Monday, August 8, 2011

When in Africa...

I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Ivory Coast, to document some of the responses to the ongoing humanitarian crisis there - the result of post-election violence that ripped through the country late last year and early this year.

Despite the sombre reasons for my going, here are a few images that remind me what it's all about...

Don't forget that as you are reading this - sipping coffee or tea, sitting in a chair surrounded by your loved ones and many blessings - over 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.  PLEASE head on over to your nearest charity website today and make a donation - no matter how small, every little tiny bit helps.  It costs only 50 cents to feed a child for a day - $20 could provide water for 90 people for a day - and only $40 could feed a child for an entire month.  You CAN make a difference - please do!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

(yogic) reasons to buy fair trade

With the natural introspection that comes from an economic recession, the "buy local" movement is gaining momentum.  However, there are a lot of good things in life that simply don't come "local", at least not in these temperate climes!  Tea, coffee, cotton, silk, spices, chocolate... to name just a few!  Now, we could live without them... Nah, who am I kidding?!  In any case, I don't believe that boycotting imported goods is really a good thing, since on the other side of those goods is another human being who depends on trade for their livelihood.  I do, however, believe that those people, just like me, should be paid a fair and decent wage for their work - enough to support their families and invest in their futures.

According to the UK's FairTrade foundation: "Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers."

From a yogic perspective, I look at buying fair trade as an expression of the yama of Asteya, or non-stealing.  When we buy goods that are sourced through exploitation, we are complicit in a form of "theft" - taking people's time and the fruits of their work without compensation.

Fair trade goods are likely to be more expensive than their regular competitors, but I like to think that when I buy my tea or coffee at fair trade prices, I am likely to value it more and use it more wisely, recognizing that it was produced by another person, halfway around the world, and that in some small way, that connects us.

Does FairTrade really make a difference? I think so.  A few months ago I was lucky enough to attend a small lecture at Oxfam.  The guest speakers were two women from Ghana, who are members of the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa-producing cooperative.  They earn their living and support their families (and extended families) purely on producing and selling cocoa, that is turned into chocolate.  Kuapa Kokoo is even more special than most - the cocoa farmers in the cooperative also earn a 45% share in Divine Chocolate, the company that turns the cocoa into (delicious!) chocolate and nets the profits from consumers.

The women who spoke to us told us what a difference fair trade prices, and dividends from the chocolate sales, make to their lives.  One woman was supporting her sister's 3 orphaned children, and the other was paying for her younger siblings to go to University.  Both women owned their own land - a rarity in West Africa as well as many other parts of the world.

So yes, I think fair trade makes a difference.  And if the world is our backyard, then behind each of those products there is also a "local" farmer or producer, who depends on that commodity for their livelihood - to build their house, feed and clothe their children, and build a better future. 

In the UK, fair trade goods are marked with the distinctive symbol.  And while fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate are fairly easy to come by, other commodities like cotton are not yet consistently marked.  However you can find fair trade lines at many major shops these days - including of course, the fabulous online Oxfam shop!  And although the prices are high, at least when you buy fair trade goods, you know that you money is actually going to go to the producer, and not to the middle-man.  It is a good test of our commitment to the yogic principle of generosity!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Every little bit helps

It may not be as dramatic as an earthquake or a tsunami, in terms of making the news.  But the drought in East Africa could affect over 10 million people - that's more than 3 times the number affected by the earthquake in Haiti.

Every little bit helps - please donate.

(Warning - this video contains some pretty disturbing images - the kind that are real.  And happening.  To people.  Just like you and me.)

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Last week, I gave you a gorgeous print from Eliza at ArtAsana.  Having got in touch, she asked me some questions, which I answered, and I thought I would share.

Want to spread the love?  Answer them yourself, and link back to Eliza at ArtAsana!  The questions are:

1) What's the biggest frustration in your yoga practice or life experience right now?

2) What do you most want to achieve from your your yoga practice or life? By when?

3) What do you think you need in order to reach your goal?

4) What strategies have you tried that have and have not worked?

5) What would it feel like to have your biggest frustration handled?

6) What will it cost you not to have this frustration handled? Any fears come up?

Here are my answers... what are yours?

1) What's the biggest frustration in your yoga practice or life experience right now?

