Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Need a P?

Practice, perseverance and patience. These are the three P's, and according to Jivamukti king Stewart Gilchrist, all that we need to continue on our own personal yoga journeys . Now I challenge that, because I think you also need a nice O (outfit) a pot of C (cash) and in particular, a large pair of B's (your choice!) to get yourself into some of the more challenging postures!
The lovely, loyal yogi's who come to my classes have been struggling with Bakasana, (Crow) for several weeks now. Each week I go home from class and either get straight onto the internet or dive into my extensive yoga bookshelf to gather more information so I can help them in their quest to float up into this slightly restrictive arm balance. Now I say restrictive because although it feels great when you have finally got the balance just right and you manage to actually find yourself tilted forward enough that your toes are suddenly aloft, it does not give you that free soaring feeling that perhaps firefly pose does or the elusive handstand. It actually feels a bit rounded and crunched at first giving you the kind of "Is that it? I'm not sure! Am I there?" sort of reaction. It is hard and actually, a bit scary.
Have you ever done that thing where you drink half a can of coke and then attempt to balance it on the edge of its rounded base. You take tiny sips to get just the right amount of liquid inside the can and hey presto it balances perfectly at a 45 degree angle, but not before you get the panicked feeling as you gingerly take your hand away, that it is actually going to topple over at the last minute leaving a big brown sugary stain on the carpet. Well that is Bakasana. Hopefully you're not worried about a stain (!) but you have that "Oh My God, if I tilt any further forward I am going to fall flat on my face and break my nose" kind of moment!
As a practitioner you know how far you want to challenge yourself to get into your poses but as a teacher you have to be guided by each individual, setting their own challenges and boundaries. So here is the thing, do you encourage someone to keep going when they obviously feel wary but you know from watching their practice over the weeks and months that they have the physical aptitude to get into the pose, if they just stopped being such a weed?!
Did I say that out loud?!
That's not very all loving yoga teacher is it?!
I know! I know! I shouldn't think stuff like that, but as a former dance teacher I sometimes want to break free from that "challenge yourself, work to your own personal edge" thing and instead yell "Oh for Gods sake, stop faffing around and bloody do it!" 
It took me ages to get the hang of crow and now I can float into it fairly easily from Garland pose and even from three pointed headstand too - I am bragging now but I can never do that good fancy stuff so I was totally thrilled that day! But even now I feel that maybe I am missing something. Should my arms be straighter, should my hips be higher, should it feel a bit more bloody comfortable at least?!
So those who are just getting to grips with crow pose, please persevere. Even when it feels like your elbows shouldn't bend that way or that there will be bruises on your triceps or that you like the way your face looks with this nose, one day when you  least expect it, something will just click in your mind and then your body and you will wonder why it all seemed so difficult as you suck in your belly button and float forwards on strong arms with your pointed toes hovering a foot off the mat! And then you will probably laugh and fall flat back down in your bum!
Stewart is right of course, Practice, perseverance and above all patience are key, and not only for the practitioner but mostly, from re reading my blog, for the slightly whacky, but ever so passionate and committed yoga teacher!
Namaste Lovelies!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Liberate your soul

