Archives for posts with tag: yoga

Pregnancy and birth is the largest emotional and physical change that a woman’s’ body will undergo. It is a time of great change where women become more aware of the workings of their body, and as the baby grows in the womb, the extra weight results in an altered centre of gravity and postural changes which can lead to a variety of aches and pains including lower back and pelvic pain. Many women find however that with regular practise of gentle Hatha yoga and breathing exercises, the body becomes more balanced thanks to an increase in physical strength, which helps to support the body whilst carrying the baby. Muscle tension is also stretched away, leading to a calmer mind and improved sleep.

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The holistic approach of yoga can also help to bring about balance of the ever changing hormonal system as well as reduce common ailments such as morning sickness, heartburn, slower than normal digestion, fluid retention and muscle cramps. When the body functions at a more optimal level it allows time for mums-to-be to harness their physical energy whilst bonding with her baby. Yoga for pregnancy therefore can play an invaluable role during this special, and sometimes challenging, time.

In addition to the physical benefits, the spiritual side of yoga can help with the mental and emotional side of pregnancy. The act of ‘letting go’ of many things is required during pregnancy and the acceptance of ‘what is’ will help with being at peace with the aforementioned physical and hormonal changes. Allowing what is not needed in the woman’s current lifestyle to drop away to make way for the baby and mothering can also be seen as a yoga practice in itself, and is often the greatest mental challenge during pregnancy, especially when many women have a valued place in their working environment.

With regards to the actual birth of the baby, it has now been recognised that there are many benefits if the expectant mother can move freely during the birthing process. Upright positions may reduce pain and help contractions be more effective as well as increasing the blood supply to the baby, whilst the downward force of gravity when in a squat or wide leg pelvic position makes for an easier and faster delivery time. The challenge for the mother however is gaining and maintaining the strength and stamina to hold such positions and that is where the practice of yoga asana is very beneficial. Appropriate pranayama can also be used to increase mental focus and to reduce discomfort, especially during contractions. Ujjayi breathing, also known as the ‘Victorious Breath’, is known to be particularly useful during labour whilst Nadi Shodhana or ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’ is useful during pregnancy for relaxation and improved sleep patterns.

 “Focus should be placed on postures that are grounding and work with the Apana Vayu, one’s downward energy. This will not only help mums-to-be stay mentally grounded but also help the body prepare for birth”

When beginning the practice of Hatha yoga in pregnancy it is useful to always remember that every pregnancy is different and so what may suit one person may not suit another. If a woman already has a regular practice of yoga asana, it is wise to tone it down and to not practise closed deep twists or inversions. Lying flat on the back after thirty weeks should be avoided as should lying on your front when this becomes uncomfortable. Awareness of overstretching as a hormone called Relaxin is produced during pregnancy which helps the body to stretch and allows room for the baby is also required as this can leave muscles and joints more prone to injury. Because of this, asanas involving strong backbends should also be avoided as the lower back is much more vulnerable due to instability during pregnancy and is already slightly compressed in the lumbar region because of the increased weight at the front of the body.

The focus should be more on chest and shoulder opening postures as this area often carries extra tension. The hips and lower back also need gentle stretching to encourage healthy mobility as well as strength work to keep the joints stable. Subtle strength work in the pelvic area will help prevent Pelvic Girdle Pain, a fairly common condition for pregnant women, especially in the third trimester, where pain due to instability is felt through the pelvis, especially at the front around the pubic bone.

This can be quite debilitating for the mum-to-be, so starting some sort of strength work for the lower body, especially for the Gluteus Maximus and Minumus as these are major muscles that offer a great deal of support to the pelvis, before pregnancy is very beneficial when planning to become pregnant. This is because more rest should be taken with the first trimester whilst the foetus settles in the womb, and to allow rest when extreme fatigue that is commonly experienced during this time occurs.

Overall, pregnant women should not expect their practice of yoga asana to progress during pregnancy. Instead it is useful to think of this time during pregnancy as a time to rest, relax and open the body physically and mentally. Focus should be placed on postures that are grounding and work with the Apana Vayu, one’s downward energy. This will not only help mums-to-be stay mentally grounded but also help the body prepare for birth, as birth is all about physically and mentally letting go and working with nature’s forces, in this case gravity, and not against them.

In addition to these benefits, yoga can teach us to be mentally strong and encourages us to go with the flow. It helps us to realise we cannot control everything and prepares us for the unexpected, allowing us to adapt to unforeseen situations. These skills can be applied at any time of life but are especially effective during pregnancy and birth and leaves us with more space to enjoy the journey into motherhood.

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As featured in the April issue of Yoga Magazine www.yogamagazine.co.uk

In the West hemisphere yoga has become a very popular form of physical exercise and it is easy to think that yoga is only about twisting and stretching the body, breathing practices and a little chanting here and there. However, these are simply tools to assist us on our path to eventually stilling the mind.

