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Yoga – The Balancing Act

For many people yoga is spiritual, for many it is physical. But for many it is just discovering self, to discover your own limits, to experience the beyond. It is just a stage of being one. The most important aspect that has come to me in realization is to be an observer. Being an observer gives both your mind and body the freedom to experience the beyond. Beyond lies the inspiration to explore self. Self doesn’t mean I or me. It is we collectively. We heard the story in childhood of a woodcutter who gives his children stick to break and they easily crack it. But when we get all sticks together no one can break them. Same way we have our powers unexplored, we don’t know what we have how we can use them how we can shield them. Once you know your strengths and weakness, your capability, your abilities, you can create what you want. In this course we have given more priority to get these unexplored areas into focus. We want each one to explore “self”. Practice and study of yoga is a medium. It takes your body and mind away from your daily routine. In easy words where you need to bend your mind you use your body and where you want to bend your body you use your mind. 200 hour teacher training course or as I call it advance Hatha yoga course is a platform. Our principle teacher Swami Shiva Shankar is our guide on this path who will show us the right direction and his experience will give us the knowledge to learn and...

Hamstrings – Aspects of anatomy

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles at the back of the thigh, two on the inside (Semimembranosus and semitendinosus) and one on the outside (Biceps femoris). The muscles attach to the sitting bones (ischial tuberosities) within the pelvis and to the back of the knee (tibial condyles and head of the fibula). As the hamstrings cross both the hip joint and the knee joint, they have actions over both, and are categorised a two joint (biarticular) muscles. Traditionally the hamstrings are said to extend the hip (pull is backwards) and flex the knee (bend it), but functionally they have actions over the pelvis, whole leg, and indirectly to the spine itself. As we bend forwards, two movements combine. The spine bends (flexes) and the pelvis tips forwards (anterior tilt). The pelvic forward tipping causes the sitting bones to move upwards placing stretch on the hamstring muscles. If the legs are straight (knees locked) for example in standing forward bend (Utanasana) the anterior tilt of the pelvis will be limited, and any further forward bend will have to come from the spine. Those individuals with tight hamstrings will find that firstly, they cannot bend forwards as far, and secondly as they try to reach further, greater stress if placed on the spine as there is no more contribution available from the pelvic tilt. Even in sitting the hamstrings have a marked effect on spinal alignment. A beginner sitting in staff pose (Dandasana) will often find that they are not able to sit with the low back lengthened. This action relies on being able to sit on the sitting...

Bandhas – Tradition and Science

Bandhas are said to be energy locks capable to controlling and directing Prana or life force which circulates within the body. The Bandhas close off one part of the body and direct this energy to other parts, and are often used alongside Pranayama (yogic breathing). To understand the use of Bandhas we need to appreciate that in traditional yoga teaching Prana comes from food, air, sunlight, and water and is said to animate all matter, and to be a link between the physical body and the astral and causal bodies. Prana is thought to exist as a positive energy which moves upwards, and a negative energy (apana) which moves downwards. The Prana is said to run in channels called nadis (similar to the meridians of Chinese medicine). The large central nadis (Sushumna) corresponds to the spinal cord and either side are two smaller channels (Ida and Pingala), which correspond to the autonomic nervous system. The chakras are located along the Sushumna, from the perineum (groin) to the crown of the head. Mula Blanda or ‘root lock’ is said to affect the root Chakra (Muladhara Chakra) close to the perineum. To activate the Mula Bhanda, the student contracts the Pelvic floor muscles by drawing the perineum in and up slightly tightening around the anus, sexual organ, and navel. The action should be a slow squeeze rather than a forceful pull. In Pilates a visualisation of the ‘pelvic elevator’ is useful. Here, the student imagines an elevator shaft within the lower abdomen. Contracting the pelvic floor raises the elevator in the shaft, with a maximum contraction lifting it to the tenth...

