CategoryPractice

Pregnancy Yoga Guide

How to Teach Yoga to a New Mum – Part I

It’s your regular weekly vinyasa class, packed with students and suddenly, that former student who was pregnant walks in. She’s had her baby! Great and now…..what do you do? What are your post-natal techniques? How do you adjust for this new mom? Here’s some clues – 

Image Credit: Julie Johnson via Unsplash.

This is generally what’s happening for that Mum:

  • She’s spent the morning cleaning baby food from her hair
  • She has no idea there’s spit up down her back
  • She’s been VERY lucky to shower in the last week
  • She’s saved herself, or her baby, from a LIFE-ENDING predicament THAT DAY ALONE
  • She re-arranged her chest of drawers because the baby pulled everything out
  • She can’t remember when she last ate. By herself. Slowly. Mindfully.
  • She’s not even sure what the word “mindfully” even means now

How to Help this Mum:

  1. Words of support. It’s a minor miracle she was able to show up at all. Acknowledge that.
  2. Slow her down. With integrity and kindness. If she’s trying to power through poses to get her “pre-baby” back, slow this woman down. With tact and gentleness.
  3. Allow her to keep her phone by her mat. Turned on. This may be her first time away from her baby or her fiftieth time. Regardless, as a new mum, it’s terrifying. Allow her to make sure her baby is okay.
  4. Did she fall asleep in the first minute? In a forward bend? DO NOT WAKE HER. Cover with a blanket instead.
  5. She looks tearful/enraged/wistful/something else? New mums are emotional. Don’t take it personally.
Image Credit: Max Nelson via Unsplash.

Look around. Most yoga students tend to be women. Some of them are future mums. Some have two children already. There may be grandmothers and young yoginis in your class. In the past, they would be the new mum’s tribe. Think of them as such. A tribe that has lost its traditions and is now looking to you for guidance. How you treat this mum will impact all of them. If you are gentle, caring and supportive, chances are this will make them act accordingly. They may offer extra support out of class to your student. Or, when a random baby has a meltdown in a Sainsbury queue, they will be more understanding (maybe even helpful).

Be the teacher who treats these mums with the kindness and care owed to them. It will impact your other students, but more importantly, it will impact you. Become a guide to new levels of sensitivity and wisdom towards mums.

Hanna Skomra
Yoga makes the heart sing

Give Dad Yoga this Father’s Day – 5 Tips

Get Dad into Yoga this Father’s Day – 5 Tips

I’m guessing that this Father’s Day, as usual, you’re stuck on a present. He’s either the man who has everything or the man who doesn’t want anything.  So, instead of the usual offering of craft beer, slippers or a book he’ll never read, why not give your Dad a present that will be good for both his body and mind? Yoga.

The problem with this brilliant present is that he doesn’t know he wants it – yet!  So, we’ve come up with five ways to convince your Dad that this is actually the best Father’s Day present he’ll ever get.

  1. Bribe him

If the thought of going to a yoga class gives your Dad the heebie-jeebies, then why not offer to show him a few simple yoga moves in the safety of his own home, with the promise of an Indian takeaway, or a nice dinner together afterwards?

When putting together a short sequence, start with the basics, adding in plenty of child’s poses. Focus on gentle lengthening of the hamstrings, stretching of the shoulders and, if there’s time, some hip-openers. Most important of all, give him a nice long savasana, with support under his knees if necessary. That should ensure he wants to give it another go.

By combining a bit of yoga and dinner, he gets to spend time with you and does a bit of yoga before being treated to a meal in or out (whatever he’s got the energy for after his attempts at yoga).

  1. Threaten him

Somehow, most fathers seem to exist in this make-believe land where they think they’re much fitter than they actually are, despite the fact that they haven’t run further than 10 metres in 10 years.

Photo by abi ismail on Unsplash

The sad truth is, as men age, they start to lose muscle and gain fat – even without the helping hand of alcohol and over-eating. Then their testosterone levels start to drop off, causing loss of bone density, stiffening muscles and ligaments that can make older men more injury-prone.

