Friday, March 26, 2010

Blog header makeovers!

Yesterday's post was about body image - if you haven't yet, have a look and add your voice in a comment - I'd love to hear your opinions and stories!

And while on the topic of image, last week I had a graphic-design giveaway for 3 commenters on my first post back!

3 lovely yoga blogging ladies have received blog header makeovers, head on over and check them out at:
Each blogger gave me their original design ideas and elements, and if I do say so, I think they have all turned out great and each header matches the personality of the blog - at least I hope!

Lovely working with you, ladies. :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Gift of Embodiment: Part I

My last post, as well as a few other things in the blogosphere (LOVE that word!) of late, got me thinking. In particular, thinking about the body and our relationship to it. There are a lot of bloggers who reflect on the way that we, and women in particular, struggle to accept and love our bodies in the face of a culture that worships appearances and an idealised physical form. One amazing woman who blogs regularly and movingly about this is psychotherapist and Yoga Teacher Teresa over at My Embodiment. Another is Suburban Yogini, who did a recent interview with Bliss Chick, another body image warrior. And Brenda from Grounding Through the Sit Bones did some reflection on role modeling in the yoga community in this post a few weeks back.

I think at sometime or other, we all suffer from thoughts about our body image. As a thin woman, I wanted to be busty. Curvy women long to be thin. Our male friends want to be thin but buff, my asian friends want to be whiter, my white friends wish to be darker and so the list goes on! Interestingly (for me), the wealthier the society in general, the more overwhelming these issues seem to be. Maybe it's the inundation of advertising and media that accompany wealth, celebrating body-stereotypes and obsessing over appearances. Probably we just have too many mirrors in our home and too much time on our hands. Maybe it's more than that - maybe some of us try to compensate for our extremely privileged material lives by making ourselves suffer from the inside. I think I fell into this latter category in my own teenage years.

The truth is, everyone suffers. Everyone who is born into a body will experience suffering in their lifetime. For the majority of people in the world this suffering is part of the daily struggle to survive against the obstacles of hunger, illness, poverty, and lack of choices. But even we, the most privileged people on the planet, cannot evade pain, grief, and fear. The only way never to suffer is not to be born. But sometimes it seems that our society gives us only the tools to deny, suppress or evade suffering, and not to deal with and transverse it.

When the source of suffering is our internal image of the body, and not just the body itself, we enter into a strange realm - one where our suffering is no longer grounded in reality, but in perception. As Yoga Sutra 1.8 puts it: "Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form." When we fall into this trap, we truly believe in a false reflection, and believe in it so strongly that we put our bodies through physical suffering because of it. This is the realm of eating and exercise disorders, of the young women throwing up in the bathroom, the young men trying to live on a diet of protein shakes and killing themselves in the weight-room, of african and asian women who bleach their skin trying to make it whiter. This world of misconception is also a window to the more sinister realm of society-imposed bodily mutilations such as foot-binding and neck stretching, all in the name of 'beauty' and 'perfection'.

These thoughts and realities make me wonder: how has humanity failed these individuals so deeply as to lead them to that suffering? And in our own daily biases and insecurities, how far are we from that 'mental modification' ourselves? How can we work to change that, to help others or to help ourselves?

The Yoga Sutras offer us the first clue: "These mental modifications are restrained by practice and non-attachment." (1.12) and "Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness." (1.14). In English, that means: Long, Hard Work. Oh darn - no quick fix. ;) And for some of us, used to instant gratification, that might be enough to make us stop listening right there!!

