Yoga is an ever growing trend and with that comes an interesting addition to the existing yogic culture. Yogi’s aspire to being open and accepting, non-judgmental and kind . That is what the practice through the body ultimately try to teach us, but let’s be real….we’re just human. There are certain things going on in yoga classes these days that are simply unbearable and its time to name them with the hope of eradicating them altogether. So yes – Yoga is about acceptance and non-attachment – and yes, this article is ethically out of line. So bite me.

1. Runners shorts

Runners shorts are made for running and their main purpose: ventilation. You don’t need that much ventilation in the crotch during yoga class. Honestly. I know its hard to find good yoga pants, (for men especially), but really? Consider for a moment the teachers view of your privates while you’re lying down, and your fellow yogi’s view behind you in downdog split. Nasty.

2. Tights thinning around the crotch

Sometimes yoga is your entry back into physical movement after a long time of sitting on the couch, and no one expects you to arrive first time round with the perfect kit. It is sometimes a problem though when you turn up with the spandex you wore in the 80’s because that’s the last time you bought exercise gear. They tend to thin…mostly around the crotch and bum area. (What is it with inappropriate gear and the crotch?).

Tip: before coming to class – turn your back on the mirror and fold forward – look at your reflection through your legs….this simple exercise should help you decide if this is appropriate attire or not.

3. Doing your own thing

Any teacher worth her salt takes time to think about what it is the class will focus on and the sequences are planned accordingly. You might be really experienced and love yoga, know all the postures and have a very strong self-practice. Awesome. Now take your self-practice somewhere where you can practice it by yourself – and refrain from doing your own thing in the group class, confusing everyone else in the room who always seem to be one breath behind the strong ‘self-practicers’. You’re breeding confusion amongst your fellow yogis and a little bit of resentment in your teacher.

4. Sweating out your lunch

Yoga class is a place to sweat and when you’re attending full classes it may be worth considering how much garlic, alcohol and nicotine you take in before coming to yoga. Yes – we inhale it….and, yes, it reeks.

5. Coming in late and loud

Yoga is a special time of day in which you are the only one that matters. Its already so hard to switch off and let everything else go just for that hour and we always use the first few moments in class to set the stage for the rest of the practice – free from worries or concerns. Life happens and yes – sometimes, every now and again, maybe, once, maybe even twice, but definitely not regularly – you MIGHT be a minute or two late. It’s distracting for everyone. More so when you arrive late, throwing your gear around with no consideration for the silence we are all so desperately trying to cultivate. Really? Do it for yourself and do it for all the poor souls longing for these moments of peace and quiet. Come on time and when on the odd occasion, you don’t – arrive quietly.

6. Socks

Yes – they smell. Yes – take them off. Barefoot is best.

7. ‘Pedicuresque’ tasks in forward folds

Forward folds at the front of the mat is so restful for most. Apparently, however, when you fold easily from the hips with hands dangling around on the floor, you might find it a tad boring. And so you take this time to inspect your toes and use either use your nails to scrape away the toe jam between the toes (granted we are grateful you took your socks off) and/or cleaning your toenails with your fingernails. Definite no- no and super gross. It’s okay to glance and decide that perhaps it is time for a pedicure….but please then aim to get back to your breathing and folding, please!

8. Passing Gas

Passing gas in class is something that occurs, more often than you think so when this happens to you – no problem. It’s something that actually shows your practice is working for you, so don’t stress about it. Close your eyes – pretend it didn’t happen. What is a definite no-no here is this: the teacher passing gas and blaming it on the unsuspecting dude in the front row doing his best with his foot behind his head. Now THAT…is just WRONG.

Physiotherapists and Chiropractors have full waiting rooms for those who can no longer live with the pain and yet the problem never really gets resolved through that avenue either. Regular physio and chiro visits become a highly expensive treatment strategy for back pain. The issue is that while physios and chiros do a great job to relieve pain, it is only through recognising the underlying cause of back pain in the first place (i.e. not that this joint is pressing against that nerve and hence the pain – I’m talking what in your life style has caused this nerve to get in the way of that joint) and then systematically and regularly doing the work to maintain spinal adjustments and health, that back pain may become a thing of the past – as so many yoga students now find. Yoga couldn’t replace physios or chiros, but it certainly has a huge role to play in spinal health as millions of yogis the world over will profess.

Here are a few of the reasons why everyone with any form of back pain should attempt yoga as a way to relieve the pain and address the issues for a healthy spine in the longer run:

1. Relaxation – the role of tension/stress in pain

Our days are busy and we tend to run from one point to the next in an attempt to meet competing demands. We often operate on autopilot just in getting everything done and often have very little knowledge or awareness of the tension that sits in our bodies. This tension may sit here for years without being released. It eventually manifests in pain – and very often in back pain specifically. Not even when we sleep do we relax fully and release tension. There is therefore a huge role for very purposeful relaxation in releasing tension in the body – and in so doing beginning to release the source of pain. Stress and tension in the body has a far reaching impact on health – but just bringing it to the spine we become aware of its role in the following:

Tension in the spine prevents movement and therefore causes stagnation in the spine. Muscles lock around the vertebrae (in a protective way) but it means the spine becomes rigid where flexibility is needed. It results in poor posture, a lack of nourishment to joints which needs compression and release to fill up on the good stuff and the constant holding on in the muscles eventually causes pain.

The lack of movement where movement is needed causes other parts of the body to compensate and work harder or in a different way to ensure what needs doing gets done regardless of the rigidity in the spine, and these compensations causes tension, fatigue and misalignments in other parts of the body. This in turn also causes pain.

Rigidity in the spine makes the spine vulnerable to sudden movements, shocks or jolts – which if this then occurs in normal day-to-day life, makes the spine more vulnerable to more serious injury. A spine that has space between the vertebrae, lubricated and nourished joints and has a good level of flexibility can withstand much more of what it may be exposed to on a daily basis.

Yoga incorporates purposeful relaxation and stress release and gives you and your body the break it so desperately needs. Even doing this for a few minutes a day during practice makes an unbelievable difference.

2. Strengthening vs Releasing Tension in Movement/Exercise

When people are given advice on exercising to relieve back pain, they are often told that the core needs to be strengthened. So they may well set out to the gym to do more strength training. However – it is really important to know that before any strength work is done in relieving back pain – tension has to be released. Otherwise you will end up building strength around tension – more likely in the wrong places too – leading to even more misalignment and ultimately more pain and injury.

It is so important to release tension first – and in a tension free spine begin to strengthen that place of space and natural movement – rather than strengthening what you don’t want and are trying to get rid of. Strength training is great in its own time. But never ever strengthen tension.

Yoga incorporates both releasing and strength based movements – in the right proportions to the correct parts of the body to ensure a safe release and purposeful building in strength.

3. Flexibility vs Stability

Different parts of the spine require different levels of stability and flexibility. The lower back is a stable part of the spine, requiring less flexibility and more strength for stability. However – a really stiff lower back is not what you want either. It creates huge issues in limiting movement and brings the pelvis and hips out of alignment. The Thoracic or Middle back requires much more flexibility and limited strength to fulfil its function. It is the area where most of the movement occurs and importantly – the space to breathe! The Cervical spine requires a good balance of stability and flexibility. It supports the head and nervous system and a stiff neck adversely affects both brain and body. You really need the neck to be free of tension.

