So I’m here in the mountains and living and working at the wonderful Akasha Wellness Retreat, in the heart of Transylvania, deep in the Carpathian Mountains, Romania. It is a stunning venue for a ‘first of it’s kind’ yoga and mediation retreat in Romania.
I’m into my third retreat, this week a ‘Sacred Feminine Yoga Retreat’ which started yesterday on International Womens Day, which is also Mother’s Day in Romania. Each retreat takes on a different theme, but they all include twice a day yoga, meditation and wonderful vegan food.
The kind of yoga we are teaching is an Ashtanga Fundamentals, a modified Primary Series in the mornings and the evening classes are Restorative and Yin Styles. Supporting this are meditation sessions at the end of class and dedicated meditation workshops to explain in more detail some of the techniques we use to help people start or improve a mediation practice.
Mixed in with that are workshops & activities that are tailored to that week’s theme, for example we’ve had Gong Sound Baths, Tibetan Flag making, Chakra Balancing and Buddhist Meditation workshops and activities like 108 gratitude mandalas or guided walks through the beautiful village and hills that surround us 360 degrees.
The food is carefully curated to give you all the nutrients you need and for some, open their eyes (and mouths!) to a plant-based diet. It is delicious and healthy and will leave you feeling nourished and full. There are lots of organic teas to try plus plenty of lemon, ginger and apple cider to help aid digestion or simply to relax with a good book in the lounge or sit out on the balcony admiring the views.
You can also feel pampered and relaxed with the spa treatments, ranging from an outdoor hot tub and sauna with breathtaking views or choose from Swedish, Shaistu or Cranio Sacral therapy for your massages, or simply have a relaxing bath ritual with your own choice of salts and essential oils.
I can’t believe how lucky I am to have found this place and feel honoured to be teaching here and be part of the Akasha family, which includes the dogs, Tony, Bursuc, Luna and the little puppies we rescued, Phoenix, Shiva and Joy…and not forgetting crazy Beasley the dogcat!
For more information on our upcoming retreats check out the website, with flights from London starting as cheap as £20 – WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? See you soon!
Why should I do Yoga? you may ask yourself. What’s in it for me?
I try not to go on too much to people who I meet, friends and family, I do believe that it’s a personal choice. But ask anyone who already does it and they will probably tell you it’s one of the best decisions they made in regards to their health.
Yoga works on the BODY and the MIND more than any other style of exercise. Arguably people find moments of meditation and or calmness of mind during running, cycling, many other sports, but yoga is as much about the mental as it is the physical and unlike other sports you should leave a class practice feeling calmer and more positive than when you entered.
‘I really regret going to that Yoga class’ – said NO ONE EVER!!!!!
As with most people I came to Yoga from a purely physical perspective, as a dancer it was a good way to keep flexible and what other class do you get to lie down and have a little rest in at the end?!! As I dived deeper into the yoga ocean I started to like how that ‘little rest’ left me feeling relaxed, positive and calm. During a time of emotional turmoil I started my teacher training and now can say, without any exaggeration that Yoga changed my life.
So, that’s me, and if you don’t like Yoga no worries, find something else that works for you, but as the one of the western world’s fastest growing ‘fitness’ style it is proven to work for many.
So WHY should you do Yoga?
Here are just some of the amazing benefits:
Stress relief, helps anxiety and depression
Helps breathing problem, respiratory related illness
Improves strength, balance, dexterity, and mental clarity
Helps physical ailments improve, particularly back pain
Improves your awareness of a healthy diet, and sustainable living and eating
Tones the body using own body weight
Helps the mind focus and stay positive
Brings loads of lovely, comfy yoga pants into your life 😉
So, if that hasn’t convinced you to give it a try then I don’t know what will!!!
But seriously, I find it the best thing for me, and I would love to share that passion and enthusiasm with you – so if you live in Gloucestershire, UK, come and join me on the mat! Details of classes can be found on my Facebook page:
Surya Namaskar – or for you sanskrit-phobes, Sun Salutations, are the full body dynamic workouts of yoga. If you only do 10 minutes of yoga per day – make it these sequences!
Those of you who have been to a yoga class will already be familiar with these set sequences as they should be included in all but Yin and Restorative styles of yoga in some form and variation.
There is so much importance in these sequences, which originally stem from the Vedic traditions of chanting to the sun each morning.
I would like to point out once again here that Yoga is much more than the physical practice of asana (postures) but it is this side of yoga that people normally start to practice first. And that’s cool! We all started somewhere – the importance is that you made the decision to start.
If you learn these two sequences then you have a good basis for starting a yoga practice and you will be targeting all the larger muscle groups in the body, which is why they are so important to learn.
But before you begin to learn the sequence it is vital to mention that you need to use the BREATH correctly whilst doing this to get the benefits. Breathing in yoga happens in and out of the nostrils with the mouth closed.
