Yoga Stuff – All The Gear…..

yoga stuff, all the yoga gear, how much yoga stuff do you need?
$10 or $100. Does it matter how much the mat cost?

In recent years yoga has been described more and more frequently as an ‘industry’.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with that as it does a great job of extending the appeal of yoga and interest in the practice but at what point is all the yoga ‘stuff’ just too much?


There is so much yoga stuff out there.  Whether it be the clothing and books or the props and accessories, the choice available to us is vast.  It’s nice that everything is so readily available but there comes a point when you have to stand back and ask ‘is the $90 yoga mat is really worth it?’ What part of yoga couldn’t you do without it?

When I first started practicing yoga in drafty community centers and schools you were required to bring along a large bath towel or floor mat to practice on.  It worked.  The towels did the job of providing a clean dry surface to stand on and I’m pretty sure it did a great job of cleaning the floor too!  Then, along came the eighties, when yoga became the in thing, growing more popular by the day and,  Ta-da!, out of the yoga ether appears the ‘sticky mat’ and the birth of the yoga mat industry.

“there comes a point when you have to stand back and ask is the $90 yoga mat is really worth it?”

I recently celebrated completion of a training by treating myself to a new mat even though I already own two.  One is my very, very first mat – several years old and well used – and the second one was bought for less than ten dollars from a local consignment store.  I still use them regularly as they both do the job but, for some reason, I felt compelled to buy a new one.

The justification for this investment was that I had worked hard during the training which had taken all my free time and I’d had plenty of opportunity to peruse the retail delights of the studio I was spending so much time in.  I deserved a treat for my new, inspired yoga practice but how was a mat really going to change anything?

“no amount of ‘the right gear’ is going to change my practice.  I’m either practicing yoga or I’m not, right?”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really nice one.   Cost $50, even with the discount, and the manufacturer has a nice commitment to planting a tree for each mat purchased which appeals to my sense of environmental responsibility.  It’s a great color too – a calming lilac blue with good texture for grip and a comfortable thickness.  However, I never use it!  I still go to class using my consignment store mat which continues to serve me well.  It is a practical weight, super sticky and a dark turquoise color that disguises the feet markings from many a downward facing dog.

What made me spend so much on a new yoga mat when I already had two?  I tried to analyze my logic and over time concluded that the marketing had worked.  I’d been seduced by the yoga ‘industry’ to buy into the yoga lifestyle and, even though the brand is well known and respected, no amount of ‘the right gear’ is going to change my practice.  I’m either practicing yoga or I’m not, right?  The sporting of trendy leggings or a pair of designer yoga blocks are not going to change that.

So, with this tale in mind, think twice before being swayed by the label on the mat under your arm or the logo printed on the back of your t-shirt. Ultimately, yoga is in the practice not in the product.

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Building a Home Yoga Practice

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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!

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The Value of Practicing Yoga with an Experienced Yoga Instructor

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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.

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How yoga can help with perimenopause symptoms

 

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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.

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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?