The ancient sage Pantanjali said:

Yoga citta vrtti nirodhaha

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga

This quote tells us that practices of asana, pranayama, chanting, kriyas (cleansing techniques) are ultimately stepping stones for reaching a point where we can control our mind-stuff, our thoughts. That is the ultimate goal of practicing yoga. It is very beneficial for us to become physically and mentally stronger, more flexible and of clearer thought, but if the mind is still constantly busy and unsettled, there is still work to do.

For the last twenty years yoga and traditions rooted in spirituality have always been of interest to me. I always felt there must be more to life and I just couldn’t buy into the idea of a ‘set life plan and then you die’ idea, it just didn’t make sense to me. I knew there was another path for me. I had always enjoyed regular exercise and loved the high it gave me as I often found I felt the most relaxed mentally during my long distance running or cycling sessions. I would find the chatter of my mind would start to finally become quite and I felt totally inspired and happy, but several injuries soon made me realize that this path was not sustainable on a long term basis.

I had already enjoyed one of my first yoga books, ‘Moving into Stillness’ by Erich Schiffman, when I started to attend Iyengar Yoga classes. I found the classes very challenging and so I was totally engaged mentally. Over the first two years of regular Iyengar yoga practice all my injuries healed themselves and my body became pain free. I was a yoga convert!

At that time I was reading a lot of texts by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of the Krishna Consciousness Yoga System. The more I read the more I realized that I began to understand the philosophy of yoga and it was thanks to such texts and The Yoga Sutras that I finally discovered what yoga was actually all about; it is a journey through the Eight Limbs, a yoga system that gives us tools to keep climbing the yogic ladder and allows us to deal with whatever is thrown at us in a more effectively. The result of this being the fluctuations of our mental stillness gradually become less and less as we become less re-active.

It is when mental stillness is attained that yoga really starts to filter through to our thought, word and deed, and we start to really embrace the yoga philosophy. We start to see The Eight Limbs with new eyes and our journey into yoga starts to come to life, as it reaches all corners of our life.

And so with this in mind I feel The Yoga Healing Bible is an invaluable guide to your journey into yoga. The asanas have been carefully compiled into an order that will gradually strengthen and open the body and balance the nervous system. There is emphasis on correct breathing and relaxation which are paramount to an effective yoga practice. All these elements lead to a well rounded yoga practice and are as important as one another, and are greater than their sum.

The practice of yoga makes your world shine a little more, and you begin to treat yourself and others with more kindness, you are more at ease in your body and the continuous chatter of your thoughts starts to, little by little, become more quiet. I hope you enjoy your journey into stillness.

Sally Parkes

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With summer (hopefully here!) it’s time to give your training sessions an edge with a vibrant yoga sequence they will energise, strengthen and help get you into great warm weather shape.

All the asana in my Energy Flow Sequence are big and strong movements – they aim to work all the major joints. To maximise the benefits, do make sure that you are fully warmed up and focus on your breathing throughout.

Utkatasana

(Chair Pose) Great for warming up the entire body and increasing heart rate

Chair Pose

From a basic standing position, bend the knees so you are in a squat position with feet together. At the same time sweep the arms up so they are in-line with the ears.

The hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart so the shoulder blades can stay down. Press the thighs together firmly and contract the quadriceps strongly. Lengthen the spine upward with the sternum almost perpendicular to the ground and the chin parallel to the ground. Stretch into the hands and spread the fingers whilst contacting the abdominal muscles. Hold for five breaths.

Anjaneyasana

(Crescent Lunge) modified version. Is effective in increasing hip flexibility

Crescent Lunge modified

From Utkatasana, slowly take a big step back (approximately 1.5m) with the right leg and at the same time bend the left knee to a 90-degree angle. Keep this transition slow so the stabilisers of the pelvis and the left knee and ankle have to really engage. With the arms still reaching up as in Utkatasana, slowly drop the right knee to the floor. Now un-tuck the right toes and allow the hips to sink forwards a little to stretch the hip flexors and lift the sternum upward to create a slight back bend. Contract the abdomen to help support the lumbar spine, breathe deeply and feel the rib cage expand. Hold for five breaths.

Kumbhakasana (Plank)

Plank

From Anjaneyasana, lean forwards and place the hands either side of the left foot, tuck the right toes under and straighten the right leg. Now move into Plank by extending the left leg backwards to join the right leg. Have the feet hip-width apart and ensure the body feels strong by contracting the arms, legs and abdomen. Keep the neck long and draw the shoulder blades down and away from the ears to engage the rhomboids. Neutral alignment of the lumbar spine and pelvis must be maintained throughout to support the lower back. Hold for five breaths.

Uhitta Balasana

(Extended Child’s Pose) Stretches the front of the spine and the anterior deltoids and pectorals

Extended Childs Pose

From a Plank position drop the knees to the floor and keeping the hips lined up over the knees, extend the arms and upper body forward so the chest sinks to the ground. Press the heels of the hands firmly into the ground keeping the arms straight to increase the stretch through the upper body. Hold for five breaths before returning to a Plank position.

