So what is Acro Yoga?

There are so many different types of yoga these days it’s hard to know what distinguishes one from the other. At least with Acro Yoga it is somewhat self explanatory.

I confess, I haven’t tried it and know very little about it, but some of my friends have given it a go and a lot of them think it’s great. And after one of them sent me the video below I can kind of see what they’re on about.

Beautiful, no? But watching that I did wonder what the person on the bottom gets out of it? His role seemed to be just that of a support; one of strength and balance, and not much else.

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps some of you have experience of Acro Yoga and can enlighten me to the benefits each person can gain from it?

Bodhisattva, Spiritual Guide


A Bodhisattva is a specific term to Buddhism, meaning

“a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings”,

and while it means someone who has completed their journey, any Swami or Guru can be considered to be fulfilling the role of a Bodhisattva, regardless of where they are themselves, if they help you along the path to self realisation.

Our task lies in choosing the right Spiritual Guide.

Originally posted on Engaged Dharma:

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

A bodhisattva can be compared to a wilderness guide who leads all sorts of people – young and old, experienced and novice, men and women – into a trackless forest. It is a task that requires the three aspects of skillful action: permission, preparation and resources. The guide must have the permission of those traveling with them to lead them into unknown territory as well as self-permission based on their knowledge of themselves; they must have taken the time and effort to prepare themselves, the gear, and their charges; and they must have the resources of knowledge of the terrain, the ability to respond appropriately to any situation, as well as the material goods such as food, water and shelter to sustain all that travel with them. The guide also needs the wisdom to be able to discern the minds of those traveling with them, what their…

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Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales, 2015

“Sometimes, life gets in the way.”

It’s one of my old Tai Chi instructor’s favourite sayings, and I tell you what, he wasn’t wrong about that. Despite your best intentions, sometimes your sadhana has to take a back seat to so called ‘real life’.

That’s the position I found myself in recently when it was all change in terms of pretty much every aspect of my life. I’ve had a lot to deal with over the past few weeks, many of which is ongoing, and so my spiritual practice had to take a back seat to the basic practicalities of life.

I found I had to do something to get things back on track, which is why I decided to do the five day Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales. If a steady diet of double yoga, double satsang, lectures and meditative walks didn’t do the trick, nothing would.

snowdonia mountain lodge

lodge 1

lodge 2

lodge 3

from the lawn, to the valley

The location for the retreat was a new one for me; the Snowdonia Mountain Lodge. It’s a little further than Gaunt’s House, the place I’ve been to previously with the Sivanadas, but I found the drive up fairly straight forward. Motorways and main roads most of the way in fact. From London it was a good four or five hour drive, but with the first yoga class on day one being at 4pm, that gives you plenty of time to get up there.

I actually had an unusual journey, in that I went up the day before – after having picked up a load of stuff from the yoga centre for transportation – and stayed nearby with a friend. It just broke things up nicely for me, and I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to dive into my sadhana.

Actually, my first bit of spiritual practice was, of course, karma yoga, lol. I helped set up the stuff I’d brought up from London, which turned out to be everything for the altar and things for the boutique.

the altar

yoga room

sivananda shop 1

sivananda shop 2

Our set up was actually in the corner of a much larger boutique that they have at the Mountain Lodge. The lodge itself has strong connections with the Dru Yoga organisation, so any visiting yogis will find their needs well catered for (check out those snacks!).

retreat shop 1

retreat shop 2

retreat shop 3

Karma yoga over with (for now) I got to have a wee scout about before everyone else turned up. I scoped out the Peace Flame,

peace flame

and the Peace Bridge,

lodge 4

peace bridge

by the peace bridge

not to mention the Peaceful Views of the surrounding valley (anybody spotting a theme yet?).

over from the lodge

We’d chosen a lovely day to arrive, and everyone kept telling us it wouldn’t last, but I’m glad to say the sunny weather lasted nearly the whole retreat long, with just the odd shower to liven things up now and then.

