Imagine yourself floating, as if weightless, through calm waters. Now imagine you’re suspended somewhere in that place of conscious recognition just before you fall asleep – that sensation of complete physical surrender and of total relaxation is what Yoga Nidra is all about.
For some people lockdown has been a great way to increase the amount of exercise we do. For those people working from home, there’s less time commuting and more time fitting in an extra yoga practice.
This has been great, but without the usual pattern of the year, it’s easy to overdo it, because rest days are just as important as exercise days. Without resting the body doesn’t have time to rest and recover, and skipping rest days can lead to exhaustion, burnout, and injury.
As a nation, we’re not very good at resting. No siestas for us! But now the weather is getting properly summery, it’s time to re-think our exercise regime and schedule in those rest days. (more…)
Mark Bonington is the published author of ‘How to Start Teaching Yoga‘, reiki healer, barre teacher trainee, amateur opera singer, writer, social media marketing expert– is there anything he can’t do? But first and foremost he’s a passionate yoga teacher, with a lot to say! He’s also a YogaLondon graduate, so it was lovely to catch up with him.
1. When was the light-bulb moment when you knew you wanted to be a yoga teacher?
When I went along for the month’s intensive course at YogaLondon I didn’t intend to become a full-time yoga teacher – I was thinking it might be a side gig to becoming a copywriter. I did know that I’d had enough of the job I was doing though. On the first day, the course leader Rachel Perry got us in a circle and we all had to say the reason why we were here, and suddenly it clicked that this was what I wanted to do. That was a real lightbulb moment for me.
Another lightbulb moment was when we were first practicing adjusting people in the exam sequence and it dawned on me that it was about them and not me! It sounds obvious, but it was a real epiphany.
My final lightbulb moment was when I did my first cover class at PureGym and I was terrified, but I just did it, and at the end of the class, people came up to me to say I was good at it! That was such a boost and helped me commit to teaching yoga full time.
2. How important do you think social media is for a yoga teacher?
Social Media marketing was actually my area of expertise in my previous job, so the scary side of social media marketing such as the content and paid side of things was something I was already confident with. In fact, it’s what I wanted to get away from!
Like most things, there is a positive and not-so-positive side to social media as a business tool. In terms of a digital imprint and inspiring viewers, it’s pretty essential. But when it comes to comparing yourself to others and the sexualization of yoga, it’s not that great.
There needs to be a balance. Of course, in recent weeks in the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve found that social media has been an essential tool and through it, I’ve actually acquired new business. The thing is to make sure that it doesn’t get to the point where social media controls you, but you keep it is a tool that you control.
3. What keeps you motivated as a yoga teacher?
There are three things that keep me motivated and the top one is definitely hearing feedback from my clients – just hearing that I’ve helped them feel a bit better is a massive reminder of why I do this – for that genuine connection with people.
4. You’re a yogi and a writer – do they work well together as a career?
They work really well together. Yoga is about connecting to other people through the body, writing is about connecting to others through the mind. I’m currently writing my second yoga book which will be along the lines of everything I wish I had known before I stepped into a yoga class – watch this space.
5. Does having a performance background help as a yoga teacher?
Definitely! I got into musical theatre at High School, and then at Uni up in Dundee I joined a local opera company – I loved it. It taught me how to project my voice, which when teaching in busy gyms is a real advantage. In the beginning, it also meant I could stand in front of a class of students and perform ‘being a yoga teacher’ – I wasn’t there yet, but my theatrical background gave me the confidence to command the room.
6. You’re studying Reiki, Barre, you’re a runner, a writer – what do all these extra things bring to your yoga teaching?
Barre teacher training has been great as a way of learning a new vocab about the body, as well as deepening my appreciation of the physical capacity of the body. The Reiki training has reinforced my focus on the prompts to focus on your energy and to direct it to where it’s needed. Every new thing I learn brings something else to my yoga teaching and keeps me inspired too.
7. With all your interests, courses and, jobs – what do you do to relax?
I love guided meditations. It’s a big part of what I offer to my own clients, and I love it myself. It’s great to be a student and to have a voice just telling you what to do. Especially in lockdown, I do one in the morning and one after lunch – which occasionally turns into a power nap, but I don’t tell my boyfriend that.
