Tagyoga

Mini-śavāsana – Super Short Stress Reliever

Mini-śavāsana - Super Short Stress Reliever

Every yogi knows how delicious it is to truly relax in śavāsana – that wonderful sensation of calm and serenity as you gently emerge from your mat to engage with the rest of your day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to capture that sensation at other times of the day? Don’t you just want to be able to tap into that feeling of clarity and calm to help you more often. Not just when you have yoga class but every… single… day… forever… and ever. Shall I let you into a secret? You can! Read on and I’ll tell you how.

The Magic of Savāsana

Savāsana, or corpse pose, is one of the most powerful yoga poses we can do. Often it is thought of as ‘just relaxation’ but it is so, so much more. It has incredibly powerful effects upon the body and the way its systems work. These effects are often described as ‘soothing the nervous system’ because of the direct effect upon the parasympathetic (or calming) part of the nervous system. Sometimes called the ‘rest and digest’ response, these effects come from direct stimulation of the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest of the 12 cranial nerves. It runs directly from the brain-stem (the most primitive part of the brain found in the base of the skull) to the heart and all the way on to the intestines. Stimulation of this nerve brings about some amazing changes in the body. It causes reduced heart rate and blood pressure; reduced skeletal muscular tension and increased muscular contractions of the gut which improve digestion; improved blood flow to the skin and reduction in secretion of stress hormones.

These changes are felt by us as calmness and clarity of mind; a feeling of well-being; improved digestion, sleep and often more emotional control. Even more important than making us feel good though, stimulation of the vagus nerve helps to reduce the damaging effects of prolonged stress on the body. It does this by reducing the risk of developing stress-related conditions like diabetes, strokes and heart attacks. It also helps to manage stress-related problems like insomnia, migraines, headaches, muscular aches and joint pains – with some sufferers reporting a really dramatic drop in their symptoms. Result!

The Savāsana Solution

Unfortunately knowing how śavāsana works doesn’t solve the problem of finding time to do it when we are all busy living our lives. But the good news is that you don’t need to relax for 10 or 15 minutes to gain all those benefits – a couple of minutes is enough when you know how. And you don’t even need to lie down: you can do śavāsana sitting down. I have even tried it standing up before, but I wouldn’t recommend it!

Now, may I introduce you to… (drum roll, drum roll…) – the mini-śavāsana. And what is a mini-śavāsana? I hear you cry! Well, a mini-śavāsana is your answer to all those stressed times at work and at home. Maybe the home-schooling is getting fraught or the boss is winding you up. Deadlines are looming and are you short on sleep? You need a mini-śavāsana. It is incredible – a real life-saver at times and SO easy to do.

So How Do I Mini-śavāsana?

Firstly – recognise when you need to mini-śavāsana. Are you feeling wound up? Or low on energy? Maybe you need a boost to get through a meeting. Or you need to clear your head. All of these will be solved by a mini-śavāsana. Have I convinced you yet? I DO hope so.

Next – where should I do it? Ideally somewhere private so you are not disturbed. A quiet room is ideal. You can lie down if you want to or sit if it is more convenient – on the floor or a chair, whichever you prefer. A park bench is great too if you are out and about. I have actually been known to sneak off to the toilet and sit there for a few minutes if there was no where else to go.

And then… close your eyes. Use a trick to help you relax. Maybe a quick body scan from the top of head to the tips of your toes where you consciously ‘let go’ of each part of the body as you move over it. Some folk can leg go of tension in the whole body at the same time and others work a system round arms, legs, trunk in turn. Maybe you’ll find another way to settle into a relaxed state. Have a go and see what works for you.

Once relaxed, focus on the breath or a colour or image that you like to help to still the mind and hold that for a short while. And enjoy …. 1 or 2 minutes really is enough to gain benefit, it is SO quick. You can set a timer if you want to or just see when your body is ready to come out of it naturally. And notice how you feel – I guarantee you’ll feel better. Calmer, cooler and things will be clearer.

Why I Love Mini-śavāsana

As a Tall Ship sailor many years ago, I learned a knack of closing my eyes for just a couple of minutes whenever the broken sleep and rigorous lifestyle got the better of me. I was not asleep – I knew exactly what was going on around me and could ‘snap out of it’ in a second and get back to work. Later in life I took up yoga and realised that all those years ago I had instinctively learned how to  do śavāsana and loved the longer relaxation that I discovered in my yoga classes. But I never let go of my mini-śavāsana’s – they still sustain me through some of life difficult and more challenging times. They are my little ‘fix’ of yoga when I need it to ground me. I do SO love them. And I think you will too. Namaste.

 

 

Sally Schofield

How to Build a Yoga Community

How to Build a Yoga Community

One of the worst things about this current crisis and the lockdown, is the loneliness.

