Tag Archives: Allie Hill

Graduating YTT

Graduating YTT


“Never get tired of doing little things for others.  Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts” - Anon


I’ve been AWOL on the blogging front over the past four weeks.

There’s been a fair bit of ‘life stuff’ going on, and it all seemed to culminate just at the point where I was gearing up for YTT final assessments.  I had all my plans for how and when I was going to practise, teach, study, extra classes I would go to…  I had even drawn up a schedule.  I was so proud of myself for being sooo organised and so on top of things and then… life happened.

My mother likes to say (a lot), “Man plans and God alters”.

When it comes to life we often like to think we are ‘in charge’ but really we’re not. It is up to us to take responsibility for our actions, yes, but where we are in charge is in terms of how we respond when those things we really had not anticipated happen. Especially those things that blindside us.  Those things that seem so unfair.  Those things that go against the natural order and don’t seem to make any sense.

I’ve noticed recently that so many of the people around me have been going through tough times.  And not in a ‘having a bit of difficult time with that arsehole at work’ way but in gut-wrenchingly sad, big life-event ways.

It’s reminded me that even when we have challenging things happening in our lives, so do other people.  It’s reminded me of the importance of trying to be kind.  You never really know what someone else you encounter might be dealing with.  There have been so many times in the past few weeks where people have extended what may, to them, have seemed the smallest of gestures, but those acts of kindness have meant so very much to me in those moments.

In the run up to final YTT assessments, my experiences and those of my friends and others around me made me reflect even more on why I want to teach.  People come to yoga for so many different reasons.  Whether it’s for a workout or to de-stress it all comes back to wanting to feel better in some way.  I have been so anxious about final assessments and beginning to teach for real.  I’ve worried about finding my voice and not looking the part, but I worked out that the ultimate reason for my anxiousness is neither of those things. It’s because I see it as such a responsibility.  I know how much yoga has helped and continues to help me and I want to be able to facilitate that for other people in some way.

Well, despite things not going according to (my) plan, I did my best and…. I passed! My fellow trainees and I graduated from YTT.  I feel so lucky that I got to do this course with this group of people and our wonderful tutors. It was sad saying goodbye at the end of the course, but I know this is just the beginning for all of us.  It’s less than a week since we graduated and one of my fellow trainees, Stew has already taught his first class (rather brilliantly too :D  I was privileged enough to be there in the front row!)

As I think about what to do next and begin to seek out teaching opportunities, I know that I still feel nervous about teaching, but at least I know where those nerves stem from and that it’s natural to feel this way.  I’ll take this great advice from course director, Allie as I go forward:

“It takes courage to stand up in front of a group and share the knowledge you have learnt.  The art of teaching comes from experience and being true to yourself.  Enjoy it and teach in a way that resonates with you.  It is such a wonderful thing to share with others, and over time you will realise the positive impact it has on other people’s lives.  I get told by my students from time to time, how life-changing yoga has been for them, mentally or physically.  These affirmations give me gentle reminders of the gift of yoga, and how lucky I am to be able to share such wisdom.”

Thanks so much to Allie, Toni, Bryony, Chris and Em.  To all my teachers and fellow yogis who have encouraged me along the way.  And my fellow trainees – the Class of Autumn 2011 :D


Happy Birthday Yogahaven Clapham!

Happy Birthday Yogahaven Clapham!

One year ago today, I walked into Yogahaven Clapham for their very first class at 6.45am taught by the lovely Sandra.

Little did I know the impact that walking through those doors that morning would have on my life.

To put things into context, I was not in a good place this time last year, though I wasn’t aware of quite how bad things had got.  It’s like when people don’t realise they were depressed until they’re not depressed anymore. I thought I must be fine because I was functioning… on the surface. In order to function, I’d become numb.  In hindsight I can see I was headed for burnout at the very least.  I’d been doing yoga for a while but knew I was looking for something else.  What? I wasn’t certain, but I thought I would try out this new studio that was just opening up nearby.  I went along on that first day and instantly it felt… right. Safe.  There have been times over the past year where Yogahaven literally has felt like a Safe Haven to me.

The past twelve months has brought all sorts of challenges and changes (all ultimately for the better, I believe).  For one thing, if you had told me this time last year that I would be training to be a yoga teacher I would have laughed in your face.  Though it had been a secret wish for a while to be able to share the wonderful benefits of yoga with others I never really thought I would ever have the confidence to go for it.  (That’s another thing I learned this year – never say never!)  There will be more challenges. More changes.  Everything is in constant flux.  Through my yoga practice I am becoming more okay with this.  And as the numbness has dissipated and I ‘feel’ again, I am becoming more open.  And the world continues to expand before my eyes.

Thank You to Allie and Krystal for opening Yogahaven Clapham and Thank You to the whole Yogahaven Team.  Your warmth and kindness continues to touch me every time I walk through the doors.  It’s been so wonderful to be one of your ‘regulars’ and see how the studio has evolved over the past year.  Long may you continue.

