Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Coping with post-lockdown anxiety

Is anyone else struggling with post-lockdown anxiety? Life without restaurants and yoga studios and holidays was hard, but it was also simpler. Now that the world has opened up again, I’ve found myself torn between so many competing demands. How am I going to fit everything in? Who haven’t I remembered to get in touch with? Am I doing any of this right? Ugh.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

However, as someone who has struggled with anxiety since childhood, I have at least built up a decent range of strategies for dealing with it. When I start to notice anxious thoughts taking over, these are the things I find most helpful.

Disclaimer: It’s important I point out that I am not a mental health professional and I am just sharing what works for me in the hope that it may help someone else too. Anxiety is far more talked about than it used to be, and I’m glad about that, but it is still a medical condition. If you are struggling, please seek professional help. There is lots of practical advice and guidance about anxiety, fear and panic on the NHS website.

My personal strategies for dealing with anxiety

  • Journalling. This is my go-to for when my head is too full of thoughts and I know I need to spend some time untangling them before I expect the rest of the world to have to deal with me. Often I like to free write, which is writing as a stream of consciousness without any regard for structure, form or content, and see what unfurls. Sometimes I use a journal prompt to kickstart some more creative reflections and sometimes I write about what’s wrong and I keeping going until I’ve figured out a way to feel better.
  • Yoga. You may have guessed this one already. I write about yoga, I do yoga, I teach yoga – it’s clearly a big part of my life. But in many ways it was anxiety that drew me to yoga. If like me you are an over-thinker, getting out of your head and into your body is essential. Uniting breath with movement helps to keep your attention on the present and away from your racing thoughts. What kind of yoga is best for anxiety is probably a post for another time, but the main thing is to take the pressure off. You don’t need to do an intense 2 hour vinyasa flow practice, unless you want to. Just get yourself onto your yoga mat for 10 minutes, breathe and move.
  • Self acupressure. Ok, this one is a little out there, but bear with me. Last week, I had a nasty cold. I was feeling too ill for yoga, too tired for journalling, but I knew I needed to do something. I tried the self acupressure techniques in this video for stimulating the vagus nerve, and within minutes, I felt calmer than I had in days. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Stand up paddle boarding on St Mary’s Loch, Scotland.
  • Getting outside in nature. This is my favourite way to tackle anxiety – getting outside, whatever the weather. Especially if you spend long days working inside, maybe at your computer screen for most of the day, this is the pefect antidote.It matters less what you do – walking, running, paddleboarding (I’m a big fan!), cycling – all can be great. The key thing is:
    • See the sky
    • Breathe the air
    • Move around
    • Remind yourself that there is a natural world which is both bigger than you and connected to you.
  • Meditation. I’ve put this further down the list, because when I’m in a state of acute anxiety, it’s actually not something I find helpful – I need to try the other things on the list first. However, as once I’ve done my journalling or my yoga or whatever else I need to move the immediate anxiety along a stage, then sitting down to meditate is wonderful. It’s also a great longer term strategy for dealing with stress and anxiety before it arises. I try to make at least five minutes for meditation as part of my morning routine before I start work. If silent meditation feels overwhelming, try this beautiful, short guided meditation from Mooji.

Creating your own anxiety toolkit

As a final bonus point, one thing I’ve found it useful is to create for myself a little anxiety toolkit. It’s essentially a list of all the things I can try that help me to work through anxiety and ultimately feel better. I keep these on my phone, so that when I have a low moment, I can check in with it and feel inspired to try at least one of the things to move myself out of the funk.

The transition into winter can be tough, especially this year with post-lockdown anxiety and ongoing pandemic uncertainty, so be kind to yourself, and let me know if you find any of these useful. If you have other strategies for dealing with anxiety that work for you, please share them in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.

Yoga teacher advice to my past self…

Things I wish I’d learned before I started teaching yoga

It’s more than 6 years now since I qualified as a yoga teacher, and my relationship towards it has changed a lot in that time. For all those new yoga teachers, yoga teacher trainees or curious yoga students, I thought I’d share some of my lessons learned.