Anjaneyasana

Crescent Lunge

Crescent Lunge

From Runners’ Lunge return to Anjaneyasana (see above) but this time keep the right leg as straight as possible to increase the stretch in the hip flexors and strongly contract the quadriceps, keeping the heel off the ground. Hold for five breaths.

Virabhadrasana II

(Warrior 2) Is an effective strength move that also increases energy levels

Warrior

From Crescent Lunge, turn the left heel in towards the centre of the yoga mat and press the foot down into the mat. Open the arms so they are parallel to the floor with the right arm reaching forwards and the left arm reaching backwards.

The feet should be aligned directly under the hands with the left foot turned in 45-degrees and your right foot turned out to the 90-degrees. Align the left heel with the right heel. Exhale and bend your right knee over the right ankle, so that the shin is perpendicular to the floor. Lower the right thigh parallel to the floor if possible. Hold for five breaths.

Garudasana

(Eagle) Is great for improving balance and joint stability

Eagle

From Virabhadrasana II return to standing before sweeping the right arm under the left and bend your elbows so the forearms are perpendicular to the floor. Now press the palms together and lift your elbows upwards a little, keeping the shoulders drawing downwards. Bend your knees so you are in a squat position. Lift your right leg and cross it over the left. Point your right toes toward the floor and press the thighs together, strongly contracting the quadriceps. Ensure the knees and elbows are in the centre line of the body and engage the abdomen strongly too. Hold for five breaths.

Matsyendrasana

(Lord of the Fishes) Is a seated twist that increases the rotation of the thoracic (mid) spine and ribcage

Lord of the Fishes

From Garudasana, unwrap the right leg and start to tuck it behind the left leg. At the same time deeply bend the left knee and lower the hips all the way to the floor. The right leg is now under your left leg and the left foot is pressing firmly into the ground. The left knee will point directly upwards. Exhale and twist the torso toward the inside of the left thigh. Press the left hand against the floor just behind the sacrum and press your right upper arm on the outside of your left thigh.

Lengthen the torso upward and rotate more to the left as you exhale. If the sitting bones start to lift up on one side you have twisted the torso too far. Hold for five breaths.

Navasana

(Boat Pose) with ‘lift up’ - This asana is effective for building strength in the triceps and the transverse abdominal muscles

Boat Pose

From Matsyendrasana, bring the upper body back to centre and place both feet on the ground in front of you. Lean back slightly so body weight transfers to the back sitting bones. The spine will now be on a straight diagonal. Keeping the chin parallel to the floor, reach the arms forwards so they are also level to the floor. At the same time, lift and extend the legs upwards so the feet are level with your eye-line or slightly higher.

Keep the abdomen strong and the chest lifted so the lumbar spine stays straight and does not round at all. Hold this for five breaths before crossing the shins and placing your hands onto a yoga brick either side of the hips.

Tuck the pelvis under a little, press into the hands and extend the arms so the body lifts from the floor. Hold for five breaths before releasing back down to the ground. Repeat the ‘lift up’ five times. Now come up to standing and repeat the above sequence on the left side. Then move into a calming seated forward bend, Paschimottanasana, for ten breaths.

Paschimottanasana

(Seated Forward Bend) Is a calming yoga posture that also stretches the lower back and hamstrings

Seated Forward Bend

Extend the legs in front of you and sit with the spine as straight as possible (sit on a yoga block if the spine is rounding at all). Now exhale and lean the upper body forwards, extending from the lower back, so that the upper body moves towards the thighs. To maximise the stretch of the hamstrings and calf muscles, either hold the feet and gently pull the feet back towards you, or if you are unable to reach the feet, place a yoga belt or similar around the feet and gently pull the belt towards you. Hold for ten deep slow breaths.

As featured in June 2013 ultra-FIT Magazine www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk

Photography by Ali Wardle www.aliwphotography.co.uk

Clothes by Urban Lucy www.urbanlucy.com

Giving back. Spreading the yoga love

by Paula Hines (@HumbleYogini75)

April 2013 marks two years since I learned I was being made (happily) redundant from my olf full-time job in television. The road since then has had its fair share of ups and downs for sure. I’m grateful I have learned (and continue to learn) so much about myself. And I stay grateful for the lessons, especially the ones that haven’t felt so good at the time (those are often the ones we need the most).

More than ever I feel privileged to have the opportunity to share yoga with others. I’ve been lucky enough to teach on three retreats so far this year and this month will be number four when I return to Marsh Farm House in Sussex for Sally Parkes Yoga’s Spring Detox Retreat. I’m thrilled to say I’ve been invited to join the teacher training team on the Laxmi Yoga 200hr course, led by Sally. I’m really looking forward to meeting the next group of Laxmi Yogis and sharing with them as they begin their teacher training journeys this month.

But then I realised: what a wonderful way to give back in sharing what I have learned so far

When I was first asked to join Sally’s team of fantastic tutorsI did think, “But who am I to do this? I don’t know enough!” It’s not as though I have the many years of teaching experience of the wonderful teachers I have studied with before (I think particularly of Judith Hanson Lasater’s 40-plus years).

