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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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.
Landing at Daoblim Airport it feels like the ‘real’ India compared to the cosmopolitan feel of Bangalore, it’s all hot and humid, noisy and frantic, yet organised, hustle and bustle.
Landing later than sunset as a solo traveller I always take a taxi, so seated in my taxi I am grateful for air conditioning, one of life’s most underrated luxuries. I sit back and hope that my driver can drive without too many close shaves, by now an old pro at coping with the mad cap driving habits of the Indian, I can just relax (enjoy even?) and watch the world go by outside.
Roadside vendors, men on mopeds, cattle and other animals all vying for time and space, the first hour is pretty grim with deprived looking towns and villages, dust and smog, but then the roadside buildings start to give way to lush green vegetation, a blood orange setting sun, and a sense of calm.
For my 10 day stay and after much research I have chosen to stay in the town of Patnem, Palolem’s younger, quieter, sister. It’s dark by the time I arrive so I’m glad I pre-booked my bungalow. However, no amount of research told me the ‘road’ ends at a row of motorbikes and I must walk down the beach to my huts! ‘This is why you should have bought a backpack’ I scold myself, as with two wheelie cases and a yoga mat it’s a testing 100 metres until I arrive sweaty and silently swearing at the huts and get shown to my hut.
Way back in the depths of the tropical garden, it’s named Krishna, so hopefully this is a sign that it will be ok.
Basic but clean, with an antic bathroom (read hose for shower) I’m too tired to care, there is a mosquito net, a large double bed with clean sheets, so it is ‘fit for purpose’ until my darling friend arrives and we are going ‘upmarket’
Next morning, feeling refreshed I’m up with the birds and ready to have a beach stroll and take in the surroundings. There is something so wonderful about dawn, it used to be the time I was getting in feeling dazed and confused from a club or party, but now I love it for the time to feel alive and appreciate the world. A cooler temperature (around 24c) makes for a wonderful walk along the shore, my first toe dip into the Arabian sea, and a chance to view all the hut ‘resorts’ along the beach. I also check out the yoga shalas that are visible from the beach and, most importantly, hunt down the ‘Patnem Chai Shop’ that I had researched – 7rps chai – this is more like it!!! – Goa is super cheap for Western visitors, but much more expensive than Mysore for eating and drinking.
After breakfast at my huts own restaurant (average so nothing to write about here) I settle into the day on the beach, a sun lounger with shade and a nice swim the warm, but clean, sea.
As a beach lover it’s easy for me to while away hours and hours, reading, relaxing a people watching, and after 4.15am practice in Mysore this is exactly what I came here for!
There is a gentle breeze to help keep you cool in the scorching 36c that it climbs to that day. And I also manage to keep cool with my first alcoholic beverage of 35 days – an ice-cold kingfisher beer – boy did that taste divine 😉
After a sweltering walk I find a nice restaurant for lunch, ‘April 20’, where I have a delicious Dal Makhani, served in a small silver bucket, and a lime soda, and sit enjoying the breeze. It’s towards the north end of the beach which I have already decided is nicer and more chilled that the centre and southern parts.
Next day, I get up and practice in my room, shower and head up to my next resort, La La Land, where I excitedly wait the arrival of one of my closest and dearest friends who has taken a ‘spur of the moment’ flight to see me and take some time to chill and de-stress.The following week is spent in beach bungalow luxury, as our resort is brand new, and beautifully landscaped into the hill at Colomb Bay, a picturesque little fishing bay nestled between Patnem and Palolem.
We settle into our daily routine of morning yoga, breakfast; sun lounging (favourite lounge spot the uber friendly Salida del Sol) sunset watching, evening snacking and early night to repeat again the next day.
Patnem is the perfect place to relax, I hear that the North of Goa is now saturated with resorts so if you want to experience the Goa that was popular in the 60’s and 70’s this might just be the closest you can get whilst still having all the options for accommodation and food.
(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.
Flashback to the start of this yogi’s adventure, at the end of February this year I flew into Bangalore and began the adventure, a life changing trip to Mysore City. I have already briefly discussed Mysore in this post: Mysore, why I went there, to study Ashtanga Yoga at it’s source.
Well, let me start by saying that after a hiatus of 12 years my first impressions of India and Bangalore was wow! this place is so modern! We took a 4 hour taxi (2 of those hours stuck in Bangalore traffic) to Mysore and it started to feel more like the India I remembered (hot, dry, scorching sun, poverty and dirt) but when I arrived in Mysore what couldn’t I see? The rubbish! The roads are so clean here! (Mysore has been voted the cleanest city in India)
The suburb that most of the yogi’s stay is Gokulum, this is where the KPAJYI shala is and it is an affluent suburb. I honestly believe that even the ubiquitous cow pats get cleaned up in this suburb!
The cows are worthy of a quick mention here – most cows in India you see are just roaming around to their own volition, however the ones that roam in Gokulum have a smart system of getting fed. They simple have designated streets (who decided which cow goes where, and is there a territory battle if one cow decided to roam of plan?) they then ‘moo’ at each gate (yes this is an affluent area and most of the houses are gated) and wait for the ladies who work for that house to bring them the days scraps of vegetable skins or any other unwanted food stuff. The most fantastic recycling of food waste I have ever seen.
Woops, I have digressed from the main point of the post which is to provide you with a potted guide to the city, specifically aimed at the yogi. What to do when you are not sweating it out on the mat in the shala, chanting or attending lectures.
