It is only recently that, sat in a kitchen, glass of wine in hand, I was putting the world of yoga to rights and telling my friend and fellow teacher, that I have been getting a lot more hands off in class.
I remember the days, when all I wanted to do was learn these great assists.... times have changed.
So, what is an assist? You may hear it called an adjustment, but I think assist describes it as it should be... a hands on cue to take the student deeper in their experience of the asana (not necessarily deeper in the asana itself!), and occasionally to offer a correction. I love receiving a good assist, which is why most teachers cannot wait to get their hands on their students... they know the value that this work has. Sometimes, verbal cueing does not convey the message, and an adjustment embodies that trusting relationship that is built between the student and teacher.
So why have I been stepping back? One of those reasons has come from my osteopathy studies. As a healthcare practitioner, it is vital (and legally required) that I ask for consent from patients, so why do we assume as yoga teachers, that it is ok to touch our students without permission? I now always start the class with the opportunity for students to let me know if they do not wish to be touched or assisted, for whatever reason. That can remain in the domain of their privacy. Ahhhhhhh! That famous touch. How many trainings have I been on, that say: "An assist can be very powerful, some of your students may not have been touched in a long time, so you might be the only person to touch them" (as if you have the gift of healing)....!! Well yes, exactly, and there might be good reason for that which as a teacher we have no insight to, or any right to make assumptions about.
Some teachers will just ask to be told 'no' as they go to make the assists (each to their own, I can only give my own opinion), but how hard is that to do discreetly if your head is on your shins? If you are already being touched when you don't want to? Or if, as it has happened to me before, you have been taken so deep into the backbend that you are unable to breathe, and therefore no sounds comes out as you try to speak! And sometimes the student is trying to be kind. I have had many instances where new teachers have been unleashed in busy classes to assist. It is totally valid if they have been practicing on the teacher, other teachers, or are giving very light assists, but if they are giving deep hands on adjustments, it becomes very hard to say 'ouch' or 'no thank you' without shattering a newer teacher's confidence.
My background as a dancer means I LOVE a deep assist when it is given well, because I am used to that pushing and pulling, and I know how to soften into that, but I also know that the world of dance is not known to be kind to bodies... because often that world does not know any better! I often get asked if we covered anatomy in my dance studies: yes, but at such a basic level! If you knew the damage you could potentially do to yourself while refining your craft, there would be no one on stage! So as a yogi, where the aesthetic is only secondary, do I want to be a stretcher? Maybe... sometimes... but mostly to a very small panel of students.
I was recently teaching when I was called over by a student who asked: "can you stretch me in this pose?". My answer was no. Not because I couldn't, but because the very wording of the question told me that the student was completely passive in this interaction. I was going to do the work, put pressure on joints, whilst the student 'flopped about' in an already mobile body... because of course, it is rarely the less mobile folk who ask to be pretzeled into shapes (for one... that just doesn't work). So what could I offer this student? Ways for her to increase sensation, ways for her to work on creating more stability, not more mobility in the pose... yes! This interests me.
One of the reasons I am training to be an osteopath is so that I can help patients become pain free, but also involved and empowered in their vision of health, movement, embodiment, so why would I remove this from the students in my classes? Of course, I remain hands on, of course, I truly believe in the benefit of light assists that generally define the energetics or the direction of a pose, but do I think deep assists are for everyone? I would argue they are for the handful: those at that midway point between super mobile, and stiff as rod, between working so hard that everything is solid, and doing no work at all so that every action is passive... those students are a handful of people. And for the pretzels, assists often become about pulling back, creating stability, finding the more active, usually more challenging route (I used to be a pretzel, and it is so hard to learn how to work in the poses that come easy).
Mostly, asana becomes for me a chance to develop body awareness, proprioception, discipline and enjoyment in movement, meditation and breath in students. It should be empowering, not dictated by my hands. And I need to know that student's body, that student's temperament, and I definitely do not know that the first time they come into class.