Before I started yoga, I wish I’d known:

1. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Because I loved it SO MUCH, I thought that once I became a yoga teacher, that would be my main identity. This a phenomenon known as ‘flattening’ and Pandora Skyes writes about in her excellent book ‘How do we know we’re doing it right?’ It’s the idea that in order to be whole we have to reduce our identities down to one primary thing. For me that meant I felt I should discard the parts of myself that didn’t ‘fit’ being a yoga teacher. I’m far more comfortable now in owning and enjoying my multiple identities. I’m a writer, a doctoral researcher, a (currently frustrated!) traveller, an appreciator of gin and tonic AND a yoga teacher. It’s ok to layer yoga teaching into your life – it doesn’t have to be everything.

2. There are many different models of yoga class teaching. To share just a handful I’ve tried in the last few years, you can teach:

  • Classes at a commercial gym or a local leisure centre
  • Corporate yoga to employees in their offices
  • Private one to one yoga classes from your home or visiting their home
  • Yoga studio classes
  • Your own classes by hiring a room in a community centre or something swankier
  • Online yoga classes either live or pre-recorded
  • Cover or supply classes for when the regular yoga teacher is away
  • Classes at a yoga retreat (highly recommend this one!)
The image shows Jade teaching a yoga class who are in a circle inthe dome at Suryalila Retreat Centre all doing child's pose.

They all have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to consistency, earning potential, atmosphere, loyalty, flexibility etc. It’s therefore worth experimenting and seeing what works for you, which leads us on to…

3. Everything is an experiment. This is a great life philosophy (and a favourite of my partner Tom). Yes, you should do your best – my own yoga teacher Vidya of Frog Lotus Yoga International encourages yoga teacher trainees to “Make every class a 10/10” and it’s true – your yoga students deserve that positive intention. However, not everything will work out. Your teaching cues might not flow, the room might be too hot or you might have low attendance. If you treat it all as an experiment, it takes the sting out of it – you’re always playing, experimenting and learning.

4. Not everyone will like your teaching, and that’s ok. When I started teaching yoga, I wanted to win everyone over, hoping that they’d like the yoga as much as I did. It’s a lovely feeling when they do. Getting positive feedback at the end of class, or via a thoughtful Facebook message later that evening is fantastic. But I’ve come to realise that teaching yoga is a bold and creative act. When people don’t love your teaching, yes reflect on it and see what you can learn, but then let it go. You need to be brave about this. Trust that although you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, you will attract the students who are receptive to what you have to share.

5. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Because teaching yoga takes courage, energy and commitment, it also takes a lot out of you, especially if you’re on the more introverted end of the spectrum. I love yoga teaching and I get such a buzz out of it, but I choose not to do it all day every day. Be careful not to overcommit to too many classes, jobs or creative projects especially at the start. The things that nourish you matter too – whether that’s meditation, seeing friends, taking a bath or enjoying a G&T. Remember, you are not just a yoga teacher.

Most of all, be kind to yourself

It’s such a challenging and exciting time when you begin teaching yoga, and I hope these help. Yoga teachers, let me know your own lessons learned in the comments below – what do you wish you’d known when you started teaching yoga?

Five books to cosy up with this winter…

Slightly different blog from me today, but as winter is my favourite time for hibernating with a good book or five, I thought I’d share a few recommendations. They’re not necessarily yoga-focused but most are at least leaning in that direction! I’ve linked to Amazon for ease and because I’m a Kindle fan, but obviously you can buy them anywhere.

  1. Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through a Storm – Thich Nhat Hanh

This book has a special place in my heart as I read it while trekking to Annapurna Base Camp. It kept me calm through tummy bugs, back pain, bitterly cold nights and fears of avalanches. I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and writings anyway, and this one has a beautifully peaceful quality to it. Read it and be comforted.

