om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Tag: sydney yoga class

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.

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).

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)

End of Year

Before writing this post, I decided that I’d have a look at what I posted here this time last year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the general gist of it was very similar to what’s in my mind as I approach the end of the year now. Last year I said I’m not big on resolutions, but I do like to think of New Year’s Eve as a chance to reflect a little, and to let go of some things that have passed to make room for things that might be. This year I feel much the same. I probably won’t make any specific resolutions, but there are some things I’d like to let go of, and some small changes in attitude and behaviour that I’d like to encourage in myself.

Today I’ve read two very different things that have contributed to the Let Go and Look Forward ideas in my head (I was going to call them lists, but that implies some kind of logical structure that just doesn’t exist). Rather than share those half-formed ideas, I’ll simply link to the two posts; one written by my cousin Julia, and another by a yoga teacher, Yogitastic, I’ve become friendly with on Twitter.

In last year’s post, I included this quote from a book I’ve got — and often refer to — on Yoga for Anxiety. The last two months or so have been frustrating for me, and I’m not entirely sure why (which probably means it’s no one thing — although it could just mean that I really needed a holiday), so this is a good reminder for me.

“Perhaps the simplest and most profound practice for deactivating old patterns,” say Mary and Rick NurrieStearns – a pyschotherapist and yoga teacher, and meditation teacher respectively, “is taking the time to be still and quiet. Sitting down and doing nothing gives you a chance to unwind and let your mind relax. You literally stop moving long enough to get your bearings, to see where you are and what’s going on.”

In that spirit, I’m going to spend at least a little time today or tomorrow just sitting quietly, encouraging reflection.

Happy new year.

Relax and restore

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Resting and relaxing is really important for your overall health and wellbeing — especially at a time of year as busy as December usually turns out to be. My birthday is in December, so as well as the usual plethora of Christmas parties and catch ups before the holidays, I often also have a birthday celebration (or two) thrown in there as well. Combine that with all the organisational parts of the festive season — shopping, food, travel — and my schedule becomes very full very quickly, despite my work time slowing down. And I know it’s a similar story for most people around this time of year.

This year, in Sydney at least, we’ve also had the weather going back and forth between cold and hot, which can be very tiring for the body, as it works to try and keep our body temperature and other systems at some sort of equilibrium.

Around this time last year, I wrote about my housemate and I pausing our cooking marathon to lie with our legs up the wall. It’s really a brilliant exercise, and can be used at any time of the year — I think hardly a day goes by where I don’t find a quiet spot and a wall, actually — but it’s especially helpful during busy periods. It helps the body (and the mind) slow down, take a breather. It’s fantastic for your nervous and immune systems, and helps reinvigorate your circulation.

Here’s how:

Sit with your right hip close to the wall. If you are quite flexible in the backs of the legs, you can sit quite close to the wall; if you are less flexible in the backs of the legs, sit further away. Using your hands behind you on the floor to support you, left your feet up off the floor and bring them up onto the wall. You’ll need to roll to your right as you do this and wriggle around a little so that you come to be lying on your back with your buttocks close to the wall, and your legs up the wall, with the backs of the legs resting on it.

It’s okay to feel a very mild stretch in the hamstrings, but if you feel anything more than a very mild stretch, wriggle the buttocks further away from the wall. If your hips or lower back are uncomfortably pressing into the floor, you might like to use a neatly folded blanket underneath your lower body.

Let your hands rest wherever they feel comfortable. Now let your attention come to your breath. Allow your physical body to completely relax (your feet may go to sleep – don’t worry, this is normal, and you will get feeling back when you come out of the pose). Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. See if you can encourage your breath to slow down, and your exhales to be slightly longer than your inhales.

Stay for 2-10 minutes. You might set a timer, or you might pick a nice relaxing piece of music, and stay in the pose for the full length of the track. I have a selection of piano pieces that I use for this purpose – they’re usually between 3 and 10 minutes long.

To come down, slide the heels down the wall so the knees come towards the chest. Roll onto your right side and rest here for a breath or two as the blood flows back into the legs. Then use your hands to help you slowly get up. Take your time, as you might be feeling a little sleepy, and your legs might take a little while to feel normal again.

Legs up the wall is honestly one of my favourite poses. When I’m really stretched for time, I might only stay in the pose for a minute or two, and even that tiny amount of time makes a huge difference. There are also all sorts of ways you can more fully support the physical body in this pose, if you’ve got access to props. The idea is really just to give yourself space to pause and do nothing at all.

If you’ve got any questions, either before or after you try the pose, please feel free to contact me. I’m always happy to offer more suggestions.

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.

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.

A Brief History of Yoga

I’ve just found this beautiful coloured flow-chart by Alison Hinks, over at Yoga Dork (you can find a PDF version on Yoga Dork’s post here). If you’ve ever wondered about the lineage of different yoga styles, see if you can find them on here. Very interesting!

Yoga for Moving House

This last fortnight I’ve been using my Sydney yoga practice a little differently. I’ve been moving house. Reluctantly. As well as taking up all my time and energy, it’s been a sad experience for me.  The move was not a voluntary one – our landlord was returning from overseas and wanted to move back into her house. This house has been one of the best houses I’ve ever lived in; my housemates have become almost like family – and it’s the longest I’ve lived in one place since I left home all those years ago.

Unfortunately, it’s also taken up so many of my resources, material and otherwise, that my yoga practice has been substantially reduced. Again. It’s been frustrating.

