Wondering what prenatal or antenatal yoga is? Is a ‘regular’ yoga class good enough choice? What are the benefits of prenatal yoga and what can you expect during the class? The articles below will hopefully help to answer these questions and more. Yoga in pregnancy is a wide and fascinating topic. So, whether you are a mum-to-be, a partner, doula or a yoga teacher, read on and expect more information to come. This department looks at everything pregnancy yoga related.
If you’re interested in learning more about yoga during pregnancy, or would like to top up your existing 200-hour training, please take a look at our Pregnancy Training yoga course:
This certificate is perhaps the most valuable tool in your ‘yoga teacher toolkit’. Think about it – who comes to a typical yoga class? Nine times out of ten it’s female students between 25-45 years old. That’s when many women are choosing to have a family, which means you need to be ready to adapt. Whether you’re looking to hold specialist pregnancy classes or you want to integrate expectant mums into general class, this course is for you.
YogaLondon’s exclusive course on the Philosophy of Yoga is run jointly by YogaLondon (YL) and the prestigious Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS). We talked to our very own co-founders, Edward Serrano and Rebecca Ffrench, who gave us the inside info on this new partnership.
How did the partnership between YogaLondon and the OCHS come about?
Edward: A couple of years ago, when Rebecca was half-way through her MSt at Oxford University, she skyped me sounding pretty excited about a conversation she’d had with one of the Executive Directors of the OCHS. She asked me what I thought of an online learning partnership between YL and the OCHS. My response was ‘Of course!’ Of course I want to pair up with Oxford University!
Do I want to have a microwave meal of yoga or a gourmet entrée of yogic delights?
Because with the OCHS that’s exactly what we’d be offering.
How are YogaLondon and the OCHS a good match?
Rebecca: YL and the OCHS are really well matched. We both have a passion for our particular area of study and strive to be the best that we can possibly be.
Edward: It’s an evolving partnership. Although the OCHS is a recognized branch of Oxford University, they get little or no funding, so they have to go out and make their own money, which is where their online courses come in. The online courses enable them to fulfill their ultimate aim of furthering Hindu studies throughout the UK.
And I think the motivation for the OCHS was that they’d seen that YL had been around for a while, and most importantly, work exclusively in yoga education, rather than a smorgasbord of everything and anything to do with yoga. To put it simply, we were able to provide the type of audience they needed.
What does the OCHS bring to the YL learning experience?
Edward: To be frank, we’re the only yoga teaching company in the world that we know of to have an alliance with OCHS. We have an opportunity to introduce Oxford University trained tutors to our students, which adds more world-class knowledge to our teaching staff, which has always been our focus, providing our students with the best tutors.
I think that the quality that the OCHS brings in their knowledge of Hindu studies and the philosophy of yoga is unlike anything else that one can hope for in London. I don’t mean to demean the work that anyone else is doing, but when you’ve got a powerhouse like Oxford University with experts who’ve dedicated their entire lives to a particular subject matter, it really makes for an incredibly deep and powerful learning experience.
What will the joint ‘Philosophy of Yoga’ course involve?
The theoretical content is delivered over a weekend by an OCHS teacher actually in front of you, which leads to an exponentially greater learning experience. For one thing, you get to ask them anything. The practical content will be delivered by our experienced YL teachers, balancing the theoretical experience with expert practical tuition.
Doesn’t YL already cover these subjects?
Rebecca: On the 200-hour teacher training course we include ‘introductions’ to a variety of philosophical topics, but on this course the experts at the OCHS give a much deeper perspective on how the vast patchwork of ideas and philosophies, from Vedanta, to Tantric practices, to the Bhagavad Gita, have evolved into the yoga of today.
Is the course exclusive to graduates of the YL teacher-training course?
Rebecca: No, this immersion weekend course is for absolutely anyone. You don’t even need to be a yoga teacher to attend. It’s open to anyone who loves yoga and is interested in the philosophy behind it.
Will YL continue to work with OCHS?
Edward: Beyond the quality of the OCHS it’s an opportunity for YL to really show its commitment to the education of yoga. By partnering up with OCHS we’ve made a powerful statement that we’re really serious about education – education is who we are and what we will always be.
We’re also excited about the opportunity for the partnership to develop. Since the initial contact, the relationship has metamorphosed into a far deeper, much more collaborative one. Now, as well as promoting their online courses, we’re working and teaching together on the ground. Just as exciting, if not more, is the potential for the relationship to evolve – who knows what will happen next!