So it is very important to with a varied yoga practice address the different elements of what the spine needs – releasing tension but then improving flexibility where needed and building strength where that will support the spine – in the right proportions and in the right places.

4. Impact of core, hips, shoulders and hamstrings in back pain

We often hear that core is a big issue in lower back pain. A weak core most definitely impacts the spine as it puts additional pressure on the spine in various movements and also simply in poor posture. A strong core supports the spine in all its activity, so it definitely is true that you need to have a strong core. But strengthening your ‘abs’ by doing crunches isn’t strengthening your core. Your core involves the entire centre of your body – front and back – and if you simply focus strength on the front part of the body (abs) you are again putting strain on your back as the back part of the core can’t hold itself up against the front. So proper core exercises incorporating both the front and back body is essential in maintaining spinal health.

The core strength that you build in Yoga is unequalled and builds a solid and protective base from which your spine can fulfil its functions without having to over-exert itself and hold the core up when it was never meant to do that. A strong core lightens the load on the spine.

Tight hips and hamstrings are also culprits in back pain – especially lower back pain. So opening the hips and bringing length to the hamstrings will give more mobility to the lower back – and release pain.

Tight shoulders also impacts pain in the back – especially upper back and neck pain. We carry so much tension in the shoulders and neck and poor posture, sedentary lifestyle and imbalances in how we work out causes slouching shoulders and pressure on the upper back and neck.

You can already begin to see that addressing back issues and achieving full spinal health requires more than a massage and adjustments in your back alone. All body parts are connected. You will not achieve ongoing spinal health if your hips and hamstrings etc aren’t being cared for too.

5. Metaphysical Causes of Back Pain

Back pain originates – on the surface – from an injury or an accident. On a metaphysical level we believe that back pain is just another way in which your body is trying to communicate other imbalances in your body that requires your attention. From and Elemental point of view (assuming the body is energy made up of the five elements – earth, water, air, fire, and space/ether) – any spinal issues or injuries point to an imbalance in the water element in the body. Water imbalances indicates difficulties in allowing time or space to become still, to reflect on and acquire knowledge of the true self. It’s an inability to truly connect with one’s own feelings and actually feeling quite overwhelmed by them – and so either withdrawing or becoming preoccupied. People with water imbalances try to please others and tend to follow (go with the flow) what others think and feel, rather than understanding the values of boundaries and feeling confident in one’s own potential as well as limitations. This plays out overcompensating behaviours such as someone being either being quite overwhelming, extravagant, authoritarian, driven and disciplined and often critical of self and others – to the opposite end of someone being withdrawn and apprehensive, lacking in will-power and self-esteem and harbouring lots of feelings of unfounded guilt.

There is real value in looking at back pain from a physical as well as metaphysical (emotional) point of view and it may well mean the difference between resolving the pain issue once and for all or having to live with some degree of pain until your body finds a different and possibly more powerful (painful) way of communicating imbalances and things that aren’t working well to you.

Yoga offers the space for the body to come into its own and learn and process the lessons – sometimes even on a subconscious level. There is eternal wisdom inside your body and with yoga – you’re not trying to get into poses – you’re trying to use poses to get into your body – use it to its full capacity and allow the wisdom in your body to do what it does best – heal itself.

I’ve always said that one of the most valuable lesson from travelling is beginning to understand that there really is space for (many) more than one way of thinking, doing and being. What one culture accepts as paramount for survival, is completely irrelevant in another – rendering our ideas of what we ‘have to do’, ‘have to have’ or how we ‘have to be’ completely subjective and open for scrutiny. There are very few of our absolute beliefs that – if we let them go – will have us DIE. We hold onto them because they are valuable to us, define who we are, and give us a sense of identity. But when push comes to shove – they’re not really a matter of life and death. Others live and survive perfectly happily without them. Which means that while they are important to US – they’re not ‘universal’. ..and so in essence – they’re not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’: they’re just ours.

Travelling and becoming immersed in other cultures bring this idea home quite strongly. And without having to question or abandon one’s own belief systems or ideas – it just allows a sense of openness and acceptance around the fact that not everyone thinks, acts or believes as we do – and that’s okay. They’re not wrong – we’re not right. We’re just different. And on this beautiful earth – there is space for all of us. You might find what others do offensive – it still doesn’t make you right. Build a bridge – and get over it.

In the yoga community we ‘pride’ ourselves in our philosophy of openness, acceptance and non-judgment. We claim to not be attached to ideas and emotions on our path to ‘enlightenment’. That is unless, of course, someone tells us that they hate yoga…or prefer one style over another. It also doesn’t count when people question our vegetarian, paleo or vegan diets. Oh and we also become quite dogmatic about organic and non-organic, or the question about whether is yoga a religion or not – then we really get our backs up and you will hear a word or two about being offended and a be prepared for a pretty well worded argument as to why how we see it is RIGHT.

So in this philosophy which is really all about connection and oneness – we have also allowed our need to grab on and hold on, very rigidly so, onto a new set of beliefs – when all we perhaps wanted was to get out of the dogma around other beliefs we were brought up with. The notion of becoming dogmatic over things is rife everywhere – we become dogmatic about raising children, political parties, education, sports, potjiekos and so much more.

Disagreement is one thing. Failure to accept that someone might be different than ourselves, and making them wrong for it, is another. Disagreement keeps open the possibility of connection. Belittling and judgment shut that down.
In yoga, when we chant ‘om’ – it is to bring us back home to the idea of connectedness. The fact that we are all connected, to each other, to the earth, to God. Yet what we do by judging and drawing parameters around what and who is right and who is wrong – is bring separation.

So as yogis, and as humans, we need to begin to become present enough, so that we can identify when we are jumping on the dogma train and the demon of self-righteousness is lurking. To be blunt – it makes us nasty and insulting. It creates barriers, NOT bridges.

We practice yoga to practice becoming present. It’s a way of learning how to connect with ourselves in a different and meaningful way. We practice seeing ourselves for what we are with all our self-imposed limitations, the beliefs we hold that don’t serve us and hold us back, and the ways in which we feed unhealthy patterns and habits in our lives. It prepares us then to begin to connect with others: the yoga teacher, the other yogis in the room, the family members who think yoga are pretzel like postures, the co-workers who have no idea where its come from but who appreciates the calmer, more open, accepting, and non-judgmental you.

This is important because connectedness is what we really need. That is what really matters in your life, in PE, this country and the world. That is what we’re here for. Diets, political systems, cultural values and beliefs aside – we need to be connected to each other to be safe, to be happy, and to make the world the place it was intended to be.

So let’s drop the idea of being ‘right’ and pointing out the others’ ‘wrongs’. Our energy is best spent working at connectedness rather than winning a debate or argument. That is truly living the yoga philosophy.

