Building a Home Yoga Practice

 

The building blocks of a yoga practice

Remember when you had your exams at school.  The paper was placed in front of you and you’d have a few moments to organize your pencils, eraser, ruler, calculator or whatever other items you needed.  Then you would open the paper, read through it and decide in a moment of panic that you don’t know the answers and then proceed to organize your stuff again.

It’s not dissimilar to starting a home practice.  You lay out your mat and stack your blocks.  Fold your blanket neatly and roll your yoga strap into a tidy coil.  You sit on your mat, take a breath and then say to yourself ‘now what?’ and go back to rearranging your props.

When you come across articles about home practice it often appears to involve a whole heap of organization and commitment to finding the right spot with the right amount of time and at the right time of day but the key to actually building a home practice starts with just doing it.

Simply roll out your mat or just find a space on the floor in a place you feel comfortable in.  It might be your spare bedroom, your kitchen, your balcony or your local park.  If you need them, place your props close to hand and then do the pose or the handful of poses that you know.  Just that.  It doesn’t have to be a fancy sequence full of clever flows and interesting series of inversions, twists and standing poses, it just needs to be a pose.  One pose repeated on both sides and there begins your home practice.

The biggest obstacle to a home practice is in your head.

Forget the need to reproduce what your favorite instructor or dvd does for an hour and simply step up and start.

It may be only five minutes squeezed in while a kettle boils or thirty minutes snatched in the evening in place of the TV show you would survive without seeing anyway.

If an active, physical practice doesn’t appeal try a relaxing restorative pose.  Restorative yoga offers a great deal of positive benefits and when practiced on a daily basis is as beneficial as a full on vinyasa flow sequence.

Here’s a suggestion on how to start……

  1. Say to yourself – today I’m going to spend ten minutes doing yoga.  Making the decision to do it is often the difficult bit
  1. Find a space or roll out your mat and step on to it.  A little effort involved here but don’t overthink it.  It will take a minute
  1. Do a pose you like or can easily remember.  Doesn’t have to be sophisticated – mountain pose (tadasana) or childs pose both work.  It’s still yoga.  There,  you’ve done it
  1. Step off the mat and repeat the next day.  Takes will power to commit to the next day but you know you can do it because you just did it!
  1. When the next day comes say to yourself – today I’m going to spend ten minutes doing yoga.  As step 1 and then repeat

The biggest obstacle to a home practice is in your head.  You’ll notice that the list starts and ends with the mental commitment and nothing more.

Every journey starts with the first step so make the decision, carve out the time no matter how small, roll out your mat and step on it!

Book Review – Your Middle Years

Your Middle Years
Your Middle Years

Not every woman’s favorite topic, I know, but the menopause (eek! there, I said it) is an inevitable phase of any woman’s life.


Culturally, here in the West, we are so conditioned to value youth and beauty above everything else that the menopause is considered a taboo subject not to be discussed in polite conversation.

Have you every looked for a book on the topic of the menopause?  If you have then there is a good chance you are familiar with the array of lackluster choices out there.  The covers for many are jam-packed with too many words in a dull font and accompanied by the stilted photo of a menopause expert or flower.  (What is it with the flowers?)  So many of them have the same kind of text book appeal you get from a computer programming manual.

Not that the content isn’t relevant and probably very helpful but does it really have to be presented in such an uninspiring way?

Each topic is discussed in a fun and informative way with a bunch of contemporary colorful illustrations, lots of easy to read bullet points and simple to understand charts.

So, in my desperate search I resorted to some internet digging and unearthed ‘Your Middle Years’ written by the author partnership of Paula Mee and Kate O’Brien.

Paula, from a health, beauty and spa background and Paula from a nutrition background have partnered up together to create a book about menopause that is unlike any book on the topic I’ve seen so far.

Broken down into 12 chapters it delves into topics from food to bone & heart health to beauty, sleep, stress and sex issues.

