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

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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.

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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

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London’s top 10 FREE Yoga Classes

It’s a new year and time for a fresh start! One of your New Year’s resolutions may well be to try out a new yoga class in this brilliant city of ours and there are no shortage of them. You can choose from hot yoga, yin yoga, vinyasa flow, iyengar yoga and many others besides. But sometimes it’s hard to justify shelling out yet more money on this yoga obsession of yours, so here at YogaLondon, we’ve come up with the solution…

Tucked away in various shops, community centres and studios throughout the city, are wonderful places offering completely FREE yoga classes to those in the know. We’ve put together TEN of the best free yoga classes in the city – so, just because you’re strapped for cash – you don’t have to be deprived of your weekly yoga fix.

Our Pick of Free Yoga Classes

 

1. Iyengar Yoga Institute

Set in the tranquil setting of the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Maida Vale, are FREE taster classes on offer to those who’d like to try Iyengar yoga. Held throughout the year, their aim is to give new students a chance to try out yoga in a friendly setting with other people at the same level. No previous experience is necessary. It’s also open to those students who are more familiar with other yoga methods.

All equipment is provided, and shoes are left in the racks by the entrance. Sign up here to book the next free class.

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2. East London Community Well Being

Run by the charity St. Margaret’s House, Yoganest is a project promoting wellbeing and engaging with the local community in Bethnal Green through the provision of low-cost and free yoga classes.  While you’re there you could also take advantage of all the other wonderful things going on, such as a rolling calendar of cultural events and an on-site vegan cafe. This unique charity provides spaces for residents to eat, shop, learn, create, and enjoy a diverse cultural program.

One of the varied programme of yoga lessons on offer at St Margaret’s House is a completely FREE Friday evening flow class. Suitable for all levels, this class combines breath and movement, strengthening and stretching both body and mind. Find more details here.

3. Oval Yoga

Run by the charismatic Alonso from Rio, Oval Yoga offers a free taster class  to anyone interested, on the proviso that there is space in the class. He teaches regular weekly mixed-ability Hatha Yoga classes in Kennington Oval, Stockwell,

Image credit Barry Silver via Flickr.

Brixton, Vauxhall and adjacent South London neighbourhoods.

Choose from two regular evening classes or opt for an atmostpheric candlelit class on a Sunday evening if you feel like trying something a little bit different!

4.’OurParks’

Although you might be thinking ‘Now is not the time of year that I want to be doing yoga in a PARK’ – fear not! OurParks not only organises activities in London’s many green areas, but also in community spaces. And even better, the classes are completely FREE. OurParks was created to make it easy and free for you to get fit, which sounds like an excellent idea to us. Their site is easy to use, colour-coded to give you an idea of how intense the classes are, and gives an up to date list of all the classes coming up.

If you’re feeling hardcore, and in need of fresh air, you can pick Outdoor Yoga in London Fields, or opt for (the slightly cosier) Flow Yoga at Leyton Sixth Form College, to name just a couple of choices. You need to register on the site first, and then book a place – for more info you can watch a handy booking guide here.

And to see a list of classes and get going, book here.

5. LightCentre Moorgate

The Light Centre in Moorgate is a health and wellbeing centre offering over sixty different classes weekly, from mindfulness to Pilates-Reformer classes as well as a variety of different health therapies. A haven of relaxation in the midst of the city, one of the things we love most about this centre is that you can try it out totally free of charge.

With ‘Breakfast Club’ classes to suit the early-riser, 75-minute Vinyasa Flow classes and weekly beginners’ classes, all levels and all schedules are welcome. We love that you can grab a rejuvenating snack after your class here too – a green juice for the road or a fruit pot to devour (smugly) at your desk. Sign up for your free class here.

See Also: The 12 Best Snacks to Have on Hand in 2016

6. Sweaty Betty

Putting a new meaning to the phrase, ‘working out in Sweaty Betty’, the free yoga classes here can be booked in advance and taught by certified experts. The only catch is that you have to sign up to become a member but don’t we all have five minutes to spare for 60-minutes of free fitness?

We suggest you’re quick though as the word has gotten out about the Sweaty little secret and classes tend to get booked up quite quickly. Find out whether your nearest store could become your newest workout venue here.

7. Lululemon

You may have spent copious amounts of time during your yoga-practicing-years browsing the shelves and rails of this popular sports clothing store but have you ever thought about pushing aside the ‘End of Season Sale’ rack and stretching out on the floor? Well why not try it — with a weekly, completely complimentary, in-store yoga class!

Guided by expert local teachers, all over London, you’ll be able to unfurl your mat in the midst of your chosen store and spend 60-minutes stretching and relaxing. LuluLemon put great emphasis on creating a community outside of a simple shopping experience and aside from free yoga classes you can also get involved with festivals and retreats. Never believed you’d be able to leave a LuluLemon store having not spent a penny? Well believe it! Sign up here.

8. Essence of Good Health

Image Courtesy The Cosmpolitan via Flickr.

With a real belief that no one should be exempt from the benefits of yoga, Essence of Good Health Yoga has been providing free hatha yoga classes for over 15 years. A real mixture of levels attend these two-hour classes and a sense of community and care is present throughout.