2. Start Where You Are: How to accept yourself and others – Pema Chodron.

I think anything written by the incredible Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron is well worth reading, but this book in particular describes a practice known as Tonglen. The concept of Tonglen is basically the opposite of the “inhale the good shit, exhale the bullshit” idea – you imagine breathing in the poison, all the dark, hot, heavy stuff, fully experiencing and absorbing it, then breathing out cool white light. It’s counter-intuititive, but an amazingly powerful practice for transforming anger, rage, frustration and fear. It’s probably best you read the book though, as there’s no way my distorted description of it will have done it justice!

3. Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine – Derren Brown

Yes, it’s by the magician/ illusionist guy, but it’s also a fantastic read about stoicism and the philosophy of how to live well. It draws on a different lineage to yogic philosophy but there’s a huge amount that resonates in here. Depressing as it sounds, I found the chapters on death life-changing and regularly remind myself of some of its nuggets of wisdom when I’m feeling anxious. Don’t let that that put you off – it’s great, I promise!  

4. Fierce Medicine – Ana Forrest

Even if you’re not a fan of Forrest Yoga, or you haven’t had chance to try it yet, there’s loads to get into in this heartfelt book about the power of yoga and connection with your spirit for healing. Ana Forrest’s own personal story is inspirational too, so it’s worth reading for the juicy autobiography alone.

5. The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

I was going to stick to non-fiction books but I couldn’t resist sharing this one last. I found the writing itself a bit awkward at times, but the whole concept it’s based around is irresistible. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but if, like me, you struggle with questioning your life choices (what if I’d not quit my job, what if I’d learned guitar, what if I’d gone to New Zealand, what if I’d joined the circus etc) it’s super helpful for putting some of those demons to rest.

I hope you enjoy these, and let me know if you have any good recommendations in return – I feel I’m due a few cosy reading days over the next week or two!

Merry Christmas!

Online Yoga to Help You Through Tough Times

Wow, what strange old times we’ve found ourselves in…

I’ve got some time off work at the moment, and I’ve been quite hard on myself for not being creative enough with that time. I had all these ideas that I’d make yoga videos, try new recipes, write a book, learn a craft, plan my PhD etc etc. In reality, what I’ve wanted to do is play with my cats and read in the garden. So far, so unproductive.

But I am grateful for yoga, and the fact I can access amazing yoga teaching from home. A few people have asked me for online yoga recommendations, so I’ve collated some of my favourites. In time, who knows, I might get around to adding my own content to this list. But until inspiration strikes, I’m happy to share a few of my own “go to” places for online yoga…
If you have your own suggestions, please add them in the comments below.

Online Yoga Recommendations

  1. Suryalila Cyber Yoga Retreat – my love of this amazing retreat centre in Andalucia, Spain is no secret. I blogged about it here. Sadly, their business has been hit hard by the pandemic. But, wonderful folk that they are, they’ve come up with a cyber yoga retreat. This means they can keep sharing their teachings, love and sense of community with the world, while hopefully generating enough income to keep the retreat centre alive. You can buy a day, week or month pass, and they’re also offering “compassion passes” for those in financial difficulty themselves. Their classes have given my days much needed structure and there’s something for everyone with a range of different yoga, meditation and philosophy classes. See here for full details.
  2. Ekhart Yoga – this has long since been my favourite source of online yoga. I let my membership lapse a while ago, as I was drawn to the flashier, LA-based AloMoves, but in all honesty, I regret it! The platform on Ekhart Yoga is more intuitive so it’s easier to find what you are looking for, whether that’s a 15 minute meditation, or a 60 minute strengthening class. I also find the teachers seem more approachable… I know the yoga is online, but I still prefer practising with a teacher I feel I’d have a good chat with! At the moment, Ekhart Yoga have made some free classes available here, and they also offer a two week free trial.
  3. Youtube offerings – I’ve spent a long time sifting through various Youtube yoga channels. There’s a lot of yoga on there, but the quality is variable. However, I’ve found the following to be safe bets:
    • Finlay Wilson – also known as the “Kilted Yogi”, Finlay shares his Forrest Yoga teachings, and I’ve yet to try a class of his that I didn’t like. He also has a lovely voice, which helps.
    • Yoga with Adrienne – with a huge online following, Adrienne is firmly in YouTube Star territory, but it’s well deserved. She has an incredible range of classes from the generic, such as Yoga for Beginners, to the highly specific – Yoga for Risk Takers, anyone?! Her manner is warm and reassuring.
    • KinoYoga – I’ve loved Kino MacGregor’s teaching since I first discovered Ashtanga Yoga, and I still seek her out when I want something a bit more challenging. Her teaching is precise and full of helpful alignment cues. As well as full length classes she has some really nice (read: painful) yoga strength drills and advanced posture tutorials.
    • Core Connection Mini Sequence – I recommend this particular YouTube class from Denise Hopkins so often, I’m giving it a bullet point of its own. Those who come to my classes in real life know how much I love core work, and this class has it all: elbow to knee, abs with a block, an excruciating hold of Dolphin Pose. You are welcome.
  4. Last but not least, it’s hard to beat live teaching. This is the perfect time to support yoga teachers and studios if you can. Many yoga studios are offering Zoom or other webinar-style classes, so check out any that you usually visit and see what they are doing. You can also practise with yoga teachers whose classes you’d never normally make it to (2021 update: I recently got to take an online class with my wonderful friend Stephanie of Kalpana Yoga in Canada – lockdown has some advantages!).
Photograph of Jade doing yoga at home in a in standing forward fold, uttanasana.
Home yoga practice

