I’m not naturally flexible. Will it get better with doing yoga and will I ever be as flexible as some other yogis?
Whether flexibility is genetic or not is an ongoing debate. Some people have more flexibility to start with and this is most probably because of the fact that they have used a fuller range of motion in their muscles and joints and so their bodies are naturally more comfortable with moving. Those who engage in less movement or do repetitive motion sports and strength training with no stretching – are going to be much less flexible for obvious reasons.
Yoga will improve your flexibility no matter what age or level of flexibility you start at. Just because you start yoga when you’re in your forties or fifties doesn’t mean you will acquire a smaller improvement in flexibility. You may actually see a much quicker increase in flexibility at an older age,appreciating ALL the elements of yoga, than someone in their twenties, who are ‘trying’ to improve and practicing in a competitive way.
The key thing here is to see yoga practice for all that it is – i.e. not just a physical practice. Breathing, meditation and relaxation all contribute to the package and benefits of yoga. If the main goal is to get the foot to touch the head then progress will be slow. Ask yourself what you will achieve if your foot touches your head – will you feel calmer, stronger, more healthy? Remember that yoga in its true essence is medicine and a journey to inner freedom. Your body is simply a medium being used to achieve something much bigger and much more meaningful than contorting your body into weird, albeit wonderful poses.
What yoga postures do you recommend for headaches?
Anyone who has been to my classes or talked to me about yoga will know I pretty much believe that through yoga you can fix/cure anything. Headaches are no different. There is no substitute for a steady consistent daily yoga practice.
Knowing the cause of a headache will help in establishing a more focused strategy in eliminating it (including migraines) but in general here are some tips:
1. When you’re headache/migraine is in full force avoid postures where your head is below your heart as it may exacerbate the pain. The only exception to that is Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) which can still be quite good at calming the nervous system and reduce tension.
2. When you feel a headache coming on these are great options to try to stop it dead in its tracks:
- cat/cow – relieves tension in the spine, shoulders and neck which often causes headaches;
- Paschimottansana (seated forward bend) – great to unwind a distracted mind;
- Janu Sirsasana (head to knee pose) – boosts blood flow, releases tension and as a forward fold is great to quiet the monkey mind.
- Apasana (knees into the chest) for at least 30 seconds– relieves tension and creates length in the spine. It creates a rush of blood through the body once you release the hands;
- Balasana (child’s pose – great to relieve stress, anxiety and tension from all of the spine. It is the fundamental resting pose in yoga.
- Savasana (corpse pose) – complete relaxation to relieve tension and pain. Very challenging pose though as it requires complete stillness in both body and mind.
- Deep, full, slow breaths in all of these postures are absolutely essential in combating headaches.
Yoga is great to get your digestive system going again. Bearing in mind here too, that it is not just about the physical poses. A slow digestive system tells you something about your approach to life – an unwillingness to let go of what you don’t need or that which doesn’t serve you or a reluctance to move on. Do your yoga practice with deep slow breaths and a very quiet mind to allow your body to teach you what you need to learn to not just feel better about your digestion s- but also about some things that probably hasn’t been working well for you in your life.
Great digestion postures:
- Pawanmuktasana/Alternate leg and then both knees into the chest – squeeze tightly (lying on back)
- Reclined spinal twist – arms out wide to the sides – take knees over to right while head rolls to left and then switch sides.
- Setu Bhandasana/Bridge pose
- Seated spinal twist
- Paschimuttanasana/seated forward fold
- Vajrasana – sit on your heels, hands on your thighs and push into yoru hands to lift your heart and arch your back. This will stretch you belly and is great when you’ve eaten too much.
- Balasana/Child’s pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana/ Downward Facing Dog
- Utanasana/Standing forward bend
- Gomukasana/Cow face pose to massage large intestine
When you’re menstruating you may feel fatigued or weaker than usual and its important to listen to your body and adjust your practice accordingly. There’s no need to push through what your body is naturally experiencing. Restorative and yin practices are great for when you’re menstruating. It is also important to avoid inversions during menstruation. Ask for alternatives or opt for an early savasana.