My hands are still firmly on my students, but in a way, I hope, that fosters their independence, listening skills, and enough room for them to create their physical parameters in the practice. Above all, and this goes without saying, an assist should always be ethical and respectful of the student, the opportunity to say no, even if it is not offered, is always there.
Have thoughts? I would love to hear your ideas about this!
vastu-sāmye citta-bhedāt tayor vibhaktaḥ panthāḥ
Each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to howyou see it. (PYS IV.15)
What is real? Is there an absolute truth? To each and everyone of us, there appears a narrative that runs through the course of our existence. It is our truth. But is it an absolute? Is our experience of the world the real Truth, with a capital T? Can we even be absolutely sure that when two people describe a green plant, they are truly perceiving the same colour?
This sutra tells us that our perception of the world is subjective. Whilst we may all see the same object (or prakriti, nature) our experience of it may be quite different. In a yoga class it may be an asana that appears incredibly hard to one student, and particularly easy to another. A person may be loved in countless ways by their partner, but be an enemy to their next door neighbour. In this perception of the world, our ‘truth’ is tainted by, this sutra tells us, our state of mind, our past experiences, and the way that these might colour our past, present or future impressions.
If we look to science (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General), the brain almost seems hardwired into this pattern! We think we see our surroundings, but our eyes can in fact only perceive sharply an area as small as a thumbnail on the end of an outstretched arm. The majority of us do not move around with this tunnel vision, and this is because... amazingly, “our nervous system uses past visual experiences to predict how blurred objects would look in sharp detail”!
As we start to understand that we see through the lens of past experience, karmas, opinions, we develop the knowledge that our reality is often a story we create for ourselves. In the yoga class, the asana is not inherently challenging or simple, our partner is not inherently delightful or unpleasant. These objects are “empty from (their) own side”, they do not carry these qualities. As seers, we project our past, our judgements (good or bad) onto them.
So how do we trust the world around us? By understanding that whilst our consciousness may fluctuate and change, that the object does in fact not change. Whilst our experience of the truth may be flawed by the interaction of the gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas), we know that if the object itself does not change, then there is a Truth with a capital T! Through the practice of yoga, we begin to shift our role as an opinionated victim of the fluctuations of the mind, to a simple but empowered witness. In this lack of prejudice, we become detached from the Ego, and experience the unchanging, the Truth with a capital T, enlightenment (or maybe truth with capital E!). In this freedom from tainted vision, we experience a shared, higher reality, in which we can become an active player of our daily life.
The play of the gunas is strong, and in the practice, there are many pitfalls, but simply with the understanding of this sutra, there is a cognition of our flawed, filtered vision. We start to shift our awareness to a shared, higher reality, and create a sphere in which we become an active participant. Through the assimilation of this sutra, we grasp the panorama of view points into our world, and gain the ability to be more compassionate beings: we may see four sides to an argument without having to take conflictual standpoint, we change our diet as we discern the perspective of fish beings, cows, etc.
Yogis are Truth seekers. Not so they can prove their righteousness, but to lead a compassionate and enlightened life in which the fluctuations of the mind quieten down to reveal Purusha: that shared unchangeable.
A recently penned article for The Power Yoga Company
As I write this, I am sat in the middle of the Gobi desert, surrounded only by herdsmen, a bunch of newly acquainted strangers and some camels. It is strange to think that after all the twists and turns that life provides, that is is yoga that brought me here.
As I reach my thirties, it seems that I have had many more lives than strictly required! I started out in France, moved to Leeds to pursue contemporary dance training in conservatoire then headed to London where I performed, partied, and worked as a bartender and waitress. I landed a job in events and became an event manager for three years with a spot of DJing thrown in here and there. In this time it was yoga that kept me sane and fit, as I was no longer free to attend professional dance classes. Eventually, it became an essential daily practice and something I yearned to explore.