So, next time your Dad makes an ‘oof’ noise when he gets up from the sofa, or starts puffing going up the stairs, take the opportunity to mention that he’s only going to get worse – unless he does something about it – like take up yoga.  And then hand him a voucher for a few local yoga lessons and see if that does the trick.

  1. Educate him

This is a tough one, as most fathers like to think they know everything about anything. However, there is a pre-conceived notion about yoga that it is for women. But really, yoga is best-suited for those that need it most, and I can’t think of anyone who needs it more than middle-aged and elderly men.

So, in order to reassure him that yoga is for men too, tell him about Broga (a yoga class geared for him), or send him a youtube video of Adam Husler, yoga teacher and all-round nice guy. Or fill him in on the renowned hard man and DJ Goldie, now in his mid-50s, who credits his yoga practice with saving his life and inspired him to set up the clothing brand ‘yogangster’.

Even better, buy him a book on yoga for his present, such as Cool Yoga Tricks by Miriam Austin, or her other book, ‘Yoga for Wimps‘, which doesn’t show super-bendy yogis, but has photographs of real people doing adapted poses that will work for even the stiffest Dads.

  1. Accompany him

The thought of going to a regular yoga class can be frankly terrifying for many men – especially if they’re a bit older and stuck in their ways. But if you think he might be up for a yoga class, find a beginner’s class that’s near to where he lives, with a gentle teacher and a mixed bunch of students, and then book the class for both of you as a Father’s Day present.

Guide him to a mat in the middle of the room, so he doesn’t feel exposed at the front of the class, or can’t see what’s happening from the back. Let him know that he doesn’t need to have a complete yoga outfit, but just a T-shirt and shorts will be fine. Part of your yoga present could be a practical yoga mat, so at least he feels he’s not sharing germs with the last 100 students to use the mats provided.

With you, by his side, he’ll hopefully have the confidence to get onto the mat and give it a go.

  1. Enlighten him

This is the long game, but make sure your Dad knows how important yoga is to you. Tell him about how it’s helped you, both physically and mentally. After a while, ask him if he’d ever consider having a go at it himself.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

If he isn’t swayed by your opinion, then hit him with the facts. Yoga is known to be good for: reducing depression, controlling hypertension, keeping your heart healthy, helping to control diabetes, relieving back pain, improving digestion, relieving osteoarthritis and so on. If he suffers from any (hopefully not all) of the above, then that might just give him a reason to give it a go.

He might think that it’s too late for him to start doing yoga now, and that it’s something for young people, but there’s no right age to start on the yoga path. Take Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, who at the ripe-old-age of 86 met B.K.S. Iyengar and asked him to get her up into a headstand, which he duly did.  If an old Queen can do it, then there’s no reason why your Dad can’t!

Whether any of these tactics work, it’s worth a shot, because yoga will give your Dad greater flexibility into old age, as well as a sense of peace and wellbeing, and there’s no amount of socks or Old Spice that can promise that.

Poppy Pickles

The “Magical Art of Tidying” can help your Yoga

I recently treated myself to the phenomenal global bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, written by Japan’s expert declutterer, Marie Kondo.

Within minutes of starting to read it, I leapt up and had every single item of clothing in a shockingly large pile on the bed. Three bin bags later, my wardrobe was looking fabulously empty and organised. Consequently, this has been a very hard article to write, because every time I sat down to research the piece, I found myself sorting out yet another area of my home.

Image Credit: Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash.

Included in my epic clear-out were some dearly-loved old yoga clothes that I’d had from the beginning of my yoga journey. Like a talisman representing the epic scale of my journey, they were well-worn from hours on my mat. A grey pair of cotton leggings, they were paper thin, had a hole in the knee, and a little darned patch where a moth had nibbled a hole.

I hadn’t been able to part with them, and kept them just to wear at home, but Kondo discourages this.  What she suggests is that we acknowledge all the hard work our things have done for us, and then, we feel able to let them go. True to the KonMari method, I earnestly thanked my knackered leggings, and put them ceremoniously in the bin. It worked.

This clothes-cleanse got me thinking about how this radical tidying method could be applied to all areas of yogic life. So, here are five ways the KonMari Method (named after the first halves of the author’s name, spliced together) can be applied to your yoga practice.