The program for the course ran the same as it does for the TTC:

6am – Morning Satsang (medtiation, chanting and short lecture)
8am – First Yoga Class
10am – Brunch
11:30-3:30pm(ish) – Lecture & Meditative Walk, alternating depending on weather, and of varying lengths and start times, with a break in between
4pm – Second Yoga Class
6pm – Evening Meal
8pm – Evening Satsang
9:30pm – Finish/Bed

Apart from meals, every event lasts about an hour and a half (except the lecture which is about an hour) so there’s time in between to relax a little bit, but not too much. The program is pretty full on, but such practice has great benefits, as it really brings you out of your daily life and makes you concentrate on your sadhana. And that, after all, was the main reason I was there.

Two full yoga classes a day really improves your asana practice quite quickly. I’m not saying I could touch my head to my knees within the five days, but I did end up being able to do a very rudimentary Pigeon which, whilst not pretty, is at least fully realised (and I’ll let you figure out what I mean by that for yourselves, lol).

There were two levels of class on offer, a beginners/intermediate class and an intermediate/advanced class. Tempted though I was to give myself a break now and then, I stuck with the more advanced class. I know I’m lazy, and I need to be pushed, and so it was the perfect one for me. The teaching was provided by Narada and Sundari, two of the staff members, and was excellent as always. Though I often went into a class a bit tired, I pretty much always came out more energised (and generally quite hungry, lol).

soup and salad



retreat lunch

crumble and custard

Food was provided by the staff at the Mountain Lodge, but cooked using Sivananda recipes and under guidance from the staff, and I must say they did an excellent job. Everything we had was tasty, and I had to literally restrain myself from having thirds (seconds was a foregone conclusion) a lot of the time.

And so many nice puddings too! Never had so much sweet stuff on a Sivananda retreat. Not only at the meals, but after the walks as well. From chocolate mousse to rice pud to crumble and custard, I dare say everybody’s sweet tooth was more than satisfied.

Thank goodness was had the walks to burn off those extra calories, lol. The region around the Lodge had lots of great walks we could go on. A couple we could do right from the front door, and a couple we had to jump in the cars to go do.

The first walk was to a nearby hillside lake (what I would call a Tarn, being from Oop Norf as I am).

A five minute drive up the valley and a short walk brought us to the lake. NB: The walks are done in silence so that you can concentrate on calming the mind, linking your breathing to your walking, or just enjoying the energy of the beautiful surroundings.

meditative walk to the lake

yogis contemplate by the lake

Here we had a short meditative contemplation before carrying on around the lake to the other side.

from the far side of the water

second meditation

at peace

From here we could see back down the valley to where we were staying. Our accommodation is one of the white dots near the road in the first picture, but I honestly can’t say which one anymore, lol.

back down the valley

a valley peak

As Swami Jyotimayananda said, it’s amazing how invigorating being in nature can be. You forget the stuff you do day to day, but walks and scenery like that stay with you for a long time.

The other big walk we did was to Newborough Beach on Anglesey. This was a new one for everybody so Swamiji asked me to drive out there in the morning to check out the route and see what was what. It meant missing the lecture, but since it was on Positive Thinking and I’d done the Positive Thinking Course at the London Centre with Swami Jyotimayananda, I really didn’t mind.

I felt the responsibility of getting everyone to the beach. We were a convoy of about seven cars all in all, and I had to pull over a couple of times to allow everyone to catch up. We lost two cars along the way, but thanks to sat nav, and making sure everyone had a nearby postcode, those two cars actually got there before the rest of us, lol.

The beach was gorgeous, and we walked the full length of it before heading out onto a spit of land for our meditation (and a bit of a lie down).

a meditative walk on the beach

newborough beach

in the footsteps of a swami

yogis at the water's edge

yogis by the beach

wales from anglesey

yogi at rest

As I said, and as you can see, we got really lucky with the weather. Lovely sunshine and gorgeous views; what more could you want?

I thoroughly enjoyed the summer retreat. I won’t lie to you, it was tough at times. You know me, I likes my sleep. But I persevered, and I certainly felt the benefits afterwards.

