Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: Yoga Class

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.

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.

How to fall in love with Savasana

Savasana“Savasana is the most important posture.”

When I began yoga, I didn’t believe this. I’ve seen the T-Shirts saying “I’m just here for Savasana,” which I find funny, because for me, Savasana, or corpse pose (i.e. lying flat on your back and relaxing completely) was definitely not what I was there for….

Toned, lean yoga body? Yes please.

Ridiculous flexibility? Absolutely.

Inner peace and harmony? Well if that’s an optional extra, sure.

But I have to lie still and do nothing to achieve that? No, I don’t think so.

But over time, I’ve started to make friends with Savasana, and I think you can too. Here’s why it’s worth a try, and how to go about it…

Four big benefits of Savasana

  1. It allows you to notice and absorb the benefits of the practice. A lot can happen physically, mentally and emotionally during yoga. Yoga meets you where you are, but it does not leave you where it found you. You need time to let yourself catch up with that and to enjoy the differences.
  2. It rests the body after physical practice. Throughout your yoga practice, you are seeking balance between effort and ease, between strength and surrender. By its very nature, physical practice requires strength and effort. Savasana gives you chance to balance that by seeking complete relaxation, allowing the body to recover and rest.
  3. You learn the skill of relaxation. And it is a skill. When you scan through the body in savasana, you have a final opportunity to find any remaining tension, physical or mental and let it go. You learn how to consciously relax.
  4. It marks the end of your practice, creating space before you re-enter the rest of the world. If you rush out straight after the last posture, it’s too easy to immediately lose all the mindful connection with yourself you cultivated through your yoga. Savasana gives you chance to take stock, which helps you to sustain that connection afterwards.

Getting the most out of Savasana

Know that there is no “wrong way” to do Savasana. Whether you are able to relax or your mind races, allow that to be. Trust that the experience you have is enough, and is what you need right at that moment.

The biggest barrier to relaxing in Savasana is likely to be your mind. Recognise any thoughts that are holding you back. Acknowledge them, and gently answer them with something kinder. For instance:

Negative thought Positive and kind alternative

It’s pointless just lying here.

Lying here allows me to absorb all the benefits of my practice.
I should be doing something more productive. I deserve this time to relax and let go after my practice.
I’m too busy for this. Savasana helps me balance the busy-ness of the rest of my life.

If you examine them, so many negative thoughts come from an underlying belief that you are not good enough as you are. Let that go. It won’t be serving you in your yoga, and it certainly won’t be serving you in your life.

See whether you can allow yourself to dare to believe that what you are already enough. Whatever you think to Savasana…

Happy relaxing lovely people!

Jade xxx

To be alive is to be vulnerable

Be Vulnerable“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

Madeleine L’Engle

I’d like to know whether other people find their experiences on their yoga mats echo their experiences in life as often as mine seem to? This morning, in yoga class, I was practising wide-legged standing forward fold. This is a posture I am used to, and when the teacher gave us the option to lift up into tripod headstand, I moved my hands to lift up in the way I always do. She came over to me.

“No, keep your hands where they were.” She then held my hips clearly expecting me to lift into headstand from this strange position.

I panicked. Is she crazy? I can’t lift from here. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never even seen someone do a headstand like this. What if I fall? And so on.

But somehow, my body ignored my mind’s agitation, and I felt my legs lift into the strangest, most exhilarating headstand I’ve ever done. My teacher stayed with me the whole time, letting me find my balance, and the more I surrendered and trusted her, the safer I felt. When my feet made it back safely to the ground, I was buzzing. I felt like I could take on the world.

It reminded me of a similar experience earlier this week. I rode on the back of a friend’s motorbike for the first time. I hadn’t expected to find this scary – I’ve been on the back of scooters lots of times. It turns out I’d slightly underestimated the difference between motorbikes and scooters. As the speed picked up, I went from casually holding on to clinging on as if my life depended on it. Which to be fair, it did. I felt terrifyingly vulnerable. In that moment I hated my friend for their confidence and speed.

But then I remembered something. I remembered that people love this. That they get a thrill from it. I was on the most beautiful road, with nothing separating me from the view, going so fast it felt like I was flying. I didn’t even have to worry about riding. I could literally relax and enjoy it, if I chose to. All I had to do was surrender my need to be in control and trust my friend.

And so I did. I mentally (not physically – I’m not stupid) let go and surrendered control. I chose to enjoy the experience instead of fighting it. I realised how rarely I do this. How hard I find it to put my trust in someone else and hand over control to them.

Because it means being vulnerable. To trust someone is to give them the power to hurt you. But I know that by refusing to let myself be vulnerable I hold myself back. I miss out on beautiful new experiences that I can’t have on my own.