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While I appreciate the fact that most people who come to yoga, do so for reasons related to fitness, strength building, improving flexibility, and sometimes relaxation, I always think it so important to emphasize that the physical aspect of yoga is really just a very small part of the practice. I know – its GREAT to feel the physical changes in your body when you practice yoga regularly. Who doesn’t love to lose weight, see their body getting stronger, toned, more supple and not to mention being able to physically do things you never thought you’d be able to do. There is a huge sense of satisfaction and reward in that and I don’t want to take away from that element at all. I have personally patted myself on the back a few times for the physical changes that yoga brought to my body– especially during pregnancy – a time when most women have a sense of loss of control over the shape and loss of strength in their bodies.

Looking and feeling physically better is fabulous. But here’s the thing…this is why yoga is so amazing…not only do you look and feel so different – you actually practice things during your yoga that you hardly ever (or never for most of us) get to do elsewhere. You practice attitudes and habits that change your life to a more peaceful and happy place to be.

This is what you really practice when you practice yoga:

1. In yoga you practice ease in body and mind. For most of us, ease doesn’t come ….well, easy. We live a life of tension. We ‘try’ to do lots of things and the act of trying creates tension. We are consumed with thoughts around what we should and shouldn’t do or be able to do, and are constantly pacing and chasing. This manifests in our yoga practice – we come in and try to be flexible. We push ourselves to try to get into positions and postures – still plagued by the thoughts telling us – you should be able to do this – why is this so *&%&^% hard? It’s hard because your body is hard and your mind is rigid. You’re plagued with tension, everywhere.

In yoga you practice to ease up, let go of the tension in your body and in your mind. That’s why you feel so great when you practice yoga. It sets you free.

2. In yoga you practice being curious about your body and your abilities. From a young age we are measured against the developmentally appropriate milestones we are ‘meant’ to reach at certain ages. We are constantly bombarded with – this is what you should be able to do now – this is what good enough looks like, this is what not good enough looks (and feels) like. We learn to look at ourselves in that way. Measuring ourselves against some external source that may well be so far removed from who we truly are, that it really is like comparing apples and pears.

In yoga – once you get out of your mind which constantly harasses you with ‘you should’ and ‘you must’ and ‘you could/couldn’t’, you learn to look at yourself and your body and its abilities with a fresh pair of eyes. Like seeing yourself for the first time you can allow yourself to be curious. The good thing about this is that once you allow yourself to be looked at in this different way – your body just about always blows you away. It surprises you with what it is capable of when you meet it with acceptance and kindness. Your own ability to be open, be different, be fresh, be who you really are, surprises you as its so much better than all the expectations that you place on yourself, which doesn’t really mean anything to you. Being curious, like a child, is a refreshing, and life-altering bonus to what your yoga practice brings to your life.

3. In yoga you practice loving your body and yourself: With the practice of being curious, almost inevitably, comes a new sense of appreciation for what you and your body is really about. As a world of possibilities open up in terms of what you are capable of, both physically and mentally, you learn to appreciate who and what you truly are. Getting to know yourself in a way that is different from how you were ‘brought up’ to think about what is good and bad and correct or not so correct according to society’s rules, is liberating and once the acceptance of the amazing, yet different being that you truly are sets in, there is so much more room to love who you are and what you are about. ‘My body is mine and its not only perfect – its amazing’ is not a common frame of mind in this day and age. In yoga you practice to believe and inhabit that space in your mind.

4. In yoga you practice gratitude: Hand in hand with loving your body and who you truly are, comes a sense of gratitude. You are able to be grateful for your body, how it shows up and functions for you every day – despite years of potentially being beaten up by bad habits or negative thoughts. In yoga you practice functioning from a place of gratitude. Every difficult posture teaches you something else about yourself. These lessons improve your life, it helps you learn about how you can choose to change and improve. You therefore learn to be grateful for the ‘discomfort’ – on the mat and out there in life. The discomfort and the challenges shape you and that’s something to be grateful for. You learn to be grateful when the challenge comes…and grateful when it ends.

5. In yoga you practice being kind: You will often hear sayings in yoga like ‘listen to your body’ and while this is a well-intended saying, it can also serve as a cop- out – a get out of jail card – an opportunity to take it easy. Yoga is definitely not part of the no-pain-no-gain- break-your-body-down-before-you-build-it-up-again-its-cool-to-break-your-body-because-that-means-you’re-working-out-properly mentality. Thankfully. It is also not a place to shy away from that which you really need to face in yourself or in your body. So rather than saying – listen to your body – think ‘honour your body’ – with kindness. Honouring your body puts you in a place of knowing what your body needs, and responding in kindness. Listening to your body might sound like have a big slice of lemon meringue at Mug and Bean (because they are biggest and sweetest), but honouring your body might sound more like stay in side plank for 5 more breaths because you need to wake up the fire meridians in your body to cleanse, detoxify and renew and even transform! You approach your body and its needs with kindness and care. You know this is the only body you have. You know that this body has been there from the beginning and will be till the end. You know that when you love something, you care for it with kindness. This is VERY difficult for most people in yoga to get their heads around, because they are consistently plagued by the mentality of not being good enough, strong enough, flexible enough and resenting themselves and their own bodies for not being able to do things. In yoga you practice the opposite. You practice acceptance, and kindness to yourself – all the time and under all circumstances.

6. In yoga you practice compassion: In order to be kind to your body you have to begin to cultivate the most beautiful quality out there: compassion. We lack compassion so much in our daily lives towards each other, because we lack compassion for ourselves. In yoga you practice being compassionate. Your body is tired today? You’re body is restricted, and even paralysed by tension? You don’t condemn and judge yourself, make yourself out to be less than average. You practice compassion….

Your body has been holding tension for you for years. While you ignored it and pretended it wasn’t happening, your body held onto it for you. Have compassion. Have compassion for yourself. Have compassion and know that everyone out there is fighting and inward battle…it’s not always easy. We all deserve a little compassion.

7. In yoga you practice patience: Yoga postures, and the qualities they aim to instill in each of us who take to the mat, don’t come easy. You will always have good and bad days. You will always with the best of intentions not fully get to where you want to be. You will fall out, your mind will wander, you will get angry when you ‘should’ feel compassion and you will get frustrated by slow progress. Certain postures may elude you for years and you will doubt yourself. In yoga you practice patience with yourself. When you learn to be patient with yourself you become patient in general. The world needs more patience.

8. In yoga you practice being present: any good yoga class invites you to take the time to become still and present. 99.9% of our daily lives is spent either in the future – worrying, or in the past, contemplating. Neither of those (the future or past) serves you, as the past is gone and the future might never happen. Being present is a place of freedom, of joy, of pure and utter bliss and release from tension. Because it is NOW – it is what it is – free from anticipation, regret, or worry. It just is what it is. It’s a funny thing to get your head around and we spend years and years trying to learn and appreciate the value of staying present. In yoga you have a great opportunity to be present. Through connecting with your breath and giving yourself permission to let go of everything else out there, you connect to the present moment. Freedom. You begin to see where your mind goes when it does wander. You begin to feel what it feels like, when you do let go, even for a moment. You create a space free of tension in body, mind and soul for your body, mind and soul to be free to be limitless as they were intended to be.