I was invigorated by my time in Wales, and that carried through into the following weeks. I keep getting up early and doing things, which is crazy for me. Getting everything you want to do done and then looking at your watch and finding out it’s still morning just blows my mind, lol. I mean it’s great, but with so much time in the day what do you do with yourself? ;-)

I’d recommend giving the retreat a go if you haven’t been on one before. It’s not as far as it seems, and once you’re there the benefits you gain far outweigh the effort required in getting there (much like yoga itself, lol).

The 30 Day Hip Opening Challenge

“If you always do what you’ve always done,

you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

∼ Mark Twain

You’ve got to challenge yourself in life. And sometimes, other people have to do the challenging for you, just to keep you on your toes.

My girlfriend challenged me to try for thirty days the hip opening exercises she’s been doing recently to see what effect, if any, they might have on me. After all, I’m already pretty flexible in the hips when my knees are out to the side – years of sitting cross legged on my bed because I didn’t have a chair have seen to that – but other than that my range of motion in the hip joint could certainly be improved.

She gave me two exercises to do, thirty seconds on each side, so just over two minutes extra work each day. Doesn’t sound like much, but even then I had trouble squeezing it in sometimes!

Here’s what I got up to…

Exercise 1 – Gomukhasana: Shoe Lace Pose, yin variation

Kneel, sitting on your heels, then sit off to one side and swing the upper leg over the lower until your knees are above one another. If you can’t manage this, and not everyone can to begin with, just get as close as you can. As long as both buttocks are comfortably on the ground you’re doing fine.

hip opening exercise - 1a

Inhale, then exhale forward and hold for thirty seconds.

hip opening exercise - 1b

With each exhalation see if you can go a little further forward, remembering not to strain or force while doing so. Relax the muscles around your hips to help deepen the stretch.

hip opening exercise - 1c

After thirty seconds release and do the same again on the other side.

Exercise 2 – Agnistambhasana: Fire Log Pose, yin variation

Sit with your lower legs one on top of the other, both buttocks comfortably on the floor. You’re aiming to have feet and knees above each other, but just do the best you can. And if it means laying your legs one in front of the other on the floor in front of you, so be it. Use cushions or blankets to support your knees if necessary.

hip opening exercise - 2a

If you find there is a gap between your upper knee and your lower foot place a blanket or cushion there so that your knee can rest comfortably.

hip opening exercise - 2b

Inhale, and then exhale forward. Hold for thirty seconds.

hip opening exercise - 2c

Place your hands on the floor in front of you for support. With each exhalation see if you can go deeper into the posture, again without strain or force. Remember to relax your hip muscles.

hip opening exercise - 2d

After thirty seconds release and do the same again, changing over which leg is on top.

If you can sit comfortably without the blanket for support you should do so, and feel free to go as low as possible without risking injury. Always support yourself with your hands.

hip opening exercise - 2e

Personally I prefer doing both exercises with a straight back when I go forward, as I find it more beneficial, but you can also do them with a curved, relaxed back for a more ‘yin’ experience.

You may also find in both exercises that one side is easier or more flexible than the other. This is perfectly natural, and may also change day to day. Only do what is comfortable for you on the day, and if it is ever too much for you then stop immediately.

The Result

To begin with I was a little stiff (to say the least!). My knees in the first exercise were nowhere near being above each other, and my top knee in the second exercise was way up in the air. But, you can only start from where you are, so I just went with it. What the hell, it was just for thirty days!

On the days where I did a full yoga session it was easy to integrate them into my practice. On the days when I had to go to work it was tolerable, but still ok. On the days when I was all over the place and only just remembered to do them before bed it was… interesting. And on the days where I forgot I just forgot, lol.

Slowly I became happier in what I was doing, and I found myself able to go deeper into the exercises, eventually able to do them ‘properly’ (as it were), and without any support even (in the case of the second exercise).

On the days where I just did the exercises and nothing else (usually right before bed) I found them to be very freeing after a long day of sitting at work, and just those few minutes brought a lot of relief to my hip area which I quite enjoyed.