But then I realised: what a wonderful way to give back in sharing what I have learned so far, particularly via my own experience of having a back injury and practicing and teaching yoga. It’s really not about knowing everything – no one does. But I know that I have even more passion for yoga now than when I began. Just as I wondered whether I could really be a yoga teacher before I took that first leap, the universe gave me a subtle push to tell me I was ready. This feels the same. As I often say, happily the learning never stops.

As I continue to grow as a yoga practitioner I’ve been fortunate to have people like Sally who have supported me and been there to show me  where I’ve been more ready to go than I thought I was. Now I get to help show the next group of Laxmi Yogis that they’re more ready than they think they are too.

Paula Hines @HumbleYogini75

As featured in the April 2013 issue of OM Yoga Magazine www.ommagazine.com


OM Cover Issue 30 (April 2013)

OM Column Issue 30 (April 2013)

Paula’s blog: Adventures in Yoga – Notes from a Humble Yogini www.notesfromahumbleyogini.co.uk

Details of Sally Parkes Yoga Teacher Training can be found here: www.sallyparkesyoga.com/200hourYogaTeacherTraining


Confessions of a Yoga Teacher

yoga news Qx_Slim At Home

How did you first become interested in yoga?

Yoga and spiritual practices have always appealed to me. When we introduced yoga to our timetable at the gym I worked at as a trainer fourteen years ago, it was the perfect opportunity to try it. I had been searching for something that was more philosophical and found I loved yoga instantly. I was also amazed at how much happier I felt after my first class.

by cultivating a steady yoga practice you can manage your reactions more easily when the bad stuff happens, and be in the moment to enjoy the good stuff when that happens too

How has yoga helped you in your life?

In so many ways. Physically, my lower back-ache and other sports injuries involving my knees and shoulders rectified themselves within a few months. But more importantly yoga has become the constant in my life that I can go back to at any time when things are a little crazy. I am healthier physically but I am also happier mentally, as I know by teaching and practising yoga I am doing something worthwhile. I can’t imagine ever doing anything else!

What is the greatest lesson yoga has taught you?

Acceptance, both of myself and the world around me. Good and bad stuff happens to everyone in their lifetime, but by cultivating a steady yoga practice you can manage your reactions more easily when the bad stuff happens, and be in the moment to enjoy the good stuff when that happens too.

How would you help someone to improve their practice?

Start with a gentle ten or twenty minutes of practice a day and build it from there. Regularity is the key and being kind to yourself throughout your practice is very important. Have faith that the benefits are worth the time and effort. With ongoing commitment your overall wellbeing will improve and you will have a new lease of life.

yoga news Qx_Slim At Home

As featured in Natural Health Magazine March 2013 www.naturalhealthmagazine.co.uk

Yoga is a great discipline to add to your training programme – it can improve your sports and exercise performance and overall your wellbeing.

There are many yoga styles and you’ll be able to find one that suits you. As yoga styles and teachers vary so much it’s best to have a good look around and see what’s on offer and do some drop-in sessions before committing to any one style, memberships or courses. I’ve put together an overview of the main styles:

Hatha Yoga

When yoga came to the western hemisphere, all asana practice was all called Hatha Yoga - and strictly speaking all physical yoga forms, such as those listed below, are Hatha Yoga.

Some classes are still called Hatha Yoga and they generally have a more gentle and slow style. There will be an emphasis on relaxation, breathing and working with the body, not against it.

Ashtanga Yoga

The original vinyasa yoga as taught to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) by Krishnamacharaya in Mysore, India, is hugely effective for increasing weight loss, flexibility, energy and focus. There are six set Ashtanga Yoga sequences and each one is gradually worked through under the guidance of a certified teacher. The Ashtanga method encourages daily vinyasa practice, breathing practice called ‘Ujjayi’ and core work involving ‘moolha bandha’ (engagement of the pelvic floor) and ‘uddiyana banda’ (contraction of the lower abdominals). As some of the postures are quite complex, it is advisable to start with a beginners class so that you can be guided through the first set of postures before moving on to a more advanced practice.

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Dynamic, Power and Vinyasa Yoga

These terms basically mean the same. If you attend a Dynamic, Power or Vinyasa Yoga class you will enjoy many asanas, most of which will be standing postures. The postures are linked with vinyasas (a ‘vinyasa’ is a short sequence of movements that flow together and are linked by the ‘breath’) and help to generate heat within the body and therefore flexibility. The intensity of Vinyasa and Dynamic classes will vary from class to class but expect a non-stop strong class that will raise your heart rate and work your entire body.

As yoga styles and teachers vary so much it’s best to have a good look around…

Bikram

The original hot yoga method innovated by living yogi Bikram Choudhury. Practices are performed in a room heated to 40 degrees and involve a set sequence of 26 postures all of which are done twice. Fantastic for detoxing the whole body, Bikram Yoga emphasises being strong and focused and as a result the method has a big following among young professionals and ‘type A ‘ personalities. Bikram believes that it is never too late to start his method of yoga and that anyone can with the right commitment do it.

