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:
My reflection on life this week – and why I’m blaming Mercury.
So I’ve been feeling all down in the dumps this week. And having a crap ‘I hate my body’ week. churning up old feelings of inadequacy and beating myself up about it.
It’s taken a lot of internal arguments with myself to not go complete hermit mode and I’ve had to force myself to practice, and even just to have dinner and socialise with friends. Then I read this:
Mercury retrograde wants us to move back spiritually. It is providing us with a chance to re-examine various areas of our life which may need a little more work, so that we can move forward to a bright new dawn. Now, more than ever, the time is right to look at things with clear eyes. Delicious, fresh perspectives are revealed. We often have major breakthroughs — intellectual, emotional or spiritual — during this time.
taken from: Gala Darling
So, I’m not going mental after all! It’s just those pesky planets spinning around, the new moon probably needs to take some of the blame for this too…but mostly yes, a time to reassess and re-evaluate what has been, and what is to be.
Oh hang on though, am I not supposed to be living in the now? Erkhart Tolle will be very upset with me thinking about the past and future. Gosh, all this spirituality is very confusing and contradictory.
It has made me reflect on the life I had, the person I was and make some positive changes. I feel healthy and happy and have a true sense of who I am. I’m working on my practice and myself everyday.
But this week I have been reflecting in a negative way, I don’t feel healthy OR happy, jeez louise my world has gone tits up!
So today, more than any other day I decided to just focus on the breath and movement, the steady rhythmic flow of the vinyasa. Being mindful of my body and listening to it, breathing deeper in the postures, trying to release the tension from my body and mind.
And guess what, I left the shala feeling OK, not awesome, or amazing, just OK, which was better than yesterday. No problem, that’s OK. Shake it off, tomorrow will bring something new (ha! just realised the irony here, tomorrow is LITERALLY the New Moon!)
I bloody love Yoga. And life, yeah life is pretty good too, even when it’s rubbish. So you keep on retrograding Mercury, I know what your up to….and from NOW I will start to use it as a positive. Thanks.
Ubud is known as the yoga capital of Bali, however when for this visit I didn’t have the time to head to Ubud. I needed to be nearer the city, and wanted to have a surf, so I knew Canggu was the place I needed to see. Naturally I looked into the places to practice as I wanted to experience new shalas and teachers. Canggu is fast becoming the next stop on the yoga map for Bali.
I only visited two centres and practiced Mysore Ashtanga with KPJAYI authorised teachers in both. So this guide is somewhat potted, but if you are an Ashtanga practitioner then you will be interested in these two centres both with authorised teachers.
Serenity Eco Guesthouse
This place is an eclectic mash up of cafe, chill out areas and a beautiful garden and grounds. It is close to the beach (Fisherman’s Beach) and also has surfboards for guests. They offer a packed timetable, and a range of rooms for all budgets. The guesthouse is laid back, with spaces to chill and relax, and has two shalas and a pool for guests too!
What I liked best about the place was it’s Eco approach, and how things around the place were labelled so you knew what herbs were growing, what water filtration they were doing, etc. I didn’t see any of the rooms so can’t comment on those, and the shala I practiced in was with a tiled floor and a good size to fit about 15-20 people in.
The vibe in the room was very relaxed, I think there were quite a few beginners. Fernando has a strong presence and gave me some good adjustments. They offer all kinds of yoga classes all day, a single class drop in costs 100k (about £6) it gets cheaper the more classes you take.
At the other end of the spectrum from the hippy vibe at Serenity is the beautiful ’boutique’ shala and centre of Samadhi Bali. An instagrammer haven. It is on a beautiful road full of rice fields and it is stunning from the entrance to inside. It has a beautiful, wooden floored shala with a modern architecture feel with nice little Indian and Balinese touches, a good restaurant and a wonderful shop (I literally could have bought everything in that shop!)
The grounds are landscaped with lush plants and foliage, and it also has luxury (but pricey) rooms and a spa. I didn’t see these but can only imagine they are as good as they look on the website.
I took another Mysore Ashtanga class here with the owner, Damien De Bastier, who studied and was authorised by Sri. Pattabi Jois, he had a few assistants in the room so you got more attention for adjustments and alignment cues than at Serenity.
Damien has a wonderful nature and he was so active in the room, he was flying around helping every person in there. There was a lovely energy in the room and there was a wide range of levels from beginners to advanced practitioners.
They also have a full daily schedule of classes, Ashtanga being the primary focus but also Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin and some Yoga for surfers sessions.
If I ever own my own place, this is the kind of place I want it to be – beautiful, relaxed, classy!
Places I didn’t visit but have heard good reviews about are:
The Practice – heard it has a stunning shala with views over rice fields.