Maybe I could teach? Maybe even do it well? Fast forward a few years and I now teach Rocket, Jivamukti, Vinyasa and Yoga Nidra, I qualified as a barre instructor, an animal flow coach, I manage a yoga studio and run my own retreats, I am learning to play the harmonium, and am even a mentor for new teachers!
When I first chose life as a performer, I chose a difficult life, but one that would be filled with passion. After feeling a little lost for a few years, I remember my Mum saying to me: “You know, for most people, a job is just that…a job!”. I refused to admit that I could spend most of my time doing something that I did not deeply care about.
As I embarked on my first teacher training, I was confident my life would change in the direction I already loved: movement and people. I never thought it would propel me with such force into a world where every door seemed open.
I try to be very honest about life as a yoga teacher. When people ask me about training, the conversation usually goes something like this: ‘Yes, getting the certificate is the easy bit. It doesn’t make you a good teacher… Teaching makes you a teacher”. I tell them to stick with the day job for a while, build their classes around it. It might turn out they enjoy practising but not really teaching. It might turn out that paying the mortgage/rent becomes rather complicated. It is important not to glamourize a world that can also be highly competitive somewhere like London. However, when your job fulfils you, it is a life that you would change for nothing.
I was lucky enough to get a lot of work, fast. With that came a lot of travelling. Over the years, I have refined my schedule to include less commuting, a day off, and only classes that I love (lucky me!). Some days it is hard to stand up in front of twenty people and speak (us teachers have the same ups and downs as everyone… broken hearts, grief etc), but mostly I leave class feeling energised and uplifted from the moments shared with my students. I rarely feel depleted by that energy. I love watching people discover, progress and have that Eureka moment.
In all of this, it has become clear that I have a huge thirst for learning. This has led me to travel around the world for teacher trainings, workshops and retreats. More recently, I have earned a place back at university to study osteopathy and have been plugging away at a new instrument. I have made meaningful connections across the globe with people who truly want to make a positive difference.
A few years ago, I became an ambassador for a sportswear brand that encouraged me to dream big. It was about going beyond any barriers that I could create (money, time etc.). They encouraged me to see that anything is possible. Despite not being easy, I have truly come to believe that we can indeed all create “our best life”. Although more than once, I saw my friends and family look at each other with that “here we go again” look across their faces – but it paid off.
I am so glad I persisted, and keep on persisting. Yoga has become much more than my job. It is my practice, my passion, it’s part of my diet, it gives me a voice for what I believe is right and just, it is my community and my family away from home. It is my root, my breath and my release.
And in that all-encompassing love for what I do, I find a total joy for life, an energy that allows me to give more, be more available, embrace every moment. Whilst my life is incredibly busy, and sometimes stressful, it is all for things and people that I love, and I can therefore do it with a smile.
As I rest my eyes on the camels in the distance, I know there was some part of the winding path that was always going to land me here, on this retreat, with my teacher, and these new friendships. Somehow, everything is just right, and I look forward to the future turns this path will surprise me with.
Here is a picture of my dad and I... roughly 5 years ago. Why am I showing you this? Well... Firstly, because my dad is a legend, but secondly because I am inexcusably and unashamedly a feminist. I was brought up in a world where being 'as good as' or 'better than' men, was not even a thing. It was not even a consideration, because... doh?! of course I was. Why would that even need to be said?!
I was brought up in a family, where I was told that if I wanted to be the next president, the next pioneering researcher, the next war journalist, then I could do it (okay, when I first suggested I was going to be dancer, that maybe did not go down quite as well, but the disapproval did not last for long!). The world was shown to me as being wide open with possibility. I never doubted that I could do it, and I never believed people would not support me on the way, because I grew up in a home where men and women were treated equally, and in a home where my father actively said: "we would probably be better off if we had more female political leaders" (readers... this is not a time to bring up Marine le Pen).