What are the best eating habits to have while practicing yoga and losing weight?
I don’t do diet tips – I simply say: be kind to your body -once you’ve learnt to connect to your body and know what your body needs, you will begin to nourish your body rather than just ‘stuff’ it. What you put in is what you get out. You get that principle once you acquire a steady yoga practice. I don’t subscribe or recommend a rigid eating habit – vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten and dairy free – they are all great – for different people. It’s about knowing what YOUR body needs and listening to that because YOU matter – and you care about your body.
Do’s and dont’s for a pregnant mama?
If you’ve never done yoga before, start your practice in the second trimester – not the first. Enjoy the energy you have in the second trimester and do strong yoga work – avoiding lying on your back for long periods, twisting and forward folds where you put pressure on your belly (e.g. against your thigh) and do balancing postures with support. Move to a more restorative practice towards the third trimester. Listen to your body – more than ever and use the stillness and relaxation in yoga to connect to your unborn baby in this very special time!
How does the practice of yoga help to make you feel calmer and more relaxed on and off the mat?
With the breathing practice in yoga you learn to use your breath to release tension, anxiety, and stress from your body. You therefore begin to create a new pathway for release which your body will remember and employ. Once you begin to move into postures, you continue to practice this slow deep breathing. You/your body and mostly your mind might experience the postures as ‘tension’ or ‘challenge’ – maintaining the deep breaths in these postures teaches you to breathe through what is difficult or uncomfortable. A new pathway is created (breathing releases tension even when challenged) and you begin to reap the rewards outside of your practice too.
I am intimidated by difficult poses – what do I do?
Breathe through it. Your advanced poses are easy for others and poses that you find easy are advanced for others. Every body is different. There is no end goal or ‘victory point’ in yoga. The journey is all that matters. You learn more about your body and yourself if you stay aware of every single aspect of the posture. Maintaining awareness in all the different parts of your body means you have an advanced practice – regardless of what the postures look like. If you’re moving and breathing and staying in touch with your body – you’re practicing advanced yoga.
It really is important to get it out of your head that you need to master postures in yoga. Its really not what it is about.
How can I establish a good home yoga practice?
Commit to 15/20 minutes a day….and stick to it. When you have really enjoyed a sequence in a yoga class or felt particularly calm after a certain set or felt really good in your body when doing certain postures, write those down after class and then practice that. If you enjoy it you’re more likely to return to it.
What surprises you about yoga?
That it still feels this good – every time – after all these years.
How has your yoga practice evolved over time?
I practiced competitively in the beginning – chasing postures, strength and flexibility. It was ego practice. I hurt myself a few times and that was part of my journey. My practice now is much more gentle and more focused. I often opt for a more relaxing practice and less intense and crazy. I’m much more focused on yoga as medicine than being extremely strong or extremely flexible. I want to learn from my body and my practice and i want the postures to serve my body in terms of healing, restoring, and revitalising. I get the benefit of both yin and yang energy in my practice. That’s’ why in my teaching, I often try to slow people down – even amidst a strong vinyasa flow class. The beauty of yoga lies in its teaching and if we chase postures and intensity we miss the best part of the practice.
Advice for a beginner yogi?
Be patient. Yoga isn’t something you will ever conquer or master. Do what you can and be amazed and curious at every step of the journey. Amazed at how you managed to neglect your body so much that it can’t move in the simplest of ways, amazed at how quickly your body adjusts and begins to open up to its natural state of being, amazed at the power and impact of the breath, and always stay curious about what your body can do if you can release and let go of the blockages and limitations you have imposed on yourself.
Don’t try to run before you can walk – you’ll not only be missing out on the scenery along the way but you WILL fall and hurt yourself. And while falling is always fine – in fact its great – in your practice, hurting yourself is a sign of disconnectedness to your body. And a clear sign to take a step back and start again.