Wow, this is a huge question.  I think that yoga mirrors life (and not the other way around, 'cause that would be a bit obsessive!).  I think my biggest frustration in my life at the moment is the gap between what I want my life to be like, and what it actually is at the moment.  And I think the same applies to my yoga practice.  Practically speaking, I find it hard to balance my desire to practice yoga and grow and evolve, and devote time to that practice, with my need to work and also live my life!  The result is that I'm often too tired or busy to practice as much as I would like and to push my body as much as I push my mind.  But at the same time, I love my job and so I just have to accept that it's a balancing act.

I think it's important to remember that the goals that we have are a moving target, and sometimes it takes time to adjust.  The things that I want now, I didn't want a few years ago.  And vice versa a few years from now.  In yoga, the things that were important to me a few years ago are no longer relevant.  We evolve, our practice evolves, our dreams evolve, and it's the most natural and inevitable thing in the world.  I remember when I spent an entire year absolutely torturing myself trying to learn handstand.  It was SO hard, and so full of fear and emotion for me.  And when I finally got it, after SO much work...  Well, handstand is not even important to me anymore.  Because it was never really about the pose in the first place.

2) What do you most want to achieve from your your yoga practice or life? By when?

There was this book that I read when I was a kid, it was called "The Big Orange Splot".  Bear with me here.  ;) In the book, this guy lives on a street where all the houses look exactly the same.  And then one day, by accident, a bird drops this bucket of paint on his house, and it makes a big orange splot.  And he gets inspired and starts to transform his whole house into a tropical paradise, and he says about it: "my house is me, and I am it, and it looks like all my dreams."  That's what I want from my yoga practice.

3) What do you think you need in order to reach your goal?

Well, orange paint alone probably isn't going to do the trick...   I think the biggest thing that we need to realise our dreams is self-realisation, awareness of what we really want.  We need to dig through all the stories we tell ourselves, all the mind-games and justifications, and get down to the heart of what we really want and need in life.  We need to be honest, and to be honest we need to be brave, and to be brave we need support and love and probably a lot of tea and chocolate (i.e. self-nurture)!  Yoga - whatever your yoga is - helps us do that.  As do good friends (the kind who ask you hard questions and don't let you avoid the answers), family, good relationships, and a little dose of those higher powers who put just the right obstacles and opportunities in our way.  So really I guess all we need is an open mind and an open heart.

4) What strategies have you tried that have and have not worked?

I can't categorically say that anything I've ever tried "has not worked".  I have learned something from everything I have done.  However, I can say that self-delusion, avoidance, making excuses, lying to myself and others, and running away from hard choices have pretty much only led to disappointment and wasted a whole lot of my time - duh.

5) What would it feel like to have your biggest frustration handled?

I'm not really sure what you mean by handled - I don't think anyone else could just make my frustrations go away - but maybe that's just me, "lone hero" syndrome and all.  Seriously though, I just don't believe in easy solutions, especially not in life - or in yoga.  Nobody can just magically transpose meditational zen onto you.  You have to just do the work, and deal with that.  Besides, we are human - there will always be another frustration around the corner!

6) What will it cost you not to have this frustration handled? Any fears come up?

The cost of not resolving issues - too high to think about.  Stagnation.  Unhappiness.  Unbearable waste of short, precious time on this planet.  There are some journeys that we have to go through, but there is also a time and a place for everything.  Even hard things need to have boundaries.  Some of those will be in days, some in months or years.  Some things will never go away, just be transformed or absorbed.  But we must change, we must evolve!  Otherwise we are missing the opportunity that is our fortunate, fortunate life on this beautiful planet.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rooting, rising

It's hard to believe how fast June is flying!  Hard to believe that I left East Timor nearly 6 full months ago.  It's funny, because in my mind I have a vision of it, just as I left it.  But of course, things change, and nothing ever stays the way you left it.

This week the teacher who took over my yoga classes back there has left, and there is nobody to take over.  It's funny how bittersweet that feels - sweet for all the memories, and sad that (and yes, I am coming a bit late to the party here) a yoga era is over.

Maybe the first class you teach is like a first love - there is something innocent, naive, and absolutely enthralling about it.  I can look back on it and chart my evolution as a teacher, remembering the things I tried, the mistakes I made, the lessons I learned, and the inspiring yogis and yoginis who I shared a small, sweaty room with 2-3 times a week for those years.  No matter where I go in the world, every time I teach, I will carry those classes with me.