9. In yoga you practice how you want to be: Bringing your body to stillness and then moving in and out of postures with varying levels of difficulty, and addressing various aspects about yourself, and your life on the mat brings you face to face with what you’re really like. How you respond to challenges, how you respond to failures (perceived or not), and success. What motivates you? Are you driven by what others see in you or can you bring your motivation inwards and be your own driving force in a kind and compassionate way? How do you limit yourself – do you give up before you’ve tried and can you overcome your fear of failure and allow yourself to be vulnerable. In yoga you practice being how you really want to be. A softer, easier, kinder, more compassionate, patient and present person.

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In yoga – you should never TRY to be more flexible. It is completely counterproductive. Achieving flexibility comes with letting go – NOT trying/controlling. Trying causes you to tense up. It means you’re holding on inside– thinking that by working and trying so hard – you control the outcome. It’s the furthest thing from the truth…. ever. You will never get more flexible by controlling how your muscles work. You need to let go for flexibility to kick in. I repeat – you need to let go….

The first month of 2014 has held one resounding, persistent, annoying, message for me: too much of my energy is going in to controlling every single detail of my business. Simply put – I am a complete control freak where my business is concerned and while its causing me unnecessary stress, it is, more importantly taking me off my yogic path and not actually helping my business grow in the way that I really want it to.

There I said it.

This last week I reached breaking point and I decided that I could keep going down this route, or do something about it. Simple as that. I have the power to choose right? So this is me, putting it out there – my resolve to journey on the path of releasing my controlling tendencies for the purpose of my own health, happiness and the ongoing success of my business. Putting this out there will motivate me to keep to my resolve and it may motivate one or two others with the same annoying, and very powerfully destructive tendency!

A bit of background to make my case:

I opened up my yoga studio as a tentative venture to see if yoga could take off in the selective and unforgiving market that exists in PE. My one-man-show got off to a rocking start and I’ve been living the dream ever since: no one to answer to, full creative freedom, complete independence. I couldn’t have asked to have it any better.

As life goes though, things change and evolve. The dream of having a proper, big yoga studio, that serves many, many people: with different physical abilities and emotional needs, with different schedules and of different levels, offering workshops and trainings in many interesting and related fields and becoming a household name in yoga communities, was still alive, if a little pushed to the side while enjoying my comfort zone. Just as I started getting really comfortable with where things were at – thinking – I could cruise along like this for ages….things started happening to push me in a different direction:

1. I became pregnant – well that’s quite a serious and strong message along the lines of change

2. Things in my previously calm and comfortable studio, turned what I can only for now describe as ‘psycho’ – and I needed to move – another pretty strong sign that times they were a changing!

I considered moving to Canada and allow my partner to take care of me. I considered kicking back and living a conservative life off proceeds from the UK. I considered packing a backpack and hitting the road until something else popped up as the next thing to get my teeth into. India came to mind as it did lead to life changing events the last time I went – but I didn’t fancy tempting fate with delhi belly while being pregnant.

My responsible side – as well as the fact that I really, really liked having a yoga studio and I LOVED my clients – kept me looking for new studio premises.
It was the only option that brought any peace in my soul.

Bigger premises, that were more beautiful, more accessible with more exposure, with more opportunity to expand and grow into all the areas I had originally envisaged when I manifested this dream to begin with – soon became available. It came easily, without any fuss or battle – just like it was meant to be. It was just waiting there for me to find it…and since I have been there, its welcomed me in every day arrive there. I feel at home – more than I ever did in the seemingly ‘comfortable space’ just around the corner, where this yoga journey started.

With bigger and better – not just in regards to the studio, but also concerning my waistline – came the need for expansion by way of finding the right people to support the functioning of the studio and the expanding dream (aka expanding budget). This was where I hit the brickwall – hard and fast.

I don’t really want ANYONE else around because I don’t really want to relinquish control in that way. This is my BABY after all. My first born and its not even 8 months old. What kind of mother leaves her first born in the care of someone else – even for a few minutes – when its not even 8 months old?

Of course I know I’m crazy – lots of mothers leave their kids – safely – in the care of others…and all entrepreneurs feel like their businesses are their babies…but they too learn to let go for the benefit of the business.

It was when I recognized how ridiculous my thoughts were that I realized I needed to get a grip. I was losing sleep (and weight while I was pregnant) because of all these little irrational thoughts and beliefs about myself, my responsibilities, what I could and couldn’t do, and also the capabilities of people around me.

The time for change is now.

Why we control:

1. We’re worried about what will happen if we don’t control it – i.e control is based in fear
Fear is a very powerful emotion and is always based outside of the present moment. ..i.e. its not real – its perceived. We fear how things may or may not turn out and affect us. Only some, but often none, of our fears materialise. So it is a ‘false’ state of being. It’s energy wasted on something that may or may not happen.
2. We’re attached to a specific outcome, and the way to get achieve that outcome. We think, we what the best route and outcome is for us (as if we always know best).
The reality is that things often don’t pan out as planned – but that they then in fact turn out better. How many times have you had to look on as things – with or without you trying to control them – unfolded as they should and in a way you never ever imagined or fathomed – better than your expectations? Different to what you anticipated isn’t necessarily bad, or worse….it may in fact be better.

3. We lack trust in others and ultimately in the Universe/God.
Lacking in trust that whatever is, is best, is good, is meant to be, is safe and beautiful and perfect for you – is living in a place of fear, pessimism, cynicism, and limitations. Einstein said: “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe”.
We don’t expand and experience abundance when we only allow ourselves to trust what we can see and touch …and control. We often learn not to trust right from early childhood and what needs to be addressed here can be painful and complicated. It is worth it though…because the truth is, our lives have the potential to be completely limitless. WE are limitless. We hold the power and freedom to every bit of happiness and success out there – and we hold the keys to lock up that potential forever.

This is some serious stuff.

What I am doing about it:

1. I am going to give everything I can in terms of equipping people with the tools to carry out the business activities in line with my business model, integrity to yoga philosophy and practice– and then I am going to allow them to be free to bring what THEY have. That which is special and authentic about THEM.
My affirmation – the diversity and depth of experience that others bring enrich and grow my business every day.

2. I am going to draw inspiration from and match my thoughts to leaders that I have encountered in real life/literature/movies and whom I admire for their integrity, success, and ability to inspire rather than control
My affirmation – the best leaders out there made it by inspiring rather than controlling. Inspiring leadership has far reaching effects. Controlling leadership has ever tightening boundaries and limitations.

3. I am going to monitor my thoughts and controlling tendencies and open up to understanding where they come from – insecurities, fear, lack of trust etc. I will stay in the present moment – dealing only with what is happening here and now, accept my insecurity and fears for what they are but not allow them to dictate my thoughts and resulting behaviours. One day at a time – one thought at a time, one act at a time.
Affirmation – I am the beautiful product of everything this life has given me to grow and evolve. Every part of what I am has purpose – even the fears and insecurities. I accept them, and I release the need for my behaviour to be governed by them.