As you can see from the final picture above, there was a noticeable effect after just thirty days. I found myself able to go much deeper than I had in the beginning, and I was comfortable holding the posture for longer also.

I found the exercises to be quite beneficial, and I’ve since incorporated them into my daily routine (time permitting – mornings can be quite a rush when you have to be out the house at 7am!). I can recommend giving them a try, and if you do please let me know in the comments below how you get on.

I’m on a new mission now: The three minute daily Plough. I want to get back to where I was by the end of the Teacher Training Course in 2012, and this is the way to do it I reckon. I’ll let you know in a few weeks how things work out, and how long it takes for me to get my tootsies on the floor once more.

Wish me luck! :)

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

Guess what? I’ve discovered this amazing new way to get really good at yoga! All you have to do is just lie around all day binge watching Britain’s Got Talent on youTube. That’s what I did last night, and I want to get really good at yoga, so it stands to reason that it must be true, right?

undoing all the good work

It’s my long standing lament. “I should do more yoga!” Say what you like, but it’s the only way you get good. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, of course. But how much practice should you do? Well, that all depends on what you want to get out of it.

If your aim is to get really stretchy really fast, you’re probably talking a couple of full sessions a day (maybe 3-4 hours in total). That’s how much I was doing during my Teacher Training Course, and after a month of that I was finally able to do a proper, legs-straight Plough for once (now a long and distant memory). Now I’m not in any rush to get bendy, but I would like to do a proper, head-to-knees, sitting forward bend once before I die.

om by the pool

But yoga isn’t all about the gymnastic contortions, is it? It’s also about Realising The Self (what the Buddhists would call Enlightenment). The original purpose of the asanas was to allow you to be able to sit and meditate for longer, without getting all stiff or sloppy in your lotus pose.

So how long should you practice if self realisation is the goal? Oh, about twenty fours hours a day, three hundred and sixty four days a year (you can have Christmas off, lol). Because practicing Mindfulness – the path to self realisation and the purpose of meditation – is never ending. It’s not just about the exercises. Mindfulness should be in everything you say, think, feel, do and are.

salabhasana - the locust

Ok ok, I hear you say, so how much to be able to sit and meditate properly? Or to just stay healthy? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I like to do a full session a day when I can. I’m talking an hour to an hour and a half every day. That usually keeps me in a flexible mood. But unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

If I’m working (twelve hour shifts!) I do what I call the bare minimum: Pranayama (breathing exercises), Sun Salutations, a few extra asanas if I have time, and at least five minutes Final Relaxation (the most important part of any practice). Then on my days off I do a full session. I find this is enough to keep me on an even keel, though sadly not enough to make any advances asana-wise.

mayurasana - the peacock

At the end of the day, who’s to say how much you should be doing? As I said at the start, it all depends on what you want to get out of it. The only thing I can say for certain is, only you know if you’re doing enough or not, and if you feel you should be doing more, then chances are you probably should.

I know I should, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it too much. Little and often, that’s the key. And for now, with all the work and traveling that I do, as long as I can do a little something every day I’m going to count it as a win (clip binges and cake notwithstanding, lol).