Mad Me, Mad World

Having been a yoga teacher for long enough to weather some pretty lean winters, it comes as no surprise that things suddenly getting very busy again. I have noticed there seems to be a yoga take up pattern, in the same way the old school year may have drilled into us a need to learn/do/become something around the same times each year, there are always points when the universe just pushes us to go do something new. It is with this seasonal push, that I have been running around for the last few weeks trying to get work done on a broken computer, planning workshops, trainings, and so on, and with an amazing amount of my time these days spent social media-ing. It has become necessary to mention the world outside, which as you may have noticed is a little scary at the moment. Well my story begins a about 3 weeks ago with me thinking I had pulled some stomach muscles with one too many navasanas in one too many classes, then when a few days later I was still unable to breathe properly I was sent protesting to A and E, when it seemed clear to me it was nether Accident or Emergency, but just to be on the safe side they took heart rates, blood tests even X-rays, and yet there was nothing physical that could account for the pressure experienced over the course of the day when trying to breathe. "What we take in through our senses is as powerful as what eat or drink on how we feel. Let’s say you only drink wine...

Why bother with breath in yoga?

Recently a new student asked me: “Why do we care about breath in yoga anyway?” This caused me to stumble for a moment as different possible answers rushed through my head. The trick is not to overwhelm a newcomer with too much detail, so instead I told him a zen story I’ve read somewhere (I don’t know if it’s truly zen since it involves some violence). A new student was given an assignment by a zen master to meditate on his breath. After some time the student came back and asked for a different assignment because the breath was just too boring. So the zen master grabbed the student’s head and stuck it into a bucket of water and as the student gasped for breath, asked him: “Is it boring now?” (Warning: Do not attempt this lesson with your students!). First reason to care about breath: If we don’t breathe, we die.  In fact, research shows that “pulmonary function is a long-term predictor for overall survival rates in both genders” (29-year follow-up to the Buffalo health study) and that “the pulmonary function measurement appears to be an indicator of general health and vigor and literally a measure of living capacity” (Framingham study). It basically means that the better your lungs work, the longer you will live. The question is – how do you increase your lung capacity? Will exercise do it? Certainly, compared to sedentary folks. This study found that “people with sedentary lifestyles had lowest pulmonary function parameters.” Interestingly, the same study found that “running does NOT improve respiratory strength”, while yogis performing pranayama regularly “had significantly higher...

A Balanced Look at the Effects and Benefits of Hot Yoga

The practise of yoga has been around for thousands of years, but has become increasingly popular in the Western word in the last twenty years. There are many styles of yoga, which are practised in many different ways, however all practical forms of yoga focus on physical movement through a series of postures. One form of yoga that is becoming increasingly popular is Hot Yoga, which is a yoga class which is taught in a warm and humid environment. The warm environment has many reported benefits from increased muscular relaxation, which aids flexibility and movement. The reduction in muscular tension and increase in movement may lead to a reduction in muscular or postural related pain. In addition to this the warm environment may increase the detoxification effects of yoga practise, which means that the practise will demonstrate additional benefits for the condition of your skin and lymphatic system. Many hot yoga practitioners also find that they experience weight loss due yoga practise in a warm environment, which can be attributed to the body systems working slightly harder in the heat. Other reported benefits of yoga practise include; improved muscular strength and condition, increased flexibility, improved posture and increased levels of confidence and body awareness. If the hot yoga class is brought to close through relaxation the yoga participant may also experience a reduction in stress levels and increased focus. However, many question how the reported benefits of hot yoga are achieved or if there is a scientific basis for the claims, as many people receive the benefits of yoga practise regardless of room temperature.  For example taking part in...

Yoga curriculum proves a huge success with Autistic pupils

I’m excited! Peeping through the classroom window I observe a tutor delivering a simple sequence of gentle postures and breathing techniques to his pupil. The session is gentle and calm. There’s a lovely rapport building between them as they mirror one another’s flowing movements. This is a wonderful moment for me. To see something I’ve worked hard to deliver in progress. However, it’s another step in the right direction for yoga. Another verification of the benefits, and the positive impact it has on our lives and the lives of those traditionally hard to engage in regular exercise. TreeHouse Primary School & Ambitous about Autism I’m equally delighted that I’ve spent the best part of the year working alongside specialist tutors at the prestigious TreeHouse primary school, based in Muswell Hill, North London. TreeHouse is the flagship school of Ambitious about Autism: the UK’s national charity for the education and support of children and families living with Autism. It was March 2014 when Geza Kiss, head of physical education, brought me onboard to develop a bespoke yoga curriculum for the school. I have worked for many years specialising in yoga and exercise provision for Autism, learning disabilities and mental health. This was another wonderful opportunity to develop something really special. "One tutor remarked, with tears in his eyes, ‘It’s just very moving to see my pupil unable to regulate his mood, come to yoga and leave feeling happy and calm. It’s magic!’" Our purpose & objective I was teamed up with the senior sports coach, Terry Stevens. Our first priority was to determine our purpose and objective of the programme....