EAT: yep, as my number two activity in Mysore – eating! refuel, and rehydrate.
First stop, the coconut stand – ok so there are many coconuts stands in Gokulum and each shala has their own coconut wallah outside, but the main one which is used as a landmark in Gokulum is ‘THE’ Coconut Stand, on the corner of Contour Road and 9th Main. Coconuts are one of the worlds most nourishing foods and a post practice coconut is an absolute must. But ‘THE’ coconut stand does not just provide coconuts, you can also get a mean chai here for 10p and it’s an awesome place to hang out and people watch.
Eating, well there are many types of food on offer, from the traditional to the healthier ‘yoga’ inspired cafes. Full details can be found in my previous blog here. A few of my favourite places are:
Anokhi Garden (on Contour Road, 5 mins from the coconut stand) – beautiful front and back gardens and some indoor seating at this geared for the yogi cafe. Must try’s are the Flora Fruit Salad and Fancy Porridge, but I loved everything on the menu and never had a bad dish here. Plus the waiting staff are all Ashtangi’s and super friendly and the owner, Marie Lovato, is a wonderful woman.
Santosha (on 2nd Main, 5 mins walk from the main shala towards Lions School) – similar cafe geared towards the post practice crowd, good shakes and omelette here and again a nice garden to sit in and people watch!
Anu’s (on 2nd Main, 5 mins walk from the main shala towards the park) – on the roof of Anu and Ganesh’s house they serve up an incredible buffet style thali most days and are open at sunset for the coolest, thickest smoothie bowls. Seriously good food and fabulous hosts. Also, Ganesh is THE person to know in Gokulum for taxis or renting mopeds etc.
Depth and Green (on 9th Cross, walking away from the shala and coconut stand) – open all day they do a mean buddha plate and again good shakes and scrummy vegan chocolate cakes.
Chakra House (walking away from coconut stand and shala, turn left after the temple) – Manjula cooks the Thali here but they offer again yogi inspired menu. A really good place to chill out with fast wifi and Rajesh is a cool host. Open all day.
Sri Durga (on the road before Gokulum Main Road, turn left at the Honda garage) – BEST dosas in Gokulum! no other explanation needed. The best 25p you will ever spend on food! This place may look a bit intimidating for the solo female traveller but they do great chai and are really friendly.
Green Hotel (Hunsur Road, off Mangalore Highway, best get a rickshaw to this one if you haven’t got the nerves of steel for riding on the highway) – to be honest not the best food or service but a really beautiful little colonial hotel worth a visit. The dhal is pretty good and they have a bakery inside the hotel with nice bread and cakes.
Shree Guru Residency (behind the Regaalis Hotel/Pool) really good South and North Indian food, all vegetarian and so cheap! (Thalis start at 60p) don’t bother eating at the pool, the food is average and overpriced, just pop out the front, turn left and left again at the luggage shop and you will end up at this local’s favourite.
Home cooks – you will find out about the ladies Manjula, Sanjit and Shalia, and many others, who cook amazing thali style buffets that they host in their own homes. This is some of the best an authentic South Indian cooking you will eat. Again, just ask around as many people practicing at the shala who have been before will know when these are happening and how to get to them.
Malari Hotel Dosa (in the city) – people rave about this one but I found them a bit too dough like and more like an american pancake, but they are a firm favourite with the ashtangi old timers.
Secret Dosa! This is a tiny little hole in the wall dosa vendor hidden in the depths of Laksmipurum, if you find the rickshaw driver Raju he can take you there! I have no idea where it is but if you ask people I’m sure they all have their favourite dosa place!
Again, I would suggest you try many more places, and go into the city and try some local food. India has some of the best food in the world, and, predominantly healthy and vegetarian too – perfect for a practicing ashtangi/yogi.
WHEN YOU ARE NOT PRACTICING OR EATING:
There are many things to do in Mysore that don’t involve food or yoga! There are so many temples to visit I can’t list them all, just walk into one as you walk past it, they are all beautiful.
Mysore Palace – has to be at the top of the recommendations, it is a stunning piece of architecture and you can go inside but I recommend you arrive at sunset on a Sunday (before 7pm) and at watch as they turn on the 100,000 lights simultaneously.
Chamundi Hill – again another sunset or sunrise visit is the thing to do here. The temple at the top of the hill is full of monkeys and the views are breathtaking across the city. Your choice but the hike up the steps is rumoured to be fabulous, or you can take a rickshaw/drive to the top for the temple and views!
Devajara Market – I love a local market, this one is so colourful and natural, not like some developed for the tourist but a real, where people get their ‘stuff’ market. Do not buy oils or sandalwood here though, the quality is not great.
Regaalis Hotel – I could not not mention this hotel, another favourite with the yogi crowd, you can pay to spend the day lounging around and cooling off. In March it was essential to go there just to keep cool!
So, I have tried to keep the post practice part concise as really if you are in the city to practice at KPJAYI or any other shala you will need to try to chill in your time off. Read a book, meditate, watch some movies, write, cook or simply just be.
I had googled ‘what to do in Mysore’, or ‘Mysore guide’ before I left for the city and you can find some good guides on other Yoga blogs – I can point you to a few in particular that I found very informative:
My own detailed diary of one month in Mysore is here!
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, 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 😉
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.