On Making Assumptions

Many moons ago I didn’t live in Wimbledon. I couldn’t afford it. But I used to get the tube to Southfields, which is on the way to Wimbledon, so I could kid myself I was going up in the world even though, after a ten minute walk, I was a lot nearer Wandsworth town centre than anything else.
My point is, though it felt a bit posh on the way home, you could just as easily see three guys trying to nick someone’s bicycle as you could a family on their way to the school fayre (and indeed, I actually did once).
One day, waiting to cross the road, a bus pulled up in front of me. It was mostly empty, save for a young lad of about twelve or thirteen on the back seat. He had a sullen look and a shaven head, and I don’t think it unfair to say he was the kind of kid you might feel justified in keeping an eye on if you saw him hanging around near your car. Not that he might nick it or anything, but he might think it funny to smear kebab juice on your door handles just for a laugh.
The kid was looking at me, stoney faced, and I returned his gaze, equally as impassive. Then slowly he raised one hand, and gave me a tiny wave. My eyes narrowed. Was he taking the p*ss? If I smiled, or nodded, or waved, would he then grin and give me the finger? Probably, I thought. Maybe I should get in there first? Give him the finger. That’d teach him for taking the p*ss out of me!
I almost did it. Really I did. But at the last moment I chose not to. It didn’t matter what he did, it mattered what I did. So instead of giving him the finger I just waved back at him instead (the two of us still pretty much stoney faced). His waving hand turned. Here it comes I thought. Here comes the finger. Inwardly I sighed.
But it wasn’t a middle finger I received, it was a thumb. He gave me a thumbs up! No smile from him still, but the unexpected surprise gave me cause to smirk. I nodded, he nodded, and the bus moved on.
I think about that moment now and then. I don’t know if he intended to trick me and then changed his mind at the last moment, possibly seeing the turmoil on my face. Or if he was just having a bad day and looking for a grain of human kindness in the world. I just know that I’m glad I didn’t give in to the cynicism. And I hope that I brightened his day a little, just as he brightened mine.

You’ve Just Got To Let It Go

It’s the kind of advice people hate the most, myself included, but often it’s also the only thing we can do in any given situation. When we find ourselves confounded by life, whatever idea, notion, belief or concept it is that’s holding us back, the best thing you can do about it is to just let it go.

And that’s not easy (just ask Sheldon). Human beings like to solve things. It’s what we do. It’s how we’ve ended up the most dominant species on the planet. And we have a hard time coming to terms with the idea that some problems cannot be solved, and the only real solution is for us to change our way of thinking.

But what happens if we stick to our guns, and insist that we’re right and everyone else is wrong? Well, without a viable solution, and unable to let go of whatever problem/past/preconception that plagues us, we end up like the greedy monkey, our clenched fist down a metaphysical hole clutching our personal ‘banana’, desperately trying to escape but ultimately going nowhere. We become more and more frustrated, unable to understand why the hand that went down the hole is unable to come back out again.

feeling lazy

Until we free our minds, open up, and just let go, we’ll never move on from whatever it is that’s holding us back. For me that’s one of the greatest challenges, to just let go of my ideas and to accept that maybe I’m wrong (God forbid!), and maybe there’s another way.

The world is full of ideas, and it’s up to us to decide which are of use, which are a distraction, and (worst of all) which are ‘monkey traps‘, only there to confuse and frustrate us but actually contributing nothing to our liberation.

**NB: Please do click the links embedded above. They really help clarify what I’m waffling on about. :) **

Play Through The Pain

It’s something you often see (in film and TV at any rate), young athletes being told by their coaches to “Play through the pain”, “Walk it off”, or even to “Push through the pain barrier!”

It’s a very Western idea, to be in conflict with your body. To push it ‘beyond it’s limits’ to gain some greater skill or higher ability, but is such an idea any use to a Western yogi?

ice skating!

I dunno about you, but I often find that just as I’m making some real progress in my asanas I suddenly get ill, and my progress is halted whilst I recover. It happened when I did the meditation course in November 2011: After a week of twice a day, legs wide, sitting forward bends, I found myself able to sit on my ‘sit bones’ properly for the first time ever. Then I got the flu and was unable to practice.

It happened after I did the TTC Refresher course last year (blog review yet to come): By the end of another intense week I was able to do the Twisted Triangle properly for the first time in my life. Then I came back and was laid up with the flu again, but this time for three weeks!

And now it’s happening again. Just as I find myself able to make a bit of space in my life for regular sadhana I’ve developed a shoulder injury. The question is though, what to do about it?

I’ve always thought you should recover. Take some time and let your body heal itself. Pushing yourself when you have an injury can only lead to further injury, right? But then I remember a staff member at the London Sivananda Centre who, whilst making some pesto for the evening meal with a hand blender, contrived to almost slice the end of her finger off when she tried to clean around the blades while it was still plugged in!