I would recommend The Honest Guys on YouTube– they’re so brilliant at guided visualization meditations.
8. What’s your go-to top yoga book?
I have two that I always use – [he reaches across, they’re literally right there] – they are The Heart of Yoga by T Krishnamacharya’s son, T K V Desikachar. He’s a big proponent of Viniyoga, which is an individual approach to yoga.
My other go-to book is The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark. It’s a great mixture of practical advice and spiritual discussion, as well as explaining Yin yoga, which has come more from Chinese Daoism.
9. What are your three TOP TIPs for newly qualified yoga teachers?
One, develop the right attitude – basically just get out there, throw yourself in the deep end, and get teaching!
Two, don’t work for free – people will ask you to, but stand your ground and know your worth.
Three, sign up for every cover group you can find and do them all – you’ll gain confidence quickly, attract potential clients, and rack up experience.
And a bonus top tip is to ask for feedback and reviews at the end of a class from students – it’s the best way to get noticed by employers.
10. How has yoga affected your relationships?
Yoga has deepened my relationships in a wonderful way. Yoga teaches you to become who you truly are, and not who you think you’re supposed to be. When I started my month’s intensive with YogaLondon part of that process was letting go of my old identity of PR Director and to just embrace being me.
And once you can do that it means that you learn to hold closer those that you love, and who bring you light and joy, and on the flip side, it gives you the strength to let go of relationships that aren’t good for you anymore.
11. How do you think the yoga world can attract more LGBTQ people?
The imagery that most people see of the yoga world is thin, cis, white women who can bend into gymnastic shapes, and men see that and think ‘it’s not for me’! But they’d still like to do yoga, so a 1:1 lesson means that they can have a go without feeling uncomfortable – a lot of my private clients are gay men.
There’s nothing wrong with the gymnastic side of things but it misses out on the yoga that’s more about a journey into the Self. And just doing the poses is an external, aesthetic thing that is more based on the ego. But the gay community also has a problem with the way that physical beauty is a massive issue – it’s been an issue for me personally.
Yoga has helped me to see it for what it is, as well as some great inspirations like @diaryofachubbyyogi on Instagram.
12. How has your lockdown been?
We managed to leave London and come up to my parent’s house in Fife, which really is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s been a real change. It’s also been a great way for my parents to get to know my boyfriend!
At the beginning, it was a bit bleak as I lost a lot of business and everything started to fold like a house of cards.
But it’s also meant that I’ve moved online, which was something I’d been meaning to do for a while. I started teaching lessons on Instagram’s IG TV and now I’ve got new clients from all over the world, so I’ll definitely be carrying that on going forwards. However, I will get back to in-person teaching when I can, as that personal connection and sharing of energy are so powerful.
Lockdown also meant I’ve started a newsletter, in which I interview a different yoga teacher each month – so that it’s not all about me!
13. What makes you cry?
These days it seems to be when I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the life that I now lead. Nightmares also make me cry – I have a recurring nightmare that I’m not a yoga teacher anymore but have a soulless job in an office cubicle…
This year the summer solstice falls on Saturday the 20th of June, making it an exciting weekend as it precedes the International Day of Yoga on Sunday the 21st of June.
The summer solstice is when the sun reaches the greatest height in the sky for the Northern hemisphere. Traditionally, it also marks the mid-point in the year, as well as marking the longest hours of daylight.
The etymology of solstice is from the Latin, sol, meaning sun and sistere, to stand still. This is because the sun’s position in the sky at noon doesn’t appear to change around this time. At other times of the year, the sun seems to rise and falls in the sky due to the axis of the earth.
What’s important about it
It’s the longest day of the year, with the earliest sunrise and the latest sunset, so there are more daylight hours in which to have fun! In the ancient Egyptian times, the summer solstice was celebrated as the New year, and there is a sense of a new start about it, as we enter into the second half of the year.
With this year being so heavily impacted by the spread of the Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown, it is a chance to review our feelings about 2020 and turn our negative feelings into positive ways to move forward.
