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Get off the mat! How to Practice Yoga on your Daily Lockdown Walk

Get off the mat! How to Practice Yoga on your Daily Lockdown Walk

During the lockdown, we’re all allowed one walk, run, or cycle a day to get our daily exercise. This precious time of being outdoors is invaluable, especially for those that live in built-up urban areas.

While on your walk, there are lots of ways that we can practice yoga, through the way that we interact with others, by practicing mindfulness or simply by being present.

Here’s a variety of ways to keep doing yoga, even when we’re off our mats.

Mindful Walking

Using apps such as Headspace we can enter a state of walking meditation. Instead of the focus being the breath, which is traditional for seated forms of meditation, the focus becomes the rhythm of our gait.

There are various steps that you can take, even without the app.

  • First, notice how your body feels.
  • Then begin to observe your gait, how your weight shifts from foot to foot, for example.
  • Then tune in to what’s going on around you, but without any layers of judgement.
  • Become sensitive to your senses, noticing smells, sounds, and physical sensations such as the breeze or temperature.
  • Once you’ve tuned in to all these things, keep your attention in the present by focusing on the rhythm of your gait, which keeps your mind from wandering.

Through these steps, you’ll learn to bring your mind into your body, which is just what we’re trying to do on our yoga mat. It will also help tame that chattering monkey mind.

Noticing Nature

I’ve always been one to stop and smell the roses – too much, according to my family – but now it seems more important than ever to enjoy the senses when out on your walk.

Even if you haven’t got a park in walking-distance (which I find hard to believe in our green capital), then there’s loads of nature doing its glorious spring thing in front gardens, on the trees lining the pavement, even growing out of cracks in walls.

Heading outside every day means that we will start to tune in much more to the seasons; now the blossom is starting to fade and the lilacs are blooming and throwing their scent into the air.

It’s also a great reminder that we are part of the dance of Nature. Just as nature has its seasons, and cycles of renewal and change, so do we. As B K S Iyengar says in ‘Light on Life’:

We too are part of Nature, therefore constantly changing, so we are always looking at Nature from a different viewpoint.

Yamas and Niyamas

Before we even get to our mats, the first limb of yoga is the yamas and niyamas – the moral codes of conduct for our actions towards ourselves and others.

Our daily walk is the perfect place to practice these qualities, for example:

Ahimsa – non-violence

The new considerate when out walking is to stick to small groups, or ideally just one at a time so that it’s easier to keep two meters from anyone else. When my two children and myself go out for a walk, we slip into single file when we see someone else coming, like a mama duck and her ducklings…

Aparigraha – non-hoarding

This is a weird one, but I think it’s easy to take more than we need in any situation. We’re being asked to take one walk for exercise, and if we take more than that, or stay sitting in the sun on benches for too long, then we’re taking up space in the park that others might need.

Santosha – contentment

There is a lot to be sad about at the moment. We can’t hug our friends, do our jobs, go on the holidays we’d booked. But there is also so much to be content about. Our health, spending time with our family units, enjoying our homes and gardens if we’re lucky enough to have one, appreciating nature. Remind yourself that we still have so much to be content about.

Svadhyaya – self-study

Our daily walk is the perfect time to reflect on yourself. Sometimes it’s not a comfortable exercise. Notice your thoughts as you walk. Are you leaping to judge and criticise others? Are you criticising yourself? Self-study doesn’t mean self-criticism, but self-awareness.

DeviceFREE

Try doing your daily walk without a device. Our phones are pretty much grafted to our hands these days, and although we’re more grateful for online communication at the moment than ever, there’s only so many online Zoom meetings a person can take.

Make your daily lockdown walk a time to literally switch off from social media, messages, taking pictures or chatting, and take it as a time to be with yourself.

Although most of the time we’re fine, there’s a low-lying anxiety underpinning this whole situation. Our lives and the lives of the people we love are at risk, and although that risk is very small, it’s still there.

Our phones are outward-looking, constantly deflecting our attention from one thing to the next. When we put them down we give our minds and hearts a chance to turn inwards (just as we do in yoga) and start to heal.

Enjoy!

Poppy Pickles

YogaLondon’s Guide to Lockdown Yoga in the Capital

YogaLondon's Guide to Lockdown Yoga in the Capital

London is in lockdown and the once-bustling streets, shops, and cafes of our beautiful city have fallen quiet for the first time in our lifetimes.

Along with a lot of other businesses, yoga studios all over the capital have had to shut up shop for now too. But out of adversity comes creativity, and many studios have adapted their lessons to online delivery.

Using Zoom, YouTube and other social media platforms there are a whole host of yoga studios offering a tempting array of online lessons, so rather than there being less yoga in your life in lockdown, if anything there could be loads more! And, as well as keeping your yoga up and running, you can also support yoga studios to get through the current crisis.

