Tagyoga practice

How Yoga Helps us Become Open to Change

How Yoga Helps us Become Open to Change

At the time of writing this article about being open to change, the government has announced that social gatherings in the UK will be limited to six people [emits silent wail].

For many of us, this is going to be very hard to take, when most of us feel that we’re only just getting back to some kind of normality. Kids are going back to school, many of them for the first time in six months, people are heading back to offices and so on.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that everything that we took for granted as ‘normal’ can change overnight… Here’s how yoga can help us to come to terms with this, and even thrive.

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Poppy Pickles

Answers to the TOP TEN Questions Wannabe Yoga Teachers Ask

Answers to the TOP TEN Questions Wannabe Yoga Teachers Ask

This year hasn’t been easy, but for some, it’s provided some mental space to think about what’s really important.

Family, yes. Friends, yes (but perhaps not all of them). Yoga, yes.

Yoga has been a bedrock for so many people during this strange and uncertain time. Some of you may have found yourselves furloughed with oodles of spare time to develop your home practice (because there wasn’t any other sort of practice anymore).

Others of you – perhaps those on the front line of dealing with this pandemic – found yourselves busier than ever, but perhaps reaching for that quiet practice to ground yourself before yet another day.

And maybe, just maybe, THIS might be the year to become a yoga teacher – everything else has changed, so why not just DO it? And if you have any questions and doubts circling round in your brain then read on, we know all about them and have provided the answer right here.

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Poppy Pickles

How Yoga Can Boost your Emotional Resilience

How Yoga Can Boost your Emotional Resilience

This year has been tough. We have all been impacted in some way or another by the Covid-19 pandemic.

You might have caught the virus, and are still recovering. You might have lost someone you love. You will almost certainly have lost business, or been furloughed, had to change the way you work or lost your job completely.

We have all experienced fear, anxiety, uncertainty, sadness and anger. On the other hand, for some this time has been a quiet blessing in disguise. With our busy lives cancelled, we have stayed at home and learnt to appreciate the simple pleasures that brings.

This is an example of emotional resilience. Understanding that times are tough, but also that no experience, however painful, is ever all bad.

What is Emotional Resilience?

Resilience is a muscle.
Flex it enough and it will take less effort
to get over the emotional punches each time.

Alecia Moore aka P!nk

This great quote from pop star P!nk sums up emotional resilience. Resilience is a measure of how we can bounce back from what life throws at us – pandemics, loss, change, abuse – and so on.

There are three main elements or dimensions to emotional resilience.

The Physical Aspect – In order to build a healthy capacity for emotional resilience, we need to have physical strength, good energy levels, overall good health, and vitality – a zest for life.

The Mental Aspect – This involves being adaptable, having a good attention span and the ability to focus. It also involves self-esteem and self-confidence. It is also crucial to work on your emotional awareness so that you can manage your emotions as they arise. In addition, we need clear self-expression and reasoning abilities.

The Social Aspect – Emotional resilience means that we are able to manage interpersonal relationships, in our personal, professional and social lives. To understand how to function as part of a group, including the ability to communicate, be liked and to co-operate.

How Yoga Can Help with the Physical Aspect

This one is easy! Of course yoga helps us build up our physical strength. Through regular practice, the body is strengthened, muscles are lengthened, and joints are oiled. Once we learn to appreciate how good it feels to have a strong body, it encourages us to eat healthily too and to become more attuned to what’s good (and not so good) for us.

Yoga is also a great teacher when we have an injury. We learn to adapt to the injury, to work through and around it, and then put in the work to come back from it.

Pranayama, control of the breath, is about harnessing the prana (life force) to increase our energy levels and even extend our lifespan.

How Yoga Can Help with the Mental Aspect

This one is easy too! Built into the fabric of our yoga practice is the need to be adaptable. We have to adapt our bodies to the postures. This takes perseverance, effort, courage and patience.

We learn to focus on the minutiae of the body – the little toe, the skin on the breastbone. This improves our focus, or one-pointed attention – Dharana – the sixth limb of yoga.

The physical practice of yoga is also a great stress-buster, as the poses open up our chests, release pent up tension from hunched shoulders and soften the muscles of the face.

Restorative yoga and Yin yoga both help us become aware of our emotions. These types of yoga are less about doing and more about being, meaning that we have time to sit with ourselves without the distractions that buzz constantly around us.

How Yoga Can Help with the Social Aspect

Yoga is about coming together – as we all know, yoga literally means ‘union’. And although we have not been able to physically come together for classes for the last four months, community is often an important part of why we attend the same yoga classes with the same yoga teacher. These become important relationships in our lives, a kind of yoga ‘family’, where we feel accepted for who we are. And if you’ve been attending online classes you’ll know that even though it’s not the same, there is still a great amount of support that comes from feeling that we’re practicing all together.

If you’re a yoga teacher, there are plenty of opportunities to practice emotional resilience. The training itself is intense, as we cast off our old selves in the fire of teacher training and are re-born as yoga teachers. It is as painful as it sounds.

Then there are the knocks that come with setting up as a yoga teacher, gaining students, losing students, and learning the hard way that although it’s a brilliant job, it’s not easy!

