CategoryPractice

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…

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.”

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

Backbends: they CAN feel GOOD and they ARE good!

The curse of modern life.

Image Credit: Alex Kotliarskyi via Unsplash.

How do you physically exist in the modern world? Hunched over keyboards and steering wheels? Carrying too much weight in our bags, or on our shoulders as we battle to stay connected in this digital age. This equates into a grotesque adult imitation of the foetal position with hips flexed and shoulders hunched . Then, one day, we discover that we can no longer draw our shoulders back or stand up straight.

The problem is that muscles and connective tissues on the front of the body have shortened into this semi-permanent slouched position. And they can no longer stretch enough to come out! Though it’s usually blamed on advancing age, this doesn’t have to be our reality. And yes, yoga has the perfect solution in the form of good old backbends. Love them or hate them, they can be your best friend and if we befriend them, they will take you from slouch to walking tall.

So how do backbends work? By adding backbends to your practice, you prevent and reverse the tendency towards shortened soft tissues. Backbends beautifully mobilise and lengthen the front of the body. But we are just beginning….

What can backbends do for you?

  • Improve posture. Gaining length in the torso, hips and shoulders allows the body to align itself into a better posture. The spine settles into its natural curves and the shoulders draw back helping you walk taller. Not only does this feel good, it is great for your digestion, improves lung function, fosters self-confidence and makes you more attractive. What’s not to like?
  • Open the chest and heart. With an emphasis on drawing shoulders back and down whilst projecting the heart forwards, backbends physically lengthen tissues across the chest and shoulders. They also energetically target the heart chakra and the emotional aspects associated with it building confidence and resilience.
  • Image Credit: Olenka Kotyk via Unsplash.

    Nourish our spinal discs. Spinal, or intervertebral, discs are the soft cartilage cushions between the bones of the spine. They do not have a blood supply but they are like a sponge – they absorb nourishing fluid from surrounding tissues every time they are stretched and that fluid is squeezed out every time they are squashed. So sequences with alternating forward folds and back bends, like Sun Salutations, are actually nourishing your spinal discs.Think of it like the world’s best smoothie for your spine!

How to do safe backbends

There are a few basic principles to remember when doing backbends to gain maximum benefit in a safe way.

  • Inhale. This enhances the mobilising of connective tissues in the chest as the ribs move on the inhale. And it just feels right.
  • Bandhas. Backbends with no core engagement are likely to be uncomfortable as the lumbar spine is compressed into extension. Engaging the core with Mula and Uddiyana bandha makes for a safer, less compressed back bend.
  • Stop rib flare. Using the abs to gently draw the lower ribs back and down further enhances the action of the core and helps to get even curve through the whole spine rather than just at the waist. One cue I love is: “Use your abs like guy ropes to gently hold down your ribs towards the pelvis”.
  • Glutes. To activate or not to activate glutes in back bends? This is such a hot topic in yoga circles these days. Some teach that glutes must be relaxed. Others that they should be active. My advice? Try both and see which works best for you.
  • Preparation, preparation, preparation. Though we all want to do the iconic backbends like Wheel and Upward Bow, it may take many years of practice to get there. Preparation poses that open the hips, like Lunges and Warrior 1, or open the chest, like Sphinx and Puppy Pose will pave the way for your deeper backbends which will come in time.
Image Credit: Artem Beliaikin via Unsplash.

Backbends really are wonderful. They range from simple enough for a real beginner to incredibly challenging for the advanced yogi. They are good for health and well being, perfect for energising in the morning and ideal for calming at night. There truly is a backbend for all seasons. So, roll out that mat and backbend your way to a happier you.

 

You can also check out our inversions workshop that’s coming up in early February. Or look at our other In-Studio Workshops that address Sequencing using Mandala Vinyasa or Hips and Splits!

Do Yoga ANYWHERE this holiday season

We are right in the middle of the holiday season! That time of year when yoga studios close down and personal practice is SO hard to come by. But, yoga is the perfect antidote to family gatherings and office parties. How does a yogi keep practicing when the festive spirit takes hold?

Yoga can be done ANYWHERE. Yes, anywhere.

Here are a few of our favourite tricks for keeping your practice on track.