4. In yoga one learns to be curious. Curious about your body – what it can do and what the journey to doing things different brings up. I am going to apply that principle to my business and opening the doors to others to contribute and add to the picture. I am going to be curious about different ways of doing things and alternative routes to where we want to be. The most direct or most efficient way might work sometimes and other times the scenic route brings up meaningful and inspiring things. I’m opening up to those possibilities
Affirmation – I am open to suggestions and learnings from others as their ideas are just as useful and meaningful as mine. I accept all offers and stay curious about an attitude of openness can deliver.

5. I am setting out on a journey of mastering the art of Surrender: the complete acceptance of what is and having faith that all is well, even without my input. (My throat slightly contracted even as I wrote that). I have to remind myself that this does not mean – ‘do nothing’. It means – do something from a place of sweet surrender. Doing something without demanding a certain outcome. Doing something without force or feeling like it is a struggle.
Will Blunderfield sings: “There is a river that I’ve discovered. It flows downstream to everything I desire. I paddled so hard against the current, I did not know, that all I needed was to let the oars go, and just flow.
Affirmation: All is well in my world. I breathe and let go of the oars

As I conclude this article I face my first challenge: part of me thinks I can’t submit this because what I am asking of myself here is impossible (i.e. I don’t feel I can control the successful outcome of what I put out there). Funny that. There is another part that just keeps saying – let the oars go…The energy right now is magical….and unbearable. Here goes….

Yoga and meditation has for centuries proved its amazing contribution to healing – physically, mentally and spiritually. Here is the story of a PE women who experienced this first hand.

Lynne Cooper is an amazing woman. I gathered this from brief interactions with her over the first few months I got to know her while she was practicing yoga at my studio. When she left to go on her yearly trip abroad, I never imagined that she would come back being anything other than revitalized and rested. Instead she came back with her ankle and leg in cast, determination to heal that is second to none, and also a peacefulness and quiet resolve to learn the lesson in every moment of the serious injury that she had suffered.

Lynne and her partner had gone travelling around the Channe Islands for seven and a half weeks. The ventured out on adventurous hikes and expeditions as is their hobbie and passion. Six days before returning to South Africa, they had been in less adventurous Eastbourne walking through Gildritch Park – a very typically British Park: very well-groomed, clearly signposted, with clear paths that are disability friendly – no slipping sliding, skidding, or climbing involved. When Lynne was faced with a fork in the road – she decided to – as is her habit – not make too drastic a decision. There was that moment of slight hesitation, a pause, a subtle sense of knowing that something was about to happen. Lynne decided to take the less obvious path….the one that ran in-between the two. There were three log steps on this less than obvious ‘middle path’, and on the second step, she slipped. A sense of nausea came over her and with the impact and severity of the injury, all the energy drained out of her body as her adrenals responded to the shock. She broke her ankle in two places – both the tibia and fibia were broken right by her ankle joint. An injury known as bimalleolar with dislocation. There would only be one injury worse than this bimalleolar fracture. Such an injury would involve the heel and is referred to as trimalleolar.

Lynne was operated on in casualty in England and refused medications offered by the hospital, including morphine to numb the pain. She was adamant she wanted to experience the injury in real time and stay connected to how her body was doing. Throughout the ordeal – during the time in hospital and afterwards all she had by way of conventional medicine was:

  • laughing gas at the time when the dislocation of the ankle took place,
  • anesthetic when the pins and plates were put into her ankle, and
  • Clexane – a blood thinner, which was important for the flight back to South Africa.
Other than that, she took no painkillers, anti-inflammatories or other medications commonly associated with such a serious injury. She had to wait a day after dislocation took place before being operated on and spent that entire time, very tuned in to how she had to hold her ankle so it wouldn’t hurt. She was giving herself no opportunity to hurt her ankle further, by moving it in a way and not feeling the pain due to painkillers.

In England the doctors advised that she rehabilitate herself. That she take it easy and that she shouldn’t expect to be back to normal within four months if not more. Reading more about the kind of injury she suffered, she learned that many end up walking with a limp for about 9 – 12 months after the injury – and some never walk without a limp again. In some cases the swelling doesn’t go down which affects the kinds of shoes people have to wear. There are many, many stories out there about people who have had their lives ruined by an ankle injury and the limitations this kind of injury can bring.

For Lynne – the possibility of her not making a full recovery never crossed her mind. Today – two and a half months later, she is active and walking around – without a limp. She is doing yoga, swimming, cycling and going about her business as she would have if this never happened to her. There is some limitation in terms of the flexibility of her ankle which is due to the pins still being in there, but her ankle is still more flexible than many healthy ankles that pass through my yoga studio. If you didn’t now Lynne had suffered a serious ankle injury, you would never pick that up from the appearance or functioning of her ankle.

This is how she did it:

Philosophy of life and mental attitude:

Lynne firmly believes that things happen as they should and any illness, disease or injury such as hers, is a message to you. A message that tells you that something’s got to change – be that in your physical, emotional and or spiritual life. Lynne broke her ankle less than a 100metres from the maternity ward where she was born. Her operation in hospital took place right on the edge of the neighbourhood where she lived right before she immigrated to South Africa. This was significant and played a part in Lynne’s understanding of the injury. She was being stopped dead in her tracks and forced to take stock, stop, re-evaluate and re-assess. The lesson would become clearer in time and will continue to unfold with time.


Lynne was operated on, on Saturday the 2nd of November and flew back to South Africa on Thursday the 6th. She started private yoga therapy lessons with me on the 19th and continued to have two sessions a week for four weeks. We had these sessions while Lynne’s leg and ankle was still in cast. Her toes were free to move and the cast ended right below her knee. The day after we finished our sessions for the Christmas break, her cast came off.

I was nervous to work with Lynne. She seemed so adamant to get herself healed and functioning as normal again and I was worried that she would want to push her body – when her body has really given her a clear message that it wanted her to stop. I was very relieved when Lynne agreed with my proposal of gentle movement for half the session, and serious meditation and Yoga Nidra for the second half. I believed it would be good to move the body, keep the parts that haven’t been injured open and flexible and strong. In looking at the body as a whole and recognizing that all parts are connected, I wanted to improve and maintain the healthy functioning of the rest of the body, promote circulation and avoid stagnation. Looking after, nourishing and nurturing the healthy parts, would certainly influence the healing potential of the isolated injury in the ankle.

On a metaphysical level, I also recognized that the body and soul were using the ankle injury to get a message to Lynne. This message was what was most important to the healing process. If Lynne didn’t get the message or even attempt to listen – the injury simply wouldn’t heal or it would heal with other side effects to keep the message alive. I therefore thought that the healing meditation and Yoga Nidra would be the most powerful part of the healing process as it would bring Lynne to a much deeper state of awareness and to a place of ‘listening’ to her body. I also believed that through healing meditations the wisdom within her body, her body’s natural ability to heal itself, would take over and literally – the bones and damaged cells and tissue would heal quicker. Lucky for me – Lynne and I were on the same page and she was ready and willing to go on this journey.

During our very first session we recognized that stagnation, tightness and a decrease in strength had already start to set in and while it felt difficult to do basic movement and stretches, Lynne felt good getting to moving again. Perhaps the extent of the work that lay ahead became evident when she saw how difficult she found movements that previously were seen to be so basic..