Happy Birthday Yoga Home :D

Beginning YTT

Beginning YTT

Week One – Start from Where You Are

It’s early on Sunday morning and I am woken up by rays of sunlight beaming through my bedroom window.  For a moment I wonder where I am then I remember I am in Morocco and it’s my first day of Yoga Teacher Training.  This will be home for the next two weeks.  I get up to brush my teeth and through the window I see a camel on the beach, just hanging out, like camels do in Morocco, I guess.  I can’t believe I am finally here…

The day before I felt so many mixed emotions at the airport in London – mostly guilt at not being able to go to the hospital with my Mum for her MRI scan, but she is insistent that I go on the course and not worry about her.  I am also feeling nerves, fear, excitement…  It’s not until I am at the villa – the lovely, welcoming villa with our beautifully decorated rooms – at dinner that I suddenly feel way out of my comfort zone as I think about what lies ahead.  All my fellow teacher trainees are very friendly and I feel lucky that I already know a couple of the guys from Yogahaven.  I suspect everyone else is feeling nervous too as it’s pretty quiet around the dinner table.  Allie tells us it’s always a bit quiet on the first night – wait till we’re a couple of nights in!  My stomach is churning. I don’t eat much and I barely touch my dessert – not like me at all!

Back to Sunday.  We have our first morning practice in the shala, led by Allie.  It’s the ninety minute Yogahaven sequence which we will learn over the two weeks and practice every morning while we are here. We’re right up on the roof of the villa and in front of us is a view of the ocean, while behind us are the Atlas Mountains.  While I’m in Vrksasna gazing out to the sea I feel a sense of stillness for the first time since arriving.  I feel so grateful to be here.

As it’s the first day we do proper introductions and say a bit about our yoga experiences and why we are on the course.  We’ve all found our way here through different paths but the thing that strikes me very quickly is that there is genuine warmth across the whole group.  Everyone is lovely.

We begin talking about the sequence, starting with pranayama.  Allie asks if anyone wants to teach a bit to the group. Silence. My head rotates by practically 180 degrees as I do that thing of looking out of the window to try and avoid eye contact. But then my name is called out.

“Do you want to have a go?”


So, I have a go at leading the group through a little bit of pranayama.   I wonder if my voice sounds as shaky as I feel inside.  I find speaking in front of groups challenging to the point where my voice involuntarily starts shaking, but this is something I am determined to overcome.  I can’t believe I am the first to teach!  But afterwards it feels good.  It means that later that day when we come to teach the postures we were each asked to learn ahead of coming to Morocco, I feel a bit less freaked out than I otherwise would have.

Our second practice of the day is led by Em from Yogahaven’s Birmingham studio.  Her class is brilliant and quite inspirational, not least because Em has not that long ago been where all of us trainees are and she’s clearly a great teacher.

Overall, I feel a bit better by the end of the day.  But still a bit wobbly.  Still trying to quieten those negative ‘not good enough’ voices in my head.  I now really wish I’d brought my running shoes with me.  Running, as well as yoga, always helps me feel better.  But I feel so, so happy to be doing two yoga classes a day.  And Yoga Nidra with Toni was blissful – I think I did actually fall asleep.



The day I started to allow myself to enjoy it.

I woke up with these words in my head:

“Start from where you are”

I’d been comparing myself to our course tutors – Allie, Toni, Bryony and Em.  And to all the other teachers I practice with, thinking about the apparent ease with which they guide and instruct.  They are all brilliant and have years of experience between them.  I’ve not even found my voice yet, never mind learned how to teach.  I realise I need to give myself a break and stop expecting to be perfect.  I am here to learn, after all.  And I get to start this bit of my journey in such a gorgeous setting. The sunshine is glorious today.

In the shala we discuss the ethics of yoga teaching and our reasons for wanting to teach.  We share not so positive experiences we’ve had as students from inappropriate adjustments to rude comments.  Out of that discussion we are asked to think about what our own codes of ethics would be and to write them down.  Toni says that’s what we’ll come back to in those times when we might be teaching many classes a week and unable to practise anywhere near as much as we’d like.

During posture clinic I get asked to demonstrate Garudasana (Eagle Pose). I’ve never been able to get my foot behind my calf in this posture.  Allie asks me why I think that might be:

Me – “I couldn’t do it when I was larger. I think maybe my body’s just not built for it – my legs are quite big.”

Allie – “Hmm… But you’re actually quite small.”

It felt strange to hear that.  ‘Small’ is not a word I use to describe myself.  I’m never critical about the appearance of others, but I clearly still have stuff to deal with about how I see myself.

With each session, posture clinic and teaching practise I have an increasing respect for the teachers I practise with as I recognise what it takes to teach well and how much energy they put into each class.