We are rooted in the past, and from it we grow, change, stretch, bloom.  So I guess although things change, they are not lost - they carry on.  Namaste to all my Dili students - I miss you!

[To illustrate this post, I found this amazing work by Eliza over at - check her out!  The title of this piece is "Rooting, Rising", from which I also borrowed the title of this post.  It feels serendipitous!]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Perception vs reality

Before watching the video, ask yourself:
  • What do you think about spending on overseas aid?
  • How much do you think your country spends on overseas aid as a percent of GDP?
  • What impact do you think this makes?

Now watch the video:

Perception vs. reality...  Thoughts?  I have a lot to say about this but I want to start by opening it up!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Because no 2 yogis are alike!

After my class yesterday, I stayed late to ask a question on a difficult transition that we had practiced, that I have been trying - and failing! - for months (titibasana to bakasana, if anyone wants to offer some tips...).  The teacher looked me over and said something to the effect of: "well, I'm not surprised it's difficult, since your legs are so long!"  Which is true - my legs are quite long in proportion to the rest of my body.

This led us to the discussion of how, indeed, no 2 yogis are alike.  We come in all different shapes and sizes, we are of different genders, ages and attitudes.  And so when it comes to yoga, there is only so much you can learn from another person's practice, another person's experience.  At the end of the day, you have to figure out what works for YOU.

Yet another reason why it's so important to try and develop our OWN practice - no matter what that practice is, and to understand that teachers are guides, not gods.  Whether it's asana, pranayama, yama or niyama, the steps and the answers are different for each and every one of us.  In the meantime, I'll keep on kicking back my long legs in hopes that one day they will land where they're meant to!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Slow & steady wins the race?

After a 3-month dry spell since my last class experience, this week I managed to get to not one but two yoga classes!

Neither class was any one particular style, but both were quite different from my usual Ashtanga-based practice.   The first class was a 2-hour intermediate class.  It wasn't exactly Iyengar, but definitely Iyengar-inspired.  The class began with a 15-minute free period to practice any poses we wanted and get personalised instruction, and also to practice headstand/handstand/arm balances, which weren't included in the rest of the class.  Interesting!  I have to say that I am more of an inversions-at-the-end-of-practice kind of girl, but that is usually for my morning practice.  For an evening class, I can kind of see the logic of starting off with something strong and energising like a handstand - although headstand without warming up, I'm not so sure about.  Thoughts, anyone?

The rest of the class was a slow-paced flow through some standard & challenging standing poses including a new variation of a balancing downward-facing dog, and a nice long seated session.  The teacher was present and open and gave me some nice tips on alignment and keeping my bandhas.

Tonight's class was a hatha class with quite a bit of strengthening work (I'm feeling my triceps already...) and some slow ayurvedic flow sequences (if anyone is familiar with Mukunda Stiles, the teacher studied yoga therapy with him - lucky!).

Both of these are a radical departure from my usual practice.  But they say that the universe provides you not with what you want, but with what you need (I think the Rolling Stones said it best actually!).  So maybe this is a sign for me to slow down and work more seriously on my technique - at least a few times a week!  Or... considering that those two classes set me back 18 pounds - a whopping 30 US dollars... maybe a few times a month!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First studio class in Oxford

Well, actually this was a while ago, but life has been moving so fast lately, in lots of lovely ways, and I have been working and traveling for work which has kept me busy and away from blogging!

Anyway, studio class #1 was a led Ashtanga primary at a small studio in North Oxford.  Which had the first disadvantage of being nowhere near where I live.  Undeterred, I cycled the 25 minutes up there with my 8lb yoga mat on my back!

Entering the class, I found the studio space to be a simple room, small-ish, but charming.  The teacher was a young woman who was sitting at the front of the room.  When I came in, she was speaking to a middle-aged man.  I stripped off my outdoor clothes and set up my mat, and waited for a chance to introduce myself.  To no avail.  So I spent the first 10 minutes of the class listening (hard not to, in such a small room) to this closed conversation being held in public.  Class came, class went.  After class - same thing!! I didn't know how much the class cost, and had to wait, along with a few other students, for 5-6 minutes before the teacher broke her (very earnest indeed) conversation with this same student for a brief instant to inform me of the price!