1. Actual Yoga Stuff

Considering the Yogic principle or Yama of Aparigraha, which means non-hoarding, it is ironic that yogis can and often accumulate a vast collection of yoga stuff. This is despite the statement by B. K. S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga that: ‘The yogi reduces his physical needs to the minimum, believing that if he gathers things he does not really need, he is a thief.’

There’s the leggings, tops, under-layers, over-layers, yogic wraps, equipment, books and the accompanying yoga ephemera such as mala beads, incense burners, yoga coasters, scarves and so on.

We invest in these things as a way of believing that they will somehow make us better at yoga, or turn us into more of a serious practitioner. But in the end, the only thing that makes us better at yoga is practice, and in order to practice, we need very little:

  • 1 mat
  • comfortable, non-loose clothes

Kondo encourages us to really free up our yoga practice by simplifying our possessions down to the bare, joyful essentials, and in that way, bring ourselves back to the purity of the yoga itself.

2. Discarding the Past

Kondo emphatically states that to order the world around us, ‘discarding must come first’.

Are there habits in your yoga practice that you can get rid of? Are there things that have gone way past their sell-by date, but that you cling on to because they’re familiar and comforting?

For example, I have got into a habit of starting my yoga practice by folding down onto the mat into child pose. This is a calming way to start a yoga practice. However, recently I’ve realised that I’ve stopped doing my standing poses as much as I used to. These are the basic building blocks of our yoga practice, and if we stop doing standing poses, we lose the strength in our legs, as well as endurance. If I started with Tadasana then there would be a more natural transition to standing poses.

Also, especially in forms of yoga that use props, it is easy to get into the habit of taking the prop offered, be it a belt for gomukhasana, (cow-face pose) or two bricks for Uttanasana (standing forward fold). But if we always take the props, then in a way, we are blocking our progress. Try ‘discarding’ the prop next time and just see what happens.

3. Keep Only Things that Spark Joy

Image Credit: Saffu via Unsplash.

Once you become a yoga teacher or start on the path to becoming a yoga teacher, it is very easy to lose that spark of joy that yoga brought you. Your practice can become habitual, formulaic, and focus all on lesson planning and sequencing.

Kondo’s tidying method requires that you physically hold your possessions in your hands, and only then decide if it sparks joy in you or not. This can also apply to our yoga practice. When you’re on the mat, are you really in touch with your body? Are you inhabiting the pose, or is your body going through the motions, while your mind remains elsewhere?

Joyfulness comes from being fully engaged with the unlimited bliss available to us at any given time, which reflects the Niyama, Santosha – contentment. Rather than worry about spending a certain amount of time on the mat, or ripping through a long list of yoga poses, simplify your practice down to just a few poses and only move on to the next one once you’ve connected to the essence of each pose.

4. Choosing What to Keep, not what to Give Up

A breakthrough moment for the author came when she realised that ruthlessly getting rid of things is not the answer. What she needed to focus on was what she wanted to keep.

The same can apply when it comes to yoga.

In the West we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to give things up – alcohol, sugar, smoking and so on. But perhaps this constant attention on what we shouldn’t be doing acts as a distraction, and we can spin the perspective to what we should be doing.

What can we take up more of in order to feel healthier, stronger and lighter? If, every time we are faced with a good and not so good choice, we think to ourselves, which one would make me feel better – in the long term? In this way, we can choose to keep the parts of our yoga practice that really bring joy. And then feel completely happy to let the rest go.

5. Cherish Who You Are now

Image Credit: Form via Unsplash.

There is a strict order to the KonMari Method to achieve long-lasting tidiness. The last thing on the list is photographs. This is because they represent our memories and are the hardest thing to part with.

But Kondo has a very convincing argument encouraging us to get rid of most of our photographs too. “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.”

Similarly, in yoga. Perhaps we used to be thinner, fitter, or able to do an advanced pose that we can no longer even attempt. Perhaps we look forward to a time when we will be able to do a free-standing handstand or get into padmasana (lotus pose) without feeling our hips creak.