But for others, Yoga offers the perfect practice to address misconceptions. The practice of Yoga encourages a new knowledge of the body to occur - one that begins from within, instead of from without. It offers a chance to re-build a fractured relationship with the Self, and to create a Self-image that is not based on the material world, but on a connection with the deeper self/spirit. And on the physical level, it offers us the chance to create a new ideal: a healthy, balanced body that is unique to every individual. A journey through space and time that is tailored just for us. A journey that takes us to a state of bliss: "Samprajnata samadhi (distinguished contemplation) is accompanied by reasoning, reflecting, rejoicing and pure I-am-ness." (1.17)

On the macro level, the teachings of Yoga have a lot to offer as well. Non attachment (aparigrahah) includes letting go of beauty ideals, and not judging others by their appearance. Non-harming (ahimsa) means not causing others harm, even if believed that it is truly "for their own good" (i.e. the thankfully extinct practice of binding girls feet because it would attract a good marriage). Ahimsa also means not to cause yourself harm, and this practice begins by cultivating a healthy, non-harmful relationship between the body and the mind. And all of these practices are just that - practices. They take conscious effort, discipline, self-awareness and hard work. And don't forget non-attachment: we have to be willing to endure the journey, and not strive for perfection at the outset.

Change begins from within: what are body issues that you have struggled with? How has yoga brought about changes in your perception?

So concludes part one... In part II I intend to reflect a bit more philosophically on suffering and how it can be that some of us come to call embodiment a gift, despite all that we have to endure. And I am looking for possible guest bloggers or contributers for a Part III on body image within the yoga community... Let me know if you are interested!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Therapeutic Yoga

One of the things that sneaks up on you as a yoga teacher is an awareness of other people's bodies. We can't help it! I find myself at parties quietly noticing posture, stance, and hip alignment of the people around me - not to mention energetic 'vibes' as well!

When I first began practising yoga, in my early 20's, I was about as unhealthy as I have ever been in my life. After University I was sleep deprived, hadn't exercised in years, and had done who knows what damage to my lungs and liver from the excesses of student life! And I was certainly not flexible - I couldn't even touch my toes! On top of that, since high school I had developed painful tightness in my right shoulder - a common symptom of my type of scoliosis.

Fast forward to today, when I am stronger, more flexible and healthier than I could ever have imagined! Some days I think that I take for granted how it feels to live in a healthy, pain-free body. So, back to my party and looking around, I realise how many people take for granted just the opposite - that the body is a source of struggle, pain and even shame. And no wonder - many people live with structural or deeply developed muscular imbalances, resulting in limited range of motion in key areas like the hips, shoulders and lower back. And these people are not ill or injured - they are everyday people that work with you in your office, or who you have a drink with in the evening. Some of them are sporty and fit - they run, lift weights or cycle. And yet, for many of us as we approach our 30's, 40's and beyond, the story of our battle to stay fit is like a chronicle of various aches, pains and injuries: "well, I was running a lot, but then I developed shin splints so the doc told me I should take up cycling, but then I hurt my knee, so now I'm swimming..." Sound familiar?

For the fairly fit, a regular beginner's yoga practice is the perfect option. But there are many people for whom even a gentle asana class may not be accessible. And for those people who are suffering from injuries, living with or recovering from illnesses, or losing mobility due to age, and for the people who work with them, there is Therapeutic Yoga.

Therapeutic Yoga is a combination of relaxation, meditation, breath work, body awareness, restorative and yin yoga poses, and self-healing practices. It is a wonderfully holistic system, and its ultimate aim (like most holistic healing systems, and unlike many western systems) is to help people help themselves.

The Kit pictured here was given to me by a friend. The kit was developed by Cheri Clampett and Biff Mithoefer. It is a remarkable resource containing an audio CD, 16 asana 'cards', and a manual explaining the principles of self-care and the benefits of therapeutic yoga, a detailed guide to 16 restorative postures including many prop variations and examples of gentle yoga stretches to accompany the poses, and a guide to other healing techniques like self-massage and guided meditation.

At the time I recieved this gift, I had expressed a vague interest in Yoga Therapy and restorative yoga. Recently, I have been getting more and more interested in restorative yoga practices, deep breath work, and meditation. I have been working with a private client who is recovering from an illness and seen the transformation in her as we work with simple poses and develop the breath. As my own awareness expands around me to notice the multitudes of people dealing with chronic stress and pain, my interest in this type of Yoga grows.