The class itself was nothing special.  Primary is primary, and while the teacher was a very talented asana-ist  - and it is always wonderful and motivating to see super-strong yoginis doing amazing things! - the teaching itself was a bit awkward and wooden, slow in some places, fast in others, unequal holds on different sides.  I give her the benefit of the doubt in assuming that she was new to teaching, and nonetheless I enjoyed the practice. She also gave me some very nice adjustments.  But will I be going back to pay my £10 (US $16) there?  I think not.

After so many years of a home practice, it was an interesting reminder of the dynamics of a studio class, and of just how important a teacher's attitude is in setting the atmosphere for a practice.  I know I have been guilty of having one-on-one conversations before a class - and my first forays at teaching don't even bear thinking about in terms of unequal holds, mixing up left and right, forgetting poses, and all those things.

Tomorrow night - work and general tiredness levels permitting - I'm going to try an intermediate class that has me hoping for better!  First of all it is only a 5 minute cycle from my apartment.  Second, when I emailed the teacher she answered the same day and told me that she had trouble describing what type of yoga she taught, but that it would be very active, with breathing and meditation to start, and 10 mins of relaxation at the end.  Sounds like just what I need!

Readers, what are some studio dynamics you have experienced lately?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Flavours of spring in the North

Photo by ItchyFeet Photography - I passed this tree on my way to work everyday!

Oh, seasons! I remember how much I love them.  Having been in the tropics for the last 7 years, my notion of seasons had been completely forgotten and constrained to hot&wet, hot&dry.

So the glorious unfolding of Spring in the northern hemisphere is a revelation.  Flowers.  Temperate mornings and the sun on your face.  The freshness of the air filling your lungs like air after a long dive underwater.  Oh, my.

My first spring in 7 years - hard to believe how time accumulates like that.  I suppose it's what they call growing up (in the sense that I won't really be grown up until I am about 89) - when a timeframe like that can sneak up on you.

So much change, so much uncertainty, and yet spring reminds us to stay rooted in the things - and people - we love, to appreciate a moment of sunshine on our faces, to stay grounded while still growing.

How is your Spring?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

5 Simple Stretches to ease Shoulder Pain

A while ago I did a post with some simple stretches to ease back pain.  Recently I got a comment on that post asking for something similar for shoulders - et voila!

I think most of us who work at desks have a tendency to hunch up and hunker down over our keyboards, and obviously all the stretching in the world can't replace good posture and a healthy work space!  If you are working long hours in the office, make sure to take regular breaks and walk around, swing your arms, roll your shoulders, and stretch a bit!

Here are a few really simple stretches that can help.  They work really well as a little flow, but can be done individually as well - and best of all, they can be done in your chair while at work.

*If clasping your hands together isn't comfortable in some of these poses, try using a small length of fabric -  a strap, belt or even a teatowel - and you will get a great stretch!

1. Start by sitting up straight with both feet evenly planted on the floor (or both sitting bones if you are sitting on the floor).  Bring your hands beside you, or even better, underneath you and take 5 deep breaths while you focus on dropping the shoulders down as far away as you can from your ears.  Then:

2.  Inhale, and reach your arms up overhead.  Clasp the fingers together and turn the palms upwards*.  Now bring your focus back to the shoulders and again, try to drop them away from your ears while still lengthening upwards through the crown of your head.  Hold for 5 breaths or about 30 seconds.

3.  Release your hands and bring them down behind you.  Once again interlace the fingers behind your back*, and gently lift your hands away from your lower back until you feel a nice stretch.  Hold for 5 breaths or about 30 seconds.

4. Release your arms and stretch them out in front of you, palms up.  Then, cross one arm over the other, above the elbow.  Bend the bottom arm (bringing your hand towards the ceiling) and gently pull the outstretched arm to that side.  Hold for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.  If you have more flexibility in your shoulders, you can also try Eagle arms, also pictured.

5. Bring one hand to your shoulder, palm up.  Stretch the other arm all the way up to the ceiling and then bend it at the elbow, clasping your hands together*.  Now from the hand on the shoulder, gently pull until you feel a good stretch, then hold.  Try holding about 30 seconds on each side.

