Building a Home Yoga Practice

yoga practice, home yoga practice, creating a personal practice, yoga at home
Building a Home 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!

SaveSave

The Value of Practicing Yoga with an Experienced Yoga Instructor

practice with an experienced yoga teacher, experienced yoga teacher, yoga for middle age, yoga and injuries
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.

SaveSave

Yoga to Support Bones & Joints in the Middle Years

Yoga for middle age, middle aged yoga, yoga for bone & joint health, yoga benefits in the middle years, yoga as we age, yoga for aging bodies
Yoga to Support Bones & Joints in the Middle Years

Knee bone’s connected to your thigh bone.……so the song goes.  As we age, we can anticipate the structure of our bones and joints changing but there are ways, through the practice of yoga, that we can support our bodies through these changes and a little self care now can go a long way later.


The adult human body is comprised of 206 bones – there’s a useful fact to log for your next game of Trivial Pursuit – and these bones are cleverly hinged and connected across a range of joints to form the human skeleton.

As we age, we can anticipate the structure of our bones and joints changing but there are ways, through the practice of yoga, that we can support our bodies through these changes and a little self care now can go a long way later.

Osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are three of the more common skeletal conditions all of which feature in the list of chronic conditions we may come to experience in older age.

  • osteoporosis – is the most common chronic condition of the joints and ccording to the National Osteoporosis Foundation 54 million Americans are suffering from osteoporosis.  As our bones get older so the living tissue inside them loses density causing them to weaken.  The closely packed honeycomb look of a young, healthy bone gradually changes creating a more loosely packed honeycomb that is far more brittle and prone to breaking.  Most of us reach our peak bone mass between the ages of 25 & 30 but by the time we’re celebrating our 40th birthdays we have already begun to lose that bone mass.
  • osteoarthritis – is a form of arthritis that can be genetic but can also be caused by previous injury, overuse or misuse of a joint and excess weight.  Osteoarthritis occurs as the smooth cartilage lining where bones meet one another at a joint, begins to break down losing its smoothly gliding properties which ultimately compromises the range of movement within the joint.  Research conducted by the Arthritis Foundation found that those with osteoarthritis can be more at risk of having balance issues simply because of the decreased function, physical weakness and pain they experience in arthritic joints.
  • rheumatoid arthritis – is another common form of arthritis which is an autoimmune disease caused by the individual’s own body mistakenly attacking the joints causing bone and cartilage damage.

This little trio of conditions makes for grim reading but the physical and meditational aspects of yoga alongside other healthy life choices can help reduce, limit and, in some cases, improve symptoms.

How Yoga Can Help

Firstly, we can help ourselves stay healthy by regular exercise.  Something you’ve read many times before, I’m sure.  The affects of osteoporosis can be improved through a regular yoga practice.  Often described as ‘weight bearing’, the standing yoga poses such as the Warrior poses and chair pose are great ones to practice as they create movement in the joints as well as being excellent muscle strengtheners.

Strong muscles support and protect the joints as we move.  By keeping joints fluid and open by working through their full range of motion we help to prevent joint stiffness and discomfort.  In a yoga class we may recline and use a strap looped over the foot in hand to foot pose to help maintain hip joint flexibility, for example.

A recent study by yoga loving physician Dr Loren Fishman MD, a life long practitioner and teacher, showed interesting results suggesting that the daily practice of a twelve minute yoga routine could help with osteoporotic bone loss.  He started a similar study again this Fall.  Go to sciatica.org to learn more.

With osteoarthritis & rheumatoid arthritis, regular exercise is also recommended.  In both cases keeping the body moving to preserve flexibility and maintaining a healthy physical weight are key.

Another great benefit of yoga, which can’t be overlooked, is the relaxation and mental focus of the practice.  Whether in the form of a regular meditation practice, mindfulness techniques or simply enjoying an extended savasana at the end of class, the benefits are enormous.

These are two common conditions which many of us may be confronted with further down the line, but research shows that exercise can help minimize and help with symptoms.

Yoga poses often practiced in a class include cat/cow, to warm up the spine, and triangle to strengthen the lower back and stretch the hip joints.  Reclining poses are helpful too.  Poses such as bridge work to strengthen the back body and gentle twists open the shoulders, mobilize the spine and work abdominal muscles.  Furthermore, a regular yoga practice is particularly helpful for stability and improving our sense of balance which, in turn, makes us less prone to falling.

Another great benefit of yoga, which can’t be overlooked, is the relaxation and mental focus of the practice.  Whether in the form of a regular meditation practice, mindfulness techniques or simply enjoying an extended savasana at the end of class, the benefits are enormous.

Relaxation can reduce the stress and anxieties we may experience and, in turn, make our physical challenges easier to embrace and live with. 

These aspects of yoga assist with dealing with physical pain and offer support in coming to terms with a diagnosis.  Additionally, the community element of joining a class cannot be underestimated.  Practicing with others who may have conditions in common provides the perfect social environment to help with low mood or depression that sometimes occurs as our physical bodies change with age.  Relaxation can reduce the stress and anxieties we may experience and, in turn, make our physical challenges easier to embrace and live with.

So, make yoga part of your self care routine.  Go join a class and your joints will thank you!

SaveSave

How yoga can help with perimenopause symptoms

 

yoga for perimenopause, yoga for menopause, yoga for perimenopause symptoms, yoga support for menopause
How Yoga Can Support in Perimenopause

The time leading up to the menopause, known as the perimenopause, can be challenging and full of physical and mental changes but news flash – or should I say hot flash – yoga can help!


