5 Ways to Make the Most of Your In-Studio Yoga Practice

“In-Studio” because I will be sharing another bunch of tips for home practice.

Practicing with a room full of bodies moving in sync and having someone telling you what exactly to do and when exactly to breathe is a beautiful way to reenergise your body and mind. It offers company yet space, guidance yet freedom. Here are five ways that can help you make the most of your practice:

1. Arrive early and don’t skimp on the breathing and grounding at the start of your practice.

It gives you time to clear your mind and catch your breath so that you can easily.

2. Check in with your energy level and work with that

Take time to feel how your body feels – which areas feel tight, which areas feel like they would like some work and how you are breathing.

3. Take only cues that serve you

Give the cues that your teacher offer a shot. If they feel right, take them. If you feel pain (especially sharp pains), don’t take the cue.

While cues are great, not all bodies are made the same so do take cues with caution especially in a large class. If you are unsure about certain cues, ask your teacher after class – most yoga teachers will be happy to share more.

4. Remember that it is not about the postures

The purpose of coming to your mat is to feel great in your body and mind, not to force your body into a certain shape that it is not ready for. Here’s what happens when you stop chasing postures.

5. Always acknowledge your achievements

Taking time out to step onto your mat, commuting to the studio and having the resources to allow you to do that are great accomplishments in themselves. Taking the entire class asana by asana should not be undermined as well. Thank your legs for carrying you, your arms for enabling you to embrace your loved ones, and your mobility that enables you to enjoy movement.

Extra bonus if it was a hot class – here’s a list of what you MUST after hot yoga!

What to Do If You Cannot Sleep

1. Lie in bed and relax

Lie on your back, start relaxing each part of your body from the toes to your face. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to fall asleep.

2. Read an inspiring book

Read something that feeds your soul, but not stimulate your brain too much. Check out this list of 15 books that have inspired and left deep imprints in my life.

3. Take a warm shower

A warm shower or bath relaxes your muscles

4. Breathe in some lavender essential oil

Famous for its soothing properties

5. Stretch in bed

Lie in bed and do some gentle stretches.

Finally, do take time to make sure that your room is conducive for sleep and rest. Here are five easy ways to zen up your bedroom.

The Truth About Teaching Yoga

It is a job where you get the attention, the control, the freedom, students looking up to you, friends envying your flexible hours and people coming to you telling you yoga teachers are sexy and you are one of those – instant ego boost!

But is it?

Despite the often glamourised life, teaching yoga has its fair share of the daily grind. It can be fun, inspiring, fulfilling but it always boils down to the commitment to show up 100%, be fully present and give you best.

Here’s the hard truth that you need to hear if you are an aspiring yoga teacher or you are thinking of signing up for your first yoga teacher training.

  1. Some days you just do not feel like going to class

You will feel like the most uninspiring person in the entire world. Guess what? You show up, and leave everything outside of the practice room.

2. Some days you are sick

If you are lucky, someone would cover your class. If you are not, you suck it up, show up and teach the best you can.

3. Some days you step into class and you KEEP fumbling upon your words

Speak slowly, and stay calm. This is when your meditation and mindfulness practice comes in handy. Do not panic, be compassionate.

4. Some days you are nursing an injury

Any body might encounter an injury at some point in time. When you are nursing one, forget demos. Use the power of verbal cues. Practice leading a class without demo-ing even when you have a perfectly capable body and tons of energy.

5. Some days you are nursing a broken heart

For whatever reason. It is your job and duty to shake off those emotions and distractions during your time in class and be fully present for your students.

6. Some days you have no idea what to teach

Don’t just walk in without a plan. Talk to people, read articles on sequencing, watch videos. Don’t wait for inspiration and ideas to find you – seek them out.

7. Some days you get disillusioned by the yoga world

“It’s not supposed to be like that!” Reality is reality, business is business. Don’t work for a studio whose beliefs and practices don’t align with yours. Don’t partner with people who do not share your beliefs. Dig and set your own values, then follow that path. But always re-examine your choices with the new knowledge and insights that you gain along the way.