Why Yoga is actually ALL about Emotional resilience

The yoga practice itself teaches us so much about resilience. As B. K. S. Iyengar says in his book, Light on Life:

Asana practice is an opportunity to look at obstacles in practice and life,
and discover how we can cope with them.

Unfortunately, it is guaranteed that however fortunate someone’s life is, at some point they will have to deal with sorrow and adversity. Yoga gives us the yamas and niyamas, including svadhyaya (self study), tapas (intense effort) and ishvara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power).

These things, together with the physical practice, will see us through the hard times that we will all, at some point, have to face.


We’re launching a new specialist course this summer around Yoga & Emotional Resilience. Check out our workshops page for details🙏

Poppy Pickles

Starter kit for Yoga students – what to recommend

Starter kit for Yoga students - what to recommend

Since the Coronavirus pandemic hit our shores life as we know it has changed. Even when we come out of lockdown, the way we practice yoga will undoubtedly be different to how it was before. And having your own yoga kit is going to be essential. Many yoga studios had already stipulated that post-lockdown all students will be required to bring their own kit to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

At the moment, as many students practice yoga at home, they’ll also need to invest in some yoga kit to make the most of their online classes. As a yoga teacher myself, I know that the recent crisis has prompted many of my students to make the step to invest in their own yoga equipment so that they can join in fully with my online classes.

A senior yoga teacher once said to me, “If you were going to play tennis, you wouldn’t turn up without a racket, yoga should be the same.”

As yoga teachers it’s up to us to encourage our students to invest in proper kit so that their experience of doing yoga at home is as good as it can be, and also so that they have the tools to start a home yoga practice.

What is a yoga kit?

As an Iyengar yoga teacher, I have yoga props galore. However, if you’re on a budget, then a basic yoga kit list is:

  • A mat
  • Four blocks
  • Two bricks
  • One belt

These are the basic building blocks of a yoga practice. The mat gives you a surface that grips to your feet, preventing you from slipping in the poses. It also gives you a space in which to orientate the body.

The four blocks can be used to support the body for seated poses, can be used under the sacrum in supported Setubandha and under the shoulders in Sarvangasana.

The two bricks are like extensions of the arms in standing forward bends such as Uttanasana and Parsvottanasana, and can be used in all sorts of imaginative ways, like between the upper thighs to encourage the thighs to work.

The belt is again to allow those who are slightly stiffer to reach the feet in seated forward bends, to allow the hands to grip in Gomukhasana and can be used around the elbows in Pincha Mayurasana.

What products should I recommend?

There are so many fantastic yoga products out there. Yogamatters offers a wide range of well-designed, brightly coloured yoga props. They also do discounts for yoga teachers.

If you’d prefer to go for a more environmentally friendly yoga kit, then Manduka does a very high-quality range, including cork bricks and blocks, as well as recycled plastic blocks. Their Eko yoga mats are eco-friendly and biodegradable, harvested from non-Amazon rainforest rubber trees.

If these are too pricey, then encourage your students to look out for deals in their nearest cut-price supermarkets, such as Lidl and Aldi, and they occasionally sell yoga props in their ‘bargain’ aisle.

Yoga Extras

Once your students become committed yogis, you can encourage them to invest in more than the starter kit above. If restorative yoga is their thing then a bolster (or two) is essential. Bolsters’ rounded shape and supportive filling allow the body to open and relax while holding supine poses for long stretches of time.

A good-quality cotton blanket or two is also very useful for restorative yoga, as well as for use in general yoga classes as an extra level of height (with more give than the blocks), and for covering yourself for śavasana. Yogamatters do a large natural cotton blanket which is great for folding into various shapes for restorative poses – you need to wash it before use though as it’s very fluffy!

If you’re into hot yoga, then an absorbent yoga towel is a good investment to stop you slipping and sliding all over your mat. Manduka sells the yogitoes yoga towel, which is ultra-absorbent, lightweight, and quick-drying.

A yoga chair is also a worthwhile investment once your students become serious about their home practice. There are whole sequences you can do around the yoga chair, and it can be a way of accessing the more advanced poses, such as Kapotasana and Eka Pada Koundinyasana.

Yoga Clothes

Part of a good yoga kit is also having the right clothes. If you’re not comfortable and supported, it can be distracting from the yoga.

Sweaty Betty has a brilliantly well-made range of yoga leggings, which survive endless washing and last for years. They’re not natural fabrics, but they’re breathable and designed to be super comfortable. I have five pairs…and don’t regret a single one.

Their tops are also sweat-wicking and made from a lightweight fabric and are both flattering and well-fitting. They also do a great discount for yoga teachers, that applies even in the sales (hence the five pairs of leggings…).

If you’re into cotton yoga wear then yogamatters do organic cotton ‘pune’ pants which are the traditional Iyengar yoga choice of yoga bottoms.

Again, these are quite pricey options for your students, so feel free to recommend that they buy some basic cotton leggings online, just as long as they feel comfortable and can move easily. The most important thing is yoga after all!