Why do we need to know the Sanskrit names for yoga poses? Why not just call them by their translated name? The Sanskrit terms for poses are often difficult to remember, as well as a mouthful to pronounce. It can put some students off, as they shy away from the ‘yogic’ side of things and just want to have a good stretch.
However, knowing the Sanskrit words for yoga poses can be a link to the vibrant and living history of yoga, as well as giving students key clues to mastering the pose.
Here’s a lowdown on the ‘amazingness’ of the Sanskrit language and a whole host of reasons why it’s worth putting in the extra effort to get to know (and love) it.
1. A VERY ancient language
Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language, and, apart from the Basque language, every single language spoken in the Indo-European countries today has their origins in Sanskrit. TRUE.
Founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, Dr. David Frawley, says of Sanskrit that “by most conservative accounts it has been used continuously since 1500 BC; by more liberal accounts it was in use before 6000BC”. Arguably, Sanskrit is the earliest of the ancient languages, including Latin and Ancient Greek. The oldest literature in the world, The Vedas, was written in Sanskrit, and is still studied today in the same form as it was written, thousands of years ago.
2. A Beautifully organised language
The Sanskrit alphabet consists of 48 sounds, called ‘varnas’, meaning the ‘colour’ of language.
According to Gabriella Burnel, Sanskrit scholar, and resident YogaLondon expert, these sounds are “systematically structured to take you from the inner to the outer – literally – from the throat to the lips”. Also, amazingly, “even just sounding the vowels (known as ‘swaraah’ meaning self -luminous, shining by oneself) can have a calming and cleansing effect”.
Every word in the language is based on root syllables, which (Gabriella again), “holds within it the essence of the meaning of that word.” So, like modern-day German, words can be formed by linking root syllables together. “Take kr, which is the root of ahamkaara, samskaara, karma. The root ‘kr’ means ‘doing’, therefore you know that all these things involve ‘doing’. The root gives you a sense of the word on a deeper level.”
Sanskrit grammar is incredibly well-organised and apparently, scientists in the NASA space station love the Sanskrit language for its sound and its clear grammatical structure.
There are in fact a whole host of words in use today, such as avatar, candy, cot, crimson, jungle, orange and of course, yoga, which are directly descended from the original Sanskrit.
So, although Sanskrit may sound unfamiliar to Western ears, the language we speak now is directly linked to this ancient language.
3. The stories
Through learning the Sanskrit names of the asanas we practice, we are connecting, across the ages, to the yogis of the past, as well as the myths and legends of the Hindu culture, from which yoga originated.
The beautiful and advanced pose, Hanumanasana, is named after the monkey god, Hanuman. Hanuman was a son of the wind god Vayu, friend and servant of Rama, protagonist of the epic tale, The Ramayana.
The story goes that when the evil demon King Ravana kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita, Rama enlisted the help of Sugriva, King of the monkeys, and his general, Hanuman. Hanuman found Sita and took the news to Rama and his brother Lakshmana, and a great battle with Ravana raged, during which Lakshmana was terribly wounded, and only the juice of a life-giving herb that grew in the Himalayas would save his life. Hanuman duly leapt across the seas in one leap, retrieved the herb, and saved Lakshmana’s life.
The pose, which is the lateral splits, represents the prodigious leap that Hanuman took to save the life of another.
Yoga students practising this pose today can channel their inner monkey god, being brave, selfless and extremely flexible! It is also a reminder that yoga isn’t all about practising for ourselves and our own glory, but should be the cultivation of discipline and self-care, that allows us to give more freely to those in need around us.
4. The heroes
When we do yoga, many of us often feel very far from heroic. We feel distinctly lacking as we struggle to locate our dorsal spines or touch our toes.
But the Sanskrit names of the poses act as a reminder to – in the words of M People – ‘search for the hero inside yourself’, and emulate the heroic qualities of the Hindu heroes and legends.
Take, for instance, the warrior Virabhadra, the namesake of the poses Virabhadrasana 1, 2 and 3. The three warrior poses are named after him and as we hold the poses and strengthen our feeble legs, we should think of him and emulate his mighty prowess.