Hope these help!  Readers, what little stretches feel great for your shoulders?

If you liked these stretches you may also enjoy: 7 stretches for neck and shoulders you can do at your desk

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Yoga for the Road (or a long-haul flight!)

Hello, remember me?

In case you have been wondering where I have been, the title of this post might give it away...  With my new job comes travel, including some of that most-dreaded type: the long-haul flight.

As I have gotten older (can you hear my bones creaking?) I have begun to like flying less and less.  Especially long haul.  The sheer exhaustion of going through airports, hauling luggage, the over-stimulation of the commercialised limbo that lies between the security check and the gate, and of course all of that only to find yourself packed like a sardine into a flying bus.

And is it just me, but have economy seats gotten smaller and closer together over the years? Meaning less leg room, arm room, and room in general!

Now there is really no way that sitting in a cramped chair with limited room to move for say 10, 11 or 14 (!!!!!!) hours is going to make your body happy.  Couple that with the time difference, dehydration and odd meal times/intervals, and no wonder you get to the other end feeling like you've survived a train wreck or just woken up from a coma.  And the back pain from my scoliosis doesn't help in the least.

Not to mention, of course, the psychological drama of spending 14 hours knowing that you're 33-thousand-feet up in THIN AIR.  I mean, why do they even TELL you that stuff?

As my physical and anxious discomfort over flying have grown over the years, so, it seems, has my need to travel.  In fact, in the first 6 months of 2011 I will fly long-haul at least 4 times, med-haul about 6, and do a few short hops as well, just for fun.  Bleurgh (which is not a word, but it should be).

So how does all this relate to yoga?  Well it doesn't I suppose, but I do.  As many other travellers have testified, I have found yoga to be super helpful in dealing with both the physical and mental discomforts of long journeys - whether by plane, train or automobile!  Here are a few things that I have found helpful:

  • Practice before you go: Doing yoga the day before or the day of a long trip makes a huge difference to how my body feels.  If I go into the trip well stretched, I seem to come out of it a lot better off.
  • Drink a lot: The air in airplanes is really dry and dehydrating.  Bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it up, or buy one once inside, and make sure you keep drinking regularly through the flight.  Avoid too much alcohol or coffee because these dehydrate you even more.  And if you, like me, process your water quickly and often - do the decent thing and get an aisle seat!
  • Pranayama: In case of anxiety, close your eyes and spend 5 minutes or so with your favourite pranayama.  Alternate nostril breathing is a good one.  Alternately, chant a mantra (even if just in your head).  I know, it sounds silly, but it's really very soothing.  A few om's go a long way at 33 thousand feet.  

Tune in next time for asanas for airplanes!  Happy Saturday everyone!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Vinyasa for core strength - a vodcast!

In my post last week on teaching, I mentioned that one way I have learned to integrate core work into a class is to include it in a flow sequence.

So today I thought I would show you my favourite, which is a little flow sequence that was taught to me by my Mom!  It's a mobile phone video so sorry if it's a bit grainy and hard to hear, but there you have it!

Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

TGI Friday blanks

Thanks to everyone who has commented on my last post about learning from teaching, and keep it coming!  I'm seeing you into the weekend with some more photographs from scenic Oxford...

and of course a few blanks courtesy of Lauren to ease the transition into the weekend!

1.   If I could only read one magazine publication for the rest of eternity, I would choose  National Geographic.  Absolutely no contest! It's my favourite read ever.

2.  If I were to run my own magazine it would be  a lot of hard work! Seriously, hats off to those guys!

3.  I buy my magazines (at the grocery check stand or via subscription)   at airports. It's almost the only place I buy a magazine.

4.  I prefer my magazines (in print or online)   Oh, this is too hard, I am split down the middle.  Yes, I love the tangibility of a glossy paper magazine.  But I am crazy about the new features in electronic magazines like interactive pages, videos etc.  I get so excited about it, ooohs and aaaahs all around!

5.  The number of magazines I buy each month is     not even 1, I buy one maybe every few months. I like subscriptions where it's just a lovely surprise when one arrives!

6. My favorite magazine genre is (lifestyle, gossip, home, etc...)       National geographic, does that count as a genre all by itself? ;)

7.  The magazines I read regularly are       Nat geo and yoga journal... and that's pretty much it!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

10 things I have learned about teaching yoga

All around the yoga blogspshere, yoga teachers are lurking! Some of us blog openly, how many others are just reading a bit here, a bit there?

