om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Category: Vinyasa

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.

Promising Scientific Studies on Yoga & Health | Alison Hinks Yoga

I love Alison Hinks‘ infographics. Her latest shows some of the results of scientific studies into yoga and health.

(See Hinks’ original post here)

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.

Touching My Toes

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about forward bends this week. Very commonly, one of the first things people say to me when I say I’m a yoga teacher is that they’re not flexible — they can’t even touch their toes!

When I was in high school we had to do flexibility tests as part of our Personal Development/Health/Physical Education classes, and I always found them mortifyingly embarrassing. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t touch my toes, it was that I scored something like minus 20 on the scale — which meant my fingertips were 20cm from my toes when I reached for them. Most other people in the class had a positive score; that is they could touch their toes, and then reach further.

I grew quickly, and was unco-ordinated and gangly. My muscles just didn’t keep up with my bones. And, in the way of most teenagers, I was hugely self-conscious about my body.

These days, after years of yoga, I can touch my toes with ease. But I also now realise that folding forward in pashimottinasana or uttanasana is not about touching one’s toes. That might be one outcome, but forward bends are far more than that.

They’re about turning inwards, and surrendering. Energetically, they’re about calming and cooling. They open up and lengthen the back of the body — the back of the neck, down the length of the spine, the buttocks and the back of the legs. It’s true that they stretch out your hamstrings, but they also stretch and lengthen many other muscles besides.

But the level on which I find forward bends most interesting is the level of thoughts. Intellectually, they can be a huge challenge. Many yogis will reach forward and down with their head, rounding the spine, really struggling to touch their toes. I’ve done exactly this myself. But (with a few notable exceptions) rounding the spine in a forward bend is a big no-no. Instead, you should lead with the heart, which will help lengthen the spine. But our heads don’t particularly like being overruled. The mind is used to being heard above all else. Of course, our intellect deserves an awful lot of credit — it gets us through so much. But it also needs to learn to share.

And so, for me at least, the biggest challenge in a forward bend is telling my mind to be quiet for a moment, and, quite literally, letting my heart lead the way. Letting go of any expectations of myself in the pose, and just surrendering into whatever shape I can manage that particular day is often very difficult. But if I manage it, the reward is sweet. Often, surrender means the body lets go, and I can actually go deeper than I would have been able to were I trying to pull my way in. As well, letting go of this expectation of myself leaves me room to notice all sorts of other things about myself in the pose — physically, mentally, sometimes emotionally — that I would otherwise have been distracted from.

Some days surrender is far more of a challenge than other days, even though I’m well aware of the rewards. But that’s okay. And those changes themselves are interesting to notice.

Next time you’re practicing forward bends, see of you can forget for a moment about touching your toes or touching the floor. You might be surprised at what you notice.

I’d be interested to hear what your experience of forward bends is — do you love them? Hate them? What do you like about them or find challenging about them?

[Funnily enough, this morning in my inbox came an email directing me to a great article on forward bends on the Yoga Journal website. Have a look at that article here.]

~

Update: I just found this picture of a penguin attempting a forward bend. For reasons too silly and complex to explain here, I drew this little guy a few months ago. His frustration typifies my response to those days where I’m bothered by tightness in the back of my body.

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.

Exhaustion

This week things have shifted. I’ve finally let go of some things, and some new opportunities have presented themselves. Work is beginning to pick up more and more, and I start back at uni again next week.

The change of pace, and the shifts in my thinking and doing have found me feeling lighter, and a little bit excited. I’ve found it difficult to sleep this week. As soon as my head hits the pillow, my mind is off, following all sorts of little paths and trails, guessing at how things might unfold now that I’ve thrown off some of the thought-stuff I didn’t need anymore. Each night this week I’ve lain awake for hours, imagining. Just like a child who can’t sleep because something exciting is happening the next day.

I’ve been aware of a lingering tiredness all week, but it hasn’t really bothered me until this afternoon’s yoga practice. I had lots of energy at the beginning, enough even to practice some fairly intense back-bends. Then I lay down in savasana to relax for a few minutes and was surrounded by exhaustion. My legs and arms tingled with it, my head felt suddenly much heavier. It was almost as if I’d just covered myself in a blanket of tiredness. ‘Surprise! You can’t really cope with very little sleep! Had you fooled, didn’t I?’

But this is part of the reason I love working the way I do (all over the place, and at weird hours, in other words): if I’m exhausted on a Friday afternoon, I can usually take it easy. There’s usually some work I can do that involves sitting on the couch with a cup of tea (and maybe a chocolate biscuit from a bout of procrastibaking earlier in the day). And I think I’m getting better at down time. I’m a really active person (hence the active job), and always have been. But I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly good at… well, resting. I guess many of us aren’t.

Next week will be extremely busy. I think an afternoon of reading and writing is justified. So excuse me while I put my feet up, munch on some baked goods, and get some quiet time.

~

This is cross-posted on my writing blog, avocado and lemon.

Sitting still

I’m a fan of action. I like to move, to do things. I’m often impatient.

And so I often need to be reminded that sitting still, not running around like a madwoman, is sometimes the quickest way to achieve something.

I teach both vinyasa and yin yoga, and I firmly believe that finding a balance between action and inaction is vital. Stupidly, even though I strive for this balance in my teaching, I often forget about the sitting still in my personal practice.

Over the last week or so, I’ve been struggling to work out some emotional uncertainties. The last two days in particular have brought with them a rollercoaster ride of feelings: sadness, anger, despair, shame, relief. And I’ve spent much of my time moving. At times it’s been my mouth moving, talking through all the emotions; at times it’s been my physical body, cleaning and rearranging my environment.

Finally, this afternoon I got on my yoga mat and took some time to sit still. I got out my jitters with a brief vinyasa sequence, before spending the majority of my practice on yin poses. Yin poses are passive; the idea is to relax the muscle tissue, find the point in the pose where the body just begins to resist, and just sit there breathing. On the edge.

Sitting still here, just at the edge of discomfort, forces you to look at what’s really there, be that physically, emotionally or mentally. I got a surprise; I found myself looking at someone who was doing okay, really. And I found I already knew the answers to some of the questions I’ve been agonising over.

Yin Yoga teacher Sarah Powers says that emotions are like clouds passing in the sky. Yes, they’re real, and sometimes they seem to have replaced the sky, but they can neither be pushed away nor clung to. They will pass, and the sky will remain.

Sitting still on my yoga mat today, I saw through the clouds and found the sky, just for a moment. But sometimes a moment is all it takes to remember that the sky is always there.

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.

Leg warmers

This morning I got a package in the mail from my parents. It included some plumbing tape (thanks Dad) and a pair of maroon leg warmers that my Mum made for me.

My Mum’s been a knitter ever since I can remember. Her mother (my Grandma) is a knitter too, but is perhaps better known for her crocheting. She crochets blankets, doilies, fold-up string shopping bags, pretty edges for hankies and face washers… you name it. Mum picked up the crochet needles recently. She’s made me a blanket — and she’s made blankets for several family friends.

She admitted that she was vaguely horrified when I asked her if she’d make me some leg warmers; she was thinking of the fashion disasters of the 80s. “But they’re occupation appropriate, Mum!” was my response.

I spend a lot of time in yoga tights, which aren’t really the warmest pants. But now, when I teach and when I practice, my legs will be toastie warm.

Thanks Mum. You’re wonderful.