Desi Seni – heard this place is very beautiful and good reports on teaching here.
(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 😉
In a recent interview with LA Yoga magazine Sharath Jois commented:
‘Nowadays, it [YOGA]has become more physical, like how to do handstand. There is no spirituality in that. It’s just physical, how to bend your body and how to align your body, but classical yoga is about how to bring the discipline to your body and your mind, and how that discipline leads you towards spirituality. That is called yama and niyama. These are very important limbs in yoga practice. Not many people are putting attention to these. They are putting attention only to the physical aspect of yoga….there is no breathing, no vinyasa, no gazing. All these things, what we call tristana, are very important to our asana practice’
Oh sweet music to my ears…why only one year ago was I obsessed with being able to do a handstand, and thought I was not worthy if I couldn’t?
Social Media is a great platform for building a business profile for sure, but it does tend to promote too many images of ‘perfect body’ yogi’s doing complicated asana….and how is that being true to the origins and spirit of yoga??? I have been in classes, even handstand workshops with people, like myself, who were not physically ready for such a strong asana, but everywhere you looked on social media people were handstand pressing like it was all there was to do…props to Erin Motz (of Bad Yogi) who at least kept it real with an ‘expose’ video of what goes behind getting the perfect Instagram shot.
It was almost simultaneous, when I got to Mysore earlier this year, that I stopped taking yoga selfies for my Instagram and Facebook pages…and I started a real study of yoga.
‘classical yoga is about how to bring the discipline to your body and your mind’
Coming on the to the mat, day after day, working on the basics, learning so much about your body, how it works in every single asana, from samashiti to shavasana, and how the mind works alongside it, and then how you can take what you have learnt from that off the mat into your life, and the lives of others you interact with. And the irony is my body and asana are so much stronger than they were a year ago, so I am probably capable of doing a fairly decent handstand – but I don’t care anymore
That’s yoga, that’s union, that’s bringing together the body and mind. Let’s all stop trying to be the ‘perfect’ yogi (as depicted by Instagram et al) and start trying to use the practice to change ourselves for the better?
I have been pondering on this question for some time now. I think that the answer is that it is going to mean different things to me at different points in my life.
For the moment I am living and breathing a yoga lifestyle. I literally eat, sleep, repeat YOGA
Pattabi Jois describes yoga in his book, Yoga Mala as ‘upaya’ meaning path, or a way in which we follow or a means we can attain something. I think this is a great description
For me, like many others I know, I started practicing yoga as a way to exercise and stretch my body and compliment by dancing. Then, as I retired from dance and began teaching I always tried many different other forms of exercise, HIIT, the Gym, Insanity, Spin, Running, Cycling, Pilates and kept coming back to Yoga. I did enjoy most of those others too but they didn’t keep me long-term.
When I started going to Cheltenham Yoga and Pilates 4 years ago I really started to take things a bit more seriously. Firstly I loved how I felt physically after a class and also because in Shavasana I felt it was the only time (with a busy job and trying to renovate a house, a social media addiction etc) I got to truly have some time just to be present. And I found going to the studio a calming and restorative experience.
Then the opportunity to train as a teacher arose at Ella and Fleur, something i had been meaning to do for some time and so I signed up and well – let’s just say that changed my life. The training definitely took me on that path to which Pattabi refers to…again, coming into it from a purely asana aspect, i was pleasantly surprised when I started to enjoy the spiritual aspect. I found the history and philosophy of Yoga in all it’s forms, dating aback to the Veda’s and Upanishads totally enthralling.
I found a connection with my chakras and even began to enjoy the odd Aum here and there! I learnt that Yoga means so much more than a good workout, so much more than the asana.Friends and family could see a difference in me and I started to love something as much as I loved dance.
Of course, all this came about just when I was going through one of the toughest times in my life, and I can attribute the teacher training to something akin to therapy for a broken heart. It gave my life a purpose when I felt all was lost. And it gave me something to focus on that wasn’t the pain of heartache
It gave me a new identity when I really needed to be reborn. And maybe most importantly it taught me that I am good enough, where I am right now. I am striving to be the ‘best version of me’ and all those other corny motivational quotes.
And then I made the decision to come on my own path, to journey to the self, and I had a new romance, with Ashtanga. Which brings me to where I am now, if you are new here you can read my online diary of my yoga journey here: from Mysore to present
So, what does Yoga mean to me? Yoga is a lifestyle, it’s MY lifestyle. I’ve given up a career in education and left friends and family at home to pursue this lifestyle now. It’s not just asana (postures) it’s a way of life. It’s my way of life. It has made me reflect on the life I had, the person I was and make some positive changes. I feel healthy and happy and have a true sense of who I am. I’m working on my practice and myself everyday. Practice and ALL is coming.