Loneliness is one of the number ONE factors in deciding life expectancy and can shorten a person’s life span by around 15 years. This extraordinary fact shows how social interactions are not only pleasurable but essential for life.

Part of our job as yoga teachers is to offer a regular place for people to come together with others who are like-minded; to feel part of a supportive community. And, during this crisis, this role is more important than ever.

Why yoga teachers are well-placed to build community

As we become established yoga teachers, we notice the effect that it has on our yoga students. Hopefully, they will start to cultivate their own home yoga practice. You can see the instructions you give them going deeper, making sense in their bodies and not just their minds.

It also starts to become a more and more important part of their life, as they realise the benefits it brings. They see their yoga classes as a sanctuary, a place where they can be themselves and spend time with like-minded people.

This sense of community is a valuable and beautiful thing to cultivate, and as yoga teachers we are perfectly placed to add a real sense of belonging to our students’ lives.

What is a yoga community?

A community is a group of people that have the same beliefs and needs, or a unified body of individuals. This last definition is a great one, as yoga literally means to join, to unify – and of course, the body is how we do that.

As a yoga teacher there’s a lot we can do to encourage a sense of community and it has many benefits. And while it has many benefits for your students, it is also beneficial to you, because if your students feel like they belong to a community, they’re much more likely to be loyal to you and your class. Building brand loyalty is one of those marketing holy grails!

Practical ways to build community

Let’s start with the basics, the first thing is to know all your students’ names! This can be a real stumbling block for some, but there are memory games you can use to help if you struggle to remember names. And at the moment if you’re teaching on Zoom, you should be able to see everyone’s names on the screen. It might be worth reminding them to make sure they log in with their names, and not ‘iPad’.

When we get back to in-person teaching, there are lots of ways to encourage community. You can encourage students to come to class a little earlier and start a conversation from the front of the class – making sure you include everybody, and drawing everyone in.

This can be applied to online live-stream teaching too. Make sure you’re online in the meeting space in plenty of time and encourage students to be in gallery mode with the microphones on if they want to chat (not if they’re just banging around and ejecting the cat).

Do things together – Karma yoga

This applies more once lockdown is finished and we can get back to in-person teaching. But even then, we don’t know how yoga teaching is going to be. It may well be that we won’t be able to teach in a small space for quite a while. But there are other ways to get together to build your yoga community.

Karma yoga is the yoga of selfless actions. Encourage a sense of giving and shared community within your student body. If you run a yoga studio get them involved in the upkeep of the building, in return for a nice lunch or free lessons.

While we’re still social distancing you could suggest a yoga lesson outside, where it’s safer. You could even suggest a mindfulness ‘yoga walk’ once we’re allowed to meet in larger groups.

Be generous!

There are a lot of yoga teachers out there, and if you want to keep your yoga students loyal to you it’s worth going above and beyond. Plus the more you give, the more you get – that’s just a good old fact of life.

So, what about giving out bespoke home practice sequences to your students? Write a regular blog to help them establish a home practice, and ask them to let you know how their home practice is going.

If you’re confident enough to teach workshops, ask them what workshops they’d like to do, so that they feel included in your decision-making process and to highlight the fact that you’re there to guide them on their yoga journey.

Keep in touch with them over email and if they’re usually a regular student, check in if they miss classes to make sure they’re ok.

Create a supportive community for yourself too

As a yoga teacher you also need a support structure! So make the effort to keep in touch with your own teachers, as well as spend time with other yoga teachers. This is such a great way to discuss issues that you might be struggling with.

Practice with other teachers and make the effort to go to other teacher’s classes, you’ll be surprised at what you might learn. At the moment this could be done on Zoom, or just by practicing at the same time and then having a chat afterwards to share how it went. Did we mention we’re running free Saturday and Sunday sessions at the moment?

Use your social media accounts wisely, follow other yoga teachers who inspire you (but don’t make you feel rubbish about yourself), and reach out online to create a sense of belonging to the wider yoga community.

However…

Remember that there’s a fine line between being someone’s teacher and someone’s friend. Yes, it’s fine to have friends in your classes. But when you’re teaching, you’re the teacher and they’re the student. They come to class to be taught, not to be your friend.

It’s also tempting to give too much as a teacher. You are not their therapist or carer, the primary focus is to be their guide on their path to yoga.

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

Holiday cancelled? Plan a Stay-at-home Mini Weekend Retreat

Holiday cancelled? Plan a Stay-at-home Mini Weekend Retreat

If you’re one of the multitudes of people who have booked holidays this summer, you’ll be wondering if you should just cancel it now, or wait and see. But the truth is, due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, it’s unlikely we’ll be jetting off to foreign climes for holidays in 2020.

