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!
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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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.
Here are my Top Tips for Patnem, Palolem and Colomb Bay Area including the beaches and my favourite places to eat and drink. In all honesty the food here was not blow your socks off amazing so the guide is limited to reflect that.
Patnem (north end) was my favourite place to chill and spend the day on the beach. It’s very quite in April, however we did here many other British accents, I think this place is favoured by families with school age kids. And once you’re in Goa it is very cheap to eat and drink so this must be a draw when you have many mouths to feed! Even though there were families and children around it felt very chilled out, perfect for sun lounging and doing very little indeed.
Next door to Patnem is the more built up Palolem. I wasn’t a fan as there was way more hassle on the beach which interrupted my chill time, but it is a beautiful sweeping bay and has lots of options for all budgets to eat and drink (those on a budget should check out the main road away from the beach for local thali shops, a complete meal for 60p
Galibag Beach (Turtle Beach)
A real deserted spot (save for a few locals) and the most wonderful Oysters (90p – yes pence – for 7) and the freshest barbecued prawns from a little beach shack called Surya’s, who also provides hammocks for you to rest and have your food coma in.The beach is wild and waves quite big, and the Talpona River, a lush backwater river, backs it. If you do find yourself in South Goa, this beach is a must – take a Rickshaw there from Patnem, the drive is beautiful.
Eating and Drinking:
Columb Bay, for breakfast, and then again later for sunset cocktails (happy hour cocktails are just £1.50). Perfect positioning in Colomb Bay for this all day cafe with a laid back feel. Lots of locals and ex-pats, so it must be good!
Salida del Sol
Patnem Beach, North End. We ate here most days as the food was fab, but the service even better. There are sunbeds for guests, they do a mean lime and soda and scrummy salads.
Not much further south than Salida del Sol, the best breakfast we ate, although service is a bit slow, but then, when your busy doing nothing this really doesn’t matter eh? Oh, and forgot to take a photo of the food. (Back in the days before I took this blogging more seriously soz)
I’m adding this in as we walked past on the way home one night and promised to go back as the place looks buzzing with good atmosphere, and the Tripadvisor reviews are good…but be warned, April is the closing month in Goa and when we went back the next night the place had started being dismantled. (Most of the bungalows and restaurants get taken down and re-built each season) Anyway, I’ve added it to my guide as I think if you are going and it is built you should check it out.
Surya’s at Gallibag –
reviewed in this post – the BEST seafood, so so fresh and flavourful, and apparently Gordon Ramsey has eaten there!!!!
The health food business is booming, and with so many options what one is right for you? I have a small but growing obsession with watching food documentaries on YouTube, as interesting as they are some of them seem downright unattainable or non sustaining (yep I’m talking about you HCLF-ers)
So, what should you choose? I’m going to just put it out there and say, how about ALL of them? All of the options in the title, Plant Based, Raw, Detox, Juicing….they can all make up a balanced, healthy, diet – and remember whenever I use the word DIET in this blog it will be referring to the food you habitually eat, rather than the food you eat to lose weight. If however, you are over-weight or obese, then changing your current diet to an all natural, vegetarian and more plant-based diet is going to help you lose weight. But maintaining this FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE is what is going to keep you healthy, forever.
Now, I am certainly not demanding you all become vegetarians or vegans, but maybe think about the amount of meat you consume and where it comes from. For example, I would only now eat meat if I knew its provenance (most good supermarkets and butcher’s should be able to tell you where the meat has come from) and I will only eat seafood, especially shellfish if I can see the sea (ok, within reason, but you get my drift? I once got food poisoning from Ceviche in a five-star restaurant in Marrakech, go figure). So that aside, do eat meat if you desire just be mindful of what you eat.
Next, bring more fruit and vegetables onto your plate. No question, no explanation, just DO IT. It will change your skin, hair, energy levels, internal organs – really! Try to eat at least 8 portions of fruit and veg per day – and if you think that’s a lot, the simplest way to do this is in a juice or smoothie. You can even put all 8 in one glass. Done.