Nasal breathing (as opposed to mouth breathing) increases circulation, blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, slows the breathing rate and improves overall lung volumes. (Swift, Campbell, McKown 1988 Oronasal obstruction, lung volumes, and arterial oxygenation. Lancet 1, 73-75).
You should aim for the inhale and exhale to be the same length (we often exhale longer than we inhale) so to begin just sit or stand with the spine tall and practice just breathing for 5 inhales (count in your head 1,2,3,4) and 5 exhales.
Then start the sequence with an INHALE (remember the inhale should be at least 4 counts in length, so that will give you time to perform the actions)
I will describe here the postures (without using the sanskrit terms) and scroll down for a video of me demonstrating the postures:
Start with feet together, standing tall, ground into the floor with the feet, relax the shoulders.
1. Inhale, take the arms up above the head, look up to the thumbs.
2. Exhale, fold forward from the hips, place the hands flat on the floor outside of the feet (knees can be bent to start.
3. Inhale, lengthen through the spine, look up, try to straighten the legs.
4. Exhale, bend the knees and jump back into high plank and lower or if strong enough, straight back to low push up (Chattugranga).
5. Inhale, push through the shoulders to raise the back into a prone postition, relax the shoulders.
6. Exhale, push back and up with the hips into an upside down triangle.* Try to bring heels to the floor. HOLD AND BREATH (1 inhale, 1 exhale) 5 times.
7. Inhale, look to the space between the hands and try and jummp the feet into that space, lengthen the spine and look up.
8. Exhale, fold the body over the legs, drawing the ribs onto the thighs.
9. Inhale, push into the floor standing up, reaching arms over head as in (1).
10. Exhale, bring arms down by sides, to start again from (1).
Repeat the whole sequence (from 1-10) 5 times.
Sun Salutation B:
1. Inhale, bend the knees, sweep the arms low to tthe floor, then keeping the knees bent reach the arms up above the head and gaze to the thumbs.
2. Follow Sun Salutation A from 2. up to 6.* then:
7. Inhale, pivot the left foor inwards and lower the heel to the floor (mat), stepping the right foot up to the space in between the hands. Push into the floor with the feet and raise the body and arms up, gaze goes to the thumbs.
8. Exhale, lower back down and release the right leg so you are in ahigh plank. Lower to the low plank
9. Inhale and push shoulders up to raise the back into a prone postition, relax the shoulders.
10. Exhale, push back and up with the hips into an upside down triangle
11. Inhale, pivot the right foot inwards and lower the heel to the floor (mat), stepping the left foot up to the space in between the hands. Push into the floor with the feet and raise the body and arms up, gaze goes to the thumbs
12. Exhale, lower back down and release the left leg back so you are in a high plank. Lower to the low plank
13. Inhale and push shoulders up to raise the back into a prone postition, relax the shoulders.
14. Exhale, push back and up with the hips into an upside down triangle. Try to bring heels to the floor. HOLD AND BREATH (1 inhale, 1 exhale) 5 times.
15. Inhale, look to the space between the hands and try and jump the feet into that space, lengthen the spine and look up.
16. Exhale, fold the body over the legs, drawing the ribs onto the thighs.
17. Inhale, bend the knees, reaching arms over head as in (1)
18. Exhale, bring arms down by sides, straighten the legs to stand tall and to start again from (1).
If all that seems confusing I (will) be putting together a basic video of me demonstrating the sequences with some annotations, but I cannot stress enough that you find a class and go and be instructed under an experienced yoga teacher.
I will be covering classes in Cheltenham, UK, throughout December and January – so watch this space (blog) for details coming soon!
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(lyrics from For Good, Wicked the Musical, Stephen Schwartz)
So after my short holiday in Goa I hopped over to the Thai island of Koh Phangan where my good friends, Teresa and Kes Kennard, have a yoga retreat. They had offered me the chance to work on the retreat as a teacher and I had offered to help them with their online presence and social media.
The Yoga Retreat is a very special place nestled in the jungle in the North West of the island, but only a short distance from the beautiful bay of Haad Salad. When I say it’s a very special place I really, really mean this, not just because I work there or my friends own it, but because it has a wonderful energy and since arriving here in April I have seen it make such a positive impact on so many people’s lives that I feel it really deserves that accolade.
Focusing on Ashtanga Yoga the retreat offers daily Mysore style classes and beginner’s courses with KPJAYI Authorised teachers, so you can see why I took up the offer to work here with them, to continue to practice 6 days a week on the beautiful jungle shala with experienced, authorised teachers.
They also offer daily Hatha Flow classes (of which I teach on Friday’s) and Saturday’s and Sunday’s I teach a restorative Yin Class to work the connective tissue and fascia so to support people in their Ashtanga practice (let’s get those hip and hamstrings open!)
