Yoga and Meditation

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Sunday was my second class with Mieke and her “Yoga Therapy” class. I was tempted to not attend as I have had a very stressful week and didn’t really feel like venturing out for a two hour class when I wasn’t feeling like it. That was also the very reason why I ended up going.

The first week, we spent a lot of time focusing on our breathing and the Ujjayi breath, which is used throughout yoga practice and in some meditative practices and as it was the first week the focus was on introduction; of the course, ourselves and practice which may not have been done before. I left the Tabernacle with a lot of information and feeling well rested. As the week progressed, however, with personal circumstances getting increasingly difficult I felt my daily practice was difficult and I struggled.

It took me a while to relax and the tightness in my jaw wasn’t disappearing by the time we had started the class and lay down on our mats for a few minutes in an attempt to centre ourselves. I persevered and did feel a little better by the time we moved onto the yoga. Every week we start wilt sun salutations at a fast pace to encourage an increased heart rate and warm up the body. We’re encouraged to use Ujjayi breathing to aid in that warm up and by the time we follow through a series of five or six rapid sun salutations, I definitely feel invigorated. We also explored breathing in more depth this week with Lion and Skull Shining breathing; the latter of which can be quite stressful if already in an anxious state. After bringing our breathing back down a little and then move into yoga practice. This is both challenging and a time of reflection. Last week it was much easier and I feel this was due to my mood, this week was definitely more challenging although the practice was almost the same. We go through a series of postures where we hold the pose for a prolonged period of time, this is because the same part of the brain that deals with stressful situations is in play. Warrior II isn’t necessarily a difficult pose to be in until you’re holding it for a few minutes. By staying in that posture and remaining there even when it becomes difficult, we’re strengthening both the body and the part of the brain that deals with stress, therefore making both more resilient. I found that while I was standing in Triangle Pose and wanting to step out of it, I was reminded of the week I’d just undergone and wanting to give up, which I didn’t and this helped me remain in the pose until we were able to come out of it. The rest of the yoga was challenging, but I felt a sense of relief and achievement by the time we moved into shoulder stands and finishing the yoga portion of class. Meditation felt a little difficult this week with trying to clear my mind fully, with the chanting I did feel it was much easier for me and I relaxed better with it. Practice is a fluid thing and I understand that some days it will be the easiest thing to do and feelings of euphoria are met, and some days the complete opposite will occur, it was very apparent that this week’s class was the latter, despite having good intentions of doing my best.

I’m taking time this week to keep trying without any expectations as I do want to improve my mood, I aim to use reflection with my meditation practice to help. Next Sunday’s theme will have us looking at reflection so the next few days I will start thinking about that and creating space.

If you’re thinking about meditation and it seems a little daunting, even just sitting somewhere quiet for five minutes can make a huge difference. I wrote about meditation back in July. Over the course of the next two months I will also be writing about my meditative practice a little here.

Love and light.

Om Yoga Show and Positive Spirit

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With yoga taking a very focal place in my fitness after my operation in February, I’ve found it to have done more than just ‘a little stretching’. With daily practice, alongside meditative inclusion it’s also been great for my mental strength. Having taken up yoga a long time ago and only seriously concentrating on practice recently, I booked my ticket in the Summer and attended the Om Yoga Show this weekend to get more information and network with more like minded people, and it was nice to have conversations with people about their perspective on the many forms of yogic practices as I will be starting teacher training in 2014.

I was fortunate enough to take the open workshops with Sam Rao, British Wheel of Yoga and Michael Gannon. I was also used to demonstrate the FeetUp stool with its inventor Kilian Trenkle who was both very warm and funny. The stool itself was something I had seen online and was not sure about at all. Having had the chance to use it now, I would say that it definitely takes away the fear that people may have about headstands and any anxiety about putting their body weight onto the neck/shoulders/head as there isn’t any! The stool is something I am contemplating purchasing for days when I’m a little tired and still want to work on inversions. Having run a a marathon the week before in San Francisco, all of the workshops were both very good at giving my body a well needed stretch and helped in combating the jet lag I was trying to reduce and I LOVE being upside down!!

As a result of connecting with people, I have been lucky enough to get a place on a yoga therapy course with the lovely Mieke of Positive Spirit which starts this Sunday and I will document my progress during this time. The eight week course looks at drawing on yoga principles and mindfulness mediation techniques which have recently been used for therapeutic purposes in aiding stress reduction. It combines yoga postures with breath work and meditation. With the yoga rebalancing the nervous system there are eight weekly themes that will be a deeper exploration of first the mind and then into the body. I will be given weekly homework tasks and armed with a manual and CD to support daily practice between sessions.

After leaving the show, I felt that I did make some meaningful contacts amongst the wealth of commercial stalls. The show is definitely worth visiting if you’re looking for new classes, aids etc. but it can also feel a little like a huge shop if you’re not careful. The workshops were definitely my favourite element of the show and I came away with some techniques to help open up my hips as I have trouble in that area with all the running I do.