I meant for this to be a skeptical sounding post, not one to encourage people to step into teaching without considering the hustling aspect of the job. Step in with your eyes open, ready to work hard. Teaching is heavy responsibility, where people entrust you with their bodies and listen carefully to every single word you say in class. People dedicate a portion of their days to what you are bringing to the mat, hoping to feel better at the end of their Shavasana. Practicing and teaching are totally different, practicing can be a hobby, but teaching should never be treated as one.

How to Consistently Stay Inspired

1. Read books

Select books that feed your soul at your current stage in life.

2. Pursue non-work related hobbies or challenges

Learn a new language, pick up a dance class, teach yourself how to knit, rock climb, go wakeboarding, challenge yourself to exercise everyday.

There’s so much that you will open your eyes to during the process.

3. Surround yourself with people who inspire you

Give and receive.

Things You MUST Do After Hot Yoga

It’s Tuesday morning and I struggled to wake up at 5am for an early morning hot yoga class.

No regrets showing up. Now, there’s a list of things to do after a hot yoga session.

1. Say a bunch of great stuff to yourself!

You made it!!! Your day just got more productive! Thank yourself for coming back to the mat and doing something great for yourself.

2. Shower

Duh.

3. Wash your face with facial foam

Makes SO much difference to your skin.

4. Change your panties

You can hide but you cannot run from infections.

5. Drink up!

Water. Maybe a wine or beer 🙊

6. Eat up!

Post-workout is the best time to eat those carbs and let your body make it’s magic!

7. Do whatever you like!

Yoga for the Office Worker

It’s two days before the end of my yoga teacher training course at Yoga Vidya Gurukul in Nashik, India. During this period I have been so blessed with new knowledge and insights that I want to bring home to my yoga classes. One constant in my mind throughout this month of training was people whose bodies struggle with long hours of sitting at the desk.

When we had a short individual presentation session about any topic of personal interest, I spoke about this short little article that I wrote – Yoga for the Modern Day Office Worker. To my surprise (maybe not yours!), many of my course mates got interested and wanted to take a look at what I have written. They gave one simple reason – because working in an office sitting and hunching over computers is the story of their lives and they feel the effects that it has on their minds and bodies.

I’ve never thought of putting this up here, but these people inspired me.

In this article, we are interested in common physical and mental issues faced by the otherwise healthy individual and how these can be reversed/prevented.

PRECAUTION: If you do have any existing issues (e.g.: severe back/spinal issues, heart problems, blood pressure issues, pregnancy etc.) please consult your doctor before practising.

The incidences of lifestyle related ailments such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, and diabetes are increasing drastically virtually everywhere in the world. Because of the effects yoga practices have on the body and mind, regular and consistent yoga practice can aid in minimizing lifestyle related ailments, helping individuals prevent other serious physical, mental, financial and social burden.

Office workers typically presents one or more of the following postural traits:

  • Forward head
forward-head
Source: corewalking.com
  • Kyphosis
kyphosis
Source: ipcphysicaltherapy.com
  • Protracted shoulders
protracted-shoulders
Source: askthetrainer.com
  • Elevated shoulders
elevation
Source: oganatomy.com
  • Anterior/posterior pelvic tilt
pelvic-tilt
Source: mbmyoskeletal.com

These postural traits disturb the skeletal and muscular systems’ natural positions and tend to be the results of sitting on chairs and using electronic devices for extended periods. Common complaints resulting from these are headaches, neck and shoulder stiffness/pain, low back pain, insomnia and digestive problems.

Psychological issues that office workers tend to face are:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anger

Hatha yoga consists of the following contents:

  • Shatkarmas: 6 cleansing techniques
  • Asanas: postures
  • Pranayamas: control of vital energy
  • Mudras: psychic gestures
  • Bandhas: energy locks

We will be focusing on Shatkarmas, Asanas and Pranayamas as they offer massive positive effects, and are the most accessible to the masses. Practitioners should further explore mudras and bandhas when they are ready.