Again, there is a story that comes with the poses. Virabhadra (vira, meaning ‘hero’ and bhadra meaning ‘friend’) was the warrior of the god and yogi Shiva. When Shiva’s wife, Sati, died due to the cruelty of her father Darksha at a party, Shiva sends Virabhadra to avenge her death.
Virabhadrasana 1 represents the warrior appearing before Darksha by breaking through the ground, rising from the earth, brandishing a sword in both hands.
Virabhadrasana 2 represents the moment that he spots his target from across the room.
Virabhadrasana 3 symbolises the slaughtering of the guests at Darksha’s party, before beheading Darksha himself.
This rather bloodthirsty tale is also a symbolic one, as Shiva represents the higher self, Sati represents the heart and Darksha is the ego. So when we are teetering in Virabhadrasana 3, focusing like mad on balancing, we are really slaughtering our ego at the request of our higher self. All in a humble yoga practice…
5. The clues to yoga poses
Some of the names of the yogasanas (yoga + asanas) are literal in meaning. In this case, it is still worth studying the full name of the pose in order to gain valuable insight into the key elements of the pose.
Take Utthita Parshvakonasana, literally ‘extended side angle pose’. Broken down into its component parts the utthita means ‘extended’, parshva means ‘side’, kona means ‘angle’ and ‘asana’ is pose. There are many aspects to the pose as every part of the body is engaged, so the bent leg knee needs to be in line with the ankle, the back leg foot needs to press down to engage the thigh and so on. But the most important thing is that the side of the body is extended at an angle, i.e., in one continuous line from the little toe edge of the back foot, all the way to the fingertips of the top arm.
6. It’s fun!
The Sanskrit names are also fun and funny. One of the most important poses, Adho Mukha Svanasana means ‘downward facing dog’. This is a reminder that we need to have fun while doing yoga, emulating the natural bending and stretching of our pet dogs. A personal favourite, Pavana Muktasana, means ‘wind-relieving pose’. And it really works.
It’s not easy getting your head round the Sanskrit names of the poses, as I found out when I had to learn them all (very quickly) during my yoga teacher training course. But once you know them, they become an extra dimension of the pose, adding character and depth to the physical pose, and linking back, through the mists of time, to the very first yogis, who observed the spirit of each pose and named them, for us.
Gabriella Burnel perfectly explains her infectious love of Sanskrit below:
” The same feeling I get when visiting a sacred site like Stonehenge, walking through a forest of ancient trees, entering a church or a temple. That feeling of sanctity, magnificence and comfort – that’s what I feel when in the company of Sanskrit.”
Neophilia is the love of the new. It’s not so much focused on love for brand-new, straight-out-of-the-box things, but much more on the seeking out of new experiences. Neophiles are people who love novelty, who seek the thrill of doing things they’ve never done before. And they’re not necessarily adrenaline junkies; you can be a neophile reading a novel you’ve never read, going on a walk somewhere new, or simply approaching your yoga mat from a different perspective. In literature (where the term first sprung up, thanks to cult writer Robert Anton Wilson), neophiles are usually rebels and rule-breakers, but in reality they have a lot more in common with yogis. More to the point, here’s how embracing the new can deepen and enrich your yoga practice. Staying in the present
Atha yogas anushasanam, says the first of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: now is the time for yoga, with the emphasis being on the now. The present moment is always new, and in that sense, so is good yoga practice. Keeping things fresh can be hard, given how life – and our notion of a disciplined yoga practice – revolve around routine. When we want to spruce things up, we often lack imagination as a result of having become stale – it can be a catch 22. Of course this applies to life in general as well as to yoga: it can be all too easy to get stuck! So, as a first step towards welcoming neophilia into your life, here are
4 Easy Ways to Make Your Yoga Practice Feel New
Bring a Beginner’s Mind to the mat
Get curious and approach each pose as though your body had not encountered it before. Search for new areas of sensation and tune into the things you routinely ignore. If you know you’ve neglected your breath, for example, focus on that in more detail than your alignment, or if you’re normally preoccupied by pranayama, work with greater attention to your spine. Allow your practice to be a space for including new sensations. One way to make your practice new is to pretend to be a beginner again. Think you know everything? Begin anew with a two-day Foundation Course.
Practice in a different space
Usually practice inside? Then weather permitting, take your mat outside. And if the weather isn’t on your side, move your mat to a new spot, or if you’re pushed for space, even facing the opposite way from normal to make your brain work differently, which is what this is all about.
