CategoryGraduates

YogaLondon and Oxford joining forces

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. What will the joint ‘Philosophy of Yoga’ course involve?

Rebecca: Because ‘The Philosophy of Yoga’ is an optional part of the 500-hour Advanced teacher-training course, it includes curriculum elements for it to count towards those 500 hours.

Photo by Diego Duarte Cereceda on Unsplash

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

 

For more information about this course, please click here. Additional information is also available for YogaLondon’s 200-hr teacher training, our advanced trainings and in-studio workshops. Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies offers a number of online courses which can also further your yogic knowledge. Learn more today…

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Why bother learning Sanskrit Pose Names?!

Image Credit: Patrick Hendry via Flickr.

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

Image Credit: Satish Krishnamurthy via Flickr.

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

Image Credit: The Yoga People via Flickr.

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.

To conclude…

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.”

Poppy Pickles

Yoga with Friends – make this your New Year’s Resolution

Image Credit: Antonika Chanel via Unsplash.

This January, why not make your New Year’s resolution to hit the mat every day a whole lot more fun by doing your yoga practice with a friend? Get more out of your yoga practice AND spend quality time with your best buddies.

We all start the year with good intentions, determined to shift the holiday toxins and power into a fresh start. But then the reality of our busy lives, our laziness – or both – kicks in and those good intentions begin to fall by the wayside.

This is where doing yoga with a friend can help. If you commit to practising with a friend, even once a month, you create a buddy system that keeps you accountable, as well as giving you the motivation you need to keep your own practice going in the meantime.

There’s another reason why we think you should pair up with a friend to do yoga this year. Building friendships results in an increased sense of well-being and is good, if not essential, for your mental health. Research has shown that building and maintaining long-lasting friendships leads to a happier and longer life. A study in Southern Australia showed that good friends extend your lifespan, possibly because friends can encourage healthier habits, such as giving up smoking or drinking and – here’s the relevant bit for us – encouraging us to do exercise, such as YOGA.

Image Credit: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash.

Friends also can help us cope with depression, grief, and fend off loneliness in old age, write the authors. Margaret Gibbs, PhD, professor emeritus at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a clinical psychologist, says, “There’s lots of research indicating that social support is important to health and happiness at any age”.

Combining the emotional and physical benefits of friendship with the well-being-enhancing yoga and meditation is a sure-fire shortcut to a brilliant 2018. International, bestselling author Dr. John Douillard explains, “According to Ayurveda, meditation disarms this protective nervous system by increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity, which is the body’s repairing nervous system. This enhances self-awareness of the painful area on both a physical, mental, and even emotional level. Once the body has become fully aware of the painful area as a problem, the body’s natural pharmacy can kick in and help resolve the pain.”

So, what are you waiting for? Make a date with a trusted yoga friend and share a restoring yoga practice, while relaxing safe in the knowledge that your New Year’s resolutions are in the bag.

Read more at MindBodyGreen and The Huffington Post

Poppy Pickles

Yoga Should Be Taught In Schools, Says Fearne Cotton

Keen yogi and former Radio 1 presenter, Fearne Cotton regularly practises yoga with her children, four-year-old Rex, and two-year-old Honey. In addition to frequently posting snaps of them having fun on the mat together, she has called for yoga to be put on the school curriculum to help improve children’s wellbeing.

She told London’s Evening Standard: “My son is doing yoga at school, it’s amazing. It’s really important – so much focus is on academia, which is great, but I think in this day and age there needs to be a deeper understanding for kids to know it’s OK to feel a bit c***.”

Image Credit: Amber Gowens Hirschberg via Flickr.

“That is the job of parents and sometimes we nail it and sometimes we don’t, but it should be supported at school… To make small changes [to the curriculum] like kids doing yoga and getting them to be open to talk and share their feelings is brilliant.”

Having spoken publicly about her own battle with depression, part of which involved the publication of her book, ‘Happy’, a compilation of ways to cultivate mental wellbeing in everyday life, Fearne is keen to break down a perception that celebrity life is without the struggles we all face. Preparing to publish her second book, she said, “it’s nice… to have that cathartic process of saying who I really am, and also for other people to go, ‘Oh, right, so the myth of being in the public eye meaning life is perfect is utter s***.”

In addition to speaking up and raising awareness, Fearne has also written a children’s book designed to inspire bedtime relaxation for parents and their little ones. ‘Yoga Babies’ is a picture book that combines a story for adults to read aloud, with relaxing yoga poses for both to try as part of getting ready for bed.

Image Credit: Andres Sandoval via Flickr.

“Yoga is such a wonderful activity for all the family, and has a hugely calming impact all round,” she told the Huffington Post. “It’s great for coordination as well as health and wellbeing.” The text and illustrations have been approved by Marta Simonetti, a qualified children’s yoga instructor, who has taught for YogaLondon.

“I’m really excited about Fearne’s new release, Yoga Babies’, Marta explained. “It’s a brilliant way to bring yoga for children into the public consciousnesss, as it has become such a popular practice… I can’t recommend it enough.”

Fearne’s desire was to create a book that could at once help parents develop their affinity with their children, and incorporate the practice of yoga, which she believes has so many benefits for physical and mental wellbeing. Now that she has done so, and helped to popularise yoga for children through her unique storybook, perhaps her call for yoga to feature in schools will gain yet more traction.

Read more at The Evening Standard and The Huffington Post.

The Yoga of New Things: Neophilia for Yogis

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

Image Credit: Toa Heftiba via Unsplash.

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.

Keen to put this to the test, I set out to find a way to introduce more new experiences into own my life.

An Experiment For The Intrepid

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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.

Image Credit: Debbie R via Flickr.

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.

And this, of course, is yoga at its best.

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.