The official line from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is that the FCO advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. There is no end date to this advice. We just don’t know when we’ll be allowed to travel again. At the moment, the furthest we can travel is to a park to exercise.

So what about our travel plans? For most of us, instead of a holiday, all we have is the headache of trying to get our money back.

But we don’t have to leave the country, or even leave the house to create a sense of sanctuary and solace. What about creating our own little at-home, mini weekend retreat? Here are some ideas for how you can plan your very own mini-retreat so that you still have something to look forward to.

Get Planning!

Have a think about what it is that you’d most look forward to on a retreat holiday. Is it the fact that you don’t have to think about all the dull domestic stuff? Is it the break from technology? Is it being pampered with treatments? Is it looking after body and soul with yoga and meditation? Or is it just lounging around with a book in the sun? Or perhaps a combination of ALL of the above.

You can also set an intention for the retreat; to reduce anxiety, to detox body and mind, to give yourself some compassion. Once you’ve decided on your aim, write it down so that you can remind yourself why you’re taking this time for yourself.

Get Organised

Once you’ve decided on the focus of your retreat you’ll need to do a bit of preparation. Spend the week before doing a bit of a spring clean – change the sheets, empty all the bins, and do a bit of a tidy. If you can get the house back to square one then you won’t be distracted by housework while on your ‘retreat’.

It’s also worth making sure you’ve got a little bit ahead with work if you can, so you’re not tempted to ‘just do a little bit’ over the weekend. Now that we’re working from home, the lines between work and home are blurred and it’s harder to switch off. To help with this, try to literally switch off – phones, PCs, iPads, etc. Put them in a drawer for a day and let the outside world recede.

Plan your Menu

Make the most of your mini-retreat by planning your meals in advance. Most retreats offer nourishing, fresh food that’s good for body and mind, such as those in line with the seasons, or an Ayurvedic diet.

You could do overnight-soaked oats for breakfast with a fresh fruit coulis, a ‘buddha bowl’ style lunch with quinoa, avocado, sprouting seeds, and anything else you fancy, and then after all that healthy food, you could buy some nice-quality ready meal, or splash out on a takeaway for dinner.

Time on your own

This might be a laughable idea if you’re the parent of young children in lockdown. You can only dream of going to the loo on your own, let alone a whole weekend of quiet solo time. But being a parent is a full-time job with no let up that can leave you feeling exhausted and on a short fuse. Could you carve out a couple of hours? Your partner could take the kids to the park, or keep them entertained elsewhere in the house while you have a long, leisurely bath, or watch a movie under a duvet, or do an online yoga class. Whatever means mini-break to you!

Immersion in nature

Now that we’re allowed out for exercise more than once a day, as well as travel to get some exercise, you could venture further afield than the nearest park and maybe even take a picnic and a thermos of tea. Take in the frothy May blossom, the fresh green of Spring, and allow Mother Nature to soothe your soul.

Do some yoga

There are more and more opportunities to do classes with some amazing teachers. Quite a few are offering weekend workshops, with two classes over one weekend. Why not tie this is to a whole weekend retreat? You could structure your day around the workshops, and in the evening go for a quiet walk to look at the sunset, or practice pranayama or meditation outside in the garden. We’re also offering an online Yoga Foundations course at the end of the month – like a mini retreat over the weekend, and it even counts toward your 200-hr yoga teacher training, should you wish to continue your journey further!

Try out Meditation

If this isn’t something you’re used to doing, then why not use your weekend retreat as a way to try it for yourself, especially if the current situation has you feeling anxious about the future. There are lots of ways to get into meditation using apps (see our article on Wellbeing during Coronavirus), but there’s also a free Monday meditation series with Ali Mortimer, founder of the ‘Heal yourself Happy’ method, sponsored by Marks & Spencers.

Get Creative

If you’re the kind of person that loves doing arty stuff, but it feels like you just don’t have the time at the moment, why not spend a weekend on a creative project that will give you joy. Rather than DIY, which most of us seem to be doing more of at the moment, try something that is for the sake of being creative, rather than just getting a job done. For example, you could set up a still life and try to depict it using lots of different mediums; pencil, ink, chalks, watercolour, even acrylics if you have them.

Pamper Yourself

Okay, it’s not as exciting as a Spa day, but there are plenty of ways you can pamper yourself at home. Do a head-to-toe of treatments, starting with a pedicure, getting rid of all that gnarly skin on your feet, which you’ve been ignoring, because, you know, lockdown. Exfoliate, slather yourself in healthy oils which help to rejuvenate the skin, such as coconut oil, almond oil, or extra virgin olive oil, and you could even try an Ayurvedic self-massage (called Abhyanga) for the full relaxing effect.