Each topic is discussed in a fun and informative way with a bunch of contemporary colorful illustrations, lots of easy to read bullet points and simple to understand charts.

If you’re looking for well researched information presented in an easily digestible and upbeat way, I can’t recommend this book enough.

Embrace the changes and “love them, live them, own them”.

It approaches the topic of menopause in a very ‘self care’ oriented way.  All of those important things we already know about including diet, exercise, mindfulness and sleep.  Full of sensible, down to earth and achievable tips that will help with the myriad of menopausal symptoms that arise, Your Middle Years also includes a bunch of easy to create recipes – even for the non cook like me.

I love this book.  What else can I say?  It is a down to earth, practical and fun read covering a big topic in a very positive way.

As Paula and Kate say in the book – embrace the changes and “love them, live them, own them”.


You’ll find the book at in printed and digital format at all of the usual online booksellers!

The Value of Practicing Yoga with an Experienced Yoga Instructor


A recent report by the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine discovered a rise in yoga related injuries for older students

 

Yoga is popular, it’s as simple as that, and today more and more older people are embracing the practice attracted by the wealth of health and self care benefits it offers.


However, as the number of yoga students has grown, so too have the number of yoga related injuries being treated.  Bad news whichever way you try to spin it.

A recent article published on the leading website yoga journal.com has found that there has been a marked increase in yoga injuries, particularly for those in the age categories 40 and upwards.  This could be seen as a reflection of the growing number of older students led to yoga on the advice of healthcare professionals or following many years of other exercise disciplines or, for some, very limited exercise habits.

The study by the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine examines injuries over thirteen years starting in 2001, a period of time that also coincides with a large increase in yoga teacher trainings and in the number of opportunities to study and teach yoga.

Although most trainings cover a spectrum of yoga topics, in many cases, only around 20 of those hours are dedicated to anatomy study.

This growth is great news for everyone as it increases choice and accessibility along with employment and experience for yoga teachers. However, currently, the only criteria that needs to be met in order to teach (in most cases) is the completion of a 200hour training.  There are many 200hour yoga trainings around which, like most things in life, can differ in style and quality.  Although most trainings will cover a spectrum of yoga topics, in many instances only around 20 of those 200 hours are dedicated to anatomy study.

Even for an experienced teacher, a class that provides safe sequencing for a large group of students with an array of physical & medical issues can be challenging.

It is unfair to suggest that any brand new teacher would intentionally cause anyone harm but it takes experience, study and understanding of the physical body and a broad range of conditions to safely and effectively lead a class.

With aging bodies comes the inevitable wear and tear of joints, weakening of connective tissues such as ligaments and other musculature changes as well as the range of physical conditions that spring up in later life.  These are all important aspects to consider when teaching an older group of students.

Even for a very experienced teacher, a class that provides safe sequencing for a large group of students with an array of physical & medical issues can be challenging.

This is not to say that a recently qualified teacher does not have the ability to teach a class well, but older students need to be mindful and responsible for their own self care too.

Listen to your own body and be selective about the classes you attend particularly when starting out.  Yoga is all about losing the ego so don’t let your own ego dictate that you attend that fast moving, level 2 class.  Take time to build up your practice with a well informed, experienced teacher making gradual progress to the faster, stronger classes if that appeals.

From a student’s perspective, the more yoga experience and study that a teacher has, the more it will also benefit their own learning. Doing some research to find a class that combines your choice of instructor with the appropriate level is important.

 Inexperience or little knowledge about a condition could unintentionally cause injury.

Although it may be uncomfortable for you to ask an instructor directly, you can take a look online to find out more or chat with other staff and students at the location where you attend class.  Most yoga teachers, regardless of their experience, welcome questions as no teacher would want to knowingly hurt a student but inexperience or limited knowledge about a condition could unintentionally cause injury.