So I share it with you dear bloggers and blog readers. What are your experiences with restorative or Yin yoga, or with body imbalances, injuries and illness?

Oh, and for Babs, a picture of me in a pose from the Kit, "Resting Half Moon Pose", which I used in the previous post's sequence for menstrual pain :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yoga sequence for menstrual pain

We are all different, but if you are like me, there are days when even the idea of standing up makes me nauseous. In typical fashion, the internet tells me I have a menstrual "disorder", dysmenorrhoea. Ack! So, for those of you who also suffer from extreme cramps, hot flashes, nausea, diarrhea and other discomforts during your monthly flow, here is a sequence with some yoga poses that I have found helpful.

Before beginning the sequence, prepare a thick folded blanket, a yoga strap, and some bolsters/pillows/blocks to use as props. Create a calm atmosphere by dimming the lights and burning your favourite essential oil.


  • Begin by finding a comfortable position (sitting with your back against the wall, lying down, or lying on your side with support of a pillow), close your eyes, and bring your awareness to the breath. Begin to breathe slowly and deeply through the nose, and focus on inhaling into your belly and lower back. When you are comfortable, take a deep breath, and take a long, slow exhalation while counting. Use this count to establish a 2:1 exhale:inhale ratio for your breath (i.e. exhale for twice as long as you inhale). Continue for as long as you like, or at least 24 rounds.
  • Alternatively, if you feel hot or feverish, try Sitali Pranayama, one of the few yoga breathing techniques that uses the mouth. Sitali has a wonderful cooling effect on the entire body. If you can curl your tongue, inhale through your curled tongue like a straw. If you can't (it's genetic so don't fret!), close your teeth together, open your lips, and suck the breath in through your teeth. Again, establish a 2:1 exhale:inhale ratio and continue for about 24 rounds.
You may find that these pranayamas alone have a wonderful effect, especially when you focus the breath on the belly and lower back! To continue with the sequence, come gently onto all fours (hands and knees), establish a slow, even breath through the nose. Remember that everyone's body is different! If a pose doesn't feel right or helpful to you, just skip it.

