Monthly Archives: April 2011

Flash Yoga

Flash Yoga

If you’d told me a week ago that I’d be in shoulder stand with the gentle early afternoon breeze caressing my toes and the sun on my face I’m not sure I’d have believed you. 

I few days before, via Twitter I became aware of Flash Yoga. Such a great idea – free (yes, FREE!) outdoor yoga classes with a few hours notice, weather permitting.  A gloriously sunny Good Friday made way for the inaugural session which took place in London’s Regent’s Park and I was lucky enough to be there with several other lovely practitioners. 

Our teacher Clare took us through a beautiful Dharma Mittra sequence – a style of yoga I’ve heard a little about before but never had the opportunity to experience, until now.  This was the first time I ever practiced yoga outside and I absolutely loved it.  There was something very special about breathing in and smelling the grass, hearing the birds and quite literally feeling the earth beneath my feet.

I’d arrived feeling tense and a bit anxious – worrying about the ups and downs of stuff going on in my life at the moment.  But afterwards, with the kind gift of a tangerine from Clare, I floated off into Regent’s Park feeling restored and reminded of how fortunate I am, whatever else might be happening. Sometimes the best things in life are free.

I really hope word will spread and that more teachers will get involved with Flash Yoga.  I for one can’t wait for my next outdoor yoga practice!

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No. 3…

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No. 3…

That it would bring up ‘stuff’ when I least expect it…

I had been fine all day. Chirpy, even.  The news hadn’t come as a surprise and it felt like such a relief that it was finally out in the open….

Buoyant, I bounce along in the early evening sunshine as I head to my regular class at my yoga home.  I think about the events of the day and the exciting possibilities ahead.

Happily on the mat in class, all is good.  And I feel strong.  Centred.  Then, after the first set of balancing something happens.  I feel very dizzy.  I come into child’s pose before I fall over.  Resting there for a few breaths I think I must just be having a bad day with the heat. I try to join back in with the class but almost instantly I feel overwhelmed, then nauseous, then… very emotional.  I never have the urge to leave the room during a class, but in that moment it’s all I want to do.  A mental battle ensues… I stay.

In half-pigeon with my forehead on the mat tears race to my eyes.  I fight them back.  Where have these tears come from…?!  We reach tree posture and I can’t even raise my foot to my ankle, never mind my calf or inner thigh.  Once more, I feel as though I am going to topple over, so I take child’s pose again, if only to avoid falling sideways and ‘taking out’ my poor unsuspecting neighbour.  It’s almost as though some invisible force is pushing me over every time I try to get up.  I don’t understand why I feel like this…

My teacher looks concerned, asks if I am alright and very kindly offers me some coconut water.  I tell her I am fine.  Just a bit dizzy. I think. 

Then, during the first Savasana of the class I am swamped by a strange mix of emotions.  Once more tears race to my eyes and this time I can’t stop them.  Again, I want to run out of the room but instead I lie there and try to focus on my breath as best I can.  My mind is racing…  I seem to make it through the rest of the class but it’s all a bit hazy.

After class I speak to my teacher who asks again if I am okay.  I start explaining that I felt really dizzy, then overwhelmed and then… I start sobbing uncontrollably.    Right there.  In the changing rooms.  In front of my teacher, I go into the ‘Ugly Cry’ (as Oprah calls it).  I am mortified and confused and unable to speak.  We go to the loos and when I get my breath back all I can do is apologise to my teacher for bursting into tears.  Through the sobs I eventually manage to explain I’ve had a bit of a weird day and that I was told that morning I am being made redundant.  But I don’t understand why I am crying – I’d already known it was coming, reconciled it in my head and ultimately know this is one of the best things that could happen for me right now. 

I am stunned because this has never happened to me in a yoga class before.  My teacher is very kind and reassures me that this is more common than I might think.  Emotions are a funny thing.  I’d had no idea that this ‘stuff’ was there.  I realise it was good to come and practice that day – what’s happened has helped me release some of the tension that’s been building up inside over the past several months.   And with some significant changes on the horizon – some exciting, some scary – I sense that practicing will help me in the coming months too.  It makes me feel even more grateful for the gift of yoga in my life.