Change what you hear
If you regularly listen to the same playlist, change it up, or go silent. If you normally practise silently, try moving to music. Notice the differences in how you feel, get quiet and curious within yourself as to how sound affects your experience.
Go to a new yoga class
Challenge the power of habit by attending something different! Place your emphasis on experience rather than result – the point is to do something new and learn in the process, not necessarily to like it. If we only ever did things we liked, or thought we’d like, we’d live much more boring lives!
Practising a different kind of flexibility The point is not to change your practice permanently – far from it. The point is to make adaptability part of your practice, just as it has to be a part of life. Science is full of evidence suggesting that new experiences keep us young, mentally as well as physically, and can also have a dramatic effect on our mood and general wellbeing.
There are of course all sorts of ways to try new things, but key to all of them is a shift in mindset, and that can be hard to muster up in the throes of a busy everyday life. So, why not make a commitment to get you going? Nothing like a good challenge to get you going… A couple of months ago I read an inspiring Facebook post from a friend who who is currently working overseas for the British Government in Pakistan. Seeking a way to make the most of living in a foreign country and not letting the richness of that slip by, she pledged to do a new thing every day for a month, and to track her progress online as a way of making herself accountable. A seriously interesting series of posts followed, ranging from mountain explorations to new dishes sampled and new languages spoken, and it occurred to me that I could benefit greatly from doing the same thing. I had recently moved to the other side of the world, and so I set about to see what novelty New Zealand could bring each day, for a month. Six weeks or so after I began this journey, although my Facebook documentation of the process has been a little lacking, the reason for that is that more has changed than I thought possible, and in a very exciting way – I simply haven’t had time. It’s been a brilliant experience. What it has highlighted has been just how much opportunity can turn on what can feel like a relatively minor decision. On Day 1 of my challenge, despite feeling a little ambivalent about it, I dragged my cousin along to a Slam Poetry event, because I’d never been to one before and had been meaning to for about six years. It seemed like the ideal first new thing, and it was.
Not only was it a great night, but the people I met there have become friends, and have gone on to totally transform what I’m now doing in Auckland. This has become a journey of new things I had been wanting to do for years including going on a road trip, taking a play on tour, writing and putting on my own, and developing my yoga practice towards what I have long-since wanted its focus to be: yoga for performers. I’ve met a whole new community of people, moved forward with more of my creative ambitions than I ever could have hoped to, and become (a bit) better at day-dreaming less and doing more. Highlights were gazing at the Milky Way and capturing it on camera lens at 1am on a deserted beach, making my own pasta by hand, going rock climbing, and buying my first car, finally, at the grand old age of 26.
Just like my friend found in Pakistan, the pressure, which at times it was, to try to experience something new each day meant that I dithered less, and seized the day – even if it was at 9pm, doggedly kneading pasta dough. Doing new things forces you to let go of old stories, and helps you to realise that there is so much possibility all around us – all we need do to tap into it is adjust our perspective.
How ancient gestures can boost your health, enhance your yoga and deepen your meditation.
Every so often it’s fun to add a new layer to your practice. Something that takes you a little further into the yoga experience, sheds new light on familiar territory, or guides the way towards uncharted realms within. Mudras can do this. These ancient hand gestures belong not only to yoga, but also to Indian dance, martial arts and kinesiology. They reveal to us that if we learn how, the power for transformation is in our hands.
Mudras For Modern Life is the ideal practical pathfinder for anyone keen to learn more about mudras. It’s organised by element: fire, air, ether, earth, water and the mind. Each chapter is dedicated to the part of the hand which corresponds to each of these elements, as well as their key holistic qualities and powers for balance and healing.
“Mudras act like switches to control the flow of prana to your body”
Written by Swami Saradananda, internationally renowned yoga and meditation teacher, Mudras For Modern Life introduces us with exceptional clarity to the subtle body’s energetics. Exploring how each individual finger corresponds to the functioning of the chakras within an ayurvedic framework, the book illustrates the subtle art and architecture of mudras. We learn not only what each part of the hand relates to, but how the parts of the hand can interact to manage chakra or dosha-based imbalances. Different finger-to-finger, finger-to-palm, and hand-to-hand actions work to increase and decrease different energies in the body. Moreover, when the qualities a mudra cultivates are incorporated into meditation, or an intention during yoga practice, the results can be powerful.