Kondo reminds us that both sentiments are unhelpful: ‘We live in the present. No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now is more important.’ By freeing ourselves from the possessions we no longer really need, we allow our minds to focus on what we love. And through that, rediscover the joy and freedom of the yoga we are practising right here, right now.

Poppy Pickles

The vibrating leggings that ‘teach’ you how to do yoga

The world of yoga is based on ancient wisdom passed down from the seers and sages of the Hindu tradition of India. It is also a global, multi-billion dollar market, hence it attracts innovations just like any other market.

A technological field that has been expanding into all sorts of markets is ‘haptics’.  This is the application of vibrations to help recreate the sense of touch for the user when interacting with a given piece of technology.

This technology has moved into the world of yoga in the shape of a pair of leggings that the manufacturers claim correct your yoga poses.

Why do we Need Vibrating Leggings?

For beginners to yoga, classes can initially be intimidating, and it can feel like everyone apart from you knows what they’re doing. Also, with some in-demand yoga classes getting more and more expensive, it can feel like a waste of money to shell out for a lesson where you really only correctly executed half the poses.

One alternative for struggling beginners is to book a 1:1 yoga session in order to get the undivided attention of a teacher, until your poses are good enough to attend a regular class without feeling like you’re floundering out of your depth at the back. Of course, there’s always Youtube tutorials, but for a total beginner, yoga is not an easy skill to master without a teacher.

And into this gap in the market steps the smart yoga leggings.

A large percentage of the global yoga community will throw their hands up in horror. But with technology advancing at an incredible rate, it makes sense to incorporate it into a field of ‘fitness’ that is burgeoning year on year. After all, nearly every runner now has all sorts of downloadable tech to track their every movement made and calorie lost, so why not expand that tech into yoga?

If you’re prepared to spend $179, you can purchase the Nadi X by WearableX – and you’ll have your own built-in teacher inside your yoga leggings!

What You Get for Your Money

You get a well-made, comfortable pair of yoga leggings with a mesh detail in a simple choice of colour-ways – plain black, navy/grey, black/white and black/grey. They fit well and are easy to wash – a must with yoga leggings. You also get a chargeable powerpack called the pulse, which powers the haptic technology and this links to the Nadi X app.

The app allows you to control the level of the vibrations you receive, from barely noticeable to pretty intense. It also comes with 30 poses (with guides as to what level of pose they are), with a step-by-step video and text instructions.

As the app guides you through the poses, the Nadi X works at the same time to sense your posture and responds with corrections at your hips, lower back, knees or ankles.

Does It Really Work?

Learning through touch is a powerful tool, and, for some people, can be 5 – 20 times more effective than visual learning. The haptic feedback technology takes advantage of this fact by giving your sense of touch a helping hand/buzz.

According to reviewers, the Nadi X leggings are around 90% accurate. For example, if you were to select Downward-Facing Dog, the app would instruct you to lift your hips, and the sensors on your hips and back would vibrate.  For standing poses, the sensor will vibrate at your ankle to encourage you to rotate the back foot in. If you haven’t adjusted enough, the area will keep vibrating.

For real beginners, you also need to have the phone in front of you to get into the poses, and to begin with the vibrations can feel more like a shove in the right direction. But once the user has adjusted to the technology, it can lead to a greater degree of accuracy in the pose.

However, there is really no substitute for a trained, experienced teacher. A good teacher knows that some students learn better when guided with a gentle touch (sensory learners), where others pick it up more through repeated demonstrations (visual learners) and others through clear instructions while they’re in the pose (auditory learners).

Not to mention the hefty price tag, which is considerably more than even the high-end yoga leggings on the market, such as Sweaty Betty and Lululemon.

However helpful the vibrations are to correct your yoga pose, by relying on a piece of clothing to wake you up, or adjust your body, you’re kind of missing the whole point of yoga – which is to bring the mind into the body – which isn’t easy!

To read reviews on these vibrating leggings read here and here.