I was never taught to be scared of men, but after my Mum's eye of tiger fierceness when a man touched my bum on the escalator aged 6 (yes... 6), I was always taught to trust my instincts. If a guy seemed weird, he probably was, and I should change pavements. And that did not go just for men. It was people in general. And since then, I keep following my gut with people, but also in life. So far, it has served me well, although I suspect I have had many more lives (dancer, bar tender, event manager, DJ, yoga teacher.....), and more areas of study than most people by the age of 30. Trusting your gut comes with a lot of swerving.
Sadly, I realise not all women have grown up in this environment. Many women grew up in families where girls 'jokingly' were called slags, where women 'jokingly' were only good enough for the household, where 'jokingly' women could not park. We live in a world where as my father approaches a small child in the street to play, my mother or myself have to come running and promise he is not a kidnapper.
I believe women are equal. Different to men, for sure, but equal... and as I am surrounded by some great men, I also know (for a fact!) that many guys believe that too (hurrah!). Last night, I was lucky enough to attend the ever so inspiring Tania Brown's class in Dulwich (which I am honoured to be teaching as of next Thursday). Alongside the usual yoga types, walked in many mums, and their young daughters... but also dads and their young daughters and nieces. What an amazing, awesome thing to be doing with your kids. I was chatting to some of these teens, and they put up a good show of saying that maybe it was not so cool that their dads were there. I assured them that even if they did not think so now (which I don't actually believe), they would feel very differently in ten years time.
In many households, fathers are still the main bread winners. This often means, they don't get to be around so much. My dad made such an effort to spend time with me when he was around. We ran down the pavements being chased by crocodiles, we made plans to capture Father Christmas, he made up songs about 'Elodie jolie' that he played on the guitar over breakfast, but he was not there for dance classes, and I don't think we got much regular one on one dad and daughter time (although we definitely got family time). I would have loved, not only to practice yoga as a teen, but to practice yoga with my dad. I could not pay him enough to join my classes now (... hi Dad!), but I was truly moved to see those pairs of dads and girls moving on the mat last night. Doing the same thing. Feminism, equality, allowing your daughter to know that she is 'as good as', 'worth more than', 'the next superwoman' starts with simple stuff like this. Proving that men and women do the same, and are deep down, fundamentally made of the same stuff. Without forgetting the presence of amazingly positive role models such as Tania.
A piece of dance recently came to my attention as one of my friends was performing in it. Men and Girls Dance... The clue is in the title. It is so simple. We have made the relationships between men and girls so complicated and obscure... How can women not take that into their adult life?
Feminism starts at home. And I can feel that there is a wind of change blowing through the trees. This 'Swedish Dads' photography project by Johan Bavman goes to show that dads are missing out on that one to one kid time as well (and not just with their daughters).
I think we all know that dads want the best for their children. When they have daughters in particular, I truly believe that dads can rule the world by paving the way for their daughters to never even consider the possibility that they could in some way be inferior to men. Why should that even be on their radar? Dads have the amazing, and wonderful possibility to show their daughters that men are ace, and that men are not a**e holes. So whether that is through taking your daughter to yoga (and doing it with her!), whether that is playing football with her, learning to play an instrument... the power to change the world could (and is) in your hands.
Ahhhh it has been an interesting few days to say the least... Back in March, some of my fellow yoga teachers 'suggested' I join them for a half marathon in Birmingham! Birmingham? A marathon?! Running?! Nahhhh, I am alright thanks.
In truth, every year for the past... 3 or 4 years, I have made the resolution to run a half marathon. And failed each time. I hate running. With a burning passion. I get so bored, my hip flexors hurt, so beyond a 20 minute run once every six weeks to give myself good conscience, I think it is fair to say, I am not a runner. After years of failed resolutions, I concluded that I was not succeeding, simply because I did not really want to. So this year, 2016, no resolutions. Move on to March and this half marathon proposition... no thanks.
Fast forward to last week end, and suddenly I am saying yes. That same night, I go home, I book my spot, and the hotel, before I have the chance to change my mind. Day 2, I invest in running shoes, I get a training programme, and find out that half marathon prep should take 8 to 10 weeks. I have got 6.