Our second practice of the day is a fabulous Yin class with Bryony.  I’d really love to do more of this to balance the Yang styles I usually practise. That’s something to seek out when I get back home.

Allie’s words about the group not being so quiet after a couple of nights in came true!  During some downtime after dinner we played ‘Celebrity Head’ (guessing the names of celebs written on post-it notes stuck to our foreheads).  It was a good laugh – really silly and a great way for the group to bond further.


Tuesday & Wednesday

There’s more of a focus on history and philosophy today.   After our morning practice and breakfast we look at the Vedic, Pre-Classical, Classical and Post-Classical periods.  I feel I am starting to gain a clearer perspective on the Gita and the Yoga Sutras in particular.

We do our first bit of group meditation too after a chat about our various experiences of meditation so far.  Today it’s the SA TA NA MA meditation (Kirtin Kriya) – the most important meditation in Kundalini Yoga.  We will try out different meditation styles over the two weeks.

In the evening we play a game during downtime after dinner again.  This time it’s a game invented by fellow trainee, Stew – a step up from yesterday’s game incorporating charades and quick fire rounds.  It’s genius!  It’s really funny to see different people’s competitive sides start to emerge too.  There may be no competition in yoga, but the gloves were off in Stewie’s game :D

On Wednesday we pick up where we left off with history and philosophy.  The philosophy discussions are giving me so much to think about and bringing up all sorts of things I never expected – big stuff, small stuff.  I really think about how much I have let experiences from the past – painful experiences – define who I am and what is possible for me.  I don’t want to do that anymore.

Teaching practice in the afternoon on the warrior sequence feels awful.  I start to beat myself up again.  Then I stop as I remember what Lorin predicted on my last blog post:

“From one perfectionist to another, I predict that there will be times during the training that you get very upset that you can’t ‘get it’ (by which you’ll mean be absolutely perfect with all of it) but in the end it will be so very worth it.”


I take a step back.  I know I am doing my best and that’s all I can do.

During a discussion about Atman – The Individual Soul and Brahman – The Universal Soul I think about the idea that we are not our thoughts or our bodies. It not the first time I’ve heard or thought about this, but in this context, in this environment it takes on a different resonance.  Can I observe and have compassion for my ‘self’ who expects to be perfect, who struggles to accept my’self’ as I am?



Day Off!

A group of us have an outing to the aptly named Paradise Valley up in the mountains.  It was very hot, very magical and a lot of fun.  I mention this particularly because it involved me wearing a swimming cossie.  And swimming.

To put this into context, you are more likely to see a baseball cap donning, Bengal Tiger ambling up and down the aisles of your local convenience store than see me in a swimming costume or swimming, so rare is the occurrence.  When one of my teachers mentioned to me the day before flying out to Morocco that I’d probably need to take a bikini, I laughed.  The only time in my life that I’ve worn a two piece is when I was four.  And I only know that because I saw a photo.  I had no intention of bringing any swimming attire to Morocco.  But after that conversation I went out and bought a swimming costume.  I could always keep the tags on to take it back to the shop if I didn’t use it, I reasoned.  Yet, here I was actually wearing it and doggie paddling (yes, doggie paddling) in a picturesque mountain valley.  And loving it.



Self-Doubt Day.

Everyone’s feeling it. The mood is a bit subdued. We all feel our speed runs of the yoga sequence so far aren’t up to scratch.  But Toni assures us that we are all doing well and that how we are feeling at this stage is completely normal.  It’s great having reassurance from Em too who has been where we all are.

I am worried about my tendency to mumble.  Bryony suggests I could project more.  I take that on board for our practice later where I describe getting in and out of Garudasana and Utthita Parsvakonansa.  But I still need to work on raising my voice.

We spend some more time looking at the Classical period before rounding off the day with a fab Flow class led by Em.

Can’t quite believe we’re already at the end of week one!


Week Two 


Our morning posture clinic with Allie focuses on the first part of the standing sequence, looking at adjustments for Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended hand to big toe pose). Then we move onto a voice exercise.  We are each given a posture to go away and practice teaching by ourselves for ten minutes.  Then we have to come back and teach it to the group just using words – no visual demonstration.  A bit like an acting exercise, Allie asks us to really go over the top with our expression.  The results are surprising because we see that what we think is exaggerating is for most of us (not least my mumbling self) actually just about the level where are voices need to be, especially if we are teaching in a busy studio.  It’s amazing to see the improvements in everyone with just this one tip.

I still find it nerve-wracking standing up in front of everyone, but it’s still great.  I love this exercise and I know it’s something I will practice.

That afternoon we chant the Gayatri Mantra (one of my favourites!) as a group.  I have this on my iPod and chanted it a lot in the couple of weeks before flying to Morocco.