The Yoga Nidra we did during that first session highlighted to Lynne that her ankle would be fine. The issue wasn’t a physical one. The ankle was just the message. The message was clear already – there was an issue with Lynne’s ability to move forward and a real need to rethink her life and where she was going. Her journey would be an emotional and spiritual one, more than a physical one.

Our physical practice was very much focused on balancing the earth element in her body – grounding, getting back to basics, feeling safe, secure and contained. Given the fact that her injury took place so close to her place of birth and early life, it seemed to make sense to balance earth. The Yoga Nidra however, highlighted to Lynne that there was ‘darkness’ around her spine – which highlights imbalances in the water element – associated with fear, being indecisive, not being able to ‘flow’ and showing a need to become still in order to acquire knowledge about the self.

Lynne and I continued our half our yoga and half hour meditation sessions over four weeks. We made adjustments to postures and used props to make it as accessible and comfortable as possible. Lynne’s body thanked her:

“Not doing anything would have driven me insane! Yoga 100% helped my body cope with spending 80% of the day lying down. I never had any body or back pain and I could feel the energy that needed to move around and be released in my body were given the opportunity to do so, through the yoga. I also thought – I can’t do anything about my situation so what’s the point in moaning – just get on with it”

Lynne’s guided meditations lead her to visit the actual injury in her body and heal it. It also took her on journeys that enlightened her about the reason for this strong message. She met her late dad as a guide in one of her meditations and was often brought back to the message of ‘going back to source’. She was confronted with the question of living an authentic life – being who she really is, doing what she truly should be doing, and living a life in line with her true values. All big questions and big issues – requiring big messages from the body apparently!

Medical Input and Lynne’s response to it

Lynne flew back to SA with her leg in an open cast and had the stitches removed and cast changed to a regular closed cast on the 18th of November. She was able to move her toes and as she knew the ankle was safe in the cast, she moved what she could move – as often as possible. She didn’t take up the advice of the doctors to use crutches, as she didn’t want to mess up her alignment and gait. She focused very consciously on keeping her foot as straight as possible.

“Most people adjust their gait to suit the injury, but then you end up with everything lopsided and out of alignment, which would explain the high incidence of limping. It just means more work to line it all up again.”

“The doctors in England didn’t recommend physio. I know of people who were told by physio to take it easy and not move too much. My theory is move as much as you can. When you feel pain, you know your limit and when to back off. However, most people live on painkillers and anti-inflammatories with an injury such as this – so they don’t know when it hurts, when to stop, when to push and what their body needs.”

Lynne saw an orthopedic surgeon at Mercantile Hospital to assess whether the cast could come off and stay off at the six week mark. This was part of the care plan devised by the doctors in England and she kept to it.

When the cast came off the doctor took x-rays to determine how well the bone had healed and said he would, on the basis of the x-ray, advise as to how long Lynne would need to wait before the foot could start bearing any weight. The X-rays revealed a completely clear and healed bone. The ankle and foot were able to safely bear weight straight away.

Straight from having cast off on the 13th of December, Lynne went to see the chiropractor. “It seemed to make sense – because of the way I have been lying with my leg up for 6 weeks, hopping to toilet, pushing self around on ‘wheelie’ chair and so on, my whole body alignment would be out. I saw Neville Dugmore and he realigned all the bones in the foot, knees, shoulders, and basically brought the entire body into alignment. He said that most people don’t think of coming to chiropractor after such an injury, when really it is an essential thing to do.”
“Energy flows through your body and it is an important part of the healing process. I therefore think it is really important to be aligned.”

“After the cast came off, I used crutches for two weeks only when I left the house, and then started moving without crutches altogether. After a week of no crutches I went to see Neville again as I was now moving around freely without crutches and he again adjusted the bones in the injured foot as well as my knees, hips and lower carriage. He also aligned my ankle joint on this visit.

Alternative input

Lynne believed that both bones and muscles needed to be realigned and put into place after the injury and time spent in ‘compromising positions’. She opted for the Bowen Technique to have all the muscles put back into place. The Bowen therapist focused on the achilles tendons, as well as the muscles in the arches of the feet and Lynne has a follow up visit scheduled. Lynne considers this, again, an essential part of healing process: “I wouldn’t even think of not doing it.”

Reflexology: Lynne had reflexology three times while her cast was still on and twice after the cast was removed. While the cast was still on, the reflexologist worked only on the toes of the injured foot, as well as the whole of the healthy foot. These sessions, while painful due toe crystallization that had occurred in organs, in Lynne’s opinion was also essential to the healing process.

“ The reflexologist worked a lot on draining the lymph which is painful too – but you’re not made of glass… so deal with it. By that stage the bone had healed so the pain couldn’t have been serious!”

Other parts of feet was better in the last visit with reflexologist, showing that the organs were clearing and working better again.

Alternative Medicine:

Lynne isn’t a big fan of conventional medicine and steered clear of anything that wasn’t natural. Her reasoning is that the chemicals in these medicines affect and slow down her organs as they are required to process these chemicals. She wanted her organs and immune system to be free and clear to deal with healing her body naturally, and basically do what it does better than medicine and chemicals do – heal itself

For Lynne a big part of the healing process was getting back into her body. After an injury or accident of this kind it is almost natural to take yourself out of your body in an attempt to cope with the pain. The long flight home was another way in which she could easily become’ disconnected’ from her body and to combat this, she took Melatonin. She went on to take liver detox capsules to rid her liver of the chemicals from the anesthetic. According to Chinese Medicine the liver rules the muscles, ligaments and tendons and so she really wanted her liver to be in top form.
She further took some Bone Knitting Drops to help the bones to heal and Natruflam, which is a natural anti-inflammatory. Her natural products all came from Nature’s Own Health Shop in Walmer.

Lastly she took Arnica – to release any remainders of shock from her body.

Lifestyle and Activities

In keeping with Lynne’s philosophy that moving around in a safe way is good she took up swimming, cycling and got back into gardening. She got in the pool the minute she got home from the chiro on the day the cast came off and found it liberating. She started off by just standing in the pool and then went on to swim breaststroke, made lots of circling movements or just jumped up and down in the water. Crawl was hard at first and she had to constantly remind herself to relax and open – as she does in yoga. The body tries to protect the injury and it is a constant exercise of awareness and letting go and opening up when the body naturally wants to tense up and close off.

Lynne was riding her bicycle two weeks after the cast came off. She just wanted more movement and it gave her a lot of freedom, which, after such a long period in a cast and at home – was also important and liberating. Her ankle didn’t move too much during the cycling, but she just saw it as another way to get more movement in her body going and giving her body healthy and well-deserved exercise.

Lynne got herself some skateboard knee pads to help her crawl around even when her ankle was still in a cast, which allowed her to not only do yoga postures on her knees, but also to crawl around her garden. Gardening is something that she loved doing before the accident, and she wasn’t about to give up all the things that she loved. Staying engaged in this calming and grounding activity was really good for her mental state – apart from bringing more movement to her body.

