Monday, 21 March 2011

Yoga Block

Ahh... the Yoga block... the Yogis best friend. As most yogis out there will be familiar with, the yoga block is a rectangular prop made from firm foam, cork or sometimes wood,  often measuring 3" x 6" x 9". The block has become an almost indispensible feature in the practice of yoga, and is often utilised to provide added support or to assist in the effective postural alignment for a pose. I love the block, and I often regard it as the best buddy/ wingman to my yoga practice. When a pose is getting too tough or I feel I'm throwing my body alignment all out of whack just to get into a pose, I reach for a block and I find my oasis of calm. Yep... the Yoga block, the best thing for Yoga practice since non-slip yoga mats ( god I love my mat, but that's for another post).

But whilst we can all compose odes counting the many ways various yoga props have changed our lives for the better, this post is not about Yoga blocks. This post is about hitting a yogi wall... the proverbial 'yoga block' one might say.  

When no matter how many times you chant 'om' or shakti kick your asana off, you just can't get your groove on.  You've lost your yogi mojo and you schlump to class feeling less than yogi like.

However, when encountering the Yoga block, I find it particularly helpful to take a step back and reflect on the causes or reasons WHY you are experiencing a plateau in your practice. Is it not challenging enough? Are you bored? Do you just want to sit on the couch all day? Is it all of the above? Because yes, I do get periods of general 'meh' towards it all. 

Rad Dudes
To yoga or not to yoga...

If you too are suffering from Yoga Block right now or have just come out of it, *hi-five* . It's not easy knowing you should Yoga when you'd rather sit at home and watch the Frasier box set or surf random websites of cats wearing melons on their heads or something.

I have to confess,  I have often found myself to be a victim of Yoga block. This is probably partially brought on by the fact that none of my close girlfriends practice Yoga so I am often alone in my enthusiasm for the sport so I skive off when I feel I can. And yes, you read right, I said the word 'sport'. This might be perceived by some to be a filthy word that undermines the integrity of a practice that is about spiritual enlightenment and awakening, but I personally believe it to be just as much about  physical performance and athleticism as it is about ecstatic chanting and soul searching  . Take for example, the amount of concentration, muscular strength, stamina and perseverance employed in an average Yoga vinyasa class. The fact that the average vinyasa class burns about 300-445 calories an hour is no coincidence either. 

Sports houses themselves have cashed in on the athletic side to yoga

 Yoga is a sport and like any sport for the serious practitioner, it can result in physical wear and tear. I remember constantly living with muscular aches and pains after a bout of committed, intensive physical practice. I hated living in pain so much that I told myself I'd lay off the exercise till all the burns and aches went away. I ended laying off for 2 weeks... so much so that all the endurance I had painstakingly worked on in the weeks prior was all undone and I was nearly back where I started. Like any other sport, the maintenance of a regular, regimented practice is hard work, and eventually we all hit walls. My dad often uses the phrase 'mind over matter' alot and in this case, a mind inclined towards instant self-gratification and too much 'self-love' does affect the development of a practice.

Problem: If you suffer from physical tiredness, aches and pains in areas you never knew you had and you want to do what I did and put your practice on ice for a couple of days and cool off...

Solution: Take the first step. 
When an aunt of mine returned from a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, she reported that her  guide had mapped out specific stages on their route. Before they ascended, their guide told them by the xth day of their climb, they will camp at a cabin. In the cabin, they will believe they cannot go any further and every fiber of their being would tell them to turn around and go home. It is at this point, the guide said, they would have to stand up and just take one step forward. Just one step, and they will feel absolutely fine. It would only take one step for their body to regulate and acclimatize to their conditions. In the case of Yoga, a daily intensive practice might not be recommended for early beginners, but even taking a slow Hatha 1 class or class for beginners in between intensive sessions, might just be what your body needs to adjust and adapt to help you soldier on with your practice.

In our current social climate where things are developing and changing before we can even blink (who would have expected THAT to have happened to Charlie Sheen?!) Sustaining a consistent yoga practice in one particular style can lead to boredom or malaise. 