I get inspiration from all over the internet, pinterest, and the following blogs which make eating vegetables a work of art…..My New Roots is my favourite veggie inspiration site Another resource for plant-based and vegetarian recipes Oh She Glows
Also this documentary changed my (eating) life – Forks over Knives
Raw food is another easy addition. When I mentioned to an old colleague I was eating more raw food these days he thought I meant raw meats and sushi etc…..but this simply means food you do not heat. Salads, juices, smoothies, energy balls, the list goes on and on check out the wonderful Kriss Carr for some ideas, but I must stress here that my personal opinion is not to eat purely a raw food diet, just mix it up with the other things I am suggesting.
Detoxing – I’m not a massive fan of detoxing but I do see it’s worth and especially think it is a fabulous way of resetting your body if you have a ‘bad’ diet. Once you have done a detox you will be more mindful of what you pollute your body with (toxins) and it can help you kick-start your new healthy life.
I hope to bring many recipes to this blog in time and some guides to eating healthily whilst travelling.
My golden rules (I will keep coming back to these):
No processed foods – EVER
Natural sugars only
Eat seasonal, fresh produce where possible
Limit you alcohol (I’m still working on this!!)
Limit your caffeine (again, work in progress for me)
A LITTLE of everything in moderation, but try to be strict with this one, a piece of chocolate (milk) or cookie or a plate of fries once in a while, but not a whole day of ‘sod it all’ !
I’m using the word diet here in its noun form, as the Oxford Dictionary describes it ‘The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats’
NOT the verb ‘dieting’ so don’t panic I’m not about to either go on a diet myself or convince you to.
I just am so passionate these days about healthy eating. I have been a 5:2 vegetarian for 18 months, and I now only eat fish and seafood. I’m not saying this is the way you should eat, but this particular way of eating works for me, giving me the essential calories I need to create enough energy to be able to go about my daily business with some vigour!
I made this decision to become healthier and also hopefully keep my weight at a stable, healthy weight. For many years after retiring from performing dance I tried many different ‘diets’ and through this I think I became a little obsessed with body image and what I should or shouldn’t look like, rather than whether I felt good, had energy and built up a strong immune system so I don’t get ill in the future.
Maybe it was coming from the competitive world of dance, or using mirrors in the dance studio every day, or maybe I would like to blame the media, and the worlds current obsession with what is or isn’t ‘beautiful’
I know, easy for you to say Sophia Loren, but I truly do believe this sentiment. I wish that the media could send this message to every young girl out there, but alas it is not so and we are feeling the pressure younger and more and more to be ‘perfect’
Anyway, I am digressing slightly, I would like to be able to share with you some of the health and nutrition tips I have been following over the last two or three years, just in case people out there are still uneducated about how to look after yourself and become beautiful from the inside.
So, please subscribe or keep checking the blog as I try to update with my health tips as often as possible.
So the first stop of the ‘claireyogagogo yogi express’ led me to Mysore. After talking with my most trusted and experienced yoga friends I took the plunge and decided to set of on this journey, and felt the best place to start was the origin of Ashtanga Yoga, Mysore.
Mysore, in the state of Karnataka, South Central India is famous for its silk and sandalwood, and thanks to Krishnamacharya and Sri. Pattabi Jois is the home of Ashtanga Yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabi Jois and Krishnamacharya all deserve posts, whole blogs even of their own. If you’ve arrived here at my blog of your own volition then I recommend maybe googling them to find out more about Ashtanga and the eight limbs, or follow this blog where I will hopefully start to write more on them as time goes on….
Yoga (Ashtanga) is not just exercise for me now, it’s a way of life, nay, a lifestyle. And with this comes less the urge to have the cutest yoga pants and take Instagram selfies but more to delve into the self and challenge what you find there.
I don’t think I can put into words the feeling of achievement I have from completing the month of study with Saraswathi in Mysore, which has been at times frustrating, annoying, jubilus and rewarding. In the end it wasn’t about completing the series or achieving certain asana, it was about a development within me as a person and a yoga practitioner that I can now bring to the mats of the people I teach.
