om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Tag: yoga class sydney

Rolling on the floor…

Not so much lying on the floor, but rolling around on it. These videos by Meghan Currie (a NYC teacher) seem to be doing the rounds at the moment. She’s got an incredible practice. I love how playful she is.

Donna Farhi on the body’s systems

I’ve begun reading again Donna Farhi’s Yoga, Mind, Body & Spirit, and am once again struck by how beautifully she articulates the experiences of yoga. This, for example, where she’s talking about the body’s systems in yoga:

In yoga practice we attempt to visualise, sense, and feel the actuality of these systems — we not only become familiar with the map, we also take a walk through the territory over and over again until we know it like the back of our hand.

To experience the [cellular system in the body—the most basic part of our existence], then, we must allow the habitual background noise of the mind and the distraction of activity to diminish so that the quieter voice of the cells can be heard. This is the process of meditation.

The bones are our most enduring body substance, surviving as evidence of our lives long after the rest of the physical body has disintegrated.

I also love the way this book looks — it’s set out with plenty of room in the margins for notes (in my copy there are plenty of these!), and uses a combination of photography and illustration to show poses and exercises. If you’re interested in finding out more about the deeper workings of yoga, this is a wonderful place to start.

~

You can buy this book on Amazon here.

(Note: I’m part of the Amazone Affiliates program, which means I make a very small commission if you purchase the book through this link.)

Yoga & body shame

“Yoga is really trying to liberate us from shame about our bodies. To love your body is a very important thing. The health of your mind depends on your being able to love your body.” ~ Rodney Yee

From: Garden of Yoga (reblogged from geeky-yogini).

Yoga: Changing The Brain’s Stressful Habits | Psychology Today

This is perhaps the most accurate description of why, once I started, I continued to practice yoga. Physical exercise, sure, but mainly because it’s helped me manage better my stress reaction. Think calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean.

As a neuroscientist, despite my initial incredulity, I came to realize that yoga works not because the poses are relaxing, but because they are stressful. It is your attempts to remain calm during this stress that create yoga’s greatest neurobiological benefit.

via Yoga: Changing The Brain's Stressful Habits | Psychology Today.

Shake, shake, shake

My leg muscles almost always start to shake when I hold uttanasana. Standing, folded forward, pressing my feet into the mat to encourage my legs to straighten a little more and my tailbone to move closer to the ceiling, my legs inevitably start to wobble.

In uttkatasana (chair pose) that wobbling is even more pronounced, and usually accompanied by a burning in my thighs. Uttkatasana and I have a love-hate relationship.

I often have students ask me quietly and sheepishly after class what’s happening to them when they get the shakes in class. The first thing I tell them is that this shakiness is not uncommon. It happens to almost everyone at some point. For me it’s in uttanasana and uttkatasana; for others it could be the warrior poses. Usually, it seems to be poses asking for strength from the muscles.

Yoga Journal has an excellent explanation for what’s going on anatomically.

Muscles are made up of many fibers. When a muscle is used, not all the fibers contract at the same time. Some rest while the others work, and then they trade places. When the muscles are really challenged, the changeovers can get a little ragged.

A little bit of shaking is okay — it’s a sign that you’re challenging yourself — but really shaking could be a sign to take it a little easier. Use the breath to decide how much shake is too much shake. If you’re shaking but you can still breathe slowly and fairly calmly, then you’re probably okay. But once the shaking starts to affect your ability to keep the breath slow it’s time to back off a little. And remember that point will be different for everyone — and will probably depend on the pose.

If you’d like to read the rest of the Yoga Journal article, you can do so here.

On Yoga Injuries and the Ego

Last week the New York Times ran a story entitled ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’. A number of different people sent it my way, asking for comment. To be perfectly honest, my initial response was to roll my eyes. Of course you can hurt yourself doing yoga — just as you can hurt yourself running, walking, rolling over in bed. To move at all is to risk injury to a certain extent.

The problem, I think, lies less within the system of physical yoga practices and more in the expectation that’s placed upon them. Yes, yoga asana can improve your wellbeing, it can make you feel amazing, but it isn’t going to fix everything. And yes, it may in fact cause some injury. But yoga is not just the physical poses. It’s about finding balance between opposing forces — sometimes those forces are just within the physical body, but more often they’re in the interplay between our physicality and our thoughts and emotions. We think or feel we should be able to do something — or that we shouldn’t — and sometimes that’s in direct opposition to the abilities of our physical body. Our ego rears its ugly head; sometimes pushing us further than we should go, sometimes holding us back.

That’s part of the practice though, as far as I’m concerned. When you’re on a yoga mat, it’s just as much about testing and observing your own ego as it is about watching how your body works. The two are, really, inextricably linked.

The very first part of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (one of the seminal ‘how to’ yoga texts) says, ‘yogash chitta vritti nirodahah’, which translates as ‘yoga is calming the fluctuations of the mind’. Some people interpret this as ridding oneself of ego, but I find it more helpful (albeit more complicated) to think of it as stepping away from the ego (and the body) in order to witness their activities. And it’s in the witnessing that the calmness lies. The ego itself is not a problem; blindly following it can be.

All that said, as a teacher, I do worry about my students injuring themselves, and it’s a very real possibility that they will. It’s absolutely vital that I keep learning more about human anatomy and physiology so I can create a space that’s as safe as possible for my students to practice in.