**I’ll pause for a moment so everyone can grit their teeth and wince!**

That to me would be the perfect excuse to lay off for a little while, but not for this devout yogi! Even with her hand all bandaged up she still did her sadhana, modifying it just a little to make allowances for her injury. And just a week later she was back doing headstands, something that blew my mind when she told me about it!

I personally would have taken full advantage of the excuse to get some rest, which kind of makes me think I use illness as an excuse to practice a bit of ‘yoga avoision‘, something of which I am eternally guilty.

But it’s tough, trying to balance rest and recovery with pushing your boundaries. As yogis we deliberately put ourselves in uncomfortable positions to learn to calm our minds (and stretch our bodies), putting aside thoughts of discomfort as something to be overcome. But if we ignore the signals too much we can easily go too far and end up injuring ourselves. Don’t do enough and you won’t advance in your asanas as much as you could. How can you know how much is too much and how much is too little?

Personally, I’m still trying to figure that one out. I guess just going as far as is comfortable, and then going that little bit further, is the best idea for now. By doing that I should, if I’m lucky, avoid injury while at the same time advancing in my yoga practice a little bit at a time.

I guess you just have to play it by ear. Decide is it a real injury that requires a proper period of rest and recuperation, or is it just something minor ailment which you’re going to use as an excuse to skip your sadhana? And naturally, if in doubt, seek professional medical advice!

As for my shoulder, I went to the osteopath to get it sorted out, and he gave me a bunch of exercises to do. I’ve done them religiously and it’s worked, for the most part. Now I’m back doing my sadhana, and hopefully the last little niggles will take care of themselves as I take care of myself.

Thinking About Thinking

The other day I left work for lunch. I was heading down the high street to the shops, about a ten minute walk, when suddenly… I was there! I was at the shops. And I couldn’t for the life of me remember getting there.

It was like the intervening ten minutes had just disappeared, vanished into thin air. I could remember setting off, then my mind wandered, and then I arrived.

I realised that, whilst my mind had been busy thinking about things, my sub-conscious had been in charge of the rather important task of getting my body from A to B. And that worried me a little because, mine though it is, I don’t think my sub-conscious always has my best interests at heart.

It dawned on me that, for that ten minutes, I had not been practicing my Mindfulness. I had been locked in a Thought Pattern, and much like the landing pattern of an airplane on a cloudy day, rather than coming in to land my thoughts had just been going round and round and round and ultimately getting me nowhere.

**It should be noted that I wasn’t even having a useful thought. As I recall I was lost in some fantasy discussion about something in work that was never going to happen (and indeed never did).**

please be mindful

I’ve tried over the past few years to cut down on such occurrences, as they are not helpful and can even cause us problems in our daily lives. Think about it: Ever gotten in your car and driven in the wrong direction? Or gone shopping and come back with almost none of the things you went out for in the first place? Ever found yourself in the middle of an argument and wondered why you were arguing so vehemently about the ‘proper’ way to make a cup of tea? All can be attributed to a lack of Mindfulness.

To practice Mindfulness is to keep your attention in the here and now. To be aware of what you are doing as you are doing it, and to not get lost in thoughts of the past, future, or a now that isn’t real. And such practice starts with meditation.

**For a detailed explanation on Mindfulness check out this blog post by the Buddhist monk Wayne Ren-Cheng.**

You have to sit and practice observing your thoughts when there are no distractions, so that when you do go out into the world with all it’s hustle and bustle and clamor and noise, you’re better able to catch yourself becoming lost in a pointless Thought Pattern, and to bring yourself back to the reality of daily life before you step out into the road and get run over by the Number 37 bus (be that literally, or metaphorically speaking).

I’ll certainly be trying to practice a bit more Mindfulness from now on. At least by doing that I’ll be the master of my own fate (as much as any man can be, lol) and not just casually handing over the reigns to the careless, back-seat driver that is my sub-conscious self.

So What’s The Score With Yin Yoga?