Tadasana on the tube

Image Credit: Jacob Postumai via Unsplash.

Bring yoga into everyday activities. Try a sneaky Tadasana next time you are standing in a queue or on the tube. Ground down through your feet as you grow tall through the crown of your head and subtly draw the shoulder blades towards the waist. Feel the chest open and breathe… Working on a posture like this activates muscles, takes us out of the habitual slouch and will even make you feel more confident.

Or maybe you have a long train journey home to your loved ones. How about a modified Dandāsana in your seat? Ground down through both sit bones and feet; lengthen the spine as you grow taller; and draw the shoulder blades to the waist again.  You could even gently squeeze an imaginary beach ball between the knees to activate the inner thighs.

And if you really feeling adventurous then add bandhas. Engaging mula and uddiyana bandha really energises the pose – and those opposite you on the train won’t even know!

Tricks for traffic

Stuck in the car more than usual? How about loosening the spine with a little cat and cow as you wait for the lights to change – no need to even let go of the steering wheel for this one. Inhale as you lift the chest and exhale as you curl up and drop the chin to chest brings the benefits of the breath to this simple movement.

Or if you’ve run into traffic, try a seated twist using the sides of your seat and use the opposing hand to reach across. Inhale to gain length through the spine and exhale as you engage the abs to turn. Repeat a few times on each side.

Standing sun salutes

I love these for the times when you just can’t manage a full Sun Salute. They are perfect for breaks on journeys – I do them in the car park beside the car…sometimes I even do them in the airport! These days, people are used to others doing all sorts of freaky moves while waiting for a flight!

  1. Start in Tadāsana.
  2. Inhale and lift arms overhead into a backbend then exhale and fold forwards – just like a Sun salute A.
  3. Inhale and slide hands up shins towards the knees as you lift your chest with a straight back. Then exhale and slide hands down back of legs to fold again.
  4. Inhale to return to standing with arms overhead then exhale back to Tadāsana.

You can add twists by bringing your right elbow outside the left knee and vice versa on the way to the forward fold. Or try Chair Pose from Tadāsana – this adds more muscle work to the sequence.

Yoga for a duvet day

Image Credit: Sarah Diniz Outeiro via Unsplash.

Visiting friends and nowhere to roll out your mat? No matter – use the bed! Smooth out the covers and put together a little sequence. Maybe Extended Child into Puppy then Cobra or Sphinx and repeat a few times moving with the breath.

You could also try any seated forward folds or twists and see how different they feel on the soft surface of the mattress. Supine twists work well on wider beds too and you may even manage a Dolphin or Down Dog if you are not in a bunk bed! You could also try Planks… the soft surface will certainly challenge your balance and core!

Yin poses like Butterfly and Knees to Chest are also ideal for bed-based practice and are really soothing before sleep if the stress is getting too much.

Beautiful breath

Slow, steady diaphragmatic breathing is such a good friend to the busy yogi. And perfect for when you are on the move. Try focussing on your breath as you go about your daily business – walking, standing in queues or sitting in meetings. It is so easy and brings much needed serenity and calmness.

There is also a lovely routine of breathing that stimulates the calming, parasympathetic side of the nervous system and will help you sleep. When you go to bed – lie on your back for 8 deep breaths; roll on to your right side for 16 breaths then on to your left for 32 breaths. Most people will be asleep well before the end of the sequence and sleep like a baby.

Mindfulness and meditation

Image Credit: Isabell Winter via Unsplash.

Even a few minutes of mindfulness each day can make such a difference to how you feel. If you can’t slow down enough to stop and meditate then all is not lost. Being present for a few minutes and mindful of what you are doing works just as well. Try taking time to smell your coffee before sipping it and REALLY tasting it is a delight as the world whizzes around you. Or being really present on a dog walk so that you take the time notice the colours; the smells; and the noises around you instead of mentally ticking things off the ‘To do’ list.

Festive survival secrets

So, this is my Seasonal Survival Guide for the clever yogi who finds themselves with no mat and bereft of yoga pants. Some tools that I hope you will find useful to help get you through the most wonderful time of the year without losing your yoga mo-jo.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and a wonderful New Year – enjoy!

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.