Since then, I have been running three times a week. We are on the first run of week 2, and I have run an amazing (for me it truly is) 12km. I can't quite believe it. I still hate every second of the run itself, but I am thriving on the challenge. I am so stubborn that I just won't give up! I would secretly love to run. The simplicity of putting on some shoes and hitting the road seems so freeing, so I am hoping that this is a turning point.
Somehow, I put the success of these runs down to yoga. Yes, because my body is strong enough to sustain the effort, but mainly for the focus, the attention to the breath, the ability to regulate that breath. It has also become a key part of recovery. I have been sneaking in to some hot classes at yogahaven just after my run and the warmth helps my muscles stretch out, whilst the class itself helps to ease out the twinges and aches.
I have also been extra diligent with my myofascial release sessions. My trusty tennis balls come with me every where! Those of you who have come to the workshops, you will know it is bitter sweet... but so good! And I have been spending a lot of time in some stretchy poses for the lower limbs. Here are some of my favs for running recovery! Happy stretching, and wish me luck! Five weeks to go!
What is it to be human? That particular combination of utter weakness, and mind blowing strength. That possibility of being both at the very same time. Being able to be torn up, eaten up and simultaneously completely whole. For me, that is what being human is. And within that existence, there is the purely magical. The idea that anything is possible, that limits are a futile figment of imagination. Here are three films that deal with being human, in the most fantastic way possible. Fill your winter nights with AWE!
First up: 'Untethered' - Human madness and jaw dropping defiance!
Out of breath after a run around the block? Watch 'Unbreakable: The Western States 100'
And one you may have to dig a little further to watch. The beautiful 'Grazing the Sky', where the incredible meets the fragility that comes with being human. Happy watching!
As you know, I have been blogging for the lovely team at TruBe. My first article was all about the benefits of yoga, and why everyone, could do with some time on a mat!
"Yoga… It is everywhere! Your mum, your friends, and now even your brother is at it! So what is the deal? And why is everyone doing it?
What are the benefits of yoga?
It depends on the type of yoga you are practising. There are so many different and complimentary forms of yoga. From the most restorative like yin, all the way to some of the most intense like Astanga or Rocket.
A TruBe yoga session is a more dynamic form of yoga which means that you get the benefits of a good workout with added relaxation! Whaaaatt? Yes! Not only will you sweat from all the moving, but the deep breathing methods used in yoga are super balancing for your nervous system, leaving you to feel enlivened, poised and refreshed. Tuning into the details of motion and breath means you can really focus on being present so that the practice becomes similar to a moving meditation, taking care of both your body and your mind.
What happens in a session?
A yoga session usually starts with some settling. This gives you time to bring your focus inwards and shift your attention to the body and breath (rather than that huge list of phone calls you need to make in the afternoon). The next step is to start warming up the body with some gentle movement, maybe some core work, to move to the more challenging sun salutations. Once the body is really working, you will
often progress into backbends, before bringing the whole tempo back down with some stretching and some deep relaxation (called savasana). All of this can be adapted to your level of practice making it as challenging as you need.
What if I’m not flexible enough?
Yoga is not really about being bendy, and there are numerous modifications and props that can be offered to make the practice work for you, no matter how big or small your range of movement. Yoga has acquired that reputation because it is a great tool for increasing flexibility (and indeed, some of the very advanced postures really do require becoming a human pretzel). By increasing your range of movement, not only are you helping prevent injury, but you are also becoming stronger!You can read more about that here. It is so beneficial to the body and mind that sports teams and athletes are getting in on the action too, rugby players, marathon runners, triathletes, boxers… That’s right, yoga is not just for girls!
ow does yoga fit into My work out? I want to be strong!