It’s sad later on saying goodbye to Allie and Em as they head off back to London and Birmingham.  Allie tells us that we’re doing well and to keep doing what we’re doing through the second week.  Those words really buoy us up.



A full schedule.  More history as we look at Physical Culture and the Krishnamacharya lineage.

In today’s posture clinic we focus on balancing postures with particular attention on Natarajasana (Dancer’s Pose) and Tuladandasana (Balancing Stick).

Bryony takes us through the Chakras in the afternoon before a strong vinyasa class with Toni, with a focus on inversions. I clearly need to work on my core and shoulder strength – I am a looong way from Pincha Mayurasana, but it was fun!

It definitely feels quieter without Allie and Em – we all miss their presence!

I feel exhausted today and I decide to go to bed earlier in preparation for our sunrise practice.



After sunrise practice facing the Atlas Mountains, the Eight Limbs is our big focus in the morning.  We spend quite a long time discussing the Yamas especially.  This gives me a lot to think about.  Before coming away on this course, a number of teachers who have already done it said that on teacher training you learn a lot about yourself.  I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but increasingly I am understanding.  There is a lot of being honest with myself, which isn’t always easy but is ultimately worthwhile.

In the afternoon we have our posture clinic and teaching practice.  I feel like I am finding my voice.  Slowly but surely.

In the evening Toni tells us we’ll be doing a silent sunrise practice in the morning, followed by a silent breakfast.  I love the silent practice, but the silent breakfast is a bit of a surprise.  As well as no talking we are to avoid eye contact. No problem though.  I’m not that much of a talker anyway – it’ll be easy…



Silent breakfast wasn’t easy.

I had assumed that because I am a pretty quiet person a lot of the time it would be a breeze.  But I didn’t like it.  I like own company, but I realised that when I’m with other people I thrive on them chatting and having fun and seeing them being happy around me.  That, in turn, makes me happier.  I find myself feeling very uncomfortable and not being able to make eye contact or smile makes it even harder. I leave the table as soon as I finish eating.

One thing the silent breakfast does do is make me conscious of is what I am actually eating.  Rather than rushing my food because I felt uncomfortable, I noticed that I took a bit more time over each mouthful and consequently, I ended up eating less.  I feel grateful for what I had to eat and it reminds me that’s not how I always felt.  For a long while I used food to punish myself.  In that sense I have come a long way.

After breakfast Toni asks us what we thought of the experience.  Everyone seemed to feel discomfort to a degree or felt more conscious of the surroundings, their food. This exercise really highlighted how we often use distractions to avoid truly being with ourselves.  Today I really take time to appreciate our surroundings, breathing in the sea air.  Feeling grateful.

Bryony takes us through the Koshas and we do more on the Eight Limbs with a bit of a pop quiz from Toni.  Plus, some more teaching practice.  I am still working on my voice – trying to project more.

A really fun Shiva Rea inspired class led by Toni rounds off the day to the melodies of MC Yogi! :D

That night, after dinner we go back up to the shala for some candle gazing (Tratak).  It’s cosy being up there in the dark, wrapped in blankets. We discuss our experiences afterwards.

With our assessment day on Friday looming, a few of us have an impromptu study session on what we’ve learnt so far for about an hour before bed.  I think it might actually be sinking in!



Mixed feelings today.  The end of the two weeks is in sight, so I try to take in the view of the ocean and lock it into my brain so that it doesn’t feel like a distant memory when I get back home.

We get a slightly longer lunch break today so that we can visit the local market.  I love looking around at the stalls selling all sorts from an abundance of vegetables, to piled high spices, to bric-a-brac and so much more.  A few of us buy some incredible macaroons which taste as good as they look.

During teaching practice after lunch we do some speed runs through the sequence.  I realise I actually remember the whole sequence from start to finish!  And I’m not alone.  What a contrast from how we felt about our speed runs last week.  I go into our energizing flow class with Bryony feeling good.


Thursday – Day Off

A few of us decide to do some more teaching practice in the morning, ahead of tomorrow’s assessments, so a well-earned trip to the beach follows.

For me, it’s a step up from last week’s doggie paddle at Paradise Valley with a little swim in the Atlantic Ocean.  It may not sound like much, but for me this is progress.  A little step further out of my comfort zone.  And playing in the waves was so much fun!  It felt like being a little kid and I laughed till my sides hurt.

In the evening a few of us visit the Souk before heading out to dinner at a restaurant near the harbour in Agadir with the rest of the group.  It’s our penultimate night and feels a little bittersweet.  Part of me is really looking forward to going home, but I know I am going to miss this too.



Assessment Day

The day has come!  We start with our written test.  I was never good at exams. How much will I remember of all we’ve learnt over the past two weeks?  To my surprise I do better than I expected and realise that I’ve actually taken in more than I thought.  In fact, everyone does really well.  Relief!

But now the bit we’ve all been waiting for….  teaching the sequence.