Problem: You feel a general boredom or malaise with your practice you just can't shake.

Solution: Try a style of yoga you are not familiar with or try a new studio, you never know what new yoga love might come from it! For me, often getting myself out of a funk can be as simple as getting a new yoga outfit that would get me really excited to get on my mat. Yes, how awfully superficial when the old yogis of the bygone era practiced in nowt but loin cloths but I can make my mat my catwalk if it makes me happy - so there! Having moved from being a real country bum over this past two weeks to the city, I have sniffed out some new yoga studios near me to try out and I am excited!

When it comes down to it, noone can force you onto your mat and make you enjoy it. Like all other sports, it always boils down to one unchanging constant- you. The constant inner struggle between what we want to do/ should do/ must do is something we as humans, and yogis cannot run away from. However, unlike most sports, Yoga is something that is always in practice. Like Sharon Gannon once said, the physical mat work of Yoga is just a mere exercise to enhance this internal, emotional state of Yoga. Whether it is an hour of vinyasa or half an hour of Yoga Nidra, it is keeping the lines of communication open between you and your practice that is in the end, the most important key we can possess to unlock our true potential . 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Meat Free

"God sleeps in stone, breathes in plants, dreams in animals and awakens in man." — Hindu proverb

I was first introduced to the Yoga principle of 'ahimsa' ( non-harming) almost purely by accident at the end of a very beautiful and intense Jivamukti session with Sharon Gannon and David Life. To bring the three hour long practice to a close, Sharon proceeded to whip out her Kirtan and chant the beautiful words : 'Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu' followed by its english translation : ' May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all'. This being my first Jivamukti class, I was completely swept away by the peaceful hum of the Kirtan and the positive energy that seemed to vibrate between one yogi to the next as a whole roomful of people began singing energetically in unison. I had never experienced music live in this way before, certainly not in a Yoga class and I was immersed in the ecstatic chorus of chanting.

Then, amidst the singing, Sharon began to add in her quiet, milky voice, that chanting along to this prayer was to take a solemn vow against the harming of another and causing pain and suffering to another living being. 

'So far so good', I thought, 'I would never dream of inflicting pain on another living creature if I could help it..Lokah Samastah...' 

Cue Sharon's voice: ' That is why, when we have meat, we are causing hurt to another living creature and we consume that hurt and pain... To those of you who are new here, please sing along only if you are ready to commit to the cause of not eating any animal meat or product and are willing to commit to a life of veganism...'


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Not eat meat? Ever? 

Being an omnivore all my life, I had never considered the option of not indulging in the odd roast now and again. Since young, all my favourite dishes I associate with home, family and love all contained some sort of meat in them be it chicken soup, steamed fish or meat balls. However, struggling for some recognition contrary to this nostalgic sentimentality was the sudden jolt of ethical awakening triggered by the seemingly most innocuous of chants. Of course, there was also the question of preserving the integrity of Yoga.  How could one reconcile committing a practice to love and peace, if upon rolling up the mat, you reach for some chicken meat which was obtained from some poor battery hen then pumped full of water to lend the illusion of succulent, tender flesh? Compounded onto all this ethical pressure mounting inside me was also the deluge of ethical political correctness pervading popular media documentaries (e.g. Food Inc). It is enough to make an omnivore yogi feel like she had just committed first degree murder everytime she sat down to share a homemade roast or partake in some party hamburgers.

One for the Family Album: Johnny carving up the Sunday Roast

The horror.

However, after several failed attempts at Veganism/ Vegetarianism, I always felt that whatever label I adopted, be it Omnivore or Vegetarian,  there was always something missing. When I came back home I would always look forward to my mother's double-boiled chicken soup and whatever prior flirtation I had with vegetarianism would be quickly forgotten in lieu of all this home-cooked love in a bowl. Paradoxically, when I cooked for myself, the thought of slicing up a poor pork chop on the slab or removing two sad looking chicken breasts from the packet always made me feel guilty and unhappy. It seemed like I was playing a constant game of tug of war with love and guilt with total contentment always eluding me. Living with all these self imposed or even socially imposed dogmas was like trying to do sun salutations in a straightjacket. I did not feel free to be myself, I felt strictly regulated, not self aware but self conscious.