At the risk of sounding like I’m writing a review, the food on the retreat is some of the best food I’ve eaten. EVER. Deserving a post of its own, and definitely stealing some recipes for my health and nutrition posts, they offer vegan, vegetarian and raw options for the health conscious yogi…..cacao bowl breakfast, hummus salads, vegetable wraps, cacao and avocado mousse, raw pad thai, I mean seriously good stuff…mmmm I’m getting hungry and I only just had my cacao bowl!! (Have I overused the work cacao here?!)
So, yes the yoga is phenomenal, the food outstanding, but the real thing I love about working here? The people I have met. This is the joy of not only yoga, but travel, like-minded people from all over the world coming together and firm new friendships being made.
I have connected with people here who I hope to be friends and stay in touch with forever. A yoga retreat is a very transient business, which can be hard as you are always saying goodbye to somebody. You have to rejoice in the fact that you met in the first place, and that somehow you have made a positive impression on each others lives. And of course, now we have social media we can keep in touch with each other all over the world daily so in fact they only ever leave you in a physical presence.
So, if you have read some of my previous posts you will know that I am currently attempting to be an ‘Ashtangi’ meaning I am studying the asana from the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series, along with trying to guide my life through the Yamas and Niyamas, adding in a sprinkling of Pranayama and topping it with a tiny sprinkle of meditation (or Dhyana). So that’s me, and I will go on to write more about the eight limbs, what they mean to me and how you can introduce them into your daily lives in further posts.
But what about if you are new to ‘yoga’ and are confused with all the different options and styles available to you at your local yoga centre/gym/community centre etc?
Well I will try to explain the more popular, or well-known styles so that you may be able to make an informed decision if you want to start practising yoga. But right here right now I will state that I strongly encourage you to START practicing yoga. It may be the best decision you ever make. Don’t worry too much about the types of yoga styles, just find a class and go to it!
‘I really regretted going to that yoga class’ – said no one, EVER!
Yoga is both a physical and mental practice, and also please remember that it is called ‘practice’ for a reason…there is no end to it, you are always practicing and working towards something, hopefully that something will be your improved physical and mental health and a new outlook on life and becoming a better person, ergo making you life have a positive impact on the world.
PLEASE NOT THAT FOR THE REST OF THIS POST I AM REFERRING TO PURELY THE PHYSICAL SIDE OF YOGA, THE ASANA, OR POSTURES. This is just the start of the ‘yoga’ journey but as it’s the start, it’s a pretty good place to begin.
When you first start to research yoga and it’s forms, you will come across the terms ‘Hatha’ ‘Vinyasa’ ‘Yin’ and of course ‘Ashtanga’ also maybe ‘Jivamukti’, ‘Forest’ or ‘Anusara’ Plus many more self-made styles which hopeefully the studio provides a descrition for (I’m talking Slow Flow, Power Vinyasa, Funky Flow etc) so it can be extremely confusing.
Everyone needs to start somewhere and I would recommend that your entry-level class needs to be a ‘Hatha’ or even may simply be called ‘Beginners’ yoga. The term Hatha in itself is confused, sometimes referred to as the physical or ‘asana’ side of yoga. It is these postures that prepare the body and mind for meditation (yep, that’s the real reason we are all doing this) and so therefore ALL types of physical yoga can be refered to as Hatha.
Generally if a studio is advertising a class as ‘Hatha’ you will learn the basic yoga positions and become familiar with the Sanskrit terms of those positions (asana) in a slow-paced class that focuses on less asana and works at a steady pace, making it perfect for beginners.
Vinyasa yoga, or Vinaysa Flow is using the basic principle that ‘vinyasa’ essentially means linking breath with movement, so these class will generally work more with flowing poses (asana) together with the breath, sometimes working on up to five postures or more on one side of the body before you repeat it on the other side. These classes are a bit more physically challenging than a Hatha class and are great for stepping up your yoga practice, trying out more challenging postures and will also appeal to somebody who likes a more cardio based workout.
Ashtanga is the most physical of the yoga styles, and I will post many more entries about this style. I do believe it can be adapted for the beginner but don’t be alarmed to realise that it is a very physically challenged set of asana and it may have helped you to have tried the other two styles (Hatha and Vinyasa) before you try this style.
Yin Yoga, created fairly recently (late 1970’s) compared to other styles, as a perfect fit to the more ‘Yang’ styles of yoga above it works on the fascia, or connective tissues that lie over the top of the larger muscles and postures are held for anywhere between 3 and 20 minutes and therefore can be used to help with flexibility and also works the para-sympathetic nervous system bringing you to an almost meditative state during the class.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as in these modern consumerist times we are always conjuring up new terms and styles to catch the ever distracted population’s imagination. So, you may have to wade through the studio’s website to find out what kind of yoga exactly your ‘Slow Jamz Funky Floor Flow’ class is.
There are of course many other different styles of yoga and you can google away at your heart’s content to find out a style that appeals to you, but this is meant as a beginner’s guide and as I have already said, I hope if you don’t already tread it, this guide will help you take your first steps on the path of yoga. Your welcome 😉