We set up our mats to practise and over the next ninety or so minutes Toni randomly calls each of us up to the front of the room to teach postures.  We work through the sequence in order so that it’s like a proper class where we are each others’ students.  And because we don’t know when our names will be called up we always have to know what posture is coming next.  It’s a great way of testing our knowledge of the sequence as well as seeing where our teaching skills have developed over the past fortnight.

I feel sick with nerves until just before we begin, then when I sit quietly on my mat a sense of calm comes over me.  I think about all I’ve learnt over the past two weeks, all the words of encouragement from my teachers.  And I come back to my ultimate wish to share yoga with others.  I decide to just do my best.

Toni silently makes notes on us as we go.

Seeing the improvements in everyone is brilliant!  It really is like a proper class.   I can’t ‘see’ how I am doing.  But I do feel that my voice is clearer.

At the end Toni tells us how well we’ve done as a group and that we should all be proud of ourselves.  Toni spots that I look doubtful – I’m focussing on my mistakes.

Toni – “Don’t you think you did well?”

Me – “I’m not sure…”

Our one-to-one feedback with Toni follows and I am gobsmacked by how positive she is about my teaching.  I know I have stuff to work on but it feels like a huge endorsement and really encourages me.

Post-assessments our final evening is celebratory!  I can’t believe we fly back tomorrow.  This second week especially, has whizzed by.  What an experience! Even though I’m now ready to go home, I already know that things will feel different.


Now I’ve been back for a week I’m able to begin reflecting on the time in Morocco.  It felt strange waking up on Sunday morning and not having breakfast with my fellow teacher trainees.  I feel so fortunate and grateful to have been able to go away for this part of training, away from the distractions of home and to share this experience with a brilliant group of people who I am sure will all go on to be fantastic teachers.

Despite the fear, not once did I ever feel over the two weeks that I might give up.  I kept coming back to why I want to do this.  I accept that I may not be able to banish fear or nerves completely, but I can and will work through them.  My desire to share yoga with others is bigger than any fear. And I know that’s what will keep me going as a move forward.

For me, the intense two-week structure worked really well because I know I learn better that way. I’ve learned all sorts of things about myself so far, including that I could do with being kinder to myself a bit more.  And that my miming skills aren’t great, as those games of charades proved :D

We have two weekend modules to follow over the next couple of months along with homework in-between.  I’m surprised to now be looking forward studying anatomy, given that this was exactly the kind if thing I disliked with a passion at school.  How things change!

I look back at where I was at the beginning of our two weeks in Morocco to where I was on our last assessment day and I’ve surprised myself.  At the start I was almost overwhelmed by fear.  By the end I was (and still am) overwhelmed with gratitude, especially towards my fellow trainees and our teachers. I still have a long way to go and I know that it’s up to me to keep practising and studying and learning. I am certain that I want to teach and I recognise what a privilege and responsibility it is to have that opportunity. I am really looking forward to seeing where this journey takes me.

This is just the beginning.

Atha Yoganusasanam

Yoga Teacher Training

Yoga Teacher Training

In a few days I fly off for two weeks to begin yoga teacher training with my yoga home.

It’s not something I’ve taken lightly.  I’ve thought about it so much.  I first started looking at teacher training courses roughly two years ago. And each time I would dismiss the idea pretty quickly.  For a long while I had a lot of excuses as to why I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it:

  • I can’t afford it
  • I can’t do every posture perfectly
  • I’m nowhere even near getting into headstand or handstand or toe stand or….
  • I get shy in big groups and don’t do public speaking, so HOW would I stand up in front of a class
  • I don’t know about yoga philosophy
  • I was rubbish at biology at school – there’s no way I could get my head round the anatomy

That’s not an exhaustive list, but you probably get the idea.

Once I’d started practising regularly at Yogahaven I saw the course that they offered and my desire to do teacher training was reignited. How I would love to do that course, if only I could afford it.

For a long time, “I can’t afford it” was my biggest excuse. Then I got laid off from my job and got some redundancy pay.  So I couldn’t exactly use the money excuse anymore.  It’s not that I am rolling in money – it’s scary seeing my bank balance going down so rapidly, with no indication of when or if I will be paid for the freelance work I have done so far.  But I instinctively know that now is the time, so I purposefully put some of that redundancy money into teacher training.

But then once the money excuse – my biggest excuse – was off the table, there was still something stopping me.  What was it…?  I was slapped in the face with the realisation that the money excuse was not my biggest excuse after all.  My biggest excuse was:

I don’t look the way a yoga teacher is ‘supposed’ to look.