My final little reminder (which I’m also telling myself often!) is to be kind to yourself and keep things simple. This time is stressful enough without putting undue pressure on yourself to make over your life, become an artist or learn a new language. All those are great if they’re what you’re compelled to do, but honestly, if you manage each day to move your body, eat food that makes you feel good, and send a kind message to family or friends, I reckon you should be pretty proud of yourself already.


I hope this helps. Let me know how you get on with online yoga!

How Injury Transformed My Yoga Practice

If you’ve ever experienced a nasty injury, you’ll know how frustrating, debilitating and isolating it can be. I’m sharing my experience in the hope that it brings some comfort and reassurance that the situation (or at least your response to it!) can and will improve.

The Injury

Three months ago, I taught my worst ever yoga class. It wasn’t that anything went wrong with the class itself (except a last minute room change and a power cut). The issue was that when I demonstrated cat-cow, something in the right side of my lower back “went” sending searing pain through my back.

I’ve had lower back issues before, so I knew this wasn’t good, but I carried on teaching. I hoped that moving would help. It didn’t. By the end of the class, I was in agony.

Me teaching a yoga class in the Om Dome at Suryalila Retreat Centre in Spain.
Teaching whilst injury-free!

I remained in acute, debilitating pain for the next three weeks. The only position that was comfortable was lying down. Sitting, walking and standing all sent my muscles into excruciating spasms. Safe to say, it was the end of my yoga teaching, and indeed my yoga practice for quite some time.

As I said, I’ve hurt my back before, and quite badly, but this was worse.

What made it emotionally harder was knowing that I’d hurt it doing yoga. Whereas previous injuries (through doing HIIT training, lifting kettlebells and most embarrassingly, tripping over the wire while straightening my hair) I could attribute to a specific, avoidable incident, what triggered this seemed so innocuous. It wasn’t even as if I was attempting a challenging posture.

The Bumpy Road to Recovery

I had some good advice and some terrible advice. Friends plied me with hot water bottles, ibuprofen and gin (which worryingly helped more than painkillers!).

I scoured the internet obsessively in the hope of a cure. In my desperation I forked out for three different eBooks on healing back pain, which I read from cover to cover. These convinced me that the pain was psychological and that all I needed to do was return to my normal activities.

Full of hope, I walked the 5km to the local town, determined to “act normal”. By the time I got there, I was in so much pain that I passed out on the street. I came to surrounded by a group of lovely, and deeply concerned Spanish locals. Not cool.

Beautiful massage space outside at Suryalila Retreat Centre in Spain.
The advantage of getting injured at a retreat centre is the availability of amazing massage…

So for the next six weeks, life revolved around trying not to aggravate my back.