 

Poppy Pickles

Balance for yogis who can’t balance

When I started my yoga journey, even the simplest balance seemed impossible. But over the years, I have found that Pattabhi Jois was definitely right – I practiced and it came! I took baby steps – sometimes it felt like I would never achieve a particular pose and then suddenly I was there. I still have lots of balances to master, but here are a few things I have learned on my journey…

Foundations really matter

Image Credit: Fatih Altasov via Unsplash.

Whatever the balance, your foundation must be firm and active. Create space between your fingers and toes by spreading them as wide as you comfortably can. In standing, plug your toe tips into the mat as you ground through your heels. Press your head firmly into your hands and your forearms into the mat in headstands. Next, ground down through the whole of your foundation as you lift up through the whole of your body. Lengthen the spine and grow tall through the crown of your head – this really works whether you are upright, horizontal or upside down!

There is an extra challenge in standing balances. The temptation is to lock the standing knee out straight as you grow tall but the opposite actually works better. Keep a ‘microbend’ in that knee and you’ll feel much more stable. Some teachers describe this as a ‘soft knee’.

Core is key

The stronger your core, the easier you will find balances. You can build your core strength through the simplest of exercises. Even during sun salutes,  the transitions through chaturanga, up-dog and down-dog work the core beautifully (when done mindfully). Alternatively, practicing planks and side planks, even the modified versions, will result in better balances.

Don’t forget bandhas

There is so much to think about in balances and it is easy to forget bandhas. Learning to engage mula and uddiyana bandhas was a game changer for me. My stability skyrocketed – try it and I think you’ll see what I mean!

A vision of success

Many top athletes use visualisation to improve their performance. They simply imagine themselves winning a race; kicking a try or hitting a target. Research shows that imagining success brings success and it works in yoga too. Before you start a balance, spend a few moments setting up the pose in your mind’s eye. Imagine you are effortlessly able to maintain the pose for as long as you want to. Then, with the picture of your success clear in your head, do it for real.

Not only does visualisation build confidence and success in a pose but it enhances internal focus and supports mindful practice.

Keep that ego in check

Image Credit: Form via Unsplash.

We all want to balance like a yoga god or goddess, yesterday! But for most us mere mortals, that will never be the reality. Though it is tempting to push for that perfect balance, it is usually far better to do a modified version that you can achieve well and hold for a few steady breaths. Here are a few of my favourite variations:

  • Keep your hands on your hips or in prayer position for Warrior 3
  • Place your foot below the knee of the standing leg in tree pose; you can even have the toe rested on the floor to help with stability
  • Use a belt to reach your lifted foot in dancer pose
  • Try a block under your hand in half moon
  • Use a wall or chair to support headstands
  • Practice balances on hard floors rather than soft mats
  • Do balances near a wall so you put out a steadying hand if you need it

These versions will help you build good, safe techniques and pave the way to the next level.

Balance for older yogis

With more people taking up yoga later in life, balances can present a real risk. Older people may have osteoporosis which means they break bones very easily. Older yogis can also find it harder to recover from a wobble because reaction times slow with age. This means that a wobble can easily become a fall with the risk of broken bones. This doesn’t mean balances should be avoided in later life. Practicing balancing actually improves the ability to recover from a wobble and can help to prevent falls in everyday life. So, how can older people do yoga balances safely to gain all the benefits without the risk?

  • Hold on – keep one hand on a chair or wall
  • 2 footed tree – keep both feet on the floor and use the hand position only. Start with your feet hips width apart and bring them closer together if balance improves
  • Toe standing – start in mountain pose then lift your heels and stand on your toes. Again, the wider apart your feet are, the easier this is
  • Chair warrior – hold the back of a chair in both hands for warrior 3. Lift one leg backward and bend forwards using the chair for support
  • Upright eagle – eagle arms in standing, a bit like the tree version above
  • Standing cow-face – same as for tree and eagle above

 

Image Credit: Artem Bali via Unsplash.

These modifications are also great if you are recovering from an injury or illness as part of your rehabilitation.

My journey to the perfect balance is by no means over. I still have so much to learn, but isn’t that one of the joys of yoga? The journey matters so much more than the destination. I may never be able to achieve a peacock or perfect dancer but am certainly enjoying every step I take in that direction. I hope you do too. Happy balancing!

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.