Iyengar Yoga

A hugely popular method taught by B.K.S Iyengar in Pune, India. Iyengar is known for his use of props such as yoga blocks, blankets and bolsters to help the body move into perfect alignment. As a result it’s great for people with injuries and who are new to yoga as the detailed instruction of Iyengar Yoga sets the practitioner up with an effective foundation that can be applied to any yoga style.

Jivamukti Yoga

A modern yoga style that was developed in the 1980s but has its roots firmly in original teachings of the yoga tradition. Founders Sharon Gannon and David Life incorporated their study of Ashtanga Yoga with yoga philosophy and how to incorporate yoga into daily life and developed this all encompassing and challenging form of Hatha Yoga. Classes are strong and flowing and incorporate upbeat music, chanting and yoga philosophy.

Restorative Yoga

This style of yoga is very slow and does exactly as the names suggests. Its emphasis is to relax and restore the mind and body by allowing the nervous system to calm down which in turn has a direct affect on relaxing the mind and therefore the body. Expect to use props such as blankets, bolsters and yoga blocks to allow the body to ‘rest ‘ into the postures. Asanas may be held from between five to ten minutes. Restorative yoga is fantastic for disorders of the nervous system such as insomnia and IBS.

Scaravelli

Vanda Scaravelli is an Italian teacher who was trained by B.K.S Iyengar – she has a very different approach to yoga than her peers. With amazing awareness of physics and how the body is affected by its surrounding environment, Scaravelli’s method works on the premise that all movement and tensions originate from the spine and once we both relax and strengthen the spine by working with it, we will feel renewed energy and ease within the body. A very slow, analytical and thoughtful approach to yoga that helps you to move with ease.

Kundalini Yoga

This mystical style of yoga was brought to the west in the 1960s by Yogi Bhajan – it’s a very spiritual approach that uses chanting and ‘kriyas ‘ to cleanse the mind and body.

The kriyas are positions that are held for several minutes whilst a strong breathing technique is practiced. The kriya and dynamic breathing techniques can vary depending on what the practitioner wants to focus on. The thinking behind this approach is that your ‘Kundalini’ (powerful energy from the base of your spine) will eventually be released to work its way through the chakras (emotional centres), ultimately bringing you joy and enlightenment. Kundalini is not for those who simply want a physical workout - it’s for those want to work on a deep spiritual level.

Tips to remember when starting a yoga class:

Take your time. It’s always best to start in a beginner’s class so you learn the basics and are much less likely to injure yourself. If you are challenged in the flexibility department, going to an intermediate or advanced class is not only going to hurt you, but you won’t enjoy it. As with anything, learn the foundations before building your yoga practice.

Monthly Pose: Hands to Feet Pose

Sanskrit Translation: Padangustasana

This ‘asana’ is perfect for stretching the hamstrings and glutes and will assist your flexibility and your recovery. Stand with the feet hip-width apart and parallel with each other. Place the hands on the hips and as you exhale, fold forwards by extending from the lumbar spine so you are folding from the waist and feel extension through the spine. Take hold of the big toes so your first two fingers are between the big toe and second toe. Now inhale and lift the upper body away from the legs so the arms straighten and then exhale and fold down completely. Contract the quadriceps so the hamstrings lengthen more. Relax your neck and breathe.

Progression:

As above but place the hands under the feet so the fingers are pointing towards the heels and the balls of the feet are in the palms of the hands. Gently pull the upper body down towards the legs so the elbows bend a little. By placing the hands under the feet the stretch shifts to the lower legs and is excellent for stretching the gastrocnemius (large calf muscle).

Teaching points:

Keep the legs strong by contracting the quadriceps. Increase the forward bend by gently pulling with the arms so the upper body moves closers to the thighs. Move the shoulders upwards, away from the ears. Tilt the pelvis forwards, so when you are in the forward bend the end of the tail-bone is moving up toward the sky.

As featured in Ultra-FIT Magazine  January 2013 www.ultra-fitmagazine.co.uk

Blending The Art Of Teaching With The Science Of Yoga

I have been fortunate enough to learn with some great teachers and have done some wonderful teacher trainings including courses with the Sitaram Organisation and Centred Yoga in Thailand. I loved what I learnt on these courses and felt that it would be fantastic to have a yoga teacher training that blended elements of Sports Science and Pilates principles with yoga asana practice, philosophy and Auyerveda, along with sharing effective teaching and communication techniques I have learnt along the way. And if I could also assist student teachers to set up as self employed teachers and actually earn a living doing what they love, even better!

if a client were extremely flexible, Laxmi yoga would work to create strength and stability within the joints 

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My Journey In Yoga

After several years of hard gym workouts and in fitness instruction and personal training, I had knee and shoulder injuries as well as persistent back pain. So I started attending a weekly class the gym I used to work at. I was instantly hooked and yoga asana practice soon replaced my daily gym workouts. Over the next three years or so I healed my injuries and built a solid practice in both Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga. I also fell in love with the spiritual side of yoga and really feel that should be at the heart of our daily practice. I have been practising and teaching yoga asana and pranayama in earnest for 10-years now, and am still really blown away with how life changing a simple daily yoga practice can be.