Om Shanti!

After several brief flirtations with various diets be it green or not, I have decided to quit beating up on myself about whether eating meat or not will earn me extra karma points or affect my energy vibrations, make me less yogic or whatever. Stripping Yoga down to its pure essence, it is about moving in Love, Grace and Gratitude. It is not a question of meat or no meat, but that with whatever you have before you, you accept it with love and appreciation for the fact that it was once a life that has now given itself up for you and you embrace it with full awareness and grace. Returning back to the prayer 'Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu', I am now becoming more comfortable with accepting that I have always strived to love and care for other living beings around me and adopting an omnivores lifestyle does not make me any less of a yogi. I am also thankful for that poignant moment where Shannon Gannon awoke my awareness of the yogic consciousness and our duty as yogic practitioners and human beings, to help each other along the path to a more joyous life.

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One Gif at a time...

Ultimately, I still am working slowly towards carving out a more vegetarian and ethical existence for myself but like the practice of Yoga itself, I am constantly learning and it won't happen overnight. However, to help me along my journey and perhaps you too, here are some new vegetarian related things I have gotten into recently and I hope you will join me as well in the journey towards being the best version of yourself you can be:


By giving up meat for one day each week you can save money, reduce your environmental impact and live a healthier life. Do your bit to help the planet! Click Here for more information!


A great read by Sharon Gannon that will appeal to your ethical and health consciousness surrounding the topic of Vegetarianism.

The bible of vegetarian raw food eating. This book comes highly recommended by many, a must read!

Another bible in the ethical eating world. I have tried making their black bean 'meatball' spaghetti and I must say, despite its apprehensive appearance, it was pretty delicious!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Yoga Teachers: The Good, the Bad and the BS

A few years back, I started a tentative foray into Yoga. I was stressed out at school and really needed to chill out. I didn't really know where to look so I went to the one place where everyone gets what they need when they want it-  the internet. After googling around and amazon-ning my way through several DVDs I stumbled upon a teacher that opened up Yoga to me in a way that made me feel like I was getting to know a truly awesome practice. Some of you might know her- Sadie Nardini. She is an intelligent, poised and inspiring yogi who had created several online youtube sequences that were not only challenging, but most importantly -free! I fell in love with her incisive observations and her flair for making the seemingly most insurmountable poses... possible. Through the simple act of making yoga accessible to even the most penny-pinching student yogis , I heard her message loud and clear... yoga is a gift to be shared with anyone and everyone. Since then I have read her book, got her Teacher Training DVDs and I am proud to have her as my role model for the kind of yogi I would like to be.

Yoga is for Everyone! Another Yoga star, Baron Baptise: Africa Yoga Project

Since that initial venture into Yoga, I have attended several classes around the world and trust me when I say that not all Yoga teachers are created equal. Sounds harsh, I know, but unfortunately it's true. With Yoga being such a lucrative industry, there are some 'teachers' that are moulded after a different school of thought. These teachers place getting you a pert ass before the beauty of asana practice and I am not shy to say, I can't stand this breed of teachers and I am thankful that they teach me everything I would NOT like to be.

Once, while taking a noon class at a chain studio, I experienced a class that made me wake up and smell the yogi sweat. Whilst yoga is meant to bring us closer to the divine,  this chain brand of fitness studio were only concerned with doing what they say on the label- get you fit, really fit. So fit that you feel your muscles will have muscles, that your learning Bakasana (crow) will have you going all 'Black Swan' and your neighbour next to you is arch nemesis... I almost expected Vincent Cassel to pop up whispering' wood yew fahk herr?' (Black Swan reference, pardon the French).

Bakasana madness!

In one lesson, the Yoga instructor had has practicing our 'Shakti Kicks' in rows and began pitting the students against one another.  It went something like this:

Yoga Instructor: ' I'll have you practice your kicks in rows because all of you guys are landing way too loudly! Front Row... Good! Second Row... Last Row.... Ooh Last Row is the worst! Good Front Row! Back Row, I must say I'm disappointed in you.'