Ashtanga (Mysore) the Pattabi Jois lineage, the ‘parampara’ has an energy and spirituality of its own that I don’t think you can fully understand unless you come here to the birthplace.
I will never forget walking into the shala on the first morning to the sound of the ujayi breath like the ocean breaking onto the shores, sometimes as I walk through the shala after practice I look at the other practitioners and thought that it looks as beautifully choreographed as a ballet, yet as calm as Buddha in meditation.
Ashtanga will reveal things about yourself you may have wanted to keep hidden. It will test you physically, mentally and spiritually. It will make you want to cry and make you jump for joy, all in the same practice. It will make you reassess how you live you life (and not just the yamas and niyamas) it will control what you eat, when you sleep and may well ruin your social life, unless your social life is with the other ashtangi’s who understand that you have to leave the party at 8.30pm to go to bed.
Ashtanga changed my life at this point, and shaped the way forward for it. So through the friends I mentioned at the start of this post I went to the next stop on the ‘yogi express’ and found myself in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
So the point of starting the blog was to be able to write about my time as a travelling yogi, meaning how I hope to be able to see the world via teaching and sharing my love of yoga. Firstly, let me point out that I am pretty well-travelled, I did my backpacker bit way back when from 2002-2004 (I know, I’m old right?) so I could write about my experiences from then, but as the world is changing at a ridiculous rate, what I tell you about the countries I have visited just won’t be relevant, or current, and you may end up going somewhere and it being nothing like I remember it! So I will really only speak of my travels this year, from February 2016 and keep adding to the blog as I move around, or indeed stay in one place (which I’m still classing as travel at this point as it’s not my home town – get it?)
I started the travelling yogi journey in Mysore, India and have made many blog posts about my time there back on my old blogger page: ye olde blogge I will do a whole post about this wonderful city and how it really took a piece of my heart and kept it there. I am hoping to return at some point towards the end of the year. I would say, although I heart Mysore, as a non yoga tourist you may only want to factor in a few days here. Really, it’s all about the yoga in Mysore for me.
Here’s some gratuitous pics from Mysore just to spice up this page/post
I am currently in Koh Phangan, teaching and working on a wonderful Yoga Retreat, of which I will also dedicate a whole post to…but for those of you when you hear Koh Phangan think ‘Full Moon Party’ with lots of young people drinking way too many bucket cocktails in neon vest tops, think again, the ‘other’ side of Koh Phangan is a deeply spiritual Yoga haven.
So, that’s basically a heads up before I start to do separate, more specific posts on the cities and islands I have been to this year. I don’t want to become a blog of ’10 bests’ I really want to try to write more holistically about the feel I get for a place, the Yoga in that place, and of course the food on offer in that place. If you like the sound of that, give me a follow – and thanks already for your support by just reading this post!
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?
Or Man, it’s not gender specific. But I recently posted this quote on my Instagram account and changed the gender – just felt like having a feminist moment.
Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to leave the shore. A quote by Andre Gide. The sentiment is there, you cannot discover new things in life until you can let go of the old things, the routine, the norm. I suppose this quote can be related to life in general and not just travelling. I found it perfect for me, especially when I was leaving sight of one shore (job, home, family, friends) and heading out to discover the new oceans out here.
It’s so easy to stick with what you know, but you know, what you know will still be there should you wish to return to it after you have done a little, or a lot, of discovering. I’ve been away almost 5 months and I really feel I haven’t actually travelled that much! MY plan was always to study in Mysore for a month, go and check out Goa (as in my previous trip to India I didn’t get there) and then…well, there was no major plan, but it involved getting a job teaching yoga somewhere in the world, and if I could also get some surfing done, even better. Well fate had me end up in Thailand for now, where I am teaching at the wonderful Yoga Retreat, and having a ball. As I sit on my balcony with a view of the Gulf of Thailand across to the mainland I think how lucky I am to be ‘brave’ enough to have left the comfort and security of the shore. And how there is so much more out there yet to discover…..