What a Difference a Teacher Makes

What a Difference a Teacher Makes

I was recently told a story by someone who used to do Iyengar classes with a teacher who would direct rather personal comments to her students during their practice, including bluntly telling one poor lady on more than one occasion that she was “too chunky” (!)  Not surprisingly, she didn’t keep those classes up, despite having actually enjoyed Iyengar.

This story reminded me of how fortunate I am that I get to regularly practice with wonderful teachers.   I currently practice at my yoga home 5-6 times a week and periodically elsewhere too.  One thing this has led me to observe is that people seem to have so many different reasons for coming to yoga. (Who knows what possible traumas might have been going on in that lady’s life when she was told by that teacher she was “too chunky”, for instance?).  Years ago I just assumed a good yoga teacher was seen as someone who was bendy and had perfect expressions of all the asanas.   However, as a student who has also been on the end of some less than considerate teacher comments in the past and worked with injuries, inflexibility, excess weight, depression… it’s made me increasingly feel that one of the most important aspects to being a good teacher is to be able to guide students through their practice with passion and compassion.  There is so much to be said for kindness.

I also feel it’s no coincidence that good teachers tend to have a regular practice themselves. 

I wish I was able to meet that lady and bring her along to my yoga home, but unfortunately that’s not possible.  I hope she found a good teacher.

In my very humble experience, I would suggest to anyone looking to find a good teacher, enquire as to whether your prospective teachers have a regular practice.  If the answer is ‘yes’, then the chances are you might be in luck.

Chakra-ising the Asana with Stewart

Chakra-ising the Asana with Stewart

I think I’ve met a True Yogi.

At the weekend I had the great privilege of attending a workshop led by Stewart Gilchrist at my yoga home. During a two and a half hour class titled ‘Chakra-ise the Asana’  Stewart taught us about the chakras (our wheels or nerve centres of power) in relation to the asanas we ‘lay out’ (Stewart expressed that ‘lay out’ is the correct term, rather than ‘perform’).  He also told us about how it has now been scientifically proven that chakras do exist – it’s not the la-la hippy nonsense that many thought for a long time.

I’d arrived on the mat with some trepidation.  Knowing a little of Stewart’s reputation I already knew this would be no beginner’s class.   Then he actually tells us as much, but adds that anyone can do it as long as they listen, even his Scottish Granny.  With that, I am convinced Stewart’s Granny is a far better woman than me!  I exchange a look with my neighbour and realise I am not the only one feeling a bit fearful of what lies ahead…

“Yoga without devotion is just keep fit”, Stewart tells us.  This I believe.  When I first started yoga I just thought of it as exercise but I now know it is so much more.  For Stewart’s class, I dedicate my practice to someone I know whose Mum passed away earlier in the week.

Then we begin moving.  The pace is quick and then… it gets quicker!  Never before in a class have I been so aware of the importance of remembering to breathe!  During a seemingly endless sequence of vinyasas my triceps burn and I wonder if I’ll be able to go on.  Yet, somehow – thanks to my breath – I do.  As we continue to move through the dynamic practice there is so much information to take in as Stewart works through the chakra system.  I know I won’t remember everything, but if a fraction of it stays with me I’ll be happy.  It’s certainly fuelled my desire to learn more.

Even though the room is packed out, Stewart darts about making adjustments and miraculously it seems as though every single person in the room gets his attention.  Though some of the hands-on adjustments are quite strong, I really like this. I’ve learned this approach particularly works for me through the handful of Jivamukti classes I’ve taken part in so far.  I feel the hands-on adjustments very directly show rather than tell me where I am working towards in an asana.  And I’ve found that combined with verbal instruction really helps me to understand better.

We move onto some even more challenging asanas.  “If you decide you can’t do something, then sure enough you’ll find you can’t,” Stewart tells us. I know this has been an ongoing issue for me, as I’ve written about in previous posts.  Whenever I see a seemingly impossible posture in front of me, my immediate thought tends to be, “There is no way in hell…”  It’s a pertinent reminder that this is something I need to keep working on.  And I am reminded to accept where I am right now when Stewart adds, “You’re perfect.  Where you are is perfect for you.” 