  • Puppy Pose: From hands and knees, gently walk the fingertips forward. Placing a pillow underneath your head, extend your spine and bring your head down onto the pillow. Continue to breath deeply, filling the lower back on each inhalation, and try to avoid collapsing in the lumbar spine (i.e. don't curve your lower back but try to keep it straight and elongating). After 10-20 breaths, come back to all fours.
  • Thread-the-needle: From all fours, inhale and bring your right arm up to the right side. Exhale, and bring the arm down through the gap between your left hand and your body. Extend the right arm to the left side, palm facing up, and bring the right shoulder down to the mat. Work with the positioning of the left hand to find the ideal stretch for you. Breathe deeply into the lower back for 10 breaths, then inhale back to centre and switch sides.
  • Supported child's pose: from all fours, bring your feet together and your knees apart. Place a bolster or pillow between your legs to support your pelvis, and place another underneath your belly, chest and head. Gently ease your weight back and down towards your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you or let them rest to either side of the body. Stay as long as you like, breathing deeply.
  • Cat and cow: When you're ready, come back to all fours and gently ease tension in the lower back with 5 repetitions of cat and cow: inhaling, let your lower back curve downwards and look up, exhaling, curl your spine towards the ceiling and tuck your chin to your chest.
  • Sunbird pose: From all fours, come down onto your elbows. On an inhalation, lift your right leg and stretch it out behind you at the same height as your hips. Exhale, bring it down, then inhale the left leg up. Repeat 3-5 times on each side, focusing on extending the back, not curving it (don't lift the leg so high that you feel strain in your back!)
  • Supine pigeon with support: From all fours, bring your right knee forward between your hands, with the foot towards the groin, and stretch your left leg out behind you. Place a pillow or bolster inside your right knee. Lengthen the torso and extend forward, resting the chest and head on the bolster. In addition or as an alternative, you may also want to put a small pillow underneath your right hip. Stay here for 10-20 deep breaths, then switch sides.
  • Seated side stretches: After pigeon, come to a comfortable cross-legged position. Bring your left hand to the left thigh or to the floor, and on an inhalation, reach your right arm up in the air and gently stretch it towards the left hand side. Repeat on the other side. You can stay in each stretch for 5 breaths or you can alternate sides with the breath.
  • Supta virasana with support: From your seated position, come onto your knees. Keeping your knees parallel and close together, gently grasp your calves and help the lower legs come to the outside of your thighs and come to sit between your legs. You can make this easier by a) placing pillows or bolsters underneath you until you can sit comfortably, or b) placing a folded blanket across your calves before you sit back. You may also want to place blankets or pillows underneath the feet if you feel discomfort there. Now, place a pillow or bolster behind you and grab a blanket or small pillow to support your head. Gently lean backwards, adding pillows until you can recline comfortably. Place the last pillow underneath your head, and bliss out in this restful version of Hero pose.
  • Supported child's pose: Counter the back-bend in Supta Virasana with another 5 breaths in child's pose. Then...
  • Upavista konasana against the wall: Come to sit with your back to a wall. You can sit on a pillow and place another at your back for added comfort. Bring your legs wide apart, toes lightly flexed. If you have stomach discomfort, you may want to just stay there, breathing deeply into the stretch. If you feel comfortable, you can place a bolster in front of you and gently elongate the spine as you bring your chest and head to rest on the bolster. Take 10-20 breaths here.
  • Baddha Konasana against the wall: From upavista konasana, inhale back to centre. Bring the soles of your feet together, placing two blocks or pillows under each knee. Bring your hands to your sides or grasp your feet or ankles, and take 10-20 deep belly breaths in this pose. You may also wish to use a yoga strap wrapped underneath the feet and around the lower back for additional support.
  • Resting half moon: From baddha konasana, move away from the wall. Bring both feet to the left hand side so you are sitting on your right hip, and place a pillow or bolster next to the right hip so the long side is along your right thigh. Slowly bring your hands to the right side and lower yourself down sideways until you are lying over the bolster on your right side. Scissor your legs and stretch your arms out overhead. Take 10-20 breaths and repeat on the other side.
  • Pavanmuktasana: Come to lie on your back. Inhale, bringing your right knee up towards your chest and gently pulling it towards the outside of your right shoulder. Take 5-10 breaths, and then switch.
  • Legs up the Wall pose with support: For this version of legs up the wall pose, you want to place a large pillow or bolster underneath your lower back, and another under your head and shoulders. Make the support so that your hips are lower than or even with your belly, but not higher. If you don't have a wall you can also replicate this pose by lying on the floor with your lower legs resting on a chair (knees bent). Stay as long as you like.
  • Supta Baddha Konasana with support: Finally, to finish off, bring the soles of your feet together again. Place a large pillow or bolster behind you and blocks or supports under each knee. Lie back and place an additional pillow under your head. Top it off with an eye mask and relax into supine bliss!!
I hope some of you will find that helpful! What about you, readers? What works for you and your loved ones during that time of the month?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New Yoga Mat

Ahhhhhh... There is something wonderful about a new yoga mat. Maybe it's that feeling of starting fresh. Maybe it's the absence of the perma-grime and grooves from your old mat.

Maybe I'm just a yoga-dork? ;)

Anyway, the past few years I have been going through my yoga mats at the rate of more than one a year. It's kind of shocking, really! So when I was on holidays recently I decided to bite the bullet and invest in a long-term yoga mat. Something tough, durable and of course, eco-friendly.

What I came home with is Prana's Neo Natural Yoga mat. And I am in love!! The mat is made out of 100% natural rubber so it's grippy (like, REALLY grippy) from the get-go. No more slipping around, folks. :) I can't believe how grippy this mat is! It's so grippy that my shorts are catching on it when I'm working on my jump-backs! Maybe they should rename it the "so you thought you had bandhas, eh?" mat.