It is a comprehensive, all encompassing, thorough and honest approach to yoga and how to teach both Hatha and Vinyasa 

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My Journey To Laxmi Yoga Teacher Training

I have been fortunate enough to learn with some great teachers and have done some wonderful teacher trainings including courses with the Sitaram Organisation and Centred Yoga in Thailand. I loved what I learnt on these courses and felt that it would be fantastic to have a yoga teacher training that blended elements of Sports Science and Pilates principles with yoga asana practice, philosophy and Auyerveda, along with sharing effective teaching and communication techniques I have learnt along the way. And if I could also assist student teachers to set up as self employed teachers and actually earn a living doing what they love, even better!

And So To Laxmi Yoga….

And so after much thought I put together Laxmi Yoga 200 hour teacher-training. Named after the wonderful goddess of abundance, Laxmi yoga is a new teacher-training program, which after running successfully at the Dru Yoga centre in Snowdonia, is now heading to the beautiful mountains of the Andalucia and will be held at The Hacienda Retreat Centre. It is a comprehensive, all encompassing, thorough and honest approach to yoga and how to teach both Hatha and Vinyasa. It is both rooted in yoga philosophy and subtle anatomy, as well as including the latest research in exercise physiology and anatomy, and demonstrates how certain approaches to yoga can be used to marry traditional yoga techniques and approaches with modern day exercise science.

As a teacher-training provider, Laxmi yoga promise to:

  • Treat all teacher-training students with love and respect.
  • Deliver both traditional and new approaches to yoga asana and pranayama practice.
  • Teach traditional yoga philosophy and Ayurveda.
  • Provide on-going support and provide work placements where possible.
  • Provide students with solid and effective teachings and the tools to ensure they are the best teacher they can be.

Testimonial from a current Laxmi Yoga student:

For me Laxmi Teacher Training has been transformative. I am already teaching yoga so I came to this course having attended other teacher trainings. This training delivers what it promises and more! Sally’s depth of knowledge, wealth of experience, inclusive and non-dogmatic style has encouraged each of us to find our unique voice and develop our own style, and also the ability to adapt to teaching different markets. Added to this, with Sally’s ongoing guidance and support I have gained invaluable advice on the business of yoga and actual teaching work – teaching on Sally’s retreats and gaining work with clients. I am incredibly grateful to have found this course and shared this experience with a wonderful group of fellow yogis! Paula Hines. 

Applications for 2013 training courses are now open. For enquiries please visit sallyparkesyoga.com 

Early bird discount: Book now and save £300!

As featured in the January 2013 issue of Yoga Magazine www.yogamagazine.co.uk

So I haven’t written a blog for a while. Mainly because I hadn’t seen anything for a while I wanted to write about and I didn’t want my blog to turn into a sale pitch for the sake of it. But I just saw this poem I really wanted to share it.

Something I have realised lately is that whilst yoga won’t make your life perfect, it will most definitely help we deal with life in a more effective way. At first I found the changes are really small such as giving way to another driver when you’re in a rush on the motorway, or laughing at something that would have a while ago really annoyed you.

Can you think of anything that’s changed about you since starting yoga? And if you haven’t started yoga yet but would like to, what are the changes you’d like to see? I feel that the first thing to accept to make life easier, it that sometimes life sucks. But its how we handle it that make all the difference. It sounds obvious but how often do you use all your energy reacting to the sucky parts of life when you could either change these or just not give it any attention?

This is also something I’m working on and I don’t think anyone will get to the point where they react in the desired way all of the time, but it’s a pretty cool goal to have…..

Life will break you.
Nobody can protect you from that,
and living alone won’t either,
for solitude will also break you with its yearning.
You have to love. You have to feel.
It is the reason you are here on earth.
You are here to risk your heart.
You are here to be swallowed up.
And when it happens that you are broken,
or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near,
let yourself sit by an apple tree
and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps,
wasting their sweetness.
Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

― Louise Erdrich

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Yoga is massively popular and includes several disciplines such as meditation, breathing exercises, self-study and cleansing techniques known as ‘kriyas’. Whilst these are all important and beneficial aspects of yoga, the element of yoga we are most used to in the western hemisphere is the practice of yoga postures, traditionally known as ‘asana’.

Thanks to its recent popularity and media coverage we are hearing more and more about the physical side of yoga and it is now very common to have several classes a week on the gym timetable. In addition, more and more studios and teacher training courses as well as retreats are cropping up all the time.

The current popularity of yoga can only be a good thing. The more flexible and strong on a physical level we are, the better our brain chemistry is, resulting in the most amazing physical and psychological benefits. These are often reported as feeling more calm and clear minded. Other physical effects include improved sleep, digestion and recovery from injury and illness.

starting your yoga practice…

So the obvious question is ‘why aren’t we all doing yoga? More often than not people do not practice yoga because they literally don’t know where to start. There are so many different styles and many classes are described as ‘general level’, but still require some experience.