Throughout, Stewart is funny, cheeky, warm and wise.  Our incredibly dynamic practice is balanced by his vast enthusiasm and encouragement.  As we continue, Stewart warns us not to over-extend in our asanas, “…that’s the ego.  Under-extending is your fear.”

Stewart later tells a story that speaks to my ‘sweat neurosis’.  It’s about some Americans practicing yoga in India who ask their teacher what they should do with their sweat.   It turns out the answer is to rub it into your skin (!): “It’s your Prana.  Your life force.”  Well, sweat is something I certainly have a lot of!

I am taken by surprise when we move onto the finishing sequence.  Could we really be nearing the end of the two and half hours already?  I find myself feeling a bit sad that the workshop is almost over – that was a shocker considering how I’d felt during all those vinyasas earlier on.

I float off into the sunny spring evening feeling uplifted and inspired and knowing that I definitely want to practice with Stewart again.  The friends I meet up with later look at me with a mix of awe and bemusement as I explain to them how I spent my afternoon…

The next day I get up for my Sunday morning class.  I start moving around my place to pack my gear and – Oh.  My. Goodness!!!  My hips, my glutes, my trapezius, my triceps… I could go on.  Yet, I was still smiling.  And it turns out that making the decision to still go to practice was the best thing I could have done for my body – all that soreness eased thanks to Leon’s Hot Flow class!

I am so grateful that Stewart came to Yogahaven to teach us.  And everyone else I’ve spoken to who was there had wonderful things to say about Stewart and his workshop too.  So, with any luck, Allie and Krystal will be able to persuade him to return on a regular basis, fingers crossed!

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No.2…

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No.2…

Sweat Neurosis

There was an ad I saw on London Underground years ago for a women’s anti-perspirant with the caption:

”Women don’t sweat, they glow…  I glow buckets”. 

For anyone who may have seen the spoof disaster movie, ‘Airplane’ the easiest way I can describe it is that it’s like Ted Striker – the ex-pilot with a fear of flying who has to land the plane.  While at the controls, the beads of sweat formed on Ted’s brow rapidly escalate to the point where we see him literally dripping with sweat, as though he’s had several buckets of it thrown over him…

That pretty much sums me up during a Hot Yoga class. 

I sweat in Astanga and Jivamukti too, but in any given hot class, the sweat is of epic proportions.  And as much as I hate to admit it, some days this really distresses me.

Now, of course with any form of hot yoga sweat is a given.  How can it not be when you’re practicing in 40 degree heat?  But I assumed that the more I practiced the less profusely I’d sweat during class.  However, it turns out the opposite is true. Why?!

Most days I don’t even need to have started doing any postures for the sweat to appear.  I find that if I’m doing a hot class, no sooner have I’ve stepped into the room to get a mat than I catch my face in the mirror and find it staring back at me, all brown and shiny like a Werther’s Original.  I’m no Halle Berry, but I’ve looked better.

Oddly, I don’t bat an eyelid at other people’s sweat.  I won’t remotely freak if a bit of sweat from the person on the next mat flicks onto me (which reminds me of a story a Bikram teacher once told in class about hearing that after teaching Lady Gaga, her teacher was such a fan that he rolled around in her sweat after she’d gone.  I wouldn’t exactly go that far…).  Yet, I am horrified by my own sweat.  I worry about a teacher touching me to adjust any of my postures – what must they think?!  I just don’t want to inflict my sweat on anyone else.

I don’t understand where this severe case of sweat neurosis comes from.  Is this a common condition, or is it just me?

I’ve got to the stage where I sort of accept it, but on bad days it gets me extremely paranoid.  I get incredibly wound up that no-one else in the room could possibly be sweating as much as I am (and the puddle I find under my non-slip towel at the end of any particularly challenging hot class does little to persuade me otherwise…). 

I know wouldn’t judge anyone else about something like this, yet I judge myself so harshly.   I wonder if this is part of a wider issue I have with acceptance – accepting where I am at the moment.  Or it could just be that I’m a slightly strange woman.

Maybe one day I will learn to truly embrace the sweat…

Or at least, start sweating a bit less.