Holding feeling in our hands
The simplest and best way to understand these ideas is to practice the mudras themselves; your understanding is literally in your own hands. Swami Saradananda reminds us that “after our faces, our hands are the most expressive part of our bodies”. Doing these mudras illustrates that point: there is an undeniable ‘mood’ to each configuration of the hands, especially when practised alongside the book’s useful commentary. Working sensitively with this new way of interpreting and responding to your own mind, body and spirit can bring a whole new dimension to your practice, or just to a sitting meditation.
Verdict? A beautiful, and practically useful book
Swami Saradananda’s practical emphasis carries echoes of Sri. Pattabhi Jois’ famous remark that yoga is “99% practice, 1% theory”. The more you practice, the more you understand, the more you feel. Mudras for Modern Life is geared towards you using what you learn: in meditation, in yoga, in life. The final chapter offers a daily routine of seven mudras for maintaining mental and physical health, and also gives suggested routines for common ailments, with helpful explanations of those ailments in accordance with the five elements as used within Indian philosophy.
If you’re looking for a way to introduce something new to your practice, fine-tune your focus within it, or manage your mental, physical and emotional health with greater subtlety and depth, then Mudras for Modern Life is not just a must-read, it’s a must-do.
Thumb ~ Fire Mudras
In Chapter 3 we learn that the thumb relates elementally to fire, and to the Ayurvedic Dosha Pitta. The thumb’s corresponding chakra is the solar plexus, Manipura, and its physical associations are digestion, muscles, sense of sight. Its emotional associations are inner strength, willpower, self-esteem, courage and ambition.
Try Agni Mudra, Fire Gesture
“By freeing your thumbs of the other fingers, you free the fire element from the influences of the other four elements. This strengthens the nourishing fiery energy yogis call samana vayu. Holding Agni Mudra can increase your sensations of vitality and energy.”
Index finger ~ Air Mudras
The index finger’s element is air. It’s associated with Vata Dosha, the heart chakra Anahata, and in the body it relates to breathing, the circulatory system, arms and hands and the sense of touch. Emotionally, it is associated with freedom, joy, stress-relief, love, forgiveness and compassion.
Try Vayu Mudra, Air Gesture
“By pressing down on the index finger, you reduce and control the element this finger is associated with – air. This removes excess wind and dryness in the body and restores balance to your vata energy.”
Middle finger ~ Ether Mudras
The middle finger relates to ether, or the space existing around air. It’s associated with the throat chakra, Vishuddhi, and physically corresponds to the throat, mouth, ears and sense of hearing. Emotionally, it has to do with inner peace, self-expression, creativity and communication.
Try Akasha Mudra, Touching the Void Gesture
“By joining the thumb (fire element) to the middle finger, you stimulate the ether or space element, creating more space in your life.” Ring finger ~ Earth Mudras
The ring finger’s element is earth. It relates to the root chakra, Muladhara, and physically corresponds to the skeleton, immune system, feet and legs, as well as sense of smell. It is associated emotionally with stability, groundedness and security.
Try Prithivi Mudra, Earth Gesture
“When you make a circle by joining your thumb (the fire element) and ring finger (earth element), you channel prana to move around the circuit. This stimulates the muladhara chakra and creates an energetic ‘spark’, like lightning striking the earth.” Little finger ~ Water Mudras
The element of the little finger is water. It belongs to the sacral chakra, Svadisthana, and physically to an overall sense of wellbeing, body fluids, the urinary and reproductive systems, and sense of taste. Emotionally it relates to being able to move forward, let go, adapt, go with the flow.
Try Varuna Mudra, Water-balancing Gesture
“Bringing the tip of the thumb (fire element) to meet the tip of your little finger (water) intensifies the water element, restoring moisture to the body. This also symbolises the joining of opposites, countering rigid structures.” Palm of the hand ~ Mind Mudras
The palm of the hand relates to the mind. Its chakra is the third eye, Ajna, and it corresponds physically to overall control of the body and senses. Emotionally, it is associated with concentration, intuition, intelligence and insight.
Try Ajna Mudra, Brow Chakra Gesture
“By stimulating the finger you use to point on the left side of your body, you motivate the right hemisphere of your brain to give you direction. Working with both hands helps to bring all viewpoints into balance.”
Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.