There is a long list of symptoms that may be associated with the perimenopause –  ‘yippee!’ I hear you cry.  Three of the most common are hot flashes, mood swings and sleep disruption but don’t lose heart as yoga can help.

Starting with the whole heating issue.  Some research estimates that almost 80% or women are affected by hot flashes.  Thought to be caused by the combination of unbalanced over and under active hormones bouncing about there are a number of yoga poses that can support you and inversions can be particularly helpful.

A great reference book with detailed yoga sequences for perimenopausal symptoms is ‘The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health’ by Linda Sparrowe & Patricia Walden.  Patricia, an experienced and respected Iyengar yoga teacher, recommends inversions as they can ‘jump start a sluggish system or calm an overly excited one by allowing fresh, oxygenated blood to flow into the head and neck’.

There is a long list of symptoms that may be associated with the perimenopause –  ‘yippee!’ I hear you cry.  Three of the most common are hot flashes, mood swings and sleep disruption but don’t lose heart as yoga can help.

Whether in the full form of the pose i.e. headstand or shoulderstand, or in supported versions using props and the wall, inverted poses will help as they are calming and soothing for the nervous system.  You may already have a strong inversion practice but if you haven’t or if you are completely new to yoga or have neck and back issues that prevent you doing inversions safely there are many alternative supported inversion poses to try.  (Although be mindful, it is not recommended that you do inverted poses when menstruating).

Mood swings are another aspect of the whole perimenopause journey. Seated forward bends can be good for mood as they are soothing in anxious moments but as they are ‘enclosed’ poses with the forward folding torso they will not be suitable if you suffer with depression.

Supported restorative poses are good alternatives as a restorative practice lying over bolsters and blankets offers the opportunity to quieten the mind and body at stressful, moody moments.  A great resource for restorative yoga is Judith Hanson Lasater’s book ‘Relax and Renew’.

Finally, sleep disruption, which can be impacted by the effects of the previous two symptoms.  Hot flashes become the night sweats and the root of insomnia can be the stress and irritation that comes from mood swings.

With a little time spent quietening the chatter of the mind and negative self talk the perimenopause can become an opportunity to embrace change.

There are various lifestyle changes that can be made in terms of eating and avoiding stimulants such as smoking, alcohol and caffeine.  Exercise is still important but if you are dealing with sleep issues then consider a more energizing and active yoga practice at the beginning of the day to avoid being too ‘wired’ closer to bedtime.

Besides the physical practice, mindfulness and the meditative practices of yoga are a great asset when dealing with perimenopause symptoms.

Being able to embrace physical changes with a more positive mindset will make these inevitable changes more manageable.  As Christiane Northrup, MD author of ‘The Wisdom of Menopause’ says ‘when all is said and done it is your attitude, your beliefs and your daily thought patterns that have the most profound effect on your health’.

With a little time spent quietening the chatter of the mind and negative self talk the perimenopause can become an opportunity to embrace change and benefit from a healthy and positive transition to the next life chapter.

As with all health related issues researched on the internet be sure to seek medical advice for any symptoms you experience.

SaveSave

SaveSave

How to Make Yoga Stick in Your 2017 Routine

New years resolutions

How you doing with those resolutions?  Still cutting out sugar?  On track to finish that book this month?  Stopped checking your email every time the phone pings?


Admittedly, we’re only a couple of weeks in so you’re probably still doing well on your New Year resolutions but how do you keep it consistent?  How do you really make a change to your routine that stays part of your routine going forward?

Research shows that it takes around 30 days to build a habit.  That is just one month.  Committing to a daily yoga practice whether it be in a class environment or home practice helps to reinforce the yoga habit which will hopefully stick around for life!

Here are a few tips for keeping your yoga going…

  • At first, try and commit to just one class a week.  If you can’t set a regular day/time examine the class schedule and figure out the handful of classes that may work so that you can mix and match each week.
  • If you’re lucky enough to find the teacher you love to practice with early on find out where else he or she teaches.  You may be able to combine locations to better suit your own schedule.
  • If budget allows consider private one on one classes.
  • Avoid the mindset of having to attend a full, extended 90minute session of yoga every single day creating unreasonable expectations on yourself.  Work on the idea of a manageable smaller, bite size daily practice to maintain your yoga habit.
  • If the studio, gym or location doesn’t give you that warm fuzzy feeling and you don’t feel inspired, try somewhere else.  A lot of the obstacles in attending class arise from the lack of connection you feel to the teachers and the teaching environment.  If it doesn’t speak to you, go elsewhere.
  • Once you’ve attended a few classes, make a mental note of some of the poses or part of a sequence.  Even if it is only two poses or a ten minute sequences down it forms the beginnings of a home practice.
  • Avoid the mindset of having to attend a full, extended 90minute session of yoga every single day creating unreasonable expectations.
  • Consider the idea of a more manageable, bite size daily practice to maintain your yoga habit.
  • If it is impossible to get to classes during the week consider signing up for weekend workshops that interest you.
  • If you have a yoga mat, lay it out somewhere at home.  When you are about to sit in front of the TV try stepping on to the mat instead.
  • Lastly, be mindful of other habits in your life that distract your time and attention.  Sometimes, to make space for new habits we need to lose some of the old ones.  I know, easier said than done but, for example, consider how much time you spend online.  You may just discover an extra 30 minutes in your day!

Keep your resolution alive by keeping your yoga practice growing.  As described in the classic yoga text The Yoga Sutras, ‘when it is harder not to practice than to practice then yoga becomes firmly grounded and an integral part of life’.

How have you managed to keep your yoga going?