Just as importantly, I’m not giving others the trust and credit they deserve. My yoga teacher would not encourage me to try something unless she knew she could stop me from falling. Similarly my friend would not risk my life for the sake of a motorbike ride.

Just because someone can hurt you doesn’t mean they will. In fact, it’s most likely they won’t. And I think life is considerably better – richer, more beautiful, more exciting and fulfilling when you let yourself to be vulnerable. I just need to keep remembering that.  I’ll take it one headstand at a time…

Love, Jade

P.S. For more on how to be vulnerable, and why it’s worth it, check out this fantastic TED talk from Brene Brown.

Around the world in 80 yoga classes

I’ve done it! This week I’ve hit 80 classes of yoga since starting this blog and my yoga travels. This doesn’t include classes I’ve taught myself – just those I’ve attended. I’ve done 17 different types of yoga:

Types of yoga

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve had the privilege of being taught by 30 different teachers, whose experience ranged from 40 years to just 2 weeks. I’m grateful to them all:

Mike, Sarah, Adam, Vidya, Raphaelle, Gabriela, Roberto, Lidiya, Jess, Carl, Marcus, Lamonte, Charlie, Chetana, Jasmin, Nina, Josh, Dylan, Alex, Marina, Tara, Bob, Sammi, Richard, Drew, Tamzin, Jenne, Amanda, Cyrus, Alicia

What have I learned from my 80 classes?

There is no right or wrong.

Every teacher and every class is unique. Sometimes I’ve been taught ways of assuming postures in one class which directly contradict those taught in another. Sometimes classes are so different that it’s hard to believe they’re all called “yoga” My take on it is that it doesn’t matter too much. As long as the teacher is sharing their practice, with enough instruction, guidance and support to keep their students safe, the differences only add to the experience, and help me to stay more present.

Every teacher teaches you something worth learning.

As a recently qualified yoga teacher, I’m trying to soak up everything I can to make myself the best yoga teacher I can be. Often the flow of a class will exactly fit with the way I like to teach, or I’ll be in awe of the teacher’s creative sequences or their inspiring words. These are the classes I rush out of to find my notebook and scribble everything down before I forget it. In other classes the learning might be more subtle, and less easy to articulate. But maybe I’ll notice later in the day a shift in the way I feel. Or a week or even a month later, something that teacher said to me will come back to me, and I’ll be grateful for their insight.

Yoga will meet you where you are, but it never leaves you where it found you.

There have been yoga classes where I’ve been aching so much from some ridiculous workout the day before that I’ve told myself I could leave after the warm-up if it was too painful. There have been classes at 6am that I’ve had to almost literally throw myself out of bed to force myself to get to. There have been classes that I simply couldn’t be bothered with. But every single time, once I get on the mat, something changes. Somehow the yoga meets me in whatever state I’m in, acknowledges that and then gently moves me through it. There hasn’t been a single one of these 80 classes that I’ve regretted making the time for. So when my motivation to go is low, I do just have to remind myself that the hardest bit is turning up. Once I’m there, things are already starting to get better.

What’s next now I’ve done 80 yoga classes?

When I started my yoga travels, I told myself I’d maybe do this until September, but that was unrealistic. 80 classes is not even close to being enough. I still have so much I want to learn. Maybe I’ll aim next to be taught by 80 yoga teachers, or to try 80 styles of yoga. Or maybe I’ll let go of the numbers altogether. Whatever, I’ll never consider myself a “finished product” as a yoga teacher. I’m going to keep practising, keep learning, and keep writing. I am eternally a student.

Teaching my first ever yoga class

The Om Dome. SuryalilaWhile at Suryalila, I had the opportunity to teach my first ever yoga class. I say opportunity, but to be honest I had to be coaxed, bribed and coerced into taking the class. I was terrified. Because the thing about teaching yoga in a yoga retreat is, people know what you’re doing. And therefore they know when you don’t know what you’re doing.

But they’re very persuasive people these yogis, so I found myself at 7am in the beautiful Om Dome with my lesson plan, laying out mats, blankets and blocks. Despite the vast differences in my surroundings, the nerves were very similar to my feelings six years ago when I taught my first English class in a Teach First school in Derby. They were Year 7, and lovely, and lulled me into a false sense of security. The Year 10 class I taught second lesson were not quite so compliant, but that’s another story…

At least my class size this time was small, with just four lovely students. Except that three of the four were qualified yoga teachers themselves. I couldn’t blag this. They were all very encouraging though, and as they all managed to come in without shouting “blow job” or attempting to forcibly remove their mate’s nose ring, I decided I was onto a winner.