I felt genuinely shocked and rather disappointed (in myself) at this realisation.   As a student I actually don’t expect teachers to look like they could grace the cover of Yoga Journal because in my view and experience what a teacher looks like has nothing at all to do with whether they are a good teacher or not.  But I have overheard enough conversations in female changing rooms (not at my yoga home, I hasten to add) to know that some people do think very differently indeed.  As dumb as it might sound it really made me doubt myself and question what ‘right’ I had to want to do teacher training.  Yoga really is for everybody, but that’s not how it always appears. I’ve noticed that in the last several years especially, yoga has increasingly become more fashionable.  And tied up in that I see certain images presented and certain expectations of how yoga practitioners are ‘meant’ to look.  I was faced with this myself when someone I met was surprised to learn I practise yoga and actually told me I didn’t look like I had a ‘yoga body’. I thought about that conversation and wondered what the reaction would have been if I had said I was a yoga teacher.

All this concern about what other people might think made me seriously consider not pursuing teacher training at all.  I confided in one of my lovely teachers about wanting to do the course and she was kind enough to give me some advice and really encouraged me.  But still, I worked myself into such a state about asking Allie, who is the course director, about whether I could apply.  In the end I just thought:

Woman Up!

When did I start letting what I imagined other people might think stop me from doing something I really want to do?  I thought I’d got past that a long time ago.

I’m so glad I got over myself and decided not to let my insecurity get the better of me.  I know why I am doing this.  And I know that I do want to teach and share the wonderful gift of yoga with others.  But Allie gave us teacher trainees some really valuable advice – to see the course as a journey of discovery and not to get addicted to the destination of being a yoga teacher.

I’ve been putting quite a lot of pressure on myself and have become increasingly nervous as the start of the course draws nearer.  Over the past week especially I’ve wound myself up into a bit of a panic about it – I don’t feel as ready as the old perfectionist side of me expects me to be.  But when I feel myself getting overwhelmed I remind myself of Allie’s advice.  I remind myself of the kind words of encouragement and support I have received from all my teachers – such goodwill which I appreciate hugely. I remind myself of how very lucky I am that I get to do this and how exciting it is.

This has been a pretty significant year of change so far.  This is the next step in that journey.  Yes, I do still have some butterflies about what lies ahead as I embark on teacher training, but now I can’t wait.

Allie and Leon Climbing Kili – They Did It!

Allie and Leon Climbing Kili – They Did It!

Last month I mentioned that two of my lovely yoga home teachers were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  Well… they did it!  And they broke through the fundraising target for their charity too so lots of children will benefit from the money raised.  I was moved reading Allie’s account of their experience.  Thinking of the mental determination, not to mention the physical endurance it must have taken I am truly inspired – it made me wonder whether I would have had the courage to meet such a challenge.  I love stories like this, especially when they involve people I know, because they inspire me to reach further, dream bigger and be better. 

You guys are amazing!

What is a ‘Yoga Body’?

What is a ‘Yoga Body’?

I was recently chatting to someone I don’t know very well.  Through our conversation they found out I practise yoga.  Their response:

“Really?  But you don’t have a ‘yoga body’.  I mean, people who are into yoga are usually kind of… thin.”


Some people really don’t think about the impact their words can have.  

I think my response was something along the lines of a sarcastic, “Thanks for that!” but I don’t really remember.  Frankly, I was too shocked and I’ve never been one for on-the-spot witty comebacks, sadly.  (Why is it that you always seem to think of just the right thing to say about ten minutes after the event…?)

Just to clarify, I wasn’t upset here at the implication of being called fat – I was just as, if not more, upset when an old friend not long ago told me she thought I’d lost too much weight and looked ill, “… and is doing all this yoga really a good thing??” (Though that was coming from someone who has only ever known me as being larger so maybe that was more about them not being used to seeing me any other way…?  I don’t know.)  Ultimately, what upsets me is that someone thinks it is okay to make what is clearly a derogatory comment about another person’s body.   But also, this phrase – ‘yoga body’ – got me thinking.  What is a yoga body exactly?  What does that mean?

Like many people I’ve had issues with body image over the years. Yoga is one place I try to keep that at bay.  But my view of myself is one of the reasons I used to be reluctant to practise in the front row of a mirrored Hot Yoga room.  For a while when I did Bikram yoga I’d go in the front row, but only because I’d sussed it was the cool spot in the corner of the room and I always managed to position myself in such a way that I didn’t have to ‘look’ at myself. But even then I felt self-conscious.  So after that I avoided being too near the mirrors.  I am short-sighted so without my glasses or contacts I struggle to recognise even close family members from a certain distance. (Apologies again to my Aunty, who I unintentionally blanked in the street the other day!)  Not being in the front row meant that I didn’t need to look at myself because I literally could not see myself properly. 