Here’s YogaLondon’s guide to some of the wide range of studio yoga classes on offer at the moment:

The Shala

Based in West Norwood, this small, independent yoga studio has moved all its classes online using Zoom, which is the online platform that most closely resembles a live class. They are keeping class sizes small so teachers can easily see all the students in the classes for a more intimate experience. Styles of yoga on offer include Flow yoga, Restorative yoga, Dynamic yoga, and Post-natal yoga. They are offering several price packages, but you can do a trial class for free to make sure it works for you. www.theshalalondon.com

Light Centre

With three of their Central London studios all closing their doors, the Light Centre have taken their extensive timetable of classes online, offering Power yoga, Yin yoga, and Mandala Vinyasa yoga, among others. They have an introductory offer of 7 classes over 7 days for £7, and classes are free for NHS staff. They are also offering workshops including an online yoga workshop for better sleep. www.lightcentremonument.co.uk

YogaWorks

Set in the leafy South London suburb of Wandsworth, this small studio’s goal is to provide yoga classes from all levels from the absolute beginner to the more advanced yogi. They have moved a large selection of their classes online including a Gentle Beginner’s yoga class for those unused to stretching and Vinyasa and Yin yoga for all levels. They have an introductory offer of £20 for 4 classes to be used over a month. www.yogaworkslondon.co.uk

Essence of Good Health

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 in the southeast of London for over 15 years. They have continued this offering during lockdown, with all their classes available for free via Zoom links on their website. They’re even offering Saturday morning yoga for kids if yours are starting to bounce off the walls! www.freeyoga.co.uk

Yogarise

Set in trendy urban spaces in cool London areas like Brixton, Yogarise has attracted a loyal following over the years. They have moved their classes online and have adapted their price packages accordingly. Prices are per household, so the whole family can join in if they (or you) want – prices start at £7 per class. Styles of yoga available are Ashtanga, Jivamukti, and Vinyasa yoga classes, and they are hoping to add more. www.yogarise.london

Triyoga

Not exactly a small yoga studio, but they are a London stalwart and have been providing top-quality yoga classes for twenty years. They have now moved their impressive array of classes online so that you can still enjoy a class with your favourite London teachers, as well as adding to their workshops with ‘visiting’ yoga luminaries from abroad. Their most popular payment package is a 10 class pass for £70. www.triyoga.co.uk

The Yoga Hutch

A small but perfectly-formed studio in Surbiton, The Yoga Hutch are running Zoom classes including a Guided Ashtanga class and a Mysore-style led practice, which is suitable for more advanced Ashtanga yogis. They are keeping classes small in line with their usual practice. Prices start from £10 for a drop-in class and £30 for 5 classes over 7 days. www.theyogahutch.com

Flex Chelsea

This is a relatively new studio set in Fulham with a dynamic timetable to keep toned yoga bunnies busy. Power Flow is a strong vinyasa flow, which promises to be as much a cardio workout as it is a yoga class – rigorous practice with longer holds and the introduction of more advanced postures. If that sounds too full-on for you there’s also Slow Flow, Chill Flow and Yin yoga. Prices include a package of 10 lessons for £50. www.flexchelsea.com

Sangye Yoga School

Formerly Jivamukti Yoga London, this studio, based in Ladbroke Grove, has moved a selection of its Vinyasa and Jivamukti lessons online.  Sangye means awakened in Tibetan, and their yoga classes will definitely wake you up with ‘vigorously physical and intellectually stimulating’ classes on offer. They have an introductory offer of £40 for 30 consecutive days of yoga… Well, what else are we doing? www.sangyeyoga.com


YogaLondon is also offering free Vinyasa flow and Exam Sequence practice sessions to graduates and students this May.

 

Poppy Pickles

What are yoga Props, and how to improvise them for home practice

What are yoga Props, and how to improvise them for home practice

Props are really, really great. They are SO useful to keep you safe in class and help you to move deeper into a pose than you could without them. They open up a world of possibilities for making poses more accessible AND more challenging. But let’s start from the beginning…

 

What ARE Props?

Props come in in a range shapes and sizes.

Blocks tend to be flatter with one long edge, one medium edge and a short edge – imagine a big book shape. Bricks tend to be smaller blocks with one long side and 2 pretty much equal length sides – yup, a bit like a brick… Blocks and bricks can be made of dense foam, wood or cork.

Yoga belts are usually woven cotton or webbing and can be a single length with a buckle at one end or can be sewn into a loop or figure of eight.

Meditation cushions, or zafus, come in a variety of shapes and sizes with all sorts of fillings from spelt to foam. Bolsters are similar but tend to be long, round and sausage-like.

Then there are yoga wheels, head up stools, eye masks, weights, blankets… All sorts of things that yogis use in their practice. I guess the modern yoga mat is a prop too, really.