You think Yin Yoga is going to be easy. I mean, it’s just lying there, right? How hard can that be? Well…

I’ve only had a few experiences of yin yoga, first off at the top of the Sydney Eye Tower at 7am,

morning views

then at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali,

the yoga barn

but my first real experience of yin yoga (ie: a non-touristy experience) was in London with my friend and fellow yogi Clare.

keith and clare

Clare teaches at the Yoga Hall in St Albans, among other places in and around the north London area, and it was while I was traveling around from hostel to hostel last year that I was fortunate enough to find myself within striking distance of one of her classes. So, after a short drive round the M25 (and a long argument with my sat-nav), I arrived just in time for her Thursday night class.

the yoga hall, st albans

main room, the yoga hall, st albans

Clare and I met at the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Putney, where she was a student and occasional teacher when I was there starting my studies. I was lucky enough to have had some Hatha Yoga classes with her there, so I was confident of a good lesson, but I hadn’t seen her since we both went off round the world to further our yoga experience, so I didn’t really know what to expect going in.

What else, of course, but a beaming smile and a warm welcome, lol. It’s always a pleasure to see old friends again is it not? Our pre-class reunion was necessarily brief though as I was late (sat-nav 1, me 0!), and so it was straight down to the business of proper relaxation.

For all the yoga I’ve done, when it comes to relaxing into a long stretch I am surprisingly inflexible: Not just physically, but mentally as well! Much as I have learned to just relax and let the postures happen, there’s still a part of me that believes that to do some ‘proper’ work you have to pull and stretch and puff and strain just to ‘get somewhere’.

But yin yoga isn’t about that at all. It’s about letting go, and not trying too hard. Letting the posture deepen by itself, naturally, and only going as far as you need at that time.

Though to say there’s no effort involved would be misleading indeed (NB: for a proper explanation on the subject read this article on yin yoga written by Clare herself). You’re trying to soften the connective tissue in your joints, and to do that you must relax your muscles and let the weight of your body and gravity do the work.

I, like a lot of people I imagine, have a bit of ego when it comes to using bolsters and blocks to support me. For some reason I consider it a bit of a cop out. More than once Clare had to come and add something under my knee, or beneath my head, so that I could properly let go and not be working so hard.

And y’know what, it helps, it really does. Trying to do too much too quickly is a barrier to your progress, and once again I was reminded that if I’d just listened to the instructions when they were given (and looking back after class I could see that the instructions were quite clear indeed, lol) I’d have been a lot better off.

Clare gave an excellent class, with a nice variety of postures properly explained with options and instructions for all levels of student, and by the end of it I felt quite relaxed and somewhat looser. Also, the music before and after class was a nice touch too.

I always say, you know when it’s a good class when you come away with one thing that you’ll always remember. In giving instruction during one of the postures, Clare warned against letting go too much. She recommended maintaining a level of mental activity, concentrating on your posture and what you were doing, rather than just forgetting everything and just letting your mind wander.

This reminded me of something my Tai Chi instructor used to say. He would point at the dots in the Yin Yang symbol and say, “See! Do you see that? You should always have a little yang in your yin, and a little yin within your yang. Never go completely one way or the other.”

Yin Yang - Symbol
Yin Yang Symbol‘ by DonkeyHotey on Flickr

And that to me was what Clare was saying; always keep a little yang within your yin. It’s better for you that way. Like when you do final relaxation: If you go too far, if you let your mind go as well as your body, you end up being nudged awake by the teacher because you’re snoring too loud, lol.

All told it was a great class, and it only served to increase my interest in doing more yin yoga in the future. I’ve got my eye on a yin yoga intensive in London later this year, and there’s even a teacher training course in Canada that’s awfully tempting.

It was great to see Clare again, and get to meet the lovely bunch of yogis she has as regular students (after class there was tea and biscuits!). If you’re in the St Albans area I’d recommend swinging by. She has other classes in the area you can go to too, so there’s many options for the aspiring yin yogi.

old friends headstand

If you’ve never tried yin yoga before you really should. You’ll be surprised at how challenging it can be, but also how rewarding and beneficial it can be as well.