Well, yoga is just the ticket! Even if yoga is not part of your daily fitness regime, see if you can incorporate it once a week, or on an active rest day? You are more likely to remain injury free, you will increase your movement range and your proprioceptive awareness, as well as making your shoulders and core super strong! It won’t be just muscly strong, but actually useful strong. All that practice pushes the body to really move three dimensionally, therefore challenging the muscles to create extra stability, especially once you start to get your feet off the floor (although that does take some dedicated work). So not only will you develop strength and make movement more efficient, you will improve your performance in other areas, whether that’s running, team sports or even weight lifting. And thanks to the calm mind and steady breath you will develop, you can be sure you will be able to go the extra mile. So get on your mat!
I get asked about the best mat time and time again! It all depends on the type of yogi you are! Read below to find out a bit more about what is actually out here!
– the Beyonce of mats: the Lifeform mat… Ahhh how we all wish we had a Lifeform mat. Beautifully made, super, super grippy, and with lots of clever markings to perfect your alignement, whether you are a more seasoned yogi, or a more green toed yogi, this one is… fierce! It does come with a price tag (presumably, Beyonce would too), but it is worth the money. They have lots of new colours too – so if pink was not your thing, think again. The only problem with this bad gal’ is that it is extra wide, and extra long, and therefore extra heavy. Not ideal to carry to and from the studio, it won’t even fit into a standard yoga bag. In a busy studio, it is also a bit of a cheat on your fellow yogis, as you will need to take up more than one ‘spot’ to fit you mat. Ideal for a home practice. Price tag: £100… Ouch!
– Still up there in the luxury mat department, and definitely my favourite: the Jade yoga mat…. Jade and I have a lasting love story. I bought it before I went on some intense yoga training and I have not looked back. Jade is a hottie, and it always feel like an occasion when I roll her out to practice. She is super grippy (mega grip, even in humid Thai jungle weather), and she is rather thick, meaning no bruised knees and elbows. If you are a sweaty yogi (yes, like me), then this is the one for you. It is pretty heavy, so if you have to get the tube to your local studio, you will need some determination, but Jade also do a travel version of the same mat which is worth a try. Not only is Jade very faithful to your hands and feet, she is also eco-friendly. Every mat purchased = a tree planted, made from natural rubber in the US, with no PVC. Price tag: around £60 depending on point of purchase. You can also get an extra long version for a bit more money, if you are the added length kinda person.
– Similar to Jade, is the Manduka mat. Also eco-friendly, the Pro range starts around $85.
– If like me, you love a good grip on your mat, then you could also look at Lululemon. The Mat is a great, grippy basic with a good amount of padding. For a brand that does not specialise in mats, this is pretty damn good. Price tag: £63.00
I am also a big fan of their travel mat. Mega grippy, actually absorbs sweat; I brought it to a hot class the other day to try it without a towel, and it only became saturated and slippery after an hour of practice. Great result. The (un) Mat is really thin, so you can fold it, roll it, and squish it into your bag or suitcase. Ideal if you live in a busy city and just want something that is yours to roll over a studio mat as it is so light, and it really does not budge. Firm favourite in the travel section. Price tag: £42.00
If you’re a hot yoga bunny, the Hot (towel) Mat has the same advantages as the (un) Mat but has a grip towel glued onto it! No more rumpling of the towel as you jump back and forth, lots of grip, and you can chuck the whole thing into the washing machine when you get home… win! Good for about an hour of hot practice. Price tag: £52.00
– For the smaller budget, or if you are not yet committed to yoga for the long run, go to Yoga Matters. Their Classic mat is a really great buy at £28.00 and even their Sticky Yoga Mat is a good find at £17.00. Go for this instead of your TK Maxx mat which won’t offer nearly as much.
– If you are tall, or a man, or even a tall man, then you will want the extra length. Just like a bed, you don’t want your feet hanging off of the edge. Price tag: £39.50
– Finally, for the yogi who has everything, and is just after a bit of frivolity….I love this! Totally unecessary, and I have not tried it out, so I am afraid I cannot vouch for it, but it is so pretty. Magic Carpet mats start at $98.00… sigh at the prettiness, however not at the grippiness. This one is for the more restorative practice!
You just have one thing left to do, get a mat, and get practising!