So, mainly for those reasons I’d not contemplated going in the front row until one day, Allie gently suggested that maybe I’d like to.  Also, I’d always thought of the front row as being for far more accomplished practitioners and other teachers, but with that little nudge I questioned whether I was able to let go of my ‘comfortable’, if somewhat blurry space – in the second row, near enough to the teacher to just about make out the posture they’re demonstrating and not directly under the air vent…

In my next class I lay my mat in the front row.  There was no escape – I could see myself.  I could actually see into my eyes.  At first I struggled to look at myself – to ‘stay’ with myself.  But I realised that I needed to.  So, after that class I kept going back to the front row.  And gradually it became easier to be more accepting of what I saw in front of me.  It has changed my practice. I have, and continue to develop a deeper sense of gratitude for the body that I have and all that it does every day. As my mind shifted the irony is I didn’t see my body changing.  I knew I felt different inside.  I didn’t notice that I was starting to look different too.   No, I am not thin but as I type I am fitter, healthier and stronger than I have ever been in my adult life – side-effects of a regular practice accompanying the internal benefits I have been experiencing. 

I suspect there will always be certain days when I lament the size of my thighs. (For you it may not be your thighs, so fill in the appropriate body part here….) But when I do have those days I increasingly realise that it really isn’t anything to do with my thighs at all.  It’s always about something else that’s bothering me at the time, but for whatever reason I project those feelings towards the way I look.   Fortunately though, it’s something that is happening less and it’s another thing I credit my practice for.  

Thanks to Allie for that gentle nudge towards the front row.

So, what is a ‘yoga body’?  I guess the general perception, and most widely accepted image is that it is slim, lithe, toned…  And it is.  But it’s also tall, short, male, female, black, white, curvy, muscular, young, old, has tight hamstrings, concrete hips, a dodgy back, cellulite…. the list is endless.

In my view, a yoga body is any body that practises yoga. 

If I could re-wind to that conversation, that’s what my response would be.

Allie and Leon Climbing Kili!

Allie and Leon Climbing Kili!

Good Luck to my teachers Allie and Leon who are setting off on an incredible adventure to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, raising funds for the Village Education Project.  This is a wonderful charity working in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania to improve education and reduce rural poverty.

Sending you both positive vibes all the way! xx

P is for Psoas…(?)

P is for Psoas…(?)

I was in Flow class the other day when just as we were moving into half-pigeon our teacher uttered the words, ”…working into the Psoas”.  My eyebrows shot up.

The wha -?

While I’ve become more familiar with terms like Mula Bandha (Root Lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock), for instance (though I’m still not sure I’m always applying either when I’m supposed to be or doing so correctly…), the ‘Psoas’ was a completely new one on me. So, after class I took the opportunity to ask our teacher what is the Psoas (sounds like ‘so-as’) and where is it?   The answer I got was really helpful but I don’t feel sufficiently able to do it justice here.   This Yoga Journal article explains it far better and in much greater depth than I ever could. Suffice to say, it’s a deeply buried muscle that is more important to our asanas than I realised.   It’s quite difficult to get to and I have a feeling I may not have found mine yet…

I had another anatomy-lightbulb moment last week in Pulse Yoga class when Allie on touched hip rotation, explaining to us about the knees not being able to go where the hips won’t let them.  When she said that it clicked as to why I was less open on my irksome left side.

I’ve been becoming increasingly curious about anatomy in relation to yoga, not least because of how having a regular practice has affected by body.  I no longer suffer from the back pain that made most days a misery and it’s seriously alleviated on ongoing sciatic issue.

Thanks to a recommendation from my yoga home I have seen a fantastic osteopath about my sciatic pain.  My worry had been that she would tell me not to practice yoga but in fact the opposite was the case – she simply advised me to do as I have been – listen to my body and don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right.  Having osteopathy treatment has been a revelation because now my leg is fine most of the time, but every day is different and there are still times when it flares up and, frustratingly, really impairs my mobility in class.

Anyhow, all of this has made me want to try and gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on with my body in the yoga postures.  My osteopath has kindly and patiently answered my questions when I have quizzed her on the spine, the pelvis, parasympathetic nervous system, the foot…. I have taken in bits of information but there have also been a lot of moments where her mouth was moving and what I was hearing may have been easier for me to understand if she was speaking in an obscure Guatemalan dialect. And I am pretty sure she was giving me the idiot’s guide.

Yet still, I do want to try and learn. But where to begin?  After a bit of impromptu headstand practice after class the other day with Zara (thanks Zara!), I asked her advice.  Why hadn’t I done the most obvious thing of asking my teachers in the first place?!

I’m really touched that Zara has so kindly lent me her Yoga Anatomy book to help me get started. And very luckily for me, it doesn’t appear to be written in an obscure Guatemalan language. 

I just might start to get my head round a little of this anatomy stuff after all.

Pulse Yoga

Pulse Yoga

I’ve done weights before, but not like this!

Yesterday evening I tried Pulse Yoga for the first time at my yoga home.