A gentle warm up and an hour of asanas is followed by half an hour of pranayama and guided relaxation to ensure that you leave feeling as good as possible. A bootcamp for the body and mind (in the gentlest sense) can be expected, along with a warm welcome and loads of attention — there is usually more than one teacher to make sure that everyone gets the help and guidance they need.

As the classes are run free of charge, donations are welcome and most who attend give around £2 to help fund this worthwhile project. They are held once a week on a Monday in Croydon from 7-9pm at: The Archbishop Lanfranc School Mitcham Road Croydon Surrey CR9 3AS.

9. London Buddhist Centre

Not strictly free, but by donation (which is still very cheap!) the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green runs classes on Monday and Friday lunchtimes and early evenings throughout the week. Classes are drop in and mats are provided.

10. Stress Project Yoga Holloway

Not exactly free either, but practically free, as classes at the Holloway Community Centre cost only £2 per lesson, which we think you’ll agree is amazing value.

Holloway Neighbourhood Group is a local charity working in the London Borough of Islington. Their aim is to offer local people the chance to live fulfilled lives as part of the community. In 1995 they established the Stress Project  – providing therapeutic and social support to people living with mental health probems and stress related illness. This includes their low-cost yoga classes, held every Wednesday, 12.30 to 1.30pm at the Old Fire Station Community Centre.

84 Mayton Street, N7 6QT,  020 7607 9794

 

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

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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

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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

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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!

Harry and Meghan – On being a Yoga Couple

The benefits of Couples Yoga According to Meghan Markle

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Everyone is Harry and Meghan obsessed these days, whether they want to be or not! And with good reason, they’re young, attractive, royal AND getting married. What’s not to like? Even more exciting for yoga fans is that, according to ‘inside sources’, Meghan Markle has been teaching her fiancé some yoga poses to help him de-stress – making them into a ‘yoga couple’.

While we don’t have evidence of the couple practising yoga together, it’s no secret that Meghan is devoted to her yoga practice. Her mother, Doria Ragland, is an LA-based yoga teacher, who started to teach her daughter yoga from the tender age of 7 and, as she says, the ‘practice is in my blood’.

In an interview with Canada’s Best Health magazine in 2015, Meghan revealed that ‘there are so many benefits that come with the practice of yoga…increased flexibility and muscle strength, greater happiness, increased mental focus, a greater ability to relax, decreased anxiety and better sleep.’

So, as she realises the benefits of her yoga practice, it’s only natural that she would want to share it with her royal husband-to-be.

Couples Yoga

Image Credit: Ruslan Zh via Unsplash.

So why would you practice yoga together as a couple and what are the benefits?

The fact is that having any past-time in common is healthy for couples. It gives them a way to spend time together that doesn’t involve the daily round of chores, errands and responsibilities that comes with living together.

Although yoga is traditionally an individual discipline, allowing you to get in touch with your inner self, it can also work with a partner. Yoga is a wonderful thing to do together as it both keeps you fit and allows you to deepen your relationship.

If you practice yoga and your partner doesn’t, then perhaps you could find time this Christmas to introduce a gentle introductory session, framing it as a way to enjoy time together, rather than a way of forcing them to get into it just because you are.

There are plenty of basic yoga poses which work well practised in pairs, such as sitting with feet pressed together in staff pose, or sat back to back in cross-legged pose. Starting with the basics will encourage your partner to try more, rather than putting them off with too much, too soon.

A Way to De-Stress

In the busy lives that we lead, making time to do yoga together is a way of having quality time as a couple.

According to psychotherapist and yoga teacher, Julia Lehrman, it also encourages us to do all the things that make us stronger as a couple, such as listening to each other, engaging in physical touch and lifting each other up – both psychologically and physically!

According to those ‘inside sources’ at the palace, Meghan ‘has been helping Harry learn a few basic moves and experiment with some positions.’

This sounds like a great thing for Meghan to do with Harry, as they prepare to come together as man and wife, they are coming together through yoga too – after all, yoga does mean ‘union’. And as Julia Lehrman says, ‘Aim to create more unity rather than separateness.’

Couples Yoga – Dos and Don’ts

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However, as lovely as it is to be a yoga couple there are a few handy guidelines to stick to in order to avoid adding conflict to the relationship.

DOS

  1. Do – Find a time that suits both of you, when there aren’t too many distractions or external pressures. This may be harder for couples with children, but that’s what grandparents are for, right?
  2. Do – Be encouraging and supportive and come up with a practice that suits both of you. So, if your partner has never done yoga before it might be a bit adventurous to throw some acro-yoga into the mix.
  3. Do – take turns to look at each other in harder poses and give constructive feedback to improve each other’s poses.

DON’TS

  1. Don’t – make the practice a stressful affair by trying to cram it in when there really isn’t time. This will end up with it being a source of stress rather than a way to spend quality time together.
  2. Don’t – get too competitive. A little competition isn’t always a bad thing as it can push us out of the comfort zone that we can get into when we practice on our own. However, making your other half feel inadequate as you float into bridge pose isn’t the aim.
  3. Don’t – get too critical. While it’s useful to give constructive feedback, especially in poses where you can’t see your own body, such as headstand, it’s important to find a balance between positive and negative.