I believe the best course of action is to find a beginner’s class and if it feels like the correct class for you, stick with it for at least three months. You may well be physically strong or extremely aerobically fit but yoga asana work and move the body in a very different way to regular exercise and learning the basics will take time, dedication and most importantly patience.

should I retreat?

Another effective way to learn yoga asana is to immerse yourself in a yoga retreat. Yoga retreats are big business right now thanks to increasing demand and there is now a huge choice of venues and yoga styles to choose from. As well as being an enjoyable way to get away from it all whilst staying active, by dedicating a weekend or several days to mainly yoga, you can really achieve a breakthrough in your knowledge of the asanas. All this which will help you when you are back in your regular class. If you feel you would also like to try another activity whilst away, there’s also a lot of choice with some retreats now including Pilates, hiking or even surfing on their schedules.

How to choose a retreat:

Like choosing a yoga class, choosing a suitable retreat also requires a bit of shopping around. There are so many teachers and businesses running retreats that as with anything, some are good and some not so good. Remember you are not only investing your money but also your time, so you deserve a fantastic experience. Here’s a guide to what you should look for in a retreat.

a suitable teacher

Checkout your prospective teacher’s experience and if they are fully qualified. There should be evidence somewhere in the retreat’s organisers marketing material to show that the teacher has at least 200 hours of yoga study under his or her belt. Furthermore, yoga teachers that are new to teaching should not be running retreats, as they will not have yet gained the work experience required to deal with a relatively large group of people that they don’t know. So check experience too.

style of yoga:

As mentioned there are many styles of yoga and all are effective in their own way but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are correct for you. So do your research or maybe ask your yoga teacher to recommend a retreat or particular style to you. Iyengar Yoga is a challenging kind of yoga but is also excellent for beginners – it’s so instructive with a lot of attention on alignment. Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Sivanada, Anusara and Dynamic styles are all also wonderful, but ensure the teacher is happy to give guidance to students of your level. Ask what the general level of the retreat is and ask to see the intended schedule so you can see if it has enough scheduled activity for your requirements.

other factors to lookout for:

Check how long the retreat company has been established for and if they have any testimonials and recommendations on their website. Check what the cost includes and how much extra services are such as transfers, massage and single occupancy room rates. Ask if they have a cancellation policy and if so what is it? If it’s nonrefundable look into getting travel insurance as you would do so with any other trip or holiday. Also check your travels costs and whether or not guests are collected from the train station or airport.

As you can see there are several factors to think about before you book a yoga retreat, so we have selected several well-established retreats that will meet your needs and deliver a worthwhile experience. All retreats are inclusive of twice-daily classes, food and accommodation and are suitable for beginners up to intermediate levels. Prices are based on two people sharing but single occupancy is also available.

Weekend retreats in the UK

Sally Parkes Yoga offer twice monthly retreats in Sussex and has been established for seven years. All programmes include Dynamic Yoga and Pilates, as well as more restful Hatha Yoga. With only twelve guests on each weekend, every guest receives proper instruction and all venues are in great areas for walking, running and mountain biking. Easily accessible by car and public transport, retreats are held in Lewes, Arundel and Seaford and are run by teachers with ten-year minimum yoga experience. Costs are from £277pp. www.sallyparkesyoga.com

Five Day retreats in Morocco

Satvada Retreats run popular five-day retreats in Morocco at two different venues. One is just thirty minutes from Marrakech with stunning Atlas mountain views from Hotel Tigmi. Yoga classes are taken on the roof terrace allowing you to enjoy the scenery and fresh air. Costs from £545pp. All rooms are large and en-suite and your stay can be extended by booking extra nights at the hotel for a discounted rate.

Satvada Retreat’s other venue is a selection of luxury boutique Riads just outside the coastal town of Essaouira. The spectacular beaches are widely used for activities including camel trekking to watersports, including kitesurfing and wind-surfing. Costs include airport transfers, an hour’s hammam/spa experience and a half-day’s cookery excursion. Costs are from £680pp. Both are fantastic retreats for those looking to chill out as well as stretch out. www.satvada-retreats.co.uk

Seven Day retreat in Spain, Andalucia

Set high up in the Andalucian mountains, this retreat offers a complete getaway from everyday life. The purpose built Hacienda Retreat Centre has a rustic and welcoming feel and offers an infinity swimming pool, large yoga studio, sauna and meditation area. Twice daily yoga and Pilates classes are dynamic, inclusive and fun and are taught by Sally Parkes. With plenty of opportunity to go hiking as well, there is something for everyone. Cost from £699pp. www.sallyparkesyoga.com

As featured in the November/December 2012 issue of Ultra-FIT magazine

Sally Parkes Yoga retreat

As featured in Ultra-FIT magazine, August 2012

A strong back and a healthy spine are essential for our general wellbeing an they literally provide the back bone to our resistance training. When we feel strong on a physical level we are generally more active, more sociable and our self-confidence is enhanced.