Ayurveda and the Solstice
The traditional way to greet the summer solstice is to wake at dawn and complete 108 sun salutations, facing East. Considering the dawn is at 03:55 am on the 20th, I’m guessing it will just be the die-hard sun worshippers that go for this option.
In fact, according to the Ayurvedic tradition, the summer solstice is a time when the element of pitta, or fire, is at its height. To counteract this, Ayurvedic medicine would suggest practising cooling, calming poses, such as supported forward bends, and all the variations of shoulder stand and its sister pose, Setu bandha.
Solstice in the Chinese Tradition
Coinciding with the Ayurvedic tradition, in ancient China, the summer solstice marked the switch to the ‘yin’ half of the year, from the yang. The summer is when the yang is at its height, but the solstice is the switchover.
Yin yoga is a slower form of yoga that targets your deep connective tissues, like your fascia, as well as the tendons, ligaments, and joints. Poses tend to be held for longer periods of time, which gives the mind time to tune into the body, as well as become more introspective.
Quiet Yoga on the Solstice
With these thoughts in mind, why not set the alarm clock a bit earlier, so that you can practice in a quiet house. To help with this, you could set up your yoga mat and any props you might need the night before, encouraging you to see your solstice practice through. Here’s an idea for a calming, quietening sequence to mark this turning point in the year:
- Adho Mukha Virasana – Downward-facing Hero pose, or child pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward facing dog – take support for your head to keep the brain quiet
- Uttanasana – Standing forward fold – again you can use head support to keep the face quiet, have feet hip-width
- Prasarita Padottanasana – Legs wide apart forward fold
- Pasvottanasana – Intense side stretch forward – head down
- Uttanasana – Standing forward fold – head down, take feet together if you can
- Sirsasana – Headstand
- Supta Virasana – Supine Hero pose – to rest the legs
- Paschimottanasana – Seated forward fold – feet hip-width, head down if possible
- Janu Sirsasana – Head to knee forward bend
- Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana – Three-limbed forward fold
- Paschimottasana – Seated forward fold – feet together, head down if possible
- Salamba Sarvangasana – Supported Shoulderstand – holding for longer than your headstand
- Savasana – Corpse pose
Energising Yoga on the Solstice
If, on the other hand, you’re starting to feel flat (not a typo, but you might be feeling bloated too), and lethargic after weeks of not moving as much as you used to, you might want to celebrate the summer solstice this year with an invigorating practice. Here’re some ideas to get you started:
- Surya Namaskarasana – Sun salutations – do as many as you can, but they tend to go up in groups of three as it’s an auspicious number
- Jumping poses – Jumping in and out of the standing poses, or into downward dog energises the body and soul
- Adho Mukha Vrksasana – Handstand
- Pincha Mayurasana – Forearm balance
- Arm balances – Start with Tolasana, Eka Hasta Bhujasana and work up to more advanced poses such as Titthibasana
- Sirsasana and variations – headstand and variations – the twisting variations are especially energising
- Deep backbends – poses such as dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana help you to face your fears
- Resting poses – make sure you end with shoulderstand and some quiet poses to allow the body to recover
Meditating on the Solstice
If you’ve thought about taking up meditation for a while, but find it hard to fit it in as well as keep up your yoga practice, this could be a perfect opportunity. Choosing a time when you won’t be disturbed, perhaps around sunset (21:21 on the 2oth) sit, or lie in a comfortable position and choose an intention (Sankalpa) for the meditation. It might be that you want to focus on gratitude for your health and the health of your family, or the recovery of a loved one. It might be that you want to make a change in your life prompted by a review of your values in this difficult time.
Or if you’re exhausted or recovering, and meditation feels like too much of a challenge, then try a yoga nidra session to bring peace to body and mind.
How do you know you’re ready for a yoga workshop? And what are they? Workshops are usually longer than a regular yoga class and often have a specific focus, which allows you to work more deeply on your practice. If you’ve been attending classes regularly for around 6 months or have established a regular yoga practice and feel that you want to take things a step further, the best way to do this is to head to a yoga workshop. (more…)