How to Use the Following Content

This is not a how-to-do-kriyasa, asanas and pranayama post. The intention of this post is to offer you a bunch of practices that you can do to target specific areas in your body. If you are unsure of how a certain asana looks like, simply do a quick google image search and you will see how the final posture looks like.

  1. Follow recommended frequency of shatkarmas (cleansing techniques) according to what is listed.
  2. Everyday, choose one or two asanas (postures) from each category (e.g. backbends, twists, inversions etc.) to practice. You don’t have to do all categories every single day – just remember to mix things up so that your body is balanced
  3. Sequence asanas as such: warm up (sun saluations), supine (lying on back), prone (lying on belly), sitting, inversion, standing, relaxation
  4. Practice pranayama after asana

Shatkarma:

Jalan neti –  for relieving stress, anxiety, depression, anger, any imbalanced emotions

This cleansing technique also helps to open the nasal passage, prevents colds and sinus problems. Headaches caused by blockages in the nasal passage can be relieved too.

Learn how to practice jalan neti here.

Practice once every two weeks.

Kapalbhati – for energizing

This is a convenient cleansing technique that can be used anywhere – at home, work or even in the car. It removes excess carbon dioxide and purifies the respiratory system. It also helps to improve digestion, remove lethargy and promote clarity of mind but should be avoided if one has anger issues.

Learn how to practice Kapalbhati here.

Practice everyday, work up to five rounds of 1 minute, 120 strokes per minute.

Asanas

Asanas should be practiced to counter the aforementioned postural imbalances, and to increase strength and flexibility, providing more stability to the spine. It is important to breathe normally and try to relax into the postures. Should pain be experienced, the practitioner should come out of the posture. As a guideline, each posture should be held at 70% of one’s maximum effort and preferably for an extended duration to reap maximum benefits.

Backbends are important as hunching and forward bends are very prevalent during the day. Backbends help to relieve backaches and are great to counter forward neck, protracted shoulders, elevated shoulders, kyphosis and they also help to lengthen the psoas (hip flexor) muscles. Beckbends are energizing and are especially therapeutic for people with depression.

Poses to explore:

Bitilasana (cow pose)
Bhujangasana and variations (cobra pose)
Shalabhasana variations (locust pose)
Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose)
Dhanurasana/Chakrasana (wheel pose)
Matsyasana – should also be done after Sarvangasana/Halasana as a counter pose (fish pose)
Ushtrasana (camel pose)

Forward bends are important to stretch the hamstrings, which tend to be shortened from long duration of sitting. Lengthened hamstrings, psoas muscles and low back muscles will help to bring the pelvis closer to its ideal position. Forward bends also create a compression in the abdominal region, stimulating the digestive organs. The forward bending action provides a sense of calmness, reducing negative emotions. It is important to avoid hunching the thoracic region, which further causes the front body to collapse.

Poses to explore:

Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
Prasarita Padottanasana (wide legged forward bend)
Veerabhadrasana (gracious warrior)
Ardha Padma Bandhasana variations, sitting or standing – also a hip and shoulder opener (half lotus bound forward bend)
Parsvottanasana (pyramid pose)

Side Bends and twists are hardly required during the day hence should be practiced to keep the spine supple.

Side bends help to create space around the respiratory system, strengthen the intercostal muscles and thus help the body to be more efficient in energy consumption. This will reduce lethargy and increase work efficiency during the day.

Poses to explore:

Ardha Chandrasana – there are many poses that people call ardha chandrasana, but I mean this:

half-moon
Source: remediespoint.com

Trikonasana (triangle pose)
Parighasana (gate pose)
Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (revolved head to knee pose)
Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose)

Twists help to strengthen the oblique muscles, reduce fat in the abdomen, stimulate the digestive system and are also very beneficial to people who suffer from chronic backache and stiffness in the back.

Poses to explore:

Kati Chakrasana (standing twist)
Ardha Matsyendrasana variations (half lord of the fishes pose)
Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle pose)
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose)

Inversions not only slow the ageing process and improve blood circulation, but are also especially beneficial to people who experience headaches as blood supply to the brain is increased. Inversions also help to improve concentration, thus enabling one to be free from negative thoughts and emotions.