Why use them?

Props can be used to improve alignment in a pose when a yogi has yet to develop sufficient range of movement to achieve the full expression of that pose.

An example would be using a brick under the hand in trikonāsana (triangle) when a student can’t reach the floor without folding the trunk forwards. Placing a brick under the hand at a height where the trunk remains rotated upwards gives great alignment for that student and teaches a good movement pattern that can be maintained as the pose deepens with practice. Using a block like this usually makes the pose safer for the yogi, too, as it prevents over stretch and uncontrolled movement.

Props can also be used to teach specific muscle activation in a pose. Think about placing a block between the knees in setu bandhasāna (bridge). By squeezing the block as you lift the pelvis, the inner thigh muscles activate to prevent the knees rolling outwards. Learning to activate these muscles with the block is the first step to being able to activate them in the pose automatically in future.

Another really useful prop is the belt. This is saviour in paścimottānāsana when your feet seem to be just too far away. Here, the belt is basically an arm extension – loop it round the feet and pull to fold. Another way to use a belt is to encourage one element of a pose that is often hard to achieve. Think about prasaritta padotanāsana (wide legged forward fold with hands on hips), with the belt looped round the elbows. This encourages the elbows to stay drawn together to open the chest. Delicious!

Sitting is another time where many yogis gain SO much from using a block or cushion under the seat. This lifts the hips above the knees and allows the pelvis to roll into anterior tilt. Without this movement of the pelvis the spine is often unable to lengthen and opening the hips and chest are a real struggle. Sukāsana (easy pose) is anything BUT easy for most of us without that prop!

Purpose-made Props

Many yoga classes have props available for you to use as you want or need to, while some yoga teachers insist you bring your own. Purpose-made yoga props are available in stores and online, ranging in price from a few pounds to positively eye-watering amounts. It is well worth shopping around to find something to suit your budget if you are going to buy your own.

Having your own props is great if you have enough spare cash and the space to store them. But not everyone is in that position. Or maybe you are practising away from home – hotels and hostels are not noted for their plentiful supply of yoga props, I have found… But that does not mean props are not available to you. No matter where you are, there are things you can use as props: you can improvise, adapt and overcome! Here’s how.

Improvised Props for every occasion

With just a little imagination, most of the common props you find in a yoga studio can be very effectively improvised from normal household items.

1. MEDITATION CUSHIONS

So many options for this one… Try a normal sofa cushion. Or maybe 2 piled up. Or fold a pillow and place the folded end under the buttocks with the free ends supporting the thighs. Folded blankets or towels piled up can work well too. Or I have been known to sit on the edge of our garden decking with my lower legs rested on the grass in sukāsana – this is SO lovely for an impromptu early morning breath session or meditation in the open air.

2. BLOCKS AND BRICKS

If going under buttocks, then folded towels and blankets work well as a block. If needed for under hands to support weight, then positioning yourself near a step or low stool might work. In the trikonāsana example above, placing your hand on your own lower leg gives a point of fixation but it does make balancing more of a challenge, so it doesn’t suit everyone.

3. BELT

The easiest way to improvise a yoga belt is with the one out of your trousers! As long as it is not stretchy, any normal belt will do. Alternatively roll up a towel to tea towel length-ways and use that for looping round feet on paścimottānāsana.

4. HEAD REST IN BALĀSANA

If you usually need to rest your head on a block in balāsana (child pose) then try making fists and place one on top of the other with the thumb side uppermost. Resting the forehead on this platform can be just as good as a purpose made block and SO much easier to move out of the way as you transition into the next pose of a flow sequence. Result!

5. PARTNER BALANCES

Practising alone when the online teacher says ‘reach for a partner to balance’? Never fear – go to the nearest windowsill or kitchen units. These make perfect stable partners for any home practice. I love to use a windowsill to support my hands in a modified virabhadrāsana 3 (warrior) as it lets me REALLY focus on activating my legs in the balance.

6. BOLSTERS

See meditation cushions above and think BIGGER… Try 3 or 4 towels or blankets rolled up into a sausage to make a bolster. If you have a foam roller to hand, you could try that – though I do recommend wrapping it in some padding or putting a pillow over it if you are going to spend any amount of time resting on it. They can be SO hard and uncomfortable.

And finally

Purpose-made props are a relatively recent addition to the yoga world. Generations of yogi’s practised prop-free for centuries.

Did you know that the first yoga mats were born when someone tried pieces of carpet underlay to stop their hands slipping in down dog? Improvisation at its best! And I suspect that the first blocks used were just that – blocks of wood.

I love the idea of connecting to our yoga roots and practising more simply using what is to hand. It opens up the possibility of yoga any place, any time, anywhere. It brings freedom and simplicity for me. I hope it does for you too.