Since moving to Oxford I am on a teaching hiatus, and it has given me time to reflect on the joys and the challenges of being a yoga teacher.  Here are a few things I can say I've learned, in no particular order.  Enjoy! Share! Comment!

1. "Don't make it up": [This is an unforgettable quote from my own teacher.  It's hard for me to convey just how many things are summed up by this, but I'll try to scrape the tip of the iceberg.]  Yoga is a system.  It is tried, tested and it has worked for thousands of people, possibly for thousands of years. There are fountains of knowledge available about it, and incredible teachers who transmit it.  What this quote means to me is: Immerse yourself.  Dig deep.  Get to really know - and experience - what you are teaching and assimilate what you have learned in order to pass it on.  Because when you teach yoga you are reaching into people's sacred spaces - their bodies, their health, their wellbeing, their souls.  Respect that and teach what works, with that honour code etched always in the forefront of your mind.  Don't make it up.

2. Don't be afraid if you don't know: There has been a lot of blogging about the role of the teacher and the pedestals that we risk putting ourselves on or being put on.  When put in the position of the teacher, it's natural to want to be able to answer every question our students ask us.  And they will ask questions - hard questions! Left-field questions!  Sometimes you will be able to answer confidently.  But when a question leaves you with your mouth opening and closing again - don't be afraid to say those 3 little words: "I don't know".  Maybe even follow them by: "but I'll find out for you!".

There is also another type of question that yoga teachers get asked - deeply personal questions, the soul-searching ones that really, nobody can answer except the student themselves.  When confronted with these I've found that the best answer is to reassure people that what they're feeling is normal, and remind your student that yoga is experiential, that their personal experience is just as valid as anything I could offer, and that it's up to them to make their own choices and decisions.

3. Speak up!  I think this one is self-explanatory: when teaching, project, project and project some more! As with the theatre, when you teach yoga, especially if you teach to music, remember that when you speak you should be facing the class (not the floor or the wall!) and to look up and back while you speak to make sure everyone can hear you.  If you do always teach to music, try teaching without it (even an imaginary class will do) - you will suddenly be aware of just how important your voice is, both in speech and in silence, in creating the mood and energy of the class.

4. Demonstration is a tool, not a teaching.  Demonstrations are great and valuable tools.  But demonstrating every single pose in front of the class is not the same as teaching!  If students want a guided practice, they can get a DVD - your role as a teacher is to teach, not just to lead.  (Hey, we all start out there... it takes time, too right?) A good example is downward facing dog.  If you are leading your class through this pose and at the same time demonstrating it, who benefits from this? After all, from this pose, you can't see your students, and they can't see you (or hear you, likely)! So use demonstrations as a tool, but let it be just one of many tools in your teacher's bag of tricks.

5. Smile.  Laugh! Play! Be silly! And encourage your students to do the same. Yoga is supposed to be relaxing, and people relax when they are having fun and feel comfortable.  Let your sense of humour shine through and have a good time - the chances are that if you do, your students will too.

6. To adjust or not? - Have the discussion.  This is such a huge question for teachers, students and the yoga community in general.  What I have learned is this: whatever you choose, share it with your students.  If you are going to adjust, explain it to them and give them a chance to opt out of it if they want one.  If you are not going to, explain it to them also, and give them other ways to get your feedback on their asanas.

7. Don't ignore the core! Core strength is fundamental to every yoga pose.  Whether expressed through a subtle understanding of mula bandha or a rocking navasana, the key is always in the core.  And yet, so many teachers shy away from core strengtheners because we dread the pained looks on our students faces!  Something that works for me is to work the core into verbal cues in standing poses like Tadasana, Warrior II, Utkatasana or Tree pose.  Also, if you teach Vinyasa or any type of flow, you can integrate your core work into a vinyasa so it doesn't feel like such a slog.

8. Stay rooted in your own practice.  As I said earlier, yoga is experiential.  We can only teach what we know about yoga, and we can only know by doing.  When we first start teaching we have to struggle to maintain our own practice, and many teachers fall into the trap of using their classes as personal practice times.  But as a teacher we still need to be taught, to learn, to grow, and to explore.  The more you practice, the richer your teachings will be, and the more you will evolve as a teacher, keeping your students interested and constantly learning as well.  Maybe this is the most important thing of all!