Couples Yoga Workshops

Finally, if you really think that doing couples yoga at home really wouldn’t work, or you’re not sure where to start, why not give your other half the gift of a couples yoga workshop for Christmas?

There are a whole range of workshops and lessons out there, from acro-yoga, which involves a huge amount of trust and a certain amount of experience, to pregnancy partner yoga, which is a way to bond as a couple in preparation for the birth of a child.

That way, you solve what to get them for Christmas, as well as getting to do yoga together, just like Harry and Meghan.

Nigella Lawson’s ‘SECRET’ weight loss

Between 2010 and 2017, celebrity chef and eponymous domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, has gone from a ‘voluptuous’ size 16 to a ‘svelte’ size 12. These are not my words, but the words of lifestyle magazines and tabloids, who have endlessly focused on the way that women in the public eye, like Nigella, look.

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It’s a trend that seems unlikely to change, but Nigella has credited one particular form of exercise for her ‘miraculous’ weight loss – that’s right, yoga.

In two separate interviews with Good Housekeeping magazine, in 2015 and 2017, she was repeatedly asked about how she had lost weight. She replied that it is her yoga practice that has helped to keep her in shape, but Nigella also kept trying to steer the conversation away from how she looked and what she weighed, instead responding about how doing yoga has made her ‘feel’.

In 2015 she told the magazine, “It’s certainly true my weight went up – that happens in life sometimes”.

But, she said, “I have never been on a diet to try to lose weight. I feel like I haven’t lost weight, but I’m possibly in better shape. I am doing a rather slow form of yoga now called Iyengar.”

She emphasised this again to the magazine when she said, “As you get on in life, you value feeling well as opposed to looking well. Yoga certainly makes you feel great, and you want to carry on feeling great. I just do a bit in a very slow way. Sometimes, lying down!”

Feeling well, not just looking well

Nigella has hit the nail on the head with her response that she values ‘feeling well as opposed to looking well.’ It’s taken some time, but I’ve now come to the same conclusion as Nigella, as well as some other stars, such as Kate Winslet.

In a recent Graham Norton show, Kate revealed that she hadn’t weighed herself for twelve years and it was ‘much better for the mood’ not to know.

But how many of us can put our hands up and honestly say we started yoga to ‘connect with our inner calm’ or some other mindful reason? Probably not many. Most of us, myself included, started going to yoga as part of a personal campaign to ditch the flab and tone up. Many of us, inspired by the endless pictures of insta-yogis looking ‘abs’-olutely fabulous on a beach makes us think that if we do yoga, we too could look like that.

It’s only once we commit to yoga that the true motivation for sticking to the discipline reveals itself: internal well-being.

Feel Happy, Look Happy

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The truth is that real beauty and health come from the inside first. Beauty radiates out of every pore of someone who is content. B.K.S. Iyengar, the father of Iyengar yoga – the style of yoga that Nigella has said that she practises, says:

A great boon of yoga, even for relative beginners, is the happiness it brings, a state of self-reliant contentment.

He doesn’t say, that a great boon of yoga is that you will ‘lose those extra pounds’, or ‘look svelte for your selfie‘. The fact is that if we stop looking for happiness by changing the way we look, we find happiness by changing the way we feel.

In 2017, the same questions on weight loss came up, and Nigella answered,

I do yoga three times a week,’ she said. ‘I have to do something I enjoy, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.” Again, she stressed her commitment to her yoga practice, and the way that it makes her feel – NOT the way it helped her look.

Yoga DOES help with Weight Loss

The fact is that most forms of yoga are an excellent way to keep fit and burn off extraneous calories. But yoga helps your physical health in many ways, not just through the strenuous physical effort involved.

In an article for LiveScience, Beth A. Lewis, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Kinesiology in Minneapolis, states that ‘yoga can increase one’s mindfulness and the way one relates to their body. So, individuals will become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices.’

Through yoga the mind and body become more in tune, which often leads the student of yoga to adjust their lifestyle. Personally, I have completely given up drinking any caffeinated drinks due to the effect it was having on my body. I ignored the symptoms for years, but after taking up yoga, I found that I became hyper-aware of the negative physical and mental effects.

Lose Stress first, the rest will follow

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The fact is, when we are out of balance emotionally and mentally, the body will also be out of balance. Our attitude to yoga should be that we should address the internal imbalance first, and the rest will follow.

Beth A. Lewis again:

“Additionally, many individuals eat more when they are feeling stressed and yoga can help combat stress, which can influence one’s energy intake.”

In the high-octane, busy modern world that we live in, there are more and more ways that we can get stressed. We can stress about our jobs, about our relationships, our children and the way we look. But stress only adds to the unhealthy cocktail that leads to weight gain and long-term to disease.

As B. K. S. Iyengar says,

‘the essence of yoga is not about external display but internal cultivation.’

If we cultivate our inner balance, the external display looks after itself. Just like Nigella.

 

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.