The Business of Yoga – Starting out on your yoga business journey

‘The Business of Yoga’ is in a way a contradiction in terms because yoga is not a business. Yoga is yoga and business is business. However, for yoga to reach the masses as it has done over the last decade or so business and yoga have had to become mutually intertwined. As a result the yoga industry is now a huge growth market that is getting people flexing and stretching all over the world. This is obviously great news for the populations’ health and wellbeing in general and offers many opportunities for new yoga teachers with regards to applying for work and building up private classes. But once you’ve got a few classes on your weekly schedule how do you keep the students coming to your class and how do you maintain this valuable client base? The first thing to consider is ethics. If you are working in a yoga studio and are employed by that studio, the yogis that attend your class are essentially the studios clients, not yours. Obviously clients can go where they please and if they choose to attend your events that are held elsewhere then so be it. But you should never actively seek to take the client away from the studio where you currently teach them. This is un-ethical and therefore un-yogic. However, if you are setting up private classes of your own, hiring a venue, doing your own marketing etc., then the clients that come to you have the potential to become part of a very valuable client base. This is an excellent starting place for your business, especially if you are...

Teaching Yoga to Kids! – How Hard Can it Be?

Teaching yoga to children is often portrayed as the soft option. Perhaps this is due to the impression, many adult yogis have, that children’s yoga is not real yoga! Is this true? Young children can’t hold poses for any length of time; they don’t have great balance; they don’t have the ability to look inwards and most won’t develop body awareness for many years to come; they can’t sit at peace on their mat  and they often can’t make it through a class without a toilet break! Not ‘real’ yoga, if we allow our limiting minds to judge, but definitely not the soft option. Teaching yoga based classes to children is a real challenge. Around 50% of trained children’s yoga instructors never actually go on to teach with another 30% stopping within the first year. It’s daunting! Children are a tough audience. They   won’t keep attending a class because it’s “good for them!” They want instant gratification and if they’re not getting it, they won’t be back. One class does not fit all! A 10 year old will not be physically or mentally challenged by the same class plan as a 5 year old. Most 10 year olds will not want to be seen in the same class as a 5 year old! To run successful classes each developmental stage has to be catered for. "You see life and yoga through fresh eyes, eyes that have not learned to judge and minds without barriers" So why bother? When yoga is presented using a child’s language it awakens their incredible ability, enthusiasm and imagination. Yoga based classes can teach children...

Teaching Yoga in Sport – New Accreditation

Welcome to Yoga Alliance UK’s new Yoga for Athletes, Sport & Functional Movement module. This 80 hour module gives you Yoga Alliance UK accreditation to work confidently with athletes and in sport. Among athletes there is an explosion of interest in yoga – from footballers to runners and triathletes. They are looking to us as yoga teachers to help them keep their bodies going and even perform better! This new accreditation puts you in the best position to take advantage of this – and have a recognised accreditation for the professionalism of your knowledge and skill. I’m Sarah Ramsden and I’ve worked with Yoga Alliance UK to create this fantastic new syllabus. I’ve worked full-time in sport and with athletes for 11 years now. I work at Manchester City and Manchester United football clubs. My work includes the England Women’s Football Team, the GB Taekwondo Team, many other football clubs and individual players, plus rowers, runners, bikers and triathletes. I also train physios and strength & conditioning coaches in using yoga inspired training with their players. You can check out my work at www.sportsyoga.co.uk. This new syllabus will give you all the knowledge and skills to work confidently, safely, and successfully with athletes and in sport. And it will give the athletes you are working with complete confidence in you! You’ll learn sport-specific teaching which you can build into your yoga classes, as well as developing individual programmes to enhance movement and performance. The syllabus blends the traditional yoga practises with the world of teaching athletes and working in sport. You will be drawing inspiration from yoga, pilates, new...