Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

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Life lessons from yoga in pregnancy

At 38 weeks pregnant, I’ve just started maternity leave and the busyness that usually gives my world structure has subsided. Everyone keeps telling me that the most important thing I can do is rest, which I’m sure is true. But given that I have a little set of feet presssing into my diaphragm, neither sitting nor lying for any length of time are very appealing… Thankfully, I still have yoga. I thought I’d share a little about how my yoga practice has been shaped by and shaped my experience of pregnancy in the hope it might help others, pregnant or not.

Everything feeling a little more challenging with a bump…

Yoga in the first trimester

I was lucky not to be too sick in my first trimester, but I felt lousy for weeks. I was plagued by nausea which refused to limit itself to any particular time of day. ‘Morning’ sickness is a lie. Much of the time I felt bone tired and a bit pathetic. Needless to say, my yoga practice changed a lot. When I managed to do a stronger asana practice I would feel much better for it. However, most days the best I could manage was a bit of cat-cow and some rolling from side to side.

Pranayama was my friend though – practising ujaayi breath and alternate nostril breathing (without breath retention) helped to keep me calm and centred. I can’t recommend it enough. Being able to focus on my breath also saved me during some tricky work calls when all I wanted to do was lie down with my iced water and dry crackers to hand.

Yoga in the second trimester

From about week 10 of my pregnancy, I started to feel much better. I had more energy, my body felt like mine again and the nausea subsided. I know I’m lucky in that and for many, symptoms last much longer and are far more severe than mine were. You have my utmost sympathy and respect!

But by week 11 or so, I was mostly back to doing my own vinyasa yoga practice, which just a few adaptations. As I didn’t have much of a bump until my third trimester, I felt quite unrestricted and it was great to feel strong and mobile again. I tried some free pregnancy yoga classes on Youtube, but found them a bit dull. I wasn’t ready to give up a stronger physical practice, so and I got frustrated with feeling the classes were so limited in scope. I ended up subscribing to an online service purely for a brilliant online pregnancy yoga series from Lauren Eckstrom. This gave me the physical challenge I was looking for while also having some gentler classes and pregnancy-specific yoga nidra classes thrown into the mix.

One of my favourite postures for creating space in the pelvis

Yoga in the third trimester

In my third trimester, I started to miss the connection to others of being part of a class. I couldn’t find any pregnancy yoga classes near where I live in Beeston, Nottingham (maybe something I can rectify in the future!) but I stumbled across some live online Triyoga classes led by an absolute guru of pregancy yoga, Lolly Stirk. Since the 70s, Lolly has championed women’s rights to free movement and choice in their births. She founded the Active Birth Movement which shaped medical practice through the 80s and 90s. The depth of her knowledge shines through in her classes, which combine community, gentle movement and breathing. At 36 weeks pregnant, when my midwife told me that she couldn’t find the baby’s head (!) and wasn’t sure whether they were breech, Lolly asked me what I could feel. She then reassured me, “Have the scan to be sure, but your baby is head down, your baby is fine.” She was right.

Lolly has taught me a way of practising yoga that will never leave me. It’s about repetitive, and almost hypnotic movements, tuning in to the natural rhythms of the body and working with the breath. I begin most classes feeling a little agitated and impatient, then at a certain point, my mind settles and I’m just there, in my body. I can’t imagine a better way to prepare for birth.

3 things that yoga in pregnancy has taught me

I’m a big believer in taking all the learning you can from an experience. Pregnancy has been a steep learning curve for me. The things I am hoping will stick are:

  1. Whatever else is going on, you can always come back to your breath. Focusing on my breath has anchored me through the sicky days, the energetic days and the anxious days.
  2. You practise yoga in a different body each time. For years, I’ve enjoyed yoga’s ability to help me tune into changes in my body. But pregnancy brings such accelerated transformation that every time I practise, something tangible has changed. I love taking time to notice, accept and appreciate it.
  3. Being able to do’ a posture matters less than you think. I’ve surprised myself by not really caring when I lost the ability to do certain yoga postures. Yoga has helped me to stay mobile enough to pick things up off the floor, tie my own shoelaces and get myself off the sofa. But when child’s pose got too restricted, I just grabbed a bolster. When handstands no longer felt like sweet relief, I stopped doing them. When savasana on my back made me feel like I was suffocating, I lay on my side instead. And do you know what, it was fine.

Most of all, yoga in pregnancy has been a lesson in impermanence and non-attachment. It’s been an invitation to dive deeper into an awareness that transcends the physical postures and to see that they never really mattered anyway. That said, I still defy anyone to focus on much at all when you’re literally being kicked in the ribs from the inside. Maybe there’s a lesson somewhere in that too?!

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 acupressure techniques in this video for stimulating the vagus nerve, and within minutes, I felt calmer. 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, 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. You might also like to check out the guided meditation script which is part of the free Mini Yoga Teachign Toolkit I’ve created.

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. Let me know if you find any of these useful and 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.

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.

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 – if I’m completely honest I’d run out of clean yoga leggings when I took these photos!).

  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. Keep lifting your hips back and up 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, lengthen tailbone towards the ground and reach 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 opening for the front of your body, while building stability 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 chest. This encourages 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.

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…

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