 

 

PS – none of the above links are generating any money for us, they’re honest-to-goodness, real recommendations 😉

Poppy Pickles

How to improve your well-being during this crisis

How to improve your well-being during this crisis

In these strange times, many of us are struggling with navigating our normal lives. Everyday things have changed; shops have closed, exercise is limited, we can’t hug our parents or friends – and we can’t go to yoga classes.

As the weeks go by we have started to adapt, but every now and then the loneliness, uncertainty, and financial worries can hit home.

So here are some ways that we can look after our wellbeing during Coronavirus.

Limit your news intake

Be intentional in the way that you consume the news at the moment. If you have a news app on your phone, turn off the notifications. One news story can lead us to another, and before we know it, we’ve been pulled down into a dark spiral of fear-inducing news.

Yes, the world is dealing with a pandemic and, of course, there are things to be frightened of. But stoking our fear doesn’t help. It just increases our stress levels, which in turn reduces the strength of our immune system.

Connect with your body

As yogis, we know this. Doing a considered yoga practice when we’re stressed calms us down, brings us back from anxiety. But it’s easy to know this, sometimes less easy to do. If you’re working from home, as well as home-schooling young children, then fitting in a yoga practice will seem laughable.

But it doesn’t have to be a whole hour of practice. It can be as simple as sitting straight and tall on your chair; feeling the sitting bones and backs of the thighs on the seat of the chair, pressing the feet down, then stretching the arms up towards the ceiling.

This simple exercise will connect you to the earth, open the lungs and heart, and bring the mind into the body.

Think about others

This is a cliché, but a true one. The more we think about others, and consider how other people might be feeling, the less we focus on ourselves and how we’re coping, or not.

If you’re feeling at a loose end and it’s driving you mad, there’s plenty of ways to be useful. Check out nextdoor.com to see if you’ve got any elderly or vulnerable neighbours that need medication or shopping picked up and delivered. Or give your elderly relative a call every day to have a chat and see how they’re doing.

Get to know your family

If this situation has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t usually spend much time with our family unit. In a normal week, my husband and I have about 20 minutes a day to have a proper chat. Weekends were usually just as busy with yoga and work commitments, time away, kids’ activities, and so on.

Without all this frenetic activity, we are turning to look at each other, and now have the time and space to have proper conversations. On the daily walks there is a chance to really connect with our children and partners, with no distractions such as popping into shops or grabbing a coffee.

If you feel like you’re still more annoyed than connected to them, then try this exercise. Taking around 45 minutes, ask your partner these questions, and see how many surprises you get.

Do a daily meditation

Meditation has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety, calm the nerves, slow the heart rate, and increase feelings of contentment and well-being. If you already have a yoga practice, adding in a ten-minute meditation every day will come easier to you, as your body will be more receptive to sitting or lying still.

Why not choose a subject to meditate on? You can set an intention for your meditation, such as focusing on compassion for others, acknowledging your resilience, and being grateful for health, home, family, and friends.

If you’re not sure you’d know what to do, or might not have the motivation to do it on your own, there are plenty of apps out there, such as calm, headspace, Aura, and Smiling Mind – and we’re currently holding a free guided meditation on Friday morning, so why not join us?

Read more

We all take books on holiday, but as soon as we’re at home, we find we don’t have time to read anymore. With the uncertainty of how much longer we will be in lockdown, now is the perfect time to get back into that pile of books. Rather than buying a whole load more, check your bookshelves first. I found at least three books that I thought I’d read, but actually hadn’t – free books!

It could also be a time to release your inner yoga geek and do a bit of yoga philosophy reading. There is a vast wealth of knowledge out there, which deepens your yoga practice.

Write things down

I always think the word ‘journaling’ is really smug and slightly intimidating. You don’t have to keep up a relentless daily diary to do a bit of writing – of course, if you do, well done. But we all have a spare notepad somewhere, dig it out and start a lockdown diary. It doesn’t have to be every day. It could be just one sentence. Or you could keep a yoga practice notepad, and write how you felt before and after your practice.

If you’re struggling with your emotions, you can try ‘expressive writing‘, which is a safe way to express your feelings, and see them objectively.

Try not to compare

We all do it all the time, and it’s never good for any of us. But right now there seems to be some sort of ‘who can do lockdown life the best’ competition on social media – especially Instagram. Some people seem to be baking, gardening, doing DIY jobs, homeschooling, setting up new businesses, and making floral wreaths, all at the same time.

This sets up a feeling that we’re not making the most of this time and can trigger all sorts of self-criticism. But it’s important to remember that everyone who posts on social media is only posting the edited highlights, and that they too are having days when they feel scared, stressed, or angry.

Be Kind to Yourself

It’s easy to forget to be compassionate and kind to ourselves. We are in an unprecedented time within living memory, and it will inevitably affect, shape and change all of our lives. Well-known author Matt Haig has a note to himself in his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive‘, which includes these sentences that feel very apt:

Keep allowing yourself the human privilege of mistakes. Keep a space that is you and put a fence around it. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep your phone at arm’s length. Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Keep breathing. Keep inhaling life itself.

 

 

Poppy Pickles