The other cool thing is the size - the mat is nearly 2 metres long (6"5!) and 66cm wide (26"). Now I am not a tall person so the length is no biggie to me but I really appreciate having the extra width to play with especially for arm balances and the like.

I read a lot of hype about the smell of rubber mats. My verdict? Yes, it smells like rubber (*duh*). No, it doesn't bother me. Ok, ok, I confess, I have been caught lovingly sniffing it. Did someone say yoga-geek? Prana recommends wiping the mat down with vinegar to reduce the smell. A friend of mine used a home-made spray made of water/vinegar/essential oil on her Manduka rubber mat - she brought the spray bottle to class and just gave it a spray after every practice. My favourite essential oil for mats in Orange... it gives you something nice to look forward to in Chaturanga. ;)

The only disadvantage to this mat is the weight: it comes in at about 3.6 kilos! (8lbs) So I think will still be using my old sticky mat/yoga blanket (easier to wash!) combo for teaching classes outside my home and for traveling of course.

Bye for now... I'm off to sniff my mat again... :p

[Image from]

Monday, March 15, 2010

Yoga with my Mom

My mother got her certification as a yoga teacher in 2008, at age 56. How cool is that?!

Although she first did yoga in the 70's and has been fit all her life, my mom only really started to practice Yoga seriously in her 50's. One of her main motivations was the back pain she experienced from her S-shaped scoliosis, which progressed to "moderate" in her 40's. As many others have found, the only thing that really relieved her pain was Yoga.

Mom started teaching yoga to others (including me!) at lunchtimes in the office, and her love for teaching grew from there. In 2008 she went to Rikishesh, India, and completed her teacher training with a Canadian-based Indian yogi.

My mom has an incredibly serene and grounded practice. She practices with such grace and focus, and seems to just fold effortlessly into a full paschimottanasana or upavista konasana. She believes in a personalised approach to Yoga practice and has been studying the harmony between Yoga and Ayurveda, looking at yoga sequences designed for particular doshas (I wrote a little about these a while back, as you can see here) or to balance the doshas. Some of her widsom I hope to share soon on this blog!!

Anyway, one afternoon on the beach we thought we'd take some partners yoga pictures! It was such a fun experience, so above are some of our best results. It was really hard to do some of the poses because of the slope of the beach and the uneven sand, so our poses are not exactly picture-perfect, but you can see the huge grins on our faces. (I think the one of Tree is really funny because my mom is actually about a foot taller than I am but she was standing on the slope below me so we look the same height). She also helped me practice my handstand in the open... See some successes and failures of that below! It was so helpful to have her guiding me... I worked on engaging my shoulders and my core more and felt pretty happy with the result - a freestanding handstand! Still so much work to do before I will be able to come up into it without first falling backwards... But I feel like I got a taste of how it will work!

I think it's a wonderful blessing that we both share a love for yoga... although possibly a curse for everyone else around us because we talk about it all the time!! :)


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Celebrating being back with a blog graphics giveaway!

Home sweet home!

I'm back today after a fabulous 2-week break on my mom's boat in Thailand and Malaysia. It was wonderful being away - and I got to spend time with my fabulous mom, who is a sailor, diver and yoga-teacher! One of the wonderful things about sailing is the simplicity of it all - the wind and waves making up your universe for the day. Sailing has always been to me a metaphor for life - we are like little boats: will you simply drift or will you harness the wind you are given, set a course and sail?

As always I have come back feeling refreshed and I have SO much to blog about... my mom and I doing yoga, some Yoga sequences for balancing the doshas, the Yoga for Runners workshop I'm putting together for next weekend, why we should stretch, the overfishing of the oceans...

In the meantime I am feeling refreshed and full of love for my yoga blog community (also in between contracts) so I've decided to celebrate being back with a yoga-blog-title-bar-giveaway!! Yep, for the first 3 commenters I will offer my graphic design skills to redesign or tweak your blog header bar or logo, photos, make you an award, or any other graphic element you'd like for your blog. :) (Oh, if you want to comment but have a great header already, feel free! I'll only count those who request).