Lynne returned to yoga on the 13th of January, after a month break and a month during which she no longer had the cast on her ankle. The level movement, strength and flexibility in Lynn’s ankle, already was remarkable. After just two private sessions in which we stretched out the front of the ankle as well as the achilles, tested stability through standing sequences and balances and released the last little bit of tightness, Lynne was walking perfectly normal again with no limp, and she was able to join the group classes again as she needed no particular care or adjustments.
“The more yoga I do and the more active I am the more the swelling has gone down. The pins and plate in ankle is also restricting the movement so pointing and flexing is slightly more limited than other leg. However through a regular yoga practice yoga, it is always improving. “
An amazing recovery indeed.

Personal Journey and Learning

There’s been a lot of learning for Lynne through this experience and she continues to live a life of awareness, listening to what the messages from her body, soul and the universe might be. The accident stopped her dead in her tracks, encouraged her to go back to her source – who she is, what she is really about and has encouraged her to seek the life that she truly wants to live. The fact that this happened to her while in her 50’s, for her, means that she didn’t recover this well because she is so young and fit and healthy. She orchestrated and claimed her health back by being proactive, open and involved in the process both physically and spiritually.

At the moment Lynne works as a Holistic Health Analyst and is connected to Nature’s Own Health Shop in Walmer. She mainly sees people who have been unwell for years and years; those who have reached the end of the line when the medical aid is exhausted and the complexities of issues and illness that need to be resolved are severe. She would now like to liaise with Orthopedic surgeons to get in touch with people who are suffering similar injuries such as she had – and get to working with people to help them access all of the range of alternative approaches alongside the contemporary medicine route to heal themselves. She wants to use her own experience to motivate and help people. Health and wellness is not skin deep – looking at the real reason why the injury took place is vital to recovery – and vital to a good quality of life.

Don’t we all want to live a life of purpose and meaning? Do we even know or realize that when we’re not, our body is trying to communicate that to us through a myriad of ways – niggling feelings, things going wrong, physical or emotional issues, problems, illness, and all those events having you feeling you’re life is a battle. What will happen when you begin to listen and act, authentically in response to these messages? Can you afford never to find out?

There are often many questions around yoga circling around and when I put it out there for you to ask the questions – you responded. So here are my honest and most informed responses to those questions!

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.
Which poses work best to give the digestive system a kickstart?

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.
  • Cat/cow
  • Balasana/Child’s pose
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana/ Downward Facing Dog
  • Utanasana/Standing forward bend
  • Gomukasana/Cow face pose to massage large intestine
What adjustments does one need to make to practice during the menstrual cycle?

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.

I find myself in the picturesque little town of Greyton in the Western Cape. Its situated at the foot of the Overberg mountains and we, over the course of three days, have been blessed with both sunshine – allowing us to bask in its powerful, yet soothing rays-  and rain, breaking the heat and allowing relief to yogis and nature alike. We “get it” more here – we are all connected.

The Yoga Sanga festival (sanga meaning “gathering”) is just that – a glorious and joyous gathering of about 200 yogis – a term used loosely for people who love yoga: yoga asana, yoga philosophy, yoga clothes, yoga ‘lingo’, yoga attitude – or lack thereof. That is always the first thing that strikes me at a gathering of yogis – the openness and acceptance of whatever or wherever you’re at. Here it is cool not to judge, or be opinionated, or care too much what anyone else does. It’s liberating to be free, even if only for a few days – from the prison we create from other people’s opinions.

I have been fortunate enough to find myself in such gatherings on numerous occasions in various countries around the world. The similarities in topics of conversation in all of these communities are uncanny: “I just love the energy here”; “your aura is so pure”; “I have an energy block in one of my chakras that I’m working on right now” – all of these met with affirmative and empathic nods.

Here too I came across ‘the animal’ conversations: “The mosquitoes are annoying, but in the spirit of ahimsa (non-violence) I wouldn’t dare to swat them” (followed by a nervous and slightly irritated giggle); “I have my toes and fingers crossed that my cat will be okay when I take her on holiday. I give her homeopathic drops to try to ease her stress” (of going on holiday? Yeah, man, its a dog’s life isn’t it!?).

The food conversations are endless: “Are the wraps gluten and/or dairy free?” Asked at the one and only food stall, serving the entire festival with two people manning the stand. Needless to say the question was met with: “No but its made of eureka wheat (Who knows what that is? I probably didnt even spell it right!) so you’ll be fine” (Obviously); “I’m vegetarian – kind of… I only eat animals with 2 feet or less” (i.e chicken and fish).

Not everyone seems to adopt the yogi principles voluntarily: “I’m not allowed coffee or beer and I can’t eat meat….my life is pretty miserable right now” – begrudgingly whispered by the husband whose wife thinks he’s about to willingly convert to the yoga life; and even devout yogis miss a beat sometimes: “I can’t believe I left my gratitude journal at home” (shock and horror on faces all round). The true Cape Tonian yogi exclaims to sympathetic listeners: “I ran out of dishwashing liquid and was mortified as I can only get my brand at Wellness Warehouse!” (Even if supermarkets were open on Sunday the 15th of December – Wellness Warehouse is three hours drive away and it wouldn’t be environmentally friendly to drive that distance for dishwashing liquid.) Thoughtful bunch us yogis are!

Me commenting on these yogi-isms is really tongue in cheek and it is said with the kindest of hearts because while they are amusing in their own right, from what I have observed, they are said with the purest of hearts and intentions and that in itself is so refreshing. It really is true, that in this beautiful enviornment – and with that I am not referring only to the breathtaking scenery- you do feel free, relaxed, released, and content. With the constant awareness around your breath and constant stretching and opening in your physical body there is little room for tension or stress. It is almost frigthening when one realises how much time we spend stressed and in a state of tension – in complete ignorance.

In this environment you are constantly reminded of the amazing and beautiful being that is your true nature. In fact it is enough to bring me to tears when I think how we beat ourselves and others up- day in and day out – survival of the fittest, right? There is an immediate sense of ‘ease’ of ‘coming home’ when we can rest in the knowledge and awareness that our true nature is that of pure love, and eternal peace…and that is about it. When we embody that which we truly are – our world becomes beautiful, restful, calm and easy. The tension, pain, and discomfort takes over because we are constantly engaged in an inner struggle – fighting our true nature.

So the yoga sanga has revived my sense of connectedness with the Divine. It has breathed a sense of calm back into me, knowing that I can go with the flow of life at ease with the fact that whatever is, is perfect. Yoga is so much more than what you do on the mat. Yes, the physical postures on the mat provides a symbolic platform for the challenges or even the ‘battleground’ that life can present as for us, most of the time. It also provides immense insight into how we deal with ourselves and others in this battleground. Most importantly though it prepares you to approach the battleground in a different way: to know that both pleasure and pain will come AND go (whether you seek it or try to avoid it) and, we have a choice in what we hold on to (and how long for) and what we let go of. Most things are more bearable, manageable and tolerable when you meet it with a deep breath, and when that brings you right into the moment – you really are free from your anxieties of tomorrow and chains from yesterday.

Life is better, NOW.