9. Teach yoga, not just asana.  We all know that yoga is so much more than asana.  But do our students?  I'm not saying that we should all get preachy every class.  But I do find that when I am inspired to branch out onto a yoga philosophy tangent, people are interested and want to know more.  So many teachers I know are afraid of bringing a spiritual element into their classrooms.  And if yoga isn't spiritual in any way for you, then that's how it should be.  But if yoga is transformational for you, share it.  It doesn't have to be a philosophy lecture.  Teach the little things - like stress-busting yoga poses you do at work or pranayama for road rage.  Talk about how santosha can manifest through everyday acts of kindness, or how ahimsa might lead you to improve your diet.  Just as yoga creeps into every aspect of your life, let these aspects feed back into your teaching

10. Be yourself! By far the most important of all - teach what you love, and teach from the heart.  We all have teachers that we aspire to be like, but at the end of the day, yoga is really just all about being yourself.  So dance if you love dancing, chant if you love chanting, play music if you love music, or don't if you love silence.  The best teachers are the authentic ones.

Well, those are some of the things that have been on my mind about teaching...  Readers, can you add any lessons you have learned from teaching or being taught, or relate from personal experience?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The miracle fibre (plus blanks)

Well, in my recent weeks since moving to England I am discovering what the Brits, Scots and Welsh have known for centuries: Wool.

Now, we do get the occasional (quite straggly and rather hot-looking) sheep in the tropics but given the heat, of course nobody needs to wear wool.  So upon coming to the UK I have been delighting in building up a wardrobe full of lovely knitted things.  It's warm, it's fuzzy, it's knitted!

In this part of the world, wool has a long and lauded history.  People get downright poetic when it comes to their wool, like the lovely folk at, who say:

"It is a fibre fit for heroes-and for more ordinary folk. As modern as moonflight, and as ancient as the hills.
Man can never match it. No other material, natural or man-made, has all its qualities. "

Now isn't  that lovely?

In the way that students sometimes surpass their masters, the folks over in New Zealand have taken the craft one step further with the wool from Merino sheep.  The folks over at Icebreaker call it "the miracle fibre".  Merino wool is breathable, machine-washable, dries quickly and doesn't retain odours - so they have made it into a year round fibre.  Yes, that's right - not just winter wear, but merino traveling t-shirts, tank tops and sports wear, spun so fine it could almost be cotton - but drier!  And here's the yoga link: I have a tank top of their thinnest wool and I have even done yoga in it... in 36 degrees!

The best part - it's 100% animal friendly (all the Merino sheep in New Zealand live to their natural lifespan, unlike a lot of wool producing sheep in other places), environmentally ethical (read about it onn their website) 100% biodegradable, and long-lasting.

Icebreaker adds one more little extra: what they call the "Baacode" - a unique code that links your product to your very own Merino sheep-donor!!  You can track your individual garment to the sheep station(s) that it originally came from,  Cool.

Guess now all I have to do is take up knitting!

Perhaps instead I'll fill in the blanks...

1.   If my house was on fire and I could only grab 3 things I would grab: My cat, my laptop and I guess my passport!

2.  A smell I really like is: vanilla. Yum!

3.  Something you might not know about me is: I have rosacea, a skin condition that in the extreme causes people to have constantly red, chapped skin, especially cheeks.  It can be really aggravated by diet, so to manage it I avoid red wine, all hard alcohol and liqueurs, and don't eat too many red berries. (Not an issue in the tropics but a bit harder here!)

4.  Some of my favorite websites to putter about on are:  yoga blogs of course!

5.  This weekend I will: be chilling in Oxford and hopefully taking my new camera out for a shoot!

6. Nothing makes me happier than: love! Sunshine! Fluffy kittens! LOL.  Actually I'm quite easily contented.

7.  A bad habit I have is: burying my head in the sand in the hopes that if I ignore things, they will go away.  It doesn't work. ;)

Do you love wool?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In pictures: Oxford in Winter

Wow, how did it get to be the weekend already again? This week has been exceptionally busy, and although I did manage to get in a few morning practices they were a bit rushed and not quite satisfying.