Poppy Pickles

Working from home? Yoga poses to relieve your body

Working from home? Yoga poses to relieve your body

Are we still in lockdown? Aren’t we? Most of us are still none the wiser after Sunday’s latest announcement from the government. The fact of the matter is that the Coronavirus is still a threat, and as such, life won’t be going back to BC-normal for a while yet.

For those of us that are lucky enough to be able to work from home, this means more days that blur into each other, as we sit hunched at the kitchen table trying to get our work done, as well as put a wash on, and keep the house looking less like a bombsite.

But staring at a screen can bring all sorts of problems.

What does looking at a screen all day do to our bodies?

Lolly Stirk, the pregnancy yoga guru said that she noticed that women coming to her classes these days often look green and dull from staring at screens all day. Her explanation for this is that when we’re focused on a screen our posture is such that we don’t breathe properly. After her classes, she said the women changed colour and were pink and glowing after actually taking some proper breaths!

As well as barely breathing, our posture is usually pretty terrible:

  • We sit cross-legged, reducing venal flow and cutting off the circulation to the legs.
  • Our lower back is often dropped, pulling on the muscles of the spine and causing compression of the nerves in the lower back.
  • The weight of the head and arms dropping forwards causes the upper back to bulge outwards, creating a ‘hump’ effect.
  • The shoulders are also pulled forwards, causing the chest to become convex and drop.
  • The head is pulled forwards, again pulling on the upper spine, and pulling the cervical spine out of alignment, which can cause neck problems.

So what can we do about it?

As with most things, the first step is awareness. Once we become aware of how we’re sitting, it’s easier to do something about it. Sit at your computer and scan through your body – get someone to take a picture of you if you’re not sure! Once we see how we’re sitting we can use our common sense to do something about it.

But here are a few tips to start with:

  • Uncross your legs, and sit on a chair that’s the right height so that your feet can be flat on the floor with your shins vertical.
  • Lift your screen up on some big books (or you can buy a laptop stand) so that you can keep your head lifted while looking at the screen. Or just scroll up more often so that what you’re writing is closer to the top of the screen.
  • Draw your shoulders back and down at regular intervals and try to keep them there while you work.

Do some chair yoga

If you haven’t got time to stop what you’re doing but are starting to feel a bit hunched over, then quickly do some chair yoga for your shoulders:

  • Urdhva Hastasana/upward-facing arms – stretch your arms up to the ceiling, with palms facing each other. I love this simple pose because it does so much. It lifts the heart, lifts the spine, stretches the shoulders.
  • Gomukhasana arms/cow face pose arms – stretch one arm up to the ceiling then fold it down behind your back so that the palm is against the centre of your shoulder blades. Stretch the other arm out and slight the back of the hand up the back – clasp the hands together if you can. If you can’t catch, then get hold of your clothes and pull the top elbow up and the bottom elbow down. Change arms.
  • Garudasana arms/eagle arms – bring your arms in front of you with your arms at right angles and your elbows level with your shoulders. Cross one elbow over the other and bring the backs of the hands towards each other until you can catch the thumb of the hand on top with the little finger edge of the hand underneath. Breathe into the stretch across the shoulder-blades. Change the cross of the elbows.
  • Paschima Baddha Hastasana/Bound arms behind your back – this is a simple pose that helps to draw the outer shoulders back and down. Hold one elbow behind your back and draw the arm down, then reach across and hold the other elbow. Change sides.

Get up and stretch!

We all take tea breaks and loo breaks don’t we? So what about 5-minute yoga breaks? This should be mandatory in my mind.

When we sit for long periods our legs and back seize up. So try these yoga poses which help to stretch and tone the legs:

  • Ardha Uttanasana/Half Forward Fold Pose – with your hands at the wall or on a surface at hip height step back till your trunk and arms are level with your hips, and your legs are vertical. Take the feet hip-width apart and stretch back from the hands to the outer hips, and lift the legs. This stretches out the back and the hamstrings.
  • Vrksasana/Tree pose – As well as strengthening the ankles, this pose works on hip and groin flexibility and balance, which is great to focus the mind too.
  • Vajrasana/Kneeling pose – while it might feel counterintuitive to sit on your heels after lots of sitting, kneeling is actually a great way to restore energy to the legs, as it compresses the legs for the blood to then efficiently return.
  • Sankatasana/Difficult pose (!) – To stretch out the back of the calves and Achilles kneel up on the balls of your feet. Hold onto a chair and then roll backwards and forwards from the back of the ball of the foot to the toes.
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Dog – Downward dog is a stretch of the whole back of the body, including the shoulders, as well as an inversion.

Happy body, happy mind

Remember that our bodies and minds are intrinsically linked. If we don’t look after our bodies and let them tense up into one big knot, our brains will also be fogged and tense. Getting up from your place of work to do some yoga (even an online yoga class) isn’t skiving off work, but making sure that you’re working to your optimum level.

Poppy Pickles