As someone with several lapsed gym memberships to my name it’s fair to say that though I’ve done weights before, I have never loved the gym.  Yoga, I love.  Yet, I understand the benefits of resistance work with weights so for a while I’ve had this feeling that it might be a good thing for my body to try and find a way of incorporating weights into my routine in a way that didn’t bore me rigid.  So, when I first heard about Pulse Yoga the idea of combining free weights with yoga was instantly intriguing and appealing.

Before we began, Allie explained to us that this style of yoga originated in Colorado created by yoga instructor, Argie Tang after she was told by her doctor that she had developed osteopenia (almost osteoporosis but not quite).  As this Evening Standard article adds:

Tang, who was in her fifties at the time was shocked to hear that, despite practising yoga for so long, she needed to build bone density with weight training.  Not keen to reduce the little time she had for yoga, or to join a gym, Tang decided to create a new type of yoga that suited her needs.

Then the music came on and off we went.  It was amazing what a difference it made trying to do certain postures with weights thrown into the mix.  For some postures I thought, “Yep, this is cool – I can do this”, but others I found really challenged my balance at times.  It’s easy to see how this can help with your core stability as well as strength.  We didn’t use weights for all the postures though – for some of our more familiar poses we would hold our position and pulse.  For instance, in downward dog, pulsing our legs alternately meant we were using our muscles in a different way (really felt that one in the glutes!)

I have to admit, my very childish side did have a chuckle when we started pulsing our hips in bridge posture and doing some of the pelvic tilts with bicep curls – for a few brief moments that Eric Prydz video came to mind.  Allie mentioned to us that during a recent Pulse Yoga tutorial in the park they drew some attention from passers-by – I can see how that might happen!  

For me, it was great moving bits of my body in a different way from the usual classes I go to.  And we had a laugh too.  I think I might have finally found a fun way of doing weights – I’ve already booked my next class.  If you fancy something new I’d recommend giving Pulse Yoga a try.  It feels good to mix things up a little!

Leela Time

Leela Time

‘Leela’ means ‘play’ in Sanskrit. I learned this at my yoga home because that’s the name of the style of Hot Yoga which is taught there.  ‘Leela’ is something that Stewart Gilchrist also touched on during his  workshop with us last month.

At the weekend, we had some spontaneous ‘Leela Time’ when one of my fave teachers, Allie led us through some yoga-freestyling in the park.

It was so great to have a play at mixing in some moves we don’t usually do in class with the added bonus of being outside on a sunny afternoon.

When we moved onto headstand practice I found myself feeling a bit scared without the safety of a wall.  But I needn’t have been so worried – Allie guided us through step-by-step.

After having a go with the help of Allie and my partner, I have a few attempts on my own, trying to get to that mid-way point where I can balance with my legs bent.  I manage it for a few seconds and then… I fall out, landing on my back and staring up at the sky.   And actually, it’s kind of… fun (?!)   I then remember being in a Jivamukti class where our teacher, Emma told us that sometimes the most fun bit is falling out.  At the time I was seriously doubtful about that, but now I’d done it I ate my words.  I couldn’t believe it – all this time I’d been holding on to this fear over what would happen if I fell out of a headstand.  It felt like a bit of a breakthrough.  I hold my hands up – Emma was right.

In the park there’s a bit of chatter about what we should do next, then I’m not sure who says it but I hear:

“Let’s do handstands!” 

I’m fairly quiet most of the time but now I go stone cold silent.  I instantly feel tense and I’m thinking, “Handstands?!  Now?!  I really don’t think I feel ready. I mean a few bunny hops in class is one thing but -“

That thought is broken by Allie telling us that Leon (Handstand Guru) is on his way over give us some coaching.

Pants.  We’re really going to do this.

We split into pairs to practice and it’s my turn to have a go.

Leon: “When you kick up, just really go for it!”

Me:    “Erm, okay… Are you going to watch?”  (TRANSLATION: “I really, really, hope you’re not going to watch.”)

Leon: “Yeah.”


Then as I take a deep breath, it dawns on me that we’re standing in the middle of a bustling park on a Sunday afternoon, so it suddenly feels like a lot more sets of eyes are possibly watching and about to see me land on my head… 

Except I didn’t. 

It took several attempts, but to my complete shock I got there.  Twice!  My partner spotting me and supporting my feet meant I didn’t instantly collapse into a heap.  For a few moments I saw the world upside down.  And I liked it!

This doesn’t mean I am now instantly ‘cured’ of feeling any trepidation the next time I try a headstand or handstand – even though the fear is gradually diminishing I know myself enough to realise it will take a lot more practice to get anywhere near that stage.  But there is something quite powerful in knowing that you’ve done something once.  It clarifies that it’s not impossible whatever your cynical side might say.  When you’ve done something once it means it is possible to do it again.   Big thanks to Allie and Leon for their guidance!

Afternoon yoga in the park was so much fun – it made me want to play more.  Here’s to more ‘Leela Time’!