For more information on Mieke’s Yoga Therapy course or general classes, visit her Positive Spirit website here

Sam Rao Yoga website
British Wheel of Yogawebsite
FeetUp website

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Angel Dee Review: Simplicious and Afrikan Yoga

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“Ooh, you know they’re serious about life when they’re spelling “African” with a K”. – Angel Dee 2013.

I was invited to this event through a friend of my homegirl, Tahirah and upon investigation I was sold at the idea of exploring Afrikan Yoga. Simplicious marketed the event they held in conjunction with the founder of Afrikan Yoga, Pablo Imani as an evening “combining movement, reflection and discussion”. And it was certainly that.

After a very long and tedious day at work, I was very tired and fed up before I had even set foot on the bus to Stratford. So when the man next to me released his bladder all over the seat, I seriously thought about going home. I arrived at Stratford Circus with a very tense body and was full of stress. That started to disperse when I turned to see Tahirah stroll through the centre doors. We were initially greeted with a warm welcome by the team from Simplicious and directed to the studio before they went to finish setting up. After a quick change, I met Tahirah and we made our way to the studio where her friend Michelle and some of the other ladies taking part had already convened. We waited for a while talking before Pablo arrived and greeted everyone individually before we started the class.

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Lying down for a few minutes as the drums started to be honest was all that I needed. Pablo came around the room preparing everyone for the hour ahead giving encouragement and reminders to relax where needed. By the time we started the warm up, the majority of ladies in the room seemed to be a lot more cantered (myself included). Warm up consisted in stretches and dynamic movements in preparation for poses, as we weren’t aware the warm up was so long, most of us were surprised when Pablo told us this when a few wanted to get water. He explained the water would undo the work of warming up, which I understood, but the room was warm and we had undergone a series of quite vigorous movements including intense stretches. There were moments where I did feel uncomfortable, a room full of women gyrating to “warm up the hips” and being asked if we felt the fire wasn’t my favourite moments of the night. I also had to focus so hard in order not to get the gunfinger out or laugh when we were rolling backward like Shabba Ranks circa Mr Loverman.

It was apparent that Pablo’s style drew on a martial art/tai chi style as well as Kemetic yoga, dance and African roots to create his unique style. The warm up where we were grounded and creating air with our arms did remind me of the groups in the local park practicing Tai Chi, but it did feel natural and admittedly I did get into the whole thing.

We were talked through the poses as Pablo had us follow his lead and soon found ourself in shoulder stands, intense cobras, wheel poses, and a mixture is seated and standing poses; all very demanding on the body. Yoga can be seen as slow and boring, I’d dare anyone to say this after an hour and half of Pablo’s class. The last portion of the class had everyone sat meditating after using the energy created during class to remember to be thankful and we went around the room offering peace and thanks to each other. Meditation for me was very necessary. Despite a few reservations, the class was invigorating and I did feel recharged.

The finger food was pretty good, I’ve been to many events and their idea of finger food was meagre. Simplicious put on a very decent spread, including sandwiches, rolls, vegetarian pizza, breaded chicken and spring rolls was very necessary after our evening. We sat afterward with Pablo for a while for a Q&A and photos. I left the building feeling very tired from what was a good evening with a group of lovely people having had an intense moment with them. Not sure I would be comfortable with the hip warming again, but I definitely did not hate the evening and glad that I went.

Simplicious put on a very nice evening which was relatively well organised despite a later than expected start, thank you!

For more information on Soulicious, you can find them here.
Details about Pablo of Afrikan Yoga can be found by clicking here.

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Yogis vs Meatheads

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During my recovery I have been trying to stay active, I’ve never not kept fit and despite being limited to no weight bearing exercise, I wasn’t going to let that stop me exercising at all.

I have dabbled with yoga over the years and mainly utilised it to stay supple and aid in core strength, but have since relied on it a lot to aid in my comeback. So when I mentioned it to someone who is what you’d call a typical meathead guy that spends hours in the gym pumping iron and he scoffed that I “needed to work harder than that to get back to where I was before my operation”, I was a little (read that as a lot) offended.

I love bodyweight exercise as it means I’m not a slave to a monthly subscription, I can work it around the diary; as a parent that’s quite important, but on the other hand I do love a barbell squat and will be returning to the gym to take on a challenge I’ve set myself which you’ll find out about soon.

I do find that yoga is looked upon as not being ‘hardcore’ enough by a lot of people as the movements aren’t explosive/dynamic enough. I will tell you from first hand experience that this isn’t the case. In fact slow, controlled movements such as a slow mountain climbers (not the yoga term, but I’m not trying to be overly technical here) are far more beneficial than 100 sit-ups. Fact. Spending three minutes in a half split like I did yesterday afternoon during my Vinyasa Flow class was as painful as I’ve felt squatting deep with 80kg on my shoulders. Headstands aren’t to be sniffed at, either. The photo above is cool, no? You should see the outtake photos …

I totally understand that not everyone will enjoy every fitness discipline, but lets be clear here. Whilst it may not give you quick results like say dead lifting 100kg, yoga can build a strong body. Putting my bodyweight training aside, I know I could plank the heck out of the meathead friend based on the fact that yoga helped me get there, and I challenged him to a plank off.

Sadly he declined to take me up on the offer …