Depending upon the yoga school or tradition the teacher follows, many 200hour graduates may also go ahead and continue in their studies with an additional 300hour teacher training.  These trainings provide practicing teachers with an opportunity to study the whole topic of yoga in more depth including aspects of injury management and yoga therapy.

So take a little time to research further and consider experience, qualifications and ongoing study to find your perfect yoga match.

Ask an Instructor – Diana Markessinis

Diana Markessinis
Diana Markessinis – Yoga instructor and fine artist

Diana Markessinis is a yoga instructor and fine artist specialising in sculpture.

ask an instructor – 10 questions

• the very first yoga class you attended?   As a small little lady with my mom we walked to an old Victorian house in our neighborhood of Wilmington Delaware. I remember the sound of the pocket door sliding shut, deep breathing, and quiet organized movement in a full room of ladies.

• what is it about yoga that inspires you?   The merging of our internal and external worlds, to explore and travel our internal world then the outside physical body world…it’s a lovely dance back and forth and eventually they merge and unite creating a one pointed focus, where all else falls away, in that peacefulness I get inspired

• what yoga item(s) could you not be without?  I suppose my blocks, but honestly if they aren’t with me, I find something else, books, buckets, a railing, whatever is available to give me more space!

• your favorite post yoga class snack?  Something juicy and refreshing like fresh veggie or fruit.

• what book would you recommend to a brand new student of yoga?  Depends on that persons interests…Donna Farhi ‘bringing yoga to life’ has a nice overview or for a deeper level ‘the body has its reasons’ by Therese Bertherat

• if you could teach a class anywhere in the world, where would it be?  On the floor of a soft forest on a sunny day.

–  type of class you like to attend when you are not the instructor?  Relaxation classes like Restoratives or Yin, as I practice this at home, but have to keep watch of the time, it’s luxurious to have someone else keeping track.

• favorite thing to do if not doing yoga?  Being outside and creating objects.

• if you weren’t a yoga instructor?  I’m an artist, my love and knowledge of yoga is to make this life fuller for myself and others.

• as a yoga instructor, what do you hope a new student takes away from your class?  To simply feel better then when they arrived. Showing up on our mat is to be a witness to whatever is happening that day, and in theory as that awareness comes through we can better serve ourselves and therefore others.

To find out more about Diana’s yoga schedule and sculpture work visit her website http://www.dianamarkessinis.com

Diana teaches a weekly Yoga Fundamentals class at Inner Space yoga studio in Santa Ana.

7 Reasons Why I’m Happy to be a Middle Aged Yogi….

Can I go get coffee instead?
As a yogi embracing the middle years there are many yoga trends I’m happy to let pass me by.  Here are 7 of them…

  • Any yoga class that has been heated to a temperature worthy of an industrial laundry.  My own body creates that heat spontaneously so why would I consider turning up the temperature…..on purpose?
  • Any yoga class that has the word ‘burn’, ‘boot’, ‘butt’ or ‘bust’ in the description.  Need I say more?
  • Any type of yoga clothing design that incorporates large cut out panels or swathes of mesh.  Worse still, not enough fabric to make a handkerchief from.

    Any yoga class that has the word ‘burn’, ‘boot’, ‘butt’ or ‘bust’ in the title.  Need I say more?

  • Any pose that involves contorting myself into the shape of a badly twisted pretzel.  I know Madonna managed to get both feet around her neck and good on her, but me?  With these hips?
  • Any yoga cleansing programs that involve a diet of foods I can’t pronounce and the need to perform four hours of acrobatic poses every day.  Just the thought of it makes me pine for a lie down…..when’s savasana?
  • Achieving a one armed handstand in the middle of the room/beach/park/any other random open space.  Didn’t happen for me at the peak of my yoga fitness so I’m happy to practice acceptance in the knowledge that it won’t happen now.
  • The trend for posting multiple yoga pose photographs to social media on a daily basis.  Can I go get a coffee instead?

How are these trends working out for you?