 

 

 

 

 

Sally Schofield

Coronavirus: how to claim financial support and other tips

Coronavirus: how to claim financial support and other tips

With the world as we know it on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak, it leaves plenty of unanswered questions in the average yoga teacher’s mind.

When will everything return to normal? When will I be able to teach regular classes again? And how will I survive financially without my yoga teaching income?

At the moment no one knows the answer to the first two questions, but the last one can be answered to some degree. Due to the huge loss of income suffered by people across the country the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised to give self-employed people a financial lifeline through a government grant.

Yay! And – phew!

However, if, like me, you find HMRC-speak intimidating and hard to understand, then read on for a plain-speaking, practical guide for how you can get some money back during this scary and difficult time.*

Am I eligible?

This is the first question you need to ask yourself. And there are a few parameters:

1. You need to be registered as a sole trader or have your business registered with HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs to give it the full title) to qualify. So, if you’ve only just qualified as a yoga teacher, or haven’t been paying any taxes because you’ve been earning way under the threshold and haven’t got around to registering yet, then, unfortunately, you won’t be able to claim anything for loss of earnings.

2. You need to have submitted your Self-Assessment tax return for the last tax year, which is April 2018 – April 2019. Although kindly, HMRC is giving a deadline extension and is saying you’ve got till the 23 April 2020 to do it.

3. You need to be currently teaching yoga. So, you’re not eligible if you’re recently retired, or have decided to stop teaching.

4. You need to have lost potential profits because of coronavirus. So, if like many enterprising yoga teachers you’ve made the leap into online yoga then you need to consider whether you have actually made a loss. However, even if there’s only a small loss in income, you’ll still be eligible to make a claim.

5. You won’t qualify if your income is a mixture of part-time income and self-employment, so if you’re a yoga teacher on the side, but you’re employed elsewhere, then you won’t be eligible to apply

6. You won’t qualify if anyone in your household earns more than £50,000. If, on the other hand, your other half earns £49,000, you will both qualify for support – that’s the craziness of cut-off points!

What will I get?

If HMRC reckons you’re eligible you will get up to 80% of your average earnings, capped at £2,500 per month.

This will be paid as a taxable grant, so in layman’s terms you’ll get one lump sum, which will then be tax-deductible, ie you’ll need to declare it in your next tax return.

The lump sum will be worked out by taking an average of your income from the last three years, so you’ll need to have submitted three years’ worth of tax returns. However, if you haven’t submitted three tax returns, don’t worry as they will calculate the grant based on a period of continuous self-employment within the years you have submitted tax returns for.

And – although this hasn’t been confirmed yet – the amount will be to cover at least three months (and may be extended at a later date, though this is still to be confirmed by the government). However, as mentioned above, the maximum payment will be £2,500 per month. I bet we all wished we earned that much working as yoga teachers!

How do I get it?

The simple answer to that is that you can’t – yet.

The government aims to contact anyone eligible for the scheme by mid-May, with the aim of paying you in one go in June. You will be invited to claim using an online form on the gov.uk website. If you don’t have online access then alternative ways to claim will be made available.

What do I do in the meantime?

If you haven’t yet tried online yoga teaching, then you might want to give it a go. Even if you just teach one class a week it’s a way of keeping your hand in, as well as keeping your students from drifting off to other online offerings.

Alternatively, do you have any other skills that you could call on? Diversification is a keyword in this pandemic – it might be time to consider taking other work, again just to keep things ticking over.

If you have tried and it’s not for you, then you might be able to apply for a deferral of your income tax or VAT payment.

If you own your home, your bank should offer a mortgage holiday; here’s Money Service Advice’s guide on these. If you rent and you’re struggling, you should approach your landlord or landlady to discuss a temporary discount or rent holiday as soon as possible – it’s worth noting you should be protected from eviction for the next 3 months, as reported by the BBC.

If things get bad, don’t forget that you are also eligible to apply for Universal Credit in full, which, if you’re urgently running short of funds and are the main bread-winner, may be the best shot to tide you over till things get back to normal.

 

*Just to be clear, this is not legal advice, just a handy guide to make sense of the government’s financial bail-out.

 


Remember that even though the studios are closed, our school remains open. If you’re a current trainee or YogaLondon graduate, you can continue to work towards your 500-hour certificate and develop new skills by studying online: 

Online Anatomy Module Intensive: starts 25th April – 45 hours of training over 8 days

Online Philosophy Module: starts 23rd May – 45 hours of training over 3 weekends

Poppy Pickles

The Cheeky Yogi Zooms Online

The Cheeky Yogi Zooms Online

Whoever pressed the pause button on the world, could you please press play again?

My first question, as a self-employed yoga teacher when Covid 19 hit the headlines, was: how can earn a living if we are in lock-down?

Answer: do it online.

I am a genius. No one else will think of this.

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