On a more spiritual level, a healthy spine is also a sign that the energy centre that grounds us, called our Root Chakra (or Muladhara in Sanskrit), is well balanced. This offers us feelings of stability, clarity and contentment, which in turn allow us to lead a more fulfilled life. When there are problems with the spine however, the opposite can occur and the spine literally becomes unstable, having a huge effect on our health. A spine that is not functioning properly can have a huge knock on effect to our daily life by greatly affecting us on a physical, mental and emotional level. Therefore keeping it healthy is paramount to our health.

As we know, the regular practice of yoga asana can keep us physically healthy and in great shape. However, to maintain the health of our back and spine and to achieve a healthy and balanced movement pattern, our yoga asana practice needs to include movement that stretches, rotates, extends and strengthens the spine and its surrounding muscles and connective tissue. These are all natural movements of the spine but even in our yoga practice it is easy to do too much of one movement and not enough of others, leading us to physical imbalances and eventually injuries caused by overuse. Articulation of the spine for example, such as that shown in ‘Rolling Down’ below, is an important movement as it helps to keep healthy mobility of the middle (thoracic) spine.

The following asana sequence will help you maintain the health of your spine by creating a healthy and balanced movement pattern:

Rolling Down

Stand with the feet hip-width apart and parallel to one another. Bend the knees slightly, lightly contract the abdominal muscles and tuck the pelvis under slightly. Allow the neck to completely relax, drop the chin to the chest and start to roll down through the spine with the arms completely relaxed. Move slowly throughout. When the hands are in-line with the knees (or lower if your body allows it), start to roll back up to standing, keeping the knees slightly bent. A visualisation that may help you with this movement is to imagine you are un-stacking the spine and the restacking it as you roll back up.

Repeat 3-4 times.

Benefits:

It mobilises the spine, in particular the thoracic spine. It stretches the muscles of the back, especially the spinal extensors and the hamstrings and improves body and postural awareness and is a mentally calming movement.

Ardha Chandrasana: Crescent Moon

Stand in Mountain Pose with the feet together and arms down by your side. Now reach the arms up over head, interlace the fingers and extend the first finger. Tuck the pelvis under slightly to encourage a neutral alignment and drop the shoulders down away from the ears. Contact the legs including the glutes. Hold your chin level with the floor and keep the legs strong and stretch the entire body upwards. As you exhale, bend sideways to the right whilst maintaining the lift through the spine, especially in the lower back area. You will feel compression through the right side of the rib cage and oblique muscles and a strong stretch through the left side. Hold for five breaths and repeat on the other side.

Benefits:

This posture encourages a sideway bend (lateral flexion) of the spine. This is not a movement we do often other than in asana practice, but is useful to keep healthy mobility of the middle spine and rib cage and its surrounding connective tissue in particular.

Utkatasana: Chair Pose

Stand in Mountain Pose. Exhale and bend the knees so you are in a squat position with the feet together. At the same time sweep the arms upward so they are in-line with the ears. The hands are shoulder-width distance apart or wider if the shoulders feel tight. Press the thighs together and lengthen the spine by keeping the chest lifted and the chin parallel to the ground. Spread the toes and maintain even weight distribution through the feet. Draw the shoulders downwards, away from the ears. Hold for five breaths.

Benefits:

As the spine is extended in this asana, the entire back is both stretched and strengthened. Also, by raising the arms in this posture, the muscles of the back have to work more strongly.

Bhujangasana: Cobra

Lay face down with the legs together and place the hands on the ground inline with the chest with the arms pressed against the rib cage. Press the tops of the feet into the floor to activate the legs and gluteal muscles. Lightly press into the hands and lift the head, chest and shoulders away from the floor. Actively draw the shoulders down and away from the ears and keep the chin level to the floor. Think about lengthening from the navel to the chin whilst the spinal extensors contract strongly. Hold for five breaths.

Benefits:

This asana stretches and extends the spine, increasing both its flexibility and strength. Cobra is also beneficial for the digestive system it applies slight pressure to the abdomen and helps to massage the internal organs.

Parivrtta Trikonasana: Revolved Triangle

Step the feet approximately one metre apart and place the hands on the hip bones. Turn the left foot in forty-five degrees to the right and the right foot out to the right ninety-degrees. Ideally align the right heel with the left heel but if that restricts the rotation of the pelvis, then step the left foot out to the left 3-4 inches/10-12cm. Turn the torso to the right and extend the spine forwards until the upper body is parallel to the ground. Reach the left hand down to the shin or onto a yoga block (positioned against your inner right foot). Extend the right arm up and rotate the torso so the right shoulder stacks on top of the left shoulder. Keep the chin in line with the sternum to avoid strain in the neck. Hold for five breaths and repeat on the other side.

Benefits:

This asana rotates the spine strongly, especially the middle spine. As there is an element of balancing in this posture, the spinal stabilisers are also strengthened as they work to support the spine. It also strongly stretches the hamstrings and calf muscles.

Please note this yoga sequence is intended for those with severe back pain or injury.

Photography by www.aliwphotography.co.uk

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