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 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?