way of welcoming in the lengthening days. But I kind of missed that, so I decided to have a go at 108 Sun Salutations this week instead.

What is the significance of 108?

108 is an interesting number culturally, spiritually and mathematically. It is referenced in many ancient Eastern and yogic sacred texts, where it is said that 108 represents the wholeness of existence. There’s a thorough explanation here of the significance of 108, but my favourite reasons for its importance (because I am ever the pragmatist and geek) are these:

  1. 108 is made of three individual digits. The 1 symbolises the unity of all, 0 represents the completeness of spiritual practice (or emptiness, depending how you see it), and 8 is the symbol for infinity on its side, which represents eternity, albeit in a slightly wonky way.
  2. It describes fairly accurately the relationship between the sun, the moon and Earth. The average distance of the sun and the moon to Earth is approximately 108 times their diameters. And the diameter of the sun is about 108 times the diameter of the Earth.
  3. It seems like a pretty good idea to do 100 of something. But that’s a lot of counting, and it’s likely you’ll miss a few, so shooting for 108 means you’ll probably hit 100 at least.

So anyway, yesterday I decided to do 108 Sun Salutations.

How did I do my 108 Sun Salutations?

I chose Surya Namaskara A, because I get mixed up with which side I am on in the Classical Sun Salutation, and A is easier than Surya Namaskara B (hey, it was my first time). After 28 repetitions I regretted my decision not to mix things up a bit more, but my stubbornness wouldn’t let me change course, so I stuck with it.

To keep count of my repetitions, I downloaded a counter app onto my phone, and tapped it each time I jumped back to the top of my mat.  

How did I find it?

I knew physically it would be tough, but I have to say it was more of a mental challenge in the end. Physically I didn’t find it as challenging as I’d hoped (my masochistic tendencies coming out there…), although my hamstrings hurt today. But my god was it boring. I had brief periods where I’d be more in the flow, and I used my breath and bandhas (core engagement) alternately to maintain mindfulness, but on the whole I just wanted to finish it. It did teach me a lot about my own reluctance to engage in any kind of repetitive task, and how much of a battle it is to remain present when you are bored out of your mind.

What kept me going was the genuine hope that I’d have some kind of profound spiritual experience at the end of the 108 Sun Salutations. Unfortunately I can’t really say that happened. I was happy when it finished. I felt lovely and calm and centred when the last round was over. But there was no lightening bolt of enlightenment, or deep spiritual insight.

But, there was one massive, unexpected benefit…

After finishing the 108 Sun Salutations, and consuming the biggest smoothie my blender could handle, I went on to have the most ridiculously productive day. I wrote 5 whole articles (a record for me), organised the next bit of my yoga travels, caught up with messages from friends and family, cleared out my wardrobe, wrote a 100 step action plan for developing my blog over the coming year and sent three cards. I even fitted in some extra core strength training and visited my Grandma. I have no idea how all that happened in one day. But it didn’t feel like an effort – I just had loads of energy and focus.

So maybe there is something in this 108 business after all. Or maybe it’s simply that after boring myself stupid for the better part of an hour, my mind and body were ready to do anything and everything except Sun Salutations. Give it a go – let me know how you get on in the comments below?

Happy Sun Saluting lovely people!

Jade xxx

P.S. If you’re relatively new to yoga, check out Youtube for guidance videos as to how to do Sun Salutations (I’ll be making one myself soon – watch this space) and start with a smaller number – 3 or 9 or 27 – please don’t go straight to 108!

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