As we approach the end of the year, it seems everyone shifts into overdrive and life moves even faster than it does usually. Considering how fast paced life is on any given day – it becomes almost scary how much we begin to expect of ourselves. It is perhaps therefore no wonder that in recent weeks I have noticed more than ever, how the yogis who practice at Heal. Love. Yoga need and appreciate the downtime during practice.

It has never been unheard of for people step onto the mat and with the first few deep breaths and opportunity to just ‘let go’, tears begin to flow as the sense of release becomes quite overwhelming. I’ve seen this happening more and more in recent weeks –beautiful people feeling totally overwhelmed and the space on the mat seems the only place where some can allow themselves to let go of all that we hold on to, as we try to meet our own and everyone else’s demands on our time, our body and spirit. We don’t relax, even when we’re sleeping, and the moment we take a few deep breaths – relax our shoulders, relax our face – the tension that flows out leaves us naked in a sense. Confronted by all we have pushed aside and suppressed, because there has been no time to acknowledge our selves, our heart, our feelings, our need to slow down and just stop.

Giving yourself the time and space to escape from everything you need to do and think about – even for as little as ten minutes or an hour is so valuable, yet, strangely enough, we hardly EVER allow ourselves that time. Even in yoga practice, students want the hardest, fastest class when they start out. Even five minutes of centering at the start or 5 minutes of relaxing at the end of class, is met with jitters and impatience to move on to the next step. Some are so restless that even holding postures for 10 breaths as opposed to 5 is met with unease because ‘is this really making the best use of time?’

Luckily it doesn’t take most serious yogis long to realize that the value of the pause in the practice, most of the time, far exceeds the value of more high energy practice sequences when practiced in addition to the a high energy and demanding lifestyle. In the quest to do more, better, faster, be more productive, with less money and more profits in every moment, in every endeavour, when do we stop? What does it take for us to realize that it is not just okay, but essential to stop and appreciate the downtime?

If you tend to live a life like this you will find that even the 10 minutes downtime during a yoga class can be transformational – for both your body in terms of refueling and healing and for your mind in simply keeping you sane by keeping you calm! Yoga practice at its core equips you and sets you up for a calmer, more centered, focused, and peaceful existence and the rest and relaxation incorporated in the practice is a crucial part of this winning recipe.

Taking that a step further and taking an hour for a restorative session or Yoga Nidra (also referred to as yogic sleep – the deepest form of relaxation while staying fully conscious) could be the kindest thing you have ever done for yourself.

Build in purposeful downtime as an act of kindness to yourself. Your body needs rest and relaxation to heal, detoxify and come back to its centre. Recharging your batteries means recharging your adrenal glands and gives you more to give once you do get going. The most creative ideas and insights often come during or as a result of downtime.
Give THAT to yourself for Christmas this year!

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When it gets to this time of the year I tend to dedicate my personal yoga practice to practicing gratitude. In the practice of yoga we have the option to deepen the practice by dedicating it to some purpose or to just bring our full focus and awareness onto a particular subject – such as gratitude, love, an affirmation or perhaps some aspect related to our religion. The way in which we move in yoga allows us to bring whatever we focus on right into our bodies – with very powerful effect.

In teaching a yoga class I like to, during a gratefulness practice, bring the yogis’ awareness to at least three things in their lives that they are grateful for and constantly throughout the practice bring them back to that place of awareness of what is good in their lives. Certain pinnacle postures such a deep heart-openers like ‘full wheel’, ‘camel’ and ‘wild thing’ are powerful in breathing in and embodying those things we feel most grateful for – and it helps to keep bringing the awareness back to those things in the practice. It helps us to keep those things at the forefront of our minds once we leave the practice and it brings something very powerful into our bodies on a cellular level when our focus switches from that which we feel deprived of – to that which we feel grateful for. Through a gratefulness practice we begin to see the profound effect, both physically and mentally, that a targeted yoga practice can have on our lives.

Don’t practice yoga? You can still have a gratefulness practice to bring you back to focusing on all the wonderful blessings in your life – helping you to attract even more of that. It also helps you feel more at one with the natural flow of things and more connected to others and so less alone. Having a regular gratitude practice has been found to promote high-energy, positive moods, a sense of a stronger connectedness to others and feeling more positive about life. Definitely the kind of improvements in life we would want to strive towards.

Research shows its better to have two or three different kinds of gratitude practices for maximum impact, so pick two or three out of the list below and start practicing today:

  1. Reflect: When getting into bed at night let your last thoughts be around that which you did well that day. The ways in which you were of service and what good things you did. Be grateful for those opportunities. This serves as motivation every day to do things to feel grateful for and becomes the way by which you measure the success and failure of each day.
  2. Gratitude Journal: Get a small book in which to on a daily basis write three things for which you are grateful. In the beginning this will seem easy, but once you got past all the things you know you should be grateful for you will begin to have to look to find new things. Your outlook on your day will change as you begin searching for things that you are grateful for. What a great way to change the things you focus on during the day!
  3. Let’s Talk about it: Make a time (about once per week) to discuss with someone – a partner, a friend, a running partner, a colleague which you meet regularly for lunch – just all the blessings you have in your life. Dedicating a whole lunch date or running session just to focus on all the things you are grateful for is uplifting and revitalizing and adds so much to your overall attitude of gratitude!
  4. Put it in writing…and read it out loud: Regularly acknowledge and remember people that have had a significant impact on your life. This could be through big acts in significant roles in your life – or even just something small that someone did at some point that really inspired or touched you. Write a letter to that person – thanking them and explaining how what they did, impacted you so positively. Then go and visit this person and read the letter out loud to them personally. This is a very powerful gratitude practice – for both you and the person you are addressing in the letter.
  5. Thank you notes/texts: Take the time and make the effort to write short and sweet thank you notes or send text messages to those close to you for little things throughout the day, that you are grateful for: ‘thanks for helping with the dishes’; ‘thanks for being kind to your sister’ ; ‘thanks for picking up the kids when I couldn’t’; thanks for being such a kind/helpful/fun work colleague’. Such little acknowledgements will again impact you so positively but also will probably be a lovely gesture to whomever the note or text is directed – and encourage more of what you are grateful for!
  6. Dedicate your yoga practice or any other form of exercise to an awareness and focus on what you are grateful for: This is another way to set time aside to bring your mind to focus and linger on and around those wonderful things you already have in your life.
  7. Practice mindfulness: Practice staying present in the moment more regularly during the day. We often spend so much time living in the future – planning, anticipating, worrying – or in the past – thinking about what could have been and or holding on to resentments and hurts, that we miss so much of what is happening right here, right now around us. We get so obsessed with what is wrong in our lives in the world that we fail to notice the smallest things that may be right – and those things are often so much more significant: our child laughing out of his/her stomach; new flowers blooming, showing the turn of seasons and the way nature teaches that change and growth is a natural part of life; a smile from a stranger, a green light, or even better – a good considerate driver! Things to be grateful for are everywhere around us, if we just take the time – and have the presence of mind – to notice.
Have any other ways of practicing gratitude? Share them here in the comments section and allow us all to find new ways to be grateful..