Imagine a cross between Billy Connolly, Catweazle and Bob Marley and that was our host for two and a half hours of Jivamukti workshop on Sunday afternoon! Now for those of you who are not familiar with Jivamukti, it is a full on, hard core flowing yoga style that is heavy on the spritual side and light on water breaks! Founded by the inspirational Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984 it is actually one of the nine internationally recognised styles of hatha yoga, literally translating to "individual soul liberation"...gotta love that!
I am not quite sure what I expected when I trotted into a jam packed Studio 1 at Yogahaven Clapham but I think I imagined we would discuss a bit about Jivamukti philosophy and ethics and maybe have a bit of a posture clinic.
Could I have been more wrong?
Stewart Gilchrist marched in sporting a beard like a rhododendron bush, swinging his dreadlocks and belted in his heavy Scottish accent, "Come on, I want to start! Get yourself in tadasana and lets get going!" I was frightened! Then I was annoyed! Hang on I haven't paid £28.50 to be shouted at! I was thinking I wouldn't last long under the Gilchrist regime.
No discussion, no easing in, no sitting and watching. It was two and a half hours of hard, dynamic, vinyasa yoga. The banning of drinking water didn't bother me because there was no time to anyway. I was wrong about him too, we flowed in and out of postures with his expert guidance and unexpected sense of humour for 150 minutes and it was the hardest but most exhilarating time I have ever spent on a yoga mat.
Jivamukti are big on their lotions and potions and right at the beginning, Stewart came around and rubbed something that smelt like tiger balm and burned like buggery on our lower backs. After a seriously deep bound extended side angle, where we then straightened our front legs and placed our chin on our shin (!) I managed to get the gel all up my arms and even in my eyes when I found a millisecond to wipe the sweat before diving into the next seemingly impossible asana! Burning eyeballs were not my favourite part I must say!
Jumping forward from Down Dog to uttanasana, we were encouraged to straighten our legs lifting up our hips in preparation for flipping up into handstand through the transition (maybe in my next life!) The point was hammered home when I found a giant Scottish leg under me, now my yoga practise was incorporating an obstacle course! Thrilled though, I made it over and to my relief Mr. Gilchrist was left unscathed! He also showed me the correct head alignment for chaturanga to up dog and lifted me what seemed like 6 inches higher in shoulder stand.
Simple tweaks for amazing results!
The inspiration from Sundays workshop is untold. I was blown away by this man's intensity and his passion as well as his incredible knowledge. I learnt some great new ways to get in and out of postures like for example from savasana into full wheel through a series of just 5 breaths...incredible!
I also learnt about me too!
I am a determined, I am strong, I am open to suggestion, and I can asana the shit out of a Tripod Headstand from Prasirita Padottanasana!
Now, the chanting towards the end was not my thing at all. For some it is a big part of their practice and I totally respect that but apart from anything I didn't know the words and felt like a div!
I will definitely be returning to a Jivamukti class soon. I loved the intensity and the speed of the flow but mostly I loved how I felt immediately afterwards...knackered but alive!
I must say it also stirred up something inside me that made me have a case of Tourettes, which was pointed out by my lovely friend Terri who was counting my swear words over a cup of tea afterwards!
I imagine that the shares in Nurofen went up on Monday too as I was suffering with a sever case of the aches but my soul is well on the way to liberation!
Namaste Freedom Lovers!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Handstands - not just for 7year olds!

So, true to my word I am getting out there and doing it... practising and learning and  growing my yogic self! 
Last week I was whizzing through the websites of two great London yoga studios Triyoga and The Life Centre looking to see what they had on offer in the way of workshops and courses. I really want to do a pregnancy yoga teacher training but they seem to be few and far between and always sold out when I find one!
Anyway, on my quest for said course, I found some fantastic workshops from such yoga bigwigs as Jason Crandell, Richard Freeman, Max Strom, David Swenson and Shiva Rea but they all seemed to fall on a Saturday and I work all day on a Saturday...Bugger! Then I saw a workshop for inversions which looked right up my street and I could make the day so I read on. "Must have a practice of unassisted handstand". 
OK then!
When I was between the ages of 7 and 12 I had an amazing handstand. I used to do them all over the place, dress overhead, knickers on full view to all and sundry, not  a care in the world! But it seems as you get older life doesn't really call for a handstand much! Plus, you could get arrested for indecent exposure!
The thing with a yoga handstand is, you don't wind your arms up, take a big breath shout "Watch me, watch me, Mummy!" and fling your legs up letting them fall down immediately, jump up from a heap and say "No, I can do it much better honest!"
In yoga you actually have to have control and alignment and balance and once in a perfect straight, strong position you then start to float your legs into different positions!
So's no wonder we aren't all doing it!!!!
Now, the lovely Julie Bealey lent me a Shiva Rea DVD when I told her that I couldn't make it to her workshop this summer. Shiva is a really inspirational yogi who although has an annoyingly calm voice, has wonderful explanations and really builds great sequences. I actually found a small space between the sitting room and dining room in this tiny cottage to lay out my mat and practice with her DVD. Despite two annoying phone calls from random Delhi based people trying to sell me computer software and a new phone package I was uninterrupted for 90 minutes of challenging flowing asana and lo and behold, there was a whole section on handstand! Yay!
So you guessed it, I am on a mission! I have been practising with my new best friend, Shiva Rea and I have been going mad on YouTube trying to find every video I can on different approaches to this allusive inversion.  I am determined to get a free-standing, unassisted, strong and most of all grown up handstand by the end of the summer.
Anyone want to join me? We could start a handstand revolution. After all the benefits are vast, working to strengthen your core, arms, shoulders and wrists. It also calms the brain, stretches through the abdomen, can help to relieve mild depression, improve sense of balance, and give a good workout to the lungs, pituitary and spine. Plus, you get to feel 7 again, what can be better than that?!

Check out Mike Taylor for total inspiration and to see the control that can be acieved with a little hard work and a positive attitude!