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Oh really now....

This same teacher went on to praise her old students ' Good Meredith! Good Shan! Great Wheel! etc' whilst completely ignoring this poor middle-aged man who was struggling in Bridge pose next to me and looked like he needed to take a child's pose...or two... or hell, just stop doing whatever he was doing. Where was that teacher... I looked around the class... there she was helping her very experienced student into an effortless wheel whilst nattering on about mutual friends they knew. Cue me looking concerned back at the poor guy who looked like a blueberry about to pop before he finally crashed down onto the mat in a crumpled heap of defeat.


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Wait, weren't Yoga teachers meant to act as guides to your practice? Weren't they meant to channel the wisdom they had learnt in their journey to help people, ESPECIALLY those who may be at a disadvantage? At least, the concept of having favourites and pitting fellow yoga practictioners against each other just all seemed very... unyogic.

And you hadn't heard the best part.  This same studio boasted state of the art lounge areas where they had in mind like-minded students with common interests, sitting together and bonding over a common love for yoga. This wasn't the case. Sitting with a book on one of the couches, I found myself waiting for a session to start when I heard the most mind boggling conversation between two Yoga diehards. In the spirit of 'friendly banter' that was just laden with competitive inneundo's two women 'shared' how many classes she had been to that day.

Lady 1: " Oh, I thought you were ill and you couldn't come to practice"

Lady 2: " Yes, I was but I'm making up for it now. I had class this morning, this afternoon... and maybe I'll go this evening too"

Lady 1: (Silence) " Yes,I've been going three times a day too... sometimes even four! My husband complains he doesn't get to see me at all but ha!"

Lady 2: " Before I was sick, I went three times every day, every week! No time off from practice at all!"

( e.t.c)


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Needless to say, I don't frequent that studio anymore when I'm back in town and there are certainly more stories where that came from. However,  as opposed to making this post about crap teachers and their equally misquided followers,  this post is just as about gratitude as it is about the BS that happens in Yoga. I would like to thank all the good teachers that helped me along my Yoga journey and who continue to teach me the true light in Yoga that allows me to smell BS when I'm around it.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Scrub-a-dub-dub, Yoga in the tub?

As far as the general Yoga-doing public is concerned, Yoga happens just about anywhere and everywhere.... on our mats, on our beds, in parks, maybe even on public transport.. but in the shower?

And why not? If you think about it, it kind of is the perfect place to tune into your thoughts and get some well deserved alone time. With noone to bug you and with some lovely scented bath soaps, soothing music, lit candles, you can create a private space to escape to.

Pretty good idea for a doorsign huh? You saw it here first! lol

For me, after a day's rushing around, there's nothing I look forward to more than having a hot shower to unwind. Often I find it the best time to do my Pranayama exercises because I'm always rushing to get to places earlier on in the day.  In fact I actually prefer doing pranayama exercises in the shower or bath because the steam opens up my lungs and relaxes my muscles. Shower-time also means a big fat Do Not Disturb as I put myself into voluntary timeout.

Sure, I'm not proposing we all get into downward dog amidst the slippery soap suds! But Yoga in the tub/ shower sounds perfectly weird but it also kind of makes sense. The moment you step under the shower, you're already in Tadasana (mountain pose). Just being aware, grounding your feet and growing tall, you are practicing one of the most fundamental and important postures in Yoga. Throw in a little mild stretches and chest-openers and you've got an enhanced shower experience!

A floating Savasana?

So when you have the time, why not try it out? I for one am a firm believer in incorporating a sprinkling of Yoga to the shower experience to get a healthy dose of my daily 'om'.

Nadi Sodhana- Alternate Nostril Breathing?