An update on yoga in the cold: I have been layering up and adding extra sun salutations to warm up my body in the chilly temperatures.  It is still so strange to practice in full clothes (long pants, long sleeves!) and not be drenched in sweat!  I am still struggling to get up early enough to get in a proper practice before work - but really that's not about cold, just about discipline!

This weekend I have some errands to run and I am actually going to try and rest and relax for the first real time since I landed here just over 2 weeks ago.  Here are some pictures for you to enjoy, artistically rendered by my trusty phone. ;)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fill in the Blank Fridays!

This weeks blanks from Lauren is about happiness and a few other things.  Which is a nice theme because we can always benefit from taking the time to step back and reflect on the things that make us happy and unhappy in our lives.

Reflection is the first step towards change I guess - living life consciously, pro-actively seeking out the things that make us happy instead of living in a state of reactivity.  I am finding that with this move across the world, into the cold and dark, it is hard to focus on the good things and stay positive.  But I have to remember how blessed I am to have people who love and support me, a job in these tough times, and the chance to take on new professional challenges and learn new things!

Hope everyone has an excellent weekend!

1.   I feel happy when  the sun shines.  Seriously, a little sunshine can just make my heart soar these days!

2.  I get silly when I'm with my sister! We both do - I don't know how anyone puts up with us!

3.  Something that makes me sad is being far away from the people I love.  This is so, so hard right now.

4.  Something that makes me annoyed is when buses are supposed to come and then don't, and you are left standing in the cold for ages! 

5.  A time that I've been truly surprised was when my cat brought a fair sized rat into the house. Ick!!!

6.  I am so thankful for  far too many things to list here! Among them my community back in Timor, the beautiful flowers a special person sent me this week, and the fact that it's Friday!

7.  I feel loved all the time. Because I am! How lucky am I?!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Yoga in the cold

Hello yogis!

Well, one of the biggest changes in moving to England from the tropics is, of course, the weather!  One of the biggest shocks is the late sunrise - I practice yoga in the mornings and it has been hard to motivate myself to get out of bed and practice in the dark! I am used to the sun actually rising during sun salutations...

So, you readers who have experience in seasonal yoga, I asked the question on Twitter and will ask here again:

How do you motivate yourself to practice in winter?

I can't wait to read your responses!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Gypsy has Landed

I know it's been a while since my last post, and to all those who commented and kept on visiting, I really appreciate it!

Not in Kansas anymore!

So, I have landed in Oxford England, far from my tropical home.  Just about as far as you could get in terms of weather, culture and development! I am here to work for Oxfam, so through that I will at least still be in touch with my beloved tropics and life in what some people might call "the majority world" - that is, the parts of the Earth where the majority of the population of our planet live.

Perhaps you have seen this before:

If the world were a village of 100 people:

61 would be Asians, 12 Europeans, 8 North Americans, 5 South American and the Caribbean, 13 would be Africans and 1 would be from Oceania.

20 people own 75% of the entire world income.

80 would live in substandard housing

24 would not have any electricity (And of the 76% that do have electricity, most would only use it for light at night.)

67 would be unable to read.  

Only 1 would have a university education.

50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation.

33 would be without access to a safe water supply.

What always strikes me when I return to Europe or North America is just how much we take for granted the privileges of our every day lives.  We view these things not as a luxury, but as a basic entitlement: housing, running water, education.  In our commercialized world, we buy goods without thinking of whether or not we really NEED them.  In some places people have to count every penny they earn and spend, feeding their families on less than the equivalent of $1 or $2 per day.

Today as I wandered the streets of my new home - exploring, shopping (sweaters! socks!), walking, I can't help but feeling like a stranger in a strange land, or like the children from the Chronicles of Narnia - knowing there is another world out there that most people are completely unaware of.  The challenge for me will be to exist in this world mindfully - and that is where yoga will help me!

Stay tuned for more Yoga Gypsy as I discover the yoga scene in Oxford, become a yoga student again, and keep on reflecting on learning and teaching yoga, as well as development issues, mindful consumerism and a whole lot more.

It's going to be a great 2011 folks!!


PS: Cool bit of trivia - Amsterdam's Schipol airport has a meditation centre! How awesome is that?