Reaching beyond the asana – a trancendent yoga workshop with Matthew Sanford

Matthew Sanford’s name first reached my ears as I cooked dinner in a pop-up kitchen in Kathmandu. I’d found an American podcast channel on the enthusiastic recommendation of a Kiwi friend. The first episode I listened to was an interview with Matthew.

I couldn’t really hear properly because of the bubbling and hissing of pans so I went to sit on a cushion on the floor, resting my tired head on the low table as I listened to a perspective that eventually had me sitting up, eyes wide and a silent yes of recognition resounding through me.

I love the randomness with which people can reach our lives.

English girl finds wisdom in Kathmandu, via an American podcast, thanks to a Kiwi friend

Matthew related his story of extreme loss and trauma. He was just 13 when a car accident left him paralysed from the chest down. His father and sister were killed in the crash. His childhood was over in an instant.

He struggled with the medical world’s conception of disability and the general world view of how we relate to our bodies. Because of my own experiences with CFS/ME, his words really resonated.

“Dominance over body is what human beings have done for thousands of years. Whether it be nature, whether it be each other. That’s one thing we want in the tool belt. To use will when you need to have it. But we are just at the beginning of realising that there are many other ways to integrate with body. I believe our human survival over time is going to depend on us getting much more subtly aware of our bodies.”

Matthew Sanford, On Being interview

[click to continue…]

Inner space: the final frontier – the cowgirl on the yoga mat

My very first email address was spacecowgirl. I wasn’t a big Jamiroquai fan so I think my reason for picking the name was actually more to do with liking the idea of being a cowgirl, in space, because I was 12 and, why the hell not?

History backs this up because I did go on to be a cowgirl, spending three months in outback Australia when I was 18. It was hard and dirty work but I was living my dream and I loved it. I was working with horses, in space.

Saddle training sweet and smart Bellisima, 2yrs.

The space wasn’t the interplanetary kind but it might as well have been for the effect it had on me. In that barren and empty place everything felt more intensely alive. My senses hummed with life at the wild wonder of this strange land.

People commonly experience the outback as ‘nothingness’, boring, devoid of life. They sleep their way through it on a flight or bus to the towns and cities of the coast – nothing to see here. I would have been inclined to join them but my love of horses and desire to work with them easily trumped my desire to live by the beach in Sydney. [click to continue…]

Top three restorative yoga postures

Practising restorative yoga is a great way to take some time out to rest and renew – especially when energy levels are low. These three restorative yoga postures can be practised individually or they make a really nice short session, incorporating a forward bend, a back bend and an inversion. Stay about 3 minutes in each pose for a 10 minute restorative sequence before bed and sleep easy.

Although it’s ideal, you don’t need a yoga bolster. Get creative and use blankets, a duvet, pillows – whatever you have to hand. If you think you might want to practice restorative (also known as ‘yin’) yoga regularly, a yoga bolster is well worth the investment. If you have a yogi friend/family member, it makes a much appreciated yoga present (mine certainly was). Enjoy!

1. Supported chest opener (aka ‘the heart soarer’)

Yin yoga chest opener

Restorative yoga – chest and shoulder opener

Physical benefits:

  • Opens the shoulders and chest – great if you spend a lot of time working on a computer.
  • Opens up the lungs and diaphragm, allowing for a deeper, fuller breath, rejuvenating the whole body.
  • Stretches the front of the body, allowing tension to be released from the stomach.
  • Increases flexibility in the upper spine.

[click to continue…]

International Yoga Day – beyond the spin

The first ever International Yoga Day is here. Having been on the fringes of society for thousands of years, it’s quite a landmark for yoga, for the holistic health world and for India.

Meditating on the banks of the Ganges, Rishikesh, India

Meditating on the banks of the Ganges, Rishikesh, India

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change.”

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, addressing the UN General Assembly

For anyone new to yoga the idea of it ‘dealing with climate change’ might seem like quite a leap, but change starts with us and increasing the wellbeing of individuals is key. Through individual wellbeing we access clearer thinking, more capacity for caring  and more energy to make better choices.

But not everyone is happy about the arrival of International Yoga Day…

[click to continue…]

Yoga for every body – 5 common yoga myths, busted

There are still misconceptions that yoga is the domain of the young, fit and flexible. That you have to be really flexible to practise yoga is a particularly odd misconception.

yoga graffiti, manali, india

Yoga graffiti, Manali, India (nope, you don’t have to be able to do this to practice yoga…)

Increasing your natural range of flexibility is one of the reasons to practise yoga in the first place, so if you are really inflexible then you stand to gain a lot. It’s a reason to start yoga, not to avoid it!

Plenty of other misconceptions about who should and shouldn’t be practising yoga are out there, but thankfully, there are ever increasing waves of people getting into yoga and experiencing the benefits first hand.

I seem to be coming across more and more examples of this at the moment so thought I would gather a few of them together to bust a few myths and inspire a few of the yoga-curious-but-shy into giving it a go.

Myth 1: Yoga is for the young

[click to continue…]

Fatigue – 5 ways that yoga helps

winding-road

The long and winding road on the beautiful island of La Palma

Sleepiness, tiredness, fatigue, exhaustion – no matter how strongly we feel it, it’s not pleasant. It weighs us down, makes everything feel more difficult and stops us from engaging fully in life. The reasons for fatigue are many and it can feel like a mystery to solve. How can I feel more rested, more awake, more energised?

Having suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) this is a question I asked myself a lot over the years. I experimented, finding things that helped and things that didn’t. Some things I kept doing, other things I tried for a while and have never gone back to. What has stuck with me over the years is my yoga practice.

I almost didn’t try it in the first place. I was warned off yoga by a physiotherapist who felt that holding static postures would not be helpful to someone with CFS. But she was reducing yoga to one aspect of it. She didn’t know that it is designed to be holistic, balanced and adapted to the individual, and there’s a lot more to it than holding static postures.

I ignored the advice, started to practise it and found great benefit. It wasn’t a magic cure but it was like being given a set of keys – which is ultimately far more valuable.

Over the years I have found so many reasons why yoga helps with fatigue, but here are just 5 to inspire you onto your mat and into more energy.

[click to continue…]

5 surprising reasons to practise restorative yoga

Restorative yoga workshop in York

The set up for a restorative yoga workshop at York Yoga Studio

Restorative yoga was where I started. Due to illness, I quite literally started yoga from the ground up – doing postures where I could lie down, supported as much as possible.

As my health improved I quickly started to incorporate more active poses – standing poses and poses that require strength and balance. It was all good stuff but I never waved goodbye to the restorative practice.

I always had an inkling that there was more to restorative yoga than just good old R&R and my inkling was confirmed in a restorative Iyengar class I used to attend every Sunday.

We would practise with props galore. It would drive me a little crazy how much time we would spend preparing our ‘posture station’ but the efforts were nothing compared to the benefits.

[click to continue…]