I wanted to keep up some kind of self-practice, but how I felt about yoga had changed. Rather than being my therapy, my healing and my safe refuge, yoga felt risky. I considered meditation but this was hard as I couldn’t sit still for more than 20 seconds. Meditation lying down for me is just falling asleep.

Instead I started to read books on Buddhist philosophy and practice, which helped more than the back pain books did. They encouraged me to develop a less combative relationship with the pain. I also began very gentle and cautious mobilisation and breathing exercises.

Trekking to Annapurna Base Camp

Sun rising over the Annapurna mountain range

Slowly, slowly I started to build up the distance I could walk. This was going well, but I feared not well enough. I had booked to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek at the start of December – 9 days of arduous trekking in the Himalayas.

This trek was something I had dreamed about for years, so although I was nervous, I felt I had to try.

I won’t bore you with every detail of the trek, but I’m happy to say that it an incredible experience. It wasn’t painless, far from it, but the more I walked the more my pain eased. I was so grateful for what my body could do.

Not only that but the walking was an exercise in mindfulness. Because you have to place your feet carefully for each step (to avoid falling off the mountain) it is impossible to think about anything else. We also did a digital detox, spending the whole trek without connecting to WiFi. I finished the trek feeling calmer, happier and more present than I have in a long time.

Sign and prayer flags at Annapurna Base  Camp.

But still no yoga. I played with a few postures after walking some days, but they didn’t feel great, and I didn’t want to risk it.

New Year, New Focus

Then came new year. We attended a yoga and meditation retreat in Cambodia. My first yoga class there was nerve-wracking. Although the practice was gentle, I felt flashes of panic and sometimes anger when a posture affected my back. I didn’t love the classes, but they did help me to overcome the fear I had of practising yoga.

Signs pointing to yoga hall and other facilities at Hariharalaya Retreat Centre.
The very lovely Hariharalaya Retreat Centre

But the meditation made a more tangible difference. By then I was able to sit on a meditation bench for around 30 minutes without pain. This meditation time gave me chance to put into practice all the theory from my reading on Buddhism.

There was also a strong emphasis on the importance of self-practice throughout the retreat, which I took to heart.

Since coming back from the retreat, I’ve developed the most consistent self-practice I’ve had for years. I practice daily, around 30 minutes of postures, followed by pranayama and meditation later in the day. My practice doesn’t look the way it used to – currently my most “advanced” posture is tree pose (which I love!) – but it feels better. More honest, more connected and more grounding.

Me practising dragonfly (or grasshopper) pose in Morocco.
It may be a while before my yoga practice looks like this again!

Finding Yoga Again

In coming back to yoga I have become reacquainted with my body. I enjoy feeling into where the edges are now, and where I can use my breath to open up spaces. I’m building up confidence and trust in my body once more, and I know that’s going to take time. For once, I’m content to give it that time.

Me practising simple yoga on the beach.
Morning yoga on the beach in Koh Chang



On My Californian Hot Yoga Experience…

Hot Yoga StudioDisclaimer: I wrote this straight after a hot yoga class, with the intention of turning it into a more polished article, then decided that it would be more honest to publish it unedited… If you are offended by swearing, you should probably stop reading now. I can only blame the heat 😉

So… are there any “normal” yoga classes here? No? Hot yoga it is then.

The studio seems to have been designed in homage to an early nineties Eastern European dance club. It’s all disco lights and concrete.

Still at least the lights aren’t actually changing colour.

Oh no wait. They are.

It seems the teacher was joking when she said the studio isn’t that hot. It’s hot as fuck. I’ve still not got to grips with the Californian sense of humour.

Shit, I’ve put my mat down at the back only to discover that the back is the front. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. I need to move.

It’s far too late to move. The class is filling up and the teacher has already spotted me and given me a don’t-even-think-about-moving-now-I-have-you-in-my-sights toothy All-American grin.  Better brave this one out.

Let’s be nonchalant. I can just do a few cat-cows, a little plank. Pretend that I do yoga in the fires of hell every day.

On second thoughts, moving is bad. Need to stop moving. Move as little as possible. It’s so goddamned hot. How long would it take me to get to the door from here? It looks locked. Is it locked?