Poses to explore:

Sarvangasana variations (shoulder stand)
Halasana (plough pose)
Shirshasana (headstand)
Uttanpadasana (legs raising pose)
Prasarita Padottanasana (wide legged forward bend) – also stretches hamstrings, can be used as an alternative for Shirshasana
Adho Muka Svanasana (downward facing dog)

Balancing poses improve concentration, strengthen the legs/arms and neuromuscular system which improves body coordination, which is important in preventing falls as one ages.

Poses to explore:

Arm Balances
Mayurasana (peacock pose)
Bakasana/Kakasana (crow/crane pose)
Bhramacharyasana variations – also a hip opener
Tolasana (scale pose)

Standing Balances
Padangusthasana (big toe balancing pose)
Garudasana (eagle pose)
Vrikshasana variations (tree pose)
Virabhadrana I – also a backbend which stretches hips and hamstrings (warrior 1)
Virabhadrasana III (warrior 3)

Hips opening are important to help relieve tension from the hip flexors, the knees, and especially the lower back. Traditionally, hip openers were used to prepare the body to sit relaxed for the practice of pranayama, chanting and meditation.

Poses to explore:

Aakarna Dhanurasana (arched bow pose)
Padmasana (lotus pose)
Saithalyasana (animal relaxation pose)
Sukhasana (easy pose)
Baddha Hasta Gomukasana – also opens shoulders (bound cow-face pose)
Eka Pada Hastasana – also a twist (hand to leg pose)
Malasana (garland pose)

Core strengthening asanas help to tone muscles around the torso area, helping to support the spine, taking load off the lower back. The core muscles are not only the rectus abdominis (aka six pack muscles), but also consists of the obliques (sides) and back muscles. In fact, the deeper core muscles: transversus abdominis, multifidus and pelvic floor muscles are the most crucial in supporting the lumbar spine. Thus, it is important to strengthen the muscles around the entire torso region, not only the front. To strengthen the deeper muscles, it is also more efficient to do static core exercises/asanas.

Poses to explore:

Abs
Navasana (boat pose)
Plank pose
Dolphin plank pose

Obliques
Vasisthasana (side plank)

Back
Shalabhasana variations (locust pose)
Purvottanasana (upward plank pose)
Reverse table top pose

Relaxation asanas are extremely important to help relax the body after physical/mental exertion. It is thus crucial to conclude our asana practice with a relaxation posture and very deliberately send our awareness to each body part, scan for tension, breathe and let the tension go.

Poses to explore:

Shavasana (corpse pose)
Balasana (child’s pose)
Matsya Kreedasana (flapping fish pose)
Makarasana (crocodile pose)

Here are some other asanas/movements recommended for various physical issues that officer workers might encounter:

Pawanmuktasana (gas releasing pose) – relieves constipation and gas from large intestine
Neck Movements – relieves tension from neck
Adho Muka Svanasana (downward facing dog at the wall) – stretches shoulders, hamstrings, calves and realigns spine

Wall-dog.png
Source: absoluteyogacros.co.uk

Pranayama

I use the term “pranayama” very loosely here, just to mean “breathing exercises”. No kumbhaka (breath retention) is recommended here, unless the practitioner is ready for it.

The practice of pranayama relaxes the body, helps the mind to focus, improve the body’s systems’ efficiency and helps to clear emotional clutter.

Recommended pranayama:

Cooling: for summer, stress, anxiety

Abdominal breathing
Deep breathing with 1:2 ratio
Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing)
Sheetali/Sitkari
Ujjayi
Bhramari (humming bee breath)

Heating: for winter, cold offices, depression, lethargy

Fast breathing
Surya Bhedan – not to be done when one is experiencing anger/frustration or heat in body

Practitioners should first try to discipline themselves to practice from all the above categories on most days of the week, slowly working up to a daily and longer practice. For a more holistic lifestyle and maximum benefit, one should also take his diet and schedule into consideration.