Monthly Archives: June 2016

Hands off!

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I might be unusual, but I don’t do a lot of hands-on adjustments in my yoga classes. I prefer to watch carefully and adjust my verbal cues to encourage students to find their best alignment in posture work. I believe that this is a safer way to work, as people are more likely to find a way that works for their body, one which lies within their own comfortable limits.
From watching someone, however carefully, I cannot always tell why they find if difficult to move in a particular way. I am not an expert in their body and their medical history in the way that they are (they live it, after all!) And therefore, if I start manually adjusting them, I may do more harm than good. I myself have been hurt as a result of over-enthusiastic adjustment by a yoga teacher at the start of my yoga journey. I have been sat on in a sitting forward bend to force my lower back a little lower. I have had my arm pulled into alignment overhead in triangle pose. The second of these exacerbated a pre-existing shoulder problem, and meant that I was unable to continue with the class.
And so I am very wary of manual adjustment. It was on my Dru yoga teacher training that I found my own way to work with, rather than against, my own body, with all its history, all its weaknesses, as well as its strengths. It was here that I found how to align my arm in triangle pose, whilst accommodating my shoulder injury, and without pain. No, it wasn’t as quick as being pulled into position, it took time and patience, but it was safe. Working this way increased my range of movement, rather than restricting it further. And surely, this has to be one of the main aims of yoga!
Whilst some students come to yoga in search of the ‘perfect body’ and quick results, I see it as part of my job as a yoga teacher to help them find that patience, to help them to see the benefits of taking their time, to help them differentiate  between a quick fix and a long-lasting improvement in their posture, their flexibility, their  physical and their emotional wellbeing. The rest of the world can move fast, forcing us along with it, but yoga is an escape from all of that. For some of us, it may be the only place we can move slowly, take our time, and deeply let go. And that can be the most healing thing of all.
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What’s stopping YOU from trying yoga?

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When it comes to reasons for not doing yoga,  I’ve probably heard  them all….

  • I can’t do yoga because I’m not very flexible
  • I can’t do yoga because I find it difficult to relax
  • I can’t do yoga because I can’t touch my toes /stand on my head/wrap my legs round my neck/I’m not a contortionist etc….
  • I can’t do yoga because I don’t look right…like the people in the magazines
  • I can’t do yoga because it’s not for men / older people / larger people / unfit people / people like me
  • I’m not healthy enough to do yoga

You get the idea…in many cases, people feel intimidated by the image of yoga as portrayed in the media.  In the majority of publications, you’ll see largely fit and healthy, young, thinnish people (most often women) practising advanced yoga positions, which is enough to put off most of us mere mortals from even trying! Which is a shame, as in many classes, those advanced postures are a rare thing – teachers will teach a variety of movements, and offer alternatives and modifications when they are tackling something tricky with more advanced students. If you look for a beginners, or mixed-ability class, you’ll find that there will be plenty more you can do than you can’t do.  If you look around, you’ll most likely find several classes full of people like you – ordinary people, with their own struggles, rather than the superfit, superskinny, superyoung people you might think make up a yoga class. You just might need to try one or several classes before finding one where you feel completely comfortable.

And if you worry that you’re not very flexible – well, most people share that concern to begin with! The only way to increase flexibility is to work at it, and learning yoga is an ideal way to do that safely and at your own pace. If you never start increasing flexibility, it won’t just happen on it’s own, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be the only inflexible student your teacher had ever seen! Just don’t expect instant results – if you have never been able to touch your toes, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to after your very first yoga class!

If you don’t feel very healthy – well, that’s the very reason that many people get into yoga initially. I started my home yoga practice after a lengthy illness, way back in my early twenties, thinking of it as a way to get moving gently, whilst building up my strength.  I became hooked, and never looked back, starting my teacher training a few years later. I certainly didn’t start yoga because I was already fit, happy, healthy and able to demonstrate tricky poses on a beach somewhere! Just the opposite!

And if you can’t relax – welcome, along with the rest of us, to the twenty-first century! We live life at a frantic pace these days, our brains are bombarded with news from all around the world, we’re seldom far from our devices alerting us to the latest disaster or sports result. Not being able to relax is one of the very best reasons to head to a yoga class and find a bit of peace! Believe me, most people find it tricky to relax to begin with – lying down, in a room full of strangers?! But most people find that, actually, after a good stretch, plenty of movement, an hour or more of peace and quiet, and then a lovely comfortable relaxation  position – it’s easier to relax on the floor than it is at home in bed! Perhaps not in their very first class, perhaps not until they’ve tried it several times  – but sooner or later, most people find a stillness they maybe haven’t experienced  before.  They’ve learnt to relax, body and mind.

Alison x

For more articles, tips and information on all things wellbeing, AND a free relaxation recording, sign up to my e-newsletter at http://bit.ly/sunfishnews

To book classes, visit http://bit.ly/sunfishclasses

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So thankful for yoga…

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yoga back care stretch relax Sunfish Yoga and Therapy

This weekend, I had an accident – nothing too major, but just a fall at home.  I’d like to say I fell slowly and gracefully, as would befit a yoga teacher, but sadly, no, it was far from graceful and I hit the ground with a definite thud!

I was a little bit shaken but otherwise fine, until later that day, when I first noticed the aching in my lower back, my hip and my leg. Really not what I need at all, when I’ll be teaching classes every day. Fortunately, however, I know from my training that it is far better to move gently than to stop completely, and, in the absence of serious injury, it is more than safe to continue with my practice.  Even more fortunate, perhaps, that I have recently returned from the Dru yoga back care course, and so had a fabulous range of movements and postures to practise specifically to prevent the stiffness from setting in. So two days later, I have a very slight ache in my hip but otherwise feel totally fine and have taught the first class of the week with no issues.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I like getting injured or enjoy pain, far from it, but there have been many things over the years which afterwards I am grateful for, as they show me, time and time again, how lucky I am to have the career and knowledge that I have, and help me to help others  even better.

It can be so easy to have a minor accident like this and then, at the first sign of discomfort, start to move gingerly, protecting or ‘bracing’ against the pain. The stiffness then escalates, and the muscular tension which results can cause even more significant pain. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you fling yourself around if you have an injury, but it is worth knowing that even injuries like prolapsed discs  are likely to heal within a relatively short space of time, and that ongoing pain can result more from the muscular tension and stiffness of reduced movement over the long term. I’ve been there – I had a lumbar disc lesion and then a cervical disc lesion in my early to mid twenties, and on both occasions was advised total rest, and to ‘stop doing my yoga’. On both occasions, the pain lasted way beyond the time you would expect for healing to take place – even for quite some years, in the case of the neck injury. In the end, the only thing which really helped relieve the pain was movement, and the gradual resumption of my full yoga practice.

Of course many yoga postures are strenuous and best avoided for certain conditions, but luckily there are a whole range of  soft, flowing movements, combined with strengthening moves, included in the back care classes. Whilst still feeling a bit of a numpty for falling over in the first place (!) I am pleased to have gained first hand experience of just how  beneficial these classes can be for those with back pain, and can’t wait to share them with my students.

For more articles, tips and information on all things wellbeing, AND a free relaxation recording, sign up to my e-newsletter at http://bit.ly/sunfishnews

To book classes, visit http://bit.ly/sunfishclasses

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