In fact that word, ‘practice’, is a really important part of how I plan and conduct my classes — and how I think when I’m on the yoga mat for myself. It’s in taking our practice — practising, in other words — slowly but surely that we learn about ourselves. Slowing down enough to notice the breath, and to notice the physical sensations in the body is at the heart of a physical yoga practice. The body gives warning signals if you’re coming too close to injury; it tells you to back off by giving off the ‘pain’ message loud enough that your breath becomes laboured. But you need to be moving slowly enough to notice those signs — and to have practise recognising them.

In no way am I suggesting that yoga injuries are all the fault of the student — it’s a shared responsibility between student and teacher. What I am saying is that, as yoga teacher Bernadette Birney points out, yoga is a therapy and the risks are similar to the risks in any other type of therapy, physical or otherwise. It’s perfectly valid to be concerned about those risks and an excellent idea to talk about them. Slowing down will help, but my advice to anyone concerned about the risks is to talk to your teacher/s about them. Tell your teacher/s about your injuries, and about anything that doesn’t feel quite right, even if it’s not exactly painful. I’m certainly interested in building a relationship with my students so they can get the most out of my classes, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher who isn’t.

I should also add that yoga teaching in itself is a yoga practice. I certainly do not have my ego all figured out — if I did, I wouldn’t be interested enough in yoga to be teaching it. Keep this in mind if you talk to your teacher, just like you would if you were talking to your doctor or other healthcare professional about a treatment. Your yoga teacher is a person too, and they are not infallible. Chances are they’ve also had injuries — I know I’ve had my fair share, some from yoga, some not. Injury can actually be a fantastic opportunity for learning how your body does (or doesn’t!) work, and to observe your internal response to the injury. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should all injure ourselves in the name of learning. But human bodies break sometimes, and they definitely wear out. We will not necessarily be able to do things today just because we were able to yesterday, injury or not, and, at least in part, the physical yoga practices are designed to help us find that elusive sense of calm regardless.

If you’re interested in reading some other responses to the article, look here and here.

~

This is cross-posted on my writing blog.

Meditation doesn’t have a reason…

“We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”

The Yoga Factory

As of this week, I’m teaching a whole lot of extra classes at a lovely little studio space in Camperdown, Sydney. The Yoga Factory is a beautiful space — warm, cosy, inviting.

There are lots of amazing classes, with some really wonderful teachers, on the timetable. The timetable is quite diverse, so chances are there’s a class for you. I’ll be teaching a general yoga class, as well as restorative yoga, yin yoga, beginners’ yoga and pre-natal yoga.

The beginners’ course will start in a couple of weeks on the 19th of October. If you’re new to yoga (or new-ish and want to get a good grounding in the basics) a beginners’ course is an excellent place to start. Bookings are essential for this course, so if you’re interested, please contact The Yoga Factory here.

What’s your yoga?

I love Alison Hinks’ yoga infographics. They’re fun.

Her latest is this quiz — What’s your yoga?

Click to get a PDF copy from Alison's page

Visit Alison here, and check out her other infographics here.

Gardening

I never thought I’d be a gardener.

The house I grew up in had an enormous front and back yard, and my brothers and I spent many hours playing in the garden, making cubby-houses out of bushes and soup out of mud and berries. A trip to the local nursery on a weekend with Mum and Dad was a fairly regular occurrence. But I never really understood the appeal of being on hands and knees, with dirty hands, at risk of attack from any number of nasty creepy crawlies.

And yet, as an adult, most weekends I find myself looking forward to spending some time in the garden. I get distracted by nurseries. I notice when my neighbours have planted something new, or pulled something out. These days, gardening for me is very much like yoga: it requires a regular commitment, is full of frustration and disappointment, but made entirely worth the effort by the joy that comes with any achievement, no matter how small. Gardening, like yoga, gives me a chance to really appreciate small things.

The switch from non-gardener to gardener has been a gradual one, and I can’t say exactly where it started. My Mum, a certain former housemate and a few other people have helped me along the way. Hey, maybe I was never really a non-gardener in the first place.

My love of gardening can be directly attributed to my love of food — most of my garden is edible. (Except the jonquils. They’re just purdy.)

In some of my research for a writing project on food and culture, I came across this article on The Conversation (an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the Australian university and research sector, launched earlier this year):

“Food. It is the great unifier of place and race, the common ground sustaining our very existence. Why then, does food production feature so minimally in public space and urban design?

Under the weight of looming threats to energy, population and economy, the time is ripe to rethink our design focus.

Traditionally, urban design has been dominated by the use of ornamental exotic and indigenous plants while edible species have been minimally utilised.

Now, as we move towards a potential crisis in food production it is more important than ever to rethink our design practices.”

(Read the rest over at The Conversation.)

I firmly support the idea of bringing some food production into cities. It’s unlikely that cities will ever support themselves entirely, but I don’t think that’s the point. My garden does not produce enough to be my sole source of food, but it does contribute to what ends up on my plate. Perhaps more importantly, it gives me a much better idea of where the food I do buy has come from, and the kind of work that’s gone into producing it. That increased awareness, I think, can only lead to good things.

So much of any yoga practice is about noticing what’s there — often below the surface. Food gardening, for me, is another way of practicing yoga without a mat.

~

This has been cross-posted over at my writing blog, avocadoandlemon.

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