No one panic. I think I’m panicking. Is this what a panic attack feels like?

Calm, be calm. Focus on your breathing. This is what yoga is all about.

This is not what yoga is all about.  

I’m dizzy. It’s so hot. Does everyone in here have breast implants? I think they might.

Oh no wait, there’s a guy over there. He just caught my eye and smiled. I’m getting flat chest solidarity vibes from him. That’s nice.

Ok time to start. The teacher just told us that the first rule is that you aren’t allowed to leave. I’m pretty sure this time she wasn’t joking. Even Fight Club didn’t have that rule. I think I’d rather be in Fight Club right now.

Hot Yoga Selfie

The teacher just reminded us to leave our egos outside. It’s safe to say my ego left the moment it saw the wall-to-wall mirrors in here. There is no part of my body I can’t see.

I never knew my belly looked like that from the side. Weird.

Ok, focus, stop staring at the mirrors. Focus on the teacher. What the hell are we meant to be doing? She has her back to us and is talking to the mirror. Has she forgotten we’re here? Maybe I can sneak away now…

No, she hasn’t. I just got told off for looking at her. It seems we’re meant to be staring at ourselves in the mirror. Ego-less, remember?

She just told us to engage our cores “because it’s summer.” Would you not engage your core in winter? FFS.

It’s ok though, because we’re only in competition with ourselves. I’m not even paraphrasing now.

This is the strangest mixture of vanity, masochism and self-hatred I’ve ever come across.

People pay for this.

People are weird.

She keeps counting down. Just two more flows, then we’re done. Just one more pose in this sequence. Go to your edge, then hold it for 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. We’ve had more false finishes than my nerves can bear.

So. Much. Sweat. There are puddles of water around my mat. Everywhere I touch turns to sweat. I didn’t know there was so much water in my body.

The woman next to me doesn’t seem to be sweating at all.

She is mostly lying down though. I don’t blame her.

She looks very still. I hope she’s breathing.

I’d do anything for a cold beer right now.

Or a gin and tonic.

A pint of gin and tonic.

With ice.

Mmmm ice.

I don’t think there’s anyone in the world I would not marry if they brought me a pint of iced gin and tonic.

Maybe Trump. I probably wouldn’t marry Trump.

Actually I probably would.

I really do want a gin and tonic.

I am never going to hot yoga again.

I think it’s close to the end.

No one seems to be doing anything anymore. They’re mostly wiping themselves with towels and wincing in the mirrors.

Oh no, 3 more poses.Motivational poster on the wall

2 more.

Final pose.

If we want to do anything else we can.

I think I’m good.

Savasana.

Thank fuck for that.

She just told us that our future selves will thank us for this. I doubt that very much.

 

Five Forrest Yoga Changes I Love

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.

Picture shows Jade in a variation of bound angle pose with the relaxed neck taught in the Forrest Yoga Advanced Teacher Training

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 stop craning my neck 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 in extended side angle poserather than gazing into your hand, look forward and relax your neck. 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.

I’ve spoken to other yoga teacher friends who completed the Forrest Yoga Advanced Yoga Teacher Training and hated the core work. Luckily, this wasn’t a problem for me. Since my ballet teacher told my 11 years old self that situps would help my 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 put me through my paces. They have left me feeling 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. It’s part ballet training and part my own vanity and desire to have a flat stomach, but up until now, my yoga practice had only reinforced that patterm. It 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 was 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, but to help heal it. As well as Forrest Yoga abs, I’ve 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 when I’m feeling wobbly. Instead, I’m slowly learning to strengthen and stabilise my pelvis.

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. Now, my intention when I get on my yoga mat is to start from a place of “having my own back.” If something’s hard, I breathe rather than fight 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, I’d love you to join one of my classes. As I develop my teaching over the coming months, I’ll be integrating what I learned from the Forrest Yoga Advanced Teacher Training into my usual vinyasa flow classes. I promise your neck and core will thank you for it!

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@52.209.252.246

I hope to see you in a workshop very soon!

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