I have just begun Astanga classes at my yoga home.  This is not my very first experience of The Primary Series.  I had a brief introduction years ago on a series of beginners’ classes with Leela Miller.  Leela was incredible, but I never went back beyond those classes.  I felt so intimidated by my surroundings and by the other people in the room who really didn’t appear to be beginners – they looked like ‘real’ yogis (or at least, the perception I had of what yogi’s looked like) – I certainly didn’t.  I felt so embarrassed and out of place.  In some ways I wish I’d had the courage to go back to those classes because Leela was such an amazing teacher, but at the same time I think I just wasn’t ready yet.  My head was in a different place then. 

Some months later, I got myself a copy of David Swenson’s  practice manual and tried bits at home, where no-one else would see me, but it all still seemed so impossible.  Over the years I felt that maybe I should get rid of that spiral bound-tome taking up space on my shelf – it wasn’t like I ever used it, after all.  But something inexplicable always stopped me giving it away to the local charity shop… Then quite randomly, a friend bought me John Scott’s book, ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ as a present one Christmas.  Maybe they knew something I didn’t?

Anyhow, I am currently a handful of classes in and one thing that hasn’t changed since that beginners course all those years ago is that I am not very ‘good’ (for want of a better word). Not good at all. 

So why, this time, do I keep going back?

Oddly, I feel that not being able to do so many of the postures is partly why I now like it. I think it has some different things to teach me.  Like taking myself less seriously…

“Did you just give up?”  My teacher, Sally jokingly asks.  Her question snaps me out of my thoughts and I realise that’s exactly what I’d just done.   Moments before I’d watched Sally demonstrate Supta Konasana and instead of attempting it along with the rest of the class I was just sitting on my mat thinking about how my body was not going to be able to go there.   What was I doing?  If I adopted that attitude for every posture not yet available to me (don’t even get me started on Navasana…   ) then I’d be sat motionless on the mat for the majority of the ninety minutes.  So, I give Supta Konasana a go and…  I find myself flailing around like a beetle on its back.  I look ridiculous.  And I laugh. 

And it’s okay. 

This is the start of the journey.  With dedication and patience maybe one day the impossible will become possible, as I have just begun to experience with Shirshasana, for instance. It was with Sally’s guidance that I recently got into my first ever headstand, against the wall, after years of terror around this pose.  However, the big lesson for me here was about how I choose to show up in my practice.  If I can stay honest and sincere on the mat along the way, and have the courage to keep going even when my ego tells me otherwise, then that feels like a greater achievement than whether my body can bend into all those shapes.

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No. 1…

Things I Never Expected from Yoga – No. 1…

That It Would Show Me I Have ‘Issues’…

I’ve realised that I have a bit of an issue with accepting my limitations.  While I am gradually learning and experiencing the benefits of the internal practice, at times I have a real struggle with the external, focusing on the physical aspects – namely what I ‘cannot’ do – and, wrongly, feeling a sense of frustration at my body.  I forget to be grateful for the body that I have.

I try to do things the right way and if I see how a posture is supposed to look, then that’s how I want to be able to do it. The trouble with this (for my ego, at least) is that my body won’t always let me get there.  I expect to be at ‘Level 5’, not taking into account that I need to move through ‘Levels 1-4’ first.

I’ve been really surprised to see where my physical practice has developed within just a few months of regular classes at my current yoga home.  For instance, being in Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) has gone from feeling like mild punishment to an unexpectedly blissful place.  But my progress has stalled in certain areas, like the balancing sequence, for instance:

“If it’s available to you, you can take the full expression and kick out.”

It’s not available to me though. In my years of Bikram practice I was never able to kick out then either (or do toe stand, or… I could go on).  I find myself wondering if I ever will.  I know it shouldn’t frustrate me, but sometimes it does.  Surely, I should be able to do it by now, shouldn’t I…?

The penny recently dropped that this is part of a wider issue I have with perfectionism (as well as a bit of impatience).  And in the past I’ve learnt the hard way that perfectionism isn’t necessarily a good thing.   So, I’m not going to bring perfectionism into my yoga.  As one of my teachers often reminds us, it is called ‘yoga practice, not yoga perfect’.  Of course from time to time my ego still rears its head, disappointed that I am still not kicking out, but instead I just focus on doing the best I can.  And I try to do this with every posture that isn’t yet available to me.  I feel that as long as I know I am doing the best I can, in that moment, then my best is always good enough.

Here’s to imperfection.