In fact, the atmosphere was incredibly calm (I realise given that this was a yoga class, it shouldn’t have come as a shock to me.) In guiding the class to relax and let go, I couldn’t help but do it myself, and I let myself be completely present in the space I was holding for the class. I realised how much I had missed this aspect of teaching. While I don’t claim that my English lessons were ever as calm as a yoga class (although some weren’t that far off), I always found that teaching had a way of making bringing me into the present moment. The world outside my classroom, and beyond my students’ immediate actions would drop away, and I would be absolutely in the zone with whatever was happening right there. It was mindfulness practice in action.

The rest of the class ran smoothly. I gave some odd instructions at times (“Take your foot between your front two hands” As opposed to the back two, of course.) and I did miss out a few postures, but I’m hoping no one noticed. I also discovered that guiding to class to centre themselves between postures, and focus on their breath gave me the time and headspace to think about what I needed to do next. I wondered how often I’ve been in a yoga class, dutifully checking in with my breath and taking a moment to be present, while the teacher remembers what to do next…

After the class was finished, my students were lovely, and I got some useful feedback from them too – teaching teachers does have its advantages! What’s more, I was able to tidy the room and walk out without a single book to mark, guilt-free. Teaching without hours of marking – I don’t think the novelty of this will wear off for quite some time.

Sweating it out at Hotpod Yoga in Nottingham

Photographer Credit : Ed ReeveWhy hot yoga could be ideal for reluctant yogis…

It was with some trepidation that I arrived for my first ever hot yoga class on Tuesday evening at Hotpod Yoga in West Bridgford, Nottingham. The thing is, I’m the sort of person who gets nervous in a sauna. After 2 minutes, I feel panicky and have to check that a) I know where the door is, and b) I can open it. I’ve learnt the hard way that this can be off-putting for other sauna users, hence I tend not to inflict myself on them too often.

So it was with some relief, that after a lovely welcome from Sarah, the teacher, I let myself into the heated pod, and found that it felt pleasantly warm, not unbearably hot. I could actually breathe quite easily. The pod itself I can best describe as an inflatable, deep purple tardis, sort of like a grown-up, enclosed bouncy castle, lit by candle lamps and heated with portable heaters. I’m no snob about where I do yoga – some of the best classes I’ve attended have been in run-down community centres with biscuit crumbs from the morning’s toddlers’ group stamped into the carpet – but the pod transformed this unremarkable church hall into a space which felt almost magical. It was as if we were cocooned in our own special little yoga bubble.

My slightly smug “It’s not even that hot in here,” thoughts did not last long. After 10 minutes of gently-flowing vinyasa yoga, I was drenched in sweat. My nana used to tell me that ladies don’t sweat, they glow. If this is true, my experience at hot yoga proved beyond any shadow of a doubt (as if this were needed) that I am no lady. Before the class I had deliberated over my choice of towel – I could only lay my hands on either a little gym towel or a giant bath sheet. I opted for the little one, a decision I quickly came to regret. I could have done with two bath sheets. Performing Parivrtta Trikonasana becomes a whole lot more challenging when you are trying to stop yourself from sliding right off your mat and into your neighbour.

That said, the heat really helped my muscles to let go. Under Sarah’s encouraging guidance, I felt my body move easily into deeper lunges, twists and back bends. My upper back and shoulders, where I hold a lot of tension because I work on my laptop for most of the day, clicked and crunched satisfyingly through the whole practice. By the end they were so released I felt like my head was lighter. It was better (and cheaper!) than a deep-tissue massage.  I had also tried my first Kayla Itsines workout the day before (if I keep this up maybe I’ll blog about it soon!) and so I was experiencing major DOMS in my thighs and bum. This class was great to ease some of that out.

I’d say in fact that this class is perfect as a counter to both sedentary office-style working and any physical training which leaves you feeling tight and sore. Although as I’ve practised yoga, I’ve become more comfortable with exploring some of its more spiritual aspects, I know a lot of people who would benefit from yoga are resistant to trying it. They find its new-age, hippy-ish reputation too esoteric and off-putting. HotPod Yoga as its website states, pares down “thousands of years of yoga tradition…to some critical, logical and powerful elements.”  This makes it ideal for anyone who wants to feel the physical benefits, as well as the relaxation of yoga, without “chanting, a cult mentality… or haughty gurus.” I think the “Namaste” from Sarah at the end of the class was about as overtly spiritual as the class got, and yet I still left it feeling physically and emotionally uplifted.

To sum up, despite all my initial reservations, I whole-heartedly recommend you give hot yoga a try. Just remember to take a decent-sized towel!

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