Inner space: the final frontier
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.
Reaching beyond the asana
I love the random ways that people can enter our lives.
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.
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’)
Restorative yoga – chest and shoulder opener
- 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.
Yoga retreat: Huzur Vadisi
I heard about the yoga retreat with Simon Low four days before it began.
Moments later I was on Skyscanner, fingers crossed in the hope that the scanner of the sky would see fit for me to fly to Turkey in just four days time.
Taking flight – leaving Newcastle for Turkey
Although I wasn’t necessarily looking for a yoga holiday, I was looking to practice with a high-level teacher. Simon’s name had reached my eyes and ears enough times – with enough positive commentary attached – to feel it was time to experience his teaching first hand.
The fact that this involved a holiday in Turkey was a welcome bonus. CFS symptoms had started to creep back into my daily life and it was once again becoming a condition to manage rather than a thing of the past. It was time to reconnect. [continue reading…]
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
“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…
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 (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
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.
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.
Yoga in Goa
People practise yoga for their own reasons and there are many. At the start of a yoga course or retreat, the teacher normally asks you what your reasons are – what you hope to gain, what would make a difference to you in your life.
For some people the aim is ‘the truth’, ‘enlightenment’, for some people the aim is ‘a nice butt’. For most the motivation is a mix of reasons somewhere between those two extremes and the reasons are ever-changing, ever-growing. But in a whole world of yoga, it can be easy to lose yourself to what other people are selling, rather than staying true to what you want out of your practice.
Yoga for me has never been about sculpting my body (although of course I would graciously accept a butt lift as a side effect of my practice, let’s not be churlish here) but at times I have lost focus as to what yoga really means to me and why I am doing it at all.
Deconstructing a downward dog – teacher training with Surinder Singh
Looking for Surinder’s contact details? Now he can be found at www.swastiyoga.com
Missed part 1 or 2? read them here:
Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 1: Rishikesh
Yoga teacher training with Surinder Singh – Part 2: Opening ceremony
We began each day at 6am. Sleepily entering the yoga hall, unrolling our mats and slowly stretching awake – or stealing a few more moments sleep under a blanket in a pretend shavasana.
Surinder would enter, prepare and pray as we came to sit, ready to begin the class. The morning class was for our own practice. It was one of my favourite times of day, knowing you wouldn’t be called upon to demonstrate a pose or to have the magic of the silence broken with a lengthy discussion on the finer points of a pose. It was a time to go deeper into the practice and learn alignment from the inside out.
It was 2 hours of yoga and pranayama, challenging but not exhausting. We’d work through a few rounds of sun salutations, going quite slowly, holding poses long enough for Surinder to check our alignment and give individual adjustments. He’d achieve this task at miracle speed, his experience and sharp eye meaning he could quickly hone in on what we most needed.