What other weird places have you found yourself doing Yoga?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

My Favourite (yoga) Things

Yoga Core, Sweaty Betty

Whilst I love practicing Yoga and learning more about Yoga, what I also love and feel a strong affinity to are my Yoga things. All the 'stuff' that I use before, during and after my Yoga workout are things that have a special place in my heart. Coupled with the pure functionality of these things, is the fact that nowadays Yoga and fitness is 'in'. Brands are coming up with beautiful and well-made Yoga gear to help the Yogini look great whilst she's sweating it out on the mat. I know somewhere within the recesses of ancient Yogic teaching, the concept of mass capitalist consumerism isn't something the old swami's would have given the ol' thumbs up to,  but one's Yoga things are a Yogi's tools and for some, possess personal value.  So, here is a list of the Yoga things I can't live without  :

Jade Harmony Mat

When I am in Singapore, I practice Yoga at Pure where everyone uses Manduka Mats. Although I do not own one of my own, I do love the grip and tactile sensation of the mats.

Josha's Lavender scented mat wipes

These wipes leave my mat smelling clean and fresh after a particularly rigorous session.

Sweaty Betty Sports Bag
I love this bag because the extra hidden compartment lets me store my shoes in there whilst I'm at class. Also, this bag comes in particularly handy for storing my trainers in when I'm doing other non yoga-related sports. This colour is from an old line at Sweaty Betty.

What Yoga items of yours do you love?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Surprise Surrender

I am a stress addict and this runs contrary to perhaps every Yoga teaching that promotes release and letting go. This also means that even in making myself surrender to the moment, I get stressed out about it. An example of my inner monologue runs something like this: 'am I 'in the moment enough?', 'by thinking whether I'm 'in the moment' am I not being 'present?' etc. Often I COULD choose a moment on the mat to center and find some 'om' time but my reflexes are trained to constantly check my email and worry about something or other.  It is frustrating moments like these that make me reflect on what it is I am holding onto and why it is that I expect so much from my practice. As I lie in Savasana I lie wondering if my practice has made any difference to my 'vibrations' or if doing x number of vinyasa's have made me any less stressed...and then it is time to get up, class is over. 

Maybe it is the expectation of Yoga that detracts from the actual self-actualising and awesome potential of the practice itself. In a society where instant-gratification is the default mode of operation, where the answers to weight issues or image issues are found at the bottom of a pill bottle or a quick visit to a doctor, our expecations to the healing process of Yoga has in itself become that of instant aspiration. Both in terms of image... 

Christy Turlington Vogue, 2002

Christy Turlington ,Time Magazine, April 2001
And in terms of practice as a direct path to true enlightenment and peace, where stepping on the mat immediately means going into 'yoga mode' of being present, being focused and being, well, a yogi. 

' Anywhere I lay my manduka is home': A screen capture from Manduka's Website. This image is purely meant for visual substation, not in anyway meant to be a slur against Manduka- I love their mats and admire what they stand for.

Whilst I am certain this is true, there are moments where I feel alienated from the practice.  I let the idea of ' Yoga' detract from the true practice of Yoga. Today on the tube, somewhere between Green Park and Bond Street I entered a spontaneous moment of introspection that suddenly felt like I was meditating. Suddenly all the noise of the train was silenced and turning inward I suddenly felt a wave of pure contentment glow from within. However brief that moment was, it felt like hours and I was reminded then and there, that Yoga is everywhere. For once in some time, I felt that even if my mat practice hasn't been an easy ride recently, it is only one aspect of realizing your best self. Bringing the self back to these moments of unexpected 'wholeness' in the most unexpected of places and the most random of times,  I remind myself that Yoga is always there.Whether it is finding five minutes on the tube to empty my mind, or having a moment where I share a laugh with a good friend, it is the practice of surrender that I find affirmation to the presence of Yoga in my life. 

Perhaps what makes these moments of surprising surrender so wonderful to me is the absence of expectation but the openness to accept that anything and everything can happen. Without the mat and the pervasive message of 'blissed out' peace you find in a studio, you allow yourself to become receptive to the world around you warts and all. With all the noise and the bustle of everyday life, letting a moment of complete happiness and surrender to wash over you, allows for the best moments of Yoga to happen.