Looking back through some of my Sydney yoga class plans, I came across one I taught on the theme of impermanence. The series of poses I’d chosen when planning the class seemed to accurately represent the process I felt I was going through moving all my things to the new house: physically demanding, alternately concentrating on balance, strength and letting go, and requiring high levels of concentration.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with this statement:

Atha yoga nushashanam

This translates as, “Now, here is yoga as I have observed it in the natural world.” Sanskrit is not a language in which there are superfluous words. Each word in this phrase is just as important as the next, including the word “now”.

Change and impermanence are a part of life. Moving house became a big, long extended reminder of this. As much as I am looking forward to new adventures in my new house, there’s also an underlying resistance to the change and a hesitation that I’m sure will take some time to fade.

But permanence is an illusion anyway, according to yogic philosophy. Everything is in a constant state of flux, and clinging to the idea of permanence will only cause us distress. My hesitation too will change.

The Buddha said, “This existence of ours is as transient as the autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.” Buddhists argue that, because of the fragile impermanence in our lives, all we really have is right now. The “now” of Patanjali’s Sutras.

The brilliance of focusing on now is that it can both help you more fully enjoy moments of joy – make the most of them, because you cannot be sure how long they will last – and move through difficult times – they too will pass, you can focus on just getting through one moment at a time.

In a yoga class, we can practise what Buddhists call ‘mindfulness’. In any pose, we can draw our attention to any areas of tension, as well as any areas where we might feel more flexible. We can notice those parts of our body that are touching the ground, notice how the ground feels beneath our feet at that moment. If a pose is particularly difficult, I often tell my students to focus on their breath, making sure they can still breathe fully; all they need to do is get through that one breath. After that, all they need to focus on is getting through that next breath, and so on.

Of course, the same practice could apply to me, settling into my new house and moving through my sadness about the end of the old house. Over the next few weeks I’m trying to focus on unpacking just one box at a time. I’ve unpacked all the major things; the boxes that are left are me settling in, like I might slow my breath down gradually in yoga asana practice.

Yesterday I went for a walk around my new neighbourhood; on Saturdays there’s a farmers’ market just around corner from my house, I found a new strip of cafes, and some interesting streets.

The frustration of moving has given me a chance to try and take what I’ve learnt about impermanence and change on the yoga mat into my life in a new way. On my walk yesterday I also came across the type of opportunity that often presents itself with an unwelcome change: just up the road from my new house is a beautiful new Sydney yoga studio space.

Yoga and Resolutions

Sydney yoga is interesting in January: classes are busier; summer deals at various yoga schools allow students to try out classes they might not otherwise or attend more classes than they usually would; yoga rooms are steamy with the sticky Sydney summer weather and extra bodies. There’s a sense of expectation in many Sydney yoga classes – and no doubt in other classes that involve moving your body around.

The expectation, perhaps, is that this year will be the one; it will be the year in which people will get fit and healthy, be kinder, and take more care of themselves and the world around them.

At the breaking of the new year, many of us make resolutions about the areas of our lives we’d like to improve. I’ve never been big on new year’s resolutions. But this year, in trying to decide between the two or three options I had for celebrating the beginning of 2011, I found myself thinking about what this ‘New Year’ business is really about.

Putting all the celebrations and fireworks aside, marking the new year is about letting go of things that have passed, and looking forward to things that might be. In the northern hemisphere, New Year’s Eve occurs at around the same time as the Winter Solstice. This is a time where people in some cultures perform rituals to figuratively rid themselves of the things they no longer want in their lives, so that there is space for the things that they do want.

Of course, we could do this any day of the year, but there’s something nice about collectively moving on, and that process coinciding with the beginning of a new year.

Heading back to work, school and normal life after the holiday period, however, it can be difficult to integrate our plans, be they humble or grand. Regular life for many of us is busy – I know for myself that rushing between the various yoga classes I teach each week, the writing projects I’m working on, and keeping up with the administration required to run a small business, the end of each week comes around quickly, and usually with far too many things left on my To Do list.

We need savasana after a yoga class to allow the benefits of the practice to be fully integrated into our minds and bodies. For this reason, the final relaxation is perhaps the most important part of the class – even though it might seem like you’re just lying there. Similarly, if we want to make changes in our lives, we need to allow ourselves some stillness in which the desire for change can become motivation to move towards actually making that change.

“Perhaps the simplest and most profound practice for deactivating old patterns,” say Mary and Rick NurrieStearns – a pyschotherapist and yoga teacher, and meditation teacher respectively, “is taking the time to be still and quiet. Sitting down and doing nothing gives you a chance to unwind and let your mind relax. You literally stop moving long enough to get your bearings, to see where you are and what’s going on.”

At this time of year especially then, it’s important we allow ourselves to take some quiet time if there are changes we’d like to see in our lives. A slow walk through the local park has always helped me, as has sitting quietly with a cup of tea for ten minutes.

The NurrieStearns suggest sitting quietly and noticing the small space between your breaths. Notice the pause, however brief, before and after your exhale. Similarly, they say, you might sit and notice the gap between your thoughts. Some days the gap between your breaths and thoughts will be very brief, perhaps almost imperceptible. Other days you might notice a longer pause.

Of course, if you’ve been meaning to for a while, now might be a good time to take advantage of one of the many deals that Sydney yoga schools are offering – and allow yourself to really enjoy the stillness of the final relaxation.